Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: That's What He Said

Doesn't my theme sound, well, less than holy this year?

I got an inkling of my theme way back at the beginning of 2012, when I was focusing on Mary. Something inside me stirred and continued stirring as the year flew past. Then I got an Amazon Vine email that contained Shane Claiborne's newest book, Red-Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?

I adore Shane and have been convicted and spurred on to change by his books in the past. They are eye-openers, to say the least. The title of his newest spoke to that stirring in my soul, the part of me fed up with "Church" and all of the craziness that is modern Christianity. I have embraced my inner skeptic and allowed myself to question and wrestle with my faith (or lack thereof) as this year drew to a close. I have felt torn open, laid bare, rubbed raw. I have asked myself if I could narrow my religion down, nail it to my heart with only the words of Christ.

What if I quit worrying about things Jesus never spoke of and focus entirely on the things He actually said? Even before seeing Shane's new book title, I was fairly certain 2013's theme would be focused on Jesus, on the actions He commanded and the lessons He taught. It seems fitting, doesn't it? To pass simply from a year about Mary to a year about Jesus. She has, in essence, birthed him inside of me this year. Focusing on Mary helped me to focus on Jesus, to imagine her vast love for Him, her tenderness as she nursed and swaddled Him, her pain when He was taken away.

I want to know Jesus as intimately as Mary knew Him. I want to actually live with Him within me, as Mary did for those nine months. Can I serve Him as she served Him? Can I follow Him as she followed Him, even if that means kneeling at the foot of a cross, losing everything I was certain could not be lost? Can I serve Him even when I feel betrayed by Him, as Mary must have felt when He said to the crowd, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" How her heart must have broken in that moment. Can I bare that?

In 2013, I want to learn to live with Jesus' words and also with His silence. So it is the year of That's What He Said or, if you'd prefer a holier wording, it is 2013: The Red-Letter Year.

Happy New Year, friends. God's blessing be upon you in whatever it may bring.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

And I Read: 2012 Edition

In January...

I drove to Oxford to hang out with the beautiful Joshilyn.
I did 30 random acts of kindness to celebrate my 30th birthday.
There was a TweetSpeak Twitter party (so much fun!).
I worked on A Library for Valentine (children's time travel story).
I dreamed about going to college with Darth Vader and Voldemort.
Gratitude for Martin Luther King Jr filled me to overflowing.
I wrote about James Durbin and chatted with his wife.

And I read...

Wit's End by Karen Joy Fowler*
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
If You Ask Me by Betty White*
Trespassers Will be Baptized by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock
The Giver by Lois Lowry*~ (reread)
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson*
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery*
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo~
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson
The Postcard by Tony Abbot*~

In February...

I taught an essay class and led a teen book club for our homeschool co-op.
My magic library story continued to grow.
I contemplated The Emerald City in a spiritual manner.
Sue Monk Kidd actually read an essay I wrote, inspired by one of her books.
The boys and I read poems in honor of Black History Month.
Eliza (1-year-old) called me on the phone. ;)

And I read...

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery*
Creeker by Linda Scott Derosier (reread)
The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry*~
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan~
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (book group selection)
Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer*~
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (reread)~
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Still by Lauren F. Winner

In March...

I contemplated Holland vs Italy.
I dressed up and went to the Hunger Games midnight premiere.
One of our (therapy) cats, Pocus, died. It was rough on all of us.
David went on a trip to Boston, Rhode Island, Maine, and some other places.
A few agents requested material.
I actively sought "happy" songs.
I discovered Honey Maple Nut ice cream. *swoon*
My sister announced baby #2 was on the way.

And I read...

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (book group selection)~
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin*
Heat by Mike Lupica*~
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Higher Power of Lucky by SusanPatron
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

In April...

Dental work, Dental work, Dental work.
I started writing the Tornado book.
Haydn and I spent a day caring for newborn kittens (not ours).
A stomach bug made the rounds.
I started making small dietary changes.
We tested Haydn for food intolerances.
I fell in love with G. K. Chesterton.
I posted a poem (almost) everyday for National Poetry Month.

And I read...

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Story of the World: Vol I by Susan Wise Bauer"~
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery~
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman (reread)

In May...

Haydn's food intolerance test revealed a gluten issue. :(
I made Haydn yummy gluten-free doughnuts for Sunday mornings.
I also made my very first gluten-free pizza.
I asked my Random House reader to reveal their identity, but they didn't do so.
Haydn created a new Discworld in his bedroom.
More dental work.
I finished the first draft of my Tornado book.
Haydn pitched for his baseball team.
David's baseball team made it to the playoffs.

And I read...

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt by Gare Thompson~
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster~
Inheritance by Christopher Paolini*~
Gold by Chris Cleave
Showing Mary by Renita J. Weems
Sing a Song of Tuna Fish by Esme Raji Codell~
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

In June...

I had an epiphany regarding legalism.
A Haydn-approved gluten-free bread recipe was found at least.
The boys and I played Life Zapped a lot.
I signed with Jacques, my wonderful agent.
That one deserves a lot of happy exclamation marks.
Like this: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I spent a week in SC, visiting family and friends.
I saw my sister, Candy, and her family for the first time in years.
I met two of my nephews for the first time.
The boys and I attended my godson's birthday party.
Haydn played in an All-Star baseball tournament (his first).

And I read...

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg~
Starcross by Philip Reeve*~
Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle*~
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter*~
The Declaration by Gemma Malley*~
Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

In July...

Jacques began sending Tornado to editors.
I struggled to love the Church despite her failings.
Corey preached a revival in Vaughan, MS.
We were loved on and cared for by the wonderful members of that church.
I went on a mission trip to Seattle with a group of teens.
I just happened to finish reading Mary on Mary's feast day.
I successfully baked homemade bread.

And I read...

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques*~
The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George
Bad Apple by T. R. Burns~
Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

In August...

We spent a lot of time at parks with homeschool friends.
I started doodling scripture in my art journal.
My nephew, Tyrus, was born.
I made dairy free ice cream for Haydn.
Girlchild moved in with us.
90s music dominated my speakers.
A possible book contract dangled before me.
Haydn was briefly taken off his main medication.
It was not pretty.
Haydn was put back on his main medication.
David started walking to school.

And I read...

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck*~
Thrall by Natasha Trethawey
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (reread)
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery~
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
Who Was Mark Twain by April Jones Prince~
As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott
Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman

In September...

Haydn began using Spelling City.
We went to Gulf Shores, where Corey spoke for a retreat.
I spent a ton of time working on Tornado revisions.
We drove to AL for Granddaddy's 88th birthday party.
Girlchild earned her GED with high test scores.
We attended an owl talk at the library.
Homeschool co-op got under way for fall.

And I read...

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling*~ (reread)
Revolutionary Poet by Maryann N. Weidt~
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham*~
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Home by Marilynne Robinson (book group selection)
Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham*~
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg~
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

In October...

There was a homeschool field trip to see wolves.
I fell a bit in love with the wolves.
Daddy sent Carrie and me candy corn Oreos.
I started working on Christmas gifts.
I took a C. S. Lewis class at church.
We watched a LOT of Dr. Who.
My small group girls helped at The Birthing Project.
We had Trunk or Treat at church.
Haydn dressed as Dr. Who and David went as Harry Potter.
Granddaddy passed away while Corey held his hand.

And I read...

Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica*~
The Windows of Heaven by Ron Rozelle
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer*~
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

In November...

Leila and I spent a week in Indiana.
I started a new book project.
Corey attended his last seminary class!!!
Generous friends gave David a piano. (WOW)
Kentucky hired a new head football coach.
I went to a lovely book group meeting.

And I read...

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (book group selection)
Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston
In Defense of Sanity by G. K. Chesterton"
Game Changers: Book 1 by Mike Lupica~
Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis
The Shadows by Jacqueline West*

In December...

Girlchild moved out.
I got a Keurig!
My homesickness has become palpable.
Corey turned in his last papers.
That previously dangling carrot of a book contract disappeared.
I guest blogged at Middle Places.

And I read...

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder~
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Through the Year with Mary by Karen Edmisten"
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling*~
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells*~
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson*~
Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson*~
Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing by Alison McGhee
A Light in the Window by Jan Karon
Calli Be Gold by Michele Weber Hurwitz
The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni
The World's Last Night and Other Essays by C. S. Lewis

Total: 99

*audio book
"read from over a period of months or the entire year
~read or listened to with my kids

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Felicities

Friday Felicities

Big warm Kentucky sweatshirt
The boys happy about gifts
Time spent with family
Texts that make me laugh
Doctor Who t-shirt
Writing a story for fun, just for fun.
Being able to do something special that touches someone else's heart
A ton of new books for Christmas
Watching the Hobbit with Haydn
Christmas cards galore
Video of Eliza playing with her tea set

2012 - Year of Mary, Let it Be

2012 is drawing to a close as I sit by a river in Tennessee. I was here last weekend as well, when the world didn't end. It's becoming a tradition. Back in May of 2011, when the "rapture" was set to occur, I was sitting here as well, sipping coffee, writing in my journal, watching ripples on the river water. In a way, this peaceful place is the perfect setting for my theme wrap-up.

2012 was my year of Mary. Is my year of Mary, since 2013 hasn't quite broken the horizon yet. Last year, at around this time, I felt certain God wanted me to focus on Mary this year. I haven't taken up praying to Mary, but I have pondered her life and how she lived it. I've turned "Let it be" into a mantra, a phrase I repeat inside my mind, praying that Jesus will help me to mean it. Saying "Let it be" is easy enough, but actually letting it be, is a whole other ballgame.

I left my Holy Family out all year, sitting quietly on a bookshelf, a wooden labyrinth behind Mary and Joseph and their sweet little baby. I used a daily devotion book called Through the Year with Mary, and there were some delicious little nuggets of truth and insight to be found amid the pages. I read a book called Showing Mary, and I highly recommend it.

Summer sent me on an unexpected detour, a side trip to visit a different Mary. First, I signed with a literary agent, and discovered Margaret George to be one of his other authors. I really enjoyed Memoirs of Cleopatra when I was in college, so I decided to read another of her fictional biographies. I chose Mary Called Magdalene, and I was plunged into a world different from my own but somehow very familiar as well. I found myself looking at Jesus in a brand new light, really thinking about his teachings and what he might have meant by so many controversial statements.

In the middle of reading Margaret's tale of Mary, I boarded an airplane and made a pilgrimage to Seattle, where my husband and I led a group of teenagers and a couple of other adults into the heart of homeless ministry. The shelter where we served? It was called Mary's Place. The church where we worshipped with many of those women? It was named for Mary as well. I felt God so near that week in Seattle.

The second half of the year has included some disappointments, some failings. I wonder if Mary felt like a failure when her son was executed. I don't believe for a minute that she knew or expected how his story would end, or seem to end. She said, "Let it be," but torture and death weren't the events she agreed to. Were they? Maybe, on that final day, Mary felt like a failure, just as I've felt lately. It would only be three days before she knew He was alive again, before He revealed that part of His divinely ordered plan. I'm clinging to that bit of hope, the chance that my current feelings of failure will be somehow transformed. Maybe, by this time next year, I will see my mistakes and rejections as seeds, their limbs already stretching to the sky, their buds almost ready to blossom.

As 2013 approaches and my Year of Mary fades silently away, I am saying again, even knowing how weak my heart feels, Let it be, Lord, let it be.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday Poem: Gifts

What gifts do I bring?

In place of gold,
I offer the black-hole vacuum
of my all-consuming
How can I give,
never pausing
in my want?

In place of frankincense,
I come into his house,
into his heart,
smelling of this broken world.
I open empty hands,
hands too clean,
too smooth.
My hands do not smell
of God's work
for God's people.

In place of myrrh,
I bring fear,
a desperate gaping need
to never die, to never
feel weak.
I can anoint him only
with pleas to keep me safe,
keep safe the others
that I love.

I am no king and no wise woman.
I am only a broken
struggling to rise above
so I can offer Jesus
anything at all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Poem: Desert

I'm terrified of living
in this desert.
I am cacti,
reaching my prickly arms
skyward, begging,
oh Jesus,
let it rain.

This desert in my heart,
this Israel,
cannot be the promised land,
the place I'm intended
to live forever.

These words I'm tripping
over, these beliefs
that choke my air
and leave me
These words are not
my manna.

My heart feels fear;
I am afraid
Israel will always be
a drought inside
my soul, a place
I cannot ever

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

This Holy Story

I love this holy story,
this broken image of a woman
shattered reputation scattered,
saved from stoning by a man
willing to see God's hand
in a hopeless moment, a faithless wife.
He didn't let her go, this man,
and another holy story falls,
words written in loose sand.

I love this woman's story,
her cloth robe worn thin by
so many eyes, so many hearts,
so many generations born and held
in her arms, her God
alive and suckling at her breast.
The man who reconciled
and the baby sent to reconcile
a world.

I love this mother's story.
She is heart and womb and blood,
milk, and flesh, and mud,
human birthed and breathing,
humility of the humblest kind
covering a royal throne.
Mary, here, advent of Christ
His home.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Poem: Steam

John the Baptizer,
standing and dancing
in the river, in the
Jordan, and maybe
he's exactly what I need,
exactly who I need
to listen to.

Maybe I need harsh
words like fire,
words to burn
my doubts away.
Maybe I need
to dive into the river,
the fiery words
in water, steam,
the truth in them almost
smoking all around me, ash.

John the Baptizer,
dancing at the river's bend,
stop me in my tracks,
that I repent.
Steam me in the water.
Cook me through.
Invite me in
to swim with you.

Invite me in
and help me see
past all this doubt.
Baptize me with water
and offer me up
to the one who comes
in fire.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Currently: the Bleak December

Current Books: I just finished The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. It reminded me a bit of Rebecca, of Manderly. It took me forever to read it though. I have been so distracted by so many things lately. Now I am reading Hate List by Jennifer Brown. It is really good, but doing nothing for my jumpiness. I'm not sure why I've been so jumpy lately.

Current Playlist: Well, my new book centers around a girl named Wyn, and she happens to be an Aerosmith nut, so there's lots of Aerosmith being played around here, especially when I'm cooking.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Little Debbie cakes. I've knocked so much junk food from my diet, but suddenly I can't get enough Oatmeal Cream pies or Swiss Cake Rolls.

Current Colors: Kentucky blue. I got a new coat in that pretty color.

Current Fetish: Keurig. Corey got me one for Christmas, but the box showed up with Keurig written all over it, so the surprise was spoiled. I love it though. I want to try the chai latte k-cups. He also got me a reusable k-cup. I will mostly use that.

Current Food: There's leftover taco soup in the fridge.

Current Drink: Coffee with sweet cream and sugar.

Current Favorite Favorite: Text conversations with my sister. The older we get, the more and more I like her and enjoy her friendship. I hope my boys feel that way about each other someday.

Current Wishlist: K-cups, Amazon giftcards, an XL long sleeved Little Women shirt from Out of Print Clothing, a new Kindle case...

Current Needs: More dental work. Always always always more dental work. And I need to relax and let the process happen with my writing.

Current Triumph: It's not my triumph, but I'm really excited about Corey finishing seminary, and doing so with an amazing GPA. For myself, I'm excited to have passed the 20,000 word mark on the first draft of a new novel.

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: Waiting. Waiting on a few really specific things. I need to relax and let the process happen in multiple areas of my life.

Current Indulgence: Did I mention the Little Debbies? Yeah, well, that. Also, going back to sleep after getting David up for school. I only sleep about an hour before getting up and starting school with Haydn, but I should probably just stay awake in the first place.

Current Mood: Pensive.

Current #1 Blessing: COREY FINISHED SCHOOL!

Current Outfit: jeans, a dark purple long-sleeved shirt, tennis shoes.

Current Link: This website has the best t-shirts.

Current Quote: "Everything will be okay in the end, and if it isn't okay it isn't the end."

Current Photo:

Title taken from "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrowFrom my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —Nameless here for evermore.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

M Div Done: In Which I Celebrate

Five and a half years ago, my husband started the seminary journey. He'd already been in youth ministry for around a decade, but he had not taken the seminary route. Instead, he had a Christian Education degree from Huntingdon College. He had put off seminary when his first wife became pregnant with their daughter. After a pretty rough few years, we were together and had started our family. We decided it was time for him to go back to school.

When Corey began working toward his M. Div, we had a two and a half year old and a four and a half year old. We were living in Brandon, MS, and Corey was working two jobs. He was the youth minister at a church we loved and also spoke to high schoolers about making their college decisions and succeeding in that area of their lives. Adding seminary on top of this was difficult, but we made adjustments.

In the years between then and now, so much has happened. I love lists. There is just something about precise bullet points. They make me feel organized. So here we go... things that have happened in the course of Corey earning his Masters of Divinity:

  • I went to work full-time
  • Haydn started school
  • I quit working full-time
  • Corey accepted a ministry position in Tupelo
  • He was able to drop his second job (Thank you FUMC!)
  • David started school
  • Haydn was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome
  • and Asperger's (High-Functioning Autism)
  • and ADHD 
  • We chose to pull Haydn from public school and teach him at home
  • My sister got married and had two babies
  • Corey's parents retired to a beautiful home in Tennessee
  • I lost 2 uncles to cancer
  • David has made it to 3rd grade with nearly perfect grades
  • Corey's grandfather passed away
  • I wrote a bunch of books
  • I signed with a literary agent

There are other things, but this list gives you a pretty good idea of how much life has changed in the years Corey spent in seminary, driving to and from Memphis once or twice weekly for the last five and a half years.

Our journey is, by no means, at an end. For Corey, there's still more papers and interviews and ceremonies before he is officially ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. For me, who knows how many more rejections will come, how many books I will write before the right book finds the right editor at the right time. Haydn is blossoming in the homeschool environment, but he certainly has a way to go. Still, after two years of therapy, we're reaching a place where I believe he will be okay. He can function in this world when it's time for him to do it on his own.

But, for today, here we are, at an ending that seemed never-coming over the last few years. My boys can't remember life before seminary. My husband has been up until three in the morning writing papers and studying theology for so long... who knows when his body clock will find its new normal. It's good to be at the end. Sometimes endings are sad, but this one is happy.

Very very happy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday Poem: Most Broken

What if Mary didn't want
her child to be special?
Maybe she did,
in the beginning,
when the word had only just
become flesh,
but didn't her heart break
when he turned his family
away amid the crowd?
Wasn't her heart pierced
as with a sword just as
the man at the Temple foretold?
Did she not, in that split
second when he met her eyes
and gave her John
wish she could take back her words,
Let it be?
Let this be?
Let this horror, this nightmare,
this ending of her soul's beginning,
this death...
Let it be?

Could I ever be the mother
you are, Mary?
Can I ever look at my son 
at his most broken and abandoned 
and say
yes, Lord,

Let it be.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Felicities: Nov 30

Friday Felicities

Good writing days
Early Christmas gift from the hubby
Ballet video sent to my phone
Naming characters
Packages ready to mail
The feeling you get once a procrastinated task is complete
Mel Brooks on Conan
My sister has a job interview
Doctor Who
Corey attended his last seminary class!!!
Mom's meatloaf
David enjoying his piano (thank you generous friends)
Kentucky hired a football coach
I got a new blue coat
My "relentless optimism" shirt

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Felicities on Saturday

Friday Felicities
(1 day late)

Olivia faces
Sophia cuddles
Country pumpkin ice cream from GD Ritzys
Sleeping till 9
Road trip with the bestie
Freshly bathed babies
Funny texts with the hubby
Spanish soap operas
Writing daily on the new story

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Poem: The Kingdom is Open

The Kingdom is open to everyone.
You don't decide
who comes inside.
You have no say
in the issued invitation.
You can't choose some words
from whatever verse in
your black leather bound
God, the book that has replaced
your Jesus.
You turn to Deuteronomy
and quote from harsh
but you ignore the words
of Jesus,
"if they are not against me,
they are for me."
The Kingdom is open,
but your heart is so focused
on closing the doors,
you'll soon find yourself
left alone.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Felicities: November 9, 2012

Friday Felicities

Cheri thinks I look like Kiera Knightly. *swoon*
New jeans
No kids at home today
I wrote 2500 words yesterday.
Reading a good book
Wearing Kentucky blue
Lots of orange boxes in the mail (Shutterfly!)
Text convos with my sister
Happies almost ready to mail
Brownie in a mug
G2 pens in black and purple

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Heaven: That's Just Not Good Enough

So, having confessed to my skepticism, I may as well share one of the areas in which I struggle to accept what I am supposed to believe.

Five years back, my friend died. Natalie was a beautiful faithful 33 year old with two kids and a talent with words. She was one of the few people in this world who read more than me. She died from stomach cancer, one of the worst kinds (to my mind) because it is rarely found before it's too late. I also lost an aunt to stomach cancer when I was just a wee thing. Her funeral is one of my earliest memories. According to my dad, it is quite likely that his mother died with stomach cancer as well. I never got to meet her, and that has always been a sore spot for me. Anywho, I digress.

After Natalie died, I started having panic attacks. I would try to imagine her in heaven. I thought that would help me be okay with her dying, but it didn't help at all. Everything I had ever been taught about the afterlife suddenly seemed too little too late, flimsy cardboard ideas meant to comfort small children.

As a matter of fact, I realized just this week that Natalie's death wasn't the start of my struggle with heaven. When I was ten, the same age as my oldest son, my Papaw passed away. He lived with us, and he died while we were at church. He was home alone. I vividly remember begging to see him and Mom saying no. I can't say I blame her. I would have done the same with my own children. I sat in our brown recliner, and Preacher (that's what we called him) came over to talk to me. He told me about heaven. Twenty years later, what I remember thinking is this, "That's not good enough."

And I still feel that way. Pearly gates, streets of gold, angels dancing around a throne, blah blah blah blah blah.

Someone, trying to be helpful after Nattie died, handed me a copy of 90 Minutes in Heaven. Well, perhaps it is a good book. I can't tell you objectively. What I can tell you is this: the author's experience of heaven was exactly what everyone tells you heaven is like. It was exactly the kind of place I'd been taught to imagine. Instead of bringing comfort, the panic attacks got worse. I could not finish the book. I'm not discrediting the author's experience. I'm only saying that his account did not help me. Could it help you? Sure. Many people raved about that book. I'm glad it was good for them. Some of the youth from church have tried convincing me to read Heaven is For Real, and that's just not happening.

Later, I was listening, with my sons, to the audio of The Wizard of Oz. Most of you know the story, how Dorothy's one desire is to just get back to Kansas. I can't remember which character asks, perhaps the Scarecrow, "Where's Kansas?" And Dorothy tries to explain. In the end, the best she can say is something like, "I don't know how to pinpoint it on a map, but it's home, and that's what matters."

That was my first clear breath of peace. I was at last able to relax into the thought that I can't pinpoint heaven on a map. I can't outline its borders or describe its contents. But, I trust God and wherever God is, that's home. Jesus said he went to prepare a place for us. I don't need to know the specifics of the place, because I trust Jesus. My kids didn't need to know the detailed floor plan of this house before we bought it. We're their parents, and they trust that we won't make them live in a tin shack with no running water.

I thought I was past the whole issue until I got a call from my mother, a call much like the one Cheri wrote about today, at Middle Places. My Uncle Greg was sick. Really sick. Lots of tests were run. Doctors were consulted. Treatments were tried. The phrase "Stage IV" flew from the telephone and started burrowing down inside of me. I felt, again, a great panic. Not Greg, I thought. He's the youngest brother. Besides, in his family, the men die of heart attacks, not cancer. Greg's cancer had already spread. It was eating him up from the inside out.

A dear friend, knowing I was struggling, suggested a book. She promised it was no first-hand account. It was, rather, a well-researched volume exploring what the Bible actually says about heaven. The book was called, simply, Heaven. It is written by Randy Alcorn, and it is a wonderful book. I was reading it when the next phone call came. I hopped on an airplane and made my way home for a funeral. I took Heaven with me and read bits of it to my family. Somehow, I ended up bringing the message at our family church on Sunday morning. The book didn't wrap and regift all of the pat answers people gave me over a span of years. It used logic and study, metaphor and analogy.

The next summer, I lost another uncle to cancer. I made it through with minimal panic. Then, this year, Granddaddy got sick. I mean, he's been in a home living with Alzheimer's for a few years already, but he started sliding downhill. We had him a birthday party in September. He was lucid, and we thanked God for one good day. He danced with his girlfriend. He hugged us all over and over. I sat beside him and he told me how much he loved me. He called me 'sugar.' We knew that he knew why we organized that party. But he seemed at peace with it all. On Halloween morning, while my husband held his hand, CJ Calhoun passed away.

He was so sick, at that point, I think we'd all been praying, "Lord, just let him go." Still, knowing he was gone... I distracted myself with a Halloween celebration and getting the house and laundry clean before leaving for the funeral. My oldest son took it hard. He reminded me of myself at his age, not understanding why Papaw was gone so suddenly. It seems sudden when you're a kid. Old age and illness aren't tangible things for a ten year old.

What helped me most, this time around, wasn't something that actually happened to me. My MIL and FIL went out for lunch, before the wake and funeral. A man they had never seen before stopped at their table. He said something along these lines: "The man you're worried about is fine. He's with God. You don't have to worry anymore."

Now, Granddaddy wasn't a regular church attender and he wasn't the kind to talk over his spiritual state. So, my MIL was worrying about him. That man at the deli didn't know them from Adam and had no way of knowing where they were headed. The encounter gives me chills every time I think of it. Had those words come from a friend or a book on death, they would have meant absolutely nothing. God knew that. He knew the words would have to come to us miraculously in order for us to believe them.

I still get tight chested over heaven, over death. I'm not 100% at peace with it. Maybe because I don't want to be. I have some ethereal idea that making peace with death is only done by dying.

However, I do trust the one I follow, wherever and whatever the afterlife may be.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I'm going to let you in on a secret. It's only recently that I realized this about myself.

I'm a skeptic.

I suppose it's only natural, having been raised by a faithful Christian woman on one hand and an intellectual question-everything father on the other. Somehow, I ended up a Christian, married to a minister, absolutely in love with Jesus and also completely skeptical, constantly questioning the Bible, the Church, other believers, and so on and so forth.

This can be beneficial to my faith, believe it or not. It means I am always looking for the answers and, to me, following Jesus is meant to be a journey full of questions. When someone stops questioning the authority of their religion, I feel fearful of and for them. I don't mean that I expect everyone to be tearing each other down and putting intellect above faith. Not at all. The Bible tells us to seek him with all our hearts and we will find him. How can I find him, then, if I am not constantly seeking his face?

There are aspects of my faith that grow and change, thanks to my persistent searching. The Christian I was ten years ago seems, to 30-year-old me, ignorant and cold-hearted. Was I ignorant and cold-hearted? Yes and no. I'm genuinely embarrassed to tell you some of the thoughts I had... things I felt were part of my faith in Jesus that I now believe to have been blindfolds sent to me, gift-wrapped by the devil. I'm grateful to have questioned those beliefs and the people who made me feel I should go on believing them. Breaking free from those chains did not endear me to the people anxious to keep me bound and burdened, but I have found and loved people I never would have considered worth my time or God's when I was a girl of twenty.

There are issues I cannot take a stance on, not a solid one, not yet. There are bits of theology or doctrine that I cannot find peace with. I will keep on questioning, and I am glad to do so. God always leads me toward an answer. The answer tends to leave me with ten more questions, and so on and so forth. But, so long as I question my own thoughts and ideas, I know I will not grow stagnant. I want faith like a rushing river or even a babbling brook, not a mud puddle in a ditch.

For a while, my skepticism scared me. I was afraid my questioning somehow made me less of a Christian. But, the more I read about Jesus, the more comfort I have... also the more discomfort (because that man asked his followers to go places and do things that are daunting even for the humblest of men). He let Thomas put his fingers in the wounds on his hands. He drew a broken Peter back to his side. He sent his mother away and then gave her a replacement son. He raised Lazarus from the dead, but he let other men die. He spared the adulterous woman but not the hypocrites. He said and did things I may never understand, but I think he likes that I want to understand, that I am trying to understand, that I keep on asking questions.

I'm telling you this, in part, because I think many of you feel the same way. I think we're afraid to admit we have questions, afraid to say, "I don't know everything about the way Jesus would have me to live." The most terrifying verses in the Bible, for me, are words from Jesus. *When he says, "You said Lord, Lord, but I tell you, I do not know you." That sends shivers of fear down my spine. So I am going to keep on asking questions. I'm going to try hard to be known by him. Maybe, when I make it to the other side, he will see me coming and say, "There she is, the girl who never shut up, never stopped saying, why, how, who, when, where." I'm okay with that. I want him to know me, and I want to know him.

The other reason I'm sharing this, as disjointed and spiderwebby as my thoughts may be, has to do with my theme for 2013. I have been clinging to Mary in 2012, thinking about her saying, "let it be." Recently, God gave me my next theme. I'll share more as this year draws to a close, but this confession of skepticism is a precursor to my theme.

My most prayed prayer is this one:

** "I believe, Jesus. Now help my unbelief."

* Matthew 7:21-23 ~ Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

** Mark 9:24 ~ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Currently: November--The Month of Crimson Sunsets

Current Books: A Sand County Almanac, In Defense of Sanity, and Reflections on the Psalms. In the car we're listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Haydn and I are reading Game Changers by Mike Lupica, and I'm reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with both boys.

Current Playlist: Nothing specific. A bit of Tom Petty, some old country and bluegrass, snatches of songs stuck inside my head.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: I honestly can't think of anything. I should remedy that.

Current Colors: I wore Kentucky blue from head to toe for Halloween. :)

Current Fetish: All things Doctor Who.

Current Food: Whatever is quick to fix, for the most part. I made a really yummy Guess What cake, last week, as "research" for the Cake book. It is my Aunt Rosemary's recipe, and it turned out deliciously.

Current Drink: Coffee. Also, Starbucks has salted caramel hot chocolate and it is amazing.

Current Favorite Favorite: Designing fun Christmas gifts

Current Wishlist: Keurig coffee maker, less stress in my home, to feel sure about the next book I'm writing and plenty of uninterrupted time in which to write it.

Current Needs: A clone

Current Triumph: Trunk or Treat was awesome. It's not really MY triumph, but I'm excited for the ladies who run our children's ministry and the community created between our three churches.

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: Constantly having to say the same thing over and over and over, as though no one actually listens or cares the first time. If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you spill it, clean it up. Trash goes in the garbage can, not on the floor or the table or the couch. Clothes should be folded and in drawers or hanging in closets, not strewn across the floor of your bedroom or bathroom. I'm sure all moms get tired of these things, but it feels exponential lately.

Current Indulgence: Closing my bedroom door to get work done. Not that people always heed the closed door, but it's as close as my introverted self can get to solitude right now.

Current Mood: Stretched thin and completely exhausted

Current #1 Blessing: My amazing man. I don't know how I would do all this without him.

Current Outfit: Jeans, long sleeved tee shirt, sneakers

Current Link: Please go visit my friend Lee Anne. She is trying to make the CNN Fit Nation Triathalon Team. Her video shares her absolutely amazing story, and it is well worth your time to watch it and leave her some encouraging comments.

Current Quote:  “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?” ― Aldo Leopold

Current Photo: My Halloween costume (the girls picked our theme: ermahgerd)

Title taken from this passage:

“It was November--the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.” 
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Granddaddy was a dancing man.

He was quick with a wink,

free with his hugs,
laughing and living and breathing
in love.

He was a railroad man,
traveled straight tracks,
umbrellaed himself for
wife and kids for
taking care of so many things.

He worked with his hands,
twisting and tweaking
when engines were squealing or
gas tanks were leaking.
He knew how to turn a bolt
of lightning with his smile.

He talked about Hank Senior, 
strummed fingers on a steel guitar,
watched my boys
with sparkling eyes.
Lady-killer, the man never lost
his charm, and I cannot blame
a woman who fell for him.

He was a beautiful soul,
a wonder-filled spirit,
a dancing man who drove
straight tracks,
took care of everything
with his two hands.

Listen close; I think I hear
the sound of an old guitar,
a deep-souled voice
calling him to turn
that Cadillac around
and drive home.


Charlie Calhoun lived a great life, 88 years of life bursting at the seams. I'm grateful my children knew him, and grateful he became a part of my life. May he run across the Jordan and live an eternity well-earned.

Charles Fitzhugh Calhoun Jr
1924 - 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Owls, Bears, and Wolves, Oh My!

I want to introduce you to my newest totem animal. Over the last few years, I have felt more and more drawn to wild animals. Not in a daredevil way. I have no plans to live with gorillas or sneak into zoos and set the tigers free. It's a spiritual thing. I feel connected to something inside wild animals.

Most of you know I feel this way about owls. Meeting Homer the Barred Owl face to face a few summers ago literally changed me. Homer aimed me like a missile, sending me straight to a message God wanted me to receive. I read Wesley the Owl and saw myself in Wesley. I gained a more solid footing in who I am by studying what owls are, how they are, why they are that way. It's hard to put this into words without posting an entire essay on the subject (which I have actually written and hope to publish one day). Suffice it to say, I love owls deeply.

Next came the polar bear. On the same trip to Cincinnati, I stood beside the polar bear's enclosure and pressed my hand to the glass. As the beautiful animal swam past, only an inch separated my skin and her fur. It was surreal and stuck with me long after we left the zoo. Later that year, we took a family trip to the Memphis Zoo, and I was excited to see the polar bear. You see, as a kid, I often sat watching a polar bear swim at Riverbanks Zoo in SC, where I grew up. On my first return visit to that zoo, as an adult, I found the polar bear exhibit empty. No, it wasn't just empty; it didn't even exist. I circled and found no sign of my favorite childhood animal. I called my dad and had this conversation.

Me: Where is my polar bear?
Dad: Your what?
Me: My polar bear. I'm at the zoo, and there is no polar bear.
Dad: Oh, yeah, he died a while back.
Me: My polar bear DIED?!
Dad: Yup.
Me: But, why didn't they  get a new one?
Dad: Well, sweetie, you can't just run down the block to the polar bear store and pick up a new model.

So, I had a previous attachment to polar bears. I was excited to find one in Memphis, but then felt sad when I saw her. The Memphis polar bear was pregnant. They moved her to the black bear enclosure for the duration of her pregnancy. There were no icy pools to swim in, just rocks and grass. She looked out of place there, her coat yellowed and her head hanging low. I wanted to sit down and cry for her. I feel like that polar bear a lot, out of place, ripped from my own environment and shoved into some humid wasteland I don't understand. I don't think I'll ever feel otherwise; not this side of the Jordan.

Meet Chito (Chay-toe)

Chito and her sister ousted their mother from her position as Alpha Female in their pack. Then, because Chito is just awesome, she ousted the Alpha Male and took over as Alpha Wolf. This is my kind of woman, y'all. Actually, it's funny that she was my favorite wolf. I usually root for the underdog (no pun intended). My husband laughed at the idea of me overtaking anyone and becoming Alpha in a pack. That's just not my personality. But, something about Chito spoke to me. Maybe it is this: Her pack lives in an enclosure and under the ultimate authority of the amazing couple who own and care for her and her pack mates. Chito isn't trying to rule the world and she didn't take over because she is mean and didn't like the previous Alpha. No, Chito did what was best for her pack. She saw the age and weakness of their current leadership and said, "Heck no, they are in no shape to lead the hunt and protect our family." She saw a problem and, instead of whining about it or posting her political dissatisfaction on Facebook, Chito stepped up and fixed the problem.

She saw a need, and she met the need.

I brought home a photo magnet of Chito. She's on my fridge now (a joking reminder that I'm the Alpha in this kitchen, thankyouverymuch). When I look at her, I am reminded that I need to do my part, even if it is hard, even if it is unpleasant. I don't need my kids to like me, I need to protect them and feed them and teach them how to be responsible and self-disciplined. Ultimately, they are taken care of by God. Our whole family is his, and he has never let us down before. But that doesn't give me the right to sit on my tail and ignore what's going on around me.

Thanks, Chito. I owe you one.

(((((Go HERE to meet the wolves I met yesterday. Buy some goodies to help pay for their food and well-being. You can't save all the wolves, but you can help care for these seven)))))

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Felicities: 10/19/12

Friday Felicities

Candy corn Oreos in the mail, from my daddy
Sparkly fingernail polish
New yellow notebook
Mapping a new world for a new book
Knowing CS Lewis was terrible at math
Looking up silly holidays for a project
Schoolhouse Rock videos with Haydn
Free shipping on a few orders this week
Salted caramel hot chocolate
Writers' group at B&N

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Poem: Numinous

a word for filled
with light,
a word for brightness
all around,
a word for something
not like any earthly
lamp or flame,
but shining like something
that can only be echoed
in lightning
and dewdrops,
in starlight
and rainbows.
shining like
I Am.


{Photo by me, "blue moon," Aug 2012, Gulf Shores, AL}

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Felicities: October 12, 2012

Friday Felicities

Coupon codes
Dr. Who, Season 4 finale
Actually getting some sleep
Real conversation
Text conversations with my sister
C. S. Lewis
Sweet cream coffee creamer

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Poem: Rise

I love the yeasty smell
of bread baking,
the way water and heat
and flour mix to fill
my kitchen with the smell of this 
body rising from the bowl like
His body rising
from the grave, 
I slide a loaf out of the oven
and inhale the joy
of Mary Magdalene clinging
to the Master's side.
I break as he was broken.
I eat as I believe
He wanted us to do,
to smell the yeast of magic,
the soul that bid He rise,
to welcome Him in
the pit of me, His body,
this bread, becoming
the core of who
I Am.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Felicities: 10/5/12

Friday Felicities

Finding a Halloween happy for Eliza Jane
Owlish salt and pepper shakers from Mandy
CS Lewis class at church
Sweet Cream creamer in my coffee
New blue bag
Coffee in the UK mug Amanda gave me years ago
Pilot G2 pens
Book notes in the comp book Rachel gave me
Homeschool field trips

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Currently: Leaved with October Blood*

Current Books: I'm about halfway through The Windows of Heaven by Ron Rozelle. I've also been reading some Chesterton essays. Haydn and I are reading Game Changers by Mike Lupica and listening to the audio of Miracle on 49th Street, also by Mike Lupica, in the car.

Current Playlist: I've been random in my song selections recently. It's time to put together a playlist for the book I'm revising though. I'll pick some bluegrass, some southern gospel, and some country. It's set in Kentucky, up a holler in the hills.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Contemplating a possible trip next month.

Current Colors: Jewel tones and black

Current Fetish: Not sure "fetish" in the right word, but Haydn and I are back to daily doses of Doctor Who.

Current Food: I've been better, lately, at freezing individual portions of leftover foods. Also, I've started keeping homemade burritos in the freezer for lunches. Haydn ran out of donuts, and he requested I make the next batch chocolate. So I made this recipe and they turned out absolutely delicious. We have 13 in the freezer for Sunday mornings.

Current Drink: Coffee with Truvia and Coldstone Creamery's sweet cream creamer. How many times can I say "cream" in one sentence?

Current Favorite Favorite: Pilot's G2 pens. I'm using them for book notes, and the ink flow is absolutely perfect.

Current Wishlist: I want a new pair of skinny jeans to wear with my boots and I'd like a new pair of black boots as well.

Current Needs: The downstairs bathroom needs to be gutted and redone. Mostly, what I need, or what I feel like I need, is retreat. I'd like to get away from the constant going/doing/wanting/talking...

Current Triumph: I finished revisions on Tornado. I'm sure there will be more editing and revising. That seems to be the norm in the publishing industry, but the big revision is complete, and I am happy with how it turned out.

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: Alarm clocks.

Current Indulgence: vanilla ice cream with cinnamon sprinkled all over it.

Current Mood: Amazingly good, all things considered.

Current #1 Blessing: Corey. He's pretty much always the answer to this question.

Current Outfit: jeans, pink UK shirt my sister bought for me at Rupp Arena, and cream-colored sneakers

Current Link: Crash Course is a youtube channel I like as a homeschool resource.

Current Quote:

“She thought, If I or my father or any Boughton has ever stirred the Lord's compassion, then Jack will be all right. Because perdition for him would be perdition for every one of us.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Home

Current Photo:

*It was my thirtieth

Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon

Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.

O may my heart's truth

Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.

by Dylan Thomas

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