“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”
For Moses, it was a burning bush—a voice he could hear calling from within.
For me, it was an inkling…communicated in a gentle undertone…a feeling that wouldn’t go away. A slight understanding that repeated itself when I was quiet enough to listen.
I left it there for a time. There was no need for immediate response. Nothing was on fire. Some things need a little marinating and this was one of them. The longer I let it absorb, the more savory it became. The more savory it became, the more intense my craving.
This is how it began with me 16 years ago when I responded to the call to teach my kids at home.
Most people think of a call as a mystical thing reserved only for those who pursue religious occupations. Like a woman who is called into a Sisterhood or a man who is called into the Priesthood. Or my great-grandfather who was serving in the U.S. Navy when he felt called to preach.
Theologian Frederick Buechner said this of the process: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
A simpler, sweeter explanation that resonates deeply is defined by author Melissa Lauber:
A call is always personal and tailored to fit a person’s soul. It builds on one’s spiritual gifts; it usually feels urgent and persistent. A call is a response to a summons. It is a kind of surrendering. It is a challenge and a joy.
Most people are average people going about the business of their ordinary day when negotiations begin. Moses, a 40 year fugitive, was shepherding in a field. I was leaving the parking lot of the school where I served as vice president of the PTA Board.
The hearing of a call is the easy part. The answering is more of a challenge because the temptation to talk yourself out of the thing is huge. For Moses, it was a matter of speech. He argued that he was not an eloquent speaker. So God sent Aaron— not only big brother to Moses—but also a gifted public speaker —who happened to be on his way to visit Moses as they spoke.
In their back-and-forth negotiations, I imagine Moses found it reassuring to hear God speak the words, I will be with you. I will help you. I will teach you what to do. Tell them I Am Who I Am sent you.
Moses’ Sender…had complete confidence in the one He was sending.
Speech was not an issue for me. Algebra was. In my back-and-forth negotiations I argued: I would do it in a heartbeat if only…I could do them justice in algebra. So before the sun set that day, someone who happened to show up to visit me… opened my world to the greatest math program ever invented.
A true call morphs into a knowing in your soul that arrives with such great clarity—it is easy to trust that you will be equipped. No matter how average and ordinary we know we are.
It takes on a life of its own…a thing you can no longer let sit.
There is no standard level of education required to answer a divine summons. God places the passion and desire in our hearts to do the thing He calls us to do. What you bring to the table is faith, courage, and a touch of audacity.
And for Moses, there was this staff…
You’ll need these tools because you will encounter resistance. Strong resistance. People who believe they know better will work themselves into a seizure trying to fit you into a mainstream mold. But you’ll never fit and that’s probably why you were called. These are your critics. They will fixate on your perceived weaknesses…failing to recognize that the beauty of being obedient to a call… is that it happens in spite of weakness.
This is about the time provision is made for the next thing you’ll need. Confirmation …a priceless treasure that arrives in the form of people who believe in you. They don’t see weakness. They see potential. They are sent to uncover your hidden strengths.
Even Moses, courageous as he was, needed a spotter to help complete the final rep of a military press in the battle against the Amalekites. Two men supported his arms—one on one side and one on the other—because he had grown too tired to hold his staff in the air by his strength alone.
As the years go by, you will hear people express all manner of worry about kids who spend their school years at home. It isn’t necessary to engage them. Responding to your call in this life is between you and the One who called you. Their discernment—or lack of—is between them and their God.
I have nothing against the public school system. I’m aware that not all homeschooling families choose that particular path for the reason that I did. I’ve never tried to convince anyone that my way is best. As one wise mother put it: “Homeschooling will not build a successful family any more than a hammer will build a successful house.” This is the truth of any school setting.
With challenges and obstacles and far too many mistakes along the way, Moses fulfilled his call. With challenges and obstacles and far too many mistakes along the way, I raised four kids who completed a course of study. One of them completed their course of study a year ahead of schedule. All of them excelled in algebra. Three of them are gifted writers. All of them are on the right-hand side of the downward slope…for those who need proof that “it worked”.
Those things matter a great deal to people who idolize intellect. I’m not one of them. I never set out to raise geniuses. Genius is what happens in spite of a one-size-fits-all curriculum and not because of it. Research shows that IQ accounts for 20% of a person’s life success. The remaining 80% comes from the elements of a far more dimensional EQ.
So what, exactly, defines success? To some it is job status and power, acquiring wealth, having prestige, a college degree, being surrounded by admirers, having their accomplishments noticed. For me, it is enjoying the fruits of my labor…moving forward and setting new goals. It is that beautiful, immeasurable thing that happens on the front porch at the end of the day.
My goal was to raise self-directed learners who would grow up to be compassionate people who would hopefully go on to pursue worthwhile endeavors that would continue to spark their neurons. And they are. They’ve taught me far more than any classroom or book.
And the people who fixated on my weaknesses? They still do. Does it bother me? Not any more than Pharaoh bothered Moses.
I Am Who I Am called me.
My Caller had complete confidence in the one He was calling.
I was not of noble birth. I had no teaching degree in my possession. I was referred to as an “underachiever”. Sometimes I think God just has fun picking people who are simply teachable vs. those who already know it all.
He assigns extraordinary tasks to people whose occupations are detestable to the Egyptians.
And I love living in this realm.
I love believing with all of my heart… that herdsmen can become Kings, orphaned girls can become Queens, and murderous fugitives can be just the man for the job. I believe “unschooled and ordinary” fishermen can become healers and carpenters can profoundly change the world. Not to mention all those folks without seminary degrees….
But that’s just me.
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”
~Albert Einstein–slow learner who didn’t do well in school –so he left at age 15 to figure things out for himself –and went on to become a genius.
There isn’t one morning I wake that I don’t need a fresh batch of mercy. I pull back the curtain to look outside and there it is without fail. Sometimes the sun shines bright. Other times, the sky is overcast and drizzly. The thing that matters most is that this new day has arrived and with each new day, fresh mercies.
This time of not rushing when I wake is the thing I love most about working nights. This is the time I sit and have coffee with God. I never know what He’ll lead me to meditate on in those moments. I just take His hand, open my heart and do my best to listen. Sometimes I simply play songs for Him on my harmonica. Today I felt compelled to read.
The day before Thanksgiving last year, I looked out my kitchen window and saw my grandkids playing in a mountain of leaves.
This year, I looked out my kitchen window and saw my grandson’s dog having a seizure.
T.J.’s love for dogs is larger than life. Their love for T.J. is even larger than that. So big is their love that it isn’t a good idea for postal carriers to come near the child. So big is their love that T.J.’s own mother must exercise caution when she disciplines him. One dog in particular has started growling his disapproval over this very thing.
T.J. named his own dog Woody. I don’t know what went wrong with Woody. I only know that he was energetic and ornery on Tuesday. By Wednesday, he was not.
While waiting for our time slot with the vet, Woody’s condition worsened. I felt physically ill. Heartsick. These are the things in life you don’t plan for. Can’t plan for. Those times in life when you are stripped down to circumstances beyond your control and everything else becomes trivial. Like finishing the two casseroles that were already in the works. Or cleaning the house the way you thought you would.
Woody went to Heaven just after 5 p.m.
I tried to be productive in some way but the heaviness of my heart depleted my brain cells. Instead, I left the house early and went to work my final night shift before Thanksgiving day. It was there that I remembered what I had read this morning in that treasured, unhurried time: In everything, give thanks.
It felt impossible under the weight of the unexpected. Then I realized we aren’t required to give thanks for circumstances that suck so badly. But in those sucky circumstances—those times when the reasons aren’t so obvious, we should offer thanks.
Those small mercies, so often unnoticed.
I closed my eyes and remembered Woody surrounded by grown kids of all ages—family, friends, neighbors— speaking softly to him, petting him, laying down in the grass with him, easing him from this place into the next with all the love they had to offer.
I thought of my grandkids visiting relatives in Texas this week…not in the mountain of leaves in my backyard…relieved that they didn’t have to watch their beloved Woody suffer.
I thought of other pets lost—the way my kids prefer to journey together down this road of inevitable fate—the way they fall into a familiar choreography of loss in which the steps are never forgotten.
I thought about the love of my life…the way he has always taken care of our kids, other people’s kids—and has kept me in spite of all the kids I’ve brought home and the dogs they’ve brought home. The way he quietly waits in those last moments…those sacred moments before he puts shovel to earth and carries those dogs so tenderly to their final resting place.
After a peaceful night at work, I signed out at ll:15 p.m. instead of 4:45 a.m. which gave me plenty of time to finish all that had been left undone.
Breezy and I worked together in the kitchen as we always do the night before Thanksgiving. She turned on Christmas music…the first of the season, just as she always does. As Louis Armstrong serenaded softly in the background, the house began to smell like a holiday and we found comfort in ritual.
Three hours, one casserole, and four pies later, the last pan washed- dried- put away, I stepped outside with garbage in hand, being careful not to look toward the lonely dog run. Instead, I looked toward Heaven and wondered if Woody was as energetic and ornery on this Thursday morning as he was on Tuesday. And even though my day was no longer new in this backward schedule of mine, there was such abundant mercy remaining that I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Earthquake tracker shows that where I live, we’ve had 43 earthquakes this month. Most of them are small. Here at my house, we feel at least one per week in the wee hours after work while most normal people are sleeping. The floor shakes and the dishes in the kitchen rattle. The largest in magnitude this month was 5.6. The largest in the past week was 4.8. The largest today was 3.3, which is really more the norm.
On the 4.8 magnitude day, there were also tornadoes. But that wasn’t the most epic thing about the past week. The most epic thing was the appearance of the Vikings on 11-11-11.
The only thing not sweet about my night gig is that I sometimes miss out on the greatest things like the awesomeness that unfolds when you have The Kid House. Once you have The Kid House, you grow up to have The Grown Kid House and you never know what might happen there. It could be a sweet thing like a hula hoop gathering in the front yard. Or a fun thing like going for a walk in the park with decorated umbrellas. Or a normal thing like Internet Café by candle light underneath the covered patio in the backyard. Or it could be something altogether different.
The boy in the neighborhood with the biggest afro still comes over but now he’s in his 3rd year of college. The chubby kid who played tuba in the school band is now a skinny tuba-playing senior. The boy who played clarinet with a hunchback had surgery and now stands a straight and proud 6 feet 5.5 inches tall. The boy who moved across the street 13 years ago lives here part time. My kids were the home schoolers. The other kids just found their way here. I think it was the laughter. Maybe the food.
On the night of 11-11-11, they entered my front door as themselves and transformed into Vikings before they walked back out. It was the midnight launch for Elder Scrolls Skyrim at Game Stop.
If you’ve never been to a midnight launch, you are missing out.
You can easily spot the people going to a midnight launch in line at Target or any other store in the hours leading up to the event. They’re usually wearing some kind of gamer shirt that gives them away. If not, they will be wearing a huge smile while purchasing a 12 pack of the most potent caffeine along with other snacks. The smile isn’t about their current purchase but has everything to do with happiness yet to come in the form of whatever video game is being released at midnight.
They wait in line for hours talking gamer talk. My personal favorite memory was the 60-something lady in her bathrobe and slippers talking geek talk with teenage boys. The enthusiasm at these things is a contagious thing and as each small group comes out of Game Stop with their new game in hand, they give a shout (usually the title of the game)– returned by shouts from the crowd still waiting.
On this particular night, the Vikings were a hit.
As they exited the store with games in one hand and all manner of medieval weaponry in the other, they walked in silence. Then together, they lifted their battle axes and swords high overhead and shouted “SKYRIM!!” and ran into the night to the cheers of the crowd.
And by some miracle, I was off work early enough to witness this spectacle for myself.
Back at The Kid House, the gamers disappeared into the game room while another came out with laptop asking, “Internet Café, anyone?”
…to which Breezy responded, “Yes!”
…as she pulled a coat over her jeans and t-shirt and headed to the backyard with a sweet smile underneath the paint of a Viking Warrior.
…did not ruin my weekend:
The friendly, entertaining barista at the next stop.
The drive home with the windows down, Breezy next to me…
…enjoying the beautiful, sunny, 75 degree temps…
…and the Halloween decorations throughout the neighborhood…
…passing the happy guy riding his bike…
…and another happy guy walking down the street playing his guitar…
…and all the while, awesome music played on the radio.
Getting an endorphin rush in the warehouse with 3 of my 4 kids on Saturday night…
…the way they gather in kitchen every Sunday and fill it with laughter.
The 62–7 victory for the Saints. Who Dat!
Yesterday my granddaughter talked me into watching a movie with her. I was well underway in my attempt to make the kitchen spotless but her determination was far greater than mine.
Or maybe it was her passion…
Whichever the case, Secretariat is now one of my favorite movies.
I love inspiring stories and I love inspiring little girls. Sometimes the best things in life happen when we walk away from an agenda and let someone else have a say.
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Greek: Entugchano–“To light upon, by chance; to meet accidentally.”
Hebrew: Paga–“To intercede; light upon.”
And that, quite simply, explains it all–how we came to this Tuesday ritual of ours. It was quite by accident.
I wish I’d been around to comfort you when a homegrown terrorist took the life of your sister. When your marriage ended. When your mother passed away. When you were a little boy whose sweet world crumbled. As life would have it, many years and countless sorrows would pass before the timing was right.
God knew what He was doing.
I often wonder if I kind of missed it. So many times I passed you by on my way out of work in the wee hours of the morning– the end of my workday, the beginning of yours. I would have recognized you anywhere but we wouldn’t have had any reason to talk. That is…until I became a merchandiser for The Soda Mafia. You worked just across the way merchandising for The Chip Mafia.
You were ornery from the get-go. I crave orneriness the way most people crave…well…soda. I thrive on the stuff. You wasted no time growing my skin thicker with your own brand.
God definitely knew what He was doing.
Beneath your ornery surface was a measure of mercy like none I’ve never known before. You call yourself simple but to me, you are simply merciful.
Greek: Eleos–“Oil; soothing agent for wounds.”
Hebrew: Hesed–“Steadfast love.”
It is both mysterious and miraculous how wounded souls find one another. It is nothing but miraculous that our wounds happen to align in a symmetry of near perfection.
Yours is a wisdom born of great suffering. You are a courageous Intercessor–one capable of changing even the mind of the Most High. History reveals that it was only an Intercessor that could change God’s mind. You are a courageous Watchman. In the Old Testament, the Watchman at the wall performed the job of an Intercessor. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that your very name means Protector. Yours is a walk that combines both the priestly and the prophetic.
Some of the simplest advice you’ve given has proven to be profound:
~God gave you two ears and one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you speak.
~Be careful who you trust with the things you confide in God. You can’t ask Just Anyone to pray.
~It’s only chips and dip. (Your version of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”)
I wish I’d had those words–had you–long ago, but in the words of another wise soul (not nearly as wise as yourself) better late than never.
I still have those precious messages written in your hand, left for me to find on boxes at work. I sliced around them with a box knife so I could keep them forever. I display them in the laundry room, propped like art among the Tide and the Downy. When I step into my kitchen, I see the words “A friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” I don’t know who that quote belongs to but I’ve got one for you that I found through another kind soul who loves healing words.
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~George Eliot
Sometimes other people’s words say the things I feel best.
Let me take this time to give you my own simple words.
You are so dear to me.
Thank you for taking upon yourself my own tears of grief in those times when you know that I need to be a rock.
Thank you for Tuesdays.
On those days when I wake, I pull back the curtain to look out on that fresh batch of mercy I find in the sunlight of every new morning and I say to my Creator, thank you for this day.
I pass through The Gates.
I walk ever so cautiously into the kitchen (because my muscles are so darn sore), straight to the coffee pot, grab Breezy’s ipod, and head back again to my room. I scroll to Kutless…click on “Take Me In”. I close my eyes and let the words wash over my sleepy brain cells.
I enter into The Courts.
I quietly sing along. Incense ignites. A fragrant cloud fills the room.
The Brazen Alter quickly becomes hindsight.
Tears fill my eyes. This thing, I cannot help. It happens every time. I feel it coming.
The Cloud of Glory descends…
…and I know you’ve come alongside me on this journey. You’ve torn through a veil of flesh, entered into the realm of Spirit, sprinted toward that beautiful place we always set out to find.
How sweet it is to reach our final destination.
The Mercy Seat.
I’m pretty much a creature of habit. Take Mondays, for example. I sleep a little later (I can do that since I work through the night). I pray a little longer. There is usually more laundry than usual after a weekend filled with grandkids and I always wear a blue shirt to work. It reflects my mood.
Today, though, Tyler stopped by.
With Tyler, you just never know. He is my first-born. Usually the most cautious. Sometimes…not so much. Those are the adventurous times.
I was getting ready to work-out when he stopped by. He needed a ride. When he needs a ride, I always know adventure lies ahead.
It started Saturday when he went shopping at the thrift store. That’s something we started a long time ago. Another story. He recognized the cashier, Elaine. He used to be her boss once upon another lifetime. He left the store with his newfound treasures, later telling me, “I don’t think she charged me full price.” In the parking lot is where he spotted what he was really looking for…a tiny little Geo. He drives a Suburban. I’m pretty sure he’s tired of paying for gasoline.
He went back inside the thrift store asking person after person, “Excuse me…are you the owner of the blue Geo?” Each answer was no. Just when he though he’d asked everyone, he found one last hope. “Excuse me, sir…would you happen to know the owner of the blue Geo?” The gentleman pointed to a lady not so far away. Right then and there, he asked her if he could buy her car.
She laughed hysterically.
Today I took him to pick up that blue Geo just like I did six years ago, though not so far away. Between his two jobs back then, he was working from cain’t see to cain’t see, making a home for the beautiful girl he’d fallen in love with and the sweet baby girl they’d just brought into the world. We drove to Tulsa to pick up that blue Geo and I remember watching him in the rearview mirror the entire ride home, praying non-stop that he wouldn’t fall asleep behind the wheel. He worked too hard and a good night’s sleep was something he never had in those days.
He made the drive safely from Tulsa to OKC but not so long after, he did wreck that car falling asleep behind the wheel.
Today he made a phone call to let the owner of the blue Geo know that he was on his way to pay her. He referred to her as “Opal” and I felt strangely peaceful about the whole thing. That is my alias. When I’m with my old lady friends, I am Opal.
With Tyler, there are no strangers. People treat him like family and often want to keep him as their own. That’s kind of what happened when he knocked on Miss Opal’s door. Kind of. They hadn’t completely ruled out “crazy white boy” just yet. He knocked on her door and was greeted with genuine warmth, like an old friend. I saw that she had the good sense to have a Garden Gnome so I was feeling better by the minute. He introduced me to Miss Opal and I said to her, “I understand he hunted you down in the thrift store.” She told me that indeed, he had. That she loved that thrift store and she shopped there every time she needed therapy. It only took an instant to love her.
Miss Opal and her family told him everything he needed to know about “Old Blue”, arranged another meeting for the title transfer, and handed over the keys.
I watched in the rearview mirror as we drove home, just like before, this time smiling at the simple joy of seeing him driving that tiny little car that will save so much money on gas. He still works two jobs. Most nights now, he does get a good night’s sleep.
I went to work in my blue shirt, still laughing about that blue car. And at the end of the night, I saw Elaine (cashier from the thrift shop). She came running toward me with a something to say. “You’ll never guess who I saw.”
“I heard,” I told her. “Did he happen to ask you about the car in the parking lot?”
“He asked everyone about the car in the parking lot,” she answered.
I told her he bought it today. “He said you didn’t charge him full price on his purchases.”
“I gave him my discount,” she smiled. “He’s like family to me.”
1. The sunlight outside the window—new mercies every morning.
2. Mr. Right.
3. Being born a mesomorph—I gave birth to warriors.
4. Filling in on Christmas Eve for a sick person with a paper route.
5. Working for the soda mafia…because I met a life-changing person who worked for the chip mafia.
6. Mr. Lyle Brooks, a man who does so much for so many and looks forward with great anticipation to the reward at the end of it all.
7. Volunteer work. Especially with Miss Audrie. Random volunteers, such as ourselves…(there’s a wink in there, just for you).
8. Working every night with a man who was once pronounced dead.
9. Endorphins. I love you.
10. Ace, who has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
11. Surviving Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I have a lively household to show for it.