The Thanks and the Giving

When you hear ‘Thanksgiving’ does it conjure visions of fighting and divisiveness?

Apparently, anything ranging from politics, to religion, to raising children, and who gets banished to the table with them can bring out the relationship boogiemen, or so this past week’s podcasts, Instagram, and Facebook told me.

The table splits into two sides: us versus them.

How about another way to look at tomorrow?

Weighted versus unweighted.

Some of the folks at your table tomorrow may be carrying a weight. Maybe you know of it, maybe you don’t. Regardless, it’s a tough day for someone sharing your meal.

Or maybe you’re the weighted down? You might be bringing the best you have that day to this event. It’s a tough day, tough holiday, tough season for you, and yet here you are, sharing a meal.

This week, Tuesday was a physically tough day for me. We planted garlic, and between planted rows, we laid out 350′ swathes of heavy black cloth for weed control.

It goes a little something like this.

Jim stands at one end of the row, feeding armfuls of heavy cloth in my direction, untangling, and spreading it out as he goes.

I then, cartoon-character like, head down the row, tilting forward at a 90 degree angle from the resistance, black fabric gripped tightly in my hands behind me.

The ground was a muddy, boot-sucking mess to plod through. I hung on, and trudged forward, as the fabric caught the wet ground, creating tremendous drag on the fabric and a wee bit of cussing in me.

It took all my might to pull, and the last few feet, I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it.

I looked like the set-up for that classic girl-on-the-farm mudplant, needing only for a little weight to come off the back to send me face-first into the muck.

Sometimes we hold the weight. Sometimes we carry more than others. Sometimes others carry it for us.

Whichever place any of us might be standing right now, the weight is there.

Jesus said:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11: 28-30, ESV

I love this passage. I don’t understand this passage, not really. But I love it.

However, Eugene Peterson, possibly the Mister Rogers of the Bible translations world, helps shed light on what my new-believer brain doesn’t yet grasp

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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.”

The Message

Do you want to just lie down, under a cozy blanket, after reading that? I do. That’s the beneficial affect Scripture can have on my heart.

Because, Jesus, the weight I carry doesn’t feel easy. The weight my people carry doesn’t feel light

So now, I wonder: is that why Jesus gave us all these people?

All these good folks who can help us carry the weight, and who we can help when they’re weighted down – is that part of His help? How we live, in Eugene’s translation ‘freely and lightly’?

Not that every person is great. I grant you that. Some folks are real boneheads, through and through, and we do our best not to get stuck next to them at the line for broccoli casserole (because even the boneheads want broccoli casserole).

I mean those other people.

The ones happily preparing the meal, who tell you to pick up a gallon of sweet tea, or – better yet – nothing at all!

The ones with the precious babies, who understand you can’t hold the baby, but you’d still like to admire the baby from a distance.

The ones that bring funny stories about walking around at work, for the better part of the day, with kale in their teeth, or having their kindergartener program their iPhone because it’s hard, and make you laugh in a way you forgot you knew how to do.

The ones that give extra long hugs when that’s what you need, and one of those quick, circular back pats when that’s all you can take.

The black fabric wasn’t light, and laying it wasn’t easy. Sometimes Jim held more of the weight. Sometimes I did.

Thanksgiving reminds me of the muddy, boot-sucking terrain we were in yesterday. The pressure of visiting, the pressure of entertaining, the pressure of spending time with people you may or may not choose to meet for coffee in heaven, but who on earth you are very much forced to hang out with.

We take a day and we jam-pack it with expectation, company, heavy food, and mandatory attendance.

The chances of a full-out mud faceplant are high, y’all.

Here’s my thoughts on this. If you’re walking into a fraught Thanksgiving, remember, someone’s carrying some weight. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s someone else. But weight exists.

Another take on this might be, as the great Anne Lamott writes: ” … the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day.”

Isn’t that amazing? We’re not all nuts on the same day. If that’s not straight from the Lord, tell me what is?

If tomorrow feels heavy, you might be the one with the weight. Go easy. Bring sweet tea, or nothing at all. Other people will be glad to hold you up. What a gift!

If tomorrow feels exciting, then be ready. Weight’s coming. You might get to buoy. What a gift!

Jesus tells us following Him means handing over these burdens. Sometimes He’s carrying them, and we’re led to help others. Sometimes He’s carrying them, and directing us on where to lean for support.

For all of us, God, please help us hold up, and be held. To support, and be supported. Bring us around tables with people to eat, and, laugh, and share, and be restored, and even rested. For the cooks, bring dishes together with ease, and lots of hands to help clean up. For the eaters, help us to appreciate all Your good food, shared with good company. Let this be a day to set our burdens down, and be with one another.

Bring us together, Lord, the weighted, and unweighted, knowing You’re carrying all of us, always. Let us remember to You we owe the thanks, and from You comes the giving.

Mister Rogers & Kanye

Mister Rogers is all over the news right now, some of it about being a Christian, and it makes me so happy.

Kanye West is all over the news too, most of it about being a Christian, and it’s got me so confused.

Interviews like this one or this interview with Joanne Rogers, Mister Rogers’ widow, tell such a thoughtful, tender story of a man who believed in God, and desired to do good work in the world, among children, without ever needing to share his beliefs or proselytize to the people.

In the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? watching Mister Rogers interact with children enchanted me. He waited patiently, quietly encouraging, while a child explained her drawing. Each time he walked into a classroom or preschool room, he smiled gently, warmly, at the room filled with awe-struck children. His widow laughed so jubilantly telling the story of the child wondering how Mister Rogers got out of the television. Mister Rogers walked this child through the workings of the television, and when he finished the kiddo just wanted to know how he was going to get back inside the box.

Another person that had my attention was a crew member from the Mister Rogers show. This man chortled about hijinks of the crew, and his own shenanigans, taking pictures of his naked backside with the show’s camera. Mister Rogers stumbled across one of these photos, blew it up into a large print, and gave it to him as a Christmas gift. How do you not love this cardigan-and-sneakers-wearing ordained minister more when you hear a story like that?

Probably this crewman, who looked to be a bit of a hippie, a bit anti-establishment even now in his older years, wouldn’t have looked twice at someone like Fred Rogers crossing the street. Or he would have disdained him, his conservative clothes, his short hair, his friendly smile. Yet hearing this man interviewed, he admired Mister Rogers, that much was evident. More than that, he liked him.

Throughout this documentary, and what I’ve read, and heard in the media blitz around this upcoming Tom Hanks’ film, friends, co-workers, fans, and family exalt Mister Rogers for his work in the world. Mister Rogers taught kindness, manners, sharing, and self-worth to children and adults over decades of tv-time. All of this he did as a non-practicing, ordained Presbyterian minister, and without ever standing at a pulpit or referencing God.

In other news, Kanye West is now also a believer. A podcast clued me into his coming to faith, and, from there, I watched some of his talk with Joel Osteen, at Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Kanye’s speaking to his own conversion, the sin in the world, and his personal intentions for doing God’s work in the world. And – I don’t know what to say.

I mean, of course I have things I want to say. Watching any person, in reference to himself, say “the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for Him” – that’s a lot to process. By process, I mean, I want to roll my eyes so hard, they make a full and complete circle in their sockets.

Am I cynical? Yep. Do I wonder if this a marketing ploy? A calculated attempt to garner more fans from a new sector of the population? The beginning of an image rebrand for the – LORD FORBID – 2024 presidential race? Yep, yep, yep.

Do I believe that God can use all things for His good? Yep.

Do I know God can find The Least Likely to Follow Him, and make a laughingstock of that superlative? You better believe I do.

So watching these two men take their place in the history of Christians has got me thinking. How do those of us who believe the Gospel share with those who don’t? I wrestle this question constantly. My people were not Abraham’s people prior to this life-shaking life-change for me.

However, these people, my people? They are some good people. Thoughtful, considerate, kind-hearted. Good parents, good spouses, hard-working individuals. And they’re most definitely still my people.

Here’s Kanye, calling out Christians who could have preached the Gospel to him, and didn’t. He’s proclaiming his love of Jesus, and, God’s powers, while also reaffirming his own place, in his own eyes, of importance. He’s reaching thousands of people who might never otherwise cross the threshold of a church. He’s publicly committing his future work to the Lord, and the Lord’s work. He’s asking for complete silence, so he can let the Lord flow through him. Hmm.

And here was Mister Rogers, showing up for a public television program, 5 days of the week, many days of the year, to talk with children through the media of tv. He sang songs, like

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.

So here’s my prayer for these two different men.

Thank You, God, for the Mister Rogers of the world. Thank You for their sweet smiles, their patience, their desire to do Your work without drawing attention to themselves, or causing division in Your name. Thank You for their cardigans, knitted by their mothers, and the tenderness they carry for Your people. Every. Single. Person.

And, Lord, please look after the Kanye Wests of the world. People with great power, and great influence, who are new, and stumbling, and kind of dummies. Help these folks set their own egos aside, and do Your work instead, Lord. To use their power and influence to show others the goodness of Who You Are, for Your sake and Your sake alone.

This world is rich with dummies, Lord. I know that; I’m one of them. Thank goodness we have a God who

is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17, ESV

So probably I don’t need to worry too much about Kanye, and what he may or may not do. Probably my time would be put to better use keeping my eyes on the Mister Rogers of the world, and working through how to show up more like him.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Romans 12:13, ESV

So there’s my prayer for people like myself, of little influence or power of the world, but with a big, squishy heart for Jesus. Please, Lord, help me contribute to the Saints, like St. Paul, and (prayerfully, one day) Saint Fred Rogers, and to show all Your people hospitality. Even the Kanyes of the world. Every single person.

Because every. single. person. belongs to You.

Friday Favs #3

Hey there, all my Jesus-curious friends. Let me just lay a hand on your shoulder and gently point you in a good direction. She Reads Truth. It’s a thing.

Interested in Jesus? The Bible? Jesus and the Bible?

Then She Reads Truth.

I don’t remember how I found them, but it’s been a minute. I’m a late bloomer believer, but I stumbled across them pretty early in my journey.

First, who they are. A group based in Nashville, TN, “a worldwide community of women who read God’s Word together every day.” They’ve created both a website and app that provide (free!) access to their ongoing Bible studies. These studies range from a week to 6 weeks or longer, and can cover a single book of the Bible, or a thoughtfully curated theme, with specially selected Scripture to support.

Here’s why She Reads Truth proves so dang helpful to me.

Because this Bible’s so big.

I have no idea what to do with it. It’s overwhelming. Have you seen the size of this book? The heft? The names?

She Reads Truth helped me find daily direction. We’re reading 1 & 2 Peter! We’re reading Isaiah! We’re reading Psalms of Rest! We’re reading Job! Join us!

(Sidenote: I did not read Job. Nope. I tried. It was a hard season, during Lent, and I tried. Job almost broke me. Maybe in a year or two, Lord.)

They invite women into the Word, to read defined passages, and then, if you’re so inclined (which I usually am), to read a thoughtful, brief accompanying essay.

Simple, easy, and literally making space to read the Bible every single day.

And they’ve started a podcast! Apparently it will be weekly, and will focus on the current study happening.

Now, full disclosure, they also produce some terrific swag. Study guides for purchase. Scripture cards. Prints with Scripture. Some really neat kids stuff, especially for the little ‘uns. One of my favorite memories is the afternoon Dorothy and I acted out The Book of Esther, the play, using the She Reads Truth paper dolls and paper stage. The characters are animals. I think Esther’s a rabbit? It’s precious. There’s video somewhere. If I find it, I’ll share here. Dorothy was Esther and I was everybody else.

However, those of us on a budget (like myself) can participate joyfully without spending a dime (though that paper Esther book, with the paper dolls and paper stage -worth. every. penny). Just get your Bible, and pull up the website for that day’s readings.

Now, for all I know, this happens all over Christian websites. Our church does assigned readings for Advent and Lent, and that’s great.

However there’s something about this group. I like their style. That’s the best I can figure. Also, they have a He Reads Truth. Fellas, get in on this. They’re putting down some good stuff.

I have almost no practice, no experience reading the Bible, and all day long, I need help remembering:

But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Psalm 73:28

That’s their work. Just telling of God’s goodness, by leading you to His Word. So simple! So genius! Highly recommended by this new Bible fan.

Little Harvests, Important Yields

Winter is coming. Not in a Game of Thrones way. Before I sound trendy, I’ll admit, the closest I’ve come to GoT is the picture of the intense guy on a throne, with this tagline: Winter is coming.

It’s a great tagline, and I’m shamelessly stealing it here.

Winter is coming, here, in East Tennessee, with no dragons in sight. The farm looks like a small slice of death right now. Maybe that’s harsh. At least, if you haven’t visited before, and today was the first time you saw the farm, you’d be discouraged.

The front field looks forgotten. Like that tumbledown house you pass, and wonder how long before it comes down in the middle of the night, and who would notice if it did?

These are the remnants of a flourishing harvest, the ghost town of summer. Enormous summer squashes, that went unpicked, rotted slowly on the ground. Okra stalks, 7 and 8 feet tall, dry, and brittle to the touch. The weeds thrive, overtaking the shriveled sweet and hot peppers. And bare rows, strips of brown dirt, where we dug sweet potatoes, and left nothing in their wake, no green whatsoever. It’s all gone, they’re all dead, give up hope! it cries.

Two swaths of field, our fall fields, fare slightly better. With small, struggling greens, kale reaching for the sun we’re not getting, collards and Swiss chard frozen at their current unblemished, yet diminutive size, broccoli with just the smallest of stalks developed – even these large patches that we’re tending, and working don’t encourage.

Forget both those fields.

Now, instead of channeling our energy into the forgotten summer field, and knowing there’s not much we can do for the fall field, except weed, and pray, we work the high tunnels.

Inside these plastic tunnels, that’s where our hope lies for winter. Clean out the remnants from spring and summer growth; till the soil; amend; plant again. Hope the plastic covering these high metal rails protects against cold, snow, too much rain. Pray this shelter gives our food a chance to survive.

We work less right now, and the days are shorter. Our winter shows the smallest crop yield, and that’s mostly out of our control. However. There’s still work to be done, and growth keeps going.

We’ll get these greens in the ground, and then we look after them. Run water on them before they get dry. Cover them up when a freeze happens. Keep the high tunnels doors pulled shut tight, fostering as much heat as possible.

There’s work to be done, even in the in-between season. Most of us don’t get a break from life, regardless of what hardship, what challenge, what junk gets thrown our way. Nor do we get a reprieve from the slow, the quiet, the same ol’, same ol’. Onward, that’s the only direction any of us can ever go.

Finding good work in the unyielding season, there’s a gift in that. Nurturing along small goals, tiny dreams, everyday hopes can be so fulfilling. I wouldn’t tell you a winter harvest, with 4 to 5 bags of each green, if that, beef, and yet another bushel of sweet potatoes looks as spectacular as the spring-summer harvest table we’ll lay out in 5 months time.

But we picked every one of those little green leaves, and they grew against tremendous odds, and through tremendous care, and that’s reason to give thanks.

If you’re in a season yielding little fruit, or taking tremendous energy to yield anything at all, I’m encouraging you here, take heart. Keep going. Yes, bigger yields are coming. But don’t dismiss those little yields while you wait.

So often, in my experience, the smallest gains have been those I appreciate the most. Losing those first 5 pounds, walking that first half mile, buying that first house, however humble it might be.

It takes the most effort to start in the cold, and the dark, and to keep going. Ecclesiastes reminds us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

3:1 (ESV)

If you’re walking through this fall, feeling discouraged, and working bare ground for little yield, I’m asking you, celebrate those small yields. This season matters, too, and what you gain from it might prove more fruitful than the harvest you’ll reap in spring and summer.

This world-famous text from Ecclesiastes is encouraging. Here’s what it’s not: telling us to grin and bare it, because a party is coming. At least I’m not reading that at all.

There’s a time for every experience, every emotion, in our lives. None better than the others, at least not by these standards, but all there.

Who’s to say you can’t reap as much, maybe more, from those hard seasons? The seasons to break down, to weep, and to mourn, these are beautiful seasons. Throughout my life, I’ve been most shaped by these harder experiences. And in my last few years, walking with the Lord, I’ve built my strongest relationship with Him during these slow, dark times.

So today, I’m suggesting to you, hold Eccelsiastes 3 1-8. And also remember the less song-catchy verse a little farther down:

. . . also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.

3:13 (ESV)

All his toil. Now, I grant you, being asked to take pleasure in all your toil – that’s throwing down a challenge. I grimace when I read it.

Accept it anyway. Take the challenge. See how you do.

Just being willing to find the gifts cans yield such important results.

That’s my plan for this coming winter. Maybe we’ll have some lovely winter crops. Maybe not. Our work is to tend them as best we can. God handles the rest.

If you visited the farm today, and you’d never seen the farm before, you’d leave disappointed. You might not realize how critical this season is too. So much of farming lies in trusting when there’s not much to trust, not much to look at, little evidence of growth. The in-between time is where we live right now. So I’m holding onto Ecclesiastes, and this reminder about our work:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

3:12-13 (ESV)

Hop on this Pillow

Hopping onto the laptop, and typing out words for this blog, my traitorous brain asks me: what is there to say? Is it new? Is it good?

That same brain loves to answer: not much. Probably not. Nope.

My brain can be an unforgiving terrain to navigate.

On my walk this morning, still dark and cold outside, and listening to a podcast, while wondering about my own blog, the interviewer reminded her audience, her interviewees, a group called She Reads Truth, launched a new podcast today.

Currently I have about 10 podcasts I subscribe and listen to, forgive the pun, religiously. The topics range from: 3 shows featuring interviews with modern-day Christian writers, actors, podcasters, chefs, and more; a political show between two women of faith from different political perspectives; 2 shows on the Enneagram, each by believers; my Dolly Parton’s America; a writing podcast; and the be-all-and-end-all Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy’s The Bible Binge, with some dabbling in their The Popcast with Knox and Jamie, when I need a laugh (cue applause and cheers for these folks).

You notice a theme, right? Jesus, real life, creativity, personality types, and humor, with just a touch of politics for a spicy take. That’s where my interest lies these days.

Some of these podcasts broadcast once a week, some twice, some a few times in a month. Assume they average out to an hour a week, once a week. That just took up 10 hours of my week.

With that in mind, you bet your bottom dollar, I’ll fit in another hour for a She Reads Truth podcast. I’m thrilled honestly. More good words on subjects that matter to me! Woot!

You know what else I’ll do? Scroll through the You Might Also Like list Apple offers, and play something new from that.

Because I’m hungry for this info. Give me artistry and funny parenting and marriage stories and case studies on us as people, all wrapped up in the Lord, or give me death! To paraphrase that American hero, Patrick Henry. I want as much as I can get. Steep me in these subjects, Apple Podcast! Give me as much as I can take, and more after that!

Am I reaching? How often do you say something like, “I love this topic, and now there’s one piece of information on it, and I’m completely satisfied with that. No more, thanks.”

Yet I wonder how often we’re each of us telling ourselves this exact lie.

Someone else already wrote the beautiful piece of music.

Someone else already created the most delicious pumpkin pie.

Someone else has already done this thing my heart longs to do, and now what I have to offer isn’t clever enough, good enough, special enough.

My brain did this trick on me this morning. Not much to say, and what there is to say, isn’t new enough, or fresh enough, or exciting enough.

There’s one great thing to say, and someone else already said it.

Do you remember musical chairs? For those of you who didn’t grow up during or before my youth, here’s a quick rundown of this cutthroat game.

It’s a game of elimination, as Wikipedia entincingly describes it. Children bumble around chairs in a circle, usually while some boy-band pop music plays in the background. Initially, there are enough chairs for all the children there.

However. As the music plays, the grown-up running the show removes a chair. The music stops, and a death scramble to put your butt on a hard surface ensues.

Some one loses. That kid, head hanging, Charlie Brown-walks to the sidelines. The music begins again, and the fun continues, until all but one kid is eliminated and that kid is crowned winner, before a small, but bitter audience of children who’ve had to sit and watch a game be played without them. I’ll add here, if you want to see a death-fight, watch the behinds of those last 2 kids left, as they work to tush-push each other off the chair. It’s not pretty, y’all.

Welcome, to 2013 and Dorothy’s 5th birthday. I did a few googles (maybe used Pinterest? It might have been a thing then?) and found a musical pillows game.

Same set-up as musical chairs, but with pillows, and a new motivation: get everyone on the last pillow or everyone loses.

So begins a hilarious game, but in a different way, of watching a handful of young kids scramble on top of each other. They work to fit together on pillows until there’s just one left, and some kind of modern art sculpture emerges in the shape of giggling 4 and 5 year old’s attempting to maintain a human pyramid.

It’s awkward. Some kids (the ones on the top of the pile) are clearly in a more comfortable position than some others (everybody else). But it works. They want it to work. Its far more entertaining, encouraging everyone to fit, then to send each kid off, one by one. Working together, there are plenty of pillow to go around.

Creative work, I’ve begun to realize, is the same. If today you’re looking at a blank sketchpad, or uncarved piece of wood, or empty computer monitor, and telling yourself, “there’s no room for one more fill-in-the-blank-thing I do,” allow me to say, you’re wrong.

There’s lots of room. Lots of canvases, lots of wood. Have you noticed we haven’t run out of room on the internet? Maybe good blog names, I grant you, but there’s still plenty of room for all the blogs.

Please don’t let the amount of your particular brand of talent already in the world stop you from putting your exact particular talent into the world.

Look at The Gospels. Now, as we have previously discussed, I know little on this subject. Little. However, what if an early Church father, someone in the know, read through all 4 Gospels, and said, “you know, I like this Luke’s take. He’s got this figured out. I mean, do we need 4 Gospels when they’re all basically talking about the same person? Wouldn’t Luke’s be enough?”

Or what if Luke, Mark, and Matthew weren’t big fans of John? What if they put their heads together and said, “man, that guy. I am DONE with hearing about ‘Jesus’ favorite.’ Maybe. . . we forget to put his version in?”

Oh my gosh, I wish we could have hung out with the disciples. I mean, just imaging a scene like this in my head makes me long to know what that day-to-day disciple life looked like.

That’s not the point here.

We need all 4 Gospels. They each speak to us in different ways. We relate to them at different seasons, for different reasons. They convey similar messages, and they have the same hero. But we need them all.

And, friend, we need your work. Please don’t hold back on us. Please don’t let that same idea said 1 time, or 100 times, or 100,000 times keep you from saying it too. If your heart is crying out to make something, someone here on this earth is crying out to see it.

I want all these good podcasts. I need all 4 Gospels.

It’s quite a different world for creating than even when I was little. The payoff is almost certainly less these days, and your field might be overflowing.

Yet look at all the new ways and forms you have to share your own brand of creative. Look at how we can share, and manage, and find all the good work that exists in the world.

If you feel a calling, and you’re hesitating due to a fear of oversaturation or redundancy, don’t. If I like your message, I want to hear it in as many ways, from as many places, as I can.

Remember, there are 4 different ways to read the one story of Jesus and they’re all beautiful.

The time of musical chairs is over. Join the folks who kicked this off, put your work out there, and find your place. There’s so much room on this pillow.

What are you feeling called towards right now? Is there a desire in your heart to create that you’re struggling to fulfill it? Please share, and we’ll see if we might find some encouraging words for you!

Prayer Face

Do you know the hardest job at church, in my humble opinion?

Hospitality? This is no problem. I pride myself on a warm welcome and smacking a nametag on anyone who holds still for 5 seconds.

Reading the Psalm? Nah. Be loud. Project. We’re all focusing on reading only the part in bold. Don’t worry about it. You’re nailing this.

Leading Prayers of the People? Slightly more challenging – the whole saying prayers out loud in front of people. It can make anyone a bit sweaty in the armpit area. However, we’ve all got our eyes closed. Easier to feel less self-conscious when folks aren’t looking at you, and you, in turn, aren’t looking at them.

It’s children’s hallway where I struggle. This is the grind-my-teeth-and-do-it-anyway-because-we-need-people volunteer work. It would be selfish, I remind myself, to only do the volunteer work I enjoy, especially when there’s so few people wanting to do this job currently.

Children’s hallway requires a 20 minute early arrival.

You need to be functional enough to guide parents, who might be first-timers, to correct classrooms, and then to the actual sanctuary. all while they have a small person (or two or three) making a lot of sounds and grabbing at them.

You miss most of the church service, arriving, it appears, just in time for Communion, and Dismissal.

The requirements go on. Can you maintain friendly chatter while helping parents check in their children? Attach a sheep-shaped nametag to the back of the shirt of a wiggly small person with a safety pin without drawing blood? Spot kids racing through the hallway, who are too old to be there in the first place, and send them packing with a “how would Jesus feel about this behavior?” side-eye? These are necessary skills.

I can do all these things, and not even through Christ our Lord, as scripture says. These are just in my own wheelhouse. The Lord can put his attention on the Big Game happening over our heads in the sanctuary.

Then the hustle and bustle dies down.

The little kids are in classrooms. The parents are in the sanctuary.

And there I am, alone, for the next hour. In a hallway.

I pace.

I read through that day’s Scriptures on my phone.

I pace some more.

I peek in doorways and “aw” to myself over the 2-3 year old’s driving plastic toy trucks into each other.

I listen to babies scream from the 0-1’s and smile because it has been a verra, verra long time since I dealt with that, and now it’s endearing instead of completely life-draining.

As time drags on, I repeat these patterns. Pace, read, pace, peek, pace.

Last children’s hallway for me, after forever and a day had passed, I peeked in the sanctuary. Parents would be coming to get kids any second now. I was sure of it.

Wrong. They were smack dab in the middle of Prayers of the People.

First, I’ll ask – do all churches do this? See, I have no idea, because this church, our Anglican church, is the first place I landed and stayed. In case, you’re like me, and thinking “prayer whaaaa?” allow me, another stranger in a strange land, to sum this up.

Prayers of the People happens about middle of the service, right before Confession, Absolution, and then Passing the Peace. P of the P has a leader, a volunteer who reads a pre-written prayer request list. Think less “pray for my Aunt Alma’s hip replacement” and more “Pray for the world.”

This is when folks in the pews can jump in. People have the chance to speak up, to express prayers out loud, from their seats. That’s when you get that shout-out for Aunt Alma in.

Some folks leading P of the P bobble it. They read the prayer script (for the church, for the world, for those in need, and on like this) like robots. The pause is about the time it takes to blink. The monotone is sleep-inducing.

Some folks take a little license, hold that spotlight a little too long. Essentially, if you’re ever brought a poem up to the lectern and read it to begin or end P of the P, I’m talking to you.

Some folks nail it. They make a safe space. They pray when the room stays silent, and people are afraid to speak, providing a lead, a guidance. They pray from the heart and not from the head. They know how to put periods at the ends of sentences. They watch the room, they look for those about to speak.

It’s beautiful.

Most of the praying is internal at our church.

During this last banishment to hallway, when I popped up to see: are we there yet? I saw P of the P in full swing instead. Up close and eyes wide open.

You see, I’m normally one of those people with their eyes crammed shut, alternately praying, and worrying if I should say my prayers out loud.

Today I could see it all in front of me.

When Dorothy was a baby, I watched her sleep all the time. I mean All. The. Time. Borderline stalker.

I did practical things, too. I got housework done. Called people. Sat down and stared out a window, with a book on my lap.

Yet watching her sleep was so satisfying. Her round cheeks, her lips pursed, how she slept with her head turned in one direction. Dorothy’s arms would be raised, her fists resting on each side of her head.

It made my heart hurt, these moments. It was childhood innocence and vulnerability on full display. A child at rest, and unaware, completely safe and sound.

Popping my head up in the window during Prayers of the People, I saw that all over again.

I saw a man in his mid-sixties, on the first pew, his head bent, his eyes closed tight in concentration, his hands resting on his knees.

I saw a pre-teen boy, the sides of his head shaved, a swath of long hair flopping across his forehead, with his face pointed up, his eyes screwed shut, and his lips moving quickly, but silently.

I saw relaxed faces, closed eyes, a sea of prayers.

For a moment, it was tiniest glimpse of what we look like to God.

I ducked away from the window. When Dorothy was little, I watched her sleep. As her mom, it fell under parents’ rights. I go through all the noise and commotion pre-sleeping; my reward is some time basking in your sweet quiet.

These weren’t my children, and it wasn’t my place to watch. They’re God’s. That’s His time, and His space. For about 10 minutes, He’s guaranteed a captive audience. After our noise and commotion throughout the week, He gets to bask in our sweet quiet.

That little glimpse was a gift. Seeing all of us, with our eyes closed, our faces turned upwards, relaxed, at peace.

Today, if you take a minute to screw your eyes closed, let your face relax, and say a few words to God, I hope you remember: that’s how you look to God. You look like my sleeping baby did to me. You look like that an older fellow, and that boy. You look dear. You look special. You look beloved.

If that’s hard to imagine, consider this: I’m an everyday person, with a short-attention span, and a long to-do list. If my sleeping baby can move me to stop, and stare, what does your praying face do to this awesome and extraordinary God?

Get your prayer face on, friend. It’s a beautiful sight.

Built Like a Farmers’ Market

At our farmers’ market this weekend, setting up our tent, and watching those around us set up theirs, it occurred to me: farmers’ markets hold an element of the miraculous.

Consider the scene.

Grown-ups, in various stages of adulthood from barely at the legal drinking age to well into retirement, and from many walks of life, come together to create a temporary mall. For many of the people here, us included, this day provides the majority of their income for the week.

These folks already live off-the-grid, employment-wise. Vendors participating in a market chose professions of self-employment. They deliberately took on the risky yet liberating world of solo-work over the day-in, day-out safe space of traditional employment.

People of this ilk might be described as “scrappy,” “independent,” “determined,” “ballsy,” or “bull-headed.”

Take all these folks, give them each a 10×10 foot space in which to work, ask them to set up next to direct competitors, and to do it all before 9am on a Saturday.

The fact there aren’t weekly fistfights during each set-up is amazing.

That’s not what happens at all. Instead, I watch one truck pull up, a few minutes late. In her mid-60s, Janice farms alone, and every Saturday makes an hour and a half long drive from Kentucky, one-way, to participate in this market. Where she lives doesn’t offer anything comparable. Starting her day at 5am, to load-up and head to market, work until 2pm, then load back up, and take the 90 minute trip back home happens to be the most profitable option for her.

The farmers around her are set up already. Jim and another farmer, our friend Brian, jump in to help Janice unload her tent, coolers, tables, baskets, and other gear to the sidewalk. As soon as her vehicle is unloaded, she hops back in her truck, and parks off-site. She will walk back and then sets up, thus keeping the line of cars waiting to pull in, and mark their own space, moving. Everybody helps, everybody wins.

Market Square, Market Street, and Union Ave become a place of cooperation, collaboration, and camaraderie.

This magical land did not appear on its own. Every step of this dance, from the 7am start time, to the non-negotiable 2pm break down, originates from a source.

The market managers lay the stage, create the script, and direct the scene.

With clear, weekly emails, a Vendor Handbook as thick as an Ernest Hemingway novella, and a demanding application process, the Market Square Farmers’ Market takes itself, and it’s role in our local food community seriously.

The magic lies in the diligence, the dedication, and the rules created and enforced by the market staff.

When this farmers’ market opened in 2004, about 10 vendors set up on the concrete-floor stage at the center of Market Square. Sixteen years later, the market roster boasts up to 150 vendors, with anywhere from 70 to 120 different small businesses participating every week, over a 3-street radius.

Market Square’s inception and incarnation started with a team of volunteers. That team shifted to a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2014, currently employing 4 permanent staff, 1 AmeriCorps VISTA, and 1 grant-funded position, along with a full board of directors, and 3 dedicated market volunteers.

In its first year, Market Square Farmers’ Market opened Saturdays, May through November. In 2005 they ventured into a Wednesday market as well, and in 2007 they expanded to include a holiday market in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

It now oversees two Market Square Farmers’ Markets, the New Harvest Park’s Thursday Farmers’ Market, a shorter-seasoned Sunday farmers’ market, a winter farmers’ market, along with the holiday market, and a few swanky fundraisers per year.

This started on a stage in 2004, with a few volunteers who believed passionately in this dream to offer farmers a place to sell their vegetables, meats, dairy, and eggs directly to the public here in Knoxville.

Whether or not Charlotte Tolley, the market’s original leader and now executive director, intended to grow this market to the scope and size it is, I couldn’t tell you. I worked for Nourish Knoxville from August of 2016 through August 2017, and saw some of the inner-workings of the group responsible for this tremendous gift to our farming community. The job was temporary, made possible through grant-funding, and it catapulted me up one more rung of the local food ladder, putting me that much closer to all the goodness the land here in East Tennessee offers.

This firsthand experience of the market gives me an entirely new appreciation for what happens here in Market Square, each Saturday morning. There’s a mystique of walking into a space, with all the pieces and players in place.

There’s a magic to watching those pieces and players come together.

Saturday mornings, at 6:45am, walking up to Market Square, before the market started, I felt chills nearly every time. Like a circus before the workers erect the big-top, here sat the opening scene of a show we carried out over the next 5 hours. By the time shoppers arrived, the market is affixed to the place, nearly seamless in how well tethered to the space it is. That none of this existed only 2 hours earlier rarely occurs to patrons. It certainly never occurred to me before this job.

Vision provides a tricky lens through which to look. Had Charlotte, on that stage in 2004, held this scene in her mind, would she have been able to live into what she saw? She’s one of the most determined people I’ve ever met, and yet I doubt it. Were she given some divination into 15 and 16 years later, the weight of that might prove more stressful than helpful.

If God lifts the curtain, and shows the plans He has, can your human mind grasp it? Perhaps if you’re an old Testament prophet you could, though I’d point out, those fellas were typically the messenger, not the ones spear-heading the campaign.

The dream and the step-by-step work produced this market today. Holding a vision, bent towards helping farmers, with the limited space, resources, and workers available, slowly a reality took shape. Slowly, slowly, slowly, one step, then the next, then a reach, then the next.

As first a shopper, then an employee, and now a vendor of this market, I have such a strong affection for it. These days, the crush of the crowd threatens to overwhelm my more introverted sensibilities. It’s a far better fit to find me behind the table in a booth, selling products we’ve grown, versus helping to pilot the direction of the market itself. I prefer to have my hands on the everyday work position; we need the Charlottes of the world to provide the “scope for imagination” as Anne says, in Anne of Green Gables, to forward this kind of dream.

We don’t have to go big or go home to get started, friends. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, following dreams, and seeing where a vision takes you.

The market started because some scrappy, and, because I know them, I’ll add, ballsy folks took what was available and got going. Time, energy, and showing up at the appointed time, at the appointed place, each week propelled that teensy market from there to here.

So today, if you don’t have every step in place, don’t worry about it. You have a vision, or a desire, and that’s what you need to get going.

As someone who would L-O-V-E to have my own, personal, OT prophet regularly texting me the next thing ’bout to happen, this is hard advice for me to chew. This means, I need real life stories to tether me back to earth as much if not more than anyone. I need those practical life application tips these stories provide.

Have the dream.

Let go of knowing the whole dream.

Get started.

Keep going.

Stretch when needed.

Stretch when you don’t want to.

Stick to it.

Something good will happen.

These words are encouraging me today. Sharing them here with y’all seems like a good next step. Got your dream? Excellent. Get your volunteers in place, find your concrete-stage, and see what you can produce.

Magic happens. I see it every Saturday.

Got a story of your own to share where dreams and little steps made something good? I’d love to hear it! Trust me, I need all the stories I can get. And if you have had any prophet moments, please toss that in here. I haven’t entirely given up on getting my own Samuel at some point.

Friday Favs #2

This is the one fav I have right now. I have others, but this podcast, all 4 shows that are thus far released, Dolly Parton’s America, is thrilling my ears, my brain, and my heart right now. All of it.

Dolly is a Tennessee treasure, and, as a Tennessee native, she’s someone I essentially dismissed until these last few years. It’s easy to take someone for granted who essentially builds a theme park in your backyard.

Friends who are Dolly fans, and the delightful young adult novel Dumplin’ and subsequent Netflix movie (recommend them both) opened my eyes to the sheer joy that is Dolly Parton.

Whether she’s laughing at herself for wanting some dummy to stick around (Holdin’ on to You or Here You Come Again), singing about her childhood in East Tennessee (Coat of Many Colors and My Tennessee Mountain Home) or just giving it all she’s got with Kenny Rogers, in the name of love (I know, even Islands in the Stream- it’s fantastic), she’s so purely feeling every word of it. And I am. Right. There. With. Her.

This podcast came recommended through another podcast I love, and it hooked me in the first one. The second one, the story of Dolly and Porter Wagoner, undid me. The third was fine, but the fourth, linking the producer’s immigrant father, who grew up in rural Lebanon, and happens to be a friend of sorts to Dolly, to Dolly, who also grew up in a small, rural place – that one blew my mind. How did he make neighbors of Lebanon and Sevier County, TN? I don’t know, but he did. And it works.

This podcast is a beautiful reminder that by getting small, and focused, we can talk about big subjects.

Also, just listening to Dolly talk makes my heart feel so big. It could be the grayest day, and she laughs, and tells a story, and the world brightens up.

I’ll include this photo below, as it’s probably the closest I’ll ever find myself to Dolly in person. Even as a cardboard cutout, for the book donation program she runs, Dolly is a delight.

The Glory of Pizza

Being brand new to Jesus, and the Bible He comes with me, means each and every dive into those pages almost always shares something brand new. I wanted to say “reveals” but revelation suggestions deep investigation. Let’s not get carried away: each verse, each chapter, each book, it’s all for the first-time-interesting. I’m literally smacking the page with a “will you get a load of this? Amazing!” We’ll call a spade a spade; this is not scholarly study.

So stumbling across this bit of scripture during an online bible study in an online Bible study was a jaw dropper.

The Lord my God has now given me rest on every side; there is no enemy or crisis.

1 Kings 5:4, CSB

Good. Grief.

I set the good book down, and immediately shot that message to a friend, a woman who has not one but two different surgeries set up for her two different sons in two weeks time. That’s how that played out. The littlest had surgery scheduled some time ago; the oldest now needs surgery due to a sports injury. His appointment got set the same day as his little brother. How much say-so do the parents have in this situation, as they navigate getting both their boys to two different surgeries, while also seeing to those two daughters they have? Zero. That’s how much. They have zero say-so in this scheduling.

Back to that 1 Kings. In my text, I hoped to convey, “This. For you. And for me. This is straight from the mouth of someone who GOD was talking to. Let’s not treat that like nothing. Let’s hold onto it.”

It’s been a season of crisis for her. It’s been a season of enemies for me. Neither of us could have anticipated the duration. I think we’ve each grown used to living in a defensive posture.

This reminded me of a friend who’s walked through her own rough patch. When our kids were little, my dear friend, Heather, lived in crisis around her son’s health. Think, I dunno, years. He had horrendous allergies to many, many foods. It sounds benign to diagnosis it: allergies.

Except how do you send a 3 year old to preschool, knowing it only takes one case of a peanut butter sandwich and the poor hygiene habits of a fellow toddler to send your child into anaphylactic shock?

It took a couple of years to sort out all the issues. After that it was the simple and exhausting task, of learning to limit and control his food, to cook almost entirely at home, to bring meals for him with her when they went out, and to monitor how he did with the ‘healthy’ foods, a list that constantly changed depending on how his little body could process it. “It was insane,” she’s told me since, able to laugh a little now. “I’d think ‘if only we could order a pizza!'”

That’s close to the sum-total of life so often: if only we could order a pizza.

The comfort and ease of pizza. Delicious, hot, affordable food delivered right to your door. I hear her laugh over it, and I hear the struggle too, of this one simple, silly comfort being denied to her family.

Most of us aren’t asking for crisis; most of us aren’t asking for an enemy. Yet they come. And we cope.

Solomon knew enemies, and he knew unrest. I love that he acknowledges this state of peace. I love that he takes time to see this time as special because it isn’t fraught with struggle and difficulty.

For times of struggle, it’s an encouragement, isn’t it? If we are in the thick of crisis or enemies, remember: there will be a time when this is no longer the case.

For times of peace, acknowledge it: there is rest right now.

The gift of peace. The gift of pizza. It’s not small, these times of mundanity and simplicity. It’s worth praying for when it’s not here. And it’s so worth recognizing and praising, as Solomon did, when it is here. There’s peace and pizza, Lord! You are so good. I’m holding up this promise for my friend and myself tonight. If you need it, I hope you do too.

What has peace time looked like for you? Please comment below, and share a story!

Landing Spots

Today was hard from the moment the chimes of my iPhone wake-up alarm sounded. A quick list includes: the sudden cold and heavy rain; missing some former coworkers known for their no-holds-barred costumes, and festive Halloween snacks (no surprise, this was the children’s room at our downtown library); and kiddo being with her dad for this trick or treat. That last one, as last things often are, was the real kicker. Not the day’s fault, but it was sucking before it even got going.

Chasing down paperwork on these dreary days, still figuring out my place at the farm, dealing with lawyers (even when they’re on your side)- I’ve got my hands up in the air, saying, ‘alright then, Lord, what? Could you throw down a little mercy? Just, you know, a crumb.’ (It’s my understanding God loves sauciness from us humans, especially when accompanied by a touch of sarcasm.)

After that quick, salty prayer, I go right back to working as hard and fast as I can. While yelling a little. This morning I couldn’t even yell. I was just flat-out exhausted. In the kitchen at work, I put on The Pop Cast with Knox and Jamie, hoping to sponge up some of their good energy, and hunkered down. It didn’t work. Jim came to see me and the ‘hi’ died on his lips when he saw my face. Instead, he braced himself, and asked, ‘oh babe, what’s wrong?’

Nothing. Except I had seen a job posted, a steady, boring job, and there was a salary, and I know some folks who work there, and maybe I should look into it because then we would have one steady income, and who cares about the long hours, or dull work, nothing is ok right now. Because I’m worried about family situations, and I don’t know what I’m doing here, and we’re going into a slow season at the farm, and that just straight up scares me, and I’m trying to write more but I barely have time, and you and I just got married, and we’re figuring all that out, so I’m thinking maybe I should get a new job.

This is how my mind works. Sometimes, if one piece isn’t working, or even several pieces, my response leans towards burn it all down, and see what you can recover from the ashes.

It doesn’t work out as well as you might imagine.

Jim listened and hugged me and considered. He suggested I might be getting ahead of myself – just a little- by suggesting we should give up farming altogether. And this job probably wasn’t, he posited, the only good option available ever, so maybe I didn’t have to jump on it rightnow, as I thought might be the case.

‘Maybe you should take a break?’ This was his thought. ‘Just, now, today. It’s been a long week, there’s been some weird stuff. Just take a break.’

‘I’m so tired,’ I managed to say, without crying, ‘but I can’t. I don’t have time for a break. And it’s fine. Just nothing is working.’ At that point, I cried.

One thing has been working this week. Well, to be fair, lots of things, but that wasn’t where my attention was going. But there was a little bit of good news, in the form of our hens.

We got chickens this year, and, after Dorothy gave them some baby-chick cuddling, we set them up in their coop, and said, basically, ‘here’s your food, here’s your water, there’s the door, best of luck.’

We fill their food and water, put them out in their yard during the day, close them up at night, clean their coop about two weeks after they need it, and collect their eggs. It’s farm life. We don’t have time to be babying no birds.

The chickens did fine. Except for one grotesque instance of hen-on-hen bullying, they’ve worked out their circumstances by, I’m figuring, the power of deduction. The food isn’t here, but it is here. The water is not there or there, but look, this metal container I’m standing on seems to have something liquid in it. Ooo, a rail to grip. That’s where I want to sleep. This is what I imagine their mental processes to be as they grow themselves right up.

The only struggle has been their eggs. Where to put them?

We were slow to set up nesting boxes, so the hens were left to their own devices. Here, behind this door? Ok. This corner? Yep, go for it. That ledge up there? Sure, why not?

This wouldn’t work for the long term.

Jim came up with a plan for milk crates. He used 4 plastic boxes, cut one side off each crate, and fixed them to an inside wall, a few feet off the ground.

There the crates sat, while our chickens laid eggs everywhere else inside the coop. And once in the outdoor yard.

Occasionally an egg ended up in a nesting box, almost like a hen just couldn’t help but lay the egg, on her way to the corner.

We thought placing eggs in the boxes might give them the idea. Hint, hint, right here.

Nope. The chickens didn’t flinch. They put those eggs wherever they wanted, including one lady who would fly to the top of the open feeder, hunker down inside, and leave her eggs there.

That’s what, or who, gave Jim the idea.

That hen, her little head and fluffy tail poking from the top of the feeder, her plump body filling the opening, she looked so – no other word for it – cozy. She was tucked in.

He added hay, and a top to the nesting boxes. ‘I don’t know if they’re going to like it,’ he said, while he and I studied his adjustments. ‘It looks pretty tight. Will they fit?’

It is tight. They do fit. They love it. Talk about cozy on a rainy day. And guess what?

Success.

They just needed the right environment to feel good about leaving those eggs. Now the eggs are in one safe spot, less likely to get trampled by us or other chickens, and the chickens have their happy place.

Tonight, I followed their lead. Jim and I made dinner, and then I set up my nesting box.

These are what I need. Clearly, I’m more high maintenance than a chicken. And when I get up, there won’t be an egg, but there will be (please, Jesus) a calmer, kinder, more rested human person, ready to show up in the world, and act like one.

A hen figures out most of her life based solely on instincts, and imitation, at least our hens have. They wanted a cozy spot for the purpose of egg laying, and when it wasn’t immediately evident, they made it work. Behind a door. In the far corner. On the high ledge, at the back, where only one chicken could reach. Private, quiet, cozy. No one told these hens that’s what they needed. No adults showed them, either. They just walked around, living life, watching each other, and figuring it out.

I missed a lot of cues we’re supposed to pick up when we’re growing up. Like how to rest. How to find a cozy spot and land. I see other people doing it, but even then, I’m not so good at imitation.

However, if I’m lucky, and I listen, there’s usually good human people around who help me put these pieces together. People, like Jim, who have a better sense of what rest, and breaks look like and how to do them.

We can’t all be as bright as chickens, but, like chickens, we all need a cozy spot to land. Praying you find that rest and your own nesting box today, friend.

What does your landing spot look like? I’d love to hear how you find rest in this busy world of ours.