Fall Festivals And The Devil’s Holiday

I wish I could find my scrapbooks.

I was once a diligent and very creative scrapper. It was my hobby. I loved me some Creative Memories, and most of my creative energy went into cutting pictures and finding fancy paper and hand-lettering captions.

Those were the days when I seemed to have a lot more free time.

The days before Facebook….


Anyway, if I could find my scrapbooks, I’d scan photos and show you some pictures of my kids in the early days of Halloween festivities. It was something else – especially the first few years.

Here’s the backstory: When my kids were younger, we were part of some very traditional, fundamental Baptist churches. Good people, holding fast to some firm lines about right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral. One of the lines was wrapped around Halloween.

It was the devil’s holiday. A night for Satanic rituals and sacrifices. A bastion of evil. Worldly and pagan.

A good Christian did not participate in Halloween, under any circumstances.

And I was fully bought in.

I was that mom, the one who didn’t let her kids go to school on the day of the Halloween party. We went to the movies instead. We kept the lights off on October 31, kept them far away from experiencing the frightening, sinful, shameful festivities designed to honor the devil and his minions. We didn’t even say the word “HALLOWEEN”.

We dressed up for the “Fall Festival” at church, which was, indeed, tons of fun. When I was eight months pregnant with Daniel, I went as a pregnant lady. (I really wish I could find my scrapbooks…) We did our Fall Festival thing and stood proud, tall and righteous.

At some point, the grip loosened. We fell into some grace. A lot of things started to loosen, in fact, and we relaxed even more. And so, one year when Sarah and Shannon were in elementary school, we decided to let them go trick or treating.

They’d never been.

Daniel, on his way
to Kroger as a nerd.

Here were these adorable eight and nine-year old girls, with little Syd and Daniel tagging along (and David just a few months old), experiencing a fine American tradition as if they were foreigners in a strange land. They understood dressing up; they did it all the time. They loved candy.

But when we put a plastic pumpkin in their hands, walked them up to a stranger’s door and told them to ring the doorbell and say “TRICK OR TREAT!”, they looked at us like we were nuts. It made no sense.

However, as they followed through and realized the incredible, amazing joy – people opened the door and GAVE THEM CANDY!!!!!! – they quickly became believers.

They’ve loved Halloween ever since. We’ve never gotten much into the scary stuff, but dressing up and trick-or-treating has always been a family favorite. After we moved to Virginia, it was usually a last-minute thing; October 31 would roll around, they’d get home from school and start scrounging around to improvise a costume. We had some fun times in our old neighborhood, with some amazing friends.

I wish I could find my scrapbooks.

And I don’t know what I think about that fundamentalist box we used to live in. On one hand, I’m glad we’re out.

But on the other hand, it can be really nice and safe inside the lines.

I’m still no fan of scary and creepy. We haven’t done the trick or treat thing now for a few years; David is a tall young man and Daniel’s way past the age of ringing doorbells. But I’m no longer scared of giving the devil his due by delighting in a little make-believe and getting free candy. I’m okay with Halloween; as with everything, it’s a matter of balance.

I just wish I could find my scrapbooks.

31 Days: I Shared

Today I noticed the beauty of social media and how it TRULY helps us help one another.

A Facebook friend who is a friend in real life posted a status update bemoaning the lack of available pumpkins in our little community.

Walmart ran out of pumpkins.

It’s the night before Halloween; go figure.

We bought pumpkins when we went to Carter Mountain, but we never carved any. I had four sitting around, looking pumpkin-y.

I offered a pumpkin to my friend, who seemed truly despondent over his pumpkinless state.

He drove over and picked it up. The gift came with a condition; I told him he’d be the topic of tonight’s blog post.

He posed.

All you kids in Spanish class tomorrow: Know that is a BRAWLEY pumpkin.

Morale of the story?

Share your pumpkins. Please.

In other news, here is a photograph of David and his “perfect toast”; when it came out of the toaster oven he said, “YES! Perfectly golden!”

I know.

And in other news, here is my new favorite: Apples and Nutella.

You’re welcome.

And finally: This is – technically – the final post in the #31 Days experiment. It’s going up on October 30, but my first one went up the last day of September. I’ve always been one ahead….

I can’t believe I made it. I’m generally not a finisher of things. I’m amazed and astounded and there’s something very complete in me tonight.

Yesterday’s post received over 300 views. That’s some kind of record for this blog, and I’m blown away. As I sat down to write tonight, for one fleeting moment I thought about All Those People who read my words yesterday. If they come back for THIS post, they’re going to be sorely disappointed; Mr. Miller holding a pumpkin, my skinny son and some apples. 

Deep stuff. Not.

I considered making up something more “writerly”, something artsy and deep and profound. But all along the month of October, I sat down and simply wrote what came bubbling up. It’s been one of the most honest and authentic things I’ve ever done. 

I like that you read; it honors me and I appreciate the encouragement. 

But it never was about you. It was about me and my words and my lack of discipline and the fact that I had been running through life in ignorance. It was about me taking note of the beautiful, the mundane, the glorious, the simple, the pain and the joy. It was about me paying attention. The minute it becomes about making you happy or impressing you or pleasing you, I’m done. 

But I will say again that I like that you read. I have been grateful for your comments. Deep down in my tiny little heart, there is this:


Right now, I feel like I am. 

Thanks for being a reader.

Happy fall!

31 Days: Please, Be Kind

I recently read an essay by Anne Lamott that referenced the impact of a devastating fire in a community. Four teenage boys failed to extinguish a campfire; it turned into a blaze that destroyed 12,000 acres of wilderness and 50 homes.

As the town gathered to recover, the president of the board of firefighters gave a speech honoring the firefighters, and then referenced the community itself.

“He talked about how in ancient times, people who did damage to a town were sent to live outside its walls, beyond community, beyond inclusion and protection. He mentioned the four young men who had started the fire, and that he had heard that their families were thinking of moving away. His opinion was that the town should make it clear to the families that they should stay, that they were wanted, that they were needed. There was sustained applause. People who houses had burned down came up to say they agreed with this plan. The town wanted these young men inside the ring of protection.” Anne Lamott


That is grace. When we fall, when we make mistakes, when our judgement is poor, when we let ourselves down, when we let others down. When we fail. To be welcomed back into community, into the ‘ring of protection’ – that is breathtaking, awe-inspiring, overwhelming, too-good-to-be-true grace.

And it’s all well and good for someone to hope and pray and long for such grace; but if the members of the community are unwilling to offer grace in a tangible, audible, visible way, there is no win. Grace softens and inspires. It makes people better. When grace is withheld, bitterness and doubt take root. It is a hard, hard thing, for a broken person to have to claw themselves out of the well of shame and self-recrimination without a hand to hold. Or two.

Indulge me for a moment, and forgive me any offense. I intend none. And I write not from a position of holiness, for I have missed the mark myself on many occasions. Just consider this a heartfelt request and reminder.

When the circumstances of life present to you the opportunity to extend grace, consider carefully how you will respond. For those who ascribe belief in the words of the Bible, remember this passage from James; paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, it reads:

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

Whether you believe the Bible or not, it’s quite simple: Be kind. When you have an opportunity, choose to be kind.

Grace can change the world. You can change the world if you choose to extend grace. Take a step. Say the word. Be kind. It costs you nothing.

Except, perhaps, your pride. And whatever slight joy you might derive out of talking about the faults and failures of others.

It’s personal for me today. So be kind.


(thank you)

#31Days: Chocolate Milk

I expended a great deal of writing energy on another project this evening. I don’t have much left as I reflect on the day.

But here’s something that made me smile. I was up and awake before my husband was really coherent. I kissed him goodbye while he was still struggling to find his morning sea legs. It wasn’t really that early – compared to some – but when a guy stays up until 2 or 3 in the morning, 8:45 does seem early.

We usually talk once or twice during the day, but I didn’t hear from him. I was in meetings all day long and didn’t text or call. I went straight to the music store as the afternoon was winding down, ready to teach several piano lessons. He wasn’t there – out working on other projects.

During my last lesson, the door opened quietly – so stealthily that my student didn’t even notice, as she worked on her bass G hand position. He didn’t even come in the room, just stuck his arm in, holding a Sheetz bag.

Inside were two Nutrigrain bars and a bottle of Galliker’s chocolate milk.

He loves me. He thinks about me during the day.

He brings me chocolate milk.

It’s 10:30 and he’s still not home; it’s small group night, so he’s hanging out with a group of guys, wrestling with the Bible. I can’t wait to see him.

thanks to Anjie for the photo

31 Days: My Time Is Up

I’m almost at the end of this little experiment, this #31days of blogging. I picked a topic for myself – “31 Days of Moments” – and designed this little icon

which is a quick photo of my dishes in my kitchen. It always delights me when I see my fellow blogger Jayne’s posts, because she has hung in there every step of the way in this October adventure, and her writing has encouraged and enlightened me (seriously, go read her latest post about her son and the way he currently sees his place in the world – and prepare to be filled with joy). And on each of her posts, she plants this same “31 Days Of Moments” photo, a crappy lo-res picture of my dishes…and thus, we have a branded blog series. With a crappy picture.

But it’s working for us.

Anyway, here we are, on October 27th, and I think you’ll have to excuse me for a minute while I ramble and recite some various things.

First of all, writing every evening has become my daily ritual over these last few weeks. It’s generally the last thing I do every night; I’m just so pleased that I haven’t yet forgotten or blown it off because I was too tired. It feels good to think that I might finish all thirty-one days with a consistent, unbroken commitment.

Things are winding down here at home tonight on this quiet Sunday evening, and Tony just said, “Make me a promise. Promise me that you won’t have any interaction with computer graphics for the rest of the evening. Promise.” I think, essentially, he was saying GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND STAY OFF, but I haven’t been on it at all today, since I got home from church, unless you count the iPhone, which maybe you do….anyway, I went to visit my parents with David while Tony took a nap, and when we got home he decided there would be a moratorium on computer time.

“You want me to spend time with you?” I asked.

“No. This is for you. Just to give yourself a break” he replied.


We negotiated fifteen minutes, and the clock is ticking. I have fifteen minutes to relate the moment I experienced today.

Too much pressure, honestly.

So, a list:

  • I was working today but not on the platform. I went in early, helped get things ready, and then sat in the second row beside my eldest son, behind David and Courey, next to Erik Edwards and simply participated in the corporate worship experience. It was such a gift – inspiring and uplifting and convicting and relevant, in so many ways, to my life. I understood a particular passage of the Bible in a more powerful way after the service was over. It was a good church service, and it felt like a privilege to partake and participate fully as a member of the congregation.
  • There are few things more encouraging than a group of people working together for a common goal who a) like one another, b) are unified and c) believe that what they do matters. The tech team at PCC nails all three. I love being back in the booth to experience the thrum of energy as they put the pieces of a service in place.
  • I napped briefly this afternoon; in the chair (not comfortable) in front of the tv. My eldest son had commandeered the couch. Tony napped in the bed. I blog truth, people…
  • Time flies. I noticed this while sitting on the couch at my mom and dad’s house, my 6′, 14-year old son stretched from end to end with his feet resting on my lap. When we first moved to Powhatan, we lived with Mom and Dad. David was five, and he was attached to me. If I sat, he was in my lap. If I laid on the floor, he crawled on top of me. My mom was always saying, “David, GET OFF OF YOUR MOTHER!” If he crawled on me now, he’d kill me. I can hardly believe that much time has flown by and that he’s become a young man. A TALL young man. With large feet.
  • We met with a group of artists today, a last-minute conversation over pizza about the future of visual and performing arts in the Powhatan community. There was a tangible excitement. It was beautiful, to see that an ethereal dream had already taken root in some individual’s lives. We opened the window today and a great spirit blew in. Artistic people are fun, especially when they are excited.
Lastly, without a bullet, I’ll say this and put this rambling to an end: I have less than a week left in this project, and I can honestly say that it’s been life-changing. Throughout the day, I am more mindful; more present – because moments unfold, and I find myself taking note, thinking perhaps this is the thing that will stand out today. Perhaps this is the one thing I should notice. Maybe I will write about this moment.

But here’s what’s happening. It’s never just one thing, it’s a thousand different things, all day long, moving and flowing together. It’s life, and this discipline has caused me to pay attention. Nothing different is happening externally, but internally, there’s been a huge paradigm shift.
The moments that happen every day, they matter. They are finite, but the impressions they leave are lasting and sometimes definitive. 
Noticing them has changed me.
Reading Jayne’s blog every day has changed me, too. Catching a glimpse of her finite moments, and feeling connected to a woman living out her days and her calling in Georgia as she practices this same discipline – it’s a unique and new sort of community I am feeling here.
And I find myself wondering what I’ll do come November 1….

31 Days: How It Gets Better

Today I noticed that there are people who are willing to tell you about the hard places in their lives, because they know about the hard places in yours.

There’s a peculiar kinship sown in difficulties. It seems to loosen the cracks around the edges and expose a bit of vulnerability between people that you might not otherwise see, in folks that you may have seen a hundred or a thousand times in the course of daily living.

I’ve been the recipient of such grace on a few occasions over the last week. I got a bucket dumped on me this afternoon. It’s been a beautiful thing, really; it reminds me that most of what we seem to need as we navigate our own personal sea of troubles is, really, quite simple.

No pithy statements.

None of that “Everything happens for a reason” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

No lectures.

No fixing.

Just a small story of resonance; a quiet “Me, too….

…and it will be okay.”

Grateful for real lives and honest, caring people.

31 Days: Whatever I Want

On Fridays, I love to mess up my kitchen. It’s my official day off. Although I almost always tend to a few work-related things on Fridays, I generally give myself the freedom to do very little. Mostly, I like to cook. But other than that, I don’t do very much.

Or, more accurately, I do whatever I want. Because today I made two batches of brownies and a dozen cookies for the marching band’s Fall Classic tomorrow. And I folded four loads of laundry. And I made a new chili recipe for dinner. That’s actually a lot of stuff, just that right there. I also went grocery shopping and ran a few errands. I managed some work email. I washed some dishes.

But it was only what I wanted to do, and that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Because what I did not want to do was take a shower, or even put on clean clothes. I pulled on dirty jeans. I’m still wearing the same shirt I wore yesterday. And I slept in that shirt.

I washed my face and brushed my teeth – because I wanted to. And this evening I used a little hairspray and put on a nice sweater and I went to watch the marching band play at the final home football game.

But I didn’t put on a clean shirt.

It sort of feels like a little victory over the daily grind, you know?

I live on the edge.


Here’s what I noticed most today; this is a REALLY good recipe! It flashed by on my Facebook feed -thanks, whoever posted it – and I thought I’d give it a try today. Delicious; spicy in a perfect-for-a-cold-night kind of way. 

And it’s very, very pretty.

You’re welcome.

Two-Bean-Buffalo-Chicken-Chili – find the recipe here.