Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jest 'fore Christmas.....

This has been an odd Christmas season for me, as it has been the first in nearly 30 years that I haven't worked in a retail environment. Enjoying the busy-ness and helping my customers find precisely the right books to give to people they loved became much of the way I celebrated the season. (Lest you think I'm blowing smoke, I am not: I really enjoyed visiting with my customers, hearing their plans for the holidays, sharing in their excitement as they made plans for travel or plans to welcome their family back home.) When you're on your feet, not to mention when you are on all day, no matter how much fun you're having you are still just worn out and depleted when you finally get home. As much as I wanted to go to lots of Christmas parties and events around town, I was just too wiped out to follow through.

But this year has just been so much fun!  My family and I lit the first candle of the Advent season at church. I rang with both handbell choirs at church for the Hanging of the Greens. My sister-in-law and I attended the Montgomery Civic Chorale's truly spectacular Christmas concert. Henry and I took our granddaughter to experience the Holiday Lights at the Montgomery Zoo (never mind that things didn't go quite as planned), and just a couple days later, we took her to see A Christmas Carol at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. And the season isn't over: we'll attend Candlelight Services tonight with our whole motley crew, followed by our annual visit to Waffle House for a cholesterol-be-damned meal to tide us over until Christmas morning. I cannot remember a time I felt so "filled" up by the Christmas spirit. 

A new component this year has been the fun I've had at work processing Donor-Advised gifts to so many very deserving nonprofits. I verify each nonprofit to make sure of its IRS status, and in that process learn so much about these organizations, many of which are unfamiliar to me.  I told a friend a few days ago that it's heartwarming to me that folks who have already received their tax benefit by establishing a fund with the Foundation make the effort to pass that money along in such a thoughtful way when there really is no requirement that they do so. I can tell you this for true: when you have your hands in this sort of giving every day, it inspires you to give more, too. We protect the privacy of all our Donors, so I can't tell you some of the most heartwarming holiday "miracles" that have happened because of their generosity, but suffice it to say that more than once because of them, prayers were answered.

It hasn't all been roses, of course. I had a bit of a dust-up with a large retail operation regarding fraudulent activity on my (now cancelled) account. Our beloved Old Master Cat, Big Louie, traveled across the Rainbow Bridge at nearly 20 years of age. And Henry, Thomas, and I are still trying to figure out what movie we'll see on Christmas Night (a new-ish tradition for the three of us), as the one we all wanted to see isn't playing anywhere in town.

But there have been far too many wonderful gifts of the season to focus on the things that might make me melancholic. I took Rosemary out yesterday for a bit, so she could get some of her Christmas shopping done, and her excitement at finding just the right things that SHE could give was a delight. Even sitting in holiday traffic wasn't horrible, for she and I had much of import to discuss. And best of all, a friend welcomed her first grandchild into the world at a time when her world needed a dose of newness.

The list of reasons to celebrate -- or at least to sit in contentment -- is so long. And I am so grateful.

I don't decorate our home anymore -- the last time was December 2011 -- but my heart is lit up with the light of my family's love, the generosity and kindnesses to which I have borne witness, and the assurance that we are held in the palm of the hand that grasped His mother's finger for the first time on That Night.

Merry Christmas, Y'all! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Feeling the Earth Move Again

A year ago yesterday the owners of the bookstore announced publicly that they had made the decision to shut things down after the first of the year 2016. I had received the news some weeks before, but until my bosses had time to hammer out the particulars we kept it, literally, in the family.

I was not surprised by the announcement, was glad for my bosses that they were able to make this decision for themselves when it was still a decision they didn't have to make. I was  less glad for myself, of course. Not only would I be losing a job I loved, I'd be losing all the perks: the paycheck, of course, but also the privilege of being in the company of customers I looked forward to seeing, and, of course, the books I got my hands on months before their dates of publication. Most importantly to me, though, was that feeling of the earth shifting beneath my feet -- again.

In the several years prior I'd had a laundry list of times when I'd lost my footing, literally and figuratively. The death of my parents, my husband's medical emergencies, my own injury, my husband's period of unemployment. I had honestly not yet regained my sense of wholeness from any of these things, and in a very raw way I believed I was losing a vital part of my personal identity along with my job.

So here I am a year later, working at a new job that found me after several months at home, a job that I feel like I've been doing my whole life (even though I am forever still referencing notes I took in The Big Black Notebook  my new boss gave me the first day in the office). I work with people who already feel like old friends, for a nonprofit that enables the good work of folks who believe in our community to come to life. It's a job that I am excited to get to every morning of the work week, and one that energizes me and encourages me about the future of my hometown.

Every change that has ever been thrust upon me has initially scared the bejeebers out of me. I am a "plan your work and work your plan" gal, thanks to my Daddy, so when things happen that are beyond my control I tend to unravel a bit.

Come to think of it though, from the moment the obstetrician told my Mama to push, I  have been forced from one comfortable place into a place of frightening uncertainties, and made to adapt to a world bent on changing around me, without letting it change me.  That you are reading this right now means you survived that same introduction into How Things Work Around HERE. It was a crash course; it's a lesson we are all invited to learn over and over and over again while we ride this planet.

But this is what has been true for me, and I'm betting it's true for most of you, too: those moments have always led to finding the right hand to hold, the right Higher Power to trust, the right moment to glory in what is right in front of our faces when it is too scary to look down the road, and the right place to plant my feet toward the next best thing that is out there, one I'd never have found had I not been forced to move from where I was.

And that's the way I see it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Let All Mortal Flesh Yada Yada

Anybody who has ever raised a child and has taken that child to church could retire at the age of 40 if they got a quarter for every time they whispered to that child to be quiet because the preacher was praying/preaching or the choir was singing. Folks sitting with you in the pews shoot ugly looks at you if you don't at least attempt to hush a talkative tyke while worship is underway. 

Of course, at FUMC, worship is defined as that time on Sunday mornings when people stop talking after we sit down after the processional hymn. Before that? Well, we are a congregation of talkers, and we regard anything before the processional as background music for our conversations. 

Visiting with one another is evidence of the"radical hospitality" we have become famous for providing, right? I'm here to say, as a world-class chatterer, that talking through the prelude is akin to getting all the scoop from last night's party during the pastoral prayer, or rehashing last night's ball game during the sermon. 

Those of us who provide a prelude for the congregation as a time to gather their thoughts and center their hearts toward God appreciated very much our preacher's new strategy for making announcements before the prelude. We all hoped it would mean folks would take the gentle hint, and it actually worked for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I think he's had to crank up the volume on his microphone for the past several weeks because people are talking louder to talk over him.

Last Sunday morning a member of our youth group performed a beautiful duet with our assistant minister of music for our prelude. It broke my heart that, rather than show our support for this young man's gifts, the chattering continued as if there were nothing special happening because the choir hadn't processed yet. 

I recognize and appreciate that the leadership of our church has to walk a diplomatic line about this issue. I'm just rank and file, people, so that line's a little wider for me. I don't believe anybody in the congregation intends to be rude. I just think we've gotten into a bad congregational habit that has become increasingly worse. 

This Sunday, the two adult handbell choirs have a rare opportunity to be part of your (and our) worship experience for Pentecost. Each choir will be offering an extended musical prelude, and the Allegro Bells (my group) will also provide the Act of Praise at the 11:00 service. Both services begin earlier than usual to accommodate these extended preludes, and it is my hope that whatever service you choose to attend you will be there, seated and quiet, at the appointed time. We have all worked very, very hard so that we might be part of your Pentecostal experience. All we ask is that you allow us to offer our musical gift to God without having to feel like we're ringing in Babel. 

Next time, we'll talk about how wonderful it is to sit around and listen to the POSTLUDE! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our New Dog

I always said that when one of us retired we would seriously consider getting a dog. 

We have had a couple in the last nearly four decades, but realized we weren't in a position to be the sort of owner a good dog deserves. But maybe in retirement we could try again? 

I've had my heart set on a Bull Terrier because I once saw a TV show about them, and the narrator said they are known for their desire to make people laugh. 

Henry would love to have another Beagle, like the one he had when he was a little boy. 

But I think we both figured that, when the time was right, the right dog would just appear.

I believe our wait is over. Perhaps realizing that Henry is still working, and I'm just resting and not really retired, the dog gods decided to have fun with us because this is the critter that keeps showing up despite all my efforts to relocate him from the corner of our bedroom to the great outdoors. 

This has included my picking him up and walking all the way from one end of the house to the other to get him OUT. 

Today I decided to give up. 

His name is Lyle Lovett. And we're keeping him.