Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Well here it is: the last day of 2013. Hallelujah!

I don't know about you, but I am happy to see it go. This year I have seen friends betrayed. I have seen people make poor choices and cause others to suffer for those choices. I have been a part of too many tearful phone calls and have had to brace myself for more uncomfortable conversations than I care to recall. This has been a year that has truly been "life-changing." You may have been one of those who has called on me during this year. If so, know that I have counted it as an honor and a privilege to have helped you through your dark time. I have had my share of them. I know. I know. I have never once minded talking with you and praying with you and crying with you. I just hated that we had to be doing it in the first place.

You may have been one of those whom I called on when my head almost exploded. Hey, thanks for being there. Thanks for praying for me. For taking time from all the mess you had going on to get on your knees and go to the God of All on my behalf. I needed it. It worked. Some of you told me to quit my miserable job and I did. Thanks for that. You even told me that my hair looked nice when I was in the hospital. I needed that, too.

As bad as 2013 has been, it has also had its rewards; if the bad stuff hadn't happened, I wouldn't have drawn as near to the Lord as I have. I have pleaded to Him for my own health and well-being as well as for my dear friends and family. I have called on Him for strength and courage and kindness and compassion and wisdom in ways that I never have before. I have sought His Face at the top of majestic mountains and in the deepest valleys. He has been there. And will continue to be there. He promised.

So I stand ready to turn the page on the calendar. Tear that thing right off the wall. Shred it. Toss it out with the burned-out strand of lights and the expired egg nog.

Sort-of. Because when we begin a new year it means beginning it without the loved ones we had to say goodbye to. It's another milestone that they will not be a part of. We'll do things without them and that feels weird. In the first few years following the death of my mother, I remember not wanting anything new. "Something New" was something she had not seen, had not been a part of, and I felt as though I was betraying her and her memory by experiencing it. I later came to terms with all of this with the help of the Holy Spirit guiding me through Scripture. I realized that death and heaven were her reward, not her punishment, and that she was experiencing the best kind of "new." It was ok for me to laugh and smile and do new things here on earth, because she's having a great time with Jesus and I will too, one day.

So we can turn that calendar page, knowing that God is omnipotent and that we go into this fresh, New Year with Him as our strength and our guide and our help. There are unknown and unexpected opportunities for us to share His love and His message of hope and eternal life and I pray that I will not miss one of them. I ask His guidance on all that I do and say and that it all will be pleasing to Him.

I pray that for you, too. Whoever is reading this, may you have the confidence and the knowledge that, whoever you are or have been, God loves you and wants His best for you. Go into this year knowing that. Tell Him your troubles and ask His forgiveness. Forgive those who have wounded you. You don't need to carry that into 2014, either. It's not going to do anyone any good. Just let it go, along with the burned-out lights and the expired egg nog.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I like to bake. I like to take separate ingredients and mix and wait and gently coerce the concoction into something appealing and delicious. I will attempt any type of baking, but my favorite is bread. It takes patience, tenderness, planning, more patience, and love. People tend to like my bread. I know my family does, and that gives me such a huge sense of satisfaction, especially since I'm not one of the Fancy Cookie People.
Yeah, you know them, the Fancy Cookie People. They're the ones whose cookies stop you in your tracks at the cookie exchange. They bring in their magical treats in a plain Rubbermaid container or on a little plate, like they're no big deal. They slip them in between the store-bought wedding cookies and my sugar cookies that resemble the square states with sprinkles. And as the crowd gathers and says things like "They're just too pretty to eat" and "I'd ask for the recipe but I'd never be able to do that!" they just smile and say "Thank you," with that sugary Southern sweetness like the iridescent granules they put on their Angel Snowflake Drops. They make their reindeer with their pretzel antlers and gumdrop noses (no, they would never use something as obvious as a red M&M). They have their snowmen with the Reese cup top hats. Little Oreos that look like tuxedos made to look like penguins looking like they are skating. On a cupcake.

So yeah. I gave it another try. This time with the help of Pinterest. Pinterest, I am sure, was created solely for the purpose of humiliating me and making me feel totally inadequate. While it helps everyone else, it shines light on the things I have not - nor will I ever - accomplish.

                     But c'mon, how hard can a cookie recipe be?

After all, it uses the same ingredients as the Hersey kiss blossoms, and those are easy. (I have actually never made them, either) The butter softened, the flour measured, everything set. Here we go.

Apparently there is something in the chemical structure of the candy cane kiss that is different from that of the regular chocolate kiss. I am no scientist, but I don't think they are supposed to flatten. At first, when they were just soft, I still had hope. But as they cooled, and the stripey kiss began to look like a scrap of circus tent fabric tossed on a sparkly rug, I knew something had gone terribly wrong. And doing something bad to a cookie is like being mean to a puppy. 

They're supposed to look like this:
Unfortunately I can't post a picture of the mistakes. You see, my family ate them. Because they TASTED AWESOME. Take that, Fancy Cookie People. Keep your swirl candy cookie pops. I'll take my Circus Tent Sparkles any day of the week!

Monday, December 2, 2013

This is the time of year that I go nowhere without a list. Actually, it's a small notebook dedicated solely to keeping me from losing my mind. It has a list of the gifts I want to get people for Christmas, the ones I have already purchased, and the ones I may need to have on hand for that "surprise gift" (you know: the one where someone gives you something and you weren't expecting them to, so you say how sweet it was and that they shouldn't have, because really you are wishing they hadn't because now you don't have anything for them and you feel like a total slug! When, in reality, if you had only known they were going to get you something, you would have certainly gotten them something and it would have been amazing. A-MA-ZING! The perfect gift. But now you are stuck with giving them something that seemed great at the time.

Who doesn't need a cutting board/grocery list/pen combination shrink wrapped with a pre-tied holiday bow? NO ONE! Scratch that off the list. Right now. No one needs that.

I also plan my holiday meals, my goodies, my wrapping paper and gift bag needs. If it comes from Target or Walmart, it is in this notebook. Decorations. Shirt sizes. Christmas tree doodles. (I doodle in line- do not judge)

That's the kind of stuff I keep in my notebook. Except I can't find it. It's here. I know I saw it just before Thanksgiving. I had it when I actually started my Christmas shopping early (which I am sure is somehow related to this problem and I haven't seen the last of the repercussions).

It is a small, spiral notebook and it has a blue cover. Or is it black? Either way, I thought it was great because it had the word "notebook" right on the front. (Like someone would mistake it for say, a shoe.) Maybe it should be neon orange and have blinking lights spelling out HERE I AM!

It'll turn up. In January.

In the mean time, I can be thankful that my name is on another list, in another book, and this one will never get lost, it cannot be erased, and it will allow me to bask in the glory of the greatest Gift of all:  Eternity in the presence of the King.

Oh, by the way, I found my notebook. It was in a bag of the gifts purchased in early November. See? I knew I started shopping too early!

Friday, November 22, 2013

There are some things that are so important that they make an impact, even at an early age. I was 5 years old and I was playing with my toys while my mama was in the kitchen. I saw the news come on the TV and I called her...We sat together on the sofa and prayed for the president's family and for our nation.

Next thing I knew, my sisters were home from school - released early. Everyone had been crying. I wanted to cry, too. I liked this president. As a little girl, I knew that he smiled a lot, his wife was pretty, and he had kids that were close to my age. His daughter even had a pony, and since I did too, I felt connected to her.
Now her daddy was dead and that made me very sad.

The next few days all I recall is that the news was on a lot more than usual, although we always watched Walter Cronkite. Once I even saw a man shoot another man as he walked through a hallway. Later I realized I saw Ruby shoot Oswald. Wow.

I remember the funeral. School was out again and we all watched it. It was sad and beautiful and important. And very American. The caisson with the flag-draped casket. The riderless horse. And the little boy saluting his father. These are the first images of a sad America for one little girl. Now we have another generation with its own sad images. Planes tilting at eerie degrees and aiming for destruction. People running from giant buildings that are about to collapse.

These are our sad American memories. But think about the ones generations before us-
Children asleep in their beds suddenly awakened by the intrusion of natives bent on reclaiming their land and seizing and killing everything in their path in order to do it. Sad, scared children.
Fathers leaving their families to fight a war against a king, leaving the women and children to fare as best they could, so in the end, they would have a better life - and true freedom. All they knew is that it was sad.
Our own nation fighting against itself for a way of life that was at the same time evil and necessary, depending on whose life it was. Disease, poverty, and bitterness grew out of this war and to some degree we are still fighting it.

Sad American memories became global over the next several years-- thoughts of foxholes and air battles. New kinds of evil that threatened the American ideals. But that didn't matter to the little boys and girls whose dads - and moms- weren't there to tuck them in. It was just sad.

So as we remember this Kennedy family who gave up four sons to this nation (one killed in action, two assassinated, and one a life-long public servant) let us also remember the rest of us who were forever changed because of the evil shown to us at an early age. In its truest sense, may God bless America. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Filling Up and Pouring Out

Greetings from Music City!
I am writing this on the end of a three-day thrill ride known as "The Forum." The forum is offered by Lifeway, and it is an oasis in the desert for women's ministry leaders. This year the theme was about filling up so we can pour out. The theme was based on Romans 15:13, which offers hope to the weary believer, assuring her that she is going to "overflow" from the power of the Holy Spirit. God will fill us with JOY and PEACE as we believe in Him and we, in turn, can pour that JOY and PEACE out on others in His name and for His glory! 

Right now, though, I am just tired. This is my third Forum and, even with last year's broken toe, this one has been the most taxing. The one where the Lord has done the most work on me. The one that has left me both begging for more and begging to go home and sleep. And to retreat from some of the things I have come to realize about leading a ministry.  

For that's what this is: a Ministry. It's not a fluffy, pretty, committee that plans monthly parties and exists to exchange coupons. This ministry is here. It is available. It is strong and it is here to glorify God and to help you seek Him and to know Him. We want to offer you His joy, His strength, His love, and a deeper relationship with the One True Living God! 

Today I will fly home to my sweet family. When I board the plane and buckle up, the flight attendant will go over a little safety speech that I always try to pay attention to, even though I could probably recite it for her. (Or him) Confession time: I pay attention so that, if something should happen, she won't shove me out of the way and remind me that she saw me reading during her speech. "No!" she will shout, "I saw you- go to the back of the line!"

This time, though, I will pay attention when she talks about how, in the event that the cabin should lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop fom the compartment located above me. I will be instructed to place the mask over my nose before I assist others. I need air before I can help anyone else. Don't we all.

We need the power of the Living God before we can share Him with others. Having descended from above, just for us, He is our oxygen. Breathe Him in. Fill up. Then be ready to pour out. I know I am.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

No wonder they left. My parents, I mean.

That was the thought that kept running through my mind on my recent trip to West Virginia. No wonder they left. They had to.

Before I go any further, please know that I understand that WV has so much to offer: the farming- not easy on the side of a mountain. The mountains themselves have led to the skiing, hiking and tourist industry which has bolstered the state's economy. The coal that fuels so much of our nation originates here. But this has come at a price, and the toll has been taken from its people. I'm not sure where the revenue from these industries goes, but it is not evident in Mercer county. I am deeply moved by what I recently saw in this area and I know I can never think of these mountains the same way again. In order to explain this, some background is necessary.

My husband has been working on his family history for years. He has researched his ancestry back several generations and he encouraged me to look into mine as well. I was reluctant. Mine is painful. I have no one to interview, no one to sit with and to ask questions of. I'm sure there are stories to be told, but there is no one left to tell them. I began my research the same way many people do: with my mother's family Bible. Armed with three generations of family information provided by a mother who is now in the presence of God, I began to fill in the blanks.

A membership to Ancestry.com followed as did much tutoring by my patient husband. I learned about sites such as findagrave.com, and Google's search engine became my constant companion. Soon I was learning amazing things about my family, but I found that I had to take it all in small doses. I didn't want to be guilty of digging deeper and deeper and tossing names aside without remembering that these are people-- families who struggled and wept and worked so hard just to...live.

My father's side of the family began their American life in North Carolina after traveling from Germany. His mother's side worked to build and secure the WV territory (VA at that time). Apparently one group of them entered this country working off a criminal indenture; they were convicted thieves in England! I am not surprised. His family migrated from NC to WV in about 1910. All I can think is how angry their women must have been. Seriously. To move from the beautiful rolling hills of Wilkes County, NC to the harsh wilderness of Bluefield, I just have to wonder how bad it must have been.

There was much mystery surrounding my mother's people. So many links that could not be made. Searching census after census I realized that the stories of the many cultures and ethnicities that my mother told me were true- not that I had doubted her, but after almost 40 years, it's nice to see some validation. Italian, German, Hungarian, Greek. They came to these mountains to dig their income out of a mountain and went deep, deep into the earth in order to do so, emerging with little money and unhealthy lungs. My mother learned to cook from these people-- those were her best memories, she said. She told me stories of playing in the woods and making tiny tea sets out of acorns and dolls out of corn husks. These stories sounded so sweet and innocent. Until just a few days ago when the reality of seeing Appalachian poverty made me wonder...was she that poor? That thought shook me to my core. Was she like these people we drove past who lived in shacks? I knew some of it couldn't be true-- the trailers on the side of the road with the siding that had been stripped off and probably sold for scrap could not have been hers- they didn't have them back then. At least there was that. But then where did she live? I kept looking to the mountains. These are the same views she saw. I wanted so badly to know where she had walked--probably these very roads; there weren't many of them. I tried to imagine the horses that my grandfather raised. The big strong horses that pulled the mining carts along the tracks, winding and plodding along the beautiful, majestic mountains. It was a new pain I felt. A different kind of mourning that I wasn't expecting. I had wanted this area to flourish. I had wanted the place they had been and that their people helped to build to be thriving. When I discovered that it wasn't it was like a whole new area of their lives had been lost.

No wonder they left.

I had limited knowledge of where her people were buried when we arrived in Bluefield. A visit to the Tourist Information office proved fruitless. It is closed on weekends and holidays. That doesn't make sense to me. Isn't that when most people are vacationing and need information? That right there could be a glimpse into why this area is struggling. A quick drive through what must have been at one time a thriving little town further proved the point that this area is in need of saving. In so many ways. Business after business boarded up, papered over. Closed.

As another point of clarification I have to say that I had been to WV once before. I was about 5 years old and my father informed the family that we were going to WV the day after Christmas. I was allowed to bring my prized present: a pull-string Casper the Friendly Ghost doll. We arrived in the middle of the night and were quickly ushered out of the cold and into bed. Except Casper. He spent the night in the car and the next morning his magical voice box had frozen. For the rest of his little life, every time the string was pulled he would say, very, very slowly "Dooon't beeee afraaaaid" and "Iiiii'm a freeeeiindly ghooooost." The saddest one was "Iiii'mmmm cooooolllddd." There are some things you never get over in childhood. This was one of them.

When you look for cemeteries in rural counties of VA, NC, and TN, you have to be careful. The wildlife is the easiest thing to watch out for. These woods hold secrets and their people will do anything to keep them. They look upon newcomers with distrust and skepticism and I don't blame them. This is their territory and you have no right to it. Be ready to say the names of your ancestors and be prepared to know that there may be "bad blood." These are hard people and I say that with all respect. I have that blood.

The first cemetery was elusive. We knew we were close, though, so we decided to approach it from a different direction. This decision was one of those that walked the line of brave, adventurous, and categorically stupid. We did not find an ancestor; but we are alive and that counts for a lot. Out of respect for keeping the mountains' secrets in tact, we will stop at that.

The second cemetery was the most disturbing. It, too, was at the top of a hill. But it was awful. Stones were broken and overturned and graves were sunken in as though the mountain was reclaiming its dead. It was desolate and lonely and I am glad I didn't find any of my ancestors buried there.

The final stop that day was at the cemetery where my maternal grandmother was supposed to be, along with some uncles I never knew. I never knew any of these people, actually, and I was beginning to wonder if I have ever really, honestly, KNOWN my parents. For at every turn, at every curve, up and down switchbacks that give a new meaning to "hairpin curve" we discovered new levels of poverty and despair that was not just a recent development. 
Raw. Harsh. Desperate. Squalor. These are the words that describe my mother's land, my father's land.

No wonder they left.

We found a few graves with names that fill in blanks on my family tree. My husband walked and brushed and scraped and cleaned countless markers looking for who are now OUR people. As the sun began to set we had to leave before the gates were locked. I was ready. But not as ready as I'm sure my parents must have been to leave in 1943.

A way out was provided for them, my strong, brave, courageous parents. 
For her it was marriage, for him it was WWII. Again, how bad must it have been? He lied about his age in order to join. She had a high-school education which, in that day, was more than most. Lives spent at sea, first one coast and then another, finally settling in this area, and staying put after the war ended. Another family from a few counties away did the same thing, so that 50 years later two people could climb a mountain looking for her connection to...something. When all the time, their connection was to each other.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We live in the country. I have tried to deny it for years, but we do. There are woods in front of us, a field behind us, and when you drive to our house you pass horses and chickens and goats. It's the country.

Often people ask me how I like it "out here" and they comment on how peaceful and serene it is. "Oh, you must just love living out there! It's so calm and quiet." Apparently they have not spent actual TIME in the country. It may be quiet, but you can NEVER let your guard down. 

I am hesitant to go out after dark, particularly in open shoes, because I KNOW something is going to crawl on my foot. It is nothing to think that there is a twig hanging from under your car, only to find that it is a petrified frog. They get in the house, dragging their sticky selves along the floor and leaving slime residue on whatever they have touched. They end up in mouse traps or - the grossest thing of all--under foot! Deer thunder past us on their way to escape the hunters. Strange cries emerge from the woods from some previously undiscovered species, I am sure. On occasion birds (blackbirds, sparrows, hawks) crash into our house, sometimes getting trapped in our back porch. Often, nature takes care of itself in its own "circle of life." The skinks eat the bugs, the snakes eat the skinks, and the hawks take care of everything else. Except this morning. 

I was waving 'bye to my husband (think June Cleaver, no pearls, in PJs) and I opened the front door, coffee in hand. I was suddenly ambushed by the biggest, blackest, hairiest spider I have ever seen in person that was not behind glass in a zoo. I am surprised it didn't just reach up and ring the doorbell with one of its long, creepy, hairy legs. This spider was not a stranger to me; we had met over the weekend as I was assessing the pumpkin arrangement on the porch. I shooed him away then, thinking that I was invading his territory and that we would both live to fight another day. Today was the day.

Coffee went everywhere as I watched him seek immediate refuge under the hall table leg. I have to say, I gave him wide berth-- he was so big he cast a shadow. I stood for seconds in a sort-of crouching position, much like a cagey fighter figuring out my next move.  First left, then right, then left...I assessed what I had with me to use against him: no shoes, lukewarm coffee, and, well, that was it. Not nearly enough for Spiderzilla.  I ran to the kitchen for a minute to get the fly swatter but it is NEVER WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE WHEN I NEED IT! Besides, this thing would reach up (again with the creepy hairy leg) and snatch it away from me. I needed a Big Shoe or some heavy duty spray. I ran back to the hall and he was still there. I ran up the stairs and got the Wasp and Hornet spray that you have to have when you sign a contract to live "out here" and ran back downstairs. I was armed.

At this time I must interject that, when telling my sister about this today, she suggested that I use hair spray. I have resorted to that weapon in the most dire circumstance, but I am a Southern Christian woman and I try to NEVER waste good hair spray.

Caution: If you are one of those people who think that we should not kill  animals, read no further.

So, can in hand, I began to spray the living daylights out of this animal. I mean I sprayed until there was a puddle. He would shake it off and get up and come at me. I sprayed again and again and he would still try to get into the vent. Just when I would think I finally had him, one of those creepy hairy legs would rise up and reach out-- I had to keep repeating "God gave me domain, God gave me domain!" I finally succeeded. He had drowned in the poison.

Now the whole time I was doing this I must have had this contorted, agape, grimace on my face, because I am pretty sure I inhaled some of the spray myself. I have been somewhat loopy for a few hours. Small price.

On to the rest of the day: a trip to City Hall and a subsequent trip to a satellite office for the city (who knew the Parks and Rec office is behind my dentist?) and then to the computer hospital to check out my computer because I have internet issues. While there, the technician, who kept rubbing his dandruffy greasy head and then touching my computer (notice I didn't call him a geek because I am sensitive like that) suggested that I use my old laptop to run a diagnostic on this one. I cringed but agreed, thinking that now I was going to have to go into the closet where the last spider I killed had lived. And I was going to have to wash frog slime off the old computer. It just never ends.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34

We have had over 4" of rain in the past three days in our area. Of course we have! My husband and I are chairing our church's annual Homecoming and Harvest Festival this year. This is the first year that we have taken two wonderful events and combined them. The Big Fall Outdoor Food Fun Festival. Banners up, flyers distributed, jumpy inflatable things ordered. Brunswick stew, grilling burgers and dogs, and obviously, it's the South, we gonna cook a pig!!

Thursday I braved the torrents (and really, it was just that) to go to the warehouse store to get some of the food. I wore my jeans, old tennis shoes (found in the deepest part of the closet and was concerned all day that they would go the way of my dry-rotted red shoes) and a sweater and my Yankees cap and a rain slicker. And socks. I tell you all this so that you will know that EVERY BIT OF IT was thoroughly soaked within an hour of leaving the house.
The stuff I got was as wet as if I has sprayed it with a hose once I got it in the car. There was a very small window of opportunity to get it to the church before the cardboard disintegrated. I just made it.

              Photo: In case you were
wondering, Harvest Festival at Alexander Baptist Church is STILL ON, rain or shine! Don't make me do all this shopping for nothing-- I'd better see you there Sunday the 13th! :)

Why is it that, when you are pushing a cart this size through the store, everyone rolls in front of you? 

But I was so "on mission" that I really didn't notice how wet I was until I started shivering. I even thought that the women in Office Max (yes, major events require trips to OM) were staring at me because they were looking at my Yankees cap and knowing that we had not made the post-season. I was sure they were Boston fans. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in a window streaked with rain. Oh. That's why they were staring. I was never more thankful for my hat than right then.

The phone has been blowing up with people wanting to know if we are still on! Of course we're still on! Am I worried? Not a bit. Not even a hint of a little bit. The One Who controls the weather has a plan and that is all I need to know. We have a rain plan and will leave it at that. (The company that I use for events was gracious enough to allow me to cancel the inflatables with no penalty, so that is a blessing.) It makes no sense to worry about the weather. For that matter, to worry about anything! God is in control--all the time.

I know, you are probably thinking that it's easy for me to say that because I have had some kind of cushy, easy life. You don't even know. Don't think that. Just don't. There are real reasons why "Great is Thy Faithfulness" is my favorite hymn.

Do I doubt God's abilities so much that I have the audacity to worry that He will not work things out for my best and for His glory? Am I so good at everything that I think that I have to work all this out instead of the Creator of the Universe? Not this girl. I KNOW God is in charge and I am way fine with that!
Life is hard and impossible and just like that storm yesterday. We are tossed and drenched and beaten. God is our refuge. How could we ever doubt that?

So Sunday we will celebrate our church's heritage together. We will praise God for the harvest and look toward the future. We will have our rain plan in hand and smiles on our faces. Come on in, out of the storm. It's nice and dry and warm in God's house.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The words seem so simple. Two words...really little ones. But they speak volumes and can change a day from bad to good, change a frown into a smile, and they can stay with you for a long, long time. To those of you who have taken the time over the recent days to say "thank you" to me and to those of you who have offered your help, I thank YOU. Going through the busy days running here and there and planning and praying and paying attention to every detail-- and then a simple "thank you" stops me in my tracks and bring me to my knees in gratitude. Please know, dear "thank you" givers and helpers: I thank God for you.

The Scriptures are full of examples of praising and thanking and remembering. Of course, we are to be eternally grateful to God for creating us, for sacrificing His only Son for us, so that we may enjoy everlasting life with Him. We thank Jesus for paying the price for our sins and for loving us even though we are, at best, sinners and no more. But we also look to Paul, who was never remiss in thanking the churches that helped him and also made him get just a little crazy. I mean that with all respect, considering that these churches had Paul, PAUL teaching and guiding them and they couldn't even be bothered to honor the Lord's supper elements and not eat all the food and drink all the wine. Honestly! But he thanked them anyway and he continued to guide them.

My substitute dad, Captain Kangaroo, always taught us to say the
"Magic Words:" Please and Thank You. He would stop and look directly at me as I ate my cereal and tell me to make sure I said that to the people who cared for me so that I would have good manners. Mixing education with corn flakes and Ping-Pong balls. Brilliant.

So if you are wondering if it would make a difference if you thanked someone today, the answer is a resounding YES! Make the call, write the note, send the e-mail. You will feel better and the person you thank may very well do a little dance in the kitchen and shed a tear of humility and gratitude that someone heeded the Captain's advice and said the
Magic Words.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ok. I have held it in long enough. I've tried, but I simply cannot do it any longer. I LOVE FALL! No, I seriously LOVE Fall. I love everything about it: the smells, the tastes, the chill in the air, the colors. Don't even get me started about the colors, y'all. These are MY colors. (I know I wear a lot of black and white, and that stems from a childhood fascination with nuns that is a whole 'nother blog altogether.) But these colors not only make me smile but they speak to my heart- the colors that God created basically JUST BECAUSE HE WANTED TO! Just a little show off moment for the trees that have given us shade, fed the air, served as a home to the birds, and now will replenish the earth with carbon with every deep, rich blessing that drifts to the ground below.  

Oh, this is quite the time to be alive on this planet and in the beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia.


The other day I was going by a corner lot where a pumpkin patch sets up and it wasn't there yet. I was worried that it wasn't going to come this year (Lord knows I don't need any pumpkins! He saw to that by blessing those vines beyond our expectation!) But I wanted the patch to be there- I wanted the hay bales and the gourds and the little red wagons the kids use to haul their treasures in. I wanted the bonfire that they light every evening and the maze they set up that winds around the big tent they work under. Just another change that I wasn't in tune with...Then I realized that it is still September...for a few more days. (They set up yesterday, by the way!) So all is good.

Now I realize I may be stepping on some toes here, those of you who want Summer to last all year long. You people who say that it can't get hot enough for you and who, for some unknown reason, actually love to sweat. I know: this is an East-coast resort area. I KNOW! OBX and VB and all that.
But, how can I say this nicely...GET OVER IT! This is Virginia and even though we don't get really cold, we have seasons and this one coming up is MINE. You had yours. It's MY turn and I am going to go bake some pumpkin stuff and light a pumpkin candle and make stew and chili and bake bread. Yeast bread and corn bread. So sorry for stepping on your toes but it's time you took the flip flops off anyway and put on some socks 'cause it's FALL!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recently I heard a young pastor say that if there had been Prozac in David's day, there may never have been Psalms. Up and down, up and down, poor David's emotions were all over the place. Why? David's love for God was so deep that when he hurt, he ached to the core, and when he rejoiced, his voice reached above the clouds.



So it is with Christians. We are a passionate group, those of us who love the Lord. We love a God Who will always, always love us more. We know His mercy and we cannot understand when that mercy, whether perceived or real, is withheld from us by others who profess to love Him as well.

As people of faith, we know Love. We know Compassion. We know the author of Forgiveness. We face insults and wrongs daily from those outside the faith and it hurts. When we are faced with those emotions from our brothers and sisters, it hurts even deeper. We expect more from each other, forgetting that we are all human and we fall way, way short every time.

Yes, conflicts will happen among God's people, just as they do among those who don't know Him.  But the difference between "us" and "them" is how we handle the conflict. Do we see others whose opinions differ as wrong and out of line? Or do we just see our brothers and sisters hurting and reach out to try to heal the wound? Are we even listening to each other? And why can't we each be just a little right? Because that would mean that we are also just a little wrong.


So what do we do when we are hurting? Do we, like David,  seek the One Who always loves us (and always has and always will)? Do we drop to our knees and pray for the hearts of those who have wronged us? Do we search ourselves for any wrongdoing on our part? Too often we gather in groups to whisper condolences and offer support. We look to the Word only so that we can post something thought-provoking on Facebook. Or we sit and stew and grow bitter.

In Matthew 18:15-17 we are instructed to go directly to the person who has sinned against us. There are complete instructions on how we should handle the situation, yet we avoid direct conflict and interaction and only perpetuate the problem. Oh, we have learned so little. Why do we doubt the Word of God? Do we think that we know more than Matthew?  We are so intent on winning the argument that we are afraid we'll lose ground and somehow weaken our own stance on an issue. 

What can ever go wrong by at least trying to make something right?

It's not easy to admit our sin. But the thoughts that do not build up and do not glorify are just that, sinful. So go have a talk with Jesus, read your Bible, call your brother or sister, and don't post anything about it on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

As I watch the waves roll toward the shore I am amazed at their beauty. Each one is perfect, yet unique. I marvel at the power of the ocean that they came from, then shrink in awe at the thought of the One Who created the ocean.

As lovely as one wave is, the next one is equally beautiful- gracefully cresting and crashing ashore, only to recede and rebuild into another swell ready to pound the shore again, and again.

Once one wave ends I don't miss it and yearn to see it again because I know that God will provide another one that will have its own unique beauty. And so I am reminded not to become too attached to anything on this earth but to cling fast to the Christ, the One and only constant Truth. I lean on the Word of God in 2 Peter 3:8, "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

And so I continue to seek the will of God, to remember that time is fleeting, and that every wave is an opportunity to embrace something new.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I was working in the school store at Norfolk Collegiate. A dear friend called me to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade center. Since NYC is my favorite town, many people contact me when something interesting happens there. I assumed it was one of the small planes that have, at times, hit skyscrapers accidentally. I remember her saying "No, it's not like that. It's a big plane- on purpose."

The phone seemed cold in my hand as we hung up. She was on her way to school. I was finished there for the morning, but I wasn't going anywhere. Not when my kids were in a school less than 3 miles from the largest naval base in the world. We had no idea whether we were next.

As the news of more attacks was reported, more parents showed up at the school. Some took their kids home, others waited together by a few TVs that were tuned to CNN. After the Pentagon was hit, the fear became even more evident. Our area could very well be the next target. I recall staring at the images and having to remind myself to breathe. We were stunned, in shock. I remember the rest of the day as one of small scenes. Prayers, tears, confused silence. I took this attack personally and I have still never fully accepted the pain of September 11.

My first trip to New York was in high school. I didn't go up in the towers with the rest of the group. I walked around the area, watching the people and breathing in the city. It was March, and very windy. The employees had difficulty opening the doors as the wind created a vacuum effect as it blew between the enormous buildings. I remember having a brief exchange with a maid about how hard it was to open the doors. Afterward, I thought how nice she was and how New Yorkers weren't all rude, as some people think. I don't regret not going up in the tower. I'm thankful I have a happy memory on what is now hallowed ground.

It was a very fragile time for me, after suffering the loss of my mother and having endured an extremely tumultuous time in the years prior to her death. New York represented a city that was so big, and so strong, and so alive that any pain or fear or anxiety would be in the shadow of the giant towers that represented life and power. How could you have time for your fears and pain in a city that was so intense? I loved both the beauty and the beast that were New York and was thrilled years later when I introduced my husband to it. He found his own reasons for being drawn to this city, so our kids were soon indoctrinated as well.  

As with any crisis, we go through the necessary motions to get through our day, our week, our years. We grieve and mourn losses, pray for those left behind, and move forward, vowing to be different. We look to our only source of constant Love, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is in Him and through Him that we succeed and grow.  As it is with gold, these hard times refine and purify us so that we can continue the work that is set before us. We draw closer the ones we love. We hold each other a little tighter, and pray for strength and guidance. And we never, ever forget.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I only needed a few things from the grocery store. As soon as I got out of the car I heard the thunder. Hurrying through the store collecting my items I overheard many conversations about the impending storm. People sharing how they had come through it only to know that they would be facing it once again when they left. Some were hoping the power would stay on so that they could actually cook the food they were buying. Others were regretting
even coming out in the first place. And I was somewhere in between all of those places, just trying to get out, get loaded up, and get home.

I was making pretty good time, too. Until the school buses turned onto the road. One by one the three that were in front of me was reduced to one. Together we turned on my street, still 2.3 miles from our house. (We've measured it. When you live this far out you have to reassure people that they are not lost and they only have 2.3 miles to go until their destination). 

At the first house, the STOP sign went out, the lights came on, and all I could see was a pair of little tennis shoes on the ground outside the door. Right then and there I knew that my heart was won and that God had slowed me down just for this. He was joined by two other kids and they rounded the front of the bus with mixed enthusiasm. One ran, one walked, and one seemed reluctant to leave the bus and stood waving at the driver. At the door of the home was a woman wearing a smile as wide as the driveway and arms opened to greet all of them. I don't know if they are all three hers, but right then they were.

The scene repeated itself for about half of my journey. There were moms taking pictures of the little ones, probably kindergartners, as they exited the bus. One mom even had her child return to the bus steps to capture just the right shot! There were grandparents, dads, neighbors. Some kids ran into open arms, some merely walked up as though it were just another day. But at every stop there was someone that had shown up just for the sole reason of being there for a child. To love them. To welcome them. To offer comfort and kindness.

As I write this, the storm is raging. Wind, rain, loud rolling thunder. And I am so thankful that each of those children is safe.

Our God is there, as we get off our "bus." He is waiting to love us, to welcome us, and to give us comfort and safety. Our day may not have been great, but when we greet Him and ease into that precious place of peace that only He can offer, it's as good as milk and cookies after school.

Friday, August 30, 2013

It may still be hot outside, but Fall is coming. I know, it's not even Labor Day. And the first official day of Autumn isn't until the 22nd. But Fall is the season that begins with subtle hints. The grasses get a little thinner, a little wispier. Around here, the air gets just a little less humid (less humid here means that you can actually breathe the air in without needing a diving mask). And don't the trees just look like they are tired of being green? They look exhausted and ready for a change; like if you had to wear the same thing for 5 months straight you wouldn't want a little "color?"

Yesterday I got up and there was a light fog over the back corn field. Soon the fog will linger and the dew will be heavy and the corn will turn even more golden - oh, it's coming.

I've been thinking a lot about seasons. There have been so many seasons in my life. God has allowed me to serve Him in so many different areas and to be touched by countless examples of Christian character, all "for such a time as this."

As you go through your life seasons, be sure to shine in each one. Moms, your season is so sweet. You begin as a caregiver and grow into a confidante. You are building the end result while you are in the middle of laundry, lunchboxes, and lists. You are quite often the deciding factor of the evidence of joy in your home. Scary thought, isn't it? When all you want to do at times is sit down and as I would have to say, "Think my own thoughts." The songs you sing to yourself are toddler tunes, you know every brand of diaper on the market and have coupons for all of them. This will transition into an in-depth knowledge of crayon colors, cartoons, super heroes, and video games. The details that are so important to you at this time make way for more details that become equally as important.

As your season changes and you move past the physical stage of momhood, you will be vital in the instilling of grace and love in your kids. "Make good choices" and "remember Whose you are" will become your mottos imparted daily. There is, every day, an opportunity for you to make a memory and to build and edify your husband and your children. I know you're tired. I know. But your strength comes from the Lord  (Philippians 4:13) and He is right there with you (Hebrews 13:5). Just ask Him. Sure, other moms are helpful at times, but no one replaces the One Who created you and your kids and Who died for both of you. Run to Him. Run! Seek wisdom and guidance and then trust that you will use it well.

As with every season there is a time for harvest. When it comes in abundance, don't be surprised. Just put on a pot of soup and get ready for Fall.

Monday, August 26, 2013

By the time Spanx will fit me properly I will no longer require them.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Spanx, please allow me to explain. Spanx is the name of a brand of undergarment that Satan created. The purpose of this undergarment is two-fold: one, to humiliate you by adding to your already struggling body image, and two, to push various areas of lumpiness, flabbiness, and pudge around to other areas to make it seem as though there is no problem. This garment is somehow supposed to "smooth" and "refine" your "problem areas" so that you can wear clothes that you probably shouldn't be wearing in the first place.

So I bought some.

The first time I wore them was when we attended a fund-raiser for the children's hospital.  It was a casual/dress up kind of thing in the winter - the kind of event where something slinky and sparkling would be just right. Sequin top, black pants, peep-toe heels, and a killer clutch and I would be all set. At home, in the privacy of my bathroom mirror (which has yet to learn how to lie and tell me what I want to hear) I re-tried the top that fit great in the store and dimmed the lights a little to get the magical glitz effect. As I turned for a better look (and to watch myself shine) I noticed bulges that most certainly did not need to be "played up." Some things just do not need to sparkle. But wait- I have my Spanx - everything will be fine!

If you have never worn these things, here is my warning: give yourself plenty of time to put them on. You may need to rest for a bit in the middle of the exercise. Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day. Try to think of the end result; for me, it was the mantra of "It's for the kids!" After all, it is a fundraiser for a good cause.

Once on, I donned the pretty top and convinced myself that I looked better. Way less comfortable, but better. Places that had made me cringe before somehow looked tighter, as though they were just large muscles that were slightly misplaced. The outfit as a whole was smoother and I was considerably warmer, probably due to the workout of squeezing my entire upper body into something that resembled a cross between a slingshot and body armor.

This next issue is a little delicate. The Spanx I bought was a one-piece ordeal. I waited as long as I could. It went, surprisingly, fairly well. I managed to half undress and dress in the stall with very little effort. The line did not grow past the inner corridor and most of the women in line remained fairly calm. After all, I had done my share of waiting as well; while standing in line I sized several of the other women up and determined that they were sporting Spanx as well. "Mmm Hmm," nodding my, head, "I feel 'ya girlfriend," I could see myself doing as one after another sister emerged from the stall victorious, held together by spandex and glistening with a combination of sequins and sweat.

The next time I wore them I was not so successful. It happened at church. It was the last event of the ministry calendar year and I was assuming the role of director, to be announced at our annual banquet. In addition, I was speaking about my recent health scare where my head almost exploded. So, I was already a little self-conscious and, in addition to my head being filled with dots from old brain trauma, it was filled with details about running a banquet for 80 women.

But there was a high point- or at least I thought it was. When I was dressing this time I discovered a convenient slit in a convenient area of the garment that would make life more...convenient. Eureka! These people weren't as cruel as I thought they had been---I no longer have to undress in the bathroom stall! I wish I had saved all the tags so I could send them a proper thank you.

As the evening progressed and I was about to go on stage in front of women I love, admire, and often resent for the same reasons I love and admire them, I figured I'd better...prepare myself by eliminating any "distractions." The slit betrayed me and caused me to now have a major wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions. Now I had to enter the sanctuary filled with women who were eager to top off the night of good food and fellowship with music, devotion, and a word from their new leader. They had no clue that her trembles were not from nerves of speaking in front of them or of now becoming the leader of this extremely worthwhile ministry, but that she would be facing them with the lumps and bumps and bulges of middle age. (The Spanxmonster was stuffed into a zip-lock bag in my tote bag awaiting further discipline.)

Looking back, I now know that I was shown, once again, by our kind and loving God that we all have lumps and bumps and bulges. They come in different forms but they still come. Some of them we allow Him to mold and shape and renew. Others we hang on to and don't let Him change, despite the fact that He can and He wants to. As I spoke to the ladies and allowed the Holy Spirit to strengthen me in sharing recollections from a very scary time, I saw the love in their eyes, the compassion, and the connection. It didn't matter to them whether I was less "put-together" than before. It didn't matter at all. They loved me anyway. And so does He, bumps, and lumps, and bulges and all.

Will I wear the Spanx again? Absolutely; combined with a regimen of diet, exercise, and humility they work just fine.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So today is the First Day of school. I'm not there. First time in 20 years. How do I feel?  I find myself filled with mixed emotions. I am happy, relieved, elated, and extremely grateful. Notice there is not one bit of sadness in there at all. I have waited for it, even anticipated it. But it's not there. Nope, nowhere to be found.

Today I will meet my sister for a little shopping. We'll have lunch and laugh and I will drive to the grocery store and plan a nice dinner for the family, perhaps using some of the vegetables from the garden. I'll spend a little time in the afternoon getting ready for a meeting tomorrow. That's about it.

Make no mistake, I have my stress. I have to get ready for the replacement window people to come and I haven't been on the treadmill all week. So my life is not a constant lunch date. Be honest: this rocks! Why?

I listened to God. He told me it was time to leave and I left. I obeyed and He blessed. That's what happens when you trust the One Who loves you most.

So wherever you are, whatever you're doing, take time to make sure that it's what God wants in your life. And remember, the most important thing He wants is your heart, so give it to Him first, and He will allow you to soar.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thank you, Lord!

This day was always one of the most frustrating to me when I was working. It's the day that all the teachers return from Summer Vacation. Don't get me wrong: I love(d) the teachers, it was just difficult to hear about their summers when I had been working hard during what was my busiest time. Tales of long days at the beach, memory-making trips, and good books read only served to add fuel to my exhausted fire. I avoided it, and them, at all cost. Until the dreaded Meeting. Everyone gathers to wax philosophical and to launch the year. Words like "pedagogy" and "differential" are tossed out like peanuts at a ball park. All while I would be wondering whether there were books and supplies for teachers and students being delivered and picked up at two campuses. Meanwhile, the line would be forming down the hall to purchase PE uniforms, even though the kids don't dress out for a week. The phone was ringing non-stop and the best possible way to manage it was to tread water in the ocean of voice mails. So, "Welcome Back" to all the teachers, and to all the staff I say, "Stay strong." This too, will pass, and the tales of adventure will die down. As for me, laundry and another cup of coffee await.

Why I Choose to be Southern Baptist

These have been tough days for those of us who call ourselves “Southern Baptists.” I won’t go into all the details. I don't think it’s S...