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.

Kindness In the Books

When I coached P.E. classes at our home-school co-op for a few semesters, several students blessed me with gifts on Teacher Appreciation Day. Often, those gifts took the form of chocolate–one fellow home-schooling mother handed me a bag of chocolates on one of those days and whispered, “You don’t have to share these, you know?”

This pink-hued message has been one gift that has lasted longer than the sweet treats of those Teacher Appreciation Days. The student who presented me with this told his mother that I was his favorite teacher at our co-op’s Tuesday afternoon classes. Maybe the sentiment behind the gift prompted me to hang on to it–and to keep it in such a prominent place (my nightstand) in both our old house and the one where we’ve lived for a year and a half now.

where-there-is-love-there-is-life
Where There Is Love, There Is Life

Currently it rests atop my great-grandmother’s Book of Common Prayer, next to a shell the boys found recently. I’m honored to continue cherishing this gift of my student’s kindness from a few years ago.

And speaking of kindness…a story I wrote about giving and generous living appears in the recently-released book Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness. My word of the year for 2014 was “gift,” and the story I penned for this book revolves around how the word “gift” helped me remain mindful of opportunities to serve and bless throughout the year. We all have those opportunities for blessing others in our lives, if we have the eyes to see them and the heart to engage in them.

chicken-soup-for-the-soul-book

If it were colder here in Orlando right now, I’d curl up with a cup of hot tea and peruse the stories shared by the 100 other writers contributing to this book. Instead, I’ll get comfy under the ceiling fan and read their inspiring words.

I hope you’ll be inspired by these stories, too!

February: The Month of Love

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day and pink and red and cupcakes:  the month of love–although shouldn’t every month be one filled with love? I digress.

I’m blogging today about things I love. Maybe you’ll love them, too!

heart-and-note-cards

Hoopla for audio books. I read aloud for hours each week to the boys:  in the van (if Mike’s driving, of course); before bed; often during school hours. But I also like to play audio books for them, and in this way, they get to hear more great stories. In December, they heard The Jungle Book on audio. In January, we finished The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They’re currently listening to Swiss Family Robinson. And it’s all for free with my library card through Hoopla. This site offers e-books as well as audio books, for adults and for children. This site offers a map of Hoopla-participating libraries, so you can discover if Hoopla titles are available to you, too.

My apron. For Christmas, I asked for (and received) an apron–purchased second-hand, of course. In fact, we had gone to Goodwill during a break between 2 shifts for a Cub Scout fundraiser, and I spotted the apron while browsing. I slyly handed it to my husband and suggested he ask the boys if they wanted to get this for me for Christmas. They balked a bit at first–I think it was only September, to be honest–but he convinced them it might be the easiest present they’d ever buy. They acquiesced, and I’m proud to have it (as we might say in Mississippi). Here I am wearing it during a morning of baking orange-pumpkin bread with the boys, using an orange (satsuma, technically) grown by my grandfather along with pumpkin that I pureed and froze last fall. {This pic is prior to my haircut of last month.}

allison-in-apron
Doesn’t everybody have a world map in her kitchen?

The apron does more than keep flour or olive oil off my clothes; it reminds me to be intentional, mindful. When I take a moment to tie on my apron, I think about being fully engaged in the moment, thoroughly involved in the act of kneading bread or chopping celery for a soup or shredding cheese for chicken taco chili. I put on my apron and, thus, put on a mindset of focusing on the task (and joy–well, mostly joy) at hand.

Tim Tam cookies. When we lived in New Zealand, Mike and I became fans of a cookie called Tim Tam (I always refer to them as “Tim Tams” when I talk about them in the plural form–but the package just reads “Tim Tam.” Anyway…) For years, we could enjoy these only if we knew somebody visiting South Africa or Australia who might bring them back for us. Well, these treats apparently have crossed the pond. Mike and the boys bought these in Orlando (at a national grocery chain) and presented me with this package for my birthday last month:  

tim-tams             

If a person can find happiness in a cookie, I suppose it’d be this cookie. If you want to have the full Tim Tam experience, you can try a Tim Tam Slam:  nibble off opposite corners of the cookie, one on top, one on bottom–i.e., bite off the top right corner and the bottom left corner–and use it as a sort of straw for drinking up coffee or hot chocolate. And give your drink a chocolate infusion. So far, I haven’t tried this with hot tea, and I don’t anticipate giving it a go, either. I’ll just take my Tim Tams plain, thanks.

It’s only February 1st, so I envision finding lots of other things to love this month. I hope you find many lovely things this month, too.

Mama’s Got a Bone to Pick

My husband often brings home leftovers from his office. We have a bag of taco shells in our pantry that Mike brought home from the remains of a catered lunch (and that have made their way into the coming week’s meal plans). Once in a while, he ferries home a doughnut or two. On Friday, Mike brought some Greek salad and an almost empty bottle of sweet chili sauce back to our house.

I actually love sweet chili sauce, particularly the Thai kind. But this bottle of sauce (which came from a local restaurant that had catered the office meal) I did not appreciate. The contents themselves were fine. Great, even. But the labeling–which somebody at Mike’s office had attempted to cover with a sticker, but it rubbed off after getting damp–on this container sent a message that almost made my blood boil.

The name of this sauce is–brace yourself–Smack My Sweet Ass and Call Me Sally.  The image depicting this moniker shows a brunette, jean-clad woman with a bright red hand print on the seat of her pants. I snapped a picture of the bottle but actually changed my mind about posting it here; if you click the link above, you can see the bottle for yourself.

We’ve had sauce before with inventive names…Bull Snort, Butt Burner, the like. But this one incensed me. Outraged me. I wouldn’t let it be on the table where my children could see it. I’d never want my boys to see this kind of indefensible behavior toward a woman treated as something funny. Because this is a demonstration of rape culture. Sounds extreme, perhaps. But casually using crass behavior toward women to sell stuff, handling unwanted physical advances toward women in such a flippant manner…that’s how the devaluing of women shows up in our culture. (And, just to reiterate, my husband’s office didn’t buy this specific bottle of sauce; it came with the meal from the restaurant that did the catering.)

The description on the label of this hot sauce bottle begins with a question:  Who knew getting smacked could be so sweet? I’ve been smacked before, and I can guarantee you that it wasn’t sweet. When I lived in Romania, if I walked anywhere alone (which I frequently did; it was my home for a year) I would plaster a scowl on my face as I walked by men, any men. I would be careful to avoid eye contact, walk briskly, and scowl. I mentioned this offhandedly to my friend Jodi, who had traveled to Romania to serve as a missionary kid teacher that year, and she commented that she did the same thing. I was stunned. Other women feel this way, too–have this fear, too? We (and other women) were worried about doing anything that might be perceived as inviting unwanted attention.

I hated feeling I needed to do this. I liked being a person who smiled; I liked trying to get children in Romania to smile back at me on the tram. But even in broad daylight, even just walking to mail a postcard, I felt I constantly had to be on my guard. Sexual assault had happened to me once before, when I spent the summer in Hungary. And there were moments when I felt threatened, scared during my time in Romania by men there. The scowl became my defense, and Jodi’s, too.

woman-with-tea-cup
Non-scowling woman, happy with her cup of tea.

So allowing my sons to be exposed to the normalizing of this kind of behavior toward women is not going to happen. Not in my house. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, nobody’s sons should be exposed to this. Nobody’s daughters, either. And that’s why I contacted the company Friday night, explaining that I would never, ever buy their product because I would never, ever buy into the concept of mocking this kind of treatment of women so they can sell a hot sauce.

So I Got A Wild Hair…

This post comes with a caveat:  You might not want to try this at home.

I, however, was more than glad to. Because sometimes, good gravy, you just have to do something CRAZY. My favorite friend Lynn told me years ago that she sometimes just has to do something wild. For her that was once dying her hair a deep, rich shade of fuchsia.

For me, my recent itch to do something unexpected resulted in a new haircut. An “I made it myself” haircut.

before-hair-shot
The “before” shot:  There’s approximately a foot of hair I’m displaying.

At age 26, I donated my hair to Locks of Love. My sister Rachel cut one fat ponytail from the back of my head, and I was good to go with a short, slightly shaggy haircut. After Rachel whacked off the ponytail, I did NOTHING else to it. Later a woman complimented my “trendy” haircut. My next Locks of Love contribution took place at age 28, exactly one week before I got engaged. My third hair donation flew all the way from New Zealand (I was 31 this time), after I received a beautiful cut from a stylist who did the job for free since I planned to give my hair to Locks of Love. After that, I mailed off my fourth Locks of Love gift at age 35 and assumed I’d finished growing out and donating my hair.

I paid for a haircut for the last time in June 2012. Since then, I’ve cut my hair myself (or not at all), and I’ve had it various lengths over the past several years. For a while, I kept it at shoulder length or so. Then I thought, oh, why not? There are other organizations that accept donations of hair, and some even accept hair with strands of gray. Which I happen to have (just a few, mind you).

So I gave moderate attention to my bangs from time to time and let the length go. In December, I measured my hair and realized that my ponytails could make the cut. (See what I did there?) I’d already decided I would follow my friend Tabatha’s lead and donate to Children With Hair Loss.  She’d done her research in finding an organization for the hair that she and her daughters planned to donate. And I cut it tonight. Myself. Gathered the hair into 2 ponytails and sniiiiiiipped.

ponytails
I cannot explain the face I’m making.

Y’all. Sometimes the outlandish things we pursue are not healthy. But this one? This one was pure liberation. I’ve had short hair, long hair, REALLY short hair. It was time for another short ‘do. I’d anticipated that I’d follow through on this at some point this year, maybe in the spring or summer. But after I washed my hair today, I knew…I shall cut this hair TODAY. I’ll get it in an envelope and mail it to Children With Hair Loss tomorrow.

ponytail-in-hand

After I cut the ponytails, my husband trimmed the back a bit. It’s still a work in progress, and I may trim it a little more here and there. It’s like a new toy; I keep playing with it, flipping the bangs from one side to the other, sticking bobby pins here and there.

So, for free, I have a new haircut–and an ongoing project right on top of my head. And I got to satisfy my impulse to DO SOMETHING in a way that allowed me to give of myself. Sometimes we just have to dance with that wild hair.

 

My 2017 Word of the Year: Heal

Although the month of January is almost over, I’m just getting around to sharing about my word of the year for 2017. Late last fall, I felt the word “heal” tug at me, call to me. And it is one of my favorite words, although that’s not why I landed on this word as my word of the year. I chose “heal” because I need it. To experience it, to receive it.

I want God to minister to me, and when He does that, I imagine it as healing.

One of the verses that came to mind in connection with my word of the year is Jeremiah 17:14, “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” I remember discussing this Scripture in a Bible study years ago, when Woodrow was a toddler. One of the other women there commented that, when God does the healing, it will be done completely.

That healing occurs over a lifetime, I think, happening at deeper levels as we grow. In 2013, I read a hugely important book called Irregular People. In it, the author (Joyce Landorf Heatherley) explains that there won’t be just one healing in us. God will work healing in me over and over, going more and more deeply. So I can keep my painful hurts as “infection-free” as possible, she wrote.

When I contemplate healing, I think of healing from and healing for. There’s a constant need to heal from wrong thinking about God’s character and about myself, from doubt of His goodness or mercy. But specifically, I’m thinking about healing from disappointment and grief–situations out of my control that have brought hurt.

broken-bee-box

I also feel the weight of pain from circumstances I at least had a hand in creating. I’ve known for years that I’m motivated by need, but I’ve sometimes found myself in places God didn’t intend for me because I didn’t listen to His voice about which needs I should join Him in meeting. As you can imagine, this can be draining. My offering to volunteer as a Cub Scout leader for a second year falls into that category, and I communicated in December that I’d begin transitioning out of that role. An end-of-year application of my 2016 word of the year “less,” as in doing less volunteer work.

I envision this year, 2017, as a kind of new journey, one of better listening. Listening to the Lord. I want to heal by listening, and I want to heal for listening. So this journey will start slowly, necessarily quietly. I don’t think Jesus should be expected to speak to me against background noise. He’s allowed to be as quiet as He’d like as He waits for me to get silent so I can hear better. The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for Him…we read in Lamentations 3. Because I do believe this journey will involve not only listening, but actions and changes as well. I need to listen so I can understand and then act. I need to listen so I can know Jesus better.

believe-sidewalk

About the situations out of my control that have broken my heart–and I do mean broken my heart? I read in a novel recently–The Awakening of Miss Prim, an unexpectedly fascinating story–about the heart-change of the main character, Prudencia:  Her pain had been replaced by a serene inner sadness. To me, this sounds a great deal like acceptance. I’m healing toward greater acceptance, and I have been for years. I also want more of that healing.

We read a good bit these days about self-care. I’m planning to give attention to taking care of myself so that God can take care of me–so He can heal me.

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

That’s My Name (Don’t Wear It Out)

I marked my 43rd birthday this past week. No birthday cake this time, which was more than fine, since we had not one but TWO left-over cakes from the Cub Scout Father/Son bake-off of the same week. {We have 2 sons; thus, we submitted 2 cakes to the contest, with lots of green icing representing grass.} For my 11th birthday, I requested a cake with peanut butter and jelly icing–and that’s exactly what I got, a plain yellow cake with a mixture of peanut butter and Mama’s homemade jelly smeared over the top and sides. Delightful!

Unlike other holidays, birthdays represent a time when we celebrate an individual. We hear people refer to MY birthday but rarely to MY Thanksgiving or MY Flag Day. (That’s in June, in case you were wondering.) My friend Pam sent me a birthday greeting telling me she was glad I was born. On my birthday, she was thankful for ME. For who I am.

lucedale-drive-way

And who I am is Allison. When I was 10, I arrived late to the first day of Vacation Bible School. Our teacher had made name tags for us on colorful construction paper cut in the shapes of balloons. But instead of simply penning our names on the paper, she jumbled up the letters. We needed to puzzle out our names before finding the appropriate name tag.

When I arrived that morning, I saw only a few name tag balloons remaining. The one obviously intended to be mine was misspelled–it had only one L. Although I inwardly fumed over this, I quietly took the balloon and sat down.

People have been misspelling my name for as long as I can remember, and it’s an honest mistake. There are multiple varieties of “Allison.” Earlier this year, a cashier asked my name, and after I told her, she asked if I spelled it A-L-I-C-E-N. As a little girl, I sometimes got called “Alice in Wonderland,” which made me even more irate than the one-L spelling. Her name is ALICE, not ALLISON, I would insist. A neighbor in the dorm where I lived during my second year of college left a message to my roommate and me on the dry-erase board on our door; she wrote my name as Ellison.

bulbs-in-pots

Then there were people who seemed entirely unfamiliar with my name. A girl in 6th grade called me “Allen” once. People in Romania sometimes thought I had a boy’s name–it DOES end in the word “son,” and English wasn’t their first language, after all. This week, I got a receipt in the mail, and in the “received from” field was written the name Alton. Alton?!  I mean, that IS a boy’s name.

As you can see, I’ve dealt with a bit of angst over my name over the years, although I have relaxed about it considerably. Even the “Alton” just makes me chuckle.

On Christmas Eve, on our way to Mississippi, we stopped at a gargantuan Bass Pro Shop at the edge of Alabama to give our boys a treat (and a chance for us all to stretch our legs). Wandering around while they perused fishing lures, I spotted a display of charm bracelets featuring names. I found several with my own name on them. I didn’t wish to buy one, but I was struck by the fact that each of these bracelets held the spelling of MY version of Allison. In lavender, orchid, and navy blue.

Others may get my name wrong (even in mail that arrives on my birthday); some may spell it in such a way that I wouldn’t even recognize it as belonging to me. But Jesus, the One whom John Wesley calls the Lover of my soul, knows my name; He knows ME. On my birthday and every day.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him [the shepherd], and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  John 10:3