5.30.2011

The Day Justin Bieber Came to School

How do you make a school full of children between the ages of 5 and 8 years old go completely berserk?

Bring out a Justin Bieber impersonator at the end-of-the-year assembly on the last day of school.

The cafeteria/multi-purpose room had been cleared of all of its tables, and the pungent odor of disinfectant was thick in the air…the kind that reminds you of your own elementary school. The munchkins filed in, class by class (my daughter among them), and took their seats on the floor.

The second-grade singers were the first to take the stage…obviously proud to share sweet songs about a funny bird in a tree, and taking the high road, and, without fail at every school choral event everywhere, at least one song called Jubilate Deo.

Next, the music teacher further warmed up the squirmy crowd of kids with the Hand Jive and the Cupid Shuffle. So far, so good…a fun, yet fairly pedestrian, last-day assembly.

But when that same music teacher walked on stage with a large heart attached to her shirt that had the letters “JB” written on it in red marker, the crowd full of kids started whooping and screaming. She was followed by 10-12 other teachers, each wearing paper hearts that bore clearly-stated references to Bieber Fever, in all sorts of variations.

Then came the predictable, familiar opening keyboard riff to “Baby,” and the teachers broke into a choreographed dance number that had obviously required some effort to learn, much to the students’ delight.

Justin_BieberAll of a sudden, from stage right, a lone teenaged figure made his entrance, holding a microphone. He wore a gray, zippered sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his head, aviator sunglasses, and jeans. He had longish, floppy hair. And he was crooning (er, lip-syncing) the song as he meandered through the group of dancing teachers. He didn’t look exactly like the Bieb. The hair was a bit dark. But he passed.

I have never in all my adult life heard a crowd of little kids shriek like I did in that moment. At first, I didn’t understand why they kept shrieking. They really like the song? They like seeing a Bieber impersonator? Shrieking is just…fun?

And then it hit me.

They really think it’s him.

Oh, dear. They really do. I looked over at my daughter, whose eyes were shining and whose mouth hung open in awe. And then, my 4-year-old son, who had come with me, came running over saying, “Mommy! It’s Justin Beaver!” It was then that I had to break the disappointing news to him, and his little face clouded over.

Meanwhile, the shrieking continued. It wasn’t letting up. The noise level kept rising. If it did, in fact, begin to dawn on the kids that it wasn’t really him, they still pretended that it was…because it was just that much fun. My first-grader later informed me that she was tricked for a while, but she became skeptical when she realized that his hair wasn’t exactly right.

Sweet little kids. Not yet saavy enough to spot the impostor from the outset. Hoping earnestly that he was the real thing. And then…making the best of it anyway, even after the unfortunate reality sank in.

I admire their little world. Their innocent hearts. The ease with which they accept what is right before them. The Bieber charade was all in fun, and it thrilled them.

But in that moment, it reminded me, a little soberly, that somewhere down the road, we adults have a responsibility to the little ones. A responsibility to clue them in to what’s real, and what’s not, when they are old enough to understand.

I don’t just mean Santa Claus.

The world where they are growing up is presenting them with a plate full of fakes. Fakes that are more difficult to discern than whether or not someone has authentic Bieber hair. They are being fed empty lines about what is important, what they need, how they should live, and what they should believe. Impostors. Ones that might even be fun to buy into for a little while.

But they need to know that nothing compares…nothing…to the real thing. Empty fakes are always going to be around. But the truth is far better.

The truth that will set them free.

I am praying…even now… that mine will be able to tell the difference.

5.23.2011

Cruising with the New Kids: Part 1

Time to get back on the blogging wagon.

I’ve been away for some time because I went on a dream vacation. A cruise. It took about a week to get ready for it. Then…a week to go. Then…a week to recover. A bit absorbing, you see. But now it’s time for me to get off the boat, in a figurative sense, and get back to this blog.

I went on a cruise to the Bahamas with girlfriends. But it was not just any old cruise. It was a New Kids on the Block cruise.

Now…I will pause, so that you can raise your eyebrows, and blink, and smile politely…the patented reaction I am used to receiving when I tell people what I did. It’s okay, I’m used to it.

It was the third year in a row that NKOTB sold out a boat. And for the third year in a row, I huffed, puffed, scoffed and smirked when tickets went on sale because I knew that other people would go, but not me. Human nature dictates that when things don’t go our way, we downplay the issue. “Oh, I didn’t want to go anyway. I would probably get seasick. A ship full of thousands of catty women? (Oh yeah, that’s real fun). A photo-op with the group that’s so quick I’ll miss it if I blink? Dealing with all my friends’ raised eyebrows? Making arrangements for my kids? Forget it, just forget it.”

But then I got the opportunity to go. And everything changed. That’s human nature, too. Suddenly, a boat full of thousands of catty women became a boat full of my BFF’s, potential seasickness became a non-issue, a 30-second photo-op became more than adequate, and my friends’ raised eyebrows just made me laugh. After all, this was a cruise, and the fact that the New Kids were going to be there too was just gravy.

Throngs of women my age, packing the Carnival Destiny with ridiculous amounts of luggage, boarded the ship in Miami on May 11. The running joke was that there were only about 7 husbands on board, who hung out in the casino most of the time. Cabin doors were decorated with all manner of NKOTB paraphernalia, from then and now, and the hallways had a distinctive “college dorm” vibe to them, thanks to the constant buzz of hairdryers and loud laughter.

The New Kids’ perspective on their first public appearance on the boat at the “Sail Away” party will give you an idea of the teeming crowds. That’s me, in the midst of 2,500 women, over there by the blue awning in the bottom right corner of the screen, waving. See me?

Here I am in that same crowd with my sweet friend, who tolerated my snacking on Goldfish crackers at extremely odd hours of the night:

scanned Jessa and me

And here is my own video of that chaotic but memorable moment:

The weekend was full of ridiculously fun entertainment. This is a picture from New Kids on the Block “Double Dare” (their version of the popular Nickelodeon game show from the 80’s):

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The 1980’s theme night was hysterical. Everyone was decked out in fabulous costumes…

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…and the New Kids didn’t disappoint. They showed up to the party in their infamous ensembles from years ago (a Batman T-shirt, topless hats, ripped jeans, and a mullet wig), and even broke out some of their funny old dance moves. It was surreal. Pic by @atlangela:

guys on 80s night

A day in island paradise on Half Moon Cay:

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Where we luxuriated:

hammock

And sweated to the beat of “Hangin’ Tough” in the blistering afternoon sun:

DSCN0810 DSCN0815

Afterward, we were treated to a limbo hosted by Donnie Wahlberg, beach races, and various New Kids riding around me on jet skis. This one is not my picture, but I was in the water. (Didn’t I dream this one time when I was a kid?)

jk jet ski

Quick picture with Donnie in my dorky old-school T-shirt (cringe) that I wore as a cover-up that day, while his people are tugging on his elbow telling him to hurry up:

donnie and me

Jordan Knight led a yoga class (which was no joke), and his shy brother Jon hosted Bingo, in which he tripped over the computer cord and made the screen go black:

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Pink night (for breast cancer awareness) with friends in unintentionally identical dresses made for a great picture:

And one of the sweetest moments was Joey McIntyre’s solo concert that consisted entirely of big-voiced show tunes, which are his great love. He entitled his funny, autobiographical monologue, “How Four Guys from Dorchester Ruined My Chances at Broadway.” In the midst of “Tomorrow” from Annie, I got a bit lumpy-throated, as I pondered the telescoping of years and experience. Little Joey Joe, the object of all my adolescent affection, who was once this…

joeymac

…back when I was this in a band uniform…

band pic

…was right there in front of me, like this, as we all floated on a big ship somewhere out in the middle of the ocean

joeymaccropped

So the combination of all that…and Annie…made for a rather verklempt moment. Joey got a little lumpy-throated himself. You really just had to be there.

Meeting the group was serious business, too. Groups of 10 fans each had to be pre-arranged before going in, so when we arrived at the massive line that snaked through the rotunda of the ship, we were greeted with utter chaos. It felt like an airport. Signs were being held high above the crowd… “2 Danny girls needed! 1 Jon girl needed!” It if wasn’t such a solemn affair, I would have collapsed in laughter at the bizarreness of the situation. But the girl-fight that we witnessed was no laughing matter - one girl was holding another girl’s head over the balcony, while security elbowed past us to get to them. Some of the crazies had to be put on lockdown, we heard, because a boat is no place for the mentally unstable. I don’t want to paint a false picture…most of the people we met were normal and fun. But naturally, the crazies get the most press. Once our group went in, I had about 15 seconds to say hello to Jordan Knight, who recognized me from the NKOTB song re-writes I’ve done, which was a very happy moment, indeed.

The final evening culminated with a formal-dress party up on the top deck, and a dramatic announcement from Donnie that every passenger would receive two free tickets to the opening night of the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys concert in Chicago the following week. The ensuing crowd reaction was so hysterical that I feared some fans might actually jump overboard in their enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I could not use my tickets, not after all of this, so I offered to give them away on twitter, and it took all of 60 seconds to unload them.

After I got home, one of my friends tweeted me that the sweetest thing ever was seeing my husband’s face in the baggage claim area where he picked me up. If he’s reading this right now (and I know he does), he needs to know how grateful I am that he made a way for me to go. I'll never forget it.

I like my boyband, but nobody…nobody…compares to that guy. Thank you, honey. MUAH.

5.02.2011

When Tornadoes Trample Our Web

Shattered homes, shattered cities, shattered lives all across my state.

The devastation is too much to comprehend. The stories are too heartbreaking to be real. The horror is too close to push aside and change the subject.

We in Alabama know tornadoes. They are a grim part of living in the South. Many a night growing up, I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by parents ushering me bleary-eyed to the basement, while the sirens blared. You learn to be smart, to be prayerful, and to be a bit stoic during the warnings. The west coast has their earthquakes, the coastlines have their hurricanes, we must contend with the beastly tornadoes.

But not like this. Never like this. There were 202 tornadoes confirmed in 14 states on April 27,2011, causing 316 fatalities, and the majority of the losses occurred in Alabama. More tornadoes in a single day than any other day in history. The monster that ravaged the area from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham cut a 200-mile trek through the state a mile wide, never letting up.

Somehow, people are trying to pick up the pieces. But picking up the pieces is incredibly daunting right now.

spiderweb1 My loved ones were spared, but I know people who know people who were not. The degrees of separation are painfully close. There is a sense in which our communities here are spiderwebs, woven together with shared acquaintances and interstates and network news affiliates. When a fragile spiderweb gets a hole in its intricate, hard-woven design, the entire structure suffers. It only takes a second for a giant human being to walk through one of them. One minute, the web is there, draped across a tree branch. The next minute, you’re wearing it. Brushing it off your face.

Here in the South, something has just trampled through our web.

My children have questions. I told them that I have questions, too. My father said, rather profoundly, “Tornadoes go where they want to go.” The meteorologists do their best to track, to predict, to warn. Even so, there is no real way to determine why the storms hit one place and not another.

Isn’t it the same for the figurative storms of life? The ones that don’t tear a house to the ground, but that sweep in just as unpredictably?

I do not pretend to have easy answers to the why questions.

But if I did not hope in the Lord, I would have no hope at all. None.

“…With eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:21-22).

This world…all of creation…is literally groaning like a pregnant woman. Crying out for its redemption. It’s messed up right now. Look around, it’s indisputable. And mankind is just as messed up as the earth it inhabits. But there is a day coming…one that is bringing “glorious freedom from death and decay.”

Glorious freedom. No more tornado warning sirens. No more destruction. No more pain and tears. No more death. We will enter into that freedom through the Lord Jesus Christ, and so will the natural world.

God is going to set it all right on that day. I do not know how he’s going to do it, but I know for certain…that day is coming.

That’s not just what I believe, or simply what I am hoping for. It is a fact.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Please come.

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