September 29

Beyond the Barbed Wire

I was killing time under the shade tree, pulling sharp ranch ‘pokies’ off my wide legged pants, the ones that are super stretchy with deep pockets to hold my camera. Luckily, my fingertips are somewhat calloused and I have a lot of experience in extracting cockle burrs from my clothing.

While I was doing this, taking pictures and waiting for the well driller to show up, I noticed someone watching me from across the fence at Settler’s Ridge . If you can call a red-headed cow a someone, anyway.

It seemed she was as fascinated by me, as I was of her. I’m no expert on cows and didn’t look that closely. It may have been a bull.

I’ve thought about that four-legged creature with the auburn bouffant hair-do quite a lot this week. I’ve written, read and talked about bullies. It’s interesting that this colorful cow was off on its own, standing near me…on the fence.

I wondered if she was content to be different or was also, like me, looking for a gap in the five wire or another way out, a way to run free.

Yesterday, sitting in my car, we were talking about a glue incident, this girl and I. We were talking about the way we are sometimes brave and stand up for what’s right and the times we fall short to fit in.

I confessed that once, walking home from school, I let a group of girls convince me to do something mean to a girl who only knew hard days. A life of every day, going to school and being the target of harsh treatment and name-calling.

The truth is, she was the stinky, smelly girl. More than once, she came to school with bugs in her hair. Usually, I didn’t just look the other way. I stepped up and stepped in. I helped.

Usually.

But that day, a bad day, walking home from elementary school, I joined in. I took a dab of glue, put it on a leaf and casually stuck it on the top of her head while pretending to ‘help’. The other girls laughed.

I still see that day, and still feel that guilt.

With her slow, broken speech, the kind we sometimes mimic, I still hear her say, “Hey, th-at’s-not-fun-ny.” More than anything, I remember the hurt look of betrayal in her eyes, behind the coke bottle lenses that were sometimes knocked off her head, How could you?

That’s a day I would do-over. A wrong I would right. I’ve often wondered where she is and how her life turned out. I’ve prayed for forgiveness, but that it not be forgotten. It’s helpful sometimes to see the ways that we’ve hurt.

I confessed this terrible day to a girl who wanted to do what she could to make a difference, so she asked everyone to bring pet supplies instead of presents to her birthday party. Then she donated it all to our local shelter.

Sometimes we stand on the fence, afraid to look or be different, secretly wishing we could grow a pair and stand up a little taller, away from the crowd.

Some of us long to break through the barbed wire barriers that keep us contained, like cattle. We search for an open field to run or a trough that quenches the thirst in the heat of the day.

That’s no bull.

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September 25

For Whom Does the Bell Toll?

It was Sunday. A day of rest.

I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the yellow brick ranch with the mismatched shutters. We were talking about the neighborhood and all the work that needs to be done. I was raving about the private backyard and raised garden beds.

Even while working, we can find that place of peace. It seems to me that when we are asking and seeking and searching for God, he always finds a way to make his presence known.

There was a giant dumpster in the driveway blocking the garage. Her dad was talking about the almost dead tree that sat too close to the house and needed to come down. And then I heard it. I don’t know of any sound more beautiful than Sunday morning church bells.

I thought of the dumpster, the dead tree and suddenly remembered I was in a hurry to get to back to Boerne for the 10:00 am service at my own church. I promised myself not to outpace the rhythm of the day and as I was driving by the large Catholic cathedral, I knew I needed to slow down. I needed to breathe. I needed to allow room for more rest and less running.

Here.

Here?

Yes.

I parked the car, took a quick glance in the rearview mirror, adjusted my olive green peace cap and considered my outfit. Were hats allowed? There was no way I was taking off my hat to display my super flat hair. Carefully and somewhat fancifully I walked up the elegant concrete stairs while holding onto the rail.

My little girl self-spent a lot of time with locked arms, playing and prancing on the wide church steps of Sacred Heart singing the Laverne and Shirley, Schlemiel and Schlimazel thing.

I looked for an empty seat towards the back and scooted into an oak pew. Guitar players and mandolin players and a large choir of people were singing. The tiny notes filled the ceiling as I looked around, taking it all in. The giant wood beams, the stained glass that let in just the right amount of sunlight.

And then father began.

In Spanish.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before. So many men in button-down plaid shirts and women with gorgeous and flowy, long, brown hair. Just last week I broke my 78-day streak of days of lessons, but I am determined to be bi-lingual. DuoLingo says I’m a whopping 9% fluent now.

Every once in a while I could understand a phrase and clearly heard words like Christ, brothers, casa, and unity.

Quickly I was able to pick up, “and also with you.”

I thought again of the dumpster, the dead tree and the sound of the church bells ringing. I thought about how we carry each other, locked arms, hand in hand up and down the big stairs of our day and our lives and the stares because of our possibly inappropriate attire.

Some things are universal.

A handshake, a hug, and a hallelujah chorus translate in pretty much any language.

 

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September 22

A Night to Remember

Two people twirled on the concrete dance floor in front of me as dark rain clouds hovered above and teased.

Occasionally a big gust of wind would rustle the leaves and threaten more serious weather, but the jazzy trumpet players and the Nash Hernandez Orchestra blew the clouds, and the crowd away.

I sat in my favorite brown lawn chair, the one that’s survived sunny days in the river, soccer games and weekends at Girl Scout Camp. It’s disintegrating now, the footstool straps broken, but my feet were on the ground, tapping to the sounds of Sinatra and classic songs that never fail to bring a smile to my face.

At last.

Bob and Sandy are two of the biggest music lovers I know in my still new to me, old-timey town. When she called to tell me about the concert at the library amphitheater, I knew I’d probably be too busy to go. When you are self-employed in sales, it seems there is always one more call to make or twenty-nine papers that still need scanned and turned in.

An impromptu orchestra concert was not on my Thursday night to-do list, but it will be. It trumps dishes in the sink and walking the dogs, although Charlie and Mr. Riley love a good concert. They sat next to me on the grass, soaking up cool vibes, music magic and repeated compliments about how well-behaved they were.

The band from Austin has been pleasing standing room only crowds since 1949! I sat there listening, giving thanks for amazing musicians, the library I love, and free entertainment. Thanks to the support of the Hill Country Council for the Arts, last night’s debut evening was just the first in a series of concerts.

Camping chairs in red, yellow, green and blue dotted the lawn with coolers of beverages kept close by. The man in the fedora twirled his dance partner with the red dress, ankle boots, and purple headband. For a minute, I remembered how much it hurts your cheeks to smile like that all the time.

When they played an old familiar song by Duke Wellington, the tears began to well.

Oh, good Lord. I dabbed my eyes the way you do when the wind blows a little dust into the corners. I thought of my grandpa Terrill, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known in my life. The kind of grandpa who proudly introduced me to all of his friends at VFW picnics and sat next to me on the couch with a snack on a t.v. tray. Together, we watched Walter Cronkite and the 10 o’clock news.

Last night I listened through the salsa and the sonatas, trying to catch the memory floating so close to the surface.

And then it came.

Long, long ago, before I knew what it would be like to be a big girl, the things we go through, the stuff we endure, before I knew that a seven-year-old smile could ever fade, I had a grandpa who was larger than life and loved me the right way. The way all little girls long to be loved.

The Nash Hernandez band gave me more than a gift of an incredible night of music. Their instrumentation, style, and perfect song selections surfaced a long-lost evening with The Duke, my grandpa and me.

And there I was, for just a moment, standing on my grandpa’s shoes as he danced me across the floor of the legendary Val Air Ballroom. Something to keep. Like hope that floats and knows new days come. At last.

It was a night to remember.

Life is like a song. The notes are always changing. I need stronger shoes than my own to stand on.

 

 

September 18

The Incident Report that Never Got Filed

It started out as a typical midnight hike through the woods.

We had flashlights, jackets, and packs of Juicy Fruit. It’s important to have gum when you’re exploring tree-filled acres and planning a haunting. The moon barely cast any light at all and carefully, quietly, about 12 girls tiptoed over crunching leaves to make their way to the other troop’s tent in the dark.

It is somewhat customary to mess with girls while on a camping trip, though mine were definitely disappointed by the un-terrified reaction of the big city girls, a few years older than my Junior scouts.

They scratched their nails on fabric and shook the walls from each side, but only one peep of a shriek could be heard before the contemptuous complaining began.

“Knock it off.”

“Get a life.”

“We have a life.”

Just hours before we had a run-in with the wildlife. Our bagels had been ravaged by a pack of racoons. They also completely annihilated the insulated Pizza Hut bag that earlier contained the pepperoni, half cheese pan pizza. It took debating for 36 miles to decide on that because mushrooms or green peppers would be the death of certain 10 year-olds.

But we still needed more adventure. Or a Girl Scout showdown.

Erin had an older sister and was well versed in the art of verbal confrontation. She began chiding the older tent campers.

“Yeah! We have a life. We’re going to find the haunted cabin while you bunch of chickens stay snug in your sleeping bags.”

“Whatever. Get lost,” they responded.

Many wrong turns down darkened paths, that’s exactly what we did. Sometime after getting tangled in a sticky spider web and finding the BEWARE writing on the inside of the haunted cabin, we got lost.

“You go first.”
“I’m not going first, you go first.”

“Someone needs to go first,” I reminded them.

Two of the girls decided to go in together. It was creepy but not nearly as creepy as what we were about to encounter.

We had been walking for what seemed like miles. The girls, the other troop leader and I were starting to get tired. The fun of the adventure and the sugar buzz from the shared Starbursts was beginning to wear off.

“I think we should have taken that other turn back there,” she said.

“Maybe so. Let’s just keep walking for a little bit longer and see where this path takes us.”

And that’s when we heard it. The low roar of an engine. We watched as an old pick-up truck drove by. “Look, there’s a road!”

The girls screamed with delight and started walking quickly towards it. But then the truck turned around and started back towards where we were just about to come out from the woods.

It was going way too slow and we could only see the shadow of a driver.

“Miss Tina. Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“It might be a sexual predator,” one girl said in a hushed, suspecting voice.

“Yeah, it might be a sexual predator,” another agreed.

They loved to say those words as much as they loved to eat s’mores and it always made me laugh.

“It’s not a sexual predator,” I assured them. But then the truck crept closer, pulled in and stopped at the metal pipe gate directly in front of us and turned off the engine.

“Hit the deck!” I instructed the girls and they dropped their bellies in the dirt, attempting to hide.

The truck door made the eerie sound of metal rubbing against metal when the mysterious driver opened it to get out. The massive silhouette stood in front of the headlights.

Even my heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought the predator surely could hear it as we layed on the ground, surrounded by brush.

With a strong southern twang, there was a shout into the dark night, “Whatcha all doing out here?”

I responded hesitantly, “P-p-park Ranger Judy. Is that you?”

“Of course it is.”

We let out a huge sigh of relief, began laughing our heads off and piled ourselves into the back bed of a crowded pick-up for a ride back to our cabin. It’s a story these girls, now in college, still tell and talk about.

Most times our bad experiences, missteps, and wrong turns can remind us of something important.

Something we’ve endured, something we’ve overcome.

Badges of bravery and honor we hold in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

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September 15

Are We Coloring Ourselves into Corners?

You know I was determined to color when the old-timey, handle sharpener quit working and I had to get the screwdriver tool kit out of the garage to fix it. A chunk of lead was jammed in the corner of the sharpening mechanism. I disassembled the handle and with every turn of the tiny screw, I felt a little bit more proud. Like I was re-connecting a life-saving radio transmitter or something.

But I wasn’t. I was coloring. My oldest daughter Tara would sigh and tell me it’s not that serious, but I knew better. We all need creative down time.

Last night, I desperately needed 56 sharpened colored pencils and Pandora playing one heart felt worship song after another. More specifically, I needed the over-used aqua green to be pointy sharp if I was going to stay inside the lines of the coloring page that positively proclaimed,

She believed she could, so she did.

I believe in coloring inside the lines but also, I believe in living our lives outside of them. I believe in pushing the page of what’s possible, with a solid pink eraser sitting close by.

Because sometimes the shades don’t blend the way we intended and the color comes out all wrong.

Still, we should try.

I can talk a good talk and color quite well, but the fear of breaking barriers or stepping into new territory can be quite scary. We grab from our jars the worn down dull nubs that we know, even though there is a constant stirring to explore something more.

Outside of the black lines that sit so definitively on the page, where the white space is, your life is waiting to be colored.

Wanting to come alive.

This week I wrote a new children’s book. It’s almost finished. A flash of inspiration came the way it sometimes does when I force myself to sit and soak up the solitude. I hope it won’t land in the pile of hundreds of other pages I’ve written, unsure of how to proceed, leaving me feeling like the abandoned peach pencil that seldom makes it to the page.

I think of my daughter, Tara, who has been fighting her whole life it seems and has never wanted to live inside the lines. She is a boxer girl now, determined to push past the pain of an unexpected punch, learning new moves and better ways to stand steady. Someday, she wants to teach self-defense to women and young girls.

We have goals, but we have barriers too. Black lines we can’t see, but still, hold us back.

I’m going to try and let today be a day that I do something bold. Today, I will be determined to grab for the magenta that is usually a little more louder than I want on my page. Don’t color yourself into a corner.

Today, let’s do one thing.

Just one thing, to get us a closer the picture we see for our lives.

Sign up for that class, make that meal, meet your neighbor.

Be the brightest you can be. Live today like a day you want to hang on the fridge.

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September 11

Falling Up

I woke up that morning and noticed immediately the new nip in the air when I let the dogs out. The tingly goose bumps under my new paisley nightgown confirmed what I suspected. Crisp fall mornings were now in session.

Dragging the perfectly organized giant red wagon over to the picnic table at the Farmer’s Market, I realized what I had forgotten. 58 degrees doesn’t last long in a Texas September, and no, it’s actually not quite sweater weather.

For the next few hours, I sweated profusely under my clothes.

I finger painted, smiled and kept conversations alive with little Picassos who couldn’t wait to create, grabbing for brushes, sponges, and being somewhat careful not to spill, mix colors or get it on their clothes.

Sweet Nikita needs her own art studio.

I couldn’t stop staring at the way she carefully blended the palette to make her picture somehow magical. The colors came to together to make her page come to life.

There was the boy who took his time, carefully painting each branch a different color and I commented on his uniqueness.

“You are an original,” I told him. “I’ve had dozens of kids here today, and no one has thought to paint their tree like that.”

He smiled in that shy way, letting me know he was happy, but also a little bit embarrassed by the compliment. We all need to know we are special. Our unique differences bring out the best. Like the leaves in fall, no two people exactly the same.

We change over time.

Scientific words like photosynthesis and chlorophyll aren’t in my everyday vocabulary. In prepping for the kids’ craft, I was amazed to discover what I probably learned in third-grade science class.

Leaves show their true colors in the fall.

The crunching, the jumping, and the memory of the smell of leaves burning in a barrel in my grandpa Terrill’s backyard are fall reminders of the changing seasons.

Something new is coming.

We make it through seasons of drought and indifference. We anticipate the harvest, the bounty, the plenty.

I think about fall and the fall and am so grateful for days gone by and our own growing seasons. I’m thankful for the day someone subtly reminded me of a life lesson and a line from a movie, “Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while.”

Just a little while.

If you’ve ever stood and watched the last leaf float to the ground, it brings an unexplainable peacefulness. The way I imagine it would feel to stand under the colorfully painted leaves of sweet Nikita’s tree.

When the last leaf falls, it leaves behind a barren tree with sturdy branches. It stands better, boldly grounded in the crisp new air, waiting expectantly for a new season.

And lasting changes that bring new life.

 

 

 

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September 8

When the Writing’s on the Wall….Or Sidewalk

I used to think I was a good speller.

But then I started blogging on a self-imposed deadline that usually gets squeezed in just before 10 am and recently realized the word, mochila, only has one L.

And it’s an “o”, not a “u”.

And for whatever reason, my brain refuses to accept the correct spelling for the word commitment. How hard is to remember it has two m’s and one t? I get red-lined on that one repeatedly when I type.

One of my favorite things to do as both a kid and as a mother of kids were studying for spelling tests.

We all love music and learn best when the letters are spoken in a rhythmic beat. I still hear my girls reciting back to me ORA-NGE. My mom taught them how to spell their colors on the midnight walks they took when it was barely dark and we’d just moved to Texas.

Last night, also barely before dark, I took the dogs out for a walk, not because I love to exercise so much, but because I can’t wait to get to the next chapter of my Audible book. Cecilia is really in a quandary with her husband’s secret and I want to know if Tess is going to forgive Will for falling in love with someone else.

I have to try and keep the stories straight because I’m also reading, or just finished a book called Margot and started In the Great Green Room about children’s author extraordinaire, Margaret Wise Brown.

New books are popping up everywhere and I’ve also put myself on a self-imposed timed television restriction. It was becoming too much non-activity and every single time I watched House Hunter’s International, I wanted to run away and harvest my own coconuts.

Anyway, last night I was walking with a trash filled poop bag, and Charlie and Mr. Riley were pulling me to walk over towards the garage where the black cat sits in the driveway. They were quickly disappointed to find the meow cat was missing so we moved on.

That’s when I spotted the spelling bee graffiti.

I refrained from ringing the door bell like the lunatic I can be sometimes. I imagined it would go about like this;

Ding dong

The screen door, barely cracked, “Can I help you?” she asks curiously while praying to God I don’t have a bible tract in my hand.

Far more excited and louder than a grown girl should be, I reply in squealed delight, “Oh my gosh! I saw the multicolored letters! I love that! Who wrote those words? What a super fun, great idea!”

The busy mother, cleaning up after dinner, would stand there staring at me like I surely must have just eaten the last two handfuls of last year’s Halloween candy. She quickly excuses herself before closing the door and hugging her child to safety.

A few weeks ago, I helped Saydee Grace learn to spell her name. We had a ton of fun screaming it in the car at the top of our lungs.

SAY-DEE!

She was in a mood and so that helped let off a little steam. For both of us. We also learned to spell her favorite color and the giant letters that adorn most of her mother’s casual wear. P-I-N-K.

One question has lingered in my head since 8 o’clock last night.

Who wrote those words? 

I thought of how you could mix those words around to make different stories.

“o”

u”

Sometimes it takes sidewalk chalk in every color to get our attention.

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September 1

I Saw the Sign

I was just coming out of the construction on IH 10, communicating with God in silence and forcing my thoughts and prayers up through the sunroof. That’s when I realized I took the wrong exit and turned around on the bridge in front of Frost Bank.

That’s also when I noticed the giant neon sign in the CVS parking lot.

INQUIRE WITHIN

Now I can’t get it out of my mind.

Sitting across from three interviewers, I steadied my knees under the table as I braced myself for the questions.

The director began, “I read through your profile and wanted to talk a little bit more about your responses.”

I figured this was coming. I over share. I tell too much. I am compulsively obsessed with trying to explain the whole truth, often times sharing more information than what’s probably necessary. It’s the Jim Carey, “I sped, I followed too closely, I ran a red light…” syndrome.

I think it’s good to be open.

As I considered what to say next, I ran my pointer finger in circles and rubbed the condensation that collected at the top of the sparkling water.

Do you want the real answers or the right answers? I wondered.

INQUIRE WITHIN

When I did that, I decided to go with real.

Real answers give God the most glory.

Real answers remind me of just how far I’ve come.

Miraculously carried on some days.

Real answers can make some people very uncomfortable. Not these people, I hoped, but the ones who don’t believe the same way we do. Believe me, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d become a person who was passionate about a life with Jesus.

I was the girl who would rather hear the spine shivering sounds of nails on a chalk board than listen to someone carry on about God. I had care and compassion for pretty much everyone except someone trying to pass a bible tract through the screen door. Religion was for the weak and delusional.

Except that when nothing else seemed to fill that nagging void, Jesus did.

Except when I had nowhere else to turn, I found power in that name.

When I find myself in a situation that feels uncomfortable or off, I turn inward. One of my favorites, Andy Stanley says, “Pay attention to the tension.” His Your Move podcast is one of the best I’ve ever heard. He gets right to the word and talks as fast as I do. I love it!

I will not likely ever hand someone a three-step pamphlet on salvation. But I can’t seem to stop myself from talking about the life giving stories I’ve read and the life changing times when I’ve experienced a presence like no other.

When there are so many terrible situations around us, peace can still be found within us.

It is a glimmer of hope when it all looks hopeless, a new perspective on what is important. A new direction on which way to go when we’re making big neon decisions.

I’m not always good at it, and often times fail miserably, but I do try to find the real answers, the ones that might show the most honor to myself, my girls and my God.

INQUIRE WITHIN

 

 

 

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