Three stories – and #payitforward

Well, I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week, for reasons I don’t want to explain to you. Would you like to be entertained? Here are three snippets that made me laugh.


First

Dear Stranger in the Thrift Store:

I do not usually bum a diaper off someone I do not know. Thank you for being gracious.

You see, I had moved all of my baby’s diapers and wipes to a different purse, to give to the babysitter on the night I had a date—and I forgot to return them to my shopping purse. So that day in the store when I was smelling whiffs of diaper trouble, and whisked my girl off to the bathroom for a change, I got as far as unfastening everything and assessing the damages when I realized I was completely, entirely, 100% fresh out of options.

Several ideas flashed through my mind, none of them pretty.

Then I remembered you and your little girl playing by the toy section, and how we’d smiled at each other. Thank you for letting me come beg from you, and for refusing my money, and for offering me your wipes too as I turned away. I’m sorry that I smiled and clung to my pride and said I was okay, I’d use the paper towels in the bathroom. They were not as helpful as I’d hoped.

But I will remember you and your kindness. If you ever need one, you know where to come.

#payitforward
Shari


Second

I’ve been trying to find new coping strategies for worry.

The other day when something was eating at me I thought I would text it to The Boss, but suddenly wished I could text it to Jesus instead – as a way of forgetting about it and letting it go. So just for the kick of it I typed Jesus into the address line (53787) and wrote my little worries and hit send. I knew the message would bounce right back to me, but I didn’t care. What I didn’t anticipate was what my phone said – in large letters on the left side, JESUS, and on the right side, FAILED.

Not quite the sensation I was going for, but it cracked me straight up.

Since then my husband outfitted me with an extra number by which I can text to Jesus, that only he will ever see. I have been keeping it hot.


Third

I do not usually write here about my speaking engagements, for two reasons. First, it feels like showing off, and second, I don’t have many of them. So if you come here hoping for my opinion of your event, I’m sorry – you’re logging up the wrong tree.

But.

Last year about this time I was preparing to speak at an unusually stressful venue, for me. It was going to be a large audience, both men and women, in a Christian setting so conservative-minded that I figured if I mis-dressed or mis-spoke I might as well build my own coffin and go lie down in it, cuz it was all over.

While packing to go, I dithered about what shoes to wear. I’m not a big shoe person, so it came down to a choice of two pairs: snappy black dress shoes with inordinately high heels, which I had not worn for months – having a faint memory of discomfort associated with them – or black flats with big cream fabric flowers on the toes. I thought with a long skirt, the heels would be the less offensive of the two, so I picked them.

All went well, and I wore those shoes for two long days without mishap, until a week or so after the event when I developed shooting pains in my big toes. Both sides.

Cough.

So, if you were at the event or if you come from a church that has Opinions on such matters, I thought it would comfort you to learn that I lost two toenails to that wretched experience, and everything your pastor tells you about high heels is true. They are from the devil.

I can’t remember just now if I threw them vindictively into the trash can, or donated them to the thrift store to ensnare a new owner.

Like I said,

#payitforward
Shari

Date night conversation starters

I am aware that for every one of you who said “refreshing” on my last post, there were probably three or four who thought “alarming.” So thank you for being gentle. I’m not brewing up any more of it at the moment, and I wasn’t saying that doubt is a thing to be glorified or sought out. It comes, that’s all. And Jesus is still good.


Confession: After you’ve been married a few years, it’s easy to go on dates and talk about nothing but issues. You know. What are we going to do about this, how could we fix that, what about the kids.

This time The Boss and I planned ahead to just enjoy each other, not dive into decision making, problem solving, or task scheduling. I put some questions in a jar for us to draw from, to get our thinking going. There’s still so much to learn and to love about this boy I married.

What are a few things you would enjoy being asked to do?

What do you fear happening to our family?

Do you wish I would ____________?

What are you praying for?

What’s a story of something you did in childhood with a sibling – a story I haven’t heard yet?

What are your favorite things about us?

If you had a chance to do one piece of your life over, what would it be?

What’s the most ridiculous thing you did as a teenager?

Who are your closest friends? What friendship would you like to grow?

What’s your earliest memory?

Can you describe each of our children in three words?

If this was our last night together, what would you really want me to know?

We had our date last evening, since that’s what worked for us. Tonight is a fancy shrimp dinner with our kiddos, complete with goblets and place cards. I might recycle some of the questions and see what they would answer. A little dangerous, I know, especially “What’s a story of something you did in childhood with a sibling – a story I haven’t heard yet?” Do I even want that information?

I’m not a person who gushes about the people dearest to me. But I love this man more than anything else in the world, and considering how I feel about chocolate and children, that’s saying a lot.

And – Since I can’t share Ferrero Rocher online, here’s a readable gift for each of you. I think it’s the sweetest love story I’ve ever read, and I want to be just like them when I grow up. {From the Washington Post: A 73-Year Union}

Happy Valentine’s Day!


{Here’s a printable version if you want it – Date Night Questions.}

Monday’s confession of faith

I probably look like I always love him and I never doubt

And for many months this can be true

 

For many months the thought of him is sweet and I believe his words and am

So happy to be part of his family

The Bible is alive and the Lord’s Supper full of meaning

And when I sit in church on a Sunday morning, the sound of my own people singing hymns

Is the feeling of slipping into a warm and fragrant bath

 

But I will tell you honestly

Sometimes

I cannot stand us

Sometimes our meetings are endless and our trivialities a millstone

And our pastors insufferable

(Yes, I married one of them)

(His wife is even worse)

Sometimes God’s people are not that good

I said sometimes God’s people are not that good

Sometimes God’s people are not that good, folks

And the Lord’s Supper tastes like breadcrumbs and nothing more and

The magic does not descend

 

Sometimes it is a small discrepancy in Scripture that I stumble over

Calling into question the whole book and everything I’ve swallowed

 

Sometimes it is just life, when so many bad things happen at once that I wonder

How can it be that someone out there is taking care of us?

Would life look any different if he were nothing but a figment of my imagination?

 

And

What if he is there, but not who I always thought?

And

Can anyone really be that good?

 

Sometimes I drop into darkness and know that the world is empty of a Messiah

And that hanging all my heart on this one man to be true

Is folly

 

So I cry

 

And then

I blow my nose and think

Well

Here I am

If I can imagine a God better than the one there is, what kind of contradiction is that?

Wiser people than I have hung their hope here and found grace to live and die by it

(Some of them attend church with that pastor’s wife

And love her anyway)

 

I have not found another philosophy on earth

That makes anywhere near as much sense as the one that says

The Master suffers

And pain heals the world

 

And

Discrepancies aside, the fresh-air truth blowing out of those pages gives me reason to go on

There is more right about this amazing, historic, eerily accurate book than wrong

 

And

If he is not

There is nothing to explain the beauty

And how buds form every spring and seeds grow and the earth is renewed and people are sometimes kind

 

And I pray please, please be real. I need you to be real.

Who will I turn to instead?

 

I probably look like I always love him and I never doubt

But I believe in doubt

As the birthing stool

Of faith

 

Books worth reading

Confession: I haven’t posted book recommendations for a long while. I’ve been waiting for a theme to emerge, but instead of coalescing they seem to be diverging. I had better share a few titles now before we get any farther afield.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I bought this title before Jenny’s birth and tucked it away for a post-partum treat. Those early days of nursing and quiet, I savored a story that runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. All the ingredients are here: wartime, romance, classic literature, and the British Isles… An orphaned child, a secret society, laughter and tears in difficult times. It’s well-written and funny and heartbreaking, worth reading and re-reading. (And yes. After you read the book you will be able to say the title without feeling like you’re lost in Peter Piper Picked a Peck.)


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande

This is an important book. If you’re interested at all in the issues surrounding human aging, medical ethics, and end of life, it’s a must-read. (If you’re not interested in the issues now, you will be someday, I promise. So you might as well get a jumpstart.) Mr. Gawande, a surgeon, writes easily and intelligently about geriatrics and what it means to have lived a good life. Most of his material is story. He raises excellent questions, and, without making it sound like easy street, offers some good paths forward.


3 Day Potty Training
by Lora Jensen

This one wasn’t for pleasure, but for information. It’s short (44 pages) and not highly polished, but it’s practical and informative and best of all, it works. I tried it at the recommendation of my brother John—tried the book, that is, and then the method on our twins last year about this time. I’d never go back to my former method. Did I even have a method? This one is accident based, and focuses on positivity, presence, and praise. No negative vibes, and no turning back. Potty training is WORK and the three endless days are Hades, but it is worth it. I can’t tell you how much I dreaded training two kids at a time, but this instruction made it manageable—though I admit I still couldn’t have done it without The Boss. We had twenty-four accidents the first day, ten the second day, and one the third day!

Clarification: This title is available only as an e-book. You can use a Kindle app on a smartphone or view it on your computer.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert M. Pirsig

Reminiscent of Moby Dick, with a slow story line generously interrupted by soliloquy and irrelevant perambulations, Zen is a quiet book tackling human problems in a technological world. I love it. This is my second reading, at least.

 

 

 


The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

I’m still not sure if I actually recommend this one. I found it on a Best Books of 2016 list. It is well-written and gripping, but in many ways a dirty book, full of lines I’d rather forget. The other books I’ve read on the topic have been elaborately researched, trying to convince me of the period’s evil by their factual detail and real-life gore. Instead, this author spins a dramatic novel, imagining the railroad was a literal underground transport system, hinting at layer upon layer of horrific moral darkness, and by some exaggeration and caricature making the reader feel what it was like. It’s ugly, and he means it to be ugly. But I include it here for discerning readers because it gave me two gifts: first, a gut level sense of what it meant to be human property, and second, a good look at the underbelly of the American dream, corrupt and territorial from the beginning.


News of the World
by Paulette Jiles

Another Best Book of 2016—but this one I fell in love with. Against a wild frontier backdrop spangled with lanterns, horse-drawn wagons, and a gunfight, the author skillfully crafts the story of a child torn twice out of her culture, first captured by native Americans and several years later reclaimed by white strangers. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd takes on the job of transporting this uprooted, volatile girl hundreds of miles to her kin. The Captain is quiet and graying and dignified, long on honor and short on change. His character is the best I’ve met in fiction for years. Plus I’m fascinated by the thematic undertone of how children belong…

Speaking of children, here are a few titles for them.


The One Year Bible for Kids, Challenge Edition
produced by Tyndale

My boys wanted devotional Bibles, and this one’s my favorite. It’s hard to find kids’ devotionals with enough Scripture; most seem to be inspirational thoughts written by humans, with a Scripture verse or two tucked in for good measure. I wanted to get the boys into the Word, and this layout is great. It chooses 365 “key chapters” from the Bible, so your child is reading highlights of Genesis to Revelation in one year, roughly a chapter per day.

 


Seeing Fingers: the story of Louis Braille
by Etta DeGering

Galen and the Gateway to Medicine
by Jeanne Bendick

 

 

 

If you’re in search of worthy biographies, these two are keepers, a mix of educational and delightful. Each is written in a fresh, inviting style well-suited to young readers, and captures the period, not only the man. Bendick has written companion books on Herodotus and Archimedes.


Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

And I finally dipped into the works of Lois Lowry! Some discretion may be needed in what age of child to hand her stories to (as in The Giver, a rather dark utopia, if you can believe I stumbled upon another of those), but Lowry is a gifted author. Number the Stars is a memorable tale of courage and hope in Nazi-occupied Denmark—a story my boys enjoyed as much as I did.

 


And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong… Wait, where was I? Oh yes. It’s your turn to pass book recommendations on to me. What should I read next, please?

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In sickness and in health: a short opinion on life in the former

There are human experiences that find relief only in the writing of extremely tacky poetry – the kind that Uncle Joe would read aloud at his great-niece’s wedding, laboring under the impression that he has produced something clever while everyone else ate cake. (“Her mother and father did her adore, Little knowing what lay in store…”)

Thank you for indulging me. I’ve found there is nothing like a bad rhyme to lift the spirits.


A few years ago we vowed sickness and health

But what that entailed I couldn’t have shown ya

The germs staged a coup and attacked us by stealth

The year I had bronchitis and he had pneumonia.

 

The children were coughing, the fevers were rife.

I said “Hello, doctor? I thought I would phone ya

Hubby says when he breathes he is stabbed by a knife

I bet I have bronchitis and he has pneumonia.”

 

The comforting thing is that all of this landed

Into the first month of the new year we’ve known

So the rest can’t be worse than the scoop we were handed

When I had bronchitis and he had pneumone.

 

Unless of course somebody dies and gets buried

Or my mind says Goodbye pal, it’s nice to have known ya

…Or a cannibal sharpens his axe to debone ya

…Or the orthodox church takes a notion to stone ya

…Or the wrecker has an accident right while he’s towin ya

…Or a stranger says Here’s a black backpack to loan ya

…………………(KaBOOM)

All things considered, I’m just not that worried

Since I had bronchitis and he had pneumonia.