Friday, February 9, 2018

Sandwich Fight

My kids recently had a fight over a chicken salad sandwich.

Seriously, a chicken salad sandwich.

At one point I feared the disagreement might come to blows so I almost threw the coveted sandwich into the yard.

Just so you know, I love chicken salad. It's one of my favorite things. We have a long, lovely history, chicken salad and me. At the bridesmaids' lunch before my wedding, guess what the hostesses served? You got it, chicken salad. I once worked for a caterer where one of my jobs was to mix chicken salad in a huge Tupperware container like the ones that hold your Christmas decorations or your kids’ toys. When I was newly married, fell in love with a deli in Montgomery, Alabama because they served a sandwich called a chicken salad supreme.

So, believe me when I say I know good chicken salad. But, this wasn't it. Even when it was fresh two days before, it had not been very good. After 48 hours in my refrigerator, the bread was stale on top and soggy on bottom, the lettuce was limp and the chicken salad was just okay. It definitely wasn’t worthy of a squabble.

Thanks How to Feed a Loon

But there we were standing around the kitchen island. The so so chicken salad sandwich sat in its take out container in the middle of us like the last seat in an angry game of musical chairs. The boys were about to dive for it any second.

I tried to reason with them.

I reminded them how old the sandwich was and how undesirable it had been on its first day.

I asked them to think about how silly this whole thing was and how mature they are, usually.

Reason did not prevail. One kid ended up accusing me of “always” being on his brother’s side. The other one gave up and let his brother have the silly sandwich. I’m sure his lunch, whatever it was, was much more satisfying. I ended up frustrated and angry and left the house rehearsing how terrible these kids of mine are and whether I should have thrown the sandwich in the garbage or made them share it alternating bites brother to brother.

I was terribly disappointed with these two otherwise grown-up-ish 18 year olds. Arguing over a sandwich? Come on. I think the frustration was prompted by fatigue and hunger, but you can’t blame everything on being “hangry”. At some point you have to rise to the occasion and act sweet and giving.

But, I didn’t act much better. I gave in to anger and frustration. I was demanding and easily provoked, not understanding and kind. Not a great example.

Though my desires may be bigger and more complicated than a chicken salad sandwich, I still want what I want when I want it. I often struggle to trust that God has a plan and that it’s good, especially when I’m faced with something I want that I’m not getting. I sometimes want to dive for what I want, clutch it to my chest and yell, “Mine!”

This whole predicament reminded me of a story.

Do you remember Abigail in the Bible? She had a husband who was bad news. I Samuel 25:3 says her husband, Nabal, was harsh and badly behaved. He was rich and had lots of stuff, servants, goats, and sheep. Plus, he was blessed with a wife who was “intelligent and beautiful.” Even so, he wanted what he wanted and was selfish to boot.

David, who would soon be king, asked Nabal for a favor. He had previously protected Nabal's flock and servants and now he asked Nabal for provisions for his men. It was a feast time and David knew Nabal was already planning to celebrate. David didn’t even specify what he wanted. He just asked Nabal to “give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.” (1 Samuel 25:8)

Nabal refused. He wanted to use what he had for himself regardless of David's kindness to him in the past. Nabal had his reasons. They were just foolish.

The story goes on with a threat from David, a cry for help from one of Nabal's servants to Abigail, and a brave meeting between Abigail and David.

While I'd like to think I'm like Abigail - brave, smart and pretty, I think I'm more often like Nabal. I'm selfish and short-sighted. And, I don't have an Abigail to clean up my messes.

I could have called my children Nabal #1 and Nabal #2 on the day of the sandwich fight. They were so foolish, silly and angry. Peace eventually prevailed, but I want there to be no reason for peace to be restored. I yearn for peace to rule and reign. I wished for Abigail to ring my doorbell that day and tell us not to fight. She would have had fresh, delicious chicken salad sandwiches for each of us. I wanted one of my kids to play that role for the other, not in grudging exasperation, but in love and gentleness.

They didn't and they probably won't and there will be more stupid fights in our future. We don't want to be “wicked men that no one can speak to” like Nabal, but sometimes we will be. I just pray that those “Nabal” days will be interspersed with many more “Abigail” ones. I pray for kindness and wisdom to prevail.

And, next time, I pray the chicken salad is at least worth fighting for.

(For the best chicken salad recipe ever, look here.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I’ve been thinking about refugees a lot lately. In the late 90s my husband, Bobby, and I were missionaries, working with a team in Austria who tried to meet some of the physical needs of the never-ending stream of refugees while sharing the love of Jesus with them.

I wanted to write something about the refugees and friends we met in an effort to remind myself, and maybe you, that refugees are people, not policy.

Our Assyrian Family

I don't remember officially meeting them, but their smiles will stay with me forever. Big, toothy grins under slightly hooked noses. Gorgeous olive complexions and rounded happy cheeks. Sara had jet black, frizzy hair. Her mother, Khava, had a grey ponytail, braided down her back, the crown of her head always covered with a scarf, knotted at the nape of her neck.

Refugees from Iraq, they proudly claimed the ancient city of Nineveh as their home. Sara's brother, Yosep, had the same frizzy hair as his sister, only in a bright red version. Certainly, there's a grand, historical story that explains why a Middle Eastern man would have red hair. I looked it up but can’t find a logical explanation. Sara’s father was not with them. Though I know he passed away years before we met, we never really talked about what happened to him or what he was like.

I also don’t know exactly how or why they began their refugee journey. All I know for sure is that Sara’s family is traditionally Christian. If you remember your Bible stories, the city of Nineveh was saved by Jonah’s preaching, post-belly-of-the-whale. The people of Nineveh accepted God’s love when implored to repent.

Ninveah, Iraq
Assyrian Ninevites still cling to this tradition and that probably doesn’t make the predominantly Muslim country of Iraq happy. In 1933, the Iraqi government called for attacks on Assyrians which resulted in 3000 Assyrians being slaughtered. Friction over religion, tradition and culture continues to this day. Sara and Khava descended from this long line of traditionally Christian people who kiss their Bibles after reading them, but don’t know much of what is inside. In fact, I'm not sure they could distinguish their personal spiritual journey from the Assyrians we read about in the Bible.

Sara and her mother did not feel safe in Iraq. In fact, the fear they felt in staying where persecution against Christians might any day become violent and deadly outweighed the peril they would face in making a journey to Austria to become refugees. This journey would be secretive and uncomfortable and long, over 2000 miles. They were probably hidden and scared. It was illegal to leave Iraq without permission. This trip to freedom and a new life would cost most of their savings, days of travel time, and all their courage.

They made it to Austria, but the road to a new life continued. Like most refugees Sara and her mom would have a long wait before they were granted citizenship in any nation.

When I met Khava and Sara, they were living in a hotel in the tiny village of Altenmarkt, Austria. The hotel had been converted into refugee housing with one family occupying each 10 x 15 foot room. Sara’s room had two beds, a table and four chairs, a small wardrobe and a chest that doubled as a kitchen counter. The wardrobe easily held their few belongings. On their “counter” rested a hot plate with one burner, a couple of pots, and a plastic container to hold dirty dishes. In the bathroom down the hall, they washed themselves, dishes and some clothes. It was shared between ten rooms on their floor.

Though it was difficult in these conditions, Sara and her mom loved to cook. They taught me how to make dolma or stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, meat and vegetables. Khava chopped faster than anyone I had ever seen and wrapped her grape leaves so tightly you could not unroll them even to see what was inside. She laughed and laughed at my first attempts at this Mediterranean delicacy, my floppy dolmas so easily distinguishable from hers. She would laugh at them still today. My grape leaf rolling skills have not improved.

I loved the dinners Khava and Sara served in their tiny room. In fact, I loved them so much that I tried to write down the recipes to replicate at home. Sara's English was amazingly fluent but she had trouble keeping the words “chicken” and “kitchen” straight. Her slips made my recipe writing hysterical and confusing. “Come into the chicken” she would say, or “then you add the kitchen.”

Besides dolma, my favorite Iraqi dish was called briyani, a delicious conglomeration of rice, meat and vegetables, cooked together then piled on a platter, family-style dining at its best. In the tiny kitchen of Sara and Khava, my husband, Bobby, and I learned that meat could be used as an addition, a flavoring, rather than the main part of a meal and he loved it as much as I did. It was amazing what they could do with that one-burner hot plate.

Initially, I saw Sara and Khava as a ministry opportunity, just two more faces in the long line of refugees needing help and understanding. But over time, they became my friends. They observed me, knew when I was overwhelmed, and cared. Not only did they care about me, they cared about Bobby and knew I might not be taking care of him or myself the way they thought I should.

One evening after a hectic kids’ program with refugee children, I visited Khava and Sara. We chatted and drank tea. Though I suspected the tea might keep me up past my bedtime, I knew it would also keep me awake on the twisty, dark, thirty-minute drive home. I needed that. My life had become an endless progression of activities, prayer letters, and tiny cups of Turkish coffee with piles of sugar cubes. I often felt tired and frazzled, needing naps more often and zoning out during the rare times alone with my husband.

After a relaxing but short visit with Sara and her mom, I gathered my belongings - coat, scarf, backpack, and car keys. As I fumbled my way toward their door, a conversation in Assyrian broke out and the two women jumped up, bustling. Sara asked me to wait a moment. I paused with my hand on their doorknob, silently praying I could make it to the car before anyone else I needed to visit laid eyes on me, delaying me for another hour, another visit, another cup of tea. While visiting and friendship evangelism with the refugees was crucial, at this moment I really just wanted to go home and go to bed.

As I stood there, Sara and Khava began packing a shopping bag. They loaded it with metal containers, bowls covered with plastic wrap and something soft wrapped in paper towels. Then, Sara handed the heavy bag to me.

“You take this home to feed Bobby,” she said.

“No!” I protested, knowing they had sacrificed money and time to make the delicious smelling meal that was being thrust into my already full hands. I spent a few more minutes protesting uselessly. That bag was going home with me whether I liked it or not.

Realizing I was outmatched I sighed and said, “Thank you so much. I never have time to cook.”

Sara smiled and translated what I said to Khava who laughed and said something back. Sara laughed as well, then gave voice to her mother's words, “My mother knows this.”

I might have been called to Austria to help people just like Sara and Khava, but that night, they helped me.

For the care and concern Khava showed for Bobby and me, we labelled her “our Assyrian mother.” She looked out for us, was protective and did everything she could to provide a respite for us in the room she and Sara called home. Though I was there to help them and others like them, a genuine friendship developed and grew. It blessed me so much then, and the memory of how they served with what little they had blesses me today.

The last time I saw Sara and Khava they were in a new apartment on the outskirts of Vienna near the Vienna Woods. It reminded me of church camp, lots of brown wood, dirt, and trees. They had actual bedrooms instead of sleeping and eating and cooking all in the same room. They had room for a couch, a huge luxury.

Bobby and I knew we were soon leaving to come back to the U.S., so we visited “our” Assyrian family one last time. After cooking dinner, visiting and eating, we walked down a dark path to our car. I turned for a last look at these precious friends. They were still standing by their front door waving and smiling.

We lost touch after that… Refugees move a lot. I wish I knew where they are now. I like to think they are still smiling, mothering someone new, and loving their permanent home wherever it may be.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It occurs to me with greater and greater frequency that my children will soon leave home. Seeing them for days in a row and having mundane conversations about what's for dinner will be a treat I look forward to on holidays and college breaks. Though it will be the height of grownup excitement for them, it will be terribly sad and weird for me. So, I want to make the most of the short time I have left with them living under my roof. I want to laugh and talk and hear what they're thinking. I want to tell them what I'm thinking and that I'm praying for them.

Though Bobby and I sometimes hit the mark with this parenting stuff, sadly, our television often gets in the way. We get sucked into the TV and the couch and before we know it, bedtime arrives.

Things to do after you Break Your TV:  1.  Play Outside!
I read a lot about TV viewing when my children were little. No one thinks excessive television is a good idea. In fact, too much screen time proves harmful to a child's brain development and health. So, when the boys were little I religiously monitored their TV viewing. There was a point in their very young lives when I allowed them one video a week. A week!

But, I have been much less zealous in recent years and I have always been much more lenient on myself. At times, the energy required to cope with life seemed much too demanding. The situations vary, but my response is the same: escape. Sleep, TV or really good books have done the trick for me. None of those was too bad, right? No, but the excess of each of them made me less of who I was created to be, not more. That's not what I want.

Are we, as Americans, more and more prone to “vegging out”? Is it just me? Why do I do that? Habit? Sure. Stress? Maybe. The pace of life or the constant-ness of the world? I can't go 20 minutes without my phone feeling the need to tell me I received an email. I get daily updates from the White House and a guy named Brad who tells me where all the best deals are.

2.  Blow Bubbles!
With life swirling so uncontrollably, I often feel the need to sit very still, pick up a remote control and watch someone else live life. I blame this on “Brad” and the White House. I sit in my spot on the couch where I'm magically transported to another time and place where beautiful people a.) have no problems at all, b.) solve their problems in under an hour, or c.) have issues, but at least they're funny.

I know excessive screen time is bad for a developing brain. It's not doing wonders for my old brain either, but I wonder what happens to the health and development of the family when you watch too much TV.

In our family, we neglect to talk about stuff, and when we don't talk about stuff problems build up. We've got to have a break, at least occasionally, to clean out and kick start communication.

I sometimes want to get rid of our TV, like break it with a hammer or chunk it out the window. Bobby and I didn't have a TV when we first married and we lived without one for two years on the mission field. But, honestly, I like an occasional Netflix marathon and Bobby would go mad without March Madness. So, I just want to break our TV occasionally.

Years ago, Bobby had this brilliant idea. He thought we should come up with a list of activities to do once you Break Your TV. He suggested putting one of those sticky things on the TV that make it look like someone broke your window with a baseball. We talked about it and thought of ideas. We did it occasionally. But, as it often happens, we let it slide.

With college looming and children who have busier social schedules than I do, I can't afford to let it slide any longer. Once a week, I'm going to do it. I'm going to break our TV. 

That doesn't mean we can sit around surfing the webernet.  We will do something together - play a game, take a hike, make dinner.

3.  Read a Book!
 Now, who's with me?

While I could do this alone, I really don't want to. I need help and support and ideas.

I'll let you know how it goes with us. If you give this a try, can you let me know how it goes with you too?

I'd love to hear how you handle the television with your family. Are you not really worried about it? Did you get rid of your TV a long time ago? Do you watch only the news and Netflix? I am positive some of you out there have this down and have great input and wisdom to offer. I'm counting on you!

"I can’t make the point often enough that television is not the enemy of the family but because of its content; it is the enemy of the family because it devours precious time."
Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

Friday, May 26, 2017

And That Is A Tremendous Thing

“I've always wanted to do this in a play,” Lori said laying on her bed, flinging the back of her hand across her forehead. We collapsed onto the plush carpet of her bedroom, laughing uncontrollably until our sides ached and we couldn't catch our breath. Life was so funny and so good.

It was good mostly due to my friends. I am one fifth of the “Halo Gang”, a group of five girls from Lanett, AL. We are from a town of less than 10,000 people, born within 10 months of each other. We grew up in families of two children, three of us had older sisters, two had brothers, only one of us is the oldest. Our families knew each other and had similar values. They sent their kids to public school and regularly attended church. 

Senior Year Beauty Pageant, I should be on the back row in my dance costume!
I've known two of the gang since kindergarten, one since second grade and our newcomer since third. Oh! The things I could tell you about these women.

We laughed and studied together, stayed up way too late and called each other way too early. We competed over grades and who had the cutest shoes. We saw each other through clingy boyfriends and bad skin, through moving from house to house and applying for college. We had birthday breakfasts at McDonald's before school and dinner at the Mexican place after our weddings, asking each other questions and talking about things that should not be talked about in public; laughing through all of it.

We let ourselves into each other's homes and helped each other get ready for the prom. We told each other when our outfits were getting weird and borrowed clothes so often we forgot what actually belonged to us.
Four of us played saxophone in band and three of us were majorettes. We knew that one of us had a “problem area” in her hair by her left ear and one inexplicably used hot rollers on her curls. One of us is the Baptist preacher's daughter and one's dad owned the local hardware store. One had the most beautiful, straight teeth, but had to wear braces because of jaw problems. One got to wear a crown for a whole day at Vacation Bible School for bringing the most visitors and one was maid of honor in her older sister's wedding when we were in fourth grade.

Four of us homeschooled our children at some point, two of us were missionaries, all of us are married. One has moved all over the country, one has always lived within 30 minutes of her childhood home. Three of us have worked in education, two of us in health and wellness. Four of us finished college, one has shown the rest of us what tenacity and determination, sticking up for yourself and your family truly look like. 

Senior Band Concert
I've learned life lessons from these ladies I never would have learned anywhere else. They are four of the best people I know. One lived with my family off and on in high school and was my roommate for two years of college. She knows who's clothes I have on in high school pictures when I can't remember myself. Another lets me call to talk about deep, dark stuff I'm not sure anyone else would understand and she shares her deep, dark stuff with me. One held me in the parking lot of the hospital where my daddy lay dying. I thought I would collapse with the pain of it all and she held the burden with me. Another sent a huge plant to Daddy's funeral, that I've managed, only by the grace of God, to keep alive for ten years. Years earlier we bought our first denim miniskirts together.

These women saw me through all my major, early life events: crushes, bad driving, first boyfriend, and finding the right shade of lipstick. We faced insecurities together when our dads lost jobs and siblings graduated and left home and tender, romantic feelings weren't reciprocated. I trusted them with my hurts and bad decisions. They shaped the kind of friend I became and the kind of woman I'm still becoming. They exerted a beautiful positive peer pressure. They provided a safe place for me to land, be myself, grow and grow up.

The thing about having a group of friends like this is that you're really known by them. They know the embarrassing stuff, but they also know my triumphs. They know what I wish I could forget and that gives them a certain power. But, it's power a loving friend holds gently.

Though I wish I talked with each of these ladies once a week, I don't. I wish they lived on my street and I ran into them in the grocery store. I wish they sat behind me in church and our kids played on the same football team. There have been years where I haven't greeted them face to face and sometimes it's been that long since I've heard their voices. But, even so, I still consider them my dear, dear friends.

I desperately want and pray for friends like that for my own children. I don't know if they've felt that kind of friendship and I don't know if they ever will. But, I still pray for them to have their own “Halo Gang”, a group of friends who will love them and point them in the right direction. A group of friends who will laugh, years later, at that Coke you spewed out of your nose or what you said when your high school boyfriend said, “I love you” for the first time.

I'm thankful I grew up in Lanett, AL and that my parents decided to send me to Lanett City Schools instead of Springwood Academy. I'm thankful for these four women. They are priceless. They are so much alike and so very different. They're beautiful and determined. They work hard and love their families. They are amazing and I've been blessed to have them in my life for at least 30 years. 

                           While I'm not crazy about this picture of myself, it so perfectly sums up our friendship, it had to make an appearance.  Thanks Laura Adams!

So, here's to you, Halo Gang. Thank you, for sharing who you were at 16 and who you are now. Thank you for helping me become the the grown up version of myself, for loving me when I talked too loud and too long about ballet and Campus Life. Thank you for trusting me with your secrets and keeping mine. Thank you most of all for being a real life picture of what I pray for my boys, minus the lipstick and cute shoes.

You've done so much for me, I don't think I could ever adequately explain it, and I'll never, ever be able to repay you.

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The other night I was making dinner. All the ingredients for Buffalo Chicken Pizza were spread on our kitchen island. The oven was preheating and I was reading the recipe. I heard the boys tumble in the door and started my usual evening greeting: "Hey! I'm glad you're home! Do you have much homework? How was your day? Track practice good?" After some cursory answers, it became evident that I had forgotten some stuff. Allen was taking a shower and heading right back out to his "special friend's" house for taco night and games before making his way to the university pool to learn how to roll a kayak. Davis was headed to meet friends at Marley's for wing night. "They're already there, Mom," he said as he stood in the doorway, sweaty and tired from track practice. I had okayed all these plans the night before and wasn't really upset or irritated. Dinner would keep. So, off they went. Bobby wasn't home yet, but he would blow in then out too for one of his occasional evening meetings.

When Bobby arrived, I fed him a quick, leftover pimiento cheese sandwich and waved good-bye from the porch as his truck drove off into the night.

Then, I was alone.

I don't mind a night alone sometimes. I can watch sappy movies or too many episodes of Gilmore Girls without hearing sighs and complaints that my family would rather watch basketball. But, what I realized on this particular night is that this is going to happen more and more. This is going to become my norm at some point. Bobby and I are going to be standing on the porch holding each other, waving and saying, "Have fun storming the castle" more nights than not.

Then, our boys are going to be gone.

I know I'm not the first mom to struggle through this time and I won't be the last. I'm genuinely excited to see where my kids end up and what kind of men they become. But, I don't want to be the one perpetually left on the porch. Sometimes, I want to be the one “storming the castle”.

While I'm sad that part of my parenting life will be over in the blink of an eye, I know that I'll be a mom for forever. When I've thought and prayed about this time of change in the life of my family, my prayers have centered on my kids; where they'll go to school, what they'll major in, their friendships and who they'll marry. God reassures me again and again that He has good plans for them. He loves them so much more than I do and the future He has for my boys is really, really good.

But, I haven't thought much about what that means for me. What is my life going to look like, what am I supposed to be doing with my time, how am I going to cope with my kids leaving home?

Mother Teresa said, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."

So, I did. That's been my mission, my goal, my job, my life for the past 17 years. I've had some other "jobs" during that time, sous chef for a caterer, customer service for a computer business, but, my whole world has been loving my family.

When my boys were still babies we attended a church that hosted a week long missions conference each winter. Without fail, we would all get sick. So, Bobby and I would take turns attending worship services and dinners and dessert fellowships in an effort to soak up as much inspiration from the visiting missionaries as possible.

I remember attending one evening worship service alone. At the end of his message, the speaker directed our attention to the screen behind him where he played a scene from the movie, Mr. Holland's Opus. It was the dramatic ending, the culmination of Mr. Holland's work as a teacher. He walked into a crowded auditorium filled with current and former students. Then, he was handed a conductor's baton and cajoled into directing an orchestra in his “opus”. It was the symphony he thought he would be known and recognized for, but what really mattered, what shone through, was his commitment to the people he had taught and touched with his life, whether it turned out like he had planned or not.

That's when God spoke to me. No. He didn't just speak. He put His arm around me and leaned in. He whispered in my ear, "Allen and Davis are your opus."

Sweetly, surprisingly, God is whispering to me again. He's telling me that He has good plans for ME. There is life after kids go to college. He has stuff for me to do. He has a future and a plan for me. And it's good.

I can't say I'm always 100% on board with this new phase of my life. I often wish I could go back to when the boys were little just so I could soak it up again. I would love to feel chubby little arms hugging my neck and hear belly laughs that make me laugh too. Recently, I couldn't sleep while Allen was on a flight to Europe and I wept long and hard after watching a YouTube video about children growing up.

But...God. If He's taken the trouble to reveal that He has a plan just for me, there will be beauty in the sorrow, there will be good in the sad. How could there not be? 

mr holland's opus:
Mr. Holland from
 While I'd like to have a glimpse of what my life will look like in 5 years, I'm so thankful, so excited to see what's next. I'm not hurrying it along, I'm just glad that God has chosen to speak again, to move in close and whisper, “I have a plan, Amy, and it's going to be good.”

I went home and I loved my family, but, have I changed the world? Only time will truly tell, but I can say this with certainty: This world of mine, of being a mom, the world filled up with a man who teases me and holds my hand, a curly haired kid who has gaps in his smile and a boy with a gleam in his eye and a sharp-witted comeback on his tongue, has changed me. Completely. I am a different woman because of the life I've lived with these guys.  And, thank goodness for that.

“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”
Andy Stanley 

Here's the YouTube video that makes me cry:  It's Nicole Nordeman,"Slow Down".  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

 The Summer Everyone Thought I Was Liberal

Until I got married, my life had been blissfully dull. I was born in Lanett, AL, the rough equivalent of Mayberry, to a mom who was a dance teacher, then stay at home mom, then kindergarten teacher at the First Baptist Church. My dad owned the local hardware store.

I had an inkling that there were people “out there” who lived and thought very differently from me and my family. I knew there were people who went to high schools with more than 500 people and vacationed in Europe, but they lived in far off places like Montgomery or Minneapolis.

So, about my 2nd year of college, I decided I needed to do something to bridge the gap between myself and the rest of the world. I looked at my church denomination's college programs and found a couple that sounded interesting. One possibility was working in Appalachia for the summer. The other was to be a Peace Intern. Peace Interns got to travel the country visiting church camps and talking with high schoolers. People who worked in Appalachia did hard, hot, dirty work.

So, I applied to be a Peace Intern.

I painstakingly researched and wrote an essay about what “peace” means to me. It was long with lots of references. Maybe not surprisingly, I didn't get it. So, I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college doing something just as meaningful and thought provoking: I taught high school majorettes.

The summer before my senior year I decided to give a peace internship one more try. This time I almost missed the deadline and ended up writing a one page paper about how Jesus Christ should be our peace. Know Jesus, know peace. No Jesus, no peace.

I sent it off not expecting much and not really concerned either way. I had met people who applied for this program and didn't get it, impressive and smart people like my sister and a great-great niece of Hemingway.

I was shocked when I received a letter not too long afterward telling me that I was selected to be a Peace Intern for the summer of 1992.

I knew I was an unlikely selection, but I didn't realize that I was the least likely choice ever, I mean EVER, until I arrived at training in Indianapolis.

When I arrived, and met the other interns, I realized they all had a “platform”, like Miss America contestants, and they were all kind of mad. There was a woman who had spent the previous summer in Africa and now refused to eat the seeds in tomatoes, another woman who called God a goddess. There was an army brat who was staunchly anti-military and a guy who thought I should leave the training immediately because I voted for Bush. One intern had a pony tail and planned to ride his motorcycle from camp to camp, another was proudly gay, but hadn't worked up the nerve to tell his parents. There was a sweet guy who was Puerto Rican and another who's strangest characteristic, as far as I could tell, was that he went to the University of Connecticut. 

Peace Intern Training 1992
And, then there was me – white, female, uninformed, conservative, southern, not mad about much and just voted for Bush. I became very quiet, considered going home and tried repeatedly to stop my head from spinning by suggesting we play silly games in the hallway of the offices of our General Assembly where the training was taking place.

You may be able to guess that this was a weird week for me. I loved learning about “peace with justice” issues and the people I was meeting were fascinating. But, I realized, probably for the first time, that I was different. I wanted to tell every kid I met at church camp that it didn't matter who they voted for, what their families looked like, or what their plans were for life after high school, if they didn't embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior there would be no peace in their hearts and lives. Without peace in your heart, there won't be peace in your home, your neighborhood, state, country or world. He is the only way.

After we've addressed the peace that you live in, we can talk about hunger and war and stereotypes. But, it just won't work before that.

After that week at training, I made some strange changes. I would never again consider peace to be solely the absence of war. I stopped drying my hands in public restrooms with the electric dryers or paper towels, instead I would run my hands through my hair. And, I would never look at bananas the same.

We read about the “just war” theory and why flying is bad. We talked about prejudice and hate. But somewhere in all the stories and statistics and letters, there was this one poem that stuck with me. It was in the “hunger” segment of our materials. The poem was written by someone visiting a desperately poor nation. In some of this travelers’ observations, he saw a small girl steal a banana. She took this one banana back to her even smaller brother and sister, giving each of them half. Then, the little thief sat down and licked the inside of the banana peel. The poem ended with the phrase “I swear I saw the face of God.” I wish I could find that poem to share with you now. Just the thought of it, the reality of it, moves me.

After that week of training, I knew I had a decision to make. I could become more informed and involved. I could get swept along and give in. I could get angry and condescending. I could embrace every issue that came along, even ones I didn't agree with. Or, I could figure out how to care about the world around me and still be true to who I am. I could learn to disagree with people who voted differently than I did, yet embrace them because we both want this world to be a better place.

The rest of that summer was good. It wasn't as trying as my week of training. I wasn't asked to go to any gay bars or think about whether flag burning should be ok. But, I was confronted with a retired military man who openly disliked me as soon as he heard the word “peace”. I was flattered by a camp director who said she had been really worried about having a Peace Intern and I made her feel better about the program all together. I met a man who became a dear friend, who respected me and my views and threatened to call Bobby, who would soon propose, to ask him a series of questions including “what are your intentions” and “will you really promise to take care of her?”

Camp in Montana

I visited camps around the country that I would never have seen and met people I would never have thought about meeting. I was forced to think through issues I had never given much brain power to and I learned how to present my views in a way that took others' perspectives and disagreements and backgrounds into account.

Mostly, I was confronted with my Savior. Jesus got me into that summer program and showed me that I was His. He called me out and asked me do and say stuff that was sometimes uncomfortable. He took me to places I had never really wanted to go and would never have planned on. And, it was all really, really good.

As I said before, I was the least likely Peace Intern ever. If there were a reunion, I'm sure someone would think I should leave. I mean, I'm a mom now. I cook dinner most nights and hardly ever protest anything. I drive a minivan, for goodness' sake, and freely use the paper towels in public restrooms. I have even given my Birkenstocks away.

But, I still care. I pray for our country and leaders while wondering exactly where we're going to end up. I want people to know that refugees are some of my favorite people ever and that slavery still exists. I help those around me and teach my kids to help out too.

So, whether you're crazy or sane, whether you get your news off your Yahoo homepage or listen to NPR, whether you refuse to shower until Tibet is free or shave your legs every single day, we're all really more alike than we are different. And if you don't believe that, you should at least believe that we all care deeply about something.

For a while that worked fine
All the Zooks stayed away
and our country was safe.
Then one terrible day
a very rude Zook by the name of VanItch
snuck up and slingshotted
my Snick-Berry Switch!”
-Dr. Suess, The Butter Battle Book

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In a Hurry

I just had a breakthrough. I had a lunch date today with dear girlfriends at the local Thai place. When I finished getting ready at home, I realized I had about 15 minutes to get to lunch and it should only take me about 5. So, I had a decision to make. I could fold the clothes that had just finished their last spin in the dryer and probably be a little late, which would be totally acceptable to these friends. Or, I could take my time, head out, find a good parking space and probably be the first one there.

Here comes the breakthrough.

I chose to be the first one there. 

I don't often make that choice. I'm usually trying to squeeze one more thing into my schedule. I think I can finish baking brownies real quick or grab just a couple of things at Wal Mart and still make it where I need to be in a fairly timely manner.

For most of my adult life, I've felt like I was in a hurry. If I set out to read a book, I count pages in chapters and calculate how long it will take to read. If I'm mopping the floor, I gear up like I'm starting a race. I've used the FlyLady "method" for organizing and cleaning which encourages you to do things in 15 minute increments. I love the principle, but I don't like sometimes feeling rushed.

I'm sure all this hurrying has had a negative impact on my health and I know it's affected my disposition. I often feel my heart rate increase and anxiety starting to tap its way into my thoughts. But, get this, I’m a stay at home mom. What do I have to be in a hurry for? I can't even imagine the press that women who have full-time jobs and families and full lives must feel.

I asked my friends at lunch if they ever feel this same pressure and what they do about it. They both agreed that yes, they often feel like they're in a hurry. My friend who's a thoughtful single, busy, working woman said she thinks it's just the American way. We don't like it, but to get away from it I would have to move to a Latin or African country where they treat time in a whole different way. My other friend is a mom to a young child and her husband used to be our youth pastor. She's the most “chill” person I know. She laughed when I asked about this and said, “If you figure out how to stop, let me know.”

In the Bible in Jeremiah 2:25a it says, “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (The Message)

What a great question. What AM I after? Truly? What does it profit me to rush around like a chicken with my head cut off? I don't think I've gained anything. Maybe I do it because I just want to be done. Maybe my love of comfort drives me to finish what I know needs to be done so I can do what I want to do without guilt.

I saw an article online called 10 Signs That You May Suffer From Hurry Sickness. “Hurry Sickness”, seriously. It was written in convenient bullet points and said something fairly interesting about patience being a skill and not just a virtue. I didn't take the time to read all of it, but I'm sure it made a lot of sense.

I also read something on Huffington Post called Why We Rush Through Life by Sura. She said, "We cannot be present and rush at the same time." I'm sure that's true. But, then she said, "We’re lazy: It’s easier to rush through life and be on automatic, than to slow down and make a conscious effort to be present. Being present takes energy and intention. Rushing allows us to live on the surface rather than go deep." That really surprised me.

I totally agree that I shouldn't be rushing around, that I should be savoring moments and not sloshing through them on the way to the next thing. So, what would happen if I just slowed everything down? What if I still did first what needs to be done, but I tried to enjoy the process; if I still mopped the floor, but slowed down enough to enjoy seeing the shine on the tiles of my kitchen? What if I still counted pages in my book, but then settled in to enjoy them without worrying too much about how long each page would take me to read. What if I instead stopped to think about what I was reading, even narrate it back to myself to see what I've learned and retained; if I stopped to notice the world around me and took more time to write about and think about the first snowfall or when the first daffodils come up instead of just rushing to write the date in my book of firsts.

I want a life of peace and beauty, a life of calm and fun, a life of relationships and love. I don't think being in a hurry is going to get me there.

When my children were little, all my friends with small kids were playing the “I can't wait game”. They would say things like, “I can't wait until he can walk. I can't wait until she starts kindergarten. I can't wait until they sleep through the night.”

That didn't ring true to me. I was so thrilled to be a mom.  It had been a long road to get here. I didn't want to wish it away. So, I asked God to help me enjoy each stage, each part of my children's lives.

I wanted to cuddle them when they were sick and laugh when they got grass stains on their jeans. I wanted to be the mom who stopped to play a game or listen to the 10 millionth joke my son had made up. I wanted to show up at ALL the basketball games and encourage them to say at least one good thing about the refs afterward. 

Even now, I want to enjoy the way words come together when I write and the way beautiful images appear when I pull out my camera. I want to meet my husband at the door at the end of a long day and tell him I'm glad he's home, and mean it.

Maybe in the same way I asked for help when my boys were little, I need to ask for help now. Help to not wish away the everyday moments that make up my life, because this is my LIFE.

My friend, Melanie, is headmistress of the Red Mountain Community School in Birmingham, AL. She seems to have this “not rushing” thing down. I know she wouldn't agree, but her lack of hurrying is one of the things I love most about her. At one point, in her school, all the clocks had a quote above them. She jokes that they rushed to put it there. But, I love it.

“He who is in a hurry delays the things of God.” St. Vincent de Paul

I don't want to delay the things of God. I want to hasten them, not by hurrying, but by noticing. I want to be so in tune with God and myself that I notice when He speaks, when He answers a prayer, when He's especially near and I just need to take a moment to bask in His presence.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When I know that He's God and I'm not, don't things go more smoothly? Doesn't my perspective stay a bit clearer? And don't I already know that being still in God's presence makes most things – my will and emotions and plans – more clear?

So, next time I feel that familiar increase in my heart beat, when I feel a tightness in my jaw, when I start counting how many minutes I have left to accomplish an impossible to-do list, I'm going to stop. I'm going to be still. I'm going to breathe in and out and smile and say, “Hey, Amy? What's your hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?”