Lawn Care

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Our yard looks awful.

There are several reasons for this.

One is that our lawn mower is broken. After being in the shop for a week, our mower finally came back tonight. Joe got home after dark and prepared to mow anyway, only to find that it STILL doesn’t work. While everyone else in our lovely neighborhood has been mowing their yards three or even four times, ours grows up in weeds halfway to my knees, as if our lot was abandoned and someone was just squatting in our house.

Another reason for the tangled meadow that is our yard is that we are not good at outside work. We are both bookish people, and while Joe actually had a part-time job mowing yards in high school, it should be noted that he also almost cut off his toe while doing said job. And while I did mow acres of grass with a push mower for my parents, and while I did work in their garden and have a fairly accurate assessment of what the difference is between a weed and a plant, I never notice the weeds until they are everywhere, and suddenly the job feels overwhelming.

The last reason is that we simply don’t care. We hate yard work. We hate thinking about it. We hate how much we don’t know about it. Everyone else seems to get it, and to enjoy it, and to have a natural ability to understand what needs to be done. I see them fertilizing their grass, and weedeating, and mulching. Their plants never look like overgrown jungles, and they don’t seem to waste hours of their weekend with unnecessary and futile fights with their landscaping. But I don’t want to waste even ten minutes, and when the appearance of my front yard is too embarrassing, I can still go into the house and shut the door and pretend the whole thing doesn’t exist.

I really only mind because I worry about what other people will say. I want to post a sign on the front door in block letters describing our mower problems and providing an estimated timeline for mower repairs. I want to scuttle in and out of my driveway like a crab, not making eye contact with anybody.

I feel like a failure as a grown-up.

But nights like tonight, when I have finally noticed the giant mess our front yard is, I have to remind myself to accept the grace and mercy God always gives. He doesn’t expect me to be perfect. I can rest in his grace. I can give myself grace with his help.

Nights like tonight remind me to extend grace to others. As I dread what others are probably saying about me, I am reminded not to be one who says things about others.

Nights like tonight remind me that in the long run, the state of my yard doesn’t say anything about my worth as a person. God doesn’t love me more because I mow or less because I don’t. He just loves, which sets me free to be the exact and only me that God ever made.

I’m not happy with my yard. But it seems like maybe I needed the reminders.

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My Favorite Author

It should be obvious by now that I love books. I read constantly and widely. I read before I go to bed and when I get up in the mornings, and any time in between where I can reasonably steal a few minutes to think. I read on long car trips, even with Joe glancing at me sideways and making “must be nice” noises while he drives. I read while the kids are watching TV. I read while we are at home on the couch watching sports. I’d read when we actually go to a sports event too, in the boring parts during time outs or changes of innings, but it would embarrass Joe, who says it should embarrass me.

It wouldn’t.

I’ve written about books here several times, and my guess is that there will be many, many more before I’m through writing here, but today I want to take a few minutes and write about my absolute favorite writer of all time. He’s brilliant and interesting; his writing is wonderful; and besides all that, he’s really cute. I’m talking, of course, about Joe Cox, also known as my husband.

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Joe’s books are pictured above, and while I posted this picture so you’d know titles to request immediately at your local bookseller, it is also obvious that he’s a sportswriter. His first books, some written with his friend Ryan Clark, are about the University of Kentucky basketball program, and he has continued to write about them at KYSportsStyle.com Magazine, and at Saturday Down South, where he also writes about all the other SEC teams and mostly focuses on football. His latest books are about baseball, including the newest one, A Fine Team Man, which just released in February this year.

You may think I’m biased. My husband is my favorite author? Surely I am just angling to get him to help out around the house more. Actually, he already does a ton of things around the house, and his writing is legitimately amazing. The following is a list of reasons for why he is my favorite author, and why he should be yours too.

  1. His writing is fun. I enjoy sports, thanks to him, but I’m not a mega fan of any team anymore. Somebody’s got to amuse kids so Joe can watch the games, and if the kids are occupied, that game is prime reading or napping time. But Joe makes a game live through his words, whether he’s writing about basketball, baseball, or football, and his sly commentary is funny and spot-on.

2. His writing is beautiful. For instance, look at this paragraph I love from the introduction to A Fine Team Man:

We cannot all be Jackie Robinson any more than we can all be Lincoln or Mother Teresa. However, I hope that A Fine Team Man offers some consolation to those of us whose destinies are in the dirt rather than in the stars. History is not made by the great people alone–it is made by ordinary people deciding to cast their support, their energy, and their friendship behind the great people. The title of this book is a phrase that befits Robinson, but which he actually wrote to his wife in describing Pee Wee Reese. Changing the world may be driven by a great leader, but over the course of seasons of baseball or seasons of life, it takes a team to follow that leader, to allow some part of themselves to be remade in that image of glory.

This paragraph preps me for reading this book, certainly, but it also brings me back to myself. For which leaders am I allowing myself to be remade? Am I choosing as wisely as these men (and one woman) did?

3.  He cares about his subject matter, which is, ultimately, people. His books have led          him to interview interesting people in a variety of different places and positions over      the years, people from basketball coaches and players to current and past baseball            players. He loved these people and was honored by the chance to talk to them. He still      rarely misses an opportunity to regale a random listener with stories of what great            men or women these interviewees were, and has worked to portray their stories in a        way that shows the world the beauty of who they are as people.

4.  Joe loves learning and is a brilliant researcher, which comes through clearly in his        writing. But he doesn’t seek to be the final answer on anything; he reaches for an              angle that he can develop, a new pool of thought into which he can bring us along on        a dive, which makes everything he writes engaging.

5.  His interests are broad and varied. He has ideas for writing that lead into music,            history, even fiction, and his mind is constantly reaching for new information. He              rivals me on reading, and his knowledge on a wide range of subjects always makes            him fascinating to talk to, and makes his next book–as yet unwritten–a total must-            read.

If you haven’t read anything by Joe Cox, what are you waiting for? I suggest beginning with his latest, A Fine Team Man, an exploration of Jackie Robinson’s unofficial team which made the great experiment of integration of Major League Baseball successful. With baseball season beginning, it’s a great way to start thinking about teams, and then you can move backward into Almost Perfect and Immaculate Inning, fun ways to help you look for cool feats during this season. By the time you’re done, basketball season will be on the horizon, and if you don’t know anything about the highly successful University of Kentucky basketball tradition, I know just the man to guide you on the way.

Get your copies wherever books are sold.

Spring Break

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Photo at Star Line Books in Chattanooga, Tennessee

It’s spring break, and I am relaxing into the deliciousness of free time in the middle of a crazy season, the excitement of endless possibilities. The freedom is intoxicating. What does a person do with all this time?

You could clean, but you also could watch a video, could take an online class, could wash laundry.

You could play the World Series of Crazy Eights, with your own voice broadcasting commentary, making your daughter giggle uncontrollably even as she loses.

You could have a leisurely Friday night dinner with your sister, talking about the things that are too real in both of your lives, witnessing and listening to each other’s lives. Laughing always, because laughter is the song you two sing, even when things are hard. You could eat handfuls of white chocolate birthday cake popcorn together in the car at Target parking lot with the car turned off, because it’s being with each other that matters, and you have both sworn off spending any more money.

You could spend hours reading a book you don’t totally like but don’t totally hate, having the time to think it through and consider. You could start a Bible study written by a new friend, lingering on the ideas and verses and prayers. You could read poetry again, picking up the slim Billy Collins book that has been on the coffee table since you bought it at Off Square Books last summer.

You could find a new rhythm of writing, exercising unused muscles until you write over the prescribed time and find yourself again enjoying what you’re creating. You could stretch out your journaling time, and suddenly your mind is brimming with new things to write about, when your journal lately has mostly contained a log of how much you slept.

You could play round after round of MarioKart while you catch up on podcasts.

You could listen to the audio of your daughter’s favorite book with her while you race down the interstate on a day trip, remembering how very beautiful it is. You could read a book with potty humor with your son, laughing at his uncontrollable giggles.

You could sprawl on the couch at night with your feet in your husband’s lap, your babies asleep in the next room, basketball on the TV, a good book by your side.

I’ll take it all–every bit of it, no exceptions. I am sliding into this rhythm of ordinary life and remembering what that means.

Sack Lunches

The day was typically gloomy. Rain poured outside, this time without the thunder that had boomed through most of the the afternoon. I was grateful to be inside with a book while the weather was so miserable. It feels like the rain is never-ending around here lately; we get a brief peek of sun, only to have the rain seep back in, trying to mold the edges of our minds.

But in the dining room, we turned all the lights on and spread tons of food around the table, making an assembly line. Today we were making sack lunches for the homeless ministry our church supports. This is the second year my daughter had signed us up to help, and she was thrilled to finally be assigned to make food.

Happy, excited chatter filled the air as my daughter shook out brown paper bags, and my husband made sandwiches. We passed the bags around the table, filling them with food and folding down the tops. My son worried about the people who would receive our food: What if they didn’t like what we had chosen? What if they had allergies?

It’s so easy to think that the decisions we make don’t matter, or that the ways in which we contribute are too small to make a difference. But we carry the fire for those who can’t always carry it themselves. I have no idea of the particular reasons or circumstances that brought these brothers and sisters homelessness, and I can’t fix it for them. But I can make a lunch. I can pray for them. I have something to give.

Sometimes I feel like what I have to give isn’t enough. This food didn’t cost us so much, in money or in time. Should we have bought more? What more could we have done to make it feel like we were sacrificing something? Should we have delivered it on our knees?

I think I have something of the old Roman Catholic in me, the desire to do penance. I have never been homeless, and while I am so grateful for that, does it mean I owe something extra to my brothers and sisters who are?

I watched my kids this afternoon, sliding fruit and packaged foods into bags, then folding down the tops and carefully sorting them into boxes. Their minds were occupied with the people who would receive this food, and on what they would think, how they would like it, on how it would help them. My mind was on me and on my sense of self-sacrifice. There’s a distinct separation here, and it’s yet another way that they have so much to teach me.

What I need to remember is that every action of service is important, that even when our gestures aren’t big, we give anyway. We give together, in community. We give in hope, for others, and for ourselves. In giving, we fight against the world’s attempt to mildew and ruin; we let the light of God’s grace renew out souls, and, hopefully, the souls of others.

Bad at Love

I have a confession: I’m bad at love.

I’m not talking about romantic love here, or about parental love. I think my husband and kids know that I’m wild about them, and they don’t seem to fall over with shock whenever I tell them so. I’m talking about other kinds of love, the kind of love that exists between friends, the sort of love that convinces other people you care about them and are the kind of person they can count on.

An example: Today, after our church service ended, my family and I walked out of church behind a family with whom we share a pew almost every Sunday. The parents are in our Sunday school class. The mom and I have been in Bible study together. She and one of her daughters follow me on Instagram. And yet, as they walked out just in front of us, they didn’t turn to look at us, and so I didn’t speak to them, and the moment, to me, felt fraught with awkwardness and shame.

It wouldn’t have taken so much, really. I could easily have leaned over, tapped my friend on the shoulder, and asked about her week while we moved through the crowd. It’s what I should have done. But instead, I followed so closely I could have whispered my greetings and she still probably would have heard it, and I didn’t say anything. Not one single word.

But I’m shy! Part of me wants to claim this old stand-by, and it’s true in a sense; I have always been quite shy. But I am 39 years old, and it’s getting late to still rely on that crutch. I stand in front of a classroom full of teenagers every day, seven classes actually, and I talk away with no problems. At some point, no matter how stupid it makes me feel, I have to quit telling myself how ridiculous the attempt to have these conversations makes me seem and just have the conversations anyway. I don’t want to be so precious about myself.

Besides, the truth is that the the real reason I didn’t speak to my friend on Sunday was because I thought probably she didn’t want to speak to me.

There’s always this voice in my head, reminding me that no one wants to hear what I have to say. My husband would tell me that it’s the voice of my exaggerated sense of self-importance, and he would remind me that no one is thinking about me as much as I am. All this is true, yet the feeling is hard to shake.

This is why I’m bad at love: you can’t love other people well while you’re only listening to how you sound. You can’t love other people well while you’re wondering if you are cool enough. You can’t love other people well while you’re constantly worrying about how you will be perceived.

Yet loving others is not a choice. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbor if it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable,” or “Love your neighbor as long as they probably won’t think you’re weird for it..” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If I spent half the time loving my neighbor that I did worrying about what my neighbor might be thinking about me, I wouldn’t be writing about being bad at love.

But I do have a choice–I can choose to change, and the only way I know to make that happen is to surrender these failures to Jesus. Despite my behavior at church today, I can already see the changes he is working in my heart, to help me let go of all the old things I have believed about myself and to let him say who I am. It’s a process, and Jesus helps me see that what I need to see is him. I don’t need to analyze and worry over what other people may think–not of what I eat, read, write, or wear. Not of whom I love or what my grades were or whether people like me. I just have to keep my eyes on Jesus, and follow all the exciting ways in which he leads me.

All this is easier said than done. It bothers me that Jesus says others will know us by our love when I hate to think what others must know me as. But I am learning, day by day, minute by minute, and I have faith that “Bad at Love” doesn’t have to be my life’s album title. Eventually, it can be just an old song that I used to sing.

Kentucky

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I live in Kentucky. I’ve lived in the same area for my whole life, minus a few just-married years when we lived in Louisville so my University of Kentucky loving husband could go to law school at the University of Louisville. (He was accepted both places and gave me the choice of where I wanted to live. He didn’t question me, but I’m not entirely sure he’s ever gotten over the fact that he is, technically, a U of L graduate.)

I haven’t always loved Kentucky as much as I do now. When I was younger, I was embarrassed that this state was my home. My family loved to travel, and when people found out where we were from, they might check our feet for shoes or compliment us on the great chicken. I’ll never forget a Florida cousin who let her boyfriend talk to me on the phone so he could find out what a southern person sounded like. Seriously–how much farther south than Florida can you get?

In fact, when my college roommate said that she couldn’t imagine living away from the green, rolling hills of Kentucky, I was genuinely surprised. Until then, I hadn’t realized anyone actually chose to live here. I figured Kentucky was just the place most of us had ended up, and it was easier to live here than to go somewhere else. Believe me, I had big plans to get out. I was hazy on where I wanted to go, but I knew Kentucky would not be my permanent address.

Enter Joe, who, like my college roommate, could not picture a life lived out of our home state. When I fell in love with him, I really didn’t mind giving up my plans to live elsewhere. Kentucky was fine; I knew all about it, and it was definitely easier to just live there and travel extensively. I didn’t hate Kentucky; it was just embarrassing, but it was the kind of embarrassing I was used to, kind of like my middle school pictures. I had memories here and people I loved. Kentucky was never my first choice, but Kentucky would do.

I didn’t imagine that I, too, could fall in love with Kentucky, after all those years.

My retirement dream is six months spent in each of the cities I love: New York, London, Paris, Charleston, any number of beach towns. But now I’d like to add six months in a tiny house nestled in a holler where I could watch the sun come up over the mountains, where I could walk out into my backyard barefoot at night to catch lightning bugs, where old women sit in camp chairs on their front yards, watching the day breathe out. I’d like six months back in Louisville, in the heart of the Highlands, where I could walk to Heine Brothers for morning coffee and wander down to a neighborhood bar with good music at night. I want six months on my grandfather’s farm, my face raised to catch the scent of hay and grass and livestock and life, with the echoes of gospel hymns from an old white country church in my ears.

My love for Kentucky came on gradually, and then all at once, like a really good book. The accent I once tried so hard to lose is now my favorite song, and I wouldn’t mind even a little bit if people knew me for my fried chicken, as long as I was using my grandmother’s recipe. Kentucky is the place where I’ve grown into a woman pretty satisfied with living in her own skin, and it’s where I’m raising a bookworm girl who loves to ride the four wheeler and eat french fries outside on a summer night at the local drive-in, and a wild man who would sleep outside if we let him. My people are contradictory and fierce and kind and full of laughter, trying to work through the complication that is other people and trying to keep reaching for God. It’s how I want to be, how I hope I am. I stand on the green grass, the rich farm soil. With God’s help, I’ll keep standing right here.

In Search of Stars

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When I found these shoes in the store, I thought, “Stars? Seriously? What am I, eight? Who would wear those?”

But of course, the answer is that I would wear those, and I would love them.

The stars have always been my favorite part of nature. I love late at night, crickets and frogs sounding, and a huge sky full of stars. It’s immensely calming to a girl who runs, runs, runs. Watching the stars reminds me of the God who loves me. He’s the same God who promised Abraham descendants beyond number. The God who spoke to Samuel in the night and called to shepherds in a field. The God who saw Hagar, and Leah, and all the other women. The God who sees me.

The sun is powerful and amazing, and it’s essential for life and all that, and a summer afternoon in the hammock is one of life’s good gifts. But the night sky is a mystery, impossible to fathom fully, and yet constant study will reveal some secrets. Night brings not only rest for the body but rest for the soul, rest that begins with deep gulps of evening air swallowed like wine while the eyes are filling with stars. It brings me hope, in all my unyielding, rule-following ways, for the person God created me to be.

Bring me all the stars. Bring me all the hope.