The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

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


May 17, 2018

What if Your Church Vanished?

The following article, What if your Church Vanished?, was published in my local paper, The News Herald, on April 27.

Taryn Hutchison color headshot

Taryn Hutchison, author of “We Wait You,” is a writing instructor at Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Writing Center.

Hundreds of churches are sprinkled across Burke County’s towns and tucked away in its back roads. With all sizes and denominations, there’s something for everyone who’s interested.

My church is about to break ground on a long-awaited building. In preparation, we’ve been discussing what our church is all about.

A question on a book cover caught my eye recently. “If your church vanished, would your community weep? Would anyone notice?”

Would people care if your church closed its doors? 

Even if your church doesn’t have a succinct, catchy mission statement, it still has a purpose for being. Everything your church does, and how it does it, reflects that purpose.

Many churches cite building up the body as their reason for existence. They list priorities like teaching, worship, fellowship and serving one another.

They quote Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”

They hope people will see how they love each other, thereby attracting them to Christ. But sometimes members don’t know very many people outside their church. Who’s going to see that love?

A church with only an inward focus speaks to part, not all, of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

Other churches focus outside themselves. Their mission is to reach the lost. They talk about community outreach or global missions, or both.

They start where they live, in their local community. From there, their mission field branches out in ever-widening circles, like a pebble thrown into a pond, to the uttermost corners of the earth.

They claim Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

But sometimes members resent their own growth being overlooked. The teaching may be so geared to new people that their own itch isn’t scratched.

My question is: why choose between inward or outward focus? We’re called to do both, to build up our members and reach our communities.

The book with the question that grabbed my attention, “The Externally Focused Church,” is written by my friend Eric Swanson. In it, he claims that the church doesn’t need to decide between proclaiming truth and engaging in social action. It’s possible to serve your community without compromising the gospel message.

“The church is called to be separate in lifestyle, but never to be isolated from the people it seeks to influence,” Swanson writes. “Salt, light, and leaven don’t work very well from a distance.”

Service to the community can be a form of worship as you pray together, trusting God for something big. Bonding and growth happen when you work shoulder to shoulder with each other.

By loving your neighbors in practical ways, community service becomes part of your DNA. Bridges and relationships are built when you go to them without expecting them to come to you. You might find common ground in surprising places.

Feeding hungry children, helping needy single moms, or serving widows becomes an end in itself. Jesus claimed that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him (Matthew 25:40).

If you give with the motive of hoping to receive — either new members for your church or a sense of fulfillment — your gift arrives tied with strings.

Yet, you probably will draw people, not only to your church, but to Christ. They will be people who care if your church vanishes.

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April 26, 2018

When Life Interrupts Your Plans

Life is full of interruptions. Every day, you have small, nagging distractions that interfere with whatever you intend to do. It may not be anything major, and it may be short-lived. But these interruptions are constant. And irritating.

People who are demanding. Things that waste your time. Machines that break down. You can’t stop these distractions from coming, but you can choose not to give in. At least not right then.

Then there are the larger interruptions that reorient your entire life’s plan and take over everything. You have dreams and sometimes those dreams don’t work out the way you want, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Death. Illness. Financial setbacks. Relationship breakups.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a big interruption. Not yet. But small ones? Always.

My design for my Medical Shuttle and Stitch Removal Service car.

Especially now. I set goals—very specific goals—when I switched to part-time work. I planned to use my time at home to polish my first novel (in a series of three), finish the second one, even start the third one, all while trying to find an agent who will represent me.

But that all changed when I became the (temporary) caregiver for not only my husband, but my parents as well. Lately, my free time has been spent running a Medical Shuttle and Stitch Removal Service, with a blood clean-up sideline. (Seriously, a great idea for a ministry to seniors in the community!)

My husband’s current schedule of four therapy appointments and two wound care appointments every week will end someday. I’m grateful for that and don’t take it lightly. But I’ve lost count of the number of doctor’s offices, in three cities, I’ve visited these past couple of months.

Needless to say, I’m over it. But this season in my life is not over. When I try to imagine the years ahead, I realize this may just be the beginning of a l o n g winter.

Will it be a winter of discontent? That seems to be the one factor I can control.

The situations are out of my control. But my reaction to them—my attitude—that I own.

I wish I could say I always respond pleasantly, with great patience. But I’d be lying if I did.

When I lived in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, I learned to expect the unexpected. That seemed appropriate for that place in time, but aren’t you supposed to better able to control life in the States? I guess not.

When I asked a group of friends if their lives had turned out the way they’d expected, all of them said a resounding, “No.” They didn’t complain about their lives; sometimes they could already see how the different path was actually much better. Even the ones who face extremely difficult situations said they wouldn’t trade it for anything.

No, they haven’t accomplished their well-laid plans, at least not in whole. So how do they take that in stride? As one friend said, after learning her child was disabled: “I expected my life to go in one direction and the Lord said, no, this is the life I planned for you. For the rest of your life. I just had to accept it and get on with it.”

She learned the secret: to hold your days—your life—with palms open before the Lord. She learned to say, “Not my will, but thine.”