Sunday, January 30, 2011

once a lonely catterpillar sat and cried

I used to not like Valentine's Day. As evidenced by this journal entry I wrote my freshman year of college:

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I don't know why it should bother me so much; it's just another day. I guess Valentine's Day is like a magnifying glass to enlargen what loneliness I have that I could otherwise overlook. I live every day single, and most of the time I'm happy with it. But Valentine's Day finds that itty bitty speck of "I want something more" and points at it, laughing. I hate the microscope of Valentine's Day, magnifying my imperfect and flawed emotions and relationships. I don't have a man. I don't have someone to send me flowers through CPO and tell me my hair smells good. There is no masculine arm around my shoulders and no one looks dreamily into my eyes across a plate of chicken nuggets in the cafeteria. I am single. And on Valentine's Day I feel like couples look on me with pity, as if I have the plague.
"Look at the leper," Brenda Sue says to Maurice.
"Don't touch," Maurice says, holding Brenda's hand. "She's one of them."
Then I can hear Brenda Sue distastefully click her tongue and mutter "poor thing" as they turn away to gorge themselves on candy hearts.
I'm single. Saying that on Valentine's Day carries the same ring to it as walking down the streets proclaiming, "Unclean!" What can I do to comfort myself on Valentine's Day?

Following this entry is a tiny candy heart drawn in the corner, with the words written in it, "YOU SUCK."

If Present Me were to visit Past Me (who, at the time would be Present Me and Present Me would be Future Me), Past/Present Me would think Present/Future Me was some sort of pastry-puff shell filled with fluffy cream filling, because I, Future Me then who is now Present Me, like Valentine's Day.

Some people, and with every right, think Valentine's Day is a bunch of hooey. They argue, why have a single day to celebrate love when every day should be an example of cherishing one another? I think this is true. We should live every day in appreciation of our loved ones, showing them how much we treasure them with little post-its on their mirrors and flower petals by their cereal bowls. Aw.

But there's a day to sit down and be thankful, when shouldn't we be thankful all year round? And there's a day to celebrate Jesus' birth and His resurrection, when shouldn't we be celebrating Immanuel, He's ALIVE, all year round?

We are, and we do, in fact. But these days let us do it with a little more pizazz, and a lot more food.

So I like Valentine's Day. Maybe because it's just another excuse to bake cupcakes and make pink frosting, like people use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to get drunk on green beer. I like love. I like hearts. I like sugar.

Past Me is writhing on the floor clasping her throat in agony, as with every word I kill just a little bit more of her.

I don't have a significant other, and, actually, I never have over Valentine's Day. But I do have people I love, and I do have a heart, so why not put it on paper and send it off? Who says V-Day has to be specifically saved for romance?

(Actually I think "romance" is in the very definition of Valentine, but life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter, so don't bring around a cloud and rain on my parade.)

From now until Valentine's Day I plan to think of all the things and people I love, and why I love them and am grateful for them, and I will do it all while eating heart-shaped cookies. WITH SPRINKLES.
Thursday, January 27, 2011

the war

forgotten baking powder + no non-stick spray + an oven that doesn't read correctly =

Cinnamon Mocha Coffee Cake, 2011

I call it "Blitzkrieg Bread."

See the resemblence?:

Weilun, Poland, 1939
Oh, Taste of Home, please don't be disappointed in me.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

they'll know we are Christians by our love

This week I’ve been nannying for twin 6-month-olds. On my route, I pass a junk yard with a big yellow and red sign that says,


Do people in junk yards have some correspondence with God that we folk living on the other side of the rusty fence don’t?

Scene: Junk yard.
Man in overalls sits on a chipped blue pickup, eating Vienna sausages.
Voice of God: "Bert, I'm coming on June 3rd. No one else knows. Send a vague message about it to the world. Use red and yellow paint, if possible."

Little known fact: When Jesus came the first time, the angels appeared to the shepherds with signs that said,


(used with object)

give notice, advice, or intimation to (a person, group, etc.) of danger, impending evil, possible harm, or anything else unfavorable

Ah ha, precisely the method I'd use to describe this man's coming who died for us his first time around because he loved us so much. And this collaborates well with the billboard on I-65 that says,


So we know it’s a fact. And that's a comforting thought.

Let's just skim over all the 365 times in the Bible that God tells us not to fear.

Because the parking is limited on the street where I work, I’ve had to park in the closest parking I could find: A Presbyterian church’s parking lot. I’m thankful for church’s generosity and charity and general open-arm-ed-ness. I’ve never felt unwelcome at a church I’ve visited.

Except for today. I found this on my windshield:

#1, there were 2 inches of snow on the ground and ZERO cars in the parking lot. ZERO.
#2, it wasn’t a Sunday, or a Wednesday night, and did I mention there were ZERO cars in the parking lot?
#3, orange is such an abrasive color, as if I could hear them shouting at me and being angry.

Scene: Church secretary’s office.
Enter: Pastor in tweed suit with leather elbow patches, feeling bored and territorial.
“Hey Barb.”
Secretary with horn-rimmed glasses looks up from her typewriter and snorts.
“Have you seen that car that parks itself out in our parking lot?”
“You mean the only one out there, where otherwise there would be absolutely no vehicles except for that one?”
“Yes. Put a note under the windshield wiper that this lot is for church parking only.”
The secretary’s acrylic nails start typing.
“Oh and Barb?”
“Make it orange.”

So far this week, the Christians I've come in contact with from afar have made me feel a.) very afraid of Jesus, and b.) very afraid of churches. Little known fact: After Jesus told His disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, He actually ended by saying, "And if at all possible, make them never, ever want to have anything to do with Me."
Monday, January 17, 2011

we'll follow the Old Man wherever He wants to go

I cried a lot before, during, and after graduation. There are several pictures of me during the ceremony that my brother took across the aisle, where I'm looking despondent and sad. He thought my forlorn expression was funny. I don't remember anything the commencement speaker said, not because he was boring (which he was), but because I was graduating, and I didn't want to be, and no speaker however entertaining would have captivated my attention.

On my way to the playground at camp this summer, a woman from behind me asked if I went to Asbury. The draw-string bag with "ASBURY COLLEGE" written on the back must've given it away. I told her I had just graduated, and she said she graduated in 1991.
"Did you love it?" She asked.
"I did. I was sad to leave."
She looked very serious and somewhat absent as she said, "Yeah, the year after I graduated I was just sort of lost."
I smiled empathetically. "Yeah, I'm afraid nothing will ever be as good as college."
She looked even more absent as she said, "Hmm," and nothing more.

I was not encouraged.

I realized as I sat on my bed (which is on the floor and much closer to the spiders, I realized yesterday (and so did the spider)) that I am lost. People have been asking me, "What are you doing back in Wilmore?" And I truthfully answer them, "I don't know." I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going. I have no goals or ambitions or ideas. I thought about that woman's words at camp and I realized I, too, in the year after graduation, am lost.

At first this realization scared me. As if I was taking a stroll with my head down, watching my feet step one in front of the other, and when I looked up nothing was familiar, and I realized I'd lost my way. And maybe night was falling, and it was getting colder, and the wind made my voice disappear as soon as I opened my mouth. Lost.

Then I started thinking of other times I've gotten lost. The time Courtney and I were in Massachusetts and took a wrong street that ended up leading us to an antique book store where I found an 1868-edition of a Louisa May Alcott novel that matched two others I owned. Or the time five of us traveled on foot in suburban Boston in search of our car, and shared a ride with a sweet old lady and an Arab named Milton on their way home from church. Or when Courtney and I had no idea where the road through the center of Concord led and ended up parking across the street from Old North Bridge, where the Revolutionary War began, and I stood on the very ground I had read about in history class.

The things you most remember about trips are the things you hadn't planned on, the things that went "wrong," the things that forced you to be innovative and creative, and made you realize it's much more fun when things aren't what you expected.

I don't know where I'm going. But I intend to enjoy it as much as I can, because one promising thing about the times I've been lost: I either always arrive home again, or someplace new becomes home to me. Either way, I come home.

“Courtney and I are most at home when we have no idea where we’re going.” – journal entry, 3/21/2009
Friday, January 14, 2011

the land of if only

Now that she's not here anymore, I miss cooking and baking with my mom. I miss being in her kitchen and feeling like it was my kitchen, too, that it was ours together, with the difference that she had decades of experience and knowledge to pass down to me. I miss learning from her and creating with her.

Now that he's not here anymore, I miss playing my guitar with my dad. I miss hearing him say, "Can I show you something?" and then taking my guitar from me to show me what 45 years of playing can do to my fingers. I miss hearing our guitars play together on Sunday mornings, and feeling proud that he taught me.

I think I can hear my neighbor snoring at night. I'm not sure, but there's a grinding sound that comes through the wall at regular intervals, and I know it's an older couple who lives next door, so I think it's a very likely possibility.

Which adds a nice bass line to the soprano schizophrenic cat that sits exactly below my window and meows, just meows, meows, until I open my window and it scampers off. The other night it growled for about 10 minutes. Just because. I don't know what the voices inside its head are telling it. And I don't know why it has to sit beneath my window while it has these conversations with itself.

I can't really say why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
but in the end, the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself
                   - The Weepies
I think that last part is baloney, because I don't think I would be able to take many steps by myself. But it's true that wherever I am I seem to want to be somewhere else, only to look over my shoulder and wish I was back where I came from.

I don't want to do this anymore.

New Year's resolution (2 weeks late): I want to have eyes that look for the good things I have in my life, wherever I am. I want to recognize the blessings I have and give thanks for them. I want to not want so much.
"Only he who gives thanks for the little things receives the big things. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Friday, January 7, 2011

I, 65, take you, Heather....

I cried as I said goodbye to my family yesterday. At first it was because I was leaving home and people I love. But then I started thinking about all the soldiers who have left their families and homes and I started crying even harder. Outer Me: "Bye, Mom." Inner Me: "All those men in World War II lost their lives!"

I've been watching a lot of WWII documentaries and movies recently.

On my drive, I hit traffic just on the other side of Chicago. Then I saw a sign - you know, the kind that look like giant Lite-Brites - that said,


I thought maybe it was overreacting, so I continued to I-65. There were a bunch of people driving the same direction, so I conveniently forgot the warning sign and based my actions on what everyone else was doing (a wise way to live life).

Then I saw another Lite-Brite, and when I looked in my rear view mirror, there were absolutely no cars behind me. I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie and either zombies were coming to get me, or I was a zombie, or the rapture had happened. So I decided to do what I always do in time of crisis: I called my mother. She looked up an alternate route (and told me the rapture had not occurred), and I got off somewhere in Indiana. I reached for the GPS my father had named Betty and had given to me because he got a better one, and programmed in my route. Betty kept trying to get me back on I-65, and I kept telling her No, moron, I'm trying to avoid I-65!

Mom told me to take 2 to 231 and rejoin I-65 in 40 miles. Seems simple enough, doesn't it? It did until my dyslexic mind somehow translated 231 to 321, and I traveled a couple of miles in some direction hoping to see a sign. I looked over at the GPS and the little blue triangle that was supposed to be my car just spun in circles while flashing, **OFF ROAD**. I just shook my head and sighed, "Oh, Betty."

Luckily I had just created a playlist before leaving home entitled, "It's Okay That It's 2011," because I was sad to put away all my Christmas music. Doris Day and Frank Sinatra could make getting lost in Mordor a desired experience.

Doris: It's a lovely day today, so if you're going to be destroying a Ring, I'd be so happy to be doing it with you....

At one point as I sat at a red light and opened up a Reese's peanut butter cup, a mac truck turned onto my road and nearly clobbered my car. I actually had the thought, "At least I would have died eating a Reese's peanut butter cup." I would've wanted that as my epitaph.

And at a Flying J somewhere on 231, I discovered my mom had snuck a gift card to Panera into my wallet. Oh boy! I will always remember you, Flying J in Indiana, for that special moment. For the cleanliness of your bathrooms, however, not so much.

When I finally took the ramp to get back on the interstate, I wimpered, "65, I've missed you so much!" I rejoined just in time to drive through the stretch I like to call Whither the Windmill, and they waved goodbye to me as if they knew I was leaving for good.

My car (whom I named Dule, after Dule Hill, from Psych, of course), does not have cruise control. After it had gotten dark and I was only a couple hours from my destination, I passed a cop sitting on the side of the road and glanced at my speed to see I was going 15 over the speed limit. I assure you, this was completely accidental, and must have just developed, because I was very careful to maintain a proper speed the entire way. I resigned myself to getting pulled over, and imagined how the conversation would go:

Policeman Paul ('cause once when my mom thought someone was breaking into our house at 2 a.m., she called the cops and one of the officers that came had a nameplate that said P. Thomas, and he was very attractive, so I decided as I sat in my pajamas while he looked through our house that his name was Paul, and if I had to get pulled over, I would want it to be by him): Do you know how fast you were going, Ma'am?
Me: Yes, sir.
Policeman Paul: Could I see your license and registration, please?
At this point I would start crying, because

a.) the car wasn't registered in my name yet, since I had just bought it and didn't have the chance to change it,
b.) I don't even know where the registration is!
c.) my leg was aching after driving for 8 hours, and I'm scared of getting a blood clot,
d.) I've just left home for the first time, and
e.) so many men died in WWII.

Then Policeman Paul would let me off with a warning, since I'd never gotten a ticket before, and because he took pity on my poor little emotional self. He'd probably leave me by patting the roof of my car and saying, "Get yourself some help." Then I would drive off sniffling and vowing to buy war bonds.

I checked my rear view mirror for at least 15 minutes to make sure the cop wasn't tailing me to pounce just when I thought I was safe. But he didn't, and I escaped without a ticket. Dule breathed a sigh of relief.

Note to self: When alone in a new place feeling homesick and scared about the future, it is not a good idea to watch a war movie. I don't think war has ever been a suggested cure for anxiety.
Sunday, January 2, 2011

more than auld lang syne

I think I only wrote my grandmother two letters while I was in college, but she loved them. She told people who came to visit her that they were beautiful letters. At my grandfather's funeral, one woman I'd never met told me that my grandma was so proud of me.

I wish I had written her more letters.

I realized in her last couple of years that I had wasted so much time I could've spent with her. And I tried to make up for it in the few visits I had with her, sitting at the feet of her recliner and asking her questions about growing up, meeting Grandpa, and the Great Depression.

I wish I had started a lot sooner.

When my grandmother died in 2009, the part of history that was her life was buried next to my grandfather in a cemetery in Ohio. Nobody felt with her heart or saw with her eyes. Nobody experienced the joy, pain, fear, and triumph she experienced, because nobody lived her life but her.

I wish I had gotten to know her better.

I don't know what good writing about history will do. I don't know how it'll help further the kingdom of God, or how it will bring people to Jesus. I struggle with the intense desire I have to write the stories of those in the past - in an attempt to hear a heartbeat that ended before we had the chance to know its rhythm - and the intense desire I have to follow Jesus into the present world of hurting people who need His light and truth.

What do you do with two so completely different desires?

How do you tell people that, while you got your degree in Creative Writing & History, you'd rather go to seminary than write a novel?

And how do you tell yourself the same thing, when suddenly you realize you want both?

So I begin my 23rd new year just as confused as ever about what I'm supposed to do with my life. Though these things I cling to for stability, that the Lord will fulfill His purpose for me (Psalm138:8), and that tomorrow there will be football.

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