Archive | July 2012

Welcome to the Family

Some of the funniest things happen when you’re supposed to be silent.  Here is my favorite memory of those moments when the hilarity Just Spills Out.

I had only been married to my husband Michael for two months when his father died unexpectedly.  Dad had been a wonderful friend and cheerleader for me, boosting my ego, drawing this little Protestant into his large and raucous Irish Catholic family, putting me at ease among all the stepchildren, and in-laws and making me feel welcome.  But even so, they were a tough crowd and I was constantly intimidated.

Being unfamiliar with Catholic rituals and their style of funeral service, I was so afraid of doing something incorrect or gauche.  I could just see the priest frowning and commanding me like the minister did when I was 7, caught passing notes to a friend nearby, “Mary Evelyn, go sit with your mother!”

St Patrick’s was simply decorated and wonderful, the sanctuary round with pews telescoping like a wagon wheel, the length of each narrowing toward the front of the room until the very front row of each section had room for only 2 or 3 people.

The family was lining up out in the foyer, everyone shushing everyone else, handing out tissues and breath mints, the kids giggling and doing little tap dances in their Sunday shoes.

We had expected Mom (my husband Michael’s mother) to ask her sister and brother-in-law to sit beside her on the tiny front pew with the sons and daughters filing in according to age with the oldest first, but at the last moment in the crush of relatives she turned, looked at us and said, “You two come sit with me” and started down the aisle.

Nervous, distracted, and much louder than he realized in this echo-chamber of a vestibule, Michael half-turning, took my hand, drawing me forward and said, “Diane, come on, let’s go” at which huge unrestrained bursts of laughter rang out from all the family members crowded in closely behind us.

My name is Mary.  Not Diane.  Diane was his ex-wife and the mother of his children.  The simplest thing I could think to say with a smirk was, “Okay, Malcolm”—my ex-husband’s name.  This brought a second peal of laughter, and the tone for the morning was set.

We followed Mom down the aisle into a service that was rich with love, laughter, and cherished memories of this wonderful patriarch and saint.

And I knew he was laughing, too.

Countdown to a Brand New Day

     Today is July 4th, 2012, a bit after midnight.  Vernon’s asleep and the dogs are snoring down under the covers.  But I’m parked in my laughin’ place, too excited to sleep.  Cuddled in my green wicker rocker, laptop on knees—no room for the laptop on the lap, folks.

      And I’m counting down 15 days until I begin a journey that’s a bit different from any I ever embarked on before. In some small ways, it’s a journey back in time. (See the photo of me taken in Nassau that’s just before this post—I don’t know how to move it to this one).  It’s the ‘before before’ picture of me BEFORE I swelled up and swallowed that skinny person.  But I’m going to find her.  Even if I have to go back in time.

       Back to when I weighed about 125. And that my friends, is about 120 pounds ago.  Nowadays I waddle around at close to 253 lbs, do you realize that’s as much as 2 of my friends?  Four or even five small children?  63 bags of sugar?  12 small dogs?  Good grief, guys, I’m a whole NEIGHBORHOOD!!

        But in more ways than one, it’s a journey of a different kind. A journey that will be difficult, and new, and challenging, and more fun than I can imagine right now. Uphill much of the way, wanting to quit at times—I was once told I tend to give up too easily on things. But not this time.  I’ve discussed this with the Lord and we both agree that it’s time.  Time for me to put the Spirit where my mouth is.  To “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:7).

         On July 19th I’ll be having a procedure that will enable me to lose about 100 lbs over the next 6-9 months. Does that frighten me? Not at all. Not the food part. I’ll feel awkward for my friends who won’t know how to act when I’m eating tiny amounts, and feeling sorry for me if I miss a cookie, or a special treat of some kind.  I don’t want that to happen, but it will.  I’ve come to realize that my real food is the smiles of those I love; the laughter around me, the tears of compassion, the struggles and encouragement that we share with each other.

         But (this is for all you pals who care so much, just so you know in advance…) I’ve thought long and hard about this.  About all the church suppers, the cake and coffee, the pizzas at midnight, Braum’s after church, the popcorn, oh, man, the ENDLESS popcorn that I’ve consumed and could enjoy consuming in the future.   Well, just listen to this, I mean REALLY listen:  if you had to walk around trapped inside this fat suit that I’ve been wearing for years, and realize that your whole life you’ll be remembered as that sweet fat gal (“she has such a pretty face” is the way we always described the fat gals at my parents’ house growing up)…if you had to endure that, to know that your legacy for 12 grandchildren is eating more than your legs could carry, and more than your body could process—that a continuous medicating of high calorie, low-satisfaction foods is the way you’ve learned to cope with trials and that this is the life lesson you’re writing on their hearts—you would feel the same.

         When I think of what I want to teach those kids, I realize that food is just not that important.  The message I want to give my family, my friends, and anyone else who cares to hear me is that the impact of my life after I am gone (and the focus while I am still here) will be the love for Jesus Christ and the ability to impact others for Him; the honest relationships that I established; the memories of times spent together—those are the stuff, the richness, the desserts of life.

         And when it’s all been said and it’s all been done, I really don’t believe that any flavor of ice cream or pop will enter into the situation at all.  So will I miss eating all that I want?  I’ll miss the ‘easy comfort’—the false comfort–of reaching for a bag of chips.  But now that I’m changing what I actually want and how I go about getting it, it just doesn’t matter anymore.  It’s a brand new day.

          And He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”. Revelation 21:5

Ready for a Brand New Day July 4, 2012

Comfort in Unusual Places

I want to share a little creature  comfort that found me about 10 years ago when I lived in Kansas City.  Bear with me; it can seem silly or superstitious, unless you just “go with it”.

 It was late spring when we moved into a brand new house, where I settled into a comfortable routine of planting and tending flower beds, new shrubs, all the plantings that help to make a house homey and inviting.  Just before dusk the grass was already dew-laden and shadows were lengthening.   I finished planting some lilies between the azaleas and straightened up, when a little brown bundle moved near my foot.  I sat perfectly still, and a tiny brown baby bunny slowly hopped by me, totally absorbed in his snacking.

 When he hopped away, I went inside and  told Michael, my husband, about the little guy when he just nodded, “Yeah, he’s been popping in and out around the shrubs for a week or so”.  We grew to expect our busy little visitor, and missed him whenever he didn’t appear for a few days.

 Turn the page in this story book to a sunny spring morning a little more than six years later.  Our house was sold and we were moving into a small apartment across the street from the local hospital to be near Michael’s chemo appointments.    The smile on his emaciated, lined face  when he noticed the furry little guy scooting across the sidewalk in front of his wheelchair is one I still remember.  No one could convince him that this wasn’t the same little rabbit.  And no one tried.

 Time wasn’t kind to us. Fall found me lugging boxes by myself into a tiny studio apartment down in Fort Worth, Texas, FMLA over and ready to return to work at American Airlines, a widow at 49 years old.  The complex of Spanish-style pink buildings was shade-covered with mature trees and in place of grass was a wandering carpet of English ivy.  Somehow when I saw little cotton-tail scamper across the sidewalk about 10 feet in front of me I wasn’t surprised.  It was as if Michael was still there, telling me he was watching over me.  I found comfort in the nearness of that little rabbit.

 It was almost six months afterward that I found a duplex to buy in Arlington and moved once again.  This time I expected that I’d find a furry brown presence somewhere around my door.  He was there, sure enough.  I didn’t see him as often then, but just enough to know he was still around.

 Turn another page to find me sometime later, reminiscing old times with my youngest daughter by telephone.  I had just laughed as I recounted the story of my little buddy, and she gasped.  She said, “Mom, listen.”

 She harkened back to when her stepfather was still alive.  She was plowing in the fields on her farm in North Dakota, frustrated that she couldn’t travel just then to be with us–we both knew his time was growing short.  She turned at the end of a furrow when something told her she needed to call me to check on him.  She noticed movement off to her right and turned to see a small brown rabbit just sitting in the middle of the road, watching her.  Not hopping.  Not running away.  Just watching.  He stayed there with her until she finished plowing, and then slowly hopped away.

 She drove on to the farmhouse and called me, only to discover that her Stepdad had just passed away.

 Now, all this is true; it actually happened.  Coincidence? Vivid, overactive imaginations?  Well, I know one thing:  it was a little comfort here and there, just when we needed it.

A Very Special Kind of Man

Today an old and dear friend of mine met Jesus.  I mean, literally. Face to face.

You see, he was enjoying Sunday dinner with his beautiful wife and close friends, and apparently a piece of his lunch put up a battle and some people might say that Ray lost.  But if you ask me, since he’s there with Jesus and I’m still here, I think Ray won.

My heart is broken, as are those of hundreds who know and love him.  His East Texas humor never stops.  His love for the Lord is boundless; his concern for friends bottomless; and he left so many wonderful, witty sayings, most of which are true, of course.

I moved away from Texas a while back, and haven’t seen Ray since then.  But his presence is eternal; his influence long-lasting, his laugh infectious enough to ring down through the years.  I hear that rich, delighted voice as he teased his friends, spreading a pure joy in living to all he knew.

Ray knew his talents, and wasn’t shy about telling you…he was a salesman and excellent at his trade.  He loved to tell you, “I can sell ice to Eskimoes.”  And if you’ve ever met Mr. Ray Bowling, even one time, you’ll agree with him.

I used to cook delicious (and terribly fattening) dishes for our church, and for our two families whenever we got together for fellowship, laughter, prayer, tears, whatever life brought our way.  Ray always enjoyed my cooking–the guys turned it into a contest sometimes, racing to see who got the last piece of pie.

Often I would hear Ray repeat the rich East Texas one-liners that I loved to hear, and even today I can hear him saying it one more time.   And in my imagination there was a ripple of laughter ringing across the halls of heaven, as Ray first laid eyes on heaven.  I can hear him saying,

“Now, that’ll set you free!”

Godspeed, Ray.  Save a place for me.