A Week of Lost Things (and How You’ve Got to Keep Filling the Vase)

Welcome to those visiting from Kelli Trujillo’s blog today. I’d love to get to know you, so go ahead and take a minute to introduce yourself in the comments. To keep up with future posts, you can enter your email address on the homepage sidebar or put http://messageinamasonjar.com/feed/ in your reader.

I’m blessed to know Kelli as a real life friend in two very special circles: our writers’ group and our church community. I’m always ready to talk about cherishing family, but it’s interesting to have this particular conversation with Kelli this particular month as some stressful events have brought me to the most tender places.

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It was a week of lost things: lost data, lost consciousness, lost wallet. When the computer guy called to tell me my hard drive was blank and that there was no sign of any of the family photos and videos I’d captured for the past six years, the ones I hadn’t finished backing up, I lost my breath and my voice for a bit. Continue reading

A Friend for the End ~ Link-Up {Take Heart…in Kinship and Community}

Today in our Take Heart series, my friend Christie Elkins shares about how she felt God’s comfort even as she and her family watched their church crumble after almost a decade of ministry.

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I exited the door, turned left, my worn ballet flats sliding slightly on the waxed floor. I scooted to a pause, for a moment. I had no idea which way to turn. It was then she grabbed my hand and showed me the way. Holding my breath, I followed blindly.

That was the end.

The beginning was almost eight years prior. Fresh out of college, newlyweds, we were seeking a place to worship with no abandon—a come as you are, a welcoming smile, a deep conversation about sin on a moldy secondhand couch. Despite the bugs, the dust, and the scratching of heads in the community, we went full force with a group of believers and launched a church in an old building on a forgotten side of town.

They said we were too young, too loud, wore too much black.

That was the beginning.

What transpired over the years to come was unexpected. It was fulfilling yet lonely. It was open arms or cold shoulders. It was encouragement in the most unlikely of places. It was the building up of lifelong friendships. Or the ones that got away who have not spoken since. It was worship with the sunrise, gospel sharing overseas, loving people at home. And still finding bugs here and there.

It was a whirlwind courtship between the Maker and his clay. He molded us. Changed us. Made us whole. Gave us direction.

They said we were too busy, too scattered, and had too many kids.

We visited a church. A different church. We had never sought out a church before– it seemed one always found us, especially with my husband being in the ministry. It was awkward. And uncomfortable. And when my daughter said she had to go to the bathroom, I jumped at the chance to exit the service.

So, I exited the door, turned left, my worn ballet flats sliding slightly on the waxed floor. I scooted to a pause, for a moment. I had no idea which way to turn. It was then she grabbed my hand and showed me the way. Holding my breath, I followed blindly. “The bathrooms are this way”, she smiled, and guided me down a long, shiny school hallway, with fluorescent lighting blazing into my eyes.

I gripped her hand tightly, fighting back tears. At that moment, the only friend I had, the only encouragement in ministry was my five year old child.

Everything is beautiful in its time. From the first moment of cracking open that dust filled building to the painful service where we stepped down from an eight year life of church ministry. There was a time—a time, a purpose, a place in His plan for the astounding things that happened over the course of those years. And while most would expect the closing to be hurtful and cold, it was not.

Because what we had with these believers is hard to explain. It transcends time. It defies odds. Because that is what happens when you allow faith to take its course. It does not have to make sense to anyone but Him. So you hold on to that tiny, sweaty, five year old hand, take a deep breath, and trust.

We are all headed in the same direction, we are just taking different hallways. We are going forth. Ready. Prepared. And as He guides our paths, we need not seek a friend for the end.

Those friends have been there all along.

Christie ElkinsChristie is the mother of three rambunctious little ones, wife to a pastor/cop, and a writer to anyone who will offer a listening ear. She began her blog, My Walk With Eden in 2008 and spends her days trying to homeschool, paint her nails, and save the world, all before naptime. Christie is also a newspaper columnist at the LaFollette Press, sharing weekly, humorous tales in her column entitled “Letters from the Nest,” and is an Allume blog contributor. She and her family reside in the Appalachian mountains of east Tennessee, where sweet tea is served at every meal and hospitality is second nature.
You can find Christie on Twitter, on Facebook , her blog, and LaFollette Press.

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Thanks for visiting Message in a Mason Jar where we’re finding the loveliest things in the most ordinary containers. To get posts delivered to your email box or blog reader, enter your email address on the homepage sidebar or enter http://messageinamasonjar.com/feed/ in your reader.

Take Heart Series ~ Feb 2013Now it’s time to share YOUR Take Heart story. Enter your information below to link to your own blog post on how you’ve been encouraged to “Take Heart…in Kinship and Community,” whether it be in the struggle of extended family dysfunction, leaving a church, or working through conflict with a friend. In your post, link back to our page here (you’re welcome to grab the thumbnail graphic to use in your post) and invite others to join in. Then, be sure to visit and comment on the posts that link up before and after yours and encourage each other!



A Recipe for Revision {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 21}

I rake fingers through flour, light and dry, then pull beads of cold butter into it, oil and weight joining. Then the cold water splashes in, an awakening. Dough rounds itself away from the sides of the bowl.

This is my second try. My practice pie turned out a runny mess of filling inside an overworked crust. I wonder now if I’m doing this anything like Priscilla did, her fingers making art of fashion plates and dessert plates.

Her little Georgie learned creativity watching her work the colored pencils. He learned love with the taste of her butterscotch pie. It was his no-contest favorite. And he was hers.

I pat the dough into a ball, then press it into a disk and carry it to the fridge, heavy as a stone. I think of how he found her on the floor next to the icebox with her hand over her heart, how he took his fist to his own chest and hurtled past the open school books on the table, down the tenement hall, out the building and across the street to the scout master’s house. Sirens screamed and doors flew open. They slid her quiet frame into the back of the ambulance, a hearse painted white. Then, the waiting.

This time, I force patience. When I shrugged off the chilling of dough for my first pie, the crust shrunk back in the oven and baked up tough instead of flaky. Now, I wait an hour and do it right. The mass softens as flour falls to the counter top, dust to dust. I press down and rub at the edges to erase little fault lines. Then more flour and I bring the rolling pin from center to edge like bicycle spokes, homage to the spinning wheels he rode down from Chicago over quiet Indiana roads, an orphan in wartime. The dough spreads wide, in concentric circles, the way a single day can change the course of a life.

I fold the thin layer of dough and move it to the pie dish, ease it into the contours and gather up the frayed edges to make them part of the crust. I press in my fingers to ruffle the dough around the rim and then send it back to the fridge.

The oven and stove top heat up in unison and I think back to the too-sweet filling from my practice pie. I go for light brown sugar over the dark this time around and add it to the water to make a better butterscotch syrup. I think out loud, remembering the eggs and milk that gritted and curdled when I put them in the hot syrup one at a time. Now, I whisk them together and stir in the flour tablespoon by tablespoon to keep it all smooth. I tip it in slow motion, pour the mix into the pan and stir constantly while it all simmers and bonds and thickens up with no bits of egg or milk to be seen. In goes the butter, vanilla and salt, the right mix of savory and sweet that make a recipe or a story last beyond the taste buds or the telling.

When I carry the milk carton back to the fridge to exchange it for the crust, I picture the boy in his grief walking back into the stale apartment where no one had moved the air for days, how he walked lightly over the spot where she had fallen. He’d been sent for the last of the milk, a lonely carafe, to make up for what he’d been using during his stay across the street.

I get to work on the crust, weigh it down with dried beans and bake it empty. On my second try with these tweaks of the recipe, I am set on making this pie right, something not too far off from what his mother always made.

I’ll whip up the egg whites and brown the meringue before putting the pie in the fridge instead of being the fool and baking the filling runny again. Now, meringue waits in a bowl while butterscotch pours into the void like his story told, sugaring the pain. A most lovely aroma swirls up in the steam, memory of what he’d found in that lonely corner of the kitchen.

He pulled the door open and what he saw on the icebox shelf had him grabbing at his heart again. Sweat dotted tan buttons of meringue. Twisted crust traced the rim of a lovingly tarnished pan. There in the middle of all that loneliness was a surprise, her one final act of affection, a butterscotch pie baked for her boy, for the love of Georgie.

Grandpa Wiley really knew how to tell a story. He’d been sharing that one for sixty years by the time he became family to me. He was brave to share what made him cry. He knew that every story has its salty and sweet. And through years of storytelling, he’d learned just what details communicated the heart of the story and how to tell it in a way that had the listener feeling present in it, no matter how far back the story’s history.

The best storytellers are the ones who work their stories again and again, revising words and phrases, who sift them like flour and blend them smooth like the eggs and milk. The recipe scribbled in your scratch journal may be a good start, but the pie is perfected when you allow for changes.

When I revise, I take my scribbled draft and type it into the computer. As I sift through first-try words, the big ideas firm up and better phrases roll out. Then, I read it aloud and thicken it up some more. And after a few rounds, I’ve got something I’m ready to share within my little circle, and the telling of it there will better the story even further (more on that in the next post).

When we presented Grandpa the white cardboard box with a bow on it, I think he expected to open the lid to the sight of a new book, our usual gift. But this time, on his 80th birthday, we celebrated his story, his words and the way they connected us with past generations. That day, when he saw the browned peaks of meringue and breathed in the smell of butterscotch, he put his open hand to his heart once again and let the tears flow, sugar and salt.

{Take a story from your scratch journal and work through it like a baker bettering a recipe. Type it on the computer, sifting the ideas and words as you go. Then read it aloud and continue to revise (re-type it again in a new document if it helps you). When you are finished, share an excerpt from the piece or simply reflect on the revision process by commenting below.}

This is Day 21 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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(I adapted the pie crust recipe above from Alice Waters’ recipe in The Art of Simple Food, one of my favorite cookbooks. You can click my affiliate link to order one for yourself or a friend.)

Gone with the Woods: Clearing the Way for Blessing

We balanced ourselves as we skied down the slippery steps and headed toward the tree line. My hound tugged against the leather leash and pulled me like he was a snow dog making tracks out in the wild. It was as close as we could get to such a thing– our three-acre view of unkempt trees. The sight of the snow cradled on all the branches had lured me out of the house to hike the woods with my dog and my boy.

We studied the animal footprints and tried to guess what had hopped or galloped through before we  walked the path. “I’m making Elliot tracks,” my little boy told me, stomping his feet into the deep snow. Hoover jumped up and over every fallen trunk along our path, diving in and out of the powdery surf like a dolphin in deep waters, pure glee. He was made for this, except for the leash in my hand.

I forced out the breath that I’d been holding. It billowed into a small cloud and veiled my view. It’s all a vapor. I paraphrased the verse and kicked at a rotted log. That beauty around me would soon vanish to the tune of a Komatsu PC300 excavator shaking our sacred ground and ripping out comfortable trees by their roots.

“These trees won’t be here next winter,” I said trying to break the news to Elliot without letting my sadness leak through, “We have to enjoy them while we have them.”

My husband and I had dreamed of buying a bit of that land and fencing it off for our crazy hound and our boy to run around on. A boy needs a place to ramble and we thought if our dog could run like he was meant to, then just maybe our home could be more serene. No more dog paws ice skating across hardwoods at the sound of our little boy’s outbursts. No neurotic scratching at the bowl and drooling for food when it was right there in front of him. No more yelping at the top of his lungs for half an hour if we dared take the bark collar off. That land next to us would be the answer to all of our problems, we  dreamed. But then the sign had gone up: a public hearing to discuss land use, our beloved three-acre view in question.

By next fall, the working men surrounded us with their loud voices and loud machines and it felt like they were clawing at my gut when they cut on those trees. I walked out to the backyard to let the guys know to Beware of Dog. We hadn’t yet put up the signs. I muzzled the beast every time I sent him out into the yard, but in case the contraption came loose I wanted them to be on guard. I could just picture them doing the same as our neighbor Frieda, dangling their arms over the fence and getting chomped.

“Aww. We won’t give him any trouble,” one of the workers said. They knew a thing or two about hunting dogs. “That guy over there’s got some Bluetick pups in the truck,” they said, filling me in on the little cousins to my Treeing Walker.

The next day, somebody rang the doorbell. I gritted my teeth. The bell sent Hoover into a frenzy like it made a Pavlovian dog’s stomach growl. I stepped out into the entry and closed the glass door behind me before opening our front door to see who to thank for setting my dog off. Standing there, a soft-spoken working man in a baseball cap held out a book to me. A gold-filament silhouette of a hound dog sparkled on the black-as-a-tomb fabric cover while my own dog circled and clawed and yelled out through the sealed entry. Pages were dotted with the words of another man who had, once upon a time, started something new, perfecting the chase, the persistence, the bay and bark. While I was worried about losing the woods next door, God was using that very plot of land to prepare a place for a redemption story, bringing to my welcome mat the grandson of the man who started Hoover’s breed in the 1930s.

After another winter and spring and another bite (this time with Elliot as the victim) and what seemed like a thousand people saying “No”, “Sorry” and “It’s time to give up”, I cracked the black book open, desperate. I peered inside the front flap, grabbed the phone and pressed in each of the handwritten numbers. I waited for that soft-spoken voice to answer and then I howled out my story, tears flowing. The next day, he showed up in front of our house with a dog crate on his truck. The working man was a God-send, making things work for us, bringing a wayward hound back to the roots of the both of them, back to the very property where his grandfather cultivated the breed, where Hoover, the hooligan hound, could become who he was made to be: White River Hoover, the hunting dog.

There is a house blocking my view now. It’s been planted where the trees once stood. But my stomach doesn’t sink at the sight. It’s not that I don’t miss the woods, but what happened there has given me a new view, a view of the Spirit sprinkling serendipity into my difficulty, of Him acting behind the scenes to work all things together for good. Soil churned and upturned next door was the substance God used for bringing peace and balance to my home.

The land had to be cleared for it to happen, for my path to cross with the houndsman’s, for Hoover and all of his anxiety to be gone with the woods. I shouldn’t have been surprised even if I was amazed. It had happened before, this emptying out to make room for the new. I had to let go of flimsy dreams as I filled a cardboard box with mementos to get rid of: a hand-cut crystal vase, a container of apology letters, and a framed picture of a mountain drenched in the deluge that almost sent me careening down slippery rocks. It is hard for a writer-type to let go, to toss out the evidence, to permanently delete the details of a study in love and human behavior. But I knew I had to make room for the new, for the man who would someday be my husband to woo me without all those artifacts on display. He did so, and I can’t believe I didn’t clear the land sooner. Later, we’d learn the same lesson together, that when friendships crumble without explanation and all attempts at salvage wind up back in the junk pile, the Spirit helps us to let go and wait for what He has dreamed up for us. We turn our palms down and release our burdens, and then raise our hands up again, ready to receive, knowing that He withholds no good thing. We can trust Him to redeem the void, to use the empty places.

I’m still awestruck about all that God did in my 2011. What about you? What has been cleared from your life to make room for the new?

James 4:14
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, p. 31
Psalm 84:11