Monday, September 30, 2013

Why I Go

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.
―L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

She has eighteen grandchildren (I don't even know how many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren), but there was a time when she answered the phone with a question, and when I said, "Hi, Grandma," she knew my voice from all the others.

And I feel sure: it wasn't that I was oh-so special but that, to her, each of us was. She had this way--when she was wholly herself--of making us feel known. She wrote us letter after letter; she was, hands down, everyone's best pen pal. She loved to talk to us on the phone, across the dining room table, on the porch swing, in the living room, everywhere. She and I fell asleep, many times, talking in the dark.

For nearly thirty years, her favorite story to tell of me was that--when she went to take my photo on my first day of kindergarten--I threw some kind of fit. Her favorite story to tell of Andrea involved Andrea's being a rotten teenager, but it didn't matter: doesn't.

(Andrea cried, a few weeks ago, when she pulled one of Grandma's owl cups from my cupboard. How clandestine the grief.)

It hurts to become unknown to someone who knew you from your beginning and loved you through your bad. For years, I felt bitterly disappointed after every visit, having prayed for Grandma to know me one more time. I let go of that hope after the Lord, in His mercy, allowed a dream. I still pray for good visits, also for my recovery from them; even when they're good, they're hard.

She doesn't know who I am, and no sooner do her visitors leave than she forgets she had them. But I watch her light up for my children and believe it matters that we're there. My younger children have never met so much of her, but I hope--after the last bit of her soul flies to the Lord--they'll remember her smile, her embrace.

And I guess I hope that--even as I stroke her arm or kiss her forehead--the most of her looks down, already, from that better and brighter place. I hope she knows me in real time: speaks my name just out of earshot. I hope she waits for me there even as we sit together, here.

Photo by Emmanuel Artis. Editing mine.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Prayer Meeting of the Blogosphere (9)

Welcome to the ninth, old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere: the one in which I discuss the epic battle.

Dinosaur Land feels benign, happy--even at the points of King Kong and the giant shark--until one suddenly walks up on the epic battle. In this corner of Dino Land, beasts bare their teeth, chomp, puncture, bleed, die.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex wins over and over, it would seem, but it acts merely according to its nature. It can't help having a big appetite, sharp teeth, violent tendencies. And--against the Triceratops, at least--it doesn't come away unscathed.

This would be the point at which I confess: sometimes I feel involved in an epic battle of my own, and I'm least not against my own kind. I'm not a meat-eating dinosaur. I'm not a dinosaur, at all. I am (or should be) in control of my actions and words. Whenever I'm not, others suffer. I suffer. Thus, my prayer for today:

Heavenly Father, help me remember: according to Your Word, I don't wrestle against flesh and blood. Help me take a deep breath. Help me remember to pray before confronting or criticizing anyone. Help me know when to walk away or how to best approach someone with whom I disagree. Make me better and more for Your kingdom, and I pray the same for my brothers and sisters reading here. Help us shine Your light and not hinder Your work by getting caught up in unnecessary conflict. In Your Son's perfect and holy name I pray, amen.

Now it's your turn! Would you like to participate in an old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere? Here are some ideas:

  • You can pray about my prayer request.
  • You can share a prayer request by means of a comment.
  • You can share a prayer request on your personal blog and direct me to your post by means of a comment.
  • You can pray about a participant's prayer request.
  • You can write a prayer about my, your, or someone else's prayer request (in comments hither or yon, on your blog, etc.). If your prayer is somewhere other than this place, please direct me as you can and  will.
  • You can join in praying my or someone else's prayer.
  • You can share an update regarding a prayer request you've made here, in the past. 

Thank you again for being here, and I hope to see you next week, if not before.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Adventure with Andrea and Roar

I've written about Andrea many times before, referring to her as my cousin-sister or my sister-cousin. She's technically my first cousin; her father and my mother are brother and sister. But we're more like sisters, really, than first cousins, and I should know because I have twenty-seven first cousins, and that's not counting by marriage.

Andrea and I don't adventure together often enough, which is a shame because--in all the best ways--she likes to shake things up; she's up for anything; and sometimes I think she has the power to stretch time. Not to mention: she's a good conversationalist, and she loves my kids.

Charleigh and Andrea. Photo by Emmanuel Artis (editing mine).

We decided to take the little kids north to see Grandma B., and I think we both thought Vanderhoop would accompany us, but Andrea called at the butt crack of dawn, traveling day, and asked if she could bring Emmanuel, instead. I didn't know Emmanuel but confirmed there was plenty of room for him in the van, so we set out soon enough.


We stopped, first, at Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church in Sperryville, where we picnicked on a shaded, wooden table. I looked up mid-sandwich to see a man walking toward us and wondered if he'd give us the boot, but he (Carl) turned out to be one of the most hospitable people I've met, to date. It was beautiful, really.

From there: Dinosaur Land in White Post. I'd wanted to stop so many times, but the timing had always been off. This particular day was perfect for visiting dinosaur statues (some of which are fifty years old, and some of which have been created or repaired by Mark Cline)--not to mention a giant octopus, a giant shark, and King Kong--in the middle of the woods. We were talking about our favorite parts of the experience, later, and Andrea said: "My favorite part was seeing how much you loved it." And yes. I was reluctant to ever leave Dinosaur Land.

After Dinosaur Land, we visited Grandma (who renamed Emmanuel "Roar") in Williamsport, Maryland and traveled on to Uncle Ronnie's and Aunt Carolyn's house in Hagerstown. They had warm pizza and beds waiting for us. We visited with Aunt Ellie's family and, the next day, with Uncle Danny (Andrea's dad), our cousin Megan, and again, with Grandma. We delivered a box of Charleigh's outgrown clothes to a woman who works for Jim out of Hagerstown and shopped the Mennonite market, and I have more (and deeper) thoughts to share but will save them for my next post.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Another Lesson from behind the Camera

I find I'm often at a loss in terms of what to do for Jim's birthday, so after Anjelina and I discovered that our men's birthdays are one day apart, I suggested we photograph one another and give Jim and Eric updated photos of their women. Anjie made appointments with her daughter Kelly Ann, a make-up artist. I arranged for Brooke to cut my hair a couple days before the "shoot," and on the big day, I wore contact lenses.

What I hadn't anticipated, in all my planning, was how sad I would feel on the day of the shoot. It had been a hard, hard week. I considered cancelling but didn't want to disappoint Anjie, who'd planned to treat Charleigh (for her birthday) on top of the rest. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't cancel for many reasons, but one above all.

We'd been made up and at the park for a while before I asked Anjie to put her camera down and go stand near a bridge beside a patch of tall and wild grass. She hemmed and hawed: not much or for long, and not because she's shy but because she's way more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

In truth, I wasn't feeling any of it. I felt even less comfortable in front of the camera than usual; I hadn't made time to color my hair, and I knew my eyeballs were sad. And I felt insecure, suddenly, about photographing the photographer. I mean, this is hands-down one of the most talented people I know, and I was off. I knew I was off, and here I was trying something for which I may have felt ill-equipped even if I'd been on.

Then Anjie leaned into the bridge (folding her beautiful brown arms atop the rail) and looked directly into my lens. I found myself staring straight into the soul of this person I love, and the strangest thing happened: I started to cry.

So there I was. Snapping away, tears rolling.

It was such an unexpected thing, and I've been turning it over in my mind ever since. I still don't really know how to explain it. I was thinking how beautiful she is and how much I love her. I always think those things of her, but this was different. When she turned her eyes toward my lens, the feelings came up in a nearly physical wave. A jolt, a shock, of intimacy.

I took many photos that day, but the one above--while not "best in show"--is by far my favorite. I guess I'll never look at it without remembering the moment I took it.

Leave it to Anjelina. She has the most unconventional teaching methods I've ever experienced, but hey.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

ABCs and Algebra

As a kid, I loved September and all things back-to-school, but now? not so much. I miss the long, lazy days with Cade in the mix; he's such a great helper and, in general, great companion. Clementine's back in dance, and Charleigh's in gymnastics, this year: activities that cost money and necessitate the (slight) slowing of my roll. And small group's picked back up, which carries with it some responsibilities.

Charleigh's First Gymnastics Class

We're on a schedule, and even moreso because I'm trying to be serious about teaching the girls preschool. Clementine needs to start kindergarten next year, and daily I ask myself: homeschool or public school? Obviously, Cade's in public school and has been from the outset. I haven't had any major complaints and won't try to change his path, just...I very often wish I could pull him out for one adventure or the other, and I daydream about endless field trips with my school-aged, little kids.

I believe homeschooling to be a calling, so I don't much worry about other people's voices. I'm praying and listening for God's voice, and I'm testing myself because planning, scheduling, and follow-through aren't necessarily areas of strength for me. I'm blessed in that--should I end up homeschooling the little kids--I have friends ahead of me on the route, and they'll undoubtedly prove to be excellent resources.

For us, homeschool preschool involves ideally three mornings of work in the house, one morning for Charleigh's gymnastics (Clementine takes dance one evening), and one field trip. I've been starting a day of work by reading two devotions. I picked up the first book at a thrift store for $.75, and--although the girls really like it--I don't like it nearly as well as Keys for Kids, which is also story-based. The other book is a devotional Bible, so the devotions are scripture-based.

After reading our scripture devotion, we spend some time with one or more of these books (1, 2, 3): mostly in search of further visual representation of the Word. I really like the maps in Biblica because I feel like geography (along with chronology!) has always been a major area of weakness for me.

We're working with one letter a week in the order recommended by School Sparks, and--with the help of this resource--we're memorizing one Bible verse for each letter of the alphabet. We're also making Crafty ABCs and practicing writing our letters in various workbooks and dry-erase books.

From there, it gets more loosey-goosey. We're working with numbers, too, and right now, I'm putting a lot of emphasis on the girls' learning our home address. Last week, we spent a good bit of time working with pennies and nickles and playing "store": learning how to trade pennies for a nickle and vice versa. We're blessed to have our own library of children's books, also many puzzles and games. And, of course, we tear up the road; it's part of who I am as a person, so it's part of who I am as a parent.

Then the lanky thirteen-year-old slips through the door with his book bag, and last week, he needed help with algebra. I felt a little angsty about it--Will I remember?--but made out just fine, so I guess Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Murphy, and Mr. Harmatta did alright by me, back in the day.

It can feel like a stretch, ABCs to algebra in one day, but I'll enjoy over two decades of trick-or-treating with my kids, so the nine-year-age gap between Child #1 and Child #2 has its perks, after all.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prayer Meeting of the Blogosphere (8)

Hello, and welcome to the eighth, old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere. My sweet friend Marlece hosted, last week, and I loved making new friends in her space.

I'm moving a little slowly, this morning, having returned home late last night from a quick trip to Maryland (more on that, later). All three little kids have taken a dose of Tylenol, and the baby is still feverish and lying against me as I type. We'll rest, today.

I've struggled, these last few weeks, but my prayer is of gratitude:

Father, thank You. Just thank You. Thank You for sending Your perfect--Your only!--Son to this broken place to die for broken people. Thank You for loving us in spite of our sins and shortcomings. Thank You for forgiving repentant hearts: for being great enough to put it out of Your mind so it doesn't hinder relationships. Thank You for refusing stubbornly to leave or forsake Your children: for walking with us though our pains and struggles and despite our weaknesses and failures. You are so good. In Your Son's name I pray, amen.

Now it's your turn! Would you like to participate in an old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere? Here are some ideas:

  • You can pray about my prayer request.
  • You can share a prayer request by means of a comment.
  • You can share a prayer request on your personal blog and direct me to your post by means of a comment.
  • You can pray about a participant's prayer request.
  • You can write a prayer about my, your, or someone else's prayer request (in comments hither or yon, on your blog, etc.). If your prayer is somewhere other than this place, please direct me as you can and  will.
  • You can join in praying my or someone else's prayer.
  • You can share an update regarding a prayer request you've made here, in the past. 

Thank you again for being here, and I hope to see you next week, if not before.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thoughts on Creativity

I could tell you so many different stories about our last, little trip. Natural Bridge might just be my favorite place on earth, and some of our very favorite people were there with us: my parents, Rachel's family (including her parents!), and Chel's family. Cade's friend Samwise Causey traveled with us, filling our seventh seat in the best possible way and keeping Cade company 24/7.

I could tell you about decoupaging flower pots, painting rocks, and stringing beads in the rec center; visiting with Yogi and all his friends; checking out Natural Bridge Zoo and Foamhenge; buying a crazy quilt; playing Dungeons & Dragons with the boys; racing Rachel down the water slide; waiting for what seemed like eternity for her popcorn to pop; or hanging out at the KOA with my parents.

But the story I want to tell most is about my asking Jim to drive the seven of us to Cave Mountain Lake (despite the fact that our power steering was on its way out) and about our passing this on our drive back to Jellystone:

And these things:

There was no good place to turn around, so I asked Jim to pull over and let me out. I wanted a photo of the door especially but set to photographing (real quick like) the rest, too. My heart was racing a little, standing in the middle of a road in the middle of no to the where. I was photographing someone's private property, after all, and it included a "Beware of Dog" sign and, frankly, some fairly creepy art.

The Creepiest of the Creepy Art

Then I noticed a piece of poster board attached to a pole or tree. I unfolded it and read something like this: Citizens of Rockbridge County, I'm sorry your tour has to be self-guided, but feel free to look around. The dog and cat are harmless. Mark

Upon climbing back into the minivan, I asked Jim: "Do you think this is Mark Cline's house?" 

"It doesn't look like his stuff," Jim said, and I agreed; still, the sign said Mark, and I knew Mark Cline to live in the area as a man of many talents. All of it seemed like an awfully big coincidence, in the moment. So, when I met Mark Cline a couple days later, I asked him if it were his place.

He shook his head and laughed. "Is someone moving in on my action?" he asked, and promised to drive by.

At this point, I've searched the Internet and still have no idea who created the artwork in my photos, above. But I've been thinking a lot about that Mark (not an uncommon name, after all): wondering who he is, why he creates, why he displays his artwork so far back in the woods that few are likely to see.

And I've decided he's probably a lot like I. He'd rather create than clean up his yard. (Perhaps he thinks his yard beautiful in its chaos.) He's driven to create whether anyone sees and appreciates his artwork, or not. He's just trying to make something out of nothing or a pile of junk. He's just trying to keep alive the small flame of who he is.

The most bitter, miserable people I've ever known are creative people who don't create. They hate on creative people who actually produce, and they hate on themselves. They buy into the lie that they don't have time to create, but everyone has time to create...and most of it stolen.

I don't have time to create; I don't. I don't have time to photograph, edit photos, or write. I make time. I sleep less than I should; my kitchen floor is sticky; and my kids are well-acquainted with Angelina Ballerina, Dora the Explorer, and all the rest.

Am I making the right decisions? I don't know. I mean, I think so. Jim Dear gets fired up about the state of the castle every so often, after which I tighten the reins for a minute or five. We're both glad to host a small group Bible study because things get cleaner(ish) on Mondays. But I think we both know: if I were to abandon my artistic pursuits for the sake of housekeeping, I would become fairly miserable fairly quickly. And let's get real for a hot second: what Jim really wants is warmth and willingness on my part, and he gets it.

As for the kids, I hope they'll grow up and say: "Yeah, Mom wasn't the best at housekeeping, but she cared that things not go to hell in a handbasket, so we all worked at it. She was queen of the adventure, the board game, and the chocolate-chip cookie, and she never lost sight of who she was."

I hope so but admit freely: a part of me frets continuously over my very own way of being and doing. It's like a bit of popcorn stuck in my teeth; I can't quite seem to leave it alone. I want to be better and more and wonder: have I achieved balance? How much do others judge me, and how much should it matter?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Meeting Mark Cline

July two years ago, Jim and I gassed up at a Texaco in Natural Bridge, and I oohed and ahhed over its giant tiger statue. We saw a sign for the local Jellystone and decided to check it out: fell in love with the place right then and there, although I'm sure for different reasons. (I was, like Clementine, all about the Yogi Bear statue and costumed Yogi Bear.) We could hardly wait to camp there.

Clementine and Mark Cline's Tiger, July 2011

Clementine and Mark Cline's Yogi (Natural Bridge), July 2011

We returned a few months later to celebrate Charleigh's first birthday with family and friends. We had a ball! (You can see photos from that weekend, here.) On our way out of town, we stopped to eat at this place called Pink Cadillac Diner: mostly because of the giant King Kong in the parking lot and Humpty Dumpty on the porch. When I asked our server about the statues, she told us Mark Cline had made them.

Clementine and Mark Cline's King Kong, July 2011

Cade's Friend Andrew and Mark Cline's Humpty Dumpty, July 2011

After we got home, I Googled Mark Cline's name. I learned he'd made the tiger and Yogi statues, and--upon seeing photos of some of his other creations--I came to appreciate his work even more. I read articles about and interviews with him, and he just kept saying he wants to make people happy. What could be more admirable? I believed him and still do.

So for over two years, as I can, I've been visiting and photographing Mark Cline's work. In addition to Natural Bridge, I've checked it out in Bedford, Thaxton, and Glasgow, Virginia, also in Ellicot City, Maryland. With the children, of course. I can honestly say: it's made me happy.

Cade and Mark Cline's Snake, Natural Bridge Zoo, August 2013

Charleigh, Clementine, Cade, and Cade's Friend Sam, Natural Bridge Zoo, August 2013

Mark Cline's Dino in Glasgow, August 2013

Charleigh at Mark Cline's Foamhenge, August 2013

My Parents and the Girls at Mark Cline's Foamhenge, August 2013

Before Jim and I returned to Natural Bridge for Charleigh's third birthday, I e-mailed Mark Cline and told him I'd like to meet him. His wife Sherry returned my e-mail and invited me on a ghost tour in Lexington Friday or Saturday night. She said, too: Mark would be riding his unicycle blindfolded in Rockbridge Baths on Monday. That seemed like a much better option with the children (although I took one of the ghost tours many years ago: awesome!), and we arrived just in time.

I was so happy. I didn't expect the opportunity to talk to him. Jim, the kids, and I wandered around the festival until Jim said: "They're saying something over the loudspeaker about Mark Cline and something's being for sale. Maybe we should check it out." Sure enough, we stepped inside a building, and there he was: waving a yellow t-shirt he'd designed.

"I'll buy your t-shirt," I told him, "if you'll have your photo taken with me," and he ended up walking with us to buy a t-shirt in my size (which he signed) and talking to me for a good little while. He was super friendly, down-to-earth, easygoing with the kids.

I told him I'd love to help write his story but understand him to be a great writer, himself. "I had a column once," he said, "but mostly I just pretended to write like I pretended to be a stuntman, today." Then Jim took our photo, and it's a terrible photo of me (It was crazy-hot, and I'd been camping, okay?), but I have to share it, anyway, because it was a happy moment for me.

Walking toward the car, Cade asked: "So, was that, like, a dream come true for you?"

"Yeah, pretty much, I said, "and I want you to take something from it. Because--if there's someone you want to meet--ask the question. If I hadn't e-mailed, I wouldn't have been in Rockbridge Baths, today."

My one regret is that I didn't say to Mark Cline what I wanted to say which was just: thank you. Thank you so much. It's been a season of many small children and little money, and your work has made me happy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Prayer Meeting of the Blogosphere (7)

Friends, I've had another very hard week and just don't have it in me to host the prayer meeting. I believe in it with all my heart, though, so I asked my sweet friend Marlece to host, and she graciously agreed. You can attend the seventh, old-fashioned prayer meeting by clicking here and traveling to Marlece's blog. I'll meet you there, and we'll all be blessed.

I hope to see you here, next week, for the eighth, old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere.