Friday, July 30, 2010


Flickr photo by mikebaird, creative commons
Tanner barked at his leash, begging for a walk. We all needed the exercise and Sam was willing, but did we really have to go outside? It was10:30 AM and already 92 degrees. "Only if we go to the river," I said. The thick canopy of trees and the gurgling of water would make it bearable.

As we walked the shady path, I thought of my French friend Corinne. Before she moved back to Paris, we'd take our dogs down to the river once a week, and Tanner still looks for Valentin every time we pass her house. I laughed to myself to think of our search for the Big Bird. What was the French word for heron? When I described it, she said it sounded like a dinosaur. "Oh, believe me, it's real," I said. "I've seen them plenty of times down here." But with the noise of the dogs and our busy conversation, we never saw a single one together.
In the year since her move, I'd spied a heron only once, and that had been several months ago. Had they left our river?

Tanner was ecstatic to sniff the path, yanking Sam from one side to the other as we tried to talk.
I wanted to hear what Sam thought about my blogging topic for today: Serendipity, the phenomenon of discovering completely surprising while searching for something else. Like when Christopher Columbus was looking for India and ended up discovering the Americas. Or when Todd and his Mom were taking a walk through our neighborhood and got to talking about his childhood friend, Luke Smith. Whatever happened to him? And then the very next day, Todd took another walk, and who should step out of his house a mere half mile from our home? Luke Smith! I wanted to know what Sam thought. Was it God? Or just a wild coincidence?

The walk was fun, but finally the heat was too much and we headed back.
"Wait," Sam said before we left the river. He took the stick he'd been carrying around and threw it high. It made a great splash. "Look Mama!" he said.
I turned to look at the water and gasped. There was a great blue heron, spreading its wings, launching itself into the sky just above the splashing stick in the river!
It was there all the time, resting in the quiet, on the opposite bank. If Sam hadn't thrown the stick and made the splash at exactly that time and place, we wouldn't have seen it!
Thank you, Sam! Thank you, God!

Have you experienced serendipity in your life? I'd love to hear your story!
Do you think it's luck or something bigger?

Praise the LORD.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the saints.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.

Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with tambourine and harp.

For the LORD takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.

Psalm 149: 1-4

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revolt of the Household Appliances

I bet this has happened to you.
One night while you were sleeping, your household appliances had a secret meeting with your roof and your AC unit and the car in your driveway, and made a plan. MUTINY!

Forty eight hours later, before you've barely finished your second cup of coffee, tires start popping and a radiator blows, a vacuum belt snaps and smoke alarm batteries go off in an ear splitting chorus all over the house. Within the week, your home turns into a sauna and a freak hail storm tears up the roof. Even the blender you bought two years ago at the church yard sale purses its metal blades and refuses to budge!

And the money you thought you saved by spending your four days of vacation staying at your parents' house at the beach? It dribbles out in checks to repairmen, for car parts and shingles and air that won't give you heat rash in uncomfortable places.

Oh well. Tant pis, as the French say. Too bad.
Don't cry for me, Argentina. There's no Job story here.
We all have good health, a few homegrown tomatoes that the dog didn't notice, a nice time at the beach, and a (newish) roof over our heads.
Besides, what was that vacation money doing anyway? Just getting dusty in the bank, awaiting the purchase of a stack of college textbooks or new carpet that doesn't look like it spent 60 years with the seven dwarfs. (Pre- Snow White.)

You know what Woody Allen says about the future, right?
If you want to make God laugh, just tell him about your plans.

Yep, we can plan all we want, but what happens, happens.
It's my nature to be against this. I like security. Don't you?
I want to be the ant, storing up food for the winter while the grasshopper plays his fiddle. I wouldn't be mean about it. If the grasshopper came shivering to my door, I'd probably invite him in, let him sleep on the carpet, and only occasionally slip the consequences of fiddle playing into conversation. I'd I'd even share my ant food, within reason.

But a few mornings ago, I read anew the story of God's people wandering through the desert, the sad lot of newly freed slaves, so hungry and tired that they began to whine about forgetting this freedom thing and running back to Egypt, where they could get a decent meal once in a while.
What fascinated me most about the story was how God chose to send them bread from the sky. They could collect only what they could eat each day, and if they sneaked a little extra to save for the next, it rotted and got wormy.
This made me laugh.
God's just like a parent!
The kids needed to learn to depend on Him daily, so He finally took control, walking them through exactly what He wanted for them, step by step-just like we do when our kids get stubborn and refuse to use the potty or sleep in a big girl bed or come home in time for curfew! After much patience and encouragement, we finally take away the pull ups or dismantle the crib or take away the rights to the car, and say, "Here you go, honey. This is how you do it. Mommy's going to help you."

The passage in Exodus (chapter 16, if you want to read more about the manna) also made me think about how often I live in the future, thinking of the bread for tomorrow, instead of enjoying the bread on the table. I think about how happy I'll be once my next book sells, or I get the job, or my kids move out of one stage into the next, instead of soaking in my happiness right where I am.
Planning is fine, but this is life. I need to live it now, not waste my time living in the future.

Maybe that's part of what Jesus was trying to tell us when he gave the lesson on how to pray.

He said to them, "When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread...
Luke 11:2-3, NIV

Today I'm going to try harder to put the future on the shelf and enjoy where I am. And while I'm at it, I'll thank God for my morning multigrain toast--and for a hardworking toaster that didn't bow to peer pressure!

Have a wonder-full day, y'all!
But before you go, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Is living in the moment a struggle for you too? Do you get starry eyed, wishing on the future? What keeps your balloon tethered to today?

Love, Becky

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yoda and Paul and the Domino Trail

Flickr photo by Micah Taylor, creative commons
In my youngest child's quest not to be BORED OUT OF HIS MIND this summer, he decided to enter a contest held by Klondike Bars. (Arteries in both our bodies stood up and cheered to find out that this did not involve eating massive quantities of ice cream. Our taste buds, however are still in mourning.)

For this "Grab the Remote" challenge, entrants had to make a video in which a lazy person uses some kind of homemade contraption to retrieve his TV remote from a coffee table, with the condition that he remain with his derriere firmly planted in the couch/easy chair.

Sam was inspired by Mousetrap, a game we loved to play for the one-and-a-half weeks before we started losing pieces. You know the game?

Yep, that's it.
He asked me to help him a little with the camera work, (unfortunately this was after my second cup of coffee, so it's a teeny bit shaky,) but I think it turned out great. Take a look for yourself!

Yey, Sam!
He had a great time doing it, setting up the chain of events, one leading to the next, until the remote was in his hot little hand.

His "this will knock this, which will knock this, which will knock this" narration nudged my brain to fire off its own domino trail.

To start, my noggin woke up a funny little voice way back in the Star Wars corner of my brain.

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Yoda led me straight to a Liberty Mutual commercial (at the end of the post,) which in turn took me over to the apostle Paul.

"...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Romans 5: 3-5

I heard my brain recite it, and then I looked it up and studied it again.
Sorry, Paul. Saying it might sound nice, but it's awfully hard to truly rejoice in suffering, even though I know it will build character, make me a better person, yada yada yada.

But then I looked at my boy, and I thought of all the times all three of my kids have struggled/suffered/floundered a bit. Sometimes I've chosen to dive in the pool and yank them out of the water, coughing and sputtering. But other times I've let them flounder just a while, even though it's hard to stand there watching, because I know that there are things they need to learn, lessons they can only get through their own floundering. It's some of the most difficult work of parenting for me, letting my children learn things on their own, work things out by themselves in their hobbled-together, inexperienced way. It takes a lot of self control on my part to resist the urge to always be the fixer, but sometimes I know I have to do it for their sake.

Surely this is part of the mystery and great love of God, that he sets us free to work things out on our own, even though he could step in like Superman and save the day. There are times I just don't understand why he doesn't act more, when horrible pain and suffering are allowed to occur. But I know God is good and loves us with a love too big to understand. I trust I'll understand one day.

Wow, that's heavy stuff. And to think it all started with Klondike bars.
Now I want ice cream!

So how about you? Does this post spark any ideas of your own? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Love, Becky
PS. Don't miss this Liberty Mutual commercial. Love it!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mommy Scorecard

Flickr photo by Tasayu Tasnaphun, creative commons
I was standing in the parking lot at Target, melting into the asphalt as Sam ran back to the car for his wallet, when I realized that a young woman was talking to me.

"I hate those things," she said, nodding at the stick figure family decal on the back of somebody's SUV. She must have thought I was staring at it.
"Yeah," she nodded. "Mommy scorecard."

Mommy scorecard? I'd see those decals all around town, stick figure mommies and daddies and lines of kids. Sometimes they'd tote soccer balls or wear ballet tutus, and cats and dogs always trailed behind.

Now, before we go any further, please don't think I'm stick family hating!
If you want to celebrate each member of your family, I say, why not! Peel and stick away!
It's just that for me, mommy scorecard strikes a spinal chord.

Too often I've sneaked glances at other people's papers as I've lived out my life. I've pulled up next to them in the parking lot of life and checked out how we compare. Did we have the complete package, the happy couple, the full set of kids? Smiles on their faces, pompoms and flutes in hand?

When I was a younger mom, home with a two year old and a newborn, while Todd traveled constantly with work, people would see Ben spitting up on my shoulder and Sarah tugging on my jeans, and say, "I don't know how you do it, night after night by yourself."
I'd paw a foot at the floor and do my best Aw, it's no big deal, and then casually see if I could work in a comment about the grad school class I was taking or the volunteering I had to do. It made me feel good for a moment, for someone to recognize my hard work and exhaustion, the perfect picture I was trying to project. But I'd always end up feeling a little empty when the conversation was over.

We want people to see us as complete and successful.
Sometimes we tout our own completeness and success and possessions loudly-we sneak them into conversations or wear them like sandwich boards- because underneath it all, we're scared. We know the truth, that we're broken, we don't really have it all together. Life isn't the perfect picture we want to paint.

As I tuck the scorecard in my purse, I also wonder about those of us who don't match up to the picture on the window, whether through choice or circumstance. The single person, the couple that doesn't have the urge to go forth and multiply. The pair that wants children desperately, but life is cruel and won't cooperate. The families that fall apart.

I hope they know the truth that I took years to find. That God loves us as we are, whether we match the world's ideal or not, whether we do the volunteer work or just sit in front of the TV. That our sad little efforts to mold ourselves to the perfect picture in our heads won't make God love us any more than God already does. He only asks us to do what Galatians advises.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that... Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4, The Message

Do the creative best you can with your own life.
That's a tall order, but one I think I can handle.

What does doing the creative best with your own life mean to you?

Have a wonder-full Friday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Perils of Loving a Tomato Picking Dog

My dog picks tomatoes.
I wish I were joking but I'm not.
The first time we found a tomato on our bedroom floor, pocked with doggy teeth marks, we were such proud parents. Did you see what Our Smart Doggy did? He even picked a ripe one! What an amazing pooch, copying us like that!

As we gushed on about his intelligence, Tanner just ducked his head in embarrassment, the same way he does when we catch him stealing crackers off the counter, or when we discover he's spent the afternoon hiding out with a highlighter, turning his entire snout day-glo yellow. He stared at the ground and scratched a paw at the floor, as if to say, "Who, me?"

But as the summer progressed and the tomatoes grew even more delicious and fewer in number, I began to get annoyed. Tomatoes began showing up daily in random places in my house. Another tomato ruined? I began to resent all the Resolve I had to spray when Slobber Dog lost self control and mauled his homemade spaghetti sauce all over the carpet.
This resentment felt faintly familiar.

I pondered it a moment and a light bulb flashed. Yes! This was just like the time he learned to open doors with his doggy paws! We were so proud, at first. That dog had watched us and copied the flick of our hands on the french doors. Wasn't that amazing? We clapped and petted and invited neighbors over to watch. We even took video and posted it on youtube. But then he started letting himself in during a dinner party, grinning at us and waiting for applause. What happened, he seemed to say as I locked him in the den. Why doesn't Mommy let me climb my 90 pound body onto the people's laps? They love me! Everyone does!

I had to feel a little sorry for Slobber Dog. He was just doing what comes naturally.

Yes, Tanner is a master copier. When anybody hugs, he'll cry and bark until we help him stand on his hind legs and join in. (Yes I know, it's a little silly looking. Don't tell anyone.) And that's not the worst of it. We have to keep him inside whenever Todd has to plant anything or else that dog will follow at his heels, digging polka dot holes all over our backyard.

We even planted our tomatoes on an old coffee table, just to keep Tanner out of the dirt.

So how does he pick them? I am still trying to figure it out.
He's a different species, obviously, with no nimble fingers to grasp the fruit, to twist it gently until it falls into his palm. I'm guessing he adapts by using what God gave him, those yards of flexible jowling made for cradling birds, the extra facial skin my middle child calls his glibber.

I've hidden outside with the video camera, hoping to get the heist on tape, but no such luck. I just get hot and sweaty and attacked by bugs, while Tanner stays cool in the AC and watches me from the window. Smart dog.

I guess that's the danger inherent in our natural tendency to imitate. I see it in my kids as well. They may copy my friendliness with the grocery store clerk, but they'll also copy what I say when somebody cuts me off in traffic.
And it's no different with grown ups, I'm afraid.
I'll hang out with my friend Susie, and before you know it I'll have picked up the generous way she listens, making you feel like you're the most important person in the world. Suddenly I've picked up "Hugs to you," typing in her sign off as if I thought of it myself.

But then I'll spend a few moments around negativity, and I'll hear it coming out of my own mouth. What? I didn't want to copy that!
Negativity has no part of the imitation I want to live. I'm a Christian, literally a "little Christ." (Now that's a daunting title, don't you think?! It makes me want to stay locked in the house with my mouth taped shut! ) I want to do what Ephesians instructs:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Live a life of love.
It seems impossible, too big, too ambitious in this world. God is a different species of being. God is so much bigger and greater and full of love than anything I can think of. I'm puny and small and human and weak. I can try my best, but how can I even come close to imitating God?

I can use what God gave me: God in human form, Jesus, the living example. I can study Christ's life and do my best to imitate His love. I can pray for help. And when I fail in my journey, I can cling to grace and try again.

Now, if I can just share the love with my tomato stealing dog. Maybe a short fence around the coffee table garden? As if it doesn't look ridiculous enough!

What helps you in your journey to imitate The One?
And while you're at it, any ideas on tomato crime prevention?

Have a great Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky
PS. Here's the video of Tanner showing off. And just so you know, I don't usually talk like a high pitched Snow White. It's my mommy's-got-a-treat-for-you voice. Enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Towel at the Bottom of My Beach Bag

All you need is love. And in the summertime, a thirsty beach towel.
Isn't mine groovy?
Thanks to my sentimental mommy, I still have the towel of my childhood.
Don't you love the fat 1970's lettering, the mod flowers and the doves?
Every time I unfold it, I'm spreading it out at Nags Head, feeling the hot sand under my feet, listening to the seagulls and the roar of the waves. I'm spinning it into a rat tail to slap the back of my brother's legs, wrapping it as a sarong around my waist, or fixing it into a long, trailing turban around my wet head.

I still occasionally bring out the towel to show the kids, and I'll tell you a secret. There are times when I've neglected the laundry so long that suddenly I'm dripping in the shower with only the Toy Story washcloth that everybody hates left under the sink. It's a short streak to the beach towels by the back door, and I always reach for my old hippie towel. It may be faded and thin and threadbare, but it soaks up water like a champ.

Maybe it's the heat and humidity curdling my brain, but lately I've been thinking a little too much about how much I love a thirsty towel. But that's not so weird, right? It's one of life's simplest pleasures, don't you think?
I've got a few towels that look pretty and plush and I hang them out whenever guests might be walking through my bathroom. But when it's time to dry off, they go straight to the bottom of the stack.
I want a towel that does what it's supposed to do: soak up everything ounce of water I've got--not smear it around my body, leaving me wet and grumpy.

Whenever mundane things like towels and clocks keep popping up in my brain, I have to wonder if there's a message there for me.
Could God speak to me through a thirsty towel?
Don't call the men in white coats just yet. I think I may be onto something here.

Maybe God wants to be my thirsty towel, complete with hippie love letters and doves, wrapping me up, receiving my love, soaking up my questions and complaints, my thank you's and praise, my pleas, even my anger, if I need to express it. Like the Wonderful Counselor that Christ is, He longs to hear my words, even though he knows my thoughts already.

Or maybe I'm supposed to be the towel, quick to absorb God's words to me, ready to soak up the blessings, to receive the direction he plants into the ordinariness of my life. I need to make sure that I'm not so busy trying to fit into my world's decor and culture, being pretty and plush, that I miss soaking up whatever God has for me.
I've got to be ready to receive.

Bring it on, God. I'm thirsty!

Is it hard for you too, to pull one ear out of the culture in which we live, to listen for God's words, to watch for God's blessings? How do you make sure you don't miss what God has for you?

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luke 11:10

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life and Motion Sickness

Flickr photo by DorkyMum, creative commons
I woke with a start, out of breath, trying to get a foothold on reality.
What did it mean?

In my dream, Ben was graduating from high school. We were all there, dressed in Sunday clothes, ready to take our seats in an arena I didn't recognize. But then I was on the main floor, trying to figure out which line to get in. There were masses of people everywhere, all moving in different directions, seeming to know where they were going.
I was lost. Where was I supposed to be?

"There you are!" called a voice. It was Catherine, my friend from high school and roommate my first two years at State. "Daddy brought the bookcase," she said, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. "I've got to run to Bio, but you gotta go up and see it. I don't know how he got it in the elevator but it looks great in the room! See ya!"

The dream went on, zipping all over the space time continuum, until I woke with a gasp in the dark. Where was I?
Faint lines of light had turned the wall in front of my bed into a fuzzy sheet of notebook paper. I rubbed my eyes. It was light from the street lamp outside, let in through the blinds. That's right, I was at my parents' place at the beach.

I began to get my bearings. Sam had spent a few days with my brother and his family. I'd picked him and cousin Luke up on Wednesday, and now we were at my parents' place at the beach. We'd head back Friday afternoon. It was Thursday, right?

I laid my head back on the pillow and tried to slow my racing heart.
What a crazy dream. Was I the mom or the graduate? I even showed up halfway through as mom of three year old Ben, chasing him as he ran across the brickyard, clip clopping in his cowboy boots, his yellow hair flying. I looked to my right and 20 year old Sarah materialized beside me, reaching her hand out to grab at the nape of his flannel shirt. Then I was student Becky again, and Ben was a just cute little kid, probably some professor's son. Maybe I'd have kids one day.

No wonder I woke exhausted. I'd flip flopped my way through the entire movie, trying to figure out where I was, where I was supposed to go, what I supposed to do.
Was God trying to tell me something?

I closed my eyes and remembered who I was.
I'm Becky. Mom to Sarah, who's taking a trip at the moment to check out graduate school. (Graduate school? How could that be? She's about to start her junior year in college, and it's good thing she's thinking ahead. But could she be that old? Could I be that old?)
I'm mom to Ben, who is about to start his senior year in high school. Next Thursday I'll go with him and watch the photographer help him with his tux and take his senior picture. In a few weeks he'll start working on college applications. The year will fly by, just like Sarah's did.
I'm mom to Sam, who starts middle school this year. Middle school.

How could life be moving this quickly? What happened to the years?
I'm still the same person who brought those babies home, one by one, gingerly walked up the steps to the porch, still feeling my stitches, holding them close, smelling their baby heads.

I'm thrilled for them, for all these new adventures, but I'm feeling a little little motion sickness as life whips by. It's all a little discombobulating. What will their lives be like? What will my life be like?

And then a prayer comes to mind.
It's Psalm 23. I find this strange.
Isn't that the psalm that shows up in dark times, in bunkers as bullets fly, in hospital rooms, as the family gathers around the bed?
But God, my brain protested, this isn't a dark time. It's a happy time, a time of growth and promise and newness. For my kids and for me too. Why?

And then the psalm spoke to me.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff-they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me, all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 23, NRSV

Yes, the Lord is my shepherd, guiding me gently down my path, whether I think I know the route and when the path seems strange and new.
He helps me find quiet places when life is confusing and loud.
When I feel lost between roles, He draws me back to the center of his heart. He reminds me that yes, I'm Becky, mother to these kids, the holder of my life, my work, and my calendar, but I'm also his child. He carries me close, he cups my head in his hand.
He walks beside me, through all the newness, ready to comfort me, ready to celebrate this life with me.
Truly my loving cup does overflow.

Is time moving quickly for you? What gives you peace when life moves too fast?

Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bubbling Up Soul Bread

Flickr photo by treehouse1977, creative commons
Just in case you're wondering what to buy your favorite ten year old boy, may I suggest a package of Fleischmann's?
Bubbling yeast is DISGUSTING, which makes it a fantastic gross out gift.
Kids love to watch it come alive, eat sugar, and poop out gas.
Yeast also comes in handy at church, if you don't mind your Sunday School smelling like a brewery.

I came armed Sunday morning with pockets full of packets, figuring I'd need all the help I could get. Susan and I trade teaching every week, and I drew the straw for the shortest lesson of the year. The parable of the leaven is one sentence long.
One sentence.
We've got fifty minutes each Sunday and at least a dozen 4th and 5th graders. We need a meaty story or the kids go nuts with the quick dry clay. Then they do rude things with pipe cleaners.

Normally, I love the lessons on the parables. We use a Montessori style curriculum called Godly Play, and each week of the summer we pick a new parable box, unpack it's contents, and study the story. I'm not being metaphorical here. It's a real box, painted gold, since parables are treasures.
But a one sentence lesson? I was nervous.
So I did what most Sunday School teachers do when they're nervous.

Step One: Read parable. In many translations.
He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." Matthew 13:33

Step Two: Research
There were two interpretations on the parable: Many scholars view the yeast negatively, warning followers of the corrupting influence of evil in the church. Others view the parable as a celebration of the church's influence spreading throughout the world.

Step Three: Pray. And hide the quick dry clay.
After a few deep breaths and meditation, I decided once again to close my eyes and hold tight to the philosophy of Godly Play: to simply present the story, gently guide their discussion, and trust the Holy Spirit to help the kids discover the wisdom and meaning.
And then I hid the pipe cleaners.

Once everyone was seated criss-cross applesauce on the carpet, we began.
I admit that I started out a little hesitantly.
I showed them that the box had a lid, reminding us that sometimes parables are hard to enter into. Sometimes they're confusing, and we have to come back later and unpack them again to work out what they mean.

Then I told them the short, one sentence story, and I got ready to guide their discussion.
But first I opened the vial of yeast.
The kids peered in, sniffed it, and decided it was stinky. I let them tell me about the times they've baked bread and what exactly yeast does.
Just when I was about to take the reins again and dive back into the story, something beautiful happened.
The children took over.

"It's like a riddle!" one girl said. "I think I know what it means. Maybe it's that when we all work together we can get a lot done for God."
"Yeah, I think the woman is Jesus."
"Or maybe she's God's spirit. That when God gets mixed up through all the people, it helps the people do good things for God."
"But wait," another girl said, "it says the kingdom of heaven is like the yeast."
"Maybe it's us, the people of God. Maybe it's saying that we can pass on God's love, until the whole world sort of rises with it."

The kids kept going, scratching their heads and biting their lips and working hard at their thinking!
"Sorry to stop you," I finally said, "but we've got to go make our bread sticks if they're going to have time to bake."
Everyone cheered. (They always go crazy for food.)
But as they moved from the floor to the table, one boy got up in a dramatic huff. "This is crazy!" he said. "Why couldn't Jesus just TELL us what he meant?"
"Why do you think He didn't?"
"Maybe because He wanted us to figure it out ourselves," another boy added.
"Or maybe because it's kind of fun," said a girl. "And maybe because it means different things to different people."

At that very moment, the parable itself became bubbling yeast to me. We had opened the box and as we warmed it in our hands, the Holy Spirit breathed life into it. The story was now a living organism, and as we ate the bread sticks, shaped into crosses and snowmen and unintelligible lumps, it fed our souls as well.

Aren't kids the best teachers of all? They were so busy interpreting the story that I forgot all about the packets of yeast!
Have any more ideas about the parable? Thoughts on Sunday School and pipe cleaner madness? I love to hear what you're thinking!

Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

PS. I wish I could hand you some bread, warm from the oven!

Flickr photo by treehouse1977, creative commons

Monday, July 12, 2010

Feeding Fish and Other Rituals

Flickr photo by petitshoo, creative commons
The granddaddy's knee was hurting him, so he stayed in the easy chair.
"Don't worry, Papa," Sam said, getting up from the couch. "I know what to do."
Todd and I followed him into the garage and watched as he took the Folgers jar from Papa's workbench and lifted the lid of an old trashcan. "This is where Papa keeps the fish food," Sam said, dipping the jar for a big scoop. "You gotta put the lid back on tight or bugs can get in."

Sam led us out to the small pond behind Honey and Papa's house, the one Todd and I christened The Drowning Pit back before Sam could swim. "Keep your eyes on the water," Sam said. "They know when we're coming."

Sure enough. As we padded across the grass to the edge of the water, at least a hundred brim lined up side by side, kissing rings on the water's surface, waiting.
"You take handfuls and throw it out a little, not too close to the edge, so there's lots of room and everybody gets some." Sam threw an arc of fish food out. In a split second, fish lips appeared at each granule, sucking it down. Our edge of the pond became a whirling mass of fish, ready to respond to the movement of our arms as we cast the food across the water, orchestrating a fish dance.

It's a Ramsey ritual, the feeding of the five hundred. Fish, that is.
Papa does it every day, cares for his pets in the giant fishbowl of his backyard. They respond to his footsteps, to his voice, just as Sam does as he takes the ritual for himself.

Unfortunately I had my own Saturday-at-the-in-laws'-ritual to perform. As we happily flung fish food, I managed to sink a bare foot into the only hill of fire ants in the entire yard. The fire ants responded as they always do, quietly climbing onto The Giant Foot Invader, waiting for Chief Fire Ant to give the signal, and then all chomping down on my flesh in one painful sting. But the ritual wasn't over yet. Then came The Hopping Around, The Slapping and The Yelling, and finally The Retreating To The House To Take A Benadryl.
I don't really like this ritual of mine.

But I do like other Ramsey rituals.
They usually involve amazing food.

Remember this photo? I shared it in a post about the wonder of sweet tea, but it's a great illustration of the most beautiful Ramsey ritual of all: Ramsey dinner.
I fell in love with this ritual early in my Ramseyhood.

Ramseys love good home cooking, and they endure a lot to prepare it. When they gather in mass, they'll pull all nighters, drinking coffee and cooking pig. They borrow tables from the church, load them with beautiful food, and then they eat and eat. And laugh and tell stories.
After the meal is over, they'll squeeze in together on the huge sectional couch and talk and take naps sitting up. They look at old photo albums, and they'll tell more stories until they get hungry again. It's a nice way to spend time together.

But this Saturday I saw something new during the meal preparations. As Honey (Grandma) sat at the kitchen table, making the chicken salad for our dinner, my Sarah pulled up a chair beside her for a chicken salad lesson. I watched Honey teach Sarah how to cut the chicken meat fine with scissors, to dice the celery into teeny little cubes, to add dried cranberries and cashews and the tiniest bit of mustard.

It warmed my heart.
Sarah was no longer just going along with the ritual. She was taking it as her own, just like Sam with the fish food.

Aren't family rituals wonderful? They give us a way to express love to each other. They show the world what we value, and they give us opportunities to participate in each other's lives, to build connections. Our rituals say who we are.

It's funny to me that as much as I LOVE family rituals, I've spent so much of my faith life suspicious of rituals in the church.
When we do something over and over, like communion or scripted prayers, won't we forget the meaning behind it? We don't want to turn into the Pharisees, so attached to rules and practices that we forget the loving God behind them all.
But gradually I changed my mind.

I now treasure the rituals we do at church, the Lord's Supper, the choruses of "Thanks be to God," the Lord's Prayer, the Baptisms, the acolytes' lighting of the candle and carrying in of the Bible. I love the way that they give us structure to be with God, to express our love for Him, to get lost in His presence, to build connections. These things that we do say who we are.

How do you feel about rituals?
Do you have favorite ones at church? I'd love to hear about your most loved family rituals!
Please share!

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thirty Minutes in a Paper Gown

Flickr Photo by cafemama
"You'll need to undress down to your panties," says the nurse, handing me the paper gown. "It opens in the back. And any make up you're wearing will have to come off. She's got you scheduled for a full body scan, so she needs to see your bare face. There's soap and gauze by the sink. Here's an extra paper sheet for your legs, just to keep you comfortable."

Somehow I don't think the paper sheet is going to do it for me, but I take it and thank her.

This is how I pay for the sunburns of my life.
Fair skinned people should not spend their teenage years marinating themselves in baby oil and sunbathing on aluminum foil blankets. This may sound obvious to you, but would somebody please travel back to 1980 and show me the paper gown?

I wipe off the makeup, strip to my undies, unfold the gown and put it on, then climb up onto the examining table. There are pamphlets on a side table for Botox and Latisse. There's a mirror on the wall and I see my crows' feet. I make a smile at myself, just to see how I look, and wish my face didn't have to be naked too. I look at my feet, pointing my toes in the mirror like a naked ballerina. My toenail polish is chipped. I should have redone it.

I sit on the table, waiting for my dermatologist to get things rolling, to walk in with her skinny self, her blond hair, her pointy toed shoes. I sit in my nakedness and wait.

You'd think I'd be better at this. I lived in France, for goodness sake, where I became friends with my body. I even wrote about it in French By Heart, how the parade of naked breasts helped me become more bien dans la peau, comfortable in my own skin. At the moment, I'm just comfortable with the gown. In France, I'd have to sit naked as a jaybird on the table and stay that way even after the exam was over, while the doctor talked to me from his desk.
I remember all of this to distract myself.

The doctor comes in and the nurse follows. No crows' feet on either of them. Do they give Botox to each other after everyone else has gone home?

She puts on gloves and starts to work. I find myself sandwiched between paper, like a chicken breast in a parchment packet. She pulls up one chicken leg/arm from my side and runs her eyes over it, as if she's part machine, scanning my arm from shoulder to fingertips.
, she says, and I feel myself tense. She pulls down the scope attachment to her glasses, closing in on a freckle on my forearm. I relax as she moves on, pulling apart my fingers and examining them like Ben used to do whenever he was bored at church. She turns my arm and scans the pale underside.

She slips my arms out of the sleeves of my gown exactly the way I used to undress my dolls. She lays the paper aside and I close my eyes and imagine half of my naked Raggedy Ann chest out for all to see, its embroidered I LOVE YOU candy heart exposed. She moves parts of me and prods and pokes, then walks around to the other side of the chair, and starts the practice all over again.
Does this bore her or is it kind of fun, treasure hunting for disease, for things to freeze or snip? She touches my knee as she scans it, and I explain about the blue scar, how I accidentally jabbed a pencil lead into my leg in third grade and isn't it funny that I've been carrying it around the sliver all this time.
"Uh huh," she says. "Nothing to worry about, it's graphite, not lead." I know that already, but I don't say so. I don't tell her that I'm just trying to make conversation here, to soothe the awkwardness of being naked, of being poked and prodded.

She guides me to turn over with her gloved hands, and my brain entertains me with a vision of her trying to grab me with a giant set of tongs, to flip me to the other side.
As she examines every last square inch of me, the skin hidden by my underwear, the backs of my knees, the bottoms of my feet, I wonder how I compare with other women my age. Am I just another skin-wrapped body walking around to her, or does she find me odd in any way? Will she talk about me to her husband, or give the nurse a knowing look while I'm standing at the front desk, handing over my credit card?
I know she has to do the looking, that it's the whole reason I came, but still I wonder.
How do I measure up?

It's a human question, one I ask too often.

I feel the lamp light on me and hear the scrawl of the pen on paper as she surveys my land formations, and I'm not scared, just uncomfortable.
She gets out the spray can of liquid nitrogen and aims it at a couple of spots on my legs.
This is nothing, I know, but I get squeamish easily, so I try to think of other things. I tell myself that I'm beautiful and whole and healthy. I ask myself what God would say to me here in this room. Psalm 139 comes to mind.
Of course. It's perfect.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely...

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139: 1-4, 13-16, 23-24

I think about God, who knows me from head to toe, every inch of my skin, every freckle, every scar, who sees the parts of me that I hide, the parts of my heart that I keep to myself. Other parts that I let some people see, but not everyone.

God, scan me thoroughly. Help me root out disease, the unhealthy ways I sometimes think, the way I compare myself with others, my need to measure up, my hunger for applause. Help me learn other ways. Heal my weaknesses.

Does any bit of my experience resonate with you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great weekend, y'all! And wear sunscreen!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Superboy Speaks

Sometimes kids really do have superpowers.
Like the Saturday morning years ago when I stumbled into the kitchen, still in bedhead mode, my old bathrobe dragging the floor.
"Yey! Mommy's up!" Sam said, climbing down from the kitchen chair perch he'd pulled up next to the griddle. "Look what Daddy and I made you," he said, pointing at a mountain of pancakes. "Daddy said I could take your picture while you eat it. I'm going to do it all by myself."

"Just a sec, hon. Let me at least brush my hair first."

"Oh no!" Sam said, and threw his arms open wide, dramatically blocking the hall to the bedroom. "You have to stay just like that."

"But honey, Mommy's hair is all sticking up."

"I like it like that. It looks pretty. I like you in your pink robe on and your glasses all crookedy.

"Oh yeah?" I laughed and looked at my husband.

"Yes, Mommy, I'm serious. You look good. Don't move. I'm gonna take a picture."

I sighed, smoothing out my hair.

"Stop," he yelled from behind the camera. "You're messing it up." He held the camera steady but then put it down, smiling at me, as if as if trying to behold my bedheaded beauty.
"Mommy, I gotta tell you. You look HOT!"

Part of me wanted to grab that boy of mine and kiss all over his sweet baby face, and another part wanted to cancel cable and go back to PBS. And still another part of me was scratching my head that as much as I do to make myself look presentable (I don't do that much, really,) the child preferred me with no make up, my hair in Whoville mode, stumbling through the kitchen.
I've savored the sweetness for years now.

I guess my my tee shirt, bathrobe, and bad case of bedhead signaled to Sammy that I wasn't going anywhere. I was still dressed for snuggling, for lazing over a breakfast of syrup coated carbohydrates, for reading books and talking. I was clearly not ready to race out the door and strap him into the minivan for soccer or church, and I wasn't just hanging around the house, waiting for someone to ring the doorbell. My rumply hair meant that nothing was on the calendar except being with my family, for listening to whatever the boy and his siblings and his daddy had to say. For looking in Sam's eyes and eating his pancakes. And for posing for a picture that the blogosphere will never ever see.

Over the years I've replayed this memory countless times. I can't seem to let go of it, partly because it captures Sam's sweetness, and partly because it whispers something bigger to me.
I think of the way I run through life, not wanting to be slowed, and I'm sorry for the times that I wasn't present for others, in too much of a hurry to cross off my To Do list. Sometimes I'm the worst at this with my family, thinking they'll understand or that I can make it right later.

I think of the One I want to imitate, who always made time to really see the people around him, to be fully present, to touch them and give them time.
I'm so thankful for a God who is ever present to me, who sees me with my sticky-up hair and all my miserable imperfections and couldn't love me any more. Who wants to just BE with me. And I'm thankful for Superboy, who's great at reminding me of this very truth.

God, help me see the people around me and be fully present with them. Help me be ready to put aside my itinerary and be the loving presence of Christ for them.
Or maybe just be Mommy.

Do you ever struggle with being fully present with those around you? When is it the hardest? The easiest?

Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Sunday, July 4, 2010

God and Freedom and Pepto Bismol

Happy Belated Independence Day!
And yes, apparently pigs celebrate it too, though I bet that one wouldn't mind a little independence of his own, a chance to stroll his piggy toes freely through the amber waves of grain, untethered by pig leashes of any kind.
(Full disclosure: Watch out pigs. I love bacon.)

Did you have a fun 4th?
I love the holiday, the small town parades with fire engines and dogs wearing hats, the red, white, and blue bunting and the hot dogs and hamburgers, the pigs on parade.
There's just an eensy weensy part that makes me nervous. Okay, two parts, if you count the trepidation I feel as my husband and young pyromaniac set off Crazy Bob firecrackers on the driveway and then dance around with their arms in the air, laughing like mad scientists.

I guess my tummy just starts to percolate whenever people start tumbling God words and GO USA words all together.
Does this ever make you nervous too?

I love my country madly. Our four years in France gave me a new gratitude for the American can do spirit, our beautiful optimism, our willingness to reach out our hands to help those in need.

I'm thankful for people like my grandfather, who died ensuring the freedoms we hold dear, for people like my husband and my brother in law, who've given years of their lives in service to our country. We have such a rich heritage and live with privileges and rights unavailable to so many others in the world. We've been richly blessed.

But as a Christian, I pledge my foremost allegiance to God, a God who loves all of his children as much as any others.
So when I look at the freedoms and the blessings that I enjoy and then survey the world and see the need around me, what do I do with that?

As always, God can help me work this out. Gathering to pray and think with other believers usually makes things clearer.
Take a look at the scripture we read in worship.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Galatians 5: 1, 13-14

Although Paul wrote these words to remind the Galatians that Christ frees them from legalism in their faith, from the overwhelming list of rules on diet and circumcision, the message speaks to us as well, warning us against self indulgence, self focus, perhaps against isolationism and nationalism.

It was a beautiful morning of worship. We heard an awesome sermon, sang O Beautiful for Spacious Skies and My Country, 'Tis of Thee. But when the choir stood to sing This is My Song, voila, my need for Pepto Bismol vanished.

Do you know the song? It's a Finnish anthem, Methodist hymn, and a new favorite of mine.
Joan Baez sings a version of the first two verses here, if you're interested.

This is my song, oh God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

This is my song, oh God of all the nations;

a song of peace for their land and for mine.

is is my prayer, o Lord of all earth's kingdoms
Thy kingdom come on earth thy will be done.

Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him.

And hearts united learn to live as one.

Oh hear my prayer, o God of all the nations.

Myself I give thee; let thy will be done.

So today as I look at our flag hanging from my porch, I'll thank God for his many blessings, and sing a Tiny Tim prayer for all the nations. God bless us, every one.

Tell me, as you splash around in the morning-after patriotism, how does this strike you? Have you had the same questions? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Boss of the Cornfield

Flickr photo by Bulsti, creative commons
If it'd been up to her, I'm sure Janice would never have hired me. She needed a girl with arm muscles, someone tough enough to tramp through cornfields in the blazing summer heat, to dig holes eighteen inches deep with only a hand auger, collecting thousands of samples of soil to analyze for Janice's graduate thesis. Janice had trained for the work, lifting weights and running up hills in her work boots.
At 17, my most athletic moments were the times I was accidentally hit by a ball while walking across the high school gym.

But Daddy and her advising professor were friends and colleagues, so there I was, my thighs stuck to the vinyl seat in the state owned truck at 4:30AM, smelling the diesel and her coffee as we headed off to yet another cornfield of eastern North Carolina.
With temps in the upper nineties, 100 % humidity, and at least 250 holes to dig each morning, Janice and I were always on the road early, racing against the elements.

"Eat a pumpkin muffin; it'll help," she'd say, and hand me the paper bag. Besides the hippies I babysat for down the street, Janice was the only person I knew in 1981 who ate yogurt and bought whole wheat flour. "Your body is a machine," she'd say. "You've gotta give it the right fuel."

Janice baked? How interesting that this lady in the tank top, shorts, and steel toed shoes could be such a bizarre mix of my mother and my father. She did research with a team of men, yet she made up recipes of her own? Would I be like her when I was a worldly woman of 23?

Janice was a patient teacher, up to a point. She taught me to follow the maps she'd sketched off on graph paper, to count our paces as we walked down each row, the leaves slapping our faces, making paper cuts on our eyelids and cheeks.
She taught me to squat as I twisted the auger through the soil, to use thigh muscles I didn't know I had. And on the few occasions when I didn't sweat out the gallons of water we downed, she taught me how to find a tree at the edge of a field, grab onto it, squat again, and pee.

When the days were especially unbearable, Janice would help me make an ice hat. We'd pack our floppy hats with ice and salt, then quickly turn them over and tie them on our heads. An hour later, we'd get punchy and fall over laughing at the sight of each other with the water dribbling down our necks, our faces smeared with dirt, our shirts soaked with sweat and melted ice.
She'd tease me about turning from Little Miss Weakling into Wonder Girl, and I'd feel myself walk taller. And at the end of the day, when I'd dance around the truck, lost in the ecstasy that comes with finishing something hard, with pushing my body to the brink of exhaustion, I'd catch a smile on her face as she turned away, forcing herself to hold back the sarcasm.
She was proud of me. I was sure of it.

But work with Janice wasn't all daisies and ice hats.
Janice also taught me how to properly receive a cussing. Of course I'd heard plenty of curse words before, but never by nice people. And no one had ever cussed at me. In fact, nobody had ever even yelled at me, except my parents, and they certainly had reason.
Janice welcomed me into a brand new world of profanity.

One day she cussed at me for fifteen minutes straight, combining cuss words in arrangements I'd never even heard before. We had just finished our second field of the morning, (the SECOND field,) and I was in the throes of ecstasy. We both were, laughing and singing and jogging back to the truck. The Lighthouse was only fifteen minutes away, a meat and three restaurant with the coldest, sweetest ice tea in the entire state of North Carolina. When exhaustion hit us at hole #403 of the day, we kept each other going with descriptions of that icy cold tea.
And then I tripped.
Maybe it was my own size 9 feet and my adolescent clumsiness, or maybe it was a fallen cornstalk or a root, but as I went flying, so did the crate. It flew, and with it flew each of the 250 soil samples, the clumps of soil scattering in the air, the tin caps flying.
Then the words flew.
How could you be so *#$ stupid and so @^*%*#@ clumsy?
She cussed as we fumbled around in the dirt and gathered every one of the 250 canisters and lids. She cussed as she carried the crate back to the truck, she cussed as I sat in the truck and cried dirty tears. Janice saw me crying and just kept cussing.

And then she stopped.

After a quiet moment at the back of the truck, Janice returned to my side, fished the graph paper map of the field out of her back pocket, clipped it back on her clipboard, and said, "We better get started. Got your water?"
We headed for flag #1 and started over. That was the end of it.

It's funny. I've worked in laboratories and in high schools, in a kindergarten and in churches, but I count walking the cornfields with Janice as one of my best training grounds ever.

Janice taught me that my body could do amazing things, that I could work harder than I ever thought possible, for longer than I ever imagined. I learned that my sensitive nature was resilient too. Words were just words, and a person could be funny and loving in their own way and still cuss a blue streak. I learned that women can be tough and soft and hard and kind, all at the same time-- or maybe at different times.

But the best lesson I learned with Janice was that I can find joy and maybe even God in working my hardest at a difficult task, even if it's digging holes. I'm still trying to figure out how that works. Is it because we come from God? That when we push ourselves to really dig for strength and the abilities God gave us, we get more in touch with the Source of strength? That God's own traits become more visible? Maybe, I'm not sure. But I am certain that whenever I discover more about my true self, I discover more about the God who made me.

Thank you, Janice, wherever you are!

This post is part of the writing project on "Bosses," over at the High Calling Blogs . Starting Monday, July 5, hop over here for links to more stories about bosses.

But before you skedaddle, would you share about a favorite boss you had? A crazy or funny or scary boss? I'd love to hear from you!

Have a super weekend, friends!
Love, Becky

PS. Enjoy Janice's Pumpkin muffin recipe!
Janice's Pumpkin Muffins
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 beaten egg
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
Sift together first 7 ingredients. Add raisins and stir to coat them. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugars, and then add and blend remaining wet ingredients. Stir in dry ingredients. Bake in a greased muffin tin at 375 for about 20 minutes.
Makes 12-18 muffins, depending on how high you fill the tins.