Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lucy, ladders, and when you feel stuck


Jerry popped a French fry in his mouth as we ate lunch, and studied me a moment. He swallowed. “Well, are you going to tell anyone about this, Lucy?”

Lucy (after Lucille Ball) had become my moniker whenever I’d done something that might compare to her character’s outrageous antics.

The waitress streaked by, and I took a sip of cherry Coke Zero. “I don’t know.”

That was a few weeks ago, and I guess in time, I’ve gotten over the sting of this episode enough to tell it. But please, I beg you, don’t email me to tell me how crazy this was, and how I could have been killed, etc. I’ve already had a couple of people pin me to the wall on it. I am sufficiently admonished, and I promise I WILL NOT try this again. Here’s what happened:

It started with a fluttering.

“Hey, did you hear that sound in your office?” Jerry said interrupting one of my painting sessions in the living room. I’d been working on an extra large canvas, which wouldn’t fit in my regular painting spot in my office/studio.

We investigated and thought it a bird in a woodstove chimney, maybe stuck in a part of the chimney in the attic, which meant getting on the roof to take the chimney cap off so the bird could get free.

Here’s the thing. Jerry has one replaced knee and the other one needs it. He’s not getting on any roofs.

But my knees work great. “I’ll do it.”

However, we didn’t have an extension ladder, only a stepladder. Again, don’t email me. “No problem,” I ignorantly said. “Hold the ladder real tight, and I’ll pull myself up on the roof.” I hadn’t been on a roof in decades much less hoisted myself up on one.

After I’d put my foot where words on the stepladder read, “Do not use this step,” I thought it was somewhat easier said than done to pull myself up, because there was nothing to hold. Somehow, I managed to do it, and when I stood up, it was a lot higher than I imagined it might be. I felt a little dizzy.

I inched to the chimney and tried to take the screws off the cap. I needed a screwdriver. Jerry went to get one and threw it on the roof. I had to crawl to retrieve it. Did I mention it was in the nineties that day, and we have a black roof? My hands were scorched.

I removed the cap, and we thought we’d leave it open a while for the bird to escape. Poor thing.

Now, to get down. When I peered over the edge, the top step of that ladder was really far. I mean REALLY far.

“Just crawl backwards, swing your rear over the edge, and I’ll put your foot on the ladder,” my beloved spouse said.

I thought about it a minute. I knew if my rear ever went over the edge, I was going down. It’d be like casting out an anchor.

“No way.”

“Sure, it’ll work. Just don’t hang on to the gutter. It might tear off.”

I didn’t especially like his priorities in that last remark.

“I’m not doing it. There’s nothing to hold.”

We went back and forth like that a few minutes. The tear faucet was close to turning on. How was I going to get off this roof?

Can you say stuck?

“Call Lilyan and get her extension ladder.” I folded my arms tightly in front of my chest.

I guess my body language convinced Jerry that I was firm in my resolve not to come over the edge.  He made the call and went to fetch the ladder from our neighbor.

During his absence I perched on the roof kneeling, my hands burning to steady myself, and surveyed my surroundings adjacent to the top of a Bradford pear. Two Downy woodpeckers flew to a nearby branch. It seemed I could hear them mocking and laughing at the gigantic wobbly bird on the roof. Poor thing, indeed.

Jerry came back with the ladder. “Hold tight. I’m trusting the ladder,” I said, letting go the “swing your rear over the edge comment” as I came down. But, what I really meant was I trusted him not to let me fall.

Later, I had to go back up again. The bird was still there. We tried to put a branch down the chimney so the bird could climb out. Didn’t work.

Do you think the bird might be all the way down in the stove,” Jerry asked.

“Trusting the ladder, again,” I said descending.

We went inside, opened the stove doors, the flue, and a wren streaked out.

Thankfully, we’d had the foresight to trap the cats elsewhere, but thinking the bird went out the door, we let them back in.

First thing Wilbur did was find the wren.

It was grab Wilbur and open the door again. It took awhile to convince this poor feathered creature that the open door was his pathway to freedom. He was draped in dust bunnies and cat fur from hiding under furniture.

At last, he took to open air.

Then, I had to go back up and put on the chimney cap. Trusting the ladder again.

 So, here are the takeaways from my roof experience:  

I have a new respect for roofers. They deserve every penny they get. I hope they wear gloves to protect their scorching hands and don’t have any equilibrium problems.

Solomon was right. “. . . better a nearby neighbor, than a brother far away . . . “(Proverbs 27:10). Thank you Lilyan for the ladder.

Like the wren, sometimes we can let fear get such a grip on us that we don’t even recognize the door to freedom.

And that trusting the ladder thing. I'm glad I could trust Jerry, but in an even greater way, it’s nice to know God is always holding our ladder to help and support us when we feel stuck.

But I have to tell you, if we hear fluttering again. I am not getting on the roof.

Lucy is done with ladders.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thank you dear Harriette Austin




I have a sad heart.

I just learned extraordinary writing mentor, Harriette Austin, passed away this past Saturday.

Back in 2011, I wrote these words about Harriette here at One Ringing Bell just before one of her conferences at which she had asked me to teach.

Harriette Austin is legendary in this area as a writing instructor and encourager extraordinaire. I’d read about Austin and her writing classes for years, always intending to go, but my children’s soccer games and ballet classes conflicted with the evening sessions she held.

In my fiction manuscript and screenplay, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, a character, Aunt Laney, mentors a young girl toward her aspiration of writing. One night, I had a dream, and in it, I saw a picture of Harriette Austin like one I’d recently seen in a newspaper, and heard someone say, “She’s the real Aunt Laney.”

Shortly, after that, I saw a way I could take one of her classes, and what I found is that Harriette Austin is indeed the real Aunt Laney. She’s all about planting seeds of hope and encouragement in those who are struggling to believe in their own ability. Those of us who’ve attended her classes adore her. Her knowledge, wisdom, and insight in the area of creative writing are almost unparalleled.”

Madeleine L’Engle says the writer often writes more than she knows. I imagined Aunt Laney and found her come to life in Harriette Austin. Through her conferences at which I taught several times, I started a Christian Writer’s group in this area. And from that group, members have gone on to have pieces published in national magazines, and I feel at least one is moving towards a book deal. I can draw a line from their successes straight back to Harriette Austin. My group is not alone. I know of at least two others who started writer’s groups out of Harriette’s nurturing. No way to know how many others there are.

And we couldn't begin to guess how many writers are published today because of Harriette and how many more will be published in the future?

She has truly left a legacy, and we want to make her proud. Writing is a hard, hard business. Discouragement at every turn. I saw her last during a visit I made at the retirement home where she lives. Shelves of books lined her apartment walls. I had to wonder how many of those volumes might be in print because of her inspiration. As I showed her the published pieces from my writer’s group and shared what I was doing, I felt like a little kid bringing my creations to my mom. As always, I left encouraged. I don’t think you could be in Harriett’s presence and not be.

Harriette had a Yale University School of Drama graduate program degree, as well as decades of experience in Hollywood. Oh, the stories she could tell.  But I think her greatest joy was inspiring others.

When you scroll through a Google search for Harriette Austin, what you see is author after author thanking her for her influence in their book acknowledgements.  Mine is right there, too, in Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, for which I won a book deal in a writing competition. Perhaps, it is because of Harriette that I even had the courage to enter.

I will always miss you dear, dear Harriette Austin, the real Aunt Laney. I hope I can be to others even a fraction of what you've meant to me. Thank you for everything.

"I thank my God every time I remember you . . ." (Philippians 1:3).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rio and traveling the same streets

On Sunday, as we watched the last few meters of the Olympic Women’s Road Race along Coco cabana Beach in Rio, memories came flooding back.

“We traveled those same streets,” Jerry said apparently having the same thoughts I was having.



I nodded. I remembered well sailing along the road that lined Coco cabana beach.

A little over ten years ago, I traveled with my daughter to Rio to work in the favelas surrounded the city.  Later, Jerry took our son in a separate trip.



Though the media has been replete with negative reports about Rio, I have precious memories, even amidst working among the poorest of the poor there.

After flying across the gargantuan Amazon rain forest with a stopover in Sao Paulo, it took us more than thirty hours to reach Rio. I was exhausted, but I have to tell you, when I first saw Christ the Redeemer statue atop the 2300 feet tall Corcovado Mountain, I had a Weekly Reader moment. For some reason, I remember a picture of the statue in the children’s educational paper, never dreaming I would actually see it. Oh, and the Coco cabana beach is just a beautiful as you might imagine.

We packed our own clothing and personal items in carry-on luggage so our checked baggage could be used for gifts for the poor. We prepared and served meals and gave out hundreds of packages as we held a Christmas party for those served by the mission. One night as I filled plates of food, I looked over to see my daughter sitting on the floor playing patty-cake with one of the little Brazilian girls. I felt my eyes grow moist.  Unable to speak each other’s language, they found a way to communicate.

 


Another night, I played keyboard with a Brazilian worship band. I didn’t know the song, understand the Portuguese, or have a chord chart. I just tried to change chords when they did. It probably sounded terrible, but I couldn’t help but think of the verse from Psalm 18:49, “ . . . I will praise you, Lord, among the nations . . . “

I had the privilege of leading Bible study for those on the mission trip with us, and one afternoon, I assisted in baptizing a long line of people in a pool there.

Many of the children in Rio favelas cannot attend school, because born at home, they are not allowed to attend without producing a birth certificate.  They live in houses with dirt floors constructed of whatever their parents find to provide some measure of shelter; some don’t even have outhouses.  Many of these babies live on the streets. Heartbreaking.


 
As we distributed clothing and other necessities among these hills, it’s like Jerry said, for a couple of weeks, the briefest of times, we did travel the same streets as these folks did. Enough so that as I am watching the Olympics, I am wondering wistfully how those we encountered are doing.

When we travel the same streets, it takes down the walls between us. We understand more about what others actually experience. That’s why when I hear all these negative reports about Brazil, I don’t buy in to everything because I’ve met the people there.

Currently, some friends and I are trying to help a family out of a homeless situation. In order to do so, we’ve had to make some trips to places not many want to visit. We have to travel the same streets as this family.

I’m thankful that I serve a God who did the same thing for us. He sent His son to travel our streets and take down the wall between us and Him.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." (Ephesians 2:14).

As I was finishing up this post this morning,  Jerry, not knowing what I was writing about, handed me a USA today article called Let’s Lighten up on Rio, people. I love it. Read it here.

Our own Olympic experience: In 1996, when the Olympics came to Atlanta, we obtained tickets to attend a soccer game held in our town. We rounded up these cuties and off we went to see Argentina and Portugal battle it out in the semifinals. It was great.


 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Raccoons, Rabbits, and Powdery Mildew


If you look hard in this picture, you’ll see a little masked face gazing down.

 

While we were waiting to eat dinner in a coastal restaurant, we noticed a group of people looking up. We joined them to see what was going on. This fellow and his brother were tussling with each other high in the tree, and then they’d occasionally stop and eyeball their audience. We oohed, ahhed, snapped pictures, and commented on how cute they were. It was nice of the restaurant to provide such a great floorshow while we waited.

Then I came home to my pitiful little container garden in the back yard and found tomatoes scattered on the ground like billiard balls. All with bites out of them.  It appeared that one of our little entertainer’s distant cousins had a hey day while we were gone.

Raccoons didn’t seem so cute anymore.

The rabbits that have eaten all my squash and zucchini aren’t looking so charming either.

That’s after several weeks of fighting powdery mildew out there, too.

Sigh.

Made me think of a verse slightly paraphrased.

“Don’t’ hoard squash and tomatoes down here where it gets eaten by rabbits, hit by powdery mildew or―worse―stolen by raccoons.”

If my identity were wrapped up in farmer, I’d be in big trouble.

But the truth is that sometimes I let my identity get wrapped up in other ways, like writer.

If things don’t go well in that arena, with the literary version of raccoons, rabbits, and mildew, I can start to slide south and get down in the dumps. Because one thing never changes in any writer’s life, and that’s the fact you’re going to get rejections. Or worse, just never hear from projects sent out. And what about that new algorithm Facebook is using, how’s it going to affect my blog traffic when I post on Facebook?

Now, to the unparaphrased version of Matthew 6:19-21 in The Message:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

It requires a certain vigilance to keep us from drifting into the arena where we let our worth be determined by our successes or the lack thereof. Raccoons, rabbits, and mildew are always standing by to assault us, and we need to keep our eyes on our true worth, that of being a child of God.

This child of God is about to turn in her gardening gloves and let the critters have it. Summer is about over anyway, and I can hope for next year.

Hello farmer’s market.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Footgolf and when it seems you're way over par


This, my friends, is a footgolf course.


And this is my son about to whack the ball.



And this is a selfie of me also playing footgolf.



That’s right. It’s blank.

That’s because the temperature was near 100 degrees. You could ring water out of my shirt, my make-up had melted onto my shoes, and my hair gave the illusion that I may have been electrocuted.

Not pretty.


We’ll get back to that word precision a little later.

Wikipedia goes on to explain that footgolf is, “played the same way as golf, except players use a football (soccer ball) instead of a golf ball, and the ball is kicked rather than struck with a club, working towards a 21-inch "cup" in place of the usual golf hole.”

The way I wound up playing footgolf is my lifelong soccer-playing son found out about the course when we were vacationing last year and now our family plays any time we’re in the area.

What I do for my son.

Back to precision. So, as you might guess, the scoring is done in much the same way as regular golf. There’s a par for each hole and lowest total score wins. When the pictures above were taken at around the seventh hole, the par for the course was about 32.

I had a score of 60. Yes, you read that right. I was 28 over par.

And I thought that was good. You see my son would kick the ball, and it would take me three shots to equal his one.

I’ve been going to physical therapy for a back condition. I can’t wait to hear what the therapist has to say this week.

I didn’t take a picture of Jerry either. He wasn’t doing much better than I was with one replaced knee and the other knee needing work, too.

Again, what we do for our son.

An experience like this reminds me that if I am willing to embarrass myself like this for my kid, how much more God out of His great love for us has moved and continues to move on our behalf.

“. . . immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah” (Ephesians 2:4-5 The Message).

My morning of perspiration and humiliation was a big nothing compared to the lengths God goes to for his children.

Good to remember on days when it seems like we’re 28 over par and no way we’re going to win this game. No matter what, your heavenly Father has already gone to the greatest lengths possible to express his love for you.

Golf among young people is declining and hundreds of courses are closing every year. Over the past few years, Footgolf has helped save many courses that are struggling.

Well, all I have to say about that is footgolf may be saving golf courses, but I’m praying it doesn't do me in.
 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The creative allée

I'm deep in another book project right now and reached into the One Ringing Bell archives for this piece which I hope will help someone along in their creative journey.
 
The French call this an allée. Merriam Webster says it is a “walkway lined with trees or small shrubs.”
 
I’d love to be back at this low country location again, running the broad length of the path between tall watchful oaks as filtered sunlight sifts through wisps of moss. An allée draws one forward toward whatever lies beyond, usually a home.

Madeleine L‘Engle wrote in Walking on Water, her wonderful reflection on faith and art, that “the chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist—the purpose of the work, be it story or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us aware of our status as children of God, and to turn our feet toward home.”

I can see us all lined up now across the ages, all who attempt to be God's conduits for whatever big or small talents we have, forming an allée to help the wanderer.  Maybe through writing, art, music, film, or photography. “This way,” we say, “run this way to home.”

So many through their work have done this for me:  of course, the writers of the Bible, and C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L‘Engle, and a gazillion other artists, writers, and musicians.

In whatever ways you create, think about how you may use your gifts to “further his kingdom,” so that others may put their hearts wholly in the hands of the Father, and find their feet firmly on the path toward home.

Take your place in the creative allée.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

If you're suffering loss

I began reading this story about the same time last week when the details of tragic national events spilled into every news outlet one after another with no time for breath in between.

Honestly, I didn’t want to read this chronicle, because I believed it would be sad. And I was already sad. Sad from the realities of this old broken world, from the first anniversary of my dad’s death, and from a seeming brigade of hard life events his death has recalled.

 

But I opened my e book reader because I know several of their family members, and though much of the story I’d heard reported real time as it unfolded, I didn’t want to face the relatives without having read this account of the jagged journey they’d lived through in these past years.

What I found? Yes, it was sad. I can’t distance myself from the incredible pain these folks suffered and are in many ways still suffering.

But much greater than the sadness, what I was left with when I finished their story was its essence embodied in the book title itself, Hope Heals.

Katherine Wolfe and her husband Jay share her miraculous survival of a brain stem stroke only a few years ago when she was in her mid-twenties. She writes in the prologue, “My experience has caused me to redefine healing and to discover a hope that heals the most broken places: our souls.”
 
Their journey of healing helped me in ways I’m not even sure I can explain. Perhaps Jay touched on it when he wrote, “. . . in the breaking of precious things, something even more precious than we can imagine might be unleashed. Perhaps in the breaking, we can find the healing we long for.”

I believe we do.

I felt empowered in new ways after reading the book to face my own less profound yet persistent version of suffering.

My writer friend, Marion, says that when we suffer a loss, it opens up the other losses we haven’t fully grieved. I suppose that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past year. In my early life I shoveled a lot under the rugs including childhood trauma, and I’ve been dealing with it as I could having had much prayer through the years, but losing Dad threw me into a new awareness of many other losses.

Grief itself involves wrestling with the permanent altering of expectations. We struggle. We fight. And if we’re open to the hope Katherine shares, we face it and somehow transcend the brokenness into a new kind of life. Not the life we had before. It’s gone. But a different life with possibilities never imagined.

That is what Katherine and Jay offer us through their sacrificial sharing from the grief-shattered land they’ve traversed. From this cracked and arid place, they offer us a drink of living water.  Yes, the “breaking of precious things,” but from it healing.

Joni Eareckson Tada says of this book, “. . . you now have a guide. . . Hope Heals may well be your most treasured companion through great trial and pain. . .”

David Platt, author of the New York Times bestseller Radical (and University of Georgia graduate, just had to get that in), says, “Jay and Katherine are a raw yet refreshing testimony to the unshakable trustworthiness of God amidst the unimaginable trials of life. This book reminds all of us where hope can be found in a world where none of us know what the next day holds.”

Just so you know, I have no sponsored links on this blog, so what I’m about to tell you, I will receive from it no financial remuneration.  If you are dealing with loss and suffering, go HERE and buy the Wolf’s book. Don’t hesitate, just do it.

So, now, since I’ve read the book, I can face the Wolf’s relatives, but so much more than that, reading it has better enabled me to face my own grief.

Thank you, Katherine and Jay.

“Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength (increasing in victorious power); each of them appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:6-7 Amplified).

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fireworks, Fear, and Faith


A couple of years ago, we attended a Fourth of July celebration in an Atlanta neighborhood where our daughter was working for the evening. What we didn’t know is that our seats were just yards away from where the fireworks would be set off. And we had Lucy with us.

She’d never shown any reaction to fireworks before, but again, we’d never been that close.




 

When the pyrotechnics began, Lucy went into panic mode and shot out pulling Jerry over in his chair then proceeded to clear a path in her wake. I ran through the crowd after her fearing if she got lost, we might never find her in a strange place. Thankfully, a man seeing my situation stepped on her leash as she passed and stopped her.  By then, Jerry had caught up with us, and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Since then, fireworks really get Lucy going. And we’ve had a lot of fireworks this year.

So, for the past few nights, the Big Guy (Jerry)  sleeps with her beside him. She likes that. A lot.

It reminds me of Mason, the son of friends.  As a child, he had a hard time staying in his own bed and getting to sleep at night because of his fears.  One night, his dad put him back in his bed again and reminded him as he had many times before that God was with him.

The little fellow said, “I know, but I want somebody with skin on them.”

Don’t we all?

Don’t we just crave the presence of God in skin? Someone we can touch, hold, and lean against.

I know I do.

But then there’s this thing called faith, the “evidence of things not seen,” wrote a man who dealt with fears of his own.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was with them “. . . in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3).

But God told Paul in a vision one night, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

Whatever God has called us to do, he will equip us for it. We don’t have to be afraid. I’ve repeated those words to myself as I’ve stood before the locked doors of a prison gate before admitted to do ministry there, as a plane touched down in a faraway place on a mission trip, or as I’ve struggled for the words when praying for a seemingly impossible situation.

Yes, like Mason, we want someone with skin on them, and like Lucy, we want to climb up beside the Big Guy and feel him next to us.

But Jesus, God with skin on Him, told us around eighteen times in the New Testament not to fear. In all, “Fear Not,” appears 365 times in the Bible.

God calls us to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:70.)

Praying with you, friends that God would give us all we need to do just that.

By the way, Mason is now a pastor. I guess he worked through his fear issues. And Lucy, well, before New Year’s rolls around, I’m thinking we might be investing in one of those Thunder Vests for her. Definitely worth a try.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Real Swamp Adventure.

This week while on vacation, I've been reading Of Moose and Men by Torry Martin and Doug Peterson. It's an account of Torry's adventures while in Alaska. Torry has been a writer for Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey and is one of the funniest people on the planet. I've read several of the chapters outloud to Jerry, and at times we could hardly stop laughing. I've never had a  reindeer trapped in my kitchen, but the book made me think of my own wilderness adventure. So, here from the archives is "A Real Swamp Adventure."

My friend, Billie, writes charming stories about people who live in a fictional place called Bug Swamp.

This is not that kind of story. This is a real story, with real characters.

This account is so real, in fact, that I’m changing the names. The characters are Terry Barnalo, Baron Barnalo, and Tim Beunier.

I am married to Terry Barnalo, and Baron Barnalo is my son. Tim Beunier is a family friend.

Here’s how  it all began:

“I want to show you the swamp,” my husband, Terry, said when we arrived for a short stay at a low country hunting preserve a few days ago. He and Baron had been coming here for many years and enjoyed its unique beauty. I’d been here in the distant past, but Terry wanted to give me a tour of what it looked like today.

So, we loaded into the trailblazer, our friend Tim, Terry, Baron, and me.

As the sun slid to the west, we drove down what seemed a maze of dirt roads through cypress-kneed swamps, and around lily pad filled ponds all under the canopy of moss draped oaks, many of which had stood for generations.

Incredible views.




 
“Take this road,” someone said. And we did. “And this one.” We turned again. We’d been gone about forty-five minutes, and I had no idea how deep we were in the swamp or how far away from our cabin.

We rounded a corner, and the road filled with green water. Not passable. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was a road.

“Back up here,” we told Terry, who was driving, as we spotted a clearing behind us. For some reason he didn’t. He pulled forward.

That’s when we heard the sickening thud. The front right tire had sunk into a hole. Shifting into reverse only produced spinning.

When we exited the car to investigate the problem, we found ourselves firmly stuck, unable to move in any direction.

The sun continued its descent. There was talk of removing the bumper or jacking the car up, but we wound up trying several other maneuvers. All failed.

“We’re going to have to walk,” someone said.

I grabbed my purse from the car. I didn’t want to leave it behind because it was the best buy I’d ever gotten at TJMaxx. I was thankful I’d taken off the heels I had on earlier in the day, but I was by no means dressed for the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.

We didn’t have a gun, a whistle, a compass, or even a flashlight. I had a tiny little LED light on my key chain. Useless. We had about twenty flashlights at home, all without batteries. 

“Do we need this map,” I asked picking up a laminated chart of the land.

“No, we’re fine.”

I grabbed it.

“This way,” Tim pointed, and we set out.

Let me share at this point that the property we were on measures twenty two thousand acres. I’ll write that out with the zeroes for you. 2-2-0-0-0. About one-third the size of the county I live in. And we were at least thirty miles from any cell phone reception.

I wondered if this was some cruel initiation ritual. I’d heard of things like this.

All I could hear was Jerry, oh excuse me, Terry saying a hundred times before when he told the stories of the place, “You don’t want to be in the swamp after dark.”

We were and it was. Can you say alligator?

Now, I’m a planner. I like lists, calendars, and schedules. My idea of an outing in the country is to go in the backyard and pull a chair up under the pear tree. And the only place I ever want to see alligator skin is in a pair of shoes.

We walked down a “road” to a point where it just disappeared, and looked around us.


 We then set off across a firebreak hoping it would lead us to a “real” road.

I heard a growl coming from the brush right beside me and jumped.

“What was that?” I said, sure it was one of those big wild Russian boars which populated the area. We’d just seen several a few miles back. Those boars have tusks the size of the Florida peninsula.

“Quail,” Tim said.

“Didn’t sound like quail. It sounded like a pig.”

“Nah, just quail.”

I kept on the lookout just in case.

Someone, I thankfully don’t remember who, had the idea to take off through a briar patch that any self respecting jackrabbit would have shunned.

Sun disappearing behind trees and we still hadn’t even found the road.

I can’t remember whether it was before the briar patch or after that I had a mini meltdown.  I’m embarrassed to say it was replete with tears.

That number again. 22,000.

I could see the headlines in the local paper, “SEARCH STILL ON FOR FOUR LOST IN SWAMP, Only clue found in disappearance is yellow purse.” I knew I might have to cast my yellow purse aside on this trek. It’d be just like the people on the Oregon Trail who had to throw out the family silver in order to cross the Rockies. I didn’t want them to find me dehydrated, briar scratched and alligator bit clutching a yellow bag, out of my head,  and mumbling something about final clearance at TJMaxx.

On this journey, my companions reassured me numerous times that we were in no danger and that they knew exactly where we were. I knew where I was, too. The United States of America. That didn’t help too much in the present circumstances, however.

The only person I really trusted on this expedition was my son Baron, because I knew his memory was sharp and he might remember something. The rest of us could barely remember what we had for breakfast.

The sun completely disappeared as we stepped from the briar patch onto a semblance of a road. There was some discussion as to where we were, but we kept marching.

Of course, I was trailing trying to keep everyone’s backs in my view. Only starlight now.

“Watch out for the mud,” Tim shouted back to me.

“Look out for that stump,” Baron said.

“Don’t’ stumble over the rock.” Terry stopped to help me dodge it.

I simmered about having to trudge miles back to our lodging in the pitch black. That is if we ever made it. If Terry had only listened to us when we said back up.

I started picking up some of the giant pinecones I’d been kicking aside.

“What are you doing?” Terry asked.

“I ought to have something to show for this little adventure,” I said.

I was aggravated.

Then I heard a whisper in my spirit.

“Look up,” the whisper said.

How can I look up? I’ll fall in one of these ruts.

“Look up,” the whisper came again.

I stopped a moment and stared into the night sky. Miles and miles away from city lights, stars I hadn’t seen in years became visible. Where had they been? This was not the celestial dome of my neighborhood. This was something else entirely.

Oh, Lord, did you drag me out here and let us get lost in the swamp, so I’d see the stars again?

I didn’t get an answer to that one, but I may have heard a little laugh.
Every few steps I’d pause a moment and gaze heavenward.

“How much farther?” I asked.

“Maybe a mile or two.”

I was told that on at least two different occasions.

When I finally saw a lone light in the distance, I wanted to sing the Doxology.

We stumbled into camp and told the other men staying there about the vehicle being stuck. You would have thought we’d thrown a hungry dog a bone.

One of them grabbed a chain, and six of them loaded into four-wheel drive vehicles and set out through the inky swamp.

I told Terry, “I was scared. You always said not to be in the swamp after dark.”

“We weren’t in the swamp. We were on the hill.”

“Hill?”

Let me show you the picture again.
Does that look like a hill? I didn’t think so. As my mother used to say, that land was “flatter than a flitter.”

I was mad, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay mad. Here’s why. I can only be mad at Terry for a few minutes, because he has the best pitiful face of anybody I’ve ever known. He used to be called Ted for teddy bear in high school. All he has to do is turn those sad brown eyes to me, and I melt like Jell-O on a Fourth of July picnic.

He’s not even a good apologizer. He’ll break something of mine, and make some comment about someone shouldn’t have left it in such a precarious place. I still can’t stay mad.

I’m really pathetic in that way, and I probably need some sort of help for it. I have many friends who are psychotherapists. Are any of you reading this?

When I get home, I’m going to buy everyone in my family a compass, a whistle, put batteries in the flashlights, and string them all on my family's key chains.

I’m going to have my shoes bronzed, and then I’m writing Lands End a letter and tell them about how I stomped through a swamp with their suede moccasins on. I figure they’ll put me in a catalog or something.

I'm also thankful for the cashmere socks I had on, though I may never get all the briars out of them.

A couple of nights after we returned home, I awoke from a sound sleep calling out, “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am.”

Terry kissed me, held me close in his arms, and whispered in my ear, “You’re home.”

And that my friends, is a perfect example of why I can never stay mad at the man.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (Psalm 147:4).

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