I Sing Because…

There are rare moments when God blesses His children beyond measure, and what you’re going to read below is an example of just that. If you had told me two years ago that I would have been living in Atlanta and working full time for a magazine, I would have called you a dirty liar. However, after a long, dark period of strife that I’m not going to get into here, I’ve finally made it to a mountaintop. From where I now stand, I grasp the reasons for the spiritual valleys I’ve had to walk through. Like so many things in life, God has put them in their proper perspective.

The August issue of In Touch Magazine features two people who are very special to me–my grandparents, Boyce and Sybil Lindley. They are also going through a spiritual valley right now, one that they never expected to have to slog through. However, they aren’t walking through it alone. It was my pleasure and my honor to share their story with our readers this month, and I do hope what I wrote helps a couple or a family going through the same struggle they are.

 

 

If you enjoyed this, please visit this page to sign up for a free subscription to In Touch Magazine. We’ve got some great issues still coming this in 2012 and some amazing ones planned for 2013!

Love Letters

For those of you who read my previous post about storytelling and how my first attempt at it went, I thought I’d show you what I can do with a little more time and a keyboard in front of me. I submitted that blog entry for my creative non-fiction workshop class to get feedback, and now it’s time to re-submit the new and improved version, written for readers rather than listeners. I’d love to know what you think!

***

Love Letters

Image from bikeacrossamerica.org.

I’m from Arkansas, which is something I don’t tell many people. Unlike other states with sexy selling points like Broadway, Hollywood, or Disneyworld, we’re best known for cotton, catfish, and the only diamond producing mine in the United States. We also grow half of the rice consumed in this country each year. Wahoo, right? Granted, being able to lay claim to Johnny Cash, John Grisham, and Maya Angelou is a bit of terrific, but it doesn’t make it any less painful that our state’s unofficial motto is “Thank God for Mississippi.”

Folks from “The Natural State,” we’re a little…different. One only need examine the teeming multitudes at a University of Arkansas Razorbacks football game to see why. It’s the only place in the South where grown men slap plastic Hog Hats on each Saturday and scream, “Woo pig sooie!” without thinking themselves the least bit odd. However, I can honestly say that none of those bleacher warriors can keep up with my great uncle Darrell when it comes to idiosyncrasies. My grandmother’s baby brother was the quintessential Qualls, even more so than his twin brother, Doug.

We Qualls, for those of you who’ve never been blessed to be in our presence, are some of the downright peskiest people on planet earth. I once watched my forty-year-old cousin, Lyndal, lock and unlock an automatic car door twenty times for no other reason than to irritate my great grandmother. He only stopped when she flipped him the bird and he couldn’t catch his breath because he was laughing so hard.

Image from fourfoolsdriving.blogspot.com

Darrell was a Qualls through and through. Tall, lanky, and long armed, he always made me think of Ichabod Crane, and like his literary look-alike, he took his food seriously. So much so that he brought his own onion to cookouts just to make sure he’d have enough. Always optimistic, he refused to let anything—even losing a finger to diabetes—get him down. “I can’t give you high fives no more, Jamers,” he once told me. “How’s about a high four?”

Though he never enrolled in college, he was highly intelligent and creative, which is a lethal combination in a super villain, but just borderline dangerous in regular folks. He was quick-witted and liked to tell stories he made up on the spot. For instance, I once saw him rubbing his bicep like it was sore and asked, “Uncle Darrell, does your arm hurt?” He replied, “Oh no, baby girl. I just love myself.” Another time, he actually was sick with a terrible case of the flu, and I asked him how he was feeling. His reply?—”Little Sister, I’ll tell you this. I’m not buying any green bananas.”

Like many men in the small town he called home, Darrell worked at the pulp mill. He was put on the night shift but wasn’t one of the men throwing wood chips into machines or hauling away the finished product. He sat up in the control tower watching lights blink and gauges move on a leviathan control panel. Unless there was a blockage somewhere in the machine, the water pressure got too high, or a possum got into the factory (which happened once), he had little to do. It was a job custom made for boredom, which was the last thing Darrell needed.

Image from (I’m not kidding) howtogetrideofpossom.blogspot.com

So he started writing letters to his first cousin, Leroy. Like many members of my family, Leroy was a veteran of a foreign war, but I couldn’t tell you exactly which one. It was likely Vietnam, but it could just have been the American Revolution. I honestly don’t know because the man never seemed to age. Many of my relatives, including Darrell, have gone on to their reward, but Leroy is still alive and bumping around. That’s why I’m convinced he made the same deal as Dick Clark, that or there’s a painting somewhere in his attic that shows his true age. My right hand to Jesus, the man looks the same as he did when I was nine and had a crush on Prince.

Leroy had a bad case of shell shock and was a little off in the head in a way that made him endearing to me when I was a kid. I remember he always wore tattered ball caps, their logos made indecipherable by sun and sweat, and he had small eyes, a large nose, and an overbite, which made him look like a rabbit. He never married and isn’t comfortable around a lot of people, but he had an imaginary friend named Oliver who was always after him for something. He turns the television off during the commercials to save energy and is always on the lookout for pieces of Styrofoam to add to his collection. But one of the oddest things he does happens whenever he comes around to eat a meal with us. He loads up his plate, grabs a napkin and fork, and proceeds to stand in a doorway to eat it.

“Leroy, you wanna sit down?” someone always asks, though we all know he’ll answer, “No’um, I’m just fine right here” and keep on eating. He comes back to refill his plate or glass and then returns to the doorway to continue chowing down. And he can put it away, perhaps because it can go straight down his leg.

One of Darrell’s chief delights was playing elaborate jokes on Leroy, some of which involved a bit of spontaneity. Once, he picked his unsuspecting cousin up at his house and said, “Let’s go for a ride.” Leroy assumed the jaunt might take them as far away as Memphis, less than two hours up the road. But when he saw the sign for Chattanooga, he knew he was doomed. They ended up driving all the way down to Florida to visit us.

Darrell repeated the gag years later and drove Leroy—who didn’t have more than ten bucks in his wallet or a change of underwear to his name—all the way to California. As they crossed the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts, Darrell got the bright idea to turn the on the car’s heater and laughed silently as Leroy tugged at his sweat drenched collar and repeatedly said, “I don’t recollect the desert being this hot.” When he told Doug about it, his brother could only ask, “Son, weren’t you a might bit hot, too?” Even Darrell’s answer was uniquely him—“Hammers, yes, I was hot!” I suppose, even for the prankster, great art is born of suffering, and Darrell was willing to do whatever it took in the practice of his craft.

A four-day practical joke is a fine thing, but Darrell was never one to settle. He once got this strange notion that he would pretend to be a salesman and write letters to Leroy to get him to purchase what he called “countless amazing and esoteric works of fiction and non-fiction written for the discerning reader.” In each handwritten epistle, he’d mention who he was and where he worked, chastise Leroy for not purchasing any of the books listed in the last letter, and proceed to offer him another fifteen or twenty titles. He also told him where to leave the cash and when, using a different drop point each time. Sometimes, it was as simple as leaving the cash under a rock on the corner of the porch, and other times, it involved hiding the money between cans of yams at the corner store.

He made up each and every one of the books that were on these lists. No self-help texts or works of classic fiction for Darrell. After all, his brain always needed something to do, especially at work, so he came up with titles like:

The Care and Maintenance of Your Dromedary Camel

Making Stockings for Lady Caterpillars

The Disagreements Between Longshoremen and Shortshoremen

Mouthwatering Recipes from Southern Ethiopia

How to Grow Yellow Blueberries

and (my personal favorite)— How to Fall from a Ladder with Dignity

Every four or five days, Darrell would write another letter and drop it in the mail, and he kept this up without fail for nearly seven years. Never once did Leroy order anything, and he never knew it was Darrell who was behind it all. Perhaps because it was harder to research a company without the Internet or Leroy wasn’t a naturally inquisitive person, but in all the years this went on, he asked very few questions about the letters. He just kept reading and tucking them away in drawers or throwing them away. Darrell also avoided the subject because he knew he’d burst out laughing if it came up—that and he knew he’d have to write any book Leroy ordered. And the secret sat undiscovered for years like the arrhythmia that would suddenly steal him from us in 2000.

Image from tasteofhome.com

At Darrell’s funeral, we were all sitting around the house after the graveside service. We’d done everything we were supposed to do. We’d read the twenty-third psalm. We’d sung “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” We’d shaken hands with relatives we didn’t know and wedged smiles on our faces. We’d eaten lukewarm food on plastic plates. We’d spent an entire day sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs. But it still didn’t feel right. It wasn’t like Darrell at all. It was stiff, formal, and bland—like a rental house with its white walls and tan carpet.

At the end of a frustratingly long day, the ladies from the church packed up the legion of casseroles, pies, and salads that invariably show up where death comes to visit. As I picked petals off carnations, a flower I’ve long associated with death, we talked about how we’d rather just be chunked in a hole or cremated and scattered on the field at Busch Stadium. Finally, my aunt Nita asked, “What do you think Darrell would’ve said about all this?”

That question sparked a lengthy session of story swapping about the dearly departed over a fresh pot of coffee and slabs of Mary Katherine Schug’s homemade, three-layer coconut cake, the one that involved an entire bottle of Wesson Oil and reduced those who ate it to shameless plate licking. You can guess which story eventually came up. Mind you that up until this moment, Leroy still didn’t know. However, he looked at Doug and said, “Douglas, you mean to tell me it was Darrell Hunter Qualls who was behind them funny letters a way back yonder?”

When Doug (who, having lost a twin, was more heartbroken than he let on) nodded, Leroy did what might have been offensive to some. He laughed. Out loud. It was a joyful, full-bodied chortle replete with knee slapping and head shaking. It was an infectious kind of guffaw that caught us all up in it like a rip tide and pulled us briefly out of the quagmire of our grief.

It was just what we needed and what Darrell had been waiting for, but not because he would have felt he deserved anything special. There were actually two essential things to understand when it came to my great uncle—the sheer genius of his quirkiness and just how fiercely he loved. He could no more have left us brokenhearted than he could have turned down a plate full of fried catfish, and I think that was his reason for writing those letters all along.

You Can’t See Me? Oh, Good!

Image from mojo40.com

When we were kids, for some reason, most of us liked to play the “Invisible Game.” The goal was to get as many adults in your general vicinity as possible to walk around looking right through you as you stood in plain sight, all the while asking inane questions like, “Now, where is Little So-And-So? She was just right here a second ago!”

There was something fun about being invisible back then, some power to be gained from it, even if it was only in our own heads. However, that passes as we get older. As we age, most of us want to be noticed for the things we do—as early and as often as possible. If you do a spectacular job on a particularly difficult task at work, you’d like a little recognition, right? Even if it is just a pat on the back or the occasional “Atta girl.” Granted, a raise would be even better, but in this economy, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score.

How about all the work you do at home? Wouldn’t it be nice if, once in awhile, folks noticed what you’d cooked, how tidy you kept the place, or what you’d sacrificed so someone else in the house could have what he or she needed? Yeah, it’s pretty fair to say we all like being praised for the many things we do well over the course of a day.

Image from images.nonexiste.net

However, is wanting a little credit wrong for believers, especially when it comes to kingdom work? After all, our goal is to “die daily” to ourselves. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24).

We each have a spiritual gift or three, and we are meant to put them to good use serving the brethren. Those gifted with teaching should teach. Those who are gifted with mercy should show it to others. Giving, exhortation, service, leadership, discernment—we all have at least one talent we should use to the best of our ability. We should never work halfheartedly for God.

But this is where the struggle between flesh and spirit comes in. If you’re using your gift skillfully and doing great things in the right spiritual frame of mind, you should never want to receive recognition for it. You heard me–a believer should do everything with excellence and not get a scrap of praise for it! Why? Two reasons:

1. The talent wasn’t yours to begin with. You didn’t earn it, and while you may have practiced and gotten more skilled at it, it is a gift from God you could never have acquired on your own.

2. As a Christian, “you have been bought with a price” and should “glorify God with your body” because it is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Every ounce of praise given for the works you perform belongs to Christ, not to you. His Spirit living within you is what makes you want to perform good works in the first place, and we should always want to give Him the glory for all good things.

Image from yourdictionary.com

As a writer and editor for a Christian ministry, I am privileged to be able to use my spiritual gifts to witness to and exhort those who read what I pen each month. I love what I do, and I know that all the credit goes to my heavenly Father. After all, it was He who gave me my talent and who perfectly placed me in the right position at the best possible moment to serve Him.

People who read my work tell me how wonderful and talented I am or how beautifully I write. And it’s hard for a person who puts a great deal of time and energy into a piece of writing to not say, “Yeah, buddy. Don’t I know it!” Because writing is John Brown hard! Anyone who does it will tell you the same thing. It’s lonely work sometimes, frustrating work. Wrestling with the best way to say something that’s in your heart—doing it clearly and using just the right words can be exhausting! But, oh! When it’s done correctly and people read and instantaneously get what you meant, there is nothing better than that. However, not an ounce of that credit should go to me, and I have to remind myself that, in a real sense, I’m just the “transcriptionist.” God only uses me as His scribe to tell the world what He wants them to know. I just type and try to keep up, and I don’t deserve an ounce of credit for taking notes. I should instead be, you guessed it, invisible.

Sometimes, I even want to praise myself when I hit on just the right phrase or finally unlock the puzzle that is a concluding paragraph or perfect first sentence. If the task at hand is difficult, I often wish I had longer arms just so I could pat myself more forcefully on the back. But God doesn’t just get the credit for the end result. The Holy Spirit is always there, providing illumination and inspiration while I work. My best words and phrases are His; my best ideas came from within His mind. That’s why I can’t even accept praise from my own lips or heart; even it should be credited directly to the Father.

I was romping through John the other day, and I noticed something interesting. One little word makes all the difference sometimes when it comes to understanding Scripture. For instance, check out the three passages below:

John 3:14“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

John 8:28“So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.'”

John 12:32“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

What difference do you notice among these three relatively similar verses? It’s a tiny variation to be sure. It’s a small word in John 12 that makes all the difference. It’s not “when” you lift up the Son of Man, but “if.”

Christ knew for certain that He would die and that His death would take place on the rough and ignominious arms of the cross. That’s what the first two passages say–“even so” and “when.” However, not all translations use “when” in the passage from John 12. All the translations I prefer (KJV, NKJV, and NASB) use “if” instead, and I find that interesting because of the marked difference between the two words. “If” implies choice or uncertainty, but in Jesus’ mind, there was no “if.” It was why He said, “Now My soul has become troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:26-28).

That’s why I read John 12:32 as “If my people lift me up all around the earth, I will draw people to the foot of the cross and unto salvation.” In short, our methods of presentation hardly matter when the Person we are sharing is so preeminent. That’s why I say we need to be invisible when we serve Christ and witness to others about Him. We have to make sure we consciously remember that it’s not about us, our talents, the attention we can get, or gaining the love of man. It’s about “lifting Him up,” not on the cross necessarily, but because of what He accomplished on it.

***

And now for something completely different….”The Art of Not Being Seen.” (I couldn’t help myself!)

Hooray for Hollywood!!

My family, half jokingly, says, were it not for sarcasm and movie quotes, we would never speak to one another. While that statement is slightly hyperbolic, the truth is that we watch movies. A lot of movies. And we quote them early and often. When it comes to films, we’re fairly omnivorous and enjoy a good “film for the common man” as much as we do rarefied ones. Essentially, we’ll quote The Jerk in the same conversation as The 400 Blows and think nothing of it.

We quote them for distance, seeing who can go the longest without muffing a line. FYI—I still hold the record because I managed to do most of the “damage control” scene from One, Two, Three.

***

We quote them for accuracy in all mediums as evidenced by this text conversation my brother and I had regarding one of our all time favorite flicks, The Fugitive.

However, there is something even more wonderful about movie quotes than simply parroting them for an appreciative (or sometimes annoyed) audience, and that is delivering one that is perfectly timed and fitting for a specific situation. As you can see by this top five list, sometimes the quote is perfect in its purest form, and on other occasions, a slight bastardization is required for optimum humor and applicability.

So, without further ado, I give you our best uses of movie quotes in various situations…

***

5. “The nine-year-olds from the karate school are karate-ing the picket fences.”–Jaws

Image from http://stars.ign.com

This one is mine. My cousin, who was then nine, was taking Tae Kwon Do lessons. My aunt had given him specific instructions not to use his rad new moves on any of his friends as school, which of course prompted me to say, “Why not? All the nine-year-olds from the karate school are karate-ing the picket fences,” perfectly mimicking Polly’s voice and karate-ing gesture, of course.

***

4. “Sweep the leg, Johnny.”–The Karate Kid

This one was executed by Jarrod while standing atop the Hoover Dam. Yes, many a “dam” jokes were made, but after that, he looked over and saw a young man in a huge air cast and using crutches to hobble around the national landmark. (Though why anyone would put up with sore, aching armpits for a tour of a dam is beyond me.) Jarrod looked over at his friend and delivered the line under his breath. Sadly, only the group he was with (all there for a Vegas bachelor party) got the joke.

*** 

3. “Let Polly do the printing.”–Jaws (Yes, again. Don’t judge.)

Image from http://www.yourprops.com

My dad flawlessly delivered this one when he and Mom were driving home one afternoon. They passed one of the ubiquitous fruit stands common to Florida roadsides, this one offering boiled peanuts and peaches. Well, the enterprising young man stationed there had crafted his sign using a piece of plywood and some paint offering his wares from “Geogria.” Well, he started out with grand plans, making each letter gargantuan in size. But by the time he got to “peaches,” the most essential term to advertise, he’d run out of room and had had to cram it in the corner. My father saw the sign, snorted, and said nonchalantly, “He should have let Polly do the printing.” Genius. That is all.

***

2. “I have to push the pram a lot!”–Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail

Once again, Jarrod was behind this masterpiece. We were in my father’s new store–a Sam’s Club–without any of the steel in place. It was a glorious span of virgin concrete, and two forklifts sat parked by the front door. Dad handed us each a set of keys and told us not to go crazy. Naturally, we drove around the store at full speed (which was nearly equal to the brisk pace attained by elderly mallwalkers) and quoted Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider episodes the entire way.

We ended up near the receiving docks where the baler (A.K.A–“The Cram-A-Lot”) was housed. Jarrod looked at it then at the stack of uncrushed boxes sitting outside it and finally at my dad who nodded like a some kind of retail Caesar. Jarrod squealed with joy and exclaimed, in mock baritone, “We get to use the Cram-A-Lot!!!!!!!!!” He finished the beautiful moment by dancing up to the leviathan machine singing the closing bars of the song.

***

 
1. “A couple of wavy lines…”–Ghostbusters
 

Strangely enough, though we are a family who prides ourselves on our comic film quoting prowess, the number one pick was uttered by a relative stranger–a friend of mine named Brock who came in to help me when I was the director of a Sylvan Learning Center. (I needed a calculus tutor, and he was perfect for the gig.) Well, before the center opened for tutoring, he and I were setting up and had a few minutes to spare. A deck of multiplication flash cards was on his table, and I grabbed them to see if he could do the entire stack before I had to open the door and let in the insufferable hooligans adorable children eager to learn. About eight cards in, I said, “What about this one?”

No lie…Brock looked at me nonchalantly, raised his left hand and gestured the shape as he delivered the quote, “A couple of wavy lines.” I’m only sad because no one else but I was there to witness this samurai-level quote. Thank you, Brock, for allowing me to experience “The Quickening”… albeit by proxy.

***

How about you all? Are you movie quoters? What are some of your favorite lines? Any great stories about perfectly-delivered ones? I’d love to hear about them. 

Also, what are some of your favorite quotable films? As you can see, we usually go for the classics, but I bet there are some hilarious ones (GASP!) we’ve never seen we might want to plumb the depths of for new material. Please leave a list in the comments below!

Welcome In, Reach Out

Well, feed me peanuts and call me Dumbo…

The July issue of In Touch Magazine hit homes last week, and I was blessed and honored beyond all measure to be one of the feature pieces! You can read the article online and leave comments by visiting here, read it via the pages posted below, or (best of all) sign up here to get In Touch Magazine sent to you free of charge every month!

For this one, I explore the methods of evangelism practiced by the ancient Celtic Christians and how we might be able to apply them (and enjoy the same success they did) today. I hope you enjoy. Please leave comments and let me know if you are already using any of the techniques discussed and what your results were. I’m interested in seeing how it works in different communities.