Gold Friday

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As for me and my house, we will keep the pilgrim and his pilgrim wife standing humbly thankful on the bookcase for a few more days.  We will keep the welcome wreath garlanded with the hues of autumn and the harvest before changing out the berries and sprays for the red glitz of Christmas.  We will keep the pumpkin at center table surrounded by gold flickering votives, and the quilted turkey standing watch from atop the china hutch.

We will do this partly because the colors of Thanksgiving feed my soul more than the starker colors of Christmas.  But more, we will do this because I need every golden, warm reminder to be thankful.  ‘Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,’ wrote the hymnist.  And he was understating the facts.  Though flooded with grace, I find small pockets of discontent and breathe that air for long stretches before coming back to myself, before saying, ‘Soul, what are you thinking?!?’

Gold and brown and green and orange.

Colors of Thanksgiving.  I will paint my soul with these colors today.

 

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Walmart In My Front Yard: Negotiations Begin

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Dear City Commissioners:

Evidently you are proceeding with your plan to build a Walmart IN MY FRONT YARD despite my poignant story of what the cornfield means to the residents of Woodland Street.

So be it.

Here are our terms.  We, the Homeowners of Woodland Street and allied streets including Daisy, David, and Edgewood, hereafter referred to as HOWS, accept the commercial presence of Walmart and its satellites provided you gentlemen and gentlewomen broker the following privileges for us:

* Each HOWS will receive a personal grocery buggy that we can keep in our garages since we will not need to drive because we are closer to the coming Walmart than the mattress store is to the current Walmart.  HOWS buggies will be bright yellow to distinguish them from the gray general population ones.  Monogramming will be optional.

* HOWSes will have a small back access for ourselves and our yellow buggies on to the property through the thick wall of hemlock pines I am certain you intend to plant – a simple card-swipe gate for HOWSes only.

* HOWSes will have access to a walking/jogging path around the perimeter of the new facility with mile markers designated. No dogs allowed.  Really, this is the least Walmart can do.

* HOWSes will be provided light bars and sirens for our vehicles to allow ingress and egress from what will be a gridlocked St. Joseph Dr. onto Woodland Street and vice versa.

* Each HOWS will receive one jar of Nutella per month.  The 26 oz. jar, not the 13 oz. one.  Non-negotiable.

Believing these terms to be imminently reasonable, indeed generous, and awaiting your response, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

A Neighbor

I Accept With Pleasure

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Recently, in need of a more visible God, I began envisioning myself reaching out to hold His hand when I was straying, or in need of wisdom, or getting ready to open my mouth.  Just a little moment where I mentally held out my open hand in invitation to a hand-hold.

And being the kind of God He is, He lavished that tiny God-ward act with 10 times more than I asked.  The next morning in the pre-dawn quiet time, I read Isaiah 42:6:  “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.”

I am not kidding.  It was that clear and direct an acceptance, an “I would love to hold your hand!”

And lest I call it a coincidence, three days later He honored me again with Psalm 73:23, “Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand.”  I was not doing a Google search.  I was reading from the Jesus Calling devotional for November written in 2004.

If the intricacies of the eyeball and the opposable thumb don’t convince me of a sovereign God, the immense unlikelihood of the timing of those verses selected 10 years ago for November 13th and 16th coming to me the day after I looked God’s way with an inarticulate plea does convince me.  Not just of His sovereignty, but of His love.  That He would look at a wall-flower and say He would love to dance.  That He would have His acceptance letter ready a decade in advance.  That He would flood, flood, flood with happy grace and love.

And all I did was hold out my hand.  Wow.

You Only Go Around Twice

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I’ve heard of couch potato husbands, easy chair husbands, procrastinating, junk-eating, ball-cap-wearing dumbos who sloth from bed to couch to chair to bed and moan about working for the man.

But I’ve never met one.

The husband I live with, the preacher, is never still, never without an odd little project going.  At 8:30 in the evening, when I am curled in a cold ball on the couch, incoherent and done contributing anything of worth to the world, he will walk through with electricians tape and a power drill.  I don’t ask.

Why not now?” is his motto.  The whir of the coffee roasting equipment – a hot-air popcorn popper he got at the thrift store for a dollar and tricked out with a soup can chimney – assails my nodding off under a quilt.  10 minute down time?  He thinks he can re-wire a lamp, hang a shelf, felt-tab the chair legs, or, like last night, clean out the hall closet that has been headquarters for supplies for one of his hobbies that he decided to move in its entirety to the garage attic and take a break from.  Many a door slamming in and out to the garage that task took.  Door-slamming is part of the satisfaction of a project well engaged in for him.  But soon enough the closet was emptied and the contents of the top shelf was now my project.

26 years of pictures:  loose pictures, albums both chronological or made for specific events, albums still in good shape, albums falling apart and gappy, framed pictures, weddings, births, baptisms, teeth, bikes, birthdays, vacations, grandparents and babies and friends and all the years piled out of order.

Ok.  Plan of attack.  What would Pinterest do?  Alright, never mind that.  What would Julie Kinworthy do?  Stacks? Yes, I hear you. By year? . . .but look at this picture!  It is Will in a southern boy’s required infant lace get-up, except he’s holding a football and pointing.   I had forgotten about the football.

And here is the castle we built out of refrigerator boxes for Adrienne’s 7th birthday and named Tintagel after King Arthur’s birthplace.  I feel the temperature of that cold October day, and remember that I had had to take Eliza to the doctor earlier and she was lying inside sick. So I was back and forth between castle and sick child, but didn’t the castle look great?  We painted it and hung real ivy over its crenellated walls.  Wow.  When did we do that?

Here is Eliza in a plastic swing in her bathing suit, hunched sound asleep and with a band aid on her right foot.  The band aid!  It is taut over her foot chub.  I want to kiss it.

Here is a table set for a holiday.  The dishes are a set I had forgotten, a set given to me by my grandmother when I moved into my first apartment.  Seeing them calls up that odd twinge in owning my own dishes.  Red table cloth, Cornish hens and wild rice.  It worked!

Here is Baby Will on the hardwood floor in the hallway, yes the very hallway I can see from the chair I am sitting in.  Why does it seem like another house?  How can the 6’ 3” whiskered teenager loping in just now from basketball practice like a happy Golden Retriever be the same person as this pictured dumpling with moist lips and dewy eyes and silk hair?

And yet, at the same time that I am immersed in hyper-detailed memory, I have this feeling that I am seeing it all for the first time. Actually paying attention this time.  I was in the picture, smiling on that day, but I wasn’t kicking back admiring our triumph of a homemade castle. I was thinking ahead to the clean-up, to the next and the next and the next.  Did I live all those years with my head in tomorrow? Looks like it.

And, worse, I was constantly thinking about how I looked, placing myself at the low end of the ‘beautiful and skinny’ spectrum.

The bad news is that I spent too much of the first time around feeling fat, ugly, tired, and worried.  But the good news is the handy-man husband saved the day and pulled it all down so I could live it again.

In the end the only plan of attack that emerged was this gem:  Just put it all back up there.  Neatly.  So that’s what I did.  Actually that’s what the preacher did.  The project was mine, but as I mentioned, he relishes a project and with such a juicy, desperate, and available one, he jumped in with vigor.

I sat on the couch and enjoyed the life of the pictures – the food on the holiday plates, the ivy covered castle, the fat baby hand pointing – free of the worry I had the first time around.  It was great.

“I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.”  Joel 2:25  

Rosa Parks and 87,451 College Football Fans

Perhaps the only thing connecting Rosa Parks with 87,451 Auburn and Texas  A & M football fans is that I encountered them both on the same day, an exquisite November day made for SEC football and an early morning run through the dew-damp Montgomery downtown. Somehow, though, at the end of the full day, on a late night drive up Highway 280, getting the preacher home so he could sleep and preach a sermon the next morning, Rosa and the almost 90,000 people at Jordan-Hare stadium seemed linked.

Let me back up a day to Friday.  Parents of athletes are used to driving to their children’s far-flung sporting events.  Parents of kids at little Christian schools that play 6-man football are used to redefining the word ‘far-flung.’   Three hours is a starting point, so off we went packed for our son’s state championship game, totally being that family we said we never would.  Hard-core.  Some dear friends had reserved us a hotel room for the night so we could go right over to the Auburn/Texas A & M game the next morning.  So here we were, the Littles of Littleville, unloading our coffee-making apparatus, and walking into the soaring atrium, fountains, wait-staff, and amenities of a high-end hostelry.  Having declined valet parking and strapped with bag and baggage, I walked through the revolving door and smack into, yes!, one of Texas A & M’s massive linebackers.  I called a cheerful hello to him and told him I would see him tomorrow.  He smiled, but his Beats I’m sure muted my fan-chatter. Mind you, I’m an Auburn fan, but hey, football mystique is real even though the players are 19 years old and probably from Littlerville than my Littleville.

So there he stood in team sweats, backpack, mellow smile, and 65 more just like him headed into the banquet hall which had been decorated with the Aggie maroon (with a tinge of eggplant) and black and no doubt served these man-children AYCE porterhouses and french fries.   The chef in his recognizable kitchen shirt moved through the hall ensuring the players’ dining satisfaction. Men in suits on cell phones directed the players into dinner and maintained this vast machine of human beings called a college football team. Food for thought there.  At one giddy point, I was wedged on an elevator with 7 members of the defensive line plus a coach.  I couldn’t help myself, but began talking.  I told them I would pray for their safety and for their mothers who would be worrying about them.  Again, the Beats (intentionally) hindered conversation.  Unfortunately, my prayers were answered and they won the nail-biter football game the next day with no injuries. Teach me!

I am going somewhere with all this.  Hang with me.

As for my son’s championship game, the opposing team was named Victory.  And they made sure we could spell it.

The next morning the breakfast area was 98% maroon and black in every variation of boot, vest, scarf, custom leather coat, ditto shoes, western-yoked shirt, and felt hat.  It was like finding myself in a stranger’s living room at their family reunion. Or being at another church during prayer time – none of the names mean anything.  But then here came the talent; 65 sweat-suited Aggies, having had blessed, uninterrupted sleep (my son and his best friend decided not to pull the fire alarm after all), a herd of bacon, a generation of eggs, and an orchard of citrus, were now deferentially herded to the 8 luxury buses at the curb for the hour ride to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains.”IMG_0724

But what about Rosa?   During all this moonstruckness, we tied on our Nikes and headed out into the 48 degree morning to run to the Capitol.  Oh, the urban run!  How different from LIttleville.  And, oh, the unanticipated treasures!  I am a plaque person, to my family’s chagrin.  One block in, and a plaque stopped me cold announcing that this was the route that slaves would walk in chains from the river to the auction house.  Game changer, that.  A block further at a beautiful cobbled square and fountain a plaque informed us that this was the site of several auction houses and slave warehouses.  The mind tries to reconcile then and now and can’t.  And then, in one shady corner of the square I encountered Rosa’s bus stop.  There it was, the very spot she stood, weary from a day’s work and with all her own house work ahead of her.  If ever time travel was possible I longed for it then. To watch her.  Had she thought a million times, “Tomorrow, I won’t get up. Tomorrow when he tells me to move, I won’t,” and finally tomorrow came?  Or was it completely spontaneous, a split-second decision?  Is the conversation recorded by any witness? A man said some variation of “Move.” And she said some variation of “No.”

We moved on.  I touched the etched marble slab that commemorated the march from Selma to Montgomery that ended right here at the Capitol.  We Rocky-Balboaed up the marble steps and jumped the victory jump at the top.  The only people who saw us were the hoodied, DOT-vested construction workers. We admired the statue of my husband’s distant relative Jefferson Davis, though later my son would say it looked like Benedict Cumberbatch to him.  It was no doubt the caped coat.

But Rosa stayed on my mind.  Because if I wished I could time-travel to watch her, what if she time-traveled to see me?  I wondered what she would think of my last few hours.  I had fan-worshiped 19-year-old college students.  I had sat at breakfast among custom-leather-clad men and women who had money to spare and we shared smiles and have-a-good-games. I watched one couple from my hotel window, on the very Via-Dolorosa their ancestors walked in chains, exchange laughs with friends, load up their SUVs and head out to cheer on their sons and their alma mater.  Again, the mind tries to reconcile then and now and fails.

And the 87,451?  What is their connection to Rosa?  The Loveliest Village on the Plains, at least the campus, is indeed lovely.  From our perch in section 57, row 10, seats 1 – 4, we had a view of the slanting sun turning the brown rooftops gold all around us. 85,000 wore orange and blue, and made those colors look good. Impressive.  To be a part of that many people wearing the same colors and with one goal in mind – protect this house – was thought-provoking.  Rosa might find it interesting that the music they used to get 87,451 people on their feet, either in approval or outrage, was rap and hip hop.  A low-sounding synthesizer pulled at our blood and obligated us to get to our feet and scream at the intruder in the house. “Turn down for what?” compelled the home team on a third down to maintain its level of ferocious, competitive play.  Or so I gathered.  And when, on the first completed pass, I opened my mouth to proclaim my approval, a 90,000-strong roar came out of my mouth. It was startling and powerful.

And that’s the connection to Rosa.  She opened her mouth and a roar 90,000-strong came out.  I don’t trivialize her action at all in comparing it to a football crowd roaring approval or condemnation collectively.  They are saying to the enemy, “You shall not pass!”  She, too, was protecting her house.  She was saying, “You shall not pass.  You shall not encroach on my humanity anymore!”

Highway 280 north at 10:00 on a Saturday night is late and far from home for a preacher.  It’s a rare Saturday that finds us ranging that far from Littleville.  But we made it back in a van crowded with two sleeping boys, Rosa Parks, and 87,451 football fans.

Letter To A Friend and Democrat

Dear Friend,

I know the red maps of Wednesday were tough for you.  I know you hold your convictions deeply, and that to you a Republican vote is a vote against human beings, against flesh and blood American people.  So, without snark or arrogance, I want to tell you why I voted Republican and why Tuesday gave me hope for our country.

First, I don’t believe the Republican Party to be the hope of the future, or full of perfect people, or God’s will for America.  Neither do I believe that God is a Republican or that America is a Christian nation.  I believe the whole world, every nation, is God’s book, and He is writing a story of redemption and America is a part of that.

Many Democrats in their despair last night declared that we Republicans obviously want pollution, starvation, oppression, war, unaided illness, poverty, bullying, and the list goes on.  My motives are frequently very selfish, and you would in an honest moment admit that yours can be too.  But do you really think that Republicans want that list of things for our country?  Do you really think we hate America and American people so much?  Do you think we hate our own children, who will inherit the America we make for them, so much that we would purposely work to destroy it?

I can’t speak for all Republicans, or for all Christian Republicans.  I speak for myself when I say that what I want is to stand for the party that most closely retains the Biblical definition of life and its inception and ending, of gender which we have no more authority to change than we do to change our species, of marriage and the clear pattern that was set by the first two humans who were married – Adam and Eve, of the obligation and responsibility to work for the good of the place I am put.

To your protest that a Biblical definition is up for grabs, open to millions of interpretations, I say no, it’s not.  And you know it.  The Bible is clear.  You and I don’t get to subtract what we don’t like and mold what’s left into our own image, though we all are prone to this, even those of us who say we submit to the Bible as our chief authority.

Because authority is the issue, isn’t it?  I vote Republican not because Republicans are all Bible-believing Christians or even all admirable people, but because Democratic ideology seeks to make itself God.  It wants to remove the highest authority, the Creator, who determines night and day, and water and land, and male and female.  And it wants to put itself in His place.  It would abolish the pillars of our culture and put nothing in their place except individual personal feelings.  Personal feelings won’t hold up a culture.  The cry is that this pillar-abolishing is in the cause of tolerance, equality, fairness.  And who could argue with those goals?  Except that I don’t believe they are the real motivation.  The real reason the pillars must be abolished is because they are put in place by the Authority; they are an affront to one who would be his own god.

Are you thinking that I have my head in the sand, and haven’t looked at our polyglot, poly-religious, poly-everything country in the last half century?  I have.  I don’t expect everyone to be Christian, Southern, church-going, white, conservative, football-manic, small-town, happy, optimistic, women like me.  I know this list is everything you push against.  But you didn’t push against me.  You respected me and I have always appreciated that.

No, I don’t expect America to be Christian, but I will fight, I will vote, for the pillars to remain precisely because I love America. I want it strong for my children and their children, and I believe that removing those pillars, removing the Author who has all Authority, will be bad for you.  And for your children’s children.  And for the very people – marginalized, needy, different – that it claims to help.

Can you see this as a compliment to you?

Your Friend

A Time for Aprons

If you are a man don’t waste your time reading this.  It will mean nothing to you.

Just go about your blessedly even-keeled day changing the oil in your truck, or removing someone’s inflamed appendix, or running a half-marathon on a whim.  You’ve been warned.

Now that it’s just the rest of us, I have a question. Can someone diagnose an ailment for me?

Let me first clarify that I am not complaining.  I am happy.  I am content.  I am blessed beyond anything I deserve.  I have heaven ahead of me, and a world of good things now.  However.  I am also alternately a brooding misanthrope or a fanged monster.  You wouldn’t know it to look at me.  But trust me.  Behind my eyes sometimes shrieks the sentence “What if I told you what I was really thinking???”

Here’s an example.  This evening after a dinner of braised chicken (I just looked up ‘braised’ and I was in the ballpark), herb and mushroom risotto, green beans picked and snapped by me, and a sassy little French baguette, child number three whistles out the back door with an “I’ll be back.”  A few minutes later, child number two, a girl, also whistles out the back door with an “I’ll be back.”  Now, let me describe the kitchen.  If I squinted, it was an impressionist painting, all oozing colors and splotches and shapes.  If I focused, it was a tall sculpture in stainless steel and ceramic, avant-garde in its inclusion of viscous, dripping substances, even addressing olfactory senses like art rarely does.  I leaned on the sink (allow me to be dramatic here) and thought dark thoughts about that movie, “12 Years a Slave.”  I wondered what would happen if I just took off my floral flour-sack apron, and left it all tilted and teetering and crusted and greasy.  What if I just didn’t do the dishes?  Would the sun rise in the west tomorrow, if it rose at all?  Would rivers flow uphill?

Some of you, like my mother for instance, are asking the obvious, “Why don’t you get the kids to help before they leave?”  While seemingly self-evident, that question reveals inexperience with teenagers and college students.  The 16 – 22 year old has two modes:  Gone or Sick.  They are only not gone if they are sick.  They aren’t faking it either.  They really are sick.  They get sick because they are always gone.  They leave for college and don’t sleep for an entire semester.  Then they come home and die for two weeks.  Then it’s time to go back for round two.  Or they arrive home smelly and sunburned from youth beach conference, drop their laundry and explain that they need to leave immediately because . . .  I phase out on their life-or-death reasons, but they usually end with, ‘We may never see him again, Mom.’  So, no, they literally can’t do the dishes.

I digress.  I decided it was probably time for my regular – every other decade – appointment with the stirrups (you were warned!).  The soonest appointment is two months from now.  Not bad relatively speaking, and yes, I have read the recently circulating article about a doctor’s daily life of hunger, thirst, stress, and worry, and I believe it.  I go to church with many doctors.  They do have my sympathy.  I realize that there is one of them per several thousand of us.  But flip that around.  They may have thousands of me, but I only have one of them.  One.  And, doc, when I need you, I need you!  Look at my record.  I only call every other decade.  And do you really want me loose on the world for two more months like this, with your name on my “who is your attending physician” line?  I can spell your name down to apostrophes, hyphens, and umlauts.

Ahhh.  Well.  Maybe this is the ‘m-word.’  I asked a friend if she thought it was and she shushed me roundly, saying she wasn’t going there.  Shush away, but I don’t think we get to choose.  Time and gravity and chemistry force us there, ready or not.  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” says the preacher.  How pragmatic and man-like.  No angst, no kicking at the goads, no keening sentimentality, just peaceful acceptance: “Oh, the m-word.  Yes, I suppose it is time for that.”

May that same peace breathe through the back door, down the halls into the bedrooms of the sleeping children, past the couch and the reading husband, and all over me – m-word or not – happy and aproned in the impressionist kitchen.