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, 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.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Full Hearts and Butterflies

     My heart is full. Less than a year ago, I would never have believed it possible, but the old adage that time heals is so very true.  I would just change the wording a little--God heals through time.  The heart that was so broken has become whole again and is able to be filled once more like the vessel it was intended to be. Still fragile and maybe a little flawed, but nevertheless capable of being filled with joy and hope and faith.That is remarkable to me.

     I know that these past ten months have been a preparation time for me as well as a time of healing.  As I get ready to go back to Mexico, I look back at this time and realize that not only have grown in my spirit, but also in understanding and forgiveness to people who have hurt me. It is very freeing to come to that realization.  In some ways, I  believe it allows my heart to hold even more joy and compassion.  I can allow it to overflow and cover a friend whose own heart is breaking, or be a good listener to someone who is struggling with a difficult decision, or just open my arms and hug a child at dance who values my love and approval.  I know that God loves me even more when I share my own once-broken heart with others. He has given me plenty to share and replaces what I share ten-fold or even a hundred-fold. 

     Lately, I am feeling butterflies again for the first time in years.  Maybe it is the first stirrings of spring fever and the anticipation of seeing those precious brown-eyed children again.  Maybe it's just recognizing that my life is so full of blessings, big and small.  My beautiful children, my cozy albeit cluttered little home, work that I love, parents and sisters who love me, friends who are my chosen family and tell me the truth, special people that God places in my life who help to make me feel hopeful and happy and whole.

   As I travel to Nava next weekend, I covet your prayers and your encouragement.  A lot of what I see there is heart-rending, but I know this time I am a little bit stronger and a little more prepared.  My heart is full and my butterflies are fluttering...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 3

     Mark 10: 13-16
"13. And they kept bringing young children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples were reproving them for it. 14. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and pained and said to them, Allow the children to come to Me--do not forbid or prevent or hinder them--for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive and accept and welcome the kingdom of God like a little child does positively shall not enter it at all.  16. And He took them (the children up one by one) in His arms and fervently invoked a blessing, placing His hands upon them."

     Shortly after we returned from New Orleans, our mission team began making plans to go back to Mexico.  It had been two years since I had felt the first stirrings in my heart for a mission trip south of the border, and this time I was determined to go.  Once again, I began listening to my Spanish CD's and was horrified to discover how much I had forgotten.  The language gradually started coming back to me, but I felt like a novice and did not feel confident about it at all.  I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the first of many stumbling blocks the enemy was setting up for me as I prayerfully began my preparation for Mexico.
     I managed to get my passport renewed and started saving up money for the trip.  There was to be about 10 of us going, adults and college students, and we would be driving a large van across country and to Piedras Negras, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.  "You know you are going to be very car sick the whole time," whispered a little voice in my head.  Ok, so I would claim the shotgun position in the front seat and take my Bonine.  "You really don't have enough money to do this, you know," the voice whispered again.  Ok, Lord, I need several hundred dollars to finish paying for the trip.  It's summertime and I have no income.   Maybe I shouldn't be going. "Clean out your closet," commanded a different voice.  My closet?
     I obediently cleaned out my closet and while going through an old purse found $300 cash rolled up in a side pocket.  Guess what I owed for my balance for the trip?  You got it.  $300.
Ok, Lord, I'm going, I'm going!  No more arguments from me...
     About three weeks before the trip I was out of town with friends at St. George's Island.  I was sitting out one night looking at the water and the millions of stars overhead and my phone rang.  It was my friend, Randy, our mission team leader with bad news.  Almost everyone had dropped out of the trip.  All that was left was me, Randy, his son Aaron and a young college girl named Maggie.  Our pastor was concerned that it would not be appropriate for just the four of us to take off cross-country.  It might be viewed in the wrong light by people in our church and we needed to reconsider.  I was heart-broken.  Randy promised that he and his wife, Katherine, would work on some other options and he would let me know.  Stumbling block!
    We began to pray about the trip and asked God to give us direction.  Thankfully, we were able to take the money that had been set aside for the van and gas and put it toward plane tickets to San Antonio and a car rental.  That alleviated the problem of spending the night on the road and actually gave us two extra days to work in Mexico.  Thank you, Lord, for Your provision!
    As the date for our departure approached, I had lunch one day with an old friend whom I had not talked to in months.  I excitedly told her about my mission trip that was coming up in a couple of weeks.  I noticed the expression on her face as I began to describe where we were going and what we were going to do.  "You can't go there!" she exclaimed.  "Why not?" I asked.  "It's too dangerous," she told me, "You need to talk to my sister-in-law, Beth."
     Beth is the youngest daughter of my mentor, Judge Robert Walther, with whom I used to attend church.  Beth works for the DEA, and most recently, was the agent-in-charge of Arizona and an expert on the drug cartels in Mexico.  Apparently, we would be driving straight into a cartel stronghold in North central Mexico.  My friend, Lisa called Beth, as promised, and made me listen to her explanations about why we shouldn't be going at this point in time.   Beth had even called her counterparts in Houston and El Paso and they agreed that it would be too dangerous.  Stumbling block upon stumbling block!  Now what?
     I immediately called Randy and told him of my conversation with Beth.  We had already bought the plane tickets and needed to make a decision.  Frankly, I was scared to death, and felt very confused.  Why was God allowing all these difficulties to come against us?  Weren't we following His bidding?  Weren't we attempting to be His hands and feet?  I even felt a little angry and frustrated.  Ok, God, I'm being obedient and You are not making this easy!
     Once again, we turned to prayer and did a little reconnaissance of our own.  Randy checked with the mission team coordinator and one of the missionaries who actually lives there as well as his own daughter who frequently travels there.  It had been peaceful and the attention was currently on the flooding of the Rio Grande.  We had to exercise caution and not be careless as to time of day and place of travel.  In other words, use common sense and stick together.  Don't go wandering off by yourself at night or in areas known to be dangerous.  Same advice you would give to someone going to New York or downtown Atlanta.  So, once again it was a go!  This time, however, I felt an uneasiness I had not felt before.  But I was still determined to go.  I believed God wanted me there for a reason; I just didn't know yet what that reason was...

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 2

     Here is an excerpt from my testimony following my first mission trip with Calvary Baptist Church, written summer of 2009:

     "After Anna Claire's mission experience in Mexico last year, I had decided that I wanted to go with her this year.  I was so excited about working with the children in Piedras Negras and getting to finally use my Spanish minor I had earned at Berry many years ago.  I went and bought tapes to refresh my memory and eagerly started practicing my Spanish.  I had planned to teach dance there and share whatever gifts I had as a teacher.  There is an old Jewish saying that goes something like this:  "When Man plans, God laughs."  Little did I know what the Lord had in store for me right here in America.
     Honestly, Anna Claire and I were both rather ambivalent about going to New Orleans.  She was disappointed that none of her very close friends were going and I felt like I didn't know any one very well.  We talked about it and prayed about it, and somehow we both felt led to go despite the Mexico trip not working out.  The outcome of this, my first mission trip, exceeded every expectation I ever held.  It turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.
     Although I didn't get to share my gifts as a teacher, I found out that I could do quite a number of other things that I never thought of as something to share.  For example, I found I could direct a rag-tag cleaning crew of 5 and somehow through the sheetrock dust and the garbage and piles of lumber manage to laugh my head off at their antics.  I've never been hotter or filthier in my life, but I have also probably laughed more in one week than in the last 10 years.  I learned that the young people of Calvary Baptist Church have a heart for God and I am so proud to have served alongside of them.
     Serving as a volunteer in the food pantry was another unexpected blessing for me.  During the first two days, we primarily focused on the building of the church there in Chalmette, but volunteering in the food pantry allowed me to put real faces to the stories we've been hearing the last  four years since Katrina--people who would love to have jobs and homes and the security of knowing where their next meal was coming from.  On Thursday morning, Jim and I met a man outside our bunkhouse.  It was 7:20 a.m. and he was waiting by our kitchen door when we walked outside.  His name was Guy.  He was toothless, blind in one eye, and disabled from a heart condition.  He had gotten up very early and walked a mile and a half with his cart to wait for the food pantry to open at 10.  Once upon a time, he had a good job and a brand new trailer purchased just before Katrina hit.  His wife was a diabetic and crippled  and they were living off his disability check.  The food pantry was a life line for them. He gratefully accepted our offer of hot coffee and fruit and told us his story.  There was just such an attitude of resignation to his demeanor as he waited the two and a half hours to be first in line to receive his food and walk the mile and a half back to his little rented house.  It was humbling to say the least.  It made us all realize that there are plenty of opportunities for missions right here in our own country.
     God has blessed me with a renewed spirit for caring and giving to others which I learned from my team members.  The NOLA mission team is an awesome team.  I miss my bunkmates and the sharing of meals with everyone and even driving in circles all over the city, despite Tom-Tom's best intentions.  The leadership was amazing.  Thank you all so much for the opportunity to have shared this adventure with you.  I can't wait to see where we go next!"

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 1

     I was born with a rebellious spirit.  I have a tender, generous heart, but my spirit often digs its heels in with a stubbornness that would shame even the most hard-headed mule.  To God's eternal credit, He is quite patient with me in this regard and over the last few years has sought to reign in this spirit of mine with gentleness and encouragement.  For this, I praise Him and thank Him.  
     Several years ago, in the summer of 2008, I drove my daughter to our church to meet with the other youth to load up for a mission trip to Mexico.  It was a good size group of teens, college kids and adults, including  our pastor, Steve, his wife, Karen and two of their own children.  I felt pretty comfortable sending my daughter with them, although I had not bothered to research anything about that particular area of Mexico or the purpose of the mission.  It was a hot, summer's morning and we parents stood in a giant circle in the parking lot while Steve said a prayer for safe travels and protection and that the mission would be for God's glory.  Something in me began to stir and suddenly I was very disappointed and a little jealous that I wasn't going.  The feelings came out of nowhere and once felt, I could not shake them.  Then Steve turned to me and said, "Maybe you could go next time.  We could certainly use your help since you speak Spanish."  I was a little startled not only that my pastor knew I could speak a little Spanish, but that he seemed to have read my mind at that moment and knew I wanted to go...  I made up my mind on my way home after tearfully hugging my child good-bye, that I would definitely go the next year.  
     The months passed and I thought off and on that I needed to get my passport renewed, but never quite got around to it.  You see, I had already begun arguing with God that maybe this year wouldn't be the right time after all.  I was in a struggling relationship, financially strapped, stressed out, you name it.  I had the excuses lined up and laid out for God to see.  I had my arguments and my reasons ready.  Then news came that there had been an assassination of the police chief in Piedras Negras, Mexico just across the street from the hotel where they had stayed before.  Steve made the call that we should postpone our trip and do something stateside instead.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief.  I wasn't ready for Mexico and now I didn't have to go.  See, God, I told You.
     The decision was made to go to New Orleans instead and work with a church that had been destroyed by Katrina.  My daughter and I debated for several weeks about going.  None of her close friends were going this time and it just didn't seem as exotic and exciting as going to Mexico would have been.  This would be my first mission trip and I just didn't think I could get that fired up about going to New Orleans.  We prayed about it and finally decided to go.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.  I didn't realize it then, but God was preparing me for a place called Nava...

     Matthew 25: 35-40
"35. For I was hungry and you gave Me food.  I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged me.  36. I was naked and you clothed Me.  I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care.  I was in prison and came to see Me.  37.  Then the just and upright will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave You something to eat?  38. And when did we see You a stranger and welcomed and entertained You, or naked and clothed You?  39.  And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit you?  40.  And the King will reply to them, Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least of these My brethren, you did it for Me."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sisters and Spies

     I grew up in a houseful of girls.  To say my Daddy was outnumbered is quite true, and a bit of an understatement.  There are four of us, the oldest being my bossy, mother hen self.  I can remember my Mama calling us in for dinner, all of our names running together... "Marybethcathykelleyjennifer! Supper!"  We were usually scattered far and wide throughout our neighborhood, Sheffield Forest, in our little home town of Norcross, Georgia.  Mostly we were just doing things kids in the early 70's did: riding bikes, building tree forts, selling lemonade, playing secret agent in the woods and just getting dirty and sweaty and working up a big ol' appetite.  Mama often said we were eating her out of house and home.
     My sisters Cathy, Kelley and Jennifer and I were a very active bunch--basketball, softball, band, dance, and track during the school year and then just being outside all summer long hanging out with the other neighborhood kids, usually being pretty good, but occasionally getting into some mischief.  Our tree fort, for example, was built entirely by a bunch of girls from the neighborhood, and one little brother of a friend.  It was multi-level and quite remarkable considering none of us knew the first thing about building anything.  We did lose quite a few of our daddy's tools from the garage, which made him more than a little upset, and the lumber with which we constructed our fort was just blatantly stolen from construction sites in our subdivision.  I can remember riding down Lancelot Drive on my little Sears bicycle with a huge 2x4 balanced across the handlebars like the wings of some kind of primitive airplane.  The hill was very steep and it is a miracle that I survived without a crash, especially since helmets were nonexistent.

     We three older sisters, little stairsteps about a year and a half apart, shamelessly spoiled our baby sister, Jen, and dragged her around with us like a favorite puppy.  I am eleven years older than she, and I was quite proud of her and loved to show her off to all my friends like a prized baby doll.  Anyone who knows her now can only imagine how much she really liked being treated like a doll, but she was very tolerant of my maternal hoverings and I don't think I warped her too much.  Once, I was swinging her around by her skinny little arms and dislocated her elbow.  We had to rush her to the ER and I was inconsolable.  She still loves me though, and I'm still quite proud of her :)

     My sister Cathy and I shared a friend, Terri Binder, who was exactly in-between us in age.  Terri lived in a house on a corner lot with a huge yard and a playhouse which was one of our favorite places to meet the other kids in the neighborhood and and the setting for kickball games, hide-and-seek, camp-outs in the playhouse and spying on the neighbors.  I remember one sleepover in the little white playhouse where we girls had smuggled in a bunch of candy from the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 store.  I was running my mouth, as usual, while eating Lemonheads by flashlight and a moth flew into my mouth.  My friend Terri wet her pants laughing at my horrified expression.  I can still feel the fluttering wings of that poor moth inside my mouth and remember seeing it fly out when I screamed, which of course, sent Terri into more spasms of laughter...

     I was an avid reader of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries.  I loved nothing more than inventing spy and secret agent games and assigning parts to my sisters and friends.  Once, after playing in the woods across from Terri's house where our tree fort was, we decided to "spy" on Betty and Harold, a rather eccentric couple who lived in the house closest to our fort.  Harold was a hard-working, cigarette-smoking man who wore wife- beater shirts and slicked his hair back with pomade.  He was always really nice and friendly to us, and reminded me a little of Clint Eastwood in his looks and bearing.  Betty was his wife and she seemed a little older than him, with a long dark braid and sun-baked skin.  We thought it would be fun to peek in their kitchen window and see what they were doing.  We were quite shocked to see Harold lounging at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette and watching Betty cooking his dinner with nothing but an apron on. Luckily, they didn't see our big eyes peering through their kitchen door and we took off running, laughing hysterically.  Talk about getting an eyeful... our spying days were over!

     Nowadays, when my sisters and I get together for birthdays and holidays, we entertain our Mama with tales of our childhood.  There are things we've told her recently that she had no idea we were doing when we were kids, like picking cattails by the neighborhood sewage pond and watching Kelley sling rocks into its pungent green slime.  There's nothing like sharing memories with your sisters...


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Days

"Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow."

     When I was in the seventh grade, I memorized this poem by Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."  I can still recite the entire poem from start to finish, but amazingly that same year I memorized hundreds of other lines of poetry by Mr. Frost, my favorite poet.  For some reason, this is the one I can remember best.  Every single time it snows, I think of that year of school and my determination to memorize as many poems as I could, but most of all I love the way the words come unbidden to my mind.

     I'm going on day three now of a snow-bound existence in my little house on the top of Coventry Drive.  I do not do well with isolation or having my freedom curtailed in any way.  Yesterday I managed to lollygag around, as we say here in the South, doing a little cooking, a little laundry, a little blogging....I even watched Dr. Phil and The Bachelor.  Today I was ready for a project and spent about 8 hours cleaning out my closet, only managing to get about half-way finished.  During the purging and tidying, I found myself getting extremely sentimental, sometimes to the point of tears as I discovered purses and wallets full of photographs of my baby girl and boy, clothes I wore when I was a young mom and small pieces of luggage still filled with mementos of trips I took with my kids to Chattanooga, Atlanta and Seagrove.  My closet was sort of like a giant time capsule, full of souvenirs of motherhood and marriage.  Where did that young wife and mother go? She seems a bit like a stranger to me now, although I love the pure heart and earnest dreams of that girl...

     When I was in middle school, I read all The Little House books and loved to imagine I was Laura Ingalls riding in a covered wagon, living in a log cabin and playing on the banks of Plum Creek.  I was a bit obsessed with her and just knew that I would have made an outstanding prairie girl.  One of the books in particular, The Long Winter, appealed to my romantic 12 year old self and I would daydream about being snow-bound with my loving family, isolated from the world in a silent shroud of white.  Of course, snowy days were few and far between to us little Georgia girls and it just seemed to be the most cozy, idyllic concept fathomable.  Now, I just wonder if our power is going to stay on and how far off spring break really is?

    On the first morning of snow in 2011, I looked out at a pristine, glistening landscape and marveled at God's handiwork as I do with most of His seasons and I was grateful for a little confinement and a little stillness.  Now, I am eager to return to my daily routine of lunching with my girlfriends, teaching my precious little students and taking my dog Harley out for a little stroll without fear of busting my butt on the driveway.  I am so thankful to be a Southern girl whose experience with ice and snow is limited and I am in awe and just a little bewildered at those Northern friends of mine who choose this as a way of life in the winter.  

    Thanks to my friend, Shay, who braved the hills of Woodfin and got me out tonight for sushi.  She was as stir-crazy as I was and it was nice to escape my icy fortress with her for a little while... 

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Joyce Meyer's View on "Strife"

And the servant of the Lord must not strive....
—2 Timothy 2:24 KJV 

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Joyce Meyer about strife.  I have been trying to deal with it in its many forms for several months now as I've noticed it in my personal world, especially among my friends.  This puts it in perspective as to why it is happening! These are Joyce Meyer's words, not mine.  :)
"Strife is a thief and a robber which we must learn to recognize and deal with quickly. We must control strife before it controls us. 

Strife is defined as "the act or state of fighting or quarreling, especially bitterly....discord." It is bickering, arguing, being involved in a heated disagreement, or shows up as an angry undercurrent. Strife is dangerous. It is a demonic force sent by Satan for the purpose of destruction. 

The Bible says to resist the devil at his onset. (1 Peter 5:8,9.) Almost any time someone hurts us, or offends us, anger rises up within us. It is not sin to feel anger. But we must not act out the angry feelings in an ungodly way. We must not hold a grudge or get into bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness. Ephesians 4:26 says don't let your wrath, your anger, last until the sun goes down. 

A judgmental attitude is an open door for strife. We must remember that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13 NIV). Judgment usually leads to gossip. Gossip begins to spread the strife from person to person. It gets us out of agreement, harmony, and unity. It actually moves us out of the realm of God's blessings. 

When the temptation comes to judge others, and then spread our opinion through gossip and backbiting, we should remember this helpful hint: Let the one among us who is without sin cast the first stone. (John 8:7 KJV.) 

Remember: God changes things through prayer and faith, not through judgment and gossip."

Sieze the Day

"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."  Psalm 5:3

    The old English major in me has been reasserting herself more and more these days.  Once upon a time I was someone who journaled religiously, and lately, the urge to do so has been overwhelming.  Thus, my new blogspot "Carpe Diem", which means "sieze the day."  I believe what scripture tells us:  that God creates for us a fresh and new batch of promises and blessings each and every day.  It is up to us to accept His ongoing and staggering gift of grace and mercy with open hearts and arms.  Read Lamentations 3:22-23.

     The past two years of my life have been very challenging to say the least.  To say I have been struggling is an understatement.  I am a care-giver and encourager by nature, and sometimes it is to my detriment.  When I found myself overwhelmed by a relationship that was too burdensome and draining, I had to step out in faith and hand my fears and doubts over to God and leave that relationship behind.  I quickly discovered that once I did, I could breathe again and my heart could heal.  My heart had truly begun showing symptoms of stress and disease.  Thankfully, it turned out to be completely healthy, but God used the medical tests to get my attention and show me that it was time to make a change.  Change is very hard, especially to those of us in middle age who find some sort of perverse comfort in doing things the same way over and over again, even when the outcome is always negative and not in our best interest.  That has been a life-changing realization for me.  God has dealt with me sternly, but lovingly, and I praise Him for that.

    As the new year begins and I seek to be the best mother, daughter, sister, friend and mentor that I can be, I am discovering that stumbling blocks appear seemingly out of nowhere.  The harder I try to be faithful in my service to the Lord by encouraging others, investing in the kingdom through mission work, and studying His word, the more chaos and strife seem to swirl around me.  This is what Paul describes in the new testament as spiritual warfare and it is very real!  Read Ephesians 6:10-17.

     To all my beloved friends and family, it is my wish in this new year that God's blessings will chase you down and overwhelm you with their abundance!