Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

When I was 8 years old, my Mimi took all of us nieces and nephews to The Alabama Theatre to see "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." I remember sitting there--one part of me hoping Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious would share their first kiss over a Toot Sweet, while running from the evil Baron Bomburst, who would stop at nothing to steal Chitty-Chitty...while the other part of me was just hoping and praying that the rapture didn't take place while I was sitting in a "wicked" movie theatre.

Sad but true... but...makes me laugh now.

In the years since, the amazing, sweet, wonderful grace of Jesus has set me free from the fear of missing the rapture...even when I'm at the movies (hee, hee).

I still don't get to see that many of them--I'm typically sitting on stadium seats rather than in movie seats. (And, I'll readily admit that I'm not a fan of most superhero movies.)

However, I am a fan of Christianity Today's (CT) website. Don't agree with everything I read there, but I love reading about other people's faith journeys.

Anyway, each year CT lists "The 10 Most Redeeming Films" for the preceding year. I can vouch for a few of the ones from 2007, because me and my three guys watched several of them after they came out with the 2007 list (Bella, August Rush, Dan In Real name a few).

This morning I visited the CT website, and they had posted their picks for 2008. I haven't seen most of these, so I don't have any clue as to age-appropriateness. (FYI...and warning...some of the 2007 films did contain behaviors and language that characters were redeemed from.)

But, on this cold January/February weekend, I though I'd list these for you. Pizza and movie night sounds like just the ticket to me. (Too bad that will be next to impossible since we have 13 6th-grade-boys at the house through Sunday morning for our church's Disciple Now weekend....Oh well, maybe next weekend.)

CT defines "redeeming" films as: "movies that include stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree—some quite clearly, some more subtly. Some are 'feel-good' movies that leave a smile on your face; some are a bit more uncomfortable to watch. But the redemptive element is there in all of these films."

Christianity Today's 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2008:

1. Wall*E
2. The Visitor
3. Gran Torino
4. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who (only "Top 10" Karen has seen--very cute, yet also thought-provoking)
5. Rachel Getting Married
6. Fireproof
7. The Dark Knight
8. Shotgun Stories
9. Slumdog Millionaire
10. Man on Wire

(CT also let their voters choose "One That Got Away"—a film they wish had made the top-10 list.)

The Ones That Got Away:
As We Forgive
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Karen and her three guys all loved this movie, but...of course...the book is way better!)
The Fall
Iron Man
Ostrov (The Island)
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Wendy and Lucy

Friday, January 30, 2009


Well...I've saved the best for last when it comes to telling you about my teachers at Kimberly Elementary School.


Because Elsie Sanders opened up the big, wide world to me.

She took me on "Adventures in the Everglades," and we delved into "The Mystery at Cloud Rock." I laughed and cried and struggled alongside "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," and I longed to beat up the meanies who were so awful to "The Little Witch."

Mrs. Sanders opened my eyes and mind and heart to the magical world of books. And, looking back, her methods bordered on genius.

But...first of all, you need to get a "picture" of Elsie Sanders. And that's so easy. Just remember Robin Williams as "Mrs. Doubtfire." Mrs. Doubtfire was Elsie Sanders. Looked like her. Built like her. Hair like her. Talked like her. Even had expressions and body language like her. (I just know Robin Williams somehow saw a movie of Elsie Sanders when he was creating that character.)

All of us thought of Mrs. Sanders more as a fluffy, loving grandmother than as a teacher, and she was not above using that knowledge to her (and, ultimately, to our) advantage.

Here was her daily schedule. In the morning, we would focus on the "hard-core" subjects like science and history and math. Besides books, her passion was to make absolutely sure that every student who walked out the doors of Kimberly Elementary School had MEMORIZED the multiplication tables through 12. To this day, I can rattle off the "11s," which I still think are the hardest. (I STINK at math.)

After we finished those subjects, it was time to walk downstairs to Sister's Lee's yeast rolls. From there, Mrs. Sanders would march us down the hall for a short potty break. Then, it was outside for recess, just long enough to get hot and sweaty and for the sugar crash from those yeast rolls to kick in. Then, at just the right Elsie-designated moment, she would clap her hands and, in her best Mrs. Doubtfire voice, she would say, "Children, it's time to go in now."

...AND WE DID. Just like that we would line up and march into the backdoor of her room. It was as though we were under some sort of spell.

And, I guess in a way we were....

In Mrs. Sanders' classroom were old-timey desks with extra-wide, bench-style seats and tops that raised up to store books. These seats were roomy enough for two. So, Mrs. Doubtfire (oh...sorry...Mrs. Sanders) would let us buddy up. We would lay our hot, sweaty little faces on those cool wooden desks, and she would tell us... "Close your little eyes and rest your little heads."

Then she would enchant us into the pages of those books by changing her voice for each character and by becoming happy or sad or angry or afraid, whatever the character and the moment called for. We felt the excitement of riding inside that mechanical "elephant" through those hot, humid Everglades. We tasted the salty waves that surrounded Cloud Rock. We longed for Mrs. Wiggs to have an easier life. And our hearts ached (and eventually cheered) for the Little Witch.

Not too many years ago, my friend, Jeff, went to the trouble of tracking down a copy of "The Little Witch" to give me for my birthday. It's still one of my most treasured possessions. (I keep it behind locked doors.)

I wish I could give you the gift of having Mrs. Sanders read it to you, but I can't. So, imagine the next best thing--imagine "Mrs. Doubtfire" reading you this passage from "The Little Witch":
"The ugliest, most rickety house in town belonged to the old witch,
Madam Snickasnee...;
but Madam Snickasnee was too busy working her black magic
and riding around on her broomstick to do anything about it.
However, she had a daughter who hated this house.
Her name was Minikin--Minx for short; she was nine years old,
and she wished with all her heart
that she was not a witch's child."...

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens to Minikin and Madam Snickasnee...but, let's just say that on the day we found out, Joy and I lifted our heads from that desk and clapped and cheered. We were so happy for our little friend, Minikin.

At the end of that year, Mrs. Elsie Sanders retired. Joy and Pam and I came up with this grand, crazy idea of giving her a school-wide retirement party--which I gave my poor mama exactly one day's notice to pull together. mamas do...she came through--engraved plaque and all.

I still have this fantasy that, one day, when I'm digging around McKay's Used Books (here in Knoxville), my eyes are going to spot a tattered spine that reads "Mystery at Cloud Rock"...and I'm going to open it up and find these words: "This book belongs to Elsie Sanders".

"I always thank my God as I remember you...for your love has given me great joy and encouragement,...(and) your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people." (Philemon 1:4,7 NIV & NLT)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Music In My Head

OK, I hate it when life gets in the way of posting. Ever since I started this little blog earlier this month, it's as though some sort of dam has burst inside me, and memories and stories are just "dying" to flood onto this virtual paper. (Those of you who have been kind enough to share some of your own words and memories have only made this worse--LOL.)

Last week, my youngest son was telling me that he really is trying not to be so forgetful (something we've been working on), but that "there's just all this music in my head all the time." (For those of you who don't know him, he loves music. He plays piano and guitar and goes around writing songs all the time.)

I told him I understood completely--that the "music in my head" these days was just words instead of musical notes.

The "music in my head" on this busy morning are the words to a song we sang in church Sunday. I actually heard it again on the radio this morning driving back from school drop-offs. For those of you who asked me about the lyrics I mentioned in the last post, I hope you enjoy...and I pray that all of us will drink in deeply the truth of these words:

How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only son, to make a wretch his treasure
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turned his face away
As wounds which mar the chosen one, bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life; I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart: his wounds have paid my ransom
--written by Stuart Townend

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:1-2 NIV)

In the words of John Eagan, "...The heart of it is this: to make the Lord and his immense love for you (the foundation) of your personal worth. Radically define yourself as one beloved by God. God's love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life."

In his book, "Abba's Child," Brennan Manning adds these words to Eagan's: "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion (and an impostor)."

(FYI, for those of you who, like my youngest son, love music, you can't go wrong with anything written by Stuart Townend or Keith and Kristen Getty. God has truly gifted all three of them and called them to a ministry of "modern" hymn writing. My favorite song by the Gettys is "In Christ Alone".)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Sunday morning, we celebrated The Lord's Supper at church. For some reason, us Knoxville Baptists don't do this very often. So, when we's deep...and it's moving...and it does not lend itself easily to words. (My oldest son summed up my own feelings when he said to me, "Mom, I didn't even want to leave church this morning.)

As I sat there listening to the beautiful music that reminded us of "how deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure"...and listening to the timeless words from our pastor...words that remind me why we "eat this bread and drink this cup," I realized I felt like a thirsty woman who knows she's about to be offered a tall, cool glass of water.

And...when I ate that bread...and drank that cup...remembering...well, I was humbled...I was refreshed...I was somehow renewed.

During my 14 years as a Presbyterian, we took communion a lot. Looking back, I don't think its frequency made it any less special. I was just at a place in my spiritual journey where I somehow (unexplainably) took for granted the awe...and wonder...and miracle...of what the Father's deep love for us cost Him and his Son.

Of course, my earliest memories of communion at the Kimberly Church of God are unalterably intertwined with memories of footwashing. (The first time I celebrated communion without footwashing, I thought "they" had forgotten something.) Turns out, an overwhelming majority of churches don't observe footwashing. (Instead, they use that servant-act of Jesus as an object lesson of what it looks like to have a servant's heart.)

That logic makes sense, but I've always felt a little sad for those who've never experienced an actual footwashing service. I can still remember the feeling of that warm water as I cupped my hands in that basin and poured it over Joy's feet. (She was always my footwashing buddy.) All the men and boys would be in one room and the women and girls in another, and we would sing and pray and sing some more...until every last foot was washed.

One of my most tender memories of any communion service is the Sunday my husband, Keven, helped his mom take her last least this side of heaven.

We were staying with her while Keven's dad was out of town. By this time, the effects of Lou Gehrig's Disease had begun to ravage her. She was confined to a wheelchair and had lost most of her ability to speak.

But, that Sunday morning, she had politely insisted on going to church. (She had spelled her intentions out in BIG, BOLD LETTERS on her little pad.) So, we got ready, and loaded up her and her wheelchair in our Toyota Corolla hatchback and headed for Westmore Church of God. I remember looking over at her several times during the service, hoping she could make it--even swallowing her saliva had become increasingly difficult, and she would get choked every few minutes.

After the sermon, when the usher passed the bread and the cup, she wasn't even able to hold up her hand to accept them. So, Keven took two pieces of bread and two cups--one for her and one for himself.

As the pastor announced "whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup does so in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ," Keven took that little piece of bread and placed it gently in his mom's open mouth. Then, he did the same with the cup.

In his eyes, he was just doing what needed to be done. (That's just how Keven is.) But, I knew I was watching something sacred, something servant-hearted. I knew I was watching a dearly-loved son "wash the feet" of his dying mother.

Ever since that sacred Sunday morning, I think I've understood a little more clearly what Jesus must have been feeling when he said to his dearly-loved disciples, "I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

When I was a little girl, many nights I would sit at the kitchen table on my daddy's knee and share his bedtime snack--leftover cornbread crumbled into a cold glass of buttermilk. He would give me a spoonful, then he would eat a spoonful.

To this day, I can't cook cornbread or drink a glass of buttermilk without thinking of that gift...that daddy shared with me. I so hope there's cornbread and buttermilk in heaven, because I can't wait to share it with him again.

I think communion is supposed to have just that effect on us. It's supposed to whet our appetites for the day we'll enjoy eating this meal...this gift from our Jesus...with our Jesus.

"Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.'...And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are the true words of God'." (Revelation 19:6,7,9 ESV)

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Tomorrow (Jan. 26) is my cousin Lisa's birthday. I won't say which one.

This picture is of our Mama Kelley, with her ever-present hickory. (That's me way off in the back playing with a...cinder block. My daddy and aunt, whom we called Mimi, are the sitting-down grownups that you see most clearly. My cousin, Dawn, is the cute little blonde in the red jacket. And, the birthday girl herself is the baby in the swing.)

Even though Lisa's only four months younger than me, it was my little brother, Kevin, whom she always got in trouble with. In fact, I had a difficult time deciding which of their many adventures-gone-awry to turn into her "birthday blog."

First off, I should tell you that Lisa is the youngest of four daughters born to my daddy's brother, John Walter Kelley, Jr., and his wife, Barbara. Like all great southern men, my Uncle Walter had many names--Junior, Chief, Shug, FudgeMan--am I forgetting any? But, most of his nieces and nephews called him NooNoon.

After serving in WWII, NooNoon came home and eventually married his love, Barbara. He loved her until the day he died. (On second thought, I'm sure he still does.)

Like almost everyone in Kimberly, NooNoon and Barbara struggled to make ends meet. He worked at the local brickyard, and together they ran "Walter's store."

Behind their house was a HUGE field--I always thought it was as big as the Mortimer Jordan High School football field. Many summers, this field was tilled and planted into a vegetable garden. It bordered NooNoon's backyard, my Uncle Sherill's backyard, my Uncle Paul's backyard, and the Kimberly First Baptist Church parking lot.

One particular year brought a monsoon-like Alabama spring. It rained. And rained. And rained some more. And turned NooNoon's field into a football-field-sized lake.

Except for us, all the Kelleys lived next door or back door to each other. Some adult was always nearby. But, because it was safe and secure 1960s Kimberly, the grownups usually never had a clue where us kids were until time for supper. Such was the case on the finally-sunny Saturday when Lisa (6) and Kevin (4) went "wading" in NooNoon's flooded field.

All of a sudden, from my Mama Kelley's front yard, I heard children screaming bloody murder! Mama Kelley heard them too, and came out tapping her ever-present hickory against her thigh. (I used to think she did this to get it "warmed up.")

So, she and I and the hickory set off in the direction of the screams, taking a shortcut through Uncle Sherill's backyard. (FYI, for years, my Uncle Sherill kept a rooster leashed to a clothesline because he didn't like waking up to an alarm clock...but that's another story for another time.)

Well, we get to the edge of the flooded field and standing way out in the far as they could go without being on their way out the other side...are Lisa and Kevin. And they are STUCK. And they are FREAKING OUT. They keep screaming, "Quicksand! It's quicksand! We're sinking!"

By this time, several cousins have appeared, and we're standing at the edge of the field trying to figure out if those two are worth saving. Finally, somebody (can't remember who) had the good sense to run to the store and get NooNoon (aka Lisa's daddy).

Then, from somewhere, mama shows up. She heads straight into that quagmire. And...about 20 steps guessed it...she gets stuck too. When Lisa and Kevin realize that mama is stuck...well...they just LOSE IT. (Seeing my mama get stuck is also all it takes to convince the rest of us that two fewer cousins might not be such a bad thing, after all.)

But, just when it looks to my 7-year-old eyes like I'm going to be an only-child-orphan, NooNoon arrives. I can still see him trudging into that muddy water...grinning...trying to reassure Lisa and Kevin that they aren't gonna die.

He hollers to mama, "Hey, DoeDoe, you OK?" (Us Kelleys can sure come up with the nicknames.) His first stop is to get mama unstuck...which he does...except for her shoes. Well, mama gets tickled, then NooNoon gets tickled. Unfortunately, Lisa and Kevin do not get tickled. They are still FREAKING out!

Finally...hand-in-hand...laughing the whole way...NooNoon and mama make it out to the two little screamers. And, with a muddy, sucking sound, NooNoon pulls Kevin out and hands him to mama. Then, he grabs up Lisa and, together, the four of them head for dry ground.

In my mind, I can still see Lisa...the back of her little bobbed head...arms wrapped around her daddy's neck...holding on for dear life. And my little brother, desperately (but gratefully) hanging on to mama's hip. And NooNoon and mama...hand-in-hand...still laughing.

....Mama never did find those shoes.

There are times in this upside-down kingdom when I feel like yelling, "Quicksand! It's quicksand! I'm sinking!" All my futile efforts to get myself (and others) unstuck only make things worse, and only make me "freak out" more. In those times, what I desperately need is to just keep calling out to "Daddy" (my Abba Father)...and then to just be still...and wait for Him to show up...And, when He does, to just lift my tired, little arms and receive His rescuing hug.

So, "Happy Birthday, Lisa!" Your earthly father's love for you and your sisters was such a mirror of your Heavenly Father's love. I hope this story brings you the same heart-felt laughter that NooNoon and DoeDoe found that day in the field of "quicksand."

"It seemed like a dream, too good to be true....
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn't believe our good fortune....
God was wonderful to us;
we (were) one happy people.
And now, God, do it again—
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives,
so that those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
so that those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing."
(From Psalm 126 of "The Message")

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'ver never been in a Super Bowl commercial before...

So, my (hopefully reformed) Baby-Jesus-napper/manger-repossesser friend, J, calls me up this week: "Hey, I need to borrow your kitchen for a commercial we're shooting." (J works at one of the local TV stations.) Next thing I know, I'm the "mom" in the commercial, borrowing two little friends, C and E, to be my cute children running through the kitchen.

Turns out, this commercial is scheduled to air here in Knoxville during the Super Bowl!

Well, at first I'm actually excited. J and the rest of the TV crew arrive and start setting up all these cool lights and cameras. My "kids" arrive and are SO excited. Even my dog, Hallie, seems excited.

Then, it hit me: "I DON'T KNOW HOW to ACT"--not even for a 30-second commercial that requires very little "ACTING." (Thank goodness I didn't have to speak.) Embarrasingly, just walking from my fridge to my kitchen counter required more "takes" than I'm willing to discuss.

Thankfully, the TV crew was great--patient and encouraging. The kids were great! Even Hallie was great--with the help of a few pieces of cheese.

After the crew packed up all their "lights, camera, action," I stood at my kitchen counter, munching on the "props" and found myself wondering, "At what point in our lives do we become so self-conscious? At what point do we let the fear of looking stupid...or 10 pounds heavier on TV...or older...keep us from simply "catching" the surprising (even sometimes exciting) curve balls that life (aided by my friend, J) sometimes throws us?"

My little friends, C and E, simply enjoyed the moment.

So, I've resolved to enjoy "catching" this particular curve ball. (After all, I've already gotten to share my newest FAVORITE MAGAZINE EVER, "Garden & Gun," with one of the crew AND found out he has pet goats--how cool is that?)

I've even resolved not to beat myself up too much when the commercial airs. (Who wants to hold me accountable to THAT resolution?)

My friend, Marla, often reminds me: "Karen, when you stand before Jesus, He's not going to ask you, 'Why weren't you Marla?' He's going to ask you, 'Why weren't you fully Karen, the Karen I created you to be?"

On my honest days, I'm willing to confess the answer to that question--in spite of all the ways Jesus has proven to me that He can be trusted, I often don't trust. I let my fear and pride--actually, the fear of having my pride wounded--smother my faith.

But, this year I've resolved to trust Him more and not be so fearful of being "fully Karen."

So, when I see the commercial (probably looking through my fingers just like I would at any other scary movie), even if I look 10 pounds heavier...or detect an errant chin hair...or notice just how baggy my eyes have gotten, I'm gonna try to be OK about it--to be fully me--and just enjoy catching that crazy little curve ball.

Watching "my" wonderful children yesterday as they simply enjoyed their TV moment reminded me of how we are called to "catch" everything that comes our way in this upside-down Kingdom:

"The disciples came to Jesus asking, 'Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?' For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, 'I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you repent (return to square one and start over like children), you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental [trusting, loving, forgiving, free of pride] again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. ' (Matthew 18:1-4, The Message)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Miss Go-Go Boots...

So far, I've told you about two teachers at Kimberly Elementary School who taught from completely opposite ends of the educational and psychological pendulum. But, I haven't yet told you about Miss Powers.

Miss Powers was my first teacher ever since there was no such thing as kindergarten in 1966 Kimberly, AL. I will never forget walking into that classroom and seeing that stunning creature with long, straight blonde hair, wearing a mini skirt and white, patent-leather go-go boots. I had never seen anything like her in my almost-six years of Pentecostal life.

I think every girl in 1st grade went home that day and begged their mamas for a pair of those patent-leather boots. We knew better than to ask for the mini skirt.

I'm sure Miss Powers helped me learn to read and write and come up with the answer to 1+5 that year. But, another thing she taught me as she walked around that classroom wearing those amazing go-go boots was that clothes DO make a statement. The statement her clothes made to us first-graders was "This is what groovy looks like."...And we LIKED it. The statement they apparently made to our mamas was: "A floozy is teaching our children." (Funny thing...our daddys didn't seem to have a problem with those go-go boots.)

That year, Joy and I had a HUGE fight. She had asked to borrow my brand new Cinderella coloring book. So, I let her. But I had NO IDEA she would color the picture I had decided to wait until very last to color--the one with Cinderella dancing with Prince Charming at the ball. Not only that, she tore it out of my book to give to Miss Go-Go Boots!

When I heard the page tearing and turned around to see what Joy was doing (she sat right behind me, of course), I immediately burst into tears. Joy didn't know what else to do but start crying too!

Well, Miss Powers took the two of us out into the hall, trying to figure out what had just happened. I was still crying and snubbin' and wiping snot from my nose, while Joy is trying to explain her side. I don't remember how that talk went between the three of us. I finally calmed down. (Of course, later in the day, I did have to point out to Joy that EVERYONE knows Cinderella's gown is pink, not teal.)

But, the next day Miss Powers asked me to stay in the room while everyone else was walking down to Sister Lee's yeast rolls. She asked me if I could keep a secret, to which of course I said, "Yes" (with my fingers probably crossed behind my that made up for anything). Then, she handed me a brand new coloring book--not Cinderella (no such luck), but almost as good--Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In the middle of that first-grade year, my family moved to Green Acres, Alabama, in my mama's desperate efforts to keep my daddy from having a nervous breakdown. (Those efforts didn't work.)

Don't let the rural name fool you--it was not Green, and there were no Acres. It bordered the cities of Birmingham and Midfield--and was block after block of small houses with even smaller chain-link-fenced yards. Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor were nowhere to be found.

I had to leave Miss Powers and Joy and that four-room schoolhouse and move to the "big city."

("Dear Reader," be warned...that "journey" to and through Green Acres is the stuff of many future blog posts.)

By the time we moved back to Kimberly, Miss Powers and her go-go boots were long gone. But, I still have the memory of that coloring book.

"The Lord doesn’t see things the way (we) see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:17, NLT)

The Inauguration of the 44th President of the U.S.A.

Today I made my sons (and two visiting friends) watch the 44th President of the United States of America take the oath of office. (They were all out of school because of snow.) I even made them watch part of his speech. I know that, one day, they'll be helping their children study the presidents for a history test. And, I wanted them to be able to say, "I was watching when the first African-American president was sworn in to office."

Even though I did not vote for him, I wanted my sons to witness history unfolding. As we watched Barack H. Obama sit there on that podium, waiting to take that solemn oath, I reminded them that he is our president now. We may not agree with everything he does, but it is God's command that we support him in our prayers and in our efforts to make this country a better place.

As I watched the inauguration, I could not help but think how far our country has come in 40 years.

When I was 8 years old, integration took place at Kimberly Elementary School. This upcoming change had been the talk of the town for a good part of the summer. But, once we walked through those double doors that September, it seemed like a non-event. They were just four nice kids. My favorite of these four new kids was Anthony Hamilton. Anthony was wonderful--smart and funny--and he treated everyone with respect and compassion.

One day, while we were at recess, a few of the girls were being mean to me. This particular group's favorite name for me was "fatty, fatty, four eyes." Well, Anthony heard them and walked over and told them to leave me alone. Then he told me, "Don't worry about those dumb ol' girls. They don't know nothin'." From that point on, Anthony was my hero.

Two years later, Kimberly Elementary School got its first African-American teacher. Her name was Mrs. Freid. Once again the town was talking. But, to the best of my memory, once she arrived, everyone simply accepted her. I adored her. I considered her my reward for surviving two years of Mary Will Findley.

Mrs. Freid was only the second teacher I ever had who attempted to make the classrom a place children could actually enjoy. (I'll tell you about the "first one" another time.) She brought an upholstered rocker from her house into the room, and each child got a chance to sit in that chair and read. (Goodbye stuffy old cloakrooms!) Even when it wasn't your turn to sit in Mrs. Freid's chair, she made sure you had a comfy place to read and work and rest--on her own, she had sewn together carpet samples to make all these wonderful little "patchwork" rugs, which she placed around the room. She always encouraged us, "Use your imagination!", and she made it easier for us to do just that.

Mrs. Freid always wore her salt-and-pepper-gray hair in a bun, which made her look a lot like the Pentecostal women in my life. But her "bun" was special--she kept a pencil stuck in it. That pencil announced to all of us that this teacher was prepared and meant business.

One day, Mrs. Freid had come to my desk to help me with one of those nasty little math problems. I remember looking down at her brown hand on my white paper and thinking how pretty the yellow chalk dust looked against her dark skin. Something made me reach down and wipe off her hand, and when I did, she kissed me on top of the head.

Mrs. Freid eventually moved on to larger schools. She took her rocker, but left us the "patchwork" rugs. I never did get those nasty little math problems she always tried to help me with, but her year in my life taught me much deeper lessons about things more important than long division--passion, intelligence, integrity, tenderness, preparedness and (of course) imagination--and that none of these things have anything to do with the color of a person's skin.

So, today, as my boys and their friends and I watched Barack Obama being sworn in as our president, I thought with gratitude about Mrs. Freid and Anthony Hamilton. I hope they were watching.

Kimberly Elementary School, Part 2

So, if Sister Lee was the saint of the lunchroom, Mary Will Findley was the devil with horns of the 2nd/3rd grade.

I never could decide whether Miss Findley just hated teaching or simply delighted in scaring the pee out of us. She screamed at us all day, everyday. Her number one rule was that you had to "sit up straight" in your desk--a feat not that easy for a girl who had gone from 20/20 vision to 20/100 vision apparently overnight. In order to even see what I was writing with my #2 pencil on that wide-ruled paper, I had to get REALLY close to my desk. This got me a whack across the back with a yardstick EVERY TIME she caught me.

Looking back, even her idea of "fun" was a little sadistic. During the hot Alabama days of September and May, she would line us all up outside, right under her classroom windows. Then, she would dip a rag down into a bucket of ice water and whack us across the face. For some reason, we LOVED this. We BEGGED, "One more time, Miss Findley! One more time!"

You knew you had somehow miraculously scored rare brownie points with her if you were the one picked to take the erasers out and beat them against the big pine tree at the edge of the playground.

The only parts of the school day I actually enjoyed were, of course, Sister Lee's lunchroom, and reading. You see, chubby girls are usually very good readers. So, I was in the advanced reading group. This group consisted of me and my friend, Pam Nail (who wasn't chubby but was still a good reader). We would take the next level Dick & Jane books and go back into the cloakroom and read to each other. I loved that cloakroom. It was dark and warm, and I would snuggle into whatever jackets had been left on their hooks by forgetful second graders.

(After Pam's mama got the Holy Ghost and was kicked out of the Kimberly Methodist Church, they started coming to the Church of God. So, she became the third "musketeer" with Joy and me.)

But, I digress--back to Mary Will.

Now, Mary Will did not like for children to bother her. You had to raise your hand (a long time) to get permission to go up to her desk. (I now think she was up at that desk reading Harlequin romances and didn't want her fantasies with Sven to be interrupted.)

Anyway, one morning I had this "place" on my leg before I left for school. It was red and itchy, and mama put some Polysporin ointment on it. But, as the morning wore on, that little red place grew to the size of my thigh. It was killing me, and there were red streaks running from it (which my Mama Kelley had informed me was a sure sign of blood poisoning).

So, I raised my hand, but Miss Findley would not acknowledge me. (I think she wanted to finish the kissing scene with Sven.) So, in my fevered, pain-filled fog, I did the unthinkable--I went up to her desk without being given permission.

Very timidly, I asked, "Miss Findley would you please look at my leg? It's hurtin' REAL BAD." To which she SCREAMED, "GO BACK TO YOUR SEAT; I'M NOT A NURSE." So I did.

After school, the bus driver always let us off in front of my Uncle Walter's store, which my Aunt Barbara "manned" until Uncle Walter (who we all called NooNoon) got off work from the brickyard. She noticed I was limping and asked me what was wrong, so I showed her my leg. Well, she went flying out the door, instructing my cousins to take me up the hill to our Mama Kelley's house. (Barbara had gone to call my mama who worked at Sears Roebuck.) I don't remember much after that.

I do remember my Mama Kelley laying me down on her little twin bed and putting something on my leg, which hurt so bad that I think I passed out. Next thing I know I'm laying on an exam table at Dr. McCarn's office in Warrior, with my mama crying and stroking my forehead with a wet rag.

Turns out, I had been attacked in bed the night before by something poisonous. Dr. McCarn said it looked like either a really bad spider bite or a scorpion sting. (I've always opted for the scorpion sting--it sounds so much more exotic.) I was put on antibiotics for the infection and was ordered to stay in bed for three days with my leg propped up on pillows.

On the way home, mama asked me, "Karen, why didn't you have Miss Findley call me at work before your leg got so bad?" When I told her about Miss Findley "not being a nurse," her soft brown eyes grew very hard and dark!

Now, my mama is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. In the words of her cousin, Fran, "She's always taking in strays and lost causes."

But, what happened the next morning at Kimberly Elementary School (while I was being fed ice cubes and "petted" by my Mama Kelley) has become the stuff of legends.

My mama did not raise her hand and ask permission to go to Miss Findley's desk. She marched into that classroom in front of all those straight-sitting second and third graders and "invited" Miss Findley (who outweighed my mama by....oh...about 100 pounds) out into the hallway.

When Miss Findley declined her invitation, I'm told that my mama said, "We can either do this here in front of these children, or we can do it outside. But, it's gonna be done."

When I came back to school from the "scorpion bite," my fellow second/third-graders were simply in awe of my mama. I never found out exactly what she said or did to Mary Will (maybe she whacked her across the back with a yardstick), but for the rest of that year, every time I raised my hand, I got almost instantaneous permission to come to her desk. (And my little brother claims that when he got to her classrooom...three years later...he even got picked to beat the erasers against the pine tree.)

Many years later, when I was in high school, I was asked to give the devotional for a regional teachers' meeting. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Will Findley was in the audience. After the meeting, she walked up to me. (When I saw her coming, I automatically stood up straight.)

What happened next...well...let's just say you could have knocked me over with a feather. Mary Will Findley HUGGED me. She had tears in her eyes. And she said, "I always knew."

I didn't dare ask, "Knew what?" I just hugged her back. I didn't thank her for all the ways her teaching had touched my life because, at the time, I thought all those ways were bad.

But, Mary Will Findley toughened me up. In this upside-down Kingdom, you get whacked across the back a lot with life's yardstick. And, she taught me how to take it.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way....Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life." (from James 1, The Message)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kimberly Elementary School

Kimberly Elementary School. That's where I got my primary-level education. (Well, if you don't count the year I went to Green Acres, but that's another story for another time.)

Anyway, Kimberly Elementary was a square, brick building with six grades crammed into four classrooms. The way they managed that was to put the "smart" 2nd graders into the 3rd-4th grade classroom; they put the "smart" 4th graders into the 5th grade classroom. No matter how smart the 1st graders were, they got stuck with the "dumb" 2nd graders. (There was no kindergarten in Kimberly--maybe that's the reason for all those "dumb" 2nd graders.) Sixth graders had a room all to themselves; probably because the 6th grade teacher was also the principal...You know what they say, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

When you walked through the front doors of the school, you found yourself in a wide, tall hallway with wooden floors that had been burnished to a dull brown from wax, dirt and chalk. The walls were ALL painted a puky shade of "peppermint," which looked more like scum than mint. In this hallway, the water fountains were on your right and the stairs on your left. These stairs led down to the basement, which contained the girls' and boys' bathrooms, the furnace room and the lunchroom.

From this lunchroom, the smell of Sister Lee's baking yeast rolls wafted up those stairs every day of the school week. Sister Lee went to the Kimberly Church of God too. This fact had its rewards--I believe I always got one of the biggest yeast rolls.

But, the most delicious thing I got from Sister Lee was the knowledge that she loved me. Every day of the school week, as she ladled out heaping helpings of mashed potatoes, stuck-together mounds of sticky, white rice--all of these loaded up with gravy--and, of course, those delicious yeast rolls, she would say, "Hey, baby, Sister Lee loves you." Even though she said this to every single child who went through that line, you somehow felt that you were special."

And, I just knew she meant every word. After all, she woke up at 5 a.m. every school-day morning to make sure the poorest children in Kimberly--the ones who qualified for "free lunches" (and breakfasts)--started their school day with a hot breakfast. She never settled for just any old breakfast--her breakfast line included homemade biscuits, hot oatmeal, bacon, sausage, eggs. It was the breakfast of champions. Sister Lee's breakfasts were so delicious that, even those of us whose daddys were too proud to let us get "free lunch," would beg our mamas for the 25 cents that got you a "ticket" to Sister Lee's breakfast buffet.

These days, whenever I hear really smart people try to explain the differences between grace and works, I find myself wishing that they could have gone through Sister Lee's lunch line. You see, she didn't wake up at 5 a.m. every morning for that pitiful little salary she made. (If she had, we would have had old, dry toast, and no one would have begged their mamas for 25 cents.) Now that I'm "grown," I realize that Sister Lee wasn't trying to earn love. She did what she did because she loved--she simply loved Jesus--and her sweet love for Him just flowed out on us. And, even though some of us were "the chubby ones" because of Sister Lee's "love," we were also the blessed ones.

I don't know for sure what the "wedding supper" of Christ and His Church is going to look like, but I sure hope it includes Sister Lee's yeast rolls (and maybe even some of her mashed potatoes with gravy).

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!...This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another....Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth...We love because He first loved us." (1 John 3:1, 11, 18; 4:19)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alabama Church of God Youth Camp, Part 1

"Joy is the serious business of heaven." (C. S. Lewis)

These wonderful words from Lewis and telling "The Night of the Nub" story caused me to think about my friend, Joy.

As I mentioned, Joy and I grew up in a small southern town in a small Pentecostal church...and we were both "chubby" girls. Those last two facts meant we didn't exactly fit in with the skinny Baptist girls.

So, we sort of became the 1960s-holy-rollin' version of "Thelma and Louise." (For those who might be offended by that remark, please read my "grateful disclaimer" from yesterday's post.)

Joy and I stuck together. We sang together. At footwashin', we washed each other's panty-hosed-feet together. Every Sunday night at the altar, we sought the Holy Ghost together (at least every Sunday night that I didn't complain of "not feeling good" so I could stay home with Daddy and watch "The Wonderful World of Disney.")

Two things you need to know about Joy--whenever she sneezed, she sneezed exactly two times--the most high-pitched, delicate sneezes I ever heard. They made me think of a prissy, sneezing mouse. They always made me laugh!

And, when she laughed, you just knew that's what God meant laughter to sound like. "Bubbly" is the word that best describes it.

One summer, she talked me into going to Alabama Church of God Youth Camp. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

So, we get there, find our cabin, and start unpacking our culottes. Well...I look over in Joy's suitcase, and its halfway-filled with toilet paper. I panicked! I had not brought any toilet paper! So, I say, "Joy, were we supposed to bring our own toilet paper?!?" To which she replied, "The list said we were supposed to bring toiletries."

I doubled over laughing--mainly from relief that I wouldn't have to go around borrowing toilet paper all week. (I think Joy did have to borrow my shampoo and deodorant.)

Later that week, she had this great idea that we should take a canoe out on the camp "lake" (which was really just a small, muddy pond). I should probably point out that neither of us had ever held an oar.

So, our little boat just kept going around in circles. But, somehow, those circles took us out to the middle of the "lake"...just in time for a thunderstorm!

Lightning is popping down everywhere, and campers are headed for the hills. This man (who eventually ended up being our youth pastor) is standing on the dock shouting through a bullhorn, "Girls, come in NOW!"

Like we WANTED to be in the middle of a "lake" in a lightning storm. Well, Joy is crying. I'm crying. Counselors are gathering on the dock trying to decide if these chubby, sobbing, uncoordinated girls are worth getting struck by lightning.

And...just like that...Joy JUMPS OUT OF THE BOAT. I can't tell if she's swimming or walking on water. (Keep in mind she's doing all this while dressed in soaking-wet culottes.)

When she reaches the bank, she never even looks back. She just keeps running up that stupid, pine-straw-covered hill. And, the whole time (while still madly rowing) I'm screaming, "JOY, COME BACK HERE!!!"....(I AM SO MAD AT HER.)

So, now, I'm sitting ALONE in that stupid boat, trying to figure out how to use that stupid oar....I know how I wanted to use it....(Oh, by the way, Joy has taken her oar WITH HER.)

At this point, with all those stupid counselors staring at me, a lightning bolt was looking pretty dadgum good.

But, the counselor who ended up being my youth pastor must have realized that lightning-fried campers don't look too good on the ministry resume, so he paddles out and rescues me.

This, in itself, is no easy thing. Have you ever seen a chubby girl, with soaking-wet-down-to-her-hips-hair, in rain-streaked-COCOLA-bottle-thick-glasses, wearing soaking-wet-culottes TRY to go from one boat to another in the middle of a lake in a lighting storm?

When I FINALLY did get back to that dock, I had one single, solitary thought: I AM GOING TO KILL JOY!

But...when I....finally...made our...stupid...cabin....Well, she's so pitiful sitting on that cot...I don't actually kill her. She looks up at me with those blue, tear-filled eyes and says, "I'm sorry. I was just SO SCARED. I thought you'd jump out with me."

She had a point. I had always jumped when she jumped. Got into trouble when she got into trouble. Laughed when she laughed. Sought the Holy Ghost when she sought the Holy Ghost.

So, we hugged...and changed into a dry culottes.

Joy died...almost 20 years ago. She didn't realize a train was coming.

I still remember hearing those choked-up words from Daddy. "Joy is dead, baby."

How could that be? I'd promised I would come see her the next time I was home. She wanted to show off her beautiful baby girl. No one who laughed like that could be dead.

So I went home to Joy's funeral, which was packed with all the students whose lives her teaching and laughter had touched.

I did see her beautiful baby girl, who had the cutest little sneeze.

After her funeral, I drove back to mine and Kev's dark little apartment in Knoxville. I remember walking in, laying on the couch, and just feeling so...empty...alone...miserable...when the words of a song Joy and I had sung in our little Pentecostal church in our small southern town came flooding in:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

So...when I read C. S. Lewis' words: "Joy is the serious business of heaven," they make me think of my Joy. Her bubbly laughter must certainly add to heaven's joy. I can't wait to hear it again.

"Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy and singing." (Psalm 126:5, Amplified Bible)

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Night of the Nub

OK, my friend Jeff e-mailed this morning. He saw my "twin" at Target in Trussville, AL, last night. So, he e-mailed me to tell me about it and reminded me of a funny story from our past. (I'm gonna share it with you to make up for the moroseness of the past few posts.)

Jeff and I grew up in Kimberly, AL, a tiny little town about 30 miles north of Birmingham. We grew up in the Church of God, those days...meant that pretty much everything but going to church and eating was a sin! But, man, could we eat! And, we could also sing! (That wasn't a sin as long as you sang out of the green-back hymnal, or at least nothing racier than the camp meeting songbook.)

(Now, before you think I'm making fun of anybody or anything, you need to know I'm forever grateful for how I grew up. It is a part of who I am. Some of my best, funniest, happiest memories are because I grew in a small Pentecostal church in a small southern town.)

And, as I said earlier, "We could sing!" My friend Joy and I had earned a reputation as "wedding singers." Maybe it was because of our jammin' performance at the Mortimer Jordan High School talent show, where we sang a killer arrangement of "Killing Me Softly." (For those who missed it, that was a pun.)

Anyway, one wedding we sang at required that Jeff (pianist extraordinaire), Joy and I rehearse on a Wednesday night at an even smaller Pentecostal church. This little church had prayer meeting on Wednesday night, which, unfortunately, we weren't late enough to miss. As soon as we came through the doors, the prayers invited--OK, insisted--that we come join the prayer circle.

Well, chicken that I am, I got right in the middle of Jeff and Joy and grabbed their hands, leaving them to grab the hands of praying strangers. (A prior experience at a nursing home had left me a reluctant hand-grabber. But that's another story for another time.)

So, Jeff reaches for the hand of the man standing next to him, only to realize the man doesn't have a hand! Jeff looks at me with THE MOST SURPRISED, PERPLEXED LOOK ON HIS"What do I do now?" But, before either of us could say a word, the man literally hollers to Jeff, "Just grab the nub, brother, just grab the nub!"

How can you pray after something like that? Unless you count unable-to-stop-laughing as prayer. But...come to think of it...maybe God does. Who knows, maybe He still laughs with us everytime we remember "the night of the nub."

"On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence."
Psalm 100:1-2 (from "The Message")

I love how C.S. Lewis talks about such "frivolous" things as laughter:
"It is only in our 'hours-off,' only in our moments of permitted festivity that we find an analogy (of Heaven). Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I started second-guessing my "post" yesterday. But, on the first day I did this "blog thing," I decided I would be completely honest with myself (and with whoever should stumble across it).

I've spent too many years sitting on church pews pretending I was OK. What I now know is that, had I gotten to know all those other OK-looking people, I would have discovered they were probably a lot like me--just trying to be a normal-looking person on a normal-looking pew in a normal-looking church. But, as we've already established, there's really no such thing as NORMAL.

So, I didn't edit yesterday's post.

I help lead this Bible study on Thursdays. It's a group of women who are all at different stages on this pilgrimage through this upside-down Kingdom. (They each teach me something every week.) Since August, we've been looking at this HUGE thing called "Covenant." What has blown me away is how completely dysfunctional God's chosen people were (and still are). It's actually very comforting.

Even the guy we've been taught to hold up as a giant of faith, Abraham, actually had quite a stumbling-kind-of-faith at times--not trusting God to provide during a drought...which led to lying about his wife (twice), not trusting God to provide the promised child...which led to sleeping with his wife's slave girl...which led to the child named Ishmael...which led to problems that fill our headlines today...but which are part of God's unfolding story. As my friend M pointed out, "Nothing disqualifies us from God's love." God even used Abraham's "biggest" failures as part of Abraham's personal story and as part of God's BIG story.

I'm sure Abraham could have related to these words by C.S. Lewis, which bring me comfort every time I read them:
"No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence." (C. S. Lewis, "The Business of Heaven, Readings for the Year")

Friday, January 9, 2009

Valley of Baca

I think I'm starting to calm down a little in my manic desire to make sure 2009 is better than 2008.

I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that 2008 was a very bad year--one filled with family sickness, deaths of family members and dearly-loved piano teachers, and betrayal by a long-loved friend that dragged on...and dragged on...and dragged on...for the entire year. (It was like reliving some kind of "death" everyday.)

Long story short, I'm tired of crying....I'm tired of this sometimes-overwhelming sadness at what has been lost....I'm tired of sighing....I'm tired of worrying about those I love who are hurting even worse than me....I'm tired of missing my friend.

I want everything to go back to how it was before this nightmare began. There are still days when, out of the blue, the thought will cross my mind, "I'm gonna wake up and this will all be a very bad dream."...I'm tired of not "waking up."...I'm tired of wondering, "What if...?"

But, as each day brings a little more perspective, I can see that 2008 was also filled with uncountable little graces. Everyday (that I would let Him), Jesus was right there with me--weeping on the floor, crying in my pillow, screaming to the air. He showed up in the pages of His Word, in the comforting hugs from my honey and boys (whose hearts were also breaking over the losses we were experiencing--they just weren't as needy as me), in messages from friends (who didn't even know what was going on)--who just said I had been on their minds, and they wanted me to know they were praying for me and loved me. (Sometimes we are Jesus to each other.) In my almost-year-long grief, God has shown up in ways I would have never experienced without the pain.

I haven't gotten the answers I SO LONG for. I don't know that I ever will, although I still pray for them everyday (and, truth be told, most days I still cry).

Today, in particular, I feel like I'm the only one who's holding on to this little glimmer of hope that anything can be restored if we're willing to do the hard work of trying...the hard work of obeying the voice of the One who has called us, the One who has died for us. If I could, I'd do "hope CPR" on those whose hope has died. But, I can't. And, perhaps, I'm the one who's wrong--that's one of those many "what ifs".

This week, in that new devotional I bought, I ran across a Psalm I'd never read before. (You think that's worth breaking the promise to myself not to buy any new books?). It summed up my 2008 journey through this "valley of Baca":
"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of Baca (weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion." (Psalm 84:5-7)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More on normal...

OK, I got stuck on this word--NORMAL--yesterday. Mr. Webster defines it as 'conforming to the standard of the common type; usual; regular; natural.'

I love my Jesus-lovin' friend B's definition--''I think normal is what we make or decide it is. Then we are either satisfied with the results or decide we got it all wrong compared to someone else. Therefore there is no normal, well according to my weird mind.''

That got me wondering, 'What does God's Word say about this thing called NORMAL?" I asked my Jesus-lovin'-counselor friend M if she knew. She answered, "I'd think it wouldn't even be in the Bible since NORMAL is not a Biblical concept." (She's such a blond smarty-pants!)

Guess what? M & B are right--it appears there's no such thing as NORMAL in this upside-down Kingdom. I was a little blown away to realize that NORMAL is not even mentioned in the Bible--at least in the three translations I used on (NIV, NLT, NASB).

So, I searched again using The Message translation. Even Peterson (who sounds a lot more like "us") only mentions NORMAL 4 times, and all 4 mentions are in the context of circumstances returning to NORMAL, not us being NORMAL. I love the following passage from Jeremiah that points to a future NORMAL:
"Pay close attention now: I'm creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I'm creating: I'll create Jerusalem as sheer joy, create my people as pure delight. I'll take joy in Jerusalem, take delight in my people: No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish; No more babies dying in the cradle, or old people who don't enjoy a full lifetime; One-hundredth birthdays will be considered NORMAL— anything less will seem like a cheat. They'll build houses and move in. They'll plant fields and eat what they grow. No more building a house that some outsider takes over, No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates, For my people will be as long-lived as trees, my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work. They won't work and have nothing come of it, they won't have children snatched out from under them. For they themselves are plantings blessed by God, with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed. Before they call out, I'll answer. Before they've finished speaking, I'll have heard. Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow, lion and ox eat straw from the same trough, but snakes—they'll get a diet of dirt! Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill anywhere on my Holy Mountain," says God. (Isaiah 65:16-18, The Message)

WOW--that's a NORMAL I can live with!

It seems that, in this upside-down Kingdom, our God-Man-King came to us, lived among us, and died and defeated death for us so that we could be uniquely "ABNORMAL." What a relief!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Still rainin'...

It's still raining here in Knoxville. But, today's the day. Today, I'm going to run (OK...WALK around the INDOOR track at church), lift weights (everybody tells me I've GOT to do that if I want to get back any muscle tone--never mind that I never had much in the first place), get 2 years worth of pictures developed from 3 digital cameras (that's what I hate about digitial cameras), buy (healthy) groceries (if I can even afford any after getting 2 years worth of digital pictures developed), straighten up the house, get started on those online PowerPoint and Excel courses, and finally make the call about volunteering to be a tutor.

But first, I think I'll put in a little more time on this thing called "posting." It's so much more fun than any of that stuff above.

Over Christmas, I broke a promise to myself. I had promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more books until I had read the half-read, third-read, unread stack that I already own. But, I couldn't help myself. (OK, I could, but I chose not to.) I bought myself yet another daily-devotional-type book. (To my credit, I meant to buy it for my brother-in-law, Shawn, whose name I drew for Christmas.) But, as I was wrapping it, I made the mistake of flipping through it, and had to put up the paper, tape and scissors until I could go buy him another one. I tried to get "honey" to give it to me for Christmas so that I wouldn't REALLY break my promise to myself. But, he wouldn't fall for it.

As I was sitting in my chair early this morning with all these daily devotional books piled around me, it occurred to me that if I had just received and then lived out the wisdom their Scripture offerings and other words have given me for all the years I've been reading them, I would....Well, I probably wouldn't be sitting here typing on my new blog. I'd be out making a difference in this upside-down kingdom.

What keeps me here? In this house? Reading my pile of devotionals? Fear? Of what? Failure? Success? Criticism? Praise? Or is this where I'm supposed to be? Is this "January stuckness" I feel a kind of obedient (although restless) waiting?

Over Christmas, someone who I love dearly but struggle with deeply said to me, "I just want to be NORMAL!" (I put that word in ALL CAPS because she said it in ALL CAPS.) In a rare moment of clarity, I asked her, "What does NORMAL look like to you?" She couldn't answer.

As I've thought back on that conversation (more times than is healthy), I've realized that NORMAL is pretty much what I want too. The irony is that I can't define it either, or at least my definition changes depending on whether I've opened my spirit and mind to let all those beautifully written words from Scripture and from that pile of devotional books really sink in.

Without letting them, I guess I define NORMAL as finishing all the things on that long to-do-list at the top of this post. AND, gaining everyone's approval (dare I say...praise) in the process.

But, as the title of this little blog reminds me, it's an upside-down Kingdom. What does NORMAL look like here? Is there any such word in the "dictionary" of this upside-down, shadowland Kingdom?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays...

Today was going to be the day when everything about me started getting better, getting stronger--my attitude; my physical, mental and spiritual disciplines; my...everything. But, rainy Mondays don't offer any nurture to such noble (but newborn) plans. It's one of those stuck, limbo days, when no five-day-old goals are achieved, no new ones are made.

So, I think I'll start a blog. It seems the thing to do. Everyone else is. I might as well. At least when honey asks, 'What did you do today?", I can answer, "I started a blog." It sounds impressive.

But what to name this thing? This thing that perhaps me, myself and I will read. It needs to be something easy to remember, so that when the urge to "post" hits me in March or July or October, perhaps I can remember where the heck I put that darn thing.

After all, I'm the one who hid Baby Jesus from myself this year. The manger stayed empty...until January 3 when I found Him as I was packing up Christmas.

He was in the tin where I keep the Christmas cookie cutters. It was like Christmas morning all over again when I opened it and saw him laying the bubble wrap, wearing the knitted scarf my friend gave to Him last year! I was so happy that I texted everyone who knew He had been missing!

To my credit, I hid him to protect him from friends who, for the past few years, decided it would be amazing fun to abduct Baby Jesus from the Christmas boxes (way up in my attic) at some point in mid-November and send Him on far-flung, fantasy adventures. (You know who you are, L & J!!) I've received notes from Baby Jesus from Cairo, Paris, Graceland, Neyland Stadium....You name it, He's been there.

So, in my paranoid efforts to protect Baby Jesus from these disturbingly funny friends, this year I crawled up in my attic in early November...only to end up "losing" Him. I'm sure there are many sermons and teaching lessons in my actions, but writing them would require all the resolutions I haven't kept.

The irony was that I "lost" Baby Jesus only to learn that L&J never intended to manger-nap Him this year. Instead, sometime before Christmas Eve, while we were certainly out spreading Christmas cheer, L&J "repossessed" my entire "stable behind the inn where there was no room."

2008 was just that kind of year. But, as my friend (and reformed Baby Jesus-napper) J reminded me, Baby Jesus can always be found. We just have to know where to look.