Monday, February 22, 2010

The Aroma of Axe

It was early in the morning-still dark out. I was enjoying a quiet moment in my prayer chair --a bentwood Amish rocker--offering my morning devotions in the living room. I'm ashamed to admit I don't manage it every day, but the days I do are much more peaceful and purposeful. The earlier I start, the more likely I will succeed, so there I was making a valiant effort at centering--reading, praying, meditating. I was at 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

Son#1 emerged from the hall bathroom in a cloud of steam, indicating that all the hot water was now gone. He grumbled his good morning and went downstairs to get ready for jazz band, which practices at 6:30, an hour before school begins. I kept reading...We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair..

We have plans to build his bedroom downstairs--we've sketched out the plan, we've talked with the builder, we're next on his list of construction projects. But there's no bedroom, yet. Just a wide open lower level where noises and smells can waft up the split level entryway into my sacred space. ...persecuted but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed... Suddenly I was afflicted, perplexed, struck down.... in an overwhelming smell of Axe deodorant and body spray. How much can you use at one time? My head hurt, my eyes watered, my devotions ended.

I escaped to my bedroom and realized I had not gotten up early enough--or perhaps I was just in the wrong part of 2 Corinthians. Maybe I should have been reading 2 Corinthians 2:14-15: But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved..

Maybe Son#1 was doing his devotions, too--praying, indeed, spraying. And maybe for him, the aroma of Axe isn't so far from the aroma of Christ; for him, a blessed and fragrant way to greet the dawn and start the day. One can hope. But, I am still getting up earlier or doing devotions after breakfast.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How I Met George Clooney-- Since you asked!

If you saw the recently Oscar-nominated movie, Up in the Air, you might have heard that it was filmed right here in St. Louis! A wedding reception scene was shot in a tudor-style motel called the Cheshire Inn, which is right across the street from the church I serve. During their 3 days of filming at this site, they needed a place to serve two meals a day to the 150 members of the crew. St. Mark's Lutheran Church gladly opened it's doors for the crew to eat in the fellowship hall.

It was quite an experience. The catering company was from Los Angeles and specifically catered to movie crews. There was a kitchen in the back of the semi truck and a refrigerator in the back of another truck. They transformed our church basement into a high class buffet and invited us to dine when the crew was done! They were the sweetest people and the food was amazing. We were ready to follow them around St. Louis.

The first day the crew arrived, George Clooney came to lunch and got in line for lunch like everyone else. I donned my suit and clerical collar that day, and was welcoming people to our building and saying how happy we were to have them there. As soon as Mr. Clooney was off his cell phone, I walked right up, introduced myself, shook his hand and chatted with him for a minute. He was very kind. Then I asked if he would take a picture with me and after a slight hesitation, he said, "sure." He gave the camera to his friend and posed for the picture. The church calendar on the wall shows in the background. I thanked him and said, "Oh, I'm getting you right before you've eaten," as he reached for his tray and silverware. He said, "Well, it's better than after I've eaten and I've got food in my teeth." He was funny, too! I left him alone then, so he didn't think I was a weird stalker person.

That was the only day out of the three that he ate there--the caterer said he often takes his limo other places. The church members thought I scared him away and ruined their chances of getting their picture with him. Maybe so. But after having cancer, I have learned to seize the moment! I have also learned that little things mean a lot. I am not one to go gaga over stars--this one or any others, but he was stunningly good looking and it was really fun to meet him in person. It meant nothing to Mr. Clooney--a lunchtime inconvenience. But it was a bright spot after a really difficult time for me-- a little thing that lifted my spirits and gave me a moment of happiness after a year of hardship.

We don't know when we can do a little thing that means a lot for someone else. My chance came the last day the crew was there and I talked with one of them at length. I found out his wife was in treatment for cancer and we were able to spend time talking about it over his dinner break before he went back to work. I was able to give him my card, offered to have her call me or have him call if he needed more support while working away from home. Even if they never called, he knew he wasn't alone in St. Louis--not everything was up in air.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


After school yesterday, Son #2 marched into my bedroom and said, "Mom, what's this?" Of course he had a pantyliner in his hand. Thank God it was unused. (see previous post, iTampon, to understand my rush of relief).

"It's a pantyliner."

"That's what I thought," he said, holding it up to his crotch in various positions, trying to imagine how one might use this contraption of feminine mystery. "How do you use it?" I could hear three boys giggling from his room across the hall.

I pulled a pair of underwear out of my drawer and demonstrated the genius of adhesive protection. "You wear it on light days, either at the very beginning or the very end of your period. Then you pull it off, roll it up in some toilet paper like this, and throw it away." (I remembered the parenting instruction to only give the information they ask for, so I did not mention other times of the month when we might want that "clean, fresh feeling." I can be such a talker that I am pleased every time I manage restraint).


"Where did you get it? You didn't pick up garbage off the side of the road again did you?"

"No, I found it in my room, in a bag. What are these doing in my room?" A good question. He brought me the bag and sure enough, here was a sandwich bag full of individually wrapped pads and several pantyliners that he found on his bookshelf.

Then we realized from where they came. We had a house guest who stayed in his room a couple of months ago and she must have forgotten them. Unfortunately she was related to one of the three boys sitting on his bed, snickering at this unusual find. We thought a little harder. My sisters and mom had also visited in the fall for a girl's weekend, and they could have left them behind, which we decided was a more likely explanation in order to spare a friend embarrassment.

Son #2 walked into his room and like an expert in all things gynecological, explained how the pantyliner worked and that they were used for light days. I popped my head in and enlightened them about our "girl's weekend" and how someone must have left them behind. For now, all things are right in the pubescent boys world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Revelation at the Food Court

Yesterday I took my Daughter shopping for khaki pants, a required part of the Character Choir outfit at the elementary school she attends. She started to get a bad headache and needed something to eat, so we went to the food court at the mall. It was about 4:00. If the world, or even our household were run according to her clock, this would be dinner time everyday. She's not very hungry in the morning, but when she comes home from school, she's ready to pack it away. Give her a nice big serving of ice cream at 6 or 7 pm and that would be a perfect day! She was in the mood for orange chicken--the kind you can get at any variety of Asian counters at the mall, with fried rice and a St. Louis specialty called Crab Rangoon. She was in heaven--eating just what she had imagined the day before when we planned our shopping trip.

I had a good-sized lunch and wasn't really hungry yet. But Daughter and I were leaving for church at 5:30 for Acolyte training and would miss dinner at home. I seemed unable to pass up a plate of food even though my body didn't seem to need it at the moment. Next thing I knew, I was sitting across from her with my own version of grilled Asian chicken, steamed rice and vegetables.

I asked my Daughter how she was doing --it had been a hard run with grandpa dying just a few months earlier after a long battle with brain cancer; I had re-constructive surgery from breast cancer just before he died; we still missed Grandma who died two years ago from dementia--was there anything she wanted to talk about? How is she feeling? It turns out she was worried about her other grandmother--my mother--Nana, who has liver disease. How long will she live? Why is she sick? She was waiting for the proverbial other (or in our case, about the 7th) shoe to drop. So many bad things had happened, one right after the other; one on top of the other. Who can relax?

I tried to explain Nana's disease as best I could and tried to encourage her that she is doing quite well. Morfar ("grandpa" in Swedish) was healthy and doing well watching out for her. I looked down at this plate of food I didn't need, didn't want and that didn't taste all that good. There was a pause in the conversation. I wondered, why was I eating it when I wasn't hungry?

The answer came to me like the fried rice sign flashing above the food court counter: I am racked with anxiety. I am trying to push the anxiety down and away with food. It doesn't seem to be working. In fact it makes it worse because an unhealthy diet and weight gain causes more anxiety about the recurrence of cancer. It's a vicious cycle.

Perhaps I just need to ask myself the same questions I am asking Leah: Is there anything I'd like to talk about? How am I feeling? I know one anxiety is the burden I feel at saddling my Daughter with the increased risk of breast cancer, and the compulsion I therefore feel to keep her physically active and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Another anxiety is wondering if I am leading a life of significant impact and meaning and working on goals I have set. It's a version of survivor guilt--am I living a life that is worth having survived cancer? As I let these and other anxieties bubble up into the light of day, I can look at them and find ways to address them so they lose their destructive power.

I wonder how often it is true that the questions we are asking others are the very ones we need to be asking ourselves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Matching Bras

My Daughter and I bought matching bra's recently. We finally gave away our matching dresses from when she was little. She wore her dresses from when they hung at her ankles until they barely covered her little behind; then I had to admit, she was getting too big for our 3-set parade of matching dresses. I could not just put them in bag on the front porch to go to the next charity that came by to pick up our donations. I could not bring them to Goodwill. I wasn't able to drop them in a clothing donation box at her school. It seemed silly to save them--I wouldn't wear my dresses without her counterpart--what would I be saving them for? I don't make quilts or pillows or even patch jeans for that matter. No, the fabric would rot before the dress material would be put to good use.

I finally thought of a church member who was close enough to my size with a little girl with room to grow. We put the matching dress sets together in a bag, brought them to church and set them in the pew where they normally sit, a sacred offering of love and memories, the incense of mother and child. We were so happy when our offering was accepted and they came to church one Sunday clad in the red dress set, happily connected, the daughter not yet embarrassed by her mom.

My daughter and I have not yet worn our matching bras. I don't know that they will offer that same sense of bonding and excitement at being alike that matching dresses did when my Daughter was 4 and 5 and 6. She was too embarrassed to join me in the store to buy new underwear, much less a real bra. I don't even have real breasts, having just had re-constructive surgery 3 months ago after having a double mastectomy 2 years ago. Developing breasts is not necessarily good news for my Daughter and is accompanied by even more conflicted feelings for her than other girls. So the blue satin waits in our drawers--a sacred offering of hope that eventually we can wear them with a smile, and trust that whatever lies beneath is beautiful because it is matched with love.