We can make our plans … a guest post

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This post was written today by my dear friend Tiffany. She and her husband, Blayne, have adopted five (soon six!) beautiful children through foster care. Today, their oldest is eleven. He’s a gifted artist and a beautiful boy. Tiffany is a plan-making maven but recognizes who is in control. Here’s another post about them from a few years back. 

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Eleven years ago today, I was drowning. Drowning in grief. We had just suffered the first of our four miscarriages. Drowning in guilt. How could I have lost our baby? Drowning in anger. How could this happen to us? Why would this happen to us? How could our plan have failed? We are a loving couple who not only desired to have a family, but would provide our child with everything they would need and want.

CB littleWe had a terrific plan. Blayne and I knew that we wanted to start a family right away. At 30, I was the virtually the last of my friends to marry and start a family, and my eggs were not getting any younger. Every time I saw a baby, I could literally hear my biological clock ticking in my head. We were so excited when we discovered that according to the natural family planning calendar, I would be fertile within two weeks of our wedding.

I was so good at making plans and making those plans come to fruition. Step one, make a plan. Step two, work hard and relentlessly to achieve the plan. Step three, enjoy the fruits of your labors. Step four, repeat step one. This had worked fantastically in my professional life and had on average earned me a promotion about every 18 months during my career.

Personally, when I was tired of waiting for my on-and-off boyfriend of 12 years to come to his senses and finally marry me, I also developed a plan.  I even told him that by the end of the following year I would be married – if not to him, then to someone else. The plan worked.  I changed the way I prayed about marriage, and within two months I met Blayne. We started dating five months after meeting, and married eight months after that —  just three days before the year ended.  My plans were coming together exactly as I thought they should.

Of course, then I was not surprised to learn that I had become pregnant exactly when we had planned to. In addition to my careful planning, I had biology in my favor. My parents had tried once to conceive and here I am! My due date was October 12, which would have been our wedding day if we had not decided to move it up  10 months because of September 11th attacks. This was meant to be.

But on a cold, grey winter day at the end of February, my fabulously thought out plan spun out of control and had failed miserably. There was no more baby — only sadness, anger and confusion.

What I could not have known then was that as I lie in bed sobbing and praying, at a hospital just a few miles away, a beautiful baby boy was being born. A baby boy who would four and half years later come into our lives and eventually become our son.  He would be the first child to call me mom. He would be the one who with just four little words – I love you, Mom – could erase the pain of four miscarriages and three failed adoption attempts.

cbnowOne of the many, many lessons we have learned to live by since that first pregnancy is: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9.

The pain, the loss, the suffering, the confusion are all worth it. God’s plan was (and is) so much more remarkable and fulfilling than anything I could have prayed or planned for. For even as I was drowning in grief, God was working in mysterious ways. As I was crying 11 yrs ago today, a baby boy cried out for the first time as he took his first breaths and somehow, miraculously, God brought us all together.

Just a closer walk

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I wanted to do a daily hands-on activity Lenten activity with the two littlest ones. My first idea was to trace their feet and cut out 40 for each. But when my neatnik Cliff would have nothing to do with the feet tracing activity, I had to compromise. Once Lillian saw me come up with a graphic of a foot, she had design plans of her own. What we ended up with was pretty much directed by her.

I used Word and Photoshop. I made twp footprints in Photoshop’s custom shape feature and colored one pink and one blue. (You can guess who came up with that). I saved them as jpegs and pulled them into Word, added a cross on, and an empty heart near each foot (also directed by Lil) and the text: “Walking the path with Jesus brings my heart closer to his.” I printed a total of 40 in each color. The kids each fill in the heart daily with a picture (or scribble ala Cliff) and the number of the day of Lent. It’s hardly craft-0-licious – but it works. We’re tacking them up the wall and they will work their way along the ceiling (eventually leading to a hung crucifix). The children are already excited to see the path grow. I’m not usually a let’s-tape-stuff-to-the-wall mom, but I’m repainting in the spring, so I figured let’s go with my unusual flexibility while the going is good.

Here’s a pdf of what I made: Path of Lent. It’s a nice activity because it’s not too overwhelming or time-consuming, but it is still a multi-step and multi-sensory process. If you’re not for the wall-walking, collecting them in a box would be fun. You could occasionally spread them on the floor (adding a little sequencing exercise to boot). The activity has already prompted some nice conversation, engagement and an opportunity to build on their knowledge of this holy season.

Today (since all are home for break) we are making an Alleluia banner to bring out on Easter. We’ve done this before (usually on Ash Wednesday), and it adds to the celebration (and decor!) of our Easter. And yes: there will be glitter involved – because making all things new has to involve lots of sparkle, right?

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Goodbye Zsa Zsa, hello Lent

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Why start in mid January what you can put off until Lent?

In addition to prayer, alms giving and fasting – I’m planning a resolutionary Lent.

I missed the opportunity to seize my few planned resolutions for the New Year since the kids and I were sick in bed the week before, during and after the clock struck midnight. Two weeks into January, I didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle the self-improvement tasks I had intended since I was in a semi-scramble trying to make up for all the lost time, deadlines, projects and whatnot that the flu dutifully mangled.

I’m all about Lenten sacrifices, and for some reason (like my personality), I continue to add sacrifices in the form of projects as the season progresses. And, I generally over-do it. In years past, I’ve gotten rid of 40 bags of stuff. Twice. Written 40 letters for life. Taken care of 40 menial tasks (the little fixes that never seem to get done) – all while leading a prayer group, doing Lenten activities with the kids and checking off “pray more” on my mental to-do list for the season.

No matter what, I feel like I end up conquering Lent. And here I am again: planning to add a resolution (or two or three).

I need to tackle these resolutions to yield a little more quiet time with the Lord for a more spiritually productive holy season. This approach is ripe with sacrifice for me since most of these improvements appear no where on my oh-isn’t-this-fun list. I am motivated to embrace these changes for the sake of his sorrowful passion. (Even though some I should be doing for my own well-being – I know my weaknesses and thank God for his strength.)

My most ridiculous resolutionary sacrifice is in the form of coffee. (No. I am not giving up coffee. I’m pretty sure I’m still called to function.)

Where's my coffee, Dahling?

Where’s my coffee, Dahling?

I am blessed to have a dear spouse who wakes me every day by bringing me coffee. (Yes. Pity me.)

Not too terribly long ago, I was a normal person who woke to an alarm. But over the past couple years, the protocol is that Richard makes me coffee (in a French press and with frothed milk, no less), and brings it to my bedside. As much as I appreciate this (and oh golly I do!), I really need to get up on my own and not be dependent on this glorious gesture. I need to seize the day – not be eased into it. He can still make me coffee (and I hope he does), but I need to re-learn how to get up outside of this ritual. There’s no consistency in the timing. Which I need. Some mornings, I’m awake and stay put in bed, waiting for that cup of coffee. I almost feel (gasp) entitled to that coffee in bed. Which is ridiculous. (Who am I? Zsa Zsa Gabore? “Thank you, Darling?”) Giving this up really is a sacrifice – because, I so love the sweet thought behind it. But it’s also a resolution – because self-improvement will come from this change. I don’t intend to go back to the practice after Easter, and I resolve to readily seize the day and offer the fruits it brings to the Lord.

For Phil’s sake

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I want to believe Punxsutawney Phil. I’m longing for spring – the thought of which has wedged itself in my brain like a steel spike.

I get a little bit of those lack-of-sun winter blahs. Even though I love the snow, I just don’t force myself out in cold grey weather enough to soak of the helpful vitamin D provided so graciously for free by the sun. Two years ago, when I found myself crying like a baby in the confessional, a really tall and wise man said: “You probably just need some sun. Are you getting enough sun?”

Today’s extra dose of snow reminded me that spring is still far off. And even though Phil basked above the ground long enough for a bunch of grown men in top hats to declare that the rodent knows something we don’t – six, now five, weeks is still a loooooong time. (And dare I say? There is a chance that Phil is … wrong. How can he see his shadow anyway?Have you seen that whole set up? So what if the fat rat is wrong and winter is longer? Much longer.)

Maybe I’m yearning for spring more now since I’m packing some fun-in-the-sun clothing for two kids heading south to visit Grandma and Grandpa.Perhaps shopping for flip flops just wedged that spike in a little further and twisted it. I’ve been in denial, but I think it hit me that they won’t bring the sunshine home with them – so I guess I have to tough it out. (I keep picturing unzipping sunshine from their L.L. Bean duffle.)

Well, on the bright side, there’s always Lent to look forward to.

Here’s a look at a huge crowd of people cheering on the rodent. I suppose the tradition gives folks the excuse to start drinking early in the day to celebrate the coming of spring. Or to start drinking early to drown the sorrow of the long weeks of winter ahead. Either way. Cheers. 

Small successes

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Small successes are better than no successes. (And yes, I spelled my own name wrong over at catholicmom.com.)

1) I had a very productive morning, even if it got off to a slightly later-than-usual start. Fingers were flying. Words knocked out in cohesive sentences. And I made a run to get some summer clothes for a south-traveling kid-o-mine who has nary a thread to wear from last summer.

2) I used the word nary. ^

3) Just as I was starting my van to head to teach children’s choir, I did a mental survey of the farewell conversation I had with my 11-year-old. In my mind’s visual super-slo-mo playback, I realized that while I was packing music, he was cutting open an entire package of bacon and putting it – as one big overhanging hunk – on a salad plate. Wait. I thought. What the heck is he going to do with that?

Success! I ran inside, cut the impending action and prevented the gory greaseshed – and one serious microwave (hot) mess.

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This lovely artwork was Henry’s Christmas gift to me. He made it at the famous Pewabic Pottery center in Detroit. Yes. It says bacon. And Tea. Because he loves bacon, and I love tea. Except he spelled tea wrong. Which he knew, but “there was no turning back once I gouged it in the clay.” That’s my boy: The bacon-loving clay gouger.

A Johnny Whitaker Advent

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johnny whitakerAs our visiting associate pastor gave his homily on the first Sunday of Advent, I winked at my husband and whispered, “Wait. Did he read my blog?”

He reminded us that we have to renew our commitment to the season. That it shouldn’t just be the same old thing – unless that same old thing helps you prepare the way.

I don’t work that way. As much as I love tradition, I’m always looking for a little fuel to keep the lamps trimmed and burning, not just for me, but for our family.

Having recently completed a stewardship campaign with the children of our parish, my heart is still very much focused on our gifts: recognizing what we have received, and what in turn we give back to and in the name of the Lord.

That’s when Johnny Whitaker entered my mind.

Herman Munster welcomes Jody to Heaven just before they board the chariot bathtub to the shop of halos.

Herman Munster welcomes Jody to Heaven just before they board the chariot bathtub to the little shop of halos.

I loved the 1969 movie version of the story The Littlest Angel starring Jody (aka Johnny Whitaker) and Herman Munster (aka Fred Gwyne.). Okay, maybe I just loved Johnny Whitaker. But heck, Cab Calloway and Tony Randall are in it, too, and a crew of other celebs I couldn’t name when I was a tot.

So an endearing memory of 117 minutes of the worst green screen ever used in the made-for-TV movie of a theologically flawed but sweet tale has become our seasonal inspiration for our Simple Gifts (aka The Littlest Advent) activity.

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It’s already proven to be a big hit with the kids as they eagerly ask for our Littlest Advent time each evening.

I used a plain balsa wood box from Michael’s ($5) to create a simple treasure box. An old shoe box would do. Whatever works. I wanted to keep ours, so I invested a little in the box.

I bought three packages of colored craft sticks (enough to make it through the season and still fit in the box). (I bought 375 sticks, it came to $7 with a coupon.) You could use colored paper strips, too. (I chose colors to represent precious gems.)

We sprayed the box gold using a can of model paint we had on hand – to represent treasure. But we still kept it simple (fighting my temptation to glitz it up). My husband cut a slit in the top of the box so the kids could easily slip in the sticks. I put the sticks in a little basket next to the box, with color-coded examples.

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This is how I presented it to the kids … we talked about how Advent is a time for preparing for Christmas. As we eagerly await the celebration of Jesus’ birth and plan our gift giving to our family and friends, what simple gifts can we give to the Baby Jesus on Christmas? We had a discussion about God being the giver of all things and about us giving back to him from our hearts.

Then we talked about how we may offer our simple gifts to God through:

  • Prayer – whether praying privately or with others in mass or at reconcilliation
  • Glory – praising God (such as in song or at mass) or sharing his goodness and good news with others
  • Thanks – remembering to be thankful for what we have, thanking God, and thanking people who care for us
  • Help – offering our service to our parents without complaint, helping our friends when they are need, giving to the poor and lonely, sharing our gifts at church, etc.

Practical note: For us, each word had to start with different letters so the little ones would be able to recognize the words by its starting sound. (And they go to Montessori school, so we use cursive.)

Each evening, we say some appropriate Advent prayers as a family and then tell each other the “simple gifts” we’ve offered during the day. The children come to me, and I give them a stick corresponding with the gift. The little ones eagerly put them in the box. Our 15-year-old participates, too, appreciating how excited her siblings are over the process.

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You can see from the contents that the box is heavy on prayer. Which is great – but I’ve had to take to rationing those sticks to one for the each kids’ daily private prayer, one for community prayer, etc. Otherwise I’m hearing, “I prayed for the priestesses.” (That’s how Lillian says prays for all the priests.) I give her a stick, and she comes right back with, “And I prayed no one ever dies. And that people don’t get sick. And that people have peanut butter …” Expecting a stick with each one. I think I do a good job not morphing into a Stick Nazi with a harsh “No stick for YOU!” and instead just listen and send her on her on her merry way to think about the other categories.

Every day, I give Cliff a stick after he tells me he prays for our pastor with: “I prayed for Meaner Mike.” (That’s monsignor to you and me.) And “The Headless Horseman.” We went here, and the impact has apparently been profound. He wants God to help that guy to find his head.

It’s been a great opportunity to teach both little ones to better contemplate their petitions, because in addition to Meaner and the headless dude, Cliff’s added to his prayers children from school, grandparents and other family members and friends. Lillian’s prayer seems to have a broadened focus on death and dying for some reason, but her concerns are sincere.

This weekend, we will watch that gooey 1969 version of the story. (I know, I know: Judge me.) I bought the DVD for a whopping $4 online. I can distinctly remember being a kid and handing my mom the TV guide asking her to find when it was scheduled in the weeks leading to Christmas. i remember one year being perplexed and jdisappointed when she couldn’t find it. I wonder how many years it was actually played on network TV. It didn’t seem to have the staying-power some other Christmas specials enjoy. Two reasons: 1) no Santa, and 2) if you watch even some of it on YouTube, you can easily see why. Cutting-edge special effects it has not.

I am aware there is a newer cartoon version of the story, but I can tell by the images that it features a Precious-Moments-eque cartooning style that doesn’t meet my aesthetic. I’d much rather see Felix Unger singing while suspended in front of a groovy swirling tie-dye backdrop than big-headed soulless ink-eyed cartoons talking all cartoony.

A few days before Christmas, if we’re adventurous, we’ll work our way through the picture book of the story. We’ve read it a handful of times over the years. I find the text rather cumbersome to keep a three-year-old (and my husband — who does the reading) engaged. I love the story, not so much the language of the story.

On Christmas Eve, we’ll have the kids put the box by our small crèche. I would like to replace the contents with something meaningful – maybe related to guardian angels or similar – but I’m not quite sure what yet.

Of course, as Catholics, there’s a little bit of undoing that needs to be done surrounding this sweet story (just like It’s a Wonderful Life).

We are taught that when people die, they become saints in heaven, not angels. Angels are and always have been pure spirit. There’s a nice blog post on teaching kids about angels by Kate Daneluk at Catholicmom.com. It’s not a new subject in this house, but one that’s always worth a little sensitive Catechesis. I say sensitive, because many are not well-informed in this teaching. The last thing I want is one of my kids to go to battle to correct a friend that dearly departed Aunt Tilly “ain’t no angel.” Instead, I want them to gently share the teaching about God (hopefully) welcoming her as a saint to share in the eternal banquet.

For me, neither the very loud theological hiccup nor the complete syrupy nature of the diminish the ultimate message of the tale and of our Simple Gifts activity: The best gifts are those that come from the heart – whatever they may be. After all, our hearts are a dwelling place for Christ. And a syrupy movie’s got nothing on the sweet purity of a little heart filled with the love of Jesus.

As we ready our match sticks for the rose candle and turn the calendar to the half-way mark of Advent, I like this little angel-infused lamp oil. It’s added just the right amount of new and renew for a fruitful season.

We're also still using our treasured Advent candles from a few years ago.

We’re also still using our treasured Advent candles from a few years ago.

Dear me: Can’t you come up with something good for Advent?

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Dear Advent-preparing me:

You don’t have any intention of reinventing Advent – but you do need to breathe some life into the season around here.

I know, you’ve done wreaths, candles, Jesse trees, sung O Antiphons, hung O Antiphons, read scripture, colored calendars, you name it. You’ve got 20 years of Advent with kids under that belt and are searching for a fresh way to look at this seasonal gift called waiting.

I know you don’t want to revisit last year when you were later putting up the  tree in acknowledgement of the “real” Christmas season. But it felt like Christmas passed you by. Everyone else was taking down their trees, and you were just getting started without the benefit of Christmas music on the radio or decorations at the stores. The hat-wearing bell ringers at Kroger had long turned in their red buckets, and you had pockets full of change.

You arrived at the party just as everyone was leaving.

You were left standing in the picked-over Christmas clearance section of Walmart.

(I could come up with many more to continue to distract me from the point of this letter to you, I mean me. Whatever.)

So, what do you think is the actual benefit of holding off to celebrate Christmas and actually embracing waiting? There’s certainly no real outward point to be proved. You were just there in your own little house trying to stick with the program laid out for by the church year – whether you liked it or not. (That sounds dramatically dreary. Which it wasn’t at all. It was  a joyful season. Waiting included.)

So Advent-preparing me, I challenge you to this: Incorporate the joy of the upcoming season while meaningfully embracing the waiting of the soon-to-be-current season. Make it engaging for the littles and not overlooked by the bigs, and try to keep sane with both Advent and Christmas clutter.

Affectionately,

Me

P.S. Oh, and good luck with that.

Superhero squash

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What do you do when you buy a squash half as big as Batman?

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You make soup. And more soup. And baked squash. And more baked squash. And enjoy.

I bought this beautiful Butternut for a whopping $3 when I took the littlest ones on a field trip to the apple-less orchard. (This year’s apple crop in eastern Michigan was nil thanks to that nasty late freeze in the spring.) But the pumpkins and the squash were bountiful, so I loaded up before packing up the car with kids who were all sugared up on a fair share of those yummy fresh cinnamon-y donuts that only seem to exist at cider mills and orchards.

Giant Squash

I should have put a human by that box to you can see how long that one squash is. That would be two-arm carry for sure.

The thing about a giant squash is, it’s giant. You have to put it somewhere before you’re ready to have at it, and when you are ready, you better make time. It takes a long time to slay the thick-skinned beast. You need a plan of attack and a really sharp, and strong knife. And a Butternut is not like a Hubbard squash. I have no qualms throwing an ugly monster Hubbard on the ground for quick breaking and not-so-quick roasting.

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I peeled, sliced and diced for about 25 minutes. I don’t have top-chef knife handling skills, and I’d like to keep my fingers. So, speedy, I am not; but careful, I am.

That one big squash yielded enough meat to make a double dose of my favorite squash soup recipe from Greenfield Village’s Eagle Tavern, and a full 9×12 of baked squash with butter, brown sugar, lemon zest and nutmeg.

My only deviation from the Eagle Tavern recipe is that I used chicken stock instead of veggie, because that’s what I had on hand.

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The most careful piece of advice I can give with that recipe – and all other squash soup and sauce recipes – is do not overcook the squash. The color seems to change from a soft orange to a more mustard brown. It also seems to diminish some of the “squashiness.” In other words – don’t boil that beautiful squash.

The soup was delightful, as always, and I shared it with anyone who would take it. As much as Richard and I love it, the kids, not so much. But, they did devour the baked squash, which carried us through a left-overs night, too.

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I used about a 1/4 cup of butter, slicing it and just placing it evenly on the squash. Sprinkled with 2 T of brown sugar, a sprinkle of sea salt and then a light dust of freshly ground nutmeg. I covered with aluminum foil and baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (until the squash could be easily pierced with a fork). Then I baked another 10-15 minutes uncovered, for a little more browning and bubbling. It came out perfectly.

I much prefer the convenience of smaller, dainty squash – not that a vegetable named squash can actually be considered dainty. But for the price and the energy, this squash was super.

A hair affair to remember

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I’m not quite sure what got into me. I’ve very commitment-oriented and have long been satisfied with the way things were going. My own transgression continues to surprise me.

On a Sunday afternoon, with Richard and the two little ones, I perused the aisles at the local Trader Joe’s. There was debate over whose basket got to hold the pasta, an unwillingness to sample the warm spinach and kale pie, and juice testing … I admit it. I’m stalling.

I first saw her selecting tea. I passed. Then glanced back. While I was trying to find the familiar Gruyere and Cheddar melange that I use for mac and cheese, I got a closer look as she perused the goat varieties.

After Richard turned the corner, I had to approach.

“I can’t keep my eyes off your hair,” I said.

“Oh, thank you,” she said. Then she offered the bait. “I get it done at Not Your Salon, Across Town, by Not Gina.”

I didn’t want to be tempted. But I was. The information kept swimming through my head. Her hair WAS fabulous. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. Contemporary. Conservative. Cute and Cool. All the things I dream about. (Her’s was also straight. But I digress.)

But I like my hair, I kept reminding myself every moment the tantalizing thought entered my head. Gina knows my hair. She’s never failed me. But I just kept visiting the idea of the adventure. I couldn’t let it go.

Finally, I told Siri what I wanted. I thought, if Siri can’t find it, it’s just as well. I was actually counting on Siri being the incompetent companion she so often is – so she could save me from myself. Recently, I requested that she find the Father Solanus Casey Center. Instead she delivered to me every salon in the tri-county area. Even after several attempts, she couldn’t find for me that lovely place at which I wanted to pray.

Apparently, however, salons are Siri’s forte. She found Not My Salon in one try. Drat. I’d like to blame her – but only I can take responsibility for what happened next.

Timidly, I clicked that little blue arrow to dial the number. The party on the other end answered, and I did it: I made arrangements to let someone I didn’t even know run their fingers through my hair.

What was I doing? I’m risking too much I thought. How would I tell Gina?

When the day approached, the doubt continued. As I was close to Not My Salon, I received a call that Not Gina was running late. I don’t have time for late, I thought. I should just cancel. This is a sign. My schedule doesn’t accommodate a trip across town, let alone the trip and another half an hour.

I was so close, though. I’d already spent the time. And I saw a cupcake shop on the next block. I disgusted myself at my ability to justify this whole affair. I need a little down time. A few minutes with a cup of coffee and a cupcake will be a nice respite, I thought. I need a respite. Don’t I?

The salon was big and busy. Kind of hip but not too pretentious. At least a dozen chairs. About half of the stylists sported coifs that combined made up the majority of the rainbow. Kind of fun. And between asking myself, “What am I doing here?” I thought, as much as I love green, I sure hope Not Gina isn’t that girl over there with the (faded) verde hair.

She wasn’t.

Not Gina approached. She had on the cutest little Kelly green floral corduroy shirt dress, black opaque tights, knee-high black boots. Her hair was long and naturally wavy. She was fresh-faced and freckled: reminding me of a taller version of my sweet Mary Claire.

I tried to let my doubts go. I relaxed and stopped nagging myself for doing this. “It’s okay.” I justified again. I need a change. Everyone needs a change now and then.

Introductions were bumpy at best. I wasn’t sure if she heard me. I wanted to keep the length in the front for when I wear hats, and I didn’t want my neck shaved. My thoughts went back to Gina, who knew my little quirks. And here I was, starting over with Not Gina. I felt like an awkward teenager.

Next thing I knew, I was on my back. I will admit, the shampoo was a little rough but invigorating.

Once back in the chair she studied me. Slowly combing through my locks.

“You have a lot of cowlicks,” she said.

I know, I replied.

“I mean a lot.”

I inhaled the “yes, I know” to calm the momentary “what-am-I-doing-here?” shot of stomach juice with an “I-can-still-leave” chaser.

I asked her how long she had worked there.

Eight years, she said.

Ok. I thought. She’s experienced. That’s good. Then in conversation, she used some choice words describing what she could do for me. Appealing words like modern, swinging, and, yes, even hot. And then she used that one word that fuzzy-headed girls like me only dream about: easy.

Once she got to work, she seemed pretty systematic. Next thing I knew, scissors were down, and she started drying my hair.

That was painless. I thought. And from what I could see, it looked pretty good. But then she picked up a straighter. Outside of a hair dryer, I don’t use appliances. Without discussion, she set to work.

“I’ve never had my hair straightened,” I confessed. “I have a pin head. I rely on my hair to, you know, make me not LOOK like a pin head.”

Not Gina assured me, it was just to check out the cut. Examine my cowlicks. Make sure things were straight.

It actually looked pretty good. Not as pinny as I imagined. Then she looked into my eyes through the mirror and said, “I still have a lot of work to do.”

Before I could utter, “Huh?” Something like this happened. (You don’t need to watch the whole thing – you get the picture.)

It seemed to go on forever. At some point, she angled the section of hair I mentioned I didn’t want cut, and I stopped her just short of cropping the front of my hair right off.

“You don’t want bangs?” I thought we covered that. No bangs. The nervousness came back, but she seemed relaxed while “why am I here?” continued playing on repeat in my head.

Suddenly – with scissors a-blazing – she was chatty.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer. Wife. Mom.”

“Oh, I write poems,” Not Gina said. “Hundreds of them really.” I nodded with my eyes not moving for fear of the scissors.

“I’m sure they’ll be published someday.” She studied her work. “I’m not sure they are really poems. But they’ll be a book.”

Wait. What am I doing here?

In the next 15 minutes, I learned about the apparent joys of sitting in an empty room with your own energy (which is not the same if there is a picture hanging on a wall), primitive painting using food coloring and frosting, an unfulfilled life due to the squashed ambition to become a dancer (without lessons), and a yearning desire to be a vegetarian – if only she could only stop craving meat.

At one point, she said something that led me to interject information about me  singing at church. She said she was going to go see a jazz band at a church down the road. She asked me about church and what denomination I was.

She told me she was baptized Catholic, then scoffed that her parents weren’t at all religious. She didn’t know the denomination of the jazz-band church.

Then she looked at me, scissored hand to chest, and said, “I believe in God. Completely. I’m just afraid to call myself anything,” she said. “You know: like I am a ‘this.'” Then she added, “I made my First Communion, too.”

At that moment, I knew why I was there. Her sincere eyes – pale and green like my own – locked into my gaze. Searching.

I shared with her the fact that with the Sacrament of Baptism she received an indelible mark on her soul . “It’s always there,” I quietly told her. Again her hand went to her chest, brushing her hair just enough for me to spy a cross among other charms around her neck.

“God made us to seek Him,” I told her. “He’s drawing you, and he made you to be drawn. You just have to choose to respond.”

“Maybe I should make my Confirmation,” she said. I told her that deciding to follow Christ meant making a commitment to pray and to learn about what His church teaches. Maybe she should learn about that Baptismal promise her parents made on her behalf.

“For Catholics, this is the Year of Faith …” I started to explain. Before I could continue, Not Gina surprised  me by saying, “Yes. I know. It starts today.”

After she shaved my neck (sigh), we said our goodbyes. I could see her contemplating our talk. I left her armed with some information to help her on her journey, and I promised I would pray for her. She sweetly and humbly thanked me.

At that moment, my hair looked great, but when upon leaving, when the receptionist asked me if I wanted to make my next appointment or wait to see how it grew out – she confirmed what I suspected – it wasn’t going to last.

It’s only been a handful of days, but every time I look in the mirror and try to tuck my too-short piece of hair behind my ears, I can’t help but recall the whole affair. Just the same, I am always grateful for the opportunity to share with others my faith, and through these experiences I am gently reminded that it is not without sacrifice that we are called to follow and spread Christ’s love.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19

Postscript: I’m trying to see how long I can make it before I go to Gina, confess and have her fix my indiscretion. Her mom’s a regular reader – so Connie, put on some coffee and save me some maple cookies, and let Gina know I’m in it for the long haul. ;)