Is it fright night at your house?

Daddy stood behind the front door, waiting for mama to walk in. Arms full of grocery bags,  he would jump out at the right time to give her a fright. We were in on his prank and laughed to see his playfulness and mama’s guaranteed jump for the umpteenth time.

I wasn’t even in school when I had a dream that woke me terrified. I was spending the night at Granny’s, sleeping in her bed, when it woke me. In my dream, the devil was under the bed reaching for my feet. It felt so real.

fright night

As Granny’s often are, she was patient, giving ear to my fears as she found the paper from Sunday School and read me a story about Jesus. I don’t remember which Jesus story, but she reassured me of his love and care for me. There was no denial of a real Satan. But we didn’t need to fear him because Jesus was our protector.

We weren’t a family built on fears. Not the kind of fear that paralyzes from dealing with palmetto bugs, dad’s who liked to frighten or difficult people. We weren’t raised to shrink back from opposition or be detoured by obstacles, whether the insect or human kind.

But, there was a time a friend and I had a Ouija board. We were holding the string as the weight on the end moved ever so slightly over the letters on the board. Daddy watched for a moment and decided this wasn’t going to be in our house. He promptly took it out to the garbage explaining his discomfort with this type of play that leaned toward a darker side.

Maybe it was my preschool dream of being snatched by a devil that helped me respect daddy’s decision.

Evil is real but not always recognizable.

I grew up going door-to-door wearing a homemade costume on Halloween. We held out lunch sacks for our treats. We walked with friends through the neighborhood without fear of tainted candy or evil people.

Daddy had halloween parties for the teenagers at church where he told scary stories and passed around peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti noodles for brains.

Halloween was a holiday for the silly and scary, not to be confused with the evil scary or demon scary. For me, there’s a difference.

Somewhere along the way, the church decided the whole thing was bad so we changed the name to Fall Festivals. We still dressed up and got candy (which is all we ever wanted) but we wouldn’t use the world’s word. That’s the way The Church handles a lot of things.

If this year is like the past 8, we’ll have close to 200 kids come to our door dressed like princesses, super heroes, bumblebees and football players. They will hold out plastic pumpkins and pillowcases and get a little choosy about what we throw in their treat bags.

We will have a Fall Festival for the kids at church.

There is real evil in this world. I believe in Satan as described in the bible. A fallen angel who seeks to have us fall for him. His ways are subtle and often, comfortable.

Our real struggle isn’t against scary characters or days called Halloween but against comfort of our own desires. Our struggle is with impure motives and selfish ways.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

And just as surely as our struggle is against the unseen things, we are reassured that Jesus, the Christ, our Savior, has overcome the world!

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT

When Celebrating our Anniversary Celebrates Others

The more the numbers add up and years pass, the more significant our time together becomes. In our society of throwaway everything, including marriages, having a long-term marriage means something. We recently celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Yeah, that’s a big number. Even more, that’s a lot of learning and relearning, mostly how to gather around you good people to help nurture you through the tides of life.

my aunt and uncle (he officiated the ceremony)

my aunt and uncle (he officiated the ceremony)

mama with her mom (mama made her own dress for the wedding)

mama with her mom (mama made her own dress for the wedding)

The same aunt and uncle with us at our daughter's wedding.

The same aunt and uncle with us at our daughter’s wedding.

So much of what flows through my mind these past months is from the grief of missing mama. The memories, while bringing tears of loss, are more about how rich our life has been.

This year, my thoughts went to the week before our wedding. Mama had never met her soon-to-be son-in-law. I was her first born, marrying at the very young age of 20 and filling her with fear of making mistakes she’d made. Mostly, she kept these quiet but as I got older I understood.

Mama In the kitchen at my brothers wedding.

Mama In the kitchen at my brothers wedding.

with mama and her sister

with mama and her sister

We’d planned this simple wedding long distance. Very long distance with her living in the middle of Washing state and us on the southeast coast of Florida. There were no wedding organizers or directors in those days, not that we could have afforded that anyway. I would have married outside were it not for the concern of rain or the older guests, aka family, not quite understanding that.

Mama grabbed her older sister and their mom and hopped on a plane to spend the week with me. I shuttled them to the florist and we planned out how the flowers would be taken from the chapel to the reception hall. I took them to the fabric store where she and my aunt made three table cloths for the long tables at the cake and punch reception. I got them appointments  to have their hair done while a friend put some highlights from a box on the strands of my waist length hair that I would wear down the way I always did.

When we scurried to change our wedding attire to our leave-for-the-honeymoon clothes and Henry bent down and ripped his pants, my aunt grabbed them and sewed them up on my sewing machine. The one they’d sewn up the lace-covered table cloths.

Another aunt and uncle traveled from Arkansas to be part of our day. This was my uncle who dedicated me as a baby and I had determined even as a teenager that he would do my wedding one day. They were there, as they have always been.

We haven’t made this life on our own. We have been blessed to have had parents praying for us throughout our lives. These parents are gone now but I believe they are still imploring on our behalf.

We’ve had friends to model marriage and parenting to us to create memories with and even as distance separates us, to be on the other end when we call.

Our marriage has been nurtured and strengthened by others. The celebration of our years together is a celebration that honors them and the faith that has held us all.

Grace is the one-size-fits-all pattern

The church is good at creating patterns. And for first borns like me, we’re drawn to the neat packages of how-to’s.

Quiet Time aka devotions: Have your quiet time in the morning, first thing, before your feet hit the floor. Fill your soul with good from the word before feeding your body.

Prayer: Also in the morning and at night but write them down and use a clever acronym so you can cover all areas.

P – praise
A – admit
R – request
T – thanks

See, you’re doing your PART.

This is how we sing and this is when we stand. Have you ever visited a church and felt like the obvious stand out because you didn’t know that no one clapped or that everyone stood when Scripture was read?

open bible

I admit, I like to have a plan. I like the organization of systems. Our home has never been without a calendar hanging on the wall. Planners and organizers kept things on track for our family schedule. Today, it’s reminder lists and calendars on my phone and a large printed one on my desk.


The problem is when I didn’t follow that plan, when I didn’t stick with the writing prayers in that neat, organized way, I felt like a slacker. On the days when I have to leave the house before a sip of tea I felt like a failure for not fitting the pattern.

Slowly, I am realizing that grace is a shape-shifter. It’s pattern is not drawn with a permanent marker. Grace really is one size fits all.

Some years ago, Phylis told me that when her eyes landed on this little chicken I’d made for her she prayed for our family.

Really? Just whenever she saw that little chicken? Amazing! Our refrigerator was covered with photo’s of nieces and nephews and family and friends so when my eyes lit on one I’d stop and say a prayer. Sometimes I touched the photo when I murmured these breath prayers.

Grace isn’t easy for me to accept because it can’t be packaged. It can’t be wrapped up in pretty paper tied with a fancy bow. Grace can’t be contained or restrained or earned by following a pattern. And that’s exactly what makes it hard for me to accept.

It’s much easier to work for something, isn’t it? To know you’ve earned it. I followed the pattern or directions or the rules. I did it. Yes, I…..that’s the problem.

Grace isn’t about me. It isn’t deserved. It isn’t even fair.

Is it hard for you too? To accept this thing that isn’t about you? The gift that is just because we have a God who loves us?

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:8-10

You’ve Got Mail!

We can expect our mail to be delivered in the afternoon. Our regular mail carrier, Jerry, tucks envelopes and ads in the white mailboxes that line our street. They all are neighborhood standard, all looking the same. It’s a wonder he gets the mail in the right boxes.

I grew up in a time where the letter e didn’t precede the word mail. I grew up struggling to decipher handwritten letters from Granny, letters with little punctuation and cursive lettering I hadn’t mastered. That was part of the fun of receiving her letters. I’m not sure when she started writing me but the memories of the exchange of the tangible paper with her penned words on them are cherished. I regret not having tucked a few of them in a box to keep.

mail boxes

I’ve tried to do the same with our granddaughter, but typing has long been my comfort style and email has replaced most of my personal correspondence.

Communication is more electronic and the way family and friends keep connected today is more varied. Phone calls are easier without the long distance rates we had on landlines. Facebook messaging is the choice of many and my son, well, he prefers texting.

While one method may hold a certain nostalgic allure, it’s the communication that matters. Words that are shared – typed, written or spoken from one friend to another, the silly emoji’s, the ordinary and the extraordinary are things I want to be part of in their lives. Tell me what’s going on, I really want to know.

We have a box of cards, some letters, and notes we’ve received over the years. Thank-you cards from our daughter, Valentine’s cards from Henry, an old letter or two from mama and granny are mingled with notes from men in our ministry over the years. These are treasures of immeasurable value.

The New Testament is largely comprised of letters written by the Apostle Paul. I think of his words when I read what others have shared with us: I thank God for every remembrance of you.

Do you use all the crayons in the box?

The Crayola box of 64 colors was my favorite. Suddenly, our choices weren’t limited to 8 or 16 or 24. A new box meant fresh crayons with no torn paper and sharp new points. They were in neat rows, all the same height in four sections of rainbows. There was even a sharpener on the back of the box. Bonus! Some of my crayons never lost their point because I didn’t use them. I favored the blues and yellows, a couple of the greens, browns and, quite sparingly, red. But raw umber? Not likely. Ochre? No thanks. Definitely not Salmon. And you can bet I worked hard at coloring inside the lines.


Google images

made with Color Therapy app

made with Color Therapy app

Adult coloring books are a thing now giving us grownups an excuse to color without pretending we’re doing it for our kids or grandkids. I have a coloring app on my iPad. Amazon has even created a page for their most popular adult coloring books.  My app has a variety of patterns and with a tap of my finger I color in the sections on the design I’ve chosen. With far more than 64 colors to choose from, I’ve determined to use more than the blues, yellows and earth tones.

Digital coloring helps me take the risk of trying something new. If the color isn’t what I want, click, and another color appears. I try new combinations and learn which shades compliment and which ones are flat out ugly. Art is subjective, of course.

Coloring is one way I practice self-care. It’s a simple grace I give myself. It is always grace we need to mend the bruises of our soul. Grace that reminds us to breathe when the world is moving too fast. Grace that holds us when we’re tired of holding everyone else.

While my coloring is neat and deliberate and always inside the lines, grace has ignored every line in my life. It is messy and beautiful at the same time. It’s like a Picasso or Pollack, both styles I don’t like for their helter-skelter approach. Yet, what I need is messy grace that isn’t about trying to get it right. I need the scribble of colors, the splash of paint spilling over ignoring the lines I’ve drawn around my life.

apple painting

Grace paints the evening sky where clouds are wisps of orange bleeding over the indigo of the sky. Grace is irregular in its designs and speaks of creation. It is disorder painted across the order with which God created the world.

It’s hard to understand this grace. It’s hard to let go the urge to even try to understand it because it’s not made for knowing other than to know we are loved. I am loved. My irregular lines, the crooked smile and left foot that is slightly bigger than the right. My messy life of fighting anxiety and depression, of negative self-talk. The harsh words I yell from behind my steering wheel. Yes, grace says I’m loved even when those dark shades seem to paint my life.

A friend gave me this:
crayons sign

Even Though We Fail This Test We Pass


The harsh noise came from my smart phone jarring my focused attention: HURRICANE WARNING This wasn’t a test but an alert that our area was under a hurricane warning. We’d been upgraded from the watch and should now make preparations for the likelihood of hurricane force winds and several inches of rain.


This might not have been issued as a test, but it was a warning that, if not heeded, we could fail. Through a combination of the weather system staying more off shore and people taking this warning seriously, we passed.

Label something as a test and my anxiety level soars. My hands get clammy and my focus wavers. My concentration goes completely off track. I don’t like to be tested. Except I test myself frequently. Maybe you do too.

I scan the room, taking note of how many people are: thinner than me, kinder than me, have better behaved children than me, wearing free trade jewelry, coo-ing over pumpkin-flavored anything including me (when I can’t stand pumpkin!). Fill in that blank. What are you testing yourself on?

When I’m feeling the least adequate, I put myself through those tests even more.The test I set myself up to fail.

If we were required to pass a test to receive salvation, to be called one of God’s children, I would fail. We would fail. Every sorry one of us would get a big fat F written in red ink across the top of the test.

A young, wealthy, educated professional asked Jesus what he had to do to be part of God’s family. (Matthew 19:16-22)He told Jesus he’d kept every command. Every one of them! It seemed he’d passed the test, or so he thought. Looking for bonus points he asked what else could he do to ensure his salvation.

Knowing he was a man of wealth, Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor and then he would have eternal life. The man walked away, unable to follow Jesus’ instructions.

grace wins

Our good news is that Jesus came to take the test for us. He knows we will fail it. But he writes “Grace” in red, the red of his blood, across our failed attempts at passing the test.

Even when we lose, we win. Grace wins.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Linking up with Five-Minute Friday

When You’re Feeling Trapped by the Patterns

The drive from Irving to Waco gave us plenty of time to talk. We talk in circles, usually, starting at one point and ending far  from where we began.

She and I are both firstborns and our conversation about life had me commenting that the only models for firstborns are adults. We take our cues from them. Our parents, grandparents… they are the ones who imprint our lives. They are our patterns.

whole square


I like patterns. Shapes, numbers, word art, quilt blocks and puzzle pieces. I like the bold statements and clean lines of a fat number printed on tile or wood or just about anything. I’m drawn to the order, eager to restore order to what has fallen in disarray.

Elective classes is what excited me about Junior High. From somewhere in the middle of grade school, I knew I wanted to take typing and Home Economics. I wanted to peck out words faster than anyone not forgetting accuracy. And I wanted to learn to sew.

Typing proved easier. My fingers took to the keys of the electric typewriter in our 7th grade classroom. With paper clipped to a holder, I typed as fast as I read the words with few errors. When it came to sewing, correcting  mistakes was more tedious.

When I had Home Ec in high school, the project was more advanced than the apron we made in Jr. High and one that we could work on at home. Mama’s sewing machine and skills were helpful in making my brown pantsuit (the 70’s).

As an adult, I took a quilting class with a friend. We both loved the art of quilting and enjoyed our classes. Quilting was even more exact than sewing clothes. Some designs had points and while our instructor showed us all the tricks, mine were hit and miss as to their pointedness. I folded and ironed and pinned in the right spots but, not every point was exact.

Heather Jonathan matching

When our babies came along, my sewing interest was renewed. I was never seamstress level. I just sewed. Well enough for my daughter to wear her pretty frocks and to make a couple of matching outfits for our toddler and pre-schooler. But I would never call myself a seamstress. I’d see the work of seamstresses and mine wasn’t it.

The same when I drew or painted…I needed a pattern. The designs weren’t in my head or the few times they were I couldn’t reproduce what my minds eye saw.

I can’t sing on key without music. I can’t draw a cow without looking at a photo of one. I need a pattern to follow.

But then the real problem emerged: I wanted what I did to be exactly like the pattern. Oh, a little difference was okay. I wasn’t an artist after all. But it needed to be enough for people to notice how alike the model it was.

That, my friends, is stifling.

As a Christian, following is good. Following the ways Jesus calls us is always for our best. But he wants us to enjoy freedom within his community. Freedom to use the gifts he’s given us. Freedom to explore our talents.

When I only allow myself to duplicate another work, I’m measuring myself against them. The comparison voice, the loud one that is a liar, that voice shouts out how far off the mark I am. How limited my talents are and that I’m not a seamstress, artist, writer, musician, good parent, spouse, friend.

The comparisons are there for everything. I don’t read enough books, or the right books. I don’t drink enough water or exercise enough. I don’t read my bible as much as she does nor do I know all those verses. What is that voice inside you shouting?

How can I be so….not enough?

 I’m slowly trying to work my way to finding my way. I’m not throwing away the patterns. Not the pattern of Jesus.

I’m trying to explore the patterns grace. The ragged, unpredictable, outside the lines grace. Grace given to myself is the pattern I want to use.

How about you? Will you give yourself some grace today?

The Economy of Mercy

Some songs are as sacred as scripture to me. I know they are inspired by the Spirit of God. Does it matter to God what brings us closer to him? Does it matter if it’s music or poetry or nature that helps us understand his love for us? Words find their way into my soul combining with the music allowing me to make an offering to God more than I could on my own.


record albums

Switchfoot is a band whose combination of sound and lyrics infuse me with energy. I sing along in my car, beat the rhythm on my steering wheel. I close my eyes while the quieter melody plays through my earbuds allowing the mood to wash over me.

There are many of their songs I could choose. There are other bands whose words and rhythms capture me. I go back a long way with music, from the children’s choruses sung in Sunday School that taught me Jesus Loves Me and that he loves all the children of the world, through the decades of the 70’s with FM radio and my first record player.

In this month of practicing self-care and mindfulness, I’m sharing these words with Lesley for her write31days series on music. Click here to read more.


Where is the renewal of my soul?

How do you tell them you’re tired? That your smiles aren’t as real as they use to be? That, most days, you have to make yourself show up.

This isn’t suppose to happen. Not to us, not to people who are the ones who hug you when you’ve come back after your last relapse. Not to people who are grace-givers and hope-peddlers.

This isn’t suppose to happen.

But it does. It has and I don’t know what to do with my tired heart and pretend smile.

In the early days I held a little distance between us, between me and the residents of our facility, aka: addicts. I watched and listened and let God soften my heart. I walked carefully into this new ministry, this foreign world on home soil.

I walked through the first few years a bit dazed by it all and unsure of where to make my place. Some of the men called me mom, adding to my unsettled feelings. I wasn’t out to be their mom, but I smiled politely because I was learning.

Time passed and I let the tears fall when one didn’t return home because now I was happy to be called ‘mom’. I wanted to make this place a home where they can know love and grace and mercy and that love and mercy don’t exclude rules for communal living.

God was using this community of residents and staff to show me the real ‘amazing grace’. This was compassion and mercy and love and they will steal your heart and leave you empty and tired with no more tears to cry for the next one.

We pull away, we take vacation, we have creative endeavors, we do all of the things that should keep us healthy and our souls fit for caring one more day. But now, my tears are from feeling numb to it all.

Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

Where is the renewal of my soul?

around the lake

birdhouse on the lake

around the lake on Lake Junaluska

One of the perks about our ministry is the competent counselors on staff. What could be better than a licensed mental health counselor, just down the hall from my office? I told her I’d lost it. I’d lost the passion and energy and that I had to make myself show up.

She looks me in the eye, listening to my words as well as my heart. Her voice softens and she asks me, again, ‘What about you? You’re a nurturer but are you taking care of you? What are you doing that’s for you?’ You know I am, Marian. You know I’m taking a photography class and that I write. You know I do those things for me.

She pressed on, ‘ But who are your friends? Your girlfriends? The ones you do things with, not your husband, your friends?

Ah, yes. The ones who live in other states. Those friends? The story gets complicated and our talk grows quiet as she knows I’ll walk out her door and nothing will change.

win or lose


beach chair

We are wired to tend to the needs of others while ignoring the weakening pulse in our heart. The bible is full of verses about putting others first and serving the least and how the last will be first in the Kingdom. These verses of works walk hand in hand with the faith on which they are built. One without the other is dead so we carry on until we slowly die on the inside.

There is that one verse. The one I like reading in the Message, the one that makes me think of music and the ocean and the graceful rhythms of both.

It’s as if Eugene Peterson was reading my mind when he wrote this paraphrase:
“Are you tired? Worn out ? Burned out on religion?”

Well, yes… yes, I am.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Sometimes keeping company with Jesus looks like a phone call with a friend, a heart to heart with my sister or laughing at an 8-year old’s jokes. These are life breaths to suck in deeply, slowly, and hold, ……..then the release, exhaling slower still . The renewal comes in the release. Always in the release.

On the days you just can’t

It’s been tossing back and forth in my mind for 2 months. I was going to be prepared this year. Ha! I thought the same thing last year but now, my third year, I would nail it. I’ve learned more and was taking advantage of the tools.

But life started pressing in and the realization that I have a job. You know, the real kind that isn’t writing. The world most of us live in was getting full as it often does when summer turns to autumn.

Then there was the lack of words. The kind needed to spill out 31 days IN A ROW.

Christabel's feet on the beach

Christabel on-river-rocks

balance beam

I like to be part of things. I like to take part, to show up, to join in, to be in the club. I suffer from a little bit of FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. Recognizing your problem is the first step, right?

The reality is, I can’t. Not today. Today I don’t have words to take this challenge. I could probably manufacture some but they wouldn’t be real. Today isn’t the day to fake it until you make it.

So I’m giving myself grace. Grace to not be part of this challenge, this group of writers who will have more to say than I. I’m practicing positive self-talk instead of chastising myself for not be more.

It’s like walking that 4″ width of wood. Whether it’s 3 inches or 3 feet off the ground we have to balance to stay on the beam. We hold out our arms, eyes focused on our feet as we step carefully one foot in front of the other. Some folks seem to have inner ballast helping them navigate with  ease. Then there’s my tribe: even with arms flung out like airplane wings, we teeter this way and that holding our sway to stay balanced.

A friend recently told me that I’m the most balanced person she knows. I wonder if the first step is in recognizing when things are out of balance. That feeling of falling, even from a short distance. Some people seem to think life can only be lived teetering on the edge. There are times that’s true. The unexpected happens knocking our feet off their solid ground.

In my youth, hanging on was sometimes a way of life. Age can be a good teacher and I’m trying to learn. To learn when to push and when to say no. When to allow myself the grace in knowing I can’t. Not forever, but now.