Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

One Ringy Dingy Dingbat

Well, it’s official. I have dragged myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century at long last. The dreaded surrender came in the form of my first smart phone and it is making me feel stupider by the minute. Will somebody please tell me they feel my pain?

I knew it was time to bite the bullet when I registered for an upcoming writers’ conference in Nashville. Filling out the registration details, it became apparent that I would be left in the dust without a phone. And I’d need time to get used to the dumb thing before venturing so many miles from my trusty land line. Besides, it seems the only way to reach our kids these days is by text. Which makes me question how excited they’ll feel about my having a phone, but whatever.

Actually walking into the store was the first major hurdle. The phones on display all looked basically the same, but the prices varied for reasons even the sales people didn’t seem to know. It mattered little, since most of them came “free” with a two-year contract. In one store, an old fashioned bright red pay phone hung on the wall, with a rotary dial and everything. I felt tempted to say, “I’ll take that one, please.” At least I’d know how to use it! 

Then we were introduced to the various options for service packages. What did I require? Voicemail Light? Unlimited text, picture, video messaging? Unlimited Wi-fi? How many weekday calling minutes? How much data? 300 MG? 5 GB with tethering? PollĂ©s pliroforĂ­es, it’s all Greek to me. 

I wanted to cry.

Luckily, my computer geek hubby was along to interpret. At least he knew a few semi-intelligent questions to ask. We settled on a phone and a price package. While helping me set it up, the sales guy chuckled watching me bumble around to key in a password and hitting the wrong letters or losing the keyboard altogether. Why can’t I be like the average five-year-old and instinctively know exactly how to use the blasted thing? And why can’t I look like one of the cool kids when I do? Utterly humiliated, I carried the little joy-stealer home, wondering if the guys in the store would immediately dial my new number simply for the glee of watching me try to figure out how to answer my own phone.

Over supper, I calculated that I have three months to learn how to use the little tyrant before my conference. Hubby sucked air between his teeth. “That’s cuttin’ it pretty tight.”

I spent the evening putting the kids’ numbers into my contact list and sent them each a text. This took me a good hour as I fumbled around, trying to turn it on, keep it on, and figure out how to navigate. Mission accomplished, I plugged it in to charge and forgot it existed.

When I stumbled to my desk the next morning and saw it lying there, my first thought should have been, “Oh, right! Yay, I have a cell phone.” Instead, it was more like, “Oh. Right. Darn.”

Through the morning, I found myself growing more annoyed at the whole world as my phone chirped and whistled, demanding my attention while I baked a rhubarb pie, mixed a batch of granola, and folded laundry—things I actually know how to do. Why had I invited this miniature terrorist into my life? If I knew how to change the ringtone, I’d pick the theme song from Just Shoot Me.

Then I received a text from my daughter in Calgary, with an attached video of our 7-month old grandson in a full-on gigglefest. 

And for the first time, my smart new phone made me smile.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Latin?

I know it seems a long way off, but it’s a huge undertaking and rehearsals have been underway for over a month already. Next November, when the Prairie Players stage The Sound of Music, I will portray one of the nuns.

Don’t laugh. I’d make a terrific nun.

If I were Catholic. And sweet and kind. And celibate. And knew Latin.

It’s my first musical and I have no spoken lines. I don’t even have a name, so I’ve chosen “Sister Twisted” for myself. I’m not the greatest singer, but that only makes this feel like a greater privilege. With the talented Nita Wiebe belting the alto line into my ear, I can usually stay on key. Or close to it, although “close, but no cigar” is the rule in choral singing. If they ask me to start lip syncing, I will take it as a pretty strong indication that I’m no longer an asset to the abbey.

I auditioned because it seemed like a lark. It should have occurred to me that these particular larks do most of their singing in Latin. I can’t say learning Latin ever appeared on my bucket list, even if joining the cast of The Sound of Music did. The language is relatively simple in that, unlike our ridiculously complicated English, it has no silent letters. And vowels are always pronounced the same way. Even so, memorizing a list of random syllables, pronouncing them correctly (“tall” vowels, not “flat,” as our music director James Reynolds keeps harping about), matching them to the correct note, keeping the right tempo, and later adding the choreography seems like an insurmountable challenge to this amateur. No fudging allowed!

So I’ve typed out the illusive syllables phonetically and hung them beside my bathroom mirror to work on while I do my hair and makeup each morning. (How very un-nun-like!)

Thus, “Rex admirabilis Et triumphator nobilis” becomes “Rex awed mee rah bee lees, Et tree oom fah tor no bee lees.” If Hubby didn’t know what I was up to, he’d haul me off for psychiatric evaluation or exorcism.

Now the last thing I need is to learn I’ve been unwittingly chanting some voodoo curse, calling down terror on my neighbourhood as I apply my Maybelline. So it became imperative to research the meaning of what I’m singing, and I made an interesting discovery. Did you know the nuns’ opening piece of The Sound of Music is taken from Psalm 110? When you look at the words and understand the political backdrop of the story’s setting, I’m convinced Rodgers and Hammerstein in all their genius had even the nuns making a subtle but strong rebellious statement. As their beloved Austria feels the looming shadow of the Third Reich, their chant proclaims:

“The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’  The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. The Lord is at your right hand…”

 So, with the ever-nearing echo of Nazi boots on cobbled streets, the cloistered sisters cling fast to the God who is their solid rock.

A life lesson for us all, in any language and under any threat.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I'll Never Win "Mother of the Year"

I’ll never forget one frigid January evening in 1987. Our third child was all of two weeks old and I was venturing off for my first outing away from him. It was only a grocery shopping expedition, but when you’re home with preschoolers 24/7, even food shopping in the dead of winter can seem exotic if you get to do it alone. The plan was to drop all three kids at my mother’s house so I could shop in peace.

I carried the baby’s car seat out and set it on the hood while I opened the car doors for the other children. I heard it before I saw it. In one horrifying split second, the car seat slid across the hood’s icy surface and landed with a sickening crunch, face down on the frozen crushed rock below—with my newborn baby in it.

Few words can describe what a parent feels in that moment, and “competent” is definitely not one of them. I upturned the car seat and examined my son. Snuggled in his snowsuit, he still slept peacefully. It seemed the straps had held him to the seat and only the seat’s edges actually touched the ground. Shaking, I loaded him into the back seat facing backwards, with a sibling on either side facing forward. Then I climbed behind the steering wheel, not knowing whether I’d be driving to the hospital or carrying on with my original plan.

All the way to town, I kept asking my older son, “What’s the baby doing?”  “Is the baby okay?” “Is he breathing?”

I held myself together until we reached Mom’s house, but when she came to the door, I became a hormonal puddle. “Mom,” I blubbered. “You won’t believe what I’ve done.” She let me cry it out of my system, assured me the baby would be fine, and sent me on my way.

I don’t know if there’s a parent anywhere without a similar story. No mother or father can be on constant alert every second of a child’s life (and if you could, I’m not sure you’d end up with adequately independent offspring.) Most of the time, our momentarily lapses in judgement don’t carry heavy consequences. But sometimes they do. And when they do, it’s imperative for us to remember they happen to all of us. The passing of judgement on one parent by another at these times is unacceptable. If you have managed to keep your child alive to adulthood, it is a far greater testimony to the grace of God than to your excellent parenting skills.

So where is God’s grace when a child does not survive?

I believe it’s still present. It just looks a whole lot different. It looks like the compassionate support of a caring community of friends and family who know, deep down, that it could just as easily have been their own child. Why wouldn’t we extend the same compassion following an accidental death or injury as we do when a child succumbs to cancer? If possible, the parents’ pain would feel even heavier as they wrestle self-condemnation. They do not need ours, too.

This Mother’s Day, let’s remember those who are hurting due to the loss of a child from any cause, at any age. Though I have been spared this grief so far, I watched my sister and brother-in-law bury their only son last year, at age 46. It never gets any easier, and there is no deeper loss. There just isn’t.