Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Stood up at the Altar?

One recent August afternoon, I sped south on Highway 45  out of Jackson, anxious to return home to the cooler countryside.  As I maneuvered in and out of the passing lane, cars zoomed around me—probably commuters like me, just trying to get home.

A red traffic light a half-block away brought us all to a stop. While waiting for the light to turn, I glanced to my left. It was then I saw her.

A model of perfection stood elegantly posed, with stylish blonde hair and a slim waist. Like a perfectly wrapped gift, lace and silk adorned her. A flowing white gown cascaded from her shoulders to her heels.The vision of cool beauty in the midst of heated concrete, exhaust fumes, and spinning tires caused me to pause.

I’ve seen her before, many times. Actually, when I cared to look, I’ve seen her on every trip to Jackson for the last twenty years.

The waiting bride is enclosed behind glass at a downtown dry cleaners. The store must change and clean the mannequin’s gown every now and then, but I don’t think they’ve ever taken her from the display window.

Hmp. I joked to myself. I think she’s been stood up at the altar. She’s been waiting there a long time.

I skimmed over her face—no frown lines or worry there. A knowing smile touched her lips. No matter what I, or any of the passing travelers thought, she just knew her groom would appear at any moment.

The tip of her curved fingers and her slightly raised hand revealed her heart. Someone was coming for her. He’d take her by the hand and lead her to a beautiful wedding and a grand feast.

My heart skipped a little.

Jesus promised those who believe in Him that he would be returning one day. The church is His Bride. One day, there will be a wedding and a glorious celebration.

The bride in the window reminded me. No matter how weary I am, or how much noise or choking exhaust I endure, the groom is still coming.

Like the ten virgins in the famous parable, I need to be ready. I have to make sure my dress is white, my face, adoring, and my hand upraised in expectation.

Side Trips

Enough about the Road Less Traveled.

To worry about the road of life we should have taken is a waste of time. Whatever path we’re on, there’s a way of traveling that brings us to the right destination.  

This way includes side trips. The side trip appears as a curve in the road or a veering off onto the shoulder. It can be a picturesque overlook or a shortcut we take to an unplanned place. It’s a place to dally before we get back on our original way. 

The side trip caught my attention on a recent vacation to San Francisco. Fascinated by the cable cars, I watched as they smoothly made their way up and down the steep hills. Their path seemed inflexible. Cables directed the passenger cars down the middle of the thoroughfare.

And then I noticed it. Unlike a rigid train track, the cables actually bend so that the cars can pull close to the curb. They swerve to the side—to let on new passengers, or deposit weary travelers close to the sidewalk.

Knowing when to bend or get off the road is vital to taking a side trip. It’s like heading for the beach in Florida but stopping first in Alabama for Peach Park ice cream. 

Small happenings along our path invite us to take a side trip. They can involve people or things outside our conventional notice that give us pause while we’re waiting for the big destination to arrive.

On my trip home from California, I was exhausted and depressed about the long flight ahead. As I entered the cabin, I looked for a possible flying companion and settled in between a friendly-looking lady and a talkative boy.

The boy, about ten, told me all about his four-wheeler, his new pony, his friends at school and their adventures at camp. It wasn’t long before he had me smiling and laughing at his small-town antics. The flight whizzed by, and soon, we shared a friendship and a glance out the window at the winding Tennessee River.

Meeting him was a side trip I hadn’t planned on, but it made me smile and know God was taking care of me, even at the lowest times.

In the Bible, there’s the story of Naaman, a highly-respected captain of the Aram army. A man who was physically superior and probably handsome. Yet he had one great flaw:  leprosy. It’s possible this captain had exhausted every cure known to the ancient world in order to get rid of the terrible disease.

It wasn’t Naaman’s advisors, his soldiers, or his family members who helped him find a solution. It was a servant girl. The small, seemingly insignificant slave humbly pleaded, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

To his credit, mighty Naaman listened to the young girl, followed the advice of the prophet, Elijah, and was cured of his leprosy.

Sure, the big events in our life our worthy of our time, attention, and planning.  Yet God works things out His way. We have to bend to his plans when there’s an unexpected curve in the road. And take time to notice the small things that give us further direction and sustenance for the path ahead.  It’s on the side trips that we learn to trust, to rest, and relax in God’s grace.

(Have a favorite side trip you’d like to share? Post it in comments.)

Ever felt the sting of Solarcaine on a sunburn?

     Ah, Summer.  

     The promise of summer sustained me through the bleak winter months, when I pulled fuzzy socks onto my cold feet, hibernated with my writing, and started yet another diet hoping to fit into last year’s capris.

     Summer has a way of leaving only good memories in my brain. It’s the same feeling I have after I’ve treated myself to smooth orange sherbet on a push-up stick.

     The ever-beckoning promise of summer calls to me from December to March. So I’m disappointed when plans for paradise don’t quite pan out.

     How could I have forgotten the yard work? This week, my husband and I risked a heat stroke while we cleaned up. Our rose bushes were overgrown, tangled, and thorny-dangerous. Bamboo gone wild threatened to take over the crepe myrtles. A fifteen-year-old fence still needs painting—badly. Rickety stairs, warped picnic table slats—you name it. We’ve got lots of work to do.     

     Vacations can go a little off track, too. The horrible weather that swept through the Midwest last week caused my son’s flight from Chicago to be cancelled. To make a long story short, he ended up driving in the pouring rain to Indianapolis at midnight. Yes, he finally made it to the Jamaica. Yes, he had a great time. But where does he plan to go next year? Yellowstone.

     The beaches of the Florida Panhandle are sugar-sandy and the water is blue and inviting, but 2011 might be remembered as the year of the jellyfish. Over 400 stings were reported there over Memorial Day weekend.     

     But jellyfish, or any other salt water menace, won’t keep me away from the beach this year. Just like it won’t dim the perfect memory I have of a day at Destin about five years ago.  I can close my eyes and feel the gentle ocean waves lapping around my waist. The fair skies cast a canopy of dazzling blue over my head. My two girl-trip friends and I basked in perfect relaxation. I took a “mind snapshot” that day. It’s one I won’t ever forget. 

     All of this is just to say paradise usually can’t be planned. It’s a gift. Like the day when my two-year-old grandson picked up the water sprinkler and doused his father from behind, laughter erupting from his mischievous heart. Or when I noticed how the deep green leaves of my new peace-lily plant perfectly highlighted the white, ethereal blooms.

     Paradise can be found while sitting on a porch rocking chair, listening to crickets and watching fireflies dance through the yard. It can be glimpsed on a late-evening drive home from the grocery store when the setting sun dazzles the sky with sun-lit orange and purple.

     Reality and disappointed hopes can sting like Solarcaine on a sunburn. But paradise—when it sneaks up from behind and surprises me—is a gift of grace. Summer gives me a little peek into eternal perfection.

The Eyes Have it

The Eyes Have It

As I flipped through a stack of mail this week, I noticed a Macy’s promotion hidden underneath all the bills.

I thumbed through the beautifully- photographed catalog and oohed over the jewelry, shoes, and purses. New spring dresses made me wish I was two sizes smaller. Then I saw it: a Clinique bonus promotion. Yay! I don’t know about you, but that’s when I buy my favorite makeup and get a free bag filled with new cosmetics to try.

It’s funny how much importance we women place on our appearance. We want our complexions to radiate health, our lips to enhance a friendly smile, and our hair to shine in the sunlight. But many of the cosmetics we buy draw attention to our most important asset—our eyes.      

Literature backs me up on this. “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” is an old English proverb that many attribute to Shakespeare. Even my favorite Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, reveals that Mr. Darcy was attracted to Elizabeth because of her “pair of fine eyes.”

A book I just finished reading, Heaven is for Real, tells the story of preschooler Colton Burpo, who told his astonished parents he’d seen Jesus in the hospital as he was having an emergency appendectomy. Four-year-old Colton remembered many things about heaven, but the one striking feature Colton kept telling his parents about was Jesus’ beautiful eyes.

As little Colton experienced heaven as a real place, my reality was blessed when a good friend told me about her experience in the hospital. My friend had been in a life-threatening car accident almost three years ago and had spent many weeks in ICU. Just last Sunday, she shared some of her experience with me:

“Jeris, the people that came to pray for me, they’d take me by the hand.” She paused, blinking away tears. “And when I looked into their eyes. . . I saw the eyes of Jesus.”    

My friend and little Colton have me thinking. Maybe one of the things that will make heaven “heaven” is when we behold infinite loveliness—the truest beauty that shines through the eyes of Jesus.

Their works do follow them

Last week, I attended a writer’s conference in Piggott, Arkansas.

You can’t imagine my surprise when I learned that author Ernest Hemingway once lived in the rural Arkansas town, and that the conference would be hosted by the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center.

Yes, that Ernest Hemingway—author of Farewell to Arms, The Sun also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls . . . the list goes on.  In fact, the list is so long Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.  

So what’s the connection? What possible ties could the world-renowned author have to a cotton-growing town in Northeast Arkansas? Hemingway is known for his exotic trips to Paris, Madrid, Havana, and Key West, but Piggott?

Yep. Seems a wealthy family from St Louis moved to Arkansas in the early twentieth century. Originally from Iowa, the Pfeiffers were pharmaceutical entrepreneurs who moved to Piggott in 1913. Their daughter, Pauline, became a journalist and foreign correspondent for Vogue magazine.

Yes, Vogue magazine. Who sent her to glamorous Paris where she met Hemingway. They became friends, married in 1927, and spent time visiting her parents in Piggott.

The Center includes the Pfeiffer’s Colonial Revival home and a barn-studio in which Hemingway wrote portions of Farewell to Arms.

It’s jaw-dropping. As I entered Hemingway’s studio, light filtered through the upstairs window of the cozy barn loft onto the smooth-planked floor. A table and chairs sat in one corner, an antique dining hutch leaned against the wall, and a zebra rug covered the floor. Straight ahead sat the desk: golden wood with one middle drawer, a black manual typewriter, a desk lamp, leather portfolio, and pipe holder.

The strangest display I’ve ever seen loomed behind the desk. It’s wasn’t the Nobel, but a collection of safari trophies, representative of Ernest and Pauline’s travels to Africa. A black water buffalo, an ivory elephant tusk, a young female lion, and gazelle-like impalas encircled the walls. The display reflected the brash Hemingway everyone knows, the legend that inspired casual men’s clothing and Caribbean-styled furniture.

Hemingway lived large. His writings, travels, four wives, drinking problem, and sad death attest to that.

But the Pfeiffer’s story is what really stayed with me. Although their beautiful home and obvious wealth must have turned heads in the humble town, they are remembered by the locals with respect and gratitude.  

During the height of the depression, while Hemingway and Pauline trekked through Africa, his in-laws quietly helped the needy in Clay County.

There is a room in the home that once held hundreds of quilts. During the depression, word spread that Paul Pfeiffer would buy any quilt brought to him by local women. Paul purchased and stored the quilts, then turned around and donated them to needy families.        

When historians at Arkansas State began restoring the home in 1997, they discovered over forty coats of depression-era paint. The reason? Desperate fathers, too proud to ask for money, would ask Paul Pfeiffer if he had any work. Not believing in hand-outs, Mr. Pfeiffer often gave them a job—painting his house.    

The Pfeiffers and Hemingway are now gone. Like all of us, the choices they made and their deeds reflect the lives they lived.

Hemingway’s works are preserved in novels, short stories, and other literary writings.

The Pfeiffers’ works live on through the families that received help during desperate times. They are the survivors who endured hardship and lived long enough to pass on the American dream to generations yet to come.

Revelation 14:13

Here’s a sign: Deep Fried Twinkies

Is there a diet version of Deep Fried Twinkies?

I admit, the hand-lettered sign tempting me with the cajillion-calorie treat didn’t cause  a gag reflex. Instead, I inwardly sighed. I bet those are good.

After a few seconds, my internal drill sergeant snapped me to attention. Too sweet. Probably heavy. I’d feel bad afterwards.

Thankfully, I was in my car so all I had to do was hit the accelerator to escape temptation. Still, as I drove away I tried to come up with a substitute.  I could get a  Twinkie, dip it in skim milk, dredge it in crushed corn flakes, and bake it in the oven.

Ugh. Even with all the finagling, the cream filling and carb-loaded fluff would still tilt my scales toward disaster. And in the end, it wouldn’t even taste good.

Before I saw the sign, I’d already flirted with diet Armageddon. I bought a Paula Deen magazine and flipped through the pages. Vicariously, I enjoyed the buttery biscuits and frosty-pink cupcakes without a morsel passing over my lips.  

Funny, the magazine and the sign appeared just as I am enjoying the first results of a new diet. My clothes feel better. Inches are being lost. I can turn over at night without the assistance of a crane.

I’m heading in the right direction. So why do the signs appear now, trying to steer me wrong?

Temptation’s not a good thing. It’s best to run from it. But maybe it’s a sign that I’m doing some things right. 

A wise country preacher (Adrian Rogers) once said if you meet the devil face-to-face it’s because you’re going in the opposite direction.

Turning away from temptation is not any fun. And I can’t find a diet version to rationalize wrong choices. A Twinkie is still a Twinkie. 

If I give in to it, I’ll wished I hadn’t. I’ll probably feel bad. There’ll be extra weight to carry around. And in the end, it won’t even taste good.

Whispers of the Lamb

Like the small purple flowers that poke through the muddy rivulets of the cold earth, springtime in Tennessee can be a struggle. Yes, the winter’s been a cold one. More snow than we’ve had in ten years. But there’s also the beautiful sights of spring that warm the heart, even though the temperature today will barely climb into the fifties.

So here I am, sitting on a caned-seat chair, looking over the white porch railing onto the emerald grass in my front yard. It’s fitting that I begin Southern Grace here, porch-sitting and philosophying.

Just last weekend, booming thunderstorms rolled across our area, causing me to grab a warm November sweater and leave my winter clothes in the closet for at least another week. Winter’s holding on like a lion.

But there are whispers of the lamb. Bursting dogwood blooms surprise me with a cloud of beauty as I glance out an upstairs window. Yellow- blooming bushes and the afore-mentioned purple flowers refuse the dark cold and open to the sunshine. Warmth seeps in and chases away the cold, sunlight melts the gray clouds.

I’m shaking off the cold but the comforting sights of spring tell me a new season is coming. It is arriving, even now.

How fitting that the Grace from heaven also appeared on a hostile, unwelcoming earth. On a cold Good Friday, He suffered the ultimate struggle. But the promise of a new day was not lost. He burst forth into beauty and brought hope to the rest of us who look forward to the Grace that is to come.  

Tempestuous winter may roar like a lion, but the lion is tamed. Springtime’s coming. We’ll come out like a lamb.