First Jobs

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First jobs tend to imprint your memory with good or bad experiences. I can relate to migrant farm workers, because my very first paid job as a young teen was picking tomatoes. My mother, sister, brother, and I woke up early, before the sun grew unbearable and walked to the neighbor’s field. We got 50 cents CASH per bushel basket. Yes, you read that correctly.

My next most memorable job was in the Singer store at the new Hickory Hollow Mall. I was bursting with experience after a single home economics class and various small sewing projects at home. At 17, they didn’t have to pay me minimum wage, so I got $2.79 an hour. I felt rich. Even cooler, I drove myself to work.

My senior year and the following summer, I lucked out with a job at the Vanderbilt main library. Prestigious sounding, but all I did was put bar code stickers in books. See, there used to be something called a CARD CATALOGUE where you had to open a drawer and find a book alphabetically. I know, outrageous, right? But times were a-changin’, and our little group of workers put thousands of those little bar codes in books as they converted their system. The basement of the library was my very favorite place. I found some books that hadn’t been checked out in nearly 100 years. The smell of the books is what I remember most and the crinkling sound of the bindings as I opened the cover.

The summer after my first year of art school, I got a job as an artist at Opryland Theme Park where the current Opry Mills Outlet Mall is located. I had an easel set up on the sidewalk, a uniform, chalk, and an immense fear of people. I was supposed to solicit theme park visitors to get their profile portraits drawn, an introvert’s worst nightmare. Two of us did this type and two or three other artists did caricatures. I got $2 for every one that I drew, though they cost $12. I also had to pay for my own supplies. I could draw one in 20 minutes if the person cooperated. I preferred dental surgery over portraits of children, since it meant drawing a moving target. The most memorable drawing was one of a young adult woman. It was obvious that she and her sweetheart didn’t get to “the big city” too often. She wouldn’t stay still. She kept moving to see my progress and asking questions. “How long you been artin’?” she asked in a thick Southern accent.  How do you answer that?

My son is now looking for his first job. I don’t think it is quite fair that minimum wage is over $7 compared to my 50 cent bushel basket of tomatoes. It’s a different world now, but I wish him all the best.

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The Evidence of Things Unseen

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen“(Heb.11:1).

I consider myself a person of faith, though that faith seems to wax and wane like the stations of the moon. This week in particular I had one of those crises of faith, days of despair.

I always thought I would make a good detective because I am good at gathering clues and evidence. I’ve had lots of practice finding lost items of my kids and husband, but I sure missed the mark in this situation.

I read the clues and evidence perfectly. Unfortunately and unknown to me, it was planted, and I fell for it like high heels on black ice. I was “set up,” by the master deceiver, the Devil himself. Maybe you, too, know what I mean.
Have you ever believed something with all your heart and soul to be an offense or a painful blow directed at you? Everything points to someone or something as the culprit. You know what they’ve said and done. There’s no question that they are the enemy, the cause of the grief and pain they inflicted in your life. Day after day, the evidence stacks up. It becomes unbearable. You may love them and pray earnestly that you can go on, that you can forgive. You’ve been through it before. You’ll get over it, you tell yourself. God is in charge, give it to Him.
It got so bad, I set the timer on the stove for one hour. God, I know you can work miracles. I can’t take any more. I’ll give you one hour to do something, ANYTHING, to make this situation better. To give me hope. What would I do if nothing happened? I couldn’t even think about it.
I prayed. I read the Bible. I cried. Nothing happened. Nothing happened all day.
 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The next day, a friend sent that verse to me. She told me who the real enemy was, the one who had come to steal my joy. She later said she had felt prompted that very moment to write to me.
One major problem: I had all this evidence to the contrary: In direct contrast to the first verse above, I had evidence of things seen, and it was clear and obvious. Words and actions were substantive. Any jury would be swayed. On the other hand, all I had was one verse saying that Satan was the thief who came to steal my happiness, the Thief of Thieves.
I decided to abandon the evidence. I told God I couldn’t see it, but I would believe that I had been deceived, had actually been given false evidence. Just give me this faith to believe what I can’t see, that flies in the face of what I think I know to be true.
I didn’t even have to wait till the end of the day before I found out God was right, I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
“…Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar”….(Rom. 3:4).
It made me think about Joseph in the Old Testament. Look at the evidence that he had that people were total lowlifes. His brothers sell him into slavery. His master’s wife accuses him of seducing her then he’s thrown in jail. Finally, he thinks he gets his big break because God directly gives him the interpretation of two dreams of Pharaoh’s high-up servants. God’s getting me out of this place! He cares about me. He sees how long I have suffered and that I have tried to follow Him, he says to himself.
Then what happens? Nothing. No release comes, no help. No joy. He sees that he can’t trust anyone.
Finally, years later he is released and promoted to the highest office in the land under Pharoah. I believe that he felt blessed and joyful to be free, but what’s in the back of his head? I think something special was revealed to him when he saw his brothers:
“‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:20-21).
I believe that he first saw that God meant it all for good when he saw his brothers. There had been evidence of good and of a different reality that up to that point he had not seen, had been hidden. Satan had tried to steal his joy and had planted seemingly overwhelming evidence to prove that God wasn’t there all along.
So, to encourage you, I would say that you have to know that your real enemy, Satan, is a prosecuting attorney with every trick up his sleeve that you can imagine. He’s got tons of evidence and it looks like an open and shut case against you and your situation. It takes the intervention of your Advocate to show that the case is a sham, that there is another reality, revealed only through faith.
Seek your Advocate. Don’t let your enemy steal your joy. Things are not always what they appear to be.

The Giant of the Trees: A Vision

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I want to go. I don’t want to go. I’m on my way to a silent retreat at a monastery in Kentucky to spend a weekend with God.

My apprehension grows as a dear friend and I drive the long, winding, narrow road in early November a few years ago. There’s a small group of us, but we will basically be alone for two days and nights, meditating on Bible verses given to us by a spiritual director. We will also meet with her once by ourselves, then as a group on the last day.

Well, I’m here, but what if God doesn’t show up? Yeah, it would be me who comes for nothing. But then, what if He does? Maybe I don’t really want to meet Him.

I don’t know about you, but I am not comfortable with silence. I’m an introvert who is very happy being alone – if I’m busy with something, but not necessarily happy with real aloneness. If I don’t want to spend time with me, why would God?

Knowing Him inevitably leads to knowing oneself. They go hand in hand. Never have I learned about God without seeing myself more clearly, but I don’t always like what I see.

I record many thoughts in a journal that weekend.

“Want to be alone,

But not with You.”

My spiritual guide gives me four different verses. For one of them, Isaiah 46:3-4, I am to put my name instead of “house of Jacob.”

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob Gwendolyn, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I am suddenly lifted up by strong arms. I can’t see the face of the Giant because of the pattern made by sunlight dappled through leaves as I look up. It’s warm and smells like the woods after the rain. I wrap my arms around His neck and lay my head on His back. His shirt smells like the trees. I am up so high! I laugh at how high I am. I see birds eye-to-eye on the branches. I reach out and touch the leaves and watch the birds flutter away. I feel like I did when I was a little girl and would climb as high as I could. I am somehow there and not there, because now I can see myself on the back of the Giant being carried through the woods as if I am an observer.

The longer we walk, the older I become. I am tired. My arms are weak, withered, and my hair is gray. Still, I lay my head on the Giant’s back and am carried, secure. This is best of all. I feel perfect happiness like I have never felt before. I silently weep for joy.

I weep on the edge of my bed.

Thank you Lord that you wanted to meet me here. That you carried me, that you will always carry me, that You are strong. May I never forget the Giant of the Trees. The One who was nailed to the tree and walked away to walk with me.

What the Locusts have Eaten

“The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the stripping locusts, the cutting locusts, the swarming locusts, and the hopping locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you.'” ~ Joel 2:25, NLT

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Four kinds of locusts, four kinds of harm and desolation. Four ways to think about the damage evil is allowed to do to us and those we love from within and without. To me though, knowing that God sent it would be completely devastating without tempering that knowledge with the fact that God loves us and has a purpose in everything.

The stripping locusts take from us what we love or what we need. What has been taken from you? Was it your innocence as a child? Your loved one? Health? When things are taken from us, that are part of us, little pieces like bites are taken out of our hearts.

The cutting locusts take away our bearings, leave us swaying without a foundation. Circumstances out of our control make us feel like broken twigs tossed about only to be crushed underfoot. Pieces of our lives lie scattered, disorganized, unrecognizable.

The swarming locusts are the outside stresses that dog pile everyday. They fly so thick you can’t breathe without swallowing a mouthful and choking. The air is black and blinding. You can’t even move.

The hopping locusts are the redundant, repetitive annoyances that just won’t go away. If it happens ONE MORE TIME you will lose it. Or if it happens ONE MORE DAY you don’t think you can take it.

Lastly, I don’t know why the locusts are sent. It makes me think of Job who also wondered why.  His “friends” said his calamities were all his fault, a judgment against him. God never told him the reason. When God did speak, it was of his greatness as Creator. That was Job’s answer. That was enough. In other words, He is enough.

I pray right now that God will restore what the locusts have eaten in your life. If not soon, may you have the grace and strength to endure, which is also given by the One who restores and redeems. He is enough.

Grieving for Sugar

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I was blind-sided by a phone call this week. Blood test results came back from my yearly blah-blah well woman check-up. Cholesterol, fine. Pap, normal. Yeah, I knew that. Who’s always telling everyone to eat their vegetables? Who’s a broken record on what is healthy? Who has an essential oil for everything?

But who secretly buys bags of candy? Who “fixes” the edges of brownies and cakes, because they weren’t “cut” right? Who can’t resist hot, buttered bread?

Who has diabetes now?

Me. The loud-mouth holistic health advocate.

I’m not overweight – I’m a size 6, but now I look back and see that there are reasons why I was not feeling well, couldn’t concentrate, lacked energy, had foggy thinking, wondered if I actually had a bladder the size of a squirrel’s.

So, I nearly starved this past Friday and Saturday. What the hell can I eat? Apparently nothing in my pantry. I think I’ll be serving crow to myself tonight. Now I have to rethink everything and start all over again. I dug the stevia out from where it had been pushed way back in the cupboard. (Years ago?) THAT will take time to get used to in my coffee.

Anyhoo…. I’m going to start scouring the internet for ways to feel like I can still enjoy eating. I was just betrayed by one of my best friends. Who knew sugar would stab me in the back? I paid so much attention to it. This is how it repays me.

Now, I’m asking for help from you. Tips? Recipes? Web sites? I’ve got to put on my big girl pants and face this. I’ll get rechecked in 4 weeks. Can I change my life? Maybe with newfound energy and focus, I can do it.

By the way, this is a milestone for me: Blog post #100. As always, thanks for reading!

The Bad Green Boy: A Short Story

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Robby never listened to nobody. We walked to school and back every day and he didn’t listen to me, his big sister, nor heed what Momma or Daddy told him do. He always had a better idea.

He couldn’t resist showing me up with his rock-skipping skills. “Bet I can make it skip seven times, Jemima!” he started bragging as we neared the water. He knew I could only do it a measly two times, on a good day that is. He put down his bundle of books and after-school field clothes and looked for the perfect, smooth stone.

“Whatever,” I rolled my eyes and looked impatiently on. Sure enough, it skipped seven times.

“Look at that dam the beaver’s makin’ down stream. I want to check it out. I bet that’s the beaver that ate Momma’s cherry tree clean off.”

“Dang it, Robby! You’re gonna make us late again and Teacher is going to tell Momma and I’ll get in trouble!” I felt a deep responsibility to watch out for nine-year-old Robby, but he made my life difficult.

Well, we made it to Sweet Home School just in the nick of time. It was a one-room school-house in the little town of Van Lear, TN. Since more families had moved in lately, it was rumored that they might build another room on to the school. We might even get another teacher next year.

I looked down at my dusty, bare feet at the schoolhouse door. Every kid came without shoes that I knew of except the Hendersons that is, who had shoes for school and church. I didn’t care. I hated shoes. They made my feet sweat and rubbed my heels. Besides, they would get stained a bright green if I wore them in our tobacco field after school anyway. It was September, and even though school had started again, we were both expected to work in it every day before supper.

We were half-way to school one morning when I broke out of my daydream, noticing that Robby was no longer trailing behind me.

“Dang it, Robby! Where are you?” I yelled.

“Up here!” came a yell from a maple a piece back toward home.

“Get down! Momma says you’re always in trees. You’re gonna get full of chiggers, too.” That seemed to work and he started climbing down as I came nearer.

“Where did you put your books and clothes?”

“Over there. He nodded with his head.”

“Robby, I don’t see your work clothes!”

“Didn’t bring ’em.”

“What! You’re so going to get in trouble. You’re going to get your good clothes all dirty and green. Then Momma’s going to fuss at me,” I looked at him angrily.

“Aw, I’m tired of carryin’ ’em.”

“You got to carry your books, so what’s the big deal carryin’ a shirt and pants too?”

“I don’t need ’em. You’ll see. I promise: I won’t get my clothes dirty.”

I wasn’t so sure. I huffed my disapproval and started walking faster toward school. I figured I was doomed, but he was right so many times when he said he could do something. I held out a little hope.

It was so hot that afternoon as we walked slowly toward home and to the field of tobacco next door. We were tenant farmers now, since we lost our farm last year. What we now rented wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the home place where I was born. We had to carry water farther for the tobacco plants from the creek for these fields. Summer rains had been scarce this year. I felt as wilted as the plants under the scorching rays and the clay earth was like cement under my feet. At least the weeds weren’t thriving.

But the caterpillars, big hornworms, were monsters. Big, ugly green beasts that could devour a leaf in a singe day. After watering one section, we had to fill a couple buckets with a bit of kerosene from the can behind the barn. Then, one by one, pull them off, checking underneath the leaves too. It was all I could do not to gag as I quickly grabbed their swollen bodies and tossed them into the bucket. If we saw any stray leaf shoots growing off the plants as we worked, we broke them off too. When finished, we were a green, sweaty, dirty mess of a kid.

“Robby, now how are you going to keep your school clothes clean?” I looked doubtfully at him. He nimbly dodged the plants as we watered them. Maybe he really can do this, I thought to myself with growing admiration. I had changed mine behind a tree.

Then the bug-picking began and I lost sight of Robby in the 4 ft tall plants. I had to transport myself mentally to forget as best I could what I was actually doing. Periodically I hollered out for him and he answered me. Once, I heard a car on the gravel road near the field slow down and someone laughing and shouting out a window, “What in……Hey boy, you hot out there or somethin’?” Good thing he hasn’t run off to climb a tree, I thought. I was so relieved to hear Momma ringing the dinner bell for us to come in.

“Robby, d’ya hear that?” I yelled.

“Yeah. Uh, you go on,” he said so quietly, I almost couldn’t hear him.

“What’s wrong? You didn’t get your clothes all dirty did you?”

“Uh, no………they’re clean.”

“Well, then, come on!”

“I need a minute.”

“For what?”

“Nothin’. Tell Momma I’ll be there in a minute.”

It wasn’t far at all to the house, after rounding the barn. I went on and cleaned up at the water spigot near the back door by the kitchen.

Momma and Daddy had just sat down at the table when I came in. I explained that Robby would be coming soon. We waited.

“I’m going to say grace. That boy will have to eat his food cold,” Daddy said and then proceeded to say his usually lengthy grace. I just barely heard the door close. and the chair scoot on the floor.

“Amen.” We all opened our eyes.

“Good Lord in Heaven!” said Daddy with his eyes riveted on Robby. I stared in stunned silence with my mouth open. Momma put her hand to hers.

Robby’s face and arms were encased in red clay mud. Two eyes peered out with a surprised, innocent expression.

“I just got so hot workin’ outside. The mud felt cool. Pigs cool off that way, cows too. It really works!” he said triumphantly.

“You go outside this minute and clean that off. And don’t get any mud on those clean clothes neither,” Momma directed him.

He was gone a long time. As we were finishing up, the door eased open and a sheepish face appeared.

It was green. So were his arms. Apparently, so was his entire body.

Yep, I got fussed at, but not nearly as much as Robby. That boy had taken off all his clothes to avoid getting them dirty in the field. The tobacco leaf juice and the hornworms had succeed in coating his naked body in a green stain from head to toe. Realizing that, he had tried to disguise himself with mud.

In spite of the alternating scrubbing and spanking, scrubbing and spanking of his life he got that night, he stayed green for an entire week. He never left his work clothes at home again, but he still doesn’t listen to me.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual people in my family is probably not a coincidence, but nevertheless meant in love and good humor.

Leaky Pots

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Hi, my name is Gwendolyn, and I leak. No, I’m not talking about when I sneeze – that’s another blog. I’m talking about when I breathe. And guess what? You are leaky too.

It’s an often used analogy that emotionally, spiritually, or physically wounded people are “broken”. It’s so often used, because it accurately describes the way the heart feels after trauma and loss.

I clearly remember an acquaintance from many years ago. Our children were involved in school activities together. I thought to myself what a lovely person she was. I heard through the news and others months afterward that her husband, a soldier, had been killed. Some time later I ran into her at another event. I was startled by her appearance: There was a complete transformation. Grief had repainted her portrait. She was broken.

I’ve gotten to know her better since then and have noticed something very remarkable: She leaks. When you are near her, it spills over onto you. Through the gaping cracks flow grace and love.

We leak that with which we are filled. The hitch is that leaky people can’t stay filled. Because nature abhors a vacuum, we will be filled with something. What are your contents? You could choose one of these labels:

“Caution flammable” – Do you blow up when a spark of irritation gets too close?

“Contents under pressure” – Have you taken on too much?

“Not for human consumption” -Has bitterness made you poisonous to yourself and others?

Those who are initially filled with grief will at first leak sorrow, but after a time what leaks out will reflect the character of that person and becomes a choice. I want to be like my friend, who I now consider one of the most beautiful people I know. I want my brokenness to be a vehicle of grace. I want to spill out love. I want to be filled every day with forgiveness and leave a leaky trail behind me.