Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Goo and When You Can't Keep Your Mouth Shut

Yesterday, Jerry and I embarked on a home improvement project. At the outset, we envisioned the project taking two or three hours and afterwards, we’d stand back and say, “Wow, that sure was easy, and look what we’ve accomplished.”

Historically, however, our experience has been a little ways into any home project, an unexpected twist will cause someone to say, “Oh, no, I never saw that coming.” And of course, a lot of Googling for answers, several trips to the home improvement store, and at least one special order, follows.

The carpet in our den is old and terrible. The last company that cleaned it pronounced last rites. “We’ve done all we can,” the man said as he turned off his cleaning machine, took off his hat, and placed it over his heart.

In anticipation of replacing the carpet with laminate flooring, we thought we’d strip it to the cement slab, and install flooring later. We could live with a little concrete for a while.

If you’d seen the carpet, you’d understand why hard cement is preferable to tufted nylon Berber upon which a tanker truck load of apple juice has been spilled and a menagerie of critters has trod upon not to mention their other unseemly indiscretions.

We ripped up a section of carpet, peeled back the pad, and about then, is when the, “Oh, no, ” sounded.

I had some vague memory when the carpet was replaced years ago, of a little residue left from the previous owner’s indoor-outdoor carpet. I thought it was just in a few places. But I had little children then, and was probably sleep deprived at the time. In reality, black carpet backing covers the entire floor.

Surely, we thought, it’d be a cinch to get that stuff scraped off. It wasn’t. We used snow shovels, paint scrapers, razor blades, you name it, and it was like trying to peel a whole pack of bubble gum off the bottom of your shoe using a toothpick. Finally, after removing the carpet, we decided to leave the carpet pad down until we installed the laminate because although you can’t scrape that black crud up, it releases little bits which are tracked everywhere.

You can imagine how lovely this all looks. We have a section of black gunk, which we exposed before we realized the impossibility of it all. Then the rest of the floor is mottled blue foam. Someone, please call House Beautiful.

To all you floor covering installers out there, I just want to say, I’m sorry. I didn’t know how difficult your job is. I have a new respect for all that you do. Jerry and I have sore backs, sore hands, and if it weren’t for the dust masks we wore, would probably have had to call the Centers for Disease Control to consult on some terrible air born bacteria we inhaled from the yucky carpet.

So this morning, I’m looking at all this mess on my floor, and I hear something in my spirit.

I’ve been troubled over words I spoke this week. In a twenty-four hour period, I opened my mouth on three different occasions and said things I shouldn’t have.

Hurtful things:  gossip I shouldn’t have repeated, judgments I shouldn’t have made, and a misguided response to another’s pain.

Why did I do that? I hate gossip, because I know how it feels to be the subject of it. The same for judging. And someone else's responses don't give me the right to act the same way.

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

Why did those words spill out?

Just like when we peeled back the carpet pad and found the black goo, when I allowed God to strip me, unresolved anger surfaced, black goo of my own. And unforgiveness, too.

And like that black carpet mess, which had been there for twenty-five years, covering over it won’t make it go away.

Confession is the only answer. Dragging it out in the open and saying, “Oh, Lord, I was wrong. Please forgive me. Wash me clean and heal my heart, because I spoke out of my own woundedness."
And of course, apologies all around.

Though, I know the Lord has forgiven me, I’m still looking at the ugly consequences. Because words, once they’re spoke, aren’t easily retrieved.

 I look to the only one who can mitigate for my failures, who can scrape the black from my heart and make me new.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. ‘ Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

I’m going to have to wait on the new flooring, but I’m so grateful to God that he’s already working on my heart.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Remembering a Fallen Hero

According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States government did not begin sending the dead from World War II back home until 1947. For families carrying grief for a lost loved one, the opportunity to at last provide a burial helped them find closure. One of the soldiers returned was the first cousin of a teenager who later became my father. The soldier, killed in North Africa by a German bomber, was the son of a widow and attending his funeral left an indelible impression in the heart of a sixteen year old boy. Later my dad would himself elect for military service.
The soldier was buried in a church yard in sight of his boyhood home. My dad has remarked on this cousins's fine character and integrity. And as we all are prone to do, all these years later, he still ponders the loss.
 I’ve never known my dad to be much for verse, but that relative’s death has continued to stir in his heart all these years. So last year, a lifetime later, he commited his thoughts to paper in the form of a poem.

To honor my dad for his own military service and in memory of  his cousin, Melvin Green,  and all those who've given their lives for our country, I thought it appropriate to share a bit of my dad's poem on this Memorial Day weekend as we remember those who have paid as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettyburg, "...the last full measure of devotion..."

My dad during military service
The poem is  written from the my dad's vantage point while walking guard duty one night during his own military service.

"The bugle blows. Out the light.
I, one weary soldier tonight.
Remembering how not long ago
I stood at the funeral for a fallen  hero."

He hears taps played and remembers again the bugle sounds from his cousin's funeral, sees in his memory the soldier's boyhood home across the field from the churchyard, and feels again the sacrifice.

"That old house with boards astray
Is holding itself proud for this sad day.
It echoes the happy hours of birth;
Now it must watch as the man returns to earth. 

Does his baby cry still echo
In this country church from years ago?
Does the child’s foot print still show in the sand
Or has it given way for that of the man? 

That bugle, it cannot blow
As hearts here are breaking so.
For each,  this man has given all
May we never let our country fall. 

The bugle sounds. The final rites,
I’ll remember this all my days and nights:
When eyes will not close,
I’ll remember fallen heroes."

My dad, Steve Chitwood, on furlough from the Air Force,  February 4, 1952

Across the years, one of the ways our family has observed Memorial Day  is by tuning in to the National Memorial Day Concert . Always emotionally moving, it's held in Washington D.C. each year. I remember again words from Psalm 105, “...they fell heir to what others had toiled for...” And certainly every American is beneficiary of not only what others have toiled for, but what others have died for. May we be truly grateful.

Fallen Heroes Project
Honor the Fallen

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Cultural War and Pentecost

In the blogosphere for the past couple of days, a cultural war has been raging.

But I’m thinking about Pentecost.

Coming this Sunday in the liturgical year, Pentecost, originally connected to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, is also now celebrated by Christians as the time when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles.

In the prayer guide I use, there’s a quote from C.S. Lewis for Pentecost week, “Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”

What does that have to do with the Holy Spirit?

My husband, Jerry, often shares the story about when he desired the fullness of the spirit in his life. He knelt down in a meeting, and one of his most beloved mentors, Dr. Mark Rutland (now president of Oral Roberts University), came to him.

“What do you want,  counselor (Jerry was still a lawyer at the time)?” Dr. Rutland asked.

“I want what you’re preaching about,” Jerry said.

“Give me your keys,” Dr. Rutland said.

Jerry fished the keys out of his pocket, and handed them to him.

“You see these keys,” Dr. Rutland said as he held them up. “You have to give the key to everything in your life to the Lord. That’s how the Holy Spirit comes. He wants complete control.”

For Jerry, that death to holding onto the keys led to leaving his law practice and going to seminary.

In the hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart,” George Croly wrote the line, “My heart an altar, and thy love the flame.” The spirit of God comes to burn up everything that is not of him in our hearts.

“Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”

Surrendered, Spirit-filled hearts make fertile ground for revival. Those lives dead to this world can be raised alive to all that God desires.

Someone has said that revival comes not to those who need it the most, but to those who want it the most.

When my husband and I left a church which he'd pastored for twenty-five years, we left to this song. And yes, there is so much more for which we long. So thankful that God is Lord over all.

Though the cultural war is raging, I’m hoping, praying, and looking for the raging fire of His spirit to move across our land.

Let us surrender our hearts anew to Him and pray for the Holy flame to come.

“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people. Your sons will prophesy, also your daughter, Your old men will dream, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28 The Message).

 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemd to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:1-3).

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On the Set of A Season of Miracles, and another Real Adventure, this time in Nashville

After a few days on the set of A Season of Miracles, as a screenwriter, I have a new appreciation for the work it takes to make a movie. I knew it involved long days, and repeated takes. But additionally, this cast spends grueling hours in the hot sun shooting baseball scenes and also in cramped indoor circumstances, often without air conditioning. The day starts around six-thirty in the morning and doesn't end for another twelve hours.

Filming a Baseball Scene

Producer Dave Moody watching scenes

Screenwriter and Actor, Rusty Whitener observing a scene

Despite this, the amazing Season of Miracles cast continues to capture the beauty of Rusty Whitener’s wonderful script. And they do it with smiles, laughter, and joy. I believe Producer Dave Moody establishes the tone of the set through his encouragement and positive reinforcement, which keeps everyone moving forward. Before each day's work begins, he gathers the cast and crew for prayer.

I learned a lot about filmmaking from my days on the set. At one point Rusty asked me if I was bored, because the process involves a lot of hurry up and wait. My response to him is that I was too ignorant to be bored. I carried away a long list of insights, which will help me in my own work.

Some of you may remember a post here called A Real Swamp Adventure. Well, I had another one of those, only not. This one involved having a flat tire during Nashville’s rush hour traffic. And my traveling companion?

Lovely actor Nancy Stafford (St. Elsewhere, Matlock, and so many guest appearances across the years, most recently in The Mentalist).

Mercy! All I can say is I’m glad I’d renewed my membership in a roadside assistance company two days before, and I’m glad I’d known Nancy for several years prior to our unfortunate flat. Always gracious, she was a real trooper and we spent the forty-five minutes waiting for tire repair by picking up on a prior conversation about common interests.

We both shared our belief that God’s providence is over all, even the flat tire, and that God would use it in some way. Let me add here, the tire that went flat was brand new--just put on a few weeks back.

On the long trip home from Nashville last night, I scrolled across the radio dial and caught a message by Dr. David Cooper of the Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta. We knew David when he first started ministry, and I hadn’t heard him speak in many years.

His message?

It was about how trouble is no respecter of persons, how God doesn’t waste any of our trials. As embarrassed as I was over the incident with the tire, I believe God was reinforcing the truth He was in it.

“…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

A Season of Miracles will continue production through early June. Please remember the cast and crew in your prayers as they create this awe-inspiring story of God’s grace.

Dave and Josh Moody discuss a scene

This adorable dog plays Sawdust in the movie.

Baseball team gathers around Rafer, played by Grayson Russell (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and Andrew Wilson Williams (We are Marshall) who plays Zack.

 With sweet Nancy Stafford.

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Improbable Journey and On a Movie Set

Just like the books that seem to multiply during the night around here, we’ve been given so many music and message CD’s through the years, we lose track of when or where they originated. Recently while sorting through them, I found one entitled, "Don’t’ Waste Your Life.”

The CD's accompanying literature suggests we ought to be centering our lives around something other than collecting stuff, retirement, or playing.
Kind of flies in the face of our culture doesn’t it?

I haven’t listened to this CD yet, but I don’t think the speaker is talking about recreation to recharge. I believe he’s speaking to those who would center their life around playing. Some folks I know use retirement as an opportunity to serve and minister to others like my friends Dick and Barbara Anderson. And collecting stuff? It seems fun for a season, but ultimately there comes a day when someone has to uncollect. And that my friends, is a terrible job.

I could’ve never imagined twenty years ago that I’d be doing at this point in my life what I’m about to do in a couple of days. It seems so, I don’t know, improbable. On Wednesday, while others hold down the homefront, I’m going to be joining the cast and crew of A Season of Miracles as they produce Rusty Whitener’s grace filled baseball story, which started filming last Saturday.

Dave Moody, the producer, also holds an option on my script for Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees. Somehow, knowing my friend Rusty’s script is being produced gives me hope that mine, too, will one day go into production.

I’ll be updating a bit here as I can .

I’ll take a break from writing the first draft of a novel, which I’m just a few days away from completing. One of the themes in the novel is perseverance, and I have to tell you it has taken a greater measure of perseverance to get to this point in the book than I could’ve ever imagined. In fact, about halfway through, I thought I’d lost my way. Somehow, through a lot of prayer, God helped me find it again.

By God’s grace, this makes novel number four, as well as five screenplays I’ve written in the last few years.

 I don’t want to waste my life. I just keep working, following this call I believe God has for me, even if it all does seem so improbable. Even when I hear in my head, “What are you doing?” or“Who do you think you are?”

It’s true that at times, I don’t feel I know what I’m doing. And for sure, I seem the last person on earth who ought to be doing these things.

I could make a long list of my disqualifications.

But when I feel this way, I open up a folder entitled, “Why I Write.” It’s filled with notes about the reasons I believe I’m called to this path. These entries serve as a reminder that I didn’t just make all this up. These are God’s plans, even when a sense of inadequacy threatens.

And yes, it’s scary. Just before the release of “Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees” a few months ago, I told my family they might have to change their names and move to another state. I was so afraid of embarrassing them. But, thankfully, they seem to have weathered the last few months pretty well.

So listen closely.

He may be calling to you right now. And it may be to something you never could have imagined. If He is, don’t miss the journey.

"By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward--to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us" (Philippians 3:13-15).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Chair and a Mother's Courage

I found this picture not long ago among a pile of others, many of people I didn’t know.

In the background was the house of my early childhood, in the chair was my mother, and  it had to be me nesting inside her belly.

And the chair she sits in---well, there’s a story there.

When my mother died over a decade ago, my sister and I had the difficult task of disposing of her belongings. With homes already established ourselves, much went to charity, but a few things we took with us. I wound up with a set of aging, peeling, metal porch furniture.

I suppose I wanted it because my mother loved it.

Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

That was my mother. No matter what else was going on, she’d still be out gardening, planting roses, salvia, tomato plants, and petunias. Then she'd sit in her porch chair and enjoy her efforts.

We put the furniture behind the studio where it sat for ten years. Then one day, I ventured back there and saw if something weren’t done soon, we’d lose it. The rust had eaten through the metal in many places.

I told my husband I wanted the furniture restored for our anniversary. I never guessed sand blasting would ever top my gift list.

The metalworker we found fit the time-consuming job of restoration in-between other  better paying work. It took over four months to make sure the work was done in such a way that it would last for future generations. Last year in October, we picked it up.

With decades of paint layers removed, I hardly recognized it, but yes, here was a chair where so many memories were made--where I curled up with a kitten in the spring, sat eating watermelon on hot summer evenings,  or read a book in the early fall.

Then I found the picture of my mother in the chair anticipating my arrival. Such a gift.

Just this week, another gift.

Somehow, after my mother’s death, my sister and I overlooked an insurance policy my mother had. This week after searching records, the company made a contact with us after many years in order to pay the claim on this forgotten piece of business. It’s a very, very, small policy. In the life insurance world, I don’t think there’s anything smaller, but maybe it will pay a few dollars on college expenses for the grandchildren.

How poignant we found out about it just before Mother’s Day.

When I see the woman sitting in the chair, I know she’d waited many years for a baby. Her anticipation had to have been high for my arrival.

Little did she know that in the years ahead, she would face terrible private battles--many times struggling alone to overcome. It would have been easy to give up, but she didn’t, and I think  it likely was for the benefit of my sister and I that she endured.  

She planted more than seeds in her garden. By her example, she planted the knowledge in me that we can face many difficult things with hope and dignity.

So, this mother’s day, I’ll probably spend time in the chair, her chair, which I’ve placed on the patio beside my own petunias and salvia. I’ll be grateful for her legacy of perseverance and bravery, her love of gardening, her gifts to the grandchildren she loved, and so much more.

1950's porch chair

And perhaps someday, another generation who faces a challenge bigger than themselves will sit in it, too, remember, and draw strength and inspiration.

What has your mother planted in your life?

“Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!” (Proverbs 31:31).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Nests and When Mamas Worry

For a few weeks now, nests have preoccupied my interests.
It started with this sweet gift our granddaughter made for us at Easter.
Then, as I always do this time of year, I checked the bluebird box out front where several blue eggs nestled in pine straw.
In a few days, the naked babies waited for their food.

Then this blurry picture a week later of down and a few feathers (blurry because Mr. Bluebird was pretty hot at me).

Later, while trimming a prickly shrub that’d gotten out of hand near the mailbox, I saw a nest of cardinal’s eggs. Of course, the trimming quickly ended. I even tried to put back some of what I’d already lopped off.
Cardinal Eggs

When I checked on it the next day, pink nestlings opened their beaks with anticipation.
Just hatched Cardinals

So, I’m cleaning out the studio readying it for use in the months ahead when I notice a sparrow has made a nest in the eaves, entering and exiting through a door we cut for Mama Kitty when she had her brood out there last year.
And those are just the nests I know about in our yard. Who knows what all the finches, wrens, titmice, robins, woodpeckers, and others I see flitting around the back yard are doing around here.

What about all the other backyards in my neighborhood?

We’re simply teeming with feathers.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep Belle from terrorizing everybody by keeping her inside as much as possible. Remember we’re talking about a formerly feral feline who used to stalk for a living. It’s been a challenge.

My anxiety rises a bit about protecting all these broods.

But, I know I have to let it go.

I can’t possibly do it.

It’s like staring out at the vastness of the ocean and thinking I have to make sure the tide changes.

It’s not my job.

Only One can handle it.

I have a friend who says that she woke up one morning and was sure she heard God say to her, “You can take the day off today, I’ve got it under control.”

It’s these struggles that help me realize again how big God is and how much I need Him. He alone can survey the vastness of the universe and know when even one bird falls to the ground. He alone knows what our ferocious feline and her kind are up to. He alone never slumbers or sleeps.

Over these nests hovers one who has all in His powerful hands.

And concerning this Mama’s nest, he knows everything that touches those I love. He knows what lurks ready to pounce. For those still getting their wings, he’s right there all the while.

So, this is a good week for Mamas everywhere to realize we can take some time off from our vigilant worry, or better yet, pray and surrender it to God. It can almost feel wrong to trust Him when we're so entrenched in our fretting. But we're only wasting our lives and missing out on the good plans He has for us.

So, here's to a nest full of joy and faith and peace.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Person and Prayer

I had the privilege early this morning of attending a National Day of Prayer Event in our community.

As our speaker, a senior pastor in a downtown church,   began, I wondered about the timeliness of his topic. Only a few moments had passed, when I realized how incredibly powerful and especially appropriate his message was.

I’ll paraphrase a bit. He said that in our culture we tend to believe that (I think have this phrase verbatim): “More is powerful; less is worse; big is important; and small is insignificant.”

And yes, we do. It’s all about more and big in just about every arena.

Our speaker’s wife recently worked in Philadelphia for a week and had the opportunity to visit Independence Hall. She sent him a picture of the room in which the Declaration of Independence was drafted, the “most important document of freedom” ever conceived. He observed how surprisingly small the room was.

He quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…”

I thought of Ann Voskamp and her Holy Experience and because all of life flames with God.

How she writes to give thanks for the little things and how that magnifies our experience of God and His grace.

Then our speaker testified how as an adolescent he questioned a Sunday School teacher about the meaning of “The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

She said, “It means your prayers matter.”

And right there was his point. One person’s prayers matter. Even when we don’t feel like they do. Even when we don’t see immediate results, the prayer of one person when offered from a heart turned to God can work much.

So when we pray for the big stuff, like “God please turn a country back to you,” we can feel our prayers small. But they aren’t. “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with (James 5:16 The Message).

As our speaker said, it’s easy to slip into thinking, ““More is powerful; less is worse; big is important; and small is insignificant.”

But one person’s prayers matter.

Today, let those prayers be yours. 
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