18 November 2009

Looking in the Mirror.

In a city with a median age of 32, it’s easy to feel ancient at the ripe old age of 50. The moment we moved to Austin, I immediately became older, more conservative, and not as green. The strange thing is, nothing about me really changed – the earth beneath my feet simply shifted. And I have to admit, there are moments when I look in the mirror and say “Wasted.”

I reflect back on the days, when as a kid, we would drive in the big shiny, never-more-than-two-years-old-because-dad-loved-new-cars Cadillac from Oklahoma City to Jonesboro, Texas, to see my grandparents. They lived on a farm in a dot of a town that, according to my grandfather, was a booming place with stores and a post office and even a brothel until Indian raids put an end to the growth in the 1800s. I tried to imagine the old abandoned buildings as they might have been back then, all painted and filled with people and life. When I asked my mom what a “brothel” was, she said it was a place where “ladies of the evening” lived and went on special dates with men. So, I was particularly interested in that building – and tried to picture myself all dressed up for a party and having tea with a man doused in Old Spice. It made me a bit sad that the ladies had to stay in that house, and couldn’t go to a movie or get a hot fudge sundae instead.

Jonesboro was one long, grasshopper-filled, grain-silo smelling summer day for me. I’d take long walks down the dusty limestone roads past fields and mesquite trees to the combination gas station/grocery store (the only one in town) that I called “Mr Mayhews” because Mayhew Glover was the owner and only person who ever worked there. He would let me purchase candy on credit and get Big Red sodas out of the cooler all by myself. And he didn’t mind if I sat and talked to the old men who would sit in front of the store, dressed in overalls or those cotton jumpsuits that looked more like adult onesies.

Those men would sit for hours and reminisce about the good old days, when life was simpler and people were kinder and things didn’t move so quickly. I loved to hear their stories because I could close my eyes and see them in my mind like scenes from a television show. And I would always grow a little sad when I would ask about their “now” lives, because the answers were always the same. “Well, I’m not good for much these days – too old, too feeble, too…” I knew I didn’t want my life to end in the past, because sitting on a bench in front of a gas station/grocery store in a tiny Texas town didn’t look like a place I wanted to end up.

Maybe it was there, in that lazy town that seemed to die long before its time, that I became hell-bent on the idea of being fully alive. It was at the Jonesboro feed store/post office I announced I was going to be an archeologist and adopt older kids who needed love. It was on the sunporch at my grandparent’s house that I split my chin open attempting to fly, or perhaps it was float, off a feather bed. It was even standing in the orchards in the back of the farmhouse that I learned to love the smells and colors and tastes of fresh veggies and fruit, and would conjure up ways to share them with others.

So it seems strange to think I now identify with those old men. I certainly don’t look back on life and think things were better at some other point in history. To be sure, I love how beautiful and messed up things are in the present. Nothing is perfect now. Nothing has ever been perfect. But things are richer now – the colors are brighter and the fragrances are deeper and the stories are more complete. My identification comes when I look in the mirror and say the dreaded words, “If only I was (you fill in the blank here – I use things like “younger,” or “smarter,” or “more talented,” or “more disciplined”), I could have made something more of my life.” Wow. I’m 50. And I feel like I’ve got on that adult onesie already.

I’m glad Noah didn’t look in the mirror and say “Dude, maybe 600 is a bit too old to be jumping on a homemade boat with your family and a bunch of animals. Maybe you should just give it up and let someone younger take over.” I need to be reminded the Lord’s plans aren’t governed by calendars or position. My purpose today is as meaningful as it was when I was a kid on those limestone roads. My impact today, as the earth shifts below my feet, is as great as it was when it felt like nothing moved at all. When I look in the mirror, I should say “Waste not.”

That mirror will certainly say “No onesie for you today, thank you.”

17 November 2009

Words without Speaking.

I’ve always loved to drive. Well, let me clarify – I’ve always loved road trips. OK, let me further clarify – I’ve always loved road trips when I’m behind the wheel. Road trips to see my grandparents or cousins were never like the road trips I now take. My dad believed in three cardinal road rules:

1) The only time to stop for a potty break was when HE needed to take one.
2) The only place to stop for a potty break was a Stuckey’s (or “Stuckey’s on the highway” as my mom used to call the combination gas station/trinket store/snack shops that dotted the roadways for decades)
3) The only items to be purchased while taking that potty break at Stuckey’s were pecan logs and plastic sandwiches. Pecan logs were a sticky, sugary confection rolled in nuts, and plastic sandwiches were my personal name for those pre-made, pre-sliced, tasteless things sealed up tight in a little triangle container. I always got ham & American; dad was a pimento cheese guy. All plastic sandwiches were made with white bread.

Road trips now allow me the opportunity to experience new places and new foods and new people. They are my personal role-playing adventure game. I am Dora the Explorer. For me, the journey is as much fun as the destination.

This road trip has been no different – it has been an adventure.

There was the late night EZ Mart stop in New Boston, Texas, where my friend, Courtney, and I felt extremely underdressed (or perhaps it should be overdressed) when encountering a most confident woman wearing what appeared to be a yellow sweater and white stiletto patent leather boots. I’m still wondering if the sweater was meant to be a dress, or if she simply got busy and forgot to throw on a matching skirt. My husband said a lot of people in that area work for a chicken processing plant, so I’d like to think she was a poultry cheerleader.

Hampton Inn in Bryan, Arkansas offered up its own tale of mystery and intrigue, as we smuggled my dog, Millie, passed the “no pets allowed” sign. Sometimes we hide her in a pillowcase or tuck her away in a coat to sneak her into dangerous territory; this time we actually remembered her “bedroom,” which isn’t either a bed or a room but rather a soft-side pet carrier that looks more like a duffel bag. Walking past the front desk with her peering out of the mesh, I imagined my phone ringing and a low voice on the other end saying, “Well done, agent.” I forgot to mention that Millie isn’t one of those little “purse-friendly” things – she’s a Cocker Spaniel. And she’s the most snuggly 20-pound pillow anyone can sneak into a hotel.

We’ve enjoyed sweet tea and deep South cooking, which everyone should experience at least once – creamed corn, turnip greens, black eyed peas, sweet potato casserole, fried okra, hot buttery cornbread – and we’ve passed towns named Bucksnort and Friendship and Fernvale.

As I look at the sentence, “this road trip has been no different,” I realize it’s incomplete. This time, the most amazing adventures haven’t been in the doing – they’ve been in the “being.” Yesterday, neither Courtney nor I spoke for 6 hours as we journeyed in the rain. We wanted to savor life without talking. It was precious and rich. There were moments of laughter and tears, moments of pure awe.

A beam of light streaming from the back of an 18-wheeler. The shaft of light illuminating the ground it passes is visible only because of a torrential downpour. The sheets of rain that make the road so treacherous provide the perfect palette on which that light is so strongly painted. The light would be diffused if not for the storm.

Perfectly timed sunlight. There is a sweet syncronicity in nature when it dances with the divine. The trees, the grass, flocks of birds, the skies all move to a symphony we are too busy to hear. The sun winked through the clouds in time to a musical refrain, just to remind me.

The mist-covered fields in Arkansas. I’m reminded of the lyrics to a song, “I can feel You all around me, thickening the air I’m breathing…” Oh, to feel the presence of God in the same way I feel the salty air of the ocean or dewy fog or the heaviness of clouds ready to blanket the earth with snow.

The silhouette of quiet trees. The trees are yielding up their leaves – doing so without a fight, without a fuss. There is beauty in the loss, and greater beauty in the branches that reach to the Heavens. The stark silhouette may appear dead, but life is churning within. Refreshment and renewal is taking place. Healing is happening. Those trees will again give life, again bear fruit. But there is beauty in the season of stillness. May I remember that always.

The beauty of gray. So often, people associate shades of gray with gloom. The color is accused of washing out and washing away brilliance. But a beautiful thing happens when gray enters into a world. Some colors become more saturated, richer. Greens become greener – they actually glow. It’s as if the Lord says, “there’s life you’ll only experience in the gray – take it.” There’s beauty beyond the boundaries.

Stories, shared by God Himself, adventures He wanted us to experience that we would have completely missed had we been caught up in conversation. Every story He shared has life – every story holds more stories.

Oh, that I might be silent more often, to hear words without speaking.

02 November 2009

The Beautiful Goodbye.

I’ve never been fond of goodbyes. There is always something just a bit awkward about them. The words don’t flow as easily, the hugs feel cumbersome. And there always seem to be one of two emotions churning in my soul, both wrapped up and tied around the word “time.” More often than not, I tend to put a bow around the “just not enough of it” side of things. And a little piece of my heart that is taken with that goodbye.

But I have come to know a most beautiful goodbye – a farewell that brings with it joy and hope and life. I experienced it again Friday night, under large oak trees and a sky filled with stars. I saw it in the candlelight and the smiles, the dancing and the kiss. I heard it in the cheers and laughter. I smelled it in the flowers and chocolate – and even in the barbecue. The beautiful goodbye was in the eyes of all who gathered.

Erin and Ty, thank you for reminding me again of how precious life is. Watching you hug friends and family, take each other’s hand and run through the crowd to the waiting car – to your new life together as husband and wife, is a gift. It floods my mind and heart with love songs and words and phrases – all saying “this goodbye is not the end – it’s really only the beginning.” All speaking to this moment and so many more to come.

That is indeed most beautiful.