Christmas vacation

I’m off from work this week, but that doesn’t mean that I am lying around eating cookies and watching movies. Well… maybe I am, but we’ve actually been quite busy. I figured this would be a great week to get my Christmas shopping done, since Honey finished his school semester last week and I got my bonus on Saturday night at our work holiday party.

Speaking of the party, it was a blast! I’ve never had the opportunity to dance at a work party before, but I shook my money-maker like nobody’s business and no one even complained. In fact, I think some of them rather enjoyed it. All it took was Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” blaring over the sound system to get me and my partner-in-crime, Christy, out of our chairs and into the holiday spirit. We danced around like the crazed offspring of robots, cheap hookers, and single-mom strippers while the rest of those in attendance howled in laughter. Good times.

Sunday, we went with some wonderful friends to see a live rendition of A Christmas Story. While the movie is a divinely-inspired work of art, the play left something to be desired. The actors put forth their best efforts, but it rather sucked… especially since it cost $10 per person. We licked our wounds (and our spoons) afterwards with a trip to the ice cream parlor, before going back to Alyson’s house where I trounced everyone during a rousing game of Dominos.

Monday’s plans of Christmas shopping were derailed when we got blasted with ice and snow. I’m not sure whether it was due to my fervent prayers or just a stroke of luck, but our electricity actually stayed on the whole time. We were a little gun-shy after that week without power back in the summer.

Things had thawed out enough by Tuesday that we could venture out of the driveway, so we headed for the nearest mall, assuming that there wouldn’t be nearly as many thrill-seekers who were willing to risk life and limb to buy presents for their family members. WRONG. I swear people would brave cataclysmic floods and earthquakes just to save $10 on something they don’t need and their family members don’t want. At least I got some of my shopping done and a Chick-fil-A sandwich to boot.

The rest of the week has been a blur of sleeping late, nonstop eating, watching television, and surfing the net. I’ve also become somewhat of a text messaging addict since getting my snazzy new phone with a full keyboard. My sister and I both have Verizon and can text back-and-forth for free, so we clog the airwaves with the most useless dribble – most of it related to who’s getting what for Christmas and how much we should spend on this parent or that one.

My sis doesn’t have the internet (which she loving refers to as the “sinnernet”), so she sends me requests to look up prices on certain items and I snap photos of the computer screen and send it back to her with the info she needs to make an informed buying decision. It’s sort of surfing by proxy. I figure that she might as well get the internet herself if she’s going to make me use it for her, but I guess she figures I’m already so sinful that a little extra sinning really won’t matter. Kind of like deciding to get whip cream and nuts on your hot fudge sundae.

So, I’ve gotten well over half my shopping done at this point, and already have some of the presents wrapped and placed under the trees (I put up two this year). I even mailed out our Christmas cards. The holidays are definitely here!

But, boy, won’t I be glad when they’re over…

Unquenchable fire

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

I live in complete and total fear of death. Not so much the act of dying, but what does or doesn’t come afterwards.

My childhood was filled with propaganda about the afterlife. Sermons yelled from the pulpit of my Pentecostal church and soft words spoken from the teacher’s podium at the Baptist school that I attended worked in unison to terrify me with mental images of flames and people screaming in unending torment. The excesses of heaven weren’t nearly as appealing as the idea of getting there meaning that I didn’t end up in that other place.

I remember my mom, dad, sister and I visiting another family when I was quite young and watching a religious film that showed people dying or being killed in accidents before being thrown into the flames of hell. Lack of television at home meant that my sister and I hadn’t been properly desensitized to such horrors, so we simply sat and sobbed uncontrollably until our parents took us home.

I could say that my religious beliefs have evolved dramatically over the years, but in all honesty, I haven’t been able to completely shake much of what I believed as a child, even though many of those beliefs now seem too convenient, too perfectly packaged, too elementary.

No matter how I try, I am unable to get beyond the fear of not meeting God’s expectations. While many would consider my lifestyle as the ultimate rejection of God’s will, I haven’t adopted a “consequences be damned” approach to my life at all. I’ve simply decided that I have to be myself and be happy in this life and trust that God will be merciful to me in the next.

But what if He isn’t? That question always gnaws at me.

There is rarely a day that goes by without something reminding me of those hellfire and brimstone sermons of my childhood. I can’t burn leaves without a quickening of my heartbeat as I consider how those flames might feel for eternity. I think of the young lady that I knew who burned up in an automobile accident and wonder if the pain stopped when she died or if it simply continued.

It isn’t uncommon to hear expressions of similar sentiments at the memorial services of friends and family members. After my cousin was killed in collision with a snow plow a few years ago, many of my family members and acquaintances made no apologies for their belief that she went straight to hell. Her own father requested that “Lost, Lost” (a song about dying without any hope of salvation) be performed during the ceremony. Thankfully, the singers refused.

I never could wrap my mind around the possibility that this vibrant young woman, this person that I loved, could somehow be punished forever just because she didn’t meet the expectations of those with a specific religious affiliation. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if God truly loved her more than anyone on earth possibly could, would He really send her to hell if mere mortals wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing? Surely not. But, then, how do we know?

In fact, in spite of all of our studying, praying, and believing, none of us can really be sure about anything that happens after we die. We might think we do, but until we draw our last breath and our eyes dim completely, we won’t know a single thing for sure.

And that, my friends, is enough to keep my fear of death alive. It’s my own personal version of hell. An unquenchable fire that burns constantly… inside of me.

Right here, right now

I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, ‘So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And, of course, there will always be more.’ It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.

Meryl Streep, ‘The Hours’

Campus cogitations

I’m sitting in the library on the campus where Honey goes to school, waiting for his class to end. I decided to drive him the 20+ miles to his night class because he’s been up since yesterday morning – working on a term paper that was due today.

It feels a little strange sitting here surrounded by college kids. The funny thing is that even at 34 years of age, I don’t really feel like I look any older than most of them. Watching them pore over their studies does make me feel like a loser though.

I wish I’d went straight to college after graduation, but it just wasn’t something that was encouraged in my household. I do take pride in the fact that I was the first person from my immediate family to finish high school, even though it certainly doesn’t make me any smarter than the rest of them. My dad is one of the most intelligent men I know and he never finished the 10th grade.

Although I realize I’m not too old to get a college degree, I have reached the point in my life where it just doesn’t seem like part of the plan. I’m much more comfortable in this supporting role. Plus, the thought of all that school work and learning makes my head hurt.

Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy in my middle age?