Saturday, November 22, 2014

52 in 52, not including tattoos

This is how books feel to me. Always have, since those days when the bookmobile pulled up at the end of Click Drive and I climbed up those steps. Since my mother took me to the Terrell Park Library and was told I could 'take three'. Three????? Yes, three, and as soon as I read them I could have three more.

I read them in three days. And my mother would take me back to get three more.

Granted, many of them were Nancy Drew, but there were also autobiographies and biographies; I remember getting on a jaunt of Perry Mason mysteries for awhile. I remember walking down the aisles with my head sideways til it had a crick in it, looking at the titles sideways. I remember the musty smell, and still have a love of it.

In libraries, not my own house, of course.

As a sidenote, why someone couldn't see that a woman dragging six children with less than eight years between them wasn't blessed to 'take three' is beyond  me. So we went back and went back and went back. And I've loved books as long as I can remember. Clearly someone worked on that rule because when I leave the library with my grandkids, we have our arms piled full and the challenge is to make sure we don't lose them in the house. Thank you, whoever you are, that fixed that rule.

My nightstand is this teensy, proper looking thing that fits well next to the bed, but I've always wanted an old oak pedestal table sitting there, with room for my clock, water, four books I'm currently reading, and the four waiting in the wings, a box of cheese-its to eat in bed, and a candle, of course. Maybe someone is currently working on that rule too, and oak pedestal tables will become more the  norm, at least for those of us who love books. You go into the furniture store and they have the normal, proper looking ones, and the ones that really work for people like  me.

So I took a challenge, at the beginning of 2014, to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I also set out to read the entire Bible in that same time. I just finished Revelation, only because I don't really like Revelation so I got it over with, and now I can go back to 1 and 2 Samuel, Ruth, Esther, etc. Obviously I prefer history over sci-fi. And how am I doing with the 52 in 52?

Well, I've read more than I would if I hadn't attempted 52, and the year still has 5 or so weeks in it. I could cram it full of Newberry award winners. That's a bucket list item for me, to read them all, and I'm plugging along at that. There's some wonderful writing out there in Newberry land. Right now I'm on #23 and #24 and #25, reading them all at the same time, with #26 - 28 sitting next to them, and #29-31 laying at the edge of the bathtub, waiting, waiting.

Right now I'm reading And the Mountains Echoed, by Hosseini (his third and the other two were wonderful). I was given a wonderful tip, by a friend years ago, to check out the book and the audio at the same time, so I read in the tub and bed and sofa, and listen while I'm upstairs sewing away on Christmas gifts. I read a blog recently where the author gave a month to month report of what she'd read with short and sweet reviews. I like that idea and will try to do that in 2015. As a quick review, I read Looking for Me, by Beth Hoffman, back in the spring, and that, coupled with our daughter moving 2000 miles away, nudged me to get a dog. We're empty-nesters and travel a lot and a dog was completely impractical, but I did it anyway. So if you don't want to get a dog, don't read that book. Otherwise, I highly recommend it - I loved it! (And still am quite happy we got the dog.) (In spite of her barking in hotels til we're nicely asked to leave, and tee-tee on our carpet when she's upset with us, and having to share the cheese-its when I'd prefer to eat them all myself.)

Which leads me to something else I saw. This woman took a challenge to do 52 new things in 52 weeks. She and I are very different, but I love, love the idea of that. I've already eaten snails, and if I get a tattoo most of my family will disown me, but what a great year would that be? To sit in a coffee shop and just think about what I'm afraid of, what I don't want to die wishing I'd done?

If I don't get all 52 books read this year, I will still have read 'Looking for Me' by Beth Hoffman, and Lily the little Shih Tzu is quite happy I did; I will still have read Kitchen Counter Cooking School and tried cooking with abandon; I will have read 'Extreme Grandparenting' and learned to enjoy our grandkids more and let their parents figure out how to make them share; I will still have read 'Church Planters Wife' and understood better what our daughter's life is like right now. I will have met Jan Karon and read 'Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good and been envious of her hair.

If I don't get 52 new things done in 2015 I will have gotten some done. And that is quite likely the point. I'll post in January what my first 5 are, and if you have any suggestions for me (outside getting a tattoo or shaving my head) feel free to let me know! Or join me and share your list here by link.


PS If you need a list of what to read, this blog by Sarah Clarkson is wonderful, and chock full of wonderful books. So your nightstand can be in danger of toppling over, like mine.

PSS As a sidenote, I am glad Jesus is coming back, he wins, and all that, but Revelation is not my favorite book. Which likely explains why I also don't love poetry. At all. Unless it's by the guy who wrote Where the Sidewalk Ends. His poetry I quite enjoy. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Make a Life that Matters

It’s hard to believe it, but we’ve just passed the one-year mark here at our ‘new’ home in the DFW metroplex. We found a church home, and this fall it was time to get back to serving again. Both of us wanted to get involved in ministries outside church walls. Don chose working in the repair shop of a ministry-based thrift store, and so far so good. He goes in once a week, fixes tables and bookcases and blenders and such, after which they are sold in the store, and the proceeds go to all sorts of good causes. It’s a great fit for him, and just last week he told me to go check out a table they had for sale. $40 later it’s sitting in the corner of our living room, and I love it all the more for where it came from.

I chose mentoring young women who have just come out of a program that helps prepare them for life. Some have been in prison, some were homeless, some have been trapped in poverty, some were mothers before they grew up, but all are trying to improve their lives. I went to a ceremony a few weeks back, where the women graduated from the program, and I met the young mom I’ll be getting together with for the next six to nine months.

At our first sweet meeting, she asked me, ‘so what is a mentor? Are you here to be my friend?’ I LOVE that a twenty-something was so gracious as to ask an almost-sixty year old, grey haired lady if we were supposed to be friends.

I told her I hoped we would be friends, but mostly I was there as someone who’s already walked a little further along the paths of life. As we get to know each other better I can help guide her along the way by sharing what I’ve learned when I failed miserably or finished well.

Last week we met for the first time, and I listened to her story. Where she’s been, where she is now, what hard things she’s dealing with, and what she dreams her future looks like, six months from now, a year from now, five years from now.

If you want to have fun, ask someone to dream out loud! I did, and her hopes and dreams and fears were flying through the air so fast I was having trouble keeping up with them all. When I shared that with her she told me, “me too! I feel like I have so much going on in my head I can’t keep track of it all.”

So here was, at least as I see it, the biggest, most important, rare gem of immense wisdom I shared with her that day.

Buy a five-tab, spiral notebook. Go wild and pick one with a cute cover, but buy one today.

I told her what to write on each tab. The first four labels are areas of life she wants to work on, and the last one will have my name. Behind each tab, on the first sheet of paper, she’ll scribble some general goals for each area, and then brainstorm whatever she’s thinking about in that area. Behind the ‘Bev’ tab she’ll jot down anything she wants to remember to tell me, ask me, talk with me about. When we meet for lunch in a few weeks she’ll bring the notebook and we’ll look at the pages together. From there we’ll work to set some specific goals for her to work toward, and come up with concrete ways to get from here to there.

It wasn’t rocket-science, just what struck me, off the top of my head. For the cost of a few bucks, she’ll hopefully feel more in control of her life; she’ll be able to see dreams and goals written down, and fears and problems, situations avoided to date, now faced straight on.

Not only do I look forward to seeing what she comes up in the next month, I’m hoping someday she’ll take this book down from the shelf and be able to look back to a time when she was working so hard to get her life together, and a five-tab, spiral notebook was a visible sign of her faith in the future. It’s scary to dream if you’ve never done it before. I know. I remember.

If you’re reading this, and checking out because you think you don’t have anything to share with anyone, it's not so! Young women today are desperately asking for mentors who are willing to invest in them. Even if you feel like much of your life has been spent making mistakes, that’s a valuable thing to share with someone who feels like they are the only one out there floundering. Maybe there’s a young woman, in your church or neighborhood, who could use a friend who was willing to spend time with them. Take a cooking class with them, or open a cookbook together (that might be fun!) do a Bible study together, start walking a few mornings a week just to talk, and/or pray. Bounce the baby for her, while you talk about how hard you struggled with learning to parent. Maybe you’re good at household budgeting, and could teach her how to set one up, and stick to it. 

If you’re over 40 and wondering what you could be doing with your life at this point, scripture spells it out for us:
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.   Titus 2:3-5 
 And if you’re thinking 40 isn’t ‘older woman’ it isn’t compared to me, but it is to a twenty-something who’s been married less than five years, and could use a helping hand.

I remember a story of a little boy with a sack lunch of some fish and pieces of bread, and when Jesus was done with it, it had fed the multitudes. Surely God can still today use us, whether it’s to teach a young mom to hang wallpaper (thank you Tris), study the Bible (thank you Deone) clean a house (thank you Claire) set a pretty table (thank you Karen) hold a friend’s trust (thank you Bettie) or be a real friend (thank you Cathy and Robin), or maybe you just suggest they buy a five tab, spiral notebook and start jotting down what’s on their heart. 

If you want to hear more about mentoring, or need some yourself, I so love the heart of this woman. She does a post most Mondays on the subject of mentoring, and I promise you'll be blessed to read what's on her heart. I still learn so much from her myself, and am thankful for all she's shared with my own two daughters. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Weekend Words

'Remember Lot's wife." (1)

Scripture doesn't tell me what her name is, just that she was disobedient. That's the sum total of what she's remembered for. She looked back at her town, burning behind her.

Did she slow down, just for a second, twisting her head the teensiest bit while she was running for her life, thinking a little look wouldn't hurt. Was she afraid her past was hot on her heels, catching up with her?

Much like my father, when God said it, he meant it. And you didn't ask why. Instantly she turned into a pillar of salt.

In my mind I picture her - long, brown hair flying behind her, skirts gathered up into her hand so she wouldn't be slowed down, sandals slapping against the ground, terrified at what was behind her, and ahead. How did she feel? How would I have felt if an angel had grabbed my  hand and pulled me along, telling me not to turn around.

I like to think I'd charge ahead, never look back, but who knows for sure? My track record so far indicates I could be a little salty too.

What made her turn around, look back? It wasn't like Sodom was a great place to live, so why? I'd think she was glad to be going, like when we finally sold our house at the lake, or the one in Virginia whose pipes froze every winter, but maybe she was sad at what she'd left behind and scared out of her wits that she was running into the unknown. I get that. Good riddance to where I've been but I'm not at all sure of what's ahead of me.

I have to wonder, was the rest of her family even aware she'd been changed? Did they ever know Mom had turned into salt? It seems to me they would all have been running straight ahead, and maybe some were behind her to see her change, but what about those who'd outrun her, who were ahead? They'd all been told, "escape for your life! Do not look behind you...." I have to assume they never saw her again, even though she was only feet behind them.

Maybe God let her run at the front of the pack, lead the way, as a sign to those coming behind? Sort of like my older sister and brothers. I mostly learned what not to do by watching them, or at least I learned how to not get caught. (I'm thinking of hiding packs of cigarettes in my bedroom, or coming up with stories of why I was late for my curfew....) Lot's wife didn't have the luxury of anyone else's example - one teensy twist of her neck and she was done.

There's much in life I've left behind, for good and bad. People, places, things, hopes, dreams, failures, memories. Some were easy, good riddance: that group I still call 'the mean quilters', bad boyfriends, a few 'friends', orange tube tops, and that awful, green car that had a stick shift I never mastered. There was also my first Barbie with the beautiful black hair and tiny white pearl earrings, the houses I brought my babies home to, women who became my forever friend, the last swing set and sand box, and the porch I sat on, chomping on chips and salsa out of anger and frustration at a husband who was doing the best he could, but working crazy hours that made him never home.

Surely there is value in considering the past, learning from the mistakes and treasuring the moments, and God has indeed equipped me to turn to the side a little bit, for a little peek, maybe. But there's a reason I don't have eyes in the back of my head, just the front for looking out at now and the future that lies ahead of me.

I don't want it said of me, summing up my life, 'but Bev looked back.'

(1) Genesis 19:17 & 26; Luke 17:32

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fleeting Days of Easy Conversation

The phone never rings more than two times before she grabs it, a little out of breath, as if there's a rush, but there's not. Or she just came in the door with arms full of groceries, but she didn't. And she always answers, 'Beverly?' with that question mark in her voice.

I say, 'Hi Mom, how are you?'. Without fail she says, 'your mom is doing great, I'm doing just great.' The conversation dips and turns, a sort of tango to take us to how she's really doing. What she's busy with, who she's seen lately, where she's gone. That takes all of minutes these days.

As soon as she can, she turns the conversation back to me and my family. 'Well now, how are all those kids down in Texas doing?' How are those up north?" I answer with names and details, a gentle refresher for her, assuring her they're all fine. Doing well. We're all doing well.

We used to stay in touch by writing real letters, on lined paper, with blue ink. Photographs and newspaper clippings were shoved into envelopes. No recipes. My mother has never been the recipe-exchange type. A few years ago, after a drawer-cleaning stint, she gave me back all those letters I'd written her, all the photos and news clippings still intact. Someday, eventually, I'll take them with me on that trip to the beach we said we'd go on, but never did; I'll reread them while I lie in the sun, my face shaded by a big, floppy hat, and wish she was with me. I already know, years ahead of time, how it will feel to be there without her, remembering. Right now they sit on the closet shelf, sheets and sheets of a journal I didn't know I was keeping.

Back in those days when we talked on the phone but lived miles apart, 'long distance' was not something to be taken lightly so we crammed as much in as we could. We talked about everything. Nothing was taboo, and we only hung up because the bill was running up, ten cents a minute. We'd stop the flow of easy conversation. Stop the deep, long talks about politics and discrimination and women's lib, and books and marriage and divorce and such, but never a word about recipes. Oddly enough, those cooking conversations are, and always have been, with my father. My mother and I would hit on a subject and talk it to the ground. That was then.

This is now. A now that snuck up on me, one day at a time until it turned into years and we're in a place where there's not so much to talk about.  Is it because her world is getting smaller, the walls closing in around her? Surely mine will someday too soon do the same. The last time we talked, after I hung up, I thought about how I need to do better. I need to go back with her to a place and time when life was full.  Remember with her all her favorite stories. Let her tell me again, for her, but also for me so I tuck them away safe. Now that phone minutes are virtually unlimited our conversations aren't. I need to work on that. Put out the effort to find things we can again talk and talk and talk about.

Earlier this week I sat in the chair of my living room, chattering away with my two grown daughters. Words flowed, twisting and turning and looping around again. We remembered together, laughing and yelling over each other, squealing and gasping for breath.  We could have talked all night if one mama wasn't sleep deprived from having a baby, and the other one knew better than to stay up too late because a houseful of little people would be waiting for her when the sun was barely up. Good sense won out, but everything in us wanted to stay there together.

That evening with my girls, for a moment their voices were muffled in my mind. Words went pale and danced behind the filter of my heart. Like when bright sun comes through the glass window and you can see particles of dust floating in the air all around you, I was mesmerized by the sheer sound of their voices filling the room. My room. Just being here together in the fullness of it all. Someday my girls will maybe remember back to this night, and so many others, when we couldn't talk fast enough, about enough, long enough. When we were all sad that it was too late to stay longer and being responsible ended our evening too soon. They'll remember when my world was big and wide and full of new people and interesting events, and books, and news and such. When we didn't talk about doctor visits and prescriptions and aches and pains and such.

Why is it days slip by so easily, going unnoticed, turning into years? What can I do to make it hold still? For right now I can really, really, really listen to how it sounds when my mother calls me "Darlin'" and somewhere in our talking says "It's just so good to hear from you." I'm trying to grasp, at the core of my being, that someday I'll look back and remember these days - with my own mother, and as a mother of my two grown daughters, and wish I could have just one of them back. Wish I could ask my mother about her new friend down the way, and hear her reply. Listen to my girls talk about being sleep-deprived, and feedings, and toddlers, and teenagers, and everything else in-between. I'll look back to these fleeting days of easy conversation that floated in the air all around me.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

They have no wine.....

"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not  yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11

I've had these verses stuck in my head for days now. Rolling around, giving me time to mull them over. I often pray while I'm driving, not because I'm so sanctified, but rather because I'm a scatterbrain who has a hard time focusing / sitting still when I'm home.  I focus better when I get in the car. As I prayed for this or that situation or person these last few days, this 'water to wine story kept coming to mind. 

First, I love, love that Jesus' mother saw a problem, knew the Solution, and immediately asked him to fix it. I love even more that right after he told her the problem didn't have anything to do with him, he fixed it, plus some. And she knew her kid; she knew he would because after Jesus explained why it wasn't his problem, she immediately gave the servants directions on what to do to help him. Having raised a boy myself, I love this story from that angle. Knowing even Mary didn't raise a boy without being a bit bossy at times makes it easier for me to go to sleep at night with a clear conscious regarding my own mothering days. (Has anyone else ever wondered how she knew he could do miracles at this point?)

I also love that Jesus picked turning water into wine as his first miracle. Did he know, all the way back then, that denominations would be arguing over it til he came back and straightened out all the hullabaloo? I have my own opinions as to whether it was 'fermented' wine or not, but that it's still a hot topic 2000+ years later amuses me. No doubt there are plenty out there who wish he'd turned flour into wedding cake or flower seeds into beautiful blossoms, rather than throw the whole wine thing into the mix. 

I love that Jesus had a regular life, with family get-togethers and celebrations. That he got invited places, and showed up. With all his friends. I wonder if he had any goofy family members, aunts, uncles, brothers, cousins who threw kinks in any gathering. Was there one who was always too loud, or a grouchy complainer, or someone who was late to everything? Was there one who never dressed quite right, brought recycled gifts, or whatever they contributed to the pot luck, everyone knew to stay away? Did he have an aunt who knew his favorite dish and always brought it for him to enjoy? Did he laugh loud at jokes, or even tell a few? Did the kids flock to him, even though he didn't have any of his own? Was there a girl, or two, who kept their eyes on him, always hopeful he'd notice them too? Did he dance? I hope he did. And if they had wedding cake, I bet he enjoyed a slice, or at least the 2000 years ago equivalent of wedding cake. I've never, ever, ever understood anyone who turns down a piece of wedding cake at a wedding. Really? Who does that? 

This wedding at Cana  also makes me think about the whole nature of God. Versus my nature. Or the nature of almost anyone else I know. I know God will take care of my needs. He knows when I'm hungry, tired, sick, discouraged, worried. He'll provide water when I'm thirsty. What's hard for me to grasp is that he takes care of my wants too. And he's happy to do so. Scripture tells me that he came that I might have life, in abundance. That he is the giver of good gifts. Mary didn't tell Jesus the people were thirsty. There was water there to fill that need. Instead she told him the party was still going strong, and there was still much celebrating to be done, so the people needed more wine. 

Two thousand years ago Jesus loved his mother enough to do as she asked.

Two thousand years ago Jesus agreed the party wasn't over. 

Two thousand years after God gave his son for us, why on earth would he hold back on all the rest of the good stuff? We shouldn't be praying that marriages would hold, but rather that they would blossom into what they were always meant to be. Not that businesses would survive, but rather that they would thrive. Not that our kids would learn in school, but rather that they would learn to love learning. Not that the money would stretch far enough, but rather that it would grow ten-fold to be used for noble purposes, and just plain fun. Not that we would beat the disease, but rather that health would be fully restored. Not that churches would be filled, but to overflowing with lives changed as a result. 

The miracle at the wedding at Cana reminds me to be praying, not just for tap water to quench thirst, but for good wine to celebrate life.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Learning to Listen

It wasn't the best way to start a friendship. Sharp words, misunderstandings, quick judgments, followed by me closing my front door and crossing her off my list.

Til she came back the next day to apologize, and we stood there and talked and listened and talked some more. Grace went back and forth between us til we were both surprised to find we might like each other after all.

Months have passed, we've chatted a few times, but this past week we finally took time to sit down and really talk.

For four and a half hours we sat on the patio, under a slip of a moon, declaring guacamole and chips dinner. And I listened.

I'm not a good listener, at least not as good as I am at talking. Just this past week I was in a restaurant and the server took our orders without pencil or pad. She made eye contact, listened to each of us and brought back our food. I told my husband I could N.E.V.E.R. do that, I'd forget.

When my new friend sat down I told her, 'please talk with your mouth full. I know you haven't had dinner but I want to hear your story.'

We started with when she was ten and her entire family was traveling down a highway on a rainy night, and her mother grabbed onto the door handle. She woke up to see her lying feet away in a ditch, gone from her forever. At sixteen, and within months of each other, she lost her father to cancer and her older brother to an aneurysm. At sixteen an orphan. I didn't speak, except to keep track of details, like the waitress did when she asked what dressing I wanted on my salad. Stay in it, listen deep, pay attention.

She told me about her loves and losses, and finally getting married, and bringing four babies home.

She told me about the lump and lymph nodes, and the mastectomy, and the chemo and shaving her head, and wearing a ball cap, and the cinderblock on my chest felt even heavier than an hour before.

She told me how it felt to find out she was going to be a grandmother too soon; her daughter was still in high school, and after that little one was born they found out another was coming, from another daughter and there still hadn't been any proposals or celebrations.

We ate guacamole and chips, and sipped wine for four and a half hours. The lights of the neighborhood disappeared all around us. We stayed, swatting at the bugs the porch light drew to us.

Somewhere around midnight huge wings swooped through the trees over us, and we heard owls, calling one to another. And then a magical moment, here they came, a pair touched down on the live oak branch hanging overhead. Barred owls with brown and white feathers and huge eyes that looked straight ahead., They sat there silent, and for a moment I wondered if her story had drawn them.

We sat there, watching the owls and listening as they called to the one already flown away to a neighbor's tree. She leaned in and whispered that she'd never seen an owl, at all, let alone so nearby. The two lifted and flew away into the night. And her story was done.

I never took a note, I had no pencil, but I know her story. I know the name of every one of her children, how old they are, how old their children are, where they are in life, where she is, what her hopes and dreams for the next five years are. I know she doesn't particularly like chocolate, visiting San Francisco is on her bucket list, she's a 15 year cancer survivor, and is learning to be happy at the weight she's at now.

It wasn't the night to take my story out. One offering on the altar was enough.

I still don't know completely what to make of that evening. I do know we all have amazing stories just waiting for someone to listen to with their hearts, rather than a pencil. Hers is still bumping around inside me, working itself out, and I am changed for having heard it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Make Your Monday Matter....

Watch this:  It is the very best thing I have EVER, EVER, EVER seen on Facebook.

My gift to you:

Makes me want to go out and adopt a dozen myself. Or sponsor someone else so they can.

Heart-shaping stuff.