Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Three Sons

                            Matt, Adam, and Josh on Matt's Wedding Day, October 20, 2007

Becoming and being a mother is an awesome thing.  It is, usually all at once:  wonderful and frustrating; maddening and gladdening, laugh-out-loud funny and cry-inside sad; endless and way too short; chaotic and peaceful; noisy and silent; intimidating and many things.  But most of all, as I said, awesome.

I entitled this post, My Three Sons, not to leave my husband and their father out, but because my perspective of and relationship, as a mother, to our boys (now men), is my own, and belongs to no one else.  This is true of all families, and should be.  I became a parent for the first time at the age of 26, which was both too soon and not soon enough - another dichotomy of parenthood.  It was too soon mostly because I really was not grown up enough nor prepared  to be a mother (who ever really is?), and not soon enough, because motherhood is certainly a "you better start growing up, and fast!" experience. Gone were the days of only self- and/or spouse-interest, and in comes almost complete other-centeredness.  You find your own feelings and needs suddenly much less important, and often completely over-shadowed by the needs of your children.  It is a wonderful and sometimes lonely, isolated time.

I'll begin with the births of our first two children, because both my husband and I [:-D] were present for, and experienced them, and then with the entry into our lives of the third.  Don't worry - no long, painful labor and delivery stories here.  As both my husband and I have said, that most often can be considered a "sharing violation." What amazes me about Joshua's and Matthew's births, and Adam's entrance into our lives, is how completely different they all were.  Almost nothing about them was the same, except that they were all conceived in the usual way, and came to be, from the inside, out.  I simply could not get over the fact that we noticed at the instant of their birth that they were born with already-formed individual, unique personalities.  I'll admit to being totally ignorant that would be the case.  I just assumed that when children were born, they are sort of amorphous beings that must be shaped into thinking, aware, and complete beings.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  Not only were they different inside of my womb (didn't find that out until the second came along), but totally different as they burst forth into their somewhat "independent" life. Suddenly we had other total individuals to which we had to adapt, and not the other way around.  And the adaptations were also diametrically opposed to the others.  Such mysteries are the plans and designs of God..

My first experience as a Mom was relatively easy (though it took some getting used to), and I had decided, that despite some problems, parenthood was pretty much of a snap.  Josh was an easy child - that's not to say he was passive - far from it! - but that, maybe because he was an only child at the time, I found him fairly simple to adjust to.  I even went so far as to think that I had this "parenting thing" all figured let's have another one!  Twenty-seven months later, we did, and my "come-uppance"  (and real growing up) began.  Matt had a mind all his own (well, they both did, but you know what I mean), and was quite willing to invoke that will upon us at any time, and whenever the mood struck him.  He simply would not be denied, and could not be ignored.   Because of his quiet  nature, Josh easily contented himself for the most part, but Matt had to be "entertained."  Yes, Matt had ideas of his own, but almost always wanted everyone's complete and undivided attention while he acted them out. While nursing him, (and he would have stayed glued to me 24 hours a day, if I had had the strength or will), as soon as he could lift his hand up and hold on to my face, he would turn it toward his, and insist that I watch him every moment of the process (and he would make sure it was a long one).  While Josh had been quite content to just get his nourishment while I perhaps read a book or magazine, or even snoozed a bit, Matt had to have my completely devoted attention.  I remember both times, after their first teeth had come out, when they first "bit" me.  Josh looked up at me with a look that said, "Is that OK?"  (He found out that it definitely was not!)  Matt bit, and looked up at me and grinned, practically shouting, "That was fun...I'll make that a habit!"  (He found out he most definitely would not!)  One similarity between the two, though, was that they were delighted with and in each other.  There has never seemed to be any real sibling rivalry.  Of course, they had the usual fraternal squabbles, but they were short-lived, and generally ended peacefully with a little "time out."  When both were in high school together, because of their radical differences in personality, they generally stayed away from each another, but only for that brief time in their lives.  Otherwise, they have always been very close, and concerned for the other's well-being.  We, as parents, are especially blessed in that way, and from observing other families, know what a blessing it was and is.

Adam came into our lives, and became our son in a totally different fashion. (And it definitely became and is a "butterfly memory.")  When he first started college, at the same school both Josh and Matt attended, the three of them began a friendship.  Adam was, again, very different from Josh and Matt.  He had been raised in a totally different atmosphere, and perhaps because of his overtly extreme intelligence, he had been, for the most part, acting as the adult and care-giver in his home, even as a young boy.  His mother became ill with multiple sclerosis while he was still in high school living at home.  Adam's father divorced his mother, and she married another man, and had a child with him.  It was a difficult atmosphere for Adam, and because of his step-father's inability or unwillingness to take care of her, Adam became the chief care-giver for his mother. Adam also has an older sister, who struggled/struggles with problems of her own (and has three young sons).  There was also some alcohol and drug use going on within the household.  All-in-all, not a family-friendly environment.  Adam suffered with guilt and some remorse at leaving his mother and little brother behind in order to go to college, but he also understood that unless his mother began to take some control over her own well-being and her household, she would never be able to survive, were anything to happen to him.  So he ventured off to a college out of his home state, and met our family.  We had instant rapport, and enjoyed each other's company and deep conversations.  As he had always craved a somewhat "normal" family life, a family that remained intact, loving, and tolerant, he decided that he wanted to come and live with us.  So we said, "Come on!"  (The college was in the town where we lived at the time.)  We had empty bedrooms, because both Josh and Matt decided they wanted to stay in the dorm, living on campus.  So, about 16 years ago, Adam became our son, not by virtue of blood or legalese, but by the Grace of God.  When we were transferred to another town after three years, Adam decided he would move with us, and continue his schooling in another place or another way.  He got different jobs, and participated completely in all our family activities. He was indeed our son, and Josh's and Matt's brother.  During the time that he was living at our new home, his mother succumbed to the MS that had plagued her for many years.  After that, he basically then broke off contact with his birth family (except his sister and nephews for whom he assumed a great deal of responsibility, and he was not allowed contact with his 1/2 brother) with occasional forays back to test the waters.  None of these tests, to date, have proved successful.  Yes, it is sad, but we are also joyful that he was able to bounce back from so many strikes against him and become as successful as he has become.  He is now pursuing his MBA, as well as being an executive with a cellular telephone company based in Chicago.  He was promoted and transferred up there this past summer, and we miss very much our regular contact with him; although "texting" can be a very effective way to communicate, and often! (He is often too busy to call or answer our phone...but he does text! Ahem and harummphh, Adam!)

My three sons are attached to me (and their father) in different ways - as different as their personalities are. We are often amused at how when they call or text, that though they sometimes have the same things to tell us, they most often share completely different issues or questions and comments, and Ashley and I have to relate to each other the individual conversations we have had with them.  Our conversations occur frequently with Matt, less frequently with Josh (he lives closer to us now and we can see him more often), and even less frequently, by phone call, with Adam; however, the bonds remain as strong as ever, and continue to grow and mature, as we all do.  They are my three sons, and I am intensely proud of them and all they have overcome and accomplished and are still accomplishing in their lives - and all three have gone in separate directions - surprise, surprise!  Of course, there are no better sons or young men in the world.  That goes (almost) without saying, although I tell them and the world as often as possible.  At the same time, my pride is mixed with the understanding of how little I really had to do with it all, and what tremendous blessings God placed into the center of my life:  two seemingly by our design, and one seemingly by happenstance.  Each day I grow more confident in the immutable truth that God designed and planned it all for our mutual blessing, enrichment, encouragement, and joy.  My parents, my brothers, sisters-in-love, and my parents-in-love; all of my dear, dear friends - they are also my family,  that God gave to me as a precious gift to cherish and nurture. I cannot go to sleep at night, nor rise each morning, nor live through a day, without being grateful for all my many blessings - especially My Three Sons.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pussy Willows in the Smokies

Well, the time has come, at last, it seems, but really it has happened right on time, as God always is.  The pussy willows have pushed their fuzzy heads out from their buds and are offering us a view of their own unique beauty. The daffodils are now blooming profusely along the roadside, and our forsythia hedge is just beginning to show hints of  its golden glow. The photo above I took today, right in my own backyard in Western North Carolina!

I've recently downloaded a song called "Bird Song," that I first heard performed by the Wailin' Jennys, but since they have not recorded it, that I know of, I got a great rendition of it sung by Heather Masse, who wrote the music, and along with Nicky Mehta also wrote the lyrics. Both are former members of the Wailin' Jennys, and this whole album, "Bird Song," is well worth listening to, or even buying.  She's a brand new artist to me, and I am  glad to have discovered her for myself.  The words are  perfect for this time of year (it has a beautiful melody, too - download it for yourself, and see!), and are as follows:

"I hear a bird chirping, up in the sky;
I'd like to be free like that, spread my wings so high.

I see the river flowing, water running by;
I'd like to be that river, see what I might find.

I feel the wind a'blowing, slowly changing time;
I'd like to be that wind, I'd swirl and shape the sky.

I smell the flowers blooming, opening for spring;
I'd like to be those flowers, open to everything.

I feel the season change the leaves, the snow, and sun;
I'd like to be those seasons, made up and undone.

I taste the living earth, the seeds that grow within;
I'd like to be that earth, a home where life begins.

I see the moon a'rising, reaching into night;
I'd like to be that moon, a knowing, glowing light.

I know the silence as the world begins to wake;
I'd like to be that silence, as the morning breaks."

Expressions as eloquent as the lyrics above don't come along very often, and I find myself thinking of them, pondering them, and of course, singing them (in my head, or out loud) over and over again.  Lately, when asking to do a solo offertory at our church, or even being asked to sing one (I admit the former occurs more than the latter), I have been choosing songs that were not necessarily written for use as sacred songs.  However, since I invariably listen to music with my "God's Voice" listening ears, I find that Voice in many different types of songs.  I even quite often find it, and sometimes unexpectedly, in reading novels you would never normally think of as "Christian literature," (which sometimes, to me, can be an oxymoron).  God can and does speak through so many people, even those perhaps completely unaware of it, if you attune your ears and heart and mind to hearing God speak to you.  Popular novels and best sellers, while on the surface might seem  merely vulgar or profane, are often some of God's best vehicles, because they give the "open-to-it" reader the opportunity, if nothing else, to learn and understand what many people are thinking, and the chance to meet and speak to some people exactly where they are on their life's journey.  Connecting with people on my own level (not meaning high or low, simply mine at the moment), is not nearly as fulfilling or meaningful to me as connecting with someone who is at a different point in their lives.  It can be  revealing and eye-opening, and I thank God each time such gifts come my way.

Two of the songs I chose to sing over the last few months have been those kind of  "God's Voice" songs.  The first one was "Feels Like Home," by Randy Newman (one of my favorite songwriters), and most popularly recorded by Bonnie Raitt.  I saw it as a reflection on the Church as home, and before singing, I recited as an introduction, the words to the last verse of Sir Isaac Watts' hymn based on the 23rd Psalm:  "The sure provisions of my God, attend me all my days.  Oh may Thy House be my abode, and all my work be praise.  There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come:  no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home."  As God often does, even without our knowledge, He fitted the song in perfectly with the theme of that morning's worship experience, and I was so grateful to be a part of it.  The other song I sang recently was on the first Sunday of March.  Our congregation, as many United Methodist churches, celebrates the Eucharist on the first Sunday of each month, as well as on other special days of the Church Year.  A song I had heard years ago by another great multitalented musical artist, the songwriter/instrumentalist/singer John McCutcheon, sounded to me as though it had been written for Communion.  The song is called "Calling All The Children Home." It begins with a chant like a mother would sing as she calls her children to come in from playing outdoors all day - to come home for dinner.  "Home to the table with the big black pot, everybody's got enough, though we ain't got a lot.  No one is forgotten, no one is alone when she's calling all the children home."  The songs ends with with the following:  "Home to the table, home to the feast, where the last are the first and the greatest are the least.  Where the rich will envy what the poor have got, everybody's got enough, though we ain't got a lot.  No one is forgotten, no one is alone...from the shacks of Soweto to the ice of Nome, from Baghdad City to the streets of Rome, we're calling all the children home."  It closes with the chanting again, as it began.  It would be difficult to find a more appropriate Communion song than this one, which was probably intended to be secular.

I'm thinking maybe this Spring, of asking to sing "Bird Song" during worship.  It fits perfectly into the appreciation of God's creation, and imagines a Godly Gift of being present and within each season as God creates them anew each and every year; indeed each and every day.  God is Good.  All life springs from the heart, hand, and mind of God, and I stand amazed at the marvels God has allowed us to enjoy with Her.

My husband and I are expecting our first grandchild late this summer.  (I know, I know! Our son and daughter-in-love are expecting their first child, too!  And how many of you are sick of hearing about it, ad nauseum?  Our "kids" think we are nuts!)  They sent us the first sonogram photo of our grandchild taken very early in the pregnancy.  The awesome thing about the photo is that it shows this beautiful girl/boy already perfectly formed, though only the size of a peanut!  How does it happen?  I will never cease to be amazed at the whole process of creation.  How does a child - or any living thing - form, seemingly from nothing, and appearing to take nothing from where it begins, grow, and keep growing, into someone/something unique and splendid?  I will never be able to comprehend those mysteries this side of heaven, and even on the other side, I wonder if I will be able to grasp the enormity of it all.  I still contend that if it had been up to me to invent the wheel, we wouldn't have one!  I come from a line of astounded, mystified, God-awing people.  I remember distinctly watching my mother as we all watched the moon landing the summer of '69.  She shook her head in wonder, and said, "I just don't believe this!  How can I stand here and watch this amazing feat on television?  I mean, I still don't even understand how television works - or the radio, for that matter - how can I be expected to grasp any of what is happening right now before my very eyes?"  She knew of course God's hand in all of it, but she was always mystified and in awe of the how. Me too. "I taste the living earth, the seeds that grow within; I'd like to be that earth, a home where life begins."

Gentle reader:
I wish you, and all, enough...

(See  When is Enough Enough? )

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sorry-Grateful, Regretful-Happy

Stephen Sondheim had a great musical in the 70's called "Company ." It is still one of my favorites, even though it is quite dated in some ways. I am surprised that no one (that I know of, anyway) has made an updated version of the musical, because the music and lyrics (all by Sondheim, including the book) are still fresh - particularly in these "metro-sexual" days. Seems it would be a perfect fit. One of the more memorable songs from that musical is called "Sorry-Grateful," and the lyrics are as follows:

"You're always sorry, you're always grateful,
You're always wondering what might have been,
Then she walks in.
And still you're sorry, and still you're grateful,
And still you wonder, and still you doubt,
The she walks out.
Everything's different, nothing's changed,
Only maybe slightly rearranged.
You're sorry-grateful, regretful-happy,
Why look for answers where none occur?
You'll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.

You're always sorry, you're always grateful,
You hold her thinking you're not alone,
You're still alone.
You don't live for her, you do live with her,
You're scared she's starting to drift away,
And scared she'll stay.
Good things get better, bad get worse-
Wait, I think I meant that in reverse.
You're sorry-grateful, regretful-happy,
Why look for answers where none occur?
You'll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.
Nothing to do with, all to do with her."

This song came to mind - at least some of the lyrics, especially the title - as I wrestled with grief recently. I am writing this post partially as a memorial and partly as self-recrimination (sound familiar?). In the past week I learned or was reminded of the deaths of 3 people who were extremely important to me earlier in my life, particularly in regard to music, and whose influences remain as fresh as ever. In addition I was able to re-establish contact with another who is still wonderfully alive, and as always, a dear mentor.

First, sometime 5 years ago, I was told that my Jr. High School through Sr. High School music teacher had died of an unknown form of cancer. I now remember being told, but at the time I was very ill myself, and my opportunity to communicate with his widow to offer my condolences and to share my wonderful memories of him with her in a timely manner was lost. It completely fell off the short-term memory screen in my mind, and was relegated to the back burner, (how's that for mixed metaphors?), and the terrible memory of his death has come back to me as though it were yesterday. His name was John Hanulik and, as I told his widow Marie in a recent letter to her, he virtually saved my life, especially in Jr. High School. If I had not had this adult in my life at school (in addition to my own parents and brothers at home), I am quite certain I would have become one more in the teen suicide statistics. I was a target of some very cruel mental and emotional (and some physical) peer abuse, and I allowed it to hit me very hard. I had never up to the time before I entered Jr.High School, experienced anything anywhere near to that severity. Things before that time, that I would have referred to as "teasing," i.e., in reference to my size or weight, were elevated to a very abusive level and it included not only other students, but teachers and other adults at the schools as well. John Hanulik, and the music room were my only places of refuge in the school. Without him I would have been completely devastated. Almost my entire personality and my ability to interact with other people was dismantled piece-by-piece, and it was years before I was able to begin to put it all back together, though in a new form. I will say; however, that since that time I have come to know that I would not trade that experience for anything in the world (nor would I wish to repeat it), because it created in me, with God's help, a sensitivity to the plight of others that I might never have been aware of, nor responded to. I am so sorry at the loss of Mr. John Hanulik. I am so grateful for the time I had with him.We always think we will have more.

Early this past week, I heard that Mary Collier, my voice teacher and vocal coach that I had all through college, had died in England, on the Isle of Wight. She was originally from England, and though always "veddy, veddy British," was never in the least bit stuffy nor stiff. In fact, she was a riot, and I used to love teasing her - saying that she was the one who got me started smoking while I was in college. I figured that if she could still have the magnificent soprano voice she had and be a smoker, why couldn't I do the same with my adequate alto? (In truth, she had nothing to do my starting that habit, which I abandoned 34 years ago!) She was extremely encouraging as a musician and friend, and seemed always to have the time for her students, managing to help you feel that you were her only one. She had several. I regret that over the last 20 years or more I failed to make contact, or get in touch with her. It was about that time that I had heard, erroneously, that she had died. All that time wasted, when I could have told her, especially since leaving school, what a huge impact she had on me those 4 years that has continued to this day. I loved her very much and she will always have a place in my heart. I am so sorry at the loss of Mary Collier. I am so grateful for the time I had with her. We always think we will have more.

While in college I also had a wonderful piano teacher, Michael Steinberg, (click on this link for reference to one of his recordings, this one of some Chopin), and had a huge crush on the wonderful - and handsome - man. He was always very kind to me, knowing in advance that I was definitely taking piano (at which I was barely adequate) as a requirement for my vocal performance major, but he nevertheless was able to teach me so very much. I learned to play several things from him, and how to use my own sensitivities, and to bring them to the music I was playing. I remember in particular working on a Brahms Intermezzo, Opus 118, No. 2. Beautiful piece, still a favorite of mine, and he made it for me even more beautiful. He used to entice me with offers to take me with him on a tour of Italy, with him as accompanist, and me as vocalist. His enticements weren't for real I don't believe, but they were certainly a wonderful fantasy. No wonder I had a crush on him! He had some good and some bad times at UConn, where he taught, and later moved on to other schools. I understand he recorded all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas for Elysium Records, but I have not found them on line...would love to have them. A friend told me, while in discussion on-line about Mary Collier's death, that Michael Steinberg had also died, several years ago. Once again, this was hard news to take. I am so sorry at the loss of Michael Steinberg. I am so grateful for the time I had with him. We always think we will have more.

The "triple whammy" of these deaths has sort of bowled me over this week, and I have spent a great deal of time, not only lost in memory, but crying quite a bit too - mainly at my regret at not maintaining relationships with people I care so much about, and not telling them when I am with them, while they are still with us, how much they mean to me. My prayer is that I have learned a great lesson: that I will always take the time to tell people, in a meaningful way, how highly I regard their help and encouragement, how much I enjoy their friendship, and indeed, how much I love them. I always think I'll have more time. With these dear people I did not.

I cannot close this posting without mentioning one of the people who is still with us, and to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Mr. George Weigle was my high school choral director as well as being the choir director at the church my family was a part of, the UMC of Westport, CT. He is an extraordinary man, now in his 80's, who, when I talked to him on the phone last week, sounded exactly like he did over 41 years ago! He gave me the best advice on, and was a great example of, choir directing. I send him my love and gratitude for all he has offered and for the wisdom he has imparted, not only to me, but to so many, many music students over the years. It was so wonderful to speak with him, to share some memories, to hear his voice, still so strong and forceful. I am so sorry that I have not stayed in more regular contact with him. I am so grateful for the time I have had, and hope to continue to have, with him. I know now, that I will not always have the time.

So much time wasted, so much sorrow.

So very much gratitude.

I wish you all enough...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Change Your Bracelet

I have a dear friend, Laurie, who told me about a book she was reading ("A Complaint Free World," by Will Bowen) that has to do with creating new and good habits, and eliminating bad ones, particularly the habit of complaining.  The author contends that in order to "hard-wire" a new habit into your behavior, you must practice it continuously, without break for 3 weeks (21 days).  In order to begin this process, he suggests that you place a bracelet on one of your wrists.  Whenever you behave contrary to the behavior you wish to establish within yourself, you change the bracelet to the other wrist, restart your "21-day clock," and try again. After you have completed the 21-day cycle, supposedly you have created that new good habit (or bad if you prefer!) that will last for your lifetime.

I tried starting this during Lent last year. The habit I was trying to establish involved both "un-learning" an old one, and "learning" the new one - consequently, I was doing two things over the Lenten season - both "giving something up" and "taking something on."  I was no longer going to complain (about anything), and I was going to establish the habit of looking for the positive aspect(s) in any situation or occurrence that I would normally (and habitually) complain about.  Much easier said than done to this seasoned complainer - primarily because the thing I complain about most of all is myself, and unfortunately, "I" am ever -present!  Wish I could tell you how many times I changed my bracelet over that season...can't count the times; but I will say that as the 21-day period kept extending, and long after the Lenten season came to a close (which  lasts 40 days, minus Sundays), the time period between changes did begin to increase.  I was sort of succeeding.  There was one snag in my plans, however.  The bracelet I was wearing broke (all those changes must have weakened the sterling.  The author suggests and offers one of those rubber bracelets - probably should have gotten one of those!).  Once it came off, it wasn't long before I started noticing that I was complaining again.  Maybe not quite as much, but the amount didn't matter to me, it was the fact that I would hear myself complain about things - particularly those things over which I have no control.  And if it's something that I do have control over, then why not do something about it instead of complaining?  The answer is that it's easier to complain than to do.  Complaining is the easy way out.  It makes it seem as though you are concerned, perhaps even motivated, yet powerless - sort of a "poor me," "poor us," "poor country," "poor world" attitude.

I'm also finding out, since I've begun a modified "change your bracelet" program (I don't wear a real one, just an imaginary one - the kind that doesn't break), that complaining doesn't really accomplish anything anyway.  If I complain because I hurt, the pain doesn't change - it just makes other people more aware of it, thus draws attention to myself - the kind of pity I definitely do not want!.  If I complain about how much I have to do, and don't get done; well, the work I'm complaining about really doesn't get done (too busy complaining about it), so therefore I look foolish and lazy to boot - and if someone else did the work for me, I'd probably have the nerve to complain about the way it was done!  I've found myself complaining a lot lately about Congress.  I am so sick to death of all the ying-yanging and childish behavior on both sides, the false rhetoric, the misinformation that some people accept as Gospel truth...well - there I go again!  And did you notice?  Nothing in Washington changed.  Now is this the sort of thing I have control over or isn't it?  You decide.  I have some housework to do (UGH!), and my back and arms and legs hurt! Oy! And another thing...

I've got to change my bracelet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Somber title about a mostly happy, joyful, and fun weekend.  The occasion was the burial of my father-in-law's (Pappy's) ashes in Perry, Florida, on Saturday, March 20.  As I have said before, Pappy died on December 31, 2009, having squeezed all the life out of last year as he could.  We have all been blessed by having had him in our lives. 

(Photo of Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel of Paine
College, Augusta, Georgia, taken March 19,
2010 by Ashley M. Calhoun)  

Our trip was an interesting one, but a little background first:  Perry, Florida is the "ancestral home" of many of our branch of the Calhoun/Barnes/Hendry family (all on my husband's father's side).  My husband's great-grandfather was John Caldwell Calhoun (not the one of Vice-Presidential, early-American fame, but named for him never the less).  He built a HUGE home in Perry to house his rather large family and relatives.  The house at the time had 9 bedrooms and several baths (very unusual for its time in the early 20th century).  It was a beautiful Victorian style, and fondly remembered by "Pappy" and his siblings as being a wonderful place to visit his grandparents and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Sometime in the 50's or 60's, the house and land was sold into other hands, and was over the next many years either a private residence or a "Bed and Breakfast," with some modifications done along the way, in order to modernize.  A few short years ago the house went on the market again, and the "for sale" sign was noted by Pappy, Ashley's brother Frank, and Ashley, when they had traveled down that way for other business.  Ashley took down the Realtor's number and called him when he returned home to tell him some of the original history of the place, and that if whoever bought it was interested, he would love to speak with them and tell them some first-hand stories of the beautiful old local-landmark home. It turns out that the house was purchased by a couple, Chris and Leah James, who were, indeed, very interested to learn of the home.  They very lovingly have restored the home, made some improvements, and stuffed it with gorgeous "period" Victorian antiques, which all look like they were made to be there; in addition, they have put their own personal stamp on it, and all-in-all it is a wonderful place to visit (or live!).  The James' have become honorary members of the Calhoun family...we are proud to call them our own!  Last year, on this very same weekend (March 20-22, 2009), we held the first-ever "Dougald Calhoun (Pappy's Great-Grandfather) Descendant's Family Reunion," something Pappy had wanted to do for a long time, and with a lot of work by many family-members, it came about to Pappy's great joy.  We met family that we had never met nor known of, as well as reconnected with relatives we had not seen in a long time.  It was a grand occasion. At our request, and the James' insistence,  we held the first full day, Saturday, of the reunion at the Calhoun House.  We took tours, shared and swapped photos and memories, and had a fabulous luncheon served in the azalea-bloom filled back garden.  That night, the First UMC of Perry put on a huge catered dinner for our family in their beautiful Fellowship Hall, for which they took no money (we decided then to give the money we planned to pay them for the meal to their food pantry ministry in thanksgiving for their hospitality).  On Sunday, we attended worship services there, where many Calhouns and Hendrys had been active members.  It was also the church where Pappy had preached his very first sermon over 75 years ago.  He was given some time in the pulpit that morning to share some of his and his family's story, which he did with great inspiration.  Following the service, we all scattered back to our various homes. The memories of that week-end were treasured by Pappy for the last few months of his life, and up until the end he looked forward to the next -  one of which he is enjoying right now in heaven!

Though many of his former colleagues and students from Paine College attended the Memorial Service in Asheville shortly after his death, the College, of which Pappy was President during the tumultuous Civil-Rights Era, wanted to have its own Memorial Service for him in the Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel, which was partly designed by Pappy, and built during his tenure there.  The service at Paine was then arranged to coincide with the time we had planned for traveling in that direction to inter Pappy's ashes.  So Friday morning, March 19, 2010, we were present at a beautiful memorial and testimony to the extraordinary work and influence of a truly great man:  The Rev. Dr. Eugene Clayton Calhoun, Jr.  Many who had been at the first service, also came to this one, and some wonderful stories were told, some beautiful, touching and inspiring memories shared, and some great music sung - especially by the Paine College Choir. What a fellowship!. Following this service, we were invited to "Paine House," home of the College Presidents and their families - (currently Dr. George Bradley and his wife Dr. Tina Marshall-Bradley) - which was also designed and built by Pappy and Mom "C" while they served there. We and several guests were treated to a beautiful luncheon. The house was designed not only as a home for the Presidents and their families, but also as a gathering place for special college social functions including students, faculty and other visitors.  It was a splendid day.  Ashley and I were particularly glad to have Josh along with us on this trip, as last year none of our boys, because of work conflicts, could attend the reunion.  After leaving Paine, we headed on down to Perry, Florida.  On Saturday morning at 11 a.m., we buried most of Pappy's ashes beneath the headstone marked with a UMC Missionary medallion, as is Mom C's plot, next to his.  We stood around the site and many shared special memories of Pappy and his influences on our lives, followed by a brief reading of scripture and the committal prayer - "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying those of the family who were able to come, along with other friends who shared in the occasion.  Having Josh with us to show him the "sights" of Perry was a lot of fun, and another house, also owned by the James' called "The Gray Stone House," was also toured and is known as being haunted (as is the Calhoun house, apparently), so we all returned there on Saturday night and conducted our own "exhaustive" Ghost Hunt!  It was great fun, and while we may have captured a few "orbs" on the photos we snapped, we weren't fortunate enough to hear any voices or see any apparitions.  But we have yet to listen to our digital recordings in which we may hear some "Electronic Voice Phenomena."  We'll keep you posted!  We attended worship services at First UMC the next morning, a day the church was celebrating their 140th anniversary.  We poignantly remembered then that both Pappy's first and last times in the pulpit were at the same church! 

Above, I said that "most of" Pappy's ashes were interned at Perry.  Just after the initial Memorial Service in Asheville, some of his ashes were spread at "Rock Tree Ranch" the home he and Mom C had built when they moved to Clyde, NC 36 years ago.  They lived there until moving to the Givens Estates many years later.  A piece of his heart always remained at the "ranch," because he loved the mountains of North Carolina, and the mountain vista from their house was and still is beautiful to behold.  We also saved out a few of the ashes for another mission - one which we are praying will come about.

Shortly after Pappy died, we found one of his journals, this one which he started at the beginning of their second mission voyage to China in 1946.  At the beginning of this journal he is writing of his anticipation of and joy at returning to the mission field, especially because he and his family were forced out by the Japanese during World War II, and they had to leave behind the work they had begun with the help of God and God's Church Universal. After the war, they were allowed to go back to China to continue their mission, where they remained until they were forced out by the Communists.  In his journal, Pappy speaks of "going home."  He had come to feel that China was his home, as much as anywhere else on earth, in spite of long absences, and he deeply loved its people and their culture, the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ with many (a number of which "labor in the vineyard" to this day!), as well as to learn from them.  Therefore, we saved the rest of his ashes for committal and a scattering in the region of East China where they had served.  In communication with the inter-denominational church leadership in China, Ashley has learned recently that the prospect of this happening are looking very good.  We are all thrilled at the possibility!  We are also happy knowing that at the end of the so-called "Cultural Revolution" in the 1980's Pappy was able to visit China twice.  Once with other leaders of the church, and the second time with his beloved Frankie, and several other former missionaries.( At that "pre-9/11/01" time, Mom was able to carry a few of the ashes of their eldest son Eugene Clayton Calhoun, III, with them [hidden in a packet in her shoe!] to scatter there.  China was a place  near and dear to his heart as well.)  How wonderful to know that part of Pappy's earthly body will rest in a place he dearly loved.

So, I close...ashes to ashes, dust to dust; from home to Home, from love to Love.  Thanks be to God!

I wish you all the same joys in life, and enough...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big Foot and the Foot Doctor

Well, I finally decided that the time had come for this "barefoot girl with cheek" to visit a podiatrist.  My left foot has been giving me some problems for a while, and it was becoming more and more critical for me to do something about it.  So I got a recommendation for a local Dr. from one of my fellow church choir members (you can always trust an alto!), and made an appointment for yesterday afternoon.  I am, actually, the original "barefoot girl."  I would rather walk in the snow or across a gravel drive barefoot than put shoes on.  There is a very simple reason for this...(besides having developed pretty severe arthritis in my feet over the years, and multiple surgeries on my left leg causing circulatory problems) I have feet for which no shoes have EVER been mass-marketed.  I mean, I can't just walk into a department store or a shoe store and walk out (having paid for them) with a pair of lovely, comfortable, well-fitting shoes.  NO!  I can walk into a department store or a shoe store, (and having reluctantly paid for them), walk out with a pair of ugly, uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes, which is what I have had to do for most of my adulthood!  So you can understand why going barefoot is a way of life for me.  It is the only comfortable way for me to walk, except for once a long time ago:

I had to visit a Podiatrist and orthotics specialist, up in New England somewhere, when I was having a particularly difficult time walking. After designing and making the orthotic, he ordered some special shoes.  Oh, let me tell you:  They were lovely, just lovely!  A light sort of tannish-cocoa brown color, lace-ups.  I told him to put back-up lights on them with a sign that said "WIDE LOAD."  I spent far too much money on them not to wear them, at least for a little while, but my patience for that kind of accessory wore very thin after a while, and I just put them away.  Until yesterday, that was my last experience with a Podiatrist and an Orthotics Specialist.

My left "index" toe had become a "hammer toe" and was developing a bad blister, along with some other foot problems he discovered that I didn't know about.  The toe, however, needed to be treated before I came down with yet another infection.  The Dr. was working on it, and cleaning it up, when suddenly he shouted "CAT!"  I didn't respond, because I thought he was calling one of his nurses called Catherine, or some such.  Anyway, he next shouted, "Do you have a CAT?"  To which I responded, "Well, yes, of course, and a dog and a parrot, too - why?"  "Because there are cat hairs inside this inflammation, and you need to be careful about keeping this toe clean," he said.  I answered, "And you didn't  find any bird feathers or dog hair in there too? My housekeeping must be improving!"  He didn't seem to find it very funny, but generally I am amused with myself more than anyone else, anyway. After treating and bandaging the toe, putting a sort of soft brace to shore up the "hammer toe," he called in his orthotics specialist.

The young man took one look at my feet and sighed - deeply.  He manipulated my ankles and feet and found that besides being quite swollen because of poor circulation, they could be manipulated about three times more than they should be able to.  The in-step parts of my feet are too wide for the toes, causing tendon damage that basically has "loosened" up my foot, and made me very unstable (which might explain why I have been falling down so much lately!). In any event, he set out to measure my feet for some new shoes and while doing so, he asked me, "What size shoe do you wear?"  I said generally a 10W, although sometimes I can get away with a 10M.  He shook his head and laughed - laughed I tell you! He said that I am at least an 11, one foot being larger than the other, and probably a men's size EE width!  He said, you just can't walk into a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes can you?  What a shame I have waited until now to tell my foot story - then I could have just read him the first paragraph of this post.  He brightened up considerably however, when he remembered that he happened to have on hand some shoes that he felt would fit well, and offer me stability and comfort. I  braced myself for what he would bring out, and I was not disappointed.  At least they weren't vinyl oxfords, like the others.  These were a pair of  white and blue "sneakers" that looked like Kareem Abdul Jabbar could wear, with room left over for an extra pair of socks!  I tried not to show my disappointment, because they were sort of comfortable, but honestly!  I can just see myself in my long black velvet dress, wearing my diamond earrings and sparkling tennis bracelet, with my toes, ever so discreetly, peeking out from beneath the hem in those BIG WHITE SHOES!!!  I said, "Do I have to wear these all the time?  Can I go barefoot to the ball?...or wear some other prettier shoes (any pair would be!)?  How will I look in church, clomping up to the choir loft in those lovelies?  He allowed as how I could wear something else for up to two hours at least Sundays are redeemable.  Well, I bought them...what else could I do?  And really they were quite "reasonable" at $100 a pair!  (Last time I spent that much on shoes was...wait - I've NEVER spent that much on shoes!)  He told me that once I got used to these and they seemed to be working, that he would fit me for some other types of shoes, made in Germany, that I might like the looks of better.  Can hardly wait.

So, I'm sitting here at Ashley's desk-top (alas, Toshi is still in the hospital!), wearing NOT the shoes, but at least a nice pair of thick white socks - very becoming I must say - keeping the pet hair and assorted other dirt and dust off of my feet.  (I really don't like to vacuum...I'm sort of like Roseanne Barr who used to say "I'm not vacuuming again until Sears comes out with a riding model!")  One of my favorite movies is, (of course), a Hugh Grant vehicle...Julia Roberts, too, called "Notting Hill."  In one of the earlier scenes of the movie, when the two of them are getting to know one another at his apartment, they each have their bare feet up on the coffee table.  Julia's character makes a comment about how big his feet are; and knowing the old sexual cliche,  he blushes.  She then says, "You know what they say...big feet -!"  Well, that's me!  Big feet, big shoes.

When I am at last dead and gone, having galumphed with my big feet off this mortal coil, when and if someone says, "She's left behind some mighty big shoes to fill,"  they will be absolutely right!

Signed, affectionately, gentle reader,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You've Got a Friend in Oprah

Years ago, Oprah Winfrey's talk show had an opening theme, a song, that was also used as the background for promotional ads for the show. It was a lilting, sort of sentimental tune, easy to sing or listen to, and always ended with the line, "You've got a friend in Oprah!" My thought at the time on hearing that was, "Maybe, but would she cross the street to shake my hand and say 'Hello, friend!'?" The song really bothered me. I was not yet as involved in "techno-friendships" as I am today, where I have "friends" by the hundreds that I have never met. Does the song still bother me? Yes, but probably in a different way.

The definition of "friend" has changed over the years. It reminds me of how English or most languages, probably, have gone overboard with descriptions or superlatives. In the Gospel of Mark 10:17-18 the following is found:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone."
(Italics are mine.)

Of course the story moves on from there as Jesus speaks to the man about what is required of him, but for this portion of today's post, I'm interested in the word "good." When did simply "good" become not good enough? After all, God referred to all of Creation as "good." Quite frankly, just between you and me, if I were to create something along the same order as God's creation, these days I would certainly call it a lot more than just "good." We have words today that mean so much more than "good!" We've got better, best, excellent, superlative, outstanding, a matter of fact we have so many words (as you will see below) to describe "good," that the word "good" has come to mean "ordinary." I wonder how that happened? Was it our zeal to describe our feelings of awe about people, places, or situations that led us down the road of language dilution? I don't know, and I must say that I am probably among the top 10 people in the world who will choose or at least look for a five-dollar word, when a nickel word will do. Both my father and my father-in-love were that way - I learned from the best: the A-1, ace, "baddest," beyond compare, boss, capital, champion, chief, choicest, coolest, culminating, finest, first, first-class, first-rate, foremost, greatest, highest, incomparable, inimitable, leading, matchless, nonpareil, number 1, optimum, out-of-sight, outstanding, paramount, peerless, perfect, preeminent, premium, prime, primo, principal, sans pareil, second to none, super, superlative, supreme, terrific, tops, toughest, transcendent, unequaled, unparalleled, unrivaled, and unsurpassed users of language in the universe!

Which brings me to the word "friend." It is a word used today, often to describe relationships based on no more than an iconic face or a place on a page in "Facebook," or a "follower" on "Twitter", or even a "follower" on a blog! How many followers or "friends" do you have on your site, how many people have you "friended" today? What an odd choice we have made when we have chosen to call almost anyone with whom we have established contact, a friend! (And I am definitely among the many who do!) What bothers me about Oprah's song, and about "friending," is what I perceive as a sort of lonely, sadness in it all. Are there really people out there who have no one else to call a friend than
someone's name and photo on a computer page, or a woman they know only by how she represents herself on TV - someone they have never met, nor formed any sort of relationship with, except to watch her on television? A friend is someone on whom you can rely, someone who will be there with you, either personally or in spirit, through all of life's trials, tribulations, joys, and triumphs.

As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 -

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
10 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

I'm quite certain that Oprah has many of these friends, but I don't think everyone who has seen or watched her program has such a friend in her - whether she wants us to be one or not, and I am quite sure that many, if not most, of my Facebook "friends" would not know me if they fell over me!

Friendship is a good thing, and should never be trivialized or used in place of words more descriptive of other relationships. Relatives, acquaintance-ships or other people with whom we are or have become familiar are not necessarily friends - although a friendship may evolve over time. Friendships are precious things to be nurtured, developed, treasured, and guarded. Friendship takes time, effort, and work - and our best friends are those who forgive us our lack of time, effort and work in and on their behalf! I am very fortunate to have many dear acquaintances, lots of people I like, and many I enjoy spending time with. My own negligence is probably the only thing that keeps me from calling them, and being called by them, a friend.

It is my deep desire to be more of a friend and to have more friends. I do have some, who, along with my husband, I count among the stars of my life. They know who they are. If they don't, then I haven't been doing enough work lately; although you cannot ever really do enough, nor spend enough time engaging in the work of friendship or the labor of love, and it is joyful, fruitful work and labor indeed.

So, I don't have a friend in Oprah. So what? Maybe I'm blessed enough to have a good relationship, or perhaps even a friendship with you, gentle reader. But of all, there is one friendship that I treasure above any others:

"What a friend I have in Jesus, all my sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
Oh what peace I often forfeit, Oh what needless pain I bear,
All because I do not carry everything to God in prayer."

With those words from the old hymn by Joseph Scriven, I close, wishing for you all: love, true friends, and enough...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Taste of Life Without a Habit

If you haven't gleaned it from these posts to date, I spend a lot of time with my laptop computer. It sits very prominently on the coffee table in our living room, directly in front of a very comfortable couch - where I sit - just to the side of our television, which I can watch while blogging, doing the NYT crossword each morning, reading, or listening to music. I am known for being able to do at least three of those things at the same time; I have not yet become accomplished (probably fortunately) at being able to carry on a conversation with anybody while doing any of those other activities. My attention just seems to wander from one to the others, so, I either listen to what the other person has to say, and interact, or I do the others, in some combination or other. To the right of the couch is an end table upon which sits my printer/copier/scanner. I love that electronic wonder almost as much as my computer. So much is stored inside - pictures of generations of Calhouns and Tohlines, and various documents (all of which, of course, I have backed up on the computer, which is also backed up once a week to a back-up drive - I like to be thorough). Since the battery for my computer died a long time ago (our son Adam gave this computer, his "old" one, to me when he got a newer one), it has an AC cord attached to it. Along with that cord, there is also the USB cord connection to the printer, plus a USB connection to the fan, which keeps my computer from overheating. In addition there is also a USB extender connection which expands the capability of connecting other peripherals to the computer, such as my iPod, when downloading music, or the camera memory card, when downloading some photos (that don't need to be edited right away) directly into a folder on the computer. Oh, yes, there is also now a USB connection for the back-up drive and the dock it sits in as well. So, in my electronically connected, comfortable, couch potato way, I stay in touch with the world (quite literally, because I have e-mail conversations with lots of people from all over the country, as well as a very large number of Facebook friends from all over the world). Oh, yes, and I do this blog, which so far has millions of followers (yeah, right) ! Am I famous, or what?

Something happened this past week. Do any of you remember a wonderful movie made in the 1960's, starring Alan Arkin, called "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!"? It concerned a Russian ship that had accidentally gone off course, and ended up docking at a small port off the Northeast Atlantic Coast of the USA, an island community sort of like Martha's Vineyard, though not nearly so sophisticated! Through a series of blunders and language problems, the townsfolk came to believe that the Russians were there because we were finally at war with the dreaded enemy. (It was the height of the "Cold War" when this movie was made.) The movie is VERY funny, and worth a rent if you haven't seen it...our family has a favorite quotation from it, which is not worth printing, because it loses so much in the "translation" from voice to paper. I mention this movie because, except for a little coughing and wheezing, my dear beloved laptop - very nearly my way of life - basically gave up the ghost. It didn't really stop working so much as slow down. I don't mean just slow down, like from a trot to a walk, but SLOW DOWN, as from a trot to a spine-injured person learning to walk again after years of inability to do so. Each operation on my computer, which I lovingly named "Tosh," started taking more and more time for each function to the point that simply clicking on my internet connection icon required at least 15 minutes for it to come up on the screen, to say nothing about how long it took to read just one e-mail; much less the approximately 75-100 I receive each day. I was not happy. In fact, I was very UNhappy; bordering on a complete breakdown of my frustration-level indicators. (Poor me!)

I finally had to take my baby to the Dr. Actually, Ashley did it for me, because I couldn't bear the thought of turning it over to someone else - they might damage it, or worse yet, even CLEAN it! I mean, there are cat hairs in that keyboard from when one of them was a kitten (ah, memories!)..., to say nothing of my own hair and various other food particles and dust. Don't judge me too harshly now...I do sort of wipe it off occasionally, and have been known to use one of the CO2 spray cleaners on it, but have become convinced that it has worked so well over the years precisely because I have not overly fussed with it, and let Tosh sort of take care of himself.

Now, you ask, what do the Russians have to do with any of this sob story? When the computer Dr.'s office called me yesterday I was informed that poor Tosh has a horrible infection, that cannot be fixed by just any ordinary antibiotic. It is going to require extensive IV treatment, plus some surgery to implant a new component, a pacemaker, if you will, to keep this illness and others from happening again. It turns out that the dread disease is not Swine 'Flu, Bird 'Flu, or is RUSSIAN! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys: since the end of the cold war, apparently the Russians have decided the best way to attack us is by botching up our computers and their programs...using the nefarious internet to inflict their infections. This time, apparently washing our hands before use simply won't stave off these diseases. My anti-virus software was not sophisticated enough to keep up with all the "new and improved" versions of infections that are being manufactured daily. I still haven't figured out why slowing down my poor Tosh is going to advance their takeover of our country, but perhaps it has something to do with getting it slow enough to be able to understand Tosh's special form of computer-speak-Paula language. My over use of "...", italics, BOLD CAPS, and unnecessary "quotation marks," has probably led them to develop some sort of Enigma machine to decode my musings. Won't they be surprised when they find out that the sum total of my writings means virtually nothing to anyone but me, and maybe one or two of my FOUR followers? "Ha-Ha!" says I! But the Russians have the last laugh, because my computer - my Toshie - is going to take almost 1/3 as much money to cure as it would to buy a new one. I'm not sure, however, that I can make the decision to put Tosh to sleep. I am using Ashley's desktop computer, which is very uncomfortable for me to sit at and use, has all its wires crossed up so much I can't make hide nor hair of it, the DVD/CD drive does not work - so no music, there is no TV in the kitchen where this computer is located, so I miss a lot of my favorite sitcom reruns, plus his printer/scanner/copier does not work as well as mine. The only GOOD thing about it is that I can access my e-mail and do my blog. Most of the other software I use is on Tosh. How could I let him go, after the habits of my life have been centered around him for so long now?

So, I am now having, once again, a taste of my "Life Without a Habit." Believe me, it is far more difficult a habit to give up than my smoking was, or my poor eating habits are. I have so much more sympathy for all the "aholics" out there. Hmmm...(to use one of my trademarks), perhaps that is what God had in mind. Get off the couch and be useful, Paula! There might actually be more to life than what you have been doing!

Perish the thought! And, "Get well soon, Tosh!"

Addendum - March 14, 2010: The Dr. just called. Toshie took over THREE FULL DAYS to scan.He said it was by far the longest scan time he has ever seen or heard of. He was infected with EIGHTEEN (count 'em) 18 viruses (and as I recall there were 18 crewmen on board that Russian ship...hmmm); but Doc Staples does believe that my dear Toshie can be healed! He has to stay in the hospital until Wednesday. Pray for Tosh. Better yet, PRAY FOR ME! (And Ashley just said, "Pray for me to get my computer back out of Paula's clutches!")

Addendum to the addendum - July 16, 2010:  Toshi, my beloved Toshi, if he were not still in his bag, would be pushing up the daisies, he is bereft of life, he has shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible, he has rung down the curtain, Toshi, my dear gentle readers, is an EX-computer!  This has been true for some time now, I have only just accepted it, and have started shopping for his new and hopefully better replacement (hard to believe there could  one better, though!).  I am glad most all of my data was backed up; I have lost some, but nothing, thank God, irreplaceable.  As you have often been told, so I now repeat:  The 11th Commandment - "THOU SHALT BACK UP THY WORK DAILY!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

When is Enough Enough?

Our wonderful Pastor and teacher, Dr. Chuck Wilson, has taken the opportunity to preach (and I mean preach!) each Sunday of this Season of Lent a series of sermons centered around a study our congregation is doing on a book called "Hope Lives," by Amber Van Schooneveld. I highly recommend this book to all, for either a group, or an individual study. It deals with poverty - a small word for a condition that is of a huge magnitude, and multiple definitions, and exists in a great number of contexts.

Yesterday, March 7, one of the questions asked was, "What is the opposite of poverty?" What do you think? Is it wealth or riches? Is it having everything you could ever want? These are the obvious answers that many if not most people will give when asked. Chuck quoted a man (whose name I will post as soon as I can remember or find out), who said that if you were to put poverty and wealth on a sliding scale, what you would eventually arrive at is that the opposite of poverty is "enough,"which is also the opposite of wealth. What is enough? How do you know you have it, and what is enough to you, indeed, what is enough for me or anybody? I have always had in the back of my mind that when speaking in terms of money, my idea of enough is $.01 more in my bank account each month than I used...note that at this point I say "used," rather than "needed." For my entire life I have had more than enough of everything. Imagining those who have never had enough of anything, who indeed die for need of the things I have far too much of - for things I put in the garbage, and throw away as spoiled or useless - these things haunt me more than anything else in my life, and are sins, that while I know from an intellectual standpoint that God forgives me when I repent, I also often fail to follow through on my repentance and continue to do the same things over and over. I question my forgiveness especially of myself. Then I am stuck in the quandary of whether I want to stay miserable, feeling sorry for my sins, but not doing anything, or actually taking the bold, and for me, energetic step of getting up and acting out my belief that I have been blessed to be a blessing, and not a self-satisfied, self-centered "spiritual couch potato."

I start each day thanking God for another day in which to honor God not only in what I say, but in what I do. I close each day asking forgiveness for the opportunities God gave me that I ignored or overlooked. I have a longer list, it seems, each evening, because through study I am becoming more and more aware of things I can do yet fail to. I pray God's patience with me...I know that God has not finished with me yet, and while I may take two steps forward and one step back, repeatedly, nevertheless, I am progressing. For one thing, I am beginning to learn what is enough for me, and I know that in divesting myself of the surplus I have, God is lifting the burden from me that goes along with having too much.

What is enough? I'm learning, but I do have blind spots. Food has always been one of them, one of the idols that has had a hold on my attention and "worship." Over the past 7 or 8 months, I have been on a journey of new attitude toward food. I do not mean a losing-weight sort of diet (although that has been somewhat of a consequence). What I mean is not looking to food ever again for anything other than what I need to live in a healthy manner, and enjoying the richness of enough, without complaining, and in an "attitude of gratitude" for the abundance I have been given. I believe that God gave us all kinds of wonderful things, beautiful, funny, and magnificent creations and all sorts of tastes and savory things to enjoy, but not to worship. True joy comes not in sybaritic self-indulgence of earthly pleasures, or in the eating itself, but in the fellowship that can go along with it - fellowship not just with other people, but koininia with God, in which we are allowed to enjoy the blessings provided to us in the very presence of God. I'm working on it. Pray for me that I can let go of this idol of too much food that has often been at the center of my worship.

But again, when is enough enough? I will close this post with the final lines of a lovely true story written and witnessed by Bob Perks some years ago. It is most likely familiar to you, but I include these few sentences from the story of a father bidding his daughter farewell at an airport, because it speaks so eloquently of "enough." Mr. Perks witnessed the farewell, and spoke to the father, whose eyes were brimming, having parted from his daughter for what he knew, because of health challenges he was facing, would be the last time:

"When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, "I wish you enough." May I ask what that means?"
He began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone." He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more."When we said 'I wish you enough,' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them," he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Goodbye."

He then began to sob and walked away.
And so, gentle reader, with all my heart, I wish you - I wish everyone - enough.

Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration by Amber Van Schooneveld and Wess Stafford

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Body-Image, the Dreaded Mirror, and Self-Esteem, Part 1

For our Youth Group at a church where Ashley served when we were first married, we had a wonderful couple, Dick and Carole, who helped us lead the group and were extraordinary advisors and planners. One evening they gave each of the participants a quiz that consisted of the following: How much of each day are the following people or conditions responsible for how you feel about yourself, others, or your circumstances? a) - your parents and siblings; b) - your teachers; c) - your friends; d) - the weather; e) - the mirror; f) - the opinions of other people. I believe there were other conditions on the list, but they all were pretty much along the same line. This quiz was aimed at Sr. High Youth, ages 15 - 18. They were handed a piece of paper on which a chart with boxes was drawn out for each one to fill in the percentages for each category. There were a large variety of responses, most of them saying the greatest instigator of their feelings was either their parents or their friends. Of course, from the discussion that followed, one glaring truth was learned: even if you think that someone or something else determines the way you feel, each of us is in fact solely responsible for the way we feel about anyone, or any situation or circumstance.

Our feelings are transitory, often in a state of flux, but nobody can "make" you feel anything without your express permission. It was a real eye-opener for those young people, and also gave the adults present a reason to pause and reflect. It is so easy to say "the devil made me do it," or to feel insulted or hurt because someone else said insulting or hurtful things...we can very easily fall into the trap of believing everyone's opinions and judgments but our own.

I am a prime example of someone who takes far too much to heart the opinions of others - especially negative ones, and thus allow myself to become hurt or feel degraded. I am the largest stumbling block in developing a higher sense of self-esteem. I am also perfectly willing to dismiss any compliments or encouragement thrown my way, like a bone to a dog, because I so often choose to feel miserable about myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually: after all everybody else thinks that way about me! But I am also a paradox; because at the same time I allow my feelings of self-worth to dwindle, I also have within me a still, small voice of God that tells me I am acceptable to God just as I am - and sometimes I will even listen!

Lately, in terms of my own self-esteem, I have allowed my own body-image, what I see in the mirror to do all the talking and to make all the judgments. I really should just leave out the word "lately," because I have struggled with this problem for almost my entire life. I have kept a strangle-hold on memories of horrible, hurtful comments made to me in reference to my appearance, while I have completely dismissed the opinions of people with opposite comments and opinions from altering the way I allow myself to feel. After all, my parents had to say nice things. They could not possibly be objective about me. In particular, I remember vividly one Valentine's day, at a time when every child received a valentine from every other student in the their class, that EVERY SINGLE VALENTINE I received from my classmates that day had a picture of an elephant or a hippo on it. I was crushed, and have been unable, obviously, to let that go. Only after I became a parent did I realize that the people who love you unconditionally are the only ones who really know what you look like, what you are like, and who you really are. I still feel that Ashley and I are the best judges of the handsomeness of our sons, because we have known them from the very beginning, we know so much of their hearts and characters, and sometimes we are even clued in to what's on their minds, but we have always been able to see the things in them that other people who do not know or love them (yet) cannot see. Perhaps that can be viewed as bias, but I firmly believe that it is the truth. I know now, that it was the same with my parents, and that knowledge we have of one another is only a small part of the knowledge and divine love that God, our Creator, has for each one of us.

My mother was of average height for women of her time, about 5'4", but my Dad, being of Swedish extraction was very tall, especially for his time (basketball players nowadays - whew!), being 6'6". He at one point in his adult life was somewhat overweight, but for a fairly short period of time. Otherwise he was, although a "big" man, very well-proportioned and as handsome as any daughter could dream for a father. My mother was a beautiful, rather petite woman, (although one of her sisters was obese as an adult), but her true beauty came from her laughter, her smiles, and the twinkle in her eyes. As far as body-build goes, I definitely took after my father. I grew tall quickly, was always taller than anyone else - girls or boys - in my elementary school classes, and while at various stages I was "chubby," I was not fat - especially considering today's rampant obesity among children. I know this now only because of pictures of me from that time. I was always active outdoors - riding my bicycle, roller skating, playing tag, or flag football with my brothers. Never an especially fast runner, I was nevertheless a great kicker in kickball, and even through high school played intramural basketball, which I also really enjoyed. (I would have been on the regular high school league team, but the other girls disliked me - I was not their type - and the coaches felt I wouldn't "fit in" with the other players. In other words, I was, by their standards and thus also mine, too fat.)

Of course as a young child I spent a great deal of time reading, playing the piano and later the organ, and watching some television - particularly those programs for children: remember "Miss Frances and the Ding-Dong School?" Of course "Captain Kangaroo" along with Mr Green Jeans, Grandfather Clock, Bunny Rabbit and his ping-pong balls, Mr. Moose, and the others, including "Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog!" But TV back then simply did not have the variety that it has today, nor were there the video games and other electronic distractions that keep so many children physically inactive and glued to the couch.

By the time I reached Jr.High School (a terrifying time in most young teenagers' lives), I was almost my full height of 5'11-1/2", at which I quite ungracefully arrived around 9th or 10th grade. It so happens that the beginning of seventh grade also coincided with my family's move from Beaumont, Texas to Westport, CT. There simply are not many places in this country that differ more than those two communities. While I had been teased most of my life to that point as being "fat" or "ugly," (even my two older brothers were guilty of that sometimes, but never in front of other people!), all of that pales in comparison to the peer abuse that was heaped upon me day after day, while in Jr. High School, as well as similar abuse from teachers and other adults. I went from being a rather vocal, "out-loud" sort of girl with all A's in school to becoming very soft spoken (teased relentlessly about my Texas accent, I lost all traces of it within two months), frightened, and quiet girl who came to hate school and did only what was required to get by - mostly C's and D's, except for music classes. I also came up with pretty much every excuse in the book to avoid going to school, and I often begged to be transferred to another school, or a private school - any place where I thought I might be accepted. I learned during that period to become almost completely unwilling to stand up for anything I believed or thought, and would do or say practically anything in order to be accepted by the "in-crowd," in vain hopes of being liked or welcomed into their closed society. Being completely rejected by almost all my peers (except for a precious few who are still my best friends), I partly owe my life to the kindness of the music teacher, Mr. John Hanulik, as without his wonderful acceptance of me as a human being, and his sweet sense of humor, and gifts as a teacher, I most likely would have committed suicide. I'm not sure I ever told him that, even though I was fortunate to have an association with him all the way from 7th grade through 12th. He was transferred to the schools I attended, and while he was not always my teacher, he was always a friend and advisor. I wish that I had told him that he saved my life...I went off to college, my family moved away from Connecticut, and it wasn't until some years after his death that I heard he was gone. I wish I had taken the opportunity when I had the chance, to tell him how important he was in my life, and that his influence still works inside me. It is a major fact of my life, especially during those horrible adolescent years, that music was a life-saver. Both of the music educators that I had during those years, Mr. Hanulik, and Mr. George Weigle (the high school choral director, and also my church choir director), have made an indelible imprint on my life and are partially responsible for helping me to see myself as a talented, valuable person.

Somewhere in all this mess of a young life, even in spite of some very good times, I came to despise the way I looked, and started to blame my looks for all of my unhappiness. To some degree or another, this continues even to this day, although my awareness of it as a symptom of something larger and more complex, has helped me to let myself abandon some of the anger and resentment that goes hand-in-hand with self-esteem. I managed to get through high school relatively intact, and was accepted into the University of Connecticut as a music major (what else?). I did slowly over the years after college gradually become the obese person I had always been "accused" of being, but I tended to yo-yo up and down, and as it turned out, I could detect no difference in the mirror. I had always been fat and ugly, and I still was, and seemingly always would be unacceptable to myself, regardless of how thin I became, or how much weight I lost. Were I not a person who enjoys food as much as I do - all types of it - and have always associated it with good times and happiness - I could have become an anorexic, someone who could never be thin enough, even to the point of starving to death.

So part one of this two-part saga comes to an end as I enter college, start to form my own sense of identity, and make some small steps toward accepting responsibility for my feelings, although I sometimes took two steps forward and three steps back. I began the journey of adulthood...but the dreaded mirror I kept strapped to my back, a burden I seemed unwilling to let go.

"Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalms 51:10)

Friday, March 5, 2010

What's the Use?

I wrote this piece of prose one day as an answer to a comment I read, written by someone I love, on a questionnaire, asking “What is your religion?” and “What are your political views?” First of all, I sort of despise the questions in that context, because they appear to be asking something of consequence, while at the same time really indicating absolutely nothing about the person answering. People come in so many varieties, and each interprets “religion” and “politics” from their own perspective. So if you were to think you were finding a kindred soul simply by seeing that they may be a part of your own religious denomination, or a member of your political party, well, think again. Because the truth is, how we express ourselves individually within the contexts of our religion and our politics varies so widely as to lead some to complete alienation from one another, if not to violence of some sort - a sad fact apparent all over the world today.

The answer given to the two questions I am referring to is, “What's the use?” Seldom has anything caught my attention quite like that phrase has, particularly in response to those questions. While the answer speaks loudly of frustration with the institutions of religion and the political arena, I also infer not only frustration and dismissal, but an almost complete loss of hope. I say almost, because by asking a question such as “What's the use?” there seems to remain at least the hope that there is an answer. I can also, by the way, accept that the response was made off-the-cuff, and meant in a flippant way, a tactic I have used more than once to dismiss a topic I was not willing to either argue about or explain. And so, with that disclaimer, I present to you the following epic post that attempts to answer, only in part, what perhaps is the use for religion and politics:
"What's the use?" It is such an easy phrase to use. It lets you out of and off of so much. But when it comes to religion and politics, what's the use? Religion and politics are among the most useful things on this planet, indeed, in the universe.
I am using the word religion now, in the way it is popularly used, but what I really mean is faith. Religion, in reality is how you practice what you believe - your faith. It is so important to believe in something, to have something to hold on to, to stand for something; because, as I have said for so long, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. What you believe determines how you will act. How you act, how you respond, is the way we relate to others. I personally believe that Christianity gives us a blueprint for how we are to deal with other people in a way that creates healthy relationships. Unfortunately, how many people practice their own brand of Christianity bears little resemblance to the blueprint, which is Jesus Christ. Christ wants us to treat everyone as we would want to be treated. It is an active faith... “Do unto others...” It expands and adds a new twist on the old Jewish law which was “Do not to others...” If how you see Christianity practiced in this world today affects the way you feel about it negatively – to such an extent that you say “What's the use?” then you have not experienced true Christianity. Don't be afraid to explore all that Christ has to offer because some people show you their warped, judgmental, biased selves and foist it off as Christianity. Surely it bears no resemblance to the Jesus of scripture, and I and many others are seeking each day to understand and become the Gospel more each day. Take the time to learn about people of our own time known as “red letter” Christians. These are people who choose to use the words of Christ as their instructions for living and relating in this world (the words of Jesus in some bibles are printed in red), and daily they put their very lives on the line in defense and out of love for others. There are wonderful people in this world and many of them are Christians, but many of them do not call themselves Christians. This comes down to a discussion of what is in a name. There is a verse in Scripture: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11). This can be understood in at least two ways: One way is that everyone will speak and call on "Jesus" by that name. Another way is this: That the name of Jesus is what people will recognize, acknowledge, and before which they will bow.. The Biblical understanding of name is different than our present-day understanding. When you named someone back then, it was more than just giving someone an appellation. It was a way of attempting to predetermine character, or describing the circumstances around conception or birth, or it expressed a hope for the future, or a combination of all these and more, including the request of God. Name meant character and personality and expression. So, to me, saying “At the name of Jesus” means “at the presence of the nature of God.” Hence I believe that even people who do not know Jesus or profess Jesus, per se, are included in salvation, because they exhibit the nature of Jesus' name. What God wants for us, for all of creation, through the name Jesus, is action not just words. And the actions he wants are not for God's sake, but for one another, for us, for our happiness and growth and abundance. God wants for us, not just of us, because what he wants of us is for our benefit! God longs for our wholeness and joy, and God knows it only comes from knowing God through the name of Jesus and in the lives and needs, the joys and sorrows, of God's children on this earth.
This all sounds so preachy, but what I'm trying to say is that faith (“religion”) is the only thing that really does matter. There has been a belief floating around for some time ( from “Baby Boomers” and their progeny in particular), stating to the effect that, “I'm not going to imprint, indoctrinate, or impose any sort of belief on my child because I want that child to make up his or her own mind when the time comes.” The thing is, the child will make up his or her own mind, regardless of what you do. God has no grandchildren. You come to faith on your own and not through your parents; parents will serve as the example of a life with or without faith whether they want to or not! It is important to give a child something to choose from, to show your children how what you believe matters in how you behave, not only with the people you like or love, but with the people you do not. There are consequences to our beliefs and actions, and I'm not just talking about honors, rewards, and fame, nor about jail, heaven, or hell. I'm thinking of everyday consequences, that build on one another and give you a framework that helps or leads you to make choices. Decision making is not done in a vacuum...we need guidelines. I believe that Jesus Christ offers those guidelines in the most accessible way. Other people will differ, but make your determination on what you truly know and understand, not on what you think you know or what you have heard from others, which can often be described as “shared ignorance.” Read widely and wisely, listen carefully, and yes, even pray. Just talk to God, even if you think God doesn't hear or care, or even exist, because just giving a voice to your thoughts sometimes brings clarity. I happen to believe that God does that for us. Everything we have and everything we are comes from somewhere and is on the way to somewhere else. God gives us the choice about what, where and how. We are responsible to ourselves and to one another and we are, and will be, held accountable for how we behave, whether by other people, ourselves, or ultimately, by God.
God gives us an infinite range of possibilities and chances to make our lives count for something, and to lead others in the way of Truth. God loves us deeply. Once we, as mere humans, love someone else, and begin to feel that overwhelming sense of belonging to and caring for another, do we begin to get a glimmer of understanding of just how much God loves us. I do not completely understand this love. I probably never will in this lifetime. I just know that it's true, that I have experienced it in multiple forms through God's freely-given Grace. All of this has been borne out in my own life, and I pray that it is apparent in how I live, while acknowledging that I make many mistakes and have so much growing and learning to do. This cloudy mirror gives a far from perfect reflection. I see this Grace being borne out in the lives of those I love, in you, whether you believe in God or not, because I guarantee, God believes in you.
Politics is people. It is the interaction of people with one another and with events in this world. It is important, and it is of great use in everyday life because it intersects with every part of our day-to-day lives, just as faith does. Politics is often distasteful because of the laborious “busy-ness” and business of it...people, each from their own perspective and understanding, ying-yanging about what things are to be done, how to get things done, or whether to get things done: politicians working on their own behalf, or on the behalf of a privileged few at the expense of the many underprivileged and under-served citizens who put them in their positions in the first place. Yes it is incredibly frustrating, just like the institutional church is, because politics, like the church, is the world, only more so...a concentrated dose of people-ness and other-ness. Busybodies and do-nothings as well as dynamos and caring, articulate people on all sides of any issue. The free expression of politics, as well as faith, is to be celebrated - and not dismissed as being useless, because it is how we learn about one another, their needs and perspectives, even those we sometimes turn away from, dismiss, or don't want to know. Learning and then teaching your children to be involved citizens in the world, while at the same time being devoted citizens in the world to come, is very important because, again, if they do not stand up for something, they will fall to or before anything. Yes, show them that you are frustrated, but show them that you care, that you are working and hoping for and ultimately believing in the possibility of change. Show them that a vote and a single voice do matter, in both the eyes of the world, and in the ear and heart of God, because ultimately they do and always will.
St. Julian of Norwich wrote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I believe that, because I believe in the Love and Grace of God. God has never failed me, and I know that though people I love sometimes may, God never will. I pray that blessed assurance for you.