October 1, 2016

Hopeful Today

It is a good Saturday here in sunny and COOL (yes, you read that correctly), cool Phoenix. It is a blessed day today. I woke up after a very long and deep slumber, and I am happy to report that I feel well today. I was a bit groggy to start, but now that I have had my first cup of coffee, I feel pretty good. Overall, I am feeling so well, and I thank the Lord and lift up a sacrifice of praise to Him this good, good day! Selah!

The weather outside is lovely. It is currently 84 degrees outside and the humidity is right about 38%. The skies are clear today, the sun is shining, and frankly, it is a perfect day to be outside. It is not too hot; not too sticky. I so wish I had somewhere to go today. I really would love to have some place to go to visit or to shop or to hang out. Instead, I am at home and working on my student papers. Sigh!

Such is the life of a teacher! I am thankful, of course, but I so wish I could have my Saturday and Sunday’s free to just go and do “life.” Still, this is a good day to be thankful. It is a good day to remember to give thanks to our Father who provides every good gift to us, who covers us with His blessing, and who delights in us as we seek to honor, to serve, and to love others in His precious and mighty name. He is so very good to us, and He deserves our continual praise, honor, and adoration! Selah!

Happy October!

It is October 1, by the way. Yes, this is my birthday month, and I am partial to October. I love this month, regardless of the fact that my birthday will be here in just 17 days, simply because October is the start of fall in so many places. My friends back home in IL are enjoying cool and cloudy days. In my hometown, its 65 degrees right now and raining. In other places, where the sun is shining, it is a great day to enjoy one of the many fall festivals, pumpkin festivals, and harvest festivals.

Oh, how I love fall festivals and anything to do with pumpkins and harvest time. I am not sure why but I guess it has to do with my childhood memories and the sweet times I enjoyed with friends and family when I was in elementary school. My elementary school in IL always had a community festival right around this time. It was so much fun! We had carnival games, cake walks, goldfish toss, etc. Everyone in the community came and the money raised went to support our school. I am sure it was sponsored or hosted by our PTA, but I just remember how much fun it was to go and spend the day at school.

I guess the same could be said of other smaller villages and towns in America. I am sure many have a festival of sorts during the early months of the school year. I just have very sweet memories of those times, and I always enjoyed going to fairs, festivals, and other local events.

It is not that I cannot do that here, mind you. I certain can, but the events are not really my type. I like  going to them, but for the most part they involve car shows, home shows, etc., the type that are mostly supported by professional shops and businesses. They are more like trade shows than anything rural, country, or hometown like.

For example, this month in AZ, the only “fall” festival is down in Mesa. It is the 18th Annual Vertuccio Farms Festival. The advert says it includes “Includes a 7 acre corn maze, giant tube slide, rubber duck races, and spider web crawl, mini hay maze, barrel train, pumpkin patch and farm animals, race pedal cars, and jump on the extreme air pillow.” The other events are a rodeo, beer fest, car show, and alpaca show. Yeah, sort of a wild west jumbo-shumbo mess of events. Not really my style or interest…just saying. I did do the beer fest back when I was still married. It was not a pleasant day for me, but the trip up to Mount Lemmon (riding the tram) was worth the painful experience of having to be somewhere I didn’t want to be, pretending to be happy, when I was clearly, devastatingly, overwhelmingly sad.

No, I miss the old fashioned street fair the most. In IL, every year, my Dad’s company hosted a BBQ corn pit at the Frankfort Fall Festival. My family would drive over to Frankfort and spend the day shopping and eating, and just having a good time. Of course, now the festival is a gigantic commercial affair that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the town every September. Still, I remember the fun days and the great time we had as a family enjoying the festival. It was the highlight of the start of my school year. I remember the fair always being on Labor Day weekend or really close to Labor Day  In those days, school didn’t start until AFTER Labor Day so it was the last big “fun” event we had before school began. Perhaps that is why I have such nice memories of this particular event.

Memories and Moving On

As I sit here reminiscing about old times, I cannot help but think that in just 17 days, I will turn 54 years old. I feel every year of that 54 for sure some days. It is really funny how that is, I mean, I recall my childhood with fondness, and when I stop to think that I grew up in the 1960s-70s, well, that thought just shocks me. I mean, lets just go back to 1973 for example. I was in the 5th grade, Mrs. Umbaugh’s class at Highlands Elementary School. I was living in Hazel Crest, IL, a very nice middle-class neighborhood about 25 miles south of the Chicago Loop (Chicago’s central business district). Nowadays it is called the Chicago Southland, and it includes 62 different municipalities. There are still some nice communities to the West and south, but where I lived, the area suffered economically in the late 1980s-90s, and it has never really recovered. When I lived there in the 70s, it was a really nice community. It was safe, and it had very low or no crime at all. 

I should be truthful here and say that amongst all the pleasant and lovely memories, there are also some black moments from this period in my life. I have blogged extensively about my time growing up in this community, and about how I suffered abuse during these tender years (from age 8-16). I was glad to leave Hazel Crest and move to San Jose, CA just so that I could be free from the abuse. In hindsight, however, I realize now that in some ways leaving IL was not the best thing for me emotionally or mentally. I suffered as a result when I lost my friends, my identity, and all that I knew growing up. I never really fit in to my new high school, and I never really made good friends in San Jose (well, not until I was an adult).  I digress.

Back to 1973…and my 5th grade memories. Probably the best memory from this year was the trip my family took to the beaches of South Carolina. This was a SUMMER for sure, and I had such a blast spending three weeks traveling, and two weeks sunning at the beaches near Myrtle Beach, SC. School that year was pivotal for me. I actually did well in class, but I struggled with 5th grade math, and my teacher, Mrs. Kosman, was difficult and hard to follow. Of course, I know now why I didn’t understand 5th grade math — pretty much — for the same reasons as why I struggled with 5th grade reading. IRLEN Syndrome and my ability to visually process anything simply made it difficult for me to read, to focus, to grasp concepts. I should mention that during those early years, whenever I read or had to write anything, the words simply fell off the page. Yes, to my eyes, the words jumped on the page, and then they would all trail off to the right. I would turn my papers 90 degrees just to try to control the chaos I was seeing. It really was a miracle that I could read and write and even do well enough to pass my classes. Still, 5th grade was not all a bust academically. I had a lot of fun in 5th grade, and I enjoyed life for the most part. My brother was not the tyrant he had been previously or would be in 1-2 more years, so 1973 simply was a peaceful year that I recall had a lot of happiness associated with it.

One of my fondest memories is sitting on my front porch and playing backgammon with the neighbor across the street. He is all grown-up now, a surgeon I hear, and he lives in NY some place. He was really good at backgammon as I recall, but then so was I, and we spent nearly every summer day playing backgammon on the front porch. We also played Risk, which was a game I loved, and almost always won (I don’t know why, but I guess it was my ability to think strategically). Still, we had so much fun during that summer. 

If I think back to those days, I can hear the pop hits from the early 1970s coming through my tiny transistor radio. I googled to get a list, and the top 10 hits from 1973 included:
  1. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, Tony Orlando and Dawn
  2. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce
  3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack
  4. Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye
  5. My Love, Paul McCartney and Wings
  6. Why Me, Kris Kristofferson
  7. Crocodile Rock, Elton John
  8. Will It Go Round in Circles, Billy Preston
  9. You're So Vain, Carly Simon
  10. Touch Me In the Morning, Diana Ross
Yes, I can still hear Roberta Flack singing, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” as I laid in bed and drifted off to sleep. WOW! Flashback!

That was also the year that the summer premiered “Live and Let Die,” one of my all-time favorite James Bond movies. I remember seeing that moving in Stone Mountain, GA on a steamy summer evening (part of that summer trip to SC). Other movies from 1973 included, “The Sting,” “The Way We Were,” “American Graffiti,” “High Plains Drifter,” and “Magnum Force.” Oh yeah! It was a super summer and year for the movies.

In all, my memories from 1973 are among my sweetest to date. Yet, when I think back to that year, I cannot help but face the fact that all of these things, these memories, took place nearly 43 years ago. Yikes! That is 40 years ago! When I talk with my students about popular culture, I have to stop and remember that none of them were born yet! They have no idea, no recollection, and no real appreciation for the pop culture of the 60s-80s, so much of which has formed our modern culture (for good or for bad).

Still, as I think about these memories, one thing comes clearly into focus. I recall how my faith in God was challenged during these early and formative years. I came to faith as a young child, yet even as a young child, I was being challenged to stand firm in my faith, to engage culture, and to differentiate between true doctrine and false doctrine. I was confronted daily with heresy, and if that sounds shocking, well it is the truth. I had to deal with truth on so many levels in my young life, but through it all, the Lord prevailed. He kept me safe, though not unharmed, and as a result, I learned to trust Him, to lean on Him, to abide in Him. But, I also learned how to be strong, really strong. I learned how to be resilient, and how to stand against bullies and people who were mean, nasty, and downright, hateful toward me. I grew up during a placid period in American history, yet I also grew up during a time when abuse was accepted — in the home, in the school, and in the work place — and where few adults would step in to help a hurting child. Yes, I grew up in a time when you were called names for being weak, when you were told to “pull up your bootstraps” and stand your ground. I did that, of course, and I did survive. I had to go through counseling eventually in order to process that hurt, to understand it and the people who perpetrated that hurt on me, but in the end, the Lord used those experiences, good and bad ones, to help shape me into the person I am today. I am grateful for my childhood, for my upbringing, and for the experiences that have made me a strong, resilient, and disciplined person today.

In Closing

As I close this blog post, I give thanks to the Lord for the life He has given to me. It hasn’t been perfect by any means, but I am thankful for the person I am today. I have become someone whom I am comfortable being, and I am content and at peace with my personhood. I actually like myself — really well — and as such, I have this inner peace and sense of satisfaction that helps me to let go of the past hurt, and embrace the unknown of my future. He is good. He has done this, and He has enabled me to walk on, to walk out my purpose with such dedicated and determination in order to accomplish His will for my life. He is good to me, so very good to me! Selah!

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