Saturday, November 29, 2008

a case of the heaven-bends

time: late Thanksgiving Night
place: the living room couch
characters: me, all alone, after everyone else was in bed
action: none. just thinking.

I was not being a couch-potato the other night. I could warm up to being labeled a couch-pumpkin, though. I submit that the humble pumpkin is a more reflective, ruminative vegetable than the potato. Pumpkins have guts. They are pithy. They hunker, which gives them an introspective appearance. They harbor seeds which, when properly seasoned and baked, make a great snack.

That last point did nothing to further my case, but I threw it in there because I am partial to roasted pepitas.

Back to my story. I was stretched out on the "nice" couch; the one near the piano. The downstairs was dark, except for a few guttering candles on the lace-covered coffee table. Guests were slumbering quietly in the guest room, in the family room, and upstairs. Dinner, card games, the annual trimming of the canned goods, piano duets with my mom, happy good-nights were behind us, and another lovely Thanksgiving celebration was deposited into my memory bank.

But here I was, with nothing to complain about and nothing but gratitude on my lips, aching for heaven with a homesickness that leaned towards groaning.

I was battling a severe case of the "heaven-bends".

There is a condition called "the bends" that scuba divers experience when they venture too far into the depths of the sea. Our bodies are not built for the weight of those depths, and the physical strain leads to a sickness that starts with a dull ache and can escalate into serious symptoms.

The "heaven-bends" come upon me when I swoop too far heavenward. Thoughts of no more tears, no more sin, no more sickness or death leave me weak with desire to just be there already.
I'm not talking about tampering with my own personal time-line, though. I have things to accomplish on this side of heaven, certainly! It's just that sometimes--sometimes-- I want to be there very, very much.

The home God has prepared for us is so far beyond our feeble imagination that we only glimpse it occasionally. When we catch a tiny taste, a passing delectable smell of something exceedingly delicious, a flitting and swiftly disappearing twinkle of its glory and promise....we are left wanting, yearning, hungering. Almost sick with desire.

Often the heaven-bends come upon me for no discernible reason. But I know what brought on this latest bout. Earlier that evening, my mom and I played a piano duet called, "Shall we Gather at the River." It is an old Christian hymn that gets me every time.

I am feeling better now, thank you. The heaven-bends can knock the stuffing out of you (no Thanksgiving Dinner pun intended), but all in all, they leave a body rested and more fit than ever to go about the Father's business.

Friday, November 28, 2008

going international

This topsy-turvy pile of gravy boats was on the outer edge of the towering mound of dirty dishes generated by the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for International Students that we attended last week. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship sponsors the event, and this year it was held at our church.

My camera wasn't employed until dinner was over, seeing I was too busy bossing around the team of servers. An hour before dinner, I waltzed into the kitchen unaware that I was to inherit such a responsibility. The trouble is, I look like a mom who knows stuff. -Like, where do the coats go? Can I wear this shirt? Where do I stand? Can my little sister help, too? Where are the water pitchers? When do the helpers get to eat?

-and so on.

"Who is in charge here?" I inquired. No fear, kitchen staff. Laura is in the house. This girl knows what's what and who's who.
Do what she says and no one gets hurt.

Upstairs in the sanctuary, this radiant young lady was the "boss". Wouldn't you jump to do anything she asked of you? I would. She asks so nicely. And who could resist that SMILE?

Over 300 international students and their families enjoyed an over-the-top feast, which included Moroccan Chicken, Chinese favorites, and a vegetarian buffet, in addition to the ever-popular turkey with all the trimmings. As I dished out yummy stuff to all kinds of beautiful faces, I inquired what country they were from.

Iran. China. Korea. Nigeria. Vietnam. ummm. the Bronx.
Okay, that counts as a foreign country, I guess.

I also had to explain one too many times what "stuffing" was. No matter how its inherent goodness was presented, I didn't get many takers. The sesame chicken went like hotcakes, though.

After the main meal, they filled the sanctuary for a powerful presentation of the Good News for all people-kind. I like when people hear good news. Don't you?

More good news: there was pie down in the dining area. Tablefuls of pie. Pie to the rafters, almost.Although I have contributed baked goods to this event for years, this was the first time I volunteered to serve. It was a privilege!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Can everybody please vote for my fave band? That would be the Julia Marie Band.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

mystery piano and resulting conversation

As of late, my brother and I have been exchanging quirky emails about extremely random subjects. Here is a sampling of what amused us this week:

Check this out:

Me: oh yeah, well you think THAT'S time I found a WHOLE FOREST surrounding the piano in my living room. explain THAT.

it only happened once.
but still. it was weird.

Brother: What's your take on the forested piano? If a frustrated player player was involved, wouldn't it have been unceremoniously dumped on the roadside? And why the properly set chair? Maybe someone got all new age, dragged it into a pastoral milieu, then just lost heart--or strength--and walked away?

Me: as for the mystery piano, we all decided it was there for a photo shoot/music video. They just didn't get back there fast enough to get it out in time??????

either that or aliens.

Brother: Uh, what does an upright Baldwin cost? It's not a kazoo. I can't imagine anyone just abandoning one in the woods. I'll go with the alien theory and let it rest.

Me: kazoos are more expensive than you might think.
but I'll stick with the alien theory, too.

most likely, they left the piano, took the pianist and were sorry afterward.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

facebook confession

Dear Blog,

Hello and how are you these days? I am afraid I have been quite busy and I apologize for not writing. But you know how it is.

I feel as if I have put a lot into our relationship. All those hours of pouring out my heart, trying to find the right words, etc. etc. It has really been very rewarding and I don't regret a moment we have shared together.

It's not that I have found someone else. I haven't. No one could ever replace you. But a few weeks ago, I was introduced to someone new. At first, I didn't think it would go anywhere. After all, I was completely satisfied. I wasn't looking for a new relationship. And anyway, all I did was log in to chat. At first.

But then I realized the networking possibilities. The eavesdropping on other conversations, the social news, the photo-tagging. The global connections! The multi-tasking! The secret message inbox-thingy, too. I could update my status, keep abreast of everyone else's activities, be invited to parties and join groups that I never dreamed existed!
It was all so enticing, so empowering.


Please forgive me. I didn't know it would affect me so.

I knew you would understand. That's why I am coming to you and explaining everything. I have always been able to express myself to you freely without you interrupting or instantly commenting or tagging me or talking about me to others. I treasure that about you, and that's why I came back.

Of course, I can't throw away this new relationship like an old shirt. That wouldn't be respectful. Now that I see things more clearly though, I will play it safe and stay cool with the new kid on my block.

After all, dear Blog, you were my first electronic love and you will always have a place on my tool bar.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the Roc

The parking was directed by men orange light-wands. The nearby building was large, square, and plastered with grand graffiti, expertly airbrushed, which featured a thirty foot tall, very stylized Jesus with arms outstretched.

Inside the doors, past the rowdy crowds that had gathered outside before the service, music was throbbing, booming, and expanding as we neared the main gathering place where over 1500 souls were clapping, swaying, hollering, and waving their arms in punctuated rhythm.
Black women held babies and corralled toddlers. Elderly folks leaned on canes, chewing and smiling. Men sported tattoos, some were covered with them. Some of the women looked pretty rugged. Onstage the band pulsed and jammed.

This is not my kind of place I thought as I stifled the urge to cover my tender ears.
These are not my type of people
I averred when I spied a woman with a black T-shirt that screamed SATAN SUCKS.
This is definitely NOT my style of music I decided when the hard-core band was let loose during the offering.

My friend Caleb was sitting with me as I took it all in. The very cool pastor (Hispanic with dark sunglasses) started to read a stack of cards and got my attention.

"Here's how many came to Christ this week, Church! 346! The Women's Saturday Study: 18. The King James Club: 28. The Youth Group Street Outreach: 89. The Food Ministry: 12. The Discipleship Homes: 7." On and on it went, with wild applause after each announcement.

"Here is a card that says '1'." The pastor held it high over his head. "I say this is who Jesus died for. He came for the ONE. Isn't that right?"

The church rejoiced exceedingly. As for myself, I felt tears in my eyes.

Then there was testimony time: A young couple who want to open a discipleship home to unwed mothers. A young man who turned his life around, reunited with his family, and wants to be a pastor some day. A mom who chose life for her baby.

Then the message. (Pastor: "Okay everybody. Let's break out the Word. Turn off those cell phones. And NO text messaging. I don't wanna see it. And if you need to use the restroom---" He held out his hand, awaiting a response. 1500 voices replied in unison: JUST. HOLD. IT!!!)

What a message. Rich. Uncompromising. Rooted in the Bible. Organized, clear, and penetrating. I drank it in gratefully.

I turned to Caleb. "I love this church. These are MY kind of people." He grinned widely. His eyes sparkled, although he was tired from a long afternoon in inner-city Richmond with the kid's ministry. The Roc Church gathers them up in buses, plays games with them, tells gospel stories, hands out "bible-bucks" for prizes, and that day, gave each kid a frozen turkey to tote home.

My visit to The Roc Church was eye-opening and edifying. Next time I'm in Richmond, I'm going back. With a few less prejudices and a couple of ear plugs.

helping around the house

Richmond, Virginia is a very nice place to visit. I haven't seen much of Richmond, but that's alright with me. The important thing is just to spend time with the lovely people I came to visit.

Things work differently in Richmond. Like, I lost a scrabble game to a few novices last night, for example. And things have been going awry in the kitchen, whereas they never do at home. The other day, I made very very bad bread. The yeast must have been tired out, which led to a dry, rock-like loaf only good for a doorstop or weapon to deter a burglar. Either way, you could keep it by the door, I suppose.

That's not all. In my attempts to coax the tired-out yeast, I turned the oven on for what was supposed to be a minute. Then the baby stirred and I forgot to turn the oven off. The smell of singed dishtowel brought me dashing into the kitchen twenty minutes later.

It had been a fluffy, purple towel. It now sports orange burn marks, kind of like a tie-dye experiment. Let's just say that it was my craft for the day. I wrapped the failed bread tenderly in the smoking towel, said a few words over it, and laid it to rest in the trashcan.

Last night, after a stunningly successful steak dinner, I couldn't let things rest. I HAD to show off and make chocolate pudding from scratch. The online recipe looked a tad more complicated than I was used to, but hey, I can go a little Martha every now & then.

The only (well, first) problem was that the recipe never explained when to add the milk. By the way, milk is THE main ingredient in pudding. I didn't notice this omission until too late. I added the milk anyway, folded in the whipped egg whites, and set it out to cool.

An hour later, we had frothy chocolate milk.

Not to be outdone by this, I dug the cornstarch out of the pantry and set about firming things up.
Another session over the stove, another hour to cool the pot, and we finally had our dessert.

It then took another hour to scrub all the chocolate-laden utensils, pots, counter tops, and clothing that got in the way.

Like I said, Richmond is a very nice place to visit. But I wouldn't want to live here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

camping advice

A night's sleep in JFK is not unlike rugged camping.

Gather bedding from your surroundings
pineboughs, leaves, maneuvered rows of uncomfortable chairs, rolled-up sweatshirts for pillows.

Seek protection from the elements
throw another log on the fire, dress in layers, plunder your carry-on for sweaters, gratefully accept a fellow-traveler's jacket.

Respect local wildlife
string up food so it is out of reach of bears, keep all belongings tucked under your feet, brush snack-crumbs onto the carpet for resident airport-sparrows, stay clear of business men who lurk in airport bars. If approached by one, roll into a ball, avoid eye contact, and dial 911.

Enjoy the sounds of your surroundings
coyote, owl, third-shift staff, floor buffers (and other nocturnal creatures) , the wind through the pines, CNN TV, loudspeaker announcements (attention all passengers,,,), CNN TV, moans of uncomfortable sleepers, and did I mention CNN TV?

Leave only your footprints behind
douse campfire thoroughly, check under seats for candy wrappers, dispose of Starbucks cups properly, recycle wafer-thin airline-issued "blankets".

Greet the sunrise
with a jaw- cracking yawn
with a toothbrush but no toothpaste
with major bed-head
with re-issued boarding pass clutched in your hopeful hands.

Remember: the joy is in the journey!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

a jackpot of thoughts

Feeling the need to write something-anything- leads me to spill my thoughts willy-nilly. When will I settle down enough to compose a lucid post? Maybe later this week when I am visiting friends in Richmond,Virginia. It is also possible that I won't be able to put down their sweet baby long enough to turn on the computer.

Three loaves of bread rest on the counter.

Friend #7 is rustling around the kitchen, spreading dried cranberries into the hot granola.

Books surround me while I type at Hubby's big oak desk.

Colors made me happy today: bright yellow and moss green walls at The Brambles, punctuated by dark, elegant pieces of furniture and framed oriental prints.

A sweet young teenager played Haydn on the piano for me. Her fingers flew through the lilting scales and arpeggios like water over pebbles.

On a lark, I bought a new pair of shoes. I like them very much. They have three-inch heels.

Beef stew bubbles in the crock pot.

Lively conversations with friends about an upcoming wedding echo in my mind.

Music awaits me this evening: a live performance with my favorite band.

Music awaits me tomorrow: congregational worship, the final rounds of The Crane International Piano Competition, the Barber Concerto at #1 Son's violin lesson, and finally, a dress rehearsal for a voice recital.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Haven

We are home from New Haven. Here is a list of events which come to mind:

-when I travel, I prefer to eat ethnic food. No fast food for this girl! Tuesday night was take-out from the Casa Dominicana in Albany. Wednesday was Moroccan chicken for lunch (Yale dining hall) and Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner (lamb kebob, hummus, tahini & yogurt sauce, spiced beef in a pita, and baklava for dessert). Happily, I was traveling with two young guys that share my food preferences.

-no one invited us to join them in any lawn games. Otherwise, the New Haven Lawn Club was just the ticket for us. A walk across the street brought us right onto campus. We never moved the car once. Very convenient!

-the Yale campus is amazingly beautiful. Everyone was energized about their learning opportunities. Although the student body's liberal bent was evident by the flyers posted everwhere, it felt like the kind of place where different points of view were respected.

-seven hours is a long drive. I get antsy around the five-hour mark. I warned the boys about this phenomena. We really don't need to get into detail about the craziness I display by being cooped up in the car.

-our country has spoken. We will have a new president in January. He is black. He is charming and engaging and handsome. He has a lovely family. He is drastically liberal. He has made promises that grieve me. I hope you will excuse my lack of further comments on the election results, as I am very tired at the moment.

-although we had an action-packed trip, visited the New Haven Historical Society, viewed awe-inspiring Colonial mansions, walked among New England's elite, and so on.....we did not come home with ONE SINGLE PHOTO. The cameras were left behind in the car. I do not know why.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

playing on the lawn

We interrupt your search for a stimulating tidbit of writing to inform you that I am departing for this beautiful place. #1 Son is the reason. He has an on-campus interview tomorrow.

We take along Mr. Way Cool Bass Player, just for our entertainment. Plus, it never hurts to have an extra dose of cool at your side.

We shall stay at the New Haven Lawn Club, where we aced the "members-only" hassle by being remotely related to someone who is a member. I don't imagine we will have time for any lawn-type games, but you never know. When the preppy- spirit hits, we may gussy up in chaps or whatnot and grab a leather stick for a killer yet refined game of....lawn ball?

Whatever it takes to not look like a trio of North country yokels...I'm in.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

broken world

Articles like this remind me of our broken world.

God sees all. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. All knowing. Ever present. All powerful. At times, I smolder with indignation that He could fix all things, but He seems to hold back from doing so.

I am learning, as this week's post declared. Yes, frustration rises within me and almost eclipses the call to pray. But I am learning to pray anyway. Why? Because prayer changes things.

Yes, I have questions that have yet to be answered about pain and sorrow on this side of heaven. But I am learning to believe His Word when He says He is just. I am reminded that one day, every knee shall bow to Him; every tongue confess that He is LORD. The story is not over, but the ending is sure.

Yes, I am tempted to shy away from international news about violence, famine, war, and disease.
My heart could easily become hardened, faithless, cold, and unbelieving as a result of too much reality. Yet I know a better way.

As I go about my peaceful business this day, I endeavor to hold a piece of the grief of this world in my heart. May it season me, move me, allow me to grow in gratitude, and make me a world-changer. May it move the weakest muscle in my body (the one that reaches into my wallet) to write a check. May I be mindful that we live in a big, wide world that needs Him desperately.

Are you with me?