Sunday, November 29, 2009

Angel on the Loose

This year, the parishioners at Holy Comforter collaborated on an Advent devotional, with submissions from various parishioners for each day of Advent.  "Angel on the Loose" is my contribution for 2009.

Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Psalm 149:3

Our annual Christmas Pageant at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church was not exactly “cutting edge.” Every year was essentially the same lineup, same script, and same songs. I am not complaining about this; the pageant was a beloved tradition.

I was so excited when Tenley was old enough to participate without me as a castmate (the mom of the youngest angel was always designated “Mama Angel,” with the additional task of keeping the shepherds and their sheep from getting all riled up by the baby angels). She was three or four years old.  I think this picture was taken that year: 

The way the pageant was structured, the narrator would read a bit of the Christmas story, and a bit of the tableau would unfold. For instance, “We Three Kings” heralded the entry of the three kings. The angels were the first to station themselves at the stable.

When the first congregational hymn started, Tenley started dancing around to the hymn. I don’t mean kind of unconsciously tapping her little feet. I mean sweeping leaps across the stable, joyful gesturing, and unrestrained smiles. We were rolling with laughter in our seats but trying to look worshipful simultaneously.

I was really unable to do anything to stop her --- and in my heart of hearts I didn’t want to.

I thought that first song was a fluke, but sure enough she “felt the dancing spirit” through every single song the congregation sang that night.

Now Tenley is 13, and there’s not a lot of unrestrained joy that I am privy to right now.

But I’ll never forget the “unscripted” moments of that long-ago Christmas Pageant.

This year, if the excitement of preparing to celebrate bubbles up inside you, consider a few leaps across your living room or exuberant arm waves. Your family may think you’re nuts but God will “get it” and that’s what matters most this season.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Going Home

Our family had been collectively dreading November 19 this year.  It would be the one year anniversary of Wayne's brother Chuck's death.  As the day approached, baby Griffin Charles (Chuck's grandson) relieved his mother of her stress over a potential due date of 11/19 by being born four weeks early on 11/16.  Little did we know that we would prefer grappling with the difficult emotions of marking the anniversary of Chuck's death to the burial of Mama Del.

Having grown up here in the South, Mama Del's accent sounded like thousands of other women I have known in my life.  A laid back southern twang was backed by an iron will and a fierce familial loyalty.

I never sat down and had deep one on one talks with Mama Del.  She was usually too busy helping set up or clean up to converse at length.  But she was always there.  It is hard to imagine standing at sister in law Mary's kitchen island this Thanksgiving, without looking up see Del come in via the sunroom door, always carrying something yummy.  (Wayne's favorite was the creamed corn.)

I remember hearing how she had asked of Jessica when she was born a little early and the cartilage of her ears was still growing, "Will her ears keep growing?"  (They did.)  One memory that has always stood out occurred as we were putting together Wayne's sister Ann's funeral after she died suddenly at the age of 30 in 1993.  While I wanted to do one of the readings, Del stated that she would staff the nursery.  There were lots of small children in need of care.  Despite my degree in child development, dealing with 10 children belonging to other people is a task that would make me cringe, and I wanted to be "seen" publicly grieving.  Del took on a critical task, that went largely unseen (and unthanked), and never asked any kind of recognition or reward.

A small funny incident happened when Del joined Wayne's sister Mary and me to pick up Tenley and Elizabeth (Mary's daughter/Del's granddaughter) from gymnastics camp at UGA.  Since Tenley's birthday had occurred while she had been at camp, I had left her a gift card and she had received some extra goodies from the Lady Gym Dogs.  In her persistence to help clean up the room, Del had inadvertently wrapped up the gift card with some trash.  It was saved in the nick of time!

All of this is to laud the fact that this gracious woman was inevitably found serving us or doing something to make us feel happy and loved.  Most of her happiest times occurred when she was reveling in the success and happiness of her grandchildren, such as this snapshot taken when granddaughter Olivia was crowned Homecoming Queen on October 31:

After Del's sudden death, we gathered at Mary's house to celebrate her life, but there was no centralized gathering where speeches were made (although there were plenty of stories shared between those gathered).  At the burial service the following day (November 19), the service was lovely but there were not speeches by attendees about the impact Del had made on their lives.

Even though there were no speeches, Del's legacy was summed up by the spontaneous song shared by grandson George as he threw dirt onto her casket.  All of a sudden we heard, "Going home, going home.  Work all done ......."

Such a true summary of Del's approach.  She was a worker, and as much as we will miss her, she deserves the comfort of "going home."

In researching this song with which I was not familiar, I ran across a blog which included this song in a month's worth of "songs my mother taught me."  I encourage you to read Lydia's blog about this song at:, and I thank Lydia for providing her permission.

So, with love and gratitude for years of Mama Del's selfless and gracious presence in our lives, I end with more of "Going Home" (words by William Arms Fisher):

Going home, going home
I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by
Through an open door

With love and gratitude for a lovely woman,


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another Channel at 11:35 p.m.

I often find that a particular decision I need to make percolates so far under the surface of my conscious brain that I am surprised to find the decision made, lodging itself in my consciousness fully formed and with no "mulling over" needed.

That's how my goal of running a 5K in less than 30 minutes came to me. And that's how I started avoiding CBS at 11:35 on weeknights.

I am almost always still up at 11:35, and over the decades I would usually turn the television to The Late Show with David Letterman. Although I wasn't a rabid fan, I enjoyed the show and would consider myself a "habitual" viewer. I knew what to expect from the show (in general); that I could anticipate a Top 10 list; that something would be said during the monologue that would make me miss New York City; that he had an intern named Stephanie. Over the years I knew a little about his personal life, and in the past few years I knew about the open heart surgery, and especially that Letterman had become a parent. The night he described his child's birth, I sensed the kind of emotions that transcend sarcasm and wealth: the "I never expected to feel this way" awe of a new parent.

When the news broke a few weeks ago that Letterman had had interactions with several staff members that went "beyond typical office behavior," I watched Letterman address his audience in what he considered a "proactive" way. As events unfolded, it became clear that Letterman had engaged in intimate behavior with subordinates.

He's not the first to do so, and not the last.

Many viewers will probably not change their viewing habits and will still get their nightly kick out of the Top 10 lists and the Stupid Pet Tricks. I'm done.

My first experience with an "authority" figure who took advantage of my subordinate status occurred when I was 13. Although he was removed from his volunteer leadership role, I will always wonder how many other young women had had similar encounters. Fast forward five years to college, when a revered professor approached me from behind, groping. I was at so many gatherings attended by that same gentleman over the years. I could never bring myself to applaud when he was showered with this or that accolade.

So, have there been supervisor/subordinate relationships that started at the office (or the volunteer effort) that worked out beautifully for all parties involved? I'm sure there have.

But I do not believe that's usually the case. By its nature, there is a power imbalance between a supervisor and a subordinate.

Like Anne Bradstreet said,

Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than to polish.

In solidarity with some young women who I imagine came away "bruised," I'll be tuning in to a different channel from now on.

I'll "run" into you next week.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I don't know what "AOC" stands for. When I googled the term, I came up with 90 possibilities. For today's blog, I can safely rule out "Australian Olympic Committee," "Age of Conan," and "Air Operator Certificate" to name a few. I am referring to this:

This is a marking that has been on the road about a quarter mile from my home for a month. I assume it means something like "Area of Collision." On October 9, a 77 year old woman named Elois Cooper and a preteen boy (her grandson, I think) were killed at this spot. Their car was rear-ended as they were waiting on Highway 90 to turn left into Soul's Port, their church. Because our neighborhood is so close to Soul's Port, and Highway 90 is the only way into or out of Hawk's Landing, Wayne and I both had to take circuitous routes home that evening, so that we could be approaching Hawk's Landing from the east instead of the west (the highway was closed down for several hours while the accident scene was handled). As a result, we talked a lot about what must have happened to close down the road, and very early on we understood there had been at least one fatality.

The "was handled" part of that above paragraph has been niggling at me for the past month. The day after the accident, as I drove past the scene with my children, we discussed the need to say prayers for the woman's family, and how sad the situation was. It was not the "AOC" that stood out, it was the pile of glass that had materialized on the side of the road:

Not only had it materialized ....... after three and a half weeks it appeared destined to stay. I don't know who I thought was going to come clean it up. It just seemed like something that would be in the standard post-accident protocol. When I mentioned the remaining pile of glass to Wayne, he said, "well it is safety glass." I guess his point was that is was not causing any danger to motorists. My reaction to this glass was not about the logistics or the potential danger: it was about the windshield this lady saw her last starlit night through as she prepared to worship. Up until about five days ago, this blog was going to be a rant about why no one cleaned up the glass.

Slowly it dawned on me that if it was bugging me so much, there was someone to clean it up.

So, yesterday as I left for the Cops for Kids 5K, there was a broom, a dustpan, and a plastic bag in the car next to the G2 and running shoes.

The glass is gone.

The song "Shattered Glass" asks:

Are you havin' trouble focusing throughout the day?

Do you find yourself still callin' my name?

Cause all we had .... is broken like shattered glass.

Getting rid of the glass won't take away the pain of this lady's loved ones and fellow worshippers when they pass the accident scene. It's just that, if you're on your way to a place called "Soul's Port," and your soul ends up approaching its final port (or "homegoing" as someone said online in response to Mrs. Cooper's obituary), that final road shouldn't be paved with shattered glass.

Praying for peace to the family of Mrs. Cooper and the young man.

Lyrics to Shattered Glass by: Lukasz Gottwald, Claude Kelly, and Benjamin Levin. (Full Disclosure: Britney Spears sings the song -- not usually my choice but I needed the good lyrics.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Been There, Done That

On Saturday, Tenley and three friends did a car wash to raise money for the Raa Middle School trip to Washington, DC, in May 2010.

The car wash was held at Paradise Bar & Grill, which is located at one of Tallahassee's truly odd intersections. People who wanted to have their car washed, after being enticed by the four adorable, enthusiastic young women standing at the intersection, had to figure out that the girls were at Paradise (and not the Shell station across the street) and quickly navigate into the right-hand-most lane, and come get their car squeaky clean. It wasn't easy.

Around 12:30 (after a 9 a.m. start), the girls all headed off to Whataburger for a meal. We had no promotional activity going on at the intersection, and the moms (and one industrious little sister) were all standing around talking when a car drove up to be washed. The driver of the car asked me what the "cause" was and I explained the girls (who were two blocks up the road stuffing their faces) were raising money for their May 2010 trip to Washington, D.C. The driver said something to the effect of, "I can't tell you how many times I have been in your position," and he talked about the years of fundraising car washes for his cheerleader daughter.

I have been ridiculously lucky in many ways as my children have grown up. When Tenley was in gymnastics, the cost of a "city gym" (Trousdell Gymnastics Center) was nominal compared to a private gym. Several local businesses have contributed sponsorship money to Tenley as a gymnast and to Wayne as a soap box derby driver. My parents, in-laws, and co-workers have bought more than their share of overpriced candy and wrapping paper. But the costs still add up; the trips get longer and more expensive as the children get older, and at a certain point "fundraising fatigue" is bound to set in.

That is why, when this couple drove up simply because they saw some people with buckets and a hose, with the intention of returning all the good will their child received over the years (and hopefully a clean car at the same time), this gentleman shot up my "will you make my blog?" list with a bullet.

Having "been there and done that," he will make it possible for Tenley and her friends to say about their Washington DC trip:

"Been there, done that."

I'll "run" into everyone next week!