Thanks for Chasing Me Down in the Winn Dixie

Have I ever told you the story of how I met my husband? For some reason this was on my mind a lot the last several days. As I mulled it over my perspective on the story changed a little bit and it became a bit sweeter to me.

Be warned, this is probably a post written more for me than anyone else, so feel free to abandon ship at any point you have something better to do…like fold laundry, make dinner or watch TV.

When I was 18 years old and just a few months from my high school graduation, I worked at a local Winn Dixie store. And when I say I worked there, well that’s sort of an understatement. I practically lived there because I begged for all the hours I could get. At one point in my retail grocery career, two store managers split my time between their individual stores so that I could work more than 40 hours per week and they wouldn’t have to pay me over time.  I know, I was dumb.

One of the perks to this job was that I had to wear a RIDICULOUS polyester, Carolina blue uniform (complete with elastic waist pants and matching top with two very utilitarian pockets to hold 20 pens at once) that had absolutely no shape. The best part was I had to wear white nursing shoes with my uniform so I looked extra professional.

winn-dixie crew 1986 pleasantfamilyshopping

(The EXACT uniforms store employees wore back then…only we weren’t this happy about it!  Thanks Pleasant Family Shopping)

I was very industrious for $3.65 per hour. I took everything very seriously. When my store manager told me to stay busy and never be caught standing around talking to my friends, well I figured he meant it. And I diligently made sure that when I wasn’t checking out customers as fast as lightening or counting down tills in the office that I picked up every piece of trash in sight, swept the floors, re-stocked unwanted grocery items, and above all else I never looked like I had nothing to do. Otherwise, he might send me home and I wouldn’t get all the hours I needed.

For reasons that are better left revealed in a MUCH longer format (say a book?), I was afraid of losing my job. And just to show you I know how crazy it sounds, let me say it clearly, I WAS AFRAID OF LOSING A JOB THAT PAID $3.65 AN HOUR (and made me wear possibly the worst uniform in history).

So, one Friday night, in walked the man I have now spent almost 27 years of my life with. And he came in specifically to meet me. He was home from Fort Bragg to spend a long Easter weekend with his family. And he had a sister, a sister who worked with me. And he came to Winn Dixie that night to meet me and to ask me out on a date.

He walked up to me at the video counter (we were a cutting edge store – we rented movies before Block Buster came along and we had the first scanners I had ever seen in a store) where I was checking in videos and he started to talk to me.  He was a real, adult, grown up man, and he was talking to me.  And I almost threw up. All I could think was, “Talk without moving your lips and keep moving your arms like you are working and maybe the manager won’t notice.” I kept trying to squeeze myself into the one square foot of space behind the cigarette/video counter that could not be seen from the one-way mirrored glass in the front office where the manager kept a close watch on all of us.

And my future husband kept talking. Sadly, I can’t remember a thing he said. I am sure he asked me about myself. I am sure he told me a lot about himself. But all I heard was the voice in the back of my head screaming , “You’re gonna get fired! And then how are you going to pay for college? And if you don’t go to college, what’s going to happen to you?”

At some point I realized there was a basket of groceries that needed to be put away so I grabbed the basket and took off around the store to put the items back. And Popey (his cleverly disguised nick name – you know how vigilant I am about protecting the innocent) took off after me. That man followed me up and down those aisles, watching me put away groceries, trying to have a conversation with me. The truth is, he didn’t just follow me, he chased me. He would not be ignored. He would not be left behind. He was going to ask me out if it took him all night.  I didn’t realize he jumped out of airplanes for a living, chasing me around a grocery store to ask me out probably didn’t seem all that intimidating.

I wish I could remember what he said. I wish I could say we had some sweet conversation, but all I know after all this time is that at some point in the pursuit he asked and I said yes, and a lot of story has unfolded since that night. We went on that first date. He left the Army a couple of months later. I went off to college a couple of months after that. We dated the whole time I was in college. We’ve had three kids, a home, long term health issues, a business/several jobs/multiple careers between us. We’ve shared a lot of joy and a lot of pain (and sometimes we’ve inflicted it  😦 ), but the point is we’ve done it together.

I’ve always looked back on that story and thought about how precious and sweet he was that night, but I beat myself up for being so broken that I almost missed the opportunity to share my life with him. But what hit me the last few days is that God loved me so much and knew how broken I was that He sent someone into my life who wasn’t going to give up on me, who wasn’t going to run away even when I ignored him, and who was willing to share life with me – the good, the bad and the ugly. He sent me someone willing to chase me down when necessary, just to love me.

God knew how lonely I was. He knew I didn’t know how to fix it. He knew that I didn’t even understand how much trouble I was really in by trying to live life in all my independence and self-sufficiency. God knew me and God sent Popey.

This life is too hard to live and figure out on our own.  Popey, thanks for chasing me down in the Winn Dixie that night (and every day since).  And Father, thanks for loving me through him.

Happy 70th!

Party Streamers

Party Streamers (Photo credit: imedagoze)

I don’t know why this seems significant to me, but it does. This marks my 70th post in this space since I started blogging back in January of this year.

Seventy seems like a lot in certain contexts. For instance, 70 seems like a lot of birthdays and it really seems like a lot of wedding anniversaries. Seventy miles per hour seems like a high rate of speed. Seventy dollars seems like a lot of money for a pair of shoes or a sweater. Seventy cats or dogs would seem to be a lot of pets and 70 acres seems like a lot of land. And if there were 70 states in the USA, well that’s a lot more than 50.

But in other contexts seventy seems low or small. A 70 on a test seems like a low number. Seventy dollars also seems low for a car payment or better yet a mortgage payment. Seventy cents isn’t even enough to buy a candy bar.  Seventy square feet would seem like a very small amount of space for a house.

I am not sure what 70 means in terms of blog posts, but I will tell you what it means to me. It means that 70 times I sat down to a blank screen and words came. And enough words came to form a thought and communicate a message. Sometimes that message was more clear than others. Sometimes it was like giving birth and sometimes it flowed out like water from a fountain. Sometimes it happened at 3:45 a.m. (like this one) and sometimes it happened at 3:45 p.m. just as everyone walked in the door from school. Sometimes it came one single, solitary word at a time and sometimes it was like a flood and I couldn’t write fast enough. Sometimes I was the only one who “got it” and sometimes people “got” things I didn’t even intend.

I promised myself two things when I started this and I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this, but I have now written enough posts that I officially can’t remember everything I have and have not shared…and this bears repeating anyway:

  1. I promised myself that once I hit Publish on each post I wasn’t going to stress myself out and correct mistakes if I later found (or anyone graciously or even ungraciously pointed out) any spelling or grammar errors. I decided that part of this grace journey is being myself and being transparent, including my mistakes. So as long as a typo didn’t grossly alter the meaning of what I intended to say,  I have let them all stand as published. This is my little way of choosing to no longer live such a highly edited version of life in order to give the illusion of having it all together.  Of course there was the time I accidentally hit Publish and the post was literally only half-way written. I considered that more of an incomplete than a mistake, though.  Three hundred missing words is a little more than a typo!
  2. I also promised myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up over maintaining strict writing deadlines.  My 3D life and the people in it are more important than this space and there are just times when the speed of life crowds out words.  And that’s ok. I’ve done away with internal deadlines for myself. I don’t want to Publish just to hear myself talk (although on occasion it may sound that way). So while I like the rhythm of hitting Publish two or three times a week, it’s ok when that doesn’t happen. I don’t want this to be a formula. I want this to flow out of my life journey, not drive it.

I realize that people who are comfortable in their own skin and embrace the unique way God created them will ask themselves why I needed to promise myself these two things…well because for most of my life I haven’t been comfortable in my own skin and I had no clue about my uniqueness, let alone how to embrace it and live it.  So for this girl, both of these things have been a huge sign of freedom for me.

So here’s to 70! I celebrate all that you are. I am not worried about what you are not and I am not concerned about what you will be. I am grateful for this moment!  And I am grateful for those journeying with me.  To those who have read and endured all 70 posts and the continuing transformation, all I can say is that I am humbled that you would hang in there (I know some of it has been rough).  And to those who have only read one, I am also humbled that you would grace me with your time, and I invite you to join the conversation.

What are you celebrating in this season?  What are you grateful for?

Enjoying the Summer

Y’all, I have so been enjoying this summer.  It’s not so much what we have done, but probably what we haven’t done that has made it by far the most enjoyable summer on record for me.  The only really big thing on our calendar for the last few months was our annual trek to the beach (documented in some of its hilarity here, here, and here).  It’s the first summer that I can remember that I didn’t feel guilty about having down time so I filled it up with worthwhile and productive projects.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually did start off with a Summer Manifesto of sorts that I put in my desk drawer, but instead of allowing myself to be berated by a list of things to accomplish I decided to throw caution to the wind and not worry about it.

So I didn’t get my kitchen painted (hopefully that will be soon because my poor family has been forced to dine with various color samples on the wall for seven months while I agonize over Just The Right shade of whatever); I didn’t get up at 5:00 am every day to write so I could finish a couple of goals I have; I haven’t gone through my closet to pare my wardrobe down; and I didn’t even make up my bed every day (gasp).  I have just tried to go with the flow and enjoy time (a rare and precious commodity with working and driving teens) with my family.  Once again, in the interest of full disclosure, I was informed today at lunch by two of them that I am “always so tense about everything that it’s ridiculous” so I guess my version of going with the flow is different from theirs.  What can I say girls?  My blood sugar was low and you have my most profound and sincere apologies.  🙂

With that said I just wanted to share some interesting and funny quotes that have come my way recently.  I REALLY love a good quote!

“Hell hath no fury like a narcissist told no!” by my good friend and fellow Grace Girl, Holly (shared over lots of laughter and dinner).  I have chewed on this for weeks, because it is so true.  I think we can all relate to at least one time or one person in our lives this applies to.

“Why do I get my best ideas in the shower?” supposedly said by Albert Einstein.  Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way shares Einstein’s words when discussing the difference between our logic-brain activity versus our artist-brain activity.  According to her, showering and other things like cooking, driving, and washing dishes are all more related to our creative brain activity than our logical more linear brain activity.  The reason I love that quote is because this happens to me ALL THE TIME and I thought it was just me.

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

“The Living God dwells in us, we don’t have to meet Him at a specific address,” said by me.  I actually heard myself say this to a friend as we talked about why sometimes people don’t feel like they are “doing well with the Lord” if they miss church.  Why do we feel like we have to meet God at an address?  Christ IN us is the hope of glory.  The New Testament talks about Christ in us about as much as it talks about us in Christ.  Why?  Because we are in relationship together.  We are ONE, in union with Christ.  As believers we don’t have to go looking for Him somewhere outside of ourselves.  That’s what is so amazing about the New Covenant, it’s internal not external.  Any time we want we can simply start talking with Him because He never leaves us or forsakes us.

I love a good quote, please share some with me.

That’s enough for now.  Let’s just enjoy the last few weeks of summer and embrace every season no matter what it brings.

May the Lord give you eyes to see His daily new mercies, ears to hear the songs of Love He sings over you, and a heart able to receive and accept that Love.

June Cleaver I Am Not

As I’ve gotten to the age where my babies are no longer babies it seems kind of natural to look back over 20+ years of marriage and motherhood and think about the things I know now and wish I had known then.  Unfortunately, most of them are things that only become apparent over time and even if someone had sat me down, drawn me a diagram, given me Scriptures, talked in monosyllabic words and anointed me with oil, it probably still would all have gone right over my head.

Why? Am I just slower than the normal person?  Am I just more stubborn? While it’s probably true that I am slow and stubborn, the real problem was a lack of context.  Facts and information don’t necessarily translate into a better reality if you have no idea how to apply them.

So with that said, this is something that’s evolved in my mind over the last couple of years as the Father has been transforming me through His love.  The idea has finally taken enough shape for me that I can actually share my thoughts.

Hospitality.  Yes, that’s the big revelation.  I know everyone else gets it, but please be patient with me.  This momma has just spent the last week literally looking back over 20+ years through my family photographs and it has stirred many thoughts and emotions in me.

Hospitality.  It’s a word I have often associated with vacuuming, fluffing pillows, baking cookies, spraying air freshener and inviting people over.  For most of my adult life I have reduced hospitality to something you offer to guests, visitors, who briefly enter your home, share some conversation and then go their respective ways.  Being a closet introvert who battled gripping fear, guilt, shame and depression made it impossible to ever achieve my definition of a hospitable person, someone who looks very much like June Cleaver.  And so I’ve judged myself to be inhospitable.

June supervises the boys and their friends, To...

But what’s been rolling around in my little noggin’ as the Lord has helped me embrace the unique way He has created me and wants to express Himself through me, is that hospitality is so much more than the June Cleaver image I have in my mind, and it’s an idea that should begin with our family.

It’s not limited to creating a physical space that welcomes people in, but more about inviting people to come as they are into our lives without any expectation that they be anything other than themselves. We communicate that invitation and that welcoming to others by being ourselves with them.  Instead of wearing masks that hide our struggles or pain or (fill in the blank), when we are ourselves others feel the freedom to be themselves.

Jesus modeled this for us.  He came to save the world and Ephesians tells us that while we were still sinners He died for us.  He didn’t expect us to clean ourselves up before we entered His presence.  Even before the cross while He walked the earth He spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles without expectation that they be anything but themselves.  It was in the presence of Love, not condemnation that people’s lives were and still are transformed.

Back to motherhood…if I could go back twenty years I would approach motherhood (and marriage) with less expectation and more acceptance and love.  Instead of being constantly on behavior and thought  patrol and modeling the gospel as behavior management, I would invite my children to be themselves and point them to a relationship with the Living God who is Love and wants to be known by them so that they can live loved, not fearful.

I would listen more and lecture less.  I would react less and judge less.  I would require less, expect less and enjoy them more.  I would laugh more, especially at myself.  Instead of trying to control behavior I would tune into their hearts.  I would focus less on controlling outcomes and more on their relationship with God.  Each of them is a unique expression of God in this world, I would rely more on love and less on rules.  Love transforms from the inside out with unlimited possibilities.  Rules conform to a predetermined size and shape with specific definitions of success…they limit possibilities.

Hospitality isn’t necessarily having the perfect home and perfectly behaved kids (what are those anyway?) and an Open 24 Hour sign on your front door.  It’s extending an invitation to the people God brings into your life to be accepted and loved, just like Christ did for us.

I doubt I will ever be one of those women who has lots of gatherings in her home, in fact I view my home as sort of a sanctuary for my family.  However, I would like to be someone who makes others feel welcome, accepted, loved and free to be who God created them to be as we go through our day-to-day lives together, especially my family.

Oh The Possibilities

So earlier this summer when I realized the season was a-changin’ on me and my wardrobe was needing a boost, I headed to the store, taking Sophalopes with me. It had been a particularly traumatic afternoon for me, I had survived my first phone call from a teen that started with, “Mom, everybody’s ok, but I’ve had an accident” and buying cheap stuff that would make me look better (that’s code for not-old-enough-to-have-two-teen-drivers) seemed like the appropriate response.

(I would like to pause and give a shout out to the anonymous teen who had to make that phone call to her Momma. You did GREAT! You were calm and you gave me the most important information FIRST! Thank YOU!)

Now back to me…so I headed to the store with Sophalopes. In case we’ve never met in real life and in case I have not expressed it clearly in this space, I have issues with shopping. My issues are the crowds of people, spending money, parking lots, and looking at all the stuff. I am easily visually overwhelmed. And did I mention the crowds of people???

So when I go into a store I enter with a survival plan which usually involves a specific list or one or two specific ideas in mind. And I always have a quick escape plan. I usually don’t do what I refer to as open-ended shopping unless I am accompanied by a professional who knows how to help me when at some point panic ensues.

Well, there are a few open-ended shoppers in my family. People who look at shopping as an opportunity. People who enjoy picking up everything in the store (several times), even things not in their size, color palette or price range. People who not only like to shop, but are rather visionary in their pursuit of it. Sophalopes is one of those family members. She is also the one I wrote about here who kept telling me the Apple Store would give her a new iPod. And in fact they did.

So as we entered the store I picked up three or four things that fit my idea criteria – dresses, in my size, in a very specific color palette, under $25. It took all of 10 minutes and I was ready to head to the dressing room. I looked for Soph and found her four rows over in dresses four times her size. She wanted to check every dress on every rack just in case some gem had been accidentally hung in the wrong place.

Forty-five minutes later I finally chased her into the dressing room begging her to, “make it quick.” I was at that point thirty minutes over my shopping limit and wishing I had just opened a bag of Oreos instead of heading to the store. Of course it only took me five minutes in the dressing room and I had picked out one thing and eliminated everything else.

At that point I heard her call out to me across the dressing room, “Mom, I think you should try on this yellow, tube top dress. And this green block one.” I burst out laughing right there in the dressing room. There were just so many things wrong with both those sentences that I didn’t know where to start. I believe that tube tops in any shape or color belong in the same category as Speedos and you know how I feel about those (see #1 on this post).  But Persistence is Soph’s middle name. Once she has an idea NOTHING is going to deter her. I admire that. I am easily deterred, especially if I perceive something is too hard, too expensive or might involve me losing sleep.

Needless to say, twenty minutes later I had tried on about ten more dresses of various sizes, shapes and colors and according to Soph they all looked great.

I would love to report that they were all a success, especially the tube top dress, but none of them made the final purchase cut. However, I tried. And I got to spend time with my visionary daughter looking at the world of fashion through her eyes with a renewed appreciation for how some of us go through life seeing all the possibilities.

God put those possibility-seeing-visionaries in my life and yours because sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we view life only through our limitations – our bank account, our mistakes, our struggles, our specific mind sets, our color palettes – instead of through an infinite God with Whom all things are possible.

I am not saying the yellow tube top dress is always a good idea, but sometimes you at least have to be willing to try it on.  Thank you to all the visionary people in my life, I love you!

And Still More Beach-iness

In my last post I shared about how much fun being at the beach with my teenagers was and how we actually enjoyed the beach itself.  During one of my people watching breaks in my week-long Sit Still and Do Nothing But Read-A-Thon, I spotted a little girl, probably less than a year old because she could sit up but not walk, with her parents about ten feet away.  She was the inspiration for my thoughts on vacationing with little ones versus teenagers.  That little one and her parents also inspired this post.

I first spotted Little One (I don’t know her name and I don’t want to keep calling her “Her”) on the second day of my world record mission.  Little One’s Mom brought her down to the edge of the water where her Dad was hanging out.  After hugs and kisses Mom sat her down in the sand right where the last vestiges of waves would roll onto the sand.  As the thin layers of water would gently kiss the sand as far as they could, Little One got splashed.

What really caught my attention was that when Mom sat her down on the sand, before the first wave rolled in and nothing had happened yet, Little One threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy.  It was like she was saying to God, “Go ahead and WOW me!  I can’t wait!”

For the next fifteen minutes I watched her and every single time a wave rolled in, no matter how rough or gentle, she had the exact same reaction – she threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy, as if to say, “Do it again!”

Obviously as a mom myself I realize I probably witnessed her celebration of God’s creation immediately following a nap, a diaper change and a snack (in other words, her little universe was in order during those fifteen minutes), so I don’t want to take this too far. However, the tide was starting to come in, so some times the waves would gently tickle her toes and sometimes they would flat-out knock her over.  She experienced everything from a refreshing splash to sand in her mouth and salt in her eyes, but EVERY single time she righted herself (with Mom and Dad’s help), celebrated with a round of applause and invited another one.

The other mesmerizing thing about Little One’s party was that everyone around her was totally caught up in her celebration.  It was captivating and contagious.  For a brief second it made me want to get up from my chair and join her, but I was having a celebration of my own.

We are God’s children, what if we lived with that kind of expectancy?  What if we celebrated God’s goodness and love even when we get knocked down, have sand in our diaper and salt in our eyes?

God is good no matter what our circumstances.  He is good all the time.  He is love all the time.

What if instead of looking for our circumstances to be perfect, we looked for the perfect God in all of our circumstances?  What if we expected Him to reveal His love all the time?

What if instead of gritting our teeth and resigning ourselves to just getting through the next crashing wave, we threw up our hands in praise of the God Who is with us in ALL things, Who works all things together for the good of His children?

How would those around us be affected if we chose to live in celebration instead of defeat or resignation?  Would light actually dispel darkness?

In the interest of full disclosure, I did see Little One in less impressive moments that week, so she was in fact a real baby, human just like the rest of us.  But I appreciate the invitation I received to her beach party and am grateful to God for glimpses of pure, unadulterated joy and His invitation to enjoy not just a few moments, but an abundant life of joy.

Thank You Father that You invite us all to celebrate You and the abundant life Jesus offers.  In Christ, we reign in our best circumstances and our worst, when we live in expectancy of Your goodness and Your love.

More Beach-y Thoughts

Myrtle Beach in South Carolina

Myrtle Beach in South Carolina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I was on vacation and on an obvious attempt to break the World Record for sitting still and reading the most days/hours/minutes in a row, I did periodically take a break for a few minutes of people watching.  Those few moments were when I was struck by the profound observations in my last post.

I mentioned how much more fun it is to take teenagers to the beach last time too, but I didn’t launch into any specific detail, so please allow me to elaborate a little (and do not fear, all proper permissions have been obtained and the names have been carefully and cleverly disguised to protect the innocent and unsuspecting members of my family).

On my very first outing to the beach with a child, my oldest, Liv Loo, was somewhere between 18 months and three years old (I NEVER thought I would be one of those Moms who couldn’t remember when stuff happened with her kids, but alas, age plays tricks on us and I was never one for scrapbooking to preserve these memories) and I was thrilled to take her to one of my favorite places on earth – Myrtle Beach, SC.  I have a few memories of going to the beach as a child, but I don’t remember going very often, so my memories of the beach are almost mythical.  In fact, some of my memories may actually be “mythical” since my memory ain’t what it used to be.

Anyway, we arrived late in the afternoon and I got her out of the van or car (another gap in my memory) and took her straight down to the beach.  I do remember that I was holding her in my arms and I carried her down to the beach.  She was very fast as a child and I was always scared to death I would blink and she’d be gone, so I was holding her tight.  I stood there at the edge of the ocean watching the waves kiss the sand and thinking what a magical moment to share with my daughter, to introduce her to the beauty of the beach.

Then she started to squirm in my arms, the universal sign for, “Put me down now!”  I was happy to oblige thinking she couldn’t wait to touch the water.  As soon as her little sandaled feet touched the sand, she threw her chubby little hands over ears and ran screaming up the beach towards the hotel.  We spent most of that trip at the pool or shopping.  I sniffed back my tears of disappointment.

Fast forward a few years when daughter number two came along, Madelou.  Brave soul that I am, I had high hopes that she would love the beach as much as I do.  So we packed all our stuff up for a comfortable morning on the beach (chairs, blankets, towels, sunscreen, cooler with ice and drinks, snacks, toys, diapers, etc.).  It took four adults 30 minutes to get two toddlers and all that stuff from our beach front hotel to the ocean.  We got down there, unpacked all of our stuff, opened a cold coke and sat down to enjoy the day.

Five minutes later Madelou fell down in the sand, got up and came running towards me screaming with her sand-covered hands in the air as if to say, “Get it off, get it off NOW!”.  The way she was hollerin’ you would have thought she had stuck her hands in acid.  We gave her some time to calm down and get over it.  So 30 seconds later we started packing up and moving towards the pool…again.

I can’t remember how our third daughter, Sophalopes (she said it was ok to use her nick name because no one she knows reads blogs), reacted to her first trip to the beach, but by then my dreams of spending days on the beach with my girls had gone totally dormant.  No point in forcing the issue, we were pool bound for many years.

Until this year!  My dream was resurrected.  I got long periods of uninterrupted time with my girls ON THE BEACH and it was awesome.

Sometimes individual moments of life don’t feel very abundant.  Often a lot of time has to pass before you can see the trajectory of the story, get a sense of the progression and realize you feel like putting on the tiara because in fact you are reigning in life and didn’t even know it.

Thanks girls, your Momma had a blast!

Pencil Girl

Pencils

This morning my middle daughter, Madelou (love that nickname), was sharing that in a few days she would have her scores from the AP European History exam she took in May. If you are unfamiliar with AP Exams just think BIG, SCARY tests at the end of a long, difficult, painful year of classroom prep that you can take for $80. If you score well you can earn college credit for a class that could cost $1000+ at your university.

The idea of AP Exams appeals to my frugality and need for efficiency so I have been as loving and supportive (or sometimes task master-ish) through this entire process as humanly possible. As usual, in the interest of full disclosure I may or may not have actually said, “Suck it up, Buttercup” in the face of one particularly difficult assignment, but have since expressed my deepest and profound apologies. At this point all I can say is that we both made it through the class and the exam and no one died. And last week we started speaking again.

As we were discussing her angst that she might not score a “5” (the highest score – I just don’t know what gene pool this kid came from, she’s so unlike both of her parents – SARCASM ALERT!), she told me about another girl that took the test with her. Apparently about five minutes before the end of the exam Madelou heard a noise and looked up to see the girl erasing something she had written in her test booklet.

It took about a second for it to dawn on her, she’s erasingshe took the test in pencilthis is a PEN ONLY EXAM! Madelou looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, particularly the proctor, but she was alone in her observations. She briefly entertained raising her hand, but then worried someone might think she had been looking at other people’s papers. So she had to let it go.

(Just as an aside, I think it’s ridiculous we’ve gotten to a place in our culture that we treat exams like a national security issue and feel like we have to scare people to death to get them to follow the rules, so much so that they are afraid to even raise their hands. Before you email me about integrity and the lack of it in our society, believe me, I get it. I just don’t think taking tests should require 15 forms of I.D., a retinal scan, a DNA sample, and sitting like robots for four hours afraid to exhale because it might make too much noise. End of rant.)

But this taking the test in ink requirement is a really big deal to the AP Exam people. As she was telling me this story my heart sank for this girl. Here she had spent an entire school year in a class that probably had at least double the work load of her other honors classes.  She had taken practice exams.  She might have bought a Barron’s AP review book and spent countless Saturday’s pouring over all things European History. Her social life suffered and she missed all of her favorite TV shows to study …oh, wait a minute, that was me 25 years ago.

But Pencil Girl might have done all of that too. It all came down to those four critical hours and just because she made a mistake a whole year’s worth of work might be for naught.

Have you ever had that feeling that everything was for naught because of one mistake? That it all hinged on nailing it all perfectly ALL THE TIME? That you were disqualified or didn’t measure up because even though the proctor told you 12 times to use a pen, even though it was written all over your test materials, and even though you had practiced using a pen multiple times, when the rubber met the road you were so overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety that you accidentally used a pencil? And the irony is you may have used the pencil so you could erase any mistakes.

The Good News is Jesus died for this too. Before Christ we were disqualified and we could never measure up. It did hinge on us and we could never get it right. We were failures, worse we were dead. But in Christ it’s all Him and because of Him we get to live free. We no longer have to strive and work to achieve. We have worth and value because of Him.

And this is important so listen close…in Him even our mistakes are opportunities. Even when we accidentally use a pencil when we should have used a pen, or worse when it really is all our fault, we can take it straight to Him. At that moment when we engage our Redeemer, even on our worst day and no matter how we got there or who is at fault, it quits being about the pencil and starts being about Him. It’s about our relationship with Christ, not about our circumstances. It stops being about blame and outcomes.  That’s more than success, that’s life, that’s reigning in life.

So Pencil Girl, if you are out there (and for all of us Pencil Girls), please know, there’s grace for this too. I am praying for you (and for your momma).

Romans 8:28 (ESV)“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

For the record, this post has the Madelou seal of approval. 🙂

Living Square

365 day54 study in white

365 day54 study in white (Photo credit: Ruth Flickr)

Last summer, after over 20 years in a monogamous relationship with my table settings I got a serious hankerin’ for something new and different.

The truth is I had not been entirely monogamous over all those years.  Over time as my just-got-married stoneware broke, chipped and I-don’t-know-what-else-but-it-looked-really-bad, I collected similar leftovers friends and relatives.  It turns out that if it was stoneware with some type of pottery blue, flowery design then it looked close enough to me and was welcomed into my community of dishes without judgment or condemnation.

In my youth I apparently placed a lot more value on function than aesthetics.  They were plates, we ate on them.  End of story.

However, in recent years I have come to realize that I am a grown up and I do in fact have opinions about domestic stuff, like couches, paint, and appliance colors.  That’s when it dawned on me that I did not like my hodgepodge of broken dishes.  I wanted new.  Different.  Pretty.   But I also wanted useful and efficient.

Finally I decided on square, white plates.  I will spare you all the hemming and hawing that went into that decision, but it did take weeks.

One of the things that sold me on the idea is that when you have very little cabinet space in your kitchen (I will discuss my tiny cabinets in another post at a later date, but for now just know that my kitchen is what happens when 22-year-old girls who KNOW NOTHING and are so in love that all they want to do is get married, decide to buy a house) square dishes actually are the most efficient use of space.  When dishes and bowls are round it leaves a lot of unusable space in your cabinets.

Of course the deciding factor was the OBVIOUS confirmation by the Spirit (sarcasm intended) when Costco had eight piece settings of exactly what I wanted for half price.  So I called my husband, asked if he cared if I bought dishes because I am all submissive like that (more sarcasm…and I think I just heard my husband fall out of his chair laughing at me).  I got the nod from him, grabbed two boxes and laughed myself silly all the way to the cash register.  Y’all this was HUGE for me on so many levels.

On a domestic, homemaking level, it was like climbing out of a dark hole into broad daylight.  It was like being released from home decorating prison.

Before I continue and translate this into how it applies to life, please know that I still love my dishes and I would do it all over again in a second.  And they really are beautiful and elegant and take up way less space in my tiny cabinets.

After unpacking them, washing them and hauling my old stuff off to the Good Will as fast as humanly possible, I set the dinner table for their introduction to the family.  I desperately wanted everyone else to love them as much as I did and to enjoy the fact that we were all eating on the exact same dishes at the same time.  And none of them were chipped, broken or otherwise defaced.  I felt it was very important that we all get off on the right foot since we would be spending a lot of time together.  If history is any indicator, another whole generation of Popes could pass before I work up the courage to buy new plates again.

Well, my husband sat down to dinner and immediately hated them.  I guess when I asked about buying them I didn’t bother to describe them.  And maybe his mind-reading skills were on the blink that day.  But what he said next is really the whole point of this.  He said, “Kim, there are no squares in nature.”  While our conversation deteriorated quickly thereafter, I have to admit, the man made a good point.

In nature when things have rigid edges, which usually happens through some sort of force, the elements (wind, water, and extreme temperatures) wear them down and smooth them out.  It might take time, but those rigid edges and right angles will be chipped off and smoothed out.  Hence, square might not be the most practical shape for plates.

The same thing is true in my life.  When I view the world and people through rigid, square, firm and unyielding constructs – well let’s just say there’s gonna be a whole lot of chipping off that happens.  The truth is there’s not always a right or wrong.  There’s not always a black and white.  There’s not always only one conclusion.

But there is always a choice: to love or not love.  Father God made every single one of us completely unique and when we accept Christ and learn to live from our union with Him, the expression of Him through us is unique.

I believe another way to live abundantly is to appreciate the unique expression of Christ not only in ourselves, but in others too.  One way to do that is drop expectations that everyone else be exactly like us and see things exactly like we do.  In other words, to let other people live free, out of the box.

Back to my dishes for just a moment…one revelation about square plates a year down the road is that yes in fact when right angles and straight lines bump into hard surfaces (like the side of the counter top or each other) they do in deed chip easier than round plates.  When a circle bumps into a hard surface it’s more of a glancing blow than a collision, so the likelihood of damage is reduced (I think my geometry and physics courses just somehow bubbled up into my writing…I’m feeling a little smarter right now).  My only regret on the dishes is that while they were on sale I didn’t buy a third box to use for replacement pieces.

However, one of my regrets when it comes to people and relationships is that I have been more of a square than a circle.  🙂

Perspective

Recently I was home flipping through the channels and found a movie that I had missed at the box office, Trouble with the Curve.

(Please know that (1) I am not endorsing Clint Eastwood or his movies; (2) Yes, I watch way too many movies and TV, but I am married to a man, therefore I have seen a lot of Clint Eastwood movies;  and (3) I took a film class at UNC Chapel Hill what feels like a hundred years ago, and it was the worst grade I got in my entire school career – so I am no expert! How’s that for a disclaimer?) 

I enjoyed the movie which was about an aging baseball scout struggling with poor health and a distant relationship with his only daughter.  It’s a story about love, restoration, and reconciliation.

It made me think about another Eastwood film a few years ago, Gran Torino.  That movie was about an aging Korean War veteran struggling with prejudice and a changing world around him.  The movie chronicles a transformation in his character so dramatic that he ultimately sacrifices his own life in order to save two Asian teenagers, in a very powerful, and if I may, Messianic-type scene.

The point I’d like to make is simply that Clint Eastwood is now 83 years old.  If I had to guess based on my mere 44 years, he probably has to be pretty selective about the type of projects he puts his energy into.  Two of those projects in the last few years have been about love, reconciliation, redemption, and even salvation in a thematic sense.

It appears that as he has gotten older some important messages have become a priority to him and are surfacing in his work.

My thought is simply this, what if we didn’t wait until we were in our 70’s and 80’s for the important messages to become a priority?

What if right now, wherever we are on life’s journey, we laid aside our ideas of the perfect outcomes (perfect marriage, great job, financial success, big house, perfect kids, retirement accounts) and prioritized our lives and where we put our energy based on the ultimate important message, “God loves me and God loves you”?

What if we focused on relationships and not goals?

What if it wasn’t about what we achieve or accomplish, but Whose we are?

What would change in your life?

This too is reigning in life.

Luke 10:39, 42“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching…but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”