Friday, November 25, 2016

The Mitford Years

I have discovered a new treasure. A Christian author who has touched my heart, made me laugh, brought me to tears.

Jan Karon.

Her bestselling series, which was brought to my notice in passing, is THE MITFORD YEARS. The series has at least eleven books, plus several extra treats. I am in my fourth book.

The stories start in a small village in North Carolina, with Father Tim, a “country preacher” of the town’s Episcopalian church, as the main character. We learn to love his family and a host of kooky, heart-warming townsfolk.

We struggle with Tim through anger, irritation, illness, breath-taking sorrow over his sin. We share his love for the people around him, the new things that come into his life after sixty.

We meet a homeless man with a mission, and watch the shared ministry for Jesus of Father Tim and a Bible thumping Baptist minister.

Tim shares his prayers and love of Scripture with us, his fears and weaknesses.

There’s a little romance, but not so much that it turned Murray away. I gave him one of the books for our anniversary in August, and he’s already ahead of me in reading through the series.

A sweet elderly woman of wealth, who gives lavishly to the church and community, but counts her pennies for bills around the house.

A lady who is bipolar, and goes around wearing her dead brother’s uniform from World War II. Her husband, who’s stayed with her for over forty years, because, “I gave her my word, don’t you know.”

People who wrestle with past sorrows, hardships, and sins, and find hope. Some slowly, some more quickly.

So many treasures, much more than I’ve been able to share, and I’m just in the fourth book.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It's Up to Us Now

I wanted to share an article my daughter wrote for her newspaper yesterday.

I told Rebecca how proud of her I am, and I reminded her that all this is not what Jesus wants.

I believe as Christians we need to let people know that this is not what we want either.

It’s up to us now

by Rebecca McKinsey, Staff Writer
November 11, 2016
I’ve cried a lot since Tuesday night.
A lot of people have.
We’ve cried as we’ve heard heart-wrenching stories of hatred, of ignorance, of ugliness.
They’re pouring out this week at alarming rates.
Someone approached a Muslim woman at a store, pulled off her hijab and told her to hang herself with it.
A man yelled at a woman using sign language, “This is white America now. Take your retarded self and go somewhere else.”
One man came up to a woman he didn’t know in a bar, grabbed her and kissed her, then defended his actions.
A man found a sign on his windshield: “White power. … Deport all niggers, Muslims, faggots, wetbacks.”
People are setting rainbow flags, representing gay pride, attached to people’s homes on fire.
A group of white men called an Asian man “bin-Laden” and threatened to burn him on a cross.
A Muslim woman who needed a heart monitor asked for a doctor’s letter so she could prove to people that it wasn’t a bomb.
Four white men approached a black woman and threatened to kill her, called her a waste of air and said they would have shot her there if there weren’t witnesses.
Women have had strangers grab them by the crotch in public.
One Muslim woman had a knife pulled on her.
People are wearing shirts stamped with the words, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
And in schools, with this country’s kids, this is happening as well.
“Kids are scared and bullies feel emboldened,” wrote one elementary-school mother online.
Kids in schools are running through the hallways, screaming “white power.”
They’re waving Confederate flags and calling black classmates the n-word.
One student told another, “Shut up, you illegal immigrant!”
Kindergarten students are telling their Latino classmates to “go back to Mexico.”
Others are telling black classmates to “go back to Africa.”
Kids are drawing swastikas on their school bathroom walls.
Some Muslim kids are going to school for the first time without their hijabs, too scared to wear them.
One student who still wore hers had it ripped off by classmates.
Many students, as young as elementary-school age, are chanting at school, “Build a wall!”
White students at one school yelled at black students, “Cotton picker … Heil Hitler.”
At one school, white students lined up and formed a physical wall to block Latino students from entering.
Multiple male students of varying ages have told their female classmates that they’re going to “grab them by the p***y.” That that’s OK now.
One 10-year-old student had to leave school because a male classmate turned words into actions and grabbed her vagina.
One message scrawled on a school wall: “Yall black ppl better start picking yall slave numbers. KKK 4 lyfe.”
The fact that anyone is needing to use the phrase “make our schools safe again” is heartbreaking.
When people say they are scared, this is what they’re talking about.
When people can’t stop crying this week, this is why.
If you’re reading these stories, these sentiments, and you agree with them, shame on you.
Don’t be the person who believes that the existence in this country of people who are different than you is something that needs to be “fixed.”
Understand that your whiteness and your straightness and your maleness doesn’t make you better. More important. More worthy.
This week, I’ve seen people laugh at others’ fear, at their tears, at their reactions, and that’s sickening.
Because the truth is that way too many people who aren’t middle- or upper-class, who aren’t white, who aren’t straight, who aren’t Christians, who aren’t men, are scared.
I’ve seen that too often this week, with my black friends, Latino friends, gay friends, poor friends, female friends, friends with disabilities, friends who weren’t born in this country.
They’re scared.
And that breaks my heart.
It’s hard not to feel buried and hopeless as a member of one of those demographics.
And I’ll be the last to tell people to calm down, to not be upset, that they’re overreacting.
Because I’ve shed tears this week. I’ve felt physically ill this week.
But I’ve also seen beauty this week. I’ve seen people banding together. I’ve seen love.
I’m choosing to believe — to hope — that this hatred, this ugliness, this ignorance isn’t representative of our country. Of most of its inhabitants.
Prove me right.
Recognize the fact that what makes us great isn’t our skin color, where we were born or who we’re attracted to.
Decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
His words are as relevant today as they were then.
So let’s be horrified by actions like this and make sure that they’re not the norm. That they’re not what’s accepted.
Let’s volunteer. Let’s give to organizations that are doing things we believe in. Let’s talk to people who are different from us, learn from them, embrace them, not tear them down. Let’s smile, and laugh, and give, and love. Let’s be kind. Let’s recognize that hatred and division don’t get us anywhere, and they’re not who we are.
And for everyone who’s scared? I get it. But we can’t give up. We can’t crawl into a hole. We can’t leave.
I’m scared, too.
And if you’re not scared, take a moment, open your eyes, look around and acknowledge that many people are.
Make sure you’re not the reason why.
Be louder than this.
Be better than this.
Let’s not make hate the norm.
We can’t let it win.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Prettiest Girl in School

I wanted to share a short story I wrote recently.

He was hunched on the ground by the gravestone when I walked up.
He raised his head, and the sorrow on his face punched me in the stomach.
Grandpa straightened his shoulders. “Your mom must’ve sent you.”
I hesitated, then sat on the ground near him. “She had to go to work. She … she said you’d probably be here.”
Next to the gravestone Grandpa sat by sat a clay jar, permanently attached for receiving flowers. Inside he’d stuffed two dozen red roses.
“It’s our fiftieth anniversary. Your mom tell you that?”
“Yeah.” I’d caught that, somewhere between arguing with Jason on the phone and trying to convince Mom to send somebody else.
Grandpa brushed a leaf off the gravestone. “We got married the day after we graduated from high school. When she was twenty-three, she died giving birth to our third baby.” He looked directly at me. “That baby was your mom. She never knew the woman who carried her in her body for nine months. Who prayed for her every day until she was born.”
I lowered my gaze and picked a blade of grass.
“Lizzie, look at me.”
I raised my head.
Grandpa smiled, even as tears came to his eyes. “You ever take a good look at that wedding picture of us your mom’s got on her piano?”
“Sure … I … sure, I’ve looked at it.”
“You look just like her. Whenever I look at you, I see her just like I remember her.” He swallowed. “How old are you now?”
“Mmm hmmm.” He leaned back and braced  himself with his hands on the ground. “You gonna marry that boy? Jason?”
“Maybe.” I flicked my eyes away from his. “I don’t know. We were just arguing. He just graduated, but I’ve still got a year of school.” I pulled a blade of grass and ripped it in two. “He wants to take a job in Arizona. That’s a long way from here.”
Grandpa leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees. “Twenty-three. With three little ones.” He shook his head. “I was a busy papa. Family helped a lot, but it was tough. I had to work, and feed them. Help them with homework, take care of them when they were sick.”
He raised his shoulders. “Then Lucy wanted to take piano lessons, and the boys got into basketball. Back and forth to lessons and practice, games and recitals. Teachers’ meetings and …” He grinned. “And meetings with the principal.”
The phone in my pocket buzzed. Probably Jason. I clenched my jaw.
“She was the best looking girl in high school.” Grandpa took in a long breath. “That’s how I remember her. And the classy young lady chasing around after two little boys.”
He smiled, then reached over and tugged my shoelace. “Is that young man good to you?”
“He …” I cleared my throat. “Yes. He’s good to me.”
“Do you love him?”
The phone vibrated again.
I shifted my position, drew up my knees, and wrapped my arms around my legs.
“I love him, Grandpa, but … but I’ve never lived anywhere else. I even picked the college right here in town. Maybe that makes me a wimp, I don’t know. I’m scared to move so far.”
“Does he love you?”
“Oh …” Jason’s face appeared in my mind, and my face ached from the tears that wanted to come. “Yes.”
Grandpa turned his head to gaze into the woods. “I always missed her, you know? When Ronnie broke both his ankles. When Brad graduated from medical school. When your mom and dad got married. When our first grandchild was born …” He choked.
I scooted closer and touched his shoulder.
Grandpa rubbed his face. “The doctor says I need to retire. Take better care of my heart.” He patted my knee. “I’m only sixty-eight. Doc says the surgery went well. I could live a lot of years yet.” He turned to face me, his eyes dark with fear. “I’ve always missed her, but never like … What am I going to do now?”
A spasm jerked his whole body.
I laid my hand on his back. Dear God, help us
His voice rasped. “After the kids were out of the house, I kept busy with work, with the church. But now … retired … Who’s going to sit on the porch with me? Who’ll have coffee with me and read the paper? Go on road trips to visit the boys. Help me do volunteer work.”
He covered his face with his hands. “She’s been gone forty-five years. Of course, I don’t grieve anymore like I used to. But … oh Lizzy, I’m so scared.”
We sat together, quiet—I don’t know how long. A woodpecker chattered somewhere close by. A butterfly flitted in front of us.
Grandpa lifted his head and looked at me. “Arizona, huh?”
I nodded.
“That sure is a long way from home.” He straightened up. “But just think about all the modern technology. Email, Skype, quick trips coming from either direction on a plane.” He managed a soft laugh. “And, of course, cell phones. Like the one that keeps rattling your pocket.”
My mouth opened, then closed. I smiled and squeezed his hand.
He reached to the flower vase and pulled out a rose, laying it on top of the stone. “Come on.” He stood up. “Let’s get out of here. We don’t need to linger here any longer.”
I looked up at him.
Grandpa grinned. “Besides, you’ve got a phone call to make.” He held out his hand for mine.
I took his hand, but before standing, I leaned and read the engraving on the stone. “Elizabeth Manning, beloved wife and mother, prettiest girl in school.”