Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lemonade and Stuff

My home office has been invaded:

It may be hard for me to write this week.

Katherine and James are east-coast with us, while Jay is west-coast. I’ve got a lot on my plate.

But I’ve been meaning to tell you about something cool for quite a while now, so maybe I can do it before James wakes up.

As I’ve written before, my son-in-law amazes me. His ability to accept radical life alterations with grace and faith is inspiring. His creativity and adaptability are unique.

In April of 2008, Jay was looking forward to graduating from Pepperdine Law School the next month, and working as legal counsel for an innovative commercial real estate company in Malibu. Katherine was making a respectable living as a model and actress, commuting to LA almost daily for gigs and auditions. They were talking about whether they wanted to move to LA, or stay in Malibu. (Win/Win.) They were involved in everything you can imagine… not a single dull moment. The future was blindingly bright and ridiculously rosy.

Obviously, all that changed in the blink of eye.

Screeching halt.

Life and death.

From the ashes of their former life, Jay and Katherine have gratefully reconstructed an existence far different from the dreams of 2008.

And it is good.

Very, very different, but very, very good.

Jay has been his wife’s primary caretaker in every sense of the word since her release from UCLA Hospital. It is a more-than-full-time job.

You can’t have more than one full-time job.

But my innovative son-in-law has found ways to make things work.

The incredible generosity of family, friends, and strangers, combined with a few mysterious but providential windfalls (winnings from a game show, for example), have enabled Katherine and Jay to stay afloat without the necessity of a traditional nine-to-five up until now.

Thankfully, he has recently accepted a job with a burgeoning new company that will enable him to work from home for much of the time. He will begin while Katherine and James are here, so he’ll have some nice quiet time to get started.

I want to share with you one of the innovative ways in which he has “made lemonade” in the meantime while waiting for this job opportunity. The name says it all: 

There is much that is symbolic about this little side business, but I would rather have you read Jay's own eloquent words. Please click here, and hit the "About" button.

He writes a blog on his design philosophy that also reveals much of his subtle humor and life philosophy. For instance, see his description of re-designing his sister-in-law's Santa Monica studio apartment:

While I'm indulging in what my daughter refers to as "shameless plugs," I'd love for you to also check out "pop and lolli," an adorable website for children's wall decals started by our friend MiaViljoen, a former Disney imagineer. Mia is a creative genius, and she and her husband are in the running for sweetest people in the WORLD. They have been an integral part of Katherine's healing journey. If you haven't checked it out from Katherine's website, here's the link:

(James was a model.)

While I'm at it, a movie in which Katherine had a one-line part (i.e. "Pregnant Bridesmaid") is now available on DVD through Amazon. Not Since You, a "Big Chill" type wedding reunion, was filmed here in Athens, and shows many great local scenes. The primary action takes place at "The Hill," a fascinating and beautiful historic property owned by our friend Lee Epting. His son, Ashley, was the producer of the film. Side note: Katherine's bridesmaid's luncheon was the most unbelievably elegant and beautiful I've ever attended. (Or even seen pictures of in a magazine.) It was hosted by her dear friend Sally, Lee's step-daughter, and her mom Jerry, in the dining room of the 1820's house. Need to find some pictures to show you. (Before digital.) Sally, her brother, and many other close friends have been married there over the years, so it was the perfect spot for a wedding movie.

(Note: I think it's PG-13; not for children.)

One last thing to check out: One Ringing Bell, a fairly new blog by a beautiful, multi-talented friend of mine, Beverly Varnado. She is a wonderful writer, artist, and musician. 

Okay. That's it.  Someone's been patiently paging me for quite a while. Good thing he knows how to entertain himself. Very creative!

I guess that would be a theme today... I love to celebrate the God-given gift of creativity as uniquely manifested and expressed through His children. I love to see people make something new, especially when it is made from things like lemons or ashes. Or when old things are refurbished and given new life.

Whatever your gift is... 

let it shine!


One last picture. The day after I posted "Come Sit With Me," I caught this precious little lady just soaking up the sun by the parking lot at the Retirement Home. Happy as a lark... blooming right where she's planted:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Come Sit With Me

Come sit with me a while…
they are not long,
smiles and tears.

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Retirement Home. Every time I enter, residents are always just sitting there in the lobby, in the foyer, on an outside bench. Alone, or in groups. Inviting contact, conversation. Usually I’m too busy for anything but a quick, “Hi,” as I run in with arms laden with more Stuff we think Mother can’t live without in her new digs.

Come sit with me a while, eyes beg. Talk to me. Engage with me.

Time is running out.

My grandmother had a magnet on her refrigerator with a calligraphy of the saying at the top. I think one of my aunts, a kindred spirit, gave it to her. Originally, it had some sweet little flowers painted on it. They have faded to invisibility by now, but I’ve saved it as a reminder of my grandmother, and a lesson I learned from her.

Nenie had raised 6 children as a young widow, and felt deeply the silence of the empty nest her rambling old house became after they flew away. She loved nothing more than for a visitor to come “sit with her a spell.”

I didn’t need much coaxing.

As a teenager and young woman, I used to drive to my grandmother’s house in Gainesville (GA) whenever I was in need of some serious TLC. It was a sweet refuge from the tumultuous culture of the early 70’s that I inhabited. I’d sit on her scratchy, worn couch and watch soap operas with her. We’d read Ladies Home Journal simultaneously, but individually, sharing tidbits of knowledge we’d gleaned. “Did you know that mayonnaise takes water rings off furniture?” or “Did you hear that Liz Taylor’s* getting divorced again?” (“Glory be.”) Then we’d gossip about everybody we knew… mostly other relatives. Sometimes she’d tell me things about her childhood that her own children never knew. And then I’d get grilled about my boyfriends. But I wasn’t too old to beg for a back tickle or two. Or take a long nap on that scratchy old sofa.

The smells of delicious Southern food wafted into the room as we lounged around chatting or just sitting together in comfortable silence. She usually had something on the stove… just in case one of her boys stopped by for a minute. Green beans, creamed corn, fried okra, cornbread… just in case.

Those ‘sitting times’ are among the best memories of my life. Wasting time, just being together in the warmth of close relationship and unconditional love. No agenda. Nothing to “accomplish.”

But life is so different now.

The world has sped up. And will continue accelerating until… what?

There are few who take the time to stay and sit a spell.

I’ve been fascinated by a slew of recent articles and news stories on the depersonalization wrought by technology.

Talking on the phone is rapidly becoming archaic. Texting, tweeting, and facebook are becoming the primary means of communication in our world.

So now, not only do we not have time to stay and sit with each other, we don’t even take the time to hear each other’s voices.

I entered the texting world kicking and screaming, but eventually realized that if I wanted to be able to track my kids down, it would have to be a necessary evil. I do think it is a useful tool in many ways. For example, I’m still old-fashioned enough not to want to scream my personal conversations out in public places, so if someone calls me when I’m at the doctor’s office or in a restaurant, I can silence that sucker in a hurry and text the person that I’ll try to call them back later.

I do realize the pitfalls of increasingly depersonalized communication, however. If I’m tired or emotionally drained, I may not have the energy for a lengthy phone conversation. (Don’t we all have friends and loved ones who are loathe to let us off the phone when we say we need to get off?) With a text, you can state the pertinent information in abbreviated manner, and then type a breezy “gtg.” C ya.

But I’ve noticed that the texting thing is already impairing intimacy in a few of my relationships. I think sometimes people are afraid of the vulnerability that intimacy requires. So typing takes the place of true communication, and silences voices, with all of their wonderful nuances. It erects a wall behind which one can hide. Keeps people at a comfortable distance…

is an instrument of control.

And without the gift of invested time in interpersonal communion, relationships wither and die.

This morning, my quiet time was lengthy, but scattered. I jumped from one passage to another, one devotional to another. None of it was really alleviating the slight feeling of dread I was feeling about the obligations of the day. I have to do some things I really don’t want to do. Always a problem with this strong-willed, self-willed woman.

Something from the morning’s hodge-podge quiet time led me to pray, “What do I owe you?”

As usual, I tried to think of the answer before it came from outside of me. “Well, you owe me your life, for one,” were some of the words I put into God’s mouth.

But after waiting a while, trying to empty me of myself and my own opinions, these were the words that came in an interior, ‘other’ voice:

Praise. Trust. Time.

I’ve been working on the first two. They’ve been my spiritual focus recently.

But time?

I don’t have enough of that these days.

I realized immediately that this was not about time spent in service to others, or time “doing things for the Lord.” (btw, I hate that expression. As if.)

Not even about time spent in study or, necessarily, in focused prayer.

It is about time spent in the true communion of loving intimacy.

It is about wasting time with God.

Just hanging out with Him.

Sitting a while.

I have a book with the title Why Not Waste Time With God? sitting, unread, on my bedroom bookshelf. Maybe one day I’ll take the time to read it.

Even if I don’t, the title fascinates me.

What the world and the Upside-Down-Kingdom consider as waste may be two entirely different things. Conversely, what is considered productive in each may be opposites.

The woman with the alabaster jar "wasted" the costly perfume on the feet of Jesus. (Luke 7:37)

Our lives spin on, whirlwinds of motion and activity. Technology and distraction.

But time is running out for all of us.

This world and everything in it are passing away…

passing away.

And deep calls to deep, the Spirit invites…

Come sit with me a while…

they are not long,

smiles and tears.


(* Weird. I wrote this yesterday, before I heard that the iconic figure had "passed away."  Then, after I published it, my uncle sent out an email reminding all the relatives that today is Nenie's birthday. I had completely forgotten.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Day Is It?

I almost let it slip me by.

It’s intriguing not to live by calendars. So it was late in the day when I remembered what day it was.

When the kids were little, I used any excuse at all to turn a boring, regular day into a special party day. We usually had Irish stew and danced jigs on March 17. (And died laughing.)

So I made a 5 p.m. run to Trader Joe’s, and pulled off a St. Patrick’s Day feast for just BigB and me.

We had corned beef with strong mustard and horseradish; cabbage with chowchow (Southern-Irish), adorable little fresh green peas with dill, and cute baby fingerling and red potatoes… roasted with a little olive oil and spices. And a homemade whole-grain ball of bread. (But not homemade by moi. Oh well.)

I finally figured out how to Pandora the Chieftains, so we even did a jig or two on our own.  Absolutely hysterical. (If we were related, I’d show you the sneaky video I did of BigB dancing on my IPhone.)

With all the partying, revelry, drunkenness, and dyed-green rivers in places like Chicago and Savannah, it’s easy to forget that St. Patrick’s Day was meant to be the commemoration of effective evangelism.

According to one source, “Patrick was sent to deliver the message of the "light at the center of all," not because he was courageous, strong, educated, or charming. Indeed, the messenger angel assures Padraig that his courage and skill are not the issue. God's strength, God's wisdom, and Christ's utter attractiveness are instead determinative. Ireland was converted as a work of grace, not a work of merit.*”

With that in mind, I close the day with the “Breastplate of St. Patrick,” not unlike the “Armor of God” described in Ephesians 6:11.

“May God be in your head, and in your understanding…”  St. Patrick


I ARISE today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me:

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From every one who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

                                     (St. Patrick, 387-493)


(I don't know why we have the one column on the left thing going on here, but it's way too late East Coast Time to figure it out.

Nite nite.)


If you haven't already, please read the post below, and comment if you wish. It was the "real post" for today.

Losin' My Religion

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no I've said too much
I haven't said enough


Growing up in the Deep South, I heard this more than once:

“Getting my kids ready for church on Sunday makes me lose my religion quicker than any other day of the week!”

When I looked up the lyrics to the R.E.M. song playing in my head, it was funny to read some of the interpretations. People obviously from other parts of the country were trying to elucidate the meaning of the expression.

For example, (verbatim), “Losing your religion is a term referring to getting drunk.”

Or, “The term means cursing in other words.”

Or, “It’s a southern phrase meaning like “at the end of road.”

Awww… ya’ll weren’t even close.

To me, “losin’ my religion” is a colloquial expression connoting a state where one’s self-will or temper win out over one’s desire to follow (at least) the surface commandments of the Judaic-Christian tradition. In other words, the "real you" breaks through the veneer of nicety and piety.

I don’t think it ever really referred to a true fall away from faith.

But whatever.

I don’t think losing one’s religion is actually a bad thing at all.

God hates religion.*

FYI: If there’s anyone still reading who’s not “a member of the choir,” (as in “preachin’ to…,” indicating that one is speaking to those who already share the same world-view), one of the biggest faux pas you can make in a conversation with a Christian is to say something like, “I didn’t know you were so religious.”

To someone who is more than a nominal Christian, those words are kind of like a fingernail scrape on a chalkboard. Just so you know for next time. Like knowing when to bow when you’re in the Far East, or how many times you kiss someone’s face if you’re in France, etc. 

Authentic Christians are not just trying to follow the tenets of a religion.

Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

1150–1200; Middle English religioun  (< Old French religion ) < Latin religiōn-  (stem of religiō ) conscientiousness, piety, equivalent to relig ( āre ) to tie, fasten ( re- re-  + ligāre  to bind, tie; compare ligament) + -iōn- -ion; compare rely

via Old French from Latin religiō  fear of the supernatural, piety, probably from religāre  to tie up, from re-  + ligāre  to bind]

according to Cicero, derived from relegare  "go through again, read again," from re-  "again" + legere  "read" (see lecture). However, popular etymology among the later ancients (and many modern writers) connects it with religare  "to bind fast" (see rely), via notion of "place an obligation on," or "bond between humans and gods." Another possible origin is religiens  "careful," opposite of negligens.             (* Highlights mine.)

Let me tell you something.

This is a description of the absolute antithesis of the kind of life I want to lead.

The last thing on earth I want is to be is bound up by chains of fear-based obligatory compliance to a set of rules. I don’t want to go through life being “careful.” (Watch out… you better do this, you better not do that… or God’s gonna getcha!) I don’t want to exist in a relegare kind of way, either… endlessly lectured to perform rote rituals over and over again in some sort of appeasement process.


Christianity is not merely a ‘religion’ in this traditional understanding of the word. It is a love relationship between human beings and their Creator.

If you read the first four books of the New Testament, it is evident that the only people Jesus had a real problem with were the religious ones. He referred to them  as “graves of dead bones” and “vipers.”

During his brief visit to earth, he chose to hang out with those whom the religious elite scorned.

Publicans and sinners…”

Scam artists and whores and losers of every kind.  (But he was guilty of no reverse discrimination, equally embracing those among the wealthy and powerful who came with  humble, seeking hearts.)

He welcomed all who weren’t too proud to admit their need of help. Too strong and self-sufficient and self-righteous and unbending to open their hearts up to the One who came in humility. (And desires it of his followers.)

The ones who understood that their best efforts at achieving perfection weren’t good enough.

The ones who weren’t “religious.”

Religion is man trying to make himself good enough to placate an angry God (or gods.)

Relationship is God reaching down with life-changing love to a broken, hurting humanity, and inviting intimacy.

Religion brings about discouragement… judmentalism… death.

Relationship brings about courage…  love… life.

Ultimately, Religion fails, because even the perfect people aren’t perfect.  

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (John 1:8)… “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

No one can jump high enough to reach Heaven on his own.

It is not a meritocracy.

We don’t get there by “being good” or following rules.

We don’t get there by being religious.

We get there by repentance and receiving

the gift of gifts.

I pray that we can all lose our 'religion'… 

and embrace a love relationship with the living Christ, enkindled by the sweet flaming spirit of God Himself.



Please feel free to forward this to anyone you know who confuses Christianity with religiosity.

And just to head this one off at the pass: No, I do not believe in what Dietriech Bonhoeffer referred to as "cheap grace."