Ouida: Famous Warrior

Ouida McGinty.  A tribute.

Ouida is a girls’ name of English and old German origin, meaning “famous warrior”.  Duh.

Ouida is also a city in Benin in West Africa, which only helps if you’re trying to understand her love of leopard print everything.

Ouida danced in life, actually she danced through life.  Mostly, she was joyous even exaggerated, but in sadness, she slowed down for a dirge, but even there, she was probably patting a foot ¾ Ouida could not not dance.

Her number one dance move was a wide open hug.  It took awhile to realize it was always the same dance moves.

Ouida gave me money from time to time.  To get past my discomfort, she started a hug: a fast one, like a linebacker wrapping up a ball carrier.  She hugged before I could, pinning my arms to my sides.  She then swept one hand across my back, found my hand and shoved a folded bill in it between the hand and bible I was carrying: faster than I can describe it.

She backed away quickly, her face smiling as if she had just pulled off a daring heist, giving me a conspiratorial smile.   The Apostle Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that our giving should be purposeful and that God loves a cheerful giver.  Paul actually used the word “hilarious” and that was Ouida’s face after giving anything to you.  I never figured who Ouida was hiding the giving from, but she got away with it, and enjoyed it more than anyone else I have ever met.

We asked Ouida to play the piano in worship.  It scared her.  Having heard her play, I didn’t get it.  Later, I understood.  Playing piano for worship was intensely personal for Ouida.  I finally saw why.  More than play the piano; she danced with it.  She was our only pianist who made hymns sound like they were being played by a very reverent swing band.  If she was into it, when she worshipped: her feet danced.  Her seat danced on the bench.  Her arms exploded all over the keyboard as if she might accidentally leave a note feeling neglected.  Her playing was all over her face, and when she looked at whoever was directing music it was more like a girl at her first dance who is in love with the night, in love with her beau, and is checking the worship leader to find if he is loving this dance as much as she is.

I knew Scarlette before Ouida.  Scarlette’s razor sharp mind enjoys a secret pleasure in coloring outside the lines in reading God’s Word.  She doesn’t just read. She studies.  She immerses herself in it, and is sharper at it than many preachers.  I wondered where she got that.  When I met Ouida, it explained a lot about Scarlette.  Ouida never interrupted in a small group study, but once she trusted you, she had a bankroll of questions.  But I had to return to the classroom and hear students’ questions before I heard Ouida’s real questions.  She was always asking, “Is there more here than you’re telling?  Is there more to our hope than we let on?  Ouida helped me formulate my best, most rational response.  She was the first to coax from me, “Oh, I sincerely hope so!”

Forgive my attire, please.  For Ouida’s party, I should be draped in bling.  Long before bling was a thing, Ouida had mastered it, arrayed herself tastefully in it, and somehow used it to appear even more alive.  When I saw her Tuesday night in the hospital, she was regal in her bling, and ebullient.  I collected my hug.  I prayed with her and Bob.  I asked God to heal her, but if He had other plans, if He was taking her Home, then that was what we all signed up for, isn’t it?  I got in my truck and thought, “Why did you pray that?”

So on Thursday, when I walked past Jill talking to Tony on the phone, she stopped me to say something in a way she never has before.  She simply said, “Ouida’s gone!” and I stammered, “Home?” and my voice cracked.

I knew we were both correct.

Thanks, John (Pastor) Bugg, and the family for letting me horn in on this dance.  I simply had to say how much I love her and miss her and, she now knows why we all signed on in the first place.  You KNOW she’s dancing, and this time when she looks at the Guy leading the worship and the Father receiving it, they are both loving it as much as she is!

Practicing Helplessness

In Texas Children’s Hospital’s sprawling buildings, sits a food court a few floors up.  Light from spacious, more-than-two story glass floods the space.  Surprisingly great smells usually fill the colorful space with half of everyone clad in med chic and the rest in civies.  The closer to Christmas, the fewer the clientele, and on a Saturday, it was spooky quiet.  Only clean air came from dark kitchens.

My oldest son, Colt was upstairs in Coronary Intensive Care.  He resembled a splayed frog with 27 bags dripping into him in all four appendages it seemed, to leverage him out of the 48 hour night following his surgery.

Our kind surgeons were great, but honest.  They carry a small, but unflinching number of souls who do not exit that 48 hour night on this side of life.  Colt was in great shape, but twice as old as others having surgery.

I hate that food court.

All my knowledge and training was suspended.  I could do nothing but pray, like other parents scattered at tables eating to subsist and get back to their kids.  Nothing but pray as had other parents whose children fell into that small, unflinching number.

Life’s stunning gift looms larger than what we barely understand.  My son in the most sterile place we can make, still carried more hitchhikers in him than we have identified.

If he lived, I could thank surgeons, doctors, nurses, vampires, specialists, the hospital concierge, and cleaning people.  But all their best, left me with an inexplicable space.  Who or what fills the space between proficient practitioners and a child leaving the hospital alive?  Christmas loomed.  I thanked God Who entered that inexplicable space.  His Son was wrapped in non-sterile swaddling strips and laid in a dirty manger.  His caretaker,  a teen with zero medical training, took Him to Egypt in an endurance event.

It was as if the God who sent His Son, held my son upstairs, and popped into my food court for a flicker for a father learning helplessness.  Practicing it.

Colt came out of CCICU.  We spent nights in his room.  He joked about the food, matching scars, and enjoyed friends travelling hundreds of miles — to see him.  He rested in life’s guaranteed moments of helplessness.  Amazingly, we made it home for Christmas.

As I write, my sister Mitzi Deal, and her beloved Greg are practicing helplessness as their daughter, Jodie, has a tumor on her Pineal Gland excised in one to five hours, followed by a day or so in ICU, just a block down from my food court.

Mitzi is funny.  She will tell you she’s learning faith, not helplessness.

Actually, I savor my moments in that food court in the late afternoon sun reminding me of Who lights all inexplicable spaces.


Just in Time

As a kid, I heard Grannie say, “You must count your blessings!  I do.”  Often, we were at a piano, which I had not practiced enough, and she was teaching Life and Piano 1010.  Look it up in the catalog.  It is a lab course, so it costs more.

I never thought to tag her admonition to her heavy sigh leaning on the piano to stand and limping / waddling outside, eschewing a cane to see the afternoon.  I failed to connect thanksgiving for another day to her waking up at the crack of dawn, so that the hour and more that it took her to get dressed would not deter her being my hostess.

Granny’s dad left her at the convent/orphanage in Galveston, so he missed the Hurricane (before we named them) of 1900 hitting the city and killing thousands.  Granny’s story on riding the last train out of Galveston, with some arguing the value of the orphans, and the harrowing crossing on the causeway as waves buffeted the train.

Sitting at the piano with me, she had already buried a daughter, overcome her husband’s very public affair, and lived off piano lessons, while dividing her home into three apartments.

Only now can I barely hear her unstated wisdom: “when you least feel like it.”  When she said “count your blessings,” her rheumatoid arthritis still swelled her knuckles and curved her fingers as she ripped through Chopin as if the arthritis had vanished.

We all have “thanksgiving helpers”.  As Tom Hanks interviewed members of Easy Company about heroes, they all concurred, “The real heroes are buried over there.”  Those men were most thankful for our freedoms.

People walking away from graveside services are either angry, numbed, or more grateful to have had the love of the one now departed.  “When you least feel like it.”

People sitting with loved one in a hospital are either despondent, depressed, or more grateful.  “When you least feel like it.”

Jesus’ half brother had his version of what Granny said: “In all things give thanks.”  All things includes a bucket list of things I would avoid: thanksgiving helpers.  “When you least feel like it” is probably when you most need to start your Thank You’s. When you start thanking, you may be just in time for your sanity, your soul, and your hope.  Or the occasional miracle.

Jodie, on the occasion of your surgery

I cannot begin to tell you how emotional it was when, as an infant, you were diagnosed with diabetes, and then the worst  brittle diabetes.  Your mom wept for days.  She wept sticking you repeatedly to find your blood sugar level.

I was in the hospital last week.  They pricked my fingers three times a day.  I used all my fingers on one hand.  Did you celebrate your 10,000th prick?

Then they told your parents your life expectancy was 12 years … possibly.  So we heard story after story in the night, in the morning, in the bathroom, in the bedroom when everyone in the family — including pets — took turns awaking for no particular reason (God must laugh when we say silly things); to walk in, check you, and find you had cratered.

Your family created a “new normal”.  Jodie cratered.  Jodie’s out cold — and we must calmly, intentionally work our way out of this.

This latest series of debilitating headaches, leading you through a new, bewildering forest of conflicting diagnoses, crashing and ascending hopes — has drained all of you.  Draining Jill and me ten hours away is a lot less than your mom and dad.  That draining, doesn’t even include the bills. . . .

So, next week you return to Houston, to Ben Taub where your grandfather loved his traning as a physician to remove your outsized pinneal gland.  Being twice as old as doctors said was even possible, helps me pray that you lick this thing and flourish.

Ideas and Ugly Babies

Ed Catmull in Creativity Inc. says Pixar’s culture follows a simple premise.  All ideas are born as ugly babies.  They take work.  They require input: iteratively.  Teams know they present repeatedly in front of all the creatives.

Two things.  One, people must give precise feedback in the scene where they lost you.  Two, they must offer a solution.

When you meet again in a month, you either must employ their proffered solution, or show why yours works better.

Great entrepreneurial feedback does that.  Someone puts her finger precisely on the blind spot and explains it.  Two, she offers a testable, clear solution.

My ugly baby is growing into a brilliant, awkward teen, but knows he ‘ll be challenged, tomorrow if not today.