Monday, November 30, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

I’ve been blessed these last two years to regularly go into the Auburn Correctional Facility most Tuesday nights to help with a Bible Study called Fully Alive. I serve with a great group of volunteers and during this time I’ve come to realize that this ministry is not at all about what we do for the guys, but everything about what we do with them. I generally take my guitar and help to lead the music during our opening praise and worship time. Often I select a song based on what had been shared in our opening prayers. These guys live at a raw level and their prayers are unlike what I hear at my church on the outside! They pray for themselves, for one another, and for their families on the outside – not many mention friends, who’ve largely deserted them. If we ask for prayers for a family or church member, they’re sure to ask the outcome a few weeks later. Frequently one or two of the men will ask to share a song and it is such a privilege to worship with them – the others listen attentively and respectfully, often beating in time to the music on their knee or the pews.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been there – the last time was during a four day revival planned by the Protestant Chaplain. Volunteers were invited to attend each night, and Paul and I went on Sunday and heard a powerful message from a young man who just so happens to be the RA for Jason’s dorm at Wells College! Wow! On Tuesday, most of our regular volunteers were there, and two of us exchanged amused looks while the director of the inmate’s choir led the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” The choir uses that typical Black "call and repeat" style of music and while I don’t pretend to be able to do it myself – too much WASP in me – I do enjoy it. This time, Chris called out verses for the church to sing – replacing “Walk it around the neighborhood,” with “All around the yard, I'm going to let it shine!” and “In the mess hall, I'm going to let it shine!” While it struck me in a very funny way, at the same time, it was a strong witness to me.

The guys realize, on a very elementary level, that God has called them to a purpose even while living in a very dark place like a maximum security prison. Do I realize my calling on the same level as they do? It’s easy to be a Christian while doing good works like visiting prisoners. But do I let my light shine at my place of employment? Within my circle of friends and family? At my church? While out and about in my community?Certainly not as much as I could, not as consistently as I should.

Paul attended the closing night of the revival and I was surprised when he arrived home early. They had been told there was a disturbance going on in the yard, and the volunteers were hustled out through the chaplain’s office and back entrance instead of the typical walk through the side of the yard. The next day I had an email from the chaplain saying that due to extreme violence in the yard, the prison was in lock down and programs were cancelled for a week, not to resume until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. My heart sank. We’d miss Bible Study with the guys the next week. They’d be in their cells 24/7, eating bag meals, and not participating in any programs or work. The COs would likely be searching cells for weapons, and tensions on all sides would be high. I wonder how sanity can be maintained in that atmosphere whether one is an inmate or a guard? I also thanked God that “our” guys had been safely inside the chapel during the disturbance, not out in the yard, where it’s all too easy to pulled into the violence. 

So my blessing is being able to serve with these guys and learning with them how to let my light shine.

Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday and Deer Hunting

I generally haven't done much shoping on Black Fridays.  We don't spend a great deal of money for Christmas gifts and often, what we do buy isn't the kind of thing you need to set your alarm for 4 am to get.  I did scan the ads and saw that a couple computer things I had on my wish list were on sale at the local Big Box office supply store.  So I did what any reasonable person would do - slept until I woke up on Friday, ate some breakfast, and ventured out after 7:30 am.  I drove the back way to the store - why drive on Grant Avenue on Black Friday if you don't have to?? I was pleasantly surprised the store was busy but not overly crowded so I easily found the advertised copy of Norton AntiVirus - will need to update mine in January so this is terrific timing and who could pass up such a great deal on something I NEEDED?  ($9.99 after all the various rebates)  I wandered down the aisle and found the deal on Photoshop Elements - something I've WANTED for a while.  I have it on my work computer, but due to my inexperience, took an embrarassingly long time one morning trying to crop a kid's face out of a picture because we don't have a photo release on him and wanted to publish the photograph.  I've wanted a copy of this program for my own use with scrapbooking, and my learning on my own time will be a help next time I have a picture project at work.  The clerk had to ask a runner to get the actual software from some secret storage place as the box on the shelf was a dummy box, but they were well staffed so it took only a couple minutes.  I finished shopping, got back in the car, and since the traffic seemed quite light, returned home by way of Grant Avenue, sitting down to my second cup of coffee within an hour of leaving the house.

This reminds me of the story of my father and deer hunting.  He hunted for years - even went out the day my baby brother came home from the hospital, not earning him any points with Mom - but never got a deer.  When I was a teen we stayed at my aunt and uncle's house in the Catskill Mountains and apparently Dad slept late, had a cup of coffee, took the car out on a back road, got out, shot a deer, and then did whatever you have to do after that, and returned back for a second cup of coffee all within an hour or so. 

Most hunters and Black Friday shoppers would probably disagree with our lackadaisical approach.  But my blessing yesterday was a successful trip, without much stress and without overspending.

Of course I still need to do my Christmas shopping. 
How many days until Christmas??

Monday, November 16, 2009


Last Sunday’s blessing was a trip to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge with Paul. Life’s been busy with frequent evening meetings and weekends filled with yard work and volunteer activities. It had been a while since we’d done anything relaxing, and even longer since we’d been outdoors. The rainy summer precluded many canoe trips. This November day could have been plucked out of September – it was shirt sleeve weather – we quickly shed our fleece jackets and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun. The sky was that blue that is unique to fall, and only a few leaves still clung to bare tree branches, opening up the views.

As we slowly made our way along the driving route, looking at the ducks and geese, I remembered how bored I was as a kid by that same drive. My family took frequent Sunday afternoon drives, and in an act of self-preservation, I usually had my “nose stuck in a book,” to quote my father. This time, though I still had a book open in my lap, I also had my binoculars handy, and once said, “stop the car, I want to get a picture.” So Paul dutifully pulled over while I snapped a picture or two of milkweed pods, bursting with cottony seeds.  We recalled the time I wanted to make  milkweed pod angels, and stripped the seeds, only to have them stick to the wet bumper of the car parked beneath the porch, prompting Paul's grandmother to say, "Did you hit a bird?"  Or the time I hung some to dry out upside down from the basement clothesline, only to open the door to floating fuzz and seeds which I had to pick out of the air for the ensung days.

We parked and walked a mowed path over to the river and back. I saw deer tracks in the muddy ground, and we wondered about the identity of a yellow berry. The grasses were taller than Paul – something you don’t realize when you just drive along the highways.

There’s something about the outdoors that spreads a wave of relaxation over me. I don’t realize until I’m outside how much I miss it day to day. We stopped by the Montezuma Winery and bought a couple bottles of Cranberry Bog wine, then headed back to Auburn for a burger and curly fries at Parker’s Grille. An altogether nice afternoon. This will hold me until the first snowfall deep enough for cross county skiing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thirty-year Friends

I saw the following on a Facebook posting:
“Best Grey’s Anatomy quote: ‘If I killed someone you would be the person I would call to come help me drag the body across the floor.’ ”

Last Thursday’s blessing was dinner with friends –– the kind that fit the Grey’s Anatomy quote. We’ve been friends since our eldest children were born. Most of us first met at baby swim lessons the winter of 1978.

Thursday was one woman’s birthday and our hostess put Care Bear candles on the Weight Watcher’s pie she served, saying her middle son’s birthday was a Care Bears party, “and you were all there.” It made turning 59 just a little easier to take!

We’ve been through amazing joys in thirty-plus years of friendship. We’ve laughed until we’ve cried and sometimes cried until we’ve laughed.

Our children have grown up, and mostly fled the nest – though several of them have boomeranged back and forth between home and independence. All have given us more joy than we ever could have predicted. We’ve praised accomplishments like college graduation, grad school, and even a PhD. And weddings and engagements (she has a website for her wedding!) and the births of grandchildren. We’ve marveled at the adults our children have become and the new relationships we enjoy with them. Some – actually the two most introverted of our children – have moved many states away, prompting smother mother worries about one living in the path of the DC sniper, and another in the path of not one, but three hurricanes, among other things. But there has also been unspeakable sadness, too. One of those babies at swim class was killed in a car accident, accidents and health concerns have troubled several of our children, and “failure to launch” has special meaning for some of us.

Personally, we’ve experienced separation, divorce, and remarriage, times of unemployment, the death of our parents, and breast cancer. We’ve celebrated new jobs, the completion of college degrees, and most recently, retirement. Our conversation has switched from potty training and getting a child to sleep through the night, to menopause and calcium supplements, and bifocals and fears about memory loss.

These are heart friends – we haven’t needed help dragging bodies across the floor – but we know who we’d call if the need arose. I am blessed by these special women friends – sisters of the heart if not by blood.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Extra Hour – for Cleaning!

Sunday's Blessing was an extra hour due to the change from Eastern Daylight to Eastern Standard Time. I wish they’d just leave the time alone, but must admit I enjoy the benefit of falling back in the fall – springing ahead just messes with my biorhythms too much.

So I woke up Sunday at the new 6 am and collected the papers from the porch. I set up the coffee pot and sat at the table to start reading the papers while waiting for my first cup of coffee. In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t immediately go up to my “office” and my prayer chair for my morning devotions (and writing in my blessings journal) as is my usual routine. After a few minutes, I became aware of a different dripping noise than the coffee pot usually makes – a quick glance brought me dashing across the kitchen – I had forgotten to put the pot into the coffee maker. Coffee was dripping over the grounds basket onto the warming unit. I wasn’t sure what to do first – try to put the pot under the stream of coffee, or wipe the warmer. I did a combination of both, and began a half hour long process of cleaning up 10 cups of coffee (and grounds) that didn’t quite make it into the pot – the top became clogged with the combination of coffee and grounds that continued to overflow the basket until the reservoir was empty. I used two dish cloths and finally resorted to the dish towel before I was finished. I rinsed everything out, threw the cloths into the laundry, and started over again.

Later, I put some soup in my crock pot to take to church for a lunch with members of the Praise Band. I carefully rubber banded the top, and set it into a low square box I keep solely for transporting the crock pot. As I pulled out of the driveway, I saw the level of the soup tilt backwards, and ooze out over the side just a little. As I approached the stop light at the corner (a slightly bigger slope), slightly more soup came out. It wasn’t until I went up the decidedly hilly driveway into the church lot that it came flowing over the side. My great relief was the cardboard box with newspapers in the bottom that caught the overflow. I well recall a college classmate describing her emergency stop by the side of the road to scoop chili out the passenger door of her car on the way to our class – it had been her turn to bring the main course for our shared meal midway through the evening class. So once inside I pulled out the paper towels in the church kitchen and proceeded to clean up the mess before plugging in the soup for later consumption.

I don’t know what the intention of the “extra” hour was originally – more time for farmers to harvest crops or something, I think. But I spent my hour on Sunday cleaning!