I Am Clay
Devotions , Short Stories

I Am Clay

Becoming a believer in Jesus Christ can be earth-shattering on a number of levels.  But even then, it is just the beginning. What follows is a long process of being formed, conformed, and transformed. And it takes more than fifteen days, to be sure.  But for some of us, it might look something like this.

Day 1

I am Clay, and life is good. The lights are low, and so are the expectations. I have nowhere to go and nothing to do except to hang out in my cool, comfortable, carved-out cubby. All I need is to be.

This is my world. The only one I know. And I can’t imagine a world any better than this.

Day 2

Something isn’t right. I feel unsettled. I’m starting to hear rumblings and feel pressure. Not used to that. I keep thinking it will all go away, that soon things will get back to normal. But now, I’m beginning to wonder. In fact, I’m wondering about a lot of things. Like, what if there is something else out there, something I can’t see from here?

Wait. Forget I said that. It’s just paranoia. I need to stay grounded and trust in what I can see and what I can feel. That’s what’s real. Anything else is just – wait, what was that? Whoa. It’s happening again. Rumbling. Crunching. Okay, am I going crazy? I think my walls just moved. Forget paranoia. Something is definitely wrong here.

What am I saying? No, it’s not. Hold on to what I know. Hold on to what I know.  There is nothing else. I am Clay. Life is good. I am Clay. Life is good.

Okay, it’s over. See? I knew it was nothing. I’m making more of this whole thing than I need to. No use in cracking up. I just need to relax. It’s all over now.

Or is it?

Day 3

Crisis! The sky is literally falling! The floor is shaking, and so am I! What is happening? I’m starting to – I don’t know what this is. It’s like I’m – moving! I’ve never moved before. Oh, I’m dizzy. I don’t like this. Who are you? What are you doing to me? Put me back! Put me back right now!

Gasp. What is that? Is that – air? I thought that was just a fairy tale. You mean that stuff is real? How do you, cough, do this? I can’t, what do you call it? Breathe?

And now my eyes. Oh, they’re burning. Those lights are so bright. Where’s the darkness? I can’t see it anymore. I can’t see anything anymore.

Day 4

I can see everything from here! Look at this place. It’s amazing. I had no idea any of this was real. My eyes don’t burn, and now they actually see things. THINGS! Sun and trees and grass and THINGS! Things are everywhere.

And so is the air. It’s all around me. And it’s not heavy. I had no idea how much pressure I was under all the time. But not anymore. It’s like a huge weight fell off.

I can’t imagine a world any better than this. I am Clay, and life is good.

Day 5

And I’m bored. Don’t get me wrong. I love the freedom. I love the view. But that’s just it. My view is full of things I don’t understand. Did you know I’m not the only one out here? No joke. We’re everywhere. One day, I just started looking around, like really looking around. And then I noticed them. Other Clays, just like me, all around me.  But they’re not just like me. Some of them actually move.

Well, they don’t move. They get moved. Something comes and picks them up. But that’s not all. They also get pressed and pulled and (you won’t believe this) cooked. Yeah, I know. Creepy. The first time that door opened and the heat hit me from across the room I was so glad it was them and not me. Does that sound bad?

At first I thought they just went away after that. Like, just gone. But now I’m not so sure. Check this out. I’m seeing more things, new things sitting around. And these things get picked up all the time. Sometimes they get filled with water. Sometimes they hold food. Sometimes they even hold other Clays, like me. And that’s not all. I noticed that one of those new things looked a little like the Clay that was next to me before.

Do you think it’s possible? Could it be the same Clay? It looked so different, but kind of the same too. How does that happen?

Could that happen to me? I’m a Clay. Could I be a thing that gets used like that other Clay? I have to say that would be better than just sitting here. Why am I still here on this table? Is there something wrong with me? Oh no. I’m corrupted Clay. Why else would I go through all that mess before just to just stay here with no shape and no purpose? Surely there’s another reason. This is so frustrating. The more I know, the more I don’t know.

Day 6

I’m so – touched. And moved. Is this it? Is it my time? I’m definitely not on the table anymore. Yes. Yes. I’m not corrupted Clay after all. This is what I’ve waited for. I wonder what thing will I be? I have so many great ideas. When do I get to choose? Oh, I can’t wait.

That feels good. Oh, not so hard. Yeah, that’s better. I guess I’m a little stiff from sitting still for so long. Okay, Clay, just relax and settle into the warmth. Things are going to be different from now on. I’m going to be great at this. No more sitting on a table and waiting. I’m going to be the best new thing ever.

Hey! That’s frigid! And wet! Was that necessary? A little warning would have been nice. Brrr. And hang on. You’re making a mess here. Look at me, I’m in pieces. I think we need to just go ahead and clean all this up and let me rest a bit. As exciting as this experience is, I’m feeling a little . . .

Sore! Wow, that’s hard. Okay, that stopped feeling good a long time ago. You can quit whenever you’re ready. Really, I’m not kidding here. That’s, ouch, enough. I think we should – um – I don’t think I can stretch that far.  No, I definitely can NOT stretch that far. Too much. Please stop before I – oh, now look at what you’ve done. I’m completely broken! Never mind the water now. I’ve got it coming out my eyes. What have you done? I don’t even look like the same Clay anymore. Is this why you took me from my dark little hole? To rip me to shreds? This is not what I wanted. I wanted to be something. To be useful. But no one can use this mess. Not now. Worst day ever!

Day 7

Hey, I look good. Nice work. I mean, I know what I said, but that wasn’t doubt as much as it was anxiety. It wasn’t easy. And I’m still wondering if perhaps there was a less painful way. But in the end I have to admit that I see what you did there. (I’m still glad it’s over.) At least I didn’t have to go through that whole cooking thing. Good to know I didn’t need that much work.

But, can you do me just one quick favor? I’m feeling a little weak. Can you just prop me up? Thanks. Listen, I can’t wait to get started. I know it won’t be easy, and I know sometimes things get broken. But if you’ll just show me what to do, I’m ready. More than ready. Just prop me up a little more, right there. Yeah, that’s better. Thanks.

Hey, is it me? Or is it getting hot in here?

Day 8

Shut that door! No way! I thought we were past this. Is it not enough that I gave up my hole in the ground for you? Are you not happy that I let you pull on me and tug me and rip me apart? Come on. Look at the sacrifices I’ve made. Why is this necessary? I’m a perfectly workable thing. You just have to use me. Go ahead. Give it a shot. I won’t let you down. PLEASE!

Ouch. Hot! Look. Surely there’s some other way. No, wait! I won’t survive this, and you know it! Ahhhh. Really hot! Stop it, please. I’m begging. Is that what you want? You want me to beg? Think of all we’ve been through together. Don’t you care about that? HOOOOTTTTT! Get me out of here. Put me back in the ground. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. Pleeeeaaasssee, noooooo!!!

Day 9

Most of the heat has gone away now. But it didn’t happen all at once. And I still smell like smoke.

Day 10

Wow. Things are busy today. Lots of activity. Not sure what’s going on. But we need to be careful, or someone’s going to break. Another Clay banged against me earlier. Not fun, but luckily I didn’t crack.

So, what’s going on here? All this work must be for something, and I want in. In fact, I don’t even care how anymore. (You may not realize I never got to choose what thing I wanted to be after that whole fiery furnace episode. But that’s okay. I know mistakes happen.) Honestly, I’m not even sure what I could do. I just want to be part. You know?

Day 11

Water again? I thought we were past – wow. This is different than before. Not over me, but inside me. Filling me. And staying. This is incredible. This is my purpose, to hold this water. There isn’t a part of me that isn’t touched by it. Finally. I am a thing. I love this.

I am Clay, and life is good.

Day 12

Hey, I know you. I remember your hands from, well, glad we made it through all that. Thanks for the water. I’m digging it. I knew you were up to something. But I never realized it was all about holding this water. I have to say, good call.  I could hang on to this water for like, ever. So what’s up? Me? What do you mean I’m up? Um, what are you doing? Whoa, careful. If you tip me too far, you’re going to spill my – WATER. Wait, that’s my water. You’re spilling it. You’re spilling my purpose. I love that water.

Well, would you look at that? When you turn me upside down, I can see more. And I just watched you just pour my water on that Clay on the table. That’s funny, he kind of looks like me before . . .

Day 13

So I’ve been thinking. When you poured the water over me, were you using the water you put inside some other thing? That’s pretty cool. And one more thing. Did that water make it easier for you to shape me? No? Oh, to make the stretching easier on me. Got it.

Day 14

More water. Hey, thanks. I was feeling a little dry. But back to those questions. So, the thing you used to dig me up, was that a thing you made too? A thing like, yeah, that one, the one that’s going into the fire right now. Did it use to be a Clay too?

Okay, I have to process this. It’s all starting to come into – whoa – there goes my water again. Another busy today, I guess. It’s almost like the more tools you have, the more Clays you can  . . .

Wait. So can I ask one more question? How many Clays are actually buried in the ground? And are they stuck like I was thinking that’s all there is? Yes, I know that’s two questions. But look, what if they don’t know there’s more? We have to tell them what’s up here. They’ve got to know. We’ve got to get them out. Like right now!

Time? For what? Listen, this is serious. It is dark down there. And cold, and heavy, and you’re talking about time? To do what?

Oh, that’s right. The drenching and pulling and pressing and (help me) cooking. So this Clay I’m pouring water on right now, he’s going through that same thing isn’t he? And you’re going to use him too, aren’t you? To dig or hold or pour.

I took time. And so will he.

Day 15

Good morning. I am ready. Fill me. Tip me over. Let me see all the different things you’re making and all the different ways you’ll use them. Rescue some Clays today, then pour me out over them. Over, and over, and over again.

I am Clay, and life is good.

The end

The Wind and the Waves
Devotions

The Wind and the Waves

Daily Reading:

[biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 4:11-16″]

 

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

As I write this, I am at the beach. The sky is clear, the breeze is light, and I might stay all afternoon.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. That’s when a wall cloud the size of Texas appeared out of nowhere and sent hundreds of beachgoers scrambling to shelter. First came the wind, then the sand, then the flying tents. Panic poured over us as we scrambled like ants in a thousand directions, not sure what to grab and what to let go. Eventually, we were able to dodge fugitive umbrellas and boogie boards and wrestle ourselves and our gear to safety.

Later, I opened God’s Word and read, “Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” Thanks, God, for the visual aid.

Perhaps very soon, the evangelical Christian church in America might have far more in common with the church of Ephesus than we ever have had before. No longer is the sky clear and the breeze light. A wall cloud of culture looms above us and forces us to make decisions. Why do we believe what we believe? How do we love a world that no longer loves us? And how do we make the Church effective in this culture?

Paul describes the church not as a collection of individuals worshiping and carrying out ministry programs, but tied together as one body. This body has arms and legs and muscles and bones. Every part of this body is created to function together. We’re not meant to wander in aimless confusion. We’re not meant to crouch silently, paralyzed from fear. Instead, we’re meant to act and go where our head, Jesus Christ, takes us.

And so God gives us all special gifts, spiritual gifts, to help us function as this body. He gives us leaders (apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers) to train or equip us for work in ministry. Ministry is our job, not just theirs. Everyone gets to play.

If together we use the gifts God has given each of us for the building up of one another, we then cease to be like children and become mature, a body of believers exercising discernment and knowledge and (above all else) love. We are unified in our mission and our efforts, because we are one body acting solely at Christ’s direction.

It is this body with Christ as its head that God intends to accomplish His work on Earth. We are not a collection of passive believers who lean on the “resident experts” to do God’s will. We are not a group of individuals who go to church to simply to have our needs fulfilled. Instead, we each have a part to play for the good of the whole.

Then when the storms come, and they will, we will find our strength and our purpose in the One who uniquely gifts us and pulls us together. He will direct our path, and we will go there together.

Reflection Questions

We often pray that God will help us as individuals: God help me with this, or God help me do that. How often do we pray for God to help our church?

Do you know your spiritual gifts? Do you know the spiritual gifts of those around you?

Should we explore our spiritual gifts when choosing a service role in our church or our community?

How are spiritual gifts different than Christian roles (i.e. things we are all called to do in the course of our walk with Christ)? How are they different from natural talent?

Oh How He Loves You and Me
Devotions

Oh How He Loves You and Me

Daily Reading:

Luke 7:11-17

Key Verse:
[readolog_blockquote ]Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. Luke 7:12[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

Mom once told me how she’d stay up all night crying, worried how she was going to buy groceries the next day. She would sit in a rocker and hold me in her arms. I was her center, her reason to try again tomorrow. To this day, my mother is my best friend.

So when I read about a widow who was crying in the street as they ushered her only son’s body out of the city, this stopped being just another Jesus story for me. I thought about my mother and how she might feel. This could just as easily be her story – MY story.

I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child. Naomi lost her sons, and she expressed her grief passionately. “Call me Mara,” she said, “for the Lord has made me bitter.”

In 1 Kings 17, the widow of Zarapeth had already accepted the inevitability of death from starvation for both herself and her son. But by providing for Elijah, she miraculously maintained a supply of food, only for her son to perish anyway.

“She said to Elijah,’Man of God, what do we have in common? Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to kill my son?’ ” (1 Kings 17:18). But Elijah prayed, God listened, and the boy came back.

“Then Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. Elijah said,’Look, your son is alive.’ ” (1 Kings 17:23).

And so now, in Luke, we have yet a third widow grieving over the loss of her son. But this time, God is there in the flesh. The text says Jesus “had compassion on her.” The original word is actually “splagnizod,” which is a turning over of the insides, a visceral, physical reaction to what He saw.

“Don’t cry,” He told her. What an incredibly touching moment this must have been, even if the widow didn’t fully understand why. Here was her Creator coming to her in a very real way during a very real time of grief. He was right there, in the midst of her pain to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry.”

Why was Jesus so moved by this woman and her circumstance? Did it invoke images from the ancient days of Naomi or the widow from Zarapeth? Or maybe when He looked at this woman, He saw His own mother in the days to come.

The whole thing shows a beautiful side of our Savior, the Creator side. We’re His people. He loves us, deeply, splagnizod. And while that particular word may never be cross-stitched on a pillow (and for good reason), the ability of the one who was fully-God and fully-man to relate to our suffering in a very real way is permanently etched across our hearts.

This Jesus who approached a widow in her time of need is the same Jesus who no doubt wrapped His arms around my weeping mother in the middle of the night as she held her only son and waited on God’s faithful provision. “Don’t cry.”

I love this Jesus, and I know that He loves me.

Reflection Questions

  1. How has God loved you this week? It may be hard to see Him through the crowds. But perhaps He was right beside you.
  2. What loss are you grieving? A loved one, a relationship, a job, or maybe even a dream?
  3. How honest are you with God (and yourself) about your feelings? We’re not told the widow asked for Jesus’s help, or even that she believed. He was moved by her grief. Whatever our answer to question 2, how have you expressed that grief to God?

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector
Devotions

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector

Daily Reading:
Matthew 9:9-13  |  Mark 2:13-17  |  Luke  5:27-32

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:
Next month, I visit my accountant to file my 2012 tax return. He’s very good at his job, and he seems to somehow enjoy it, which I can’t help but find a little strange.

Each year, I sit across the desk from this guy and wonder how he does it. Not that my taxes are that difficult. But there’s no way around the fact that he’ll have the unenviable task of telling someone (hopefully not me) that Uncle Sam needs more from them this year than they anticipated.

If beautiful are the feet that bring good news, how ugly are the ones that deliver a big, fat tax bill? Consider, for a moment, what it might be like if those people had to pay him directly for their taxes. Better yet, what if he raised the amount so he could keep a little (or a lot) for himself?

To take it one step further, what if his very existence was their constant reminder of an occupying government that took their freedom and used him, a traitor to his own people, to make their lives as miserable as possible? That would make next month’s appointment much less enjoyable.

The Bible tells us about a guy just like that. His name was Matthew. And he was a disciple.

It’s not at all unlike God to use the most human of people to do the most heavenly of things. In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. So He uses people who are at the end of themselves to begin the things that only He can do.

The Pharisees in this story didn’t get that email. They were all about their own strength. And they had lots of rules to prove it. Spiritual acts like sacrifice were less about obeying God and more about showcasing their knowledge and capacity to keep the law. They were spiritual rock stars, not at all like that slacker guy Matthew and his sinner friends at the tax booth. Boo!

I guess that’s why, in Matthew 9:11, they thought it strange to find Jesus kicking back and breaking bread with half of the Roman IRS. Matthew was throwing a dinner party for Jesus. He’d even called a few buddies over and introduced them to his new friend.

So the Pharisees asked the disciples (not Jesus directly), “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

In all three Gospel accounts of this story, we see Jesus offer a fairly straightforward response when the Pharisees question his association with these people. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do,” Jesus said.

Okay, fair enough. The Pharisees could sort of get this one. To say the tax collectors and sinners were spiritually sick was not out of bounds with their way of thinking. But in Matthew’s account, Jesus takes it a step further. “Go and learn what this means,” he begins. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

This is my new favorite part of the story. “Go and learn what this means” was what a rabbi of that time would say when he quoted a text. In other words, “Take what I say and go think about what God is telling you.” By saying this to the Pharisees, Jesus was speaking to them as an authority.

What text was he quoting? Hosea 6:6: “For I desire loyalty (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

So why does God value mercy for a sinner over the sacrifices of a saint? Perhaps it’s the same reason we might rejoice at the healing of someone who is terminally ill over the continued well-being of someone who is healthy. “Those who are sick don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.”

Enter Matthew, or Levi as he was known in Hebrew circles. Who better to tell us this part of the story than the one who experienced the miraculous mercy of Jesus first-hand?

Matthew most likely had no idea how his life would change when he left for work that morning. But what started out as just another ordinary day at the tax booth ended when Jesus uttered two words, the same two words that have been changing lives ever since. “Follow me.”

Jesus continued, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The Bible says there’s no one who’s righteous, no not one. I’m guessing the Pharisees weren’t counting themselves among the tax collectors and sinners. But in reality, their question could’ve been rephrased to ask, “Why does your Teacher eat with us?”

Reflection Questions
Does mercy have a seat at our table? Or have we made our own rules about who can and can’t join us for dinner?

Are we prepared to accept others as Jesus accepts them, without condition? Or have we exchanged mercy for something more comfortable and less controversial?

Lastly, when He asked us to follow Him, did we consider the places He might go?

Where’ve You Been?
Memoirs

Where’ve You Been?

I’ve blogged about Ray and Hilda before. They’ve been married for more than 61 years. In that time, they’ve faced many challenges, met many struggles, and have overcome them all together. This week, though, fate threatened to do the one thing its never been been able to do before . . . keep them apart.

On Christmas night, Hilda was rushed to the emergency room. She had become unresponsive due to what would eventually be diagnosed as a combination of pneumonia, COPD, and congestive heart failure. At 79, her little body was simply worn out. Ray, the ever-devoted husband, never left her side through the entire ordeal. For 29 days he sat and slept in a vinyl hospital lounge chair right beside Hilda’s bed.

On one of those days, a routine check of his heart showed his pulse had bottomed out at 38. Though he felt fine, the number was great cause for concern, especially for an 81 year old man. Luckily, the ER was literally an elevator ride away. Within minutes, he was processed, evaluated, and admitted to a room three floors above and a world away from his wife.

After a day or so, his condition stabilized. Eventually, I wheeled him back down to check on her.

As soon as he walked in the room (he would not enter in a wheel chair) the usually-despondent Hilda lit up like the Christmas tree she never got to enjoy this year. Her first words . . .

“Where have you been?”

Instantly, my brain hit the play button on the Kathy Mattea song. Wow. Does life really imitate art?

“They’d never spent a night apart.
For sixty years she heard him snore.
Now they’re in the hospital
In separate beds on different floors.

. . .

“He held her hand and stroked her head
In a fragile voice she said,

‘ Where’ve you been?
I’ve looked for you forever and a day.
Where’ve you been?
No I’m just not myself when you’re away.'”

Excerpt from “Where’ve You Been
Kathy Mattea
Words and Music by Jon Vezner and Don Henry

 

As I write this, Hilda is getting settled into a rehabilitation facility while Ray adjusts to his new pacemaker and the discomforts that it brings. And while I haven’t talked with him this evening, I’m quite certain he’s already claimed his spot at the bedside of his bride.

Ray and Hilda only had one child, a saint of a woman who is frankly the only reason their both still with us today. And that woman had me. This week, she and I witnessed the purest, most precious gift God ever gave the world . . . true love.

Sleep well, Ray and Hilda. And get well. We love you very much.

[readolog_first_paragraph]Editor’s note:
We said goodbye to Hilda in January of the following year. She did actually get to come home before God called her home to stay. We all miss her, but not like Ray. Thanks to the pacemaker, his heart is still beating. But it is very broken. Sometimes I watch him stare out the glass door onto the porch, at the empty chair where she used to sit. Then he looks to the sky, and I know what he’s thinking.[/readolog_first_paragraph]

Walking Through the Door
Memoirs

Walking Through the Door

Just over 18 years ago . . .

. . . I heard one word that changed my life forever. The word was “yes,” and it came from the girl I loved when I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me. The days that followed were exciting and challenging.   They were filled with laughter, tears, lots of joy, and plenty of anxious moments.

Today, I was reminded of one such moment.   On the night of our wedding, my bride was determined to have her picture made in her gown on the steps of the Opryland Hotel’s Magnolia Lobby.   This would have been fine, except that our wedding took place at the First Baptist Church in Cullman, AL. That’s roughly 153 miles from church altar to hotel steps.   Since the complexities of getting into her dress prevented the option of simply changing clothes, we were stuck in our matrimonial attire for the duration of the two hour trip.

Furthermore, while we left the church in a spacious limo (thanks again, Mike and Melanie), the bulk of our journey took place in a two-door Nissan Sentra.   The train of Darlene’s dress alone contained for more fabric than the entire interior of this car.   Nevertheless, my two eyes peered through a sea of white satin as we made the perilous journey toward those fateful steps and on to the rest of our lives.

Now, I told you all of that to tell you this.   I dropped Darlene off at the entrance of the Magnolia lobby, along with all of our assorted bags, suitcases, and ancillary items.   Then I set out in search of a parking space, which I eventually found somewhere in the neighboring city of Hendersonville.   When I finally returned, I found Darlene in the lobby out of breath and frantically gathering our things around her.

Apparently, it was only after I left that she realized there was no good way to get through the revolving door in her dress.   And once she was in, how would she get back to all of our bags?   She saw no staff to ask for assistance. She was stuck. So she waited, and waited, and waited.   But since I was walking back from the next county, it took a while.

In the mean time, people began noticing my lovely bride in her sparkling cathedral gown. Even now, I can hear what they were thinking. “Oh look, Henry.   That poor girl has been abandoned on her wedding night, and in such a lovely dress.  What a shame!”

Eventually, a few well-intentioned bystanders learned of my wife’s plight. Suddenly and without warning, they grabbed our bags. They took Darlene by the arm.   They propped open doors. And in less time than it took us to say “I do,” they ushered my new wife across the threshold . . . without me.

She still talks about the fear and panic that set in immediately as all of those people, some she had just met, some who were total strangers, began swarming her and taking our things.   The flurry of good intentions left her disoriented and scared.

Almost 18 days ago . . .

. . . I heard a word that changed my life forever. The word was “cancer,” and it came from the girl I love as she suddenly wondered about the rest of her life.   So began the anxious moments. But this time, I found myself standing at the threshold.   It was my job to get Darlene, along with our children, along with everything in our lives, through that door despite the huge obstacle in our way.   There were so many things I was responsible for. And so I waited . . . and waited. I stood there not knowing what to do next.

That’s when it happened.   The people around me began picking up my stuff.   They began taking me by the arm and ushering me forward.   But wait! I don’t want to go through that door.   I’m not ready.   Put my stuff down. I can carry it.   I just need time to figure this thing out first.

Fear and panic set in as all these people began swarming me and carrying my things.   The flurry of good intentions left me disoriented and scared.   That lasted a couple of days.   That’s how long it took me to realize how to do what only I could do.   So I reached out and took my wife by the hand.   And with the help of our family and friends, we’re now walking across that threshold – together.

This is a special note of thanks to all those who have suddenly grabbed a bag or gathered a gown or opened a door.   There are so many of you.   And you are so good – so God.   Thank you for loving us during this time.   I can’t say that it’s easy to let you do these things.   But this is simply a journey we can’t take alone. We love you.

 

Arab, AL
Memoirs

Arab, AL

Arab was not a large city. I don’t believe it is now either.  But at the time of my childhood, we boasted a population of approximately 8,000 people. As it turns out, 2005 estimates place it around 7,500.  So it seems we might have been a bit ambitious some two decades ago.

But I gotta say that I love it when people ask me where I’m from.  “Arab,” I say.  Of course I pronounce it appropriately. Not like (?er?b) as in “Arab Muslim.” Most of us were Baptist or Methodist.  But (a rab) as in “a rab-id coon bit my dog and now I have to shoot ‘im.”  There’s always an odd silence that follows.  Once I savor that moment, I continue.  “It’s a little town just south of Huntsville.”  At this, I almost always get one of two responses.

Some just shake their heads.  But most – and I do mean most – will say, “Oh, sure. I know Arab.”  How so many people have come to be connected to Arab is beyond me.  Sometimes they have relatives there.  Sometimes they recall having sold such-and-such to so-and-so (who is usually related to someone in the first group).  Regardless, it’s one of those freaky rules of nature, like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Almost anyone can be traced back to Arab in six steps or less.

Don’t get me wrong.  Arab is not without its famous events and people.  For starters, there’s the annual Poke Salat Festival.  But perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that  the short list of hometown successes (according to Wikipedia) includes  actress Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider et al). I should note that I find no other evidence of this anywhere online. But regardless, she  joins my friend Jill King (Country singer and songwriter) as the only two mentions.

I am predictably NOT on the list.  Apparently they don’t consider winning the University of North Alabama “Ugly Walk” Competition worthy of recognition.  Well, I’m not bitter.  But I would also like to point out that I was the star of the brief-but-popular morning radio segment “Breakfast with Brandon” on AM 1380 – WRAB (Your Friend and Neighbor).  That listening audience spanned from Joppa to Scant City. So it was a pretty big deal.

Regarding the name, (and this could just be the product of myth – but one which also eventually found its way to Wikipedia) I’ve always understood it to have come from little more than a clerical error.  The city’s founder was also it’s first postmaster, Stephen Tuttle Thompson. His son’s name was Arad.  Yes, that’s A-R-A-D.  When the city decided to incorporate in 1882, three options were given for the name: Ink, Bird, and Arad.  Apparantly, we went with Arad, but a tragic typo in the process of incorporation deemed us forever . . . Arab.

I’m glad they went with Arad.  If one of the other names had been chosen and misspelled, I might have ended up being from Jnk. I can only guess how we would have pronounced that one.  Or we might have been known as Bord, which was what most of us were anyway growing up in that town.

Make no mistake.  Arab is, and forever will be, at the very top of my list of favorite places to grow up – and that’s not just  because it’s the only place I grew up. I love that city.  Ask any one of those 8,000 7.500 people, and they’ll have their own stories, their own history, their own notable people, places, and things.

Got a good Arab story? Click “Read More” and post it below.  My friend Jackie works for Otelco, so I know they have internet now.

What’s In A Name?
Short Stories

What’s In A Name?

The place is packed tonight. The lights are low, and the music is loud, which is good.  Loud music means less talking. Talking is bad, because it means I have to say it.

“Hi, my name is Purvis.”

Yep, Purvis.  I know, right?  The first thing people hear, the last thing they remember, the key to the very door of my soul, and my parents choose Purvis.

I guess I could understand if were named in honor of some legendary ancestor like General Purvis Augustus, leader of Allied Forces on some beach in Normandy or maybe Reverend Purvis Leonidas, fearless missionary to naked natives up and down the Amazon.  But to my knowledge (and I’ve checked), there are no such heroes in my family.

It turns out Purvis was actually the name of the gardener who worked for my grandmother.  He sculpted topiaries of Bible characters.  Apparently, his juniper Jesus inspired pilgrimages from believers as far away as Poughkeepsie, sojourners who came to pray before the shrouded shrubbery.  And here I am, a testament to his holy horticulture.

Hey, there’s that group of girls from HR.  They already know my name, I think.  I could just skip the whole introduction part.  Oh wait.  There’s those guys from Sales.  Okay, never mind.  I’ll let them have a chance tonight. They probably all have really cool names anyway.  Some of them probably even have great nicknames too.  I always envied guys with great nicknames.  My friend Nathan Canasta played football.  His number was 50.  So “Five Oh” became his name for the rest of high school.  Richard Barefoot was Native American, the only Native American we knew.  So we called him “Chief.” It sounds racist now. But that was before everything sounded racist.

So why couldn’t I get one of those names? I was cool. Right?  I knew things.  I did stuff.  I used to write names on my notebooks to try them out.  I wrote “Big Show” and then “Full House,” but I’m just over five feet tall and 120 pounds in my Sunday shoes.  I also considered “Lefty” and “John Deere,” but I’m right handed, and I’ve never actually seen a tractor in real life.  In the end, I’m just a tragically vanilla, homogeneous human being with absolutely no distinguishing characteristics save one . . . the name “Purvis.”

Look who just sat down at the other end of the bar.  That’s the girl I saw last week, the one with the glasses and the frizzy hair. She’s sitting alone again. Oh, did you see that? She just looked at me. Well, her glasses distort her eyes slightly, so I could be wrong. But what if? I might chance it and walk over.  But what would I say?

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I noticed you were low on nuts?”  No, that won’t work.

“So, just how strong are your prescription glasses?”

No, better let that one go too. But I would like to know. Man those things are thick.

If I only had a name like Fred or Ralph or something.  Then I could just say “Hi, I’m Fred or Ralph or something.” I guess I could use my middle name, Arthur.  Or maybe just Art.  But art is what you hang on a wall or make in preschool with macaroni and Elmer’s glue.

And I certainly can’t shorten my first name.  “Purv.”  Nope, I don’t think so.

“What’ll it be tonight, kid?” That’s the bartender. I think his name is Stan, or maybe Dan.

“O’Dules.”

“Right.” Dan’s a nice guy.  He works a lot.  Always here when I come in.

“Hey Dan, you got a nickname?”

“Yeah. It’s Stan.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

Hey, when did Jackson come in?  “Hey! Jackson, my man! What’s up?  Huh?  Oh, yeah. Sure. Well, I’ll just be over here.  Keep it real, man.”

Jackson runs the sandwich cart on the corner by the office.  Now Jackson, that’s a real name.  Like “action,” only Jackson. That guy’s gonna to go places with a name like that.

But not me.  I’m just gonna sit here at this bar and watch all these well-named individuals go about their happy lives while I waste away in the intoxicating wash of near beer.  Just me, the Purv-meister.  The Purvinator.  Potent.  Powerful.  Purvilicious.

I’ve got to get a new name.

The End

The Story of Us
Memoirs

The Story of Us

A big thing in our house right now is the History Channel series  America: The Story of Us. Our recent home-schooling experiences have taught us the value of history told in unique and creative ways. We keep recording these programs and getting sucked in by the “I-never-knew-that” factor upon which these types of series seem to be built.

Yet despite the flashy reenactments and deep-voiced cinematic narration, there’s still no substitute for first-hand experience.  My children learned this on a recent family trip to Logan Jr. High School, the historic institution where my wife attended kindergarten, first, and second grades.  I should immediately point out that my wife is in no way historic.  The school, however, is.  In fact, it’s not even a working school now, but rather a community center safely in the hands of local preservationists.

Logan Jr. High School is an unassuming, ancient structure with tan rock walls and hardwood floors that bare witness to years of young feet finding their way through life. Thanks to the afore-mentioned preservationists, almost every detail of this facility is still in tact, right down to the trophies displayed proudly in glass cases along the main hallway.  Fading class photos chronicle a legacy of neatly posed children sitting in ordered rows of desks. Of the few classrooms, most are large and designed to accommodate more than one class at a time. According to my wife, her second grade classroom and its teacher were shared by an entire other grade – at the same time.

The large rooms still have all the trappings, including the manual pencil sharpeners and chalkboards of solid and dashed parallel lines.  But perhaps the most intriguing fixtures are the small hallways hidden behind each of the classrooms.  These narrow spaces, called cloak rooms, are lined with wall hooks and low shelves.  Designed for quick one-way traffic, cloak rooms facilitated the in and out rush of children as they hurried to beat the bell or were saved by it.  It’s not so odd, even now, to find an area of a classroom devoted to coats and books.  But this space was different.  It’s placement, it’s design, it’s feel were all oddly reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie.

I’ll spare you the true historical facts surrounding the school.  Suffice to say that it housed more than one generation of the local community.  Even older family members touring with us remarked several times how much smaller things were than they had remembered as a child.

As we strolled through the dark halls (apparently the preservationists are also energy conservationists), my wife began to laugh.  She told our girls about a particular morning when she decided NOT to go gentle into that good school.  After being dropped off, she cried and kicked and screamed and employed all sorts of unorthodox diplomacy.  Her teacher, unyielding, tightened her grip and hauled her into the school.  My wife’s subsequent protests turned to kicking which resulted in the unfortunate flight of one of her shoes.  The flight ended when the shoe struck the principle in the forehead.

As she laughed, she told us that neither she, nor her teacher, nor the principle were laughing at the time.

She could have shared that story sitting in our living room.  But now my kids have touched and smelled and felt what it was like for their mother to be a kid in school.  They’ve walked those halls, seen those pictures, and heard those stories, even as they stood in the very spot where that history was made.

And so, on a Sunday afternoon, in a little town from which we get the name of our third child, our family gained a true understanding of, and perhaps even an appreciation for, one episode of  The Abbotts: The Story of Us.

Logan Jr. High School