Monday, December 17, 2012

Climbing Seven Spots on the Carol Charts is...



So, its no secret that I love Christmas carols. O Come Let Us Adore Him is one of my all time faves. I remember being very young and by some gift of faith and imagination, realizing how awesome it would be to have actually bowed before the Christ child.

Mary, Did You Know is one of my least faves. The church in which I grew up had this tradition of singing this song. A lot. And then some more. There's nothing wrong with the song itself, but it's like paprika. Too much and you ruin it.

I won't go into Christmas Shoes...other than to say it's a blatant ploy to grab all your heartstrings at once and then wrench them from your body.  I resent that kind of emotional violence.

One carol that has always been somewhere north of the middle and south of, "Oh, yes! I love this one!' is Joy to the World.

It has always seemed a good sentiment. A wish for joy unto the world, or even permission for joy to come down on those who would have it, since Christ, the hope of all humanity had at last made his entrance.

Yesterday that changed.  Hearts at church were raw from the grief and devastation of last Friday. For some of us it is just appalling to see such unfettered evil.  For others who have lost children or loved ones or who have experienced intense violence, it resonated those chords of pain again.

And yet, we worshiped. Oh, did we worship.  And the tears didn't sop, but faces lifted, and the Holy Spirit poured in and through and around all the hurting hearts, infusing strength, a solidness, and hope, a brightness. What is that?  What draws us up even in the hurt?

Joy.

I remember a period of six months where I would have left my circumstances in an instant if I could. I was categorically not happy. But...for the first time, in that vacuum of earthly comfort, familiarity, fun or fulfillment, I was not hollow. I was not hopeless. I had...joy. Persistent, unquenchable joy. It was the stirring that kept hope aflame. For the first time I recognized that that's what joy does.

Yesterday, while we prayed and praised, I realized that Joy To The World is a declarative. Maybe even an imperative.  There is no wishing for joy because it is already, stubbornly sitting amongst us and will not be moved. It is as true and as solid as the earth itself.  In my head, it became JOY! to the World.

What a lovely, marvelous state, this joy, that relies not on any circumstance of earth, but is integrated into our beings.

Thank you, most holy Lord, for joy. For Jesus. For the way you came and for how intentionally you promised this gift in human form to all people: wealthy and brilliant Eastern scholars, poor and scruffy shepherds...all of us.  All my love. All my heart. Filled with joy.



Monday, December 10, 2012

So so much!

Jetlag is your body's way of protesting world travel.  I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a Mack truck full of sleeping pills.  When I finally convinced by bones they should go vertical for a while, it was only by promising some pepperminty Christmas coffee.  When I finally trudged to the coffee pot, what should I find but a sparkling carafe!  

Nothing beats coming home to a clean house, except coming home to a house someone else cleaned.  Yep, that's right. The young lady I hired to feed Jellybean and Buckley and keep them from chewing through the door and going feral did some tidying. The first inkling came yesterday when I opened the door to two red roses in a little vase. How thoughtful!

Then, my foggy brain detected surfaces. Clean surfaces.  The miscellany that had found a home on my kitchen table had been arranged in a basket.  So, how awesome is that?

And then I went to bed on crisp, clean sheets. 

It didn't stop there. Today when I started washing the travel off my clothes, I realized the jeans I'd left on the drying rack weren't there. They'd been folded and put on their shelf above all the shoes that, instead of forming a multicolored heap, now sit in neat rows on the shoe rack.

I was so grateful that she'd agreed to care for the boys, I would have been happy just for that. But no, she went above and beyond and did something special that made me feel welcomed home and cozy.

Generosity takes many forms.  Doing favors, giving kind words, offering gifts.  In this Christmas season, I am more aware of that than normal, and it makes me so thankful for a God whose hallmark is generosity.

I think of Mary, a young lady, newly wed and carrying a baby long before prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds, baby bjorns, and little knit caps in pink and blue.  In her day, just delivering a baby and having both mother and child healthy was a huge blessing. God never promised her she would raise the Savior, just that she would carry him.  When they couldn't find a room--which I'm certain she prayed for between contractions, and Joseph between knuckle cracking hand squeezes as he held her steady on the donkey--things probably looked bleak. But they both made it through the experience with no midwife to coach.

And God wasn't done.  He sent angels, a whole heaven's worth, to sing over the countryside the joy and wonder of what had just happened. The Prince of Peace on earth. King of kings, born for mankind. 

And God wasn't done. He sent shepherds, the least likely people ever to revel in a new baby, to slap Joseph's back and gaze in wonder and worship on the tiny boy Mary held close.

And God wasn't done. When they took their little son to the temple to present him to the Lord, Old Man Simeon, who in a time of relative quiet heard from God, lifted their child and praised Him. He saw not just a baby, but a revelation of God for all men. And Mary, as tired and tentative as any new mom, marveled again that, yes, she carried near her heart the Son of God.

And God wasn't done. He made a new star appear. A special, brilliant star. It shone so spectacularly that it fascinated the top scholars--the MIT profs of their day, if MIT were in the far East--so intensely that they left their cushy pagodas and awestruck acolytes to pursue this heavenly being. They knew it meant something profound and unique along the timeline of Earth.  

And when they finally decided they were under it, they were directly above a humble carpenter's home. I bet when his young wife and her toddler answered the door and they told her of their three-year quest they might have felt silly.  They had a quest and the answer...well, it wasn't where they'd expected it.  

But then Mary teared up and lifted her little son, telling them who he was, so glad to finally talk to people who would hear and believe, who she could share her pondered memories with. Keeping the world's biggest secret...it must have felt like exhaling after three years under water. And they not only believed her, they offered grand and kingly gifts they'd just known would be a good idea and were worth hauling all the way from home. 

Yes, God is generous. Thank you, Lord, that even when you ask for everything, it is only because my everything is too small and you have a greater definition of that word to show me.  Always, always, always, you are generous. Please never let me, even for one moment, forget that and miss out on your glorious abundance.  All my love.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why can't Cambodia and Mexico trade places?

I sit here in Cambodia, a mere 12 hours from departure, and all these moments from the week keep wandering through my mind.

Yesterday we took the kids to Angkor Wat. I don't know why in my head they were going to stop and ponder and study and meander the way we grown-ups do.  They are, after all kids. It was actually kind of funny and precious to see the same glance-and-go reaction to monuments as I had as a kid. I kept pointing out features I found really neat, like all the faces sculpted on every surface of the face temple, and Sieng Hai, in his sweet quiet way, gave me that, "Yeah, its another face that looks just like the last one," eyebrow raise.

I think they enjoyed it, they just did it a lot faster than I anticipated. But I'm really glad that they're kids, and they get to be kids.  They are so mature in some ways, so giving, so good (at least while we're here--they are kids after all) that in some ways I forget they're still children. 

The worst part was coming to the end of the third temple. Not because I really wanted more time out in the Cambodian sun, but because I knew we were only one meal away from goodbye. We all felt it. The smiles were still there, but more hands were held, and hugs lasted a bit longer.  

After lunch, it was time. For me it is easier to be left than to leave, so watching Pichhing, Sieng Hai, Mom, Rathanak, Ry, Kim, Davan, Pony and all the others climb up  and wave from the windows wasn't nearly as hard as last time, when it was us driving away from them. Don't get me wrong, I was a teary mess. It's so hard to say goodbye to people you love, especially when you don't really know when you'll see them again. They've grown so much over the last two years, and I pray I can come back, but I don't know that for sure.

What I do know is that I will love them wherever I am, wherever I go.  I will keep writing to Pichhing and Sieng Hai and probably a few more. I will pray for them and feel so lucky to be prayed for by them. I will follow the blogs of other trips to see pictures. I will print my own pictures and make everyone I know look at some of them, at least. I will tuck the little bead bracelets I got into my jewelry shelf and see them and know that the pieces of my heart that are here in Cambodia have blossomed.

That Shakespearean line, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," makes sense right now.  I love them and they love me. I can leave with only the sweetest grief because I know they are loved, by God and Vanak (the orphanage director) and his wife Hanna, by each other, and by so many other brothers and sisters in Christ in the States.  I know they will be okay.  I came to tell them God loves them completely and perfectly, and I got to do that. I came to show them, to be His hands in theirs, His hugs, and His smiles, and I was. And, they were the same to me as well.   Since the kids are so spiritually rich, I might ask them to pray that Cambodia and the US can be closer together so I can see them more often. For them, God just might do it.  For now, I will dwell on some of the bright moments that continue to float in my heart and mind.

Getting to look Rathanak, Samnang big, and the others in their eyes and tell them how much God loves them.

Ry poking me in the arm to wake me up on the 10.5 hour bus trip, so I wouldn't miss anything.

Srey Mom's big smile when I gave her a bead bracelet

Seeing Jim rock out as the chief at the cultural center while our whole team and 30 kids whooped and laughed and applauded.

Pichhing patting and holding the hand I had draped over his shoulder.

Pony, who was timid at first running up for a hug with her shy smile.

Playing who-can-poke-who-in-the-side with Rathanak, a 16 year old boy who is just the definition of sweet with the world's biggest smile (even though he probably wouldn't love hearing that)

Devotional time with my team

Getting to know Kristie, who has moved here, and is the older sister the boys have longed for and now finally have.

Sieng Hai grinning as I took his hand and we walked hand in hand through the ruins. And then telling a tourist, when asked, that no he is not my son, but he is the son of my heart. And knowing it is true.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Busloads of fun!

It takes five hours of bus travel on a pretty even mix of paved roads and bumpy dirt roads to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Unless your bus hits a ginormous pothole and you get a flat. Then you wait a while, miss your chance to get into town before lunch and have to stop for food, stop again to switch the bald front tire with the less bald back tire, and 10.5 hours later pull into Siem Reap.

I can now say I've had flat tires on four continents.  Thankfully we had a stack of movies to watch. They were all in English but the kids didn't care, and it helped me out. I sat with Ry, a teenage boy who speaks about as much English as I do Khmer.  We pointed at things outside the window, shared snacks and I made him a friendship bracelet.

When we arrived at four, we went straight to the Khmer Cultural Center.  The kids had requested we go and were so excited. I was eager just to see them enjoy the experience. As we started to walk around, we heard loud music and walked up a hill to a little stage nestled in the hill. It was designed to look like a village from some point in Cambodia's past, but again the Khmer language thing got in my way, so I don't know when.  The show was a hoot. They did a dance and pulled a guy up from the audience to take part in a wedding ceremony and dance. The actors hammed it up and made it super fun. The kids loved it and were glued to the performance (or so I hear, I was too.)  We went straight from that show to another one depicting a similar course of events in a different era.  In the third show, which seemed to be the most historical, they picked Jim from our team to be the audience participant and we all cheered. He did great, yelling Cambodian things he didn't understand, wearing a big headdress and sitting in a bamboo throne. It was a great end to the cultural center.

I got to spend a little more time with Sieng Hai and Pichhing, I just love that these 14 year-olds--who wear skinny jeans and style their hair--will hold my hand. It makes me go all gooey. All the teen boys seem to really value attention, which makes total sense since they probably don't get a ton of it. But the sincerity of emotion and the willingness to express affection move me. I love it. As much as it means to me, who is not an orphan and was not raised with 30 other kids, I just am grateful and eager to show that same affection to them. I made a handful of yarn bracelets and gave most to the older boys. Rathanak, one of the older boys, is quiet but has this killer smile. We started goofing off today, and I made him a bracelet too. Srey Mom, a sweet girl, attached to my left hand for most of the day and saved me a spot at dinner, and I hugged on her a lot, I just love her smile.

Tomorrow we will meet the kids and go to Angkor Watt. It is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and none of them have ever been.  I can't wait to share that with them!  We've divided the group into teams by color and as a proud member of the green team I'm happy to say our group is stacked. We get Pichiing AND Sieng Hai and even Rathanak. It's going to be a fun day.

As enthralling as the cultural center was and Angkor Watt is to me, it's so much greater to these kids whose heritage is represented. They get to see a new part of their own country and some amazing things built by their ancestors. I'm so glad for them to have this experience.  But for me, I'm mostly glad I get an extra day to hug their necks, hold their hands and take a bazillion pictures to hold me over until next time.

OH, I almost forgot. While we were walking through the cultural center to the show, we saw a Cambodian music video being filmed!  HOW COOL IS THAT!

Okay, photos are taking eons to upload, so I'll add some later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gifts and Christmas


Christmas came early this year.  At least it did here in Phnom Penh.  

To wrap up the week, my teammate Erin talked about how personal God’s love is for each of us. The kids (and the orphanage director, who is a hoot) decorated foam-framed mirrors, so that when they looked at their image they would remember that God loved them.

Me and Kim Chai being cool reindeer.
We gave them foam cut-outs, stickers, glitter glue, and foam letters and stood back.  I expected to see wads of stuff crammed on every inch of the frames.  I was wrong.  These amazingly talented kids were meticulous. Even the teenage boys were bent over their mirrors, making patterns and spelling out their names. Pichhing wrote “God love u and me. God love we.” In English. The kid is awesome! 

Then we did a spiritual gifts inventory, which our translator had translated into Khmer already. Each kid spent lots of time filling out the 96 questions. When they finished I was helping some of the kids tally their scores to see their gifts.  I expected a mixed bag of leader, intercessor, hospitality, exhortation, and maybe a prophecy. Maybe.

Under the Christmas tree, looking for their pic on a gift.
I was blown away.  That place is awesome, because God has specifically called, endowed, and nurtured each of those children. I know in my head that all things are under his authority, that he actively loves and interferes in the best way possible in the lives of His kiddos. But I was still humbled and awed to realize that most of the people who call New Life home have gifts of intercession, prophecy, miracles.  These are world changers. These are the people I want praying for me. And the awesome thing is, they already are!

I realized again that I come to serve God and serve these children, but I am the one honored to mingle with warriors for Christ, saints.

Pichhing and his dart gun.
After lunch, we read the Christmas story and then had a surprise for them.  The team had put a wrapping paper tree up on the wall and covered it with ornaments and even a star. Their gifts were piled along the base, and their stuffed stockings along the wall.  We opened the door and they buzzed around, eagerly looking for their packages.  Then they all took them back to the main room and opened them.

I guess I should have rotated this before I attached it.
This is Sieng Hai with his new Lego warrior dude.
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and today I was reminded why.  The room was just drenched in the joy of the Lord, the Holy Spirit I think was laughing with delight as the kids carefully opened their gifts, and then sorted their stockings one item at a time to see what they’d gotten. The gifts were nice, but not extravagant. And the best thing was that none of the value or size really mattered. It was that they’d been given something. There was joy and worship and celebration. I loved watching them show their presents, watching the boys draw a target on the white-board and practice shooting their nerf darts, watching the girls practice new jewelry weaves.  I made about six Christmas bead bracelets and gave them out as fast as I could, just to be able to give something else because it was such a joyful day.

Tomorrow we leave here at 6 and will drive 5 hours with the kids to Siem Reap, where we’ll go to a cultural center in the afternoon.  Your prayers would be awesome since it will be a loooong day, and in the back of our heads we’ll know it will be our last, since we say goodbye to them at noon on Friday.

All the kids as they started their careful opening.
For now though, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Big thoughts, eggs, giant shoes, and s'mores

You know how sometimes you get your hopes really high, ask God to do something really big and then hold your breath to see what he does?

Today was that day for me, and he totally blew me away.

It was a big talking day for me. I got to share a devotional with my team and that was special, and then we prayed for the talk I would give to the kiddos.  Our topic is that God is in the small things. I have prayed for months on how to present this, how to communicate to the kids how even when they feel lost, even when they feel invisible, God sees, knows, and LOVES them.  He gave me the words and verses, and I just hoped I wouldn't get in his way.

Even if no one else had been blessed, being reminded of how awesome the love of my God is for me was awesome. I am always stunned when I really, for a moment, get that. I will never get used to it.  I want so badly for these kids who have been abandoned, hurt, or handed over to know that.  To hear and believe that to God, there is no one just like them and he loves them to pieces. I think he told them.

At the end I talked about how we are God's workmanship, or masterpiece.  I pointed at each person in the room, adults and kids, one at a time and told them they were God's masterpiece, and had them stand. To see the shy smiles, the eagerness to be called out as a beloved of the Most High, it was...there aren't good enough words but it was the stuff that joy is built of.

I just continue to praise God for moving in such a big, real, intimate way. Praise Him!

After that we did an Easter Egg hunt so they had to find "small things" and that was a hoot. They loved it as much as I did at that age. And then we took pictures with a backdrop of a giant shoe (so we'd look small) and all these fun props and man, there are oodles of killer photos, some of which I will post when my computer charges (I'm borrowing my roommate's.)

All afternoon was crafts and puzzles and games, and for me an energy drink, and I praise God again for the fact that all of us over 20 managed to stay conscious...well, mostly at least.  Tonight was our late night with the kids and we did s'mores and capture the flag. The rules never really did get sorted out, but we ran around wearing glow sticks and squealing, so it all worked in the end.

Today was one of those days that starts out so high, you're kind of worried it's bound to go down hill at some point. But it never did. We went from glory to glory. I'm a sweaty mess from all the running around, sticky from bug spray, a little tummy-sore from laughing, and I couldn't be happier.

To all of you who have so generously prayed for me and for this trip, I thank you. God has heard you and has moved his big, glorious self in an orphanage in Phnom Penh. He has swamped these kids with his love and I am glad I got caught up in it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

So much to say!

I'm almost out of battery life, so this is going to be short, and then I'll be more detailed later.

Today we talked to the kids about how big God is.  It was awesome to see them crowded around a laptop with a google earth image of their home, pointing out the banana grove and the school building, and then see them awestruck by the size of the sun, the galaxy, the universe.  I myself was awed again and this magnificent, glorious God and how far he's flung his glory through space.

There was an activity with floam that devolved rather quickly into a contest of who could make the biggest ball. It was nuts, but Sieng Hai wanted to sit by me, so I didn't much care.

In the afternoon we went to a water park that would make and American litigation lawyer dance a jig, but thankfully no one was hurt.  I wasn't going to get in, but when I was cooling my feet, some of the older boys started targeting me with their nerf water guns.  I fought back, but there was no contest.  And I couldn't have cared less.  Seeing these boys who have been through so much and are now finding their way into manhood just cut up and goof off was so rewarding. Inside I was whooping, because once again, I see that God has taken the "least of these" in this world and lifted them up. They are not victims, they are not broken, they are just teenage boys.

Picching came and got me to go on a slide together.  We climbed way up and he showed me where to sit on the innertube and where to put my hands, and then we hollered through a long twisty black tunnel. Twice.  It was fun, and it was fun to spend time with my kid. He's a leader.

Okay, almost out of juice, praising God for the laughter and squeals of 33 kids and more than a few grown ups.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Singin' in the Sun

You know its going to be a good day when you start out by singing Christmas carols.  We went to church this morning, and first these adorable kids in great big neck bows sang songs with motions, then the adults came out dressed in matching outfits and sang Hark, The Harold Angels' Sing in Khmer.  

It was strangely exciting. I mean, when you think about it, the angels didn't sing over Jesus in English. If they sang in any language of Earth, it was probably Aramaic, or possibly Greek. But to hear a carol I know and love in a foreign tongue was very unifying.  We sing to the same Christ, born for all of us in a manger in Bethlehem.  It brought to mind what it will be like when we all get to Heaven, and all our voices in a thousand languages will unite and intertwine to form a single grand hymn.

All that was just the warm up, though.  After lunch we went out to the orphanage to play with the kids and, in my case, get my butt handed to me in Connect Four by a number of teens.  We had about an hour of touring the orphanage/hugging/holding hands/learning names, then the kids had church so we went in and sat with them.  They sang a capella, with the orphanage director tapping out the beat with his knuckle on the desk up front.  It was very simple, very routine, and unbelievably beautiful.  Not just because their voices are high and pure. It was the way they sang. They were uninhibited. They sang with all of the breath in their bodies and with a conviction that can best be described as gusto.  

As lovely as their little voices are, that's not what it was about. Not for them, not for us, and not for the God who reveled in their praise.  I just soaked it up, and longed for that kind of abandon in my own worship and in that of my church.  How free and rich and how much more joyous would it be, if we could stop worrying about the poor parishioners who had the bad fortune to be sitting in front of us (or me, at least) as we belt it, and just glorify God?

I love that they have this.  I pray they never lose it.

After church we played games and puzzles, and as I said earlier, lost soundly in Connect Four over and over again.  Picching had no mercy and it was great to see him laugh every time he dropped the fourth disc in place.  Sieng Hai didn't play against me, but I did get some quality hugs in.  I wanted to show how fast they've grown, so here you go. 

These pictures are from May 2010

This is Picching...and me.

This is Sieng Hai












This is from today!!!

Picching, me, and Sieng Hai.  They're so grown up!

I'm thrilled that it's only Sunday and we have so much time still here with the kids.  It's been great to see how quickly the new people have fallen in love and how quickly the kids have loved them too.  While I'll probably never try to sing Hark, The Herald Angels' Sing in Khmer, I will always remember this time when I hear it.


Friday, November 30, 2012

There's no place like...anywhere other than a plane.

Q: What grows faster than a weed in fertilizer?

A: Cambodian boys.

Tonight as we rolled our luggage out of the Phnom Penh airport and into the sticky Cambodian night, I saw two faces, both familiar and different. Sieng Hai and Picching were among those to greet us at the airport.  I wrapped these skinny fourteen year old boys in hugs and spoke to them in a language they partly understand, but I didn't care and neither did they. I did that thing that aunts around the world are infamous for. I told them how small they were before and how big they'd grown and they smiled and agreed, huge smiles on the maturing faces that were little-boy round when I last saw them. A dozen others were there as well and even the tiniest have grown so much. It was so wonderful to pull them close again.

After about twenty-six hours of travel, approximately twenty of which were spent in airplane seats or roaming those narrow aisles, I'm soooo glad to be here!

I am thankful for the encouraging notes I received and I can't wait for God to reveal himself to the kids and to me and to my whole team. Blessed be His name!

So, its twelve hours later here than the US, currently 11:23 pm. I'm pretty wiped and can't think of anything pithy or eloquent to add, so I leave you with a picture of the room my friend Molly and I share at the Goldiana Hotel.  No bugs so far, and I'm believing God to keep it that way, and the dogs next door have decided whatever passed by wasn't a deadly enemy or potential intruder, so I'm going to take a sleeping pill, brush my teeth with bottled water, hose down and call it a night.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The things we don't choose

 They say you don't get to pick your family, which is true.

What's also true is that pets don't get to pick their owners, and for that I'm grateful.  After my attempt at festivities today, mine would probably disown me.  But they look so cute!



I know Santa hats on animals, albeit precious, is somewhat unreasonable.  But, I'm going out of town tomorrow and I wanted to spread a little Christmas joy to the boys before I take off for ten days. That, and they were at the dollar store so I couldn't resist.

(If you are a robber who stumbled across this blog, Jellybean and Buckley are 90-pound pit bulls, raised on raw meat and anger. I don't know these cats.)

I was talking to my mumsy on the phone once about something funny the boys did and she said, "isn't it great that God made domesticatable animals? That he knew how important they would be?"  And honestly, I hadn't thought much about it, but yes. Yes, it is great.

I love that God is not economical, not efficient, not logical. He's crazily, effusively, extravagantly generous. He didn't just invent fuel for human bodies, he invented flavors and textures.  He didn't just inspire man to build shelter, he inspired beautiful architecture like St. Peter's Basilica, the pyramids (I know he doesn't get credit for it, but the math required alone is a tribute to his inventing physics), and this adorable Victorian cottage I saw once with a riotous garden.

And he didn't just make reproductive and developmental units that form a defensible clan. He made families we don't choose, friends we do, and yes, even pets who don't choose us.

It's crazy to miss cats--er, pit bulls--but I will. But not too much, because I'm headed to Cambodia, to the orphanage where I can finally hug Picching and Sieng Hai again. Because my crazy extravagant God gave me not just a bio family, but also sons of my heart even if they do live half way around the world.

Thank you, Jesus, for Christmas, and not just that you came although that is awesome, but that you are the kind of Lord who likes a party to celebrate it.  Thank you for your vastness and generosity. Thank you for JB and the Buckster, and for Allie to take care of them, and thank you thank you for this chance to go see my boys in Cambodia again.  You are love! And you win my heart again over and over. All my love.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Strands of cheer




It was a dark, pre-Christmas night in 1880 when Thomas Edison invented the first strand of Christmas lights and put them up around the outside of his laboratory. In an era before streetlights on every corner, porch lights on every home, and bulbs aglow in every room, it must have been radiant. However, it took almost 40 years for the trend to catch on. I don't know why.

At 8 pm on Thanksgiving, my mom, sister and I piled into the car and got in line. Not for a killer deal on earmuffs or  TV players or yoga pants. No, we went to see the Christmas light display in Yukon, OK.  It was Thanksgivingy enough not to be crowded, and warm enough to get out and walk around and get up close to the brilliance of the displays.  Among the many pictures and images made entirely of colored bulbs were bridges coated in lights and this brilliant tree. It shifted color, as I've tried to capture, and we probably
stood there for ten or fifteen minutes just watching and snapping pictures while quiet carols played in the background.

Even though we got lost and had to walk the long way around to get back to the car--long story--it was a fun trip and a cheerful way to kick off the second half of the Christmas season (it starts Nov. 1).

I'm grateful for Mr. Edison and his brain spark and Christmas spirit. I'm grateful for the people who spend hours making beautiful displays for the holidays. And, of course, I'm thankful for God for electricity, for inspiring Edison to discover it, for making colors, and for sending Jesus so we have Christmas at all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Return of the Last Buckner


I studied hard in school and now have a job I am grateful for.
My brother studied hard in school and now has a job he is grateful for in Maui.
If I didn't love him I just might hate him, but I was thrilled to see him today when he arrived in Oklahoma City sporting a beanie, which probably hasn't seen the outside of a closet since he moved. To be fair, it was only 70ish, so without head insulation he may have caught a cold, which would have been the pits, since this is the first time since last Christmas that all the Buckners are together.

We are your typical family in the sense that we fight more with each other than anyone else, but if someone outside the clan picks on one of us, well, he best watch his back.  And we love to laugh, oh do we love to laugh. We have longstanding running jokes that I won't share because they would be funny to no one but us. Overall, we're pretty easily amused. For instance, my sister and mom came in and for 40 minutes we laughed raucously (never used that word before, but it finally fits) while we did this:



Oh, photobooth never gets old.

I'm excited when I get to see any of my family, but when we all get together, the good times roll.

Thank you, Lord, for putting me in a fam that is weird enough that I seem normal. Thank you for laughter, for love, for airplanes to bring folks home from Maui, for holidays, for red wine and Starbucks.  Please be in the middle of all of it.  All my love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Red Carpet or Chili Pepper?





This has been a crazy fall. And not just for me, the consensus seems to be that September was only 2/3 as long as it should have been and October was cut by at least half.  When the world starts spinning faster and it gets hard to keep up, we all have something we turn to. For me, that would be red lipstick. I bust out the Red Carpet Red or Chili Pepper, depending on which looks better with my outfit (all reds are not created equal) and a thin layer of lipstick later, and I feel more powerful, more confident, more...more like She-Ra, Princess of Power. It's my equivalent of a power tie.

I have decided that this will be my color for the season, at least until I decide it won't be. And so far it's working out. I don't know if other people respond to it, or if its me being more outgoing and cheerful because I feel two points prettier and one point more interesting, but my interactions do go better with a little red. And it's not expensive! At a whopping $3 a pop at Ulta, I now have enough lipstick to see me through 2015.


Sometimes you need a pick-me-up and sometimes you just want to feel festive. In either case, there is a magic solution in a little tube. So, today I am thankful for red lipstick. Buckley, not so much, but he'll get used to it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

______ the ________ Impala

No, I'm not thankful for my blackberry. Bleh.

But, three years ago, I met Dirk the Blue Impala.  We've had many an adventure, and covered over 90,000 miles across Georgia, Alabama Mississippi, Tennesee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  It's been a good time, but in all the travel, Dirk may have gotten scuffed up a bit. This year he's taken on a curb, a traffic barrel, and another car (which wasn't our fault!).  He's earned a break.

So, I was very pleased to get the above email, letting me know its time to order a new Impala!  Blue is out of the color options, so the next one will be either light silver, dark gray, or victory red. I haven't chosen yet. Oh, the suspense.

It's always fun to get a new car. To watch the odometer move past 0, to smell that new car smell, and to see the floor of the trunk before I cover it with stuff...most of which I care too much about to throw away and too little about to put away. And of, course, to name him.

I'm grateful for my job, grateful for Dirk, and grateful that in 6-12 weeks he can retire and I'll get a new ride!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red, gold, green, and everything in between.

Fall used to depress me.  I didn't really get why leaves changing was special. To me it was like watching the inevitability of death steal over the land.

Now that I live near the Ozarks, among hills and ridges cloaked in multi-colored trees, I absolutely love the color. Maybe its the variety. Green is cool and all, but I love the really bright red leaves and when you can find a blend of shades from green to red to gold and everything in between, that's the best.

I don't know when my morbid perspective began to shift, but I've been thinking about what I see when I look at those same leaves now.  It has to do with dying to self.  The paradox is letting go of my ownership of life, embracing the new self in order to live free of constraints, to delve into an eternally deep life here on earth, and ever after.

The green of life is great and all, but it was never meant to last. And when a soul succeeds in casting off the constraints of living earth-bound, it changes, grows even lovelier. It happens in a moment and over a lifetime. In a moment, an old life is shed like a dry husk, and a new identity in Christ emerges. The new is instantly different and more beautiful. A red leaf, if we want to be a little bit symbolic in the metaphor.

And from then, its a slow shift, a blossoming of color and beauty in a life that is being surrendered. It takes a letting go, a releasing of control, and then that leaf turns to brilliant gold. The prettiest shades can never be reached while the leaf greedily sucks chlorophyll and grips life with panicky strength. If leaves had emotion, I bet they'd revel in turning colors. Maybe we should pray for evergreens....

Oh, to be gold.

I'm thankful for the beauty and variety and depth of changing seasons and colorful leaves.  I'm also thankful that I don't have to rake any of them. And that I spelled chlorophyll right on my first try. Booyah.

My Dearest, thank you for your wisdom, your world.  Thank you for seasons and their colors and scarves and Christmas carols and Thanksgiving traditions. Thank you most for You. For the vast mystery that is our walk and the truth that it only gets better from here. All my love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Let there be light!


Growing up we had a dining room with a lovely table, where we dined approximately two times a year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We'd get out the flowered china that was almost never used for the food that was rarely eaten.  And then, for the finishing touch, we'd set out the taper candles that were never burned.  They were very pretty and very tall. I totally get the formal dining room being for, well, formal occasions.  When you've got four kids who excel at spilling things on the cream carpet, dinner at the kitchen table is much less stressful.  Same goes with the china. But, I've always been a lit-candle kind of girl.

In unpacking my Christmas decorations, I found this peppermint candle I bought...I don't remember when.  I tore off the wrapping and set it on the mantle, and then...I lit it.  It was funny, I was sort of tempted to just set it out, but I knew every time I looked at it I would wish it was burning.

Which made me think today, with a cheery little flame dancing on the wick and hypothetically casting a warm peppermint scent into the air (it's actually okay that it isn't smelly, since the pumpkin spice candles are more potent) how I'm thankful for candles. Just little ol' candles.

Well, okay, and fire.  Imagine if God had made rocks emit heat and we all had to have rock-places in our living rooms and rock-grilled steaks and rock-resistant clothing. I would miss the brightness, the ethereal there-but-not-there quality of flame, and the useful heat. And then when you're done, just a breath makes it disappear.

And also, I'm thankful for the people who make candles, and the people who give them as gifts, and the times I find them on sale. Thanks, Lord, for all the brilliance and detail and wonder in your creation. For light. For flame. That you are the author of light, that you are the light of life: bright, warm, enticing. And for candles.  All my love.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Technically I'm a human, but I was raised by elves.



There are movies you watch once.There are movies you watch once a year. And then there are those movies that you watch at least four times a year, and even when you're not watching them, you're quoting them and getting a good chuckle.  For the first five years of the new millennium, that movie was Zoolander.  Now? Now it's elf. I met a guy this week named Buddy, and managed to restrain myself from saying, "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color!"

I admit, the first time I saw it, I didn't love the movie. But like red wine, dark chocolate, and Lady Gaga, it grows on you.  It helped that I watched it with my former roommate Natalie, who loves it so much that she would say the line and already be laughing seconds before Will Ferrell delivered them. And the really great part is, you can use these in real life!

Here are some of my favorite lines. If you have any to add, please do!

While shopping, "I'm singing! I'm in a store and I'm singing! I'm in a store and I'm sinnnginnnng!"

When discouraged, "I'm a cotton-headed ninnymuggins."

When confronted by an impostor, "You sit on a throne of lies."

When arguing with that impostor, "You smell like beef and cheese."

When someone is trying to get off the phone with you, "I painted a picture of a butterfly!"

When being confronted for making insensitive remarks about a little person, "He's an angry elf."

When encouraging someone, "You changed the batteries in the smoke detector." "You sure did. Triple A's. And in six months, you'll have to change them again."

When giving a compliment, "That's a nice purple dress. Very purply."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lief, Octaviano, and the Great Taxi Adventure


Meet Lief the Apple. I take him with me on pretty much every trip. However, yesterday, for the first time, Lief took a trip by himself.

Last night I arrived in Chicago, land of the giant bean, for work. Me and four strangers crammed into a taxi cab, and to say it was snug would be a misrepresentation.  My personal bubble popped before we even started moving. If I saw them on the street again, I'd be hard pressed to make eye contact.  So, when we pulled up to my hotel I climbed over knees and legs and didn't stop until I hit pavement. The cabby handed me my rolly bag and I hurried inside.

Octaviano was helping me check in when I realized I was missing my backpack.

And in it, Lief.

My stomach is made of cast iron lined with tempered steel, and I almost threw up. While I prayed and tried to decide whether to have a full-fledged breakdown or be calm and collected (which involved cataloguing all I would lose--manuscripts, pictures, ideas, resources, and Lief himself, who is dear to me) Octaviano got online, helped me find the cab company, and then stayed on hold for at least five minutes until a genuine person came on and he explained the situation, then handed the phone to me for details.  I gave the cab number and they promised to call if they found the bag. I asked them to call either way. It would save me from harassing them every thirty minutes.

When I hung up, he had my room stuff available and told me he wished there was more he could do.

I hadn't even gotten the room key from him when my phone rang. We both hovered close as I answered and the lady told me that yes, my bag had been found and the cab driver was headed back my way. Me and Octaviano both started jumping up and down and then I ran down to the entrance to await cab 3810.

Sure enough, he came back with the whole North Face bag intact, including my beloved Lief.

It was one of those moments that could have been ridiculously awful or ridiculously amazing. Thankfully it was the latter. I hugged Octaviano.  As intimate as I'd gotten with the strangers in the cab physically, Octaviano and I had been through a crisis together and we bonded at a deeper level than I've ever bonded with a hotelier before.

Then, me and God spent at least half an hour letting the adrenaline dissipate as I thanked him for Lief, for getting Lief back, for an honest cabby, for helping me remember the cab number, and for Octaviano. Thanks, again, Lord, for the good people you put in my path yesterday and for this laptop and all the creative spark-gifts you've given me that it holds. Thank you for technology that makes a skinny little thing like this so powerful, and most of all for being with always, even when I'm half-crazed and queasy.  All my love.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Patriotism!


I waited in line for an hour today.  Normally I don't like waiting in lines for any time at all, but today was different. That's right! Today I made my voice heard at the local library. It's our civic duty, yes, but its also kind of fun. I chatted with my fellow patriots who didn't think ahead enough to bring a book with us.  We inched through remarkably good outdoor weather until it was our turn to use the electronic voting stations.

I left feeling so accomplished. Like, three-mile-run accomplished and decided to celebrate my role in the democratic process with both white and red wine, you know, to be patriotic.

While everyone should have freedom, the truth is many people don't. I feel blessed to live in a nation where we are free and have the right to vote. Of course, things may not turn out the way I want them to. But hey, I've already got the wine.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Valley

I was young. I don't remember how young exactly, maybe seven or so. It was near Christmas, and snow covered the mountains, hills and ridges that hem the Columbia River Gorge.  It sat in fluffy heaps on the bows of the evergreens that decorate that part of the country, and made the steep gravel drive to our house on the top of a ridge somewhat treacherous.

I remember looking out the window toward the river, as I often did, and this time I looked down a bit at the ridge itself. For the most part this means peering over the peaks of tall trees, but there was one spot down the hill a ways, where a pristine little valley nestled.  There was not a single footprint, no gray slush from tires, no pocks from animals even. Just pure untainted snow rimmed by stalwart trees.

Even at that age it captured some part of me. I loved the purity and longed for my own secret place, beautiful and just mine. I never told my family of it, I just hoarded the loveliness and mystery for myself. I may have been watching The Secret Garden a lot at that time, I don't recall. But day after day I would go check on the valley to see if anyone had found it, trod across it.

No one ever did.

There is a book called Captivating about the heart of womanhood and God's heart toward us of the female persuasion. It talks of this desire, this longing for something too complex for mere words to define. Romance, they call it, and yes it is. But not in the cheap sense as this world defines it, not in the bodice-ripping sense. Romance as in the desire for and calling out of one's soul by another who loves completely and revels in each facet.

The way God loves, the way he romances, us.  Me. You. Zephaniah 3:17 is my new favorite verse. "The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing."

There is a place in each soul that is designed by and for the greatest Romance ever conceived. The faithful, wild, rich, and unmeasurable love of an Almighty God. But there is also a place in that same stunning God that longs for me. For you. There is a snow-covered valley where he calls me away, just the two of us. He doesn't want from me, he wants for me. And he reveals it, more often than I notice for sure, in moments and scenes and the experiences that will always remain crisp and 3-D in my mind no matter how much time passes.

It takes my breath away. Thank you for you, a romantic God whose love never fails. For the moments you create for just us. For that valley, untainted, for whispers and glimpses of your vastness.  I love you with all of me, now and forever. Please, give me more "us" moments. Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and overwhelm this heart that is forever yours.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Taste

I was out of town for about two weeks and had some wonderful friends take care of Jellybean and Buckley.  JB and the Buckster are pretty easy. You just have to give them water, kibble, and something to chase and they're good. Oh, and a clean litterbox.

Today, I resumed cat care. I refreshed the water, refilled the kibble, and thought about changing the litterbox.

The whole process made me grateful for a number of things. First, that I don't have to use a box, but also, and significantly, that I don't have to eat kibble.  Every day, JB and the Buckster eat beige triangles produced by Science Diet.  They seem content, though they do get really excited about the occasional cat candy.

But me? I get tired of a food after, oh, a few days.  Refilling the gray food bowls this morning reminded me how grateful I am that I get to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, soy protein (aka fake meat, aka feat--though that doesn't sound as good) and a number of grains and sauces. So much to choose from!

I do like me a good meal, but I don't often stop to be grateful for the expanse of flavors, textures, temperatures, and combinations that we humans get to enjoy. However, it only takes a moment of thinking of my own bowl of kibble, meal after meal, day after day, to be grateful for the variety and richness God made edible. In fact, taste is the only of the sense that cannot be quantified outside of human input. Sound, tactility, sight, and scent can all be measured by computers and standardized. Taste? Uniquely a human experience. And what a good one!

Thank you, Lord, for veggies, for tomatoes and onions and peppers and tofu and Thai sauce, and soy, and all the people who figure out how to modify soy protein into feat. Thank you for variety! And that one day we get a one-thousand year feast. And for being the bread of life.  You, oh my Jesus, you...I will never tire of you in my life. You are infinitely rich, infinitely unique and diverse, infinitely wonderful. All my love!

Friday, October 26, 2012

On the road again

I've been in seven states since Sunday.  I've driven to/through six of them. I'm grateful for Monster (the blue kind) and for Starbucks and the Starbucks app that finds them for you, even when you're in Mississippi, and for cruise control. Oh, am I grateful for cruise control.  And sunglasses, too.

I'm also grateful the cats haven't gotten feral enough to give up on the litter box, that they remember me in the very least as the person who makes the red dot appear so they can chase it (laser pointer use number 2).

I'm grateful also for books on CD, for Christmas carols and ipod email updates...not that I would ever check it while driving.  And for McDonald's bathrooms and forty-four cent waters.

And other stuff too.

Servers and Protectors

I'm a day late! Sorry.  (Unless you didn't notice, and then I'm not late, or sorry).

Yesterday we had Safety Day at the OKC office.  Our presenters included a fire chief, a police sergeant, and yours truly, the ergonomics most-official-person-in-the-office.

The policeman started his talk on personal safety by sharing crime stats for OKC proper. Oh. My. Gosh. Let me tell you, it was rough. I was ready to fit my keys between my fingers, sprint to my car, and dive in (after checking for assailants around, under, or in it) and hit the gas back to Little Rock ne'er to return.  Do I know Little Rock is better? Not at all. But a girl can hope.

Thankfully the good sergeant didn't stop there.  He gave us helpful tips on how to prevent becoming a target and talked about all the initiatives and hard work the police do to fight crime.  He answered all our questions patiently, and even offered to take an employee's daughter on a ride-along so she could see that yes, bad things do happen and your mama is trying to look out for you.

I am always grateful for cops, more when they're in the office than when they're behind me, blue lights flashing...I mean, if that had ever happened...ahem.  But I appreciate the men and women who daily put their lives on the line to serve and protect the rest of us and ensure those crime stats don't grow unchecked.  It was a good reminder to see a man with a face and a family who has done this for years and seen awful things so I don't have to.

So, today I'm grateful for the boys and girls in blue, and all other public servants, for a government where the people in uniform are trustworthy, for the sergeant who came and spent time with us. And, that I live in Little Rock.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rest In Peace, Pumpkin

A few weeks ago I bought a nice round pumpkin to sit by my fireplace. This is the extent of my fall decorations.  Last week, said pumpkin started to sag in on itself.  It was kind of gross. Also, a little depressing to think about how the same will happen to me one day.  It was covered in little bugs, which I will never let happen to me, though.

Needless to say the pumpkin had to go.  But, I let it stay a few more days, not out of sympathy, but rather to avoid carting it down two flights and all the way to my car, then from my car to the dumpster.  I have to stay on top of myself or I'll let all the trashes get to full for the same reason.  I don't like handling garbage. Somehow the minute anything--a cupcake, a napkin, a geriatric pumpkin--enters the white plastic bag, it instantly becomes icky by association.  So the idea of carrying it with me, putting it in Dirk's trunk, and then heaving it into a dumpster just isn't appealing.

But today I was thinking, it could be worse. What if there was no dumpster? What if there were no waste managers to come empty the dumpster?  What if, like in ancient times, all the refuse and pumpkin carcasses were tossed along the edge of the street?

I think my nose would stop working in protest. I'd get used to the mess, then depressed, and end up writing dark poetry about the scent of abandonment on a non-biodegradable bag, the blood of pumpkins on my hands, the destruction of the nuclear family of a fly, and other heavy topics.

So, anyway, while I wish my pumpkin had lived a bit longer, I'm glad it's gone, and I'm super grateful for the waste management system, the good men and women who man those giant trucks, and that two flights and a spin around the parking lot is really not that far to take my trash in exchange for low-odor living quarters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Out of the Blue, gold.

I'm in Chicago for a meeting for work.

This in itself is not all that unique.  This is my third trip to Chicago this year. However, this is a leadership meeting which means I get to network more, I'm expected to know more, and the some of the people we hear from are more interesting...not that the people we normally hear from are anything less than fascinating, but it's a new face is all....ahem.

Today, as I walked with a director through the pre-drizzle shroud of fog, she said one of her agents would be addressing us.  On the outside, I was like, "Oh, wow, that's great," complete with complimentary inflection.  On the inside, I was like, "Well, that should break up the day some, and be a little interactive."

Then she said he's a gold medalist from the 2002 Olympics in speed skating.  On the outside, I was like, "Wow, really? That's so great, I'm looking forward to it."  On the inside, I was like, "Wow, really?  That's so great, I'm looking forward to it."

Sure enough, Casey FitzRandolph shared his story of incredible dedication through times of promise and even times of unfair and unforeseeable trial that got him to the gold in Utah.  It was cool to hear from a world class athlete what that kind of dedication looks like from the inside. It made me want to go win something.

If that weren't enough, he did bring the gold. I've never seen a gold medal in person, and it was awesome. I wanted to touch it, but I didn't have the nerve, so I settled for craning my neck to read the inscription.  Here, so you can experience it vicariously.


If Casey hadn't come, the meeting would still have been a chance to connect with old friends, network with colleagues, and learn a little more about how my day job works.  But, it's always nice when, out of the blue, you get a once in a lifetime (or at least once in a long time) moment. 

Definitely, best meeting ever.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Roller Thingies


Although merely foundlings with unknown parentage, I think Jellybean and Buckley are handsome.  Buckley is gold and white and Jellybean is black and white.  Their hair is soft and bright and in these adorable patterns.

That same hair, when adhered to my person is not at all adorable, and seeing as its Jellybean’s goal to rub against everything, and Buckley’s to sit on everything, this happens a lot. They play king of the hill only with clothes.

Thus today I’m grateful for the little sticky roller thingy that I use daily to de-hair. It keeps my reputation as a cat lady somewhat in check, prevents other people’s allergies from activating at proximity, and lets the black I so love to wear actually look black instead of mottled gray.

Thanks, Lord, for whoever thought to put the tape roll inside out on a handle, probably someone at 3M, for Jellybean and the Buckster and that they’re at least short-hairs, and for all those clothes that I have in my closet to de-hair.  All my love.