December 30, 2004

-image-santascam 2004 — update

Since I’ve so far managed to escape the fiery, gaping hell mouth licking my heels in the wake of SantaScam 2004, here’s the latest update on my unintentional Christmas caper:

Last week, before MB and I went up north, my side of the family got together for Christmas. Of course, my niece Piper, victim of SantaScam 2004, was in attendance. As I sat on the floor playing a game with her, I said:

“So Piper, I heard you got a phone call from Santa.”

She leapt from her spot on the floor, plopped herself in my lap, smushed her fingers against my lips, and solemnly whispered, “Tee Tee, shhhhh …. it’s a secret.”

This went on throughout the course of the evening. Whenever a family member would inquire about the “Santa” phone call, Piper would instantly shush them. She was quite hushed and serious about the whole affair.

I called the Tuesday after Christmas to check in. Piper answered the phone in her certain way.

“Heyyo?!”

“Piper, it’s Tee Tee.”

And she was off. And chattering …. and chattering. About Christmas. I think. Now let me explain. In my family, we’ve all learned to speak “Piper.” But even with my decent knowledge of this “language,” I understand only about 50 percent of what she says. And when she’s excited like that? Fuggedaboudit. Listening to her, I briefly thought, “Hmmm …. my niece has the gift of tongues.” Clearly, she’s just more spiritual than the rest of us.

As her “Piperspeak” blew by my ears at truly dizzying speed, my niece would frequently stop and burst into hysterical, hiccuppy, little girl giggles. I couldn’t figure out how — or when — she was even breathing. Whatever she was saying, though, she was just cracking herself up. It was utterly irresistible and I, too, soon dissolved into hysterical, hiccuppy giggles. It was probably the best conversation I’d had in quite a while.

Finally, there was a bit longer pause. I thought perhaps she’d passed out. Pressing the phone closer to my ear, I managed to hear her heavy breathing on the other end. She started to giggle again, then I asked:

“Piper, did you leave some cookies out for Santa?”

Giggling and heavy breathing stopped. A hush fell over our conversation.

“Ye-aah.”

“Oh, that’s good! Did he eat them?”

“Ye-aah.”

“Wow. That’s pretty neat, huh?”

“Ye-aah.”

There was a pause, then she whispered these exact, polite words:

“May I tell you someping ewse?”

“You may.”

She was suddenly back up to full volume and speed:

“HE WEFT ONY WITTLE KWUMBS, TEE TEE!”

“Wow! Really? Santa must have been really hungry.”

“Ye-aah. But we dint gib him a wot ’cause he’s so big.”

“Well, that was a good idea.”

“Ye-aah.” She was hushed again. So I said:

“Well, what should we do now?”

“I dunno.”

“Hmmm …. well, I could get you!” She loves to be “got.”

She chided me, “Tee Tee, you’re not eben in my house.”

“Well, I don’t know. I still think I could get you. You’d better run!”

And you know what? She did. With the cordless phone. Across the wood floors. I could hear her little feet running, racing. Once again, she and I were both giggling uncontrollably as I “chased” her through the house.

Again, probably the best conversation I’d had in quite a while.

Piper ran and I chased — complete with “gotcha” noises — until we were suddenly “busted” by mom. My sister took the phone, and, rightly assuming it was me, said:

“What are you DOING, Tray?”

“Chasing Piper.”

“Oh …….. WHAT?”

Hmmmm …. it’s hard to explain, I guess.

Just the best conversation.

December 29, 2004

-image-indulge me

One of my favorites, Jerry Orbach, died yesterday. Many know him as the voice of Lumiere in Disney’s wonderful “Beauty and the Beast.” Many others know him from the TV show “Law and Order.” But I prefer to remember him as the definitive “El Gallo” in the original Off-Broadway production of the musical “The Fantasticks.” A great personal favorite. Many years ago in Seattle, I had the happy chance of performing in that beloved show. It was my first “big break,” as such, into Seattle theatre and I was utterly dumbfounded as to how I got there. I still am. Anyway, I quickly developed a clumsy, hopeless crush on the actor playing “El Gallo.” Really, I think THAT was just an extension of my “true” crush on the voice of Jerry Orbach from the soundtrack I played — incessantly. (Secretly, I think I’ve always wanted to play “El Gallo,” a sort of mysterious rogue, narrator character; however, I am not a man. And, frankly, any version of “The Fantasticks” with “El Gallo” as a woman would be a theatrical abomination that should close that same night with the theatre subsequently burnt to the ground. Not that I have an opinion on the matter.)

But “El Gallo” is a man and that man, if I could have my way, would always be Jerry Orbach. A quiet, yet immense, talent.

I’m listening to my original cast album this afternoon just so I can swoon and sigh to his rich, rumbly baritone singing “Try to Remember.” (I’m such a sucker for a man who can sing.)

Listen to some of these lovely, yearning lyrics. And sing along if you like:

“Try to remember when life was so tender that no one wept except the willow

“Try to remember when life was so tender that dreams were kept beside your pillow

“Try to remember when life was so tender that love was an ember about to billow

“Try to remember, and if you remember, then follow.”

I guess, for me, Jerry Orbach is forever tied to a time in my life just like that.

Here’s my last indulgence, I promise — a beautiful line that “El Gallo” speaks near the end of “The Fantasticks”:

“There is a curious paradox

that no one can explain.

Who understands the secret

of the reaping of the grain?

Who understands why Spring is born

out of Winter’s labouring pain?

Or why we all must die a bit

before we grow again.”

And if you’ve read this far, thanks for indulging me. Really. And mostly, thank you, Mr. Orbach, for the memories.

December 28, 2004

-image-thailand

In my mailbox just now was perhaps the best Christmas present I’ve received. A mangled, smeared envelope from Thailand containing a Christmas card, a photo, and a letter. It was from Im Jai House, the Christian orphanage I visited last summer as part of a missions team to Thailand. I’ve not yet written about this trip, an experience of soul-stirring resonance, because I know I lack the eloquence to do it justice. Yet in the aftermath of the horror in Southeast Asia, my heart can’t help but be drawn to the friends I met over there. The photo was a group shot of all 50 kids and staff. I saw the faces of the children I’d clowned with, danced with, eaten with, played cards with. The children I’d watched swim, half-dressed and happy, in what My Beloved and I dubbed “The Mocha River.” The children had nothing but love to give and it’s the thing they wanted most from us. Even as I write this, I’m thousands of miles away.

Here’s a quote from the letter:

“We are really thankful to God that the children donated money to help build a house for a widow. They had been saving this money for a long time to help the poor. We were praying that the Lord would show us where to give the money. The children also donated food and items to help another orphanage.

“Even though we are poor, we teach the children to help the people who are more in need than us.”

I don’t believe the timing of this letter is an accident.

“Help the people who are more in need than us.”

-image-more “straights and homos”

We got back last night from our trek up north. (More on that later.) Arriving at our front door, cranky and droopy, we found a cheery card gracing our welcome mat. It was a Christmas card from Mike and Lee. Enclosed in it were two guest passes to the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, where Mike is a volunteer. Now I happen to know that he isn’t just given these. He works for them. As a matter of fact, he works 20 hours for each ticket. Since he is a once-a-week volunteer, I imagine it took him well over a month to earn these two tickets. And he chose to give them to us, saying in the card, “We’re glad you guys are our neighbors.”

For them, I made up a basket of my maple oatmeal scones. (They’re Mike’s favorite.) They’re good, but, well, they’re not THAT good. Knowing that Mike is on total disability, knowing that he often feels unwell, knowing the work hours he put in, we’re humbled by this gracious gift.

I truly believe we’re more blessed in knowing them than they are in knowing us.

December 22, 2004

-image-every year

Every year at this time, I give birth. Which is miraculous because what you don’t yet know about me is that, for many years now, My Beloved and I have been unable to have children. It has been, simply, the most wrenching, most lingering sorrow of our lives. Even as I share this, I’m astounded that I’m doing so. If you knew how closely I’ve guarded this in my heart, if you knew how long it took me ever to tell anyone, if you knew how much the shame from this has weighed me down, you might be astounded, too.

But nevertheless, every year at this time, I give birth.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given ….”

Unto you and, even, graciously, unto me.

So come let us adore Him.

The One who came to fill, overflowing, the bereft and empty places of our hearts.

Your Child.

And my Child.

And our Child.

December 21, 2004

-image-can santa go to hell?

So, I’m going to hell. Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with my 4-year-old niece where I pretended to be Santa Claus.

Yup. And this blog is now my cyber confessional.

Here’s the scene: My sister and I were on the phone. In the background, I heard Piper saying she wanted to "talk on da phone." Now, she didn’t know who my sister was talking to, and once she said hello, something …. happened to me. I spontaneously, inexplicably found myself saying, in the single WORST man-voice imitation of all time, "Ho Ho Ho! Pii-perrr …. this is Saaanntaa!"

(When I re-enacted it later for My Beloved, he couldn’t look directly at me. He simply cringed and declared, "Uhh, you sound more like a ghost. Or the Movie Phone guy.")

But it’s TRUE. I DID.

So I truly thought there was no chance — NO CHANCE — that she’d fall for it. Of course, the jig would be up instantly. I mean, I’d never been able to fool her with a "voice" before. But then there was an audible gasp on the other end of the phone. I waited for her to say, chidingly, "Tee Tee, I know it’s you." But she didn’t. Her little, speech-classed voice excitedly said:

"Santa?! Hi, Santa!"

(Ohhhhhh, nooo. Flames of hell tickling my toes.)

I had a split second to decide. I was so sure she’d already be laughing at me and saying, "You so funny, Tee Tee." But once I realized she was actually BELIEVING me, I had to keep going. What was I going to DO? Stop in the face of such excitement and lamely say, "Ha ha ha. Just kidding, Piper"?

So girding my dubious wits for this festive fraud, I bellowed:

"Have you been a good girl, Pii-perrr?"

"Oh, yes, Santa. I be good," she breathed.

"Well, why don’t you tell Sanntaa what you want for Christmas?"

Holy MOLY, I sounded stupid. The hellfires were spreading. So was the sweat. At that point, I just prayed that she’d keep believing.

She said something I couldn’t quite make out, so I just replied:

"Welll, o-kaaay. Sanntaa is writing that down. What else do you want for Christmas, Pii-perrr?"

I almost cried when she said, simply, "Dust a toy."

I had to pause to take a breath.

"What kind of toy, Pii-perrr?"

"Dust a toy," she repeated.

I told her I was writing that down, too. I was about to lose it. I wasn’t sure if I’d melt into tears or laughter, but one of them was imminent.

"So, Pii-perrr, are you going to leave Sanntaa some cookies to eat?"

"Oh, yes, Santa. I wiw!"

"Ho Ho OHH, that’s good. Sanntaa likes cookies!" (Seriously, Movie Phone guy, watch out.)

"Okay," she said softly.

Finally, I said, "O-kaay, Pii-perrr. I’m coming to your house on Christmas Eve. But you need to be asleep. Okaaay, Pii-perrr?"

"Oh, yes, Santa. I be sweeping for shore."

"That’s good. You make Sanntaa verry haappy. HO HO HO! Bye Bye, Pii-perrr!"

Oh …. Sweet …. Lord …. forgive …. me. Fraud over, I collapsed back on the sofa to catch my breath. My sister was back on the line.

"Oh, thank you for calling, Santa." I could tell she was stifling laughter. She was gently coaxing Piper to leave the room so we could talk, but apparently, my niece was frozen in place, a wide-eyed, open-mouthed statue.

I told my sister, "Tell her Santa needs to talk to mommy about some Christmas surprises." (Refer to forgiveness plea above.)

She did, and Piper bolted from the room. My sister was in hysterics.

"How did you do that without laughing?"

"I don’t know!" I wailed.

"I could hear you. That was the worst voice I’ve ever heard you do."

"I know!" I wailed.

"All those years of acting and THAT’S what you come up with?"

"I KNOW!" I wailed.

It’s true — it was simultaneously the best AND worst performance I’d ever done.

"Well, I don’t know how she bought it, but she did. Her eyes were bugging out of her head."

My sister called this morning with news of the aftermath of SantaScam 2004. Apparently, immediately after the phone call, my elated niece insisted on calling her Nana and Pop-Pop to tell them Santa had called. She’s also quite adamant about the cookies. My sister tried to fob off some fudge on Santa, but Piper would have none of it. "No, Mommy. Santa wants cookies. He tole me. He tole me!"

I know. I know. Santa’s going to hell.

And without any cookies, too.

December 20, 2004

-image-“some straights and some homos”

(Names have been changed in this post.)

So My Beloved and I went to a "gay" Christmas party Saturday night. When we mentioned that we were attending this party, there were a few raised eyebrows from Christian friends. But let me explain.

Our neighbors in the townhome next door are a gay couple named Mike and Lee. In the year since we bought this place, we’ve become friends. We know they’re gay; they know we’re Christians. I remember early on having one of those get-to-know-you conversations where they both shared about their families. Mike described growing up destitute and fatherless, one of twelve children in the coal mining country of West Virginia. At that point, Lee chimed in, "Yeah, hon. You were a real coal miner’s daughter." I howled with laughter. How can you resist that?

Mike is 54 years old and HIV positive. He is gaunt, in frequent pain, and on total disability. Whenever I hug or touch him — which is pretty much every time I see him — he seems genuinely surprised. He has an older, Christian sister whom he adores, calling her his "soul mate." One day when he was talking about her, though, he said, "Yeah. She doesn’t smoke or drink or swear. You know, all the things that make you a Christian." Lee was listening and added, "Oh, yeah. And you need to believe in Jesus." (Now, I’d been trying to tread lightly with my friends here — something I’m not good at — but THAT was an opening if there ever was one.) I looked at both of them and quietly (only because I was nervous) said, "And you know what? Out of all those things you said, that’s the only one that matters at all." They looked at me, a bit taken aback, and one of them changed the subject. Actually, that was fine with me for a couple reasons: First, I felt sure hyperventilation was imminent and, second, I know that the conversation is not over.

But I need to tread lightly here, trusting only in the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom, because, frankly, the gay community is neither impressed nor touched by our "love" for them. They think we’re full of it and they’re not far off. When we moved in last year, I had Christians warn me to "watch out for those gays, they’ll stab you in the back." (And we Christians never would. Naturally.) How many times have we heard Christians we know refer to homosexuals as "those fags" or "those queers" or some other slam, delivered with great relish and equal contempt? How many times have we done that ourselves?

Recently, Lee shared a bit more about his family. They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses and he was, too, until a few years ago. He has never told his mother and grandmother, who live locally, that he’s gay or that he lives with his lover. In order to maintain any kind of relationship with them, he’s felt compelled to tell this rather unconvincing lie: that Mike is his landlord and he just rents a room from him. All because, he says, they would reject him if they knew the truth. "They would have to," he says, "because of their religion."

In his book "What’s so Amazing about Grace?" Philip Yancey relates this quote from a gay man who came from a Christian background: "I still believe. I would love to go to church, but whenever I’ve tried, someone spreads a rumor about me and suddenly everyone withdraws. As a gay man, I’ve found it’s easier for me to get sex on the streets than to get a hug in church."

That simply should never, ever be.

Touchingly, Mike and Lee are unfailingly good and generous to us. Many times, I’ve come home to find a friendly note taped to our door or a bag of goodies warming our welcome mat. If my husband is out of town, they’re my guardian angels, watchfully checking up on me. Their fondness for calling me "honey" and "sweetie" always makes me smile. They are loving, big-hearted men and I can’t seem to keep up with their kindnesses. But I want to — because they’re my friends. You’d all be lucky to have friends like our gay friends.

So about the party. Several weeks ago, Mike approached me and said, "We’re having a Christmas party and we want you to come. There’s gonna be some straights and some homos. What d’you think?" He seemed to be watching anxiously for my response. I looked him straight in the eye, smiled, and said, "Well, sounds like a party to me. We’ll be there."

And you know what? It was a lovely party and I had a great time. Sure, I was the only woman there, but, hey, gay men have a certain winning way of fawning over a woman that is utterly non-threatening because it’s non-sexual. They draw you in, relax you, and charm your socks off. No woman in her right mind would have a problem with that. And, sure, My Beloved, that hunka hunka burning man love, was good-naturedly hit on by a giant, burly, lumberjackish fellow. "Yeah. I know you’re straight," The Lumberjack joked. MB laughed and replied, "Yeah. And that’s my wife over there." Mostly, though, we talked about football, which may rattle some people’s stereotypes of gay men. Anyone walking into that home would have simply seen a bunch of enthusiastic men — and one chick — talking football and making friends.

Still, there are many Christians who’d say that we shouldn’t have gone. "You’re advocating that lifestyle," they might say. Or, "You’re sending the wrong message." No, I’m not. To me, not going would have sent the wrong message — one of rejection and judgment. I’m convinced it was important for us to go precisely because we’re Christians. I like to think Jesus would have been there, in the fray, scarfing meatballs and talking football.

But, in truth, it was no great sacrifice on our part, no righteous crusade. For, perhaps even more controversially, they are our friends. They’re our friends.

You’d all be lucky to have friends like our gay friends.

What if you asked God to bring you some?

December 18, 2004

-image-a “festivus for the rest of us”

Last night, in our ongoing search for dazzling, inspiring Christmas “shing,” we found this touching, seasonal display at one nearby house:

The scene featured Mary and Joseph gazing adoringly at Baby Jesus in the manger, the stately wise men bearing their gifts, shepherds lingering nearby, and then, of course, good ol’ SANTA, elves in tow, mouth open and ho-ho-ho-ing, presenting the Baby Jesus with a crummy, duddy CANDY CANE. But methinks this seculo-spiritual, holiday stew is missing something. I mean, why stop there? Let’s just round up a few of the people we worship MOST — some almost as real as Santa — and have us a genuwine, holiday hoodang. Just for starters: Where’s Britney Spears? Couldn’t she stop by and squeak (or, at least, lipsync) a chorus of “Santa, baby,” simultaneously honoring Santa and Baby? Or perhaps she’s preoccupied with nuptials — again? But, hey, couldn’t Julia Roberts drop by with her new twins, “Hazel” and “Phinnaeus,” presenting proof of the blessed birth the world has REALLY been waiting for this holiday season — and certainly outstripping poor Santa’s lousy gift? Or where’s Donald Trump in this? Shouldn’t he be there, robbing the wise man of his gold and shouting “You’re fired!” at Santa for underperforming his task by offering Jesus one measley, cruddy candy cane?

Now that would be a scene to warm and soften the coldest, hardest, Grinchiest, Scroogiest heart, wouldn’t it?

What’s that? All that worship and your deepest longings are STILL unfulfilled, you say?

Hmmm …. don’t know why.

December 17, 2004

-image-the trouble is …

The trouble is …. well, start a “Christian” blog and there’s pressure (possibly self-inflicted, I know) to be encouraging, to be inspirational, or to be “good.” Although, statistically, I AM off the charts in these characteristics; unfortunately, it’s the wrong end of the chart. I’d like to be encouraging, but I can’t guarantee it. I’d like to be inspirational, but I’m not Oprah. (Although, I guess I COULD give away my car. Unlike Oprah’s giveaway cars, the taxes were paid on mine lo-ha-hong ago. And it just got painted. So that IS inspirational. Take that, Oprah.) And I’d really like to be “good,” but, well …. please. (Even I’m choked with laughter as I write that.)

I went back and read my shocking first post from September where I spoke about what “worship naked” means: “Being stripped bare. Emotionally. Spiritually. Stripped of personal mythologies, pretenses, facades …. etc.” What? What kind of lamebrained notion was that? Who wants to do that? I don’t want to do that. And I don’t think many others do, either. (Although, I did run across a blog yesterday where the author said, “I’m not sure I want to be a Christian anymore.” I kinda had to respect his honesty.)

However …. if I’m going to be true to my stated purpose for this blog, then I should do that which I’m terrified to do. Share honestly. Transparently. But, possibly, I’ll be judged, disliked, rejected. Someone might relate to my struggles, but someone else might think, “Well, that’s just dumb.” You never know. I remember the helpful comment I once received from a woman I’d sought out for prayer. After I’d cried into a pillow and used too much tissue sharing some painful things, she said, “Oh, is that it? I’ve heard A LOT worse.” Hmmm. Gee, thanks. Share time over!

But maybe I’ll take the chance and share here anyway. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe the thick facades we’re wrapped in keep us from growing and stretching as Christians. Or, maybe …. maybe they keep us cozy and protected in a cold, cruel world. And I do love being cozy. Maybe we don’t have to worship naked. Maybe we can just be partially nude.

How ’bout that?

(And, seriously, hats off to me for the most aimless, ambivalent post yet. Well done, me.)

December 15, 2004

-image-men — no dice

At a stoplight today, I was behind a gleaming, red BMW convertible. Its contents, besides the usual seats and steering wheel and such, were an attractive, seemingly grown-up man, maybe 45ish — AND his GIANT, BLACK, FUZZY DICE hanging ridiculously from the rearview mirror. Now I admit I WAS staring at him. And I know he saw me staring at him. But I was NOT staring at him for the reason I think he thought I was staring at him! He smiled at me in his rearview and I just sat there, unmoving, because I didn’t want to send the wrong message AND because I was sure that moving my mouth at all would likely produce uncontrollable laughter.

Can someone please explain this to me? Seriously. Is it some kind of secret signal? I know I’m appallingly naive about certain things. Is there something it’s meant to broadcast other than “Heeeey, check me out, ladies. I’m a complete and utter TWIT”?! Is there some kind of genuine need for these, like maybe the poor fellow lacks fine motor skills and can’t use the normal-sized dice that normal people use? Or maybe his hands are puffy, digitally challenged Pillsbury dough boy hands? Or …. maybe he’s just a complete and utter TWIT!? Because an attractive, seemingly grown-up man with giant, black, fuzzy dice is an offense against nature. The Lord himself would agree with me, I know. I asked Him.

As the light turned green, he smiled at me again and waved. He WAVED to me.

Ohhhh, yeah. You romantic schemer, you, with those manly, irresistible fuzzy dice. Women everywhere will fall at your feet, limp.

With LAUGHTER.

He sped away and I gave in.

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