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(Still remembering and celebrating 33 years of marriage)

There’s nothing worse than being young…. and being the last picked.

When you have buck-teeth, wear high-top shoes because you have flat feet- before high top shoes are cool and your dad doesn’t live with you because he got tired of it – you feel like you come in last –every time.

When you can’t find the phonics lesson on the worksheet in second grade and math doesn’t make sense – you feel like you come in last – every time.

When your thesis director in graduate school dumps you because he feels you have no creative ability and you make careless mistakes – you feel like you come in last – every time.

When your kid, who you’ve poured all within you, prayers, squats for discipline, encouragement – everything you always thought a good, loving parent was supposed to do says, “You’ve set me up to be a failure. Deuces” – you feel like you just came in last.

When you gain some weight and can’t fit into your favorite clothes, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve come in last.

When the publisher says, “We love it. Send us all you have” for your children’s book – and they get bought by a bigger publisher (Random House) who says, “We don’t know how to draw wind” – I went from first place to rock bottom last.

This morning, my 15 year old drove down the mountain. A fresh driver, careening a bit to the right edges – and my struggle with auto-terror won over my desire to be supportive-encouraging mom – and I gasped, “Jesus Help Us.” As my son careened and steadied, I both encouraged and flipped-out – and I felt like I’d come in last.

There’s a lot of last-place moments in my life. Situations that seem to whisper, even shout, “Failure. Loser.” They don’t define me though – those last place moments.

They are just moments that set up God’s greatness.

Jesus told us, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt 20:16)

We see that with Rahab, Naomi, David, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus – so many people in last place, due to their own choices – though maybe those  seemingly bad choices were all that was  available, still they were brought to blessing by God.

Sometimes you can’t get first-place positioning without having last place experience.

Braces got rid of my buck teeth, my feet slipped into a little blue cotton sandal, and in the midst of it all, I found a Father who championed me against the mockers- and I bask in God’s favor.

I couldn’t find the phonics lesson, but I read and read and read (my defense mechanism against people on school buses making fun of the little buck-tooth girl in high-top shoes) – and it wasn’t too long in second grade I was moved to the advanced reading class – and I basked in God’s favor, the little girl who’d found Him in a closet and talked to Him in her back yard.

The Dean of the Graduate school called the English Department, telling them, “Best creative thesis I’ve read,” followed by Honorable Mention in the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor society’s creative publication the same semester. Charles Dickens responded to a man’s request to view his manuscript to determine if he had creative ability. Dickens replied, “For all I know, the land is yours by right” – More than the land being mine by right – I basked in God’s favor.

The book publisher, the irate son of my prayers, the closet full of too-tight clothes – and the inability to always control my terror  – He knows the desires of my heart, the love in my heart. He knows my weaknesses, my failures, my miss-its – He knows my heart’s intent, its integrity – and, though the humanity of myself fails – Jesus intercedes in my behalf – and I bask in God’s favor.

33 years ago, in a field outside the mule-barn at a college social, two young men picked football teams. Two girls remained to be picked – the last picks for each team. I was one of those two – and the red-headed young man picked me – last. Then picked me for a life-time. I bask in God’s favor.

It is an opposite day paradigm – the business of being last.

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butterflybushc2ccdd_edited-1“When you work from faith, either you will step forward onto something solid, or you will be given wings” (Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford)

Wordless for about 4 weeks, except for these words: “I’m doing a new thing in you” – waves and waves of new things, pushing me through new door after new door.

I’ve separated spider’s knots, transplanted a peony into a sunnier place, gone deep into Samson’s story, sat long and listened much to my two home-boys and their friends, been Surprised by Oxford – and in the surprise fallen in love with the imprint of our Lord in the classics more than when I was in graduate school.

“The mind is its own place, and can make
a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n” (John Milton, Paradise Lost).

How did I miss what Milton was saying when I was 22/23 years old? – that what you speak and what you think are what you get?

How is it I didn’t recognize how much faith and understanding was in Milton’s heart? Was it that I didn’t really pay attention to what the words were saying – what the words really meant? -or was I so busy being appalled by professors diminishing the faith of classical writers that I missed the faith of what they were really saying?

“‘Many of the Romantics knew  much of Milton by heart – how can you study these writers if you do not know what was in their hearts as they themselves wrote?’ Then he added, thoughtfully, ‘ While you are at it, I also suggest that you memorize the first few chapters of Genesis. So you know what was in Milton’s heart, too'” (Weber).

Some 30 years later, I find myself wanting go back – and learn anew, learn better and deeper.

In between being surprised by this delightful book, I’m still processing Deidre Rigg’s Jumping Tandem retreat, meeting  face-to-face blogging friends who have encouraged me heart-to-heart for the last few years. Attending the retreat was a stretching process in itself – stretching myself to walk outside my comfort zone – through the airport, so many states away from my family where I found warmth, caring and encouragement every step of the way. I remembered the 20-something in me, young, married – traveling with my husband to a glass-class in Holland, the fearlessly confident me who boarded a train for a day-trip to Belgium to visit a Carmelite cloister while my husband learned about glass-making. I remembered visiting historic places – undaunted about traveling to unknown places alone. 28 years of mothering these 5 sons – and two still at home, while it stretched others parts of me, left other parts of me un-worked. That weekend, I was stretched – and it was good.

I went on an afternoon photography walk with Laura Boggess, sat long and talked much with Brandee Shafer, Car-pooled from the airport with Dolly Lee, Amanda Hill, Tammy Belau. Maybe it’s the mothering in me – having carted around so many kids in my car so many years, so many rich conversations – but car-pooling with these women made me feel right at home.

I hung out with Elizabeth Stewart, Marilyn Yocum from my hometown, Linda Gibbs, Diane Bailey – and Christy Mac-Rodriguez, who didn’t really believe my luggage would arrive by 3 a.m., but sat with my on the porch in those awesome rockers and talked to me until mid-night.

I don’t think anyone really believe my luggage would show up any time soon – but after listening to Joel Olsteen on the radio for about 7 to 9 hours worth of driving to Louisville to read my books to elementary school children, visiting with my aunt – and flying out of Louisville because there weren’t any available in Nashville – I was optimistic, hopeful, full of faith – and at 2:55 a.m. that Friday night, after flight cancellations and new flights booked – the luggage arrived!

Lisha Epperson was part of this stretching. I was hesitant to walk through the doors of her dance session at the Jumping Tandem retreat, yet, it was the one session I knew I would deeply regret missing if I did not. Maybe it’s this fearless confidence I’m working on this year – listening to God’s promptings of what He wants me to do – and so I did – even though I hadn’t danced since I was seven. At seven, though, I didn’t realize I could dance for God.

I took my 52-year-old, apple-shaped, out-of-shape self – and reached way down deep inside to pull out the little girl who once loved to dance until someone told her dance classes had stolen her grace, and how someone had once told the girl developing in me “what’s up front” is what really counts – not the brain, not the heart, not the humor, not the me, just the physically endowed, girl-quality of mammary glands – and so I grew bent over, trying to hide the superficial, so wanting to be valued for the inside-stuff because that was where the most important part of me was.

I took my 52-year-old self a few weeks ago – into praise dancing with you Lisha– and danced for God – reaching high, bending low – stretching to awakeness. Lisha led us all in gentle, God-lifting encouragement, creating an environment that allowed me to retrieve something I’d misplaced long ago – and I was able to stretch deep, pull it back to me, and with ballerina hands turning, arms rising, palms outward, giving, reaching to offer whatever I have to offer to a loving Father, Lisha taught me, also, palms turning heart-ward to pull close what He gives . Lisha brought grace to brokenness – and that brokenness became grace – maybe not to the world’s eyes, but to His eyes.

After the last prayer, the last hug, I climbed on a plane to my hometown, then drove about 4 hours to where home is now – and without skipping a beat, stepped right back into a daily I’ve done for almost 29 years.

When I picked up the boys from school, the older of the two immediately had an allergic reaction – either to Mother Nature, a virus – or me. (Am I the only one who sees the humor from the coincidence in that? Surely, that kind of humor is not what finally-over-the-edge looks like?) It took 5 days for him to totally recover. Homecomings are never glitche-free, no matter how love-filled they are.

I am home, living in the regular of the daily – but there’s a thread of something new going on – a thread tangled Gd-intentionally up in this fearless confidence lesson He’s working on with me this year.

I’m not quite the same person who boarded the plane, though I’m living in the daily “same.”

There’s been no radical, immediate transformation. Just something happening breath by breath, as He draws me closer to where He’s leading me, showing me where the stones are, building faith for wings.

I suspect, though, what’s going on is all about the wings – and the faith required to use them!

“When you work from faith, either you will step forward onto something solid, or you will be given wings”(Weber, Surprised by Oxford)

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snowdiamonds_edited-1For the last three years, I’ve gone to work on snow days. The boys stayed home. Little enough time to make Blue Cotton Hot Chocolate, no scrumptious scones,  sitting long, talking much at the kitchen counter left me feeling unnaturally stretched – well, because that’s where the soul conversations seemed to happen – and working from 8 to 4:30 narrowed not just the time for big and little soul things, but the energy left over to live those pursue them rightly. Add soccer schedules, school events, and all the unplanned events – and time narrowed even more, leaving scant little room for the so very important little things that make such a difference in the big things.

“I was pushed back and about to fall,
But the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation”(Psalm 118: 13-14).

I realized in the last three years, that I’m not as good at multi-tasking the mom-spouse-me roles as I thought. I realized, also, that I need buffer time scheduled in my day to make room for the unexpected. I also need time to let my mind run down, pursue thoughts and ideas like rabbits through warrens. Not having that time left me feeling empty of myself. I already knew I wasn’t Super-Woman. I have peace to just be this blue cotton woman. Mostly, I knew that home needed more of the mama and the sweetheart.

“The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simple-hearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you”
(Psalm 116:5-7).

snowbudsc_edited-1Compressed time depressed the spilling of heart things – and these boys-to-men of mine need time to spill those things – in their own way, in their own growing-up-kind-of time. Boys need time for the words to ooze out, un-rushed, mostly unprompted. Trying to speed up communication pauperized conversation.

Time and energy – to also pick up on word cues, thrown out, trying to catch this mama’s attention, word cues that are nonchalant idea bait, indirectly saying, “A bit of help required.”

“He restores my soul” (Psalm 23: 3).

This mom needed time for those little things – time to sit long, talk much, time to think, time to match socks and wipe the counter down, time to soak in His word, time to love in all the love languages, time to not rush things that shouldn’t be rushed.

During the past two weeks, I’ve cooked a beef stew with mushrooms and carrots, scones and hot chocolate. There’ve been veggies, grilled cheese, cinnamon rolls at breakfast and homemade chocolate chip cookies after school – and a Soli Deo Gloria Homecoming cake.

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This has been a God-In-It homecoming – a homecoming that I didn’t realize would be so important to me or to my family about 28 years ago.

My thoughts have chased ideas the rabbit warrens of my soul. There were 10 a.m. chess matches at the counter when my son’s friends dog-piled at out house for the snowstorm. The snow? A gift from God for this heart of mine.

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
and he answered by setting me free”
(Psalm 118:5).

Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to you God alone for this homecoming. Thank you, Shaddai for setting me free – not because I’m somebody – because we know I’m just a simple, blue cotton woman. Thank you for setting me free because I’m yours.

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I love stories – how they take me out of my brokenness into hope stories. Literature from the 1800s to the early 1900s was always my favorite – goodness pevails more often than not – stories end on hope and faith walked out more often than not. 20th-21st century literature isn’t that way – more often than not ignobleness wins, hope fails – and it just bottoms my heart out. We weren’t created for for hopelessness and faithfulness.

That’s why the hope and faith story is so important.

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“If you want to change someone’s life, tell a story”
-Billy Graham

Fairy tales- I love them. My favorite is the Goose Girl. Fairy tales gave me hope growing up – that goodness prevailed, that I was not alone in my suffering – whether that suffering was caused by others or myself.

The Grim’s Brothers are not faint-hearted stories. They were required reading by me this summer for my youngest who doesn’t like reading. He was drawn in to the short and long stories, the guts and gore, the mind-puzzlers, the noble and ignoble. There is much in them for boys – but – there is much in them for us.

These fairty tale stories. I’ve decided many of them, like the Goose Girl – are about how God never abandons us or forgets us.

A few years ago, in The Goose Girl Unveiled, I wrote (I hope you don’t consider this cheating – but I really wanted to include it):

All fairy tale princess in the Kingdom face grievous challenges. Many have fathers, the king, or if they are no longer alive, they provide protectors who leave no stone un-turned, no effort exhausted. The princess is never forgotten nor is the pursuit lessoned to reclaim His child.

The Prince, much like the princess’s honorable father, often saves her, whisking her from the grip of torment, isolation, a false-sense of abandonment. The tormenters are destroyed – and she is returned to her rightful place in The Kingdom.

A true princess loses not her nobleness during these fierce challenges. She cries sometimes, feels saddened, feels lost. But she still acts nobly.

God is like that. He provides. He leaves no stone unturned. He never gives up. The fairy tale princesses are always provided for and their futures are secured. We really are not any different from those Grimm’s Brother Girls! We just think about ourselves differently – and that is what needs to be changed. Do you see yourself as God sees you?

We have our own fairy tale stories that need telling, stories of soul blood and guts, heart-break, injustice – but it is in the saving, the Knight in Shining Armor who is our Savior – for that we finish the story – read all the way to the end – worth enduring the suffering – because in the end, we are saved by the most perfect, faithful man who ever lived.

Some people might wish you’d just shut up.  There are people like that.

But we’re called to tell our stories. Where philosophy, logic and history fail – real life stories of a real life KISA can encourage hope and faith.

Are you telling your Fairy Tale Story? It just might change someone’s life.

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Whirligig
A basket of scraps
That is what I am
A piece of me here
A piece of me there
Like flying geese scattered
Everyone pulling pieces from
This basket of scraps

Beggar’s Block
Like vines at the window
Crayon and Pencil Children want a piece of me
The Laundry Room wants a piece of me
My man wants a piece of me
The checkbook, too, reaches and grabs
My Mother’s Dream wants a piece of me
The Devil at the Window wants a piece of me
Grabbing pieces,
From this basket of scraps

Broken Dishes
All pulling pieces
To fit their design
Disregarding color schemes
pattern lines
quantity
risking crazy quilt and broken path randomness
from leftovers
in this basket of scraps

Star of Hope
God’s Eyes see me
Not like mis-matched cups and saucers
Or un-coordinated color swatches
Not as a basket of scraps
Or Party Star Pieces
The Master Designer quilts me whole
into
A Peace Quilt
To wrap around
His children
Quilting me whole
Out of a Basket of Scraps

My very first quilt - a blue cotton quilt

My very first quilt – a blue cotton quilt


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