Friday, December 30, 2011

If You Believe

It doesn't seem to matter how old I get, I still enjoy the magic of Christmas as seen through the eyes of a child. I don't want the day to come when our little ones do not think Santa is real. I don't want the moment to arrive when they question the birth of our Saviour. I don't want the sun to rise without their little feet trying to figure out where Simon has gone. I don't want a Christmas Eve to end without singing Silent Night like a lullaby to one of my grandchildren. It has been a wonderful season, and as I listened to the last of the holiday carols on the radio this afternoon, I was doing some reflecting on what the year, 2011, has meant to us as a family. I asked myself a question: What did I not accomplish in 2011 that I really meant to do? The obvious answers come to mind: lose weight, save money, clean the garage. But thinking of the less obvious answers should give me a glimpse of my own stumbling blocks, weaknesses, or perhaps miscontrued views of what God has called me to do. My prayer for 2012 is that I truly focus on His will, believe in His purpose with all my heart, and put this gift of faith to work for His glory.

I had a chance to spend Christmas Eve with friends that I hadn't seen in a couple of years, and they have always considered it a privilege that they have provided a home for their mentally handicapped sibling. He is now 68. Other families might have put him in a nursing home, or a center for the mentally retarded, but not this family. They believe he has blessed them, not the other way around. And with all his heart, this man nearing 70 years of age believes that Santa comes every year. He cannot tell time, but asks how long it will be before Santa arrives. He cannot read, but he examines the pictures in the Christmas story, taking in the simplicity of the manger, the inn, the oxen. I watch him as he carefully puts the pieces of a puzzle together, trusting that the whole will be greater than its parts. He has never lost his child-like faith. How I envy his view of this season. He knows that if you believe, he will come. And he knows that if you believe, He will come.

I have a lot to learn from him. I think we all do. In 2012, may we find our faith stirred, not shaken. May we find grace in the journey, and the destination. And may we love unconditionally, following the example so generously bestowed on us every day, in every season.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds

I had a chance meeting with a young soldier home from Afghanistan for R&R with his family in Brenham, Texas. He gave me something. Something I very much needed to understand. He gave me a clear picture of what is happening in this war on terror. But he described the mission in very different terms than what I typically hear on CNN, Fox News, or the conventional networks.

He lives on the side of a mountain in northern Afghanistan. As an Infantryman and scout attached to an engineering company, he is in harm’s way every moment of every single day. Yet he describes their mission as “hearts and minds”. He said when he first heard General Petraeus frame the war in these terms, he thought it was ludicrous. But over time, he’s begun to understand the wisdom of this effort. This is an ancient land, with a history, culture, and landscape that we will never fully appreciate. There are over 13 dialects spoken in Afganistan, and they’re difficult to learn and discern. So this soldier travels with interpreters throughout the day, and on missions that last for months at a time. He wears armor under his civilian clothes, has grown a beard to his belly and hair down his neck. For the past 45 days he’s been in a remote location, guarding and protecting his unit from the enemy while they build a bridge for the Afghani people. At every farm and homestead, his job is to find out what support is needed to prevent that family from getting their needs met through the twisted tactics of the Taliban. Coerced to be loyal to the Taliban by threats of poisoned food and wellwater as well as genocide, Afghani families are asked by these interpreters to allow the Afghani National Army to meet their needs instead. They’re told that the “good guys” will create a freshwater well, help them find food, protect their livelihood, in exchange for information about where the Taliban is headed. Behind these promises and pledges of support from the Afghani National Army is the U.S. military, ready and able to instruct the good guys and provide the resources needed for wells, crops, safety, and shelter.

He tells me how skewed the news is; how little we hear about what’s really going on. He tries not to watch the news anymore as it creates cynicism and discouragement when what is happening on the ground is more hopeful; progress is being made.

We talked about the danger he faces as he travels and his eyes narrow, his expression changing in subtle ways. I see him wince, ever so slightly. I know that he has seen too much. He describes the burden of dealing with primitive warfare tactics. This young soldier describes the incidence of IED’s as declining due to the military’s additional armor and detection devices yet the use of homemade explosives (HME’s) is on the rise. With fewer resources at their disposal, the Taliban is using nitrogen and other agricultural chemicals that are readily available outside military supply sources to craft primitive HME’s. He asks me to forgive his language, but says all soldiers view the Taliban as “chicken-shit.”

He said one of the tactics used by the Taliban is the exploitation of children. The enemy will implant an HME on the side of the road, then send a young child out to the road to throw rocks when the military approaches. While soldiers might be led to believe in the child’s innocence, it’s anything but. The child’s rock triggers a trip wire daisy-chained to an HME, and the explosion ignites. How do you destroy a child throwing rocks at you? War requires something of our soldiers that few can even discuss. What name do you give such horror?

Then my new friend frames what I think is the most interesting thing I will learn today about this war: the battle being waged is not so much about the one on the ground, it’s the one in the soul- a battle to win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people. By developing national pride, patriotism, and belief in their ability to self-govern, the American military is empowering the Afghani people to win their own war. The military’s interpreters ask the Afghani people to defect from the coercion of the Taliban, promising a level of protection that is far better for nation-building. He tells me the interpreters are naturalized U.S. citizens who’ve volunteered to return to their homeland to help their compatriots regain their country. He tells me they’ll never be able to divulge their identities, as it would be lethal to their survival, as well as the safety and well-being of their families in the U.S. But as surely as American soldiers are fighting for “hearts and minds”, these Afghani brothers are as well.

The soldier I’m talking with is soft-spoken, polite. He has three combat tours of duty under his belt. He is 25 years old. This fact slays me. Like so many Americans before him, he was a combat soldier and a teenager at the same time. He’s been in Afghanistan for eight months, with four more to go. I pray that as he returns to a land that he’s learned to respect, he will be as safe from harm as possible, given the environment that he’s in. He’s spent a quick R&R with his parents, sharing precious time with his family before he returns to the front lines. One of his plans during leave is skydiving. While the adrenaline rush is real, he has a higher purpose. When he returns from this tour of duty, he’ll begin the process of selection, hoping to be chosen as a candidate for Special Forces training. He tells me “De Opresso Libre”, which all Green Berets recognize as a call to arms to liberate the oppressed. He gives me the titles of a couple of books he wants me to read, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan and Chosen Soldier. He tells me, “I’m kind of a nerd; I like to read.” I tell him that I’m a librarian, so those words are music to my ears. In just a couple of short hours, I’ve come to care very deeply about this young man’s “heart and mind” and I have a new appreciation for the role of our military in this war. I ask God for mercy on this young man, and all of our soldiers, who are so willing and able to pay the high price for freedom that we take for granted every day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why is Change Inevitable?

I became a reader on my mother’s lap. An old, old version of Platt and Munk’s Illustrated Fairytales was our standard, and there was nothing politically incorrect about listening to her read Little Black Sambo over and over again. After all, I was 3, she was 26, and it was an exciting tale about tigers that melted into butter. Nothing inflammatory about that. As a young mother, I loved hearing my mom tell the same story to my children, who listened with equal wonder as she wove the story into magic strands for them. Who knew that 50 years later I would be reading the same tale, reprinted as the author intended in The Story of Little Babaji as my grandchildren gathered on my lap, equally enamored with tigers melting into ghi? Helen Bannerman told the story well about her adopted homeland of India and its culture. It had nothing to do with race or color, nothing to do with African children as it turns out. It was a folktale, and it’s the kind of story that deserves retelling and retelling and retelling. But I am a librarian now, and I know how to frame the story and put such tellings in perspective without losing the joy of the journey.

I remember my first day as a librarian. Fresh out of library school at age 44, newly widowed and trying to raise our 5 children on my own, I landed a job that I very much wanted to have. I was hired to revamp a library built in 1926, in preparation for a huge construction project that would bring that little library into the 21st century. The school had been known as a “strawberry school” as its calendar matched the agrarian year up until the latter part of the last century. Back in those days, children were useful on strawberry farms, for picking and such, and their parents had no time for the demands of the school day. So if you were a kid in Plant City, your summer vacation happened in December, January, and February, when the rich ripe berries were ready. But times had changed, along with schools and libraries, and I was excited about my new challenge.

Our enrollment was low, and it was explained to me that after Labor Day it would spike, as our migrant children would return from Michigan and points north where they’d accompanied their folks for cherry picking. So though we were no longer following the agricultural calendar in Plant City, our students’ families were, and we would have to wait to teach them until the picking was done. And they came, by the dozens, enrolling late with lots of enthusiasm and limited English proficiency. How I loved those early in the school year days, when I could open up The Very Hungry Caterpillar and share the magic and joy of reading that required very little English to gain meaning and wonder from the story. As our brand new library opened its doors, I stood in awe of my little readers who were thrilled by the thousands of new books with crisp white pages and bright book jackets, ripe for the harvest. We were good stewards of the many books that survived the weeding process over the years, and created our own “Heritage Collection” with Tales from Silver Lands and first edition copies of Strawberry Girl. I loved showing our readers not only how to find books they could love, but also how to access information they would need to be viable learners. I wanted so badly to see them break away from the lifestyle of their parents, by preparing them to access the knowledge and skills needed for careers that would allow them freedom from manual labor. Their parents were of the same mindset, as they entered our library doors in support of their children.

Several years later, I had the privilege of opening another new school library. This time it was at Fort Hood, Texas, where thousands of soldiers answered the call of duty and sacrifice in the Middle East. The tile was still wet on the floor when we moved thousands of new books into Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary, and our young readers walked from military housing into their post school. Full of vim and vigor, these military children brought wisdom beyond their years through our doors, and the library provided a shelter against the loneliness and fear that long deployments would bring. Though they knew their parents were in harm’s way, they understood they could find comfort in books like Wemberly Worried or Corduroy. Fear rustled just below the surface for all of us, and children who lost a mother or father at war disappeared overnight, never giving us a chance to say goodbye. Relatives would swoop in from out-of-town, pack up the family in cars and moving vans, and they would be gone. A month or two later, I’d get the overdue library books in the mail, coming with a short note from Missouri or Iowa or Puerto Rico. Uncle Sam’s kids were the toughest and most tender-hearted kids I’d ever met.

Six years later, after losing my own parents, I made another move to be closer to my five now grown children in central Texas. I took a new job at the oldest public school in Bryan, Texas. Open continuously since 1870, the library was tiny and there was no plan or money for anything new except a few hundred books. The library was desperate for attention, and so were my students, who wrestled daily with issues of poverty and limited English proficiency. I began the process of weeding hundreds of dirty books, gaining some semblance of order so my students would understand and locate the tools they’d need to gain a foothold against illiteracy. The principal and staff were in alliance, and their charge was to bring this underachieving school up to standards. But mid-year there were rumors of change, talk of no money, discussions of drawdowns, and I received the news that every librarian in town would lose her job. The board decided that each of their 22 libraries could be adequately staffed with a clerk, and librarians would be put back in the classroom where their pay could be justified. We fought and we fought, providing every tool or study we could find to verify the impact of school libraries and librarians on school achievement, but our arguments fell short of the budget shortfall.

So it was time to say goodbye. But how can that be said; how can it be done? How do you say goodbye? I could move to another community that embraces libraries and librarians, but that would force me to leave my grown children and the life we’d begun to share in this community. I could move to a public library, but the cut in salary would force me to completely alter my lifestyle, sell my home, live a different life. So staying put meant saying goodbye to a career I’ve loved, and I found that almost impossible to do.

As luck would have it, I was selected to remain in Bryan ISD, supervising 5 libraries instead of serving as a school librarian. The job entails a lot of things I love, but it also leaves out a lot of what I thought I was good at, as well as a lot of what I think our students need to face the challenges of the 21st century. What used to be the hub of the school has turned into a check-out counter, and our students are underserved. Today children enter each of my 5 libraries, but they don’t look for me and they don’t look for a librarian. They simply look for a book. The pressure’s on so high in the classroom that they’re not allowed to stay for long. They’re told, “Get a book! Get a book!” and rush back to their classes, trying to prove they’re readers instead of being allowed to grow into literacy. It’s a whole different ship I’m sailing now, and I think it’s sink or swim.

My favorite book from childhood was Miracles on Maple Hill. I remember my school librarian introducing this little gem of a book that had just been awarded the Newbery. It resonated with me because my own father had returned from war a changed man, and the story gave me hope for some complex problems in my own life. Books have always been a bulwark for me. I’ve often told my students that it doesn’t matter if you’re in a library in Tokyo or Timbuktu, you will find the books you love, whether it’s Where the Red Fern Grows or Trumpet of the Swans. That’s the great thing about libraries, a river of time runs through them. Books give us stability and security and hope. I am looking for a book like that, a book that will get me through this phase of my life. Leaving my job as a librarian has been in itself a kind of grief, and I must give myself time to adjust to the idea of not serving children in the same way in a library any more. I need a real librarian right now, someone who can steer me to the right book to help me deal with what I’m feeling and experiencing. I miss what I was, what we were in our libraries. I have enough faith to know that this is not life or death, that in the grand scheme of things we’ll survive. But we’ve lost something, something valuable, and I don’t think anyone’s realized that yet. But if there’s a librarian out there who knows what book will give me the reassurance I need right now, please send the title along. I will be forever grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Deer Season

One of the things Charlotte loves about where she lives is the wildlife in her area. She keeps her horses out on a little ranch owned by Dr. Gunn, Aggie Class of ’43. He’s a retired veterinarian, in his 90’s, and on his 100 acres of grassland on the Brazos River, he boards about a dozen horses. Our old man, Bo, grazes freely on the pasture, and Dr. Gunn allows him to live there without charge, because in his words, “He’s served us well.” How I ended up with a horse named Bo is another story. Charlotte’s other two girls, Harley and Beret, have it made in the shade. They have no work to do, and get to play in the fields with their friends all day. They have company. The cows from neighboring pastures come to visit when the fences are down, and there are plenty of deer. Charlotte’s little house sits up on the bluff over the river, and she can see her girls from her kitchen window. To ride or feed, she just walks down the hill, and does what she needs to do.

Driving to and from home, the two miles of River Road are interspersed with other small ranches, along with a couple of exotic wildlife ranches. It’s such a pretty area. It’s typical to see deer grazing all along the road, and you’ve got to watch for them, as you’re the interloper, not them. Charlotte found out the hard way in June. She was driving home one night, going about 30 mph which is the only safe speed on that road, and swerved to keep from hitting a deer. She hit a tree instead. The deer survived, but the tree didn’t and neither did her Jeep. They were totaled. Charlotte had two black eyes, a bruised face, hurt muscles and bones all over, and walked through the dark to her house before a stranger picked her up and gave her a ride the rest of the way. Mothers hate phone calls in the middle of the night for several reasons, and there are a lot of questions:
1. Are you okay?
a. Do you need to go to the hospital? No, sob.
b. Is anything broken? Yes, my car’s broken. My pride’s broken. The deer’s probably broken. The tree’s broken.
2. Is the deer allright? See #2.
3. How’s your car? Not good.
a. It’s not driveable? The hood’s crashed in, it’s smoking, the fenders in the tire, and it’s all smashed up.
b. Did you leave it off the roadway? Yes, it’s in the ditch with the tree.
4. Did you call the police or EMS? Yes, I walked home and called 911 so they sent a constable to the scene. They checked me out and told me to call a tow truck for the car so I called USAA and they sent a tow truck. They took my car to a salvage yard because the tow truck driver said it was totaled. Sob. Sob. (Was that me or Charlotte?)
5. You walked all the way home? No, a stranger picked me up.
6. What were you thinking, haven’t I told you not to ride with strangers? Mom, it was a girl who lives on my road. She said her friend got killed hitting a deer on that road a month ago.
7. Sob. Sob.

Needless to say, it was an ordeal for Charlotte, but she was okay, and that was the bottom line.

Well, it’s deer season. Sunday morning I got another call from my child, telling me she was on her way to work and this time a deer hit her. She was driving down Hwy 60 (four lanes of traffic) and the deer crossed the road (to get to the other side, I assume) and hit her car. She was following all the advice she’d been given from the last accident when he appeared (don’t swerve) but he hit her front bumper, then rolled onto the hood, off the hood, onto the road, and kept going into the woods. It was a huge buck judging by the crater on her hood. She was able to drive home and reached me. I had some more questions for her:
1. Are you okay? Yes, no injuries.
2. I omitted the question about the deer. He’s on his own.
3. How’s your car? Terrible.
4. And so on.

Then Charlotte turned the questions on me. She asked me, “Why does God hate me?” She told me she prays, she talks to him, she tries to be a good person, she loves Him, but now she’s wrecked a second car, so therefore He must not really be paying attention.

It’s where the rubber meets the road for each of us. Where is God when we hurt? I gave her a short answer, but wanted to give her the longer version because it matters so much. I told her that maybe He just longs for a deeper walk (or ride) with each of us. Prayer is not just a tool. It’s a relationship. It’s a symbiotic thing. We pray, but our prayers then require us to listen. We speak, but then we must hear. That requires some stillness, some devotion, some time. John tells us that right now, this is eternal life, that we may know God, the only true God, and the One He has sent, Jesus. Yet we have to go beyond the knowing. We can memorize our Bible backwards and forwards, but if all we have is knowledge we are missing out. We must also understand. He wants time with us. We can serve Him all day long, and still be confused about who He is. He wants more than our knowledge, our time, our service. He wants our heart. I told Charlotte, perhaps you have to change your point of view. We drive cars. They’re dangerous. There are obstacles. A deer who lives in the wild doesn’t understand highways. When he hit your car, God protected you from further harm. He wants you to understand that, and know that He was with you. He wants you to praise Him for His watchcare. And He wants you to know that He’ll be taking care of you. Prayer is not insurance, it’s assurance, that we serve a living, loving God who longs for us. He wants my heart. All of it. He wants yours. All of it. For always.

A couple of weeks ago, Christi took her Brownie troop to the nursing home for a visit before Halloween. The residents there love to see children, and the little faces of the pirates, ballerinas, and fairies just brightened their day. Dorothy and Harry Potter held hands with some of those in wheelchairs, and there was a lot of smiling and twinkling. But I was thinking that as much as they loved the visit, they must get so lonely for relationships. How much stronger they’d be if this visit happened often, and had a deeper meaning. Don’t get me wrong, Christi’s visit was a kindness, and I’m grateful to have a daughter with a heart like that. My granddaughters and grandson were cheerful and gentle with the elderly women they visited, and that was a precious, precious moment to me. I’m so grateful for a family that is willing to serve, and I know that as they look into the eyes of these older folks, they are remembering the love of their own grandparents. There is no shortage of blessings in our lives. But I was thinking that the visit was a parable of sorts. A teachable moment in which God was saying-- See me every day. Be with me always. And that’s what I want Charlotte to understand, in danger or in peace. That God is calling us to see Him, to be with Him in every moment, because there is never, ever, a time when He is not with us.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is this one: As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for thee. I told Charlotte, maybe the deer was just thirsty. Or maybe God was sharing something with us: Do we long for Him, in every moment, in every opportunity, in every trial?

Monday, October 10, 2011


Librarians are kind of annoying sometimes. Several years ago I found this quote that I loved, and it was attributed to Nelson Mandela. I thought it was quite profound, and it became a signature thought for me, something that I meditated on from time to time. However, something prickled my brain (sounds dangerous, I know) and I checked the attributes. I found out it was actually spoken by Marianne Williamson. Now I'm not really a Marianne Williamson fan, as some of her thinking reminds me of New Age philosophies, and she rarely references Jesus as I know Him. She talks about Divine Order and being a Child of God, and Unity, but there is no Saving Grace in what I read from her. But nevertheless, I think this comment has wisdom and magic in it.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am involved in a project right now that is making me feel very inadequate, and yet I think I am supposed to discover that I might just shine in this endeavor. And by shine, I mean that I might just honor God with the gifts that He's given me to use. Furthermore, I have an inkling that my God, the Lord Jesus Christ, might be glorified and magnified in this process. So, let me just ask for your prayers, and your support, and ask that all things work together for His good.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Imagine Nation

So I asked myself, am I an Exodus woman? Exodus 35: The artists of Israel came together to build a dwelling place for God. They carved poles, fashioned gold, and constructed curtains with cherubim woven into them by expert hands. Their job was to envision the kingdom of God and use their gifts to heighten people's spiritual imaginations.

Has God planted, in my heart, any spiritual truth that I can pour out onto the written page? Is my imagination, in fact, His imagination? I was hoping for some answers in Chicago, and I was not disappointed.

Ben Arment, creator of Story, pulled together a creative team, which pulled together a creative team, to help the creative team learn about the creative arts. Film, music, worship, short film, social media, dramatic arts, writing, authorship, and environmental staging were showcased and explored. I wondered, can I, should I, would I, sign up for this creative compendium of sorts? I asked God for direction, and heard that I can, I shall, and I will go...I was like a sponge.

Through song and story, a block or two from one of the meanest ghettos in the second city, country folks and town folks and folks from all over the world shared their journeys. I felt a little out of place, but quickly decided to let go of my inhibitions and let God. Who knew this 56 year old librarian would really fall for the drummer in Daniel Bashta's band...his immediate and passionate song on the drums hammered a mantra into my urgent, be real, be present. And a very intense guy named Dan Smith told his story with more drama than I thought possible. I winced when he minced no words, an unusual storyteller with a head cold and a higher calling.

The first guy to bring me to tears was Ed Dobson. He just finished a series of short films called Ed's Story. As a master storyteller he had us all in the palm of his hand. Ed pastored a church for many years, and was named Pastor of the Year by Moody Bible Institute. He also wrote a beautiful journal of sorts--The Year of Living Like Jesus. But ten years ago, he was given a life sentence. ALS. And the prognosis was not good--doctors gave him 2-5 years left on this earth. Ed told us "it began with twitches...twitches in my muscles..." and compared his diagnosis to being in Lazarus's tomb. He was cold, isolated, and lonely. But this rare man heard from Moses, who told him, "Choose life that you may live." Ed showed up. In his short film, Consider the Birds, he brought me to tears with the story of his farewell to his son when he departed for the Iraq war. The unsung hero in Ed's story is his wife-- devoted, silent, beloved. Between battling ALS and sending his son into battle, Ed shared this lesson: We don't control squat. I loved Ed. And I will pray for him. If you want to fall in love with Hope, go to

Next we heard a very different kind of story from Tom Ryan, who founded a community-based web crowd-sourcing business called Threadless. Using the internet to rally public opinion, he doesn't conjure up a wireless crowd but rather has built and maintained an online community of 1.5 million artisans through an ongoing t-shirt design strategy/company. He has a BA from Dartmouth and an MBA from INSEAD in France, and he has mastered the art of harvesting creatives.

A beautiful young lady named Esther Havens, humanitarian/photographer, shared her story and it was not unlike the Esther we already know. She says her journey was a selfish one as it began...she had interior ambitions, desires, goals that prevented her from seeing and understanding her calling. Through her photographs, we see the ancient calling of Esther, and the cry of our Old Testament Esther's heart when she asked, "For how could I bear to see the evil that would come on my people? How could I bear to see the destruction of my relatives?" For Esther Havens, the camera lens bears witness to the joy of Jesus in the midst of poverty. She's pretty amazing.

Sean Astin showed up; he has appeared in over 70 films including one I love- Rudy. His portrayal of this walk-on football player was a moving testament to the power of the human spirit, and how a family impacts the choices we make. He also starred in Goonies, and Lord of the Rings...he's made his mark in film-making as well, but I was most excited to learn he's going to produce a new film called Number the Stars. One person clapped when he announced it (me) as most of the audience was too young to remember the book. He's promised to do a great job telling the story first brought to us by Lois Lowry, so I'm really looking forward to this story of friendship and courage.

For artists like Bethany Hoang, she uses the gift of her intellect to reach victims of slavery and sexual exploitation. She took us to the ragged back alleys of darkness to demonstrate that Light is a weapon and a tool against oppression. By understanding sexual deviation, human deprivation, and cruelty against women in our world, she directs and delivers for International Justice Mission. For more on this redemptive, restorative, legal ministry go to

I guess one of the weirdest guys I heard during Story 2011 was Kyle Cooper. He's a Yale graduate with a long, distinguished resume in film-making and storytelling--from Final Destination to the Walking Dead, Iron Man to Flubber, Godzilla to Seven. Perhaps the message I understood first and foremost in listening to him is the idea that people who are creative must guard their hearts from the weights, whims, and restlessness of the world we live in. Here was a man who has everything to lose and everything to gain. His life's work reminds me that discernment is a gift, but we have to ask for it.

Day one was quirky, whimsical, riveting, and fascinating to me. Sitting in that smokey room all day, peeking my head out only occasionally for fresh air or fresh insight, I felt hit from all sides, and just wanted so badly for time to process and understand all I'd experienced. What did all this mean to me as a writer? What did all this mean to me as a woman of faith? What did all this mean to me as a part of the creative collective?

I write, so I was especially expectant about Day Two's key storyteller, Ann Voskamp. Ann writes lyrically, sparsely, and speaks likewise. She is a woman of conviction and a spokesperson for Compassion International. I felt so strongly that here was a woman I could hear out loud or on the page with equal peace. She lives on a farm in Canada, and is first and foremost a wife and mother. It just so happens that she can't keep from sharing the delights, dilemmas, and difficulties of life on this earth. She shared that during a writer's workshop in Texas, the group leader told her that her writing was too lyrical, too lovely to publish, and that it resembled poetry. He quantified that poetry was a bad thing. But she used that criticism as fuel, and her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Life Fully Right Where You Are, has been on the NY Times Bestseller List for over a dozen weeks. I really can't share her heart without having you look at her video.

Please don't skip this's the best I have to share with you today:

Figuring Life Out - One Thousand Gifts (720) from Jacob Forrest on Vimeo.

Then I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I decided to change someone else's story. Through Compassion International, you can sponsor a child. I chose a little farmer boy in Kenya named Martin. He's only 11, so I hope this support will enable him to dream a little bigger, figure this thing called life out before he decides not to do that...and then I chose a little girl named Karen from Peru. I wanted my daughter Michelle, who is fluent in Spanish, to share a relationship with Karen and my granddaughter, Avery, because these two precious little girls are the same age. I think a little girl in Pearland can learn a lot from a little girl in Peru, and I'm praying for both of their futures.

Featured preacher teacher Skye Jethani approached us next. Who knew that such wisdom could come from a kid named Skye Jethani...sounds more like a flower child than a leader, but he has a gift for teaching and I listened well to all he had to share. His ideas are not radical or new, but his message is relevant and necessary--we are called to life with God. He challenged us to check our posture...check yourself before you wreck yourself, if you will. He said God's not a vendor; we're not consumers. He said we're called to a relationship with God, not just God's word. He says we have to figure out free will versus divine will, activism versus servanthood. I was really compelled to examine my own posture...and that's a good thing, not in a ponder-your-navel kind of way but in a ponder-your-eternity kind of way.

Just when I thought I could relax a bit and quit feeling so pressed and perplexed, along came Matthew West and Angela Thomas. Matt has been on the Billboard charts more often than not, and Angela has walked the walk of a good girl who was broken by divorce and life as a single mother before God healed her under the shelter of His wings. Together, they collected 10,000 hard stories that became 10,000 tales of hope, courage, and grace. Their music was just off the charts.

Imagination brings out such strange and vexing images and ideas. It's hard to understand how a Christian can go to the dark side and return unscathed. But Ed Saxon, producer of Silence of the Lambs, talked about his journey. It seems he detaches himself from the content by going into a Hollywood state of mind. Some of his work has been very provocative--Philadelphia, Adaptation--but at the end of the day, he goes home a devoted husband and father to a family he cherishes. He did share that he puts his own image into his films, and this was rather off-putting when he described that one of the heads in the jars in Silence of the Lambs was his own. Hope that doesn't keep his kids up at night...the movie is an amplification of the evil in the world.

If you're reading this blog, you might be following another one, The MChandlers, who have experienced the lamentgracepeace of Christ as they've battled against brain cancer. Lauren shared her very private story in this public forum, trusting in the ability of their tragedy to offer hope to others. Who knew that the ladies restroom would be the place I'd end up discussing the meaning of Lauren's story with a woman who'd just lost her mother and was trying to find a way through her own grief? It was a precious moment, to look eye to eye with another person who'd gone through the same kind of sorrow as me. And I think that was a big part of the Story message for me...we are each on this earth for a time, for a string of seasons, and if we cannot turn to each other for hope, solace, wisdom, then what good are we really? Do we do anything that pleases our God, if we turn away from each other? He is calling us to turn in, to turn to Him, to be His hands and His feet as we share His heart. Sharing my heart saves no one. But sharing His heart means the difference between life and death.

It's kind of funny that the most meaningful thing I heard, and perhaps the thing I needed to hear the most, came at the end of the day. I'm not really ready to share it yet. I'm still meditating on this piece of news, perhaps what you'd call a brilliant glimpse of the obvious. But Ian Cron, author of a beautiful book about St. Francis of Assisi and a rather cool memoir called Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, shared his life with us. It's been a cool life, but a selfish one. It's been a cruel life, but a redemptive one. Ian challenged my intellect, and I love when that happens. Ian's story was like a chisel to that God can use to get me where He wants me to be. He convinced me that I have a story to tell...that I have a gift that is not mine...that I've been entrusted with something--a message, a tale, a vision...and that if I play my cards right, I will end up doing exactly what I've been called to do.

So Story 2011 was about Imagine Nation, and imagination, but so much more. It was about 'a closer walk with Thee...and thee and thee...' It was about using the handful of flour and oil I've been given to go beyond words...I hope I can do that...and I hope you'll be with me on the journey. I don't want to leave without you!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Story 2011

There's an age we all reach when we begin to sort out our dreams from our reality. For me, I think it hit me at about 16. I wanted to be a forest ranger, and I believed the life would suit me. I consumed Thoreau, Emerson, and every naturalist poet I could find to fuel my dreams. When I got to Florida State University, I couldn't pass chemistry to save my life. My roomie, Pam, used to coach me through each week's lessons, and it began to dawn on me that I might have chosen the wrong path. I chose Journalism, but in my first class, one of the essays the professor read aloud was mine, and he mocked my imagery and my anthropomorphism, saying I was completely ill-equipped to be a serious writer. So I went back to my default dream, education, because deep in my heart was a child who wanted acceptance, and I knew that as a teacher I could give children what I needed for myself. I don't regret that decision. I am a good teacher, and I understand how to reach and teach children. I value a child's innocence and spirit, and have guarded many kids from the harsh realities of the world around them, while trying to equip them with the skills they need to live their lives.

But something in me never let go of the writer within, and I have spent my free time writingwritingwriting, trying to make it work. Trying to make something meaningful, relevant, and worthwhile out of my words. So this week, I'm going to Chicago. A group called Story 2011 is meeting, and I'm going to try to pass muster within this "creative collective." I actually have my friend from Hobby, Laurel, to thank. She shared her blog with me --From Snowflakes to Hotcakes. Laurel kind of explores various topics that are a part of her life, and she wrote about a book she was following called A Thousand Gifts. Laurel's writing encouraged me to start my own blog; I felt compelled to get started on reading A Thousand Gifts as well. The author, Ann Voskamp, shares her life through A Holy Experience. Ann writes with very few words. In a whisper, she can share a shout. In a handful of words, she can express a heartful of desire, desperation, delight. Over time, I've been learning that I can let God define my time and talents, and then refine me to fulfill the purpose He has for my life.

So wish me luck, would you? I'm going to learn from Ann and other Christian writers and artists who have dreams similar but much larger than my own. Let me take this writing and commit it to Him, and then see what happens next. I am excited...ready...and very hopeful that I can learn to yield, surrender, and follow, and that my reality can finally match His dreams for me.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Let's Just Close the Library

First the unthinkable happened- our district decided that in order to save money, they were going to lay off all of our certified, qualified librarians from their professional positions in school libraries. Each librarian was offered the opportunity to return to the classroom. Because we are required to have a master's degree in library science, current school librarian state certification, a current teaching certificate in our grade level, and a bachelor's degree in education, we can be classroom teachers. Most librarians believe the library is the largest classroom in every school. But the news was hard to hear, and harder to accept. Some of our librarians retired before they wanted to do so, others left the teaching profession, some left the state, and a handful returned to the classroom. With this one school board decision, we lost a wealth of expertise, dedication, and talent in our schools. The hole left by these wonderful, gifted educators is huge, and they are missed every single day.

I didn't think it could get any worse, but I was wrong.

Now there is a dangerous trend underway in our local school libraries to close the library in order to use the aide who was hired to run the library to provide coverage for teachers who need to participate in planning meetings. Our aides are pulled to provide study hall, silent reading time, lunch duty, recess duty, etc. which requires hanging a CLOSED sign on our library doors. Most of our library aides are currently serving students for half the number of hours previously served by full-time librarians because they are being tasked with other duties. Some of our libraries are closed half-the-week, if you look at the total number of hours available to serve our students. This trend negates the fact that open, accessible libraries staffed with full-time certified librarians is one of the most influential factors in accelerating student achievement.

Imagine you are 6 years old, and you're in a vibrant, active first grade classroom. You read books every day. You enjoy browsing for them, choosing them, checking them out, reading them, and repeating that process day after day. But you can't. Because it's Tuesday and the library's closed. So you have your heart set on getting a chance to go to the library on Wednesday, but you can't. Because the library's closed again. You have to wait until Thursday to get a new book, but by then you've waited a long time for another opportunity to fulfill your need for new books. On Thursday, you check out two more books, and you read them Thursday, take them home to read with your family, and bring them back to school on Monday. You want to take your books back for new ones, but you can't. They've closed the library so the library aide can cover a class for a teacher who's in a meeting. So you wait until Tuesday, but it's closed again for teacher meetings. And it's closed again on Wednesday, so you can't go back for new books until Thursday. Some folks will say, So What?? But what research tells us (proven, in-depth research) is that children who have flexible access to books through their open libraries are outscoring and outreading children with limited access. It's not rocket science--when we read more, we achieve more. And maybe it IS rocket science, because children who read more and achieve more become rocket scientists, and doctors, and technicians, and educators.

Our schools are under a lot of pressure to make things happen. When librarians were in our school libraries, they could provide instruction for students as part of the collaborative team on each campus. By replacing them with library aides, you're asking paraprofessionals to fill some awfully big shoes, and you're not compensating them in terms of salary or preparation for their duties. By eliminating full-time librarians in all of our schools, there is no professional librarian managing the operational budget of the library, which includes time, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in assets (both print, non-print, and equipment). So we're losing ground academically, as well as fiscally. Where is the public in all of this? Where is the outcry? There should be many loud objections, conscientious objectors if you will, but instead there seems to be an apathetic acquiescence to the inevitable.

I hope every educator I know will stand firm when they see their library closing again and again. It makes no sense to misappropriate library resources. It's not what's best for kids, and that is supposed to be the bottom line. I'm going to Be the One to speak up, and to protect and defend our libraries for all users-- children, parents, and teachers. Please join me!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Birthday Girls

Everything I ever needed to learn about birthdays, I learned from my mother. She had a gift for making our celebrations unique, and there was something we knew for sure: our mother was happy we were born. I wish every child had that same gift. I meet children every day who have not been given that belief...and I fear they will spend their lives trying to find out if their existence matters to any one or anyone. Perhaps this is why my brothers and I each have tender hearts for children...we treasure what we were given.

The first birthday party I can remember happened when I turned 5. We were moving to Okinawa, and spent a few days at my uncle's house in California before taking a bus to Seattle and then a long flight through Alaska and on to Japan. My uncle was one of Merrill's Marauders, and had suffered through the Bataan Death March. He had the courage of a giant even though malaria left him nearly crippled. He lived in a little trailer park, and we stayed with him until our father sent for us from Okinawa. My mom said I could invite some of the kids in the trailer park, so I invited every single one. She was flabbergasted when 30 children showed up, and somehow she made that little pink cake stretch to feed the gang I'd invited. That was perhaps my first experience with loaves and fishes! My mom was a talented seamstress, and made all of my clothes. On my 7th birthday, she sewed my bedspread, dust ruffle, vanity and stool skirt, etc. out of pink dotted swiss cotton, and I was awash in girlhood. She believed in homemade parties, homemade cakes, homemade lemonade, homemade games...she coached us through pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. I remember her proud, happy smile when we managed to blow out each candle, making each secret wish. I'm afraid in our Chuck E. Cheese world, today's little birthday girl might be unimpressed with my mom's parties, but she made each of us the center of attention on our special day. As my children came into the world, I tried to follow my mother's footsteps. We didn't always have a big budget, but it was not about the presents, it was about the presence of people who loved and adored you, and were happy to celebrate your birth.

My mom told me she remembered only one of her birthdays. She hadn't seen her father for many years after her parent's divorce, and he showed up in Minneapolis with a little yellow dress and matching overcoat. The father she'd lost remembered little Ginny's birthday that year, but he stayed only long enough to give his gift. It was the last time she ever saw him.

A few days ago I came across the last birthday card my mother gave to me, three weeks before she died. I used to do her shopping for her, which included a trip to the store for birthday cards as she was strictly a Hallmark girl. She used a little flowered notecard for my birthday and wrote: "Dear Rob, I couldn't make it to Hallmark to pick out your card this year, but I want you to know that I could not be more proud of the woman you are today. We have become more than mothers and daughters, we are best friends. I love you 60,000,000 ways. Use this check to buy yourself something special--and you're not allowed to buy milk or eggs. Love, Mom"

Last weekend I went to Houston to help Avery celebrate her 9th birthday. Christi's got my mom's knack for creating special occasions. Avery had requested monster fingers for dinner, so after the Children's Museum, we picked up a couple dozen crab claws and steamed them up for supper. She'd requested an ice cream cake, so we had that ready for her, all 9 candles reminding me of the generosity of this life I've grown to love as a grandmother. I carried on our little tradition, buying a new charm for the silver bracelet I started for Avery a couple of years ago. Each of us made her the center of our attention...surrounding her with the love and laughter she so deserves. My mom's legacy is with us...I hear her voice in my head and my heart as I celebrate the blessings of grandchildren. I watch our little birthday girl fill her cheeks with one big breath, eager to extinguish all 9 candles in one attempt. Her eyes are sparkling, dancing, as she giggles and laughs with all of us. Watching my little birthday girl makes my heart ache for my mom, but I'm grateful, ever so grateful, for a mother who loved me so well.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back to Skool

School days, school days, back to Golden Rule days...okay, maybe not.
It is, after all, 2011, and not many of our children even know what we mean if we refer to the Golden Rule. How many adults adhere to this ethic of reciprocity? Or its inverse, the Silver Rule...don't treat others the way you would not like to be treated? We probably don't use these rules enough in theory or in practice. But as I watched the neighborhood little ones queue up at the busstop, I was trying to remember my first day of school. We were in Okinawa, and our school was a rough little quonset hut.

It was kind of an open school concept, with several classrooms in the hut. We rode a little bus across the island, and I got off at the wrong bus stop and had to walk home by myself. Somehow I found my way down a busy highway, past a dozen little Japanese shops. When I got home, my mom was frantic, and I was safe and sound. I had the safety and security of a loving home ...something I believe every child deserves.

One of the back to school customs I loved when my kids were little was one that's still practiced in Germany. All first graders receive a "schulteute" on their first day of school, and it's filled with candy, toys, and school supplies. It's just a simple, lovely celebration of that rite of passage...when your sphere of influence completely changes because your kids have this overwhelming thing called "school" to master.

These aren't my family's images...just wanted you to see what a schulteute looks like!

I've watched all the little faces of Bryan ISD's children as they've returned to school this week. Some had a refreshing summer, with vacations, family time, excitement and restoration. Others have had to endure loneliness, hunger, and insecurity as the "safe zone" called school wasn't open or available for them. It's such an illustration of the "haves" and "have nots"...the new backpacks, school clothes, bright new shoes...and the old backpacks, the ripped clothes, the old sneakers. Some are so apprehensive, anxious, excited; others are completely unimpressed. Our new superintendent has a big push: Be the One. I think I get it...I know what he the one to dream, imagine, create, solve, take responsibility, make a difference. It really does all come down to that one child, that one teacher. I have a special prayer for all my teacher friends, and for all the teachers my grandchildren will encounter this year...I think first and foremost I pray that we are all gentle with one another. The world is a nervous enough place, I want our children to feel confident and secure in their knowing...that school will be a safe place to grow and learn. And more than that, I pray that this year will be a complete adventure...with joy at every turn, that 'being the one' won't completely exhaust them, and that the year will be one of blessing and delight. I was reading in Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, a quote by Tagore that exemplifies what I think teachers must do to make it. If we can live like this:
I slept and dreamt life was joy. I awoke and saw life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy.
And, okay, when the going gets tough and we finally reach the end of the day or the end of the week, perhaps we should throw in that Jimmy Buffett quote, too, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three Places

My friend at work was presenting a theory or concept that who we are and what we are about can be tied to "three places" and I was trying to get her to expound on that idea a little. It intrigued me. What does that mean? Can it be said that you can find out who I am if I give you a closer look at the three places that mean the most to me? I am willing to give it a try.

I found a picture first of our colt in a small pasture when she was just a wee little one. I have never been an experienced horse woman. I am a horse lover, but not an equestrian. Horses represent something inside of me that I cannot get out of my system. I want the attitude of freedom you see in a horse...yet I know they are crazy-tied to their herd and do not want to be alone. When we were kids we'd visit my grandparents on their farm in North Dakota, and I must confess I love the smell of manure. There's nothing like a good old whiff of barn. When we lived on a small farm in Indiana, our neighbor raised hawgs, and I cannot tolerate that smell at all. But give me an old barn that once housed cows and horses, and I'm in hog heaven. As far as places go, I want the habitat of horses...the wide open fields, the pastures, the barely standing barb wire fence. I want the old windmill and the rusty weather vane, the round bales and the wagon full of square bales. I want the horse with grass coarsely tossed across his flanks, hooves firmly planted and listening through the dirt. Horses remind me of my children, and the relationships we share. There is a hierarchy within those relationships, a give and take, a need and want that we share with one another. Horses are extremely loyal, and I have tried hard to instill that in our family. That no matter what, we are loyal to one another.

The second place that matters to me is the old homestead, and that's kind of funny coming from a military kid because we never really had one. My folks retired in Texas, and 931 Cottonmouth Drive became home to us but I was already a teenager by then. In the backyard there was a huge live oak, and over the years my brothers built a fort in the top of the tree. I guess I hammered in a few footholds and climbed up and down their makeshift ladder, but it was a boys clubhouse and hide-out. It represents shelter to me. Stacy was the last to leave home, and we all moved off to college and our adult lives, but the tree weathered every storm and I always checked on the old tree when I'd come home to visit. It still stands at 931 Cottonmouth Drive. It's a lot worse for wear; all our old boards have fallen off, limbs have broken and dropped to the ground; lumber's been extracted to prevent passers by from being injured; but there's a skeleton of a tree left in the yard. That tree represents everything wonderful about the home my parents created for us. We had our ups and downs like all families do, but the analogy between this tree and the giving tree is real to me.

Finally, my place is Arlington. Arlington is where my parents are buried, but more importantly, it represents the life we were blessed to live. Our parents taught us that freedom isn't free, and my father was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to insure we all lived in the world he wanted for us. He instilled those same values in my brothers. All of us kids chose public service as a way of life. As a military wife, my mother bore the brunt of my father's career choices, raising us alone for so many many days. I see Arlington, and I think of her sacrifices as well. My parents taught us how to love, and Arlington represents that love for me.

So those are my three places, and maybe there is something to this theory after all. Does each place represent who I am and what I am all about? I think maybe they do. It doesn't mean I'm done with places or traveling, or putting down new roots, but something tells me no place I go can replace these places; they are my geography, my history, my places on this life map.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Love is a resting place

It was time to go back to school this week, so I had a chance to reflect on our summer and all the busy-ness and lazy-ness of the weeks behind me. My car accident in May started the summer off with too many tests, too many doctor visits, too many questions about my health, but I tried to set it all aside and let God be mine, because He told me once in Psalm 66 that He would not reject my prayers or withhold His love for me, so I was counting on His promise in every way.

I had a chance to take care of each of my children, as they needed me in various ways, and that is a privilege that I try not to take for granted. I was glad I was able to be with Lauren as she changed offices; I was happy to care for Christi and Ryan's children while they took a much-needed break; it was wonderful to celebrate birthdays with Charlotte, Lauren, and Michelle; and I counted down the days until Carlisle's visit with his family.

I had to go back to work this week, in my new job, with lots of new responsibilities, and was grateful that God allowed for plenty of rest and relaxation beforehand. It made me think of His love, and the way He has taught me how to love. I would say that I don't love perfectly; I'm not sure who does. I am sometimes selfish and self-serving in my love, as I really want to be loved in return. But I hope if I've taught my children anything, it is the idea that love is a resting place. Life beats us up, it demands so much of us, it saps us, surprises us, disappoints us, and brings us both sorrow and joy. If we do not know how to turn to each other, and find rest in each other, we do not truly know how to love, nor do we understand how God loves us.

The whole family gathered at the lake as summer ended. Our friend, Tim Burkhalter (Images of His) joined us to take photos of each family. I love this one of Carlisle and Michelle, Shayleigh and little Carlisle. I look at my little boy now all grown up...and think about my Carlisle and his journey...a boy smack dab in the midst of 4 girls. I used to call him a boy sandwich. He knew some very difficult days as a teenager, and God redeemed every moment. While he had no father as a teenager, he had the loving example of other men in his life, primarily his grandfathers, to show him how a man loves his family. Today, his love is a resting place for his wife, and his beautiful daughter and son. I look into his eyes and see a man who knows what love means, and I am grateful for God's grace and unfailing protection.

I asked Ryan's grandparents to come over to the lake house so we could take their picture, and after over 60 years of marriage, Caroline climbed onto Bob's lap and told our friend Tim to have at it. He captured the sparkle and energy that keeps this couple's love as alive and vibrant as it was so many decades ago. I so admire their commitment and their stamina...they have shown their children and grandchildren that their love is a resting place.

Ryan had the example of his grandparents to guide him in creating a resting place in his home. Like Christi, he had seen the marriage of his parents come apart and they both knew firsthand about the wounds such decisions cause. When they decided to marry, I thought they were both so young, and I wanted them to wait. But they had found love in each other, and I had to let go and let God lead them into the life He'd planned for them. Today, as husband and wife, mother and father, they give each other and their 3 children the safety, security, and stability of a loving home, a resting place in a hectic world.

Last summer when we gathered at the lake, Michelle had just returned from a semester abroad in Spain, and Charlotte was still in San Francisco going to jewelry school, so we didn't have a chance to capture their friendship and sista-hood. I watched Michelle gather her "bees" into her lap at the lake, and admire the strong relationship she's created with her nieces and nephews. She has so much love to give, and always tastes the salt of another person's tears. She has a beautiful heart. So does Charlotte. Someone asked me to give one word to describe Charlotte and I had to use a hyphen: tender-hearted. I ask God every day to guide their path, each step, so they end up with a partner in life who helps them create the joyful resting place they each deserve.

I love the way Tim's photo captures this couple that we've grown to love so much. Mike is Michelle's brother (we call Carlisle's wife, Michelle, Bunny--but that's a secret). Mike and Lorena have spent the past 16 months planting a church in St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Pete is one of the most violent cities in the country. Crime is rampant, people are lost and searching for answers, and Mike has carried a burden for this city for many years. God led him to plant City on a Hill Church, and he will tell you story after story of how God has rescued and redeemed members of his church. 300-400 people gather together every week to listen to this shepherd offer God's love as a resting place for those beaten up by the troubles of their lives. Lorena's father went home to heaven just weeks before our gathering at the lake, and my prayer for her time with all of us was that she would find rest. But in between swimming, capsizing the jet ski, farkling, and cooking, I'm not sure she got much rest. She has many gifts, and shared her heart with us. She also happens to cook like Paula Deen, so we were not afraid to encourage her in the kitchen.

We weren't sure Lauren and her sweetheart, Chris, were going to make it to the lake when Chris tore the tendons apart in his hand but it's not easy to keep a good man down. They led the charge on the water, making sure the boats, rafts, fishing poles, and jet skis were ready for action each day. They are both active people, and are not afraid to be themselves. I admire that about both of them. Sometimes I'm so busy being what other people want or need me to be, that I'm not sure how to just be myself. Lauren and Chris have shared their pasts and are creating a future together, and in the process they're learning how to make it work, how to become a resting place for one another.

So the lake visit ended too soon once again. We would never have had the chance to get together if not for Ryan's aunt and uncle, John and Linda Wilcox. They gave us a gift we will never forget. Got home, unpacked, washed and put away all the gear, and now it is time to go back to school. Gone are the "halcyon days of summer" for another year. Life's pressing in once again. But I can say that as we gathered and departed, Christ was in our midst. He assembled us from Florida, Texas, and points in between and gave us the time and opportunity to share His heart with each other. He showed us once again how He showers us with His love, and blesses us so abundantly. I have to hit my knees all too often to ask for His forgiveness, for taking it all for granted. One of the many promises I cling to is this (and I've changed it so it sounds like it's written for me): When she calls out to Me, I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble; I will rescue her and give her honor; I will satisfy her with a long life and show her My salvation. Ps 91:15-6

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fairy Dust

Ryan and Christi invited all of us to join them at Ryan's uncle's house at Lake Cherokee, and that's where the mystery began...

... the first morning of our vacation, I woke up and went into the big house. When I returned to my cabin, I found my bed made, my towels folded, and my brush, make-up, etc rearranged.

... I asked around in the house, and found out several of us had the same kind of mysterious visit. Ryan said they had not hired a housekeeper, so we knew something interesting and precious was happening.

...I left a note: Who is cleaning my room?

...and this was the response: Dear Robin, I can not tell you where we are, but I will tell you that your friends, Lovebird and Sunflower, are maids and they fixed your room.

...that evening, I returned to my cabin at bedtime. I found my bed ready, my pajamas laid out on the quilt, my towels folded by the sink.

...the next day, I left another note: Dear Lovebird and Sunflower, Thank you for making my room so pretty yesterday. I am glad I have such nice fairies on my vacation. My friends, Ashlynn, Avery, and Tori said you might like something sweet so here is a delicious cookie to share. Love, G'ma

...that evening, the cookies were eaten, and I received this reply:

..."Thank you for the cookie!" and the pattern repeated itself.

...I had a feeling I was being pranked, but I told my granddaughters that these fairies were certainly very sneaky, leaving no clues of their whereabouts. Until the day I took my nap. The girls woke me up to tell me there was a trail outside my cabin. On the path beside my door was a trail of little pebbles and cookie crumbs that led into the woods behind my cabin. Avery and Tori explained that they thought they knew where the fairies were coming from--the woods! They said the fact that there were cookie crumbs in the trail proved that it must be the path of Lovebird and Sunflower.

....each day, my bed was made, my towels folded, my pajamas prepared for me at bedtime. Finally, we reached our last day together, and I left this note:

"I have to say thank you and goodbye because I am leaving tomorrow. Thank you for being my friends. Love, G'ma P.S. Here is a tip for cleaning my room so nicely every day. (I left a few dollars on the counter.)

...that evening when I returned to my room, my bed was ready, my pajamas were left out, I had no note, and the money I left was still on the counter. I found Avery and Tori the next morning and told them what had happened. Avery had a theory. She said, "Grandma, maybe they weren't doing it for money."

...I packed my things and prepared to leave, discussing the money situation with Avery once again. I told her I would just have to think of another way to thank the fairies, and blew a kiss into the air.

...Avery said, "Grandma, can I tell you something?"

...She sparkled, "It was not really Lovebird or Sunflower. We just made that up. It was me and Tori."

...Mystery solved! Avery and Tori, two little eight-year olds, had taken it upon themselves to become lake fairies, treating us to a little make-believe. But the larger mystery remains... did I get so lucky?

...Here are "the fairies" from Lake Cherokee-- Lovebird and Sunflower.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soldier Boy

I have a prayer for our soldiers today, and I am grateful for the reminder to lift them up. I'm sorry that I needed the reminder, and for any offense I might cause in sharing this story.

It started with gas. I was filling up at the Valero in Temple, waiting for Lauren's sweetheart to finish at the hospital so I could take him home. The young man in the car next to me kept staring at me, and I was a little uncomfortable. I pumped my gas, put the handle back on the thingamajig, and got ready to return to my car.

He said, "Excuse me, Ma'am. Can I ask you to buy me a breakfast sandwich? I said, "Excuse me?" He said, "Can I ask you to buy me a sandwich? I'm hungry."

I said, "What's going on?" He had a pick-up truck full of suitcases, but he had a weird look on his face.

"I just got back from Iraq a few months ago, and I put the last of my money in my gas tank, and I'm hungry."

He was wearing civilian clothes, so I asked, "You're in the military?"

"Yes, Army, Ma'am."

I said, "Do you have an ID card?" Forgive me, Lord, for being so skeptical.

"I've got a VA card." He pulled an ID card out of his wallet, with his name and photo and the words, "Service related injury." I guess that's what the VA issues to injured soldiers. "I have PTSD and I'm not doing too well."

I went to my wallet, and all I had was $6.00. "You can have what I have."

"I'm just hungry. I swear. I'll go in this store right here and buy a sandwich."

I said, "Okay, I'll watch your truck." He went into the service station, and a lady got into the passenger seat. She was a good bit older than him. I asked her, "What's the matter?"

"He just got back from Iraq, he has PTSD, his wife left him, and I'm taking him to the VA but I just gave him what money I had to put in his gas tank. I'm his aunt, and my husband and I have given him all we have." She tried to hand me 11 cents. "You can have the change from the gas."

"No, I don't want that. I just wanted to make sure he really needed help." Please forgive me, Lord. For doubting this opportunity you've given me.

She said, "I don't blame you, people trick people all the time. But I know God will bless you and I thank you for helping him. He's tried to take his life twice and I'm going to try to get the VA to help him."

I said, "I know this has been a hard war on so many young people. I'm glad he has you."

She said, "Today I'm glad he has you. Thank you, Ma'am."

I feel like such a heel. Why should this soldier have to prove his need for help to me? For a whopping six bucks? I felt so angry with myself. I got into my truck and left, but pulled over a few blocks later, tears filling my eyes. Why Lord? Why must I doubt the opportunities you give me to be your hands, your feet, your heart?

I hope this soldier boy gets the help he needs. Sometimes the war feels so far away, but here he is, a young man, fighting for his life in the only way he knows how...trusting our health care system to help him make sense of his journey long after leaving foreign soil. And I treated him like a foreigner, a stranger.

I've got this boy on my heart now, and I will lift him up. And for all my military friends and family, I ask for forgiveness, and say thank you for your service, which is what I should have said first and foremost today to that soldier boy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


When my children were little, time was not my friend. The clock was always ticking in my head, sometimes a whisper but other times a bomb, and I was aware of its control over my days. The early morning alarms for school and work, interrupting LaurenChristiCarlisleMichelleCharlotte deep in slumber to eatbreakfastgetdressedbrushteethgetbackpackcatchbus, or the tick-tock whiplash of rushing to doctordentist or even Bible study. I remember once admonishing my friends for being late to Protestant Women of the Chapel. Who in the hell did I think I was?

Time was a control freak and a thief. Time whipped me about, fraying my nerves and eating my peace. One of the things I loved about breastfeeding was the way we rose in the middle of the night, oblivious to time because I was so tired, but grateful for the stolen moments given to us when the rest of the house slept. It was our time to get to know each other, and I treasured it.

Even birthday parties were driven by time--Christi running to the door to greet her friends hit her head on the door frame and suffered a concussion. Only 4 years old, but I was teaching her to hurry. Time beat me up when I was a young mother. Time was relentless and unstoppable, consuming daysweeksmonthsyears and I was at a loss to figure out where it went.

I remember the painful agonizing passage of time, waiting for teenagers to come in the door, meeting or not meeting curfew, and the welcome or angry arms that greeted them. Time represented benchmarks-- kindergarten, middle school, high school, college.

Time screamed at me when Bo died, the past and the future wailing.

But today time has a different place. It is a gift, a treasure. I have this moment I am in right now, the moments in front of me. What will I do with this moment? How will it count? Will I waste time or squander it? Will I notice it? Will I make it matter- this moment? This gift?

I have choices...time is mine and I am His.