THE STATE OF A-FAIR

Maywood Street FairDoggie, Doggie, Buffalo, Buffalo! Oh ain’t that doggie nice? And all you need is one ring!
Jingle, tinkle, ping, ping, as a ring precariously bounces from bottle to bottle looking for a place to land. AWWWWW…. Doggie, Doggie, Buffalo, Buffalo! Oh ain’t that doggie nice? And all you need is one ring! …

20 minutes without a breath, like clockwork, and all I could think of was taking one of the massive stuffed animals innocently hanging from that deceptively inviting brightly colored awning and introducing it to his relentless vocal chords to muffle the sound, but only in the most loving way!

Thinking back I would hazard to guess that my own exhaustion may just have played a tiny role with my disdain for the repetitive, obnoxiously loud proclamations battling over the sights and sounds of the midway rides. The throbbing in my temples was increasing exponentially with each passing minute as my skull began an all-out revolt against the rest of my body. But who could blame me? After all it had been one of those hot and sticky days in late August, that our State is famous for and, you guessed it, every year without fail it would be precisely the day we chose to make our annual pilgrimage to the “Great Minnesota Get Together”, our State Fair.

I must admit there is something intoxicating about the idea of recapturing days gone by along with the thrill of being a part of history in the simple act of gathering to celebrate the backbone of what made this country great; The hard working men and women in our communities! People of all ages sharing the best of what the year had to offer in what can only be referred to as a life-size show and tell. Sharing tips, tricks, challenges and victories, trading stories with your neighbors and strangers, all in the spirit of friendly competition.

The lights and whirr of the midway rides accompanied the constant swirl of activity with rivers of people in perpetual motion flowing up and down the fairground streets in a sort of random yet unified chaos. Buzzing with an undercurrent of excitement mixed with apprehension that created a shared sense of urgency to get to the next amusement so you wouldn’t miss something amazing in your pursuit of this year’s memorable moments.

A veritable smorgasbord for people of all ages to feast on with pavilions of exhibits to explore and enjoy while indulging in the age old tradition of bargain hunting. The choices seemed endless: Agriculture, horticulture, health and public services, technology, education, fine arts, music, midway rides and games, prizes in all shapes and sizes imaginable. Honors were bestowed on the year’s winners in multiple categories such as artisans, crafters, quilters, bakers, florals, woodworking and more. Among the most coveted titles are “Largest pumpkin” and “Prize Winning Pig” which goes without saying I suppose. The esteemed Butter sculptures are a main attraction and who could forget the grandstand shows that leave audiences awestruck by the daily fireworks against a black canvas of the evening sky.

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MN State Fair 2015 – My friend’s sweet daughter enjoying one of my favorites just weeks before her 2nd birthday.

Now, you must allow me to share one more essential component that no trip to the fair can escape. Afterall, I would dare not commit such a grave injustice as to not pay homage to the undefeated champion of the entire experience, the food! It is the ultimate unending culinary boot camp complete with an intense obstacle course for your unsuspecting digestive system.

We sample everything from roasted corn, award winning preserves, smoked turkey legs and foot long corn dogs to a plethora of sweet treats including freshly baked cookies by the bucketful and those frosty root beer floats. And what would the fair be without the annual quest for the pinnacle of culinary delights on a stick?! I can only cringe as I admit that my husband’s favorite was deep fried candy bars. YUCK! BLEEACHHYUAAUUUGH! I would take a pickle on a stick any day. Savory vs. sweet  has been a lifelong debate in our marriage to this day.But alas there is ONE THING that everyone can agree on – FRESH CHEESE CURDS!

Somewhere between the second ear of roasted corn and my simultaneous need (not want, but NEED) for fresh salt water taffy, causing my poor stomach to beg for mercy, I had an epiphany. The thing that made me go, “Hhmmmmm…!”   

I, Anne Weber, being of somewhat sound mind, had freely chosen to year after year plunge myself into this swirling vortex of people, smells, tastes and sounds, children screaming and giggling, other’s crying, people shoving you out of their way, music, performers of all kinds, etc… and extended and open invitation for them to invade my airspace. I was mildly amused by the irony of that moment comparing the pulsating pain in my temples battling for my attention in a neck in neck race with the burning blisters on my heals and aching back muscles versus the pure satisfaction of having enjoyed so many unforgettable moments mixed with laughter, friends and wonderment. All of which were responsible for feeding the soul of this very happy yet exhausted fair going extrovert.

I knew I would fondly recall these moments during the long winter months ahead, although, I have to admit that it was no comfort for the present pain coursing through my body. I made a private agreement with myself that next year I was not going to subject myself to this kind of suffering. I vowed to remember why it would’ve been a much better idea to take my chances amongst those fashionistas inflicted with the insatiable desire for all things Vogue, while enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of the Mall of America.

“Sweetie”, I was jolted back to reality. Startled I exclaimed, “Let’s go, where did we park..ummm….”  I looked around to find myself sitting in my lift chair, my wheelchair beside me. “Honey,” came my husband’s voice, “Where were you just now?” I looked up and burst into tears. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” My hubby, not knowing what to say, was desperately trying to figure out what he had done wrong by just saying my name.  He was quite dumbfounded and bore a profound look of confusion mixed with genuine concern. After what I am sure felt like an eternity to him, I tried to smile through what I can only imagine was not one of my covergirl moments. My face resembled an abstract impressionist canvas with blotchy red cheeks from the tears stinging my eyelids and streaming down my face. Not to mention the leaky faucet where I once had a nose. The onslaught of bodily fluids culminated at the bottom of my chin, drip, drip, drip and instead of coming up with some logical reason for my emotional tidal wave, I sat there stunned at my own outburst. So what was it? What happened between my delightful recollection of lovely memories and hearing my name?

I gratefully accepted the offering of my husband’s fist full of Kleenex tissues and proceeded to try and make myself at least somewhat presentable. By now John had moved from his lift chair and was sitting on his walker seat staring at me expectantly while fidgeting with his wrist splints. I took a deep breath and blubbered out the only thing I could think of, “I… don’t… know…why I’m ……cry…ing…ing…” Followed by another bout of jumbled up incoherent words sandwiched between hiccups and tears. Something like, “It’s just… not sure… miss… why… lonely…. …stupid wheelchair…….just being….pity party…..trapped……sorry…I…but…but….” I spent the better part of the next hour going through an entire box of tissues and blowing my nose until I was sure I would soon have a trumpeter swan on my doorstep looking for a mate.

Then it hit me. While I was joyfully reading Facebook posts, seeing all promotions of fair events and the photos of friends participating in the fun, I had missed an important truth. I had become a self appointed subject matter expert at ignoring my own feelings. That familiar adversary “pride” was rearing it’s ugly head making it very easy for me not to admit I felt forgotten or isolated when I saw life passing before my eyes but being unable to participate.  You see it is the understatement of the year to say I had realized we were in the midst of a storm and I can say that I truly did trust that God would bring us through even though I had no idea how.  So if I knew this, why was I so miserable?
TRUTH: Avoiding the pain was not the same as dealing with it and it definitely didn’t make it go away because stuffing it, like us “scandihoovians” tend to do, only delays the inevitable and causes resentment.

KNOCK! KNOCK! I would have given anything at that moment to hear a knock on the door announcing that we had won an accessible vehicle with all the equipment that was custom made to fit the specialized needs of my wheelchair and whisk me away to do something “normal”.  ANYTHING… You might think that was dreaming of winning some once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise or some exotic adventure, and while I have to admit I was disappointed when 20 years came and went and the anniversary cruise we had looked forward to for so many years, just vanished as medical bills swallowed up the funds we had set aside. But I can say that after five years of no vacations, missing my mother-in-law’s funeral, being unable to attend multiple family weddings, and over a year with no transportation, my dream was far different.

FACT: Now my dream is just that I would be able to go to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments with my husband to help him cope!

TRUTH: I smugly patted myself on the back and congratulated myself for not being overly demanding. Afterall, I said to myself, I said, “You are a wonderful example of an unselfish person!” I am e
ven more ashamed to admit I went as far as to say that I felt like I was being quintessentially “logical” about my desires…well that was until there was this tap, tap, tap on my shoulder and I felt the Holy Spirit calling me to take another look at the log in my own eye. OUCH! OOOOUUUUCCCHHHTap Tap Tap

Here I was lamenting, complaining with my eyes focused on my own situation and all the time there were SO MANY people worse off. It’s like my fog of resentment had completely blocked the years of our involvement with World Vision and other charities where I witnessed first hand the depravity and results of selfishness. TRUTH: Greed is the main problem those in need face today. Not theirs, but our own. Those who have been blessed with enough and some abundantly often choose to ignore God’s mercy and turn a blind eye to helping the least of these. My mind raced from one area of need to another and it broke my heart all over again. I recalled the people who didn’t have access to a grocery store, much less knowing where their next meal was coming from, those who were homeless, no roof or safe place for the night, and a cardboard box was their idea of shelter, to those searching desperately for a safe place where their abusers couldn’t hurt them and onto the 1000’s looking death in the face without adequate medical care. It’s a truly humbling experience when you come face to face with your own sin in the light of God’s grace.

I began to count my blessings after I repented and asked God to renew a right spirit within me. Slowly the truth of God’s provision started taking hold of my heart. NO, things hadn’t changes overnight. YES, I still had no way to leave my home and YES, I still pray for a miracle and for God to help me find transportation, and YES, I even feel isolated and lonely from time to time. BUT the truth is that I am blessed! Maybe not the way I envisioned but blessed because God’s wisdom was far beyond my own and I was learning to rest in His plan and His timing, no my own. What a relief!

FACT:  THIS is NOT meant to put a guilt trip on anyone, so I would like to offer a peek into my world. When a person is in the middle of the storm they are often incapable of having the energy to host visitors and often withdraw socially to be able to cope with the everyday just to survive. I know I have, since it takes every ounce of strength within me just to face the ongoing pain in my body, let alone having to navigate social interactions with any degree of civility. On bad days, the thought of even having to get dressed appropriately, having to navigate everything from personal hygiene to the timing of medications, coordinating your PCAs schedules so they are able to do the things they need to for caregiving, never knowing when flashback can be triggered and your husband’s PTSD will completely derail your day, and so many other issues, make it next to impossible to plan ahead and often is too awkward to even think of having people come to our home. It is much easier to go out and then be able to leave when you need to.
FACT: I am SO GRATEFUL for the friends who haven’t given up on me and still call and check in and touch base. The “low maintenance” friends and family members who don’t take offence and simply love you in spite of your circumstances are a priceless gift.  So what I want to point out is that it is no one’s fault when those hard times come and relationships change. Just try to keep an open heart and mind and remember that everyone is fighting their own battles.

Eph 4 32 Compassionate

Oops…rabbit trail…better get back on track!

Finally, having composed myself, I looked over and there on his walker, sat my husband with tears rolling down his face staring at me with a look I can only describe as horrified guilt and heartfelt pain. He just kept saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Over and over. What a fool I was! Here I was having a pity party and my precious hubby who had been through hell and back was thinking he was the one who had disappointed me. The truth of that shocked me into a new understanding. How could he think that it was his fault he had been victimized and he was to blame for all that had been stolen from him? It was then that I knew my personal pain was nothing compared with the even greater agony I felt seeing the hurt in his eyes and watching him suffer. It makes me think of how much greater God’s own pain was having to turn away from His Only Begotten Son, as He hung there covered in our sin, MY SIN, dying on a wooden cross.

You see, as I looked back at the memories of our trips to the fair and the disappointment of having missed out, paled in comparison, as I looked at the hurt in my poor husband’s face.  I realized that it didn’t matter that we weren’t able to do the things we had before, he was still the man that had loved and cared for me so tenderly through the years as my own health declined and now during my own journey from able bodied to wheelchair bound. In spite of his own torture he had tried desperately to hide it from me so I would be protected from having to suffer. The more I thought about it,  the more I was filled with a new love and respect for the soulmate God had blessed me with. And the more I realized that God was teaching me something much more crucial in light of my desire to be Christlike. It was the opposite of all the “self awareness”  coaches that I had heard and what so many are preaching these days, which for me had done nothing more than feed my human selfish nature and inability to let God give me a new vision from heaven’s point of view.

Quietly through the tears, this time for my sweet husband’s pain, in barely a whisper I started to sing that old gospel hymn that had been inspired in the midst of adversity:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio G. Spafford, 1873, Copyright: Public Domain

The author, a humble man, prominent lawyer and businessman, having lost much of his fortune in the great Chicago Fire, sent his wife and four daughters ahead to Europe after last minute plans had forced him to remain behind and follow a short time later.  However, on November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by another vessel and all four of his daughters drowned.  His wife was found unconscious floating on some wreckage and rescued. Arriving in England,  she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning “Saved alone.” (Now on display at the Library of Congress) Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters’ deaths. It was at that very spot overcome by the love for his Savior in the midst of his immense loss, he wrote the words for “It Is Well With My Soul.”

That night these same words were comfort to my own soul as a testament to God’s unchanging faithfulness, knowing that the waves had not been able to overtake that women of God and together this couple was able to praise God in the midst of their devastation knowing they would be reunited one day.

I sat in quiet contemplation long into the night pondering the mystery of God’s grace.

SLEEP, what a wonderful friend. The next morning I awoke with a new peace in my heart. Had the circumstances changed? NO! But I was ready to share what I had learned.  Actually two things, which proves that OLD chicks can still learn new tricks!  I will write more about that next time, but I will leave you with this thought. This old chick is tired of allowing the storms of this life rob her of the blessings God had promised to provide even in the midst of the storm and for the first time in a long time my soul rested, truly rested.

You see, the night before had been a time of conflicting emotions, when the darkness seemed to outshine the light but that is when God’s grace had poured in. Like Paul and Silas in the jail. When the night was the darkest and they had been beaten and bruised they could have justifiably wallowed in self-pity and depression. But NO! They “chose” to worship. It was dark and things looked like they were at their worst, but for midnight.

But for midnight

I was struck by the fact that God had so purposefully inspired this new testament apostle to include that time of day in this passage. “And about midnight…”, the time of day when things are at their darkest and the dawning of a new day is born. I think He was telling us to remember the words I have grown to love, “But for midnight.”  Why? Because that is when we need hope to hang on until help comes. When things are the darkest, you see no way out and you are at the lowest of the low, God says, “You choose!”  God never forces, He invites and then leaves is up to you to accept or not.

THE CHOICE: Do you let the evil of the past control your present or do you choose to bring the sacrifice of praise and worship in spite of your pain? When you choose to worship what is God’s response? HE SHOWS UP!!  And so I was determined that I would no longer be stuck vacillating betwixt and between, one part mourning the “good old days” focused on the extreme losses we had suffered and allowing it to overshadow the blessings that on the other part left us deeply grateful for a safe place to live, medical care and those who loved us. I knew it was time to let go and let God. YES! This life is still a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns and yet in the midst of the world around us that’s in pursuit of the next “main attraction”, I would make my choice and let God show me how to survive the storm.

ASK YOURSELF: Are you lost in the ocean of needs and concerns? Do you feel like you are alone, out there with no hope and the concerns and cares of this world are pulling you under their current? Maybe you are part of that river of people going through life pushed along by the tide and appear to be a happy participant but underneath you are ready to take that lifesize stuffed animal and use it muffle the sound of the voices screaming and calling you a failure or telling you that you don’t measure up? I want you to know that it is NOT TRUE.  The balconies of heaven are filled with the saints who have gone before and are cheering you on. Our assurance is not based on you or me, but in the God who loves you and will never leave you not forsake you. His love for you is not based on your emotions or actions but on His infinite grace. My prayer for each one who has read this post is that you will experience God’s love in tangible ways as a reminder that He is there, even in the midst of the storm. Just ask and God has promised to answer the cry of a sincere heart.

See you next time as I share “Old Chicks Can Still Learn New Tricks!”

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