Friday, June 25, 2010

Saying Good Bye to Grandpa

I'm writing this ahead of time, because Friday morning, when I normally would be sitting down to share some clumsy or humbling aspect of my own humanity on my blog, I will be going into a memorial service and bidding my grandpa farewell.

The indomitable nature of the human spirit is something often written and wondered about. Through the gravest tragedies and hardest persecutions, human beings find it within themselves, somehow, to persevere. I started pondering, a while back, whether I might know first-hand one source of this phenomenon.

One version of Grandpa's story (this is longer than my original link, but the original was no longer available.  At 19, Grandpa survived a shelling, being shot point blank in the head, being severely beat, and crawling through the snow in sub-zero temperatures in the Chosen Reservoir.  All his fingers and both his feet were amputated.)

This is almost a cliff's notes version of Grandpa's ordeal in Korea. It'll give you an idea, though, of all that he survived. I grew up with this story. I can't remember hearing it for the first time. Watching Grandpa, as young kids, we were fascinated at the way he could hold his spoon in the crease of his palm. The nonchalant way that he strode around on his wooden legs never gave me a moment to ponder whether he would have preferred to have shins, ankles, and feet, like the rest of us. He didn't just survive Korea, he made it all worth it. He raced go-karts. He drove his family in a station wagon to Costa Rica for a year of mission work. He took us shooting. He played Skip-Bo. Not long ago, just like then I was a kid, he took a swim in a hotel pool with my two little girls, showing them a few things about how to get around in the water. They shared their amazement, not because of his missing extremities, but because "people that old don't usually know how to swim." Growing up, knowing Grandpa's story, and seeing how he lived each day, no one in my family could readily complain about their feet being cold.

Grandpa's story may be exceptional, but if you trace your family history, you'll find your own story. Toughness is bred into survivors and we, all of us, spring from survivors. From Noah on the Ark down to the soldiers of WWII and Korea, our culture is steeped in the stories of unlikely survivors who lived on to become our parents and grandparents. Those who gave up, whose luck ran out, or who for whatever reason didn't make it – their story is lost. It is not our story.

Without putting you to sleep with our family history, Grandpa's isn't even completely unique in my own family. There are at least three such stories of against-the-odds survival and perseverance that involved a person whose genes I share. Those stories always give me hope for my own, comparatively minor struggles. Even when things are hard, I know I can overcome it. No matter how uncomfortable it is, I know it won't kill me.

And then there's Jesus, whom Grandpa loved. Jesus bore excruciating torture to redeem us. He showed us how to overcome hatred with love, and that the power and wealth of earthly success would mean nothing in eternity. Through Grandpa's victory over adversity, I learned to live each earthly day with gratitude and hope. Through Christ's victory, I can say good bye to Grandpa with hope that this departure is, indeed, not the end.

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Didn’t Think to Wear a Painter’s Mask

The basement bathroom is about 8x7. What is that? 56 square feet? Even amateurs like we are can tackle a job that minor, can't we? Well, can't we?

There are some home improvement projects that I won't tackle. I think roofing and plumbing, for instance, should be handled by professionals. But when it comes to the basics, like, say, paint and nails, I've always lived by the old "recipe" method. Even if you don't know how to cook, you can still follow a recipe and end up with a decent meal. It's all about reading and comprehending the directions.

So, with most of our basic housekeeping caught up, my husband and I felt the urge to tackle something bigger, and the bathroom has been on our to-do list for about a year. The fixtures are fully functional, but the walls are unpainted drywall with only a preliminary mud, the ceiling is wide open, and the floor is raw cement. Because we want the basement to be a hangout for the kids as they age, we decided a while back not to do any "formal" finish down there. We thought an open, loft-type feel would be fun for games and hanging out, keeping things fairly raw, but finished enough to be comfortable. The bathroom is our first actual move toward this vision, so, of course, we headed to the home improvement stores to decide what to do.

The first day, we dragged the kids from Menards to Home Depot, spending two hours each place, then moving on to Lowes. Lowes is on the other side of the city. It was a late night. We came home empty handed. But we did know that we didn't need to go back to Lowes, so that was something.

The second day, we took the kids to IHOP to get them warmed up before we broke the news that we were going back to the home improvement stores for another round. Over breakfast (well, by the time we had sat in the parking lot for a half hour after breakfast), we narrowed our choices down to the products available at Menards. The kids were relieved: only one store. Little did they know it would be three and half hours before we emerged from Menards with 4 cans of black spray paint for the ceiling, three rolls of textured wallpaper for the walls, two sections of aluminum duct work to encase the exposed plumbing behind the toilet, and a can of pewter cement stain for the floor and wall. Oh, and a vision.

It was two days into the project and we were finally getting somewhere. We headed downstairs to masked off the fixtures and make speedy progress on blackening the ceiling. Carefully reading the directions on the can, we turned on the vent, opened the downstairs windows, and went to it. Brian found an old, paper painter's mask in our stuff and threw it on. I didn't think much about it. I didn't notice any mention of painter's masks on the can…but, really, that's no excuse. I absolutely knew better than to aim a spray paint can over my head in a small, enclosed room, without covering my hair, eyes, nose, or mouth. Someone hit me on the head with a tack hammer; I am a moron.

Did you know that black spray paint loogies will turn your tongue green? It was not enough that I knew to wear a mask. I needed to put the thing on.

"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." Matthew 7:26-27

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Think I Can Do It All

Before you laugh at me and say, "No, you can't!" You have to realize that, most of the time, I get it done. Anytime I start to think there is too much on my plate, I remember commuting 3 hours each way to go to seminary in Kansas City, while working part-time at the church and having babies. It took 3 ½ years to get my M.A., but I did it. We did it. My husband and church family certainly get some of the credit, too. To use my husband's corporate lingo: I deliver on aggressive goals, especially when I am called.

I don't think I'm a yes-girl, though. I can generally say "no" to anyone but myself. I want to do it all. I'm called, passionate, and dedicated to being a wife and mother for my family. I'm also called, passionate, and dedicated to the ministry I serve. But then there are so many friends and adventures out there to savor! Time is my most treasured commodity, because if there is something I want to do, I will find a way to fit it in. My encouraging Facebook friends don't realize the rest of the story, when I post the conundrum, "do I take the kids to the beach or do laundry?" I've already chosen "beach" (or park, or bike ride) over "laundry" about a dozen times or it wouldn't be a question. If we weren't running out of undies, I'd already be at the beach.

We took this week off and made our usual plans. We were going to Kansas City for a weekend of roller coasters and visits with friends and family. We would come home for a day to reload, then drive up to Lake Okoboji to camp for a couple nights, stopping at a waterpark on the way home for one more day of summer fun.

Then I got word that my grandpa is in hospice. No one can guess what the time table will be, but we know that at some point, with short notice, we are going to be making a trip to Arizona to say good bye. Instead of cramming camping and waterparks in, we decided to save some money and get ahead on things, so that if we head out on short notice, it won't overwhelm our entire summer. Instead of our vision of great fun and photo-ops, we've spent the week sleeping in, getting the household chores caught up, and playing games with the kids. My husband keeps reminding me how pleasant it is to do nothing.

I'm already contemplating ways to squeeze in a night in a tent before another week goes by, but I'm adding it to my to-do list: schedule more time for nothing.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Don’t Like to Bathe

Too much information? Sorry, but I thought it was time I admitted it. I know many people who claim that they just can’t start their day without the refreshment of a turn in the shower. I am not one of them.

At risk of sounding like a toddler, I hate taking showers. They are such an incredible nuisance: all the undressing and redressing; having to wash all those towels; the time spent blow drying, combing, applying products. Uhg. Pass. Thanks. I’ll take one tomorrow. I know I’ll enjoy it, once I’m there, but not enough to make me want one every day.

When I wake up in the morning, I am usually ready for two things: a cup of coffee and my day’s to-do list. Bathing just seems like a big distraction. First you stop to bathe. Next thing you know, you need to match your clothes. Then you’re applying makeup and looking for coordinating jewelry. Soon an hour of your life has slipped away. An hour that could easily have been spent lying on a hammock, writing your novel, weeding the garden, or getting to work early, so you could go home early – and wash towels. But, no, I blew it on my vanity. Would I rather be vain or lazy? Can’t decide.

I have special methods of avoiding the daily shower without anyone knowing I did – or feeling like I’m risking my dignity or offending my co-workers. It only makes the challenge harder because I have extremely fine hair; it loves to flop into stringy clumps about 6 hours after my last shower, signaling to everyone around me that I am in need of a shampoo. In my younger days, I could always throw on a ball cap for that sporty second-day look, but the older I get, the dumber I feel showing up anywhere with a ball cap on; except maybe to softball. I could wear it there. I also used to rely on perms to dry my hair out and let me sneak a second day. Then perms went way out of style and I had to go back to the drawing board.

Nowadays, it’s highlights and texturizing hair spray that help me get through every other day without bowing to shower-idolatry. I combine the “interest” they add to my hair-do with the reliable method of occasionally wearing headscarves and pony-tails on fresh-hair days, just to throw people off the pattern.

Not to worry, I’ll shower daily for special occasions, most every Sunday, and when I’ve done something that required me to sweat (see my post on the elliptical I don’t use). Ironically, I have to mention, I got into a fine habit of daily bathing while I was living in Austria for a year. In case you don’t recognize the irony – the thing about Europeans not bathing; it’s true. So I wasted it, all those long mornings of shampoo, lotion, and hair products, on people who are already numb to body odor and oily hair.

You'll be glad to know that I'm quite attached, however, to tooth brushing and deodorant.

Jesus answered, "Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” John 13:10

(Reason for photo: a successful non-shower in my book)