Friday, November 30, 2012


I have two friends who lost babies recently.

For both, these were unexpected pregnancies.  Absolutely crazy circumstances, physically.  Emotional roller-coaster rides as each moved from "Oh, wow, we're having another baby. Are we ready for this?" - to - "Something is wrong..." - to - "Everything is going to be okay..." - to - no more baby today.  Shock, anxiety, joy, anticipation, fear, longing, relief, loss, grief.  So many emotions piling in on one another, like the rough surf on a stormy beach.  No time to "process" in between.

Both of these women have challenged me in two significant ways.  First, even in the midst of turmoil and sorrow, both have demonstrated unshakeable confidence in the sovereignty and goodness of God.  Underneath the confusion and the sense of great loss, both women possess and have communicated to those around them a very real sense of deep, soul-strengthening joy, a confidence that God is doing something very good in the midst of their awful circumstances, a firm belief that indeed, all shall yet be very well.

Second, both have been so honest, so open, so transparent about their grief.  They have not denied or downplayed the true awfulness of their circumstances.  The pain is real, the loss is huge, the tears are many - not because they do not trust God and His goodness, but because they DO trust God and His goodness.  Because God is sovereign and God is good, these women are free to genuinely grieve, to say "This hurts really, really bad."

I picked up somewhere over the years the very wrong thinking that if I really believed in the sovereignty of God, then I should be happy all the time.  That grief or sorrow which amounted to more than a few brief tears reflected a lack of faith.  I thought - wrongly - that if something hurt badly, you ran away from it.  Didn't talk about it.  Did whatever mental and emotional gymnastics you had to do to "get on top of it."  If I was scared or sad or hurt, I just needed to trust God more, pray more, read Scripture more.

That, dear friends, exposes in me a complete lack of personal integrity.  Ouch.

So yesterday was a kind of difficult day for me.  Nothing as traumatic as losing a child, no.  But an old dragon - one that beat me up for a long, long time - reappeared, scales hissing across the hardwood floor as it raised its ugly head and blinked sleepy eyes.  Woke up some old fears, old hurts, old questions that still haven't been answered.  And my first inclination was, "I need to get outside by myself for a while, wipe away these tears, get a handle on my emotions..."  Don't say anything.  Don't tell anyone that you're hurt or fearful.

But, partly because of the example of the two women above, who demonstrated such unshakeable faith in the middle of horrible circumstances, I did not run away.  I stood and spoke. (Yes, my insides were shaking like jelly.)  "I am so afraid..."  I don't know which was scarier - seeing the dragon again, or verbalizing my fear.

I'd like to say that at this point, there was an epiphany, a great spiritual breakthrough as a celestial army descended upon the scene in a huge shaft of glorious light, singing "Hallelujah!  Glory to God!"  You know, a turning point, where we can say, "Great!  Everything finally worked out okay!  Let's wrap this baby up with a bow and get it out the door!"

Nah.  No beams of light.  No music.

Instead, one witness of my timorous admission of fear responded sardonically, "You need to just get over it."  Another counseled, "If you're afraid, well, you don't need to say anything about it.  Just let it go."

I think I'm finally learning, though, that when you "just let it go," the dragon doesn't really go away.  It's like looking the other way and pretending the dragon isn't there.  That just opens up your backside so that the dragon can sneak up and bite you in the butt.  I've been playing that hide-and-seek game too long, and it is not fun.

So, today, I have a difficult conversation that I need to have with someone I love dearly.  It's not about something they've done wrong or some way they've hurt me.  No, it's about my being afraid.  This person probably doesn't need to change a thing about our relationship - but he does need to know who I am and what scares me.  And I can have this conversation - do this big scary thing - not because my fears are bigger than my faith, but because God is bigger than my fears.  And He is sovereign.  And He is good.

Sometimes, life hurts.  But even in painful circumstances, I have the assurance that God is indeed doing a very good work.  That all shall yet be very well.  That, my friend, gives me great joy...even when I'm looking into a dragon's fiery gullet.

I am free to hurt, free to weep, free to fight, free to hope, and free to rejoice.  Hallelujah!  Glory to God!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Mom was going to my first six weeks' parent-teacher conference to meet with my homeroom teacher.  You know, get to know the teacher, see how I was doing in school, find out if there were any problems that needed to be addressed.

"Mom, while you're at the school today, you absolutely have to meet Coach B---, my social studies teacher.  He's my absolute favorite teacher this year."

"Where will I find him?" Mom asked.

"Oh, you can't miss him," I replied.  "He's HUGE!  He's way taller than anyone else at the school.  Just walk up and down the hall until you see a man who is bigger than everyone else - that'll be Coach B---."

Mom did find Coach B--- that morning.  "Hello, I'm Camille Stricklin's mother, and she told me I absolutely had to find you and introduce myself..."  Turned out, Mom liked Coach B---, too.

Over dinner that night, Mom was telling me about meeting this super-awesome-amazing teacher.  She had wandered up and down the hallway, peering into one classroom after another, searching for the "HUGE!" man I had described.  Finally, another teacher directed her to Coach B---'s classroom.  "Camille," Mom laughed, "why didn't you tell me he was black?!"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot that."  Yeah, that piece of information might have made Mom's search a little easier!  In addition to being very tall, Coach B--- was the only black male teacher in my school.  Well, maybe back in seventh grade, I was much  more impressed by the fact that Coach B--- was the biggest man I had ever seen (and that he was kind and a good teacher) than by the fact that he was black.

I've been thinking a lot lately about labels - you know, those little tags we use to help us remember and relate to other people.

If you meet me for the first time ever on the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart, there are a few things you'll know about me before our shopping carts even pass.  I am a woman.  I'm white.  I'm middle-aged.  I feed a LOT of people a LOT of food every week!

If you say "Hello," you'll figure out as soon as I open my mouth to reply that I am Southern.

What you probably won't be able to determine at first glance are things like:  I am a Christian.  I am a Calvinist.  I am a writer.  I am introverted.  I prefer red wine over white.

Labels are not bad, in and of themselves.  They help us to communicate a great deal about ourselves and about others in just a few words.  "My son is an avid hunter."  Unpack that:  my son knows how to handle firearms; he owns a closet full of camouflage; he provides meat for our family; he is not a huge fan of PETA.

When labels are not helpful is when we use them to pigeon-hole people into a categories that we feel authorized to demean or dismiss.

How many of my mom friends have heard the line, "Oh, you're just saying that because you're a Mom" - when a child wants a quick, easy (and weak!) excuse to ignore his mother's instruction?

Or the line, "Well, what do you expect from a woman?" - or - "He's a brainiac" - or - "She's totally blonde."

Sometimes we use labels not to know and understand people better, but to avoid the effort of having to know or understand them at all.  Which is very sad, and very wrong.  Because one thing that can be said of every single person that you meet today is that he is an image-bearer of our great Creator.

And that's not something you can dismiss with a label.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The leaves are off the trees behind the house, opening up our field of view to the hills beyond the red barn.  This morning, a tiny black ball of fur frolicked on the hillside, a newborn calf testing out his gangly legs.  Little John, fuzzy as a giant cuckleburr, stood under a bare oak tree at the far end of the pasture and eyed me across the valley as I fed the chickens.  Nope, not Martha, he quickly assessed.  Not worth a mad gallop for a bit of sweet feed.

It's so easy to see the birds among the tree trunks and branches now.  The sun-flash of a goldfinch.  The stark red and white and black of a woodpecker, like a Japanese ink drawing on gray bark.  A flurry of blue.  A burst of red.  The bright white bellies of the juncos.

Ben built the first fire of the season yesterday, to chase away the gray dregs of a rainy day.  Toasted marshmallows for dessert, and card games in front of the fire.  Today, venison chili for lunch - mmmmm, it just feels good to cradle the warm bowl in cold fingers and inhale the spicy steam.

Here we go, over the brink into three months in the freezer.

Hello, Winter!

Friday, November 23, 2012


So I haven't been posting much here at the blog lately.  Several factors have contributed to my sporadic posting.  Life is crazy.  Craaazzzy.  Which means there simply hasn't been much time to write.  Then, a couple of months ago, our house was struck by lightning.  Among the casualties:  the house computer.  This means the dual-enrollment students now use my computer for their on-line homework, journal reports, English papers, etc.  Which means I don't always have access to my computer if there is a small window of time to write.  Yes, I believe that school work trumps recreational writing.

And then there is the problem of the internet.

We live way out in the boondocks, so I suppose I should consider it a blessing that we even have internet access, however unreliable.  Okay, I'll try harder to have a more positive attitude about our on-again, off-again service.  Errrrgh...nope, it's not working.  Lousy attitude still entrenched.

Anyway, here is something I find perplexing:  I'll be sitting at the computer composing an email, or trying to write at the blog, and then out of nowhere, a box pops up on my screen that says, "Your internet went away.  Please wait while we try to relocate it."  What in tarnation does THAT mean?

My internet "went away"?  Went WHERE?  Does it have legs?

Here sits my computer, right in front of me on the kitchen counter - hasn't moved a smidgen.  There sits the wireless know, the thingy with the blinking green light that lets me plug in to the big wide world - hasn't moved a mouse's hair.  Here I sit in my chair - okay, maybe I've moved a little.  But, hey, I get stiff if I sit in one position too long.

But my internet connection - that mysterious, shapeless, vague, ephemeral link to the world outside my four walls - my internet connection goes away?  What, is it taking a coffee break?  On vacation?  Touring the Louvre in Paris?  Sunning on a beach in Florida?

I admit it - I am technologically challenged.  I do not understand all these cool cyber tools.  So, can somebody tell me:  Where does my internet connection go? And how do I get it to come back?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Last year on Thanksgiving, I was pulling a shift at Wal-Mart.  This year, hallelujah!, I will be at home.  Today's post is for the cashiers still standing in the registers this weekend...

Newbies, of course, work Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.  Everybody works Black Friday - newbies, old-timers, and the Big Boss.  That is actually the only day out of the entire year that you will find ALL 23 registers open.  Pretty amazing.

Without fail - without fail - someone will come through the check-out line, pile their 14 tons of junk on the conveyor belt, look at the cashier with big sad puppy-dog eyes and sigh, "I just can't believe they make you guys work on Thanksgiving Day/Christmas/whatever.  That is so awful.  These big corporations, they're just so greedy to make another buck that they don't even care about their employees...blah, blah, blah,..."

The cashier will smile, nod, and - bleep! bleep! bleep! - continue ringing up the customer's order.

Every one of us behind a register gets this same comment from at least one holiday shopper (often from several).  And every one of us thinks, "Well, if you weren't here, lady, I wouldn't be here, either!  I'd be home with my family instead."  Those of us who are less sanctified think, "Cut the smarm, lady.  I'm not stupid enough to buy the load of poo-ey you're throwing."  The kinder-hearted cashiers probably think, "I appreciate your sympathy, but you're the reason I'm here - and you'd figure that out if you gave it half a second's thought."

We've all tried to come up with some kind of witty, unoffensive come-back.  Something to shake the customer out of their gooey sentimentality and back into reality.

I read something recently that went kinda like this:  "Only in America do we celebrate a national day of thankfulness, then go out the very next day and trample one another to death buying things we don't need with money we can't afford to spend."

Are you really and truly thankful this Thanksgiving?  Are you content with the portion God has given you?


Want to prove it?

Stay home this holiday season and enjoy your family and friends.  Skip Wal-Mart.  And the mall.  And the on-line shopping.  In fact, just skip all those Black Friday sales.

I dare you. 

Monday, November 19, 2012


Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a

I commented to the ladies at the Grace Women's brunch Saturday that I really needed to take this passage to heart.  That I had been so busy lately, was feeling so tired and strung out, that I just needed to pause a minute and consider anew that God is sovereign, that God is indeed God.

I once heard a pastor explain that the expression "be still" used here in Psalm 46 could be better translated, "SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!"  The language is forceful, emphatic.  God is not saying, "Now, Sweetie, you've been running a bit too hard lately and you just need to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and remember - I'm still in control!"  No, it's more like He's saying, "Stop right there!  Don't move a muscle.  Nope, don't even make a peep.  Listen to me, foolish child: I AM GOD."

So I thought about Psalm 46:10 on Saturday, but apparently I didn't quite get the message.  Just a few more things to check off my list, a few more errands to run, dinner to cook, preparations for Sunday...soon, some day soon, yeah, I would "be still" and remember that the LORD is God.

I didn't quite get the message, so God made me be still.  Pinned me to the mat.  Laid me flat on my back Sunday.


All day long.

It's like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull, and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull...

I suppose most people respond to the onset of a migraine in pretty much the same way:  "GOD, please make the pain stop!  Just make it go away!"

I've learned after a few trips through this valley that God doesn't bring pain just so that He can take it away the first time I whimper.  No, He has some other, bigger purpose for the pain - something that He wants to teach me, not by taking the pain away, but by taking me through it.

So I lay in bed yesterday trying very hard not to move.  The slightest stir brought tears and nausea.  And I knew that God was not going to take the pain away.

I also knew that if God wasn't going to make my head stop hurting, that He must be there somewhere in the pain, and that He had something to teach me in it.

So I lay with my eyes closed, barely daring to breathe because even that hurt.  "Jesus, where are you in this?"

"I am right here."  It's as if He stood right beside me, holding out His hand, inviting me to dance.

"This is a very unpleasant dance, Jesus," I thought with a grimace.

I imagined that He only smiled and extended His hand further, to enfold mine.  "Yes.  Now, be still.  Be perfectly still and know that I am God.  I will lead this dance."

There have been a few occasions in my life when I have felt like my hand has touched the hand of God.  When my first child was born, and the next, and the next...  Sitting with my Granddaddy when he died.  And yesterday, lying motionless in a quiet, dark room.

It is such a difficult thing to lie so completely still.

It is such a sweet thing to know that He is God.