Stories Worth Telling

Stories matter – mine does, yours do. But we all have different ways of telling our stories. From apple picking to Zamboni driving, we weave our tapestries in unique ways from one another – thank the Good Lord. How boring this place would be without the variety!

homogeneous

I most acutely became acquainted with the tale being woven in me when my mom had her stroke. There was just so much about her that I felt deeply needed to be talked about. It was almost an unavoidable action for me – I had so much in my heart. So my heart would just burn with a thought or concept regarding “leaving memory lane” until I wrote about it and posted it here. And what lovely watchers and readers you have been. Oh my.

You know when you find a necklace at the bottom of a suitcase and it seems hopelessly tangled?

tangled necklace

Naturally, you set to work pulling the necklase up close for a better view of the mangled mess. You can kind of make out what parts of the chain need to be loosened so that another part of the chain can be pulled through to freedom, to a straight line, to being untangled. This has been the joy of writing for me.

And it just so happened that 2 women in my life with whom I have for years shared intentional, substantial friendship were doing the same thing; trying to untangle their own necklaces that were the crises of the welcome and unwelcome variety.

We write very differently but we write for a unified purpose; to express that Jesus is the light of the world, the church and certainly in our feeble, little hearts…even and most especially when it doesn’t make sense.

This brings me to our new project: writinginpencil.com.

The mission statement is simple:

“We believe that in the midst of all things – joy, difficulty and even tragedy – the story of life encountering faith is one worth telling.”

I think you’ll see that it’s possible to sharpen one another – you and Holly and Megan and I – if we decide that authenticity is better than perfection and heart level conversations about God at work in the world are better than legislated morality or religious rule-keeping.

So jog on over and subscribe! We’ll be writing (in pencil),  vlogging, and showing off some beautiful art. It would be an honor to have you check it out! And by all means, join the conversation – we’re talking about things of substance to ALL of us.

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Change of Address

Sometimes blog addresses barely fit their name, their purpose graduating from original intent to something…else – wings of its author transporting it to a new path. Not so with leavingmemorylane.

The house to which I’ve dedicated this writing project now sits vacant. The pleasant chirp of family gatherings and the hum of daily routine are a faint echo. The décor now stands neutral, staged for visitors, would-be buyers. The cabinets are mostly bare, its contents sorted and distributed. Certain lights stay on all day, all night. For the first time in 40 years, it takes effort to make it look like someone is home. Casual passers-by notice nothing out of the ordinary, really. Just a for-sale sign signifying a transition, a decision for change. Quite a change indeed.

A mere 60 days previous to this one, dad made his own transition. Some back pain led to some tests followed by some question marks which opened the door to a diagnosis of cancer and a quick decline – all of which culminated in a heaven-ward home-going. The hands that swept, tended, and polished our family’s little piece of home are no longer busy.

And an even shorter amount of time has lapsed since mom changed addresses, left memory lane. Her days are filled with visiting and living – this is easier some days than others. The decision to move to an assisted living place for safety and for increased independence did not come gradually – as we would have all preferred. The sense of home sometimes become more fond in one’s memory and less comforting when the ease with which you once lived in it has faded.

The other day I sat in my car, stopped at an intersection, while an ambulance blared and rushed its way through to something urgent. I watched as less than a breath was taken before cars, briefly delayed by the emergency vehicle, hurried on – now playing catch up on their journey. It is difficult to believe how many large life events have transpired in the last 8 weeks. Some moments were urgent and full of crisis while others contained measured conversations, intense and important for planning and caring for such important people.

Ultimately, though, it’s much more straining on this little weary soul to comprehend this fact: life keeps going. Moments of loss happen all the time to every shape and size of us. And no one hits the pause button on the schedule. I am both soothed and discomfited by this data point.

And so, this blog address seems to fit its name, after all of the sirens and lights have calmed. Leaving Memory Lane. Yes we are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 G. Richard Blankinship

3.16.37 – 3.8.14

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Torching the To Do List

My sweet mom and dad were on their way to my son’s 14th birthday party 6 weeks ago when my mom fell. What a set-back for her. She sustained breaks to her left humorous, two bones in her left hand and her pelvis. Of course we are all grateful that none of her breaks required surgery and are so thrilled that she is making a steady recovery. She was in the rehab hospital many days and was able to go home several days after Christmas.

She is slowly getting back her strength and energy, having had to endure lots of pain and hard work. Previous to her fall, she walked for over an hour a day, rode her stationary bike for at least an hour and kept a busy social schedule with outings for lunch and Bible study. Now she faces the task of rebuilding all of that strength and energy as her bones heal and her weary heart refuels.

She has a delightful spirit and warm tone with my dad and her other caregivers. She works hard and, in spite of the pain, is upbeat and determined. Her comedic one-liners are still frequent and she responds to prayer and scripture being read with an open and teachable heart.

Which leads me to some thoughts on Advent…

I spent the better part of the Advent season moaning inwardly about how this was going to put a HUGE damper on Christmas shopping plans, decorating, parties and baking prep. I was wringing my hands about the inconvenience of hospital visits and the added burden of care this put on the family. I was dark and gloomy about the weight of tasks on my back.

I know it is close to sacrilege to speak of someone’s needs, hurting and lack being a problem for me.  I get that my parents are working harder than I am and that there is more burden on others than on me. All of that is clear to me. But you and I both know that the thoughts that rumble around in our feeble little hearts are not rational and cannot always be explained away with data. Furthermore, I was searching for a promise from the Lord. In lots of places in scripture I see encouraging truth – like these guys: 2 Peter 1:4, and Jeremiah 29:11.

All I want for Christmas…

BUT what about the scotch tape I need to buy? How about the fact that those stocking stuffers aren’t going to magically show up on my doorstep? Again sacrilege I know – these are 1st world, subjective and irritatingly simple problems. But they are still issues in my life. What to do with the sorrow I feel about my mom’s decline coupled with the continued need to be busy, productive and to just generally MAKE CHRISTMAS HAPPEN!? It’s enough to make me pull a “Tawanda” in some parking lot. (Sorry for the old Fried Green Tomatoes movie reference – but here’s a link: TAWANDA!)

I prayed for a new and specific promise every single time I headed up the elevator to see my mom. In that silent 20 second period going from floor 1 to floor 7, I asked the Lord to reveal a specific promise to ME, for ME so that I can lift my head above the water level and just breathe. (By the way, I am confident that many a co-pilot in those elevators rides with me were looking askance as I moved my lips in prayer and tried to recite a verse or two. I’m sure they surmised I was headed to the psych ward.

The chasm of lost perspective

I learned something new this year and more indelibly this Christmas. In these moments where moms and dads work on MAKING CHRISTMAS HAPPEN, a big pitfall exists that is just wide enough for any of us to fall into. That pitfall is one of losing the perspective.

The joy of being together and enjoying a silly laugh or a mindless game or a yummy morsel or a beautiful song can vanish like the road runner running out of road. If you lose the joy in those seemingly meaningless moments, you will find yourself in a chasm. It is a very responsible, busy and disciplined crevasse that lacks hope and contains no perspective. This crack is one I have almost JUMPED into at times because dedicating myself to a task is much easier than actually finding sweetness in a difficult season of life.

And ladies and gentleman in the face of my pity party pit, He gave me that promise. I am so buoyed by the specific answer to this plea…that I cannot even tell you. I can’t contain the hope of the tone He has set:

The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at the proper time.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.

Psalm 145:14-17

But I also see that it is more than just a promise to my little weary, perspective-deprived heart. It is a promise for my mom:

She will be lifted up.

She is being upheld right now.

You will help her, you will nourish her.

You open your hand and satisfy all of her desires, Lord.

You are righteous in all your ways and faithful in all you do.

He promised this to me. He gave it to me as a gift. He reminded me of its richness right in this time.

To Do: Torch the To Do List

So this year I resolve to banish all attempts at super-diligent-holiday-readiness. After all, I know He is honored when I put a to-do list in the fire and sit down to look into the eyes of one of my little people. I believe we Glorify Him when we decide on personal, private, beautiful moments of noticing His work as opposed to finalizing the breakfast casserole for the next day.

It’s my act of defiance, a rebellious stake I’m jamming into the ground, AND my most decisive action of the new year – so far. Who knows, maybe on Veterans Day the wheels will fall off of my resolution.

Pray for my mom if it comes to your heart. He promises to uphold her. Your intercession is one of His methods of lifting her up.

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Relocating Hope; clean microwaves and outlawing the whistle

I’ve been pondering “dry” lately.

If you ask me on any given day “how I am” I might give you statements laced with sarcasm (my personality trait of choice when tired and busy). I might say something about how my kids are probably having conversations with each other about which type of drug or alcohol to try first.

Or I might joke that my husband has decided the sheets are more likely to dissolve than to be changed and I might even lay it down that my parents need time and energy and love and care that I don’t seem to have in a generous supply.

In a more vulnerable moment, I might even tell you….

…I am disillusioned with myself, a person who used to be able to access joy readily, be perpetually optimistic and never dread a single day.

dry

Dry seasons

Who’s responsible for the drought seasons in our lives, anyway?

Who forgot to water this life-weary heart?

How’d it get this way and why is it so hard to find the way to growth, life, health?

So the question in my heart transitions from

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN to WHAT NOW? (Yes, maybe I am saying this loudly)

What happens when we sense drought?

What is the source of the drought?  Disappointment? Sure. Weariness?  Youbetcha.

But there is something more to drought – from what I can understand about my cracks.

Misplaced hopes

In dry seasons, do you think it’s possible that somewhere along the way, we decided we knew how something should turn out? Is that part of it?

Were we overconfident that we could count on a circumstance to continue being smooth?

And how do we find the river?

Where is that delta of relief?

I cannot even hear the stream running sometimes. I know it exists but the riverbed seems pretty parched.

Relocating Hope

relocating

There’s a place in the Psalms that paints a picture of a deer that is literally panting for water. This is a beyond-dehydration situation. No water in site. This is how my soul feels.

I’m not saying that hoping in certain milestones doesn’t bring a little brightness. Heck, if I have a clean microwave, there could be mushrooms growing in my messy closet, I could not care less – life just feels a little more under control with a clean microwave. Cray-cray, I know.

Perhaps I decided that if my kids turned out okay, I’d feel well-watered – well, that’s putting my hope in my progeny. Really, put my hope in them? (Exhibit A: One child has outlawed the other from ever whistling ever again in their presence – yep, pretty pleasant all the time in the Harrell household).

whistle

I love them to the core of who I am but should I base my soul’s condition on a given day of happy-happy-joy-joy with that crew?

Maybe I should kick the summer of togetherness off with a family viewing of the World Whistling Championships?:

Maybe (I thought), if my husband doesn’t get sick or lose his job,  I will feel refreshed or content. Well those awful circumstances haven’t occurred in our house (I’m grateful for that) but being spared hasn’t filled me with the waters of life, has it? (Exhibit B: He often dreams of owning a ranch or moving us all to Mongolia – In both scenarios I can literally feel the dirt in my teeth and the lack of access to a hot shower. HELP!)

Mongolia

Seriously, though, I think really there is a genuine redefining that happens when I relocate my hope….when I put it where it needs to be.

What if I took a little thing like a clean microwave and a big thing like relocating my hope and let it shift the tide of my soul?

Little by little, I have come to know that the dry season actually has a really important place in my strides forward in time. I am a slow learner, for sure. I think the last couple of years have seen the waters recede so that’s been tough but, because of that, I have found a new level of understanding about my heart. It ebbs and flows like a tide only less predictably so. Death, illness, loss, grief – all of these have been my companions in a sometimes powerful and surging swell of hope and more often a weak trickle of a stream. Have you felt that way?

I recently came across this word as I was digging through the dirt of my drought. In my thirst, in my confusion, I read this word:

Hineni

It’s a Hebrew word.

Hineni

It means “Here I am.”

It’s often used as part of a prayer. It’s in the first person.

It’s very complete and emotionally charged, and implies, “Here I am: ready, willing and able.” “Here I am” is a powerful and layered statement, but there’s another meaning to Hineni, even deeper and more resonant:

Here I stand.

Taking-a-stand-against-texting-and-driving

It’s not just a thought; it’s a bottom line. Here I stand. Here I will make my stand. I will not be moving. This is where I am going to make my stand.

Resolute. Determined. Brave, even.

Hineni.

That is how I have decided to approach this season of drought, dryness, thirst.

Hineni. Here I stand.

Resolute. Determined. Brave, and my knees are shaking just a bit.

What does it mean to say, “hineni – here I am” in fact “here I stand” not out of fear of being tested but out of trust being guided?

In fact, I’m thinking of developing a Hineni type of faith. A faith even in the questions that says, I don’t understand but here I stand.

I am declaring trust. I will plant my feet on this dry and dusty path and I will stand firm. I will trust.

And it’s wild because the secret is in that dry place. Without these seasons of drought, we cannot take delight in the true, new, fresh, source of waters. Maybe the dry places are important. Maybe they’re even essential…

Altogether, bit by bit, digging deep – the drought recedes, the waters come. This isn’t a fancy process and it’s not a quick one. Grab a shovel, stand there, Hineni. I think I can hear the stream up ahead….

stream 1

Posted in Living Room | 1 Comment

The Advent of a Dry Season

It all started when…

I became an adult.

Here I am looking headlong into the face of 40 and am struck with the bold realization that the pesky winds of hurt, of trial, of disappointment have begun to blow through my heart. I know that sounds strange. Why wouldn’t problems exist in life before that? Weren’t there glitches before now? For me? really – no.

Things came easily. Sports, school, circumstances, family, friends – it all sort of hummed along. I was on teams, made varsity, was elected to student council, passed exams, took cool trips, said yes to Jesus, had a decent wardrobe, got a degree and made friends (of the true and long-term variety, even).

This smoothness early on truly isn’t something in which I take pride. Believe me, especially from this perspective – the dry winds blowing and all. To what can I credit for this easy peasy light and easy? A lot had to do with my socio-economic reality, my small city, a secure upbringing – not things I procured or whittled for myself.

In truth, the early part of life came with the transactional boxes checked – rather than an existence of substance or any awareness of a spiritual reality.  So what gives? What caused this advent of a dry season or periods of drought peppering the Facebook timeline of my life?

Was it health problems?

Was it bills coming in?

Was it the beginning of marriage?

Was it baby and then another baby?

Was it aging parents?

Was it awareness of my spiritual condition?

It wasn’t any one thing. It was part turning a blind eye to God’s mercy towards me and part relying on my own natural giftings to march through life. Mixing those parts created a cocktail of “fine”-ness.

How are you today?

Fine! Thanks!

Blecch. Fine? Tragic is more appropriate. Dry is most accurate.

Which brings me to Drought

Somewhere along the line, things didn’t go the way of the sketched dreams in my 10th grade peechee folder with hearts full of initials and practiced married names written in pretty cursive over and over. Line the reality up to the dream and it’s better to just to say you’re “fine.” And figure out what it all means and what you lost later. Come to grips with it when you’re not putting diapers on a sweet baby, taking out the trash on Tuesdays or scanning allrecipes.com for which covered dish to make for the potluck.

It was a gradual drying, a slow parching that descended on my soul.

But here is the part about drought that Is. Not. Okay.

It’s the part where you get comfy with your dry season. You can become too cozy with it, can’t you?….preferring to stay cuddled up to a grayscale version of your days as opposed to the springtime Technicolor brilliance that is possible. In the process of making expectations realistic, of coming to terms with disappointments, of accepting a plan B.

IN THAT COZINESS WITH DROUGHT…you risk bidding True Life adieu.

Drought begets

disappointment begets

doing fine begets

comfort in settling begets

plodding on begets

doubt in Hope begets

a faith crisis.

The question(s)

Who’s responsible for the drought, anyway? Who forgot to water this life-weary heart? How’d it get this way and why is it so hard to find the way to growth, life, health?

Brian McLaren (article here) says that there are low tides and high tides and everything in between in the faith. He says, “If I didn’t care about following Christ, I wouldn’t care so much about being honest, seeking truth, facing reality … I would be more tempted to simply go with the flow, take the easy way, maybe anesthetize my intellectual pain instead of persevering through it toward the truth.”

 I’d like to spend a few posts talking through this Advent of a Dry Season.

Here goes…..something?

Posted in Living Room, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Anatomy of a New Home

So the home is still for sale – gleaming, staged and in good shape. My parents are enjoying that it is shiny and showable but are also working hard to keep it up for showings. Here’s a link for proof:

4815 Kenyon Court

In the midst of the transition, BB is working through the complications of her stroke in such a brave way. Though limited, her life has a nice routine and her days go well.  She even walks a mile (33 laps) every day in the garage!

022213_0119_AnatomyofaN1.jpg

This garage is cleaner than my kitchen, people.

One of the continuing sticky spots in her life is that she adjusts to change with a lot of nervousness – sometimes sad, sometimes half-hearted – but always with honesty. Change is just plain difficult for her. Changing caregivers, shifting the plan, modifying routines, trying a new…well… anything is cause for emotion.

And lately she has been talking about the anatomy of the new home with just this same amount of antipathy. Is she talking about the new home in a figurative sense or a literal, physical one? –some of both I suspect.

In an even deeper way, one of my favorite people in the world is endeavoring to do this in her life, too – rearrange the anatomy of all she has considered to be truly “home.” Really in the last year, she has been through an unbearable, incalculable amount of loss on multiple fronts.

The blueprint has been torched and not by her own choice. The anatomy of her home – all that she thought of as home, comfort, security, future – is now being redesigned.

The anatomy of making a new home.

There is something profound about this. When something traumatic shifts the trajectory of your life plan, you must reckon with that moment. You must look at the blue print that you were carefully crafting together and, in effect, dispose of it.

home anatomy

My friend and my parents share the similarity of not having had a CHOICE. They don’t want to rebuild or redesign anything – in fact, the prospect of a new start is fatiguing, even disheartening. And part of it might also be that the new thing they are headed toward doesn’t seem to carry with it the possibility of being better – not more beautiful than that “tricked out” blueprint that went up in flames. It doesn’t seem better and it is NOT happening because there was an option.

BB and my friend would both hastily put a no_sign_thumb over the word “change.”

This reminds me of a book I read this year. In the book Little Bee the author, Chris Cleave, builds in me an irrational love for the lead character (have you ever prayed for a character in a book?). She is a Nigerian teenager who finds herself, after some intense strife and loss, in an immigration detention center in the UK.

Little Bee is smart, talented, young and has no future. Along with many others, she waits and waits and waits and waits. Endless long days lead on and on – over 800 days in fact – over two years in the same sterile, awful, option-less building. So this is a tale about piecing life together – at an agonizingly slow pace. Over time, this young girl becomes a wise woman. Here is some of her insight:

“….a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.

We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” P. 9

Defying the scar makers. This journey from loss of normal to figuring out a new normal is not for wimpy, unction-less suckers. There’s the scar of grief. And add to that the scar of deep loss of all that was – the torching of the blueprint.

Do scars collected start to mean something over time?

Are they blue-print changers?

Do scars start to build upon one another, constructing themselves into something that looks like something new?

How does one “defy” a “scar maker”?

This summer as we sorted, cleaned, updated, stored and filtered most all of BB’s earthly possessions, the issue we discussed most often was her lack of desire to look toward the future with optimism and excitement.

And so when she proclaimed one day that she wanted to be a guest blogger for leavingmemorylane, I saw it as her desire to do something new. I also could see that it took courage and she was game – something that is foreign territory for her.

So this is her attempt at defying the scar makers, at surviving another day.

She SPOKE her blog to me because she doesn’t see well, doesn’t type worth a darn with one hand and doesn’t enjoy writing. Her expression seemed to be more like a poem, so I formatted it as such. This is very much a depiction of her outlook on life.

She is also sort of WILLING herself to be steady with a full, bright hope for this future blue-print making experience – remember, the one she didn’t ask for.

She talks about her children but I almost hear it as a benediction offered to ALL of her loved ones who have journeyed down this road with her….not just her biologicals – to you as well.

 who meYES, you.

And so try and read it that way – sweet, simple, and honest:

From the moment I felt your fluttering heartbeats inside of me

you wrapped yourself so tightly around my heart that it ached.

So that even the slightest movement caused an ache

– an ache that is not pain –

it’s an ache from when you love so hard.

And the ache appeared the first day I saw you walking into kindergarten

and when I saw you walking down the aisle with your chosen mate.

And you’ve grown into adults full of courage and wisdom

with the astonishing ability to love until it aches, also.

And so along the way we discovered that we could depend on each other like rocks – and our heartbeats now are in sync, altogether,

now our heart beats one last movement and those golden cords of love spring off of my heart

and they spring around and around our new home so many times that it shines

so that it is not just leaving home but it is…

 

the anatomy of making a new home.

Love, bb

 

Posted in Living Room, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Impossible Moments; The Way To A Decent Story

A bit of leaving memory lane news is in order today. You may vaguely remember the post about a very determined Maria Madi, my great grandmother. The Story of a Teacup is a rambling combination of Condoleeza Rice wisdom and lore about World War II’s attempt to ruin a relic. The cup was buried along with the ambitions of a hopeless season. Great grandmother Madi, a physician, a mother and a staunch warrior against the odds managed to keep this brittle piece of hope safe from extinction giving us a moment of perspective in a beautiful cup.

Perhaps as a means of memory-keeping, hope-securing tenacity, she also kept a detailed journal of her days during her separation from my grandmother, Hilda. As we schlepped through the crawl space remnants this fall, we came across bound copies of this tomb. Sometimes the pace of our sorting went from clip, clip, clip to an almost audible halt, a screeching of progress to a dead stop – and finding these journals was just such a time. We knew they were up there, collecting dust and fading from legacy’s view. So when we took the lid off this special box, all sense of staying on task left our minds.

These diaries (11 in all averaging 150 pages a piece) are a salient interpretation of the political and war-torn climate of World War II. One recording incident chronicles her hiding a Jewish boy behind a looking glass while the Germans sought him out. That boy is 75 years old, resides in Atlanta and keeps in touch with my mother’s brother and only sibling, Stephen Walton.

And so as you can imagine, if you simply at random open the journal, you will be struck with the strong emotion in Maria’s sentiments. These writings capture a communication from mother to daughter of all the miles and moments separating the two. I got two feelings at once as I read; #1) the broken-hearted turmoil that so many had to endure in order to give a loved one a new dream in America and #2) a resolve that Maria sending Hilda to America to marry George and become upwardly mobile was just what a mother should do for her daughter. These are impossible positions to combine, one being almost opposite from the other. But this is the stuff of life, is it not?

Figure 1 Maria Madi

Facing the impasse of two warring heart pulses is one of truest ways I have known to come about increased wisdom – a deeper reservoir of resolve in the things of love (phileo, agape and everything in between). These journals show me that a story is not worth telling without these impossible moments.

Figure 2 Maria’s daughter, Hilda

Now for that promised news, which came in a letter to my Uncle Stephen (Barbara’s brother) received after much legwork and communication on his part down multiple channels. The letter stated the desire to have these dairies. The letter asked whether we knew why the diaries were written in English as opposed to Maria’s native tongue, Hungarian. The letter promises a digitized copy to us on the condition that we donate, not lend, this precious artifact. The letter is from the Archivist at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org) in Washington D.C.

Good news about a cool story.

There are a million moments of ordinary gumption accumulating into extraordinary legacy. My Great Grandmother didn’t do any of these things; burying cups, hiding Jews, or capturing a season on paper so that I could write this today. She lived her life. She took the next correct action that faced her…and with enough of these choices, she created a woven tapestry of grit, intrigue, and heart.

Worth archiving? I think so.

May our ordinary moments (and, oh!, how inanely ordinary they seem) string themselves into even a teeny bit of story worth telling someday.

Posted in Storage | 4 Comments