Moments At An Alabama Wedding

*** Warning:  This is sappy; I can’t help it; sappy is occasionally necessary.

A – Alabama. Yes, just Alabama. I love everything about this place on God’s earth. The slant of evening sunset tucking under the beams of the Festhalle, mimosa misting all the green with its garnet brushes, the solemn vesper hush of the ceremony, magnolias on the long banquet tables, Billy Atchison greeting our out-of-town guests with a heart-felt desire that they all feel welcome, Round 2 playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, the evening feel of cool sweat and a party dress. When I walk home, this is where my feet go.

B – Beth Ann’s Box. My friend Beth Ann sent a box that would serve as assistant to Adrienne and to me since Beth Ann herself could not be here. It contained bobby pins, safety pins, tissue packs, bandaids, sewing kit, a kit “to occupy that difficult relative with a decorate-the-mason-jar task”, gum, chapstick, tea, little notes of encouragement, and a letter that contained the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset which undid me.

C – Cocktail napkins. We ran out of water bottles, but by golly we had cocktail napkins. 1000 dove gray cocktail napkins. We’ll be chipping away at those for some time to come.

D – Dinner Plates. We were glad we bought 9-inch ones instead of 10. I think we eked out 30 more plates of food. Win!

E – Estrogen. Our house was bridesmaid-central and estrogen soaked . Every maid needed loving on through cramps, hunger, sore feet, pink eye, torn dress, nerves, bouquet making, chalkboard painting, singing, laughing, dress steaming, brow plucking, nail painting, cross-cultural experiences, accessorizing, dancing, crashing, and sleeping. They brought so much joy to the house.

F – Friends!!! I could not have done this without my friends. Jessi, Nancy, Denise, and Janice, take a bow!

G – Grandmothers. The best toasts of the rehearsal dinner came from the four grandmothers. Love, humor, wisdom, scripture, their words showed the heritage of faith and deep rich soil this couple came from and now carries.

H – Happy Groom. His face as he said his vows was one of those primary life moments I had to both look at and look away from in respect.

I – Invitations. Thinking we were cleverly saving money, we had the RSVP information printed on the back of the invitation. No one looks at the back of an invitation. Which meant we were flying on a wing and a prayer when we gave the reception caterer the number of plates we needed. Lesson: Spring for the cost of the separate RSVP card. 🙂

J – Jet Lag. Four days after the wedding I am suffering from jet lag and postpartum (not exactly) depression (but definitely a re-living of all of mothering this child in one big flood). “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2.

K – Kittens. The best parlor trick ever. We have two, and at the after-party, they were the hit. From groomsmen to toddlers to patriarchs to dear sisters to college roommates, we never knew who would stroll through with a kitten in the crook of the arm. The kittens were the common denominator that held the party together. Update: One kitten has gone walkabout. Will is trying to forgive us for being ironclad outdoor pet people.

L – Laughter.  My siblings and I gathered at my dad’s gravesite on Father’s Day, the day after the wedding, and placed Eliza’s maid-of-honor bouquet on his grave.  And we laughed together. As my sister-in-law said, when the grave holds no fear, there is joy in being together.

M – Mom. She put her hand on my back while Adrienne walked down the aisle and I cried.

N – Nieces and Nephews. These awesome people, young and younger, fill all the gaps. Calling it the wedding in cullmanalabama, they danced with skirt-swirling abandon and visions of sugar plums; they brought their smiles, hugs, and eagerness (Evelyn!); they ran impossible errands like the nephew who forever claimed my heart by bravely entering the seething world of the bridesmaids’ room to unearth a particular purse needed desperately and to present it within two minutes. That, my friends, is impressive. #michaelduboseismyhero

O – Odds and Ends. Cake knife, candle lighter, airport run, cups, ice, thank yous, half and half. These things kept me up at night and these were the very things God provided in the sweetest of ways and with His palpable smile.

P – Parenting That Never Ends. Our newly-married daughter dashed with her man through rows of sparklers and cheering family to the car chauffeured by her brother that would whisk them off to this new thing called husband and wife. Adults, they were. As she got into the back of the car Andrew and I simultaneously leaned forward because the train of her gown was about to get caught in the door: here, let me help, I’ll just go with you and hold it, OK??

Q – Quiet Moment. After the reception dancing and the cleanup, I limped home barefoot, sweaty, still in the party dress. Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I walked down to her bedroom and saw her dress flung across the bed and her gray suede sandals tipped over in a hasty, hand-holding run toward the honeymoon. I realized that this thing really happened. And it will be good – it already is, judging by the new family I inherit by virtue of her vows – but, like taking them to kindergarten or summer camp, it does take getting used to.

R – Red Pick-Up Truck. A serendipitous addition to the reception decor, the bed of Rachael and Kent’s 1971 Ford became our drink station. Alabama married New York, after all.

S – Social Media. On social media today, I see the word ‘wife’ and I see a different last name, like a whole different person, which in a way I guess it is. Once again, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, what exactly has happened here? Life is a big deal. Marrying off a daughter is as heart-squeezing as having her in the first place.

T – Trains. Small town life at its finest is the moment when the train roars through and everyone celebrating in the Festhalle alongside the old depot cheers the conductor on his northbound way. (Maybe it’s all computers now, but I like to think a conductor was waving back.)

U – Ushers and Groomsmen. The backbone of the wedding, these young men set up and took down and in between they were gentlemen. Yes, I do too know them, and I still say gentlemen.

V – Vases of Flowers. Oh, the flowers. I never knew. Curly willow, larkspur, orchids, seeded eucalyptus, the names themselves begin the enchanting thing that flowers do. Kim and Kelly guided the whole flower endeavor and taught us all how to let the flowers tell us where they need to go. I am a believer.

W – Water. Well, we ran out. Lesson: For outdoor receptions, however much water you think you need, triple it. And then throw in two more cases for good measure. Thank you, Jay, for a mid-reception Walmart run.

X – Xavier.  High school the groom and his brother graduated from. I needed an X. They captioned their picture: “On the bus going to Jonathan’s graduation.” The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NYC.  Much as I love cullmanalabama, I have to admit, that reaches a level of cool we just don’t have. A bus to graduation?!? A bus, period?!?

Y – Yonder.  Where everyone came from, where the bride and groom went on honeymoon, where they might live, where I need to return borrowed cake plates, coolers, candles, and cloths.

Z – BelZes, BelZes everywhere. In desperation I Googled ‘Max Belz Family Tree.’ While there was much mention of him, I was on my own in terms of filling in all the branches and leaves and sprouting sprouts of this flourishing tree. I am reading Jean Belz’s Tell Someone Your Story and am finding in her a friend and kindred spirit in every essay. So it was meaningful to me to meet so many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and if my mental tree-chart is accurate, perhaps even a great-great or two.

To God be the glory!

~

Carter Hall: A Standing Stone For My Children

~Tonight Andrew cues up an
80s Smash Hits! playlist on a
Sherwood S-7100 receiver found
In the warrens of a junk store.

He plays the first evocative
Bars of every song,
Just the first, a medley of
One after another.

They take me back to 19.
To Carter Hall. ~

Josie vacations far away in a
Raspberry beret. Under pressure, she
Goes ahead and jumps. A happy jump, a
Go-for-it jump, because she
Builds a city on her music,
And blesses the rains in Africa.

I smell Carter Hall, to its bones, and
Feel the power and uncertainty of 19.
I assume in the unspoken places
That everyone else belongs here and is
Tearing college up. They are the real
Students. And I am flying
Just under
The threshold of adequate.
My professors must see me
Clearly,  “She’ll make a good wife.
Won’t write a book or cure cancer.”

I probably will make a good wife
Because I have a happy mother. But
Anthem songs talk about taking someone’s
Breath away. Life is a little too
Flesh and blood, too long-term for that.
Besides, it’s hard to be
Breathtaking in L.L. Bean Gum boots.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
Unique to this place
Break through all that and turn me around.

An Ed Kellogg painting hangs in the chapel lobby –
A cow (all of life redeemed, Amen). We joke
About the redeemed cow, but it is powerful,
And we are beginning to understand
“Far as the curse is found,”
And Ed’s greens are so real my teeth
Hurt when I look at them.

May Term and it’s cold and warm and
Campus is deserted and we have class on
The boulders outside The New AB Building that
My children will someday call Sanderson Hall.
It’s a Wildeman class so we get excerpts from
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Creative writing on those boulders in the Spring
Is seminal.

Belz Hall is its own lone ranger of a tower,
A mystery to me architecturally and genderly.
The art barn shelters behind it in the woods.
Professors live in Flintstones down the road.
If there is a Mac Scholarship,
I know nothing of it.

The other day we woke up and an 18 wheeler
Bringing our food had jack-knifed on the
Narrow delivery road behind
The mail room and the cafeteria.
We all watched from our windows,
Which double as refrigerators, cooling
Water and fruit and yogurt.
We take these snacks from the Great Hall,
Keep them cold on the window ledge,
And Mel is okay with that.

One soccer player doesn’t use sheets.
At the end of the semester a filthy outline
Of him is visible on the mattress. As I said,
Men are a mystery to me.

It is hard to stay awake in chapel. We
Give-and-go when we need to. I’ve
Done that once and felt a scalding dishonesty.
I wasn’t bored; I was dead sleepy.

Rumors abound of nooks and crannies
Wherein couples have been caught –
On a mythical catwalk high up
In the chapel, in maintenance tunnels,
Attics, water pipe closets, unused classrooms,
Practice fields, bluff trails, the tiny bathroom
In the chapel lobby that I never knew was there,
And power-line clearings.
We always tell these tales with envy and censure.

A girl from Indy says she wore her overcoat
To the RP church across from the gym.
Just her overcoat.  And a slip.
She was conducting an experiment to see if
In the winter
Dresses were really necessary
And she concluded no.

We arrived here in a preppy upsurge
And have been ambushed by
Cyndi Lauper’s fishnets and bangles.
The mountain has its own walk and talk
And style, too – its plaids and cardigans
And cotton tights,
So it gets muddled up.
We aren’t sure what we are.

But we do know we are temporary here.
We learn that truth as sophomores when these
Kids just out of high school in Maryland
Or Florida or Michigan,
Unload on Carter’s portico
With a fresh wind of complete ownership.
Bluster as we will and we do,
Our clock has started ticking
And we don’t ever not hear it again.
Freshmen children are the landowners and
That’s hard to swallow.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
In an assigned reading, a journal article,
Break through and eclipse me.

Foundations, Sire and Blamire.
They wake me up. The readings are
Devotional. My Fourth South, four-man
Corner room looks out over the chapel lawn
And also toward the overlook and
Chattanooga’s lights. I sit in these windows and read.
I think big thoughts, and define life,
But I also worry that
One morning I might look down and see
A body dashed on the flagstones below.
People have their problems, and
It is a real worry.

~Andrew keeps the hits rolling
On the Sherwood with its maple console
And its warm, red sound. ~

I ask him to Kilter Night as he sits
With Mark Jones in the Great Hall,
His back to the night-dark windows.
He’s already been asked, but, quick on his feet,
He invites me out for the night after. And that’s
Pretty much our whole story. We know,
Just as everyone always says you do.

Kilter Night is in February, and an ice storm
Encases all the mountain.
We go out anyway because ice is nothing
When you’re 19. We leave from
The far doors, not the main ones under the
Stained glass Covenant window
Near the switchboard.
Andrew slips on Carter’s icy front porch
And slides several feet flat on his back past
Pillars and iron porch chairs.
We laugh at this beginning and head down
The mountain to see The Color Purple.
I cry hot tears at this heartbreaking story
But am embarrassed in front of a first date.
So I don’t wipe the tears lest I call attention to them.
They course and collect in my lap.

We stop at TCBY for yogurt. And even if we don’t
Quite know, we know.

Josie is still on her vacation.
A piece of rebar pierces the
Tire of my Buick Skylark right where
Someday an Alumni House will stand in
Which both my daughters will work,
(Daughters! Breathtaking!)
The same spot I will tell Andrew
I love him as we part for
An eternal four-month summer that I will measure
On the calendar in inches,
The same place I will later have my maiden and
Married name on a brick, a standing stone.

We load our cars in Carter circle,
Where some students park permanently,
Their daily ticket flapping in the
Brisk wind.

And we go.
We carry with us Sire and Blamire and
Schaeffer and Anderson and Clark and
Hesselink and Kaufmann and Graham and
Dodson and Mueller and Voskuil and
Gallagher and Ed’s redeemed cow and the
Parking tickets and Weltanschauung
And the memory of all that old doubt
and Eileen in the mailroom and
Scandal in the tunnels and the
Ancient paths taught us for our children
And the smell of
Carter Hall
To its bones.
~

(Photo cred:  Colin Nottage, Covenant College, Carter Hall 6/12/17)

 

 

 

 

 

What Kind Of God Do You Have?

What kind of God do you have?

I have one who cares when I lament over
The burdens my friends bear,
And who shows me that
He is also big enough to hear my little prayer
That I find a figurine – a wedding cake topper –
In an antique store of
3 floors and 57,000 square feet.

How many millions of pieces are there
In a market that big?

And He not only says yes, but He
Leads me, as we talk about it all –
Friends and figurines –
To the third floor, to the
Locked cases, at the back end of the
Second hour scanning shelves,
To the
Very
Ceramic bride and groom that I
Had not bought in a thrift store in Michigan
Three days ago.
I don’t know why I didn’t buy those
Two dancing, happy people then,
But I see now that

These same two were waiting for me here,
Deep among the artifacts in
57,000 square feet of Alabama
Called Highway Pickers,
So He could show
Me that He hears me when I say His name,
That He enjoys my little ideas,
And that while I can marvel at
Fresh expressions of His love,
I shouldn’t be surprised at His character.
It’s just who He is.

That’s the kind of God I have.

Michigan Meanderings of an Alabama Girl

Lilacs. I now understand Walt Whitman enthralled with lilacs in the dooryard. May twenty second and lilacs are having their glory moment. Walt was right; lilacs seem delicate but are mastering.

Birches. Frost wrote about birches, and I get that too. Birches’ trunks are their song to the world rather than limb shape or leaf play. Ash-white trunks, black ribbed, these tall proud ladies nod slightly to the lake wind and continue their long obedience.

Firs. Fir stands are the densest of north wood settlers. Dark and thick, Tolkien and Lewis both would have loved a Michigan fir stand.  It is alive with Narnian sighs and Mirkwood warnings.

Trillium carpets and cherry blossoms and clean lake wind and lake gulls which must be different from sea gulls, having chosen the non-salt life, and a little red cabin in the woods on the big lake. I expect any moment to see Pa with his rifle and Ma in the dark, mistakenly petting a bear instead of their friendly heifer in the pen.

Audubon Bluff Trail. Black squirrels are startling when you are used to plain-Jane grays. White tail deer, fiddle-head ferns conferring together, mosses and sequoias, swamps and cattails, dunes and a tame lapping lake today, Poe’s Raven cawing and Longfellow’s Hiawatha haunting. Michigan, I can’t figure out what you are!  But your motley is most beautiful. And oh all the poets, gone but still living, who breathe their cool observations and immortal words to inform my enjoyment. What an extra rich layer of pleasure to know they too stood in green, green woods glimpsing blue water and it came out as a song.

It’s hard to know whether to look inland or water-ward.

The lake’s the thing, Hamlet might have said, the vast breathing personality that draws the eye and clears the mind of all lesser things. The lake forces big questions: “Reckon with me,” it says. “If I am, then there must be something even bigger and deeper and bluer and colder and gustier and livelier and lovelier.”

Yes, it all leads to doxology.

       

      

           

           

Miscellaneous May And Her Musings

May is the last box on the
Moving truck, filled with
Odd shaped leftovers and
The urgency of making them all fit.

May looks up August’s aspirations,
And finds they came up short. So
May fills the gap with ten thousand school
Details for each of her thirty one days.

May removes barcode stickers from 80
Wedding candles, gashing her fingers and
Pronouncing imprecative curses on
All sticker-attachers, everywhere.

May proctors SAT tests and boggles that
One stray fleck of lead located outside a bubble
Threatens to foul the scoring machine and
Bring down an entire school district.

May rewrites Joan Jett’s 1981 classic, “I love
Empty nest . . .” but reflects that she has only
Experienced two total weeks of it, so she
Suspects it’s a hoax to keep parents going.

May loads up her college boy’s dorm room, on a
Belz Hall slope, doubting they can do it, and learns
From his happy priorities and his friends’ nimble help,
That things just work out when you’re young.
      

May puzzles when a friend declares that she gets
Two meals out of a loaded baked potato from Johnny’s.
That would require stopping halfway.
And May knows that doesn’t exist.

May chuckles that one of her Yankee friends
Wore a llama sweater to his daughter’s recent
Wedding. Oh, to hear his thought process, “Hmmm,
Yes, this llama sweater hits just the right note.”

May learns to manage her webpage, and
Discovers Command Z. Mashed simultaneously,
Command and Z erase all blunders and
Take you back where you started. Muy theological.

From which May meanders to Heidelberg Catechism,
Answer 60 which exults that I can be “as if I’d never
Sinned, nor been a sinner, as if I’d been as perfectly
Obedient as Christ was obedient for me”!

May is a child’s purse filled with stickers and gum,
And the broken shoulder strap and a castoff cell phone,
And a little orange New Testament and tooth fairy quarters,
A magic rock and three green apple Jolly Ranchers.

~

https://www.rca.org/resources/heidelbergcatechism

I Went To Walmart In My Pajamas

Saturday night, 9:30 pm, and I was pajamaed and tucked in.  The preacher discovered he needed certain items for early on his Sabbath morning, so I rolled out of bed and fired up the Fiat. My strategy was military and precise: park down at the pharmacy entrance, dart in and grab the item, whiz through the ’20 items or less’ check out, and be halfway home before the security camera turned my way. Textbook. However, I found myself caught in the crossfire of the age-old clash between two women and slowed down to thoroughly enjoy it.

Clubber was standing in the ’20 item’ line in a black eyelet shorts-romper and those hybrid boot/stiletto/lace up shoes. Nails did, hair thick, straight, and blond, her success at the club was guaranteed. All she needed, all she needed, to blow the roof off the club, was a little more mascara. So there she stood at register 22, simply trying to buy one pack of mascara.

The customers in front of her had a tab of $208 which is certainly possible with only 20 items, but perhaps we can forgive Clubber’s visibly rising temper a little because there were probably more than 20 items in their buggy. And they were leisurely debating the last item with the clerk – was this little watermelon organic or regular? Clubber tossed her keys and mascara on the belt in audible frustration.

The Clerk, salt of the earth in her blue Walmart vest and having all her competitive woman buttons pushed by this bombshell, was taking her sweet time, speculating on the watermelon with the idle clerk at the next register. This was her moment; she was in charge.

Idle Clerk, to make her point and twist the knife, looked at me and said sweetly, “I can take you on my register.” Clubber saw red. I looked at Clubber and said, “Go ahead,” which she did with a huff and not a whiff of a thank you. Remember though what I looked like in my pajamas and ratty bun. I wasn’t even on her radar as a person, which was fair enough.

We both transacted our business, Clubber lurching out of the Walmart first on those hybrid, tilt-forward shoes, and Idle Clerk said to me with a ‘hoooeee’ eyeroll, “I am sorry about that. I was talking to YOU not HER.”

As it turned out, Clubber was parked right next to me and was sitting in her Focus applying her beleaguered mascara. Somehow I expected her to be driving something other than a Focus, which would probably gratify her to know.

Discussion Questions:
How did my being in pajamas affect or determine my place in this skirmish?

Why was I so willing to get out of bed and go to Walmart? Why didn’t I send the preacher for his own stuff?

Why do women wear those hideous shoes?

Did Clubber really believe that anyone in the club would notice her mascara?

Were the customers in front of Clubber with the $208 bill aware of the undercurrents between Clerk and Clubber and purposely delaying just to see the fireworks? Were they complicit?

Why was Clubber so eager to get to the club? Who was going to be there? What important outcome depended upon her mascaraed presence this particular evening?

Was the little watermelon organic or not??

Clerk and Clubber were not competing for the same man, so explain the visceral clash between them.

How did the presence of Idle Clerk exacerbate the situation?

Should I be discouraged by the fact that I was clearly pushing neither clerk’s competitive woman buttons?  They liked me.

Why was I surprised to see Clubber in a Focus?

My Life Is His Answer

God answers prayer.

He uses the answer itself,
When it comes, to
Comb my heart and tease out the snarls.
Always, always.

His answer and my repentance –
One brings the other as sure as a
Baby’s head at my shoulder
Invites a storm of kisses.

The enemy of my soul feeds on my heart-snarls
Rasping in my ear that all I have done before
Is empty.

His accusations are exact, a perfect recitation
Of my rankest hidden moments.
But he is so very limited in his conclusions.
He takes the pieces, but
Fails utterly at the point of ‘Therefore, . . .’
And isn’t that the magic of the gospel,
That the enemy is right,
But I’m still not condemned.

Because
The Lover, the Answerer, breaks in and speaks
Truth.
Even as He answers my prayer,
He fills all I did before with
Himself. And so His
Good answer, the fruit I bear, is whole and
Life-giving;

His answer and my life are
The same thing.

         

April on Woodland Street