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Monday, December 23, 2013

A Series of Providential Events

 First came a note from a young man we've known since he was a wee thing. He's come to birthday parties and assorted young-people hangouts at our house, he's cut our grass, and we've taught him in Sunday school. We've watched him become a leader and always tried to encourage him. He wrote us a thank-you note. How many recent college grads do that? My husband handed it to me on the way home from church. I could scarcely get through a sentence without saying "Awwwww" and pressing the card to my chest. What a gift!
Then I was walking through Publix, snapping up the last requirements for Christmas dinner, and saw a young man walking toward me on the arm of a woman I suppose was his mother. He may have had a syndrome with a name, something that gave him small stature and an oddly triangular face that came to a wedge shape at the front. A web of thoughts zipped around my mind: "Poor fellow. It must be hard for him to connect with other people. But good that these days his mother takes him out instead of hiding him away. And there's a human being in there." I smiled at him. As I passed, he reached out and squeezed and patted my arm. The next thing I did was look up and say, "That was one of Yours, wasn't it?" What a gift!
Hanging around in the kitchen, my granddaughter Anna said, "You wanna hear what would be awesome?" Just to be silly, I said, "Nah, I hate awesome." She said, "But then you'd have to hate yourself." I hugged her. What a gift!
Cars? Diamonds? You can keep 'em. I'll take these things any day. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Life, Death, Christmas

Christmas was a little death for Jesus. Not a theme you want to highlight in the kids’ pageant, but it’s a conclusion I couldn’t avoid in Wednesday night Bible study as we discussed some similarities in circumstances surrounding His birth and His burial.
Jesus allowed Himself to be a baby, helpless in the hands of His parents, who wrapped Him tightly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger (a feeding-trough bed for the One who became the bread of life.)  At His death, His friends wrapped Him tightly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a tomb, a cave carved in the rock. Many believe the stable of His birth was also a cave. One of the gifts the Magi brought was myrrh. Joseph of Arimathea used many pounds of myrrh and other spices in Jesus’ grave wrappings.
We celebrate in December, but if the shepherds were out in the fields, it may well have been spring, when lambs destined for sacrifice in the temple were born, the time of the Passover. How fitting that the Lamb of God might have been born at the same time. When the shepherds, lowly workers, heard that the Savior was born, they ran all the way to Bethlehem to find Him. What the angels told them was true! They went home rejoicing. When the disciples heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, they ran to the tomb. An angel told them that He was no longer there. Everything He had told them was true! Men who had been in hiding, beaten and terrified, now became brave, willing to be martyred for their risen Lord.
Prophecies, angelic announcements and portents in the sky heralded both His birth and His death. Each was a pivotal moment in human history, and each saw Jesus moving from one world to another. We talk about His entering Heaven in glory, but we don’t talk so much about what it meant for the eternal Son of God, creator of the universe, second Person of the Trinity, to leave that perfect realm in the first place.  Angels (at the sight of which, humans are often terrified, or tempted to worship) praised and honored Him continually, covering their faces in humility. In our realm, people would call Him crazy and try to push Him over a cliff. In the end, they crucified Him.
It’s in Philippians 2, how God Himself took the form of a servant, humbling Himself in obedience, even to the point of death on the cross. He left honor and power and prerogatives behind. Omnipotent God became a man. That’s a little death. Hebrews 10:5 shows us that He knew from the beginning what He faced. “When He came into the world, He said ‘… a body You have prepared for Me… I have come to do Your will, O God.’” And human beings would be “sanctified  through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” A little death, a new life. An earth-shaking death, new life for millions. Now that's a gift.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me

A pair of leaves atop a twig twirled in the air like a toy helicopter. It was shady, but a beam of sun spotlighted this bit of fall (in December, in Florida) as I drove past. I marveled at the momentary spectacle, staged, apparently, just for me. People often say when they gaze at the expanse of the night sky that it makes them feel “small” or “insignificant,” but I react to stars and sunsets and mountain  ranges just as I reacted to that tawny whirligig: thanking God for putting it all in place just for me.
Think a lot of myself, don’t I? Well, not exactly. I’m undeniably a crummy sinner, and nobody owes me a thing, but the Creator of the universe is like a dad to me. He’s adopted me, made me an heir and promised me the world. Now, that’s significant. He created nations and families and individuals, including some who left their home countries for America, and put them all in the right place at the right time to produce me. Long before that, He decided to love me, save me from my own flaws, and make me part of His kingdom, sensed dimly for now, but one day to be splendidly realized on this earth.
As a loving father, He sent His own Son to make it all sure. He was born on the earth, the event we celebrate at Christmas. He was crucified to pay our debts and redeem the whole world from the curse placed on it after Adam’s sin. He rose again from the dead to prove that He is God, that death has no more power over His people. No more power over this person. Me. That’s quite a gift. That’s mighty significant. I owe Him a mighty long thank-you note.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sweatin' to the Weather Report

Sorry, snowbound and freezing northern friends, but I just went shopping in a denim skirt and sandals. In December. Music pumped into the store included a (not very good) rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." I drove home with shirt sweaty and hair sticking to my neck. The irony. 
My elementary-school teachers decorated bulletin boards with colorful "autumn leaves" in September, and enormous white snowflakes in December. To a kid in Florida, they were as familiar as craters of the moon, or rings of Saturn, often depicted, but still exotically foreign. One "winter," weathermen said there might be some snow in central Florida. Our teachers peeped out the door every few minutes. One finally said, "I think I see some," and all classrooms emptied. We stood on the playground like turkeys in a hard rain, hoping to spot a flake. "I caught one," cried a classmate, and we gathered around. A tiny bit of gray fluff sat on her hand, looking like a bit of ash. It didn't melt. Turns out it was a bit of ash. 
When temps were supposed to drop below freezing, my mother let me and my brothers set out a little dish of water overnight. In the morning, it was ice! On our porch! I've learned since that home bakers in the Dakotas sometimes store their holiday pies on the back porch, a natural freezer. Perspective. 
So, every winter, I have this cognitive dissonance. I sit here sweating, even as great fronts roll across the continent, solidifying water pipes and disguising cars as sleeping white mammoths. It's said that everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. My request for someone more wise in the ways of science: can't we rig up something that would at least average things out? I'd happily trade about twenty degrees of warmth with Michigan. Hmm? Anybody?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Woman's Right to Chew

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Esophacondom. It's a movement.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

VIP Blues

My husband and I have had a Disney World VIP Main Entrance Pass for years and have always felt privileged and grateful for free entrance into all the parks... until this year. Two weeks ago, I tried to take daughter, son-in-law and baby into Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival. At the gate, I was told our pass, which normally expires in December, had been "voided" months ago and that we should have had it replaced with a new blue pass. This was the first I had heard of any such thing. The man who told us this said he didn't know whether Guest Services could help, but we could try. 
Off to that line, a dozen or so long. A young man in a plaid vest asked what we needed help with, and I told him. He said Guest Services had nothing to do with main entrance passes, and I should call "Main Entrance Pass Information." He gave me a slip of paper with the phone number on it.  The young lady there asked for our home address and said she could find no record. I told her the pass came to us through Florida Hospital. She asked for its address. Nothing. Finally, she put me on hold and consulted a superior. Guess what: their office didn't handle our type of pass at all, and I  should call Community Relations. 
That number yielded a long recorded list of possibilities, none of which involved passes. I pressed O to speak to a representative. Another recording, and, guess what: this office is not open on Saturdays. So, the man at the gate didn't know what Guest Services does, Guest Services didn't know what Pass Information does, and Pass Information doesn't know that Community Relations is closed on Saturday. I waylaid another young man in a vest and asked to speak to someone with some authority. He insisted too that Guest Services couldn't do anything for me. He suggested that we go ahead and buy tickets in the hope that we might be reimbursed after Monday. Uh huh. I did not ask out loud "Just how stupid do you think I am?"
All righty, then, WDW, you successfully kept out three adults who were ready to splurge on food and drink. We took our dinner money to Steak 'n' Shake and wore paper hats and posted FB photos and got free refills on our sodas. The Oktoberfest Burger was yummy, and the staff oohed and aahed over the baby. The money I might have spent on creme brulee, I used to give our waitress a big tip. She seemed to have a better grasp of what it takes to make a person feel like a VIP.
The words above are an expanded (and slightly more smart aleck) version of the email I sent to WDW guest relations. The automatic "yourmessageisveryimportanttouswe'llgetbacktoyousoon" email came right away. That was Nov. 4. Today is Nov. 17. I'm still a Person, I suppose, but not Very Important. More like Virtually Ignored.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Can Any Good Thing Come out of Detroit?

How often do you hear a good word about Detroit? When I posted on FB that I was in the Detroit airport, one friend asked whether I was being punished for something. No, I was only on the way home from parents' weekend at Hillsdale College, and I'd actually been thinking how pleasant most of the workers in and around the airport had been. I wondered whether there was a campaign on to make people think better of Detroit. They did make some points with me. 
When I arrived on Friday, my rental car wasn't ready, though I had reserved one and paid in advance. I'd asked for GPS, and the only right-size vehicle in the place had none. I waited. (Without GPS, I'd still be circling the airport today.) I waited over an hour. And with me waited the adorable customer service girl, who continually apologized and sympathized. She was so sweet, I started to feel sorry for her!
When I returned the car, the young lady who checked it in introduced herself, smiled, asked whether I'd had any problems, and looked me in the eye. Nice. The shuttle driver was pleasant and polite. Served as a tonic to my exhausted being. 
Utter spaciness made me forget to pull the CPAP breathing machine out of my duffel before pushing my gear through the X-ray tunnel. They pulled it. Ahead of me, the TSA agent in charge of suspicious bundles dealt with a young man who inexplicably didn't know that they won't let you carry full tubes of shampoo and stuff onboard. He had three or four large tubes of grooming potions in his bag. The agent told him, "You can go take a shower, or you can check the bag." Her good humor made me smile. She maintained that attitude as she pulled my CPAP out, swabbed it for danger and carried it and the duffel back to have it scanned again. Kindness to dopey travelers, for the win. 
Everyone I dealt with was polite and humane, but the topper may have been the woman swabbing the restroom near my gate. I said to her, "What a job, eh, like housework all day long." 
She grinned back at me and said "Somebody's got to do it." Then she told me how important it was to her to make sure that guests had a pleasant experience. "Nobody likes a dirty bathroom."
I thanked her for taking such good care of the place. She said, "You're welcome, and you have a God-blessed day."
"You too," said I. And I think we both did.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Good Germans


         If I lived in Washington, DC, I’d probably be in jail by now. Or done my best to start a revolution. Or both. I do know I’d be down at the World War II memorial with a pair of wire cutters, snapping the wires that hold the barricades together. Barricades. Steel fences. Set up around a great plaza of pillars and plaques that never closes. That has no doors or walls or gates. That’s normally open to anyone who wishes to walk through and remember what it took to conquer Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito. To empty the concentration camps and bring the perpetrators to justice.
      But now, as schoolchildren arrive to learn their heritage, and men in wheelchairs, the ones who did the conquering, who took Pacific islands inch by inch and freed the captives one by one, approach the monument to the struggle of their youth, they are told, “Sorry, closed. You can’t come in.” To them, I would say, “You are not to be kept out,” and I would cut the wires and drag the barriers aside. Maybe someone would help me. I’m 63. I’m a grandmother. I have arthritis. But I know capricious tyranny when I see it, and I hope I would give every ounce of strength to tear down its work.
     People whose pay comes from taxes on their fellow citizens set up those barricades. Across the country, they blocked parking lots and streets and ocean fishing grounds. They even placed traffic cones on Dakota roads to prevent anyone’s stopping to gaze at Mt. Rushmore. They have to know this is wrong. “Lack of funds. We have to shut down,” says the Obama administration. And they assign extra staff, extra work, extra equipment to keep the American people from their birthright. “We’ll allot money for the parks,” says the House. “No,” says the executive, “not without imposing our insurance-purchasing scheme on the people, whether they want it or not.”
     So, to the rangers and police officers, I would say, “Please do not be good Germans.” Do not cooperate in assaulting the freedoms of your fellow citizens. Your conscience must at least whisper that this is wrong, as it did for many ordinary people in Germany some 80 years ago. “You may be asked to do things you think are wrong,” they were told, “but there is a higher purpose for these actions. The Fuehrer knows best. You must obey him for the good of the Fatherland.” They did the little things. Then they were asked to do bigger things. Terrible things. If only they had said no in the first place.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Choose This Day

     If you chop up the stuff you put in the compost pile, it disintegrates faster. I’m pretty sure this applies to human cultures too. How many ways can we divide people up? Black vs. white? Male vs. female? I guess the barriers are nothing new. Buffalo Springfield sang a long time ago about “battle lines being drawn.” And there’s sure enough been some rapid decay.
     A while back, I saw it pretty vividly in the beating heart of middle America, the package pick-up department at Sears. A man’s T-shirt dug a fetid trench with its picture of two voluptuous blondes in bikinis perched on the sides of a boat. A caption praised the boatmaker’s “twin screws” and opined that “Two screws are better than one.” Next to the man stood his little daughter, about three or four years old.
     Feeling rather sick, I turned my eyes to the lone clerk on duty, who was having a tough time with customers who didn’t quite grasp the system. He asked a woman about her vehicle, and she stared blankly. “Car? Truck?” he said. “Something to carry your purchase in?” Finally, she caught on and led him out the door.
     On his return, he walked around the room and asked the rest of us for our receipts. He got another blank stare from a man standing near the warehouse door. The man finally said he didn’t have a receipt, but he was here to pick something up and that his wife had talked to a lady. Was there a lady in there? The clerk explained that he was the only one around, and he could not bring any goods out without a receipt. The customer was sure he didn’t need one. He wanted to talk to “the lady.” The clerk repeated the necessity of a receipt. Finally, the customer exploded in profanity. “Ah, ____ it!” he shouted. “I tried to get the ____ing thing Thursday,” and on and on. He complained and cursed his way out the door. As the clerk backed through the warehouse door, he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Some people.”
     Soon he reappeared with my picnic table on a dolly and rolled it out to my waiting van. He was working hard, and drenched with sweat. As he hefted the table, I tried to think of a way to encourage him. Brows crinkled in sympathy, I said, “I’m not mad at you.”
     He burst out laughing and nudged my arm. “That guy sounded like that rapper, that Tupac Shakur.” He was still laughing as he returned to the store. I was left to ponder some facts. The man with the filthy T-shirt was white, maybe late thirties. The man with the nasty mouth was white, probably in his fifties. The clerk was young and black. And even-tempered. And wise. A middle-aged white lady, I admired him for seeming to recognize that the dividing lines here were drawn not between black and white, male and female, young and old, but between decent and indecent, mannerly and crude, considerate and selfish— one might even say human and anti-human. I was happy to think that we both had rejected the foul and degrading and stood on the side of God’s law: Love your neighbor as yourself. Maybe more of us could give it a try.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What's for Lunch?

   More than twenty years ago, I found myself in a Pizza Hut at lunch time.  Ordinarily, I would not choose Pizza Hut for lunch, but, waiting for LensCrafters to finish my new glasses, I had first tried a Subway where several people stood at the counter while the sole worker complained loudly into a telephone that he was alone in the store, and there was no way he could do a special order. He was still complaining into the phone when I gave up and left. I was tired, hot and pregnant, and so hungry and dehydrated, I dragged myself to the first available alternative. Like a good Presbyterian, I figure there is a reason for everything, and I think I was driven to that Pizza Hut to observe a remarkable scene.
     Over my enormous pebbly plastic tumbler of ice water, I watched as two women entered the store and sat down together. They wore smart outfits which suggested they must work in an office, maybe an insurance broker’s, or a bank. The waitress who greeted them and took their orders was rather a raw-boned creature with bleached-blonde hair pulled back a little too tight from an angular face. She gave the ladies their drinks and brought their lunches. The two ate and headed back, I suppose, to the office.
     So what? Well, one of the office workers was white, and the other was black. The waitress looked the part of a redneck. And it was all perfectly ordinary. That was the remarkable part to me. Remarkable, because I was born in 1950, grew up in Florida and remember the lunch counter sit-ins of the Sixties. Black students, dedicated to non-violence and human dignity, sat at “white only” lunch counters in “five and dimes” in several cities and asked to be served. Occasionally, they were, but sometimes they sat all day.
     In 1963 came a low point of cruelty, a high point of courage, and a turning point in the movement. A mixed group of black and white sat at the lunch counter of the Jackson, Mississippi, Woolworth’s. Refused service, they stayed and waited. This group was soon pressed by a mob of young white yahoos with rolled sleeves and cigarettes. Not content with screaming insults, the young men began to anoint the sitters’ heads with sugar, ketchup, salt, mustard. This made the news. There’s a well-known photograph of the young heroes and their tormentors. I think this image made many people see the inhumanity of racism and the nobility of the movement inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. It had that effect on me. Thirty years later, I compared that tension to the ordinariness of the lunch scene in front of me. I called down a blessing on the brave pioneers and on these three women. How ordinary. And how splendid.