Monday, July 27, 2015

Like Little Children

The house was full, all our daughters (all eight, Steve’s four and my four) and most of their husbands and boyfriends arrived. Our home is too small to accommodate everyone in one room comfortably, so they spilled outside to the yard and the front porch.

Steve filled our fire pit with dry grayed wood and started the fire for s’mores; we waited for the fire to burn down to slow embers—marshmallow roasting coals. The fireflies blinked yellow blurs of light all over the yard. The vocal cicadas filled the evening with their loud voices. And my grandsons wanted me to play.

“Run, Noni, Run!” Elijah and Judah cried. Their grins wide, eyes alight, and expectancy beamed in their faces. And of course, I ran. Barefoot I circled and zig-zagged, and these little boys chased me. Their bursts of laughter only fed my energy, nourished the grandmother soul of me. Even while running I felt the joy bubble up in me.

Elijah plopped down in the grass. I asked him if he was tired, and he explained that he just needed to rest a minute. Just for a minute he clarified. I joined him, and Judah joined us. The rest didn’t last long. Little boy batteries recharge must faster than older women batteries! We were up again running through the rain grown grass. Certainly running is not an everyday event for me, but it is a freeing thing to run uninhibited and unfiltered by pretension and protocol. Finally, this almost fifty-year-old Noni had to stop. Pulling air deep into my lungs, I forced it to go all the way down.

But little boy voices shouted, “Run, Noni. Do it again.” I told the boys Noni was out of breath.

And then…

Usually and thens come to us unplanned, unpracticed, and unexpected.

Elijah came to me, tapped me on the leg, looked up at me, and said, “Noni, are you out of breath?”

“I am Elijah. Wait just a second and let me get my breath, and then I’ll run with you again.”

I wish I had the ability to stop time, to hit rewind and reverse and replay. If I did, I would watch this moment over and over again.

Elijah pressed his little hand against his mouth and then lifted that hand to me.

“Here, Noni. You can have my breath.”

He peered up at me in such serious earnestness, so generous.

Elijah offered me his breath. This little almost-three-year-old boy saw my need and put his breath in his hand and offered it up to me. I took it, took this sweet offering from his little, upturned hand. This gesture prompted Judah to offer the same.

I stood in my backyard on a warm July night, fireflies glowing, fire beginning, frogs croaking, voices blurring, and I truly lost my breath—lost it right out of my lungs. No one prompted these words or this gesture from Elijah. No one told him to do this. I watched his mother's eyes puddle, stunned and proud. His aunt's heart swelled.

Elijah wanted to help Noni, so he offered what he had. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus tells us to be like little children. Friends, if we are going to inherit the kingdom of God, we must change and become like little children.

Elijah offered his breath to me out of love and concern and the eagerness to continue to play. The sweet concern on his face caused me to be undone, to melt. Elijah’s offer prompted Judah’s offer and isn’t that the way of the kingdom of God works? Or should? Didn’t Jesus call us to offer each other our breaths when we run short? Aren’t we to share from the reserve he has provided us and offer it to others?

I stood looking into my grandson’s eyes, and his offering filled me. The pureness of it inflated my lungs and renewed my energy. I inhaled, and the new breath filled my lungs to capacity. At that moment I honestly believe I could have run a marathon. I sprinted forward and looked over my shoulder. The boys followed. I ran just ahead of them; my vision blurred by tears and my ears filled with their exploding laughter.

Two thousand years ago God knew we were running too hard, too fast, and too long. He knew we were going to be out of breath. Through Jesus he came and gave us his breath—took it right from his mouth and gave it to us, that we might inhale and live.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Thirty-four Year Old Dream

Stories. I love narrative stories, and I have told them since I was a little girl. I never could just tell a simple story. Many of you are thinking, “She still can’t.”

When I was fifteen, I started writing freelance for our once-a-week county newspaper. My mother saved all of those articles. Each one clipped from the newspaper and folded to fit a scrapbook she kept for me (I didn’t know she did this until a few years ago). The spiral bound book is worn—tattered on the edges and pages askew. Full of memorabilia the book bulges in the middle. The faded newspapers are brown and brittle now, the creases white and fragile. I read the titles and memories flare and briefly rise. I recall the first time I saw my name printed in the by-line, surreal. I was elated.

Two of my last newspaper articles. "Run, Kate, Run" was my favorite.

When I look through this book, I am transported. I don’t’ remember much about the girl in the pages, some details are fuzzy, some evaporated in the heat of four decades of living. This scrapbook chronicles the outward girl—the measurable things, the counted and visible events: pageants, contests, and demonstrations. It houses the awards and accolades. My mother adhered these articles and certificates to the pages with scotch tape, gone brittle and yellow with the years.

With clarity and wonder, I recognize that even thirty-four years ago the words were there. Writing for the newspaper satisfied two needs in me: one for people and one for words. I loved them both. These two things mattered to me more than anything else. I didn’t know Jesus; I knew about religion, the rights and the wrongs and the rules. I hadn’t yet made a decision to become his follower. I was just a lost little girl trying to follow the passionate beat of my heart. 

Two of my Press badges from state 4-H events.
I didn't even remember this editor's note until writing this post. Fannin is my maiden name.

I went to college, and the writing changed. I poured all of my words into the channels of finals and research papers, always striving for the A or better. My college tests are in my mother’s scrapbook. Thin, blue, stapled, and lined booklets filled with my familiar cursive handwriting. By this time I was a believer, and my faith began to appear in my writing. This faith was yet to be refined, and I smile at my idealistic words and theology. I recognize the young girl, me, but I’m profoundly grateful she didn’t know what was coming.

Two of my blue book exams from a ministry class at Asbury University.

The summer between my junior and senior year of college I was an intern in a church outside of Boston. I arrived full of ideas to change the ministry, the world. The minister knew about my love for words, knew I loved to write. He explained that I only had two assignments to fulfil the requirements for the internship:  to get to know people in that small church, to see how God was visible in them, and write about it. I couldn’t believe it. What an assignment—everything I loved braided into one rope. People. Writing. Ministry. Recently, a precious friend emailed me the piece I wrote about her family. As I reread the story, I saw the young me sitting in a poorly lit basement hunched over a typewriter, typing and laboring to get the words and phrases right.  My friend kept this piece of my writing for thirty years.

The thirty year old writing piece.

There was a period after college when my writing fleshed out only in journaling. Page after page, journal after journal chronicling the inward shifts, upheavals, joys, births, avalanches, and valleys of my life. In them, I see the evolution of my writing. I detect the threads and patterns that would eventually lead to my style and voice.

In 2007, my life shifted. An inevitable earthquake trembled and tremored, and the landscape of my life cracked open—the geography of me and those around me forever changed. I knew I had to make sense of this time; there had to be a methodical venting of the gasses and steam released in my breaking. Once again words came to my aid. I decided to take a risk. The new forum for writers was the blog, and I opened up our antiquated desktop and navigated the setting up of a Blogspot all by myself. For seven years, this was my address, this is where I lived. Through The Chambered Nautilus Blogspot, God began to heal me, to fill in the caverns, ravines, and fissures left by the earthquakes in my life.

God is faithful. Utterly faithful. Ribboned and threaded through all those years of writing was a dream, a silent hope. I wanted to be a published author. I longed to have a publisher agree to press my words and the message of them between the front and back covers of a book. Psalm 38:9 says, "All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you." All through my life, God heard my sighing. He saw my longings, bare and naked. He saw, and he heard.

Soon this dream will come true. At the end of the summer, my first book will be published. God does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. This fruition of a dream does not look like my young na├»ve self envisioned. I didn’t know earthquakes and aftershocks would birth my first book. I didn't know the depth of healing that would come in the joy, the light, and the life of the writing of it. I just wrote. I did what I am called to do: love God, love people, and love words

I realize now that when I was fifteen, God was already moving and leading me in my giftedness. He was teaching me to embrace what he called me to do, even when I didn't know him. God always starts before we begin. Always. He's ahead of us stretching out the path, healing and teaching us through the very gifts he gives us. 

Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places will be published by WestBow Press in late August or September. This book is a revised compilation of my blog and new material. It is seven years worth of writing. It is the story of how God healed me, pressed down all the upheavals and filled in the faults. He used my family, my friends, and the words to create growing room for me. He used his Word and my words to form in me a narrative, a testimony to his presence. And He was present. He is ever present. Always. Never forsaking.  Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places is my evidence of his grace, of how his sweet grace permeated everything.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tying the Knot

In so many ways, it was a typical Sunday morning. Church and lunch, and a brief time of rest after both. But the day was anything but typical. We went home to change not into our Sunday afternoon napping, relaxing clothes, but into wedding clothes. On April 26th at 2 pm, I drove to our church to join the preparations for my daughter’s wedding.
There were no frenzied preparations. No last minute blunders. No jittery nerves. The atmosphere in the room was still and easy—like the slow rhythmic pace akin to the push and pull of a porch swing.  Nephews (my grandsons) were present eating lunches and snacks on folded-out chairs.
The bride-groom reveal was quiet and unassuming. I didn’t get to see it, but I heard the groom teared up when he saw his bride-to-be. When it was time the bride and the groom walked into the church and down the aisle together.


She held a smooth, silky white rope; he grasped a dark, rough hemp rope. They laughed as their hands turned and pulled—two knots forming to push against each other. Back to back. Shoulder to shoulder. When pulled, the knots would hold—fast. But a loop turned wrong, and her eyes flickered up to his in a trace of panic,
“That was wrong wasn’t it?” she asked.
He helped her redo, never commenting, never offering censure. They, my third daughter and her lumberjack man, tied the knot.
They tied a fisherman’s knot in the middle of their tying THE KNOT.  During their wedding, I watched them pull the ropes through the loops, and I envisioned God's grace moving through the ends and the outs. Over and across. God's mercy and grace and truth weaving the knots together--sturdy and strong against the silky smooth.
Olivia, Egyptian-like in her glimmering gold sheath, lifted her head to him. Eyes shimmering far more than her dress. Nolan, handsome and strong, gazed down drinking in the joy of her. They stood at the center of a full circle, every guest standing. We were close and near enough to hear the nuances and inflections of their voices. We leaned toward them to hear as they exchanged vows. We wanted to hear the traditional promise of fidelity of body and the commitment of exclusivity. We wanted to hear the I Do’s.
The decision and the resolve in their voices were sound, unshaken by nerves. And we, the guests,  leaned against each other—hands on backs and shoulders pressing. They exchanged their vows, words tailored and crafted for the other—intimate words, almost uncomfortably so. For a brief moment I felt I had barged in on a private conversation. But they wanted us privy. The two of these, our daughter and our son, wanted us to hear their quiet declarations.  This wedding unfolded with such ease, unrehearsed and effortless.
He attempted to speak first—the words stopped.  He began again, but the words lodged behind the trainwreck in his throat. And the lumps in our throats grew. He started three times, and then the words finally moved. He held my daughter’s gaze, and with such tenderness he promised to provide for her, to take care of her and never to make her drive a minivan. But then he said something we didn’t expect.
“We have learned that love is so much more than infatuation. It’s a choice, and I promise always to choose you.”
And we wept. Yes, we cry at weddings. Women leak, often and profuse. Those tears came from a different place than simply emotion.

We wept because we knew they understood the choosing of love. Love chooses—when life gets hard and the ropes pull, and the knots push against one another—it will be the choice made in and by love that will hold them. The knot of this choice will hold and steady Olivia and Nolan until the pressure of life’s circumstances releases.

Olivia reached for her words from me. I held out the narrow slips of paper marked and written in her round manuscript. She looked down at them and spoke. Choreographed words danced forward, soft and tranquil. Her words poured out like oil—anointing him. She too spoke of choosing, and she promised always to cook his eggs over easy.
The pastor, our friend, asked for the rings to seal what they exchanged—these covenants in the presence of witnesses, in the presence of God.

During the whole time, I watched them. Observed the glances and the looks passing through the space between them. I would notice it again later in the evening at the wedding supper. Across the space of a table, I sat diagonally from them in full view of their faces. This boy, this man I now call son, looked at my daughter like my husband looks at me. The other faces around me blurred; their voices muted as I unashamedly stared. Praise rose in my heart; prayer winged out over the heads of the others for her—for them. Lord, let her understand this “seeing”. Let her see the cherishing in this gaze, and may she feel the lavishness of its assurance always.

This gazing passed between them as they stood before us. We felt its gentle heat. The pastor looked at my new son-in-law and stated, “You may kiss your bride.”

Before their lips touched, Nolan’s hands cupped Olivia’s face, and our crying turned to laughter fueled by their radiant faces. We who stood around them knew we had witnessed something extraordinary. I glanced at the knotted ropes behind them. Laying tangled—a witness of the tying of two people, two families. Its knotted lengths now a testimony to the power of God’s enduring grace.

There will come days when the rope will put taut.

My prayer?

May they become one rope, one flesh. That with every pull and tightening of the ropes, Olivia and Nolan will be bound together more and more. Until one day their knots will mesh together—only the texture and color distinguishing the individual strands of which is which, who is who.