The Dissolution of “Probably”

Living in Atlanta, one is asked to visually imbibe a greater variety of graffiti than folks living in smaller towns or rural communities. I’m not saying it’s not present OTP (“Outside the Perimeter” as we say here in the ATL), but the same quantity just isn’t present. Normally, it’s a word scrawled hastily on an exterior surface, one even I with my background in English education cannot decipher. (I firmly believe that reading teenagers’ scribblings for more than a decade left me prepared to translate Sanskrit, Elvish, and Klingon with equal ease. It’s like being one of the X-Men….but with an even lamer ability than Jubilee’s.)

Other times, the graffiti I see is an image involving chimerical creatures or abstract art, and sometimes it’s a whimsical creation like the one below…a pig (or a hippo) preparing to devour an ice cream cone. The juxtaposition of these two items makes absolutely no sense; there’s no symbolic meaning I can glean from it. At one time, when I lived in a world that wasn’t as hyper-decorated as my current home city, I might have poured over this image searching for some hidden truth or imbedded message. Now, eh, not so much. It’s just one more polychromatic embellishment that gives the place character.

Ben and Jerry should name a flavor after this.

I mentioned in a previous post that while I find graffiti interesting, I neither support it as an art form nor wish to outright ban it. If a building is abandoned, by all means, scribble on it you various types of ne’er-do-wells. One man’s crumbling brick wall is another man’s canvas and all that. However, if someone is living in it or attempting to run a business out of it, keep your Krylon to yourself, taggers!

However, just when I think I have my mind made up on a subject, I see new factors that compel me to reconsider my beliefs—even about something like graffiti. Driving home the other day, I saw this little gem on a wall behind a business that’s near railroad tracks. Take a look….

There are two interesting things to note. One, this scribble is one hundred percent legible. Points to the teacher or parent who was a stickler for proper penmanship. After all, there’s nothing worse than having something earth-shaking to say and no one being able to read it because you couldn’t be bothered to follow the rules of cursive. Two, this provocative declaration is without a single grammatical blemish. The correct homonym (There’s) has been selected, the apostrophe is in the right place, “probably” is spelled correctly, and there is even an appropriate use of an ellipsis (…). Granted, it’s in all caps, but one can hardly fault the seeker who penned the statement. Spray paint is dash hard to work with as a medium, and, truth be told, the statement he or she is making might merit the loud delivery.

Compare this message to some of the others I’ve found posted on the Internet…

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cad0gan/ (Abigail Codogan)
Image from http://slog.thestranger.com

(Never mind the fact it should technically be “Woe is I.” I’m just happy someone took the time to fix the glaring error!)

Image from http://failblog.org

Judging by his or her peers, I firmly believe someone of passable intelligence wrote the message I captured on my camera phone. The handwriting and grammatical correctness tell me as much.

This person is not asking a question but rather is making a statement: “There’s probably no God…”

Not “There’s no God.” or “How can there be a God?” or even “Where is God?” No, this individual is stating that there is no God, but even in that assertion there is no certainty because of the choice to use “probably” as a modifier. Why waste both time and paint (not to mention risk getting arrested) to make a statement like this? Usually, they are quick posts made by a person who thinks he or she has answers to life’s questions (most of which involve a curse word for some reason). This person wanted to leave a half-finished thought behind for others to chew on, one that just happens to involve one of the most important and most hashed-over questions in the universe.

This is a statement that demands an answer from believers, and it is proof that evangelism is still vital in our world. This young person is prompting a discussion about the Lord’s presence with his artistic sojourn—this shrug of the shoulders made with obsidian paint. It’s almost like he’s daring us to retort, not because he wants to enter into a debate in an attempt to prove us wrong. This doesn’t strike me as the work of a hardened atheist whose heart is closed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and is unwilling to hear.

This person needs to be found, needs to be told about Christ and gently compelled by the Holy Spirit to take in the world around him in all its wondrous glory. A Christian needs to take this person and usher him into the very throne room of God as we have all been at times in our lives. After all, anyone who has ever witnessed God at work will tell you that it is impossible to deny His handiwork or His presence once you have been shown. You simply cannot “unsee” God. After experiencing His love and power, the word “probably” can never exist again in your vocabulary.

Now that I’m older, I’m coming to understand just how essential the Great Commission is and how working in the power of the Holy Spirit to witness to others and share the love of God is vital. Millions of people in my city alone are lost and hurting tonight, and all of it is needless. Someone who knows what Jesus Christ was willing to do to redeem us has no need for drugs or the empty promise of another’s body for comfort. Everything is different when He’s in the middle of it. That’s why we must “open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:18).

I think about the young man who wrote, “There’s probably no God…” and ache for him. Is his heart seeking answers as mine once did? How will he find them if I’m not willing to go and tell, to leave my own message to the world on that same wall, written in red, next to his….

“There certainly is a God, and He loves you.” 

Books I’d Fake the Plague to Read

For this Tuesday’s Top Ten List, The Broke & The Bookish folks are asking us to be unproductive citizens by listing our “Spring Fever Book Lists” otherwise known as the “Top Ten Books I’d Play Hooky With.” Like Skyline Chili, I decided to go three different ways with this one! After all, why indulge in literary “what ifs” if you can’t glut yourself every portion of the fantasy!? So, without further ado, here are the books I’d be willing to pull a Ferris Bueller for in order to have more time to read.

Books Due Out This Spring

Insurgent by Veronica Roth—I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed Divergent, the first book in this series. It’s a lot like The Hunger Games, another dystopian teen novel, but for some reason, those always serve as nice time fillers for me. Easy reads that are purely escapist romps for me, I usually don’t turn one down—especially if it involves a trilogy and possible film deals.

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore—Another teen book I’m embarrassed to say I’m looking forward to. The other two in this series, Graceling and Fire, were actually very well written. They were a little too mature for teen readers in my opinion, but good nonetheless. This one goes back to the original story in Graceling to complete the tale of the young princess Bitterblue and her gifted companions.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King—If you want to know how excited I am about this book, I’d rate it somewhere between “I’m about to pee my pants” and “Shia LeBouf is tied up in the soundproof room. Here’s your crowbar.” Seriously, I’ve been longing for a new Dark Tower book for some time, but I never thought he’d actually go back and revisit the universe, much less go for material in Roland’s past like he did with my favorite book, Wizard and Glass. I can’t wait to spend a day reading this one cover to cover.

Popular Books I’ve Been Wanting to Read But Haven’t

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness—This is one of those books everyone talked about but I never went in on for some reason. I don’t have a good reason as to why. Scholarship, magic, intrigue, vampires, and all that—you think I would have been instantly sold. But no, I held back. I should make up for this egregious oversight before the second book comes out.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett—I know it makes me a nerd sicko, but I love it when I see a book is so large it could double as a doorstop at Fort Knox. This book is one of those. Granted, most of Mr. Follett’s books are large enough to serve as blunt force weapons, but this one is extra beefy. Even in the paperback form, it’s cumbersome and contains a daunting grand total of five interconnected story lines. Books or boys–if it’s complicated, I’m in. 🙂 This one should make due for a long car ride or vacation book….if I ever get a vacation that is.

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell—I need something to fill in the gap now that the long wait for new books by Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin has begun. This is the first of three beautiful, five-hundred-page novels I can use to scratch my itch for sword fights, epic drama, and world building. Plus, it’s about King Arthur. Bonus!

Classic Works I’ve Never Read

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway—I watched the Bogey and Bacall film version of this last week (and I’ve started to feel that I want to be Lauren Bacall when I grow up. So amazing…) I bought this book when I was at the Hemingway House in Key West a few years ago, put it on the shelf, and forgot all about it. I think a little “spring cleaning” is in order to get books like this one read.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins—I loved The Woman in White, and this one is another popular detective piece from an author who spins a good yarn. If you like murder mysteries centered on a a giant diamond and all other manner of cloak and dagger goodness, I’m thinking this one might fit the bill.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez—For some reason, I could never bring myself to read this. I know it’s a great book; I’ve heard it from more than one reader I trust. For some reason, however, I just don’t know if I can stand 200 pages of lovers separated by time and custom. I suppose I should just wait until we get a nice spring downpour, curl up with it and some Goobers, and just be done with it.

Completely Random Pick

Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by Simon Pegg—Of all the genres I frequent, biographies and autobiographies are the least popular. When I do read them, I’m  the “egghead” type and normally choose presidents, random moments in history, or other books that might help me win at a game of Trivial Pursuit. I rarely read them books about celebrities who are still alive…much less so if they were written by the celebrity him or herself. However, I really like Simon Pegg; I have since Shaun of the Dead. And I was thrilled to see him getting bigger and better parts in films like Star Trek and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. This is his “life story” as it were, focused mainly on how a “funny kid” used what he loved to become who he is today. I’m thinking this might be a fun pick in a category I don’t often visit.

At The Cross

This is the feature article for the April issue of In Touch Magazine. Five or six of us worked together to tell the stories of the people who were present at the crucifixion and why their being there is important to understand. I was asked to write the portions detailing the meaning behind Mary, the mother of Christ, and John, the beloved disciple. If you enjoy this article and would like to begin receiving In Touch Magazine for free each month, all you need to do is visit our subscription page and give us your name and address. You’ll begin receiving the magazine the next calendar month!

The art was created by Jeff Gregory, one of my amazing co-workers, and his blog on WordPress is well worth a look.

You have to imagine the first two pages in a horizontal spread with Mary and John on the left and Christ on the right. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get them side by side without losing so much size they were impossible to see and enjoy.

They Way They Do the Things They Do

Whether it comes in the form of film, television, graphic novels, short stories, or even epic poetry, I just can’t get enough of stories. Seriously, a well-executed yarn is to me what a bowl of crunchy kibble is to a hungry dog. Feed it to me, and I’ll hang around on your back porch forever.

But what exactly makes a story great? An engaging plot is a must of course—one that is believable, perfectly paced, and airtight. Also, the right scene has to be set through the use of accurate costuming, stage dressing, and dialogue. If I’m going to watch a film about the Civil War, I want to be able to imagine the feel of the canon’s boom rattle in my chest, and a film set in the English countryside better come with the aroma of a garden and some well-placed whithers and wheresoevers if you know what I’m sayin’.

However, I can sometimes forgive a lack of verisimilitude if the characters are engaging enough on their own, and their are actors out there who have compelled me to love whatever entertainment vehicle they’re currently driving despite my lack of overall interest or possible outright disgust. Envision Michael C. Hall on the hit show Dexter. The thought of a serial killer with a penchant for knives, sheet plastic, and screwdrivers makes my skin crawl, but he somehow makes the show’s title character…likeable. Heck, I found myself rooting for him not to get caught once they found his dumping ground in the ocean and wondered what kind of person that made me.

So, I sat down and thought about ten shows I watch and my favorite characters on each, and I discovered that those stand-out thespians all had something in common. They so fully inhabit their roles that they’ve created little tics for their alter egos, Lilliputian idiosyncrasies that might go unnoticed by ninety-five percent of the viewing audience but are as essential to the show as many of the larger moving pieces.

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Boyd Crowder (Walter Goggins)—The hillbilly antihero of Justified has a style all his own. He’s as country as can be, but his dialogue is riddled with esoteric vocabulary, biblical allusions, and luscious sarcasm. A great example of how people from my neck of the woods play “country dumb,” Goggins delivers the lines with a perfect cadence and subtle style that draws me in. Sometimes, I’ll rewind just to hear him deliver a line again. However, the weird quirk he’s developed for Boyd is a penchant for keeping his hands in his pockets. Sitting, standing, walking–it doesn’t matter. Boyd’s hands are always firmly lodged at the waist of his well-fitted jackets. I suppose, on a show where most people come in armed for bear, that keeping one’s hands in one’s pockets is a sign of bravado. Also, not using his hands makes viewers look at his face, which is expressive in its understated style. Whatever the reason, it’s alluring, and I adore him.

Image from smartladieslovestuff.com
Image from smartladieslovestuff.com

Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce)—This is my nod to the shows of yesteryear. If you missed out on Frasier, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere in syndication or watch it on Netflix, Hulu, or one of the other umpteenth thousand avenues through which cable television is now readily available. Both brothers had his share of quirks, but Niles was Frasier magnified to the forty-seventh power. In fact, at once point in the show when he was in the midst of OCD compulsion–washing his hands, measuring the cinnamon sprinkled on his latte, and wiping his seat with a handkerchief–Frasier looks at his brother and says, “Compared to you, I’m a Teamster.” One of Niles’ greatest tics was his tendency to pass out whenever he saw blood–especially his own. Watch the clip and see the comedic genius of David Hyde Pierce on display.

Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perette) and Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)—There are some crazy forums on the Internet that bemoan the fact that Gibbs and Abby from NCIS haven’t yet “hooked up,” which is both disgusting and utterly ignorant. Anyone with half a brain would know that Abby fills the role of daughter for Gibbs–the little, trusting girl he never got to raise. He dotes on her more than any other character on the show–bringing her Caff POW!, bragging on her work, and trusting her with his secrets. One of the many rituals they have is the kiss for a job well done. It doesn’t happen every episode, but more often than not, when she discovers some piece of vital information that gives Gibbs the facts he needs to go find and maim a bad guy, she’s rewarded with a quick smack on the cheek. It’s one of those moments of intimacy (and I’m not using that term sexually) for poor, widowed Gibbs that makes him less icy and foreboding. Always a sweet treat for me on Tuesday nights.

Image from slashfanatic22.livejournal.com

Joan Holloway-Harris (Christina Hendricks)—My husband chose to join me in watching Mad Men each week because of “Red,” the luscious femme fatale of the office secretary set. Joan, unlike the other girls who fall victim to their emotions or make stupid decisions and fall apart like cheap tissue paper, makes savvy choices. When chaos erupts around her (in the case of the man who had his foot om nommed by the lawn mower in season three) or in her own personal life (when her doctor-to-be hubby turns out to be a lemon of a lifetime investment), Joan is ready with a quippy line, which is often delivered with her left hip upthrust at a jaunty angle. Whenever she stands still, she shows off her curves by standing at nine or three instead of six o’clock, and it works to her advantage. Points to Ms. Hendricks for knowing how to rock her figure.

Image from writerangrywritersmash.blogspot.com/

John Bates (Brendan Coyle)Downton Abbey, and the adorable Mr. Bates, are recent obsessions of mine. Points to PBS for actually managing to snag a show that makes me want to donate to their efforts for another reason besides a free tote bag. (Though I am rather partial to the siren call of free tote bags, let me tell you.) It’s an amazing show. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you must be new to this planet because it’s only been the hottest thing around since the second season started this year. It’s left both the Brits and their bumpkin cousins over here in the States panting for more. Mr. Bates has a great many character traits I enjoy, but the best of them all is the half-upturned lip of amusement he uses with certain characters on the show (most notably his love interest, Anna Smith). That and the bowler just make me want to melt into a puddle on the floor.

Image from chrissywelsh.com

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)—I know I said I admired Walter Goggins because he could steal a scene without using his hands, but the exact opposite is true of Anna Torv on Fringe. In every scene she’s in (whether as Olivia or Fauxlivia), she’s interviewing suspects or victims or talking to another member of Fringe Division–her hands flying like Tippi Hedren’s in her PTSD flashback in The Birds. More often than not, she spins them in a circle one another, fingers splayed in an intricate display of digits, and ends with them either spread apart in jazz hands formation or gripped together demurely like a penitent nun. I couldn’t find a still or video clip to show exactly what I means, but one episode is enough to see Ms. Torv takes her own tendency and makes it purely her character’s.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston)—Oh, my word. I never thought I’d be as into Breaking Bad as I am now, but with this last season finale and the amazing assassination of Gus, I’m all in! (Seriously, death by wheelchair bomb. It was like the creme brulee of death scenes. So epic). His transformation from sanguine spirited scientist to meth manufacturing maniac has been an interesting (and sometimes heartbreaking) one to watch, and one thing that has marked the moment of change as consistently as a sore knee foretells the coming rain is something I call “the furrowed eyebrow scowl of fury” on the face of one Walter White. Really, Bryan Cranston has taken Walter from sissy to savage more than once, and it’s totally convincing. There’s something so flat in his delivery of his lines and the look on his face that make me more than a little terrified of him. He should have won an Emmy at least twice for his work on this show, and he would have done so, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky boy in grey, Don Draper.

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons)—As Templeton the Rat once said, “A fair is a veritable smorgasbord, orgasboard, dorgasboard after the crowds have ceased.” If characters were like special events, Jim Parson’s work as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory would make him one funnel cake short of the county fair. Seriously, I’ve never seen a character with so many odd and quirky personality traits! I honestly don’t know how he keeps them all straight when he shoots a scene, but somehow, he does. Of them all, the gasping laugh is my favorite by far. Half gasp, half laugh—all sarcasm— it’s as much a part of the show as Howard’s vociferous, disembodied mother. Check out the video below and indulge in a moment of hilarity that only Sheldon’s laugh can provide. Bazinga!!

Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion)—Whether it’s horsing around with the guys, flirting with Beckett, or indulging in some true father/daughter time with Alexis, the central character in Castle always manages to find a way to have a good time. The overall impish attitude of Nathan Fillion is a wonder to behold. Whenever a murder happens in a way that could be something out of a story, he has a geek out moment of epic proportion, often using lines like, “This is SO TOTALLY cool!” Remember, he’s a professional fiction writer on the show, but he doesn’t describe his girlish glee using cleverly constructed sentences or high level diction. Instead, he reverts to the language of an eight-year-old because, in that moment, that’s exactly what he is. It’s like watching a pre-teen take over a man’s body. The puckish side comes out on some episodes more than others, but it’s one thing that makes Castle a fun watch on Monday nights.

Image from http://xfinity.comcast.net

Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee)—When I first saw Jason Lee on Memphis Beat, I had trouble believing it was the same guy who starred in My Name Is Earl. Rather than his hair sitting atop his head like Heatmiser’s in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the stylists chose to slick it back and give him a set of wicked sideburns that would make the King proud. Loose flannel shirts and floppy work shoes have been replaced by well-cut jeans, shirts that are tucked in, and a suit jacket. With those and a few other changes, a man I saw as a goofy, goodhearted hero suddenly becomes a blues singing hunk. Seriously! He’s also amazingly good at lip syncing  because I didn’t know until I did a little research that he wasn’t actually performing the closing song of each episode. However, it’s the fact that he croons with his eyes closed that makes me like him. He throws himself into the faux performance, one hand raised like Elvis and the other cradling the old school microphone in front of him, and belts out gospels, blues, and rock and roll hits in one smoky Memphis bar or another. Whether it’s a ballad or a cause to boogie, Jason Lee’s performing with his eyes squeezed shut, lost in his own little world (which is where I’m guessing he came up with the name Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf-Lee for his poor son).

Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com

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So there you have it, ten characters on television whose weirdness makes me go wild. I’d love to hear about the characters you all like and why. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!!!

May It Pour

If you read my previous blog post about my grandparents, you know they are dealing with a big change in their lives. That change became even more markedly difficult last week when he fell and fractured his left knee on their back patio. Falling led to a three-day stay in the hospital, knee surgery involving eight pins and a plate, and a stay of undetermined length in a rehabilitation facility. Everyone in my family has been pitching in–staying with him at night, dealing with insurance paperwork, and helping keep body and soul together for those who are performing the heavy lifting.

I’m the only one who hasn’t been able to help yet because I’m stuck in another state, six hours away from them. For the last week, I’ve felt useless, guilty, angry, and indigent by turns. As you can imagine, I love my family, and I hate knowing they’re dealing with something this stressful without me there to help in some way.  The one thing I’ve been able to do is offer a friendly ear, a person to whom  everyone can vent or use as a sounding board for plans and ideas.

I’ve also been sending everyone devotions, Scriptures, and hymns to keep their spirits up and their eyes focused on God, who is greater and more powerful than any present circumstance–even if it doesn’t seem so at the moment. Today, I found five unique devotions from men like Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, and F.B. Meyer, and two of them truly spoke to me personally. I was blessed by seeking to be a blessing to others.

The first, from Streams in the Desert, takes its theme from 1 Kings 17:3, the story of Elijah being sent to dwell by the brook of Cherith where God prepared him for the next stage in His plan. The devotion begins with this thought:

God’s servants must be taught the value of the hidden life. The man who is to take a high place before his fellows must take a low place before his God. We must not be surprised if sometimes our Father says, ‘There, child, thou hast had enough of this hurry, and publicity, and excitement; get thee hence, and hide thyself by the brook–hide thyself in the Cherith of the sick chamber, or in the Cherith of bereavement, or in some solitude from which the crowds have ebbed away.’

Take a moment and read the Old Testament passage I linked to above. For as long as was necessary, God provided for Elijah’s every need, and when the stream ran dry, a new situation had already been prepared. Like him, we must seek out and embrace hidden places where we can get alone with God and receive direct instruction from Him that we might be too busy to fully absorb otherwise. We won’t be in want if we are willing to embrace that time alone with Him, no matter how long it might last. That is true for my family and for me.

I found it interesting that God used ravens to feed His servant; they were viewed by Jews to be unclean because they fed upon the dead. However, the raven was also the first bird Noah sent from the arc because it was one of the largest and toughest. I came to realize that God can use anything–even things that seem reprehensible to us–to provide for our needs.

The same is true in the second devotionalOur Daily Homily, written by F.B. Meyer. He references Exodus 15:25 where the recently liberated Jewish slaves drank from the once bitter waters of Marah, which were made sweet by the addition of a specific tree. The tree is a precursor to the cross, the tree that made it possible for us all to avoid the bitter cup of death and eternal separation from God. I realized after reading the entire chapter that whatever “bitterness” we’re dealing with, both individually and as a family,  it pales in comparison to the greater quantity we were spared because of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Once again, God provides using something that is seemingly unpleasant, and if we recognize  the small amount we endure is for our edification rather than our punishment, we will be blessed as a result.

I’ve been asking for God’s direction for months, searching to find His will for my life and what steps He would have me take. This helped me to see my answer. Were I down there, able to help physically, I would not be seeking His face. I would be working in my own limited power instead of relying on His infinite supply. The distance is my brook of Cherith; it’s His way of getting me alone to teach me what I need to learn.

Intercession in prayer is my responsibility rather than service…no matter how much I might long to offer it to my loved ones. This realization also forced my hand on another topic—fasting. I’ve been toying with the idea of it in recent weeks but have not committed to it. One excuse or another always made it “impossible.” Well, I now have the reason and the time to do so. I am now prepared to allow myself a space of days to remove all worldly distractions in order to listen to Him.

I’ve already felt the benefit of it after only fifteen hours, and while I know I will not always feel so optimistic about the process, I can’t help but think it will serve as a watershed moment, a time where I attain a deeper relationship with Him. The plan is to abstain from everything but water for a period of seven days, which means I will not eat until next Monday morning. It is my prayer that I can use the time to discern the mind of my heavenly Father regarding His will for my family and to offer up earnest prayers on their behalf.

James 5:15-18 confirms the rightness of this revelation for me:

The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

With a singular focus, I am praying with the expectation of spiritual “rain”—both for my family’s strength and deliverance as well as my own increase of faith—because as Jesus Himself promised in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will dit.”

May it pour.

How Firm a Foundation: The Grace to Worship Through Uncertainty

This is the first draft of an article I’m writing for August. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Are there areas that are unclear or could use a tightening up? Do you think the Scriptures I’ve selected are the best possible options. It’s a musical article, so if you’re a non-musician, does it still “speak” to you? More than anything, I want to tell the world about two of the most special people in my life, but I also want to show readers how they can learn as I have from their example. Any and all feedback would be very much appreciated! Thank you!!

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Not every couple can say their first date took place at a gospel singing, but that’s precisely where my grandparents, Boyce and Sybil Lindley, chose to have theirs in the summer of 1955. Perhaps it was chosen because music was what brought them together at a district church meeting where Sybil played the piano, or maybe God knew how vital it would be and chose it as the cornerstone of their relationship. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to say that it worked—so well, in fact, that after only a handful of dates and a brief engagement, they were wed on December 14, 1956.

Throughout their fifty-five years of marriage, they’ve spent countless happy hours in church together, singing, studying, and serving in various roles like church bookkeepers and Sunday school teachers. While they occasionally sought out the role of worship leaders, more times than not, it was a task was appointed to them. My favorite story about their years as musicians happened during their first visit to a new church in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Like most visitors, they sat in the back row with their two daughters, taking in the place and its people, when the pastor welcomed them from the pulpit. He asked, “Ma’am, you don’t happen to play the piano, do you?” The church had been without an accompanist for some time, so you can imagine that my grandmother’s gentle “yes” was met with an exuberant chorus of hallelujahs and amens fit to rival Handel’s Messiah. She played that very Sunday morning, and nearly every service afterwards, until the week they moved.

By the time I came along in the late 70s, our family was full to bursting with music. We sang each Sunday in church (though never the third verse of any hymn for some reason I could never understand), and they often performed songs together as a quartet someone dubbed “The Happy Lindleys” after their favorite group, the Goodman Family. Whether we were riding in the car or sitting together after dinner, we usually sang. Someone would simply start humming, and within a verse or two we were harmonizing together. Granted, we might never have been a threat to the Von Trapp family, but our melodies were genuine, tangible expressions of our joy and thankfulness to God for each other. Singing might have seemed odd to many, but it was—and still remains—as much a part of our genetic make-up as brown eyes, long fingers, and a penchant for peskiness.

Because of their influence, when it came to music, I learned not to discriminate. Traditional hymns, Southern gospel songs, and spirituals all spoke God’s truth to me in ways I could grasp as a child. For instance, I understood Lamentations 3:22-24 because I had experienced “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I rejoiced in the promise of Psalm 16:8 after learning “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” fixed the truth of Matthew 10:29-31 deeply in my heart. Simply put, I came to know God with a Bible in one hand and a hymnal in the other.

These two wonderful people, who I nicknamed Nonnie and Papaw, have spent their lives walking with the Lord. They’ve been blessed with two happily married daughters and three grandchildren as well as with relatively good health and financial security. They’ll be the first to say there have been more than a few potholes and loose stones in their lives’ road, and they’ve been asked to make sacrifices in trusting obedience. However, each time, God provided, and their faith was increased. Boons like this make praise natural to come by for most people, but when things suddenly turn difficult, preserving the song in one’s heart might become more challenging.

Last year, Papaw believed he’d lost his debit card after cleaning out his wallet. A handful of panicked moments later, he realized the slim piece of plastic was still there—just backwards and upside down. He simply had not recognized it for what it was because of the visual differences. It didn’t look the same in its usual slot and, in his mind, was missing in action. At the time, they chalked it up to vision problems or fatigue, but several weeks later, he couldn’t remember his pin number. As weeks became months, they both began to notice words and phrases he’d known all his life—screwdriver, double play, bookmark—were suddenly gone from his vocabulary, frustratingly just out of his mind’s reach. Multi-step tasks such as making tea became nearly impossible without help, and items that normally called the pantry home started showing up in the linen closet.

Each thing was small, sometimes even comical, but when they were added together, they realized there was growing cause for concern. Naturally, fear and worry filled their hearts, but every time it threatened, they prayed and recited Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Whatever was happening, they reasoned, had been purposed by God for their lives because He had promised them countless times before, “No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent” (Ps. 91:10).

Anyone who has been diagnosed with an illness—be it physical or mental—will admit it’s unsettling. Many feel their bodies have betrayed them or have become inescapable prisons of flesh. For someone like Papaw, who is gentle and easily flustered, when those moments when the words wouldn’t come became more frequent, he was left silently anxious and shaking with frustration. Ever the optimist, Nonnie tried to reassure him with soothing words and kind gestures, but nothing seemed to quiet the apprehension that held him captive. One particularly wearisome Thursday when nothing else would help, Nonnie pulled their tattered maroon copy of the Church of God Hymnbook from the piano bench and began to play. It was all she knew to do. Over the next hour, songs like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “Rock of Ages,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and “Mansion Over the Hilltop” quietly seeped from the burnished wood, filling their home with comforting and familiar sounds.

As her fingers coaxed “He Hideth My Soul,” a song she’s played countless times, from the instrument, she began to pray for strength, understanding, and, most of all, peace. In time, the words came to Papaw—sometimes easily, sometimes with great difficulty, and oftentimes imperfectly—but they came. She listened as he sweetly stumbled through the second verse, “A wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord. He taketh my burden away. He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved. He giveth me strength as my day” and understood that, despite all outward appearances, God was with them and always had been. They had just been too busy focusing on the uncertain darkness to even begin to look for His light.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers stated, “Sometimes God puts us through the experience and discipline of darkness to teach us to hear and obey Him. Songbirds are taught to sing in the dark, and God puts us into ‘the shadow of His hand’ until we learn to hear Him” (Isa. 49:2). Now, that is exactly what they’re doing, walking in relative darkness and singing all the way. “Whenever our spiritual cups get dry,” she told me, “we just sing until they’re filled up again.”

Hebrews 12:10-11 tells us that God “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Their spiritual strength, gained through previous hardships, makes worship possible, and while they are being further refined by this trial, our entire family is reaping spiritual rewards as well. As we watch them lean fully on the Lord for strength and wisdom, we are all coming to see the truth of Job’s declaration, “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 3:17).

Just like the hymns I cherished as a child, my grandparents’ songs reveal the truth of God’s Word. Their simple melodies have shaped my understanding of His grace and make it real to me in way words alone couldn’t. They wake up each morning, uncertain of the new challenges they’ll face, but they are quick to point out, “Our heavenly Father knows.” Rather than worry, they pray for the measure of strength to help them until they lie down once again and thank God for the continuous supply. Like Job, they pose the rhetorical question, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10), letting their song serve as a reply.

Not once have they asked, “Why us?” without immediately following it with, “Why not us?” because their hearts are in tune with God’s. They’ve spent so many years fully immersed in His presence that they speak to Him in song—their groanings are lyrical rather than wordless (Rom. 8:26-27). I feel the same tendency in myself, and I know that the Lord is using them to teach me the libretto of His love. To “put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise” (Ps. 40:3), the same almighty Composer is arranging both the coda of their lives and the second movement of mine.


 

Everything’s Better With Dogs…and Bacon

Ooooh, a challenge this week to be sure! The Broke & the Bookish has tasked bloggers to select a top ten list in any genre we choose. Anything from biographies to graphic novels is fair game. Basically any list is fair game so long as the ten works are in the same sphere.

I thought about romances, swashbucklers, books made into films, fantasy, and any and every other kind of list out there, but all of them led me to the same twenty or so books. Naturally, I couldn’t turn in pablum for this week’s list, so I thought I’d try something different. Ladies and gents, I give you my top ten list for this week…

The Top Ten Books Featuring an Animal


Watchers 
by Dean Koontz—You have to love a book featuring a Golden Retriever that can talk and is being followed by an evil genetically enhanced monster who seeks to destroy him! I bet I’ve read this book five times in my life, and it still makes me giggle in places. Many of the dog’s lines are classics, and our family passes them around like candy corn at Halloween.


The Metamorphosis
by Franz Kafka—“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.” One of the best opening lines in fiction. He has a family who treats him like garbage, and when they’re asked to care for him the way he had for them, they show that they are the true low-life vermin. Such a heartbreaking piece…

Animal Farm by George Orwell—The first time I read this, I nearly lost my mind when Boxer died in the harness for a dream that was never intended for reality. Part political commentary, part Juvenalian satire—Orwell’s brilliant use of anthropomorphism is still unparalleled by any other work of fiction. It takes a harsh look at fascism in a way that makes it immediately accessible to younger readers.


Watership Down by Richard Adams—I’ll have to admit that I’ve never read this one in its entirety. However, I have taught snippets of it in creative writing classes and AP Literature test prep courses. It is quite literally on EVERY “animal book” list out there, confirming what I already know. I’ll likely be diving into this one before the month is out. (Hey! This will help me meet my “three classics quote” for the year!!!)
 

The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis—I cannot tell you how many times I got in trouble for reading books from this series underneath my desk when I should have been learning unessential stuff. You know…like math and geography. I hold Lewis responsible for my inability to complete algebraic equations or to find Ghana on a map. However, I can tell you anything you want to know about fauns, satyrs, centaurs, and any and all talking “normal” critters.
 


Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes—I actually read this one for the first time a few years ago before I taught it to middle schoolers. It’s a sad work to be sure, but man can it generate a great discussion about genetic manipulation, the right to life, individually, being made the way God intended, and other important topics. The students who read it with me were deeply emotionally impacted by this work; it made them more kind to others and more cognizant of how they treated people.


Cujo
by Stephen King—I’ll be the first to say that Stephen King’s epic works (The Stand, Cell, The Dark Tower), the ones that are vast in scope are my favorite. However, they are not the most terrifying of his works. The small scale horror pieces, usually the ones that could plausibly take place, are the most unnerving. I’m thinking works like this one (normally gentle giant dog turned hound of hell), Misery (crazed fan controls you in total isolation), and The Shining (father hits rock bottom with alcohol in a nearly abandoned hotel) are truly gut wrenching.


Old Possum’s Book of Practical 
Cats by T.S. Eliot—There’s something so appealing about this little tome. Perhaps it’s because most of Eliot’s work is heavy and ponderous, caught up in the darker half of humanity, but the rhyming whimsy of this piece always makes me smile. It was Eliot who told us, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter, / it isn’t just one of your holiday games; / You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter / when I tell you a cat must have three different names.”


Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell—Every girl, for some inexplicable reason, goes through a horse phase. For some, the period only lasts a few months while others try to learn how to draw them as well as ride them as well as collect Breyer figures. (Guess which category I fell into?) This one was unlike all other horse books at the time because the pony in question gets to tell you about how it feels–how nice a nosebag of oats is and how hard life in front of a cart really is. For some reason, I adored this book as a little girl, but I doubt I’d feel the same about it as a grumpy thirty-something. 🙂


The Glass Menagerie 
by Tennessee Williams—Who says inanimate animals can’t qualify a book for this list? The fragile crystal collection is poor Laura’s only source of friendship and understanding. Like her favorite unicorn, she doesn’t quite fit with the rest. The symbolism of this play makes it like that little shelf of knick knacks–perfectly balanced, breathtaking, and multifaceted.