Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa at the Manger...Two Thumbs Up or Gag Me with a Candy Cane?

Sorry if you've got a Santa hanging out on your mantel with the shepherds and the Wise Guys, but I've always been in the Gag Me camp.

I know some people love incorporating Jolly Old Saint Nick into their beloved creche scenes, melding legend with the holy, but as for me, no no no.

Not to offend anyone, but just the sight of Kris Kringle kneeling in the straw gives me a bad case of chiggers. What's next? Might I suddenly forget the words to Silent Night and burst into a chorus of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?

But now that I've seen the video below, I can sorta (kinda) understand the idea.
It's Grammy nominated, Dove award winning singer/songwriter Kyle Matthews singing "Everything Santa Knows," a song that has me changing my tune on the Santa front. A friend of Kyle's made the video with his kids and it's really fun to watch. And careful, if you're the tiniest bit of a Santa scrooge like me, it might even get you thinking!

I'm sure I'll still keep Santa a safe distance from the holy babe, but I get the intention. The guy in the red suit is an admirer, just like the rest of us. And I have to say, a bit of a copycat.
(Just kidding, Santa. Love you!)
Enjoy, friends!

Merry Christmas!
Love, Becky

Photo by Jamiesrabbits, creative commons

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trust Falling into Christmas

Have you ever done a trust fall?
You know, folded your hands across your chest, closed your eyes, and let yourself fall stiff as a board backwards into a group of people, trusting they will catch you?
Given all that touchy-feely stuff I had to do back in RA training in my college days, you'd think I would have experienced more than a few trust falls, but I've never done one.
I think I'll start today.

I'm trust falling into Christmas. Care to join me?

Let's take a deep breath and close our eyes and trust.

Trust that our homes don't have to look like the ones in the magazines.

Trust that we don't have to find the perfect gifts for everyone on our lists, presents that capture who they are and what they enjoy most in life. Trust that gifts are really just not that important.

Trust that we can let go of all the busyness if we just need a little quiet.
A little heavenly peace.

Trust that our blogging friends will understand if after almost three years of blog posts we suddenly disappear for a while. If we stop visiting and unplug for a bit. (Yes, that's me, y'all. And I miss you. Life just got a little hectic and I needed to step away from the computer for a while. I'm fine, thank you, and so enjoying the refreshment of a little break.)

Trust that Christmas is meant for each of us, no matter the degree of peace or chaos in our lives.

Trust that God meant to send us a message by birthing Christ into a dirty stable, not a pristine hospital room. That Christ's first breaths of air were taken in the company of parents who held him close, full of fear and wonder, lost as to what the future might bring.

I'm so thankful for a God who loves us that much.
I'm trusting that this year's celebration of The Greatest Love of All will bless you and carry you happily into the new year.

Much love,

Photo by Dale Chumbley, creative commons

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hop in the Birdbath

I certainly didn't expect anything extraordinary from last week's trip to the dentist.
A thorough cleaning, of course. Maybe some gentle hints about flossing more. An explanation of that new little ridge my tongue had discovered on top of one of my molars.

So I was a bit surprised to find my normally attentive hygienist, Jo Carol, staring out the window as I sat down in her chair.
"Would you look at that," she whispered.
I wasn't sure if she was talking to me, so I said, ""Hey Jo Carol. How are you doing today?"
"Come get a look at this," she whispered again.

I put down my purse and joined her at the window. What was she staring at? The view wasn't great, just a tree and some grass and the parking lot of the orthodontist next door.

"See the birds?" she said, pointing at four or five little wrens splashing around in the water on the pavement.
"It rained last night, and every time it rains, that little corner there makes a puddle that stays around for a little while. It's funny, no matter what time of year it is, as soon as that puddle appears there's a half dozen birds swooping down to play in it. Look at them splashing around. They must be babies. And look, there's their mama, the big one there."

We stood there a minute and watched the birds flicking their feathers around in the water, wading in it, drinking and splashing, stepping on the fallen leaves with their little twig legs.

"Birds know the secret," she said as I sat down in the chair and she clipped the bib around my neck. "When something good lands on your lap, you gotta put down your busyness. Enjoy it while you can."

I nodded.

"Of course, birds are better at that than we are. There's so much we think we have to do."

Amen, Jo Carol, my hygienist/sage.
I needed to hear that. Don't we all, as we get ready to celebrate a day of thanks-- a day with so many To Do lists attached?

And just so you know, Jo Carol isn't just a dispenser of wisdom.
That new little ridge on my molar?
"It's just a broken filling, Hun. An easy fix. Happens to all of us as we get to a certain age."
If you need me, I'll be the old woman out shopping for a cane along with the turkey and cranberries.

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

Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) through creative commons

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Visit to a Buddhist Temple

Have you ever been to a Buddhist temple?
I hadn't, until Saturday, but I'm so glad I went.

In sixth grade social studies class, the kids learn about world religions. Sam is planning a project in which he builds a miniature city complete with a Christian church, a Jewish temple, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple. Tall order, huh?

Sam has practically grown up inside a Christian church, but the other buildings? We're not so familiar with those. How can you build something if you don't really know what it looks like?
It was a perfect excuse to do some visiting.

The Place of Peace was first on our list.

It's a inter-generational temple once belonging to the Tsuzuki family in Nagoya, Japan. When the Tsuzukis donated it to Furman University, it was taken apart, piece by piece, and reassembled on the campus grounds.

I remember reading that during the temple's dedication, Seiji Tsuzuki spoke about his memories of sweeping the leaves around the temple when he was a boy.

Its craftsmanship is amazing.

The temple reminds me what I appreciate and so respect about the religion of Buddhism: the importance given to mindfulness, to paying attention to ones everyday life. That's such an important part of my Christian faith--to look for God's presence around me, to find God in the normal walk of life.

To find God in the details and in the big picture.

I love this simple fountain by the entrance.

It reminds me of the laver we've taught our Sunday school kids about, and how the Old Testament priests would wash themselves as a purifying ritual before going into the temple to worship.

See those shelve on the front porch of the temple? You take off your shoes before entering and place them there. The temple was locked so we couldn't go inside. Maybe another time.

No matter. There was plenty of God to go around just by walking across the campus.

See what I mean?

A perfect acorn, in the shade of a mighty oak. What a symbol of God's transforming power. His easy grace, dropping from the sky.

All living things seemed to pulse with God's presence that afternoon. I wanted to be like the roots of the tree, rising up, bursting out of the ground, to celebrate God's goodness.

Tanner got so excited that he baptized himself in the pond!

Careful! He'll spray you with stinky pond water!

As for me, I'll just focus on this burning bush.

Excuse me while I take off my shoes and worship.

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Autumn at Hopeful Dog Vineyard

Welcome to Autumn at Hopeful Dog Vineyard.
In case you're new around here, we don't really have a vineyard. Just this row of muscadines lining our backyard.

And here's the hopeful dog.

He's hoping you have a treat for him in your pocket.
A cracker, maybe? Anything?

Back to the vineyard.
I wouldn't have thought much was going on back there now.
After all, we've picked the grapes. We ate a few bowlfuls and washed and stomped the rest. Then we put the juice up to ferment until bottling time next summer.
The leaves are turning and dropping, and the only grapes left are becoming raisins in the sun.

But The Hopeful Dog has taken to stashing his trash under the grapevines up the hill, so yesterday I took a garbage bag with me and went trash collecting. There was a lot to gather: a bag of beef jerky he stole from Ben, a plastic peanut butter jar he nabbed off the kitchen counter, an old container of Parmesan cheese he swiped from our spaghetti dinner last week.
But after I collected it all, I turned my attention to the grapes.
What a shock!
The vine was busy doing things.

Who would have thought that at the same time that some leaves were bleeding out their colors, shriveling into papery bat wings...

some branches would refuse to quit, sending out a tender shoot to look for the sun,

unfurling baby leaves with its last breath.

While inches away, higher on the vine, a cluster of grapes refuses to fall.

I understand the grapes.

My leaves might turn speckled, then brittle and brown, but I wouldn't want to let go. I'd hold on.

Like the tiny tendrils gripping the guide wire, winding themselves in tight coils around it.
If I were a branch on the master vine, that's what I'd probably do.

"Go for the sun!" the vine would say, but I'd wave my hands around, reaching for something to hold to steady me. A safe spot. Security.

I'd wind myself tight around the Master Vine.
Can't I just live this way?

Do I have to let go?

The vine says nothing.

It just stands there in its beautiful twistedness, and holds up the branches.
It feeds them, and in its woundedness, it gives them life.

I touch the knots, run my fingers over the woody scabs.
Is there life under dry bark?
I know there is because I've seen what the Vine does each Spring.
I remember. Beneath the gnarled wrapping, green life surges.
It's waiting for the right time, the right season.
Somehow it knows.

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.
John 15: 1-9 The Message

I wish you a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hands and Beard Commands of the Future

"Dang, look how big my hand is," said the twelve year old boy on the drive to school.
"You've always had big hands," said the mom.
"I mean seriously, look. It's bigger than my face."
"Do you know that before you were born, I could feel those hands inside me, pushing around?"
"Mom, hate to tell you, but that's just weird."
"Yeah, it was a little weird. But it's true. It's the first thing we noticed after you were born. Well, maybe not the first thing. It took a took a few minutes to get over what a big baby we had."
The boy laughed.
"I bet that when you're a man you'll have grown into those hands. I wonder what you'll look like when you're a man."
"I'm going to grow a beard," said the boy, nodding to himself. "And when I get kids, I'm going to make them kiss it. I'm going to say 'Kiss it. KISS THE BEARD!'"

That kids cracks me up.
And he reminds me how quickly life changes.
Maybe it's easiest to see change in the life of a child. One day you're feeling him moving inside you, pressing his hands against you, your own little fetal mime swaddled tight by your body, and the next thing you know, he's out running around the yard in a dalmatian with a gas mask costume, making up his own words, batting his eyes at you, throwing leaves into the wind. Turn around twice and he'll be headed out the door, off to make up a life of his own.

Last night, as I watched our youth group perform "This Changes Everything," a new musical by singer-songwriter Kyle Matthews, I was struck by the sight of a choir full of former babies. How did they grow up so quickly? Didn't I just see them toddling down the nursery hallway? Didn't they just sit in the circle with me in fourth grade Sunday school?
And now they're standing before us, growing their hands, their faces, their voices, their baby bodies into young men and women! We used to lead them, and now they're leading us. Or maybe they've been leading and teaching all along.

I look at these kids, at my kids, my boy with the big hands and the future beard of his dreams, and I'm happy to remember the words God spoke to his people through the voice of Jeremiah,

I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. When you come looking for me, you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed.
Jeremiah 29: 11-14 The Message

I'm excited to see what the future brings to the kids in our lives. Aren't you? I'm happy for the lucky ones who already recognize they've got their hands in God's work. That God has his hands in their work. There are so many good things to come!
(And I have to say that I'll be watching to see if Sam indeed has a beard in his future.)

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

Photo of the kind of beard I'd like for Sam for the next few years by Your Secret Admiral, through creative commons. Want some felt facial hair of your own? Hop over here!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mercy, Not Religion

I love my church.
I love that we come close to God there, led by women and men and children.
I love that we are family, that there are many folks there who remember the days when Todd and I stood at the front of the sanctuary amongst the other new parents, dedicating our squirmy babies to God.
That the congregation has helped us raise those squirmy babies, loving them through their fidgety stages, getting to know what's fun for them and what kind of people they want to be. Teaching my children by example about what it means to serve God.
I love that we welcome EVERYONE.
And I love that when my daughter was 15, she once said she wished everybody could be like the people at church.
I thank God for my church. Some days I wish I could dip my wand in the soap water and make a bubble around my church and live in it.

But yesterday, the bubble burst. Again.
It's Matthew 9's fault. I've been studying the gospels, as told by The Message, a version that never ceases to make the Bible new to me, that presents the stories in a way that perks up my ears and has me scrambling for other translations, wondering if Jesus really said that.

In the passage I was reading, Jesus was having supper at Matthew's (the tax collector's) house and was hanging out with all sorts of disreputable characters. The religious leaders had a fit,

and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
Matthew 9:11-13, The Message

Mercy, not religion. I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.

That's direct.

Do I ever ask to be coddled?
Do I waste time debating who are the real Christians and who is just a bunch of hot air or meanness, when I should be on the street, inviting outsiders to the table?
Do I get too wrapped up in the mechanics of church and organization when there's work to be done?
Mercy to be given.

What is really important to God?
Jesus makes it clear.

It's just the reminder I needed.

Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Love, Becky

Photo by darkmatter, licensed through creative commons.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blooming Blendship

We sat together at a little table in the coffee shop of a bookstore, practically strangers.
I liked her art and her heart for the homeless, and she liked a story I'd written, so we took a chance and met.
A year ago I might have worried if it might be awkward. If there might be long silent pauses, minds racing for something to say. But not now. Maybe it's the wild ride I seem to find myself on, but now when somebody new suddenly pops her head into my life, I press the brakes to my busyness to see what might happen next.
This time what happened was friendship!
We sat at the table, surrounded by books, and told our own stories, one after another.
I could feel friendship's tiny rosebuds sprouting between us, my roots shifting, making room for someone new.

What a joy!
It amazes me that in the craziest of times, old friends appear, new friends materialize, and close day-by-day friends loop their arms through mine, letting me lean or hold tight or just feel their presence. You all are counted in that web of locked arms. Thank you!

You know what your friendship reminds me of? Something I encountered on Monday.
Let me share the story.
Friday I got some scary news. Someone very near and dear to me discovered a lump in her breast. I went with her to the ultrasound Monday, and watched the nurse lead her to an examining table, take a blanket out of the warming drawer, and spread it over my dear one, wrapping her in its comforting heat. Within minutes we received the report that the lump was benign, nothing to worry about, and we nearly cried with relief.
I think of my friends and that blanket reappears. That's part of what friendship is. A comforting, protecting blanket of warmth when the world is scary, wrapping us close in the middle of it all.

We told the story of Ruth with our fourth graders on Sunday. What a pleasure, that at the same time that I've felt carried along by my friends, I could share Ruth's story and celebrate friendship! I've always loved the story, the daughter and her mother in law caring for each other, clinging to each other, supporting each other. Sharing each other's stories, weaving their stories together. I love that friendship is another way of experiencing God and accomplishing God's work.

I'm so thankful for you, my friends, and for God's gift of friendship!
Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!

Love, Becky

Photo courtesy of Pensiero, licensed through creative commons

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pie for Everybody!

What we needed was pie.
(My unprofessional diagnosis.)

Since I'm home at the moment, writing and searching for a job, I had the time to do it right.

I pared the Granny Smith apples the old fashioned way, remembering how my dad still does it, letting the peel trail toward the floor in a long curly snake. I sliced the fruit thin into the bowl on my lap, thinking of apple pies I'd made before when the kids were little. How the smell would fill the house. How they'd wait at the table, and Sarah would make up a silly apple pie song.
Now Sarah was off at college and the boys were plugged into the computer or buried in homework. Checking off To Do lists, answering cell phones.

We were all in need of pie, the boys, my husband, and me. We needed laughter and the comfort of something ordinary and warm, smelling of cinnamon. A reason to put away the college applications, the insurance paperwork, a calendar full of doctor's appointments, the want ads and the homework.

We've moved cautiously through our days of the last couple weeks, bracing ourselves at times when surprise aftershocks from Ben's accident washed over us, managing the normal stressors of life with teens and tweens. Stresses of a boy who's already lining up suitcases in the hallway of his mind, getting ready to leave us and set off on his own. Stresses of a younger one who is trying to figure out who he is, yearning to feel understood and respected. Stresses of life with a forty something mother, wandering and searching, and a forty something father, working so hard, focused on his family.

You may be well acquainted with this section of road we're traveling. You may be struggling with much steeper roads, staggering, treacherous ones, or catching your breath in a smooth spot. We all go through rough patches and deal with stress in different ways. We may try to control things or cocoon, we might bicker or get quiet, we might worry or pretend that life isn't fragile at all, that thinking about it and talking about it is silly, a waste of time.

What we really need is pie.
Okay, so pie can't solve everything, but it can't hurt, right?
(Unless you're diabetic. If so, disregard this post. :)

So, back to the pie baking.
After the apples were sliced and tossed with sugar and flour and cinnamon, it was time for the crust. I rolled it into a ragged round and lifting it gingerly into the pie pan, filled it with apples and the syrup they made, added lumps of butter, and blanketed the top crust over, sealing the crusts together like my grandma used to do, pinching around a thumb, making a circle of V's. A few slits in the top crust to let out the steam, and it was time for the oven.

Forty five minutes later, the house smelled like heaven.
Boys suddenly appeared and stood around, waiting.
My husband got up from his seat at the computer, and we talked and took out plates and forks and found the ice cream scoop. I tortured them all by announcing that the pie needed five minutes to set before we sliced it, but three minutes in I couldn't take it anymore.
We sliced the pie and passed the plates around, and as we sat there chewing and oohing and ahhing, it felt like a holy moment. It was a holy moment.
Take, eat.
Laugh, enjoy.
Yes, life is all about messy loose ends and aftershocks, wandering and moving on, and sometimes saying goodbye.
But life is also about eating pie at the table. Sharing a baked prayer, topped with a slab of vanilla ice cream. Savoring every tart-sweet morsel. And maybe having seconds!

So I'm curious. How do you serve up prayers for your family? What concrete things do you do that sometimes create those holy moments? I'd love to hear about it!

Have a wonder-full Friday, y'all, and a super weekend. I wish you much pie and the time to enjoy it with those you love most!

Love, Becky

Photo courtesy of edwardkimuk, through creative commons.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pictures of Grace

What does grace look like?
Today I'm joining Emily Freeman over at Chatting at the Sky in sort of a blog party of grace. She's asked us to share a photograph of what grace means to us. It sounded like a fun challenge, so I started flipping through our photos, thinking. What picture would show God's generosity, his free gullywasher of love to every one of us, no matter who we are or what we've done? Even though we haven't earned it and couldn't if we tried?
Of course I couldn't settle on one.

I like the chick in Sam's hand above, because I see myself in that little fellow. Not sure where I'm going, vulnerable to the world, but curious and ready to explore. God holds me in his hands, no matter who I am or what I've done. God's hands are steady and loving, ready to release me if I want to walk away, to embrace me if I want to snuggle in, always available, offering me rest, calm, and encouragement.

Photo 2:

I see God's grace in the framed piece of art created by a member of Triune Mercy Center in its art room, a place where the homeless and the suffering can sit at a table and create whatever God puts in their hearts and heads and paint brushes. I see a savior in the painting, a powerful agent of light, speaking to the artist, offering himself to the painter, no matter what his circumstances, no matter how low he's fallen. His wings show he's ready to fly, swooping the painter up out of his depths, onto safer ground.

Photo 3:

I love this photo of downtown Clermont Ferrand, where we used to live.
Let's focus on the bas-relief carved in the wall of the apartment on the corner.
Here's a closer look.

The scene is opposite the cathedral, and as you can see, it depicts Christ washing the feet of the disciples. It's an incredible, almost unbelievable picture of grace to me, and I think how uncomfortable I would have been, waiting in line. To me, this is grace in its purest form. Christ himself, bending before us, washing our dirty parts with his own hands.
We are so loved. So lucky!

What speaks grace to you?
Hop over to Emily's place and join the party!

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sounds of Change

If you've been reading here long, you know there's a river near my house.
I try my best to take our dog on a walk there every day, to exercise this body that mostly sits at a desk, and to keep Tanner the Slobber Dog too tired to fish out the aluminum foil and yogurt cups out of the kitchen trash and gnaw them down like a goat.

We walked again yesterday afternoon, and in the stillness I couldn't get over the percussion of autumn sounds.
The clicks and chatter of the squirrels,
the pings of acorns against the ground, the thumps of hickory nuts on moss,
the leaves dropping, skittering across the path.
(I see why they call it Fall.)

The walking path follows the river. There are moments when you can't see the water on account of the brush or the rhododendron, but you can always hear it gurgling, rushing, and splashing.
Even the parts that seem absolutely still are moving, changing, polishing the pebbles underneath, brushing the algae on the rock, moving along the fallen leaves and twigs.

As I walked yesterday, I think I discovered a new reason why autumn is my favorite season. (Besides the flashy red and orange and yellow trees and the refreshing coolness after the oppressive summer heat.)
I think I'm partly in love with Fall because it celebrates change, party style.
The crows call it out from tree to tree, the oaks throw acorns like confetti.
The maples turn red and shake their leaves around, while the wind does the wave through the woods.
They say the only thing constant in life is change. Fall seems to have fun with that.

Maybe the orchestra of change outside my window helps me notice the sounds of change inside my house too.
A boy who once cried before school performances (once because the music teacher made all the turkeys in the Thanksgiving program "shake their bahonkas" while they sang) now asks to try out for a part in the youth musical.
A girl who never cared about cooking now calls me for recipes to try out in her college apartment.
A boy who used to sit blankly through church now talks about the message and tells me what he thinks.

Change can be beautiful music.
Now, if I could just get Tanner to stop growling and barking at the skeleton on my porch!

What are your favorite sounds of Fall? Do you hear the sounds of change at your house?

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Just Call Me Alice

For the last three days I've been a cleaning machine.
I've dusted ceiling fans and scrubbed baseboards, I've moved furniture and fixed wobbly table legs, I've vacuumed carpets and mopped hardwood floors. I've laundered slipcovers and tried my best to rid my world of dog hairs and dust bunnies.
Somebody better hide Tanner the Slobber Dog or I might vacuum him too.

So why the white tornado of cleanliness?
You've got me.
In about eight hours, sixty some teenagers will descend upon my house for a pasta dinner, to get their bodies pumped up for tomorrow's race, but I'm pretty certain that nobody will notice my grime-free piano keys (seriously, how do piano keys get dirty?) or that for this very moment in time, I'm completely caught up on laundry. (In case you're wondering, that sound you hear is the chorus of angels.)
But I'll hug those kids anyway.
Their visit gave me just the gift I needed: a reason to tidy up a bit. The chance to get carried away.

As I was scrubbing tubs and erasing smudges, my brain took a few days off. I worked out my stress of my son's doctor visits of the last few months, the crumpled, upside down car of last week, the questions of where I'm going, what God may have for me.
I took it out on the dirt and it felt good.

I noticed filth I'd never noticed before. I know I'm no neatnik, but really?
The house was that dirty?
I'd been staring at it every day and never saw it.
The shock made me look a little harder at the other corners of my house. At the corners of my mind.

You can get so used to looking at something you just don't see it anymore.
As I cleaned, a song from my college years kept coming to mind. It was "Create in me a clean heart oh God..." It was John Michael Talbot's version, probably because there I was, monk-like, on the floor, scrubbing.

The song prompted me to look up Psalm 51. I'm just crazy about how The Message words it:

Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean,
scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don't look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don't throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!

Don't you love that? I do.
Okay, God. I'm standing tall, arms outstretched.
Breathe your breath on me. I'm ready to sail!

Does a clean-fest work wonders for you? What do you do that gets you out of your head, to work out your stress?

Much love to you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cartoon or Caricature?

Sam went to the state fair on a mission.
No, he wasn't searching for The Famous Cheeseburger Between Two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (which curiously disgusts me and makes my mouth water at the same time.)
He wanted to have his caricature done.

I was a little hesitant.
"Are you sure you want a caricature?"
He nodded.
"Do you know what a caricature is, exactly?"
"Duh Mom. I'm almost 12. Of course I know what a caricature is. It's kind of like a cartoon but they exaggerate all your weird features and it still looks like you."
"Okey doke then. If that's what you want."

Personally, I've never desired to see an artist make my nose bigger than actual size or my eyes droopier or wrinkles deeper. Even if the girl does look like me!

He found a great artist to do the sketch and had a blast with the whole experience.
First question the guy asked?
"Cartoon or Caricature?"
There was a choice?
Yep. Mr. Rasheed could draw a straight caricature, or he could pose him with Sponge Bob. Or Scooby Doo or Superman.
Sam picked Cartoon. Duh!
"Can you put me with Chuck Norris?" he asked. Mr. Rasheed laughed and thought a little.
"Sure. I've got a funny idea."

As I stood there, watching the artist do his magic, I flipped through his sample book of work. His cartoons were amazing, as is his website, here.

I can see why people prefer cartoons to caricatures. Who really wants to see their chins or noses ballooned up so big?
The whole experience got me thinking about caricatures. It made me wonder if I don't sometimes make others into caricatures of themselves.

I was a caricature expert as a little girl, dividing people into good or bad, based on my exaggerations of their features. I even had a checklist. Did you?

Drink or smoke? Bad.
Cuss? Bad.
Steal gum from the store or cheat on a test? Bad. Very bad.
Say "yes ma'am"? Good.
Please and thank you? Good.
Nice to teachers? Good.

But then there were problems. My granddad smoked a cigar in the truck on the way to the lake to fish. I had aunts and uncles that smoked cigarettes and drank a little. They weren't bad people.
I knew kids who said yes ma'am and were nice to your face, but said mean things when you walked away.

It's interesting to me now what I put on my list. All those easy black and white rules, that weren't so black and white in flesh and blood.

I wonder now if I don't still make caricatures sometimes. Draw loaded pictures of people in my mind and discount them, judge them, instead of looking at the whole picture.
I'm afraid our culture does this all the time, especially when it comes to people we disagree with politically. We exaggerate some characteristics and oversimplify others. We try to make things black and white, because gray is so hard to manage.
Why do we classify anyway?

I'm lucky God doesn't see me as a caricature. I'm thankful God sees the whole picture, the good and the bad, all mixed together, and loves me anyway.

Cartoon or caricature?
Cartoon, please!

Just for fun, and because I'm weary of heavy thinking after the accident in our family, (Thanks again, by the way, my dear friends, for your words on Monday,) lets have a little fun.
Which cartoon character-or larger than life person-would you pick to pose with in your cartoon?

Here's Sam's finished product. Excuse the sweaty head. I made him pose after his baseball game last night.

I'll get us started. I pick...King Julian! I love that guy!

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Caramel Apples and Tissue Paper Life

I stood in the midway at the North Carolina State Fair, head spinning.
Was it the Tilt-a-Whirl that had my stomach churning, whipping me and Sam in blurry loops and twirls as we steeled ourselves against each other, laughing and screaming at the same time?

Or it might have been something else. Leftover terror and panic and joy spun up together, still reverberating, vibrating in the core of my heart, 2 1/2 days later.

Just Wednesday night I was driving through the dark on a road I've never traveled before, searching for the car that backed out of my driveway just a few hours earlier.
I was chatting with my neighbor when he pulled out onto the street.
I'd mouthed, "Love you."
"You too," Ben nodded and waved goodbye.

Then a few hours later, Sarah sat beside me in the passenger seat as I drove, squinting through the darkness for a glint of his white car.
"Should I call Daddy?"
No, It was almost 3 AM in France. He couldn't do anything from his hotel room except stew and worry. Ben had made it clear on a stranger's phone that he and Ellison made it out okay. Might as well let Todd sleep until it's over.

"Is that it?" I say, scanning the edge of a farmer's field.
"No," she said. "I don't think that's a car."
It wasn't. It was white paint on a cinder block shed.
My brain conjured up the screeching, the explosion as the roof hit the asphalt, the crunching, glass breaking.
I searched the darkness, praying.

Then we saw it, first only the policeman's blue light in the distance.
There was the car, upside down on the road, shattered glass around it, blue glitter as the police light turned. The two figures standing by the guardrail in the darkness.
Two beautiful figures.

Thank you, God.
They crawled out. They were fine.
Thank you, God.

It's so strange how life happens.
One day, everything is ordinary. I'm doing laundry, making banana pudding.
Sarah comes home for fall break. We pack for the trip to Raleigh. Ben is going to stay home and work on college applications, and I'm giving a talk at the beloved church of my childhood. Everything is ordinary.

The title of my talk comes to mind and I have to laugh a little.
Bumping into Jesus: Surprise Encounters with the God of Wonders
It was about meeting God through the least of these, children and the poor, the homeless and the sick. But Bumping into Jesus? Not yet, God! Lets keep the boy's feet on the earth right now.
Let's put my 18 year old son in a little box on my coffee table. Keep him safe. Open the lid now and then and say hello.

One day, everything is normal. And then the next, my child and his sweet girlfriend crawl out of his upside down car, on a highway in the middle of nowhere.

Life feels tissue paper thin.

Someone tells me how lucky we are and I say yes, yes, yes.
Someone tells me God saved him, and I say yes, thank you, God. But then I think of Gordon.

Gordon had beautiful olive skin and dark hair. I was his babysitter when he was small. He and his little brother liked to play spaceship. We'd take off our shoes and stand in the shower stall for take off. He'd do the countdown and we'd take off!
By my senior year in high school he was in 6th grade, and I remember how much he loved to make kids in the youth group laugh. I went to college, got married, and moved away, but one day my mom called me about Gordon. He was killed in an accident his freshman year at UNC. Time stopped for his family. Their foursome became three.

God didn't save Gordon.
Did God really save Ben? I don't know. My inclination today is no.

I have a hard time believing in a God who decides to save one and not another.
But I do believe in God, with everything I have.
My God surrounds us with his love, helps us hobble through this life, helps us run through it, dance through it. Helps us puzzle our way through the mystery of it all.
I don't have to understand everything, but I'm grateful. So very grateful.

I stand in the midway, and I see my feet on the asphalt. Sarah's feet, Sam's, my mom's and my dad's. I'm thankful for Ben's feet on the ground back home, and Ellison's feet on the ground where she is, and my husband's feet in Paris.

I smell the polish sausage and the deep fried twinkies, and I hear the barker guess the age of the teenage girl clutching the giant pink elephant, and I feel like quite the lucky lady.
I'm loved and in love.

I send much love to you!

Photo by grrrrl, creative commons

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I look good!

"Dang," said the boy, looking into the side mirror on the way home from school. "I have the most awesome hair color."
The mom nodded.
The boy kept looking at his reflection.
"When the light gleams on it, my goodness. I just look good."
"Your hair is nice."
"And my dimples. My cheeks look just like...what's the food Dad likes to eat? You know, in the back yard?"
"No, on that tree thing."
"On a tree? Hmm. Figs?"
Yeah, my cheeks are just like figs."
The mom smiled at her boy and tried to act normal.
But the truth was that he had blown her away!

I don't know about you, but in my forty some years, I've hardly ever say things like that.
I can make you a list a mile long about things I wish were different about my appearance--
I wish my lips didn't disappear when I smile.
I wish my eyes weren't so round.
I wish I would lose ten pounds.
Et cetera. Et cetera.

I rarely smile in the mirror and say, "Dang! I look good!"

But why not?
My friend Alison wrote a post recently about how she always looks back at old photos she once hated, and thinks, "Wow, what was I complaining about?"
I do the same thing!
Why can't we do a better job seeing the beauty that's right there NOW?

So today, I'm doing a daring thing. And I'm daring you to do the same.
Tell me what you like when you look in the mirror. Just one little thing. I know you can do it!
I know in my head, at least, if not in my heart, I'm a beautiful creature of God. Let's find it. Celebrate it!

I'll hold my breath and start us out. Ready?

I like my dimples, even though as a child I used to blow up my cheeks like a pufferfish to make them go away. I like them now. Dang, they look good!

Okay. Now it's your turn!

Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!

Love, Becky

Photo by quinn.anya, creative commons

Monday, October 11, 2010

Running Away to Home

God was making an appearance and they didn't want to miss it.
The mountains rushed in waves, rolling their shoulders against each other,
throwing themselves into the arms of God.

Me too! I want to see God!
And I did. All around me.

Whenever I'm wandering, my feet beg to find their place on a mountain path.
My hands plead to turn off the light, to shut the door on a house full of laundry and dishes, to leave sentences dangling on the computer screen, the phone ringing in the kitchen.
Let's run away.

We go to the mountains and they welcome us.

We've been waiting for you.
Growing, dying, blooming, decaying,
while you spin,

do your human things.

We breathe God's breath. He pulses through our veins, sings to the earth through the water trickling on rock, whispers to us in the brush of leaves against leaves, fluttering by the wind.

We start our hike, and all thoughts of doing and earning and accomplishing somehow dissolve into the mountain air.

On the path, there is only listening. The crunch of the underbrush as we walk, the break of twigs as squirrels jump from tree to tree, the faint gurgling of water in the creek bed down below us.

There is only smelling. The decay, the leaves fallen years before, now broken into soil. The pines. The rhododendron.

There is only seeing.
The trees, stretching into the sky, reminding me of my smallness

and God's greatness.

We walk, and it strikes me.
The beauty in all the messiness.

The tangled vines. The fallen leaves, the moss, softening our footsteps.
The stumps decaying, the beetles crawling,
the life thriving in all the brokenness.

The path reminds me of what I left behind.
The way the light grows dim at times.
The way my feet lead me into uncertain places.

I must keep walking.

Sometimes you can barely see the light.
But it's there.

And if I can let my eyes adjust,
brace myself against the urge to bolt,
if I can breathe and take a look around,
I see the beauty blooming in the darkness, out of the layers of what came before and was broken.
It's right there at my feet!

I can spend a moment looking, listening.
And when the time is right, I can listen for the water.
I let God's creeksong guide me out of the darkness.

And I'm filled with gratitude.
So much can come from brokenness. From wandering.
I'm so thankful!

I see the water over rock, and I'm reminded of the stone at Horeb.
Remember the story?
God's people were so thirsty, and there was nothing to drink.
"At least when we were in slavery," they cried, "we had water! We would not die of thirst!"
God told Moses to strike the rock, and the water burst forth.
Water, out of a broken stone!

I tell the story and I remember Another One, a Rock, broken to offer living water to all.
Wash me in it, God! Soak me!

Where do you go when you need to hear God's voice? Is there a special place that makes it easier for you to get in touch with the Holy One?

I hope that you have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Much love to you! Becky

Last photo by Just Us 3, creative commons

PS. I happened upon this commercial recently and it spoke to me--in a weird way! It reminds me of how crazy it is when we think we have to do everything ourselves. It reminds me Who holds the real power. It's so creative! Enjoy.