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!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What do you want me to do for you?

Great question.  Stunning when it comes from Jesus.

In Mark 10:35-52, we find two encounters in which Jesus asks this question.  Somebody stops him on his way, and he turns to them.  I imagine he asks it very quietly and kindly.

What do you want me to do for you?

James and John reply, "We want to sit at your right hand."

Bartimaeus, the blind man, replies, "I want to see."

I spent the greater part of my life wanting, like James and John, to be a trophy on Jesus' shelf, the Teacher's pet, a merit badge on God's chest.  I wanted Him to point to me and say, "See her?  I like her best." 

I thought I could get there by being very, very good and very, very busy.  But all I really did was prove that I was as blind as Bartimaeus.  I had missed the point:  grace.  His grace, not my goodness.  Glory.  His glory, not mine.

What do you want me to do for you?

I've been pondering this question since I studied this passage in my daily Bible study more than a year ago.  I wrote down the question, and for more than a year I have left the page blank.  Because all this is in my heart:

I want stuff.
I want to be pretty.
I want to be thin.
I want to be happy.
I want to be liked.
I want success.
I want sleep.
I want to be left alone.
I want to hide.
I want joy.
I want love.
I want your kingdom.
I want my kingdom.

What do you want me to do for you?

I think I now know what I want:  I want to see.  I want to see what God is doing all around me.  I want to see where He is waiting, saying, "Get over here."  I want to see where He is pointing and saying, "No more of that."  I want to see what matters to Him and what doesn't, what He loves so I can love it too. I want to see what is true and what is crap.  I want to see what's in my heart, even if it's not pretty.  I don't want to miss a thing.

But more than anything, I want to see Him.  I want to know His love for me and fall into it.  I want to see His goodness and swim in it.  I want to know His heart, which is what I guess the psalmist meant when he said, "My heart says seek Your face."

At least that's what I want today.

What do you want me to do for you?

How would you answer that question?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to be awesome

It's Mother's Day, one of my favorite days of the year because it usually guarantees my whole family will be together - the best gift a mom can get. Over the years Mother's Day gifts from my boys have been some of my most cherished possessions. Photos in popsicle stick frames. Bracelets made of safety pins and beads. Abstract watercolors and clay handprints. 

However, Mother's Day, if you're not a mom but wish you were, is right up there with other Great Disappointments like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. And prom. 

The only thing I ever wanted to be was a wife and mother.  I've gotten to do a lot of other wonderful things, but if you took them all away and I never had another opportunity in life, I would point you to Seth, Matt and Ben Worley and tell you I made my significant contribution to the world. I know that's not a politically correct thing to say, but it's true. 

Maybe I feel this way because I have the most awesome mom in the world. 

Whether you are a mother or not, if you want to be awesome, I am about to school you in the ways of Marjorie Carolyn Hyatt Cox:

1. Be stylish. My mother always has been. Not long ago, we looked through slides of mom, dad and baby me in Tripoli, late 1950s when my dad was in the Air Force. My mom looks like a page from Vogue. And we didn't have a ton of money. For most of my life my mom sewed all my clothes, which was not cool to me at the time. "You don't want to look like everyone else," she said. Sigh. Yes, I so did. 

On Friday nights my parents would get all dressed up and go out. They were so glamorous and romantic, as they kissed us good night over our fish sticks. 

2. Be smart. One of the things I admire most about my mother is that she is a learner. She reads all the time.  My mother worked to put herself through college, and she did not take her education lightly, not has she ever stopped learning  She knows all the common and Latin names for plants. She is currently doing exhaustive research in preparation for a trip to Ireland.  My mother loves books, and she taught me to love books. She is a stickler for proper spelling and grammar. 

I was a Camp Fire Girl growing up. (Like Girl Scouts, only with Indian lore.) Mom was our troup leader. I think she enjoyed mastering all the skills, from babysitting certification to camping to citizenship, maybe more than me. 

3. Be interesting. My mother loves the theater. I can still remember the first musical she ever took me to see at age six. It rocked my world. For years mom made all the costumes for school plays and church pageants. Then she became the costume designer for Dallas Repertory Theater. She introduced the "DR Teas", a matinee series of small plays accompanied by high tea.  She also played tennis. Currently my mother runs a tearoom at Rippavilla.  She is a Master Gardener. She has recently taken up lavender farming. 

4. Be a homemaker. My mother's house has always been warm and inviting and full of unique items that she rescued and restored.  And good smells. Two smells that comfort me from childhood:  the smell of her chocolate cake (my brother's favorite) and the Sunday pot roast waiting for us every week after church - thanks to the excellent invention of the automatic oven timer. 

5. Be an advocate. My mother wasn't always easy on me, but she has always been for me. She made sure I had every opportunity to do and learn and grow. She drove me to piano lessons and competitions for 13 years. She encouraged and she disciplined. She told me I was unique (not like "stop eating the paste.") She encouraged me not to compromise. She told me, in the third grade when boys threw dirt clods at me, that they did it because they secretly liked me. (I still doubt that.) She taught me table manners, how to write a thank you note, how to sit like a lady and stand up straight. She told me I was pretty, which helped when boys didn't. 

So if you what to be awesome, ask yourself "What would Carolyn do?"

Take a child to the theater or ballet. 
Read to someone. 
Make family dinner a big deal for the people you love. 
Bake a chocolate cake for someone. 
Plant some herbs and learn their Latin names. 
Look pretty;  it inspires little girls. (And guys like it.)
Help a teenager with their homework. 
Refinish an old trunk. 
Learn to make proper tea. 

I'm pretty sure I just listed stuff my non-mom friends are already doing. So here's to the Carolyn in all of you. You don't have to be a mom to be awesome. 

But it helps to have or know an awesome mom. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

What you can become

Never be afraid to give up what you are for what you can become.

I don't know who said that.  When I was a freshman at Baylor University, it was on a poster on the wall of the BSU, along with a butterfly. The day my parents left me on the steps of Collins dorm and drove away, I knew I was giving up everything I was and becoming someone entirely new. I was terrified. 

That poster resonated so much with me that I embroidered the quote and a butterfly, framed it and kept it on my dresser for years. Tonight I found it as I was rummaging through a drawer. I put it back out on the dresser. 

It's funny, I've lived here in the same place for more than half of my life, but I've constantly given up "who" I was to move on to the next thing placed before me. And right now there is change in the air.  Ben is graduating. Matt is moving away to college. I'm about to be a grandmother again. Of a girl!  Today I bought a pair of pink baby leggings. It was so strange to stand there in the aisle with those pink baby things. 

What will the next part of my life look like?  I don't know. But I won't know if I'm not willing to give up this part of my life. 

Life is changing on some of my friends, too. I suspect they're afraid. I just want to say with all my heart:  Don't be. 

I remember when I was pregnant with Ben; my mother-in-law was with me when I went for the sonogram and found out it was another boy. Not the girl I was so sure I was meant to have. Alice Ruth was quiet all the way home. Just as we pulled in the driveway, she asked, "Honey, are you disappointed?"

No, I was hacked. I always got what I wanted, and there was nothing I could do about this. 

But look what I got. And all that has become since then. 

Eighteen years ago I could not imagine my life today, just as you could not imagine yours. Becoming requires faith and courage and risk. Endings and beginnings. Death and new life. And kindness. And time. 

Today I finally bought pink baby clothes. So who knows what could be next?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mean Girls and Satan

When I was in the 5th grade, we moved to Shreveport LA for two years.  Two critical years for me.  I had been in one school in one house since first grade.  I had friends.  I had roots.  I knew my place in the hierarchy of my peers.  Then, in 5th grade, I was the new girl. 

The two girls who ruled my grade at Creswell Elementary School in Shreveport LA were named Ginger and Shelly.  Ginger lived right behind me; she was obviously the queen bee, but she and Shelly were tight.  And I wanted in.  I wanted in their circle so badly.

I am not as old as the next part of this story will make me sound, but here it is:  In those days, we walked to school.  And on the corner right across from the Creswell Elementary School playground was a drugstore with a soda fountain.  (No I did not grow up in the 50's.)  For a quarter you could buy a cherry Coke in a little Coke glass, and every afternoon after school, we all stopped in to buy our cherry Cokes.  And every afternoon in that drugstore, Ginger and Shelly would take me over into the cotton ball aisle where they informed me what uncool thing I had done that day that caused me to fall short of the requirements for being in their circle. 

That's right, they were mean girls.  They were bullies.  Not the kind that punch you in the stomach, although it felt like being punched in the stomach.  The kind that yank the rug out from under you right as you're laughing at a joke or drinking your cherry Coke. 

You should know this about me:  Ever since then, if you say, "I need to talk to you for a minute," or "Could we get together?" without telling me why, my stomach sinks.  I am right back in the cotton ball aisle.  You have just returned me to elementary school, which is a hard place to be in life.

Why did I take this?  Why didn't I say, "Shut up?"  Why didn't I just walk away?

I was thinking about that this weekend when I read this poem:

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time. 

Marie Howe, Part of Eve's Discussion

Aaron talked about Eve this weekend.  In his sermon, he took us back to that moment in the garden when the serpent slithered up to Eve and planted his awful lie. 

"You could be like God," he said.

Eve should've said, "I am like God.  I was made in His image."  But she didn't.

She let him pull the rug out from under her.  She let him punch her - punch us all - in the gut.  She went to the cotton ball aisle.

What if? 

What if Eve had put her hand out, not to take the apple, but to hold up her palm and say, "Shut up." 
Oh, wouldn't things be so different now?

Well, I ask you the same question.  What if?

What if tomorrow when the voice in my/your head says, "You're fat/ You're stupid/ You're irrelevant/  You're going to fail" —what if we put out our hand and said, "Shut up!"  What if we walked away from the mean girls, from the bullies?  From the source of all bullying?

I'm up for it if you are.