Sunday, March 30, 2008

Heaven on Earth - Musically speaking!

Today was my dream come true at church: My husband's gospel band, the choir, and the (soon-to-be?) choir director. The band played six songs, one of them with the choir, and we clapped and swayed and grinned like possums (do possums grin, really?). The director played the song he sang for the minister and me, My Life Is In Your Hands, and there was absolute stillness and silence while he did so. The choir sang the offertory and it was a large and beautiful sound that rang down from the choir loft.

After the services (I went to both) I went up to the director and said, "If this never happens again, today was enough."

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I went Thursday night and heard Mary Doria Russell talk about her books, most recently Dreamers of the Day. This is a fictionalized account of the Cairo Conference that met after World War I to organize what is now the Middle East. At this conference,the foundation was laid for many of our present day conflicts there.

At the end of the book, Russell says this through her protagonist, Agnes Shanklin:

"The irony is that each new war begins in hope: hope of restoring lost honor, hope of redressing injustices and reclaiming tarnished glory, hope of a grand new world. Each war ends with the black seeds of the next war sown: honor newly lost, injustice freshly inflicted, a world more broken than before. Always, someone steps forward, ready to water and weed and harvest those black seeds, dreaming of the day when they will bring forth their bounty of vindictive vindication. Into that dreamer's ear, a bloodred god whispers, 'Offer flattery in one hand, fear in the other. Rule or be ruled! Dominate or disappear!'

"The rationales warp and twist and shift. The closer war comes, the simpler and stupider the choices. Are you a warrior or a coward? Are you with us or against us?

"'All men dream,' Colonel Lawrence [T. E. Lawrence] wrote, 'but not equally. Those who dream by night wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.'"

Friday, March 28, 2008


Some of you may have heard me say that I have been put on this earth this go-round to learn patience. It's going to take the entire lifetime and then some, I'm certain.

I have pulled myself completely away from the situation with the prospective choir director, but it has taken tremendous willpower. Yesterday, I had a little email temper tantrum about the phones not being answered at church and when the minister emailed me about it, he told me a couple of things about how things were going with the choir:

1. The director and choir were so awesome at practice the other night that he cried at the beauty of it.
2. The director is having second thoughts about coming to our church.

Sarah Susanka tells us to pay attention to our dreams. This is the dream I had last night:

My husband and I are walking into the church. There is a tremendous buzz about the prospective director and the choir. The choir is dressed in navy blue and white, solids and plaids, which isn't the usual attire for a choir. On my way to the bathroom (gotta go, you know!) I pass some construction and stacks of plastic plates. One of the stacks is made up of heart-shaped plates, and I think, "Good, we won't need any more plates."

When I go into the sanctuary, I look up in the balcony and there is a lone black man standing in the corner. I know he is a friend of the director's and that he is there to support him. The air is palpable with excitement. Someone hands me a letter that the director has written. At first it looks like it says that he is not going to be able to come to our church, but then I realize that it is a very lengthy and detailed list of all of his accomplishments as a choir director and musician.

I wake up. The first thought I have is this: There is something about us that needs him and there is something about him that needs us.

I'm paying attention to my dreams.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Things of Value

This weekend, my husband and I spent the weekend with my eighty-five year old father. This was the first time I can remember that it was just the three of us. Here are some things I learned about my dad:

--He thinks the hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" says it all:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Words: Thomas. O. Chisholm
Music: William M. Runyan

1. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.

2. Summer and winter and spring-time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


3. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


--There are many things of value in his house: two cast iron pieces, made in his dad's foundry and painted by his mother; a glass dish that was his great-grandmother's; his uncle's grade school slate; a few other things that he pointed out as we walked around his house Sunday morning. To a person coming into his house and looking around, these things would be nothing; to him, they hold the stories of his past.

--He has an incredibly extensive knowledge of the history of the city of Greensboro. We went through an advertising publication from the early nineteen hundreds and he knew all the names and businesses, where houses and factories were, whose family still lives around there and where they live. Some families' histories have to be clearer in his head than they are in family photo albums.

--He first saw my mother when she and her sister were getting off a school bus. He was in the navy. She worked after school at a shop on the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, and her boss let my dad stand at the counter and talk to her because he was willing to stand at the far end of the counter.

This isn't by any means all that I learned. Nor all that I could learn. His eighty-five year old brain is full of things that need telling.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Frederick Buechner

One of my favorite books in the world is a daily reading book by Frederich Buechner entitled Listening to Your Life. I have given away dozens of copies to friends and family, and my own copy is dog-eared with sheets of paper sticking out here and there. Buechner speaks the same religious language I do.

Today the reading was this (from a fiction book Buechner wrote entitled Brendan):

Cripples All of Us

Pushing down hard with his fists on the table-top he heaved himself up to where he was standing. For the first time we saw he wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn't leapt forward and caught him.

"I'm as crippled as the dark world," Gildas said.

"If it comes to that, which one of us isn't, my dear?" Brendan said.

Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he'd misspent his whole life entirely. Me that had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us. For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees.

"To lend each other a hand when we're falling," Brendan said. "Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hunkering down

I wouldn't call myself a hoarder, but I do so love to "be prepared" for hard times. The threat of bad weather throws me into survival mode--my brain works really well in this state of tizziness.

My friends from Oriental were in Atlanta, where for the first time in decades they had a tornado hit the downtown area. The dental conference was cancelled, and last I heard they were walking around picking up very large balls of hail. We were in Oriental,and the storm was headed our way. With no television access, we turned on the marine radio, which sounded warning after warning. The whole eastern part of the state was vulnerable. How exciting! How stimulating! I knew just what to do.

I dug around in the many boat stashing places trying to find our foul weather gear. We had bought these two piece outfits--bright yellow pants and jackets the same as all the fishermen wear--on a trip to Charleston. It had rained all the way from Wrightsville to Charleston, and we had gotten soaked. Not wanting this to happen again, we walked two miles to the nearest store, paid probably three times what they sell for at Wal-Mart, and hiked back. We never used them. But we knew they were there, somewhere, somewhere, if only I could figure out where. After looking through two emergency signals, I gave up, got our regular raincoats which have never even purported to be waterproof, and set them by the door.

Then I got another boat staple, a large heavy duty garbage bag, and filled it with my pocketbook, new Nikon camera, and the computer. We didn't have any photo albums or important papers to save so this would have to do. I put my cell phone and keys on top of the bag which was on top of the coats. I worried that in my haste to get my coat out from under the bag I would dump the keys, but had to leave that (and the weather of course) to God and fate, whichever had the upper hand that night.

I hunkered down with a good book (Tony Early's The Blue Star, which I highly recommend). The radio continued its warnings, the counties getting closer and closer to Oriental. Thunder rumbled in ways I haven't heard before and the lightning seemed extremely drawn to the masts which clanged and whistled in the wind. My husband fell asleep which meant I had to be irritated and twice as vigilant because now I would have to wake him up and then do all the other gathering to rush out the door if I heard something that sounded like a train.

Eventually, after three hours of pounding rain during which we found all the leaks on the boat and the chairs which we had forgotten on the back got thoroughly soaked, the storm died down.

Needless to say it was with a mix of relief and regret that I went down to the V-berth to bed. Another opportunity to demonstrate my superior survival skills was foiled by Mother Nature, but the practice will come in handy, I'm sure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

woulda coulda shoulda

The "woulda, coulda, shoulda" has to be eating the hearts of many people today. The person who placed the file in the wrong courtroom, the judge who decided to delay the hearing, the investigators who missed the clues in the murder of the Duke student, the lawyers who got these two guys out of jail so they could hang around free while they waited for court dates. Also, teachers who saw the writing on the wall but were bogged down with paper work and more redeemable students and maybe even trying to figure out how they were going to pay their bills on their meager salaries, the aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents who saw these kids going down the wrong path but didn't or couldn't or wouldn't find a way to help. But I bet it's eating the hearts of the people who loved Abhijit Mahoto and Eve Carson with the most ravenous hunger.

We can't change the past, but it sure can change us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

gela, gela, klapsi, klapsi

Last week, the Thursday night girls continued our discussion of The Not So Big Life. I pointed out that "noise" was one of the items on my list of things that made me unhappy. As a kid, when things got noisy or rowdy, anger was waiting in the wings in the form of a parent, usually my father. And when my kids were young and we'd take trips, as soon as they started laughing and having fun in the back seat, my husband would get angry and threaten to pull the car over (whoa - shades of childhood fear in THAT statement). It got to the point where they would laughingly say when we got in the car to go somewhere, "Remember, NO FUN ALLOWED!" I say they laughed, but they meant it seriously too.

Sometimes I sat in one room of my house while the kids played together in another. I would think to myself, they're having a good time; can the tears be far behind? And sure enough soon one of them came crying into the room.

The title of this blog entry is a loose English spelling of an expression my friend said was used in her Greek household: Laugh, laugh, cry, cry. I don't know why our laughter often leads to anger or tears, but I've talked before about how closely related gladness and sadness are. Are we afraid of our happiness? Distrustful of our ability to sustain it? Does this distrust come from things that happened in our past that we have drug forward into adulthood? Or are we just made this way, the smiles and the tears very close together in our heads and connected tightly to our hearts?

I still think the best days are those in which I laugh a little and cry a little and there's not too much noise.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Not So Big Life

This morning, in preparation for meeting with the Thursday night girls, I have been reading Chapters 3 and 4 of Sarah Susanka's book. First let me say that my husband has no idea all the things he pays me to do. But I'll save that for a later post.

We are asked to make two lists:

1. All the things that make us frustrated, unhappy, or discontented.
2. All the things that make us happy, joyful, or delighted.

Easy, easy I'm thinking as I fill a page of each in about a minute.

Then BAM--the hard part. Take each item on the list and think back as far as you can to the first event or situation where you felt this reaction. Take your time, she says. Trace back.

I am moving along pretty smoothly until I get to one of my dislikes: Having too much to do. As I think about this one, something comes to my mind about being a child who had four younger siblings. And although I don't remember anyone ever saying, "Mamie, watch so-and-so" I realize that I was looking out for them. Protecting them. And I realize that this was "too much for me to do" and I get teary thinking about the child that was taking on this big emotional responsiblity. I'm finished working on the list for today in order to give myself some time with this.

This is twice that this book has elicited sadness from me. It all feels like some kind of loss--loss of time, loss of innocence. But I'm hoping that the end result of examining this will be a gain of epic proportions. I'm counting on it.

Short thought

The local beauty queen
Rides in the silver convertible
In the parade.
She smiles and waves at those of us
Who line the street.
Is she happy?

Today the garbage man
Hangs on the side of the truck
On his route.
He smiles and waves as I pass
On my way to work.
Is he happy?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hold on to your hats!

More hot air coming your way soon--I have a lot to say and no time to say it right now. Stay tuned...