Friday, February 7, 2014

To My Friend:

This is August.
Isn't he adorable?
A friend of mine from high school received some terrible news a couple of weeks ago.  His five-year-old son was diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma.  I can't even begin to imagine what hearing that must feel like.  I don't ever want to know. 

I'm praying for their family.  But sometimes it's not enough to just pray and keep it between you and God.  Sometimes people need to know that there is someone really reaching out to God on their behalf.

I wrote this letter for my friend.  But maybe it could help others, too.  So here it is.

Dear Andy and Andrea,

I am so sorry to hear about August's diagnosis.  I have had to take my son to the emergency room a couple of times in his four years.  Once we thought he may have broken his finger when it got caught in the van door.  The other time he got the Incredible Hulk's head stuck in his nose.  Yeah, you read that right.  FYI, if your kid ever gets the Hulk's head stuck up his nose the Emergency Room staff will stare blankly at you for a full minute because there is no ICD-9 code for admitting that particular injury.  Anyhow, as ridiculous as those two trips to the hospital were, they were also completely agonizing because my boy was hurt, crying, and in pain and I was completely helpless to do anything about it.  I cannot even imagine what you must be going through. 

I heard that donations were being collected for your son and your family.  I so badly wanted to be able to contribute, to show you my love and support.  I wanted to buy every toy imaginable for your son to keep him happy and occupied during his stay at the hospital.  I wanted to get special little treasures for your daughter so she would know that she is not forgotten and that, while much of the focus is on August, we remember that she is going through this, too.  I wanted to get a gift card for a spa day for Andrea so that she can take a little time to relax and recharge herself before continuing to be a pillar for her family.  I wanted to get you, Andy... well, I don't know what I would have gotten you.  A gift card for coffee?  I don't know.  Men are hard to buy for.  I would have come up with something great.  The point is, my heart was there, but my wallet has moths flying out of it. 

I wanted to come visit you in the hospital and bring you cookies and comfort food and hug your kids and tell them that everything would be okay.  I wanted to hug the two of you and let you know that I am there for you.  Really there for you.  But the truth is, if it wasn't for Facebook, you would just be that guy I went to high school with.  Aside from seeing you driving a fire truck in parades down Titus Avenue, I really haven't seen you in person in 20+ years, and Stranger Danger is real.

This photo breaks my heart.

I wanted to give you all the distractions, all the love, and all the support that I could.  But the only thing that I really have to give to you that will make any difference at all is my prayers.  And I have been praying.  Not like some people say, "Oh, I'll pray for you, sweetie," and they never really think of you again.  I've been fervently praying for your boy and for your entire family.  I'll continue to do so until the day I read the Facebook post, "August is cancer-free!!!"  I am praying for you.  Everyday.  Because that is all I have to give that is of any true value.

The past few days as I pray for August's continued healing and asking God for a scripture, Psalm 23 keeps popping into my head.  I keep pushing it out because that's the one that is so often recited at funerals.  Why would God give me a scripture like that when I'm praying and believing for total healing?  But it was persistent, so I decided to take a closer look and study it further.

I am so glad I did because I received a revelation, and a verse that has always seemed like a depressing funeral dirge to me is really an anthem for life.  I'm sure you've heard it:

Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

That was the verse that got me; verse 4.  It's great.  It sounds awful.  You're walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  That's gotta suck.  Who wants to walk through Death Valley?  There is no possible way to make that sound like a good time, it's true.  But that sentence also holds so much hope. 

Think about it.  You're walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  You're walking.  You're not standing, or sitting, or laying down or dying in the valley of death.  You're not setting up camp.  You're not making plans to make it your permanent home.  You're not staying there.  You're walking!  And not only are you walking, but you're walking through.  You're not wandering aimlessly.  You have a destination.  You're walking through it, and you will come out the other side.  Those green pastures are waiting for you.

Then there's that shadow of death.  I don't know about you, but that gives me the heebie-jeebies.  But it's not death we walk through, because Jesus defeated death.  It's just the shadow of death.  Well, not JUST.  Any kid can tell you that shadows can be super scary.  But the thing about shadows is that you can't get a shadow without a light.  Total darkness casts no shadow.  There is light.  There is hope.  Focus on the light, and you will find your way out of the shadow. 

"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."  I always love a good shepherd analogy in the Bible.  It's great stuff.  We tend to think of the shepherds as those sweet faced little boys in the Nativity at Christmas time with wispy curls and maybe a pan flute.  The truth is, shepherds were pretty bad ass.  They slept outside watching over smelly sheep that needed protection from animals like wolves and mountain lions that could just as easily eat the shepherd.  And when the mountain lions would come, those shepherds would beat the crap out of them with a big stick!  To death!!

Yeah, God's got your back on this one.  I like to picture him beating cancer to death with a big ugly stick and yelling, "Not my baby!  Not today!"  Because that's what's happening.  It's what you're doing every time you hold your sleeping boy's hand.  And I just wanted you to know, that it's what I'm doing, too.

I look forward to seeing that Facebook post that confirms what we already know, that you're boy is healthy and cancer-free.  :-)



"Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you."
                                                                                                  Acts 3:6

Monday, January 20, 2014

Betrayal and the Beast

This is the only line of this
famous poem that I know.
In seventh or eight grade my English teacher gave us a chance to earn some extra credit by memorizing a poem she handed out and reciting it after class.  I hate speaking in front of people (even if it's just to one person), so I passed on the extra credit.  My friend Lillian, however, was always a go-getter and wasn't about to let an extra ten points slip through her fingers.  Good for her.  So I put aside my fears of public speaking, total failure, and my general feeling that I am unable to learn anything and helped my friend memorize the assigned poem.

She was a little nervous when she stood in front of the teacher to recite the poem, so I sat at a desk in the back of the room to provide moral support.  She spoke passionately, made it through the entire thing with only one slight hesitation and victoriously received her ten extra points.  I remember the teacher asking me if I was going to go for the extra credit as well.  "No," I said, "I'm here for moral support.  I can't remember the poem."

Well, that was a lie, because 20 years later I can still rattle that poem off without a hitch.  I wonder if I can still get my ten points?

You know you read it.
No matter.  I was thinking about that poem today because Facebook is exploding with poetry.  If you "like" the poem that is posted, the poster will assign you an author and you have to post a poem written by that person.  I have intentionally not "liked" any of the poems because, aside from my seventh grade extra credit, the only other poems I know by heart are written by Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, or Shel Silverstein.

I wrote down the words to the poem and, since we live in an amazing time, I decided to look up the author on my iPhone.  It's a wonderful time to be alive, isn't it?  I was hoping I would be able to impress people by rattling off a poem by one of the greats like E. E. Cummings or Tennyson.  I was horribly disappointed.

The "poem" that I had accidentally memorized, the one that has been seared into my brain for the past
two decades, was a song written by a country singer named Lisa Angelle and was apparently the theme for the TV series Beauty and the Beast that ran on CBS from 1987 to 1990.  Apparently, my English teacher was less concerned about us learning classic literature and more concerned with hearing the title song to her favorite prime time drama!  It was a freaking THEME SONG!! A Theme song from a show about a disfigured, sub-terrainian noble man-beast who falls in love with John Connor's mom!

Terrible!  Just terrible!  I feel betrayed.  And even worse, I've gone and listened to the music that goes along with the "poem" and it's just awful! How will I ever get this horrible thing out of my head?

I know, I'll hum the theme song to Bewitched and then the theme to I Dream of Jeanie.  That always works. 

How did this pass for literature in my English class?  I've said it before and I'll say it again; My parents deserve a tax credit for the public education I received. 

The lyrics, written by memory with my personal, jaded commentary:

The first time I loved forever
Was when you whispered my name
And I knew at once you loved me
For the me of who I am.
                                                                      (Oh, please!)
The first time I loved forever
I cast all else aside
and bid my heart to follow
be there no more need to hide.
                                                                      (Big mistake, Sister!)
And if wishes and dreams
are merely for children
and love's a tale for fools
I'll live the dream with you.
                                                                      (Living as a foolish child.  Good call.)
For all my life and forever
There's a truth I'll always know
When my world divides and shatters
You're love is where I'll go.
                                                                     (Yeah, riiiiggghhht.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I auditioned for a play recently. I know, I know. That doesn't seem like me at all. It didn't feel like me either. But I did it anyway. My church is doing a play called The Countdown. They've done it many times over the years, although it changes a bit each time. It's a really powerful drama and, although I clearly have no business being on any stage, I just wanted to be a part of it.

At the audition they had me read the part of a 29-year-old pregnant girl. Since I'm closer to 40 than 30, I wasn't sure I had the acting chops to pull that one off.  They must have agreed, because I didn't get that part.  But I did get the part of the Waitress.  She's has a few lines in a few scenes and acts as comic relief.  Right up my ally.  However, at one of our first rehearsals, they realized that there was another person in the scene, a wife.  They forgot to cast someone for the part, so I read it just so that the scene could continue.  In the immortal words of Sally Field, they liked me.  They really liked me.  So I got an upgrade from comic relief waitress to psychotic wife.  (Keep the comments to yourself.)

I haven't done anything like this since high school. In fact, all of my acting and any involvement in the theateical arts was almost exclusively done in high school plays with the exception of one youth-group rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves when I was about seven years old.  I played Dopey.  One word.  Typecasting.  Since that triumphant performance, I was occasionally on stage, but rarely seen, in a grand total of four musicals.  I never spoke a word on stage until my senior year of high school.  And now I'll take you on a walk down my personal Memory Lane.

The first play I was in was Oklahoma.  Okay, I wasn't actually in the play. I was on Stage Crew.  I like Stage Crew. You're part of the team, but nobody sees you if you trip and fall flat on your face because every time you're out there it's pitch black and nobody can see, which is likely why you tripped and fell in the first place. Not that that specific thing has ever happened to me.


Anyhow, Oklahoma. As part of my Stage Crew duties, I got to run the lights.  The lights were located in a giant cage off stage left. Or is it stage right?  I can never remember if the directions are based on if you're on the stage looking out at the audience or if your in the audience looking up at the stage. I suppose I should figure that out so that I don't end up walking off the edge of the stage in The Countdown. The lights were controlled by three big levers, one red, one yellow and one blue. With all my might I would crank those levers up and down to get just the right mood lighting to help set the scene. "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", crank up the yellow. "Poor Jud is Dead", that song requires some ominous blue light.  It gave me a feeling of control.  Plus, we got to wear these headsets with microphones that let all the members of the crew talk to each other.  It was fun.

You see a lot of things when your on the Stage Crew. Things that no audience member should ever see.  For example, the kid up on the catwalk whose job it was to raise and lower different scenery had a birds-eye view of the stage and announced over the headset that one should not wear underwear with dark purple polka dots while wearing a light yellow dress. And there was the girl, smack in the middle of the stage, hands on her knees with her tush sticking out towards stage left (or is it right), polka dots a-blazin. And that's the story of how the entire Stage Crew got struck with the giggles on opening night.

The next year was Little Shop of Horrors. I was on stage longer than any other character in the
production. But I was invisible. Or rather, camouflaged. I was one of the two puppeteers than moved the giant 14-foot Audry II alien plant while it's lines were delivered by an actor off stage. Audry II was made out of two 12-foot rubber rafts attached to a base that hinged. It was more impressive than it sounds. It was controlled by me and a girl named Beth holding onto a raft handles on each boat on either side and flapping with all out might while we were disguised as giant leaves.  Those boats are a lot heavier than they look.  To this day I blame my disproportionately large biceps on Audry II and not on my hearty, potato-digging heritage.

During my Junior year our school did The Sound of Music.  They brought in some kids from the grammar school to play some of the smaller children and short seniors for the rest.  I don't know why, but for some reason it really bothered me that it wasn't strictly a high school musical, but was turning into some sort of community theater.  Maybe it was because I was an extra nun.  But I have to admit, it was one of the most fun plays I was in.  I became close friends with my fellow nuns and learned to sing in Latin.  I have no idea what I was saying, but to this day I can sing along with the chorus during the beginning of the movie.  :-)  And quite honestly, I was just glad to be a human and not a plant that year.

"Only bad witches are ugly."
In my final year of high school, we did The Wizard of Oz.  I so badly wanted to play the part of Glinda, but realized that I wouldn't get the part when I spoke the line, "Only bad witches are ugly."  Oh... yeah... well, that's not going to work with me.  Maybe I should have tried out for the wicked witch.  But there was a girl who already had a really great cackle.  Last year's joy of being cast as a human being was short-lived when I read the cast list and discovered that I would be playing Tree #1 in the haunted forest.  I was back to being a plant.  But I did have lines.  Three of them!  Here they are:

"Hey!  What do you think YOU'RE doing?!?"

"She was hungry!"

"Worms!  Did he say worms!"

And then I got to throw apples at Dorothy and the Tin Man.  Totally worth it.

Anyhow, I assumed my acting days were behind me.  But I felt compelled to try out for the church play.  I'm really excited to be a part of it.  If you live in the Rochester area, please come and see it!  Either you will really enjoy it and you will go out for pie afterward, or you will hate it, you can still go out for pie afterward, plus you'll have the added benefit of being able to make fun of that chick you know from high school/college/work/Facebook/quirky blog.  Win-Win-Win!

Click here to download free tickets to the show.  They're giving away a $20 Visa Gift Card at every performance!  Performances are the first two weekends in November, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 9th, and 10th, at 7:00 PM each night.


Friday, August 9, 2013

The Perfect Fit

I put together a puzzle today with my son.  In truth, what happened was he dumped the contents of a puzzle box onto my lap, sat with me for a few minutes then ran off to play Captain America while I tried to sort things out.

It seemed as though there were about a kajillion puzzle pieces even though the box said there were only 63.  I began to doubt that any of the pieces even belonged to the same puzzle.  Maybe it was just a random box filled with random puzzle pieces.  Maybe I had just discovered the secret hiding place for every lost puzzle piece.  Perhaps when one of the tiny cardboard slices inadvertently is pushed under a couch or slips beneath the edge of an area rug a magical vortex opens up and whisks it away to this unassuming little box to spend eternity with all the other lost puzzle pieces. 

Well, I'm not ruling that out completely, but after a short time a picture began to form.  That's when I
noticed it; an odd little puzzle piece.  It had a weird shape and a strange splattering of colors.  There was no telling what part of the picture this strange little piece would end up revealing.  I set it aside, doubting if it belonged at all.  But I found myself picking it up again and again.  I turned it in all directions in my hands and tried to fit it in here or there.  Sometimes it seemed like it would fit, but then I would remove it after finding a piece that was a better fit; the right piece.

And then I started to cry.  Not just because I was a tired, stressed out mother of three who found herself being stymied by a children's toy intended to be mastered by ages three and up, but because I realized that I am that weird little puzzle piece.  I am 37 years old.  I have a home, a family, a job, but I still don't know where I fit in.  Where do I fit in this world?  Like the little puzzle piece, I am lost... misplaced.

An impressive
amount of hairspray.
It's as if I never left the seventh grade and I'm still praying, "Please God, please don't let me be a nerd.  Please just let me fit in."  As a kid I was always acutely aware that my jeans were never rolled quite right.  And no matter how much hairspray I used I was never able to get that perfect wall of hair.  While the bangs of other girls stood at attention all day long, mine would unceremoniously flop to one side by second period.  I suppose, in the long run, it made for less embarrassing school photos. 

I had friends here and there, but none that would really be close for a lifetime. 
Some of my friends had such active social lives that my introverted self couldn't keep up with all the activity.  Some seemed so much more intelligent than me that I felt like I had to study up on a subject every time I wanted to have a conversation with them.  Some friends were so sweet and kind.  As much as I wanted to be more like them and remain close with them for my entire life, I knew that I was not nearly as compassionate as they were and would eventually hurt them.  So I quietly faded into the background. 

I did not fit in right through high school and into college.  I'm still not sure if I fit in anywhere.  Perhaps I will some day.  Maybe.  I mean, every puzzle piece fits somewhere, right?

As my pint-sized Captain America stomps across the puzzle, pieces sticking to the bottom of his feet waiting to be whisked away into the Lost Toy Vortex, I realize that none of that matters at this moment.  He snuggles into my lap, looks up at me with that sweet face and says, "You're my best girl, Mama."  I hold him tight and kiss the top of his fuzzy head. 

It's a perfect fit.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Girl In The Record Store

I'm sure there is a woman who exists that, back in the early 70s, dated a cute boy in high school named John.  He and his friends had a little band.  He had great hair and an ambition to be a musician when he grew up.  While they were very happy together, they were young and, as is the fate for many young loves, the flame burned fasted and faded just as quickly.  They parted friends and went their separate ways.

Several years later, in 1982, I'm sure that same girl,
now a young woman, was flipping through the
albums of her local record store.  After all, she had dated a musician in high school.  As she flips through the 12-inch squares looking for a new band to spin on the old family Hi-Fi, she gasps and quickly snaps up an album.  She exclaims loudly, "Jon Bon Jovi!?!  I used to make out with him in his mother's basement!"

I'm sure that woman exists.  She has to.  Because right now, I feel very much like that woman.  Except I'm not flipping through dusty vinyl albums.  Facebook is my record store.  A friend of mine from high school is at the beginning of a rocket ride upwards to national, and quite possibly international recognition for his art work. 

He is one of the few people that I know that said, "I want to be <fill in the blank> when I grow up," and now he actually is.  Many kids say they want to be a rock star or a famous actor when they grow up.  Most of them become accountants or possibly lawyers.  Very few actually go on to be what they professed when they were kids.  I personally wanted to be a race car driver when I was a kid.  I had a need for speed.  Some people who have driven with me might consider that I have accomplished my goal.  I also wanted to be a Notary Public.  But I digress.

Scorch was a cross between
an angry Bugs Bunny and a
more irritable Sonic the Hedgehog.
I remember in high school, my friend used to doodle pictures of this little bunny.  It's name was Scratch... Scorch... I can't remember what it's name was.  It was an angry little bunny with clenched teeth and one floppy ear and was the star of his very own comic strip.  And even though I made constant fun of his floppy-eared bunny, I always appreciated how detailed his drawings were.  I merely enjoyed drawing, he was passionate about it.  No matter how hard I tried, I could never create images as beautiful and compelling as his.  I'm pretty sure I still have some of his napkin doodles in a box somewhere in my parent's basement.

Due to the wonders of Facebook and other online media, some of his recent work is being recognized.  He is being commissioned to do the artwork for band CDs and movie posters as well as other projects.  I have to say, I am so proud of him and thrilled to be a person who can say, "I knew him when..." 

I look forward to the day in the not-too-distant-future when I'm looking through CDs or perusing the "Coming Soon" movie posters at Regal Theater and recognize the distinct style of my friend's artwork.  I'm so proud of him and can't wait to see such a talented and deserving person receive public recognition and admiration for his craft.  I can't wait to be that woman in the record store.  Because we totally made out in his mother's basement.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day Approaches

Valentine's Day is nearly upon us and with it comes the special combination of anxiety and neuroticism that makes me uniquely me. As if my general fears of the day aren't enough, I am now finding myself contemplating what illness or accident will land me another romantic evening in the Emergency Room.

I'm so glad that my kids have not inherited my Valentine's craziness. They seem pretty cool and matter-of-fact about it. There's no anxiety about giving a valentine to the weird kid or people thinking that they like the weird kid. I guess that's a plus to today's school system. They really emphasize that every kid in the class is "one of our friends." That wasn't the case when I was growing up. There was a definite stigma associated with being friends with some kids. Was it fair? No. Did I want to exclude people? No. But when you're a kid with thick glasses, freckles and really messed up teeth, you can't take any chances giving a Valentine to the smelly kid. Childhood was really rough for me.

We actually have the opportunity to have a grown-up night out this year. Our church’s Married Couples Group is sponsoring a romantic evening of dinner and entertainment. It's reasonably priced, but we can't make it for a few reasons, which coincidentally is the exact number of children we have. When you have three kids and not a single one of them is old enough to stay home alone or watch any of the others, you spend a lot of Valentine's Days eating chicken nuggets and watching Curious George.

We could hire our niece to babysit. She's done it before and did a great job. She's responsible, organized, and really prepared. She's much more prepared than I ever was when I used to babysit kids. She brings toys, prizes, candy and activities. But that's not really the problem either.

My parents are going to the Married Couples Valentine's Dinner. I suppose this isn't really that big of a deal. But personally, I find it really difficult to look deeply into my love's eyes while my Dad is asking me to pass the salt.

And here's Robert Downy, Jr., just because he makes everything better. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paper Cuts and Miracles

The Barbie Band-Aid really
does make it feel better.
I cut my finger while using scissors the other day. This is a potential injury I had been warned about since Kindergarten. Even as a child I wondered how one was supposedly able to cut through human skin with scissors that just barely cut through an ordinary piece of construction paper. (Side note: One can get beat up simply by referring to oneself as "One.")  Most of the time the paper ended up being ripped rather than cut.

I've always been pretty good with sharp objects. Most of my cuts are usually from broken glass or paper.  Paper is, by far, the worst enemy of my epidermis.  I've gotten some pretty nasty paper cuts. For some reason they always seem to hurt the most. Maybe it's because they're such a clean cut. Or maybe it's because I usually get them right on a knuckle where they never get a chance to really close up. All I know is that I can be bested by some thinly sliced tree pulp.

I've always excelled at using sharp objects.  It's a point of pride my father instilled in me as a child.  I've mentioned before that my father used to send me outside with a large knife and practice throwing it so that it would stick straight up in the grass and not land flat on its side.  Yeah, it sounds weird to me now, too.  But it seemed like a perfectly reasonable past time as a kid.  Dad would also bring me to the Rochester Fencing Club and have me poke a knot in the knotty pine bleachers with his extra foil while he and the rest of the club members parried and thrusted.  Good times.

My mother is generally discouraged from using knives.  She has accidentally sliced herself open and ruined more dishcloths than I can count.  We tend to take stock of the paper towels and bandages when Mom goes to slice up anything for a big family dinner.  Clearly, her parents never sent her into the back yard to practice her knife throwing skills.  Poor thing.

The blood-free project!
Since I am generally pretty good with sharp objects, I have to admit, I was quite shocked when I felt the tip of my brand new, race-car-red scissors slice through knuckle of my left index finger while cutting felt for a new project.  It was a rookie mistake.  I was so focused on cutting the felt in a straight line I didn't notice I was placing my poor little piggy that stayed home in harms way.  It was a bloody mess, but I managed to finish up my project without getting any on it.

Yup, I got cut right on the Middle
phalanx of my left index finger.
Fortunately for me, the next day was Sunday.  I went off to church and, having forgotten to put a new Band-aid on after taking a shower, was very conscious of my grody, open wound.  But worry not!  That day in church the Holy Spirit was moving!  It was a really awesome time of worship.  Pastor didn't actually ever get to his sermon, cause instead of telling us about stuff, God just did what God does.  While I was sitting there praying I looked down at my open cut.  But it wasn't as open as it had been when I got to church.  I periodically would look down at my finger, and the cut was closing up.  By the end of church, there was a small red dot where before the raw insides of my finger had previously been.  Now you may be thinking, "So what?  It was just a simple cut that would have healed in a couple of days."  And you would be right.  Except that I didn't have to wait a couple of days.  It was healed in less than an hour at church.  And yes, it wasn't a cancerous tumor or a deadly disease that I was healed from, but if we can't believe God to heal the little things then how will we have Faith to believe for healing when big stuff hits?

I don't know about yours, but my God still does miracles.  He's pretty cool like that.