Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Avalanche Mode and Looking for Lovely

I sent an email to my writer’s group a while ago, which began like this, “At our house, we have passed overcommitted mode and are now in avalanche mode, trying to dig out from so many obligations.” I needed to tweak our meeting dates to accommodate my dilemma.

This avalanche mode has also forced me to compartmentalize a bit. I just look at my calendar and try to show up where I'm supposed to be. That’s why when I attended the yearly fundraising dinner for the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia, a student ministry where I’ve been a board member, somehow I didn’t know who was speaking until the director announced that the author Annie Downs was in the house. I had seen her name recently as a speaker in the program at the Catalyst conference where I volunteer as well as several other places. And hadn’t I seen her guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog?

I grabbed my program and saw that she was indeed speaking, and not only that, but she was an alumna of the ministry.

How had I missed this? Had this information gotten lost in my hard drive somewhere?

And the years she was there, they were the same years we had student interns from the ministry live with us. So, chances are our paths might have intersected. As she spoke, she mentioned another church (not ours) she attended where she taught Sunday school. So, I thought, well maybe not. Maybe I didn’t know her, but just to make sure I approached her after the program.

Her back was to me, and when she turned around, her eyes brightened, “Varnado,” she said. She knew me without me having to tell her who I was. Young memories. So great.

As we talked, I found we definitely had connections all those years ago, and it was good to renew them.

Annie has written for teen girls, but her last two books have been for adults so I bought her just released, Looking for Lovely.

The back cover copy says Annie “shares personal stories, biblical truth, and examples of how others have courageously walked the path God paved for their lives by remembering all God had done, loving what was right in front of them, and seeing God in the everyday―whether that be nature, friends, or the face they see in the mirror.”

Even though I am probably old enough to be her mother, I love her transparent, conversational delivery as she talks about what she calls her “broken crazy” and how God has brought healing to her life so often through seeking out beauty. I had my own version of “broken crazy” to deal with in the form of posttraumatic stress, so I appreciate her not holding back so the rest of us can relate. And I, too, found wonder and beauty helped bring healing in my own journey.
I could see the value in her writing for so many young (and older) women today who struggle with loving themselves as they are rather than some future perfect version of themselves. I love the hope she leaves us in Looking for Lovely.
Seeing Annie Downs again was one of the best surprises I’ve had lately.

And her message of looking for the lovely was something I especially needed to hear even and especially while in avalanche mode.

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere (Psalm 19:1-3).


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

God's heart in the mess

Someone returning to the storm-ravaged coast sent me a picture of debris cut from the road.

“Did you see it?” she asked.

I did. In the middle of all that stormy mess, a heart shape in the tree trunk.

In a new Bible study by Priscilla Shirer we’re doing on Jonah, we’re talking about messes, too.

Like what can happen when God gives us instruction as He did when he told Jonah, the prophet to Israel, to prophesy to Nineveh, and instead, we like Jonah, immediately head in the opposite direction.

Ticket for one to Tarshish, please.

We can think we have our lives all mapped out as Jonah did, and then an unexpected interruption comes and like him, we start fighting against it.

It’s right about then, that God might invite us to wonder if what seems like an interruption might really be divine intervention.

“Are you ready to get swallowed by a fish called Grace?” Priscilla asks.

The answer to that might sometimes be, “No, I’m not. I want my regular life back, the life I had planned.”

We can put our plans ahead of God’s will. But even then―God’s heart is in what seems like a mess.

"Not until he (Jonah) received a divine interruption did he develop a life story that made a stamp on history,” Priscilla observes.

Way beyond what we have planned, God has plans for us.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21 The Message).

God’s heart is in the mess, our mess to bring about more than our ability to imagine.

Priscilla again. “Most biblical people who made a lasting mark in Christianity had a point in their lives where they stood at a crossroad. They had to decide to yield to divine intervention at the cost of their own plans or continue on their own path instead.”

So, wherever we are in our journey, whatever mess we may be in, we can always adjust to follow God, because as you may have heard, his heart is in the mess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

If you've been in the eye of the storm

I left the Catalyst conference last Thursday evening where I was volunteering for a few days and found because of Hurricane Matthew, many evacuees from the coast were making their way into Atlanta where the conference was held to stay with family and friends until the storm passed by. Evidently, because of this, every Atlanta thoroughfare was jammed to the max.

So many that evening were waiting, watching, and hoping despite dire predictions of wind speeds and storm surge that they’d have a home after the storm passed. People I knew personally were as we heard repeatedly “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

I’d just left a woman I worked with whose mother was in an intensive care unit in Florida where the storm was about to hit. All the doctors and nurses there were under 72-hour lock down. Repeatedly, my friend’s flights to Florida had been cancelled, but she still hoped to get a flight out the next morning to be with her mother.

I work at the Catalyst registration desk, and a pastor and his wife approached the desk. Concern and compassion spilled out. ”Could we transfer our tickets to next year? The storm is veering toward the area where we pastor a church and we feel we need to return.” I felt for them driving so far having just arrived the day before.

Another family I know evacuated to the north, but their home sits on a coastal marsh. Any amount of storm surge could destroy everything they owned. This family had already suffered the loss of their only son a few years back.

My heart broke as I prayed for these folks.

I inched along in the traffic. It was clear I was going to have an extraordinarily long trip home. I turned on the radio and “In the Eye of the Storm” played.

 I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate song for those who had left everything and were now stuck on the interstate wondering what the outcome might be. It’s as if the words were written just for them. Now I cried as I prayed.

I wondered about the person who wrote “In the Eye of the Storm.” How could he write such words if he hadn’t experienced loss? When I returned home, I did a little research.

The author, Ryan Stevenson, was a paramedic for eight years, lost his mom early in life, and he and his wife suffered the miscarriage of twin daughters. He said this in a New Release Today interview, “One of the things I've seen as a paramedic is that we all have true, real struggles, ugly parts of our lives that we are dealing with and failures and defeats. In the middle of that, when we feel our sails are ripped out in the battles and wars we are going through, we can feel like we float out to sea where the Lord isn't paying attention to us and He's overlooked us. I want this song to say no to that. His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

Ryan had written the song just as a personal testimony thinking it would never see air play, but God has used it over and over to bring encouragement to those going through hard times. And I’m sure Hurricane Matthew was no exception.

So here on this Tuesday morning, many are now digging out. Some have found trees or wind have destroyed their homes or if they’re still standing, water has flooded them. Our prayers go out to those driven from their homes in North Carolina because of the terrible flooding. Sadly, many lives have been lost during the lashing of this storm. So even after the storm passes, there’s so much grief and heartache still to deal with, but we remember that last thing Ryan said: “His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

That works when dealing with the effects of a storm named Matthew or one by any other name, too.
God is a safe place to hide,
    ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains (Psalm 46:1-3 The Message).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Letting it fly and the unforced rhythms of grace

While looking for a photo on my husband’s phone, I found these pictures and remembered her saying,

“Mimi, come swing with me.”

And so, for a few minutes, I put aside grown up ways, and we pumped and pushed, flying higher and higher―back to the ground, face to the sky.


I wondered how long it had been since I stared straight up into the tree canopy to fall leaves quivering on the limb and me lighter than air, forgetting all about that big bundle I’d been carrying.

When we finally stopped, I recognized those few minutes with my feet off the ground provided a divine interruption to my diligent burden carrying.

Where was that bundle, now, anyway? Perhaps tossed aside as the arcing swing delivered me into God’s grace and rest.

Maybe it wasn’t just that sweet girl asking me to swing with her. Perhaps God himself was saying, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Oh, to live free and light, learning those unforced rhythms of grace.

Every day.

My hands are on the ropes, my rear is in the seat, and I’m poised, just about to push off again, letting it all fly.

Join me, won’t you? 

For climbers headed up the steep cliff

The loss of my Aunt Nell last week brought to mind a couple of things.

First, I love this tattered photo of her holding on to her younger sister, my mother. It's the only picture we have of our mother as a small child.
These two are once more walking hand in hand.

And I remembered these words from Streams in the Desert:

“This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worthwhile, we ought to ‘call back.’”

It seems in the past year, more than at any other time of my life, I’ve been losing those folks who’ve been pillars in my life. I suppose if we live a while on this planet, it is an inevitable course of events, but still unsettling and hard.

A few days ago in the wee hours of the morning, I had a dream in which someone came to me and told me my Aunt Nell had died―that woman who had been such an encourager to me. I awoke crying and wishing I could roll back the clock to those years before the dementia had taken hold of her brain, and I could have one more conversation with her.

Of course, I found out a couple of hours later that she had indeed died. I wrote about her HERE.

After the funeral, the family gave away copies of a little book she’d written about her life. After she received her GED at 81, she learned how to use a computer and began writing.  Anyway, blessedly, no one had edited the book in anyway. When I read it, I felt God had answered my prayer, that I was getting to have a conversation with her. I was surprised to see she had included a piece in the collection that I wrote about my mother, which we gave away at my mother’s memorial. You can read it HERE. Repeatedly, my Aunt Nell “called back” to me words of encouragement in that unique dialect characteristic of those who grew up in the rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  

After having a serious heart attack in the late sixties, she was not expected to live much longer. But God had other plans. She writes, “The first time I went to church, Brother Smith said he saw a light over my head. The Lord told him I was going to be healed . . . I went from 1969 to 1992 before I had any more trouble. The Lord kept me alive because He is not through with me. I call people and ask them if they are saved, I pray for them, and I taught Sunday School for twenty seven years . . . I never get tired of serving Jesus . . . “

And so in her eighties, she wrote, “I know I have failed Him so many times, but He loves me still. I don’t know what the future holds for me here on this earth, but I know who holds my hands. He is my Master. He is my King. He is my Savior, my all and all.” Then she invites all who read her words to consider giving their lives to the Lord, too.

She had gained the summit and she wanted those coming behind her to find the heights as well.

When I read her words, she helped me realize the value of my own writing―not because I am the greatest writer in the world, but because it is MY writing, MY testimony. If those who follow me want to have a conversation with me, I am calling back to them through my writing. I have written my thoughts on hundreds of subjects. It is part of my legacy for those who follow.  If they wonder how they will make it when the pillars in their life have been removed, here I am saying, by the grace of God, you can, because God is giving me that grace right now to keep moving ahead. To keep making plans.

I want to be like my Aunt Nell who never, ever gave up on her dreams and kept mentoring others in the faith until she could no longer string the words together. Then she inspired simply through her being.

Like her, I want my work to be eternal. I want my life to matter. Sometimes the climb is so steep, and the learning curve so serious, I feel I might fall backwards off the cliff, but I hear her and others calling, “Hang on, it’s all worth it.”

There are pictures to paint, and music to play, and books to write and others to teach, and as long as I can, just like my aunt, I will “call back.”

So for all you folks just like me who are headed up the steep cliff of life, hey, we’re going to make it.

We are and as we do, we will “call back” to those coming after us that they can make it too.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:1-3).



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A tribute to my amazing Aunt Nell

I just found out my dear Aunt Nell died, so I searched the archives for this post, which I wrote several years ago.  She was one of my greatest inspirations and I will always, always miss her.

I recently attended my Aunt Nell’s fabulous ninetieth birthday party (pictured here also with my sister). Nell is of that generation called “Great.” Like others in her demographic she’s lived through the Depression, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and now the first and second wars in Iraq. In addition to the troubles those world events brought about, my aunt has also suffered many personal difficulties. She began having heart attacks in her forties, and has had multiple open-heart surgeries as well as other health problems. She’s survived the deaths of two grandchildren and her husband. Some might have felt sorry for themselves and given up along the way, but not my Aunt Nell.

At eighty-one, she acquired her high school equivalency degree, and learned how to use a computer. She discovered a love for writing during her studies and chronicled her family history. All her life she’d wanted to sing, but family obligations kept her from her dream, so in her eighties she began singing in a trio traveling to other churches and singing in her church’s denominational gathering. Up until very recently, she’s mentored young women, sharing how she won her husband to the Lord through prayer.

In one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with her, I asked how she kept up her hope through so many difficulties. She said, “Honey, we can sit around and think about all the bad things. That’s just depressing. I don’t study on the bad things; I study on what’s good.”

I looked up the word “study.” Webster defines it as, “Give careful attention to something.” In my perfectionist way I’ve often been guilty of giving my careful attention to the one bad thing rather than the host of beautiful things. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Sometimes we can’t seem to stop thinking about the bad stuff, but what we can do is make a deliberate effort to substitute those thoughts with ones of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Sometimes I even make a list to help me refocus.

Aunt Nell’s eves have now grown dim with almost complete vision loss, but I watched in amazement at her party as she recognized many she hadn’t seen in years simply by the sound of their voice. As much as everyone who came wanted to give her joy on her birthday, I think we were blessed even more.

I hope I’m getting better in studying on the good things due to my Aunt Nell’s influence. She and I share similar traits, lots of energy, and we can always think of a thousand things to be doing. For that reason my mother used to say I was just like her.

I sure hope my mother was right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


I saw the following story in a list of links one of my favorite bloggers provided this past weekend.

I’d love to have one of these, but the big guy here has reached his critter threshold.

Not happening.

But after I saw it, I thought of these words from Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . . “

Somewhere along the way, I learned that the word translated follow in this verse, which we might understand as tag along after, actually means something else entirely in the original Hebrew.

Strong’s Concordance provides the insight. The connotations of follow are more clearly defined as run after, chase, hunt, aim to secure, pursue ―even pursue ardently.

Like the goose, Kyle, and her human, God’s love and mercy hunt us down and aim to secure us for his glory. They’re not just ambling along after us. Also like Kyle, God doesn’t just pursue us a little while and quit; He’s in it for the long term.

So, like the man said, it’s a love story.

We have a lot of geese around here. I’ll probably never look at one the same way again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Looking for signs

Excavation in a friend’s yard for a renovation prior to the time her family purchased the house left a Native American arrowhead near the surface, which her family  later found. They love history and antiquities of every kind, so the relic was a real treasure for them.

She called last week excited about another discovery. “I was just thinking about the other arrowhead while gardening, and there right in front of me was another one.”

It reminded me of a day this summer while on vacation when I went out biking along a coastal marsh.

It was beside that road I first saw the marsh hen (clapper rail) referenced in Sidney Lanier’s poem, “The Marshes of Glynn,” which appears in my book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees. I had never seen the bird again, although I’d looked on several occasions. But this day, in my peripheral vision, I saw movement. I stopped my bike, and not just one marsh hen, but two emerged from the marsh grass.


For a long while, I stood very still, and watched them preen and strut around in the marsh. I captured great reference shots for paintings and could have stayed there all day, but I knew my family might start to miss me.

I left feeling I had been in a Holy moment with God―as if He asked me, “How do you like my workmanship?”

“It’s good God. Very good. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.”

These small gifts like arrowheads and marsh hens are what the Psalmist David called signs of His goodness.  (Psalm 86:17). They’re all around us, these little gifts of His love and grace, but we have to put ourselves in a place where we’re able to see.

Sometimes, we’re so focused on the problem, the heartache, the underbelly, that we miss them.

I was once in a hospital room with a family going through a hard time, and I looked out the window. Just outside was a lovely garden with trees and grass, and I felt consolation from the beauty. Just then, someone else said, “What a terrible view. Look at that old gas station over there.” I lifted my eyes and sure enough, there was a rundown gas station on the horizon, but somehow God had helped me miss it, only focusing on the beauty.

So today, no matter your circumstances, look for the signs of His goodness all around you. Who knows what form they will take, but be sure, they are there.

“Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Getting to finally meet him and her sacrifice


That’s what I was when I dropped off my books at the Decatur Book Festival and asked about that evening’s event at the Emory Schwartz Center.

A woman behind the check-in table peered over her glasses at me.  “The tickets for that event have been gone for weeks.”

 I didn’t even know there were tickets. Evidently, area bookstores had given out the free tickets and being from out of town, I didn’t know.

While trudging back to the car, an idea came to me.

I told my friend Marni who had invited me to the festival, “Let’s just go over to Emory tonight and see if anyone has turned tickets in. Who knows?”

So, we had a plan.  I felt better.

Except when we left her house that evening, we smelled gas which we at first tried to ignore, but then knew we had to call the gas company. We waited an hour.  It turned out all right, but we were greatly delayed.

When we arrived at the venue close to the event hour, a crowd of folks surged in front of us all waving the requisite tickets. Will Call had no tickets, so our only option was talking to those who took the tickets at the door. Nothing.

“But wait here,” the woman in the festival tee shirt said. “Maybe we’ll get a couple.”

So we did as the minutes ticked by.

Then one ticket came in.

And finally at almost 8:00,  another.

I could have skipped down the aisle. We took our seats for the program, which was a tribute to Pat Conroy.

Several notable authors  made presentations including Pat Conroy’s wife and his daughter Cassandra and Melissa, James Dickey’s daughter, Bronwen, as well as Ron Rash.
But the person I  had most wanted to see and hear for a very long time was Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Bragg.

And finally, after many years I did.
I’d thought a lot about what I might say to him and decided on this, “Rick Bragg, I love you and I love your writing, but I love your Mama more. She’s my hero.”

I reflected a bit about her extraordinary sacrificial love in this POST.

At first he seemed a little taken aback, and then laughed and said, “You and several other people feel that way.”

He told me they were writing a cookbook together and that she had not been very happy about the process. She never used a recipe, so I can’t wait to read it.
I said,“Make sure you tell your mama what a woman from Georgia said.”

He laughed and agreed.

When I cracked open my book back at home to see what he’d written, I read, “To Beverly . . . who gets it. Rick Bragg.”

Now, he may sign every other book that way, I don’t know. But the truth is, I do get it.

If it hadn’t been for a woman who didn’t buy a new dress for eighteen years so she could support her family, I don’t believe he’d been signing any books that evening, and we’d never had opportunity to hear what his brilliant mind produced.

If there’s a Mama’s Hall of Fame, no doubt that woman who loves Jesus is in it.

Now, the next person I want to meet is Mama Bragg. She might get so famous after the cookbook comes out, though, I’ll never have opportunity.

But I’m not too worried.

On some distant day in another place, I believe we’ll run into each other.
"No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him" (I Corinthians 2:9 The Message).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Feeling overwhelmed when you want to make a difference

I'll be at the Decatur Book Festival this weekend speaking and signing books around 3:20 on Sunday. I'd love to see any of you who live in the area.

My husband likes to tell the story about a man who discovers a little boy on the beach throwing back into the ocean the sand dollars that had washed ashore. The man asks the boy why he’s even bothering since there are so many he couldn’t possibly save them all. “What you're doing doesn’t make any difference,” the man says.


The little boy throws another sand dollar into the ocean and declares, “I've made a difference for that one.”

I am often overwhelmed by the homelessness that confronts me every day. When shelters close during the summer in our community, those without permanent addresses take to street corners in droves to ask for money from passing motorists.

There is no one reason they’re homeless. Most have legitimate needs. A few are working an angle.  One person cannot possibly help them all, and I’m often perplexed as to what to do. We give monthly to a homeless ministry, but it feels so little to do. It just doesn’t seem I can make a real long term difference.

But one day this summer, as I stopped for a traffic light, I noticed what I thought might be a mother and her physically challenged young adult son.

I couldn’t stop in the road, and when I came back a short time later, they were gone. But I made up my mind, if I ever saw them again, I’d find a way to stop and talk to them.

Two weeks later, I did.

And that began what has been a roller coaster adventure in helping them find a permanent address. It has taken an army of persevering, loving, giving folks to pull this together, but this past weekend, this mother and son opened the door to their own place, where they can reasonably live off their income.

I fight fear about this situation, because there are variables that could quickly make it go south. Sometimes I hold my breath that it might all fall apart. Then I remember the extraordinary things God has done to make this happen.

They needed to pay a utility deposit, which could only be paid by credit card, and of course, they didn't have one. The next person that called me happened to already have a prepaid debit card in just the amount we needed.

We needed an essential personal item, and again, in my next phone call, a friend had what we needed in the right size.

I told another friend where I was going to check out mattresses, and she knew the store manager who gave us a discount. I had no idea there was any connection.

We were giving a woman a ride to a worship service and she just happened to know of a fund that would help us pay for some of the essentials.

This is only a small sampling of the many ways God has provided for this family. There are dozens of others.

It has been my very great privilege to see this process unfold, and I’m thankful to have had a miniscule part in it. My heartfelt thanks to the multitude that came alongside to make this happen.

I am still going to feel overwhelmed as I drive around my community, because there are just so many without homes.

However, somewhere today, there’s one family that doesn’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep tonight. Like the sand dollar the little boy threw back into the sea, God has helped us make a difference for them.

"Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way" (Colossians 3:17 The Message).


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).


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...