Monday, October 30, 2006
"In your anger do not sin" Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry...
Our sister, Dawna’s, honesty and vulnerability during this hurtful time in her life has made me reflect back on my own marital problems and times since then when I’ve been hurt and angry. So angry.
Christians often instinctively try to squelch anger. We think if we are holy or spiritual enough we aren’t allowed to experience anger. But anger is an emotion. Emotions aren’t sin, they are just... emotions. I think if we would learn to understand the feelings and to take them to God; we might avoid the sinful actions that grow out of unattended hurts and resentments. Acting on our emotions is where the measure of our holiness lies.
I’ve learned that my emotions are God’s way of calling my attention to myself and my experiences. Overwhelming love bubbles up in my heart toward my friends and I’m reminded of how blessed I am, and how loved I am. Grief washes over me and I’m called to tend to my losses and to go to my Comforter. Guilt drives me to repentance. Joy inspires gratitude. Sadness cultivates reflection.
So what is the function of anger? God was angry at Israel. Christ was angry at the money-changers in the temple. The founding fathers of our faith expressed anger both appropriately and inappropriately throughout the Bible. When then, are we to do with our anger?
More specifically, what does God want this divinely created emotion do drive us to do?
You see, when I get angry I have a predictable list of natural responses. I get lippy. I get loud. I cry. I withdraw. I clench my jaw and tighten my muscles and move into the classic fight or flight response. I generally choose to fight.
All of this is driven by the carnal person that still resides in this redeemed life. This is why I need to step back into being aware of the emotion so I can then decide; what am I to do?
It’s not easy to be angry and not to sin. Sometimes it means I feel I’ve been left a victim, walked on and disrespected. Sometimes God’s expectation of me means I don’t get to speak my part or defend myself. It always means I have to stop and talk to him before the emotion and action become one.
That’s the function of anger, and all of our emotions. It’s the call of the Holy Spirit to our spirits; the “you’ve got mail”, the nudge to slow down and make a decision.
While we live redeemed lives in unredeemed bodies; we will continue to wrestle with flesh against spirit. Our instincts will war against the grace we have gained. The wise Christian will put a pause between the emotion and the action and into that pause will insert a submitted heart.
We should be careful not to deny anger, because it will burrow itself into hidden places in our hearts. And in the denying we’ll also lose the holy pause for instruction. We will find ourselves acting on that carnal instinct to an anger we denied with passive aggression. Or we’ll respond with bitter words and cold responses when we deal with the person who offended us. We’ll stuff the anger away and then hear our own voices verbally beating the object of our denied fury.
And so we are sinning, and not angry.
We could also discuss for hours the one who not only acknowledges the anger; but revels in it. Embraces it and feeds it like a rabid dog invited to shred its prey. Someone harms us and we take advantage of an opportunity to launch the attack and wave the banner of the victim at the same time.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. I’m not good at this part. I can carry my anger for days. I can stop talking and never miss the conversations lost. The sun can go down, come back up and go down several more times while my anger becomes my entire focus. This is sin.
God, knowing our weakness and vulnerabilities; gives us this emotion to warn us of the impending attack. The attack that comes not from some person who has wronged us, but from the enemy of our lives who wants to use the unkindness or unwiseness of that person to propel us away from Christ and put our own hurts at the center of our focus. So we wrestle against one another and feed the fuels of hell. But God, in his great mercy for us gives us the way out from this snare. When you are angry; you are warned by your divine hard-wiring that the enemy has launched an attempt on your peace. Take then this warning to seek the Father’s instruction. Don’t wait, do not hesitate and don’t try to handle it alone. Don’t pretend nothing is happening. Do this before you go to sleep tonight.
Would you ignore a tornado warning? A fire alarm? An elevated terrorism alert?
Let us then, find in our anger; the divine warning of attack so that we can seek shelter in our Defender. Now, before we are damaged any further.
Let’s be angry.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Bring your elementary school and younger kids to TRUNK OR TREAT!!
Metrosouth Church @ Flatrock High School TODAY!
Who knows what I'll dress up as this year!
Candy Collection & Activities from 5:30-7:30.
Registration begins at 5pm. You may want to get there early!
Every Child must register to insure safety.
Friday, October 27, 2006
16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Like the rhythm of my own heartbeat. Alone. Alone. Hope. Alone. Alone. Hope. Hope. Hope Alone. I can hear and feel the turmoil in my chest. I am alone. I hope in Him alone. I am not alone.
I wish there was someone here to unload on. I need to vent, I need advice, I need insight and wisdom. I have a decision or two I need to make that can’t wait. I keep looking at my e mail and thinking about who to write. Maybe I should phone someone?
What to do, what to do?
I just don’t know. I’ve never had to make this kind of decision before. Of course, no one I know has either so they wouldn’t have much to offer really.
Have you ever experienced that kind of day? Wrestling with the tasks in front of you. We make it so much harder than it is.
I do know what to do. I need to quiet down and talk to God about this. I should just get my spirit still and let Him talk me down from this ledge and through my problem. Who would have a better answer than Him anyway?
If Jesus withdrew to pray alone, my path is clear. Christ-follower that I am, I need to withdraw and pray. And believe in the answer that awaits me.
I’ll talk to you later. I’m gonna go get my answer.
Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God, my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
I wrote this post on May 10 of this year when I was dealing with some difficult situations at work. I couldn't seem to get satisfied with the counsel of other people and it left me feeling bereft. Then I realized, sometimes our jealous God won't let us find comfort anywhere but in Him. I never posted it because I moved on and God moved me through and on to higher ground. Today I had nothing to post when the Holy Spirit prompted me to remember what I had written almost six months ago. Written then to be read now for His purpose. In Him alone I hope. Be blessed & peaceful today.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Not long ago after working three Sundays in a row, I told my boss I had to get out of there early, by 10:30; to go to church. I had to.
It was the second song during praise and worship when I had settled into my usual seat. I love to worship but more than that; I need it. Worship reveals a part of myself that often gets pushed to the back of my heart; desperation.
Sweet desperation. I stood there stretching out toward heaven so aware of my desperation for God that I couldn’t stop the tears and didn’t want to. So desperate that I stopped being aware of the people around me, my flat singing voice or the band on the stage. So desperate that if I had the choice, I’d have left earth by whatever means possible to be a step closer to Him.
I’m desperate. There’s nothing here for me but chances to revel in that desperation. There’s nothing worth doing but stretching toward heaven until one day, I finally get there.
It’s not that I have some special “gift of desperation”. We’re all desperate. It’s a matter of embracing or rejecting our state. It’s a matter of reaching out or reaching in to fill the void.
I am so glad that I’m desperate.
8 Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The Mr. and I went away over night for our twentieth anniversary. After a year of talking about different romantic destinations where we might spend a week just being together we settled on a humble night away in a little town called Marshall, MI about an hour from home. It’s where we went last year for our anniversary too. Maybe it’s a tradition in the making?
Anyway, in 2005 we stayed at a beautiful bed & breakfast in a town about 20 minutes from Marshall called Albion. The house we stayed in was magnificent. The former home of the president of Albion College; it was perfection. Restored with mellow wooden floors and impeccable decor. Attention had been paid to the finest detail. Our room was a suite that the Mr. booked for a “romantic getaway”. A huge antique iron bed sat high outfitted with Egyptian cotton sheets. A three-sided fireplace divided the room from the jacuzzi and bath. Tiny white lights were inset around the parameter of the ceiling for a soft glow.
Upon our arrival our hosts showed us to the second floor up the sweeping staircase to a sitting room overlooking the main street and college. It was complete with a soft and inviting love seat and a wall of books just begging for my attention. A nook to the side had an electric teapot with herbal teas; nuts and dried apricots for snacking and a mini fridge with soda and bottled water or juice.
Our room had been prepared for us with a dozen roses on the side board and a beautiful presentation of chocolates and crackers.
We went to dinner in Marshall at Georgeo’s, where reservations had been made as part of our package. The host, Butch (his name was the only butch thing about him) was waiting for us like long lost family. A fat bouquet of fall flowers adorned our table for two. The chef, Tony, came out to greet and congratulate us on our nineteen years together. Tony and Butch described the meal they had planned. Prime rib. Home made bread. A dessert sample platter. Butch regaled us between courses about his travels with an elderly aunt and his beloved schnauzer, Winston.
After our candlelight dinner we strolled downtown holding hands before returning to our lovely suite where homemade chocolate chip cookies and hot cocoa in antique cups waited to lull us to sleep.
The next morning we enjoyed massages and a gourmet breakfast.
Mmmm. The memories of a perfect weekend.
This year we decided to stay right in downtown Marshall. The National House Inn. The oldest inn in the world, or something like that. I went online and chose a sunny second floor room with a fireplace and claw foot bathtub. Another romantic weekend in the making.
We arrived in town about 5:00 on Friday evening and pulled up to the old inn. Creaky wooden floors, exposed beams and a giant rustic fireplace in the lobby. I’m loving it already! It even smelled like my farm!
We pay and Katie leads us to our room. Not up the stairs? Hm. No, around a corner and down a narrow passage.
Through a narrow door, “The Ketchum Suite”. Ok.
Into the gray and clearly haunted dark Victorian room I had not chosen.
Katie smiled as she showed us the attached sitting room complete with giant scarey pictures of angry puritans.
Then Katie was gone.
And I started laughing.
“This is really terrible!” said I.
The Mr. just stares with kind of a deer in the headlights look.
“Isn’t this what you chose?”
“Hmm.” a little offended is the Mr. now. But he has plans for this weekend and is trying hard not to mess up his main goal of the evening.
We went to Schuller’s for dinner where we consumed large amounts of cheese and I gave him the run-down on what the room I wanted looked like and why I wouldn’t relax anyway because the laundry wasn’t done at home.
He continues to smile and hope for the best.
Back to the haunted room where I take lots of pictures which I’ll examine later for ghosts.
Into bed at 7:00 and at 7:10 I start complaining that I’m freezing and I wonder if it’s the wind howling through the 200 year-old walls or the presence of innkeepers gone by that’s chilling my bones.
The Mr. continues to smile and hope.
7:20 I’m sound asleep.
Next morning it’s up and at ‘em for breakfast which was completely wonderful and which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Walked downtown Marshall in a Michigan autumn drizzle. Got some coffee to warm us up. I asked him if he heard Ichabod Crane pacing the floors all night.
He just smiles.
For lunch I’m getting cranky and don’t know where I want to eat but I know I don’t want to go where he wants. The Downtown Grille.
We go there anyway because I can’t make a good argument and I know I’m a snot.
We order and the Mr. reaches into his pocket and pulls out a jewelry box.
And hands it to me.
“Honey! I told you not to buy me a gift! I don’t have anything for you!”
“I know, but I had to get you something. For goodness sake, it’s our 20th anniversary and I love you.”
I open the box and nestled inside is a ring.
A beautiful channel setting in white gold with yellow gold accents.
A gorgeous ring I would’ve chosen myself if I’d gone with him shopping.
A ring in fact I did choose last year when he bought it for me the first time!
“Oh my gosh! You know, I saw this ring and I thought you’d like it. Did I really buy you that?”
“Yes sweetie you did, and I love it.”
“Well, we’ll just take it back and get you something else. I am so stupid.
“I’m keeping it. I love it.”
Laughing and crying and holding hands in the Downtown Grille I told him that he is indeed stupid but I love him anyway.
He bought me a half carat solitaire in 1985 which I lost ten years later building a club house for daboyz with the Mr.
He bought me a gold band in 1986 which I couldn’t wear after gaining a hundred pounds. He bought me another one that fit in 1999 which I wore without a diamond.
I lost a hundred pounds and he bought me a channel set band in white gold with yellow gold accents for our nineteenth wedding anniversary.
He bought me another one for our twentieth.
I’m going to solder them together and wear both. They sparkle really pretty together and someday, maybe they can be separated and each of daboyz can give them to their wives when they book the wrong room for their twentieth anniversaries.
Maybe they’ll laugh and tease and be snotty and forgive and laugh some more.
I hope they eat too much cheese and take a walk in the rain and stop for lunch where Jay or Mac can slip one of his mom’s two identical rings on the finger of the love of his life.
It’s really not as silly as it sounds this laughing your way through the years.
Monday, October 23, 2006
The other day a sweet sister sent me an e mail asking if the marital problems the Mr. and I suffered were at all connected to pornography.
The answer was no. I don’t think so. I guess I never asked. I’m not going to ask.
When God healed our marriage fourteen years ago it was instantaneous with one condition, that we did the work to receive and protect the redemption offered. One of my specific decisions in this was that I would offer the Mr. preemptive grace. I wasn’t being gracious, it was my only option.
This preemptive grace is the grace that saved my life.
Back to this issue of pornography and whether or not the Mr. struggled with it. As I said, I won’t ask about it. Because preemptive grace means that I give up my right to dig up the bones he tried to bury. I won’t spy on him to find out what he might be hiding or pick the scabs from wounds just starting to heal. I’ll leave the work of his redemption to Christ.
Think about it. Dean can’t prove that he never used porn. Can’t prove he was never unfaithful or snorted cocaine or stopped at a bar when I thought he was working overtime. All we can do is fight about it if he denies it. Or he might come clean on my insistence and admit to something that I thought I was mature enough to forgive, until I have to really do so.
I don’t want another wall between us so I won’t go looking for bricks to collect. I’ll forgive what I know and what might have been that I don’t know.
Christ died for me not only while I was yet a sinner but before my birth. We call it redemption in that we were redeemed from the death we had purchased for ourselves. But it was preemptive as well. Forgiveness offered knowing that I would fall and need grace to catch me.
I know that the Mr. fell a lot back then. I know he stumbles now and will in the future. I have made up my mind to forgive the offenses the same way I was forgiven. Before they happen. Without any proof.
I’m no saint. I’m a sinner redeemed by preemptive grace.
And just like this marriage; it works.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
1. Stayed at the National House Inn.
2. Ate an alarming amount of cheese.
3. Laughed hysterically that the Mr. booked us into a very frightening haunted inn.
4. Walked up and down downtown Marshall in a freezing drizzle.
5. Had a delicious breakfast in the haunted dining room (pictured here).
6. Bought some this and that we don't need.
7. Did a little early Christmas shopping.
8. Went out for lunch and had fabulous burgers at the Downtown Grille.
9. Laughed hysterically at the gift the Mr. had hidden in his pocket (more on that later).
10.Laughed hysterically at this ridiculous 20 years we've spent together and thanked God once again for another day together. Anybody up for 20 more?
Friday, October 20, 2006
There is something that never fails to amaze me on my drive to work every morning. It’s so silly that this something catches my eye. It’s such a common ordinary everyday kind of something.
It’s people standing at bus stops.
I have never ridden on a public bus (is that even what they’re called?) I think the proper name might be Smart bus. Never ridden one of those either.
Here what I’m picturing though; smelly, a little warm in a moist and unpleasant way, bumpy and uncomfortable. WAY too much of people in my personal space.
But every morning there they are; people waiting for a bus.
I still remember pulling out of the hospital parking lot during the dog days of summer. And there it was again. The phenomena. This time it was a man, probably 50 something, sitting on the ground leaning against the bus stop sign. The outside temperature gauge on my truck read 91 degrees. And he was surrounded by about 4 or 5 grocery bags full of groceries.
I thought about that guy all the way home.
I kept picturing this guy and all the other people out there at bus stops at 6:00 in the morning or at quitting time heading home.
What God? What do you want me to notice? What am I not getting?
Look at how determined they are to get where they need to go. And look at how easy your traveling is, and yet, you don’t seem to want to move very far.
Far from? My comfort zone, the easy way out, the basic requirements, the status quo.
The simple truth is that if it ain’t relatively easy, I probably ain’t gonna pursue it.
But sometimes to get to the good stuff, you’ve gotta walk a few blocks and get on the Smart bus (hmm, Smart bus huh?) You have to stand at the bus stop and wait for the opportunity to hop on. You have to pay a little something for the ride, even though you might not have chosen this mode of travel given other options. You may even have carry some bags that feel too heavy but you know they are your responsibility.
You might have to endure the discomfort of a hot and sunny afternoon while you wait.
It seems like every time I reach this or that milestone I want to stop. Ok, I did what you told me to do Lord. I got here. Now leave me alone.
I want to lay back now and stay where I am. I worked hard to get here, just leave me be, wouldya?
But no. There seems to be no final destination. I get a slight reprieve and then He starts prodding me to do something else.
Can’t I just maintain this?
I went back to school and did my Associates Degree in a year and a half. Are we done?
No, get a job.
I got a job that I’m pretty happy with. Are we done?
No, ask for a promotion.
I got the promotion. Are we done?
Now guess what?
Go back to school. Get your Bachelor’s Degree.
Ok, I’m seeing a pattern here. Hold on just a minute. You’re never gonna quit with me are you? You’re gonna make me get my Master’s Degree aren’t you?
So it’s back to the bus stop for me. Back on the stinky smelly bumpy ride to get where I need to be. Back to the process I would rather avoid.
Back to moving to a different spot and carrying my bags (and apparently books) along the way.
Back to uncomfortable and tired and working instead of coasting.
Remember all those people at the bus stops? Here’s the thing. They may not have gotten the limo ride to the penthouse, but they were in motion anyway. They are determined enough to get where they need to go to walk to the bus stop and wait for a ride.
Guess God’s going to take me somewhere too. I just gotta stop avoiding the bus.
For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Our older son, Jay, is a freshman in college and had an assignment in humanities that required him to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts and consider some specific works of art upon which he must write a paper. So last week, the Mr., Jay and myself headed out to the DIA after work for a family field trip. Mac, unfortunately, had strep throat so he missed out.
You must understand that as a rule, you can’t pry me out of my house with a crow bar after work. I’m tired and all I want to do is put on my jammies and nap until I go to bed. But when it involves your kid, your sweetie or some combination thereof; one must soldier on.
So off we went in search of the museum and pulled up in front at about 5:00 p.m. Up the front steps we walked pausing for a look at the fountains and statues out front. Peering up the old stone edifice and through the heavy glass doors. We walked into that enormous lobby with the vaulted ceilings and I was immediately glad to be there. This was no typical excursion to the MJR (our local theater) for a second-rate movie. This was a reason to go out on a Friday evening.
Jay hadn’t eaten and was starved so we started off by heading to the cafeteria for a bite to eat which was lovely and serene with soothing music in the background and marble floors under our feet. It was quite a pleasant meal.
Then it was to the galleries in search of Jay’s targets. He started off at a pretty fast clip being his mother’s son and completely focused on getting the job done. I was all for it and the Mr. kind of went on ahead to report back on where the various pieces could be found lest we waste time. Then somehow before we knew it; we had slowed down and wandered away from one another and the task at hand. The art, you see, demanded our attention. I was drawn to the bright realistic still-lifes that reminded me of paintings my grandparents had on “The Farm”. I kept scooting up closer to the paintings trying to see every detail until Jay reminded me “two feet back Mom”.
The Mr. loves the Monet collection and the thick brush strokes of the impressionists. Jay was caught by surprise when he connected his lectures to the reality and had to slow down to soak it all in.
We wandered around the galleries, to and from one another’s sides. We found the paintings and sculptures and then went back through a second time to talk about our favorites, to read the plaques and to take the time to see what we’d missed the first time through.
In the great hall while Jay was examining a particular piece and writing notes and the Mr. was reading the descriptions of the paintings I sat down on a wooden bench in that echoing gallery and leaned my head back. There on the great vaulted ceiling of that old building were amazing frescoes.
It was then I knew. The soul is hungry for substance.
I took in the tile floors and the leaded glass window panes. I ran my fingers along the old-fashioned radiators lining the walls and listened to the murmured conversations of patrons carried through the galleries. I thought about the workmen and the artists all those years ago who toiled and planned to build the Detroit Institute of Arts, of their fingerprints in the details of the place. I thought about the people who painted the murals on the ceilings and designed the mosaic tiles to create a place worthy of the art it would cradle for generations beyond them. Knowing they would be nameless, they put their hands and their hearts to substantial and beautiful work.
I looked again at plaques explaining that this painting was painted in 1846 and was amazed at the person with such gifts who saw so much more than I can see with all the advantages of my era.
I subtracted the year of a self-portrait from the year of the death of the artist and thought to myself, “I wonder if he knew he’d be gone in fifteen years. That’s so little time left.”
I need to spend more time in pursuit of substance. I need to not compartmentalize the spiritual and un-spiritual because walking through that fine old building and soaking in the hundreds of years of artistry; God’s signature was written in man’s hand.
People left behind gifts for us in architecture, paint and music. Time taken to hone a craft and leave a worthy offering behind.
A little bit of the glory of the Creator shining through his creation.
Time well-spent, for them and for me.
Thank you God, for meeting me at the Detroit Institute of Arts. And thank you for the hands and hearts of men and women who made gifts for me before I was born.
Thank you for this beautiful world.
By his breath the skies became fair, his hand pierced the gliding serpent. And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?
Monday, October 16, 2006
October is pastor appreciation month. I’ll be really honest with you; after years in church I am sometimes worn out on pastor appreciation month/day/Sunday/weekend/banquet.... I know. Cynical and ungracious. No one should be surprised.
I haven’t “celebrated” pastor appreciation month/day/Sunday/weekend/banquet in a few years. We’ve been in our home church for a few years. Haven’t celebrated it because frankly; I forgot about it. It has never been mentioned. This year my blog sister Kaymac mentioned it on her blog though and I started thinking about pastor appreciation for the first time in a few years. Only this time, it was with real appreciation and not that kind that feels forced by some such pronouncements.
I’ve been blessed in 30+ years of church attendance to have been taught, guided and loved by some true men of God. My first pastor, Bill Meszaros was a tough act to follow. The pinnacle of humility and holiness. A man with such a sweet spirit and strong conviction that most who were blessed to be one of his flock are still looking for a pastor to be his equal almost 25 years after his retirement. Few of us have succeeded in finding such a man. Brother Bill married my mom and dad and was my pastor until I was fifteen years old. I still measure my life against what he would have expected of me. It’s as good a measuring stick as I can imagine, that of holiness without compromise.
After Brother Bill retired we had two pastors in short order before the Mr. and I felt that the time had come for us to find a new church and there I met the first pastor that I truly felt was my own instead of my mom and dad’s. Pastor Ron Ramey.. Pastor Ron was different from Brother Bill in many ways. And alike in the important ones. Pastor Ron loves from his gut and leaves himself vulnerable to anyone who might hurt him by exposing his soft heart to everyone he meets. He is a pastor who sits at the bedside of the elderly holding their hands until Jesus takes them home. He cries when preaching funerals for his people. He sings for Christ and compels the rest of us to worship with him. He is not perfect. He is as openly flawed as Brother Bill appeared to be perfect. Where Brother Bill kept his personal life private, Pastor Ron laid his hurts and his heart out for all to see. He loved my children from the time they were babies. He loved my husband and myself through the darkest moments of our marriage when even he couldn’t see how it would be saved. He sat in our living room and didn’t pretend to know the right words but it was ok. He didn’t need words. His love for us filled the house and held us over for enough days until Jesus did the final healing we needed. When we left Woodhaven Worship Center, I think he was sad and sorry to see us go. This was the place where we learned to serve and were given the opportunity to start using our gifts. He let us crawl until we could walk spiritually. He gave me the chance to teach, first in children’s church and before we left, in the pulpit. Had it not been for Pastor Ron’s belief in my gifts, I would never have stood before a crowd and learned what calling heaven had for my life. He let me stumble as I learned and gave me second and third and fourth chances to do better and better. Under the hand of Pastor Ron, I learned to fly in my spirit. And when it was time to take wing; he celebrated even as he cried that day we told him we were leaving. He is still my friend and brother.
Today though I have a different pastor. The fifth pastor of my life. Pastor Jeremy Schossau. Pastor J. Lead Pastor of Metrosouth Church. A “Modern Church That Works”. The rock and roll church that meets in the auditorium of Flat Rock High School. We showed up on a Sunday morning in October of 2003 so I guess this is our anniversary as well as pastor appreciation month. I was in nursing school and we were kind of limping from the effects of leaving the church we had so loved which was no longer a placed that we fit. We didn’t know where we fit. We were tired, worn out from ministry. Hurting for a few different reasons. Had teenagers who needed a place to find their own way with God. Didn’t know anyone in this new place.
And there he was, playing electric guitar in the band, way too loud and not all that well (sorry Pastor J, you know it’s true). He greeted us that Sunday morning before service started, spotting us in the crowd and bounding down from the stage to shake our hands and introduce himself. I loved his teaching. I was vibrating from a combination of true worship and giant speakers blasting me in the face.
Pastor J just plain vibrates all the time. I think he’s wound a little tighter than the average pastor.
Here’s the thing with my pastor. He drives me nuts. He has meetings at 2:00 a.m. at Denny’s. He e mails with so many get-togethers, planning sessions and groups that I want to poke him in the eye.
He has terrible table manners.
He sometimes spits on you when he talks to you as a result of this inner vibrating entirely too excited preacher thing.
He cries when he teaches about grace, mercy and God’s love. He cries when he talks about a life changed or an opportunity lost.
He adores his wife and kids unashamedly.
He won’t let anyone get away with being a pew warmer and he insists Metro can do the impossible. He asks for things no one will possibly ever agree with and then gets them to agree.
He worships so hard you worry he’s gonna hurt himself.
He’s a terrible dancer but he’s dancing before God and it makes him the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
He’s not funny but he still inserts these cornball jokes into his sermons that are so bad they’re hilarious.
He hugs you hard and pushes you into using your life for God just so he’ll shut up already.
He does not sleep.
He wears jeans and preaches holiness and runs hard after God and won’t take no for an answer.
He has no boundaries and no idea that things can’t be done and no sense and thereby he allows God to do the impossible through him.
He makes me crazy, this pastor of mine.
He makes me excited to see what God will do when a guy is so ridiculous as to trust him.
And so, I guess it’s a shame that I should need a specific month designated to say out loud what is the truth;
Pastor J, Lynette, Zachary, Madalyn, Lincoln and Baby Boy...
I appreciate you.
I love you.
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners...
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Saturday, October 14, 2006
It’s hard to believe that there was more to the experience of the farm than just the place itself, but there was more, much more. Although in truth, I could’ve never left it and not missed what else was out there.
Before we ever pulled up the long gravel drive way, there was the one hour ride. I never tired of it whether I was in the back seat of our burgundy Chevelle or between my gramma and grampa in his El Camino. One day we were leaving for the farm from my grandparent’s house and I found that I could hunker down behind the seat of his red El Camino and just ride there My gramma did not find this to be a good idea. So I rode between them on the seat as usual. If I had to go to the bathroom along the way my grampa would pull over and my gramma would walk me down into the roadside ditch and there I’d squat and relieve myself. I don’t think my mother encouraged this roadside convenience as she generally encouraged use of the McDonald’s bathroom.
After so many trips on the free way west toward the farm, the route became as familiar as the place itself. I knew we were on our way when we passed the brick Ford factory on the right with the lake across the street. For some reason I can’t explain, the blue and white oval of the Ford logo reminded me of Glen Campbell. Why would that be? Perhaps it’s fitting as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” was my favorite song often sung to my gramma on the ride, maybe that’s why I associated the factory with Mr. Campbell.
As the road stretched out and the city faded behind us the scenery was country pastures and beautiful to my eyes. Soon the tourist traps would roll by and I would hope that we might make a stop at one, although this was a rare event. There was the fairy tale kingdom amusement park on the right. We did stop there once and it turned out to be more fun from the road view than up close. Not far beyond was the dam, also on the right but it was a waterfall as far as I was concerned. Not far beyond the dam was Magic Mountain where the forces of gravity were suspended. We never did stop there. I was always certain it was something special. There was the Stage Coach Stop which was my favorite on the left headed toward the farm. It was still there when my kids were small and we took them there once, it was just as much fun as I remembered; which is saying a lot as most places from childhood lose their fascination with time. There you could walk around a pretend western town with horses and cowboys. Inside the saloon it was cool and dark and you could get lunch. Or you could walk the wooden walkways and cowboys in clunky boots would walk by the tip their hats at you. And every so often you could grab a bleacher seat for the shootout. Then you’d ride the “stage coach” train around back and get up close to a train robbery.
Also on the left, and you had to know where to start looking just around the bend, was the Prehistoric Forest. Set into the hill with life-sized crayola colored dinosaurs. It seemed magical all those years ago. I took my boys there too and unfortunately, this was a place reserved for childhood. It, or I, had not aged gracefully.
As we got closer to our destination we would see the Irish Hills Twin Towers on the left. They were white with green trim. What in the world could they have been built for? I have only one memory of ever being there and it seems that they were nothing more than two sets of stairs up the towers with a scenic view. Who needs that when you have a farm waiting? Oh, but there was one thing about one of those towers to send a chill up a little girl’s spine. Hanging on the wall as you passed under an archway was ........the jawbone of an alligator An actual real and true alligator found right there in the Irish Hills many years ago. I didn’t like those alligator teeth and I didn’t like those towers from the inside, although from the outside driving by they were pretty enough. When one was on the way to one’s farm, one needn’t be concerned with alligators waiting in the pastures to eat little girls.
But that was just a stretch in the road and what I really looked for was the farm on the corner that signaled our left turn toward our farm. The road was dirt and dust kicked up in the summer with our windows rolled down. We didn’t have air conditioned cars then. A few miles and right, a few miles and left again and the farm on the left. I always knew it would be waiting but it always took my breath away that it was so good it really had waited for me to come back.
After arriving at the farm there were occasional day trips to the local amusements. Up the road on the right corner was a school house, I think it was called “Devil’s Lake School”. It was red cinder block and I longed to be a student there. I never saw children there because most of our trips were during summer vacation but that school had a lovely tree-shaded playground we would visit. It had the best bouncy animals on thick springs that you could rock very hard back and forth and you’d almost pitch over the front before being thrown back again. And a merry-go-round. I loved it because there the merry-go-round was mine alone and I controlled the speed. Not being very daring it was just enough for my dad to spin me around until I said “enough ” He never pushed it faster than I wanted so he never stole the joy of it by making it scary. He knew I didn’t like to be scared.
Some days we’d ride into “town” to the grocery store. Here memory gets unreliable because I think the grocery store was called “Coopers” or “Hoopers” but then I think that was the name of the Sesame Street grocer as well. Funny how childhood dances and rewrites itself in the mind until it becomes all of a piece, truth and fairy tale playing together. Anyway, to get to the grocery store and lake you drove down our dirt road until you reached the school and then you’d turn right and the road would become smooth asphalt. After all that bumpy dirt road driving it felt like flying with the windows rolled all the way down and my stringy long hair continually whipping into my mouth and feet sticking straight out, legs not long enough to reach in the floorboards. In the early days the grocery store was smaller and you had to walk up a few steps to get inside and the buggies were somehow tall-seeming. It was cool in there with a carpeted floor and we’d buy our few staples for our stay at the farm. Later it was a disappointment for me when the store expanded and became modernized. I have only one good thing to say about that new and modern location, my grandma let me stand on the end of the shopping cart as she pushed it around and one day she decided to run around a corner tipping the cart and groceries and me onto the floor. My mom was there and boy was she mad. That was a good day. That store was too bright and fancy for its own good. It needed a little silliness.
And then there was Devil’s Lake. Do you know why it was called Devil’s Lake? My grampa explained it to me as we drove by one day in his red El Camino. You see, there is a hole in the middle of that lake so deep it goes all the way to hell. Let me tell you, that put a quick end to any desire I had to swim, boat or do anything in or near Devil’s Lake for quite some time. I did wonder how the lake didn’t put out the hell fires.
Happily having reasoned that the Devil hole was in the middle of the lake and beyond my reach, I was able to enjoy the beach at Devil’s Lake. It was sandy and warm and the sand at the water’s edge squished between your toes. Usually these were trips with just my parents for swimming. One time the blacktop parking lot was so hot that it stuck to the bottom of my dad’s rubber flip flops and pulled them apart. He had to throw them right in the trash barrel at the beach. I felt bad for my dad on that day. On another day my gramma came to the lake with us, the only time I recall her there at the beach. She had to find a bathing suit and the one she had looked old fashioned and fancy. It was purple and ruffly. She wore it to the beach that day and splashed in the shallow water with me, staying far away from the hole down to hell. The Devil’s Lake Beach also had playground equipment with more of those bouncy animals and a jungle gym you could climb on built like a stretched out U. So if you tired of swimming or you were worried about the devil reaching up that hole and grabbing your ankles, you could play on the jungle gym and swings and bouncers until you were worn out, then flop down on the sun-warmed blankets next to your mom and dad for a catnap.
At the end of the afternoon, we’d head back to the farm and my dad always drove bare-footed (even if the black top hadn’t eaten his flip flops) and without a shirt. In summertime the rules are different and even driving is extra special. On the best drives home I’d ride in the open back of the pick up truck. Don’t be alarmed, when I was a little girl no one wore seat belts and it was safe to ride in the bed of an open pick up truck. In fact, sometimes very little children stood on the seat between their parents or grandparents so they could see out the windshield. If that was boring they’d stand in the back seat, lean on the rear window well and look out the back window. When I was a little girl children never thought about car crashes or strangers or roll-overs. Back then all little children worried about was playing because the moms and the dads and the grammas and the grampas were in charge and the children only had to grow up slowly and be loved daily. Don’t think that we were foolhardy. Should any little girl be so mad as to dangle an arm or, heaven help us, her head out of the car window some grown up (and often all the grown ups) would holler, “get that hand/arm/head back in here, that’s a good way to lose your hand/arm/leg/head if another car comes by ”. It was a scary thought to have ones limbs or head wacked off by a passing car and so that lesson was learned quickly. Today I won’t reach my hand out of my car to move my side mirrors. I’ve come this far with limbs intact.
At home we’d eat barbecued hot dogs and potato chips from the bag and by the time the sun was falling down behind the pastures my eyes would be heavy and my sun-soaked skin would feel massaged by the soft worn furniture and blankets. I never took my bathing suit off after a day at the Devil’s Lake beach and as it dried stiff I’d get sleepier and sleepier. With damp lake-smelling hair and body washed in cold lake waters I’d be carried to my rose wall papered room and settled on sweet smelling sheets. My night gown pulled over my head even as I drifted away to cricket songs. Sleep came easy and gentle on the farm. My mind rocked on gentle farm breezes knowing that the morning would bring coffee scents and grown-ups voices and another day to start the wonderfulness all over again. Mornings and evenings were like that, book ends of grown-ups murmuring down stairs and breezes tickling your eyelashes and soft sweet bed linens holding you until you were ready for more. I am still ready for more of those days on the farm.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
We lived in the same house on Clippert Street from my preschool years until seventh grade. Like any small neighborhood, eight blocks square, we became something of a community with an ever expanding cast of characters, adult and child alike.
I lived on the corner of Clippert and Avalon Streets with my dad, Harold, my mom, Pat and my sister Amy who was four years my junior. Our house was at the extreme east end of our subdivision with no houses across the street. We faced the K-mart auto shop and lot behind the store. There was a deep ditch with dirty water running through it over which there was usually a piece of wooden pallet thrown for those who cared to risk crossing. For the more civilized, such as my mother, there was a true crossing half way up the block. And the end of our street was a stand of trees separating us from the freeway.
Because our house was on the corner, it was the high schooler’s bus stop during the school year. During inclement weather my mom would let the big kids stand under our front porch overhang to keep dry where they’d bunch up and I’d awaken to their big kid voices.
Across the street were the Chavis Family, Mr. and Mrs. Chavis with their two grown children, Vicki who drove a red mustange and lived with her husband and pretty little blonde daughter, and Gene, their son. This was during the days of “I Dream of Jeannie” in the afternoons so I was enthralled by Gene’s effeminate name and would sing, “I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair” whenever I saw him. He didn’t realize I was brilliant, he should’ve talked to my grandparents. He just looked at me with a slight smile and went about his business. I decided the Chavis Family was French and very sophisticated for two reasons, they had a second story on their house and in their back yard was a patio with a big black caldron suspended over some rocks. There you have it. Mrs. Chavis had brown very hair sprayed hair and pink lips. She would let me hang out on that patio as much as I liked and sometimes invite me in to her cool kitchen for a cookie. Anyone with a caldron in their back yard is all right by me. They had a swimming pool on the other side of their garage that Gene would swim in on hot days. Although I would stand on the other side of the fence on the sidewalk and sing, “I dream of Jeannie...” to him, he never invited me swimming.
On the next corner behind us was an old weird lady with a Buster Brown haircut and several Weiner dogs that yapped and snapped through the fence. She also had patio stones with Weiner dog names etched on them and my dad said that was where she buried her dogs when they died. Like I said, weird...but fascinating. She never said hello. The greatest bond we shared was that our sidewalk ended at her driveway making it an ideal turn-around for a little girl on roller skates or a bike, especially because the incline to the street offered a little thrill of speed just before you spun back around and up to the sidewalk. I wonder why all those dogs kept dying on her?
After the weird buster brown Weiner lady moved away, or her dogs finally buried her in the back yard; Pauline moved in with her husband. Pauline loved me and my friends. Maybe she didn’t realize it but we pried our way into her home on a regular basis because a. we were curious about what mysteries lay inside that dead Weiner dog house and b. we were determined to improve community relations with this neighbor. Pauline had gray hair and lipstick on her teeth. She let us have snacks in her kitchen where she had a bizarre clock made of a plastic black cat whose eyes moved back and forth with it’s tale. Pauline proved to be a great improvement on her predecessor.
Across the street from Pauline and her husband was a single man whose little girl visited only occasionally. The neighborhood children had labeled him “scarey” but I felt bad for him. I thought he must be lonely there all by himself so one day I said, “Hi.” Well, honestly, that was the day he got a fat black puppy named Teddy so maybe I was inspired by more than compassion and Jesus. He turned out to be a very nice man well worth saying hi to even if he didn’t have a fat black puppy. He let me play with Teddy as much as I wanted. I would just go to the back yard for a while and then head home. His back yard faced the street and could be seen from my house. Teddy was all we ever had in common, but I sure did like his big furry paws. Teddy’s I mean.
Across the way from our house was the K-Mart auto shop as I mentioned earlier. My dad hated those guys. We went to bed at 9:00 every night and that was just about when they’d start banging and whirring and talking and making all manner of noise. My dad called K-Mart. My dad called the police. My dad said “I have two little girls who need to get up early for school.” My dad said, “I’m gonna come over there and kick your behind (only not behind).” Those K-Mart auto shop guys never did stop banging and whirring and talking all night long. Man my dad hated those guys.
And then there were our next door neighbors...the Baileys. And my dad’s arch enemy...that drunk Mike Baily. That drunk Mike Baily was an adult male of indeterminate age who was a “loser” and a “drunk” before alcoholism became a fashionable disease. He would sit in the back yard at a card table wearing a blue dress shirt open over a white t-shirt and drink beer. He had sandy blonde hair as I recall although he has started to look like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island in my mind. I’d go in our backyard to swing and there he’d be. He was impervious to weather and could be seen out our den windows when there was snow on the ground. My dad said he was too pickled to feel the cold. My dad hated that drunk Mike Baily.
Mr. Baily was of no particular distinction to me other than my father’s insistence that he needed to kick that drunk Baily son of his out on his ear. Mrs. Baily was more interesting. She wore curlers 24 hours a day 7 days a week and had horn rimmed glasses. She sat on her front porch in warm weather in polyester shorts and a tank top and smoked. One day she called me over to show me that both of her big toe nails had been removed. It made me shivery and I thought that drunk Mike Baily was a great improvement on his big toenail-less mother.
The theme of my childhood was that we had to move to get away from that drunk Mike Baily. He seemed nice enough to me despite my father’s growing disgust at the beer cans covering the Baily’s backyard around Mike’s card table.
Then one night everything changed. I awoke in the middle of the night in the bedroom at the front of the house that I shared with my sister. My dad was in the living room at the front door and my mom was in the hallway in front of our bedroom door. That drunk Mike Baily had finally gone too far. He was so inebriated, having apparently moved his drinking out of the back yard, he was disoriented and banging on our front door trying to force his way in. He didn’t know which house was his. I was pretty sure the time had come for my dad to kill that drunk Mike Baily. We all knew it had been coming for years. For the first time, I was scared of drunk Mike Baily. And I was scared that he was gonna hurt my dad. And I thought maybe my dad needed to shoot him after all. My parents called the police who intervened and saved Mike from my dad shooting him right through our front door to save his wife and little girls.
Not long after that we really did move. I never saw that drunk Mike Baily again. I wonder if he knows how lucky he is that my dad didn’t shoot him?
Is that not the coolest name ever? Much cooler than Sara Margaret, for crying out loud.
Kathleen Marie was my aunt. Still is as a matter of fact and is otherwise known as MSUgal. Perhaps you’re familiar?
Anyway, Kathy is my dad’s only sibling but was four years older than myself so she and I grew up together. I had a younger sister named Amy, but she was quite evil until adulthood and so not to be trusted at all. But that’s a story for another day.
Kathy was terribly cool. I wish I had the picture of us in our matching pink Easter outfits purchased by my grandma, her mom. I’m sure she has it somewhere so keep an eye on her blog; it’s sure to surface. She also had a majorette hat made out of a bleach bottle. Like I said, cool.
Kathy had no end of wacky schemes and games should you go to her house, which we did at least one evening a week. The problem was, the extreme planning and plotting required for these adventures would consume all but ten minutes of the visit leaving the whole affair to be rather a tease.
We would play Dreamboat. This is how dreamboat works. You first have to clean Kathy’s room so that you can prepare properly for dreamboat. Kathy has a white canopy bed with pink bedclothes so clearly this will be worth the effort. You clean and organize and perhaps dust and vacuum. Then you pile on the bed and pretend to be on a boat. Umm. Surely there was more to it than that? Well, anyway, I’m sure I’ve just forgotten the details but dreamboat was well worth the preparation. I think
Anyway, there was also Barbies. Never was there such a Barbie collection as Kathy’s! She had a blue hatbox filled with Barbie supplies. Of course one had to clean the bedroom to set up the Barbie city. But that was just to take maximum advantage of the Barbie playing. And then we’d. Uh, anyway, we would probably have lots of fun. If we ever actually played Barbies, which I don’t specifically remember doing.
Moving forward in time, Kathy was quite the queen of the holidays. One Christmas Eve (as that was the Trent Holiday), she answered the door and she was wearing....a black t -shirt with a studded peacock on it and a wrap-around skirt! Fantastic! And she had a black leather jacket with a fur collar. She was a fashion-maven. Every Christmas she would light roughly 1,000 candles in my grandparent’s house and make us turn off all the lights to admire the holiday glow. Exciting times, those. But my favorite holiday memory involves Elvis Presley’s rendition of Blue Christmas. Think about it, got it? OK, I have a cassette taped recording of Kathy singing Blue Christmas ala Elvis with a bit of Loretta Lynn thrown in for good measure. Anybody wanna hear?
The year I graduated from high school the Mr. and I, not yet married, hijacked a seat with my grandparents and Kathy who were off to visit relatives in Niagra Falls. Actually my grandpa’s only sister was gravely ill but we figured, the falls are within driving distance and why should they go to waste?
So while my grandfather kept a bedside vigil, Kathy took the car and off we went to the falls. First stop, Dracula’s Castle. The wax museum of horror. Oooooh. We skulked along giggling and exchanging our witty banter when from the end of the corridor came a sound... a distant rumbling. And then from around the corner came somewhere between 3 and 80 teenagers screaming and running at full tilt. The mob ran past us shoving us against the walls of the dark museum. Never one to panic, Kathy took firm control of the situation.
“IT’S A FRANKENSTEIN!!!” yelled Kathy.
And so, Dean, Kathy and I took off running back toward the entrance of the museum in a blind hysteria trying to outrun the Frankenstein. As we ran, we shoved small children and senior citizens out of our paths. In our defense, we warned them to run. They just stood there and stared. Idiots.
At a particular juncture in the darkened museum there were two steps down to a different level. There we were, me in the lead, Dean holding my hand and Kathy hanging on to the back of Dean’s jacket. I saw the stairs and took them without hesitation, 1-2-3, and kept running. Dean, being the athletic one amongst us just sailed right over them action-hero style. And Kathy, hanging on to Dean’s jacket and looking over her shoulder to check the advance of Frankenstein, was dragged down the stairs on her knees and ended up laying face down on the dark carpet of the castle. I stopped, having heard the “thud” and instructed Dean in a rather shrill scream to go back and help her. Kathy, being nothing short of a hero raised her sweaty head and gasped, “I’m fine, keep running! Save yourselves!”
And so we did.
We ran, we three, twisting and turning around the darkened hallways. Heading toward the entrance. Pushing tourists out of the way. Ever aware that horrific death was on our heals. A Frankenstein no less.
Finally, we pushed through the turnstile backwards, stumbled into the daylight of the lobby. Panting, hands on our knees trying to catch our breath. Foolish people waiting to enter the museum and walk into the hands of certain doom. Kathy looked down and found that the knees of her jeans were torn and her kneecaps bloody. She was limping and wounded; but we were alive. My God, we were alive.
As we gathered our wits about us; the crowd whispering amongst themselves, speculating as to what had happened in the dark recesses of Dracula’s Castle; the object of our terror emerged from the dark abyss.
A fat kid in a snorkel jacket wandered over and said, “Hey, where’d everybody go?”
In our defense, he was very big and could easily have been a Frankenstein.
And this my friends, is a typical day in the adventure that is Kathy and Sara.
We’ve backed each other up when life was unkind. We’ve lent a shoulder, a buck and a promise to stand together when times were rough. We’ve forgiven without being asked to and laughed ourselves sick.
We’ve sat together at the kitchen table and drank coffee with my dog sitting next to Kathy and drinking coffee out of a bowl.
We’ve marathon Christmas shopped until we thought we’d keel over.
We’ve shared pasta lunches at Hudson’s and gone for Town Club pop as children for Christmas with my Grandpa.
We swam in her pool and planned my wedding and cried together at the birth of her daughter.
We know each other from the inside out and couldn’t fake it with each other if we tried.
She’d kick your butt if you hurt me, and I’d kick it if you hurt her.
We have that secret language of family and memories...It’s a Frankenstein, You’re fading, There’s something suspicious, Jump back Tookie and a hundred other nonsensical statements that make perfect sense to us.
And when the chips are down and there’s a Frankenstein on your tail; we’ll come back for one another.
Now that is cool.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I don’t know what year my grandparents bought our farm. I’m looking at a picture on my desk of myself, a chunky toddler running full tilt across the gravel drive with my gramma in pursuit. I’m wearing pink plaid overalls and I have fuzzy wispy baby hair. She has on denim clam diggers and sandals and looks not that much older than I am today. There’s a calico cat in the frame and in the background, our barn. The doors hadn’t yet been replaced with the big red ones with bright white Z’s. My grampa would get to that before long. I don’t remember this time before the new barn doors but by the outflung arms and joy-filled baby face (so much like that I would see in my baby’s faces 20 years later) in the picture, I was already in the throes of my first love, the farm.
I do know that in 1975 when I was seven years old the farm and I had entered our last season together, although I didn’t know it. That summer before third grade started was an exciting one. The country was getting ready for her 200th birthday and we all learned the word “bicentennial”. We school children looked forward to a year full of specialness and celebration and my mom was going to take my sister and me to special classes at our community center where we’d learn about pioneer life and at the end, be in a parade wearing period costumes. My dress was bright red and blue with a matching bonnet.
That summer we also looked forward to a wonderful family event. My mother’s only brother, his wife and two children were driving from California to live on the farm. It might have bothered me to share my farm but it didn’t. I had no other cousins and the girl, Lisa, was the same age as me. And like a child with a glorious toy or pet, I was anxious to share my farm. And more than a little jealous that they’d be living there where I’d always longed to live. But I didn’t worry about that, they would settle in for a while and move to their own home and the farm would be mine again, as always. In the meantime I’d have an aunt, uncle and two cousins all the way from California In that bright summer sun my cousins and I waited for the moving truck to arrive with all their belongings. As we played in the yard we saw it, lumbering up the dirt road. A big white moving truck with green letters, B-E-K-I-N. My cousins yelled “Bekin ” because they knew that was their truck with their stuff. The thing looked odd and foreign pulling up the farm’s long drive where only the familiar cars of my grandparents or parents usually sat.
And so with much excitement we children watched the grown ups unload that Bekin truck. When we found boxes marked appropriately, we tore in to them; Lisa and Robby knowing what was inside and anxious to see their toys and games, myself feeling like Christmas as I discovered the treasures driven all the way from California.
Eventually the family settled into the farm making it their home. I was suspended between the happiness of their arrival and sadness that their furniture and decorations had displaced all the precious things that “belonged” there. The farm didn’t look the same and for my money, it was not an improvement. There were toys scattered all over the big dining room floor, like a playroom for goodness sake My grampa’s sunny room looking onto the garden became Robby’s room and my aunt hung wooden football players on the wall. Gramma’s soft and sweet smelling room became Lisa’s and she filled it with Partridge Family and Sunny & Cher albums and a record player. The furniture looked “modern” and there were no worn out sweet blankets thrown around. Everything was new and pretty, too pretty. My grampa said he didn’t like the way Bob and Sue decorated the farm. My gramma said he just wasn’t used to it. I think my grampa was right. My poor farm. It just had to hang on a little while and we’d move back in with the right furniture.
My cousins enrolled at my dream school up the road. They went to the 4-H Halloween party where I was supposed to go too. My Aunt Sue had gotten us fancy trick or treat bags with plastic Halloween scenes on the front and yellow handles. But then my sister or I (I can’t recall who) got sick and we didn’t make the drive out to the farm. My cousins got a pony that lived in the garden pasture. I wasn’t entirely sure that a pony should be stomping around the garden pasture but I was no fool. If they had a pony on my farm, as far as I was concerned, I had a pony. They also got a giant sheep dog named Bingo. That seemed like fun but that dog was crazy and I only remember him being trapped in the corn crib like a giant dog house. I think Bingo was bigger than the pony.
The Christmas of 1975 was the first time I ever did not want to go to the farm. By that time it had been thoroughly made over to suit the California family. Bright and sunny and pretty it no longer felt or smelled or looked like my farm. They didn’t understand the rules of the farm, the primary being quietness and simpleness. New things didn’t belong at the farm but they had new things every time I went there. For crying out loud, they had a telephone The farm did not need a telephone
On that Christmas morning as we prepared to leave our home to go to the farm, my mom expected me to wear the long cream colored granny dress that was my church Christmas dress. Now things had really gotten out of hand. The farm was completely transformed. Another family lived, LIVED at my farm. Those cousins who seemed like a good idea in the beginning were running around like they owned the place and I feared they intended to stay. And I was expected to wear FORMAL WEAR? To the farm? A place were shoes were optional and sometimes you got to sleep in your bathing suit? Ridiculous.
The holidays came and I went to the farm in my long cream colored granny dress and with no small degree of guilt, I played with the Evil Knieval race track set up in the dining room. Doggone if those cousins didn’t have good toys. Made it hard for me to hate them. And my Aunt Sue was always so funny and bright and just made you feel like she couldn’t wait to see you. And she said things like “Guy, it’s sure cold here ”, “Guy”, what a hoot. And “Gees Louise”. My aunt Sue said the craziest funniest things. And she bought Lisa and I coordinating outfits from J.C. Penney. And in my entire life, she has never been angry. My Uncle Bob called me “honey” and had curly hair and Lisa also had curly hair and a quiet voice. She hated her button nose but I wished to look just like her. Her fingers were long and tapered and she was sweet and patient. She’d probably like to wear a long cream colored granny dress on Christmas. The only thing that saved me from this state of mixed emotion was my cousin Robby. He was downright mean and bad and he had silver caps on his front teeth and he yelled and cried almost constantly. In Robby, I had a place to focus my disgust with the situation while still enjoying my family. At least when I wanted to sock him, I felt justified. I never did sock him though, really I didn’t. But he needed it.
The new year, 1976, brought the kick off of the official Bicentennial. School days were more fun with one activity after another and everyone in the country was proud and patriotic. My California family came to my school to see the Bicentennial displays in the class rooms. My parents and grandparents were big on antiques and I got to bring several items in for our display. One was an old rusty tool used to mash potatoes. My teacher, Mrs. Baines, said I had the best items. She wrote “tater masher” on the card in front of my kitchen tool display. Then she called the teacher next door over to see what I had brought. Third grade was my year. Then my Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue and cousins came to our family day and my Uncle Bob said, “Teachers sure didn’t look like that when I was in school ” about my teacher Mrs. Baines who was very beautiful and wore a blue sweater dress with red sandals in the winter. My Aunt Sue said, “Gees Louise Bob For crying out loud ” and laughed her full laugh. I was proud of my pretty teacher and proud of my tater masher and proud of my country and proud that my whole family, even ones from California came to my school for Bicentennial Days. Maybe I could tolerate these California people in my farm after all. Maybe the farm liked having kids there all the time. Maybe.
Snow turned to slush and melted away brown and gray, like winter always melts away in Michigan. The sun started to feel hot through the car windows on our trips to the farm. And then the talking started. Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue were moving back to California when school let out. They just “weren’t happy” here. Not happy at the farm? Well, I wondered just where they thought they’d be happier. But kids didn’t put their two cents in in 1976. So I came to realize that my California family would be moving away after less than a year with us in Michigan. I was sad to lose my cousin Lisa with her gentle voice and curly hair. I was glad that mean Robby with his silver teeth was moving though. That kid still needed a good spanking. I came to decide that it would be ok, I would get my farm back and life would be back to the way it had always been.
It seemed a short time between finding out about the move and the move happening. Back then, grown ups didn’t talk kids to pieces with details and problems and information. You pretty much found out what was happening the day it happened. I don’t remember an extended period of awaiting the exodus of the California family. I just remember going there to say good bye. We played in the mostly empty house that day and didn’t talk about anything in particular. Kids are good about just playing and not talking too much. All of their California stuff had been loaded back into the green and white Bekin truck so the rooms of the farm seemed extra big. We went upstairs to my parents room, which had been my aunt and uncle’s room for that year. It was completely emptied out and we had one of those hard rubber balls, like you get from a gum ball machine if you’re rich enough to have a quarter. It bounced around marvelously in that empty giant room with hardwood floors. In 1976 four kids could have one rubber ball and an empty room and be happy.
The day wore on and darkness came and we had to say good bye to the California family. My mom said they were leaving early in the morning and stopping at another family’s house an hour away to say good bye to them, and then on to California. We hugged awkward child hugs and said “bye”, “bye”. I even hugged that bad Robby who had spent much of the day in his ugly foot ball player room crying about moving. I felt bad for Robby for the first time on that day as my Aunt Sue laid next to him in his bed and rubbed his back. Even if he was the worst boy ever, I understood not wanting to leave the farm.
My Aunt Sue hugged me for a very long time and kissed my cheek and held my face between her two hands with white frosted nail polish. She was crying without apology or attempt to hide her tears and she said “I love you. We’ll see you soon. I promise.” Thirty years later, that’s still how she says good bye. My Aunt Sue is the only person I know who can live thousands of miles away and still send you things constantly to let you know how much she loves you. My Aunt Sue still sends my children things from thousands of miles away to let them know how much she loves them. I realized all of a sudden on that day on the farm saying good bye in the dark kitchen that I might miss her most of all. I was sorry I had been so mean in my heart about her furniture. My Uncle Bob hugged me good bye and kissed the top of my head and grinned with squinty eyes and curly hair.
The grown ups sniffled and hugged some more and then we were in the car. As we drove away I thought about these California cousins and the aunt I had just then fallen in love with in earnest and wished for another chance, another year with them on the farm. We drove headlights cutting across familiar pastures and down the dirt road sad and quiet in the car. We turned the mirror-image turns of the trip toward the farm, right, left, right and then the smooth highway was under our tires with oncoming headlights flying by. My parents murmured quietly in the front seat and I sat in the back seat with my pink sleeping bag with the big flowers unzipped to form a blanket, ready for sleeping on the hour long ride.
I wondered about moving our old worn sweet smelling things back in to the farm and this gave me some comfort and then some downright happiness. Summer was coming. The farm would be back and it would wrap itself around me again with its promise of sameness and cool breezes and green beans from our garden. I asked my mom, “When are we going to the farm?” And there in the car on the freeway with headlights blazing in the oncoming lanes I learned the awful truth. Much worse than the news of my California family moving away. “Probably never. Grandma and Grandpa are selling the farm.”
Have you ever seen a child mourn? I hadn’t lost anything up to that point in my life. My parents, my grandparents, even my great grandparents were all alive. I saw them all constantly. My 8 years had been a smooth continuum with little adjustment required of me beside the new furniture in the farm. But in the back seat under my pink flowered sleeping bag, I had my first encounter with grief. My first loss. My heart broke in my little girl chest. I felt panic and fear and anger and worst of all, helplessness. I had no say in the future of my farm, it suddenly occurred to me. No one had asked what I thought. I don’t think anyone knew the impact the sale of the farm would have on me. It had always been there so I don’t think I ever voiced my love for the creaky floors, the dry dusty dirt of the garden or the gnarled trunk of the climbing tree.
And so, the farm was sold with little fanfare. We never did go back. I never walked again through the rooms that held my heart’s secrets and dreams...that I would live there one day. I never again climbed the climbing tree outside the kitchen door wall or ate the rhubarb growing along the garden fence. My side porch with the echoing wooden floors and old school desks was gone to me, without a final moment to memorize the details I had taken for granted for all those years. No more walnuts to walk over in the fall and no more rides high in the seat of the loud bouncing John Deere tractor. No more of my grampa stomping off with his shot gun to get that darn woodchuck in the flannel shirt. No more laying in my bed with my gramma to listen for the bird to call his name, “Bob White ” and my gramma to answer back, “Bob White ” in her girly voice.
My dad wouldn’t hunt bats with his tennis racket in the summer evenings upstairs in the farm. I wouldn’t fall asleep to cricket songs and country breezes or awaken to coffee smells and grown ups murmuring.
My grampa and I would not pick our own green beans from our garden pasture and my mom and gramma and I wouldn’t clean them for our supper. A chapter ended, a season over and a child grows up just a little bit and just a little too soon by learning how to lose something she loved. If only I could go back in time, I’d walk slow and careful over every inch of that twenty acres, over every room in that house and run my fingers on smooth old wallpaper and rough splintered farm buildings. I’d have taken a mason jar to fill it with dirt from our garden. I would have pictures of every room taken with an old Kodak camera to show my children. I would have saved some lime green colored sour smelling walnuts to put on the window sill in my kitchen someday.
I have never returned to the farm since that night I hugged my California family good bye thirty years ago. It seems I would have, at some point, just hopped in the car for a Saturday drive to see the old place. I am weak though, where my farm is concerned. It’s too raw, to consider the time, the sweetness and the goneness of the farm and my little girl time of assuming it would last forever. My grampa died several years ago and another part of the farm passed with him, because he and my gramma were the center of it, not the buildings or the pastures. I don’t go to his grave the same way I don’t go to the farm. I want Grampa and the farm to remain where they are...young and strong and glorious. I want to be the little girl with stringy blonde hair flying in her face riding the tractor around the garden. I want soft sweet smelling blankets and Bob White calling to my gramma and me. I want Indians to stick their big toes in the river and say, “Oh That’s cold water ” and a lake with a hole that reaches all the way to hell. I want the place where I learned to be still and quiet with warm garden dirt under bare toes. Where children ride in the back of pick up trucks down rough country roads and eat green beans from their grampa’s mouth before they’re old enough to talk. You may think I can’t have these things, that they are gone. You’re wrong. I had a secret at 8 years old in the back seat under the blankets...I never said goodbye.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
We had a farm from the time I was a toddler until I turned 8. I say we as in my grandparents had a farm but I assumed it was mine. That’s because it was. Our farm was rolling pastures and tall evergreens, climbing trees and out buildings where no animals lived but a little girl lived big and free.
The farm was about an hour away from where we really lived but we traveled there for weekends and get-aways whenever we could. I never wanted to stay home when it was time to head to the farm because it was the best home I’ve ever known. Our farm was in a place called Cold Water because many years ago an Indian stuck his big toe in the river and said “Oh That’s cold water ” and the name stuck. My grampa told me so. Please don’t consult local historians for confirmation, it’s not necessary.
So up the dusty road we’d drive and then there it would be on our left, the long drive up to the farm. In winter time you’d hold your breath and have a knot in your stomach if the snow was deep because maybe the car wouldn’t be able to make it up the hill. Then the men, my dad or my grampa would grumble and say “Ahh ” and stomp up the hill to clear the way. In the summer-time it was easier because you just swung right in and there you were, gravel crunching up the hill toward the green-gray house that had been just waiting for you. That crunch of gravel under tires was the sound of coming home. Today when I hear that sound I have a moment when in my mind, I can see the house at the top of the hill and the barn on the left.
Up the hill with the walnut tree pasture and barn on your left, house and little stand of trees on your right. A right turn and you are in the yard around which the house, garage, barn, corn crib and pig sty are arranged. Pastures around and beyond in every direction cradling you in their 20 acres. The drive spread into a gravely circle and we’d pull up to the garage. The only sidewalk at the farm was a little walkway up to the back door with a tree on the right and the grassy expanse leading toward the garden pasture on the left. Under the tree to the right was the cement rooster and baby chick painted and crackly. I could ride the rooster when I was small but when I got older my grandparents had added an old carousel horse that leaned against the little tree. It was made of iron and painted white and crackly like the rooster and chick. You could sit on that too, but you’d have to balance with your feet on the ground because the pony was fashioned in mid-gallop and minus it’s pole on the merry-go-round couldn’t stand on its own. If you attempted to drag the pony away from the tree it would leave tracks in the grass with its little hooves because it was too heavy to pick up and carry.
The yard to the left was cool and shady with the giant climbing tree. The tree towered over a side patio from the kitchen’s sliding glass door where there was an old metal patio table, cocktail style. My gramma had children’s chairs available and this made a perfect kitchenette for me to host summertime picnics furnished with the plastic dishes and cups from the pink plastic basket she kept on hand for me. Sometimes there were cats or puppies in attendance, sometimes just me and often my gramma.
Beyond the side yard the wire fence had an opening through which my grampa would drive the loud green John Deere tractor. If you were in the house when he started it up you could hear it and then look out the door or run outside just in time to watch him tall in the seat bouncing toward the garden. On the best days, which were often, he’d stop and let you climb up onto his lap. Then bounce, bounce, bounce until your teeth chattered and your stomach leaped off you’d ride into the garden. The tractor was giant and rough but my grampa or my dad could turn it on a dime up and down the garden rows and around the perimeter of our garden to the far side of the pasture where wild raspberries grew on the fence we’d ride. I had a small metal John Deere tractor with a detachable wagon and a workable steering mechanism. On the real tractor, the black plastic steering wheel would be hot from the sun and ridged to fit your fingers and my dad and my grampa would always let me steer it with their big rough hands warm on top of my small ones to ensure we didn’t flip. To this day a John Deere dealership makes me smile and I’ve yet to find an amusement park ride to equal the sheer joy of a ride on the tractor with hair flying and no need for talking because the engine was too loud anyway.
Our garden was big and square with corn reaching to heaven on the left, pumpkins swelling from fuzzy stalks on the right and vegetables of every kind in between. Here I learned to pick green beans from their waxy vines and clean them with my mom and my gramma on the side patio. Then they’d be served at dinner with onion and bacon and never was there a better taste. Our green beans. My grampa and I in particular loved those green beans and family legend has it that before I had teeth he’d feed me green beans from his own mouth. Those who cringe at the thought don’t understand the unreasonable love between family that finds no part of its children un-lovely. As I grew into an adult, with the farm and gardens long memory; my grampa and I would buy pounds and pounds of green beans from farm markets in the late Michigan summer, simmer them on my gramma’s stove and enjoy them with the same passion as the farm days. It was our unspoken pact that should either of us be so fortunate as to find fresh green beans, the other would be immediately notified to share the bounty. One never bought just enough fresh green beans for oneself and never ate them alone. And always the stories of baby Sara, eating green beans from Grampa’s mouth. He was no less delighted all those years later than the first time he shared the magic of farm grown beans with me. Stringy or not, green beans mean my grampa, my farm, my summers.
The back pasture behind the corn crib and pig pen was untouched and had grass that grew waist high in the summer. This pasture was especially good for rides in the John Deere jostling up and down and looking down at the flattened grasses as they rushed under us. Once my gramma and I walked all the way back to the property line of that pasture and that’s when she told me that we had 20 acres. I didn’t know what 20 acres meant but it has become the perfect size for a farm in my mind. I rarely walked that pasture on foot though, because of its untended state there was a chance of snakes or other critters that I preferred to keep at a distance. I was only a part-time farm girl after all. But from high on the tractor seat, all was safe.
Speaking of critters, my grampa maintained a vigilant woodchuck hunt for all the farm years. I don’t know what his particular problem was with the woodchucks as his only explanation to me was, “if a woodchuck could chuck wood, how much would a woodchuck chuck?”. In the pondering of this dilemma, I never pursued the reason Grampa had to vanquish the poor woodchuck from the farm. After all, he was only trying to chuck wood, whatever that meant. But off he’d go, shotgun in hand to rid the farm of the elusive woodchuck. I don’t recall ever actually seeing one except in the distance, a fat brown rambling thing that I was always surprised was not wearing a flannel shirt. I figured if he was so smart as to attempt to continually chuck wood, he would not be so primitive as to run around the pastures stark naked.
The corn crib was tall and towering with slatted sides and when you were inside of it, the sun would stripe you as it shown through. The pig pen was dark and musty with aged wooden floors and it made the perfect playhouse, small enough to decorate but large enough to feel like you were inside a real house, made for little girls. The idea that it was a pig pen never seemed like anything more than just the name, like Tara or Monticello.
The barn, oh the barn. Glorious and looming and red with bright white Z’s on the doors. The large main doors were heavy and you had to push and push with all your might to open them. That’s where the John Deere tractor lived. It too had aged brown wooden floors with scattered hay in the corners and old tools hanging from the walls and in my grampa’s work room. You just knew what you could touch and could not touch. On the left was a wood rail, probably waist high for an adult that I imagined would have housed horses at some time in the past. If you ran your fingers along the railing, you got dark brown splinters from the aging wood. It still had the faint smell of animals and hay and the outdoors and diesel from the tractor and gasoline from the riding lawn mower. It was always dark and cool inside the barn and your footsteps would echo and the damp dust would stick to your bare feet. On one end of the barn was the silo which my grampa and gramma said would be used to store grain but for us, was empty. I rarely went inside the silo but if you stood at the bottom it went up up up; a circular tower and the sky was all you could see. Your voice would echo and you were glad to get back out into the sunshine and feel the warm grass on your toes.
The front yard of the farm was somehow more tame and dignified than the grounds at the back. It had towering trees so dense that the sun would dapple through in rays here and there reminding you of the rungs from Jacob’s Ladder that the angels climbed up and down for old Jacob in the Bible. The trunks of the trees were dark and mossy and rough under your fingers. The front yard was deep with the house sitting way back and the front porch was made of brick with a curving brick hand rail but no sidewalk leading to it. We never used the front door anyway. It was a back door house. Once I was digging around at the front of the yard near the street. The house sat so high that if you went to the foot of the drive it seemed to be built at a sort of cliff, you could see the front of it from the dirt road. I was playing around and digging and thinking about how you could touch the roots of the trees from this perspective when I found a treasure. It was metal and ornate and buried near the corner of the lot at the driveway. I ran to show my grandparents and they said it was a fence post Some time, a long time ago, that front yard must have been enclosed with a fancy iron fence and this was all that remained I wonder what ever happened to that fence post? It seems that I would have saved it but I have no idea where it went after that day. Maybe some other child has found the other posts. If they did, I hope they saved their’s.
As for me, I have saved every inch of that farm’s land in my heart. I have laid on my back with nothing but clouds and sunshine to entertain my child’s mind. I have felt the dry dusty dirt of the garden and picked up clumps to crumble in my hand and thought, “this is our land”. I have run my fingers up prickly stalks and watched impossibly bright orange pumpkins emerge where last week there were delicate white flowers. I have cleaned green beans in the cool shade of the climbing tree to feed my family, all together for just a few moments in all of time.
I have taken off my shoes so my toes could better grip the gnarly trunk of the climbing tree and gone to bed with dirt still in the scrapes on my shins. I have been forced into a white tub and bathed in smelly “hard water” to get the barn dust off my feet. I have pulled down the silky stalks and rough sheaths from an ear of corn still on the stalk to see if it was “ready”, my mouth already watering. I have entertained farm cats with tea parties on the grass and hoped the woodchuck in the flannel shirt would get away one more time.
I’ve ridden cement roosters and iron carousel ponies and even a plastic duck on four purple wheels. I’ve ridden a John Deere tractor and a riding lawn mower.
I’ve worn the too-big shoes of my mom and my gramma outside because they were next to the door and didn’t slow me down with laces or buckles and then left them outside all night long. I’ve eaten green beans from my grampa’s mouth.
I was Sarey, a little girl of privilege.