The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

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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July 20, 2019

Aging and the Moon

My younger friends are having fun using the aging app. I don’t want to; it’s too close to real life for me. Besides, how can anyone who grew up under the Cold War use a Russian face-altering app, especially when you have to allow them access to all your information? Not me.

All this focus on aging, during the week the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first humans stepping foot on the moon, has made me reflect.

Image by Ponciano from Pixabay

I’m so glad to be the age I am! I’m proud to have been a child in the sixties. The decade had it all: the highest highs, the lowest lows, and arguably the best music ever. Being a child on a sheltered peninsula of small towns and easy living, I didn’t feel the full extent of the decade’s turbulence. My selective memories are of events that brought the world together, not the ones that divided us.

After the lunar module docked on the moon, while Neil and Buzz frolicked on its crater-filled surface for those 21 hours, I went outside with my dog Alexa (who, if she was alive today, would not only have set records for the oldest dog ever, but she’d be so confused by people calling her name and commanding her to play “Penny Lane” or asking her the time or what the weather forecast is). My brother was away at camp, so it was only Alexa and I that evening. We stood quietly for the longest time looking at that big pizza pie. I was 12 years old and I’m sure I knew I couldn’t really see them, but I just felt compelled to gaze upward. I knew our world would never be the same again.

I remember trying to take a photo with my instamatic camera. The flash cube jumped all around with each shot, but sadly, none of them survived. This photo of Alexa will have to do. (I’d written 1969 on the back, but clearly, with the leaves, it wasn’t July.)

Six months earlier, on Christmas Eve, the Apollo 10 crew recited the most appropriate words ever written as they orbited the earth: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. . . ”

I also remember the dark days of that decade. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Robert Kennedy’s. Soon after I turned seven, I can even remember something most of my classmates do not: President Kennedy’s assassination.

That November day, I’d stayed home from school with a strep throat. I heard my mother crying and screaming to me to hurry downstairs. I bundled up in blankets on the sofa and watched the footage, over and over, of the blood spattering  Jackie’s pink suit with her pink pillbox hat. (Recently, my older and wiser brother reminded me we didn’t have color TV then. I love how imagination and memory so often blend together.)

My brother said he got permission from his teacher to go to the restroom that day. He walked by the principal’s office, where he heard the news that the President had been shot. When he returned to his classroom and told his teacher, she reprimanded him for “making up a story.” No one could believe something like that could possibly happen. Our world was shattered that day.

The man who, just two years earlier, had urged Congress to make it their goal to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade was murdered. And yet, against all odds, we succeeded to do the impossible thing he’d challenged us to do.

So what if my skin has started to sallow and sag and my un-dyed hair is mostly gray? I grew up at a time when the world joined together to watch history being made. My aging is my proof that I was there.

All that to say that I will not be using the aging app. If I really want to know what I’ll look like in 24 years, I just have to look at my mother. And she looks pretty good!

 

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June 19, 2019

Uphill all the way

Some times I wonder why I do it. Every time I make progress climbing uphill, I find out the mountain is higher than I thought. And the ball I push starts rolling backward.

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Have you ever felt that way? For every step forward, you take just as many backward.

My chosen profession, writing, takes a lot of hard work. But it’s also, oddly enough, a lot of fun and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Much harder than writing, for me, is having written and seeking publication. I’ve queried countless agents this year and gotten pretty close with a few. But not close enough. One agent wrote that in a year, she receives 4,000 queries and signs a contract with approximately three of those. Not very good odds.

Writing is not the smart choice if you’re looking for a career with a guaranteed solid income. (Neither is majoring in art or becoming a missionary. Just sayin’.) Only a fraction of writers actually make it financially as a writer. I read in the latest Writer’s Digest that the median writing income in America is $6,000—per year. Yikes!

So why do I bother?

I write because I love it. I’ve had a passion for writing since I was very young. I go so far as to say I believe God put that desire in me. I feel exhilarated when I express my talent. For many years, I left my gift fallow–while I pursued other extremely worthwhile things. I came to writing as a late career change and I’m determined to follow this dream!

Hoops, Bars, and Goalposts

When I started down the publication road with the first of my three-novel series, the hoop writers had to leap through to get a publisher’s attention included the number of facebook friends. I had to grovel and ask people to like me. Many of my friends have shops or restaurants and they ask people to like their business. But my question was, “Do you like me?” It’s personal.

And soon even that wasn’t enough. The bar was raised. People needed to actually click on a writer’s posts. Then the goalpost was moved again. (Don’t you love my clichés?) People needed to engage by commenting or sharing.

Has that ever happened to you? You work hard and achieve one thing, only to find out that now you must do another thing. When will it ever be enough? Probably when the donkey in this photo was hitched to the cart, only one or two boxes were piled on. Then another, and another, and before you know it, the burden was more than he could handle.

The latest

Now I have a new hoop to jump through. I recently found out that now I need people to engage enough to subscribe to my newsletter.

Gulp! I had a big problem: I didn’t have a newsletter (until two weeks ago), so the number of my subscribers was a big fat goose egg.  So, once again, I had to swallow my pride and ask for help. Hard as it was, I asked.

Why? Because I believe in what I’m doing.  When my self-worth gets trampled on by rejection and I wonder if I’ll ever jump through the final hoop, there is something that keeps me going. I believe that God inspired me with the idea for the young adult historical fiction novels. And someday, soon, these novels will be put out there into the world.

Someday, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, I believe you will scale your mountain, too. You got this!

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

 

P.S. If you haven’t yet and you’d like to, you can subscribe here My newsletters will be brief, fun, and delivered to your inbox every month. You’ll get a sneak peek at Chapter One and hear all the latest, before anyone else.

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