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Silent Saturday

Today I learned a new phrase for the day between Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Sunday: Silent Saturday. I chuckled at the thought of any day in my life ever being silent- especially a Saturday! Then I thought about that day long ago between the chaos/heartache of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter. Good Friday noises? Among them, hammering, screaming, groaning, weeping, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” jeering, whispering, gasping, “It is finished,” and then “Surely He was the Son of God!” The noise must have been cacophonous until it became eerily quiet as hearts sank and darkness fell. By Easter Sunday, sounds of awe, surprise, jubilation and for us today, “He is risen, Yes, He is risen, indeed.” Saturday? It’s hard to imagine that day, but I can envision a quiet day of wondering, mourning, questioning, and simply being in shock that Jesus died in such an excruciating, humiliating and public way.

I actually experienced a Silent Saturday five years ago. After a very difficult month of March for my family, I embarked on an early morning run with my dear friend and running buddy, Maegan. It was early on Palm Sunday, and we had just met up to run before church. As we found our pace, Maegan asked me how my week looked. I sighed and said, “After such a hard month, I just really want to simplify for Holy Week.” Seconds later, my feet got caught up in my shoelaces, and I landed hard on the sidewalk, chin first. Maegan later said that she heard my bones crack. I broke my jaw in two places, and by the next day, my jaw was wired shut for six weeks.

Suddenly, Holy Week became very simple for me. The pain was intense, and the difficulties my family faced were hard and complicated. For me, though, I became uncharacteristically quiet as I sipped Vicodin, water, soup, coffee and Ensure through a straw that fit in a small gap between my wires. I slept sitting up so that I could breathe more easily through my nose, and I quickly learned that I would have to rely on others for a lot of things. I felt like we had already leaned a lot on our community over the past month, and then I fell.

Word of my fall spread quickly, and dear ones from our neighborhood, school, and church began to deliver meals to my family, swoop in and grab the kids for play dates, pray for us, and leave six-packs of Ensure, Smoothie King gift cards, and lots and lots of straws on my front porch. One long-time friend from college, Julie, brought a meal for my family and a dry erase board to help me communicate. Another sweet friend, Tanya, loaned me her blender and kept our fridge stocked with scrumptious easy-to-slurp soups. An entire gaggle of friends surprised me with a house cleaning. One day, I felt like I was about to explode. My dear friend, Laura, came over and sat next to me at my computer. I typed away and hammered out all of my frustrations, and she listened, commiserated with me and talked me through it all. Once, another sweet friend, Barbara, pulled up, got out, and simply came to me and gave me a big, silent hug. She had already brought us some clever gifts, including a mood flip chart for me to show others, but on that day, a hug was all she had. And it was all I needed.

Mama and Daddy flew in on Maundy Thursday to offer love and support up-close. That was wonderful. As I was helping my folks out of the car after picking them up at the airport, though, Mama took a tumble, bonked her head, and landed in the hospital for an overnight stay. Daddy stayed with her, and then I realized that I couldn’t even call my sisters to tell them. I was new at texting, but I managed to eventually convey the main facts to them. Mama was home with us by Good Friday, with nothing but a small bump on her head, and she and Daddy did all they could to encourage me and help with my family. Just being with them was downright medicinal.

On Saturday, Silent Saturday, Mama asked me to help her with an idea. She was deeply touched by the outpouring of love from our friends, and she wanted to thank them in person. We loaded up my Highlander with Easter lilies. I drove, and we delivered about a dozen lilies to girlfriends of mine who had simply carried my family through that first week. All I could do was drive and smile, but it was a total treat to listen to southern Mama thank my dear ones, hug them, and tell them how much they meant to her.

On Easter Sunday, we woke to a huge Easter sign in our front yard, and dozens and dozens of Easter eggs for my kids to hunt. The previous night, in the darkness, so many families brought eggs filled with candy, Bible verses and encouraging notes. They tiptoed around our front yard, hiding eggs to surprise us the next morning. I wept as I stood on the front porch with Bobby and we watched the kids grab their baskets and zip around in their pj’s, collecting eggs and sounding so joyful. Our hearts were full.

At church, we all filed in for the service. Toward the end, my jaw began to ache. I had mistimed my pain medicine, and it became very hard to focus. Just then, my dear and funny friend, Craig, handed me a pew card. On it, he had drawn a remarkable image of me with my wired jaw. He even got my hair right! There was a speech bubble coming from my grillz, and it said, “He ish rishen. Yesh. He ish rishen, indeed…” Suddenly, my pain vanished, and the joy of Easter returned.

I have thought often of that season in my life since I had my wires removed. As painful as it was, I learned some beautiful life lessons. It’s okay to lean on others and simply live in gratitude for them, and it’s okay to be quiet. Sometimes, the quiet makes it easier to hear God. Simplifying, even in unexpected and painful ways, opens the door to see life with fresh eyes, and if you are willing, a really, really grateful heart. I also developed a big heart and new sensitivity for those who live with chronic physical pain. Mine lasted only six weeks. The moment I woke from having the wires removed, my excruciating headache was gone. I never experienced jaw pain again. I have prayed often for people who never get to wake to a pain-free day. I have a new understanding since my fall.

Today? It definitely was not a Silent Saturday. It was loud and chaotic around here, and tomorrow promises to be noisy too. We will welcome Resurrection Sunday with Easter baskets, chocolate bunnies and monkey bread before we head to church, deliver our wee one to the toddler room and place fresh flowers on the cross at the front of the sanctuary. I pray that my family and I will be touched anew at the price Jesus paid on the cross, and the victory He won on Easter Sunday. I know that I will thank God again for my very own Silent Saturday five years ago when others lived out their faith in my life and blessed my family over and over and over again. And I will smile as I recall one of my favorite moments in church ever. Friends, may we all remember that “He ish rishen. Yesh. He ish rishen, indeed.” Alleluia. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Veterans Day Came Early

Months ago, my son, JRP, and I crammed into an already-crowded elevator. We had just visited Mama (JRP’s beloved Granny) at her assisted living apartment, and we chatted about our visit as the elevator doors opened. Two elderly gentlemen were already aboard, and with their wheelchair and walker, there was little room to wiggle. Both men looked down, and by down I mean that they looked toward the floor, but they also looked rather alone, and perhaps even sad. There was no eye contact, no greeting, nothing but the sound of the elevator doors closing. In the silence, I sensed JRP drawing nearer to the man with the walker. He was trying to read the gentleman’s cap. Worried that JRP might offend the gentleman by coming too close, I began to gently tug his arm. JRP gently tugged back and asked, “Were you a soldier in the Asian Arena?”

After a second or two, the old man looked up into JRP’s eyes, smiled and said, “Young man, I was.” The same gentleman who had looked so solemn moments before became animated as he shared a quick version of his World War II story. He told of being a Marine and fighting at Okinawa. JRP was captivated. When the gentleman paused, the other man, sitting in his wheelchair, looked up and said, “I fought too.” JRP excitedly asked about his experience, and the gentleman shared some highlights from his personal World War II narrative when he was in the Navy at Iwo Jima.

By the time we arrived at the first floor, the two gentlemen were energized and simply transformed. I thanked them for sharing their stories, and then JRP thanked them for their service. I told them that they had made JRP’s day, and mine too. Both veterans smiled as they shuffled off the elevator. They waved as we parted ways.

Never had I been so thankful to be on a slow-moving elevator. And never had I been so proud of JRP. In his own inquiring way, he told both men that they mattered. He showed genuine interest in the gentlemen’s wartime stories, and they were delighted to share highlights with him. I remember thinking at the time, “Thanks, God, for orchestrating such a beautiful exchange. We just had our very own Veterans Day.”

As it turns out, it was the gentlemen’s last one. I found out recently that both men passed away this fall. I was sad to hear the news, but I smiled as I remembered our elevator ride. Thanks to JRP, Veterans Day 2013 came early for those gentlemen, and I will be forever grateful that I witnessed it.

Welcome Back to the Dark Roast Side

One night a few weeks ago, my sweet huz, Bobby, took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and after 21 years of marriage, proclaimed the unthinkable: “I think it’s time for me to give up… coffee.” Gulp. I looked at him as if he’d just sprouted a horn on his nose. I knew I must have misunderstood him. After all, this was the man who faithfully made a full pot o’ java every morning for us to share. Give up coffee? Why not give up showering too? And breathing?

On the verge of hyperventilating, I simply whispered, “What?!” He then explained, in a frustratingly calm voice, that he didn’t like being so hooked on coffee in the mornings. It messed with his empty stomach, and the caffeine crash was tough to handle at work. My thoughtful follow-up response? “Whaaaaaat!?!?!?!?!?” Then he asked me to get him a few boxes of Tazo Earl Grey Tea at the store.

This actually hurt my feelings. He wasn’t trying to bring me down and crush my spirit, but sharing coffee has been our thing, especially in the last year when we’ve clearly become outnumbered by younger ones in our house. After certain nights when we felt like we were awake more than asleep, we have stood, blurry-eyed at the coffee pot, shoulder to shoulder, watching the coffee perk. A watched pot doesn’t boil? Whatever. Our watched coffeemaker does a beautiful job of making coffee. It’s a sight to behold, and this unexpected announcement, well, it kind of felt like my partner-in-caffeine-addiction was breaking up with me.

The next morning, I made my own pot of coffee for the first time in a very long while. Bobby had offered to make me a pot, but on no! I insisted on forging my own path down the solo java lane. The coffee exploded all over the kitchen. I knew it was a sign, but of what? Was it a sign to join Bobby and become a tea-drinking duo, or a sign to persevere even when it suddenly seemed that my corner of the universe was suddenly anti-cup-o’-joe? I chose the latter, spooned most of the grinds out of the pot, poured in plenty of my pumpkin cream dream, and guzzled a cup of very sweet and slightly crunchy coffee. Later, I bought two boxes of Bobby’s tea for him. I brought along my large carafe of super-strong java to sip as I shopped, just to make a point. I’m not sure to whom I was trying to make said point, but I sure felt strongly about it.

As the day unfolded, I could tell it was going to be a tricky one. A few phone calls from school, and I could sense the storm brewing. When Bobby arrived home from work, I warned him about the pending stress. Then I asked him if he’d really been java-free. He smiled and said he’d had tea in the morning. And in the afternoon? Just one Mountain Dew. Mountain DEW! My jaw dropped, and then I quickly spouted off all of the evil ingredients in that soda, verses the antioxidants and general beauty of coffee. Bobby simply said, “Beth, it’s not a big deal. I will still make you coffee each morning. I’m just not going to join you.” Pierce my heart, Bobster… pierce my heart.

As I predicted, the night was rough, and Bobby and I stayed up late problem solving together. My hurt feelings over java eased as I was reminded of what a kick-arse team Bobby and I make when it comes to getting through these storms. I cried, I prayed, Bobby searched the web, he patted my back, and slowly we came up with our new to-do list. We fell into bed, exhausted, still troubled, but with a plan for next steps.

Bobby hardly slept that night. Neither did I. The next morning, I heard the melodious sound of our coffee grinder, sighed and smiled at the thought of my tea-drinking Huz still making coffee for his bride. As it turns out, even amidst our family stress, my world returned to balance as I heard these beautiful words escape Bobby’s lips: “I’m back on coffee… for now.” I simply smiled, patted his shoulder, and said, “Welcome back to the dark roast side, Huz… welcome back.”

 

Postscript: I wanted to make sure Bobby was okay with my sharing his momentary lapse in java-judgment as a post, and so I had him read it. His response? Smiling, he said, “I knew this was coming. It’s fine, but isn’t this your first post without a spiritual component?” Good point, Huz. I looked for scripture regarding Jesus drinking java, thought about re-interpreting Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, and avoided all passages regarding moderation. God has simply given us coffee, people. My mug runneth over with gratitude to Him, for java, yes, but even more so for my coffee-making Huz. Cheers.

Emergency Preparedness: Remembering Captain Cautious

Earlier this week, our scout completed the Emergency Preparedness merit badge. For him, it is a big step toward becoming an Eagle Scout, a years-long dream of his. For me, I actually took a step back, waaaay back, and reminisced on my days growing up with the most ardent emergency preparedness coordinator the world has ever known: Daddy, also affectionately known as Captain Cautious.

First, and this is very important, I must explain that Daddy himself laughed at his nickname. He knew he was overly cautious when it came to his girls, but he just couldn’t help himself. His girls knew that it all came from love. We also wondered if he’d been in some terribly traumatic natural catastrophe as a young child. Nope… nada. He was just very, very, very, VERY concerned with our safety.

Each summer, Captain C (what Bobby affectionately called him) knew we wanted to be a part of the 4th of July festivities, but oh! The peril we might face!! SO, just to be safe, we parked miles and miles away from Tuttle Creek Reservoir, the sight of the fireworks display. We’d sit on the hood of our Delta-88, and squint our eyes in hopes of seeing a colorful spark or two. Usually, we just heard a “poof.” Really.  And then we’d drive home… safe and sound.

Days after my oldest sister moved away to college in the northeast, Daddy brooded over the fact that her dorm was old, and there was only one fire escape, far from her door. Captain C. went to the fire department and made a great fire safety discovery. But when he came home and told Mama that he’d like to send my sister a fire helmet, complete with fire-retardant mesh that draped down to the knees, Mama put her foot down and said that he just couldn’t do that to a girl trying to find her way in college and make friends. Instead, Daddy found a long and thick rope, tied knots in it every few feet, and tied a noose on the end of it. He pictured my sister, clear-headed in a stressful situation, lassoing the rope over her bedpost, tossing the rope out the window and shimmying to safety. Before Mama sealed the package to mail the rope, she nestled a freshly baked, foil-wrapped loaf of banana bread on top of it.  Her note? She simply wrote, “Eat it on the way down…”

Once while our family was having lunch at the Air and Space Museum cafeteria in Washington DC, Daddy noticed an older gentleman clear his tray and walk away, leaving behind his briefcase. Quietly, Daddy said, “Ladies, let’s evacuate the premises. Someone has left a shifty looking parcel at that table over there.” As we took our last sips of our Diet Cokes, rolled our eyes, and gathered out things, Daddy went to alert the authorities. In the meantime, the gentleman, shaking his head in disgust, returned to his table to retrieve his forgotten briefcase. Today? Sadly, we all need to take an abandoned briefcase very seriously. Captain Cautious was simply ahead of his time.

Shortly before Bobby and I started dating, Daddy sent me a package. It was small, but it packed quite a punch. It was a stun gun. Oh yes, it was. They had been outlawed in several states, but apparently, not yet in Kansas, where he purchased it, and not in Texas, where he sent it. I have never forgotten the note he wrote on the outside box: “Dear Bessie, The device is charged and ready to activate, if needed. XOXO Daddy.”

On our first date, Bobby noticed a spark coming from my purse. When he asked about it, I said offhandedly, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just a stun gun from my dad. I think it has a short in it or something…” Bobby’s expression was priceless. Looking back, it’s nothing short of miraculous that Bobby didn’t cut our date short and toodle-lee-doo me for good. When I explained the whole Daddy/Captain Cautious story to Bobby, he found it endearing. He did, however, ask if I could perhaps leave the stun gun behind on future dates.

Sitting here typing and chuckling, I’d give anything to have Daddy here with me today. I’d love to hug him, of course, plop our baby, his namesake, in his lap, thank him for being so wonderful, for protecting us so lovingly, and ask him if he felt like he had been able to let go of his safety concerns as he slowed down over his last year. I hope he was- all three of his daughters married “safety-conscious fellows” (Daddy’s phrase), and he was delighted to watch as we all marched through life trying to keep our loved ones safe. I also believe, deep down, that in Heaven, there is no need for safety concerns. God’s got everything covered… no fire-retardant mesh needed.

 

Harriet

In the summer of 1991, I lived with my folks in Manhattan, Kansas and organized a camp for people of all ages with developmental delays. It was called Camp Discover, and although the name was based on what the campers might discover, I know I made the most beautiful discovery of all.

Her name was Harriet, and no, that’s not a pseudonym. With a name like Harriet, you’ve just got to keep that. On the first day of camp, Harriet bounded into our meeting place, The Girl Scout Little House, wearing a big ole’ floppy sunhat and an ear-to-ear smile that lit up the place. She was in her mid-70’s, but had the mind of a young child. She was older than the other campers by about 60 years, but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Harriet loved camp. When I brought out my guitar for a sing-along, she clapped. We lined up to take a nature walk, and she squealed with delight. I announced that it was time to clean up our art supplies, and she hooted. She was joy in culottes. Always.

One morning, I took the campers to Aggieville to enjoy a picnic lunch while listening to the Fort Riley band play some good ole’ gospels. A Fort Riley chaplain had accompanied the group, and he stood toward the side as folks pulled out blankets and chairs and picnic lunches. I helped my campers find spots with their lunches, and everyone settled in well. Then the music started. Harriet recognized the first song, shot up from her spot, ran to within inches of the band, and began to praise God. Loudly. With hand motions. My campers weren’t phased one bit by Harriet’s enthusiasm. After all, she cheered when they arrived at camp each day. Others who didn’t know Harriet watched her, some in awe, others charmed, and some rather bothered by her boisterous enthusiasm for the music. I was just plain worried that someone would try to stop Harriet from being Harriet.

I caught the eye of the Army chaplain, and scurried over to introduce myself and explain my effusive camper to him. I was about to apologize for Harriet’s behavior when he smiled and said, “Beth, she is a joy to watch. And, unless I’m mistaken, Jesus says that we all have to become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It seems to me that Harriet is a whole lot better prepared than you and I are… think of it: We will all need to become like Harriet when our time on earth is done!”

That was over 22 years ago. I lost touch with Harriet soon after camp ended, and I heard that she died a few years later. I have thought about her often, though, and thanked God for the most beautiful discovery I made at Camp Discover. I also smile at the image of her arriving in Heaven, pretty much the same as she was on earth: unabashedly joyful, from the top of her floppy sunhat to the tips of her toes. Joyful. Always joyful. With hand motions.

The Biggest Bra in Church

I grew up with a very funny, liberal, southern mother… in the Midwest. Manhattan, Kansas did not know what hit it when Margaret Ann moved to town in 1977. Daddy settled in quickly to the geology department at KSU. Mama? After a rather frosty reception by a local, she decided to host a tea to meet the ladies of the ‘hood. Folks quickly fell for her southern accent/hospitality and sense of humor, if not her political leanings. Mama made many friends, and eventually became involved at First Presbyterian Church. She was a deacon for many years, and she organized so many meals for so many new mothers long before e-mail and websites existed. Her heart was as big as, well, her ta-tas.

As a junior in high school, with both older sisters already away at college and Daddy on a lengthy fieldtrip overseas, I was home with Mama one evening when the doorbell rang. I answered the door to find Mr. Perry, our neighbor, good friend and fellow Presbyterian, with a rather sheepish grin on his face. Other church friends stood in the shadow of our crabapple tree as Mr. Perry said, “Hi Beth. Is your mom home?” “Sure,” I said, and I called for her. As Mama entered the foyer, I wandered into the kitchen when I heard these words: “Margaret Ann, we need your bra.” I froze as I heard Mama exclaim, “Why Bob Perry, you should be so lucky!” Then Mr. Perry explained that his fellowship group from church was having a scavenger hunt that evening, and one of the items on the list was the church’s biggest bra. He and his group headed straight for our house.

Now let me tell you, God endowed Mama with a big ole’ bosom and then decided to divide her size by three for her daughters. I always marveled at just how many hooks Mama’s brassieres had- six!! Who had six hooks??? I was lucky to have two- and even then, I think the seamstress was just trying to humor me. Anyway, Mama said, “Let me go get an extra, Bob.” She was very business-like about it, almost as if she was expecting them. Partly horrified and partly in awe that Mama was thought of as the most-endowed Presbyterian, I watched as she handed over her mound of white cotton, lace and hooks (six of them!!) to Mr. Perry. With a quick thanks and a promise to return it the next day, he yelled, “Got it!” to his team and ran across our yard waving Mama’s undergarment like a victory flag. They all cheered. Mama closed the door, sighed and said, “Bessie, you didn’t know that your mother was a celebrity at church, did you?” How does a daughter answer that?

I had no time to respond before the doorbell rang again. Another team had arrived to collect the church’s biggest bra. This time, Mama said, “It’s a good thing you came when you did. I’ve only got one more bra besides the one I’ve got on, and I’m not parting with it!” Sure enough, the third and final team arrived several minutes later. Mama answered the door and simply said, “Sorry folks. You should have come sooner. I’m wearing the only bra I have left, and I’ve got to keep it for church tomorrow.” I wonder if God appreciated Mama’s sentiments as much as I did. The thought of Mama arriving at church free and easy was almost too much to bear.

Later that night, Mama and I chuckled over her notoriety. As I donned my nightshirt and tossed my dirty clothes, including my measly 2-hook bra, down the laundry chute, I said a prayer that I’d never be a part of a church’s scavenger hunt for brassieres. I also thanked God for my big-hearted, big-chested mother who handled her new-found First Presbyterian fame with ease, flinging her bras at the folks lucky enough to reach her in time.

Postscript: The next morning at church, Mr. Perry gave Mama a little thank you treat for being such a good sport: a big ole’ bag of Whoppers.

Namaste

For years, having company over to our house was very difficult for our oldest. Social anxiety made welcoming new folks very, very challenging. Once, after days of preparation, he greeted our college friend, Anne, and her family with a big ole’ smile, our visual timer in hand, and this welcome: “Hi. It’s nice to meet you. This is my visual timer. It’s set for 10 minutes. When the time is up, it will be time for you to leave.” Without missing a beat, Anne smiled and said, “Well, let’s make the most of the time we have!” They stayed over two hours, and we all enjoyed it.

More recently, Bobby invited a colleague over for supper. He was visiting from India, and Bobby felt like we needed to host him. I agreed, although with great trepidation. Our oldest had come such a long, long way, but still, I was hesitant. The day of the dinner went well until Eli the dog ran away, the baby decided to be nap-free, and I somehow ended up jumping in the shower when Bobby and his colleague were just miles from our house. When they arrived, I greeted them with wet hair and wine. Our son walked in the kitchen. Bobby introduced them, and our son said, “Namaste.” I glanced at Bobby, both of us wide-eyed and smiling, and when our guest bowed slightly and replied “Namaste,” our boy said, “How are you?” in Hindi. With tears in his eyes, our guest said, “How do you know my native language?” Our son said, “I figured that since you were so far from home, you might enjoy being greeted in your home language. I learned it on Google Translate and practiced this afternoon.”

The same boy who struggled to let anyone in to his world years ago made our guest feel more welcomed than anyone ever could. Bobby and I were so moved, so surprised, and so very, very proud. Our guest and our son became fast friends, with an evening full of question/answer exchanges about India. It was a magical evening, all because of our boy.

Later that night, Bobby and I reminisced on our evening. We talked about our son’s challenges, but also his gifts. We decided that God had shown us a beautiful glimmer of who He’s created our son to be. Quirky? Sometimes. Big-hearted? Yes. Hospitable and THOUGHTFUL? Yes!! That night, our prayer was that we could all be a little bit more like him.

Why Muddy Paws?

muddypawsBecause I live with Eli, our resident mud-tracker and mess extraordinaire. He’s just a furry canine, but, at his muddiest, he represents more than mud. He represents life… it’s messy, it’s smudged… and yet, and yet, on a good day, if I look carefully, I look beyond the smudges and find hope, humor, peace, and gratitude. God’s fingerprints. Sometimes, I find these treasures because of the messes; most often, though, I seek to find them amidst the messes.   Life is messy every day. Eli tracks in mud every day! I can either fuss about it, preach to my family about the need for more cleanliness, and scurry to mop up Eli’s paw prints (which I often do, I confess, and man, am I a fun mama and wife during those moments), or I can plop myself down, and look with fresh eyes upon those muddy paws. Maybe, just maybe, I begin to see life differently. I see a glimmer of God’s fingerprints, and suddenly, the mess becomes, well, bearable, and maybe even lovely. That can only be from God. Some days I fail to see God’s hand at all- I simply scowl at the smudges and sulk. But thanks to His promises for a fresh start every morning, I wake with hopes of seeing past any muddy paw prints I may find in my path.

Thanks for joining me on my journey to seek His fingerprints amidst life’s messes. Onward with hope…