Preparing

As this week moves along and people all over are preparing for Thursday and Thanksgiving in all different kinds of ways, I too am preparing for the day.

Grocery list, baking, cooking (they are two very different things, you know), cleaning up, planning the timing around the parade *ahem*, and things like that.

But I’m also, just a little, working on preparing my heart.

An attitude of gratitude is something my Mama drilled in us.  Be thankful.  In all things.  I think she really liked what that guy Paul in the Good Book said about that.  She took him at his word.  And wanted us to live it too.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, I am looking towards next Sunday as well.  The first Sunday in Advent.

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Advent until maybe twenty-five years ago.

And I have continued to learn more and more since that time.

I love the rituals, the lighting of the candles on the wreath.  The getting ready.  The settling of the soul.  The quiet meditations and devotions.

Oh, the quiet.

Each year for the past four, I’ve hoped to start our school year early enough that we can take some time off from our traditional lessons to step outside the box in December and go in another direction.  And each year, for whatever reason, that has been torpedoed, and we’ve worked right up through the third week in December.

But this year?

*shhhh* Don’t tell anyone, lest the universe find out and totally mess this up for us, but I think it’s going to happen.

I want for us to have time to read Christmas stories, learn about holiday traditions from different cultures, watch Christmas movies, sing songs, make cookies, play, and not have every single day structured.

That’s my holiday wish.

I am very happy that we are heading in that direction.  I already have some books picked out to share with my littles.  I have a couple of “read every day” books that we will start on Sunday or Monday (it being the first and all).  One really sweet one that I’m looking forward to reading with them for the very first time is Advent Storybook  by Antonie Schneider, Maja Dusikova, and translated by Marisa Miller.   We haven’t read any of it together yet, but as I looked over it today, it touched my heart and made me smile.  I think we will all enjoy it.  It’s the story of a little bear who wants Christmas to come fast, so his mother agrees to tell him a story each night until then.  So there are twenty-four stories about another little bear and his trek to Bethlehem.  Very sweet.

Embracing the magic of the season, we will again pull out our copy of Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Yes.  That guy.

It’s a collection of the letters that were sent to the Tolkien family home over the many years his children were small and home.  The stories will make you laugh and want to hear them all over again…..and so we will do just that.

I came across the books The Jesse Tree: Daily Readings for Advent and Gobsmacked: Daily Devotions for Advent by Thom M. Shuman a few years ago.  These are both beautifully written Advent devotionals that I dearly love.  I ordered them as downloads, e-book style, from this website, as hard copies were not available at the time.  I love everything Mr. Shuman has ever written.  If you haven’t read any of his poetry before, please take the time to do so.  Powerful and grace-filled.  Beautiful.  You can find it here.

This time of year can be so wonderful in many ways, but it can also be hard.  For many the darkness is not just because the sun is going down a little earlier.  Many people struggle with loss and pain and brokenness that doesn’t go away magically, despite the wonder and brightness of the season.  It can be very hard when you feel like there’s a party going on all over and you’re the only one who doesn’t feel like going.

I am thankful for my writerfriend and friend, Dena Douglas Hobbs, who has written a contemplative book, “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope,” in which she walks with each one of us in that darkness.  She says it’s okay and is an encourager.  As November finds her way to the door and takes her leave, leaving behind only the memories, some harder to bear than others, Dena reminds us in her book that we are not alone.  and that the advent message is one of hope.  She writes, “God comes into our broken world to be with us, to heal us, to save us from not only our enemies, but even ourselves.”

Oh me.

Yes.

If any of you are local, you can purchase her book at Bare Bulb Coffee in Kathleen and a portion of the proceeds will go to support hunger missions.  If you are not, you can order her book here.    It is available as an e-book as well.

I also look forward to reading Dena’s latest work, a devotional for the littles, with my crew.  I can’t wait to hear their laughter over the antics of Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear.  And I just know we will be drawing pictures from the adventures of the little bear on his way to Bethlehem.  The story just lends itself to good conversation and good thoughts.

I am thankful that, as this season and so much hurries and scurries on by me, I can shut it all off for at least a few minutes everyday, and sit and have coffee with my friend Dena (which I’ve been lucky enough to do in person as well), and with Mr. Thom– quieting my soul in the midst of the chaos and darkness and looking forward to the Light that is coming.  And while I love my twinkly lights in my “roost” so much, they are nothing compared to the Light of Love and Peace.  That’s what my favorite thing about Christmas is–feeling my heart fill with both of those things.

May we all find that to be true–hearts full to bustin’ with love and light and a peace that passes all understanding.

Love to all.

Mother Nature’s Obituary

What a beautiful day we had today here at the house!

While it started off a bit cold, it warmed up to be glorious and I may or may not have seen two boys (whom I might have been responsible for) running around outside in their bare feet. Sorry, Mess Cat.  (Now I get why Mama and Daddy let my baby brother do that in the winter–they always said he’d come in if his feet got cold.  And you know what? They were right.)

We had a yard full of children again today.  When I started a fire in the pit so Shaker, who was over playing today, could roast marshmallows for his snack, I was once again surrounded by children excited to roast and toast and eat them some marshmallows.

Except for one.

The youngest in the bunch was sitting next to the fire in a chair one of them had pulled up (we ran out of log space), playing on the iPad one of the others had brought with her.

From the moment I spied the thing, I eyed it suspiciously.  I wanted to shake it by the scruff of its neck and say, “Don’t you be messing up my nice day!”   First of all, I was nervous (thank you for showing up, Anxiety Girl) that something would happen to the expensive device while in our yard.  Second, from time to time, different ones were sitting and talking to it and touching it and playing one game or another and not taking in where they were…..what all was around them…..whom they were with.

I forbade mine from playing it.  Yeah, Cooter asked.  He even asked to come inside and get my device so he could “play” with them.

Just no.

Y’all.  Mother Nature is going to die, it’s already happening.  And there will be no one around who can write her obituary because No. One. Will. Notice.

Excuse me.  That was the sound of my heart breaking.

Already we are raising children who would rather watch a movie for the twelfth time than look out the window at scenery they may never have seen before.  We have folks sitting across from each other, never seeing anything other than the screen in front of them.  Young people who would be happy staying inside all day, playing games, listening to music, carrying on “relationships” via messages, texts, and emails–without ever setting a foot outside OR talking to an actual person.

At the same time the young one with the iPad was sitting in front of a fire I built all by my big girl self (okay it took me a while, but I’m getting there) surrounded by trees and birds and squirrels and bugs and all kinds of things to see–and her friends, I caught a glimpse of our Princess who had pulled a chair down to the corner of the yard.  She had in her lap a notepad.  I squinted in the sunlight to see what she was lifting up, and I realized she had a set of binoculars that had come in a kids’ meal.  She was making notes of what she saw in the woods behind us.  She was playing “Girl Scouts” with her friends and she decided today was Nature Day.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I blame us, the parents.  I’m not perfect.  While I am thrilled at what my girl was up to today, it’s not a given.  She and her brother ask to play on electronics quite frequently.  But it seems that the longer the time since they last played, the less frequently they ask.  It’s kind of like an addiction in a sense.  They have to work it out of their system, and then they seem a little better.  I’ve been known to call the devices in our house the “grumpy screens,” because folks sure can get grumpy when the battery gets low/it’s someone else’s turn/it’s not working fast enough/they are losing the game/I say no to purchasing add-ons, and so much more.  Definitely grumpy.

I remember what Daddy told me when I was thinking about signing up for Facebook: “Well as long as you make it work for you and you don’t work for it, you’ll be all right.”

Amen.

I’ve heard his words in my head today, and I think that truth applies to so many things, and today, especially electronics.

I’m afraid we are all doing more work for those devices than they are for us.

Speaking for my own family, of course.

And that is why I’m doing some serious soul-searching.  I don’t want the flowers and trees to fall to their knees and return to the earth which gives them life.  To ponder a life with no frogs hopping across the yard, no squirrels scampering along the back fence, NO BIRDS SINGING–FORTHELOVE.  I can’t even fathom it.

And I don’t want to.

I think it’s time we need to be showing Mother Nature a little more love.  Beg her not to give up, to hang in there.  We need to start paying more attention to her, getting to know her better.  Have a real relationship with her.

If we don’t, I’m afraid she and all of her kin will perish, with no one left who remembers what she was like, because no one took the time to look and see what she has to offer.  All too busy with eyes on screens and ears plugged with sounds that are all man-made.

Tonight I’m thankful for this wake up call.  I give thanks for a beautiful day with friends that reminded me who Mother Nature is, and what all she and Creation have to offer all of us.  I am better for the time I spent tanning my soul today.  My boys got along like a house on fire and weren’t ready to stop playing when it was time to go.  I am so happy that my Princess sees the beauty around her, and I hope to borrow her “glasses” one day and see what she sees.  My Mama once told a young mother watching her son play outside, “You brought him into this world, now let him show it to you.”

Amen.

In the meantime I will put down the phone, the laptop, the distractions, and take at least a few moments each day to sit with the Artist and Mother Nature and soak it all in, like art skillfully created and hung on the wall in a gallery.  Appreciate, compliment, and leave a richer, fuller, better person.

It’s a start.

Love to all.

 

Just a Bowl of Butterbeans

In the past week or two, I’ve had a couple of friends discussing favorite foods and they have asked me what “my people” ate.  Do I eat grits?  Yes.  Do I like okra?  Anyway you want to serve it–absolutely!  Chopped onions on my black-eyed peas?  Step back and watch me go.  Do I love buttermilk and cornbread?  While I know this used to be supper for my Daddy and his family sometimes and it’ll eat okay, my favorite is really cornbread and pot liquor.  I love fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and a big ol’ bowl of grits.  When the garden was in season it was not unusual for a pot of fresh picked snap beans with red potatoes and onions to be our supper with a slab of cornbread on the side.  I love me some home-cooked vegetables.

And this right here, this is my ultimate comfort food.

IMG_4361

Just a bowl of butterbeans.

And it’s not surprising really.

The memories in a bowl of these–feeds my soul for quite a while.

Of helping Daddy plant the garden.  Of beans drying on the floor in my Granny’s “cold” room in the winter for spring planting.  Of sitting in comfortable silence with Daddy when we picked–or having gentle conversation, as easy as the breeze that lightly blew in the evening air.  Of sitting with a fan blowing on us to help relieve the heat as Mama and I shelled them into a washtub.  Of watching Mama blanch the beans and put them on the towel to cool for freezing.  Of the times all I wanted to eat was a bowl of butterbeans.

Oh me.

I’ve been eating on this pot of butterbeans I cooked for a couple of days now.  And today it hit me what this weekend is and why I might need comfort a little more than usual.  My Daddy went in the hospital for the first leg of his battle against his Goliath five years ago this weekend.  Five years?  How can that be when I remember the details of that day so clearly?  How I made the calls and cried in the dark and told my brother I could not breathe if my Daddy was gone.

Just a bowl of butterbeans.

Here I am, five years later, and well, I guess I know better.  Daddy left this life over two years after that, but he is not gone.  He is in the summer evening breezes and the memory of conversations we used to have sitting outside watching the sun go down and swatting gnats.  He is in the music I listen to, the good stuff he raised me listening to.  He is in the couch sitting over there, so full of comfort because that’s the last place I sat next to him before it all fell apart.  He is in the yard I gaze out over, remembering his vision for it and how he helped us move here.  He is in the children I love as I see in them his eyes or smile or recognize his wit and his frustration with folks when they just won’t do right.  He is in the bowl of butterbeans and all the memories that swirl amidst the beans and pot liquor.  He is in my heart.

Gone?  Never.

The food of my people was the good stuff.  Things from the garden or pasture or barn with a can of Vienna sausages or a fried Spam sandwich thrown in for a snack every now and then.  The soul of my people can be found in the fields, in the breezes, in the songs of the birds as they fly from the cedar tree to the fig tree where Granny had hung pie tins to run them off.  It is in the sandpile where we built froghouses and on the dirt road where we walked and rode bikes and threw dirt bombs at each other.  It is in the memories, and I give thanks my soul is very full.

As I was eating my bowl of butterbeans today, a song blew in and began playing in my mind.  I thought for a moment.  Was it a real song or had I only imagined it?  It’s been so long since I thought of it.

And so I did some digging–thankful for the internet, right?–and there it was.  Waiting for me, patiently, like an old friend.  It’s not my Daddy’s voice singing it–but the joy of the little girls dancing, the agility of the couples enjoying the song, and the fact that this Daddy and child have been performing together over sixty years…..it comes in a close second.

Hope y’all enjoy it too.  Love and the goodness of a bowl of butterbeans to all.

 

BUTTER BEANS (Charles D. Colvin – To the tune of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee)

Little Jimmy Dickens – 1965

Also recorded by: Johnny Russell; Papa Joe Smiddy.

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a piece of country ham

Pass the butter and the jam

Pass the biscuits if you please

And some more o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

Red eye gravy is all right

Turnip sandwich a delight

But my children all still scream

For another bowl of butter beans

 

Some folks think that cornpone’s best

Some likes grits more than the rest

But if I was a man of means

I’d just want them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that lady over there

With the curlers in her hair

She’s not pregnant as she seems

She’s just full o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that big, fat, ugly lad

He’s made everybody mad

They don’t love him, by no means

He’s the hog that ate the last of the butter beans

 

When they lay my bones to rest

Place no roses upon my chest

Plant no blooming evergreens

All I want is’ a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans

 

 

Because It Looks Like Y’all Have it All Together

Some days I feel like I have a good grasp on this journey, this life.  It’s not an everyday thing by any means, but there are days when I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, down the right path–in raising my family, educating them, taking care of things around the house, and in figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up.

And then there are all the other days, where I count myself lucky if the littles are fed, the math is mostly done, the dog doesn’t have an accident indoors, and the house is still standing.  Even if we have to get creative on clothing choices because the laundry needs doing, I call it a win and move on.

Oh so many days like that.

It seems like everyone else has it all together sometimes, you know?  My Daddy used to say, “You compare, you lose,” and I know he’s right, but sometimes it’s hard not to.  You all look like things are trucking along just fine for you.

And then there’s me and the cacophony of ideas and thoughts and emotions running through my heart, mind, and soul.

So not together.

I picked up a book to read about men who changed the world.  I am interested to see who their examples are, as this is a book for young people.  Since I have been concerned, wanting to be sure I’m sharing good stories and role models with Cooter like I do with our Princess, I did some searching and found this particular book.

As I flipped through for a quick minute today, I came across this quote from Badshah Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim leader who led the world’s largest nonviolent force–100,000 people–for social reform in his country.

From "Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World" by Cynthia Chin-Lee  http://www.amazon.com/Akira-Zoltan-Twenty-six-Changed-World/dp/1570915806/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1W3CXFY2R8FTYB8C2KTB

From “Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World” by Cynthia Chin-Lee
http://www.amazon.com/Akira-Zoltan-Twenty-six-Changed-World/dp/1570915806/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1W3CXFY2R8FTYB8C2KTB

“No true effort is in vain.  Look at the fields over there.  The grain sown therein has to remain

in the earth for a certain time, then it sprouts, and in due time yields hundreds of its kind.

The same is the case with every effort in a good cause.” 

–Badshah Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988)

Oh these words.  How they touched me–had my soul doing an about-face.  Picking myself up, dusting my britches off, and saying, Okay, maybe I can do this.

One more reminder that things won’t necessarily happen in my time, according to my “script.”  One more reminder that things won’t always be this way. One more reminder to take a chill pill and be where I am, who I am.  Making true efforts for a good cause.

Tonight I am thankful for the words of others that I write on my heart.  The ones that others say, I don’t suppose I will always know the why of their words, but I do know what they do for me.  I wish I could have words like these and others that touch my being painted all over the walls and mirrors of my house.  Where I could see them and be reminded–keep up the good efforts.  Keep planting.  You may not see the harvest right away, if ever, but it’s there.  So much going on within, even though we can’t see it.  Growing under the ground…..growing strong and one day will yield “hundreds of its kind.”

What a beautiful picture that paints for me.

Y’all, let’s go out and sow some good stuff.  What does that look like?  I’m not sure.  How about we start with smiling at someone who looks like they could use it?  Take the time to text or call or email a friend with a meaningful, truthful message about how they are loved.  Or with a joke that you know they’ll love.  Even greater things will come from it one day–maybe not on our timeline, not when we had planned, but one day greater things will come because of it.  And until then, we just keep making those true efforts in a good cause, even if that means sitting quietly.  And waiting.  *sigh* Did someone ask for patience?

Love and best wishes to all.

The Sound of a Bee’s Laughter

I find myself falling for a fella who’s long and thin and, well, can be a little bristly.  But when we are together…..add a little magic, a little color, a bit of creativity, and who knows what we can do.

My paintbrush.

And today, after taking a few painting classes with instruction to create a picture similar to the one by the teacher, but with my own flair, I was in a class called “Art Mind and Soul.”  It was about reaching back to the creative people we were as children before we worried about it being perfect or what colors would be “right” or how it looked compared to the work of others.  I was there with my oldest and with our sweet friend.  We started the class by using crayons to color a sheet from a coloring book or playing with clay.  After a few minutes of quiet listening we set about creating the pieces that were on our hearts.

At the beginning of this year, I selected my “word,” what I wanted to focus on in 2013.  Open.  I wanted to be open to all kinds of things, but I have just about decided that I was supposed to be open to change.  Not my favorite of things by any means.  When I was choosing the word, I looked for a photo of a gate or door that was somewhat open to remind me to open my heart, my mind, my eyes.  I never found the perfect one.  So this afternoon I decided to attempt to paint the picture on my heart of “open.”  I was a bit nervous, but the wisdom of our instructor from Thursday night echoed in my ears, and I began.

I quartered the canvas, sketched it out, blocked my colors and then began working on the detail.  I was intimidated and wondered if I could do it, but as I did one small bit at a time, I found my heart lifted and I actually giggled out loud.  By the time I added the bougainvillea I was downright tickled with it all.  It was not photographic, but it was mine, and it was full of what was in my soul today, and in that I was joyful.

I wanted the gate down my path to be open; that was my main idea.  But as I drew and painted, I found other ideas creeping in.

The red clay path that was much like my Granny’s dirt road that led to her home and so many happy memories.  The big cauldron that Granny had hanging from a wooden beam, always filled with beautiful flowers.  My Granny’s old place, much like my great aunt’s house and Blackberry Flats (my parent’s place), speaks to my soul and grounds me.  The memories soothe me and remind me of a carefree time of chasing fireflies and late night Monopoly sessions, holding snoozing puppies on my chest as we sat quietly in the swing, sleeping on pallets of old quilts, going fishing, and sopping up syrup with Granny’s delicious biscuits.

The tiny, delicate purple flowers in the grass remind me of a quote from The Color Purple that my friend and pastor shared one night at Evening Prayer: “I think it [ticks] God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  Ever since she shared that I try to notice and celebrate the colors in a field, the beauty of the cardinal, the multitude of colors in a sunset.  When my oldest was little, she had a friend who was known to call out, upon seeing a beautiful sunset or something equally as striking, “Good job, God!”  I never want to forget to appreciate and admire.

The birds in the sky remind me of the old hymn written in 1905 by Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  It was inspired by a couple Mrs. Martin and her husband had met on their travels.  The wife was bedridden and the husband went to and from work in his wheelchair.  Their bright hopefulness despite all of this touched the Martins, and they asked the couple their secret.  The husband answered: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”  From there a beautiful hymn was born.  The first time I heard it, our college choral group, the Wesleyannes, performed it.  The lyrics floated through the air and landed in my heart and soul, only to be revived recently as words of comfort.

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

The bougainvillea reminds me of beauty and strength.  It is a beautiful yet hardy plant.  Strong.  I like it.  And it reminds me of sitting with an elderly woman in England who told me once, “Oh dearie, someday you will sit around with your friends and talk about plants and flowers and such.  I suppose it sounds silly to you now, but one day…..”  And she was absolutely right.  I never could have imagined, but now I’m there.  Talking about what herbs to  plant to last year round, planting butterfly bushes and lantana and roses and the like.  Such joy that brings me!  What a wise and sweet woman.

The little bees remind me of the fragility of our world, and that I must work to protect it and to be a good steward of what we have around us.  The bees also remind me of the intricate workings of nature, how it’s all inter-dependent, just like we are.  And what an amazing creature the bee is, flying against all the odds…..do you suppose anyone has ever told a bee he couldn’t fly, that it’s actually pretty much not possible?  I would love to hear a bee laugh with glee.  Much like I did as I was finishing the painting I told myself couldn’t be done.  It was too hard.  And yet…..laughter.  Joy.  Worship.  Remembrance.  Grace.

pic of my painting

Tonight I am thankful for finally having my picture of Open.  It is all the more dear to me because of the journey, the path to get there.  To that completed picture.  I am grateful for the gift of time to do this, given to me by my sister, Mess Cat.  I give thanks for the laughter and stories and encouragement that floated around the room as we sat and created together.  And I appreciate the peace that has settled in my heart and soul tonight.  My heart and spirit and faith has taken a beating over the past couple of years.  I find myself seeking, searching for a way to worship that makes sense and resonates within me.  Today brought together my thoughts, what was on my heart and mind, and my appreciation for what is in the world around me.  Holy ground.  And for that, I am most thankful.  Amen.