There but for the Grace of God By Pat Cirrincione

I grew up a child of the sixties. Things were different then, narrow yet beginning to widen in ways we never would expect. I had always been a writer, but never took it seriously enough. It wasn’t something I aspired to—I wanted to go to medical school. But only one of the girls in my high school graduating class was accepted to medical school, and the rest of us had to adjust our dreams accordingly. Now what?

I went to college for a year and was completely bored out of my mind. No one told me it would be like a repeat of what I learned in high school, same type of classes with different teachers, and those were not the days you could boldly disagree with a professor. It was not your ideas they wanted to hear; they only wanted to hear what they were saying, and I was looking for so much more.

I wrote for the college newspaper plus auditioned and snagged a part in the spring musical. A degree in theater and psychology might be something I could get. My fellow stage mates made ideal subjects for me to study. I walked away from the program and school still not sure what I wanted to do, still mourning that my dreams of medical school didn’t happen.

Not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

My parents made it quite clear that I was not going to be allowed to vegetate in my room, so now I had to look for a job. Doing what? I had no clue. A friend had just been hired at Sears in Oakbrook and said they were looking for people to work in the customer service department, and off I went for an interview. In two years, I had climbed the ranks as far as I could without a college degree and decided that I needed to get back to school. I enrolled in night classes at the nearby the junior college.

This is when the path became long and winding, long and winding, did I mention long? And not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

I left Sears for another job and continued to attend school in the evenings and meander down more pathways and byways. I took every writing class offered, and every acting class, besides the required classes to graduate. The acting classes led to a possible internship at Second City in Chicago, but the Lord had other plans, and in the sixties that was a good thing. I loved being on the stage, but my full-time job eliminated most of that dream—although it did afford me the opportunity to write and appear in some funny Crusade of Mercy productions. (See pictures below.)

I had a chance to travel with the Goodman Theater children’s theater, but again the Lord had other plans. I think my parents must have been praying up a storm to God because the thought of their daughter going off to be on stage frightened the heck out of them. As I write this, I am glad that someone was praying.

I also majored in speech and public speaking, which came in handy in several jobs down through the years. But something was lacking. Might it have been prayer and asking the Lord what it was he wanted?

Life is a series of paths that either get narrower or wider, depending on the route we take. The paths either head toward our own desires or God’s. And this is where I took another path.

I took a vacation to California and decided to interview for jobs while I was there. Nothing happened. (Again, praying parents.) Then I decided that working as a United Nations tour guide would be interesting, so I applied and had the interview set up and was ready to fly out to New York when something kept that from moving forward. So, I thought, why not apply to be a flight attendant? Not tall enough. Sigh. (My parents were praying a lot!)

Their prayers were answered—I found a job I fell in love with. God sent a wonderful man into my life, we were married, and raised two wonderful sons. All the while I was still taking classes at the junior college. My husband made a career change a few years into our marriage, and I just kept plugging along – working, raising a family, and still wondering what I was going to do when I grew up—and still not praying about any of it!

As I look back there was an element missing in all the highways and byways life had taken me so far, and that was God. I knew who he was, but did I rely on him? No. I kept relying on myself, and it just kept leading me to dead end paths. What did I learn? That God sent me on some interesting life journeys until he finally got tired of seeing his daughter wandering and getting nowhere, and that’s when he said: “That’s enough!”

In the book, The Language of Sycamores, by Lisa Wingate, there is this line that stood out to me: “No one can imagine the flight path or the destination for their trip, yet God knows how to land the plane safely, even when we panic in the passenger seat.”

As Pastor Moody said in a recent sermon: “Every talent (I prefer the word gift), is from God. He gives them to us for a reason. So, think hard about what he would want you to do with the gift(s) he gives you. It will determine the life race you are on. Persevere, carry on, keep your eye on the prize, for we must rely on the Spirit’s work within us to help us run in a way to put away the sins that beset us. Let us live here to reflect the mighty gifts that God has given us.”

That is what God did for me. I went on a journey, which he allowed, and then he finally reeled me to him, set me on my feet, and said to get serious about his gift, because every talent you have, those are your gifts from him. He gave them to you for a reason, and God is still writing your story.

Quit trying to steal the pen and trust the Author.

Those Hazy Crazy Days of Summer by Pat Cirrincione

Songs from the past have been haunting me lately. Words from a George Gershwin tune about “Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.” Songs describing those “hazy, crazy days of summer.”

It got me thinking about growing up on the west side of Chicago in the late fifties and early sixties. Summer time—hot and humid lazy days, sleeping in, riding my bike around the neighborhood, visiting friends, my grandmother’s lemonade, and a feeling of contentment. Summer time—no school, no homework, no worries about exams, spelling lists or memorizing the times tables. Just lazy days, filled with joy, the cold refreshment of the sprinkler in the back yard and hot dogs. I loved those days!

For several years, family summers were spent out in Wheaton at the Off the Street Club day camp, which is still there, off Orchard Road, behind Arrowhead Golf Course. My mom was the camp cook, which meant that my siblings and I spent the summer in the wide-open countryside, and away from the city life with its myriad of people, noises and neighborhood friends.

The camp day began at six a.m. when the overnight campers were roused from bed to help set up the tables for breakfast and get ready for the day campers who arrive around nine a.m. Once the day campers arrived, it was nonstop activity until bedtime.

We biked to Herrick Lake where we learned to row a boat until we were comfortable with the oars (which meant when we stopped turning the boat in circles). We hiked through the woods and were taught about the plants and animals we never saw in the city. Once a month some of us would take a bike hike to the Batavia Quarry to go swimming, while other less adventuresome campers came by bus.

If you were an overnight camper on Tuesday evening, around nine p.m., the camp director Auguste Mathieu would take us out on the golf course and teach us about the constellations in the inky black sky. I learned to swim at the camp pool and learned what plants we could and couldn’t eat in the forest that surrounded us. We even learned to bury the garbage so the raccoons wouldn’t get into the trash and leave a mess. Days were filled with crafting, staging plays, playing baseball, and at night, sitting around the campfire while our counselors told ghost stories. Compared to the city, the air was cool, the outdoors a plethora of delight and beautiful silence at night.

I just loved summer. Except for the bugs, but that’s another story.

But those summers end, and before you know it you are longing to be older, ready to move on to other adventures. Little do you realize that with that dream comes responsibilities you may or may not ever be ready for.  I remember going to my first job interview and asking if I could have the summers off to work at the camp in Wheaton as a counselor. My new employer looked at me like I had two heads and said that wasn’t going to be possible. I was crestfallen, but what could one do? I had gotten my wish to become older, and there I was, stuck in a grown-up world, with grown up things to accomplish. Summer jobs to pay for college. Then a job to pay for a car. Then a job to pay for anything and everything. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, I have had some terrific and interesting jobs, but I never had camp again. Those carefree days turned into different days, filled with other wishes and dreams that kept me busy, and enjoying most every moment.

And those camp-filled summers? Well, I can still point out some of the constellations in the night sky, but don’t ask me what you can and can’t eat in the forest. Even though I quickly forgot how to row a boat without going around in circles, I haven’t forgotten some of the ghost stories I heard around a campfire in the evenings. And the camp? Well, its still there, waiting for me to drive down the lane, park my car by the pole barn that stored the camp bus and lawn mowers, and other camp paraphernalia and remember the fun I had in the summer time when the living was lazy.