Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Barry

Dear Barry Manilow,
Last night, my best friend from 9th grade showed me letters that we had written to you 29 years ago. As young, innocent girls we had sat with pencil and paper and poured our hearts out onto wide-ruled lined paper and asked for you to be "our buddy". We were two sweet girls who met in 1979 while walking home from school. It wasn't too long after we met that we discovered we were both crazy about you. At that time, being a Barry Manilow fan wasn't as cool as it is now. Most of our peers were into Led Zepplin, The Doors, or The Boss and when we talked about Barry Manilow it wasn't very popular. Fortunately, we were adorable, so people forgave us for being Fanilows. We went to see you, Barry, on two occasions--at the Greek Theater and at the Hollywood Bowl--and we joined the BMIFC (Barry Manilow International Fan Club).
When we met last night it was to attend the Ultimate Manilow Benefit Concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It was an event to raise money for the Los Angeles Unified School District to help keep music in the schools. Honestly, we would have gone if it was to keep Botox in Beauty Queens--we were going to see Barry, and each other. My friend and I had the chance to meet after not having seen one another for over 20 years. We never had a falling out, what happened with us was very common--we drifted our separate ways. We slowly drifted apart from one another and toward other people and other lives. When we found one another on Facebook, it was such a blessing to me to see her beautiful face and to be able comment on the pictures of her adorable family. I really didn't think it would go further than that.
Then one day while "facebook-stalking" half the class of 1983, I saw an add for the concert to see YOU--Barry Manilow! I knew immediately that I wanted to go and I wanted to go with my friend who had shared that love for you so long ago. I posted a note on her Facebook wall and asked her if she would want to go.
Now, for most people this wouldn't be a big deal. For me, this was huge. Almost immediately after I posted it I was scared beyond belief. For some reason, over the years I have been developing and at the same time fighting against a feeling of social awkwardness. Being in certain social situations makes me a little uncomfortable--ironically, if I am holding a microphone I am completely at ease. I probably need psychotherapy, but, seriously, I already can't afford to get dental work, which I need worse, so I'll have to settle for being a little weird.
After she accepted and the details began to unfold and the date was crawling closer on the calendar, I would start to feel a little nauseous at the prospect of what it might be like. All of the "what if's " would begin to cloud my mind. The morning of the concert I couldn't even feel excitement because I was so nervous that it would be awkward. I was trying on different outfits when my son's sweet girlfriend said to me, "Is it ever as awkward as you think it is going to be?" I didn't answer her, I just pretended that I wasn't listening. I simply went along with my preparations and attended to the voices in my head.
Driving to the restaurant, listening to your songs, Barry, relaxed me and I gently kept reminding myself that like the predictability of your songs this would be a predicable story and like most predictable stories this one would have a happy ending where there was no feeling of isolation--but one of acceptance and joy.
Little did I ever think it would go beyond my expectations. She was always special and unique as a girl, but as a woman, she is even more amazing. I am just as much in awe of her today as I was when I first met her 30 years ago. The fact that I ever allowed this young woman to drift away is enough evidence to prove the case that I was an idiot as a teenager. She is unlike so many people in the world today. She is sensitive and artistic and confident beyond her years. I cannot believe that she was wise enough to save letters that we had written so long ago. The words that we wrote to you were so sincere and it is such a blessing to see how much you meant to us. We had so much faith in the world and in ourselves. We were so brave in our belief that if we wrote to you asked to be your friend, that naturally, you would consider us "a buddy".
We met for dinner and then drove together to the Bowl for the concert and while it was only a mile and a half and we had a GPS--we managed to get lost and had to turn around a couple times and then landed in the wrong parking lot. The attendant must have recognized us as your "buddies" though because he broke traffic laws and allowed us to drive the wrong way in the middle of traffic to get to the correct parking lot. The men at the gate let us park at the front door and as we jumped out of the car we could hear you were already singing. That voice! That very familiar voice was calling out to us! We ran up the hill and around the Bowl to get in. It was an amazing moment. We were running along the walkway, looking at you on the stage, singing along as you belted out "Even Now" and we were holding hands. The wind was blowing in my face and I had tears in my eyes. I felt 15 all over again. I felt time go backwards and your words were all fresh! Each lyric that I have sung a million times was new in that moment. Holding her hand and running along backwards in time to a place where neither of us had been to a mortuary to bury a parent or pick out a coffin for our child. We were running back to a time before divorce and disappointment. Before loss had taught us the true meaning of all those songs we had sung in our innocence. We had no idea of the heartache that life was going to show us and the individual pain that we would face. We ran back to a time when we didn't know the depth of the meaning to the words we knew so well. And it was beautiful. We sang every song and we hugged one another the entire concert. I felt myself holding onto to her as if it would change the course of the past. Maybe, if I held on tight enough I could stop the drifting apart that happened so long ago. Maybe I could alter the past with out destroying the beauty of the present. Isn't that possible?
But, sadly, eventually, Barry, you sang your last song. The lights came up and the orchestra filed off the stage. 1980 was gone. We said our goodbyes and confirmed plans for a lunch in a couple weeks. But, next time it will be without you, sweet Barry Manilow, and we will have to move through the emotions on our own.
It's been a long time since we first wrote to you and made that "friend request" and so much has changed in that time. We are older and as we have moved through time we've learned that friendship is something to be cherished, that no one can be taken for granted and that life is too short to allow anyone to drift away. As for me, I am questioning everything that I have accepted as status quo and I'm learning every day to say "Yes" without fear.
So, dear Barry, I have to ask. Will you be our friend? Will you be our buddy?

Monday, October 12, 2009

"This is My Body"

It hit me during communion. I had been on a Women's Retreat with other ladies from my church over the weekend and now I was home and enjoying the worship service on Sunday night. I have been worshiping at the same church for almost 4 years, but due to the distance between our home and the church as well as work obstacles I hadn't been able to get plugged in and serve. At least that was the story I had been telling myself.

God has been taking me down a path of discovery and of self awareness and, honestly, it hasn't been a fun journey. It's felt a little like being on a roller coaster with no seat belt. My heart has sunk to new lows as I acknowledged a sense of loneliness that had been chewing on me for some time. I have felt guilt, remorse and every other word that describes regret as I recognized my own part in the distance I have created from this body of believers. Then in an upward thrill on the roller coaster I have felt God forgive my selfishness and fill me with his presence to ease the loneliness. Fear then peace. Down and up and then up and down. And at times during the last several months when I've felt too weak to hold on, God would place His hands on my shoulders and remind me that I wasn't going to fly out of the car, He would see to it that I stayed in my seat.

The weekend retreat was the result of a divine intervention and because of that I went eagerly to see what God was going to do. I have been to enough retreats and camps to know that I would connect with someone and come home with a friend. But, of course, God's plans are always more grand than our own. I came home connected to many women. I was able to have small moments with several different women. I made one friend who was designed to be the friend to the wife of a pastor--and hopefully, I've been designed to be her friend as well. The part of me that has been holding back was slapped gently across the face in a way that only the Holy Spirit can do and I came home confident in the power of God to work in my life and make me a better servant. My weekend was overflowing--beyond my expectations.

At the Sunday evening service I looked around and the faces that I had seen before and suddenly they had names to go with them, I no longer felt fearful as the roller coaster moved along the track. God had already been showing me He could provide peace during the scary times, but I had forgotten that He also provides people.

I took my bread and placed it on my lips and whispered to myself, "This is your body..."

And my eyes welled up with heartfelt tears. THIS IS YOUR BODY. These people are your body and they are here for me. I am your body and I am here for someone! As a body of believers we are here for each other. WE are the hands to minister to the weak and hurting, we are the voice that tells the lost of His Kingdom and we are also the arms to hug one another. God has allowed me the chance to be in this body to experience the arms around me and for me to be the arms around someone as well.
I know that being involved in ministry and serving is not going to save me from feeling the downward fall of the roller coaster. I've served in other churches and I know that serving the Lord is a ride like no other. But, I won't be alone on the ride! God's body of believers will be riding with me. I also don't know all the ways that God will use me in this body, but I do know this: the best part about riding on a roller coaster is I don't have to steer. God has taken care of the destination and I just need to be in the car and ready to go.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lucy's Barking

I have a very sweet dog who sounds like Lassie when she barks. She is the same breed, a rough collie, and she goes by the name of Lucy. The first time we heard her bark was not long after we brought her home in 2005. We had built a fire in the fireplace and we brought her inside from the chilly 55 degree winter night (Orange County can be brutal) to be inside on her large pillow and enjoy a Christmas movie with the family. She took one look at the fire blazing out of control in our family room and began to summon the fire department for help. You could almost imagine the words she was trying to express, “Fire! Get out! Go this way... through this glass door! I’ll hold it back—with my incredible bark!”
There are times when it can be amusing to watch her use her bark to protect us. If someone is vacuuming the carpet or blow drying their hair while she is in the house—she will use her warning bark to remind us of her powerful presence and her ability to save us in the event the appliances should come to life and attack. She will protect us, even if it is dangerous to her.
Every once in a while she will bark in the night. We have become accustomed to this and we do what we can to stop her when she’s struggling with insomnia. Usually, the Alpha Male (my husband) will just call her name sternly out the window and she will give up on the cat or the opossum that is taunting her and go back to sleep. Last night, my brave little collie was not barking her usual bark. Her bark wasn't the Lassie-bark warning that “Timmy had fallen into the well!” It was much more agitated—even angry. To be quite frank, she sounded completely pissed off. It was a scary bark that woke me from the beginning stages of REM. Of course, my husband would sleep through a meteor shower at the foot of our bed, so I had to wake him to make her stop. (Remember—he is the Alpha and she doesn't listen to me.) He did the usual call, in his very deep Alpha Male voice, to make her stop. But, Lucy didn’t even miss a beat. She didn’t seem to care that the Man she adores was commanding her to stop. She just continued in her very angry-dog-voice-bark to yell at something in the yard. Now, for those of you who do not have a dog, you have to understand, it is completely embarrassing when this happens because now you know that not only have the neighbors heard the robust barking, but they have also heard the yelling to make her stop and the fact that she didn’t stop. Then, of course, being a Mom, you begin to wonder if they are thinking, “Wow, they can’t control their dog?! I wonder what their children are like! I bet they can’t control them either!” The whole situation leads to images of episodes of white trash TV!
Finally, to avoid having the police called and the one remaining teenager taken into child protective custody, the Alpha Male grabs a flashlight and heads outside. I don’t go along because I have to stay inside with the cordless phone ready to dial 911. As he heads out the door I am just thankful for two things. 1) He’s wearing a shirt—it would be very embarrassing if this escalates out of control and he ends up on COPS with no shirt. 2) He didn’t take his bow and arrow. Usually when he hears a noise he sees it as an invitation to act out his Tolkien fantasies.

Outside, the very loud and very angry dog is running in circles around a large pine tree in the corner of the yard. After a few minutes of shinning the light in the corners of the darkness, he sees the cause of the commotion. Hiding behind his mask, sitting on the fence is Mr. Raccoon. Mr. Raccoon is completely at ease and stares back at the Alpha Male and without speaking an audible word Mr. Raccoon says, “What are you doing in my yard and why is your dumb dog so loud?” Well, the Alpha Male stares back and says, “Well, buddy, the dog IS loud, so why aren’t you leaving?” Then Mr. Raccoon looks up in the tree. So the Alpha Male raises his flashlight to see, directly above his head, two little eyes (also hiding behind a mask) staring down at him from the tree. Mrs. Raccoon is watching all of the activity from her bedroom and while she is very annoyed at the racket, she is glad that Mr. Raccoon is wearing a shirt. After a few minutes of starring the Alpha Male does what any man would do at this point, he turns and runs excitedly into the house and into the room of his firstborn son—“Hey, there’s a raccoon in the yard!”
The young man happened to be on his computer “skyping with his girlfriend”, which, by the way is not an immoral act that teenagers do—it is using your web cam to have live face to face conversations with someone who is far away. So, because the Young Man is like the Alpha Male, he finds the presence of Mr. & Mrs. Raccoon fascinating and brings his computer along so that he can introduce them to his girlfriend. Now, the dog is still barking and the Alpha Male and the Young Man are laughing very loud and the girlfriend is stuck in the computer which is sitting on the patio table. Meanwhile, the noise of it all alerts the Daughter who is in the house watching Desperate Housewives. So, the Daughter (who wished to be called in this blog The-Sexy-Blonde-One-Who-In-Some-Ways-Resembles-Venus-The-Goddess-of-Beauty) went outside to see what the commotion was. When Mr. Raccoon saw the two crazy men, the girlfriend stuck in the computer, the loud angry dog and The-Sexy-Blonde-One-Who-In-Some-Ways-Resembles-Venus-The-Goddess-of-Beauty all staring up at him he decided that our family was more dangerous than he had originally presumed and he made his way high up into the tree to be with Mrs. Raccoon.
The insane group, that I like to call my family, then spends the next 20 minutes shinning the light into the masked faces of Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon while the collie continues to alert the entire neighborhood to their presence. The girlfriend in the computer begins to get cold outside, so The-Sexy-Blonde-One-Who-In-Some-Ways-Resembles-Venus-The-Goddess-of-Beauty carries her back inside to watch TV through the Skyp and finally, the Alpha Male and the Young Man move the protective collie to the garage to sleep on her pillow.
This morning I am peering out the window at my big tree, and I don’t see the Raccoons up there and I am wondering if they have already left for work. The radio is on and I am listening to the news stories from the weekend. I ask my Alpha Male, if the Raccoons are dangerous. Will they eat my cats? Should I be nervous? Within 4 minutes of my asking the question, the newscaster on the radio tells the story of a 74-year-old woman who was attacked by 5 raccoons. Apparently, a “gang” of raccoons attacked this poor woman in her backyard and she is fortunate to be alive. Now, these raccoons were living in Polk County, so most likely they have a different mindset than the rest of the nation’s raccoons—most of the country thinks differently than those who live in Florida. However, it is a little unnerving to think that I am sharing my yard with these little masked rodents who may at any time decide I would make a tasty snack.
I don't want to focus on the Florida Raccoon Gang and their sharp claws so I think about the whole picture from the night before. And immediately I am reminded of why it is okay that I spend $22.00 for a bag of dog food. I remember why it is alright that, annually, I pay the groomer more than my hairdresser. I recall that throughout the whole very loud event, which I am sure the neighbors thoroughly enjoyed, the one constant was my loyal collie. She recognized the danger that Mr. & Mrs. Raccoon possessed and she was angry that they would approach the home that she is destined to protect. She never wavered from her fierce protector mode, even when she saw their cute little faces. How wonderful to have such purpose and such resolve. I can learn a lot from my dog about loyalty. How ashamed am I that I don't know better than to trust the bark of the one who loves me.
Tonight it is quiet and I can type and wonder about the whereabouts of the Raccoon family, but, I don't have to worry about them sneaking into my yard to climb into their tree house unannounced. Because, after all, I have a very sweet dog who sounds like Lassie when she barks.