Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweet Home Indiana

I found this video on YouTube. It's just someone driving from Plainfield to Indianapolis. This is a drive I know very well. My dad and step-mother live in Plainfield, and I have been visiting them, my mom in Mooresville and my sister in Indy, along with friends in various places near Indy, since before Thanksgiving. I invite you into my world via this video.



I am actually in Eureka, Illinois right now. I'm visiting friends for a week or so. There's snow on the ground and a very definite nip in the air. I hope to do some writing while I'm here. I am blessed to have this second family.

Blessings,
Arlene

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!!

Family and memories are hallmarks of Christmas time. I've had my share this year...hope you have, too. Or, if not, then I hope you have just what you need if only for today...this moment. Take care, good care.

Here's a montage of some of my old family pics:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Never too late to have a Happy Childhood

I've been going through old photos from my parents' collections. I'm planning to make a scrapbook of my life--the early years. It's been a wild journey into memory-land. Some photos take me down paths of bittersweet and thorny roses. Some lead me to more questions than certainties. Others just take me to a place where I can smile and laugh all the way up from my toes.


I hope to write more about it later. But in the meantime, here are a couple from the collection. To the right is a shot of my siblings and me in our 'family pool'--note the luxerient surroundings. The one above is of me on my grandparents' porch.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Journey Since High School

This is an account of my life since graduating from Mooresville (Indiana) High School in 1980. I write it for my friends from all through my life who probably know bits and pieces of this, but have gaps where we weren’t in close touch. Even my cousins and I have some years to make up for. I am grateful for email and Internet social circles like MySpace and Facebook, Classmates and Reunion, that allow us to find each other again! Sorry for the length, but it does cover 27 years, after all!

Although my friends and family probably didn’t realize it, I was really depressed high school, especially my senior year, following the death of my little brother, Alan. He came in contact with a live electrical wire when he was near a railroad trestle and was electrocuted. It was just prior to Halloween, 1979, and I still miss him.

So, after high school, I waited two years before going back to school. I worked at this terrible place in Indianapolis that takes bids from salvage dealers on cars that have been totaled by insurance companies. The only saving grace was my good friend, Paula, worked there with me.

I also babysat and sold Mary Kay cosmetics for a short time. The rest of the time, I slept, ate and became more and more depressed. When Paula said she was going back to school, I said, “Well I’m not staying here by myself!” I immediately applied to Eureka College (EC) in Illinois, which is affiliated with my church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (DOC).

I thrived there and really found my unique writing and speaking voice. (Although I had written for the newspaper and was on speech team in high school, I didn’t think of myself as particularly gifted in either area.) I was the newspaper editor for three years at EC and did an internship my senior year with the Pantagraph, a daily paper in Bloomington, Illinois. My friends from Jones Hall moved me in Roxanne’s VW and another car to a dingy apartment in the top floor of a house near a great park. I walked about ten blocks to the newspaper office and the church I attended. I was the first intern to get an A from the curmudgeon-y features editor. That was a great job.

After I graduated, I did a summer internship with the Christian Homes of Kentucky (CHC) in the chaplain’s office. I got to room with Paula that summer, as I worked in Louisville, KY, and she finished school across the river. That summer was pretty intense, and I learned a lot about myself from my mentor, Rev. Chuck Lewis. Dr. Dan Gilbert, who had been the President of EC, was then the President of the CHK and arranged for that internship.

After Eureka, I went to Claremont School of Theology in 1986 with the intention of getting an MDiv (Masters in Divinity) and becoming a minister in a non-traditional setting (like a college campus, nursing home, or para-church organization). But the more I got into the MDiv program, the more I felt trapped into a direct line to congregational ministry, which I was not interested in at the time. So I switched programs to the MA in Religion and took a lot of women’s studies courses with Dr. Ann Taves and Dr. Karen Torjeson. Once again I thrived and grew. My voice on socio-political views grew stronger, as did my confidence in myself.

But when I graduated in 1989, I really didn’t have a direction. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went ‘home’ to Indiana. I stayed with my Mom and got depressed again. It’s not my mom’s fault, I just felt small and insignificant again. (One bright spot was that my nephew, Michael was born in 1989.) I worked for a group home for developmentally disabled adults in Danville, but it was for-profit, and I didn’t like the way they did things. So I got a job with Damar Homes in Mooresville and managed a group home for young men with developmental delays.

In some ways, I loved this job. I was helping people, the ‘boys’ were great and I worked with some good people. It’s a very impressive organization with integrity and dedication to what they are doing. But I tended to take all the emotions of the job home with me, which wasn’t good for my mental health.

One of my mentors—I believe it was one of my English professors at EC, Dr. Sheila Bartle, encouraged me to go back to writing and contact the Pantagraph where I did my internship. Long story short, I did and got a job, moved back to Eureka in 1990 and stayed for 7 years.

I was the editor of the Woodford County Journal and a correspondent for the Pantagraph—they are sister papers owned by the same company. That was a great experience on many levels. I honed my writing and interview skills, for one. I made a lot of friends and deepened many friendships that had begun at EC. I learned tolerance and patience and a better appreciation for the human condition. I also developed on the socio-political front and deepened my commitment to the church. (Another bright spot, my niece, Elizabeth was born in 1992.)

I began feeling a pull toward the vocation of ministry while I was there. I was heavily involved in the local church and the regional church, as well. I started preaching at local churches and I led the youth at Eureka Christian Church for some years. When it began to be more and more evident that my values were being compromised by my work as writer and editor*, I decided to look for something that would blend my vocation with my faith. (*Mostly, this had to do with writing stories about good people doing bad things and covering the ‘bad’ news, like courts and local government fights. I also lost a great mentor when Rev. Dr. Marvin Cheney died of cancer in 1995 or ‘96. That was also about the time I learned I had adult-onset diabetes.)

So in 1997 I went to a General Assembly of my church and found a job announcement at the National Benevolent Association, the social and health services division of the DOC. I got the job and moved to St. Louis. Oh, and I had adopted a cat, chip, in Eureka and brought him with me. (That will figure into the story later.)

Another wonderful job, with Rev. Dr. Ben Bohren as my boss, and now friend, it was a new office at the NBA, and we were charged with helping the church know the NBA better and helping the NBA know the church better. We did workshops, newsletters, worship services, information booths, and curriculum for worship and Sunday school, among other things. Ben developed a program called Miracle Day, in which we helped churches all over the country put together a day of remodeling, renovating and renewing, which was designed to transform the church through improving the buiding and getting people from multiple churches together to do it. We also oversaw the NBA Leadership Grant Program for DOC college students attending DOC schools. At NBA I honed my speaking and presentation skills and was able to write a lot of liturgy. I also preached once a month at a little church in Illinois. (And yet another bright spot—my nephew, Randy, was born in 1998.)

In about 1999, I decided to go back to seminary to finish an MDiv, which is the degree toward ordination. I began taking one class at a time at Eden Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a sister denomination. I had decided that I wanted to be ordained, and I was feeling more pulled toward congregational ministry. The classes and field assignments there were wonderful, and again I made many friends and had several mentors.

My first field education was with an NBA unit called Olive Branch, which was a residential program for pregnant and parenting homeless teens. I did workshops on spiritual development, using arts and crafts as a way to get the young women to open up about themselves and their spiritual lives. I wrote a couple of pieces about this experience and posted one on this blog. It was a powerful experience, which culminated in my doing the funeral service for the baby girl of one of the moms.

In about 2001, things were really changing at NBA. There were financial problems and some infighting. People were being laid off, and church folks from outside the agency were beginning to question how things were run. On a Monday morning in April, the day after Palm Sunday, I was called into a small conference room and informed by human resources that I was one of nine whose jobs were being eliminated immediately because of budget cuts. I barely got to say goodbye to Ben, who had not been informed this was going to happen, before I was ushered out of the building carrying my boxes of stuff from my cubicle.

They said it's "nothing personal" and "If it's any comfort, you're not the only one."

I said, through gritted teeth, "That is no comfort!"

Since this is a public forum, I will not go into further details. (I signed something saying I couldn’t talk negatively about the NBA or I would forfeit my severance pay. I doubt it matters much now, as many things have come to light since then, but I did sign it, so I will keep my word).

I spent a few days being devastated and allowing people in my local congregation (Union Avenue Christian Church) to take care of me. Rev. Dr. Mike Simpson, the pastor at the time, made sure I stayed busy and not in bed with the covers pulled over my head by asking me to participate in the Holy Week services—reading scripture, offering prayers, etc. (Smart move, Mike!) Fortunately, I had been on Zoloft, in therapy and part of a wonderful group of sprited women known as Sarah's Circle,, so the depression didn’t go too deep this time.

Instead, I got angry and got going. I arranged to move on campus at Eden and go full time in the fall. The bad part was, I had to find a new home for Chip, my cat. There was an older gentleman at the church who took him in. Chip died a few years later of some kind of kitty disease. He was a great cat.

While at school, I got a job doing before and after school childcare with the YMCA. I got more involved with campus life and enjoyed my classes, making friends and getting involved with socio-political issues from a religious point of view. (This in my case is from a very liberal perspective.)

I also was just starting to deal with the beginning stages of diabetic retinopathy, the eye disease associated with diabetes. I had several laser surgeries to correct the leaking vessels in my eyes and sustained a small vision loss in my right eye. I wrote about that, here. I still have vision problems today.

I graduated in May 2003 and was ordained at the end of that month in St. Louis at Union Avenue. It was wonderful to have most of my family together for such an event. From there, I entered a two-year program at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. It was a Lily Endowment-funded program called Transition into Ministry. I was one of three ‘original resident pastors’ at NCCC (eventually, there were two others). We were one of several sites around the country in different denominations. I was attracted to NCCC, because I was interested in urban ministry.

But about month before I arrived (fall 2003), the story broke that the senior pastor had ‘borrowed heavily’ from other people’s sermons without proper credit to the original source. Some called it plagiarism and were ready to ride him out of town on a rail. Others said it was common in the African-American tradition to quote from preachers you admire. I say it was a mistake and a cry for help by a flawed man. He’s a good preacher, a good person and now a good friend. I learned a lot from him about humility and overcoming great obstacles.

He was there for about half my time there. And I mostly worked on communications and worship there. But I was also able to do outreach and advocacy. (While there, I became certified in pre-marrital counseling. So far, I've counselled one couple! Back in St. Louis, I married two couples, so I think I'm doing it backwards!)

Again, it was a great learning experience and I gained more friends. However, in 2005, when my position ended there, I found myself at another standstill in my life, not sure where to go next. The trauma and controversy at NCCC had taken its toll on me. I was asked if I could stay another year, but I declined. I needed time to heal.

I became a chaplain-in-residence at Georgetown University, living in one of the freshmen dorms and working with the students there. The position only provided housing, not a salary, so I supplemented my income by doing temp work—data entry, retail, etc.,--and freelance writing , research, retreat leadership, whatever I could get.

Although I again developed many lasting friendships at Georgetown, and loved the students, this was a dark period for me personally. I began to doubt everything about my self and my life, my vocation, my abilities. Depression reared its ugly head again. I was able to do some therapy, and I was on and off the Zoloft, but I sank and rose back and forth over the two years I was there.

Georgetown chaplaincy was good work, and important work. However, my personality is such that I am perceived by the students as remote unless I am presenting a program or interacting one on one. When I walked between buildings, or even in the halls, they didn’t think I was present or chatty enough.

In 2007, I decided that the best thing for me to do was to let go of Georgetown. It really held me captive to a particular place, and I needed to be able to move wherever and whenever necessary. It also held me to a goal I couldn’t reach. I am an introvert to the extreme, so I could never be the outgoing, talkative chaplain they wanted me to be.

I was packing and making arrangements to put my stuff in storage when the regional minister in the DC area called and asked what my plans were. I told him I was moving out of Georgetown and moving in with a friend in Maryland. I was going to do freelance writing and church communication and get a part-time job at a hotline. If nothing came up job-wise by fall, I’d move back to Indiana or Illinois, maybe even St. Louis.

He told me about the manger position at the camp and conference center in Bethany Beach, DE…would I be interested in taking it at least for the summer? I didn’t think about it long, and neither did the management committee. Instead of moving to Roxanne’s (Yes, the same Roxanne from college), I moved to the beach. And talk about deja vu, Roxanne moved me here in her truck, with her daughter Emma, 5, in tow.

We are currently talking about what to do with me for the winter. The options are keeping one house on the grounds open over the winter or housing me in DC. There are budgetary concerns, of course, and logistics, but we all seem to be agreed that I will be here next year. In the meantime, I have increased the amount of freelance writing and church communications consulting I am doing. And I try to get to the beach at least once a day. And, believe it or not, I’m pretty happy with my life.

Blessings,
Arlene

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Message to Myself

I don't know about you, but I need this message today...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

new digital camera to play with

Here are some shots at Bethany Beach taken with my new digital camera...

Blessings,
Arlene






Friday, August 3, 2007

50 Things to do while you are looking for work

I wrote the following while I was in a period of searching--for full-time employment; fullfilling, meaningful work and ministry; for my sense of self. Being underemployed took it's toll on me physically, spiritually and mentally.

I plan to write and publish an article on self-care for those looking for work or changing directions. (So please do not steal these lists or send them to your friends in an email--I trust you!)

I invite your feedback, especially if you have had similar experiences looking for work or searching for self. Please share your stories. And let me know if I can quote you in the article!

Blessings,
Arlene

50 Things to do while you are looking for work

By Arlene M Franks
All Rights Reservced

1) Pray, meditate or do something that will help you take care of your spirit. When we are struggling, we can feel insignificant and small. We must remind ourselves that we are supported by something larger than ourselves.

2) Find or develop a community—church, support group, book group, bible study. It’s important not to isolate yourself.

3) Write to friends/family—especially those you’ve been out of touch with for awhile. (But pay close attention to step 4!)

4) Surround yourself with people who support you—avoid negative people.

5) Visit museums and galleries for inspiration.

6) Go to the library—pick a subject and explore new territory for your mind.

7) Volunteer at local agencies. Your main job is getting a job, but you need some time to focus on something else, and volunteering is a great way to refocus and rejuvenate.

8) Meet friends for coffee—it’s cheaper than a meal, and they may even pay!

9) Write letters to the editor about local issues that are important to you. Again, it helps to refocus sometimes.

10) Write letters to your representatives about an important state or national issue.

11) Rearrange your home—move the furniture around, put the TV in a different spot, use the linens in the back of the closet and change the color scheme in the bedroom and bath.,

12) Organize your stuff—throw and/or give things away that you don’t need anymore. You might find some things you forgot you had.

13) Make art projects out of scraps at home.

14) Look for short-term projects that pay. Your local government, schools, library, place of worship, a local business, may be looking for someone to do a task that will help them complete an important project, but that regular staff don’t have time to do. Ask around, these positions are usually filled by word of mouth.

15) Learn to barter—baby-sit for help on your resume; type a thesis for babysitting services, etc.

16) Attend free concerts and lectures—stimulate your mind and spirit!

17) Use public transportation—not only do you meet a lot of interesting people, but you can feel a sense of accomplishment in navigating the system.

18) Read—check out all those books you’ve purchased over the years but never read.

19) Take care of your physical needs. Your being sick doesn’t serve anyone, and besides, you can’t afford it!

20) Walk

21) Play

22) Sleep

23) Laugh

24) Cry

25) Breathe—we forget the small stuff when we are concentrating on the big tasks.

26) Drink water—it’s brain fuel.

27) Stay connected—did I mention, you shouldn’t isolate yourself? Keep up your involvement in community, neighborhood, church, and family activities as much as possible.

28) Journal or blog about your experiences, your life, your expectations and goals. It’s a great way to release a lot of the anxieties, frustrations and confusion about what is happening in your life.

29) Tell your story to others—most people are willing to listen and many will be able to help in some way.

30) Listen to other people’s stories—you will be amazed at how many others are going through similar difficulties.

31) Ask for help—there is no shame in it, and most folks want to do something but don’t know how best to help.

32) Help someone else—it takes your mind off your own troubles, at least for a moment.

33) Maintain as ‘normal’ a schedule as possible. It will help keep up your resolve and your energy.

34) Utilize the Internet—if you don’t have access at home, most libraries have computers available to the public.

35) Listen to music, for obvious reasons.

36) Watch a sad movie—it can be cathartic

37) Watch a happy movie, even a silly one—it can lift your spirits.

38) Increase your vocabulary or learn words in another language. Another thing to do while you are at the library.

39) Make up bumper sticker slogans—it’s distracting and there are companies that will actually pay you for slogans they can use.

40) Write greeting cards—same as above. Check out the Writer’s Digest, either from the library or online for lists of companies that accept submissions.

41) Learn a new skill—increase your keyboarding skills or teach yourself to crochet.

42) Take your ‘work’ outside your home—the presence of other people, sounds, smells, sights, can be stimulating and help you keep from isolating.

43) Count your blessings—we tend to forget the good things in our lives when we are in a slump.

44) Take one moment at a time. Planning and goal-setting are good, but when plans go awry, we need to keep moving toward the goal.

45) List your accomplishments—we tend to forget them when we are not doing our life’s work.

46) List your strengths—you can draw on them to keep moving forward.

47) List your weaknesses—only because we tend to dwell on them when we have a setback like unemployment. List them and then either put them away and out of mind or take the next step listed…

48) Find ways to change your weaknesses into strengths. So you think you seem too eager when you interview? Change that to enthusiasm and make it a part of the interview, as in, “I am so excited to have this opportunity!”

49) Do your most important work when your energy level is highest. If you’re not a morning person, for instance, don’t force yourself to get up early to fill out applications and set up interviews. It is counterproductive to present yourself to the hiring world when you are not at your best.

50) Keep moving—don’t give up.

12 Things friends can do to help
By Arlene M Franks
All Rights Reservced

1) Pray for me.
2) Pray with me.
3) Share your stories of struggle—you may be an inspiration.
4) Check in on me by phone and email—I may not always reach out when I need help.
5) Tell me how I can help you—I need to feel useful and connected.
6) Invite me to lunch or coffee—and let me pay my half if I offer.
7) Invite me to go places that are free of charge—I need to get out of the house.
8) Make me laugh.
9) Allow me to cry.
10) Help me acknowledge and use my gifts—I need to believe I am strong, capable and competent.
11) Remind me of my accomplishments—I tend to forget about them.
12) Help me stay involved in the things that are important to me. I need to see that I can still have a positive impact on my community, neighborhood, church, and family.

Monday, July 30, 2007

An Unblinding Light

Oprah is smiling at me from the magazine rack across the waiting room at Barnes Retina Institute in St. Louis.* With her arms flung wide, her body slightly bent at the waist, she looks ready to laugh with her whole body. I stare at her for awhile, wanting to be in on the joke. When she becomes blurry, I will know that the eye drops the technician put in several minutes ago have taken effect.

Maybe if they dilate soon, we can get this over with quickly. It’s my sixth surgery to correct diabetic retinopathy, but I am not used to this procedure. I can’t shake the anxiety of waiting. I close my eyes to help speed the process of opening my pupils wide so the doctor can shine his bright light into them and cauterize the swollen, leaking blood vessels behind the retina and prevent any potential vision loss.

“I’ve had about 67 of these surgeries,” an older man’s voice invades my thoughts. Sitting behind me, he tells his friend about his struggles with diabetes. “I just can’t get it under control,” he says.

I try to remember when was the last time I monitored my blood sugar…and did I remember to take my medicine today? What about that donut I had last night? “I’m killing myself from the inside,” I chide myself. “God, don’t let me go blind,” I almost whisper. I shift in my seat, check my watch and survey the overflowing waiting room. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

The waiting room is nearly empty when my name is finally called. I follow another technician to a smaller room with a lot of strange equipment that has begun to at least look familiar. The doctor greets me kindly, if not warmly. His name is Dr. Blinder. Even in my anxiety, I always want to tease him in a voice reserved for close friends, “so, Dr. Blinder, anybody give you a hard time about your name?”

But he doesn’t invite such familiarity. Soft-spoken and reserved, he looks like he takes his job way too seriously. Today, though, I’m glad he does, so I decide again not to broach the subject.
More eye drops go in, these to numb my eyes. The doctor adjusts the chin rest so that if I lean forward a bit, I can rest my head in front of his machine almost comfortably. The technician fastens a cloth band around the back of my head, “just to remind you to keep your chin down during the procedure,” she says.

During a series of equipment adjustments and murmured communication between doctor and assistant, my heart begins to beat faster…almost imperceptibly at first. “Breathe,” I tell myself as the doctor puts a sort of monocle in my left eye to keep it open. “Don’t forget to breathe.”
It’s a brief warning before the flashes of light begin The intense white light seems to bore through my pupil and into my body. My toes curl and lift my heels off the ground. My fingers clench around the armrests. I concentrate on my breathing again to suppress the scream welling up in my chest.

“Just breathe,” I urge myself as the laser flashes over and over. “In…out; again, in…out.”

“Try to keep your right eye open,” he says gently. But it is almost impossible, as it tightens defensively against the tortuous light. Twice before, my opposite eye squeezed so tightly, the monocle popped out.

It seems like an eternity, but it couldn’t be more than fifteen minutes before the doctor turns off the light, moves his machine back and says, “OK, all done. You did great.”

Unstrapped from the chin rest, I look around the room. Everything is bathed in red. I know it will go away, but it always startles me. I nod as the doctor tells me to “take it easy” for the rest of the day. We exchange pleasantries.

Walking back into the empty waiting room, I fish around in my bag for the sunglasses I am almost positive I dropped in there this morning. I’m going to need them. It is so bright in here.

*NOTE: Since writing this in 2002, I have had several more surgeries in both eyes. I have some permanent vision loss in my right eye, and I have trouble seeing clearly with both eyes. My diabetes continues to be a struggle, and I now take insulin to control it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I am Grape!

You Are Grape

You are bold and a true individual. You are very different and very okay with that.
People know you as a straight shooter. You're very honest, even when the truth hurts.
You are also very grounded and practical. No one is going to sneak anything by you.
People enjoy your fresh approach to life. And it's this honesty that makes you a very innovative person.

Monday, July 9, 2007

If its Good News, Why Aren't You Smiling?



I love Eddie Izzard. I just happened upon him as a stand up comedian a few years ago when I was flipping channels. This routine was the one I saw. I laughed hysterically.

I especially like this piece, though, because it talks about religion, specifically Christianity, even more specifically, the Protestant Church and how we tend to belie the joy of the Gospel with our spirit-less voices.

I realized recently that Eddie is now an actor and plays the husband in "The Riches" on FX. That is a great show--a little too complex for me on long, exhausting days when my brain is not working, but really well written and acted.

It's about a fmaily of "travellers" who get caught up in a web of lies when they impersonate a wealthy family in the burbs. Minnie Driver plays his wife, and they have three children. The youngest, a boy, is a cross-dresser. It's just part of his character, and doesn't show up as a major part of the plot. I like that.

Anyway, enjoy this unique take on Christianity...and if it offends you, lighten up!

Blessings,

Arlene

Deliver us, oh please

Susan Werner--The Gospel Truth

You must listen to this woman's songs. Go to the "Our Father" first. I think it's brillient and wish I had written it.

More later...

Blessings,

Arlene

Friday, July 6, 2007

I know someone famous and funny

I just discovered comedy writer/performer/cartoonist Dan McCoy's blog. He was one of 'my youths' in the 90's when I was Christian Youth Fellowship sponsor at Eureka (Illinois) Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). His dad was my religion professor at Eureka College, and I know his whole family. In fact, I think I even babysat him when I was in college. He was quite self-sufficient. We called him Daniel then.

When he was in high school, he began drawing and writing a comic strip for the school paper, which was published in the town paper where I was editor. Seeing how good he was, I shamelessly stole him from the high school crowd and gave him his first professional gig as an artist. We published his comic strips on the editorial page, and I think we paid him $10 per week(?) Maybe $5. Hell I wasn't making much more than that myself!

As I was moving here recently, I went through boxes of stuff I had carted around from place to place since I left Eureka in 1997 (before that, really.) I threw away far more than I kept...I even tossed out old letters and cards. But when I got to a stack of original Dan McCoys...well, I couldn't part with them.

I wonder how much they are worth now that he's famous? Maybe I should wait until he makes it on Saturday Night Live. ..not that I'd sell them, of course.

I am sure Dan would rather speak for himself than have me reminisce about him and his fellow CYFers. So go look at his blog. And check out some of his more recent comic strips.

And this parody of On Star commercials.



Blessings,
Arlene

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Ross and Perez


I fell in love with Ross Mathews (Ross the Intern) during "Celebrity Fit Club," one of my guilty pleasures. He is so genuine. I usually don't like perky, but it works for him. He was the only one on fit club who was still talking to Dustin Diamond by the end. He stuck it out far longer than I would have!

The combination of him and Perez Hilton is almost too much to bear, but they are so cute together. It's refreshing to see people willing to be themselves.

Blessings,

Arlene

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Settling In

Having grown up in the land-locked Midwest, I didn't feel very attracted to the oceans. I visited the Pacific only a few times when I lived in Claremont, CA for three years (graduate school). I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the thrill I had imagined it would be. I found myself longing for smaller waterways--streams, rivers and waterfalls, like the ones I grew up visiting in the Indiana State Parks. The largest bodies of water I saw growing up were the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan, where we often went camping in the summer.

There was this great campground called Orchard Beach. It was simple set of camp sites and a bath house. But if you went into the woods at its edge and walked a few feet, you would encounter Lake Michigan in full fury! The shore is filled with huge, jagged rocks and the waves crash against them constantly.

My mom loved this place, and insisted we camp there whenever we went through Michigan. The first thing we'd do when we arrived was don our swimsuits, pick up our towels and slip on our flip-flops. Away we'd go in eager anticipation. I never told my mom, or anyone else, for that matter, but I always felt a mixture of fear with our collective excitement.

Would this be the time I'd be swept off the rock into the deep abyss of the lake?

We'd climb up on the rocks and brace ourselves against one. I'd choose the biggest, sturdiest one I could find. I also made sure I could see my mom at her perch. She'd yell, "Here it comes!" and a wave would crash against our bodies...I can still feel the mild sting against my skin. I can smell the water in my hair

We'd laugh and giggle, shake off the water and wait for the next one. You have no idea how rare it was to see my mom laugh and smile and just be silly. I guess that's why the excitement always overcame the fear, and I always looked forward to the next time.

And the deep never got me.

Now I am living two blocks from the Atlantic. I walk there at least once a day. Yesterday, it rained, and the beach was deserted in the afternoon, when I was able to take a break and walk down there. I sat and looked out over the water. The air was wet, and the waves crashed onto the shore a little more fiercely than they had the day before. I wanted to go out in it and feel the waves lap at my feet. But alas, my feet have succumbed to that dreaded side effect from diabetes--dry, cracked skin. I didn't dare.

So again today, I sat for awhile on the boardwalk and looked out into the sea, with all the little bodies splashing around while their parents sat beneath the relative anonymity of beach hats and umbrellas. It was so calm today, hardly a wave mustering up enough energy to reach up the shore to where I would have stood, had my feet been well enough.

A few more days of bandages and Neosporin and I will wade out again, daring the waves to knock me off my feet. No rocks to cling to this time, and my mother's voice--even her laughter--is too far away to hear. I guess I'll have to stand on my own.

Blessings,
Arlene

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By the Beach!




I just found out I am going to spend the summer at the beach! I accepted a position as manager of the Bethany Beach (Delaware) Camp and Conference Center. It's a church camp about two blocks from the ocean. Since I am moving this weekend, I won't be posting for a few days, but I will tell you all about it soon. I plan to work, write and hang out at the beach...

Here's the website.



Blessings,

Arlene

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Other perspectives on prayer

Prayer is the exercise of drawing on the grace of God.
—Oswald Chambers

Prayer is the place where burdens change shoulders.

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. —Mohandas Gandhi

Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer Is too small to be made into a burden.
—Corrie ten Boom

Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine.
—Kathleen Norris

Prayer cannot bring water to a parched field, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.
—"Gates of Prayer," the Reform prayer book

Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.
—Gates of Prayer

Gratitude is the highest form of prayer. It opens the door from the inside, so that we may receive the abundance which is waiting for us.
—Laurel Keyes

Faith is like a muscle, and prayer is the exercise that helps it grow.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A perspective on prayer

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

—Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A laugh and a triumph!

I finally figured out how to share a You Tube video in a post!! I'm so excited...and it only took me half a day.

This video is called, "Kitten and his box," and I share it because it made me laugh on a day when I had not intended to even smile. So, if you don't like cats...well, there's something wrong with you, but also, you don't have to watch it.

No cat-hating comments, please...I don't want to have to hurt you.

Blessings,
Arlene

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The War Prayer

My friend, Brian, posted this powerful video on the spiritual impact of war on his blog. Mark Twain wrote the poem, "The War Prayer," after the Spanish-American War, but it was published posthumously after the first World War. He agreed to not publish it until after his death because his advisors and family thougt it was too controversial.

I guess some things never change. We still can't talk about the evils of war in open public discourse. We still label war protestors, and even those who question the legitimacy of any particular war, as disloyal to the country, and worse, as standing 'against the troops. '

That's why this video* makes such a crucial statement now. Even a century later, Twains elequent words still reveal a deeply imbedded truth about us...this insidious fear of being pegged as an outsider, a troublemaker, a traitor, simply by hating a war and it's massive destruction.

As Twain said, "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."

I especially like what Twain does with the implications of praying that our side 'win'...what it means for the 'other side.' I believe we can support our troops and pray for their safety without villifying the 'enemy.' The Iraqui soldiers are sons and loved ones, too. The Iraqui civilians who live in constant mortal danger, have dreams and lives and families, too.

I pray for more diplomacy and compromise in the world...more conversations and fewer debates, more compassion and less competition, more courage to speak the truth in love and less fear of those we don't know and refuse to understand. I pray our law makers do the right thing and find a way to withdraw...for everyone's sake.

God bless the universe, and everyone in it.

Blessings,
Arlene

*(I told Brian my only complaint about the video is that the voices and illustrations are decidely 'white male'-esque. It could use some diversity in culture and gender.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

An Open letter to Rosie

Dear Rosie,

I know this letter would have been more timely had I written it last week. After all, the pundits have run out of things to say about your big fight with Elizabeth last Wednesday. (That doesn’t keep them from repeating themselves, of course.) I thought about posting a comment on your blog…but the space didn’t allow for everything I wanted to say.

To be truthful, I have been thinking about writing you a letter for years. I loved you on Star Search, in Sleepless in Seattle and in A League Of Their Own. I loved your talk show, and your crush on Tom Cruise, which I shared until he slammed Brooke Shields for taking care of herself. I loved your standup routine, your honesty about depression and your willingness to come out, even though you valued the privacy of your private life.

It’s weird how celebrity works. We think we know people we’ve never met. I feel like we might have gone to high school or college together. We’re even the same age, born exactly a month apart (my DOB = 2/21/62; your DOB = 3/21/62). We have a lot of other things in common, too—weight issues, depression, an artsy-craftsy side, and I think I could go toe to toe with you on knowing all the TV theme songs and commercial jingles of the past 40 years.

Another thing we have in common is our passion for social justice that is forged from our compassion for people. We share an ability and willingness to speak for others who cannot speak. We also have a similar penchant for getting in trouble for speaking the truth, for ‘not knowing when to shut-up.’ And while I have regretted the way I have handled some heated encounters over the years, I count it as a gift that I refuse to shut up and sit down. You, me, the Dixie Chicks, Gloria Steinhem, and many other uppity women through the centuries—we are in good company. Uppity Women Unite!

You know, I was actually there when it happened, this latest fight. I was sitting in my big chair by the TV, with The View on in the background while I worked on a freelance project that was due that day. Joy was saying something about Bush, and Elizabeth was interrupting, and all of a sudden, you asked her a question, and the two of you were into it.

I gave you my full attention, then, and I noticed something that few people are talking about. There was a lot of pain in your eyes. You were really hurt. And I don’t think it was just because Elizabeth hadn’t backed you up on Monday. I think you were hurt because you had really tried to be her friend, and you had thought friendship meant the same thing to her as it does to you. There’s another similar trait—fierce loyalty to our friends. I always have my friends’ backs, but if I can’t stand behind a friend’s actions or words, I say so, and so would you.

It was painful to watch, not because of the argument, but because of what was happening behind it. A friendship was dissolving before our eyes. I could even see pain in Elizabeth’s eyes. I’d like to dismiss her as insignificant, to put her in the same category as Ann Coulter, behind whose eyes I’ve never seen anything but ice and steel. But Elizabeth is not the enemy. She’s young and naïve and loyal to her party…so are a lot of people. But she has the potential to move beyond that and be multi-dimensional. I think you saw that, and I think part of the pain on Wednesday was realizing she wasn’t there, yet, and that you couldn’t help her achieve it without denying who you are.

So I’m sorry, Rosie…sorry you had to go through that; sorry it had to be on national TV; sorry we live in the age of You Tube, where we can see it over and over again. But I am grateful, too…grateful you had the dignity to say ‘enough is enough;’ that you had the spiritual and artistic integrity to create the video “True Colors” with your collages and Cyndi Lauper’s song; and grateful that you are surrounded by a wonderful support system of friends and loved ones—another thing we have I common—that can hold you up and carry you through to the next leg of your journey.

Blessings,
Arlene

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Spring Fever

It's such a pretty day in DC, I thought I'd share a photo I took in Spring 2004. Of course, the cherry blossoms are gone, now, but rmembering the sight of the delicate opink and white petals covering the city makes my day brighter...hope it does yours, too.

I've got more pics for you to peruse if you'd like a small distraction. There's a link to them on the left side of the screen, under the Notable Blogs links.

Oh, BTW, I've fixed the comments section so anyone can post a comment. Sorry; I didn't mean to be exclusive before, just didn't know my options. This blogging world is addictive, but there is a lot to learn.

Blessings,
Arlene

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Graduations and such

My nephew graduated from high school this weekend. That just seems impossible. He was a tiny baby in my arms when I graduated with my MA. And wasn't that just yesterday?

The family met in a park in Greencastle, Indiana that summer. I have a picture of me holding Michael. He's looking over my shoulder, sleepy-eyed, and I am looking at him. I really could swear that was just the other day!

I am sitting here staring at the computer, not sure there is much else to say. Except I love him the same as I did then. He captured my heart--it was adoration at first sight. I didn't think I could love any person more. Then his sister, Elizabeth, came along three years later. Seven years after that, her cousin, Randy was born. Well, what do you know? Love expands.

Elizabeth is quite different than Michael. She was a runner, a screetcher, and a climber as a small child. He was quieter, more pensive and intent on the task in front of him. Now, he's a straight-A student and a writer of science fantasy. She's an artist and dramatist. I think they were both born to notice everything about the world around them--and then go out ad explore the rest of it.

Randy is also smart and funny and adventuresome. He wants to adopt every animal in the world--so their house is full. Randy and his mom, Carolyn, have a special symbiotic bond. It's really cool to watch.

Could these three wonderful kids really come from my big brother and sister? I guess we are plenty old enough to have children and even teenagers. It just seems weird. When did we mature? When did we take on such overwhelming responsibilities--kids, jobs, houses...

OK, I don't have a house or kids...or a job right now, for that matter. (More on the latter in a future post.) I know these are not my kids, but since my sisters and brothers and I sort of raised each other, I just tend to feel like what's there's is mine and what's mine is therirs. Obviously, I don't mean that literally, but they are my blood and my heart.

And you know what's the best part? They are such great people that they'd be in my heart even if the blood part wasn't a factor. I got lucky with my siblings, and we got even luckier with the next generation.

Blessings,
Arlene

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers and daughters 2

Another example of the mother-daughter bond. (Sorry, this one is longer...I didn't know where to cut!!)

Blessings,
Arlene

December 12, 2004
Waiting Expectantly
Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

This time of year, when we share in Mary’s joy, we anticipate with wonder and awe the miracle of Christmas in the birth of the Christ child. But I can’t help but recall another young woman who was pregnant and homeless and facing a difficult future.

I met Marshay at a shelter in St. Louis for homeless pregnant and parenting teens when I was a student at Eden Theological Seminary. I was doing my field education work there that semester. I would go to the shelter weekly and meet with the girls around their large dining room table. They ranged in age from 13 to 17. Some of the faces would change from week to week as girls moved in and out of the house. Some left because they were able to “graduate” to another level of care—moving closer to independent living with their babies. But some would run away, others were asked to leave because they couldn’t follow the rules…they would usually go to amore restrictive environment. A very, very few were able to go “home” and live with a relative.

When the girls came downstairs for our time together, most were not happy to be there. It seemed like just one more required meeting…and they had plenty. They met with social workers and case workers, counselors and healthcare workers. They had group meetings and individual meetings; they had classes, discussions and lectures. They also went to school, some held part-time jobs and they cared for the house, themselves and their babies. They certainly weren’t impressed with me with a bible in my hand, a carefully laid out plan in my head, and naïve idealism in my heart.

So, things didn’t always go the way I had envisioned…take the night I describe here in an email to a friend…

**Tough crowd at Olive Branch tonight...it felt so right to be there.
I started out with a plan, but soon realized it wasn't going to work, so I decided to get them to talk. I asked about their day--what was the worst, what was the best that happened today? Not much response. I stumbled around awhile longer. Finally I told them this was their time. I didn't want to do something they weren't interested in.

"What do you want?" I asked them. "What are your questions?"

They just poured out.

"Why are people so stupid?"

"Why are people mean to each other?"

"Why do people have to suffer?"

One asked, "Is the world going to end by fire? Did it begin with water and it's going to end by fire?"

We looked up the creation story in Genesis 1. Yep, the world began with water and wind.

"That means it will end with fire," she said, leaning back in her chair with confidence...no fear in evidence.

I said, "Some people think so," and began to explain that Revelations is a dream...but she went on before I could get two sentences out.

"What's judgment day?"

I began to explain, "...well, some people think..."

"So no one knows what he looks like?"

"God or Jesus?" I asked.

"Either one."

"No," I said.

She looked unimpressed when she asked, "Don't know if he's black or white?"

"What do you think?" I asked, in a moment of inspiration. "What do you think God looks like?"

"Like me," she said without hesitation.

"You're right," I said, looking unwaveringly into her eyes. I think I passed her test, because she nodded as I continued. "It says God made us in God's own image, so if we are the image of God, then God is black and white and..."

"...Everything else," she said with a nod of certainty.

There was another young woman there who was not so certain. She had a lot of anger and a lot of questions "for the man upstairs," as she called God. She's not sure she believes and she does not understand why people suffer without relief. Why did those people kill her cousin? She was a good person, and they just took advantage of her goodness.

The young woman says she had faith at one time, prayed every day. "But nothing changed...it just got worse...so I gave up."

I didn't have an answer for why good people suffer, just to say that I don't think God causes suffering. "Tragic things happen in our lives and we make bad choices," I said. "And God is there to help us through it, to give us strength."

But she would have none of it. "If that's a blessing, than I've got some stuff to say to him!" I didn't push it much further. It took a long time to build up such anger and disappointment. It's not going away quickly...and it's not mine to take away.

I told them they had good questions and that it's ok to ask them. I said a lot of people are wondering the same things. I told them I will not tell them I have the answers or try to make them believe a certain way. I said we'd wrestle with the questions together.

It was time to do an activity, and I returned to my original plans. I asked them if they would write down what they are thankful for, so that I can share it at the Olive Branch Thanksgiving dinner Monday night. I told them they didn't have to if they didn't want to. With the discussion going as it did, and few of them willing to share their blessings out loud, as I had invited them earlier, I wasn't sure they would want to.

They didn't hesitate. They all participated, writing each word carefully, some of them decorating their pages in bright colors. They are thankful for their families, their babies--born and unborn--their lives, going to sleep safely and waking up.

One wrote, "When I wake up and look at all the times I could have been killed, shooted or even raped, I thank God I didn't." She's a 13-year-old with a two-month-old baby.

One wrote, "I am also thankful for myself. In other words, thankful cause God gives me the strength to care for myself when no one else does." She did not share out loud during the whole meeting.

The one who isn't sure she believes? She's thankful that her grandmother "is still alive, and whenever I am down, I can always talk to her." And she's thankful for brothers and sisters who look up to her and love her.

The one who knows she looks like God? Among other things (she wrote three pages), she's thankful for Olive Branch because "They brung me off the streets with nothing to look back on. Now I have myself and my life to attend to."

Me? I'm just thankful I was there to be in the presence of Christ. I sure don't know what I'm doing, but I'm even more sure that he does. Praise God from whom all blessings flow...**

Marshay was the one who wanted to have a talk with the “Man upstairs.” At the time, she was pregnant with a little girl. She came to class each week and wore the same chip on her shoulder, expressed the same wariness in her voice and kept the same suspicious look in her eyes whenever I spoke. But she always participated. I had decided that the best way to get them to talk and share was to bring a different craft project each week. I didn’t have to have a specific plan for what they would make with the materials I provided, because their creativity was always greater than mine anyway. Marshay made some of the most beautiful artwork and wrote some of the most profound poetry and prose.

Marshay delivered way too early and her little girl, Kyra, wasn’t able to leave the hospital. She would visit the neo-natal ICU as often as she could and continued to attend our gatherings whenever she was in the house. I made a couple of trips to the hospital myself. It was the first time I had seen such tiny sick babies. Here is how I described one visit to friends.

**Just wanted to share my experience this afternoon with you. Thanks to Gayle's encouragement, I went to Children's Hospital and visited Kyra, Marshay's baby after church. I had to face some anxieties about going--hospitals in general, children's units, ICU. I was going to wait until I knew Marshay would be there. Anyway, it was easier to get in than I thought, and the nursing staff was very kind.

When I went in, there were all these tiny babies in beds hooked up to lines and tubes. There were families at many of them. They all had the same look in there eyes--a mixture of fear and hope. No one was visiting Kyra at the time, but a nurse was feeding her. She trembled when she put the dropper in her mouth and the nurse held her hands to help stop the trembling. There were things on and around her bed that made me think of Marshay keeping vigil as much as she can...a valentine with Kyra's name, a teddy bear...

She's so tiny. She weighs about 3 pounds, now. She's stable, but the nurse said the long-term prognosis is not good. They want Marshay to sign a no-code agreement, but she won't. I asked about the blindness, and the nurse said she was to have laser surgery on her eyes, but she didn't know the results.

She was still in one of those beds with the protective glass that has those circles on the side where you can put your hands through (I don't know what they are called, and, truthfully, I've only seen them on TV). While I was there, they moved her to a bigger bed without that protective thing, so I am hoping that's a sign that she's doing better. The nurse let me touch her (after I washed my hands), and I stroked her fuzzy hair, her tiny feet, her little balled up fist...and I prayed for her and Marshay.

Normally, I pray for whatever happens to be the best thing for the person and the person's family. But this time, I just prayed for Kyra to live. Marshay needs to know that God does not take everything away that you hold dear. That's been her life experience. She is struggling so much with why do bad things happen to good people and why doesn't God answer my prayers. I just wanted her to have a reason to believe...

But on the way home, I realized it was my own faith that is in question. I want a miracle. I want to know that there is something more to this baby's life than living in that hospital bed. I admitted that to God, but I haven't changed my prayer. I still want Kyra to live. I still want Marshay to believe. And, as unrealistic as it sounds, I still want to see a miracle happen.

I left a card and a tiny stuffed lamb toy with the nurse. In the card, I told Marshay I had been there and would be back to see her and the baby. I told her that the lamb is a symbol of Jesus and that I am praying that Jesus watch over them both.

I know that even if the baby dies, there has been a purpose to her life and that God is present in our lives. I know in time that Marshay could still believe in a compassionate God. I also know that if the baby lives, she and Marshay will have a lot more struggles to go through...I know that this is hard, and I believe it's hard on God, too. I just hope that I and others in Marshay's life can convey the compassion and all encompassing love of God to her and that she can feel it and see it in her own life.

That, finally, after all my fears, doubts and anger are set aside, is my prayer.**

Kyra weighed one pound at birth. Nearly three months later, she weighed a little over three pounds. She still couldn’t breath without assistance. In my mind, I knew the nurses were right—she wasn’t going to live. But my heart was with Marshay—wanting and waiting for a miracle. Any time I asked about the baby, Marshay would give a weak smile and say, “She’s doing better.” But eventually, even she realized that Kyra’s frail little body wasn’t strong enough to sustain her soul. A few weeks after that first visit to the neo-natal unit, I went back to be with Marshay as she stayed with Kyra the night before medical personnel were to take the baby off the machines. To tell you the truth, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do that night but be present. We exchanged very few words, but Marshay asked if I would conduct the funeral. The next morning, Marshay held Kyra in her arms as the machines were turned off. The baby died a few minutes later.

At the funeral, Kyra looked like a perfect china doll in the tiny white coffin. Marshay looked up at me the same suspicion in her eyes as I delivered the eulogy. Although the room was filled, my words were just for her. I told her about the hope we have in Christ, that death does not win…that Kyra’s life, brief as it was, was not lived in vain. “God is grieving, too,” I said. “God did not want this, God does not enjoy seeing you in pain, but he is right here with you, sharing the pain. “You did nothing to cause this,” I told her. “You were a good mother.” I told her I hoped my words would make sense to her one day, some day when the pain is less sharp, the memory more a comfort than a loss.

Then I read her own words of hope in the form of a poem written about Kyra. It was an exercise from one of our weekly gatherings, a formula poem that is designed to lead the writer to better self-understanding. She wrote the first one for herself:

Marshay
Kind, caring, smart, pretty
Lover of Kyra, God and my grandmother
Who dreams of happiness, Kyra getting better and to go to college
Who needs love, family and God
Who gives love, kindness and laughter
Who fears sadness, death and my mother
Who would like to see people getting better, people being happy
and kind people all the time

Then she wrote one for Kyra:

Kyra
Strong, pretty, sweet, bless
Lover of Mom and God
Who dreams of happiness, love
Who needs attention, God and Mom
Who gives love, happiness
Who fears nothing
Who would like to se home with family

“Isn’t it wonderful,” I said, “that Kyra will never have to fear anything? Isn’t it a sign of divine love that Kyra is home with her family in God?”

Yes, when I think about Mary and her hymn of thanksgiving and joy to the Lord, I can’t help but think of Marshay. I don’t know where she is right now. I imagine that this time of year, she thinks about her little girl, her first born, Kyra. She would be about six years old, now. These poems were her own unique Magnificat, although she would never have seen them that way. I hope when Marshay looks back, she can feel a little bit of the hope that Mary expresses…that she can say with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” I hope she can see with Mary that God has “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” I hope her life is blessed.

How would your own unique Magnificat develop? What are the blessings in your life? If they do not come to mind right away, look deeper. They may appear at first as burdens, as sorrows, as anything but hopeful. Keep looking, where’s the joy in those places of despair? Where’s the presence of God in those times of fear? Look closely—is God holding you up? Nudging you forward onto an unknown path? Cautioning you from running headlong into a deadly path?

In this season of hope and love, this season of joy and peace…as we wait expectantly with Mary for the miraculous birth of the Christ child, let us each write our own Magnificat on our hearts. Let our own souls magnify the Lord and seek out new ways to express just how grateful we are for the life we have in Christ. And one more thing, share the blessings, the good news…don’t keep it a secret, tell everyone…a child will be born to us, and through him, we will be born again.

Mothers and daughters 1

I mentioned in my earlier post ('Mother's Day--mixed messages,' below) about the complexities of our relationships with our mothers. Here I share a story about dear friends Laurel and Evelyn. I wrote this as part of a sermon a few years ago after Laurel shared with me what it was like to be with her mom at the end of Evelyn's life. I had envied Laurel's relationship with Evelyn, but now I just experience it as one example of the mother-daughter bond. In the next post, above, I'll share another example.

Blessings,
Arlene

Evelyn

Evelyn lay on her bed in the corner bedroom of the house where, as a widow, she had raised her four children on her own for the past nearly 30 years. As a hospice care nurse held and stroked her hand, she tried to allow her body to relax, like the nurse kept urging.

"Come on, Ev, you can do it," the nurse was saying. But the breaths kept coming out in rasping heaves. Her body was resisting death, just like she had for the past several months.

Always strong and independent, once by necessity, later, perhaps out of habit and a bit of pride, Evelyn had resisted every step of the way. First it was giving up her car, then enduring strangers in her house saying they were there to take care of her. And then there was that blasted walker. Why did her legs keep failing her? And her mind? She kept forgetting things. Now, she could feel her body shutting down moment by moment.

She knew it was near the end, and so did her family. Two of her children were in the other room, waiting. But they had been waiting for months, as they all thought she had reached the end of this life before. They'd said their good-byes more than once. They had made their peace.

“Why do I linger?” she thought.

"Come on, Ev, you can do it," she heard the voice say above her. Was it the nurse, or God? Either way, she wished she could tell the voice, "My name is Evelyn."

She became vaguely aware that there were more people in the room, now--her youngest daughter and son. The nurse must have called them in. It must be the end, again.
Laurie watched her mother's chest move up and down and heard the loud wheezing sound coming from her mother's throat. “Is this the end, again? How many times will we have to say good-bye?” she wondered.

The labored breath sounded ragged, as if torn from her body, she thought. Could that really be coming from her mom? The nurse had told them the body does this at the end. It fights to continue, even when it's too weak to breath. In fact, the body can be so weak, it can't relax, she had told them.

Soon, the breathing changed to a quieter, more peaceful sound. It was a sign that her mom was able to relax, the nurse said. Then the sound stopped altogether. The silence was huge and overpowering in that small room, where, as a child, Laurie had run to her mother's side for comfort.

"Is she gone?" Laurie asked the nurse.

"Yes, she's gone," the nurse said.

The silence was replaced by sobs coming from her own throat and from her brother beside her. Suddenly, a loud gasp, a desperate intake of air came from the direction of the bed and it startled the two of them. She almost laughed when the nurse explained, "sometimes they do that. They take one last gasp of breath."

Clearing her throat and wiping away the tears, Laurie hugged her brother and headed for the telephone. There were a lot of people to call, arrangements to be made….

Mother's Day mixed messages

Anybody else get melancholy around mother's day? I usually go to church, or am leading church, on the day we set aside to honor mothers. First of all, most M-day sermons are full of how wonderful and self-sacrificing moms are. The preachers wax poetic about how sweet mom was, how understanding and gentle, meek and mild... Does that describe your mom? Not mine.

Most mothers are lovely women, I grant you, but aren't they just ordinary mortals? They have flaws just like the rest of us. And some moms are just not invested in the care and nurture of their chldren. There are neglectful and abusive mothers, absent mothers, mothers who are more selfish than selfless. Making it sound like all mothers are supposed to act in a certain way only heightens even the adult child's awareness that their mom didnt measure up--that there must be something wrong with them that their mom wasn't the spokes-model for Mother's Day.

I have no problem with the idea of celebrating motherhood, but I think we can honor our moms without resorting to platitudes and pleasantries. Don't our moms deserve better than a superficial flowerfest? Don't our relationships with our moms--or those who took the mom-role in our lives--go deeper than that?

And that's just addressing how we as adult children feel...what about the moms in the congregation? Many of them feel inadequate, given the false standards of a 'prefect' mom. Other women, those who either can't or have chosen not to have children feel like second class citizens, or worse--less of a woman--for not having borne children from her womb. Women who've had miscarriages can find themselves grieving all over again. Obviously, this doesn't come just from a sermon. It's more about societal pressure on women to reproduce.

I don't have the experience of being a mom, but I know it can change your life entirely--your priorities, your sense of self...it can kick start nurturing instincts you didn't know you had. All my friends who are moms are grateful to be so. But they also know that there are time of struggle: Times when they screw up; times when they need to be selfish and say "this is what I need."

I think that it is in having friends who are mothers, as well as working with children in church and as a childcare worker, that I have come to appreciate moms more, and especially my own mom and her gifts to me. (I also had a similar experience appreciating dad's more, but this is about mother's day!)

I love and admire my mom, but she was not the warm, fuzzy, greet-you-at-the-door-with-a-plate-of-cookies kind of mom. Of course, I could handle that. I didn't care that she was different. I admired her independence and freer spirit--at least as I grew up and came to understand it better. But she was, to be blunt, bordering on neglectful. She didn't hug or kiss,; she didn't say "I love you." In fact, she didn't talk at all, sometimes. I think there were times she didn't fully realize I was there. (But that could be that I'm the fourth of five, and I always felt invisible.)

And through the years, I've had the fights and the you-drive-me-crazy arguments. She's let me know I drive her crazy, too. I cut a visit short one time, because I just didn't want to talk about it anymore. I always felt like she was much more eager to tell me everything that is wrong with me than to even hint that I had the strength to make it in this world and that she had my back.

But I did my own work over the years--dealing with my demons, so to speak. My addiction to food, my depression, my PTS (Post traumatic stress from child sexual abuse--not by a member of my immediate family), my self-doubts. Eventually, I got to the point where I allowed my mom to be herself--the gift I always wanted from her. And you know what,? I just realized this weekend when I called her--She's OK with me being myself. Now I am wondering which of us offered that gift to the other first? Was I so invested in being the neglected child to notice that she had my back, but not in a way I could recognize or acknowledge?

She still drives me crazy. I am counting on the fact that she gets annoyed with me, too. Sort of maintains a balance that way.

Back to being in church on mothers day...I was grateful the congregation didn't give out a flower to all the women--or just the moms. Either way, women who can't have children, or "forgot to have children" as the old T-shirt says, feel singled out. I like the way the preacher, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Ron Hopson, put it. (I'm paraphrasing here) "Happy Mothers day to all the mothers out there, and all those who are mothers by spirit or by intent, if not by biology."

And I am grateful for Ron's sermon, which talked about remembering our moms as they really are or were--the good, the bad and the indifferent--and not try to gloss over everything and make it look idyllic. On the one hand, we are just ordinary human beings. But on the other, we are, each one of us, an unrepeatable miracle of God. It is good to honor our whole selves and our moms as they really are, not as we want them to be.

Blessings,
Arlene

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Just starting out

Hello, whoever you are. Did you find my blog by accident? Were you fooling around on the Internet and typed in something that caught Google's attention? That's how I find a lot of things on the Internet...quite by accident.

Well, however, you got here, I am glad you came. I embarked on this wild ride in bloogersville because I want to share my journey, such as it is, with you and others out there in cyberland. I thinking sharing our stories makes our paths a little smoother...if only for a moment.

I can get very philosophical, even maudlin...but I have my humorous side, too. I will try to strike a balance in my musings.

That's it, for now...my first stab at this. I'll have more later. In the meantime, if you stumble upon my little corner of the blog world, please leave your blog's or web page's url, if you have one. I'd love to share your journey, too.

Blessings,
Arlene