Five Minute (Saturday): Opportunity

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Gentle Reader,

One of these days I’ll get back to composing these pieces on time. This week, I blame the cold/allergies combo that’s wreaking havoc on my body.

Kate says: opportunity.

Go.

Music makes me happy. I enjoy singing (though I don’t claim to be good at this), dancing (don’t claim to be good at that, either), and watching people who can rock out on instruments do their thing. I’d like to learn to play the violin, banjo, or drums; maybe all three, just for the fun of it.

The music we like reveals a lot about us. Melody and harmony help us to express emotions and thoughts we otherwise couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. So because I am severely lacking in wordsmithing ability today (too much Nyquil flowing in my system, I guess), I take the opportunity to share with you some of the songs I return to again and again.

Worship

Amazing Grace

I know. It’s a cliche. This genuinely my favorite hymn. And it doesn’t get better than this version.

Rock of Ages

Another hymn. Fantastic version.

Love Like This

My own singing voice is low and raspy, so I can’t not love Lauren Daigle. Plus this song…it puts words to an emotion I often feel, but cannot describe.

You’re the Only One

Simple. Profound.

Rock

Layla

It’s Clapton shredding the guitar. I am never not here for that.

Please Mister Postman

Asking me to choose a favorite Beatles song is…it’s impossible. But I’ve been very into this early cover lately.

One after 909

A bluesy, honky-tonk song, written during the early Lennon-McCartney years but not recorded until the tempestuous Get Back sessions. They sound like they’re having a good time here.

Jet

McCartney, post-Beatles. Just a fun song.

What is This Category?

Recently I’ve gotten into some indie, folksy stuff. Spotify doesn’t know what to do with me. The algorithms ping around from Metallica playing with the San Francisco Symphony, to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to psychedelic rock and then to this. I don’t know what to say, other than that I just like it.

Glory

River

Finally, the Introvert’s Anthem

Here

Stop.

Tell me, what kind of music do you like?

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Little Tortilla Girl

Gentle Reader,

This one is for my goddaughter, the spunky Riley Rae. When she was a baby and decidedly hangry, I held her in a headlock in order to get her to drink a bottle. We’ve been best buddies ever since.

********

A beautiful early spring evening in Bellevue…or Seattle…or wherever we exactly and technically were. (I have no sense of direction or place). The first day of Northwest Ministry Conference had passed by in a blur of workshops, conversations and a fast lunch trip to Chick-fil-A. (My first time eating the Lord’s chicken nuggets, complete with dipping sauce. Vegetarianism went out the minivan window. Hashtag worth it, never mind the liver complaining later). As the sun began to dip in the distance, calling the street lamps to flickering life, we sat, a tired but merry band, twenty-odd strong, around brightly patterned tables, noses filled with the scents of Mexican food. Or, at least, what passes for Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest (my Southern friends were about to object).

In a 1988 interview, author Ursula K. LeGuin discussed her daily schedule, noting that, after 8:00 p.m., “I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.” I had reached the stupid point around 6:00 p.m., very much ready for sleep but knowing that it was hours away. So, when my dearest Riley, who was sitting to my left, asked, “Auntie Marie, where is my food? How long does it take to make a quesadilla?,” I should not have been surprised (though I was) when the spirit of my father and uncles overtook my mind and the silliest of sentences came flying out of my mouth.

“Well,” I replied. “They have to go and hunt the tortilla, you know.”

Her eyes went wide. “That’s not true.” She giggled, gaps where teeth used to be on full display. “That’s just not true.”

And thus the Saga of Tortilla Hunting began.

“They really do have to hunt the tortillas. Where do you think they come from?”

Riley had no answer.

You see, tortillas grow wild in the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. They are bright pink in color, though a few green ones have been spotted. The green ones are the aged tortillas, the wise ones who have escaped capture. Trouble is, most tortillas are not intelligent, so they don’t listen to their elders, who try so hard to teach them how to live free.

“Don’t eat the guacamole,” they say. “Don’t trust the avocados.”

Put a little guacamole in the bottom of a tortilla trap and they come flying. They spin like flying saucers and make a strange, indescribable flapping noise. They only have one eye, so they don’t see well at all, often smacking into things in their quest to find the guacamole. Ah, but their sense of smell never fails them. They descend into the trap, mouths, at the center of their bodies, directly tied to their stomachs because tortilla anatomy does not include an esophagus or other digestive parts, wide open.

Clang!

A leprechaun, dressed in ninja clothes and riding a unicorn, slams the trap shut. Only ninja-leprechauns can hunt tortillas, you know. And of course they ride unicorns, because what else would they ride? How silly, imagining a leprechaun astride any other steed or using public transport. What do you think this is, a made-up-on-the-fly story? Honestly.

The leprechauns have to open the traps in order to stuff the tortillas into plastic bags, suitable for selling in local supermarkets. Some tortillas, stunned but determined to live, make their way out of the traps, flinging themselves against living room windows, but their stomachs are so full of food that they can’t hang on, and they fall into the waiting arms of the leprechauns below. (Oh, I forgot to mention: The unicorns that the leprechauns ride, they are smaller in size, able to hide in bushes. They are known in folklore as “Stealthicorns”). This is what happened to Billy Scrimshaw Tortilla.

Billy was a young tortilla, just venturing out on his own. Saddled with student loan debt that he could never hope to pay off, Billy nevertheless planned to be the first Certified Public Accountant for the tortilla community. Again, tortillas are not intelligent; they don’t use money, and their average lifespan is less than twenty years, so why Billy went to college in the first place is a mystery. And how did he get into school? Aunt Becky bought him a spot at the University of Southern California.

Billy had heard the stories. An elder who lived at the bottom of a gnarled tree had warned him. But Billy couldn’t help himself. The smell was too strong. His hunger, too great. He rose from the fields one clear night (for tortillas are nocturnal), driven by the powerful urge to eat. And eat. And eat some more.

He heard the sound of unicorn hooves. A soft laugh. (Leprechauns are rather bold in their hunting). His eye flicked this way and that. A brief thought flitted through his minuscule brain. He knew he should stop. But the guacamole was homemade. And it didn’t have any cilantro in it because cilantro is disgusting and tastes like soap. In a daze, he descended into the warm red circle, mouth watering.

“That’s not true!” Riley cried, arms flapping. “Tortillas don’t fly!”

“They do! There’s a documentary about it, but you may not have access to it due to parental controls because it’s a little disturbing.”

Fits of laughter, not at all proper manners for a restaurant setting. I began to speak in my Mary Poppins accent, adding a level of gravitas that made it all the funnier. But perhaps the best part was the contribution of the other adults present, who added little bits and pieces to the tall tale, or at the very least kept Riley wondering if, just maybe, there might be some kernel of truth in what I was saying.

Hours later, we were still going.

“You ate him, Riley! You ate Billy!”

We dissolved into too-exhausted-to-care giggles on the hotel bed. Tears dripped from my eyes. This was so very stupid, but the sort of fun that we both needed in that moment.

A brief pause while she styled my hair. Bangs askew, curls a mess. Didn’t matter to me.

“Auntie Marie,” she said, “let’s take a selfie.” Of course I obliged.

She approved the photo. “You need to send this to that guy in the red shirt from dinner, because you are the biggest liar I know but he is the second biggest.”

“That guy” added some crucial elements to the story. He also dared her to stick her tongue on a piping hot fajita pan.

Of course I sent the photo.

The night wound down. We lay on the bed, snuggled under the blanket, nothing at all to watch on television. Riley’s older sister, the delightful Emery Mae, sent some texts to her friends. Baby Aurora Jade fought sleep in their mother’s arms. I could see Tauni, my sister from another mister, in each of their faces. And in that moment, in that hotel room, hanging out with four of the ladies I love best in the whole world, I thanked God for relationships that stretch back years and will grow into the future. For friends who are truly family.

A knock on the door. Time for the them to head out. I hugged Riley and whispered in her ear, “Be sure to watch for the tortillas. They migrate this way in the spring.”

She pushed me and bounced off the bed, laughing once again.

********

Riley, or, to use your “Monty Python” name, Johann Sebastian Gambolpotty of Ulm, this is a night I will never forget. I am so, so glad that you are in my life. Watching you grow and learn is a joy. Being your auntie is a privilege. I look forward to many more days of ridiculousness.

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In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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Sketches: Dirt

Dirt

Gentle Reader,

It’s really hot. It’s stupid.

So, let’s talk: dirt. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain).

I could have been a farmer’s daughter.

My great-grandparents owned a farm in Idaho, near but not quite in the panhandle, where there is a town named “Onaway” because it’s on-a-way to elsewhere. He played on a traveling baseball team part of the year. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse at one point. My dad and his four brothers spent many hours out at their place, forced to bake something every Saturday morning before being released to run through the fields and orchards, chucking rotten apples at each other and jousting on bicycles.

My dad’s first job, around age 14, was working for another farmer, driving tractors and moving big, metal sprinkler poles. The kind with wheels attached. (Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about). He’s the quiet sort, so it didn’t bother him to be out on his own, working in the dirt.

It doesn’t bother him now, either. Though the great-grandparent’s farm was eventually sold and it never worked out for my own parents to buy land and raise animals that would never be slaughtered because we would get too attached to them, he still works in the dirt. Mows the lawn, prunes the roses, plants trees. He hates the heat this time of year (as do I), but he finds being out there, taking care of things, relaxing.

Perhaps the funniest thing he’s done when it comes to dirt and plants was the time he allowed an offshoot from a rosebush to grow in the middle of the yard. Drove my mom nuts. She wanted him to cut it down. He mowed around it week after week, wanting to see what it would do. The fact that it annoyed her was just a bonus, of course.

My mom would always plant geraniums or petunias in pots, lining them up neatly on the stairs that led up to the porch. When I was about 13, I began helping her with the process, learning how to gently spread the roots and place them in deep, soft, wet soil so the plants wouldn’t go into shock. I found it very soothing – me, the not-outdoorsy, doesn’t really like to get dirty person, completely fine with plunging her hands into a bag of potting soil. If my memory serves correctly, one year, I think the last year we lived out on the two-and-a-half acres in the single-wide trailer, I did all of the geraniums myself. They always looked so happy in their terracotta pots, deep green leaves and red blooms reaching for the sun.

I turn to my own plants when I’m feeling anxious. There’s something immensely satisfying about chopping a woody rose cane to the ground. Nothing better than watching the vegetable garden spring from seeds to delicious food. I could do without having to weed, but even that isn’t bad when done in the morning, when it’s cooler, while listening to music or a podcast. I send the ladybug army in to eat all the nasty, destructive little creates. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds flit from tree to tree, the ones that we snagged at a giveaway because we bought our house at the wrong, worst time and had no money to put into landscaping. Admire the baskets hanging from the pergola, fresh vines draping over following a ruthless pruning.

The dirt, and what it produces, is delightful.

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