Sign Post

Sometimes I need a sign. Like a for reals, written on the wall kind of sign. In the moments when I am not looking for them is when they find me and are most beneficial pexels-photo-66100to me. Sometimes I find myself searching for them more than I do the One who gives them. In those times I have to back up and regain my perspective. I have on occasion had a sign intervention. Like the time, when I was 9 month pregnant with a baby that was the fulfillment of a promise to this once barren woman and a sign led me right into such a distracted state that I got to ride in an ambulance for the first time in my life.

That morning my expanding belly had forced me to move my seat back. I buckled my seatbelt and set out on a drive I’d made multiple times. I was on a particularly curvy road when I looked up to see a sign congratulating my friends on the arrival of their new baby. In fact their New baby Girl had just been born and the sign read “Congratulations! Margaret and Larry! It’s a Girl!” About the time I read Girl, inserted her name, and before I could process it all I was sitting in a car full of smoke from airbag deployments. ambulance-2920909_1280.jpgIn a matter of seconds I had managed to wreck my car. In a matter of moments more I found myself on the side of a road with a paramedic placing a giant IV in my bruised arm. And within an hour I was taken to the Emergency Room to check on the baby I was carrying.

Panic and Shock occurred simultaneously. Until that moment I did not know that was even a possibility. I was protected that day. God protected me and the life within me. Despite the force of impact, the baby I was carrying was fine, and so was I. He didn’t wait too much longer after that day to make his appearance. Perhaps he decided to be born lest he risk another near miss resulting from my distracted state. A few weeks later I delivered a baby boy. (Just recently that baby girl whose birth was announced on that sign turned 14 years old. My own baby also recently turned 14.) Conclusion. Be present in the moment, focus on the here and now.

Another sign intervention, with much different results happened some time later. I was overwhelmed and afraid about someone I love dearly. Fear gripped me and I was scared ethics-2991600_1280senseless. I was literally begging the Father to intervene, bargaining with everything I had in me. Every Moment I that was not consumed by other things I was trying to figure a way out of the most certain detriment that was sure to befall my loved one.

I eventually reached the obvious conclusion. Apart from Jesus’ intervention, there was no way out. I begged Him to show me it was going to be fine, and I am honest to goodness not kidding, I rounded a curve and there spelled out in a marquee-like fashion were the words “Everything is going to be OK.” I literally turned my car around and took a picture of those words, After I snapped the picture. I sat in my car and wept because I knew no matter what, everything really was going to be okay. That was nearly a decade ago. Conclusion. No matter the outcome, God is in control, His ways are best and I can trust that it will be okay.

pexels-photo-618955In the late winter to early spring of 2015, I was having a bad day. The kind of bad day that lasts for weeks. I was walking to my assigned task for the day when I happened upon another kind of sign. Painted on the side of a wagon. I speculated on how it had come to be right in my path, right when I needed it. I had concluded, perhaps it was abandoned as a transportation device when its occupant declared “I can walk by myself” or its cumbersome nature proved too challenging to continue the journey onward. Maybe it’s squeaky wheel was too much an annoyance to overrule its functionality. Regardless of the circumstances that rendered it in my path on my way to do what I do, it’s message from My King was a welcome and encouraging reminder. He is indeed with me always…even until the end of the Age. Conclusion: I am not alone, He is with me always.

signs-2949534_1280There is a Pastor I adore that has often said “God speaks to us in the Language we can hear.” I agree. God knows that if the messages I have received from the sign interventions had come in other ways, I likely would not have received them, but because I needed a sign in that moment, He gave me one. He is good like that. The reality is though, I do not have to ride around looking at the marquee for a sign, a word of encouragement or direction to take. In fact He has given me a huge 66 books contained in one big, best-selling book. The Bible, His word is full of direction, a road map of sorts. His word is a treasure trove full of reminders of what I need in the moment I need them. I just need to be looking for them.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

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Birthday Boy: A Child of Promise

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” Isaiah 9:6

As we celebrate this season of the birth of the savior, the fulfillment of God’s promise, look to your own life and see what the LORD has done. Relish in the promises fulfilled and the gifts given to you. Savor this story with the eyes of the Wise Men!

I’m not much of a numbers person. Numbers and Math, they aren’t my best. One need only ask Scott Martin about such a deficit to realize, no I’m more of a craft, history, English person.

I have a friend who is a number fanatic of sorts. She loves them, looks for patterns in them. The numbers that surround her, they mean something. She will read them like I read words woven together with intention to form a sentence. I read the same numbers and they mean little to me. Despite my number hesitations, the fact that the King made me a promise and then kept that promise on the 7th day of the month that typically encapsulates His New Year has never escaped me. Seven is His Number.

Long ago He promised a barren woman she would be given a child if she only obeyed what He was imploring her to do. She hadn’t heard His voice many times so she was hesitant to obey, but obey she did. On Ten Seven she gave birth to a Seven Ten son. For many months She was confused, the barren woman acted out of obedience and had indeed had a child as she was promised but the barren woman could not understand why the child was a boy. She was convinced the child would be a beautiful peaceful girl, yet held in her arms was a cranky, have to lay on top of him to change a diaper, won’t sleep in a bed, didn’t talk ’til he was 4 years old son.

The Barren Woman didn’t know much but she knew the King’s Word could be trusted so she headed there for some answers. There she found that every time the King gave a baby to those Barren Women of old who had cried out to Him, as she had, he answered her with a boy. A unique boy destined for great things that The King himself had prepared early on for him. The Barren Woman took comfort in that and learned to love that “ninja-like-stealth escapee with mad non-food eating skills and cantankerous nature” well. Eventually he gained a voice, learned to use the restroom, and became a creative and unique child.

Over time she had learned a few things, there has never been nor will there ever be one quite like that promised boy. He is quick-witted and has a sense of humor that is a delightful combination of his Mama and Daddy. He loves with a love that never sees color or race. He is blind to differences, and the hatred of another based on the outward appearance boggles his mind. He loves Jesus and loves Him for reasons most adult people have yet to understand. His favorite attribute of God is that “He is.” He worships in a way unique to himself.

I used to be a tad disgruntled over the Promised Boy and the quirky things that make him unique. Yet over time and after much pondering and prayer, I am so thankful to be His Mama, to be the very front line witness of miracle after miracle where he is concerned.

A while back we ventured to a friend’s house for an impromptu chili and hotdog supper. My friend, when asked what we could bring said, “Food for the boy, ’cause he don’t like chili or hotdogs.” I giggled as I read that text. She knows him, loves him, and understands him. She isn’t offended that he doesn’t care for chili and wouldn’t have taken it personally if I’d’ve busted up to her house with a sack full of sub-par cheeseburgers for him. She had purchased a cake for dessert, and upon the realization that it was the Boy’s 13th birthday eve, she rummaged through her junk drawer until she found 13 mismatched partially used birthday candles to place atop the once just dessert cake turned Birthday Cake. His face, when he surveyed the pink princess candles with stars on top was priceless.

If we were legit Jewish, the following day we would have had a bar mitzvah, a day of celebration and blessing, the crossing from boyhood to manhood. I am beginning to understand why that number 13 birthday is so important.

As he slept and had yet to witness the as per usual birthday kitchen decoration and cake for breakfast, I reflected on what the King did some 13 years ago, and I am amazed that I got to be his mama. I’m excited to see what the next 13 years hold for that child of promise. My prayer for that boy is this one, “May the Lord Bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you. May you be all that God desires you to be.”

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School Lunch

 

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

I rarely bought my lunch at school.

I mostly brought my lunch.

In hindsight I see now that it was likely because I can be a picky eater. Mama in her wisdom would have recognized my picky tendencies and packed a lunch more likely suitable for my particular consumption. I have never been picky like no veggies and heaps of carbs picky. I’m very familiar with “chicken finger and fries pickies,” in fact, I have one or two of those in my home – the ones who only want chicken fingers and fries regardless of the menu selections to choose from. I tend to be the please-don’t-let-my-food-touch, that-food-doesn’t-match-this-food-so-I-won’t-eat-them-together, eat-my-meal-in-a-particular-order kind of picky. I honestly never realized I was a picky eater. I love turnip greens, tomato sandwiches, squash casserole, a good steak. I can devour a crab leg with a speed and skill that has earned me the “crab leg opener” title when our family has a celebratory low country boil. So picky just didn’t seem to cross my mind.

When on the rare occasion I bought my lunch, Mama would ask me about it at the end of my school day. Once in kindergarten I told her I had my favorite food for lunch that day, the one that starts with a “B”.

“Bananas?”

Nope.

“Broccoli?”

Nope.

“Burgers?”

Nope.

“Bacon?”

Nope

She continued to inquire; had Google existed at the time, a search for B foods would have yielded no help at all.

Finally she said, “Well I don’t know. What?”

“B-B-Ba-skettii!”

I have always love spaghetti. I suppose there are a lot of people who have an affinity for the pasta dish. I mean, how could they not?

My paternal Grandparents were Italian. My Grandmother, Pauline, was hands down the best cook I have ever known. That may be a slight exaggeration. She could cook anything. Also an exaggeration. She could not cook toast. She burned it every time.

12391797_10206070052333753_7825553156234316293_n-1Pauline could make the best spaghetti sauce. There was nothing like it. It has simply been known in our family as “The Sauce.” It contained potatoes and a beef roast. Meatballs that were the size of my 6 year old fist, laden with cheese and green onions, celery and bread crumbs – they were a marvelous delicacy. A perfect balance of savory and sweet, the perfect consistency, the sauce covered every spaghetti noodle with perfection.

My Grandpa had the biggest chest freezer I’d ever seen. He would open it and, like a scene from a sci-fi movie, a chilly fog would obscure my vision. He would reach down into the frigid darkness and pull out all manner of delicious consumables. He seemed to have an endless supply of Otter-pops. He would pull out packages of homemade Italian sausage, what I wouldn’t give now to have some. He would have tiny frozen red bricks, partially occluded by the frosty white containers that would be thawed into spaghetti sauce at the hour of my Mama’s choosing.

Even now I long for some of those foods of old. I’d venture to say that the banquet meal Jesus is having prepared for us in Heaven will consist of Pauline’s Sauce, stuffed artichokes, ambrosia, and an Italian Cream Cake. Every pasta centered meal since has paled in comparison to those.

Looking back it almost seems too good to be true. Those meals were delicious no doubt, but I wonder if the longing for the things of the past are in fact a hindrance for me going forward. Recently I had the privilege of being the “Pusher’ on the playground. Multiple Kindergarten and Preschoolers were on swings that barely let their feet touch the pexels-photo-230620ground, I found myself bombarded with requests to “Push me! Make me go high like a rocket ship!” One particular client kept turning back in his swing, when he would turn his body to look at me and command me to push higher, his swing would go all wibbly -wobbly and slow him down. We would have to regroup and start over. He quickly became frustrated when he would look around and realize that his cohorts were all rocket ship high and much faster than he was. I kept trying to get him to understand that looking back was what was ultimately slowing him down.

Over the course of our playground time, the King used my instruction to the wibbly-wobbly Kindergartner as a teaching moment for myself. I am often looking back, looking around and comparing. I like to reminisce about the good ol’ days. I look to my left and to my right and find myself comparing myself to others. I never seem to measure up to my cohorts; those feelings of inadequacy lead me into feeling anything but content with the present. Paul writes in Philippians 4:11, that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance.

It has taken me some time, and I am still not where I hope to one day be, to realize that when my vision is focused on anything but my King and the truth of his word, I am guaranteed to be a wibbly-wobbly kindergartner on a playground swing. Jesus called Peter out onto the waters and Peter walked on the water as if it were as solid as pavement. But the moment Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the storm around him he sank like a rock. Had it not been for the outstretched hand of his friend Jesus, Peter surely would’ve gone under succumbing to the depths below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pauline’s sauce was delicious, it remains one of my favorite all time foods. I continue to be food weird. It can come in handy when playing an icebreaker game at a party. People always look astonished when I say I don’t like my food to touch and I eat in a particular order. They also frequently inquire if I understand that “it’s all going to the same place anyway,” an implication that the anti-touching thing is pointless. I typically answer yes, I do, but that isn’t going to change how I consume my food.

When I was younger I took several weeks and made an unforeseen investment. I spent weeks, maybe months, in my Grandmother’s kitchen. I learned under her tutelage how to make “The Sauce”. I alone know the secrets it holds. I prepare “The Sauce” for special occasions, I never think it tastes as good as Pauline’s but those who have tasted both assure me it does. They assure me that my “B-B-Ba-skettii!” is just as good as it was in the old days.

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Be Still

Be still and know that I am God.

I had forgotten to get gas. Again. I coasted to the gas station thereby further postponing a favorite Wednesday afternoon confection. Milkshakes would have to wait until we had the necessary petrol to get us to our shake destination and beyond. The Martin 3 were all set for milkshakes. We had just come from our usual milkshake purveyor whereupon we were informed that the “shake machine just went down.”

Milkshakes would be had, but first gas.

640px-shell_gas_station2c_opuc5a1tc49bnc3a12c_brno_28229As I set the pump to go, placed the nozzle in the gas receptacle in my van and began to pump, I leaned my weary back against the van and watched the numbers steadily move upwards. It had been a long day and even just a few minutes of peace propped against my van were welcome. Immediately the solidarity of my prop began to waver. Indicative of the wiggly occupants, my van gave way to the force inside.

“Be Still!” I commanded.

My youngest had an “itch.”

Again, “Be Still!” Again, protest from inside.

Garbled words I couldn’t make out beyond the itch issue and looking for something. The van continued to shift beneath my back, “If y’all don’t be still this the van’s gonna roll right away!”

Hearing the words from my mouth caused me to pause and look around. In my head I had planned to sound like a stern Mama who means business, one who would never entertain such frivolousness as a milkshake on a Wednesday afternoon. Out loud I sounded like a hypocrite with a tremendous Southern drawl. I knew it and my kids knew it. The lady at the pump facing me knew it.

“Be still.”

I hear this phrase often. He is not one to order folks around, and by folks I mean near anyone but the 3 Martin kids. So when he says this to me, I know my husband, Scott Martin, has reached the point of exasperation.

“I said Be still!” They’ve heard him say it to me multiple times in the course of their lives, so when I said it to them I suppose it didn’t really give them cause to act.

When I was a kid, my mama used to say the same thing. She has said on more than one occasion “You weren’t a bad kid you were just into everything. I couldn’t turn my back on you for a second.”

Not a bad kid. Not a bad adult, I just couldn’t, I just can’t be still, or at least that is how it sometimes feels.

Being Still requires much in the way of self-control. It requires that I am intentional about what I am doing, or not doing. To be still requires not just self-control but a concerted effort to do just that. To be still requires practice and patience, I am seriously lacking in the latter. Ninety-Nine percent of the time Scott Martin tells me to “Be Still” I am completely unaware that I am not “being still”.

girls_in_pewWhen I was little the “Be still” would often come when I was in church, it would be commanded as I received a hearty pinch on my shoulder from the church pew behind me. I recently learned that horses respond to pressure and release. In a sense I was the horse, Mama the horse trainer. That pressure on my shoulder was my signal to be still. To be quiet. To cease doing whatever it was I was doing. Evidently, horses are better learners than I because I still struggle with this one.

I spent some time a while back focusing on the Being Still. It might be because my Mama painted Psalms 46:10 on a 4 foot tall canvas that hangs in my living room, or the fact that my Husband makes that statement to me no less than five times per week, or perhaps it is because it seemed for a while that no matter where I went those words were chasing me. I’d be in a store minding my own business, doing my dead level best to stay on task and get a move on, when all of a sudden I’d look up and there it was, scrolled in some fancy font on all manner of surfaces.

Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It would seem I needed a reminder or several as it were, to Be Still. That prompted me to think and ponder on it. If I want my children to retain something, I do not have the luxury of telling them one time and it sticks. I must say it repeatedly. Sometimes I have to demonstrate what I want them to know or write it down. Often times, I then begin to rhetorically converse with myself about the monotony of having to repeat myself and how wearisome it seems. It takes me back to a time when Maggie Martin hadn’t been Maggie Martin all that long.

She was 18 months old when she got off a Greyhound bus on Good Friday Morning at the downtown bus station and her life with us began. From the very beginning food was, and still is, a big deal to Maggie, she is all about quantity. Quality, not so much. She’ll take a sub-par all you can eat buffet, over a smaller portioned gourmet meal any day. I reckon that is rooted in memories of when food was not always available or nutritious.

In the early days, I spent the first several years of her life attempting to repair her poorly nourished gut. It was one such occasion when I learned a valuable lesson. It was early, like dark-thirty early, like every morning before and every subsequent morning, she wandered into my room, stood on my side of the bed and in her toddler voice said, “I’m hundry. I want a tootie from Piddly Widdly.” (Translation, “I’m hungry! I want a cookie pexels-photo-89690from Piggly Wiggly.”)

As I did every morning I got out of my bed hauled my tired ol’ self to the kitchen and began preparing her daily oatmeal. The entire time she would protest.

“I don’t lite oat-milk, I want a tootie!”

She was letting me know, just like she did every morning that she did not prefer oatmeal, she would like to have a cookie. My rebuttal was always the same, “We don’t eat cookies for breakfast we eat oatmeal.” Everyday I would then sit down and feed her said oatmeal whereupon she would declare, “I lite it! I lite oat-milk!” My response was always the same, “Yes ma’am you do.”

She would then complete her breakfast and we would begin our day, long before the sunshine would. The battle won until it repeated itself again the following day just as it happened the day before. One particular morning I must’ve grown weary of the oatmeal versus cookie battle because I looked at her and said as I placed the prepared bowl of oatmeal on the table, “Maggie, what in our history together makes you think I am going to let you have cookies for breakfast?”

She just looked at me with her big brown eyes, eyes that had seen more in their 18 months of life than many adults have and continued on with her oatmeal protest. As He is accustomed to do, the King whispered in my ear. “Amy, That’s exactly how you are with Me.”

I realized in that moment that what Jesus was saying was there was nothing in our history together that dictated He is ever going to fail me. Nothing that set a precedent that would indicate He is not going to keep His word. Yet I often find myself in a tizzy of sorts, ceasing to be still and in doing so, not knowing that He is God; failing to acknowledge that He is in control.

Maggie had yet to understand that her days of worrying over food or lack of were over. She had yet to understand that she actually liked oatmeal and it was good for her. That as her Mama, I loved her and would consistently provide for her what she needed. By persistently putting into practice what I knew was true, I eventually convinced her once and for all.

I know because she no longer asks for cookies for breakfast, she asks for oatmeal and even makes it herself.

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Lessons From The Junk Drawer

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Truth be told. Sometimes I lie.

For example, there have been times in my life if you’d asked me how I’ve been and I would have looked at you in the face and said “Good,” and it be a lie. Straight up, bold face lie. In my head I try to lessen the blow of said lie by finishing the statement with “if good means I’m not dead and no one is in jail….yet” or “If good means I feel like I’m basically failing at life right now then heck yeah I’m doing flippin’ fantastic!”

The Martin world has times when it is totally topsy-turvy, our ups and downs are more downs and there are days I feel any moment the thread might just give way. Recently, a precious one asked me how I was and I could only answer with a vague “We’re good, just having some struggles right now.” The Precious One began to name a few of the many generalized topics one potentially struggles with and I said, “Yes.” Yes to which one? Yes to all.

pexels-photo-416430.jpegRecently, I asked the King for a little order, some straight horizontal and vertical lines in a world full of diagonal ones. I asked Him If He wouldn’t mind to do that for me. In my memory I was taken back to a time when He used His people and had done exactly that. It was one of many Martin moves when some Dear Ones organized my entire kitchen. I came home to cabinets lined and labeled, filled and readied. It still makes me smile when I think of it.

Some mornings ago I awoke unsettled. That is how I often awaken and through a series of unplanned and unorganized steps I found myself staring blankly at a minuscule diorama of what life sometimes feels like. I’ve about decided every home has one, like the families they represent they are equally different yet like those families they are the same. Truth be told, if I’m ever given the opportunity, I like to survey the ones in other homes. Over the years of informal research I’ve found that it is often the most distal and aptly named of places, The Junk Drawer. As I pulled open that rectangle of chaos I surveyed it with equal feelings of disgust and apathy. The feeling of frustration, the knowledge it needed to be remedied and the lack motivation to do anything about it left me standing and staring down an unnatural length of time, so long I had, in fact, forgotten what I was looking for.

What happened next I have entitled, “Lessons from the Junk Drawer.”

1. Survey the Damage. I stood there in a state of shock. Despite daily opening of the Junk drawer I could not figure out how it had gotten so bad. Truth be told, it was a gradual decline I hadn’t junked it up overnight, tossed in something here, thrown in a random thing there. I had rummaged around repeatedly so much so that everything in there couldn’t help but be displaced and disorderly.

2. Resolve to take a step forward, get a plan. Make a pile or two, or in my case 12.

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3. Sort through. Process it, but for the love don’t be so stuck on the piles of rubbish and disorganization that you lose sight of the goal. Don’t try to understand why you’ve actually saved for an unknown length of time the netting from a bag of lemons, approximately 146 Hanukkah candles….One hundred and forty-six!!! I’m not even Jewish! One as in a single ONE soda pop tab, a single key to who-knows-where and various and sundry stationery items. No wonder I can never find a pen when I need it. They are all held hostage in the Junk Drawer. Take a moment to pause and evaluate the progress. Document it so you won’t forget when the drawer gets really junky again next week. This is one of the single most important things. I like to journal the progress, my memory is short and I can not deny something written in my own hand reminding me I may not be where I want to be, but I’m sure not where I was.

4. Shed the baggage. Get rid of the unnecessary burdens weighing the drawer down, the decades old band-aids that have no sticky and yellowing absorbent pad that is not in fact infused with antibiotic ointment but discolored from age. The things and thoughts that have cluttered my mind which serve no purpose but to weigh me down. I’m ditching those even as I speak.

5. Start again. I saved all 146 plus Hanukkah candles, I have a menorah or two and I plan to use those, they’ll serve as birthday candles in a pinch and despite the knowledge that I’m not actually Jewish, My King is, so I am by proxy. Those candles make me smile so I’m hanging on to them. The lemon bag made its way to the trash, as did the band aids. The end results are not HGTV worthy but they are indeed satisfying. I know that the process of sorting through the metaphorical junk drawer of life can be painful and tedious, but the end result, that is what I must stay focused on. I am thankful that I woke up unsettled, had I not I might’ve missed such an amazing life lesson from the chaotic Junk Drawer.

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There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

A Weird One

Giggles. “I just noticed how weird his….Bahaha his eyes look.” – Shelton.

Weird had most definitely been the word of our day. As this weird day had drawn to a close I was snuggled on the couch with Shelton and Maggie. We’d watched a special on the Terracotta Army buried in China and a documentary on William Shakespeare. We’d decided we would like to visit China and Stratford-on-Avon. The classically educated Shakespeare provoked the weird eye comment. Words like rhetoric and logic Latin and Greek recognized by my own classical learners. Shelton’s giggles and observations served to remind me of the bizarre and weirdness of that day.

As the dawn broke that morning and the earliest of Martin risers meandered to the kitchen it was apparent that today would be an “off” day for Maggie. Her choice of a paring knife to spread her homemade butter and jam onto her scrambled eggs evoked a foreshadowing of the “off” day. She “forgot it wasn’t toast.” Those days are ones where things are just off. Her struggles more apparent and obvious to those of us who spend everyday with her. It grieves my heart but kicks me into gear knowing she needs more in the way of help.

Scott Martin had finals that week. Finals mean the louder of the Martins vacate so as not to disturb the test taker. An off day, a plan to vacate, and a to do list a mile long. I should 2005_honda_odyssey_lx_-_nhtsahave deduced early on… weird was in my future. So as my tired old minivan wandered down the roads of Gardendale I shouldn’t have been surprised when the low flying bird collided with the front of my van, death instantaneous, the impact propelling the dead bird carcass onto my windshield wipers where it became lodged.

A little known fact, when I get nervous I laugh. I laugh a lot, an uncontrollable, awkward laugh. Birds are not my favorite. Birds make me nervous. The dead bird on my windshield thrust me into such a fit of laughter I could no longer drive my vehicle and was convinced I might be forced to abandon it on the side of Mt Olive Road. The Martins all having witnessed the event and now witnessing their Mama lose it all had various comments.

“Did that really just happen?”

“Oh it happened!”

“I can’t even!”

I fought hard to compose myself. The decision was made to pull over near a grassy area and propel the dearly departed via a wiper blade into the grass where he would return to earth from which he came. Still experiencing after shock fits of laughter, a short time spicy20chicken20cowlater we reached our destination, the local Chick-fil-A. Charlotte had been saving her gift card she earned early in the summer rocking babies and feeding toddlers during a babysitting gig. The time had come for her to relinquish it in exchange for a much desired spicy chicken sandwich.

As is customary, Shelton chooses a table, gathers condiments, and the girls and I obtain the food. As we sat down at the table I was seated directly across from Maggie. In the same position at the table behind us was another family. A common denominator was obvious to me as I looked around our dining table: three separate families, all with multiracial children, two of which were seated in the exact position. To my right an exasperated mom of said children and who, in the words of Maggie, was “talking mean to her kids.” Soon the mean talker mamma left and another weird thing happened. Maggie and her opposite table counterpart were clearly affected. Maggie watched intently as the woman gathered her children and looked at me with the question she asks often, “Why do people talk mean to their kids?” The counterpart at the opposite table shed tears. Soon he was wiping his eyes with the recycled paper made napkin. Within moments Maggie was doing the same.

54c6bfefb302dd3b87d157dae74c5981I offered all I could to Mag’s, the only balm that can truly ease a broken heart, prayer. We prayed for the mama and we prayed for her kids. We prayed for the weary and the broken. We asked for forgiveness if we’d acted in such a way that doesn’t honor our King. After our prayer we carried on with our meal. The crying counterpart continued to mourn.

The weirdness of the situation, the seating arrangements, even the unspoken thread that seemed to link them, a history of mean talking did not escape me. Wounds made long ago by mean talking and mean acting that still feel fresh when confronted with that mean talking mama. Soon our meal came to a close and we moved on with our day. We giggled as we talked about the bird incident and how Daddy would react when we told him. We laughed hysterically when I purchased “Jesus’s head stickers” that Charlotte promptly placed in the glove compartment for safe keeping. Everything about that was weird.

Soon we arrived home and the weird gave way to mundane, that was until the Shakespeare observation. Did Shakespeare have a lazy eye in need of correction? Maybe some not yet named ocular disorder. Perhaps the artist’s rendering was inaccurate or he spilled some ink in a most unfortunate place when depicting the famed playwright. As Shelton surveyed the likenesses on the television screen, he had drawn the conclusion that regardless the etiology, Shakespeare looked weird. As I made my way to bed that night I gave thanks for weird, for unique; most of all I am thankful for laughter and for a King who freely gives it as a balm to the weary and broken soul.

A bit more weirdness to brighten your day!

Pig photo credit

 

Spectrum of Faith

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Years ago, I made a conscious decision to see the world the best I could the way my son Shelton does. To understand how he thinks and what he feels, to do my best to understand the world from his perspective. Years ago, the word autism became an everyday part of my vocabulary. Years ago I was devastated, there is no cure, there is no explanation. It simply just is and I was angry that it was our is.

early-diagnosis-autism-neurosciencenews-publicI felt I was armed with little in the way of resources, so I made the decision to learn and understand, to read and to inquire, arm myself with information and pray. I would, I have, I do pray. A lot. In the beginning I asked my King to take it away. Upon reflection of my past behavior, that tends to be my go to with King, just take it away and then I do not have to deal with it. Clearly, I avoid conflict. Clearly He does not seek my counsel on what I think is best for me. When He does not honor said request, I then become angry, indignant, and attempt to give the King the silent treatment. This proves to be a futile effort, rudimentary in its effectiveness. Eventually faith and trust give way. I accept the is, and I make concerted efforts such as the ones laid out above.

Now, many years later, my efforts are not always as intentional. One such instance happened a couple of years ago. I was scanning the radio stations when I heard an interesting talk show debate of sorts. The voice of the host, the lack of inflection and excitement despite the passionate subject matter, seemed vaguely familiar to me and I continued to listen. Over time, I grew to like the show host and co-host. Their discussions were informative and varied, but I could take them, or leave them, all contingent upon the next song played. My opinion and understanding changed entirely the day I heard them discussing how the parent of an individual with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) was told by a person of authority that this child was incapable of having a relationship with Jesus. In essence, the authoritarian told the parent to give up hope and not to expect from his or her child the impossible. I was stopped at an intersection, headed into Fultondale. That discussion marked me. It immediately gave me cause to listen. I turned the radio up and settled in.

I’ve also made a conscious decision to be honest, to be candid, if I’m gonna lay it all out there I ain’t even gonna try to lie. So here goes honesty, it marked me because if I am honest, I will admit the very thought has crossed my mind. It does not take a Rocket Scientist to figure out that a relationship with Jesus hits the top of my priority list for my children. It is often the answer to the rhetorical “Why I do what I do” or “What are we doing?” If I do nothing else in this life I want their relationship with the King to be better than my own. All of my children have professed a relationship with Jesus, each one fleshing that out as uniquely different as they are.

pexels-photo-207653Shelton, randomly just told me he loved Jesus and that was that. He isn’t such a big talker about it. He rarely gets emotional. Being the overly emotional and dramatic individual that I am, this is a concept I have difficulty with. As I listened to the radio that day the host divulged a fact about himself. He reported that he too was on the autism spectrum. He then debunked the entire theory that the individual in question could not have a relationship with Jesus. I ain’t even gonna lie here, I got out of my minivan elated, an extra pep in my step. Hope again prevailed and I carried on about my day a little lighter.

From that point on I was what they call “a dedicated listener.” Shelton most especially enjoys the show. To date my favorite was his reaction to the discussion that revolved around “Fiddy Cent” and his large donation to the Autism Society (fueled by his indiscretion at an airport involving an individual on the Autism Spectrum). Between Shelton and the host’s explanation on how it feels to be bullied when you are on the Autism Spectrum, I was enlightened. All I can say is, I had no idea. It was eye-opening.

It is now customary for us to listen to the show as we traverse the Alabama terrain going from place to place. On just such a day recently my wandering thoughts were focused on what my ears were actually hearing. It was a discussion on the emotional matters. The scenario being described, I’m familiar with. An emotionally driven and charged time of reflection, worship, prayer, a box (or twelve) of tissues scattered about the premises, crying and hugging and crying and more hugging. My emotionally dramatic self loves a time like that. I’ve been a puddle lots of times, but as my world has morphed into that of being the mom, and as my age has progressed and time has passed, those times are fewer and far between. It is not that I am no longer moved by the King, in fact I am more moved now than ever but those moments tend to occur more in private than in public. (There’s also the small logistical detail that my dry eyes do not as readily produce tears.) Over time though, I’ve come to realize, rarely was I weeping over that which should have grieved me. Rarely did I weep because I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God, or devastated by my own sin.

So as the host described such a scene and interjected his perspective of having not understood it. He made the following statements, “Statements of the Day”, maybe of the decade…”All that is emotion. There isn’t much in the Bible about emotions. There is a lot about faith. Faith is carried out dry-eyed serving day-to-day.” I wrestled with that one for the remainder of the afternoon. Those I saw may have even wondered where my mind was. It was here, camped out wrestling over that one, weighing what I know about faith and service against the stated argument. I even went to the recess of my memory and recalled a statement made by a friend of mine several years ago about how the King himself, hadn’t allowed himself to be dominated by emotion and feelings, how when He could’ve buckled beneath it He didn’t. In the midst of Lego sea creations, brain-builds of all sorts, hello’s and goodbyes, errand running and lunch I wrestled, and again the King said to me “What is your name?” He asks me that when He wants me to refocus, to gain a new perspective. Declaring my name gives me cause to pause and reflect. I’ve come to realize that emotion isn’t a bad thing; God made me to feel emotion, but it is not to dominate me. All that emotion doesn’t add up to faith. Emotion is not required for a relationship with Christ, faith alone is.

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Faith is carried out dry-eyed serving day-to-day.

The Day the Cows Came Home

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For reasons I do not know or have yet to fully understand – although I am somewhat convinced it has to do with dependency – financial struggles have been the baseline under which we as a family operate.

There has never been feast or famine, there has always been just enough. The summer months tend to be lean months for our budget, we barely make it to a vacation paid in full. As school starts up and the days shorten, the budget improves slightly and by the calculator-calculation-insurance-finance-53621time the Christmas season rolls around it inevitably proves to be more lean than its predecessor autumn.

We’ve learned to roll with it, define what it is, and in which season we are in. This serves to prime the pump for a miracle. There was a particular day last fall when I and the Holy Spirit alone knew the essential home item, toilet paper, was making its way to the last few sheets. As I took note of such need and asked the King to intercede I had no idea that He had just that day prompted a dear friend to purchase the biggest pack of Angel Soft my eyes had ever seen. Then in a fish and loaves kind of move, that toilet paper seemed to go on and on. When one roll was placed on the holder to either be folded or wadded (I’ve learned there are two kinds of people in this world – wadders or folders – I am the latter, a fact I find ironic as I am disheveled in most areas of life save the one).

The following month The Lord Jesus used various anonymous gifts to sustain us through those lean times: a gift card here, a “I’m cleaning such and such out, you want it?” and the such-and-such would be precisely what we needed. I would find myself recollecting “The Green Grape Story.”

grapes-frozen-fruit-summer-organic-115007.jpegMany years ago, before I knew what it was like to rely on God to provide, I heard this story. I listened and can still recall the details of, at the time, a very foreign concept to me. The speaker was conveying how her young daughter, had requested green grapes for her snack. The Mama knowing full well grocery and payday were a bit away, made no promises that green grapes would be in the near future. That afternoon when the Mama arrived home, someone had left a box of random grocery items for the family and there among the items was a bunch of green grapes. There are times of lean when I recollect the “Green Grape” story, and I am reminded that Jesus knows exactly what we need and delights in giving us good gifts.

The Angel Soft from Heaven has been just one of the tangible ways The King has met our needs, and on a recent Cow Appreciation day I was reminded of another. It is no secret that the Chick-fil-A (CFA for short) is a Martin family favorite. When given the choice, it is always a chosen eatery. As recent as the day before Cow Appreciation Day, I had to decline a request for lunch at the favorite restaurant of choice, noting the dwindling budget and sighting the “sandwich stuff” already at home in the Frigidaire. I reminded my children that we would be dining at home sans chicken and waffle fries. They reluctantly accepted my verdict and we made our way home. Early the following day I was perusing the internet, researching, investigating and figuring out just how to make that tight budget just a wee bit more flexible when I stumbled across the Cow Appreciation day info. As a veteran participant I knew the drill: dress up like a cow, get free food. When I made mention of it to my youngest she immediately said, “But we don’t even have a cow costume Mama but you do have that donkey one.” True, I contemplated, could I pass that donkey for a cow? Not likely. The bushy tail and oversized lopped ears are a dead giveaway. Perhaps we could make a cow costume. Perhaps, one but not the required five. “There ain’t no way” was my exact thought as I yielded to the incessant plea to just go see if we had what would be required to construct the costumes.

As we made our way downstairs I gave her the daunting task of finding white t-shirts. I knew full well we did not possess one, much less five tee shirts of coordinating colors. Our laundry piled high on a table makes finding a white shirt in in that pile more daunting than a two inch straw colored needle in a 75 foot haystack. In a matter of moments I had just what was needed for the base of the cow costume. A little more searching and a few minutes later I had a small remnant of scrap black fabric, I began to cut random cow spots.

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I expected to get no more than four or five spots but it was as if the fabric just kept multiplying. My scissors cut and the moment I looked away there was always more. The final spot was cut and I began to pin those spots in place. In a few moments I had constructed 5 costumes, cow ears and to my amazement they didn’t look all that bad.

As we arrived at our destination I marveled at how smoothly it had all come together, how the King knew the details, how He knew it would delight the hearts of the Martins to have lunch at their favorite. I marveled at how He provided in a most unconventional way. He knew I was capable of making the costumes, he expected me to take a leap of faith and at least make my way downstairs in search of supplies, and he knew I would be delighted to have an opportunity to craft and create with my youngest.

His word says that He will give us the desire of our heart if we delight ourselves in Him. (Psalm 37:4) I forget the delight part. I am all about the “give me” part, but the truth is when we delight ourselves in Him, He puts the desire in our heart and we can trust that desire is in essence His desire and He will use that for good.

The cows came home that afternoon, full and happy, giggling over bad jokes and puns that were “udderly” hysterical, having made a day of delightful memories. I marveled at how once again He who is good provided.

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“What Are We Doing?”

“Oh Lord I’m not going to Hell!”

It was a declaration. She was adamant. The sweat was dripping from our brows into our eyes. The sting of it making an already dreadful experience worse.

We had been to the grocery store.

On a Saturday afternoon.

In July.

In Alabama.

As we hurled our groceries into the back of her sporty SUV we were drenched in sweat and covered in stress. The blacktop parking lot only served to make a bad situation worse. We had filled our baskets with food enough to feed a family of nine and maneuvered our way through others who had set out to do the same. As we navigated the crowded store I had heard her informally curse under her breath several times. She has some standard phrases of unofficially cursing which include but are not limited to:
“For the Love!” “Come on people Get it together!” and “WHAT ARE WE DOING?!” (She often says this with an emphasis on the we and the doing)

She is an enthusiastic user of the English language and there have been many a popular phrase whose genesis was with her. Her level of patience and clear exasperation with people and the situation was evident that day. This was clearly evidenced by the response she had given me, “It’s not that hard.” Whereupon receiving instructions on pexels-photo-498701starting her car, I looked at her dumbfounded. Unlike my own tired old minivan with duct tape holding the seats together, her vehicle did not require a key. In fact, there was no ignition in which to place said key to start the car. I stared at her, mulling over how exactly I was supposed to turn the key in the nonexistent ignition “Just get in, push the pedal, and push the button.”

“It’s a button?”

“Yes! It’s not that hard! For the Love!” A string of informal profanities propelled me out of the grocer. To my surprise she was right. It wasn’t that hard. Technology and engineering at its best, a far cry from a hand crank Tin Lizzy.

As we meandered our way back to our place of lodging, I began to ponder on that declaration. The one about going to Hell, or rather not going to Hell. I thought about the certainty of her declaration, the authority with which she had spoken it. It was the kind of certainty that accompanies a fact. A vow of sorts. An altogether different kind of swearing.

As I’ve pondered on it still and giggled to myself, my sister’s words still ringing in my ears, I too have given pause and examined my eternity. I’ve pondered about what a declaration means for me. Not just any ol’ declaration though, that one in particular. As a Christ follower, I can confidently declare, “Lord, I’m not going to Hell.” The King’s Word says that He can restore to us the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). I was five years old when I met Jesus. When I declared I would be with Him forever in Heaven. Five, hardly a kindergartener, yet I knew I loved Him. Back then, I would not have necessarily defined myself as a “Christ follower,” I hardly knew how to follow anyone, other than my parents and my soon to be Kindergarten teacher, yet there I was, riding down the road in a green 1970-something Chevy Impala giving my life to Jesus. The faith of a child, blindly committing to Him my everything. A decision that to date supersedes any other I’ve ever made. I do not distinctly remember jumping up and down in celebration but I do remember being happy about it. The certainty that had come with knowing not my future, but the outcome of my eternity, there was comfort and joy in that. There still is.tomorrow

My Mama has a sign in her kitchen, likely a gift she received, that says “I may not know what tomorrow holds but I know Who holds tomorrow.” I suppose that sums it up nicely. I can trust my future is in the Hands of My King and in knowing that I needn’t worry about what will happen, or not happen, tomorrow or the next day or the next. I need only to trust Him.

I like to keep it real. I have real flaws. I’m a real hot mess. I try hard to be real honest, and if I’m being real, I will admit on a day-to-day basis I do not behave as if I am overjoyed with my salvation or that I trust Jesus to take care of tomorrow. I’ve come to realize that may be partly why I struggle so.

The second part of Psalm 51:12 says “grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Perhaps, therein lies the solution to the problem. The joy of one’s salvation, the beginning of a beautiful relationship – how exactly does one get that? The answer seems to be simple.
Go back. Now I know I can not be five years old and even if I could master that one, I’m not sure I’d want to, those teen years were hard to say the least. However, what I have learned is when a relationship gets tough, it helps to remember how and why it began. My relationship with Jesus is the same way.

Ask for a willing spirit. I can pray and ask for a spirit that is willing. Willing to be all that He calls me to be. The Holy Spirit that lives in us has the power to sustain. To maintain that state of joy even when my emotions want to dictate otherwise.

fire-orange-emergency-burningI would venture to say that an Alabama summer isn’t as hot as Hell, although there are certainly times it feels like it might be really close. There are sometimes subtle reminders that I can take comfort in and one of those is knowing that in Christ, my salvation is secure and I can be thankful for a guaranteed eternity and a gracious King who gave Himself for me so that I can boldly take hold of His promises and know without a doubt that I am not going to Hell.

 

 

F.O.G.S.

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Sometimes my minivan looks like a trash dumpster threw up in it. Truly there will be stuff everywhere. My van will be full of random things like an empty drink bottle, one shoe, half of an eaten biscuit. I might find two bobby pins, an extra t-shirt, multiple scratched CDs, or one earring (I wouldn’t dare throw it away in hopes I might locate its long-lost mate that I haven’t seen in 3 months). There might be a candy bar wrapper or two, a partially drawn in notebook, a car phone charger, various specimen of wipes. The possibilities are endless. The times when my van gets this cluttered I’ll open the door and it’s like garbage dump Russian Roulette. Things just fall out, I have to scramble to pick them up before the wind carries them away or I become a self-proclaimed “litter bug.” Typically I toss them right back in, just so they can fall out and I can do the same thing all over again. It is a tiresome and endless cycle that is merely damage control. It never actually fixes the problem. Eventually my tolerance of the situation will expire and I clean the van out. I love riding in a clean van. It feels very much like I am going on vacation. I always clean the van before a road trip. It is an illusion of order I attempt to maintain.

My brain gets this way too. My van is just an illustration of what happens inside my head, full of stuff I’m holding onto or not sure what to do with and then one day,  Bam! it all starts to tumble out of my mouth. Words carelessly spoken, an overflow of what is going on inside my head. My decision and judgment get messed up, and before I know it I find myself in a bit of a predicament. I have to clean my proverbial brain van out.

Time and experience have taught me to work in a particular pattern.
Step 1: Motive
Step 2: Results
Step 3: Prevention

Step 1: Motive
What was my motive? Why did I choose to make the decision I chose to make? Anytime I operate in F.O.G.S. I can guarantee one thing. It ain’t gonna end well. F.O.G.S. is the short way, an acronym of sorts, for Fear, Obligation, Guilt, or Shame. I added the S a while back when I realized that shame is just as powerful and devastating a motive as its counterparts I’ve named. When either of these – fear, obligation, guilt, or shame – is the filter through which I make a decision, the end result is never good. If I can answer “yes” to any of those motives, I can stop right there and proceed to step 3. The end result of decision-making is always negative when I’ve been motivated by fear, obligation, guilt, or shame.

Step 2: Results
Did this pattern of behavior work? If not why? And why am I still doing it? I’ll be honest, when things go well I do not ask myself these questions. I do not evaluate the why behind the positive results, or at least not as often as I do when things go wrong. When things go wrong you can bet the first statement through my head is an interrogative thought. I need to know the rationale behind things. I tend not to be okay with “just because” or “it’s how it’s always been” or “that’s just how we do it” kind of mentality. I need to know why things are they way they are.

The “ham story” has long been one of my favorites. I heard it several years ago and I completely identified with it so it stuck.

cooking-eat-cut-food.jpgA young woman was preparing her first holiday ham when she abruptly lopped off the end of the ham, discarded the piece and placed the remaining ham in her baking pan. As she prepared to place it in the oven her husband said “Why did you just do that?”

She looked at him and said “That’s they way my Mom always does it.” Her husband pressed further and without a reasonable explanation to offer him, she called her mom. “Mom, why do you cut the end off the ham before you cook it?”

Her Mom responded with “Well, That’s they way my Mom always did it, so that is how I do it.” As the young woman and her mother discussed it, they decided to ask the matriarch, Grandmother, why she always cut the end off the ham prior to cooking, to which she matter-of-factly responded, because the pan I put it in was always too small for the whole ham to fit.”

Step 3 Prevention
How do I keep this from happening again? Begin with the filter of motive. Am I making my choice based on fear, obligation, guilt, or shame. I can say with absolute certainty that the dark place where these reside are places where wounds can run deep.

I adopted a filter system many years ago. In my imagination I visualize it like a series of bubbles with arrows, an algorithm that is followed. I first use the Jesus filter – “Is this decision in direct contradiction to God’s word?” If the answer is yes, I stop right there. Go no farther. If it makes it through the Jesus filter, it goes to the husband filter? “How does this impact my husband, what would he or does he have to say about it?” If the husband filter is cleared then it trickles down until I reach a sound decision.

I don’t always get it right, in fact a large majority of the time I get it wrong, or worse, I don’t get it at all. But that is the very thing for which Grace was intended. Jesus came so that the captives can be set free, the naked could be clothed, the sinner forgiven. He came so that we could have life, but not just life. In the day-to-day and the mundane, have a Life abundant, overflowing with joy. He came to contradict and overcome our F.O.G.S.

Being married to a meteorologist has afforded me some insight into the world of weather phenomena. Fog is a result of air being completely saturated with moisture; fog is merely clouds at ground level. When the cloud gets too heavy, weighed down by the burden of the moisture, it sinks thereby creating fog. When fog is exceptionally thick the air is supersaturated. The fog dissipates when the air begins to dry. This happens when the sun comes out and evaporates the moisture. The reduction in the moisture burden causes the cloud to lift and return to upward state it was intended to be in. Likewise, when the Son is present the burden of the fog is lifted and we are free to live in the state for which we were intended.

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When the Son is present the burden of the fog is lifted and we are free to live in the state for which we were intended.