Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Shadow

Throughout scripture, God uses visual images to help us connect with intangible concepts. Sometimes I'm too thick-headed to get them, as simple as he's made them. But I got one today.

I took Dodger to the backyard this afternoon to take care of some "business." While waiting for him in the 91 degree heat of the sunshine, I gradually made my way toward the shade of a large oak that stands on our property.

I never even stood under the tree. I didn't have to. I simply stood in the shadow of the tree, and it was 10 degrees (or more) cooler; I was no longer exposed to the grueling torture of the excessive heat. Yes, I was still vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun, but that sense of misery and oppression that the Texas heat can inflict was gone.

Psalm 91 says we can "rest in the shadow of the Almighty." When we're there, we're still exposed to the damaging attacks of the Enemy and others, but we can cast off that sense of misery and oppression by recognizing how great his love for us is. And, he casts a very long shadow that never turns (James 1:17) so there's plenty of room for us all, forever. And we don't have to move or adjust our location to stay with its covering.

The rest of the psalm continues, explaining the benefits of being under God's wing, letting him be our dwelling and refuge. I'm sure there will be other days I'll gain greater understanding and appreciation for those images, but for today, I'm going to enjoy his shadow; it's a wonderful place to hang out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Half-page Homework

As promised, here are my homework assignments from the conference of 150 words/half a page. Every word had to be one syllable unless 1) it was a proper noun, 2) it had 5 letters or less, or 3) it was a contraction. I think I managed to abide by those rules. Don't count the words, though, I used the "half a page" guideline.


My spouse is the best friend I have, for he makes each day a joy. We laugh and smile. We share our hurts and those things that grieve our souls. Plus, we share praise and prayer to our great God.

It took a while for us to meet and marry. He turned one score and twelve the day after we got hitched. I was one score and six. But since most of our friends were hitched while we were still in school, we each dealt with being alone for many years.

We were great friends while I was in grad school and shared that kind of love for five years. God's time is ideal, though. I was through with school, and Darin was ready to begin a new level of work at school when we felt God’s call to marry. Since we had to wait so long, we know the value of each other both for these last eight years and ever.

Since then, I’ve never wished for any thing other than to walk the road of life with Darin and the Lord. Sure, it’s had some bumpy spots, but my faith in them both is strong.

My hope as a young woman was to marry my best friend. I got to do just that, and I am the most blessed woman I know.


We have a new puppy, Dodger. He’s a black ball of curls and fur, with dark brown eyes and a happy stump of a tail. He loves to lick the faces and hands of all, and is so glad to meet new ones that he will tinkle all over the floor [I don't like the word "pee," so I made this exception]. He’s lived with us only one month, and he is a true part of our lives. We’ve been on our trip twelve days, now, and we miss him.

His best toy is a stuffed gray hare. He puts it in his mouth and growls, “rrrrr,” while he shakes his head from left to right.

Dodger was close to being trained to go “out” when we left. We gave him a treat when he did what he should. I hope he won’t lapse when we get back. [He has.]

For now, he spends each day with Duane, Mary, Taylor and their dog Gizmo. The dogs like to play and hump each other. That’s gross; they’re both males.

We’ll be home soon, Dodger.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jesus' Ideas

Reading this morning Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calming the sea), I noticed a simple element of the story. It was Jesus' idea to go to the other side.

Profound, huh? It speaks volumes to me. You see, I generally err on the side of believing that all the "storms" that come into my life are my fault. I've done something wrong to "deserve" the difficulty. From time to time, that is truly the case; I'm living with the consequences of my sin. But that isn't always reality. There are occasions when I'm genuinely living in the will of God, confessed up, and he has an idea that I implement and suddenly "a furious squall" (v. 37) arises.

I don't for one minute believe that Jesus wanted to "teach them a lesson" about trusting him, even though I do believe he knew what was about to happen. I think he just went along for the ride. I say that because Jesus doesn't say how he wants to get to the other side, he simply gives the directive. "They took him the boat." The disciples chose the mode of transportation. I'm not suggesting they chose poorly. In fact, evening had come and they were probably thinking expeditiously, "We've got to get to the other side before it gets any darker." It could be Jesus preferred to go by land (he was a carpenter, after all, not a marine biologist), but he let them chose their favorite method (1 of every 4 disciples was a fisherman). On the other hand, perhaps their hurry to beat the clock wasn't what Jesus initially intended. Maybe he wanted to walk around the edge of the lake so he could encounter more people in need of teaching. Who knows? The point isn't their travel, though. The point is that Jesus didn't want to stay in the same place, and he doesn't want us to remain in the same place spiritually or even physically, either. Stagnant Christianity is probably the number one killer of a life lived in faith and submission, and thus, the number one killer of churches. When we're individually and corporately content to stay where we are, no one gets effectively ministered to, and we miss out on all kinds of blessings, as well as the chance to observe his amazing power at work (v. 39).

Notice, it doesn't get much better on the other side. The minute they step out of the boat, they're met by a demon-possessed man (5: 2)! Great. But Jesus doesn't let them get back on the water, either, not until they are asked to leave town (5:17). Jesus' call to be his follower means we sometimes get to choose various means and methods to be obedient to his ideas, with no sure promises about the ease of the journey. I think he's just glad when we do something, make some move to getting to where he wants us to be. Doing the things we love and have interest in, for His kingdom's sake, is a great place to start. Even if a storm arises in the middle, at least we were headed to the "other side," and I think that makes him very proud. The results are then up to him alone.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The End.

We're back in Tyler, awaiting our wonderful friends who have agreed to retrieve us from the airport on this hot and humid day. It was a great trip, and we have so many memories from the 1710 miles we put on our rental car.

We started yesterday early - I guess we wanted to fit in as much as we could - visiting the Parthenon (a Nashville art museum), Vanderbilt University and the Opryland Hotel, all before going to church at Two Rivers Baptist. Following worship, we returned to the Opry Mills Mall for Darin to find a souvenir Tennesee Titans shirt. Then, we headed back to the Country Music Hall of Fame for a banjo demonstration, which we didn't get to see, because we misread the flyer - it ended at 2 PM - we thought it began at 2. Ooops. So, we made our way to Ryman Auditorium where we saw Minnie Pearl's hat and stood at the stage as though we were about to be "discovered." (Notice, we're home, no discovery.)

We bought a cowgirl hat for me (pictures later) and enjoyed the best BBQ and hamburgers Nashville has to offer at the Wildhorse Saloon, then headed back to the hotel to pack up and rest up for the trip home today.

We did have a lot of fun at the ticket counter this morning. We had two suitcases we knew were wavering at the 50 lb. margin (you have to pay extra for bags over that weight). Sure enough, one of them was 47.5 lbs, the other was 53.5 lbs. A game ensued as we shifted items from one bag to the other, trying to balance the weights to 50 lbs or less. As you may have guessed, if you like to do mental math, we had one extra pound. So, we found a bag of toiletries to cram into the duffle bag and several t-shirts to shove into the golf bag! We had another passenger cheering and an employee laughing as we managed to bring it all into balance. Glad we could make an impression before we left.

P.S. Where, O where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and thought I found true love.
You met another and pfft, you were gone.

I forgot to mention one of my other favorite parts of the visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame: Hee Haw! We got to stand next to (part of) the cornfield from the show and see clips from the many years it aired. Grandpa Jones spectacles, suspenders and vintage Civil War boots were there, too (he was my favorite character). Sa-lute!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nashville News

We've been in Nashville two days and had a great time exploring the city. We've both been here before, but never for this length of time together.

We got in yesterday too late to visit any sites, so we went to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Eh; we weren't as impressed as the critics.

Following the movie, we visited the "Aquarium" restaurant at Opry Mills Mall. The place has two tanks filled with tropical fish and other sea creatures. You're paying for a lot of atmosphere, but it was really cool.

The best part of today's time around town was the visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I must admit, although I genuinely like country music, I'm a nominal fan at best. But I thoroughly enjoyed the history, music and discoveries of today's time at the museum. Our visit also included a stop at RCA's Studio B, the place where numerous chart-topping hits were recorded between 1957 and 1977. I'm sitting at the piano played by Elvis and Roy Orbison, just to name a couple. I don't care who you are, or what style of music draws you, touching that kind of history is incredible!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Serendipitous Spontaneity

We've had such a great time just in the 6 hours or so since we left Ridgecrest!

On a lark, we decided to take the scenic route from Eastern North Carolina into Tennessee. Generally heading toward Nashville, we drove far enough west to intersect with the Blue Ridge Parkway which then connected us to US 441 - the drive through the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest. Undoubtedly, the best decision we've made on this trip!

The mountains were amazing, and the drive was breath-taking, but our favorite part became our spontaneous decision to stop and hike a few feet down to the "river" (even in Texas we'd call it a creek). There, we found these gorgeous little rapids resulting from the springs and melting snow waaaayyyyy up in the peaks. We dipped our toes into its iciness, and filled our water bottles with the fresh mountain water. Delicious!

Once out of the park, we drove into Gatlinburg where we saw "Hillbilly Miniature Golf." Again, spontaneously, we stopped and enjoyed an incredibly unique experience and a really fun game. Once we rode the tram up the steep hill, we gradually played each of the 18 holes down the mountainside. I think we tied; we left the score card in the car, and we haven't tallied it!

Added to all this wonderment, we drove through seven tunnels! I love my spontaneous husband!

Last Day

I enjoyed the final morning of the conference, especially my devotional writing class (again) and the keynote speaker. He used an illustration about Theodore Roosevelt I'd never heard. Teddy lost his wife and mother on the same Valentine's Day. In his journal, rather than writing the details of the events and circumstances, he simply put an "X" on the page and wrote, "The light has gone out of my life."

He left his house and went on an extended hunting trip to grieve and cope with his loss. But while on that trip, he found a renewed calling and purpose in his own existence, recognizing that if he allowed himself to hide in obscurity and "nothingness" he would have no purpose or pleasure ever again. He resolved to actively pursue life and all things that mattered to him. You know the rest of the story.

Our keynote speaker's encouragement to us was to "step up to the plate." Regardless of the setbacks, discouragements and failures, try. Something. As he said, "No home-runs have ever been hit from the dugout." Even if I never publish a single word on printed paper, because of rejection or even quality, at least I was in the game.

Good words, huh?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day #3 Cont'd.

I did end up leaving that class, and was glad for the exchange I made. It was much more helpful, informative and enjoyable. Plus, the instructor, a proofreading editor, seemed to think I was a grammar scholar, so it was a small boost to my ego. So what if I was sitting directly in front of him, and since he's hard of hearing, mine were the only answers he heard to the questions he asked? I'll take what I can get.

This evening, Darin and I hung around the room instead of attending the general session. He watched an episode of Andy Griffith (and maybe The Three Stooges - I can't remember) while I finished my writing homework, an assignment from my morning class. We were to write a devotional to be turned in for consideration in publication of the devotional magazine, The Upper Room. I reworked the story about my Grandma sitting on a snake; we'll see how it goes. I feel pretty good about it.

We had one other assignment, as well. We had to write 150 words/half a page about a topic we care about deeply. BUT we could only use one-syllable words. There were a few exceptions: proper nouns, contractions and words with five letters or less. It's harder than it sounds, or at least harder than I expected it to be.

I actually did it twice. The first I wrote about Darin, but I'm afraid I'll get emotional if I have to read it aloud tomorrow. So, I wrote one about Dodger the Dog just in case. I'll post them later with a note about my final day of the conference.

Day #3

So far, so good today!

Darin and I shared breakfast with the girl from New York I met the first night. I guess she decided she couldn't beat us friendly Texans, so she'd join us!

Heading from there to the morning session, she and I listened to the keynote speaker give her life story. Lovely lady, but I'd rather read the bio.

Nevertheless, the next seminar was great joy as we continued to discuss devotional writing for publication. I'm really connecting with this subject matter, can you tell?!?! Then, I had lunch with the instructor of that seminar only to learn that she was an "Almost Christian" from Abilene Christian University. She, of course, addressed the fact that I was a "Hardened Sinner" from Hardin-Simmons University. A not-so-subtle rivalry between our Abilene universities. I also got to meet her husband, a delightful and jolly man (I mean this in the truest sense of the word). He had a gregarious smile and contagious personality of joy, and he's a truck driver. I honestly think that he's been ignored by some of the "holier-than-thou, what-can-you-do-for-me, ivory-tower-dwelling, esoteric-thinking" writers, not realizing that he's a college-educated former manager who retired and drives a truck because he thinks it's fun. [I'm in a class right now talking about run-on sentences. I'm rebelling and including that last one on purpose.]

I visited with a Children's devotional magazine editor just before this, and it was encouraging. She read something I've written for some friends of ours and said the story kept her interested and intrigued enough to want to know how it ended. That's good news, I figure!

I may have to find another class. This one's turning into an English lesson. I'll let you know.

Day #2

Not the greatest day. Peaks of enjoyment and valleys of disappointment. Got to a "Texans" breakfast at 7:30 AM only to find people I'd already met from our home state. If I'm going to get up at 6 AM, I better meet some new folks, too. [Julie is not a morning person.] - A valley of discouragement.

The morning session enabled me to evaluate my own devotional writing and find that I'm doing several things right! - A peak of encouragement.

The afternoon session was disappointing because it reviewed a number of things I learned in college and seminary, so I actually left it early to attend another class. That one made up for the other's lack of information, though. A class on Post-modernism with the topic being Wiccan beliefs and New Age practices and how the Christian Writer can be informed in addressing a culture that is open to those tenets because of a lack of absolute truth. Whew! Lots to digest, especially because so many people had opinions to share, further muddy-ing the waters. The whole time I sat there, I thought, "Darin would so be loving this dialogue!" - A valley of discouragement to a peak of enjoyment.

Later that afternoon, I sat down with Ginger Kolbaba, editor of Today's Christian Woman, a magazine to which I subscribe, and presented my piece on fear, Enough to Carry, wondering if it would fit her publication's needs. (Click here to see it.) She was gracious, but felt it needed some major changes before it would be usable for them. No big deal, it simply helped point me in the right direction. Specifically, that my skills may be best used by the Lord as a devotional writer, not necessarily a magazine contributor. The changes she said I'd need don't necessarily fit my personality and calling, but we'll see. I'm certainly not shutting the door on the idea of composing articles for magazine publication, because it may be an area in which the Lord wants to stretch and challenge me. - Let's call this a plateau on the mountain of experience.

The other afternoon session I attended was very intimate. The instructor and two students! We had a great time sharing thoughts on keeping creativity fresh without the distraction of trying to edit or "fix" things when you should be creating. It was great to have such personal dialogue, plus we laughed about all kinds of things. - A peak of enjoyment.

Then, last night's keynote speaker spent the entire 50 minutes (he was alloted 30) dropping names of authors, editors, agents and publishers. I have no idea who any of them were. I would have gotten up to leave, except I was on the fourth row. It would have been rather obvious, I think. - A valley of discouragement (ok, boredom).

I got back to the room and crashed. At least Darin had a great golf game!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's a Small World After All

My family seems to catch up with me in the most unusual places. I met a woman whose nametag notated she was from Longview, TX, so on a lark, I thought I'd ask if she was familiar with my uncle and aunt who have lived there for more than three decades. Not only did she know them, she was my cousin's roommate in college!

It's a small, small, world.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Day #1

Well, I've been "Writer's Conferencing" all day. (That's a new verb, by the way.)

Thus far, it's been a good experience. A little overwhelming and intimidating at times, but enjoyable, nonetheless. The morning began with breakfast and a devotional followed by a morning seminar session. The seminars are done rather cafeteria-style, and I was pleased with the one I picked. The leader seemed a little scattered, but she definitely knew her material, which I appreciated.

I enjoyed lunch with a former editor of Lifeway publications, Matt Tullos, and several other conference attendees (Darin was out on the golf course!), then it was on to the afternoon sessions where I learned a little in the first one and a lot in the second.

I've met a few new folks, but with the exception of those with whom I had lunch, many of them have honestly been kinda strange. Like the woman who is chronicling her mentor's life. Her mentor who has raised a number of people from the dead. Yea, I found a seat on the other side of the auditorium from the "chronicler." And then there's the fact that I'm from Texas (I guess), and people from New York and Illinois don't know how to respond to being "Texas Friendly." Come to think of it, maybe that's why I liked Matt; he lived in Amarillo a long time. (It didn't hurt that I've known his work for more than a decade, so I kinda felt like I knew him already.)

The Lord has definitely used the keynote speakers to touch my heart, though. Finding out my life is a joke (i.e. a story with an unexpected ending!) was equally as valuable as the reminder that ideas for writing are the "talents" God gives. To bury them in the depths of my computer, never developing them, is equivalent to burying them in the ground (see Matthew 25). And if the ideas were God-breathed, I'm burying them alive, an even greater tragedy.

So, I'm learning some, but being encouraged and challenged a lot. Thanks for those of you who are praying for me; the Lord is definitely speaking loud and clear.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Delightful Days

I did next to nothing yesterday and it was absolutely wonderful! We enjoyed a great breakfast of biscuits and gravy with a side of grits (yum, yum) then Darin went to play a round of golf at a local course while I stayed at the hotel, poolside, working on the Haggai Bible study lesson that's due in less than a month.

I managed to pick up a sunburn while rewriting and editing, so I'll be carrying my purse on my left shoulder, not my right, for the next few days. But the day was so enjoyable and relaxing, I don't mind the pain it brought with it. What's funny is that the pool wasn't even open for the season, yet. I lounged by a big hole in the ground! Every kid that walked by and saw me sitting there begged their parents to let them swim, until they saw the water-less pit. At that point, I got some pretty funny looks. But, when there's a beautiful breeze on a sunny, 72 degree day, I don't care how odd I look beside an arid pool.

I failed to share a picture of our entrance into North Carolina Friday morning. West Virginia's clouds had nothing on the fog that met us. We literally could not see the grass on either side of our road a couple of times. We actually were in the last few miles of Virginia when we took this pic, but North Carolina had its share of fog, too.As for today, Sunday, we visited a church called The Rock and had a great time of worship. I was impressed by the friendliness of the church; they even had greeters in the parking lot to direct us to visitor parking and welcome us to their fellowship. It's amazing how the "fellowship of believers" connects us no matter where we find ourselves. The Church, the bride of Christ, is still his whether here in North Carolina or in Timbuktu. Brothers and sisters all over the world united by One Faith, One Hope and One Baptism in One Savior. Amazing!

We're getting checked in at the Writer's Conference. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Mullet Lives!

Because it was only one of two restaurants in walking distance, we stopped in at Chili's last night for supper. Those of you who are still 80s children at heart will be happy to know that we saw not one, but two mullets. It lives on.

From One Extreme to Another

This was Andy Griffith's childhood home.
This is the Biltmore Estate.
We saw them on the same day.

Now I know that Andy Griffith probably lives in a much larger and grander house today than the one he grew up in, but the incredible dichotomy between these two structures was almost overwhelming to take in, especially in a period of less than 7 hours.

George Vanderbilt invested millions in his mansion (no records were kept on the expenditures; he didn't need to know), and, thankfully, was a kind and generous employer to those who worked for him. He paid salaries according to what servants were paid in metropolitan areas (not for rural North Carolina), and his wife, Edith, personally visited with every servant to learn the names and ages of their children in order to have a Christmas present for each child.

Yet, when I think of their incredible lives of opulence and extravagance, I wonder what they took with them from this life. I hope they each had a relationship with Christ, but that wasn't covered in our tour. They had fine tapestries to remind them of the great virtues and an entire bedroom dedicated to paintings of the Virgin Mary, but did their appreciation for spiritual matters extend beyond what they could touch, see, or even do? I guess I'll never know if they sought the Lord in their "prayer closets" or worshiped in song at the top of their lungs from the majestic mountains of their acreage.

I hope they did. And no matter what circumstance financially I find myself in, I hope I will always acknowledge the Lord as the giver of every good gift, and celebrate him in the middle of it all. Knowing that he is with me in every extreme and I can take only him when I depart this life.

By the way, isn't this the fanciest McDonald's you've ever seen? It was right outside the entrance to Biltmore!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Road Trip

We think West Virginia is beautiful. We think it is anyway. This was about all we saw of it. We thought it rather odd that we never saw the sun shine the entire time we were in the state, and it was still raining as we drove through the tunnel into Virginia (where it stopped raining only 14 miles in). Perhaps our friend Lydia, a native West Virginian can explain that to us someday. I remember she told me once that it rains pretty much every day in WV. I believe her. Seriously, though, in spite of the clouds and rain, the tree-lined mountains held such amazing grandeur, and when we stopped for gas (still $3.95/gal.), we met a very friendly man. He told us that his town usually averages around 12 inches of rain by this point in the year; they’re already up to 20, and that was before today’s storm.

There was one rather unpleasant surprise. On Google Maps, the southern part of I-77 looks like any other interstate highway. And, as it is the only route from Charleston through Virginia to North Carolina, it certainly was the one we wanted to take. The state of West Virginia now has $3.75 of our money. That part of I-77 is a toll road. I realize it’s not the $5.00+ that some states charge for shorter distances, but it did catch us unawares. By the way, what does “No Cash Transponders” mean? My guess is, “Have your money ready, there are no ATMs.” Thankfully, we had plenty of loose change to give the toll booth operators, so we won’t be arrested or fined for running the gates. (How ya doin’ there, Misty?) ;-)

We did enjoy traveling two of Virginia’s tunnels. We have so many of those in Texas, you know. I promise, I really do like the sunshine. My enjoyment of caves and tunnels doesn’t seem to indicate that, though, does it?!

Leaving Cincinnati this morning, we followed Hwy 52, the Ohio River Scenic Byway. It follows the bend of the river, and we saw some beautiful countryside. We also came across Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace in Ohio and a covered bridge in Kentucky. Except for those stops, Darin drove from 11:30 AM to 7:30 PM, pausing only for gas and stretching o’ the legs. We even ate snacks of crackers and dry cereal for lunch so we could keep moving. Good thing we like touring the country. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to see the USA in our Chevrolet. We rented a Chrysler.

Indiana to Cincinnati

Apparently, cities see us coming and decide, "Oh, it's Darin and Julie, let's have unseasonable and unusual weather."

When we honeymooned in Boston, they had a heat wave; when we visited Washington D.C. they had record low temperatures. Today, in Indianapolis and Cincinnati we froze our tail-feathers in the cold and rain! Thankfully, we're a little more prepared than those other trips, so we won't be wearing the same clothes in all our pictures!

Today at Indianapolis and tonight at the ball game in Cincinnati, Darin and I were each wearing two shirts, a sweatshirt and a jacket. Now, I will fully admit that we are thin-skinned Southerners, but it is MAY for goodness sake!

Cincinnati turned out to be prettier than I expected. Lots of rolling hills and tons of trees. Downtown had an industrial feel, of course, but we found the fountain from the opening scenes of WKRP. (The opening scenes are all either of us have ever seen; our parents wouldn't allow us to watch that show.)

We really enjoyed eating at Rock Bottom Brewery. Now, don't jump to any conclusions - it was 3:30 in the afternoon; we didn't get liquored up. They happen to make fabulous hand-brewed ROOTbeer in the restaurant.

The view from our hotel has been amazing. (Definitely the most expensive place we'll stay on this trip, thanks to

Oddly enough, we found a fellow believer at the ballpark. The woman who took the photo on the right said, "Praise the Lord" when Darin and I liked the picture she'd taken! Oh, and the reason I'm laughing so hard in the picture at the top is because that was one of more than 20 attempts to take a picture together without help. I'm a picky photographer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Baseball Bats and Bungalows

We started yesterday morning in Louisville, visiting the Louisville Slugger manufacturing plant and museum. (Which was no easy feat, I might add; we had the hardest time finding it downtown!) But the Lord supplied us with a fun surprise when we found a parking space – nearly an hour was already paid for on the meter! Darin tested bats like those used by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Jackie Robinson. (I personally didn’t know there was a single difference between one bat or another, but apparently they vary by many ounces and stylistic preferences.)

From there we drove to Indianapolis observing classic Indiana farmland along the way that looked like scenes from the movie Hoosiers! Our first stop was to visit the home of the 23rd US President: Benjamin Harrison. That’s his house you see to the right, a beautiful Victorian. Oddly enough, we met a couple from Baton Rouge, where of course, I have family. Even more interesting was the fact that he taught computer science at the University of Texas years ago! Although the Harrison bungalow (OK, mansion) is currently under renovation, so it’s not at its peak asthetically, we got to walk into some rooms that are normally off-limits, so that made up for the lack of wallpaper in some of the rooms.

Next, we visited Lockerbie Square, a charming historic neighborhood of Victorian homes and bungalows. That’s a picture of Darin in our rental car on one of the cobblestone streets. I don’t think I’ve ever actually driven on a real one, before!

Desperate for gasoline, we filled up at $3.95 per gallon (OUCH!) as we traveled to see BIG “bungalows” belonging to the Indianapolis Pacers, Colts and Indians (their stadiums, that is) before finding our hotel for the evening. We’ve already found the Speedway, and we’re planning to visit it today.

No deep thoughts to share today, just enjoying the diversity of this amazing world designed by our wonderful Creator!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Confessions of a Spelunker

I truly enjoy caves. I don't think I'd make it as a professional, but that's OK; there aren't any caves within a nearly 200 mile radius of Frankston, so it's not like my services are needed on the geological front.

Nevertheless, today, Darin and I visited the Mammoth Cave National Park near Bowling Green, KY, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. (I was even skipping I was so happy!) After a 2-hour, 2 mile hike (it wasn't about making good time, it was about not twisting an ankle), we resurfaced, more deeply grateful for the detailed hand of God in Creation. We all know he took intricate care in design of beaches and mountains, oceans and valleys, but underground?! I'm not so much a detail person, but God definitely revealed his desire to bring all things to completion by creatively arranging things underneath the surface of the earth.

We took the "Historic Tour" which was led with the intent of informing our group about how the cave system (the largest known cave system in the world, covering nearly 400 miles of trails/paths) was discovered and used throughout the last centuries. The aspect that most fascinated me was a large "room" called the "Church." In the 1800s, a group of Methodists met there for worship services during the summer months. Since the temperature in the cave never varies from about 54 degrees F, it was a much cooler alternative than remaining above ground. What delighted me were the acoustics of the "room." I wanted so badly to burst into a song of praise and worship, just to experience what I know they felt as they sang more than 100 years ago. Each parishioner would carry a lantern with them into the depth of the cave (Darin and I figured we were about a 1/2 mile in), and the deacons would set the lanterns on "shelves" to illuminate the space while they met for 4-5 hours (the pastor was known for being rather long-winded).

Two other aspects of the cave we enjoyed were known as "Fat Man’s Misery," a long, snake-like winding narrow path no wider than 18" at it's greatest point, and "Tall Man’s Agony." Even though it was necessary for Darin to get on his knees through that part, he had a great attitude about it, laughing and crouching like the rest of us.

We truly experienced darkness, too. When our guide, Jason turned off all the built-in lights, his flashlight and lantern, I couldn’t even see my own hand in front of my face. He said several years ago, a man was stuck in the cave for 39 hours in its complete darkness and silence. He began to bang rocks together and sing just to keep from allowing his mind, eyes and ears to play tricks on him. When his rescuers found him, they congratulated him on so wisely providing ways for them to find him. He assured them it was not for their sake, but his own that he was doing those things. He was trying to assure himself that he was OK, alive and not in danger.

I've remembered that all afternoon. Is that what people without purpose and hope in Christ feel like? Are they afraid in the utter darkness and silence they feel and are making all kinds of noise with their hearts and lives just to feel like they're still OK, alive and not in danger?

Honestly, since I've been a Christ-follower since childhood, I've been blessed not to know that sense of desperation. But, I'm so often guilty of judgmentally observing the actions and words of those who are lost, rather than recognizing that they may be simply crying out in their darkness and silence for the God who is the Light (John 8:12). He knows how dark it is for those who can't even see their own hands in front of their faces. The question is, "Am I waving my hand to offer them nothing in their darkness, or am I holding out the light of Christ?"

Tough question. Some days it has an unpleasant answer, unfortunately. Spelunking's only fun when there's a light by which to see. Living life on top of planet earth is the same.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Under His Watchful Eye

Apparently, for the first time in his short life, Dodger met a earthworm today. He was having some "outside" time (while I was inside getting a few things done without a puppy underfoot), when I suddenly heard numerous and forceful barks coming from the back porch. Leaving my work to investigate, I found Dodger nose-to-nose with an 8-inch earthworm. I don't know who was more frightened, the earthworm or Dodger. With my presence now near, Dodger felt brave enough to paw at the worm, then pick it up in his mouth. I don't think he liked the wiggling sensation, because he spit it out pretty quickly. Nevertheless, his tiny stump of a tail was wagging ninety-to-nothing, and it was clear he was happy as could be with his new discovery.

I've thought about that all morning. This world holds exciting new things for Dodger in the simplest places and most average days, and he is most willing to explore and experience them with our watchful eye over him.

Could it be that I've let the "yuckiness" of the old, mundane parts of life steal the vision and excitement for the new? Am I more content to be unhappy (barking madly) in my uncertainty than explore, taste and see the unfamiliar? Sure, the new experiences may bring wiggling sensations that I don't like, but at least I know that I'm under the watchful eye of the One who loves me most.

Darin and I will be leaving this Sunday afternoon to go on a two-week vacation. Part of our trip includes a Christian writer's conference I'll be attending at Ridgecrest in Asheville, North Carolina. To be honest, I'm terrified. People will be there as attendees who actually have books published, give autographs and travel around the globe to discuss their works. What in the world am I doing? Will I look like some novice with no clue? More accurately, am I even capable of grasping what they'll teach? Will I meet anyone to hang out with, or will I be so freaked out and overwhelmed I'll clam up and turn on my shy persona? Do the seminars that say "for beginners or pros" really mean for greenhorns like me or is that just to make me feel better so I'll attend?

Welcome to my world of insecurities.

Or, in my trepidation, will I explore, taste and see the unfamiliar? Sure, this new experience has already brought wiggling sensations that I don't like, but I've got to trust that I'm under the watchful eye of the One who loves me most. So, ready or not, here I go. (I sure hope this will taste better than an earthworm, though.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Love Story

Most of us have relationships from the past we'd rather forget. Today, however, I celebrate one I will always remember and hope to celebrate for a hundred years more. Eight years ago, Darin and I were married at the First Baptist Church of Joshua, TX.

Ours is a somewhat unconventional love story. I was playing catcher and he, running from third to home, thought that I wouldn't be able to catch the ball 'cause I was a girl. He was wrong.

It wasn't his love that bowled me over that afternoon, though; it was his 6' 10" frame that knocked me to the ground. As I turned to tag him out, his flailing* elbow made contact with my head, causing me to tumble down and drop the ball. After running the remaining 400 yards* to home plate to score the run for his team, he returned to where I lay, unconscious*, to make sure I was OK.

We actually didn't see one another again until a couple of years later, 1995, when he served as my supervisor on a summer missions program called Youth Led Revivals. I'd just graduated from college, planning to attend seminary that fall, and he, a fairly recent seminary grad was able to share some of his insight and experience with me. Those conversations sparked a friendship that has lasted more than 13 years.

That's why I smiled this morning when I saw todays' devotional passage: 1 Samuel 20. The story of David and Jonathan's pledge of faithful friendship. I'm so blessed to know that kind of commitment and love. One of those relationships of the past I'd rather forget was where I learned that a person I knew and the person he really was were two very different things. Following that experience, I prayed, asking God to allow me to someday marry my best friend - someone I really knew, because trust was so well established and character so fully revealed.

The Lord answered that prayer 5 years later (an eternity, it seemed) all the while developing and strengthening my friendship with Darin. Sure, there were and still are the normal surprises of marriage, but discovering that he was indeed trustworthy was not one of them.

So, to anyone, I'd say that marrying your best friend is the smartest, most secure way to do married life. And just like any valuable friendship, it must be fed with laughter and fun, time and attention, encouragement and reliance, respect and consideration, forgiveness and mercy, authenticity and vulnerability, candid openness and truth. I'm awfully glad God answered that prayer from 13 years ago the way he did.

Happy Anniversary, Darin. Thanks for the love and friendship. Thanks for allowing me to be me. Thanks for being you. I love all you are.

*Italicized words may be slight exaggerations. ;-)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Doing Things with Dodger

We've taken Dodger in the car to several places since we adopted him into our home. The first trip was to Dollar General (to buy a leash) and on to Brookshires. He seemed so nervous and completely unable to balance himself with the movement of the car. The next trip was to the church office to make the acquaintance of Judy and Valerie, our church secretaries. He didn't want to even get in the car. Last night we went back to the church for T-Ball practice where he met the team. He did a little better, but he still didn't seem too excited about the ride.

We went to the Jacksonville Walmart tonight. While I ran in to buy dog biscuits and a thousand other items, Darin patiently waited with Dodger in the parking lot, walking him, playing with him and petting him. When I got to the car, I loaded our purchases and after one last walk with Dodger (for which he earned a treat), we headed for home.

I'm in my pjs a little early this evening. Not because I necessarily wanted to be, but because I needed to be. You see, we learned something about Dodger tonight. He gets motion sick. We'd literally pulled into the garage, and Darin had turned off the ignition when Dodger threw up.

On me.

Our trips with Dodger will hereforto be limited to the Frankston city limits, I think.

P.S. After Dodger got out of the car, he left a land mine in the garage floor. Darin found it, accidentally.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Complaints in Comfortable Places

Having my sister and her kids here last weekend reminded me of one of the funniest demonstrations my nephew ever made while I was visiting in their home. He was having a tantrum he felt he deserved one afternoon. My sister had been quite clear: no grapes until the green beans (a jar of disgusting mush if you ask me) were gone. Like his aunt, he thinks grapes are categorized wrongly: not fruit, but dessert!

He'd wiggled away from the table and was standing on the tiled kitchen floor arguing with his mom. "No!"

Calmly, Jennifer reminded him again: no grapes without the green beans first.

Russ dramatically fell to his knees, prepared to beg, plead, moan and groan when he suddenly realized, "This floor is hard." So he abruptly turned off the sirens and waterworks, stood up, and slowly walked to the nearest carpeted area. There, he proceeded to fall again to his knees, this time in the lush comfort of the berber, and resume his weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I laugh even now, thinking about how ridiculous it seems. Doing what was best for him wasn't important to him, so he wanted to complain about it. However, he only wanted to complain where he could be comfortable.

I think too many believers walk this way with God. He instructs us to be obedient, but we want to do something else, so we complain. Yet many of our complaints are coming from the lush comfort of our homes in a country where we experience incredible freedoms, blessings and luxuries. We sit in our beach/mountain vacation homes or on our high seas cruises and gripe about the people at work. We hear a sermon about sacrificial service or giving and bemoan our busy schedules and tightly-stretched pocketbooks from the comfort of our expensive SUVs.

We complain in some very comfortable places. But it's more than physical comfort. We didn't "get anything" out of the sermon so we complain that God doesn't care. We were "ignored" by someone at church, so we complain that God's people are unloving. Meanwhile, our hearts are souring within, but we sit comfortably in our self-righteousness, believing that we are without fault. Never realizing that our hearts were so full of ourselves there was no room left for really listening to God's. Never acknowledging that perhaps its our turn to initiate relationship and conversation for a change.

We complain in awfully comfortable places. It's really embarrassing, when I consider that the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) includes people like Corrie ten Boom who held firmly to her faith in a Nazi concentration camp and William Tyndale who was imprisoned, strangled and his body burned at the stake simply for translating the Bible into English for the commoners to read for themselves.

God, make me uncomfortable with complaining in comfortable places. Open my eyes to reality and your true perspective of my circumstances.