27 May 2012

Grandpa and the Golden Gate Bridge

Before there were "GATE" programs in public schools and long before there were kids diagnosed with ADHD and strung out on Ritalin,  there were teachers who gave kids extra assignments to keep them busy.  I had the benefit of learning from one such teacher.  She didn't know it but she gave me one of my best childhood memories when she gave me the assignment to research the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moving to Kentucky as an adult left me with ha special affinity for the bridge.  When I get home sick, I think of her.  I think of all the times I crossed her and even in my angst over city traffic or how the tolls have increased,  I was always mindful of her beauty. I used to love to take people from out of state to see her and hear them say, "It's orange, it's not gold."  On this, her 75th anniversary, I am fondly remembering the assignment given by my second grade teacher, researching the building of the best bridge in the world.

I went home and did the first thing I could think of, I asked my step-mom about it being built. My step-mom had gephyrophobia.   When I asked her about building the Golden Gate she went into a long and terrifying story about the men who were buried in the cement moorings of the Bay Bridge. These unfortunate men fell in while they pouring the foundations and nothing could be done. They couldn't get them out so they kept on pouring.  She told me her childhood friend's father was there in the cement and that's why she didn't like bridges. Besides having the scoobies scared out of me, it was pretty obvious that asking her wasn't going to help me get started on my research.  I resolved to ask my grandfather. He was the sweetest, kindest  person I knew and I could trust him not to scare me with grisly tales of men dying in cement.

My grandfather, who was born just after the 1906 earthquake which made him an expert in all things San Francisco, was delighted to tell me all about the building of the Golden Gate. He told me that my great-grandfather had been a bridge builder and helped build the old bridge on the Carquinez Straits. I had hit the mother lode!  Funk and Wagnalls step aside and get thee behind me, World Book! I was getting primary history from the expert in all things, my grandpa! He told me all the intricate details and technical aspects and I took note of each one.  I could not wait to give my report to the teacher and the class.

The next day when the teacher asked those of us who had been given assignments if we had completed them, I nodded and waved my hand in the air so furiously that she called my name first.  I stood up in front of the class and gave the following politically incorrect report. Remember, I was a kid during the cold war and we learned to duck and cover.

"The Golden Gate Bridge took a couple of years to build. There were some ninnies who didn't want it to be built and so they aren't allowed to use it. They have to drive around the entire San Francisco and San Pablo bays to go north. That's their punishment for not thinking things through. The places where you pay to go across didn't used to be toll booths, they used to be inspection booths to see if you had ninnies in your car.  If you were caught with a ninny, you had to turn back.

"The bridge is built with many such security features. Most of them were top secret until just recently so not many people know.  Those big orange towers? They are built with big cannons in them and the roadway is built so it can be pulled back inside the hills, that way if the stinking Japs come to try and bomb us like they bombed Pearl Harbor, the guy watching from the top tower pushes a button and the cannons come up and the roadway disappears.  Between those guns and the Nike missiles on the beach and at the Marin headlands, we'll be safe, but we should probably get under our desks anyway. "

I was just getting started when my teacher thanked me and asked the next person to give their report. I was devastated.  Looking back at the misadventure as an adult, I imagine Miss Cody had a really difficult time keeping a straight face.  I sat at my desk pouting until Miss Cody slid a book on the Golden Gate Bridge in front of me and winked at me. She indicated it would be OK for me to read it while the reports were going on.  I started reading and boy was I shocked.  It turns out that primary sources, even if they are your grandfather, can be totally unreliable.

I began to think about every story my grandfather had ever told me and suddenly they were all ludicrous.  Once I asked him why dogs always smell each other's behinds and he told me there had been a windstorm that had blown so hard all the dogs back ends were blown right off and God had to put them back on so quickly they got mixed up. That's why dogs sniff each other, to make sure they had the right backside. How could I have been so naive??

Eventually my anger and distrust gave way to fascination over his imagination.  It was always a tricky thing, trying to determine truth from fabricated embellishments and downright lies of the most entertaining kind.  Today I am missing the Golden Gate and Grandpa.  Both born in May and both have had a hand in shaping my adventures.

26 May 2012

What Was Eve Thinking?

I wake up every morning and take inventory of my body. I am tired of doing that but I can't help it.  Am I in pain? Am I nauseous?  Does my throat hurt? Does my voice sound funny? Will taking the pills the doctor tells me I must take make me feel better or worse?  Do I feel like I ran a marathon moments after I rise? Will light bother my eyes today? Will I have ocular migraines all day or just the one I have now? I go through my various ailments while determining if I can walk upright to the bathroom or do I need to hang on to the bed.

Am I a hypochondriac? If I am, I am a good one.  Wait, I take that back. I am sporadically good.  One day I will have energy and the next day I will not.  I can't find the common denominator. I eat the same things every day. I see the same doctors. They are convinced something is going on but they don't know what.  That's not comforting except I know that they look for cancer and haven't found it.  That part is comforting.

I have wiped processed foods out of my diet.  "If it's white it ain't right!" No sugar, no gluten...nothing but real, clean, organic food. One of the pills I have to take has the ask of tricking my body into being more sensitive to the insulin it produces.  Consequently, two out of three days you will find me consuming Belly Flops (a Jelly Belly that didn't pass quality control). They are easy to carry in my purse or car and they are chock-a-block full of sugar... the very sugar I have removed from my diet on purpose. Why? Because taking the medication makes my blood sugar suddenly drop into the 60s and without out some sugar, if it continues to plummet, I am headed for a coma.  Hardly seems worth taking the pills in that case, does it?

My tongue is sore all the time. It feels raw, like I have been licking a cheese grater. When I feel particularly fatigued and nasty, my tongue turns brown. Yeah, brown.  If I can load up on B-12 before it really smarts I can get through the cycle without the change of color. When it turns brown my regular doctor makes me gargle with some nasty stuff that has a numbing agent in it.  You haven't lived until your tongue and throat feel swollen and numb. It makes me think I am gagging.  I have an appointment with my gastroenterologist. I know he is going to want to scope me from both ends.  Gee, that's something to look forward to, ain't it?

I have theories. Conspiracy theories. It's all the things that the government told us were safe. Safe like they told us DDT was safe and made movies of unsuspecting guinea pigs having a picnic while the nice men in the mosquito abatement truck misted everyone with a big ol' dose.  It's all the things the big industry farmers bought from the chemical companies so they could grow frankencorn.  It's the drugs I experimented with when I was young and stupid. It's the hydrogenated stuff they put in my food with enough high fructose corn syrup to make it palatable.  It's the antibiotics they fed my beef.  It's the antibiotics I lived on for a year when I had an infection in my jaw.  It's the two root canals I have.  It's the lack of discipline I have.  It all started when Eve listened to the Greatest Rebel and entertained his comments and truth.

Short of the Lord's return I am not getting out of this life alive. I am trying to train myself to take inventory of God's manifold blessings and mercies first. Eventually I get there, but I confess, my first thought every morning is what I would like to do to Eve and how hard I would like to slap Adam for listening to her.

21 May 2012

Un-Ringing Bells and I Hate the Media

I could get up every day and share examples with you on why I deplore the media. The media was all over the Trayvon Martin shooting and the public jumped to conclusions. Some reporters got their 15 minutes of fame and proved the old adage, "There's a sucker born every minute."  Which, by the way, P.T. Barnum may never have said....there's evidence the media got it wrong.   Ugh! media.

The media prints it, the television airs it and we, the people,  respond like marionettes having our strings pulled. Only now, now that the race card has been played and folks last nerves been stepped on, are we beginning to hear the facts.  The voice screaming for help? Likely Mr. Zimmerman's. Photographs of a bruised and swollen face?  Mr. Zimmerman's.  Cut to the back of the head? Mr. Zimmerman's. Technology, sensationalism and the lack of critical thinking skills are a dangerous combination. Young Trayvon's family are due the greatest empathy we can give them.  But what about Mr. Zimmerman and his? You can't unring a bell that's clanging.  What if the media had let the law enforcement agencies do their job before they printed something that would get the entire country stirred up?  Who is going to apologize to the two families for having their emotions jerked around like they were in a yo-yo competition?  Instant access to the news has only increased the chance for error and harm.

Here's the thing though. We, the people,  are all culpable in these instances where conclusions are jumped to. We support the media. We snap at their lures. We point our thumbs up and down at our whim when the media pits two or more in opposition to one another. We let them control our emotions and hence, our opinions. We, the people, are foolish to do so, but we've been fools for years. The media plays the melody and we dance.

It is possible to come to different conclusions based on the same evidence. I am not talking about disagreeing in how the dots are connected. I am talking about the rush to get the scoop and sensationalize the story for the sake of a buck. The almighty dollar.  The love of money is wreaks havoc in all aspects of our lives. I guess I am hoping for a Vulcan owned and operated newspaper or news show.  Give me the facts and let me decide what I think about them.  Editorials are OK after the facts are in and they should be labeled as such.  We the people need to think before we react when we hear or read this stuff.  Let's have opinions born of facts for a change. Then, let's see if we can agree on how to connect the dots.

Speaking of which, I don't mind a bit when people disagree with me as long as they do it honestly. What I mind is people "feeling" their way to a position they can't defend and then calling me intolerant or ignorant because I call them on it. Emotions and critical thinking are not synonymous. Being passionate is not the same thing as being logical.  When you can be both about an issue, it is a brilliant thing to behold. Being honest enough to admit your emotions are clouding your judgement... that's humility at its finest.  That's the type of conversation I want to have with people.  I don't want to be reduced to ad hominem attacks. Nor do I want to joust with straw  men.  Give me something to think about and quit being ticked at me if I return the favor.

05 May 2012

Front Porch Moments- La Bella Luna

Sadly, I don't have a steady hand nor a tripod for my camera. If either of those things were available to me I would be posting a picture of a gorgeous Kentucky moon. It's as full and glowing gold as I have ever seen it. The sky isn't quite dark enough to have lost its purplish-blue tones and there are two or three wispy clouds framing the moon as stylishly as any custom platinum setting has ever held a precious gem. Put simply, it's stunning.

The moon isn't the only sensory delight. The first fireflies of the season are doing their whimsical dance in the high grass across the street. They bring to mind those emergency lights you can wear around your neck, only the lights have a short in their circuitry and are being worn by drunks. Their flight paths are so random you have to marvel that they ever meet their objectives; find one another and make little lightning bugs.

The scent of lilacs, peonies and newly mown fields have mingled with the fresh strawberries I'm consuming. Warm, sweet strawberries. They are organic, earthy and fragrant. All this with a breeze that feels good against my skin. It's nearly a perfect night. Nearly.

The only regret I have for this evening? Experiencing it alone. I promise you the words I have flung together have done very little to capture the beauty available from the comfort of my front porch. Every writer knows that words have their limitations. Good writers marginalize those limitations. My vocabulary seems bereft of meaningful words with which to convey the wonder of the evening. Moment's like these are best shared with a knowing glance, the satisfied sigh you hear that is so genuine the other person doesn't even realize it emanated from them, and someone to ask, "Do you want some ice-cream to go with those strawberries?"

03 May 2012

Putrid Albatrosses & Buried Treasure

January 12, 2013 will be a significant day for me. Unless something radical changes in my life, it will mark the longest time I have ever lived in one place: seven years.  That may not sound very significant to some folks but to me it is huge. Most of my life I have been an urban Bedouin.  I went to two schools in kindergarten, two schools in second grade, a different school for third through sixth grades, a different school district for seventh grade, moved in ninth grade and spent four years going to a high school that was not in my neighborhood.  For every different school or school district I was in there were probably four or five moves. Now you live with your mom, dad and half of your siblings; now you live with your mother's mother; now you live with your father's mother; now you live with your father's friends; now you're back at your grandmother's; now you're back living with your father who has married your aunt.... it was very much like being a piece in one of those sliding numbers puzzles;  trying to slide things into place and find order where there was none. 

The day after I graduated high school I moved to a different county.  Next came a succession of moves which isn't all that unusual for a young adult. Every six months or a year I would find myself in a new home, in new surroundings, doing new things. I carried the same old burdens to each of those places. I have been carrying any number of albatrosses around my neck like badges of honor.  Putrid, albatrosses: abandonment, abuse, chaos, neglect, fear, anxiety, failure.

I've known for a long time that none of those things came to me accidentally. It used to make me mad. Then I was comforted by it and started taking those stinking birds off but I've always kept them close by. Why? Just in case I need them to prove I am no damned good.  There's nothing quite so satisfying when you're throwing a pity party than to start enumerating the list of real grievances you have about your life.  

Last night I got to hear Dr. Bruce Ware speak on The Truth of  God's Providence.  It was good for me to hear his exposition on the topic.  I needed a tune up.   I was reminded of something I learned a long time ago.  If you look at the timeline of eternity, this time here and now doesn't amount to a flyspeck.  It is infinitesimally small.  It is the only time a Christian can and will know suffering.  God, in eternity past, chose me to glorify Him through His grace and mercy.  That means that all the heartaches; all the scars;  all the bloated, maggot infested experiences that I choose to wear to keep myself walled off from others  are going to be replaced with the mind blowing contentment of worshiping my God and Savior. 

As I ponder it, it seems to me that during my sanctification, the reality of all God's providence being good should be compelling enough to stop me from collecting the dead birds of disappointment and pain. My faith shouldn't only give me future hope, it should expose the treasures of hope in my history.  Could it be we find that hope as we bury the past in the truth of God's sovereignty? I am willing to find out. 

01 May 2012

Pondering Aloud

The trouble with childhood is that adults can't get over it, through it or help but return to it as they age. The gravitational pull toward childhood has to be greater than any black hole Stephen Hawking could conjure. Why? Why would this be such a common affliction?

I could dismiss my own question by reciting a verse in 1 Corinthians, "...no temptation has overcome you except that which is common to man." I could support it by citing Ecclesiastes 1:9, "...there is nothing new under the sun." I think there's something for me to learn in exploring the question a bit further.

Could it be that we all have God given drive to return to the start? He has written His law on our hearts, does that mean an innate desire to return to beginnings? Do we long for the beginning because He is the beginning? Do we do this in error because our sin bastardizes those longings into selfish desires?

None of us gets through childhood without a few scars. Some heal without notice and some are gaping wounds and some exist that only appear healed. One little poke, one little event is likely to elicit a response that exposes the festering wound. Some wounds are so angry that with little or no provocation they explode. These wounds make folks prickly and grumpy from secret places. The are the source of cruel motives, driving clueless people to distraction and beyond. They color the future with the lens of the past but they forget to add a filter of hope.

Recently I had a conversation with my older sister. We were talking about adjusting to being without our parents. Ours is a strange family. We share the same mother but were not raised together. My first memory of our mother and my father being together was my mother holding a bolt action rifle and shooting at him. I was not yet three years old. Shortly after that our mother took my sister and two other siblings, leaving me with my father. She later married a man who adopted my three siblings but could not adopt me as I was still with my father. Just to make things more complicated my father married my mother's sister. That made my siblings from my maternal side and my siblings from paternal side first cousins. Me too for that matter. It made my aunt my mom and my dad my uncle and, well, you get the idea.

In our conversation I was discussing my perspective on how it must have been for two sisters to both mother me. It was always incredibly uncomfortable for me but only because it was a weird situation. To their credit I never heard either one of them say an unkind word about the other. As we discussed it my sister reminded me of what it was like to be at our grandfather's funeral. Extended family came from all around and I was introduced as Billee's daughter and as Shirley's daughter. One woman had a very strange look on her face as we were being introduced for the second time. I shook her hand and said, "Try figuring it out when you're in second grade! What a mess our family is, huh?"

As my sister and I continued I shared with her the one time I felt like I was in a tug-of-war. My mother and step-dad had come to visit. I was overjoyed. While I was basking in the wonder of their presence my step-mom/aunt issued a command telling me to go to take a bath. I was horrified but compliant. I determined to take the world's fastest bath. I will never know now if the parents all needed to confer on something, if there was a problem that adults needed to work out or if it was a power play of some kind.

As I was in the bathroom I could hear my mom and step-dad leaving. The bathroom had a window above the bathtub and that window was by the backdoor. I stood on the narrow side of the tub, clinging to the wall like a spider. With one hand I grabbed the window ledge and with the other I cranked the window open and yelled, "Mom!" I could hear them stop out on the driveway.

Desperately trying to beg her to come back in, I did a pull-up hanging on the window sill. I managed to get my face high enough up in the window to see the top part of Mom's head and my 6'7" step-dad's face. I could see his gold tooth as he smiled at me. My mom told me to be good and that she would write. They got into their 1966 Chevy Super Sport and drove home without me. As I told my sister the story she cried. "You're breaking my heart. I remember the house, I remember what you looked like as a little kid and I can picture you at that window. "

It's no big secret to those who really know me that I am afraid of relationships. I don't know how to do them. I don't know how to be vulnerable. I am terrified of being abandoned. For all the changes the Lord has made in my soul, and believe me there have been many, I appear to be resistant to change in this area. I believe myself to be completely unlovable and valueless except as a tool to achieve some end.

Why? Why does someone with training in biblical counseling insist on being drawn back to the wrong beginnings? Just pondering aloud.