Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One Week Down

First Conflict (not to be confused with First Contact which is a great Star Trek movie): The Arkansas Travelers were struggling with VBS in the park and the VBS director here had to confront them. Hurt feelings, embarrassment, anger, resentment all converged in a "debriefing" yesterday. I was just a spectator (praise God) and learned a lot from how it was all handled. I think diffusing these issues before they become divisive will be part of my job description as a team host.
Tuesday evenings are free time. I did some gospel singing with the Arkansas folks and stayed up way too late. I'm not getting good sleep. There are breaks in the day (like now) but not enough time for a nap. In fact, I've been interrupted writing this by folks who need help preparing to lead chapel tomorrow. I hope I can continue to blog even if my entries get shorter.
Last night after singing (when I should have been going home to bed) I helped skin fresh halibut that some team members caught earlier this week. Today's lunch was a feast of halibut (prepared two ways) and fresh salmon. It was SOOOO good.
In a little while we're off to a park party where we grill hotdogs, play music, play games, make contacts and try to generate interest in a neighborhood Bible study. The philosophy of GraceWorks is that God doesn't call the world to come to church. He calls the church to go out into the world. That's what we spend our time doing. It may look clumsy and poorly executed at times (like the VBS this week), but the hope is that God will honor our efforts and spread the seeds in spite of our shaky hands.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Beginning the week

The sun is shining in the window as I write this. And it's 11:00 PM. I'm shaking my head.
Today has been a study in diversity. You're probably expecting me to write about Eskimos or Aleuts. But I'm talking about the team I'm leading this week: from Arkansas. I mean DEEP in Arkansas. Deeper in Arkansas than I am from Georgia. It takes some getting used to. They are as nice as they can be, but man are they southern!
Tonight we went to an interdenominational worship service called Native Life. You're probably expecting that to include Native American songs and traditions. That's what I was hoping for. But apparently the natives prefer old time country gospel. Just one more verse of When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.
So I came all the way to Alaska to spend a day in Appalachia. I'm still shaking my head.
Actually, I think today was the best day yet. I have wifi at my house, I got my pictures to upload on my camera, and I have wheels (and I even know two ways to get across town to the church). I'm owning this place. I still can't get pictures to upload to the blog, but it's only a matter of time.
Here's something: I talked to my mother the other day and told her about the great adventure I'm having, the friendly people I've met, the ministry we're doing. After listening patiently to all that, she asked if there were any "available" men. I said "no" and changed the subject real quick. You just don't want to go there with Momma.
Well I talked to Hal (my brother) yesterday and he said that Momma said I was very disappointed in Alaska and wished I hadn't come. I'm still laughing about this. I shared it with Scott, my friend and fellow minister here (not to be confused with marine biologist Scott that I had dinner with Sat. night). Anyway, Scott informed me that the men far outnumber the women in Alaska. Not hard to figure out why. The huntin' and fishin' are REAL good here and there aren't any good malls. Plenty of mountain men with big beards and stinky coats. The way I see it, my odds are good, but the goods are just too odd ( :

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Still here

It’s Sunday morning. I slept in until 8. That felt great. I’ve been so busy learning the ropes. Basically each work day is about 13 hours long. I have to be across town for breakfast (we’re sharing cars, so there’s not much choice) at 7:30. The day ends at 8:30 on most nights, but Monday and Tuesday are flexible (sort of, because we’re sharing cars).
Yesterday I got a crash course in being an Alaska tour guide. I know you’re all hating me at this point, and well you should. We took four van-loads of teams to Portage Valley to play in the snow, look for wildlife, take a boat ride for close-ups of glaciers, you know, the things Floridians dream about in the summer. It was drizzly and pretty cold all day but no one seemed to care. Actually, I can’t remember myself whining even once.
The snow-capped mountains are spectacular. I’m sure I won’t be able to capture the majestic quality on my little camera, though I’ll try. When I tried to upload my pictures last night to my computer, it wouldn’t work for some reason. Maybe God is trying to give me a message. Stop worrying about the pictures and just breath it all in. I’ll be going back to Portage soon and I hope the tourist in me will succumb to the deeper side, and the experience will be new with every visit.
After the hiking, boating and sightseeing, I came “home”, cleaned myself up and went out to dinner with Scott Van Sant. Scott is a marine biologist friend from UGA days. We went to University Church together. He lives and works in Kodiak and just happened to be passing through Anchorage this weekend after weeks at sea. And I just happened to be off duty last night. He took me to one of the best restaurants in Anchorage for fresh halibut and salmon followed by chocolate decadence (this is another place where you get to hate me). I loved seeing him again and hearing his story. I think it’s been about 25 years since I’d seen him.
Lest you think all is perfect with me, there are some challenges. For one thing, I’m going through internet withdrawal, big time. I’m writing this in Word to paste later when I get back to the church (headquarters). But when I’m there I’m on duty so there’s very little time for fb or email and no time at all for Google (and I really need to know why my pictures wouldn’t upload). I feel disconnected from all of you who have been my lifeline the last four years. I pray that you will continue following me through this blog and know that I’m missing you, thinking about you and am very sorry that I can’t stay in personal touch.
There’s also a sort of independence withdrawal. I’m sharing a bathroom, sharing cars, can’t come and go as I want, (don’t know my way around town anyway), can’t have my music blaring as I dress. I think as the days wear on and I get more comfortable with these routines, I’ll feel much better. When I spent two weeks at a camp in Ecuador years ago, I didn’t feel this way. Maybe it’s because it was so short term, or maybe aging has made me more set in my ways, less adventurous and less flexible. A scripture passage that has really encouraged me in recent years is at the beginning of Psalm 103. “God……satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. “ Hey, I saw an eagle yesterday. But this renewing business might be as grueling as climbing an Alaska mountain.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting in the Groove

I'm still a little bit jet lagged. I was very sleepy at 10:30 last night and fell right to sleep, but woke up at 3 AM and felt like I should start my day. I managed to doze and dream for three more hours and that felt good, like sleeping in.
Yesterday's schedule was much as I expected. I went with a team to a city playground where the teams have established relationships with certain children. They played with them, introduced new games, then had a Bible story time.
Last night was my first "park party". Hotdogs, music, bouncy houses for the neighborhood kids and introducing ourselves to the parents. In the process we invite them to a Bible study which will be held in one of their houses. There is a park party every Wed., Thurs. and Fri. at a different park, but the same parks are revisited each week. Relationships are established and so many opportunities to meet needs and share Christ.
I've only been here a day and a half but already I'm feeling really humbled by it all. I tried not to have any expectations before I came. Now seeing how all these "staff" members from all over the country have come together to share a common passion of sharing their faith through giving, is remarkable to me. I know this is happening every day all over the world through "mission" projects. I'm very glad to be a small part of such a big picture.
The teams who come here weekly from the lower 48 seem to be having a wonderful experience also. I'm sure they come for a million reasons, all personal and legitimate. Serving them as they serve the community is a privilege that I am grateful for. This just feels right.
As the official music person, I'm off and running. I hooked up the sound system last night at the park party and we ran the music from someone's ipod. That someone is leaving tomorrow. I have my ipod, but I hope to enlist some community musicians to volunteer their time with us. And next week I'll be meeting with teams on Monday to set up a schedule for our chapel services in the mornings. I'll be a pro with that sound system by then. Not.
btw, breakfast this morning included reindeer sausage. Kewl.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Travel Day

Okay this post is prerecorded because I want to write but I don’t want to try invoking the internet from the airport. I tried it and it said, “no” so I’ll just let it sleep and I’ll do Wordworks. I’ll paste this in the blog tonight.

Question one: Why am I the only person wearing a coat at the airport? There are no more questions at this point.

Later: I’m on the plane, or a plane anyway. Surely they would have flagged me if I’d gotten on the wrong one. I noticed that my carry-on bag was a little (no, a lot) bigger than everyone else’s. Actually, my violin is my official carry-on. So my “personal” other bag had to hold everything else, the operative word being “everything”. I started to get nervous boarding. There was that little platform that says if your bag won’t fit on here you’re screwed. As I passed the boarding man, I held my violin high, smiled a big, confident smile, and tried to conceal the other bag behind my back. Well it worked. I’m here on the plane with all my good stuff.
They announced at the gate that the plane was full, but there appears to be just one vacant seat. It’s next to me. Now placing a widow next to an empty seat is just plain cruel (or plane cruel). Why not just make an announcement on the speaker, “This is your pilot, we have some altitude, if we crash you’ll float, and btw Kim, sorry you’re flying alone?” It’s that missing airman out of formation feeling that’s a little saddening.
Oh well, this trip is about spreading out, so maybe the empty seat is a symbol. Right now it’s tray is holding my coffee, my snack, my book, my glasses case and my trash. Sweet.

Later still: I’m on the second leg of my flight now. The plane is chilly. Now who wishes they were all wearing coats? I’m fed and watered and quite comfortable. In a few hours I’ll be landing and facing the adventure. No turning back at this point (without a pretty stiff prison sentence).
I brought a couple of DVD’s to watch but at the last minute I put them in the violin case and it’s out of reach now, stuck behind suitcases in the overhead. Guess I’ll doze and read and pray. I’m good. Everything is good.

Landed: Got picked up by Scott, old friend from high school I haven’t seen in nearly forty years. Great reunion. I’m sharing a house with a couple who graduated from Iowa State, Greg's alma mater. He’s a pastor in Cedar Rapids. Get this, Joanne, Her sister lived at Pammel Court. Such a small world, but it sure has big mountains.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Twas the night before traveling....

I haven't been out of the house. This day was dedicated to one noble cause: packing. Even so, I didn't think it would be so exhausting. For days I've been putting things in groups. You know, the carry-on here, the stack of clothes there, the cosmetics over there in the BIG pile. And all my supplements in a baggie. What does it mean to travel light when you're 50-something? I'm sorry but I can't do it. I AM leaving my soy powder behind though. It does a great job of controlling hot flashes, but I think I might really appreciate having hot flashes in Alaska.
I packed and unpacked my suitcase three times. The first couple of times it was just poor planning and I had to take stuff out to make room for stuff that didn't belong on top (like the mirror). But then I COULD NOT find the cord that connects my camera to my computer. I figured I must have packed it. So I completely emptied my suitcase but it was not to be found. I had looked twice in my carry-on but the third time, there it was, right with the cord that charges my ipod. I have five cords in all. They are securely in my carry-on at this time.
Rhoda will be here at 8:30 in the AM to take me to the airport. I'm actually thinking about changing my mind. No, I'm not. Yes, I am. No, I'm not. Yes, I am.
Stay tuned.....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Three days and counting

This morning I announced my Alaska plans in church and asked for prayer. Everyone was very excited for me and asked me to stay in touch. I haven't told them about the blog yet. I'm waiting until I'm sure about the name. I've changed it about five times. I think I'll stick with Better Than Laughter. It's from Ecclesiastes: "Sorrow is better than laughter and a sad face is good for the heart." I can't say my heart is exactly sad right now but somehow it seems to fit. I've certainly had my share of sadness, but good is emerging and I'm feelin' it.
Before I left church a friend who travels frequently reminded me (among other things) that I'll need a quart-size ziplock bag for my carry on toiletries. Darn! I knew I didn't have any bags at home. Another trip to the store? When I got home I opened the door to the linen closet for something (don't even remember what) and right there on the shelf was a plastic ziplock with the label "this bag meets all requirements for airline carry on." No Way! Have no idea where that came from. THEN, as if that were not perplexing enough, I took another peak in the closet and found another bag with "US Airways" printed on it (That's my airline!). I felt a surge of confidence that Someone was definitely watching over me and will meet me in the details. That's just cool, I think.
Tonight I shared Rhoda's homemade soup with an old friend who drove up from St. Pete to have dinner and spend the evening. He has been on two recent mission trips and shared some photos. What great timing! I'm getting more excited by the day. Think I'll start packing tomorrow. Now what did I do with those ziplocks?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Off On Adventure

I am a first grade school teacher, which is a very good thing to be if you're a widow. Children have a way of reminding us that life is good, that innocence is real, that the Kingdom of God is all around us. When I count my blessings (how many times have I been told to "count your blessings" in the last two years?), I regard the privilege of spending my days with little children way up there on the list. My own children were already grown and out of the nest when Greg died. I know having young children to care for alone must be incredibly dfficult. But the benefit of that company, a snuggly someone who didn't meow and jump away, would have been nice.
I've spent my last two summers in long distance relationships with all that entails such as skyping, texting, talking on the phone til midnight. It was exciting and kept me from being too anxious or depressed. But actually I was both anxious and depressed. I tried to make it feel right but I knew it wasn't. But both summers I could not let go. I was terrified of being home alone day after day with only my grief to keep me company. Like I've said before, dating too soon was a bad idea.
Now I'm beginning my third summer. But I've been planning ahead this year. This Wednesday I'm heading to Alaska, to join the staff of a mission organization for six chilly weeks. I've only flown alone one other time and that was way back when someone could walk you to your gate and point you to your plane, then someone would be standing there as you walked off the plane to walk you out. I'm not a baby, but I am really nervous about flying alone. Murphy's Law comes to mind. Yikes! I'll be blogging my way through this adventure. (And I'm not even thinking about actually getting there and what I'll do then).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Takin' Care of Business

I spent a while last night in the woods behind my house lopping and hacking. Greg and I had lived 20 years in a medium-sized city and raised our two children there. When our baby boy graduated from high school we fulfilled a dream of moving to the country. It was completely orchestrated by God himself. Greg was offered a job in the middle of the boonies (at a fish hatchery which is what he did, take care of sick fish) and I got a job teaching second grade (which is what I did). We found our dream house on seven spectacular acres replete with native vegetation and a spring fed creek. There were no paths through the dense underbrush but we planned a course and chopped our way through. There were so many exciting surprises, like little waterfalls in the creek and chunks of fossil coral dating back to when Florida was under water.
In the last two years nature has reclaimed what we tried to civilize. The paths have blended back in with the wilderness. There's a certain mocking feeling I sense when I'm in the woods now. Like it's rolling its giant, ancient eyes and thinking, "Here we go again."
I have sweat like I've never sweat before the last couple of weeks. The 'feels-like' temps. have been well over 100. Sheesh! Why am I doing this????? More on that later.
For now I can say that as I was hacking and lopping last night, I was pretending it was Richard. He's the guy who rents the apartment I still own in the city we left. It's a tiny little duplex that Greg and I bought ages ago for extra income. When Greg died, Richard apparently saw an opportunity to quit paying his rent. It's the cheapest place in town and I pay the utilities, so we're not talking a poor guy who got in over his head financially. He is intelligent, healthy and skilled. He just stopped the payments.
Last year I called him and said I had been distracted by grief but now I was "one angry widow". He resumed payments but still owes me 10 months back rent. I went by the place yesterday and asked for June's check which hadn't arrived and he said he didn't have it. I drove away feeling duped, then turned around, knocked on the door again and told him this wasn't okay. I asked him to be out by the end of July. I'm selling the place.
So all of that brings me to this: What in the world has been stopping me from dealing with this issue? I'm an intelligent, capable adult. I'm not afraid of Richard. I know my rights. I have read all about eviction (and most of it doesn't apply because he's month-to-month). I could have kicked him out at any time. I could have threatened court. My friends and family have been hassling me to stop letting this man take advantage. All I can say about it is, it's complicated. It's part procrastination, part anxiety, just not wanting to deal with it.
But now I'm going to. I think that's a very good sign for me. Not so good for Richard, though.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why I Decided To Blog

It's been a long two and a half years since my husband of 28 years died. Before that I had two ugly, but precious years to prepare myself for becoming a widow. I really hate that word. It makes me think of a nasty spider bite or the forlorn roof balcony (I'm afraid of heights). Like it or not, that's what I'm labeled now.
Greg's illness was long and difficult. He had brain cancer. He stopped being himself even before he was diagnosed. Add to that neurosurgery, radiation and chemo, you might get the picture. I have to say I was the good caretaker. No, I was an excellent caretaker. Everyone said so. I was always told how strong and dedicated I was. Truth is, I went numb. I think that was God's way of helping me get through it in a way that was dignified and best for Greg. I did things for him no woman should ever have to do for her husband (and no husband should have to endure). After all was said and done, I can say I have very few regrets about the way I handled it all. I know I loved him to the end and treated him with all the affection and respect I could muster. It wasn't hard. He was a great guy and I loved him very much.
The illness is not what I want to talk about. It's this being a middle-aged single woman on her own for the first time ever in her life. I'm not a really compliant person by nature. I don't like being given a script. So I tossed out the "Steps of Grief" with G's shirts and shoes and determined that I would not waste a minute wallowing in self-pity. Rather than bulldozing through the heartache and pain, I figured I could just outwit it and skirt around. I like to say I took the scenic route through grief. I started dating right away. It was a family friend and someone who was safe. But it was a bad idea and ended in the loss of a long and treasured friendship. Soon after, to ease this extended sense of loss, I found myself in another serious relationship. It was all too soon and this also ended in heartache. I'm thinking now that I was grasping for what I thought would restore a sense of normalcy to my life; get back to the familiar and comfortable which for me was companionship i.e., a shopping partner, movie sharer, dinner talker, you know. Denial was a good drug but I think I've finally broken the addiction. I'm finding it's actually quite healthy and refreshing to just face the music. Sorrow IS good for the soul as wise Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes. Now I have two and a half years of lessons learned to speed me on my way and something tells me I'll continue on the scenic route, but with a GPS. Maybe there's someone out there who would like to come along.
My future is definitely the undiscovered country.