12.30.2011

School Bus Storm Shelter

The other day, I was chatting with one of my neighbors, and she was telling me how to find the hill that everybody in town likes to sled down when it snows. Since people around here use landmarks more often that county road names when giving directions, she referred to “the house that has the school bus storm shelter in the yard.”

I had to stop her. “Wait, what do you mean? What school bus?”

“You mean you haven’t noticed it?” she said. “They shoved a school bus into the side of the hill in their yard and use it as a storm shelter.”

I could not believe I had missed such a hilarious and ingenious feat of engineering creativity on a road that I travel every single day. On my next drive past, I quickly glanced down into the ravine beside the highway, and sure enough, there was the front of a school bus sticking out of the side of the hill. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. I wish I could get a better look, and I’d love to take a picture, but it’s fairly well-hidden on a treacherous curve. All you can get is a quick glance as you drive by at 55 mph. 

Here is a picture I found of a similarly stunning accomplishment:
 
Storm Shelter (1)

Now first of all, how would anybody come up with such a bizarre idea? Hey honey, what should we do with that spare school bus of ours? Oh, I know! We can shove it into the mountain and get in there whenever the weather starts looking dicey!

And then, once the idea is birthed, how does one accomplish such a Herculean task? It seems you would call in the bulldozers and heavy earth-moving equipment, dig a huge whole into the side of hill, put the bus in reverse and back in there, and then dump all the dug-up dirt on top of the rest of it. Except for the front part. And then, voila! Storm shelter! Complete with cushioned seats and a center aisle! I could be wrong. Maybe they used shovels.

I wonder what it would look like in there at the back of bus? Sort of like those last few scenes in the original Superman movie where Lois has that unfortunate run-in with the earthquake? Dirt outside the windows and all? I’d want to stay up near the driver’s seat, I think.

In all seriousness, I bet those people are the safest folks in town during tornado warnings. We Alabamians are especially sensitive to sirens and weather reports after what we suffered last April. But right down the road from me are people who actually get to climb into their Magic School Bus, nestled safely into the side of their hill, and wait out the storms.

We should all be so lucky to have a Noah-like ark on our premises, one that the townspeople might scoff at, but one that gets the job done.

Here’s to you, school-bus storm-shelter builders. I salute you.  May your days be safe and secure.

12.23.2011

An Anonymous Gift

Yesterday, I received a gift in the mail from an anonymous Farris Wheel reader.

The DVD of Mr. Kreuger's Christmas.

How thoughtful of you, whoever you are.  Thank you, and merry Christmas!

Christmas-heart

12.19.2011

Metal Flat Thing

It was the annual Dirty Santa game, a family tradition.

I know you’ve played it before. Everyone draws numbers. Number one, unfortunate soul that he is, goes to the tree, picks a gift, opens it, and number two can either steal number one’s treasure or open another gift from the tree. And so it goes, all the way down the line.

It is a game of difficult decisions. Do you settle for swiping one of the gifts that has already been opened? Or do you find out what’s behind Door Number Two? It could be a treasure! Like a wet/dry vacuum for the car! Or insulated hot/cold mugs! But then again, it might be one of those obnoxious singing animatronic animals. Like the turkey we got last year that gyrates with his guitar to “Feliz Navidad.”

Thus, I observed our family members sweating over their decision each time their turn came around. Some consulted with spouses and hatched convoluted, elaborate plots to steal/open/steal again in order to lay claim to the coveted lava lamp that was in circulation. Others bore the weight of the decision on their own shoulders, quietly wrestling in deep contemplation, making the rounds to check out everyone else’s gift – slowly – before finally, finally going to the tree to try their luck there.

One foil-wrapped present under the tree remained an enigma. Time and again, I watched as each player picked it up, shook it, waved it, lifted it, and frowned at it. It was long, flat, and flexible, like a saw, but rectangular. People would scratch their heads and speculate about what it might be, but no one really seemed interested enough to choose it. Or even care. It was too risky. Too strange. Other packages were prettier and brighter and more conventional-looking. The metal flat thing, or MFT, as it came to be called, was the most overlooked gift of Dirty Santa 2011.

As I watched all of this unfold, I remained rather indifferent about the available selection this year. I knew that it would soon be my turn to act. I held in my hand number ELEVEN. The highest, most sought-after number in the hat. I would have my pick of the entire array. But what to do? Steal somebody’s mugs? Or go for the last gift under the tree? The big question mark itself. The MFT.

sausagesI stood and looked over my options, the usual candidates – Hickory Farms summer sausages and cheeses, bath salts, Ghiradelli chocolates in a sleigh (quite tempting) – and then I went to check out the MFT myself.

Like everyone before me, I discovered it to be tin-like and wobbly. I really just wanted to put back under the tree and move on to a better-looking package. But there were no better-looking packages. I was number ELEVEN, and therefore, it was the last gift. It was in that moment that I knew I needed to just open it already, to end the game of stealing upon stealing, the game that can go on forever if you let it.

I settled back into my seat…carefully opened it…and behold…it was a Wizard of Oz street sign that said, “Follow Your Yellow Brick Road.”

Interesting.

But then came the important part. On the back of the sign was this handwritten message: “Follow your yellow brick road…to your sour cream pound cake.”

YES! Of course! The pound cake! The one perennial gift that gets fought over every year! A tradition instituted by my great-grandmother when she was alive. How had we forgotten about it? It always makes an appearance, and this year, it happened to be incarnated in the humble, unassuming, overlooked form of the MFT.  A treasure to many, a stumbling block to some, and an enigma to the rest.

How very appropriate.

The sweetest gift of all came in a way that no one expected.

Sounds like Christmas to me.

12.13.2011

Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas

Lots of Christmases ago, there was an obscure, 30-minute Christmas special that aired on television called Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas.  Lest you think that it was a poorly-conceived holiday version of that horrific Freddy Kreuger guy of nightmarish fame, I feel compelled to tell you in my next breath that it starred sweet old Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Kreuger, and that fact alone should put all your fears to rest. 
I’ll be surprised if anyone remembers it.  It is the story of a humble, aged custodian who lived in the basement of the building that he cleaned every day.  Throughout the course of the story, he fell asleep several times in his apartment, dreaming of himself as wealthy in one case, director of a huge choir in another, and finally, in the most poignant scene, as someone who was present at the manger…not as a Bible character with a robe and a staff, but as old Mr. Kreuger himself, who haltingly says to the baby, “I’m Willy Kreuger.  I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments….oh, but you know that, don’t you?  You know that.”   
Imdb.com reports the following about Jimmy Stewart’s performance:
James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, "I've got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn't need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one."
After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, "Did you get it?"
"I hope so," was the cameraman’s reply. "Because I was crying."
I watched this special when I was a child, and it made an impact on me.  The very idea of someone from present-day standing in front of baby Jesus and talking to him was profound to me, even then.  In the midst of expressing his gratefulness, his regrets, and his memories, the graying actor kneels beside the manger and delivers a wonderful monologue, as only Jimmy Stewart can.
Here he is, in his lesser known Christmas role.  The scene speaks for itself.  It’s just four minutes long. 

12.08.2011

No Black Friday in Bethlehem

USA-RETAIL/BLACKFRIDAY Today, dear Farris Wheelers, we are going to contrast two days in history. Two very, very different days.

The first…Black Friday 2011. I don’t like the name. The stores are all “in the black” that day, so the term is supposed to refer to turning a profit.  But the name itself is neither pleasant, nor sunshine-y or rainbow-y. Not Christmas-y at all. For a day that has been christened in modern times as the “official start of the holiday season,” one would think they could come up with a name that is a little less…dark. Pinning the word “black” on a particular day has traditionally been reserved for disastrous times. But maybe that’s not so far from reality.

It has always been a big shopping day, but it seems to grow more rabid every year.

Especially this year. We have reached a new extreme.

The retailers are not even able to wait until 5 a.m. anymore. They simply could not refrain from pushing the envelope all the way back to midnight, as far as they possibly could without encroaching upon Thanksgiving Day. They say that they are just giving us what we want. But doesn’t your lovable pet come running to its food dish whenever you fill it up? If the food is there, he’s going to come and get it. He may be tired, he may be busy playing, but he just cannot take the chance of your other pet getting to it before he does. Survival of the fittest. Do whatever it takes. Get to that food dish in time.

I don’t think most Black Friday shoppers or employees really wanted to be in the stores at midnight. Notice the grim expressions in the above photograph.  But because the deals were there, they felt compelled to run out and get them.

Like these people. Who rioted in a Wal-Mart over $2 waffle makers.

And you probably heard about the shopper who used pepper spray to fend off the competition in the X-box aisle in Los Angeles, injuring 20.

And the Target employee who was rescued when she accidentally drove her car into a canal after working the midnight shift, due to exhaustion.

Stories of gunfire, robberies, and other strains of out-of-control behavior abounded.  Like that song that says, “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…”

Except on Black Friday.

I wasn’t there at the Wal-Mart where the waffle maker riot went down. But I can watch that video and imagine what it was like. A loud, stinky, rude, violent, disgusting, crowded, pushing, shoving, nobody-has-had-any-sleep, every-man-for-himself, get-out-of-my-way-or-I-will-destroy-you kind of unpleasantness. But hey, all those shoppers can now make waffles for cheap!

Something is wrong here.

Now let’s turn our attention to A.D. zero.

O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Still.  Ahhhh.  Blessed stillness.

All the Bethlehemians are in their beds. All tired and worn out from the census-taking. It has been a busy day, but the sun has gone down and the candles have been snuffed out. Shhhh. No all-night census work here. We’ll finish it tomorrow.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

They’re sleeping hard. The exhausted sleep of a people who have waited…and waited…and waited for the One who would save them. A people who suffered under slavery and wandered for years in the wilderness. A people who were oblivious to the “time of their visitation.” And just as the stars had twinkled overhead every night for centuries, so they did again. But this night, one of them shone brighter than the rest.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

YET. That glorious, important word. All is calm, all is just as it had been for many years before.  All is bright. It was not advertised. It was not trumpeted. There were no multitudes breaking down the doors of the stable in a riot to see their new king. It was a quiet, everlasting light that took on flesh and entered Earth. A light that has always been and will always be.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

That first Christmas was different. It was not what it has become, and it did not mean what Black Friday means. It was the intersection of every emotion known to man. It was the trading in of all we had dreaded…for all we had longed for. It was the greatest, costliest gift ever given, the fulfillment of our deepest need.

And the darkness trembled in fear before a tiny infant who would change the course of history.

bethlehemstarmotion01

11.28.2011

Dueling Signs

On our Thanksgiving travels, we ate at this restaurant in small-town Alabama.  Notice the enticing message on the marquee…

DSCN1810

 

Now, in this next photo, please take note of the other sign…the church sign in the background, right smack next door to the restaurant.  See it back there?  If you were driving down the four-lane highway like me, it would be the very next sign you saw.  Like, bam…bam.  A great effect, as you shall see.

DSCN1813

 

I am not a big fan of church signs, except for the ones that have something uplifting to say.  Save the guilt-inducing one-liners…the ones that make me groan and bang my head against the steering wheel…please.

But this church sign, right next to “WE HAVE IT & ITS COLD,” is just too good.

DSCN1812

Applause.

11.22.2011

Appleanche

Appleanche - (ap-uh-lanch) - n. - a massive cascade of apples falling rapidly to the floor of the produce department, the result of plucking one or more apples from the pile. 

If it hasn’t happened to you, there is a good chance that you have seen it happen.

I was examining the blush-toned collection of Fuji apples in the grocery store, admiring them in all of their autumn-ness.  The only way to apple shop is to pick one up, check it for worm holes and bruises, and then discard it, even if you don’t see any real problems with it.  You just have to know if the other ones somehow look better than your first choice.  Keep your options open.  Pick up another, discard.  Pick up another, discard.  (This is why we wash our produce.  Carefully.)APPLES

Locking my eyes on one especially delectable specimen, knowing it was destined to be mine, I seized it.  Which set off a disastrous chain of events.  The removal of that specimen dislodged its Fuji neighbors, who began to plunge to the ground in protest, kamikaze-style.  One, two, three…and then…lots. 

I watched in slow motion. 

Oooohhhh noooooo.  What have I done?  It’s too late.  Too late.  Too late.  There is no stopping gravity. 

I watched as the apples rolled and rolled and rolled, all the way to the feet of other produce department shoppers, who graciously helped me pick them up in my embarrassment.

How many times have I believed that I was plucking one thing (because surely one thing won’t hurt), only to wind up with a big old mess at my feet?  Didn’t Eve believe that in the Garden?  Just one Fuji.  It’s not going to matter.  It’s not going to bring down the whole mountain of apples.  The whole mountain of humanity.  No way! 

But it did. 

In fact, that was the appleanche that started it all.  A cascading mess of original sin that has rolled and rolled and rolled throughout the generations…all the way to my own pair of feet that step in it far too often.  Countless apples littering the ground, littering the whole earth. 

Oooohhhh nooooo.  What have we done?  We didn’t mean for it to happen.  We are ashamed of the mess we’ve made of things.  Like a shiny apple that has hit the ground at a stunning velocity, broken humanity sees itself as bruised and sullied inventory.

That is what we are.

Until we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus.  Jesus, who does not discard us with disdain, but rather, picks us up with care, healing our bruises and damaged places and setting us right where we belong.  Jesus, whose love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), whose love covers our embarrassment, whose love chooses to forget our past appleanches (Hebrews 10:17).  He is the One who fixes the mess.  The only One who can clean it up.

It’s Thanksgiving. 

It is the time to fall…on His grace.

11.17.2011

When Profile Pics Come to Life

It should be clear by now that I have long been conflicted about social media – what it’s doing to communication in our culture, how we have come to rely on it more than we should, how it tempts us to share too much and retreat into online relationships instead of real ones, and how invasive it is.

But there is another side to it all that I cannot deny.  The fascinating side.  The side that makes us stand back and recognize that something revolutionary is happening.  The world is connected in every way, it’s so easy to get information, you can reach anyone at any time, news unfolds in real time when it’s live-tweeted, and the entire world is on youtube.  If technology gets any more fantastic, our brains might explode at any minute.  Sometimes I feel that way.

yourchica and me Take, for instance, my friend Christina, who joined me for lunch today at the halfway-point between our two cities.  She’s a talented artist, a like-minded blogger, and a kindred spirit.  I would never have had the privilege of knowing Christina…ever…had it not been for that thing I enjoy bashing so much.  Social media.  Christina began following my tweets two years ago.  But it was not until today that we had the chance to sit down over a meal and talk face-to-face, which is always supremely better than electronic conversation. 

So I have to give credit to twitter for it, a little grudgingly.  On the very rare occasions that I have been able to meet the real people behind postage-stamp sized profile pictures, I have noted in each case that you can only learn so much about a person through words on a screen.  You may think you know someone through their writing, but you really don’t.  On a screen, you don’t hear vocal inflections…see facial expressions…observe hand gestures and mannerisms. 

Making cyber-acquaintances used to carry the stigma of being weird and risky. An activity reserved for computer geeks.  Of course, it is essential in 2011 to remain guarded and smart about what you share and don’t share online.  I still shudder remembering the status updates I saw ticking by on Facebook when I had a personal account.  Most people know by now that you should not post your phone number, address, job complaints, stupid party pictures, upcoming vacation plans, or your drama that nobody wants to know about.  But no longer is it considered weird to converse with a stranger through social media, and no longer is it inherently dangerous, as long as the above rules are followed.

Look how far we have come in just a few short years - how much more we are willing to put out there, for better or for worse, than we were in the not-too-distant past.  The general sentiment out there is that since we are all doing it, it must be okay.  Eh, right? 

Three years ago, I was hesitant to allow a picture of my face to surface on the Internet.  Consider the contrast in the year 2011.  I now have youtube videos, blog posts, tweets, and a Facebook fan page.  Most of the people in your own circle of acquaintances have, at the very least, posted a picture of their face on the web somewhere.  A sea of human faces floating around in your computer.  Isn’t that odd to think about?  With all those faces and people in there, it’s only natural that some of them meet in the computer first, and in real-life second, rather than the other way around. 

I am grateful for today’s happy lunch meeting.  I might say that I owe it to technology, but it is better said that I owe it to the Lord, the ultimate designer and crafter of all friendships and divine appointments.  The God of everything allowed technology to be the vehicle by which we would cross paths in real life.  (I like to ponder strange serendipitous-ness.)

Some of you are still faces in my computer that talk to me.  I know that on the other side of that profile picture and bio is a real person.  Somebody who, in many cases, I would like to have coffee with one day.

What about you?  Were you reluctant at first to establish an online presence?  Have you ever had a face-to-face meeting with a cyber-friend?  Have you become less guarded about what you share, or more guarded?  What are your thoughts about how different life is now, compared to 5 years ago?

11.14.2011

Whatever Happened with that Jordan Idol Thing?

Today I’m bringing up a story from the archives on its anniversary.

It’s from a pretty long time ago. But every now and then, someone will still ask me… “Hey, whatever happened with that crazy Backstreet Boys singing contest thing that you did?”

OK, first of all, it was not Backstreet Boys. But if that’s you, then read on.

I am re-posting the complete story below to refresh your memory. There, I have included a loosely-defined “update” for those of you who wonder.

___________________________________

November 22, 2009
 
In my imagination, I climb into the DeLorean and race back to 1990 to warn my 13-year-old self that, 20 years later, I would be doing the unthinkable. Initially, my 13-year-old self just stares at me in bewilderment and wants to know when I had gotten crow’s feet around my eyes and whether or not my hair color is natural. And after we get the other routine questions out of the way (Who will I marry? How many kids will I have? Boys or girls? Where will I live?), we get down to important matters.

“There’s something you need to know,” I say to my young self. “It may seem a bit much to take in right now, but just bear with me. In fact, you might want to sit down.”

Teenage me slowly eases into a chair.

“In 2009, you are going to sing for New Kid on the Block Jordan Knight in an audition. Of sorts.”
 
You see, in 1990, he was all THAT…
nkotb old
and (cringe) here in my room, I was THIS…
jen in nkotb room

In typical, hormonally-charged teenage fashion, my 13-year-old self leaps out of the chair and launches into a disbelieving tirade. “No way! You are lying. Don’t manipulate my emotions like that!”

“Calm down, Me. I’m not making fun of you. It’s true. I just thought you should know.”

With that, 33-year-old me mysteriously disappears, with fairy-godmother type sparkles left in my place. (This is my made-up story. I don’t need a DeLorean.) And teenage-me is left standing there breathlessly, hands shaking. She is a skinny little kid with bird legs and puffy permed bangs whose voice quivered whenever she sang in front of the church. How in the world was she going to have the guts one day to sing in front of Jordan Knight? It didn’t matter. She would figure it out later. Regaining her wits, she reaches for the phone to squeal the news to every single New Kids on the Block fan friend she ever had.
 
Fast-forward to November, 2009. Jordan Knight, now in full-fledged reunited boyband mode…
 
nkotb …is holding auditions across the country in the hopes of finding background singers for his album or even duet partners (and of course, though not explicitly stated, in the hopes of ingeniously creating a buzz to surround an upcoming solo album.)
 
Thirty-three-year-old me, now in full-fledged soccer mom mode, knew the time had come. I was under no illusions about what the prospects would be for me. Still, though the past 20 years had not given me voice lessons, they had provided me a good bit more singing experience and some more confidence than I had in my bird-legged days. “How could I NOT go?” I asked my husband. “Just to say I did it. To be there, for the fun of it all.” Knowing the history I had with my favorite group from days of old, he had no real answer to that question. Actually, he understood, and made the statement that a comparable experience for him might be receiving a touchdown pass from Dan Marino in a Super Bowl against the 49'ers, or being Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader...his childhood fantasies. So I went with his blessing and his encouragement, one of the many reasons that I have the greatest husband in the world.

In the days preceding the event, my stomach started to tie up in knots and the insomnia kicked in. Am I really going to do it? I thought to myself. And why am I freaking out like this? I was used to singing in front of a church. But THIS…this was different.
 
Here is the “teaser” video that came out just prior to the Atlanta event. Just watching it made me want to throw up.
 
What had started in the initial planning stages as a van-load of girlfriends traveling together had dwindled down to only one person – myself. One by one, everyone’s plans fell through, some even at the last minute. My true blue friend who was planning to accompany me all along wound up in the hospital that week. But standing in line outside the venue, I made new friends and met up with an old one I had not seen in ten years. The blockhead community at work.
 
Inside, my nervousness reached a new level and continued to skyrocket when Jordan Knight came on stage to welcome everyone and the judges were introduced. And when fellow New Kid Donnie Wahlberg took his place on the judges’ couch as a surprise guest judge later in the evening, I started to think this was all too much for me. I stood in the “singers line” waiting my turn to perform and enjoyed watching an endless parade of mostly amateurs getting our moment, as if we were all loyal subjects entertaining royalty. It was encouraging to note that no one was criticized, mocked, or ridiculed by either the judges or the crowd, in American Idol fashion. On the contrary, everyone got a polite response, whether it was deserved or not.

Later, as the line snaked past Jordan himself backstage, the girl in front of me told him that we were nervous. And I said, stupidly, “You have no idea.” I quickly amended that statement to, “Well, I guess you do have some idea.” He said that now we know how he feels. (Really? Jordan Knight still gets nervous?)

When Donnie Wahlberg squeezed past us, I had the opportunity to look right into the infernal dark glasses that he insists on wearing indoors and to tell him that I had written the blog he had tweeted recently. As it registered, he spread both his arms out and wrapped me in a big bear hug. I thanked him for sharing that link with the fans.
 
“What are you thanking me for?” he said, smiling. “You wrote it.”

He graciously signed a copy of it that I had brought along, and then he started to read the whole thing again. I stood there beside him, awkwardly, and I finally said, “Um, you don’t have to read it now.”
 
“I remember this,” he said. “I actually read the whole thing. And that’s good for me because I have ADD.” I wanted to give him a gold star.

By that time, it was almost my turn. As Jessa, the nice girl in front of me destined to become my cruise roommate, sang “Amazing Grace,” my nervousness started to ease up. I found my feet carrying me forward, and Kendrick Dean, the emcee, putting his arm around my neck, asking me my name, where I was from, and what I was singing. “But I gotta say my twitter name,” I said, since he had asked previously asked each contestant what their twitter name was, and it was relevant to the song I was about to sing, a re-write to the old NKOTB song, “I’ll Be Loving You Forever.”

In that moment, I realized why I had been so nervous all along. What if the re-write flopped? What if the crowd just blankly stared at me and didn't get it? It was terrifying. But it was too late for what-ifs. I was on the stage.

“I’m not that kind of girl with a five-star VIP,” I sang, referencing the high-priced concert meet and greet tickets. The crowd responded with laughter, and Jordan did, too. I felt more comfortable. I started to warm up. “There’s just so much that I wanna say,” I sang. “But when I try to tweet, all the spam gets in the way!” When I finished, Jordan jumped up from the judges' sofa and reached up to hug me, and Donnie was on his feet. “That’s why I had to say my twitter name,” I said.
 
Here is a clip that captures most of it…
 
 
And here is the 45-second clip of the reaction of the “judges”…Jordan Knight in white shirt and black tie, Donnie Wahlberg in baseball cap and vest…
 

I floated off the stage. My teenage heart was soaring, not because of any abilities I have, but because I set out on a solo adventure to pursue a long-forgotten dream. I went that night all because my teenage self told me to. Her voice does not often surface, and when it does, I don’t always listen to her. But every now and then, she has a pretty good idea. I pause to consider it. And if she’s lucky, I carry it through. So, teenage me, I'm glad you're still a part of my life. I hope you’re still around 60 years from now when I’m 93. Because then, I’m certain, we could really have some fun.

Laurie and me standing in line at Jordan Idol
Atlanta, GA

Addendum: Two years have passed. As far as we know, no word ever came to anyone about the results. It simply “is what it is.” Or rather, it was what it was. Could it have been a PBI, maybe? A partially-baked idea? It seemed good to everyone at its inception. Make no mistake, it was. But I suspect that it was too complicated to carry it through to a resolution, for any number of reasons which I would not presume to speculate upon.
 
A nebulous ending might very well be for the best. That night in Atlanta brought some great friends into my life that I would have never known otherwise, and for that reason alone, it was worth it. (Well, that…and the whole dream-come-true bit.) I have no regrets.
 
We still don’t know why you went through all that trouble, Jordan. It remains a mystery. But no matter. We’re glad you did. Thanks for the memory.

11.10.2011

Operation Christmas Child: It’s Not Too Late

Many of you are familiar with Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.  Every Christmas, millions of shoeboxes full of small gifts and supplies are distributed to needy children all over the world as a way of sharing the love of Christ.  Last year in particular, 8 million shoeboxes went out.  (Eight million!)  Today I’ve spent some time watching videos and stories about individual children who received not only shoeboxes, but a touch from God that was, in many cases, life-changing.  I couldn’t stop watching their faces lighting up.  Pure joy. 

This is Ralph’s story.  It’s only 3 minutes long.  See the impact on his life.  You will not be able to remain unmoved by it.

The wonderful thing about this ministry is that anyone can participate, and it’s so easy.  You just get a standard size shoebox from your closet or a clear plastic box, pack it with small toys and school supplies and hygiene items (complete list of suggestions and printable labels here), and then drop it off at a location near you.  You can wrap it, but you are not required to do so.  Simple.

DSCN1744

For an additional fun thing to include if you have children, print out an All About Me page for your child to fill out and place in the box.  We have friends who did this last year, and they received a letter and photo back from 3 small Iraqi children with big smiles.  In the photo, the children were playing with the Slinkies and matchbox cars that were in the box.  It was amazing for my friend and her sons to see the culmination and the destination of their efforts. 

One box among 8 million?…you might think.  What does it matter?  One in 8 million seems miniscule.  But your box is destined for one child…one child who is precious in God’s sight. 

And that matters.

It’s like a message in a bottle…you’re sending it out, and you don’t know where it will end up, or whose hands will gently lift out the treasure that you packed.  But God does.  A trip to the Dollar Tree could change the life of someone like Luis, who says he would be in a gang today if it were not for the shoebox he received. 

National Collection Week (the time to drop off your boxes, sending them forth out into the universe) is next week, November 14-21.  Time is short, but it’s not too late.  Please consider the impact you might easily have on a little soul somewhere in the world.

11.07.2011

Confessions of a 7th-Grade Clique Member

Everybody likes to belong. At some level, most people look for acceptance and community among other human beings. It’s natural. Even non-conformists like to find community among other non-conformists, whether they admit it or not.

Perhaps the need to belong can be seen in its most evident forms in junior high, when peer pressure becomes a very real, and sometimes ugly, force.

Seventh grade was a year of intersection in my school system.  The highest grade in my elementary school was sixth, as was the case for another elementary school in town.  Both of those elementary schools were funneled into 7th grade at a third school across town, where those kids had been together as classmates ever since kindergarten.  Add the onset of adolescence to the mix, and it was a recipe for widespread misery because essentially, you had 3 camps of kids – the Chalkville kids, the Clay kids, and the Hewitt kids – thrown together and expected to live in harmony in a big melting pot during the universally tempestuous year of 7th grade. 

HT MiddleIt was not exactly harmonious.

At the beginning of that year, I was apprehensive. I loved my little elementary school and I was not keen on the whole melting pot concept. I worried about finding my classes. And having lockers. And of course, above all, belonging.

Homerooms were coldly, impersonally divided by the first letter of your last name. I walked in that first day and saw a “Team Chalkville” friend nearby whose last name began with a letter right next to mine in the alphabet. I lifted up a silent prayer of thanksgiving for the beginning consonant of my last name. Something so insignificant was about to determine my entire 7th grade destiny.

As we nervously whispered to each other, she told me about a marvelous opportunity. Some of her friends, including girls from these intersecting schools, who I had yet to meet (but, no matter) had formed a “group.” She would see about getting me in. I nodded enthusiastically. Ready-made friends? Oh, yes, please! I was introduced to the officers of the group, voted on by secret ballot (yes, truly), and by the end of that first week, found myself belonging. Oh, joy! Mom and Dad, isn’t this fabulous? (They weren’t nearly as thrilled as I was.)

Everything was rosy until I had a falling-out with one of the group members, over what…I didn’t know. And still don’t.  And I went to sit at an unapproved location in the lunchroom because of it. Suddenly, artificially belonging wasn’t quite so much fun anymore.

Because I didn’t.

Thus ended my only real foray into the world of cliques. Thus began my distate for elitism.

Somehow I got through it. Like everybody does. I believe that those girls, looking back on history, would now join me in shaking our heads at our immaturity…and wondering why we behaved that way.

We behaved that way because, given the chance, people will do anything to feel accepted, and it starts young. Sometimes adults behave that way, too. Maybe not with secret ballots, but with plenty of nonverbal signals. It’s horrible to feel out, it’s good to feel in. I know that those years are approaching for my own children, and I also know that with the advent of many new challenges, the world is different now.

But peer pressure is not.

It has always been there, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

It is amazing how, given the benefit of time, things that seemed so important back then are not nearly as important now.

Not important at all.

I wish I could have had a little talk with my young self and told her that. It would have saved her a lot of heartache.

I would have told her that the girl she would sit with at the unapproved lunchroom table would remain her closest friend, 23 years later. I would have told her not to take everything so hard. I would have told her Jesus loves her unconditionally. I would have told her that other kids aren’t thinking about her nearly as much as she is afraid they are. I would have told her that, in many ways, the adult world is easier than the kid world. And that she would get there one day.

One day.

Sooner than she thinks.

11.03.2011

The Devastating Mississippi Miracle

I am not a sports writer, but I am sort of pretending to be one today.

I am a football fan. (Admittedly, sometimes fickle in my devotion. Yeah, I’ll just go ahead and own that.) But a fan who has never changed her original allegiance. I come from a long line of fans. I am married to a fan. I have fans for children. I love football weather and the thrumming, anticipatory drum line beating in the distance. I might not know the technical definition of “holding,” or be able to spot it myself, or explain exactly what happens in overtime, or what constitutes illegal procedure, but I can certainly hold my own in following a game.

Those are my qualifications, paltry as they are, and thus, I begin.

millsapsThis past week, I was reminded of something big that went down on a fall afternoon four years ago. Something incredible that has since made its place in the annals of football history, something that stunned the football-watching world and will no doubt live on for all eternity on youtube.

The Miracle in Mississippi.

It was Trinity University vs. Millsaps College. San Antonio, TX vs. Jackson, MS. Division III. ESPN junkies will remember. Trinity’s last-minute play, almost laughable in its far-fetchedness, left everyone’s jaws on the ground and everyone’s heads shaking in disbelief. Once the explosive footage made its way to youtube and ESPN, it became evident that the impossible had suddenly…bizarrely…become possible.

Now, all of you pseudo-football-fans (i.e. girls like me) need to understand something technical about football before you watch this play. You need to know what a lateral is.

In American football, a lateral pass or lateral, officially backward pass, occurs when the ball carrier throws the football to any teammate behind him or directly next to him (i.e. on or behind a line running through the ball and parallel to the line of scrimmage). A lateral pass is distinguished from a forward pass, in which the ball is thrown forward, towards the opposition's end zone. In a lateral pass the ball is not advanced, but unlike a forward pass a lateral may be attempted from anywhere on the field by any player to any player at any time.
Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/lateral-pass#ixzz1cPcAsFTb

Got it, girls? It means you can throw the ball to somebody behind you or beside you, but not in front of you. Trinity was down, they had one chance to win, 2 seconds left in the game, and they executed 15 laterals. FIFTEEN! A miracle! What are the odds? And, the real question, why am I sharing this here?

Because for the guys on the Millsaps team, it was not a miracle at all. It was utter horror and devastation. One of those linebackers was my brother-in-law Canaan Farris, who stood on the sidelines when it all unfolded. I remember him saying later that it literally made him sick. Recently, he was quoted several times in an ESPN article about the anniversary of that fateful game…how he desperately wanted to run on to the field and tackle somebody, but couldn’t. His hands were painfully tied as he watched a train wreck of a game-changer happen, described in the article as a “circus,” and he had no way to prevent it.

See it happen here. Take note of the announcers who lose all dignity and self-control at the end, and the poor Millsaps players who litter the field like fallen soldiers as the play culminates in a game-winning Trinity touchdown.

There is no way those Trinity players could have practiced such an intricate, nuanced play. It just happened! One lateral after another. Those guys found themselves tossing that ball, and tossing that ball, and tossing that ball again…and somehow, every time, it stuck into the hands of a teammate. Like glue. Surely the players were as disbelieving as the opposing team, who chased them like frustrated predators whose prey continued to elude capture.

My hubs likes to say that football is like life. When I am not rolling my eyes, I am admitting that I can see why he says that. So what have we learned about life today?

From the Trinity perspective, we’ve learned that when the chips are down, it is pretty plain to see that those chips just might not be the last word. There is always hope, no matter how far-fetched or unreasonable it may seem. Especially when there’s a good friend around who has got our back, who will catch our desperate ball when we toss it to them, a teammate and fellow pilgrim on the journey who will carry that load with us in a Galatians 6:2 manner. I am grateful to have some people like that in my life who catch my laterals when I lob them wildly. They know who they are.dominoes

From the Millsaps perspective, we’ve learned that sometimes, good days can quickly turn bad, and bad days can quickly get worse, in a piling-on sort of way, and you watch helplessly as the dominoes fall. Boo. It happens. But when the world is running circles all around you, all over the place…you can’t seem to catch a break…there’s only 2 seconds left…you’re missing tackles and lying spread-eagle on the field on defeat, get back up. You’ll live to fight another day. Millsaps did. They had to put aside stinging heartache and pull themselves together to face Trinity the following year, in which they carried out sweet vengeance upon their opponent.

Now…stay with me…instead of viewing these as mutually exclusive, let’s put the two lessons together, since we have now witnessed the perspective of both the winning team and my valiant-hearted bro-in-law from the other side. Both cases are true. Both happen to us. Neither happen all the time. If one is witness to some amazing answer to prayer…dare I say, a miracle…then, by definition, it only comes on the heels of desperate circumstances. And if, on the other hand, one is in the throes of despair, then there is generally nowhere to go but up. That’s why I like this story so much, even while my heart goes out to Canaan’s team.

So, you see, I have to say it. I can’t help but see it, even in a football play. We take our knocks, but the knocks are not the last word. And this is what believers know.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:9

10.27.2011

Top 10 Halloween Costumes I’ve Worn

In no particular order…

10. Ghost. Grandma and I spooked around town one year in the easiest costumes ever…one big ghost accompanied by her mini-me. Nothing elaborate, just your run-of-the-mill, generic type. Matching sheets. I loved that she wore one too. But we kept stepping on the bottom of the sheets, and that made the eyeholes fall down at least to our mouths, if not further, and we ended up stumbling around in the dark all night.

9. Cyndi Lauper. It was about 1984, the height of Cyndi’s career. I was determined to be her. A trip to Hancock Fabrics, some sequins and funky material, a sewn-together handmade costume, teased-up hair, and some outrageous make-up for an 8-year-old, and I was ready to hit the nursing home. That year, my friend (a “fat clown”) and I went trick-or-treating there. I was hugely disappointed that none of the residents knew who I was. “I’m Cyndi Lauper,” I would proudly declare. “Whaaaaaaat?” they would ask. “Cyndi LAUPER! The singer.” “Oh, you mean a princess?” they would say. “Well, you are a pretty little princess, sweetheart.” A PRINCESS?!? In punky make-up and clothes like this? No WAY! I am a pop queen! A rock star! Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…the greatest song EVER! But I would just mumble thank-you and shuffle on down to the next room where the scene would be repeated, much to my dismay.

8. Dorothy. Ah, Dorothy. My all-time favorite heroine. How I wanted to be her. (See this post for more on my Oz fixation.) Mom came through on a little handmade costume. Blue gingham dress, white apron with “OZ” embroidered on the front. A basket with a stuffed Benji the dog inside (of theatrical fame), who doubled easily as Toto. Hours and hours of imaginary play, all year long.

7. Dorothy again. I know, I just said her. But Dorothy deserves at least two spots on this list. (Besides, I only came up with nine costumes, which is not feasible for a top 10 list.) That rig got some serious wear, multiple years in a row. It is still in use today. Here’s what remains of it.

dorothy

6. Casper the Friendly Ghost. A step up from the generic ghost option, Casper is the only cheap drugstore costume that remains lodged in my memory. It was basically a white garbage bag with a plastic mask and elastic for the back of the head. All I really remember from that year was having a really sweaty face.

5. Hobo clown. 12th grade. Halloween fell during Homecoming week festivities, and all the students wore their costumes to school. I took AP Government/Economics that year, and it just so happened that Halloween Day was the dreaded “debate day” for our class. I was not able to choose my topic, but instead was assigned to argue the position in favor of affirmative action. I would rather do almost anything but argue a peer in front of all my classmates, while attempting to display both passion and knowledge for my subject matter in order to get an A. I did my best to research and prepare, to anticipate what my opponent might say. Little did I know that my secret weapon would turn out to be my Halloween costume, the sad hobo clown. My mother the artist did a superb make-up job on me, so that my eyebrows and forehead were perpetually melancholy. When I shakily stood to argue the merits of affirmative action, my opponent dissolved in laughter every time she looked at my sad face, and she protested to the teacher that she could not possibly debate someone who looked so pitiful. Mrs. Robinson was not buying it, so the debate had to continue, unfortunately. My eyebrows gave me the unfair advantage.

4. Doll. By 16, I was really too old to be trick-or-treating. Still, some of my girlfriends wanted to dress up and hit the neighborhood, so I was a red-lipped doll in a ruffly square-dancing dress and petticoat (still getting some mileage today), pigtails, and painted-on freckles and eyelashes. We giggled a lot that night, caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood, not wanting to give up the one, yet so anxious to enter the other.

squaredancing

3. Witch. Age 11. 1987. My first boy-girl Halloween party. Oh, the excitement! I was a witch of the traditional sort. Pointy black hat and such. But my make-up! Oh, my make-up! Bright green eye shadow all the way to my brows, plus eyeliner and mascara. And then the ultimate accessory: red Lee press-on nails. I may have been a witch, but I felt like a model. A green eye-shadow model. For Revlon.

2. Dancer. Age 7 or so. Made by mom, I still have it. Back in the day, it also featured tappety-tap shoes and an enormous matching shiny blue hair bow, glued to a hairband.

dancer

1. Mrs. Incredible. Last night, the Incredibles family showed up at Trunk-or-Treat. Mr. and Mrs., and our superhero offspring, Violet (she of invisiblity and force-fields) and Dash (he of the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet ability to run.) Mr. I was razzed a bit by some for choosing to pass on the super-suit option of built-in muscles and abs that we found online, selecting instead a “modified” suit of T-shirt and mask, which we can all be thankful for. Mrs. I chose the modified option as well, after checking out some rather unfortunate photos of other Mrs. Incredibles in full garb on the web. Both Mr. and Mrs. were relieved to have found the T-shirts, which allowed for roomy, comfortable superhero-ing, while maintaining dignity. A good time was had by all! Ka-POW!

ABFAB Incredibles

10.24.2011

A Few Good Men

Last night was a family reunion, of sorts.

At our former church, my husband Cade frequently sang with a six-member vocal ensemble. He would tell you himself that singing with those guys was a huge blessing to him. Not only are they all musicians, but they are all friends, and the more they sang together, the more the music began to gel…and the more enjoyable it became for all of them.

One of the things he misses most about our life there is that group. It’s really too far of a drive for him to continue to participate with them on a regular basis.

But it wasn’t too far for them to come to him.

The buzz started when the posters went up. Practically every store front in town willingly advertised the “Few Good Men” concert everywhere you turned. And in a sleepy town like ours, it’s nice to know that there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for the night of Sunday night, October 23rd. Fifteen minutes before showtime, the crowd was slim, and admittedly, we were a bit concerned…but right on time, down to the wire, people began piling in. A big crowd sat and waited in the church gym, their curiosity evident. Nobody had ever attempted a “concert” in that gym before.

The guys sang for 90 minutes, and it was outstanding. The echoing gym acoustics were not an insurmountable challenge, as had been feared. Actually, it just made the atmosphere fun and light, punctuated by a few serious moments. Afterward, the entire crowd was invited for a supper with the group, provided by the church, and Cade and I were thrilled to see that some friends of ours from our former church had made the trek north for the concert. I loved seeing them all, and there was something kind of overwhelming and wonderful about all those faces from the old life showing up in my new life at one time. Sort of like how you feel at your wedding.

My cup runneth over.

Today I want to share with you all my favorite song that they did last night. It’s called “Daystar,” and features Cade on lead. (Of course it does. What did you expect?) But I think it would be my favorite even if it didn’t feature my hubs on lead. It’s a beautiful gospel song, imploring the light of Christ to lead…anywhere He opens up the door..in a dark, desperate world. That song has been our prayer as a family these past few months.

I hope it blesses you today.

10.13.2011

When “Ain’t” Creeps In

“Mama, I can’t do this no more,” my child sighs, pushing homework away.

My eyebrows shoot up. “What?”

“I just can’t do this no more.”

(Somebody hit the pause button, please.)

Here in this snapshot, we see deteriorating motivation to do homework. Not surprising, really. But deteriorating grammar? Very interesting, indeed. I doubt the child picked that up from me. Maybe it was a matter of testing the waters. But more than likely, it was a matter of the subconscious realizing that it’s a tiny bit easier to say “no more” than “anymore.” Gentle correction made…and we move on.

(Now fast forward to the next scene, a few days later. Push play.)

“I ain’t finished yet,” the child says, as I begin to remove the plate from the table.

(Now, somebody hit pause again.)

If my eyebrows shot up upon hearing “no more,” then they reach an extreme altitude here when “ain’t” is uttered. I probably even go into Boiled Egg Eye Mode (BEEM), a phenomenon that moms display when they turn the whites of their eyes into egg-like seriousness. Then I am reminded of a fun little poem I learned in my school days that comes in handy in this particular scene. I lug it up from the recesses of my memory and use it for the highly-regarded, time-honored teaching tool that it is…one that explains matter-of-factly that if you say the word ain’t, your life will immediately spin out of control and devolve into all manner of chaos and disaster. Nice.

It goes like this: “Don’t say ‘ain’t.’ Your mother will faint. Your sister will cry, and your daddy will sigh, and your grandpa will fall over in a bucket of paint.” (Some versions, the PG ones, even say that somebody will die. Others mention that your dog will call the FBI, and your grandma won’t make her pie, et cetera.) Not very subtle, but it gets the point across. It’s also wildly funny if you are between the ages of 5 and 10.

Again, the correction is made…and we move on.

I come from a family with no detectable accents at all, and I remember their amusement when I entered school and picked up some Southern-isms. I remember trying some things out, like dropping my jaw a bit when I said my. It became mah. Mah hair, mah clothes, and mah Kool-aid. “Right there” became rat thay-er. “I want” became “I wawnt.” I’m sure some double negatives and the aforementioned A-word cropped up a few times and were either gently corrected or subjected to that dreadful poem.

I like being a GRIT, and I am raising my own. When around other GRITS, I sometimes find my own dropped jaw ratcheting itself into high gear, and I can hear myself doing it, without even telling myself to do it. Funny how that happens. Funny how it’s happening to my own offspring, through no real effort of their own. Dropped jaws and genteel dialects are familiar, comfortable, and sweet-sounding to me.

But ain’t? Even GRITS have to draw the line somewhere. Ain’t has got to go. Quick, please. Before I faint.

10.08.2011

There is Always a Hole

Some people take exquisite nature photos and post them on their blogs.

If only I had a photo to display of the scene I am about to relate, then I would be clicking “insert picture” right about now. But alas, I had no camera with me, and it probably would not have captured the subject accurately anyway. So instead, I am going to share a word-photo today.

A few days ago, I was out on my morning walk-slash-halfhearted jog. The sky was dramatic that morning…the ushering-in of cool fall air and plenty of heavy, puffy, gray cloud-cover. Struggling up the killer hills near our house, I finally reached the gently-rolling stretch of road that leads me past the red-roofed barn and horse farm to the left. I always like getting to that place because, first, and most importantly, the killer hill is behind me, and, second, I can see the whole sky at one time. It just opens up before me like a scene in a Western. No obstacles to obscure my vision.

Here is what was interesting about it. One part of the sky, the part in front of me and over the barn, was dark and overcast. The opposite end of the sky…of the entire world, as far as I was concerned…was bright and glorious. Two opposing stories, playing themselves out in the sky simultaneously in that moment.

And in the middle of gray cloud-cover, over the barn, commanding my attention, was a literal hole in the sky. I slowed and came to a stop to examine it. (It’s not every day you see a hole in the sky.) It was as if God’s hands had reached down and dug a neat, little, perfectly round hole right there, prying the clouds out of the way, just big enough for some early morning sunlight to get through.

When I was little, I used to say, “The sun’s tryin’ to shine!” But this was not the case that day. The sun was having no trouble at all shining. It happened to be right behind that cloud-layer, penetrating that hole with power…stunningly beautiful rays that made their way all the way down to earth. Right there over the barn. It took my breath away.

You see, there is always a hole.

Whenever I am sitting in my car, waiting to turn left across an endless stream of traffic that seems like it will never let up, I remind myself, “There is always a hole in the traffic. Hang on. Don’t pull out in front of somebody foolishly. There is always a hole. Wait.” Without fail, it comes.

Whenever there is darkness that doesn’t seem to let up, God creates a hole. A way of escape, an encouragement for the journey, a rest for the soul, a deliverance. A ray of light that is powerful enough and bright enough to reach all the way to man, if he is willing to lift up his eyes and see it.

Without fail, it comes.

“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Romans 5:20

9.26.2011

Provision Transition

Dear readers,

You may remember, back when it became clear that we were going to move, I was more than a little anxious about the fact that we would need to sell our house and find a place to live, like, pronto.

Today I would like to share with you how this actually came to pass. Because it really is worth sharing.

When we put our house on the market, we got a few calls right off the bat. The phone would ring, it would be the realtor saying someone wanted to come and look, and we would go into fire drill mode. “All right kids, hop to it! Toys picked up, dirty clothes in hampers, everything else shoved in closets! GO! NOW!”

As for my part, I would launch into a mad flurry of surface cleaning and spastic vacuuming, and we would all manage to exit the house, with minutes to spare prior to the appointment. We would come back to the house some time later, seeing a realtor’s signature on the paper on our kitchen table, business card tossed there, too. And then we would speculate about who might have just walked through our rooms…what they thought of our paint colors…and our carpet…and the scent of lavender surface cleaner still hanging in the air. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Were we relegated to their “maybe” list, one that was a mile long because there were sixty (sixty!) houses on the market in our area that were our direct competition?

The thought of strangers looking upon my house and all my things with a critical eye was disconcerting. But I hoped that someone would soon arrive to look upon it with an interested eye and open mind. One who needed exactly what our house could offer.

After each appointment and upon each return to the house, we would hope for the best. We would wait to hear the news we were hoping for…that we had a buyer. We wanted that news as soon as we put the sign in the yard, especially as it became clear to us that two house payments in our immediate future would not be good math for us. Not good at all. I’m not sure anybody could consider that good math. Eventually, the time came for us to begin packing for our move in earnest, without a single buyer in sight.

You may also remember, my friends, that we planned an ill-advised trip to the beach prior to the weekend of the move. So as we packed for the beach AND the move, we knew that departing for the beach trip would essentially be the last time we would walk out of that particular house as a family.

Our return from vacation would be to a new home, a new town, new everything.

So, here is the scene on Monday morning, August 1. I am packing bathing suits, inflatables, sunscreen, and Ollie the parakeet, while simultaneously doing the lavender/vacuum thing, in the hope/fear that potential buyers might be coming. My husband is preparing to haul the beach junk out to the minivan, and the kids are bouncing off the walls, naturally having been ready to go hours before. I am literally Windexing the glass on the back door when I hear a knock on the front door.

It’s a realtor I’ve never met who doesn’t have an appointment, but she has a client in the car, and may they please come in and look at the house?

Okay, sure, fine…but we’re about to leave on a trip (and also, incidentally, leave for good and forever)…so can you please come back in, say, 10 minutes, and we’ll be out of your hair? Forever?

Well, certainly…we’ll go look at another house for sale in your neighborhood and then come back.

(Oh, shoot! Wait! What if they like that house better?)

Can’t worry about it now. Just let them go and come back. Must move heaven and earth to get my family into the swagger wagon and on the road to the beach right now. Goodbye, house. Goodbye, town. God, everything else is in Your hands.

We knew He had called us to the new place. But that was all we knew.

Exactly four hours later, the swagger wagon is on final approach to Panama City Beach. My husband and I are having a serious conversation about the house. He’s saying to me, “One day, somebody is going to walk in and they’re going to like it. They’re going to want it. And they’re going to buy it. It only takes one person.”

Shortly thereafter, the cell phone rings. It’s our realtor, practically bubbling over with the news. “You have a contract on your house!” The client from the drop-in visit that morning had been hooked. She was the one.

Upon hearing those words, my husband and I proceed to break out into the happy dance, sitting in our respective seats, while trying to maintain normal phone voices during the conversation and maintain control of the car, all of this to the children’s amusement.

This week, we closed on the sale. And now that the dust has settled and everything is final, it occurred to me what was happening that day in August.

The very day we were leaving, the Lord brought a person across the threshold who was coming. Not a moment too soon, and not a moment too late. It certainly didn’t have to be that way. It could have been a much messier transition, and a much messier transaction. Even if that had been the case, I know He still would have taken care of us somehow.

In Joshua 5, when the Israelites entered Canaan Land, they didn’t need that manna from heaven anymore, the stuff they had been eating for 40 years. The manna stopped, and they ate the produce of Canaan right after that. “The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.” (Joshua 5:11).

They experienced a seamless transition of provision. They were not left to starve. To fend for themselves, with no divine help. To be abandoned. That’s just not how He operates.

So I guess, all things considered, I really shouldn’t be so surprised when He takes care of me.

SOLD

9.16.2011

Do Everything

It was a regular day. I was driving around town, running errands, flitting like a butterfly from destination to destination, knocking out the responsibilities one by one. My mental checklist was whirring in predictable fashion: don’t forget to pick up milk and bread and fruit roll-ups. Drop off those letters at the post office. And when you get home, for the sake of all that is righteous and good, get that laundry out of the washing machine before it mildews. And for the sake of all that is sanitary, address the kids’ bathroom!

But then, the left-brain mental checklist started to falter a bit, as it sometimes does, and was eclipsed by the more free-thinking right brain.

The side that says…

man, this is borrrrring. Blaaahhhhh. I need something interesting to happen! Some earth-shattering revelation. Some unique observation to make about the world. But instead of setting the world on fire, I am just living. Like normal. And tomorrow will probably, more than likely, (definitely), be a lot like today.

Reflexively, I turned on the radio. There was an infectious intro to a song I had never heard, and then the unmistakable voice of Steven Curtis Chapman took over my speakers. The man still knows how to write a song that will hook you right from its opening bars. I felt compelled to turn it up when I heard something about matching up socks. Hadn’t I just been comtemplating my laundry? And then he said something like…do you wonder sometimes if it matters at all?

Well actually, Steven, now that you mention it, I kind of do. Then came the hook…the bouncy chorus that is running through my head, even now:

“Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you.”

And that particular line wasn’t even Steven’s original thought. That’s Paul. 1 Corinthians 10:31. A great reminder to me that day…that it ALL matters. He made us to do even our little things to bring a smile to His face.

What do my daily, mundane responsibilities have to with God? They are part of what He made me to do. Part of living. Little things, big things, it doesn’t matter. So therefore, I can do them, do everything, unto Him. For his glory. If we say we are living for God, we don’t just live part of our lives for Him…we live it all for Him.

So please, if you are on the roundy-round, over-and-over again daily ride, take a minute to listen to Steven’s song today. Lyrics are below and youtube link is below that. I can assure you it will give you a lift…and a renewed sense of purpose. It did for me.

You’re picking up toys on the living room floor for the 15th time today
Matching up socks and sweeping up lost Cheerios that got away
You put a baby on your hip and color on your lips and head out the door
And while I may not know you, I bet I know you wonder sometimes, does it matter at all?
Well let me remind you it all matters just as long as you…

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do

Maybe you’re that guy with the suit and tie, maybe your shirt says your name,
You may be hooking up mergers, cooking up burgers, but at the end of the day…little stuff, big stuff, in between stuff, God sees it all the same, and while I may not know you, I bet I know you wonder sometimes, does it matter at all?
Well let me remind you it all matters just as long as you…

Maybe you’re sitting in math class
Maybe on a mission in the Congo
Maybe you’re working at the office
Singing along with the radio
Maybe you’re dining at a five star
Or feeding orphans in Myanmar
Anywhere and everywhere you are
Whatever you do it all matters
So do what you do, and don’t ever forget to

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do

9.06.2011

The House That Built Me

Our new place has inspired me to remember my only prior experience with the country.

When I was growing up, I made frequent visits to Grandma and Grandpa's house. They lived in a town that was much more country-fied that the suburbs of Birmingham. Their grand house, with its dramatically sloping roof and unusual architecture, was nestled into a thickly wooded lot. It was built in 1978. I have a vague memory of being 2 and holding someone's hand as I toddled through the construction area.

Grandma made me "coffeemilk" in the mornings (mostly milk and sugar, with a little coffee) and served it to me in my favorite mug of butterflies and flowers. She would join me, with her stronger coffee, out on the back deck, where we listened to the country wake up and admired the morning sunbeams streaming through the trees.

There was a creek running through their property, only about 3 feet wide at its widest point, and I was always interested in the way that leaves and sticks made little dams at various places, creating that sweet sound of trickling water. A hop across the creek at a strategic point would bring me to a clearing in the woods, marked by an old, rotted tree that had fallen over and opened up its hollowness. I could peer over the sharp bark edge into a weirdly fascinating black abyss of nature and wonder what lived in there.

It was ironic that the name of the neighborhood was Bent Tree Estates.

My legendary black lab, Jude, was buried in a trunk up on top of that hill behind the creek. I remember my dad wiping tears with the back of his hand as he dug the grave.

I have not been back to see that house since my grandparents moved out of it years ago. But there have been times I've wondered what became of it and if it still looks like the 70's. Had the carpet been changed? The walls painted? I daydreamed about walking through it.

Then, not too long ago, I heard this sentimental song by Miranda Lambert. As always, leave it to CMT to take sentimentality to a whole new level. (Of course, the part in the song about the dog buried in the yard kind of got me.)

So after hearing that, and upon moving to a place where the smell of wood decks and the quietness of the morning takes me back to Bent Tree, I turned to google.

The Internet is so weird. Have you noticed? Everything in the world that exists, or has ever existed, is on it somewhere.

I googled "Bent Tree Estates."

I clicked on the first link that came up. A real estate site. A house for sale. A "view slide show" button. 24 pictures.

And I didn't recognize it at first. A unfamiliar fence, shade where there was no shade before, a deck that had been enclosed, another deck that had been added...blogpic7

Then...oh my stars. This was really it. I scrolled through the 24 photos. What are the odds it would turn up on google on the first try?

Yes, the carpet was different. The walls were painted. New architecture on the back of the house completely changed its look from behind. It felt like the facebook vertigo I used to get, when I would find an old friend, a blast from the past, and I would see how much their architecture (their life) had changed, as well. No, I am not referring to plastic surgery.

So my virtual walk through that house satisfied my years of curiosity. And let's all be glad that I didn't even have to go knock on the door and ask someone if I could poke through their house (which, by the way, I am pretty sure I would never do) while singing Miranda Lambert to some poor, befuddled current resident: "Promise I won't take nothin' but a memory...from the house...that built me."

Have you ever thought about doing that? Or have you ever done it? Or if somebody knocked on your door with that unusual request, would you let them in?

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