Thursday, December 1, 2011

Preparing to Prepare: Advent Reflection 2011

          Preparing to come into the Promised Land is never without struggle. Like the Israelites in the story of the Exodus, Christians today look forward to reaching the final destination, eternal life with God. Enslaved by the Egyptians, the Israelites cried out to the Lord to be freed from bondage. Today, we too find ourselves enslaved by a culture which fails to recognize God as our sovereign creator. Forced to work continuously, worship of God was extinguished from the Israelite culture.  Likewise, the pace of society and expectations of relentless academic, athletic, career and even leisure activities also prevent us from honoring God and placing worship as a priority in our lives.        

Four hundred years after fleeing to Egypt the Israelites found themselves no longer welcome immigrants, but a nation of inferior aliens. Christians in the United States today are facing a similar dilemma. Did God ignore their plight for centuries, or did it take God’s chosen people that long to turn back to Him and pray for salvation? The Israelites didn’t want to leave Egypt; they just wanted their circumstances in Egypt to improve. Life in Egypt, for better or worse, was all they’d ever known. They didn’t want the freedom to worship their God; they just didn’t want to be enslaved. God offered them an Exodus, the Promised Land, but they didn’t want to go. The plagues were just as much for the Israelites as for the Egyptians: if we want to worship idols, God will graciously step out of the picture and allow us to load up.  

It took ten plagues, the finality of the Passover blood covering the doorposts of their homes, and the parting of the Red Sea to get the Israelites up and moving. Once their doorposts had been marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, there was no returning to Egypt. They were marked as God’s chosen people, set apart for the Lord. They had no option but to follow and trust. It took them forty years to get the hang of it, and still they baulked when it came time to enter the Promised Land. How soon we forget the miraculous deeds God has done.

For God’s chosen people, the journey to the Promised Land would be difficult. They would have to renounce all of their idols, the gods they could touch and see. They would have to trust that God would provide for their needs each day- no stock piling allowed. They would face unfamiliar territory with only the assurance that the intangible, ever-present God of their fathers was with them.      

Once again I find myself standing at the dawning of the Advent Season, wondering if I, like the Israelites, am unprepared to make the journey. Blood lines among God’s children run deep. I too fear change. Change, like the plagues, is constantly knocking at my door. Like the Israelites woke one morning to find themselves wading through a kitchen full of frogs, almost drowning in the idols they’d coveted, the culture I walk through every day is inundated with the false gods of materialism, sexuality and greed. It takes just a few minutes of exposure to any sort of media to realize God has graciously stepped out of the way and is allowing us to feast on every sort of idol. In hindsight, a frog in my cheerios might be easier to distinguish than the subtle yet prevalent barrage of immorality my family faces every day.        

Maybe the idols I cling to the most are the beliefs that life, relationships and family should meet my expectations. Perfect families, friends, careers and experiences only exist in heaven. Down here, life is difficult and clinging to hopes of perfection prevent me from trusting and following God. Inequities, illnesses, frailties and even outright failures all force me to rely on God and God alone. It is these imperfections, the twists in turns in my path I fear most.

The season of Advent beckons us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The very thought of how to make room in my schedule for Sabbath rest is anxiety producing. The ultimate irony being that God gave us Sabbath rest and the seasons of Advent and Lent as gifts to free us from this cultural bondage, yet often they feel as if they are just additional  chores added to our ever expanding “to do” lists. We lack peace and cry out for relief from stress while shunning the opportunity to rest with the Lord in worship.

Advent is the season to prepare to come into full occupancy of the Promised Land. Although we generally focus on the destination  - Mary and Joseph in the manger - the reality of the journey toward Advent began much earlier and followed a path full of unknown obstacles.  Like Mary and Joseph on the path to Bethlehem, all we really know for sure is that God is with us. Idols we have clung to along the way need to be released.  We must let go of our stock piles and trust in God alone.

I pray in gratitude this Advent season for each of you and your families. The shining examples of faith each of you has shared with me are beckons along my path. The light of Christ shining through each of you affords me the courage to carry, knowing I am not alone on the journey. May God bless each of you this Advent season with the joy of resting safely in His presence.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shuffling Toward Dachau

Things I lost in the war:

1.      My future
2.      My family -- what was left of it.
3.      The shreds of career and community he hadn’t already destroyed
                  Isolation bombs demolishing all emerging foundations of self worth
4-Forever.      Hope
Finally:.      Joy

Things to remember before going into battle: 

Bullies love to gloat over their victories.
There are always innocent victims.
For the aggressor it is always about the conquest -- never personal.
For the prey -- it is always personal.  Gut wrenching. Heart Shattering

I wandered into battle foolishly thinking my enemy was my ally.
I had no knowledge of disordered personalities.
I know my surrender will be all encompassing.
In the present I will be portrayed as the villain around the victor's table.
The victor will take all.

All these years shuffling toward Dachau, unaware of its existence.
Someone, someday, may understand the depths of my wounds
The agony of deprivation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

 First day of school pictures just aren't what they used to be. Andrew is a senior, it will be a year of "lasts". Our tradition has always been to line up on the front porch and take a picture. If I wasn't on a cleaning jag at the moment, I would dig through those boxes of photos and scan in a few of my favorites. Maybe next week.

This years photos year unique. Due to 6:00 am soccer try-outs the first day of school began with the boys trudging across the lawn at 5:30 am.
The first day waking up wasn't so bad. The second day, after two a day practices, was a killer. But breakfast was fun. The boys brought a friend home inbetween soccer practice and school starting to shower and eat breakfast. I made scrambled eggs and toast with fresh strawberries. High school boys are great for building a cook's self esteem. They are always hungry and love whatever you fix.

On the third day, the boys brought two friends, Liam and Kevin, home after morning tryouts to eat and shower. Try outs went a bit late and traffic was heavier so they didn't have much time. I went all out for breakfast adding two pounds of bacon and toaster strudels to the selection. Toaster strudels are a huge hit with teen age boys, because none of their mother's will buy them. I box per boy is what I budget for on the weekends.

My plans for "first day of school" pictures were foiled by their late arrival. Kevin forgot his uniform. Peter couldn't eat fast enough and ran to the car with a plate of food in his hand. Andrew was looking for something and last out the door by a few minutes. Liam, who was intelligent enough to get right in the shower, was the only one who had time to actually sit at the table and enjoy his food. I really like that boy. He can eat at my house anytime.

It was the only time I have had to put my camera on rapid flash to capture first day of school pictures. The pictures aren't what I had envisioned, but they make me smile. The last morning I will ever wake up praying that Andrew make the Varsity Soccer team was depicted by a kitchen full of chaos and toaster strudel crumbs. The boys energy took the edge off the grief that hovers with each of these "lasts".

I wonder sometimes if God feels this way about us as we go through our "lasts"; the milestones we are aware of and the ones we don't even realize until they've past. The last time we enjoyed swinging in the backyard or were excited to go to church just to see Jesus. The last time we prayed for ourselves before remembering others.

The first time we asked that His will be done
 instead of asking for our circumstances to improve.  
I wonder which signs of spiritual maturity signify we are
closer to the end of the journey to our heavenly Father and if He experiences those same moments of angst watching us grow.  I am confident of one thing, if God's keeps a scrapbook, it's much more up to date than mine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Clone Brush

I began my day editing photos I took last weekend. My boys were playing with family friends who were in town for a visit. At four and six years old, Riley and Addie, adore my teenage sons. The feeling is mutual. I started a scrapbook for the girls when they moved away a few years ago, and took the opportunity at the pool to snap a few pictures – well more than a few.

Addie, Riley, Andrew and Peter
Pool pictures on a sunny day are the best. The colors were phenomenal and my Sony digital can capture tiny water droplets in the air. This was beneficial because my son Andrew spent a good deal of time harassing all of us with a squirt gun. I got some really good pictures. Unfortunately, no matter how loud and obnoxious our little gathering  became, (The life guard on duty at the time was Peter’s best friend, Mark), one family remained at the baby pool and seemed to consistently appear in the background of my photos. The photo’s gorgeous background - hues of sunlit blue - were marred by a few parents lounging in the pool. Ugh. 

Enter the clone brush. It is a fantastic little tool in my Creative Memories Digital Scrapbook program. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I did manage to obliterate said family from my photos. Don’t examine them too intently, the pool edge isn’t as defined as I would have liked and the water isn’t flawless, but as a background it works.

Addie's Revenge!
Life would be so much easier if it came equipped with a clone brush.      

Something to blot out those obstacles, blur the harsh lines etched by the consequences of poor choices, to help us forget circumstances too painful to carry. Often my prayer intentions are not so much an attempt to grow closer to God, but rather a petition for circumstantial cloning. “God, please erase this from my life. I can’t deal with it. I don’t want to see it anymore. It hurts. God please bring healing, or change, or whatever is necessary to get this circumstance out of the picture.”

God knew that our lives without Him would be cluttered and our landscapes often filled with unwanted debris. Human nature, the existence of sin – we just can’t seem to tidy things up on our own. For some reason, we need to experience these trials and keep perspective on the mess surrounding us. And He gave us the one prayer we would need the most from the lips of a young girl whose life on earth would also be filled with hardship and tremendous grief, 'And Mary said, “. . .  may it be done to me according to your word.”' Luke 1:38

 I am grateful for my friends and family who help me to see God’s presence, even when my life’s backdrop becomes murky and uncomfortable. Just when I was beginning to really feel the chill of the empty nest encroaching, Addie and Riley came into town and I was back playing with my boys at the pool. An afternoon of laughter and sunshine was a blessing that reminded of the joy God weaves through the landscape of my journey. I have an abundance of memories to cherish: the relative few I strive to clone out pale in comparison.
Sans sunbathing Mom and her Starbucks

Riley and Addie preparing for battle

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Even the Birds Shun Garnish

Even birds shun decorative garnish. This is a fact I can verify. After spending last Sunday morning with a few hardy souls from my sons Boy Scout Troop picking up trash in a parking lot after the Great American Barbeque, I have first-hand evidence. Not even a crow would touch those soggy stems of parsley sprinkled liberally around the lot. Only outnumbered by cigarete butts and beer bottle lids, garnish was discarded by man and beast alike. Personally, I don’t think that lonely sprig looks that good on the plate -- cilantro would be much more attractive.

Why would I volunteer to pick up trash on an extremely humid Sunday morning?? Money of course. It was a fundraiser for the troop, and I might add the organization that is responsible for these events made a great choice, $500.00 well spent. I was also exercising my parental duty to model community service for my teenage sons, who were somewhat less than enthusiastic about the activity. Their Sunday mornings are reserved for sleep, followed by exercise: aka Xbox Live. Fortunately Youth Mass doesn’t begin until 5:00 p.m..

In a week or so my son will participating in a local Relay for Life, to benefit cancer research. As I slogged through the parking lot covered in wet cigarette butts and half eaten barbeque remnants, I had an epiphany: Next year the Relay for Life could set up AROUND the Great American Barbeque and their slogan could be “This Lap is for You!” Uncharacteristically, no biblical metaphor rose to meet me from the dumpster. However, this one should have,

Matthew 7- Judging Other ADo not judge so that you will not be judged.  2"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and (B)by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  3"Why do you (C)look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  4"(D)Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?  5"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

Recently I have been giving a good portion of my personal prayer time to the concept of change. Mid-life brings me face to face with its effects, whether I want to deal with them or not. Judging others harshly, not attempting to see them with the eyes of Christ, is one of the ways to stave off the reality that change is all around me. Maybe that is why we keep putting parsley springs on our plates when no one will eat them.  If we quit, would anyone notice?

I did walk away with something more than the obvious to ponder though, which is trying to identify my own self- inflicted garnish. The things I cling to because I believe, at least from a distance, create the illusion of a better life. What do others really think of my garnish? And what would they think if I just quit using it? Who is it that treads behind me, left with the burden of discarding the debris?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fasting and Feasting

       "Fasting and Feasting" is a handout that was given to me to use a reflection during Lent. Lent is on the home stretch now, and I wish I could report that I had spent time each day praying and meditating over this, but it wouldn't be true. Fasting, like most religious traditions, can easily be minimalized to legalism. This reflection reminds me to strive for more than meeting goals, but to seek to grow closer to the heart of Christ on my Lenten journey.  It occured to me it might be an interesting spiritual excercise for me to review my past blog posts and give them a "Fast" or "Feast" rating. My instinct tells me I have a bit of work to do in the fasting department. Thankfully we have a merciful God who not only encourages us to move forward, toward Him, but provides us so much to feast on along the way.

Fasting and Feasting

Fast from judging others; feast on Christ dwelling within them
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast  from unrelenting pressure; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on peace.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on trust in God.
Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.
Fast from tearing down others; feast on lifting others up.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
feast on prayer that overcomes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Expectations, Super Hereos and Ice Cream

I prepared for our Spring Break trip to Cancun with a higher than normal level of anticipation. I had high hopes for a great vacation. Having only spent a few hours in Mexico while our cruise docked in Cozumel in 1991, I felt as though this was my first trip. Knee deep in my second semester of Spanish 1, I was excited to “practico hablando espanol”. Due to late booking, our only ticketing option on the flight out was first class – a direct flight no less. Our flight departed at 6:00 am and we were on the beach by 2:00 that afternoon.

Experiences rarely meet expectations, good or bad. Our flight out was better than expected. The hotel was gorgeous. The weather was perfect and the beach exquisite. The hotel staff was courteous, helpful and extremely pleasant. They tried desperately not to cringe when I asked if I could practice speaking Spanish with them. I soon realized that I was one of thousands of exceedingly poor students of their native language that bogged down their day by attempting to mooch some free tutoring, so I kept my practice to myself.  They were so nice I just couldn’t put them through one more tragically  pronounced simple noun or heaven forbid, a conjugated verb.

As the week progressed I wondered how receptive I would be if one of the many Hispanic immigrants I run across in my home town stopped me while I was working and asked if they could practice speaking English with me. Now that I am trying to learn a foreign language for the first time, my respect for those who attempt to assimilate into a foreign culture is immense. It seemed to me that many American tourists in Mexico were irritated that the natives spoke English with an accent and should’ve been over-joyed and amazed that they knew how to say, “Hey amigo, we need-o some cervazas over here-o”.

The “family” environment of the all inclusive resort I researched extensively caused me painful awareness that the term “family appropriate” varies dramatically from home to home, especially for United States citizens “cutting loose” or should I say “letting it all hang out” in Mexico. Once I realized that I wasn’t likely to find families that shared my goals for sober family bonding, I uncharacteristically kept to myself during the week. While my husband and boys were off para-sailing and riding speed boats, I found the quietest place I could on the beach and read. I marked almost nothing off my bucket list and met very few people, with one exception. I enjoyed my first massage, mud wrap and facial. It was heavenly and I think I have some sort of mid life crush on my massage therapist, Letty. She was about my age and extremely kind. No, I not announcing anything, but after twenty six years of marriage and four children, that experience definitely had its perks. AND I didn’t have to clean up or make her dinner afterward. 

My expectations for the trip home were fairly low and initially right on target. The airport in Cancun is no place to be on a Saturday during Spring break season. Our tickets were coach, the flight was delayed and we had a four hour lay over in Ohio. Okay, another thing off my bucket list - I have now spent four hours in Ohio. The airport however, was extremely nice and unpopulated. It was quiet, as airports go. After we ate lunch I was looking forward to curling up in front of the windows in the almost abandoned waiting area outside our gate to catch up on some homework before our flight. Before I had the books withdrawn from my back pack, an adorable little boy plunked himself down at my feet and unpacked all his favorite toy action figures on the window ledge in front of me.

            “Do you see this guy? He flies faster than anything!” As he said this, he tossed a plastic toy into the air as high as he could. Then we were off and running. Jayden, my new four year old friend, introduced me to each of his toys and demonstrated their many skills. Some were good guys, some were bad guys. They all had super-powers, as of course, did Jayden. Things haven’t changed much with super heroes or four year old boys in the last decade or so. It didn’t take long for my younger son Peter, who is 15 now, to join in. Jayden soon lost interest in me. I have to admit when it comes to playing with action figures, Peter is ‘way cooler’ than I am.

I had a chance to visit with Jayden’s mother, who was a lovely, polite young woman who had been attempting since 6:00 that morning to fly standby home to Michigan for her mother’s 55th birthday. It was now after 5:00 pm and she was hoping there would be two seats on the flight leaving from our gate in an hour. She was very composed and gracious and I found myself praying that she had seats on that flight too.

 Peter asked me if he could buy ice cream McFlurries for himself and Jayden, and his mother seemed grateful and said that was fine. Jayden, who was animated before, lit up like a Christmas tree when Peter brought him the McFlurry. A few minutes later they left to board the plane. It had been a joyful experience and both Peter and I were sad to see them leave.
            It was maybe a half hour later that I got out of my chair and walked right into Jayden. He was standing by the ticket counter with his backpack over one shoulder, teddy bear in one hand, the horizontal, half eaten, McFlurry in the other, covered in drops of melted ice cream – teddy bear and all. He saw me and said, “Next time we come here, and we see you, can your brother buy me some more ice cream?” It was adorable. I asked his mom, who was busy at the ticket counter, if I could take him to the restroom and clean him up. Jayden walked with me and submitted to the damp paper towel treatment for his clothes and his bear as if he’d known me all his life. We went back to the gate and Peter showed Jayden how to play his Game-Boy, which kept him quiet while his Mom made hotel arrangements for the evening.
              So once again, my travel experience far exceeded my expectations. Meeting Jayden and his mother, being able to help someone, sharing those moments of joy with them and my son were definitely some of the highlights of my week. Family it seems, it alive and well in the United States. Like the ocean, when preserved and respected, family is vibrant and fills the heart with joy.  Once again, the Lord allowed my best laid plans to go south of my expectations, because He’d planned something so much better all along. So on that note, I’m praying this Lenten Season to be more open to welcoming the potential blessing of an unexpected inconvenience, to be slow to lament unavoidable “lay-overs” on journey, and to remember to be grateful for the blessing others are in my life.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Bottom of the Pile

  The sock basket originated as a place to keep clean socks that emerged from the laundry without a mate. The idea being that the basket would be self cleaning, with complete faith those wayward mates would eventually find their way back. It fit nicely in the bottom of my grandfather’s chifferobe.  After years of consistent donations, the overflowing sock basket became the base for a much larger sock box, which became almost invisible underneath the mound of socks piled upon it. Once is awhile, I did sort through the top of the pile to look for mates before I added the newest batch. It has been a good place to find socks to wear while doing lawn work, painting or to take to camp. I slept well at night, knowing if I’d ever had an urge to make sock puppets with 70 or 80 of the neighbor kids, I would have been covered. When it came to stray socks, better safe than sorry was my motto. 

  Over the past few months we have been remodeling the upstairs bathrooms, which precipitated the process of cleaning out linen closets and bathroom drawers. My pack rat tendencies exposed for all to see, at least all the contractors who traipsed through my upstairs, inspired me to continue the “cleaning out” process, one sock pile at a time. Actually, when I pulled four packages of diapers out of my bathroom linen closet, much to my contractors chagrin, I was shamed into admitting that with my youngest in high school I probably didn’t need them anymore.

  Yesterday, I had several pages of homework tackle for Spanish, so the urge to clean out the sock box became overwhelming. Once overturned, the pile of socks on the floor was impressive. Most people would have chucked the whole thing, but not having overcome my propensity to save things “just in case I might need them someday”, I looked at every sock. Some people look at photos when they feel sentimental. I found my retreat into nostalgia while wading through these lonely cast-aways.

 Depicted in a collage of mis-matched foot wear, the story of my parenting years lay in a huge mound on the floor. After 18 years of parochial schooling, the predominant sock color was white. For the girls, the anklets that evolved into cuff-less and finally footies so small they didn’t appear to be able to cover even half of a foot. There were toe socks, knee socks, festive holiday socks and athletic socks. Allie’s cross country years in high school left behind the mates of some rather pricey running socks. For the boys - crew socks, scout socks, baseball, soccer and winter hiking socks told the story of their years of grade school and high school sports and scouting. My husband and I had our own contributions: the mystery of the stray sock does not discriminate. Single remnants of days gone by, their usefulness forgotten amidst the debris, now had my full attention.

  In all I found about 30 usable matched pairs, not bad for an hours work. There were fifteen or so pairs that were too small, but in good shape, so they went in the donation pile. I threw out a stuffed kitchen trash bag full, and still had a respectably full sock box to rummage through – just in case. In the bottom I tucked the single baby socks which evoked vivid memories: the tiny Osh Gosh sock with little bears that matched a baby outfit of Peter’s. I can remember him so clearly in that outfit, picking him up from the changing table, carrying him around the house. It always felt so natural to have a child in my arms. I’ve grown accustomed to the emptiness, but it is difficult to describe that vague sense of longing. Not to start again, or to have another child, but to have those moments back. The moments when you could make everything right, when just seeing someone else’s face, hearing their voice, was enough to complete you.

 As my children move into adulthood, I can relate on many levels to the stray sock. I still have value and the potential for wear, but my function has changed. They feel more secure knowing I am there, but prefer to leave me in the bottom of the closet sometimes. They still need me, they just don’t need me in the same way anymore. I know that’s as it should be, so I find my comfort level somewhere in the pile of things discarded in youth, and I wait. They will need me in other ways, on more adult terms, and I will be there.

 On our own journey, God waits for us. We travel through the path of faith, at times fully equipped and at times, missing a sock. Who knows where it gets off to. We just get away from our prayer time, our faith life feels stale and we limp away on one foot, not even aware we are half dressed. Often, we head out to the store to purchase a replacement, a new job, new hairstyle, something to make us feel back on track - while God waits, descending farther from sight in the bottom of the sock box with our memories and life experience blocking Him from view.  Then one day, the urge strikes and we dive into the pile, to look for something we’ve misplaced. We sift through the pile, and there He is –waiting.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stepping into Line

Hola! Today I searched diligently for a pair of black pantyhose decent enough to wear with a skirt. I don’t wear them often and the pair I’d purchased before Christmas ‘just in case I might need it’  was donated to the Kinskey Daughters Christmas Outfit Fund. A worthy cause, but it still left me without and a bit frazzled this morning. I attended a funeral and raced back across town to engage once again in the battle for covered parking at the local Jr. College, from a visitation line to the emotional roller coaster of college education in midlife. The bleak dichotomy of the morning farewell and the new beginning of the afternoon was softened by a beautiful, thick snowfall. It was the sort of snow that renders the landscape quiet. I hoped it would provide much needed respite to my friend Colleen’s battered family. Her brother, Michael dropped dead last Sunday at age 49 with no warning. If he’d had chest pains or other symptoms, my friend didn’t know. All she knew was that on Sunday night, she answered the phone to receive the news that her brother was dead. No last breath, no good byes, no time to search a bit longer for that childhood picture he’d asked for that she couldn’t find. Just gone.

I’ve received a few of those calls myself over the years, the ones that change the flow of time, and make the air around you feel substantial, but you aren’t sure if it is holding you up or pressing you down. I was relieved to have my friend Liz with me during the service. Colleen was our second mutual friend in a week to lose a sibling to an unexpected illness, so Liz and I could shoulder the weight of knowledge together. Maybe our collective prayers could somehow lighten the atmosphere that shrouded Colleen and her family, especially her mother. St Peter’s Parish, familiar prayers, and the knowledge we have grieved together and shared much joy together before and surely will again -- this will be enough reassurance to make the atmosphere habitable for the human heart. God’s mercy promises that. Life and all its demands don’t allow me much time to visit with my friends, as a new beginning beckons me.

This was the first day of the second semester and the ‘traditional students’ otherwise known as ‘students who are attending college at the appropriate time in life’ perpetuate the irritating habit of attending class for the first few weeks of each semester, creating an increased shortage of parking. The snowfall intensified the demand for a covered spot. One poor young woman, obliviously a rookie, thought she could back her way around the parking lot to beat me to a spot I had been hovering for over ten minutes: lesson learned --beware the old woman in the mini van.

Spanish Two was located in the same building as its predecessor, but not in the same hallway. Before checking the room number, I went to our corner; the group of chairs where eight or ten of us met every morning before our 8:00 am class last semester - no one was there. Ugh, change, change and more change. I felt that familiar sensation: dread, anticipation, and excitement all firing off at the same time. Outside the room Tyler and Justin were already there and I realized how much I had missed all of this – school, the challenge of learning something that I was really ill equipped for, new friends. As I slipped in the back row with Tyler and Holly, I shed about three decades of maturity and composure with my coat. Still dressed for a funeral and older than most of the other students parents, I realized I didn’t actually blend, but there weren’t any mirrors in the room so denial reigned unchallenged for the next 50 minutes.

Attempting to learn Spanish and complete four semesters at the college level feels like standing in line for a roller coaster. I have a life long fear of heights. I make myself ride roller coasters when the opportunity presents itself in the spirit of plowing through a bucket list. I don’t really enjoy them, but usually, unless my equilibrium is completely shot and I have a nauseating headache for the remainder of the day, I feel a joyful sense of accomplishment. Spanish class is my mid life crisis roller coaster, with benefits. There is something about this type of learning that is energizing. For the next five months I will experience the fear and thrill of waiting in line for the roller coaster everyday as I sit in the back row trying desperately to recite in my mind how I will respond if Professor Gonzales calls on me. And he will call on me.

I wrote down everything the Professor asked the students before me and wrote my responses so I would have them ready. Me llamo Ana. Donde de Overland Park. I could tell you the names of my children and how old they were. I knew how many classes I was taking and whether or not I worked. So of course he asked me if I was “A Senora or a Senorita? Easy right? You don’t need a semester of Spanish to answer that one, but my “Why did I get in this line face” suddenly appeared as I mentally had to write down the question in my mind to respond. As you might of imagined, I do provide comic relief in Spanish class.

Class ends and as I walk down the corridor I see the snow fall has increased. Memories of the funeral, prayers for my friends and their families, and my own personal losses and past grief fall gently around me like the snowfall. The world is quiet and my heart has time to somehow weave the joys and excitement of the new beginning that college endeavors offer with the comfort and grief of life experience that encompassed my morning. Try as we might to be prepared for such days -- we exercise, watch our diets, buckle our seatbelts and stock up on black pantyhose -- life still catches us feeling off guard and ill prepared at times. God is always one step ahead. He is gracious and through the mystery of faith we have not only courage enough, but anticipation for a positive outcome, to step back into the line each day and persevere toward the front. We never ride the roller coaster alone. To top it all off, tomorrow will be a Snow Day – God will not be outdone!