Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's the holidays. I have a thirteen year old daughter who is completely and totally driven by hormones and emotions. And I recently found out I had the big "M" going on. (Not malaria or meningitis. Either might be preferable to menopause). 

This is why I haven't blogged in a while. If this makes no sense to you - then just return to your everyday life. There is nothing for you here.

I have now been taking a tiny white pill every night for almost two weeks. And I'm coming up on the first twenty four hour mark of not crying. A record I have been keeping since early November. Dealing with depression is something I have unfortunately gotten used to in my life. Chronically. However- I recently hit a wall and realized something was really really really not right. 

Enter the tiny white pill. And hopefully some more even keeled emotions. (Well- for me, anyway...)

I'm sure some of you have concerns about taking hormones. I really don't want to hear about it right now. First of all- I trust my doctor and his judgement. Second of all-  I understand that there can be side effects - but there are also side effects to being locked in a padded room at Angola stringing Cheerios for recreation time due to the fact you threw a fourth grader through a window because he was tapping his pencil on his desk while you were teaching the words to "Frosty the Snowman". 

Suffice it to say that I've been a little on edge. 

(I actually have harmed no children at all while teaching happy holiday songs this season. Only because I have Jesus in my heart.)

I do not look nearly as beautiful and stricken as Olivia Walton did when she went through the change in 55 minutes, including commercial breaks. And I also haven't had Grandma to shoo away the bratty kids and give poetic explanation about the "seasons of life" while sappy music played in the background.

Before I make a spiritual point (which I surprisingly intend to do), I just want to share that our stupid cat has chewed through two iphone charger cords. While they were plugged in- charging. I cannot understand how this is possible without a fatality. I fully intend to force him to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in the next few days. Maybe the sound of Dennis Quaid drawling "that's fried pussycat" will open his eyes to the possible ramifications of cord chewing. It's worth a try, anyway. Those cords aren't free. 


Not long ago, I took an early morning drive through the frozen tundra. Or maybe just through frozen Louisiana parishes with exotic names like Catahoula and Tensas. Places that sound very impressive but are really just row upon row of crops and pasture land. I was on my way to pick up the kids after Thanksgiving break- driving from Alexandria to Meridian via Tallulah. I decided to listen to the New Young Messiah. Larnelle Harris was singing "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low". I have sung that song all my life. Quoted the verse all my life. But the Lord tapped me on the shoulder.

For the first time I considered the first part - that every valley shall be exalted. I've always focused on the mountains and hills being made low. That's a very nice thought for someone who has climbed up as many mountains as I have. Especially lately. 

But a valley being exalted. Hmm...

I've also been in my share of valleys. Some I have pitched head first into without really knowing what hit me till I woke up lying on the mirey bottom. Some I have slid down into gradually- bit by bit- trying desperately to avoid it, but still having to finally admit I was in a pit. 

There are all kinds of things I can do to try to cheer myself up. Lift my spirits. Keep my chin up. I have even learned through the years how to "pull myself up by my bootstraps". But to "be exalted"? That's something only my Almighty Father can do. 

As I drove through the frosty morning- He reminded me of how many times he has done just that- exalted my valleys. Raised up the bottom of the pit until I could look back and see how far He has brought me. Look ahead to see a future full of promise and hope- no matter what my circumstances. 

By the time Steve Green had his turn- singing "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth"- I had my hand and heart raised in praise. To the One I KNOW I shall see 'stand in the latter days upon the Earth'. 

Praise and thanksgiving to the One who exalts my valleys.

Gonna try now to charge up with my ONE remaining cord as the lights go out here in Pizza Hut Heights.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I've had people tell me that I am a patient person. No one who lives with me, however, has ever told me that. And with good reason.

Oh, I can be patient. I can deal with children and the elderly. Crazy people love me- and I will talk to them and enjoy the conversation for hours at a time. I can even be really good in a crisis. But when it's all over- have a stretcher ready. Cause I will just flat fall out.

And once my patience has run thin, there's a good chance I'm going to pitch a fit. Nine times out of ten, the fit is over some silly issue that means little to nothing. It's just the straw that breaks the camel's back. And I can pitch an impressive fit. A snot slinging, hillbilly, bawling, stomping, hollering out fit. 

There's just nothing that makes me feel quite as Godly as one of those. Not.

I usually sit down when it's all over and just survey the damage: crying kids, stunned dog, disgusted cat. And sometimes I even manage to include a friend in the incredulous audience, which heightens the embarrassment. It's a sick feeling, that post-fit nausea.

This evening one of my dear young friends said "I'm just tired of acting like an idiot". In my infinite wisdom I replied, "then just stop. Don't do it anymore." Yeah, Sandybunn- it's just that simple. Good grief, Paul wrote an entire chapter of the greatest book in the Bible about how it's NOT just that simple (see Romans 7).

I cherish something written in the handwriting of someone I love. I'm all about texts and Facebook messages- but something in beloved handwriting can bring a tear so quickly. There's something soooo special about handwriting that is familiar. Over eight years after she's gone- seeing something in Mama's handwriting brings a catch in my throat. A lot of things in life are sealed with a signature.

Can you imagine holding something in your hand that was written in the personal handwriting of God? Let that sink in a minute while you read Exodus 32:15-16: "Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. These tablets were God's work; the words on them were written by God himself." 

Wow. Bet those are in the International Museum of the Bible.

Except they're not.

Somewhere in the desert- under layers and layers of hot sand blown for hundreds of years- lie shards and fragments of stone that have on them the HANDWRITING OF ALMIGHTY GOD.

Fragments and shards...because Moses pitched a wall-eyed hissy fit, threw them down, and smashed them.

Yes. Really.

Now I know what some of you Bible scholars are thinking. Yes- but it was righteous indignation. He was furious that the people had busied themselves with making and worshipping the original Chick fil a cow. Only it was really a golden calf. And Moses was fresh from the mountain where he had visited with the Lord face to face- and he could not imagine the people creating and honoring such a ridiculous substitute.

But the fact remains- he pitched a hissy fit. And smashed the tablets that The Lord had written on HIMSELF. 

(Plus- they were front AND back- which we are all impressed with- after having to endure some assignment in high school English, which we decided we could probably stretch out to be four pages. Until she said it had to be front AND back. Sigh.)

Well, the rest of chapter 32 continues the story. It's a doozy- take time to read it for yourself. It's filled with a ridiculous rendition of the calf incident by Aaron, accounts of Moses running back to God on behalf of the people- while also trying his hardest to make the people understand just how terrible they had sinned. There was also the obligatory "great plague" that God sent to once again try to inspire this bunch of slow learners to get things straight.

Only they weren't slow learners. Just humans, trying hard to fill in the gaps in their hearts and lives with something other than Him. Just like I do so very often. And even if I've never smashed tablets written on by God- I have smashed spirits and emotions and relationships around me during my hissy fits. I've probably even hurt the dog's feelings.

Chapter 33 is great too- filled with repentance and clothes renting and mourning and no more jewelry wearing (of course they had probably melted most of it, anyway). There are a couple of incredible phrases in chapter 33- like "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (v.11) and "I look favorably on you, and I know you by name" which God said to Moses in v. 17. 

The Lord's forgiveness and restoration is already being shown. But the part I can't wait to share right now is at the beginning of chapter 34. The Lord tells Moses to chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. MOSES does the chiseling. The God of the universe- who fashioned mountain ranges and oceans with his hand, could have whipped up a couple of stone tablets pretty quick- I'm guessing. 

But the Lord made Moses do it. And I'm willing to bet that while he was chiseling away- he had plenty of time to think about what he had smashed. And I'm sure all that chiseling was hard work. Not fun at all. Yet, the whole time he was doing it- he had to be thankful that His Father gave him another chance. Just like He always does.

Moses got new tablets.

I'm so thankful that I get a new tablet. Every time I mess up, pitch a fit, lash out, or simply act like an idiot- I get a new tablet. It's there for the asking, thanks to the incredible gift of forgiveness and new beginnings we have in Christ.

Always, always another chance. What a gift...

And the lights go out on another night here in Pizza Hut Heights.

Sleep tight, y'all. Tomorrow is a fresh tablet! What will you write on yours?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

We walked out of the house Sunday morning and I was hit with a blast of cold air. 

Except that we have not moved - we still live in Louisiana, so what I am referring to is an outdoor temperature of 53 degrees. Heavenly. And compared to the recent norm of 99 degrees and 450 percent humidity - it WAS cold air.

My favorite moment of the year. The annual "magic cold front" that inspires me beyond words. By the time Matthew and I arrived at church in Alexandria, I had committed to memorize the book of Psalms, lose 100 pounds, exercise aerobically for 45 minutes a day, save 30 percent of my income, and use only kind words and gentle redirection while speaking to my children.

It's the kind of weather that really makes me feel like I can do it. All.

At least, I felt that way until we got halfway across the church parking lot and Matthew kicked a rock. On purpose. Just to see how far it would go. By the time I finished my tirade about God's house, other people's property, and potential harm to others- I realized that I had set the bar a little high. 

Matthew is currently discouraged with the immense stress of third grade. Because "once you learn something new- they don't even give you time to be happy about it. There's something else you already have to work on." This is based on his experience of "I FINALLY passed my twos test (timed multiplication) and do you KNOW what they gave us the next day, Mama?? Threes. The very next day!"

I haven't had the heart to tell him that is pretty much how life works. And I'm waiting for him to realize what comes after the threes....

I myself had bought into this panic, picturing months of after school math fact practice (about as appealing as oral surgery). Then my years of higher education kicked in- and I realized that the more we learn- the more he already knows. For example: when we get to the sixes, he already knows all the facts through 6 times 5. So we just have four to learn. 

If this confuses you, please don't give yourself as hard time. I realize that I am a mathematical genius, and cannot expect the majority of the population to keep up. (Yes- that is sarcasm.)

The only thing I have to make sure he understands is that 6 times 2 is the SAME fact as 2 times 6. Same knowledge- he just has to look at it a different way.

Then it dawned on me that this is pretty much how life works. The same snares trip me up- over and over and over and over. But until I learn to look at things in a different way, I will continue to be tripped up. 

(Much like the time I was tripped up by orange plastic construction fence webbing and fell for two blocks through downtown Ruston. Yes, "through". Bringing several hundred feet of the webbing down with me- along with the plastic cones it was attached to, and the dog, and Matthew. Who commented "Wow, Mama. It sure did take you a long time to actually get through falling and land."

Just your mental image chuckle for the day.

You're welcome.)

I pray that the Lord will open my eyes to realize that there is a LOT He has taught me. And that He expects me to use every bit of it. EVERY bit. His education is continuing. I need to hide the lessons He teaches me in my heart, and be ready to use it in new ways. Or, for goodness sakes, just use it to keep myself from making the SAME mistakes over and over again.

That's as deep as it's getting today, y'all. Because I have a yucky cold,  all three of us are wearing our clean clothes (as in...our ONLY clean clothes), and....

Gotta learn these threes. The fours are coming....

Happy October from Pizza Hut Heights!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

If y'all tuned in today for a deep spiritual thought- you might as well hop over to another blog. Because that is just not the kind of day we're having around here. But, then again - after the week we've had, I think it is nothing short of a miracle that we are all in the same place at the same time and there is no fight going on. In fact - we're having a lot of fun.

By the way- everyone within the sound of my voice is cordially invited to come hear Zeb Mathews in a mini-concert at Twin Bridges Baptist Church in Alexandria. For tickets, call 1-888-HEARZEB or visit ticketmaster.com.

Not really- but just give this boy a few years, y'all:

It's been a great hand-me-down day for Matthew. Thanks to Toby, he now can dress in camo from head to toe. Rendering him practically invisible. (Except for the noise). He is also sporting a pair of Toby's outgrown boots- a contribution that was very quickly regretted, since they are a size and a half too big for him and he sounds like a herd of Clydesdales stomping through the house. But he's looking good...

And here's Grace and Sadie. Cute little resemblance here, huh?

And here we have Mike Wysowski's girlfriend. An image created during the inevitable digression of our time management skills called "Cam Wow".

So that's where we are, y'all. But you know what? Most of my happiest memories happened on regular, hanging-out, relaxing Saturdays. We plan and orchestrate special occasions in our lives- but the everyday moments hold the treasures.

I hope y'all have had a great Saturday too. Especially the 16 people in Indonesia who have visited my blog. That just amazes me - but then, a lot amazes me. An eternal childlike viewpoint of things IS one of the things I enjoy about myself. It just makes life a lot more fun.

This is Sandybunn, reporting live from Albert Street for The News From Pizza Hut Heights.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ok y'all- I'm pretty sure Satan is reading my blog. 

And I'm pretty sure I've pissed him off. 

(If my use of the phrase "pissed off" offends you - it's another warning bell that you're on the wrong blog. Just saying.)

My pal loves to remind me that I'm a slow learner. And in sooooooooo many ways - this is the truth. For years...and years...and years- friends have been telling me to write. Many, many people. And now that I've had a small glimpse that my words may actually be encouraging others who read them - I'm dumbfounded. 

Writing is like playing the piano for me - it comes from my heart. From a place that I KNOW is the Lord. I go back and read stuff I've written, and it speaks to ME. That's just hilariously ironic to me. 

I can remember many times that I've heard someone talk about how they could tell the Lord was using them and working in their life because Satan was obviously working against them. I would wistfully think, "wow - I wish that would happen to me. It would be so neat to feel that something I was doing for Him was important enough to rile up Satan". 

That was an incredibly stupid thing to wistfully think.

And apparently, to use the phrase "life is good" in a blog is incredibly stupid, too. 

Because that was day before yesterday, and by today life is SO "not good" that I've lost two pounds in two days and I have pretty good proof that it was two pounds of snot and tears.

Plus - remember my tendency to holler out things at my kids that I would NOT want everyone in the world to read? Yeah, that. 

"Above all, put on love". What a joke, Sandy.

It's been a rough couple of days. 

Last night as I leaked out another gallon of tears onto my pillowcase- the thought crossed my mind to post a prayer request on Facebook. I was going to say: "if you know me, please pray for me". I immediately decided not to. After all - my Facebook friends have seen that I've posted a blog about my life. Some have said it encouraged them. How in the world would it look for me to post a whiny-butt prayer request?

Just then the Lord near about popped my jaws. 

(That sentence right there is a product of my rich Southern heritage. A heritage in which the phrase "near about" means "almost" but just says it better. And how many times did I hear Mama threaten to "pop my jaws"? I don't think she ever actually did it - but the sound of it was ominous enough to right the wayward soul.)

Anyway, I use that slightly irreverent analogy to describe a stab of conviction so sharp and painful, it was almost like a slap to my spirit. I am never more than one small step from certain ruin. The instant I think that even for a brief moment I am capable of anything - ANYTHING in my own strength, I have crashed and burned. 

Life IS good - even when it's not good, if it is the life He gives. A life where struggles can be shared and miraculously find new life as encouragement. Where lifting someone else up in prayer also lifts us up, because time spent talking with Him about anything is NOT "time well spent"- it's the preview of eternity.

Only through His strength is there any hope. Satan is alive and well, and would love nothing more than to silence even a small, pitiful voice like mine that speaks of the hope that IS found in His strength. So pray away, my sweet friends. Anytime. 

And you might want to reeeeeeally step it up tonight, y'all. I'm pretty sure Satan won't be pinning this blog entry on his "My Favorite Things" board on Pinterest.

And the lights go out on another day here in Pizza Hut Heights.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My kids and I went to visit our friends in Benton this weekend. We enjoyed the belated birthday celebration for Matthew (complete with grilled chicken and all the fixings – including a cornbread salad that is worthy of its own blog entry), lots of fun, tons of laughter, and... the bathrooms.

Yes – the concept of a house containing four bathrooms is almost too much for us. Something about everyone getting to do their business at the same time – each on their own private throne – is just simply fascinating after a year here at the Heights.

(I totally understand the investment wisdom and resale value effect of owning a home with this many facilities. However – ownership of a home of this magnitude does rob a family of the camaraderie of a good rousing game of “Who Has To Go The Worst And Therefore Gets The Bathroom First” each time the family car pulls into the driveway. So, it’s all about what you really want out of life, y’all.)

Three years and three days ago I packed the minivan with enough clothes for a week, added my kids, and left our house in Georgia for a much-needed visit in Ruston. What I didn’t know as I left was that I would never return. There are those who will never believe that I didn’t plan it that way. But I didn’t. In an odd way –I was more surprised than anybody over the way things turned out. While I was away from the difficult situation, the Lord opened my eyes to the reality of how things truly were. Confiding in wise friends for counsel and a session with a Christian counselor defined the line drawn in the sand. Things. Were. Not. Right.

It has not been easy. And if I could have looked ahead to see just how hard things were going to be – I probably would have just dropped dead with dread. However, the thing I cannot explain is the wonder of His Provision. As I made decisions that went against everything I wanted for my life and the lives of my children – He never left me. Every time there was a question or a doubt – He provided unexplainable confirmations. Provided comfort when I was so hurt and shattered. Provided a shoulder to cry on when I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer.

(By the way – “holding in tears” is NOT my spiritual gift.)

Anyway – the road has not been a straight line, and it has not been smooth. I have learned to trust my gut. That feeling in the pit of my stomach that screamed “Something is not right. You can’t go on this way. Listen. Listen. LISTEN.” That same gut feeling has whispered from behind, from the left, and from the right – guiding and shepherding me like an internal compass.

And so, here I sit. A divorced mother of two with a Southern Baptist seminary degree that is about as useful as a certificate of attendance at a juggling expo.

Yet life is good – or at least well on the way to being good. I could have never dreamed I could approach each day with the joy and expectation that I do. Being a music teacher is something that I feel was inside me all along – just waiting for the right time to come to the surface. To see my precious kids have the opportunity to grow in freedom and happiness makes every scar worth the pain.

Every single relationship and experience in my life has filled in the gaps and crevices of the puzzle to make my life what it is today. Many of you reading are part of that beautiful tapestry. Some of you might not agree with or support the path my situation has led me down – and I understand and respect that. You see, there was a time not so long ago that I would have shaken my head in pity and concern at a woman who made the series of decisions that I made. But my experience has taught me a deep, cutting lesson: You never, never know what a person is enduring behind the scenes. You never know the agony in a soul that rises to the surface at night in the dark and the silence. You never know.

In my typical style of being very concerned with things that really don’t matter all that much – there is one thing that I am almost obsessed with losing. My set of fine china – most place settings purchased by people who knew and loved me since before I was born – was lost to me. There are countless other things that are much more practical that I could yearn for, but the remembrance of those beautiful plates with the navy and gold edging and the cups that felt so elegant in my hand seldom ceases to bring tears to my eyes. There are other dishes to be had – and I vow to buy myself some one day soon. The thing that breaks my heart is that we ate on these dishes maybe a dozen times. I was saving them for special occasions. They never came.

Don’t save the beautiful things in life for special occasions. Pour beauty and laughter and love generously into every moment. Every moment you breathe and laugh and love is worth celebrating.

The sun is still shining on this beautiful fall day here in Pizza Hut Heights. But the lights will be going out early tonight.

After we all have one last turn in THE bathroom.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This afternoon Coach Barmore posted a picture on Facebook of Mr. Holder.

Mr. Holder was my art teacher at Cedar Creek. As a child in his classroom, I thought of him as really old. And apparently he was, because he is now 92. My memories of him involve the smell of oil pastels, the confusion over using something to draw with that was impossible to erase (a charcoal pencil), and the taste of plaster of Paris powder.

(I'm sure it wasn't supposed to get in my mouth- but it did- because right now as I sit here typing I can feel and taste that sharp, chalky tang.)

I'm sure Mr. Holder has no memory whatsoever of me. There is no doubt in my mind that I was the most nondescript, nontalented art student the poor man ever had cross his classroom threshold.

It's forty years later- and I still haven't hit one developmental milestone artistically. When I wrote curriculum for Lifeway Christian Resources, my most HATED part of the process was the art suggestions. This was where (hypothetically) we sketched out the artwork and teaching picture ideas. (In referring to my own work, I use the term "sketch" loosely.)  I'm convinced there was a group of art consultants who gathered eagerly in some ninth floor office in downtown Nashville to await the arrival of my units- because of how hilarious my drawing attempts were. They probably popped a big bowl of popcorn and settled down for a bigger laugh-fest than the latest Madea movie.

 According to me- Bible times consisted of a bunch of stick men running around  with heads that were a cross between Wolfman Jack and the Cowardly Lion. (I always gave Jesus the respect He deserved - a big arrow pointing at him with "Jesus" printed above it. Just so they would know to quit laughing for a second.)

(By the way - my lack of artistic ability is absolutely no reflection on Mr. Holder. Since he's still alive and running around out there - I just wanted to get that straight.)

The point is - I would have never guessed Mr. Holder was still alive. Yet he has lived nearly HALF his life SINCE the days I would have pegged him as ancient. Back when I would have guessed he was nearly to the finish line - he was just getting in his groove.

In sharp, sorrowful contrast - we all felt the damp cloud of hurt tonight at church. The death of our pastor is still a fresh wound, with the healing tendrils of time just beginning to grow across the memories. And now another young man joins him on the other side of the veil. Fifty years old. Young, vibrant, in the prime of his life. Except that his earthly life ended yesterday.

It's very sobering for a peer to die. When you remember riding the bus on youth trips with someone - it's hitting close to home to realize their time on Earth is over.

It makes me wonder - how differently would I live my life, TOMORROW, if I knew I was beginning the last month of my days? Would the things I consider important really deserve any priority? What would I cut out of my schedule? What would I make sure I paid attention to diligently every waking moment?

On the other hand- how differently would I live if I knew tomorrow was just the beginning of the last half of my days? Would I be quite so discouraged over starting a new career at forty-seven? Would I give in quite so often to fatigue - or work harder to condition my body to be healthy for the next fifty years?

The fact is - either of these could be the case. Any one of the doctor's appointments on my calendar could slam me in the face with unbelievably horrible news. Devastatingly terrible odds. Or....I could outlive the doctors I trust with my care. Might find myself looking for a new doctor in a few years (probably one young enough to be my grandchild).

Uncertainty. We all live with it every day. My prayer is that uncertainty will inspire me to capture every droplet of joy in every moment. "Making the best use of my time, because the days are evil." Eph. 5:16.

But may uncertainty also give me the freedom and courage to find and try new things. The perspective to face the future with anticipation. The wisdom to plan and order my days in such a way that my life is a heritage for my kids - whether they watch me for another five years or another fifty.

You can count on Matthew to introduce a sliver of humor into almost any situation:

Yesterday when I picked him up from school - he updated me on the fact that his teacher's father-in-law was very, very sick. "I know" was my answer. "No, Mama - he is really sick. Like - he's so sick that they know he's going to die. So we really need to be praying for him." I agreed  - and we discussed the situation and prayed as we continued on our way home.

Last night I received a text informing me that my friend Greg - Matthew's teacher's father-in-law - had died. I quietly passed the news along to Matthew. He sat straight up in bed and exclaimed with sincere exasperation, "What? We didn't even get to pray for him that long!"

In his mind - the illness was new. Having just learned of it - he assumed it had just begun. He was obviously concerned that he did NOT have adequate time to approach the throne about this situation before it ended.

In a world full of uncertainty - I am constantly thankful for a Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

(I hate to break the news to Mr. Holder - but I don't think I will have developed much more artistically in another forty years. Guess I need to be looking for an illustrator if I'm going to keep writing...)

And the lights go out on another day here in Pizza Hut Heights.