This Is Not A Gardening Blog

In one of the most productive weeks of vacation I think I have ever had, we’ve managed to accomplish a pretty big chunk of the Get Ready For A Wedding Reception list.

Well, that’s not actually accurate; there’s a ton of stuff yet to do on that list. But, this was a big one – as much a mental accomplishment as physical, although the fact that it’s taken me the better part of three full days to finish gives testament that it required a good bit of exertion. And time.

And my muscles, they hurt.

But I’m pleased with what we accomplished. Interestingly enough, I’m most anxious for the kids to see it (and hopefully be pleased as well.) It seems that our home is constantly in some state of not-quite-finished; whether it’s the porch cluttered with sound equipment, a barbecue grill and boxes of random junk; the flooring that’s not yet completed…a bathroom that needs to be painted…etc. I’m still clinging to some fairy tale version of what it means to be a parent – the part that includes having picture perfect, nicely decorated bedrooms and a perfect lawn.

Plus a pool.

And a three-car garage.

(We’ll never get there. And I’m almost out of time, as kid #4 of five leaves for college in a few months, and I’ll have one shot left with my youngest….)

Anyway, I digress. I took a week of vacation, I did a lot of stuff and for three days I worked on the front yard and I think the kids will like it. Trust me when I tell you it was a mess – I did not do ONE THING to clean beds or weed last year, and it was obvious. Here’s one before photo, of the “pond” area we were trying to clean out:

Icky.

And here, in no particular order, are a few photos of the results of our labor. Let’s start with a pretty picture of the lilac thing (I think that’s what it is) that blooms prolifically every year and then tries to take over the yard with its long, stringy fingers:

Note: I will never be a real gardner, because I have no earthly idea of the proper names of any of these plants. This is a purple thingy. Lovely, whatever you call it. I wish it would bloom in July, when Shannon is having her purpley wedding reception here.
And here are the remaining of the shots, in random order. I know this is not a gardening blog – but for today, let’s just pretend, shall we?
And if you’re proud of our hard work, leave an encouraging message in the comments. I’m a words girl; affirmation will make my achy muscles feel better. 

Throwing Mulch And Chopping Roots

Lord, have mercy. My hands hurt. My back hurts. My legs hurt.

Before….stay tuned for AFTER!

#staycation 2014 had a lot of yard work on the schedule, and today was The Day. I worked it hard, and was extraordinarily blessed by the presence of my husband and his assistance and wisdom.

(And his muscles.)

Now, neither one of us can move for the aches and pains. Tonight, he said, “I’m supposed to be a grandpa soon*. Grandpa’s aren’t supposed to move 4 yards of mulch and 4 yards of dirt all in the same day.”

Apparently he doesn’t know my mother very well.

We worked hard and we made great progress. We took a field trip as well, and visited a friend at work. We also pulled a huge pile of insulation into the attic, which was sort of out of place on Yard Work Day, but it needed doing. So we did it.

And then we had Chick-fila.

And now we’re going to collapse.

/ /

There are lessons in the work, and I learned them today. The swish / clack / thump of him with the pitchfork, me with the rake, working in rhythmic tandem to pull piles of pungent mulch onto the ground. The thwack of the sprinkler against the wall. The strain of push and pull, back and forth, working a rooted, established plant out of the ground and moving it a few feet north.

That plant, it protested. I finally got it up and out; but to my dismay, I realized that I’d cut right through the root with the sharp point of the shovel. I stuck in the ground anyway, and gently tamped down fresh soil around it. Twenty minutes later, it was in shock; it drooped sadly towards the dirt.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Plants – like people – are often surprisingly resilient. But everybody needs roots to stand tall.

Roots remind us of all that has been formed in us, all that has been poured out of other vessels into our own. I know how to rake, and to shovel, and how to maneuver a wheelbarrow, because of the instruction of my father and mother. One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me to keep the insulation off of my arms; my parents built their first house, and I was six, and I clearly recall that lesson from my dad every time I get anywhere near the pink stuff.

I’m rooted in such things.

This marriage, though younger in years, is rooted, as well. In love, of course; and mutual respect and admiration. But also, there is brokenness, and the realization of where our roots have torn in years past, of the ways we – and those we love – have been left protesting, drooping. Weakened.

We spoke yesterday of years before, of other relationships. “My first marriage…it’s never far from my mind. There’s always some reminder. It’s not just in the past…it’s still part of me now.”

The roots of who we are grow thicker, year by year, and the impact of any movement at all marks us. It doesn’t go away. All things are new, for sure, but the bedrock and foundation of who we are, of how we are formed – it stays with us.

And new buds are formed.

And one day, my husband will be the grandfather to the children of my children, and this family will be the groundwork, the substructure of who they will become.

And we’ll still be throwing mulch and planting flowers, and watching things grow.

*For the record, no one is pregnant. We’re just thinking about grandkids…because we are. 🙂

#staycation2014

I hit the ground running after I graduated from college; in fact, I was running IN college, as well. From my sophomore year on, I worked in some capacity the entire time I was at Texas Tech, save for the final semester when I did my student teaching at Mackenzie Junior High School. I played piano in  the lobby of the Grenada Hotel four days a week. I worked at Pizza Inn (for a week). I played in various bands on the weekends; I had a steady gig at the Lubbock Holiday Inn for Sunday brunch. During summers, I worked at my dad’s office as a secretary or temped for Kelly Services in Dallas.

I like to keep busy.

I had a few months of down time before I started teaching at Escuela Abraham Lincoln in La Romana, Dominican Republic; but once I started working there, I continued teaching up until after the birth of my first child in 1990.

Then I retired from teaching, but I always kept busy; I taught piano students, I sold Pampered Chef, I did part-time worship leading, I ran a Mother’s Day Out program…it was always something. I substitute-taught. I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom – but I always had something going on the side.

Like I said, I like to keep busy.

I find it utterly fascinating, and somewhat ironic, that the greatest joy of my existence, these days, is being not busy.

//

I am on staycation this week; I planned ahead to take the week following Easter off in order to rest, recuperate and do some work preparing for a summer wedding reception at our home. The first night, I stayed up until 2AM – just because I could – and slept til 10. I rested most of Monday. Today, I did laundry and cleaned and moved furniture and folded and put away winter clothes and kept moving, with the exception of a 10-minute nap and an indulgence of Ellen late in the afternoon.

And Dr. Phil, if I’m honest, which I ought to be.

(Interesting side note: the best work I did when I was struggling to recover from the implosion of my marriage, my move to Virginia and my dad’s stroke was prompted by Dr. Phil and his book Self Matters. I still highly recommend it; he carefully guides the reader through some significant work to make sense of habits and behavioral patterns that give a great path for growth. This was the right book at the right time; it changed my life. If you’re stuck, you ought to check it out.)

Anyway, I like to keep busy.

But boy, do I like to be free of time constraints and appointments and responsibilities. My boys are on a mission trip in New York City this week; without the constant desire to care for them, I find myself in the wonderful position of being absolutely selfish. I fully embraced that position today.

Of course, my selfishness included folding my kids’ (and husband’s) clothing and making beds and cleaning our house and cooking food…but it was on my timeline. And in that freedom, I am so wonderfully content.

At least for today.

I like to keep busy.

On tap for tomorrow, Wednesday of #staycation2014: Lunch with one of my favorite people in the universe, coffee with a new friend, piano lessons for two beautiful girls and landscape planning. It should be a good day. I’ll keep busy. 

The Piano

About two weeks ago at our church, we had our very old (as in 120 years) and very decrepit Chickering church piano tuned. Yes, the one we bought in a hardware store in Cartersville; the one that was delivered by a couple of good ol’ boys on a flatbed trailer, balanced on four bales of hay.

I’m not kidding.

Our piano technician was in a few weeks ago, and he told me that the piano, although playable (we use it almost every week) needs a good deal of work to bring it up to snuff, to the tune of about $8,000. I laughed; he handed me the receipt for the tuning, and I walked into the room where I was in a meeting and jokingly told the story to the group of folks within. The technician had suggested we take the piano out back and put it out of its misery; I thought this was funny, and I shared that bit of info. As I closed the tale and got ready to transition back into the original subject of our meeting, I said, “I’d love to have a nice piano around here, but we have a million other important needs…maybe someday someone will sell some stocks and bonds and buy us a piano.”

 Like that’s ever going to happen. Like I know anybody who’s got the wherewithal to drop a lot of money on a new piano for a rock and roll church.

 Well, it turns out that I do know someone like that (although I didn’t realize it at the time), and that person happened to be in that room. They walked up to me after we ended the meeting and said, “I’d like to buy the church a piano. Go pick one out.”

I picked my jaw up off the floor, made sure we were on the same page, as in Do you know how much pianos cost when you don’t buy them from the hardware store? We were, and they were fine, and they repeated: “Go. Pick one out.”

 The story on that end broadens, as this person found a tremendous amount of joy in doing something so outrageously gracious and generous. They feel very connected, very much like they were able to step up and be part of what God is doing in a specific, unique way. It’s been a joy to see that joy develop.

And for me? Well, I went through an unexpectedly agonizing and stressful two weeks of piano shopping. Spending someone else’s money is harder than you might imagine…when it’s a lot of money, and a long-term investment that should last longer than I do at the church. I visited the benefactor’s store of choice and test-drove several instruments; I spent, all told, about four hours playing and thinking and learning.

Pianos are like people – they respond in different ways and they have specific and unique character, as well as distinctive sounds. Some pianos fit my hands and feel beautifully responsive; some are cold and distant.

There was one that kept calling me back. It was gentle and easy, less bright than I usually prefer, but it seemed to be The One. It wasn’t what I thought I was looking for, but I kept coming back to it. It was a good fit. And it was over our planned budget; but our benefactor said, “Get it.”

And so, we did.

It entered the stage on its side…

And so, yesterday was delivered a brand new Kohler and Campbell, 6’1″ shiny black baby grand piano, with beautiful maple side walls and a sweet, sonorous temperament. There were complications with the delivery team – forgotten screws, late arrivals – but after six hours of waiting, I sat down in an empty room in front of a pristine instrument.

I played for ninety minutes, filling the room first with “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”, and then moving through songs appropriate for the day, being Good Friday; be thou my vision, o sacred head now wounded, amazing love, thank you, you are, jesus, jesus, jesus, how deep the father’s love for us…he loves us…were you there… 

And something came undone within me, some huge grace gushing upon me and within me. It is no secret to some of you that I have been struggling in this season of late, that there are tight cords of darkness pulling around my ankles and darkening my vision. Some of this is the day-to-day rhythm of constant chaos and no margin; bad judgement and simple coincidental clashing of events on my calendar. Because of this physical exhaustion or maybe alongside it, there has been a brittle desperation within me. It harkens back to shame and the accusatory shouting match between all for which I strive (“Keep it together!” “Be good!” “Help people!” “Be a good pastor!” “Be a good teacher!” Help everybody!” “Don’t screw this up!”) and all that would derail and demean me.

Who do you think you are? 
Remember, you are a failure. 
Remember, you ruined your family. 
Remember, your actions have caused great harm to your children. 
Remember, you are just a girl. 
Remember, you’re not really a pastor. 
Remember, all those bad things you have done… 

I could go on. But I won’t. The thing is, I have been suffering inside, and it is not unfamiliar. I have been here before, and it has been irrational, and I have pulled myself out of the pit (with a little help from my friends) and risen above. I know this place. And I think that made it worse; I know this place, and it pisses me off that I am back here again. I want to be past this.

But this is me, the good and bad, all of the history. Moving past and recreating some sort of perfect, high-achieving, middle-aged Beth who doesn’t make mistakes is not really an option.

All that to say this: That in the past few weeks, much has been churning in me. My joy has been gone. I’d rather stay in bed. I write bland, morose poetry littered with curse words.

Getting a piano didn’t make me happy, and that made me mad. I thought getting a piano would fill my heart with joy and gladness, that I would feel blessed and thrilled. Getting the piano didn’t make me feel any of those things. But today, in a darkened room, all by myself, playing that piano filled me to the brim, and overflowed in tears that would not stop. Sorrow and joy leaked out of me; songs flowed out of my fingers, and the incredible privilege of playing an absolutely new instrument unfolded with every note I played. I had the honor of filling the room with sound, perfectly rounded notes vibrating out of brand new strings, keys struck in combinations that were new and fresh, the wood absorbing and reflecting the resonance and echoing off the walls, soaking into the fat brown cushions of 600 chairs. It was not joy-filled; it was not fun. It was sacred and holy and deeply spiritual.

I played songs of worship to the One whose suffering we mark on this day, songs of loss and darkness – but songs whose deeper power are undergirded by the truth of the end of The Story, the resurrection power, the hope of the light that shines, the new mercy of Sunday morning. In those melodies, those unvarnished harmonies, those new sounds, I was healed.

I. was. healed.

I believe I was in the presence of God in a powerful way that afternoon, a “with-ness” that I have never before encountered. It was sanctified, tender and timeless; the One who loves me took me back to the sidewalk in front of an Ohio church and the words of a pastor who assured me that God was not finished with me yet (for the third time in two days I have said or typed these words, unable to hold back the tears…)

In spite of all the wonderful things that have happened in ministry and in our faith community in the past eight years, today was definitive. I felt ordained, felt the heavy hand of God upon my shoulders, felt Him connect the long line of the past ten years to this point, today. It was as if He said, “Hear, woman, the words of the pastor from a decade ago, fulfilled today in this room. I am not finished with you yet.” Breath of God, breathed on me.

I have heard this from human mouths; been refreshed and encouraged by those around me. But I have never before felt and heard it so powerfully as I did today. Which makes sense, because GOD.

Since we moved our church into that building several years ago, leaving the high school behind, I have never felt settled. For the first six months, I struggled with working there. I felt like I didn’t belong. Something was off; somehow I didn’t fit. I was unbalanced.

Friday, I felt the last piece of the puzzle click silently into place, a seamless fit in the kingdom of glory and grace that is this messy, beautiful bride. My hands, which He blessed, filled the room with beautiful music. The purest, deepest place in my heart poured out and rang into the room, driven by the strength of my hands and four decades of the familiar language of harmony and melody; and that pure, deep place is not darkness, not shame and sin, not the exposed imposter.

What is deepest and purest within me is Christ; Christ in me, the hope of glory, the One whose sin covers me, the one who has made all things new, the One who called me, the One who protected me, the One who redeems me, who said neither will I condemn you, now go and sin no more, the One who calls me His. I cried out to Him today and I cried real tears and anointed that piano with them, and I found my place. I needed no one to tell me, “Oh, that was so beautiful!” because my story and my song found its way to my Creator and He was pleased, and He gave me back my joy and the assurance that I am, indeed, called.

I am, indeed, His.

I am, indeed, so thankful. Called and confirmed in a way that I never anticipated, could not have planned or orchestrated. Something changed in me today.

God is like that, is He not? Full of surprises. He finds us in the most unexpected places, at the end of ourselves.

He loves His children.

I will not boast in anything 
No gifts, no power, no wisdom 
But I will boast in Jesus Christ 
His death and resurrection.

Holy Monday, Holy Truth

It is Holy Week, Holy Monday, and I am struggling.

There have been occasions in the past several years that have held dark, difficult places. I remember, one desperate afternoon, sitting across from a coworker in County Seat restaurant, numb.

So numb.

I said, I don’t know what I have to offer anymore.

I said, So many people…so much I should be doing. So much I get wrong.

I said, I made a bad decision. I have a position of leadership and I didn’t get it right and people got hurt.

I said, I just don’t see how I have anything of value to offer. Anywhere.

I was heard, and I got some strong words back that woke me up and gave me reason to climb, to claw the walls of the well and look for rational thought.

I have never been depressed, not clinically as diagnosed by a doctor. But I have had a wild ride these last ten years, and the cycle of life is long and complicated. I think there came a point in time when the adrenalin died down and my body caught up.

My mind and spirit were tired, and my soul sank.

I tackled the malaise with as much gusto as I could summon. I considered counseling (I am a fan) and knew that, at some point, I would go.

I bought a good book, Feeling Good by David Burns, and I put what I read into practice. My controlling tendencies and motivation to achieve served me well, and I pushed through that season into a better place.

So, was I depressed? I think I was.

And today, as I trudged across the parking lot to my car, I felt the depth of the void, the joy-less place that harkens back to a familiar dirge.

There is greater insight now; an ability and a desire to evaluate with some dispassion objectivity. As I drove home, I opened myself up to the bigger picture. I prayed for clarity.

And it didn’t take long. I thought that today, after an incredibly busy season of going and doing and traveling and working and no days off, no Sabbath, no true rest – I thought that today, which marked the end of a huge chunk of that check list, would bring relief. Healing. Peace.

What I failed to appreciate at the beginning of this season was that checking items off this massive list would come at a cost, a very real physical and spiritual exhaustion. It is no wonder that I am struggling, that I feel empty. I have expended tons of energy and I survived – but I daresay I have failed to thrive.

It’s hard; there is so much to do, and so much of it is for others. I feel responsibility and commitment and a strong desire to show up. And I have; but now, I am tired.

I am not as young as I used to be, and my reserves get depleted quickly. The things I value – the relationships with my family, primarily – take the biggest hit; for when finish my check list and come home, there is very little left.

I will guard my time as best I can this week, this Holy Week marked by suffering. I will thank God for clarity and presence, for a husband who is patient and kind, for children who strain to stay connected, for the deep love wrapped around the hands and feet of my faith community. I will hold my head up as high as I can when I can, and I will hide under the covers when I cannot.

The familiar dirge may pulse its rhythmic cadence underneath every step I take, but I’ll be walking. And then, I will rest, and that pulse will lull me into sleep.

There is blessing and freedom in authenticity and vulnerability, even in the parts I’d rather deny. Embrace what’s there, let it pass, and trust that seasons change.

Friday Of The Fifth Week Of Lent

 This Lenten journey finds us in the midwest, unexpectedly welcomed to the
spacious and comfortable home of my cousin and his wife. We’re not here because of Lent – not exactly – but this season of life has been pointedly focused on things not normally set on our calendar.

We’ve followed my eldest son on his last trip to the WGI Percussion World Championships, a trip that is simply referred to as DAYTON. Daniel has done DAYTON five times now, and will hopefully be back as a member of an independent group in the future. As his younger brother follows in his footsteps, DAYTON will likely continue be a spring activity for our family over the next few years.

I’ve never been to this competition; last year, we decided we’d go for this, his senior swan song.

It’s been good, in so many ways. This tribe of passionate musicians inhabits a
world all its own; I am an outsider and will always be, but even so, it is an exhilarating glimpse into a singular force of commitment and focus and teamwork and leadership that I appreciate. Greatly.

And so we are here, and we have happily stumbled into the hospitality of my cousin and his wife, and therein I find glimpses of my history; the art of my aunt and uncle is displayed throughout this home. I remember these pieces, some of which hung in my parents’ home before the passing of my aunt and uncle. That tenuous connection of family and my own history grounds me, though I can’t quite lay claim to anything solid. This is my family. It just is.

And my Lenten journey continues, then, with family and history and new experiences and a glimpse of my son in the element that fuels his passion for life. Five weeks now, living just a bit differently than before. I have been away from Facebook (and ice cream, by the way) for these weeks, setting aside these two things as a “sacrifice”, which is laughable, in some contexts. But not for me, not now.

In these weeks away, something has changed. I struggled to find words as I spoke with my friend Bill yesterday; I am not sure I can articulate it.

Perhaps that is because it is not of my doing.

Somehow, in the course of these five weeks, my understanding of and appreciation for the Bible has become magnified. Enhanced. Set afire. All in a completely different, open, expansive way; it is as if I have never read the words before.

I see new things. I hear different stories. Passages that have been taught by countless preachers, emphasized in books and devotional readings, read as part of daily devotional time – they are new. Fresh. Connected with history. Connected with the present.

I am frustrated by my inability to communicate this.

Yesterday, I sent these words to my brother:

I’m reading Rohr and reading the Word and seeing things I’ve never seen before and I swear, I am in awe. I have NEVER experienced the Bible like this. The power is immense…it is beautiful and intense. I am actually feeling a physical reaction as I read…something primal and gut wrenching. And full of hope.

Things change. Paradigms shift. In weeks to come, the gift of hindsight will allow for more understanding. At this moment, I am grateful and overwhelmed, sinking solidly into the truth that has guided me, woven throughout my being. Thankful for the roots of spiritual possibility, free of the choking tendrils of labels and projects and religion. Thankful for the words of a prophet and teacher, a Son and a Savior, who is somehow alive and present.

It’s stunning, some new measure of grace.

One week to go.

Wednesday Is My Favorite

I lived in Western Pennsylvania until I was 12 years old. For the first six years of my life we were city folk; we lived in town, within walking distance of Seventh Street School and the library and my best friend’s house next to the river. We moved out to the country when I was ready for first grade, and I spent the next several years of my childhood experiencing life alongside my cousins and my grandparents.

Source

My mom worked at Andersons Furniture Store in town, and so my brother and I went to a babysitter’s house. Shirley Adams was a good Christian woman; we called her father “Ampsy”, who was parked in front of the television most afternoons when I stepped off the bus at her house. My brother spent his days there, and my strongest memories of his presence are wrapped around “cheese toasted” sandwiches.

Wednesdays were special. My mom didn’t work on Wednesdays, and so I rode the bus clear to Nicklin Church. I got off and walked the mile – uphill, no kidding – to our house alongside my cousins. Eric was there at home, and Mom would have dinner simmering and be more relaxed than usual.

My mom was blazing a trail for me even then; an independent woman who managed the household along with a full-time job. My dad travelled most weeks, and so she carried the weight of the parenting and everything else.

And Wednesdays were alway my favorite day of the week.

//

We’re in that crazy season running up to Easter, with spring exploding and beautiful weather and obvious outside chores screaming for attention. It’s the end of regulation drumline season but just a week until the big Worldwide Competition in Dayton, so anticipation is high and practices are long. In our family, birthday madness starts in April, with Shannon and my mom and now Max needing gifts and celebrations, quickly followed by me and my dad and Mother’s Day and now wedding showers and on and on we will go. I’ll blink soon and it will be August, I’m sure.

//

Because the days are filled to the brim and time off is scarce, I’m carving out space for rest where I can find it. Lately, it’s been the blessed emptiness of Wednesday mornings. I’ve captured the time that seems to escape my grasp lately on these mornings; holding it still and centered, in the quiet of the kitchen in the morning light. Wednesdays have stretched out for me lately, lingering in a visit with family, the time to contemplate a paragraph or two, the luxury of sitting still while my lunch digests.

I’m reading Richard Rohr’s Wondrous Encounters for Lent, and yesterday’s words struck home. Reading through the story of Jesus’s encounter with a man paralyzed “as much in spirit as in his body”, Rohr calls him out as a victim; mired in his circumstances, waiting for the mercy of others. I’ve always read this story as an indictment of the cruel, callous friends who denied help to the paralyzed guy, and seen Jesus as the superhero who helps everybody in need and gets the man a healing, supernaturally. Rohr digs deeper; he says

Jesus mirrors his best self for the man, he empowers him, and gives him back his own power, he “images” him, he gives the man back to himself by giving him His self.

There is this freshness to the gospel that I am feeling – and thinking, and hearing, and reading – these days. There are some who are pointing to a New Awakening, a grand re-working, as the political power of the Evangelical movement is weakened by the shifting sands of culture. There are many who are leaving the church as She is, and working to recreate Her. There are some who are leaving, period. But here, where I sit on a Wednesday morning, there is healing. There is an invitation, an open, expansive horizon of a Kingdom and a Savior who is both more and less than what we have made of Him.

There is Jesus, and what I see with these fresh eyes are what Rohr calls “healing images and courageous people to image us at our best.” We are called and we are invited, and the mercy is new and the water is redemptive.

Wednesdays are still my favorite day of the week.