The smell of hot cement and a 12 year old's thoughts

The smell of steaming concrete heated by the summer sun and splashed by chlorined water hits my nose as I swim over to the edge of the pool to rest...and all of a sudden I am not a 41 year old mom with her teens at the pool, I am my 12 year old self, body concious in a swimsuit that shows all too clearly my flat chest and stick straight figure, shorter than all of the other girls, nothing to command the attentions that every young female around the pool is dying to catch.

It was a "Christian" event, a pool party of hundreds with a Bible study slapped in and picnic lunches on the grounds where youth groups checked each other out, boys throwing footballs and loud and physical, and girls arranging their brown limbs in attractive poses nonchalantly, and lots of giggling and big hair. There is an art to casually cutting your eyes in a flirty way during prayer time, finding the one who paid you some attention to stand beside as the group hold hands in "spiritual unity."

I was pale. Small. Childish in a sea of the effects of puberty hormones that didn't hit me like the ones around me. And all that insecurity, the disappointment in my myself over what I could do nothing about, the sadness in not feeling chosen or noticed, it hits me with unexpected force these almost 30 years later.

I want to go back to that girl, so fragile, so dependent on what people thought... I want to tell her the truth about herself, and how this is not her permanent reality, this sense of standing on the outside looking in. The truth is, what I can see not looking back through the eyes of wisdom that only the tunnel of time can give you, every young person around that Olympic sized pool, swimming and splashing in it, jumping from the impossibly high diving platform, perched on loungers with bright colored beach towels, congregating around tables with snack bar drinks, spraying hair spray in the moldy bathrooms- they all felt the same way, in some form or another. I was not alone in my fears, worries, insecurities, and now, I know this. I wish she had.

I wish she had known she could hold her head up and trust that Jesus had a plan for her future that didn't depend on if her bathing suit was filled out in the way she wanted. I wish I could tell her that all the dreams and joy inside her did not depend on if she fit in with the crowd around the snack bar, that her longing to be one of the girls with inside jokes and flirty glances would never fill her heart, but Jesus knew that one day He would give her a man who would love her enough to sacrifice for her, and whose affections would not be based on beauty, that this is what would make her feel cherished and give her confidence enough to stand up straight.

I would say to her that even though I now wear a bathing suit that covers flaws her smooth, flat young body could not even imagine, I have peace from the power of knowing what this body can do and from watching it accomplish what it was designed for: growing 5 children, nourishing them, holding them close, surviving days of no sleep, loving a man through 20 years. She could not understand it, if I could explain it all; youth is free from the burdens of the future while closed to all the lessons it hasn't learned from experiencing it yet.

I feel all of the fears and hurt of that girl in a rush in a moment, and at the same time, distance from all these emotions that I have gained from listening to the voice of God for the years from age 12 to 41. I say to her, inside my mind, we have come a long way.

And I push off to swim again, through the cool water, to move on, to be grateful the years, and grace, have brought me from then to this.

As Simple as Grapefruit

This morning my little one wanted grapefruit for breakfast- actually her first choice was Cool Whip because who doesn't want Cool Whip first thing in the morning- and it is one of those food items she just can't manage on her own yet. Sitting on the counter to keep me company, she asked about every step- cutting it in half, choosing which side to start with, using the special knife to make the sections to eat, adding the little sprinkle of sugar to the top. And as I stood there I was hit by a memory of grapefruit being cut at another counter that I can't go back to anymore.

My Nanny and Papa were married for more than 50 years and she was determined in the later years to keep them both healthy. I remember my sister and I sitting in the stands of the gym at the YMCA while they walked with other couples their age, and breakfasts changing from eggs and bacon and the whole Southern lot to grapefruit and toast. One of their mundane conversations  from one of the mornings still echoes in my mind as my Papa chose a grapefruit and began to cut it in half. 

 "Well, baby," he said, "let's see if I can get this thing cut even this time." Knife slicing through the fruit, hitting the counter, the two halves falling to the side. "Nope, not this time...I guess we will try again tomorrow..." They share a little smile and he chuckles.

It wasn't a  life changing conversation. It wasn't deep thoughts, or personal secrets of how to have a lasting marriage, so why did this one moment of the daily interaction in a marriage affect me so deeply? It was a glimpse into the personal part of a relationship, a little view into the private side of two people who have built a life together, who have weathered years, and heartbreaks, and joys and still have the small moments everyday of sharing a smile over the impossibility of splitting a grapefruit into two perfectly equal parts... the everydayness of life shared again and again and again over decades and still wondering at something small. 

We don't normally think of our parents' or grandparents' relationships in this way, or at least I did not. For us, in our family, they are just a fact of life, stability, a foundation for those of us who are products of them to stand on and build on and move forward from. But for a small second, I had the thought, "They are friends and they have something between them that I know nothing about." That realization was just a flashing thought but strong enough to have lasted until now, years later, at my own counter cutting grapefruit for my child.

Right now I am in a role in my own marriage that I haven't been in before. My sweet husband fell last week and broke his ankle, requiring surgery this week for 2 screws to hold it together so he will heal. He is in a lot of pain and basically can only sit on the sofa with his leg propped up, so I am the care taker of the household until he is up on his feet again. It is tiring, but I can tell you, there is a pleasure in making sure that he has everything he needs and trying to make him as comfortable as I can. As small as it seems, I take joy in filling his cup with cold water, freshening up the sofa when he gets up for a break. It has reminded me of how quickly life can turn, how one moment you may be laughing with your family and the next your bread winner is on the ground and your thoughts are on how will be business be run and the bills be paid? Our little setback is temporary. The ankle will heal and he will be back to being as good as new- and I realize that every minute people are hit with more serious and permanent heartbreaks and diagnoses. 

But it has been enough to make me appreciate the kind of love that I am blessed to have, the kind of friendship that I am so privileged to have my marriage founded on, the kind of bond that I am the third generation to experience in my family. 

We take care of each other. 

It might be in the big things, making sure the roof is over our heads, or it might be in the little things, like having clean underwear in the drawer after a shower. It could be in sitting beside the hospital bed when I had a hysterectomy or it could be in making sure his glass of water has just the right amount of flavoring in it.

It could be cutting the fruit into perfect halves for breakfast.

I am grateful for this reminder of the "us" that exists beyond being parents, or any other of the roles we have to play. That making this last, making this life together is yes, the deep issues, the hard decisions, the forgiveness and the mercy and the learning to be one instead of two...but sometimes it is as simple and as plain as grapefruit.

Like and Share

Today, in this world, it isn't enough to have something to say to just a few people, it is only validated if we spread it to as many people as possible. It isn't that these technological advances that have allowed us to share are a bad thing- in fact, I think they are allowing us to spread the truth of Jesus and to connect in a certain way with people like never before. I am grateful for the outlet of this blog and other media outlets to share what I am thinking and feeling and experiencing, and to get feedback from others about those things.

But there is a danger, and it is one that I seem to be reading about so often lately, as if there is an awakening to the shift that has happened to us as we have more and more media at our fingertips.

And what I see is this- the clamoring and pushing for more likes, more shares, more forwarding of the blog, more likes on facebook, more followers on twitter, more, more, more. There is a false sense of purpose in seeing those numbers go up, a pat on the back that says, "Look how important you are!" It isn't real, or true, and it won't last. What happens if the next post or blog has less likes, like hits- does your value go down?

It causes us to look past the people in our lives that can truly bring deep importance and feelings of value to us, the people whose faces we can look into and can actually wrap our arms around. We are trading a click of a computer for the connection on eyes looking into each other. For a 30 second video that makes us laugh for the belly laugh from an inside joke moment with a friend across the table from us.

I do think we can have both- using the technology to enhance the lives that we have already full of people and true connections. But it has to be a daily awareness, a checking in, a purposeful, intentional using of a tool and not letting the tool use you. And I fear for a generation who truly bases their worth on the number of followers they have and also consider the value of others as equal to their influence in some social media. I have lots of friends on facebook, but how many of them can I call at 2 am? That I can say I can actually name a few is a huge blessing, especially since there was a time in my life that I could not make that statement.

I am really thinking about how I use or am used by all of this lately as a new year begins...are you? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Love and blessings,

Church and Dark Chocolate

I love my church. I am proud of it. And I want to tell you why- but first let me clear up a few things. First, loving one thing does not automatically mean you hate something else, for instance, dark chocolate. I love it, and I mean I really love it- I have a stash hidden for emergencies...and by emergency I mean every day after lunch when I need to eat a bite of chocolate.

But just because I love dark chocolate does not mean that I hate milk chocolate or that I think you should run far from milk chocolate and never eat it again, and I can sing the praises of my little jewel wrapped Hersey kisses without it being meant to anger you that I don't feel the same about a Hersey bar or a Reese Cup, or whatever floats your chocolate boat.

So, just because I want to tell you about why I love my church does not imply a criticism of yours, or your mama's or the big one around the corner...Ok, got it?

When I think of my church, I am not thinking of the building, although I am so grateful for our facilities and having a nice place to gather. What I am thinking of is the people there... they are family to me.

I grew up as the preacher's kid, and I am now still the preacher's kid so I literally do have family here. But I also have what I call my "faith family", and they are as thick to me as blood. They have seen me at my best and at my worst and they keep on holding my hand and telling me to look to Jesus. They don't always agree with me but they always talk to me about how my best self is when I let Jesus do in me whatever it is He needs to. They know I am 40 years old and have a blanket. They know I once had to pay myself to do laundry because I hated it THAT MUCH. They wiped my babies behinds in the nursery and now they guide them in the youth group.

They are my family and it does something deep in me to worship with them every week, to see them lifting up their voices and their hands when I know what some of them are going through at that moment. I know them, so I know that their praise is a sacrifice, and it really really spurs me on to worship more intently and more deeply. I have seen some of them go through dark times and see God be faithful, so when I go through dark times it helps me to remember His faithfulness.

Some of my faith family have been there for years, and some haven't. Some I see every week and some I don't. Some of them are rednecks, and some of them are refined. There are fat and skinny and dressed up people and people in sweatpants and people with perfectly fixed hair and some with red and green hair and some with no hair. When we have greeting time and the music is playing and everyone is hugging and laughing and smiling and the music stops and everyone is all over the sanctuary and out of their seats to say hi to someone else, I feel God there. I almost cry every single week. I just can feel the love and it is like some kind of warm drink on a cold day. I need that. If we just did that and then we had to go home I would feel like I had had church that day.

So there you go- my heart on my church. I could list a bunch of other things I love, like my Pastor, and Life Group meetings, and supper on Wednesday night... but what it all boils down to is these amazing people that I get to go after the heart of God with and who have been His hands and feet to me.

I would love to hear why you love about your church! There is room in the candy bowl for lots of kinds of chocolate. :) And if you don't have a church you love, I will save a seat for you beside me on Sunday at CCF.

Love and blessings,

We Will Build a Barn Over You

You are huddled now face down,
with your head in your hands and dealing,
dealing with what you face the best way that you can,
going into your own head and quiet,
shutting the door of your face to those of us outside
and letting Jesus be who He needs to be with you in that space.
And that's ok, those of us who love you, we understand,
we won't leave or walk away, we will let you
let Jesus be what you need there and sometimes you can only hear Him

But we will be busy while we wait for you to listen to Him.
We won't stand idly by with our hands still.
No, we will build a barn around you.
Tall strong boards lifted with aching prayers.
A metal roof of powerful protective love whose rust stains
are proof of our tears.
Great piles of dusty hay for you to jump into when you are ready
to smile again,
swinging doors that will open wide to the world
when you can stand on your feet and cast a shadow out into it.

We will build a barn over you while you are huddled healing.
And when you wipe your face and stand, stretch and look around
you'll see a monument all around you, and over you,
and you'll smell those comforting barn smells no one can duplicate
that mean you are in a place that's safe,
that's dry, that will hold you in storms you had to face on an inner sea.

'A Sock in the Dishcloth Drawer' or 'Things That Cause Mom to Meltdown"

I am admittedly a little of a perfectionist. Ok. Maybe a lot of a perfectionist- but let it be known that I fight it and don't like it about myself. Actually I hate those tendencies and have dreams of being a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl who just lets it all go...and I am closer to that than I have ever been in my life, but I am just not there yet, and probably will never be.

So some things bother me. And when they bother me, these things, they seem to be really, really important. They seem to be seriously important and crucially vital things in that particular moment, even if later on I look back and have another kind of moment in which I say, "Shay, what in the world were you so upset about?!"

And one of these things that bothers me is the dishcloth drawer, you know where you put all the cloths you use to either wipe down counters or dry dishes. Mine is right between the sink and oven, and it is fairly small because who wants to use up precious kitchen real estate for dish rags?

I am at that stage of life where the state of my dishcloths does not matter to me one single bit. They are stained, thin, don't match my kitchen, and some of them should probably be thrown away, to be honest. When I was a newlywed, now, then, it did matter. My kitchen was decorated in ivy (yes it was the middle of the nineties) and dog gone, every dish towel I had was going to hunter green or burgundy or it was going to have something to do with ivy and if it didn't then banish it! But now, I don't care. I really really don't. ( See I told you I was getting better!)

But. Something does bother me about that drawer, and here is my the source of my big frustration: I keep finding socks in it.

Socks. In the dishcloth drawer. WHAT IN THE WORLD?! My precious children help to put up clean clothes and also have kitchen chore duties, so I can only figure that somehow, someway, in some space in one of their brains, a sock belongs in the same place that dishcloths go. And not a pair of socks, oh no, just one sock.

Now, I have opened that drawer, seen a sock and said, huh? more times than I can count now. And finally, one day, I opened the drawer, saw a pink and white striped sock and had had enough, and I mean enough!

What I wish I could tell you I did was to listen to that still small voice and just breathe through it and laugh at how silly it was and how precious a reminder it was that I still have house full of kids and one day when they are all gone and living somewhere else I would love to find a sock in the wrong place. Now, that sounds like a normal course of action...but then, in that moment, however, that isn't what I did.

What I did do was yell for my children to come to me. I lined them up in the kitchen. I opened the dishcloth drawer and showed them the offensive sock. Shockingly, they did not wail in repentance or admit which of them did such a wicked thing. So, of course, I had to explain to them WHY it is so offensive to place said sock in said drawer and give them a much too long lecture to ensure that no sock ever ever ever ever ever ends up in that drawer again. And I am sure my tone of voice was kind, nurturing and completely godly. Ha ha ha.

So after this informative lecture, a few days later I opened the drawer to take out a cloth to wipe the counter and you will never in a million years imagine what I found in it. Now sit down because I don't know if you can handle the shock: it was... a sock.

I just stood there with that stupid sock in my hand (this time it was black), and I could feel that aggravation start in my toes and go up to the core of my body. And then, I started to laugh. I mean, I just really, really laughed, right up through my stomach to my heart and all through my body. I put my head on my hands on that dirty counter and laughed and laughed at the ridiculousness of my anger and frustration that I was holding in my hand. I laughed so hard my kids came into the kitchen and said, "Mom, what in the world is wrong with you?! What is so funny?!"

All I could do was hold up the sock. And laugh some more, and pull them to me and kiss their heads and say, "Mama just lost it for a minute."

How ridiculous, how silly, that I let a sock in the wrong place tear up my peace and cause me to be less than kind to my children, to let that sock be anything more than a blip on the screen of my day. It's embarrassing to admit.

Like I said before, God is still working on me, and I am so, so glad. For one reason, I want to have more moments where small things bring me joy and stir my heart to thanksgiving than moments that stir up aggravation and frustration because things are not exactly like I want or expect them to be.

Aren't we blessed by His patient love, His kind and gentle ways that tolerate our sometimes ridiculous and petty, even strange and peculiar weaknesses? I certainly am, and my prayer is that He will keep on using even socks to open my eyes and keep me from being satisfied with being anything less that He wants me to be...namely, a mom who doesn't freak out about socks and dishcloths being drawer buddies.

Maybe I am not alone here...anyone out there have anything that may seem ridiculous but drives you nuts? Feel free to share- and I will pray for you because I know exactly how you feel!


An Altar at the Coffee Counter

It was a chilly Thursday, a few moments not claimed by children or school and the perfect chance to dip into the coffee shop and sit for a bit. After paying for my coffee I stepped over to the counter  with cup in hand to fill it up.

There were four carafes of coffee- and all four just filled with hot goodness in the past 5 minutes according to the time written on the signs on each one. I started to smile. One half cup of hazelnut and one half of dark roast. Oh yum. Then down to the other end, where every choice I could want for sweetener is right there on the counter, and labeled and organized and available for my waiting steaming cup. I chose my favorite, stirred it in.

 But that wasn't all- then there are tall, cold, metal pitchers full of creamers- 2%, skim...and they turn my dark drink into lovely swirls of beige. I was enjoying this process, all these choices- so much luxury!- when the smell of the nutmeg hit.

 As if all these beautiful options were not enough, I spied the stash of shakers almost hidden to the left: nutmeg, cinnamon. Chocolate, And the scent, that warm, comforting, enveloping smell as the nutmeg hit the hot coffee and the steam lifted it up to my nose, that scent brought the hit more that my nose, it went into me, to my heart.

 Yes, I knew I looked ridiculous standing at the coffee counter trying to hold back the tears, but here is the thing- I just was knocked down, I was just stricken, with the gift of it. With the beauty of the choices there, the luxury of drinking coffee someone else had prepared for me, and the bounty of things in front of me to make it taste exactly like I wanted it to...I was filled with true gratitude and I could only respond with tears.

How blessed am I?! In this moment, yes, all things are not perfect in my life- my body is not 100% and is healing, there are things that I have been thinking of and dealing with just this morning that frustrate me and hurt me. In that moment, the few minutes it takes to make a cup of coffee, I had been reconnected to the beauty of a simple act and the blessing it can be when you pay attention to it, when you realize that hot coffee can be a gift from God.

 I wiped tears and stirred my cup, tried to act like just a normal person stirring a cup of coffee- but in my heart, I wanted to grab everyone around, off their seats, and drag them to the counter, to the nutmeg, to the raw sugar, to the creamer, to what had become for me an altar... and let them experience it too.