Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back in TX, full-hearted and thankful

If you notice such things, you might have noticed that I haven't written on here in two weeks. That's because Andy and I have been off on adventures for almost the entire month of March. It started with Andy heading to Ft. Bragg back at the beginning of the month for a course for the National Guard. I followed a few days later by way of I-20 and I-95.

It was beautiful driving through the deep South, everything had been drenched in rain days before, and the green was anxious to get out of its winter coat. I enjoyed seeing the red buds, Bradford Pears and daffodils as I drove through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. When I got to North Carolina, I remembered that the camellias were in bloom, so Andy and I went to the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens one Sunday afternoon to see the camellia garden.

This display was at the little cabin where they charge for admission. A cute way to display what's blooming while you're at the gardens.

This is a helebore. I've been really curious about them since reading about them in Better Homes and Gardens. They're sweet little flowers, but they hang down like they're crying, which seems a little sad for a harbinger of spring.

This is a bloom from a Saucer Magnolia. We call them Tulip Trees in the South. Andy liked these a lot.

And here come the camellias...

This camellia was grafted. If you look close, you'll see that half the bush is red and the other half is variegated.

Andy likes irises. ;)

My one request for the trip back home was that we get to spend some time near the ocean. So I was so thankful when Mrs. Haley offered us their cottage on the Pamlico River for the weekend. We spent some time exploring the Lake Mattamuskeet and the wildlife preserves nearby.

"You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey..."


Crab pots!

The Lodge at Lake Mattamuskeet

Wildlife trail at Mattamuskeet

This is St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bath, NC. It's NC's oldest church, built in 1734.

He was pierced for our transgressions.

Bath waterfront at sunset

Dogwoods trying to bloom. I bet they're gorgeous by now.

THREE boxes of delicious seafood leftovers from Fishooks in Belhaven. And we split the "Trawler"!

I wanted Andy to have a ferry ride before we left Coastal Carolina, but we learned the hard way that ferry's keep a tight schedule. We missed the Swan Quarter Ferry to Ocracoke Island, but rearranged our plans and drove down Hatteras Island instead. We eventually boarded the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry and Andy had a pretty good time feeding the seagulls.

But these pictures don't do justice to the great time of fellowship with family and friends we got to have. My mom had a big dinner in our honor, so to speak, and I got to see all my aunts and uncles and some of my cousins. And I got to spend time chatting and eating with all of my girlfriends back home. And then...

We got back to Austin Thursday night and turned right around and headed to Dallas for the BSF leader's retreat. We ended our long journey with a time of deep spiritual feeding, renewal, fellowship and healing. We returned to Austin full-hearted. What an awesome God we have. So gracious and loving to us. Thank you, Lord, for this time of travel, friendship, beauty and peace.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fight

For my writing class, we had an assignment to write about a significant childhood moment that changed or impacted us immensely. This is what I wrote. It is true, but is very much a story, so artistic license was taken with the descriptions and dialogue. No offense to Aaron, wherever he might be today.

In the third grade, Aaron Blomberg was not cute. Maybe now he's a very handsome man whose married to a supermodel with whom he has two perfect children and a two-car garage. But in third grade, Aaron Blomberg had cooties. He would scavenge his nasal cavities for boogers to eat. His hair was always sticking up and he had scabby knees that he picked incessantly. After he picked the scabs, the blood would form two little crimson streams that coursed down his scrawny legs, guided my what seemed, even then, like an abnormal amount of leg-hair. As if the cooties and the boogers were not enough, Aaron was in the habit of teasing me as incessantly as he picked his scabs. He teased me enough to make me cry, which is saying a lot because I wasn't much of a crier back then. My older brother had taught me to tough it out, but when Aaron put bunny ears on me right as the photographer took our class picture, I lost it. They re-took the picture after they figured out what he had done, but even so, my eyes were already red and puffy. A perfectly good third grade class picture ruined by Aaron Blomberg. But even something as significant as the class picture incident does not hold a candle to what happened with the Guiness Book of World Records.

Aaron brought the book for show and tell, which was, I reluctantly admit, a pretty impressive find. Just before recess, he had everyone in class huddled around looking at pictures of the longest fingernails in the world. They looked like ultra-long corkscrews attached to someone's hand. It was all very exciting and disgusting, but then Aaron, true to form, took a perfectly pleasant third grade moment and made it personal. “Look!” he said, as he pointed to the picture of the 'World's Fattest Woman', “it's Meredith!” Somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut, but inside I was seething. Enough was enough. “This will get settled on the playground,” I thought to myself. When the bell rang, our class spilled down the wooden steps to our building like water coming out of a faucet. But I had my sight set on Aaron's back. He didn't get too far from the building before I jumped him from behind, causing him to fall into the reddish dirt. He didn't put up much of a fight, way less than I was used to with my older brother, so soon enough I had him pinned underneath me, my knees pressing into his shoulders, my hands pummeling into his face, his head, his chest. Someone must have gone to get a teacher, because before I had a chance to dribble a mucus-spit concoction from my mouth onto his face, I got pulled off. My parents were called. I was in huge trouble.

That evening, I got sent to my father's study. My father, a lawyer, had a study full of leather-bound books that lined the walls from floor to ceiling. My father was not a harsh man, but when he spent time playing with me and my brother, it was outside or in the kitchen or the den. Nothing fun ever happened in my father's study. It was a place reserved for serious business. After dinner, I sat there alone, waiting for my father to come in. I tried to calculate the number of lashings I could expect to receive from his leather belt. My stomach was sick just thinking about it. When my father entered the room, I thought to myself, “So this is what injustice feels like. Aaron Blomberg teases me all year, ruins my class photo, calls me the fattest woman in the world, and I am about to get punished.” Of course, I kept those thoughts to myself. I had no nerve to share those feelings with my dad. He sat down in his chair, the one with the duck-head arm rests, and he looked me over. I hung my head in defeat. Aaron Blomberg had won again. “You know, back when I was at Massey Hill, when we would get into a fight, some of the guys would break Coke bottles and...” I looked up at my father in amazement. He wasn't lecturing me. He was telling me a story. A story about when he used to get into fights? I listened attentively. I knew enough, even in the third grade, about my dad's poverty-stricken childhood to know that he had run with some characters back in high school. His childhood neighborhood was still one of the roughest in our town, and his alma mater was a breeding ground for crooks and criminals who my dad sometimes told wild stories about with a certain comedic, yet sad, affection. But he'd never said anything about fights. His stories were mostly about athletic events, but here he was telling me about the trouble he'd witnessed back in those days. He finished his stories, and we left the study together. The school made me sit out of recess for a couple of weeks after the day I tackled Aaron Blomberg, but while I sat there, I can't say that I felt too much shame. My dad never told me that it was okay to fight, but he never told me not to, either. Today, when faced with injustice, I still want nothing more than a good fight. By God's grace, I learned not to just tackle folks anymore. But sometimes I wonder if I would have it in me to fight in the face of injustice, if my dad had taken his belt to me that night in his study. Because sometimes there are boys with cooties, and sometimes there are people who take advantage of others, and sometimes those people need to be fought, even if it costs you recess.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Resurrection Power

I'm finishing the Resurrection and the Life in Snapshots, and want to share this part. It's not edited yet, and there's still a lot of work to do on the whole thing. But it's so completely amazing that I can't not put it on here. I'm no good at telling my own stories, but this one is rocking my world, blowing my mind and making me cheer for the Hero with all of my might. He is the resurrection. Come on out of the grave.

I'm taking a class right now called “The Art of Storytelling.” We do a lot of creative stuff in there, and talk about really deep things, and figure out how to develop characters and overcome conflict and other really artsy stuff. One of the parts of story that I've liked learning about is called the “black hole moment.” Every great story has this moment when all hope seems lost. It's the point of no return, and yet, when you're the one listening to the story, deep within yourself you hope for something miraculous to happen. No one wants a story to end on a black hole moment. To this day, I cannot watch the movie Old Yeller, because in my opinion, that movie ends with a black hole. I get that he saves the day and all, but seriously, no one wants the dog to die. I'm more of a Homeward Bound kind of girl. Tell me a story where the faithful Golden Retriever reunites with his master after traveling through the wilderness. Now, that's a good story.

Maybe that's why I like the Bible so much. Because the Bible does not end at the black hole moment. The Bible is the original great story, and what happened in Bethany is a story within the story. When Jesus arrived at Lazarus' grave site, I guess you could call that the black hole moment. Everyone was incredibly sad. Even Jesus was really upset. I mean, imagine being Mary and Martha and looking over at Jesus, the one person you thought could save you from this kind of sadness, the person that you've, even now, confessed is the Son of God, and watching Him weep too. I guess that some people find that comforting. And I think that it is in a way. It shows that Jesus is really compassionate and understands and deeply feels human emotions. But we're not used to seeing heroes cry. I don't know why not. The Bible tells lots of stories about heroes who cried out to God lots of times. They even pitched fits from time to time. And here is Jesus, the main Hero of the great story, and at the black hole moment in Bethany, He's crying. He did the same thing later on at the garden of Gethsemane. Another black hole moment was coming for Jesus. He knew He was going to die on a cross in a few hours. But instead of becoming righteously indignant or painting his face with war paint and riding around on a horse shouting about freedom, He went to a garden with His friends and cried there. I'm not saying that Jesus is not a hero. He's definitely my Hero. I'm saying that our idea of what heroes do in the black hole moment is affected by what we see on TV or in the movies or hear in other stories that are younger than this one. I think this is encouraging because there are times that I go through really tough stuff and the only comfort that I have is knowing that Jesus went through stuff that's just as tough or even tougher than what I'm going through. Paul called that sharing in Christ's sufferings, and it's a really normal part of being a Christian. So when I'm in the black hole moments of my own story, it's good to know that just because Jesus' Spirit grieves with me because of the sadness I'm experiencing, it doesn't mean that He's not going to do something completely amazing next.

In Bethany, Jesus might have walked into the black hole moment with a tear in His eye, but I'd like to think there wasn't even the faintest tremor in His voice when He commanded them to take away the stone that was covering Lazarus' grave. Martha objected. She was worried about how badly her days-dead brother was going to smell, but Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” And they took the stone away. Then Jesus prayed and told God that He was thankful that He always listens to Him. Then He told Him that He was saying that so that the people could believe. Then He told Lazarus to come out. And Lazarus did.

At Calvary, Jesus said something really different about His relationship with His Father. Rather than saying, “I knew that you always hear me,” He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is history's black hole moment. The moment that the Son of God absorbed the wrath of His Father so that all of humanity didn't have to be destroyed. And after His life was given up, they laid His body in a tomb, probably not unlike the one that Lazarus was in. But three days later, He got up and He walked out. No black hole moment is black enough to permanently darken the Light.

Jesus is the resurrection. Death could not hold Lazarus when Jesus commanded Him to come out of the grave, because even death has to let go when Jesus tells it to. And death couldn't keep Him in the grave either, but had to let go after three days, just like He said it would. And because Jesus is the resurrection, death has to let go of you too. Though you might go through many black hole moments in your own story, the truth is that Jesus has authority over all of them. The true black hole moment of your story is that you cannot live eternally without Jesus giving you life. You cannot reunite with a Holy God unless He invites you to do so. Your black hole is the sin inheritance you received before you were ever born, before you ever had a chance to do good or bad. But Jesus, the resurrection, comes to your grave, calls your name and says, “Come out!” And when you hear His voice, you are infused with the same power that resurrected Lazarus in Bethany, that resurrected Jesus' own brutalized body outside of Jerusalem, and you cannot ever die again.