Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Exhale

Tinsel schminsel ...

It’ll all be fine when …

I can stop holding my breath when …

I can finally relax when …

Yeah, I’m not there yet.

I’m still scatterbrained enough from holiday confusion that I left my phone in the car, so I’m streaming on my laptop an old Zion concert I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. All things work together for good.

I can’t remember a time before I was decorating or baking or shopping or wrapping or catching up on Star Wars movies so I could go see episode VII. Now that all is done for the moment, I can exhale maybe once or twice, but there is a looming “what next” question in the atmosphere. Never mind the cleanup. That can wait until Epiphany. Or whenever.

Side note … Episode VII is great. Go see it. No spoilers, but for those who have seen the film … the debate in my house is … Kylo Ren … attractive or not? We all agree at least he’s a character with some dimension, and we’re happy about that. Discuss.

So what’s next. New Year’s Eve. I have no plans. I’m seriously considering going to bed early. There’s an outside chance we will hold the traditional family New Year’s Eve fried food fest. Growing up we never did anything for New Year’s Eve. It was my granny’s birthday, but often we were home from Christmas visiting by then. That side of the family lived a couple hours away.

Eventually through the suggestions, requests, influence, and probably whining of teenagers we established the Fried Food Fest. Mom would buy mozzarella sticks, pizza rolls, jalepeno poppers, frozen pizza, etc. – items rarely consumed in our house due to cost and the complete lack of nutritional value, with the possible exception of pizza – and that’s what we would snack on throughout the evening. Then we’d watch Dick Clark and head to bed.

I was in high school with a driver’s license and keys to my parents’ Chevy Caprice Classic before I went to anyone else’s house for New Year’s Eve. A teenage party complete with sparkling grape juice and everything.

My grandpa – the one two hours away – had been in the hospital for a few days? A weekish? I don’t remember every detail exactly. In spite of the Parkinson’s he had been fighting for several years, he was unusually perky when we visited prior to Christmas. We had all gotten used to patiently waiting when he would stall midsentence. It was just part of the deal. He’d finish his thought eventually. It was in there. He’d shuffle off to wherever eventually.

He passed away that December 31. On my granny’s birthday. He was the first grandparent and the first person close to me I had lost. So it was kind of an odd experience for me, my siblings, and our cousin. The masonic funeral was a whole separate ceremony. Something about a fleece and I don’t even remember what, other than I thought it was weird. This was before the “National Treasure” movies brought a whole new level of coolness to the freemasons. I wonder if I'm not supposed to talk about the fleece. Have I divulged some great secret?

So maybe I’m not exhaling just yet because New Year’s Eve can be a little melancholy or at least memory-filled in my family. My granny passed away many years later in the summertime, followed by my uncle six months afterward. We rarely find ourselves in southern Ohio anymore.

I’ve gone through phases when my social calendar seemed to be filled regularly for New Year’s. Either friends were hosting game night or my sister and I would host. Once I even made it to First Night Columbus where, it is a true fact, I danced on bubble wrap at Broad & High with Mayor Coleman. I can be bipartisan with the best of ‘em.

Maybe it’s the season of life my friends and I find ourselves in … we’re older, most kids in our circle are older and may have their own social calendars … we remember loved ones lost in the post-Christmas letdown (I swear it’s a real phenomenon for those fighting chronic illness) … we’ve had enough cookies and candy and carbs … and we just don’t care to watch the ball drop in the presence of drunken chaos on our televisions. We don’t care, and we’re really cool with that.

Is it bad that I had to use Google to look up whether Dick Clark is dead? He is.

Football is another story. I may even watch more than just Ohio State’s bowl game. Priorities, man.

So as I attempt to exhale … attempt to get a little work done to set up January … attempt to set goals for the year … marvel at the best laid plans phenomenon … and set goals anyway … and try to avoid wallowing in impatience … somehow what was intended as a quick logistical check-in turned into an all-day text conversation with a trusted friend. Que sera sera. Don’t lose your mind just yet.

Farewell, 2015. You were a long, strange trip.

Here comes Suzy Snowflake. Well actually, I'm cool if she stays away.

Sir I wanna buy these shoes ...

For more on the subject of Exhaling from my writing partners, see Sue Bowles at and Leisa Herren at

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gift

I’m thankful everyday, for the gift.

Ever since this week’s blog theme was thrown down, I can’t get Jim Brickman’s “The Gift” out of my head. Nothing against anyone who loves the tune … it’s a lovely song, but it’s just too sappy for my taste. Make it staaahhhp!!!

Says the girl who likes Hallmark movies.

I’m listening to a variety of other music to cleanse the palate as I write. TFK might remain on repeat. Yes.

Part of me enjoys the creativity and challenge of coming up with great Christmas gift ideas for friends and family. I am not one of those people who start in January, finish in June, and have everything wrapped by September. Those of you posting fabu pics of your decorated tree surrounded by wrapped gifts the day after Thanksgiving (or earlier!) … I’m having a hard time being happy for you. I realize reality is you’re probably as frazzled as anyone else throughout the holiday season, but social media perfection sometimes brings a kneejerk emotional response.

I usually have the bulk of my shopping done by a week or so before Christmas, but there always seems to be a straggler or two or five.

The other day we had our annual Posse Christmas gathering. What’s a posse? In our case it’s a small group of high school friends who make an effort to get together regularly and for special occasions. And we give each other a lot of grace in the midst of our busy lives because we all need a lot of it. Some years we don’t even manage to get all of us together during the holidays. And that’s okay.

This year thanks to some kind of crazy gremlin interference going on in telecommunications cyberspace, we didn’t confirm details of the gathering until somewhere in the two to fourteen hours prior range. Ha! We had a lovely potluck lunch consisting of things we already had in our kitchens.

The agreement for a while has been no gifts. Exceptions are made for small children and homemade items like jam. I usually get my “niece and nephew” something small, preferably books. I didn’t have my act together this time, though! My creativity was stalled. Ack! Well, if it stayed stalled … kid gifts are optional … and the kids are young enough right now they won’t remember or be expecting anything.

And then late the night before … heaven shone down and I experienced an epiphany. I could write a book! I realize this is not a solution that occurs to everyone. Especially when there are about twelve hours, including sleep time, to pull it off. Fearlessness or insanity? You make the call. 

I’m going to write a book for toddlers! Yes!

I busted out a series of Christmas-themed haiku before I went to sleep. Because five … seven … five … yes I can. In the morning I worked on formatting and assembly. After fighting column formatting on nonstandard size paper for a while, I punted and went with the cut and paste method. The results were lovely … I’ve included pics of the entire book at the end of this post. I intentionally left room for toddlers to illustrate and/or add stickers themselves if they're in a creative mood.

The last gift I have to get … whose recipient shall remain nameless in order to preserve the element of surprise … I just didn’t have many ideas. Often in our family there are one or two people informally in charge of coordinating gifts for any particular person. A spouse, a parent, a grown child. If you’re out of ideas, you ask that person if they have something in their stash, expect to have something in their stash, or have any cool ideas they haven’t pursued. I got around to realizing there might not be anything in the stash yesterday, three days before Christmas.

Between a couple conversations and wandering a couple stores, I came up with what we all thought was a great idea. Another family member was near the right store to pick up said item … so they did … which saved me a trip. Hoorah. I’m done shopping!

Um yeah. Not so fast.

During a phone conversation with yet another family member that night, I discovered the intended gift recipient already has one of those! “Yeah, I borrowed it from them, which is why you thought they didn’t have one.”

Ok then.

Gift card? I’d rather not if I can help it.

Other ideas???

Further group brainstorming resulted in further ideas. I found a solid option online and placed it on hold at a local store. Venturing to a major shopping area on Christmas Eve Eve. Heeeehhhhh. Festivus shopping is one step shy of Christmas Eve shopping in terms of potential insanity.

Just a little blip in the journey.

But all went well. Other than a little traffic it was smooth sailing. Even the parking situation! We took care of the gift transaction and grabbed an early family dinner at a restaurant I hadn’t tried before. And have I mentioned the mild weather? I’m wearing flip flops on December 23 in Ohio.

Winter solstice walk yields the gift of beautiful scenery.

Holiday gift giving can start to get hectic, with making sure no one is left out and trying to be thoughtful about each gift. It’s the right thing to do, though.

My favorite gifts as of late have been intangible. Time. Prayers. Experiences. Pictures in the sky. Gifts from God that I might not recognize as such in different circumstances. I have written before that I seem to be in this weird waiting period. Maybe we’re always in a weird waiting period on this earth. Maybe we’re supposed to be.

Maybe even the waiting and the tension and the occasional overwhelmedness are gifts.

Everything is going to be okay, but things are never quite fully one hundred percent okay this side of heaven.

And that’s all okay.

For more on the subject of “Gift” from my writing partners, see Sue Bowles at and Leisa Herren at

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

And It’s Still a Mystery to Me …

So many things are still a mystery to me.

It’s still a mystery to me how the sky can go from happy like this …

… or this …

… or even looking like the hand of God is reaching over in protection (from the lower left) …

… to angry like this in just a few minutes. Why I did not experience a downpour today is a mystery.

I’m reading an advent devotional with a friend. Pulled from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You know, nothing heavy. Ha! Just kidding. Bonhoeffer was a preacher in Nazi Germany. He spent two years in prison before being executed just prior to Hitler’s suicide.

Merry German Christmas!

After week one’s writings on “Waiting” smacked me upside the head, last week’s theme was “Mystery”. It started with this line …

“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty.
A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery.”

Oh yeah. Ponder that one for a moment.

All pondered? Great. Onward.

I like a good puzzle. I like figuring things out. I’m a big picture lay out the connections and the patterns and how everything fits together kind of person. Hack apart the process, the problem, the project and streamline that baby. Nerd alert moment … it is true that I aced the analytical portion of the GRE. I never met a logic puzzle I didn’t like.

I hate surprises, though. I like to have all the information so I can solve the mystery, solve the puzzle, solve the problem. And be prepared like a good boy scout.

Maybe this is my downfall and poverty.

The mystery of advent and of the creation story itself … well, when you step back and think just a wee bit, the whole shebang is difficult to wrap one’s head around. It’s weird. Really, really weird. Relying on the story, relying on the father, son, and holy ghost takes faith. It just does. I find I receive more peace and signs and confirmation and life makes a whole lot more sense when I rely on the biblical account than when I give any real credence to the thought that we might have evolved from a paramecium.

But I didn’t intend for this to be a post on apologetics. And there’s still so much mystery.

I’m getting better at the waiting and mystery, but I don’t think I’ll ever have it mastered.

It’s still a mystery to me … that people who think they know me can be so wrong.

It’s still a mystery to me … that I think I know people and can be so off base.

It’s still a mystery to me … that I can be chastised and shunned for the same (perfectly moral) things for which others are cheered and congratulated. Whatever. In the words of the inimitable Coach Wampler, life is not fair!

It’s still a mystery to me … why this line stands out to me every time …

“This blessedness of life sometimes brings me to my knees.”

It’s also a mystery why my Color Green friends are all ixnay on the ollective-Cay oul-Say.

It’s still a mystery to me … what I will accomplish tomorrow, let alone two weeks or a month from now. The five or ten year plan? Bahahaha!

And I’m a compulsive planner. Imagine my discomfort in the present mysterious circumstances.

Advent continues. Holiday insanity continues.

It’s still a mystery to me … why we take on so much work when we probably ought be setting aside more time for reflection. Perhaps leftover pagan tendencies. If we’re going to coopt Saturnalia, we need to make it a big giant party, right? With a nod to Bacchus as we eat our weight in Christmas cookies and fudge. A google search tells me there is actually a barely known goddess of gluttony mentioned in one source, but we’ll go with Mr. Partay Partay.

Don’t get me wrong. The birth of the savior of the world is a great excuse for a party. I once was present for a sermon where the words, “our god is a party god” were uttered. I’m just not sure that one who didn’t come in with guns blazing like people expected would be all about the going through the motions that so many seem to do. That it’s so easy to do.

Maybe Jesus likes massive amounts of Christmas lights. As long as we pause to appreciate them.

Blurry Christmas lights. Slightly mysterious.

Less mysterious.

Chistmas lights dance party remix. The chili peppers flash on and off.

This mystery of life sometimes brings me to my knees …

For more on “Mystery” from my writing partners, see Sue Bowles at and Leisa Herren at “It’s still a mystery to me” is from the song “Here With Us” as introduced to me by the Bush/Tooley consortium of my WV / Tri-State area peeps.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Downtown Atlanta a couple years ago. Really. Trust me.

Help, I am in a fog. Holiday hurry up what can I cut from my to do list in an effort to preserve a shred of sanity fog perhaps.

Makes it easier to ignore the news. With the possible exception of those I’m considering for elected office – and even then it’s a giant stretch – I don’t care what you have to say on gun control and immigration policy.

God bless y’all. Have a Christmas cookie.

Friday night I road tripped with a few friends to see a fellow member of the ragamuffin tribe in her church musical. We succeeded in surprising her – a better option than announcing ourselves ahead of time, we thought. No need to add pressure.

Earlier that day one weather source mentioned freezing fog as a possibility overnight. I checked my trusty Weather Channel app. Well, okay, as trusty as weather prediction gets. There was no mention of fog of any sort whatsoever. And the temperature was expected to be above freezing until midnight.

Fear not! We shall proceed down the road an hour and a half at the appointed time as planned.

At the appointed time the weather app did mention fog, but no major warnings or advisories or anything. No worries, we’ll be fine.

Off we went. With a pit stop at Chick-fil-a, because that’s all Jesusy and stuff. And delicious. Our pit stop took a little longer than we wanted … between half the two-seater ladies' room being out of order (while in line, Sue ran into someone she hadn’t seen in ten years, so it wasn’t all for naught) … and my sandwich falling apart in my hands as I ate in the driver’s seat before I felt like we could start moving safely (definitely not for naught … it was sooooooo good … did I mention it came with the largest piece of lettuce in the history of man … nomnom … salad …)

Onward down the road. We ran into fog in a couple spots on the interstate. Not super thick, no big deal – we made good time and arrived just in time for the start of the show.

The musical was great. Our friend has a beautiful voice. Everyone had obviously put a lot of work into the production – it was well done. The general idea was a show-within-a-show time traveling vibe. Not quite “A Christmas Carol” but sort of along those lines. More than one theme stuck out … the joy of a dancing angel … the wonder of a shepherd completely humbled that God would want him to be one of the first to lay his eyes on the face of the newborn savior ... the prayers of a little girl to let her mom “know that she is loved”. Anna and I somehow managed not to cry on each other’s shoulder.

Have you really thought about the shepherds? I mean really. Imagine yourself as a lowly shepherd. Just hanging out with the sheep. Probably smelling like sheep. You’re not a destitute beggar, but you’re certainly not part of high society. You probably know about the messiah who’s supposed to arrive someday, but it’s been talked about for so long you don’t think much about it happening in your lifetime. You probably don’t feel all that important in the greater scheme of things. You just tend the sheep. Do-do-do, time to tend the sheep. So when an angel appears and says the messiah has arrived and God wants you (you, smelly shepherd boy!) to go take a look … well, that’s different. I feel like, even after reading the biblical account and watching Charlie Brown Christmas 2,347 times, we still take the shepherd situation for granted.

After the show Friday night we hit the local Frisch’s for snacks and hangout time. With Willet’s Christmas EP providing background music for Nigel the GPS dude. Oh my, the fog! Total pea soup. I’ve never liked pea soup, in case you were wondering. Nigel’s soothing British voice guided us up North South Street and onward toward the interstate, with only one wrong turn down a side road. In the absence of zero-visibility fog the entrance to the freeway probably would have been apparent, even at night. After a quick u-turn and a pause to marvel at how little of the interstate sign we could see while stopped practically under it, we were on our way again.

Pea soup. Pea soup. Pea soup. I’m going to write a song about pea soup.

We mixed up the music a little, eventually landing on Mitch McVicker’s “The Grey” album. Track number one goes, in part, like this …

there is both rain and sunshine
when the sea calms, the wind still knocks me down
when my soul grows quiet, still the tiniest cloud
is like a ***fog*** that settles down on
the bootstrap notions i’ve pulled up
each weatherfront listens to you, you’ll stop at nothing …

… it’s a dangerous tightrope but you hold my hand

~ Mitch McVicker’s “In Other Words” (emphasis added)

Preach it, brother.

I normally would be quite stressed by the level of fog we experienced. Back in high school there was super thick fog after a basketball game one night. I kept stats for the boy’s team. I am a shot chart shot percentage calculating professional, thank you very much. Yay math. I pulled out of the parking lot at the same time as the team manager that night. He lived in my general direction, so I just followed his taillights. Closely. I could barely see the side of the road. Of course being the cool dude he was, he cut through Denison. Easy peasy when you can see what you’re doing, but with pea soup fog?!? Whatever. I stayed on his tail. We both made it home unscathed.

Friday night I was fine. Really exceptionally fine given the weather conditions. My navigator relayed offers of hotel rooms and couches / air mattresses on which to crash partway home.

But I was fine. Calm. Alert. Focused. Maybe the caffeine helped. Or perhaps the prayers, both silent and out loud, fixed everything.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (The Message)

Crosses in the sky. No fog, just clouds. Keep looking up.

For more on “Fog” from my writing partners, see Sue Bowles at and Leisa Herren at

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


What do you need rescuing from?

Sorry for ending a sentence with a preposition, but “from what do you require rescue” sounds like one should be asking with a pinkie in the air a la how Thomas Jefferson drinks his tea. Some would say I am in fact that highfalutin. I am also drinking chai tea as I write.

Chai. The tea, not the latte.

Are we even our own best judge of “that from which we require rescue”?

Depending on your perspective, there may be a bazillion things from which you need rescued daily. Minor annoyances to some, the end of the world to others. I’ve seen you posting about them on Facebook. Perhaps some of us need rescuing from excessive posting of memes, oversharing of articles, and oversharing of said annoyances.

It’s probably our attitudes and perspectives that really need rescuing.

Today I needed rescuing from the schizophrenic weather. Well, not truly rescued I suppose. I kept checking my weather app trying to decide whether my planned three mile walk was going to happen. Rain expected to move in at 1:00pm, 8:00pm, 5:30pm, 2:45pm. Geez, make up your mind. I finally went for it and experienced blue sky, sun, completely overcast sky, sprinkles, partial blue sky, light rain, blue sky, ominous dark clouds, fast moving clouds, half blue sky, sprinkles, and more clouds. All in that order. In the course of about an hour.

No, I did not take pics today. I was trying to keep the phone dry and hoof it through my workout before real rain began. Which it did after I was safely inside. It lasted for about ten minutes.

I did a similar walk, albeit in drier weather, last week on Black Friday. I skipped all shopping that day. I have lost my ability to care about the shopping. I think stretching the festivities into a multi-day extravaganza including Thanksgiving and middle of the night insanity has crossed the line into, well, insanity. You want me to lose that much sleep for a deal on stuff? It’s just stuff. You want me to spend that much brain power figuring out where I should be when for what deal? I’m so confused. It’s just stuff. You want me to leave the Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge and go stand in line for stuff? Huh?

Keep your stuff.

Moving of the Ohio State – Michigan game to the Saturday after Thanksgiving in recent years has an influence as well. There is much party prep to be done. Shopping can wait.

As I was saying, I chose mental and physical health over competitive shopping and went for a walk. I was almost done with that third mile. Almost. I was on the faster moving road between the two neighborhoods. I pull one earbud out on this stretch so I can hear traffic coming down the road. Some of those speed demons like to fly low. And I don’t want to be anyone’s ten points.

I heard someone coming from behind me. No big deal. I walk against traffic, so I just made sure I wasn’t wandering from the edge of the pavement. I heard the vehicle slow down a little. “Oh, that’s nice of them,” I thought, “Thank you.”

My gratitude was perhaps premature. Because. Because. What happened next …

This dude in a plain white construction van had his window down and whistled at me! And then kept on driving.

I didn’t get a look at the guy. I didn’t get a plate because he was too far away by the time I finished checking for markings or a company name.

Thanks, I guess? Apparently the mashed potatoes and gravy didn’t go straight to my behind? Should I be flattered? Honestly I was kind of creeped out. I work out for my own health, not to be catcalled by construction guys in my own safe, semi-rural little corner of the world.

A couple days later I verified my crazy bandmate, who owns a similar van, was nowhere in the vicinity. “I would have stopped and talked to you,” he said. I thought so.

I was advised by law enforcement professionals to carry mace. I’m told Wally World carries a nice keychain version. And I do know where to find a good concealed carry class. I have to ask, though. Has it come to this? Do I need to be rescued pretty much two steps outside my front door?

A house has been under construction on the next street over. The weather has been blessedly mild this fall, a good time to frame things up so inside work can happen through the winter. On Monday this week I took my usual three mile walking route, and you will never guess what I saw parked by that house! Go ahead, guess!

A plain white construction van!

The same one that creeped me out on Friday? Dunno. But I zoomed in and took pics of the plates. I’ll rescue my own danged self if I have to. Don’t mess with me. Perhaps the driver saw me snapping photos, because a short time later a plain white construction van passed me by in the same spot as before, except this time he didn’t slow down or roll the window down.

Plates blurred to protect the innocent or guilty. Not sure which.

Sometimes we need rescuing from people in plain white vans. Sometimes we need rescuing just from the routine meanie poopoo heads of life. Sometimes there are users and abusers, either intentional or oblivious. Sometimes we need rescuing from ourselves along with an attitude adjustment.

My church wrapped up a sermon series on Jonah this past Sunday. It’s worth a reread of the book if you haven’t looked at it lately. Most people are familiar with the story. God tells Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh. Oh, there’s a city that’s been in the news this year. It would have been an equally hostile environment in biblical times. Jonah says, “Ha! You’re out of your mind,” and runs away, but God swallows him up in a giant fish and vomits him up on the shore and he ends up in Nineveh anyway.

Many would say that God sent the whale to punish Jonah for his disobedience. But – as pointed out in Sunday’s sermon – have you considered that God sent the whale to rescue Jonah? From himself? From his disobedience? From his attitude? (Oh go read chapter 4. Go. Do it.)

If you really, truly mean “thy will be done” when you say it … perhaps your rescue from the wrong path will look a little weird. Or a lot weird. Or somewhere in between. Or like being vomited up by a big whale.

Keep looking up.

For more on “Rescue” from my writing partners, see Sue Bowles at and Leisa Herren at