Fictional Friends

When I was in seventh grade I checked out S.E. Hinton’s book, The Outsiders from my school library. I don’t remember a time in life when I wasn’t an avid reader, but this was the first book where I remember feeling like the characters were real. And potential friends. I wanted so badly to go visit with Ponyboy, Darry, and Sodapop and find out how they were doing after all of the events of the book. I distinctly remember walking in downtown Jonesborough with my parents for the July 4th celebration and thinking, “If I see a Greaser, I will be their friend. I will not treat them badly just because they are poor.” Much to my chagrin, I didn’t end up running into any Greasers or Socs that night, because it turns out Jonesborough didn’t really have any Greasers or Socs and it wasn’t 1965. Also, seventh grade me would have been a good friend, but pretty useless in a rumble. Adult me would as well.

I still get really wrapped up in books and sometimes forget that the characters aren’t real and that I don’t actually know them. A few years ago I was reading a book about a girl named Josie who was in a really precarious situation. I had been reading for most of the night, but had to stop since I had work the next morning. As I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I was sincerely worried about Josie and her situation and I prayed for the Lord to protect her and give her wisdom. I hate to admit that it took a minute for me to realize that I had just prayed for a fictional character. I will add that I found out the next afternoon that the Lord did answer my prayer.

If listening to a lecture or a sermon for an extended period of time, my mind starts to wander. The second the speaker throws in a story, I’m attentive. I frequently listen to two story based podcasts called, “The Moth Radio Hour” and “This American Life.” I can’t get enough of listening to personal stories.

I think that’s why I liked college so much. I went to a very small school in a town that was four hours from a movie theater or even a Wal-Mart. When we weren’t in class, we sat around in the lounge and shared stories. After lunch and dinner we often stayed in the Cache for a few hours and talked. If we couldn’t stand the thought of salmon quiche for dinner, we would walk to the local diner, grab a burger….and talk.

It was the same at camp. I remember countless nights of sitting in the gazebo after canteen time and just sharing stories of life until it was time for chapel to start. We talked while washing dishes and cleaning toilets and belaying kids on the ropes course elements. We shared our lives through our words and experiences. You can learn so much about a person through the stories that they share.

Stories also breed empathy. I don’t know how, but I know it’s true. My students will get so riled up over the way a character is being treated. I’ll point how ways that they treat their classmates the same as the characters in the book. I can see that truth taking root based on the looks on their faces.

Stories are also like spotlights on our hearts; lighting up the dark corners that we struggle to see clearly. I think of King David, who thought he had gotten away with his affair with Bathsheba. Then Nathan the prophet told David a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s pet sheep and cooked it up for his guests. David was outraged at the story and demanded justice. Nathan pointed out that David was, in fact, that rich man. That story helped lead David to repentance.

So I think that’s what I appreciate about stories. There is always a chance to learn something- either about myself, or someone else, or a situation with which I’m familiar, or I’m moved to some sort of action. I like that stories have the power to change lives and give new perspectives.

Right now I’m reading a book about a girl named Eleanor. I know she has had something awful happen in her life, but I don’t know what it is just yet. I sense that she is about to have her heart shattered and I want so badly to find a way into that book, into her life, and help her out by either warning her or being there to walk through the pain with her. But she’s not real and I don’t live in a movie, so I guess that’s not going to happen. I have high hopes that I’m going to learn a few things though.

Help

The past few days the weather has been perfect. In the mornings, I’ve been opening all the windows. Then, I sit down with my cup of coffee and read as the sunlight fills the room and a gentle breeze blows. It’s easy to think a day is going to go just right when it begins that way.

On Sunday, I attended church with Francis Chan. Well, we didn’t go together or anything, because I don’t know Francis Chan and I think he lives in Hong Kong now-although I’m pretty sure I would be good friends with he and Lisa if we ever did meet. And with the Coronavirus I can’t go to church with anyone, so I watched one of his teaching videos.

After church I went to the park with my mom, her dog Eugene, and my seven year old nephew, Manny. Mom and Eugene went for a walk while I attempted to teach Manny to ride his bike. Now, even at seven, Manny talks a big game. He’s always going to jump off the top of a building or do something crazy. He has a really active imagination. Sometimes I won’t know that the story he’s telling me is completely made up until he throws in a detail that doesn’t seem legit. But then sometimes he gets really scared over things that don’t seem like they would be a big deal.

I am a teacher. But I teach kids about stories and books and and grammar and writing. I have never even attempted to consider teaching anyone to ride a bike. My knowledge of this subject comes from what I’ve seen on TV, like when Ross was teaching Phoebe how to ride a bike on FRIENDS, and that didn’t go so well. Seeing how something is done is way different than executing that task.

Manny had his Iron Man helmet on, but he didn’t want to get on the bike. We talked a little bit and I discovered that the previous day he had been in a small bike accident and he was afraid to try again. He had decided that he just couldn’t ride a bike. I told him about all of my bicycle wrecks as a kid- and I had some pretty big ones. I told him about the time I went down the big gravel hill in our neighborhood and ended up really wiping out and having my mom dig rocks out of my leg. I realized that these probably weren’t the stories to share to a child who had given up on bike riding after a very minor incident. So, I shared with him how much I loved riding a bike as a kid and how I spent hours and hours on my bike. How fun it was to go really fast or to not even have to pedal as you flew down a hill.

Those stories of speed erased the look of sheer horror my wreck stories had produced. Manny agreed to try if I would help him. I held the bike while he climbed on the seat, and I explained how pedaling worked. He slowly inched forward and continued pedaling, while I held on to a handlebar and the back of his seat. He was moving forward, but he and the bike were leaning on me. If I had suddenly let go, disaster would have occurred.

For about a half hour, he would go a little ways and then he and the bike would lean too far and he would put his foot down and stop. He was really starting to get discouraged, so we took a little break and worked on balancing. We played a game of tag. Then we decided that I would ride his bike and he would race me on foot. We took off down the sidewalk with my knees up to my ears and a happy little boy racing beside me. When we got to the end of the sidewalk, he decided that he wanted to give bike riding another try.

Manny would get on the bike and every time he started to peddle he would say, “I need your help,” which meant that he needed me to hold the bike steady while he got started. We probably repeated that scenario at least 25 times.

Now by the time we left the park, he wasn’t riding his bike like a pro, but he was going a little bit farther each time that I would let go. He even got to the point where he would say “Ok, I’ve got it,” and that meant I needed to let him try to do it on his own. He would go a little distance and I would hear him say, “I’m doing it!” He would be so excited with even just a little progress. Of course, he had an aunt who was also cheering on every little bit of progress as well.

I don’t want to overspiritualize this experience, but I do want to say that I loved hearing Manny say, “I need your help.” I liked that he felt that he had the freedom to ask, knowing that I was going to steady the bike and help him. I liked that he wasn’t afraid to ask the first time or the twelfth time or the twenty-fifth time. When he needed help, he didn’t hesitate to ask.

It got me thinking that sometimes my independent streak could a hindrance. I don’t set out to be Miss Independence, it just sort of happens. Sometimes I don’t know who to ask for help and other times I don’t want to bother people- or maybe that’s just pride. I’ll ask the Lord for help, but sometimes it’s after I’ve mulled over an issue for awhile and worked myself into a tizzy. I wonder how much time and irritation I’d save if I reversed those steps?

After the park, I went to my mom’s house because Manny had a surprise for me. His surprise was that I got to play Minecraft with him. I like video games, but mostly the ones that were around in the 1980s and 1990s. I do not understand open concept worlds where you walk around and don’t have a final objective. I need a shelled creature to jump on and a princess to save for me to feel like the game has a purpose.

But, as I sipped my iced coffee and got kicked out of the gaming chair ‘because he’s a kid’- I found myself asking for a lot of help.

“Can I even jump? How?”

“I think that thing just killed me, did I die?”

“Can I swim? I think I’ve fallen in the water. Ooo, I think I just drown. Is that possible?”

“What do I push to get supplies? What will this supply do?”

For a seven year old, he was very gracious and made asking for help pretty easy. I could also tell that he liked being the expert. That is until he got tired of the fact that I couldn’t remember how to follow him or pick up weapons or jump and he turned around and killed my character. And laughed about it.

So a seven year old taught me that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s just necessary to get things accomplished.

Dinosaur Parks

A while back, my friend John thomas and I were discussing Dinosaur parks and that lead to the creation of several haiku about the topic.

Jt: Dinosaur theme parks
Stretching out from coast to coast
RV life is fun

Audrey: The highway ahead
Dinosaurs in the rear view
Warm sun on my face

Jt: Hey wait a minute!
These aren't real dinosaurs
I want a refund

Audrey: Don't make a big fuss
What were you expecting man
Real Jurassic Park?

Audrey: Hey! Don't get bummed out
We've got a fridge full of Ski
and a big RV

Jt: How could I forget?
That wonderful beverage
Has rescued the day

Haiku

Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll compose a few haiku about my day or my favorite things or just random thoughts. I thought I would share a few silly ones.

Coffee
Coffee, dark and strong
In the morning, in my cup
Such a lovely sight.

Stray Cats
Cats are everywhere
Looking through my window pane
You don't live here, see?

Squirrels
Sneaky, snacky squirrel
Spoken with a little lisp
Grab an acorn, quick!

Haiku
Haiku are such fun
Haiku plural is haiku
That's sure annoying

Huh?
What are you saying?
Such encrypted messages 
C'mon, speak clearly 

Pen Thief (Merlefest 2014)
You asked for a pen
I just happened to have one
Why did you keep it?

Washington, D.C. (2014)
Hop off the metro
Monuments are everywhere
Let's go find some shade

Big Stone Gap (Gathering in the Gap)
Cold, wet spring weather 
Doesn't bother me at all
Music fills the air

Dublin
Trudging in the rain
Where's the arch and Scythian?
Yay! Found them at last

The Irish Alley
A rainy, dark night
Happiness in the alley
Let's dance until dawn

Elisabeth

One summer at camp, I first heard the story of five missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador in 1956 by the Aucas. During our missions time we were told how Jim, Pete, Nate, Roger, and Ed so wanted to reach the Auca people with the Gospel that they gave their very lives to do so. After their deaths, Rachel Saint, sister to Nate, and Elisabeth Elliot, wife of Jim, went to live among the Auca people to share the Gospel.

I was spellbound. I clearly didn’t understand the forgiveness of God or the Gospel for that matter, because I wondered how in the world a woman could still care about a people group who had murdered her husband. Not only care about them, but take her young daughter and live among them in the jungles of Ecuador.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I stumbled upon one of Elisabeth Elliot’s books. I think it was her book on dating and I had a great interest in that; it was absolutely not what I expected. I found more information on my relationship with the Lord than boys. From there, I read nearly all of her other books and she became somewhat of a spiritual mentor for me. I loved her direct style of writing and her unwavering stance on the truth of God’s word.

After college I moved to California. Somehow I found out that Elisabeth Elliot was speaking on my birthday in what I thought was a nearby city. I had only lived in California for a few months and lacked geographical knowledge of the state. I checked with some friends to see if they could go with me and called to purchase four tickets. A few days before the event, only when I told my Californian friends where she was speaking, did I realize that it was 4 hours away. Of course, she could have been speaking on the moon and I would have found a way to get there. I mean, a chance to see Elisabeth Elliot on my birthday!

We ended up arriving early and walked into the lobby. I was sincerely surprised that people weren’t lined up out the door. I was prepared to throw a few elbows if it meant getting a good seat. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that since I think a tumbleweed passed me as I headed for the doors to the auditorium. I tugged, but they were locked. My friends sat on a bench to wait and I decided to go to the bathroom. I started walking down the long hallway when I noticed a lady taking a seat behind a long table of books.

It was Elisabeth Elliot.

I froze in my excitement. I turned to look at my friends, but they weren’t paying attention. I turned back, took a deep breathe, and decided I was going to go talk to her. I had years of thoughts that I wanted to share. I wanted to tell her how she had impacted my walk with the Lord. How her books had been a source of joy, sorrow, anger, and contentment. I wanted to tell her that I thought Jim Elliot was a real looker- although that probably would have been inappropriate. I also had a billion questions for her. How was she able to take her daughter and live with the Aucas after the murder of her husband and friends? What was her daily quiet time like? Would she be interested in being my new best friend?

A thousand thoughts went through my mind as I slowly walked toward the table. Once I got there, I acted like I was just browsing, thinking maybe I would buy a book or a two. I saw her out of the corner of my eye. I continued slowly making my way down the table. I was trying to act cool, like I wasn’t dying to just jump over that table, hug her, and tell her everything. It’s important to note that her face was plastered on several of the books that my hands were touching. When I was directly in front of her, I looked at her and said as calmly as I could, “Are you Elisabeth Elliot?” She smiled at me and said, “Yes, I am.”

I ended up sitting down next to her and have no idea what I said to her. Words fell out of my mouth in no particular order and at a breakneck speed. I ended with asking her to write a note to my friend who was serving in The Gambia who also admired her. I do remember that I told her that she had truly impacted my walk with the Lord. Elisabeth was everything I had imagined she would be. She was so very gracious and kind despite my excitement and word vomit.

I returned to my friends who were still sitting on the bench where I had left them. I don’t think they were as invested as I was in the whole situation, but they were really there to help me celebrate my birthday. I told them that I had met Elisabeth and it was going to be really difficult for any other birthday to match that one.

All throughout middle and high school I was very self conscious about the gap between my front teeth. I don’t know if someone said something or if it was just one of those things that I had decided I didn’t like about myself. I begged for braces, but my teeth were otherwise straight and I didn’t need them. I tried putting a rubber band around my two front teeth at night- completely forgetting that then I would have two gaps on both sides of my front teeth. I hoped maybe they would miraculously become friends and grow closer together. I would cringe when I looked at pictures of me smiling because all I could see was that big ‘ole gap in my teeth- not that I was having a good time with family and friends who didn’t care if I even had teeth.

In the auditorium, I found front row seats for my friends and me. Elisabeth walked out in her sharp looking blue dress suit; her hair pulled back in a bun. Somehow in having met her just minutes before and seeing pictures of her before that, I hadn’t noticed it. She smiled at the crowd and I saw that she had a gap between her front teeth. All those years of hating my smile faded into the background. I had something in common with Elisabeth Elliot. Suddenly, my smile was like a badge of honor.

My friend Pat also wrote in her blog today about Elisabeth Elliot. After reading Pat’s blog, I grabbed a few of my favorite books by Elisabeth and thumbed through, looking at the spots I’ve marked and highlighted over the years. Her writing style is so familiar to me that it’s like hearing from an old friend.

When I heard that Elisabeth had passed away, I was a little sad. But only a little because I knew that she was meeting the One that she had shared with so many others. I also feel so lucky because I had an opportunity to share with her, face to face, how much her writing had impacted my life.

Gold Boxes

All throughout high school and college, I would hatch escape plans in my mind for any situation in which I found myself. At camp, our cabins didn’t have locks on the door. I decided if someone broke in, I would figure out a way to hide in my suitcase. Like zip it and everything from the inside. On airplanes I decided I would slump over and act like I was already dead. I don’t know why I did this back then, the world seemed a lot safer and it was less likely that I would find myself in these situations. I worked in a pizza place and was often there late at night. I decided I would use the pizza bubble fork (a big fork at the end of a 5 ft wooden stick) or the dough docker (a pointy roller that was super heavy) to protect myself should the need arise. I never had to test any of my plans, but I figured instinct would kick in should I find myself in such predicaments.

The day I turned 30, I had to work. My birthday was on a Friday and I was working at the pizza shop. I requested the day off, but my manager Dusty told me that I had to work because Fridays were our busiest nights. I was a little frustrated because didn’t he know that turning 30 was a big deal? But turning 30 also meant I was well into adulthood and adults had to sometimes work on their birthdays.

I went in for my shift at 4 pm. The restaurant was full of employees so I secretly hoped that it would mean I could get off a little early if we were slow. Then we received a big order from a church- 100 pies. My manager asked me to go to the dough corner and start making skins. I started working quickly, if I worked slowly, that meant the pizzas were going to be late.

I was over in the corner, elbow deep in cornmeal and flour and pizza dough. My manager stood casually by, just chatting. At one point as I was working myself to death, I thought, “Oh my word, do something while you talk!” He continued joking around and I continued making pizza crusts.

Suddenly, everything went dark. Someone had put something over my head and was dragging me out of the store. I could hear muffled noises, but couldn’t make out distinct sounds. I was hoping this was a joke and not a for real thing. Before I could do anything or make any decisions, I could tell that I was in a vehicle. Someone was holding their hand over my eyes so I couldn’t remove whatever was over my head. I couldn’t decided if I should panic because surely this was someone I knew. Wouldn’t I hear sirens? I spoke to my assailants, but they wouldn’t speak back. That was incredible frustrating.

After about 30 minutes, the back of the van opened and I was released. My captors were camp friends that I had grown up with: Jeremi, Evan, and David. Should their current jobs ever fail, they would be really good at kidnapping.

It took awhile for my eyes to work because Evan had been pressing them into my skull for a good half hour. Even through crushed lashes and the blurriness, I knew we were at camp. My mom and best friend, Diane, were the masterminds behind the kidnapping. It turns out that I had been making pizzas for my own surprise party as I my manager Dusty pulled up behind us with a car full of pizzas.

The party was loads of fun. Family members and camp friends filled the dining hall. Mom and Diane had little stations that were themed with things that I loved. Dusty had rewritten, “My Favorite Things” and substituted MY favorite things. He sang the song in his deep voice, smiling the whole time because he had really gotten one over on me.

There was a table for coffee, a table with books, and other things. One of my favorite authors is Elisabeth Elliot. I’ve always admired her life story and her faith. I consider her to be one of my spiritual mentors. I didn’t know it, but Diane had written to her about my admiration for her and my upcoming birthday. Diane presented me with a tape of Elisabeth and her husband Lars wishing me a happy birthday and a card that she had written.

At the end of the night, Diane presented me with a shoe box, wrapped in gold paper. It was full of pictures and cards from friends all over the country- and some from around the world. My mom and Diane had spent so much time contacting friends and planning for this day. It was a great way to ring in my third decade.

I had tucked the memories of that day in the far corners of my mind. Dusty and several of my camp directors have since passed away. Camp friends have moved away or are busy with large families and work. Life has changed a lot since that day, but a lot has surprisingly stayed the same. Despite busy schedules, I know if we had an opportunity to get together, we would pick up right where we left off because camp friends are just like that.

I am still working on cleaning out my office closet. Today I looked up on the shelf and saw a box, wrapped in gold paper. I wondered why I saved stuff like that and honestly couldn’t remember where I had gotten it or what was in it. It just took lifting the lid and seeing familiar faces for my mind to flood with memories.

I walked into the living room and sat on the couch. I picked up each card and read the kind words that were written to me 14 years ago. I was overwhelmed by the Lord’s kindness. I don’t understand it, but I have been fortunate to know people who are nothing short of amazing. As I read their words, I would remember times that I had shared with each person and I would find my heart swelling with thankfulness. I have known some of the world’s funniest and most beautiful people. Some of their words made me laugh out loud. Others brought tears to my eyes. I wondered why the Lord allowed me to be so blessed.

Life can be so difficult, so confusing, and painful. But there is always hope as a follower of Jesus. One day I’ll get to stand with all those friends again, including though who have passed, and we’ll laugh about times we shared and we’ll worship the One who brought us all together- only this time it will be in His presence. And that’s one thing I love about the Lord. With Him there is always a gold box full of hope.

Thinking Outside

Today started out like every other day has for the last week and a half. After my normal morning routine, I ate breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen. Then I tricked Fluffy into getting into the cage to go visit my dad. I stopped by the McDonald’s, where they now know me, and got my dad a sweet tea.

He seemed to be doing well today. He was sitting up, wearing his blue shirt that makes his eyes look the clearest blue water. He was happy to see Fluffy and drink his tea, but didn’t have much to say, so we sat in silence; he would occasionally look over and smile. Fluffy and I could only stay for a little bit, so we left right before his lunch arrived.

I drove home on a mostly empty road. I was able to make the left turn out of the nursing home easily. Usually, I sit for awhile because I have to cross three lanes on a busy road. There is such a strangeness in the air with all of this. I don’t really feel worried or scared; I think I’m still trying to process what’s happening around me.

I came home, ate lunch, and began to answer the 10,000 emails and texts from school. Each asking a question or explaining a small task that needed my attention. I then posted my assignments for students. Thankfully, there is a lot of grace coming from administration because we are all trying to figure out how all of this is going to work.

Then it started. The grumbling and complaining in my heart. It started with just one irritated thought when my phone signaled I had received another text- and not a fun text from a friend- but a work text. That thought led to other negative thoughts about wanting to feel free to leave my house, to spend as long as I want with my dad without having to wear a mask, to maybe go to a coffee shop downtown to work without the distractions of my house. Small inconveniences, but it boils down to the fact that I want to live my life how I always have. My own selfishness because I know these measure are in place to keep everyone safe.

I looked outside and realized it was finally sunny and my grass was looking high. Several neighbors mowed their lawns this past weekend, so I have been feeling pressure to not be the only shabby house on the block. I decided I needed fresh air and sunshine to crack this mood. I’m thankful I made that choice because my grass was ankle deep. It makes sense because it has rained for 40 days and 40 nights, but I was still a little shocked at how much it had grown.

I was mowing for about two minutes when my sour mood lifted. There is just something about being outside and moving that works wonders for the soul. It was a day where it’s hard to tell if it’s late October or early spring. The sun was warm, but there was a slight chill to the air. I mowed and swept the driveway. Afterwards I put on my favorite summer sandals and sat on the porch. I listened to the birds singing their songs and closed my eyes as the sun warmed my face.

It was easy to think that nothing had changed in the world. I wondered if maybe I have been feeling more stressed than I realized. I know being outside won’t change reality, but I do think it will help me keep perspective. I was reminded of a Ray Bradbury story called, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In the story, an automated house continues with it’s routine even though all the people and other houses were destroyed in a nuclear war.

Encouraging, right? What I take away from that story, and the Sara Teasdale poem he includes, is that life goes in cycles. We have good times, bad times, fun times, scary times, and uncertain times. Regardless of what’s going on with me or the world, the sun is still going to come up, the seasons will change, and the birds will sing.

While on the porch, I reminded myself that we are in uncertain, scary times, but I believe that good times will return. But then so will all the other kinds of times.

Mark 1:35 states, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” Jesus knew of the hard times, mixed in with the good times, that were coming. And He took time to get away and pray. Since He is the Son of God, why in the world would I not follow His example- especially in times like these? I need to also step out of my house, get some fresh air, and pray. Despite all the uncertainty, we can rest assured that God is the same. Always.

The desperation I feel for the Lord reminds me of “Love Alone,” a favorite song by Caedmon’s Call that seems fitting to the situation that we find ourselves in.

Give me your hand to hold

‘Cause I can’t stand to love alone

And love alone is not enough to hold us up

We’ve got to touch your robe

So swing your robe down low

Swing your robe down low

The prince of despair’s been beaten

But the loser still fights

Death’s on a long leash

Stealing my friends to the night

And everyone cries for the innocent

You say to love the guilty too

And I’m surrounded by suffering and sickness

So I’m working tearing back the roof

“Love Alone” by Caedmon’s Call