Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Black goo and when you can't keep your mouth shut

As summer approaches, we're facing some home improvement projects, and I remembered this post from a few years back when God taught me an important lesson from a floor covering mess.

 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 involves an unexpected twist which causes 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, we 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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Short and Sweet: Small Words for Big Thoughts

One of the first writing classes I had at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference was with Susan King, a long-time editor at The Upper Room Magazine. Over the course of the class, she asked us to write a 250-word devotion only using one-syllable words except when quoting the Bible, using contractions, numbers, proper nouns, and five letter or fewer words.

Her purpose for this?

Susan writes, “Simple, direct, down-to-earth communication tends to be the most effective kind.”

We writers become smitten with our ability to string words together, and in so doing, sometimes distort our meaning with over embellishment.

Susan helped us address this problem using this mean challenging exercise.

She shares that over the years some had suggested they be collected for a book. Her reply, “What would be the theme of the book, ‘One Syllable Words’?”

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Susan that Grace Publishing is indeed going to release a collection of these one-syllable pieces entitled, Short and Sweet: Small Words for Big Thoughts. To my amazement, a piece I wrote over ten years ago will be included.

Go figure. You just can’t imagine what God will do sometimes.

Susan believes this book will help anyone who writes or speaks. A quote attributed to various authors reads, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

Shorter takes time, energy, ruthlessness, focus, determination, and wisdom. It’s far easier to spread out in every direction, but much harder to trim your thoughts down to the essentials.

I’m looking forward to reading the book, seeing what others wrote, and learning from them. It's an honor to be included.

This development with the book makes me ponder anew these words by Paul, “God can do anything, you know―far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” (Ephesians 3:20-21 The Message).

Years ago, I never imagined while sitting in my hotel room working on this piece that it would go any farther than Susan’s eyes.

I’m reminded again that we follow God’s call surrendering our time, talents, and service as an offering, however, the rest is up to Him.

If you’re interested, you may get your own copy of Short and Sweet: Small Words for Big Thoughts HERE.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On creating and who you really are

I’m knee deep in proposals, one sheets and manuscripts right now, because in a few days, I’m heading to the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. It’s been a while since I attended the conference and have met many incredible people there, so I look forward to reconnecting with long time friends. As I’ve written here before, I once told the founder of the conference, Yvonne Lehman, that almost every good thing that has happened in my writing is somehow connected to the Blue Ridge Conference.
Bev and Yvonne Lehman at the Blue Ridge Conference a few years ago
Yet, like almost all the writers I know, I have suffered angst at the thought of pitching my work to others. I’ve seen writers in tears, locked in restroom stalls agonizing over the dreaded pitching session. I’ve shed a few tears myself, and dread stalks me at these things.

However, a couple of years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Brene Brown speak at the Catalyst conference. I found one of her books, The Gifts of Imperfection in my daughter’s car recently and decided to read it myself. I’m amazed at the timeliness of her words in my life.

The challenge for any creative is when we put our hearts out on a platter for someone to judge, and they reject those words, it feels like they’re rejecting us. It hurts. A lot.  We’ve made a huge investment of time and thought and then . . . nada. When you read of folks sending out thirty or forty query letters only to be turned down―well, you can see how that adds up.

A New York Times bestselling author now, Dr. Brown still knows a bit about this rejection road as she sent out over forty inquiries for her first book, I Thought it Was Just Me. After no one expressed interest, she self-published. A shame and vulnerability researcher, Dr. Brown talks about how we can become resilient to shame, which is what many of us feel when we receive those rejections.

She writes in Daring Greatly, “Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self worth to how your product or art is received. . .  If they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t you’re worthless . . . With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, you still want folks to like, respect, and even admire what you’ve created, but your self worth is not on the table. You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking.

"This effort is about what you do, not who you are.

"Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”

I have often said, “I am a writer.” But no. As Brene says, this is about what we do, not who we are. I am not a writer. Writing is what I do. I am a child of God. We writers are successful not because of our acceptance but because we are courageous, putting our work out there and following God’s purpose for our lives.

Per Dr. Brown’s suggestion, I will be carrying with me a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper in my purse. On it, I will have the names of the people who are with me in all my imperfections and whose opinions really matter to me. I’m not going to worry about the rest of the names that won’t fit on that tiny scrap of paper.

So, if you are a creative (I really think we all are), remember Dr. Brown’s words, “This effort is about what you do, not who you are.” Let those words sink deeply into your spirit. Let them change the way you think about your work and who you are.When those rejections come, remember you are already successful in daring to be vulnerable with what you create.

For me, more than at any other time in these past few years, I feel prepared to go to this conference and more resilient to face the process.

After the conference, no matter the response to my work, I am confident I will have something else good to share with Yvonne Lehman.
"What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it--we're called children of God! That's who we really are" (I John 3:1 The Message).  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Mom and Rutabagas

This may be the strangest Mother’s Day post ever.

However, while waiting for my food to be prepared at a Southern style restaurant, I knew I had to write it.
My mom and I happily hoisting my sister, Tammy, into the air
When the server placed my plate on the table, I took in the cubed umber-tinged vegetable and breathed deeply its distinctive aroma.

You may not even know what they are.

The absolute wall flower of vegetables, a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, in some European countries it is considered a “food of last resort . . .  due to its association with food shortages in World War I and World War II.”

My mother knew about foods of last resort having grown up in the heart of the Depression. However, those foods of last resort often became comfort foods as people grew older. Well, everyone except my dad, who, until the day he died called English peas “little green devils” having had his fill of them during hard times.

When I entered middle school, my mother, for various reasons returned to a job she had earlier in life. In our town, women were mostly teachers or nurses, and if unskilled, worked in the textile industry, the largest employer in our town. For many years, she worked what my husband calls “shift work” leaving home mid afternoon and not returning until near midnight. This meant that during the week, I never saw her. I left for school before she rose, and returned after she left.

But, she would sometimes leave dinner on the stove for us, and in the winter, that food might often include rutabagas. Now, I need to tell you that rutabagas are an acquired taste. You won’t eat them the first time and say, “Wow, those things are yummy.” No, it might take a few tries before your taste buds acclimate to the slightly bitter taste. It might have taken me a few dozen tries, but eventually, I came to love them.

After my mother died, my rutabaga consumption went to zero as they never appeared on a menu anywhere.

Of course, they can be found in the homely vegetable section at the grocery store, but unless you have a power saw, you won’t be able to do anything with these root veggies.
They are hard―not potato hard; I’m talking concrete walkway hard. My poor carpal tunnel hand can’t take it.

So, when I saw them listed on the menu board at a place called Rachel’s, my heart did a flip.

“Rutabagas,” I squealed to my husband.

He peered at me in that way that says, “Have you had a stroke?”

“My mother used to cook them,” I said defensively.

Whenever we visit Rachel’s, my ordering never varies and always includes rutabagas. I eat and think of my mother.

Long ago, my sister and I walked into a dark, lonely house after school, but the scent of rutabagas hung in the air telling us mom had been there and that she loved us.

The scent of them says the same thing to me, today. Psychologists tell us the sense of smell, "more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories." Rutabagas and I are proof of that.

I read a post by a friend on Facebook this week, and in it, she honored the passing of a dear Christian friend. She concluded the post in such a poignant way. “See you at the house,” she said.

My mother has been gone many years, but to her I would say, “I still love and miss you, Mom, but I’ll see you at the house.”

And if I know her, she’ll probably have rutabagas on the stove.
"There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live" (John 14:2-3 The Message)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Relay, the whole business, and jitterbugging

Relay for Life rolled around again last week―Jerry celebrated seven years as a survivor, and I am now at seventeen years post breast cancer.

We celebrated big, even jitterbugged for about one minute and eight seconds with the newly replaced knee and broken arm. That’s about as long as we could last with our corrupted sense of balance.

Me with my crazy headband to celebrate our "Carnival for a Cure" theme
As I look back, I see all the things God has allowed me to experience because of these seventeen years: my children growing up, their graduating high school and college, the birth of grandchildren and their unfolding lives, ministry in the church, in prison, and to the homeless. Even the privilege of being there for my mother and my father as they slipped from this life was a high honor. I had only begun to write for others to read when I was diagnosed, and God used that event to propel me even further along the path.

A verse God gave me many years ago has been in my head lately.

I first read it in the King James version, “. . . but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest” (Jeremiah 45:5).

Let’s move from the language here and turn to how Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, “ Don’t worry. I’ll keep you alive through the whole business.”

So, God has kept us alive through the "whole business."

The "whole business," of course, has included treatment, recovery and  some other messy hard times, but all worth it to be here for the many milestones and ministry we have been honored to see.

Oswald Chambers views this verse as having to do with abandonment, that having your life as a prey means you have let other things go. He writes, “When you do get through to abandonment to God, you will be the most surprised and delighted creature on earth; God has got you absolutely and has given you your life. If you are not there, it is either because of disobedience or a refusal to be simple enough.”

When faced with a grim diagnosis, things that previously held high importance slip away and show themselves for the time and life wasters that they truly are. We are almost forced into making our lives “simple enough.”

But all that is for naught, if we reach the other side of the crisis and take up our old ways. It’s a daily challenge to sort out what’s truly important. But worth it.

I love what Chambers says, “God has got you absolutely and has given you your life.”

It is enough to make us want to jitterbug.
At least in our hearts.

Bragging a bit about our church's participation--raised almost $11,000. My friend and breast cancer survivor, Brenda, raised around 4500 herself. Stunning. She's the number one fund raiser in the county. Co-leaders, Brenda and Lynn, coordinated the church relay effort while shining in their tutus. No surprise we received second place for "Best Costume." So cute. 
Lynn and Brenda

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