Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Wrong…is having to explain this spectacle to four young and curiously bemused boys in the back seat.

I had a particularly difficult time explaining why the vehicle owner chose to sport the state’s “God Bless” license plates which tend to be favored by Christians, in addition to the other adornments.

Oh, to borrow little David’s sling shot for just one traffic light, to tackle this testicular testimony…this Goliath of hypocrisy!

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4:34: Awoke at normal-ish time, but remembered it was Saturday; realized I had at least one more hour to sleep.

6:32 – Whoops! Overslept!

7:18 – 3 minutes late leaving if I was going to break the speed limits; 8 minutes late if I was to obey the limits, to take #3 to pre-game practice.

7:35 – Called #1 to make sure he actually got OUT of bed when told to get up, to remind him to wear khakis/polo to band ensemble audition two towns north.

8:00 – Took these pictures and realized I no longer had time to take a morning run along the water, but would have to go back to the ball park, park car and make my route consist of running from ball park to waterfront and back to be at game on time.

Birds, boats and bay

Dewy roses

8:30 – Game started, I arrive looking like hell, all sweaty and scary hair thanks to humidity which is not clearing out on the same schedule the weathermen predicted. Shoulda worn hat, but, oh well.

9:00 – Discover via friendly bleachers-chit-chat I am conversing with a publisher; immediately neglect to notice when my kid is up to bat and take copious mental notes of everything she is telling me about how to get my dusty manuscripts published.

9:14 – Still yakking in bleachers. Super-Duh: By default from someone else’s mom calling out my kid’s name, I realize my kid is again up to bat and join in on cheering him on.

9:25 – Game interference caused by seagull dive-bombing pitcher on mound. Seagull mistook baseball for food.

9:40 – Thanking the Lord I live here, where even trash is beautiful:

10:00 – Congratulating the team for finishing the season 13-1, mentally preparing for tournament season.

10:09 – Texting family closest to ice cream sale to make sure to pick up half-gallon of Chocolate Trinity for near-future consumption.

10:30 – Home for dishes, laundry, accounting and brunch (al fresco) with goodies like cheese grits and Cajun sausage. More laundry. More dishes. Realizing I could permanently station myself at either post and remain gainfully occupied.

11:15 – Put the baby down for nap and catch up on online stuff.

12:00 – Overcome by sleep – take nap, too.

1:38 – Report from unsolicited onlooker that light snore was in progress. Register official embarrassment and return to slumber.

2:55 – Startle from scary dream about eccentric neighbor with unruly chickens.

3:08 – Toddler toddles in chirping about going to beach. Other children noted in background to be emptying beach towels, toys and other nautical-themed paraphernalia out of bathroom and hall closets. I am cheerfully railroaded into compliance.

3:10 – Grog-fall out of bed and mechanically put on swimsuit and flip-flops.

3:30 – Finagle 10-inch hanging pot out of nursery down the road on way to beach, as storm 2 days ago caused one pot to fall, crack, and flowers quickly dying…nursery forked over spare pot that was otherwise doing nothing but taking up space out back. Front porch soon to be restored to symmetricality.

3:40 – At beach initially planned to visit; set up beach chair, get crucial belongings positioned on nearby log (phone, drink). Ahhhhhh…

3:41 – 2 out of 4 kids chime, “Hey, look! Maggots all over the place!” Aaagghhh!

3:42 – 4-foot fish noted to be rotting nearby. Abrupt change of plans.

3:50 – 1/2 mile down the road claiming a small, private stretch of beach shared only by pelicans overhead:

A dozen pelicans

Sunblinded Flight

5:00 – Visitors show up with 2-year-old grandchild. Get to talking and inform them of stuff they never knew about their second-home’s environs, such as shipwreck location, manatees upriver at spot where Yankees came ashore to sneak up to last Civil War battle after treaty already signed at Appomattox, and best places to find thus-n-such.

5:23 – Mercy granted for their allegiance to rival college football team.

5:52 – Refrain from inquiry regarding contents of their blue Solo cups and vice versa in our water bottles, as conversation grows more friendly and animated. Simultaneously, this driftwood starts looking more and more like a beached dolphin or shark:

What do you see?

6:30 – Sandy children strapped in car, brought home and deposited directly into various and sundry hose-down areas.

7:15 – Munching pizza on front porch, little bunny hops across street and is shortly thereafter eating baby carrot out of my hand, much to children’s delight.

7:20 – Children locate cage and entrap little bunny. #4 decides he now likes to eat carrots, too (whatever works!).

7:51 – Kids in bed, us on front porch swing, enjoying fireflies and kitty’s reaction to caged bunny.

8:00 – Long awaited shower.

8:49 – Chocolate Trinity, small serving due to recent discovery that regular servings may be responsible for restless sleep due to triple chocolate/caffeine effect. Consider it for breakfast, instead.

9:40 – Tune in for weather, to hear what we already know: perfect, perfect, perfect.

10:something – Contented collapse.

Thanks, God, for granting us the ability to willfully ignore the underlying stressors of life, if only for one Saturday. Thank You for the fun days to counterbalance the days of hardships – past/present/future – and for giving us sweet memories to soothe in times of distress. Without suffering, there would be little perspective. Without joy, there would be little hope. Thank You for both joy and suffering. Thank You for One Saturday.

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On my way to work this morning. Absent from this vision is the chatter of the laughing gulls overhead, the intoxicating aroma of the sea blending with the morning mist rising over the field and the cool of the morning about to give way to the heat of day. And the burn of the coffee that spilled as I yanked over and out of the traffic to savor this moment…

Thank you, God, for a new day, every day!

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Okay, so maybe I should have chosen something easier to give up for Lent like, um, “Driving over 80 mph,” or “Not listening to another tired Kardashian joke,” or “Cranking out another poorly edited blog.”

But, I didn’t. So you are stuck with me in the middle of 40 days of self-imposed hell. No, the church didn’t impose this on me – I take full responsibility. I am a glutton for punishment, and I like to experiment with stretching my limits. Plus it’s not a bad way to get a smidgen of a taste of the point of Lent, at the very least. How many Christians can really put their money where their mouth is, anyway? Not that any of us could, fallible as we are. I like to believe self-sacrifice makes us stronger in the long run.

In the meantime, I’m antsy as all get-out, and fit to be tied. Saturday’s 10K was a wonderful way to distract and run myself ragged. In the spirit of sacrifice, I went as far as to run (actually RUN) the first two miles, in full, with my iPod OFF. I learned something new, that I could search for meaning and purpose in my exertion by losing myself in other things, such as the laughing seagulls overhead (although they were probably laughing at who was going to nail their next target with the thousands of silly humans running amok). Then came the hills, the bluffs. Ouchie-youchie. My quads are still admonishing me. So to distract myself again today, I conquered the Big Knoll, three times over, with added speed, just to give them something to cry about.

Pleased with my time after the race, I was able to hoof it up the big bluff to get back to the start line to meet two of my offspring, who ran the 2-mile fun run. I ran with the younger one, who bested me when the finish line appeared. Never did see the eldest – he’s at the age where he was more into his friends (and girls), and would have died had I ran with him. Casanova was casually hobnobbing at the bananas-and-oranges table, sipping a Gatorade, by the time I flew through the chute.

This was followed by a glorious day at a community event, the biggest in our town each year, where you see things like the best creative things brought in from all over the nation; a little girl hula-hooping while eating a waffle cone; eating alligator bites (like popcorn chicken, except real alligator) with Cajun spices and hush puppies; the bubble machine blowing bubbles aloft outside the little-town toy store that sells old-fashioned educational toys in spite of the cross-town Wal-Mart that one landowner sold out to, and friendly dogs on leashes that don’t mind their tail being yanked by our little one.

He saw the array of sample funnel cakes outside a food vendor’s set-up. A small crowd gathered as the little boy got closer and closer to the delectable delights with great curiosity, waiting to see if he would snatch a piece to taste. He carefully extended an index finger toward each one, a hair away from swiping a finger off the powdered sugar and fruit toppings. But he didn’t, and when he suddenly turned to see where Mommy was, he spotted the delighted crowd watching him, and he shyly ran between mother’s legs to hide, while the crowd roared with amusement to behold the little child resisting temptation.

If only we all could be like that!

Later that evening, hours after I crossed the finish line, I received word I had crossed a professional finish line on a national level that  I’d been training for for a long time. Unexpected and spontaneous celebration ensued, and now I need a weekend after this weekend.

But I’d promised you, dear reader, to cover a few other things: The National Junior Dishonor Society. I endured attended last year’s ceremony at the middle school, and it was a solemn but entertaining event then. This year it was downright alarming. The girls’ skirts were shamefully short – I mean, near-cheeks showing as they paraded up the aisle to the stage in shoes they could barely totter forth in. The boys were stiff as glue, probably due to age-related gawkiness. It was painful to watch them during the procession. Even the president of the group blew it off for another event that day. The worst part was seeing all my child’s best friends up there, his name in the program, and his mysteriously not being part of the procession.

At the end of the ceremony, after openly sharing my panic, I was asked questions in the office like, “Are you SURE you dropped him off this morning? you SAW him go into the school?” “Did he go to the city with the Scholar’s Bowl team instead, and maybe he forgot about the ceremony?” They did an “all-call” throughout the school, and he sheepishly appeared in the office 5 minutes later. His excuse? “Well, my friends all said they go by weekly GPA to figure if you qualify, and I didn’t want to tell you about the D I got on one algebra assignment a few weeks ago, so I assumed I got kicked out. I was in class.”


So his homeroom teacher and I sat on the now-empty stage with him and explained that they average by the semester, not the week, and that one lousy grade on one lousy homework assignment does not doom you for life. Then came the conjoint lectures about being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, asking an adult if you’re not sure and not going by your friends’ consensus, and finally, after careful mutual eye contact between teacher and parent, a parent-led lecture on what the rest of his weekend would look like, given his self-imposed absence and ensuing school-wide panic after the ceremony. Not to mention his not mentioning the D.

I admit I caved in halfway through the weekend, after considering that he is the youngest in his class, taking a high school credit course. And the fact that he did all the leaf-blowing after the race Saturday, dishes and other mundane chores to repent. He convinced me he had to break in his new hiking boots before camp in the Appalachians next week, so off he went squirrel hunting Sunday afternoon. Mothers, have mercy on your babies…

Also promised: The Great Potty Crisis at Special Olympics. We were proud of our disabled child participating and ought to devote a blog to it, but few pictures were taken this year. Next year, you’re on. It’s a tear-jerker, ‘specially the torch. I highly recommend your attending your local event. It was our 3-year-old, though, with the crisis. He was used to Mommy taking him into the ladies’ room at the park, and he pitched a fit because he had to go, Mommy was at the Dishonor Ceremony and hadn’t gotten to the Olympics yet, and Daddy had to take him to the men’s room. He is terrified of urinals, and squawked with great fervor, refusing to go in the men’s room.

What’s a dad to do? The guy thing, of course! So he hauls our tyke off to the woods beside the park and instructs him to do the wild thang, with great abandon. Tyke hesitated at first, convinced Mommy would pop out from behind a tree and shame him for not properly using a potty. But once he got going, he really got into it. Report has it that not only did he finally relieve himself, he discovered, with tremendous pleasure, that he could make his urine arc high into the air by squeezing his…okay, nevermind, I’m getting too graphic, sorry. Anyway, he was initiated into natural manhood that day by marking his territory in the city park woods. Hurrah. Yes, I gave them both a (light but) appropriate scolding upon Daddy’s big, smirking boasting about the event. I am outnumbered, 5 to 1.

And…what happens when you swallow a battery or other object (teaser from previous blog)? Plenty, if I am your therapist, you did it on purpose, and you’re in a hospital setting. You will wish you were back in the ER. Unable to elaborate on this one… Suffice it to say that a combination of humor, reverse psychology and a weekend of consequences for safety’s sake, adds up to one great brief therapy intervention and fosters a hasty recovery, and an even hastier advance toward one’s treatment goals. Never mind the jokes about “batteries running out” which are virtually unavoidable.

Some day, I will learn to write shorter blogs.

Thanks, God, for life’s distractions which take the edge off of life’s pains. Thanks for having a “Hold on my Heart” and getting me through Lent. Thanks for His sacrifice. And thanks for a wild, full week.

When, O Lord, shall I rest?!

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She bounded past the ancient oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, rounding up the walkway, vaguely hearing a fountain gurgling in the courtyard beyond. Like a rebellious child arriving late to school, she came tripping past the heavy doors which stood open facing the busy avenue. The doors were, as she was taught in preschool, purposely shaped like hands clasped together, praying and pointing Heavenward. They were also ominously dark; she was grateful they were welcomingly wide open. Had they been closed, she might have turned away.

She sat in the very back of the cathedral, the very last pew. For once she wasn’t late, but nonetheless was still the last to arrive and did not wish to be conspicuous. Everyone occupied the rear pews…no one sat in the first several pews. In fact, those in the “front” were still halfway to the back of the vast, echoey sanctuary. She was in good company; no one wanted to appear overly zealous to be repentant today, Ash Wednesday.

Making the sign of the cross as she genuflected, she quietly pulled the kneeler closer and obediently dropped down for brief prayer. As she caught her breath, she never got around to praying because the bell tower loudly proclaimed it was 12:00 noon. This proclamation took longer than she had time for prayer, and as soon as the twelfth bell bonged, the officiant appeared from nowhere and everyone abruptly stood. Rats, inadvertent noncompliance again. She quickly rose with the masses.

She noticed that the graceful trusses several stories high overhead sported a design of the Star of David. The stained glass at the front and around the sides looked ashy like the day outside, gloomy and humid. Warm, but dismal. Her eye was not drawn to the detailed pictures on the stained glass, but rather to the things that had nothing to do with why she was there: the creaky old hardwood floors, the sad reality that not enough bulletins had been printed for today because they didn’t expect as many as might should attend, and the discrepant accents of the officiants (one was notably Yankee with nasal tendencies in reciting the NeeCeene Creeeeed, the other drawled through the service with perfect Southern dialect, complete with a multisyllabic AH-may-yen).

They exhorted her to put away her thoughts and memories of days now behind.

They can make the entire float rock when they rock together in rhythm with the music...

It was a freak cold that night, but the next day was in the 70s. They keep the Christmas lights on the trees downtown through Mardi Gras.

Parades rolled night and day for the past month.

Dig the beer can on this dolphin's nose...

And don't forget the TaTas...

Secrets to catching the good stuff include holding an upside-down umbrella or hat, standing 2-3 deep (the maskers always tend to be looking into the crowd, not directly below in the front row of people), and having a handicapped child in tow.

Mardi Gras Booty (from ONE parade)

It was a drive-by service, to be sure – in and out in 25 minutes flat. There was even a monk-like sung Psalm – she at first thought it was piped in while they strode forth to the altar to receive a cross-shaped smudge of ash on their foreheads. But after she had been dutifully ashed and turned the corner to make her orderly way down the outer aisle to return to her pew, she saw it was an actual dude in a black robe up in the balcony holding the Book of Common Prayer, singing Psalm 51, just like the Psalms were meant to have been sung. Cool!

The hypocrisy did not evade her: she was painfully aware that the slap-quick service included, as is customary, an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading…which included the verses about Jesus teaching that we are not to appear as though we are openly fasting or suffering or giving alms or whatever it is we should do in secret to the Father…and the irony of receiving an ashen cross on the forehead, being sent forth for the rest of the day to bear this mark in public. LOOK AT ME! I WENT TO CHURCH MID-WEEK AND ENGAGED IN A HOLY ACTIVITY! DID YOU?! And yet, she has seen each denomination do some of the same thing in different ways, and each denomination find scorn in the other (smug one-upmanship). Or find comfort in the one that challenges them least, then they get stuck but think they are secure.

She thought, too, about how some denominations pooh-pooh the ritual in some churches, and likewise, how the ritualized churches pooh-pooh the loosely-structured, more casual worship of non-denominational churches. But they all do the same thing…basically. One cannot say that a ritual like, say, communion, is more meaningful when it is done less often, or that those who take communion each week have fallen into a meaningless routine. Meaningless routine can sneak upon us like a thief in the night, in whatever way we (WE!) think is best to worship Him.

She then thought of her spiritual journey which brought her from this very church at birth, to other denominations and churches through various phases of her life, and remembered that He hasn’t changed, His word remains as is. Man can create their variations of worship, but it all boils down to our relationship with God, from our hearts, and man is not to judge. There is no way he possibly can. God gives us His Word to go by…and in that we can know what He expects – and it is okay to worship this way or that way – it is our heart He sees, our intent. An ages-old ritual can be tired or fresh, depending on the participant…just as can the more modern, less-structured formats can incite zealous fire yielding to years of unhealthy comfort.

To her, it was old ritual seen anew, with refreshed meaning in the act of repentance…an exercise in evaluation the journey past, the current state of the heart, and the intentions for the future. The message was the same whether coming from an evangelical bent or a formalized, old-church ritual.

What’s old is new. And vice versa.

Man is naturally a hypocrite (Paul summed it up nicely in his exposition of doing what he willed not to do and not doing what he willed to do). As long as men and women worship Him in any fashion, there will be hypocrisy. It is the curse of human nature…unavoidable, and certainly no excuse to avoid Him.

She knew God was looking at her heart, though, and there was nowhere to hide. She had to take inventory of the ways she had erred to excess in worldliness, in sin, in indulgence, in thoughts and feelings and actions…and it was high time to turn the steering wheel back over to Him, to apologize and sacrifice. Those who don’t believe in God, surely find themselves in positions to do the same with those whom they’ve disappointed. It is only human to humble ourselves when we reach a point of over-indulgence in folly, and folly is never known until hindsight. It is how we little children grow and develop, and is quite natural, and good. He rejoices in our growth process.  It is how we draw nearer to Him. It is how even our stumblings are occasion to celebrate.

So what did she give up for Lent?

That shall remain between her and Him!

What she wants to know is, what in blazes (no pun intended) was burned to create the sticky ashes glued to her forehead?!

All she knows is it is Her privilege to sacrifice so little for what He sacrificed so greatly, for us all.

Are you stuck? Change! Move! Vamoose! You may move, but He won’t, so don’t be afraid.

He will be wherever you land, waiting for you, as always.

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“So Adios to California…Nothing to do but turn around…” ~~John Hiatt, from Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns

How many times have we envisioned something, fed our beliefs with ideals and convinced ourselves that something surreal-ly out of reach could become ours? That we could somehow insert ourselves into a new reality that had all appearances of being superior to our current circumstances?

And how many times did we arrive at the sign that officially designates the precise spot where the Greener Pasture actually exists (“Pinch me!!”), only to discover it wasn’t quite what we had in mind? Fell short of our expectations, somehow…didn’t quite measure up. This may have come in the form of an actual place, a person or people, a job/career, a vacation, a material object, whatever. You know, peel back the sheets at the 5-Star Grand Poo-Bah Resort, only to find a nice specimen-strand of someone else’s DNA awaiting your plunge into the pillows.

I remember the first time I finally arrived at what I thought was the destination of my dreams. I had seen pictures, gorgeous pictures of this place, and was finally in a position to be there (not here, dear reader). It seemed like the perfect area, perfect climate, perfect people, perfect opportunities. It had everything. The last 50 miles or so of the drive drove me bananas with anticipation.

Upon arrival, however, the reality of the place did not hesitate to show me its true colors. It was Cold. Damp. Blustery. Gray. Rocky. Unwelcoming. Unforgiving of my folly of idealizing it in my head for too long.

Dismay is an extreme understatement to my initial reaction.

Nothing to do but turn around.

Dream-chasing has distinct advantages, though. It is what propels us forward and keeps us from stagnating. It is what gives us hope and motivation. It provides us with purpose and direction. It breathes life into us.

If we did not strive for that which we idealize, life would be terribly dreary. We would get stuck in the mud. And wither. And die.

I was never a fan of dream-catchers even though I understand their cultural purpose; there was always something so interruptive, arresting about them. I always liked to think about dreams as a fluidly beautiful, ongoing process, full of possibility and meaning. It’s a hell of a double life, for what it’s worth, imagining ourselves in another dimension as we go about life in this one. So what if they never materialize?

The joy is in savoring the trip, even if only in privacy and comfort of our own mind. And if we find ourselves on an actual journey to a destination that falls short, well, hey – we have still broadened our horizons. There is value in the salt of our tears and the stretching of our parameters. It’s a win-win. We have taken a chance and pursued passion.

Besides, sometimes dreams DO come true.

Thanks, God, for giving us that passion.

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…to all the people who served our country, that I could have the freedom to blog here and now, with a clear conscience and with no fear…

…to the talented man on the Kitty Hawk whose service is reflected on my mantle in the form of a properly folded flag…

…to those who’d hoped to serve but didn’t, or couldn’t…but are just as patriotic….

…to all the men like Buddy (10/22/11 post), who returned from the Delta alive, who were greeted with ignorant piss instead of with grateful reverence and respect…

…to those who stood by those who served…

…to the very young men under my roof who have unwaveringly expressed a desire to serve…sons of sons of sailors…

…to those who protested those who served, who now, in their older wisdom, realize their foolishness, and are ashamed to admit it…

…to those who proudly put themselves in the very face of danger on foreign soils to protect not only our country, but the essence of freedom…

…to those who still live who served and fought for righteousness for my father through WWI and my mother through WWII…

…to the men and women who believe in our country despite its shortcomings, and still enlist…

…to A.K., who is from another continent, but has proudly become a citizen and leaves me on schedule for drill in preparation to serve….

…to the brave men and women in uniform who will show our children around the C-5 Galaxy, Apache, C-130, Iroquois, F-18 et al. this afternoon at Homecoming and will – in word and deed – help us instill in them the character trait of patriotism…

…to the veterans with whom we will share a rolling tear today, hand over heart during the Star Spangled Banner,  as we salute our flag and their valued service…

…to the dear friend who brought out his Navy uniform, even though it no longer fits, to reflect and reminisce, that we could all be reminded of the threads of courage, pride, willingness, duty and belief in freedom – all tightly woven to hold our country together…

God, please bless our veterans with love, appreciation and peace…may they know how much the rest of us do not take their service and our freedom for granted, how much we love them, and how proud we are of them. Every single day of the year.

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~Playing Tooth Fairy for a child who will likely always remain in locked, secure facilities.

~Explaining to a child why and how their mother found Jesus in jail…for the twelfth time…after yet another round of trafficking.

~Trying to reason with a nine-year old that they can, and should, use their coping skills instead of demanding an injection every day.

~Helping a belligerent autistic child understand that an outing restriction for making racist remarks is less consequence and more protection, because folks in town might not take too well to such statements.

~Having to tell a seven-year old they can’t go out and play…for a month…because they are a flight risk for trying to run away from their last placement eighteen times.

~French braiding a child’s hair while gently explaining what hope looks like, feels like, and why one should never give up.

~Saying goodbye to a child after two years, knowing they’re at their best, and their best still isn’t good enough for the rest of the world.

~Welcoming a new child who inherited both parents’ severe mental illnesses, and is already on several medications not approved by the FDA for children under 18…and trying to figure out what might be done instead.

~Tucking in a child who is haunted by the voices that won’t leave him alone inside his head, all night long, the intermittent wailing depriving others of their sleep.

~Helping a tiny child who refuses to speak, to find other ways to express themselves besides self-harming, drawing blood to release the pain from the inside out.

~Discerning whether the sock tied around the neck was a reactive gesture of anger, or a genuine intent to end their young life.

~Allowing a child to repeatedly cheat at cards in endless rounds of War, so they can understand that they are a winner, no matter how the game goes, no matter how many risks of losing they face, and no matter how many aces and jokers one’s opponent may hold in their hand.

~Teaching a child not to be sexually inappropriate when the man waxing the floors goes by.

~Building a fort with chairs and blankets, then going inside and hearing stories that no child should ever know to tell.

~Asking a child to create at least five works of art to replace the bare spot on the wall where they tore off the entire six-foot bulletin board in a three-second rampage of rage.

~Trying to help a child figure out if the man they saw under the bridge might have been their homeless father, or not.

~Offering a warm hug five minutes after being called every vulgar name in the book.

~Helping a child write an angry letter to their molester, tearing up the letter into tiny pieces, and drowning the pieces in a lake, together.

~Teaching a child how their compulsive lying hurts others as much as they were hurt by their parents’ perpetual broken promises.

~Watching and waiting until a child is finished tipping over fourteen chairs which are not designed to be able to be tipped over, to help them verbalize their anger at the world, instead.

~Finding excuses for parents who make excuses as to why they never call or visit their child in the hospital.

~Wiping the searing tears and stroking the wild hair of a bewildered, rageful child who is being physically prevented from harming themselves or others.

~Promising a child a trip to McDonald’s after they were unable to go out for weeks due to dangerous behavior…and seeing their joy when the promise was fulfilled. Those Happy Meals are the happiest of all!

~Helping the state word a court report to properly reflect a parent’s chronic neglect.

~Seeing a child gain victory over their demons, and finally, after months or years, be able to be turned back out to society. And passing the tissue to the staff who helped raise the child and taught the child to function again, as they unlock the door and show the child their new freedom.

~Finding solutions for a teacher who is trying to teach a disruptive child who will never be allowed in a typical school setting.

~Lying on the grass with a child, watching the clouds change form, and teaching them to have the courage to dream and hope again.

~Vandalizing (when no one was looking) a spot of wall where an angry child peeled the paint, by using crayon to draw in the lines because the bare spot looked vaguely like a dinosaur, giving it a smile and bright eyes, with comment bubbles over his head encouraging the children to be nice.

~Reading a story about a flower that got stuck in a crack and couldn’t grow very well, until a gardener replanted it and fertilized it and watered it, allowing it to blossom and see the sun again.

~After a year, figuring out that the misbehavior at bedtime once served a legitimate function, since going to sleep represents the terror of knowing that the sexual abuse would start on the night shift after mom left for work.

~Talking a child out of crawling into the trash can, because that is where they feel like putting themselves, because that is the message they consistently got about their worth and value from those previously caring for them. Clarifying what belongs in the trash, and what is worthy of Saving.

~Explaining why smuggling in burned CDs of gangsta rap is not helpful toward reaching one’s treatment goals.

~Coaching a child to maintain self-control when another child is provoking them…don’t lose your points, stay focused on your goal to get out of here, think of your people, shoot for that special outing, walk away, it’s not worth it, one of y’all has to man up and stay in control, might as well be you. Etc. Etc.

~Trying to teach morals around shoot-in-the-foot laws, such as why a remorseful child can’t help patch the hole they punched in the wall (child labor), use their allowance when they offer to pay for their roommate’s toy they flushed down the toilet (child allowance regulations), or donate outgrown clothes to the child down the hall (unlawful transfer of state property).

~Seeing who can go higher on the playground swings.

~Explaining to a child why their grandparent is dying, and holding their hand after the death.

~Having to confiscate a child’s security blanket for a night because they tried to hang themselves with it.

~Having a child tape a piece of art to the office door that says, “Thank you for helping me…”

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I suppose it wasn’t really there after all. I must have been daydreaming. When you’re hanging at the beach, some things just kind of blur together, like the pod of dolphins the other day at one point clearly being a pod of dolphins, gradually fooling the eyes into trying to decipher what was bottlenose and what was fin and what was tall wave. The playful animals somehow melded into being waves. Eventually when the excitement wanes and you start questioning your own senses and sensibility, you learn to quit looking, and refocus anew on what is, on what was, to begin with.

I thought I saw a ship, of great proportions, traversing the horizon. It had a bright color that caught my eye, contrasting from the sea, and maintained a steady path, as long as I dared to watch.

While it caught my gaze, I imagined where it came from, how long it had stayed in port, and where it now headed, what it carried. The Sunday newspaper keeps a public record of such data, but it’s been a month of Sundays since I read a Sunday paper.

But the ship was real as long as I looked at it.

I was driving, though, and could only afford intermittent glances. I was driving fast, windows down, music loud, hair flying.

I know it was there. But then, I glanced again, and it was not. Simply slipped out of my vision, out of my reality.

It reminded me of the man I used to see come home on what I calculated must be his lunch hour, as I ran the last hill on my runs. His house was one of my reality checks – I used it to remind myself of my goal, since it was at the peak of the knoll, the hardest and steepest hill of the three I conquer on my usual 2.5 run. Once upon a time in the season of jasmine, I marveled at the tall southern pines which graced his front yard, with something that looked like clematis climbing up the trunks of each tree. They were so fragrant, I came to look forward to springtime runs, just to get to that last, steep incline. Each labored inhalation was rewarded. His front porch was typically Southern, a wraparound with ample rocking chairs and detail in the woodwork, beckoning one to stop for a glass of sweet tea (slice of lemon) in the fragrance of the climbing flowers. The trees, and the clinging flowers, disappeared up into the sky-blue like some Jack-in-the-Beanstalk fairy tale.

How I would have loved to stop!

But my course would have been ruined had I done so – I was compelled to finish what I began, compulsively dedicated to completing my circuit, and his house was only one stop on my way to my destination. How sad…and it always seemed…no, seems (I still go by) so inviting.

Through the spring and part of the summer, I saw him come home. He would be parked in the side driveway, sometimes standing on the porch, sometimes inside, sometimes conversing with his landscapers. Sometimes just standing there, yakking on his phone, or pausing to watch me and wave.

And I always kept going.

Although we saw each other nearly daily, he was a stranger, and I to him. He was at the end of my run, at the top of the steepest hill, and I could not, would not stop, no, never. Never meant to be. He and his coveted possessions were well out of my league. I would not be interested in such.

I had to keep running, keep my pace, knowing the end was near and soon I would have rest. But in that rest I often thought of how nice it would have been to stop my run short and crash on that ample front porch and get acquainted with the wealthy neighbor. He didn’t know me, not really. And I didn’t know him. No, we were Worlds Apart, on two different courses, two different schedules, two different paths. He may have thought he knew me; he probably imagined he knew me, but he would have been wrong. Someone like that and those Things could not have understood or known joy from someone like me and my things.

And, like the ship that I’m not sure ever really existed, he also ceased to exist after my weeks of illness which prevented me from my daily runs. I have gingerly, carefully resumed and gone back, as I sit at the lapping water here, but he no longer comes home for lunch. And I have not seen a ship like it on the horizon since, either.

Both are gone; I am alone, and left wondering if they ever really existed, or if they were figments of my imagination, like so many other things.

I suppose I was a figment, too…not quite real, not quite tangible. Just sort of, out there. Interesting to imagine, but not really existent.

There is safety in not really being real, not able to be figured out, comprehended, perceived fully. Perhaps it is best if figments remain figments, visions as visions, dreams as dreams. That way, things of intrigue remain as we wish for them to be thought of, and we do not run the risk of disappointment, should the harshness of reality not live up to our dreams.

Our dreams…our delusions…our mirages serve us well, to provide the comfort of distracted vision, and of hope and curiosity, without the pain of what is, what must be, no matter how satisfying what must be, is.

Both the ship and the man were elusive and surreal as they passed before what I thought was my reality, bringing interest and reason to look while they lingered in the periphery of my reality, ever just so out of reach and causing me to question my sanity, yet serving a purpose by challenging myself to keep looking and to keep running all at the same time.

Oh, why O why, didn’t I stop long enough to verify the existence of the ship? and the man? Was I afraid they’d be real? Or that I would have to change to accommodate their reality? Was it better that they came and went from what I thought was my vision, that they remained a part of the Unsure?

How bittersweet, never to know for sure. I could never pursue either, and must stay on my circuit.

Damn, today’s run was totally to mentally detox. The news at high noon (delivered in the best room with the best catered food which I didn’t eat) was supposed to be good, which I couldn’t swallow, either. It was good to everyone but me. My crestfallenness did not go unnoticed, and I know they saw me tear out of the parking lot on my run after the meeting with more vigor than usual Upon my return, I was swamped with Higher Visitors and calls from all angles, feeling me out, no one daring to ask. The Secret is not theirs to uncover, they knew. And I was helpless, speechless, unable to explain. Only someone like me could be living such a dual life in so many dimensions.

But the run was hard and fast, and the man wasn’t there…again. I guess I missed too many days, so it was…just…a run. And I returned to face reality, my dreams and thoughts and feelings sequestered to the depths of my inner being, where they are better kept behind the game face.

But nothing can erase the ship on the horizon. I know it was there. I know it seemed like it wasn’t at one point, but I can still see it, I can still picture it crossing my path when I had time to pause my gaze. It was big and bright and happy, and added perspective to the horizon. The fact idea that it was there gave enough impetus to relish the rest of the surroundings, even after it disappeared.

Even if it wasn’t real, it was…just for a moment…it really was. And if I willed it to be so for the sake of my sanity, is there anything wrong with that?

The fumes of belief fuel faith.

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She was tired, nearing the finish, but still a ways away…pacing herself and thoroughly exhausted. The third hill had been a bitch, to say the least, after nearly 6 weeks straight of being sick. Recovering from surgery last spring after coming within minutes of losing her life,  had been much easier than resuming her old circuit lunchtime run. She wasn’t prepared for the endurance it would require, the perseverance, the determination to finish.

And then, afterwards, the grief of the loss of being finished. Phoo, having to return to reality.

She impatiently forwarded through the songs on her iPod to get just the right song to get to the sprinted finish, even though she didn’t know which song might suit her at the moment. All she wanted was motivation, hope,  and damn it, a little bit of fun to ease the pain. Her muscles were aching, lungs searing, and she was oblivious to the traffic as she darted across the busy road, staying focused on her goal to finish – sprinklers, ankle-twisters and common obstacles invisible.

Then she saw him. She had avoided this for months…for years…but there was no avoiding him now. He came up the hill, iPod strapped firmly to his well-developed bicep, keeping a pace that was intimidating at best. She couldn’t hide; he saw her and waved. She had to move toward him and get through the traffic and respond to his paused jogging on the other side of the busy road. Now she was unable to avoid giving the wrong impression, but wasn’t supposed to… it wouldn’t look right. She had fought this for so long. But now she had no choice. He beckoned and was waiting for her. No one else was watching, and there was nothing but more running to do. Innocent enough, she justified. Her passion for running spontaneously combined with divine and unforeseen opportunity.

She made it across the road and they resumed a good pace, running together with him in harmony, exchanging both smalltalk and insightful dialogue. She was reluctant to tell him she did not like to talk while she ran, preferred to dream inside her music and pace… part of the world, but not really part of it. But here she was, happy to be there anyway, because she loved the freedom of running. She wasn’t prepared for running with him, though. She thought she was, but once she really was, it was different. She felt different. It was exciting and wrong.

Yet she felt like she was a real runner, like someone unencumbered with disabilities and schedules and hangups in life. Without his even encouraging her, she felt like she could run the real race – not just this daily self-imposed jaunt – with competence, with speed, and without abandon. She was never one to talk on runs, but this time she talked, and was able to keep up a conversation. He was impressed with her, having seen her leave to go running 30 minutes earlier, and knowing that she had not stopped, that she had run alone and was intoxicated with endorphins…and she joined him anyway, running a route she had already completed by herself, but was gracious and eager to do again, partly because she wanted to for the hell of it, and partly because it communicated something to him about her. She wasn’t sure quite what – didn’t have the energy or wherewithal after the first half hour to second-guess what it meant to him. She just knew it was the right thing to do at the moment.

She became worried, though, during their run…what began as a casual, friendly pursuit, training for a marathon relay this winter, somehow turned into a competitive thing, with him envisioning all the benefits of coming out ahead at all costs, and her grieving all the people and things it would leave behind in the process. He admitted he was born with a competitive spirit – trained in his youth to go far and go long, and he could not appreciate (other than peripherally, from having polite little encounters) the people and things he would leave behind in his wake of pursuit, such as those who only wanted a taste of what he could do, or those who looked up to him and trusted him because he always said and did the right things. But somehow he always got ahead, and they always got left behind. Or those who could only dream of being like him, or being near him in his inner circle, because being around him brought them comfort and security. Funny thing was, he never really noticed it, he was so focused on competing with himself. But she listened without judging. And valued him for his sake.

But somehow, he remained an Untouchable, always being the best, always being the fastest, always being the guy nobody could catch up to. He never quite understood the plight of the Underlings. Although he said he did, he never really did. And he remained out of touch, but never really knowing it.

After we finished running the loop together, he noticed I was becoming increasingly silent. He lovingly checked on me, inquiring as to my silence and verbally acknowledging the change in my breathing and pace. I forgot my inhaler last night, I admitted. I could at once see the suppositions form in his head: how can that happen, is she negligent, is she damaged, is she less-than, why would anyone not ensure that they were in tip-top perfection at any given moment. I couldn’t answer, my breath escaped me, my lungs burned, but I knew I had to finish with him and get to the gate at the top of the hill. He was counting on me to be with him. As we continued up the hill, I feebly gasped that I was conserving my oxygen. He had heard enough times about my stories of overcoming asthma to finish a marathon, seen me enough times darting out the door with a big smile and my iPod blaring as my legs couldn’t contain the urge to start running even before the door shut behind me, and rolling in from of the parking lot, tank top saturated from beneath my breasts to my tummy, face red as the sun setting on the bay, music still blaring and my rock ‘n roll hair needing brushing, wild and free because my pony tail holder pounded itself out of my hair by the rhythm of my hard pace over time, oblivious to my transition from running reverie to reality.

He saw me all those times, but I didn’t really see him. I mean, I know I saw him, but I knew he was in another world, and I in another.

And yesterday I saw him. And I had to join him. And I wanted to. And because of that, I ran that extra mile, literally. I don’t know what he thought about it, but I think I benefited (although the scale today defies me). But I don’t want to think about it, because I wasn’t supposed to do that because the premise was, what would others think if they saw us running together? But the funny thing was, nobody saw us. And we ran. And it was lovely. But I paid for it dearly. And it was worth every molecule of oxygen, I tell you.

Alas, in all his glory, he ran away. Shortly before we saw the end coming, he acknowledged it and told me he was going to slay the dragons on up the road, since he got out of the gate later than I had, he was going to go on up the hill and conquer great horizons up towards the next traffic light. He alluded to the weaker folk not being allowed to run the race with us, and suggested ones he deemed worthy. I was worthy, of course, he said…and I knew this by how impressed he was by my having run this extra mile with him after he knew I’d already run three just before…,but they somehow I was not worthy. I knew he was right…the ones I had hoped to bring into the race to instill a sense of “you can, too!” were, by his competitive spirit, disqualified before they were allowed to register for the race. How would I tell my friends that others had been chosen? Would they be relieved and not look back? Would they feel more disheartened and separated from  Those Who Can?

Once upon a time, I had not been able to run three. I had not been able to run one-half. I had not been able to run two mailboxes away from my own house.

This saddened me.

He was so right, though, he couldn’t see any other right.

But for me to join the race, it took a marathon-runner to come along side me and slow down long enough to encourage me that I could do the same…and she stayed with me until I did. She didn’t run off to New York and do the NYC Marathon, like she planned, so she could improve her time for the Boston Marathon. No, she stayed in this Podunk town and reveled in encouraging me, marveling at how someone with asthma could really do what she knew I could do all along. She was also my disabled son’s occupational therapist, ironically. The year after the marathon, I wrote a nomination that won her an award for her accomplishments, and we had a blast going to the beach resort where she accepted the award. She didn’t win it for excelling in her athletic pursuits, or for helping my child with his disabilities.

She won it for believing in the unbelievable.

Back on the circuit, I suggested other races he might run to get that 13.1 sticker he covets to slap on the back of his wonderful SUV that the rest of us can’t afford. I encouraged him that if I can run a marathon with my asthma in honor of my disabled child, surely he, in his history of cross-country glory, can, too. He could aim higher than he currently is. He chided me for not gloating and putting the 26.2 sticker on every vehicle I own. He patronized me and maintained his perfectionistic, all-or-nothing thinking, “if I can’t do it in the time I deem appropriate, then it doesn’t matter and it’s not as meaningful.” He had the audacity to dictate that those we had previously committed to helping to train in the race, that they were likely too weak or unworthy, and would inhibit our race outcome.

He had the fever of success and pride. There was little I could say to him, or do for him, but wait. And accept. And love anyway.

Dang it, it all started as a goodwill, good fellowship, mutual encouragement thing for the race this winter. How did it come to this?!

How many races do we run that we deem our worst or our least, when they are victories for others? How many ways do we deceive ourselves into measuring our achievements in a way that somehow equate to how God measures us?

Apples and oranges.

Perhaps we need to look at our defeats and our shortcomings to grasp how God is measuring us.

Kneeling in front of the candles at the altar railing this Sunday, continuing to re-accustom myself to the verbal and physical obligations during communion, I thought of my eighteen years as an evangelical Christian, now coming home to my church of origin this summer.

God didn’t change, I did. He was always there, no matter where I went, no matter what I did, no matter what I believed, no matter how I practiced. Suddenly, it all made sense.

It was up to me to run the race – He provided the stamina, the endurance, the change of scenery, the inhaler when I needed it. He was there with me at every corner, at every refreshment station, at every mile marker, at every finish chute. He is there adjusting my time when I stop to assist a fellow racer who is injured, or to slow down and walk with one who clearly needs some encouragement to finish. He is providing the last-blast music to crank up for that final sprint toward the finish. He will be the One tearing the strip off my race number after I pass under the time clock, just before the Gatorade station with all the banana and orange slices. (Then come the masseuse tables, mmmm).

It’s up to me to give Him the victory for the race.

Now excuse me while I tend to my disabled child who is writhing in pain in his sleep, while my gifted child is demanding to know what I did with my Latin textbook from college. The race is not about us and our abilities, how fast we run or what circuit we train on…it is about acknowledging Jesus as Savior and serving Him, at the expense of our own notions of what that all means.

Let Him brush our rock ‘n roll hair.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

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