Friday, July 28, 2006

Welcome to my fixer-upper

For the five people in the blogging universe who don't read Boomama's site, here's the deal: She invited everyone to take photos of their homes and then link to her Tour of Homes post. The idea is that those of us who have been reading each other's blogs for a while can get a better idea of what it's like in each other's real lives.

So here we go. First let me explain Roy and I have owned for lo these six years, a Fixer-Upper. We got a lot done the first couple of years, then what with kids and jobs and my general aversion to painting, things slowed way down. Until recently. Roy's been working on our garage. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here's a view from the street. Perhaps I shouldn't include a street-view shot of the house for fear of ninjas lying in wait, but I've lived in this town long enough, if someone really wants to know where I live, they can ask the lady at the grocery store. I'll just have to trust if someone comes here with evil intent, they will know what Jonathan Edwards meant when he referred to sinners in the hands of an angry God. And, yes, the grass needs cutting. And there's something resembling a partial, dried-out mote near the front door. Eventually (Mr. Man promises me) there will be a covered veranda there.

Living room/dining room.

Uhm. Kitchen. Don't really know what to say. It's no showplace now, but you should have seen it when we bought the place. Yech.

I love going into someone's house and checking out their refrigerator. Refrigerators and bookshelves say a lot about people. So what does this one say about us? Well, that's me in the blue dress with a very dear friend. I'm about six months pregnant with Madeline. That's a bottle of champagne in my hand and a cigar in my mouth. I didn't drink any; I didn't smoke it. But I love the picture. Below that (next to me in the WW I biplane) is Roy with his best friend; Roy's face is partially obscured by cigar smoke. He wasn't pregnant (and he rarely indulges anyway). The magnets are from England, New York, D.C. and Luckenbach, Texas. One of my favorites is a gift from Elise. It's a Davy Crockett quote: "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas." Perhaps not the warmest sentiment (hell notwithstanding), but if I'm going to be generally reviled for being a Texan, I may as well earn it.

Bedroom/office/blogging central. At the opposite end of the room, are the built-in bookshelves and window seat Roy built. Mad and Connor have their own rooms, but I figured I'd better draw the line somewhere with all these pictures. You might notice our windows aren't framed-out (same with the windows behind the living room sofa). They used to be, but we recently had most of our windows replaced, and that's work still to be done. The joys of a house built in the '30s.

OK. I mentioned Roy is working on the garage, which is connected to the back side of our house by a screened-in porch (a MUST here in Texas). He's resided/painted half of it.

So that's about it. Thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The proposal and the condition

When Roy asked me to marry him, we were on a mostly deserted stretch of Florida beach. We had traveled there together during our respective spring breaks. It was chilly, but not that chilly, so I wondered why he chose to wear his jacket for our walk along the dunes.

The mystery was solved when he dropped to one knee near a stand of swaying beach grass and pulled a small jewelry box out of the jacket. He was as serious as I had ever seen him when he proposed.

Of course, I said yes. Whispered yes. Yelled yes. Became yes. And we kissed and were generally exuberant the way couples are supposed to be at that moment. Well, except my parents. Story goes that when my dad asked my mom to marry him, she started laughing -- the way we women will sometimes do. Apparently Dad hadn't read the happiness-plus-momentous-occasion-sometimes-triggers-bizarre-fits-of-laughter memo. So he thought she was laughing at The Question, which was not the response he hoped for. Fortunately, they got it sorted out in less time than it would take on an episode of "Friends."

So there we are, Roy and I, walking along the surf, full of the promise of the future and our lives together. And it occurs to me that, Hey! I'm going to Ireland when I graduate. I mean I had been planning to see Ireland, live in Ireland since I was in the fifth grade and wrote off to the Irish Embassy for all the free stuff they could stuff in an envelope and send to Athens, Texas.

And Europe. I was traveling Europe. I was SEEING THE WORLD, you understand, Mister? And if we're gonna get married, you're gonna have to come with me. 'Cause that's where I'm goin'.

To which, he replied, "Sure." Roy had already seen a pretty wide swath of the acreage on the other side of the Atlantic, and he was more than happy to see it again with me.

And that's what we did. We graduated together, obtained student work visas for Ireland and the UK, spent four months after graduation saving up funds (and living with my parents; God bless 'em), and then we showed up in Dublin without jobs or a place to live.

It was a grand adventure.

To be continued ...


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rise up early and lay down late

I've been back a couple of days from Georgia, where the familia spent a week (sans Internet access) mostly chillin' with my very dear friend and mother-in-law, Sandra. She lives in a sprawling old house in the town of Ailey (pop. 623), which is down the road a spell from Vidalia -- home of the sweet onions. Roy and I spent Wednesday night away from the kids in Savannah at the lovely bed and breakfast to which we always return. It's a beautiful, eccentric city.

I've got a few stories to share from the trip. A couple of pictures to post. But darned if I didn't just visit Boomama's blog and sit here at my computer trying hard not to cry. Her dear friend's husband died suddenly. The post is beautiful, a tribute to a marriage that was apparently what God designed marriage to be.

There's a lot of dying going on, and I don't mean mostly among people I don't know. There always is -- dying gone on. But I'm either more aware of it these days or -- and this is what my friend Erin would say -- I'm more connected. And the more connected we are, well, the more hurting people we encounter: mourning people, damaged people, lost people, people in need.

We're supposed to love on 'em. That's the Message. LOVE on people.

Look, it doesn't come that easy to me. My awesome mom clearly has the gift of hospitality. She'll do just about anything for anyone -- and feed their family while she's at it. She keeps an open spot at the table; she speaks words of wisdom ... and listens.

My husband, now he has the gift of mercy. He feels people's pain, and that's not a backhanded Bill Clinton reference. He does. The first time Roy spent a week at a Russian orphanage, I worried for a while, just a little, that I lost a bit of him to that place. He was so heartbroken when he returned.

I'm not so much that way, really. Oh, it's certainly in me to be hospitable. To be merciful. But they're not my gifts. My gift is reading through great stretches of inky night to the music of frogs and crickets. My gift is disengaging from marathon talkers who don't respond accordingly to very clear body language. My gift (and shame) is being able to tune out a little boy clinging to my leg demanding I make Madeline give him the plastic fish while I write an email.

You won't find any of these gifts in the New Testament. I think Paul probably ran out of room as he compiled the list. Papyrus was limited in prison. He probably also intended to include the gift of sarcasm. (Which I've obviously passed on to my five-year-old daughter, as tonight, when I told her rather abruptly to "find the soap; you're the one in the bathtub!" responded, "Yes. Boss me around. I love it.")

So, to recap: I'm a book-nerd, me-time lovin', slightly narcissistic wise a--.

So it's a mystery why the Lord keeps leading me to engage with people desperately needing to be loved -- as they heal, or, sometimes, as they die.

Man, it can be hard. Hard when I don't know what to say or how to say it. I've come to realize that's no excuse. Being afraid is no excuse. Being unprepared is no excuse. Being tired won't even wash that often. (What mom isn't always tired?)

One morning a while back I prayed God would help me die to myself that day and live as Christ. (I'm finally getting what Paul meant.) That, if needed, I would be Jesus' mouth, his legs, his arms for whoever needed them.

Well, it was a whopper of a day. I was peripherally involved in a crisis situation that arose among a family we care for. That and a few other factors took pretty much all of my energy. That evening I looked back with a mental "whew!" and looked forward to bed.

Then the phone rang. Another friend needed me. Needed Christ through me.

Did I mention it was a long day? That I was tired? That I'm a bit, ah, selfish? Then I remembered my prayer that morning and it hit me fiercely if I'm going to live for Christ, it's not always or often going to be on my terms, during my free time, when I'm feeling refreshed and ready to go. I'm just supposed to respond, or try to, when I'm needed.

So, like Boomama, we might find ourselves watching a best friend kiss her husband goodbye. We might place a friend's head in our lap while he cries over the cancer that's killing him. In between those awful and awesome times, we might do a thousand other things that don't register with the world.

We might rise up early and lay down late so we can be Christ's mouth, his legs, his arms.

Praise God. What a blessing.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Yes, but does the pastor do summersaults?

So most of you know the routine. Near the beginning of the service, our pastor has everyone meet and greet. I used to cringe internally during this time because I'd pretty much metted and gretted everyone I was comfortable with before being commissioned to do so. That meant I had to wander AWAY FROM MY PEW in order to avoid blinking slowly at the people around me I'd already hugged hello or punched in the shoulder.

Now days I pretty much just head for the back of the church and fling myself at anyone. Still, the problem with a church our size (which isn't huge, but fairly large for a smallish town), is the real possibility that I could introduce myself to someone, asking if they're a visitor, who not only already knows who I am -- in fact used to be my soccer coach or sell my dad hogs -- but has been a member of the church since the Kennedy Administration.

While all the "good morning!" "how are yous" are under way, the younguns in the congregation charge up on stage and gather 'round our pastor, who is about to begin the children's sermon. Each Sunday there's quite a gaggle of kids up there, of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. I hardly ever pay close attention to the sermon because I'm so intent on studying their little faces.

Roy and I have been members of the church for almost nine years, and for the last five I've wondered what it would be like to see my children up there. Class promotion took place this summer, and Madeline -- who will start kindergarten next month -- began attending the main service with us. So she's one of those kids now.

Almost from the first Sunday she went up on stage, she did it. When the children's message is over, the pastor prays. Then he motions for the kiddos to head back to their pews. There's stairs on either end of the stage. All the kids go to one set of stairs or the other.

All but Madeline.

She walks right to the center of the stage, grins to herself just a little. And leaps off. She doesn't just scoot over the edge. She throws her hands up in the airs and jumps up ... and out. Then -- whump! -- she lands.

Roy and I sit amongst the teenagers at the front, center of the church, and I always hear a few of them giggle. I guess they've started, like me, to anticipate her exits.

It's not ladylike, the way she removes herself from the stage. I want her to be ladylike, in most things. I've thought about telling her she has to walk off the stage. But I can't bring myself to do it. If it ever appears she's begun to perform, well I'll end it then. But for now, I don't believe she thinks much about other people seeing her. I don't think she's trying to get attention -- she doesn't look out as she leaps.

No, I think she just sees the stairs as a boring way to get where she needs to be. Hurling herself off the stage is, well, fun. And the mood after a children's sermon isn't particularly reverent anyway. So, for now, I'm going to let her leap. Who says church has to be all "every head bowed; every eye closed"?

Phooey. King David stripped off his shirt and danced through the streets praising God. Madeline can leap.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Summer, thou art fair

So I've been gone several days. I'm about to be gone several more. It's not so good for keeping the blog current, but I like being out and about.

This is the second summer since leaving the full-time professional world, and last summer I was still too stunned to take full advantage of the freedom. I won't make that mistake again. No, siree, Bob. For the first time in a long time (since college I suppose), summer feels like summer: get-togethers, swimming, family, old friends, late nights, tans, grilling. The smell of PABA.

Deeeeeep inhale. Ahhhhhhh.

I spent this past weekend with my brother. He's 25, charming, incorrigible, an outdoorsman. And hunt. That boy (sorry -- man) loves to hunt the way birds love to sing, balls bounce, flips flop.

Friday night we sat across a table discussing his future. (Hey, he brought it up.) Sam works as the ranch hand on a 1,000-acre Hill Country spread. He's out bailing hay, worming cattle, repairing fence, digging tanks. Your basic "Lonesome Dove" without the prostitute or untimely death.

He loves it. "I'm happy," he told me. "I'm not stressed. And if I get hungry, I go shoot a hog and I'm full as a tick for a week."

Saturday evening, he asked if I wanted to get on a four-wheeler and see the land. Still being a tomboy at heart, I readily agreed, and we set out -- he with his sweet girlfriend behind him and me enjoying my own ride. (That was for the best, since I have a bit of a wild streak in me. Don't tell my mom. Or my kids.)

We zoomed down tree-flanked trails, across open pastures, along the cold-running water of the Guadalupe. He showed me some of his hunting spots, the tank he recently dug in anticipation of a time when this blasted drought finally ends. Khara and I worried about the beautiful white-faced calf standing apart from the herd. I zoomed across the crest of a hill, barely stopping in time to avoid a deep rut that would have flung me over the handlebars. Disaster avoided, I could only laugh.

As the sun set, it was all so beautiful. I thought of my children, who along with Roy spent the same day with their grandparents on a lake. I missed them, but knew they too were receiving the gifts of the season.

Summer at its best is, I think, a taste of heaven. I'm sure there will be work for us to do there. And plenty of joyful praising: all those things the Bible tells us about. But the spirit-fullness that comes with just sitting back and watching. Or floating. Feeling the wind push at my face. Watching the sun go down. Waking rested. Smelling warm skin. Oh, my. Those simple things speak deeply to my soul in a way that must be God-wired.

Yes, I think heaven will be a very, very fine summer.