Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Birthday Goodness

June 26th, 1984

That was the day I received something that everyone wants at some point in their life, but not everyone gets to have; something I was lucky enough to receive twice more in my life; something that can be a curse at times, but something that has the potential to be one of the very coolest things you will ever have.

I got a sister.

I was almost 4 years old at the time, so I don't remember much about the early stages of having a little girl sibling. I know, from stories that our parents tell us, that my brother and I were totally enamored with her, and drove our mom crazy trying to 'help' do things with and for her.

I have many, many memories of Joy once I was a little older, of course. She was my roommate my entire childhood. A few years were spent with all THREE of my sisters as my roommates, but always, always, it was me and Joy.

She was neat as a pen, and I was really messy. It drove her crazy how I would leave my many discarded outfits on the floor instead of putting them away. Once, about 5 years ago when she was visiting my house, she laughed at me for stressing about a few toys and dishes that needed to be put away. "How in the heck are you so organized and neat now? Why couldn't you have been like that when we shared a room?"

She liked to go to bed early, and I would often lay awake half the night reading a book.

She and I shared a queen sized bed that became the guest bed when company was in town (which happened a lot, because our parents are awesome and everyone wants to come visit them!) so she and I spent many a night on mattresses in the floor or the couches in the living room.

We couldn't share many clothing items as adults the way a lot of sisters do, because she was so petite, and I...well, that word has never been used to describe me...ever. I do have a few shirts that she would borrow from time to time, and vice-versa.

She LOVED birthdays, and always made a big deal out of them. She really loved celebrating her own, too, and secretly wanted tons of flowers, presents, cards, phone calls, and balloons. She was more that willing to do those things for others, probably at least in part because of how important they were to her. It was aways a competition in our family, once we had grown up and moved away, to see who could be the first to call and wish a 'happy birthday' to the one whose day it was. Joy almost always won. A lot of times she would stay up till midnight, then call at 12:01 to say happy birthday. I was quick to inform her that she better NEVER wake me up from an exhausted-mommy sleep to tell me happy birthday. She was sweet and never did, despite her raging desire to win the phone call race. But she always sent a card, and she always called, and I always felt loved. Since we didn't have a lot of money growing up, one of our presents was getting to pick our birthday supper. I always picked Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Joy always chose BLT's, macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin pie instead of cake.

Today is June 26th, 2013. It's Joy's 29th birthday. I wasn't the first one to call her today. And neither was anyone else in our family. This is the third year in a row that I haven't spoken to her on this day.

Joy is with Jesus.

I think about her a lot, but never more so than around her birthday, because knowing how important they were to her, and not being able to help her feel special on her birthday, makes me feel like a crappy sister.

Yesterday I was thinking about heaven, and wondering what the birthday party etiquette is there. And I think it must be spectacular, and so much more than I can envision, because, after all, that's how the GOD of heaven is, right?

We planted a bunch of flowers at her grave the first spring after she died. There are daffodils, and tulips, and irises, and lilies, and roses, and gladiolas. The tulips and the daffodils bloom early, and then the irises, but the lilies and the roses and the gladiolas all bloom together, and, for the last three years, they have been in full bloom, a breathtaking variety of colors and shapes, on her birthday.

So this is how I know that the party in heaven must be jamming.' Because a God who loves me, and my mom and dad, and my sisters and brother, enough to let the flowers bloom for her birthday on earth, a day she isn't even here to celebrate anymore, surely loves Joy enough to have a great party with her in heaven.

And even though I don't get to talk to her today, I can rest assured that the Lord loves her even more than I do, and He is taking care of making her day special.

But, still, 29 years of a habit is hard to undo. So, there will be balloons, and flowers, and BLT's and mac-n-cheese and pumpkin pie today. And I will look up to the sky, and speak to my Lord, and ask Him to tell her happy birthday, and that I love her, and that I'm sorry I never let her call me at midnight to win the birthday-phone-call race, and I'm sorry for leaving my clothes all over the floor all our lives, and I'm sorry for staying up all night reading when all she wanted was a dark room to sleep in, and I miss her, and she is my hero, and she was the bravest person I ever knew. And I wish I could see her face when the Lord tells her "People all over the country, and in other countries, are reading about your life, and how you served Me, and how you followed Me. You're famous, Joy."

She will blush, and her ears will turn red, and she will brush her bangs off her forehead, and say "Help me, I can't even handle this."

So, this is my birthday present to you, Joy Beth; it's from me, and Heath, and everyone who helped us along the way- I will continue to tell HIS story, and spread HIS glory, just like you would want me to. I love you so much. Thank you for being my little sister. You taught me so much about serving the Lord, and you did it without even trying.

I think the Lord will tell her, don't you? After all, He bloomed flowers on her grave just for our family, because we can't give them to her, so He gave them to us instead.

My God's goodness is breathtaking.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Calluses and Glory

I am now officially a published author.

Its pretty great, I'm not gonna lie. People ask me to sign their books, churches and organizations give me speaking engagements, and my husband bought me a brand-spanking-new laptop as a 'congratulations' gift.

Its cool, this dream come true of mine. Its everything I always thought it would be.

And yet, my life looks exactly the same as it always did.

There is poison ivy in my flower bed, and if I don't pull it, it will take over my yard.

There is a fight happening between two or more of my children at any given moment of the day.

Laundry piles sky high...always.

A scrape needs to be bandaged; a meal needs to be prepared; a friend needs encouragement; an animal needs water and affection; a child needs water and affection; a husband wants a kiss and a long conversation about the activities of the day; one thousand, seven hundred, and forty-five crises happen during that conversation that must be solved; boys engage in bathroom humor and must be reprimanded; toilets must be cleaned; dishes must be washed, dried, put away...and then within the span of a single day, must be done again; flowers need to be watered; beds made; hands washed; hair brushed; shoes hunted; diapers changed; errands run; walks taken; groceries bought; groceries put away; groceries consumed; trips to the pool, which lead to sunburns, and during which you spend twenty minutes in the nasty pool bathroom washing (in the sink by hand) swimming trunks that were used as a toilet; tongue must be bitten to hold back the words that spring to mind while hand-washing said swimming trunks.

Yes, indeed, nothing much has changed in my life.

I have a song that describes me, perfectly, and whenever someone asks me what its like to be published, and what it will be like to become famous, I sing the song in my head (after I laugh and roll my eyes and assure the person that I won't ever be famous and they are crazy)

"I feel no shame, I'm proud of where I came from. I was born and raised in the boondocks.
One thing I know, no matter where I go, I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks.

Its where I learned about liven' and where I learned about love.
Its where I learned about workin' hard.
How havin' a little is just enough.
Its where I learned about Jesus, and knowing where I stand.
You can take it or leave it.
This is me. This is who I am."

There are verses about muddy water, and honey suckle, and tin roofs, and front porches, and gravel roads, and fishin' in craw fish holes...and every single line rings true in my heart.

So, you wanna know what its like to be a published author?

Its exactly the same as not being one.

Except for the really great laptop from which I am composing this blog post.

And the really sweet emails and messages I receive from people who enjoy my book.

And the pressure of figuring out what to say to the churches and organizations I am speaking at this summer.

And the every-day trips to the post office to mail out orders.

And how good I am getting at signing my name.

And how honored I am to have the opportunity to tell this story, and spread HIS fame.

I'm a backwoods, home schooled, callused footed, country girl, through and through, and God chose to use me anyway.

You know what that means, right? It means, He will use us all, all the time, if we will let Him. No matter our upbringing, or shortcomings, or successes, or failures, or attitudes, or expectations. No matter how smart we are or aren't, no matter how much money we have or don't have, regardless of how much we know about the Bible or don't...

Despite it all, and sometimes because of it all and in it all, He is working in our lives. And He leads us to do our lives HIS way, one step at a time. We can't see the whole picture. We can't know what the span of our lives will look like.

All we can do is say "This is who I am, Lord." And then let Him use it.

Faithfulness in the every day steps, in the laundry, and the toilets, and the weeds, and the groceries, and the 20 minute conversations followed by the solving of 1,745 crises.

That's all He is asking of us.

Take a deep breath, and let Him lift up your head, (Psalm 3:3) and then take a step, and then take the next one...and your life, and my life, will be famous for HIS glory.

Callused feet and all.