In The End

I showed you a beautiful image of The Beginning. With more photos, I wrote about The Middle. But what can I say about The End?

Because no one knows their own end.

I’d like it to be something like The Notebook. We’d be holding hands in our sleep and just drift away to Jesus together. I’ve recently read two different news stories about the real-life versions of that movie, two couples married for years who were able to escape the sorrow of living without one another because they met death within the same 24-hour period. That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t happen for many. Most of us have to deal with something less than perfect.

No one knows their own end. Mostly.

One thing we do know. A Facebook friend alerted me to a new ABC series called Once Upon A Time. It is mesmerizing (but not for children even though the title might imply as much). The fight between good and evil, so clearly depicted in fairy tales, is the basis of the show along with a bit of The Matrix twist about living in one reality and forgetting the truth. Fascinating. My favorite line so far came from Snow White when she realized her newborn child had escaped the evil Queen’s curse and would someday return to rescue them all. Full of fire and hope even in the midst of her deepest sorrow, suffering, and loss, Snow White locked eyes with Evil and said, “You are going to lose.”

That much we know. No matter when death takes us now, it will not win in the end. It will lose.

So I cannot tell you how The End will look in words, but at the same wedding that gave us beautiful images of beginnings and middles, my brother-in-law caught this one that makes me think the end will be something like this: Us looking back over our lives – over all that we’ve known, loved, made, and cared for – and knowing it’s been good:

And by then we’ll also know it isn’t really The End. It’s the beginning. The beginning of Forever. And I don’t have a blog post for that yet.

 

KISSES FROM KATIE

By Katie J. Davis and Beth Clark (Howard Books, 2011)

I would like to write two separate reviews for this book. And that frustrates me.

The first review would be a full and complete endorsement.

The second review would be less favorable.

But I just don’t do “less favorable” very well, so instead I’m going to write a review on the book I read and a review on the book I WANTED to read.

Kisses From Katie – the book I read:

The beauty of Kisses From Katie is the story itself. I’ve followed Katie’s blog for a couple of years. At 19 years old, Katie chose the life of an adoptive single mom in Uganda over the life of a single college student in the United States. She does this at great cost to her family relationships (specifically her parents) and her romantic future with her then boyfriend. Instead, on what was supposed to be a one-year stay in Uganda to teach in an orphanage, Katie adopts six little girls within just a few months. Today, Katie is a mother to fourteen.

I assign Katie’s blog to my composition students for reading responses because her story is rife with challenging ideas. It is easy, on the one hand, to be inspired. It is also easy, on the other, to find Katie’s story somewhat out of reach. My students wrestle with her unconventional decision to adopt as a single woman. They argue over whether she could have lived a similarly God-pleasing life from the safer boundaries of her Tennessee neighborhood. They wonder if they could ever possess the selflessness they see in Katie’s life. These are great questions for first-year college students to consider.

For me, there is so much to love about this story. Katie owns an impulsive and brave spirit that allows her to make life-changing decisions in a moment. I envy that. Her heart for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned stir me to some kind of action. As a married mother of four, my story can’t look exactly the same, but I find courage in Katie’s story to challenge my own comfortable ideals and plans for the future. For these reasons, I highly recommend this book.

 

In Uganda They Call Me Mommy – the book I wanted to read: (new title, yes)

I think most of my problems with the first book (the one I actually read because it is published) are with the writing and presentation. There are so many things I would have done differently. I haven’t read any reviews that even mention these points, so maybe I’m being too critical. It just seems to me that an amazing story deserves to be well told. Was this a rush job on the publishing end because the topic is hot right now? Probably. Did that treatment serve the story well? No.

Here are the best parts of the Katie Davis book I WANTED to read:

1. The story is told like a novel. It begins in the yellow convertible of Katie’s American lifestyle as a typical teenager and moves us along bravely to the rusty motorbike bouncing over the dirt streets of Uganda. The prose is tight and image-rich. As a reader, I am gutted by the differences in Katie’s two worlds and sometimes shocked by her selfless but possibly reckless choices.

2. The narrator answers questions that aren’t already addressed on Katie’s blog. We hear the conversations between Katie and her frustrated parents. We see the officials who describe what it requires to adopt little girls even as someone who has very recently been one herself. We meet the boy she loves and we love him too, so that when he isn’t in the picture anymore we actually care. As readers, we share in the emotional life of Katie not just her thought life. Not just in the words she wants us to hear but in the words she never says but we feel just by watching.

3. The book isn’t preachy at all; it lets the story stand on its own as a testament to faith and bravery. We feel stronger just by reading it. We close the pages, sad to part with a new world and a very special family, and we look out onto our own horizons looking for our Uganda, our little girls, our places of service. We close the book and we don’t stop at admiration of one person but we move into action ourselves. Not because we feel guilty but because we feel called.

And THAT is the book I wanted to read. Maybe we’ll still see that book someday after the dust has settled and a little more life has been lived. I hope so. It’s really going to be a good one.

And this one is good, too, but it isn’t that one.

 

*Read more about Katie on the Amazima website or in this Christianity Today interview (this one actually answers some of those questions left out of the book).

In the Middle

I love the beginning, but living in the middle is pretty sweet too. Fluffy filling. Smooth caramel. Chewy dough. The good stuff is in the middle. We loved celebrating Drew and Kate’s beginning at their marriage ceremony this weekend, but I was never so happy to be in the middle either.

Dan and I would catch each other between runs to the tux shop and walk-throughs at windy rehearsals and we’d smile, “So glad to be on this side of that!” So glad our beginning was beautiful, too, but mostly glad to be past it and to now be in the middle.

The middle of this bounty:

The middle of playing wedding . . . or orphanage, or mommy, or rock star, or all of them together:

The middle of dreaming into mirrored glass and smiling at the hazy images:

The middle of barn dances and laughter and twinkle lights:

This is basically the middle of life together, and it is sweet. Sure, there are moments we don’t necessarily want captured in digital ink, but I’m thankful for these shots that provide markers along the way. These photos, I know, will eventually fill a photo book that we’ll turn the pages of again and again.

“Look how small you were!”

“Oh, I loved that barn! And I loved our dresses!”

“Did I always smile like that?”

“What was I pouting about?!”

And none of us will remember because all we’ll see is how good it was in the middle.

 

 

Something I Was Reading . . .

As I prepped a class this week, I pulled out my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I love looking back through books that have changed and challenged me and seeing what I may have marked or underlined. In this one, I found a paragraph I had drawn three blue lines around – above it, below it, and down the left-hand margin – to block it off as important to me. What did I see in this paragraph, among the many paragraphs in this classic book for writers? What life did it speak to me?

Read it yourself first.

Sometimes people turn out to be not all that funny or articulate, but they can still be great friends or narrators if they possess a certain clarity of vision — especially if they have survived or are in the process of surviving a gret deal. This is inherently interesting material, since this is the task before all of us: sometimes we have to have one hand on this rock here, one hand on that one, and each big toe seeking out firm if temporary footing, and while we’re scaling that rock face, there’s no time for bubbles, champagne, and a witty aside. You don’t mind that people in this situation are not being charming. You are glad to see them doing something you will need to do down the line, and with dignity. The challenge and the dignity make it interesting enough.

What do you think?

I think I must have been losing hope by this point in the book. Lamott is an amazing writer – so funny and natural. I wonder if by this point I was frustrated with my own lack of style. Maybe you never do this, but sometimes when I read something great I think, Well, with amazing stuff like this out there why would anyone want to read my too-long, too-boring pieces?

(You never do that, right, because you are full of confidence. I know. But just in case, take a peek at this quotation from Ira Glass; it should boost your self-esteem a little.)

This paragraph by Lamott gave me permission to write my story even if I wasn’t funny. Even if I wasn’t brilliant. I knew I had survived. I knew I had survived with dignity. And so have you. You’ve survived something. Lamott’s words promise that survival could be enough to keep someone reading who needs to see your win, even if it wasn’t pretty.

So we write. Or tell. Or sing. Or paint. Or dance. But the stories are told. The footings in the rocks of trial and tragedy are pointed out and found. This is how we help each other through.

Hello, Beloveds!

I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this.

You’ll remember that I took a blogging break in September. I’m generally pleased with the preliminary results of that break. I felt very good about my performance on the GRE, even after the four hours I spent taking it in a cell-like computer testing room. I won’t have actual results for awhile, and I’m way to prideful humble to share my score even when I do, but I’d say my effort was rewarded.

And football? Yeah, that is going very well. I’m ridiculously proud of Jesse. On Saturday he scored two touchdowns. Granted, this was only after the other team finally put in their smaller boys in the 4th quarter when we were already down 50-0, but it was still thrilling. I’ve been especially proud of how he’s handled trying out for different positions (there aren’t hundreds of other players or anything, but he wanted to be the kicker and he is the kicker) and learning to not emotionally melt at the first sign of conflict (no one would ever describe Jesse as having thick skin). He’s enjoyed his “man practice,” as my mom described it, and it’s been my joy to observe.

But as important and as wonderful as all of that has been, I’ve missed this. When STORY was over, I was gently pressured by my friend Brad to blog about my experience, so I broke my September silence with a September Interlude. I can’t thank Brad enough for the nudge, because the second I hit “Publish” on that post I felt better. Honestly, I almost felt physically better.

This afternoon I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a letter to our World Vision child. I told him about how much we like American football. I told him we sing and pray almost every night, and now he is added to those prayers. I told him I hoped he was happy and well. (I didn’t tell him that I wished I could see the headmen and chiefs his mother mentioned and decide for myself if they were really taking good care of his village. Learning what NOT to communicate is important, too.) I sealed the envelope with the same accomplished feeling I have after clicking to publish this blog. I guess it’s just how I’m made.

And It’s so good to let you know!