Thursday in the new normal

July 2 was a Thursday this year, just two weeks ago today. For me it was not a normal Thursday, although I did sign the checks at church for invoices and reimbursements, a normal Thursday event for the last ten years.

Ten years.


It was the last normal Thursday in an old normal, as it was my last day on staff at the church I have served since January 2, 2002, the last ten as business manager, aka signer of the checks, aka money changer in the temple. Didn’t you know? Every temple needs one!

That’s the way I used to introduce myself to people who came in the door at West Hills Church, including a couple of candidates for our interim senior pastor position.

Well, you might as well be honest. 🙂

So July 2, 2015, was my last day on staff there, and it was a Thursday.

July 6, 2015, began a new chapter in my life. No, it wasn’t a Thursday, but it was a Monday after a three-day weekend for the Fourth of July holiday. I woke up a very different person: for the first time since 1977 I was unemployed.

Let me say, it was my choice. I think that is important. I left with a sense of peace, albeit with no sense of purpose. It felt right: the decision, the timing, the reason.

So here I am, two weeks later living a very different kind of life.

I have applied for a new job.

I am preparing to return to Lebanon and Syria for the fifth time in five years.

I am cleaning up my home office so we can reattach the bookshelves which are pulling away from the walls. (Can I just digress for a moment and say that the reason they are pulling away from the walls is that they were too heavy with books? I think that counts in my family’s favor that we love to read actual printed BOOKS!)

I am spending time letting folks know that I have a different e-mail address and discovering just how many places I used my church email for a point of contact.

Note to self: don’t do that again!

I am playing Bejeweled Blitz, Yuma Blitz, Pet Rescue Saga and other assorted Facebook games in my moments of solitude. Hey! Everyone needs some down time.

But it has been two weeks now. I don’t leave for Lebanon for another week and I was feeling like I needed to produce something. Not spreadsheets for the session so they have good financial information. Not attendance figures for Sunday school and worship. Not editing and proofreading marks on the Sunday bulletin (although it was obvious from last Sunday, that somebody still needs to do that function!).

No, today I needed to produce something physical, something that made me feel like I could still create beautiful aromas and flavors and to actually feed people – not the Word – but actual food.

So I pickled onions.

Beautiful cipollini onions with thin, yellow skins would be my target. I set out on this hot, humid, sunny day in Omaha, Nebraska, to find them at the grocery store. The clerk at the store wondered what I was going to do with that bulging cellophane bag of onions, so I told her.

“I am going to pickle them in a balsamic vinegar and white wine brine. But first I have to melt dry sugar into a beautiful dark caramel. They are awesome!”

“We’ve got pickled onions at our olive bar,” she explained.

“I know. That’s where the inspiration came from,” I replied. “Oh, my! They are yummy. And I am going to make some.”

July 16 cipollini onionsSo home I went with my five pounds of aromatic layered gold. I blanched them, adding another layer of yellow coloring to the pasta strainer, dumped them in an ice water bath and then squeezed the usable part of the onion out of its skin.

A couple of hours later I had this treasure, not in clay pots, but in six one-pint Ball jars.

It wasn’t enough.

For thirteen years, my dear spouse St. Stephen has been the chief chef at our house. I like to cook. He loves to cook. He finds peace in the kitchen at the end of day of architectural drawings and meetings and trying to please clients.

He is a great chef!

But he has been so busy lately and I have been, well, unemployed.

July 16 mac and cheeseSo today besides shopping for pickled balsamic cipollini onions, I shopped for macaroni and cheese. No, not the blue box my family grew up with, but the creamy, cheesy, homemade kind.

Half and half. Sharp cheddar. Colby. Large elbow macaroni. Butter. Onions.

Homemade bliss.

I love to care for people, including my family. But I also I know that Thursdays are just Thursdays.

I know that my old normal and my new normal are the perception of a well-resourced, finely educated, blessed married woman in a first world country. When I put on the glasses of my sisters – equally educated, equally blessed and formerly well-resourced – in a part of the world that had the same economic advantages of my country until years and decades of war caused their worlds to collapse, I stopped in my tracks.

Their new normal is not of their own choice or their own making like mine has been.

And so in the midst of onions and macaroni and cheese, I pray.

I pray that they, too, will come to have a Thursday like this. A Thursday of sunshine and humidity. A Thursday of pickling onions or making jelly. A Thursday of sharp cheddar cheese and creamy sauce as they wait for a hard-working spouse to come home.

I pray that their new Thursday normal will be like their old Thursday normal.

A Thursday of peace.

Mom’s Missal

Mom's missal Agnus DeiI recognized it right away, even though I hadn’t seen it in years. It was my mother’s missal.

Mike was leading a tour of our family print shop for a special dinner Steve and I were catering on the rooftop that night. Good friends of ours had purchased this sweet package at a silent auction. It included the dinner on the roof with a great view of the fireworks that 100,000 or so people had crowded downtown to see that Thursday night. It also included a ride on our 100-year old freight elevator (possibly one of the three oldest in Omaha) and a tour of the plant and building.

We were upstairs in the space over the old offices, which at one time in the early history of the building (before our family owned it) was the home of a prostitute. It has laughingly been referred to as “the whore’s nest” by more than one generation of family and friends. We always used it for storage, and a couple of years ago we emptied it out as we thought we had a buyer for the building. I hadn’t been up there since that day.

Mom's missalAnd that’s where I saw it, mom’s missal. It was on top of a small pile of family possessions that managed to survive our cleaning mission. It’s white vinyl cover now dirty and darkened by time, I knew what it was instantly.

“It’s mom’s missal,” I said aloud mostly to myself, but others heard.

“You were meant to find it today!” said my friend Chris. I had just told her that this day, July 2, 2015, had been my last day on the staff of the Presbyterian church I have served for the last thirteen and a half years.

I picked it up and carried it back downstairs for further review at home, and then we proceeded with what was a really fun night up on the roof.

This past Monday, since I am now unemployed, I took some time to just quietly thumb through the pages, remembering how it looked it my mom’s hands as she followed the mass on Sundays at Christ the King Catholic Church.

It is The New Marian Missal for Daily Mass by Sylvester P. Juergens, S.M., doctor of sacred theology (the new large type edition), published in May, 1961, by Regina Press of New York. I tried Googling it and found that you can still pick up a copy on Ebay, for about $4. There were many hits for this particular missal, so it must have been popular.

At nearly 1500 pages, it contains the masses for all the holy days, all the liturgical seasons, ordinary time as well. There is a full list of saints and their feast days, and you can also find the masses for those days.

Since it was published in 1961, it is a Latin missal with English translations on the opposite page. If you didn’t know Latin (other than the most common prayers like the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer), you could still follow along with the priest as the words were said and know what they meant. And that was and is the whole purpose of the missal: to be an active participant in the mass and not just an observer. I have tried to explain this to a number of my reformed church friends who make the most amusing but uninformed comments about the Roman Catholic mass.

I forgive them. 🙂

Its liturgical calendar at the front of the book includes dates from 1961-1980, so this was meant to be a tool for worship for the long term.

It has five now faded color ribbons to mark the sections as you moved back and forth depending on the season. I think I remember those best of all because when I could get my hands on this as little girl, I would move them back and forth among the pages to mark the colorful plates that illustrated biblical scenes like Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Mom's missal nameplateThe back of the book has a name plate indicating that it is my mom’s. In her very neat printing in blue ink it says: Mrs. George Prescott, 7806 Ontario St, Omaha 24, Nebr, 391-9586. A later addition in pencil has this corrected to: Jana Prescott, 2526 So. 105th St. Jana must have appropriated it sometime after we moved in 1965, and Mom died in 1966.

And I stop right here and remember both those places. My dad built the house on Ontario Street in 1958. He moved the then small family of Mom and George, Jr. and Jana to that house where I joined them in December that year when I was born. In the fall of 1965, our family that now included Susan, Mike, Sally and Cathy, moved to the house on 105th Street. We had the same phone number, 391-9586, and the same ZIP code, 68124. The house was not much bigger, but Daddy had a small addition built on that gave us one more bathroom, one more bedroom, and a big dining room. I can still see my mom washing dishes at the sink or cooking at the stove, the old yellow telephone tucked under her ear as she kept up with family news while talking to Aunt Tillie or Grandma Thirtle, the phone cord stretched out to its full length, which always seemed like about fifty feet.

Such good memories.

Mom's missal Ephesians passageAs I paged through the missal I found prayer cards that Mom had tucked in there. Favorite Bible readings. The 23rd Psalm. The Beatitudes. Easy references for scriptures that spoke to her heart. There were other picture cards as well. When I turned them over to see the back, I found scriptures written in her handwriting. She must have written them out to keep them close by, handy in a book she probably used every day. And I too, love this one from Ephesians, as it uses the words that describe the dimensions of the cross to remind us just indeed how great the love of Christ is for all of us.

I turned to the section where I knew I would find the prayer that is so much on my heart these days, the Agnus Dei, a reminder of why I am folding all those paper cranes. The words are there for the ordinary mass and also for a funeral mass like the one that was offered for Mom after she left us on March 27, 1966. Dona eis requiem, dona eis requiem, dona eis requiem sempiternam. Grant them rest, grant them rest, grant them eternal rest.

There are so many days nearly fifty years since she died, that I miss my mom. I wonder what she would think of what her children have grown up to be and to do. I like to think she has smiled down at us as we have experienced love and joy, and that she has wept a mother’s tears at our failures and our sorrows. I know she has marked our lives by her love and her faith, and I am so grateful for what she passed on to me that is so important to my life and my journey.

Finding that missal in the whore’s nest on a July night in Omaha, Nebraska, with fireworks blasting and lighting up the night sky, felt like a sweet kiss blown my way from heaven. It was as if she was telling me that even though my time on the church staff has ended, my journey of faith has not. My work on earth is not done until I am called home like she was. I have good news yet to hear, and good news yet to tell. I have travels left to make with the living Christ in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, places where other mothers and fathers are marking their children in the same way mine have marked me.

And so I will keep going.

Deo gratias.