Confinement of truly unnecessarily opalescent lasagna

          or “what we learn from our mistakes” … or “those durn spelling bees!”

Last week, our daughters got to take part in the exciting fifth grade event of the spring: the school spelling bee.  With many students competing, several of them older than Rachel and Emily, our expectations weren’t too high, but we hoped they would have a good experience.  It’s funny the memories that a spelling bee can stir up… you know, I remember the words I missed on a stage (cinnamon and ancient), but the words I answered correctly don’t immediately come to mind.  This created a fun little discussion on Facebook, where word-geeks like myself left fun little notes about the words they missed many years ago.  I asked the girls the next day, and they, too, couldn’t spell opalescent, lasagna, effervescible or truly.  (In the spelling bee, Rach missed “confinement,” though when she spelled it later, she knew it should have had a silent E, and Em missed “unnecessarily,” as the six syllables were just too much for her head to keep track of… but hers was also the only six-syllable word used, if that was any consolation.)

Two years ago, as I was helping the girls study for a spelling test, I wrote a fun blog vignette that I’ll repost here (since the old blog site was deleted, I’ll just share those here periodically).

Cinnamon (not cinimin)

Which of life’s lessons do you remember best?  For me, I know that the test questions I remember aren’t usually the ones I get correct, but the ones I miss.  One particular lesson is one I recall whenever I look in the spice cabinet or help my daughters study for a spelling test.  I remember the school spelling bee when I was in fifth grade, and I was one of the final three spellers on stage.  I don’t recall the words that had led up to that point, as I had obviously known how to spell those, or at least I guessed correctly.  But then came a word I didn’t remember – I knew I had seen it, I loved it with sugar and butter on toast, but spelling… I took a stab.  C-I-N…..I-M-I-N  ??  Nope.  As I learned quite quickly, when the following student was correct, what I needed was C-I-N-N-A-M-O-N.  And I haven’t had a hard time spelling cinnamon since that day.

Life contains all kinds of spice, much more than cinnamon, but it’s not always what we would choose, is it?  Even if we can spell life’s lessons, they can still be hard to experience.  A car accident, an unexpected illness, a death in the family… even struggles we’ve gotten used to can still be just that – struggles.  But why are they there?  Maybe it’s so we can learn to comfort, to depend, to understand, to demonstrate what it means to experience defeat gracefully.  It is tempting to ask God, “Why me?” when difficulties strike, but what can we learn by simply asking God to show us how this can be used …used to comfort, to teach, to do something we may never realize.

You know, I went to college to become a teacher.  My error was that I thought this meant I would have a classroom, a place where I would present lessons to students in creative, engaging ways at particular times on set days.  For three years, I was able to teach within this definition, but after we moved to this area, I had a little change in course.  To make a long story short, I am still a teacher, but often, the lesson is this thing called “life.”  There isn’t a college degree in life, and it’s not always spelled the same way, but it can teach, whether we want it to or not.  We each have our own spelling bees, and my hope for each of us is that when we miss our own “cinnamon,” we’ll remember how to spell it next time it comes our way.  And maybe we can even give others a spelling lesson in the process.

Behind a legacy…

or “remembering Jason”…

I will admit that there are times I wonder… when the day comes for me to leave this world, what will I leave behind?  What will people think of, or will it even matter?  And why am I even thinking about this on a somewhat dreary, rather chilly winter day?

I must wander a bit to Facebook, that all-encompassing social network tool that has put me back in contact with folks from college, high school, and around the world.  When I bop over to this online spot, I often see faces and hear names I haven’t thought of for a bit, and it can be fun to get back in touch.  One of those “Facebook friends” was a college friend, a very talented young man (okay, about my age, but that’s still young) with whom I was blessed to be in a singing group my sophomore year of college.  “Salt and Light” was a part of Taylor Christian Artists, and Jason helped make our trips and concerts more polished and memorable.

Jason Francis was always dramatic and almost poetic in his outlook on life, and as he went on to act on Taylor’s stage in many a role (and to sing in “Taylor Sounds”), it was a pleasure to see him light up a stage.  My first year of teaching at Frankfort Middle School, I was the assistant director of Tom Sawyer, a middle school version of a musical that was fun, but stressful (for this first-year teacher who was also teaching science and trying to keep her head above water).  That was also the fall that the new theater was opening at Taylor, and their first production was to be the musical “Big River,” the story of Huck Finn (the continuation of the Tom Sawyer story).  So I contacted Jason (I’m sure not via email, as this was 1994), and he agreed to meet a group of my “Tom Sawyer” cast when we took a field trip to Taylor one evening to see the musical together… and though Jason’s part on stage wasn’t big, his small role was a fun one, and I know his behind-the-scenes role was larger, as he helped the director, Ollie Hubbard, with the production.  But he came out and chatted with our young cast, encouraging them and answering questions, a big deal to middle schoolers who weren’t always shown so much respect.  (Due to student teaching and early teaching schedules, I never saw Jason’s lead role in Macbeth or The Imaginary Invalid, but I heard wonderful things.  Of course.)

I did wonder where Jason was and what he was up to, and it was a treat to see photos of his wife and daughter, and see that he was working on a theater degree and teaching at a university in Nebraska.  In fact, he was preparing this fall for the role of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a performance that would help culminate his degree, if I understood correctly.  What a full life!  I’d glance at Jason’s page every now and then to see how things were going… then in mid-October 2009, he shared the unexpected.  Jason had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer.  (In Stage IV, at that.)

After his initial announcement, Jason started a blog of sorts through the “Care Pages” system at his hospital.  Like a private blog, this was a place where Jason could share his thoughts and experiences along his journey.  The name of his page is “Jason Recovery,” as Jason shared quite vehemently that recovering was what would happen.  God had made it very clear to Jason that He had big plans for Jason’s life, something that had not yet been completed.

This was a rectal cancer, first discovered with a large tumor that was causing pain… well, in the rear.  So Jason experienced pain like I’m sure I never have (at least childbirth had a happy ending).  Through it all, Jason’s faith was evident and didn’t waver – he demonstrated how one can look death in the face and retain sanity, humor, and love.

Through all of this, Jason and his family (one by his mother, three by his brother Matt) left more than 60 updates.  Looking at this page, there are more than 725 registered visitors, and more than 2500 messages that have been left in total (so far).  When reading through the messages, I saw some of his college friends, high school classmates, relatives, coworkers, students, fellow performers… and many shared the special part Jason had been in their lives.  It was obvious that Jason was loved and appreciated, but time and time again, I saw people mentioning the wonderful model Jason had been for them.  He was a prime example of living life to its fullest, of performing tremendously, but the example that he didn’t plan to be was how to die: to do so with dignity and grace, reaching out to those who loved him.  Jason said earlier that his purpose wasn’t yet fulfilled… and I have to wonder if this was indeed part of that purpose, now complete.

On January 11, early in the morning, Jason left his pain behind, going to be with his Lord.  Jason’s loving brother Matt has been blogging, at Jason’s previous request, things about those last days.  I would have to say that a part of Jason’s legacy is that of his loving family, the message they continue to share.

So back to my original question: what legacy will I leave?  One of faith, hope, love, and perseverance?  …that’s what I hope.  And how will I extend that message?  As for now, I know that I need to listen more acutely for the voice of our Lord, guiding what He would have me do as we face life’s “invisible issues.”  Thank you, Jason for bringing things to life that we hadn’t expected, for helping us as an example of how to encounter the Valley mentioned in Psalm 23.  And I have to thank those who love Jason for sharing these very personal moments – and lessons – with his friends from near and far.  His is a beautiful legacy indeed.