Saturday, February 22, 2014

Minor, Major, and... Very Major...

     I've been to two funerals this week and after one - the one yesterday - I did some shopping and then  came home to find that our 16 year-old Rat Terrier had died.  (Unfortunately I had already been to three funerals in one week in January so my funeral-o-meter was already  about pegged out when this week came rolling in.)    When I found our dog yesterday - although I knew it was coming and had even prayed that God would help her to die peacefully before she started having pain - I felt shell-shocked.  I still do.  And that's a good thing.
     When I was young, I didn't take death seriously. I never asked for whom the bell tolled because I was sure that it didn't toll  for me.  Like most young people, I subconsciously believed I was invincible.
     By the time I was approaching middle age, I understood that it would come knocking at our door sooner or later but when the possibility came to mind,  I would just mentally shrug my shoulders and figure I could   handle it.  I mean, that's what people do, isn't it?  People are dying all the time and  the survivors somehow... survive.  They deal with it and they move on.  It's the American way, right?
    Plus, we see it on t.v. all the time.  And on the news. It's everywhere, right?
    And now, after about being funeraled-out, I wonder.  Do we see death for what it really is?
    First, it is our enemy.  The Bible refers to death as the last enemy to be conquered.
    Second, it is always there.  Every time we take a picture of a loved one, we are - whether we realize it or not - fighting against time and the reality that someday the person in the photo will be no more.  So I think it would be safe to say that our own mortality permeates our days and thoughts whether we are aware of it or not.
    Third, it's so powerful that we've fashioned a whole set of conventions around death to help us transition through it without losing our sanity.  (More about that in another blog...)   These conventions or traditions grease our way through the splintery, dark days of grappling with the loss of a loved one.  Everyone knows what to do even if we don't know what to say - and it helps to be able to "do" something. We bake chicken. We send cards or e-mails.  We clean house. Or do laundry.  Or babysit.  We do a multitude of things to help make things easier for the survivors.
    And what do the survivors do?  They notify the rest of the family. They plan the funeral. They dress up in their best and somehow manage to greet people during the visitation and then somehow manage to sit through the funeral, doing their best to show final respect for their loved one, to make him or her "proud".  Afterwards they may visit the grave site from time to time, go through photo albums, and/or sort through the things the loved one left behind.
    This past week I went to one funeral where the deceased was obviously a Christian. I went to another where it seemed even the pastor who performed the service was not willing to say the deceased had made his peace with God. He would only say, "If so-and-so made his peace with God, then he is in a better place."  There was a huge difference between the two services. Trust me on this.
    And then I came home to find a beloved pet stretched out on the floor in a way she never did in life, a mere skeleton of her normal self, her eyes glazed over and this was the deal: I couldn't gloss over the reality - even the sheer ugliness -  of death.  I couldn't just shrug my shoulders and  think, "Well, when it comes, we'll just handle it."
    Handle it?  Are you kidding me?
    I could barely handle two funerals this week and I wasn't even  dealing with the loss of a  family member.  Still,  I should own stock in Kleenex right now.  And now I can't even look at the spot where our terrier slept in the living room without bursting into tears. Just looking at the spot by my  chair where she slept makes me bawl.  And she was just a pet.
    What about the families who lost their loved ones this week????
    And this is what we're just supposed to "handle????"

    Death stinks and every program that glorifies it should be fined for making light of something that is anything but...
     This week has just made me want to reach out to total strangers and say: if you haven't made your peace with God and if you aren't sure that you are going to be with Him when you die, then take care of it now. It's more important than paying the bills, going to the movies, hanging out with friends, washing the car, getting that promotion at work, remodeling the house, playing at church, making that speech, carrying out the trash, washing the dishes, working late at the office.  And it's waaaaaaay more important than cheating on your spouse, getting soused, neglecting your kids, letting your temper have full reign, and/or manipulating others to get "ahead", among other unsavory things which will kick you further down the road  away from God, not closer to Him.

     Making peace with God is just this:  more important.   No. It's the most important thing you'll ever do.
     Because death is real, it's ugly, and   it's not something that you just "handle".  And we don't need to ask for whom the bell tolls - it really does toll for us.
     Sorry to be so blunt but that's another thing about death - and it's a good thing.
     Death has a way of making minor things seem very minor and major things seem very major.
     And being right with the one true, eternal, omnipotent God is, frankly, very, very major.
    So important that God sent His son to die for you.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Oowie Moments....

Today my niece took me out to eat at a nice restaurant and we had a good time.  As we were leaving, I heard an employee, a greeter  who was trying to touch base with everyone in the rather crowded lobby, turn to an older, distinguished looking gentleman and ask perkily, "Are you done with all your Valentine shopping?"

He responded quietly and without self-pity:  "Yes.  She's in Heaven."
The worker, who was scanning the group, responded heartily:  "That's great!  Wonderful!!"

The older gentleman didn't change his demeanor or say anything else as he left the restaurant.  He could have  though.  He could  have easily stopped and taken a minute or two to  set the worker straight.   Had he done that I'm sure the worker would have been embarrassed and more than ready to apologize, show empathy, whatever.
But he didn't.

And the fact that he didn't probably touched me as much as anything else.  He accepted her lack of interest in the same way that he appeared to accept the loss of his love.  With dignity and without fanfare.

Later I read in a book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, about a time years ago when Nabeel was sitting in Latin class in high school - surreptitiously doing his Spanish homework :) The teacher stepped out of the classroom for a bit and when she didn't return immediately, the girl behind Nabeel gathered up her courage and asked Nabeel if he had ever heard of Jesus.

Nabeel was interested in what she said and also  prepared (from having read Muslim material dissing Christianity).  The girl hung in there gamely but was not able to demolish his arguments even though he misquoted Scripture and used  reasoning that was not backed up by research.

But the thing that really hit me was this: right after the girl asked Nabeel if he had heard of Jesus, Nabeel thought, "Now I knew she was crazy.  We were in the middle of Latin class. At the same time, I immediately gained respect for her.  Why had other Christians never asked me this question?  They did think I needed Jesus to go to Heaven, right?  Were they content with letting me go to hell, or did they not really believe their faith?"  (P. 90).

Another owie moment, at least for me, on this day that celebrates and is dedicated to ... love.

Maybe on this day when we spend big bucks to prove our love, maybe we should just try to live out I Corinthians 13 and John 13:34-35.

Cheaper and less fattening than traditional cards, flowers, gifts, and candies. But lavish in the expenditure of time - not just with significant others but with others who are significant... to God Himself.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blast from the Past.... Happy Valentine's Day!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still Valentines..:)

Before I start this "real life" expose of Valentine's 2011, let me say that my husband is giving me the best Valentine's, Christmas, birthday, and any other gift that anyone could ever hope to receive.  Although it may stress us financially, he is encouraging me to retire early.  Why?  So that I can concentrate on writing and on volunteer work and, yes, just be lazy if I so desire while he continues to work at a job that he's not always crazy about.
So why am I writing about our less-than-stellar Valentine's day?  Ummmm. Not sure.  Except that it makes a funny story.. now. And maybe Reality Blogs  could catch on the way Reality T. V.  has???  Actually, as always, I have a point to make and that is: being a Valentine is not about heart-shaped candies and long-stemmed roses.
It's about bats...
Wait, jumped the gun there a bit...
First, you need to know that I'm pushing 57 and Phil is pushing 58 and we've been married (happily:) for 24 years.  (That may change after he reads this blog!)  As I get older, I dither more. So I bought him two Valentine cards a couple of weeks ago because I couldn't make up my mind which one to get. And then I tucked them away where he couldn't find them.. and I couldn't either.
Sunday afternoon, he came in with a heart-shaped box of candy - my favorite brand - and a card with no envelope.
I looked at the card and said, "Was it the last one in the store?"
He smiled sheepishly, "Well, the last clean card in the store... The others weren't, uh, suitable. And, uh, I couldn't find an envelope for this one. There weren't any left."
The card was a pretty shade of purple with embossed lettering and a flowery poem.  But several words on the front and on the inside were marked out with red ink.  PHil doesn't believe in luck and this card repeatedly talked about how lucky it was that he had me in his life... or words to that effect.  So my sweet husband had taken a red ink pen and marked out every reference to luck and substituted "blessed". The only problem was, I had trouble reading the red ink on the purple background. I made a mental note to get my eyes checked...
Then he suggested that we go out to a nice restaurant the next day since that was actually Feb. 14 and that's what we did. We had a great meal after work, very relaxing,  everything was good.
At home everything continued to be fine until Phil remembered he had a  dental appointment in the morning.  Which reminded him  that we had spent about a thousand dollars on one tooth already, which he still ended up losing...  And now he was having  to go in for a crown on a different tooth which would  cost who-knows-how much  which led to the gloomy  prediction that  if things kept going the way they  were, he would be  gumming his food before long..
Meanwhile, I'm surfing Face Book and looking at all the pics of flowers on that page and reading statuses like, "My Valentine and I are watching a movie together.."  and I'm thinking, "My Valentine and I are contemplating  a big dental bill and a possibly toothless old age together...Ha!"
Then I remember that I needed to  deposit a check.. which I had been forgetting... along with my beloved's Valentine cards... Okay:  someday Phil will have no teeth and I'll have no short-term memory.
Phil is off on Tuesdays so I thought he could take the check to the bank the next morning. But he's agitated, restless, not looking forward to the dentist  in the a.m. so he figures he might as well take it right then. I'm thinking: it's already 8:30 p.m. and our bank is a 20 minute drive from here..REally???
After he leaves, I sit down and write a letter letting my school district know that I'm planning to retire at the end of the year. Everyone knows it already but somehow, now it's official.
That done,  I take a shower.  When I come out, I hear my much-loved sister-in-law leaving a somewhat frantic voice mail.  She's normally very calm with a can-do approach to life but now I hear her pleading, "Please pick up!!  I need some help!!!! Hellooo...!  Helloooo...!"  I run into the kitchen and grab the phone just as the connection is broken. I quickly return the call and hear, " Thank goodness! I need some help! Charity and I are shut up in her bedroom because there's a bat flying around downstairs and we're afraid to go down there!! Could Phil come up and get the bat, please!!!"
I assured  her that he could, that I would call him  on his cell immediately, which I did.
Looking back, I can see that I didn't start the conversation off well.  What I should have said was: Linda has a bat in her house...
What I actually said was:  "Phil... your sister is almost in hysterics!!! She's really in trouble!!! You've got to help her!!!"
Then I hear:  "What?????  What's going on???"
And then.... "What the!!!!!!."
And then.... "Oh no!!! ...I just backed the truck into a wall!!!!!"
Now it's my turn:  "You did what?  You hit a wall???"
His response:  "YESSSSS... I HIT A WALL !!!   Agghhh!!!  I'll call you later!!!!"
End of conversation.
The first thought that goes through my mind?  This is so not good...
Then I yell  for our college-age son, whose been having headaches,  a sore throat, and a little dizziness over the past 2 days.
"DAvid!!!  Dad just backed the truck into a wall and your aunt has a bat flying around downstairs!!!"
He comes into the room, smiles at me, then does a double-take as my words register.   "What?? Dad backed the truck into a wall????"
"Yessssss!!!!  He-backed-the-truck-into-a-wall!!! And I don't know how much damage was done!  And LInda and Charity are barricaded upstairs and they can't stay there forever so you have to go kill the bat!!!"
He looks at me for a minute, his face carefully neutral.
Then he goes, puts his shoes on and grabs his car keys.
As he's headed out  the door, I yell:  "David!"
He turns around.
"It's really turning into a whacked-out night around here. so... don't get bitten by the bat, okay?"
He frowns and says, "Mom...I'm NOT going to get bitten by a bat!!"
So I wait and send up some arrow prayers and look at my retirement letter and wonder if all this is some sort of weird omen.
Forty minutes later, both my guys come in, totally animated by the Great Bat Hunt of Mabel-dale..
Somehow, they found the miscreant, got him in a curtain, carried him outside and watched him fly off into the night air.  Fist pump!!
I go back to looking at Face Book statuses  about various Valentine activities, thinking,No one's going to believe mine...
I once read that Socrates used to go out and encourage his students to find the meanest, sharpest-tongued woman they could find and then marry her. Because if they could live with a woman like that, they were truly men!!
I'm not going to encourage you to roll your truck into the ATM wall at the bank (both were okay by the way) and/or go bat hunting as a way to celebrate Valentines Day.  But I will  say that if you can  survive things like that and still laugh and love, you are true Valentines.  Because love is not about candy and flowers, it's about hanging in there and keeping a sense of humor when everything goes .. well.. batty... around you.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Don't Step on the Gas or the Brake...

     When our son was small, he was terrified of lightening.  One day when I wasn't at home, a major lightening storm encompassed our area and my husband decided this would be a good time to teach our little fellow not to fear the elements.  He held our pre-schooler up to the kitchen window and said, "See how pretty the lightening is??"  Only, at that precise moment, the house down the street took a direct hit and caught on fire. David was still a bit freaked out when I got home and my husband was contrite even though it wasn't his fault.
     In my twenties, I was cautious but not fearful about driving on icy roads. I actually traveled from Conway to LIttle Rock several times when the roads were really iced over. Once it took me 3 hours to make the one hour trip but I made it!  With those trips under my belt, I didn't fear old man winter although I respected thick ice on the roads.  What I didn't know was that thick, bumpy ice at 25 degrees is actually safer than rain on bridges at 31 degrees.
     I learned the difference on the way home from church one Sunday night when I went from wet pavement onto a bridge with a thin coating of ice.  I remember my mom suggesting that I stay home and I remember casually brushing aside her advice because the temps weren't even at freezing yet, the service would only last an hour, and I knew how to drive on icy roads.
     That night I learned a new lesson in driving - how to total your car in 30 seconds.
      It left an indelible impression on me and I avoided ice like the plague after that.  However, one morning in 2011, when every other school in the state was closed for a major ice event, our school  stayed open... For the first hour and a half, at which time, we closed.  The assistant principal came to my classroom about 15 minutes before time to leave and said they were letting all the teachers who commuted go first and that he would watch my class.  This ratcheted up my anxiety - no administrator had ever come to my room before in order to let me get away before everyone else did. I knew it had to be serious.  So I grabbed my stuff and headed out.  I could tell that the streets were already glazing over and so I headed straight for the freeway, hoping salt trucks were out already. Only when I tried to turn, I slid... After that,  I opted to go straight and just follow the road wherever it took me. Which meant that I ended up, not on the freeway, but on an overpass leading to a scenic highway.  Which, now that the highway was iced over and adorned with two cars in the ditch, didn't seem so scenic to me anymore. I slid two more times and, at that point,  made a split-second decision: I would go directly to my husband's shop and make him drive me the rest of the way home!!! Thankfully, his shop was right on my way and I didn't have far to get there.  Once I found myself on the parking lot, I whipped out my cell phone, hands trembling, and called my husband. No way was I going to walk the two feet to the shop door!!! He was coming to me whether it was in the fine print on our marriage contract or not!!!  As soon as my husband answered the phone, I yelled.  Seriously.  I think my words were something like:
    Cars are sliding into the ditches!!! I've seen two already!!!  I tried to get on the freeway but I couldn't make the turns because I started to slide and I've lost control on Hwy 5 twice already!!!  I want you to come out here NOW and DRIVE ME HOME!!!!!.
    Then, as an afterthought, I told him I was scared.  Just in case he didn't know...
    My husband knows hysteria when he sees it and after being married to me all these years, he knows there are times when you hold 'em and times when you fold 'em. A few minutes later he was in the driver's seat and before long he had us across the freeway and onto the access road, heading home.  I cried but somehow  also managed to interrogate  him.  Was he going too fast???  What about the car behind us??  Was he sure we could make it home okay?? What would we do if we couldn't??
   He talked patiently, using the honeyed tones one would use with someone on the verge of flipping out - which was appropriate enough.  I remember him "talking me through" each obstacle (i.e., bridge),  telling me that he was  going to build up just enough speed to make it across the bridge but not enough to be dangerous.  I remember him assuring me that as long you didn't brake or step on the gas while crossing a bridge, you'd be fine.  I remember him pointing out that the car behind us was far enough away that we didn't have to worry about it. And I remember cringing the whole time he was talking to me. Trust is not my long suit when I'm freaked out.
    Finally we were almost home!   I was worried about a hill that curved abruptly right before you entered our area but the hill was not a problem - Phil handled it like a pro, piece of cake. I knew we were going to make it.  And we did. But not before we tried to make a 90 degree turn and ended up sliding into the opposite curb, coming to an abrupt stop while another car just managed to slide around us.
     As my son would say, "Fun times..."
     This morning it was cold enough to freeze anything - trust me - and it snowed.  For hours. Big, fat, fluffy flakes. Little, skinny ones.   And nothing stuck.  So I took my niece out for a leisurely lunch.  I mean if anything was going to stick, it would have already, right??
     On the way home, I saw snow pellets hitting the windshield and then went into a kind of denial when I realized wet tracks were being left on the pavement.  How could that be?  Snow off and on all morning and nothing?  And now in an hour's time, tracks on the pavement???
    I  began to white-knuckle the steering wheel and at the same time, with great effort,   managed to keep my words calm for both my sake and my niece's.  I doubt she was reassured however, as  I began to tell myself things like:  just keep it slow and steady, Cathie.  Okay.  There's a bridge up ahead.  Just get enough speed going to get across the bridge but don't step on the gas or the brake.  Okay.  I just lost traction momentarily but we're fine, we didn't slide. 
    She would have been even less reassured if she had been privy to my unspoken thoughts:  if I ever get us home and  get this freaking car in the carport, I'm going to kiss the concrete, go inside, take 2 Ibuprofen, and not come out until August!!!
    Thankfully I managed to keep some thoughts to myself...
    Suffice it to say that we made it.
    When my husband got home many hours later, he didn't even seem to remember that there were slick spots on the roads. When I quizzed him he told me  the roads were fine - just  a few icy patches here and there  but basically no problem.  And I really think that was true. The ice really was very sketchy and I don't think it even slowed traffic much.
     But it didn't matter. Facts don't in a case like that...
     I told him a few icy patches "here and there" were enough to scare me spit-less. He looked genuinely concerned at the thought of me being so frightened.  He racked his brain and came up with the perfect solution -the next time it iced over, we'd go out  and practice driving on a large, vacant parking lot. He assured me that with just a  few spins under my belt, I'd gain confidence and never be afraid of a little ice here and there again.  He was perfectly serious.
      I looked at my best friend and envisioned him holding  our child - our only child - up to the kitchen window during a bend-the-trees-to-the-ground storm and saying, "Isn't the lightening pretty..."
       "Um, no thanks. 'ppreciate it and all that...  But the next time there's a hint of snow or ice on the roads, you'll find me in bed with a good book or on the couch watching my favorite Jane Austen flick."
        Truly men - even the best of them - are from Mars and women - at least this geriatric female - are not....
         Just sayin'

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Imprints of Life...

As usual, we are having a normal weather week in Arkansas -which means things are distinctly weird. Hopefully no one had any problems getting out and around this morning and can rejoice along with the school kids and grand-kids at having a "free" day.  I know my teacher friends had mixed reactions on FB today - some were happy and some were miffed because of make-up days yet to come.  

It's funny how my perspective has changed. During the 31 years I taught, I never tired of snow days and frequently prayed for the weather man's forecast to pan out when inclement weather was predicted.  Most of the time, those prayers weren't answered the way I wanted and I learned to dread those informative weather talks where they showed how LIttle Rock was "right on the line" separating sleet from "dry" snow or - even worse, rain! Such a bummer!!!   Some of my dreariest memories are of going to school while a perfectly good snow was falling - but not sticking! - and having to teach when neither the kids or I wanted to be there.  I always felt like that type of snow was such a "waste"!

Now that I get to stay home most of the time and I have a young son who is driving in the snow and ice, I really don't want it to do what it's been doing off and on in what seems like forever! Phil has had the instructive:    Son,  this is how you drive on freezing fog, snow, etc.  And as for ice - you don't drive on it!  (And now I feel guilty for doing my snow dance in past winters when other parents had to send their young adult kids into hazardous driving conditions!!!)

There are still some times, however, when I'd like for the skies to drop about a foot of snow, say between midnight and 1 a.m., and just bring most everything (here in the South!)   to a quiet, beautiful, pristine halt.  I really like it on those rare days when the traffic noise is pretty much silenced and all you can hear are kids laughing and yelling as they play in the snow (until someone gets hurt and there's tears and accusations and yelling...)

In past years when we worked with international students at UALR, they almost all described Americans as "busy".    And my net sister in Tel Aviv has expressed shock at the distances we drive for "normal" activities and all the things we do after working hours and on the weekends on a regular basis. 

I'm still reading/studying Arthur Matthew's book, Born for Battle,  and one of the points in his work is that real prayer centers around God's will. In order to know what He desires in "messy" situations that are not "cut and dried", we have to spend quality time in deep communion with God.  For me, it's hard to find that quality, prolonged quiet time, even in retirement.  There is just something in our culture (as well as within me) that mitigates against it.

I have a framed "rubbing" from England - a penciled imprint of two Greek letters that were discovered on an ancient tile. The characters make up the first two letters of Christ's name and are believed to have been etched into the tile by a persecuted Christian.  Now, hundreds of years later, an imprint of what this anonymous person painstakingly carved under adverse circumstances - that framed picture which to me, at first, looked like broad pencil shading/scribblings and really nothing else, is now one of my prized possessions. It sits where I can see it every single day, close up and personal.  As far as I know, it's all that person left behind but it's enough.  It's of great value. Because it speaks poignantly of his Jesus.

I hope that in all the busy-ness of my life, I can leave behind something valuable - some imprint that points others to Christ.

But I know that won't happen without times of single-eyed focus, when no matter what is going on around me or happening to me, Jesus is all I see and His fellowship is all I want.

That's hard.  Still working on it and probably will be until the day I graduate to Heaven.

So I want to end with a quote from Born for Battle:
Prayer must start at God's end, for isn't that the control center of all that happens?   Therefore our relationship with him and our attitude toward the things he allows to disturb our lives is more important than passing information to him.  Because of this, our first duty is to make sure we are really in that lofty place by his side with the right attitude and with nothing in us to prevent him from hearing us or to prevent us from hearing his still, small voice.    It is only from that place of closest intimacy that we may learn what the will is that we are to pray will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I hope everyone has a good rest of the week!