A New Tradition

Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.

A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”

And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”

Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:

I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.

 She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that

Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.

And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.   

On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.

Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.

And I texted: Love that perspective.

And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.

And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Are you there, God?

It’s me, Crystal. Today is Thanksgiving. I want to be thankful, but I’m so scared, God. So many people in my life are sick, and some of my relationships need your help. Suppose my friends and family suffer? Suppose we all can’t call a truce? Please help me find joy despite circumstances, God. Don’t let today be too horrible. Thank you.

A Tree for Andres

Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.

This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.

Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.

About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.

And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.

And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.  

Hidden Valley Road

The Galvin family, Air Force photo, 1961.

My heart hurts. I just finished Hidden Valley Road. Then again, my adult son has paranoid schizophrenia. Our ten-year journey toward help has been rocky and torturous. My heart often hurts.  

Award winning journalist Robert Kolker combines an examination of twentieth century mental health treatment and the components of schizophrenia with the narrative of the Galvin family. Between 1945 and 1965, Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children, ten boys and two girls. By the mid-1970s, six of the brothers had developed schizophrenia.

The Galvin family became one of the first to contribute to the genetic studies of the National Institute of Mental Health, and for their donation to the body of research, I am grateful. I will continue to keep the remaining family in my thoughts. Part of my sadness lies in the continued wait for a scientific breakthrough.

If you have experience with mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road is a must read. If not and you are interested in knowing more, may you find compassion for those who suffer with severe mental illness and their families who are doing the best they can. There must be better help on the horizon.

On the Turning Away

Church started with Pink Floyd last Sunday. Technically it was Domino. With his iconic dreads and electric guitar, he sang, “On the Turning Away.” I saw it online, and I just happen to have a link. Next came Jeff Jones, he’s the senior pastor, and the current series is “Love Like Jesus.” Feel free to scroll on. I’m posting it believing someone might need to hear and will watch.

Jeff started out his sermon with some word associations: “If I said ______, you would say _____.” Eventually making it to his point. “If I said, ‘Christian,’ I don’t know what you would say, depending on what your experience is…”

I knew where Jeff was going. I knew what should go in the blank, but I’ll be honest, my first thought was not positive. Forgive me for going there. I know there are lots of good Christians, amazing humans who give generously of their time and resources and have an unbelievable level of grace for others. But I also know lots of people who won’t step foot into a church…who feel judged by Christians…who have had bad church experiences. Almost daily during my online scrolling and sometimes in overheard conversation, I hear and see Christians passing judgement. And I think—what would Jesus do? What would Jesus say? What would Jesus post?

Jeff continued, “…but I know what we should be able to say, what anybody in the world should be able to say whether they are Christian or not or believe anything about Jesus…the first thing they should think about when they think about ‘Christian’ is love…because that’s the one thing that Jesus said,…’Love like I love.’”  

The weekend before last Ryan Leak kicked off the series. He’s a teaching pastor and a professional speaker. And the strange thing is—I saw him for the first time preaching at a church in Houston about a year ago, and then suddenly he’s popping up at my home church back in Dallas. Throughout the pandemic, Chase Oaks Church is my go to for Sunday mornings. I find extra inspiration and hope here. The sermons are archived on their website if needed, and you can fast forward through the music—or not.

 

Anyway, I go to church each Sunday for my weekly attitude adjustment. I am far from perfect. FAR. But I try. On the day of this U.S. Presidential election, I might not be perfect. Despite results, I’m sure I’ll need to be back in church by Sunday.

Jesus knows we’re all messed up. He offers forgiveness as a gift. And because He would, I’m sending love and peace your way—no matter who or where you are, no matter what you’ve done or what you believe. ❤️

Just Breathe

For those times when I have to remind myself to “Just Breathe,” I pull up this song from Pearl Jam’s ninth album. I’m not sure if it actually helps me breathe. In fact, it might just make me cry.

You might like the 2012 remake by Willie Nelson and his son Lukas.

But I’m loving this brand-new Miley Cyrus version. She’s set to release her seventh album on November 27, four days after her twenty-eighth birthday, and she is six months clean and sober. I’m finding her inspirational these days.

I would like to dedicate “Just Breathe” in loving memory of our Uncle Tony. December 24, 1950—October 9, 2020. We listened to some Pearl Jam together, and we had some really fun times. I think he might be listening right now.

“Yes, I understand that every life must end…Meet you on the other side.”

Ramona Lives Her Life

Last weekend Kody and I masked up for an event at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called The Marzio Years. Peter C. Marzio was the museum’s longest-serving director from 1982-2010, and the exhibition celebrates his thirty years of acquisitions.

At the museum entrance, an attendant took our temperature from an eight-foot distance with a device that looked like a camera. I’m not sure how that worked, but I didn’t ask questions. We were deemed good to go. Kody and I spent some time with Munch and O’Keefe, Pollock and Picasso, Rembrandt and Rothko. We saw Warhol, too.

Marzio helped found the MFAH International Center for the Arts of the Americas. He expanded African-American, Texan, and Latino art collections. When I visit the art museum, my goal is to really see one piece. Of course, I’ll see more, but I wait for the one that sees me. The one piece that will see me and speak. And da dum, da duh—this is she:

Ramona vive su vida (Ramona Lives Her Life), 1963

According to the museum plaque, Ramona Lives Her Life is one of the most iconic prints of the Ramona series. Argentinean Antonio Berni’s “xylo-collage” technique earned him the acclaim of international critics. Berni glued and collaged elements from Ramona’s everyday life—lace, machine parts, discarded gears and other industrial refuse—onto the woodblock print. This method gives his work an elaborate texture and relief.

I thought about Ramona…and me…and you…We are textured people. With interwoven fibers and elements. With distinctive qualities. Ramona in all of her texture reminded me to live my life. In these days of COVID, life looks different for us based on our qualities. As an introvert, I’m okay living my life at home. School is my life for now. I read books, and I’m writing one, too. I enjoy this time. School is online. Distanced. I walk outside most days. Distanced. I notice the squirrels fattening up. Do squirrels always size up in the fall? I’ve never noticed. The sun sparkles in the leaves at the tops of the trees. I take pleasure in these observations. I try to stay connected with my friends and family by text and phone. From a distance. Our conversations weave us together. These interwoven fibers make us stronger.

Sometimes I find myself surrounded by drama. That happens in families. I usually find myself able to distance from drama, except when it comes to my kids. With mental illness in the family, I’m not at liberty to give ultimatums. I mean, of course, I could. But I don’t want to be the mother who gives up. In my experience, there is no reasoning with brain disorders. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit my drama quotient, like I just can’t share any more ridiculous stories, even with my closest friends. My introverted self keeps the drama concealed until I feel I might be breaking. How many times have I glued my own pieces back together? Then suddenly, I run into a piece of art called Ramona Lives Her Life. Ramona whispers directly to my heart, “Girl, go live your life.” I rub my hands together and feel their texture. Age. Experience. Ramona says, “You’ve made sacrifices your whole life. Take care of yourself, and speak your truth.” I allow these ideas to sink in. There is silence. I think of my own lace. My own machine parts. Ramona speaks again, “Your fibers are strong. You can handle whatever comes your way, and you inspire others to do the same. Be courageous, and do you.”   

Allyson and the Ranch

 There is a little girl 
 named Allyson. 
 She lives on a ranch
 with endless skies,
 wide open spaces,
 and her big sister Olivia. 
 Together they explore
 all kinds of places
 with so many animals
 and things to do.
 
 
There are dogs that bark. 
And cows that moo. 
  Kittens to hold and catch mice 
  and horny toads, too. 
 Butterflies flutter, 
 turtles crawl, 
 and bees buzz. 
 Guineas squawk,
 chickens cluck,
 and turkeys gobble. 
  Of course, the horses say neigh. 
 Cottontail bunnies visit
 and then hop away. 
 Scissortail flycatchers and robins—
 what colorful eggs they lay! 
 On Allyson’s ranch, 
 it’s always a beautiful day!
   

And a BIG Happy Birthday to my most favorite four-year-old, my GREAT niece, Allyson Kate! She reminds me of the JOY to be found in small pleasures. The gorgeous photography featured is courtesy of Allyson’s Mom. Follow her Instagram @shesdoinok .





I Grew Up Blue

I grew up blue
in a little red state
in a little red town.
I played 
with the red kids.
My blue parents 
didn’t put
red parents down
for believing
Differently.
That was great.
We respected
opinions and choices.
Votes were our voices.
We didn’t see
Color—
red or blue.
Only people,
and what's true—
like a person's heart 
and character.
Maybe—
we can agree—
You do you.
I’ll do me.


I realize that living well is an art which can be developed. Of course, you will need the basic talents to build upon: They are a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings, and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift. That people who may differ from you in political stance, sexual persuasion, and racial inheritance can be founts of fun, and if you are lucky, they can become even convivial comrades.

Maya Angelou