Thanking You, Right Here In The Middle

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Before the celebration is over, right here in the middle of it, I want to thank the Lord, the Giver of all these blessings.

Thank you for hearing my request years and years ago for Christian education for our children, and for providing it. We had to sweat for it, but You said, ‘Yes!’ Thank you.

Thank you for the layers of love my children’s grandparents supply. They are a fountainhead, a safety net, an extra covering, a heritage, givers of chocolate and family stories.

Thank you for the end of the school year and a chance to be reminded how much I love my students. And, for that matter, thank you for 16 – 18 year olds. Wow! What precious creations.  What energy and zeal. What ability and talent. What generosity and compassion.

Thank you for spring beauty, for setting sun turning green leaves gold, for the recent graduate, headphoned and playing soccer in the backyard.

Thank you for the college girl heading back to the mountain to work for the summer, rolling north and east on a full tank of gas from her Memaw and Papaw and on a new set of tires from her dad. I can’t orchestrate everything perfectly for her, but she has a job and a home and money for groceries. And she knows we love her. Thank you!

Thank you for the first born, the working girl, office clothes on a hanger in the car, heading back early, early to get to work on time, and for the chance for me to fix her coffee and boxed lunch complete with napkin-note reminiscent of elementary school. Thank you that we don’t really have to say goodbye to their childhood years – we can live them in little ways their whole lives! Thank you.

Thank you for Mom on the couch beside me, here for a long visit. Thank you that we speak the same language. Thank you for the way she loves all her children and grandchildren. Thank you.

Thank you for our church that has loved and raised our children alongside us, going far beyond the vow they took at the children’s baptisms to “assist the parents in the nurture of this child.”  Thank you for each face and each soul and that you knew we need each other.

Thank you that tomorrow morning, you will meet me on the back porch for the luxury of an unrushed quiet time. If that is all I had to be thankful for, it would be enough.

Thank you for whatever lies ahead for the graduate.  And for your word preached this morning reminding me that this will be a chance to trust you in new ways, to choose your way, to expand your kingdom by planting our feet in new places and claiming those places for you! Whatever that looks like, thank you for the privilege of being a warrior in the grandest of battles – pushing back the fall and spreading your glory to the ends of the earth.

Thank you for beauty and for the urge and time to create it. Use me!

Thank you, Lord.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind, 
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107: 8, 9

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Honey Rock Farm

I grew up in Louisiana in a house with a name.  The McClendons built the house under a canopy of Spanish moss and named it Honey Rock Farm.  When they moved up the hill and built farther back in the woods, we bought Honey Rock, chickens and all.

We were not farmers of any kind.  In fact most of our time was spent passing one another on the six miles of Lee Road heading into town to our fast-food jobs or to Campus Life events or to endless school days in the portable trailers on Three Rivers Road.

But if a farmer is one who loves his land, then we were farmers of a sort.  Every one of us looks back at Honey Rock days with a sigh.  They were 13 acres of beautiful. This poem was written in 1991 shortly after we left Honey Rock:

Around Honey Rock Farm

The gravel track
Runs past the barn and scrabbling chickens,
Just past the oaks along a bygone fence,
And forms an ellipsis.

The brown house, though on stilts
Against the rain, rocks low
Under an arch of oak and pine.

Brown boards on the walkway, gone
A permanent dust-yellow from pollen,
Lead on around the house.

Tall pines ring the pond
And hide the scrubby island
And the square, wooden duck house.

Sweet olive scent slips around
The back porch and relaxes, crepe-swathed
On a wrought-iron chair.

The green swing on its oak-driven pegs
Brushes the wood pile
And sways in an azalea breeze.

And the gravel track
Runs past the barn and scrabbling chickens,
Just past the mailboxes,
And joins with the blacktop.

Memory teaches.  The Word teaches.  Honey Rock got its name from this morning’s reading:

And with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  Psalm 81:16

If I let Him, He would satisfy me, fill me, with the honeyest of honeys.  He is the honey-giver, the mead-maker, and He sighs, “Oh, that you would believe me!”  I try other honeys.  They do not satisfy.  The honey that satisfies, the honey He offers, is His voice in my ear:

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth”  
Psalm 119:103.

Lord, today I open wide my mouth for honey from the rock.  By your Spirit let this prayer cover me until this day’s sun sets.

I believe You.

~

 

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.

Pardon Me, There’s a Walmart in My Front Yard

Dear City Commissioners,

By some oversight the new Walmart is even now being constructed IN MY FRONT YARD.  I realize that choice piece of acreage just cried out for concrete and retail and progress.  I can even appreciate the chop-licking revenue anticipated in the form of jobs, surrounding-county shoppers, and satellite development around the mother ship.IMG_0687

But gentlemen and gentlewomen, we have called that land “the cornfield” for 18 years, though I don’t know if corn per se ever actually grew there.  It contained mimosa trees, a four-wheeler track, an abandoned home with a deep well hunkered down in a copse of pines.  We think the creature that ate some of our cats had its lair there.  A blackberry bramble spread thick and prickery and hard to get to.  Occasionally we would find discarded clothing which conjured illicit trysts, also undoubtedly prickery, which we didn’t tell the kids about.

We did tell the kids to pedal fast when passing the cornfield at twilight when they were first old enough to ride the neighborhood as autonomous free agents.  Pedal fast, I would tell them, because who knew what interstate vagrant, headed to Iowa or something, might lurk in the tall shanks of hay, waiting, waiting to pounce and steal their pocket money to buy a scrambled egg and coffee at Waffle House??  Honesty forces me to admit that my kids never had pocket money, and our vagrants are gentle and harmless.  But still.  The cornfield held its mystery.

Most of all the cornfield was green, green in that breathing, elemental way.  It was a green wall to our north that held our homes in its limbs and muted the world and blew cool, benevolent air down our streets, streets less and less wooded, less and less deserving of the name Woodland.

A sign to the Ave Maria Grotto once hung nailed to a tall pine at the edge of the cornfield, right on the corner.  In all our ramblings, day trip or longer, that sign was a welcome, you-are-almost-home, unload the babies and tuck them warm in their beds.  The pine came down when the Texaco went up and we regret we didn’t get the Grotto sign as a memory.  So, I guess I blame you, City Commissioners, that my children grew up.  Fair enough. Unfair blame comes with public service.

Well, it’s too late now.  The exposure is irreversible.  The once-green benevolence is now white-glare and backhoes.  I can practically wave to the operators as they crawl mechanically over the hills and ruts of cornfield dirt.  I will probably, in the not-too-distant future, be able to wave to the Walmart managers as they park in the back of the new mega store to punch in for their shift.  They won’t be the mimosas of the cornfield.  They won’t carry memories of my children on bikes in summer, free of me, and cicada happy.  But I suppose I will end up loving them just because they are there, and they are people.

Just please leave the rest of the cornfield alone.  OK?

Sincerely,

A Neighbor