Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Next Right Step

This time last year, I was preparing for Ethiopia. I love Christmas, but I was happy to see it come and go.  On December 26, 2009, I boarded a place for Washington, D.C. and eventually one to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I was horribly sick.  I had woken up that morning with a stomach virus.  All of my family members had been sick prior to Christmas, and my mother promised me that I would only be sick about 10-12 hours.  So I got on the plane, praying that by the time I arrived in Ethiopia, I would be on the road to recovery.  The next 24 hours were shaky.  I threw up on the airplane.  God bless the poor girl who sat beside me.  The flight attendant was furious with me for traveling while sick.  I had to do it, though.  Ethiopia was expecting me.

I have always love missions and missionaries.  My parents were missionaries to New Zealand, and I got to see how it all worked firsthand.  As a pastor's kid in high school, I loved seeing the presentations as the missionaries came to our church.  When I started as a freshman at Baptist Bible College, I remember listening to a speaker in my Intro to Missions class, and I felt like boarding a plane and joining this man in his work.  Just seeing someone else's genuine burden for a specific people group has always spoken to me.  It still does, really.  I have seen seasoned missionaries cry through their video presentations that they have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  Those are the ones that get me.   And so, though my adult life has gone through a series of unexpected turns and changes, one thing has remained constant.  I have always wanted to go.  Even when I convinced myself that it was okay to stay, that I would marry and have a family and stay right here in the United States forever and ever, in the back of my mind, it was always there.

Ethiopia was a test of that desire.  I thought it would spark a new burden.  After all, the need is great, and I was sure that seeing it firsthand would give me the "This is it... this is where I am supposed to be" feeling.  And it didn't.  I spent almost two weeks in Ethiopia.  I saw so much poverty, so many beautiful people, and so much work to be done.  And I expected to feel the desire to stay.  But after two weeks of a beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes painful trip through the country, I didn't feel it.  This wasn't it.

The months following my trip to Ethiopia were confusing ones.  I expected to have more clarity about life and the world and my place in it, and I had so, so much less.  I had made wonderful friends on the trip, and then they were taken away from me and returned to their respective homes.  The sickness that I took with me to Ethiopia never quite left me, and I couldn't eat without feeling sick for about a month.  I was kind of a mess.  And I felt like I had been deprived of the one thing that I had really wanted... direction.

But when we don't have clarity about going, we stay.  When God doesn't say to move, we stand still.  And I hate standing still.  I hate not knowing.  I like planning.  I like knowing what comes next.  I like it when everything fits into my day planner and everything makes sense.  But God doesn't work like this.  Life is not a road map that we follow step by step to reach a destination.  Life is about doing the next right thing. Taking the next right step, even if we don't have the slightest idea where that next step will take us.

About a month ago, I met a woman at a craft show that was selling beads.  I recognized them as the same kind of paper beads I had purchased in Ethiopia.  I have seen them in coffee shops and little boutiques, and they are a popular way for African women to make money.  The woman selling the beads was part of an organization called Village of Hope Uganda.  Their goal is to provide homes and community for refugee children in Uganda.  I stood and listened to the woman tell about abducted children, child mothers, and children forced to kill family members.  She has seen these things firsthand and has decided to do something about it.  I also discovered that she is the founder of Village of Hope Uganda.  She has overseen the building of homes, a school, a church, and a clinic.  And so I became hopeful once again.  I wanted to do something to help.  I cried when I walked away from the booth.  I emailed the founder the same day, and my main question was "What can I do to help?".  We still to have to work out the details, but I am currently planning on traveling to Uganda with her at some point in 2011, if God allows.

Who knows what this means?  Well, God does, I guess.  But I am trying to let go of figuring it all out.  I still want to be married and have kids and do missions work and teach and play music.  There are lots of details, lots of possibilities, lots of tiny little things that would have to fall into place just right for me to be able to have it all.  And I serve a God that specializes in orchestrating all of those tiny little things.   Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorite verses, but I have to say that there isn't really a version that completely captures what it means.  I know the thoughts I think toward you.  I know that plans I have for you.  The word that is translated "think" or "have" actually means to weave or to braid or to fabricate.  To weave.  I almost shouted the day that I did a word study and discovered what it really meant, and I have to say that I am not much of a shouter.  But it confirmed what I already knew.  And it continues to remind me and encourage me when I have no idea what's going on in my life... like right now.  All of these little details of my life, every experience, every relationship, every encounter... those are all being woven together to create God's plan.  I know some people don't believe that.  They don't believe that God is so involved.  But I believe He is because He says He is.  And so I will take the next right step when the time comes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It Really is a Wonderful Life

I think it is the O'Dell Christmas tradition to not have too many Christmas traditions.  I recall very few things that we repeat every single year, things that are "ours".  Some people might hear that and shake their heads and say how sad it is.  How terrible our lives must be without having spent that past 30 years doing the same things or how the lack of tradition makes our family less special.  I say it makes us interesting.  

I know other kinds of people exist.  The ones who set a complete table with Christmasy centerpieces, tablecloths, candles, holiday stemware, and Tony Bennett playing in the background.  Maybe even little Christmas Villages, surround by cottony snow and twinkling lights.  The children in these families wake up with perfect Christmas hair and they wait patiently beside the tree and open their presents one at a time, thanking each and every giver for the new pajamas and toys.  They never complain.  They always share.  They pose perfectly for pictures with each gift.  The family sits around the tree every year and read the Christmas story, and even the babies are respectful enough to stay quiet.  The Christmas turkey is cooked to a golden brown.  It is never dry.  The dressing is perfectly seasoned and the pies are perfectly sweet.  All gifts are perfectly suited and sized.  I don't know how these families do it.  They probably have an incredibly controlling, stressed-out perfectionist mother.  That's all I can figure.

If you could follow me through my Christmases Past, you would not find this picture.

Christmas 1983.  My Mom came home from the hospital with Ashlae Paige, the newest O'Dell, born two days before.  Freezing temperatures meant no water in our house.  So for three days, no dishes or laundry had been done.  Also on Christmas morning, unexpected company dropped in for a visit.  New baby, messy house, visitors, and definitely no Tony Bennett.  My mother was not happy.  It was a Christmas to remember.

Christmas 1985. While on deputation, we rented a chalet at Cheaha State Park in Alabama.  Spent Christmas with our favorite North Carolina friends, the Hensley family.  We cut down our own Christmas tree, and we strung popcorn to use for decoration. If I recall correctly, the albums of choice were Lee Greenwood and Amy Grant.  I loved this weird Christmas.  

Christmas 1987. Christmas in New Zealand.  Summertime weather at Christmas just feels wrong.  The Hensley family joined us in New Zealand several months before Christmas.  Kids from both families secretly practiced for weeks (probably only days, really) for our very own nativity play.  I believe I was an angel.  The parents were surprised and delighted by our performance.

Christmas 1990.  We had just arrive back from New Zealand.  We were living in a tiny house that was way too small for a family with six kids, and we had borrowed furniture.  I was in the 8th grade, and I clearly remember receiving a pink gumball machine and a cassette single of the song "Crazy" by the Boyz.  I am sure I got other things, but those were the most memorable.  I made up a dance routine to that song, and I kept the gumball machine until I graduated from high school.

Christmas 1998.  I was in New Zealand, again.  This time I was without family.  I was living with missionaries Clint and Beverly Braly, and their son Gabe and his grandfather arrived on Christmas morning.  It was an interesting Christmas day that was spent missing my family but thankful was I wasn't completely alone. I think we followed it up the next day with a trip to Piha Beach and a hike.  Within three weeks, I was engaged to Gabe.  And then three months later, I was unengaged.  Easy come, easy go.  

Christmas 2001.  For whatever reason, my parents decided to move on Christmas Day.  So, after the Christmas festivities (that were only mildly festive), we helped pack up boxes and we hauled stuff from one side of Granbury, Texas to the other.  The most annoying part of this day is that I had a brand new pair of black, fuzzy slippers that I had received as a gift from my best bud Elisa.  They were one size too small, so I kept the tags on them and planned to take them back to exchange them for the correct size.  At some point in the day, I looked on my sister's feet to see my brand new slippers being worn in and out of the house.  Never mind that they didn't belong to her.  Or that there were tags still attached (before they were ripped off by the sister)  There is a tiny part of me that still gets mad about this.  This might go down in the books as the worst Christmas ever.  

Christmas 2002.  Christmas in Branson, Missouri.  My family rented two houses on the lake, and we planned to make up for the lameness of the previous year.  Craig, Adam, and I were driving from Tennessee.  As we drove into Missouri, a snowstorm developed and a 8 hour trip from Nashville to Branson turned into two days.  We stopped somewhere in Missouri and stayed the night, and set out the next morning (Christmas Eve) to try to make it.  The ground was white, the sky was white, and everything in front of us was white.  It took about 30 minutes to go four miles.  My brother Craig was driving and could not see.  So we exited the highway, ended up at Wal-Mart and were stranded  for about 5 hours.  The up side is that I had a little bit of shopping left to do, and I was able to get it done with no Christmas crowd.  In addition to the snowstorm and horribly long drive, this was the Christmas of rooming with the nieces and nephews.  If you like to sleep, it is never a good idea to room with the nieces and nephews.  Lesson learned.

Tonight I got together with my family.  Five of the six siblings attended, each bringing their significant other and/children.  There was no ceremony or order to the way the gifts were opened.  The children flung wrapping paper all over the living room, and they went home with little idea of which gifts were given by whom.  The adults did a little better and patiently waited and open presents in an adult-like fashion, acknowledging and thanking the giver after each one.  There was no Christmas music played as we ate our dinner.  Our Christmas Eve dinner definitely included pigs in a blanket and a snack mix called "puppy chow", which I am pretty sure means we are unrefined.  We didn't sing any Christmas carols, which is actually a change from the last few years where we have gone caroling, a tradition I don't mind skipping every now and then.  Several children cried, a few fits were thrown, wedgies were given.  But you know what?  I love my family.  I am so very blessed with such a beautiful, witty, talented, and fun family.  They are loud and opinionated and kind of sarcastic.  And we fight and argue on occasion.  But when it comes down to it, they are loving and forgiving and generous and fiercely protective.  They are not perfect, but they are mine.  And I think I will keep them.  Merry Christmas from my slightly unrefined family to yours.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Working Out is Hard to Do

In 1986, my dad got a Fred Flintstone bop bag as a gag gift for his birthday.  I was only nine, but my eyes lit up when I saw it.  My first thought was I can use that to work out!  I have no idea why my 9-year-old skinny self was thinking about working out, but I was.  Throughout the night, while the adults were talking and laughing and eating cake, I was thinking about the bop bag and all that I would accomplish with it.  Of course my 42 year old dad wasn't going to want this gift.  I was certain that it would be mine soon.  I was thrilled... right up to the point where my dad gave it away to another child.  She walked out the door with my Fred Flintstone bop bag, and with it, she took my dreams of being adding a punching bag to my workout routine.

My mother was not a worker outer.  (Sorry, Mom, to divulge your secret)  She was a dieter, but I don't remember her being into running or walking or sports.  So I don't really know where I got it, but by age 10, I had a mixtape labeled "workout", along with a specific exercise regimen that included sit-ups (back when sit-ups were cool and crunches were unheard of) and jumping jacks (or star jumps for my Commonwealth friends).  I eventually incorporated regular jump rope and then Chinese jump rope.  I was an exercise fanatic.  I don't remember being worried about my weight or my figure.  I just thought it was fun.

When I made it to high school, I was involved in volleyball, basketball, and cheerleading until our school got so small that those things were no longer really offered.  But I loved practice for all of the afore mentioned sports.  I thought it was fun.  Then, onto college.  I tried out for cheerleading, and much to my surprise, I made it.  For three years, I cheered my heart out for the Baptist Bible College Patriots.  I liked going to practice.  I loved the girls that I cheered with, and I didn't mind the work involved.  I worked extra hard over Christmas break each year to improve my jumps.  I was active and I was thin and I was happy.

I don't know when I started hating to exercise.  I can't remember one specific moment when everything changed.  But here I am, almost 34 years old, and I hate to exercise.  Whenever I get on a treadmill or an elliptical machine, I am never thinking about how much fun it is.  I still do yoga, walk, run, or ellipt (or whatever it is you do on the elliptical), but for the most part I don't like it.  So I distract myself.  I distract myself with the TV or my ipod (the 2010 version of the workout mixtape).  I listen to music that I never listen to in real life- Akon, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Shakira- and I watch things I never watch in real life, like Judge Judy and Oprah. But no matter how many distractions I have, or how many positive "I am an athlete" conversations I have with myself, I would rather stay home and watch five episodes of Cake Boss on Netflix than work out.

And so there are consequences.  I admit to occasionally lying on my bed to get my jeans zipped.  I admit that I have used a rubber band to expand the waistline of my pants.... a good trick I stole from the expectant mother crowd.  I frequently do "stretching squats" to stretch out freshly laundered jeans so that I can breathe.  I wear flowy tops.  I do not tuck in my shirts.  Shopping is no longer about buying what is fashionable but what doesn't make me look chubby.   My hand goes on my hip for picture taking so that my arm looks nice and slim.  I have learned all of the tricks.

One day the tricks won't work, and I will have to be really dedicated.  Stretching squats and flowy shirts won't help with high cholesterol and heart problems, so at some point I hope to become one of those 70-year-old women that walks three miles every morning.  My old, gray-haired husband and I will walk our dog after dinner, and we will go to the local senior center for water aerobics and the silver sneakers class.  But until then, I will halfheartedly fight through.  I will occasionally go to yoga class.  I will sometimes sprint.  I will count most sets and reps. I will sweat a little on the elliptical.  I will endure the endless chatter of the man that ellipts next to me, as he compliments my lovely perfume (that I am not even wearing).  But the second my gym starts offering boxing classes or anything involving a punching bag, I am totally in.

And if someone could please tell me the term for what you actually do on the elliptical, I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections of Ethiopia

Last December, I traveled to Ethiopia.  I wrote almost a whole blog about it this morning, and then I remembered this letter that I had written.  I was originally going to send this to Mocha Club, the organization that I traveled with, but honestly, though every word I wrote here was true, I was far too overwhelmed at what I saw to finish and send it.  And even still, it is unfinished.  And it will remain that way.  (I apologize in advance for the weird, abrupt ending... I will add some pictures to ease your discomfort)  I feel like God is not finished teaching me what he needed to teach me from that experience.  I am planning on returning to Africa at some point, and I will continue the journey that I started last year.  And the new blog that I wrote this morning will be finished and posted in a day or two.  But for this morning, you get my initial thoughts of Ethiopia:

Missionary kids know a thing or two about sacrifice.  I grew up in New Zealand in a missionary family, and as an adult, I served in New Zealand and China.  I am familiar with sacrifice. And before crossing over into another culture, I always expect to give up some things.  Comfort.  Convenience.  Digital communication.  Warm showers.  But almost always, I gain more than I lose.  I find things I didn't even know I was looking for.  I always walk away from the experience having gained more than I gave.  Here are some unexpected things I found in Africa:

Even in Ethiopia, babies still love to be held.  Kids love to play games.  Smiles can communicate what words often cannot.  Trying and failing is always more respectable than not trying at all.  Children's Christmas programs are almost always cheesy.  Coffee makes mornings better.  Boys love sports. Girls like rings and necklaces. The meeting of a brother in Christ brings an instant connection.  Prayers are answered.  God still offers forgiveness.  Hope runs rampant. 

Those who had little were willing to share it.  While standing outside homes of strangers, I was invited inside for coffee.  I was shown sleeping babies.  I was introduced to family through photographs hung on mud walls.  I was offered bread.  I was kissed on the cheek- right side, left side, and then the right again.  I was shown how to make injera in a kitchen constructed out of sticks.  I was hugged.  I was a stranger, and I was taken in and treated as family.

There are children that need teaching.  Patients that need tending.  Relationships that need growing.  Hunger that needs feeding.  Babies that need rocking.  Seekers that need guiding.  Brokenness that needs healing.  Projects that need funding.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why My Apartment is a Mess (Kind of Always)

When I was a kid, I had the book "What to Do When Your Mom or Dad Says Clean Your Room" by Joy Berry.  This book was part of a series of "how-to" books for kids, and let me tell you that I love "how-to" books.  I don't remember the exacts of the book, but I do remember the basic steps that it gave for room cleaning.

  1. Clear everything off your bed and throw it onto the floor
  2. Make your bed.
  3. Pick everything up off the floor and place on made bed
  4. Vacuum.
  5. Sort items on bed and put them away.
And to this day, this is exactly how I clean my room.  Almost every time.  

I have always been kind of messy.  Not dirty.  I don't leave popcorn bowls next to my bed or half eaten sandwiches on the desk.  I clean things often.  But I am easily distracted, and so I tend to leave small piles of undone things around the house, leaving the whole place looking just a little bit like it needs a little tidying up.  And it does.

Over the years, I have tried to figure out why I could spend an entire day at home, fully intending to clean, only to realize that it's 11 p.m. and I have spent my day reading old journals and magazines from 2007, looking through old photo albums, and changing my Facebook status.  Twice.  So here is what I have discovered.  

First, cleaning isn't fun.  I learned in one of my college classes that I am a Choleric-Sanguine.  This means that I am bossy, but I am fun.  I like to do fun things.  In fact, I almost only like to do fun things.  Cleaning is kind of boring.  It takes time that could be spent doing other things.  The other part of being Sanguine is that if I have to do unfun things, I would rather do it with someone else there to entertain me.  I get basically nothing accomplished if I am alone.  This is very unfortunate since I live alone.  I don't need help, I just need someone to talk to.  So, it turns out that I don't need a cleaning lady... I just need a talking one.  

Second, I am not a perfectionist (if I were, my house would be clean), but I like for things to be done right.  And the right way is my way.  At least here at my house.  So I like for the clothes in my "shirt" closet to be sorted by sleeve length and color.  If that can't be done in the short amount of time I have to clean, I just don't do it at all.  Right now I have two Rubbermaid containers of scrapbooking supplies that have been sitting next to my couch for three weeks because I have no idea where they would fit perfectly.  And so they sit.  If you can't do it right, don't do it at all.  

As I write this, I am looking around at my apartment and thinking that it could probably be unmessy in about one solid hour of work.  Only one.  And yet here I am, sitting at my computer because it is more fun.  But don't worry, I have about 20 books on how to keep a house organized.  I know all of the Fly-Lady's cleaning techniques, even if I rarely implement them.  I have an index card box on my kitchen counter that contains daily household tasks, though I will probably continue to ignore it.  But here in just a minute, after I eat breakfast and have plenty of energy, I will plug my ipod into the stereo and play the funnest music I can possibly find.  I will pretend that I am competing for a gold medal in speed cleaning (cause that's kind of fun, right?).  I will get this place looking fabulous because it is my day off, and it is what a responsible adult should do.

But if you ever come over to see me, and you find a clean floor and a perfectly made bed covered with a mountain of clothing the size of Everest, don't judge.  I am in the process of cleaning.     

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Julie Getting Married?

Oh yes, you read that right.  I made plans to get married.  I haven't heard from the groom in a while.  Years, actually.  The last time we talked in person, though, that was the plan.  Confused?  I was too, for a little while.  Sit back and let me tell you the long, long story of how I became estranged from my Mr. Right.

Scene 1
Setting: Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Missouri 
Year: 1995

I met him during my sophomore year in college.  I was 18.  He was handsome.  He had big muscles.  At 18, you kind of always go after handsome with big muscles.  He played basketball.  I was a cheerleader.  He grew up in Germany with missionary parents.  I took German in high school while living in New Zealand with my missionary parents.  We were meant to be.  After one "date" he decided that he didn't want to go out with me. (I think we hung out one afternoon and he kissed me.... yes, on the first date.  Don't judge.  Remember that whole speck/plank thing?)  So, I was momentarily broken hearted until I found out that he had other girls he was hanging out with (and kissing) all at the same time.  In fact, I forged a friendship with a couple of the girls he had kissed, and we bonded over our mutual misfortune of having fallen for him.  I also became good friends with his sister, and we spent plenty of time together so that I didn't really even miss him.  I moved on.

Scene 2
Setting: Nashville, Tennessee
Year: 2000

I was teaching at a private school, living my life when my brother told me that this blast from my past was going to be at a missions conference at my brother's church.  My brother and I shared an apartment, but we attended different churches.  So my Mr. Germany was coming to town.  I had mixed emotions, but I made plans to attend the meeting where he would be preaching.  I went.  He preached.  He was still handsome, still muscular, and still single. The following three weeks were kind of a blur.  He stayed in town for a week or so, and he made his intentions clear.  After the first few days of flirting, he starting talking about serious things.  Marriage.  Mission fields.  I was skeptical.  He had broken my heart (however slightly) 5 years before.  I wasn't sure if he could be trusted.  He told me that he had some meetings to preach in Florida and would be gone for two weeks, but he was going to use Nashville as a temporary home base and would be back.  And so he went.  And so I waited.  I didn't hear from him much while he was gone, but after two weeks he flew back and I happily picked him up at the airport.  Then he started talking details.  He was on furlough so he had churches to visit.  The plan was, though, that he would be back to Tennessee in November (this was September) and he wanted me to fly back with him afterward to his sending church in Texas and meet his pastor.  Then at Christmas, I would go to Germany with him to see if I liked it.  We would go from there.  He left me with the appropriate sentiment of two people in a serious relationship.  Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged, and he drove away to California to return a car he had borrowed for his furlough.  

I never heard from him again.  I called his cell phone, and he never answered.  I left voicemail and got no response.  I emailed but got nothing.  They always say that no news is good news.  Probably not when you are planning to marry someone.  

Thankfully, I had been guarded a little to begin with.  I was surprised but not devastated.  I didn't waste any time looking at Bride's magazines and picking out honeymoon locations.  

He is now my Facebook friend.  He didn't have the decency to officially dump me, but he did accept my virtual friend request.  If he were an active Facebooker, I would harass him endlessly about our upcoming nuptials.  After all, if an engagement plan is never called off, isn't it still an engagement plan?  I would pick out flower arrangements and post them on his wall for his approval.  I would ask if he wants to wear a black suit or a tuxedo.  I would send him invitation samples and ask how to spell his parents' names, just to make sure I get it right on the final printing.  We would definitely have German chocolate cake as the groom's cake.  I mean, it only makes sense, right?  

I don't waste time thinking about it.  I am not sad or angry or bitter.  It gave me a fun story to tell you.  But really, if any of you that known him ever talk to Mr. Germany, could you please tell him to call his fiance?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Three Chords and the Truth

I have awesome parents.  While other kids might have lived in a house with a piano, we lived in a house where banging on the piano was encouraged.  My dad played, and we were allowed to sit down at any time and try our hand at it.  I learned to pick out the melody of songs at an early age.  Eventually, I learned how to add chords with my left hand, and I could play identifiable songs.  I learned that if you play in C, you will also be playing in F and G and maybe Am and Dm.  G came with C and D.  Three chords.  Easy stuff.  I listened to records to try to replicate what I heard.  Those hours of banging on the family piano paid off.  I am by no means a great musician, but I can play the piano and I have my parents to thank.

My dad always wrote songs.  He would take classic country songs and change the words to tell Bible stories or to tell of church life.  "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" became the story of Goliath and Eutychus.  "The Battle of New Orleans" became a song about Jonah.  "King of the Road" was renamed "King of the Church" and tells about the man found in most every church that feels like he owns it.    I grew up thinking that it was normal for people to write their own songs.  So when I was 8, I did it.

We were on deputation somewhere in Texas.  My sister Kari and I sat down at the piano at a little church, and we began to make up words and a tune.  We used Christian lines and cliches and pieced together a masterpiece of a song.  "Why Did You Die?".  It was a song about Jesus, not a morbid song about an unexpected death. We took it to our dad, and we sang it for him.  Apparently, he liked it enough to allow us to sing it in church.  We only sang it once, but it was a proud moment.  We had written our first song.

For whatever reason, song writing didn't stick with me then.  It's a good thing because in retrospect, that first song was terrible.  I am sure we would have just created embarrassing memories.  But when I was 23, I got my heart broken.  Really broken.  I had just lost my job, and I consoled myself by dating someone who was all wrong for me.  And eventually, he figured it out and took off to Florida (giving me no notice) to live with an ex-girlfriend.  It was a sad day.  But I lived in Nashville.  And when you live in Nashville, you learn very quickly that a sad experience can easily be turned into a sad song.  So I did it.  I bought a guitar, learned to play it, and I wrote my first sad country song.  

That was ten years ago, and I have added to my collection of songs.  They are not all sad, and thankfully, they are not all country.  I have grown and changed and so has the music that I write.  It's been a while now since I have written anything.  I was beginning to think that the shallow well of mediocre songs had run dry.  But alas, it has not.  A week ago, my dad read something from Isaiah 30, and it got stuck in my head.  I came home, took out my guitar, and I quickly finished two verses of a song that I could be proud of.  Two nights ago, I took out my Bible and my guitar, and I wrote a bridge.  Done and done.  Song is finished.  What will I do now?  I don't know.  Sing it at home.  Play it after I do my Bible study for the day.  Play it at an open mic night.  I don't write songs to be famous.  I write songs because they are there in my head, and they have to get out.  I write songs because I had great parents that told me I could.  And I occasionally write songs to get back at ex-boyfriends who leave me for a sleazy girl that lives in Florida (and eventually gets dumped by the girl and gets exactly what he deserves).  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You are such a Dorcas Tucker

When my sister Ashlae was just a toddler, she learned a very bad word.  It's the kind of word that still makes me cringe even today.  I hate it.  It's a racist word, and honestly, I have no idea where she learned it.  I just know that if she was out in public and got angry at one of us, we could be assured that the offending word was going to come out of her mouth.  Loudly.  This word is not acceptable anywhere, but in Houston, Texas, it was especially dangerous.  We came up with a creative solution.  We taught Ashlae that the word "person" was a bad word.  She quickly made the switch, ditching the truly bad word and calling us a "person" every time we upset her.
Name-calling was not allowed in our house.  I am sure we did our share of it behind our parents' backs.  With six kids in a family, name-calling is bound to happen.  After watching the movie Annie, we started calling each other pig droppings, and my mother eventually banned us from watching it.   (Pig droppings is kind of a hilarious thing to say)  We were smart, though.  We kept little bribes up our sleeves, and we would negotiate our way out of situations when a sibling threatened to tattle.  Stupid idiot, I believe, was my favorite thing to say.  It kind of still is.  Drive with me, and you will find out.
But somewhere along the way, we latched onto funny names of real, actual people and adopted them as names to call one another.  A particularly annoying pastor's kid named Esther became "Pesty Esty", and it became the thing to call a sibling that was being irritating.  My Mom worked with a woman named Dorcas Tucker, God bless the poor woman.  We loved this name so much that we still use it to refer to anyone that is weird.  I am sure that Dorcas would be devastated if she knew how often we have used her name in vain.  Let's hope she doesn't read my blog.  A missionary's wife named Roxy became "Foxy Roxy" (the last name was always included, but has been omitted for privacy purposes.  It did, however, go splendidly with the whole thing, making it extra fun to say)  That name was mostly reserved for women with huge hair.  Senorita Sexy Pants was another great name we gave to a rather bosomy church lady, despite the fact that she was not Hispanic and her pants were never all that sexy.  It became the name for anyone overdressed and overdone. 
I think I have outgrown my name calling days.  (Unless, as I mentioned, I am driving)  I haven't called anyone a Pesty Esty in, oh, probably 25 years.  I haven't even thought of Foxy Roxy in probably 15 years, until my mom brought her up today.  My mother assures me that these things make our family fun, not weird.  That's a mother talking, though.  She loves us, even if we are Dorcas Tuckers from time to time.  So the moral of this story is... well, nothing.  There is no moral, no real point.  But if my sister Ashlae ever calls you a person, just know you have made her really, really mad.  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I can't relate to people who have lived in the same town their whole lives.  It is the plight of the missionary kid, I suppose, to feel like you have multiple homes, but you are never quite at home in any of them.  By the time I was a teenager, I had moved more than most people move in a lifetime.  I changed schools, homes, friends, continents.  I should be used to change.  You would think that it would be second nature, but I still hate it.  I know it's good and helpful and can bring about better things, but I still don't like it.

If you could take a snapshot of my life four years ago, and compare it to what it looks like right now, there would be little to no resemblance.  Four years ago I was married with five kids (four nephews and a stepdaughter).  I was a second grade teacher.  I was about 12 pounds lighter.  I had longer hair.  I lived in Tennessee.  I had a tiny little house that was filled with school uniforms, legos, and children's books.  I did at least two loads of laundry a day.  I would have given my right arm for a few hours to myself with nothing to do.  Now I live in Texas.  I am in a tiny little apartment that is filled with books, musical instruments, and my latest estate sale finds.  I rarely do laundry, and I get away with it just fine.  I have endless amounts of time to myself, and I would give my right arm for someone to be responsible for.  

The thing about life is that once you adjust to one change, something else changes and then you must adjust to the new one.  I was mostly adjusted to single life in Texas when I met Tim.  Then we started dating and I adjusted to that.  And now, a year later, we are no longer dating and I am readjusting to single life in Texas. It just keeps going.  My routine of hanging out on Tuesdays and Saturdays has been thrown off.  Today I had no idea what to do with myself after I was finished working at the church.  Normally, I would meet Tim for lunch, and then we would go find something interesting to do.   Thankfully, I only had a few hours to fill today before going to a family dinner, but you know what?  Next Tuesday and Saturday are already out there waiting for me.  They will have hours in them that need to be filled with activity.  You know what else?  I will find a way to fill them.  I will figure something out.  I will not console myself with Ben and Jerry's because I have a Weight Watchers goal that I have to meet.  I will play music and I will write some sad songs.  Break-ups are good for that at least.  And I will go to the gym.  I have been neglecting that.  I will drive to Fort Worth and play music on the cold street corner with my little brother.  We have been talking about that for a while.  I will find someone else to attend the Weepies concert with me.  I will take the trip to Tennessee that I have been planning.  I will fly to Orlando to see my best bud.  I will pray, and I will read my Bible even if I don't feel like it.  At all.  And tonight, I will get an extra hour of sleep, because even though most change is not easy, it is not always bad.      

Monday, November 1, 2010

Biscuits, Jello, and Corn Cob Babies or Why You Should Call Your Grandmother

My MaMa (pronounced Maw maw, but apparently, we are too refined to spell it that way) has been sick.  Last Sunday, she suffered what turned out to be a mild heart attack, although any heart attack at 88 seems like it should not be paired with the word "mild".  Over the last week, she has been sad and then deliriously happy and then back to sad again.  She can barely hear, so she accuses the nurses of being unfriendly and of not answering her questions.  She can't seem to get a handle on the time and date so she has been ready for bed at 10 a.m. and talking about how busy the weekend must be, even though it was actually Thursday.  

My dad's mother, Kathryn Elizabeth O'Dell, is quite the storyteller, and because she grew up in what seems like another world, it's a good thing she is.  I have great memories of being piled up on her hide-a-bed with Craig and Kari and Jana and listening to her tell about the time she was washing underwear in a water bucket beside the well house and a pair of panties accidentally fell into the well.  Oh, I just hope she was finished washing them.  She told a story about two families in her neighborhood that traveled to see when the local black family had a baby.  They had never seen a black baby before and were just too curious.  She went to school in a one room schoolhouse through the eighth grade.  During the colder months, the boys would build fires in the little pot-bellied stove, and she would warm her shoes next to it.  Her dad cut logs to put over the creek so that she and her brothers could cross on the way to school, but wouldn't cross alone and depended on her brother Robert to help her across.  She picked cotton, did her homework on the back of bank calendars, used Sears and Roebuck catalog pages as toilet paper, and played with corn cob baby dolls, baptizing them into the family of God in the animal trough.

At seventeen she married a man she didn't know, secretly taught herself to drive while her husband worked and her young children played in the yard, and she has watched the world change into something she can't keep up with.  She has never used the internet, although I keep telling her that I will help her, if she wants.  She doesn't own an ipod and has never DVR'd anything.   She would watch the Game Show Network exclusively, I believe, although her favorite has always been Wheel of Fortune.   She makes great homemade biscuits and yeast rolls, and when her grandkids were younger, she kept little gray Tupperware parfait cups of jello in her refrigerator.  Those were my favorite.  

She is the only grandparent I have left, and I am sad that my kids probably won't know her.  She will be eighty-nine in December, and though she is mostly healthy, she has been talking about it being her "turn" to go for years.  Right now she is sitting in a rehab facility waiting to regain a little strength so that she will be able to return to my parents' house, where she lives.  I am going to go visit her in a little while.  I might take my guitar, and if it won't wake up her roommate, I might play something.  I don't know how much longer she will be this alert, this healthy, and this alive.  So I will take advantage of it.  If you are lucky enough to have grandparents here on the earth, I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Charmed, I'm sure

I have a little piano I wear on my arm.  And a tiny Hawaiian pineapple.  And a princess crown.  Seems like a strange place for them, I know.  They make noise when I wear them.  They sing a little jangling song when I move my arm.  They are very disruptive during church invitations.  The occasionally snag my favorite sweaters.  But I forgive them and let them stay.  The piano and the pineapple and the crown are joined by others. There are hearts and a silver fern and a palm tree, all reminders of places I have been and things I have loved and people I have loved even more.  

The state of Texas hangs there to remind me of where I come from and the reason for my love of big hair.  There is a sand dollar that speaks to being home in Corpus Christi, Texas, and walking along the beach with one of my favorite high school friends.  There is a little silvery pagoda that brings back memories of my two month adventure in China, of playing Chinese jumprope with kids that I could not understand and trying to sample their seaweed snack offerings without gagging.  I think of walking at night through the village of Baisha, watching the families relax on the grass in the center of town.  Motorcycle taxis, pirated DVDs, tai chi, water buffalo, and cashew chicken.  I can't think of China without thinking of cashew chicken. 

There is a tiny little cheerleader with her pom pons in the air.  I don't care that I haven't been a cheerleader since 1997.  You can mock cheerleaders if you want, but I loved cheering.  I would be a cheerleader still if it were a respectable, grown-up thing to do (and if I still had the legs for it).  I have a little flag that has "Chicago" stamped across the top, a reminder of two of the funnest trips ever and three of my most fabulous friends ever.  It makes me miss the city and the friends. One of my favorites, and the oldest of the group, is a little wood burning stove that an 8-year-old me chose as a souvenir from the Alamo.  I have no recollection of the logic behind that choice.  I have nine hearts that were original, and I believe were supposed to hang alone, before I went places and did things that required remembering.  There is an ichthus with a cross inside that reminds me of who I am and why I am.  

I don't wear it that often.  After all, sweaters are valuable, and I try to keep my church service disruption to a minimum.  But sometimes I do wear it.  There is not much space left, but I intend to keep adding to it until it fills right up.  It reminds me that I have been places, and I have done things.  I have loved and I have been loved back.  And if I were to die today (and Lord knows I hope I don't) I would say that I lived well.  Don't believe me?  I have the charm bracelet to prove it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oil slicks and Aqua Net- My Year as a Misfit.

In 1988, I wanted my middle name to be Alyssa.  Thank you, Who's the Boss.  I had a massive crush on Kirk Cameron, going so far as to make my own Kirk Cameron stickers with tiny pictures I cut out of the TV Guide.  I wasn't allowed to shave my legs until I turned 12, so for most of sixth grade I wore really long culottes to cover them up, as if wearing really long culottes was cooler than hairy legs.  I spent my spare time playing the DOS version of Wheel of Fortune on the school's computer.  I had been out of the country for several years so I was completely out of touch with American culture.  I wasn't allowed to wear makeup.  I didn't know what the cool kids were doing.  I didn't even know that I wasn't one of the cool kids.  I was a sight.  Sixth grade was the peak of my ugly stage.  My social, emotional, and physical roads all converged at the height of their weirdness.  Maybe this happens for everyone, but I know for sure it happened for me that year.

We returned to the United States from New Zealand on July 18, 1988.  I was so happy to be home.  Oreo cookies, M&M's, and Taco Bell bean burritos were the things I remember missing specifically.  I mean, family and friends, and all that, too.  But seriously, I missed the food.  I don't know what happened that we missed the first week or so of school, but somewhere in late August, our family of 7 (with one on the way) landed in Texas City, Texas.  Our temporary home was a 32' Salem travel trailer, with teeny little closets and bunk beds in the back.  A church in Texas City, which also housed a school, invited us to park our trailer next to the church, a full-time parking place for our temporary home.  So if all of my personal quirks weren't enough to alienate me from my peers, the sight of my singing gypsy family showing up a week late for school in our travel trailer would do the trick.  Most of my clothes were still in New Zealand, and I remember going with my mom to Weiner's (a terribly named clothing store that you have probably never heard of if you are not from Houston, Texas) and buying one denim skirt and two shirts for school.  And so I started sixth grade.  

I noticed that most of the girls had perms and really huge bangs.  Not me.  My hair was long and straight and pulled back tight with a barrette and securely sprayed with Aqua Net.  One of the older boys told my brother that I looked like I fell in an oil slick on my way to school.  Thankfully, I didn't learn this until years later.  (But really, Paul Campbell, that was a jerk face thing to say about an 11 year old)  Despite my awkwardness and bad hair, I made friends.  I didn't excel in looks or fashion, but I was smart.  I worked really hard to make good grades.  I was innovative.  When the school wouldn't buy uniforms to have Junior Varsity cheerleaders, I asked my mom to make us spirit sweatshirts with puff paint bear paws on the front.  I was living the American sixth grade dream, whatever that is.
Then came school picture time.  This is the time of year when everything that you are during a certain grade is captured for all to see.  I don't even know if I knew it was picture day.  Probably not.  On the weekends, our family traveled and reported back to our supporting churches, and we often got home late on Sunday nights, making it difficult to keep things together school-wise.  I am almost positive that picture day fell on a Monday.  I cried when I got my pictures back.  My parents paid for them,  I brought them home in my backpack, and there they stayed until I found a good place to hide them.  I think it was the first time that I saw myself and actually compared myself to other people.  I was ugly.  The white envelope from Gibby's Photography was sealed in 1988, and was not opened until last night.  I dug it out and opened it up.  I didn't see what I saw in 1988.  I saw a regular little girl.  Yes, I looked like I was missing a few teeth, my hair was frizzy, and I have what appears to be a large blemish on my right cheek.  But who cares?  I was only 11. 

That was the year that I learned to wear makeup.  I finally was allowed to shave my legs.  I cut my bangs and learned the fine art of teasing.  I got over Kirk Cameron and transferred my affections to sweet, baby-faced Joey McIntyre.  The end of the school year brought a class water balloon fight, where I proudly wore my knee-length yellow shorts to show off my hair free legs.  My favorite part and the culmination of a year's worth of hard work, though, was the school awards banquet.  My mother sewed a teal taffeta dress for me that I paired with teal pumps.  I had huge 80's bangs and a side ponytail.  Topping off my transformation was the award that I received that night- I had earned the highest grade average in the whole school.  97.9, the highest in all of Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This was a huge deal for this dorky little home-schooled missionary kid.  It was a big night. 

Given the choice between smart and pretty, I will always choose smart.  But on this one magical night in Texas City, Texas, wearing a wrist corsage, white pantyhose, and a smile so big that you could barely see my eyes, I got to be both.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Watch Star Wars, I will

*I realize that I am starting most blogs with random fact about myself.  I promise to change things up but not today.  Bear with me, please.

I have never seen Star Wars.  Practically every boy that I have dated swears that he will be the one to cure me of this.  Guess what?  I win.  Still never seen it, and I clasp my hands together and shake them in the air from side to side in victory, like it matters.   I also missed E.T., Ghostbusters, Stand by Me, and Nightmare on Elm Street.    There are movies that I didn't see back then but caught up with later in life... When Harry Met Sally, Big, Rainman, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  What was I doing in the 70's and 80's? Um, being not born, then being a baby, then not having a television, then being a missionary kid and being a dork.  (Those last two go hand in hand, I believe)  I think that sums it up.

Then came Netflix.  Actually, then came VCR's, home computers, dial up internet service, broadband, and then netflix.  But eventually, there was Netflix.  Never would I have imagined that I would be able turn on my television and choose from thousands of movie titles and tv shows for only $9 a month.  So, for an exciting change of pace, I will share with you my top five favorite movies that I can think of right now.  (I add this because I am sure that after I write this, I will hate this list and think of others that should be on it)  I know, you are so thrilled.  Go ahead, get out your pen and paper and write these down. 

1. Life is Beautiful- I want to tell you that this movie is in Italian.  Even if you hate subtitles, see the Italian version.  There is an English version which is just horrible, the English voice has a sad little Italian accent, and of course the lips and voices are doing different things.  Horrible.  Don't do it.  I will also tell you that for the first 30-45 minutes of this movie, you might hate it.  You might hate me, but stick with it.  It's a beautiful story about a Jewish father who protects his son from the truth of work camps.  I cry every time I watch it.  I promise that you will want to tell everyone you know about this movie.

2. Pride and Prejudice, the 6 hour BBC version.  I am sorry.  I am just a girl who loves Colin Firth, even though the picture of him from some awards show with a teeny little mustache was just creepy.  I watched this before I read the book.  I was not a Jane Austen fan when I started.  I am now.  And a 6 hour movie might seem insane, but it was originally a mini-series so it's broken up reasonable well.  Jennifer Ehle is a perfect Elizabeth Bennett.  She makes Keira Knightley's Pride and Prejudice performance look like amateur hour. 

3. I am Sam.  This might be one of the best sad movies I have ever seen.  And Beatles covers by Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Harper, and the Wallflowers.  Throw in Dakota Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer... what's not to love?

4. The Incredibles.  Yes, I said the Incredibles.  We bought this for my nephews when they were living with me, and I have seen this movie a million times.  In fact, for a 12 month period, Cameron assigned each family member an Incredibles character.  Of course, they had to double up because they all wanted to be Dash.  Baby Cody didn't care that he had to be Jack-Jack.  My step-daughter Lindi was Violet.  I, of course, was Elastigirl.  So maybe I love it because it reminds me of being a mother.  Or maybe it reminds me of my inner superhero.  Either way, it's equally entertaining for kids and adults, and it belongs on the list.

5. That Thing You Do.  Do not judge me here.  I love the Oh-nee-ders.  And the Wonders.  Matching suits, catchy music, Liv Tyler's outfits, Steve Zahn, and Tom Hanks.  I would love Tom Hanks if he filmed a movie reading cookbooks or dictionaries.  (I do hope he never stoops to doing this) So if the name Cap'n Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters doesn't ring a bell for you, you should watch this movie.

I never claimed to have stellar taste in movies.  Music, I definitely claim stellar taste.  Movies, probably not so much.  I blame the fact that my formative years were virtually movie-free.  And our bonus feature is a short list of movies that I am embarrassed to love.

1. Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
2. 13 Going on 30
3. Beaches
4. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
5. While You Were Sleeping

Thank you for reading.  Be sure to check back later for more useless information about me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dancing in the Minefields

I was married once.  Most people know this, but it's fun to reconnect with college friends on Facebook and watch as they try to piece together the story without coming right out and asking.  Of course, people think it's rude to ask, but I am kind of open book.  I don't mind at all.  I got married almost exactly 7 years ago.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  I got married outside on a 70 degree day in October with beautiful blue skies, even though they called for rain.  I had a bounce house and a cotton candy machine and blackberry pie and a bluegrass band, and I was happy.  Wedding days should be happy. Let me tell you, though, that weddings are more fun than marriages.  Nobody really tells you that ahead of time.  No one tells you that once you are married, it is possible to feel hatred for your husband to the same degree that you once felt love.  People say that marriage is work, but they don't tell you that it's work that you often don't feel like doing.  We aren't properly warned, and maybe there is a reason for that.  Maybe if we had any idea how much work it was going to take, we wouldn't dream of saying "I do".  I think that maybe the reason I was so happy on that bright October day is that I didn't know what was coming.

I got married for lots of reasons.  I was 26, which seemed like a responsible age to be married.  I had dated enough to know what I didn't want.  I wanted kids.  He was a nice guy.  He was handsome.  He knew how to fix things that boys are supposed to know how to fix.  He had a spiritual sensitivity that made up for what he lacked in spiritual maturity.  He was financially responsible and secure.  He had a daughter and was a loving, involved parent.  It seemed like the right thing and the right time.  I was going to be a wonderful wife, and he was going to be a fabulous husband.  We were destined to be happy.

What I didn't know, though, was that marriage is sort of like a flashlight that reveals the damage from a sin nature and a lifetime of hurts.  It shines on your ugliest tendencies and habits and emotions, and little by little, the cracks and flaws began to show.  He wasn't a fabulous husband all the time, and I certainly wasn't a wonderful wife.  I realized that I was far more selfish than I ever believed.  I discovered that I was quick to anger.  I could say hurtful things with little to no provocation.  I had lived my whole life believing that I was a nice person, that I was good in relationships, that I could communicate effectively.  Then I got married and learned that I was wrong.  Every wound, every hurt, every insecurity I carried into the marriage lay in wait to be triggered.  Once they were triggered, well... love really was a battlefield.  

In the end, both of us were to blame.  Anyone who places full blame for a divorce on the other person is either lying or delusional.  After 5 1/2 years of trying to make it work, though sometimes one-sided and sometimes half-hearted, we divorced.  I still fight the feeling that I am a failure.  I still get a little sad when I think about the promise that we chose not to keep.

If the chance to get married ever comes around again, I have an idea of what I am getting into.  I am smarter.  I am more realistic.  I have identified some of those flaws, and God has healed so many of my broken places.  I know there are more, and I will wait patiently as he fixes those, too.  I do believe that I will have another one of those happiest days of my life.  I will do without the bounce houses and the bluegrass band.  I will definitely buy another overpriced white dress.  I will pay whatever it costs to hire a great photographer.  I will fold a thousand Japanese origami birds because I think they are so cute.  More important, though, I will work to give a soft answer.  I will say that I am sorry, even when I don't feel sorry.  I will practice James 1:19 and maybe have it tattooed on my arm.  (Don't worry, Mom, I am not really going to get a tattoo)  As difficult as it was, if God is willing, I will do it again.  I will go dancing in the minefields.  I am not afraid.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Cheesecake and Hankies and Blog Titles... my life of crime and thievery.

I have never liked life on the edge.  I remember having friends in middle school that would steal popsicles ("ice blocks" in New Zealand) to see if they could get away with it.  No way.  Not me.  Not because I am an angel, but because the thought of being caught and punished scared me to death.  Even so, one of the most embarrassing stories (and most often repeated) of my childhood is the stolen cheesecake story.  I have always hated the cheesecake story, but honestly, as the years have passed, it has lost its power.  People hear it and shrug their shoulders.  That's because they didn't know 11 year old me.  11 year old me and 33 year old me are nothing alike.  11 year old me was awkward and shy.  I promise I was shy.  The only people who ever believe that I was once shy are the people who were there to see it.  Here it is, though, in all it's glory.  Friends, I present to you the Cheesecake Story.

I don't know how I got invited.  My brother Craig, my sister Kari, and her best friend Rachel were going.  I think we had to have an adult with us, and so Rachel's mother, Mrs. Rolston, went too.  The plan was to take a coffee cruise on the Lakeland Queen, a boat that toured around Lake Rotorua.  I felt very grown up to be included in these plans.  I dressed in my pink skirt, white shirt, and yellow suspenders, and headed out for a day of fun.  I remember most of the details of this day vividly.  We boarded the boat, and Craig took out his camera to take pictures.  Craig was always taking pictures.  I modeled and smiled and gave my best far off look.  After the picture taking, we went downstairs for coffee.  This was the coffee cruise, the discounted one hour cruise.  There was coffee and scones and cheesecake.  I love cheesecake.  As Craig was helping himself to the coffee and scones, I grabbed some cheesecake and went to sit down. When I sat at our table, Kari's eyes got really big, and she informed me that the cheesecake was not included in our ticket price.  I was 11.  I had no money.  I don't think I had even paid for my own discounted fare.  I wanted to throw up.  I had just stolen a piece of cheesecake.  I had to think fast, so I pretended that I didn't want it anyway.  Let me insert here that my sister Kari thought this was hilarious.  She made a much bigger deal out of it than was necessary, and she is certainly the most common repeater of this story.  Craig took the stolen cheesecake to the server and told him I didn't know that it wasn't free and then it was over.  End of story, right?  Nope.  I spent the rest of the cruise with my head resting on the table, pretending to have a stomachache and on the verge of tears.  But that wasn't my first accidental theft.

My first accidental theft was maybe a year before the cheesecake incident.  My mom and I were in a department store, and my mom asked me to hold something for her.  To the best of my recollection, it was a package of handkerchiefs.  I asked my mother and she doesn't even remember the incident so there is no one to argue with me.  It was handkerchiefs.  Anyway, I held them as she shopped.  Then we left, and I still held them.  Halfway down the street, I realized that I was still holding the handkerchiefs.  I was a thief.  Different story, same ending.  I wanted to throw up and cry.  My siblings laughed and wanted to tell everyone they knew.

Yesterday, I logged into Facebook, and I saw that a friend had written a new blog.  This friend is one of the funniest friends I have.  She is such a creative, relatable writer.  She makes the most mundane things entertaining.  I read her latest blog, and then looked to the left to see comments that people had made.  That's when I saw it.  It said "Comments for Where My Girls At", and for a split second, I was 11 again.  I had stolen her blog title and not even realized it.  For a brief moment, I was afraid to click on it, fearing that I had ripped off her title and maybe even her whole blog entry.  What if the whole blog that I thought was mine was really just hers, rewritten with my own personal details?  But thank heavens, I am 33, and so 33 year old me clicked on it to find that the content was completely different.  So I laughed out loud at my unintentional thievery and sent her a message to thank her for the borrowed title.  It also gave me something to write about today, so thanks, Caryn Grey Thexton, for being creative and copy-worthy.  If my next blog is about having a Bob Mackie Barbie, and marrying a guy named Larry, you can sue me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weight Watcher's Biggest Loser

Since January of 2007, I have probably lost a total of 50 pounds on Weight Watchers, maybe more.  For six months, I counted, calculated, and measured every little thing that went into my mouth, and I lost 16 pounds to get me to my goal weight.  I was so excited.  My clothes fit again, and I didn't feel gross.  Then I went through a divorce and gained that back.  Then I moved to Texas.  For those of you who do not live here, let me tell you this.  For all that Texas lacks in changing seasons, mountaintop views, and humility, we do have the best Mexican food on the planet.  (Hey, I told you we lacked humility)  Handmade tortillas, cheesy enchiladas covered in chili sauce, and the best chips and salsa anywhere.  So I gained some more.  And for the two years that I have lived here, I have joined and rejoined Weight Watchers probably 6 times.  The check-in ladies know my name.  They have watched as I have gained and lost the same 9 pounds over and over again.  They are always encouraging, but I am waiting for the day that they tell me to give, that my current weight is fine.  Some day, they will refuse to take my money or let me weigh in.    

It's Monday morning, though.  Monday is the miniature New Year's Day.  Everything could change this week.  There is so much possibility in the next 7 days.  This could be the week where I finally decide to make use of the unused electronic food scale sitting on my kitchen counter.  I might have salads for lunch and actually go to the gym.  I could cook every meal at home and not have dessert.  I might skip Starbucks, and go for a walk instead.  I might end this week 3 pounds lighter than I started.  C'mon, girls.  It's Monday.  Who's with me? 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Dinner on the Ground Diaries

Children have more taste buds than adults.  Did you know this?  This information makes me want to rewind to 1984, to Houston, Texas.  I would rewind to a scene of a Sunday afternoon, standing in a musty fellowship hall, staring at rows of tables covered with olive green and burnt orange Pyrex bakeware.  More than once, I got the motherly arm grab for turning up my nose at something that didn't look appetizing.  You know the grab.  The one that makes you want to yell "Ouch! That hurt!", but you know better than to yell that because you did it once and it didn't work out so well for you.  But if I could rewind to 1984, I would tell my mother about the taste bud thing because I feel certain that we didn't have such information back then.  Truthfully, I think I would tell the old ladies in our church first.  My mother was a great cook.  The old ladies?  Not so much.  Tuna casserole, broccoli and cheese casserole, green bean casserole, enchilada casserole.  Enough casserole to feed an army.  Or a Baptist church. 

In the South, we called this "Dinner on the Ground", not "Grounds", although I am certain we were just mispronouncing it.  In 1984 it made sense to me.  Sometimes, when there were not enough tables and chairs, I would get together with my siblings and friends and go outside and we would sit on the ground, working hard to keep our macaroni and cheese and fried chicken legs on the flimsy paper plate that we balanced on our knees.  Everywhere else in the United States, though, people were calling these events Potluck Dinners.  The concept was and is the same, though.  Jell-o salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, and the aforementioned plethora of casseroles.  

For the most part, I hated these dinners.  Hated.  Sometimes, though, I would get lucky.  Sometimes a nice church member would consider my childlike taste buds, and they would bring macaroni and cheese.  Not the homemade kind with the cold, curdle-y, lumpy cheese.  Ugh.  Even now that makes me gag a little.  Nope, I wanted the kind with the fake cheese.  It was smooth, creamy, cheesy, and unnaturally orange, and I loved it.  Of course, there was also the dessert table.  I always passed up the weird green jell-o salad that looked delicious and marshmallowy but was filled with pistachios.  I passed up anything covered with fruit.  I went straight for the chocolate.  Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, chocolate cake.  And the best part?  My parents were never watching to see how much of my dinner I ate or how much dessert I consumed.  

This blog will be like those dinners.  Some days it will be cold green bean casserole and some days it might be chocolate pie with extra meringue, if you're into that sort of thing (and I am).  Some days you might get tired of the casseroles and you might bring your own suggestion to the table, or you might throw in some comments to get the conversation started another direction.  That's just fine.  We are family here.  The up side is, you will never find a hair in the food.  You will never have to worry about whether or not I licked the spoon while cooking.  I almost always do.  And you will never have to ask the person standing in line next to you "Who made this?", regarding a particularly unappealing dish.  But if today is a cold tuna casserole day, just promise that you will come back tomorrow.  Tomorrow might be better.  It might be store bought.  It might be Kraft cheese and macaroni.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where My Girls At?

I didn't know it until I entered college.  Funny how you can spend 17 years of your life and never know it.  During the fall of 1994, I started college and I discovered the truth.  I was not a girl's girl.  So while my female peers were traveling in jean-skirted herds to Wal-Mart, chapel, dinner at the cafeteria, Branson, etc., I was hanging out with boys.  It was fine by me.  I liked boys way better than I liked girls.  Boys were easier to get along with.  They weren't catty.  They didn't criticize my hair behind my back.  And sometimes, they would buy dinner.  Girls never did that.  This seemed like a great plan, mainly because I was 17 and ignorant.

The years after college introduced me to my first close girlfriends.  Don't get me wrong, I had girlfriends in college, but I wasn't yet to the point where I knew how much I needed them.  I wasn't that mature. But eventually I learned that all girls were not gossipy and hateful. Some were fun and friendly and honest and kept secrets.

Fast forward to 2004.  I had been married exactly 9 months.  No, 10 months.  I just did the math.  I have been telling people 9 months for years, and I have been lying.  Sorry about that.  I was starting a new job at Heritage and Hope Academy, teaching K4.  Three days before in-service started, I found out that I was going to be a mother.  Through a complicated family situation, my husband and I had agreed to take in my sister's little boys for a few months.  The day of in-service came, and I found myself seated between a foster parent raising five children and a mother of triplets.  These girls became my new BFF's.  They knew what it was like to get multiple children at once.  I instantly discovered the value of girl friends.

Four months turned into three years, and those years of my life were filled with baby formula, car seats, play dates, fish sticks, Happy Meal toys, and pediatrician appointments.  I had piles of dirty laundry. Sleeping past 7 a.m. on a Saturday was a luxury, and my girlfriends were invaluable.  When I couldn't get my two year old nephew to eat anything, they had the answers.  They told me about the best brands of generic diapers.  They gave potty training advice.  When my husband left me with four kids, the girls in my life were at my house helping me get school clothes ready and packing lunches.  They were delivering grocery store gift cards with encouraging notes attached.  They made casseroles and helped me clean my house.  They cried with me and prayed for me.  When my children went back to their mother and when my marriage fell apart, they were there with coffee and packing boxes and newspaper, helping me arrange my new life and grieve the loss of my old one.

With every life change, God has brought just the right girls into my life to speak the truth, to encourage, to walk with me.  Sometimes they live just down the road, but for the time being, He has most of them spread over the world.  It makes it a little difficult to have a cup of coffee and sit down and talk about life, but we find ways to do it.  We text, use Skype, Facebook, and take trips to see each other.  I know plenty about their lives, and they know about mine.  I see pictures of their babies, even if some of them have settled for having the four-legged, barking kind.  We pray for each other's families.  My girls are on Facebook, laughing at my dumb jokes.  They are overseas, raising a house full of  children.  They are across town, ready to meet for lunch and listen to my latest life drama.  They are in Washington, Indiana, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, and dozens of states in between.  And if you are one of them, I thank you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


(For the record, T.M.I. is one of my least favorite phrases ever)

Oscar Wilde said that you should never trust a woman that tells her real age, because if she tells that, she will tell anything.  I am 33.  And a half.  I weigh 142.2 pounds.  (And we all gasp for air)  I wear a size 6, and I can sometimes struggle into a size 4.  It's not pretty, though.  I have incredibly wide feet.  I recently started drooling in my sleep, something my future husband will surely enjoy.  Ask me how I am doing, I will probably answer you with my current life's problems.  Compliment my dress, and I will tell you that I got it from a thrift store for $3.99.  I haven't always been so honest, though.

I remember being 14 and playing Scrabble with my best friend Joanna.  Joanna's family had money.  Mine did not.  This Scrabble game was kind of the coolest... it was the Deluxe Scrabble game.  It had a plastic board with raised ridges around each tile space so that the fancy tiles settled in all still and motionless.  The board also sat on a little turntable so you didn't get a crick in your neck trying to plan your next move.  It was awesome.  I remember sitting at our kitchen table, though, with the game board on the table when I discovered it.  It, the thing that I thought would end my social life.  The little round sticker that would leave me friendless.  It was lime green and it clearly read $1.  The Deluxe Scrabble game had been purchased from a garage sale.  I was humiliated.  I thought quickly, reached down, and picked up the box, covering the sticker with my thumb.  I thought that if I moved quickly enough, I could move the box to the kitchen counter, retrieve the game without her seeing the sticker, and my reputation would be saved.  It didn't work.  She saw.  And she kindly said, "My parents sometimes shop at garage sales, too".  But they didn't.  There was not one garage sale-y thing about her family.  But she was being nice.  Me?  I was sick to my stomach the rest of the night.  I was certain that this thing, this one embarrassment, meant that I was less than her.  

But now I am grown up.  Semi grown up, anyway.  And I have learned the value of a dollar, especially one spent on a Deluxe Scrabble game.  They are selling on for about $200 right now.  I appreciate the fact that my parents were frugal, that they made the most of the money they had.  And I know that my struggle with my weight, my gray hair (I forgot to tell you that one before, but it's there), forgetting to tithe for several weeks until I owe God more than I have, my age, my singleness, and my honesty about them do not make me less than someone else.  My family problems are no secret.  I talk openly about them, and I hope they make me real and relatable.  I confessed something to a friend recently, and I was almost instantly sorry that I had.  I got little reaction from her, and I felt really weird and vulnerable.  Several weeks later, I found out that she was struggling with almost the exact same situation, and just didn't have the heart to tell me that night.  That's what relationships are about.  Openness and honesty.  Oh, I still have things I hide, and I will keep working towards transparency.  And there are people with whom I am less open, for various reasons, but my desire is to be authentic, to be real.  

And Joanna?  She is all grown up now, and she owns a store where she sells vintage furniture that she buys from thrift stores and garage sales.  So I guess all is well with the world.   


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