The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

December 20, 2019

A Day I’ll Never Forget

I’ll never forget December 21. Two times in my life, it has proven to be a significant day.

1989

On December 21, thirty years ago, I sat glued to the television news. The revolution in Romania was under way. First Poland, then Hungary, then East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia had shaken free of their Communist oppressors. But could it happen in Romania, where people were so beaten down it didn’t seem possible they could find the strength to stand up?

The revolution began on December 15 in Timisoara, a border city, when people protested the forced exile of a Hungarian pastor. The action moved to Bucharest on December 21, and by the next day, it was finished. Of one accord, the army tanks turned and began firing on the Securitate.

Chants of Down with Communism spontaneously changed to God exists! For 45 years, the Romanian people had been brainwashed that there was no God, and they’d had enough. The dictator Ceausescu fled and the unarmed people were victorious.

The impossible had happened!

This revolution affected not only Romania, but my life personally. A matter of months later, I had moved to Romania to reach college students with the gospel. The adventure of my life had begun. It was to last for the next decade.

2000

Another life-changing event happened to me on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but one of the brightest of my life. Nineteen years ago, on December 21, Steve Hutchison got down on one knee and read a speech he’d hoped to memorize. His words were beautiful, but I only remember the last phrase: Will you marry me?

I said yes! Another adventure began, one I am still part of and hope will never end.

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November 26, 2019

Thankful, Humbled, Blessed!

I have so many things to be thankful for this year, but one of the biggest, and definitely the most recent, is this: I HAVE A PUBLISHER!! My historical fiction YA (young adult) novel will make her entrance into the world in Fall 2020.

The contract is now signed, sealed, and delivered

My baby will be one of only four books published next year by a small house called Illuminate. I love what they’re all about, and I’m honored (and humbled) to be chosen.

Our goal is to shed light on positive and inspiring books that engross readers in an entertaining journey from beginning to end. We don’t shy away from reflecting today’s authentic youth culture, yet we do so in a way that promotes good morals and values. Our stories touch teens’ deepest needs, answer their life questions, sweep them away in a can’t-put-me-down adventure, and portray their world with a thread of hope.

How I Got the News

My husband and I had just returned from chasing waterfalls in western North Carolina–for our mutual birthday, no less–when I read my message. A publisher would make their decision about my novel within the week. I’d cleared the next to last in a long line of hurdles!

The final decision came in time for Thanksgiving, our holiday to remember our blessings. I consider this part birthday gift and part Thanksgiving gift, and I am grateful!

The timing of this news couldn’t have been more perfect. I had queried and revised this novel, and dealt with rejections, for more than two years. I’d reached the end of my list of possibilities and was nearing the end of my stick-to-itiveness. It felt like this was my final hope. How like God to wait until the last moment, to keep me trusting him when all looked lost.

After a difficult few months, I was ready for some relief. Ever since my Mom fell and broke her knee in August, I’ve been mired in tending to both parents, revising the second and third novels in the series, and working at the Writing Center.

During the waiting, I was reminded that seasons pass, both difficult ones and ones that work out how you want them to. My joy can’t be found in my circumstances; otherwise, it will come and go.

I had a chance to affirm again, as I have many times in my life, that no matter what happens, I believe God is in control and he is for me. Whether I ever got a publisher, my belief in the goodness and the greatness of God is settled with me.

Hope you have many blessings to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

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October 30, 2019

What’s Wrong with Trick or Treating?

Tomorrow–Halloween– is one of the biggest holidays in America. It’s second only to Christmas, in terms of amount of money spent and numbers of people who participate.  Yet, many people are vehemently opposed to it.

Witch legs

My standard decoration for our garage door, which came crashing down on the Wicked Witch of the East. Her legs are one pool noodle, cut in half.

I do get it that our world is scary enough without adding bloody ghouls, zombies, and vampires to the mix. Naturally, responsible parents need to accompany young children and issue strict warnings to older ones to not accept opened candy bars or dart across dark roads without looking.

But dressing in costumes and amassing large amounts of fattening candy until you succumb to a sugar-induced coma is just plain fun. Are we at risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water here?

Some friends of mine hide inside their unlit homes and refuse to answer the doorbell when costumed kids come calling. Others–presumably not Catholics–shuttle their children off to (boring) Reformation Day parties, celebrating the date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.

Many Christian churches have nearly cloned the secular tradition with their sanitized alternative, called Trunk or Treat parties. Children come dressed up, and after routing around in the trunks of cars, they leave with bags of candy. The evening spent in the church parking lot is safe and filled with friendly faces you already know. The kids don’t have to interact with strangers. In turn, they don’t threaten those strangers with the fear of throwing rotten eggs on their houses.

Other churches have varied the names: Fall Festivals, Harvest Parties, or Great Pumpkin parties. The intent remains the same: anything to keep your children from the scary world out there.

But this is my question:  Isn’t getting to know your neighbor part of what Christians are called to do? It seems that we might be missing an opportunity here.

When else will dozens of children stream across my yard and knock on my front door? I don’t want them to see us as that crotchety old couple who are too religious to be fun, feeding the prevalent view that Christ-followers are judgmental fuddy-duddies.

My outfit last Halloween. This year, I’m wearing my graduation gown, a white judge’s wig, and carrying a wooden gavel.

My husband and I want every aspect of our lives to contribute to our overall mission of knowing God and making him known. We refuse to close the door on potential relationships with children (and their parents) in my neighborhood because the way we celebrate Halloween in America** makes us uncomfortable.

[**In Europe, Halloween is a beautiful, reverent evening to prepare for All-Saints Day the following day. I loved to watch people walk to the cemetery, armed with white flowers and white candles. They would lovingly care for their family’s graves, pick up fallen leaves, tidy up, and place the flowers and lit candles by the headstones. There was nothing frightening about it.]

Steve and I will continue to dress up, although never in a macabre outfit. And we dole out candy. We ask the kids their names, comment on their outfits, and wish them fun. We use the opportunity to keep the door open to more relationship in the future. We try to reflect a glimmer of Jesus’s heart: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”

It’s just a small thing, but the kids do remember who’s friendly and who isn’t. I love hearing them say, You always give out good candy bars, or I remember you! Your house fell on the witch last year, too.

We want to be friendly neighbors. Who knows where that may lead?

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September 24, 2019

Juggling and Balance

Image by Theodor Moise from Pixabay

Have you ever watched someone juggle balls that were different sizes and different weights? Maybe they even add a knife or an orange or a volleyball to the mix. I feel like that sometimes. I was already trying to keep a lot of balls suspended in the air when another one, a much heavier one, got thrown my way: the Caregiving ball.

Some people seem proud of their multi-tasking chops, but to me, it never made sense. Who can do several things simultaneously and do any of them well? If you try to type an email to your boss while you talk on the phone to your doctor (or drive and text), it’ll likely end in disaster. Some things require your full attention.

Juggling, on the other hand, is an art. It requires skill that comes with practice. When you juggle, you balance competing things by focusing on one ball at a time, without letting the others drop. It’s a skill I certainly haven’t mastered. You build balance by setting up a kind of rhythm. You don’t neglect any of the balls, but as you prioritize, some can be put aside for a short time as you concentrate on another one.

I already felt like I was juggling enough. It requires either insanity or a divine calling to work on three novels in various stages at the same time. (I like to go with the latter choice.) The ball marked Novel #1 soared, hopefulness about a possible publishing home for it as light as hydrogen. I kept the ball for Novel #2 aloft, waiting for my favorite professor’s editorial comments on the second draft. But I laid Novel #3 down for a few days, the first draft finished, to catch my breath before I start on the revision.

If a medical emergency had to happen, the timing couldn’t have been better. I’m grateful the Lord gave my husband and me a refreshing afternoon in the mountains to celebrate a big task completed. The very next day, my Mom fell. And the next week, my tutoring job resumed.

Mom broke not only her tibial plateau but also the long-held family record of No Broken Bones. Ever.

Mom has been my Dad’s caregiver, and now she’s become a patient, too. Suddenly, there are two octogenarians to tend to. I’ve found that caregiving brings out the best and worst in people, but I’m afraid most of the time it’s the worst—my impatience—that you see in me.

My husband, my long-distance brother, and I are trying to establish a rhythm like synchronized swimmers. We’re trying to bring balance to the chaos as we divide up tasks and share the burdens. Many others help out in various ways: their church, their pastor, relatives, friends. We are beyond grateful.

Each step in Mom’s recovery comes with such struggle. Struggle with the medical profession, slow to act and expensive when they do. Struggle from my parents, who–like most elderly people–are afraid of losing their independence and control.

I’m such a lightweight. It’s only been four weeks and already, I’m worn down. A new chapter has begun, and I don’t just mean a new chapter in my writing. I can’t look ahead to see how many pages are in this chapter or how many chapters will follow. All I know is that I’m getting close to the end of the book.

For now, I continue to juggle the balls God has placed in my life. That’s what makes all the difference: believing that God is in this and that he will give each of us the strength and grace we need. But this ball feels the heaviest.

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August 22, 2019

Invited to Stay

I want to tell you about the fantastic book I just read.

Invited by Leslie Verner

Leslie Verner had me at her opening metaphor: a rootless tumbleweed. A self-described “goer,” Verner knows what it’s like to not only be a stranger in a strange land, but to also feel like a misfit back home as she struggles to learn how to stay put. In “Invited,” she weaves her own stories with insights gleaned from other cultures and the Word. She takes the empathy she gained for lonely people and turns it into a lifestyle of reaching out to others.

Verner shows us that hospitality is not about being an excellent cook or setting a beautiful table. It’s about inviting, no matter how tired you are or messy your home is. Verner writes about the art of lingering, filling up your reservoir so you have something to give, listening and understanding, and making others feel welcome, with oodles of practical ideas of how to do this. She writes:

“I want to err on the side of love, generosity, having an open home, and inviting people even when I don’t always feel like it. Then again, we also need systems of solitude and rhythms of rest, renewal, and recharging. We can’t pour into people out of an empty well. Our reservoirs must have a sustainable Source.”

When I met the author at a retreat for our mutual Redbud Writers Guild, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. Leslie and I connected immediately on our love of going, she to China and Uganda and me to Eastern Europe. I felt certain I’d like her book, but now that I’ve read it, I can say I love it. It is a MUST READ.

When Steve and I first married, we established some traditions. At that time, I had recently returned to the States and I struggled to fit in. We decided we would always invite people to join us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not just anyone, but specifically lonely people. Internationals, widows, divorced people, single parents, recently released prisoners.

And we did–in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Some of my favorite memories include our huge Thanksgiving meals, on folding tables and mismatched tablecloths, with students from the nearby seminary.

But here in a small town in the South? Not so much. My biggest (probably only) regret about this town we chose is also what I love: its size. Because it’s small, when we walk around the quaint downtown square, we invariably see people we know. Coming from a place where we never saw neighbors step outside their homes, it’s refreshing to now chat with our neighbors, whether it’s in our back yards, walking in the park nearby, or at the many parties we take turns hosting. My neighbors get it. They invite. We’ve created community in our development.

But on the flip side, our town is small enough and Southern enough that the so-called lonely people we meet are part of larger extended families who include them. While I’m glad they’re not neglected, what we’ve found is that families are a fortress unto themselves, surrounded with thick stone walls encircled with a moat and a  drawbridge tightly in the up position, with non-family left outside.

And due to the smallness of the town, there aren’t so many internationals. That’s what’s hardest for me. It’s nagged at me for a while now; this sense that something’s missing. I long for the days when I, like Leslie, had an apartment always full of internationals.

Steve and I have invited and invited, and except for the one widow who came every Christmas for five years, we’ve rarely found people to share Thanksgiving and Christmas with us (something which suits my elderly parents just fine).  We can’t control the number of internationals or worm our way into families we weren’t born into.

So what can I control? With my innate restlessness and my love of “going,” does this mean we give up on the idea of staying put? Do we uproot and move again?

No, we stay put. I put into practice some of the ideas I gleaned from Leslie’s book, the ones still being formulated in my mind. I learn to bloom where I’m planted. Meanwhile, I continue to pray, to look for opportunities, to notice the people whose paths intersect with mine. And I don’t give up. I keep inviting as I stay put.

I invite because I am invited. I invite because God invited me first.

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