My church women’s group has been holding an annual holiday bazaar since the beginning of time. It may be that the creation story in Genesis stops just short of proclaiming, “On the eighth day, God created the ECW bazaar.” The bazaar is, according to those parishioners who come from a long, multi-generational line of St. James Episcopal attendees, iconic. There have been some minor changes over the years, but the bazaar is a Leesburg institution. The pillars of the church would come tumbling down without the bazaar. The only year we missed was 2020 when a worldwide pandemic rendered hosting a group of people breathing on each other inadvisable. After the usual bazaar time, I checked the church’s foundation and I think there may have been some cracks.
There are a lot of benefits to the bazaar. The money we earn goes to support local, national, and global charities. Pretty much every dime goes directly out of the till into the coffers of worthy organizations. It is also a chance for our church to be more visible in the community. During the bazaar, we give tours of the beautiful stained-glass windows in our church. Our parishioners work together to produce the event. We try to involve as many sub-groups of our congregation as possible, even if doing so may mean we take in slightly less money.
The bazaar is not easy, though. While everyone does work towards the same main goals, not everyone is going to agree all the time on how to pursue those goals or when auxiliary goals should take precedence. Not everyone works the same way. Some people like to plan and schedule. Others like to embrace the serendipity. Some people like to stick with tradition. Others like to experiment and try new things. Some people enjoy working with new technology. Others find it a bit intimidating. Even when everyone agrees, it is a whole lot of work to produce this epic adventure each year.
I was co-chair of the bazaar this year. How exactly I ended up in this august role is a long, bewildering story, which I will spare you. Such a job is definitely outside my wheelhouse. Ironically, one of the reasons I agreed to take on the job is because I thought the skills that DO reside within my wheelhouse might be helpful. It turns out that I greatly overestimated said skills and their value in producing a bazaar. I was not very good at it. In fact, it might be said that I was spectacularly bad at it. In addition to my incompetence, I found that being bazaar co-chairperson brought out the absolute worst qualities in me that I like to pretend are not there.
The results of this year’s bazaar are a testament to God’s ability to use even very poor efforts to the benefit of his people and the glory of His name. I find the whole endeavor to be proof that there is indeed a Holy Spirit. We earned over $10,500 for the charitable organizations we support. This total is about $2000 more than last year.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for these results and the good that the money will do to help people. I am even more thankful that the bazaar is over!
I think God is doing marvelous things all the time. I also think we often don’t even notice them. Recently, I had one of those rare, perfect moments of clarity when I absolutely noticed.
My life coach had been encouraging me to find a way to “actively grieve.” He explained that it might be healthy for me to pick a day to just concentrate on allowing myself to feel the difficult emotions related to my brother’s death. He suggested that it is easy to hide those emotions away in some toxic part of my heart when I am running around bobbing and weaving through the normal activities of everyday life. The idea had merit. The idea of planned and scheduled grieving appealed to me. Of course. I wanted to try it, but my calendar was pretty full. I wanted to try active grieving but could not figure out how I was going to squeeze it into my already crammed schedule.
Right after this conversation with my life coach, God did one of those marvelous things.
The three local Episcopal parishes were holding an All Souls’ Day evening service at the church in Eustis- about fifteen miles from where I live. My pastor was going to give the sermon. I had been debating about going but decided to attend for two reasons: to support my pastor and to hear what he had to say at an All Souls’ Day sermon. I have a logical and theological conundrum with the idea of praying for the dead. If they are dead, surely their fate is decided and do not need our prayers? I understood the concept from my life as a Roman Catholic because the Roman Church has the doctrine of purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory seems to me to be a scriptural stretch. If I had to guess, I’d say God probably takes care of the “purgatory process” while the person is still breathing. I am not so sure this “purgatory process” is about punishment or even purification in the sense of making us “good enough.” I think it might be more about the person coming to a regretless and joyful feeling of readiness in body and soul to leave this life. I trust that God has some elegant, perfect way of sorting all this out, so I have never worried too much about it. Determining how God works out the whole balance between justice, love, and mercy is way above my pay grade.
At any rate, if one believes that there is an actual place or state of purgatory where people go after they die, as the Roman Catholics do, it makes sense to pray for those people. However, Protestants do not subscribe to the doctrine of purgatory, so I was interested to observe how Episcopalians experience All Souls’ Day.
The main point here is that I went to the service to be supportive and to benefit intellectually. I did not go to the service with the intention of grieving. As improbable and clueless as it sounds, it never occurred to me that I was going to have any sort of personal emotional experience.
When I arrived at the church and perused the Order of Worship, it was clear that the service was more about healing the grief of those of us who are still living than praying for the deceased. There was a candle-lighting service, recitation of the names of the lost, individual anointing for those of us who are mourning, communion, and an opportunity for individuals to talk with clergy afterwards if difficult emotions bubbled up during the service. My pastor’s sermon was about the relationship between sorrow and hope… the gift of learning just how much we need and rely on hope when we experience grief.
The whole thing was a bit “high churchy,” which is usually not my “go to” worship. Even when I was a Roman Catholic, high mass did not speak passionately to me. I can and do appreciate the beauty in observing a formally, poetically crafted liturgy the way one appreciates a painting in a museum. It never felt like an active, experiential worship immersion for me, though. However, the formal, somber tone of the liturgy on All Souls’ Day was absolutely perfect. Maybe for the first time, I experienced “leaning in” to that sort of worship experience. I was no longer looking at the picture on the wall. I followed willingly as the Holy Spirit led me into it.
Actually, everything about the evening was absolutely perfect.
The lighting in the church was very low. Candles provided almost all the illumination. There were only about thirty-five people in the pews, so I did not feel a lot of energy coming from other people. The mood was somber and respectful. It was like my very own interior, homogenous, private experience even though it was a public forum. I was not picking up on other people’s divergent emotions at all, even though I am usually finely attuned to other people’s moods. I noticed that I regularly closed my eyes unconsciously and simply listened, focusing on what I was hearing in an almost meditative way.
Before the service, ushers asked us to print the names of the people we wanted to remember in prayer. In this type of situation, I usually list all my relatives and all Max’s relatives who have passed from this life. This time, I listed only the names of my father, mother, and brother. It was instinctive. It was something I had to do just for me.
When the pastor read the names- Ernest Goodness, Dorothy Goodness, and Ernie Goodness- I felt this intense pain inside of me. It screamed, “You left me. You all went away and left me all alone.” I could almost see them together- happy, without conflict or brokenness- watching me. I needed a hug desperately- I needed touch. As it happened, I ended up kneeling at the communion rail right next to my pastor’s wife. We were shoulder to shoulder. Without my even asking, she reached her arm around me and hugged me. It felt so good.
The sermon, which I expected to enlighten me theologically did nothing of the sort. My pastor did not even really talk about the concept of “praying for the dead.” Instead, he talked about grief. As I listened, I experienced some feelings that have come up inside me regularly. I have struggled to describe them. My pastor’s words helped me to understand. I felt somehow small and innocent, enrobed in a strange kind of purity- like the bedraggled psyche I usually carry around with me was fresh and clean. I also felt lost and alone in the dark- vulnerable. It was a weird combination of despair and hope steeping in a stew of acceptance. It occurred to me that perhaps this emotional state is what it feels like to let go of the past and start exploring the future with a new frame of mind.
Tears oozed out of my eyes periodically throughout the service. The organizers of the event were clearly much more aware of the purpose of the event than I was. They provided boxes of Kleenex at the end of every other pew. Since I was not expecting emotion (improbable, clueless, etc.), I did not come prepared with tissues. I gratefully pulled a generous handful of Kleenex out of one of the boxes as I got in line to light my candle. I used them all throughout the evening. As I walked to the altar to light a candle in memory of my father, mother, and brother, I noticed that one candle lit by someone before me had gone out. I reached over and relit it. I found that action inexplicably satisfying and calming.
As I write this, I am not sure how to stop. This experience has embedded itself in my soul and I doubt I will soon forget it. I think I may be having trouble ending this story because the experience has not ended. It is still living inside me, as, I am sure, my father, mother, and brother are. The experience continues because grief continues. My gratitude to God for giving me this perfect evening continues because my walk with God continues. My confusion and chaos continue, even if a gossamer blanket of grace now covers it, because life and death are confusing and chaotic. Someday, I will join my family where there is no confusion and chaos. Until then, I am clinging to that gossamer blanket of grace.
Have you ever experienced one of those rare moments of clarity when you are sure you have seen God do something marvelous? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
As most of you know, my birthday is kind of a big deal to me. I think everyone should get at least one day a year for things to be all about them. I celebrate me on my birthday, not my age. On that one day a year, I put myself first.
This past year, Max and I had to negotiate this issue. We were considering going to Las Vegas to see Rod Stewart for our autumn vacation. I told you a little bit about that adventure in last week’s blog. What I did not say was that, to maximize this trip, we would have to spend my birthday in airports flying home from Las Vegas. This certainly did not sound like an enticing way to spend my very own annual special celebration day. On the other hand, I did want to see Rod Stewart and the logistics were much simpler if we spent September 30th traveling home.
We decided to pretend we were in some alternative universe where my birthday was actually September 29th. I like to think I have improved with age (despite the protests of my body suggesting otherwise.) Maybe I have become so adaptable and so efficient, I have developed the ability to twist time. At any rate, I took the position that, for 2022, my birthday was September 29th.
It was a fun-packed day, but things really took off, so to speak, when my friend Kathy and I went ziplining. Yes, ziplining.
I have done ziplining twice before this trip. My experiences were a mixed bag.
Once, I was in a leadership readiness program in Colorado. As part of the class, we spent a day at a ropes course. We each had to do three of a number of activities that involved heights, ropes, balance, and physical endurance. I guess the idea was to help us overcome fears and realize how powerful we could be. All around me, people seemed to be getting the message… or, at least, some version of the message. I heard one woman scream, as she jumped from a telephone pole, “If I can do this, I can do anything. Watch out, I can fire your ass!” I wasn’t really afraid. Heights have never particularly bothered me. Ziplining always looked like fun when I watched The Amazing Race on television. Any concerns I had were related not to heights, but to my physical ability to do certain things. Climbing a telephone pole, maneuvering myself into a standing position on the summit, and balancing on the top of the pole seemed improbable for someone who trips over lint.
I was not afraid, but I should have been. I was the class injury. After successfully completing two other ropes activities with little trepidation, it was my turn to zipline. The instructor fastened me into a harness, and I climbed up the ladder to a platform. I do not remember any warnings. I do remember thinking that the people on The Amazing Race sort of sat in their harnesses. At this ropes course, the rider stood and held a bar above her head. On the way down, I screamed. The people below thought I was scared. I was not scared. I was actually in excruciating pain. I am not sure what I did wrong, but I almost dislocated my shoulder. I spent the next several weeks consuming Aleve and admiring the rainbow bruise that extended from my left breast over my shoulder down my back to my waist. Luckily, there was a hospital across the street from the ropes course.
The next ziplining opportunity was at the San Diego Safari Park. I am not sure why I thought ziplining was a great idea after my first experience, but I did. We had a practice run on a short course, which was fine except for an extremely abrupt end to the ride. When I hit the brake position, the momentum threw my heels over my head. I had second thoughts, but decided “in for a penny, in for a pound.” I got in the truck and rode three miles up into the hills. I soared over the African veldt in Escondido, viewing antelope, zebra, and elephants from my seat in the sky. Because it was a longer route, the stop was more gradual, and my feet did not go flinging all akimbo. The whole experience was fantastic.
I decided I’d like to try ziplining over the Las Vegas Strip. Kathy enthusiastically embraced the idea at first but became a little anxious as the time for our ride grew closer. I say, “became a little anxious.” She says, “almost had a panic attack.” It did not stop her, however. Even though she kept asking everybody she saw about what the ride entailed, she did not turn back. When it was over, she thought it was one of her favorite things about the whole Las Vegas trip. I thought it was amazing. It was such a celebratory, powerful thing to do on my birthday (yes, yes, I know it wasn’t really “on my birthday” but please humor me.)
After our ride, we had my birthday dinner at In and Out Burger. This may sound a little anti-climatic, but I LOVE In and Out Burger. It is a deep source of disappointment for me that Florida does not have any In and Out Burgers. Whenever I am in California or Nevada, I gorge myself like I am storing up hamburgers and French fries for winter hibernation. I took a bite of my double meat plain hamburger, and I was in Hamburger Heaven.
I had more than enough to eat for dinner, but we had to have dessert… ‘cuz it was my birthday. My answer to “cake and ice cream” was sharing a brownie sundae with Max at Ghiradelli. All of this wonderfulness of a day while Hurricane Ian was raging his way around town at home.
Sometimes unbirthdays are the best birthdays of all!
How do you like to spend your birthday? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was never a child. Somehow, when I was very young, I did not get the message that children are charming and endearing. I got the message that children (or at least the child I used to resemble) were ridiculous. The adult smiles and laughter that most children correctly perceive as affectionate amusement, I saw as mocking and deriding. It was not anything that anyone did. My emotional translator was just too smart for its own good. As a result of my faulty interpretation of the adult reactions around me, I quickly learned to stifle childish impulses. Instead of experimenting with new things, saying what was on my mind, and acting my age, I pretty much just waited to grow up.
I absolutely hated being a teenager. Thinking back on the whole experience, I realize that it sucks to be an adolescent. I wonder how any of us gets through it. When I get to heaven, I really want to have a talk with God about puberty and the whole maturation process. I feel like there has to be an explanation. An almighty God could certainly have designed a more elegant, less traumatic way to transform children into adults. At any rate, I did everything I could during my junior high and high school years to try to avoid typical teenage life. I did not date. I did not rebel. I did not even hang out with a group of friends. I pretty much just waited to grow up.
As part of that “waiting to grow up” thing, I got married when I was 21 years old. I had a grown-up job. I had a husband. I lived in an apartment for which I paid the rent. My peers were going to clubs, taking trips to Cancun, and reveling in the freedom of being young, single, and adult. I was managing a budget, putting a husband through school, and falling asleep in front of the television. Heck, I spent my first New Year’s Eve after turning twenty-one bereft of all alcohol at the Disneyland party.
After seven years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted a divorce. I was now a “grown up.” It was quite disappointing to discover that the “waiting to grow up” strategy I employed when I decided to bow out of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood did not result in the “happily ever after” I thought it would. When my husband left me, I also learned something about trying to skip developmental steps. You can’t. As adamantly as I had said “no, thank you” to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood during the appropriate chronological times in my life, I soon realized that the Universe was going to force me to experience these stages at some point or another.
In the long, sad, lonely months in the wake of my separation and divorce, I found I had to learn to play. I had to learn to play with abandon without fear of being ridiculous, the way a child plays. When I entered the dating world, I found I had to go through the thousands of little and big heartbreaks of embryonic attraction and love. I had to learn to live with the disappointments intrinsic to social situations without losing myself, as a teenager must learn that she can survive even those situations that seem catastrophic at the time. When I finally gained some confidence and began to enjoy life, I had to find a way to stay true to myself and to understand that other people won’t necessarily behave as I expect them to behave… just as young adults must learn how to discern their authentic place in the world.
I think I am still working on learning that last bit. I never did really experience the bold, busy, boisterous milieu of the young adult scene. To me, the word that best distills the young adult experience is “more.” In this phase of life, we are trying to be ourselves but also trying to figure out who “ourselves” are in the context of the world. Everything is magnified so that we can better examine it. The volume of life is higher. The saturation of color is brighter. The number of experiences per square inch explodes. The contrast of life is on “high.” I am still a more muted person than most people project in young adulthood. I am an old adult who is missing a misspent youth. I’m still trying to acquire one.
Recently, I went to Las Vegas. The main reason we decided to go to Las Vegas was because we wanted to see Rod Stewart in concert. Rod Stewart is an old adult who is still living a misspent youth. He is 77 years old and still presents himself as someone in the eye of the young adult hurricane.
The night of the concert, I adorned myself in my most “rocker chick” finery. I wore black jeans with a beaded graphite-colored vine running down the leg. I wore a rose gold sequin blouse, and I topped it all off with a somewhat distressed, studded jean jacket. I felt like I was really letting loose my inner wild child. Part of me felt hip, sexy, and edgy. The other part of me felt ridiculous. I decided to go with hip, sexy, and edgy. I locked “ridiculous” in the closet before Max and I set out to the show.
As we waited in the elevator lobby for our friends, A man at least 35 years younger than I walked by me and said, “You look lovely this evening, ma’am.” I looked around to see who he was talking to, realized it was me, and blurted out a quick “thank you.” Random strangers do not usually compliment my looks. It was kind of a rush. I even forgave him the dreaded “ma’am,” which might have been a buzzkill.
We had excellent seats at the concert. One of the perks of being an old young person is that one typically has more disposable income with which to buy expensive tickets. We were in row eleven, almost exactly center stage. Sir Rod gave a fantastic, supercharged show. He sang around 35-40 songs- belting, tossing his hair, dancing, and gyrating like a man at least 35 years younger. His affected youth was contagious. I felt my inner young adult breaking out of this elderly woman’s shell of a body. I sang. I tossed my hair. I don’t know that I did much gyrating, but I did dance. My, how I danced. I checked my pedometer soon after the concert started and checked it after the performance. I danced the equivalent of 1.8 miles of walking while occupying the small piece of real estate around my seat.
I felt powerful, free, and vibrant. I felt like I had life by the cajones. At the time we were watching the concert in Las Vegas, Hurricane Ian was raging past our home in Florida. The threat of the hurricane had obviously been on my mind during our trip, but the energy of the concert quelled my anxiety. Hurricane, what hurricane? I was at least as powerful as any natural disaster. Move over, Ian. The misspent youth of Terri LaBonte has arrived. I was my own little pudgy bundle of wind, rain, and energy. I was the hurricane!
The next day, of course, I was back to the calm. Once more, I was the placid, responsible, quiet, introverted, awkward person I was before my evening of misspent youth. I am sure my aging body can stand only so much misspent youth at a time. I would not have it any other way.
I guess I did have a misspent youth during my actual youth. It was misspent because I did not misspend it the way young adults do to find, develop, and accept themselves. I plodded along through my twenties, spending my youth being who people expected me to be- responsible, sober, and serious. I am not sorry for the life I have lived, but I do think I could have made more productive bad choices when I was younger. Something else I have learned about trying to skip developmental stages is that the stakes are typically higher when you go back and live those developmental stages at an older age. You do not have the same kind of safety nets around you when you are sixty as you did when you were sixteen.
That still does not mean one cannot misspend their youth at age 63. I am proof that there are benefits from slipping the leash and maturing backwards, even later in life!
Did you have a misspent youth? When did it occur? What was the best takeaway from that developmental stage for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.