Friday, February 11, 2011

The "How We Met" Contest

Every couple is asked how they met, and our story is unique.  I recently entered a Valentine's contest on someone's blog in which "How We Met" stories will be judged and honored with prizes.  I entered, and will share my story here too:

My husband and I met at a dumpster. Really. We lived in the same apartments, but worked different hours, so we’d never bumped into one another any other time. But one night, the dumpster of destiny called. We got to chatting, and at first, I thought he was a friendly, cute, married neighbor. After all, he had a gold ring on his finger, and I was not the type to go after a married guy. Strangely, that ring was on his right hand, so I was determined to figure out his marital status somehow. I had my chance when he mentioned that he was always eating on the run, and rarely sat down to a real meal. “You mean to tell me that your wife never cooks for you?” I asked innocently. “Oh, I’m not married!” he answered, and the rest is history.

What attracted me? Looks were a biggie – I won’t lie. We both had the travel bug, and compared notes on our crazy trips. We’d both climbed pyramids in Central America. He’d been to Berlin as the wall was coming down, and I was crazy with envy.

Other attractions: he was a gentleman, and had some rather old-fashioned and charming habits. I was cold on our first date; I swear I did not make that up just to get him to put his arm around me and pull me close to warm me up. But I sure didn’t mind. When we first met his brother and his young niece, he got on the floor and unselfconsciously played with her instead of joining the adults’ conversation.

That was not all.  He taught me how to eat crawfish Louisiana style, and introduced me to other culinary delights from his home state. He puttered with me in the kitchen, and co-created spectacular grilled creations. He was skinny, but had a chocolate stash. He wanted to learn more about wine, a quest that we happily took up together. He had been a fireman, had seen tragedy, and unflinchingly saw life for the gift it is. He knew how to program a VCR, while mine just blinked 12:00.

What keeps the flame alive? We are buddies, we are happy. We have three amazing kids that keep us laughing and keep us hopping. We sincerely enjoy them, and love the people they are becoming. We even took them to see the dumpster of destiny once. We move about every 5 years, so we enjoy our new adventures and exploring new places.

Single people of the world: bars are a disappointment. Singles groups are a meat market. Blind dates are the stuff of jokes. Never underestimate the power of the humble dumpster near your home.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In praise of Scrooge

I have a rather cynical, agnostic friend who posted this Facebook status in early December: "Tis the Christmas season.  Keep your heads down and your mouths shut and we'll all get out alive."

I am a Christian, and I celebrate Christmas, so why did I click like?

I'm a Scrooge, no doubt about it.  The holiday sensory overload sets in and I get crabby.  I go into a semblance of survival mode.  Oh, pity the poor friend who advises me to just make a batch of cookies and cheer up! (Ok, I bit her head off, and then apologized to her.  It's not her fault).

Ghost of Christmas past, you are a familiar face to me.  I have many memories of my parents making Christmas fun and special, and I know it was a sacrifice some years.  They knew someone who would dress as Santa and visit homes to take toy requests.  This cemented my belief in Santa for many years, despite the fact that I rushed to the window one year hoping to see Rudolf in the driveway, and was disappointed to see a large olive-green Chevy instead.  I get sentimental at Christmas, but I try not to become dragged down.  The simple fact is that there are people who play an essential role in these Christmas memories who are gone now, and it doesn't seem the same without them.
Facebook status from December 1st: Today several of my friends are sharing memories from Christmases past. Here is one that stands out in my memory: our neighbor's dog ran into our house, straight to the tree, hiked his leg, and hosed down our presents and tree, and then shot back out the door. Mission accomplished! I was around 10 at the time.
Ghost of Christmas present, I can hardly see you for all the glitz, can hardly hear you over the noise.  Everyone knows about Christmas overspending, over-commercialization, and overeating.  I don't need to repeat it here.  I try to simplify, but it still becomes overwhelming.  I have this mental image of myself digging through mountains of wadded wrapping paper to find my children, tripping over discarded boxes and batteries, tangled in strands of ribbon.  Christmas is about the kids, I tell myself.  It's ok, I assure myself, to have a few extra cookies, to stay up a little late, and to get excited about a Christmas list, as long as we put the message of Christ first and make this season about helping others and never being so caught up in the materialism that we miss the true beauty.  When I get this all balanced and figured out, I'll write a lengthy blog post and let you know so you can emulate me, but don't expect it any time soon.
Facebook status, December 13th: about halfway through the most rigorous phase of the Christmas-a-thon

Ghost of Christmas future, what do you hold for us?  Am I going to pull this off?  Can I instill my kids with sweet memories so that they will look back and remember happy, safe family times, and pass it on to their kids?  Will they share funny stories of things we did together, just as I tell them stories of my childhood family?  Here's the kicker: will they carry on in faith, and tune out the noise that surrounds them?  That is my goal for them, and my why for plunging ahead through the holiday season with a minimum of complaints.  Overcoming cynicism and melancholy is a challenge worth taking, and I have given myself the gift of getting stronger; maybe it will rub off on my kids. 
Facebook status, December 21st: I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. ~Charles Dickens.
It turns out that Scrooge is not such a bad guy in the end.  After he deals with all his baggage and gets his priorities straight, he becomes the unlikely hero. How beautiful to grasp the nearly hidden truth, the splendid peace, the message of grace as a gift we can give and receive! I couldn't have said it better than Tiny Tim, "God bless us, every one!"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bah Humbug

The extent of my Christmas decorating thus far:


More brain cells die in December than in any other month.

Sometimes I try to get a system going, and surprisingly, it actually works out:

Conversely, sometimes I end up with this:

Friday, October 29, 2010


I have generally found the book of Exodus to be a real downer.  After all God does for those people, how do they repay Him?  Rebellion, disobedience, complaining, and that debacle with the golden calf.  They even go so far as to kvetch about the food. 

The kids and I  have read through the book of Exodus chapter at a time over the past couple of months.  So much of the story I love, and I see its role in the foundation of the people who would bring us Jesus.  But then it gets to the hard part: desert life, complaining, outlandish rebellion, and amazingly long and detailed explanations for the construction of a Tabernacle.  My dilemma was whether we should continue reading or skip all those lengthy details.

We plowed ahead, and a little research into the symbolism and meaning of the implements of worship in the Tabernacle paid off.  Our lessons led to interesting discussions and blessed us, but I was still bothered by the backdrop of disobedience.  It didn't matter that I had read this book before, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone would get out of that desert unpunished and alive.

Then it hit me.  Exodus 39:32 - "Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did." (NASB)

Through it all, there were always people who stayed obedient.   They followed God's instructions.  There is no record of anyone doubting, stealing a little excess gold, or disobeying the instructions.  I dare you, just take a look at the specific instructions God gives for the construction of that Tabernacle.  If I were given these instructions and commanded to build a Tabernacle, I might just sit down and cry.  I was proud of myself for successfully putting together a ready-to-assemble table I bought for my daughters.  Never mind a couple of mysterious pieces left over and instructions written by someone whose native language is Chinese, I put that thing together!  That is the extent of my talent.  A Tabernacle?  No way!  But they did it.  They trusted God when He said that he would give them the skill and the knowledge.  They pressed forward, and relying wholly on God-given skill, they crafted the holy implements, tools and furniture that would serve in the Temple for centuries to come. 

Through it all, through the darkness and confusion, despite being surrounded by people who would never let go of evil, there were obedient and godly ones.  There were people who took a hold of what God had revealed to them through His miracles, and never let go. Suddenly, Exodus is not so enigmatic to me.  Suddenly it is here and now, real and tangible. 

We live in a world where children are still sacrificed, but we have changed the names of the idols.  Pharaohs still rule, but their titles are different.  Golden calves may not be so common, but scratch the surface of so many false things, and that same rebellious spirit is apparent. The good news is that there are still people who hear and obey, people whose hearts are attuned to God's leading, people who use their lives to create something beautiful and holy in service to the Lord.

Thank you Exodus, I needed that fresh, gentle breeze of hope. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

O Pioneers!

" . . . there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years." Willa Cather, O Pioneers!


 A rare experience indeed. This past weekend, I hosted a visitor from the past, someone who died twenty-five years ago, someone who had lived out his life when mine had barely begun - an ancestor.  The form in which my grandfather came to me should have been no surprise: a novel.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather has been around since 1913, so how had I overlooked it for so long?  Maybe I wasn't meant to read it before now; I would have disdained its themes and mocked its deceptive simplicity.  Well, life and wind have weathered me some, and I can see great wisdom in this slim volume.


I must confess that my father's ancestors have always intrigued me more than those in Mom's family.  Vibrant and dramatic, they traveled and lived in exotic places.  The numbered among their ranks refugees, rebels, runaways, and one who met the firing squad for being on the wrong side of politics in his country.  There were enough secrets among them to fill a book about family dysfunction.  My mother's family just did not compare: Swedish farmers in Iowa.  Stoic and undemonstrative, they talked about rainfall and crops.  They shook their heads and wondered at those who had all the sense educated out of them.  They tinkered and puttered and built.


I remember grandpa inspecting his garden daily, handing us sweet peas and green onions to sample. He planted seedlings in egg cartons, made plant food from kitchen scraps, and made his own rose hybrids just to see how they would turn out.  He noted every sunrise and the thickness of morning dew, and knew all the farmers' folklore about geese migrating early and fat squirrels portending a hard winter.


"Her mind was a white book, with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things.  Not many people would have cared to read it..." 


He was amazingly patient with us kids.  He let us putter with him in the garage, and always found a job suitable for small hands.  He took us fishing, and likely considered it the most glorious thing he could share with us.  There were no movies, no indulgences of candy, toys or praise, and only rare hugs and smiles in his grandfatherly repertoire. 


"There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon." 


I saw him in countless small details in O Pioneers!  He was Emil without Emil's tragedy, Alexandra without her loneliness.  More than a novel, O Pioneers! is almost an epic poem, painting the beauty and struggle of life on the northern prairie. There is the poignancy of being tied to a hard land, of emmigrating from afar, of a new hope and a new land changing the outer self but only distilling ever more the Scandinavian soul.


"Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields." 


For some people, love is not touches, indulgences, and flowery words.  It is time invested, silent tears shed, sweat, and hard work.  Happiness is not what you put on to show the rest of the world; it is being blessed with productive work, it is green things that shoot forth from the soil at your bidding, and the warm kiss of sun that penetrates the cold.  It is provision, a roof, health, and a life spent in meaningful responsibilities.  How fortunate I was to stumble upon my grandfather in this book, and to see him more clearly twenty-five years out than I did when I was at his side.  And like a dim mirror that reflects darkly, I see a piece of my own soul.


"When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the eyes of the spirit are open."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010