Saturday, December 29, 2007

She has arrived

770 miles later, I am back. With 36.5 mpg on the highway my new (to me) toyota corolla has done me well. She is a cousin of the late toyota corolla, BlackBelle may she rest in peace. The Kia Sportage on the other hand is stuck still in Fort Worth. She's in purgatory.

But I'm home.

I left Missouri and the 36 year record-breaking December snow to come home to dust and dirt.
Around Waco I lost the lower register of my voice and by Austin, the tickle in my throat had surfaced yet again. Is it possible to be allergic to a city, because I think I am.

Too bad I like it here. :)

This week brings not only the festivities and required reflection on 2007 and toward 2008, but it brings back work: two sermons to write, auditions to plan, emails to send, meetings to have, people to encourage, love and serve. And of course more Christmas shopping for co-workers since I was sick the week i was planning on finishing that up and handing gifts out. sigh. i'm already behind.

But, Lynnette and Sam will be here because Sam's speaking at my church tomorrow at 9:30 and they both will be leading in worship at 11!! To pick up a copy of Sam's new book, click here! Tomorrow's Sam's B-day, Lynnette's was just four weeks ago and New Year's Eve is upon us. We can't wait to celebrate!!

Only the medicine and computer bags have been unpacked. Always start with the essentials. Surely the rest will fall into place.

Like what in the world I'm going to do with a dead car in Fort Worth.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve.

After a few fights, a couple glasses of wine, a visit from the neverending neighbor, and a case of Diet Coke (the true spirits of the American family), the Pittman family managed to get to get dressed in our finest attire, attend the Christmas Eve Candlelight service, get our pictures taken and get into bed.

Of course, I have to get you to this point of sugarplums dancing in dreams first. Santa comes tonight, and I've got to get my last bits of goodness out, not to mention the naughty. And so it goes.

As you'll remember, Christmas began shortly before Halloween this year with the decoration change in department stores completely skipping Thanksgiving. The inability to find decorations for the current holiday to hang at your Halloween party due to the display of decorations for the holiday after next, may be indicative that we in America have gone a little overboard with the Christmas thing.

But I'm not a hater. I love Christmas. I politely wait until the day after Thanksgiving to turn on my lights (even if they're hung before), I always abbreviate X-Mas with the understanding that I'm not X-ing Christ out of Christmas, only using the original Greek symbol for his name; I even drink the eggnog (store bought) and don't think twice about the calories.

Neither do I mind the shopping. I admit, this year I had trouble thinking of things for my list. Working in downtown Austin can make one a little self-conscious about asking for things. And since in over two years I still haven't gotten over the fact that the paychecks keep coming in (who knew?) I feel overly blessed.

But after Mother's third menacing phone call, I mustered up a list and have been adding to it ever since.

"How will I know what to get you if you don't ask for a new car, Ann?" she threatened, making fun of the fact that every year since I was 16, I asked for a car for Christmas. Very funny mom. So I put a Vespa on my Christmas list as a joke.

Unfortunately, if any year I should have asked for a car, it's this one.

Four hours outside of Austin, my car overheated.


Did I take it in to a groovy shop that shall remain anonymous (ahem!) for this very problem not five days earlier when my car overheated on the way to a nursing home? Yes I did. Did they put in a new radiator and radiator cap? Yes they did. Did they do a 72 point check and write down all the things wrong with my car that they found? Yes they did. Did they strongly suggest I get a new battery before I drove to Missouri? Yes they did. Did I buy one at Wal-Mart the day before I left? Yes I did.

Do I have a car now? No I don't.

Because it overheated, burnt the engine and died on the access road just outside of Fort Worth.

"Do you want McDonald's for breakfast or IHOP?"
"Um... McDonald's I guess. IHOP will take too long and if we do McDonald's we will make it by dinner to St. Joe."
"K." We begin to pull off the highway. "Uh... the car... it's hot... it's..."

After pushing the car into IHOP's parking lot and eating the breakfast I hadn't chosen, I began the arduous task of calling my parents.

"Mom, my car is broken. Get on the internet and figure out where I am."

Fortunately, my old friend from Seminary was raised in Fort Worth, so I called her. She called her dad who called a friend who eventually recommended Christian Brothers Autobody Shop. Then I called a tow truck. Then a cab.

Because I had two cats, a dog and a boyfriend stowed away in my car. I kid you not. And the tow truck had a two "people" max for it's cab and refused to "tow" anything living.

I thought the cab driver was going to crap his pants when I started tossing cats into his car, but he sucked it up and dropped us off. In I waddled into the autobody shop with Zorba, Potter and Janie.

When the mechanic came to talk to me about my car, he didn't do it from behind the counter as his did with everyone else who came in during the FOUR HOURS I sat in that shop. Rather, he came out the door into the waiting room, sat on the couch next to me and said remorsefully, "I have some bad news."

Long story short, we arrived in tact in St Joe around 10:30pm on Friday in a rental car without a CD player. "That's okay," encouraged Grandma, "You and your boyfriend can sing together, and talk, and really get to know each other."

Yep, great. Like a freaking CD player would have been too much to ask for after emerging from Hell.

"I was hoping you left Zorba at the mechanic's," Mother said over the phone.


The cats have been locked in my room ever since because my sister's psycho dog scared the begeezus out of them when we walked into the house.

The other sister was having a party.

I walked into the kitchen after five days of lying ill in bed, two days on the road, $1000 on the credit card, after losing my car and after losing my mind (but not crying once the whole day), and I looked at all those 22 and 23 year olds in their swank clothes sipping on rum and cider, and sighed. "Will someone please get me a beer?"

Fortunately, things have managed to move up from that point. God graced my merciless travels with 6 inches of snow (consequently ruining the travels of the rest of the county) the morning after I arrived. Church was cancelled (hallelujah and forgive me Jesus) the next day the boyfriend who's never seen snow, the sister who never fails to rekindle her childhood, the neverending neighbor and I all went sledding. Amazing. About halfway through we realized that if someone stood at the bottom of the hill and called out to Amy's dog Sophie, she would tear down the hill with us on the leash and the sled behind her, thus doubling our speed and our sheer terror. It was awesome. I haven't done that since college.

And Christmas with the extended family went off without a hitch too. No one brought up Jesus or George Bush, so we all got along fairly well.

With no Sunday morning Church there was no way my sisters and I could get out of going to the service tonight despite our pleas to watch movies, eat out and open gifts. It was another winner, with the man in front of us moving over one seat to avoid my coughs and my mother refusing to allow me to go to the restroom during the prayer to get a tissue for my nose. Amy fell asleep, and Emily snorted, stifling laughter, when the smell of calliflower fart drifted our way. I got tired of waiting for the minister to tell us to eat the bread and drink the cup during communion, so I put my wafer in my mouth to get the ball rolling. With one eye on the family minister, my sisters and mother did the same which resulted in more stifled laughter from the youngest when she realized we were out of sync with the rest of the congregation.

These are not all the terribly normal and terribly disfunctional stories I have from my Christmas vacation thus far, but the confessions have begun and processing it now may save me some therapy time later. :) I will keep you posted for sure.

I just hope Santa still shows up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas at Ann's House

Putting up my modest Christmas decorations...

Potter likes to climb into the tree and nap...

I added a deer to my outside lights this year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Living Next to the Griswold's

Clarence finally finished his yard. This does not show the plethora of lights in the backyard - please keep this in mind as you feast on what he has prepared...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Merry Christmas From Regina...

Wish List

Dear Santa,

I don't have a fireplace. Most Texans don't. Grandma used to say you came in through the furnace in situations like this. I'm surprised I believed her.

So if it's true about the furnace thing, here's some things I'd like for Christmas...

a wii
new windows in my bedroom (just go ahead and put those in while you're here - i don't mind).
a pet turtle
or a pet bird
gift certificates to Home Depot, IKEA, Big Red Sun
movies: Little Miss Sunshine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
any cool shoes size 6 women or size 4 children (i'll pass on those pointy things the elves wear though)
funky jewelry (especially earrings or necklaces)
cute long sleeve shirts
plants, especially cactii

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Travelers: Following the Story

First came the shepherds. They heard the news, through a chorus of angels no less. With such storytelling devices as bright light and trumpets and being able to fly, it’s no wonder the shepherds left their jobs and scurried off to Bethlehem. They followed the news to a stable - not quite a barn, more like a cave - where they found the child.

I wonder if the stray cats and dogs didn’t beat them to the manger first though. The moo’s and spitting and snorting of the barn animals with the screams of a young girl giving birth probably scared the stray animals away at first. But when the donkeys and sheep settled down and the mother began to rest from her hard work, I imagine the baby crying. Softly… loudly… not at all. I bet that baby’s cry silenced the barn animals and I picture the stray cats, always intrigued by a human’s tears, sneaking in around the stones, through the legs of the stalls and up on a ledge to spy on the newborn child.

Some people knew the story was coming, waiting to be told. They followed the story before they even met the characters or knew their names. Simeon and Anna were two such people. The story tells us that Simeon waited day after day; such was his faith that he would see the Messiah before he died. And without any hint except the urging of the Holy Spirit, Simeon went up to Mary, Joseph and Jesus and added to the story. He said the baby would bring salvation. Maybe he said this because the baby’s name means “God saves,” but he added that the child would be a light to all the people. He predicted pain would accompany salvation, but he blessed the new parents nonetheless. And Mary and Joseph were amazed as the story continued to unfold. Anna soon joined them and brought her prayers and blessing upon the child.

The magi too heard the story. They had to gather bits of it piece by piece. First there was the star. It didn’t seem a part of any constellation they knew, so they began to search for its origin. The learned more of the story of the birth and the location when they met the King of the Jews. And finally, they met the main character of this drama that had brought them from so far away. And they worshipped the young boy. They told the story of a child-king and true to their heritage, they offered the king expensive gifts to honor him.

And the story continued as people began to hear about the baby and follow the news to where the boy, the child, the man was.

Everywhere Jesus went, news of his nature preceded him. “Jesus, we have heard you can heal – heal me!” “Jesus we have heard that you raise people from the dead – raise my child” “Jesus, we have heard you are the Son of God – save yourself if this is true!” Everywhere people followed the story of a baby, the story of a man, the story of a God.

That’s what we do today too, is it not? We follow the story. Sometimes we stand far off and just watch God at work. Other times we gather in close, compelled by the awesome tale, and we peer into its mystery. We watch historical events unfold and we marvel at those stories retelling themselves even in our own lives. We follow the Jesus story just like we would follow any other story: the ice storm in the Midwest, the war in Iraq, what Brittany Spears has done now. But unlike these other stories, this story changes everything.

It doesn’t just change which icy roads we avoid or does it change national border lines… it changes us. It changed history. It changed rules. It changed people. It changed the world.

Which is probably why we keep on telling the story today. Why we follow the good news of a God who demonstrated love by becoming like those he loves. This is why we watch God moving in the world and we pray God will move in us. It is why we peer into ourselves, into our hearts, into our minds and open them to the mystery of God. When this happens, we stop following the story and begin experiencing it ourselves. Instead of just watching the story, we join the story. Like the shepherds we move from hearing the news to seeing the baby. Like the magi we move from one location to another - be it geographically or spiritually - in an effort to honor the king. Like Simeon, we who have waited to be healed, to feel whole, when we encounter the story, in the flesh, in front of our face, we are changed.

This is not just a story to accompany Santa Clause and Frosty the Snowman. It’s not just a picture book you read or a crèche you set up on a mantle. It’s not just a myth to put children to sleep or a fable to get children to behave. It’s the story of an event, of God breaking into human history as a human being. It’s a story of poverty and richness, of oppression and freedom, of love and betrayal. It’s a story we experience every day. And it’s the story that will save our souls.

Indeed this is a story that will change us. It will redeem us and help us to keep on going. It is a story that gives hope and peace. It’s a story we have to work hard at allowing to be the story that defines our lives. So many other stories will compete to define who you are, but stories of loss and shame and bitterness are not the stories God has told for you. God’s story may have elements of those in it, but Jesus’ story begins with a baby and ends with an empty tomb. God’s story begins before creation and calls us good. God’s story trumps whatever we have reduced ourselves to and opens us up to who we can become…and how we can change the world by telling our stories.

And in telling the world our stories, indeed, we are telling God’s.

Ann Pittman
December 13, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let It Snow... Let It Snow... Keep Your Ice...

"It's worse than the one in 94," my dad said on the phone. "Hold on," he continued, "I think I just caught my pillow on fire."

You may have seen my hometown on the news. St Joseph, Missouri making it big yet again as the recipient of one of the terrible ice storms destroying the midwest.

Mom, dad, grandma and grandpa spent the first day and night huddled around my parents' fireplace trying to find a hotel/motel (all booked) and wrestling with the idea of driving to kansas city (in an ice storm?) to find heat and a place to sleep.

Day two proved more productive. My home church has electricity, so the four of them headed out there for the day. While at the church, the youth minister showed up with a generator as a gift to my family! So last night they slept in heat!

Dad said there was a picture of my neighbor on national news. I guess our street looks really bad because the C Span truck is camped out at the end of our block.

I remember the storm of 94. I was a sophomore in high school and it is one of the most vivid memories I have. The ice makes you feel like you are in a wonderland, while feeling strangely scared at the same time. Everything glitters and glows. And when the transistors blow, a blue light bounces, radiating through all the ice. It's eerie too though because it is silent. Completely quiet. No sound except the sound of a gunshot (a branch breaking under the weight of ice) and then glass breaking (the ice shattering as it hits the ground). I'll never forget those four days in 94 with my family camped out in our living room with blankets and games and the fire blazing. It was surreal: like playing Little House on the Prairie except we didn't have to pretend the weather part.

So thanks to everyone for your questions and concern for my family. So far so good (in an ice storm). And as my dad said, "It's sad watching everything (the trees and nature) be destroyed, but we lost a lot in 94 too and we were surprised at what came back." There's something beautiful about watching something being reborn. Through the fire and now refined. Under the water and now reborn.

Sometimes there must be ice to appreciate the sun.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Wednesday November 28…

I am lying in my bed propped up on pillows. My dog sleeps beside me stretched out where a boyfriend or husband should be. It is nighttime and I am processing my day.

A friend texted me this morning, panicking about another mutual friend. He said all these things and it hurt her feelings and he’s being a hypocrite and she can’t handle it and his new girlfriend is affecting their friendship… and finally we are at the heart of the issue. New and old. Just found and always been around.

This afternoon I listened to a son’s confession that his parents were divorcing. He told their story which is inextricably his story. From living quarters to family dynamics, much will be changing. Familiar and unfamiliar. Only known and the unknown.

Tonight I drove to a friend’s house to wish his mother good luck on a very invasive surgery scheduled for this weekend. Her daughter was there with her new baby and I watched my friend’s mom cuddle her grandchild. It was quite the juxtaposition: a healthy baby body held to the breast of a sick, older body. Even with the warmth and optimism of the family, the impending surgery and weeks of recovery reminded me what a transition this time would be in their lives. Everyone adjusts: gets assigned new tasks around the house, new weekends to drive to the hospital in Houston, new prayers to offer up to God.


It’s constantly confronting us, is it not?

Starting college means saying goodbye to high school: it means making new friends, improving study habits, making new (to you) decisions, and it means learning to drop the teenage attitude and preparing to live maturely as an adult. Some of the transitions happen quickly like moving out of your house and into a dorm, others may take you the whole four years to process. Starting college means saying goodbye to high school.

Getting a new boyfriend means really letting go of the old one. It means stopping the obsessing over old injuries and giving someone new a chance to do something right. It means adjusting to different mannerisms, different habits, different favorite restaurants, different favorite songs. It means you take a risk to let this be its own relationship – not an extension of one you wish you still had or lament you ever engaged. Getting a new girlfriend means really letting go of the old one.

Losing your job means hunting for a new one and then adjusting to working in that new place. It means accepting terms of resignation and being faced with the option to improve. It means re-evaluating your dreams, goals, and desires in life. It means telling your family and friends, facing old hurts, creating new ones. It means settling for or gratefully accepting a new salary. It means meeting a new boss, new co-workers, discovering who makes the coffee in the office and whether or not it’s too strong. It means learning who to avoid on Monday mornings and who is great to go to with questions. It means taking down the pictures in your old cubby and deciding whether they are still fitting for your new one. Losing your job means hunting and adjusting.

Transition is all around us. And no matter what traditions we uphold to keep the past the present, change will always make its way in. Amidst they hymns come the praise songs; where there once were candles, flickering lights now brighten our tree. Summer of your sweet 16 comes summer of your sweet 26th and some things never stay the same.

This is the perfect week for transition. In most places in the country, the trees are fully colored and perhaps even turning brown. The first snows fall signaling winter and our house decorations experience their own changing of the guard as well. If you have managed to avoid Christmas until after the Thanksgiving holidays, then this past weekend you threw away the pumpkins and brought out the reindeer to decorate your yard. The red, brown and yellow fall leaves scattered across our tablecloths last week have given way to the green and red of holly and mistletoe. Boxes are pulled out, dusted off and emptied while others are returned, put away until next year. It’s transition time. We pull out our winter coats and hang up our jackets. In Texas, we put away our swimsuits and set out our scarves. Transition happens that fast.  Toys are changing, new, improved; faster, funnier, fuzzier toys take to the shelves and leave behind the competition.

It’s that time of year.

Transition. It is all around us. Some of it we anticipate, yearn for even – those warm fires, those happy holiday feelings. But some of it comes with the ebb and flow of life and it catches us off guard – almost every time.

Transition. The old is gone, the new has come. And that was just yesterday.

* * * *

The old has gone and the new has come and it has caught us off guard. Sometimes transition is slow and we feel like it is more manageable when we can adjust in small doses, but a death or a diagnosis never falls softer than a rock and even so it never hurts any less.

As the world changes around us, we have several choices. We can reject transition and pretend it isn’t happening. We can resist it with the core of our being and in doing so allow our own destruction, bitter and blinding. Or we can seek an alternative.

To everything, turn, turn, turn. The world is turning, our lives are changing, and we will make ourselves sick resisting transition.

But be transformed, God says, by the renewing of your mind.

When transition is frightening or even just unsettling, we must offer God our minds and our hearts, and in faith, we must allow God to change us and grow us. Transition will not destroy us unless we let it. But if we allow God to work good in our lives, then as transition comes, as the old moves on and the new moves in, we become more like Christ, more dependant on God to carry us through, more enabled to help others experiencing their own transition.

We must look up. When we are afraid, we must look up. When change overwhelms us, we must look up. God is with us and around us and in us and God will not let us live scared of newness and scared of life. Rather, God will give us the courage to face this changing world head on. God has given us community to work with, to encourage us, to love the world. God has given us beauty to give us hope, give us an outlet for creativity, to remind us God is present. God has given us the Spirit to comfort us, to stimulate us, to grow us, to sustain us, to enable us to change the world.

For even as the world seeks to change us, so do we challenge the world to change too.

The world will never stop turning and change will never leave us be. The same old, same old, doesn’t really exist and truly things are always changing. But we do not have to be afraid. We must take courage and be very brave. For in Christ even we are changed and offered the newness of life in Christ. Newness that will never end and newness that makes all the difference in the world…

Ann Pittman
Nov. 29, 2007