When my cousin Rob was struck by lightning, he woke up under his own dining room table and lay there for a few minutes trying to decide if he was dead. He has never First Snowbeen a big believer in his own soul, so the thought that he might be dead and yet somehow still under the table cogitating caused him some concern.

Eventually he decided that dead would probably hurt less, and he crawled out, discovering in the process that while he was alive, all of his electronics were not. He never even found all of his cell phone. What he said later was, “Grandaddy was right.”

Our grandfather lived much of his life in fear of all things meteorological, plus snakes and moving water. In summer, he would squint at the horizon and say, “It looks like it’s going to come a thunderstorm.” In winter, he did the same squint and said “Feels like snow.” My mother grew up seriously afraid of storms and used to spend them in the (enclosed) staircase of our house, while my sister and I watched from the windows. She counted that as one of her greatest achievements—she didn’t pass on her fear.

And yet there is a genetics that goes deeper than experience, and that is why I am not a fan of snow. Where I grew up, snow was not your white, fluffy friend. Out in the country, people stayed put, or if they had to drive, they did so slowly, with chains, and even then sometimes spent the night in their cars when things went bad on Max Creek Hill or Lowman Hill. Nobody went joyriding in the snow because if you slid off the road somewhere, it might take days to dig you out, and in the meantime, who was going to take care of the cows?
So even now, I have a “Who is going to take care of the cows?” mentality. My Beloved has to get to work no matter what, because hospitals do not close due to weather conditions. Our friend the letter carrier will carry mail, and our friend the state police officer will patrol. I just can’t do the happy dance when it snows.

But there’s this: My Beloved was able to get home on Thursday evening before 81 shut down. By that time, the roads weren’t too bad, thanks to people who, metaphorically, take care of the cows. Our whole street came out to shovel yesterday; it was a party, albeit a little short on canapés and booze. Watching the dog trying to find a place to poop cracks me up. It’s the little things that matter, when the world slows down for snow.

This morning, I finished another quilt top and had bacon for breakfast for the second day in a row. The guys are downstairs watching basketball, and there might be music later. I have yet to be struck by lightning, and Rob does not pick up radio stations with his teeth, so perhaps the world is not as scary as I’m genetically programmed to believe it is.

But it will be okay with me if this is the last snow of the season . . .


God’s Favorite

Heart Block

Once again, Steve Wiens of The Actual Pastor has hit the metaphorical nail on its literal head.  Go on and read him here. Then carry on.

Now. Let’s think about love for a moment, can we? This is February, the month when you can’t walk through Walgreens without a zillion red cardboard hearts leering at you from every shelf. These are supposed to make you think of love.

“Here babe. For all the wonderful things you are, and the great stuff you do for me, I will give you this box of cheap chocolate and a dozen roses that were $9.99 at Wal-Mart. It’s the thought that counts, and I’m thinking all this should buy me some ‘alone time’ with you, if you get my drift.”

If Wal-mart and Walgreens and other things starting in “wal” are any indication, we believe in love of the cardboard heart variety.

But what about the real kind? What does real love look like?

Steve offers one example—a sandwich.  I can think of other things.

On Tuesday night, we went to a church in Fairlawn to pay our respects to our friend Mike’s mother, Janet Rodgers, and her precious family. The place was jammed. Everyone had a story. Everyone had a memory. We didn’t know her, but we left feeling as though we had. Her whole life was a legacy of love, and a lot of it was the practical, hands-on kind. Our other friend, Liz, commented on Facebook, “After [Mike] spoke, I reflected on how Janet made everyone feel like her favorite. Just like Jesus! You are Jesus’ favorite. And so am I.”

What an amazing legacy! I want to be Mike’s mom when I grow up. (This is looking doubtful at the moment because of the whole flamethrower thing, but it’s good to have goals.) Is there anything more awesome to say about someone than “She made everyone feel like her favorite?”  God is like that.

God is way bigger than human systems and ideologies and understandings. God cannot be defined by debates or diminished by demagogues (even the ones who claim that they have God’s words in their mouths).

God doesn’t mess around with the cheap stuff and the self-serving motives because, well, God doesn’t need much. Instead, God offers people God’s self, and says “You are my favorite.”

In this month of crazy cardboard love, let’s do something radically different. Every single day, let’s do one wild, generous, fun, loving thing for someone who crosses our path, because they are God’s favorite, and they may not know. Besides, I’m God’s favorite, too, and so are you.

Here Comes The Bride (All 625,000 of Her)

The population of the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area is 1.25 million people. As cities go, that’s really not very large; lots of American cities are bigger, and certainly in global terms, it’s not immense.

No, Richmond does not feel all that large until you find yourself crammed into a small bridal shop with the 625,000 women who are either brides, mothers of brides, sisters of brides, bridesmaids, or babies of brides.

This weekend, my sister, my mother-in-law and I joined my daughters and a mother-in-law-to-be for a whirlwind day of wedding dress shopping. We did this in Harrisonburg with the Older Daughter about three years ago, so we thought we knew what to expect.

We were wrong.

The Younger Daughter had made several appointments, because you can’t just drop in to a Bridal Shoppe and browse around. You have to have a “consultant.” This person chats up the bride and can determine after three minutes exactly what the bride likes and doesn’t like. She then shuts the bride up in a tiny cubicle with some strange undergarments, and brings her things to try on.

The face says it all.

The face says it all.

We’ll call our first stop “Goliath’s Bridal” because we do not wish to be litigated against. When Team Suz arrived for its 9:30 appointment, all 625,000 Richmond women were already in the parking lot waiting for the doors to open. We hung back because Team Suz includes her grandmother, and we did not want her to be trampled in the stampede.

Once inside, we were assigned a “consultant,” who used her 180 seconds to determine what some other bride, possibly on Mars, liked. After shutting Suz in a cubicle, she brought dresses that looked like a bride had exploded out of a pile of Miracle Wip. One of these looked like The Mummy exploding from a pile of Miracle Wip. Another of them had a ten-foot train, which our particular bride immediately stepped on. No.  

Because these dresses require more infrastructure than a nuclear reactor, it takes an eternity to get from one to the other. Plus, consultants at Goliath Bridal work with more than one bride at a time. After hours of waiting, the brides’ entourages get bored and start critiquing other brides. As it happens, these brides’ entourages have no sense of humor at all, and so it’s not uncommon for the police to be called.

We watched all this with incredulity, taking turns sitting in the two chairs provided for our group of six. In our same area were three other brides and their cheering sections, a large bevy of bridesmaids looking for dresses, and two mothers-of-the-bride trying on things in unhappy colors while their own entourages insisted that no, those ruffles don’t really make your rear look like the bed in “The Princess and the Pea.” In the middle of this chaos, someone had loosed a handful of toddlers, and they were playing tag. Techno music thumped in the background, and I began to think longingly of the peace and tranquility of a cruise ship.

When our consultant brought Suz a dress that looked like a bride erupting from a duvet, we called a halt and sprinted for the car.

Little Mermaid Meets Dawn of the Dead

Little Mermaid Meets Dawn of the Dead

The presence of the grandmother precluded any stopping for soothing beverages, so we went on to the next place, which we will call Alfred Angelo, because that’s its name and because we want everyone to go there. We were one of three brides in the ENTIRE STORE, and their entourages were comfortably seated on sofas at discreet distances from each other. No techno played anywhere, and everyone was polite and kind. Our consultant took Suz with her to look at things, so every dress she tried on was perfect. We breathed and relaxed and made friends with the other families.

And yes, she found the perfect dress, and maybe we all cried a little. And yes, I shed some tears of joy because my youngest daughter is so beautiful and precious, but I have to admit, even though she’s going to read this and know the truth, relief was also a factor.

Cruising for a Bruising

Divina at a distanceThe inadvertent blog hiatus was brought to you via the MSC cruise line, because I was trapped—I mean vacationing—aboard the Divina for a few days. I left for this trip feeling apprehensive and unsettled about cruising, and I came back convinced I’m some sort of freak.

See, before we went, 100% of the people I mentioned this cruise to reacted with joy and envy. “You’re going to LOVE it,” they said. “Wish I was going with you,” they said. “This is going to be the best vacation you’ve ever had,” they said.

So I relaxed fractionally and decided that so many happy cruise passengers can’t be wrong. It’s going to be great. I’m going to have lots of time to unwind and plan my upcoming semester and generally be happy and festive.

Now I am forced to believe that I am the only person in the history of the world who hates, and I mean viscerally hates cruise ships, cruising, and oceanic voyages in general. I feel terrible about this. My Beloved’s mother has longed for the whole family to take a cruise together, and I have been the holdup. Everyone was so in hopes that I’d love it, opening the door for us all to go together.

Unfortunately, my imagination kept getting in the way. Even when the seas were calm and the sun was shining, all I could think of was the band on the Titanic playing

Our ship from a safe distance in Jamaica.  This is about as close as I feel comfortable.

Our ship from a safe distance in Jamaica. This is about as close as I feel comfortable.

“Nearer My God to Thee.” In our case, of course, since this was JamCruise, the band belonged to Bootsy Collins, and it was playing “Night of the Thumpasaurus People,” but it’s the same thing.

So I have composed a letter to everyone that reads thusly:

Dear Cruising Family:

Thank you for your kind invitation to join you in venturing out into the hostile environment of the ocean in search of relaxation and weight gain. I truly am grateful for the love and generosity you have shown me throughout the years, and trust this will continue when I tell you that I would prefer to stay home and babysit a room full of three-year-olds who have been drinking coffee and eating marshmallow rabbits all morning.

I am just not cut out for cruises. I have seen both The Poseidon Adventure, and most of Titanic, and they are all I can think of when we are out of sight of land. In fact, I know pretty much exactly how far it is to land all the time—about three miles straight down—and I do not find this comforting. I can achieve the same level of relaxation that I had on our cruise if I stay at home and prep for a colonoscopy, so I regret to say that this is what I will do in the future.

Having said this, I quite like the ship, and would be perfectly happy staying on it, provided it never moves out of the harbor. I believe this kind of boat is called a “hotel,” and if you’d like to take a family jaunt to one of those, I am absolutely on board with that.

Love and hugs,


timeThis morning I have been reading Ecclesiastes. For non-Biblical types, that’s the collected wisdom of Solomon, son of David, who supposedly was the wisest person in the whole world. Solomon had this to say about life: it sucks, and then you die and someone else gets your stuff.

Ecclesiastes is not for the faint of heart, and it seems like an odd choice for the days after Christmas when we’re all so full of joy and light and turkey that we could explode. But the older we get, my friends, the more we realize that nothing lasts—not the lights, tinsel, trees, or even the families that gather within our walls.

On Christmas Eve, my precious aunt shut her eyes forever on this world. Her son, who had been keeping a familiar vigil, sent me a text message: “She’s gone.”

Now listen. A lot of people jump straight on that “She’s not gone, she’s waiting for you in Heaven” train, but that one doesn’t stop here. Sorry. She’s gone. She is not here. She will not be here any more. This is what Emily Dickinson—and I can’t believe I’m quoting her—meant when she said that “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.”

To jump on the pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by train is to circumvent something really important. Nothing lasts. King David said that, and Solomon, and Shakespeare has said that, and my own favorite, Mary Oliver, as if poets have some pipeline to truth that we have probably shut off out of fear. We use drugs, alcohol, technology, anything to drown out the awareness of our impermanence. Time is a lot of things, but the one we try hardest to push away is that it is relentless.

My favorite memory of my aunt, and I have lots, is of her when she is a lot younger than I am now, and she is staring at her sons and my sister and me in horror because we are playing penny-ante poker with .22 caliber shells instead of pennies. She ruined a perfectly good poker game, although possibly she preserved our heedless little lives.

. . . For a while.

For once, I am not going to be a prescriptivist. Solomon said everything we do and are is pretty much meaningless. Then I think about my aunt, gentle and patient and funny and wise. Solomon took the long view and, okay, in another generation or two nobody’s going to remember much about us. But the short view is the one that’s important, and in that perspective, her memory is more precious than my comfort.

Today’s true thing is that I will savor those memories even though they sting a bit, and then try to take pleasure in this day and live in a way that makes other people glad I was around. Solomon said that God has set eternity in people’s hearts, and I have no idea what that means, but for today I am aware that I have zero bright December 27, 2013 mornings left, so this one is precious.


Train Up a Child . . . Or Not

boxes 1My mother was a big Mark Twain fan.  She had the collected works.  I think she memorized The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  The reason I think this is because she was a genius at getting me to do things by making them look fun, kind of like whitewashing a fence.

She had me ironing small items when I was so little, I had to stand on a chair.  She also taught my sister and me, very painstakingly and at a very early age, to wrap gifts, and she did not wrap a single present again for the rest of her life.  This is genius.

Of course, it can backfire.  It’s because of my mother that I never iron anything if I can help it, preferring to look like someone who sleeps in her clothes.  I tried to convince my own offspring that ironing was more fun than Chuck E. Cheese, if that establishment had white-hot bits on which a child could, with care, be severely burned.  It didn’t work.  My own kids laughed like maniacs and informed me that I could buy fabrics that never need ironing.  They knew this stuff when they were four.  I think it’s one of the things they teach on Sesame Street.  “Buy polyester, kids; it never needs ironing.”

 Wrapping Christmas presents was a different matter.  Wrapping presents is a wonderful form of artistic expression that is all the better for being ephemeral.  I fold and crease and tuck with painstaking precision.  I will not give in to the siren-song of the gift bag, the temptation to shove some tissue paper on top of that carefully-chosen gift and call it quits.   (Unless the carefully chosen gift is round.  Round things were not meant to be wrapped. That is why we do not give people cantaloupes.)

I have obsessed over Christmas wrapping for so long that I never once gathered my offspring and tenderly taught them to make a decent triangular fold.

boxes 2Once in a while I’d incorporate their tiny fingers, temporarily, in a knotted bow, but when it came to wrapping, I was on my own.

Now, of course, I reap what I have sown, since only one of them can figure out how to cover even the most rectangular of objects with colorful paper and ribbon.  The youngest daughter routinely creates packages that look like her dog wrapped them, with ribbon covered in goo and tape over more of the surface area than the actual wrapping paper.  She takes pride in this.  As for the Boy, he has eschewed the utility of boxes, preferring to wrap things naked.  He has taught us that it is possible to wrap a set of maracas in such a way that they look exactly like a set of maracas, covered in tape.  ¡Qué sorpresa!

Now people who should be ironing my shirts and wrapping my presents are showing up with bags of unwrapped items and hopeful expressions.  This is not how it’s supposed to work, and I feel that somewhere Out There my mother is shaking her head in disappointment.   “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” she would say.  Well, unless you’re teaching the kid to iron.

Music, New Uses for Underwear, and Resigning as Associate Director of the Universe

The Wooten Brothers will be performing at the Keswick Theatre on Dec. 12.

On the theory that we have to do things off our beaten paths once in a while, I confess that my Beloved and I have seen the Wooten Brothers twice in fewer than five days.  We saw them perform at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke on the 7th, and on the 10th, we saw them at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Regi, Roy (“Futureman”), Joseph, and Victor, you can get a taste of them here.  The clip is from the Jefferson Center on Saturday. 

Tuesday evening’s show turned into Wednesday morning’s show, and by the time we got back to P’ville, it was closing in on 2 a.m., and I have to be up and buzzing at six.  I am too old for this, or at least out of practice. 

The point is that on Wednesday, while my body bumbled through the day and battled a headache, l felt so much better spiritually.  I realized later that it was because I made zero demands on anything or anyone, including me.  I was just happy to be upright, and had to focus a certain amount of energy on making sure this continued to be the case.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can let slide in the interest of 1.) not falling over, and 2.) not accidentally wearing your underwear on your head.  Other stuff happened, and some things got done, but I didn’t have a huge, difficult agenda for the day.  

At lunch last week, a friend confided that she had a crucial deadline looming, and her stress levels had soared since she didn’t have enough time for the perfect job her perfectionist nature demanded.  I want to be this woman when I grow up, because she was able to add, “So I have to let go of those expectations and just do what I can do.” 

I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that her “just doing what she can do” will be awesome.  And no humans will be harmed in the creation of her projects, either.  Today, when I am rested and refreshed, I’m tempted to ratchet my own expectations meter back up to “impossible.” When I do that, people I love will suffer, because I am not wise and gentle but really kind of harsh and prone to swear.

Listen, I haven’t got any fresh doses of cosmic significance, but today I will live as if I’m exhausted.  I’m going to evaluate a small mountain of student work and be merciful, since I’ve been given a lot of mercy recently.  I’m going to get my hair cut.  I’m going to spend part of the evening with a friend I love like a sister, and we are going to laugh like maniacs.  I may wear my underwear on my head on purpose.

It’s such a relief not to feel like I have to micromanage my world.  Today’s true thing:  I am a child of God among all the other children of God, not the associate director of the universe.  All I have to do are the things I’m given, in any particular moment, and do those as well as I can, not as well as I can if I absolutely kill myself and make everyone else miserable while I’m doing them.  When I start doing that, somebody please kidnap me and take me to see the Wootens or the Mantras or Pigeons Playing Ping-Pong, so I can stay up all night and feel better in the morning.

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