Luke Menard, Crawfordsville's American Idol

Crazy as it seems, I've been asked to model for an upcoming style show here in Crawfordsville. Not something I've been asked many times before, believe me. But they finally convinced me to do it when I found out all proceeds will go to benefit Luke Menard, the man from Crawfordsville who made it to the Top 16 on the most recent season of American Idol. I don't know him, but I'm so impressed with how he's dealing with his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and career. His faith is amazing.

So why am I telling you all this? I know people will not be attending because they want to see ME. But you can check out his blog, come to the style show (and see how crazy I let them go with my hair), pray for him and his family, or even donate online (info here). The fashion show is at the Holiday Inn here in town on Sept. 30th, from 11-1, and tickets can be purchased at Hair Express, 765-362-7837.

Living in the Midwest

I love the Midwest. Most people don’t understand that; they’re here not by choice so much as by circumstance. My father is an artist who paints realistic scenes in watercolor, so perhaps I’m predisposed to liking the subject matter. For years, though, I didn’t understand his fascination with Indiana. Where are the hills, the mountains, the oceans? I’ve seen those things, and they’re breathtaking. Each one is different; God created such variety. One beach may have fine white sand and salty blue skies; another thick, coarse tan sand whiskered with grass; another smooth pebbles and deep aquamarine water that almost glows from the intensity of its depths. What is there to see here?

It took a little bit of maturity to learn to appreciate what is around me. The land is not awe-inspiring; it is not dramatic. It has a peaceful kind of beauty, but for all its quiet reserve, once I was able to see it, it made my heart swell with a deep contentment. Winters, mostly gray and slushy, still hold beauty… the bluish-purple hue of shadows in the whiteness, broken by the rich gold of the broken corn stalks pushing through the crusty, sparkly snow. Fall is a riot of intense, deep, passionate colors, maple trees thrusting their orange-red leaves proudly against the flawless blue skies, the ground carpeted with countless variety, each leaf shaped and colored in its own unique way. Spring: the promise of new life, the hope and excitement, the bright greens competing with each other, purple and yellow flowers leaping up in excitement. And summer – the rich, almost obscene lushness, the damp overgrown grass and trees and plants displaying an indulgent abundance that makes me sigh with happiness.

There’s something genuine about it, something peaceful and unpretentious and true. It’s real and it’s reliable. It wraps me in its tender quiet and holds me tight – safe and secure and steadfast.

In life, it seems we gravitate towards the flashy things. When we dream, it’s not of the flat fields undulating gently in the breeze or the subtle play of light and shadow that defines the topography of the land. We dream of the dramatic peaks, the magnificent canyons, the enormous waters stretching around the curves of the earth, moving rhythmically and powerfully.

But sometimes we need to stop and notice the nuances of beauty God has put around us. Our blessings won’t always be obvious. Our spiritual growth may seem stagnant until we sit up and take notice. But we must learn to see the reality surrounding us and not waste time wishing for the extremes. It is only then, only when we love what we already have, that true contentment can be born.

A weed is a weed

I have allergies, I don’t like to get dirty, and I don’t particularly care for the heat. Those are just three of the many reasons why I don’t do much yard work. I love the saturated colors of the flowers gently swaying in the breeze, and the rich perfume that saturates the air, and thick, smooth green grass. I always notice beautiful landscaping elsewhere, but it takes a lot for me to do something about my own yard.

Two of my good friends, knowing this about me, decided to clean up and plant my front flowerbed for my birthday. Unusual purple flowers, cheerful yellow mums, no weeds, and a pretty, multi-colored stone now greet me when I come home. While they were working, I asked about a particular plant that grew straight up out of the ground cover. It was tall and ungainly but had a pretty flower. Was it a weed? Yes, I was told. Anything that grows where you don’t want it, no matter how pretty, is still a weed. It’s not about the plant itself; it’s about whether it belongs where it is.

I’ve been conversing lately with someone who hurt me many years ago. I didn’t realize how much anger and bitterness I harbored in my heart until confronted with it. I realized I needed to let it go, and since I did I’ve been overwhelmed by the feelings of healing and wholeness that replaced the ugliness. Until I found peace, I hadn’t been aware of its absence.

Turns out, although my hatred was there all along, I had mistaken it for something it wasn’t. I’d tried to convince myself that, though it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exactly offensive, so it didn’t have to go. I thought that I was doing the right things, acting as a Christian should: loving my friends and family, accepting myself, and being aware of my shortcomings. What I didn’t realize was that among the colorful blessings in my life, sown in the midst of the daylilies and irises and roses, was a big old honkin’ weed. Somehow, gently and quickly, God has pulled the hatred out of my heart, removed that bitter root and replanted. Now that ugly weed is no longer choking out the things that are supposed to grow there. All of the sunlight and nourishment I am given will be used to cultivate something beautiful.

I can’t wait to see my garden when it’s full-grown.

Wednesday Writing Prompt - Saved by the Brit

I've been reading blogs of some very talented women, and I decided to take a deep breath and throw my words out there, too. This is from Princess Nebraska: Tell a story of a time that 1) something that you were looking forward to turned out to be a disappointment or 2) something that you were dreading turned out to be something fantastic.

He was British. Twinkly blue eyes, studying at Cambridge, a camp counselor from the boy’s side. Did I mention his wonderful accent? We first kissed in the backseat of a friend’s car the night we met. We camped out once a week, on our precious nights off, in the tangled woods by the lake between our camps, rarely leaving the muggy, shaded privacy of our little green tent. We talked about everything and reveled in the differences between our cultures, schools, families, childhoods. He wrote me romantic notes on textured blue stationery with a chisel-point fountain pen, always signed “All my love, Michael.”

We left camp, frantic to spend every moment of the next two weeks together before he went back across the ocean. We tiptoed across the creaky floorboards of my parents’ old farmhouse, late at night, to whisper to each other. He spent two weeks with me as I settled back in to my dorm. Our months apart were filled with anguished longing. We didn’t yet have e-mail, and he didn’t like to talk on the phone, so I checked my mailbox anxiously for those blue envelopes. When they came, they would be stuffed full of 20 or 30 tidy pages of writing, the words as endearing as the elegant script. He sent my roommate money to surprise me red roses delivered with a hand-written card on Valentine’s Day. I mailed him pictures of myself wearing his rowing crew sweatshirt. I cried myself to sleep listening to tapes of Pachelbel’s Canon playing behind Mick’s voice, brokenly and beautifully telling me of his love.

Finally, the school year ended and I was ready to leave for my semester abroad. In preparation, I’d mailed an expensive airmail package, scented with perfume, containing champagne glasses. I bought a new outfit, stuffed my backpack full and triple-checked that I had my Eurail pass. My window seat was next to a father and son who didn’t believe in wearing deodorant. As the long flight neared its end, I shimmied past them, let out my breath, and went to the lavatory to make myself beautiful. I looked down in horror. My over-dyed indigo blue skirt had rubbed off all over me. My arms from the elbows down, my legs from the knees up, all were a dusky shade of navy. No amount of soap would change that. I cried, until I realized that he hasn’t seen me for 10 months and what color I am is probably the last thing he will notice.

I could hardly wait to disembark. I took a deep breath and walked out of the passageway, envisioning a passionate embrace like in the movies, looking anxiously for his spiked hair and blue eyes. I don’t see him. I walk, ever more frantically, between the gate and the luggage claim, pushing through the crowd, panicking because I'm in a foreign country and Mick isn't there. How could he not be here?

Suddenly, I see this short little man, – shorter than I remember, especially now that his hair is shaved and no longer spiked – dart past me, pushing a luggage cart. I whip around and grab his shirt. It’s Mick. He pecks me on the cheek, picks up my bag, and heads for the car, shouting over his shoulder that there are two international terminals and he went to the wrong one because the U.S. flights rarely come into this one. He drives the little car recklessly through winding roads to his mum’s house. I don’t think she likes me, but she tries. Mick chastises me for leaving some cooked carrots on my dinner plate, because it was very insulting to his mother. When we go up to his room, he chides me for not packing the champagne flutes better, because they shattered in transit, so he threw them away. He’d never mentioned their pets, and my allergies are extreme. So after a chaste good-night kiss and a few puffs on my inhaler, I still can’t breathe, so I spend the night sleeping in the hard ceramic bathtub, the only spot in the house not infused with cat dander.

I followed him around Europe for a month, submitting to his every whim, financing all the luxurious extras on which I insisted (like a scoop of gelato or Nutella to spread on our bread). I endured conversations in which he insulted our educational system in general and my abilities in particular, compared to the far superior British institutions. I stood meekly behind him as a Greek hotel owner berated him for stealing the drain plug from the sink. Of course, we also walked along the beaches at sunset, where he wrote “I love Kelly” in 3-foot letters in the sand. We took turns reading from the same novel, and shared a pair of headphones to listen to music. After we returned to England, I rode the bus between Oxford and Cambridge on weekends, foregoing the field trips planned by my instructor in favor of college parties and rowing crews and bike rides along the canal. Three months later we parted, another teary goodbye.

Back at school, peering day after day into an empty mailbox, I spun the combination over and over, hoping somehow I just couldn’t see the envelope for the reflection in the small glass window. Finally something was there, but it wasn’t the crisp blue envelope I expected. Instead, I found a flimsy airmail letter, written not in fountain pen but scribbled in ballpoint. No “all my love, Michael” at the end; instead, it is signed “Mick,” and the only other thing I saw before tears obscured my view was the opening line, “I don’t love you anymore, Kelly.”

He never wrote again.

It took months before I could think of him without crying. It took me years to be able to genuinely say I was grateful that he could see what I couldn’t. I needed a man who respected me, who thought of me as an intellectual equal. It sounded glamorous to move to Europe and marry a British Naval officer after he completed his studies in engineering, but would I have ever fit in among a class of people who would always see me as inferior, coarse – a vulgar American? Would I have been happy with an atheist, even with my immature, barely-formed Christian beliefs? Could I have truly married a man who was shorter than I? Would I have ever been able to become the woman I am today, the woman I have come to like, the woman who walks confidently and trusts in her mind and stands behind her choices and gladly gives and receives friendship and laughter and love?

When, out of the blue, Mick Googled me twenty years later, my heart pounded at the sight of his name in my Inbox. But then I gave thanks. Thanks that I didn’t quash down who I really was anymore in order to be liked by a man. Thanks that people out there believe enough in my brain, my words, and my thoughts to hire me. Thanks that God brought me back home and helped me find the church that helped me truly find Him. Thanks that He had given me the life I now have, with an adoring husband and three interesting, all very different kids. Thanks that I was given the opportunity to remember that part of my life and understand that I truly now had all I could ever want. Thanks that he had seen what I couldn’t. Thanks for this man who, not so graciously but nevertheless truly, saved me from that and allowed me to become me.

Waiting

My mom is undergoing chemotherapy. Or, more aptly, she is supposed to be getting chemo this week, but the doctor postponed her treatment by another week. A day or two before each round of therapy, she has to have blood work done to determine whether she is physically able to have the chemo. But this week, her white count was low. White blood cells are the ones that help you fight infection; without them, she is not strong enough to withstand the heavy drugs. She’s had a great attitude all along, but this gets her down like nothing else. She feels well physically and doesn’t want to wait around; she wants to take charge and do something.

It’s frustrating when you have to wait for something, whether with excited anticipation or simply a let’s-get-it-over-with attitude. We’re impatient by nature. So why is it that, when it comes to spiritual matters, we’re willing to sit and wait for that indefinable moment when we decide we’re finally ready to go out and work for God? We’ll wait for years. We wait for signs. I may not be talking to you, but I’m certainly speaking to myself. Pouring over my journals from the last several years, I’ve found there’s a recurring theme: waiting for God to fill me up. Waiting to be properly equipped. Waiting to feel what I believe in my heart. Waiting to understand my purpose. Waiting, waiting, waiting. The other night as I flipped through my Bible, I was stopped by this Scripture:

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31)


He didn’t wait. He acted. Even when conditions weren’t ideal. Even when imprisoned and persecuted. He didn’t say that he just wasn’t feeling it, or that he needed to come across the right person, the one to whom he could connect, or that he’d do it if he ever got out of that place. No, he just did it. Jesus, too, went forth. He waited for only one thing: for the Holy Spirit to come upon Him. After His baptism, He went forth and began His ministry.

Why haven’t I? I need to reclaim my natural impatience and get out there. I don’t have doctors or anyone else telling me I can’t. All I need is the Holy Spirit, and it will always make me strong. Even if I’m scared, or tired, or nervous, or uncomfortable, God has already equipped me, and it’s time to move forward.