Post-it Notes and Wisdom

I lost the quote for the article I was writing, then I lost my patience and finally, I lost my cool. Why, oh why didn’t I use a post-it note to mark the quote in the book? Too busy? Too lazy? Too proud? All three?

This frustrating moment conjured up for me the ending of an old story. Remember the glorious conclusion of Noah’s Ark?  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Gen 9:16) What a revelation! The first sticky-note reminder ever produced was the rainbow which God stuck in the sky as a prompt to himself that the earth would never again be destroyed by a flood. The rainbow, this gorgeous, vast, visual statement of count-to-ten restraint and love is not primarily a reminder directed toward us, it’s a reminder meant for God – imagine that!  If God uses post-it notes to help his memory, then what’s my problem?

“With humility comes wisdom,” says Proverbs. And it appears that a few post-it notes can’t hurt, either.

Rainbow memo pad

Music, minor miracles, and more

My cousin Randy Plut (pronounced “ploot”) came for a three day visit last weekend – it has been twelve years since his last trip to Minnesota. Randy has always been an amazing guy. He is the oldest of my close-in-age cousins. His brother Rick and sister MaryAnn made up the trio of cousins with whom my sister Margie and I spent most of our time. Randy, Rick and MaryAnn had myriad talents, not the least of which was a great sense of humor – among the cousins, it was always thus. Their dry wit, an eye for weird comic situations, and impeccable timing made being with them a whole lot of fun. It was at my cousins’ home that Margie and I met many of Randy’s high school pals, one of whom was John Swartzwelder, who would become the legendary writer of the animated sitcom, The Simpsons. I think an off-kilter sense of the comical is part of what drew Randy and his friends together in high school. I recall great conversations and laughing many an evening away with my cousins and their friends in Aunt Lillian and Uncle Bob’s living room.

Greater than Randy’s talent in humor is his talent in music. Before he was ever a witty teenager, Randy was a serious and accomplished musician. His instrument is the piano, which he plays like a wizard, shape-shifting without a pause, by memory alone, from classical pieces to country western to ragtime to the Beatles, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips from time to time, the only evidence of the intense level of his concentration. It has always been thus for Randy, with family members and friends watching and listening in wonder over the years.

Randy is also amazing for having recently survived a cardiac arrest that was as near fatal as it could be. He survived it because, by the grace of God, just as Randy collapsed, his sister MaryAnn came to his house, understood the situation and called 911 for help. Randy spent quite a while in the hospital and has no recollection at all of the entire month of January 2013, the month his heart attack occurred. In fact, it was a great surprise to him to learn, as he improved during his hospital stay, that he had a new job! He had applied for, and won, a new position just prior to his heart event. Randy now has a pacemaker, an incredible invention in its own right, and one that should help Randy avoid another cardiac collapse, may it ever be thus.

We spent the last night of Randy’s visit to Minnesota at the home of one of my nieces, Michelle Rogers. Michelle and her husband Bill  graciously invited my husband, John, Randy and me for dinner.On entering Bill and Michelle’s home that evening, Randy noticed the piano in the living room, so after we enjoyed a delicious meal together, he offered to play the piano for us. We were all delighted to be a part of the audience, and Randy did not disappoint – he was phenomenal! It is a very rare thing to witness the level of skill and creativity of an artist like Randy, say, at a concert hall or on TV or the internet, but to experience performance mastery of Randy’s kind in the intimacy of a family home is mind-boggling. Bill and Michelle made sure their three children were part of the experience, and the kids enjoyed Randy’s playing along with us. Randy asked them if they had any songs they would like to hear, which he then played for them without hesitation, sheet music or batting an eyelash. We adults were astonished at Randy’s skill, whereas the kids took things in stride. What? Wait a minute – wasn’t this a minor miracle occurring before our eyes? But kids are kids. How could they gauge how remarkable Randy’s performance was? I know I was pretty oblivious to Randy’s immense talent when I was a youngster. I took his proficiency at the piano for granted and had no way of knowing the rarity of Randy’s gifts. Understanding of this kind only comes with maturity. It has always been thus, I believe.

There was another member of the audience who did seem to understand the unique quality of the evening, though. Max, the family dog, knew something special was happening. He sat by the piano, listening attentively while Randy played, and a after the recital was over, he left one of his favorite toys at Randy’s feet as a token of his appreciation. Is this a typical occurrence? Has this always been so, that dogs are aware of and admire the finer things of life?

On the ride home from Bill and Michelle’s, after saying our farewells to Randy and wishing him the blessings of health and happiness for the future, I thought about the wonderful evening we had shared, about the passage of time, and the sparing of Randy’s life in 2013. Life is an extraordinary gift, and the gifts God gives to us as individuals are also extraordinary. This is something that I want to grasp more completely. But perhaps one has to pray for the ability to comprehend this, … perhaps it has always been thus.

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:6

A Fishing Lesson with King Solomon

A friend and I were talking about fishing, which I love, when he told me about a fishing festival that takes place in southern Minnesota in June. It is called “Bullhead Days”. For those who may be  unfamiliar, the bullhead is a species of catfish. The brown bullhead is also widely known as the “mud pout” or simply “mud cat.” bigbullheadwagontrain[1] It is not a thing of beauty, and although they are fun to catch, they are not generally a sought-after fish. In fact, bullheads are considered a nuisance by many anglers. I think it is a great idea to have a festival to celebrate the undervalued, under-appreciated and unlovely bullhead. Why not allow this fish to have a day in which to reap laurels? And I wish the many fisher-folk attending Bullhead Days in Watertown, MN all the best.

Thinking of Bullhead Days brought back memories of fishing in my own hometown one warm June evening many years ago. It was a Saturday night and I was fishing alone on the shores of Lake Fremont. I was fishing solo because my husband, John, had decided to go fishing with his boss, Bill, instead of me. I was miffed at John because I was told that this was a ‘guys only’ fishing trip in a well-appointed fishing boat on a big lake, Lake Mille Lacs, some fifty miles north. I did a slow burn as John packed his things and drove away.

“Fine!” I thought defiantly.”I will simply get my rod and tackle box and go fishing by myself!” And I did.

I was very new to fishing at the time, but I gathered a few supplies, bought some bait, put them all in a clean five-gallon paint bucket and drove to little Lake Fremont, about 3 miles from home. I had heard that sunfish – a lovely, tasty little pan fish – were plentiful in Lake Fremont. I longed for quick success so that I could bring a some sunnies home to cook-up for a meal, but  after an hour of bobber fishing, I had caught  nothing but bullheads. I tried a few maneuvers to see if I could attract the enchanting and delectable sunfish instead of the ugly bullhead. I changed bait. I changed hooks. I also tried a couple of different locations along the lake’s edge, but nothing seemed to make any difference – I caught only bullheads. I had moved about 100 feet south along the lake once again when a little white truck pulled up close to where I was standing. In the back of the little truck was a little green rowboat. A Native American guy got out of the little truck and slid the little boat from the truck bed and onto the shore in one smooth motion that seemed magical to me. He must have been watching me fish as he got ready to launch the boat because when I pulled in another bullhead he asked quietly,

“You fishing for bullheads?”

I shook my head “no” as I carefully took the bullhead off my hook. “Sunnies,” was all I said.

“Your hook is set too deep for sunnies – you are in the mud,”  he offered, almost speaking to himself.

I tried to make eye contact with him, but he was concentrating on throwing gear into the little green boat.

“Thank you,” I said to the back of his head.

He raised his hand absently, then got into his little boat, stretched out and pulled away. I didn’t see him again that night, or any other night that I went fishing on Lake Fremont. But he was right. I got my sinker and hook off the bottom, up out of the mud, and started pulling in lots of sunnies. I had a great time, bringing in several good-sized sunnies and releasing many others.

I also enjoyed showing John my catch the next morning, and I tried not to gloat – much – when I learned that he and Bill had gotten skunked in their efforts to bring home trophy walleye from the large and beautiful Lake Mille Lacs. I never did fess up to the good advice I’d received from the Native American guy, the advice that turned a frustrating, miserable fishing outing into a fun and profitable evening. But in my happy fishing heart, I blessed that quiet, generous man, and asked God to give him many successful fishing trips in his little green boat.

It wasn’t until much, much later that the broader application of the kind man’s words dawned on me. I wonder if you caught it? I believe that wise fisherman deserves to be called King Solomon, don’t you?

“And He causes me to come up from a pit of desolation — from the mire of mud, And He raises my feet up on a rock, He is establishing my steps.” Ps 40:2

A non-word?

English: icon of Keep Your Word by bambooapps

English: icon of Keep Your Word by bambooapps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have noticed that  the word “snuck” has become quite acceptable to use these days, both in speaking and writing. It wasn’t acceptable when I was in 4th grade and wrote my first story, however. Sister Cecelia asked for volunteers to read their homework stories for the class, and as shy as I was, I raised my hand, and was chosen to read. I spoke with as loud a voice as I could muster, and amazingly, the story was well received by the class! I glanced up from my reading to find Sister Cecelia looking at me with her piercing “are you trying to put something over on me?” gaze.

“Did you write that by yourself, Teresa?”

“Yes, Sister.”

Pause.

“I guess I have to believe you. I don’t think an adult would have used “snuck” in a sentence. “Snuck” isn’t a word, you know. You may sit down.”
I sat down, emotions whipping through me. My classmates had obviously liked the story, but I had managed to do something wrong by not knowing that “snuck” was not a  word. Emotionally I was a mess as I sat at my desk,  but intellectually I was determined never to use the non-word “snuck” ever again. So it is with some chagrin that I have seen that very word used  rather frequently as of late.

Which makes me think, where is Sister Cecelia when you need  her?

Silent Night?

Christmas Night

Image via Wikipedia

A happy occurence! A friend and I  managed to meet for coffee and conversation the other day even though Christmas is less than two weeks away! As we sipped our warm, fragrant beverages, we acknowledged this minor miracle, and admitted to the difficulty of making Plans for holiday company, meals, decorating,gift giving and church attendance, and then seeing Plan A morph into Plan B, or Plan C. We chatted about the challenge of staying in-tune with the heart of the season, the birth of Christ. As we talked, I expressed my longing for quiet times, and peaceful, un-rushed days. My friend expressed similar sentiments, but we both knew that those moments weren’t going to occur any time soon.

I enjoyed the visit with my friend, and as I drove home I began to think about our conversation. Why, I wondered, did I think Christmas should be an un-hurried occasion? Have I been trying to make Franz Gruber’s song, Silent Night, the definition of the entire Christmas season?

I began to recall what I knew about  the first Christmas, and to my amazement I realized that the newly married couple, Joseph and Mary, had experienced a series of events that rivaled any demanding, modern-day family schedule. Think about it with me: It seems that nothing was done in peace and quiet that first Christmas ~

Joseph and Mary had a trip to Bethlehem forced on them for tax/political reasons, and they had to scramble to make the journey. Mary was almost 9 months pregnant when they left home; she had to be very uncomfortable on that donkey. The young couple didn’t make reservations for a room in Bethlehem, and you know what happened because of that.  Apparently midwives in those days didn’t make ‘stable calls’, so Joseph and Mary had to handle things by themselves. The location for the delivery of Jesus didn’t meet any birthing center criteria that I have ever heard about – yikes – stressful! Mary was so rushed in her packing for the trip that she forgot to take clothes for the new baby. Angels made a considerable amount of noise not too far from the newborn baby, and Mary and Joseph had to deal with meeting strangers and entertaining company within hours of Jesus’s birth.  Nothing relaxing, peaceful or quiet about that situation, was there? So why do I think I should have it any better?

I love the Christmas carol Silent Night, but from now on I will be more realistic about trying to achieve the sublime state of peace represented in its lyrics. I will try to meet the expectations of the holiday season with more equanimity, and look forward  to achieving the “all is calm, all is bright” mindset  AFTER the excitement fades away on Christmas day. At least, that’s the Plan.

A Christmas Eve Surprise

English: Saint John's Abbey Church, on the cam...

Image via Wikipedia

Usually our Christmas family gatherings are a busy, noisy times, with the house full of people – adults,teens, small children and a dog. On Christmas Eve, we  most often attend our own church, Bethel Christian Reformed Church, for Christmas observance.  But every so often, when  our daughter, her husband and family travel to North Dakota for the holiday, we have a quiet Christmas with only adults at the house, and we visit a different church to share in their Christmas celebration.

It was on  one of these quiet Christmases  that my husband, son and I decided to attend the Christmas Eve Service, often called “Midnight Mass” because of the late hour in which it is held, at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. St John’s Church and Abbey is a 60 mile drive from our home, so I checked on-line to make certain of the time of the service -we wanted to arrive in plenty of  time to find a seat. Reading through the information I saw that there was to be a concert in the church prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. “Wow!”, I thought, “What a great a Christmas gift. We’ll get to hear the amazing  church organ, the St John’s boys’ choir and the Abbey choir perform sacred music before mass, plus the music during the service.” Energized by this news, I  packed up a little basket of Christmas cookies and a thermos of coffee, grabbed our travel mugs, and herded the guys out to the car for the trip Collegeville.

It was a beautiful, clear,cold night. The moon was round and bright, and cast enough light on the snow-covered ground that we could easily see across miles of rolling farm fields as we travelled. When we got to the church, the parking lot was close to full even with an hour to go before the service started. It was wonderful to walk up the steps, open the  huge doors of the church and see and smell the lovely pine boughs throughout the worship space.We were fortunate to find a place to sit close to the back of  the church. I was a little disappointed that we were so far away from the front, but grateful that we arrived in time to find a seat and hear the pre-service concert. I noticed that a young couple with little kids was seated behind us in the very last pew. I groaned inwardly, wondering why parents would bring such young children to church so late at night, and hoped that the kids wouldn’t get tired, cranky and loud during the service.  As I looked toward the front of the church, toward the altar, I was struck again by the simple, profound beauty of St John’s church with its Marcel Breuer design, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Breuer, and pondered the contrast between the modern architecture and the ancient celebration of Christmas. There was certainly an undercurrent of happiness filling the gracious space. The entire setting, the musicians and the people attending all seemed to be filled with excitement.

When the concert ended, all the electrical lights were put out and only candles lit the perimeter of the huge sanctuary.Then a choir of monks began singing the Introit, or introduction, to the mass, which was a Gregorian chant. At the end of this chant, the lights came up in the church and the congregation sang “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” The celebration of the mass included readings from the familiar Bible story of Christ’s humble birth. It was after one of the scripture readings that I heard the cry of the baby from the family behind us; it was definitely a newborn cry, piercing and demanding, but instead of reacting negatively to the plaintive tone, which I was fully prepared to do earlier in the evening, a small miracle occurred: I realized what a meaningful experience it was to hear the same sounds  at  church on Christmas Eve in the 21st century that Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the angels heard on that first Christmas night; not the sounds of a full-throated organ,or Gregorian chant, but the cry of a healthy newborn baby.

The remainder  of the service was truly moving. I was so very glad that we decided to drive the two hours to participate in Christmas Eve at St John’s. Yet as beautiful as it was, the moment I remember most tenderly is the cry of the newborn whose young family was seated behind us. No other part of the service touched my heart more, or brought the Christmas story more clearly into focus than the sound of that baby’s tiny wail. The very noise that I had dreaded to hear during the service had become the source of my deepest happiness that night, and I remember it as a lovely Christmas Eve gift.

Good advice from the Grinch. . .

We are well into the Christmas season now. There are less than 3 weeks  left before Christmas Day. How’s it going for you? Are things falling into place? Is there time enough for you to do all that you need or want to do? Are you winning the spiritual/commercial tug-of-war that always seems to come with the holiday? No? I bet you are not alone.

For many years I ignored Advent – the season in the Christian church  that is intended to  help believers  prepare spiritually for the holy day of Christmas. I chose to ignore it because  it seemed to me that Advent wreathes, candles, prayers,songs or devotions  were too time consuming. Observing Advent was just one more thing to do, one more obligation, one more expectation to jam into the family schedule. I felt I could manage the spiritual side of the Christmas scramble better without trying to get all high church-y. So, ‘Bye bye, Advent’.

Then one year, Christmas Eve came and I realized I hadn’t spent one minute preparing myself or my family to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – not one. It was shocking. “How did this happen?”, I wondered. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had made a mistake when I eliminated Advent from our family’s life.  I saw that focusing on the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. Over the years I had gotten sucked into the secular culture’s Christmas style: it was becoming just another holiday to our family, rather than being a holy day. I  found I could relate to the discovery of the Grinch in the book by Dr Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” when the Grinch says,

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

I learned my lesson. The following Christmas, and every other Christmas  since, has included the observance of Advent. Now the scripture reading that seemed to be time-consuming has turned into a time of comfort;  the songs that felt like an obligation have become a source of relaxation; the lighting of the advent candle which I thought of as ‘one more thing to do’ has become the one thing that is worth doing.

It’s easy to lose your way in the helter-skelter of the Christmas season. It’s easy to get ‘holy day’ mixed up with ‘holiday’. I know now that making use of the structure which Advent gives to this time of year is a not a rigid ‘high church’ scaling wall, but a matrix of inspiration through which I can filter out the bombardments of distractions coming from every direction. It gives me the freedom to  focus on the whom of the season, not on the what. I think the Christ of Christmas is the ‘little bit more’ that the Grinch is puzzling over, but I also believe Christ is not a little thing, but the main thing. And Advent helps us remember that.

All Saints Day

Russian Icon of the Second Coming used for All...

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a terrific poem featured today, November 1st, 2011, All Saints Day, at  WhiteStone Publishing Blog which is produced by Jeanette Thomason:

ALL SAINTS DAY
The holiday arrives
quietly like phrases
of faint praise
in Braille. Famous
… saints bow at the waist,
then step back, making
room for scores
of unknown saints,
to whom this day
also belongs. Not
a glamorous bunch,
these uncanonized,
unsung ones, shading
their eyes shyly
in the backs of the minds
of the few who knew them.
Hung-over, mute, confused,
hunched, clumsy, blue,
pinched, rigid or fidgety,
unable to look the radioactive,
well-dressed major saints
in the eye, they wonder
terrified: What…
Am I Doing Here? Still
drenched, the tobacco
spitting fisherman who dove
after a dog swept downriver
looks in vain for a towel,
too timid to ask….
What can we offer these reticent saints
who lacked press agents…?
~ AMY GERSTLER in *Jacket 32* (c) November 2008, edited by Elaine Equi
I attended Catholic School for 12 years. At  Catholic school, students do not have to attend class on Holy Days of Obligation (special feast days) but they are obliged to participate in the Mass. November 1st, the day after Halloween, known as All Saints Day, is a Holy Day.  The elementary school my siblings and I went to was called St John’s. As was typical with most Catholic schools in Seattle, the parish church was situated on the same city block as the school. One thing that set St John’s apart from other parochial schools was this: there was a public school of about the same size directly across the street from it, called Greenwood Elementary. Years of experience had taught my brothers and sisters and me one thing about walking to mass on All Saints Day: we knew we were in for some teasing from the public school kids on the playground at Greenwood.
“You have to go to Chu-ur ch, You have to go to Chu-ur ch,” they would sing-song at us as we walked along the sidewalk next to the playground fence. Outwardly we ignored them, but inside, we were hot! “Those ‘publics’ are so stupid,” we whispered to each other, feeling indignant, but also rather holy as we suffered for our faith.
Once safely at church, we dutifully attended Mass, praying for our deceased family members, and calling to mind all of the great, inspiring  saints of church history  by reciting their names from the Litany of the Saints during the service . What we were looking forward to, though, was taunting the Greenwood school kids who were on the playground as we walked home from mass. Then we would get sweet revenge on the ‘publics’  as we sang,”You have to go to scho -oo- ol. You have to go to scho -oo- ol,” while waving our Halloween candy bags at them. Ah, Christian charity! I try to  remember that this mutual animosity between public and Catholic school students happened before the Ecumenical Movement of the church, which began in the 1960’s. Would you bet some of your Halloween candy that students are less belligerent about such things today?  I sure hope so.

Remember to breathe

Empty nest of a White-tailed Eagle, location s...

Image via Wikipedia

There are all kinds of transitions in life; one thing that most of them have in common is that they are difficult. A friend of mine is going through a big one right now, as her youngest child moves far away from home. In thinking about what this means for her, I am reminded of another type of transition – one that occurs during labor and delivery.

Here is a definition of ‘transition’ from http://www.babycenter.com/stages-of-labor:

During active labor, your cervix begins to dilate more rapidly and contractions are longer, stronger, and closer together. People often refer to the last part of active labor as “transition.”

 

A definition is one thing – living out the experience of the definition is another. I would guess most women who go through labor remember something about  transition. Here’s what I recall:

It’s hard work; it’s painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God. It is easy to forget all the lessons learned about breathing correctly through labor –  you know you should listen to your breathing coach, but the pain is escalating.  I think that if there were an easier way through transition, most of us would take it (caudal anesthesia, anyone?).  Whether anesthesia is used or not, the truth is there is no going back once the stage of transition begins. A chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually transition ends for the mother and the baby; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work is finished, the worst of the struggle and pain is forgotten; our perspective is changed and there is an entirely new world before us and our child.

I see many similarities between the work of transition that occurs during labor and the one that happens as the last child leaves home.  The transition from a home with kids to one without is difficult and painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God.   I think that if there were an easier way through this transition, most of us would take it – but there isn’t. For all of those involved, a chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually, this transition time ends for the parents and child; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work of transitioning out the parents’ home is finished and everyone can catch their breath, the worst of the pain and struggle is forgotten; those involved have a change of perspective and there is an entirely new world ahead.

Today my friend whose youngest child is moving away from home is on my mind and heart, and in my prayers. I know she will make it through this transition, but it will be painful, and it will take time. I hope we can spend some of that time together. Maybe we will practice our breathing.

Not exactly a fashion statement

A old fracture with nonunion of the fracture f...

Image via Wikipedia

Six weeks is the average time it takes to heal a
fractured bone, so I was expecting to be footloose and fancy free by eight
weeks status post fractures, but nope. Do you think things are taking longer to
heal because two bones were broken? Or perhaps it is the locations of the
fractures (foot and ankle)? Or maybe it’s because I am, ahem, a mature person
and therefore slower to become fleet-footed again?  No complaints,
you understand, just curious. I am very thankful to be upright and ambulating
without walker or crutches, only having to use a walking boot to get from point
A to point B. But I am just a little disappointed that even though the all-
clear has been given to work fulltime without The Boot, that I probably will not be able to actually do it. I have been experimenting at
home, trying to participate fully in daily activities for several hours sans The Boot  – it hasn’t gone so well.

On Monday, the work day will be started wearing two
standard, matching, everyday work-world shoes, but The Boot will be close by;  a
sort of security boot, if you know what I mean. By the way, if you don’t know what
a walking boot looks like, you can get an idea here:http://www.nationalbraceandsplint.com/Cam-Walker-Boots_c_14.html

At some point in the future this whole episode involving
broken bones, and learning compassion for those whose lives are temporarily, and
sometimes permanently altered by such injuries, will be over. In the meantime,
I’ll do what needs to be done to stay an active bi-ped. But someday soon I hope
to give The Boot the boot.

Speaking of footloose, the re-make of the movie, Footloose, is going to be released in theaters soon. Here’s a link  to the trailer:

http://www.footloosemovie.com/en_us/?gclid=CJae4sTNx6sCFc7JKgodpXJo0Q