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12 Days With Martha

The minute I stepped into her smile I wanted to stay there. The girl and I would be keeping watch in her daughters’ home one door down while they were away and we would most definitely be invited over. I was already waiting. The light from her windows that night reached out like a Little Golden Book, all amber colored and pulsing warmth as we walked away. There was love there and it called my name.

A few days into our stay my phone rang. Wednesday would be our day. I watched the clock for 11 and made my way through the yard that separated us. She offered me two options in case I was a vegetarian. I loved that she’d thought that carefully. I stood in her kitchen where she’d raised her children and said goodbye to her husband when he went to heaven. Her life was now filled with grandchildren needing books read and rides to activities and love sown with the thread of her presence. But today, Martha made me tuna fish and put it on cranberry walnut bread and brewed me strong iced tea. We sat at the table, the chairs creaking just as I’d hoped they would, bowed our heads and thanked our common Father for the food and each other. And then? Martha looked up at me and smiled her smile and sunshine spilled into my heart and ran through my veins.

There are times when you sit with a person and their chair seems a bit more elevated than yours, their stories more interesting. Martha pulled her chair to even ground and we gathered together like women who had never met but always known each other. She wanted to know who I was and where I’d been as if I was coming off the wild frontier and letting her know the news from other lands. Her eyes flashed curious and bright and still learning. I got the feeling she’d just as quickly patch a torn sleeve as roll up a sleeve when sleeves needed rolling up and the hard needed tending to. I somehow knew I could tell her the truth about truth that was hard in the telling and Martha would not falter.

She shared the painful journey of a younger friend who had recently lost a child; how they knew at the birth that their time with their baby would be measured in days. This brave mama took a baby book meant to remind her of the moments from birth to high school and learned how to be taught how to number the days, to fix on the minute here and now as the clock counted down. At the twelfth day, on the twelfth page of the baby book, they said goodbye to their child this side of heaven and accounted for the blessings on the last page, the last day. And pain mixed with gratitude and it was well with their souls.

“Martha! This woman will teach others. It should be called Twelve Days Ministries. She will show us all how to number our hardest days and find the gold hidden there.” We looked at each other with truth dawning on us. We could teach ourselves, Martha and I, how to take twelve days and record what happens with eyes trained on our Creator. There was a gasp of silence, a grab- hold- of- yes- and -amen moment between us. Right then, Martha and I were sisters, friends, travellers.

The clock told us it was time. The girl would be home soon. Martha had somewhere to be. I asked if I could take her picture, that I wanted to have something to remember the day. It would be one of the first things in my Book of Twelve Days. And Martha and her tuna fish on cranberry bread would be one of my most treasured moments.

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Meeting Sacraments

Our thoughts of you, O Lord, have been too small, too few–for seldom have we considered how specific is the exercising of your authority…Every Moment Holy, Douglas Kaine McKelvey

Here I sit in this gifted space, wrapped in a specific kind of solitude, ordered and appointed communion sprinkled in, and all the time leaning into the listening. I hear You, Father, and it is good. I sat and paced in my mind, the right words to string together to do Him justice, as if He needs my justice done. My words are my crafting to give back to the Holy God of my what-in-the-world-is-happening. I smile as I remember; even my crafting is a gift from my Maker. He’s already outgiven me.

This morning the girl goes as a field hand on holy ground plowed here in Nashville by a man she has grown up listening to, reading from. We sat on a church pew this weekend and listened to the cadence of his heart in song and word. My mama heart was full up grateful. You place your treasure into the hands of others and pray they tread careful and true. Thank you, Andrew, and the others, for being real as my girl watches. I see the greening of new leaves in her eyes as tears of gratitude collect in mine.

Friday just past I met a friend I never knew I had. We were paired up as pen pals in February as a byproduct of an online group spun from The Kindness Diaries on Netflix. She in Tennessee, me in Kentucky. When Tennessee loomed on the horizon for our summer, she staked claim on a trip there and drove into my borrowed driveway this weekend and sewed a patch into our life quilt to wrap warm around us. God is the maker of friends and the roadmap to get there. Unexpected joy spilled down our faces as we said goodbye, knowing it was only temporary. The owner of both of our hearts has more to write here.

Sunday found us back “home” at Cross-Country Cowboy Church. We found our way here three years back and with each visit to Nashville, we headed to their door, where we sensed kindred spirits. How can it be that Dena and Fran and Ty and Sharon and Julie and Ann and Donna and Joanna and MaryAnn love us as much as we love them in two weeks’ time? I look over as we sing a familiar song and sweet Nellie and her husband, long in the sowing business, cause a catch in my chest and I snap a picture quick to remember the moment. These saints of good soil warm me and I can’t speak for a minute. Nellie comes up to me and promises to be my grandmother, not knowing my own have long since gone to heaven. There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.

We head to Marcy Jo’s for noontime lunch and to check on my new friend, Crystal, who is working there. She looks tired and I look at her and ask like friends do. She was up late the night before making sure someone else’s joy was full. I just met her and yet I know for sure this is who she is. We are seated with strangers so those waiting can have a place to sit at other tables; a mother and her daughter. They’ve come to a weekend in Tennessee for a chance to spend time. She and her girl? They’ve come through some hard places together and won big time. “Didn’t I see you at cowboy church, I ask? And where are you from? Yes, came the answer, and Northern Kentucky……where we also call home. They knew our street and our house. All of us blinked in disbelief. We ate our pancakes and drank our coffee and our battle stories spilled out and it was good. Pay for their meal, I heard. I waited for Crystal to come by so I could whisper to her to hide the check in my hand. A moment later I looked toward the girl and she was gone. As I looked around, I saw her at the cash register. She had taken the check and was paying for the table. It seems the Father of us all had whispered to her as well. We stared at each other with tears in our eyes and chills on our skin. My Kindness Diaries friend, my waitress friend, Crystal, my Northern Kentucky neighbor and her girl and my own collide in a Light moment that all of us lost girls have craved. Unspeakable stunning grace.

I sit here on this rainy Monday, new forever friends gone home, girl gone sowing and reaping and can’t stop crying as I keep listening. Indeed, He Is Worthy.

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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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