Thursday, March 27, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 7

Emma wouldn't let me hold her, at first.

She let me stare at her. She smiled for this picture. She even tolerated the touch of my fingers running through her irresistible curls. But when I reached to take her from Noreen and she found herself in strange arms, she cried.

Maybe she'd felt the weight of my gaze when they first arrived. I'd been nervous knowing Larry and the five children were coming to the resort pool to spend our last afternoon and evening with us, and kept darting anxious peeks toward the parking lot. When Noreen finally said, "Here they come," my heart began to tap-dance. What would I say to this man? What could I say? I didn't want to stare, but the staring began. And what a beautiful family to watch. The three oldest--Isaac, Isabelle, and Ali--ran ahead of three-year old Sebastian, and Larry, who carried Emma in her car seat. I believe my first words were, "You kids have the greatest hair anywhere!" And they do. Their thick, sun-kissed coils were in full motion, springing one way and then another. I wanted to touch every curl. But before I could reach out and embarrass us all, Larry and the younger two arrived.

"Hello, Sebastian," I said when we were introduced. He smiled shyly and let me take his hand. I got about twelve seconds out of him before he lost interest, but that was okay. It was time to meet Larry.

"We're praying for you back home," I told him.

"We'll take all those prayers," he answered.

And then there was Emma.

It isn't that she's hurting worse than the rest of them. They all miss Hannah. And I'm sure it's even harder on the others because they know exactly who they're missing. But this baby has been robbed. She's missed her mother bending over her crib and speaking to her in gentle motherese, and rubbing lotion on those little chubby legs, and smiling her to sleep. I wanted to hug all that hurt away. But she'd have none of it, at first.

So I woo her. For two hours, I make faces, ask questions she can't answer (although she tries), and give her my cell phone to chew and poke and drool upon. When we leave the pool to go back up to the condo, I risk a touch of her silky cheek and let my hand linger on that head of shiny black curls. She gives me a look, but she lets me do it.

I get to know Ali and Isabelle while in that room. When I offer to take Ali into the bathroom and dry her hair, she gives me a pensive look, hesitates a loooong half a second, and then says, "Yes. You can do that." Once that hair dryer starts up, so does her chatter. I hear "actual" this (she means "actually") and "actual" that, and "actual" everything in between. After six or seven references, I begin to think she actually likes that word.

We leave the bathroom as friends. Isabelle decides she might be able to endure a bit of that, so she's next. When she slips in a few "actuallys," I smile.

We sit at the table, waiting for the clock to say "dinner," and I watch Larry fathering his children. His voice is calm. His eyes rarely leave his children. And when he deals with them--to wipe Ali's hair from her eyes or move back a cup Emma is in danger of overturning, his movements are gentle.

At one point, realizing that he hadn't brought up the kids' change of clothes, Larry says, "I'm going to run down to the car and get their clothes." If it was any other father holding any other one-year old, I'd let the words out. I'd say, "I'll take the baby." But I bite back the instinct. It's so obvious that he wants to be with her, and she wants to be with him right back.

Isaac, Isabelle and Sebastian see him rise. "Where ya going, Daddy? Can I go to the car with you?"

Larry nods. When Isabelle reaches up to take his hand, he meets her coming down. And when the family-who-can't-get- enough-of-each-other slip out the door (Ali, talking my sister's ear off, is oblivious to their departure), I have to go in my room for a minute and release a bit of the emotion overwhelming me.

A bit later, we leave for Snoopy's Pier on Padre Island, a no-frills, good-eatin', fishermen's hangout. Just as I've been promised, the mahi mahi fish & chips melt right in my mouth. But what I'll remember about Snoopy's is that it is here, at this rough-hewn table with the lapping of the Gulf below us and the chatter of patrons and the smell of fish all around us, that Emma decides I am safe.

I reach for her again, and she leaves the haven of Noreen's arms. Looking up at me, she grins as though we've been friends forever, begins chattering a blue streak of nonsense, and shows me how she can point her index finger up in the air--giggling, as she does so, at her own dexterity.

She spies my cup of water and lets me know she's interested, so I start giving her drinks from the straw. While I'm doing so, Noreen begins to prompt her to say "please." I then begin to prompt her to say "thank you." Something about that hurts my heart. This baby doesn't need a village. She needs her mother.

We share a lemon wedge (which she loves) and then she notices the fish plaque on the wall behind us. "Fishie," I say, pointing. I say it again a time or two. But after just those few references, she points to it on her own when I say the word. She's brilliant. And she's kind. After testing a limp fry, she offers the other half to me. No sense in declining, because this child is on a mission. So I accept the half-eaten fry and taste her little lemony fingers as they poke the potato in my reluctant mouth. She's not content with my "thank you." I have to follow up with appreciative, "that's the best limp, half-eaten fry I've ever had" noises.

And then, finally, tired from all that brilliant poking, pointing and prodding, Emma rests her tiny head on my shoulder. My heart does a flip-flop. And I think, This is for you, Hannah. I'll do this for you tonight because you can't. But I'll pray for the day when you take it all back for yourself.

*    *    *

This morning, I'm thinking of black curls and lemony fingers. And I'm praying as hard as I have in a long while.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

bump: it's amazing i ever finish a thoug ...

I'm planning one last post about my trip to Corpus Christi, but last week was so overpacked with activity that I have a lot of catching up to do on my work-in-progress. No blogging till then. I'll post something new in a day or two. Today, though, here's a post from August 2005. It seemed appropriate in light of the whole left brain/right brain test I did last week.

Here's a peek into my world, and the reason why I have three half-finished knitting projects in my knitting bag, a one-quarter completed portrait on my painting easel, and only two-thirds of my new lavender beds dug and planted.

I'm nearly finished editing a book for my publisher (Watch for Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Love from Cook Communications some time next year. I have a chapter entitled "Why?" included in this compilation). About three-quarters of the way through the book, I come across a recipe for easy cracker toffee. Now, this happens to be something I make frequently, only I've always called it Poor Man's Almond Roca. I notice, as I'm editing, that the contributor of this recipe says to melt the chocolate chips in the microwave before pouring over the toffee/cracker combo. I don't do it that way. I sprinkle the chocolate chips on top and let the oven melt them for me. So I write a note to that effect to my editor suggesting that they may want to consider simplifying that step in the book. That's where my afternoon begins to spin off-course.

I leave the editing, because suddenly, it seems like a very, very good idea to bring Poor Man's Almond Roca to church tonight. I preheat the oven, pull the jelly roll pan out of the cupboard, and take the brown sugar out of the cupboard. Noticing we barely have enough for this recipe, I decide to make a note to pick up some more. But I don't want to just write it on a tiny square of paper (like I usually do, just before losing it), because I'm turning over a new leaf. I've instituted ... the Fly Lady's Control Journal.

I go into our bedroom to retrieve my binder. Flipping through the pages to find my grocery list, I come across one I made up myself that says, "Pantry: Things to use up; things to replace." Never mind that the paper is titled "Pantry." The first image I have is of our refrigerator. I remember seeing a half-used bag of tortillas in the fridge, so of course I decide to make Enchilada Casserole for dinner. Do we have hamburger? Only a trip out to the freezer will tell.

As I'm kicking off my pink slippers and getting ready to shove my just-pedicured feet (thanks again for the gift certificate, Denise :) into my brown garden clogs, I notice that someone spilled Rice Krispies in the pantry. So of course I grab the broom and sweep up the mess. As I'm pulling out the dust pan from under the sink, I see the large Mason jar I stuck in there after the last batch of cut roses ran their course. Roses would look nice on the table alongside Enchilada Casserole ... so I don the clogs and head out to cut a few.

The clippers are down by the lavender beds. On my way to fetch them, I pass the blueberry bushes and see that the ones I left to ripen when I picked several days ago have gone and done just that. Forgetting the clippers (which is a good thing, because once back inside, I notice the roses my dad brought me yesterday, sitting smack dab in the center of the table. What was I thinking?), I grab a bowl and return to snatch the blue, plump-to-bursting orbs. Only after I've done that and am walking back up toward the house do I remember the hamburger.

I veer left and cross the lawn to the shed, where we keep the chest freezer Dave's parents passed down to us a few years back. I lift the lid and, because the hydrolic spring thingy is broken (why do you think it was passed down to us?) prop it up with my head while I poke around past the burritos and bagels and butter cubes. Near the corn dogs, I find the needed two pounds of hamburger. I dislodge my head, return to the house, and stick the baggie of frozen meat in the microwave to defrost.

Mildly on-task, I stand at the sink and sort the blueberries for freezing. But I leave them in mid-sort when I decide that an iced latte would make the job more fun. It takes me ten minutes to eke four shots out of our seventeen-year old espresso machine, but it's worth it.

Around sip three, for reasons known only to God and my palate, I get a hankering for dinner rolls. And that reminds me that I want to get myself back into the habit of making and freezing extra pizza crust, muffins and cookie dough. I always feel like I've managed a coup when I do that--as if I've cheated my kitchen out of an extra scrubbing. Why not make three batches of cookie dough as long as I'm dirtying the Kitchen Aid? My thoughts return to the dinner rolls. I wonder if I can find a good recipe for wheat dinner rolls on RecipeZaar.com ...

I leave the berries and search RecipeZaar. And in the middle of doing so, it occurs to me that I'm sitting right where I left off forty-five minutes ago, only back then I was doing the only thing I was supposed to do, which was editing. And then I think that I should blog about how easy it is to get sidetracked ... so here I am.

Just as soon as I hit "post," I'll get back on track. As I look at it, no harm was done. Dinner's in the works, the pantry floor is swept, and I rescued four cups of berries from an otherwise inevitable death-by-vine-wrinkle.

I'm just wondering why the jelly roll pan is sitting on the counter.



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 6

The body of Christ is a beautiful thing.

I saw glimpses of that beauty in Texas -- testimonies that stood in sharp contrast to the dark injustice of Hannah's ordeal.

From the beginning, Pastor Rod and Noreen Carver, along with several other couples, did the dance of court-ordered guardianship for the Overton children. Larry and Hannah--then out on bail awaiting trial--were not allowed to be alone with their own children. So the body in Corpus Christi surrounded them. In rotating shifts, these families enabled the Overtons to stay together around the clock, albeit with witnesses. Nothing was easy during that time--a trip anywhere required a minimum of three cars to accommodate everyone and fulfill the court's requirements. But no one complained.

When lies prevailed and Hannah turned for one last look at her family, it was the body of Christ that did for her what she could not do herself. They held her children and comforted her husband and whispered the assurances most needed. They made meals and washed faces, brushed the girls' hair, stood by Larry's side at every court hearing, and clapped when Emma learned to roll over, and to sit up, and to crawl.

I met one woman who homeschools Hannah's children. I met another who can't wait for Wednesdays, when it's her turn to have the baby. Emma has twelve mothers now. There's something so clearly wrong about that, but also incomparably beautiful.

The body at Calvary Chapel of the Coastlands has written letters, petitioned officials, and endured hostility from those who believe the lies about Hannah. They've prayed faithfully. They've kept a steady flow of love-from-home letters to first one prison, and now another. They've brought Hannah worship.

It's that last image that brought me to tears during my visit. Anita, our retreat worship leader, explained how they did it. Before Hannah was moved 350 miles from Corpus, a large group of worshipers would gather on Tuesday evenings and unfurl large banners they'd made during the week. On the banners would be the name of whichever song they were singing. From her window on the fifth floor, Hannah--standing on tiptoe--would hold the song sheets they'd sent earlier. And though she couldn't hear a word of those songs, she'd follow the hand gestures the team had worked out for her ... and worship along with her church family.

The image has stayed with me. Now, whenever I think of the fellowship in Corpus Christi, I picture them pantomiming worship songs on the grass below the jail; the headlights of their cars trained on those banners, perhaps illuminating the mixture of joy and sorrow on their upturned expressions. And I envision Hannah, with just her eyes showing over the ledge of her fifth floor window.

This life is full of sharp edges and harsh tones, cruel jabs and empty promises. But God has provided a haven--sweet words to replace the bitter; a balm to soothe the blows, the hope of promise to counter the lies.

How beautiful is His bride.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 5

A little knowledge can paralyze you.

In one of our early conversations about the retreat, Noreen had shared the story of one of the women in their fellowship--a woman named Linda whose daughter had been murdered five years earlier. I could relate to that situation because we'd gone through that ourselves, and at nearly the same time.

Then, just a few days before I left for Texas, Noreen told me that Hannah's mother, Lane, would be at the retreat.

I couldn't ignore the possibilities. What if I referenced Rachel's death and caused a pang of remembrance to Linda? What if I mentioned Hannah, and it happened to be the one second in a long day when Lane was not thinking of her?

I thought of them both during the first teaching and scanned the crowd, wondering which expectant face was the face of a grieving mother.

It wasn't until the second day that I discovered who Linda was. She happened to be the small, happy, battery-powered woman I'd already shared several conversations with. A self-described "Pilippina" woman (and I can still hear that delightful accent), Linda had been the first to welcome me to the retreat. By the time we stood together on the balcony of one condo room at the first stop of a progressive dinner, and she began telling me the story of her daughter, I felt like Linda and I were friends.

She began first by telling me a little about her life in the Philippines, and about coming to America, and then about how her daughter had shared Jesus with her. And then she told me about the plans her daughter and her husband had for adopting a baby, and how the day before that baby was to arrive from China, while Linda's daughter was leaning over the baby's crib arranging a quilt, a man who had quietly broken in the house came up behind her and began stabbing her repeatedly. Sometime before or after her death, the man raped her, then set the house on fire to cover up the crime.

"Do you know what?" Linda said. "The rest of the house burned all around her, but it didn't touch my daughter. That was God."

My head hurt from the implications of that story. When Linda told me about the phone call she received, and the blunt message, "Linda, your daughter is dead," I joined her in that long-ago room. I watched her fling the phone to the floor, and ran with her to the corner of that unseen room to huddle in disbelief. I felt the shattering of her heart as though it were my own, and I wondered how she ever stood up again.

"When you talked about Rachel," Linda continued, "it did hurt. It made me think of my daughter--my only daughter. But I know she's with Jesus." She then told me that when he was arrested, the accused stated that her daughter had, with her last breath, told him, "Take anything you want. I love you, and Jesus loves you."

I knew many things in the moment Linda shared that story with me. I knew that her daughter was healed and whole in the presence of the One she loved most, I knew that Linda would continue loving and serving God while she awaited her reunion, and I knew that as far as she and I were concerned, she was all right.

But I didn't know how Lane was feeling.

The following morning, just before I gave my last teaching, I was standing near the book table in the back of the room talking with one of the young girls. As we finished our conversation, I noticed a slight woman standing off to the side, waiting. Her eyes were kind; her face, serene. When the young girl said good-bye to me and walked away, I turned to the woman.

"I'm Lane," she said. And then, as I began to cry and we held each other, she said, "Thank you for loving Hannah."

We talked for a few long moments--about Hannah, about her children. And as I looked into those beautiful eyes, I knew a few things for certain. I knew that Lane trusted the God who was watching over her daughter, and I knew that she'd keep loving and serving Him, even though her heart was broken.

What I didn't know was how long He'd wait to heal her.

How long, Lord? How long will You permit this injustice to stand? Take all the glory You can from this. Harvest all the souls You desire. Bring all the lessons possible. But soon, Lord, soon ... won't You show Yourself mighty on Hannah's behalf?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

how do i get dressed in the morning?

(More on Corpus Christi in the next day or two. Today is a "running here and there" day.)

I could have told you as much:

You Are 15% Left Brained, 85% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning. Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others. If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic. Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility. Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way. If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art. Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

And I could have predicted this too: Dave, who is about as even-keeled as you can get (and pleasant, and longsuffering, and patient, and forgiving, and gracious ...) came out 55% left brained; 45% right brained.

If you go take the test, come back and tell me the results.



Saturday, March 08, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 4

After the first session, I came back to my room and found this picture waiting for me in my inbox. My cousin, Tracy Willms, had sent it to me--a memento from my visit last September.

That reunion was 26 years in the making. Though much time had passed and we'd walked very different paths, when he called me out of the blue one morning last April, we talked for three hours and caught up on key moments we'd both missed. By the time we said good-bye, I'd almost forgotten the years we'd lost.

Then in September, I went to southern California for a pastors' wives conference and to do a bit of writing-related work, and I finally got my face-to-face reunion with this favorite cousin. Sitting at his house, talking and laughing with him, I'd watch his face and sometimes catch glimpses of the boy he once was, back when life's challenges were small. I remembered afternoon barbecues, and running at dusk in our uncle's backyard. I remembered one surreal winter night when, without any discussion or planning, we both snuck out of our homes (just blocks away) at midnight and spent an hour playing in the snow together. I remembered the last night I saw him, just before he left to join the navy, and how the boy changed into a man right before my eyes. And I was glad for those memories, but glad too that we had time now to make new ones.

Sitting in my condo in Corpus Christi, with this picture on my laptop screen, I thought of how good God is. I thought of His words in Joel 2:25, when He promised to "restore the years that the locusts have eaten." And then my thoughts turned again to Hannah.

Chase away the locusts, God. They've consumed enough. Bring the reunion Hannah longs for. Let the next picture be of that moment when she's engulfed in the arms of Larry and Isaac, Isabelle, Ali, Sebastian and baby Emma. And when she's holding the ones she misses most, let the memory of their absence fall away. Restore what she's lost, Lord.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

article on hannah

So many of you have written to tell me you're praying for Hannah, and to ask for updates. The current issue of World Magazine contains this article about Hannah's case. If you have a minute, please read.

And keep praying.



Monday, March 03, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 3

Pretty much the moment Noreen and I settled on the retreat theme, months earlier, my internal debate began. I remember ending that phone call thinking, How do you speak for four hours on the subject of joy to a roomful of grieving women?

They need joy, the optimist in me said.

But you can't push them there, the pessimist argued.

Would my illustrations be insensitive? Would my admonitions be too bossy? Would it all sound implausible, impossible?

Every time I sat down to work on my teachings, those polar voices resumed their tiff. I'd have to la, la, la them to silence just so I could capture a few thoughts on the screen.

I chose my words carefully. I looked over every story, every illustration with an eye for Hannah, and how it might affect her loved ones. My aim was to lift up joy and say, "This can be yours."

When all was said and done, and I'd printed up the notes for my four, one-hour teachings, I dismissed those cranky voices and sighed in relief. It all felt right. It felt like I'd maneuvered myself through a minefield.

And so, on that first night of the retreat, when I sat down with my notes for one more look before heading down to the first session, my heart gave a little twist when I came to the first illustration and noticed I'd made a reference to prison.

How did that slip by? I wondered. I scribbled out the reference, thought for a minute, and replaced it with something a little less stark.

I turned the page ... and saw a reference to chains. The twist in my heart became a full shimmy. What had I done? More scribbling. More scanning. More heart galloping. Prison, prisoner, shackles, chains ... I'd done the very thing I most wanted not to do--I'd filled my teaching with words too familiar, too painful for this group of women.

My sister, Nancy, was in the condo's living room reading her Bible. "Listen to this," I said. When I'd finished, I asked her the question I was wondering myself. "Do you think this isn't a coincidence?"

Nancy nodded. "It all must be in there for a reason."

I thought about Romans 11:25, which says that "a partial blindness has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." God, apparently, had granted me a partial blindness until I was fully away from my printer and unable to fix my words.

Noreen called from her condo just then to pray with me.

"You won't believe this," I began.

She listened, and agreed. "You have to leave it in." We prayed together, and then I gathered my notes and walked with Nancy down to the meeting room. I walked through those doors, looked at all those beautiful, smiling faces, and said another quick prayer. Father, don't let me hurt them.

I'm a big believer in laying all your cards on the table. So after worship, after a short vignette in what would be an ongoing play throughout our retreat, and after a brief introduction, I stood at the podium and told the women what had happened. I told them my hopes for our retreat, my fears over how my words might affect them, and my belief that it had to be said. And I told them what the Lord had spoken to me on the walk down from my room.

"There's more than one kind of prison. Sometimes, the chains we find around us are chains of our own making. I believe God will free Hannah--and I believe He wants to free you, too."

I shared my points, my stories, my verses. And I watched the same progression I've seen dozens of times in dozens of settings. The women didn't know me--and then they did. Polite smiles transformed into genuine smiles of connection and understanding. We went from strangers to friends, and I knew that by the end of the second session, we'd go from friends to family.

I held off crying until the very end, when, while praying, I had a vision of Hannah--Hannah not being in the room with us. So I prayed what I was thinking. "Tonight, Lord, give Hannah her own retreat with You. Let Your nearness be more real to her than it's ever been. Let her know how loved she is."

"And then, Lord, please bring her home."

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