Monday, July 17, 2017

When Emmylou Danced

Emmy dancing with her father Mark

Carolyn could hardly contain her excitement when she found out that she was going to have a little girl.  She was already the mother of two sons, but to add a daughter to the mix would make her family just about perfect, complete.

I'll never forget this particular baby shower.  The mother- to- be wanted everything to be just right, perfect. And it was. Beautiful handmade ceramic teddy bears graced each table as centerpieces and a teddy bear cake held a place of honor among the other desserts with blocks of confection framing each letter of her name, Emmylou.  No little girl would ever be more welcomed than this one.

I remember visiting the hospital not too many hours after she was born. I was anxious to get a peek at this little one who had been anticipated with such longing.  She was only hours old and I noticed nothing unusual, only that she looked like a member of the family with her light complexion and reddish blond hair.  But it wasn't terribly long before Carolyn and her husband Mark received the news that there was something not quite right with their new little Emmylou.  In fact, they would soon be confronted with the reality of raising a child with multiple needs who would require constant care, probably for the rest of her life.

Over the next few years this little girl would spend thousands of hours in hospitals,  most specializing specifically in pediatric care for severely ill children.  For a period of time she was experiencing hundreds of seizures a day and Carolyn and Mark would spend days, sometimes weeks, staying at Ronald McDonald Houses and other such facilities, trying to find some kind of help or relief for their little girl. Oftentimes on her own, Carolyn would simply bed down in Emmy's hospital room for several days on end, keeping protective watch over the child that she had longed for and fiercely loves.

Several weeks ago we received an invitation to attend a special event in Emmy's honor on her fourth birthday.  It was entitled Emmylou has met her Prince,  a gathering to celebrate "Emmy's walk down the aisle with her Prince Charming."  So on that Sunday afternoon in early June we drove to the little church where it was to be held.  As we entered the building it struck me that in the same way Carolyn had fussed over every detail in anticipation of her new daughter four years earlier, she had done the same in this place, in another church hall.  But rather than teddy bears, this time the adornments were of those things that a little princess would desire such as butterflies and tea cups and glass slippers. Yes, now all that was needed was a prince.   

Princess Emmylou
Emmylou was dressed in a beautiful blue princess gown with exquisite slippers to match.  All eyes were on her as her God-ordained parents and two brothers stood before all those in attendance and spoke of their love and even more importantly, their never-ending commitment to her. And then as the music began once again,  her father picked her up in his arms, and holding her close, danced with her for several moments, eventually passing her on to her mother who danced with her until the music stopped.  The room was quiet, no doubt moved at the intimacy of that moment, just as I was.        

Emmy dancing with her mother

This was a celebration of a little girl who has lived four very hard years, but in the process has touched the lives of those around her.  I saw it in the tenderness on her brothers' faces and in the arms of her mother and father.  And as difficult as it has been and will continue to be, she has completed this family.  She has in deed found her prince.  He resides in the heart of each of them.   

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Splash Pad

It was late Sunday afternoon and we had just returned home after a full day.  Sundays are usually like that in the life of a pastor and Larry was ready to settle in for the evening and already had the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the dining room table.  I'm not into puzzles so Rudy the dog and I decided to take a walk around the park that sits just across the way not far from the parsonage.  

The park was quiet and I noticed the sky was turning a bit darker as I walked the trail.  Rain clouds were slowly rolling in.  But I could also see high plumes of water coming from the splash pad on the other side of the field.  Someone was sticking it out til the last moment.

As I drew closer I heard the voices of children calling my name and then, "Where's Pastor Larry?"  It was the Nichols children,  Sierra, Duane, Jordan and Joyce.  They come to church every week with their grandparents and are some of our favorites.  I explained that he was back at the house working on a puzzle but pulled the cell phone out of my back pocket and dialed. It only rang a couple of times. "The Nichols kids are here at the splash pad.  They're asking about you."  He didn't hesitate, not even for his beloved pastime of puzzle making.  "I'll be right there."  And he hung up.

There are four entrances into the Park and ours is at the farther end from the splash pad.  "What's taking him so long?" one of the boys asked.  It was starting to sprinkle.  I tried calling again but there was no answer this time.   And then they saw him.  He had changed from his dress shirt, tie and slacks into shorts and an Hawaiian-style shirt. And he was barreling as quickly as he could come down the middle of the field.  "Pastor Larry, it's Pastor Larry!"

Somehow he ended in the midst of all four of them on the splash pad as a plume of water shot skyward.  They were delighted.  Pastor Larry had gotten all wet.  For them.  I asked him later as we walked home why he hadn't thought to bring a towel.  Turns out he hadn't really meant to get wet but when he got there, well, that just seemed like the right thing to do.   

Larry with the Nichols kids at the splash pad


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Walking The Park

Rudy getting ready to take me on a walk at the park

There's a park just across the way from the parsonage with a half-mile walking track that the city put in a few years ago.  Rudy the dog takes me for walks over there, and I oblige him as often as I can. There's a large playing field for lacrosse matches on the weekends, a nice playground for the kids, a basketball court and a splash pad that opens when the weather turns warm. Rudy loves it, stopping every ten yards or so to smell the grass and/or to leave his mark, reminding the other canines that frequent the place that this is as much his as it is theirs.

And then there are the other dogs

And then there are those other dogs who from their backyards peer at us and bark for attention through their fenced-in enclosures.  We have our favorites, well at least I do.  Rudy is accustomed to the din by now and pretty much ignores them all.  That is except for Maggie.  She's a pretty little Lhasa Apso who often wears pink bows in her hair and is meticulously groomed.  Her fence is right close to the track and if she's outside, she'll run to greet us in her rather high-pitched squeaky voice. In fact, until I learned her name, that's what she went by, Squeaky.  My other favorite is the big hound dog whose house sits back in the corner beyond a popular shade tree.  He stands on his back legs, his front legs hanging over the fence and bays away.  I think his people call him Cash. And there are the dachshunds, the golden retrievers, the miniature collie, the Labrador retriever and others, most of questionable ancestry. My heart always feels a bit lighter after a lap around the park, especially if the dogs are out, calling out their greetings to both of us as we pass by.

Then there are the flowers.  One section in particular is especially beautiful right now.  The bushes overhang the fence of a property owned for many years by a school teacher.  She's gone now, but I can't help but think of the visual gift she left to that young family who bought her home and to those of us who walk by that section, taking in the beauty and breathing in the fragrance of those blossoms. They naturally call me to reflect on my own life, challenging me to ask myself what kind of gifts I intend to leave behind.     

And there are of course the people.  Sometimes the park is quiet, most likely during a last minute walk around at dusk or before a threatening rain.  But Spring is enticing and the sounds of basketballs on concrete and the familiar squeak of swings is once again sounding across the field of grass.  And there is the familiar question, "Can I pet your dog?" and the reassurance that Rudy is just fine with that.  I've noticed that most people in a park are not in a hurry, that they don't mind striking up a conversation. They're not so guarded or seemingly pressed for time while relaxing on a bench or watching their child go down a slide for the umpteenth time.   Some of my best encounters with neighbors have been at the park, and I try not to miss opportunities to connect with others I might not meet otherwise, even if it's but for a moment.  You just never know where it might lead.

Travis is my part-time neighbor and part-time walking buddy.  He's nine years old, almost ten, and is with his dad on weekends and Tuesdays. He likes the park and likes Rudy.  During our times together we're getting to know each other. He tells me about school and talks about his two dogs and his temperamental cat.  The other day he asked me what kind of movies I like and we talked all the way around the track about that one thing.  "You want to go again?" he asked me. And we did.

The sun has come out after a bit of rain so I think I'll grab Rudy's leash and head to the park.  He's prancing at the door because he knows exactly where we're going.  It's a Tuesday but knowing him, he will barely slow down long enough to let Travis catch up with us while he throws on his jacket. After all, it's the park, his park. And that's just the way it is.  

The park 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting for Cinderella

Making a special memory with my granddaughter Rylee at Cinderella 
Rylee turned six this month so for her birthday I took her to see a performance of Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella.  I wanted to make a special memory with her and thought this would be the perfect venue.  I grew up loving musicals.  I didn't go to the movie theater a lot but both times The Sound of Music came to town my mom and I were there.  I bought the piano music and played it so much that eventually I could play and sing the score without hardly even looking at the book. And there were others like Carousel, Oklahoma, The Music Man,  The King and I, State Fair, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof. If it had music and dancing I was hooked.  I loved and knew them all.

Cinderella made its appearance on our small black and white television set in the corner of the living room in 1965.  I don't remember who all watched that night, but I know there were two girls, sisters, who sat entirely transfixed to that screen and dreaded the moment when the credits would roll.  And when they did, my eight-year old sister began to cry.  It was over.  Long before video cassette recorders came along, before instant gratification was part of our vocabulary, it was understood that there would be a long wait before seeing one's favorite movies again. But she had truly loved this one and the thought of waiting an entire year broke her heart.

In the meantime I bought the piano music and would play while Dawn sang along.  And when we knew all the songs by heart, whether it was on a vacation trip or just a short drive up the seven-mile hill to my grandmother's, we would sing them all.  Then each year as our anticipation grew for the next showing, we would count down the days, excitement building. And we would watch as if it were the first time, and afterwards Dawn would cry again at the thought of having to once again wait another year.   

Cinderella would broadcast eight more times, always in February.  I was thirteen years old that first year and in college a thousand miles from home when it finished its long, successful run. I'm sure she watched it every single time.  I wonder if she missed my being with her  those last few years.  I hope so.

Rylee all dressed up for our evening together
So back to Rylee and our evening together.  I had asked the box office for the best seats of those remaining where a little girl of six could best see.  The night wasn't important I told the girl at the window,  so she gave me two for Wednesday night towards the front of the balcony.  We sat the third row back and the seats were perfect.  And as the music played I naturally thought of that sister who lives a good distance away, whom I see so little of and wished she could be a part of all this.  After all, she loves this story as much as I do.

That's why today as I sat to write about her, missing her as I do, I was curious to know a bit more about the Cinderella that connected us all the more deeply as children and as sisters.  When I saw the date of the first broadcast I could hardly believe it:  February 22, 1965, fifty-two years ago to the very day.   

The same date connecting the past with the present 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Gift for Jenny

Jenny was the last of our visits on the Friday before Christmas.  Some of the ladies from the church had prepared baskets for the shut ins and Larry and I had volunteered to drop some off at the nursing home for three of our former members. We didn't have a lot of time so we spent just a few minutes with each of the ladies, long enough to wish them a Merry Christmas and to say a prayer.  Jenny has no connections to our church, but there is never a time that we don't stop, speak to her for a few moments and then pray for her.   We first became somewhat acquainted with her when she was rooming with one of our ladies.  She was difficult and cantankerous back then and probably lonely. So we adopted her, kind of, and always make a point of stopping in, even if just for a moment.  

With the three baskets delivered we made a hasty entrance into Jenny's room.  This would be short.   She was alone, no roommate in sight.  She sat in her wheelchair looking straight ahead and seemed to be having a conversation with someone, herself perhaps.  Larry spoke first.  "Hello Jenny, we came to wish you a Merry Christmas."  She looked up at us as if surprised, not quite registering who we were. I never know if she recognizes us from one visit to the next.  I suspect not.  After the greeting Larry asked if we could pray for her.  I had taken her hand, and holding it gently began to rub it softly.  At the close she made the sign of the cross.  She had told me once that she had been Methodist but I wasn't so sure.   "I felt so peaceful when you prayed for me," she said softly.  Perhaps these visits did mean something to her.

"I wish we'd brought something for Jenny."  I'd felt something while holding her hand and was having trouble holding back the tears.  Larry started up the car.  "We can pick her up something and come back," he said.  I shook my head.  "No, we don't have time."   But as we started back down the highway I still saw that neat little room, completely devoid of Christmas.  A small plaza not too far from the nursing home has a Rite-Aid drug store with a couple of gift aisles and I knew what we needed to do.  Fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to the nursing home.  Time no longer seemed all that important.  

I don't know if she remembered that we had been there not even a half an hour earlier but that wasn't important.  I loosed the cream-colored fleece throw from its packaging.  We had searched the aisles for what we thought would be the perfect gift for her.  The moment I felt the plush softness of the blanket I knew.  This was Jenny's.

She watched me open then spread out the present we had brought her.  "Do you think you could fold it back up for me?" she asked.  I nodded but insisted that first she needed to let me lay it close so she could feel its softness.  I covered her with the throw and she began to run her hands through its folds as Larry opened the card and read to her.  It was time for us to go.  I asked her if she'd like me to fold it for her and lay it on the bed.  "Do you think you could leave it here on my lap for now?"   I tucked it in a bit deeper, glad that we had returned and silently praying that it would bring her a sense of comfort in the loneliness of that room.  

Larry reading Jenny her card as she holds her gift 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jossy's Christmas Gift

Chuck is a busy guy living in upstate New York with a full-time job and running his own business on the side.  We knew him as a big, strapping teenager when he came to Honduras with a work team but had lost track of him a long time back.  Somehow his name came up in a recent conversation with Larry and on a whim I went to my facebook page and typed his name into the search bracket.  Voila, there he was!  Within minutes after sending him a friend request I heard back in the affirmative.  We had reconnected.  

Scrolling down through the comments a few days ago my eyes stopped at a Chuck post.  Seems that on top of everything else he's been playing Santa over the past few weeks.  Here's a bit of what he wrote:  "I've heard many different requests from kids for different things like Nerf guns, Barbie doll houses, puppies and Hatchimals (whatever they are.) But last night I met a little girl named Jossy. She ran right up and hugged me.  As she climbed up on my lap I asked what she wanted for Christmas.  She leaned in and whispered in my ear,  'Santa, I don't want any toys, I just want friends.'  This completely caught me off guard.  You see, Josie has Down's Syndrome."  Chuck went on to say how deeply moved he was by the little girl's request and whispered back to her that he would always be her friend.  Hugging his neck and with tears in her eyes, she assured him that she would be the same for him.

If I'd passed Jossy in the corridor of a mall holding onto the hand of her father, perhaps I might have noticed the markings of Down's upon her face, but I would never have suspected what longings lay deep within her heart.  She is a believer, however, and trusts this large man in a red suit and big black boots with her one desire.  So she opens her heart and asks for it.  "Santa, I just want friends."

Jossy's story doesn't end on the lap of Santa Clause.  Dozens read and then shared the account with others.  One who read is not only a friend of Chuck's but knows this child's family as well. She sent the post on to them and upon reading and seeing the touching and affirmative responses of so many, Jossy's dad wrote, "My wife and I are overwhelmed.  We have had a tough couple of months and your encouragement and prayers are what we desperately need.  Thank you!"  

And so it continues.  Many have inquired about sending a note or card to this beautiful little girl,  and her family has graciously shared their address.  If you'd like to be a part of this special story, here it is:

Jocelyn Vinette
950 Altamont Blvd.
Apartment 13
Altamont, NY 12009
The 4 J's (Joe, Jennifer, Joselyn &Jayden).

And while you're at it, maybe think about including a card or note to the rest of the family.  They've obviously had some challenges and encouragement is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give each other. After all, it's Christmas, the time when we were given the ultimate gift from God Himself in the person of a Child.  What better way to honor the season than to love a child and her family in this small yet tangible way.  Chuck ends his story something like this: "Take a little time to love on people. Besides, you just don't know what kind of impact it might have on you."  It obviously did on him.   He found that out the night a little girl named Jossy whispered into his ear.

Santa Chuck with Jossy and her little brother Jayden

Friday, November 4, 2016

Watching the Cubs (A Thank You)

Those first few months in Costa Rica were especially lonely for me.  It was 1985 and we had moved to San Jose with our three young children for a year of language school. I had looked forward to this year with excitement, but I hadn't anticipated the homesickness.  That was something I hadn't known since my first year of college when I'd moved 900 miles from home.  I remember crying into my pillow at night while missing my parents and siblings back in New York.  But I was a grown-up now and had Larry and the kids, and even though I no longer cried into my pillow, I felt a sadness and longing for the things I'd left behind.  I missed my family and my church and the things most familiar to me. And in the midst of long vocabulary lists and Spanish conjugations, struggling to be understood in a new culture, I missed my language. I missed my English.

Larry didn't see the need for it much, but when one of the students at the language school posted that they had a small black and white television for sale, I asked Larry if we could buy it.  I had it in the back of my mind that if I listened to it enough it might help improve my Spanish.  We set it up in the living room, raised the antenna and plugged it in.   I don't remember how many stations there were,  just a few I think.  But as I turned the nob for the first time,  I was startled to hear the voice of an American announcer coming out of that square box.  I peered at the screen and there in the corner I saw the letters WGN.  I'd never heard of it, had no idea where it was coming from.  All I knew was that we had an English station and I felt like I'd received a gift from Heaven.

We never were able to find out who was responsible for giving us this one lone American station, but it became my lifeline to home.  Well, home as in Chicago, but that was certainly close enough.  Since my intent for buying the TV set in the first place had been to improve my language skills,  I'd sometimes watch the soaps coming out of Mexico in the evening.  But in the afternoon after my studies were over I'd often turn the dial to WGN and would watch the Chicago Cubs.

That year turned out to be one of the best of my life, an adventure beyond anything I could have ever imagined for me and my family. The day that signal first came into our Costa Rican living room connected me to those things that had felt so far away.  Everything seemed much closer after that.         

I hadn't watched a World Series all the way through in probably over 25 years.  Until now.  When I knew that Chicago was playing for the Title, I knew I couldn't miss it.  I watched all seven games and stayed up into the morning hours to celebrate with the team via my large flat-screen televised in living color, quite a change from thirty years ago.  I needed to do it, wanted to do it.  I guess it was just my way of saying thank you.