Tuesday, February 28, 2006

coming home

The sun still spills in through the same east window—radiating across the white sanctuary—illuminating some, blinding others. The glowing faces are, for the most part, the same, albeit five years older. The passage of time is more apparent on some faces than others, however, particularly the once-children-now-youth we left behind on our way to a new job and a new life. The almost-maturity in their adolescent faces catches me off guard, and I look twice to be certain of their identity.

The faces behind the pulpits are also different—he is not here anymore—a fact that I had forgotten and which, had I remembered, would have spared me much anxiety this morning. The choir is still membered largely in the way I remember, the director having returned after “The Great Contemporary Versus Traditional Feud” two years after we left (not to be confused with “The Great Chairs Versus Pews War, which was before our time). Many faces are conspicuously absent—casualties of an all too common rift in the body when the last pastor was moved on and a new one brought in. As a result, there are more empty seats than usual, allowing us to slip into “our” old seats without disturbing any sacred seating chart, at least that we are aware of.

While others dutifully take in the morning’s message, I take in the scene around me. The faces of those who knew me when—friends I’ve known since kindergarten, families who fed me and slumber-partied me through high school, teachers who “always knew I’d do something with my life.” I take in the childish faces of those who are no longer children—my former children’s choir, our former Sunday school classes. My eyes travel to the cross, hand-hewn by my algebra teacher, and then to the baptismal font at which we stood with our daughter, nearly seven years ago. I regard the piano at which I sat for hours—alone, with the youth, in front of the congregation, in the presence of God. So much the same, and yet…

Coming home is always bittersweet for me. Change sneaks up on me, catches me unaware—like being out of state for several years and coming back to find that your kid sister has become a young woman—all is the same and yet everything is different. There are glimpses of familiarity in her face—your grandmother’s nose, your father’s eyes, your mother’s hair color (was that her original hair color?)—but she is not the child you left behind. Until she speaks, that is, and her voice reveals all that is unchanged.

Hymns do this for me. The church opens its mouth and speaks and the voice is still the same as it was when I was 5, 15, 25. Far from being antiquated, they are my touchstone—my eternal homecoming, no matter where I am. We open the hymnal and I close my eyes and I sing my father’s favorite hymn next to my father and I have come home. I sing at the top of my lungs from the bottom of my heart, and all that was upside-down is put right-side-up again.

The sun has shifted now—no longer does the left side of the congregation squint into the pulpit. Warmth still glows on the faces around me, however, and I cannot help but smile in return. Familiarity does not breed contempt—it breeds comfort. Melodies and memories stir within—speaking both to where I came from and to where I’m going. There will come a time when this place, these people, this body will no longer be home to me and my family. The change is inevitable. But as long as I can take my hymnal with me, I think I will be okay with that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

i can't say it any better

In response to Cindy's post on love, from my favorite writer:

The Birth of Love

To learn to love
is to be stripped of all love
until you are wholly without love
until you have gone
naked and afraid
into this cold dark place
where all love is taken from you
you will not know
that you are wholly within love.

Madeleine L'Engle, from Lines Scribbled on an Envelope

Friday, February 17, 2006

the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat...

Counselors should not watch sporting events. At least, this one should not. I’ve known this since childhood, before I was even aware that I was a counselor (because, in truth, I’ve always been a counselor), yet it does not, unfortunately, prevent me from occasionally plopping my fanny in front of the tube and subjecting myself to emotional torture for hours at a time.

ABC’s Wide World of Sports was a fixture at our house growing up, back in the pre-Victorian era of cable-less television. Every Saturday and Sunday, the TV would be tuned, by hand (gasp), to channel 24 and my male relatives, who will remain nameless but include my father and brother, would be worthless until it was over. As we owned only one TV, and as it was against some sacred childhood code to have a television on and not sit in front of it, I watched an unfortunate amount of sports in my tender youth. It was here that the drama of athletic events unfolded for me, engulfing me perhaps for the first time in a surge of emotions not my own. You see, I did not merely watch sports. I felt them.

Every fall, every bobble, every foul, every error. Every heart-stopping win, every heart-breaking loss. My overdeveloped sense of empathy would wrap itself up in knots, tangling up within the muddled mess every personal disappointment stored in my memory bank. Every disqualification, every overtime, every hope deferred, every dream crushed. I felt it all. Indeed, I feel it still.

As I do not watch many sporting events any longer, unless, of course I’m at my father’s or my brother’s homes, I have managed to spare myself the by-proxied agony of defeat for much of my adult life—the last ten minutes of a Superbowl here, the last quarter of an OSU-Michigan game there. I can handle anything in small, digestible portions. I am fairly safe, therefore, until an even-numbered year rolls around and the fanfare begins on a Friday evening and our television set doesn’t cool down until over two weeks later.

Just as the Olympics are the height of athletic competition, so are they the height of emotional turmoil for the empathetic viewer. The stories, the hopes, the dreams. There are no greater heights and no greater depths than observed at the Olympic games. Fallen skiers. Fallen skaters. Fallen heroes. What makes for a good counselor makes for a miserable sports observer. I am an emotional wreck for two weeks.

“That’s just the nature of sport,” my father tells me. Michelle Kwan claims she understands this, but her tear-filled eyes tell us otherwise. My eyes fill with hers—me, who does not even like Michelle Kwan and finds her obsession with Olympic gold bordering on pitiful—I am saddened for her in her disappointment. She is but one of many who move me to tears.

My saving grace (read: copout) in our internet age has been to sit with my wireless laptop in my lap as I sit in front of the Olympic coverage. (We are, for the record, still pre-Victorian in our own household, thereby the Olympics don’t start at our house until 8:00PM.) Even this does not spare me. Even the knowledge of who wins and who loses, who succeeds and who fails, who celebrates and who mourns—even with this knowledge, I am still a nervous wreck. Skaters fall and still medal—I cry. Nerds and beauty queens stand together on a podium—I cry. One skater goes home, another gets a chance of a lifetime—I cry for them both.

In the word of Bill Clinton, Olympic hopefuls, “I feel your pain.”

Perhaps I should be a politician. The counseling experience does not serve me well come Olympic time. Watching sports is definitely hazardous to a Mental Health Professional’s mental health.

start swinging

When I begin a book, I take up a machete and start hacking my way through the jungle, not to clear a trail for others, rather to find a path through for myself. Will anyone follow? Have I lost my way? I never know the answers to these questions as I write; I just keep swinging the machete.

Philip Yancey, Reaching For the Invisible God

cue clown music

There's a new Carnival of the Mundane up. Check it out at My Back Pages.

Monday, February 13, 2006

gotta hand it to him...

“It’s all over my hands, Momma,” he proclaims, with a hint of panic in his voice. I look up from the computer to find my son wearing nothing but a turtleneck and a look of grave concern, his hands outstretched toward me.

“What happened, buddy?”

His volumous brown eyes spill over with tears, fear and relief co-mingling down his face. “I’ve got poopy all over my hands, Momma,” he cries—my tender-hearted son who cannot bear to have his hands dirty. A stray piece of oatmeal stuck to a thumb can send him into a tizzy—he is now officially beside himself.

“I tried to go potty, Momma, but I couldn’t. I was dirty, Momma.” He sobs—equally upset by the mess he’s created and the mess he thinks is coming. I take a deep breath and guide him back to his room, steering him, or his hands, rather, clear of all obstacles. Wiping them carefully, I applaud his desire to use the potty, all the while trying not to think of what awaits me in the bathroom. It is a step in the right direction—albeit a messy and mis-timed one.

Independence is so hard-earned at three. I wonder, with tender, mother-hearted compassion, how long he struggled in fear before asking help of the very one whose response he feared the most. I call his father to deal with the bottom half—he was about to give him a bath anyway—and I kiss him on the nose while I tickle his tummy, eliciting a smile at last from my nervous little potty-neophyte. “Next time, buddy, come get Mommy if you’re poopy, got it?”

“Got it, Momma,” he grins.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

we now pause for...

Posting may be scant these next two weeks...despite not having an athletic bone in my body, I am an absolute FREAK about the Olympics. If I can get some writing in between coverage, you may hear from me!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

on the menu tonight...

Something new and different for our normal crowd--my first attempt at hosting the Carnival of the Mundane! We've got some great specials tonight, so I hope you brought an appetite with you!

We start off tonight with Cheryl, who reminices in Back in My Day about cheering at Univeral CityWalk and eating wood splinters and germs. This post was NOT made with any Pampered Chef products, of that I am quite certain.

Next, Tracy shares a juicy little tidbit about a popular menu item in Moldy Oranges=Love, "just another love story amidst the mold and the citrus." I recommend reading, but not eating, this entree.

Josh announces some happy news in We're Spawning, though I'm not sure it's polite dinner table conversation in some restaurants! (Spawning, that is!) We rejoice with them, nonetheless!

Speaking of inappropriate at the dinner table, Kristen discusses very attractive nasal irrigation systems in Finding Humor in Unlikely Places. Yum. You'll be ready to eat after this one!

If you still have your appetite, Postmodern Sass tells a story about having a beer at the end of her work day, and arguing about soup with the bartender. I recommend a side of, what else? Pretzels.

Now that the fridge is in, Muse is restocking with all sorts of goodies. Perhaps she'll whip us up a little something for dessert! (In case you can't bear to eat your dessert before your entree, you'll find part one of the saga here.)

Deputy Headmistress shares their Decision to pick out a new toilet. Our dinner conversation is beginning to resemble that of my own home, what with boogers and potties and all... I must add that I'm a little concerned when people say they choose their toilets "by process of elimination." 'Nuff said.

Enough appetizers--let's move on to some main entrees. We hear again from Muse, who laments that $20 Isn't What it Used to Be, speaking of chocolate and backpacks. Chocolate for a main entree--gotta like that!

Josh returns for the main entree as well, debating Why VCRs are Better Than Tivo. You'll be eating in front of the set for this one.

In keeping with the fridge theme, Maria bares the contents of her fridge and contemplates why she eats out so often. Perhaps she and Muse can compare notes as well...

Daisy offers to share the goodies she received in her Unexpected Packages--so, what the heck? Grab yourself a plate and let's move on to dessert!

Ooops! Ferdinand T. Cat hops up on the table to check out the spread and inform us about How to Live with Multiple Cats. Just so he doesn't lick the top off the birthday cake, like another cat I know...

Muse saddles back up to the buffet to discuss The Best Movie Theater, taking back with her some Jujubes and M&M's for the show.

Blundering American shares his thoughts about The Most Magical Place on Earth in two parts. You won't want to take the kids along for this one!

Marsha brings to the table a sampling of her best treats-- a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a morsel here, a morsel there, and more, and still more! Hope you're not too full to try a taste!

And finally, after all those goodies, don't forget to brush your teeth! Join Neil and grab your Toothbrush!

Bon appetite!