How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

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But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

Healing in the Death of a Dream

When I landed on “heal” as my word of the year for 2017, one of the things from which I envisioned healing was the loss of a particular dream.

I read about a unique and vital service to women called the Luo Pad project a couple of years ago. GAiN (Global Aid Network), a ministry of Cru, gives leadership to this project, providing cloth, reusable menstrual pads to women in struggling areas. I’ve blogged before about how I’d been involved as a volunteer from home. I helped create a few of these pads, using flannel mostly from pajama pants bought at Goodwill. After sewing some with a friend–and recruiting my mama to sew other pieces I’d cut–I mailed them to GAiN’s warehouse, and from there, GAiN staff got them in the hands of missionaries in developing countries to use in their ministry to women.

I appreciated so much about this model:  providing a tangible resource to meet a real need; communicating to women that they are valuable and that their needs matter; resourcing staff who already have their boots on the ground in these parts of the world, who know the customs, the people, the spiritual climate, who are best equipped to reach out to people in those areas with the message and the deeds of the gospel. I’d also heard about lack of access to menstrual hygiene products that kept many girls out of school. I wanted to do more than cut out pieces of terrycloth and flannel; I wanted to help this project grow. To recruit more volunteer sewers and, eventually, to take production of these pads overseas. I imagined this as a means of helping women overseas gain a livelihood, meeting their own needs and helping meet the needs of others. The proverbial fire in the belly burned bright.

After a few emails with one of the GAiN leaders, we arranged a phone call. We discussed how I might help fill a gap in leadership for the Luo Pad project. I communicated upfront that I could contribute on a part-time basis, since I home school the boys. And we continued our conversations–brainstorming ideas of how to recruit women in churches or in campus ministries to sew; how we might solicit donations of fabrics from stores; how we could increase the number of pads produced and sent overseas–about this time last year, only a quarter of the demand was being met.

sewing-machine

After we spoke and emailed, I took some preliminary steps to try and implement some of what we’d discussed–I asked a cousin in ministry and my sister (a pastor’s wife) about recruiting people from their churches as volunteer sewers. I reached out to friends around the country about this need, asking if they could get involved. I made lists, set aside time to send emails and think through ideas, and had those ready to talk about for our next phone call. Because this role existed within Cru, I could switch from my current Cru staff role of editing stories (on a part-time basis) to Luo Pad project oversight without leaving the organization of Cru. I even asked my husband about the possibility of moving to Dallas to be near the GAiN U.S. offices if I got asked to take this role. I would lay in bed at night imagining trips to Southeast Asia or various places in Africa to help set up production for Luo Pads among groups of women learning to sew and to support their families.

And then, as these things happen, delays in the process occurred. Phone appointments had to be canceled and rescheduled; the person with whom I was in communication welcomed a new baby into the family. Progress was put on hold. I felt content to wait, although the longer I waited, the more concerned I became that the opportunity was slipping away. Some emails didn’t get answered. I waited some more. Finally, months later, after waiting and wondering, I realized there must be a reason we weren’t moving forward. I contacted the director who’d been in talks with me previously (after seeking out other people, too, who told me just to get back in contact with him–the person I’d been trying to reach already). I expressed disappointment that nothing had come to fruition as far as my finding a place to serve with the Luo Pad program, and so I was concluding that they didn’t see me as the right fit for the role.

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Almost immediately, the director sent a response telling me that he was so very sorry to have been out of touch, but they really wanted a full-time person to staff this position after all. I’d begun to suspect this months ago. Just like that, the opportunity and travel and service I’d envisioned died. I knew I couldn’t continue parenting and teaching my children as I know I’m called to do while working a 40-50 hour per week job. The dream must be crucified. It was finished. And I grieved. After all, we always grieve a death, don’t we? 

Last week, instead of regular school lessons, we spent our Tuesday on a kind of field trip:  As a family, we went to Cru headquarters here in Orlando and helped pack seeds with GAiN. At this seed packing event–which helps resource people overseas with heirloom, non-GMO seeds that will produce crops that will then produce seeds to be planted and then re-planted–Mike and the boys and I sat side by side. We labeled hundreds of envelopes for squash seeds. And while we worked, we talked with one of the GAiN staff. Overseeing the Luo Pad program falls under her leadership. She just reported to her job last summer, a few months after I heard a definitive “no” about my own role with Luo Pads. So the full-time staff person was found; the need has been met, and I am glad for that. I hope and trust that many more women will be served around the globe because of this individual’s work. It was bittersweet, though, to hear her stories and make casual conversation while realizing that the job she now had was one I previously wanted.

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As much as this loss still sometimes brings me sadness, I am seeing God’s work to bring healing. A couple of months ago, a friend from our old church contacted me about sewing Luo Pads. I had mentioned the idea to her back when I hoped to recruit groups of volunteer sewers. She now wanted to get started sewing on her own; we discussed using the terrycloth she had left over from an abandoned attempt at making a bath robe for the pads’ inner layers.

Then my sister Rachel (the pastor’s wife I mentioned above–she also does about a million other things from refinishing furniture to raising 4 children) asked if I would speak to a group of women at their church this summer about participating in the Luo Pad volunteer efforts. I don’t “officially” represent Luo Pads in any way, but I CAN show these women who are keen to serve others the patterns, the stories, and the vision of this project.

So this is how I’m experiencing healing in the death of this one dream:  Marveling at how God has purposed to use me to advance this program apart from serving with GAiN in any ‘real’ capacity. From this vantage point, it’s clear that God’s plans for me didn’t fall through the cracks. Recognizing that is healing.

Wear It Well Wednesday: Dress at the Lake

On any given day, you may find me wearing shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Or baggy pants and a tank top while I scuff around our house wearing slippers. On home school days when we don’t go farther than our yard or the park down the street, I don’t put much thought into outfits. But on Sundays, you can count on my wearing something more put together.

So it’s nothing out of the ordinary that this week’s edition of WIWW comes from what I wore to our church service last Sunday. The button-down dress is a cast-off from our friend and ministry partner Vivian. The boots were handed down to me from my aunt Anna. Even my socks are hand-me-downs, although they had never been worn when I got them.

The water behind me represents the lovely Lake Como, where my boys have done a bunch of fishing (and I’ve done a bunch of walking). In fact, Woodrow and Garfield found this sweet spot near the water at Lake Como Park for the photo for me.

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I love all the details on the dress:  folds, tucks, cap sleeves. And the wilderness scenes are special, too.

I gave away some other items last week that Vivian had recently sent us. A mom in need, along with her 2 daughters, stayed at our house for a few days. The mom–we’ll call her B–asked me about some make-up, so I showed her the stash Vivian had mailed in her latest parcel to our family. B picked out several new and unused pieces (eye shadow, mascara, eye make-up remover) and was grateful to get them–as I was grateful to share them with her.

We just never know what God may have in store for the things we give, which I think is an added reason to be a cheerful giver. In every gift, there is great potential.

Happy Wednesday, friends!

Wear It Well Wednesday: Black, White, And Aqua

Today’s showing of Wear It Well Wednesday is the first since I cut my hair. We took this shot on the way home from church a few Sundays ago at Lake Como Park, and as you can see, dealing with the sun and shadows presented a bit of a challenge.

I not only donned this outfit that Sunday; I also wore it the afternoon before to watch (and thoroughly enjoy) a musical called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” with my good friend Angela at the Winter Park Playhouse. Mike had been out of town the entire week–the entire exhausting, difficult week–and I sorely needed to get dressed up, get out, and spend time with a friend. After the show, Angela and I walked to an up-and-coming coffee shop called Foxtail and continued our visit.

So this outfit did double duty this weekend. Here’s the low down (As you know, all my WIWW posts feature hand-me-downs and other second-hand pieces because, well, that’s more or less my wardrobe):  The black-and-white dress is a cast-off from my aunt Anna; the aqua necklace came from our friend and ministry supporter Vivian, who has sent two big boxes of goodies from her family’s closets to us in the past several months. Much of what she (and Anna) sends us gets sold at consignment stores to help fund our Women of Vision fundraising efforts or sent to Cru staff in other countries. But I’m thrilled that I got to keep these 2 pieces from them. My sister Rachel gave me these boots (that she no longer wanted) over a year ago.

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The shadows don’t do much for my face, so let’s just focus on the outfit. My sons do not relate to how I like to get dressed up to go somewhere, but opportunities for me to do so are few and far between. When I can, I embrace it–and usually wear hand-me-downs. Happy Wednesday, dear readers!

On the Loss That Makes Me Feel Officially Old

At lunch time today, I pulled food from the fridge and discovered the bag of peppers in the vegetable crisper that my grandfather had given us the last time we’d seen him alive. I had forgotten about those peppers, and now most are shriveled. I don’t know how I’ll manage to throw them out. And even if we ate them–all of them–they’d still be gone, and then there would be no more evidence I could hold in my hands of his gardening prowess.

Papa died on Valentine’s Day, and we left the next day–a Wednesday–for Lucedale, Mississippi, where I was born, raised, where my parents and grandmother still live. The boys and I were in the throes of making our annual heart-shaped Valentine’s cake when I heard the news from Mama. The strawberries that we typically used to decorate the edges of the heart cake had sold out, so we had to substitute fresh raspberries instead.

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Papa had not been ill; although he was 90 years old, he was in good health. His death during a heart catheterization–a diagnostic procedure–shocked us all. I had known Papa was undergoing the heart cath at the hospital; and even when I felt a faint sense of worry, I told myself that he wouldn’t die during a process meant to determine how well his heart was working.

I close my eyes and see my 2 brothers and 7 male cousins laboring to carry Papa’s casket to his grave on February 17, a chilly, sunny day. This feels like the beginning of the end of everything good. I told my husband, my sister, Nothing will ever be the same. I also told my husband:  You know this is going to keep on happening, right? At some point, my grandmother, your parents, my parents…There’s a line in the Tom Petty song ‘Learning to Fly’ that goes like this:  “The good old days may not return.”

We packed up the heart-shaped cake and put it in the freezer and spent the next several days following Valentine’s Day in Lucedale. Leaving my mother and my Nanny when my husband and sons and I loaded into our van to drive home was one of the most agonizing things I’ve ever done. We are so many hundreds of miles away; I want to be with them, to grieve with them and to help them if I could.

On the way home to Orlando last Saturday, I asked Garfield if he needed to get a drink of water. He responded, “No, I still have my tea from Nanny and Papa’s.” Nanny and Papa’s. It wrecked me. 

Papa always gave me money for good grades growing up, a quarter for every A on my report card. Sometimes he would hand us rolls of quarters; I often used those to do laundry during college. In first grade, Nanny and Papa took me–just me–to what is now called Ray’s Tri-County  Auction. We sat in the back and ate hamburgers from the concession stand, and Papa bought me a beautiful doll with black hair and a long red dress covered in lace.

In fourth grade, I misplaced my lavender New Balance tennis shoes (some folks outside the South call them ‘sneakers’). I didn’t find them for several weeks. During that time, I wore the lovely, dark brown cowboy boots that Papa had bought for me at our local farm co-op. They had just the right amount of heel, in my ten-year-old’s opinion. I wore them with everything, everyday, including a pink track suit with the legs stuffed down in the boots. One day during P.E. that year, our class actually did exercises instead of simply playing around the school yard. The P.E. coach herded us into the gym, and we ran laps. I ran laps–in my boots. Not surprisingly, I slipped and fell on the hardwood floor but got back up right away. I kept running.

Papa had nicknames for all his grandchildren–mine was Pumpkin. Always, it was Pumpkin. Papa served as the sheriff of our county for 24 years, and I remember many hot summer nights at political rallies, passing out flyers urging people to vote for Papa, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Re-elect Howell Sheriff.”

At Papa’s funeral, I heard a man say to Nanny–Papa’s widow–as he leaned down to hug her, “He was my friend.” I discovered last week that Papa liked to play 2 old gospel songs in his sheriff’s office:  One Day at a Time and I’ll Fly Away. He would even call in to the local radio station and ask for those songs to be played.

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He lied about his age at 16 and joined the army, serving during WWII. My husband used to ask Papa questions about this time of his life, and Papa told us many stories. In one, he explained how he and the other men with him who’d landed in Japan wanted to flesh out their MRE’s, so they cooked Japanese eggplants and added them to the army-issued meals. Papa laughed when he said that this just ruined the MRE’s. He also jumped out of airplanes. And he built fences as a side business. Two of my cousins, one of my brothers, and I used to play “Dukes of Hazard” in the back of Papa’s fence-building pick-up truck.

Papa looked to me like a cross between Jimmy Stewart and the TV sheriff Andy Griffith, and he was married to my grandmother for 67 years. And there is no way I could possibly write enough about him; there aren’t sufficient words.

I am shattered and gutted. My eyes burn from the tears I’ve shed, and my head hurts from the tears I’ve not shed. I do grieve with hope, because I’m confident I’ll see Papa again. But right now, I’m just grieving, and I’m exceedingly thankful that God gives me the grace to accept that.

Life Lesson Through Parenting: Calvin’s Clip

This week, the online platform of Live with Heart and Soul magazine published a guest blog post I’d written. Like so many–MANY–lessons I learn in life these days, this post centers around one I gleaned from parenting my two boys. The events that I share in this post took place a few years ago, but re-reading it this week brought not only the experience but also the lesson back to mind. It’s a good concept to ponder as we grow in our faith.

You can find the post hereand the title is “Calvin’s Clip.” FYI, Calvin is the one I call Garfield on my blog. He’s now 8 years old and rarely shoves things between his teeth anymore. Woodrow put a piece of plastic in his ear at age 4–to save it for later, he solemnly told me at the time I discovered it–and that DID result in a tense trip to the pediatrician. Hopefully those days are behind us.

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Calvin’s feet:  This is how we dress for cold weather in Florida.

You can also find the link to “Calvin’s Clip” by clicking on the “Featured In” button down below, on the bottom of this page. However you get to it, I hope it ministers to you. Thanks, as always, for reading. I love sharing about my life in this little corner of the world, and I always welcome your feedback.

New Day, New Mercies

When my great friend Lynn and I talk on the phone, our conversations usually last an hour–at least. In one of our recent talks, Lynn told me a story that her pastor related to their congregation at church one day.

He shared how he sometimes wakes up his young son early in the morning, while the sky is still dark. Together, they sit and watch the sun rise. As light begins to dawn, this father points to the rising sun and asks his child, What is that? The little boy answers his father, “New mercies. That’s new mercies.”

On the night Lynn told me this story she’d heard in church, I had called her because I felt down and discouraged and needed to share my burdens. As I pictured a little boy confidently answering his father, as they watched the sun rise together, that the start of a new day signified God’s new mercies, I came undone. I sobbed.

oxalils-in-dish

There are days when I feel I must surely tax God’s mercies, His patience, His grace. As if there couldn’t possibly be more of it left over for the next day, too. In those moments, I live not like an adopted child of the Heavenly Father, not like a daughter of the King, but like an orphan.

An orphan, assuming she must scrap and grasp for what she needs, grab and hold tight to whatever she can reach that might fill the empty cup of her heart. An orphan who lives out of a belief that she must prove herself–and her worth–instead of resting in the love of the One who has secured her identity as a much-loved child.

It’s exhausting, living that way. Thinking that I’m all on my own and must resolve my problems on my own. Thinking that I must find life on my own, often by insisting that I be acknowledged by others, demanding that I be understood. I hate being misunderstood–don’t we all?–and hate having my motives, my heart, misjudged by others. I must make them understand me! I sometimes think, as if being understood will set me free. Or make me feel as though I belong.

But I cannot control another person’s thoughts about me, my heart, my motives. There’s no life to be found there–and if there were, it would only be shifting sand.

There’s no rest in the life of an orphan. Rest comes to the child who’s been brought into God’s family, to the one who can lay down at night, with her bruised and weary heart, trusting that her Father will indeed provide everything she needs for life. Everything she needs for a new day.

Trusting that, each day–regardless of what has come before–there will be new mercies.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.