Saturday, October 29, 2011

Everything's a Miracle

Everything falls around me a miracle. I watch multi-colored layers form; I watch a pile of miracles climb toward the sky.

My boy turns a corner: responds with respect and requests prayer for loved ones, one of whom finds a job. A surgeon enters the body of the other for a threat he finds vanished.

Tractor Man's surgery, too, goes better than expected.

At the adult home, the Wild Orange sings for Luther and--for the first time--hugs him goodbye.

The baby covers my face with kisses every morning. She learns to hug back.

I apologize to a friend and find myself forgiven.

I crack open the Word. God speaks into my heart, with love.

The visiting preacher reassures, too, with words of relationship, not religion. He encourages us to share openly the transforming power of Christ in our lives. I feel better, suddenly, in my having such a long way to go.

But when (days later) I find myself unable to move entirely past my angst, I fall to my knees and pray for help. I rise burden-free.

My friend of nineteen years drives fourteen hours, arriving on my doorstep just in time for dinner.

My beloved talks--for the first time in nigh about a decade--with a close, childhood friend whose fisherman father drowned.

Later the same day, Jim announces: "They found the missing boy curled up, alive, by a creek." Awestruck, we look at one another and cry.

Two found wet and wounded: the older gone Home to his Father, the younger--after six days of wandering--going home to his parents. Both undoubtedly in the very arms of Christ.

My beloved and I lie close and whisper, marveling, in the dark: make love as though for the first time. I've no shame in the doing or saying; God has joined, and this, too: miracle. To have been scooped up and swept away by the best man I know. To find myself loved, daily, for who I am. And for who I am not.

Not everything can always be so good: I know. But, for now, I've words to write, words to teach, and most importantly, eyes to see that everything...just a miracle.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Taking a Little Break

I feel like I need a little break from the world I've created, here. I feel like God is trying to speak to me, but He's sounding, a little, like one of the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. Maybe it's just that the reception's bad. Or maybe the receiver's bad, having been dropped too many times...washed too many times.

I want to do the right things. I want to say the right things and write the right things. I want to let my "light so shine": bet you know just what I mean.

So I'm going to take a break to get up in the Word, and pray, and really seek God's face. (I'm excited because God never hides from us, when we seek Him.)

Say a little prayer that I'll hear just what I ought, and I'll be back November 1, to tell you what I've learned.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poop and Such, Pt. 2

Since 10:30 Monday morning, I haven't sought to accomplish much beyond potty training Clementine.

We've spent long stretches of time in the bathroom; we've eaten suckers in celebration; and the Wild Orange has worn underbritches on her head.

Yes, our playroom's a hot mess.

I'm happy to report: (many dry underbritches, one dry naptime diaper, and one giant poop in the potty, later) I think we've pretty much arrived.

I still think the word "poop" is funny, and I still think the subject of poop is funny, which I reckon says a lot about Clementine and what I can describe only as the pleasure of potty training her.

To read Poop and Such, Pt. 1, click here.

On Conviction

For the past month or so, I've been thinking a great deal about conviction. It started because--the second the swimming hole closed--my mind turned toward halloween, and Pastor David reminded me, gently: he doesn't care for halloween. I know he won't mind my writing it in this place because he's written it, here, before.

For the record, I don't think Pastor David's wrong. I refer jokingly to him as a halloween hater, sometimes, but I also recognize him as a great sport: our church just held an amazing fall festival, last weekend. Granted, it excluded all ghosties and witches, but it included many of my favorite things about this time of year: apples, pumpkins, chili, hayrides, and even a trunk-or-treat!

I love and respect my pastor and trust his convictions and judgments. And--at the end of the day--I'd rather my pastor's standards be higher than mine...his line straighter than mine...than otherwise.

But it bothers me, a little, to feel differently on the issue of halloween than my pastor. I want to be a good sheep. I want him, and others, to perceive me as someone whose moral compass works properly. I'm not saying Pastor David doesn't perceive me this way. I'm just saying, period. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Yesterday, I called my husband and asked him to bring home a bottle of wine. I was feeling achy and uncomfortable, and I thought a glass of wine might be just the ticket. Late last night, after choir practice, prayer meeting, and the children's bedtime, I drank a glass of wine. One glass. It had been a long time since I'd had one (Hello! I've been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for about 3.5 years!), so it relaxed me more than sufficiently.

I put something on facebook about my husband's being my hero, and--when someone asked me what he'd done to deserve such praise--I responded that he'd stopped to pick up some unneccessary items from the grocery store. (The other item was chocolate.)

I hesitated to admit that my husband had brought me a bottle of wine because I know I have teetotaler facebook friends, also some facebook friends outside the church. I thought either group might judge me (as someone who talks, a lot, about my faith) for drinking wine, and I feared that, in my admission, I might become a "stumbling block" for someone.

Thus, more thoughts on conviction.

Sin is sin. Or is it? Is it possible for something to be a sin for one person but not for another? I'm not sure, but I recognize that something might be more unadvisable for one person than another. We all have weak areas, areas in which a little dabbling can lead to falling headlong and drowning.

I've gone into a casino with a twenty-dollar bill, lost it to slots, and walked away in peace. I've gone into a public pool; held a conversation with a man in swimming trunks; and gazed upon his perfect abs with indifference. I've gone into a church wearing slacks (also purple hair and a nosering) and felt comfortable among God's people, in God's house.

The bottle of wine on my counter isn't calling me right now, but the bag of Reese's Cups in the freezer? Have mercy, and everyone knows: I ain't no Skinny Minnie.

I don't mean to drag this out. I'm not looking for commentary on which of my beliefs and actions are ok, and which are not. I'm just wondering: is sin, sin? Is it possible for something to be sinful not because of what it is but because of its effect on others? For example, if I don't drink to get drunk...if I'm not convicted that my drinking (in and of itself) is my drinking still a sin if I'm a member of a church that doesn't support drinking? What about if I feel convicted not for the drinking itself, but for doing something my church doesn't support; does that make my drinking a sin? What about if I know and/or feel convicted that others' faith walk might be hindered if they know I drink; does that make my drinking a sin?

How deeply does my responsibility lie? People, say, sometimes: "This is between God and me," but I'm not convinced. Othertimes, they say: "Nothing matters beyond what God and my spouse think," but I'm not convinced about that, either.

I want to be authentic and open. I want to be real. I don't want to be a hypocrite. I want my moral compass to work properly. I want to be perceived as having a properly-working, moral compass. I want to light my jack-o-lanterns; take my kids trick-or-treating; and drink a glass of wine, but I feel uncomfortable, sometimes, in saying so. I feel even more uncomfortable in hiding these things about myself. I don't want to be judged. I also don't want to be perceived as being better, or more righteous, than I am.

Is that too much to ask? ;)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One-Armed Paper Hangers

We were busy as one-armed paper hangers over the weekend, mostly with our church family.

I've already blogged about my epiphanic experience on Friday.

Saturday afternoon, Fine Creek had our Fall Festival. Big turn out: over 100 people, which is really something for our little church. We'd made 10 Crock-Pots of chili, one of which included Bob Pino's top-secret ingredient. Sad to say, it didn't win, but only because--by the time people got to Crock-Pot #10--their bowls and/or tummies were full. That's my story; I'm sticking to it.

I had a bit of a cookie-walk fail, too. I'd been put in charge of the music, see, and I'd grabbed one of the girls' cassette tapes (knowing the lyrics were safe and whatnot). Problem was: I'd forgotten how much Tom Glazer talks in between songs. It was painful, really. Finally, Jim looked over and mouthed: "Pick more than one number at a time!" Later, he said it was the longest cookie walk in history. And it was, but I had lots of cookies to give away. So there.

I won third place for my trunk, which surprised me because I thought my decorations a tad generic, this year. Maybe the abundance of candy bars won those judges over!

Hayrides, face painting, apple bobbing: good times!

Sunday morning, I taught Sunday school for the first time (in my whole life). I got up at 7:30 to make sure I wouldn't be late, and I wasn't late: a true miracle. I was sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the opening thingamajig to commence, when in walked my Rachel. I hadn't known she was coming, and I still cry everytime I think about her showing up, knowing her presence would make me brave.

I'm really excited about Sunday school. There were four of us, none of whom had been attending Sunday school regularly, and I feel just great that--in offering a new class--I didn't just divide an existing one.

Then church, luncheon, business meeting...and, yesterday, Moms in Touch, after which I decided to get serious about this potty training business. I should've probably tackled potty training, by now, but my nickname is Gonnigan: did you know?


I mean, really. I couldn't let something like potty training knock me out of a lake day (or any other fun experience)! But, as it turns out, the girls' BFFs are unavailable this week: Camden because he's potty training, and Rachel's Zach because he's having surgery: just now, actually. (Say a little prayer for him!)

So the Wild Orange is sporting frog underbritches and learning to listen to her body, and so far, so good. She bowed and prayed, over her oatmeal, this morning: "Thank You for Camden and Zach. Zach has to go to the hos-i-bal, and Camden has to go to the potty. Amen." These sorts of things make a mama very proud!

Photo by Rachel Huff. Clementine, Charleigh, Camden, Zach, and Cade:
Virginia Living Museum, Last Week.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Well of Longing

I heard Blake Shelton sing "Home" over my radio, the other day, and--even though I'd heard the song many times before, and even though I'd felt happy enough just moments earlier--my eyes welled up. What a powerful song to elicit emotion, like that! Everytime I hear it, I remember what longing feels like: longing for a better and brighter day; longing for home; longing for loved ones who've slipped away; longing for love, itself.

"Home" brings back memories of my eyes meeting Jim's face for the first time in over eleven years. I remember our flood of words, my relief in feeling--for the first time in so long--completely accepted, cherished, understood. I remember feeling like I'd found home in another person: someone who spoke my same language.

I remember wanting to rewind and redo. Or fast-forward to a time of Jim's and my living in the same town, in the same state. Something else: not the now. I couldn't fathom how--knowing what Jim and I knew and feeling what we felt--we might climb into our pick-up trucks and drive away in opposite directions. How to stay afloat in such a deep well of longing?

I'm so thankful, now, for that bittersweet time. I return often to it, in my mind. I don't want to forget my longing for Jim's promise and presence: in short, for exactly what I have, today.

Pastor David preached out of Psalms, this morning. (Psalmist) David's longing for God--as expressed in 63:1 and 42:1-2--stood out to me, from the sermon. My flesh longs for You in this place void of water. My soul pants and thirsts after You.* Pastor David also sent us to Matthew 5:6 of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (KJV).

So it comes to me: as hard as I fight to remember life without Jim (and each of my children, for that matter), I should fight even harder to remember life without Father God. My relationship with Him matters very most, and--if I long for Him--He will bless and fill me.

*all paraphrasing mine

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On Writing a Book

I can't stop thinking about them, this couple I know. I think about them as I brush my teeth, fill the girls' cups with milk, and switch laundry from the washer to the dryer. I think about them as I wash the skillet and tidy the living room floor. Why can't I stop thinking about them?

I admit, with shame: it takes a couple hours, but, finally, I pray. What is it? I ask.

And the answer I get feels like: Record their story.

I'm thinking along blog-post lines.

I send her a message: it's ok if you think I'm crazy. It's ok if you say, "No." Don't say anything right now. Talk to him, and pray; if you end up thinking it's a bad idea, maybe I have my signals crossed.

Later, they call me on the phone, together. I can tell: they don't think I'm crazy. We circle a date on our calendars. I ask my husband if he'll watch the girls, so I can interview. He doesn't laugh. I tell my prayer group about my plans. They don't laugh, either. Someone covers, aloud, with prayer.

The day of the interview, I pull my scarcely-used, big green journal off the shelf. I run my hand along its velvety surface; open its cover to read the inscription, inside; flip pages to the last entry: 11/12/05.

It's only my second or third time in their house. I enter it excited: not anxious, not nervous. I sit down. We hold hands and pray. I kick off my flip-flops and criss-cross-applesauce on their sofa. I open my big, green journal.

They talk for almost five hours, but it feels like, maybe?, one. I write 11.5 pages of notes.

Just before I leave, I tell them: I don't know what this is, but it's not a blog post. I think it might be a book. We promise to keep praying.

When I wake up, in the morning, I see layouts. I see their story as a book, and I see it as a screenplay. I know exactly where to go from here.

At some point in the day, I sit across from my husband and cry. I feel overwhelmed, excited, called. I realize I'm processing both responsibility and blessing.

I write a blog post, but not to tell their story; you won't read it, here. I write a blog post to beg your prayers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Keeping My Maiden Name

I never wanted to change my last name.

I changed it, though, in 1997...when I married the first time. Interestingly and ironically enough, my ex-husband (Cade's dad) didn't seem to mind when I hesitated in taking his last name; however, my parents minded a great deal.

One would think my parents would've been, like: "Oh, Honey, we're so happy you want to hold onto our last name forever," but my parents are traditional folk. They encouraged me (strongly) to give up my maiden name so my ex-husband, any future children, and I would have the same last name.

I understood their reasoning; I did, and--in the end--I caved. I felt strongly against hyphenation and ditched my middle name, moving my maiden name into that center spot. I informed my ex-husband that any and all writing would be published under my maiden name. He couldn't care less.

I changed my name, and--every, single day for years and years--I regretted my decision.

I could try to explain, but I don't think reasons much matter beyond: in changing my name, I grieved my authentic self. My unhappiness had much less to do with marital strife than one might think. As in 0%. It was truly a matter of feeling like my name didn't match my soul. It wrenched my gut and broke my heart.

I'll never forget the day I resumed, officially, my maiden name. I wept with relief and joy: promised myself I'd never give it up, again.

My beloved wasn't thrilled, when I explained, and--to this day--he's less than enthused about our having different last names. But he knows I care more about keeping my name than he cares about my changing it. And he does care about my changing it; he just cares about me, more. (As in: he knows something would crack and break inside me if I changed my name, and he doesn't want that.)

There are three different last names in our household. Everyone has his or her dad's last name, and I'm the only person, here, with my last name. I'm not trying to sway anyone to my line of thinking. This isn't about anyone but me, and I'm satisfied. Deeply.

As to the biblical notion of leaving one's parents to cleave to one's spouse? Don't you worry about or over me. I'm cleaving! And while I'm at it? I'm joining, uniting, and becoming one flesh, too. 

I really, really love my husband.

I also really, really love my name.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sweet Tea Social

photobucket photo

I have a friend named Becky who just moved here from Minnesota. Like, JUST. So I find it a little ironic that she invited me to a social in Richmond. Also that I was one of three people in attendance whom she'd invited. That girl. She cracks me up.

One might say she's a social force. A Sweet Tea Social force.

I haven't much to blog that hasn't been blogged, already, about the Sweet Tea Social. What I can tell you is that I cheated, a little, in attending because I'm not a DIY or crafting blogger.

I didn't care. I really needed a break from my kids, and this was the perfect excuse to wear a dress without someone's smearing food on me; to conversate with other adults, interruption-free; and to eat my very own piece of cheesecake.

After lunch, half the group proceeded to Hobby Lobby. I wasn't among those five bloggers; I don't know what I might've purchased, at Hobby Lobby. Besides, I was on a quest for cheap, silver tennis shoes. (I found them.)

But I loved lunch, and I loved seeing/meeting each blogger in attendance.

So allow me to introduce you to my bloggy buddies and direct you to their virtual spaces (ideally, to their Sweet Tea Social posts):

Michelle of the Bell-sounding Laugh, our co-host
Allison the Mover and Shaker, our co-host
Becky, the Sweet Tea Social Force
Traffic Jam Linda, who Blogged a Decent Picture of Me (Thank you, Linda!)
Anjie, a Real-life Powhatan Pal Before She Became My Bloggy Buddy
Kristol the Accessorizer-Photographer
Jennifer, the Anti-St.-Thomas Blogger,
and Cheryl and Patty

Now. Here's my favorite part of my Sweet Tea Social story. My heart has quite attached itself to Anita: someone on the attendee list who couldn't--in the end--attend. I'd connected with her prior to the event because...get this: she has my last name, only spelled differently. We look enough alike that we could be related, and I can't quite explain it, but, already, I claim her as family.

I opened the mailbox, tonight, and found a letter from Anita inside: handwritten, exquisite, heartfelt. I needed that letter. More than I can say, I needed it, and I thank Michelle and Allison and Becky! for the part they played in its finding its way, here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grandma Martin

Grandma Martin and Me

Grandma Martin was my great-grandma: my dad's mom's mom. She was born in 1899, and she gave birth to Grandma Shafer out of wedlock. She never married.

Grandma Martin was very close to her mom and siblings, so I don't know how acutely Grandma Shafer felt the absence of her father; I know her uncles were like dads, her cousins like brothers.

Grandma Martin and Grandma Shafer lived together most of their lives. Grandma and Grandad Shafer lived apart from Grandma Martin for a few years, very early in their marriage. But Grandma Martin moved in with them, for good, after her mom died...nigh about 1943.

Uncle Arnie felt sure that he (at age 5) had pressured his parents into moving Grandma Martin in with the family. At any rate, she helped care for all five children, including my dad, who came along in '48.

I was born on the Mason-Dixon Line in '74 and came home from the hospital to a little, red-brick rancher next door to the white-brick rancher where Grandma Shafer, Grandad Shafer, and Grandma Martin lived. Grandma Martin's bedroom was at the end of the hall, on the right. I remember, as a girl, making a beeline to her room everytime I went next door.

She was the most comfortable person I've ever known, and I mean that literally; her body was the best seat in the house. In any house, ever. There was nothing fancy about her. She was a threadbare cotton kind of girl. She didn't wear the scritchy-stiff polyester Grandma Shafer loved (which I--the anti-ironer!--love, myself). Everything Grandma Martin wore felt like a pillowcase. You know what I'm talking about: the embroidered kind.

The skin of her arms and face was pale and soft, and her body was soft: her breasts, beneath her cotton dress, like pillows. She wore her white hair in a bun. The lenses of her glasses magnified her slightly-watery eyes.

She had candy, always, in her top drawer, and she wasn't stingy with it. She had a particular fondness for orange circus peanuts.

But what I remember about her, best, is her gift of storytelling. She never read out of a book; she spun stories out of the air. You could almost see bits and pieces of stories (foxes in chicken houses, snakes in trees) blowing and flying toward us...attaching to one another! pink cotton candy, in a machine. She could spin stories for hours with me on her lap: my pudgy hand fiddling with her buttons and stroking her face while I ate circus peanuts. And listened.

She died the day before my dad's birthday, in 1982. I was eight. I can still see Dad, sitting at our pine, dining-room table, his head bowed low. It was the first time I'd ever seen him cry.

Dad, Grandma Shafer, and Grandma Martin Holding Me

Responding to Jennifer's invitation to write about a person from my childhood. Visit her Getting Down with Jesus to read other stories.

Moms in Touch International

10/17/11: sharing this "Playdate with God" with Laura's community at The Wellspring. I should've done so last week, but--in my exhaustion--I plumb forgot! I cried through my second Moms in Touch International meeting, just this morning.

I'm tired. The baby woke me up several times in the middle of the night, and--for goodness sake--she's thirteen months old; why isn't she sleeping through, yet?

I crawled out of bed at 6:30 to wake up the boy, pack his lunch, get him off to school. He was standing beside me--already wearing his jacket and shoes, inhaling pumpkin bread--when he started giggling.

I shot him a semi-dirty look. "What's so funny?" I asked.

"Mom," he laughed, spraying bread crumbs and bouncing from one foot to the other, "I can't believe I'm just now remembering, but I don't have school, today."

I groaned, sent him back to bed, settled on the couch, opened the laptop to a message from home. Word of an accident. I crawled back into bed to pray, and sleep.

So it's hours later, and I'm tired. I don't want to leave my couch, but I promised, so--wearing the clothes in which I slept (and neglecting to comb my hair)--I drive over to the church. Izabel's is the only other vehicle in the parking lot.

She welcomes me and plays a short video about Moms in Touch International*. I cry along with a girl in the video who confesses: "I used to have an attitude problem. I used to say such mean things to my mom. But then I would hear her and the other moms, downstairs, praying for me. Speaking my name." The tears flow on screen and off as she adds: "It means so much that my mom never gave up on me."

Izabel gives me a sheet. She explains: I should fill in the blanks, but the sheet's just for me, and I'll get a new one, every week. She tells of one mom who kept, in a binder, every sheet she'd ever filled in about her daughter: every prayer request scratched out. And--when that daughter left the nest for college--the mom made a gift of the binder: in it, a record of the prayer requests. Proof of many, many prayers for the all-grown-up, baby bird.

And I realize: I haven't anything more valuable to do--this or any other Monday morning--than to sit with my gentle friend and pray for our children. One hour a week, carved out for prayer over the fruit of our wombs.

Izabel looks at me with her kind, dark eyes and says: "I believe God will honor our prayers."

I nod, and bow.

*If you'd like more information about Moms in Touch International in my neck of the woods, please e-mail me: normalgirl (at) hotmail (dot) com. I'll answer your questions and/or put you in touch with Izabel. And no matter where you live, feel free to click on the blue text, above, to visit the Moms in Touch International website.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Real Beauty

***I shared these words on Emily's Chasing Silhouettes blog at one point. Linking them up, here and now, because they really do speak to my acceptance of self, especially my physical self.

Aunt Ellie and Me

I want to share with you Aunt Ellie: one of my best teachers.

She was eighteen when I was born, and she baked, crafted, and played Scrabble with her big sister (by three years), my mom. She attended all my school performances and Girl Scout bridging ceremonies.

She let me play with her childhood Barbies.

She took me to church, carnivals, and movies. I remember our going to Pizza Hut, once, and the server's mistaking us for mother and daughter. We looked at one another and beamed. We didn't say a word.

Aunt Ellie read to me and added, lovingly, to my library. Raggedy Ann Stories and The Velveteen Rabbit stand out because I've held onto the books all these years. Also because I've always associated my aunt with the main characters.

We love Raggedy Ann and the Velveteen Rabbit, don't we?, because they teach us about real beauty: about how it's in the eyes of a loving beholder, about how love transforms. About how real beauty wins...only it's not a contest, because real beauty can't be compared with something skin deep.

And we try to see past the surface, especially when we believe the Lord's words: that He doesn't see as man sees, that He looks on the heart (Samuel 16:7). We try to see people His way, but it's hard not to stare at--or even judge--those who look differently. Sometimes, in our efforts not to look too long, we don't look long enough.

I've often wondered: how would it be to live life with few people looking at me for the appropriate length of time?

And I truly believe: because I’ve asked myself (all my life) that question, I’ve lived fairly comfortably in my skin. As hard as it is to see others with God’s eyes, isn’t it even harder to see ourselves with them?

I had a choice to make (again), today: to fuss over extra pounds, gray hair, bitten nails, moles, stretch marks, birthmarks, and rough heels; or to offer up thanks that everything works, that I can blend into a crowd. (Not everyone is so blessed.) I chose the latter. Then I chose to concern myself with developing real beauty.

Aunt Ellie has real beauty.

I want her when I'm angry or sad or scared; she won't judge me. I want her when I'm sick; she knows what to do. (Also, she has soft, cool hands.) I want her when I have a secret; she never tells. I want her when I need encouragement; she cheers for me. I want her when I'm lonely; she makes time. I want her when I feel unloved; she shows up.

She's been a mother to me, and she's been a mother with me.

And if I can journey into her kind of beauty, I will have arrived.

Aunt Joyce, Mom, and Aunt Ellie
July 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Update #2: Hair Scare n Share

One more photo came in just before the buzzer.

I laughed my hiney-butt off.

I cackled so loudly that I startled Jim Dear, who'd drifted off in his chair.

Thank you, Friend, for sharing your scary hair.

Jim dubbed it "Elvira hair."

Then he chose the other player, as winner.

Still, we love you and can't wait to see you in just over two weeks.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Update: Hair Scare n Share

Time has almost run out on the Hair Scare n Share.

I'm sorry for paying Mister Linky $5, since no one has linked up a photo.

I did receive one photo, via e-mail.

This individual wrote: "This is NOT for your blog
but thought I would let you and Jim have a laugh."

The thing is: even though the rest of you are (obviously) terrible sports,
we love you and want you to have a laugh, too.

So we decided to enter our big-haired buddy
 into the Hair Protection Program.

Jim calls this "cobra hair."

We want this person to know:
 the size of her hair ain't nothing compared to the size of her heart.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Artist Trading Cards

Do you know about Artist Trading Cards (ATCs)? I didn't. But the September issue of Family Fun includes an article by Rani Arbo: "Artist Trading Cards" (81-86), and the rules are simple:
  • 2.5" x 3.5" each (the size of a baseball card) and flat enough to slip into the pocket of a trading card page
  • Traded (never sold) one-for-one
Arbo attended a workship and shares some additional guidelines via her teacher, Erika David-Pitre:
  • Write your name, the year, and a title on the back of each card.
  • Take your time and do your best.
  • Use the whole card.
  • There's no such thing as "wrong" in art.

I got so excited, right away!, thinking of the possibilities; Cade loves to draw, and I love to make collages. (Arbo also suggests making ATCs by using stained tissue paper; paint, dye, or stamps; needle and thread; print or poetry; landscapes, portraits, tessellations, loop-the-loops or Venn diagrams; and fingerprints or spin art.)

Thanks to the small size of the ATCs, Cade and I have found it possible to create at least one, apiece, in the small window of time between the babies' and Cade's bedtimes. At the end of the night, I feel satisfied having finished a project and carved out time with Cade, alone.

So far, Cade's made 5 ATCs, and I've made 4. Our very attainable goal, for now? 20 each by his birthday in late January.

Here are some of my favorite ATCs, so far:

I'd thought I might have an ATC birthday party for Cade, but only one of his friends' moms has expressed interest so far, so I don't know. I mean, I don't want to mess with his birthday.

So I'm wondering: do any of my friends have budding-artist children who'd like to swap ATCs with him, locally or via mail? If so, shoot me an e-mail: normalgirl (at) hotmail (dot) com. Thanks!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Saint

Sometimes the saints don't march in; sometimes they shuffle.

This one struggled, a little, in walking a straight line; in articulating a thought; in answering a question; in rising from the couch. She sank into the cushions and slept through the conversating.

When it came time, we all scooched in close, bowed our heads. I rested my hand on her leg.

She opened our praying and breathed out praise in a perfect circle, and everything made sense, suddenly: not only her words, but everything about my all day.

I understood why my phone had stopped accepting inbound calls.

I understood why the washing-machine repairman had arrived early:
 at the top, left corner of his time frame.

I understood why a friend had not been able to meet me.

I understood why I'd picked up (for once) every, single thing off the floor.

I understood why my babies had drifted off in their cribs.

God had intended to send a saint
 to pray, here, within these log walls.

And I could feel His drawing close: almost see the tipping of His head, the inclining of His ear. I could scarcely breathe; I knew it was just for me as she became everyone I've ever loved and watched ascend, with victory, to Jesus.

I opened my door, and God sent a saint shuffling in.

In this room, on my sofa, she became as much a miracle as any.

Changing Churches

from photobucket

My mom would probably tell you I'm resistant to change, but I know the truth: I'm great with change.

When I'm in control of it.

If I decide I'm about the change, I'll jump in with both feet and splash around happy as a pig in poop. But if the change is thrust upon me?


At points, I've more than dragged my heels; I've thrown myself on the ground as dead weight and said: you're going to have to drag me from here to there like a two-hundred-pound sack of potatoes.

To Jim Dear's credit? He can flat-out do it, and has. He is, hands-down, the strongest and most strong-willed person I've ever known. I'm so glad he's my husband: not because he doesn't infuriate me, in the heat of the moment, but because he turns out to be right every dad-gummed time. Which is also somewhat infuriating.

This story isn't about Jim's dragging me, but it is about change. I've blogged bits of it before, but not all of it, because it's still happening.

It goes like this: I was happy as I'd ever been in a church. My church had really helped me in reconnecting with God, also in discovering and using my spiritual gift. I was growing, learning, serving, even leading. I was more invested than I'd ever been, in a church.

Then I reconnected with Jim (almost thirteen years after our break-up, and almost eleven years after our last seeing one another at graduation), and we married three months later. It was a whirlwind! He moved into my bitty house, in my county, in my state. I quite expected him to fill perfectly every corner of the cozy box that was my life.

But my church wasn't a good fit for Jim, and he knew right away. When he told me we'd be moving on, I curled into a ball on the floor and sobbed.

Jim's kind eyes and heart recognized: I'd hurt more, in leaving, than he'd hurt in staying. He agreed not only to stick it out for awhile, but also to try a small group. Additionally, he supported me in my area of ministry, by which I mean: he got in there and served alongside me.

I prayed for 18 months before I felt like I was ready to leave, and, even then, I sought permission from my former pastor to continue serving at his church. That was over 2.5 years ago. I remained in leadership for the first 16 months, and--just this week--I ended my service on part of the team.

What I'm saying is: I've been weaning myself off my former church for four years, and I'm still not altogether detached; I remain happily on its Prayer Team, and I host happily one of its small groups.

Jim's been involved all along.

So, what's the point? I've more than several:
  • It's possible (and even enjoyable) to have a patchwork church existence if the leaders of the churches in question have a kingdom-sized vision. I do recommend being completely open and honest with the church leaders so they have a clear understanding of what's happening, and why.
  • When I decided to respond to God's callings on my life--regardless of buildings or groups of people--I experienced a great deal of freedom. And peace. What I mean by that is: to this day, I don't have to let go of everything and everyone I love about my former church. Because we are all part of THE church. Together.
  • Gifts (spiritual and otherwise!) don't live in a building; they live inside people. God has a plan for both their use and their development. Jim and I found our current church almost right away, and I recognized it as such because its people embraced both my singing voice and my friends at the adult home. 
  • I discovered: God really cares about my struggles with change. Over a period of four years, He's moved me so gently and lovingly from one church to another! God and I, together, have ever so gradually tipped the scale until, now, I can concentrate almost all of my efforts at my current church. In fact, I've a couple new things on the horizon; will you join me in praying they go well? (I'm so excited!)
Please do share if I can join you in praying for the right church home! Trust me: no one understands more than I how overwhelming (and even traumatic!) it can be to leave a church and/or to look for a new one!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Post #200: Why I Blog

Blogger assigns #203, but I've one deleted post and 4 (other) unpublished ones, so, technically, this is #200.

I started blogging November 10, 2010 because I saw a coupon code from Blog2Print. Upon investigation, I learned: with a couple clicks, I could at any point have my blogged words bound into a book for my children. Which appealed to me because I'm a hot piggy mess, and I have words everywhere: in folders (paper and electronic), on drives (hard and jump), on myspace, and on facebook.

I saw blogging as an opportunity to write all my new words in one place; to, over time, slide my old words into that same place; and to hit "print" every now and then. This has worked out well, and I've already had two books printed: 111 and 125 pages, respectively, and it's time to order a third.

I suspected that the interactive nature of blogging would fuel my writing, and I was right. I've never been successful at traditional journeling: too lonely! To have others along for the ride makes this endeavor fun for me.

I know my readership would grow more quickly if I settled on a niche: if I blogged only my Christian walk, life as a mom, creative writing, or photos. My blog would absolutely appeal to a wider audience if I stuck to humor or sappy or serious.

Here's the thing, though: ultimately, I'm writing for my kids. There's a part of me that wishes I could say I'm writing for Jesus, but to say so would be a lie. Because I'm not. Don't get me wrong; He's here, and--when I started writing in this place--I had no idea I would write so much about Him, that more of my posts would fall under "Christian Walk" than any other category.

But I'm blogging for my kids: the things about my random, roller-coastery life that I want them to have, should I step off my front porch and get run over by a disgruntled FedEx driver (disgruntled because Jim Dear's ordered 375 diapers, 52 rolls of toilet paper, and 17 large jars of Ragu, again).

I'm blogging everyone I love, here and in heaven, and all the stories I can think to tell. I'm blogging the crazy things my kids do. I'm blogging photos and poetry. And I am blogging Jesus because He is, absolutely, the best friend I have, which is saying something. Because no one has friends like I.

I'm blogging the things I'm thinking and learning. Some of them are controversial, and I promise, I don't blog them to stir the pot. To be honest, I hate dissension: especially within the church (and I mean church in the broadest sense).

I blog them in an effort to be my authentic self. I'm not going to pretend I think everything "church people" say makes sense to me. Or that I think sexual orientation determines a person's eternal home. I'm not going to pretend I haven't interacted with my grandparents since they've died; that I don't love halloween; that I don't ever throw terrible temper tantrums; or that I don't, very often, crave a cigarette.

I'm on a journey. I'm going to look back and shake my head over some of the things I'm blathering on about right now. And that's ok, because--although I would hate to be a stumbling block for anyone--I'm not nearly as concerned with right as I am with right now.

To God be the glory for anything good within me and for working all the time to make me better and more than I am right now.

And, right now? I've got drafts and ideas and lists in Word. Jim Dear says I blog like it's my job, and I hope the sense of urgency I feel doesn't mean I'm going to die and leave my little children motherless.

But. If I do, they'll have my words, and I think my words are a gift.

So thank you, because--by reading and commenting and sharing--you are helping me write for (at least) three people whom God has blessed me--even in all my brokenness and hot-piggy-messiness!--to mother. They thank you, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Claiming, Clutching, and Chrysanthemums

from photobucket

I always feel a twinge of sadness when the Chrysanthemums bloom; they bring memories of Grandma Shafer to me, in a rush, but they don't bring her. They can't, and neither can Marshmallow Fluff, hard as it tries.

This year, I feel two twinges of sadness: one for Grandma Shafer, and one for Mac. He handed me a white envelope of Chrysanthemum bulbs, once, with my name printed on the outside. He'd used a blue magic marker and written in all caps, but he'd spelled my name correctly. I took the envelope (because I never turn down a gift from the heart), but I didn't plant the bulbs. And now they're wasted and Mac gone.

I loved him. I still do.

I've lost three friends this year: Bob in February; Grandpa in April; Mac in June. None of the above were related to me, but I would've claimed any of them, and I reckon I did at one point or another.

The first loss hit hardest and still does, and it's almost a mystery to me: the resonance and echo of it. I feel fairly stupid talking about it; if you were on the outside, looking in, you would've seen so many others gathered close, and me just on the fringes.

I can only offer, as an explanation: God used Bob to teach me really big things. Some of the biggest, to date.

I found myself talking about Bob from a podium, at a women's retreat in July. I talked about how I haven't lost him because I allowed knowing him to change me, also because I will see him again, someday, in heaven. I talked about the pain I cause myself in claiming and clutching people and things that don't belong to me. And I cried.

I want to use--in this place of pain and sin--the things that Bob, and Grandpa, and Mac taught me.

Back in June, I dreamed Grandma B. Most of what she said concerned my writing; she was adamant that I keep it up. I awoke confused for two reasons: 1) it was out of character for her to be THAT concerned with my writing, and 2) she'd come to me much like my deceased grandparents*, but--so far as I knew--she was still alive. I waited for a call.

The call came, but it concerned Mac, not Grandma. I understood, right away: Mac had come through all sloppy in his trying to convey that he (a writer) had been a grandparent figure to me and cared very much about my continuing to write.

It was as much power as I will ever again know him to have, this side of heaven, unless I live out what he taught me about generosity, about words.

And I plan to keep him here, also to plant some yellow Chrysanthemums and pretend they've sprouted from his bulbs.

*I realize my words carry controversy, but you're not going to change my mind about my experiences, so, please, preserve your energy.