Derby Day reenacted

Late April and May recess found me and my friend hurrying out the back door and off of the stoop to the blue and white swings.  Two sets of swings, two blue seats and two white seats suspended by thick chains, overlooked the baseball field at the bottom of the hill.  It was the place where we rode horses all during the 30 minutes before the teacher rang the handbell.  Tara chose Secretariat, and I jockeyed Seattle Slew.  We reenacted the Kentucky Derby again and again.

I imagined shooting out of the gate, clad in some sort of purple silks, urging my horse all the way around the track, rounding the last bend and heading down the stretch.  The wind caught my hair as I maneuvered my horse.  We sang Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” and imagined the blanket of red roses being award to one of us.  Somehow the magic of the first Saturday in May had trickled down the interstate from Louisville to our little town.  We were right in the middle of it all.

For some years, my dad let me choose a horse.  We looked at the paper, noting the horses and their jockeys and their silk colors.  I usually chose based on the name of the horse or whichever jockey wore purple.  He placed the bet for me using his money.  If my horse won, it became my money.  I won once or twice, but mostly Dad just forfeited five or ten bucks.

Even in our little town, Derby Day made things electric.  Folks rarely went to the actual race, but we lived the excitement and the glory of it during the days leading up to and on the day itself.  We watched the news coverage.  We reveled when we saw a favorite television or movie star show up in our Louisville on Millionaire’s Row.  The famous fastest two minutes in sports happened in our Bluegrass State.  Little Campbellsburg celebrated Kentucky pride.

Long before I knew about the spike in human trafficking during large sporting events, or the decadence of the infield, or the millions of dollars expended for one pony, the Kentucky Derby meant holiday and beauty and pageantry.  It meant our state made the national news for something spectacular.  The first Saturday in May showcased the strength and power of an animal I loved so much as a young girl, and I dreamed I could ride a horse like that someday.

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Waiting on resurrection

Easter Sunday.  The spring of the Church calendar–new life spilling out of the grave clothes.  One of highest of High Sundays, Resurrection Day punctuates the season of Lent with an exclamatory joy, life wins and death loses.  We feast around the table, all of us gussied up and shining.  He is risen, indeed.

I said the words to myself, because I didn’t go to church on Easter.  It was early in the day, the sun still climbing above the rooftops as songs of Resurrection began to rise in gatherings near and far.  I stared out the kitchen window and wondered if perhaps my church card might be revoked for not going to church on this, of all the days.  The girls went, so they were safe.  The rest of us, in trouble, I guess.  I cried a bit at the kitchen table, while I scribbled prayers to Jesus.

In spite of the truth of the Resurrection and the celebration, my heart is sad today, homesick for the familiar (and good) things about church and Church.

To be some kind of fair, our church held only one service on Easter morning:  6:30 Sunrise Service.  My mind reached back, thinking of how many Sunrise Services I promised my dad I would attend only to bow out at the break of day.  All of the years that John served as pastor and orchestrated sunrise liturgies, I participated in zero.  To say I’m not a morning person is an understatement.  But for this Easter, I had decided what to wear and set my alarm.  We were all going.

My heart was not in going.  I had not gone to the Maundy Thursday service, or the Good Friday service.  My family went to the Good Friday service, but I did not.  When the circumstances of Holy Saturday unfolded like they did (which constitutes another post altogether) and we went to bed much later than we planned, it was not difficult to change our Sunday morning itinerary.

But it was not easy, staying home from church on Easter.  For many reasons, most of which aren’t the ones I might have anticipated.

I busied myself in my kitchen, preparing the feast we would share with another Kentucky-to-Colorado transplant family.  In my spirit, however, I was in church sanctuaries of my past.  While I rolled out challah dough, I stood beside my dad and heard him change octaves as he sang “Up from the grave He arose.”  I lifted high the cross and sang hallelujah with the choirs.  I smelled lilies.  I saw John in his pastoral robe.  I saw the people who I knew were in those very sanctuaries, and boy, my heart ached.

The truth is, I’m a bit raw still from years of ministry.  I am sad still, sad about my own blunders of hitting and missing even with the best of intentions.  I am tired still, tired from holding up a level of protection around my husband and our family, tired from the general urgency of church culture, weary from general church culture.  Until I slowed down significantly, I didn’t know the impact.

I love spring and the hope it measures out on this old earth, the whispers of promise it delivers to me.  The season of Lent ended for me with an ellipsis… no definitive exclamation point. Easter came this year with a reminder, a word that my church-self needs as I rest in the waiting.

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world will be redeemed
O hold on to the promise

The stories are true
That Jesus makes all things new

–Andrew Peterson


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Old stories new again

A new mom, just a year or so into all of the territory I had never walked before.  A tired mom.  Tired from tending to every detail, from wanting to do things just right, from learning to listen to my mom-gut that sometimes overrides the just-right.  It was a winter night, and I tucked that Maggie into her crib, her blankets just so, covering her pink-jammied self.  I said good night and turned to leave the room.

“Mommy?” she called as I was just making my way into a chair of quiet.

I turned and went right back into her room, probably stomping in some form or another.  “Yes?” I say, irritation audible in my voice.

She said something through the barrier of her pacifier.

“What?” I asked, clear annoyance spilling into my tone.

She said it again, looking up at me, eyelashes batting, finger tapping her cheek.

I reached down and grabbed hold of the passy, yanking it out of her mouth.  “What?” I repeat, punctuating the T emphatically.  Frustration drove my bus.  It was past bedtime.  I was so ready to be done for the day.

Very calmly, little articulate Maggie repeats herself without the hindrance of her pacifier, “I need some pink stuff for my cheekies.”

In the cold, damp months of winter, little faces get red and chapped.  We always put a pink, emollient solution on her rounded cheeks.  Nighttime application provided lots of stillness to let the skin heal.  That night, I forgot.  She didn’t.

At the softness of her words, the gentleness of her request, the purity of her non-clock-keeping self, I was undone.  My defenses down, and my heart put back into order in a two second interchange, tears stung my eyes.

That sacred moment beside Maggie’s crib has hovered into my thoughts so many times over the years.  I shared it again with all of the kids just the other day.  20 years later, we term it #momfail.  The ache of missing the point, of hurrying too fast, I relive it in each telling and each remembrance.  Somehow, the holiness of it all teaches across time.  The grace to redo, to stop, to look into a face and listen.

Aidan loves the story so much that he works the request into the conversation several times a day.  In reading Odysseus’s tale, he repeats back to me two or three details of the story and somehow incorporates that Odysseus or Penelope or one of the wooers needs pink stuff for their cheekies.  When Journey the dog is having a hard time because she wants to play, he tells me that she must need pink stuff for her cheekies.  Every time, he speaks in his best Maggie toddler voice impression.

When I’m most frustrated that he is so 13-years old, so distractible and loud and busy, he says, “Mom? Mom?  I need some pink stuff for my cheekies.”  He taps his cheek and ensures that I look him in the face.

I’m undone all over again.  Several times a day.  I remember, and I don’t want to hurry.  Lord, please help me not to miss the point.



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The skin of elephants and the Alligator Lady

I asked God the other day why I couldn’t have and didn’t have thicker skin.  My eyes roamed the room as the ache of my own frustrating ways sat on my chest.  A book, The Spirit of the Elephant, caught my attention.  John got that book for me, because he’s good and he knows of my affinity for elephants.   It’s a beautiful coffee table piece full of photos and words about elephants.  Elephants have thick skin.

As I thought about the spirit of the elephant and that kind of pachydermal covering, something came back to me that I had not thought of in years.  Now I can hardly stop thinking of it.

County fairs marked the summer calendar as a highlight.  For a least three summers, the highlight was punctuated by being able to attend a different fair in another Kentucky town.  High school classmates of my parents had a daughter between my and my brother’s ages, and we often traveled the hour and a half or so to visit them in their bigger small town. We loved it, and we especially loved it during county fair time.

Their fair offered more sights and more culture.  A horse show and a double Ferris Wheel stand out in my memory as two main larger attractions.  It was a classy deal, I thought, an up-grade.  Our parents would send us along with no fear and a spending limit and a designated hour to meet them.  We would set out on grassy pathways to explore and make good use of our time and money.

The sign said “Alligator Lady.”  We saw it and walked past.  We returned to it later, out of curiosity, out of a daring sense of adventure.  We agreed to go in.  I gave up a bit of my carnival cash, and someone opened the curtain.

Once inside, the curtain drawn again, the noise of the fair muffled.  The familiar fragrance of summer humidity laden with midway-sweet shifted to a still, stale strange.  I was face to face with a woman in a green bikini, which exposed as much of her scaled skin as dignity, the irony, would allow.  She sat behind a table, her arms resting on it so people could touch her skin.  I lifted my eyes to meet her own blue ones set inside her rough-skinned face.  I quickly looked away.  Her gaze was far away and sad, yet penetrating, soul-searching.  I reached out my hand to touch her arm; it was what I had paid for, after all.  I felt terribly uncomfortable, and, though I didn’t have the words for it then, I felt like I had violated her.  We turned to leave the stuffy room, and we walked right back out into the clanging chime-y of the carousel and the squeals and laughter of the whole fair population.  We left her sitting in her seat, waiting for another paying customer to behold the Alligator Lady.

Reliving that night at the fair, I was both in my office and transported right beside that lady again.  Her in her green bikini, her skin rough and thick, scaly and abnormal.  Me, the young girl who paid to see her.  I remembered the feeling of objectifying a person, the feeling that my small world now held the knowledge of something larger and unexplainable and hard to stomach.

As I saw it all play out again, my perspective shifted.  I prayed for the woman at the fair, for others like her, for myself and others like me.  I marveled at her courage, and I prayed that her story wasn’t as sad as I had felt it in those moments with her–a lady, another human, housed in different skin.

“Recent research suggests that elephants have a wider range of cognitive capabilities than realized previously.  Their understanding and sensitivity will only be fully appreciated if we can, in turn, apply greater understanding and sensitivity to our associations with them and pursue an open-minded research into the lives of these amazing animals, and fight more strongly on their behalf.”  pg. 250*

Perhaps it would do us good to practice saying thank you.

God, thank you that you gave me life and breath.  Thank you for the ways in which I process and take in the world.  Thank you for the gift of adversity, whether you hand it to me or simply allow it because you know it will be a grace in the end.  Thank you for the gift of other humans, the ones we love and the ones we find it difficult to love.  Thank you for teaching us to see people, for in truly seeing them, we can apply greater understanding and sensitivity to our associations with them and fight more strongly on their behalf.  Thank you, God, for my skin.

*The Spirit of the Elephant, Majestic Giant of the Animal Kingdom, by Gill Davies

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Originally posted on moving honestly:

Only one grandfather graced my childhood.  I never knew my dad’s dad, but my mom’s dad, everyone knew him.  He was hard not to know, and even as a kid, I wasn’t sure what to think of his renown.  A character, some would say.  Quietly proud of him, quietly a bit scared for his inner life and his eternal destiny.  As a child, I labored much in prayer for him.  And I absorbed different flavors of holy hanging out with him.

Up until my double digits, it was not uncommon for my brother and me to spend a night at Granny and Daddy Hob’s house on the weekends.  Farm land and left-over farm stuff–two barns, a smokehouse, and what became a shed of sorts–sat at the lower end of the property, sloping at the far edges to the fishing lake.  We played for hours in and around the buildings, soaking up the…

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