Dipping the Toe

Thoughts on life and faith and faith in life

In Which Grace Is Narrated….

The girl goes happy to her intern days where she sorts and posts and looks for ways to learn; eager in heart. “I’ve seen a picture of what community looks like, mama,” she says. I spend those hours reading and writing and making good food. I go to the grocery store near where we are staying, list in hand. I walk in, always struck that living goes on in a different place with different faces; produce stacked high and colorful just like home. The hands that pick it up have family that loves them, aches that hurt them, phone calls they need to make. I look around at their faces as they pass me, suppressing my desire to reach out and find out their particular who, what and where. My thirst for hearing other’s stories never seems to quench itself.

We stopped at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse for a country breakfast that tasted like back home before we headed out to our next home away from home.

Crystal, “not spelled like Krystal hamburgers”, served us up grits and coffee just like grandmother used to make. She’d been to some hard places and back again and found herself in Tennessee working here, mothering her little girl and nurturing others with her humor and joy. Crystal made sure my cup was filled, that I found the restroom when I was wandering through the gift shop looking for it, and I left with the feeling I’d met a survivor. God bless the Crystals in this world.

I find myself driving slower, giving ear more intentionally to the internal whispers, tasting food on plate and words in books with the same sense of savor. As I write, I sit in a space granted us by a family we met 48 hours before we arranged our pillows on their beds. They are on an adventure of their own and opened their home to us. We grab boots and scoops and care for the chickens down the hill and a happy dog who smiles at us as we walk by the window. It’s a certain kind of love that surrenders your home for others to enjoy when you’re away. It makes us feel sheltered, shepherded. It is an open hand extended that causes a catch in our breath, an astonishing provision we did not go looking for. It hasn’t been the first time since the road led us here.

“Use the beans from the garden if you’d like!”, said the note left behind. I combined it with a supper of summer squash and cucumber salad and we ate grateful that first night here. Food can nourish, heal and comfort. As we eat quiet at the table and look out at the trees we realize it has become its’ own liturgy. We grab Every Moment Holy, a book of deliberate prayers gifted us and find one that completes the table set and read it together.

Moments have peppered themselves on us like seasoning raining down like gentle rain. We walked through shops in Franklin and came upon a bakery we’d been wanting to try. “They just closed,” informed a group of three who sat at a table in front. They beamed out joy like lighthouses and I was instantly captivated. “Who is Julie and why are you her warriors?,” I asked as I read the identical t-shirts each of them wore. She raised her hand, the one on the right. “I am Julie.” She had recently had a fierce fight with lung cancer and was celebrating the ability to feel well enough to go eat at a bakery. She and her “warriors” have worked together for 25 years at the hospital where she fought and won. They had stood beside her through it all and took her from Mississippi to Tennessee for a weekend to drive a stake in the ground of friendship and hard-won moments more to live. I asked for a picture to remember what warriors look like. Julie is sitting down in this picture. Look into her face. She wants you to know it’s good to be alive.

The girl and I, when she is not interning, wander from one coffee shop to the next, one book store to the other because these things nurture us, kindle our flame, cause us to talk and think and share with time we don’t always have to take. We are sparked by new surroundings, fresh insight as we read quiet to ourselves from books borrowed from the offered shelves of our hosts. Books and shelves and books on shelves make us more than a little giddy and hard to settle on just one. “Listen to this,” we often say, sharing our word meals like birds and their mamas and then go back to our respective choices. We are comfortable in the silent company of each other.

We grab the spontaneity like a kite string and decide to see a movie. Rocketman was exciting to watch, the music of Elton John swelling from the big screen and compelling us to bob our heads and sing along. His life told unfolded in an unexpected and vivid way onscreen. We cried, the two of us, in empathy at the emptiness, the despair, portrayed in the excess. Life gives counterfeit highs in the darkness that pale when the light shines at high noon. We drove back in the quiet of the car sharing how it sat with us, his story.

We slid into jammie pants and served up dinner from the fridge and found a game to play together, the washer working on our behalf humming from the other room. It’s been a good, good day noted the girl, contentment on her face. We read our evening prayer and found our way to sleep.

We wake up ready to unwrap what the day may hold. Lipscomb University is nearby and we decide to wander the summer- quiet campus, only to find it beehive fiesty with middle schoolers using the grounds for a summer camp. They have scrawled messages on the sidewalk with chalk and I snap a picture with a smile. They are making memories they will treasure more than they can take in right now. It’s ok. They’ll percolate up one day when they smile from their rearview mirror.

We end the day at the nearest urgent care, a bug bite turned angry needing attention. A bottle of antibiotics and a large iced tea later, we put a period at the end of another day. Grateful for medicine, and comfortable couches in air conditioning; for dates with peanut butter and cinnamon and old books that smell like history; for filmmakers that help others feel folks’ stories; for friends who are warriors and for strong women who serve up grits and a side of joy; for front porches and stories and belly laughs, for bug bites that remind me of my vulnerability and the priceless here and now. To the girl who is my daughter, my companion, my sister…….grateful to you for following your Creator straight on till the great gettin up morning!


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Falling Into Fresh Bread

We sat near the front of the New Hope Presbyterian Church on that warm Friday night, still fresh off the road from home the day before. CrossCountry Cowboy Church, where we had attended a few times in the past when visiting this area of Tennessee, was borrowing the building for the ladies worship night and had invited us to join in.

The girl and I were still two deer just a little startled by the direction the Light of our lives was pointing us toward. It all began March 11th.

We sat across the room from one another at home, a book in my hand, the computer in the girls’ lap. “What I REALLY want to do is work for the Rabbit Room someday.” It interrupted the silence like a distant slow drum beat. I looked up from my book and listened to my own voice. “My daddy always said….’reach for the opportunity in front of you. Don’t shut a door on yourself before you’ve tried. Write to them. See what they say.” She sewed the words together that night and I watched as she folded her heart into an envelope and sent it on it’s way to Tennessee. “When you let go the envelope tomorrow, keep your hand and your heart wide open so He can give and take as it pleases Him. Let Him write your story.”

On April 3rd, her computer “dinged” a message. As it turns out, they were going to be looking for a summer intern. An online interview was conducted and the internship was offered. “Mama, I’m not even there and I already feel ‘home’.” She wanted me to come along and we looked together to the Maker of Dreams and asked Him to draw the map. The way for us both began to take the shape of our Father’s hand pointing forward. We were going to Tennessee.

Meanwhile, another drum began to start a cadence in my own chest. We’d lived in our house for 12 years now. It was the fruit of my father’s love for others that caused it to be gifted to him and then to me. It was a constant reminder of grace gone wild and free. But I had heard a gentle whisper a few years back in my spirit. “This is for now. I have a place for you.” From time to time I would remember those words and look upward, inward with a question mark. “Not yet.” But here lately, I sensed a turn. “Soon.” I held it in my heart and told no one. Two weeks ago, the girl is sitting and looking off into space with an intentional expression. “I’m thinking it might be time to sell our house, Mama.” I turned surprised and not surprised all at once. Me too, girl. Me too. So I stood at my praying window where I have a verse tucked onto the ledge that reminds me He is right in the middle of wherever I am and He is God. I asked Him to tell me what to do. I don’t “hear” him like I hear the sound of my phone alert when my best friend, Julie, texts me. But the real sense of getting a message is just the same. A wonderful family bought a small patch of my land last fall to plant a garden. It was provision for me, provision for them. When I came back from visiting family in Pennsylvania, I told God, if they were out at the garden when I got home from the airport, I will know to ask them. Often times we go several days and never see one another. That evening? There they were. We would be leaving again for Tennessee in 24 hours and I felt a sense of God’s desire to put things in motion before we left. I unloaded my suitcase and walked outside. “Let me know when you’re ready to buy a house.” They laughed the “are you kidding me right now?” kind of laugh and told me to follow them to the storage shed by the garden. They had just purchased several antiques at an auction. Someone asked them what their plan for the pieces was. “Buy a house to put them in.” I left a key to the door in their hand and invited them to try the house on while we were gone. And the drumbeat continued as we headed south the next day.

We took two cars, the girl and I, so that we could go different directions if needed. Up until the night before we had no idea where we would be staying the first two weeks. And neither one of us much cared. We were in the palm of His hand and were ready and waiting for His direction. The way we looked at it, with two cars that gave us a two room apartment if we needed to stay in our car. At 5:30 p.m. I had a message from the pastor’s wife at CrossCountry Church. We have a motor home for you! 12 hours later our alarm woke us up and we threw the last bits of toothbrushes and toiletries in bags, shut the door behind us, tuned in our walkie talkies to keep in touch easier and headed off, good buddy!

On the way there that day, we found out there were a few more improvements that needed to be taken care of to make the RV liveable and would we mind staying with people we’d never met before for the night. Adventure wins again! We drove into Fran and Jeff’s driveway like Mary and Joseph at the inn and left friends. When someone wants to give you a place to rest without ever meeting you, you’ve met a trustworthy soul. So with all this joy and assurance and adventure and confidence in the God who loves us, I was mystified with the cramping in my stomach that first night as I lay in bed. I’d felt this before. It was fear.

Which puts us at New Hope church that Friday night, still shaking our heads at whatever God was doing that we could barely catch up to. Fran played the piano and introduced us to Pam and Nellie and Dena and Mary Ann and Sharon and others who welcomed us into the middle of their own stories that night like butter on grits, all warm, sunny yellow and inviting. The speaker for the night walked right up to us. “Bless you on your journey,” she said looking us smack dab in the eyes. It landed on us like the voice of our Father. “I sense He wants to give us fresh bread tonight as we each move forward.” The girl and I looked at each other at the same time. Something in that phrase grabbed us both.

We got in our car that night and started the car. “FRESH BREAD!” we both said out loud. That’s what we’re sitting down to. We headed back to our night’s lodging, our car lights making the way along the quiet country backroads. I knew now what my stomach was feeling. When we left town we’d stepped off the faith cliff, for our summer, for our house, for our sense of change coming. That feeling when you dip down suddenly on a carnival ride? I’m free falling into fresh bread. And it is terrifyingly exhilarating. I’m comforted by the warm bowls of buttered grits grace that remind me I can never run dry.

So here we sit, the night before the girl’s internship begins officially, in our RV out in the country, learning how to not blow a fuse and how to move a cow when you need to get in the driveway.

We are nervous excited and gob smacked at the good in the hearts of those who love Him to care for us, his raggedy team from Kentucky, here to come alongside where He puts us. Pass the bread. I’m hungry for the future!

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The Man Across the Street

This moment? This right here, right now? It grabs my eyeballs and makes me stop reading my book and look up. The girl is sitting beside me on the brown exactly-the-right-amount-of-squish couch in our half painted “wooden room”; half painted because I started it a year and a half ago on my christmas break and got knocked down by the flu and somehow ….. well, somehow a year and a half later happened. Still, if you look at the room a certain angle and don’t look up near the ceiling, it’s a perfect rustic oatmeal white just like I wanted it. Halfway done reminds me not to take every last thing too seriously. If it gets done this summer it will be glorious and I will feel very grown up in my oatmeal white room. If it doesn’t, because maybe I took too many walks and had too many talks? Then halfway done will be an altar to what matters most to me. For right now, the window across the room glows early evening sunset, the breeze is the perfect ever so slight humid spring rain- in- the- air and I accept the gift.

Today was a page in the mental diary I keep of small things deserving big thanks. The girl picked me up from my first day back at work from spring break. My feet hurt from getting over the shock of using them again all day but my heart felt light and smiley. I love that I don’t hate being back at work. My job is a place I know I belong and I like that knowing. We headed off to the courthouse to pick up a packet of information I will need for the next several weeks on how to juror. I do not want to know how to do this but somehow I was not able to get out of it so……I take my packet and find myself thankful I am not myself in need of a jury. If I have to be involved, I’ll take this side of the law.

We get to our front door hungry and begin our coming home routine like a Fred Astaire dance number. We each know our plan, our part, without even having to discuss it and we deftly change clothes, start the washer, grab ingredients and knives and cutting boards, dipping and dodging around one another. Within minutes we are sitting at the speckled kitchen table eating our homemade pizza of roasted asparagus, huge curls of fresh parmesean and roma tomatoes all melty and crunchy at the same time. “Mmmmm!” we say quietly and look out the window as we eat content.

We read out loud together most every evening. I did that with all my kids as they grew up and it still wraps up the day in comfort; the lull of our voices as we find a thing to talk about and roll over in our minds. We explore the world and it’s ideas and what we think of it. We finish it off with our current bible study and snap the book shut. “That was good lesson, Mama,” says the girl and I look at her and smile. The dryer buzzes it is finished with our days’ clothes and I get up to go sort them out, grateful that it is just a room away and not a walk to a river somewhere.

I brew a cup of half-caff to cradle as I reach for my current all-by-myself read The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan and the girl goes to her college book. The coffee and cream ratio in my mug is perfect. I try and drink as I read but my reading glasses fog up with each sip and the words become ghostly versions of themselves. I shift the mug to the side of my mouth and try again and then spit laughing at my awkward little self who just wants her coffee and her book. The girl looks up from her studies. “Oh Mama….”, she shakes her head at me with the bemusement that comes from having gotten used to a quirky parent. We don’t have to explain ourselves. We just are and that’s ok.

I’ve been a sad little worried about my across the street neighbor. He’s lived there several years and you can set your calendar to spring weather because on the very first day of tolerable warm he will be in his lawn chair on his little side porch watching over the world on Main Street from dawn to dusk. This year, though, the warm days came several days in a row and the chair across the street remained empty. Come to think of it, when was the last time I’d seen him; last fall?? My friend around the corner and I swapped concern and I kept vigil for movement. Finally, today he emerged. “Where were you??” I scolded with a smile. “We were worried! Don’t do that again! We need you on your porch!” He laughed. I don’t think he realizes that we had counted on seeing him season in, season out. Come to think of it, I don’t think we realized it either…..until he wasn’t there. The Mayor of Main Street. That’s what we named him.

My phone rings. It’s my friend, Sarah. She rarely “needs” or “wants” anything specific. She usually doesn’t talk long. She just wants to remind me that she is there and I am here and we are friends. She checks on her people. I like that about her. She is an example of making the effort to “see” and I am so fortunate to be seen by her. I hang up warmed by the embers she lights and passes on to others. Sarah is a grounding point that helps me keep my hearts’ home in focus.

The chill of the evening is settling in and the sky has a deep blue layer forming, laying softly The birds outside over my shoulder talk lyrically back and forth across the yard. I get up to push the window down, just enough to let in the nighttime sounds, keep in the warm. I find the sentence in the book that started all this wandering chatter and re-read it :

“Then I whispered the most important prayer of all, that blessing of the blessed: “thank you”.

I go to look out at the Mayor across the street. He’s still there. The phone dings a message from my boy in Montana. It looks like the plans to go see him this summer are set. The girl turns off her computer, ready to watch a favorite program. I will pour a bowl of cashew and cacao granola and almond milk and pull on a hoodie for sleep.

And I will whisper the most important prayer of the blessed: “thank you.”

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