Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mom and I opened the forbidden door. Not that it was "off limits" as a verdict from my parents, but behind that door was a room, a series of rooms. Behind that door were steps to an old, dingy, dusty, poorly lit area where floorboards creaked and squirrels, racoons and rumor has it - ghosts all roamed the walls. The attic. I hate the attic. Almost as much as I hate the basement which has an equal amount of creepiness after you trade in the dust for mildew and the squirrels for spiders. Truth be told, there are two rooms in the attic I've never even been in (and two tunnels in the basement...).

But the attic holds several large boxes and bins of my "possessions." December of 2000, mom and I packed them up, labeled their containers and hoisted them up to the attic.

Five full years later, we're retrieving them. I want to buy a house in Austin. It's time. I'll be 28 soon, I have a real job, I've experienced real love and real pain and by golly it's time for me to get to process my life in a clean well lighted place that I will be able to call "my own." Selfish? Perhaps. But the time feels right, so before I came home to Missouri, I got a loan, a real estate agent and a list of houses and began the search.

And now I'm beginning to get it all together. My stuff that is. Hopefully my life will follow, but who knows.

So mom and I began the journey up to the place I only force myself to visit thus beganing my journey back to a place I haven't visited in a very long time.

I know five years isn't a long time when you're eighty, or fourty or maybe even thirty. But it is for me, and I had forgotten so much. And so, I began the process of remembering.

There were two things I knew I would find. Yearbooks were the first. What I didn't expect to find alongside them were graduation hats, diplomas, a letter for the jacket I never bought and a couple of pins and graduate awards. College and high school: eight years meshed together into one pile of paper and fabric.

I peeked into one box. "Uh, this box is mine, mom. But what is this crap? Get me a garage sale box - enough time has passed to me to get rid of some of this stuff that held too much sentimental value for me to throw away before." Don't ask me why though. Probably because such items were gifts from people I cared for. I always had a hard time disposing of gifts I hated when they came from people I loved: cheesy Christian calandars I once found inspiring and cute quotes etched in glass. Garage sale... garage sale... garage sale.

And then there were the items that I didn't even recognize. Why had I put this ugly jar into my box of "keepers"? Because it once held the pens I used to write bad poetry with in high school? Because I used it for... because someone important gave it to me... because? I couldn't tell you. Or rather, I couldn't remind myself. That memory is gone.

There were books, lots of children's ones that will go back up to the attic to await the arrival of grandchildren. And there was memorabelia from trips: Israel's hand pic was there that I used on the dig, along with my gloves, an artifact and Israeli soda bottles. There were cards, letters and awards that will probably be saved and put in a scrapbook someday. There were empty bottles of wine. What from? From France. The bottle David and I shared in Montpellier. The one I brought home to drink with my family. Both went in the trash.

And then came the nick-nacks box. I knew it would be in there: the second item I remembered packing away.

My senior year in college, Amy and David took a pottery class together. Amy is my sister, David was my college boyfriend, the first man I ever intended to marry. The goal of the class was simple: produce 100 items (bowls, plates, vases, whatever) and receive an "A." The grades went down from there.

This was a funny, but classic time in our lives. David and I'd been together off and on for four years, and Amy and David were BFF's since we'd never had a brother and he was the first boy and thus "brother" I ever brought home. The class was from 7:30-10am. David rarely made it to class on time. Often Amy would go ring his room at the dorm until he would struggle out of bed. Neither did it look as though David would be getting his 100 pieces finished, so Amy the artist worked overtime throwing pots, firing and glazing them, and marking the initials DJC in the bottom of them. This of course irritated me because I wanted David to work harder, be more diligent with his studies, succeed. So I was always hounding him to go to the art building off hours, get his pots done, catch up!

One night toward the end of the semester, David and Amy were down at the studio working extra hours trying to produce 200 pieces between the two of them. I could not understand why David was moving so slow, why it seemed to me that Amy was finishing so much more quickly. I though a little motivational lecture from me might speed up the process, so I bundled up against the William Jewell winds and headed for the art building.

I knew the downstairs door by the kiln would be open so I headed that direction. I was right, as I always was back then;) so I entered the studio.

I saw Amy there and some of the other students. And then I saw David standing next to a table. "Dave! What's taking so long? I don't understand why you can't get these pots done. This is ridiculous. You said you'd be over by 8 and it's 8:45 and I'm sick of waiting for you. What could possibly be so difficult about throwing a pot? And why didn't you work harder earlier in the semester so we wouldn't be having to do all this now?"

At some point during my tirade between the hand gestures and the exasperated gasps I looked at the table next to Dave's right hand. And there it sat. His work in progress, his secret, his gift for me that kept him from finishing his pots: a large cyramic turtle, hand made.

I love turtles.

And I knew immediately it was for me.

Moment of dillema: do I pretend I didn't see it and leave ever so un-graciously? Or do I acknowledge the unfinished secret gift that I just totally ruined.

A smile crossed my face. "Is that for me?"
"Is that why you haven't been able to finish your pots?"
"Oh," (awkward pause as the other students stare at their feet, embarrassed for me and for me).
"Well, I love it."

And I helped the boy finish his pots. I threw one, but was horrible at it and so moved on to glazing. I let David finish the turtle and helped pick out the colors. It was fired and shined and finally given as a present. One year later, David asked me to marry him. I said no, put the turtle in a box in the attic and moved to Texas.

Other than the yearbooks, that was the only thing I knew I would find, and I've wondered as I thought of those boxes in the attic, how I would respond when I someday opened them up and saw it again.

That someday was today. And nothing happened.

I sat it and some pots and vases with the initials ACP and DJC that had been given to me in college on the bathroom counter and called Amy in to see them.

I held up the turtle.
"What's that?"
"The turtle David made me."

She didn't remember, but I did. The guilt, the joy, the decisions, the packing, the move, the men, the never-marriages. I remembered.

But I didn't do anything with it. I set it on the counter in my parent's bedroom and went downstairs to write. I didn't cry, I didn't laugh, I didn't have a nervous breakdown. I honestly just felt like going to bed, so I wrote instead. I didn't want to forget what I found. The memories: good, bad and awkward that I had packed away in boxes, that I unpacked and put in a garage sale, that I re-packed and loaded in my car.

Maybe I'll keep one little pot to remind me of Dave.
Maybe I'll keep one little calandar to remind me of hope.
Maybe I'll realize that hope lies not in memories but in mystery: in a God who I'll never understand like I once thought I could, in a life that exists not for the past, but for the future as life lived in choice hopefully for good, in a world that thrives on gifts, especially of ourselves.

What have I learned?
Where am I now?

I'm in Austin, Texas: educated, employed... and never empty.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas from Missouri!

Merry Christmas to Hawaii: Gloria, Ann, the Bystrom boys...
Merry Christmas to Pennsylvania: Sue and Freddy
Merry Christmas to Minnesota: Ardys, Phil and Stephanie
Merry Christmas to Florida: Jim and Bonnie, Kristie and Megan
Merry Christmas to Arizona: Yo, Jamie, Lindsey, Ryne and Shelby
Merry Christmas to Tennessee: Lynnette, Sam, Jon
Merry Christmas to Alaska: Heidi, Damon, Neil...
Merry Christmas to Texas: FBC, Mosaic, UBC, Lance, Josie, Bwack, Chris, Michelle, Bethany, Gabe, Julie, Billy, Renee, Jessy, Paul, Jen, Myles, Wee One, Wags, Darrell, Mel, Jess, Ash, Mike, Angela, Patrick, the Eades...

And to those here in Missouri who I have and have yet to see this Christmas: Mom, Dad, Amy, Emily, Grandma, Grandpa, the Campbells, the Smalls, the Hamiltons, the Rays, Zachary, Marsha, Moxi, Brooke, Danny, Katie, Rob, Mary, the class of 96...

And the list goes on and on. I love you all. Thank you for making me richer, stronger and more fulfilled.

Peace of Christ be with you this holiday season...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

36 years is a long time.

Longer than I've been alive.

That's only 27 years.

But my parents have been married 36 years as of yesterday. That means 35 Easters, 35 Christmases, 70 birthdays, 3 children, four grand-cats, 1 grand-dog and yes, 36 years of sharing life with another person.

Congratulations mom and dad. Here's to 36 more.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Chris Johnson says "Missouri loves company," and company has arrived. After a CRAZY weekend and a resulting illness, a friend (affectionately titled "the wee one") drove me to a town just north of dallas last night. I slept there in his parent's guest bedroom and awaking rested and excited, I headed for St. Jo Mo.

But I wasn't entirely sure I would make it.

Some of you who know me well may remember a little episode with my car in September of 2002. In an attempt to make it "all the way," i.e. a one day drive from St. Jo, Mo to Waco, TX, I awoke early, felt totally un-rested and as a result, fell asleep at the wheel in Marietta Oklahoma and wrecked Blackbell, my cute little toyota carolla. I remember promising Jeremy on the phone that I would be careful and not fall asleep, I remember my eyes groggy and heavy, and I remember thinking "I need to stop and get coffee..." and the rest is, well history. And a good story, but one for another time. Consequently, I haven't driven more than eight hours in one block since that year. But as I was saying, I felt good this morning and hit the road with high spirits.

The spirits faded, I admit, but my energy didn't. I missed Radley snuggling in my lap and I cried. I wondered whether my ex-boyfriend would propose to his new girlfriend this Christmas and I cried. I marveled not at the unpredicatibility of the world (whose cruelty is ceasing to startle me) but rather at my own unpredictibility and cried again.

Truth be told, I have very little control of my emotions right now.

But maybe that's a story for another time too.

Once at home, I realized that though we've put up another tree (number 4), and have now added decoration to the three daughters bedrooms, not much has changed. And everything has changed. Someone always cries (usually low-self-esteem-Ann, or I-can't-get-registered-for-classes-Emily, or that-movie-was-sad-Amy). I'd already had my cry for the day though and was passed the phone with Amy called. Amy has experienced change.

And Amy cries a lot. But not because anyone died, rather because tonight a child is born. Tamara birthed Quintin at 7pm. Doyle, Amy's soon to be former father-in-law called with the news. Where to one the child brings joy to another he brings pain.

I suppose the same could be said of Christ.

For me the Christ-child brings hope: imagine a God who would call both kings and shepherds to his birth. Roger preached a great sermon Sunday, calling the shepherds the "smarmy used car salesmen" of 2000 years ago. I'd never thought of them as such. Usually they fill the sweet little poor, stinky people role, not the untrustworthy, manipulative gypsy role. But God calls both. Does God really love everyone? Even the really shitty, manipulative, selfish fools?

And here, Christ brings pain too: the confrontation of my nihlism by my faith, my agony by a child, another human-yet-God who felt damaged and beaten as I do now.

Where the hell did all this pain come from?

I went to see Harry Potter, but when Cedrick died, something in my head clicked and I thought of Kyle, and in tears, my brain shut down and in self-defense, blacked out the remainder of the movie. I went to Petsmart as I entered, I smiled at the baby kittens displayed before me, until I reach the last cage filled with a fat tabby, colored just like my precious Radley. I burst into tears and hurried to the kitty litter section. Just when you think enough time has past, something triggers a memory and all is lost.

And so, misery loves company, but company I will not give.

"Watch a movie you haven't seen yet Amy, you have to create new memories."
"We'll go see the baby this weekend, you and me."
"Tell me about the Christmas cookies you made with Watts and Brooke."

That pepped her up. If pain isn't a testimony for community, I don't know what is. The key to surviving it is asking for help.

So help me.

Mom, dad, Amy, Emily, Grandma, Grandpa, I am fragile right now. I can't control myself like I usually can. My body and brain react to visions, sights, sayings I could never know to avoid. Help me get through the grief that is neverending.

And you are hurting too. There will only be five for Christmas this year. The first in five years. Odd. Wrong. But real. So I will help you too and together we will make it through this difficult yet beautiful season.

Missouri loves company.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I'm terribly deliquent. I'm sorry. Usually this is out by October, but it's been a rough season. Here you are though, as demanded. Happy Shopping!!

-A Mac Powerbook
-An Ipod
-DVD Jesus Christ Superstar The Movie (1974 version) If not this then, CD Jesus Christ Superstar, the original Broadway cast
-CD “Prayer Cycle” various artists
-CD Patty Griffin any CD (A Kiss in Time, 1000 Kisses, Living with Ghosts)
-CD GreenDay “American Idiot”
-CD Outkast "Speakerboxxx / The Love Below"
-Nintendo Game: Super Mario Brothers 2
-Nintendo Game: Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Jr.
-Nintendo Game: Dr. Mario
-Book: Genesis: Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter
-Book: The Book of Exodus: a Critical Theological Commentary by Brevard S. Childs
-Book: The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McClaren.
-Book: The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
-Book: Proverbs-Ecclesiastes by Milton P. Horne
-Book: God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis
-Book: You’ve Got to Have a Dream: The Message of the Musical by Ian Bradley
-Book: Re-Understanding Prayer by Kyle Lake
-Gold Earrings – hoops, medium size.
-Black Leather Gloves
-**Mockneck Jacket in rhubarb or chocolate. RS194-555 Size Small.
-**Shrunken Cardigan in Celery Metallic or Lemon Metallic RS 186-619 size small.
-**Gift certificate to Victoria's Secret
-Velour jumpsuit in a chocolate brown color, or a soft pink color.
-Cute skirts for work (I have one in soft pink, one black one, one black pinstripe and one short khaki and the blue and green printed one mom gave me for bday).

** These items are from Victoria’s Secret Magazine # RS4803632 1-800-888-8200. I ask for a gift certificate in lieu of printing my undergarment size online :)

Monday, December 05, 2005

So I decided last night that I would take today off.

Last week (Sunday the 27th-Sat the 3rd) I worked 75...76...77 hours at my job?

Again, I love my job, but damn. By Saturday at dinner I was starting to shake as my eyes darted from person to person. My emotions were on edge and everything made me cry. Maybe I'm working a little too much.

Sunday wasn't much better. I had to finish out the long week with the start of a new one. Sunday night we had the alternative service on Waiting at Mosaic that I'd invited my FBC college students to attend. So I went to work at 8:30 am, taught Sunday School, Ecclesiastes, fun and uplifting, went to "big church," went to lunch with my college students, returned to church to prepare for the evening service. Acted in a skit and served communion at the service. Tore down afterwards and went out for food and beverages at 10:30. A little after midnight, I crashed into my bed. All I had to do on Monday was go to lunch with a woman from church. No need to set the alarm. Need to sleep in.

And sleep, I did. At 1:10pm, the phone rang. I missed the call, glanced at the clock, realized I'd slept past my lunch date and called back the number. It was Amelia. She was running late, and obviously I was too.

I slept until 1pm and only woke up because my phone rang.


I guess I was tired.

Last night after the service, I laid on the stairs of First Baptist and stared up the spiral to the ceiling. I didn't want to leave. That church feels like home and I certainly spend more time there than I do at my house. I'm becoming attached to a building. Is that right? Is that psycho?

Yes, it is.

I should consider returning to counseling.

It's good to love your job but, and I repeat... damn.

So I slept in today. I took out Mosaic's pastor's kids for a couple of hours. I needed a reality check. I needed to be with people, and children are by far, the best type of people.

We visited an exotic pet store and then went to PetSmart so I could buy hermit crabs for my office. Of course, we had to visit all the pets in PetSmart as well though and they had kitties.

"You have two titty tats," Alison says to me.
"Actually, I only have one now, sweetheart."
"Her other kitty died," Jackson informed his sister.

I knew Jack knew. Someone at church last week came up to me and said that Jackson had told him, "Ann's sad right now. Her cat died." Jackson is 6.

In the car, Allison began to talk about when she met my "two titty tats" again.

"You met them?" Jackson asked. Then the said, "I guess I'll only ever get to meet one of them." Sigh. Then he tried to help me with my sense of loss that he must of known I felt. "But everything on earth dies, Ann," he consoled. "But not in heaven. No one in heaven dies. But everyone on earth has to." He tried to explain his point further. "Cars die. Buildings die...if they're crushed."

"What about people?" I tested him.

"Oh, they're easy," he replied.

And he's right. We're fragile. Life is unpredictable. And I shouldn't work so much, should call my family more, and should take every opportunity to have dinner with friends.

This week I won't work 80 hours. I'll just work 4o, and I'll meet up with friends for drinks. And I'll try and go out on a date.

Or I'll just spend every day at work and let the secretaries dictate my social life.

It could be worse... or it could be beautful.
They say these things come in threes. They lie.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thank you God for a pastor who let me preach my first semon in a church (and let me keep on preaching). Thank you God for a pastor who always smiled and hugged and sometimes poked which I never understood until after his death. Thank you God for a pastor who read lots and wrote lots and let that inform his theology. Thank you God for a "postmodern" pastor who wasn't "too good" or to "different" to join a book study with pastors who differed from him in age and worship style. Thank you God for a pastor who was honest. Thank you God for a pastor who dared to do a few things differently. Thank you God for a pastor who loved his wife and his kids more than life itself.

Thank you God for a dance instructor who loved art and never released that passion to age. Thank you God for a dance instructor who loved me and encouraged me and helped me learn to love the world in so many new ways Thank you God for a dance instructor who knew what it meant to lose and carry on. Thank you God for a dance instructor who always asked about me and reminded me that dance originated in the church...

Thank you God for a man who love the east side and the west side. Thank you God for a man who devoted his life to a church that was different enough to get him criticized, but open enough to listen and love him. Thank you God for a man who impacted people he didn't even know...

Thank you God for Radley.
Thank you for a cat who purred long and loud even after you'd finish petting him. For a cat that purred out of sheer contentment at being by his mommy's side.
Thank you for a cat who thought he was human, hanging out at parties and meetings, claiming his chair, welcoming the guests.
Thank you for a cat who loved to be massaged. Jeremy figured that out, or maybe he created that, but Radley loved a good massage. Smart cat.
Thank you God for a cat who was so close to humanity that when his brother misbehaved, he and I would just look at each other in helplessness and sometimes annoyance. I'd roll my eyes and Radley'd close his eyes and we'd go back to sleep.
Thank you God for a cat who would re-adjust his position on the bed to make sure a part of him was always touching a part of me.
Thank you God for a cat who never misbehaved or embarrassed me at the vet.
Thank you God for a cat who never ran away and always knew how to find home.
Thank you God for a cat who was sweet to strangers unless they threatened his brother or mother.
Thank you God for a cat who let me kiss him on the nose without flinching or turning away.
Thank you God for giving me three years with a cat who loved me more unconditionally than any human ever will.