Saturday, October 5, 2013

Protecting my Joy

It is just past dawn, the sleepy sun peeking over the lip of the horizon as it begins a slow, lazy climb to its position in the morning sky. The early mist burns off in whisps like lacy smoke, to reveal the brilliant glory of early autumn where I live. In the dead calm air, the mist erases itself to hint at the last days of Indian summer, the leaves ablaze with golden hues agaainst lipstick red and Halloween orange. The rising orb of shocking gold floats amidst big fluffy clouds stacked high and backlit in the new light of day. I can see a long distance as the dawn unfolds and dissolves into morning clear and bold and full of itself, like morning has accomplished a new miracle of light and shadow and color, with a "look at me" attitude. I am filled with the joy of being alive, surviving my ordeals, grateful that in the midst of government mess, really rotten economy and leaders unmasked as accomplished bullies. my joy's value is paramount. I watch really old men and women shut out of the memorial raised to their valor and, past the outrage, I weep for this kind of brutality. I see little children kept off swings, seesaws, green grass bullied in the same way. Am I the only one who sees such abuse of power visited upon the least of us as what it is? Is this a movie? A bad fairy tale of the wicked witch of the west? No. It is our reality, with our leaders unleaashed as the evil they reaally are. And the thinking steals my joy. My joy has been hard won. From beginnings in an orphanage to cancer so late in my life, I have fought with determination to keep and protect my joy. The morning sunrise, so enriching, so humbling, so miraculous, so nourishing, moves me to tears of gratitude that however bad the current world is, the sun still rises to grace my day. My job, my responsibility to myself, is to protect my joy. It is Saturday. Serenity is my goal, at least for today. Today I will take care of me. The world can go away. Far, far away. I'll drink a comforting cup of Constant Comment and eat a toasted bagel as big as my head. Do a load of laundry, go to the movies, paint a red lip on my face. All the things that trouble me are way out of their boundaaries. Today, I'm walking away, and back to my joy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Raining buckets

I sit here undere a tornado warning wwith tropical torrential rains, and I live well above the Mason Dixon line. I think on the troubles of the world and ruminate about things like how dry i am in these dangerous elements. How the storm howls. Beats heavily on the skylights and thrusts lightning like thunder bolts right at my glass doors.

The rain is heavy, pounding, like we need more rain, really? June gave us nine in ches of rain. It looks like Chiang Rai here today.

I'm listening to the talking suits tell me and the rest of the general public what constitues a "living wage". Are they kidding? They don't know from a living wage. The going rate for jobs out there, hello part time! eight dollars an hour and no bennies where i live. Young folks out there with fresh new diplomas have no work. Old retired guys can't pay their bills with their eroded retirement savings. There's work for them, but it's killing labor and they need to resurrect their backs. And the Washington suits talk like this should be easy.

Listen, men who made perfectly good salaries, saved their pennies and served their employers well. They are tapped out. There is no reserve. Guys forced to retirement at the age of 58 or so, have to stretch that mmoney another 8 or nine years against their savings. Add inflation. We're all down to minimum wage whether we're spending our reserves or working to make up our losses. Which doesn't happen at eight bucks an hour. Understand this: the average American, earning decent wages to carry their simple bills and mortgages are now asked to support that with half their normal income. Before taxes. Who are we kidding?

You can't run your household, your business or your nation on half a loaf. I know that D.C. is a boom town currently and I resent it because the rest of us are doing without for govmint propp-up. It's us. We're having to pay ths freight for true fat cats who begin with us behind the eight ball.

Pay more aattention to who you send to represent you. And start asking why anyone stays a dozen years. For the love of the job? Hey, work two days, take off three, twelve weeks vacay and a stuffed paycheck, I would too. But you best understand why: it's for the money and the power. Not for Mrs. Senior Citizen's welfare. Not for the workig poor. Not for widows and children. For themselves/ You know it. You do. Send those people for only a little while. Or even less. They are among the least productive group in the nation. And they are living large at your expense. If you've figured out a way to justify that, please share.

Blogspot is pathetic

The reason few people blog on this system is, of course, that it sucks. If I felt I had anything more to say, I'd choose another venue. It took me a full hour on jerking myself around to get the compose button to function. it took another full hour to be able to publish: three times a blank page. Why in the world do i bother? I spent real time composing a very thoughtful prayer time and prayer for a young child having a stem cell trnsplant tody only to find that the save button was no functional. So I transferred the work to a microosoft wordpage and then promptly made my own error and deleted the whole thing. Didn't really matter; i still couldn't post anything here.

Publish? Dream on. The publish button works only when it feels like it.

Monday, July 8, 2013


For the record, the setup for blogging here is the most irritating i have ever encountered. The tool bar is set up by an idiot.

The year was 1991. My friend called me long distance and said "Come"! I had not seen her in twenty years. I didn't miss a beat. I said yes.

So began one of the many adentures of my life. I have been countless wonderful places in the world since then but none of them....Russia, Hungary, Romania, England, Egypt, Israel, France, Mexico, the Ukraine, Jordan....touched the wonder of South Afrika.

From the beautiful presentation of a protea as a welcome to the beautiful mountainsides of planted tea, to the Indian Ocean's dolphins and whales,  the tall Zulu warriors and the thundering wildebeest, the enormous elephants, wild cats, ostriches and hipppos, to say nothing of rhinos, enormous herds of impala,, cape buffalao and other exotics, Afrika was mind boggling. The scenery, the size, the night sounds, the amazing roads, the babboons on the car hood, the monkies, the dolphins and whales, the emus, the bird life, the LIFE of the place was overwhelming.

I fell deeply in love.

In Durham I learned the true meaning of Indian food, indulged and cooled my mouth with coconut. I ate impala in so many casseroles I hoped i could find impala in the meat market at home. I learned emu on the grill takes like steak and that alligator is not so bad.

We parked along the side of a medium sized lake where a huge variety of game on the hoof came to drink. Up the side of a grade at the top of the hill lay a young lioness trying to hide behind a fallen tree. She was crazy visible, but as she couldn't see down the hill, she assumed she was hidden. I could see the game ringed lake in my rear view mirror slightly behind us. Suddenly, in a flash, the lioness raced down the hill, her powerful shoulders fueling her enormous paws as her nails dug the dirt. She powered forward, her tail high and waving like a flag announcing her coming. She was running straight at us. I quickly put the window up, like that would protect me!...and she quarter-horsed on a dime and cut to the left of us, charging across the road in front of ecstatice   National Geographic photographers and their huge telephoto lenses.

She raced around the water's edge and slammed into all that meat on the hoof, who were shocked and nervous but not running away. They seemed to know she was new at this, that this was practice time and that she wasn't even hungry. She stared up at them, then turned and trotted back across the road and up the incline to pretend-hide behind the fallen tree. My friend and I were franticaally shooting film the whole time, seeing this incredible sight through a lens.

The lioness made one more run before wandering off down the other side of the incline. This time we abandoned our cameras and just enjoyed her play, her well muscled body, her  beauty in motion as she made her moves that would later mean she'd feed well, mate and have cubs. My friend and I felt we'd been let in on some life mystery as we watched this dance imprint on all her firing neurons. The memory is as alive in my mind today as it was 23 years ago. Gosh, was it really that long?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Strawberry Festival at the Orphanage

Sweet red strawberries poured over melting Hershey's vanilla bean ice cream, scooped up with a big spoon and shoveled into one's mouth without restraint, is summer's rendition of heaven.

I'm four years old. The day is hot and muggy, the sun high in the summer afternoon. I have had a cooling bath and I know the tables have been set up and the festival has begun. As I hurry across the macadm playground I stumble and fall, scraping my knee badly, the wound filled with tiny bits of gravel. The palms of my hands are scuffed, too, and hurt enough to make me cry. I was all clean and now I'm dirty, which adds to the pain.

Someone behind me lifts me off the ground, takes me back into the main building and hands me over to Matron. She has most of my care in the orphanage and knows how to soothe me. She cleans my small wounds and paints them with mercurochrome....ouch! that stings!...wipes my tear stained face, pats my bottom and sends me back outside. I walk carefully toward the strawberries and ice cream.

"Barbarann, honey, would you like some ice cream and berries?"

"Yes, please!" I say, and she fills a bowl and hands me a spoon. I thank her and scoot under the cloth-covered lengths of table laden with huge bowls of strawberries and heavy cardboard containers of vanilla ice cream. It is shady and cooler under there and I sit on the warm black macadam, fold my legs and nestle the bowl in my lap.

The first spoonful of vanilla and berry fills my mouth with sweetness, the berries bursting against my tongue, bathed in melted ice cream. I close my eyes in pleasure, happy to be all alone with my treat. I am very careful not to spill on my pinafore, but don't want the ice cream to get all soupy in the summer heat. Still, I eat slowly,  making it last. The berries stain the ice cream and my lips as I spoon with a steady rhythym, until the treat is all gone.

I sit there beneath the table for a little while, wondering if my little brother has been given any of this dessert. I see the shoes passing by me as other children stand in line for ice cream and strawberries. The table cloth nearly skims the ground. Before long, all the children have taken their dessert elsewhere, beneath the sheltered picnic tables, or under the porch overhang. It is quiet as I sit there, content. The table cloth is lifted; a curly headed older girl peers at me.

"Barbarann, would you like some more? Hand me your bowl; you keep the spoon!"

Shortly, she reappears with a full bowl for me. I can't believe I can have seconds. I get busy with my spoon, digging into the cold ice cream and the syrupy strawberries. This is all mine, not be shared with anyone,  unheard of here, where all things belong to everyone, even our treats. My eyes glaze over, my tummy is full, and I feel complete contentment. I have been here since January 20th. Today is August 13th. It is my birthday. I miss my mother badly. My younger brother has recently arrived to live here with me. I have felt very lonely for a long time now. But with berries and ice cream, things are looking up!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Transitions take a long time

In an already challenged life, it is transition time again. It is, for many cancer survivors, difficult to grant ourselves permission to be well. It just takes such a long time. "A long time" should be old hat by now. Should be comfortable and familiar.

I waited a long time for Mother to get through her widowhood and the War and the recovery of her children to get us to a normal life with a new husband and a new baby. For four years I waited. From the time I was three and a half years old until I was a month and a week shy of my eighth birthday, i waited for my family to be whole again. I waited in an orphanage with care and a "family" of 97 other kids, all waiting. In that time I grew to understand that there was no better,  no other, choice. A widow with three kids in a time of war did what she had to do.

She made ammunition for the Navy, supervising hundreds of very young women dealing daily with nitro and sulphur. Sometimes the place exploded and the on-site hospital was full of injured girls. Sometimes they died. Many of them, including my mother, suffered powder poisoning from inhaling gunpowder blown around the whole plant by huge fans to keep the air circulating, since there was no air conditioning then. While she was doing the best she could...and these women were well brothers and I, all young, were trying to understand why we were put away, albeit in a safe place. Small children only want their mother. We could have been ensconced in a palace with a world of toys and ice cream, but without mother, it is meaningless, comfortless and full of heart ache.

I spoke some time ago to a woman who worked in a munitions plant. She said it took her ten minutes to walk the distance from her work station to the bathroom. While she was gone there was an explosion. When she left the bathroom, half the barracks was blown up. While rebuilding her unit, they all went back to work around the reconstruction. In truth, these women were in the middle of hell. They would be a long time waiting for things to improve. And then, at the end of the war, the plants were locked up, the women sent home to farms and small towns and the money stopped. The freedom stopped. The life stopped. They were once again relegated to the non-role of women. They learned you can't go back.

Many of them were heavily involved with soldiers and sailors gone to war. My mother fell in love with a young blond from a town close to her own. He declined to marry her until, indeed if, he returned from the front. He allowed as how he didn't want to make her a widow for the second time. He swam from the English Channel to the French beach and immediately fell to strafing shrapnel across the water and the sand. He lay there among the dead, trying not to die. He waited three days, a long time bleeding, until the dead truck came and discovered he was alive. They took him off to a French hospital where he spent nine months recovering from his wounds. He waited a long time.

The women at Triumph Explosives were known nationally as the Boom Boom Girls. They often won the production contests for their output. She survived the huge explosion in May of 1942, when five buildings blew up, killing fifteen people outright and injuring many others. Perhaps she was up home to visit her siblings on that weekend. If so, we were with her, for she swung by the orphanage often, so we could visit Gramma Daisy.

Finally home, and hardly healed, he married his sweetheart, got her pregnant and came to the orphanage to claim her children. A life change occurred for all of us. We'd wait a long time for the fallout.

Transitioning from happy toddler to unhappy orphan to freedom and no clue how to be a little girl, took a long time. But to do it we gained a whole town surrounded by open fields that were ours to roam, and in that atmosphere we recovered as best we could from our abandonment. My constant companion was my little brother. From breakfast to dinner time we were on our own in a rural community surrounded by Amish farms, idyllic and serene except for the disappointments and disillusion and danger living in our new home with us. It would affect us, especially me, for a very long time.

Remnants of that time still remain. Childhood never lets go.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life in the Promise Choir Community

When there is so much support and so much sharing across a quarter century, there is an epiphany when that existence seems threatened. I'm talking about the cohesiveness of a choir in existence without much change for that long period of time. By that I mean that the core group of approximately 60 singers remained the same. We saw each other more than we saw our spouses so our spouses decided to sing, too. We expanded and contracted across those years to about 120 voices but essentially maintained the same headcount of about sixty. But in that time, over nine hundred people sang for some time with this Choir.

We grew from singing in small churches in the region to singing abroad. That story is one of a journey of faith led by a woman whose eyes remained fixed on God and mission. For the first ten years or so we were the morning choir in our own church, and singing concerts in the afternoons or early evening in other churches. We sang in prisons and for other facilities where people were down on their luck. We sang impromptu in local malls. We sang the Trees of Hope program at our local hospital, performing for cancer survivors celebrating their victories, and finally, a quarter of a century later I had to choose where I would be in that place: singing or being sung to. Cancer provided another place for personal victory. We sang three- night concerts in our own church. For nearly 25 years.In the singing we spoke the written Word in song and knew the Holy Spirit came down with some frequency to use us mightily, not because we were gifted singers, but because we were gifted and tasked to share our faith.

We sang in Russia, visiting the Ukraine and missioning with our own in-built medical team. We sang later in Hungary and Romania, treating those who were ill. We sang in the world, taking with us the clear and present message of the love of the Lord for his people. One often wonders, who benefitted more? We think it is us. To give is the greatest gift. To minister to the sick and the helpless, the victims of oppression and the hope of others struggling to serve their Lord brings with it such great reward that we came to know it was the cement that held us in community together. Out of that was such amazing grace given to each other, such a picture of what it means to give oneself away. Such a tremendous sense of how it feels to know beyond doubt that we were an instrument of the Lord, weak but willing servants in His army. And we followed a woman possessed. Her vision never waivered. Her energy was boundless. Her purpose was so beguiling that we all wanted to be aboard her train. She knew the route to the Feet of Jesus. She was fearless. She was driven to spend her waking hours in that service. The choir and its triumphs were the visible picture of her faith. She knew how to get there. We were desperate to follow.

Contrary to words out of  mouths that knew better, we did not worship her. We worshipped Him.We admired her. Believed in her. Followed her faithfully. She took us to heights we would otherwise not have attained. She was the dynamic. We know there is no other like her.Those who would fault this faithfulness on the part of the humble misunderstand. We followed her because she followed Him Simple concept, that.

Are we fabulous singers? No, indeed. We are faith driven and trusting that the Lord who called us to this forum is working His will through the instrument He built. We are envied, not for our glorious singing, but for our sense of community, the natural result of praying and caring for each other. We know full well how to lead worship. An attitude of praise and prayer in singing, the highest form of praise, is what God has given us.

We are a flawed people. Our gift is that we know it. We are, none of us, movers and shakers in our church. We simply love God and show it. We love each other and let it be known. We are the microchosm of the congregational body. with the face of the unsucsessful, the needy, the helpless, the average. We are just people, trying. Our focus is in two places: to praise God in song and to bring the congregation with us. And God has for a quarter of a century, held us up to His calling.

We don't do prison outreach anymore or visit other churches. We are waiting until God provides another with some of the previous talents we have enjoyed embodied in three directors who knew what they were about in His name. They are the ones who have blessed us, shaped us, nurtured us, loved us through thick and thin. Our prayer is that we might again be led by one who is called to the work with a heart for outreach.We are so far from international effort. Age does that. A less strenuous schedule might be a better answer in today's world where demands are way too high on everyone. That we wear the face of God in our music for the community around us is testament to how little it is about us and how much about Him.

It is no small thing when God raises up a leader. He prepares that one without their knowing, until it is time to know. God's hand upon a shoulder, His voice nestled in an ear, is no small thing. But it is insistent. He leans on a heart. He is persistent. The chosen just KNOWS.  God has been faithful to bless us with selfless directors who place Him first. So I leave this to Him who called us in the first place. He has led us clearly and with insistence across an impressive length of time. We trust Him. We know Him. Looking back, we see His face and feel His hand upon us. And so we wait for that next one who is designated, to realize what his or her desire means. And go.