Careful People, Beware!

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“The Battle of Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle

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If you’re a careful rule-abider, few things are more frustrating than being one-upped by a careless rule-breaker.

The British soldiers battling in the American Revolution certainly felt that pain. After being carefully trained to fight according to formal European rules of engagement, they met up with informal, untrained American colonists who thumbed their noses at the rules and instead utilized Indian-style guerrilla warfare tactics.

“King’s Mountain 1780” by Don Troiani

The British generals dug in, thinking their rigorous adherence to the centuries-old battle system would eventually force the patriot rebels to surrender and thus prove British superiority. They insisted on marching in formal lines, right out into open fields, clothed in brilliant scarlet coats. This system worked when the enemy fought by the same rules, but the Americans didn’t pay attention to the rules. They looked only to the intent of the battle–to secure freedom from an oppressive government.

The British deemed the Americans as uncivilized and ignorant. And, indeed, in many ways the Americans were. But in the heat of battle, that patriot boorishness would ultimately prove quite effective.

So effective, in fact, that future armies would begin to adopt more of these techniques.

The British should have taken their eyes off the details of proper fighting technique and looked at the bigger picture instead. They just couldn’t do it, though. It wasn’t in their blood. (Which, by the way, would end up spilled all over the New World real estate.)

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Let’s face it–some people are naturally careful and detail-oriented, and some are not. I definitely fall into the not category. I’ve tried really, really hard to be careful, but my mind wanders off on rabbit trails constantly and I inevitably stop paying attention to whatever my hands are doing at that moment and something bad happens. It’s a very good thing that I’m not a neurosurgeon.

It’s also completely to the credit of God’s protection that each of my six kids has made it out alive.

Even on the rare occasions that I succeed in staying focused, I’ll inevitably find that it was only because I overlooked something else.

Like the time when, while carefully putting together a nice outfit for church, I borrowed a pair of shoes from my mother. It was for a service in which I would be the piano accompanist for a music special. I was delighted when my visiting mom happened to bring along a pair of shoes that matched my skirt even more perfectly than any of my own did. Mom hadn’t planned on wearing them that morning and let me borrow them with the cautionary reminder that my feet are slightly bigger than hers. She also voiced her concern over my habit of shunning pantyhose in the summer and wearing them over bare feet. She said something about my feet sticking uncomfortably to the insides–a warning to which I merely rolled my eyes before going on to carefully ensure that the shoes’ color and style worked with my outfit. They were perfect.

Almost.

I went to church happily with my family that morning, feeling quite fashionable for once. Sure, I had to keep my toes curled up inside the short shoes, and there wasn’t even a hint of arch support inside the ballerina-type flats, but that was a small price to pay for cuteness. My high arches could easily survive an hour without support.

Everything was going swimmingly until I had to walk up to the piano at the front of the church. The congregation had fallen completely silent as I made my way from the back of the sanctuary–the place where one sits when one is married to an introvert.

My journey forward into the hushed stillness devolved into a traumatic odyssey as I realized, too late, that bare, sweaty arches will create suction against flat cuteness.

Loud suction.

Suction that sounds exactly like flatulence with every step.

Unbelievably, I was suddenly walking on whoopee cushion shoes that weren’t so cute after all.

“…These nice fluffy and fuzzy black slippers come equipped with a built in whoopee cushion that lets you…” http://www.prankplace.com

I might as well have ordered them out of one of those elderly people’s gadget catalogs.

I hesitated after the first reverberating perrfftt, but then kept going, knowing that saying something like, “Oh, dear–it’s the shoes!” would probably just make me look truly guilty. It was so awful. I tried to pull my feet out of the shoes a little bit, but of course, Mom was right. My clammy bare feet were glued fast to the shoes’ lining. The whole doomed walk was punctuated with noises that made me sound like someone who was either very rude or very ill.

Except for a few coughs and snickers, the polite congregation remained silent as, red-faced, I pootzed my mortified self up to the piano bench and plunked out the opening bars to the hymn, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows.”

(Okay, maybe isn’t wasn’t that hymn. But it should have been.)

And so, as in the case of 18th century British generals and first century Pharisees, I would have been much better off being less careful about appearances and more practical regarding results.

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In New Testament times, the Pharisees were the ultimate, cautious rule-abiders. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 23 when he said,

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”(NLT)

The Pharisees were like the British generals. Their stubborn focus on propriety, appearance and tradition kept them from seeing the bigger picture. They had lost sight of the law’s intent–the promotion of justice, mercy, and faith for the Jewish people–and instead used it as a vehicle to showcase their own piety. They made great shows of giving exact tenths of every bit of their income to their religious cause, but neglected to quietly use the same resources to relieve the common people’s burdens.

So many unnecessary Redcoat deaths resulted from the British generals’ refusal to part with tradition. And so many Jewish children of God were denied lives of spiritual freedom because of a similar obstinance on the part of the Pharisees.

Jesus, the revolutionary, was the leader of the Old Covenant overthrow. He taught his followers unorthodox tactics that stymied the Pharisees. They were blindsided by his careless habit of violating their traditions and embracing those who were judged as unclean pagans. He had the gall to uphold the Spirit of the law while ignoring their absurdly detailed tithings and fastings and Sabbath-keepings.

Jesus fought smart and he taught his followers to do the same. Like the British Redcoats, the Pharisees’ formalities made them easy targets for Satan’s attacks. Craving recognition, they put themselves right out in the open, almost begging to be penetrated and infiltrated by poisoned pride and hypocrisy darts.

In contrast, Jesus avoided hype and theatrics. He wasn’t careful about crafting an appearance, but focused instead on interior, practical heart matters. He taught his disciples how to steer clear from the temptations of celebrity by staying on the fringes of society. It was safer there.

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So, in a weird way, maybe it’s safer to be careless with some things. Part of my healing from Pharisaism would involve throwing caution to the winds and adopting a less formal attitude regarding church stuff. I would have to open my mind, realizing that I just might be part of a new era. A time in church history when our culture and our faith are both required to take the next step toward preparing for Jesus’ return.

Maybe that preparation will look entirely different than anything our churches have ever formally taught us.

Maybe it’s okay that churches are changing–even closing (?)–especially if church growth will no longer be measured in numbers.

Maybe we’ll be part of a revolution.

And maybe, just like when Jesus came the first time, the clinging-to-tradition Pharisees among us will be the last to recognize His face.

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Please help me, Lord to worry less about methods and more about hearts. Mine and others–I don’t want to miss seeing you in any of us. Keep me vigilant, ever watching for you, wherever I am…

…even from my front porch.

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A Lovely Award I Don’t Have to Risk Throwing Up in Public to Receive

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I received a lovely surprise the other day. I want to emphasize lovely because many of the surprises I’ve been subjected to in my life have not been lovely.

Like the black mold we found behind the kitchen sink when Mike pulled out the old cabinets:

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(Bleccch! Maybe this isn’t such a great picture for the start of a post. Hope you’ll keep reading…)

Fortunately, the surprise I’m referring to now is not of that variety.

Instead, this one was a message from fellow blogger, Megan, at adjacentengels.wordpress.com . Megan has graciously nominated me for the “One Lovely Blog Award.” What an honor! I’m humbly excited to pass the fun along.

There are five guidelines for accepting this award:

  1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Paste the award image on your blog, anywhere.
  3. Tell them seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award.
  5. Contact the bloggers that you have chosen to let them know that they have been nominated.

Seven facts about me? Hmm…Maybe it’s best to just list the first things that come to mind and see what happens:

1. I hadn’t met another Willow until I was in my thirties, and she was actually a goat. A shaggy, smelly, cantankerous creature who stared at me like I didn’t have a right to our name.

2. I like to put coffee instead of milk on my Cocoa Puffs.

3. I once dove fully clothed into a river to pursue a fish that had jumped out of the net I was holding up to show it off. I caught it back with my bare hands.

4. Besides writing, my other favorite hobby is huckleberry-picking in the mountains that surround our home.

5. I birthed the first four of my six kids in four years, 1983-1987.

6. I once traveled 500 miles in an old, monolithic Chevy Suburban with a full-size mattress bungeed to the car roof.

7. I’ve reached middle age without, even once, meeting someone who has ordered liver and onions in a restaurant.

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I have really appreciated the writing and insights of the following bloggers, so would like to nominate them for the One Lovely Blog Award:

Janelle – http://mymenandme.wordpress.com

Caleb – http://calebtrimble.wordpress.com

Jim – http://jimfields.wordpress.com

A. Dumois – http://adumois.wordpress.com

Debbie  Rea – http://debbiereajohnston.wordpress.com

Tilly Bud – http://thelaughinghousewife.wordpress.com

Melanie –  http://thecoffeeclubandme.wordpress.com

Christine –  http://godspace.wordpress.com

Heather – http://thehomesteadatspringcreek.wordpress.com

The Author – http://samegodnewme.wordpress.com

One thing that is especially nice about receiving an award through the convenience of cyberspace is that I don’t have to go to some potentially risky affair in order to receive it. I don’t have worry about making my way in unstable shoes to a podium, or be captured with my mouth wide open or one eye closed in celebratory photographs. I can simply acknowledge the kindness of my fellow blogger and accept this award through the safety of my computer monitor. Thank you, Megan.

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Those of you who have read any of my previous blogs know why I am uneasy in public situations. I’ve just had too many things go wrong in front of people. My unlucky moments and blunders are rarely discreet, private humiliations. They’ve tended to be of the more overt, ghastly variety.

And that is exactly why I have always had a soft spot for former president, George Bush Sr.–George H.W. Bush, that is.

It has nothing to do with politics. It’s about the fact that Mr. Bush Sr. handled a ghastly public faux pas with so much light-heartedness that he will always be a role model for me. He faced an international dinner disaster with enough grace to make me and all the other spontaneous public bleeders and vomiters of this world quite proud.

Case in point:

A fuzzy shot from video footage of First Lady Barbara Bush covering her husband’s vomiting mouth with a napkin at a state dinner in Tokyo. What a supportive wife!

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A 1992 New York Times  article reported the following incident that occurred while then-president George H.W. Bush was seated at a state dinner in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa:

At 7:20 P.M., Mr. Bush entered the dining hall for a four-course dinner… He was to exchange toasts with Mr. Miyazawa, a ritual at all such dinners, a little over an hour later. Instead, as Japanese television footage vividly showed, Mr. Bush, who already looked tired, became suddenly and dramatically ill.

He threw up on his shirt and suit jacket, rolled backward in his chair and tilted toward Mr. Miyazawa, who sat with Mrs. Bush to his left, and appeared about to collapse when a Secret Service agent vaulted atop the dinner table and a second eased him to the floor…The President’s host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, cradled his head for some minutes until Mr. Bush was strong enough to get up on his own.

…Mr. Bush was on the floor for some time, while a worried Mr. Miyazawa and Mrs. Bush hovered over him and aides removed his jacket. An official said an uncomfortable silence descended over the room until Mrs. Bush, convinced that her husband was not seriously ill, offered reassurances. (My note–You gotta love this. Mrs. Bush has apparently been through such things before.)

After the incident, Mr. Bush walked from Miyazawa’s official residence under his own power, but looking haggard and wan, and wearing a green overcoat provided by a Secret Service agent to cover regurgitated food on his clothes.

Over a bedlam of clamoring reporters and Japanese security police who physically restrained them, he was heard to say: “I feel good.”

Today, Mrs. Bush’s press secretary, Ana Perez, told reporters that the First Lady heard the President joke as he lay on the floor.

“He said to the Prime Minister, ‘Why don’t you roll me under the table and I’ll sleep it off while you finish the dinner,'” she said.[1]

Wow! Talk about grace under fire. Again, you just gotta love it.

I also read that it was later reported the Japanese coined a phrase, bushu-suru, meaning “embarrassing public vomiting” or, literally, “to do a Bush.”

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For some of us, this is a set up for potential public disaster.

The only tie-in to Pharisaism that I’ll make in this post is simply to say that the Matthew 23:6 account of Pharisees’ “loving the place of honor at banquets” is one of the only Pharisaism symptoms that I can honestly say I didn’t exhibit in the entire time I suffered from that nasty religious disease.

Much less intimidating. Attendees can wear wine-colored clothing and are served a drier, spill-proof entree.

That was a good thing, because my avoidance of banquets has probably saved more than one important person from getting a staining substance spilled on them, or, heaven forbid, having me throw up on them and them having to cradle my head in their lap while security people vaulted over our table. And Mike probably wouldn’t relish the idea of coming to my rescue with a face-covering napkin, either.

Of course, all of this is written under the premise that I could be invited as the honored guest at a banquet, which, to date, hasn’t happened anyway. Thank goodness.

/http://www.honeybuy.com

I think the Pharisees must have been the more organized types. The type that can get a little big-headed about their unstained, unripped clothing  and pristine reputations. The type of people that were simply more mindful, more careful than people like me.

The type who own closetfuls of white, cream, and ecru-colored expensive suits and wear them with confidence to local cherry harvest food and beverage festivals.

There’s more to be said about Pharisaical carefulness, so in my next post I’ll take a closer look at it. For now, I’m just happily accepting my award while sitting in the comfort of my stained bathrobe and eating my delicious coffee-mushed Cocoa Puffs.

Thank you again, my fellow lovely blogger, Megan.

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[1] Wines, Michael. “Bush Collapses at State Dinner With the Japanese.” http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/09/

A Kick in the Seat of Entitlement

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Matt Sullivan/Reuters  http://www.nytimes.com

Money and fame made me believe I was entitled. I was wrong and foolish. – Tiger Woods

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Entitlement is a curious condition. The dictionary definition of entitle is, “to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim.”[1]

In spite of that definition, though, it’s not uncommon for people to feel entitled to things they really haven’t furnished legitimate grounds for. Take seats, for example. Paying $10,000+ for a first class airline seat entitles one to something like this:

                                 Thai Airways –  http://www.businessinsider.com/best-first-class-airlines-2010-12

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Pretty nice, huh?

In contrast, searching out the cheapest deal I could find for my last domestic flight economy seat only entitled me to sit in this section:

                                                                                                                http://www.futuresmag.com/2012/07/05

So, what would happen if I, the purchaser of a cattle stall ticket, saw an empty seat in first class and sat down in that one instead? I’d probably be frowned upon and swiftly sent back to my smelly, cramped misery by a check-listing attendant. I’ve read internet stories about a few passengers who did manage to pull off such a “self upgrade,” but the majority were discovered and treated like shoplifters.

Similar stories abound for premium sports arena seat tickets. The more you pay for your seat ticket, the closer you will be to the action, and the greater superiority you can wield over your nosebleed section compatriots.

You can pay serious money for a view like this:

http://www.charitybuzz.com/catalog_items/266404

Or a whole lot less for the bird’s-eye view:

Al Bello/Getty Images

Either way, first class airline and premium ballpark ticket holders alike feel entitled to their optimum seats by virtue of the high price they pay. Certainly, no one in their position would tolerate seat-stealing from a lowly nosebleeder.

Yet, that’s what Jesus did. He strode right on in in New Testament times and sat himself down in a teaching seat–the place of authority reserved for the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

In the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus had no right to take this place. He was one of the unschooled masses, one of the local hicks who hadn’t gone to their Rabbinic schools or spent every waking hour studying and interpreting the Law. He did not have any theology or divinity degrees, so they assumed he was not qualified to speak on spiritual subjects with authority as they viewed it. They were incensed that he would even try.

In Matthew 23:2 Jesus said, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

It was another “letter of the law vs. Spirit of the law” thing. The Pharisees said all the correct words when they taught the law of Moses, but didn’t demonstrate any of God’s compassion or care that the law was originally intended to promote. They didn’t think they needed to engender loyalty from people by simply being nice. They believed their authority seats automatically entitled them to be honored and obeyed regardless of how they treated others. They had worked hard for the glory of the Moses’ seat, after all–being fawned over was simply their due.

So when Jesus garnered more support for his radical teaching than the Pharisees ever did for their conservative doctrines, it infuriated the Pharisees. They saw him as an imposter. A heretic to be silenced. A seat usurper to be bumped back to the cattle stall.

Of course, what they couldn’t know was that Jesus would pay a higher price for their precious authority seats than they could ever afford. And after he paid that price, he would turn around and open his box section for all his hick friends to occupy.

It would change the whole meaning of premium seating.

Jesus wouldn’t just be a seat-stealer, he would be a seat-wrecker.

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I’ve wrecked a few seats in my time. Literally.

Accidentally.

Tragically.

In the same way that my clothes rip inexplicably and liquids mysteriously spill around me, seats have a habit of spontaneously breaking underneath me. I don’t understand why this is so. I’m no bigger than the average mom and I’m not the type to throw myself forcefully into furniture, yet on several notable public occasions chairs have reached the end of their allotted life span at the exact moment I sit in them. It’s horrible.

I’m like Martin Short’s chronically unlucky character, Eugene, in the 1991 movie, Pure Luck. Does anybody else remember that movie? In one scene a psychologist, setting out to prove his observation that Eugene is cursed, purposely breaks a chair that’s among a couple dozen circling a board room table. The psychologist then sets the chair back up, making it appear perfectly fine. He opens the door for Eugene to enter the room and invites him to sit anywhere he’d like. Against the odds, Eugene predictably gravitates toward the broken chair, sits down and ends up deposited on the floor in a heap.

Something like that happened to me once. The odds would have been about one in eighty that I would sit in the singular lecture hall chair that was compromised. Of course, for most people those are pretty good numbers. But, of course again, not for me. The numbers gods seem to delight in picking my number again and again.

I walked into high school study hall that day determined to find an unobtrusive spot in which to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I went all the way up the steep steps to the top level. It was the farthest away from the mean wrestling coach/room monitor who treated study hall like it was a Supermax receptacle for prison riot instigators. I sat down on one of the chairs that was actually just a plastic seat bolted onto a metal pedestal that was, in turn, bolted into the floor.

Although not quite this fancy, our high school lecture hall was similarly arranged.

Settling in, I leaned back in the seat, noticing that it had just enough give to actually recline a tiny bit. Hmm. I had never before discovered that the lecture hall seats would do that. It felt curiously comfortable. I could even rock a bit. And, because the coach/warden kept the room so quiet, I was able to mentally detach from my surroundings and lose myself completely in the novel.

Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t the only thing that would detach from its moorings that day.

I opened my book to the scary part where Scout and Jem were accosted while walking home in the dark. I became so engrossed in the story that when Jem screamed for Scout to run, I could actually hear her anguished squeals. EEEECH! The sound in my head surprised me. I kept reading and rocking in my delightful chair.

Scout tries to run, but is hindered by her unwieldy ham costume and falls. Again, I really hear her screams–EEEEERRR! I paused at that point, realizing that maybe the sound wasn’t in my head, after all.

I looked around and saw that people were looking in my direction. EEEEEEGH! What the…? Of course, because I tend to be a bit of a slow processor, the truth about the noise didn’t hit my cognition until the seat jerked completely back and hit the floor.

With me still in it.

The ear-piercing noises had been coming from me–from my chair. The one chair out of eighty with a seat that I would later learn had all its bolts loosened by an evil top-row prankster.

It was just so bad. One minute I’m with Scout and Jem on a dark, wooded path and the next I’m laying on my back on a concrete floor staring up at institutional lighting. My feet, now on the table, were the only part of me that showed to everyone in the lower rows. Whispered exclamations erupted from the rest of the class as people tried to ascertain from the shoes who it was that had met with such entertaining tragedy. I stayed on my back for a few crucial moments, cringing more from social pain than from my throbbing head pain. Staring hard into the institutional lights, I prayed that I was actually heading toward them in a tunnel and that I was on my way off the cruel planet where I was destined to be the object of people’s jeering and a constant victim to the whims of gravity. I wanted God to whisk me away.

But He didn’t, and so I slowly got off the floor and satisfied my audience’s burning curiosity.

“It’s Willow! Ha, ha!” and “Willow Carson’s seat broke! Hee, hee…”

People repeated various versions of the story for days. Other, even crueler pranksters, started loosening seat bolts everywhere in a global bid to create a funnier world at the expense of the unfortunate luck-impaired folks among them. It marked an era, and a sad one at that.

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The era of my Pharisaical entitlement reached its high point right before my disease diagnosis. I erroneously believed that if I paid a high enough price, I could get a higher seat in the Kingdom. And my all my bible studies and good deeds were the currency I shelled out for this premium standing.

I was the older son in the Prodigal Son story. I thought my standing as the obedient, hard-working Christian should have entitled me to be celebrated, not the rebellious, pagan younger sibling. The younger son had only paid for a cattle stall ticket, but our generous Father let him come up and steal my seat in the posh first class section. It made my Pharisaism-disease fever rage through my whole spirit, infiltrating not just my church life, but my home life as well.

The only cure for my Pharisaical entitlement would be steady doses of combative truths. When I finally allowed God to plug his IV bag into me, the following truths dripped successively into me, one after the other, almost like steps in a 12-step recovery program. I had to learn that:

-I am not always right about everything, and even some of my Christian beliefs are skewed or wrong.

-Diligent bible study does not guarantee 100% correct interpretation. I am created by God to need others’ views.

-My time is no more important than anyone else’s, even if I think I work harder than others.

-I am not entitled to be served by others. If someone chooses to do so, it is a bonus and I should appreciate it.

-I must respect others’ feelings and opinions if I want them to respect mine.

-I cannot disrespect others by insisting they do everything the way I think it should be done.

-Impatience is not a virtue and only serves to make others despise me secretly.

-The surliness and disrespect I exhibit toward others who work with me can never justify even the best of results.

-The mean words I say in my mind are louder in God’s ears than the sweet things I say with my mouth.

-I am not entitled to be loved. Love is a gift, whether from God or people, and should always be received with humble gratitude.

And finally, possibly the most important truth of all–

The only seat of true entitlement is the driver’s seat. This means that:

a. The driver is entitled to signal, pass, and/or speed whenever they do or do not want to.

b. I must submit to their choice of a parking spot, even if I don’t like its location, and I must execute said submission without sarcastic comments.

c. When I am in the lowlier passenger seat, I must behave like a passenger and give up all my driving rights. I must seal my lips and close my eyes if necessary to humbly accept this inferior position…

…or else get my seat kicked out of the car.

[1] “entitle.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 13 Jul. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/entitle>.

The Silencing of The Jacket’s Voice

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Here’s an interesting tidbit I ran across on the Listverse website:

“Joanne Perez, the widow of vaudeville performer Pepito the Spanish Clown, cleaned out the area underneath her bed and discovered the only existing copy of the pilot for the TV series I Love Lucy. Pepito had coached Lucille Ball and had guest-starred in the pilot. Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, had given it to Pepito as a gift in 1951 and it had remained under the bed for thirty years.”  (http://listverse.com/2007/06/30/8-expensive-art-works-found-accidentally/)

Wow! Almost makes me want to go clean underneath my bed.

Not.

I really don’t want to know what’s under there. I’m sure there’s nothing interesting, and besides, the dust bunnies prefer to live in an undisturbed environment where they can grow large enough to self-generate their own static charges and attract more than just dust. That’s when they can collect enough dog hair to scare the dog with his own hair. And when they get big enough to hold a sock off the ground is when we have to get them out with a shotgun instead of a broom. Of course, that’s when things get messier than if we’d just left them until we either move out of the house someday or die and leave them for the kids to kill.

Unlike Pepito the Spanish Clown’s wife, the only surprising thing I’ve ever chanced upon under any bed was certainly not interesting or valuable, and could have even triggered a home evacuation if someone had tipped off the health department. I won’t go into it, but it involved a teenager’s dirty snack dish cache and technicolor mold deposits. (Actually, it was sort of interesting, now that I think about it, considering that the removal of the infectious dishes resulted in a miraculous healing of a certain young person’s pesky nasal drip.)

I did uncover a valuable article once, however, in a clothing hand-me-down bag. Now that was a find. A real treasure.

It happened at a time when I really thought I could be a suave, put-together type of lady if I could just procure the right clothes.  I suspect my synapses weren’t all synapping correctly during those whipper-snapper thirties’ years. I really did think that it was possible to have six kids, live sixty-five miles from the nearest Wal Mart, work on a mail route, tend two woodstoves and still find a way to upgrade from Frumpy Mom to Fab Fashionista. All on a limited budget to boot. It was an impossible dream, one that deep down I knew should be put away. And I almost did.

But one day dawned with a surprising glimmer of hope.

Is was that day. The mid-1990’s day when a dear friend bestowed upon me the mother of all hand-me-downs. It was a very expensive blazer that another friend, a rich friend, had given her, but it hadn’t fit either friend quite right. So, Friend 2 passed it on to me…and it fit me perfect. It was like a gift from heaven.

It wasn’t just any Ross For Less clearance rack blazer, it was a designer brand–a fitted, cream-colored, pristine jacket that spoke softly to me the minute I saw it.

It called to me. It said, “Hi. I’m Meg Ryan. Put me on. I’ll make you look like you’re unable to sleep in Seattle, and I’m yours.”

When I held it up with trembling hands, the understated buttons cooed in unison, “We’ll make you look like a star.”

A star? Clutzy, frazzled Mom Me–look like a star?? It was too good to be true, and yet...it might just be worth a try.

All I needed was the proper occasion on which to unveil my stardom, and as luck would have it, my occasion was already in front of me. Our wedding anniversary was only a few days away and Mike had promised to take me out for a nice meal in Billings to celebrate. I had three days to plan.

And plan I did. I experimented with different skirts and dresses with which to pair the precious jacket. I actually owned one newer dress that really did work well under the blazer. I then experimented with my hair. A low ponytail twisted through and underneath itself did the trick. The results were surprising. I might not have been small, blonde and blue-eyed like Meg, but my brunette, hazel-eyed, beefier self still appeared somewhat trendier than it had in years.

It was the magic of the blazer.

Protecting that blazer then become Job One. But before I continue I need to give a bit of background. (In conversations with Mike, this is when he always sighs.)

I love to drink and drive. Coffee, that is. It’s not just that I like to do it–I am an addict and I must do it. Back when this story was unfolding, we lived twelve miles from town. It was about a fifteen minute drive, but long enough for me to get another precious travel mug of coffee down my gullet while I drove.

The problem was, though, that I drove an old Toyota Tercel station wagon. A five-speed manual stick shift.

Two of the eight Toyota Tercel wagons we have owned over the years.

Not a good choice for someone who cannot safely handle liquids. Even fluids from sealed units such as snow globes and Magic 8 Balls mysteriously spring leaks in my fumbly grasp.

It took years of spilled coffee, stinky car mats, and ruined clothing for me to realize that there is not, and never will be, a travel mug impervious to my spilling habit. I had learned instead to do what all people with disabilities do–I made accommodations for myself. I started wearing large protective bibs in the car. Inspired by earlier visits to my Gramma in the nursing home, I simply draped old towels around my front and clipped them behind my neck with clothespins.

These washable, absorbent bibs freed me from all the negative effects of my drinking, shifting and driving habit. It embarrassed my kids, but that was their problem. As long as I remembered to take the towel off when I got out of the car, I didn’t care if the occasional passing driver saw me. And even when I did forget to take it off when I got out to gas the car once, I figured I just looked like someone who was fleeing from the dentist.

And so the day of my Big Reveal arrived. The plan was for me to meet Mike when he got off work and make the trip to Billings in his car. I took extra time that day to make myself look nice. As I wisped my bangs, twisted my ponytail, and paired my floral cotton dress with flat shoes, I realized that my true goal was to simply be a worthy showcase for the blazer. It would speak for me if I presented it just so. It would tell the world that Willow was sophisticated and fashionable.

The problem was, it wasn’t me. The type of person who would normally wear that jacket probably wouldn’t have been driving a 1983 Toyota Tercel wagon while wearing a huge towel bib, and besides that, several yards’ worth of unsullied cream-colored material draped over my person was a set-up for disaster.

Until that blazer came into our home, I had always shied away from white or light-colored shirts in the fear that I might spill bright liquids on myself or incur a sudden nosebleed. The fact that I’ve rarely ever had a nosebleed didn’t diminish my fear, but only made me worry that the odds were stacking against me. Yet because this blazer–this Sleepless in Seattle Blazer–promised so much, I recklessly ignored all my previous worries and fears.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I gingerly placed the clean-as-the-driven-snow jacket on the back seat of the Tercel and smiled at my own keen foresightedness. It looked lovely, pressed and resting serenely in a protected spot, far behind me and my coffee. I could drink, shift, and drive, and then put the blazer on when I got to town. Hmm. Maybe clothes really do make the woman. I felt smarter than I had in years.

Feeling smart is not the same as being smart, however.

Being smart would have involved remembering that my fears were not irrational. They were based on history.

And so, my sad and sorry spilling history now includes that day’s incident. If my annals of time were written somewhere in literal form, that day’s entry would go something like this:

“2:00 PM – Willow begins driving down dirt lane toward highway to town, glances back in rearview mirror to admire awesome jacket on back seat, veers slightly off road, brakes to slow down, places coffee mug in center console to free her holding hand to shift down, hits a large rock in road which jars her shifting arm and causes her right elbow to jerk back. Elbow hits coffee mug hard, sends mug flying backward through the air where it lands squarely on jacket on back seat and vomits its entire staining contents onto once-beautiful blazer. Blazer receives full force of coffee, leaving seat, mats, and Willow’s bib untouched. Willow stops car, gets out, yells, kicks rock off road, hurts her toes inside flimsy shoes, and shakes fist at the gravity gods.”

My movie didn’t end well that day. But then, clutzes who insist on drinking and driving shouldn’t expect happy endings.

Ever.

**********

My Pharisaism disease kept me in a constant state of determination. It was a determination to make my faith look smart and sophisticated. I thought it was my duty to fancy-up the world’s image of Christianity, and so I constantly looked for ways to make my beliefs look more special than the pagans’ beliefs. I thought God looked best to the world when presented by someone wearing their “gift” like a tailored jacket.

In Matthew 23, Jesus talked about how the Pharisees put on clothes that were specifically designed to make them look smarter than the average Joe. Jesus states: “Everything they [the Pharisees] do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries [prayer boxes worn on the forehead and arm] wide and the tassels on their garments long…” (NIV)

In other words, the Pharisees dressed for celebrity and success. It was quite opposite of how Jesus dressed and presented himself. He wore plain clothing that didn’t say anything about him except that he was ordinary. Instead, he let his actions–specifically his love for people–speak for him. And that was anything but ordinary.

Churches that are infected with Pharisaism will gussy things up to try and impress the world, too. Unfortunately, that brings with it a constant need to protect that fancy image as well. And that, then, launches the potential for the image to get sullied and for people to get mad at each other.

Do we really need any more special Christian “clothing?” Are we protecting our precious gatherings to the point where our whole reputation will be ruined if something goes wrong? Do we really need any more fights over the accoutrements of our Sunday morning club meetings?

Jesus solved the problem of image promotion by giving the Pharisees such a bumpy ride they spilled their coffee all over their coats. They got mad, not realizing it was good for them.

As it turned out, it was good for me to give up on my blazer project. I went home, changed into my usual clothes and proceeded to have a really nice date with Mike. Mike didn’t need or want Meg Ryan. She was a total stranger to him.

He just wanted the plain woman he married to spend some time with him…even if she did end up spilling hot coffee in his lap and searing the skin underneath his jeans.

I’m so lucky he’s such a forgiving guy.