Making a memory

August 21, 2014  


image courtesy of katdish

We are by the creek, my son and I, our backs against the grass and our feet in the water, looking first to make sure the snakes are gone and then to the two white wrappers between us.

“You’re first tonight,” I tell him.

“Orange,” he says, “because it’s like the sun.”

I hand him the wrapper on the left and look out toward the mountains. Sure enough, the sun looks orange. That means red for me. Good. I like red.

He opens the package and licks the popsicle inside. There is a satisfying smack on the end, followed by, “Aaah.”

We sit for a while and watch in silence, watch the robin searching for supper in the front yard and the bumblebee doing the same in the flower bed and my wife and daughter watering the hanging baskets. I don’t know what my son is thinking, but I’m thinking that sometimes you can be closer to someone when you’re not talking and just enjoying their company.

These post-supper trips to the creek with popsicles were his idea. The inaugural event was held on the first day of summer vacation. Seems like that was just yesterday, but it was almost two months ago. Time ticks faster when we’re having fun. That’s what my son told me the other day. Then he said he sat for five minutes and watched the clock and discovered it ticks just the same whether you’re looking or not.

There’s another lick and smack, but this one is followed by a sigh. I ask him what’s wrong.

“Summer’s almost over,” he says.

I ask him how he knows that, and he answers that he saw the newspaper last Sunday. There was a back-t-school ad mixed in with the comics section. He says seeing that made him feel like he did the time he ate chili and then ice cream after.

“I want it to stay summer forever,” he says, “like on Phineas and Ferb.”

I don’t know what to say to that. I’d like it to stay summer forever too, and offering up some cockamamie wisdom about how all good things must come to an end would only depress the two of us more. Instead, I start singing the Phineas and Ferb theme song. Partly because I have to say SOMETHING, but mostly because it’s nearly impossible to sing and be depressed at the same time.

He joins in halfway through. When we finish, the lick/smack/sigh is replaced by lick/smack/smile. Much better.

“Dad, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I tell him.

“Are we making a memory?”

I bite down on my red popsicle and think. “I reckon so,” I tell him.

The smile is bigger now. It’s the sort of smile you get after you’ve been carrying a very heavy something for a long while and can finally lay it down.

He is silent again, but not because he didn’t hear me. He’s too busy to talk. He’s more concerned with doing the one thing children always excel at and adults usually fail miserably—being in the moment. His eyes are bugged and his breathing is deep, steadying himself against the picture his mind is taking.

The cool water flowing over his hot toes, the orange sun peering from the peaks of blue mountains, sounds of robinsong in the trees and frogs in the woods, the sight of his mother and sister and the gentle mist of hose water over purple and white flowers, orange popsicle leaking down his fingers, the bright sky and the warm breeze, the first star of the night and the knowing that for this one instant, the whole world is peaceful and good and right.

He is living this moment, and when he is done he will tuck it into a secret place in his heart and keep it safe. He will tend this moment and nurture it and keep it whole. Alive.

And on some cold and distant January day that promises little more than spelling tests and word problems, my son will sit in his small desk at school and pull that memory out. He will look out the window and see bright skies rather than somber heavens and green leaves rather than bare trees. He will hear robinsong and taste orange popsicle and feel cool water running over hot toes.

It will be winter then and he will be at school. He will know then that the world is not peaceful and good and right, but he will gain strength knowing it once was and thus may well be again.

All because of the memory he made with me on this summer night, here by the creek.

Believing in the Maybe

August 18, 2014  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

My daughter and I are standing in the middle of a one-lane dirt road deep in the woods. Locals call it the Coal Road, the story being that generations ago coal from the mountains was transported through here by some sort of rail. I’m not sure if that’s true or not—something about that doesn’t seem right—but it’s the Coal Road nonetheless, maybe like big people are often nicknamed Tiny or Slim.

It’s peaceful here on the Road, though during summer nights and autumn weekends the local teenagers come here to drink and, in words my grandmother would once whisper, “Know each other in the Biblical way.” The thirty thousand acres leading from the Coal Road into the mountains are both unspoiled and wild. Mysterious, too. There are plenty of stories about this wood and the spirits that are said to inhabit it. And as someone who’s tromped and trampled through much of it over the years, I can say at least some of them are true.

But those are other stories for other times, because at the moment my daughter is on the prowl. On a mission. Strapped to her narrow waist is a fanny pack that Scooby and the gang might call a Clue Kit, and right now she’s using a magnifying glass to inspect some rather strange footprints in the dirt.

“This is something, Daddy,” she says. She moves the magnifying glass from the ground and stares at me with it. One of her eyes looks like a giant brown golf ball. “This might be him.”

I offer a serious and grave nod as if it might just be him, even though I’m pretty sure what my daughter is looking for would not be wearing a size eleven hiking boot. She takes the small digital camera from her fanny pack and snaps off a couple pictures. “Okay,” she says, “let’s keep going.”

We move from the Road to the trail—this one about three miles and leads to a large reservoir, but I don’t think we’ll go that far. The day is hot and she knows there are snakes. My daughter doesn’t like snakes. I figure if I can come up with a few more clues, that will satisfy her.

Included in the fanny pack is the book that started all of this. I can’t remember the name, Monsters of the South or Unexplained Monsters of Virginia, something like that. My daughter likes her ghost stories, so any book that includes Monsters or Unexplained in the title is fair game. Her grandmother says such reading material is a little too Devil-like, but I don’t mind. I like Monsters and Unexplained, too.

That book led to another and then to another, and then finally to an internet search that lo and behold revealed that Bigfoot himself—or at least one of his kin—had been spotted here in the unspoiled and wild and mysterious wood along the Coal Road back in the 1980s. I don’t remember hearing such a story, but I’m inclined to believe that anyone could see anything here given enough moonshine. I didn’t tell my daughter that when she suggested we take a lazy Saturday afternoon and turn it into an Unexplained Monster hunt, I just said okay. I’d never hunted a monster, and we were due for some daddy/daughter time. Besides, there wasn’t much else going on.

“Look at that!” she says. “There’s a clue.”

And it is, though the marks on the old oak in front of us are a clue that a bear has been by rather than a Bigfoot. I tell her to take a picture. She does. I leave out the part about the bear. That would scare her more than a Bigfoot.

We find other things on our walk—deer hair that is really Bigfoot hair, the chatter of squirrels that are really Bigfoot giggles, and a small hole in the rocks that just might be a Bigfoot home. All are studied and pictured and cataloged in the small notebook in her fanny pack. By then it’s noon. We’re both getting hungry and we’re both sweating, signs that it’s time to head home.

We drive the old truck over potholes and washed-out dirt road, the sun shining through canopies of leaves. It’s been a good day. A great one. We’re making memories.

“Daddy,” she says, “I really don’t believe there’s a Bigfoot. But I like to believe in maybe.”

I nod and smile and rub her head, satisfied that our trip here to this ancient and (some would say) haunted wood has revealed something to us both.

Because she’s right, my daughter.

It’s always good to believe in maybe.

The cosmic dance

August 14, 2014  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

What I’ve been thinking lately:

My little town isn’t so little anymore. Its population has boomed in the last twenty years from about three thousand to right around ten thousand people. The old two-lane road is now four. The lone stoplight we used to have has somehow given birth to five more. And there seems to always be a new subdivision being built in an old cornfield.

Ask the business owners, and they’ll say all this growth is a good thing. Ask the old timers, and they’ll tell you that it isn’t so good. The town’s growing, they say, but the community is shrinking. There’s a difference, and it’s a big one. I used to have to drive down Main Street with my hand perpetually stuck in the wave position. Not so much anymore. There are a lot of people I don’t know. Which means you can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely sometimes.

Many have come from the south and west in search of work, but most have come from the north. That fact alone was cause for concern for a lot of people here, those old in both age and ways and who still smart from the last time the Yankees invaded. But those times are over. These new Yankees do not have violence on their minds, but retirement. They’re tired of the cities and the noise. They want the peace and quiet of the country.

So they come. They buy their houses and settle in with the expressed purpose to slow down and take things easier. To force their lives not to be so hectic. “We’re always moving,” one of them told me the other day. “It’s just this constant state of having to do something. We hated it. So we came here. We just wanted to slow down and stop.”

I tried not to smile, but I did anyway.

This once-sleepy town is no Nirvana. It offers much, but not stoppage. Because the fact of life is that it’s busy and we’re always moving.

It doesn’t seem fair, really. As children, all we want is to go. Doesn’t matter to where or for what or how long, just as long as it’s somewhere. But the years wear on us. There are responsibilities. There is work and family and goals and dreams and we’re in the middle of it all, running. Moving. We long to slow down and stop not because we’re lazy, but because we’re tired. And because at some point we begin wondering if this is really all life has to offer, just more moving and more doing and never any rest.

I’ve wondered that myself lately. And I think that maybe the answer to that is no. Maybe that’s all life is. Movement.

I read the other day that the Earth spins on its axis every twenty-four hours at a speed of 1,000 mph. Pretty fast, isn’t it? Not as fast as this planet’s speed around the Sun, though. That’s 66,000 mph. So technically speaking, that means even though you think you’re sitting still and reading this right on the other side of a computer screen, you’ve traveled six hundred miles since you began reading this paragraph.

No wonder we’re always so tired.

I suppose that from the universe’s standpoint, not only is there not much we can do about our constant moving, we should be thankful there isn’t. Moving means life, and life continuing. It means that the Earth spins and the sun shines and all is well. It means that the cosmic dance continues unfettered.

Maybe that’s how we should look at our hectic lives. Because no matter who we are, it’s hard to slow down. Those precious moments of rest and nothingness are precious because they’re so few. I think that’s how it should be.

We can’t help but to move, but we can help how we move.

We can make sure our comings and goings are ordained by God Himself, that our actions, however small, are made as a prayer to Him and a help to others.

Yes. That’s it. That’s what we need.

Not less moving, but better moving.

That the cosmic dance continues unfettered.

The prayer of Jabez

August 11, 2014  

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image courtesy of

I was at the book fair the other day and found a copy of The Prayer of Jabez for $2.99. I’d completely forgotten about that book. Which is odd considering how popular it was ten years ago. Seemed like everyone had a copy of that book. Or the Bible study. Or the journal. Or the workbook or the copy for teens or women.

It was quite the industry really, and the reasons for it were pretty apparent. Say a little prayer, and God will bless you in abundance. It almost seemed too good to be true, but there it was. There was even a verse to back it up.

I never bought a copy. Didn’t even buy the $2.99 copy at the book fair. Not because I didn’t (and still do) want to be blessed in abundance, but because once upon a time I said my own version of Jabez’s prayer without knowing it. The answer I got was a little different than his. And though that prayer was uttered at years ago, I still remember that conversation between God and me.

It was like this:

“You there, God?”

I’m always here.

“Can I tell You something?”

Of course you can.

“I have dreams.”

Wonderful! Everyone should have dreams.

“They’re great dreams. Really great.”

I should hope so.

“Yeah. So, I was wondering if, You know, You could make those dreams come true.”

Of course I can. Why else would I give them to you?

“Oh, I don’t know. Lots of reasons, I guess. Wait. You gave my dreams to me?”

Where else would they come from?

“I don’t know…me?”

I give you the desire. You do the work. Life is a partnership between you and Me. Not 50/50, though. More like 100/100. You give your all, I give Mine.

“Great! So I can have my dreams?”

If you work and you believe, yes. But certain things have to be done first.

“Like what?”

Great dreams require great people. So first, I must make you great.

“Now I like the sound of that. So I’ll be popular and rich?”

Popular and rich doesn’t equal greatness.

“Then what does?”

Love and kindness, faith and trust. Trust especially. You need to understand that it’s not your happiness I want, it’s your trust.


Are you sure? This isn’t going to be easy for you.

“Sure it will. I can be that sort of person if it means I’ll have my dreams.”

You don’t become that sort of person to get your dreams, you get your dreams because you’re that sort of person. There’s a difference.


You think your dreams will bring you success, but some of the most miserable people in the world are the ones who’ve gotten everything they’ve always wanted. Stuff doesn’t bring joy. Only I do.

“Oh. So maybe my dreams aren’t all that good for me?”

Parts are. Not all. But that’s okay. I can give you better things than those.

“When I become great.”

You don’t have to be great for Me to bless you. But for your dreams, yes. You must be great.

“I still want to be great, even without the dreams. But the dreams would be nice.”


“So…when can we start?”

We can start now.

“I was hoping You’d say that. Then I pray You’ll give me love and kindness and faith and trust and make me great.”

Good. But remember, there are two things that I must give to everyone in order to make them great and realize the dreams I have for them.

“Grace and blessing?”

No. Time and trial.

Atlas Girl

August 7, 2014  

I’m renting some space today to a friend of mine. Emily Wierenga has just released a memoir titled Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. It’s a fascinating and brilliantly told story of her childhood battle with anorexia and her decision to leave home to find God in the most unlikely places, only to finally discover Him in the place where she started. Highly, highly recommended stuff, folks. Here’s Emily’s words: Atlas Girl (Memoir Giveaway!) By Emily T .Wierenga   aching pulsing places_1 The smell of my hands reminds me of Africa. Of mangoes mashed, of Mum feeding me, and my brother too, and now, I’m feeding her, and she doesn’t open her mouth when I ask her to. The sky is pretty, like Mum’s pink silk scarf, the one hanging in her closet, and the windows are dirty, maybe I’ll clean them today. Mum thinks today is Sunday—funny, because yesterday was Sunday too, she thought—“and there’s church and I will need to take my blue purse with my Bible and where are my glasses?” This is what she would normally say, but suddenly she can’t speak, kind of like me until the age of four because we moved so much, and Dad says I just watched people. Just stood at the fence in Congo and watched our neighbors. Mum is trying to ask me something, but her mouth won’t work. I busy myself with the spoon and the mashed fruit. I might as well be buying baby food, for the way Mum can’t chew. I don’t have children of my own and this is something Trent wants, and “Maybe one day” I tell him. I didn’t use to want children at all, and now I’m bathing Mum, who’s had brain cancer for five years, and I’m changing her and cutting her toenails and my womb is too full of grief and wonder to make room for a baby. Funny how the two go together, grief and wonder, kind of like when Jesus died and his murderers realized he was God even as the sky tore. The Better Mom The sky is bleeding red, and in a month it will blaze cerulean with late August heat. The fields of corn and canola misting as combines whirr and the air, thick with the meaty smell of harvest. And Mum’s still fumbling for words, and when she does talk she has a British accent but now she has nothing and I wish, I wish she knew how much I loved her. “Bigger,” Mum says finally, and I know she’s trying to say, “I love you bigger.” “I love you biggest,” I tell her, wiping drool and mango from her chin with a cloth and it’s not supposed to be this way. I’m helping her stand, now, and she’s light. She hasn’t been this small since Africa, where she knit afghans with local women while Dad taught blind men how to plant and Keith and I played in the mud, him in his cloth diaper and me in my underwear. I read somewhere that stress can trigger brain tumors. Perhaps Mum’s grew when she found Nanny in the bathtub, dead. Or maybe this tumor is my fault. Maybe it’s from when I got anorexia, Mum holding me at night when she thought I was asleep and her crying. Or maybe it’s from all of those pots and pans flying across the room when she and I would fight. Or maybe it’s from when I left the house at 18 and didn’t look back. I missed home Mum’s diaper is poking out of her stretchy pants, the ones she always wears because they’re easiest to pull up if she’s unconscious, and there’s someone at the door and I’m helping her across the floor towards her blue recliner. And Mum is asleep in her chair even before I answer the door. 268386_Wierenga_WB Friends, this is an excerpt from my new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, which released July 1st through Baker Books. <em From the back cover: “Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it. “Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.” 271654_Wierenga_emailsig Click HERE for Chapters 1 and 2. 271486_Wierenga_WB I’m giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and then head HERE to receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva. Atlas Girl_700x175_2 ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards a non-profit founded by TBM’s Joy Forney and myself, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel. 64519_10153705975080099_2037134714_n

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