Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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.

Perhaps, more than at any time of my life, 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 seventy-nine, 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

Hunted


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


Crestfallen.

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).

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).

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