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.

Lessons From The Houdini Wienie

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We have a little wiener dog in our house. I’ve been told her breed name is dachshund but I have a hard time even saying dachshund much less spelling it, so a wiener dog she is. She can sing and say “I love you” but she is inconsistent and has to be in the mood to do so.

Two years ago, on Valentines Day, a give away, Craigslist, less than 5 pound, red satin bow around her neck, skinny red dachshund, became a part of our family. She was a good companion for our ol’ girl Lucy. All of a sudden the elderly, loner Lucy was forced into a daily exercise regimen, which included but wasn’t limited to squirrel chasing, bird harassing, dirt digging, and lizard and frog swatting. She was forced to run and play, her yard and porch no longer her sole possessions. The one time grazer Lucy was forced to complete and defend her daily dog food rations from the rambunctious, young, new comer. She even smiled more often. That little wiener pup added years to her life and life to her years. Two years to be exact.

8732679ce006bf1db00f83ca095d8b52-dachshunds-doggiesWhen the wiener came to the Martins she was named Harley. Such a manly macho biker name didn’t seem to quite fit her tiny, agile, red frame, so by way of blind vote proposed names like “Valentine,” “Miracle,” and “Little Angel” were passed over for “Pepperoni.” She is Pepperoni Sausage Dog. Pepper for short. Pep is short for Pepper and most days she’s just that, Pep.

Soon after she earned the nickname “Houdini Wienie” because she can escape from near anything with lightning speed. If not for her sparkly red cat collar (she would be furious if she knew she sported a mortal enemy cat collar so I dare not say it out loud) with a bell, we’d rarely be able to find her. She has a way of slipping into holes, maneuvering through tight spaces, and wedging herself into impossible situations. Scott Martin says this is typical weenie dog behavior.

It’s this masterful art that yielded me a new appreciation for her this morning and in doing so taught me a beautiful lesson. On Valentine’s Day of this year our beloved old gal Lucy died. Old age and years of good dog living caught up with her. Tears still fill my eyes when I think of that day. When I knew without a doubt that she was dying, I explained it to my children, the Martin 3, and watched them beg and plead for her to stay. How Shelton wept and wailed for his beloved friend who filled nearly every conscious memory he had. With Charlotte, quiet and sensitive, silent tears fell. Her only words were whispered in my ear that Lucy knew all her secrets and was a true and trusted friend. Maggie held Pepper tight. It was Pep’s behavior and whining which served as my confirmation that Lucy did not have long for this world.

My Mama says all the time there are things dogs just know. It was as if Lucy knew her job of training Pep to be a Martin was complete and she could peacefully depart. Despite the desperate pleas of her 13-year-old boy, depart she did, leaving the lone little Wiener to fill the gap. Since her departure I’ve come to some conclusions, loss and heartache seem to be the baseline lately, tears are a frequent occurrence. I’ve found myself thinking how stupid it is to cry over a dog, then the left brain kicks in and concludes the tears aren’t just over a dog. They are tears of grief. Grief over loved ones gone, childhoods morphing into adulthood, grief over circumstances and people not within my reach. Tears of cleansing and release. Tears of sadness and joy all rolled up into one.

This morning Pepper “Houdinied” her way into our bedroom while Scott and I were still in bed. He was sound asleep; me, not so much. The jingle of her cat bell, the only 23133796765_f1c7aa9828_bindicator of her presence. She quickly and carefully made her way up onto our bed and nudged Scott Martin with her cool, wet nose prompting him to roll over and give her the space and warmth she was looking for. I marveled at how something so small and weak could move something so big and strong. She was a mere 3 pounds, he weighs slightly a bit more than that. Scott barely missed a snooze when he yielded to her nudge. He rolled over effortlessly and she took her place beside him. I must admit I was in awe, I’ve tried all manner of techniques to facilitate such a roll over, I’m rarely as successful. Perhaps next time I’ll implement the cold, wet, nose trick.

***********

Lesson learned: God is big. I am small. I am but a small a part of His big plan, yet despite that, He moves on my behalf. In the days of late I’ve been talking to Him about how He moves. Maybe not how so much as why, or how it would seem at times, not at all. He is bigger and He sees the whole picture. I am but a finite part of that. Once I asked a friend out of desperation “But what if he doesn’t?! What if He doesn’t do what I’m asking Him to and spare her life?!”

I was well beyond the bargaining stage and was convinced that my prayers would go unanswered. My dear friend, calmly and simply said, “Well then you have to trust that He is saving HER from something worse than death.”

I have never doubted that in that moment she was speaking for Jesus directly to my ears. Giving me an answer He knew I’d need to recall time and time again. He knew when I asked Him why or how or why not, that I’d be transported back to that table seated across from my friend in Cracker Barrel.

292200695548_1Even now I am transported to that window facing table, the one under the yellow bathing suit, cola girl advertisement. When my thoughts take me there I am always reminded that He does move. He loves His children, and often when He moves, it is an act of mercy. In His mercy, He sees the end from the beginning and can be trusted to do what is merciful and right and always what is best. Isaiah 55:9 says “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” His ways aren’t just better, they are best.

 

God’s ways aren’t just better, they are best.

Wheel of Faith

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Supper was finished… The kids had completed their dinner chores and scattered. Our conversation was light, the kind of good natured banter that Husband and Wife often share. We had been discussing the recent bad string of movies I’d chosen and brought home from the library for our date night viewing pleasure.

“That last one was awful Babe.”

He was right, the light-hearted romantic comedy, was in fact none of those things. No light heartedness, not very funny and the acting was subpar. I was quite glad I had not wasted a dollar-seventy-five rental fee; relief that I hadn’t washed over me.

“Yeah I know. It was really bad. I’m glad it was free though.”

I had nearly finished loading the dishwasher when I was forced to make another, more profound acknowledgement. The confession had come secondary to a familiar scenario that had just played out between us. He coughed and cleared his throat. I began to quiz him. Meanwhile, as he spoke I paused the dishes duties to assess him. In a move that resembled “Baymax” from Big Hero 6, I scanned systematically, beginning at the top of his head and making my way down to his tennis shoe covered feet. No overt physical findings detected.

Depending on who you ask I may or may not have begun asking irrational questions. Questions like, “How long have you been coughing?”

His response, “Uh, once.”

The interrogation continued… I wanted to know not only the frequency, but also the quality of the cough in question. As is customary his cooperation eventually gave way to annoyance and he put an end to my line of questioning. His tone of voice changed and he said, “Amy stop. I’m fine, I had to clear my throat. Good Grief.”

I apologized for my irrational behavior, quickness to jump to unmerited conclusions, and relentless interrogation tactics. He quickly offered his forgiveness.

As I placed the last of the forks into the basket, I said “You know I always think the worst.”

He gently, yet matter-of-factly said “Yes, you do. I think that’s partly why you struggle with faith.”

He didn’t have to elaborate, I knew what he meant. We’ve often discussed the fact that I struggle when it comes to matters of faith. Areas where I am to trust God for the seemingly impossible. Believing in faith is by far one of my biggest struggles. I wrestle daily with this one, and I am often left unsettled because I know that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

My man does not struggle in this area nearly as much as I do. In His infinite wisdom and grace, the King gave me a husband that has a tremendous amount of faith, and lives a life evidenced by it. He is a man that can be described as a “man of faith.”

I’ve often thought that if there were a chapter in his book written about his faith, it could boast all of the following headings… “Faith Big enough to Be on the Wheel of Fortune, Play it, and Win the Exact Amount of Cash Needed to Pay for an Adoption…” or maybe “Faith Lived Out by Throwing Caution to the Wind and Fulfilling The Meteorologist Dream…” or “Slow and Meticulous Ain’t the Same as Big and Dumb…” perhaps “He Can Do Almost Anything…” or maybe this summation “Follows Directions Well”.

It has been said that what you are thinking today will be who you are tomorrow. What my man of few, but profound, words was saying to me as I finished loading the dishwasher was that I tend to think the worst. I brace myself in preparation for the worst, even when the worst is in direct contradiction to God’s word.

God’s Word tells me over and over that He loves me, He is for me, He can be trusted. He gave His very Life for me. There is truly no greater love than that. Faith is simply believing that God will do what He has already promised He will do. Perhaps for me, the secret to faith lies in my thinking. If I believe God… If I trust Him… Then the product of that is the faith I’ve longed for. Perhaps if I change my thinking from the worst to the best, then that is the first step necessary to prepare me for the great things God has in store.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:1,3,6

They Were Sheep Without A Shepherd

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Scott Martin produces and publishes a daily forecast for a popular weather blog. My favorite part of his forecast is “This Day in Weather History.” I like History, I do not so much like the weather, nor do I prefer a lot of information pertaining to it. I am the odd-woman out in our house. I am the only member sans a radar app or warning type apparatus thingy on my phone. A suspender exposed James Spann does not give me cause for panic. As my husband publishes his “Midday,” he rarely brings to my attention the details of the forecast that are not of interest to me.

So one afternoon when I heard his exclamation of “Oh Wow!” It gave me cause to pause.

Me: “What Wow?”

Scott: “On this day is 1918 there were 504 sheep killed by a single lightning strike in Utah.”

Me: “Weird.”

Scott: “A herd of Sheep gather closely together in a storm and the shock from the single bolt traveled from one to the other.”

SONY DSCThen I began to ponder on that one. If I’m honest I’ll admit I’m still pondering. As a devoted sheep my initial thought, “Where was the shepherd?” Common sense would dictate that the shepherd was likely seeking shelter. Perhaps he had the influenza… After all, 1918 was the year of the terrible influenza outbreak that claimed so many lives. It was known as the Spanish Lady and it ravaged the bodies of the young and healthy. The world had never seen a pandemic of such epic proportions. Maybe the shepherd had been drafted into the First World War. Another pandemic that claimed the lives and ravaged the bodies of the young and healthy. Maybe he was close by and like any other human in his situation, was powerless against the force of nature that still can not be tamed.

I then had the realization that the closeness of the herd is what allowed the electricity to travel from one to another. They were one mass and not several individual sheep standing exposed in the storm. While I’m sad for the Sheep of 1918, their death 99 years ago serves as a lesson for me. My Shepherd will never leave me. His Word dictates His thoughts regarding Sheep with no Shepherd, Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

My life storms, pestilence, even war and death do not drive Him away. In fact, during those times He is right beside me. He is filled with compassion. My Shepherd pulls me close and offers me protection. He does indeed have power over the forces nature, and as my quiet time this morning reminded me, He is not bound by the laws of physics, gravity, space, and time. All are irrelevant when He is involved. Like the long dead sheep of 1918, His herd is to behave as one. The Shepherd likes it when we stay together, huddle close in the storm. When one of us grieves, we all grieve. When one of is struck, we are all struck. Not all this divisiveness and hostility. All the Sheep unified in obedience to the Shepherd.

I wonder how different our world would be if we would act just so.

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” Ephesians 4:1-6.

His Love is More

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“It’s a fig tree.”

As nonchalantly as “the sky is blue” or “I love Minecraft.”

“It’s a fig tree.”

She was a few steps ahead of me, I watched as she rubbed her hands over the leaf and looked behind her to see if I was paying attention. I recognized the gnarly branches and distinct leaf shape immediately. I quizzed her, “How do you know?”

My oldest daughter, Charlotte looked at me and matter-of-factly said, “I can smell it.”

fig-sliced-plate-wooden-tableThe fig tree makes me always think of two things… cookies and the King. I love a Fig Newton, but I don’t love a fig. In my mind, the fig is the King’s fruit, well, sort of. The first Mom and Dad of this world covered themselves with fig leaves after they felt shame for the first time. A feeling that has been palpable through the ages. Shame compels those who are covered by it to make clouded choices and feel the lowest of lows.

It wasn’t until about 9 years ago that I conjectured that the fruit in the garden was a fig. After all why in the world would such an unruly and itchy choice be what one would choose to cover his or her lady or gentleman parts with? I reasoned simply, it was the closest option. Later the King cursed that same fruitless tree, it withered and died, almost as if He were demonstrating His feelings toward the tree that represented sin and death. The very thing that He was soon going to overcome. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is just an unfortunate specimen of botany and I have a bit too big an imagination to leave it as such.

Regardless, as my daughter stated the undeniable fact of the fig trees presence, I pondered what sin and death meant for my oldest, the first of my children, not born of my body, but of something much stronger, my soul. I pondered how sin and death were the very thing that brought her to me. newborn in incubatorBorn way too early and in poor health, she had to fight for her very life. A death sentence at birth was proclaimed over her before she could even contemplate the significance.

Jesus healed her, and she too overcame death. She understands as much as it is possible for a teenage girl to understand. I’ve often said she has an old soul… She is slow and deliberate. She loves a soup, classic rock, and frowns upon the frivolous. Perhaps it is because in the short years she has lived, she has a better grasp on the fragility of life, the beautiful things of this world, and has experienced the healing power and the love of a Savior that many adults do not.

There was a time when I questioned Jesus regarding His plan for her. I wondered why He had scanned the world over and picked me to be her Mama. He gave me her verse when she was desperately sick, and her future seemed unclear. His Word simply stated, He had plans for her, plans to protect her, plans for good, plans for her future, plans filled with Hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

He has confirmed time and time again that He trusts me, He has equipped me fully, and that He loves her more than I ever could. That fact right there blows my mind. Thankfully, the truth of that is not contingent on me understanding it. His love is immeasurably more. His love is more than my sin and mess ups. His love is more than my insecurities, inadequacies, and anxieties. His love is more than I was, I am, or I am going to be.

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