Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hidden Figures in the Audience at Hidden Figures

A continuation of last week’s blog…..

After church was over I had a hot date with my youngest granddaughter to go see Hidden Figures.  It’s a brand new movie and I can’t say enough great things about it. Go see it.

This is the true story of the black women who calculated the trajectory of the rockets who took the early space explorers into space.  Their story has only recently been told.  To think that these women were performing such intricate calculations by hand before computers is mind-boggling and to think this job was held by not just women but black women back in the early 60’s during the civil rights movement makes my head spin. This story is too good to pass up and I wanted to be the one to make sure Elisabeth, a high school sophomore,  got to see it.  Of all the stories and experiences teenagers get bombarded with today I wanted her to see women excited about math and where that excitement can take you.

Sarah had her own hot date with her aunt to plan her graduation trip so she couldn’t join us.  Instead their mother came. 

The movie was a voyage back in time to the 1960’s with the vintage clothes and cars but I kept watching the calculators they used because they were the same ones I used when I worked in the Actuarial Department at Union Bankers Insurance Company in 1967.  They were big, burly things with ten buttons across and then up and down.  After pressing all the buttons you needed and hit enter there would be a few seconds where electrical and mechanical wonders would dance around then you would get an answer. Upstairs on the sixth floor at work we had an IBM computer like the one they showed in the movie.  It took up the whole floor and required its own air-conditioning system.

So this stuff really happened.  It was a long time ago.  And, yes, I guess I am old now.

Union Bankers Insurance Company was also considered very avant garde back then for a couple of reasons.  It was owned by a husband and wife but the wife was the brains of the operation. One of the early women leaders of Dallas, Margaret Brand Smith was the president of the company.  Our building (which still stands at the end of Deep Elum St in downtown Dallas) was painted pink.  Yes.  Pepto Bismol Pink.  Mrs. Smith always said that if she was the president of the company she got to pick what color they painted the building and she wanted it pink so it was pink. (Sadly, somebody has since bought out Union Bankers and the building is gray now.)

The company also employed a black woman in one of the departments and she held a position of authority and it was done with such grace that I remember very little about it.  In fact, I often forgot that she was black.

I digress.

When we got to the theatre most of the seats were filled and the theatre was already dark.  After we sat down four black women came and sat next to me.  I couldn’t see clearly but something in the dark told me the women were about my age.  It was one of those movies that elicited vocal expressions occasionally and almost immediately my seatmate and I began softly responding to the movie.  Beyond merely a laugh or chuckle here or there, we found ourselves harrumphing, clucking and clicking throughout the movie.  Once we stomped our feet.   There were a couple of indignant “No, you didn’t!” moments and once I couldn’t help myself and softly blurted out “Moses!” in one scene to which she whispered back “Leading her people….”  It was the closest thing to having a conversation with each other as you can get with a total stranger when you’re not supposed to be talking with in a movie.

When the movie was over (with applause) and everyone stood I turned to my neighbor and told her I had enjoyed sharing the movie with her.  The theatre was still dark but I thought I could detect gray hair.  “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”  “62” She said.  I told her I’m 69.  “I remember when that happened, she said softly.” “So do I,” I replied .

That was all we were able to say.  My people were walking off in one direction and hers in the other.  We parted as new friends who would never see each other again.

The whole experience was so much more multi-faceted than I ever expected when I first planned taking my granddaughter to see a movie about girls and math.

I want to pause here for my younger friends who may not appreciate the moment in the way my movie buddy and I understood it. In 1961 when the movie took place, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things—she and I would not have even been allowed to sit next to each other in that theatre.  It would have been against the law.  Think on that one for a minute.

The other emotion that surprised me came in the car while I busied myself with my seat belt and worrying about how all the other cars in the parking lot were moving around. It sneaked up on me and brought me to tears and I had to stop was I was doing. 

The whole point of this endeavor—beyond the math, beyond the race factor, the office politics, the international and national politics—the one simple objective of all the analytical geometric calculations these people made with their clunky calculators and advanced mathematics was one simple goal--and that was for John Glenn to die in bed as an old man and not in the middle of the air in the prime of his life.  And that had happened only two weeks before.  John Glenn died on December 8 at the age of 95. 

He had that greatest luxury any of us will ever have.  He got to grow old. And the women of Hidden Figures gave him that luxury.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Going Home

I’ll have to admit I’ve been a real poopie-pants since the election.  And that’s putting it mildly. 

This election was supposedly “in the bag” so the outcome was a shock and to some of us it was a shock on the level of 9/11 except that only half of the nation was sad and the ones who were sad had to contend with the ones who were not.  Then, to make matters worse, the ones who were happy seemed to spike the ball in the end zone by being kind of mean about it and overbearing to the marginalized people and that made the rest of us even sadder and more worried about the future. 

I had to stop hanging around the people who had asked me if I intended to “vote for that baby killer” because I just couldn’t be around them in my sadness.  Then the holidays arrived and whole families faced having different philosophies and personalities forced into an always stressful occasion sometimes adding booze to the mix.  About the only thing I had to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving was that in my family, at least, we were all of one political mind.

I spiraled into a deep funk.  I couldn’t bear to watch television.  My old favorite news commentaries had turned into funeral dirges.  The only thing that kept me from going mad was binge watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls.

It got so bad I started to wonder if I needed professional help.  When I consulted the closest thing I have to a therapist at the moment—a spiritual director—she mostly told me to move over and went on to describe the meetings she had been to where people were in tears over the election.  But then spiritual people do tend to be more on the liberal side.

I tried a number of things I thought might help.  This ran the gamut from buying a bunch of books on meditation to making a list of the top three things I worried about under Donald Trump and trying to force myself to concentrate on just those three. Somebody cooked up a Womens March on Washington with a Texas version to march on Austin and I planned to go to that.  I did as many proactive things as I could think of and I still stayed in a real funk. The last two months have been a real bummer.

Then came New Years’ Day and for some reason that did the trick.  I turned the corner.  But it wasn’t just the calendar page that did it.  It was that age-old trick:  I went to church. But not just any church.  I went home.

Home is the only way to describe it. We only moved away about four years ago.  Until then we lived in Garland and raised our girls in the First Presbyterian Church for over 30 years.  When we went back for  Christmas Eve services I noticed how comfortable I felt.  I don’t mean just physically comfortable in the pew or social comfortable among old friends.  I mean spiritually comfortable.  Most of my spiritual growth happened there—inside the walls but more importantly inside the relationships with my fellow members and inside the pages of the bible I read and studied as a young mother.  I found myself sitting in the same spot I sat in for three decades as I chewed on some of the basic concepts of Christianity that are now second nature to me. You might even say this is where I really became who I am today.

I went back on New Years’ Day mostly because Raelee Gold was singing.  That’s the other thing:  I’ve been part of this church long enough now to watch an entire generation grow up.  I remember Raelee’s birth and baptism and I remember my promise to God and her parents.  I promised to love her and teach her about Jesus.  The loving part was always easy.  In order to teach her about Jesus I spent summers at youth events and once took her to the Gulf Coast to show her how to help clean up after a hurricane.  And now she is grown up and in grad school studying voice.  Even though she lives in Princeton, New Jersey now  she always sings for the congregation when she comes to town for the holidays.

Here's the youtube link if the video isn't working-- link  It should be noted here that the accompanist for Raelee in the video is  Hunter Williams who is also a child of the church and a high school senior, another one I have promised to love and teach. The man taking the video is Raelee's father, who  never took lessons in videography, whose baptism I never attended and therefore didn't promise a thing but love nonetheless.

But I forgot that I would get a bonus when I went to Garland because on the first Sunday of the month Garland throws all their special effects out and has a worship extravaganza of the most awesome sort. 

First, you need to know that over the last ten years or so the Garland church has had a growing group of folks from other countries in their membership.  When Mercy and Divine Kuja, from Cameroon, joined the church, it kind of sealed the deal.  The year their son was born he was our baby Jesus in the church nativity that Christmas and you can’t get any better theology than having your baby Jesus be the child of Divine and Mercy. The Cameroon contingent has now grown to include around thirty members plus their children.  Recently a few folks from Nigeria joined them so now we call them simply the Africans.

Then a group of Presbyterians from Pakistan approached the church and asked if they could use our building to meet in.  After a few years they ended up just joining the church.  So now there are about 20 Pakistani Presbyterians who are members. 

So, on the first Sunday of the month Garland pulls out all the stops and celebrates this quadra-cultural congregation with an Anglo, Pakistani, Cameroon, Nigerian Presbyterian Communion service, many wearing colorful ethnic robes, it is just the most magnificent thing you’ve ever seen.  It is, in fact, the best depiction of the Kingdom of God I’ve seen inside the state of Texas yet.  Rev Oliver Jamshaid and his gang sing something in Urdu and play the strangest musical instrument I’ve ever seen or heard that looks like a big bread box and sounds like an accordion.  He assists Rev. Paul Burns, a good Scot Presbyterian if there ever was one, in Communion and says parts of the service in Urdu. 

But it is the African Offering that steals the show.  We’ve been doing this for over four years now and not only are the staunch Anglos used to it we love it.  We don’t merely accommodate it, we embrace it with smiles from ear to ear, doing our best “frozen chosen” version of dancing up the aisles to bring our offering, following the African members beating the drums and singing:

Up on the mountaintop,

Down in the valley below

Go and spread the love of Jesus

Go and spread it everywhere.

If you want a taste of the rhythm, you can go to a video of Juliette Mofor teaching it to our Women’s Retreat back in 2015.  Here’s the link: 

So, we’ve been trained.  We’re experienced.  And we love this song. 

As I was dancing up the aisle, my oldest dearest friend Linda Peavy danced by and hugged me and asked if I had come to see Raelee.  The offering was a great social opportunity for hugging and smiling.  I’ve never seen a bunch of Presbyterians enjoy an offering so much in my life.

The service ended with the congregation singing ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ and I remembered that I came here originally to hear an angel sing but I got so much more than that in the bargain.  And right there at the end, after Liz Harris-Kay added the descant to the hymn turning it into a heavenly moment, Margaret Ball played the zimbalstern part on the organ.  One was tempted to look outside because you would bet you could see snow falling.  The sound of the zimbalstern does that to you. My soul was content.

I have been healed. 

It is a new year. As the Benediction, the pastor started the congregation on a series of studies of the Ten Commandments for the new year starting with “Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”  I realized  what a great sin of distrust I  had wallowed in to doubt the future when I knew all along the future is in God’s hands. Later that week It occurs to me we survived Nixon and that helped.

Next week:  I go to the movies.  Homework:  go see Hidden Figures.  Or read up on the movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Re-Boot 2017

On May 26, 2016 I wrote a blog post sending myself “on vacation” so to speak.  Until that time I had been writing on a weekly basis for the last ten years without missing a week except for the odd hurricane here or there.  I also produced some pretty good words.  Some very forgettable ones, too.  But, all in all, it was a productive time for us all.

While on “vacation” I’ve posted mostly when the mood struck.  I have felt no obligation.

It turns out that was a bad thing.

In 2015 my birthday was on Thanksgiving Day and I felt especially Thankful that day.  I went out to the labyrinth and ask God what I could give to God as my birthday gift. I walked and waited.  I started worrying that since I was feeling so extremely thankful and so willing to do anything God asked that God would ask me for something really big, some dramatic act like giving up Facebook. But fair is fair and God had given me so much that I knew I was going to have to grant any request God ask for. 

About mid-walk the answer came so clear there was no doubt in my mind that it was from God.  It wasn’t quite the James Earl Jones voice that I sometimes have heard in the past but it was a clear word-by-word sentence spoken clearly:  “I want you to write for an hour a day for six months.” I was so relieved that I didn’t have to give up Facebook that I accepted the assignment with joy.

It wasn’t until I actually tried sitting down for an hour and writing non-stop that I realized how hard the assignment was.  I think I may have lasted two days.  Then the writing dropped off for a week.  I crawled back to the keyboard and resolved to just write something, anything, no matter how long, every day.  That lasted for about two months.  Maybe three.  In short, I never made my six-month commitment.  Not even writing for any amount of time.  I couldn’t even keep a commitment to write for five minutes a day for six weeks. I’ve re-started this about three times. I’ve prayed about it.  I’ve chastised myself over it.  This is a commitment I made to God, a totally no-risk contract between myself and God and I couldn’t keep it.  How low can a person get?

This year on my birthday I went back to the labyrinth.  I asked for clarification.  And I got nothing.  It wasn’t quite like God had stopped speaking to me in a mad fit, it was more like the simple instructions were just that and God had nothing more to add or subtract.  The request remained there on the table: “I want you to write for an hour a day for six months.” I got the impression that the clock was still available and the six-month period didn’t have to start any particular time, that I hadn’t blown my chance, there was still time to complete the assignment. 

And I haven’t figured out why this is so hard for me. Aside from the ADD thing, I mean. If you ask anybody with ADD to do anything for an hour straight you will get the same heebie-jeebie reaction of bugs crawling over their skin.  That’s a pretty big factor. 

So, in one last ditch attempt to fulfill what God wants me to do I’m going to re-interpret God’s original request to mean just “write a lot.”  OK?  From the very specific “I want you to write for an hour a day for six months” to just “write more.”  Maybe the Ever-Patient, Always-Willing-to Negotiate and Loving-Parent God will take what God can get. God was willing to negotiate with Abraham so maybe I can whittle God down a little.

So, now I intend to get back to work on a weekly basis on the chance that someone out there will be waiting on Wednesdays-- a human because human reactions do better for me than divine ones, divine reactions being a bit haphazard at best even when they are angelic and/or written in neon.  If God wants me to be a dependable writer I will need dependable schedule. So, I’m going back to the old schedule and I’ll see what the Holy Spirit thinks about it.

This morning I picked up one of my Christmas books, Thomas Friedman’s latest—Thank You for Being Late.  I’ve been a big fan of his writing and philosophies for a long time-ever since he popularized the concept of globalization in his book, The World is Flat. 

There it was on page four:  He quotes Dov Seidman “When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops.  But when you press the pause button on human beings they start…to reflect, you start to rethink your assumptions, you start to reimagine what is possible and, most importantly, you start to reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs.  Once you’ve done that, you can begin to reimagine a better path.”

I’m going to try to take Tuesdays to pause and then write during that pause. Then I’ll post it here on Wednesdays. I'm thinking a 4 p.m. deadline will help keep me focused.   I’ve got a couple of things to talk about already.  See you then.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The All Saints Day Fight Song

Being All Saints Day I went for a stroll on the labyrinth to think of my saints.  There are a lot of them.

For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!

I went to two of the hardest funerals of my life this year.  Ardyce Schmidt died in February and Brad Phillips died in September, six months apart.  They were loved more than most people I will know in my life.  To have two people like that die in one year brings up a lot to think about on All Saints Day.

Ardyce had battled cancer for years and it was a familiar enemy to her. She had done breast cancer walks for years but when the end finally came she was ready.  There was a steady stream of loved ones at her bedside who had a chance to say their goodbyes.  Brad, on the other hand, was far too young and healthy to die of brain cancer.  His death came fast and furious.  It was a battle between two strong enemies.  But in Brad's case, the disease won. And a lot of people were angry at God.

Throughout their battles, both of these saints held tight to their faith.  They inspired everyone they met.

Thou wast their rock , their fortress, and their might;Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;Thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.Alleluia!  Alleluia!
I sang as I walked the labyrinth and the morning clouds hung overhead but when I got to that line the sun broke through and shone as brightly as the noon hour brings a clear sky.  I could only cry at God's touch on my walk. Their one true light had become mine also.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.Alleluia! Alleluia!

It's good for us to set aside a day like All Saints Day to take a little time to think of these saints--both the ones who died in the past 12 months and the ones who were important to us in the years past.  Sometimes saints in our past can be inspirational to us in present circumstances.  "If they can do it I guess I can, too......."

I especially thought of Ardyce's husband Ron when I saw the video someone shot at Brad's funeral.  Since he was the marching band's half-time announcer the band wanted to play for him at his memorial service.  At the reception they played a collection of tunes outside the church on the grass, including the school's fight song. No doubt people driving past had no idea a funeral was going on inside the church nor would anyone ever see a memorial service like this one again. But, of course, that was what make Brad so special.  I thought of Ron Schmidt because he would have loved it as much as Brad. Ron had been the drum major of his high school marching band.

To make the move even more poignant, my two granddaughters who were baptised in that church and loved Brad as Godchildren are in the band so it became a double honor for them to play for him.

The death of these two guys got me to thinking what a drum major Jesus is and I could just picture Jesus leading the parade into heaven with a drum major's baton held high, stepping high, victory his, leading us all to glory.

At the very least, we are reminded of that last line in the song for today:
Because sometimes you need a trumpet blast singing your fight song loud and clear-
to give you courage
to give you direction
to remind you that you are loved
and that you can make it

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thank you God for our drum majors.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I'm Taking Names .

I just came in from cutting down a tree.  Not just any tree mind you.  This one was huge, a foot and a half across.  I’m not sure how old it was but it was old enough that it had moss growing on it.  If this tree had been anywhere else poets might have chained themselves to it to save its life but in this case it was on my land and in my way and I have plenty more. It was in my way so I cut it down. 

I’m feeling pretty feisty nowadays.  We’re about to have a woman president and stuff like that always makes a girl feel powerful.  I used to say that there’s nothing like a chainsaw to make a woman feel powerful but now we’ll have a president to make us feel even better.

I’m tired of this election being about some buffoon with bad manners when it should be about an historic moment when we elect our first woman to be in charge of our country.  And one of the reasons it burns me up is that it takes the glory away from so many of my female predecessors who have waited for this moment --waited patiently, followed all the rules, found a woman who has put in her time, served two terms as a Senator, served as the Secretary of State and been found to be qualified by every endorsing entity out there. We have been patient.  We have followed the rules.  It’s our turn. 

I’ve been driving around with a Clinton bumper sticker on my car for two years, folks. I’ve been pulled over by the cops three times, rear-ended once and had someone dent the hood of my car with their fist in the Walmart parking lot. I have displayed the composure of a saint through it all—after all, Hillary’s reputation is being tied to my own good manners.  I represent the countless women who have been ignored and abused for no reason.  Like generations of women before us we have been conditioned to keep our cool.

But now it’s time to act.  It’s time to vote.  Early voting in Texas starts October 24th. Grab your bumper sticker and head on down to the county courthouse, fire station or school. Don’t forget your registration and your ID.
Here’s something else I’m taking:  I’m taking a list of women I want to remember when I cast my vote.

It’s nothing more than a gesture but it will be a way of having them there with me, allowing them to be part of this historic moment.  I feel like I somehow owe it to those women to take their names with me as I mark my ballot this year.  When I step up to vote this year they will go with me.

Let me tell you who I will be thinking of when I mark my ballot to elect a woman to lead our country for the first time in history:

I will be thinking of Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Roosevelt,  Abigail Adams, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sacagaweja, Anita Hill, Coretta Scott King and Helen Kelsoe. 

You’ve probably heard of most of those women except for Helen Kelsoe.  She was our neighbor across the street who mentored me as a young girl.  She was a strong woman who worked as a legal secretary and hosted the neighborhood rug rats at her house when I was growing up. After my mother died when I was a teenager she was a good source of estrogen wafting over me when I needed it.  She showed me how a strong woman can take control of her life and not whine about things.  She taught me to think about the world and God and a lot of complicated things.  She also taught me to think twice before you try to fix your refrigerator door by taking it apart yourself because if there are tiny springs involved you will never get that sucker put back together.

As I cast my vote I will remember my grandmother Fannie Anderson Stuart, who always voted the way Tom told her and never learned how to drive a car but did have her own checking account, a radically progressive thing for women in 1940.

And my great grandmother, Jane Hash Stuart, who was informed at lunchtime by her husband to ready the family for a trip from Texas to California and was good to go by the next morning, earning her the nickname I have inherited with honor, “Janie Go.” 

I will remember my other grandmother Bertha Kolb Kuhn who supported herself and two children as a widow before social security was invented.

I’ll think of Beaven’s grandmothers, Hattie Eiseman Els and Oma Fox Foster whose major claims to his memory are the food they cooked.  Neither one could drive or owned property in their own name.

I’ll remember my mother, Mildred Kuhn Stuart who never owned a car in her name and got terribly excited the one time she bought a pair of slacks. A pair of slacks, folks. Not jeans.  Slacks.  One pair.

Beaven’s mother, Blanche Foster Els, often frustrated by the male hierarchy of the Els family, who briefly had a business of her own alongside the family business

I only get to vote for the first female president once. I don’t want this opportunity to slip through my fingers.  I want to do it right this time.  It’s the only chance I’ll get.

Send me your mother’s name – I’d like to take her name with me.  I will update this list here on my blog and on the list I take to the voting booth.

Here’s a few names I’ve already gathered:  I’ll update the list as you send me names.  Include maiden name, please. 

Mildred Kuhn Stuart
Bertha Kolb Kuhn
Fannie Anderson Stuart
Blanche Foster Els
Lois Wood Stuart Mehaffie
Helen Walley Kelsoe
Hattie Eiseman Els
Oma Fox Foster
Bette Owens Truly
Joy Fletcher Mullins
Edith Fletcher
Betty Hipkins Ulics
Priscilla Boston Swan
Margaret Brand Smith
Virginia Brown Granger
Helen Kerchival McCormick
Hulda Mathis Granger
Florence Waddell Brown
Jean Stewart Berg
Ellen Claire Siermann Putnam
Lydia Novak
Ann Haynes Tubbs
Althea Jean DeSart
Iva Louise Snook
Lois Ferguson
Itylene Moore Posey
Leta Posey Herring
Ardyce Faye Cornelison Schmidt
Freda Ione Combs
Bertha Allen Schmidt
Ann Heath Stites
LaVerna Jett Elliott
Evelyn Anderson
Katherine Benton Broadhurst
Elizabeth Holmes Benton
Magdelene Jeanette Johnson Blomberg
Paula Peschl Avila

PS:  If you have reached this far and have read my list and feel like making any negative political comments please don’t.  I will delete negative comments.  This is not the place for them.  Besides I have a chainsaw.

I'm Taking Names

Comments from Linda McCormick:

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Jesus Wept

A good man died the other day.

 He had a whole lot of friends and I knew most of his groups. Beyond his buddies at work and a closely knit neighborhood, he belonged to the church I went to in Garland. He was also on the staff of the Synod Youth Workshop with me for many years and to add icing to the cake, he was the half-time announcer for the high school band where my granddaughters both play flute.  It was easy and always a pleasure to run into Brad often. I knew him well enough that after he retired as half-time announcer I could still get him to give me my own personal rendition of his famous introduction:  "The Spine Tingling, Hair Raising' Mighty Eagle Band!”  I received more than my fair share of unsolicited bear hugs.  I saw his goofy side and knew enough of his scars to know he could switch to his serious and sincere side with kids in an instant. He was the kind of small group leader who cried on a regular basis.   Brad was the real deal and kids knew that.  He will be sorely missed. The world needs more people like Brad Phillips.  This isn't the way it's supposed to work.  We're supposed to have more, not less, people like him.

I was pretty angry at God the morning I found out.  It was one of those "Let me speak to the manager" mornings.  So I went outside on my back porch to give God a chance to explain himself.     

I waited.

And waited.  

And wouldn't you know it but God pulled out that tired old Job passage, the one at the end where God asks Job in chapters 38-41 where was Job when the earth was created, mocking him for his puny humanity, that he wasn't as smart as God and how dare he question God.  Put Job right in his place, didn't God?  What a bully. 

I shuffled back in the house, meek as a lamb.

Then I almost immediately turned around and walked back outside.  NO!  I'm not going to accept that answer!  That was the Old Testament.  I want your New Testament answer!  I will not be bullied. I want Jesus' answer! We're not finished. I grabbed my coffee cup and my bible and went back out on the porch. “I want a different answer,” I demanded.

We knew all along it was going to take a miracle to save Brad. So that’s what we had prayed for.  We prayed for it boldly. 

Glioblastoma.  That’s what Brad had.  It’s one of the worst brain cancers you can get.  It’s big and bad and fast. And no matter how much radiation and prayer you throw at it, it’s also pretty much incurable.  And Brad fought it with all his strength and optimism all the way.  If you could cure cancer with optimism we wouldn’t be having this conversation because he had enough for the whole world and Brad could have beat cancer with optimism alone if that was all that was needed. 

But we don’t get it that way.  We don’t get to make the rules.  We have very little control of what happens most of the time.  Shit just happens.

That’s when I realized that’s what I was looking for:  I needed a “Shit Happens” scripture. Have you got one of those, God?

I went back looking through the bible and in a few pages I found just what I was looking for.  It was one of the old standards that I’ve known since I was a kid; the one we always relied on every Monday morning in elementary school when you had to recite a bible verse to prove you had gone to church over the weekend-- old reliable: the shortest verse in the bible, two words: John 11:35, “Jesus Wept.”  Shit Happens.

The bible describes the scene when Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus has died. Shit happened and even Jesus couldn’t prevent it from happening.  When God created life there were built-in frailties that came with the package of mortality. And one of them was that we all have an expiration date. Jesus weeps out of love for Lazarus. Then Jesus performs a miracle and brings His friend back to life.  Jesus is mightier than death. 
Some of us have long lives and some of us don’t.  And we rarely have much notice of when our expiration date is due.  Even if we did, we would want more time.

My friend Leeann was talking about the Jesus Wept passage a couple of months ago and she had a totally different take on the quote than any I’ve ever heard.  Her theory was that Jesus wept because Jesus knew what he was taking Lazarus away from when he brought him back to life.  As much as Jesus wanted to see his old friend again he knew Lazarus' family wanted to see him even more and they were already accusing Jesus of falling down on the job, "If you had been here you could have saved him."  Did Jesus, knowing he had the power to raise him from the dead, weep at Lazarus' death? Or did Jesus weep because he knew that he was about to bring Lazarus back to a life here on earth and away from a heavenly life?  Did Jesus, knowing both worlds, weep at the change Lazarus would have to make?

We forget in this story that heaven is a better place than earth. And Jesus was bringing Lazarus out of heaven and back to life on earth.

Let our grief be for Brad’s family and ourselves but not for Brad.  Shit happened to us not Brad. Brad is in a good place.  Jesus loved Brad Phillips as much as he loved his friend Lazarus. And Jesus weeps with us. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Our Trip to Europe

We planned our "Trip of a Lifetime" over a year before we actually took it and it happened kind of accidentally.  It started when I asked Beaven to do a chore around the house.  It was something ordinary that he normally does quite readily--like cutting a tree down.  But this time he declared that he was "too old" to do it.  Then he went into a whole list of things that he's now "too old" to do.  And one of the things on his list that he is now "too old" to do is travel.  When he got to the part about not being able to travel to Europe anymore because he's "too old" I stopped him.  Wait....I'm not too old.  Do you care if I go without you?  Given his blessing I suddenly wanted to go to Europe with a passion I had never felt before.  So I called Elizabeth, the only daughter with the money and the vacation time to make it happen.  "Sure!" she said.  So we started planning a trip. It would be so easy. Elizabeth and I travel well together. 

Then once we got to looking at the ideas, I noticed that our favorite tour group had one for families.  I called her up, "Hey!  Wanna take the girls with us?"  "Sure!" So now we were taking my granddaughters.  Easy enough.  We would just split the costs in half.  It would be so much fun to show them the world.  They are the prime age for this.

And, of course, once Beaven got wind of this, suddenly he wasn't so "old" anymore.  But as luck would have it, I couldn't remember the chore I had asked him to do for me that started this whole thing. But it did bring more energy to him. And for that alone I think the whole thing was worth it.

Now, my theory about vacations is that it really doesn't matter where you go. You can plan it all out to every last gas station if you want.

But the real purpose of a vacation is just hanging out together.  All the rest of it is just scenery. According to my theory you could just rent a van and cram the whole family into it and drive around town for a day or two, stopping once in a while for snacks and lunch, maybe stopping in at a motel for the night.  Everything valuable, all the memories--most of them, anyhow, the inside jokes, the laughs, are made while you're "getting where you're going."  A vacation to Europe is just better scenery with a little history thrown in. Most of the stories we told when we got home were of standing in lines at airports and what happened on the Metro, not what we saw at the museums.

It's been over a month since this vacation and I haven't posted anything.  You have my cousin Ann to thank for this.  She has gotten impatient for news and she doesn't do facebook.  Neither does Linda Terpstra.  Thank them both.

I thought I might have better luck  just moving the stuff I posted on facebook to the blog to describe our trip since I posted a lot about our trip on facebook, with the theory of one picture is worth a thousand words.  And it turns out there are very little words and a whole lot of pictures on facebook.

Still, I didn't take a lot of conventional photos.  This is one of the few of them.

This is one of the first photos I took once we landed in London.  It turned out to be the morning they had a huge parade for the Queen's 90th birthday--which we hadn't a clue about.  And the only thing we knew about was that when we checked into our hotel we found out it was across the street from the Lord's Cricket Grounds and there was a huge cricket match going on.  This made for boisterous noise and spirit all over the hotel so we assumed that was all that was going on in London that day.  When there was a red, white and blue fly-over with military jets as we walked down the street we thought it was the cricket matches.  The girls couldn't understand why England was doing a fly-over with the USA colors until we explained it was their colors before we stole them.

We enjoyed a good walk around London.

The next day we took a ride on the London Eye which gives you a great view of London.  While I was waxing glorious about how the east end is more modern because it was where the docks were and was bombed into smithereens during WWII and thus re-built recently their eyes glazed over and I knew we weren't going to learn any European history this week.  Still, it made for some good photos.

We knew going into this that food would be a challenge.  Sarah won't eat anything more foreign than a hamburger with catsup.  I sent out a challenge to both of them to try new things.  They did pretty good.  Both girls tasted duck.  Essie declared it tasted like beef.  Sarah said it was nasty.  Essie was a lot more adventurous and tried several new things, though both girls drew the line at snails.
But once we discovered a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in London Sarah was in heaven.  I think we ate there twice if not three times.  There may have even been one in Paris. They kind of blur together.  We also found a Hard Rock CafĂ© in Rome and, of course, MacDonalds were everywhere.  Once Sarah tried the chicken nuggets at MacDonalds I asked her if they were different from the ones in the US and she declared they were a LOT better.  When I asked why, she thought for a minute and declared with quiet suspicion, "I think they are made with real chicken."

Beaven hates taking cabs and loves the public transportation system in Europe.  We bought city passes for London and Paris before we even left home.  We could get on any bus or subway car we wanted with just our card.  The girls picked up a knowledge of the maps like they had been taught it in first grade.  We moved around faster than above ground and I found myself feeling sorry for the Queen until Elizabeth pointed out they stop traffic for her.  Still, we got to go a lot faster than I'll bet the Queen travels. And we met people I'll bet the Queen NEVER meets.

When we got to Paris the Eurocup was playing.  This meant several things:  they were EXPECTING a terrorist attack and there was a military presence like I've never seen before. Once we needed to cross through the fan zone (which was free) and found it wasn't quite a walk in the park.  The fan zone was surrounded by (1) metal riot fencing forming a ring around the fan zone  (2) Gendarmes, which is the French military police.  They had Humvees parked bumper to bumper in a circle around the fan zone and two Gendarmes stationed at each Humvee.  Outside this ring was (3) the Paris city police with their police cars parked bumper to bumper and policemen stationed at each car.  To get past this corridor you had to be frisked.  I've never been frisked so thoroughly before.

There were people from all over Europe crammed into Paris.  You could drink to your heart's content on the Metro since you weren't operating a motor vehicle. The people from all over Europe who were drinking to their heart's content were on the Metro with us.

At 10:30 A.M. That's right: Ante Meridiem
 .....BEFORE noon..... we got on the Metro in Paris with a group of English guys who were supporting their team in a soccer match that day.  The game had not even started.  Yet they were already in the "spirit" of the game.  Each guy had a plastic sack with a six pack of beer.  And the instant they got on the car and the car started they each opened a can of beer.  They were loud and boisterous but with an English accent which sounded SO PROPER that they almost didn't sound drunk.  But they were still obnoxious so we were glad--everyone on the car was glad-- when they got off.

We went to Europe as part of a Rick Steve's tour.  I can't say enough good things about the Rick Steve's tours.  For our family it's the perfect blend of doing things on your own with just the right amount of having a tour guide drive you places and explain things to you.  Our guide was fantastic.  The tour left us with lots of time on our own.  One of the things the tour didn't cover that we did on our own was going to the Eiffel Tower.....We marked our calendar six months ahead and made our reservations on the first opportunity you could get them because they sell out so fast.  It's one of those tourists Must Do" things that we didn't want the girls to miss.  Plus they got fantastic photos of the Eurocup game below the tower.  We had several discussions over whether this was the actual game site but we do know this was also the site of the Fan Zone.  The Fan Zone was free and anyone could go.  There was a huge TV screen so you could see all the action--probably better than if you were at the actual game.  The ground was muddy.  Remember how full of spirit our friends on the Metro were?  I heard a sighting of one guy with mud all over the front of his shirt and muddy footprints on the back of his shirt. 

And the girls have a picture of themselves atop the Eiffel Tower.  There's about three levels.  To get to the top you have to climb stairs. They actually went to the top.  I didn't.  I don't do heights.

Because this was a Family Tour there were some unusual activities for kids.  One that we enjoyed in Paris was learning to play Petanque, which is a lot like the British game of Boule.........maybe more like bowling in America.  It means in French, literally, "put your ankle"  and you throw a heavy ball trying to hit another ball without doing something.....I got cloudy on the rules once they brought out French pastries to nibble on while we played.  I nibbled more than I played.  Beaven kept his British hat and cut a very Continental pose. I was distracted by knowing there were pastries on the bench right behind me.

A day earlier some madman n Orlando, Florida had attacked a bunch of people at a gay nightclub and killed a lot of people.  We were feeling very sad and disconnected.  Then we saw the Paris municipal office with the rainbow flag on display in solidarity.  We would later see this same thing in Florence and Rome.

We went to the Louvre and saw all the standard stuff like the Mona Lisa and such.  The biggest attraction for the Els family, however, was the bathroom at the Louvre.  Notably, (thanks to our guide's advice) the Japanese Spa treatment for an extra Euro payment.  For this extra payment you get not just the regular clean bathroom but an "extra" clean and "sanitized" bathroom plus a built-in bidet which was much better than the ones the bathrooms had.  (And by the end of the trip we were experts on bidets.)  You could also buy colored toilet paper there--which Essie did, and later found out it was also scented. OK, yes, we go to the most famous art museum in the world and bring home toilet paper.

We split up once which only meant that I got lost and it took them an hour to find me.  But I had some great moments with Michaelangelo's Prisoners.

After Paris We traveled to Burgundy to a villa for a couple of days.

For dinner that evening our guide wanted everyone to get to know each other so she encouraged all to dance. She brought in a local accordionist to play for us and later that evening a guy came and played the Alpenhorn.

I can't add the video of the alpenhorn or the accordion yet.  I'll have to do it later.

Then we went to Switzerland.

Believe it or not this is the ONLY photo we got of all five of us together.  We're not very good tourists. This was before we went inside the Trummelbach Falls--a waterfall inside a mountain.

I can't get the video of inside the waterfall inside a mountain to post......and I'm only half-way through the vacation and this blog already posted accidentally.  So I'll fix the typos and let you have it.  Then I'll post the second half of the vacation later.  Stay tuned.