Sunday, October 31, 2010

Merry Go 'Round Days

Images from childhood offer rich illustrations for us throughout our lives. Some days just feel like the merry-go-round on the playground. Though safety concerns are causing them to disappear faster than hot chocolate chip cookies, you may recall your favorite merry-go-round. Can you remember the painted metal platform spinning as someone on the ground pumps it faster around by pushing the metal grab bars as they go past? Now remember the feeling of being on and wanting to get off, but it is spinning too quickly to safely jump off. I think of that image some days.

There are days when we seem to move from day into night into the next day... and the next... without stopping. There are days - and there are even seasons of life - when the relentless forward motion can feel like a centrifuge pressing us, wide-eyed and arms spread, into the outer boundary of whatever would contain us. Some call it feeling out of control. Some say exhausted. Call it what you will, I suspect you've been there too. We may want to say, 'stop the world, I want to get off!' even if just for a while.

We need rest but rest is elusive.

We long for sleep but do not find it in the demands of the day and night, especially in caring for young children or for those who need constant care.

And so we look for things we think will help us cope...slow down... restore sanity...bring order out of chaos....or just get through the day. To be sure, there are some healthy practices that we need to incorporate into our lives which help us manage stress. My mother is fond of saying, "what you're looking for is usually at the end of your nose." She's right: what we need is often closer than we imagine.

Some find it in indulging in pursuits that promise to take us away: we indulge in food, wine, chocolate, (chips and salsa usually works for me), or for the more industrious (and wiser), exercise. While the endorphins produced via exercise do help promote the well-being we long for, the side-effects of too much sugar or salt and the unhealthy foods we attack leave us more distressed than they found us. In the words of Peter, Paul & Mary, "when will we ever learn?" *

The way of wisdom teaches me: "Don't look for rest and comfort in places you cannot find it. "

We are still looking for love in all the wrong places, to paraphrase a 1980's song. Self love, that is. We care for others, but often neglect ourselves.

Jesus says, in language of the heart, "YOU, precious child, are worth caring for.
YOU, young, exhausted mom, are Mine, and I know best how to care for and tend My flock.
YOU, middle-aged child of Mine, have so much of life still to live fully in My care. I can show you how to dust off those dreams and discover the person you yet can become!
YOU, mature child of Mine, may be advanced in years, but time is as a whisper with Me, and you are still vibrant and lovely, and I long to caress you tenderly with my Spirit
YOU are my beloved."

Each of us is beloved of the Father! Part of God's loving care is to restore us when we fail and grow weary. The scriptures address this in many places. I love: "Come unto me when you are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest."

Draw near. Come as you are. No need to clean up our act or put on a happy face. Come as children with grimey, tear-streaked faces after a fall. And Jesus, lover of our souls, will tenderly wipe away all tears from our eyes. He, by the power of the Spirit, will restore us when we cannot restore ourselves. And somehow....even if just for a while....the merry go 'round slows to a manageable pace; and we can exit, gain sure footing again, and maintain equilibrium for the day. For His mercies are everlasting and His will is ever directed to His children's good.

"Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28
Lord Jesus, Your invitation comes with a promise. You will give rest when we come to You. It sounds so simple. Perhaps approaching You will become our first resort, rather than our last. Amen

* lyrics from Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger, 1961
photo by whateverthing

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Touch of Beauty

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller (1880-1968)

Perhaps this is another task of a lifetime - to learn how to see rightly and to feel with the heart. We can attest to the immense beauty that lies within a glorious explosion of color in nature, or in the intricacy of a blossom. Beauty abounds and punctuates our day if we but notice it, but that is through visual perception. What is the touch of beauty?

Surely each of our senses can perceive beauty; it is not the exclusive purview of sight. If we did not have sight, would we not experience heightened awareness through other senses? How does beauty feel? Let that thought resonate during the day and see what comes to mind. Share your thoughts if you wish and add to your own list.

Lord, enlarge my heart and mind to hold within as much of your beautiful world as I can experience today. Teach me how to feel with my heart. Let me stop and notice gracenotes of beauty in unexpected places. Amen.

(Photo by Prentice Stabler, Chattanooga, TN)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cease Striving: Let it Go

"Cease striving. Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10

Can you put yourself in the picture above? How wonderful if we could sit beside the streams of flowing water for just a while, and take in the sounds and earthy aromas of the woodlands and waterfalls! That primal connection between rest or relaxation and water is widely acknowledged, if not understood, and is the basis for replicating sounds of trickling and flowing water in spas, relaxing music, even in sleep machines. The sound triggers the imagination and memory, but does not replace experiencing the presence of actual flowing water in this beautiful setting. At such a time, I just close my eyes and lodge it securely in my mind, banking it for memory.

The directive 'cease striving' means in the Hebrew, "let your hands drop"...."let go". It is a simple practice I like to incorporate and one small step to enhance relaxation. One of the easiest ways to be aware of signs of physical stress is to look at our hands. When our hands are gripping each other, or clenched, or fingers are nervously fidgeting, these are visible indicators of inner conflict or stress. Notice your hands and unclasp them, then hold them palms up, loosely cupped, in your lap or in a neutral position. Repeatedly doing this little exercise helps us become aware of the stress cycle we unwittingly perpetuate in our bodies all the time. Similar steps are to relax a furrowed brow, drop and roll shoulders to relax tension in the neck, and otherwise address the ways our bodies hold onto stress. Learning how to let go can feel artificial at first, but can become second nature to us as we learn means of practicing peace in spite of our circumstances.

We struggle to hold on to things we should let go all the time. If we release or commit our cares to the One who cares for us, we take a first step in acknowledging that we are in the healing presence of God With Us - Emmanuel. We learn to rely on God and to relax in the Presence so that we can learn to wait on God's provision. I need to emphasize that for myself:

Release or commit cares
Rely on God
Relax in God's Presence
Wait on God's provision.

Relaxing hands and furrowed brows is but a step in becoming aware of how our physical posture affects our mental/emotional state. Please do not mistake suggestions or practices or coping skills as substitutions for putting ourselves squarely in the presence of God who alone gives Peace and transforms our hearts and minds. We can become enslaved by human rules of how to 'do it right' and miss the point. We can begin to think we've got it all together and are doing pretty well by ourselves, thank you. A prideful self-confidence or independent spirit has no need of relying on God for much of anything.

There is an interesting caution in Jeremiah 2:12,13 that reminds me of the human tendency to strive for independence at great cost.

"Be appalled, O heavens, at this; Be utterly shocked, declares the Lord, for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves - broken cisterns that can hold no water."

Cisterns are just man-made pottery for collecting and saving water. Accumulating cisterns - broken ones at that - is no match for living in the presence of the fount of living water!

"Let it go. Be still and know that I am God. And I will be exalted among the nations."

Photo by Prentice Stabler, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guard Your Heart

"Above all else, guard your heart; for everything else flows from it."
Proverbs 4:23
I do a double take when I read that verse. The phrase above all else captures my attention every time. I began to think on it years ago and searched for other places in scripture where that phrase appears. More to come on that later...

For now, it is enough to remind me that the condition and the contents of our hearts are of singular importance. If we store up resentments there, or rehearse old wounds and nurse grudges, our hearts become filled with festering, toxic by-products of these actions, choking out the fruits of the Spirit that could grow in abundance in our heartspace.

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self control. These need space to grow as we mature in the faith.....'fresh air to breathe' in our hearts.....and will expand exponentially in each of our lives if given the chance.

Thanks be to God, we have that chance. By God's grace we have the option to live above the experience love and forgiveness far beyond our ability to extend it....and to return kindness and gentleness for catty words or hurtful actions. And the rest of the chance is a choice - our choice. We choose to guard our hearts, standing as a sentinel and refusing to allow a foothold to those things which 'appeal to our lowest forms of entertainment', as a young mom said last week.

Lord, Help me learn how to filter anything that would seek to take up residence in my heart that is not pleasing to you. Teach me to take responsibility for what I need to do, and purify my heart in ways that I am unable to do on my own by the power of your Spirit.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

"Purple Dancer" by Rhymes Stabler

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fear Not Little Flock

"Fear not, little flock; It is your father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Luke 12:32

A thought for the day...

This is the favorite verse of a dear friend and woman in her eighties who generally identifies with scholars and academicians. Seems like such a simple thought - not weighty or impressive as a scholarly pursuit. It came to mind when Rhymes sent me her watercolor of the little bird peering upward.

This snipet of scripture is actually a tiny treasure. It offers calm reassurance, words of love and comfort, and draws a picture of relationship between and the generous, loving father and each of us. What a tender thought in a tiny package. May it be a blessing to your day as we face an uncertain future with serenity and assurance that we are loved with an everlasting love.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dawn Birds: Singing in the Dark

I have learned of some who are facing a painful time, a loving vigil with family members right now. Each of us will be there at some time in our lives, if not now. A cherished image I have held for years may be meaningful to share with others who are in this place.

Our friend, Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier, spoke about the dawn birds of his native South Africa. He told of this tiny bird whose song is the first sound to be heard while it is dark, before the sun lightens the sky. They sing while it is still night because that is what they were made to do!

There is darkness all around us in many ways surrounding death or deep personal loss, yet there is at the same time the song of One who says, "darkness and weeping will not always endure - day is coming." The sun will always break through the night; light will overcome the darkness. Such is the order of nature, and it is the promise of scripture.

I make no claim to know how anyone else feels. I cannot speak from having been in your shoes about the unfathomable despair and fatigue and the inexpressible sense of lost expectations you have in your own situation. Each of us has to walk that path ourselves. But I do speak words of love and assurance that there is a dawn. I join the voices of others through the ages who call out praise to God in spite of circumstances, because - like the dawn birds - that is what believers are made to do. There is something inside that knows this is not the end of Life. Yes - it looks like the end of everything we know, but death is not the final word.

I believe we are not merely physical beings on a spiritual quest; we are also spiritual beings living in a physical world. This world is filled with disease, heartbreak and brokenness all its own. But that is not the extent of our experience of Life. Our minds must expand to grasp the vastness of a reality much larger than what we see and touch - a reality that includes time and space much larger that our small world will allow. Sometimes we call that heaven or eternity. But the promise of scripture is that we were made for something much more than the limited experiences our loved ones now enjoy with their disease progression and disability. Even as the body is deteriorating, we often glimpse a powerful spirit - the individuality of one who fights to live.

It is still the dark night of the soul for you and so many others. Suffering is dark and painfully bleak. I cannot answer the question of why we have such suffering in this world. And to even address it here risks violating a sacred personal space at such an intimate time. What gives hope to one person sounds arrogantly dismissive of the depth of intense suffering another bears.

I have long held a favorite scripture dear to me:
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5
Not merely weeping, but gut-wrenching sobbing endures for many nights! So when does the night end and morning come? Who is to say when it is dawn? Is it when the first light breaks over the horizon, or when sun fills the sky? I don't know. But I believe with all my heart it will come, and it will bring each of us into the presence of God who has been with our loved ones and with you and me all along. We will one day know the power of God's Presence in a way we only see darkly now. But we can experience some measure of God's Peace now.

He will never leave us alone. Never. Among Jesus' parting words were these:
"And I will ask the Father and He will give you another counselor who will be with you forever." John 14:16

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." NIV 2 Corinthians 4:16

"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day." New Living Translation 2 Corinthians 4:16

Thanks be to God for a little creature who sings in the dark. May I carry a song in my heart as fuel for the journey of life.
Now if we can sing it in the dark....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Erma's Pearl of Wisdom

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, "I used everything you gave me."

by Erma Bombeck, from A Seat at the Table

Let us not get to the end of the journey with a still-full tank of talent or anything else - 'just in case' - and packed bags full of stuff 'that we might need', and chests full of food 'so we'll have plenty'. I think it preferable to have used up the energy, and to have distributed the stuff of our collections, and to have shared our food and goods with those who need it and appreciate it along the way.

Yes, we might run out. But what a way to go!

"If anyone has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and truth." I John 3:17, 18

(Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665. The Hague)

Blowin' in the Wind

I ran across this email I wrote one year ago at the time of Mary Travers' death, and wanted to share it. Some of you wrote me back with similar stories about another time and place, or the importance of music in shaping who we are. I have appreciated them. It is important to pause and remember people and places in our lives who helped lay a 'personality stone' along the path to the person we are today:

Part of my childhood died today. I always thought I was born too late; now I know it.

For as long as I can remember I have loved Peter, Paul and Mary. Their music let me be the wind-blown, hippie chick I felt in my spirit, but never quite seemed to morph into on my own. I never frequented a Greenwich Village nightclub, but sang my heart out on the back porch of my Monticello home in the late 60's and early 70's. Strumming or clumsily picking my way on a 1964 Gibson tenor guitar, I could become the folk singer of my dreams. Safely in the company of my daddy - who knew all the words and had the same warmth in his voice of Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow combined - we played and sang. He taught me, "Where have all the flowers gone?", "Blowin' in the Wind", "500 Miles", "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", The New Christy Minstrels' songs, and so many more. That music took me to another place I loved to visit.....often.

The chords were easy - no more than 6 sometimes. It was never about the technical wizardry of their music. They presented a purity of message and sound that I can't hear anymore amid the voice-altering, computer-assisted recordings today. Memories of those Mississippi nights flooded my mind when I saw the news about her death. They shaped a way of hearing those simple harmonies that even today I love and never grow tired of replaying. As a generation, we outgrew Barbies and G.I. Joe, and the Mattel Thingmaker, but I'll never outgrow Peter, Paul and Mary.
When Bennett was four, he took me to preschool for show 'n tell. I sang Puff the Magic Dragon for his class, then he played a Billy Joel song on his red plastic electric guitar. Now, I can neither play nor sing;  use it or lose it, they say. Or maybe I never could. Ah, but on those Mississippi nights on the back porch, I was a little bit of Mary Travers! 

Time moves on. And it took part of me with it tonight. 

One year later, and I still remember fondly these impressions. Today I am reminded to acknowledge the past, but not to dwell there. Pause to remember, then determine to move on, pressing on to the high calling of the needs of this day. I have the best of intentions, but I am a sentimental soul and sometimes linger longer with tender memories of the past, delighting in them. I suspect you do too. And then I remember with a smile:
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
William Faulkner
US novelist (1897 - 1962)
Thank you, Lord, that you are the God of our yesterday, today, and tomorrow. All of our hopes and heart's desires are still 'blowin' in the wind' until we find our contentment in You. Thank you for the gift of memories which no one can take away from us. Amen

Post script: Press release for the October 2010 release of The Night Before Christmas, the classic by Clement C. Moore, includes music by Peter, Paul and Mary for yet another generation of little ones.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons from the Backwater

Mary knows something about surviving. My friend since first grade, she has buried two husbands and her parents and lives alone on the bank of the Pearl River. Though she is severely limited by rheumatoid arthritis, her spirit seems to have grown more vibrant and alive as her body has failed her.

She asked if I have ever been in a boat on the backwater. I have not.

"You ought to," she said. "It's so beautiful! You can see the strangest things. Like, who would think there is anything redeeming about a bunch of fire ants? But when the water rises and their colony is flooded, you know what they do? They ball up with the queen and as many eggs as they can salvage in the middle and they begin to roll. They scramble head over heel in frenzied tumbling, scampering all over each other, going underwater then back on top. They keep each other alive by rolling so that no one will be under water long enough to drown! They glisten like a gorgeous copper ball - thousands of teeny, shimmering copper bodies tumbling together!"

She continued, "I've just got to hand it to them for surviving!"

"If you break them up with a paddle like my husband would do, they burst apart and scatter. They appear to disappear. Suddenly, they turn into little orbs all around dancing on the water. Then they float back together again - somehow finding each other to hold onto. They know they can't give up. No matter what the world slings at them, they keep coming back. That's why they are so hard to get rid of!"

"You don't see people doing that," she lamented. "You don't see people balling up and surviving because of their willingness to hold onto each other."

I thought about the verbal picture she had painted and almost saw the copper bodies in the sunlight.

Maybe the survival of animals depends on one another as well as their own individual strength. Do we dare reach out to someone else when we are threatened with fear, depression, and failure? Or do we want to avoid the appearance of distress at all costs - and to our peril? Who among us is willing to be in the underwater position and have our own lives drained a bit for the sake of someone else? Living in mutual interdependence is a strength, not a weakness. I hope to remember a lesson from the backwater next time life slings a paddle in my direction.

Hold on. Do not lose hope.

"Bear one another's burdens..."
Galatians 6:2

"When one member suffers, all suffer together;
when one member is honored, all rejoice together"
1 Corinthians 12:26

(Pearl River backwater. Photo by Charlie Brenner, Jackson, Miss. Used with permission)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bloom Where You Are Planted


Mabel Brantley Haardt, beloved and wonderfully eccentric sister to our grandmother, was always one to offer whatever she had to others. I do not remember ever leaving her home empty-handed. One trip she insisted that I take a black plastic pot among several in her back yard holding a Night Blooming Cereus, a spraggly plant that we wedged onto the floor of the car.

Pronouncing it 'series' with native Alabama honey in her voice, Mabel told how in the 1960's they would have garden parties and go outside about ten o'clock to see the blooms "as big as a pie plate". She tended it all these decades and promised that it was easy to care for.

The plant itself is unsightly: flat, green, woody cactus stems emerge from a parched soil base. It grows from tubers underneath the surface--some grow the size of a watermelon in the Sonoran desert--not exactly the thing that would garner a nomination for Yard of the Month in the deep south.

But the oddest thing happens to this plant which looks like it has been discarded in my back yard near the woodpile: delicate petals in white and yellow the size of your outstretched hand sprout forth from the dried stem and open to the summer night. What a beautiful sight! Who is there to enjoy it? We have no garden parties at our home, though my husband, always watchful, gives me the heads up so that I can check the blooms in the early morning the next day when he sees that one forming, because they close and shrivel after one night's show. September and October are prime months, and this one pictured above showed out this week. There were four blooms all in one night a few years ago in September on the day of Aunt Mabel's funeral. I had to smile.

Wikipedia even has a reference from a surprising source noting this flower: John Wesley, "John Wesley's Journal", Mon. 24th July 1780, describes the blooming and fading of the "Nightly Cereus" which had a 125mm dia. white centre, and 225mm dia. [that would be 8.86 inches across!] "yellow ray" petals. I plan to read it because I have long thought there is a spiritual dimension to many of God's creations which offer a lesson for us.

Not many things thrive on neglect. People, relationships, and most growing things need care. But this hardy plant lives to bloom no matter what I do to it.

I have not fed or repotted it in many years, though I realize I am confessing my poor gardening skills about a family heirloom publicly. It is hard-wired into this cactus to produce glorious blooms out of nothing but the reservoir below the surface.

We, too, can appear to be past our the end of the road....suffering from various maladies that afflict us throughout this life, having neglected the care of ourselves or having been discarded by others whose approval and love we longed to receive. People can be figuratively sitting at the place where my plant is right now - at the back corner of the house feeling unable or unworthy to venture forth to a proper place in the mix of others. We pass them all the time. They can even be each of us from time to time. Do we even notice?

Each of us has intrinsic value and the potential for a bloom to burst forth from the most unexpected place. Don't miss it!
"Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it shall spring forth. Do you perceive it?"
Isaiah 43:19
I am trying to watch for the 'new thing' when we least expect it and I am seeing it all around.

The Lord God provides a reservoir of sorts for us as well - ways of sustaining us when we have exhausted our own resources:

"Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you...There is hope in your future, says the Lord." Jeremiah 31:3, 17
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hard Things

"You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt

"You can do hard things." Kat Griffith, mother of 5, Mentone, Alabama (Every bit as capable, just not as famous as Eleanor.)

Kat's words propelled me with purpose and determination in encouraging my children and me through the years. Sometimes we need encouragement when we are facing a tough task, and sometimes we need help. We cannot know what another person needs, but we can offer both.

We must not be too hasty to step in and help when the value to the other person is in learning what they can do for themselves. How does one develop a work ethic to carry him or her through challenges if someone else swoops in early and often to perform the task? I let that quote play repeatedly when facing tough times: “You can do hard things.”

Yet there are times when we need to ask for help. There is no shame is getting to the limit of our ability to manage or to cope with a new situation. We need a model for help.

Rarely would I allude to popular culture as an example for behavior, but the old Who Wants to be a Millionaire fits here. This show continues to grow around the world with Arab World, Russian, Hungarian, Poland, and Thai among the many versions, and a recent one just began in The Netherlands last month. The show in the U.S. had several ‘lifelines’ contestants could take hold of when they had exhausted their own knowledge and faced certain elimination in their quest for dollars.

The 50-50 lifeline was all about eliminating options. Narrow the field. Cut to the chase. Some people find a way to focus on a tough challenge at hand by excising extraneous distractions. Simply cut out something when there is too much going on. 50-50, when employed as a survival strategy, can work wonders. The hard part is knowing what to save and what to jettison.

Phone-a-Friend was an option where a knowledgeable friend waited on standby, ready to answer the troublesome question. It helped to have a friend with both a broad and deep knowledge base at one’s fingertips. Such a well-placed call is a lifesaver.

On the rare occasions when my teenage brothers got vehicles impossibly stuck in a creek bed, they knew one call to Uncle Gervase was sufficient. Fast, confidential service with a trusty winch every time. Home before supper. Guaranteed. I always wanted a magic number like that.

Many employ this means as a valid model today when they get in a jam.

Call someone who knows you and cares. We can usually do pretty well with this one. But sometimes we keep up the impression of competence and success even with our friends when, as my young friend said, "we're dying inside." Honestly can be hard work too. The chasm grows and we feel isolated.

Poll-the-Audience as a lifeline option gave the contestant in mere seconds the collective insight of a broader group to weigh in with their opinion. This worked effectively with such topics as movies or TV shows where superficial, pop-culture knowledge was needed. Many today live poll-the-audience lives, curiously watching others so as to move in synch with swelling or waning cultural tides.

It seems disastrous to let what everybody else is doing be a guide for life, but we are doing it with a frenzy. Who is our audience? If one’s audience is a small group of committed friends, or a community of folks who walk alongside in support, or a very present friend or mentor, then we can trust their opinion so much more with important matters. It all depends on the audience.

Can we learn to trust an audience of one? That’s the million dollar question to me.

Life’s hard things take us to a breaking point at times. We need all the help we can get. There are promises of wisdom, discernment, comfort, assurance, conviction -- all the things we need as we traverse this road -- if we but ask.

Let the lifelines take us first to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves and gives wisdom liberally to those who ask.

"Your Father knows the things you need before you ask of Him." Matthew 6:8

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blue Ribbon Night

I heard my husband's voice coming down the hall before I saw him. "I'm worried about Daddy," he said. "I think he's sick!"

"Let's go check on him right now. What's wrong?" I said, shifting into overdrive.

"He wants to go to the Fair," Ben deadpanned.

With that highly out of character request, we changed clothes quickly and picked up my eighty-something father in law and his wife who cannot possibly be near that age, and drove to the Mississippi State Fair 2010 on a beautiful October Sunday evening at sunset. Parking close by the Coliseum made the walking easier and the terrain smooth on asphalt. My husband was anticipating all the little things that might be an obstacle to their enjoying the evening.

Let me pause here. Enjoying an evening at the fair might be an oxymoron to many, and assuredly it had been for my husband's dad, Billy, who is more at home in a bow tie and dinner jacket than cruising the midway in his jeans. But despite decades of dislike for all things related to the fair, and repeated refusals to go to the midway with his beloved who has been known, she confided, to go by herself just to get Malone's taffy and walk around safely in the daytime, there we were: four Waltons embarking on a twilight study in Southern culture and gastronomic excess.

It was, in a word, delightful. Really. And it brought back memories.

As a child I remember the magic of the state fair in the fall. Magic was as vivid as tinkerbell's wand touching the top of Cinderella's castle on Walt Disney when night fell at the fair and the lights turned on. You just can't have a good fair without neon.
In rural Lawrence County, Mississippi, we had an afternoon off in elementary school to attend the Fair, which extended into night in my memories of going with my family. They got lost when I was in fourth grade, and I had to go to the Sheriff's tent to find them. My classmates in 4-H and the FFA students in high school had worked on projects, produce, and livestock all year in anticipation of winning prizes in the fall. Blue ribbons meant big dollars for the best of breed in the barns. That was the meat of the fair for many. Literally.

Others came for rides. Spinning cages offering riders a glimpse of airbrushed Alpine peaks and buxom Swiss misses, and the various whirling apparatus attached to something resembling a giant drill bit visually enhanced by flashing strobe lights held thrills, chills and plenty of ticket money
for the three minutes of adrenaline rush. I never rode anything more exciting than the Ferris Wheel, after embarrassing my sixth grade self when I could not navigate the vertigo house with the floor that kept sliding away while traversing uphill, and the laughter of boys outside trumped the ambient noise of the midway. Sixth grade girls are funny that way.

The fair was a great place to go with a date who could win a large stuffed dog decades ago, and from the look of things, that hasn't gone out of style. Today's prizes, however, look a bit more aggressive and hip with their Jamaican hair braided-stuffed-five-foot- long yellow bananas being all the rage this year. A few booths and tents had some - I'm not kidding here - rather charming and personable folks who used to be called barkers. There were some who might be called a little rough around the edges, but there were guys quite colorful and engaging and local folks there too. Jo Nash and her husband have been coming from Brandon for years, turning out one patted and homemade cinnamon apple pie after another. If I do not come away with anything else, I have a little bag of Jo's pies, never one to turn away a good cinnamon apple anything. We got a kick out of the banter between the very agreeable, winsome weight or birthday guesser ("What we doin' here, Lil' Man?"with a smile so big smile he would disarm even the most skeptical visitor) and his folks who stepped up to see if he knew their secret. He just needs a break and he'd be on Last Comic Standing! We just had to pause and smile.

I caught the delight of the little four year old girl in pink who held the sledge hammer and pounded the bell three times in a row and won herself a prize, though she never saw the young man operating the kiddie arcade manually lift the weight each time she struck it so that she would ring the bell. We took the time to see - really see some of the sights I might have missed in that sea of humanity had I not been looking to enjoy the gladness of the night. The old car show is still there though we didn't make it inside. Now I would probably remember
driving some of those cars. They used to be old.

We saw candy apples, funnel cakes, cinnamon rolls, fried twinkies, fried oreos, blooming onions, Jo's apple pies, roasted corn, homemade biscuits with syrup, Pronto Pups, Penn's chicken on a stick, taffy dropping down the chute into red and white boxes, and - this was a new one for me - Fried Krispy Kreme doughnuts surrounding a cheeseburger with bacon. I am serious. Comfort for health enthusiasts: Fresh Never Frozen on the sign.

And the music scene fills the air at night with headliners a bit past their prime, shall we say. A few years ago, Big Al, Ben and I enjoyed Peter Noone aka Herman's Hermits (google them) from front row seats in a not-so-crowded Coliseum, and I still have his plastic guitar pick from that Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter evening. The Grass Roots also played that night, with the lead singer in tight black leather pants (not unexpected) recovering from hip replacement surgery and leaning occasionally on a cane (unexpected). Time does move on. Last year Ben and I heard Credence Clearwater Revisited (new name for a split group) playing to a bigger audience of middle age people on the Geezer circuit of state fairs. I suppose ours will be the generation that has Motown playing on the Musak in the nursing homes, and we'll still be saying, "man, that was good music!"

I heard all of this and more as we strolled the midway last night. We had a delightful walk down memory lane with Billy and Frances. The lesson to me: be open to seeing something new even though it's been in your own backyard for 83 years. I am thankful for this simple pleasure of seeing the joy and gladness in something I have often found dirty and distasteful. Perhaps it is all in how we look at a thing...I keep learning that lesson day after day.

Blessed Lord, Thank you for giving me eyes to see from another point of view sometimes. Let me love the world and its people you made, and let me not think of myself any better than another. We are all your children who try to find love and satisfaction in the wrong places sometimes. It is You "who satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." Psalm 107:9. We labor in vain when we try to fill it with Krispy Kreme burgers and other options just as ill-suited to satisfy our needs. Forgive our foolish choices and set us on a right path. Amen

(See photos from the night below at bottom of site.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our Heart's Desire

"One thing I desire and one thing only: to dwell in the presence of God all the days of my life." Psalm 27:4

If we could hit the bull's eye of our heart's desire, what would be in the center of our longing? The one thing I desire, the psalmist writes, one thing only. I confess to wanting many things: loving relationships, healthy families, some amount of financial wherewithal are all in the mix.

What do we seek, I mean really seek? Perhaps this is easier to answer than we might think. That would be the thing that captures our imagination... that occupies our time... the thing upon which we choose to spend our time, our most precious commodity. To simplify it further, we can probably take out our calendar and bank statement and pretty much have an answer. Time is a medium of exchange. We give our time in exchange for something. Are we getting anything of value in return? Will we get to the end of a season of life and feel deceived, cheated out of what might have been? I never want to live in the land of 'if only'.

Years ago I began a quest for knowing and loving God, not just knowing about God. Yes, I understand that the God of the universe is beyond comprehension and unknowable fully, but I wanted to be stretched and grow in my understanding. I began to read and pray intentionally about that word 'presence' of God. I wanted to know more.

I recall that Practicing the Presence of God, collected writings of Brother Lawrence, was a focus of a small group of women in the early 90's where we began to lovingly sift through reflections on offering our best to the glory of God in the most mundane tasks of a day. Many books and discussions followed, laced with weekly prayer support for one another. Weeks turned into years (funny how that happens), and I am continuing to learn more about the power of the presence of God. Like an eager schoolgirl at the foot of the Teacher, I am becoming increasingly aware of the mystery of the Presence of God. I only know now there is oh, so much more I long to know. Not merely knowledge the way we chalk it up and check it off in the world - that doesn't do it justice. No, rather, understanding....appropriating into the heart....making such an awareness central to our decision-making would be a better expression.

Do not let the tyranny of the urgent in our daily lives crowd out the important. We must intentionally seek after something of value that we want to pursue, for it will not just happen.
May God help us on our quest to know what the psalmist knew - that there is great value being in the Presence of God at all times.

Lord Jesus, Give me the desire for You at the center of my life. By the power of your Spirit uphold me, teach me, correct me, inspire me....draw me into Your loving Presence. Amen

"For it is God...who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 4:6

Saturday, October 9, 2010


"When there is a problem, I say throw a lot of love at it."

(source unknown, but not original with me)

I just like it.

And believe it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I will give of myself

I wrote the following thoughts five years ago. I do not remember doing so. In fact, when my computer crashed, this fragment was stashed among collected word documents saved in a large file, sort of a digital junk drawer. I just opened it. Perhaps sifting through these old thoughts is an exercise akin to finding a familiar item in grandmother's attic: It means something to me, but will be foolishness to others. Though it is far from a treasure, it was penned at a time that I began to sense a calling to write....something.

I reprint it here as an ebenezer of sorts - marking a place to say I am encountering God in this place as I seek to learn and grow in faith. I see now that these lines still have meaning and direction for me as I am half-way into another decade. Perhaps you will write your own simple expressions that guide your days.

I will give of myself, my time, and my resources to others who are in need.

I will remember the powerful example of my father - how he loves his family dearly and provides for their needs, both physically and emotionally, and cares for a broader family that includes thousands by now.

I will honor the example of my mother and seek to serve my family with love, strength, faithfulness and generosity, and to improve the conditions in my community for others.

I will reflect Christ's love by responding with compassion to others whose lives intersect mine.

I will remain faithful to my husband, my family, and my commitments, upholding them with honesty and truthfulness in my speech and actions.

I will leave a legacy of faithfulness to my children.

I will seek to discover more about God's presence in my life and grow in faith.

I will try to appreciate the gift of freedom we enjoy and to preserve it for others. I am learning to recognize it as more precious than I had previously thought.

I will endeavor to give love to my family and others in a way that is not based on their performance.

I will remain 'passionate about compassion', choosing to see it as a gift to use for the service of others.

I will learn more about love in this world. I want to learn to 'love as God loves', and that means everyone, without condition or merit, without weighing the opportunity for repayment. John 3:16 was the first Bible verse I learned as a child. Jesus loves the 'whosoevers'. I should too.

I will seek to discover God's will for my life and see how to best use my talents and abilities and experiences.

Mpw 9/11/2005

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Putting Socks On

Monday I was surprised by joy. Joy came dressed as Darth Vader, superman and a dancer's sparkled tutu.

I thought I was entering a scheduled meeting at 8:00 before work at my friend and pastor's home, but the door opened to reveal young women in my weekly Bible study with - here's the best part - their babies and toddlers in their pajamas! They were having a surprise birthday breakfast complete with hot biscuits, delicious breakfast foods and festive decor. I quickly calculated that they had driven from Flora, Madison and Jackson with their little ones early that morning and had successfully hidden cars - all before 8 a.m. Happy tears brimmed and rolled from my eyes when I realized the gift of their time to show love and friendship.

We learn so much about life from one another. One young mom - I'll call her Jenn - owns a vineyard with her husband. (Today she baked giant homemade almond sugar cookies the size of old fashioned tea cakes with homemade fig preserves and blueberry jam in the thumbprint. Look for the recipe here soon.) She has two elementary daughters and had a baby several years later. When asked around our party/breakfast table, 'Is anything different the second around with your children?' she paused and spoke a memorable reply:
"I enjoy the simplicity of putting socks on."
This, from a woman who was a Louisiana lawyer, is a fabulous wordsmith, and can prune a vineyard in February with one hand tied behind her back. This young mom can enjoy the simplicity of the smallest, most routine acts of mothering. I began to think on that.

How many of us rush through our days unable to savor life's simple pleasures? Why do we act as though there is a prize for the one who races through life first and arrives - breathless - at the finish line? We may not get another chance to replay the scene. I've read the book: The tortoise wins the race every time!

Find something simple to enjoy today. Bring your self to that task, no matter how well you can do it on autopilot. In fact, disengage autopilot and live fully in the present. We can still be productive and efficient, but I suggest that we will enjoy the experience so much more. I am convinced that it is not the length of our to-do list, but the attitude we bring to the task that determines how well we accomplish what we do.

Slow me down, Lord. Show me how to savor simple pleasures. Amen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rescue or Peace?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 NIV

I believe God is in the business of redeeming and rescuing people who are out of options. The Bible is full of near-death experiences where people are the end of the road. Jonah. Joesph in the pit. Talk about betrayal by your own family! Daniel. Isaac on Mt. Horeb. But God provided a way out: A way with its detours, perhaps - and through places we would rather not go - but a way nonetheless.

So when we feel we have exhausted all possibilities, and still there is no rescue or alternative plan, remember this: God is faithful to keep His promises. We are to be faithful to seek God, and to live in holiness by His grace, and He will guide us. "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him." Colossians 2:6

God who makes rivers flow in the desert can make a way for us.

Hang on.
Keep the faith.
Do not be discouraged.

Then, we remember the image of a Son upon a cross who was not granted a SWAT team rescue. For Jesus, there was no way out of the cross; no deliverance. And some may wonder, why not? Why Jonah and not Jesus? Why Daniel and not me? In the searing pain of our grief when we encounter loss in life, we may cry, "Where's the way out, Lord?"

We know there are times in God's own wisdom it appears that He chooses not to intervene or to provide the kind of deliverance we are seeking. We feel as though we are abandoned in the pit.

End of the road.
That is not the answer for which we prayed.

Just when we are ready to turn our back on God - if we will stop flailing about in anger - we may discover that we are not alone in the pit. No matter the depth of our darkest days, God's love is deeper still. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. God is faithful to provide sustaining strength for that which we endure. He alone is able to give peace.

He is the Prince of Peace.
He is Emmanuel: God with us.
A river of Living Water runs through the wasted places of our lives!

Behold, He is doing a new thing. Shall we not perceive it?

(Handwritten notes from my Journal, 2000. I had been reading something by Max Lucado ten years ago, and his words and mine intermingled. Any use of his direct quotations is unintentional, but inspired by Max. I recommend him.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hand of the Artist; Heart of God

God is so good and His mercy endures forever. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Mary's handwritten words accompanying this watercolor in rich browns and blues were among the blessings in my day yesterday. The beautiful painting was a gift from my friend since first grade. Reproduced here after scanning and copying, the colors and shading are not accurate, but I wanted to share this image.

Mary, though bound by the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis, displays an artistry and fine coordination that defies her hands' limitations. People are surprised she can write, and to see Mary paint is astonishing. Maybe her spirit of gratitude and joy for the presence of the Lord in her life tempers the pain of her disease just a bit, making it bearable 'for the glory of God'. She lives to make Him known and to share the love of Jesus with all. I am learning much through my friends, and Mary is a great example of perseverance and faithfulness.

I have a dream of helping Mary share her paintings and her faith. I am contemplating this idea....

Psalm 57:10 was the inspiration for her the one pictured here:

"For Your Mercy reaches unto the heavens and Your truth unto the clouds. "

For the ancient writers, such a distance was unfathomable. The psalm gave voice to their conviction that as far as one can see, God's mercy and truth are higher still! Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Have we forgotten how to dream?

"The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan."
Dave Ramsey.

The butterfly did not start out as a butterfly; it emerged only after a beautiful plan of nature.

Birthdays are a good time to reflect and to dream. Annual inventory time is here with the chance to make a mid-course correction. A slight degree change now will result in a different trajectory further along the journey. Are we heading where we want to go? Are we reaching desired goals? Do we have a dream still inside? We cannot control our lives, but there is so much we can change; if not our circumstances, we choose our attitude towards our circumstances.

And so I choose to dream big. Not grandiose wishes about a brush with celebrity or wealth, but to be stretched mentally and emotionally. To see a bigger picture. To learn something new.

Wake up a weathered dream that time has beaten down. Is it inside somewhere, buried deep beneath the hurt and wounds of life? Is there a glimmer of light - an ember that can use a fresh wind to fan it into a desire of your heart? Allow God's fresh wind/fresh fire (as Jim Cymbala writes in the book by the same name) to refresh your spirit and give a dream for this season - for this day. Not someone else's dream for you, but your own.

So maybe you didn't live into another person's wish for you. Let it go.

Maybe you didn't live into your own dream for you. Show grace to yourself. There is today. The dawn of this day is a new beginning.

Then, ask God to give you a plan. "Watch and pray" as the scripture says. Let it linger in your mind or heart. Do not dismiss it casually. You may have a burst of inspiration in an instant, but more likely, you and I will wait. All growing things take time: crops, children and friendships all need time to develop and mature. Allow yourself to mature into that plan.

Now, take a step towards it. One step. We don't have to execute the plan in a day. Just begin somewhere. That's why they call it faith. We cannot see the end at our beginning. But we take one step anyway.

Dream big today.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14

Friday, October 1, 2010


Every time I see a hawk, I think of him.
When cardinals swoop in to fetch seeds,
and where there are beautiful, creative, pensive children,
I remember Alan.

Keen observer of nature's details,
Lover of birds, of rosemary and maidenhair fern,
Builder, architect, and spatial designer,
Intuitive beyond his young years.

I do not know his heart from the inner circle.
I am not his mother or father or sister,
but I have glimpsed his all too brief life
and joined the throng who prayed for his comfort, peace, and healing.
His is a legacy of courage and inspiration.

Other children will be honored to walk in his footsteps as their lives model unselfishness and courage in the face of difficulty.
Children like John Spencer must carry on.
He set the bar high.
We tell the story. And tell it again.
And there is a gift in remembering.

In memoriam
Alan Stallings
October 2, 2008