The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

August 30, 2018

Learning Gratitude from Other Cultures

Today, my article about learning gratitude is featured in The Redbud Post‘s issue on learning from other cultures. You can read the article here. I recount one of my memories from my time in Romania that is dearest to my heart.

Taryn R. Hutchison, Writer writes, “I’ve learned that all people are the same. Everyone wants to be loved, to do something significant and to protect and provide for their children. Everyone is created in God’s image and carries a God-shaped vacuum in their heart.”

Two sweet things have come out of this for me. First of all, I’ve posted about my decision to force my book, We Wait You, into retirement and send it to the Nursing Home for Old Books. Since then, I’ve been grieving the loss of it in print form.

Immediately after I made the decision and scheduled the date to cut off its oxygen, this article was selected. It includes an excerpt from We Wait You, so I felt like my book was given one more chance at life.

Another funny connection is I’d repressed the name of the girl in this excerpt, since we referred to her as She Cry Now, the phrase she loved to speak. Her real name is Adriana. Adriana is also the name of the title character in the trilogy I’m writing. (I knew I loved this name!)

Adriana, the elderly woman we called The Kissing Lady, and my book have all been granted one more chance to speak. That’s something I’m grateful for.

Words can live on and they can outlive us.


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August 22, 2018

The Call of Home

I’ve lived a lot of places. Each time, I’ve
come as an outsider and had to shoulder my way in. Each time, I’ve found people to love, reasons to like the place, but always, I remained Other. Never one of Them.

There is only one place in the world where I am one of Them. You have a place like that, too. For me, it’s the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The place I spent the first 23 years of my life. The place of my birth. 

No matter how far I roam or how many decades pass between visits, the call to home is always present, guiding my path back like a lighthouse foghorn. My parents moved away when I lived in Eastern Europe, packing up my home base and my reason to return for holidays along with their boxes. Yet I’ve learned that whether I have relatives there or not, the Land of Pleasant Living will always be my home.

Last week, I came back to my home town of Harmony (what an idyllic name!), back to the places and people who helped form me. People who shaped me as a person: my values, my spiritual life, my history. People who showed me the heart of God. I am who I am because of the ones I love, who loved me, in that place I call home.

For each of us, there’s a certain type of geography that feels right, that looks the way we think the world should look. It’s the place from which we first peered out at the world. Mountains speak to some, deserts to others. For me, the voice that calls to me is the voice of water.

Home means lazy, winding rivers with lush green banks, marshes dotted with cattails, miles of flat farmland squeezed between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, skies filled with Canadian geese flying in V-formation. Every time I cross the Bay Bridge, I feel that old familiar thrill as I smell the briny salt water. Home. I’ve come home.

There’s no place else that I fit. In Europe, I stuck out as an American. Living in the West, I missed the history and oldness of the East. In the South, I realize I don’t understand what people are saying half the time, their speech shrouded in indirectness and aphorisms. People in North Carolina probably think of me as an abrupt New Englander, but that only shows me they don’t know any true Northeasterners.

The people I grew up with, mid-Atlantic folks who stagger either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, have a bit of an identity crisis. The North doesn’t claim us and the South calls us Yanks. We are neither. We are our own people.

In Eastern Europe, my teammates and I would think of a descriptive word to encapsulate the cultural identity of our various countries. We didn’t do this to pigeonhole people or over-generalize, but just to help us get a handle on what people valued in the places we found ourselves. For instance, the word I came up with for Romania was hospitable and for the Czech Republic it was analytical.

In the unhurried Land of Pleasant Living, we are who we are. We don’t put on airs, we’re not pretentious. I think the word I’d use is authentic.

A week ago, on a weathered wooden picnic table on a rickety dock, I ate the food I long for when I’m away–authentic Maryland crab cakes, not the woefully inadequate wannabes I find in other states. The real thing.

Like Maryland crab cakes, the Eastern Shore is the real thing. I’m proud to call it “Home.”

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July 17, 2018

10th Birthday Lollapalooza!

Let’s have a party! A lollapalooza fit for a ten-year-old!

Who is turning ten, you may ask? If you guess my oldest grandchild, you’re right. But there’s more. When Lucy was just a few days old, my own baby–not quite as cute–was born.

After many excruciating months of waiting, We Wait You finally saw the light of day on August 18, 2008. I likened it to giving birth to an elephant because it took 18 months to write the thing before the nine months it took to publish it.

We Wait You and her offspring, the Romanian translation

Even though the actual birthday is one month away, I’m inviting you to celebrate now because We Wait You is currently being offered at an incredibly low price. I have no control over the prices and I never know how long the sales will last.

If you’ve always had it in the back of your mind to purchase a print copy (and who hasn’t?), this is the time to do it. At these low prices, you might even want to get a few extras for gifts. Just sayin’.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT:  After Christmas, I will remove the print version of  We Wait You from retail markets. Forever.

Ten years may seem young for humans, but in book years, that’s pretty old. It will still be available as an e-book at kindle, nook, etc. I’d love to send We Wait You to the Nursing Home for Old Books with a bang. One last hurrah.

It’s been an emotional decision to pull the plug as I stand, helplessly, watching my baby gasp for breath. I put my whole heart into this book. It was my love gift to God, to give him glory for the amazing things I got to witness. I’ve experienced elation (hundreds of messages from people all over the world whose lives were touched) and despair (the original publisher declared bankruptcy and never paid royalties for a couple years), but mostly lots of gratitude.

Ah! the ups and downs of parenthood. I guess that’s part of the journey.

But for now, it’s all good stuff. Who doesn’t love a party?

Happy Birthday and Happy Retirement to We Wait You!

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June 28, 2018

The Best Part of a Trip

Many people claim the best part of a trip is coming home. But not me, not until recently. I love the going, the being someplace new. But the coming home? Not so much. Not usually. We’ve just returned (at 3:30 a.m.!) from a trip to the other side of the country. The two days of travel each way on planes and buses and ferries, with hours-long delays both coming and going, wore me out. The time difference was only three hours but my brain feels fuzzy with jet lag of the magnitude of a trip halfway around the world. While we and thousands of others (more people than there were seats) waited out a thunderstorm raging outside O’Hare airport last night, one thought kept me going.

“I can’t wait to be home.”

What changed? Maybe I never really felt at home before, anywhere. I had my wings and I loved spreading them. My rootless life suited me just fine. A few years in this place, a few more in that one. The adventure and challenge of getting to know a new culture—even within my home country—and new people energizes me. I love to travel and want to see as much of the world as I possibly can.

The world is my home. And no matter how permanent I may try to make it feel, the fact is, wherever I hang my hat is only temporary. My final destination is beyond anything I’ve ever known. If you share that perspective, how can you ever feel “at home” in any corner of it?

Even when my sojourn in a place is only a few years, I do try to bloom. But am I planted? How do you dig your roots down deep in one place while still keeping yourself open to something new, a new chapter that God may be writing just for you? Perhaps it’s because of my nomadic lifestyle that verses about being planted have always resonated so strongly with me.

I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

Jeremiah 32:40-41

I’ve heard it said that the actual living of a vacation is secondary to the fun that comes at either end: both anticipating it and then reliving it through memories and pictures. Stressful moments, guaranteed with any trip, become funny anecdotes days or months later. We tend to keep only certain memories, usually the good ones.

This time, I can’t imagine anything topping the living of our trip. Doing riddles and card tricks with our eight- and nine-year-old granddaughters, having a sleepover with them and watching “Coco” together, seeing them both emotional in their individual ways when we said good-bye. Seeing our three toddler grandchildren’s unique and precious personalities blossom, observing what they like and the kinds of things they enjoy doing, hearing them call us “Nanapops” as one long word.

Since it was difficult to leave, knowing we won’t see them for a while, the pull to home especially amazed me. Could it be that I’ve actually put down roots in North Carolina? In this place it seems we randomly chose, but was chosen for us?

Or is it just my tiredness and my head cold (I never quite pack warm enough clothes for the islands we visited, just a stone’s throw from Canada)? Does my age make my amoeba-shaped self finally find comfort in the routine of my husband’s square pegs?

I don’t know. All I can say is upon returning from the chilly Pacific Northwest to the humid Southeast, with mosquito bites and frizzy hair already, I’m still glad to be back.

I’m home. For now. And it feels good.

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June 5, 2018

Accepting the Rain

For 19 days in a row, it rained. Daily. I’ve been over it for about 18 days. But now, the sun is smiling and the humidity is low, so I can write about accepting the less than desirable days.

My metaphorical rainy season is also tapering off. Three months after Steve’s surgery in a snowstorm and his convalescence all spring, he finally got his neck brace off, in the heat of summer. The doctors warn us to expect pop-up showers for some time yet, but the blinding thunderstorms are over—for now.

Because that’s life. It always changes. Life is never stagnant. Times of tearing down are followed by times of building; seasons of dancing come after seasons of mourning. Hard times may feel like they’ll last forever, but they won’t.

When I considered moving to Florida, I worried how I’d handle the heat and humidity. A friend pointed out that no place is ideal. Every location has one season you wish you could change, a season that goes on way too long. But you can’t; you just need to accept it. Often, that season is winter. In Florida, it’s summer. Once I realized that, I had perspective that saw me through (for all ten months I lived there).

It’s the same with life. Every life has its difficulties, and they may last longer than we think we can bear, but then a new season takes their place.

Now that I’m ensconced in North Carolina, where summer means a perpetual sauna with permanently frizzy hair, I wonder why we ever left the ideal climate of California. After the words Cost of Living flash like a neon sign in my brain, I remember that I also missed the change of seasons. We’d have 364 near-perfect days, and then on July 4th, bundled in my winter coat and huddled under a blanket to watch the fireworks, I’d long for what I didn’t have: a sweltering summer cookout. 

It’s human nature to idealize one season when we’re in the middle of another. We have short, and convenient, memories.  You long for easy days and pleasant seasons, but life brings the full gamut.

The sunny days and rainy ones all come from the same hands. Good times and difficult ones alike are gifts, filtered through God’s fingers and his heart of love to us. Job, a guy who knew real hardship, asked, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

I want to see the traces of God’s purpose in every season. Don’t you?

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Solomon 2:11-13

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11