Jeremiah 29:11-13

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dance a Mile in My Shoes

     Twenty years ago I was a 37 year old mom of a darling little girl, pregnant with my darling little boy, still married, running a business by myself, teaching as an adjunct at Shorter College in the department of theater, serving as an executive officer on our local arts' council and volunteering at my child's school. To put it bluntly, I was overextended, overwhelmed, overworked and struggling emotionally on many fronts to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect teacher, daughter, sister, friend. I know I failed on at least one of those fronts, and probably more than one. I look back now through non-rose-colored glasses and know the old cliche of hindsight being 20-20 is quite accurate. Are there things I would have done differently had I known the outcome? Yes, most definitely. None of us have that luxury, however, so it seems a little pointless to dwell in regrets. I live my life by Jeremiah 29: 11-14 and I believe, no, know, that God has me in the palm of His hand. 
     Fast forward twenty years. I am an empty nester. I am working harder than ever to keep my head above water. I often ask God, now what is Your plan? I am filled with more creativity than any time before in my life.  I have wanderlust. I find myself becoming even more passionate about the people I love, the causes I care about, the downtrodden and helpless creatures in our world. I make mistakes and when I realize it, I ask forgiveness for them. I find myself wanting to spend time with people of character, and to avoid pointless and meaningless drama. I just want peace and serenity and to drink coffee and paint furniture and cook beautiful food and drink wine and lie on the beach and listen to the waves lapping on the shore. Is that too much to ask?
   My dance studio has been my other child for more than 33 years now. I've nurtured it, seen little girls (and quite a few boys) come and go, created and maintained an environment of encouragement, acceptance and love for my students in which to feel safe and welcome. Twelve years ago, I made the decision to start commuting out of town so I could keep my doors open at home, and support my newly single self and my kids and the teachers who worked for me and depended on me, too. Would it have been easier to just scale back and simplify my program and cut my overhead and teach everything myself? Yes, it would have. But I have never been one to take the easy way out. I believe in following the road less traveled, the road not taken. 
   The critics abound. Your hard work is sometimes just not enough. That's when you look at your own amazing and awesome adult children, the little dancers who you "raised" and loved as your own, the music and laughter and all the beautiful synchronicity of your students as they danced in class and onstage and into their futures, knowing you had a small yet powerful influence on their young lives. What a blessing. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Map of the World

I've never been good at following written instructions of any kind... Manuals to set up my iDevices, Little Tykes toys for my young children at Christmas time, or new electronics around my house; recipes in my favorite cookbooks (I always add to, subtract from or veer off in a totally different direction); GPS gizmos or, God forbid, Mapquest directions. I believe the good Lord provided me with two brilliant, directionally-savvy children to help me with such necessary but frustrating things as instructions. Unfortunately, however, my children aren't always available and I find myself blundering aimlessly along the highway, the digital world and lately even life. Some may call it adventurous, others foolhardy. Whatever you want to call it, I think it's time to teach myself some patience, some discipline and some self-reliance.

This is not to say that I won't continue to take a back road when a 4-lane highway would be a better choice (yes, Shay, I know what you're thinking), or won't add a BIG healthy shot of crushed red chili flakes and extra black pepper to my pimiento cheese. To change some ways of doing things would make me not me. That's no good to anyone, least of all me. What I'm referring to, my dear friends, is re-learning to navigate the choppy waters of all sorts of relationships in my life-- reading the red WARNING flags indicating turbulent surf or the purple ones for dangerous marine life (sharks, jellyfish and stingrays, oh, my!) instead of blindly surfing over them and then naively wondering how I got stung or got sucked into a rip current or had my foot chomped off. That seems to happen to me a lot lately, ignoring warning flags at my own peril. I've been catfished twice dating online (that's a blog for another day, lol), been thrown under the bus trying to help a friend ( no good deed...), watched a family member being overtaken by vultures and a myriad other little mishaps in my life because I often fail to recognize a sign, even if it's flashing neon. God is surely shaking His head at me.

Soooo.... what's a girl to do? I should be wise by now; I'm certainly old enough. My best friend told me more than once that I am a slow learner. She is right. But I'm also too trusting, too positive, too optimistic, too idealistic, too hopeful. Are these flaws in my essential character? I don't think necessarily so, in moderation. I'm just asking for a mega dose of discernment, combined with a little wariness, some street smarts and a map. I reminded myself this morning when I was re-reading a favorite Beth Moore book that I have access to the best Book of instructions ever written. It's just been laying at my bedside for a while under some magazines, my novel of the week and my iPad. It's past time to pull it off the bottom of the stack, dust it off and start reading those directions to help me navigate the highways, byways and channels of my world.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sliding Doors

  Some years ago, I saw a movie called "Sliding Doors."  The premise of it had to do with choices we make, "chance" encounters, paths we take, doors that open or close --ones we may enter or ones we deliberately or accidentally pass by.  Lately, I have given a lot of thought to those doors in my life, retrospectively speaking.  Hindsight is powerful.  God has opened a lot of doors in my life.  He has closed just as many, if not more.  The challenge for me has been to recognize His doors, and not the ones of the world.
    I do not have a discerning heart.  It is something I often pray for, but my trusting nature usually overrides any discernment the Holy Spirit places there.  I continue to believe the best of a person until he or she gives me a reason not to.  I am a giver of second and third chances.  When someone is not trustworthy, I eventually figure it out, but not usually before I am left feeling foolish and hurt, and, yes, determined not to be that way any more.  Even as I write this, I am laughing at myself for even thinking that I would ever approach a friendship or relationship of any kind any other way.  I believe it's my character flaw. It's also the reason that I often go through the wrong door.  God is patient with me.  He keeps gently nudging me towards the right door but I am a very slow learner... It is also why He gives me friends who do have discerning hearts.
     Here I am standing poised on the cusp of another new year.  I am older, but not necessarily wiser.  During this past week, I have been revisited by ghosts from a recent past that I have been trying to leave behind me.  A past that was fraught with a lot of heartbreak and pain.  A past that I would like to put away in a dark closet and forget about. Apparently, that is a door that will remain cracked open.  Perhaps the Lord doesn't want me to forget it.  Perhaps He would like me to remember so that I don't open myself up for that kind of pain again.  Perhaps He feels that a gentle reminder is better than a repetition of the kind of choices I made then.  I also believe with all my heart that He uses me to help others who are struggling down that painful road, like walking barefoot across jagged stones.  It is not a graceful walk... we stumble and limp and cry out in frustration.  I've hobbled down that path more than a few times.  I keep believing that God really does have a plan for me, a hope and a future;  He will make my crooked ways straight and smooth out the road so that I can dance barefoot like I do on the beach...
     I ran across this beautiful passage last weekend in Charleston when I with my daughter at the outdoor market downtown. It is written by an artist named Mary Anne Radmacher.  It perfectly reflects my definition of love...
     "Love is extended on the force of its existence - not because it is deserved.

      Love isn't completed as it is returned:  it is complete in its choice to be given.

      When faced with challenge love imagines freely.  When approached with harm love raises an open palm.

      When utterly betrayed love knows to walk away tall.

      When loved unconditionally love is able to thrive.

       When touched by appreciation love basks in gratitude.

       When shown a new way love becomes a student.

        When walked to a wall love finds a way to continue the journey home."

     As we begin this new year of our Lord, 2012, may you go through a door that is a God-given one.  May your heart be discerning and find its way safely home.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


     It is so easy to be complacent about our lives.  I mean, it takes absolutely no effort to stay put, to take for granted all the many blessings, great and small, that are showered upon us daily.  Convenience and abundance and safety and expectations of good health...we simply take them as our due because, well, it's just such an effortless way of living.  Sure, we can be thankful; it's easy to be so in our comfortable lives.  For the most part, our lives are not usually that difficult except for the daily dramas of our own making.  That is not to say we don't experience loss and heartbreak or unexpected illness or anxiety over our future -- I am not making light of these things.  I just think as a whole we don't appreciate that we are covered with blessings solely by the grace of God.

     It is nine o'clock on Sunday morning in Piedras Negras, Mexico, a border town in Northern Mexico in the state of Coahuila.  Our mission team heads to Aleluya, our little church away from home, a tiny Methodist iglesia (church) in a rural part of town.  Our van goes down a long, dusty dirt road, white, powdery clouds rising in our path in the bone dry summer heat.  The chalky dust permeates everything; at the end of the day you can feel it on your skin and see it on your clothing.  When we arrive, we hear praise music coming from the open doors and windows of the little church.  In the distance, a rooster crows.
    It is my third visit in a year to Aleluya.  The congregation is small and very poor, but big in heart and very rich in spirit.  The most striking thing I always notice is the presence of children of all ages -- from infants in their mother's arms to beautiful pre-adolescent girls who dance with colorful ribbon-adorned tambourines and long flowing white dresses throughout the service.  These families are large and closely-knit, the love between them very apparent.  Their poverty is tangible but their faith and love for El Senor (God, the Father) just takes my breath away...

Vicki's Story
    After a few songs of praise, the pastor asks if anyone wants to give his or her testimony.  Our friend, Katt Lovejoy, the young teacher with whom I work, is standing in front translating for those of us whose Spanish is somewhat lacking.  After a couple of people stand and ask for prayers and express sorrow over some trials recently encountered, a lovely young mother named Vicki stands up in front of the sanctuary. There is an almost ethereal quality about Vicki's beauty. She is young, slender and graceful in movement.  Her hair is worn short, unusual for this culture.  She is a few months pregnant, and it is already obvious on her petite frame.
     Those of us on the mission team wait expectantly for her to speak.  We know about the tragedy that has recently befallen Vicki and her family. You see, just a few months before, back in February of this year, the small, two-room house in which the family lived burned and Vicki's infant son perished in the fire.  It was a bitterly cold winter morning.  Fernando, Vicki's husband, had left for his work in town where he drove a taxi all day.  The wind was unusually strong and while Vicki and her three children slept, a gust of wind drove the fire from the wood stove into the house.  Vicki awoke to black smoke and fire all around them.  She ran out to get water from the hose, but the water had frozen in the bitter cold.  She ran back in and was able to get her son Pedro and her daughter Abby out, but could not find the baby in the black smoke.  Pedro had suffered second-degree burns to his face, head and hands.  Abby and Vicki also were burned on the neck and face and head, but not as severely as Pedro.  A neighbor heard the screams and ran over to help, but the fire and smoke were so intense, he was also unable to rescue the infant. Not only was their small home and few possessions totally destroyed, but Vicki and Fernando lost their baby son.
     The little community of Aleluya and Hands & Feet Ministries worked hard to help the family get the medical attention that they needed and began to contribute their time and efforts to building them a new home.  On this Sunday morning, I am witnessing the most amazing demonstration of faith as I hear Vicki stand before her friends and in her soft, beautiful Spanish say to us that we should remember our blessings and praise God for His mercy and goodness.  She tells us that she is grateful for the new life growing inside her, for the little angel who is in heaven with the Father, for her son Pedro whose life was saved.  She thanks all of the church for helping her family recover and for building their new little house.  "Mi casa es la casa de Dios," Vicki says, "y su casa tambien."  My house is God's house and your house, too. 
    After the service I tell Vicki that her testimony blessed me.  She smiles and tells me to share her story with others so that they might know the Lord and His love for us all.  I can in no way do her story justice, but hopefully, it will touch your heart the way it has touched mine. 

Please visit me at (Mary Elizabeth Cauthen) and see my photo albums from my Mexico mission trips.  You can see Vicki and Pedro in "Vaya con Dios, Part II) and pictures of other Aleluya families in "Vaya con Dios" and "Mission: Mexico."  You may also visit Hands & Feet Ministries' facebook page to learn how you can be a part of our ministry in Piedras Negras and Nava, Mexico. 


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Traveling Mercies

     Returning to Piedras Negras yesterday, I had a long time to think.  My day started early after a restless night.  Tossing and turning in my big comfy bed in my perfectly cooled house, I wrestled with a couple of things which had lain on my heart for weeks and still felt no better about when I finally got up to finish packing for my trip to Mexico.  I was groggy and bleary-eyed, emotionally struggling as I often am before one of my trips here, somewhat tearful and yet excited to be finally leaving, looking forward to seeing my team again as well as the beautiful children here with whom I am so in love. I made a concious effort to shelve those heartfelt burdens and instead to open my heart to what lay ahead...
   My flight was smooth and uneventful, arriving early in San Antonio and leaving me time to wait for my shuttle at the airport.  I was too excited to nap, although I probably should have, and I half-heartedly nibbled at a sandwich and drank a little water while surfing facebook and killing a couple of hours.  My shuttle driver arrived promptly at 1:30 and introduced himself to me as Gilbert from Eagle Pass Tours. The 10- passenger van had seen better days.  I asked if I could ride up front to keep my motion sickness at bay and he very kindly made room for me, although I think he was a little surprised by my request.  I soon realized that we wouldn't be going straight to Eagle Pass; it was a 10-passenger van for a reason. For the next hour and a half we zig-zagged all over San Antonio, picking up passenger after passenger until we were completely full. I was the only gringa in the van.  My motion sickness had completely consumed me by this point--the air conditioning barely worked and I huddled in front of my one vent, trying to keep from tossing my cookies.  Gilbert entertained me by telling me about his daughter, his peacock farm, his job, his grown son, his separation from his wife and other tidbits of his life. It was a very long, but interesting ride to Eagle Pass.
    As we drove the two and a half hours to our destination, I leaned my head against the window and watched the stark, flat Texas landscape pass by mile after mile.  Harsh and dusty, the fence-enclosed land is full of scrubby brush and gnarled, low-growing trees.  The sky seems higher than usual to a girl accustomed to green rolling hills, and the clouds are like a child's drawing, fluffy white against a robin's egg blue.  Occasionally, you see a huge ranch with imposing gates and you can't help but wonder who would choose to live in such a relentlessly hard place.  Hot, dry and unforgiving.
    We finally arrived and I have never been so happy to get out of a vehicle.  I helped a young mom and her three babies disembark and waited with them in some welcome shade on the porch of Eagle Pass Tours.  She was also en route to Mexico to meet up with her husband.  I couldn't imagine traveling by myself with three little ones (ages 3, 2 and 8 months) and a huge suitcase in tow, but Ruth was very calm and patient.  The babies had been perfectly quiet and sweet during the three and a half hours we were crammed in the van.  I was amazed. It made me remember traveling with my small children by myself years ago and being so thankful for portable DVD players and kid's music on the CD player to keep them entertained.  For goodness sake, we are so unbelievably spoiled in so many ways.  God enjoys showing this to me these days, especially when preparing me for these trips.
     Tex and Marissa finally arrived to pick me up after having sat for a half hour in line to cross the border into the US.  We made a stop at Walmart to load up on groceries and then came across the border without incident.  It was awesome to see Katt and Hallie (our interns from last summer) and meet the new interns, Andrew, Shelby, Lizz and her boyfriend Zack.  We had a delicious dinner of grilled chicken salad and enjoyed some wonderful fellowship, which is a staple of these Mexico missions.  I very gratefully showered off the dust of my travels and fell quickly into a dreamless sleep, thankful for my safe arrival and eagerly anticipating my first full day back in Mexico.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Captured Fireflies; Captured Moments

     Sweet summer.  Full and ripe and sultry like a basket of juicy peaches just waiting to be eaten, the nectar running down your chin in all its luscious stickiness.  No other season takes me back so fully to my childhood as does summer.  I treasure the moments as they come and go like the fireflies that appear so fleetingly in my yard at dusk... I wish I could capture them in glass jars, like I did when I was a girl, so sure that I could read by their light in my bedroom in the dark.  Captured fireflies; captured moments.
     Fresh cut grass.  Gardenias.  Cantaloupe. Smells of my childhood that always remind me of those long, lazy summers that seemed to last forever... those days when we were out of school from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  Lots of time for riding bikes and building tree forts, for going to the beach or the lake and hanging out at the city pool with all your friends.  Lots of time to unwind and just be a kid.  Wonderful and magical times.  It was okay to have sunburned cheeks and tangled hair and dirty bare feet, to stay up way past your bedtime and play hide-and-seek in your backyard and the neighbor's backyard, too.  Even the chiggers and the mosquito bites didn't seem to be all that bad.  It was worth it just to be able to run and play outside in the hot summer night, fall into bed with the attic fan pulling the night air over you from the open window by your bed and then sleep the sound and deep slumber of childhood.
     So far this summer has been pretty wonderful, too.  I am so blessed to have this time off and so fortunate to be able to spend time with my children in the summertime.  Our trip to Seagrove this year was especially magical in a beautiful beach house with perfect weather, delicious food, and good company.  Nothing better on earth than that.  Now, I'm looking forward to going back to Mexico and spending some hot summer days with my sweet little amigos, working at our little school in Nava and teaching Bible school in the evenings.  God sure has blessed me a lot.  I'm quite sure I don't deserve it, but I thank Him for each precious moment, summer or otherwise, that He allows me to have.  I do not take them for granted any longer, although I know I once did.  Now, He just keeps making me aware of my blessings in new ways everyday, sometimes with a gentle nudge and other times with a strong push. I am reminded lately of James when he tells us that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blackberry Winter

   Feeling a little bit like a stranger in a strange land these days... work finished for the school year, waiting to go to the beach, drinking red wine and sitting on my porch wrapped up in a blanket in May.   Feeling a little guilty, too, with time on my hands.  I'm not used to having the afternoon and evening stretching out in front of me with nothing I have to do... reminds me of a long, unbroken, unmarred stretch of sand leading down to the water, sun hovering just over the horizon, waiting for that flash of green before it disappears until the next morning.  Sigh.  There are some things that are just too beautifully simple for words to adequately express.
     To go from such a frenetic, haphazard pace to this gentle stillness almost takes my breath away.  I'm trying to embrace it, but it does not come easily to me--the slowing down, the intentional seeking of peace and quiet.  I'm so accustomed to busy-ness, chaos, drama, chatter--it almost seems surreal to be in my house on a Tuesday afternoon, free to nap on my bed with my pup, or listen to some new music or write or read without interruption.  Very strange indeed.  But quite lovely in its simplicity.
    It's ironic that I am feeling such peacefulness and contentment exactly one year after ending a very tumultuous and stress-filled time of my life.  I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3, especially verses 4 through 7:  "... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak...".

      God's time is perfect, even when we don't realize it until we are on the other side of it.

     I am so amazed that even when I make bad choices, even when I lose patience, even when I argue with Him, even when I don't love others the way I have been commanded to, the Lord continues to remind me He loves me by bringing people into my life at exactly the right moment, by showing me my blessings through the life and death of a friend, by enriching my relationships with my children, by prospering my business despite bad times.  I am grateful and humbled beyond words.  I know I don't deserve it, but I appreciate it.  It makes me want to go back to Nava and love on those children again.
     A couple more days of this blackberry winter, of shivering on my back porch in the midst of May and then seven days of heaven on earth...
"Sea Joy"
Jacqueline Bouvier
When I go down by the sandy shore
I can think of nothing I want more
Than to live by the booming blue sea
As the seagulls flutter round about me

I can run about--when the tide is out
With the wind and the sand and the sea all about
and the seagulls are swirling and diving for fish
Oh--to live by the sea is my only wish.