Monday, September 28, 2009

You Start with What's in Your Hands

Journal to Christa—

 Anne Graham Lotz was speaking on how to start a Bible study. “You start with what’s in your hand. What’s in your hand?” She gave an example of a tennis player who started a study at her tennis club.

I wasn’t thinking of a Bible study, but I was thinking of my hand. “I don’t really have anything in my hand.” But I knew that was a lie. I knew it every time I said it to myself. 

“Use what’s in your hand. What’s in your hand?”
“All I have in my hand is a pen.”
“What’s in your hand?”
“Just a pen and this journal… and I send these silly words to Christa each week
—then to Shannon and the girls and others…”

They are just words—my journals to Christa—but I love writing them, and I don’t know why.
Maybe… I think I would have liked getting something on pretty paper each week when I was young. Papers that say:
“I know you, and you are special to me.”
“I care about you and how you feel today.”
“I see you, even if you think no one else does.”
I have a pen in my hand.
What’s in your hand?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Journal for Christa—

Life is, in some ways, like a five-day stay at Disney World with two preschoolers. It isn’t perfect—that’s Heaven—but there are magical moments along the way. I heard a lot of toddlers crying this week. One little girl was so beside herself, screeching, “I want my candy!” that I actually walked over to get a visual. (It’s the teacher in me, but my kids would say that I’m just nosey.) She was not alone; her dad was standing some distance away. He did not make eye contact. And I’m sure, for him, “magical” was far, far away.

Helen is afraid of the dark; Breck detests loud noises. Many of the rides were quite unmagical, and the fireworks…well, let’s just say it wasn’t like in the movies. But there were lots of magical moments: the kids’ reaction when they first opened the adjoining door between our rooms and found us behind it. Or seeing every Disney worker smile down at Helen in her princess gown and say, “Hello, Princess.” (They train them so well at Disney.)  

Helen saw that all her Disney princesses are really real, and Breck had a very serious chat with Prince Caspian while I snapped pictures. Lunch with Jay at the Grand Floridian felt miles away from Main Street, and the parades generated all the excitement that parades were created for in the first place. Disney was fun. But what made it fun wasn’t where we were but with whom we were.

Life can get nasty at times. That’s just the way it is here. I suppose we should expect it, and it may be one reason why hordes of folks flood Disney every year searching for the magic. But it seems to me that it’s during the “nasties” that we must hunt down those magical moments and be grateful for them. We may feel like most of life is lived in Plan B, but B is better than D or E, and we’ve all had those days.

Since we’ve been back, there have been many moments I wished we were back at Disney with Joel and Kim and the kids, but we aren’t. There are papers to grade and a house to clean, French to learn and meetings to attend. But the roses are gorgeous, I have great friends, and Jay and I are on the same page. And that is magic.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Journal to Christa—(from May 22, 2009)

Everyone has regrets. I wish I hadn’t’ spent so much time worrying about money when I was young. I could stir up money worry as fast as the Santa Ana winds can fire up a fury—an inferno of anxiety that climaxed the first two years we lived in Colorado Springs. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time fretting over maybes.

While in our 20s, Jay had one of the better unskilled jobs in Chattanooga, at a local food distribution center. He began picking orders, then drove a forklift, and finally ended up in middle management, which was perfect in those days because the pay wasn’t too shabby and he was still hourly, getting time and a half for his 15-20 extra hours a week. That allowed me to stay at home.

The spring, soon after Chris was born, someone at Red Food decided to cut all overtime. Jay, being rather innovative, bought a second old used lawn mower and decided we would mow yards to make up the difference. We started out with five yards. Each week as Jay packed the lawn gear into his old Datsun truck, I packed babies (Chris just 3 months old) in the car. We deposited the babies at Maxine’s on the way and proceeded to our mowing.

Soon it became apparent that Red Food couldn’t function without the overtime. So as the overtime returned, thankfully our customers dwindled—all except two older widow women who were neighbors. They probably weren’t nearly as old as they seemed to me. Youth has a way of viewing age through its own unique lens. But they were dear ladies.

Jay laughs about the pine cones flying through the mower and across the yard. One of the ladies always insisted that I take a break with a glass of ice water at the concrete table and benches that Jay hated weed eating around. Since Tennessee evenings are hot and muggy, it wasn’t my favorite job, but their yards were flat and square, and the mowing was easy. Amidst the hum of the mower, it gave me time alone to think, and thinking is good. That summer and into the fall, we mowed the widows’ yards, relieved when the winter clouds and rain, I so despised, finally brought our obligation to an end.

By the next summer, with Jay’s overtime secure, I was again great with child and spent most of that summer in the air conditioning. I wish in my thinking I’d decided not to fret so, but some lessons take longer than a mere summer. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Journal for Christa—

Some mother images are set in my mind as clearly as a meticulously scrapbooked photo. One such image is of three-year-old Joy with curly red pigtails turning and waving at me from the back window of Dave and Maxine’s blue Volkswagen bug. She was going to the carnival with Angela, and it was her first real excursion without me. She was in good hands, for Dawsons were and are as close as true relatives, but I still recall a tiny pang at our first parting.

I used to listen to Dobson years ago, and one thing I recall is that our goal is to raise children that can leave us—not in the sense that they never return—but in the sense that they are grown up and independent. That requires a series of good-byes.

Good-byes take on a menagerie of feelings: some are necessary—leaving for college; some exciting—mission trips and adventures; some exuberating and hopeful, like the embarking on their honeymoon. Others are terribly prideful, as seeing Chris in his first youth pastor’s job, Joel’s commissioning, and Nate in his policeman’s uniform. Then some are just hard—putting Joel, Kim, and baby Breck on the plane just short weeks before his Iraqi deployment—leaving Melody with two tiny babies, knowing they’d get word of Angie’s death just days away—

So, once again this week we’ll say good-bye: this time to Joel, Kim, and the kids as they leave the States for three years in Germany. This good-bye is filled with excitement—excitement for a new job and the adventures of experiencing Europe—filled with apprehension because they’ll be so far away.

Unlike some other good-byes, I’ll stretch out my hand for the Sovereign Hand that scripts all our fates, resting in the old familiar Touch—a Touch I’ve known from that very first toddler wave, framed by a VW bug. 

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bridal Showers

Journal to Christa— (from April 26, 2009)
Joy, being the self-proclaimed family historian, places these journals each week in a book. I give them to her on Sundays, so they don’t have fold lines. Today as Shane and Jay moved a grill to their back porch, Joy said, “I was going through some things and found this letter I saved that you had written me in college. It reminded me of your journals.” I do remember the letter, but for the life of me, I have no idea whom it was written about (which is probably a good thing); but I thought it would make you laugh this week.
To Joy—
Went to the shower today. I knew I needed to bring a good gift, so I did. It was very formal—at least compared to the jeans I’d worn. I had thought the sweater would dress up the jeans enough. Wrong! Most of the women were in hose and dresses. The bride’s mother was quite nervous; and at one point, I looked around and wondered how I’d ever, years ago, fallen in with such a group. Had they changed? I changed? Or had I been a misfit all along? It really didn’t matter. My Midwestern countrified upbringing on occasion rears up within me. I suppose I refuse to be something I’m not and insist on being proud of what I am, whatever that is.
Everything was, well—very organized. Nobody seemed quite touchable or real to me. I felt appreciative that they’d thought of me but couldn’t quite figure out why they had. It was an interesting morning, but I’d say that—
Bridal showers should definitely be in the summer, preferably where there’s no air conditioning, and I would definitely slouch—
…because marriages are not to be cold, stuffy, or formal. A marriage should be filled with laughter and comfort—like Great Grandma enfolding a small child’s frame into her rather corpulent self.
And the bows on packages should droop, just a little; and it wouldn’t hurt for the bride to have to lean back and wipe away a prickling of sweat from her brow from time to time—
…for marriages don’t come neatly packaged: They’re each a unique and, sometimes, not such a pretty bundle. And, you can’t fully know what’s in the box until you hold it in your hand. Right from the start, it takes some work—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot—but always enough to brush up a little sweat.

And all the guests should wear shorts and kick off their shoes at the door: and there should be lots of people—so many that some would have to sit on the floor—
…for marriages are made up of relationships with lots of folks that simply can’t be ignored. And at times the only way to do things is a little unconventional and laid back. And you just can’t worry about it all—
And there should be music—happy music that makes little kids want to twirl around and round until they all tumble to the floor in a profusion of laughter—
…because in marriage there must be joy—sometimes the frolicky kind, sometimes just the mellow understanding of care. But always remember: the joy must come from within, because you are satisfied with who you are and what God has made you. Joy can only bubble up from a soul of contentment. (It never really comes from the music at all, but from the listening.)
And each wrapping should be fastly secured, so that with sober commitment the bride can open each gift—
…for each day with her beloved is a gift unmeasurable, as a package to be opened with constant resolve. And each gift must be taken out—whether it’s good or it’s bad—and grasped, and transformed into a token of God’s grace.
And so, what should the bride wear to her bridal shower? A business suit, her gardening clothes, or a dress for a ball? Who knows and who cares, but I definitely like showers in the summer—and I think the bride should slouch!
So, Joy, what a morning it was for your dear mother; but you’ll be proud to know that I primly crossed my leg over the stain I noticed on my jeans and sat up quite proper.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Journal for Christa—

Regardless of how well people know each other, once married there are always surprises. When Jay arrived at my grandmother’s, days before our wedding, I was quite taken aback upon discovering the entire back floor of his car inhabited by various potted plants he had acquired for our small efficiency apartment. I remember thinking, “Oh my, I guess he likes plants. I had no idea.” I think when I mentioned it to him, he responded something like, “You didn’t know?” and really I didn’t. I’m sure there were surprises for him on my part too.

Jay has a green thumb; I don’t. He was very organized. I’m not. He knows a lot about science. I don’t. I know a lot about literature. He doesn’t. I think out loud. He thinks internally. How interesting the surprises of learning a marriage partner—

Over the years we began to change. He isn’t as organized as he used to be, and I keep better track of a few things. I discovered if I would listen, he would talk. Basically, we learned how to take care of each other.

Now, after 34 years, we pretty much know what the other is thinking. It’s also nice that, more often than not, it’s the same thing; but every once in awhile, he’ll tell a story about himself I haven’t heard before or make a comment that causes me to look over and say, “Really?” Even though we’re alike in so many ways, my thumbs never turned green. Once a student’s parent gave me the cutest little houseplant. He stared down at it sitting on the counter and flatly addressed it: “Poor little plant. What cruel way to die—” 

Monday, September 7, 2009

12 Whatevers

Journal for Christa, (from Feb. 23, 2009)

Back in the day, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door. I distinctly remember the moment I slapped my 12 whatevers on the kitchen cabinet with Scotch tape. Ironically, I don’t remember even one of the edicts. I also don’t recall what purpose I thought they’d serve since Jay and I alone inhabited a house, much too small, with four illiterate wee people and a dog. I doubt they made a splashing impression on Jay either when he came home from work. But, it felt good when paper in hand smacked the cabinet door!

We think of Martin Luther as a great man of accomplishment, and so he was. But even for Luther there were long years of waiting, pondering, and growth— How often in solitude did he contemplate his purpose in life?

Four degrees between us (3 were Jay’s), we spent the first ten years of our marriage waiting to “do what we were called to do.” Many things happened during those years that only distance brought to light. They were significant, foundational years under the ministry of Dr. Martin. In those days we went to church three times a week, not to mention Sunday school, training union, and choir practice. I heard so many of his sermons, I could quote his illustrations verbatim. Though a seminary professor and scholar of the Word, he was immensely practical. He had made marriage a focus of his ministry, weaving it into every sermon, laying a foundation to last us a life time. One of his illustrations was about a newly-married man who thought he loved his wife too much, so he sought the counsel of his pastor. “Do you love her more than Christ loves the Church?” the pastor questioned. “Of course, not,” replied the man. “Then you do not love her too much,” stated the wise pastor, “for that is your standard.” Husbands, love your wives as Christ so loved the Church and gave himself for it.

The most important relationship between people is the marriage relationship. And under the careful tutelage of the Martins’ ministry, we became “one flesh.” Oh, there were other things, like his annual sermon on anger or his sermon on how to handle criticism. All in all, they were not stagnant years, as they often seemed to be. They just may have been the most important years of our lives, for they dictated how the subsequent years would be lived. As for the “12 Whatevers,” that’s just a blank page—a day of frustration embedded in years of waiting, pondering, and growth.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Journal for Christa—

One thing I remember about being a teenager is that I didn’t do anything that I was afraid I couldn’t do well. So, even though my junior high ninth grade English teacher insisted that I must take French when I went to high school, I didn’t. I was afraid. I’ve found that French would have been quite helpful, being an English teacher, and I’ve always regretted not heeding her advice. So, I have said for many years now, “Someday I’m going to learn French.”

I’m not teaching AP this year and was looking forward to the lighter grading load, when I discovered that French I was scheduled for my classroom during my planning period, and there were only 11 students in the class. Our French teacher is quite good and seemed rather excited at the prospect of my joining her class. Knowing the sadistic side of teachers, I think Madame Voss thought teaching a 55-year-old brain French might lighten up her life a little. (I do catch a twinkle in her eye when she looks at me.)

I had to skip the first day. (It is my planning period after all.) But the second day I slipped in and sat at the end of a row behind a nice girl—who unfortunately (for her) has ended up my practice partner—and whom I think will do quite well in American literature later on. So, our lessons commenced: Madame Voss says, “a bientot,” and the smart little ninth graders parrot back, “a bientot,” while I stare at the white board thinking, “aahhhhh…”

Yesterday Madame Voss finished a few minutes early so I slipped out and headed directly to the library and Shannon, my eternal encourager. “I’ve made a terrible mistake,” I blurted, “but I can’t quit. They’ll all be in my American lit. class in two years. And besides, I’ve already covered my book!”

It just reminds me of what Anne Graham Lots says about witnessing, “If you’re scared—well—then just do it scared!”