You are still my shepherd. My Good Shepherd. I am not lacking. You are providing for me in ways I cannot see or understand, but you are making me lie down and the pastures are green. You are leading me and the waters are calm.
Leading means moving away from one thing and towards another. Whether it is moving away from the known to the unknown, from safety to risk, or from summer to fall, you are leading.
Sheep are slow. I am slow. Movement takes time.
You restore my soul. Restoration from devastation.
You are leading me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. My life is for you. You are using me to fulfill your purpose, and I am not alone.
Whatever my even though, what can separate me from your love? Not even walking through the valley of the shadow of death ~ whatever that death may be.
Today it looks like the death of an expectation, but sometimes it’s the death of a dream, or a season, or a person, or of self. It’s a place of deep darkness.
I don’t need to fear.
It feels pervasive these days, yet it is not new. It is not a surprise, and you are with me, comforting. Your rod and your staff are close. I trust in your defense of my heart. My life. You fend off evil so that I can eat at the table you have prepared for me.
I am not an afterthought.
My life is not an accident.
You have chosen me and anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows. It is messy and cannot be contained.
Goodness and mercy follow me ~ in what direction am I heading? I am ever~moving on towards the time when I will dwell in your house forever, leaving behind a trail of goodness and mercy.
Miss McAfee taught fourth grade girls. Short enough to wear high heels all the time and stylish enough to feather her hair, I was most enthralled by her manicured fingernails. They curved down over the tips of her fingers so as to appear long while still allowing her to play the piano without clicking the keys. They were always painted.
Miss Langdon taught first grade. Wearing jumpers and clogs, with straight chestnut hair and bangs, she, too, was enthralling. Her lip-glossed smile and bobby-pinned hair were fascinating. She directed the elementary choir, which is where our paths crossed. I had been singing since second grade, and this year my sister, Deborah, would join the choir. She sang soprano. I sang alto.
Together we sang for our family and friends.
Miss Langdon and Miss McAfee were a musical team, one directing, the other accompanying. Both were superstars, in my opinion. The dynamic duo. Rehearsals involved us sitting in pews in the church sanctuary, in some kind of order, listening for our notes and echoing our director.
Miss Langdon would direct Miss McAfee to strike the interval on the piano, motioning the difference in pitch with her hands, singing each group’s note distinctly while leading into All things Bright and Beautiful or I Would Like to Know or Michael Finnegan.
Molding my arm to the curved, carved pew rest at the end of the row, I watched Miss Langdon’s directing pattern for whatever song we were singing. Sometimes she swayed back and forth, her long hair waving from side-to-side, a motion that I would try to imitate in front of a mirror at home while practicing conducting myself.
Music was a joy to me.
My dad was the minister of music at Capitol Baptist Church, and hymns were a big part of my background. So was church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. Special Music, Choral presentations, and favorite hymn night were all ways the monotony of church was broken up for me.
I was fascinated by the singers in their choir robes. Especially intriguing was the lady who sang tenor, which was obviously a man’s part in my childish mind. It was interesting to see her female face mixed in on the men’s side of the choir. I always listened for individual voices and vibratos, even though they were supposed to blend into one sound. I always watched the mouths as music poured out of them. Such expressions!
There was the male tenor whose voice reminded me of a sheep or goat’s bleating, the elderly soprano with shrill vibrato, and, of course, that woman who sang low like a man. All blended together to make a joyful noise. A joyful, slightly off-key, small church choir noise.
And I was fascinated.
Choir brought out my voice. It gave me confidence.
This confidence was further built one morning in that fourth grade girls’ classroom.
Miss McAfee passed out a song to our class for opening exercises. My Country Tis of Thee was photocopied from a hymnbook or other song book and placed into each of our hands. We began singing. I confidently read the alto line, blending a harmony with the voices around me.
Almost immediately a hand was raised or a voice was raised or some sort of alert was raised.
Miss McAfee, Julie isn’t singing the song the right way.
My teacher’s response was kind and endearing and wise.
Actually she is reading the alto line. Julie comes from a musical family and can read music and harmonize by ear, as well. She is musical.
Class continued. We sang. I felt affirmed and seen and recognized and heard.
I was musical. I was understood. Thank you, Miss McAfee.
Thursday I picked up a friend from the airport. As part of this journey I had chose to ride some escalators in Dulles Airport. Standing at the bottom of the longer one, I snapped a picture and posted it to social media.
There’s a story behind this that I must not have heard! commented a friend.
Of course, there is a story. There is always a story. Are stories.
A vivid memory of my first field trip, taken in kindergarten or first grade, to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. places me at the top of an escalator, looking down. I am not able to step on, because I am terrified. I am small enough for the chaperon to have to carry me down the escalator, which he does. I feel safe.
Questioning my parents about this confirms that it is a plausible memory.We lived in an area where field trips to the DC area were common. It could have been a family trip, since we went there often with family and friends, but it seems that I would know the difference between a parent carrying me and a safe stranger.
Family trips contain memories of not getting freeze-dried astronaut ice-cream or not eating in the cafeteria but packing sandwiches in a cooler. Family trips would have most likely involved elevators due to the number of small children and the stroller. And somehow I knew there was a chaperon. That word is in my head.
Of course, as an adult and a teacher looking back, taking young children to the National Air and Space Museum seems stressful. Did it really happen? I am grateful to have listened to this podcast on memory this week. I appreciate Dan Allender’s perspective and insight on the subject.
“But the question itself betrays an assumption we make about memory—that if memory is true, it is accurate to a degree that it would actually be comparable to watching a videotape. […] That’s not the way memory occurs. It’s not the way we even remember what we ate or who we were with for last evening’s meal. […] No memory holds a kind of videotape accuracy.”
I have an adult escalator memory, as well.
Years ago, when our eldest children were 4, 3, and 22 months, we took them, and my 8 year old sister, to the National Zoo. There was a double stroller involved, yet as with most stroller activities, the littles weren’t riding in it.
Steve, my sister, and firstborn were ahead of me trucking along to the escalator that would return us all to the Metro from the zoo. I was carrying a toddler and holding a little boy’s hand behind them.
As the three of them stepped confidently onto the descending stairs with the double stroller, I froze at the top with two small children in hand. My feet feel numb and legs itch even as I type this.
With no free hands available, I tried to pep-talk myself into taking that first step, but I just couldn’t. The little boy holding my right hand would follow my lead forward only to be jerked back at the last second.
Ok. The NEXT time a group of people steps on, I will go. They will at least break my fall if we go pitching forward. Lift foot. Jerk back. Confuse son. Vice grip daughter.
I was stuck at the top in a minor panic.
My husband reached the bottom, looked up, and immediately realized what had just happened. Going into rescue mode, he located the elevator, returned to the top, and escorted us to the elevator and safely to the bowels of DC (is that an oxymoron?) to be returned via subway to our minivan.
Over the years, I have risked and grown in my use of elevators. I do much better when I am alone or with other adults and not responsible for small children or reckless teenagers. I can even navigate a piece of luggage going up. Going down is a little more stressful.
Here you see me risking two years ago when we took the littles to DC and rode escalators at some point.
Clench a jaw!
I was reminded of this as my friend and I made the trip in reverse, she with a large rolling suitcase.
Do you want to take the elevator down?
No, I’m fine.
I took a deep breath, reminded myself of her adult status, and held on for the ride.
It’s two days before Little Mae and I celebrate another birthday. It’s a bittersweet time. The excitement (for her) of growing another year older brings with it the memory of the friend who isn’t here. Her cousin, Porter, should be here. We should have just celebrated him turning seven. They were due just days apart.
He is in heaven.
I felt it this morning. The heaviness surrounding his loss. The reminder that my child’s name means bitter grace for a reason. I wonder if this ties in with my word this year, as my heart returns to a place of sorrow.
I checked. Her nickname, Mae, means bitter, as well. Bitter or pearl. Interesting since the pearl is June’s birth stone.
So as I try to start the day in all of its crazy chaos, I am reminded that this heaviness in my heart is real. That things are broken on our side of the stormy banks. That just because time passes and seasons change doesn’t make it right or ok or suddenly all better.
Seven years ago I thought Little Mae was going to be born today. I thought that June 5 would be her birthday. Turns out, she had other plans. Birth-curious people can read all about them here.
With all of this swirling around inside, I will engage the now which has an almost-seven-year-old asking for an episode pick in spite of my many no responses and bellies that are becoming ravenous and need breakfast.
It was a week ago that life was bearing down hard, and I was creating space to be present with and care for my family. Part of that looked like spending the after-dinner hour walking to the library with Little Mae.
Her older siblings had gone earlier, and I NEVER get to go! Mae’s reading skills have grown, and books hold new meaning now, as she hunkers down in her bed or on the couch and reads.
This is a milestone in our world. She now uses me just for fun or for the hard chapter books.
Exiting the house we were faced with a choice. Which direction? I left it to her, and she chose a curious route. I followed. As we walked down the sidewalk, a little voice piped up.
I KNOW this is the way to Klines, but I won’t ask for ice cream, because I KNOW you don’t have any money.
Aha. You are correct, Little Girl. No money.
We turned left at the next corner, heading more directly towards the library.
Our visit was uneventful. I helped her find favorite books and authors and a Boxcar Children CD set to listen to in her room. The stack grew. It was time to check out. Rounding the corner was a friend, and we exchanged pleasantries. Small town perks.
I paid the miraculously small fine on Little Mae’s library card, added two books for myself and a movie for the family, and checked out. She waited at the end of the counter by the door with her backpack.
Loading it up, we exited the building. A man sitting on one of the outside benches had watched us walk in together and commented on who was carrying the load now (me). We laughed. Little Mae chose a different route home.
Part of the journey home involved a secret passage. It’s what we call this hidden wooden walkway that cuts a corner, making the walk a bit shorter. You have to step up a foot or two from one level of parking lot in the back to the adjacent lot. We did this together.
We reached the sidewalk, and conversation resumed. This part caught me off guard.
I was surprised at how you were able to, you know, step up that high step. I mean because of, well, you know, how you are kind of getting . . . old?
Sharing a birthday with your youngest creates an acute awareness of just how old one is becoming!
Yes, I am getting older, but I can still step up that high step for now.
We met up with some neighbors heading home from their own walk and enjoyed conversation. They had just celebrated a birthday, which Mae and I will do soon, so the topic came up.
Yes. I share a birthday with my baby.
Unless there is a miracle, right? A little voice pipes right up and joins in. You know, like Abraham and Sarah? They were old.
Yes. Barring a miracle, I will always share a birthday with YOU, my BABY.
This is what I have been doing these past two weeks while the blog has rested in silence.
We all have battles. There are those posted on Facebook or blogged and shared with the world. There are those shared with our closest friends and inner circle. There are those fought in silence. Alone.
There has been much going on.
A friend commented that I haven’t blogged much, lately. I appreciate that she noticed. It’s true. Not since Easter and the coloring of eggs have I posted here. Oh, I’ve written. Just not for public view. I have been present. Just not in cyberspace.
Sometimes there are seasons of private contemplation. Of one~to~one care in quiet, sacred spaces. Of removing shoes and standing on holy ground. Of work done in the secret.
That’s where I have been. In the secret. In the stillness. Fighting forward for hearts ~ my own, those in my home, those in my world.
The battle is not done.
We sang these words in church this morning.
This is My Father’s World is one of the earliest hymns that I remember learning in the small Christian school I attended at the beginning of my educational journey. I want to say that I was in second grade, but Dan Allender would remind me that all memory is fiction. I will call it early elementary school.
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.
I remember learning what spheres were, and that they were the shape of the earth and the moon and the planets in outer space, as the teacher explained to our young selves the meaning of the song.
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler, yet.
Maybe it is because I have been battling many strong, wrong things over these past two weeks that I felt the words settle deep into my bones and encourage my soul this morning. Maybe it is because I returned from a To Be Told conference yesterday evening with more questions than answers and needed the reminder that I will be equipped for the battles I am called to fight.
Whatever it was, as we sang this hymn, I was reminded of the truth that No one person is enough to achieve the work that God needs to do. (Dan Allender, 4/17/15)
God is enough. I can rest in that as I continue to fight forward.
Twenty-one years ago, the first week of March, I was hugely pregnant with child number two, due in ten days. Big sister was a toddler of 17 months.
Steve and I hung out Wednesday night, as usual. Nothing about our world was different. There were no expectations. I hadn’t gotten to the point in the pregnancy where I was ready to birth out a baby. Child one arrived three days early. In my mind there was still over a week to go.
We went to bed, alarm set to wake us in the morning for another day of work.
Thursday I woke and found Steve already downstairs. He was facing the sliding glass door which opened to the tiny back deck off of the kitchen. The deck was covered in many, many inches of snow.
Julie, look at this!
I think my water just broke.
That’s how it went down. I think my water just broke. Why else would I be peeing in the living room on the carpet? Excitement?!
It’s a good thing that we were planning a home birth. We just had to figure a way to get the midwife from Dayton.
It’s a good thing I have slow and steady, steady and slow labors. It would be a full day before that little, wrinkly, leathery old man would make his way reluctantly into the world.
But this is the storm.
It’s a little different today. Instead of waking to the ground covered with snow, I woke to thick rain hitting the windows. Then ice pellets changing over to heavy wet flakes and back to pellets.
It’s different because back in 1994 there wasn’t access to the technology that we have today, especially in our little townhouse-apartment. No TV, internet, nothing smart, not even a newspaper. Only talk radio that wasn’t listened to all that often. Certainly no anticipation of a weather event. No chatter and buzz.
School is closed today. Entirely.
That Thursday, March 3, 1994, was the first time that Good Shepherd School closed its doors for a snow day. By Friday the sun was shining and roads were clear. That part isn’t looking as promising this year, but by the weekend, I’m guessing, clear.
So we hunker down for another snow day; one of our last, I secretly hope. I try to relax and relieve the pressure I feel building inside and remind myself that sufficient for each day is it’s evil. And this isn’t evil.
My son turned 21 on Tuesday. It feels like yesterday that I was standing in the middle of a tiny living room, looking out at the tiny back deck covered in snow, excitement and fear mounting, wondering how the day would end.
It ended with me cradling a tiny person in my arms, both of us tucked into bed for our first night together.
This is the pitch-black kind of dark where silhouettes of trees are barely seen. Rain falls, smearing the windshield, reflecting headlights off of asphalt as if in a mirror.
The bus rumbles and sways, trying its best to rock me to sleep. I drift in and out of consciousness, a trusting child being driven through the night by mom. The most comfortable thing about this ride is that it’s not made more uncomfortable by having to share a seat.
Yoga poses help, as well.
Something about being driven north through the night on turnpikes and toll roads, stopping at travel plazas bleary-eyed and shivering, conjures up childhood memories.
I’m in the back-back with four other siblings hoping that no one will take off their shoes for me to dig out later. Hunkered down in a nest of blankets and pillows, one by one they drift off, until I am the only one left awake.
That’s fine with me.
I am perfectly content to prop my chin on that spot on the back of the front seat between my parents. There I have an unobstructed view out the front window, a direct line to any bits of important conversation, and the aromatherapy of coffee when the thermos is opened.
It wasn’t feeling funny at 2:00 am. Or at 4:00 when Steve finally went upstairs to sleep with the little girls who were up with the lights on playing in their room. I never went back to sleep. Wait. I guess I did, because by 7:47 it was determined that everyone had waited long enough, and it was time to wake mom and dad and send Little Mae to get Shani.
When adult children are home laughing hysterically over ridiculous international children’s shows at 1:30 am and eager little ones hear sleigh bells at 2, there leaves little room for actual sleep for the real Santa and Mrs. Claus who were up filling stockings and wrapping last-minute gifts and drinking a nightcap or two.
Such is life with bigs and littles in the now of enjoying adult children and the not yet of still having to actively parent several younger ones.
Gifts were opened with relative order and appreciation and cheer. I was moved by the thoughtfulness displayed in the gifts chosen by my husband and children for me. They know and heard me well.
After present time, breakfast was prepared by Steve and Shani. The smell of coffee and bacon began to fill the air while cheeses were sliced in the kitchen and hot dog buns warmed in the oven.
The Edible Arrangement was placed on the table. Thank you, Phil and Doris!
Our traditional Christmas breakfast consists of toasted hot dog buns, bacon, and sliced smoked gouda and cheddar cheese with hot chocolate to drink. The addition of a son-in-law who doesn’t eat pork and my forgetting to purchase turkey bacon resulted in the addition of made-to-order omelets to the menu. An abundance of avocado inspired me to slice it up and add it to the spread.
After breakfast, or brunch if you consider the time, we sat around the table talking and laughing.
Ok, Mom and Dad, answer honestly. Go around the table saying which of us were accidents.
None of our children were accidents. Some God brought into existence through crazy bouts of human passion and some through technical difficulties, but all were planned by him, and we were more than willing to begin sharing some of their more interesting stories.
Ew! No, no, no! STOP!
So the topic changed to remember whens which is always risky family conversation.
But with great risk can come great reward, and we were rewarded with a time of rich laughter and discovery and truth-telling and family stories shared by young and old.
Oh tidings of comfort and JOY.
I have longed for laughter and joy around my table. I have fought for it for years. I have tried and failed miserably. I have felt discouraged by the strife and tension and angst. And there will be more of that.
But for an hour after Christmas breakfast there was lingering and laughter and love.
And it was sweet. And I was comforted. And there was JOY!