Saturday, August 30, 2008

the ocean and the shore

It is the end of stuff, it is the beginning of stuff (with apologies to Dickens)...Joe, my daughter's beloved high school and private studio art teacher, is shipping off to NYC to pursue a master's degree. Good luck, Joe! That's all he needs-he's got talent to burn. Beck turned 18 today and starts the beginning of a "legal" existence. She also starts college next week, going after a culinary arts career. (She'll be putting her creativity to work with frosting, batter and dough...uh huh...I feel a weight gain coming on!) My baby is fluttering on the edge of the nest. My oldest, Dena, starts back to school after a break for physical and emotional recharge, and continues to chase her dream in the world of fashion design, though it may translate as Kermit and Miss Piggy-she wants to design puppets! It isn't easy being green. But if anyone can chartreuse, she can.

And me...back to school, too, into the cyberworld studies and the office. I will find a creative outlet, but I need to work. I've started a band, or it started itself, so I'm back to performing-a small venue, people who really need worship music in their lives. Very cool. We had our first "in house" practice-literally, in our house, last Thursday, with cats roaming around, doors open and neighbors sitting outside on porches within earshot. Celebrate Recovery starts in our local town after almost a year of trying. I'm praying it is the start of great things for people with broken lives. The end of the dominion of substance abuse in this poor little town.

Brandon got his laundry job and we're looking at the downward slide of his incarceration. Change is in the air. Completion of the old, the start of new things. One starts from the other and takes off, only to become an ending itself in time. But for now, here we go.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

home again

We're back-pictures to follow. I actually stood where the professional pic was taken in the post below. It was a looonnnngggg walk from our efficiency on Beach Ave. to the lighthouse, but a beautiful one. It's amazing how much thinking, walking and praying a body can do when that's all it has to do. I valued the time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cape May (yay!)

Oh yeah...see ya later!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the true prodigal

Oftentimes in the prison or in places where I go to share about faith-based recovery, the story of the prodigal son comes to mind or is mentioned, and rarely is there a person who does not know it. It is recorded in more than one Gospel in the context of Jesus talking about the joy all heaven experiences when one sinner repents. It is the subject of countless works of art, the inspiration for stories, books, movies, sermons, in every culture and in every setting of space or time, the story never fails to make an impact. But I've heard it said, and was reminded again when I found this beautiful work of art referenced in another blog, that the true prodigal in the story is the father. The word "prodigal" means wasteful, lavish, unrestrained and indulgent. Is there a better way to describe a character who withholds nothing from a child, not even their freedom to make terrible choices and squander a lifetime of hard-earned inheritance, to leave and then come back and be received with the same loving grace? I love the climax of the story in Luke 15:20, "So he (the son) got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity and tenderness, and he ran and embraced and kissed him fervently." He saw (because he was looking every day), he ran (because he felt no anger or desire to shame), he embraced and kissed fervently (because his love could never be extinguished). The drawing above is actually called "The Prodigal Daugher". We all are in the place of the child, and God the Father is the one being alluded to in the story.

I had the privilege of sharing this with a young man in a rehab situation who feared his mother especially would never forgive him for the things he'd done in the past. All I know is God imparts a piece of that prodigal heart to every parent and unending grace to keep the door open and a light burning.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

square pegs

I never seem to attract the ordinary in my life. I do not know why this is, and my children share the same quality. The ordinary things of life turn into otherworldly weirdness with astonishing regularity. I tend not to think in normal terms, and this in turn brings about sudden bouts of strangeness that can happen anywhere, and without warning.

I do try to do things that make some sense. I think I do. But I like the surprising, and life always has that potential. My day today included a very nice note from an inmate who has gender switching issues. But he's/she's so sweet and the perfect lady/gentleman. It included a man who now lives with us and who has very interesting linguistic preferences. His life's goal is waste management, but not when it includes magnets (maggots). He got the job he has by presenting a resume with a professional floormat (format). You just never know what is going to come out.

I'm part of a band that just fell together with a singer who is taking voice lessons but can't quite sing, and a guitar player who has trouble transposing and a partially deaf keyboardist too short to keep my chest clear of the keys. But I try. And so that always makes for interesting sounds.

I'm not quite on the road I chose-oh, a very polite judge, and likewise very large, tall and polite desk sargent at the prison this morning...interesting conversations, weird place. They put up with us church ladies and always have something to say.

So the people in my life are the square pegs, those that don't show up in a life less strange. But the strange can be the wonderful, and I like the thought.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Somerset chainsaw non-massacre

As Brandon described it...we received another letter today, one with a disturbing account of a suicide attempt. Brandon wrote about it this way:

"Interesting couple of days. Spent most of my time reading the David Sedaris book, I paged through it so fast it caught fire.....I wonder sometimes reading his stuff, I should be able to write 2 or 3 books on my jail time alone. If he can make money off of his funny and disturbing experiences, so can I. Just this morning someone tried to commit suicide in the yard by climbing through the razor wire and sawing off his head with it. Imagine one of those manual chainsaws, with the pull-start grips on either end, and trying to cut through your own neck with it. When that didn't work, he looped it around his throat a couple times and tried to hang it up. Just minutes before he asked one of my buds for a light then drilled him for info on concertina wire. I wasn't there, of course. I miss all the action. The best I ever got was Seizure Guy, where we spread a rumor it was caused by the blueberry pancakes. You know, it's been a while since we had them. Anyway, even after Somerset Chainsaw non-massacre was all over they still locked us down and performed an emergency count. My God! An emergency! I know just what to do! Everyone back to the blocks, I'm going to fix this by counting you! 1, 1 inmate! 2, 2 inmates! Ah, ah, ahhhhh! Yep, a Sesame Street Count reference (which we often get). This place can be just as silly. Incredible...."

Really can't add much more.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

up on the line and hung out to dry

We heard from Brandon today that he is in line for a 9-5 job in the prison laundry room. This complex takes outside contracts, so it is actually a paid job-though a small pay-that increases wages over time. He signed up two years ago and it looks like his number finally came up. Sort of reminds me of the final scene in "Beetlejuice". But I guess the prison is not exactly teeming with work opportunities, so he's glad to have something to look forward to.

Bran is trying to work through Kierkegaard. I think prison and possibly being lost on a desert island are two of the few situations where a concentrated read of the philosopher would happen. I get bored so easily there have to be a few choice pearls of great price to be mined from the text to keep me going. Thinking just to think is something I have a very hard time with. But Bran is trying to read through the annotations and translation, as he puts it in a recent letter, "He's a difficult read, there's lots of Latin and Greek, endless translator's notes containing lengthy apologies for his inability to properly translate Danish into English and his apparent unworthiness due to references only someone from Copenhagen would understand, and the total abstract nature of the material itself." Yes and yes.

Bran waxes eloquent on the clean indoor air act that our Gov. "Fast Eddie" Rendell passed that bans indoor smoking in a public place. "No one, not even the Warden, is sure how this effects us considering how smoking is already banned everywhere but outside and in the cells. We even have non-smoking blocks, I-A and both sides of J. Ever since they refused to sell us ashtrays I knew something funny was about to go down. I had no idea my cell was a public place. I was under the impression it was to separate me from the public, not serve as a rest stop bathroom or tourist trap. Tell me I can't smoke in my hut? I can't have an ashtray? Guess what, now the naugahyde seats in the day room are my ashtrays. Hope everybody likes toxic smoke plastic fires. This stupid jail is slipping fast."

Well, the good, the bad and the ugly. And so it is.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

four years and counting

It's strange how we measure time. Certain events come and go and they cause me to stop and look backward. This drawing was done four years ago. It is of a friend of mine who comes and goes from one side of the planet to the other doing missionary work. Like the military, the parent organization that had sponsored my friend and his family would sign them on for four year hitches. They just came back to the states on their "leave" or furlough, and life will be changing for them as well. That might be the last four solid year hitch, I don't know... but the work continues and the travel will go on. While my friend was gone, my son was incarcerated, my older daughter went to college and the baby finished high school. While he was gone life changed for us in so many ways I can scarcely remember the person I was drawing this portrait those years ago.

I do remember the first time we met. He accepted a pastorate in our town in Northeastern PA, and he's from the South. It was strange, but not so, to hear the accent and realize this person from an entirely different culture basically would change my life. Sometimes the people we think we have the least in common with wind up being the ones who make the strongest impression. The lessons I took away from the few short years he was here I've never forgotten. Innovate. Believe beyond what you know. Go to the people-don't wait for them to come to you. Be daring, be courageous. They were. They went to the Balkans in the mid-nineties, which wasn't the safest place in the world to be. The impact this family has had on that region and continues to have is incalculable.

I just remember a big man with a big voice and big ideas for a little town. I don't think he's changed much in that respect, and maybe now I get it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

my girls

My girls and their new 'do's!

a lamp unto my feet

I do believe God communicates directly with people, especially those committed to following His paths. I do believe scripture is truth, and so believe the promises therein to those who do believe. My own personal experience with this communication is mainly through the scriptures, but quite often other circumstances or things come together in my life to underscore things that are especially important for me to understand or know at the moment.

My husband and I went to see the new X Files movie on Saturday. I was never a diehard fan of the series, and it simply seemed preferable to Brendan Frasier's offerings or other films showing at our local theater. So I went with few expectations, and given that this was billed as a "stand alone", I thought it would be entertaining without having to know any background of characters or plot. It was called "X Files: I Want to Believe". So I figured, well, somebody needs to be convinced of something. The plot was mushy and a bit disappointing, but certain things stood out clearly to me. My mind has undergone a radical change. One of the main characters in the movie was a pedophile priest who was having visions. So part of the needing to believe was needing to believe that a vile and unclean vessel could be a holy messenger and that God does speak and direct in the world today. Scully and Mulder were back in action more or less, trying to crack the disappearance of an FBI agent and further, going through a crisis of faith each in their own way. Mulder wanted to believe, and Scully was quick to sharpen the axe over the neck of this priest whom she dismissed almost instantly on the basis of his unworthiness in her eyes. I accepted the priest and his visions almost without question because God DOES use the unclean. He uses whatever He will use. Our human vision is typically not 20/20.

At one point the priest tells Scully, "don't give up". It was a random statement without context in the scene and she could not figure out why he said it. She pressed him to explain and he kept telling her he could not. He didn't have the reasons why, he only had the word. We went to church the next morning and our pastor was not the speaker. It was a man from a local ministry, Camp Orchard Hill. His message to us, the congregation was, "don't give up". Give God your best. He used a film clip from the movie "Facing the Giants", a high school football yarn. The scene in the clip was of one player blindfolded, carrying another player on his back, and the coach walking in front of the player screaming out encouragement as this young man crawled on his hands and knees with the other teammate on his back. The coach's point was, if we know what is happening exactly and where we are going, we'll stop short or slack off. If we go on in uncertainty, or with just the kernel of knowledge that we HAVE to without knowing the outcome, we'll go further than we ever dreamed. How does this happen? Even outside of the context of the movie the message was used in lives of two church members and theater-goers.