Saturday, March 28, 2009

Unwrapping the Gift

In my Daddy’s big white truck, Julia and I made wheel marks a couple of Sundays ago in the grass parking lot of the First Baptist Church of my hometown. All the while I was scolding myself for not getting up a little earlier. Why is it that sleep comes so fast, hard and LONG in my childhood bed? I had 2 (female) heads to wash and blow dry before we could leave the house. As Daddy has done many times, he yelled up the stairs and told me his keys were on the island once he realized that waiting on me would make him late. Practically dragging Julia down the weathered sidewalk in front of the church, I was hoping that my brother’s class had gotten off to a late start since I had told him I would be there. When I charged through small double doors, the first welcome I received was the all too familiar smell of the church in which I grew up. After getting a full inhale, I looked down and saw the attendance and offering envelopes by the doors of each Sunday School room. The simple smells and sights ended my rush. I noticed the signs which marked the names of the classes that hadn’t changed since before I was born- mainly those named after devoted servants of the Lord and lifelong students of His Word who were now with their beloved Teacher. Just around the corner, I found Julia’s class, completely interrupting the teacher’s momentum, I am sure, but as any respectable small town lady would, she graciously welcomed Julia. My daughter took her seat around the little table as if she did it every Sunday. Blake’s class was NOT where he told me it would be. When I finally figured it out by process of elimination, I couldn’t bring myself to walk in because I could picture in my mind how the room was laid out and the chances of that having changed were slim. I would walk in right behind the teacher who happened to be the pastor. Nope. Couldn’t do that. I would just have to explain my predicament to Blake later which I knew would produce a look of , “???????”.

There was one classroom I had a feeling that I could just slip in the door and right into a chair without drawing unwanted attention to myself. It was Denise’s class. I don’t remember the exact years I had the privilege of having her for a teacher because she was one of those I learned from anytime I was with her whether it be in her Sunday School class, riding in her car to Dublin or watching her make her family’s dinner. Incidentally, nothing has changed. So for me, the years run together in a beautiful, meaningful, critical kind of way.
As I slipped into the choir room into the chair right by the door, I felt like I was 14 again watching a lovely lady sit on a stool and open up God’s Word in the most thought provoking, practical kind of way. Her teaching always went FAR beyond Sunday morning and took you right into your week, your month, your school year, your career and for me, into my marriage and my parenting as well. With that seeming glow and familiar smile on her face, she was saying the same profound and wonderful things that changed my life some 20 plus years ago. I couldn’t help but grin when she had trouble reading her own hand writing-something I always found amusing. I used to picture her the week before excitedly and quickly writing down the Truths that God wanted her to share with us. She always said that Pharmacy school had ruined her handwriting. Now, I know what she meant. Just like twenty years ago, it is so much about what she says but it is just as much her passion, her love and her devotion to Jesus. Every bit of it emanates from her making you want to listen and making you want what she has- whatever she has, you want it. One only needs to listen a couple of minutes to find out, clearly, it is Jesus. She has Him in the best sort of way.
Just like me, she grew up in Soperton, and even worked at my family’s drugstore. When I was in elementary school, she was away earning her pharmacy degree in Athens. She married her high school sweet heart, John, and had her reception at our home, a notion I tucked away, even then, as I watched her as a beautiful, celebrated bride. She then helped put her husband through dental school in Augusta and when they returned to their hometown to make a home and start a family, they were different people.

In my early teens, I had never met anyone like Denise. I was definitely intrigued. As she and John began to volunteer in our youth group, their genuine love for me and concern for my spiritual growth drew me in. A natural discipleship relationship was born and I have never been the same since. Along with pages and pages full, I learned the value and absolute necessity of a daily time with the Lord. I learned the treasure of memorizing Scripture. I learned that prayer was a lifeline and that it didn’t have to be fancy. I learned the importance of accountability and the benefits of guarding my heart. I learned that being with other believers was as much fun as anyone could ever have. I was challenged, taught, inspired, prayed for, corrected, and loved.

She and John were partners in every sense of the word and as I write, I am finding it very difficult to talk about one and not the other. John could be a post himself and IF I were to write one, I would tell you that he, along with my Daddy, shaped the image of what I was looking for in a husband, just like Denise and my Mom shaped my ideas of who I wanted to be as a wife. I would tell you about the letters he sent me in college with the sole purpose of encouraing me- my favorite one being the one with four quarters taped to the bottom for my supper out of the Science Library’s vending machine. (He knew me so well.) I would tell you that he taught himself HEBREW so he could study God’s word more thoroughly. If I ever called him—from the library pay phone-- distraught, his first question would be, “What have you eaten today?” Needless to say, my answer was never good. I would NOT be able to leave out the fact that he was on the youth trip of ALL male chaperones when I experienced the unprecedented most traumatic experience of my adolescent life. (You cannot imagine. Trust me.) The last thing I would tell you IF I were to write this post about John is the best advice he ever gives—which I have received even within the last two years. Ready? Write this down. “Go get yourself some chocolate.” But since I am not going to write one……………………

So sitting there in the choir room that Sunday, I looked at all the young people in front of me wondering if they knew what a functional, unusual gift they were being given in a teacher like Denise. To have this sound teaching from someone whose track record shows an abundance of fruit and faithfulness is rare. She has a rich history with the Lord and countless hours in the Word and in prayer. She has two grown children who are walking with God and are seeking to serve Him in their life’s work. I have seen her trust Him in all sorts of situations- some easy, some heart- wrenching, and some that won’t be resolved on this side of glory. Her love for Him and belief in His goodness is stronger now than when I was 14 because of her journey with Him.
In my early teens, I can tell you, I had no idea the gift I was being given. At 38, I find it hard to fathom that God would give me such a unique gift, for this one is opened again and again whether it be with my Bible in my lap before my children rise, a gentle and quiet attitude with Jeff, a prayer that rises up without thought, a memorized verse that comes at just the right time, or a good moment in parenting. My job now is to unwrap it and give it away again and again.

Denise, thank you for presenting your gift in such a beautiful, consistent and loving way. I love you!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Better Bulb

“The unfolding of Your Words gives LIGHT; it gives understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130

I had the opportunity to hear Sally Clarkson in Dallas a month or so ago. It is the third year I have been able to get this “shot in the arm” and I have loved and needed it each time. There aren’t many people I have traveled to hear time and again, but every year I always come back with new inspiration, new vision, and loads of information waiting to be processed, pondered and assimilated. As I weigh many opportunities, I find this worth the time away from my family. This year was no different except that my spirit resonated with almost EVERYTHING that was said. I am still processing several issues addressed and the one I will share here is something I will ponder, from some angle, for the rest of my life.

The mystery of walking in the Spirit has always intrigued me in the sense of, what is the balance of my allowing Him to live through me and my making intentional choices everyday? Can I even separate the two in a question? How much of it is my effort and how much is His Spirit’s power and direction? Can I use the word “effort” and “Spirit” in the same sentence? Do I have to put forth effort to walk in the Spirit? Even if it is just the effort of thinking of it or should it just spill over without my even knowing? Mysterious, definitely. However, the concept is key to all I want to see change in my life and the phrase was used many times at the conference regarding marriage, parenting and motherhood. Much of my mothering is intertwined with teaching the children, so, in this season, I process most things with that package in mind.

Along with the “walking in the Spirit” phrase, a verse that is significant to me was mentioned a few times, as well. Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord. It is the verse the Lord “gave” me morning number one of home schooling making very clear to me this new endeavor wasn’t about me and it wasn’t something I was to attempt by myself. This odd thing was to be about my relationship with the Lord and with Julia and Brighton. “Very clear” seems to cloud over quite often as I forget whose agenda I am accomplishing and whose stamp of approval I am after. As “but by my Spirit” was “unfolded” at the conference, I was challenged many times causing me to see this verse in a whole new light—or maybe the bulb was just changed.……..with a higher wattage or maybe with that new fancy kind.

Not by might. Not by power. Not by my usual, comfortable, habitual ways. This life I want to live is not about my happiness, my fulfillment, my accomplishments or whether I get my 1 hour, 14 minutes and 27 seconds to myself every day. This home life and this education I want to give my family is not about the standards set from who knows where. It is not about how much they know or how well I taught them or how well they behave in public or how many Bible verses they know. It is about accomplishing His purposes. “But by my Spirit”. I think my “calling”, for lack of a better word, to home school would be unique somewhat and as I continue to do it, I often picture myself covering my ears or with my arms jutted out in front keeping certain standards, voices, expectations or even really good ideas at bay. My driven personality would like to do every brilliant idea that floats into my ear and cover every subject that intrigues me. I have to remember, for me, it is not about all of that. With a brief 2 year stint of home schooling under my “jumper”, I realize there is a significant learning curve with almost every new sunrise but I think the most valuable thing I have learned is what the “by might” and “by power” areas are for me and can be somewhat of a default, an easy plunge for me to take —a curriculum that dictates my every school minute, rushing through an activity, comparing myself to other families I find amazing, a schedule so full that we have no time to cuddle up and read great books, and the worst, doing it isolated. All of those are relationship killers. I’ve had days, maybe weeks, that I have either dipped my toe in or dove head first into those no-no’s. Not pretty, I assure you and not surprisingly, exhausting and FRUITLESS. “Not by might, nor by power………”

Paraphrased and (a bit) embellished from the conference: Depending on my flesh will eventually humiliate me. Depending on formulas will confuse and disappoint me. Acting out of fear will send me (and my kids) to counseling one day. Acting out of faith in an almighty and good God will not always be easy, but will always satisfy. Do I believe that? As much as I believe He closed my womb in order to bless me beyond my expectations. As God thought about my children’s future even before they were conceived, He thinks about them now and has a specific plan for them that one day will most likely have nothing to do with me, but for now, He wants to use me in that plan. Sometimes, obeying God can seem mundane, or it can be an exhilarating thrill ride, or it can look nothing like you ever thought it would. My children and I may do almost everything right and, yet, the fruit of obedience may look as I never imagined it would. God’s will could be for purposes that I cannot understand or maybe for purposes I even find difficult to accept. Scary? In my flesh, you bet. As a parent, do I want to be walking in the Spirit? As much as I want to breathe my next breath.

Not by might………..but by my Spirit. Giving myself over to the Spirit is freeing in the sense that He WILL accomplish His plan. Nothing can thwart His purposes for my kids. Not my tendency to push-a.k.a. accomplishing a big agenda. Not my indecisiveness. Not my inability to add more beneficial extracurricular activities. Not even my independent streaks. Mrs. Clarkson told a great story about her oldest son who decided at 20 something to try auditioning on the piano for a very prestigious music school. The first thing out of her mouth was, “But Joel, you have only had 6 months of piano instruction!” Long, wonderful story short, he was accepted after writing his own classical composition. Mrs. Clarkson had lamented the whole time as they awaited his acceptance that she hadn’t made more of an effort to provide better musical training, but quickly realized it was God’s plan all along and what she did or didn’t do, hadn’t mattered in this situation. As a mother, that is a humbling AND freeing thing to realize. If I believe Romans 8:28, I can say as my children bend the knee to Him, He will accomplish His purposes for them. He’s way more concerned about it than I am. I just need to be sure I am along for the ride…… the right car and in the right seat. “….but by my Spirit,” says the Lord.
A better bulb? A higher wattage? A fancier kind? Something. I see things differently. Walking with Him has everything to do with me and nothing to do with me……..all at the same time. Freedom is illuminated more clearly. Freedom relieves the pressure……….from all the sources. All I have to do is to step where the LIGHT shines.

Friday, March 13, 2009

From the Backseat #8 Party Clothes

After a fun weekend with family in town, Monday came with all of its normal stuff. Just to add a different flavor to the first day of the week, there were preparations to be made for a “Space Party” at the kid’s school the next day. The teacher had assured me that the kids were to “come up with their own costumes and do it all by themselves.” I had smiled and said something like, “What a great idea!” while I secretly rolled my eyes. “All by themselves”. When does THAT truly start? Did she really mean it? Will all the parents really let their kids do it “all by themselves”? Standing there, I remembered hearing about a traumatic experience of one Mom sending her child to “Western Day” in a cowboy vest crafted from a paper trash bag while other kids rode their ponies to school in full rodeo get up. As I turned to walk away from the classroom I was already hopelessly pulling things out of the dress up box in my brain and then I heard the teacher say, “All YOU have to do is send a ‘space snack’ for each class”. A "space snack"? The ease and lightness in her tone suggested there was a “Scrumptious Space Snacks” cookbook on every Mom’s book shelf. Space snack, space schmack. Oh boy.
After I decided I was willing to chance the “traumatic”, I let the kids do what they wanted to do for space costumes. At first, Brighton wanted to draw rockets and “tape” them all over his clothes, but overnight, rockets morphed into stars. He wanted to be the night sky. Julia decided to wear all black disguising herself as a black hole. Fine. Easy enough. I found a star template online and he went to work. I safety pinned his carefully cut stars to his black t-shirt. Done. Check. Just before bedtime, we located Julia’s black long sleeve t-shirt and leggings making sure there wasn’t a need for yet another load of laundry. Found. Check, check.
Once dressed on Tuesday, Brighton’s grin said it all. He was thrilled with his creation. His bright yellow stars suited him perfectly. On the way to school, the seat belt became his worst enemy threatening to rip (and bend) his stars right out of the sky, but somehow, we made it to school with all stars intact. When I left Juila in Spanish class with her fellow space friends, she looked more like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face than a black hole. Can I just say, she was a pretty cute black hole? After school, they were full of “space snacks” and not of the lunch that I sent, of course. With no thought of leaving the leftovers for the next class’s party, Brighton had stashed the plate of rice krispy stars (of Bethlehem) and round brownie planets in his backpack. You can imagine how well they stored sideways with no wrap. His backpack will never be the same.

As I heard about shoe box jet packs, space ice cream, and space rocks, we drove to Hobby Lobby where I had one return to make. As Brighton was standing to get out of the backseat, he looked down and saw his now very crumpled stars which were barely hanging on. Just short of panicky, he yelled, “Momma, I need to get my shirt off!” “C’mon, B. I’ll get it when we get back to the car,” not wanting to unpin each star at the moment or send him in donning a white t-shirt 2 sizes too small. Not happy with my answer, he started pulling at his shirt, trying to get it off. I walked over to his side of the car and said, “What’s the matter? I thought you liked your costume?” His head found its way out of a hole and with much anxiety and a smidgen of panic, he said, “I doooooooo, but Momma, there is NOT a party in Hobby Lobby!”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Story Full of Books

If you have no interest in children’s literature, feel free to click your little fingers right out of here. A couple of days ago I started making up a story using children’s book titles and found myself addicted. For two days scattered in my path were pieces of paper with sentences and titles of books I wanted to use and once I was able to sit down and type, it all came together. When I read it to Jeff and the kids last night, I had them make tally marks for all the book titles—something I had not done yet. If you don’t read it for any other reason, read it for the 147 book titles included- each one worth reading. (Only a couple may be out of print or re-named.) It includes everything from a few simple toddler books, to picture books, to “readers” and children’s chapter books. In true Krista form, it is long and could have easily been longer. I had to make myself stop. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

A Story Full of Books

Many Moons ago When I Was Young in the Mountains, I lived in The Cabin That Faced West, as my Daddy liked to call it. I loved The Little House in which my brother, Simeon, and I grew up. It reminded me of a little Bunny Bungalow Mama would describe to us from a book When We Were Very Young. For a "cabin", it was Just Plain Fancy with a stone chimney that I always thought looked Too Big for the house. In and around that home, my childhood was a Time of Wonder so here’s The Memory String that winds it way around my heart.

One year, Nine Days to Christmas, The Big Snow came. It covered the mountains like The Keeping Quilt that covered Simeon’s big bed. It was The Quiltmaker’s Gift to Mama when he was born. Officer Buckle and Gloria, who once was The Dog That Belonged to No one, had braved their way up the mountain to check on Miss Hitty, The Old Woman who Named Things. Everything. She even named her rocking chair Emily. The officer and his faithful canine companion became our house guests for the evening when The Snowy Day turned into One Wintry Night with hidden danger underneath the massive quilt of white.

That was the same Christmas in the Country Daddy made A Chair for My Mother. On Christmas Eve, he carried it in as proud as the Drummer Hoff. The carvings were exquisite and the cushion just had to be as soft as The Velveteen Rabbit. It was fit for A Little Princess which is precisely what my Mama was. On the bottom, Daddy had carefully carved the words, You are Special and You Are Mine. Through tears she said, like I'd heard her say many times, "You know how to make My Heart Glow." For the rest of the evening, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. That night I fell asleep to the sounds of Verdi and pictures of my Mama in her Dancing Shoes being twirled around the tree by Daddy.

I had a friend, Leah, who lived a mile or so east of The Bee Tree right behind The Animal Hedge, as we liked to call it. To my delight, she would come to visit Around the Year. Once On a Summer Day, we took a ride on Leah’s Pony. We passed Two Cars on a dirt road and then rode right by our teacher from the Skippack School, Miss Rumphius, who was planting lupines on the shallow mountainside by her home. She looked like the Queen of May in one of The Hundred Dresses that must have hung in her wardrobe. On that particular day she invited us in for a piece of her famous Thundercake. Simply Delicious!

Simeon and I never dreaded the words, “Time for Bed”! Before Daddy prayed with us, he read us stories from God’s Word that made it hard to become a Sleepyhead. He read from other books as well, but Daddy was always quick to tell us that only one book, the Bible, had the power to truly change our lives and change us, it did. My brother and I would lie awake thinking of the incredible stories from the Bible and the God who wrote them. We would close our eyes rehashing the bravery of David, the shepherd boy and Esther, the Queen of Persia, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the unfathomable trip in Henry’s Freedom Box, the mysteries of The Secret Garden, the ingenuity of Robinson Crusoe, the details of Christ’s birth, the drama of The Little Women, the antics of Anne of Green Gables and the bravery of The Heroine on the Titanic. When sleep finally did come, Dreams took over as we found ourselves helping The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, or riding in Grandma Essie’s Covered Wagon, or watching Degas and the Little Dancer create a masterpiece, or sailing on Noah’s Ark, or walking with Mirette on the High Wire, or getting to see for ourselves that Julia Morgan Built a Castle, or helping with The Escape of Oney Judge. Books invaded our lives and took our imaginations to thrilling far away places, but the stories we knew to be true were the ones that impacted us the most.

We had a tree house that Daddy let us paint Yellow and Pink and every Saturday The Lemonade Club met at 2:00 sharp. We served Stone Soup and creek water to all sorts of dolls and stuffed animals with names like Betsy-Tacy, Little Toot, Knuffle Bunny, and Ginger Pye. We always served the leftovers to the citizens of our imaginary town, Roxaboxen which was full of families like The Rumpoles and The Barleys and places like Rabbit Inn, The Snail House, the office of Dr. DeSoto, and The Treasure Tree.

While Daddy tended to business in town, Mama, The Gardener, worked from Dawn till Dusk filling the land around us with beauty. She would always tell us, A Seed is Sleepy but When Spring Comes, it wakes up in a glorious mood. She was always right. Mama never saw a Petunia or a Chrysanthemum that she didn’t think was “the most lovely flower ever”. For Mama, when it came to flowers, there was Always Room for One More.

Speaking of room for more, when The Relatives Came, life only got better. My Great Aunt Arizona reminded me of the character Sarah, Plain and Tall except there wasn’t anything “plain” about her. She was known as The Lady Who Put Salt in her Coffee but always made Tea with Milk and Sugar. She had hair like Rapunzel, her laugh was more like a Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and one of her favorite expressions was “Fancy That”! Secretly, she was by far my most adored aunt and only to myself did I call her Pollyanna. Just sitting with her and listening to her stories made for a perfect Night in the Country.

Her children, Rachel and Obadiah, were our only cousins. They were twins and Rachel had always been content to let Obadiah do all the talking. However, I remember one visit when as soon as they jumped out of the car Rachel announced, “Now We are Six”! After only an hour into the visit, it was official. She had A Voice of Her Own asking me questions like, “Does God Know How to Tie His Shoes?” and “Why is it that An Egg is Quiet?”. Obadiah seemed the most proud of “finally” being six even though The Teddy Bear was still clinched under his arm.
That was the same visit that Rachel took The Best Loved Doll from my collection for a picnic By the Shores of Silver Lake. She was special for she had been Simeon’s Gift to me on my fourth birthday. On The Way Home, Rachel dropped my doll without knowing. That afternoon, looking for Dahlia was like trying to find The Cricket in Times Square. As the day wore on, I felt like the last Shrinking Violet in the April sunshine. Once I found my doll, darkness seemed to come quickly and I found myself feeling like I was Where the Wild Things Are. I quickly began wishing for The Courage of Sarah Noble or the steel nerves of Brave Irene. With each step I would tell myself, “Now One Foot, Now the Other”. Every shadow I saw looked like The Biggest Bear I had ever imagined. It never occurred to me that one of those shadows could have been one that was kind like The Bear Who Heard Crying. How relieved I was when I saw a familiar sight just beyond The Blue Hill Meadows. When I could see A Light in the Attic window I knew I was almost home.

When my cousins visited, I remember waking up with the chickens lying there Wishing Dawn at Summer. How it seemed to tarry! On our way out in the mornings, we would always stop on the porch to see the intricate work The Very Busy Spider had woven Under the Quilt of Night. As we crossed the path to the pond, many mornings we had to Make Way for Ducklings headed to get their breakfast or go for their morning swim. Once At the Smiling Pool, as my brother had named it, we loved to watch the Otters Under Water. Before lunchtime, we would lie in the grass to listen to The Wind in the Willows and to watch clouds roll over forming curious shapes like a Duck on a Bike, a Fox in Socks, an Umbrella or a Turtle in the Sea of blue.

On Indian Summer nights, we would put on a Shadow Play by the Long Night Moon for our parents. Afterwards we would try to show our cousins When Lightening Comes in a Jar because they didn’t have "flashing bugs" like we did. However, the highlight of our long Summer Story was to hear The Nightingale sing. Her sound was more beautiful than all The Musicians of Bremen.

After one of my Grandfather’s Journeys, he brought Simeon and me a gift-- our very first puppy. We gave him the distinct name of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge but called him “Willie” for short. Originally, the puppy had been "The Wednesday Surprise" for my Nana (and that's a whole other story), but Grandfather said all Willie did was chase Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs! Once settled in with us, he strutted around these parts like The King of Capri. We had A Whistle for Willie so however far he chose to roam in the mountains, all we had to do was blow the whistle and home he came. Thanks to his ferocious bark, Willie made us feel quite comfortable at night as though we had A Lion to Guard Us.

Living in the mountains far away from the sea always left my imagination to wonder what One Morning in Maine would be like. I always wished for a day on The Little Sailboat our friends from the east described to us in their letters. What was it like to See the Ocean to or to watch a Seabird fly over the water and secure its breakfast? On the other hand, my brother had secret wishes of being The Paperboy in a suburb somewhere wondering what it would feel like being the Boy on the Brink of morning delivering the news that no one had heard quite yet and actually riding his bike to Where the Sidewalk Ends.

The Seasons Sewn by our family in and around our Little House in the Big Woods were purely magical. One wall of our home saw more sweet moments than some people see in a lifetime. We loved each other and for this I will forever be grateful. Ever so often, we took short trips away from home, but No Matter What we did or where we traveled, the sweetest words I ever heard were, “Let’s Go Home!