Tuesday, July 26, 2011

...the harder they fall

“You measure a man by the size of his enemies. Without Goliath, David is just some punk throwing rocks.” So spoke Billy Crystal’s character in the film My Giant.
A warrior over nine feet tall…125 pounds armor of armor…a fifteen pound spear head:  Why are these measurements meaningful? Who measured? Did some eleventh century B.C. embedded journalist wander onto the battlefield? “Excuse me, General Goliath. Would you mind laying your armor on the scales?”
This careful cataloging occurred after David decked Goliath. I imagine a leisurely and gleeful post-mortem as David calls to his older, but less courageous, brothers:  “Hey, Eliab, come try on this armor! Shammah, can you even lift this spear?” Goliath’s sword ended up in the tabernacle at Nob, a trophy among holy items kept by the priests.
When David accepted the challenge to fight, he knew Goliath was big, but he didn’t know how big. Although he didn’t fully understand the Philistine’s size, David did comprehend that God is a whole lot bigger, or as Veggie Tales says, “God is bigger than the bogeyman.” So David shouted to the giant, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel…” (1 Samuel 17:45, NIV)
David defeated Goliath, and then measured him. It’s a wonder the singing shepherd didn’t faint when he realized what he and God had just done.
Not many months later, David escaped from another bogeyman, physically smaller than Goliath, but greater in malice, David’s insanely jealous father-in-law, King Saul. David detoured to Nob, where the priest gave him Goliath’s sword. The Bible doesn’t tell us the size of the sword, but someone familiar with weapons could estimate based on the Philistine’s height and the weight of his spear. I’m guessing this was a big sword. The Bible also doesn’t tell us how long David was on the run from Saul, but I estimate nearly a decade.
Why lug around Goliath’s oversized sword for ten years? It had to be too heavy for David to wield. I think the sword was a constant reminder of what God had done and what God would continue to do for David. The sword was a reminder that it’s not about swords, or our own abilities, or the latest bells and whistles. It’s about the power of God.
It’s so easy to focus on the size of our enemy and the messes we find ourselves in, some of our own making, some not. It takes a conscious effort to focus on the size of God instead. 
In Psalm 103:2, David wrote, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Let’s keep reminding ourselves and each other what God has done for us already.
And to the writers of My Giant:  Without God, David would have been just another dent on Goliath’s shield.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hazardous Housecleaning

            I’m not the Messiest Housekeeper in the Central Susquehanna Valley…but I am the first runner-up. So if the Messiest Housekeeper is ever unable to fulfill her responsibilities, I get to fill her shoes…if I can find them under the clutter.
            What exactly are the duties of the region’s sloppiest sovereign? Spread newspapers around the living room? Slide used cereal bowls under the sofa? Drop wet towels on the bedroom rugs? Roll dirty socks inside out into little balls? I don’t think so. My children did all that without even being asked.
            So what are her responsibilities? Isn’t that just the point? She became the messiest housekeeper by avoiding them. I know. As first runner-up, I’ve been there.
            I’m still there.
I can’t get out!
            First it was a matter of principle:  I’m not scraping soap scum off the shower because I’m bonding with my baby. A few decades ago, someone wrote a poem about this noble neglect. It included these inspiring lines:
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
Cause babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow…
So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
            This verse was the war cry of a generation of breastfeeding mothers. The problem is my last baby is 21 years old and a foot taller than me, and the cobwebs and dust have grown along with him.
            Babies don’t keep. Neither do poems, apparently. Spring cleaning can be done in the time it takes to write a good poem. Or a bad one. When inspiration hits, I’ve got to get it down on paper, or better yet, onto my hard drive. Get out the rhyming dictionary and the thesaurus. It might take hours or even days. While the computer’s on, I might as well play a few games of Solitaire. Do you agree the new Solitaire is way harder than the older version? I only have a 5% win rate, but I keep trying. When I finally win, I love the tinkling glass sound the cards make as they break apart and fall down.
Guess how much housework gets done.
            The poet didn’t have time to dust, but she had time to compose a poem and publish it across America. And this was before Al Gore invented the Internet. Countless mothers have found time to cross stitch the same poem, frame it, and hang it in their disheveled houses.
            The truth of the matter is my DNA doesn’t contain the Clean Gene. I need a 1950s television wife. Somebody to greet me at the door with a cold drink. Somebody to keep the house sparkling and the kids well-behaved—well, it’s too late for the kids. Somebody to prepare creative, nutritious meals. Somebody for whom keeping house is poetry.
Why do I have to be the wife?
            You either possess the Clean Gene or you don’t. Some people’s Clean Gene is so dominant they can’t pass it on. They’re too busy scrubbing to reproduce.
            Genetics is a fascinating science. Do you remember Gregor Mendel, the monk who discovered heredity? I heard he was too busy experimenting with pea plants to wash windows at the monastery. Reviewing my old high school biology notes is much more appealing than disinfecting toilets.
            Every summer I attempt to defy my genetic destiny and clean my house, neglected throughout the school year.
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till the summer,
Cause students grow up, and that’s a bummer.
      So almost two weeks ago, while I was vigorously vacuuming the living room, my genetic destiny defied me right back. Right in my back, to be more precise.
Ten days later, after painkiller megadoses and heat gave little relief, I invested a $25 co-pay and visited my doctor, then invested a little more at CVS Pharmacy for steroids and muscle relaxants. I finally have something in common with MLB players. 
I’m going to look buff, but you won’t see me since I’m too woozy to drive anywhere…and I haven’t even filled the narcotic prescription. Next week I will invest yet more money as I begin physical therapy.
It doesn’t take the Math Gene to realize I could have saved money if I had paid someone with the Clean Gene to deal with my carpet.
I have to look on the bright side. With this setback, my chance of winning Messiest Housekeeper skyrockets. I hope last year’s winner can find the tiara.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


            When my son Kyle lived in Belgium as an exchange student, I became an expert in international finance. I deposited dollars in his bank account in Pennsylvania, enabling him to swish his debit card and pay in francs across the Atlantic. When he needed a train ticket to Brussels, swish. If he wanted to meet friends after school in a cafe, swish.
            Program restrictions didn’t allow the international students to be employed, so whenever funds ran low, Kyle phoned home—collect—to request more. Then he got back to the serious business of swishing and spending my money.
          That’s how God’s love works.
He has opened an account for each of his children, depositing a quantity of love too wide, long, high, and deep to measure. (See Ephesians 3:18. Read repeatedly until it knocks you over.) God directs us to freely swish and spend his love.
I tend to respond rather than initiate, so I’m more likely to share my love with people who have first shared their love with me. Sound reasonable?
Jesus is an unreasonable master.
He told his disciples there’s no reward for loving those who love you, or saying “howdy” only to people you already know. He reminded them that his Father provides sunshine and rain for great and not-so-great people. And get this: He even insisted his followers should pray for people who make their lives miserable. (See Matthew 5:43 – 47. Read repeatedly until you feel uncomfortable.)
           So I try to pray for people I don’t like and those who hurt me. I begin with love—Lord, send incredible blessings to so-and-so today—but quickly run out—and, Lord, make sure so-and-so knows he did nothing to deserve them.
That’s a good time to stop and look at the extravagant balance of love in my account. …how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…
I think I can afford to spend a lot more.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Funky Words

My friend and coworker’s huge vocabulary amazed me. She regularly used words of three or more syllables, like plethora and brouhaha, her favorite. 

Then she retired from teaching at our small academy, and I inherited her English classes. In retrospect, I felt much like Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl when they became guardians of little Sophie in Life as We Know It. There must be some mistake! I don’t know what to do with this baby!

At least I discovered the possible source of my friend’s vast knowledge:  The Sadlier Oxford Vocabulary Workshop series, known to many students as the little orange books from…well, let’s not use nasty language in a blog about words.

I confess falling instantly in love with Jermome Shostak, the deceased creator of the series. I Googled in vain to find his picture, only to be mocked by repeated likenesses of the bright covers emblazoned with chunky pencils. Jerome remains a man of mystery.

According to the Global Language Monitor, the English language has 1,009,753 words (www.languagemonitor.com). Who is this Global Language Monitor, and how did he get the job? Does it pay more than teaching or freelancing? Maybe that’s how Shostak is spending his afterlife.

English has twice the vocabulary of Spanish, according to About.com. I share this questionable statistic not to claim superiority for my mother tongue, but to remind Senora’s students they could have it a whole lot worse: Instead of living in these United States learning Spanish, they could be living in Spain learning English. 

English’s plethora of synonyms, a bane to students, is a boon to poets and songwriters, especially those of the rhyming persuasion. What if the only word for house was…house? O give me a house where the buffalo….grouse? I don’t think so. 

Today’s funky word is DEFUNCT. You may have noticed I used it in my bio, referring to my alma mater. DEFUNCT means “no longer operating or functioning,” like my beloved college who closed its doors and sold its campus to the borough for soccer fields. When used as a noun, DEFUNCT is a synonym for a dead person. “Well, that’s sad,” I say in my best Jim Gaffigan voice.

DEFUNCT comes from the Latin word defunctus, a past participle of defungi, to discharge or finish. So if I’m DEFUNCT, I’m finished. But, what if I’m not finished? If I’m not DE-FUNCT, can I be FUNCT? Not according to Dictionary.com, who asks if I mean FUNCTOR. Absolutely not, since the definition is written in mathematical gibberish.

But wait. Who appointed Dictionary.com to be Global Language Monitor? It has no authority over me. In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, I declare that FUNCT is a word, at least until July 31. Use it with aplomb. Anyone doesn’t like it, tell him to contact me.

And now today’s blog is finished. But not defunct.