Monday, May 31, 2010

I remember. I am grateful. In memorium.

People rise, the anthem begins, and an 80-some-year-old man lifts his hand into a gnarled salute. He and the other aged gentlemen standing at attention rely on muscle memory to hold their postures as erect as possible despite the weariness in their joints and limbs.

As the music swells, I hear my voice joining with shakier vibratos to tell of "the rockets red glare." And I blink back tears of gratitude. Generations of men and women (sons and daughters of Americans who loved them through childhood and into young adulthood) have refused to whither from the call to duty, even when their service took them to places where bombs were actually "bursting in air."

It is Memorial Day, and I remember.

Please know that I am that person – the one who quietly cries for what you lost, while feeling grateful for what I gained. You followed an honorable call to duty and service.

I also grieve - gratefully so - for those who answered a similar call but are no longer here. Your band of brothers, your sisters of state who fell in battle while you carried on.

I know there are stories that cannot be told about things that defy description. I know there are emotions you cannot share about things that defy human experience. I know there are - simply - no words.

I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices you made. You left home to serve. You endured hardship to learn how to serve. You ventured into harm so that I can live free from harm. Because of you, I, too, can serve.

Please know that my patriotism, which looks different than yours, is no less fierce. I'll defend you at home. I'll fight for your rights.

I'll never forget because I remember.

Vlog from courthouse memorial service held after the American Legion service held in the Civic Auditorium.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy 24 Years!

I awoke with a new chapter in the ongoing story that is my relationship with Mark forming in my head, probably because today is our anniversary. We have been married 24 years.

Because it is our anniversary, I will be spending the rest of my day with my first love, not engaged doing something I love: writing.

But I look forward to sharing what-I-have-yet-to-write someday soon - my attempt to explain how we are quite different today than the young man and young woman who vowed to share life together on May 30, 1986.

I know that our friends and relatives wonder about our relationship, and that strangers don't even know what to wonder. I hope to write of the wonder.

Our story is worth telling. I look forward to every chapter yet to come. Until then, I'll share the beauty of my anniversary roses with you. This year, after their delivery, I was left wondering: How does he keep managing to surprise me with such predictable regularity?

I love you, Mark. Thank you for sharing all of life with me. Only you - you alone - can know what that means. Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Everybody Loves a Parade!

There's something fully American about Memorial Day Weekend. A celebration that is the sum of its parts.
- Backyards with barbeques.
- Children with tiny flags.
- Families with friends.
- Parades with veterans and marching bands.
- People with red, white and blue attire.
- Houses and businesses with red, white and blue bunting.
- Graves with red flowers.

We began our Memorial Day Weekend at the North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City, Iowa, the real-life River City of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." Our family of four experienced the parade in different ways and yet came home with the same sense of appreciation for all things patriotic:

• Skye marched with our high school's band while playing one of the - at least - 76 trombones on parade today.
• Stross donned his uniform as flag bearer for Troop 19 and joined (nearly) 100 other boys honoring the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouts.
• Mark facilitated Stross' parade experience.
• I dropped the three of them off, picked them up and took in the whole of what happened in between.

The Memorial Day Weekends of my childhood were filled with cemetery visits, grave decorating, special patriotic services and community dinners. At a young age, I learned lessons about America that taught me the meaning of freedom and the luxuries afforded us because of our liberties.

Because I learned so early, I think it will be difficult for me to ever forget. I'm grateful my children are learning now. May they never have to feel the heat of battle in their country's backyard or witness the horrors of war that befell our country's fallen soldiers.

Thank you for serving America with your lives. Because of you, we have the pleasure of full, fun-filled weekends that are fully American.

I know the fight for our freedoms never ends. Thank you for continuing on despite the high cost. The debt can never be paid.

Sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing.

P.S. - Happy 16th Birthday to my neice and nephew - Jordan and Stuart! (Jordan, you did a great job as drum major! And, Stuart, fantastic on trumpet!)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lasantha Rodrigo: "Would You Be Embarrassed if I Drooled in Public?"

In the summer of 1999, I appeared in the Brickstreet Theatre Company's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I, cast in the role of Domina, relished the opportunity to take the stage for the first time since my college years, but what made the experience even sweeter was sharing the stage with about a dozen college students who joined the community cast.

I credit them - these vivacious and vital youth - with bringing the production vibrantly to life. Many of them I had first met as students in my classroom when the situation proposed that they would learn from me. Paradoxically, when cast as fellow troupe members, I had the opportunity to learn from them.

Thanks to Facebook, I've recently reconnected with a student named Lasantha Rodrigo who was cast as Miles Gloriosus, a character who is a larger-than-life captain in the Roman army with entrances that herald his capacity to "take laaaarge steps!"

I loved hearing Lasantha, in his Sri Lankan accent, make his grand entrance. It was the "here-I-am-you-must-look-at-me" kind of moment I believe we all would love to have at least once in our lives, and it summed up the greatest lesson I learned that summer: Life live with dramatic abandon whenever possible.

Lasantha, still far younger than I, is continuing to live a divine drama despite the fact his body is now at the mercy of multiple sclerosis. Far from allowing MS to dictate the possibility of his days, he has traveled the world and continued his studies far past the days I knew him as an undergraduate. Now a doctoral student earning a degree in English Studies, Lasantha continues to take large steps, only now he does it with typed words.

Tonight his entrance came by way of a Facebook note. I cherish its dramatic abandon. I cherish the opportunity he continues to offer me to share in the fascinating story of intersecting lives.

I invite you to share in the gloriousness of his life with me, offering it to you as he offered it to me and countless others he knows as Friend.

Here are his thoughts tonight:

"Woud You Be Embarrassed if I Drooled in Public?"

Ahh, what little time we have. Some have longer. Maybe that's fortunate. Maybe... Maybe...

I'm not sure. Not at all, really.

So I sit here at this mindless machine. And I type away. I can still type. How could I even begin to think about a Ph.D. in English Studies?

I cooked supper, and it was good. I can cook, still, too. I'm fortunate in that. Then I noticed that I was drooling while shoving forkfuls of pasta into my mouth. There was no one around, but I was ashamed.

Ahhh, I was drooling. Drooling ... like an old man ... or a baby.

What little time we have here. How unpredictable. How indefinite.

If you move me enough, I will sever my fingers one by one and give you. Willingly ... I can. I can. I will.

Don't be embarrassed if you see my mouth issuing forth slimy streams. I'm still within me.


Dear Lasantha:

I love you, my Friend!

I have no idea what you are going through. I have nothing to compare it to or to help me understand. But I am trying, knowing that even those efforts won't be sufficient. Still I hope that - for you - they are enough for now. And when you need more, I promise to try to understand again, and again, and again, and again.

I will never give up trying to understand. I know you will never give up trying.

Bless you, my Friend. Thank you for living laaaaaaarge!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our Man in Uniform

Our family's oldest young man is now a man in uniform. Stross, at 19 years of age, was inducted into the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) tonight. His life, the BSA's vision, our mission as Stross' parents - it all basically came together tonight when our oldest son ceremoniously claimed a status he's sought more than half his life. He is a Boy Scout. He is a man in uniform.

Amazingly, these two seemingly polar existences merge to reflect Stross' life circumstances. Due to the circumstances of his birth, our man of 19 lives with an intellectual outlook of one entering the scouting system in his boyhood years, yet his dream - since his actual boyhood - has been to serve his country as a man in uniform. That dream became possible tonight thanks to the Boy Scouts of America, and Stross' inherent persistence.

Stross - despite our assertions that he was too old to join the scouting program - independently searched the Internet to learn this: A Scout or Venturer with a disability may work toward rank advancement after he is 18 years of age. See also: Boy Scout Policy on Advancement for Members with Special Needs

This was incredible news for Stross (and us); for when he was in elementary school and first heard about the Boy Scouts, Mark and I couldn't bring ourselves to figure out how to make his desire a reality. There was just too much other stuff: two times per week therapy sessions, daily at-home therapies, daily homework, six times per day medical cares, church activities, family gatherings where we needed to think through accommodations, and his younger brother, Skye, who needed his own undivided attention as well.

Stross wanted to become a Scout way back then, but we deferred. We knew it wouldn't be as simple as signing him up and regularly getting him to the meetings. We knew that a lot of the accommodating and facilitating would need to come from us, for it is simply too hard for others to get their brains around what must happen for inclusion to help someone truly feel included - sometimes they never can. And if it doesn't happen, the pain from renewed grief is daunting.

You just never know what to expect. While a negative experience would have been unlikely in our friendly hometown, had we attempted an earlier entry into scouting, the outcome could just have easily been something like this: News Story: Scout with Disabilities Told to Get Lost and then also Blog: Cub Scouts tell Mother her Son is No Longer Welcome In fact, that could have been the reaction when Stross brought this dream up again shortly before his 19th birthday.

Fortunately, scouting runs in my genetic pool. I have Eagle Scouts as an uncle, cousins, cousin's children, a brother-in-law and - soon - a nephew. And, certainly, that much Eagle Scout initiative can come in handy at times like this.

A sincere thank you to Scoutmaster Greg Blank (Stross' uncle) for helping our son's dream finally become a reality (and for fielding dozens, maybe more than a hundred, text messages from an eager Scout-to-be).

Stross was radiant tonight. He wants to wear his uniform every day. He wants to become an Eagle Scout, too. It may take some time, but I believe he will. Mr. Persistent has his eye on that new dream, and I can hardly wait for it to come true.

I hope you can sense Stross' feelings of fulfillment in this vlog. I hope you feel - once again - his involuntary joy at the magnificence of life. You are destined to soar, Stross. I promise we will be here to keep your wings from touching the ground.

Congratulations, Kiddo! We love you.

Trips to the ER

Skye, rather than simply brushing his teeth and attending to other nightly rituals prior to bedtime, added something else to tonight's routine. He decided to check out the new, red Leatherman pocket knife we gave Mark for his birthday last week. It resulted in Mark driving him to the emergency room in a city 35 miles away.

The closing slice landed on the outside edge of his exterior right pinky finger knuckle joint. Not an easy place to hold a compress; Not any easy place to bandage in a way that keeps the edges of the cut together. Thus, his trip to the ER.

Fortunately, the cut wasn't deep enough to sever nerves - well, none we can tell right now anyway. Simply a messy, awkward cut that demanded stitches. Three, I just learned from my phone update.

I was struck by how Mark and I automatically fell into our roles. He comforting while moving into action. (Mark got Skye's hand under water and then attempted to compress the cut.) Me analytically assessing the situation while planning each of our collective next steps as I, too, moved into action. I ran to get gauze, tape and had the task of wrapping the wound for his transport. Oh, and I helped Skye get dressed while Mark got his laptop, Skye's iPod and the car. Priorities, you know. Once they began to pull out of our driveway, I called the ER to let them know who and what were headed their way.

It was all familiar but radically different, for the most complicated son to prepare for such a trip was already snuggled into bed, listening to the drama as it unfolded. Skye, keenly aware of his brother's possible medical-related anxiety, made certain he went to Stross' bedside to reassure him he was o.k. before leaving. What struck me was how Mark and I had first privately reassured Skye in the bathroom that stitches "were nothing to worry about" and "a simple procedure." And, yes, it was "necessary." Then there were words I chose specifically for this particular son: "Don't spend brain time worrying about this. You'll be surprised how quickly this will be over." Mark, a veteran stitch recipient, and therefore, highly credible source, shared similar sentiments.

Fortunately, we were right.

But you know what? As they left, I worried that we had minimized Skye's feelings and situation. I mean, it is a finger cut. Deep yes, but able to be stitched and back in business. This is his first stitch-worthy wound. That's a pretty big deal. But we've been through so much as a family, the whole situation felt more annoying that worrisome. I mean, our nightly routine is already complicated because of Stross' midnight cares and this made it even more so.

Skye's slip-up not only had Mark and I slipping into old roles but having to swap current ones. Mark does Stross' midnight cares; I take the boys to medical appointments. Because this meant a late night drive through the country, Mark became Skye's chauffeur and keeper of medical history. (I talked him through Skye's allergies and prescription medication as they headed out the door.) I became the one staying up to do Stross' midnight cares. Tonight that duty also included reassuring Stross that people who get stitches are not put asleep for the procedure.

They should be home soon. In fact, I hear them pulling into the drive now. I need to go shower some love on our youngest. These were his first stitches. That's a pretty big deal. (But I'm glad not too big a deal.)

Note: Photo added the morning after ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brothers Bickering

It is typical for brothers to bicker. Tonight I reminded myself that the way the brothers in our home bicker isn't very typical. This is what I heard happening in our living area tonight while I was in the kitchen.

"Give me my wheelchair back."

"You don't need it right now."

"Yes, I do."

"Let me finish doing some donuts."

"Skye!!!! I have to change my bag." (ostomy pouch)

"So go do it then."

"I need my wheelchair."

"OK, but let me finish first."

"Skye ... you don't want me to change my bag?"

"Stross, you are just trying to get me out of your chair."

I finally interjected: "Skye, give your brother back his chair." And he did, no objections. In fact, he was already in the process of doing just that.

Here is what you can't discern from simply reading the dialogue.

• Stross thinks it is cool that he (Stross) can do wheelies in his wheelchair.
• Skye thinks so too.
• Skye likes to see what it feels like to be in a wheelchair every once in a while.
• Stross likes it that he (Skye) wants to feel what it is like too.
• Skye likes to do donuts in Stross' wheelchair.
• Stross wants to be the only one who does cool things in his wheelchair.
• Stross will invent medical needs to conveniently provide motivation for someone to react the way he wants - not often, but certainly when someone is infringing on his territory - really, his sense of self.
• Stross' wheelchair is to Stross as Skye's legs are to Skye.
• Stross understands that.
• Skye doesn't really understand it. Perhaps he can never fully understand. Perhaps I can't either.
• Stross likes it that he (Skye) tries to understand just a little, even if it is by having fun.
• I like it too.

I continue to love my sons so much that it hurts, and I am beyond grateful for the wonder of them - individually and as brothers.

Bicker away boys. As much as you want. I'll be so sad when those days are gone. The lump already forming in my throat lets me know that I'll have to become acquainted with a new kind of hurt.

I love you, Stross.

I love you, Skye.

I hope you always know that I love being your mom.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Serenaded with KISS

Tonight Mark and I were treated to Stross' rendition of "Beth," my favorite KISS song. His impromptu performance came after he emerged from our accessible bathroom with this announcement: "Hey, Mom and Dad. I am really good at this song. I'm going to sing it to you."

Wow! That has never happened before.

Don't be fooled by the photo - that was one of his high school speech performances. You see, he has spoken a solo before, but never sung one. Many times in 19 years, Stross has talked big about singing a solo, but we had yet to witness him taking the stage independently to perform a song. Tonight the stage was our living room, and the accompaniment came courtesy of his iPod.

Stross nerves (even alone with us) didn't allow for anything more than scant eye contact. And his wheelchair, and therefore his body, was positioned to face the wall more than us. However, for a reason known only to Stross, we had the privilege of hearing him sing in unison with Peter Criss to a rock 'n' roll classic. And, yes. He was really good at that song.

Please don't misunderstand. We have heard Stross sing aloud many, many times before. In fact, some of my earliest Stross memories are of him humming and singing along to songs shortly before his first birthday. Indeed, Stross still sings his way through each day.

He has simply never asked to command a solo performance - until tonight.

I have always loved how Stross' life has a soundtrack that aligns with the highlights of his life at the time. For instance, when we directed youth musicals at church, he constantly sang through the songs from the show. When his middle school or high school choir was getting ready for a concert, we knew the songs that would be performed, because Stross sang or hummed his favorites while going about the tasks of his day. And the years that he was in the high school musicals? Let's just say that our entire family had every melody of every song memorized in advance of opening night. To this day, when we see a movie, Stross spends the next weeks - even months - singing the biggest hits from what we saw on the big screen.

Evidently his optimal singing time occurs in our accessible bathroom when it is time for his cares (i.e., intermittent catherization and ostomy care at least every four hours, every day). It doesn't matter if Stross is alone or being assisted by one of us or a respite nurse, the first act of settling into his routine involves popping in a carefully chosen CD or nesting his carefully loaded iPod. Then he lets his Stross-version of the lyrics fly.

Through the years we've been the meaning in his life and his inspiration; carried on with wayward sons; bopped to the best of the Beach Boys; Mama Mia'd with Meryl and ABBA; hey-heyed with the Monkees; let it be with the Beatles; walked down streets with Dreamstreet; dreamed a dream with Les Miz; awakened to Spring Awakening; changed for good with Wicked; glissandoed with GLEE; whispered in the dark with Skillet; and so much more.

Truly, to be Stross is to be music.

So I wonder why tonight it also meant to perform it.

Perhaps we'll be serenaded more in the coming weeks and months. I hope so. His confidence is as charming as his life is heart-warming.

I guess, in many ways, his life is our soundtrack - Mark's and mine.

And tonight he got us ready for bed with his KISS.

Thank you, Stross. You are right. You are really good at that song.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spring Rituals Revisited

Our family spent this weekend helping my father clean my parents' garage. Garage cleaning is one of those Midwestern spring rituals that typically means swapping out snow blowers for lawn mowers and sweeping out a fall and winter's worth of fluttered-in debris.

However, my parents needed to empty their garage for an upcoming construction project. So this weekend we deep cleaned their garage – and went quite deep, in fact. We uncovered relics from previous decades of life. Previous realizations of life.

When Dad found our family's hammock (circa 1970s) – i.e., the family of my childhood - he sent me off with the box of pieces to see if everything was still there. It was. Thankfully, I easily remembered how to assemble the parts. Yay! Celebrate!

Today's celebration was particularly sweet because it spanned generations. I watched my father and my son take turns relaxing in the hammock of my childhood and adolescence. Timeless. Truly timeless. Time suspended in time, even.

(Note: Yes, I know I use the wrong verb in this vlog - twice even. It should be "lie" on "lay." *sigh*)

Hammock Time

Long before the weather was appropriate for hammocks, however, something else had already occurred: Coach Bowden (aka, my dad) had sorted through baseball and softball bats to see if it was time to add a new selection to each team's bat bag.

Today, when dad began sorting bats, I began to remember.

You can live 2:00 of the memories I have for life.

Now that my youngest son has experienced a bit as well, perhaps he has lifetime memories as well. By the way, the mathematics he uses at the end of the clip are correct. It has been that many years since I began using my purple wonder. (Too bad my batting average was never as wonderful.)

Any claim of athleticism I might have I owe to my father. Had he not been a coach, I likely would not have been an athlete. I played softball because he loved to coach; because I had a dad who could teach me how to play, I played. (Fortunately, didn't stink up the diamond, either.)

Bat Selection

Garage cleaning. Thanks for a day of dusting off memories.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mark's Birthday Through Stross' Eyes

Only nine days after his own birthday, Stross gets to celebrate a birthday again: Mark's. One of the inherent joys of belonging to Stross' family is getting to see life through Stross' eyes.

Yes, I used the term "Stross' family," for our separate lives have been pulled into orbits that each encircle his. Our family belongs to Stross. He claimed our lives – Mark's and mine – on the day of his birth. Skye didn't have a chance. He's belonged to his older brother since the day he arrived.

The four of us live symbiotically – some days, co-dependently. (We try to avoid those.) But by chance and by choice, our daily moments are interdependent; therefore, on days of celebration, Stross' palpable joy is ours.

I hope that - when you watch the vlog of Mark's birthday celebration - you are able to live a bit of the wonder we enjoy every day. It's the paradox of a younger brother teaching his older brother; a child leading his parents. An incredible young man living every moment to capacity and providing us moments of involuntary joy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out of Mind

I've been writing this blog all day - just not officially until now. As events of my day have unfolded (bizarre ones at that), I have fashioned sentences in my mind that are much better than anything that has actually tripped forth.

But I failed to type them before they dissipated - vanished - escaped. Whatever. I lost those words and evidently am now at a loss for the best word about losing those words. What I remember about the words I lost is that they helped me make sense of life during the time I entertained them as mine.

Maybe it was all illusion anyway. The whole blasted mess of it.

- What I've been experiencing.
- How I've reacted.
- How I've wanted to react.
- The words.

What I am left with at the end of today is this: I am blessed to know people who extend grace as a currency of friendship.

When I – who seem programmed to become passionate as prompted – launch into an impassioned defense of something that might only make sense to me, they quietly re-inflate my leaky ego. Then, buoyed by the courage that comes from assurance, I slip back into the better parts of myself, ready to face a new version of the day.

And now for random thoughts still roaming the recesses of my mind:

• Passive aggression causes active destruction.
• When someone wants to "agree to disagree," they want permission to stop listening.
• When someone wants to "agree to disagree," communication ends.
• Communication fuels engaged interaction.
• Without communication, there is no interaction.
• Adults bully other adults in official looking ways.
• False accusations can fuel fears - of the one falsely accused and the coward who committed the misconduct.

• Finally: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Lord Acton, 1887) This is true.

I am also left with thoughts of those who reached out to me today - friends capable of seeing vulnerability beneath veneer. Friends equipped to take what I call honesty and reflect it back as a mirror of myself. They see me; they help me see.

God, I am grateful for them. Please allow them to understand – to see – how grateful I am.

And now:
Where there is injustice, I will seek justice for those wronged.
Where there is abuse of power, I will seek to return power to those made powerless.
Where there is misunderstanding, I will seek to understand and to be understood.

I think it is simply who I am; therefore, it is who I have to be.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Insomnia: Could You Not Stay Awake With Me One Hour?

Insomnia. For those of you anticipating life after menopause, start anticipating random nights of insomnia. And it's a strange kind of insomnia too. Not so much a restless "Oh, me, oh my! I-can't-sleep" kind. It's more of a "Crap! Here-it-is-again-and-my-energy-won't-let-me-sleep" kind.

Estrogen. Elixir of youth. Who knew the wonder of you until you dwindled to nearly nothing?

I really can't complain. Since shortly after my 40th birthday, I have enjoyed the wonder of life in "those years." Somehow I slid right through peri-menopause and straight to post-menopause with little-to-no discomfort. Of course, I had to convince the medical professionals I'd arrived at this feminine destination years (heck, more than a decade) ahead of schedule.

I can probably blame it on the inherent stress of my life, but I don't want to. That seems to allude to an inferior capacity to deal with chronic stress. (Just so you know, having a child with physical and intellectual disabilities qualifies you for that illustrious category: chronic stress.)

I don't like thinking I might have an inferior capacity for anything, so I choose to ignore why I got here while simply navigating the how to manage being here phase. Frankly, I feel I'm doing that fairly well – other than the 13 pounds I packed on courtesy of a job I held during nearly the same period of time. About .81 pounds per month. Amazing. And because I'm not the calorie burning machine I once was, that means I'll be suffering through the physical after effects of that job for quite a while to come. Lovely. (Sometime I'll share the emotional after effects associated with that job as well. That will be a fascinating endeavor, won't it?)

Anyway, unlike centuries of women who navigated this transition before me, I have the benefit of the Internet to keep me company on nights that my body is having a difficult time shifting gears without the aid of Sister Estrogen. I've discovered that a day of sleep deprivation will kick me back into gear, provided I maintain my exercise and soy milk routine. I'm counting on the fact that tomorrow I'll be begging for bedtime. Until then, I'm blogging past bedtime.

Tonight, before I gave in to my condition, I laid in bed - eyes fully open - thinking about trying not to think. When I have a light version of insomnia, that can work. However, if my mind kicks into full productivity mode while wrestling with insomnia, I've lost the fight. An hour or two of real productivity smack dab in the middle of the night is the best remedy.

So, tonight, when Christ's frustrated words popped into my head, I knew it was time to get up. He understood what stress-induced insomnia was about!

"Could you not stay awake with me one hour?"

The disciples could not.

I wish I had a way of knowing who else is awake at this hour.
• A spouse who has recently lost his or her soul mate.
• A parent who has lost his or her job.
• Sons and daughters living with fear because of choices that found them after they attempted to avoid a choice at all.
• A supervisor who spent part of his or her day letting workers go - or who will do just such a thing in the morning.
• A mom contemplating the outcome of her radiation treatments.
• A dad contemplating the outcome of his surgery.
• A nurse.
• A doctor.
• A security guard.
• A police officer.
• A new parent.
• Someone unbearably depressed.
• Someone unbearably lonely.
• Someone holding a feverish child.
• Someone rubbing the back of a child doubled over in pain.
• Someone who is reading this right now.

Could you not stay awake with me one hour?

Well, tonight I could. I have been with you and have thought of you - whoever you might be. I hope you have not felt alone.

I believe someone else has been with you as well.

38 Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. Matthew 26:38-43

The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. Hang in there. Sometimes this is what life is made of. Fortunately, tomorrow always brings another chance to - if not get it right - at least try it again, hoping for a new result.

I bet I don't have insomnia tomorrow night. I hope you don't either.

You know what? I'm tired now. Finally. Horray!

- dedicated to Greg, Emilie and Skitch (all who have joined me in this hour tonight)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Storybook Romance, Storybook Wedding

Andre' Franco and Eva Mills met when freshmen at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. He needed a math tutor; she was the tutor. They got married May 8, one week after graduation.

Mark Newcom and Joy Bowden met when juniors at neighboring colleges. He began to bus her tables during their shift as singing waiters; she looked for opportunities to stand next to him when a song required a male partner. They got married 14 days after he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and five days after she graduated from Wartburg College.

Sometimes you discover that you have fallen in love with your best friend, and that what you are like when together seems exponentially more wonderful than even your most wonderful day spent apart.

You may even realize that your best friend is your soul mate.

You may even - one day - get to live a storybook romance that leads to a story book wedding.

Best wishes to you both - Andre' and Eva - from both of us. Thank you for having shared in our lives and for allowing us to celebrate this wonderful day with you.

Many blessings as you continue sharing life together - only now as husband and wife.

Mother's Day Musing

My assessment of Mother's Day is fairly ambiguous. Therefore, don't anticipate anything particularly ... well ... you choose the word. I'm being ambiguous.

For example, we had planned to visit my parents this weekend for my father's birthday (May 8) and Mother's Day (May 9). Then we had to cancel. But, then, we figured out that we didn't need to cancel. When I called to give my mom the news, she (in concert with my father) politely asked us not to come. I understood. The best thing I could do for her on Mother's Day was to plan our visit another time. I get it. Hallmark won't dictate the dynamics of our relationship. I am the same way.

Mark asked me last night how I'd like to spend Mother's Day; I still have no idea. I really don't want to do anything "special." I just want the day to "be." I think my only desire is this: That our family be together just hanging out. And when we get tired of hanging out, to do separate things and then come back together again.

Oh, and no church today.

I have heard my fill of sermons about honoring mothers or how we are to honor mom as blessed. The possibility of sitting through another was too much for me this year. (Think what you will of me about that.)

I simply wasn't up for wrestling with the uncomfortable feeling I get for all those who did not have the benefit of a wonderful mother when growing up. In fact, I get uncomfortable with the idea that we "rate" mothers at all.

That is probably my biggest struggle with this day. It feels like a glorification of something that simply is. When you have a child - by birth or adoption (official or unofficial), you become a mother. You just do. So what is the day for? To remind us of that? To remind us that our children will reflect on the quality of our maternal instincts on at least one day a year?

It seems an unavoidable reality. We don't honor bad mothers, so to have the privilege of celebrating the day, it seems you have to measure up somehow to the standards of someone(s) who are pretty special: your child(ren).

I think of that nearly every day – that my children have a right to rate my maternal instincts each moment of their lives. Who am I to them? Am I the mother they need to become the men they hope to be? I sure hope so, because I'm what they got. God help me. I pray so.

It is Mother's Day.

I need nothing more than the knowledge that my sons are healthy, happy and whole. Rather, wholly working on becoming who they are meant to be. And Stross ... Skye ... please know that I am wholly behind you.

I love you. No matter what. Thanks for the gift of you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Wonderful Time was Had by All

As you likely already know, May 5th is a family holiday in our household; this year was no exception. Our resident honoree–Stross Newcom–planned the day (which even began a day early), and then we all focused on what it meant to spend the day honoring him simply by joining in life as he lives it.

This year Mark's parents, David and Carolyn, included a stop for Stross' birthday on their spring travel itinerary, making his 19th birthday even more special for him.

It's always fascinating to view life from Stross' perspective. Well, as much as it is possible to do so. This year I witnessed how he wrestled with variables out of his control. He had planned his birthday down to the last detail, but he couldn't have foreseen this:

Dropped messages. The emcee at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres evidently didn't get the message it was Stross' birthday, so Stross didn't get to hear his name announced at the beginning of the show - just as he has witnessed it happening so many times for others. And, yes, I made the arrangements when we bought the tickets and called to double check from the hotel, hours before the show. Something happened, and he was bummed.

Unseasonable weather. He chose the Minnesota Zoo over other things on his list - indoor things like MagicQuest or Underwater Adventures at the Mall of America. He enjoys zoo animals; and therefore, the zoo is a magical (and thankfully a very accessible) place. So off we went into uncommonly cold spring temperatures: 40-degree weather! Stross was undaunted. The rest of us were grateful that large portions of the zoo are indoors or on display – in a comfortable way – outdoors.

Uncooperative animals. Unlike in his memories of an earlier birthday spent at the Minnesota Zoo (2007), Stross' 2010 birthday had to occur without a dolphin show (as the volunteer explained it "two geriatric and one pregnant dolphin"). After I explained what "geriatric" meant, Stross faced the reality of fashioning a new memory (one that also had to have no bird show, either). He rose to the occasion showing the same amount of annoyance his mother might have. For all the genetic deviations that occurred as he formed in the womb, my ability to complain while pivoting into the future seems to have infused his DNA - at least I recognized and identified with his personal angst.

Dizzying heights. Finally, Stross traded staying at the zoo until it closed for the prospect of seeing not just one but two IMAX movies. Unfortnately, the ample accessible seating area (with companion seats conveniently beside) were too close and messed with his non-binocular vision during the first movie: Under the Sea. (Stross can only see out of one eye at a time, so 3D up close makes him "dizzy.") Stross, undaunted, took Mark up on his suggestion to be carried up the stairs to sit by his brother and grandparents (and we would move with him) to view the second show about the Hubble telescope: Hubble. So during the second movie, we all sat as a family, Stross didn't feel dizzy, and he independently muscled his way across the row of seats and down the stairs when the show ended. Then, after a full day of navigating the Minnesota Zoo, Stross proved that he has what it takes to keep on keeping on. (Yes, you'll see some of what I'm talking about in the vlog.) What an incredible annual reminder of life's fragile tenacity. What a gift of life.

And, now for his birthday hangover: Stross spent part of today watching the four little movies of his celebration I made for him - still living in birthday magic – and waiting for the mail to arrive in case it brought some straggler birthday cards. (It didn't.) He remains undaunted, however. He is still wearing the bear claw necklace he bought yesterday, and he still has birthday money to spend.

I hope you enjoy the nearly 10 minutes of his nearly two-day celebration that is shared here. Mostly, I hope a little of his birthday magic transfers to you, because it is a powerful elixir.

Here's to the 2010 version of Stross' Birthday.
Here's to another wonderful year.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New Heaven, New Earth, New Way

May 2, 2010: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Please pray with me. Let us pray together: “We offer praise to you, O Lord. We join the sun and moon and shining stars in praise to you. We praise you from the depths and from the highest of heavens. We join with the fire and hail, the snow and frost, the mountains and hills – with all wild animals and all living things – with all people everywhere – in praise to you. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my spirit, be acceptable in your sight, and bring you praise, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen

Every once in a while, something happens that causes us to view our life in a new way. Actually, it may even help us see others in our lives in a new way.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I believed that my high school music teacher didn’t think I could sing well enough to perform a solo – and what she thought about me and my abilities mattered to me – likely even more than I knew at the time.

I mean, my elementary music teacher had given me some solos, but Mrs. Bieber, who was both my middle school and high school music teacher, had never given me one. Not once in four years. To be accurate, she had placed me into some small ensembles, and as a result, I had the chance to sing a few solo measures simply because they were written into the music. But I was never chosen for what I considered a real solo.

And so where I once believed I was capable of performing a solo, I now began to resign myself to the role of back up singer, and I decided I might need to learn how to be content as a member of the choir.

Still I began to wonder if my teacher had favorites that she thought of first when a song had a solo in it. And I wanted to be one of her favorites. Perhaps you can identify. Don’t we all want to be a favorite somehow? Some way? Of somebody?

“Favorite.” It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? We probably could all make a list of favorite things. You know the song (and please sing along if you'd like): “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. … brown paper packages tied up with strings.

Everybody now: “These are a few of my favorite things.”

Having favorite things is comforting, isn’t it? As we just experienced, it even feels good to hear the lyrics of a favorite song, sing along and simply relax into the familiarity of it. When a song comes on that you can sing along with, it somehow makes a day better, even if just for a little bit.

And it’s not just a music thing. From Binkies® to blankets to Buicks®, we seem to pass from one phase of life into another, keeping favorite things close to us for comfort – perhaps even a sense of belonging.

I think that is why I have always been interested in the idea of “favored” also – as in “God’s favored people.” In today’s New Testament lesson, we see Peter being confronted with a need to expand his concept of who is regarded as “favored.” Peter, a Jew, grew up as a student of the Torah. The Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, were – and still are, in fact – regarded by those who are Jewish as a gift from God to them, his chosen people. In other words, God loved his chosen people enough to provide them with instructions on how to live.

Listen to this love note from God to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 14:2, "For you are a holy people to YHWH your God, and God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth."

What a beautiful message of love: “chosen (as) treasured people from all the nations on earth.”

It sort of reminds me of love notes I got from Mark years ago. Now, don’t laugh, but on a note in a box tucked away for safekeeping, I have written proof that Mark believes I am the most beautiful woman in the world. The world, mind you. Now, am I going to argue with him? My husband? No way … (Well, not on that topic.) ☺ From the earliest of days of our relationship, Mark has made me feel treasured, chosen and most wonderfully favored. What a blessing!

Now I am keenly aware that isn't always the case in marriage relationships. And I don't share this as a way to brag. I'm simply letting you know what came to mind for me as I attempted to climb into a frame of mind close to what Peter, one of God's chosen people, might have had. I think it is important for us to try to understand Peter’s frame of mind during the passage we heard read today from Acts 11, and that is the closest analogy I could think of.

You see, Peter is Jewish. That means Peter knows he is favored. The Torah is his love note from God telling him that he is among the most treasured people on earth. And when very Jewish Peter receives a vision from God, he is seeing and hearing it as one of God’s chosen people. He feels treasured by the God who created him and then called him as a disciple.

I'm not sure if you noticed it, but the last stanza of today's Psalm is a praise to God from "the people of Israel who are close to him." Peter has grown to adulthood understanding that he belongs to God’s chosen race, and as a disciple of Jesus – the Christ – he even likely feels even more chosen.

Just think of what it was like to be Peter:
• He was invited by the Son of Man to become a fisher of men.
• He watched Jesus walk on water and then tried to do it himself.
• He was the only disciple to follow Jesus as far as the house of the high priest, but when recognized, he denied that he even knew Jesus – three times – just as Jesus said.
• Finally, Peter encountered a risen Christ while he was fishing. He didn’t recognize him at first. But he soon did. And then when he was eating with the risen Jesus, he received some pretty interesting – and persistent – instructions to feed Jesus’ sheep.

By this point, I believe Peter must have been looking at Jesus in a whole new way. How could he not? Peter, who had been given the name ‘Petra’ or ‘Rock’ by Jesus, was probably wondering if he would ever understand what Jesus had meant when he said: “Upon this rock I shall build my church.”

Now … back to me, my music teacher, and that elusive solo. Will I ever feel favored by her?

Well, on the Friday before Easter that year (my sophomore year) my parents invited Mrs. Bieber to stay overnight in our home the evening before we music students were to leave for small group music contest. Mrs. Bieber lived in another town and my parents’ offer made it possible for her to avoid a 90-mile round-trip prior to a 5:30 a.m. bus departure. Interestingly, my parents and little sister were out of town that night, so it was just me and my high school music teacher “hanging out” on a Friday night at my house.

After we ate supper together, I gave her, her space, and she gave me mine. It was a bit awkward … but, mostly, it was really cool. I mean, Mrs. Bieber was at my house. And, what I remember most: She wore blue jeans and tennis shoes that night. This was a big deal, because Mrs. Bieber never wore anything to school that wasn’t a dress or a skirt or slack outfit with a matching jacket. I wasn’t really sure who I was looking at that night. I was essentially seeing Mrs. Bieber in a whole new way.

There’s more to this story. You see, Monday at school, as she was reading through the judges’ comment sheets, she saw a note about a “rich, beautiful alto tone” on one. (That was my voice the judge was commenting on.) Mrs. Bieber looked up at me and asked: “Joy, why didn’t we have you take a solo to contest? Next year we really need to do that.”

Finally! She was seeing me in a new way ... just was I was her.

And, now, what about Peter? He had always lived in the confidence of favored status, remember? He was Jewish. Just like Jesus. And he had seen the Messiah. At the time of this vision, Peter lived in the wonder of the resurrected Christ for about three years, attempting to make sense of a very human world. But now he was encountering the Spirit of God – Jesus – through a vision. Yet another way to witness God at work in the world.

And remember the point of the vision? Peter was being told that Gentiles were favored too. Gentiles – non-Jews, non-chosen people.

How could it be that all the things that signified Peter’s favored status didn’t seem to matter any more?
For instance:
• He was circumcised. Gentiles were not. But that didn’t seem to matter.
• He didn’t eat animals considered unclean- hawks, ferrets, owls, eagles, herons, raccoons, snakes, wolves, squirrels, lions, lobsters, mice, camels, and swine – to name a few. Gentiles ate all of those, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Not only that, in the vision, Peter was being told that he could eat those things now as well.
“Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

“By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
Hey, Peter … said the Spirit of God: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

This was new. Radically new. And now Peter was seeing God – seeing the world – in a whole new way.

Most importantly, Peter understood that there was no longer a “them” and “us.” He saw that when he began to speak, the Holy Spirit had fallen on them, just as it had fallen on the Jewish disciples of Jesus.

As Peter explains it: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

Peter was seeing that God had brought about a new heaven on earth where all people were favored. The good news of a risen Christ was not just for those who were Jewish, but for Gentiles, or non-Jews, as well.

I’m not sure how we 21st century humans can fully appreciate the breath and depth of this new invitation and how shocking it must have been to those born Jewish 20 centuries ago.

According to Levitical law, Gentiles were to be regarded as unclean from birth. A Gentile, according to Jewish cultural practices, could not be entrusted with care of cattle. Not only that, Gentiles should not be allowed to nurse Jewish infants, provide medical care to those who were Jewish, or even walk in the company of anyone who was Jewish unless absolutely necessary – and only then with the utmost of caution, for Gentiles were not to be trusted. In fact, Gentiles were to be avoided if at all possible, except in cases of necessity – or for the sake of business.

Can you think of a class or a segment of people that you might regard as the modern day equivalent of Gentiles? Can you?

Perhaps they are people with whom we don’t want to associate …

Or people we think live an unclean life …

Maybe they are people we believe are so sinful that they fall outside the bound of God’s love …

Can you think of someone you have regarded as “unclean?” I can. And I am so ashamed that I am capable of such thoughts, that I don’t even want to say what I’m thinking aloud. Perhaps you can identify.

But God knows our thoughts and God is calling us to a new way.

God is reminding us of what Peter was told in today’s passage: “Do not call anything unclean that God has made pure.” This is truly big stuff.

Jews were the chosen ones – Jews were clean. We were the Gentiles. We were unclean … but God through Christ has made us new. The good news of the gospel is that everybody has been made pure. Witness a new order in heaven and on earth. Witness a new way to see the world.

That is the vision that John shares in our passage from Revelation today as well. John sees a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. John, like Peter, hears a voice. And his message is also about seeing things that we might not be able to be comprehend without God providing us a new way to see.

Listen to John’s words regarded as prophesy in Revelation: “…the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.”

Do you see? God is making all things new. That is good news, indeed.

We of the Lutheran tradition regard this as “living in the now and the not yet.” Throughout the New Testament, Christ regularly proclaims “the kingdom is here” but also “thy kingdom come.” So which is it?

Peter was fortunate enough to live a first-person account of this kingdom come to earth. But so are we. Remember: “…the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.”

That is both now (the kingdom on earth) … and not yet (the kingdom to come).

The gospels are full of stories about Jesus teaching – through parables and conversations – that even when the disciples would no longer be able to physically see Jesus, he would not leave them forsaken. He would provide them a Counselor, a Comforter – the Spirit of God. It was this Spirit guiding Peter into his new way of living in the world, reminding him of Christ’s words that we heard in today’s gospels: Love. It is all about love.

Forget about the law, Peter. Focus on love.

Everyone was – is – in God’s favor. Everyone had been – has been – chosen by God.

And being a disciple of God, means loving others as Christ – as God – loves you.

This divine love is a tall order, for it is a selfless love that calls us to put others above ourselves. What makes it difficult is this need we have to be treasured by others we encounter in life. We want to know that we are favored. That we are somebody’s favorite even as we are called to help others feel the same.

Guess what? We can do that simply by letting them know they matter. By showing them love in action. For they will know Christ through our capacity to love.

You know, I am grateful I got to know that Mrs. Bieber thought I was a good enough singer to take a solo to contest. And I’m grateful that happened when it did. Because Tuesday morning, the very next day, Mrs. Bieber didn’t come to school. She had been killed in a car accident the evening before. Just when I felt I had earned her favor, she was gone.

I still cherish the gift of affirmation and acceptance she gave me. And, sometimes, I still think of her when I want to sing solo. I also think of her every Easter, because her funeral was on Good Friday. She was 33 years old when she died. The same age as Jesus. Had she died without me knowing that I had found her favor, I think I would have always wondered.

We never need to wonder what God thinks of us. We never need to wonder if we are favored.

We are God’s chosen.
We are loved.
God – through Christ – has made us clean.
God – through the Spirit – lives with us today. Immanuel – God with us.

We live in the “here and now” even as we look forward to “the not yet.”

We have been made one in the Spirit.
We have been made one in the Lord.
Jews. Gentiles. You. Me.

Christ came and established a new heaven, and a new earth.
A whole new way of living in this world that has nothing to do with laws but everything to do with love.

So, what do you say, Favored One?

I hope you know how special you are.
I hope you understand that you have been made clean.
Most of all, I hope you know that you are loved, and because you are loved, you are called to love others as well.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Waldorf College Commencement - Happy Beginnings

Every spring for the past 16 years, Mark and I have celebrated commencement with a promising class of men and women at Waldorf College. For many of those years, we celebrated twice: in April for those graduating with an associates in arts degree and in July for those graduating with a bachelor of arts.

On this first day of May, we watched 117 students celebrate the kind of beginning that only comes from a successful ending. They earned a college degree in a field that matches their interests and, I hope, their vocational passion.

Bittersweet? A little.
Wistful? Nostalgic? Yes, a little of both of those, too.
But mostly we are this: proud.

Thank you, Graduates. Thank you for choosing to attend Waldorf College and for entrusting us with your education. It has truly been a privilege to share in your lives and to watch you mature in understanding. We look forward to learning where life takes you. Please stay in touch. May heaven's richest blessings crown every passing year.