December 29

What did you say?

Goats do not come with instructions.

No one tells you they will climb on rocks, fences and the hood of your car.

No one warns you not to bottle feed a goat on your front porch or the many reasons why that is not the best-laid goat raising plan.

The last one we had led to a certain situation and I often tell the story when there seems to be some sort of miscommunication.

First of all, yes, we had a goat. We also lived near downtown, had a swimming pool in the backyard and didn’t own a goat shed. The goat stayed at a friend’s house.

My daughters were in FFA, but they were also the kind of Future Farmers of America girls that only wanted walk their goat at 9:00 on a Friday night.

“We need to walk the goat.”

“Walk it where?”

“Just walk it.”

“Why in God’s green acres do you need to walk a goat?”

“So they get comfortable with being walked.”

“The goat walks just fine.”

I was not familiar with the comings and goings of farm animals or stock show procedures and more than anything, it sounded to me like a made-up excuse to get out of the house on a weekend night when they were grounded.

Eventually, their interest in FFA and the goat waned and I offered him for sale along with Tara’s navy blue, yellow embroidered club jacket.

Words spread like wildfire in a small town and a few days later I received a call from another mother wanting to buy the discounted FFA coat.

With a strong Spanish accent and somewhat broken English, she made her request.

“Hello. I buy the coat.”

“Oh. Great. Yes.”

“Es at you house?”

“Yep! Come on over. I’m here now. I was going to ask more, but I’ll sell it to you for $45 since it has her name embroidered on it.”

“Ok. This is good.”

An hour or so later she showed up at the front door and I handed her the coat. She held it for a minute and then looked at me as if she were confused.

“I no want coat.”

She put her hands on her head and pointed two fingers out the way you would if you were imitating a charging bull. She may have swiped a leg back and forth for emphasis or I may have made that part up.

“I no want coat. Goat.”

“OH! Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. Por favor. You wanted to buy the goat?”

“Yes.”

“Well didn’t you think it was odd that I said her name was embroidered on it? Who sews a goat?”

She laughed.

“I wondered.”

I sold her the goat instead and it turned out it was some kind of special goat and brought a lot of money at the stock show.

“I told you,” my daughter chastised.

Misunderstandings can be funny or fragile.

The other night I was listening to a webinar by best-selling author and writing coach, Nina Amir and she told a story about sharing her desires to be a novelist with her mother who responded that only really good writers are able to do that.

What she heard was that she was not good enough. It’s not what her mother said, but it’s what she heard.

Coat or goat?

What false beliefs have we been walking around with for far too long? In this New Year, I hope those are the misunderstandings I will be able to shed.

I hope that I will listen less to the lies that play in my head and spend more time reflecting on the word of God, embroidered on my heart, bringing life and love.

At any time.

December 22

The Nutcracker…Tutu Much Fun!

She stood on her tippy toes.

At the front of the concession stand line where the room was packed with moms, dads and little girls dressed in taffeta and lace, she showed me her moves and rose to the very tiny tips of her toes.

I thought she deserved a free package of Cracker Jacks. I can’t even feel my toes on most days, especially when I try to cram them into my favorite boots that are a tad too small.

When Saydee Grace saw her practically professional ballerina move, her eyes grew wide in amazement. Then she turned from the little girl and demanded Oreos and Sprite.

It was Saydee’s first ballet, a night of culture, arts and a fabulous carriage-like bike ride through the festive lights and downtown streets of San Antonio. Christmas music played while we sat snuggled together in the back, watching the blur of the multi-colored lights on the buildings as we sped by.

The only disappointment was having to explain in detail why she wouldn’t be getting on stage.

“We are here to watch the other ballerinas. You’ll have your turn someday.”

“I can do it now,” she assured me.

We moved with the crowd to find our Groupon discounted, miraculous front row seats. But then there were two. The chairs at the very front and the immovable rows that began just behind the half wall.

“Do you know where 109 and 110 are?” I asked a woman, who appeared to be a lot more cultured than myself.

“These seats are not numbered,” she replied. I thought I sensed a tone, but it was likely just me, sweating profusely under my houndstooth wrap, dealing with a sudden menopausal hot flash and hoping nobody saw my granddaughter snacking on snot.

Before the show began, a polished man with a sweet demeanor encouraged us to turn off our cell phones. Pictures were not allowed. It can be disruptive to the other members of the audience. He did not mention that a tiny Troll flashlight clipped to a fuzzy purse could also be a distraction. Saydee’s streaming light force was brighter than any stage lighting.

The Nutcracker, performed to perfection by the Mejia Ballet International and San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet, was absolutely delightful. I only slightly nodded off for one head jerking second during the first act. The little girl on my left just smiled when we both realized what had happened.

The music, the sets, the costumes, it was a magical evening. I picked out my favorite ballerina, one of the trio, dressed in light pink with a round face and big, beautiful smile. There was something special about her. She danced like she meant it. Her performance seemed effortless, fun and light.

One Christmas, like most little girls, I received a bright pink music box with the small silver wind-up on the back. Countless hours were spent carefully lifting the lid, slowly peeking into the box, watching her come to life. To twirl, to dance.

Last night, sitting in such a perfect spot, I felt like I was sitting on the very edge of that box, watching my childhood ballerina dance her way to life.

The seats might not be numbered, but our days are. The ones we spend making memories with the people we love are always days worth counting. I’m so in love with the people who practice relentlessly so they can share their creative talents for us to enjoy. They deserve an audience. I think Saydee had it right all along when she said, “I’m ready now.”

We don’t ever need permission to dance.

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December 18

Twinkle, Twinkle…

The lights were hung on the bushes with care.

And then my daughter said they needed adjusting.

I wanted to be Martha from The Grinch who could string beauty in seconds instead of the laborious time it took to get them untangled in the garage. I’d like people to stop asking if I’m ready for Christmas and just say, “Merry Christmas.”

There is still a skinny $14.00 tree in the window, begging to be decorated. At this point, I think Christmas morning might be a lovely time to do it. I will drink my cup of Folgers coffee house with French vanilla creamer and unwrap the vintage bulbs I’ve found in the shops along Boerne’s main street.

Right now, it’s the lights I’m obsessed with. I can never get enough of the Christmas lights and I slow my driving as I pass St. Peter’s Catholic Church, lit up on the hill. It reminds me of the years I drove around and around the block in Mason to see the simple beauty of those bright white lights, highlighting every architectural detail of the Lutheran Church,  decorated with the biggest bulbs I’ve ever seen.

During a recent SCBWI meeting with my fabulous, fellow children’s writers, we were given a writing prompt about a time we experienced wonder. I was as surprised as a kid on Christmas morning when the Ghost of Christmas past and a memory of the spectacular twinkling lights in Virginia Beach now only made me smile.

Ghosts of Christmas regrets don’t shine very bright or serve a good purpose during a season of love and celebration.

When I think about my made-up 11th commandment, Thou shalt let thy little light shine, I’m challenged to be a beacon, but more often, I feel like the broken receptacle in my closet, casting only darkness.

I pause for a second to remember all the people in my life who really know how to shine. Some use their gifts of administration and organization, some are incredible encouragers or maybe they care and share abundantly with others. I wondered how I best shine.

Yesterday at 1910, we were called to remember who we represent as followers of Christ. As believers, our lives should reflect light in the darkness. We are to put the light of God with us, on a lampstand.

Knowing we each shine in a different way, I sat in my chair, wondering again, asking the Lord, How does my light shine?

In that holy, quiet moment of reflection, immediately, the leggy fringe lamp from The Christmas Story popped into my head.

Oh. Glory in the highest. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

December 15

The Unexpected

 

No tree, no presents, no outdoor lights.

A few days ago I finally tossed the last of the heirloom pumpkins that have been taking up front porch space since October. Somehow, in all of my scurrying about, I missed a month and woke up suddenly aware that Christmas is only 10 days away.

I want it to be okay that my family gets Mason jars filled with perfectly cracked pecan halves. I want the thought to count.

Thankfully my brother doesn’t want a new toolset but instead asked me to bake him the Supreme Carrot Cake, a recipe from the Southern Living cookbook that has most of my five-star reviews, and makes all other carrot cake taste like tires.

I often make the Favorite Pecan Pie when I want to show love and thankfulness and received the kindest email ever from a recent recipient.

“I don’t know where you are from, but that superb pecan pie qualifies you as a “daughter of the South”.  Was as good as the pie my Alabama grandmother used to make!”

Reading that email, made my day and month. I’m a Midwest Iowa farm girl who has been in Texas a long time. I wonder if this is home now? She took the time to tell me my thought counted, and for a moment, I felt like a southern belle. Knowing I would never fit in at a DAR luncheon, and on the days I feel more like the beast, it was thoughtful and appreciated.

The snowfall last week was another unexpected gift that still makes me goosebump grateful! My 5th-grade friend and I were talking about my childhood and growing up with mounds and mounds of snow and the exciting but dangerous sport of sledding.

She said she’s never seen snow.

“You’ve never seen snow?”

“No.”

“That’s crazy. I wish we could go somewhere to see snow, like take a trip. That would be fun. I guess we’ll just have to pray some in,” I said babbling excitedly, moving the barbecue baked chicken to one side of my mouth.

She looked at me with the same unbelief that settled over me as soon as I said it.

“Yeah.”

It was courteous but doubtful.

About a week later, after a few focused hours, I came out of my home office and was shocked to see snow-covered streets, frosted trees, and a white lawn.

I think I screamed with jolly joy, then leashed up the dogs and ran them across the field to the school to share the awesomeness of the unexpected.

This is the wonder that really means something.

Every once in a while, my daughters will call and ask me to pray for them. It’s one of the best kind of phone calls I can get.

I tell them, “I will.”

“I mean it. It’s super important.”

“I will. I promise. I’m not going to hang out on my knees in the closet all day with lit candles, but I’ll say a prayer.”

Steering Wheel prayers. Lots and lots of steering wheel prayers. When they are answered, it builds both their faith and mine.

If it’s the thought that counts, what kinds of things are we thinking?

Personally, I think I need to remember all of the reasons we have to celebrate this season. And go hang some lights already.

 

 

 

 

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December 11

Christmas Finals & Anger Management

Do you know why the marketing departments made a corporate decision to show only the finished product on the cover box of gingerbread making kits?

Because angry faces do not sell holiday cheer.

They sell quarts of eggnog in need of spiking.

Anyone who has ever built a gingerbread house knows they do not produce as much joy as they do frown lines we are afraid will be forever etched on our foreheads.

Four grown women attempted it yesterday….for four hours!

As my daughter heads into finals this week at Texas State, I’ve decided that making and decorating a gingerbread house should be the court-ordered final for all anger management classes.

Just last week I talked with my mentee about the love/hate relationship I have with gingerbread houses. She’s in 5th grade and knew exactly what I was talking about. On a good day, when I’m filled with Jesus, the reason for the season and a double chocolate cocoa, I can tolerate the patience it takes to hold the roof together.

Other days, just no.

I want to pretend I’m the super scary abominable snowman in that one Christmas classic I love so much and stomp the crap out of every single one.

My mom, forever a corporate organizer, micro-managed our group activity and made sure we dusted the crumbs off before decorating. I only felt a little bit bad when her house wouldn’t hold together and fell into a brown frosted heap on the aluminum foil.

But because I am a lot like her in some ways, and grateful for that most days of the year, I also over-corrected the selection of roofing materials as the others worked diligently.

“Are you sure you want to use that?” I questioned as nicely as possible.

“It’s just like Barbies all over again, Tina.”

“I know, I know. You’re not being bossy, your idea is just better,” Maureen said.

Quietly, with only an occasional sarcastic hum of a Christmas Carol, we decorated with all of the artistry we could muster.

“I’d like the door to be open, rather than closed,” I encouraged. “So that when people stand around it they will say things like, ‘What the artists are conveying in this piece is that we must live our lives open and inviting, welcoming and warm.'”

They laughed like I was ridiculous, but I was totally sort of serious.

Eventually, once the royal frosting set up, I noticed that the stability of the structure brought a Bethlehem kind of peace to the table.

We talked as we snacked on stale roofing materials and licked the frosting off our fingers from a blown-out bag of icing. Stability is essential for this season. The word stability comes from the Greek word stable.

I totally just made that up.

But when I think of stables, I think of a manger, Mary and wise men.

And farm animals.

I think about making amends with the people I often anger and remember the Christmas I thought the green sweatpants were a joke. When I was a girl, one of the best presents I could ever receive was more Barbie stuff.

I love, love, loved my Barbies.

In her spare time, my working mother that I sometimes mock, made awesome furniture out of milk cartons and upholstered the couch with scraps of brown corduroy and white for the chairs. A few years later, she had someone build me the most amazing wood furniture with a dining table and a hutch that had little tiny drawers and I was able to display my tiny blue pottery plates that we got at Art in the Park on the tiny open shelves. There were elegant homemade dresses, shirts and skirts, and the most fabulous wool coat.

One day, already on edge, I walked into my girls’ bedroom and saw a spread out mess of all my Barbie stuff and theirs combined. It was strewn about the room in total chaos.

Unbridled mom anger took over in that moment.

I got a giant black Hefty from under the sink and began hastily shoving it all in the bag. I probably said something about other kids appreciating what they have a lot more and other angry words, the kind you can’t take back. I didn’t know that I was the one who would be learning a lesson.

I packed it all up and dropped the bag off in the alley, just behind the thrift store door and drove off. By the time I got back home, I calmed down enough to realize how much I treasured all those happy memories I just gave away. So I raced back to get them.

But it was all gone.

In just a matter of minutes, my own emotional instability made me lose something very important to me. Uncontrollable anger is not a fruit I want to decorate my house with anymore.

I want it covered in sweet layers of love and the pipe-filled frosting of grace. Some days it feels like my house is falling into a broken heap. The best days are the ones where it stands.

Stable.

 

 

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December 8

All Things New

Wreath road kill.

That’s what it was.

When I first drove by it on the way to 1910 last Sunday, I said out loud, “Oh, that looks like mistletoe.”

After leaving service, I slowed just enough to see that it was in fact, a Christmas wreath. I’ve been pining for a solid green one from Wayfair for weeks now, one I could use year round, but it was more like $59 dollars. And free is fabulous.

Certain that the heavenly hallelujah choir of angels above would protect me on RR 474, I pulled the car over, ran out into the street, snatched it up off the highway and skipped joyfully back to the car without getting run over by all the people rushing to the 11:30 service.

A few days later, I was dropping off packages of baking mix for a few people in Alamo Heights and found a wood serving tray and a plant stand on the curb and threw those in too.

Next, I went to drive-by a home Mary Louise might be interested in and struck curb-side street gold. Pilfering through the pile of goodies, I spotted two must-have ceramic salamanders, a shade-less lamp, another serving tray and two incredibly cool wood end tables that would paint-up perfectly. My friend Kathy is an expert furniture restorer. She uses the Annie Sloan milk paint and creates pieces of art for her home and consignment.

She is teaching me, but at this point, I am much more skilled at channeling Fred Sanford while rummaging through other people’s garbage.

I’ve started painting the two tables French linen and learned a knock-down technique that lets a little bit of the original wood peak through. It’s like original sin, but prettier.

And that’s what I think I’m loving so much about this new hobby. Everything I do turns my heart back to God. I lightly sand the top and remember how rough my edges have been. I see the spots that still need a little more attention. Every step, like every paint stroke, makes the masterpiece look a little different than it did before.

We are complicated. There are layers. Many, many layers.

I love the idea of restoration, but I’m not good at the finicky details of sanding, staining, and the patience it takes to pull off endless coats of poly finish. The milk paint technique gives me the freedom to create the way I really am, a little off and imperfect in so many places.

Flawless is an unworthy struggle to strive for, and impossibly hard to obtain anyway.

It feels unauthentic and glossed over like the Christmas party conversations I will likely avoid again this year. Mostly, to me, they feel as fluffy and clean as the snow that fell a few inches onto my Texas yard last night. I want to know what’s really happening, not the mail-out version to family and friends.

Real, unexpected beauty is so spectacular.

The snowfall was incredible, just beautiful, and I am at a loss to describe what I felt when I first looked out the window to see that blanket of white.

Child-like wonder.

And I crave to be around the people who can love and accept the truth of an imperfect story and the messiness of fresh yellow stains after walking the dogs.

Life is not a picture perfect postcard.

But it is a joy. And it is a wonder to watch when God does something amazing, unexpected and shows us so magically what it looks like to be fresh, clean, new…restored.

 

 

 

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December 4

The Scars Unseen

I have a scar on my right knee that’s been there since about 4th grade, a skateboarding stunt gone wrong.

I got it at my favorite house of all the homes we ever lived in. The bungalow on the hill with the huge wide porch and tapered columns. Mom planted a big garden in the backyard and grew sunflowers that stood two feet taller than my best friend.

It’s the home where one brother fell asleep in his plate of spaghetti and the other stuck a metal key in a light socket. I call him Eugene Melvin Belvin Borris because he’s always been a bit of a dork and super curious about things older sisters didn’t care about. That’s not bullying, that’s the normal dynamics of sibling relationships, or so I used to think.

The home on 3rd Ave. South was one of many addresses where I woke up in the middle of the night to shouting and long expletive sentences that were as entertaining as they were worrisome. My mom, always home with us, stayed up late waiting for our dad who sometimes came home too late from the bar smelling like beer, cigarettes and a scent she never wore. His clothes once found their way to the front lawn…via the second story master bedroom window.

I prayed at that home and many others that she would leave him. She was better than that and deserved more. It takes a long time to have a better understanding of someone else’s story.

Jeremy’s skateboard story is different than mine, though that’s not really his name, and he stands about 6 feet tall. We met last week. The first time I saw him he was huddled against the wall in a corner with a hoodie pulled over his short red hair, hiding this whispy 6 inch beard that begs to be cut off.

He is skinny at only about 130 pounds and can’t eat Corn Nuts because his teeth have all been pulled. His bright blue eyes are beautiful but cautious in a way that has seen too much for a young man in his 20’s. They reflect a sort of sadness and sorrow. My heart wanted to hug his guts out.

But then he started a conversation with a few other people and there, in the waiting room, he began to share about this drug and that drug and how you can mix this and do that and how one time he did blah blah blah and it was hilarious.

There was also an 8th-grade boy in the room and two elementary school kids including a girl who had about 17 healed over cut marks hiding just under her sweatshirt. I felt them and my stomach began to feel nauseous, sweat began to seep into my double layered shirt and my blood was starting to warm.

The person I used to be, when I was still an inexperienced little girl with big dreams, interrupted the conversation. With nothing but love in my heart and a lot of backstories to draw from, I could not sit quietly any longer. And I said some things. I don’t remember what exactly.

This was not the place. Children are in the room. And sure, it all seems like fun and games and it’s also so frickin’ hilarious until it’s not. Until something terrible happens and you find yourself broken and alone, beat down, addicted, homeless, and feeling nothing but hopelessness. It’s all funny until you realize that all of this fun has just destroyed decades of your life.

And then we bonded. Jeremy shared with me his own skateboard story. How he tried to ride it for the first time as a little boy, outside, on the sidewalk, all by himself. He mounted with both feet and fell off immediately. He started crying, not just crying, but really wailing because he hurt himself pretty bad.

His dad came running out of the house, yanked him up by one arm and began beating his butt and screaming in his face, “You don’t cry! You do not cry!”

Until years later, when we realize our lives have been lived as one big, loud cry for help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 1

Finding the Wizard Within

We gathered in the family room, sprawled out all over the place to enjoy our post-Thanksgiving food coma. Our unconventional group this year grew to include Max, a black and brown Weiner puppy, and Taylor, an 18-year-old Air Force girl who is the daughter of one of my brother’s life-long friends from the Midwest.

Aunt Maureen, who we call Auntie M, Saydee and I were sitting on the love seat searching for the boomerang, the golf club, and the crown on my Highlights, Hidden Pictures app. Nanny, Chelsea, and Natalie were attempting to organize the Christmas gift exchange and my brother was making inappropriate jokes and movie suggestions.

“You wanna watch It?”

I looked up from my phone screen, “No.”

“Why not? It’s not scary. It’s the old made for t.v. one.”

“No. It’s Thanksgiving.”

This has become a common holiday argument ever since I got mad one year for being forced to sit through Planet of the Apes on Christmas. In a non-sports watching family, the after meal movie is almost as important as how moist the turkey came out.

We finally agreed on a favorite childhood tradition, The Wizard of Oz because Saydee is almost five and has yet to be haunted by the memory of flying monkeys.

The questions I had at that age were different than the ones I thought to ask during this most recent viewing. “How did the ruby slippers get on Dorothy’s feet?” was overshadowed by my determination to understand the pig-tailed girl in the blue and white gingham dress a little better.

Dorothy’s directions were simple. They were just five words.

Follow. The. Yellow. Brick. Road.

But then she meets the scarecrow at this pivotal crossroads moment. I don’t know that I’ve noticed that before, but she actually had three yellow brick roads she could have followed! I’m sorry, but seriously. That’s just wrong. I would have plopped my butt down with the wicker basket, my little dog too, and had a meltdown right then and there.

“Which yellow brick road?”

That is so jacked up. You can’t just tell someone or sing to someone in tiny little people voices to follow the brick road and then follow it until you find three! It’s just not right. You thought the tornado was bad? Dear God. How did she know which way to go?

It makes me crazy. I wanted to start throwing apples at evil, grabby trees.

And then, while shoving my face with two different kinds of pie AND cherry cheesecake, I remembered that bible verse about not moving to the left or the right, but to stay straight on the path and another that talks about not letting yourself be blown all over the place like a reed on the water.

Stay focused. Stay intentional. Stay straight. But you still have to take risks. Dorothy’s adventure to Oz was risky.

A few weeks ago I was listening to Minute with Maxwell. He mentioned something that has stuck with me when I find myself in a jam or out of my comfort zone. The good fruit is out on the limb. You have to stretch yourself to get it.

I stretched myself the last 30 days in making an attempt at a 50,000-word manuscript completion but failed. I failed in committing myself to a structured schedule and solid plan of exactly how much I would have to do in such a short amount of time. Progress was made, but at some point, I just wanted to go to sleep in a poppy field and take a frickin’ nap.

It was much easier for me to gravitate back to the fun, light children’s books I’ve been working on than it was to write about those regretful times when I found myself so far off the path, continuously wrestling with so many monkeys on my back.

I long for the wizard to tell me I’ve had it all along and I want to go home.

At the crossroads, when I’m asking myself which way to go, what direction do I take, or what way do I respond? I’m learning to ask better questions. What is the right thing to do? What answer or solution gives God the most glory? What is the story I want to tell?

I’m learning to lean into my insecurities and get directional strategies from leaders I trust even more than Glenda the Good Witch. I listen to Andy Stanley’s Your Move podcast, John Maxwell or Joyce Meyer and other people I admire and have been through some stuff. We all need help finding the right way to go.

Thankfully, I find God is more accessible than a wizard. My brother always says it’s the wizard, not the wand and I’m pretty sure he’s talking about something totally inappropriate as usual, but still…

In our attempts to follow those yellow brick roads, we need sound advice and people who love and support us, knowing and accepting we are all flawed with imperfections. We still need a scarecrow, a lion, and a tin man.

And we need to know how to use what we already have, within us.

A hot air balloon ride out wouldn’t hurt either.

 

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