Archive for November, 2009

Birds of a Feather
November 25, 2009

The time of the singing birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

-Song of Solomon 2:12

About a year ago I made a note to write a prospective blog entry about “The Birds” a la the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name, in which sea birds congregated to wreak havoc and horror on a town in California, with poor Tippi Hedren bearing the brunt of it all. What instigated this idea was a walk through the downtown Houston gauntlet of trees where migratory grackles roost each evening in the fall.

It’s a creepy scene; all the trees are filled with sleeping black birds, which against the night sky are foreboding. One skirts the fringes of the trees for fear of getting pooped upon. I shelved that topic idea until once again, just last Friday, we experienced the same phenomenon. It’s eerie and nasty, as these birds poop indiscriminately, and one is blessed to get to where one is going without getting hit.

Even in my own neighborhood out in suburbia, we have similar flocks of grackles, and just the other evening I heard their loud cackles and whistles as they settled in for the night. But all of a sudden, as if a maestro had directed them… silence descended. It was so remarkable! What caused it? Was it a predator? I have no idea, but it was striking in its suddenness. My neighbor and I remarked that any choral director would have been impressed with the flock’s immediate hush.

Birds are fascinating creatures in my book, and just like any other animal, some are more dear to me than others (think bunnies vs. possums). The above mentioned grackles? I can take or leave them. Same with sparrows or starlings. I consider them “junk birds”, which I’m sure God does not, as “His eye is on the sparrow”, so He must watch over them (as well as me!).

Last Saturday morning, I marveled at the piercing call of a tiny wren; I don’t understand how such a wee bird can make such a loud noise. Who would have guessed that later that day, somehow in the course of our going in and out of doors, one of those tiny creatures managed to get inside of our house!

(we checked- both chimney flues were closed)

Of course, the cats were immediately on red alert, which is how we discovered our small visitor fluttering frantically in our living room (it has a 19 foot ceiling). After removing the yowling felines and closing up all the doors to the room, we conspired to open the outside doors (front and balcony) and herd the tiny bird in that direction.

Joel brandished the long pole that we use to change light bulbs in the ceiling, and I flapped my jacket at it whenever it would go the wrong way. Poor thing! It was confused and so very tired. Finally I cornered it in a spot in which it could not escape, cupped it in my hands and released it outdoors with great relief. I hope that it made it back to wherever it roosts and warned its fellow wrens to not fly inside open doors!

To hold a small bird in one’s hands is an experience that not many people know. I felt very protective of my little bird, and hope that I didn’t frighten it too much. I know I am anthropomorphizing and hypocritical in some respects, since I eat chicken, turkey, etc. And I still think grackles/starlings are nasty birds.

I suppose the difference is the songbird nature of the wren. Perhaps that’s why God made them so likeable? And cuteness rules the roost! Maybe that’s why Alfred Hitchcock didn’t use wrens to attack poor Tippi. Of course… that must be it! 

Right.

Posting early this week. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Pewperson will return Dec. 4.

My Fourth Finger
November 20, 2009

Psalm 17:6  I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.

St. Luke’s now has a blog called “Me and My House” which offers great tips about how to raise up your children in the faith; it’s linked to our local paper, The Houston Chronicle, and can be seen on its website, chron.com. Sometimes this blog is featured in the print version of the paper. (it can also be read on the St. Luke’s website stlukesmethodist.org.)

One recent post is by our senior pastor, Dr. Tom Pace, regarding how his prayer life was re-focused by the intentional prayers of one particular gentleman who deliberately prayed for Tom’s eldest daughter by name twice a day as she transitioned from their old church family into their new one.

Tom said that it brought him up short when he realized that he didn’t specifically pray for his own family and others by name, and he vowed to correct his habits.

This admission only made me nod my head ruefully as I realized that my own prayer life is lacking discipline and FOCUS. Recently, I got an e-mail prayer guide that is specific to those who are experiencing health problems. It is very long, but it is worth reading IF you have someone who needs these particular healing prayers.  If not, then I’ll see you next week…

We do not know what the future holds…and we are bombarded constantly with situations that cause us to be anxious. I have a friend who is going in for outpatient surgery on Friday….she asked me to pray for her…not because she is scared about what is to come but because in her mind, anxiousness begins to mount up when she begins to think about the anesthesia.

I can so see that….because anesthesia puts your body in a designated “sleep” mode and an experienced anesthesiologist is the vital beginning to the success of the surgery. He/she has been trained to know just how long that sleep mode is to be in effect and how much of the drug it takes to shut down the mind from telling the body to be in response gear. 

It really is amazing how, on an everyday basis, there are experienced professionals who literally have others’ lives in their hands.  What a tremendous responsibility they carry as they go about their routine profession. And what tremendous trust we, as patients, have to rely on their knowledge.

But as I was thinking about my friend…and the thoughts that are fluttering around in her mind…I tried to go to a place where I could relate.  And though it has been many years ago… I still remember the times when I was admitted to the hospital to have children.  For although the surgeries are different, the anesthesia in each situation plays an integral part in control and comfort of a body. And there is something uneasy about someone else directing and controlling the natural generated energy that we produce. 

But in order for doctors to be able to make adjustments necessary for a healthy body, we have to put our trust in a process that begins with the knowledge and experience of the anesthesiologist.

So I come back to how do I ‘specifically’ pray her through this? 
I start off by telling God (out loud) what he already knows…is in my heart….and why I have come to this throne room!

1) God thank you for her life, her friendship, and the precious way that we are able to share our love for the Lord.

2) God you know her heart….and you know when and why her anxiousness has surfaced and from where it originated.

3) God I need your help….for my friend.

and then I start asking….knowing and trusting that God is listening and he hears my prayers…and that they will be answered….

4) God please give her a peace that transcends all the emotions and the uneasy thoughts that the mind had conjured up.

5) God please let her rest in the faith that she has that you are in control of her body and that you will oversee the procedure that is upon her.

6) Guide the hands of the anesthesiologist and also the doctors….and give him/her the knowledge and wisdom to do a perfect job in each of their roles.

7) Cover her body in your protection…so that all of this procedure from beginning til end will be guided by you through the masterful hands of those who  you have allowed to be her caring professionals. 

8) Send your angels to be at her side…and let them administer a spiritual comfort that gives her a confidence that puts her mind and body at rest.

9) Remind her Lord that our minds only can activate one thought at a time and let her thoughts be on you, and her grand babies, and those things that bring her such joy.

10) And finally Lord, please restore her body to a healthy state.

It is in the mighty, holy,  healing name of Jesus that I offer these prayers.   Amen

I send you this prayer knowing that many of you, too, are praying for loved ones who might not be struggling through medical issues but may be juggling other situations that are causing them great anxiety.  I urge you this morning, to call them out loud, by name and offer maybe this prayer or one that is similar unto the Lord. He does hear our prayers, everyone of them. 

And he is not only the master of all things but also the wise one who oversees all things….he knows what it is that you or someone else needs before we ever even identify it.  And I know the out loud thing is a little daunting…but there is something about hearing yourself in your own voice giving whatever is on your heart to the Lord that seems to make your request more real….or at least it does for me. 

Psalm 27:7   Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me.

There is not one particular way to pray….God knows the voice of his children….and he hears and  listens to our cries for His help….we must trust Him at all times and through all circumstances no matter how bleak or how dark the clouds seem to be making the skies…the Son can and does always see through them….and will help us to see through them as well.  Lift your eyes to the Lord and he will get you through whatever it is your are facing…but we must remember it is on his timetable …not ours!

Dear Lord, Thank you for your ever present companionship and friendship.  Help us, when our thoughts turn to anxiousness, and fear slips in through the cracks of our hearts, to turn our thoughts back to you and the reality that nothing is going to happen today or any day without your knowledge of it.  You are there to guide us, and lift us up and out and to protect us…all we must do is have a true and faithful trust in who you are, what you have done and what you are doing now and what you are to do… Amen         
 
Praise God wherever you are and whatever situation He has allowed you to be in . . . His glory will shine through!

Me again: I have used this prayer guide now for several friends who are in need of healing prayers, and although it may feel awkward at first to refer to these written steps, it does come naturally after practice. All I can do now is hope that my very specific prayers are being heard; hope springs eternal, and that is what we all need to carry on. 

In closing, my dear friend Ginny recently asked about my own diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which pales in comparison to other diagnoses, and which is why I don’t even think to pray about my own health issues. I let her know that my prescribed medications seemed to be working for the most part, but that the ring finger on my right hand was still a little stiff. 

Talk about specific and focused prayer! This is what Ginny replied: “I am so happy to hear you have no side effects from the medication-your fourth finger will be in my prayers!  Keep me posted-Love, G.” 

You know what? I think it’s working! Praise God, and thank you, dear Ginny, for your prayers.

Mother of the Bride, Chapter 4
November 14, 2009

wedding-rings

I sing of May-poles, Hock-carts, wassails, wakes, Of bridegrooms, brides and of their bridal cakes.

-Robert Herrick (1648)

When Southwest Airlines offered an internet sale last summer, I decided to make plans for a long weekend to visit my very favorite daughter in Colorado. It just so happened to coincide with one of her four day weekends (she works alternate four day weeks, so every other weekend is a long one) AND her choir’s fall concert, in which she was a featured soloist.

But the main reason for my visit was to nail down some details about this amorphous “wedding” thing, which is looming on the horizon a year and a half down the road. It was time to make some decisions and get cracking!

The date has been set; the church has been booked. What we needed to do this weekend was determine the “scope” of it all. Before booking a reception venue, one must know how many people are likely to show up.

So Shannon perused my comprehensive address book, highlighting those people whom she deemed important to her; we will add to that mix, and Kat’s family will do likewise. Once their own personal friends were added in, we determined that, at max, we may have 500, but most likely less. This exercise gave us a base number to begin our search for the perfect reception spot, which I predict will be “unusual”, knowing my daughter.

Next came the exercise of determining what was “important” to the two of them. We walked through the wedding week, and I suggested various vague concepts and details that they would be having to think about.

This was really kind of fun, and we laughed about stretch Hummer limos (FAIL!) and over the top flowers (also FAIL). More important to them are friends, family, music, an unusual place to celebrate and good food (but not high falutin’ food). I think fried pickles will be on the menu.

They were happy to use our favorite photographer, and they were not particular about the flower provider; there was a discussion about the importance of boutonnieres for the groom and “attendants” (they are going to have both men and women attendants for the bride and groom).

 Cake? Yes. After explaining to Kat that a “groom’s cake” was merely a chocolate alternative to the “wedding cake”, he agreed that it might be a good thing to offer.

 As for music, Shannon has some specific ideas about the wedding ceremony, and at the reception, neither of them want a loud band, just some good live music that will invite dancing for those that wish to.

They want an earlier wedding time with a party afterwards that will end at a decent hour, so that they and their friends can all go do something fun like go to the House of Pies. There will be no seated dinner, but rather just some good food, good wine and a relaxed, unstructured evening.

 Honestly, that sounds good to me! Maybe we can get home at a decent hour and crash, because I am certain that there will be some sort of  brunch for out of town folks/Kat’s family the day after. 

 Lots of details are on the table, so my job now is to organize all the notes from this weekend’s conversations and create some sort of spreadsheet checklist that we can add to as we continue to think this through.

 Did my mother do this for me? I don’t know! I will have to ask her. I do know that she suggested to me recently that Shannon keep an index card file of gifts received, so that she could make sure her thank you notes were written. Something tells me that Shannon’s system will be a little more high tech than that, but I guarantee you that she will be writing the old fashioned thank you notes, because that’s just the way she has been raised. For that matter, Kat has also been brought up to do so.

 I have an “Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette” from the mid 1970’s. I think it was a wedding gift, yikes! Looking at it now is like looking at the study of an ancient culture (pre internet, e-mail, social networking, etc.). It describes in detail how to invite people to various occasions and the proper response to such invitations.

 This is a subject for a whole ‘nother blog entry: a gold mine of “rules”

 … for a civilization now gone with the wind.

On the Plus Side
November 5, 2009

randolphCOLLEGE

You have a gift, sir (thank your education)…

-Ben Jonson (1605)

Recently I hosted the Houston chapter of my college’s alumnae group. We used to be Randolph-Macon Woman’s College; now we are Randolph College (RC), a co-ed institution (pictured above). One can enjoy the same very special and personal education in the same beautiful spot (on the James River in Lynchburg, VA, along the Blue Ridge Parkway); the only difference is that now boys are added to the mix.

Our speaker was the Regional Admissions Coordinator who was in Houston to go to the various College Fairs. She pumped us up about all the great things happening at RC, answered questions about the way things are now on campus and gave us tips and tools to motivate us and help us identify prospective students in this area. 

One of the things she said that stuck in my mind was that it is important to describe RC as a college of the “liberal arts and sciences”. It’s as if the words “liberal arts” alone now scare prospective students and their parents off. 

I got to thinking about that recently during my trip to Santa Fe, where I had lunch with my friend, Sara, who now lives there with her family. Sara used to be a member of St. Luke’s, and her daughter, Bronwyn was in “my” youth choir. When I caught her up with my life, she was amazed at the fact that my Shannon had graduated from Bard College (NY), because, as it turns out, she and Bronwyn had just toured Bard last summer! 

She wanted to know what Shannon’s experience had been like, what she had studied, what she was doing now, and so on. My answer was that Shannon had loved Bard; it was the perfect match for her interests in the arts (performing and visual). She majored in History, but she enjoyed classes in the Theater program (performing in several productions), the Music program (singing in the Chamber Choir) and the Photography program (learning art photography skills). Of course, she also took classes in all the other disciplines to satisfy the core curriculum, which is one of the major benefits of getting a well rounded liberal arts education. Like me, she had a very personal education with professors that she loved, and she really honed her writing skills there at Bard, just as I did at R-MWC. 

But Sara wanted to know what Shannon was going to DO with her History degree. I explained that Shannon was now working for a dentist in CO, because it was really hard to find a job these days. I told her that we were very proud of the fact that she pulled herself up and did so, even though she knew it wasn’t going to be her “career”… at least it paid the bills! 

Sara’s mindset is that if one is paying for an expensive education, then one should get some return on the investment. My own mindset is the opposite. I’ve always told Shannon to study what she loved. It will take her places, and even if she never uses it professionally, she will still always love it! If it turns out that she wants to pursue a specific career post college, my take is… that’s what graduate school is for. 

I am seeing young people today who have a degree in a certain niche major who can’t find a job in that niche market. They are either unemployed or they are in temporary or part time positions. I am seeing young people being laid off, because they are the most recent hires. They are only looking for jobs within certain parameters, and won’t look at other options unless absolutely desperate. 

Shannon? She looked outside the box and found this job. It wasn’t very challenging at first, but she has been recently promoted and given new responsibilities, along with a raise commensurate with these new responsibilities. She is hugely appreciated for her people skills, her intelligence, her reliability, her communication skills and her dedication. Her boss is so grateful for her, and although she will be the first to tell you that this job is not going to be her career path, she is learning new business skills that may translate into another job that will teach her more and will open up a whole new world to… who knows where it will lead? 

I guarantee that if Shannon is working at this office a year from now, she will be running it.

It’s exactly what happened with me and my Art History degree. I got a job at a law firm and ran with it, and ended up being a medical administrator with a great salary and benefits. While that job is now long gone, I STILL love art with a passion and will do so for the rest of my life. 

That’s what you get with a liberal arts degree. Study what you love, and the rest will fall into place. I promise.

(posting early this week. Back Nov. 13)