Sunday, July 27, 2008

Granny's Pearls

I wore my Granny's pearls today in honor of what would have been her 96th birthday. It wasn't the first time that I've worn them. But today, they grabbed my attention when I felt their slight weight around my neck.

Actually, I'm not sure it's technically correct to call them "Granny's pearls." I don't recall ever having seen them around her neck. My cousins found them buried in a drawer when we cleaned out her house and asked if I wanted them.

I'm not sure why I said I'd take them. Maybe it was because the few pieces that held memories for me had already been snatched up by other relatives. And the remainder of her belongings consisted of garage sale purchases or things that had severely deteriorated such that I no longer wanted them. But all of her "things," even the strand of pearls shown above, pale in comparison to the real pearls that Granny gave me. Pearls of time.

It's hard to say how far back the real memories go. Many of the times that I spent as a child with she and my Pa-Pa before starting daycare have been recounted to me. Everyone, including myself, likes to blame Granny for the fact that I don't like vegetables. The story goes that Granny used to start talking up dessert before we'd taken the first bite of a meal and that she had a soft spot for allowing me to eat dessert without having eaten my helping of vegetables.

String on the first pearl.

Once I started school, I asked to spend Friday nights at Granny's house. She gladly obliged. If it was football season, we'd turn on the radio to the local radio station and listen to the live broadcast of the high school football games. While we listened to the game, Granny would file my nails and push back my cuticles, making sure that the pink "moons" showed. Many times, we'd turn off the radio before the game was over so that we could watch Dallas and Fantasy Island--two shows that I did not get to watch at home. The next morning, Granny would make the best cinnamon toast in her toaster oven and before I had finished would start questioning me about what I wanted for lunch. She wanted to be prepared before we left to go to garage sales, which was her favorite Saturday outing. She went religiously week after week, taking "off" only on her ninetieth birthday.

Add a couple more pearls.

Granny and Pa-Pa had retired by the time I was born, and so they lived on a fixed income. They made do with what they had but they often tried to earn some extra "spending money." Pa-Pa liked to trap 'coons and pick up aluminum cans, and they both liked to pick pecans. So about once a year, they would invite me to go pick pecans with them and let me sell my bag of pecans. Granny would pack a lunch for us, and we'd stay out in the pecan bottom all day. It was hard work, but I looked forward to it every year.

Add another pearl.

The best times I spent with Granny were during the summers. I somehow managed to talk my way into getting to stay at Granny and Pa-Pa's house instead of at a babysitter's. Every day, we'd go to the Senior Citizens' Center where Pa-Pa would play dominoes, and Granny would work in the craft room, usually making magnetic decorations for people to buy to put on their refrigerators. I joined Granny in the craft room and did my cross-stitch. Once a week, she would leave me alone for a while so that she could "take exercises" in the main room at the center.

After lunch, we'd head back to their house to take naps. Pa-Pa usually took his sitting in a chair outside, but Granny and I would lie in her bed and make up stories about the painting that hung on the wall. Sometimes, she'd read the paper out loud. (I'm not sure if she didn't know how to read to herself or if she read out loud because Pa-Pa couldn't read, but she read every article, card, and piece of mail out loud.) We might nap for only a little bit, depending on how long she read, because we had to be up by 2:00 in time for General Hospital, which she never missed an episode of.

Add another couple of pearls.

Granny and Pa-Pa had two gardens and would grow peas every year, which she allowed me to shell. I loved that almost as much as picking pecans because I would race to see if I could beat Granny and Pa-Pa at shelling a tub at a time. The only downside came when Granny went to can the peas; I hated the way her house smelled then.

Add another pearl.

But the worst memories I have of spending time at Granny's are getting bitten by mosquitoes or ants. The insect bites weren't nearly as painful as the treatment that Granny rendered. You had one of two choices: campophenique or methylaid (a/k/a monkey blood). Both stung like all get out. I later learned that she kept green rubbing alcohol in the bathroom and that it didn't sting nearly as badly, so I'd self-medicate my bites with that.

Add another pearl.

The funniest memory of Granny occurred in her living room. We were sitting there one day when a lizard appeared. Granny jumped three feet straight up in the air and landed on a hassock. I'm pretty sure that is the only thing that ever scared her.

Add another pearl.

Anyone who tried to prank call Granny received a rude awakening. Granny kept a wooden whistle by her telephone for the sole purpose of punishing anyone who called and just sat on the line without talking. She had zero tolerance for such antics.

Add another pearl.

Though I've briefly mentioned Granny's delicious cooking, I'd be remiss if I left off her chocolate meringue pies. I think she enjoyed making those more than cakes or brownies because her unlevel oven had less of a chance to make an unlevel pie than it did a 9 X 12 cake. Every time she made brownies, one end of the pan had 2" brownies while the other end held 1/2" brownies. They all tasted delicious despite their height.

Add another pearl.

One of the neat things about all of those memories is that they were made in an unairconditioned house that didn't contain expensive toys. As a matter of fact, the only toys at Granny's house were plastic cowboys and Indians that my older boy cousins had left there. There was such a simplicity and unfussiness about her life.

Add a beautiful pearl.

Even before Granny suffered some mini-strokes, her childlikeness reappeared. She revealed to my sister one day during the Christmas holidays that she had opened all the presents under her Christmas tree and rewrapped them. And because she had learned how to gift wrap at a local department store, her gift-wrapping talent could have hidden her secret forever.

Add another pearl.

Once I moved away from home, Granny began writing letters to me. She painstakingly handwrote each one and often sent cookies with them. One such letter prior to my gallbladder surgery in 2003 was as follows:

Dear Alyssa,
Sure was glard to hear
from you. Sorry about
your gal blatter problim
hope you are better. and
get well. and don't hafto
have sergery, we have
been praying for
you at church. Read
Acts 19 chapter verse 11-12.
where the Lord healed
the sick. And He still heales
to-day and time. God bless
you. I hope you find a
nice good house. to buy
Well I am keeping out
of the weather. I dont go
out in the afternoon I
cant take heat. I do my
out side work in the
morning mowing grass and
trimming tree limbs. Hope
you are doeing ok.
Love you

Add a pearl for each letter.

In light of her fixed income, the last thing that I wanted was for her to have to spend her precious money on stamps or stationery. So I purchased both for her for Christmas one year. The stamps had pictures of Impressionist paintings on them. When she opened them, she kept staring at them. I asked her if she liked them, and she said yes. Then, she continued to look at them some more. I finally told her, "Granny, those are stamps so that you can continue to write me." To which she responded, "Well, they don't say 32 cents on them anywhere." She never wrote me again. I laughed at the implication of having my own grandma accuse me of giving her "counterfeit" postage stamps.

Add another pearl.

It was around that Christmas that we noticed that Granny wasn't really herself. She would show up at odd times and forget what we had told her. My dad had passed away in August of that year and we gradually made the connection that his death had taken away more from her than just her son. It took away her reason for living because she no longer had anyone to care for. For so many years, she had mailed my dad a box of goodies each month. But without that monthly task to give her life meaning, her ninety-plus year-old mind began to fade quickly.

The recent things were the first to go. No longer did she spit out an entire recipe after being complimented on a dish she made nor did she recite what was on 2-for-1 sale at the grocery store. She didn't know where she lived, what year it was, or how much things cost. Only the things from long ago could she remember and talk about easily. But thankfully, she always recognized my sister and me. Even if she couldn't come up with our names, she could always place us.

Granny passed away two years ago at the age of 94. Yet there's so many things that remind me of her. Every time I see a calendar that shows the phases of the moon, I remember how she didn't want to get her hair cut when the moon was waxing or else she said that it would grow too fast. When I see an old Chevy Impala, I think of her old one and that she drove it until she was 91 (at which point she did not give up driving but instead bought another car). When I'm tempted to be lazy, I think about her mowing her yard at age 91. And when I am tempted to doubt God, I think about her faith.

Though the strand of pearls was completed years ago, it's as if I find a new one each time I journey down memory lane. God and Grannys are good like that.

Father God, thank You for choosing such a sweet lady to be my Granny and for giving her so much time to pour into my life. She loved me well and loved You above all else.

"That red blouse sure takes good pictures." (Granny wearing said red blouse on Christmas Eve 2005)

After her passing, four of my co-workers purchased a gift card to Ann Taylor for me and penned the following poem:

In memory of Granny and her fiery red blouse,
we figured you didn't need another plant about the house.
So here's to Granny, her spunk and her fire.
We know she'll be pleased with your new attire.

To precious memories of a life well-lived!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Catching the "I" in Pride

I caught myself saying, "I pulled off a surprise party for my boss's birthday today."

The fact of the matter is that all I did was send an email to invite people. I know better than to think that I have control over nine people's schedules, as was obvious by the fact that this was almost called off on Friday and then one person almost had to back out at the last minute today.

I actually had the gall to steal God's glory and take credit for this event after lifting up a feeble prayer last week that this event wouldn't have to be canceled. Maybe deep down I wanted this gathering to take place so that I would get the credit, though I don't recall putting those words to the panic-like feeling I encountered at the thought of having to cancel the lunch. I guess that's just another example of how feelings can be so deceiving.

To say I'm embarrassed is an understatement. I can't believe that I serve such a wonderful God. One who allowed nine people, who have probably never been in the same room before, to enjoy lunch together. One who answers my prayers, knowing that I'll steal His glory. One who forgives me when I recognize the error of my ways and ask for forgiveness.

Father God, thank You for Your mercy and forgiveness. Forgive me for failing to give You the glory. Today's events were ordained by You long before I was even born. Thank You for the joy You provided and for letting me be a part of such a wonderful celebration. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heart's Desire

Last night, I cracked open a fortune cookie, secretly hoping for a great fortune. (I realize fortune cookies have no control over the future, but it's fun to play along.) I was delighted to find this: "You will get what your heart desires."

I spent a little time daydreaming about what that would look like. At first, it allured me. But I quickly realized that it wasn't all that pretty.

I wish that I could honestly say that the first desire to come to mind is to know God more intimately and to pursue Him with all of my heart. Instead, earthly pleasures topped my list of desires.

These desires reflect a stark reality: I've held on to the reins of areas of my life and haven't allowed God to penetrate them. So the desires in those areas are all mine and aren't necessarily God's desires or what's best for me.

This reminded me of the harsh truth from our sermon on Sunday that we don't pursue God because we're idolaters. Take a quick look at Ezekiel 14:1-6:

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the LORD will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.' "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Now comes the challenge of identifying my particular idols--anything that I put in the place of God--aand laying them down. Some things will come to mind easily, especially those that were at the top of the desires list when I opened the fortune cookie. Others are harder to decipher and will require prayers for wisdom to discern them. But the process will be worth it because I will get rid of some of the obstacles that block me from seeing God for who He truly is and from knowing Him the way I'd like to know Him.

So maybe I'll approach the next fortune cookie I encounter with even more trepidation. Or maybe not. This one has gotten me thinking in the right direction.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doctor, Anyone?

(Leslie -anesthesiologist; Jen - surgeon; Ingle - nephrologist; Han - infectious disease specialist)

Almost ten years ago to the day, I received a call from Momma Bean saying, "I think I've found a roommate for you." I had been roommateless for several months because Momma Bean had gotten married. In the meantime, God stepped in and made sure that Momma Bean was appointed the task of being a Big Sis to Jen, who was moving from DFW to the Hub City to go to med school.

I met Jen and Momma Bean for lunch and then showed her the apartment. It was a tough sale because Jen was worried that her furniture was too big for the master bedroom. We somehow convinced her that it would fit (or that we'd make it fit), and she became my roommate for the next two years.

During that time, she more than repaid me for offering her a place to live. I needed a place to stay for six weeks during the summer of 1999 while I interned in Fort Worth. I couldn't find an affordable furnished apartment to save my life. It was at that point that Jen stepped in and offered for me to stay with her aunt. She hadn't even spoken to her aunt about the possibility, but she was sure that it would be okay. Luckily for me, it was. And that's how I had the awesome opportunity to get to know Aunt Nancy.

In 2000, Jen and I went our separate ways; I moved here to start my job, and she moved to El Paso to finish school. From there, she moved to California for her residency. And as of June 30, 2008, she has finally finished all of her schooling, her residency, and a fellowship in breast surgery in San Francisco. It has been amazing to see Jen persevere through a career path that has been extremely demanding. Some people say they have worked 100 hours a week, but she truly has. More times than I wished she could count.

This weekend, she made her way back to Texas for a baby shower thrown in her honor. Her former classmates threw the shower, and it was a walk down memory lane sitting in the same room with these gals that used to converge in our apartment every Friday and Saturday night before they went out to destress from the weight of all their heavy-hitting weekday classes and labs. They are brilliant gals who stand out in each of their fields.

Jen's little girl will be making her debut around my birthday in October, so I am super excited. I only hope that her family, who all live here, will be able to lure her back to live in Texas at some point.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Loving Neighbors

This week, my writers' group is posting on what it means to love our neighbors. I'm thinking this may be a timely topic if you recently had the joy of sharing the Fourth of July with your neighbors or possibly just watching their firework displays? At any rate, I hope you'll stop by and take a read here. I'll be posting on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fleeting Freedom

Where have I been since my last post? Let's see. I started in Burl, Texas. Became a student in a writing class in New Mexico. Traveled to Rome. And have just learned about Sabbath rest.

And I haven't left my house.

I've finished at least six books over the past few weeks. To those of you who speedread, this isn't much of an accomplishment. For me, it translates to lots of bottom on chair (or bed) time.

I taste every single word from the inside jackets, to the dedications, to the forewords, to where the author is currently residing. I guess it comes from too much time in the classroom. Or more precisely, too many pop quizzes on minute details--the ones that enable the teacher to see if students actually read the material. I did, and now I know no other way of reading.

So why the sudden reading marathon? It's driven by the fear that I won't get to read much for pleasure once I start teaching next month. There'll be a mountain of drafts to peruse and mark up each week. And so the desire to devour my bookstack consumes me right now.

Before I head back to the stack, I thought I'd leave you with a few book recommendations while I'm in the blogging muse. You can always check the right margin to see what I'm reading and what I recommend, but I thought I'd add some of my favorite paragraphs here as well.

Mary E. DeMuth's Wishing on Dandelions (set in Burl, Texas) is the follow-up to her debut novel Watching the Tree Limbs. I found this second book much easier to read because the material is somewhat lighter, though there are glimpses back to Maranatha's past. There are love stories gallore in this book, and I hope that Mary will write a third book to let us know what Maranatha does next.

Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome is beautifully written. Every word choice must have been excruciating because he is not one to ramble yet he paints incredible pictures with his stream-of-consciousness prose. Here's one of my favorite paragraphs:

You find your way through a place by getting lost in it. Winter in Rome is a breath of daylight, then limestone and shadow: light glowing behind closed shutters as though stacks of gold are hoarded inside. In a window in Campo Marzio, not far from Augustus's sundial, two thousand silk neckties, each in its own cubbyhole, shine like tropical birds. In San Lorenzo, east of the train station, we drink hot chocolate thick as oil. At the Holy Staircase, a half mile from the Colosseum, where Christian pilgrims are supposed to asend twenty-eight marble steps on their knees, we see a man furtively tuck a folded newspaper behind his shins as he climbs. (p. 87)

I don't think I've underlined a nonfiction book (other than a textbook) as much as I did The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. His examples of Sabbath rest are thoughtful and practical. Here's a glimpse of his writing:

Sabbath is the stranger you've always known. It's the place of homecoming you've rarely or never visited, but which you've been missing forever. You recognize it the moment you set eyes on it. It's the gift that surprises you, not by its novelty, but by its familiarity. It's the song you never sang but, hearing it now, know inside out, its words and melody, its harmonies, its rhythm, the way the tune quickens just before the chorus bursts. It's been asleep in you all
this time, waiting for the right kiss to wake it. (p. 104)

And now back to the books.