As I mentioned in my most recent post, the last several months have been hard ones at our house. We’ve been under a fairly high amount of stress, and as a result, none of us has been our best selves as of late. No, that’s putting it too mildly. We’ve all been impatient with one another, unloving and prone to anger. Thankfully, the source of all that strife is in the rearview mirror (aside from a few little odds and ends that we’ll be dealing with for a few more months, but they’re totally manageable).
Now, we have a “mess” to clean up. We have to go back over the last year or so and really take a hard look at ourselves, both as individuals and as a family. To that end, I decided some time ago that we needed to have a kind of “reset,” something involving a spiritual application and a project we would all do together, something that we could point to and say, “This is when we made a decision to do, be, and live better.”
The idea for exactly what that something would be hit me when a co-worker shared Ephesians 4:2 from The Living Bible: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” If that ain’t a great verse for a family on the mend, I don’t know what is!
We did a pretty deep dive into the first sixteen verses of the chapter:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We talked about growing in Christlikeness. We talked about the importance of love first. We talked about unity and how to get and maintain it, as well as why it is important in a family and in the body of Christ. And the way we maintain that unity is through four things (all mentioned in verse two): humility, gentleness, patience, and love. So that’s what we chose to focus on for our project.
First, I bought some supplies on Amazon—acrylic paint, paint pens, a sealant, and a bag of large basalt stones for painting. (You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.)
I figured it would be a good idea to paint the rocks with the base coat before the event, so that’s what I did. Two coats of white acrylic paint were plenty to prepare our “canvasses.”
We sat down with the paint pens and some scratch paper. I told everyone to come up with a design that would help them remember what the word meant (per our discussion).
After about thirty minutes, we sealed them, and they were ready to display alongside a print of the verse I hired someone on Etsy to design. We chose to put everything in the foyer of our house because it’s a space we all walk through multiple times a day. We have to pass it often, and that keeps it on our minds. It’s a way to practice the commandment found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The act of putting it on a wall also gave us a chance to discuss exactly what an Ebenezer or “stone of help” is (1 Samuel 7 and Joshua 4). We explained to the kids how Israel used them to memorialize what God had done for them, to keep from forgetting his kindness and deliverance. And that’s precisely what God did for our family—he protected us (both from the world and ourselves) and delivered us in our time of greatest need. Amen.
Here are close ups of the rocks we painted. (If you’re wondering, I’m “be gentle.”)
Since I became a foster-to-adopt parent in 2015, I’ve learned a lot about assumptions. Just like our boys, my husband and I are white. We’re both just shy of 40, the perfect age to have two kids under the age of eleven. Because of these two facts, many people assume they’re our biological children.
Oftentimes, that is a blessing. We don’t have to tell people their story or make our sons feel awkward or different if we don’t have to. Other times, it has been a hindrance. People assume our youngest is acting out because he’s willful or because we’re lax when it comes to discipline. But the truth is that he is coming to us from a hard place and is still working through the trauma that sent him on the long journey to our front door.
People assume things about adoptive parents, too. This is why I shouldn’t have been confused when a woman I had dinner with recently said, “Well, after you’ve been through the pain of infertility, your children must be such a blessing.” She finished the statement with a knowing wink and a pat on my hand that set her bracelets to jangling. “The Lord certainly heard your prayers, didn’t he?”
Here’s the thing. My husband and I didn’t struggle to conceive, give up, and “settle for” adoption. On the contrary, I’m likely as fertile as the Nile during flood season. We chose not to have biological children for reasons both personal and medical, but when God started leading us to adopt a sibling group here in Georgia, we obeyed.
When I revealed this fact, she sat in stunned silence for a moment, trying to process the information.
Yes, I wanted to say, neither of us fancied children.Yes, when we did choose to adopt, we never considered an infant. Yes, we wanted more than one. Yes, we chose a child with special needs. And no, we’re not crazy people with a martyr complex.
As Christians, we assume we know what adoption is all about. For instance, we know that God executes justice for the fatherless (Deut. 10:18) and that pure and undefiled religion requires the care of widows and orphans (James 1:27), but when it comes to carrying out that high and holy calling, obedience doesn’t always come easily.
It certainly didn’t for us. We dragged our feet at several points in the process, scared out of our minds by an adoption horror story or alarming statistics. But God was patient with us, and despite our fumbling, halting steps, he led us to where we find ourselves today.
And our adoption story—like most folks’—isn’t chock full of Hallmark Channel movie moments. There are tearful, emotional days that end with my husband and I talking in the dark, admitting to one another what big, fat failures we are. But there are also ones filled with small miracles and mercies—good behavior at school, a successful afternoon speech therapy session, a peaceful family dinner. We treasure each one of those days because they mean we’re making progress. Still, more often than not, parenthood has left us singing “Life In Wartime” by the Talking Heads: “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”
We assumed we knew what we were getting into. We were wrong. Oh brother, were we wrong.
Adoption has been both harder than we ever expected and more rewarding than we anticipated. Just as he was when we started this whole crazy mess, God has been with us every step of the way. And for some reason, I can’t help but assume he’s been enjoying himself immensely.
For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that my grandfather, Boyce Dale Lindley, fought a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. At 5:42 AM on Wednesday, August 5th, that fight finally drew to a close, and he went to be with the Lord.
I am beyond heartbroken for myself and my family, but I am thrilled for him. I know he stood in front of God’s throne and heard those words we all long for: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The things we perceive through a glass darkly are clear to him now. Every mystery has been solved. Every tear has been wiped away by Jesus himself, and there is nothing left but joy eternal.
To me, there was no finer man on this earth. Patient, hardworking, loving, kind, giving, and gentle—he set the standard to which I hold all people. And it is likely none will ever measure up.
If you knew him and would like to sign his memorial page, you may do so here. Also, we are asking that in lieu of flowers, people would consider giving to the missionary fund at his church. Specifics can be found by visiting the link above.
I will be one of three people speaking at his memorial service this Sunday, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. It is my hope that they will give you some idea of the kind of wonderful man he was.
Writing a eulogy is no small task. How do you even begin to explain how much a person meant to you or how his presence in your life changed everything for the better? As a writer who believes in the power of narrative, I thought it best to begin with short stories, snapshots that would give you all a sense of the man Boyce Lindley was.
I began recalling memories, scrambling to write them down, and then discarding them almost as rapidly as they came. One was too flippant. Another was a family joke that would take too long to explain. A few were much too sad for a “homegoing” like this one. There were moments I remembered vividly, but when I held them up to the light of others’ recollections, I realized I had embellished mine a bit—decorated it with prose-y flourishes that filled in the gaps and made it more satisfying.
But just because it’s satisfying doesn’t make it true. And if there is anything I hope to do for my grandfather today it is to speak truly of him because he deserves nothing less.
There are people I’ve lost after long battles with cancer—my great uncle James, my young friend Trevor Alexander, a bright and promising student named Catie Carter—and remember them well. For each, there are bright, concentrated moments, as golden and gilt as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But for all their brilliance, they are but a scant handful of memories. Bright drops of color on the canvas of my life.
But for my grandfather there are no standout moments, no highlight reel I can play, no bullet list to quickly go through to explain why he means so much to me. At first, this realization caused me no small amount of panic. What kind of granddaughter was I if I couldn’t remember my precious grandfather down to the most meticulous of details? And there was grief too, wedged between my ribs, thick and immovable, because I believed I had somehow lost something in my negligence. That somehow all the years of knowing Boyce Dale Lindley had been rubbed away and faded by time, never to be returned to me.
But then I thought about my grandfather and the kind of man he was. He was rarely front and center in our family. That was a task he left to my grandmother, his two bright and vivacious daughters, and his three gregarious grandchildren. No, he was happiest watching others, sitting or working quietly on the periphery—helping when and wherever he was needed. Always there, always in the moment, in a supporting role. You would always find him out front sweeping the sidewalk, whistling to himself, washing dishes in the kitchen, or taking out the endless bags of trash our family seems to create every time we’re together. Thankless but necessary jobs—ones that he happily completed for decades.
There was but one exception to this rule.
At the gaming table, he was a king. He was also our scorekeeper, arch nemesis, and teacher extraordinaire. He was never one to turn down a hand of dominoes or hearts, beloved games in our family. In fact, he played them both like a Vegas-level professional—with remarkable skill and style. No matter how many steps ahead you thought, he had already gone as step or two further. He was man who had no college degree to his name but could manage to complete complicated math problems in his head and remember years worth of sales figures on the spot. As I was fond of saying regarding his talent with the bones, “Papaw could make off a dead dog.” And though he beat you consistently, you couldn’t find it in yourself to get upset—because on those rare occasions the victory was yours, he’d celebrate like it was his own.
I didn’t spend time with him sporadically, as I did with my beloved great uncle James, or know him for only a few short months, which was the case with Trevor and Catie. Boyce Lindley was there in the hospital when I was born. He swam with my brother and me for hours on end, long after he was waterlogged and ready to get out. He was a part of Sunday dinners, fish fries, church picnics, and cookouts. He was there for the big moments—recitals and holidays and graduations, family reunions, trips to Disney World, and days at the beach—and for all the run-of-the-mill days in between. For 30+ years, this man was an ever-present and influential participant in my life. That’s not the kind of exposure that leaves behind a few bright blobs. No, it’s the kind that saturates everything it touches.
Boyce Lindley is in my DNA yes, but that’s just simple genealogy. What matters more is what he did in this life. That has sticking power. And it’s tucked deeply into the marrow and bone of me.
I am patient because I never once saw him lose his temper. I give of my finances and time because he showed me how important it was to do so. When I am kind, the person on the receiving end has Boyce Lindley to thank for it. I know what it means to be a Christ follower because I watched him do it without fail for 37 years.
Each moment with him was like a drip of bright blue that fell into the clear pool of my heart, gradually turning it from sky to cornflower, cobalt to navy. That’s why I have no standout memories that feature him alone in the starring role. Simply put, there is no dividing line between us, no moment where he ends and I begin. I am thoroughly infused with him—each member of my family and every person who ever had the privilege to know him is too. And in that way, he will live on in and through and even beyond us. So yes, today we’re all blue, but not only with sadness. And that’s a very good thing.
There are times when “God did it” is the only answer that makes sense.
Last Thursday, Wayne and I attended a “Family Meet Up” event in Atlanta. In essence, it was an adoption fair where representatives and case workers from all the regions in Georgia came together with information and flyers about kids who were available for adoption in their areas. The goal? To match prospective adopters like us with adoptees in need.
I expected the event to be interesting but perhaps not overly busy, but every time I’ve gone to a foster care adoption event, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find the place is full of interested families and single parents. Well, as per usual, this place was packed to capacity, and folks were asking questions, giving and taking names, and making connections like crazy. It was overwhelming to say the least.
Wayne and I visited each booth, each of which had a different theme. Some were simple and cute: a cowboy themed “Adoption Round Up” and another called “Matchup Madness” that was, you guessed it, all about basketball. My two favorites were a Lego themed one called “Build a Strong Family” and a Peter Pan one called “From Neverland to Foreverland.”
Well, we finally got to the Frozen themed booth (“Some People Are Worth Waiting For”), and something interesting happened. No, it didn’t make me like Frozen—that isn’t even a possibility. They had several sibling groups, so we started asking questions of the case worker in charge of finding them permanent homes. We were discussing a brother and sister, and then she dropped a bomb.
In the brochure, it stated that the boy had a “medical condition.” It turns out that condition is cystic fibrosis.
The entire time we’ve been looking to adopt, one thing Wayne and I have agreed on is that we cannot adopt a child with special needs. Our reason? We just don’t have the bandwidth. We both work outside the home and have only a handful of relatives nearby, all of whom are several hours away.
My reaction to this news should have been an audible gasp, a cluck of the tongue, a “Poor baby,” and a subtle return of the flyer to the table. Thanks, but no thanks.
But none of that happened. Instead, I said, “Tell me more. How did they come into care?”
I didn’t back away. And almost a week—and a few hours of research into CF later—I still haven’t stopped thinking about that boy and his little sister. And though everything in me is saying, What are you doing!? This is too much for you to handle. Get real.You’re not strong enough…loving enough…faithful enough…patient enough…spiritual enough, I still can’t quite let go of it.
A few months ago, my CEO preached on the moment in Joshua 4 when Israel crossed the Jordan on dry land and erected twelve memorial stones to remind them of God’s miracle. At the end, he invited each of us to come to the front and select a stone of our own from the pile in front of him. We were supposed to use it either to mark something God had done for us or something we were praying for him to do.
I drew this….
I keep telling God I’d like a little boy and a little girl, ages eight and six respectively.
Guess what the brother and sister we talked to that case worker about are? Yep, eight and six.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe that’s the reason CF hasn’t scared me off yet. I keep thinking about how hard those kids’ lives have been, especially his. Not only does he live each and every day wondering who is going to feed him, shelter him, and take him to school. He also has to wonder if he’ll get his breathing treatment and if someone will help him clear the mucus from his lungs. He has to wonder if anyone will take him to the doctor when he’s sick and get him the many medications he needs. If someone will hold him when the coughing just won’t stop and will love him as their child even though they will be asked to attend his funeral one day.
And the thought of a child being asked to bear all that leaves me furious and brokenhearted at the same time. Me…the woman who never wanted kids and who, even after she said yes to adoption, added the caveat “but absolutely no kids with special needs.”
If that’s not a moment where you have to say,”God did it,” I don’t know what is.
I’ve been praying for God to change my heart, to break it for what breaks his, and to soften it in preparation for all the challenges Wayne and I are going to face. I’m essentially asking him to do what he promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
I’m starting to realize that, no, I will never be spiritual enough or strong enough. I will never be sufficient for the task to which I’ve been called. But I’m not supposed to be. However, Jesus is all that and more, and recognizing that has given me a peace about our adoption that I’ve not experienced in the many months we’ve been attending classes, filling out paperwork, and meeting with case workers.
I’ve come to understand that a heart of stone doesn’t protect me or keep me from getting hurt. It only prohibits me from feeling the emotions (both good and bad) that I need to experience to become who I am meant to be. God doesn’t give us a heart of flesh only to leave it exposed to the elements and susceptible to wounds. Quite the opposite is true. The apostle Paul tells us, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
I may not adopt this little boy and girl, but the sudden and inexplicable willingness to do so taught me a great deal about myself, God’s design, and how he does indeed purpose all things—even a headstrong, unwilling mom—for good.
I was honored to have a piece published over at youareherestories.com today. If you haven’t checked out this site before, go! There is new writing posted almost daily from six staff writers plus lowly guests like myself. And every single article has to do with the topic of place in all its various forms and fashions.
Florida has two seasons: summer and January. And flip flops can (and should) be worn during both.
Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and its more laidback cousin, the Gulf of Mexico, it quietly putters along while the states above it tromp through seasons and mark time in the usual fashion. Like Peter Pan’s Neverland, Florida is a green, sun-soaked playground where April is indistinguishable from October and a staggering array of flowers blossom year-round between gumbo-limbo trees and cabbage palms.
To a nine-year-old child like me, born in the grubby northeast corner of Arkansas….
Sometimes, it’s because of the way they sound. Is there a better term to describe the sound mud makes under your boot that squelch? Could bacon do anything other than sizzle in the pan?
Other times, words possess a certain rightness because they’re the ideal way to express a mood or feeling. Take languish for instance, a word that means “to become weak; to droop or fade.” With all its long vowels, it slides slowly from the tongue and softens the mouth. Even the “g” in its center hangs like a fat cat’s belly, as if it barely has the strength to hold itself upright.
There are words like décolletage, anathema, palimpsest, and paronymous, all desirable for their rarity. There are also well-worn ones —friend, laugh, peace—that are threadbare from being frequently pulled from our linguistic back pockets. And like the Velveteen Rabbit, they are all the more loved for their familiarity.
Some words are so precise that they don’t have an equivalent in another language. French has retrouvailles, which means “the happiness of meeting again after a long time.” And German—a language known for plosive and guttural sounds—boasts backpfeifengesicht or “a face that cries out for a fist in it.”
English speakers know all to well that our mother tongue favors quantity over quality. So finding the perfect word means we must rummage through piles of synonyms to it suss out. Why, even a simple word like happy has more than fifty cousins—everything from cheerful and merry to ecstatic and jubilant. And like the crayons in a child’s color box, each one is a slightly different shade, a degree warmer or cooler, brighter or dimmer than those around it.
But there are also times when there is no perfect word, no combination of consonants and vowels can capture exactly we want to say.
My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, and his mind has declined to the point that institutionalized care is necessary. Thankfully, I can use the term in the loosest sense of the word. Far from institutional, the place where he lives has fewer than thirty patients and is filled with the trappings of home—everything from vases full of fresh flowers to hand towels in the bathrooms. People volunteer to read to and play games with the residents. A hairdresser comes in once a week to give the men a quick trim and the ladies a wash and set. Home cooked meals and snacks are served at the same time each day in the communal dining area. I’ve stayed in hotels that didn’t boast such amenities.
But this isn’t a cozy bed and breakfast. It’s a place for people who will never improve, and like the Eagles say of their symbolic Hotel California, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” This was made clear to me when I realized the doors there required a code to get out as well as in. It’s a simple sequence: 2-0-1-5. The current year. Four digits visitors can’t forget but that their loved ones can barely remember. Because when memories are scattered like Pick-Up Stix across the kitchen floor, keeping track of time isn’t as simple as it once was.
Because I live several hours away from my grandfather, I was the only member of my family who had yet to visit him in this place, and that made me feel as if I was letting him down somehow, shirking my duties as a granddaughter because I had yet to take stock of his situation.
So I went with my mother, grandmother, husband, and kid cousin to sit with him for a few hours. We planned on enjoying the mild Florida weather in the large screened-in porch out back, to sit in the swings and talk of pleasanter times. But the instant we walked through the door, one of the patients saw my grandmother and cried, “Play! Please play!”
Unlike me, she visits daily, and part of her routine involves sitting down at the wheezy, grumbling piano to plunk out familiar tunes like “God Bless America” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in addition to the many hymns she can perform from memory. She nods and pats the poor woman’s spindly hands reassuringly.
As she plays, her cherry red acrylic fingernails clicking on the plastic keys like a woodpecker jabbing in search of a juicy beetle, many of the patients grow still and close their eyes. Some sing. For others, the verses and choruses vanished long ago, but the tune is still there, stubborn until the end. And so they hum.
My grandfather is one of the latter. And as my grandmother finishes the final verse of “He Hideth My Soul” and switches over to “The Old Rugged Cross,” I watch his trembling lips struggle to form the once familiar words….
“On a hill far away stood and old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame…”
How many times has he sung this? I wondered. How many camp meetings, gospel sings, and Sunday services? And the words are just gone?
What was it I felt in that moment? It was both pity and something deeper. There was pride too, because Alzheimer’s hadn’t claimed every inch of him. Frustration. Rage. Confusion. Heartache certainly. And there was also love—a tenderness so fierce it could crush bone. They were all correct words in their way, but there wasn’t one that represented the sum total.
I could see it on my cousin’s face however. It was the mix of sadness, confusion, and grief that comes when you realize your life has been irrevocably changed—and not for the better.
I knew he saw the same expression on mine as we both sat fighting back tears, the kind that constrict your throat and make your eyes burn but never quite spill over. For that small mercy, you’re grateful. Because once you start sobbing, it will crack you wide open and release those emotions words don’t dare lay claim to. And despite the fact you are finally able to voice your hurt, you do so in a language only you can understand.
It’s officially December, which means Christmas will be here before we know it. This year is our first in a house–a real home with a garage and trash day and lawn service–so we thought we’d celebrate Jesus’ birth in fine style with a real Christmas tree, which is something we’ve never had. It’s been up for two days, and the floor is covered in needles. But the house smells great (as does the cat’s head).
My grandmother was kind enough to give us a box or three of ornaments to save us a little money, but we wanted the tree to have a few things on it that were uniquely us. My parents’ tree is covered in different items gathered over a lifetime spent celebrating together, and there’s a story behind almost every piece. Wayne and I began that tradition this year. Here’s what I picked…
Yes, it’s a very traditional choice, I know. However, it didn’t seem fitting to have a tree without a Rudolph themed ornament on it. Also, it’s a tree decoration depicting something decorating a tree. It was too meta to pass up.
Wayne chose to go with something a little less traditional but very much him.
Yep, that’s Animal (his favorite Muppet) wearing a Santa hat. It’s positively festive if I do say so myself.
There are also a few musical notes and instruments—mostly French horns due to the fact they’re ubiquitous at Christmas. Sadly, few people associate the trombone (or even the sackbut) with the holidays.
I look forward to building our collection of tree trimmings, but there are also things my parents have that I look forward to owning one day. None more than the lovely and gracious decoration we fondly call Ho Ho.
My mother made this guy when she was in middle school. Originally, the thing was supposed to be a pillow, but she got fed up with it less than halfway through. Instead, it’s pinned to what looks to be a piece of cardboard. There are six large circles about the size of liter glass bottles, and I swear I can see the faint impression of 7UP in one of them. The “Ho Ho” is done skillfully in the best felt her craft basket could offer. (Who cares if it’s one “Ho” short!?) You will notice that he is a bit askew. That’s because she lost count several times and made a few extra loops without changing colors first. Also, she didn’t have any black yarn, so Santa’s boots and eyes are an electric shade of purple. When I was a kid, I imagined Ho Ho was phasing, like someone on Star Trek, or he was a ghost taking shape. (I think I was mostly concerned because the poor little guy doesn’t have any arms.)
It started as a joke of sorts really, putting Ho Ho out in the house. For years, it was set above the doorway separating the den from the living room at my grandparents’ house in Arkansas. But when we moved to Florida, Ho Ho was placed in the box with essential decorations like the manger scene and precious and irreplaceable homemade ornaments. It wasn’t even a question of where it deserved to be.
At first, I think we gleefully put it out in a place of prominence to give my mom some grief. But every year, we’d all cheer when it came out of the box. Someone was given the honor of placing him on a table or a shelf where everyone who came to our home could see him in all his glory. And it was a big deal to do it! The first time Wayne was asked to do the honors, his face lit up because he knew he was truly a member of the family. I think Elisha handled Elijah’s mantle less carefully. (Okay, that may be gilding the lily a bit, but you get the idea.)
One of the many things I love about Christmas is that we all celebrate it, but no two families do so in exactly the same way. Last year, I wrote about Chipmunk Day, which is something I’ve always thought was fairly unique to my clan. However, there are tons of other things we look forward to. Getting new pajamas, making my dad sing “Two Turtle Doves” because it irritates the snot out of him, watching Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, eating party pizzas, reading the Christmas story from Luke, playing hearts and dominoes, my grandparents sneaking into our rooms on Christmas morning to sing and wake us up—this is the stuff that a truly joyful yuletide is made of. Other families may do totally different things to celebrate, and I’m willing to bet they look forward to their traditions as much as we do ours. Whatever you love as a family, that’s Christmas.
It’s pretty safe to say that no one else in the entire world has a Ho Ho. And that’s what makes him perfect. Martha Stewart might not call him a “good thing,” but we sure do.
Do you have some Christmas traditions you’re looking forward to? Do you have a “Ho Ho” of your own that’s already in a place of honor at your house? I’d love to hear about your traditions. Tell me about them in the comments section below!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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 hooligansadorable 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!