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Sermon for February 13, 2011

A Letter From Home

Here's the latest from Aunt Georgia. She is not good at typing -- I did not correct her typos. Enjoy. --mbb

Dear Matt,

Had an ice storm here on the hill last night. The trees are all covered up with frozen water droplets, shimmerin’ in the sunlight. Branches sway and crack in the soft breeze, makin’ a lovely high-pitched chime. HA! Sound like a poet, don’t I? Just call me the Emily Dickinson of the Ozarks.

Actually, I’ve been feelin’ my age lately, and that just will not do. I’m carryin’ more poundage than I should. Think large stuffed Christmas goose. And the lunchtime Skoal habit’s not exactly contributin’ to my general well bein’. I bit the bullet and made an appointment with my doctor, better known as the Angel of Death. My appointment was for 2:10 p.m. I showed up at two o’clock on the dot. Docs got a receptionist that looks like Bernadette Peters in The Longest Yard, right down to the beehive hair-do. I’ve had the same doctor for over a decade and yet she can never remember my name. I told her who I was and that I had a 2:10 appointment. She glanced at her appointment calendar and then told me that the doctor was runnin’ a little late and I would have to wait. just HOW late? She informed me that the doctor was behind on his rounds and it would be an hour wait, maybe more. I can usually keep calm in most situations, but I could hear the sound of rushin’ wind buildin’ inside my head as I thought of sittin’ there for an hour. I mean, how many times can you watch that condescendin' educational tape about the beauty of cruciferous vegetables? I figured if I had that much time I could put it to good use and get some errands done while the doctor made his way across town. I told Bernadette I’d be back in about an hour. This is about where Bernadette turned things mean. She told me if I left I would be charged for a missed appointment and would have to re-schedule. That’s office policy. The wind in my head became like a tornado. I said, ‘So if I leave while the doctor isn’t here and come back when he is here I will still be charged and not get to see him even then? That makes no sense.’

‘It’s office policy.’ she said. ‘And you are holdin’ up the line.’ I turned around and tried not to flinch, but I think I made a noise like someone had stepped on a baby chick. Standin’ there was Bea Jimson’s husband, Woodchuck, wearin’ a t-shirt that said, “Come to the Dark Side, We Have Cookies.” He looked like someone had stretched a baby shirt over a small haystack, balanced on a pillar of red sweat pants and flip-flops made from recycled tires. He had the 2:15. I told him the doctor wasn’t here and he said that was OK with him. ‘I seen a new People Magazine over there I haven’t read yet.’ Woodchuck moved his lips as he read the pictures. I heaved a mighty sigh and did what any red blooded woman would do. I sat down and waited. So remember…bend your knees and eat your Brussels sprouts.

Do you remember Sunny Clobberhouse? Her real name is Sunshine. She always acts like the whole world is puttin’ her down with their eyes. She comes over to the farm every now and again, and we watch the TV stories together in the afternoon. The other day, Sunny forced me into shoppin’ at the mall in Chigger Falls. She even promised to buy lunch. Doc said I could use more exercise, so I decided to go with Sunny an her mall romp.

While hikin’ through the Chigger Falls Shoppin’ Towne, Sunny insisted on goin’ to the makeup counter at Deek Willises’ Ozark Couture and Farm Supply Store. She knows an old lady like me don’t want a makeover. But when I mustered a fuss, Sunny just gave me a once over -- the kind of squinty-eyed nod she thinks everyone else squints at her, and she said, “Li’l paint on that old barn wouldn’t hurt ya’ ‘tall, Georgia.” I could tell Sunny was lookin’ for trouble. She wuz wearin’ a red T-shirt that had the word “Fresh” printed in sequins across her grandmotherly bosom (What’s with all the tight shirts, these days?). Fresh can mean a couple-a things. The positive type of "fresh" is what you really want a good head of lettuce to be. The not-so-positive type of "fresh" is when Bea Jimson’s husband Woodchuck ogles you in Doc’s waitin’ room. Another renderin’ of "fresh" could be a woman who’s sassy and ready to party until the money runs out. This ain't exactly the mental picture one wants of Sunshine Clobberhouse.

Our trip to town started tumblin’ downhill when I ignored a few of my own hard and fast rules about makeovers (namely the ones about ignorin’ advice from a saleswoman who has done on purpose turned herself tangerine, and the one about women willin’ly wearin’ black lip liner in the middle of the day havin’ no business with their hands near my face). Despite my misgivin’s, I sat in the makeover chair for Sunny. I have to say, the makeup girl was a heavy hand with the pancake. Rubbin’ powders from my collarbone to my widow’s peak, she muttered somethin’ about spackle in crevices and how she’s talented with foundation, but she’s not a miracle worker. The stuff on my brow-bones was, I kid you not, an inch thick! She used so many products on my face, the whole thing started slippin’ down from sheer weight. She caked more and more and more powder over the top to keep the "look" in place. When she was done, she spun me around made me look at all the razzle dazzle in the mirror. I looked, and I tell you the truth, like the picture in the People Magazine of Micky Rourke after his most recent faceclift. It was a truly terrifyin’ face full of slap that made me look like a greasepaint addict on a bronzer binge. And she was so proud of her work! I tried to tell her nice that this wasn’t the look I was going for. I’m more the mu-mu-wearin’, Home Shoppin’ Network kind of lady. The “Red Hot Granny from Chigger Falls” look isn’t for me. The "artist" was insulted. She yelled at me for not recognizin’ a professional and refused to chisel the makeup off. Took me seven washin’s in the ladies room to get that crud off my face. I’m sorry I ever gave that woman a tip.

I think people are tryin’ to irritate me on purpose. As I get older, I try not to get upset anymore. I want to laugh stuff off, but it aint easy. Like Sunny’s idea of lunch after our makeover. She drove over to Big Molly’s Pizza Cavalcade. Big Molly’s is a buffet-style franchise that never really made it out of the Chigger Falls area. Their claim to fame is the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza pie. The weird thing is it’s not really that bad. If you play your cards right you can go to Big Molly’s late in the day, eat like an off-season sumo wrestler, and have your food needs covered for about three days. Nobody can figure out exactly how the food is so cheap. The explanation I like the best is the “angry sauce” theory. Red’s wife Adelaide realized that every time she ate at Big Molly’s, she would suddenly turn angry for no reason. One bite turned her into a she-devil. She speculated that Big Molly’s was actually operated by Satan, and the reason that the food was so cheap was because Satan wanted to distribute his angry sauce and turn people against one another. She never ate there again. Satan or not, no one’s stoppin’ me from eatin’ a $2.99 pie!

So there we were at Big Molly’s Pizza Cavalcade. It took Sunny a half our to find a spot. She just kept circlin’ ‘round the lot, waitin’ for people to leave. There were plenty of spots, mind you. It’s just that she wanted the spot right next to the handicapped lane near the front door. On her last lap, she saw the perfect opportunity. But just as she turned the corner, someone else pulled into it first. I told Sunny, “If you hadn’t spent 30 minutes drivin’ around the parkin’ lot waitin’ for that piece of prime real estate we could have already eaten and been on our merry way.” Besides if you would walk a little every now and then you wouldn’t have to park so close so as to avoid a heart attack from too much exercise, you lazy harpy. I didn’t say that second part. I just thought it -- indicatin’ that I was reachin’ my breakin’ point. Sunny parked the car and stomped inside to order her food. By the time I got my things together and made it into Big Molly’s, Sunny was at the counter havin’ a screamin’ spell ‘bout how she ordered the double cheeseburger pizza, not the quarter pound deluxe beef pie with cheese. The terrified teenager behind the counter was doin’ everything possible to fix the situation, but there was no stoppin’ this train wreck. Sunny wanted justice. What she got was a cryin’ teenager who was really startin’ to wind up. This poor girl wuz heavin’ and makin' awkward sounds, even though she was tryin’ real hard to keep silent), and she started leakin’ tears from every openin’ on her face from her hairline to her chin.

Watchin’ that teenager clabber before us got Sunny even angrier. “Jez cuz yer feelin’s’r mussed up, don’t ‘spect me to go outta my way to be nice to ya. I never liked ya’ in the first place. Actually I am thoroughly enjoyin’ your personal welcome to the real world.”

That’s Sunny for you. She’s anything but Sunny when she’s been set off. Sunny’s not int’rested in mercy. She’s all ‘bout gettin’ justice. Pastor Sanford at the Jerico Springs Progressive Church of the Ozarks was sermonizin’ about this a few weeks ago. He asked us, “When someone makes a mistake, do you want justice or mercy? How about when YOU make a mistake . . . then do you want justice or mercy?”

The way I figure, we got two different ways we can act when we bend outta shape. There’s Lightin’ Mode and Lovin’ Mode. Lightnin’ Mode is where we desire swift and sure justice when we’ve been offended. If we were in charge of makin’ things right, we might shoot off a lightnin’ bolt to emphasize the point! That’s how I felt at the doctor’s office. If I could have shot a bolt of electricity at Bernadette Peter’s evil twin, or at Woodchuck, I wouldn’t’ve thought twice about it. From what I saw of Sunny at Big Molly’s, she would have done the same thing. She sent off a few verbal lightin’ bolts, that’s for sure.

Lovin’ Mode is where we flirt with the idea of why the person did what they did. We don’t just assume that it was intentional or mean spirited. Maybe was merely an oversight or they had other things on their mind. Maybe they’re inept or incapable.

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea . . . until they have something to forgive. Here’s the thing, when it comes to our forgivin’ others, we can’t seem to imagine that God would expect us to show the same level of patience with others as God does with us. Many good people think that forgivin’ your enemies means calculatin’ out that they are really not so bad after all, when it’s quite plain that they are bad people, plain and simple. I remember Christian teachers tellin’ me long ago that I must hate a bad person’s actions, but not hate the bad person. Or as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this is silly, straw-splittin’. How can you hate what a person does and not hate the actual person? One day it occurred to me that there’s one person who I had been doin’ this for all my life – namely myself. Even when I don’t like my own cowardice or selfishness, I go on lovin’ myself. Never think twice about it. If I can do it for myself, maybe I can do it for others, too.

Makes me think of Floyd Lincoln Tribbit. ‘Cause of his hygiene philosophies, Floyd led a very lonesome life. He spent the bulk of his days makin’ fishin’ lures and starin’ at a wall picture of Richard Nixon, the only art he owned. He missed his friends, who didn’t come ‘round anymore. And he missed his beloved wife Nettie, who died years ago. Floyd cried every day, and his tears smelled like cabbage. Approximately once every three to four months, when the loneliness grew as unbearable as an Olsen Twins movie, Floyd would walk out his back door and calmly set fire to his tool shed. Then he’d return to his house and begin preparin for visitors. He’d cut a big hunk of Velveeta and fill a bowl with somethin’ crunchy, usually saltines or pudding. And when he was sure that the shed wasn’t goin’ out, he’d call the fire department and wait for his company to arrive. The fire department and most of the town knew of Floyd’s questionable way of invitin’ company over. While they didn’t exactly approve, they didn’t take steps to stop it neither. Most had a deep-seated pity for Ol’ Floyd and could tolerate his actions. Besides, by allowin’ him to pull such stunts, it erased some of the guilt they felt for lettin’ him suffer up on that hill all alone.

I get it. You don’t love the behavior, but you love the person. The firefighters wouldn’t call it love, of course. They’re too manly for all that. Call it love. Call it fondness. Call it bein’ a good neighbor. The point is, the fire fighters would put out the blaze in the tool shed and then spend a couple hours chattin’ away with Floyd, careful not to let on they knew his secret. It’s ‘bout respect, and treatin’ people like you want to be treated. I’m talkin’ love, and forgiveness, and rememerin’ you don’t always have it all together. Nobody does.

There I go preachin’ again. Writin’ to you always gets me sermonizin’. By the way, The double cheeseburger pie at Big Molly’s was halfway decent. I just ate some of the leftovers. And you know what, I’m sittin’ here, two hours later, angry as a cut snake for no reason. Satan’s angry sauce got me again.

Much love,
Aunt Georgia

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