You Know You’ve Moved to the Country When…

the garbage collection department tells you not to worry about paying bills on time. “We’re flexible here.”
...men address you as "ma'am." Even if they're older than you.
you discover that the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to your house.
...road rage never rears its ugly head.
the crickets sound like they have Bose sound systems embedded in their bellies.
you don't just go run some errands. You go “into town.”
...you get attacked by a hummingbird on your front porch.
the handwritten directions say, “Turn right at the first black-top road you see.” (See below.)
blogpic4 blacktop blogpic6 not blacktop
...your church pounds you with non-perishables. And it feels good.
...Starbucks coffee is but a memory.
...a distant rooster crows every morning at dawn.
...downtown shops tune their radios to the country station.
...it's safe.
...the book limit at the library is 6.
...drivers coming in the opposite direction acknowledge you by lifting their pointer finger off the steering wheel as you pass.
someone says to you, “Tell your kids that if they see something that looks like a dog and they want to pet it, they really should ask you first. It might be a coyote.”
...your eating-in bill is higher because your eating-out bill is less.
...the air sometimes has a distinctive, barn-like aroma to it.
...woodland creatures frolic in the front yard like they're auditioning for Disney.
the sky is prettier than it used to be.
...the grocery store sells rooster livers for bait. “NOT EDIBLE” says the sign. Just in case.
And finally, you know you've moved to the country when...
...the fact that there is a Dollar General in town thrills your soul.
God Bless America. And my new town.


Panama City Beach Part 3: Then and Now

Another "on-location" post that is not really on-location. Writing now, saving draft, posting later.

blogpic2 This morning, I woke up at the undesirable hour of 5:30. I figured I would make the best of it. Leaving my sleeping family in the condo, I slipped out for a walk on the beach with a destination in mind.

Some time ago, (a pretty good while ago), I was a teenager and in a small youth group that averaged about 10 or 15 kids if we were lucky. Every summer, we came here to Panama City for the newly-organized Big Stuf youth camps, which are still going strong. When I was 14, the camp was held at what is now the Boardwalk Beach Resort. My best friend's parents, the ones willing to drive a van load of kids to the beach for a week, God bless them, were the volunteer youth leaders. (Hi, Jim and Jeanne!)

It was at those camps, back when I sported polka-dot shorts, matching socks, and long, spiral-permed hair, that I tasted some independence, bonded with my friends, sang goofy songs, and thought a lot about God. I remember sitting out on that beach and dreaming about the future.

Ironically enough, here I am, years later, and the condo we are in this year happens to be right next to the Boardwalk Beach Resort. That place was my destination this morning.

I made my way down the almost-deserted beach before the sun made its way over the high-rises to my left. It was a beautiful, hazy morning...soft pink sky, gentle ocean, comfortable temperature. Hours from now, this same stretch would be covered up with cooler-toting humanity and their umbrellas. But for now, it was all cool quietness and peace. blogpic3 sleeping fam

When I reached the Boardwalk resort, I sat on one of the empty wooden rental loungers and pictured myself sitting there as a skinny little girl with big dreams. And then I turned and looked back down the beach to my right at the green-roofed condo where my family was still slumbering up on the 9th floor. How could that kid have known that part of my future would one day lie sleeping in that green-roofed condo next door...a structure that was probably there, even back then?

God has been faithful through all these years, and He continues to be faithful, even through all that situational vertigo I posted about.

This is the song that came to me on the beach today, by Caedmon's Call:

O Lord, your love is new with every morning

Your faithfulness gets me through the night

You bid me come

You know that I am weary

Your yoke is easy, your burden is light.


Filling up the Hole

2004_03_15_-_07_-_Trusselbilde There’s a hole in the heart of every man. No one particularly likes it. It gnaws, from way down deep. A nagging concern. An incompleteness that hangs out just below the level of consciousness in that place between sleeping and wakefulness. Lying in our beds, we are sometimes seized with the uncomfortable questions that we suppress during the clamor of our days – if this isn’t all there is, what then?

So we like to put stuff in the hole to take our minds off that question. We fill it up with things, the way sand can fill up cracks in the sidewalk for a time. Our jobs, our families, our leisure time, our possessions, our preoccupation with entertainment, sports, and culture – so much stuff that our hole gets full to the brim, it seems. We like it that way. No room left for the questions. We’re quite full, thank you very much. No room here in our inns.

But what’s this? A raindrop. A steady drizzle. An all-out gully washer of hard times. And the grains of sand filling up the cracks in our sidewalk are slowly washed away. The hole is there once again. Empty and raw. It’s in those times that we become acutely aware of those nagging questions which get louder. It becomes much harder to shove them aside.

The philosopher Pascal said that there is a God-shaped hole in all of us. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in the hearts of people. So when God fills us up, what does he fill us with? Hope. Not the generic brand of hope favored by politicians, the murky and undefined “hope” that somehow humanity will make the world better if everybody tries really hard. Not simply the “positive-attitude” hope that we can reach for with all of our earthly might.

What I mean is a forever hope, an assurance that no matter what happens, our future…our destiny…is secure.

“Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls” (Hebrews 6:18-19). Apart from Jesus, humanity bounces around like a ball in a pinball machine, seeking fulfillment in everything but Him. But the hope that He brings is an anchor, secure through the fiercest storms because it’s grounded in the perfect love of God – the weightiest and most immovable force the world has ever known. Nothing can separate us from it. No one can snatch us out of His mighty hand when he takes hold of us. “Draw near to God,” James 4:8 says, “and He will draw near to you.”SANY0268

In the center of that kind of love…the kind that never dies, never deserts, never betrays…the compulsion to fill the hole with the things that never satisfy disappears. They lose their luster and fall away like flower petals that were once lovely but have become wilted and brown. The hole, once empty and raw, is now whole. The struggles of life never disappear, but the difference is that real, authentic hope is now there in the person of Christ. He does not let go. Not at the first raindrop…not during a drizzle…and not even during the gully washers that are sure to come. On this drifting, dark, desperate planet, there is an Anchor. And it holds.


Panama City Beach Part 2: How Not to Catch a Pigeon

This really happened.

My husband and I are sitting on our folding chairs under the beach umbrella, watching the kids playing in the surf. The beach is crowded, and there is a guy sitting in close proximity to us, ahead and to the right. He is a little older than we are, frying himself in the sun in one of those very-close-to-the-ground beach chairs. His female significant other is not around. In one hand is a cigarette, in the other a Bud Light. The tattoo on his left ankle boldly declares: "Jeep: It's a way of life."

We exchange a few pleasantries.

blogpic1 Out of nowhere, a bunch of pigeons invade our shared territory. The big, black chunky kind with beady red eyes. They are brazenly marching around right next to us and Jeep-tattoo guy. He turns around and looks at us, shaking his head, annoyed by the pigeon invasion, as if to seek an understood alliance against our common enemy. We chuckle mildly in polite response. Then he says to us, "Know what I wanna do?"

Neither my husband nor I really know how to respond to a question like that.

"Imma get me a pigeon," he says. And then, his famous last words..."Watch this." Except he says it like "Watch-iss."

In that moment, he takes a swipe at the fat pigeon bobbing its head around his chair, trying to either hit the bird or catch it. I'm not sure which. But the pigeon is slightly behind him, so his swipe requires him to overextend himself to his left, the side we're on.

He misses.

And then, before he can correct, his chair falls over backwards, in slow motion. The back of his head is in the sand, and his feet are sticking up in the air. He rights himself with a grunt of disgust. Chunky pigeon, unruffled, does not even bother to fly away.

We avert our eyes, pretending not to have seen, and trying desperately to contain ourselves. After that, he no longer makes eye contact with us.


Panama City Beach Part 1: Keychain Krazy

I am not a fan of using K instead of C, just to be cute. Did I just do that in the title of this post? Must be all of this situational vertigo.

I will not post this one until after I get home. You all know you should only talk about your vacations in past tense on the Internet, right, dearies? But, I am sitting here next to the window of my 9th floor condo overlooking the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico, so that's why I consider this an on-location blog.

We are a little nuts for deciding to go on this trip in the midst of our move, but it has been on the calendar for a long time. And being the determined folks we are, we packed for a move and packed for the beach simultaneously, both of which were equal feats in their physical requirements. All parents know that spending a week at the beach with kids is pretty much the same thing as moving, even though it's called a "vacation."DSCN1495 beach boot

But to complicate matters just before the move, and just before the beach, my husband broke his ankle playing racquetball. He is currently hobbling around the condo in his Darth Vader boot that will self-destruct if it gets sand in it. It’s another reason we are nuts for being at the beach. When he goes outside, he puts a garbage bag around it, shuffles through the sand, and imagines little children peering out their windows, running to their mothers in fright - "Mommy! What is that?!?" It’s a bummer.

The first few days here were full of cousins and in-laws and in-laws' families, who happened to be here at the same time. Just as all 20 or so of us are packing up our beach things yesterday - rinsing, collapsing, shaking, and gathering in slow motion in the blazing heat - a perky bikini-clad photographer prances up to us and offers to take pictures of all the little cousins with her big hunky camera.

You can view the photos at her studio later in the day. It doesn't cost anything to take the pictures. Just the kids. It will be quick, she chirps. My sister-in-law Mandy had used this company's services the day before and verified that it was legitimate, and before I know it, everyone is hollering at the kids to come get their pictures made.

While the six cousins dutifully allow themselves to be manipulated like little plastic poseable figurines at the water's edge, I am rolling my eyes.

"Who is that?" my brother-in-law asks, walking up.

"She's a photographer. I mean, she's a photographer," I say, making air quotes with my fingers. I have already had sunset pictures taken on the beach. I really don't need more. These shysters think they can hustle me into shelling out my money, if they can just get me to allow them to take the pictures. Nope. I'll look at the pictures, but I am not parting with my money. No way.

Five hours later, I find myself in a tiny, crummy "photo studio" lined with computers and metal folding chairs around its four walls, where suckers like Mandy and Shelly and me go to get poorer, and where...inexplicably...all the photographers look like Abercrombie and Fitch models.

A surfer-guy eagerly shows us to our own computer to view about 50 pictures that bikini-girl snapped of our kids that day. Sweating in the stifling heat of that studio, and awww-ing at the precious-ness of our posed little angels, the three of us spend a total of $70 all together on keychains for ourselves and our kids. Didn't I spend too much this time? With revenue like that, I guess the models were able to quit their day jobs.

DSCN1502 keychain

It's so many keychains, in fact, that one of the golden-haired Adonis types presents us with our white paper bag and says, "You guys are the ones with the crazy keychain order?"

Yes, of course we are.

Who could pass up a treasure like this for $6.95 - a keychain viewer, dated 2011, that you can look through to see a photo of kids on the beach? I paid 14 bucks for two of those, in addition to other styles of keychains? Apparently, I did.

Welcome to vacation.

More stories to come.

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