11.20.2015

Hannah

Hannah Giving Her Son to the Priest (Jan Victors, 1645)

A while back, I became intensely interested in Hannah of Old Testament fame.  I can’t remember what initially sparked my interest… I just started thinking about her and couldn’t stop.  It seemed that everywhere I turned, I would see or hear something about Hannah.  I began specifically studying her, which led to a crazy intense study of first and second Samuel over the course of the next 2 years.  I don’t know how many times I went back and reread Hannah’s story.
Since then, the Lord showed me why He continued to guide me back to Hannah, which maybe I’ll share about sometime.  I think it’s safe to say that she’s my favorite lady in the Bible and she’ll always have a special place in my heart.  I’ve heard people say, “When I get to Heaven, after I see the Lord, I’m gonna go see so-and-so.” If that notion holds any water at all, then I’ll be going to see Hannah.  She’s my sister of long ago.

It’s a familiar story to most, but I’d like to share this piece I wrote about her sometime during the time I was spending so much time “with” her.

I hope you enjoy!

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Is there anybody who hasn’t heard of David?

It’s practically one of the first Bible stories any of us ever hear.  He was the red-faced kid who didn’t like the king’s fancy armor and, sing it with me… he hit the giant in the head and the giant came tumbling down.

But all that stuff? It’s in the middle of 1st Samuel.  It’s in the middle of the FIRST book.  And there’s more stuff in other books, too.  There’s a whole convoluted storyline before we ever meet David.  And there’s a whole, whole lot that happens after.  I’m tired just thinking about it.
Reliable Ruth reliably works in the fields of Boaz and hubba hubba makes herself comfortable sitting at his feet.  They bat their eyelashes at one another, get married, and start working on David’s immediate family tree.  But probably around the time that their grandson Jesse was just getting started good on his adult life, a few miles up the road another story was unfolding that seems totally unrelated.  It’s the story of another beginning point for David.

And it begins with the tears of a woman.

About 50 miles north of Bethlehem, there was a place which the King James Scripture calls Ramathaimzophim.  Fit that on a souvenir t-shirt.  And in this tongue-twister of a place (more commonly called Ramah, thank goodness) lived a man named Elkanah.  Specifically, he was from the “hill country of Ephraim.” Elkanah was a mountain man – we’ll call him a country boy.  He had a big, bushy beard and he wore plaid robes and he loved to eat pancakes and hunt camels probably.  Ok, out of all of that, the only part that’s likely accurate is that he had a big, bushy beard.  But I don’t think that was so unusual back then.

What do we actually know about Elkanah? Well, we know his limited family tree going back a few generations, we know that he had 2 wives, and we know that he was a pretty responsible guy when it came to the requirements of worship back then as well as when it came to loving and taking care of his family.

Once a year, as was the tradition and the requirement of Mosaic Law, Elkanah would load up the ox carts and haul the whole family to the town of Shiloh to worship and make their sacrifice in the tabernacle that was there.  Now, according to the law, making this particular kind of sacrifice includes taking portions of it and making a “solemn feast” out of it for your household for the next week (see Deuteronomy 12:5-7, 16:10-15).

Shiloh was somewhere between 7 and 12 miles from Ramah, which sounds like a fairly negligible distance to us.  If you’re going on vacation, once you’re 7-12 miles from your destination, you’re pretty much there, right? Since Elkanah’s family was likely travelling by foot or, best case scenario, riding some kind of animals or in wagons pulled by animals, it wasn’t what we would consider luxury travel.  A biblical “day’s journey” or approximately 8 hours of travel on a donkey carrying a load is thought to have covered 20-25 miles, so they might have been travelling for 3 or 4 hours, which isn’t too bad but certainly enough to make everybody tired and dirty.

The next day, maybe, after arriving, getting settled, and resting for the night, they took their critter they brought for the sacrifice (which had to be something pretty big if they were going to eat on it for a week, so maybe what the Bible calls a “bullock” – a young, male bovine of some sort), and headed to the tabernacle.  There, the priests sacrificed the animal and burned it on the altar while Elkanah and his family worshipped and prayed.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this time of prayer and worship probably didn’t look like the kind of prayers we say before we eat.  People who knew the law and understood their place under it recognized that through the burning flesh of that animal came their justification.  This yearly sacrifice not only symbolized forgiveness of sin, but was also a sign of loyalty to the one true God of Israel and was meant to call to remembrance that God is the giver of every blessing.  He gives and he takes away and blessed is His name.  This was a serious thing.  Watching their animal be killed, seeing its blood run down the side of the altar, smelling the smoke that rose from its flesh as it burned, and hoping that God was pleased by it all… well, I imagine that would cause anybody to get pretty serious.  And so they worshipped there and this was a tiring process as well, I’m sure.  So, when they finally were ready to sit down to their feast, they were likely very anxious for it.

So, they all sat down around this big slab of meat and Elkanah looks around the table at his family.  He looks to one side and sees his wife Peninnah and the shining little faces of the children she’s borne him and his heart swells with pride and affection.  He cuts off a portion of the meat and sets it aside for them.  But when he looks to his other side, his eyes fall on his wife Hannah, sitting all alone.  Sweet, sad Hannah.  And he cuts a “worthy” portion for her because he loved her, it says.

Let’s look at this multiple-wife problem.  Now, we’ve said that Elkanah was a good man and that he loved the Lord and did like he was supposed to, but we also know that God didn’t set things up to include one man having more than one wife.  God blesses us in spite of our mistakes, fortunately.  God wanted man to have a companionship sufficient to his needs; that’s what “a help meet for him” means.  A one-to-one relationship is supposed to be what fulfils that.  We’re made for monogamy.  In Elkanah’s situation (as well as in other polygamous situations in the Bible), there is a favorite.  Why is there a favorite? Because we’re hardwired to want a one-to-one kind of relationship.  So, Elkanah loves Hannah.  He does right by Peninnah and the children he’s had by her and fulfills his obligation… but he loves Hannah.

Oh dear.

Rewind to the point where Elkanah is cutting a serving for Hannah.  “Worthy portion” might mean a double portion or it might just mean he gave her a very choice cut of meat.  As in, maybe he cut off a chuck roast for Peninnah since she needed more to feed the kids, but when he got ready to cut Hannah’s part, it was a beautiful little filet mignon.  Peninnah is busy cutting up everybody’s food and cleaning up spilled water and picking macaroni and cheese out of somebody’s hair when she glances over and notices that Elkanah and Hannah are having a quiet conversation over their steak dinner.  Ouch.  Peninnah’s chuck roast starts looking a little gristly and her heart seizes up with jealousy.

And so, she does what women sometimes do out of jealousy.  She begins to work at cutting Hannah down.  Peninnah is referred to as Hannah’s adversary in the scriptures and it says that she provoked Hannah.  And Peninnah wasn’t messing around either.  She went straight for Hannah’s most tender spot.  She made Hannah fret because the LORD had shut up her womb.  In fact, Hannah was so upset that all she did was cry.  She wouldn’t even eat.  Elkanah tried to help and I have to say that he does sound like a really sweet husband with his “Don’t cry, sugar… here, eat something, honey… you’ve got me, sweetheart… remember I’m here with you… and surely I’m better than even ten sons, right, darlin’?” But to no avail.

Peninnah wanted what what Hannah had, Hannah wanted what Peninnah had… and poor Elkanah!

Hannah could find no peace, so she gave the only thing she had to the only One who could fix it.  She went to the tabernacle and gave her word to her God.

O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid,
and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid,
but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child,
then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life,
and there shall no razor come upon his head.

And she prayed.  And she prayed.  And she continued praying.  And I picture her, this lovely woman in all her draping robes and head covering, knelt on a hard stone floor with her upturned face all tear-streaked and shining, so intent in her prayer and so oblivious to anything other reaching God that she was mouthing silently and gently rocking back and forth.  This is the example of prayer that comes to mind when I catch myself wondering if those under the old law really prayed like we pray.  It’s hard for me to imagine all the rituals.  I can’t imagine the smells of the burning sacrifices and the spices they used.  But Hannah’s actions on this day are familiar to me.

I don’t know how familiar they were to the old priest, Eli, because he thought Hannah was drunk.  “How long will you be drunk? Get rid of your wine,” he said to her.  “Oh no, my lord, I’m not drunk; I’m pouring out my soul before the LORD,” she replied and, hearing this, he sent her away with his blessing.

And what does the very next verse say?

That Hannah went her way and ate and wasn’t sad anymore.

Wait a minute. 

Did I miss something?

She put her petition before the LORD.  She prayed intensely.  And she got up and left the tabernacle.  It doesn’t say that God answered her.  It doesn’t say that she got up from her prayer with the knowledge that she would indeed have a child.

Herein lies one of the great lessons we can learn from Hannah.  In fact, we can even break it down into three easy (ish) steps:

1. Hannah’s heart was troubled.
2. Hannah placed her troubles in the hands of her Lord.
3. Hannah didn’t think about it anymore.

Easy, right? Well, it would be if it weren’t for that -ish part.  That -ish refers to our human nature and our dogged tendency to try to fix things ourselves, which means that really the only easy step out of those three is the first one.  It’s really easy for our hearts to become troubled.  And it’s really easy for our hearts to stay troubled.  Like Job said, our lives are short and full of trouble.  What a bummer.

Imagine a different set of steps:

1. Hannah’s heart was troubled.
2. Hannah continued to worry and be miserable.

That seems pretty familiar to me.  How about this one:

1. Hannah’s heart was troubled.
2. Hannah said she had placed her troubles in the hands of her Lord.  And she sort of did… a little bit.  Maybe…
3. Hannah continued to worry and be miserable.

Yeah, that one sounds way familiar.  Because I know with my brain that I can’t fix my own troubles and I know with my brain that I’m supposed to hand those things over to God so He can fix them, since He’s the only one who can.  So, I make a feeble attempt to pray and I say with my mouth that I’m just going to let God handle it.  “Here you go, Lord.  Take this thing, please, and make it work right,” as if He’s my assistant or something.  And then, because I haven’t really done a thing besides mouth some words into the rug on my bedroom floor, I haul myself up from kneeling still heavy, still bearing that trouble, and I’m still worried and miserable and trying to fix it myself.  The only thing that’s different is that my feet are asleep.

There’s a big difference in what I usually end up doing with my problems and what Hannah did.  Hannah poured out her soul.  She lost all sense of everything that was going on around her because she was so invested in that prayer.  It was all her and all God.  She lost herself.  She died to herself.  She disappeared.  She decreased so that God could increase.  There was no -ish.  She was all in.

Maybe God did give her an answer that day and it’s just not recorded, but regardless of whether she got a “yes” or a “not just yet” or a “wait a little while longer,” we do know that God increased her faith that day.  Hannah came to the tabernacle that day knowing that God could, but she left believing that He would.  And really… I don’t think it would have mattered what the outcome of her fertility was.  She didn’t have to know that God would raise us a faithful priest from the child of her womb.  She didn’t have to know that her son would one day pour the anointing oil on the head of God’s chosen king of Israel.  I think the peace she took away from that prayer was the fix.

What happened next?

Elkanah’s family’s pilgrimage to Shiloh had reached at end.  They got up early the next morning to worship at the tabernacle a final time and then they returned to Ramah.  And in the very same verse it says, “the LORD remembered her.”

What a blessed thing to be remembered by God! He remembered Hannah and she had a son and named him Samuel because it means “asked of God.” Samuel… the embodiment of an answered prayer.

Can you even imagine how happy Hannah must have been? I mean, she must have invented that pregnant-lady happy glow.  There was a time when I thought that she must have been at least a little sad knowing that she would have to keep her promise and give Samuel up, but now I can see how it must have filled her with even more joy to keep her end of the bargain when she considered what it meant for her son. 

You see, vows go two ways.  When my husband and I were married, we said our vows to each other and, being that we’re just humans, we are fully capable of breaking those vows.  He might keep his promise to me, but I could break mine and vice versa.  When we make a vow or a promise to God, we are fully capable of breaking our end, but when God makes a promise, He keeps it.  Period.

But God didn’t make a vow to Hannah, you say.  Well, here’s the way I see it.  Hannah made a promise to God and was comforted.  When Hannah found herself with child, it was as good as God’s signature on a contract.  He was pleased with her vow and fulfilled her prayer, thereby signifying that He would take her child into His service as she had promised.  Hannah’s child was to be God’s and, thereby she knew, never really lost to her at all.

Over the years, I’ve heard parents speak of God letting them know that their children would be saved.  I liken Hannah’s experience to that.  Having full assurance that you and your child have an eternity of glory awaiting them would make the trials of this life much easier to bear.  Knowing that they had a life of serving God ahead of them wouldn’t hurt either.  It’s not an easy life, but it’s blessed one.

And so, Hannah’s brief but oh-so-important part of this story comes to a close.  Hannah takes a break from going up to Shiloh each year while Samuel is a baby and how precious those times must have been in her heart for many years to come.  All the rest of the family would leave for several days and it was just she and her little answered prayer there together.  After he had been weaned, she took Samuel to Eli, the same priest she had spoken with before.  And then she went home, returning each year to worship and to bring Samuel a little coat that she had made for him.

Here’s one of my favorite things about this whole story.  The very last thing we ever hear about Hannah is this: “The LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.”

Samuel answered Hannah’s prayer, but He gave her so much more.  Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.

My heart rejoiceth in the LORD…
There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee:
neither is there any rock like our God.
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill,
to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory:
for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and he hath set the world upon them.

- from Hannah’s song of thanks, 1 Samuel 2

11.12.2015

Old Union's Time Capsule

gratuitous picture of my stompin grounds taken on the day of our special service

Hi all...

I wanted to share a little with you about the time capsule that we buried at Old Union back in September.  We planned this project over the course of nearly a year and filled it with biographical information of members of the congregation, photographs, historical information, and a lot more.  There are copies of all of those things available for viewing at the church.


The day of the service was special and unusual, having our service outside and everyone who wanted to throwing a scoop of dirt in on top of the capsule.



One of my favorite parts is the marker that was designed to look like a compass rose and cut from a stone brought from the same area of North Carolina where the first pastor and congregation of Old Union came from.  The marker sits on top of the spot where we buried our time capsule and points to true north, which is symbolic of keeping our focus on the truth and never veering from it.


I didn't do a whole lot on the committee for this project, but I jumped at the chance to write a piece describing our altar practice.  One of the reasons we wanted to do this time capsule at all was to send the truth into the future in a very physical, tangible way.  We wanted our people - whoever is there - to read through the things we placed in that box when they open it in 2095 and either be encouraged and strengthened by knowing that they're still seeking and following the same truth we sought and followed before them or to be convicted and brought back to that truth if, God forbid, they have strayed from it.

I'm including my contribution below.  It's one of my favorite things I've ever written because I know the Lord helped me.  The idea of somehow living beyond my natural lifespan and being remembered by people who never met me is nice, I guess, but it's the idea of the same God who helped me write these words stitching them into the heart of someone many years from now that makes my cup bubble over.  I'm equally interested in reaching people who might read it here and come to know something they've never known before or be blessed to hear something they know better than anything else.

Not because of my words, but because of my Savior.  He's alive and He loves us oh so much.  And He wants us for His own.  That knowledge is too wonderful for me!

Enjoy!

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A letter to future generations concerning our altar
Written spring 2015

I sincerely hope that those of you who read this many years from now will find its information unnecessary as it is so similar to your current practice.

When I was asked to write a piece about Old Union’s altar practice, my mind immediately went to Old Testament sacrifice and the beautiful symbols there (which are some of my very favorite things to ponder) and I tried to write about how those symbols have carried over to us down through the years and how they compare to our current methods of worship.  I finished that writing and felt like it was a satisfactory lesson.  But then I thought of the coming generations of my family.  I thought of bright-eyed, round-faced little people – my people – standing around an ancient (from their perspective) box that was dug from the ground.  A box that people will say their great-great grandmother contributed to.  And I didn’t want to send them a lesson.  I wanted to tell them about it like I would if I could somehow fast forward myself there beside them.

We have all of this beautiful terminology that we use in reference to spiritual things.  Over time, those phrases have become so common to us that they don’t even seem beautiful anymore, but that’s the thing about words.  We can only use them up to a certain point to describe the things of God.  Everything here, even our words, has boundaries and God is boundless.  We can say that God is wonderful, which is true, but it’s like that word, wonderful, reaches its hands up in praise but fizzles out somewhere between here and Heaven.  It doesn’t adequately do the job we intend it to do when it leaves our mouths or even when we think it.  So, keep in mind while reading this that if you hear wording that sounds archaic or overworked that it could have just as easily been another word slipped into its place and made popular amongst our people at some point in history.  They’re only words.  Some are just used more than others in our vernacular.

Old Union and other churches like it preach and teach what we sometimes call a know-so salvation.  In an effort to drive that point home, we sometimes say that we know that we know that we know that we’re saved: that we have peace with God, that things have been made right between Him and us.  This is an example of what I mentioned before – a great effort to use our trembly little words to emphasize something that, simply put, is beyond words.  In most basic terms, I know that I’m saved.  I’ve struggled with doubt along the way, but with God’s help I know it more than I know anything else.  I don’t need anybody else to tell me it happened and if I lost all of my physical senses, I would still know it.  It’s woven into me.  Because of Jesus, it’s who I am.  For all time and eternity.  You could sooner remove my freckles than remove my salvation. 

That kind of salvation – the only kind of salvation – is what our beliefs are built on.

How does one come by that kind of salvation? Through prayer.  Real prayer.  Not just a repetition or a recitation, but truly calling out to God from your heart.  That’s not something we can just make happen on our own.  The faith we need to be saved comes from God.  He extends mercy and grace to us… because He is so enormously and endlessly merciful, you know… and through that and by that, we’re made one of His.

More words that don’t do it justice at all.

Since our beliefs rest so heavily upon prayer, it makes sense that we would offer a place for people to pray within the four walls of our church’s building.  At Old Union that set-aside, special prayer place is the front bench of the middle section of pews, which was at one time widely called the “mourner’s bench” or “moaner’s bench.” At the time of this writing, all of the front benches, along with the entire front-ish area of the auditorium, are sometimes included when we talk about “the altar” or “the altar area.”

In some services, normally at the end of the sermon, the preacher will give what we call “the invitation” for lost people – those who can’t say that they know that they know that they know – to come pray at the altar.  Or to pray at their seat or wherever they feel they need to pray.  You see, our altar is an excellent place to pray, but there’s nothing special about that front bench or any other bench.  And it’s good to have God’s people praying all around you on your behalf, too, but you don’t have to be there in that setting to be saved. 

I was saved in my bed late one night.  There was no one there but me and God.  I prayed at the altar many times before that night, though.  The first time I prayed at the altar was during a fall revival service.  There had been preaching, although I don’t remember who preached, and at the end of the sermon there was an invitation for unsaved people to pray.  Then there was a song and a good friend of mine at the time went to pray at the altar.  She bowed there at the front bench and it wasn’t long before I went to pray there, too, sitting on the floor with my head over on the seat of the bench.  I didn’t go to pray because my friend went and I didn’t go because I’d been invited or because someone told me to go.  I went to pray because I felt all wrong and tangled up inside.  I was afraid and ashamed to go up in front of all those people.  But because I’d been taught all my life to run after God when I felt Him drawing me, or when I felt afraid for any reason, and because I’d witnessed this altar-prayer scenario time after time all my life, I did the only thing I knew to do to fix how I felt.

That’s the real reason why a simple church bench gets any importance at all.  Not because it has any redeeming qualities and certainly not because it has any power to help.  It’s just a piece of wood.  It’s important because it’s a place to pray.  If we have in our church buildings a designated place for prayer, then it’s obvious that we hold prayer in a place of priority.  So, our teaching and preaching and practices may seem to urge people to come pray at that altar bench, but the real urge is to just pray! Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, if you feel like you need to pray, DO IT! And don’t wait.

These instructions are true for those who have been saved, too.  A lot of time and importance is given to inviting unsaved people to pray at the altar or wherever, but saved people need to pray, too.  The altar is for everyone.  In the Old Testament, it was God’s people who burned their sacrifices on altars.  And they didn’t do it because they were in trouble or because they were particularly distressed about something.  They came to their altars in worship and obedience.  Smoke rose from their burnt offerings and smelled sweet to God.  We don’t burn things on our altars and we don’t offer animals to God anymore; we have only our prayers to offer Him.  You see, our words are just flimsy shells to God.  He made words and language for us, not for Him.  But when God teaches us to pray and helps us to truly communicate with Him, then we’re able to lay our hearts open and the praise and the pleadings that rise from our hearts are oh so sweet to God, sweeter even than the smoke from those burnt offerings so long ago.

And so, dear children, dear loved ones and friends… I hope that when you read this you can say AMEN! and find it all familiar and encouraging to you.  But if not, I hope that something you’ve read here will draw you back to the only way you can be reconciled and made fit for Heaven. 

That’s where I’ll be when you open this time capsule and I long to meet you there someday soon.

11.06.2015

my day

Hi all, I'm coming out of blog-land obscurity because a day like yesterday had to be documented.

Feel free to laugh.  I did.

You'll understand the picture later...

Here's my adventurous day for your amusement:

After our usual school-day proceedings on Thursdays, we scurry into town for MK's speech therapy. We got away later than I meant to (no shock there) and went to Wendy's where, upon attempting to pay, the cashier who had at first failed to notice me because he was chatting with his buddy from across the restaurant swiped my card, looked at it, and asked if I had another card. This, of course, struck panic in my heart until he informed me that my card had just expired. Which I knew, but never activated my new one as I had intended to through the entire month of October. Fortunately, I had cash, so no further angst there. By the time we sat down to eat, we had... oh... 10 minutes to scarf down our food and sprint out the door so as not to be (terribly) late.

David came to pick the man-child up from speech therapy as he usually does and asked me if I had put gas in the Jeep yet because I wouldn't make it home if I didn't. No problem. I'll do it when we finish ST before I go to the bank. Or, oh wait, I'll go to the bank first to activate my new card. Right. So, I send David and man-child on their way and go to dig out my new bank card. Which was in my other purse. At home. Because of course it was.

So David told me to meet him after and I could take his card, which I did. No problem. I should mention here that I'm not accustomed to driving the Jeep and even if I was, I pay zero attention to gas levels or which side the gas latch is on or anything other than whether or not the vehicle is moving when I press the accelerator and stopping when I press the brake. I'm responsible like that. So I took a chance and pulled up to the gas pump and was actually correct! Go, me! Except I pulled up too far and the pump barely reached. And even though it did reach, I couldn't see the display because of glare or something, so I had to cross the hose and nearly fell because my flip flop got tangled up. Because it's November 5 and I'm wearing flip flops because it's nearly 80 degrees. So there's all that.

Also, it was particularly fume-y, I noticed, and I watched a man walking from the gas pumps to the store flick his still-smoking cigarette behind him, toward me, at the precisely same moment some turd head in a brand new Mustang pulled in the parking lot and revved for his buddy on the sidewalk. It was enormously loud and I was sure that I had just blown up. It scared the living day lights out of me. So I shakily finished pumping my gas and left the premises.

I make a couple more stops, finish up my shopping, get in the Jeep, and guess what. It won't start. So I call David and tell him the Jeep won't start and he responds with the ever popular, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WON’T START???” But then he calmly explained that if I put it in neutral it should start just fine. And it did. Because of course it did.

The rest of my night went off without any further drama until around midnight when I was laying here watching something on YouTube and the electricity went off. And that's why I am now, at nearly 2 AM, laying in a slightly stuffy, candlelit bedroom with the window open listening to my beagle howl at the WRECC linemen who are in my backyard whilst typing all of this on my phone. Which is at approximately 6% battery life. Because apparently I can't sleep in a house this dark and quiet.

And the moral of this story is probably something to do with all the times in the last 8 years that I've wished for quiet time and how I'm apparently getting all of it RIGHT NOW.

And also I'm a spoiled brat.

The end.

(PS What a service those linemen guys provide, by the way! Thankful for them… not just when it's MY backyard they're working in.)

*The lights came on pretty much immediately when I finished typing all of this, so I went to bed.  And about the time I got comfortable, I received a text message which was sent two days ago but waited until two days later at 2 AM to actually come through.

Because of course it did.

1.08.2015

I smell like someone's mom


one of my very favorite moments of 2014 (and all time)

It has been nearly a year since I’ve written anything of a personal nature that I cared to publish.  I’ve started several times to write something I hoped might turn into a blogpost, but it never was shareable or even finishable in most cases.  They all turned into these selfish, writhing pity parties that are embarrassing to even reread myself.  Blah.  You’re not missing out, trust me.  At the start of last year, I was so hopeful to “keep better memories.” That was my well-intentioned, silly little resolution for 2014.  I had great plans of taking more pictures, writing more, keeping mementos, and teaching my kids (and me) to savor moments and seek out joy in the everyday.  I bought a little divided tray, which I think I may have mentioned in one of the blogposts that actually happened last January, and intended to sort of catalog each month in that tray.  I bought adorable scrapbooking paper, trimmed it down to size, wrote the names of the months in scrawling cursive or chunky block letters on them, and fit them into each space on the tray.  I put it in the foyer, displayed it prominently, so I could show it to people who visited.

And then January progressed.

On January 2, a well-loved lady who lived in my childhood community – my stompin’ ground, as they say – passed away.  Her name was Carene.  Her husband was a fisherman and she was a fantastic cook and she would fry fish and share it with her neighbors.  She was always always at church.  She shared her birthday with my Marlie.

On that same day, my grandfather was admitted to the hospital, his second hospitalization in less than a month.  He passed away on January 25th, my dad’s birthday.  We sang Sweet Hour of Prayer around his bedside and he went to be with his Savior.  I could write pages and pages on all the reasons I love my grandfather and how important he has been in my life, but this isn’t the space for that.

The Saturday after my grandfather’s funeral, what should have been our first “normal” Saturday in a long while, David woke me up in the very early morning hours sick with a kidney stone.  We ended up in the emergency room.

So, there was the January spot in my cute little divided tray.  It had 2 funeral papers and a hospital bracelet in it.  I look back on the little writing I did that month, at the few pictures I took, and each is clouded with memories of hurt.  I was done with that stupid tray.  It’s setting somewhere with pictures of the kids stuck in it now.

Fast forward.

Sometime over the course of the year, I was taking a walk at a nearby park and in the wind I caught the smell of clean laundry.  I remember when I was kid, always being sort of intrigued by how I could smell what my friends’ houses smelled like, but I couldn’t smell what my own house smelled like.  I mean, just on a normal day.  I always wondered what my friends smelled when they came to my house.  WEIRDO, I know.  I’m well-acquainted with my weirdness.  The clean-laundry smell in the air that day was me.  I smelled like clean laundry.  Not flowery or exotic like I might have shot for in earlier seasons of my life.  Just clean laundry.  And it occurred to me that because I’m doing laundry, ya know, all but about 12 minutes of every week, my house probably smells somewhat like that, too.

And it kind of pleased me.

It was a simple kind of pleasure.  Like something I was doing was actually turning out the way I meant for it to.

I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s sort of what adulthood is all about – the ability to find small pleasures and simple joy right there where you’re standing.  One of the marks of immaturity, I suppose, is a desire to always be sprinting forward to the next big thing.  Always chasing something and never finding contentment in any of the things you actually catch.  We barely get through one holiday around here before my kids start gushing about the next one… discussing Christmas presents over their Halloween candy and the like.  For that matter, the subject of a lot of their conversations is… what we’re going to have for dessert tonight or “are we going to the library tomorrow?” or whether or not we have fun plans for the weekend.  It’s hard to be in the now.  It’s a hard thing to learn.

Sometime soon after my grandfather had passed away, a dear friend of ours made reference to “time standing still” during those days surrounding his visitation and funeral.  I didn’t realize how appropriate that was until later, but looking back it really does seem we were kind of frozen in time during the days just before and just after his passing.  Everything else stopped and nothing else really mattered.  Our family came together and clung to each moment with him and with each other. 

Because, really, that’s all we have, isn’t it?  Moments.  Whether time is standing still for us for whatever reason or everything is spinning around us at warp speed.  Whether things are really good or really bad.  And maybe especially when it’s just a normal day that seems to pass without notice.  We can only really be in the moment we’re standing in.

The thing about moments, though, is that they have a remarkably short shelf life.  Moments pass away and with them go any number of simple pleasures and such great joy they make available to us whether we take notice of them or not. 

And that’s why if we’re going to chase after anything at all, it’s in our best interest, in my best interest, in my husband’s and children’s best interest, in the best interest of my home… to chase the moment we have right now.  To hunt down simple pleasures and to take them captive and squeeze every little particle of joy out of them that we can.  To become a kind of moment vortex and suck in everything about this moment.  And we can hope for tomorrow’s joy without rushing headlong into it and we can choose to soak up the joys of yesterday, to relish in our happy memories… and just tuck away the bitter parts as hard lessons or character polishing.  Or just let them go altogether.

Let me tell you… I could go down through 2014 a tick off a pretty long list of other not-so-great things.  It just wasn’t our year, but if I’m looking for them… seeking out those little sunshiny specks there among the teardrops… there were a lot of great moments, too.

Like listening to my kids’ quiet conversation before they fall asleep.

Kites flying in a blue sky.

Sparks rising above a bonfire.

The satisfying pop of a jar of tomato juice.

A precious little face emerging from a pile of leaves.

Completely falling apart laughing with my sweet husband.

Answered prayers.  So many.

Realizing for just a moment what my friends smell when they come to my house.

And being completely content in knowing that I smell like someone’s mom.

other favorite moments from 2014

1.17.2014

i climbed a ladder yesterday

It's something I do approximately 2 times per year.  Well, ok... I guess it's technically a lot more times than that, but only for approximately 2 occasions.  Once to put Christmas lights up and once to take them down.  David did the ones "way up" in the eave of our porch (and some of the others in the putting-up process), but due to his angry feet/ankle issues, I do the lion's share of the ladder climbing these days.

And before I go any farther... yes, yesterday's date was January 16.  Perhaps some of you are more punctual about removing your outdoor Christmas decor, but I don't mesh well with freezing or rain or gale force winds or any combination thereof, so ye olde twinkle lights... they stayed put way past Christmas and New Years and Epiphany (or whatever the Catholic holiday is some people want to leave their stuff up until).  There's no rhyme or reason to my decoration removal other than, if it's the day after Christmas, I want the inside stuff gone and, if there's winter weather involved, I'm likely going to be inside and in my pajamas and under a blanket or four.  I think I already covered that in a previous post, though.

Last year was the first time I attempted the ladder scaling.  I'm not a fan of heights, you know.  When I was just a little thing, I thought that my uncle's acrobatics in the rafters of the tobacco barn looked so neat and begged to go up with him.  Anticipating my response, my grandparents hoisted me up to one of the lowest rafters where I promptly clutched onto my uncle's leg and refused to move until someone got me down.  That's what I do with heights... I clutch things.  So, as you might have concluded, my experience with the ladder last year wasn't pleasant.

I was shaky and awkward.  My whole body was sore the next day from how tense I had been.  My calves were especially upset since I insisted upon moving the ladder between practically every staple I needed to pull out thereby lessening any necessity to lean, so I went up and down a lot.  I also made sure Scotty knew how to call 911, just in case.

"Now, you know, if Mama falls and is laying on the ground, you need to run in the house and get the phone and dial 9-1-1.  Now before I go up, recite our address to me..."

I'm sure that will have no emotional repercussions at all.

Today's ladder experience wasn't so bad.  The sun was shining, the wind wasn't blowing too much, I was already outside after running an errand.  I was ready to get this thing done.

And so I did.

I just hauled the ladder out, found my pliers, and went right up that ladder.  All told, the whole thing took about 30 minutes, I guess (with David's help on the scary eave, don't forget).

And while I was going up and down the ladder (not quite so many times, mind you... I'm getting braver about leaning), it occurred to me that things won't always be so easy.

It won't always be such a non-event to just decide to carry a fairly heavy ladder out of the garage and across the yard.  Climbing up and down a ladder 20 or so times won't always be just a quick sidestep in my afternoon's plans.

What I'm talking about here is growing older.  That dad blamed aging process, which I'm already beginning to see signs of, I'm sorry to say.  Those little folds over my knee caps that didn't used to be there.  The aches and pains after I sit in the floor that didn't used to happen.  The face-distorting squint when I look at the television that prompts David to say, "You should really wear your glasses." Those little creases that linger around my mouth and eyes after I smile.  And most curious of all, the fact that they've got kids working in all the stores now... I'm not kidding...literal children.

I know I'm not old and I don't feel old, but I know someday I will, if God grants me the years to get there.  And I sincerely hope that I do get there.

I spoke with a lady who I know through church connections last night and we were discussing how God uses our life situations sometimes to change the ways in which we serve Him.  She said something that resonated with me: "Sometimes God just wants us to be still."

Right now my life is go go go.  It feels relentless and overwhelming sometimes and there are days when I just long for stillness.  I think about the peacefulness of my parents' house and my in-laws' house and how they can settle into their chairs and watch TV or read and then get up and walk across their livingrooms without wanting to commit a crime because of the Lego that just became embedded in their foot.

And I wonder what God has in store for the time in my future when it's my turn to be still.

For those days when I have to call a grandson or granddaughter to come put up my Christmas lights and take them down.  Or mow my yard.  Or move a piece of furniture.  Or get the conflabbed television to change channels!

For those days when climbing a ladder will be out of the question because climbing into and out of my bed will be a chore.

I don't dread those days the way I once did because the quiet realization washed over me recently... that we don't ever lose our strength.

Our strength just changes.

We don't ever stop being useful.  Our usefulness just looks different.

We don't ever stop being needed.  What we're needed for just evolves.

In some ways, I guess growing older is a lot like climbing a ladder in itself.  You need that physical strength to climb, but once you near the top, it's best to just be still.  And someday when I'm an old Granny, I hope I can sit near the top and help those who are still climbing to use the strengths they have to keep from toppling over.  That may be a silly analogy, but it makes so much more sense to me today than it has in the past.

And I think I must have some of the strongest people in the world sitting above me on my ladder.  I'm so thankful for that.

---

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head. (Proverbs 20:29)

1.07.2014

reasons why cold weather makes me insufferable

this photo is pretty much a perfect example of how I spend the winter

1. I'm pretty sure the most traumatic moments of my day have already happened and those occurred when I had to get out of bed and had to find some pants that were, of course, tangled in a basket of laundry.

Note: In the interest of anyone's disturbing mental images, I don't sleep pantsless unless I'm wearing a gown, which I was/am.  With pants, currently.  You're welcome.

2. The main reason that getting out of bed was so devastating is that I shamelessly confiscated the heated throw which was a Christmas gift to my husband and took it to bed with me.  It was set on the 3-red-bars setting, which is, I've found, the perfect setting when it's on top of a quilt and a flannel sheet (and no pants, but not in a creepy-I-sleep-with-no-pants-on kind of way, which we've already established).  Furthermore, it turns out that the 4-red-bars setting is the perfect setting for when you're sitting at the desk wearing pants (and a gown) and need something warm to wrap around your shoulders.  An activity, by the way, that I make fun of my husband for doing like it's my job.  Not that he wears pants and a gown.  I mean, he wears pants, obviously... nevermind.  Moral of the story: The current cold snap has turned me into a thief and a hypocrite.  I feel better with that off my chest.

3. I don't even know how to address what my skin is doing right now.  I've had to use "special" soap and shampoo in the winter for the past couple years anyway and every time I think about that fact, I involuntarily roll my eyes because being a diva is something to which I never aspired.  And now, apparently, those "special" products have decided to not work for me because oh. my. gosh.  You know that scene in The Mummy where the gem stones come to life and turn into scarab beetles and go all up under that poor guy's skin? Yeah, basically anytime anything touches my back, that's what it feels like.  

And, because my skin is so dry, my sebaceous glands are all like, "EMERGENCY! ACTIVATE!" so my face is an alternately greasy, shiny, pimple covered mess and typing-paper dry and Joan-Rivers-face tight.  When I smile, I can feel my ears move.  Also, having dry skin reveals wrinkles.  The most pronounced of which happens to be right on top of a zit.  True story.

4. Guess what my favorite thing to do is when it's cold. Sit around/nap/do nothing of any value whatsoever.  Guess what my second favorite thing is.  Eat with reckless abandon.

"Oh look! I just walked into the kitchen! Better grab a snack."

"Oh look! I just left the kitchen and am approaching the couch! Better go back to the kitchen and grab another snack."

"Oh look! I'm awake and doing nothing of any value whatsoever! Better grab another snack."

My jeans groan when they see me coming.

Ok... now a word in my own defense.  I actually don't mind the winter.  I don't really have a favorite season because I love things about every one.  Every day of life is a blessing and I try to remember that and live that way.  I just don't always handle cold weather all that well, which you've probably figured out already.  Furthermore, I really believe that if there was an actual reason that I had to go out in the cold, I would handle it differently.  If I had critters to tend to or some kind of actual outdoor work, I would deal with it.  I mean, I did go out and feed the dog and get the ice out of her bowl and refill it OUTSIDE, I might add, which means I got water ON MY HANDS.  That wasn't pleasant.  But I didn't die or shrivel up or spend the rest of the day cursing the cold weather.  I handled it.  And came right back inside.

Believe it or not, I could go on, but I'm becoming disgusted with myself.  And kind of hungry, now that I think of it.

Better go grab another snack!

---

Just a note here to say a big THANK YOU to all of you fine folks who do have to work outside in this bone-chilling weather.  Farmers, members of the military, law enforcement and other safety personnel, linemen, HVAC folks, plumbers, probably cable people too, for heavens sake... I'm looking at YOU.  For doing your jobs so that rest of us can be safe and comfortable and entertained (oh brother)... I appreciate your willingness and sacrifice.  THANK YOU!

(Also, before you call animal services, rest assured that Gertie gets plenty of attention and has an insulated doghouse that is blocked from the wind and has lots of pillows and she's always very warm when she emerges  I wouldn't allow it to be otherwise.  Oh, and she also has a fur coat and was very wisely designed to survive outdoors.  But that's another post altogether.)

1.04.2014

a possible return to blogging... maybe...

Happy New Years, friends!

a unicorn for your viewing pleasure

I usually stay away from new-years-ish resolving simply because I know myself.  For one thing, I know that any resolution I would normally make would be something I know I should do and not necessarily anything I would want to do.  And if I'm trying to do something that I don't really want to do, I'm going to get tired of it and spend a few days absolutely making myself do whatever it is.  Which means I'm going to hate some portion of every day of my life for a few days until I just stop doing it altogether.  Which means I'm going to be disappointed with myself and spend some amount of time hating myself and wallowing in self-loathing.

No bueno.

New Years is such a dangerous time for people like me.  I love the idea of having a plan.  I'm just not always so great at executing the plan.  I love a good to-do list.  I'm just a little too tormented by the un-checked things.

So, all of these peeks into a few of my psychoses brings me to the point of this first-in-a-long-time blog post.

I made a resolution.  Against all my better judgment.  And I may hate myself in the morning, but I'm gonna blog about it tonight.

I wish I could let you blog-reading people have a peek into our photo folder.  I've always been a picture taker.  I used to take a lot of pictures of my feet.  I think I have a folder dedicated to feet pictures.  I took selfies before they were called selfies.  I was taking pictures of my breakfast when nary a tag had been hashed.  Ok, that last one isn't true, but I do have a lot of pictures in my picture folder and that was the original point.

My favorite photo subjects nowadays, obviously, are the kids.  And I could basically make a flipbook of Scotty growing from birth to 1 year.  And then Marlie was born.  And I had a newborn and a not-yet 2 year old.  I might have continued to take so many pictures if I could have grown a go-go-gadget camera arm or something, but alas, I had no spontaneous limb generation and so the pictures slowed down.  The first few months of Marlie's life, there was a decent number of pictures, but for the past 2 or 3 years, the pictures have been pitifully few.  The same goes for memory keeping in general.  I don't scrapbook.  I don't journal often... and when I do it's usually whiny stuff that I probably won't want to remember anyway.

So, I've resolved to be a better memory keeper.  Which sounds dumb.  Aren't you glad to be a part of it?

I'm trying to take more pictures of our family because I want tangible memories for the time that's quickly approaching when memories will be all I'll have.  I want to be able to torture myself with pictures and videos of my kids after they're grown.  And I want them to be able to show their kids pictures of themselves and of the things we did when they were little.

I'm trying to allow myself to be photographed more (and trying to convince David to do the same) and learning to laugh at my chins and pores and my yes-I'm-approaching-30-and-it's-still-there acne because I know that someday my children will want pictures of me from when they were little even if I do look like a character from Gunsmoke in most pictures.

And... scary! I'm going to try to start blogging again.  I need a place to keep a record of our lives.  I don't want to forget these days.  They're too precious and too fleeting to not be able to revisit.  And I enjoy writing.  So, my writing is mainly for me and for our family, but I didn't want to just type into a blank Word document and squirrel away pages and pages where I'd probably just turn all angsty teenager and slip into some puddle of despair and quit writing when it became too pathetic to stand anymore.  Writing in a public forum will force me to make it entertaining (I hope).  I have no hopes of becoming known, no expectations of a book deal.  These are things I wanted at one time.  That ship sailed and I'm perfectly happy to blog for fun.

And I'd love for my friends and family or whoever, no matter how few, to come along for the ride if you're so inclined.

So, dear readers (yes, you... and you... cricket... cricket...), I'm sharing this blog post and plan to share future blog posts via links on Facebook and Instagram.  I'm still skittish about the Twitter.  Maybe someday.  There is an app for iPhone (maybe Android?) called Bloglovin you can use to follow if you wish.  I promise I will not be obnoxious and clog your feed with endless stuff.  I don't even want to try to predict the frequency of my writing habits or the possible subject matter.  That will all be quite varied, I imagine.  So, if ever you get tired of hearing from me, block or unfriend me.  My feelings will remain intact, I promise.  Otherwise, look for somewhat more frequent blogging in the future.

Unless I don't follow through.  Which is possible.  And in which case you can look for me in the aforementioned puddle of despair.

Adios.