Fishy

firehouse

When the siren sounds at Firehouse 19 and Paramedic Scott is called out to an emergency, he never knows what he and his partner will encounter when they answer that call.  A twenty-two year veteran of the Houston Fire Department, my brother works in one of the most poverty stricken and crime ridden neighborhoods in the city.  He has told me stories that have shaken my faith in humanity and yet others that have restored it.   Unspeakable abuse and senseless violence thrive in the poverty that exists in the 5th Ward.

He has regaled me with stories about everything from delivering babies with a host of neighbors looking on to tackling a gunshot victim who ran across the yard despite a bullet in his forehead.  Drugged and diseased prostitutes who propositioned him and homeless men who just needed a meal and a bed for the night.

But the stories about the children are more than horrific. They are heartbreaking.

Five year olds whose innocence is lost forever.  Ten year olds, malnourished and weary, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and a baby sister on their hips.   Teens who are lost in a fog of insecurity, desperate to fill the emptiness and take their own lives.

These stories hit you like a fist to the gut and make you question everything you believe in.  It changes a person.  It has changed him.  His views are harsher.  His trust and tolerance has waned.  Still one of the best men I know, kind and caring, intuitive and generous he loves his job and his family.

But these horrors lay heavily on his heart.

That’s why I was so taken aback today when I watched as he held his eight year old’s hand, standing over the grave of her goldfish who had just passed on.  Savannah was almost inconsolable but so was her daddy.  He was weeping.  It made no sense to me that a man who sees the worst human nature has to offer every single day on duty would be affected so heavily by such a loss.

And then I realized, his tears were not for “Fishy” but for his daughter and her devastation.  Her little heart was broken for the first time.  A tiny part of her would never be the same.  My brother knew his child’s pain, her loss like only a father can.  He was shedding the tears of compassion.

It got me thinking about our heavenly father and how he must weep for us when we are hurting.

The Bible tells us that God calls us his sons and daughters. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!  And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

His Word goes on to say that we are of great value to Him, each one of us!  No matter how small.   No matter what we have or haven’t done.  No matter how trivial or insignificant we consider our needs to be.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Matthew 6:26

Our heavenly father is so much more than a King who sits on a throne overseeing His creation.

He is the daddy who laughs when he pushes us on the swing.  He is the daddy who cares enough to blow on our macaroni and cheese so that it doesn’t burn our mouths.  He is the ever vigilant daddy who reminds us to brush our teeth.  He is the doting daddy who takes hundreds of pictures at our dance recitals.

And he is the daddy who holds our hand as we say good bye to a friend.  He dries our tears.  He wraps us in his arms.

He loves us.

fishy

Imprint

perfect

The painters removed the lattice work and tossed it on the trash heap at the curb.  This afternoon, the tired walls of my condo would receive a fresh coat of paint.  What remained, however, almost like a shadow, was the detailed outline of what had been in place for so long.  The sun had faded the exterior paint but not the part covered by the garden trellis and climbing vines that held it in place.

It was an imprint, an exact copy of what was.  And it was actually kind of pretty.  I knew the life of this particular visual was only temporary but it got me thinking about imprints.  Whether a shadow on a wall, a scar on delicate skin, dimples in a carpet or scratches on an antique table, the imprint is real.  It makes its mark. It changes things if only for a minute or two.  Yet the change could be lasting, a kind of legacy.

I thought about the moments that have imprinted my life over the years like the first time I saw a Shakespearean play in London, a modern performance of Coriolanus.   I can still feel the heat as motorcycles roared onto the stage from behind the curtain.  I can still see long haired, rough looking actors in leather jackets and heavy boots as they emerge from the smoke and fog.   I can still hear the thunderous applause and enthusiastic cheers from the audience.  And I can still taste the seed planted in my being that night, a seed that would grow into a deep, insatiable love of both theatre and words.

I thought about the people who have imprinted my life like the teacher who recognized my love of writing, challenged me to hone my skills and then trusted me to develop a creative writing magazine.   Or years later, my own student who said I had made such a difference in her life that she would aspire to be “somebody’s somebody” as I had been hers.

I thought about the places that left an imprint on my heart.  Africa.  The wide open plains seen from the window of a crowded airplane, seamless borders, no evidence of civilization, just pristine land, golden.  And the village clinic in the bush, a sad place frozen in time.  The smell of sickness, primitive equipment, dusty floors and desperate eyes.  Or the shady grove that served as covering for a newly planted church and a congregation of hundreds.  Nothing more than trees and sand yet the sound of rejoicing filled the air like a cathedral choir.

Most importantly though I thought about the imprint that lives and breathes in my soul because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a sacred, spiritual imprint that has brought countless moments of grace, mercy and joy.  A forever imprint because it has taken me to places of inspiration I never imagined.  A forever imprint because it brought people in my life who share my faith and make me a better person.

So as I open the door to 2016 and gaze upon my world I seek to not only be the recipient of imprints but I pray to be the one who imprints others.  Just as the sun left a lattice work mark on my wall, I want to let the Son shine through me and leave a mark.

My word is IMPRINT. best

Junk Drawers

 

junk

We all have one.  I have three.  Junk drawers, that is.  One of mine is in my nana’s beautiful hundred and fifty year old sideboard.  I think Americans call them buffets.  My nana inherited it from her mother. My mother had it after that. It’s mine now and I love to imagine the dinners and other gatherings it witnessed in another place, another time.  My mind’s eye sees it stacked with tea trays, silver platters, serving bowls and the “good” china.  An ivory lace runner with embroidered floral designs, daffodils and pansies mostly, soften the dark, rich oak and the immensity of this treasured family heirloom.  My nana’s legendary Sunday roast dinner is about to be served.  A savory, mouthwatering aroma fills the air in the small dining room with net curtains and powder blue walls.  New potatoes drip with butter and just a pinch of salt.  Steam escapes from a covered bowl filled to the top with carrots and onions cooked to perfection.  Yorkshire puddings, beef broth drizzled over them, arouse the senses and beckon.   A raspberry and rhubarb trifle, layered with jam, sponge cake and heavy cream tempts every sweet tooth in the room.

But, I digress, this sideboard, definitely regal in its day, has crossed an ocean and travelled many miles only to house a junk drawer.  This is an abomination!

Still, this ill placed junk drawer exists.  In it lives a collection of things no longer useful, outdated items, broken things, extras.  Batteries, do they still have a charge?   A handful of paperclips, some errant staples and half a dozen thumbtacks. Ouch!  A receipt for a dozen donuts, faded and creased. Was I hiding it?   Over-sized calculators from an age when we didn’t have everything we needed on a cell phone.  A miniature screwdriver long since separated from its handy, pocket-sized set. A very nice parting gift when it was whole. Three bottles of glue.  An empty tape dispenser.  Some sour hard candy.  Sticky and bitter.  A deflated balloon. An invitation to a birthday party, four years ago!  Pens with no ink.  Pencils with no erasers.  A faded picture of me beside my first car.  It was candy apple red and I was so proud.  And my son’s wisdom teeth wrapped in gauze tucked into a tiny yellow envelope.  That’s just gross!

So a collection of discarded items, hidden from sight, simply is.   These things are not wanted nor are they needed anymore.  They no longer serve a purpose for anything, to anyone except to take up space. They are an unsightly mess that we intend to get to, one day.  Why do we keep them?  Shouldn’t the drawers in this exquisite piece of furniture with brass pulls, claw feet and gold inlay be filled with a white linen table cloth and starched, ironed, neatly folded napkins? Shouldn’t it hold polished, carefully stacked forks, spoon and knives?  Pretty things.  Clean things.  Useful things. Best things.

I think the sideboard is a little like us.  We are a beautiful creation, crafted by a carpenter’s gifted hand.  None of us is anything like another.  We are one of a kind and serve many purposes.  We have sailed seas, sometimes enjoying calm winds and peaceful waters and other times weathering dangerous storms.  We have been boxed up, wrapped up and taken to new places.  Sometimes we remain in storage, waiting.  We may lose a handle, bare a scar, a watermark or two but eventually, we are restored to our former glory and purpose.

We may still house a junk drawer or two however and it is full of things that plague us and hold us back.   These seemingly bottomless spaces hold the things that are unnecessary, things that remind us of days long gone, things that are not part of our lives anymore.  Things that we hid, things that we missed and things that stung and caused pain.  Even things that are unsightly and tasteless.

Perhaps we need to clean out these junk drawers in our minds, rid ourselves of the chaos.  We are, after all a priceless work of art, a masterpiece like no other and the junk only takes up space.  The contents are redundant and embarrass us.  Perhaps that is why we hide it.  I say, empty those drawers.  Realize your worth.  Don’t mind the imperfections.  Polish yourself up.  Shine again.

 

“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold all things are become anew.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

 

 

A Bad Batch

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I am a terrible cook.  My family still laughs about California shaped pancakes,  boiled shrimp that could have doubled for a dog’s chew toy and venison chili that tasted much like swamp water.

But I love to bake, especially at Christmas.

I research recipes on line and try them out while donning my grandmother’s apron and listening to one of my favorite holiday movies.  I don’t have to watch the movie.  It simply keeps me company and puts me in the holiday spirit.

Today I attempted a recipe for cake batter cookies made with whipped topping and powdered sugar.  The first batch, lemon-flavored cookies, turned out so well I had to exert some real self-control so as to not devour them all myself, in one fell swoop.  Once they were securely stored in an airtight container, I began the second batch, strawberry-flavored.

Epic fail.  Since they are cake batter cookies it is very important to space them apart from one another.  If the spacing is not good, what emerges from the oven is a misshapen conglomeration that looks less like cookies and more like a flat, very sad cake. It’s actually, worse than that.  My cookies looked like a medical lab experiment gone terribly wrong.

Frustrated and embarrassed by my flop, I needed to get rid of the evidence quickly.  But I was curious, so I broke off a piece and sampled it.  The grotesque “cookies” actually tasted pretty good.  There was no way, however, that I was going serve these to friends and family. The neighborhood volunteer fire department and city workers who faithfully collect my trash every week would not receive a festively wrapped batch of homemade cookies from me this year! What a waste!

This disaster was discarded and forgotten.  Almost.

It did make me wonder though, “What if God discarded the bad batches that we so often become even when we know Him?”  Despite careful preparation and the watchful eye of our creator, we often disappoint.  We often fall short.  We are sometimes quite unsightly.  We might be considered a waste.

Did God discard David when he bedded another man’s wife and set up her husband to be killed?  Moses when he lost his temper?  The Israelites when they repeatedly questioned and outright rebelled?  Simon Peter when he denied Jesus?  Martha when she became rattled about work and her sister and complained to the Lord, almost missing the whole point?

Pretty bad batches all of these.  Disappointing.  Short.  Unsightly. Wasteful.

But He doesn’t throw us out.  He knows the sweetness that lies beneath the ugly surface. He made us.  We may not be pleasing to the world’s eye, but that doesn’t matter to Him.  He doesn’t discard bad batches.  He makes kings, leaders, nations, prophets and object lessons of us.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Lord, help me to remember that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and never a bad batch in your eyes.

Perspective

lunch break3From the Driver’s Side Window     

Few things bring teachers more joy than an in-service day.  They call them professional development days now.  It’s not the meetings we enjoy really. We actually abhor those.  There are few things worse than people with no classroom experience being paid big bucks to tell us how to do our job and re-invent the wheel.  Usually it goes like this, we are ushered into an auditorium or school cafeteria, forced to take part in an icebreaker activity, and made to watch a motivational video. Then, there is a power point with about a hundred slides and they read it to us!  Finally, we break up in groups to analyze data… for hours!

It’s the extended lunch away from campus we love.   We get to go anywhere we want!  A place that serves alcohol is not a good idea, but it’s amazing how excited we get at the mention of a buffet. A chance to actually enjoy a midday meal at our leisure with co-worker friends is the real draw. We might even order dessert and refills on tea.

Anyone who is or has been a teacher knows that the twenty-seven minutes, on average, you are given every day to gulp down a tuna sandwich or last night’s lasagna left-overs is just not enough time.  This is especially true when you have run out of copies of a worksheet and the copier needs paper! Maybe you get a phone call.  Your baby sitter has cancelled for tomorrow.  You’ll figure that out later.  Perhaps you need to turn in a survey to the front office secretary, or you need to seek out a tech savvy colleague because your printer is acting up again.

Let’s not even talk about a restroom break.  Teachers have super-hero bladders.  It’s in our genetics.  Clearly stated in the legendary teacher handbook, and in your hire contract there is a clause that reads something like this, “The teacher must never, ever, even on pain of death, leave while students are in the classroom or during passing periods when she is supposed to be on duty guarding the hallway for all manner of danger and disruption.”

Well, it says something like that.  If you have “C” lunch and seventh period conference, you are out of luck.

Suffice it to say, a real lunch hour if definitely a treat.

On this particular day, we stuffed ourselves at a Chinese buffet, savored every bite and every moment.  Suddenly, someone noticed it was 12:50. We had ten minutes to get back to school and be back in our uncomfortable seats.  I had volunteered to drive as my van held more.   So, in my haste, I might have exceeded a few speed limits along the way and just maybe slipped through one yellow light.

Oh my goodness! A train!  Like students who had slipped away from campus without permission and feared a tardy slip, we desperately wondered if we should back up and take an alternate route.  Alas, a line of cars had already formed behind us.  We were going to have to wait.

I glanced to my left where vacant field had been razed and yet another office building was under construction. Dust rose from the ground and filled the air.  The August sun made a rainbow mirage near the ground. It was blazing hot, furnace hot, blistering hot.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The air was heavy and stifling.

wter

 

And then I saw them.  Six men in long-sleeved chambray shirts and dirty blue jeans.  They were seated on the ground, huddled together in the only shade available, that made by an enormous flatbed truck parked on the construction site.  Sweat stains marked their armpits and collars.  Tired legs and heavy work boots stretched out in front of them, construction hats lay discarded beside them.  Each man had a wet cloth draped around his shoulders.  Their heads were soaked with sweat, faces weathered by too many days outside in the heat, rain and cold.

One of them was young, probably still in his teens.  Another was old, wrinkled and gray-haired. The others looked to be middle aged.  I wondered about each of them.  Did the young one have a sweetheart, a wife?  Was this a summer job and might I see him when school started in a couple of days?  Did he like to dance, play baseball or video games?  Who were these men to him?  The one to his right could have been his brother.  Their smiles were the same.

I wondered if the gray-haired man was a grandfather.  Did he read to his grandsons and had he taught them to make things with their hands like his grandfather had taught him?  Had he told them how important it was to mind their manners, always tell the truth and pray? And could anyone possibly know how much he loved them?

Though I felt like an intruder peering not so surreptitiously in on these men’s few minutes of freedom from their labors, I couldn’t help myself.  They ate sandwiches from brown paper bags and shared a large bag of chips.  There was a cooler from which they refilled their cups with gallons of water and drank thirstily.

What I noticed most about these men though, was the laughter that came in bursts followed by elbows, nudges, pushes and slaps on the back.   They talked constantly, taking part in what seemed to be a playful banter.  I couldn’t hear what was said.   The train and noise from the machinery muted their voices. I didn’t need to know what was being said.  These men were friends, maybe family.  They had worked hard all morning and now they were taking a break.

Suddenly, a whistle blew above the noise and the dusty scene quickly dissipated.  They were gone, these players on an impromptu stage.

“Clang! Clang!  Clang!” Up went the arms of the railroad crossing.  A green light and we were in motion.

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What God taught me that day from the driver’s side window was PERSPECTIVE.

Wasps

wasp

The condominium complex, I have called home for the last four years has been alive with activity this month. Each of the tiny houses connected like random strings of dominoes will soon sport a brand new roof and a fresh coat of paint.  The safety of the roofers and painters necessitated the wasp nests that populate my second story balcony be removed.

I was ecstatic when I learned this because lately I have been unable to enjoy the little sanctuary that abuts my bedroom.  This quiet nook provides a private view of the greenbelt behind my home.  I have watched the moon rise and the sun set whilst enjoying a good book and a cup of tea.  Sometimes, I watch the squirrels as they race about doing whatever squirrels do.  Up one tree and down another, I am mesmerized their busyness.  Occasionally, I have seen a careful doe stroll quietly along the sometimes creek and watched as she leans her long neck toward the water filling her thirsty belly.  Then she stretches toward low lying branches and grazes heartily.  Eventually, she motions to her fawn who is still in spot and playful like a child.  They move on.

Unfortunately, fearing the fury of wasps disturbed in their nests and the excruciating pain they can inflict when angry stinger meets skin, I have avoided my grown up tree house.  Yesterday evening, however, as I changed from my work clothes, I noticed the wasps were magically gone, exterminated and dangerous no more. Their empty nests lay on the ground, discarded and benign.  So, I slipped under my covers and rested my head on the pillow eagerly anticipating the morning, hot tea on my lips and pages of a new bestseller devoured.

But when the sun peeked through my ivory lace curtains this morning, and I took in the view, I noticed much to my distress, a brand new nest.  A determined queen, I suppose, and her obedient workers had inhabited the copper wind chime hanging from the eave above the railing.  The queen had already attached her paper umbrella to the base.  A new generation of her offspring were working furiously to create another home.  Strangely identical concave circles were being created and a nest was being constructed before my eyes.  From the edge of my bed, I stared, open mouthed, intrigued by the persistence of these evil creatures.  They had done this on purpose!  Denying me my little piece of heavenly real estate, my moment of peace and quiet.

Isn’t that the way though with most things dangerous, most things painful, most things scary? Be it creature, feeling or object, we can exterminate those things temporarily from our minds, our lives, even our surroundings but they always find a way to return.  Sometimes, they come back in the least likely of places, under difficult circumstances and when we are not looking.  They may be unfortunate, unwanted, even unnoticed but the wasp nests in our lives exist and so we must be ever vigilante.  We need to look and listen.  We need to pay attention and recognize them for what they are.  And we need to persist as much as they do.

“The thief comes only to steal and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

Gratitude

From the Driver’s Side Window

Conner Wildcats

We were all there.  Team t-shirts, signs, banners, pom poms and noisemakers.   We had lawn chairs for the old folks, blankets for the little ones and two entire rows in the bleachers. Conner’s uncle had even taken off from work early and driven in from Houston.  Jakob, Conner’s best friend had a cheering section of his own. We made quite a crowd.  This was a big game.  Cameras and smartphones were poised to capture the moment.

That’s all it was though, “one brief shining moment.”  When the offense took the field, my tall, lanky 7th grader lined up on the outside and assumed a three point stance.  The quarter back took the snap, and looked downfield for a receiver.  Conner was open!

We collectively held our breath and by some miracle, the ball landed square in Conner’s hands.  He tucked the leather football against his midsection just like he had been taught and took off in the direction of the goal.

Boom! A monstrous, defensive tackle, much too big for middle school, I thought, crashed into Conner’s left side. The ball bounced out of my son’s grasp, tumbling for an eternity in the air and found the ready hands of an opposing player. The dirty rotten ball thief sprinted effortlessly sixty yards in the other direction for a touchdown.  The whistle blew and a red-faced coach stomped in the dirt, threw up his hands and shouted “Veazey, get over here! Sit down and don’t move.”

That was it. It went downhill from there. The Sanderson Middle School Tigers endured a humiliating four quarters that evening and were handed a dismal loss. Their uniforms were muddy, their hair and faces soaked with sweat, their spirits broken.  Beaten, they trudged back to the locker room in defeat and disappeared behind a slamming steel door.

When Conner emerged from the locker room, shoulders and head hung low, we, his very own cheering section, greeted him with hugs, pats on the back and assurances that he had tried his best and it was “just a game.”  He wasn’t amused.

But then somebody suggested pizza.  For middle schoolers, pizza is a kind of miracle drug. It’s a cure all, much like a cup of tea to the British.  They put the kettle on.  We go out for pizza.  All would soon be right in Conner’s world again.

I think I was the only one who saw him at first.  As I drove our packed mini-van out of the school parking lot, I noticed a small boy ambling up the sidewalk.  Perhaps he appeared smaller because he was still wearing most of his uniform, over-sized jersey, grass stained pants, cleats, shin and hip guards.  He carried his helmet in one hand and a large drawstring net bag in the other.

I wondered where he was going.  Where was his cheering section?

“Do you know that boy Conner?” I asked.

“No, Mom.  He’s new.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know, Mom.  He just moved here from California, I think.  He’s kind of quiet.”

“Mom, don’t even think about it!”  Katie cautioned.  She was wise for her sixteen years and had read my mind.  She knew me too well.

For a moment, just a moment, I considered pulling over and inviting the boy to go for pizza with us.  But it’s a scary world we live in these days and we teach our children not to talk to strangers, let alone get in cars with people they don’t know.

So I resisted the temptation and tried to reassure myself.

Perhaps this kid was going home to a nice, home-cooked meal.  Perhaps, his mother was working and his dad was out of town so he was staying with his grandmother who didn’t get out much anymore.  Perhaps his dad would call from his hotel room and want a play by play account of the game.  Perhaps his mom would get home just in time to check his homework and kiss him goodnight. Perhaps, he would take a hot shower while his uniform was washed, dried and folded nicely for the next game.  Perhaps he would play a video game or fall asleep watching his favorite show.  Perhaps he was safe, content and loved.

Perhaps not.

I’ll never know.

But it made me think.  Some of us will always have a host of diehard fans on the sidelines, cheering us on in this game of life.  Some of us know beyond a shadow of a doubt those fans will always be waiting patiently outside the door, win or lose, every single time.  Some of us will share all our victories and all our defeats with people who love us even when we drop the ball.  Some of us want for nothing. And some of us never walk home alone.

From my driver’s side window, God taught me GRATITUDE.

Gratitude for the people in my life.

Gratitude for unconditional love.

Gratitude for lessons learned.

Gratitude for wins and losses and start overs.

Gratitude for family.

Gratitude for friends.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.  If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12