For many years I looked at ritual as an opening hymn, the first scripture reading, responsive reading, the pulpit scarves adorning our pastor in different church seasons.
My dad liked the ritual.
So did my mom, especially around Christmas. Swedish potato-sausage, Limpa bread, herring, cardamon coffee cake, and warmed cinnamon & cream were poured into her steaming mug only in the winter. I liked her food rituals a little better than our church rituals.
And that is precisely why, I who viewed myself as a non-conformist, decided to go to a church in a movie theater in the late seventies because it was the non-ritualistic alternative. It was so new, so unique at the time. Folk music, mixed in with rock and an occasional jazz number, ministered to us at weekend services. We were a new church devoted to making the ‘seeker’ relaxed. Drama, media, and an occasional ‘Church Lady’ imitation encouraged us to invite friends who were far from God along for the ride every single Sunday.
And we don’t miss church except when we were traveling, for almost forty-four years now.
Hmm, has going to church a ritual now?
Little has changed about our Sunday mornings. Church at 9 o’clock, brunch at 11. The Bears at noon and a simple Sunday meal.
Hmm, are these things rituals now?
Maybe that is why I feel so disgruntled in this year in which my church rituals went crashing to the ground.
A few weeks became almost a year. I seriously grieved not being able to sit next to Ryan, a Down Syndrome adult. He is the most loving person I know. Ryan runs to the main church doors each week ahead of his dad by at least three minutes. He finds aisle L, puts his coat on his chair’s back, and greets every person with a handshake and a smile. He is a loyal Bear’s fan, and that has been so hard the last few years.
He is the first to stand as the worship team enters the auditorium. He sings with our worship team, a change from the early days when we usually sat and listened and only sang one chorus.
Occasionally, now as part of our music, an old hymn will flow from the team’s lips upfront. The words come back; it is truly is “well with my soul,” I think.
Mixing the old with the new is becoming an established ritual at our non-traditional, seeker-friendly church. When Ryan doesn’t know the words to the old music, concern grips my heart because my own children know all the words to “Good, Good, Father and Our God is an Awesome God,” and several Christmas carols but don’t know “What a Friend we have in Jesus or Trust and Obey.”
What kind of mother was I anyhow? I left the ritual of knowing hymns untaught!
Back to my friend Ryan. This boy loves to shout, clap, and say “Amen” before a prayer from the stage is over. He has an internal sense when the message needs to end, or the prayer is getting a little long, and the sixty-something lady near him needs to head directly to the restroom. Ryan feels safe in our church rituals and those he’s adopted.
The truth of the matter is our church, our so-called non-ritualistic culture, has changed and actually grown up in so many ways. And now I recognize how rituals and specific routines bring strength and comfort to my soul.
Yesterday we missed our first Christmas Eve service ever. Well, we actually saw it on-line. But I couldn’t hug my friends and family during our rich tradition of singing “Silent Night” and hugging and telling people we loved them during the last verse. It was hard watching even on our new giant screen with our new sound system. I’m balking at my new, self-proclaimed ritual, of my steaming cup of Starbucks sitting on my duff in my lazy-boy during worship.
I fear this new ritual of becoming a lazy-girl.
Because relationships are the most important ritual at my church. Dave can sometimes fit the bill, but my Joshua girls aren’t in the room because they celebrate with their TV’s. And it hurts to the quick that we can’t hug our life-long friends, our kids, and our grandchildren.
Come on, come on— I’ve learned enough during this pandemic. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter does not satisfy my ritualistic need to hug and hold. Even though I’m an introvert by nature, I will never, ever, take gathering for granted again.
For the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to a shot, that ritual that will make me 94% sure I won’t get COVID 19! And I never want to have that new ritual, of a stick going up through my nostril to my brain.
And I hope all of you are standing up right now and saying, AMEN.!
PS just because I feel never done… Here is a link to our church…awesome Willow. Our motto in this season has been, “Apart but not alone.” We are doing Zoom groups, and this pandemic has opened up the entire world to get involved here, even if you live out-of-state. https://www.willowcreek.org/
Oh, how I love Jesus, oh how I love prompts from Ruth. If I didn’t have this pair, I would be a pile of mush on our hard frosted ground today.
I started my blog two years before the end of my teaching career. At that time my mom was struggling with early Alzheimer’s. We noticed a few things, but my dad didn’t want us to worry my sisters and me,; he certainly wouldn’t use the dreaded word.
I kept praying that they would both be okay until I retired.
Writing sustained me; my friendship with God, relationships at church, and teaching part-time at Judson brought me through to the other side after my much-loved career as a teacher-coach and staff developer came to an end.
For some reason, I’m feeling a need for a timeline today—
2014— I retired before I was ready, maybe. Two weddings and a funeral happened that first summer. After the weddings, which my mom sadly could not attend, my mom passes away… a blessing! My mom went to heaven, no longer slowly losing her memories, and sense of self.
2015— The focus now is on my dad, four years older than my mom, sorting out meds, selling their homes, and buying a condo. Now he’s the priority.
2016— Our church becomes a conflict zone this year. I lose my job at Judson, deciding I can’t afford the time and money it takes to get my Ed Doc, disappointment reigns.
2017— Back at Judson teaching in a new undergrad program that I loved but couldn’t commit to fully because of the time involved. We were in the midst of an exhausting rehab down to the studs of our new/old house with a lake view, feeling like we’re living in heaven on earth despite the time.
2018— Our beloved pastor resigns, who built our church with disturbing allegations that took two more years for us to digest and accept. He still has not admitted his mistakes publicly, but most of us realized that our church was never about one fallible person. God was and continues to be the head of our church.
2019— My dad falls, discovered by me 24 hours later, barely alive. He has a fantastic rehab experience, but PTSD symptoms plague me, especially when I drive to his place. We decided to put a caregiver in place; however, I continued to see him sometimes to do groceries, meds, and Dr. appointments.
2020— My dad has multiple falls, and we put 24/7 care in place, but I am still there often; in late summer, he twists and shatters his ankle, September 23, on his 95th birthday. At age 95 he has his surgery— pins, and plates and eight weeks of rehab followed.
I could only bang on windows at Rehab. We FaceTime on his iPad. it is a pitiful time. When I see my dad at his surgeon’s office, he doesn’t recognize me and thinks he is getting shrapnel removed from his foot in the Army hospital in England. He is right back on the battlefield.
My entire being tells me he has lost cognitive ability.
He is disheveled, wearing someone else’s too tight pants. His hair looked like Albert Einstein, his eyes wide saucers, and he smells like ****! The Dr. is also disturbed because rehab sent him four weeks too late for the first cast removal— now he has a pressure sore to treat.
I am heartsick, knowing it will be weeks before he can walk. I want to blame this new rehab, but I know that nurses are stretched with COVID-19’s protocols.
I can’t sleep. I can’t think straight.
… but writing helps…
My dad finally made his way home two Fridays ago. There is a lot to yay and nay about.
But at least the first week he walks.
The second week, he acted like he didn’t remember anything about walking. His whole body stiffens up, and he screams out like he is fighting in WW2 again. I think it is because of multiple caregivers that he doesn’t trust yet.
I looked up Ruth one day amid my mess and realize that I’m crying out for the SOS that writing brings. I want to share my stories again on my blog. God led me home to where I started. in my writing journey. I’m done with writing curriculum, done with writing books and querying for now. I feel so satisfied being back in the fold.
Today I desperately wanted to write about cues in my life, but this is what happened instead. I am in the midst of remaking my life in a way. God knows I’m a work in progress. And he leads me from moment to moment if I take the time to listen to him.
Maybe next week I’ll do cues. But for this moment, processing this through writing gives lifts my soul.
When life is hard and I’m getting pecked, make sure Petosky encircles my neck.
It’s not as sweet as Ruth’s favorite librarian who kept her in books and cookies, but my Petosky needs to be there. I haven’t been wearing it lately, because it doesn’t exactly match my pajama pants and T-shirts that have been glued on my body for almost ten months. I don’t go to in-person church, I don’t get to travel to see my grandchildren, I only go to Jewel to wait for my groceries, to Rehab windows, and finally now to my Dad’s condo. Only me and his caregivers are the lucky people to see him.
My Petosky is my Mo-Joe. I need it. I need it today when I meet a new caregiver. Another one bit the dust yesterday— fired by the organization. All of it makes my head turn at funny angles and my eyes drip with the unhappiness of it all
My Petosky? It’s my touch-stone because it reminds me of God’s love, my roots, my passion, my people, and how I need to keep on polishing every day.
Maybe your asking… “Why polishing?”
Petosky stones, glorious in the sparkling waters of Lake Superior are dull and ugly taken out of the waves of frigid water. They need to be polished with sandpaper or a rock tumbler to look glorious again.
In my life when I touch my stone it also reminds me that God is polishing, or sanctifying me continually. I should be looking more and more like Jesus every single day. No, I never will be perfect until heaven, but I need to continue to strive, continue to confess, give thanks, and worship moment to moment in my daily life.
Life is so jagged, there are so many ways to fail and fall. I need to look up and grab my Lord’s hand and hang on, pressing into his gentle but firm guidance as I navigate caregivers, groceries, and grief in all seasons.
He is my ultimate Petosky stone—the ROCK in which I stand.
love nanc xo
PS Thank you SOS girls, thank-you, Ruth! Your S.O.S. came in the nick of time for me.
We were after magic, Diane, and me. We’d find the location that we wouldn’t be bothered by younger sisters, twin brothers, and meddling mothers. In the summer we roamed our neighborhood for a sturdy oak or my apple trees that hadn’t dropped their loot. We’d spread an old blanket, and feast on our latest library finds. Our authors included Louisa May Alcott, Eleanor Estes; moving on to Betty Cavanna and Phyllis A. Whitney as we entered our tween years. We parallel read, occasionally sharing an awesome scene. We munched on cheese and crackers, drank Tang at my house, and sneak pop at Diane’s.
School wouldn’t have probably placed us in the high reading groups because our Think and Do Books were always messed up by our teachers’ big red checkmarks indicating our comprehension indeed was poor. We also balked at writing the formula bound book report, I resorted to copying the back flaps and turning those in. But sweet Diane would have never cheated like that. Believe it or not, I didn’t get caught cheating until 6th grade. The teachers seemed to conspire every year to ruin every book by making us write about it. But at least we had CHOICE and I could read All -of- a- Kind Family, even though my family wasn’t Jewish.
But there were great times in school during the late sixties. Once we were told we all needed to write a play from a scene in a book we had read or write an original play that would be performed. Diane and I loved that assignment. We wrote two scenes together and our teacher accepted it and even pronounced it SATISFACTORY.
Reading was our life and poetry became a fast love in Junior High and beginning High School because not many authors wrote books about Hippy love (all of us curious), racial protest, Vietnam, or black armbands; I guess it was deemed inappropriate for tween eyes. It was almost like we were expected to go from childhood to War and Peace in the summer of 8th grade.
So what were we to do? Magazines of course. We devoured Sixteen and Glamour for many years. We were lucky if everyone once in a while there was a short story. I resorted to sneaking my mom’s Good Housekeeping because they always had a short story; sadly—today, they do not.
The summer of 8th grade, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, we had a stupendous idea! We spent two hours a day writing in my dad’s supposed ‘at home office’ (which was really just a storage spot for winter clothes and coats). We used at least a pound of yellow legal pads and finished writing our first book, between the winter coats, finishing before the end of the summer. The masterpiece was titled Summer Camp Love just because we loved going to summer camp. We composed together, argued about scenes and sentences, and alternated the handwriting part when our hands cramped up.
Oh, I wish I had those pages. I loved our sweet friendship— our reading and writing life together.
But those good things, those things I loved about my childhood continue on inside me forever. An SOS invitation arrives and words are breathed out and that particular happiness of shared reading /writing love springs from the deep and I am so grateful.
P.S. because I really like them… funny to me how easy it is to recall details from fifty years ago and I can’t remember where my cell phone went this morning.