Saturday, February 5, 2011

Stew, Anyone?

On an cold wet day like the ones we've had lately, what could be better than a bowl of hot stew, maybe with a big hunk of crusty baguette? Sounds like comfort food to me. Shall I set a bowl for you?

I think there's another reason I've had stew on the brain the last week or so. The folks over at Smyth & Helwys asked me to write a series of devotionals for their Reflections guide a month or so ago, (yey!) and the ten scripture passages recently arrived in my inbox. I'm LOVING the whole writing process, mostly because it's reminding me of the mysterious way God can teach me when I allow God some thought-time in my day. If I had to invent a name for the method, it'd be easy. STEW!

First and most important step?
Just manage to read the verses at some point each day.
That's like assembling the ingredients, dumping God's words into the crockpot, and setting the switch on low.

On good days, the words stay in the background on the kitchen counter of my brain, and as I go through the hours, their aromas swirl, bringing out the flavors of God's message hidden within conversations and images, within mundane chores or memories. Sometimes even within a story I hear at the grocery store or a random thought in the carpool line.

I wish it always worked that way.

Some days I manage to read, but then I get swept into the tornado of the day. The words sit frozen in the pot. I'm too busy to let myself entertain open passage between my spirit and God's. I focus on my own words and nothing simmers. No aroma. No tender morsels. Just a tough cut of meat and raw potatoes. No comfort there.

Other days I put bad things in the pot. Instead of God's promises, I stew on worries and fears. I pile them on top of each other, and set the temp on high. I stand by the pot and wait for them to bubble up. I breathe in the smell, even when it makes me cough.
When I start dining on fear, I push aside love and don't even know it!
I focus on getting my share. On what if's.
It's not pretty, y'all.

But stew done right?
Tastes great. More filling!
I really must ask God to help me get better at doing this every day. To help me not be so consumed by busyness that I shut out God's voice as He/She tries to speak.

What about you? Is stew part of your daily diet?
I wish God's best love-stew to you!

Photo by Jess Gambacurta, creative commons

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Doubt, Trust, Fear, and Crowd Surfing

"It's not how I hoped my faith would be," I told my friend as we sipped our coffee and shared in whispers the darkest moments of our lives.

"I knew it would happen to me some day. Of course sorrow and fear would visit me too. Why wouldn't it? I expected that at some point I'd experience a life and death crisis, a fear that terrifies. I knew it would happen, but when I'd imagined what it might be like...I don't know," I said, feeling my eyes well up, remembering it as if it had happened just days ago. "When it did come, I didn't react how I thought I would."

My friend nodded, listening generously, not rushing me or trying to squeeze in words.

"I guess I thought that when it happened, when I was plunged into darkness, I pictured myself locking arms with God, tossing aside my fears and springing out of the murk, into the light. It wasn't like that at all."

"What was it like?"

"I couldn't even pray. I thought I'd stay in constant communication with God, but instead I felt kind of stony, focused on getting through each hour.
God wasn't as much a presence as a motor in me, pulling me up from the floor to my hands and knees, helping me crawl from one moment to the next. But I knew God was there, even if I didn't hear words."

"Even if you didn't talk to God. You trusted," she said. "That's trust."

"Maybe," I said. "I guess that's what it was. I didn't feel capable of much else but trust, to be honest. If I could trust, it's only because of my circle of friends. I knew that they would pray even when I couldn't. I felt the quiet inside me, and I knew where it had come from. I was so thankful for their prayers."

I remembered this conversation when I saw the opening photo.
I was that person, carried high by the hands of others. Knowing that they were taking my concerns to God, I could still myself and listen to the faint echoes of scripture and prayers of my past sewn into me. I'm so thankful for community, both online and in flesh and blood. Friends to sit with me beside still waters, to carry me to the Shepherd.

My faith wasn't what I imagined it would be, but it was real. And thanks to my friends, it was enough.

During the dark moments of your life, how has your faith surprised you?
I'd really like to know.

Love, Becky

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 paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Photo courtesy of Wild_Child_HC, through creative commons.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What's That Growing on My Coffee Table?

Don't misunderstand the title of this post. I haven't totally given up on trying to keep a somewhat halfway sanitary house.

Nope, I'm talking about the coffee table outside. You may remember that because of my doofus dog and his intense desire to dig up the entire back yard and transport it between his doggy toes to my white bedspread, Todd and I are not able to garden like normal people. We grow our tomatoes and peppers and herbs on top of an old coffee table out our back door.
As you can see from the photo above, it's not tomato season.

So what's that growing on my coffee table?

Just a couple months ago, the coffee table box was vacant, except for the dirt.
Then Todd worked in a box of bone meal, which was supposed to make our tomatoes even more juicy and delicious, and (of course) Tanner sniffed out the scent of bones, hopped on top of the coffee table and did the backstroke through the soil. Then he ate up half its contents.
He felt a little sickish after that.

So anyway, after his dirt binge, the box sat empty.
And then I started noticing bits of green freckling the soil. I hadn't planted anything. Was the wind transporting tiny seeds to my garden? Or did the birds do it? Maybe there were already seeds in the soil that we didn't know about.

This morning it's a mass of green, as you can see, growing up and out of the box, trying its best to tickle the cement pig keeping watch. And whispering a word to me.
And then it recited The Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Or maybe that was the former chemistry teacher in me talking.

(Science Nerd Police, close your ears. I'm about to get a little loosey goosey here.)

The garden full of mystery weeds reminded me that unless you've got an outside organizing force at work, everything tends toward chaos.

Like a twelve year old boy's room. If left alone, a room previously straightened by a loving mother will slowly transform into a pig sty.
If left alone, no one can find the remote in the den and dirty glasses pile up. And microwave popcorn bags are left on the coffee table.

It takes INTENTION to change things. (Or a mom who threatens to take phones away or computer time.)

If we don't plan anything for the garden and weed the soil and plant what we want, chaos takes over.
If Todd and I don't take time to think about what we want our family life to be like and we let the kids sign up for whatever they want, soon we'll be sucked into the craziness of running all over the county every night of the week, just like so many other people.

This leads me back to my faith life too. What am I missing? How do I need to change?
I need to set aside time to imagine what kind of faith I want, and then time to think about how to get there. Do I need to set aside a set time for prayer? Or a plan to turn the radio off after I drop Sam off from school, to think on God? To listen for God's voice. Where do I want to be in my service to others?
If I don't take time to think about what I want my life to be like and what I have to do to get there, it just won't happen. Chaos - or just busyness, American style - takes over.

Do you struggle with this too?
Do you make time for thinking and planning the most important areas of your life? Or are you like I am sometimes, remembering the need for intention as the river of busyness and noise tries its best to sweep me downstream? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Have an awesome day and weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Finally Did It! (A happy/sad/embarrassing story of procrastination)

Dearest Snow,
How can I ever thank you? I'm forever in your debt!

If you hadn't kept us home bound for four delicious days, we would have missed the hot chocolate.
We would have missed the finger numbing fun of readjusting the plastic bags over our sneakers as we plodded around the yard.
And we would have missed seeing this face.


You provided us a ton of fun, but there's something else, something more amazing that particularly compelled me to write. It's a little humiliating, so don't tell anyone. Ready?

Snow, if you hadn't come to visit, the couch in my bedroom would still look like this.

And often like this.

See, after two days of hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies warm from the oven, of tromps through our neighborhood and gazing at the moon on the breast of you, I began to get bored.
A nice kind of bored. The kind that comes with mysterious urges to do useful things.
Things like organizing the linen closet and cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen.
And when I finished all that stuff, the couch called to me.

[Readers, remember the couch? I'm embarrassed to remind you that back in August, I wrote a post titled Unfinished Business in which I shared how I'd found the flowery couch for $25 at a garage sale back in the spring of 2008. I planned to slipcover it in red denim for my bedroom and got as far as finishing the pillows. Then I took a long look at the frame, took a second long look at the 17 yards of red denim, and decided I should really start a blog. That was three years ago! In my August post, I preached on how good it feels to finish unfinished projects, and challenged my readers to whip me with a wet noodle if I didn't finish the couch project by August 18.
Nobody whipped me. Y'all are way too nice.]

Snow, if it weren't for you, this would have never happened!

You helped me remember how good it feels to face something I've been avoiding.
It feels GREAT!
It makes me wonder what other things I could cross of my list.
I think I'm going to make this a late resolution for 2011: When I pick up a To Do list, find the item I want to do least, and take care of it first.
So thank you, Snow!
Love, Becky

Readers, I wonder if I can do it. I don't usually suffer from a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to my work, but in other parts of my life? Oh yeah. (You should see the attic. Maybe on another snowy, it would take a snowy week!)

Do you fight the urge to procrastinate? What helps you face what you want to avoid?

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

Thanks to Phototrope for the first photo, licensed through creative commons.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Defense of Todd's Shirt

(In honor of MLK Day, I'm re-posting this. I hope you enjoy the day!)
Do you like the shirt?
Apparently some people don't.
Todd bought it in Atlanta a couple years ago when our church youth group took an afternoon off from their mission work and toured The King Center, learning more about the work of Martin Luther King.
In case the words are too tiny for your peepers, it says "nonviolence or nonexistence."

Todd wore it last Sunday when he was out with Sam, and he hadn't given the shirt a single thought until a dad on the baseball field noticed it and grunted loudly in disgust.
"You better be glad we're not nonviolent in America," he said. "Or else our country wouldn't be where it is today."

"He said WHAT?" I asked Todd from the kitchen as he put his glove in the closet.
"Yeah, it kinda surprised me too," Todd said. "Then he muttered something about bravery and gratitude."
"BRAVERY AND GRATITUDE?" I said a little too loudly, storming into the bedroom with my butcher knife.
Sam stuck his head in. "What's wrong?" he said.
"Nothing," Todd said. "Go get your shower."
"Did you say anything back? Like maybe YOU SPENT FOUR YEARS OF YOUR LIFE AS AN AIR FORCE OFFICER and what service did he ever do?"
"Why is Mom mad?" Sam said.
"She's not mad," Todd said, "Go on and get in the shower."
Then Ben came in and wanted help with a calculus problem and everybody left me standing there, holding the knife, dripping chicken juice on my bare feet, steaming.

I could just imagine the scene. The guy read the shirt and smacked a label on Todd's forehead.
Maybe even Communist or Socialist. Who knows. Labels seem to fly fast and furious these days.

I gritted my teeth and flew into an argument with the man in my head.
By the time Todd and I finally got a moment to return to our conversation, I had a whole list of things to whack this guy over the head with in my defense of nonviolence. (And yes, I see the irony.)
Things like:

Why don't you ask what this shirt is about before you start fussing at my husband?
Do you think he's making an anti-war stance? What if he was? Maybe someone who actually served might have something to say about that.
Ask about Todd's brother's service in both gulf wars, in Afghanistan, in Bosnia. Todd's dad's service in the army. My granddad's service that cost his life in WWII. They were all willing and glad to serve. So was Todd. Violence is sometimes necessary, but service members know the price better than anybody else.
Maybe that's part of why Todd wears the shirt. Why he's such a believer in the words of Martin Luther King.
And how is it braver to use violence, anyway? Does non-violence not require bravery? Maybe even more bravery?

When Todd walked back in the room, I was still living our previous conversation.
"So what did you say? Surely you said something!"
"Yes, I said something," he said. "You ought to put that knife away."
"Tell me what you said first."
"I just looked at him and I said that I got the shirt at the King Center down in Atlanta. I said, 'You ought to go down there and tour it. It's a great place to take your kids and it's only a couple hours' drive.' I told him you can see King's grave and learn more about his life and what he gave to our country. Then the guy wandered off and didn't say anything else."

Todd left the room and I sat down on the bed, trying to keep my mouth from falling open.
There I'd been, waving my knife around, ready to fight, while he practiced what the shirt preached. No slamming doors, no smacking labels on people's foreheads, no accusing the guy of meaning anything in particular. Just a nonviolent response, inviting the guy into his circle instead of standing in the middle of it, throwing barbs his way.

I do love my husband. I love that he's always willing to widen the circle.

And I love Martin Luther King, another circle-widener. He certainly wasn't a perfect man (there was only One of those) but he used his life in service to others and in motivating the rest of us to do the same.

Enjoy two of my favorite quotes of his about nonviolence:
Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

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

PS. Here's a clip from my favorite speech of King's.

And here's MLK talking about his ideas on nonviolence.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Throwing Paper Airplanes in Church

I should have known something was up when I picked up my Sam from youth choir rehearsal one day last fall, asked him how it went, and he said, "IT WAS AWESOME!"

Not that he doesn't usually enjoy youth choir. He likes it fine, but IT WAS AWESOME! isn't his usual response.

So I wondered what made it so amazing, so different. I knew the choir had rehearsed in the sanctuary for their upcoming musical, not in their regular spot in the choir room, but surely that wasn't it.

Sam sits in this sanctuary just about every week,

often with the same enthusiasm he demonstrates when I make him put away his clean underwear and socks.

So on the drive home, Sam told me the reason for the twinkly eyes and sudden zeal. I should tell you that the Dana Carvey church lady in me just about had to pull out of traffic and search the minivan for smelling salts!

It seems that his mother had been a ding dong and dropped him off an hour early (in my defense, they changed the time,) so with an extra hour to spare, he and the other sixth grade boys with ding dong mothers had found some worthwhile pursuits to while away the time.

Pursuits like climbing to the top of the balcony and throwing paper airplanes.

"It was so fun!" Sam said. "You wouldn't believe how fun it was! Oh, and you got double points if you hit the baptistery!"

I nearly choked on my tongue.

But that wasn't all they did.

"That sanctuary room is amazing! Have you ever thought of how many hiding places it has?"
"No, I don't think I have."
"There's the pews of course. Dozens of those. I counted them one Sunday when I was bored, but I don't remember how many there were."

"But the best place is that little nook in front of the organ. You know, behind that short little wall? You can hide there and NOBODY will find you. You could do ANYTHING and nobody would know!"

"But you know the best part?"
"I can't imagine."
"The secret slide!"
"What secret slide?"
Sam explained it, but allow me to show you.
See how the pews are arranged theater style, descending toward the front of the church?

Well, take a look at this...

Now come closer.

Yep. That's the secret slide.
I doubt it works for adults, but it might. I haven't tried it.
Come to think of it, I could have been brave and given it a try if I'd wanted to. Nobody was in the room when I was taking pictures.
Sam says it's real slippery and slide-y. You just lie on your back, push off with your hands, and whatever you do, don't raise your head up. Those pews have sharp edges.

The whole time I was listening to Sam , I have to admit, I was having a fight with myself.
Part of me was thinking I should probably thump him on the head. Launch myself into a lecture about sacred space and reverence.
The other part of me secretly wondered what time of day might be best. Just when might no one notice a forty-something woman putting down her purse, taking off her shoes, and slipping under the center of the very back pew?

In case you're wondering, the forty-something secret slider won my internal debate.
You know who convinced me?
The sanctuary itself.

You might not notice it at first, even if you're sitting right there in a pew, but the worship room of First Baptist Church, Greenville, is designed to make us feel as if we're sitting under a huge tree together.

See the branches and limbs hanging over? The mammoth trunk rising up behind the pulpit?
Can't you imagine a crowd sitting under a tree, listening to Christ tell his stories? The children wouldn't sit stone faced. They'd play!
I can't imagine a better place.
But not during worship, of course. That might just earn you a thump on the head. :)

So what do you think? How do we manage teaching our kids reverence without worshiping the things of our sacred spaces? I'd love to hear your thoughts about finding play in church!

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

Thanks to Renée Turner for the paper airplane photo, licensed through creative commons.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Watching Cat TV

Libby's enjoying a late Christmas present...a window seat to the Bird Channel!
With seven inches of snow, topped off with ice, the cardinals and finches have rediscovered our feeders.

It's great entertainment for a cat-- and for us.

Watching them hurry in, so hungry.

Or just nibble quietly.

I love to see them feed each other.

It reminds me what my friends (like you) do for me.

Equip me to keep going.

Help me puff up my feathers against the cold, with energy in reserve to enjoy--and see--the wonders around me.

The elegance of the ordinary birds

As well as the flashier ones.

We all need nourishment for the journey.

You know, all these redbirds remind me of a book I haven't reread in a while.

Do you know it? It's one of my favorites.
Perfect to read on a snowy afternoon like this one.
Libby, I'll leave you to the window.

Don't worry about the birds, folks. Libby's an inside cat for the time being, and besides, some of those fellas look like they could take her, should she make a surprise appearance.

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

PS. Thanks to Todd for all these great photos!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Meet Our New Addition!

Isn't she a sweet girl?
Libby looks so dainty and demure in that photo, but don't let her fool you.

Innocent she's not.
That's a look that says, "Yes, I will wear this ridiculous bow to give you a false sense of ownership, but just wait. You shall look into my eyes and I shall hypnotize you. Serve me, human."

Yes, Libby. We will obey.

Here she is, hypnotizing Tanner. (After he got his first full snort of her behind. Some pictures are best not shown.)

After the introductions were over, Libby commanded Tanner to play Jingle Bells.

He did his best.

Then she made Tanner watch while she played chess.

The pieces are wonderfully rolly on a hardwood floor.

Playing so hard tuckers them out, so they take lots of naps.

Libby loves, loves, loves to sleep.
Especially if it's on top of people.

Sam loves it.
Me? I'm not so sure.
She slept on my back one night. That was weird.

She probably sleeps so much because of all the running she does. And the hopping.

And the leaping tall buildings.

Zombie eyes!
Look away!
She won't come down until we make her a landing pad of pillows.
(I guess she does have us trained.)

Libby also trains us to dangle string.

It's just about her favorite thing.

Tanner tried it too...

But then he got distracted by Libby's zombie eyes again.

Maybe she's hypnotizing herself.

He just doesn't get her fascination with boxes.

He investigated, but there wasn't anything edible in there.

No hummus. No bones. Not even a stale tortilla.
Why bother.

The whole box business was very tiring, so it was nap time again.

At least I think that's what she's doing. Of course, it could be some kind of trick.

You know, I suddenly feel a strange compulsion to go buy string.
Maybe I'll stop at the U-Haul place and pick up some extra boxes while I'm out.

Have a delightful weekend, y'all!
Before you scoot, tell me, are you a cat person? Dog lover? I'd love to hear about the pets at your house.
Love, Becky

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year, Paul Bunyan

How did you welcome in the new year?
We lit a fire and stood around it in the freezing cold, watching the flames flicker, the dog snap at flying sparks, and Sam pile on the logs. Now that he is 12, he was finally allowed to fulfill his life long ambition to swing an axe, so we had a winter's worth of kindling stacked up. (Probably three bonfires worth-- remember, this is South Carolina.)

The family loved it at first. We roasted a couple marshmallows, poked at the fire, enjoyed the smell of the smoke and the quiet of the night. But eventually the grandparents got cold, Ben and Sarah got bored, and Sam got spooked by a ghostly voice from the tree house up the hill, leaving Todd and me all by our lonesome, fireside.

It was kind of nice.
We were quiet at first.
In some ways, it's been a really tough year.
We were glad to throw our worries of 2010 into the flames.
The car accident. The health scare that turned out to be nothing, but petrified us for a while. The wandering on my part, wondering what God might hold for me in the future. What to do, where to put my energy.

We talked a little but we didn't need to say much. Each of us knew what the other was thinking, doing. Tossing into the flames all the balled up, pent up worries and struggles of 2010. Sending them into the fire, to turn to ash, then settle at the bottom or let the wind lift them into the night, away from us, into the sky.

It was a good way to start 2011. Letting go of the worries and disappointments and fears of the past, freeing my hands for whatever life gives me in this new year.
I'm so thankful for new beginnings. Aren't you?
And I'm thankful for dear friends like you, both online and across the street, who share this crazy, wondrous life with me.

I wish you only God's best for 2011!

Much love, Becky