Ellen’s Home

My church has a calendar of events, and I looked at it today. Tomorrow is Ellen’s Home.

Ellen’s Home is shady.

It is shaded by wide-spread elm trees, but it is also shady in the curious way. I met the proprietor when I was 7–old and wise enough to decide I could never trust him.  The owner of Ellen’s Home looked exactly like The Donut Man and I could not possibly comprehend, in my childish mind, why The Donut Man would be operating such a rustic facility, and why it was filled with the elderly instead of children. The Donut Man is supposed to be surrounded by donuts and children, both capable of song, but I saw neither at Ellen’s Home.

Consequently, no songs either.

Maybe that’s why it became my church’s job to bring them, and for the last 20 years we have faithfully sang at Ellen’s Home every second Sunday of the month. During this span of time I’ve learned that the owner isn’t the actual Donut Man. I’ve forgiven him for that fault.

On this particular Sunday, promptly at 1:03 pm, my church shuffled into formation in a corner of the Ellen’s Home entertainment room with typical lost-yak style. “Are there songbooks today?” someone asked. “No, we forgot to bring them.” Our choral director’s skin blanched subtly. Today was his first go-round at leading us. “Let’s begin with ‘How Firm a Foundation’.” We faltered through the first verse with very little success.

A new resident was cemented into a chair near the TV, and my money lies on the hunch that he was a former choir director. Strong bass notes resounded out of a mouth scantily clad with teeth, and he didn’t need a book. He knew the songs by heart…. mostly.  Our next attempt, ‘I’m Pressing On The Upward Way’, tugged our faltering memories back on track, but mostly because Mr. Choir cheerfully substituted any word that rhymed with ‘stay’ if he forgot the correct one, so if any of us forgot the words we just let him fill in.

Talk about teamwork!

By now the heat was getting to little Zach, so he pulled his dress shirt up to his chin, letting his belly catch the breeze from the air conditioner. Sochi and Anita stared at their shoes, lips twitching.

We were moving forward in tempo, and Mr. Choir was not subtle about his appreciation. As the energy in the room rose, so did his arms and legs. At the peak moments of feeling in ‘Standing on the Promises’ he appeared not only to be ready to stand on the promises, but to be ready to rocket to the moon on the promises, having three limbs raised perpendicular to the floor, as if a huge vacuum cleaner behind our group was trying to suck him in.

This was just his way of saying, “Amen!” but the youngsters gazed in wonder.

A slow stench took over the crowded corner near the window. I glanced at the woman beside me to see if her face would give a clue about who to blame as the culprit, but at the same moment another slow stench joined the first one, and I didn’t have to ask about the origin of this one. And then it just became a game, back and forth for a few dozen seconds, our own little kazoo band blending in with the song.

At that moment I knew our service would never recover.

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Our final song was ‘Bringing in the Sheaves” and by Mr. Choir’s ninth prophesy of bringing in sheep instead of sheaves, I had dissolved in unpardonable laughter. I would much rather bring in sheep instead of sheaves myself, and my laughter merely congratulated Mr. Choir for holding the same preference, and for being bold enough to say so.

Our smiles were wide as we bade our friends goodbye after the service. Travis and Jonathan kissed all the wrinkly cheeks that were hopefully directed at them, and out the door we marched.

Ellen’s Home is as much a part of my church as the church building itself, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

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Strength in Strange Places (plus me embarrassing myself yet again)

Do you ever think about how hard it is to be kind to yourself? I do.

Considering how selfish human beings are thought to be, it shouldn’t really be a problem for us to be kind to ourselves. But it is. It’s hard for us to believe there is something good on its way. Maybe for someone else, we think, but not for me.

It was like that one grey April day in Tennessee. My hiking buddies and I had been gradually increasing our daily mileage as our Appalachian Trail thru-hike progressed–8 miles per day for a week, then 12 miles per day for two weeks, then 16 miles per day for two weeks. Now we were at 18 miles per day, and I was mentally kicking myself for coming up with this ridiculous schedule.

Every day my well-trained hiking buddy, Shooting Star, arrived at campsite two hours before Kaio and I. She was an inspiration. I forced myself to stick with the plan. I was broke, first of all, having set out on this adventure with only $400 in all the world. Secondly, if we changed our mileage, it would disturb our mail drop schedule. I knew pain was a typical part of life on the trail, so I pushed myself onwards.

As I lay in my hammock that night, listening to raindrops splat against the tarp 8 inches from my head, I worried. My right knee and both legs still ached and throbbed by turns after today’s workout. I knew Kaios knee pain often turned her sleep into fitful tossing. If we couldn’t even get comfortable when resting, how were we going to manage another big day with the added challenge of cold, driving rain?

Jesus, it’s up to You from here! I prayed, and typed a text message to my friends.

“April 6, 2016. Hey prayer warriors! I feel your support so much, thanks a million! We’ve been transitioning to 18 mile days this week and I’m asking for extra prayer tomorrow and Friday as we push ourselves mentally and physically to the limit to make it to the next resupply in Irwin, Tennessee. We’ve been doing well and have plenty of food to make it but our bodies are complaining and we want to thrive in the presence of Jesus, not just survive! There’s a cold snap afoot and winds have been high which saps energy pretty quick! Thanks so much for your care!”

When I groggily awoke at 5 am the next morning, the rain had stopped. Kaio and I set out before the dawn, determined to make the day’s miles. Wind whipped clouds across the unfriendly sky, and every hour or two a patch of happy blue sky appeared. There was a rumor circulating that tonight’s rain would turn to snow. I didn’t doubt it. It was cold, and growing colder.

Kaio dropped behind me as we climbed yet another painstakingly gradual hill, and when she didn’t appear around the bend for awhile after I summited, I began to worry. Had her knees totally given out? Had she accidentally turned the wrong way on the trail? Was she lying in the woods in some kind of distorted configuration, having fallen victim to a blood-thirsty Tennessee creature no one had warned us to avoid?

After what felt like thirty minutes, I saw her small figure advancing around the bend and I let out a great sigh of relief. I felt like a Mt. Everest explorer as we plodded onwards up the next ridge. The wind in our faces was like a thousand tiny darts-usually bringing energizing life but today a messenger of numbing gloom. The wind soon mixed with cold drizzle, which did nothing to quench the fire shooting up both of my legs with every downward step. My knee injury was never diagnosed, but some called it tendonitis. Basically, fire stabbing upwards from both knees with every downward step, increasing in intensity until bending the knee was impossible.

We were nearing Sam’s Gap, 8 miles from tonight’s shelter, but I could not force my leg to go faster. Jesus, I’m mighty curious how you’re gonna get me out of THIS fix. I thought. Then I had an idea.

Why not get a shuttle into town and wait out the storm like our friends often did? That would give both Kaio and I time to rest our injuries.

No. We can’t leave Shooting Star to face the snow-covered mountain alone.

But what good will we be to her anyway? We’re collapsing!

But you don’t have $60 to squander on a shuttle and lodging, Nike! That’s 1/6 of all the money you own and you haven’t even completed 1/6 of the trail!

But Jesus didn’t send me out here to kill myself. He sent me out here to thrive.

This conversation went on in my head for awhile, but the same voice spoke louder and louder over the din. “BELIEVE THAT I WILL GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED.”

So I called ahead to Kaio, and told her I was going to call for a shuttle from the gap. We are both embarrassingly stubborn, so it was a bigger deal than you can imagine for us to consider this. For us, this was almost like hiring a Sherpa.

Kaio decided to come with me, so we sat in the gap and tried to figure out what to do. We were both broke. I had no cash for a shuttle. “I’ll try to get us a ride.” I said, “But if I can’t could I borrow the $30 shuttle cash from you? I’ll pay you back.” Kaio agreed, so I asked an unrighteously clean group of day hikers if they were headed towards Erwin. “We have no idea where that is,” they said, “We’re not from this area. But we’ll look it up on her phone.”

I could almost hear the group sigh with relief when their directions told them to head the opposite direction of Erwin. “Sorry.” they said and we said, “No problem.”

It would have been an organizational feat to stuff ourselves and our packs into their tiny car anyways. We sat on the damp curb and called Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. Uncle Johnny said Jeff would be there in 45 minutes. “Don’t go anywhere!” he said. Where were we to go? No cars had passed us in the last 20 minutes, and the rain clouds were creeping ever closer. No more day hikers would be setting out from this parking lot today, we were pretty sure.

Raindrops started to splatter, and Jeff pulled up just as Kaio and I retreated to the underpass to escape them. Jeff offered to stop by the burger shack on the way back, but we said no thanks. Broke people can’t afford meat, we were thinking, but we didn’t tell him that. Uncle Johnny gave us towels and directed us to the showers and tenting area. The hostel’s advertisement of endless hot water was true! As temperatures dropped into the low 30s, that hot water sure felt amazing!

We sat on the picnic table bench as the sun set, watching the changing colors of the sky through the branches of a blooming apple tree.

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How did we go from struggling uphill, foot by painful foot, to being warm and cared for with no looming stress of pushing ourselves to the limit again tomorrow? It felt like Jesus sure had given us two hard-skulled hikers a miracle.

“You are valuable.” He said. “You are meant to be protected and safe.”

But I’m sure you must be wondering, did Shooting Star survive? Did we ever make up 30 miles we missed? Yes, and yes. Shooting Star covered the 18 snow-covered miles to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in record time. We thought she was a hero.

I returned to Tennessee two months after summiting Katahdin. I didn’t do any planning, I just chose a weekend that was open, grabbed some gear and Zvek, my hometown hiking buddy, and left.

We drove all day and hit the trail in the dark, hiking two miles in the warm night air until we reached a grassy field. As we neared it, I saw two close-set eyes glowing in the darkness. As some of you may know, I have a raccoon problem, so I immediately apprehended this unknown, unnamed creature.

“Reveal yourself!” I demanded, “Are you an animal, vegetable or mineral?”

A second form stirred, and I sheepishly realized the eyes belonged to a small dog, curled up in a hammock at the feet of its master. I apologized and scurried past the remaining hiker tents, laughing softly. Is this what two months in the front country has done to me? I wondered, I’m already acting like a front country person. It’s nearly 10 pm! I should have known hikers would be camped here and I should have known they’d be fast asleep.

Zvek and I cowboy camped under the Milky Way. The air was summerlike, warm, and I woke up overheated  under my down sleeping bag. The sun rose pinkly over auburn mountains, and I sat on my therm-a-rest, eating granola and pudding and just being amazed.

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Surely, this could not be the same wilderness.

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I said it again and again as we hiked that day. I couldn’t help myself.

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The grey, barren wilderness had become a fiery painting of fall splendor, with new hues around every bend! The air was warm. I was strong and 100% pain free.

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Surely this couldn’t be the same Nike, zooming along through red-tinted leaves at top speed, leaving the day hikers in the dust.

But I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Taking the I-Should-Have-Done-Better and trading it in for a Free, Mind-Blowing Gift is what my Jesus does best.

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Zvek and I traveled the day’s 17 miles in short order and arrived at the shelter early, in time to make a roaring fire. As we drifted towards sleep, still staring at the dancing flames, two night hikers sped by. “People had Neuro in that shelter last night. Just thought you should know.”

I laughed out loud.

Fear is obviously as alive and well in these mountains as it was in the spring. But I’m not falling for it. Not after all the miracles I’ve seen.

Miracles surround us. But we have to choose to step into them. We have to choose to be kind to ourselves. Choose the good. Choose to celebrate. Choose to believe truth. Choose to believe we are worth it. Choose to believe that there is help on the way.

“For I will create a masterpiece in your lifetime that you cannot imagine, even if someone described it to you.”

This masterpiece is just beginning. And it starts with believing that I am worth taking care of. I am meant for something good.

 

 

 

 

Colloquialism Decoded: “Made From Scratch”

Today’s Phrase: “Made From Scratch”

Definition: (Adverb) Homemade; handmade; made with few or simple ingredients.

I.E. “These cookies are amazing, did you make them from scratch?”

History:

In 1923, in a haphazard shanty jest about 22 miles north of Toad Suck, Arkansas, Alma Mae Quibblefield found herself in a quandary. Her collard greens were a’bilin’, and the pork rind was a’ready in her cast-iron pan, but when she got to the cupboard under the stair, that there cupboard was bare. Hardly a vittle to be found, and not a bit of cornmeal to make her man a corn pone.

Being a woman of unparalleled thriftiness and utmost resourceful-like nature, it took Alma Mae exactly 3 minutes of sitting on the edge of the water barrel to come up with a plan. She trundled herself to the chicken coop right off, and scooped out a cup of their feed, or as she called it, ‘scratch’.

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[Now, surely those of you who know the life and styles of chickens will understand why she called it this.]

She just ground that scratch a bit in her mortar, and yankee-doodle-dandy! There be jest the right near purdiest, yeller-ist cornmeal you could ask fer, fer a right nice corn pone.

Her man never knew the difference, and called it “Jest downright tolerable, Alma Mae!”

Seein’ as he was so chipper about the sit’cheayshun,  Alma Mae never told Mr. Quibblefield he’d jest ‘et the same vittles as the hens.

But she made corn pone the same way ever after, and when the neighbors asked her for the recipe…. she jest kinda grinned with one side of her mouth, and drawled out the other’n, “I made it from scratch.”

And when we want to let our neighbors know jest how thrifty-like and resourceful we have been, we use the same phrase…. whether our corn pone is made from actual scratch or not.

And there ye have it.

 

 

 

 

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(Disclaimer: Facts disclosed as fact may or may not be factual. You really can’t believe everything you read on this here newfangled computin’ machine.)

Do you ever pick your nose?

This is my style in real life.

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Sometimes the hippy-redneck-clown crossbreed just gotta come out.

Sometimes I don’t give a rip what my hair looks like and just wear a hat all day.

Sometimes I roll down hills instead of walking down them, just for the pure fun of it.

Sometimes I say preposterous things with the solitary purpose of getting people to wake up. Sometimes I yell (and believe it or not, I can yell pretty LOUD) out the window to the dog at unrighteous hours of the day. Sometimes I rock out to the radio and accidentally blow the horn at hapless UPS drivers. Sometimes I don’t vacuum my carpet for weeks. Sometimes people ask me which revolves: the earth, or the sun, and I say the sun and believe it with all my heart.

Sometimes I dress innocent cats up in lame outfits just so I can laugh at them.

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Sometimes I snort at inappropriate times. Sometimes I meet someone who does these things too and isn’t afraid to admit it.

That’s refreshing.

Like, SUPER-awesomely-I-want-to-hang-out-with-people-like-you refreshing.

Seriously, though, don’t you know what I mean? It’s so utterly TIRING to live in a world where everyone works so hard to portray themselves as perfect. Photoshopped advertisements, models who exercise 8 hours a day and eat only protein smoothies and lettuce, and the “If you only do THIS, you’ll be successful” motto our country swears by. It’s like running on a hamster wheel.

I love when I ask someone how they are doing, and they respond honestly. It’s refreshing. It gives me the freedom to do the same.

I love when I ask someone how their day went, and they tell me all about their awesome promotion, or a funny story of how they totally messed up their entire project, and are equally relaxed and ok with either. It’s inspiring. It shows me that someone can laugh at themselves, and still appreciate their own value. 

So, come on, admit it. Did you pick your nose this week?