In the Aeroplane

Several years ago, my nephew Carlton lived with me for a few months and we had a pretty great time. He moved in with me in August, right before school started. We quickly got into a routine of going to school during the day, coming home to eat dinner, work on lesson planning/ homework, and then we would watch several episodes of He-man. We were always confused why nobody recognized that He-Man was a slightly less dressed Prince Adam.

We spent a lot of time just hanging out in the living room either practicing our guitars or watching TV. We usually settled on older shows, but often we found ourselves watching a local cooking show. It was a truly awful show and we enjoyed doing our own commentary as we watched. We did learn to make homemade pizza rolls, so that was a bonus.

At the time, I had been taking weekly guitar lessons. Carlton also signed on with my instructor, so every Thursday we loaded up the car with our instruments and would drive across town. I would read or do lesson plans while Carlton took his bass lessons and he would do the same while I took my guitar lessons. We would then go out to eat, usually to our favorite pizza place in town.

Music was something that we shared in common. That spring, we had gone to music festival in Atlanta and saw one of his favorite musicians, Jeff Mangum. I had never seen Carlton so excited and it was really fun to watch him truly enjoy himself. He spent most of that fall learning the songs of Neutral Milk Hotel, the band Jeff Mangum sang with. We attended the local music festival, spent hours in the record shop, and would argue over our opinions on rap music.

One day we got out of guitar lessons and discovered that Prince had died. Carlton wasn’t a fan, but listened as I talked about how Prince’s music was always in the background of my growing up years. We pulled into the pizza parlor’s parking lot and walked up the steps. When we entered, I ordered while Carlton went to their record selection. The pizza place had a large record collection and encouraged patrons to try out new tunes. I grabbed our drinks and found a table when I heard “Purple Rain” come over the speakers. I got a little teary-eyed, not because Prince had died, but because Carlton had listened and thought it would mean something to me.

One of my most vivid memories of him living with me, was just an ordinary fall day. It was a sunny Saturday and I had opened all of the windows in the house. The air was fresh and swirling through the house as I worked in the kitchen. Carlton was in the living room sitting on the coffee table playing his favorite song, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I suddenly stopped what I was doing and realized that the days were numbered. One day, Carlton would be older and he wouldn’t be hanging out with me on a Saturday afternoon, content to work on a song. I stood in the kitchen and listened and felt so thankful that I got to share that moment. I still struggle to listen to that song and not get carried away to that day. I remember the sound, the smell, and the feel of the air in the room.

Tonight, I visited with Carlton in his apartment. It blows my mind that he’s old enough to work a job and pay rent and have a light bill in his name. We had been talking about him still playing music, and I was telling him that I had picked up my guitar this week and worked on learning to play Be Thou My Vision. He told me that he was working on Jesus Loves Me and he played it for me. We messed around with his guitar for awhile before he settled on the couch and shared a new song he had written which was funny and creative and so good. As we sat there, I requested In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and when he struck the familiar chords, I was taken back to that fall day in my house and my heart was full.

Memories

My sister and her family lived about four hours away for several years. My mom and I would often meet my sister or brother-in-law halfway at a gas station off the interstate and pick up ‘the boys.’ They would sometimes just get to spend the weekend, but on longer breaks from school they would come for a week or two. We always cleared the schedule when the boys came for a visit. Over the years, we have had some really funny experiences with them. So, for this post, I’m going to be that person who gushes on and on about her nephews.

Noah

Several years ago I was driving with Noah in the car. He was perched in his car seat in the back , telling me that I was going the wrong way. From the time he could speak, Noah was always giving the driver instructions from his car seat.

A typical conversation:

Noah: Uh, you’re going to the wrong way.

Me: No, Noah- this is the way to Nanny’s house.

Noah: No it’s not. You’re going the wrong way.

Me: Noah- this is the only way to go to Nanny’s house. This is the road she lives on. We drove down this road when we left Nanny’s house earlier today.

Noah: Nope. This is not the way to Nanny’s house. You should have turned back there.

After arriving at Nanny’s house there was no admission that the driver had been going to right way the entire time.

Another time, I was driving and Carlton, Noah, and mom were with me. At the time, I had a small blue Subaru. We were just driving to our destination when Noah piped up from his car seat in the back, “Audrey, when you go to prison, can I have your car?” I questioned why he thought I would be going to prison, but he didn’t have an answer. I told him that if I did end up in prison, then I guess he could have my car. I don’t know what about me driving down the road lead him to believe I would one day be behind bars.

Carlton

We went to Disney World when Noah was 4 and Carlton was 8. One night we had dinner at a popular pizza chain, one that we didn’t have near our house. The menu offered a loaded mashed potato pizza. For whatever reason, that sounded interesting, so we ordered a small one for the table to go along with our standard pepperoni pizza.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel and played a little before getting the boys ready for bed. At that time, they liked using my hair dryer with the diffuser as a ray gun. We settled in, mom and the boys in one bed and my friend and I in the other. Not long after turning out the lights, chaos ensued.

Carlton spontaneously vomited, which sent mom and me flying out of the bed and Noah running over to get in bed with my friend. My mother has no tolerance for vomit and she was in a panic because a tiny droplet of puke was on her nightshirt, Carlton continued to spew, and I started stripping the bed. I called housekeeping for fresh linens, piled the vomit covered ones outside our door and while doing so listened to Carlton tell me that he was ‘like volcano that just erupted.’ He went on, in great detail, about how cool it was.

Meanwhile, mom was in the bathroom changing and trying not to puke herself and Noah was in the bed with my friend. Instead of sleeping, Noah was going through a list, much like Bubba from Forest Gump, and telling my friend of all the times Carlton had either puked or peed on him. She suppressed her laughter because he was very serious in sharing his stories.

Another time we were on a fall leaf trip to Maggie Valley, North Carolina. We were trying to decide where to get lunch and couldn’t come to an agreement. The town of Maggie Valley has several wooden cut outs of the town’s namesake, Maggie, that are hidden all over. Mom declared that whoever found Maggie first, got to pick where we ate lunch. Silence fell over the car as we all scanned the side of the road looking for Maggie. Mom whooped as she pointed out a cut out of Maggie and celebrated her victory verbally, wondering aloud where she might want to go. From the backseat we heard from Carlton, “Well, now that you’ve crushed my soul, where are you going to choose to eat?”

Another time, we were again trying to decide on dinner after we had picked up the boys for the beginning of a long visit. We tossed a few ideas around and someone suggested Cracker Barrel since it was up just a few exits. Carlton said, in all seriousness, “Yes. Let’s do Cracker Barrel. They have hot chocolate, that will soothe my soul.”

It stinks that kids have to grow up, not that I don’t like them at their current ages. It’s just as they age, they get more responsibility or they move away or they want to spend time free time with friends. And I get that- I was the same way at their age. There are moments when I wish we could revisit the past and spend time with six-year-old Noah and ten-year-old Carlton, but that’s just not how life works. We get one chance to make memories and build relationships and show them how much we love them. Which is why I think David prayed in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Light in the Darkness

When I was in elementary and middle school, I loved library day. Going to the library did not mean social time for me the way that it does for my students today. When we went to the library, I was in my own world, searching for the perfect book. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade, I discovered Judy Blume. I checked out her book, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, several times. I loved the spunky main character, Sally, who had an overactive imagination. The book is set at the end of World War II and Sally, who is Jewish, finds out bits and pieces about Hitler and the Holocaust. She is convinced that her neighbor is Hitler, who has retired to Miami Beach, and determines that she will expose him for who he is. She spends most of the book imagining what it will be like when she brings Hitler to justice.

I didn’t know a lot about Hitler when I read that book, but I stumbled upon a made for TV movie about the Holocaust around that same time. I didn’t understand too much about the story line, but I did learn about some of the atrocities of the Holocaust. Images from that movie haunted me and piqued my interest in World War II, Hitler, and the Holocaust. My senior year of high school, Schindler’s List was released and in my History class we could choose to go see the movie or go to a local university and listen to a Holocaust survivor speak.

I chose to go hear the survivor, one whose name I do not remember. When I arrived, the auditorium was already packed. I found a seat, not really knowing what to expect. A short, white haired lady stepped forward to the podium. She was nicely dressed and spoke with a thick accent. The room was captivated from the moment she began speaking. She shared her story the way I’ve heard many share a story about a silly adventure they had taken or something odd that happened while on an errand. She stated the facts and rarely showed emotion, except when she pulled up her sleeve to reveal the number tattooed on her inner arm.

That experience led me to read more books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the Holocaust and World War II. When I moved to Hungary to teach English, I was hoping I would have a chance to visit Auschwitz at some point during the year. After having been in Hungary for several months, a few teacher friends and I decided to take the train to Poland over spring break.

I shared my plans with a lady from my church. She had visited Auschwitz and she encouraged me to pray for spiritual protection before arriving at the camp. As the Apostle Paul tells us, there are spiritual forces at work, so I believed that, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the lady from church meant and I didn’t have a chance to ask her to flesh out that comment.

My friends and I boarded the train for the nine hour journey to Poland. I was being cheap and decided to just sit in coach, while the three of them paid for a sleeper car. I immediately regretted my saving a few bucks while I sat straight up in an uncomfortable seat all night praying that nobody scary joined me in my compartment. Due to the seat and the fear of falling asleep and having my backpack stolen, I drifted in and out of shallow sleep on the overnight trip. Since I had some time on my hands and I heard the lady from church’s warning going over and over in my mind- I prayed. I prayed for a heart prepared to take in what I would witness. I prayed for spiritual protection of my mind and my spirit.

Our train pulled into the station at Krakow where we boarded a bus to Auschwitz. I knew nothing about Auschwitz except what I had seen in movies and read in books. I knew that it was a death camp located in Poland and an estimated 1.1 million people were killed there. I expected the 41 mile drive to eventually lead to a deserted two lane road that would open up to a large secluded field that would contain the camp. I also anticipated a gray, cloudy day.

Instead, I sat on a very crowded bus and was aware of the house-lined two-lane road on which we were traveling. There were a lot of young people on the bus and we recognized some were speaking American English. My friends and I started talking to the other group and I met a fellow Tennessean. We were exchanging home town information when the bus made a right turn off the highway and parked. I looked up and realized that we were there. We were at Auschwitz, and it was basically in the middle of a neighborhood.

The rowdiness of the bus was silenced and people began to speak in hushed tones. My friends and I got off the bus and made our way to the museum entrance where we decided to pay a little extra for a guided tour. I’ve been on a lot of trips with different friends, but I’ve never been on a trip with friends where we didn’t speak to each other for the duration of our time there. But that’s what it was like at Auschwitz- stunned silence. We stood in a gas chamber, in the barracks, saw a sample of which a daily meal would consist, walked up to the killing wall, saw a swimming pool sized area filled with pots and pans, piles of shoes, human hair, eye glasses, artificial limbs, and pictures of prisoners from floor to ceiling, each dressed in the striped uniform, holding fear in their eyes. Our tour guide pointed out the house of Rudolph Hoss, the commander of Auschwitz. He lived with his wife and children in a house that was visible from the camp.

We walked out of the exhibits into the bright sunlight and I realized that I had never thought of Auschwitz as having bright, sunny days before. I figured that in a place so hateful and evil and oppressed that there could only be dark, gloomy cloudy days. Visiting Auschwitz was not an easy day, in fact, I have very little memory of what we were told by our tour guide. I spent much of the day taking in bits and pieces. It is surreal to visit a place with several hundred other people milling about in silence, some attempting to suppress tears and others openly crying after becoming overcome with emotion. It was impossible to separate the contrast of me freely walking around, well fed, in comfortable clothing with the ghosts of those who had been imprisoned there.

We spent about six hours touring Auschwitz and only had a few hours before the museum closed. We discussed catching the bus and going to tour the nearby Birkenau camp, but none of us felt up to it. We had all seen enough and opted to return to our hotel in Krakow. We sat in silence on the bus ride back and had a quiet dinner before retiring to our hotel rooms. It was an emotionally draining day.

Last night I finished watching a series about World War II in which American soldiers stumble upon a concentration camp. The scenes were haunting, as are all pictures dealing with the Holocaust. While watching the show, I was reminded of how broken humans are and how awful we can be to one another. And while the temptation is there to despair, I was reminded of the One who knew each and every person impacted by this historical event: the prisoners, the soldiers, and even the SS guards. He knew each of their stories, each of their hearts, and longed for each of them- even the ‘bad’ guys- to surrender their lives to Him.

And whether we want to acknowledge it or not, events like the Holocaust continue to occur today. While we want to pretend that we are more advanced, we are really no better off than when the events of the Holocaust were revealed to the world. We are still broken and in desperate need of a Savior, Jesus. My belief in the devastating cost of sin, and the payment provided through Jesus, answers the question of how a good God could allow such evil to exist. Sometimes, catching a glimpse of the darkness reveals just how bright and encompassing the Light truly is.

Psalm 27

A few days ago I read Psalm 27 and several verses stuck out to me, particularly the last verse that says to wait for the Lord. Lately, so many things in the world and in my personal life seem wonky and upside down and just plain confusing. I find myself turning to the book of Psalms because often I find prayers that are exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t put into words of my own.

So, instead of going on and on about it, I thought I would just share it here tonight:

The Lord is my light and my salvation- so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.

Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord–the thing I seek most– is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me. Do not reject your servant in anger. You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation!

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.

Do not let me fall into their hands. For they accuse me of things I’ve never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence.

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NLT)

A 5th Grader’s Reinvention

My family moved in December of my 5th grade year. I wasn’t excited to be going to a new school because I didn’t want to be the new kid and not know anyone. I was pretty shy in school and it was difficult to start over and try to get in with a group of kids who had been together since kindergarten.

Over that Christmas break, I decided that I would reinvent myself. I had been reading a lot of books by Judy Blume and the Babysitter’s Club series and figured I could take bits and pieces of those characters and create a new me. I announced to my mom that I wanted to go by my middle name, Renee, at my new school. Maybe I thought Renee sounded exotic, like I had lived somewhere far off and exciting instead of just across town. At any rate, I was sure going by my middle name would make all the difference at my new school.

I spent that Christmas break reminding my mom that I was going to be Renee from then on. I didn’t insist that I be called Renee at home, that was just going to be my name at school, which of course wouldn’t be confusing at all. Unfortunately, in the middle of reinventing myself, I skated over the air vent in the kitchen and needed five stitches in my big toe. I was told that I couldn’t wear a shoe and I was devastated. Going shoe less, even with a legitimate injury, would ruin my plans for becoming the amazing Renee. Crutches or a cast might have been cool, but just wearing a sock and a sandal would definitely not be cool.

The day finally came when school started back up for the semester. Mom walked my sister and I up the front steps of the school and into the office. I had crammed my foot into a shoe and just took my time walking so as not to burst any stitches. Mom enrolled my sister and she was sent off to her first class. I stood anxiously beside mom and eyed the secretary and any stray kids that wandered into the office.

Mom filled out paperwork and talked with the secretary. As I looked around, I heard my mom say, “She wants to go by Renee.” Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t want to leave the old me behind and I loudly protested, “No I don’t! I’m Audrey. I want to be called Audrey, not Renee.” I spat out the name Renee like it left a bad taste in my mouth. I said it with such confidence that one would never suspect that I had been insisting almost daily that I wanted to go by my middle name for the previous two weeks. I had even been daydreaming in my head what a new school would be like for Renee, but hadn’t thought that it meant Audrey would be missing out on all that.

My protest was met with a look of disbelief on my mother’s face. “You have told me multiple times that you want to be called Renee” she hissed at me. To which I replied, “I just want to be Audrey.” After that outburst, enrollment continued and soon I was escorted off to a new classroom where I met a whole class full of new kids and was introduced as just plain old me.

Timeless

I grew up attending a small Bible camp that was about a 25 minute drive from my parent’s house. The summer that I was twelve, I was able to volunteer on the clean-up crew for two weeks.

And that changed my whole life.

After that first summer, I would volunteer for all eight weeks of camp for the next six years. I worked on the clean-up crew, as a junior counselor, as a senior counselor, and eventually as the Junior Staff Coordinator. I learned so much being on staff at camp about following Jesus, the importance of reading Scripture and how to apply it to daily living, how to make any activity- even super gross ones- enjoyable, cultivating a strong work ethic, and how important it is to surround yourself with good friends.

This afternoon I drove up to camp because one of my camp friends, Rachel W., and her family were sharing about their ministry in Cambodia to this week’s campers. I hadn’t see them in five years, when they were last in the states. Our other friend, Rachel B., who I now attend church with, came to visit too.

I pulled up and spotted both of them sitting at a picnic table under the pavilion. We hugged and greeted one another, I said hello to their husbands and children, and then the three of us sat down and it felt like we were all in high school again. In reality, so much has changed in the 15 years since we all last sat down together. Babies have been born, families have moved to a completely different country, jobs have changed, parents have been lost, new languages have been learned, and a thousand small experiences have come together to pass the time. And yet we were able to pick up right where we left off.

We ate dinner in the cafeteria and laughed about how out of place we felt as we looked at the new group of staff, but also how at home we were. The camp directors came in and chatted with us and we took photos. Mr. Dave asked me about someone that I had asked him to pray for two years ago- he was asking because he is still praying and wanted an update. You just don’t run into people like that everyday and it really meant a lot that he was still praying.

After dinner, we hoped on a golf cart and another friend, who is now on staff, drove us around and showed us what all had changed at the camp. There are now horses, cabins have been renovated and built, there are a few new high ropes activities, and a giant slip ‘n slide. We went into the chapel and I walked to the back and showed them the section of the chapel where I met Jesus in July of 1985. As we drove by the old canteen, Rachel showed us the fence where she and her counselor had sat (before sitting on the fences was against the rules) and had prayed to become a follower of Jesus.

Rachel B. and her family left around dusk, so Rachel W. and I decided that we didn’t have anywhere to be, so we sat on top of a picnic table under the pavilion, and talked. We looked out over the camp and watched as the new group of staff noisily walked into the gym. It made me so happy that others will have the same thing that I had growing up- a safe place to grow spiritually, lifelong friendships, and a chance to impact the lives of others.

Rachel W. and I sat on that picnic table for a couple of hours. The conversation was easy and it was hard to believe that five years had passed since we had last sat and talked together. I told her that I so appreciated that we were able to just pick up where we left off. We watched the sun go down and the stars come out as the fireflies danced over the grass as a backdrop to our chatter and laughter. We prayed together and then walked toward my car and Rachel’s cabin.

We knew it would most likely be another five years before we see each other, so we lingered over a tight hug. Then we started talking again and sharing memories because it’s hard to say goodbye when you know it will be so long before you say hello again. As we stood there talking I realized how safe I feel at camp. Not only physically safe- I have never worried about being outside alone at night walking around in the woods or through the cabin areas, but also safe to share my thoughts and feelings and silliness and weirdness.

I sometimes wonder why the Lord gifted me with a small Bible camp tucked away in the hills of Tennessee that would provide timeless friendships, safety and security, more fun than one would think possible, and an understanding of who He is. It’s a gift for which I’m incredibly thankful because I can’t imagine how life would have turned out if I had never gone to camp.

Skating in the Kitchen

One night, I decided that I wanted a snack while I read a book. Instead of walking into the kitchen like a normal person, I decided what a lot of fifth graders would decide: mom had just waxed the floor, so I could ice skate to the refrigerator in my bare feet. I put my arm behind my back and bent over at the waist and skated to the cabinet to get a plate. I then skated to the fridge and got a few dill pickles and then skated over to the pantry for some Ritz crackers. As I was skating from the pantry to my plate on the counter, I skated across the floor vent.

Skating across the floor vent was a big mistake because I stubbed my big toe. Well, I thought I stubbed my big toe, but it turned out that the top of my big toe was barely hanging on after my unfortunate encounter. My toe had nearly been decapitated. I panicked and immediately hopped on my non-injured foot into my mom’s room and started squalling as soon as I saw her. I told her how I had skated across the vent and almost cut off the top of my big toe.

Mom’s immediate response was for me to put my foot in her bathtub so I wouldn’t get blood on her new baby blue carpet. I started crying even harder and accused her of caring more about her carpet than me and my injured toe. She assured me that she cared about both me and my toe and after looking at it, wrapped my foot up in a towel, and we piled into the car to head to the emergency room. My sister sat up front and I was in the back seat with my foot propped up. Over the years, mom has said that she was surprised when she looked up in the rear view mirror and saw that I was eating a pickle. I had grabbed my snack on the way out the door because who wants to waste a perfectly good snack and despite my injury, I was still feeling peckish.

After the doctor looked over my toe and put in five stitches, he said that there was still a possibility that I might lose the top of my toe. I was given strict instructions to not wear a shoe. Mom was thinking out loud and said that I could wear two heavy socks (it was December and she didn’t want my foot to get cold) or I could wear a sock and a sandal on my bad foot. I was upset because I would be starting a new school in a few short weeks, and I just couldn’t be the new kid who showed up wearing only one shoe and definitely couldn’t be the kid who showed up wearing a sandal with a sock.

When the day arrived to attend my new school, I stubbornly shoved my stitch foot into a shoe and just walked a little slower. Fifth grade me decided I would rather be known as the slow walking kid as opposed to the sock with a sandal kid. I am happy to report that the top of my big toe was saved, despite my being a slave to fashion

The Hike

The summer before my senior year in high school, I went on my first camping and hiking trip. The summer camp I worked at as a counselor had a Wilderness Week where kids would camp on an island in a nearby lake for two days and then spend three days hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I really liked showers and fixing my hair, so I wasn’t really interested in going on that trip. One of the camp program directors asked if I would go, since it would be my last chance to go as a camper. Another counselor made fun of me and said I wouldn’t be able to make it because I wouldn’t have any place to plug in my curling iron. Her snarky remark sealed the deal and I agreed to go right then and there. I would finish the hike and come back to camp with nice looking hair if it was the last thing I did.

The first day, we all met at camp and piled into the old rickety school bus with our sleeping bags, canteens, and clothing. We drove up into the mountains to the lake where we got into canoes and paddled across the lake to an island. After docking on the island, we worked at setting up camp. For the next two days we swam, explored the island, played games, fixed meals, prayed, sang, read from the Bible, sat around the campfire, and watched the stars by the shore of water.

That summer, we had a new camp director named, Mr. Mike. He seemed really nice and friendly and spent most of the summer talking to us counselors about being servants- not just at camp, but in life. It was easy to be a servant at camp. I mean, that was the whole reason we were there. I spent all summer either in a cabin taking care of kids and running the zip line during activity time or on the work crew cleaning toilets and washing dishes. I wasn’t so sure what being a servant looked like in real life once camp ended for the summer other than cleaning my room and maybe putting dishes in the dishwasher.

The last day of camping, we broke down our camp site, got back in the canoes and paddled to the other shore. We got in the vans and headed back to camp for a hot lunch and to pick up the supplies we needed for our hike. We were told to go to a cabin in the girl’s area and get seven MREs to put in our backpacks. We were going to be carrying our own food and once I loaded my heavy pack up on my shoulder, I considered eating all of my food that night so my load would be lighter for the remainder of the trip.

After lunch in the dining hall, we got back on the bus and began the drive to the trail head. I had never been on a hike that required carrying a pack with everything that I needed for more than just an afternoon. I was getting nervous, wondering if I would have to stop for a breather and hold everyone else up or if they would just leave me to catch up.

We got off the bus and everyone grabbed their packs and heaved them onto their backs. It was late July, so it was hot and the humidity made everything wet and sticky. We had been out of the air conditioned van for about four minutes when the complaining started. We complained about how hot it was, how heavy our packs were, and how steep the trail was. We were complaining, but in a we-are-really-having-a-good-time-but-are-sharing-our-pain-verbally kind of way. Many of us had been friends for years and had worked together in a lot of unpleasant situations, so we teased and mocked and commiserated.

I only remember one thing about that first day’s actual hike. It was seriously straight up a mountain with switch back after switch back after switch back. My legs ached, my back was sore from the many unnecessary items I had packed, and I was sweating buckets. We stopped a few times for water breaks. We campers talked non-stop about our experience, but Mr. Mike stood quietly leading the pack. He always had a calmness and peace about him. When he told us it was time to head on up the mountain, we begrudgingly obliged.

We reached our campsite just as dusk was settling over the forest. There was an empty shelter and we each claimed a spot with our sleeping bags. Mr. Mike quietly went about building a fire and instructed us to get an MRE and come sit by the fire for a time of devotions before we turned in for the night. It was then that another camper, Angela, asked me where the MREs were so she could get one for dinner. I stared at her blankly and told her they were about 40 miles away at camp in the cabin Zebulon. She had missed that all important announcement and had come on a three day hike without any food. Mr. Mike shared about being servants to one another and this was a good opportunity to practice serving each other by sharing our meals with Angela. We all pitched in and Angela had food and nobody went hungry.

As we settled around the campfire, breaking into our MREs and trading the goods inside, Mr. Mike opened his pack. He pulled out 13 cans of Mountain Dew and passed them around to each of us, taking one for himself. He cracked it opened and took a long sip. We stared back at him silently, slowly taking in that he had carried his own supplies, plus cans of soda for each of us. In my mind I replayed the hike we had just completed. I thought of all of us complaining about the weight of our packs, the heat, the climb all while Mr. Mike silently walked up the hill with the extra weight of sodas as a surprise for a bunch of complaining teenagers. I think we all felt ashamed.

A soda is a small thing as far as gifts go, but that night has left a lasting impression on me. For the first time, I got a glimpse in real life of what it meant to serve someone without expectation of what you might get out of it. Mr. Mike wanted to surprise us with something other than water on our first night. He wanted to show us what it meant to serve. You don’t brag about it or announce it, but you quietly go about your business, doing what you can for others- even when they complain and gripe and seem ungrateful. That night, I saw someone, an adult we hardly knew, sacrifice for us- a group of whiners.

That moment set the tone for the rest of the trip. We thanked Mr. Mike for his kindness and generosity and we didn’t dare complain for the rest of the hike. On the last day, we hiked to the top of a mountain where we found ourselves in a big field with huge rocks and a view of the mountains all around us. The bus would be picking us up from there, but we had arrived earlier than expected. We took a few photos and then spent the rest of our time lying in the grass, looking up at the clouds, and enjoying the scenery around us.

We arrived back at camp filthy, exhausted, and exhilarated. I think for the first time in my high school life, I didn’t care what my hair looked like. There are moments in life that are considered turning points and that week was a big one for me. I gained confidence knowing that I could push through and do difficult things. I learned that serving others required sacrifice, but can really have an impact- even something as small as a soda.

Piccadilly

When I was younger there was a restaurant in the local mall called Piccadilly that my family frequented. Piccadilly served Southern comfort food, cafeteria style. I loved getting a tray, my own silverware and cup, and making my lunch choices from a large selection. I especially loved their pecan delight pie for dessert. I did the same thing at school everyday, but it wasn’t nearly as exciting and school food didn’t even compare to Piccadilly’s. I felt like such a grown up sliding my orange tray down the line and telling the hair-netted workers what I wanted on my Dilly Plate.

One day when I was ten or eleven, my mom and I stopped in Piccadilly to order food to-go because we were going to take my dad dinner while he worked. Ordering food to-go wasn’t as fun as ordering food to eat at the restaurant. The workers held in their hands white styrofoam to-go containers behind the counter and you pointed to what you wanted. You didn’t even get a tray when ordering to-go. While mom was ordering our food, I didn’t want to miss out on sliding a tray down the line, so I was busy moving up and down the line, going back and forth from the cash register to my mom. When we had arrived, there were no other patrons; however, the dinner rush picked up and people were beginning to line up behind us and out the door.

Mom came up to me and told me to keep moving because we were holding up the line. What she didn’t realize is that I had been moving back and forth and up and down the line sans tray, so instead, I had been sliding my arm between the metal bars of the long counter. It wouldn’t have been a problem if I had just had my arm between the bars, but I had my bent arm, sliding it between the bars and I had gotten stuck. Like really stuck.

Mom again told me to keep moving. I tried and tried, but told her that I was couldn’t free up my arm. She looked behind us and saw the crowd was growing impatient, as was the worker who was glaring at us behind the serving bar. She yanked and pulled and tugged, but to no avail. I was really stuck. Mom sheepishly explained my predicament to the server, who got the manager, who surveyed the situation and brought out oil in an effort to grease up my arm and slide me free. That also didn’t work.

I have no memory of the moment I was freed and neither does mom. She remembers the fire department having to come out and work me loose and being mortified that she had a kid as old as me get her arm stuck in the serving line at the Piccadilly. I vaguely remember people sliding their trays up to me, picking them up and walking around to the other side and continuing their order as if there wasn’t a little girl imprisoned by the metal bars of the serving line. I don’t remember being at all embarrassed; apparently mom was embarrassed enough for the both of us.

Pollyanna

Yesterday I signed up for the Disney+ channel. My nephew Manny loves to have movie nights. On movie night, you have to turn all the lights off. If it’s daylight, you have to pull the shades and make the room as dark as possible. Manny will load up on snacks- none of which he plans on sharing, so you have to get your own- and he likes to sit on the couch, eat his snacks, and talk all throughout whatever movie he chooses for movie night. When I got Disney+, I was thinking it would give Manny more choices for future movie nights.

This afternoon I had some free time and I wasn’t feeling like doing much, so I decided to see what movies were available and added The Fox and the Hound to my list. Then I saw Pollyanna, starring Haley Mills, which I also added to my list. I loved her accent and her cheery outlook on life despite being orphaned, getting shipped off to live with an unfriendly aunt, and then falling from a tree and becoming paralyzed. She was a modern day Job to my ten-year-old self. She had endured so much and was still able to play the glad game. I thought that I could really learn a lot from Pollyanna- one being if you drop your doll on the roof of the house while sneaking back in after climbing a really high tree, just let it go. I became obsessed with Pollyanna and watched the movie frequently.

As a kid, I had a lot going on in my brain and it all made perfect sense to me at the time. Only later, as an adult, did I wonder if I had been dropped on my head at some point. For instance, I once convinced myself that my stuffed animals were real because they were made from cotton and cotton was a plant and plants were alive.

My Pollyanna phase coincided with our growing stray barn cat population. When we moved to my dad’s homestead, there were two pregnant cats living in the barn. Before we were able to catch and spay and neuter all the cats, we had about 36 living out there. I took it upon myself to name all the kittens. We had Tigger, Tiger, and Tom, Winnie (named after Winona Ryder), Morris, Patches, Sean, Leah, and Molly and Polly. Polly was a black and white cat named after Pollyanna.

After school, I would go to the barn and play with the cats. I dressed them up, petted them, and fed them. One day I dropped my books off in the house and ran to the barn. As I lifted the wooden latch and swung open the big barn door, I saw Polly and immediately noticed that something was wrong with her. Instead of walking over to greet me like she did everyday, she was dragging her back legs behind her. I ran crying into the house to get my mom and dad so they could help Polly.

My parents determined that Polly must have fallen out of the loft and possibly broke her back. The veterinarian’s office was closed, so my parents brought Polly into the house. They set her in a makeshift cardboard litter box and allowed me to keep her in my room. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor beside Polly and talking to her, telling her that she would probably be better soon and I was excited that she got to sleep in my room for the night. I took a piece of litter and wrote her name, Polly, on the side of her litter box in shaky handwriting. I thought it might make her feel a little more at home with her name written on the side of the box.

The next morning, I talked with Polly some more and told her I would see her that afternoon. I went to school and was distracted by my thoughts about Polly. Did I jinx her and cause her to fall and break her back since I named her after a character that also had a fall and broke her back? Would she recover like Pollyanna did in the movie?

When I got off the bus, I ran into the house, eager to hear about the cat. My mom told me that Polly was not able to recover and they had to put her down. My heart was broken and I was wracked with guilt thinking that I had caused her to have her accident because of her namesake. Thankfully, I didn’t hold on to that guilt for very long. I realized that if a 10 year old could harness such power, then nothing and nobody was safe.

As I watched the movie today, I found that I liked it just as much as I did 34 years ago. Even as an adult, I can still learn a few things from Pollyanna- like trying to look at the positive of a situation instead of only seeing the obstacles and sharing the hope that I have with all people- young, old, rich, and poor. I just wish I could pull off her lovely British accent.

Red Plastic Bat

When I was seven we lived in an apartment complex. I spent a lot of my days playing with the neighborhood kids, riding my bike, and attempting to ride my friend’s skateboard down the sloped sidewalk that ran in front of our apartment building. I guess even back then I had the core strength of a jelly fish, because I could only ever manage to sit on the skateboard and ride it down the sidewalk.

One of my best friend’s was a boy named Derek. We played together at home and sometimes saw each other at school. I don’t remember what Derek and I talked about or a lot of what we did together, but we seemed to enjoy each other’s company because we spent a lot of time together playing outside.

This afternoon I received a call from my mom and my nephew Manny. They had been over to my dad’s house and Manny was looking through a box of toys we had packed up. He found a red plastic bat with a dent in it. Manny asked mom why the bat was dented and she said that maybe he would like to hear me tell the story since I’m the one responsible for putting the dent in the bat. I was busy grilling lunch when the phone rang, and I heard mom asking me to tell about the red bat and then passing the phone to Manny.

Derek and I were playing outside, like we typically did. Right beside the sloped sidewalk was a huge dumpster for resident use. Derek had pulled a dirty mop out of the dumpster and was threatening to touch me with it. We spent a good deal of time that day with him running after me with that nasty mop and me telling him to quit. Being a boy, I guess he couldn’t resist my squeals and running away as he teased me with that dirty mop. I’m guessing I was intent on playing something else and was getting frustrated that he kept reverting back to the chase-you-with-a-dirty-nasty-mop game.

Finally, I had had enough.

Mom said that she was sitting in the living room watching TV or reading a magazine when I came storming in the door and stomped back to my bedroom. I came tearing out of my bedroom with my red plastic bat in my hands. Mom asked where I was going in such a fury and I told her that I was going to knock Derek’s head off and teach him a lesson. Thankfully I didn’t actually knock his head off, but I did teach him a thing or two.

The next time Derek came after me with that filthy mop, I walloped him on the head with my bat. The outline of his head is still imprinted in the red plastic bat that Manny found today. Derek started crying and ran home which brought his mother to our front door demanding to know why I had hit him in the head with a bat. Mom dealt with that situation.

Thankfully, my violence wasn’t the end of our friendship because Derek and I continued to play together until we moved out of the apartment complex and you better believe he didn’t try chasing me around with anymore dirty mops from the dumpster.

Waffle House

Earlier in the week I was having dinner at my friends’ house. We were eating delicious bison chili and Tommy posed a question about a favorite place to eat that you would revisit anytime if you could. Pretty quickly, everyone listed favorite hole-in-the-wall places to eat. I think there were only two restaurant chains listed. One being In-N-Out Burger. I shared that when I had visited Las Vegas a few years ago, the only place I wanted to go was In-N-Out Burger. I ate there three out of the six days that I was in town. I think getting to eat at In-N-Out is worth a 5-hour flight.

Everyone shared their favorite places and then it came to me. I was trying to think and only one place kept coming to mind: Waffle House. I know they have a bad rap for being in dangerous neighborhoods, sometimes not being exactly clean, and not being a model of healthy eating. Regardless, I only have positive thoughts when I think of Waffle House.

When I was a little girl, I am told that I usually listened pretty well; however, one day my mom, dad, and I were at Waffle House and I wouldn’t stop messing with the condiments on the table. I was told to stop multiple times and wouldn’t listen to anything. My mom said she wasn’t sure what got into me because I never acted like that kind of crazy in public. After a few warnings and no listening on my part, my mom finally yanked me out of the booth, left my dad with three meals, drove me home, and spanked me. I’ve also been told that I never acted up in a restaurant again.

Another time, when I was in middle school, my dad and I were driving home. When my mom had to work late, I would accompany my dad to the convenience store that he owned and he would close the store for the night. I sat in his office, reading or doing my homework. This particular night, I had become convinced that he could probably read my mind and I decided to test my theory. We had left the store and I knew we were going to pass a Waffle House, so I said in my head, “If you can read my mind, ask if I want to eat at Waffle House.” My dad turned to me and said, “Hey, do you want to get something to eat at Waffle House?” I somehow managed to say “yes” out loud, although looking back I should have just thought it. I decided to test him again, I mean he liked Waffle House as much as I did so how could I know if he could truly read my mind or if he just saw the bright sign and that awakened his desire for a waffle? I tried again by saying in my head, “If you can read my mind, ask if I want to sit up at the counter.” I loved sitting at the counter in Waffle House, but my mom didn’t, so we always sat in a booth. As we approached the doors, my dad said, “Do you want to sit at the counter?” I don’t remember much else about that night because I was afraid to think anything since my dad was a mind reader.

When I went off to college, I was sad to find that there wasn’t a Waffle House anywhere near my college. In fact, the closest Waffle House was in Indiana and I was in Alaska, so no chance for a nice, greasy hash brown until I was back in Tennessee. Luckily, there was a Waffle House located close to the Knoxville airport,which is mostly where I flew in and out to and from college. When picking me up, my parents waited to eat because they knew I was going to ask to stop at Waffle House. We also always made enough time to eat there before my flight left. That Waffle House saw a lot of tearful goodbyes and happy reunions.

When working as a waitress, my friend Cory had to go through a food safety class. He had spent most of a day learning about food borne illnesses and the correct temperatures necessary to keep food safe. He came in to work the evening shift and shared with me about his day, which had apparently been traumatizing. After his workshop he said he never wanted to eat food again. We got off really late that night and decided to go eat. It was 3 am, and the only place open was Waffle House, so we walked into the crowded restaurant and grabbed a booth. As Corey shared more of his training and what he had learned that day, he started looking around at the grill area and muttered, “We aren’t going to get out of here alive.” I took a bite of my bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with mustard and extra pickles and just laughed. Nothing about Waffle House scared me.

Last year, I was working at a camp with my church youth group on a college campus in Charleston, SC. After dinner, there were no restaurants on campus, no food courts, and no snack machines. We had just finished a scavenger hunt where I had walked 5,000 steps in 90 degree weather with 112% humidity and it was 11 pm. Myself and the other youth leaders were tired and hungry and the 15 teenagers we were in charge of were starving as well. Elliot, Victoria, and I started throwing ideas around when Elliot’s eyes lit up and he said, “Hey wait- there is a Waffle House two minutes down the road.” After making the kids promise on all things good that they would pack when we returned and be at the van at 7 am the next morning- he pitched the idea of Waffle House. The kids all agreed and we piled into the vans. We were lucky because the place was empty so we were served quickly. I always order the same thing, but decided to look at the big plastic menu. Then I saw it. I knew I would regret it when I laid down for the night, but I decided to try the new Hash Brown Bowl which was a large hash brown covered in cheese, a fried egg, and crumbled sausage all piled into a large bowl. I took one bite and decided that being up all night with indigestion would be worth the deliciousness that was that bowl.

So, why go on and on about a place like Waffle House? For me, it’s not about the food, but about the memories attached. Don’t get me wrong- I love the food, but I’ve sat in many Waffle House restaurants with friends and family and shared stories and laughter and tears. I’ve sat in booths and watched my nephew Noah inhale a waffle and talk excitedly about the water slides he’s going to ride when we get to the water park. I’ve picked up orders and driven them to my dad’s house and eaten with him when he didn’t want to leave the house. I’ve stopped on the way to work conferences, and after concerts, and on long road trips. The actual Waffle House is just the place that allows me to connect with the people in my life. If I can do that connecting with a crispy hash brown, egg sandwich, and coffee- well, even better.

Tater Tots

When I think of my time spent in college, I rarely think of things I learned in classes, tests I studied for, or essays that I wrote. I did all of those things, but what I really loved about college was the social aspect. There were some really funny people at the small Alaskan Bible college I attended. There were also some real odd people, but that’s another post for another day.

Alaska feels like you’ve landed on another planet when you first move there. The first Sunday at church when someone requested prayer for the Johnsons because they “were outside,” it really baffled me. It took awhile before I realized that simply meant they were traveling outside of Alaska, in the lower 48.

Others offered to give you a ride or pick something up for you when they “went to town.” Translated, that meant they were going to Anchorage which was four hours away and had the closest Wal-Mart and Costco.

The winters were a kind of cold I had never experienced. That year we had a cold snap of -50 to -60 below for nearly two weeks. The days were short and the nights were long. If it was a particularly cloudy day, you may miss the sun altogether. The darkness did no favors to mental health and I found that I wanted to take a lot of naps. I suddenly understood why bears hibernate and thought they might have been on to something.

When spring arrived, so did everyone’s energy level as we were all awoke from our long winter’s nap. The days were getting longer and the temperatures were at least above zero. I felt like a small part of my soul had awakened and I was well rested and hopeful again. There was suddenly a buzz of energy humming around the campus.

One night at dinner we had alphabet tater tots. Because we were so mature, my friend George was using his and my tater tots to spell curse words and I was giggling. He spelled a really terrible word and I stood up and jokingly said I was leaving before he got us both into trouble.

TWACK! Something hit me hard in the cheek, just under my left eye. Stunned, I brought my hand up to the spot and found ketchup on my cheek and in my eyelashes. I had been hit with an alphabet tater tot. I looked over in the direction from which it came, and I saw Jeremy silently laughing, but bouncing in his seat as he stifled his laughter. Matt was sitting across from him, casually chewing his dinner, unaware of the situation. In my most hateful voice I said, “That really hurt!” and stormed off to my room. My feelings were hurt more than my face.

When I got to my room, I saw that I had little cut marks where the tater tot had skidded across my face. It was small, but looked a little like road rash. Who in the world gets cut with a tater tot? Of course, who has friends who throw tater tots at their face?

Later that night, I realized that I needed a few books from the library to work on an essay. I also liked to just look through the books; there is security among stacks of books. I walked over to the library and found Jeremy was working the desk. I was still irritated at him for the tater tot incident, but forgave him long enough to allow him to help me find J.D Salinger’s book, “Franny and Zooey.”

While we were goofing off in the book aisle, and Jeremy was raving about the book, Matt showed up to ask us to keep it down. When I turned to face him he gasped and sheepishly asked, “Is that cut from the tater tot I threw? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to throw it so hard. I just wanted to make sure it got to you.” I assured him that it definitely got to me and had gotten ketchup on my eyelashes, and he could have at least thrown a dry one. Matt apologized and I gave him credit for acting like he wasn’t aware he had whacked me in the face while Jeremy could barely breathe. I had assumed it was Jeremy just because of his reaction and I apologized for falsely accusing him.

I guess the moral of this story is be careful when throwing a tater tot at someone. You don’t need to give it your all-star pitch, a toss should suffice.

Pranks

One weekend my sophomore year, all the boys in the dorm, except one, went camping. All of us girls went to the apartment of a commuter student for a get together. We were sitting around, eating, and laughing, when someone suggested that we needed to go into the boy’s dorm rooms and pull some pranks. I was pretty excited about all of the things we could surprise them with when they returned. Ben was our only obstacle, but we were pretty sure his girlfriend Joann could help convince him to turn a blind eye while we worked our magic.

The conversation turned to making brownies with Ex-lax in them. I’m all about pulling a prank, but this seemed hateful, so myself and another girl declared that we would not have a part in these particular shenanigans. The results of that prank could be its own blog entry.

I only had one room that I wanted to target and that was my friend Jeremy’s. I snuck in and put shaving cream in the end of his mud boots and then moved into his bathroom. I fished a box of raisins from my pocket and carefully opened them. I then grabbed Jeremy’s tube of toothpaste (up until just now I never questioned why he didn’t have his toothpaste with him for a long weekend). I removed the toothpaste cap, set it aside, and started cramming raisins into the tube using the end of his soft gum pick. I would stuff in a couple raisins, replace the cap and smoosh the tube around, then remove the cap and shove a few more inside the tube. When I had put a sufficient amount of raisins into the tube, I placed the toothpaste back exactly as I had found it.

This trick had been played on me the previous year. I used my toothpaste like normal and then one day I struggled to get any paste to come out of a half full tube. I pressed down on the tube with both hands and a brown thing slowly oozed out of the tube. I screamed because I was so grossed out. My friend Anna was cackling in the background and told me it was a raisin she had put in my toothpaste as retaliation for my balancing a cup of water over her door. What I didn’t realize was that this was a prank that kept on giving. I would go days using my toothpaste like normal and then would struggle to get another raisin squeezed out.

After hitting Jeremy’s room, I went back to my own room. The boys returned the next afternoon and were suspicious- some of the other pranks were obvious. Jeremy was pleased that his room had seemingly been left alone.

Several days went by and we were sitting in the cache eating lunch when Jeremy loudly announced that something disgusting had come out of his toothpaste that morning. I gave myself away with my laughter and stating that it took longer than I expected for him to make that discovery. I didn’t mention that he’d be finding raisins for the duration of the tube’s existence. For quite awhile after, I would be asked, “Geez, how many raisins did you shove in there?”

One weekend I went to Anchorage with friends. I had done my laundry and in those days I was pretty cheap and would hang my clothes around my room to dry as opposed to paying to use the dryer. I had about 30 pair of underwear, so I had hung them from every knob and hook and rail all around my room.

When I returned from my weekend away, I heard that some of the boys had gotten into our rooms. I was mortified since all of my underthings were on display. I went to check my mail and almost died because there was a maroon garment in my box- I had a pair of maroon underwear and thought someone had stolen them and put them in my box. I tried to retrieve the garment stealthily, and was relieved to find that it was a shirt of Jeremy’s that I verbally admired multiple times and he had finally relented and just gave it to me.

What I didn’t realize is that this was a ruse and not a goodwill offering. It took several weeks, but I started noticing that at about 10 minutes to every hour I would hear a slow beeping sound. It was very quick, so I struggled to locate the origin of the sound. I asked my roommate Joann if she had an alarm set or perhaps she had one of her boyfriend’s watches. She insisted that she didn’t, but said she had also heard the alarm.

One Sunday I decided to skip church. I was sitting on my bed studying and heard the alarm. I thought it was maybe coming from under my bed, so I waited until 10 til the next hour and held up the corner of my mattress to not avail; the alarm was just too quick.

I soon bored of studying and decided to move my room around. I shoved my bed into a corner and started moving the stuff I stored under my bed. I moved my blue cassette storage case and found underneath, the face of a watch.

I stormed into the cache with the watch face in my hand. I sat across from Jeremy, extended my open palm with the watch face, and asked if anyone knew anything about someone possibly losing a watch face in my room, under my bed, under my cassette case? Jeremy fessed up and told me that it sure took me long enough to find it.

I am pretty sure I can trace my hatred for small beeping noises back to that particular prank.

The Tastee Freez

My first semester in Alaska, I found a job at the local Tastee Freez. My parents got a kick out of the fact that I worked at an ice cream shop in Alaska. I don’t know if it’s still true, but at the time I was told that Alaskans ate more ice cream per capita than any other state. I’m not sure who got the job first, but my friend Jeremy from college also worked there as the cook. I was hired as the cashier and ice cream cone, sundae, and milkshake maker. I was also in charge of cleaning the dining room, bathrooms, and taking out the trash. Jeremy was in charge of all the cooking, dish washing, and cleaning of the grill. The owner of the establishment was pretty laid back and said we could wear whatever we wanted to work and we were told to close “when things slowed down.” Jeremy and I had a lot of fun nights working at the Tastee Freez.

I learned early on that I would only ever wear my green jeans and Save the Earth shirt as my uniform. The place was not well ventilated, and my clothes had a pungent smell that I’ll never forget. I figured since I had a limited wardrobe, I should stick to ruining just one outfit. No matter how much I washed or how much Bath and Body Country Apple spray I spritzed, I could never get the smell of the Tastee Freez out of those clothes.

One night, business was super slow. I had cleaned up everything up front and went to the back to see if Jeremy thought we should close and go home. If he said yes, I was going to start the process of shutting down the ice cream machine. He said he thought that maybe we should and was making preparations to clean the grill. Just as I was walking back up front, a family came in to order. And then another. And another. And another, until the entire dining room was full and the line was out the door. There had been a wrestling tournament at the high school and people were stopping in for dinner at the only fast food place in town before beginning their three hour drive home.

This was before digital anything, so I was writing down orders on a pad, ringing the prices into the register, collecting money, giving change, and hanging the order on a wheel ticket holder that hung in a small window between the front counter and the grill. Not just on this night, but every night that Jeremy and I worked together, I took great delight in shouting, “Order in!” as I hung the ticket and spun the wheel. I felt like Alice on “Mel’s Diner.”

This particular night was super stressful. Jeremy was in the back cooking up a storm and I was up front taking orders and trying to keep up with making sundaes and milkshakes. Every time I hung an order up and yelled, “Order in!” Jeremy would reply with an, “I hate you,” “My life sucks,” “You’ve got to be kidding me,” or “Kiss my a**,” “Tell them to go home,” to which I would laugh and turn around to take another order.

When all was said and done, we didn’t leave the restaurant until about 4 hours after I had gone back to ask if we should close up. We were both exhausted and covered with a layer of fast food grease that no amount of scrubbing was going to break through. Several weeks later, we encountered a similar situation. We had decided that since we hadn’t had a customer in two hours, we would close up. I was wiping down the counter when I looked out the window and saw a long line of cars driving down the hill from the high school. I yelled to Jeremy and on the spot we made a decision. We locked the doors, turned off the lights, and worked at cleaning up the back of the restaurant. Technically, we had been told to close when things slowed down, and in that moment things were painfully slow….but we also knew we were about to be slammed. Although I feel a little guilty now about doing that, in the moment neither of could fathom working another 3 hour rush.

On another night, Jeremy and I had closed up and started the long walk home. We were trudging up the hill and were talking about how cold it was. Jeremy and I were both from Tennessee, so we were pretty used to mild winters. This particular night, the wind was cutting through my coat and I couldn’t feel my legs through my jeans. Mid-way up the hill, Jeremy asked if we were still walking because he couldn’t feel his feet or tell if he was moving. When we finally made it to school, we realized that we were woefully under dressed since it was -30 below. I got home and removed my jeans to find my legs were bright red and starting to hurt from the thawing out process. We were both prepared with warmer clothes the next time we worked and walked home.

Although the job didn’t pay much, I remember having a great time working there. I have found that no matter what job you are doing, you can have a great time if you are working with people that you enjoy. I’ve had a blast scrubbing toilets, washing dishes, painting, bagging up food, cleaning a grill, making a burger, and working a cash register because I’ve completed all of those tasks with people that made working fun. In the midst of all those jobs, I’ve laughed until I cried, had conversations about life and death and faith and beliefs, and created friendships that have lasted longer than any of those jobs. The most miserable jobs I’ve ever had are those that didn’t include someone with which to enjoy the tasks.

I’m not sure what this upcoming year holds as far as what my job as a teacher is going to look like, but one thing I do know- I work with some really amazing and fun people. So regardless of what crazy we are told to harness, I know we will be able to do it with laughter- and maybe a few tears- but that’ll just be because we are laughing so hard.

Small Towns

I grew up in a city of about 60,000 people. I don’t remember running into people from school when I was out and about. I only knew where about three people from my school lived and I didn’t know what kind of cars their parents drove. My school life was completely separate from my home life. School was like visiting the prison of social pressure everyday and being at home, camp, or my job at the fast food place was complete freedom where I could really be myself.

My bible college was located in a small town in Alaska. About 35 people, if you included the married students, went to my college. I had a few classes that had 5 or less students. Our school was so small that one day I went to use the dryer and silently cursed Derek because his laundry was in still in the dryer. I realized then that maybe our school was too small since I could recognize a person’s laundry just from peeking in the dryer. While out walking, we recognized people’s cars from far away. “Oh look, here come the Johnsons.”

Once, I had checked the mail just before hoping in my friend’s car to make a run to the grocery store and the bank. I had received a letter from my friend Cathy and had read it in the car. I didn’t carry a purse in those days, so I had my check book and her letter in my hand when I walked into the bank. I stood at a side table and filled out a deposit slip, then moved to the counter to complete the transaction. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I left my letter. Not the envelope, just the letter that said, “Dear Audrey…..Love, Cathy.” A few days later I received my letter in the mail from the bank with a note stating that I had left it on the side counter.

While in college, I worked at the local Tastee Freez with my friend Jeremy. He was the cook while I was the ice cream maker and cashier. Jeremy and I worked together most nights. The owner told us to be there at 5 and to close “when things slowed down.” Some nights we closed at 11:00 pm and other nights we were closed by 7:00 pm. That was often the way of the town. You might plan to grab a burger and ice cream cone for dinner, but find out once you pull up that it’s closed even though it’s only 6:30 p.m.

One spring break, there were only a few people, mostly those who had jobs off campus, who stayed around town. We decided to combine our food and rent a movie one night. My friend Matt and I volunteered to walk to town to pick out a video. We walked to Midnight Sun Video and discovered that they were closed, so Matt suggested we try Mom and Pop’s Video that was just a street over and in a blue house.

We walked up to the door and peeked inside. The lights were off, but we could see a kid, around 12 years old, sitting in front of a small TV, the light bouncing off his face. Matt knocked on the screen door and said, “Are you guys open?” The kid yelled further into the house and said, “Hey, are we open?” From a far away room we heard an adult voice yell back, “Yea, we can be open.” The kid told us to come in and to flip on the light by the door.

We found ourselves standing in a small room with video boxes lining three walls from the floor to the ceiling. In the middle of the room there were three long tables, filled with baskets of video boxes. Before we could get all the way into the ‘store’ we were accosted by a large dog that insisted on sniffing us in private places. We each fought off the animal multiple times throughout our visit.

In a moment where he was able to break free of the dog, Matt asked how much it cost to rent a video. The kid, still glued to his TV, shouted into the other room, “How much for a video?” I looked through the darkened kitchen and saw a lit living room area, but couldn’t see any people. I did see a kitchen table full of beer bottles that indicated a party had or was taking place. A voice came booming back, “One video for $3 or 3 videos for $1.” Matt and I looked at each other and laughed quietly because that sort of deal didn’t even make sense. We had discovered that there were no sections or rhyme or reason for the organization of the videos, so we spent quite a bit of time looking through crushed video boxes hoping to find something that everyone at school would enjoy.

After awhile, we settled on “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” and took the box to the kid in front of the TV. He got up from his seat and entered a door at the back of the store. When he opened the door I saw three walls lined from ceiling to floor with the actual videos. I hoped that there was a system to finding videos otherwise it could take hours. The kid walked over to the cash register with the video in hand and reminded us of the deal: 3 videos for $1. Matt said we just had time for the one and shoved three dollars toward the kid.

As we walked back to school, we realized that we hadn’t given the kid any information. He didn’t know our names, addresses, or phone numbers. More than anything, we were pretty thankful to have made it safely out of a place that felt a lot like the Twilight Zone. We talked about how that would never work in my town in Tennessee or his town in Michigan. Days later, Matt said he just put the video in their mailbox because when he had returned in the early evening, they were closed.

It has been several years since I’ve visited Alaska, but one thing I really liked about living there was how different it was from any place I had ever been. There was a spirit among the people of independence and wildness that I had never experienced before. Although it was a small place and could sometimes be frustrating if you wanted something and a place was unexpectedly closed, but I wouldn’t trade the memories, the quirkiness, and lessons learned from that tiny town for regular business hours or practices.

Consider

I sat around a table this morning with eight friends and we had church. We sat in our friends’ living room and each shared what God has been doing in our lives since we last came together. These times are simple and have little fanfare- we ate breakfast, sang a song, prayed, had communion, and shared. Death is a topic that always comes up, not in a morbid, dark way, but in a this-is-reality way. When we speak of death there isn’t a dread or a fear of the topic because we believe the Bible is true and as believers in Jesus we have nothing to fear in death.

I’ve thought a lot about death since the end of January when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When we were told that he had 6 months to a year to live, daily tasks suddenly seemed so trivial. Most of the things that I saw people striving for or spending their time and money on felt…small. I visited my dad a lot and when I sat in his room, time stood still. What was important was that I knew he knew Jesus because when it came to the end of his life- what would anything else matter?

It was difficult to not wonder about how I was spending my own time and if what I had involved myself in really mattered in the grand scheme of things. Today my friend Deb said something to sound of, “When the end comes, the only person who will be there is Jesus, so I need to get to know Him as best I can while here on earth.” That reminded me of one of my favorite verses in I John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” When I read that verse, I immediately want to learn what it means to truly abide in Him because when He returns, I don’t want to have to introduce myself or be ashamed- I want to run and clap and jump and fall on my face and cry and laugh because- there He is! He’s finally returned and I’ll get to meet him face to face.

A few days ago I learned that the camp director at a camp in Alaska where I worked for one summer, had died after being diagnosed with a brain tumor just a few months ago. I hadn’t spoken with Ted since working at the camp in 1996, but I had been receiving the camp’s newsletters written that he wrote since then. Each newsletter was like a mini sermon with a longing for the youth of Alaska to know Jesus. I always looked forward to those updates.

I only spent time around Ted for 3 months. I don’t even remember any personal conversations that we had, but I do remember Ted during staff meetings- joking with us, being laid back, encouraging us to love on the kids, making a sarcastic joke, and always pointing us toward Jesus. Over the years when I’ve thought about the camp and Ted, I immediately thought of Jesus as well.

This evening, I read a newspaper article about Ted and his passing. The article detailed Ted’s family, his career at the Bible camp, as a pastor, and track coach and other things I didn’t know about Ted’s life. This quote stood out to me, “If he could have a headliner, it’d be, ‘Investigate Jesus,’” Dickson said. “That would be his hope and plea, for people to consider who Jesus is.

As a believer, shouldn’t that be my goal as well? When I’m gone, do I want to be remembered only as someone who once flashed President G.W. Bush, drank a lot of coffee, was a teacher, read books, had a lot of awkward moments, could tell you anything you ever wanted (or didn’t want) to know about the show Frasier? Goodness no. I would prefer to be remembered as someone who led others to investigate and consider Jesus because in the end, what else really matters?

Painting Walls

Several years ago I bought a house that had every wall (except the bathroom and kitchen) was covered in wood paneling. Not pretty wood paneling, but tacky 1970’s wood paneling. When I first moved in, I had someone remove paneling from my living room, hallway, and back bedroom. Talk about a pain in the rear. There was glue, nails, and splintered wood. So, for the last eight years I’ve thought that I would maybe like to just paint over the paneling that was left in my office, bedroom, and basement.

A pandemic hit and that seemed like a good opportunity to tackle the office. I was thinking maybe I would have to set up a permanent online classroom and I couldn’t work in the office unless I had completed the painting project. I bought the paint and drove it around in my car for a couple weeks. Then I moved it to the garage and walked by it a lot. Finally, I decided enough was enough so I started painting two weeks ago, and immediately wondered if I had a bookcase big enough to fit over the painted area. I realized it was going to take several coats of paint, but, I persevered and am really happy with the finished product. I sit in there every morning and drink my coffee and have my quiet time and if I need an online pandemic classroom, I’ve got one now.

I sent my friend Pat before and after photos of the finished office. I told her that I thought maybe I was ready to tackle the basement and my bedroom (also paneled). Before I knew what was what, Pat had organized a painting party for this weekend. Today, she and her family showed up and we put primer on in both rooms and the stairwell. Tomorrow, more friends will come visit and we’ll finish painting.

I told Pat today that I didn’t know how I got so lucky to have friends who would give up two days of their week to paint someone else’s dark, dreary basement with orange and yellow shag carpet. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend all week, not because I love to paint or because the rooms are going to look brand new, but because of the fellowship with friends. I’ve been in a lot of situations with these friends- hanging out, playing games, working in a hot warehouse, handing out food, bagging food, entering data, singing, worshiping, laughing, building a deck, staining a deck, washing cars, washing a house, watching stars, hiking, crying, praying, and other things I can’t even think of right now. I never get tired of being with them and no matter what we are doing, they make it loads of fun.

So, I’m ending the day feeling the good kind of tired from a day’s worth of work and full from fellowship.

Middle School II

Today I received an email that stated we would be returning to school in August. We will be back in the building, but there is an option for students to do online only and then, of course, as teachers we should be prepared to teach online as well as in person. We didn’t get any information on how we are going to meet the suggestions of keeping everyone safe and healthy. I’ve heard everything from social distancing- which is absolutely impossible in a classroom setting- to taking temperatures daily and optional mask wearing.

So, school has been on my mind and I thought of things I’ve overheard, notes I or another teacher have found on the floor, and questions I’ve been asked in class.

A note found in another teacher’s room:

Student 1: On a scale of 1-10, how much do you like me?

Student 2: Um, I don’t know, maybe a 5 or 6?

These are the kinds of things that make me love my job.

A question I was asked by a student:

Student 1: (walks up to me while I’m standing at my door monitoring the hall) Ms. K, did your husband die?

Me: (a little confused) I have never had a husband, so he isn’t dead.

Student 1 to Student 2: (who I didn’t even have in class) See Chase, I told you she wasn’t a widow!

This whole time I thought when kids were headed to lunch they were talking about video games, middle school drama, or what they were going to eat. Turns out they talk about the fictitious dead spouses of their teachers.

In class this past February:

Mason: Ms. K, are we going to be making Valentine’s Day cards and doing a party?

Me: No, Mason. This is middle school, not elementary school. We only do work; fun isn’t allowed. You won’t make a Valentine’s Day mailbox to sit on your desk and receive cards in either.

Mason: What? Are you kidding me? But Ms. K– I’m in my prime!

From Heidi who is also a middle school teacher:

“I was reading the Geography Bee to my 8th graders and Lake Titicaca was in one of the questions. I giggled as I read it…twice. I told the kids, “If you can say “Lake Titicaca” without laughing they make you teach elementary school or high school. I’m clearly in the right place.”

Me, trying to find the right spot on the CD for kids to listen to an audio book:

It was between classes and I was quick trying to find the spot where we had left off in the book from the day before. I didn’t notice that a student, Cole, had entered the room.

Audio: Jonas took off his shirt…

fast forward

Audio: Jonas lay face down on the bed…

fast forward

Audio: The Giver placed his warm hands on Jonas’ back

Cole: Ms. K- WHAT are we listening to today?

Every time I stopped the CD to see what point in the story I was on, it ended up sounding like we were going to be reading a Harlequin Romance novel.

Me teaching Conjunctions:

Me: Okay, I’ve got sentences on the board. Raise your hand and read the sentence putting the correct conjunction in as you read. Your conjunction choices are: And, Or, But

Students raised their hands and did as they were told. When I got to the last sentence, Brad was frantically raising his hand so I called on him.

Brad: I like pizza, BUT I prefer hot dogs. He yelled the word but and fell over on his desk and said, “I’ve been waiting all class to say that.”

Me: Blank stare

Class: 5 minutes of laughter

Me teaching sentence structure:

Me: Every sentence has to have a subject and a verb.

Student: No, it doesn’t.

Me: Why would I lie about this? It’s true, a sentence has to have a subject and a verb to be complete.

Other students: No. Are you sure?

Me: Guys, are you for real? Just trust me on this. As your English teacher, I’m not going to just make stuff up, I’d like for you to know something about the English language.

Student: What about, “She jumps.”

Me: She is the subject, jumps is the verb.

Other student: What about, “The dog barks.”

Me: Dog is the subject, barks is the verb.

Student: Oh yea? What about “Donkey”?

Me: Took my name badge off and put it on the table with my keys and walked to the door.

Me reading a state test to a student with no sense of humor:

Me: Where would you find mushrooms growing in the forest? A) On the north side of a tree B) on a dead dog C) near a water source D) Under a bush

Student: Silently selects an answer

Me (out loud): Dead dog? What? Oh wait, that says dead log. Sorry. That makes more sense.

Student: blank stare

I got so tickled over saying ‘dead dog’ that I couldn’t stop laughing. My student continued to stare at me. I started laughing so hard that I had to get up and excuse myself from the room. (Dear state testing police, there was another teacher in the room so no books were left unattended. I know that’s an offense worthy of broken kneecaps and poison neck darts.)

In the hallway I reminded myself that I was a professional adult and needed to get it together. I returned to my student, who was still just sitting there waiting to answer the next question.

I still crack up when I think about this.

I hope I have funny students this year.

Gertie

My friends Heidi and Chris have two basset hounds named Gertie and Maddy. A few summers ago, they came down for a visit and brought the dogs. They arrived late one night and Heidi, Chris, and I stood outside hugging and talking about their trip and let the dogs in the house. We were out there for awhile catching up, when I suddenly remembered that my cat Stella was in the house alone with the two dogs. We had intended to introduce them, but that idea went out the window in our excitement to see each other. Heidi and I ran inside and followed the barks of the dogs. At the time I had an antique bed in my room that had a really high headboard that came to a point at the top. I flipped on the light and found Stella clinging to the tip top of the headboard like a Koala bear looking down at the two Basset Hounds as if to say, “What the heck are those things??” Heidi and I cracked up and I still regret that I didn’t get a photo. Needless to say, Stella avoided the dogs for the duration of their stay.

This week Heidi texted to tell me that Gertie wasn’t doing well, and she had an appointment at the vet today and would possibly have to be put down. I was so sad to hear this news because I know it’s a horrible thing to lose a pet especially one that you’ve had for 13 years. This morning, Heidi sent me an Eulogy that she wrote for Gertie and I asked if I could put it on my blog and she said of course.

Over the years I also grew to love Gertie. I enjoyed hearing stories and when I had social media, I loved when Heidi or Chris would post pictures of the adventures of Gertie. I’m just sad that I didn’t get to tell her goodbye and how much I enjoyed hearing her stories, seeing her pictures, and watching her videos. She sure was a fun pup.

Eulogy for Gertie by Heidi B.

Gertie the Bastard Hound

July 26, 2007-June 24, 2020

Gertie was born to Betty and Johnny Red in 2007 in Rogers Heights, MI. She went to live with a family for a few nights at 8 weeks old, and they brought her back and asked for a refund. Chris and Heidi were looking at her brothers (they wanted a female) and sitting on the fence about getting a Basset after smelling the owner’s houndy-smelling house. Twice they came to look and WALKED AWAY without a male basset puppy (who does that?). Once Gertie was brought back, the owners called to say they now had a female, and she was discounted by $100. Not ones to pass up a discount, the bargain sold them. Gert came to live with Chris and Heidi in September 2007 and was named after the book “Gossie and Gertie” because our nephew (age 2) had that book memorized and read it so cutely. 

Gertie went to work with Heidi at the tax office (since it was a slow season) nearly every day for a few weeks. She would steal Nancy’s socks from her noon walking shoes and play keep away. She delighted clients and eased the bad news of owing the government money, and was able to develop a love for car rides. Soon she was old enough to go to doggie daycare and enjoyed that a few days a week. And chris and Heidi enjoyed a tired puppy. 

Gertie proved to be true to the stubborn stereotype of Basset Hounds and went to live at Kim’s K9 Training Center for a few weeks of intensive training. In the end she was there for twice the time as normal dogs, and even went home to stay at Kim’s house for extra time. In the end, she could sit and walk nicely on a leash. She never did master “come.”

Gertie and Heidi enrolled in training sessions with West MI Therapy dogs when Gert was about 3. By some miracle, she passed the test and enjoyed three years of visiting the Grand Rapids VA hospital, listening to kids read in the Rockford Library’s Ruff Readers program, and comforting and bringing smiles to families at the Ronald McDonald house. 

Gertie’s favorite things were going for car rides (until she decided she hated them), barking for treats, meeting new people who would always smile when they saw her, sniffing out and killing rodents, running down sandy beaches playing with her sister (and avoiding the water), watching sunsets, riding in the cool bottom of the canoe and she really loved barking. When someone announced “mailman” she’d wake up and run outside barking; he always left treats in the mailbox. She loved all food, people food especially, and puppy cups from the DQ. But, overall, she loved randomly and incessantly barking the most. 

In the past weeks she began breathing hard, sleeping more, retaining fluid, eating less and less and barking at zero things. In this way she let them know her time was up here on earth. 

Gertie will be sadly and lovingly missed by Chris and Heidi and her sister Maddy will wonder where that annoying brown dog went. 

Fear

When I lived in Hungary, my roommate Karen and I worked at the same high school a few days a week; I worked at two high schools and Karen was full time at Rudas. On the days when I was working at Rudas, we would walk to school together. Our route consisted of crossing the street, walking a block on a sidewalk flanked by homes with fenced-in yards, crossing another street, and walking up a huge outdoor staircase. We counted the steps once and I can’t remember if there were 69 or 169 steps. I just know that there were a lot of steps and when we first moved to Hungary, we had to stop for a break. As the year went on we were able to walk up without catching a breather. No matter the temperature outside, we always arrived to work hot and sweaty from our hike up the stairs.

After crossing the street from our house, we would encounter a terrifying looking black German Shepherd that we nicknamed, “Devil Dog.” Every day we would somehow forget about Devil Dog until we were in front of his house and he would leap up from behind his fence and ferociously bark. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times Devil Dog’s lunging routine caused my heart to actually stop beating. Even more terrifying was the fact that it seemed Devil Dog’s fence was too low and that at any moment he was going to lunge over and pull a Cujo. Devil Dog had a look in his eye that convinced us he would take great delight in ripping us limb from limb. I think he’s the only dog I’ve ever encountered of which I’ve actually been afraid.

After getting passed Devil Dog’s house and catching our breathe, Karen and I would talk and laugh as we walked. We were always able to have a good time together, regardless of where we were. There was a house at the other end of the street that had a a little black puppy in the yard and we would often stop and speak to him. One spring morning, in the puppy’s yard we saw a man standing outside wearing only a t-shirt and a Speedo. Unfortunately, that’s one of those images that will forever be seared into my brain. We didn’t really linger at that house much after that.

One day Karen came home breathless. It was a day where I had worked at my other school and I had gotten home a little before her. Karen was rattled, and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she had been walking home, like always and she was looking ahead and had actually prepared herself for Devil Dog’s bark and lunging-at-the-fence routine. To Karen’s horror, she realized that Devil Dog wasn’t behind his fence, but was standing on the sidewalk and he had spotted her. She looked around and there was nowhere to run. Karen stood on a sidewalk with a fenced in yard on one side and a street with a forest and creek on the other side. I couldn’t remember how the story ended-so I asked Karen and she couldn’t remember the outcome either. She wasn’t attacked so either Devil Dog’s owner snagged him before he could eat Karen or Devil Dog ran up to her and was super friendly, revealing that he actually wanted to be friends the whole time. I remembered it being the latter, but couldn’t confirm that with Karen. Either way, I’m thankful she didn’t become his afternoon snack.

When I was thinking of Devil Dog actually being friendly, I thought of things or situations that are often feared. Karen and I had the perception that Devil Dog was evil and ready to shred us at the first opportunity, but in reality he wasn’t a vicious killer. I can think of something or a situation or an outcome that I’m afraid might happen and I can almost become paralyzed with the fear of what ifs. I’ve discovered more times than not, that what actually occurred was never as scary or awful as I had anticipated. Usually the situations worked themselves out and I was left wondering why I was so afraid in the first place.

There are so many places in Scripture that tell us not to fear or be anxious: 2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 John 4:18, Psalms 56:3, Isaiah 41:10, and Psalms 34:4 are just a few examples that mention fear and what to do if we do fear: look to God, run to Him, and hide there.

Lately, if you watch even a half second of the news, you might be tempted to fear since it seems like our world has been turned upside down and shaken. Now, more than ever, I need to fix my gaze on Jesus and seek to draw others to know Him. I’ve mentioned the song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” before, but it’s one that I’ve listened to over and over the last few weeks because it has been a good reminder to put my eyes where they need to be. You can listen here. I love the simplicity- look to Jesus, look to who Scripture tells us He is and what He did and what He can do, and trust Him with what’s causing anxiety and fear and sadness and joy and happiness and confusion and all the emotions.

MVP

When I was in middle school I played on the school’s basketball team. I think it was one of those teams that you got to be on so long as you showed up; there were no try outs. We were the Lady Clippers and it took awhile for me to realize that the L.A. Clippers weren’t named after us. Our shirts were orange and we got to wear whatever shorts we wanted. I would often forget to wash and dry my uniform in a timely manner and I remember a few times going to a game with a damp shirt. The night of our team and individual pictures I had to wear a collared shirt underneath my team t-shirt because it was pretty damp, like borderline wet.

I enjoyed my teammates and going to practice, but my heart wasn’t really in the game. My mom and dad wanted my heart to be. My dad took me to every game and on the way home he wanted to talk about what I did well and what I could have done better. I didn’t like those conversations because I didn’t see what good it did talking about a game that I cared very little about the outcome. My dad had played ball in high school and he had nailed a hoop up on the barn wall for my sister and me, so he had an interest in the game. Now that my dad has passed, I appreciate that he didn’t just drop me off, but he stayed for my games and actually watched them. I know this because he could remember all the details, things I had forgotten and I was the one doing them. I think maybe he thought I was performing some calculated moves when really I was just reacting and living in the moment.

My mom came to my games too. Then I asked her not to come because she got too nervous. My mom is really competitive and it pained her to watch me play in games with zero competitive spirit. One night we were playing an away game and the girl that I was guarding was throwing elbow after elbow into my ribs. Since I’m a rule follower, if I was told to guard #4, you better believer I wasn’t leaving #4’s side. That particular night, the other player was all over me, trying to shake me. According to my mom, it looked like I was being super passive and she was getting tired of watching a kid elbow me repeatedly and stay in my face. We were running down the court and the player was right with me the whole time. Mom got caught up in the emotion of the game, stood up, and yelled, “Audrey, move her a** off you!” That’s when the whole gym became silent, I prayed for the earth to open and swallow me up, and, at least in my mind, the whole game stopped and the ball bounced over the foul line. In reality I think the game actually went on, but I was mortified.

At another away game, just after halftime, I was wide open and someone actually threw me the ball and I caught it. I started dribbling down the court and had broken free from everyone. I heard my teammates shouting my name over and over. It felt like I was in one of those movies where the quiet kid finally breaks out of their shell and surprises everyone by showing off mad skills they didn’t even know they possessed and winning the game. The only glitch in that scenario was that I had forgotten that we had switched courts after halftime. Thankfully when I did my layup, I completely missed the basket. It wasn’t until I missed that I looked around and discovered that my teammates weren’t shouting my name to encourage me, they were screaming at me to bring the ball back and try shooting at our basket. I realized I didn’t break free from the pack, they were all at the other end of the court, waiting for me to realize my mistake. I think I sat on the bench the rest of that game.

When it came time for high school, my teammates were all excited to be trying out for the high school team. I considered trying out, but then I found out that you had to run a lot during practice and I decided that probably wasn’t my sport. Instead I tried out for the band’s Color Guard and the school’s drill team. Tryouts for both were at the same time, so I spent two weeks staying after school everyday learning routines for two different teams. I knew that I couldn’t do both, so I had a decision to make. I ended up choosing drill team because I wouldn’t be able to work at camp if I chose Color Guard because they practiced all summer long. They also wore spandex outfits that left little to the imagination and showed no grace for anyone above a size 2.

It’s funny how during that time I made decisions that eventually led me to right here. If I had made the basketball team or joined Color Guard, I would have missed out on working at camp. Being on staff at camp is where I learned about having a relationship with Jesus, the importance of reading the Bible, and spending time with Him daily. It’s where I learned about serving others and got a work ethic. When I think of it this way, I’m thankful that my 13-year-old self didn’t possess stellar basketball skills- it really paid off in my case.

A Secret Message

When I’m the driver or a passenger in a car I have a remarkable ability to spot animals. I see cats sitting in windows of houses, dogs playing in their yards, deer grazing on a hillside, groundhogs standing and looking around, and squirrels scurrying up trees. I have had friends question how I can see them as I point out all the critters. I don’t annoyingly point out everything I see, just the ones that surprise me or the ones I think might try to commit suicide. I honed my skills while living in Alaska and driving an hour to work over two mountains everyday. Anytime I was in a car I was on high alert, especially if I was driving, for wandering wildlife.

When I worked at a local university as a Resident Director, I told two of my friends that I was pretty sure that I could communicate with animals. I was joking at the time and I think the conversation came about because I was telling them about the time a big bumblebee flew into a room that was about to be full of middle school children. I knew chaos would ensue if the kids saw the bee. I walked back toward the window and the bee flew right up to my face and hovered in front of me. I said out loud, “Look, you can’t be here. Get out now.” The bee turned and flew out the window, which I quickly closed just in case he left to get some friends and show me who was really boss.

Now, I don’t really believe I have the ability to communicate with animals, but I did have an incident occur that year that almost convinced me.

In November, the Residence Life Director, Janet, and I went to a Student Life Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The conference started the day after we had arrived, but that night we had a meet and greet, along with hors d’oeuvres, at the Tennessee Aquarium and we were given free passes to look around the exhibits. Upon entering, Janet and I stopped at a large pool that was about waist high. Swimming around inside were baby stingrays and sharks that one could ‘pet’. Just typing that sentence seems like a ridiculous attraction to offer the general public, especially given the Crocodile Hunter had died from getting too close to a stingray just a couple months before.

Regardless, I stuck my hand in the water and watched as a stingray rubbed up against it. I was mesmerized watching all those creatures swim gracefully around. For a second I forgot that I was in a crowd of colleagues, so when a baby shark swam up directly in front of me and stuck half of his body out of the water and started moving his mouth, I of course said out loud, “What is it little guy? What are you trying to tell me?” He swam away and I stood perplexed. Why had he selected me out of all those people?

I looked up and saw that Janet had been watching me and was laughing. I walked over to her and asked if she had seen the shark attempt to communicate with me. She confirmed that she had, but was more amused that I spoke to him out loud. As she was talking, the shark swam over to me again, stopped in front of me, stuck half of his body out of the water, and moved his mouth. I assumed it was the same shark because I didn’t see anyone else receiving secret messages. I said to him, “I’m so sorry. I just don’t understand what it is that you are trying to tell me.” He swam away in what I can only assume was frustration. Janet and I just stared at each other and I was thankful she had witnessed both attempts at communication.

Unfortunately, I’ll never know what that little guy had to say. Maybe he was asking me to break him out, to take him to a body of water more suitable to a shark. Something big like the ocean as opposed to the little pool where he currently resided. Perhaps he was tired of people sticking their dirty hands into his habitat. Or maybe he just wanted some privacy. Whatever it was, I’ll never know, but I feel lucky to have been chosen out of all those people to receive at least an attempt at a special shark message.

A Salve

It has been a difficult few weeks. My dad was sick for four months and passed away a few weeks ago. There’s a worldwide pandemic, at least I think it’s still happening, that seems to be up for debate depending upon with whom you speak. In the last two weeks I’ve had to install new gutters, I need a new roof on the back porch, my air conditioner quit, and my washer and dryer both stopped working. It would be easy to venture into a “woe is me” attitude, but what good would that do? And all things have been or will be taken care of in the near future.

More than needing modern conveniences to hold up their end of the bargain, what my heart needs most days is reassurance and peace. I’ve lived long enough to know that these things come from only one place and that is through the words of Jesus. I’ve heard this quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon, “Within the Scripture there is a balm for every wound, a salve for every sore” and I have found that be to be true, especially in the last few weeks. I wanted to share a few of my favorite passages that have been like a salve when life seems dark or overwhelming.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

The Lord has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more.

Zephaniah 3:15 NASB

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.

Lamentations 3:22 NIV

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV

If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2 Chronicles 20:12

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I mean, don’t these passages offer hope and peace and guidance and assurance in the One who knows all about us and our lives and our problems big and small? I had a friend once tell me that the Bible was antiquated and needed to be updated. Seven years later and I’m still speechless when I think of that remark. Personally, I’ve never read anything more relevant, more truthful, and more inspiring than God’s Word. I’m thankful for 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work .” All my appliances may break and my house might fall down around me, but God’s Word is eternal and will never fail.

The Race

I’m not a very good team player. Not as in, uncooperative, I’m just not somebody you would want on your sports’ team. I have trouble staying focused on the goal of the game, which is usually to win. I played basketball and softball in elementary and middle school and I never really cared if we won and was usually placed in the last position that a ball might actually go. In college, we had a day where we played a softball game. I had just met Heidi a few weeks before, but she had already discovered my lack of team sport ability. She was pitching and I was up to bat and after several failed swings, she yelled from the pitcher’s mound, “Just hold the bat still and I’ll try to hit it.” I thought that was a fantastic idea. That’s a pretty good illustration of my team sports’ capabilities.

I’m much better at individual activities. In high school I was on the drill team. I wore a brightly colored skirt, Saddle Oxford shoes, and twirled a wooden rifle around. I was solely responsible for my own actions- I counted my steps, turned when I was supposed to, threw my rifle in the air and caught it on cue. I am not super competitive with other people, but I do like to compete against myself.

A few Decembers ago I was making my list of new year’s resolutions. I had gotten into a rut where I worked, came home and worked some more while watching TV and eating dinner. I wondered where that adventurous person I used to be had gone. So, I decided to have a year of trying new things.

I have always wanted to be a runner. I admire people who are running on the sidewalk in all types of weather as I drive by in my temperature-controlled car. I have had bouts of being a runner over the years, but it’s never been something that I’ve stuck with for very long. I would be in the habit and then I would move or school would start or some other excuse would come up and I’d hang up my sneakers. So, my first new thing was to sign up for a 5K Color Run. I had never run a race before and I figured if I was going to run 5K, it would probably be more enjoyable if I were running through colored powdered and being sprayed with dyed water.

The race was in April and since it was January I thought that would be plenty of time to train. I downloaded the Couch25K app on my phone, bought a pair of running shoes, and initially started running at the gym on a treadmill. I eventually ran outside- but only when the weather was nice because I didn’t want to go too crazy- and realized that it’s a lot different when you have to move yourself along down the road instead of the path of a treadmill moving for you.

The first time I ran 30 minutes straight, I remember thinking that I was a superstar. I thought maybe confetti would fall from the sky or people would shout for me, but I was alone on the track and I don’t live in a Disney movie, so I celebrated in my head. I loved how I felt after a run- not typically during- and after awhile that was motivation to keep going.

The night before the race, I prepared as most people would. I painted each of my nails a different color, bought a brightly colored bandanna and fixed my hair all cute, and took photos with my friends in the cool sunglasses we were gifted with our race packets. In the excitement, I sort of forgot that I had to run the whole 5K- something I had only accomplished once.

The big day arrived and I was suddenly super nervous. What if I wasn’t really prepared and I had to quit? I was unfamiliar with the course, what if there were more hills and I had to walk? I tried to quell my fears as my friends and I joined the others waiting for the word go. There was an announcement made that walkers would stay to the left and runners to the right. I decided right then and there that I was going to run the whole thing even if it took me all day. I didn’t care what those around me were doing; I wasn’t going for any prize, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could run the entirety of the course without stopping.

I heard the sound of the buzzer and everyone started running. I knew that I needed to pace myself and not start off too fast, so I just went the speed of the crowd. The course took us down an interstate ramp and I found it difficult to pace myself while running down hill because I hadn’t practiced running downhill at all. After awhile, the crowd thinned out and I found myself separated from my friends. I was listening to music on my phone and I was thankful for a perfect sunny spring day. I was surprised at how quickly the first mile went as I approached the first color station.

To mark each mile, there was a color station set up and race workers stood on both sides of the course and threw powdered color into the air and racers ran through the multi-colored clouds. Most runners had on white clothing in the hopes that they would end the race looking as if they had rolled around on a rainbow.

My feet pounded the pavement and I soon discovered that people are pretty terrible at following directions. We had clearly been told that walkers were on the left and runners were on the right, yet there were walkers on every side. Most were meandering through the course with their eight best friends, spread out shoulder to shoulder like they were intending to go face to face into a battle. I found myself weaving in and out of people in my attempt to not stop running. I looked up ahead and was excited to see the second color station- that would mean I only had 1.1 miles to go. As I approached the station, I noticed that people were stopping in the hopes of getting more color on their clothing. At this point they could have been handing out gold bars and I wouldn’t have stopped because I was determined to run the whole thing.

I was caught up in my thoughts and my music and didn’t notice the little girl directly in front of me had come to a dead stop to be sprayed with color. I collided with her and her raised hand went straight into my mouth. Thankfully, neither of us fell, we sort of twirled around in an unchoreographed dance, then I did a quick side step and muttered an apology, but kept on running.

I was feeling pretty confident that I would be able to do the whole thing until I realized that the last section of the course included the ramp I had run down. Only this time I had to run up in order to finish the race. I’m not sure who designed the course, but it just seemed mean to wait until the very end and throw a steep hill in our path. As I was running, very slowly, up the hill I was pretty sure that my lungs were going to burst or my heart was going to fail. I thought it would be a real bummer to make it almost to the end and die on that stupid hill.

I somehow found it in me to climb the hill without breaking my run and finished the race. I was so proud of myself that I didn’t even consider stretching. I just stopped running, found my friends, took pictures, and made plans for changing my clothes and getting lunch before heading home. That turned out to be a bad decision since I had a two hour drive home. I was so sore and stiff that I struggled to walk for the next two days.

I still sometimes toy with the idea of running a 10K and actually signed up a few years ago, but then hurt my foot square dancing and came up with a bunch of other excuses. It may be time for me to dig out my running shoes and set a new goal. I think I’ll do a regular one and skip the color run in an effort to avoid running over little kids.