Lost in Ranburne

Here in the thick of ball season with two kids involved and games most every weeknight, we don't always know where we're supposed to be in the evenings.

(On a side note, I've got this great, low-tech wall calendar, though. Sandra Boynton Mom's Family Calendar. Columns for each family member. I recommend it for busy households. BUT it only works if you copy the ball schedules onto it correctly, which I don't always do.) ANYWAY...

Last night, my husband and I were making the drive to an away game in Ranburne, AL. My son and his teammate who needed a ride were in the backseat, and daughter and baby were in the middle seats. It was a noisy van. Music on the radio. Exuberant conversations going on, like, "If an elephant and a rhino got in a fight, who would win?" "The rhino! He could stab the elephant!" "Raise your hand if you like Mr. Pibb!" "Yessss!!! I LOVE Mr. Pibb!" And the baby chanting: "Bay-ball game! Bay-ball game! Buzzer!" Then the constant correction from his siblings: "No! Buzzers are at basketball games!"

Ooooo-kay. Let's just get there fast, please? I'm ready to get out now.

We'd been to Ranburne a few times before. Not somewhere we go every day. The drive over there is very pretty, especially around sunset, but most of it looks like this...

It looks like that for miles. We thought we kind of knew where we were going. We knew enough to think we could at least figure it out. Just a few turns here and there, and you can make it to the little town. But obviously, there's not a lot of landmarks. You just have to know the way.

"I think we need to turn right, here by these houses," said my husband.

"Oh yeah, this is it. Definitely. I remember," I said.

"No," said our daughter from the backseat. "I don't think we're supposed to go this way!"

"Yes we are," I said. "We know what we're doing."

Yeah, we thought we were so smart until we crossed into Georgia and got behind a chicken truck with no place to turn around. By that time, I was starting to feel the tightening of stress and irritation in my chest (A chicken truck? Really? Right now?!?), because the game was supposed to start in 10 minutes, and we had two little players in the backseat who needed us to get them there, and we had no idea where we were.

All we did know was that we were lost, stuck, going too slow in the wrong state, and on a deadline.

Have you ever felt that way? Lost and stuck - not understanding where you are, how you got there, or how you'll get back?

I have.

It's the worst feeling in the world. I've hated it ever since I was little. "Are we lost, daddy?" I'd ask in the car whenever we found ourselves off the beaten path. "Yes, Jennifer, we're lost," he'd answer me, honestly. "Lost?!? OH NOOO!" I'd wail. Then mom and dad would reassure me that we would get back to the main road, eventually.

I've felt lost in more serious ways, too. I've crossed over lines into the lostness of anxiety and despair before, and those places stink much worse than chicken trucks. They trick you into thinking that the path you need, the path you used to walk on, the path you long for, won't ever be found again. That you don't have any hope of getting out from behind the lumbering, stinking truck that's obstructing your view of the road ahead and impeding your life. An obstruction so large that you cannot see anything else around you - no signs, no landmarks, no help.

But you know what? I found that was a complete lie. We have a Shepherd who doesn't let us stay lost. Jesus said He would leave 99 sheep to go find the one who got away, the one in need, the one who is stuck on his back. Ninety-nine! You know who those 99 are? The "everybody else's" in your life. Everybody else seems happy. Everybody else has it together. Everybody else is pinning glorious crafts and posting perfection on Pinterest. Every other sheep is grazing in the field, and they seem to be happy, settled, and full.

But here I am, you think, I'm the one that's different, way out here on a ledge, in a difficult situation that the "everybody else's" could not possibly understand.

There's One who does. His staff is long enough to reach and to deliver. Isaiah 59:1 says, "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear."

My husband was feeling the stress, too, in our roaming and lostness yesterday - because I heard him mutter one of those, "God please help us find this place," prayers under his breath.

Shortly thereafter, a gorgeous gas station loomed before us. I implored him to stop and ask directions, and I think we were about to get into the husband/wife conflict borne from time immemorial - until we noticed the "Alabama the Beautiful" state sign just to our left - and the Ranburne city limit sign just past it.


The swagger-wagon minivan came screeching into the Ranburne sports complex on two wheels, Farris-style. The little players arrived at their game with two minutes to spare.

We feel lost, but we get found.

There's always a way back.

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5K Grace

This is a story about grace. Unexpected grace that somebody unexpected bestowed upon my unsuspecting children.

Late last night, I was beyond tired. My bed was beckoning me loudly. But a conflict was unfolding before my very own bloodshot eyes, and I was going to have to deal with it.

Our 11-year-old daughter was earnestly petitioning us for permission to run in the PTO 5K in the morning. We were reluctant to cave in. She had a softball game to play in the afternoon. Run a 5K and then play? No, we don't think so, honey. And we know best. You can run in the Kid Run. It's only a mile, but that one would be better for you.

"PLEASE mom and dad, PLEEEEEEASE!!!! I can do it! Really, I can!" Then the tears started up. They really got rolling.

Her dad and I were giving each other the "let's-be-firm" look behind her back. A united parental front.

The child was passionately desiring to run, and run big, and she had her reasons why - reasons I won't share here. We listened. We understood. The united parental front is usually pretty effective, but last night, it crumbled. It caved. It totally crashed to the ground with a resounding thud.

I crawled into bed analyzing everything about our parenting. Ok, so we said no...and then there was drama - and we caved? Did we really just cave? We're not supposed to cave! But there were things going on in her that needed to be respected and heard.  Sometimes - yes, sometimes - caving is justified. Extenuating circumstances, you see.

So early this morning, set free with the welcome news of the cancellation of her softball game, she and her 8-year-old brother showed up at the race, raring to go like Kentucky Derby horses snorting and stomping in their pens. Because if she was going to do it, he sure enough was going to do it too. We warned them to pace themselves, not to expend all their energy at once, but they blasted out of the gate like rockets.

They're going to burn out, I thought. And burn out quickly.

So we waited at the finish line, eyes peering down the hill, watching for the first runners who would round the bend and begin the long climb to victory.

"Look, here they come!" someone said. Little figures chugging forth in fluorescent green shirts. They were so far away, we couldn't make out who they were.

Then..."Is that her?" my husband asked the air.

"Is that him?" I asked a second later, dumbfounded.

No way, I thought. How could they possibly be in the lead? And then I saw. There was a man steadily jogging closely behind them. He was a real runner, you could tell. One who could very easily blow past both of them and claim the trophy. I'm sure many competitive runners would have done just that. He was someone experienced, someone who deserved it, someone who no doubt had run in these things before - probably lots of them.

But my daughter crossed the finish line first, and my son followed her, and that kind, gracious runnerman finished in third place. He helped us the whole way, they gushed to us later. He told us how to let the momentum carry us when we go down hills! He told us how to breathe and how to use our arms!

It reminded me of Lightning McQueen, the Cars hero who helped someone else finish the race first because he saw a bigger picture - and because he looked beyond himself.

That guy gave my children a memory that they'll carry for their whole lives, one that could very well inspire them to run further, run harder, and run faster into their futures. And after I finished posting the proud, obligatory pictures of "my first and second place winners," I saw this...

Thank you so much, Mr. Runnerman, for your Lightning McQueen spirit - and for extending that grace to my kids. They won't ever forget it, and neither will I.

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The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me

The sweltering Alabama August was weighing heavily on my heavily pregnant body in 2006. The swirling thoughts and emotions common to every expectant mother about to pop were part of my daily existence. How? How was I going to do this? How much longer? I had done it before, but that didn't seem to matter right then. The fact was that I was going to have to do it again.

Hard to think about anything else.

I waddled on.

One Sunday evening, my almost 3-year-old daughter and I got out of the car in the church parking lot there in Opelika. She hopped out, I rolled out. We could smell the dampness on the pavement from the clearing rain. She grabbed my hand and we began to walk together. There, up in the sky before us, was a rainbow stretching down behind the steeple. She looked up and said to me, "God knew we needed a rainbow."

Oh yes! How He knew. The promise, the sign. The sign to all the world. And a sign to my own heart. I kept it and never forgot it.

The very next day, our first son was born.

Almost nine years later, my family and I stood in another wet-smelling parking lot, this time in Oxford, Alabama, this time with another little son in tow. We were celebrating my husband's birthday at a restaurant there, and we had walked out at sunset time, happy and full of steak and potatoes, with the clappy, embarrassing birthday song of the servers still ringing in our heads.

We gasped. A bright, enormous rainbow - stretching end to end all the way across the sky, right there over Target and TJ Maxx - said hello to us. With a double band of color at one end as a bonus. You had to gasp at its glory. People around us pointing up, strangers smiling at each other, everyone pointing camera phones upward (because that's just what you do now), everyone reveling together in those sunset-soaked moments of God's sky painting.

"Glory to God," I said quietly.

A woman standing nearby must have heard. "Amen," she said. "Thank you, Jesus." I turned to my right. She had beautiful black skin and was dressed in white.

"It's a sign," she said. "It's a sign we need to come together."

I looked right in this stranger's eyes. "Amen," I said, still quietly, holding her gaze. I knew exactly what she meant, and she saw my understanding and agreement. This is Alabama. These are trying days that our nation is experiencing. There's history, there's baggage - but look - there's a rainbow up there. There's the Lord. He did that for us. He's the Way.

Kermit sang it in The Rainbow Connection, "All of us under its spell...we know that it's probably magic." It really was the rainbow connection. How else could two strangers stand together in a parking lot, share very brief words, and just get it?

"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me..."

Rainbows only last for a little bit before they fade away like an ember. You have this bittersweet feeling that you wish it would just stay there plastered up in the sky forever, making TJ Maxx look infinitely more awesome, but you know it's going to be gone in minutes. A bubble that floats away and pops. Melting Alabama snow. A butterfly you can't catch.

God designed rainbows to be that way. I'm sure he has his own reasons for making them last moments rather than hours or days. Look up - this is special. Look up - this is important. Look up - pay attention. Pay attention right now, or you will miss it. Look up - this is my promise.

And he says it with loudly brilliant, silent, temporary color. A declaration that doesn't even have to say a word.

That's the rainbow connection.

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A Hole in the Puzzle Part 2

Baby is pulling my shorts leg. He's learned how to make things happen. And we're walking, we're walking... to...where else? The pantry. Of course we are.

"Uhn," he grunts, gesturing for me to open the pantry door, and I oblige him. "Uhn," he grunts again, reaching toward the third shelf, where the gigantic box of Goldfish sits just out of his reach. For emphasis, he removes his pacifier and throws it down into the floor of the pantry along with his little blanket, making a bold statement that his mouth is not occupied by silicone anymore and is ready and able to receive morsels of goodness instead.

"OK, you can have some Goldfish," I tell him. "But pick up your paci and blanky, please."

Fixated on the Goldfish box, he does not oblige me. So I lean down to pick up the cast-off items myself, grab the Goldfish, and set everything on the kitchen counter.

I look back down at baby, and he's fiddling with something on the kitchen floor.

"What's that?" I say.

He picks it up and hands it to me.

Oh. My. Word.

If you read last week's post, you will understand why I stared slack-jawed at the puzzle piece in my hand.

I really don't know how the piece made it to the kitchen floor. I thought it was long gone. Possibly flushed. But apparently it may have been residing in the floor of the pantry for the past week alongside potatoes and onions, and my act of picking up blanky may have rescued it and brought it forth. The way bits and pieces of little objects and little nothings float around our house is always so mysterious.

All I know for sure is that my missing piece came back to me from the chubby, dimpled hand of my son. Thank God I had not dismantled the Wysocki yet. So I immediately went and did this...

And I relished punching the checkerboard into its place. Very lightly but very resolutely. That can't be anything but good.

Does this turn of events negate my earlier post? On the contrary.

Being made whole...in time...is part of the big picture.

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A Hole in the Puzzle

Hunting all over for the right puzzle piece. The one with just a little bit of red sign on it, mostly green grass, and some yellow leaves from that tree behind the building. It needs to go in that hole. That hole right there. The hole that's been bugging me for a good while now, gaping wide in that area of the puzzle, taunting me. Everything else around it, done. Pretty. Smooth. Fitting. Complete.

Ah, I see it! There's that booger! The renegade piece.

Then that feeling of lightly punching the booger into its place. The feeling that makes you want to go, "BOOYAH! Behold. I am the conqueror."

I love puzzles. Not the stupid kind - the kind that are a gajillion pieces and are a low quality, boring photograph of a yellow puppy. On a blue background. So that means all your pieces are either yellow fur or sea of nothingness. Who would ever...? No way, man.

The Wysocki puzzles are the only ones worth any effort. Americana artwork. Colorful old-timey signs, storefronts, interesting antique things, horses and carriages, and cute little people on cobblestone streets. Most every piece gives you a clue to its home if you study it closely enough. And I always want to go there when I'm working on them. I want to jump in there and be the little happy people on the streets.

To be able to bring order out of chaos, to bring perfection out of brokenness, to make everything fit together like it should in the end. Oh, Wysocki puzzles, how I love thee...

But what happens when you spend hours on a 1000-piece Wysocki, and you're helped occasionally by children who like to work on the easy signage but nothing else, and when you're helped zero by your husband who would rather have a root canal, and when all the pieces at the end are falling into place - bam, bam, bam - and when all the positive chemicals are firing in your brain because you are SO almost there - and then...



Don't even pretend like you don't see that gaping hole. The checkerboard piece is nowhere to be found in my house. Not under the table, the curtains, or the chairs. It could very well be in baby's digestive tract at this point. But it's definitely gone forever, marring the completed picture. So that really irks me. 999 pieces is nice, but 1000 would be extraordinarily better because the puzzle would be whole. Instead, the hole seemingly prevents wholeness.

Well, you know what?


Yes, there's a hole in my puzzle, and I don't mind pointing it out. It's down there in the lower left corner. The picture isn't perfect. Not all of my i's are dotted, and not all of my t's are crossed. Maybe they used to be. Maybe I only thought they were. The metaphor looms large. Lots to learn about this. More to come.

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