Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gratitude journal

Today, on this gray rainy day, let us be thankful for cheese.  Especially warm melty cheese.

My sister-in-law and I spent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving cooking everything that could be made in advance.  Kim is not a cook, but she is best sous-chef around.  To keep us company as we chopped and prepped and sauted, we watched the Food Network. 

Being the cheese lovers that we are, Kim and I were appalled as we watched one Food Network Star (I shall not give her name) prepare what she called a "Croque Madame."  Any melty-cheese lover will be familiar with the  delectable French open-faced sandwich, the Croque Monsier, which employs three of my favorite ingredients:  good french bread, ham and Gruyere cheese.  There's hardly anything more comforting than a pile of this melted goodness, made even meltier by rich bechamel sauce.  Mmmm.

Kim and stopped chopping and sat in shock as our hapless nameless Food Network Star gaily advised us that we could save lots of money by using "cheaper cheese."  (Which she made up for by adding wine.)  Excuse me?  Cheaper cheese?  No.  Granted, even an average grocery store Gruyere is an investment, especially when used to make what is essentially a grilled cheese sandwhich.  But come on, do the math:  cheaper cheese + wine = you could have afforded the Gruyere.  And when it comes to the Croque Monsier, there is no substitute for the tangy bubbly Gruyere. 

Here is Ina Garten's recipe for a perfectly respectable Croque Monsier, although I would advise you use something other than white sandwich bread (ick), like a few-days-old slice of good sourdough.    (Ina is NOT the offending Food Network Star described above.  We love Ina.)

Today I did not have any ham, but I did have Gruyere and a few slices of sourdough, and I did have two onions and some beef stock, so I am profoundly grateful for the warm comfort of the French Onion soup I made for lunch.  On a day like today, there is hardly anything more gratitude-worthy than buttery browned onions floating in a rich broth topped with bubbling cheese.  And this is my twist on this soup:  I melt Gruyere on the bread and then float those luscious cheese toasts in the soup.  Oh my goodness.  I might have eaten the whole pan of soup, but I ran out of bread!

If your only acquaintance with French Onion Soup is the salad bar at Ruby Tuesdays, you have no idea what I'm talking about.  So do yourself a favor and go to the trouble to make it as Julia Child instructs.  (No shortcuts or cheap cheese, please.)

Soup A L'Oignon

2 thinly sliced sweet yellow onions
2 stick of butter unsalted (don't you think about margarine!)
1 Tbsp oil

Cook the onions slowly (low-med heat) in the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes.

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar

Uncover, raise heat to med;  stir in salt and sugar.  (The sugar helps the onions to caramelize.)  Cook 30 minutes stirring frequently, uncovered - til the onions have turned golden brown.

1 Tbsp flour

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

(Now Julia does not do this next part;  she uses cognac, but I am advising you to use my method.)

1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 lemon, squeezed
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
1/2 cup dry white wine (do not even talk to me about "cooking wine")
1 large or 2 small bay leaf

Sir these in.  If you like black pepper, as I do, season with coarse ground black pepper.

1 quart beef stock

Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.

I serve this soup in shallow flat soup bowls.  For each serving, cover 2 slices of sourdough bread with shredded Gruyere.  (Pile it on!)  Toast it until cheese is bubbly.  Float those slices in the bowls of soup.

Give thanks!  And send me your favorite melty cheese recipe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I heard the bells

It's officially Christmas season, time for Christmas carols. Ah.

My favorite Christmas carol is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1864, when America was torn apart by civil war. The hymn version usually includes these stanzas of the poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Those last two stanzas resonate with me. I am often a country divided, caught in a war between God's truth and Satan's lies. I bow my head and give up on peace far too often. 

Somebody sent me this bell today in an email. It was just what I needed to fight the war within today.

I am God's child ( John 1:12)
I am Christ 's friend ( John 15:15 )
I am united with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17)
I am bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20)
I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)
I am a personal witness of Christ . (Acts 1:8)
I am the salt & light of the earth (Matt 5:13-14)
I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)
I am free forever from condemnation ( Rom. 8: 1-2)
I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant ( Phil 3 :20)
I am free from any charge against me (Rom. 8:31 -34)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Cor 5:17-21)
I have access to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)
I am established, anointed, sealed by God (2 Cor 1:21-22 )
I am assured all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28 )
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit ( John 15:16 )
I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph.. 3: 12 )
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13 )
I am the branch of the true vine, a channel of His life ( John 15: 1-5)
I am God's temple (1 Cor. 3: 16). I am complete in Christ (Col. 2: 10)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).. I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am God's co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1). I am God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
I am confident that the good works God has begun in me will be perfected. (Phil. 1: 5)
I have been redeemed and forgiven ( Col 1:14). I have been adopted as God's child (Eph 1:5)
I belong to God
Do you know
Who you are?

 Just in case you needed to hear the ring of truth today, I thought I'd pass it along.  Peace on earth.  And in your heart. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gratitude journal

I've made a breakthrough this week. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I find myself grateful for the color orange.

Orange: never liked it. It's the color of traffic cones. And, well, UT, whose fans are over-the-top All About Orange. I'm from Texas; there is only one UT, and its orange is not as obnoxious.

I like orange juice. But that's about all I can say for orange.

My hostile relationship with orange is born out of adolescent trauma. I blame it on my mother. (Isn't your mother responsible for all your deepest problems?) My mother made all my clothes when I was growing up. I viewed this as a serious social handicap. Everyone who has ever been 13 knows that the number one rule is to Blend In. Your jeans need to be exactly like everyone else's jeans. Your skirts need to have come from the same store and bear the same label. Mine didn't have labels. I was a tall gawky girl, and it didn't help me at all that my mother sewed rick-rack along the hems of my dresses to extend their wear as I grew.

When I was 12 or 13, my uncle got married. My aunt is only about 7 years older than me. My little brother and my cousins are 5 years younger than me. So who do you think I wanted to hang with? My 19-year-old aunt-to-be was the definition of cool to me.

For the wedding, my mother made me a very orange a-line dress with an orange bow for my hair and orange window-pane stockings. (It was the 60's.) Amid the fluff of pale pink chiffoned college girls that were the bridesmaids, I stuck out like a very inflamed sore thumb. I will never forget the excrutiating moment when my family pushed me out there into that pink cloud of Barbies to catch the bouquet. I nearly caught it. There's a terrible picture of me somewhere in a wedding album, all arms and legs, a startled orange ugly duckling among a sea of swans.

Since then, me and orange been on bad terms.

But this fall, how can you resist? Every day I walk through my neighborhood, ablaze with leaves and sunlight and mums and pumpkins. Yards that were verdant a month ago are now piled high with the flaming fiery offering of fall. It's like the trees are wildly happy and proud that God has dressed them so gloriously. So yesterday I lay on my patio and looked up into the trees and gave my heart back to orange.

Not that I'll be wearing it, mind you.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. ...This will be for the LORD's renown. - Isaiah 55.12-13

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beautiful rain

It's raining outside as I am writing this. The weather has changed, and as I sit by my window writing, there is nothing but the sound of a beautiful rain.

I was thinking of two other times that I heard a beautiful rain. I've been thinking of these two memories because of the rain and because in my Wednesday Bible study, we have been learning how to read the Psalms. The Psalms are the hymnbook of Israel, the common prayer book. So many of the psalms are meant to be sung, not read. It completely changes the experience when you sing a psalm.

Several years ago, I was in Myanmar to visit a friend.  Ash had made friends with a group of Burmese monks!  (There is a large university for monks in that city.)  There are so many reasons why that friendship was improbably and most definitely orchestrated by God. The monks were meeting with her to study the Bible and practice their English.  When she told them that her teacher was coming to visit, they insisted that they must meet me, so one afternoon we visited them at the university.  It was pouring down rain and we sat on the terrace of their dormitory.  They told me they had just been reading the Psalms.  They had memorized Psalm 42.  One monk proudly recited it to me.  I asked him if he knew that many of the psalms were songs, that they were intended to be sung.  He asked me to sing one, so I sang Psalm 42, to the early American hymn tune "The Water is Wide."  I will never forget how completely silent the entire building went.  All the monks stopped their activities and listened.  There was just the sound of the rain, and the notes of the psalm hanging in the air like droplets. And, I believe if longing could have a sound, we would have heard it.

Longing is what the psalms so beautifully express, especially the laments. We don't really have a lot of contemporary Christian laments in American church services these days, but I know where they can be found.

Our church has a partnership with Living Hope, a ministry in Cape Town, South Africa, led by John and Avril Thomas.  Most of the work they do is with AIDS education/treatment and with rehabilitation/job training for displaced black South Africans.  However, they told us a surprising discovery they'd made:  There are lots of musicians and songwriters in the area, and Living Hope runs a Christian radio station.  They want to support and develop the indigenous Christian music community, but they need help to teach these musicians and then record them.  I will never forget when Avril Thomas leaned across the lunch table and said to Dennis, "What we need is some professional singers, songwriters, producers and engineers. Do you know any?" Do we ever!  So every few years, we take a team of them to South Africa to lead a weekend music conference.  We have classes for singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, worship leaders, sound engineers—you name it.  

At one conference, I was teaching a three-part session for songwriters called Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.  In the first session, we studied the Psalms.  We talked about the different kinds of  psalms, including laments.  John and Avril had told us that one of the problems they felt the local musicians had was that they were trying to recreate American-style worship choruses, rather than write music more true to South Africa.  So I challenged them:  What could South African songwriters contribute to the body of worship for the church all over the world?  The Psalmists wrote and prayed out of their own experiences.  

"What are your experiences?" I asked.  "What do you deal with?"

A long list came:  poverty, injustice, oppression, discrimination, fear, powerlessness, hopelessness, hunger, sickness, war.  

I suggested that they might be uniquely qualified to write laments.  

The next afternoon, my fellow team member Joyce and I were conducting one-on-one critique sessions. It had been a long afternoon; Joyce and I were tired. It had just begun to pour down rain outside when a young man walked in with his guitar and sat down.  His name was Nelson Buhe.  He was a refugee from the Congo.  His entire village had been destroyed by rebel soldiers.  His father and brothers had been killed.  Nelson had escaped.  He was very soft spoken.  He said that he had been in my class and had written a lament.  I invited him to sing it for us.

Rain. Silence. And then, something I will never forget.

Nelson closed his eyes, began strumming his guitar and then threw back his head and poured out his heart. In Swahili, he mourned, "Where is God in Africa?"  "Jesus Christ, reign in Africa!"  

Joyce and I were speechless. 

Nelson sang his song in the closing concert of the conference, and his fellow Africans wept.  A floodgate was opened and the prayers for Africa poured out.  Oh, the power of lamenting, when your heart breaks for the the things that break the heart of God!  I believe there are believers around the world who could teach the church today how to lament. And in these day, we need to know how.

I am thinking of those brothers and sisters tonight as I listen to the rain.

Rain, rain, rain,
beautiful rain.
Oh, come. Never come.
Oh, come. Never come.
Oh, come to me,
beautiful rain.

- Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gratitude journal

This week I am grateful for many things, but especially for this little boy, Elliott Benjamin Worley, who celebrated his 4th birthday in the backyard yesterday.

It was a pumpkin super-hero party. All the super-heroes were there, including this guy:

And these friends:

Here's some of the fun:

Happy Birthday E! You're a true super-hero.

Love, Lala

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Oh magnify the Lord with me... Psalm 34:3

I've been learning a lot about thanksgiving lately in my personal Bible study. I'm doing a word search on it. My search has led me to verses like this:

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. - Psalm 69:30

When we give thanks, we magnify God.

Magnify - to extol. But also, to increase the apparent size of. When we magnify God, we do not increase Him; He already fills the whole earth. When we magnify God, we increase our ability to see Him.

I have a thing for magnifying glasses. I collect them. And those paperweights that magnify whatever picture is glued to the bottom. I am fascinated with them. I also increasingly need to use them, as I am growing older and can't thread a needle or read fine print on how to set my watch.

My boys loved magnifying glasses. They could spend endless hours scrutinizing leaves and bugs and the innards of disassembled TV remotes.

I can find myself hunched over my circumstances, examining every inch of my emotional innards, until my vision is so blurry I cannot see straight.

I can magnify my circumstances, or I can magnify God.

I see this choice played out in scripture. From the belly of the fish, Jonah says, "With a voice of thanksgiving, I will sacrifice to you," and cries out, "Salvation belongs to the LORD!"

David declares the same thing in Psalm 3, and when? Fleeing from Absolam, his own son bent on killing him.

John sees the believers gathered around the throne, crying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" in Revelation, his great letter to the persecuted church, in the death grip of Rome.

And Mary cries out, as she enters the fiery trial of bearing the Messiah, "My soul magnifies the Lord!" She doesn't make much of the implications of being an unwed mother, of explaining it to Joseph, of hoping anyone believes in virgin birth or the coming of the Christ. She may not understand yet that a sword will pierce her own heart, that her son will be sacrificed. She magnifies the God who has come to save His people, just as He promised—who will save her.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God! - Psalm 50:23

I am not enduring any fiery trials right now. But I have some friends who are. My heart is heavy for several friends who are in the belly of the Red Devil, that poisonous chemo that is the only hope the world offers to save them from the cancer that threatens to kill them. When I think of them, I am overwhelmed by their mouth sores and hair loss and weak bodies. One said, "My esophagus hurts to exist."

How can I pray for them? I feel helpless. I can go over their list of woes, worrying before God, who already knows. And I do this sometimes. Or I can magnify the God who is their only salvation. Giving thanks from the belly of the whale may sound like I don't appreciate the magnitude of their circumstances. Quite the contrary. But I, and they, need to appreciate more the magnitude of our God.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gratitude journal

Thanks makes now a sanctuary.
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

When the kids were little, I started keeping a gratitude journal. I read that Carly Simon kept one. Each day she took one picture—something that caused her to be thankful or joyful. She glued it in her journal and wrote a couple of sentences about it. When I started doing that, I was using a Polaroid camera and handwriting each entry. The boys used to love to look through those big journals. I still love them. I know I'm in trouble when I've stopped keeping a gratitude journal, when there are no pictures or moments recorded. It means I've stopped noticing the presence of God.

So I will be posting my gratitude journal here every week. Today Dennis gave me a very special gift: the Molly Maids came and cleaned my house this morning. So here is what I am grateful for today: a clean house.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Careful how you listen

This week in my Wednesday Bible study we are going to learn how to read Jesus' teachings with understanding. When I was preparing I was reminded of something my friend Luci Freed said years ago: "Jesus was an effective teacher because he asked great questions and he told great stories." I am a storyteller, and I have always loved Jesus' stories. Here's something I learned about his storytelling:

Every Rabbi taught in parables, and many of the parables Jesus used were being taught by other Rabbi. It was the Rabbi's interpretation of the parable that caused you to follow a particular Rabbi's teachings. It was Jesus' unique interpretation of the parables that were radical.

Parables are meant to be heard, not read. Think of a parable much like a stand-up comedy routine. The speaker draws you into his story, and then he delivers the twist or punch line. It's meant to have an effect on the listener, to draw a reaction. The reaction to the twist reveals the heart of the listener.

That's why you should always pay attention to who's in the crowd as Jesus is teaching. There are different types of listeners – the inner group of disciples, the larger group of followers, Gentiles and other outsiders (women, the sick, tax collectors, prostitutes), and Pharisees/other Rabbi. Watch for the reaction of the different listeners. Consider how Jesus' teaching about the kingdom would fall on their hearts and reveal whether they welcomed the kingdom he was bringing or not.

I was pondering that this afternoon as I finished another sermon research file and emailed it to the preaching team. Preachers do something in sermon study called exegesis - that is, they interpret the text by asking a lot of questions of it. And one question we always ask is, "How would the people of that day hear this?" I need to put myself inside the head of each person in the story and hear the truth through their filter. Will they welcome it? Will it be good news? Or will they be threatened by it? Will they reject it?

A second very important task of sermon study is to exegete your congregation. How will the people you are teaching hear this? Will it be good news? Hard news? Will it break their hearts? Will it set them free? Or will it rock their world, so much so that they take up their comfort zones and walk away?

I have the strangest experience every Sunday. I have studied the day's text weeks or months ago. I know what is coming, what the people are going to hear. It's kind of like knowing a bomb is about to be dropped, or a surprise is about to be sprung. And I know what is going on in some of the people's hearts. Sometimes I want to warn them, "This is going to be hard to hear. But hang in there. It is true, and it is the best thing for you." Sometimes I want to call certain people up and say, "Be there Sunday. You need to hear this. It's good news."

Here's the thing about thinking you know what's coming. Quite often you forget to exegete yourself, but Jesus never does. That word you thought you knew, that text you took apart for days, it falls upon your heart, too. And you are revealed.

Jesus always said at the end of a parable: Be careful how you listen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Diary of a Glad Housewife

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

I confess: I love being a housewife.

I know this is not cool or politically correct. Whatever. I'm just saying: I love it. I love taking care of my house. I love doing laundry. I love watering the plants in the garden. I love going through the drive-through at the cleaners and picking up my husband's clean shirts. I love going to the grocery store, thinking about what we might eat tonight or tomorrow night, picking out the butter and the milk and the pasta or the chicken. (The only thing I don't like about grocery shopping is lugging cases of water. I try to leave this chore for Dennis.)

I like my job, too, and I know that I am fortunate to only work part-time and have the flexibility I have. I love my work, studying the Bible and helping our pastors think about the week's passage. I am very aware, in the current climate, that I am beyond blessed to get paid to do something I love.

This fall I am teaching a couple of new Bible studies. On Wednesday mornings, I am teaching a group of women, mostly my age, many of whom I've known for 20 years or more. On Thursday nights, I'm teaching a group of young women, my daughter-in-law's age, some of whom I've only known a couple of weeks. They are young, in their twenties, just starting out in life.

My Wednesday Bible study is held at Brenda Holmes' beautiful and welcoming house. I was washing my hands this morning and noticed the quote above embroidered on a tea towel hanging in Brenda's guest bath.

If I could get these two groups of women together, I think that tea towel sums up what I would say to them. Because I remember what it's like to be just starting out in your twenties. You're just waiting for life to begin happening, or it's just starting to really happen. You're still waiting for the really big things to happen that will mean life has begun.

But when I think about the women in my Wednesday morning Bible study, I think about what we have shared together over the years. Drinking coffee together over Bible studies. Praying together for our children. Pregnancies and births. Christmas programs. Football games. Easter lunches. College visits. Engagements and wedding showers, weddings and grandbabies. Hysterectomies. Cancer. Hard stretches of marriages. Taking each other casseroles. Working in our gardens together.Sharing recipes. Singing in choir together.

These are the little things we have done for twenty or thirty years, daily things, week in and week out. They are the things I treasure. They are the big things that make up our lives, the things we pray about, the things we give thanks for, the things we remember at funerals. She was there for me. She cut my hair. She brought me dinner. She rocked my children in the nursery. She prayed with me. We planted tulips together. We went to Zoomba classes. I watch the girls in my Thursday night group do these things together, and I think, "Good for you. You are not waiting for life to start. This your life, and you have begun it."

I have no deep life lesson to share in this entry. Just gratitude for a lot of litte things, and I think we should share our gratitude, even when it's born out of the embroidery on a tea towel. God is good. And he has blessed us. And he is in the little things. Let us write that on our blogs and embroider it on our tea towels. Maybe that is what God meant when he said "Write it on the doorposts of your houses."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Extreme Home Makeover, Karla edition

I am sitting in the clean, freshly painted front bedroom of my house. The last time it was freshly painted, Matt was 13. It was about this time of year, and we had just moved Seth to Baylor, and while we were gone, Matt moved into Seth's room. He painted one wall bright red and put up all his sports posters. When we came home from TX, he was happily ensconced, the first time he'd ever a had a room to himself.

Matt repainted the red wall for me after he took down all his posters and trophies and packed them up to go to his new apartment in Mississippi. Yesterday I repainted all the trim and bookshelves. Now it is pristine, ready for the crib and toys that we will move in this week, so that Elliott and Eva have a room at Lala & Granddaddy's house.

This is the third room I have made over this week.

On Monday and Tuesday, we helped Matt settle into his apartment. Except for my cooking, I have never really experienced Matt's open admiration, but he was bowled over by my ability to hang a shower curtain properly and set up a kitchen. Hey, I have been keeping house for over 31 years, buddy. I can make a bed and a chicken casserole with the best of them.

Next, I tackled Ben's room, which is like saying, "Next I tidied up the black hole in the galaxy." It was time. And now he has quite a groovy place to live and entertain his friends and create his mad masterpieces of music.

Finally, this weekend, I moved on to this bedroom. Time to make it a nursery. Again.

When we moved into this house in the summer of 1990, this bedroom was hunter green with a duck border around the ceiling. Understand, this room is 10 x 12 with one window. Painted hunter green, it looked like a closet. I promptly wall-papered it with little stripes and put up a toy soldier border. (Wallpaper was very big then.) It was Matt's nursery. Then it was Ben's nursery. And Ben had the croup a lot, so one night I ran the vaporizer all night and steamed the toy soldiers & stripes right off the wall.

As I was painting trim yesterday, I thought about all the iterations of paint and wall paper and furnishings this house has seen in the 21 years we've lived in it. Dennis built every book shelf in every room of this house. Every room has been something, and then it has been something entirely different. Worleys are big into rearranging.

When we moved into this house, the living room was rust-colored with a red brick fireplace. The kitchen had Roy Rogers-style cabinets and a wagon wheel light fixture. The master bedroom was Pepto Bismol Pink, the front bedroom Hunter Green and the back bedroom Baby Blue. We wondered a great deal about the people who had lived here before us. "Wouldn't you like to see their clothes?" my friend Peggy laughed.

As I painted trim yesterday, I thought about what our house would say to whoever came after us. What would they learn about us? Here are a few things:

- When it comes to home repair, Worleys believe if it's worth doing, it's worth doing quickly. We are not the neatest painters, not sticklers for everything being perfect. We like it done. (Dennis' Dad would not be proud.

- Worleys believe if it's worth having, it's worth having long after it's worn out. While I do dream of "all new," I am most comfortable with lived in and loved on.

- Worleys believe if it's worth doing right, there must be somebody we can hire for that. Which is why a lot of things don't get done around here until it's absolutely necessary.

- Worleys believe the best reason for renovation is the imminent arrival of people. Broken handles do not motivate us. We are not stirred to action by 20-year old toddler fingerprints or out-of-date shower fixtures. Most major renovations and repairs have happened around here because we were getting ready to welcome someone.

For years, I counted on our Fourth of July choir picnics. That's when my kitchen cabinets got painted or my patio chairs got upgraded. I got new dining room furniture and forks that matched when family was coming to town for Seth & Arley's wedding. And this weekend, Matt's room got a makeover because baby Eva has arrived.

Making over these rooms is one thing. Making adjustments to the interior of my heart and mind is another. Change is upon us, big change. And when it comes to the renovation of my heart, mind and emotions, God believes if it's worth doing it's worth doing right. It's worth doing slowly and carefully. It's worth peeling back layers and getting to the bones of things. And there is nobody you can hire to do it for you.

So God is busy in my heart, pulling up rugs and peeling off wallpaper. He is shining his light into dusty corners and opening cupboards I had long closed.

This sweet old house has been resilient over the years. It has adapted to the demands of a lifetime with our family and the family that came before us. It inspires me to endure the make-over underway inside me. I pray that my heart will be as welcoming as the walls of this room, which waits to be filled with the next chapter in the life of this family.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Like, I totally agree with this poem

Totally like whatever, you know?
By Taylor Mali

In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Letter to my granddaughter

Dear Eva,

Yesterday you were born. Since then I have not been able to stop thinking about you.

I couldn't imagine what you would be like, since you are the first Worley girl since your Aunt Kathy was born two generations ago. But when I saw you, when I held, you, it was as if I'd always known you. I thought, "Of course, that's our little girl."

Today in church, I prayed for you. I thanked God that you were born safely and that Mommy is alright too. I thanked God for a little girl, because I have wanted a little girl baby since I was a little girl!

Then I talked to God about you. Want to know what I said?

I pray that you will always know that you are loved. Mommy & Daddy & Elliott, Momish & Lala & Granddaddy, Aunt Katy, Uncle Matt & Uncle Ben love you. But you are also loved by a whole community of friends who have been waiting for you and are so happy to see you. We will all help you grow up, cheer you on, teach you things and watch over you. Sometimes you will push us away. But we will never stop loving you.

You have the most wonderful, funny, kind, talented mommy and daddy. You won't always think that, but trust me, you got the good ones. They have already done a really good job raising your brother. He will drive you crazy sometimes, but he's funny and kind too. And he loves you. I always wanted an older brother, so I think you're very lucky.

I pray that you will always know that you are very special. God made you to be just who you are. No one else can be you. Someday you will wish you were like everybody else, that you could just fit in. But God has a special place for you in his story, Eva. Don't be afraid to be yourself.

You have an unusual name; so do I. It will just serve to always remind you that you're not just anybody. Don't get frustrated when teachers don't always get it. Teachers often don't get the most important things about you. But teachers can also show you the world, if you you are fortunate to get the really special ones.

I pray that you will learn a lot of wonderful things about the world. I pray that you will hear about God and come to love him, as I have. I pray that you will grow up sure that he loves you, that he made you, and that he can be trusted. I pray that other people in this world will come to know about God because of you and your special part in God's story. You are here because you have a part to play in that story.

I will tell you a secret Eva: Your daddy was never supposed to be born. At least that's what the doctors said. He was a miracle, a son given to me by God, which is why I named him Seth. When I told your mommy that story, she said, "God must've had a really good reason to make sure he was in the world." I know that's true of your daddy. It's true of your mommy. And it's true of you.

Welcome to the world, Eva Worley. It's already different because you're here.



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Days of Lore

Dennis and I were on vacation last week. I am now allowed to reveal to you the secret location of our get-away: home.

There were a lot of reasons we decided not to spend thousands of dollars on a beach vacation. But mostly, we just couldn't pass up the chance to be home alone. Since Ben was on a mission trip and Matt has moved to Mississippi, we had our first chance to be home alone in about 18 months!

We love our house, though it is not fancy, and it needs to be painted and updated. We love our neighborhood. We've lived here for 21 years. We moved in on the weekend of July 4. Matt was 6 months old.

We recently discovered that Jon Acuff has just moved to our neighborhood. (Stalkers, I know where he lives, but I won't tell you, 'cause I'm a good neighbor.) Not long after they moved in, he wrote about their decision to buy their house:

During this process, we made a pretty important decision about the way we’re going to make decisions. You see, we found a perfect little cottage that was near an elementary school. It’s so close to the school that the girls can walk every day instead of riding the bus or getting dropped off.

The house is absolutely adorable and we love it, but it’s just not as big as some of the other houses we looked at. Some of the other houses had bigger living rooms or more closet space or newer kitchens. But in picking the house to live in, we decided that when it comes to our life, we’re going to make “lore decisions.” We’re going to pick the option that someday will enable our kids to tell really great stories, the option that will add to the lore of their childhoods.

That probably seems a little silly, but for me it’s not. I know when my kids are grown up, they will not tell their friends, “You know what I loved about my childhood? The ample closet space we had.”

No, they will say, “When I was a kid, we could walk to school. On the weekends, we’d ride our bikes to the playground and play kickball. In the morning before work, my dad would walk me and my sister to school.”

The words might change, but they’ll hopefully be able to tell great stories because we made great story decisions.

Lore. This house is full of it. Long before it was featured in The Time Closet and Plot Device, Seth was dressing up the neighbors' kids and bossing them around the back yard with a camera in his hand.

That back yard had no garden, no plants, just a cement slab of a patio when we moved in. It has hosted numerous camp-outs and birthday sleep-overs. (Like the birthday camp-out Seth had, when I heard giggling at 2 a.m. and flipped on the outside light to find a row of middle school boys peeing into the ditch.)

There are still dead spots in the grass that remind me how we marked the beginning of summer: Dennis would set up the tent the first day after school was out, and the boys would drag their sleeping bags, pillows, toys out there. Dennis would run an extension cord to it so they could watch videos and have lamps. The tent stayed up all summer, 'til the final camp-out before school started in the fall.

Dennis is a master at wiring the back yard with lighting, hanging box fans in the trees on still summer nights. He finally had to install plugs on a separate breaker to run his "party" extension cords without tripping circuits in the house. We've thrown some serious parties out there - all those 4th of July cook outs with the choir & orchestra and all their families, when Back Yard Burger pulled their trailer into the yard and filled the neighborhood with delicious smells. And our talented friends filled the neighborhood with beautiful music at the "open mic" set up on the driveway. We've lived here through 21 summers of fire crackers and sparklers. 21 years of Christmas trees and exterior illumination. Including the Christmas after Dennis had been in a car accident and was incapacitated. Kind church members brought over the biggest dang Christmas tree on earth. When they untied it, it took over the playroom. We had a Griswold family Christmas.

We've been through 3 trampolines. When the first one wore out, the cul de sac got together and offered to help pay for a new one! It has been full of kids over the years. When they were little, I kept a tub of assorted socks and shoes left there - a neighborhood Lost & Found. On many summer nights, I would hear them as teenagers laughing and talking as they lay on the trampoline looking at the stars. (I hope that's all they were doing!)

Matt Worley used to run buck naked through this house like a puppy after his bath every night. (He was only 3. It hasn't happened recently.) By the time he was in middle school, he & his friends were such big lugs that when they ran and jumped on the furniture, they broke the legs off my living room furniture! Then there was the December night when Seth, Matt and Ben decided to make a short film, "The Fight Before Christmas." Matt, as the most bizarre Santa since Dan Ackroyd, literally knocked things off the bookshelves in my bedroom when he crashed into the other side of the wall.

There are a lot of bangs, dings and smudges that are testimonies of lore. Like the bright blue & orange door at the top of the back stairs that Arley randomly decided to paint when she & Seth were dating.

The playroom with the floor I painted bright red has been stuffed with Legos, dinosaurs, bean bags, a pool table, video equipment, guitars and sound gear. The garage has never housed a car, but it has been a holding cell for bikes, trikes, stolen shopping carts, lawnmowers, tools, athletic gear, footballs, basketballs, baseballs, gym equipment, sound equipment, video equipment. It's been a shop where Dennis and his Dad built bookshelves, a work-out room, a staging spot for zombie make-up.

We've set up cribs, bunk beds, twin beds, king beds and now cribs again. We've brought home babies to this house and grandbabies. We've come home from surgeries to this house. We've recovered from having three sets of wisdom teeth removed and spent countless nights running vaporizers, battling croupy coughs.

Last week, it was a great vacation spot. We asked ourselves, what would we do if we went to the beach? We'd sleep late, pack up a cooler with shrimp salad and spend the day in the sun & water, come home and clean up and go out to eat. So that's what Dennis and I did. I made buckets of shrimp salad. We packed it up and went to the neighborhood pool every day, the pool where we taught our boys to swim. We went out to dinner, and we stayed in for dinner. We watched DVD's. We did no projects. We did not fix or paint anything, though it needs it. We did "pimp" the fort in the back yard, the fort where Elliott plays, the fort that we built for his daddy, the fort where his daddy invented a lot of stories, the fort that makes an appearance in The Time Closet.

Mostly, we just enjoyed being home alone. A home that has very little closet space, but is full of stories.

Dorothy said it best: There's no place like home.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time machine

My son Seth and friends have had quite an exciting ride. If you aren't aware of it already, they were hired by Red Giant Software to create a short film demonstrating the features of Red Giant's Magic Bullet Suite. Red Giant released the project, Plot Device, several weeks ago, and it has created quite a social media stir.

So today, Seth leaves for a two day visit to LA to meet with representatives (managers) and producers who are interested in him.

My advice: Try to enjoy your big adventure.

My prayer: Whether you turn to the right or left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way, walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

As I was trying to express thoughts and prayers to Seth this morning, I came across these words:

"There's consequences to everything. Everything. But your gut will tell you whether it's incredible enough to take the risk."

This is the character Matt speaking to the character Gill, at the very end of Seth's short film The Time Closet.

But it's really Seth Worley 2009 speaking to Seth Worley 2011. Talk about building a time machine!

So, Seth: God has already been speaking to you about this moment. You've been taking notes. Keep listening.

We are all praying for you.

Guest House

Does anybody else need this affirmation? I know I do. Lately I'm just a bunch of feelings on parade.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of it's furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

- Rumi

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The man with no hat

Here's what's going on in my life all at the same time:

Ben graduated from high school
Seth's short film has become an internet success, opening BIG possibilities
Arley is having a baby in a few weeks
Matt moved to Mississippi yesterday

I've been dealing with lots of feelings. It's been an emotional roller coaster. So yesterday when Matt drove away, I stood in the driveway until I couldn't see his truck and then at least ten minutes longer just to be sure. And then I ran inside, got the comforter off his bed, the one that I made for him out of his high school t-shirts, and I cried. I sobbed. I wailed. I whimpered. All afternoon. Until my head hurt so bad and my whole face was puffy.

I am feeling very vulnerable these days. Fragile. I feel the fragility of life, that every moment of joy and wonder and pain is poignantly thin, like eggshell thin. Like bubble thin. And so intense. Life is swallowing me whole.

I have on-again/off-again battled depression over the course of my life. For a long time I was medicated for it. I remember when I stopped taking medication and I wasn't being "regulated," every little thing felt startlingly intense. I remember describing this to my doctor.

"It's like this", I said. "It's like you were a man wearing a hat for ten years. And one day you went out for a walk without the hat. And the feel of the wind on your bare head freaked you out because you hadn't felt wind for ten years."

He looked at me like, "You'll be back."

My friend Ashley blogged about feelings today:

here's a quote for you from my reading from "how al-anon works" yesterday, page 90. it is also important to be reminded that feelings aren't fact. no matter how intense the feelings may be, they are only feelings. they are reactions to, rather than reflections of, reality. therefore, they are not necessarily the best basis for decision-making. other people can help us to value the experience of our emotions without acting on them in ways that we might regret once the feelings have passed.

This is why I hid under Matt's covers and did not make any decisions yesterday. I was nothing but a bundle of feelings. I was not to be trusted out in the world. I was a raw nerve ending, and everything was too hard.

But at the same time, this is how I feel:

The harder life gets, the more God reminds me of his love. It's a strange thing but I'm so grateful.
- Donald Miller

When I was a little girl, I imagined the wind was God running his fingers through my hair, like my mother did at night. God telling me he loved me.

Have you ever felt loved and vulnerable at the same time? Grateful and fragile?

That's how I felt yesterday when Dennis came home from work with flowers because he knew I'd been home alone crying, even though I didn't tell him.

That's how I feel when I look at Arley's beautiful baby belly and try to imagine what a Worley girl will be like.

That's how I feel when I watch Seth and Ben's wonder and happiness over their great success.

That's how I felt when Matt scooped me up in his big arms before he climbed into his truck and drove off.

Like a man with no hat, in a stiff breeze.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wish you were here

Cindy Sterling jump punched me yesterday with her recent post "Snapshot Daddy." No fair. I was reading along, and then I was doubled over at my desk crying and trying to catch my breath. Read it.

I have many snapshots of my Daddy and me, but my favorite is this one, taken circa 1957 on the sea wall in Tripoli Libya. We lived there for the first years of my life, because my dad was stationed at the Air Force base there. This picture hangs on the wall over my bed, but I've been taking it down a lot recently and contemplating it and crying.

I had many more years with my daddy than Cindy did with hers, but Dad died suddenly without any warning. There was no long goodbye or sitting by the bed singing hymns. There was just the stunning phone call on the morning of Jan 2, my mother's voice: "I think your Dad has died." It's been several years, but I cannot get used to a world without my father in it. I want him to be at the table when the whole family gets together. I want to see his corny green sweatpants. I want to see him in his immaculate jacket and tie at the end of the pew every Sunday. I want him to barbecue ribs. I want him to be here right now to help me raise young men. I hold this picture and I remember he used to sing to me:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.

I want my Daddy.

This past few weeks at church we have been in a sermon series called "Family Tree." We have talked about the importance of passing on our faith and our stories to the next generation. I sat at my desk doing the research for these sermons and crying. I thought about the line of faith I have inherited. I thought about my great grandfather and grandfather Cox, who were preachers and revival leaders, I thought about the recordings we have of my father and grandfather singing on my grandfather's radio broadcasts. I remembered how my Granny Ruth's house always smelled like peas or beans. She always had a huge pot of them simmering. She was the preacher's wife in a little Louisiana town, so when the "hobos" would come through town, she was the one people would send them to. She was a very fancy lady who loved fine things, whose house and clothes were immaculate, who told me repeatedly, "Never marry a preacher; you won't have any money." I remember trips into the big city I think was Monroe, where she defined the phrase, "Shop til you drop." But she also made vats of peas and cornbread so there was plenty on hand.

Whenever I shell peas, I think of my mother's family, of summer at my great-grandmother's farm in Arkansas. My grandmother was the second oldest of 8 siblings. When they would all return to the farm with several generations of family in tow, there was a lot of cooking. They started at dawn making full breakfasts, requiring baking and frying, then clean it up and start baking and frying for lunch. (I'm sure this was the way you ate when you were out working the fields all day, but there was no one working the fields by this time. Still, there was flouring, baking and frying for every meal.) After lunch on a summer afternoon in Arkansas, it's nearly 100 outside. The kids were made to come in from our afternoon play and "cool off," which we did by sitting off the kitchen, where it was nearing 120, shelling peas for dinner. (No air conditioning.) In the evenings my aunt Thera would play the pump organ, while the sisters danced with my uncle Junior, who was a dance instructor at a Fred Astaire dance studio, I remember how strange and wonderful it was to see my grandmother act like a silly girl. My grandmother was sad most of the time, though she was a wonderful grandmother to little children. But with her sisters, she was transformed. They were a floor show.

I miss these people, just as a I miss my own babies, who are now men. We have lived in the same house for 21 years, so all around me are the ghosts of summers past. Every morning, I see neighborhood kids riding off on their bikes with towels around their necks, heading to the pool. I remember those days when wet towels and goggles and floaties hung on the pegs by the back door. Next week Matt will leave for Mississippi State. He's left for college before, but this time somehow I know it's for good. He won't live here again. Yes, I cry about that. I cry because I will miss this tall handsome man, but also because I miss the little tow-headed boy who sat on the front porch swing with me in the evenings and sang, "A whole new world..." from Aladdin. Elliott plays on the same fort we built for his daddy's fifth birthday. HIs daddy, who looks so much like my own daddy sometimes that it takes my breath away. This morning I was brushing away the last of the cicadas from my garden steps, and I thought about how they attacked us just a few weeks ago at Ben's graduation party. Then I thought that the next time they come out, Elliott will be graduating from high school. And there I was, standing in my flowerbed, crying over the future.

I cry a lot these days. I cry while watering the garden. I cry while shelling peas. I cry in my office. I cry during the evening news, because the Libya in that photo is no more. I cry over cicadas, for Pete's sake.

I often cry at the end of vacations. You know, at the end of a wonderful week at the beach, I slip away that last evening and stand with my feet in the surf for one last time. I say goodbye to the beach. I know we will be back again, but it will not be the same next time. We will be different. It will be different. And we can't know how. I feel that way lately.

I am not sad, but I am grieving. This is how it is with humans; we are finite. We cannot have it all, past, present and future. We cannot have the Tree of Life. Yet.

Is this how we know we are meant for eternity? If so, then I long for the day when the old order of things has passed away and time, as we know it, will be no more.

In the meantime, life is beautiful. But I wish they were here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What next?

You aren't known as one of the best composers of all time because your last name is Mozart. It's because you can play the hell out of a harpsichord.
- MeLissa Gavarrette

I'm having a midlife crisis. I'm pretty sure of it. It's a little late to be having one, as I don't expect I will live to be 110; thus it is more like a 2/3-life crisis. Or it's a bout of ennui. 

It's not an identity crisis. I'm not wondering,"Who am I?" I'm wondering, "Who am I now?" 

When you're in your 20's you are in a rush to know, "Who will I be?  What will I do with my life?".  There is absolutely no way you can know the answer to this at this age, even if you've known you wanted to play the harpsichord since you were 3. Life will throw you curve balls. Someone will invent the Fender Rhodes. You can't imagine. 

Also, life will reinvent you. Several times. Just since I was 20, I have been:

An English major
A drama major
A music major
A member of a singing group
An advertising copywriter
A special events planner
A marketing manager
A studio singer
A songwriter
A bride
A mom
A recording artist
A backup singer
A concert artist
A speaker
A book author
A PTA volunteer
A church choir member
A Sunday School teacher
A minister's wife
A band parent
A football mom
A church staff member
A worship leader
A missions volunteer
A grandmother
A poet 
A painter
A runner
A gardener
A blogger

Okay, blogging didn't exist when I was dreaming of who I would be at 20. So. 

A mid-life crisis, if that is what I'm having, feels like this:  "Who have I really been in life?" And, "Who will I be now?" And "Am I done?"  (That last question is particularly terrifying. And ridiculous. Of course I'm not done. Although sometimes it feels like it.)

Here is a typical week in my mid-life crisis:

On Monday, a friend is taking her grandkids to the park, and I think, "Yeah, that's what I want to do. I don't want to work. I just want to stay home and garden, have lunch with my friends and pick up my grandson after school.  I just want to be Super Grandmother.  I need some more playground equipment in my back yard."

On Tuesday, I sit next to a woman in her seventies who is an awesome prayer warrior, has taught women's Bible studies for fifty years. I watch her and think that's what I want to be remembered for. That's what I want to be doing in my seventies. I'm starting another Bible study next week for sure. 

On Wednesday, we have a guest songwriter at choir, a woman who is not quite my age, who has just written her 50th choral work. I think, "Why did I stop songwriting?  I think I've written probably 35 choral works. What the heck?" I also think I want the really cool blue top she's wearing. 

On Thursday, I read something about Beth Moore. "Damn," I think. "I wanted to be a big time Bible teacher like that.  I could be hanging out with Anne Graham Lotz.  There could be a whole Karla Worley workbooks section in LifeWay stores."

On Friday I see an ad for the Tony Awards and realize what I really wanted to do was be a Broadway star. 

When I catch myself thinking like this, I know I have started living a Me-Story, not a God-Story, that I am looking at my life at "I"-level, which is a miserable vantage point, whether you are starting out in life, midway through or nearly to the finish line—even if, or especially if, you are a hell of harpsichord player. I rather doubt that anyone in the Bible wondered, as they were in the thick of it, how their chapter would turn out. They could not have imagined the Bible. And the Bible is after all God's story, not theirs, not ours. Jesus, who only lived to be 33, came to the end of his life and was able to say, in the garden of Gethsemane, "I have finished the work You gave me to do." 

I have finished the work You gave me to do. 

I am, in fact, at a kind of "What next?" place in life. Change is afoot. But the truth is, though we don't always feel it as keenly as at major milestones, we all wake up and live out that question every day: "What next?"

And I do want to be a super-grandmother, an award winning songwriter, a powerful Bible teacher AND a Broadway star.  But here is the measure of success:  "I have finished the work You gave me to do."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why there were no words

Dear Reader,

I'm sorry I've left you hanging for two weeks!  You may have wondered, "Where is she?"  You might be thinking, "Yeah, she did that thing that bloggers do;  she started well, then she got tired and lazy and quit on me." 

I assure you, I did not.  However, you dear faithful reader, deserve an explanation for the past two weeks.

Here it is:

Ben/David Graduation from Dennis Worley on Vimeo.

On Sunday, May 29, 2011 Ben Worley graduated from high school.

Look at that face, that sweet hopeful face.  When he crosses the stage, moves the tassel over and then stops and looks up at us sitting in the stands—well.  What you can't see, but he can, is that we are, his whole family—mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers—sitting in a row, leaning forward, glowing with love and pride.  Our faces are saying, "We believe in you.  You will change the world."  Tomorrow he will go back to being the regular, remarkable Ben Worley.  But in this moment, he is a Promise.  He is all Possibility. 

He did not have to stop at that moment and look up.  How beautiful that he did.

There were no words.  I, who am full of words, had no words.  My son stole my heart.

His brothers have done the same thing to me.  Your children will do that—without warning, without the cap and gown or Pomp and Circumstance.  They might just come through the door, or round second base.  You might catch them playing with a toy or smiling over their cereal.  And suddenly you can't breathe.  You are overcome. Sometimes, they have you at "Hello."  This is what happened to me that Sunday.

On Monday, I felt like I had been beaten with a 2x4. 

On Tuesday, I slept for 24 hours.

On Wednesday, I could work the TV remote.

On Thursday,  I combed my hair.

On Friday, I puttered.

On Saturday, I attempted to read a book.

On Sunday, I ate pancakes.

On Monday, I went back to work.

And that, dear reader, is why you have not heard from me.  I like to think that you missed what I might have to say.  But know this:  Sometimes, there are no words. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Love to tell the story?

I love to read aloud to people.  If you'd like me to read aloud to you, just ask.  I'll come right over. I'd love to.

Reading aloud is one of the best parts of having children and grandchildren. 

When Ben Worley was growing up, the Harry Potter books were coming out, and I read them aloud to him at bed time.  I did all the voices.  With a British accent.  In fact, when the first Harry Potter movie came out, we went to see it, and Ben leaned over to me halfway through and whispered, "They got the voices right."  Priceless!

Now, for all the Harry Potter-haters out there who think J K Rowling is leading our children to the devil, I am about to tell you why you should not be afraid of great stories.

One night I was reading Book 4 (The Goblet of Fire), in which Harry, Ron and Hermione go to the World Cup Quidditch match.  For the first time, Harry discovers there are witches and wizards in other countries.  As they walk past all the tents, Hermione waves her wand, allowing them to understand the other languages.

"Wouldn't that be cool?"  Ben interrupted.  "If you could hear people talking in all kinds of language and understand them?"

"That's in the Bible," I said.

"Get OUT!" Ben yelled as he slapped the covers.

I told Ben the story of Pentecost - the rush of wind, the fire and the believers' sudden ability to speak in all the languages and dialects of every Jew who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world for the Festival. 

"WHY have I never heard this?"  Ben demanded.

Well, I don't know.  Rushing wind.  Tongues of fire.  Miraculous ability to speak other languages.  That seems like a great story to tell a 9-year old boy.  Why hadn't he ever heard it?  Probably because he grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, where we don't know what to do with Pentecost, especially the speaking in tongues, and we really don't know what to make of the Holy Spirit, who seems to have no regard for our wish to be in control.  We miss the point of the story completely:  that every person from all over the world could hear the good news of Jesus Christ is his own language.  And thousands came to believe in Jesus that day. 

I was thinking about that night with Ben recently because in my Thursday Bible study, we've been reading the book of Acts, which really should be titled The Adventures of the Holy Spirit.  This week we come to the end of the story.  It's an adventure story, a wild ride.  Speaking in tongues is the least of it.  That moment when Jesus leans over and says, "You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you," — boy, is that an understatement.  To quote Jurassic Park, hold onto your butts.  People are healed when Peter's shadow falls on them, when Paul's handkerchief touches them.  There is bravery, bad guys, shouting, riots, shipwrecks, earthquakes, prison and peril.  People fall out of windows to their death and come back to life.  Others are miraculously rescued from dungeons by angels.

But the true hero of the book is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who opens and closes doors, opens and closes mouths, opens and closes hearts, unleashes the power of the Almighty, whispers comfort and encouragement and leads all the way through the story on an unending quest to bring the good news to the ends of the earth.  I am sad to put this book down, to come to the close of the story. 

It's a breathtaking story.  Why don't we tell it better? 

Maybe because we don't love our story.  Remember that old hymn?

I love to tell the story of unseen things above—
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story because I know it's true.
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

The world needs Christians who read out loud, who are captivated by this story and know how to tell it for all it's worth.  Read it.  Read it to your children.  Read it to each other. 

Call me.  I'll come over and read it to you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Me & Julio

Here is my baseball bragging story.   (If you have heard it, ssh.)

One Saturday night several years ago, Dennis and I went to an Atlanta Braves game.  Barry Landis gave us the Time Warner box seats for the game.  WOW.  We were on the front row, in the seats next to Ted Turner and Jimmy Carter.   (Although they were not there.)  The players were three feet from us when they came on deck.

So, here is my story.  I had been enjoying seeing all these GORGEOUS extremely young athletes up close for six innings, and then Julio Franco came on deck.  Julio was in a whole 'nother class of cool. Julio also happened to be one of my favorite Braves.

Unfortunately, Julio did not get to bat because somebody on the field screwed up and got the third out.

The game continued. It was a beautiful night.

During the eighth inning, I had gone upstairs for the traditional eighth-inning-race-to-the-bathroom, and when I came back to my seat, Julio was on deck again.  As I sat down, I said,  “Oh no, I almost missed Julio hit!”  At that moment  some Braves player screwed up royally again and got the third out, so Dennis said, “Looks like you won’t get to see him hit this time, either.”  And I said, “No, I have to see Julio hit!”

AND THEN....Julio turned to ME with a multi-million dollar grin and said,

“Not tonight, babe.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Walk with me

This morning for my daily walk, I chose the Crockett Park trail in Brentwood.  This trail has some of the qualities high on my list of essential ingredients for a good walk environment:

  • heavily wooded trails with plenty of shade
  • a babbling creek running alongside, with occasional bridges
  • honeysuckle

(I swear the smell of honeysuckle plus the sound of a creek immediately lower my blood pressure, even without the walk thrown in.)

Other essentials to a good walk:

  • a fairly stiff breeze
  • temperatures lower than 70 degrees
  • a low number of other walkers;  the proper ratio is enough company to keep the trail from being creepy, but not so many that it's a meet-and-greet

This morning, Crockett Park scored a perfect 6 out of 6, so it was a great walk.

It was a beautiful morning to be out, so there were lots of people to watch:

Serious joggers.  Since this trail is connected to the Brentwood YMCA, there are a fair number of seriously fit people who are adding a jog onto the end of their morning weight session.  Mostly these are men.  I don't mind serious joggers.  They tend to pass you and not really even see you.  I feel sorry for the ones who look like they are jogging because they have to and can't wait for it to be over. These are usually what is known in the running world as "heavy runners."  They pound the pavement when they run.  When I see them, I think, "Really, stop. Just walk.  Your knees will thank you."  I used to be a heavy runner, back when I was training for the Music City Half Marathon.  When I run, all I can think is, "Ugh, ugh, ugh."  All I am focused on is how hot I am (not in a good way). I admire people who are true runners, who lightly breeze past you with joy and spring in their step.  They are a thing of beauty.

Older people trying to stay healthy.  I am quickly falling into this category.  So I smile at my fellow companions who are obviously just glad they can be out walking.

People walking their pets. Some people just bring their dogs along on their walk, while other people are quite obviously accompanying their pets.  Like the lady who sweetly stopped to let her puppy inspect the horses grazing just across the fence.  "See the horsey?  Yes, he's a sweet horsey."  Just like she was talking to a toddler.  This dog will probably be able to spell horsey by the end of the walk.  (I admit, I did stop to look at the horsey. This is one thing I love about Williamson County.  There are still horses grazing in meadows right in the heart of suburbia.)

Women walking with a friend.  These women might be my age and fitness level or they might be 24 and lacking any visible cellulite.  What they have in common is that they meet to walk together and talk together at the same time.  As they pass, they are usually saying something like, "So I told her that she shouldn't, but...."  These women  are on their way to Publix after their walk to grocery shop, or if they have time, they might stop at Brueger's for a bagel and coffee to continue their conversation, but most likely they've already had three cups of coffee early this morning while they folded the laundry before meeting their friend to walk.

Power walkers.  I have to be honest;  power walkers annoy me.  They are the equivalent of the people who drive through the Cool Springs mall area like they're navigating a NASCAR race.  Power walkers may not feel superior to us other walkers (I'm trying to be generous in spirit here), but they often act like it.  I resent them because they bring peer pressure to the trail.  When being overtaken by a power walker, I feel the need to get my game on—to pick up my speed as they pass me.  It's not a pretty insight into my soul, I know.  I'm just being honest.

Another thing about power walkers:  they tend to wear ear buds and an iPod.  What are they listening to? Music designed to pump it up?  Motivational speakers?  The latest ESPN podcast?  When I go out to walk, I go to commune with nature.  I want to hear the wind rustle in the trees.  Power walkers with ear buds— I want to say, "Hey, you just blasted past a beautiful curve in that stream next to us.  And you also didn't hear the sound of the water going over the rocks."   That's a shame, because we are bombarded by motivational pump it up stuff all day long, but you don't always get to hear the water rushing over the rocks.

A fascinating version of the power walker is the Large Group of Women power walkers.  This morning there was a group of 6 women power walking and, it appeared, at the same time organizing a charity fundraiser.  The chairwoman of this group was not only setting the pace but setting the agenda in a loud voice.  (Thus breaking a fundamental rule of walking etiquette:  do not talk loudly as you walk.  Come on.  The rest of us are deep in thought.  Another example of the Loud Power Walker that fascinates me:  the power walker who talks loudly on their cell phone.  I don't even carry my cell phone when I walk.  I don't want to carry on business while I walk.  And I don't want to hear you carry on your business.) 

I am an independent walker.  At times I do walk with a friend and enjoy a little conversation.  In the past I have been a Large Group Power Walker.  In my experience, though, walking with others is complicated.  Because some people are in it for the fun and others are obviously In It to Win It.  And since these are the two competing sides of my personality, I have sometimes left others in my dust and sometimes slowed my pace in order to just Enjoy It.

I prefer setting my own pace, and lately I have come to appreciate how crucial that is to our well-being, not just in walking but in doing life.  Recently I was talking with my supervisor at work, Jim Baker, who is a wise man and an excellent steward of those under his supervision.  Quarterly at work we check in with our supervisors, who are supposed to ask us about our work goals but also about our "ports of life" - physical/emotional health, family, relationships, spiritual life, etc.  As I talked about my ports of life, Jim startled me by making the comment, "Well, that's not good;  you're not setting your own pace.  It's hard to always be living at someone else's pace."

Wow.  Yes, it is.

Sometimes we necessarily live at someone else's pace.  For instance, when you're a mom of babies or toddlers, you don't often choose when you wake up or how much sleep you get or what gets done in your day.  Then you gain a certain amount of your day back when they go to school;  you get to own 8:30-3:30.  In middle school they suddenly have a social life and soccer practice and piano lessons, and there you are, group power-walking, because they cannot drive themselves to these things.  There is that one year when they have their "Learner's Permit" when you ride along, everywhere.  Not only do you go to their stuff, you don't get to drive anymore.  Then they get their license, and you stay up until curfew, vigilant for their safety.

If you have a boss who is a Power Walker, then you probably don't work at your own pace.  I'm sorry for you;  that's not good, to quote Jim Baker.  Granted, there are times when you full out sprint, in the middle of a project, and you do it for the team.  But even the really great runners don't full out sprint all the time. 

If you are married and you share a car, as Dennis and I do, you have a constant issue about whose pace you move at.  I cannot keep up with Dennis Worley's pace (no human can). I used to feel really guilty about that.  Even on his day off, Dennis has a List of Things To Do.  I, on the other hand, can Sit and Do Nothing happily for hours.  When I was pregnant with Seth, I was SO tired in my first trimester.  Everything was an effort.  One day I was sitting in the armchair in the kitchen, looking out the window.  Dennis was busy with his List.  Every now and then he would walk past me and give me that Power-Walker look— "You're still sitting there?  I've done 5 things since the last time I saw you sitting there."  And I said, "What?  I'm doing something.  I'm growing a spleen."

That's what I wanted to say to those Group Power Walking Women this morning.  "What?  I'm doing something.  I'm exercising.  I'm enjoying the babbling stream.  And I'm planning what I'm going to write on my blog today."

Sometimes, when I walk in my neighborhood, I take the route that has a big hill.  I'm not a serious runner, but if the temperature and breeze conditions are in my favor, I will run with great joy and abandon down that long stretch of hill, as far as I can go without passing out.  It's so fun, although my knees hurt later.

Last Sunday, Mike and Jay talked about Ecclesiastes 3, which tells us, "There is a season for everything."  There is a time to walk, a time to group power walk, a time to sprint for the goal and time to run just for the joy of it.

I just want to make sure I ask you to consider this:  Who is setting your pace?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Time flies

This week's quote of the week comes from Ben Worley, age 8.

Ben and I were the only two people at home one day.  I was downstairs at my computer writing, and Ben had been upstairs working away on something - probably taking something apart and building something entirely new out of spare parts.  I like to call these things "Ben-ventions."  Over the years he has created some stunning Benventions.  The best was probably a riding thing made from an old shopping cart, a bicycle and the handlebars from an Ab Blaster.  Oh, how I wish I had a picture of it.  It was crashed into the ditch by our driveway many times by Ben, his brothers and neighbor kids.  Surprisingly, no one had to go to the emergency room.

On this day, 8-year old Ben had been up in his room absorbed in his work, as I was in mine, and the afternoon had passed and the house was growing dark.  Ben came downstairs.

"Mommy, it's dark already," he said.

"I know, Ben.  The day is almost over," I replied.

Ben sighed happily and shrugged.

"Time flies when you're loving life!"

So it does, and Ben Worley has taught that his philosophy is a true one.  No one loves life quite so much as Ben Worley, and it is a joy to watch him.

This Sunday is Senior Recognition day at church, and Ben Worley, who is 18 now and graduating from high school, will be among those honored.   He was the baby on the cul de sac, the youngest of all the gang of kids who grew up in these yards and houses together over the past 20 years.  All of those neighbors still live here.  Only one family has moved away, and new neighbors have moved in this year.  This weekend, Nate and Brittany will bring home their new baby girl, Sadie.  They don't realize it, but before they can blink, there will be a Senior sign in their front yard with Sadie's name on it.

Time flies when you're loving life!