Merry Christmas. I’ve been out of this space for a few months, but if you’ve happened to stop by, I’m blogging somewhere new in 2012. It’s at The Letter a Day. Hope to see you there!
Tuesday nights are quiet in the library. Few people are there and it stays open until eight.
I lingered in the reference section where the records of this little town are slipped into shelves of alphabetized history. And I carefully open the big leather bound book full of life stories.
And the women sit stoic and statuesque along the thin stained pages. Their sullen faces don’t soften the cruel accounts of crops that refused to raise and still births that delivered despair late in the night.
But to spite the callous conditions; I search for those women who dare to wear a smile. But each expression seems more somber than the next.
And then I stumble upon Marion Berry. Smitten immediately, partly because her thin lips turn upwards and she is mysteriously beautiful. My imagination runs rampant. She must have been an artist, bold and brassy, and I’m confident her glow lit this little sleepy town ablaze.
And I read her story slowly because it deserves to be savored.
A wife to a farmer
One child and then another and then one more
Her hands aid in building a family barn
But her primary job, recorded for future generations to recount and remember was the preparation of mid day meals for nearby farm hands
And I sigh. She is simply ordinary. And I close the book, disappointed a bit.
But as I slide her account deep into the shelves where all the other submissive ladies sit, I know I could join in their ranks.
In these common days of raising children and scrubbing sinks, sewing dangling buttons back on and tying double knots, it is likely my name won’t grace the history books of this town or anywhere else.
But in this sacred ordinary life, there is a husband whom I married at nineteen and I have written on his heart and he on mine. And squeals from our three children are heard throughout the day until the sun rests and says goodnight.
And in this town where we live outside the city limits, God gifts us with moments to weave just a little goodness to those we meet.
And like those ordinary, simple women who may not have revolutionized this town, their marks were left, imprinted in the homes and in the lives of the people they loved.
It’s one of those mornings, when I’ve run out of liquid creamer for coffee. There’s the powdered kind, but it’s old and clumpy and it lands into my mug of caffeine like balls of sour grapes.
And there are a set of dishes in the sink waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher. And two cabinet doors are open revealing a disheveled row of Tupperware.
I begin quietly tidying up before the morning rush. The weekend proved to be busier than normal even for our family of five. I tell myself in the still of the a.m. that life must slow down a bit.
And as I wipe in circles while the water bounces off the steel sink, I notice an odd-shaped something in the crevice where the stove top meets the counter …
Before the day begins I reach for a familiar Bible, the one with the homemade lavender bookmark tucked into the Old Testament. And I read a chapter, sometimes two. And often the words appear shuffled. I’m no scholar but I wish I knew what each verse meant, back then and in this very moment. I need answers to the questions. I need to know how it applies to my life when children talk back and friendships feel one-sided and it is all I can do to teach one more list of thirty spelling words.
And as this internal rant runs steady, my two-year old toddles out of his room, still sleepy-eyed. He climbs into my lap, his skin velvety soft. He rests his rumpled blonde hair into the nape of my neck and says his first words through a warm yawn.
I often don’t understand what he tries to express through baby pursed lips. His two-year old language is loud and piercing throughout the day, but often unrecognizable. But in that morning moment, before the sun ushers in the light, it’s more about spending time with him than understanding each and every syllable.
And as I pour a glass of milk and it streams into the confines of a colorful sippy cup, God reminds me that life isn’t about hearing the illusive voice and unlocking the unknown every single morning. Some sunrises aren’t about comprehending it all, they are simply about being present, showing up and surrendering to a day of beauty and possibilities.
My invitation never changes: Come to Me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest. Worship Me by resting peacefully in My Presence.
– Sarah Young, Jesus Calling
Why did God make me? To love, serve and obey Him. Very simple, yet extremely profound. If we all woke up every morning asking, “How can I love, serve, and obey God today?” it might change everything – it might even change the world.”
– Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel
And in this pursuit to reach a community that feels forsaken, we plan events and knock on doors. We pass out pamphlets and mail postcards. Signs are predominantly placed with bold typed letters, invitations reaching and wrapping down busy streets.
And Saturday rolls in as we prepare an event to love and minister, but rain is predicted to pour. Heavy clouds hang below layers of thick sky. But God is good and the showers hold off as people stretch as far as the campus is wide. And in the crowd I see a grandmother whose home we’ve visited. She stands on the perimeter of it all with grandchildren at her side. I slip in beside her sinking shoulders and she tells me of her tired week. Her oldest is in the hospital and she fears she needs rehab.
And I would like to think she isn’t there because of our colorful literature or manicured lawn. I would like to think she visits because she needs more in life and this church whispers you are welcomed just as you are.
And before the evening ends, twenty-nine people make a decision to follow Christ. They raise hands high to accept what is being offered, a Jesus who heals and comforts and desires more for our lives.
And Sunday as we wait over the chairs that have been prayed for and the halls that have been empty for too long, 65 guests walk through the doors, visiting for the first time.
Vacant classrooms are once again full. And diaper bags hang loose on pegs, one by one in a lengthy row. Children squeal as they run down a narrow hall clutching bright-colored construction paper. And teachers and leaders and those who have worked tirelessly for this moment can barely contain their joy.
And there is more to come, I know it. Stories yet to be written, lives yet to be changed.
He walked through the double doors with a kind smile in a room of glum faces. No one expected to find the group cheerful. It was the third Thursday of the month and I was volunteering at the local food bank. And times were difficult for our small town; unemployment was like kudzu spreading too quick too fast.
“Have you been here before?” I asked. He shook his head no. “Well, fill these out and bring them back to me,” I said.
Minutes later he returned and I made a file for this new man in need of food and clothes. I scanned his paperwork in search of his employment record, trying to figure out what he was eligible to receive. Then my eyes rested on the third line of the second page. The word prison nearly jumped out at me. He had been released the day before. Our eyes met again, but this time I didn’t feel compassion, I felt scared. What crime had he committed? How long was he in for? I shifted my weight from one side of the chair to the other and engaged in awkward small talk.
Moments later, he moved on to the next volunteer who filled his bags with milk and eggs, meat and vegetables, kindness and a hard to understand King James Bible.
And on that day I saw a man just released from prison and I clearly saw myself, judgmental and unprepared to minister to real life issues.
But in the defeat of the morning, disappointed that I had responded poorly, God began pouring newfound compassion into my life for those hurting around me. In my town and in my grocery store, at the gas pump and in the parking lot of the library. It was as if I was seeing people for the very first time.
And God has allowed our family to be one of dozens who are serving as missionaries to a church on the other side of town. A once thriving church that has in the last few years declined to a handful of members attending. The once bustling neighborhood is now a havoc of crime and poverty. It sits in a bowl of bedlam; streets muddled with youthful gangs and frequent shrill of sirens blare. And we have knocked on doors and met and prayed with many in the community.
And I have heard the stories of single mothers and alcoholic fathers and children who feel abandoned. And I listen for ways to relate to the man who is drunk on his front porch, to the daughter who is caring for her dying mother, to the girl whose belly is swollen with child when she is so young herself. What do we have in common?
But as we bow our heads, and we pray upwards for help and direction and for a purpose in this life, I realize that I’m praying for someone else but it’s a prayer I desire for myself as well. A prayer of desperation, a prayer for change and repentance and for newness breathed fresh each and every morning.
(Another post to come Friday, but can I share with you that there were 29 decisions made this weekend to follow Christ? God is so very good.)
As a teenager when I should have been studying about the Revolutionary War or Kinetic Energy, I daydreamed of a grown up life in an eclectic studio apartment in NY. It wasn’t college or cars I cared about, it was the bright flourescent skyline that stretched for miles. I naively planned to pen poetry or write children’s books or pamphlets, whatever paid the bills and afforded me a colorful Bohemian wardrobe.
But life would keep me in the deep south long enough to marry a handsome man who is as steady and solid as he is logical. We would grow a family planted in the soil of responsibility. And we would have one child and then another and then one more. And our lives would soon mimic many by paying bills and serving dinner, smiling at strangers while driving the speed limit in a minivan that seated seven.
We’d soak up Sunday mornings to the last drop. And then do it again on Sunday nights and Wednesdays and usually one more time for this or that during the week.
And life has been good. Yes, we’ve outgrown our home and there is a drip in the basement, but we are well and the years have been kinder than we deserve.
But in this collection of marriage we have acquired an abundance of stuff. Shiny and pretty, polished and protected high on a shelf, we’ve filled our home full of things. And by day they look a little less attractive and a little more selfish. And slowly fading was our pursuit of newer and better. We had begun to feel sick of the littered life of consumption.
“But then I realize there is never going to be a day when I stand before God and He looks at me and says, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’ I’m confident that God will take care of me.”
― David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
And in this backwards way of living that appeared to be pressing us forward, what seemed as extreme as packing up and living in a loud city with glowing skyscrapers, there was a change beginning in our family. A change that was moving us to a place we’d never been before.
To be continued Wednesday and Friday …
Fall blew into NC this weekend handing out hooded sweatshirts and packets of hot chocolate. But in this favorite season of mine, it takes focus to stay in the moment. Too often it seems natural when snug socks cling to my ankles, I want the freedom of flip-flops and when the warmth of a fire blazes, I’d rather feel the breeze of a fan that blows continual round and round. If not careful, I’ll never be satisfied.
Thankfully, motherhood has a way of quietly reminding there is novelty and newness in every season.
As I look deep into my children’s closets I pull out what no longer fits. My daughter’s legs are longer, my son’s shoulders broader. They are not the same as they were just one year ago.
And it feels more imperative than ever to be fully aware and in the moment of mothering because as my children grow older the days are beginning to seem shorter.
There is no greater gift this fall than to see the world through their eyes, to be and act just a little more childlike. But the inquiries will come. The phone will ring and the questions will follow: Will you commit to this? Will you sign up for this? Will you write for this? And to some things there will be a resounding yes, but for others there is perfect peace in saying no.
This short season won’t last long enough. The fair will roll into town in rows of 18 wheeled trucks with promises of bright lights and red tickets and lines of laughter. A festival of candy and costumes will make an appearance in October. And there will be a bounty of leaves piled high waiting to be leapt or hurdled, hopped in or skipped across. And in these long sleeve days, I’ll sip them each in like a cup of steaming cider, slowly, savoring the sugary sweet as long as time allows.
My hands were sweaty and my mouth was dry. I wish I felt butterflies in my stomach, but it was more like birds flying from one rib cage to the next.
I sat in a crowded room watching a popular United States Senator as he stood center stage giving a speech. I jotted down his words, frantic I would miss something of value for our small town newspaper.
Join me here to finish the story …
I get the email weekly. It’s from Kathy at church and in the subject line is a peppy “Let’s pray!” And on Wednesday nights before the parking lot fills with parents and children, Bibles tucked under their arms, she gathers alongside a handful of adults to pray for our youth. There is an electrical current that runs through a mother for her children. We want the best for them, to speak words of kindness, to stand up for the quiet, to befriend the brand new face.
And in this skin of motherhood, it seems more difficult than ever to look away from babies with swollen bare bellies and flies circling crumbs of bread. The mother in me wants to bring them into our home and offer a buffet line of goodness.
“Mercy is compassion in action.” The words rang from the pulpit Sunday morning, but they ring clearer and louder this week as they slowly seep in.
I like order and neatness and pleasant smells and tidy homes and friendly people. And silverware rolled tight into pretty napkins and drop down DVD players and dim-lit malls and valances with fringe. But it seems mercy whispers an echoing reminder that it’s all just temporary. To live this life loose handed.
Mercy: a disposition to be compassionate or forgiving of others / a welcome event or situation that provides relief or prevents something unpleasant from happening
And mercy waits, loitering around the community, mine and yours.
– near a broken down car that sits idle on the side of the road
– next to a single, tired mother who needs to feel pretty and appreciated
– beside the friend who is lonely and craves afternoon conversation
– alongside the anxious patient awaiting test results
Who can we offer the gift of mercy to this week?