Mourning into Dancing-Our Infamous New Years Eves

Dec 31, 1988

It’s amazing how with the short shrill ring of a phone, life suddenly turns upside down and backwards at the same time.  Tears, mixed with that heartache that not even the greatest writer on earth can describe rips through one’s being.  Thank God above for the gift of shock because I don’t think we could have survived losing Cliff’s brother, Mike.  You see Mike was as free of a spirit as one could be.  Oh, everyone knows he was wilder than a billy-goat and had adventures that no billy-goat couldn’t conceive.  In fact the critter would blush at some of his escapades.  Some of the lighter stories include driving a motorcycle in the high school and leading an all school walk out in defense of a teacher.  That landed him the five-year plan to graduate.  But, graduate he did!  At 16 he told his dad he was spending the night with a friend, went and cleared out his savings account, and crossed the Kansas state line.  A day later, his mom called his dad to tell him that Mike had just driven up to her house in Oregon!  He knew it wasn’t working out so well for his little brother there and rescued Cliff.  His heart was so big that if he had money, some did everyone around him.  Three blond-haired little girls wrapped ‘Uncle Mikey’ around their fingers like none of the parade of girlfriends did. With a cigarette in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the other, he laughed and lankily loped through life on his own terms.

All things come to an end at sometime, and Mike grew up real fast when an oil rig exploded under him.  One learns patience in a burn center, and how precious life is while watching graft sites heal   New choices had to be made as working in the oilfield had led to temptations that he could not resist.  Continuing to partake of the substances would mean life and death.  But, walk away he did!  Life was new for him as he grabbed on to his second chance with a cigarette in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the other.  He helped whoever he could with his wit and humor still in tact.  His fear was without the help of his ‘friends’, no one would like him.  Oh, was he wrong!  He was a deeper Mike, setting goals for himself when he got his medical release.  He would pick up one of my Guideposts magazines and amazing conversations would start.  So funny and blossomed in his own grafted skin. He was one of my best friends.

Then the phone call came and Mike was gone.  A car accident in Las Cruses, NM was the culprit.  My guess is he went out with a cigarette in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the cup holder.  I know how much my heart broke, but can not imagine what Cliff went through.  Mike had been his rock, his best friend, his brother, his hero, and sometimes his parent.  For months afterwards Cliff would stand in our picture window, watching for Mike’s vehicle to come down the drive-way.

For 2 New Years Eves, we sat around and pretty much had memorial services.  Finally the third year, I said “Enough!”  It was time to go forward.  We invited friends and family in for a night of cards as a zillion kids destroyed our upstairs.  It was worth it, even if we discovered after everyone left that our Misty had broken out with a rash.  We greeted friends the next morning with phone calls saying “Happy New Years!  Your kids have been exposed to the chicken pox!

Dec 31 several years later~

We find out in a random phone call that Cliff’s step-brother, Steve, is celebrating his birthday.  Steve had come into the family a few years prior, the irony of this birthday had slipped by us.  After having a herd of ‘steps’ through the years, it’s hard to get too close, but these two had hit it off at ‘hello’.  They seemed to share the same brain.  While totally different from Mike (other than some billy-goat moments), Steve put some sparkle back into Cliff’s life.

Dec 31, 1996~

Our phone rings again!  My brother calls to say that they have a new tax deduction, Jacob Jeffery Parkin.  Jake hit the scene with a long lanky body and a unique way of looking at life.  He’s got quite a spirit about him with his goal is always to get Aunt Kel to laugh at something goofy.

Dec 31, 2011~

No phone calls yet and I don’t think anyone is getting married or about to give birth.  I may get electrocuted by the laptop because I’m a soggy mess writing this. I marvel how God has encouraged us through this rough situation with 2 very special blessings we weren’t expecting.  Oh, they can never replace Mike and he could never be a substitute for them. They are their own blessing on the world.

I’m amazed at how much you can miss a person after 23 years, but also marvel at how Mike’s influence has never left us.    It’s no long mourning since we are used to him not here, but severe cases of missing him that comes from left field.  For now we are just apart, but we have the hope of seeing him again.

My guess is when we meet Mike at the pearly gates, he will have St. Peter in stitches, a Dr. Pepper in one hand and Jesus’s in the other.

“You turned my mourning into dancing.  You removed my sackcloth and clothed me in joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.  O’Lord my God, I will you thanks forever. ” Psalm 30:11-12

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Church Christmas Program Confessions

For folks that direct Christmas programs I truly believe there is a special place in heaven-one with clouds padding the walls and harp music piped in through the vents to sooth the frazzled nerves that come with the holy territory.

Yes, I’m a director and this is a hope I am banking on.  Part of me I truly loves the process and the thrill of the big night as the kids and the Holy Spirit pull off the impossible.  Tears come to my tears and my heart swells as children become some of God’s most effective missionaries.  They tell His story to people who would not be caught in a church except to pay respects at a funeral.  Camera wielding grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors wouldn’t  dare miss little Buffy as an angel are hearing the story once again.

But, me getting to that place is almost as big of challenge as Joseph getting Mary to Bethlehem on the 8-9 day time frame.  In the movie Simon Birch, the Christmas program director, played by Jan Hooks, is me in a 1960’s bee hive and cat-eyed glasses.  A vein permanently pops out of her forehead, and the fingers start snapping as they morph into ‘the point’ of the index finger the minute the shepherds start sword fighting with their crooks.  Chaos reigns supreme as her blood pressure rises until hairs spring out of the lacquer like Medusa’s reptiles coming to life.  She is frazzled and worn to the point of escaping out a side door to chain-smoke.  Our only difference is I threaten to chug whiskey and pop Valium like a rock star.  No, this job is not for the faint of heart.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that sparkles of encouragement are totally absent during these times.  Huge lessons appear around every manger.  I must share mine for this year.  I did not change my actor’s name to protect his innocence as he would beat me with the shepherd’s stick if I didn’t give him top billing in this post.

Seth is around 8 and is destined to someday have a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. One of 9 boys, the flair for drama is how he makes his presence known.  The play is a court case where the shepherds have been brought in on the charges of disturbing the peace.  Seth is our dancing bailiff, who not only has a fun solo dance reminiscent of Johnny Teriro on Dance Fever, but his part is sprinkled throughout the entire production.  To nail down his part, we had a private practice in which he embraced the part so much, I almost had to take his night stick away.  It started with his opening dance.

“Kelly, how about  I take off down the steps and run clear down the aisle to the back and turn around and come back?”

“I like that idea a lot, but how about just going to the second pew and coming back?  You won’t have time to race clear back there and come back.”

(Seth: one hand on hip, other on chin with pensive look and nodding.) “Ok, I can see what you are saying…”

We journey on with his part until there is a lull in his action.  “Hey, Kelly, how about I go over to the shepherds and say “Listen you shepherds, you’ve been disturbing the peace and I’m hauling you in.”  (Actually I think he had about 6 more sentences, but can’t remember them all.  I was scrambling to figure out how to divert his stampede of ideas.)

“Well, it’s all on CD so we can’t really add any lines.”

Same stance from Seth as the wheels in his head were spinning with ideas of how he could get some more action.

Another boy came in with a big part, so we threw him in the mix.  Seth had to stand there as we worked through Braeden’s part.  He was BORED to tears and so distracted, he would miss his cues for swearing-in witnesses.   When I would say, “They are calling in a witness. What are you supposed to do?”  He would roll his eyes and kind of slink to the stand.

Not to give up, he suggested “What if I brought fake handcuffs and cuffed those shepherds and hauled them off to jail?”  His eyes were dancing with this idea of sheer genius.  “Seth, that won’t really work because the shepherds are set free.  They had a good reason for disturbing the peace-Jesus was born!”  After some thought he not sold on this idea it was better than his, so he complied.

Little did he know, but his enthusiasm he made my day!

Then I realised how much I am like Seth.   I have all set in my head at how I think God should use me in a role.  When my script is not full of action that I love, I try to figure out how I can finagle more of a starring role.  It doesn’t matter if I have had the headliner dance, when it comes to ‘just’ paying attention and waiting for the rest of the story to play out, I get bored and go into more of an advisory role to the Director.  Call me “Holy Spirit Jr” when God wants me to just do the job He has assigned me.  I get to thinking I can make His perfect plan ‘better’. When he reigns in this runaway donkey and I fully comply, the story marches on like a masterfully orchestrated ballet, making a better tale than I could ever have cooked up on my best day.

Lord, to you be all the glory!  Help us to trust your plan and may you get a kick out of our enthusiasm as we serve whatever purpose you have for us.  Thank you for the priveledge of serving you–including the blessing of being a part of these precious events.

(PS-The Not-So-Silent Night will be Sunday Night at 7pm at the Medicine Lodge United Methodist Church.  Be sure and come out and encourage these very talented young thespians.)