Monday, November 17, 2014

Larry Parker: A Plaid, Mad, Doting Dad

Plaid pants and Star Trek boots.
During my early teen years, I was always a little surprised when my friends expressed that they liked my dad which they often did. Of course, I realized my gruff dad was really a nice guy but I figured that, during their brief visits, my friends were only experiencing one aspect of his personality and I didn't see how they could possibly get past that one part.

It was the voice.

The scary, barking, Army voice my dad used for disciplining ("Andrea LYNN!") made my heart feel like a draining pool of quicksand. Sometimes he used that booming voice or a slight variation thereof for minor infractions ("Don't hang on that!") and, once in a while, for completely innocuous situations ("Andrea LYNN! You want a root beer barrel?")

So I assumed all of my friends would be terrified of him.

I especially remember my friend, Katy, surprised me by saying something about my dad being so nice.

"My dad?"

"Yeah," she said, "he's like a big, cuddly teddy bear."

Even though my dad was known for being opinionated, outspoken, hot-tempered and, to the embarrassment of his three kids, for disciplining other people's children, Katy had picked up on something very true. Daddy always did have a tender side that revealed itself in many ways.

For one thing, Dad had a soft spot for animals, even though I think he tried to fight it. My mom has often told us how devastated Dad felt when he had to have their first dog, Puggy, put to sleep. He vowed to never have another pet. That vow didn't pan out with my animal-loving mom around. Turned out Dad was a pet magnet. Out of the five humans living in our home, each cat or dog in our series of pets always chose Dad as their favorite, despite his blustery protestations.

My older brother, Puggy

As tough as he was, Dad frequently melted in response to us kids. I said frequently, not always. One particular time was when I was in 6th or 7th grade. My sister and I called him at the high school where he taught, sobbing and screaming into the phone because we had discovered our new dog gnawing on our little turtle, Clyde, like he was an ice cube from a freshly polished-off glass of soda. (Oh, wouldn't you love to have been the school secretary for THAT phone call?) Dad came home from work early that day to comfort us and to bury Clyde in the backyard.

I was always deeply appreciative of the times he decided that we didn't need a spanking (his go-to behavior modification tactic) because our own stupid actions were punishment the time in fifth grade when I was swinging Tarzan-style on a flimsy willow branch out over the creek that was covered in a thin sheet of ice. Of course, the branch broke, depositing me on the ice which also broke, leaving me seated up to my hips in icy, cold water. I can just imagine all the people in our trailer court, watching out their windows as I waddled home in the freezing air like I had peed my pants. On second thought, this isn't that great of an example. I think I felt so stupid, I just assumed I was going to be in trouble. However, I do remember Dad saying, "Well, I think you've been punished enough," on this occasion and several other occasions that were actually deserving of some disciplinary action.

I've often repeated the story of when I was fourteen and Tommy Bradford caused a bit of a scandal on the TV show we were watching, Eight is Enough, by befriending a teenage girl who had become pregnant out of wedlock. Just when I was thinking, "This is painfully corny," Dad decided to make the most of a teachable moment. He said that if I ever found myself in that predicament, he might be a little disappointed but that he would do everything he could to help me. I didn't at all understand the magnitude of this promise. So I said that was disgusting and it was never going to happen to me because I wasn't so sure I was going to do that even if I ever got married. He got all mad and used a milder version of the voice to insist that it wasn't gross when you are in love.

I never tested the sincerity of his promise on that particular situation but I did provide him with many other opportunities to prove that he wasn't joking when he said that he would do everything he could for me. I did all sorts of dumb things, like spent too much money or locked my keys in the car or found myself without a place to live. Every single time, Dad came to my rescue. I know I wouldn't have completed my college education after my divorce without his support. He picked up my kids from school while I worked late in my classroom, had dinner ready when I got home, and watched the kids when I went to class at night.

As I said before, though, there was a darker side to Larry Parker. In the fiery furnace that was my father's temper, you could forge a suit of armor.

And maybe I sort of did.

During my teen years, when I decided, much to my dad's fury, that homework was a waste of precious, precious time that could otherwise be spent having fun, I developed a highly effective form of self-hypnotization: you simply hang your head in apparent remorse, so your long, stringy hair obscures both your face and your vision, and you repeat to yourself, "None of this will matter in ten years." Like I said, it was highly effective. It got me through rants and tirades that mapped out my guaranteed future of living in an abandoned, rat-infested bus with no heating. Disclaimer: This method doesn't work as well when your dad is lunging for your throat.

Apparently, some displays of temper I have blocked out entirely. An example of this begins on a beautiful early April evening in Indiana, just as the snows from the blizzard of 1977 had begun to thaw. In our gravel driveway, hitched to the back of our car, was a U-Haul trailer loaded with everything we were bringing with us for our new lives in Arizona. The very next day would be Dad's last at his job, then we would be hitting the road the following morning - if all went as planned. However, more "foul weather" was brewing. My younger brother and I, enjoying a rare moment of camaraderie, were throwing a combination of snowballs and mud clods at each other and using the car and trailer as shields. We were having a great time together until we heard a strange crackling, popping sound. We investigated and discovered that the car's rear window had been hit. We watched in horror as the tiny cracks in the center of the window multiplied and crawled in all directions until the entire glass was shattered in a misshapen honeycomb design. One of our snowball/mud clod combos must've contained a rock. We were too terrified to go in the house. So we knocked on the front door of our own home and waited for someone to answer. That's all I remember. I have absolutely no memory of crossing that threshold. My mother claims that all hell broke loose, that Dad chased Tim and me around the living room, and that she had to intervene to save the lives of her two older children. However, my mom tends to exaggerate for comic effect so I can't know for sure. The one other thing I do remember is that for the next thirty-six years, my brother swore up and down that I was the guilty party who launched the loaded snowball.

The happy although creepy-looking family a mere few days before Dad 
had to be restrained from causing bodily harm to his two oldest children.

Daddy could be hard to understand sometimes but he made one thing undeniably clear with his actions - he loved his family more than anything in the world and he would do just about anything for us.  Mom said when we were very little, if one of us was sick, he was the one who stayed up worrying. He enjoyed snuggling up on the couch and watching The Wonderful World of Disney with us. I remember him sitting with me while we colored adjacent pictures in my coloring book.  He enjoyed telling us stories of the time he spent on his Grandpa and Grandpa Lucas' farm with his aunts and uncles as much as we loved hearing them. In more recent years, if one of my siblings or I mentioned that we wanted to try something we had seen advertised on TV, he would show up at our front door with it a few days later. (It was very hard not to take advantage of that.) He spent time in my classroom pretty much every week for 16 years, copying papers, stapling packets and sharpening pencils to help me get home earlier. He kept dog and cat treats in his car to bestow upon our pets every time he visited. He loved seeing his grandkids and made the rounds every Sunday, to my sister's house, then to my house, and then to my brother's house, to deliver donuts. He loved bringing us sugar.

I suppose I have some deep, dark issues as a result of my dad's harsh, domineering side, issues that could afford to be explored with the help of a therapist but, because of his always-present tender side, I also grew up always knowing that I was deeply loved by him. I wouldn't have traded Larry Parker for any other dad, not even for Atticus Finch.

Yesterday, November 16, 2014, was the one year anniversary of Dad's passing. So we all gathered at a donut shop - his kids, grandkids, daughter-in-law and a photobombing donut shop employee - to remember him.  We miss you, Dad! 

Today, November 17, 2014, is the one year anniversary of the day my brother, Tim, finally admitted to me that he MIGHT have been the one to throw the fateful snowball that nearly ended our young lives.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On Hold

Super short fiction written for a class. Feel free to let me know what you think.

When I recognized the organist, I fought the urge to call Dave on my cell phone.  Only Dave would find the humor in my sighting of this one-time high school celebrity who, as a popular senior, impersonated Elvis at pep assemblies more than thirty years ago.
 “Just guess who the organist was!” I would say.
“You are kidding me!” he would laugh.
Then I spotted Kimmy across the aisle.  Beyond celebrity, here was high school royalty.  A cheerleader.  Now I was dying to call Dave because this was too damn funny.  To Dave, Kimmy was one of his older brother’s crowd, a family friend.  To me...well, Dave knew the ancient, one-sided love/hate relationship I once had with the cheer squad based on my from-afar admiration and jealousy.
“Kimmy still looks gorgeous,” he might tease, “Oh, here she comes.  Quick, put this bag over your head!”
I overcame the reflex to dig for my phone.  With one heel, I nudged my purse under the pew.  Interesting that so much of our friendship was conducted over the telephone.  Dave enjoyed indulging in lengthy rants about the cranky cashier at the grocery store, retelling old tales about his brushes with fame in L.A. and initiating passionate debates on the heated Joan vs. Bette issue. For me, in the midst of unpaid bills, car repairs and kids needing their dinner, Dave was a connection to those distant high school days when we could and did laugh about everything... back when life was never too serious.  Well, not for me at least.  There might’ve been some more serious moments for a skinny sixteen-year-old boy who endured living with two quarterback brothers, wore out Donna Summer albums, and inexplicably made an inordinate amount of gay jokes.
It was time.  My turn to walk up to the front of the church.  Adrenaline jangled through my limbs. The sanctuary looked weird, like I was looking at it through a fish bowl turned upside down over my head.  “Elvis” was singing Just a Closer Walk with Thee.  When I reached the altar, I peered over the side of the polished wooden box.  Though afraid this jarring image would never subside, I forced myself to take in the folded hands and neatly parted hair.  I realized with relief that this moment was powerless to overshadow my memories.  Dave wasn’t in there, not really, and that realization made the sight less disturbing.  My only worry now was what would everyone think of me...when I turned back around dry-eyed?  That I was cold-hearted and didn’t care?  Still, I couldn’t cry.  That was not my friend.  I knew my Dave was somewhere else...some might say in Heaven, others might say living on in our memories.  But Dave was nowhere to be seen in that suit buttoned up by a stranger’s hands nor in that powdered face shaved post-mortem, with artificial color on the lips.  Well, actually, the part about wearing lip color wasn’t that far off.

Ha! That’s pretty funny.  You know who would appreciate that one...?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Encyclopedic Retrospective of my Teenage Babysitting Years

This is me in 1978 after my first full year in Arizona. I had just graduated from 8th grade at Kyrene Junior High in Tempe and was freshly sunburned and red-eyed from the neighborhood pool's intense chlorine level. Weeks after this pic was taken, we moved into Chandler, where a young mother from across the alley, who I'd never met, came over to see if I was interested in babysitting. However, before I could be entrusted with her infant I had to meet some rigid standards. "How old are you?" she asked. When I told her I was fourteen, she responded with, "Great, you're older than I thought!" Thus, I embarked on a new phase of my education about life, music, grownups and myself. Maybe you can relate to some of it. 

In case anyone is interested in keeping my regulars straight, I identified   the families by the name of their child in parentheses if my memory allowed.

Albums, record  Record albums are the very reason I took babysitting jobs. Starting in the late 1978, from the ages of fourteen to eighteen, I enhanced my teenage record collection with the ample funds garnered through late nights of torture and humiliation.

Bong  I was a little surprised to find one behind an easy chair one night in a client's home. I wasn't snooping; it had been set just behind the corner of the easy chair, close to where I'd set my glass of soda. Took me a little longer than it would've taken my most of my cohorts to identify the item. (Holly)

Cat Stevens  The couple who had a bong stashed behind an easy chair in their living room also had a huge record collection which included Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. I would listen to it on their stereo after tucking their little girl in bed for the night. I loved these people. (Holly)

Death  The family I babysat for most regularly had three big, loveable dogs: Harry, an Old English sheepdog, his wife, Sam who was a black collie mix, and their gigantic daughter, Jo. One evening, I phoned my parents sobbing after big, ol' Jo lay down at my feet, emitted a strange, eerie howl and died with her eyes open. (Becky)

Exorcism concerns Toward the end of my babysitting era, I took my little sister along on a job, I think in preparation for passing the torch. The infant in our care was sleeping innocently in his room at the back of the house and we were watching some late night TV when Jo-el said, "Wouldn't it be weird if the baby came floating down the hallway?"

Fights over the TV There was a Diana Ross special on TV that night and these boys thought they were going to watch The Dukes of Hazzard on the color set in the living room? Sorry, kids. I'm in charge. Their parents' record collection consisted largely of Barry Manilow albums. I didn't babysit for them again.

Ganja I am pretty sure I was the only teenager in the entire neighborhood who didn't smoke it which made me a popular Saturday night choice for parents.

Hippy Housemate Even if you do have a slight crush on the client's hippy roommate because he seems cool, has shaggy hair, and wears a long moustache like a favorite uncle, it is totally weird and uncomfortable when, after the parents are gone for the evening and you've put the baby to bed, he suddenly makes his previously unknown presence known by wandering out of his room and flopping down in a chair next to you. Why in the world didn't HE babysit the kid? (see: Ganja) (Becky)

Invasion of Privacy My sister is going to be mad at me for sharing this but it was so funny. She was about eleven and had come along with me on a house-sitting job. I turned from doing something to find her on her knees on top of the kitchen counter, nosing through every single cupboard. I said, "What are you doing?!" Jo-el, who had 20/20 vision, quipped, "Uh...looking for my contact?" She really should've studied at Second City. (Kimberly) 

Japanese massage  Things got even weirder with the hippie roommate that night when he stretched out on the living room floor and begged me to walk on his back. I declined. The crush was dissipating. (Becky)

Knocking knees You know that cartoon image of a person so terrified that his body trembles violently causing his knees to knock together and actually produce a noise? I always thought that was just a hyperbolic joke until it happened to me one night and I heard the weird sound of my own knees knocking against each other. (see: Terror) (two boys) 

Land line That was the only kind of phone we had back then and I made sure to keep my clients' land lines completely tied up after the children were abed. Hope Mom didn't want to check on little Suzie between dinner and the movie. There were high school boys to be discussed.

Motorcycle One of my favorite couples to sit for commenced their date night by roaring off on a gorgeous motorcycle both wearing brown leather jackets that matched their long, brown hair.
(see; Bong, Cat Stevens) (Holly)

Nilla Wafers  I mistakenly believed that I had been sneaking cookies undetected. I was disillusioned the day Becky's mom asked me to stay a little longer so she could unpack her groceries. As she emptied her paper sacks, she pulled out a new box of Nilla Wafers, shook it at me and said, "Look what I got! Your favorite!" Humiliating. (Becky) 

Old movies The very best way to end a night of babysitting was to watch a 1940's movie to completion, hearing the parents pull into the driveway with my hard-earned cash just as the credits rolled. Old movies were my favorite because I enjoyed the wonderful costumes and hairstyles, appreciated kissing scenes minus close-ups with visible spit strings, and was intrigued by how acting styles have changed over the years. I also got a kick out of hearing silly phrases like, "Gosh, Ann, don't have kittens over it."

Pervert, little  I can't remember this boy's name. I think I blocked it out. He was about eight and loved to recount to me his weird, dirty little dreams that always involved naked women. And conveyor belts. (two boys)

Quandry One evening, the pervy dreamweaver and his little brother sought to avoid their prescribed baths by running naked out the front door and racing around the front yard. When I went out after them, they ran back in and locked me out of the house. (two boys) 

Racism The Grammys were on TV and the "cool" hippy roommate first started to really irritate me by criticizing Elvis Presley (who was being honored in memoriam.) But then, after a performance by a black singer, he really shocked me, horrified me, when he said that all black people should be shipped back to Africa. I was fourteen and just stunned out of my mind. I said, "You're just joking, right?" He, in turn, was clearly shocked that I didn't agree with him. I was repulsed and the crush was over. (Becky) 

Saturday Night Live If there wasn't a good black and white movie to watch at ten o'clock, I was somewhat relieved because that meant at 10:30 I could watch SNL unhindered. However, if there was a movie on another channel with Gene Kelly or Bette Davis or Clark Gable, I was forced to catch bits and pieces of SNL during the movie's commercial breaks.

Terror  The boys I was watching were asleep. It was after dark and the house was quiet except for me chattering away on the phone with my friend, Brigette. Mid-laughter, the door leading from the family room to the garage caught my attention; the doorknob was slowly turning. That was plenty scary enough but when I asked several times in a shaking voice, "Who's there?" and got no response and the door knob continued turning slowly, I started picturing an expressionless man wearing black gloves and a ski mask on the other side. After calling the police (pre-911) and trying unsuccessfully to convince them that the boys and I were in imminent danger, after calling the operator and begging her, again unsuccessfully, to break in on my parents' busy phone line (pre-call waiting), and after my dad and little brother came running down the street to save me, it turned out that there was no psychopath on the other side of the door. Public Service Announcement: When going out for the evening and leaving your children in the care of a neighborhood teenager, be sure to inform the poor girl about the new, doorknob-turning pet cat that recently joined your family. (see: Knocking knees) (two boys)

Underfed child, an This full-time job was foisted upon Jo-el and me one summer when we should have been home sleeping late and watching game shows instead of caring for an infant. It was for our mom's friend who we loved but she had a swamp cooler and the Oreos were soggy. It was a rough gig. One afternoon while on duty, Jo-el and I started bickering about something and didn't let up until the baby's mom came home, couldn't figure out why he wouldn't stop crying, and asked us point blank if we had fed him his most recent bottle. Jo-el and I were quickly on the same side again and made a silent pact with our eyes. "Yes!" we said. (A friend who proofread this expressed concern that I would admit to this incident but I was seventeen and it was just ONE feeding. I'm sure the kid is just fine!) (name withheld to save my mother undue shame) 

Visitor? (uh, nevermind!) I knew I was a completely trustworthy babysitter (this was before the Underfed Child story.) So I had no qualms about asking one of my regular moms if I could have my good friend, Gary, over while I babysat for her daughter this one particular evening. I assumed she would say "yes" because I figured I had proven myself to be pretty much the best babysitter ever. When I asked, she opened her mouth as if she were about to say "yes" but then her eyes went through this weird series of expressions. 

Thinking back on it, she was probably remembering what she was up to during her own teenage years, but I realized she was imagining all the worst possibilities and I was mortified. I launched into a frenzied explanation about the platonic nature of Gary's and my friendship. I honestly don't remember how she ultimately responded. I think she said yes but Gary was unable to visit for some other reason. But I never, ever asked again! And the memory is extremely foggy, so I don't know for sure, but I confess that I MIGHT've been secretly hoping to NOT be the                                                                       best babysitter ever once my charge was put to bed. (Becky) 

World Wrestling Federation The gigantic, Saturday night, groan-producing buzzkill that periodically preempted my regular weekend television viewing plans. (see: Saturday Night Live)

X-rated material, apparent exposure to  One family I only sat for a few times had a TV channel that my family did not have. Sitting on the couch with the kids and trying out a new-fangled device called a remote control, I was shocked when I came across a channel with nudity. I quickly changed the channel but the five-year-old girl started clapping her hands and chanting, "Oh, boobs and butts, boobs and butts! Change it back to boobs and butts!"  (Kimberly)

You so, told This is actually a sad story. Once I couldn't accept a sitting job because I had plans (I did have friends).  So the couple with the three big dogs and the hippie roommate asked me who else I would recommend from the neighborhood. I highly recommended a wonderful girl who was responsible and cool and always super kind to me despite my nerdy, goody-two-shoes status. I loved this couple so I was really disappointed in them when they made it clear that her being black was a problem. They went with a different girl even though I specifically told them she was not a good choice. Later, they told me that when they came home that night, they caught their white babysitter smoking in the house and rummaging through their bedroom.  I was quite smug in my satisfaction that justice had been served.

Zealot Even as a very little boy, my younger brother was always passionate about making a buck. When he was in first grade, at the prompting of an older boy, he picked apples off a neighbor's tree and went door to door selling them for maybe ten cents a piece. While preparing for this blog post, I asked my mom what she remembered about that first neighbor asking me to sit for her. Knowing my brother's history with money-making schemes, I shouldn't have been surprised when she said, "Well, I know your brother was excited because it gave him an idea about how to make some money." But I was surprised. She went on to tell me that Tim, then about ten years old, created a flyer advertising my babysitting services which he distributed throughout the neighborhood. Apparently, he also negotiated with me to pay him a commission on each job I landed as a result of his efforts. I went from surprised to astounded. I can muster up only the flimsiest, cellophane memory of this. And here, all these many years I was thinking news of my babysitting talent flew up and down Mesquite Drive by word of mouth, thanks to some highly satisfied parents. I'm crestfallen.

In case it doesn't show, I loved babysitting. Maybe it was an opportunity to get away from the family for a while and feel independent. I don't exactly remember. I do know I had fun, loved my regulars and raked in the bucks, despite my brother's rumored claims to his cut. I hope my memories provided you with a couple of laughs. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

From Our Middle East Correspondent (A Guest Blogger for Reals This Time!)

Yes, a guest blogger for reals! I'm not making it up this time! My friend, Josh, took time out from his studies in Turkey to write about his personal experience with Compassion International for us. Here's what he had to say.

        My name is Joshua MUGISHA, born on 16th February, 1993 in Uganda. My parents are both Rwandese. This’s why after 1994 Rwanda genocide against TUTSI, we came to live in our Homeland.
I was only 6 years old when I joined Compassion in 1999 and signed out in 2012 after completing my secondary school. In those years I spent with Compassion, my life changed physically and spiritually.

First and foremost, I was very young when my mom registered me in Compassion and I couldn’t realize why or the situation at home, whether my parents will be able to educate me. But it was not later until I started seeing my elder sister dropping from school, followed by my brother, who later joined Army (Rwanda Defense Force) in 2005. There is no doubt that it is a hand of God worked through Compassion to finance my education.

Secondary, all the classes we attended at Compassion were teaching us more of having moral behaviors, respecting parents and loving others just the way Jesus loved us and died for our sins. There are various lessons I learnt from Compassion, helping others, socializing, praying, entertaining, having dreams about the future, and others. One of my dreams was to pursue my university studies abroad. I remember one letter I sent to Mrs. Andrea, my sponsor, requesting prayers to pass advanced level national with highest points and thankfully it happened and got government scholarship to study at Middle East Technical University in Turkey.

Even though am no longer being sponsored through compassion, I still feel a part of it because it is the foundation of where I am now and I can't get enough to thank God for using Mrs. Andrea to sponsor my education, writing to me, sending Christmas gifts and Prayers. May God bless you and family abundantly. I hope one day we shall see each other and praise the Lord.

Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Joshua! 

I don't know what kinds of dreams Fedinand or Douglas or Radha will eventually have for their own lives but as a sponsor, some lucky person will get to find out and encourage him or her and watch a beautiful story unfold. Please give sponsorship some thought.  :)  

Release 3: Joshua's Bright Future in the Making

Sometimes God blesses us with something new and unexpected, such as the time I found an abandoned puppy on the side of the road right when both of my kids abandoned me to go to college and live their own lives. Other times God blesses us with what we need far in advance, way before we even know to pray for it.

Take my friend, Joshua, from Rwanda. God blessed this young man with an extra helping of brains at birth.

So cute. Josh at 14.
I first met Josh a few years ago when he was eighteen years old and still a part of Compassion International. I remember a couple of his letters included requests that I pray for him to have success in school. By that point, it was already apparent that this kid was bursting with smarts.  I thought, "I'm pretty sure God already has you covered on this one but, yeah, I'll pray for that."

Then one day I was messing around on Youtube and happened across a Compassion International video about a super generous Australian woman who put her sponsored kid through college.

I sort of panicked.

Let me pause a moment to be perfectly clear - it is NOT, NEVER, NOWHERE expected that Compassion sponsors pay for their sponsored child to attend college!!

And yet, I seem to enjoy internally spazzing out for no real reason.  My desire to be a kindly, generous sponsor and my unfounded concern that I had bitten off more than I could chew collaborated to create a perfect NON-reason to panic: I couldn't afford to pay for my own two smart kids to attend college, so there was no way I could measure up to that crazy-nice Australian lady and help my sponsored child attend college.

So just like I prayed that God would provide a way for my two kids to afford college, I started praying that He would make a way for Josh to get a college education, too, if that was something Josh wanted.

I was pretty excited when I later learned from Josh that, after much research and hard work on his part, he had applied for and WON a full scholarship to a university in Turkey.

Josh is now in his third year at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, studying petroleum and natural gas engineering. He is doing amazingly well. He conquered a challenging English proficiency exam, earns excellent grades and recently did an internship. My favorite thing is that we're now friends on Facebook and I get to see pictures like this:

Exemplary (and handsome) student!

Looking cool.

Sight-seeing with friends in Turkey.

Must've been chilly on Mount Nemrut.

I think it is amazing to look back and know that a few years ago, Josh and I were both praying for the very same thing without realizing it. And our prayers were answered. I didn't have to stress out and feel badly that I lacked the means to help Josh out more. I just did what little, tiny bit I could and God provided Josh with the intellect and drive to pursue his big dreams.

Josh is very much looking forward to returning to Rwanda, his homeland, "with beautiful mountains and good people," and getting a job. I am very much looking forward to watching what other amazing things God does in his life.

Stop by tomorrow if you are interested in reading what Josh has to say from his dorm room in Turkey. He took a short break from homework and learning to play guitar to tell us a little bit about Compassion International.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Late Night Confessions of a Part-Time Hypocrite

Dear Online Diary,

So I'm struggling a little tonight. I have a job interview in the morning and I can't stop worrying about answering every question just right so I get hired. And, honestly, I'm a little worried that I'll succeed in tricking people into hiring me for a job I can't handle or that I'll hate. Worrying to the point of a nervous stomach and a little tightness in the chest.

My mom said, "You've always trusted God before. Why stop now?"

That really struck me. And I thought, "Yeah, Big Mouth Blogger. Why ARE you stopping now?"

So I thought about it and realized that I was focusing on what I want rather than following God where He leads and waiting on His timing. It took a little journaling to remind myself that, ultimately, I really only want to go where God leads. I can trust Him, whatever the direction.

If God is leading me to this job, He is capable of sidestepping any stammering or lame-o answers on my part.

Likewise, I know from past experience that if we take the time to ask, God can be trusted to close doors we shouldn't enter. Years ago, in direct response to prayer, when asking for His guidance, cars have broken down on the way to my questionable destinations and college courses have been completely cancelled. So if this is not the job for me, I can trust God to close that door.

When we experience the closing of a door, even a door we were really hoping to waltz right through, nothing that really matters changes. We are still loved, provided for and sought after by our awesome Creator.

Oh, Dear Online Diary, after our little chat, I'm happy to say that the butterflies occupying my stomach have finally gone to sleep and I think am now able to do the same. I'll be sure to share with you later the results of tomorrow's - oops, today's interview!

Good night.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

This Dumpy House

Oh, yeah? Well, I'm so mad,
I could spit, too, buddy!
I am trying like crazy to get my house all spruced up so I can put it up for sale.  The whole process is extremely frustrating because while I'm improving one thing, something else is falling apart. Sometimes, it's the last thing I just fixed! While I'm re-fixing THAT, the dishes are piling up!

It's so much effort and stress, trying to make my house good enough for someone to want it and not reject it.

This morning, a metaphor just flipped up and smacked me in the face, like I'd stepped on the clawed end of a rake, reminding me that it's the same with ME!  Lately, I've been on all these self-improvement kicks. Yeah, mostly just in my head, because I never can stick with anything but I make all these big plans to eat right and exercise regularly and keep my home clean and spend my money wisely and use my time productively and stop cussing and whatever else I might notice that's wrong with me. Always, while I appear to be making strides in one area, I completely fall on my face in another area often followed by self-berating (and maybe a little bit of cussing - just being honest.)

Not a lot of curb appeal here. 

Don't you love when there's a BUT to save the day?

BUT I am not up for sale, hoping someone's going to come along and deem me acceptable.

I've already been chosen and purchased to be cherished forever, run-down and dumpy as my heart might be, lacking all the latest personality upgrades. Jesus knew all of my flaws, hang-ups, and mistakes, all of my selfishness and stubbornness, when He paid the price for my sins on the cross so those sins would no longer separate Him and me. He loves me in my current condition.

Yep, just like this hideous...whatever it was. 

I have to say that knowing this truth is a huge relief and a great joy because it's just too much effort, running around, trying to fix all of my flaws by myself.

And while Christians have a way of making Christianity appear exclusive, Jesus is anything but exclusive when it comes to purchasing souls and offering His salvation. He already wants you. He already loves you endlessly. He is not willing to lose even one of us. You can accept what Christ has done for you right where you are, just as you are, and still be a liberal or celebrate
Passover or wear a hijab. Some Christians might tell other people they have to do away with this or that, but ultimately, Jesus purchased the house and He will make renovations as He sees fit. Some things He'll leave in place that might leave some Christians disapproving. Other things, in His perfect timing, He will rip out and throw away, like self-righteousness or pride or that judgemental thought you just had about your neighbor's life choices.

Jesus is not looking for perfection but He is in the business of improvement, whether He's dealing with a run-down, dirty shack or a beautiful mansion. You think your place is perfect, my friend? Trust me, you've got a leaky pipe hidden deep inside those walls somewhere and Jesus has the tools to lovingly fix it, if you'll just let Him point out the damage for you. 

Well, my realtor might not be too jazzed if I take this laid-back attitude with my actual house. However, while I'm replacing plumbing hardware and scrubbing dirty windows, I can rest in the peace of knowing that I am deeply loved despite my flawed heart and my repeated failures and that God will fix in me what He wants, when He wants. I hope you will rest in that peace, too.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Out on a Limb and Sorta' Lovin' It

I am in the process of looking for a job.

Looking for a job in a completely different area than my last sixteen years of work experience.

And I'm fifty years old.

In preparation for job interviews, I painted my fingernails what I think is a beautiful deep magenta. I was hoping it would trick potential employers into believing I'm way more competent than I feel.

My deceptive and uncharacteristic use of nail polish was the result of panic. I felt threatened by all the job ads saying things like, "quick, on-the-spot decision making," "fast-paced environment," and "competitive."

I'm a slow mover. I'm a slow thinker. The only thing I do quickly nowadays is speak. Pre-thought, always. So something goofy always plops out of my mouth and lays there like an egg yolk on linoleum, impossible to scoop back up.

No shade of nail polish, no matter how elegant, is going to dress up that trait!

So, really, I have no idea what is going to happen as far as my future employment but I do know what the future has in store - goodness and mercy.

Psalm 23:6 says, "Surely, your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life."

I know that doesn't mean that I can count on obtaining my dream job or that any kind of job is going to just drop into my lap before things get scary or that I won't have to say goodbye to a bunch of luxuries (I'll miss you, Sonic.) It doesn't mean that I'm not going to feel rejected and far too old for this every time I get another email saying, "We've gone with a more qualified candidate."

It does mean I can be confident that God is with me.

I learned that truth more than ever during the past three years of really struggling as a teacher. I never felt super competent as a teacher but the last three years, things were really being stirred up in me, until one day I ended up collapsed on my kitchen floor bawling my head off because I couldn't bear the thought of going back to work the next day. It was two and a half more school years before I decided to resign. It was a dark time for me - a normally happy, cheerful person becoming an increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated grouch, scowling in rage each morning before my eyes even opened as the alarm clock started screeching.

My sister would probably like you to know that I confessed to once even flipping the bird at my alarm clock. I’m telling you, it was a dark time.

But....subsequently, I spent a lot of time during those three years talking to God. And trying so hard to listen. I didn't hear anything but, just by spending more time with Him, praying and reading, I started to love Him and trust Him more and more - until I became willing to do whatever it was He wanted me to do - whether that was resign from my job or stay another year...or ten. The act of submitting to His will, whatever it might be, seemed like a real breakthrough for me because shortly afterward, I finally experienced the peace I had been seeking as far as making a decision one way or the other. I was finally at peace with resigning.

Slow learner that I am, I've only recently started to notice this as a pattern in my life. Every time I go through a painful period, I come out of it appreciating God a little more or learning a lesson about Him - maybe something I learned in church and have always known in my head, but now understanding it in my heart through personal experience. 

It's like the labor of childbirth - when the pain is over, we have something new and beautiful that was totally worth it.

Yes, I'm going to keep tweaking the resume and practice answering the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" because, you know, I want what I want - a pleasant job in a comfy setting, a place of employment within a certain radius, and a certain amount of pay. However, more than all that, I want what God has planned for me. His lessons are far better than any perfect, lucrative job I can dream up and He just may accomplish His plans through some uncomfortable times.

My job search might be drawn out and discouraging.  The cardboard housing I joked about with coworkers may yet be in my future. Or maybe I'll find a job ad begging for a slow-movin' daydreamer with a knack for on-the-spot, snappy complaints! Either way, I can trust that God's goodness and mercy will follow me every step of the way, teaching me something new, drawing me ever closer to Him or reminding me how much He loves us.

I can't help but be excited. For anyone who's interested in my journey, I'll be updating you here at The Crooked Clothesline - on the good, the bad and the embarrassing.  Let's go!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Once Upon a Yellow Umbrella: A Memoir

Beneficence also known as Benny
Photo credit: my sweet friend,
Lori Stephenson
Many of my favorite childhood memories were made during the mid-1970's while running amuck on a college campus with my younger brother and sister. At that time, my dad was attending Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and we lived in "married student housing" - a trailer court adjacent to the campus. My mother worked as the secretary to the dean of students which I thought automatically qualified me as Sort of Cool. None of my classmates concurred.

It is now clear that I suffered from Coolness Confusion Disorder - a condition characterized by the level of one's familial pride and enthusiasm being disproportionate to the level of interest and appreciation demonstrated by fifth-grade peers, resulting in the over-communication of information concerning the sufferer's mother's job-related celebrity encounters and campus involvement (i.e. Alex Haley, Watermelon Bust), followed by bored stares, covert eyerolls and abrupt changes of subject, thus leading to further confusion on the part of sufferer.   

Fortunately, CCD did not run my life. There was too much fun to be had living at Ball State. The combination of having a working mother and growing up in a less fearful era gave Tim, Jo-el and me plenty of opportunity to wander the campus like joyous waifs. The three of us made pests of ourselves on the sports field, loitered in the elevators of dormitories, invaded the art gallery and clamored all over the beautiful memorial to the five philanthropic Ball Brothers. And we were barefooted the whole time. It was like having a personal King's Island right in our own backyard.

Sorry, Ball Brothers.  I love your jars. 

However, as with all childhoods, not every memory is heartwarming. Some memories, while perhaps entertaining, are tinged with guilt.

Here is the cast of one such guilt-producing memory from my years at Ball State:

Me - fifth grade Platters fan,
homework-ignorer and, as my brother often pointed out,
"not the boss."

Hard-livin' first grader,
Tim "Question Authority" Parker
(also known by his then secret
code name: Mit Rekrap)

Kindergartner, Jo-el Parker -
She might look like an angel but she was
already perfecting her biting wit.

My fifth grade year was the only year that Tim, Jo-el and I all attended the same school. Every day after school, I was expected to wrangle a six-year-old anarchist and a mini-Joan Rivers along a maple-lined residential street, around a dormitory and across a campus avenue to our trailer court.

And on one particular afternoon the rain was coming down like crazy.

Luckily for me, I was carrying my brand new, ultra-groovy, clear plastic, yellow bubble umbrella. It was with the opening, nay, the blossoming of this glorious device that the clouds of Coolness Confusion Disorder lifted. With my head inside the bubble, peering through the plastic at the golden-yellow world, there was no doubt -- I WAS cool.  

Other than the delight I felt gazing through the sunny dome of my bubble umbrella, the only memory I have of walking home with my siblings on this particular day is the moment we were preparing to cross Neely Avenue, right outside of a dorm building.  The rain was coming down hard and I had to yell to be heard.  Either that, or I was just an out-of-control tyrant as my brother claimed. I was yelling instructions, while keeping an eye on the cars splashing by, assessing the traffic for a safe moment to dash across the road.

My little sister was holding something over her head. I think I had given her my brown plastic raincoat while we were walking home.  That was as nice as I could be as a big sister. I wasn't about to give up the bubble umbrella. 

As we stood on the curb waiting for a break in the traffic, I yelled, "Nobody move until I say 'Go!'" At that very second (without waiting for the referenced subsequent "Go!" but on the original preparatory "Go!"), Jo-el shot out into traffic while holding the raincoat up over her head. 

Thank God, "traffic" at the moment was pretty much only one car and, thank God, the car reached their meeting spot first, so that Jo-el just barreled into the driver's side of the car and bounced off. Still...drama ensued.

I remember letting go of the yellow bubble umbrella which sailed off down the road, whisked away by the winds, never again to cast its golden glow on my world. I also remember rushing recklessly out into the road to my sister. (The umbrella was gone, therefore, so was the Cool.)  The driver, a freaked-out mom with a little kid in the back seat, jumped out of the car. She and I both started to pick up my sister who was now screaming her little kindergarten head off.

A college student who had been walking down the sidewalk also ran out into the road to help.  He took charge and reminded us that we shouldn't be moving Jo-el yet.  He checked her out for broken bones, then scooped her up. The driver had jumped back in the car to drive Jo-el to the hospital, but the college student told her to move over. 

With the college student behind the wheel, the mom sat in the passenger seat, holding Jo-el in her lap. Jo-el was screaming, "I hate this lady! I hate this lady! I want my sissy!" Meanwhile I stood by the side of the road just staring, my hair soaking wet, water streaming down every part of me. The college student leaned across the mom and yelled to be heard above the sound of the pounding rain, "Are you her sister?" Dumbstruck by the entire situation, I just nodded. 

"Then get in the car!"

I did and we sped off. 

And left my little brother. 


In the pouring rain.

And I had the house key.

My poor brother had to break into his own home to get out of the downpour that afternoon. Fortunately, his life of hooliganism at an unusually young age had prepared him for this moment.

My sister was fine.  No broken bones, no concussion. I don't think she even had a single scrape. 

Regarding the driver mom and the college student -- as a fifth grader, I always liked to imagine that she was a widow and that the two of them fell in love, sort of Brady Bunch style. 

As for me, well, I've always felt a little responsible for the entire incident. I figured my sister probably wouldn't have been hit by a car if she had been carrying my umbrella with its high level of crisp, cheery visibility rather than hunching over like a tiny, blonde Quasimodo blinded by a cumbersome, brown raincoat flapping in her face. 

I have a pang of guilt every time I remember abandoning my curly-headed little brother in a rain-filled gutter. I should've spoken up when the college student told me to get in the car. I should've said, "My brother's coming with us!" But I think, in the trauma of the moment, I forgot I even had a brother. 

Of course, none of it would've happened if I hadn't greedily insisted on clinging to the bubble umbrella, falsely assuring my status as Cool.  

Later in life, I abandoned, perhaps as penance, all aspirations of coolness. I never strove. I never hoped. I never pretended. I know now that I was never meant to be cool and any affectations of such only bring about grave consequences.

And yet, I find this memory - the memory of the traumatic day my sister got hit by a car, for heaven's sake - highly entertaining. What can that mean

I suppose it means that, in a way, the yellow bubble umbrella is still with me, tinting my view of the world.

Author's note: This memoir is entirely factual, except the last three paragraphs which descend into utter nonsense.