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Monday, November 11, 2019

What goes up .....doesn't always come down

I’m a church secretary. It’s a wonderful job, but often misunderstood. Recently, a woman from the
community came into my office to pay the fee for the space she had rented from the church. I was alone in the office, music was playing – the atmosphere was quite peaceful. She said
to me, “Geez don’t you get bored just sitting here all day?” Seriously?! She has no idea of the rigors of being a church secretary!

You see, last Friday, not only did I prove that the work of a church secretary comes with great risk, I also disproved the theory that “what goes up must come down”. I’m not a very scientific person but on Friday, I showed that theory what’s what!

A delivery came in for the day care located in the basement of the building. Fives boxes of supplies, a couple of them were heavy. I typically call the director and tell her they have had a delivery but since I had 180 Sunday School books to deliver to various classrooms in the basement I decided to kill two birds with one stone and take all things that belong to the basement down at one time. Furthermore, one of the boxes was a little too heavy for me to carry and well, it was just my day to do something nice for somebody for a change.

I decided to take a cart from the kitchen, load it with all my items and take them down on the elevator. Now let me just set the stage for you a bit. The elevator is small. The cart is plus size, as am I. But the cart and I have traveled on the elevator together in perfect harmony many times.  I carefully loaded my items onto the cart, making sure to place the heavy box on top with the Sunday school books fitting snuggly around it. The bottom shelf contained the lighter boxes and a couple of stacks of books, positioned so that they would not fall off the cart in transit.  I had much to do in the office, so I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible.

The front wheels of the cart are kind of “wonkey,” so it tends to move easier if you push from the rear of the cart instead of the using the handle end of the cart. The elevator is rather old and has two doors on either end, one of them is the hard-wooden outer door, the other a folding accordion style door. Once in the elevator the accordion door must be shut tightly before the manual button system will engage. Once you shut the accordion door one must push and hold the button of the desired floor until it reaches said destination. Once there, the accordion door on the other side is slid back, which unlocks the wooden door so it can be pushed open to exit. Easy, peasy.

Because of the wonkey wheel I pushed the cart in handle first. I positioned my plus sized body behind the plus sized cart and shut the accordion door behind me and pushed the basement button to begin my decent, feeling pretty good about my ingenious idea and the efficiency of my efforts.  As the elevator started it’s decent the accordion door handle and the cart handle collided! Yikes! This is when I realized that I usually push the cart in with the handle side toward me. I’d have to make an adjustment, but since there wasn’t much room in the elevator, I quickly hit the “1” button, which was the closest to me, and sent the elevator the other way so that I could go out, turn the cart around and begin again.

The elevator arrived on the top floor. I leaned over the cart to push open the folding door so I could push the cart out. As I raised up from leaning over the cart several of the books fell off the cart and onto the floor, right onto the sliding door track. “Oh well, I’m going to get off here anyway, I’ll just roll over the books, since I can’t reach them due to the expanse of the cart and pick them up after I’m out,” was my thought.  I gave the cart a push to open the door, the door didn’t budge. I gave the accordion door another little push to make sure it was back far enough, pushed the cart – door still didn’t budge.

Now I’m realizing my predicament. The solid door will not open, I lean over the cart again to try to push it with my hands, knocking more books off into the floor as I go – it is locked!! I’m unable to shut the folding door again because of the books that are in the way, meaning I won’t be able to go down to the next floor. This is when the sweat began to happen.

Being extremely thankful that I went to the bathroom prior to entering the elevator, I reach for my cell phone in my pocket to call the day care director, Portia. No Cell phone! More sweat! Now, I have fully entered panic mode where boring 54-year-old church secretaries tend to only think about bladder issues and the lack of important things like snacks and air space. There is a red button on the panel labeled alarm. Seeing how I was certainly in alarm mode I pushed the red button, over and over – it’s faint ring being heard only in the confines of my crowded space. Cursing the engineer of the alarm button under my breath, I inhaled deeply, cautious not to used up all of my limited air, and tried to gather myself. And that’s when I remembered!  The PHONE! There is a phone in the elevator. I opened the little trap door that houses the phone, lifted it to my ear and heard the delightful sound of a dial tone. MUSIC to my ears! I dialed the day care office, since the Pastor wasn’t in. Portia, the director answered. Oh boy, I dreaded this – I knew she’d get a bang out of me being stuck in the elevator. Because of my recent run of luck, I didn’t mince words for fear the phone also would quit working – I blurted out – I’M STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR! Followed by a brief silence and then laughter on the other end…and then….” I’m on my way”.

Portia peered through the small glass window in the elevator in amazement of what she was seeing. You’d have to talk to her to get the full details but I’m guessing she’d describe the scene as such: A tiny elevator filled with a hot, red, sweaty, teary eyed, panicked, plus sized church secretary crammed up against the wall by a plus sized cart with books and boxes scattered everywhere. She checked on my well-being and promised to call a Steward to help. I was using one of the 180 books to fan myself while she called Mike – my Knight in shining armor and officially my favorite person.  In the meantime, Portia entertained me by pressing her nose against the glass and trying to keep things light.

I was feeling pretty bad that we had to bother Mike so I decided I was going to attempt to lay over the cart again and see if I could reach the books on the floor and help myself. Portia begged me not too. I didn’t listen – what’s she gonna do right? So, now Portia watched through the tiny class as I laid my plus sized body over the plus sized cart scattering books and boxes. At one point my feet were straight up in the air and I’m sure it was a sight to see. But I could not stretch far enough to get the last book out of the track of the door!  Just wasn’t happening and I was resigned to the fact that I had officially done everything I could do to free myself.  

Knight in shining armor, Mike, arrived on the scene and peered in the window. He looked frantic (but was probably more inclined to laugh hysterically) as I’m sure what he was seeing looked impossible. He had the Steward Chairman on the phone telling him where to find the emergency key! I started to relax. Hooray, there is an emergency key! I began to tidy up my space as Mike went to fetch the key, freedom was right around the corner.

KEY WOULDN’ T WORK! More sweat. This time from Mike. He retrieved vice grips to try to make the key turn – NOT HAPPENING. More sweat – from all three of us! At last Mike decided to see if the bottom door would unlock. From that door I was between floors, so getting out would be trickier but I would jump if I had to. At last FREEDOM! Bottom door was opened, Mike scooted a chair over and I climbed out awkwardly, but I made it out and that’s all I cared!

Mike saved the day. I was feeling embarrassed and terrible that I had infringed on everyone’s day and wondering if I had somehow screwed up the elevator. We all got on with our life. Mike called the elevator repair man. Portia carried all the boxes down, I delivered all the books but was left with the task of returning the cart to the kitchen up the stairs. I tugged and pulled it up the stairs, one step at a time. That is when I hurt my shoulder.

I took Tylenol for the shoulder pain. Went to the potty, just because…well, I could now, and promptly ate two pieces of chocolate. Only because there was no hard liquor in the church office. I left at my normal time. Went home to an overcooked ham in the crockpot and the corn casserole I baked was burnt on the outside and gooey in the middle.

Yesterday, at lunch my family marveled at the dark bruises that ran up my arm. “Hmmm,” I said, “Must’ve happened in the elevator incident”. I looked at the bruises and felt a strange sense of pride. Just like a valiant warrior proudly wears the battle scars of the war he fought to save his tribe, I too proudly wear the bruises of Sunday school curriculum delivery in honor of all Church secretary’s everywhere.

And to the lady who wondered how I can stand such a boring job….” HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW, TOOTS?” 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Turn your bitter into blessing

When my mother-in-law died last winter, our family was gifted a beautiful Peace Lily in her memory. It looked nice for a couple of months but eventually, regardless of my pampering, it quit flowering, the leaves turned yellow and began to fall off.

As I went to water it one day, I realized I no longer could see the dirt, just roots. The roots of the plant had taken up the confines of the small pot it was in. I repotted the lily in a large pot with rich, fertilized soil giving the roots space to expand and the plant freedom to grow and branch out in its fullness. I’m happy to say, it now has three beautiful white blooms.

I recently had the same experience in my soul. I was bitter. I had allowed that bitter root to consume me. And like the lily, I drooped, lost my vitality and failed to bloom. I was unable to see past my bitterness, therefore I remained, entangled in the roots of my small confines. It was stuffy and unpleasant there and I disliked “the pot” in which I dwelled.

And as is typical for me, I went to Jesus. Well, not at first. That, unfortunately, is the typical part – to take my troubles to him – secondly. I have the bad habit of trying to solve things on my own first. It’s not until I become pretty miserable that I finally remember that there is a much better way of dealing with things. It’s taking me and extra-long time to figure this out in my life. But alas, I did finally make my way to Jesus. I asked Him if He would take this bitter root in me and plant it in fertile soil so that something positive would grow from it.
He reminded me of this verse that popped up in my study of Hebrews lately: Look after each other so that not one of you will fail to find God’s best blessings. Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives. Hebrews 12:15. 

Now, back to the lily for a moment. Those bitter, overgrown roots were so choked out that the beautiful flowers were not able to bloom. The root system simply was not able to properly deliver to the plant all that it needed. I looked after it, fertilized it, gave it a little love and now it shines to its full potential. 

My bitterness was causing me to miss out on God’s blessings. I failed to see the good in the those that made me bitter. I failed to see what they had to offer, the gifts God had given them for his kingdom and his glory. I wasn’t blooming nor was I helping anyone else to do so. But just as I did for the lily, God, in his wisdom has “re-potted” me. He’s opened my eyes and convicted me to stay away from those things that cause bitterness to take root. I’m a little greedy, always wanting to find God’s best blessing. I’m also just as unselfish, in that I want to make sure other’s find that favor also. He’s given me the space to branch out and receive His fullness.

I’m always a work in progress. But it feels good to know that I don’t have to dwell in that small crowded pot where bitter roots take over. Instead, I choose to rest in the promise of Psalm 91:1 – He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will be under the shadow of the Almighty. That, my friend, is the greatest place to be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Raising a teenager is like....

     Sometimes you're cruising down the highway of life, sunroof open, shades on, the sun is shining in and warming your skin. Your favorite tunes are playing on the radio. Better yet, it’s a classic rock station and you reminisce as you belt out a Pat Benatar ballad. You don’t really seem to have a care in the world. It’s just you, the open highway and blue skies.

     And then up ahead you see taillights in both lanes.  Your jam session with Pat ends and your session with traffic jam begins.  As you tap your break preparing to slow down, you can see around the curve…taillights for miles and miles. And just like that, the thrill of the ride is over. You’re no longer giddy and carefree. You’re no longer singing along to the happy tune and the sun streaming through the sunroof is no longer warm and cheerful but has created a sauna type feeling in your stuffy confines.

      You inch along and at times completely sit still baffled at what has just taken place, startled by the sudden halt, worried, perturbed and a whole gamut of negativities. You lean on the car door, head resting on your clenched fist, your face becomes distorted with discouragement.

      You begin to wonder if you’ll ever be cruising free-spirited again or if you’ll be stuck in this holding pattern forever. You ponder alternate routes and grow impatient. You can see the cars in the opposite lanes zipping along and you feel jealous, wishing you were headed in the other direction.

        You’ve sat for awhile and that’s when you notice you’re low on gas. And all you can do now is pray. Pray that God will sustain your tank until you can fill it again. With each mile you inch forward there is a sense of relief that you might be on the move again, only to be taken back a notch when you notice that the gas gauge marker is getting closer to the “E”.

     After what seems to be hours, things begin to clear, you move a little more forward, a little faster each time, and you mutter something like “It’s about time” as you grip the wheel in anticipation of picking up speed.

       And just as you make your way through the bottle necked traffic with the help of an officer who is directing the way, you glance over to see the cause of the delay – a mangled heap of metal that was once a car being lifted onto a tow truck. A sickening lump forms in your throat and you’re suddenly filled with shame about your previous anger and impatience. Your perspective shifts and you realize that your situation could have been worse. You are thankful that it was just time you lost on this day.

      Now you’re driving the speed limit again. You ease up the volume just a bit, but you drive reflectively for the remaining few miles.

     And this is what it feels like to raise a teenager! 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving Misgivings

Tis the season of Thanksgiving.  Feeling thankful this Thanksgiving was a real stretch for me.  Many things going on out of my control – caused me to head into the holiday feeling dismal and out of sorts. 

     Because my sons came home for my mother in law’s funeral last week they did not return for the holiday.  Thus, I did not have either of my son’s around my thanksgiving table for the first time in 28 years.  Channeling my inner Eeyore and feeling full of woe – I decided to make the best of it anyway.

     I had three goals for the weekend:
  1.  Put up the Christmas Tree with my daughter 
  2.  Go see the Nutcracker Ballet with my daughter
  3.  Buy myself a new office chair (desperate need).

     I grocery shopped on Tuesday, buying what was needed for my contribution for Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s home and for the lunch I was going to serve to out of town friends on Friday.  I decided a taco salad bar would be the perfect lunch to serve our friends after a day of filling ourselves with carbs.  So, I bought a nice-looking package of Romaine lettuce and meandered over to the meat aisle.  Wow, a lot of the ground beef was marked down, and I felt quite thrifty putting a 4 lb. package in my cart with a bright orange 20% off sticker pasted to the front.  As I walked the aisles, I thought about all the many wonderful and economical dishes I would make with that $10.00 package of burger.

     Later, bored with my husband’s choice of t.v. programming, I decided to peruse Facebook.  Post after post talked about the recent Romaine lettuce recall.  What?  Well, so much for the Taco Salad idea.  With a busy day ahead and refusing to make another trip to the store I surveyed the pantry noting I had all the ingredients for stuffed pepper soup.  Soup it shall be for my Friday guests.

    I successfully stuffed myself on Thanksgiving and enjoyed being with extended family.  Friday dawned. With my daughter gone to work early in the morning, I was determined to get much accomplished.  I made a list and quickly began to check off the items. Time ticked quickly, and I soon realized I needed to get that pot of soup going for my lunch time guests.  Getting the veggies out of the fridge I noted the package of potentially tainted Romaine and threw it into the trashcan.  I diced the veggies for the soup and reached back in the fridge for my burger.  I’d fry up a pound for lunch, divide the rest and put it in the freezer.  So, many wonderful “would be” meals ahead, I mused to myself.  Turned out, “would be,” were the magic tragic words here.  The burger was completely brown. Hubby did the smell test and turned up his nose in disgust.  I pitched it in the trash, on top of the Romaine lettuce, deciding that the next time I grocery shop, I’ll just go ahead and throw fifteen bucks in the trash can and save myself the hassle of bringing home rancid and poison food. 

     Time was of the essence and I was still in my jammies.  I rushed to the bathroom to get changed, so I could run to the local butcher for a pound of ground round.  I tugged at the plastic piece on top of my newly purchased deodorant stick, but my arthritic thumbs couldn’t grasp it well and without thinking I instinctively put the piece in my mouth to loosen it.  There is a reason your mother tells you not to use your teeth as a tool.  I heard a crack – it was not the plastic piece – it was my tooth. Front Tooth.  I said a word I’m not proud of, but it seemed fitting since I had just done something, I wasn’t very proud of. After a call to the dentist, only to find they aren’t in until Tuesday, Hubs assured me it really didn’t look that bad.  He’s a nice guy. Usually, he’s honest.  But his real gifts lie in timing and having a good grip on the situation at hand.  And here he mastered it.   Now, with only about 45 minutes before guests were to arrive, I head to the local butcher.  Small towns are great – but when you need something fresh and fast – it’s not always feasible.  This was the case on this day.  No fresh ground beef, except one 5 lb. package.  “We have lots of frozen hamburger” the butcher said.  I thanked him, without smiling, because of the whole snaggle tooth situation. And well, because a bad word had slipped earlier – and at this stage of the game there were no guarantees. Thank goodness for microwaves, defrost settings and gracious friends.

     Three things learned on this day:
1.        Clearance aisles are for last seasons shirts and ugly
           bathroom rugs – not ground round
2.       Salads are bad for you
3.       A chipped front tooth is a curse and a blessing. I said a bad 
          word / I didn’t say a bad word.

     When my daughter got home from work, we were discussing the fact that she’d taken on a babysitting job for the next night and wouldn’t be able to go to the Nutcracker ballet after all. I noticed she was really staring at my mouth as we spoke.  I said, “Oh yeah, I chipped my tooth again!” Her response – “Oh my gosh mom, aren’t you going to do anything about it?” “Well, yeah but the dentist isn’t in until Tuesday”.  Her reply, “Wow, it looks terrible – you mean you have to go to church like that?”  Turns out that her gifts do not lie in having “feel” or a good “grip” on a situation – like her father. I’m also starting to re-think the whole “honesty is the best policy” thing we’ve been pushing at her.  Exhausted, she zonked out on the couch early. Meanwhile, I practiced how to talk with my top lip over my front teeth. 

     Nutcracker ballet – strike-through on my list of weekend goals. Christmas tree remained in a box in the storage room.

     But wait, the weekend was not over, and neither was my bad luck streak. Hubs informed me that we had a big project we needed to do for the business on Saturday.  Since my office chair was broken and it was the only thing left on my weekend goals list, I decided to make a “quick” trip to Staples (35 minutes away). The plan was to leave early and get myself a nice office chair and pick up a few more groceries for the week ahead while there – in civilization – where fresh and fast things can be purchased willy-nilly at all hours of the day.  I put on deodorant uneventfully, got dressed, brushed my snaggle tooth and headed out.  I assured the hubs I’d be home in time to go to a visitation service for a man who passed away this week and then hunker down in my new chair to do the project that lied ahead. “Make sure you pay the money to have them assemble the chair – so we don’t have to,” he says.

     Before leaving we had a conversation and I chided him for being so forgetful.  “I worry about you sometimes,” I said, “You can’t remember anything.”  15 minutes into my trip I call him to say, “Ummm, I forgot the business credit card!” I drive back home – he meets me at the car, card in hand.  He doesn’t say anything except “Make sure you get the best chair, because I don’t want to hear you whining about your chair anymore!”  He sure doesn’t have any memory issues with that now, does he?

     Once at Staples I found the elite of all chairs.  It was adequately padded, supported me well and looked good. It was either the perfect man or the perfect chair!  I was told it couldn't be assembled until late in the day. Not wanting to come back, I asked if I could have the floor model.  They agreed and a girl with green hair went out to help me.  After spending several minutes trying to fit a square peg in a round hole I learned that any prior judgment passed on the girl with green hair was very mis-guided.  She was quite nice, very pretty, and she was savvy as she twisted and turned the cumbersome chair every way possible to get it into my tiny Impala.  No Can Do!  Not going to happen.  She rolls the chair back in – I tell her I’ll be back.

     My husband advises me to call my sister-in-law who lives half way between us and the Staples Store and ask if we could borrow one of their bigger vehicles.  She obliged and since they were not at home, she gave me the code to their garage and told me where to find the key for their college girl’s van.  Perfect.  Once there I pulled her van up to the garage and got out to transfer my things from my car into the van and then put my car into her parking spot. Van door was locked!!!  The stinkin’ van was running, with the door locked!  I had no idea how I did this.  Obviously, I must have bumped the lock when I got out – but now what?  I tried calling my sister-in-law. I look through the basket on the counter where I got the key for a spare.  No luck. By this time, I’m frazzled, hungry, bewildered, and the stresses of the last three weeks came to a head.  And might I mention, I was still struggling with the fact that I had judged the girl with green hair at Staples when in all honesty, she was probably back at the store telling her co-workers about the snaggle toothed hillbilly who just tried to fit a giant chair in a small car.  I called hubs in tears – “This is totally stressing me out!”

     He calls me by name. He hardly ever calls me by name. There was no Babe, no Hun, just my name – followed by, “Don’t panic – take a deep breath”. I don’t have time for a deep breath. I’m running back and forth from house to van to car, trying every key I can find and praying the neighbors don’t report some lunatic red-neck breaking into the Bontrager’s house and trying to steal their car! 

     Humiliated and beside myself, I go inside, plop down in a recliner and text every single person in their family, hoping someone can get me out of this mess. I wait. My mind was spinning with the thought that since this was my college niece’s vehicle, her spare was probably at college and now I’m going to have to call a locksmith and this $179.00 chair may very well become our most expensive piece of furniture! Fortunately, my niece, who doesn’t even live with them anymore, contacts me and has me check another closet….and BINGO – I find a key.  I took both keys with me.  I wore one that was on a lanyard and zipped the other in my pocket.  This would not happen again.

     At the grocery store I passed the liquor aisle and I thought about how this would be a good day to start drinking – or eat one of those gigantic 2 lb. gourmet candy bars you see in the candy aisle.  Who eats those anyway?

     I drove the van with the chair and my groceries all the way back home and unloaded. Then I drove all the way back to their house to pick up my car.  I recanted my story to my niece.  She thought the whole situation was hilarious. I think it’s disturbing.

     Our girl came home after working all day and then babysitting. She went to bed. The Christmas tree still rests comfortably in a box in the storage room. Instead of the Nutcracker, I got a tooth cracker.  But the weekend wasn’t a total wash. I did mark the office chair purchase off my list of goals. I sit it in it as I write.  It sits well. It should – it’s one expensive chair!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Lessons about moving forward while looking in the rear-view!

Recently, we bought our 16-year-old daughter a car.  I wish I could say I was as excited about it as she was.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand her joy – I remember the feeling of driving my first car.  As she sits in the drivers seat she feels freedom, the thrill of the open road with the wind whipping through her hair as she listens to her favorite tunes.  As she sits in the driver’s seat, however, all I can see is her being strapped to a 2-ton hunk of metal that screams danger…danger!  Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration…or is it?? 

After months of searching we found just the perfect car.  It wasn’t the armored tank I had hoped for, but it was the right size, price and met all of dad’s specifications.  And it’s cute, which is the most important factor.  I drove her to pick it up.  The joy on her face gave slow release to my fears as I shared in her excitement. 

She followed me home.  At the first stop light I looked in my rearview mirror – she was beaming – I gave her a thumbs up.  What she didn’t know is that I was literally seeing her in rear view.  I wasn’t seeing the beautiful young woman in the shiny car behind me. I was seeing a little girl with her hair piled up in a bushy pony-tail on top of her head, squealing with delight as she ran with our beagles in the back yard… just yesterday! It was, just yesterday right? 

In my rear view all I could see was the sweet long-awaited baby who we spent years praying for.  The little cherub who got passed around at baseball games for the first summer of her life. The baby girl, who became the subject of her brothers’ arguments over who would hold her in church or whose turn it was to carry her through the grocery store.  The bright-eyed three-year-old who belted out “Holy, Holy, Holy” from her grocery cart seat all through Walmart.  

Man, that was a long stop light!  When we got to the intersection where she was to turn to go meet her Youth group, she put on her signal and threw her hand up at me as she turned onto the county road, slowly moving out of my sight. In my “rear-view” I was seeing her on her first roller coaster ride.  She was seven years old with a gapped tooth grin and little braided pig-tails sticking up all around her head. She waved at me then also, as she and her daddy, her protector and brave co-hort in thrill-seeking, rounded the first bend in their safari jeep car.  If only he was snuggly buckled in next to her this time too.

Driving.  It’s a segue for much to come…one of the first timid steps into adulthood. She’s moving forward….so must I.  There’s a big open road ahead of her and I pray she travels it with the windows down, singing along with the radio and taking it all in (with her seatbelt on, never texting while driving or, in excess of the speed limit, of course – wink, wink).

I’m excited to look ahead with her.  I’ll still glance back in the rear-view occasionally, so I don’t forget, but with faith I’ll keep looking forward, waiting for that anticipated text message from her that says – “I made it”.
My journal entry and illustration of the day we bought the car.