Sunday, December 20, 2015

What I Recall From My Week

"You haven't been posting, Mom." 

When a 16-year-old notices and mentions this, I take it seriously. It means she reads my blog and takes note of a pause in posts.  That age is hard to impress and unfailingly honest about what they think.

So, definitely time to type.

"But," I said, "I don't know what's been happening in my life."

She thought that was silly.  "You're LIVING your life.  You know what's happening!"

Oh Sweetie, you have no idea.

I can be busy all day and that evening I have a hard time recalling anything I did.

But let me try to recall a few incidents in the last week.

1. I had half an hour of heart-in-my-throat fear.

Last Sunday Ben and Emily took off for Thailand to visit Amy.  But first I packed a suitcase and a half with stuff for Amy such as peanut butter, vitamins, Party Mix ingredients, and gifts.  Then Ben and Emily filled in the rest of it with their things, so the final proportions for the two big bags were approximately:
75% stuff for Amy
20% Ben's clothes
5%  Emily's clothes

Emily is a minimalist.

Paul had found tickets for them that were quite reasonable, as overseas tickets go, if they took off from Vancouver, BC, and flew China Eastern Airways.

So the plan was to drive to Vancouver--about 8 hours I think--fly to Shanghai, China, then to Kunming, China, then to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I checked my email a few times, hoping they'd drop me a line en route, but nothing showed up.  Oh well.

On Tuesday morning I was gradually awakened to the sound of a phone ringing.

It was Amy.

She had gone to the airport to pick up Ben and Emily, and they never showed up.  Their flight arrived just fine, but they weren't on it.

And she hadn't heard a word from them either.

Oh, Reader, there is no describing what flies through your mind in a very short time when you hear such news, and how very very far away China seems at such a moment, and how utterly silent the world seems when there is No Word and No Contact and No Explanation.

Our conversation roused Paul.  He decided to call China Eastern after I located a phone number and he found the kids' itinerary.

He was still on hold when I got a message from Amy to check Emily's blog.  Hallelujah!  Words!  From the kids!  There for us to see!!

One flight was delayed, making them miss the flight to Chiang Mai, and China has a nasty way of blocking all the normal Internet means of communication.

They got there a day later, and Emily wrote about the experience, and others that followed, which you can go read.  
Right here.
Nothing else here will be as exciting as that, so you don't have to come back here if you don't want to.

2.  I had an incident that made me think of my mom and wonder if she was sending sympathy vibes from Heaven.

Mom was a very hard worker but she wasn't the most tidy and organized housewife ever, and her family didn't make it any easier for her, and she had an absolute horror of visitors seeing our house in its normal state.

Company coming required a major onslaught of cleaning, putting away, and tidying.

She had an especial horror of a big vanload of Amish relatives showing up unannounced, as the Amish were wont to do back before anyone had cell phones and most Amish would at some point hire a driver and take a Western Trip which might take them through the Midwest and our house.

The Pa. Dutch term was "gonzy loat psooch," inadequately translated a "whole load of guests," and the idea was so fearful to Mom that she would have dreams about a gonzy loat psooch showing up when the house was a mess and she was in the middle of canning applesauce or something.

Well, let's just say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Paul and I were gone for three days last week, (see #3) and as soon as we got back I focused on getting those suitcases all packed for Amy, so the new week dawned and things sort of stayed chaotic all week.

Jenny decided to decorate for Christmas, since I wasn't getting it done.  By Thursday evening there was a basket of laundry in the living room along with 3 big bins of Christmas stuff and also leaning stacks of files and papers all around Paul's recliner,  I was making Party Mix and Puppy Chow, I had half the table covered in Christmas cards in various piles, and I had just started the dishwasher but had many dishes left to wash.....
there was a knock on the door and there were our young friends Justin and Esta.  They came breezing in with a plate of cookies.
Oh.  They were out delivering Christmas cookies....??
I said, "Ummm, can you...stay a while?"
Esta said, "Oh! Did you forget that you said the missions committee can meet here tonight?"
I screamed.  I had typed up the notes for the meeting myself, and included that I had offered to host the meeting.
But I had totally forgotten, and here I was in unwashed hair and a flannel shirt with food smears, in a disastrous house.
Justin hauled bins upstairs and vacuumed.
I handed Esta a broom and went to comb my hair.
Justin put the supper leftovers in a Tupperware container.
I called Paul and said he should come home instead of visiting his mom.
Jenny said she'd watch the Party Mix in the oven.
We survived.

I asked Jesus to take away any lingering shame I felt from that Gonzy Loat Psooch moment straight out of Mom's nightmares, because He is good at that, and it really was a moment to make a Mennonite minister's wife feel like a Complete Failure.

3. I got to see and hear the Messiah.

I missed the only local performance because like Esau I chose the temporal over the eternal, in this case a Sunday afternoon nap rather than going with Ben and Jenny and our weekend guest Kayla to a concert, which I later learned included part of the Messiah, and, again like Esau, I "found no place of repentance, though [I] sought it carefully with tears."

My nice husband had been saying for some weeks that we needed to get away by ourselves for a few days, so we did some hunting online, found a Messiah performance that fit our schedule, and went to Portland for three days.

And on a rainy night we found the First Baptist Church in downtown Portland, found our seats, and took it all in.

There's nothing quite like Handel's Messiah, and to have it performed live, by an excellent orchestra and choir, and in the most beautiful old church you ever saw...well, I felt like Esau would have felt if he had received the blessing after all.

4. We went to various programs, concerts, and services locally.

Christmas isn't Christmas unless you see a pageant with little kids in it, all dressed up like sheep or angels or Mary or whatever.

And, this is the interesting thing about such things: you want choirs to be impeccable and professional.  You want big kids and adults to be polished and well-rehearsed.

But oh how you want little kids to mess up because little kids acting out the Christmas story and forgetting lines and losing their way and whispering cues to each other and pushing shepherd headpieces out of their eyes and dropping stuff and utterly messing up--that is JUST SO CUTE.

At one program, the littlest angel was all intrigued with her white robe, essentially one long piece of fabric with a hole for her head and a belt holding it together.  She grabbed the flap in front and pulled it up, laughed, flapped it around....and then her gold-tinsel halo slipped she yanked it back into place, and then while the teacher gestured and her parents telegraphed parentish looks and the other angels sang dutifully, she bent forward and deliberately let the halo fall off her head, and grinned with delight.

It was naughty and distracting and unprofessional, but it was the cutest thing I'd seen in a long time.

It made the Christmas season feel complete.

I hope your Christmas season is complete most of all with lots of Jesus and all of the grace and hope and mercy He brings.

Quote of the Day:
"I just love the Christmas season! Janane and I are doing so much stuff, it makes me feel like we almost have lives! Friday we went to the Fairview pageant, Saturday we went to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Sunday we went to Kaitlyn's concert, today we're caroling, Wednesday we're in our school play together, and Sunday we're doing something with our Sunday school class for the program! I mean, we're almost Sarah Bething!!"
--Jenny a.k.a. Miss Hyper Energy 2015
[Sarah Beth is a high-energy friend with more friends and ministry at age 18 than most of us have accumulated by age 50]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Letter from Harrisburg--Dec. 13

With time, life starts to make sense

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
DEC 13, 2015

Two of my sons stood in the kitchen the other day and discussed Christmas break, cooking, travel plans, guns, snowboarding and college.

They also talked enthusiastically about fire.

This isn’t surprising, considering their fascination with the subject when they were younger. I recall WD-40 sprayed and ignited in an upstairs bedroom, for instance, and, when I had my back turned, charcoal lighter fluid tossed onto a brush fire just to see what would happen.

But this conversation was different.

Ben, who is suddenly 22 years old and a senior in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, talked about his interest in combustion and an OSU project studying forest fires.

Steven, age 21 and finishing his first year in Chemeketa Community College’s firefighter/EMT program, was immediately interested, even though most of his academic pursuits have been far removed from Ben’s math and engineering.

So their interest converged on the subject of fire, once again, only this time they weren’t scheming a new way to put the house and their lives in danger.

Instead, they discussed — could it be? — British thermal units! “The stupidest unit of energy,” they agreed, and went on to mention smoldering combustion, fire suppression and unit conversions.

I am quite sure I was awake and not dreaming. Since then, I’ve been wondering: Why couldn’t God have made me know back then what I know now? Wouldn’t I have freaked out a bit less and stayed calm a bit more?

Back when I was calling my husband, desperate and in tears, because I just found out about the WD-40 episode upstairs — the boys thought it was all a big joke, there were black smudges on the ceiling above the top bunk, the house could have burned down, I feared the whole family was doomed to a terrible end, and their dad just had to do something right now — back then, I didn’t see this day coming.

I couldn’t look ahead 10 years and see two handsome, responsible grownups leaning on the kitchen counter and having an easy conversation about technical things I barely understand.

I would have appreciated a glimpse of this.

Yet, I know well that not nearly everything turns out this nicely. That middle ground between decisions and results is soil where tenacious regrets can sprout and grow.

Missing a Christmas concert was a small regret, as regrets go, yet I felt an oversized sadness about it.

Every year, I hope to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Nothing else quite elevates the Christmas season into its proper spiritual plane. I can never watch and listen objectively, detached or analytical. Instead, the music immerses me in sound and worship, the ancient words of hope and incarnation carried on voice and violin in an experience so beautiful that it feels irreverent to describe it.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to find a local performance that fits our schedule.

Last week was an exhausting mix of attending our daughter’s children’s-choir performances, Christmas-outreach activities at church, and selling books at two of the biggest authors’ events of the year. I was vaguely aware of the kids’ plans to attend some kind of concert at OSU on Sunday after church, but by then I was desperate for a long nap.

“Hey, Mom, you can come along if you want,” they said.

I debated briefly, and flesh won over spirit. They took off soon after lunch. I stayed home and slept.

They returned that evening with reports of an orchestra and multiple choirs, of majestic Latin pieces and beautiful sacred music, and, yes, even of selections from the Messiah including the Hallelujah Chorus, my favorite.

Exactly what my soul needed, and the only local concert like it. I had chosen to miss it, for a nap. I felt so sad about this, and regretted it so deeply, that I actually mulled Scrooge’s words in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”

I could and should have, but I didn’t. It was entirely my fault. If I had only known, I’d have chosen differently.

As a person of faith, I celebrate Christmas believing that all our questions find their answers in Jesus, in God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Even Jesus, I am told in the book of Luke, “increased in wisdom,” which I don’t begin to understand if he was the all-knowing God in the flesh, but I find it comforting. It tells me there’s a cosmic design in this painful process of accumulating wisdom rather than knowing it all at once.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I don’t have life figured out, and I need to trust my story and all its unknowns to someone who does, so that even the mistakes and regrets can turn into eventual growth.

After years of dealing with it every fall, I recognized my oversized reaction to the missed concert as a symptom of seasonal affective disorder, and immediately spent more time outside and boosted my dosage of vitamin D. I know this now; 10 years ago, I didn’t.

To my delight, my sympathetic husband offered to take me to a Messiah performance in Portland. It would be held at the First Baptist Church — the same church, I am quite sure, where, long ago when I was pregnant with our first child, I attended a daylong seminar on mothering. I distinctly recall my lack of sympathy that day for a friend who ended up in tears at her own inadequacy. I knew how to do it right, and logically, that’s how I was going to do it.

Would I really have wanted to know then all that I thought I knew, or would I have chosen to be loved and guided through years of mistakes and hard-won insights to where I find myself today, somewhat wiser and vastly more compassionate?

The day of the flaring WD-40 upstairs, I did not see that I would learn to rank calamities and stay calm through all but the worst or that I was receiving a hope and perspective to offer to younger moms in the future. I had no premonition of these two sons, so different from each other, connecting as adults on the very subject that had given me so much anxiety.

A divine author is shaping this story, I believe. Even my ignorance and floundering, my mistakes and regrets have had a purpose, and I have always been shepherded and loved.

I did not see these coming — the responsible young men, the ballooning joy, the overwhelming gratitude, the second chances, the grace. They were all a glorious surprise, my frustrating human limitations divinely transformed into the most valuable and improbable gifts.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

You're Invited

I'd like to invite you to 3 events--2 sales and 1 concert.

1. The Register-Guard Columnists' Book Sale is tomorrow--Thursday, Dec. 3, from 4-6 pm. At the RG building on Chad Drive in Eugene.

2. Joyful Noise Choir will be presenting a concert at Eastside Christian Church, (1910 Grand Prairie Road SE, Albany) on Friday, Dec. 4. Prelude music at 6:45pm; concert at 7.

3. The annual Lane Library League Author & Artists' Fair is at the Lane County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lots of interesting books and amazing artwork available here, and a % of the profits go toward expanding library services to rural areas.