Scattered Reflections

mirrorAlong my walking path this week I came to scatterings from a looking glass. Clearly, objects in the mirror were closer than they appeared. And somehow they collided.

In any case, I thought about those verses from 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror…” and how, for now, we only know in part.

This can especially be true in environments where we might feel like we’ve dropped in from another planet – like, for me, this past Sunday in preschool Sunday school.

At the art table, a 4-year-old sitting next to me was working on a picture. He turned to look at the art of the 4-year-old next to him, then turned back to me. With a nod toward his little colleague’s artwork, he asked, “Is that scribble scrabble?”

I didn’t know what to say – mainly because I didn’t know what was contained in his use of the term scribble scrabble. I figured it was something he had picked up at home, but I wasn’t sure the weight his family (and therefore this 4-year-old) gave to the term. Was it a negative or positive assessment? Should I embrace it or steer away? I tried to steer away.

“He’s drawing a pretty picture,” I said.

“Well,” the kid responded, “it looks like scribble scrabble to me.”

At that table a little earlier, a little girl told me she was drawing hearts. They were a kind of heart that a 4-year-old would draw – indentions at the top, but with rounded rather than sharp lines that meet at the bottom. The girl across the table from her was also drawing hearts, and in a desire to offer instructional assistance to her preschool colleague, she rushed over with marker in hand to show her how it’s done.

I had an instinct to protect the first girl’s art as one that was her own expression, though I appreciated the desire to help someone else get her heart right. That is a good instinct as well. All of our hearts are a work in progress, and we need lots of help getting them right. But … sometimes it’s more important to work on our own heart than try to fix someone else’s.

At the puzzle table, I have drawn different conclusions. With art, you can lean toward allowing someone’s personal expression to override correction and assistance. With puzzles, however, it’s about getting it right.

I figured out this much on my own: you cannot pretend that a puzzle piece fits where it does not belong. So, if a child has put a piece where it doesn’t belong, I’m not going to say, “Yes, you have gotten that right,” or “Just put the pieces wherever you want. It’s your puzzle.”

That’d be weird.

Art vs. puzzles – I notice they provide formats for early instruction of grace vs. truth. Grace is love, acceptance. Truth is reality, structure. We might prefer one over the other but need both (as modeled by Jesus “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14)

I’m not a parent, and I’m not a teacher. I’m in the marketing and communication field. So I come at these tasks from that perspective. It’s as if I’m serving little 4-year-old clients, and it’s as if their time in this classroom is a “user test” of the church. They are becoming familiar with church – the buildings, the hallways, the stairwells, the chairs and tables, also the people and the stories from the Bible about God and His son Jesus.

Hopefully they are associating church with good things and not bad things, and this is a place they will want to stay connected to or to return later on.

I remember things from my childhood church experiences, but I’m more likely to remember chairs, stairwells and hallways than actual lessons. On a visit some months ago, I walked through and recognized the old preschool hallway, including the wooden door that opens at the top, stays shut at the bottom, so a parent can hand a child over. Though I remember very little in specifics, I associated the hallway with good feelings.

I suppose those were the early days of my journey toward grace and truth, and the balance between the two, but I don’t see it clearly. I’ve only got a little bit of the picture, fragments of memory. Even so, just as you can trust an uncertain future to a certain God, you can see the same in the days gone by and know for sure He was there all along, walking beside you the whole way.

Be not afraid, y’all.

Good Teachers and an Old Letter

CWletterI was thinking of who we are, how we learn things about ourselves, and how we learn what we can do. This brought to mind an old babysitting story.

When my niece Natalie was young, she was in my care for a short time. I don’t remember where we were, what we were doing or what age Natalie was. But here’s the part I do remember. While she was in my care, she ran into something (perhaps a wall) and hit her head. When I saw it (and heard it) happen, I felt fear – for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t want Natalie to be hurt, and the impact sounded like this was going to hurt. Second, while I don’t know everything about babysitting, I do know there’s a standard protocol: don’t let the kids hit their heads. This was going to be my fault.

As Natalie wailed, I rushed to her side, held her tight and repeated, “You’re OK, you’re OK, you’re OK.” Then I pulled back to see how she really was. “Are you OK?” I asked.

She touched her head and nodded. “I’m OK,” she said. Then she repeated. “I’m OK. I’m OK.”

I had seen how this worked. I spoke words into her state of distress. She believed what I told her and acted on that belief. But also, because I had been saying those things to her as much to reassure myself, something else happened. When she spoke that belief back to my frightened heart, I believed it too.

I wonder if that is what teaching is like, when it works. You have these opportunities to help someone believe something about themselves. When you see that they listen, internalize and begin to believe, you believe it even more.

Everybody remembers their good teachers, the ones who helped them believe.

When I was a freshman at Huntingdon College, I joined the staff of the campus newspaper, the Gargoyle. My first assignment was to interview and write an article about the new English professor, Dr. Ken Deal. Over the next 24 years, he would become one of those professors that people never forget. He passed away in May, and during a memorial service, former students provided testimony of his enduring impact. Their expressions were personal, on the order of “This is what I learned from him.” “This is what he did for me.” “This is what changed in my life because of what he taught me.” It was not general or broad, as in: “This is the impact he made on literature or higher education administration” or other areas where he participated. It was how “he” made an impact on “me” — one student after another in his 24 years at the college.

For me, Dr. Deal’s affirming comments in the margins of my papers were an English major’s version of trophies. I still have some of these trophies I earned in his classroom. On one occasion in particular, he wrote on one of my writing assignments, “Your command of juxtaposition is becoming formidable.”

With that comment, he gave me a belief I have held onto since that day: my command of juxtaposition is becoming formidable. You’d be surprised how comforting those words have been over the course of my adult life. Juxtaposition is where you put two ideas side by side for the purpose of comparison or contrast. I use this literary technique all the time — not because I’m ever looking for a way to juxtapose ideas, but because that’s what I do: I juxtapose ideas.

I’ve been doing that lately — juxtaposing ideas. I am in the middle of a project where a fictional person tells the story of a real person. In 1862, my great-grandfather took a nickel of wartime pay to buy a sheet of paper to write a letter home. The words in that letter are the launching point for a story in which a teacher tells of lessons she has learned in the classroom and in her life.

I wanted to know what a teacher might be able to tell me — someone like my Aunt Minnie, my Aunt Annie or my mother — of things she has observed. What would she say to children wandering their own battlefields about how to find a sense of home wherever they are? What would this teacher say so that children would say, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay?”

So I wrote those lessons myself — juxtaposed with that letter home and stories about my great-grandfather’s experiences. I’ll tell you more as I progress on my project.

Until next time,

Minnie

P.S. There were a number of teachers in my family. My mother, my aunts, a niece, soon another niece, and apparently my grandfather, E.J. I found out about E.J.’s occupation on a visit last month to the house where he was born. I went there in search of inspiration for my story, and I was able to see where the author of that Civil War letter lived when he returned home. If you’d like to read about my visit to the house, it’s right here: http://minnielamberth.com/a-visit-to-an-old-home/

A Visit to an Old Home

20160605_154002_resizedI come from a long line of old people. My father was older when I was born, my grandfather was older when my father was born, my great-grandfather was older when my grandfather was born.

All of that is to say, my great-grandparents were living in this house in Tallapoosa County when my grandfather was born … this was during President Grant’s administration… and it came about that one Sunday afternoon in June I entered this old house, guided there by my cousin Grady.

He had showed me several spots of interest before we got here. Cemeteries, mostly, but some places where things used to be. One road was a dirt road. I was driving my Sonata, a reasonable car for most in-town treks. But like an old lake road, I did have a concern that someone might be coming the other way. It wasn’t a one way. But it did seem like a “one at the time” way. When we got to an old bridge, I asked, “Is this OK to cross?”

My cousin reassured me, “You’ll be fine. If there was a problem, there’d be a sign that said ‘bridge out.’”

Comforting for sure, but I was thinking, “What if a few minutes from now, I become the reason they decide to put a sign that says ‘bridge out?’”

I had another concern that I’d have to go back the way I came – recognizing the longer you go down a deadend road, the longer you have to come back. But that wasn’t needed; this was a road that went to somewhere. He said, “I’ll take you back on blacktop.” Which we reached soon.

The house we visited was in the back of someone else’s house. We pulled into the driveway so my cousin could go in and ask the owner if we could walk through. This he’s done before, and this was not a problem. You just want to tell people you’re walking through their yard.

First we came upon a structure that was my great-grandfather’s old store. Then we got to the house. We walked through an area with high weeds, and I watched every step I took. Then we got to the steps. As my cousin beat back some of the brush, he said, “There are a couple of things we want to be aware of before we enter.” I could anticipate what these things might be. “First, we might fall through the boards, but it’ll only be about a two-foot drop.” Check. “The other things are wasps and bees… and snakes.” I could have seen that coming a mile away.

20160605_153347_resizedBut we entered, walked carefully, and there was no problem. He showed me the room where my grandfather was born. I didn’t know him; he died about 30 years before I was born. I haven’t spent much time thinking about him, wondering about him. But in that room where he was born, I felt something profound. It wasn’t exactly a sense of the holy, or even something in the area of awe. But I was very moved. Perhaps it was a sense of the eternal, of people behind me and in front of me, in this long line of old people.

My cousin had told me my grandfather’s bedroom was just up those stairs, if I wanted to go see. After a few minutes, I said, “I’m not going to be able to go up the stairs.”

“You’re not?” he said.

stairs“No,” I said, “I’m not going to be able to do that.” Some things you just know. But I did use the flash to take a photo, and that seemed good enough.

We went to my great-grandfather’s gravesite after that, and to my great-great grandfather’s grave site after that. Grady said Aunt Minnie had told him a story of visiting the latter site around 1914. She remembered she was with her papa, she was about 7 years old, and they stopped to see a grave in the corner of a cow pasture. She asked whose grave it was. He said, “My grandfather’s.”

It’s still in the corner of a cow pasture; that is to say, a cow pasture is still beside the grave. And around 100 years ago, Aunt Minnie and her papa made the same stop my cousin and I did one Sunday afternoon in June. Perhaps that was a good day for them. I hope so. It was a good day for us.

A Different Way to Look at the Problem

closeyoureyes2“Open your eyes! Don’t you see what’s happening?”

That is just the sort of thing someone might advise when addressing situations. The eye-opener recommendation. It’s a good one. Lots can happen when you open your eyes. But it doesn’t always solve problems.

Take me, for instance. I’ve been walking around with open eyes for some time, and I can tell you – those problems are still right where I see them.

Open eyes. Check.

Problem solved? Umm, about that…

So I was thinking about looking at things differently. Two areas of my life suggest doing just that: faith and creativity. That’s what influenced the poem I wrote and affixed to canvas.

You know how when people are discussing their issues, and they put this phrase out there: “The problem is…?”

With each statement that follows that introduction, you can almost watch as layer by layer the bricks of obstacles are put into place. “The problem is.” Once that’s clear, then you know why something won’t work, won’t change, won’t help, won’t matter.

So I was wondering, what if I began that list differently?

The problem isn’t…

For example, the problem isn’t that God is not right here, present, available, above me, before me, beside me and behind me, every step I take. I can see that as clear as day, every time I close my eyes. 

Be not afraid, y’all.

Until next time,

Minnie  

Hometown Scenes

I’ve shared these stories before in different formats, but with the nearness of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d bring them out one more time …

A Grief Remembered

When my mother became ill in 1996, I was often driving from my home in Montgomery to my hometown, Alex City, about an hour away. I saw things during those days that kept reminding me where I was.

For example, one day I pulled into the drive-thru window of a branch of my bank to cash a check. I put the check in the teller drawer but not my ID. I was thinking that I probably couldn’t get away with cashing a check out of town without showing my ID, but I didn’t feel like pulling it out of my wallet.

The teller’s voice came through the speaker. “Minnie…,” she said.

“Yes?” I was certain she was going to ask for my ID, but that was not the question that followed.

“Don’t you have a sister named Anne and a brother-in-law named Richard?” she asked.

I do, in fact, have a sister named Anne and a brother-in-law named Richard. This teller had gone to high school with them. Not only that, this was not the first time she had asked me this question. Seventeen years earlier, when I opened my first checking account before I left for college, she was working at the Alex City Bank. She was the one who opened my account that day. She had asked me then about my sister and brother-in-law. And, no, she didn’t need to see my ID.

As the months passed, and after my mother passed away, we began emptying the house of the family furniture. The dining room table would be mine, but this was no ordinary table. Two hundred and fifty years ago, it had been a square grand piano, a piece that my mother had inherited in 1957. No one in the family played the piano, but it had a nice presence in the corner of the living room. Still, in 1990, my mother decided to make the piano into a dining room table. This was much more practical because, while no one played the piano, we all ate.

To get this large, heavy table from Alex City to Montgomery, I called the one moving company I found in Alex City and arranged a time for the move. A few days later, when the moving company’s owner walked into my mother’s house, I didn’t explain who I was or why I needed these things moved. I simply said that I needed to move the table and chairs and another piece to Montgomery. The man nodded, and he looked around. Then he asked, “Didn’t your momma used to have a piano?” He pointed to the corner of the living room. “Used to be over there?”

Surprised, I answered, “Yes, she did. She made it into a table.” I pointed down. “This is the piano.”

The man then told me that one time he’d moved that piano to the library. I remembered the event. In 1969, during Alabama’s sesquicentennial year when the state was recognizing its 150th birthday, the music minister at the Baptist church had borrowed the piano for a celebration at the city library. The man standing in front of me was the one who had moved the piano that day.

“So she made it into a table,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “she made it into a table.”

That was the thing about being in Alex City. If you needed something moved every 28 years or so, not only would it be the same moving company, it could even be the same man.

***

Over 14 months in 1996 and 1997, my mother was being treated for an aggressive form of cancer. There was much about her illness and her approach to this illness that, as a daughter, I found perplexing. But because Mother was optimistic and pragmatic — and because so many people came by to visit — there was also something about her illness that, oddly, was kind of fun.

After she received her cancer diagnosis in June 1996, one of the first things she did was to host a party. This was not a celebration of illness, but more of an anticipation of what was to come.

“Now, why are we having a party?” I asked as we began to make food and drink preparations for two dozen people.

“Because I might not feel like doing this for a while,” she explained.

A couple of the men who attended the party talked about having been in her first class as a school teacher when she moved to my hometown in the mid-1940s. Several others were friends she’d known since that time. A few were like new friends, having only been in the same circle a decade or so. It was a nice evening.

That night was the last party, but the visits from friends continued. None of her children — three daughters, one son — lived in Alex City, but we came often for appointments, and others came calling on our mother while we were there. In fact, when word of this illness first spread through her circles of friends, she received a steady stream of visitors bearing casseroles, soup, roast beef, pies, cookies, and flowers from their gardens.

One day when I was home visiting, I happened to be looking out of a window when a large car pulled up in front of our house. The driver was trying to figure out how to pull into the driveway but changed her mind and, as people might do in small towns and in big cars, parked instead in the middle of the street.

When the driver’s door opened, a metal walker appeared, and I could see a feeble older lady trying to negotiate an exit. I rushed out the front door and down the front steps, heading to the driveway’s edge. There I found in this big car a 96-year-old lady being driven by her younger 90-year-old sister. They were bringing my mother a hot chocolate mix that one of them had made. The 96-year-old apologized for not being able to get out of the car and said she had asked her sister to bring it in for her. The 90-year-old said, “I’m glad you came out. I don’t think I could have made it up those steps.”

When Mother had chemotherapy treatments at three-week intervals, one of her children would drive to Alex City to go to the appointment and stay with her. But the next course of treatment called for radiation therapy which would be given in Montgomery every weekday for six weeks. We weren’t sure initially how to manage this, but there were many more hands than ours to divide the labor. During that time, 21 of her friends took turns shuttling Mother the hour’s drive from her home to Montgomery and back again.

Toward the end of the six weeks, Mother had more offers than she could accommodate. “I’m running out of slots for people,” she told me with dismay.

***

My mother was a teacher. She spent 32 years working in the Alex City public school system and 36 years working with me on grammar, manners, civics, history, and geography. There had been lots of lessons to cover, and during her illness I learned a lot more.

I was, in a sense, shocked that she ever got cancer in the first place because illness seemed so out of character. I remember that, during her first chemotherapy treatment, as the drugs started to take effect, she said, “I knew I should have mopped the kitchen last night.” The only thing she complained about was the Ativan, a drug that was included in her chemotherapy drugs to relax her. It made her sleepy, and she told me that next time she was going to tell them not to give her so much of it.

“Why don’t you let the doctor decide how much you should have?” I suggested.

On one of my days to drive Mother to chemotherapy treatment, when we returned home, she went to her bedroom to take a nap. When she woke up a couple of hours later, she apologized profusely. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I did not mean to sleep that long.”

Apparently she thought it was rude to sleep while she had a guest (me), but I was not sorry that she was getting rest. “That’s OK,” I told her. “Don’t worry about it.”

That evening, as a light rain fell, I started to lock up for the night. Glancing through the window panes in the backdoor, I realized that Mother was outside in the rain throwing fertilizer on her plants. I was glad that I saw her before I locked the door. I might have felt guilty about locking my fragile, terminally ill mother outside in the rain at night after a day when she had undergone chemotherapy treatment. I stepped onto the patio.

“Don’t you want to come inside and do that later?” I asked.

“I want to do this while it’s raining,” she replied as she tossed a handful of fertilizer.

“Why don’t you let me do it for you?” I asked.

Mother shook her head no. “You can’t,” she explained. “I’m wearing the gloves.”

Yes, of course. She was wearing the gloves. If I had suggested that she take them off and let me put them on, she would have looked at me as if that were a cute but impractical idea. I was not wearing the gloves. The only thing I could offer to do was to walk beside her in the rain while she continued to throw fertilizer on her plants.

Sometime during those months, when I arrived from Montgomery, I heard a lot of noise. There were men banging on the roof. There were tarps and a ladder in Mother’s bedroom. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Why are these men here?”

Turns out, in the final months before she died, while in the middle of an illness with a 3 percent survival rate, my mother was having her bedroom re-wallpapered and repairing the roof above that section of the house. She was going to work until her work was done.

***

In a small town, on a trip to the store, you can run into the person who 30 years earlier was your kindergarten teacher, and the kindergarten teacher for your whole family and most of your friends. As my mother’s illness progressed, I ran into Mrs. Towery, my former kindergarten teacher, at the drugstore downtown. A couple of her brothers had run this store, and another of her brothers was my next-door neighbor. When she asked how my mother was doing, she said she had heard that Mother had said, “I’m tired.” Then Mrs. Towery added, “You never hear Jane say things like that.”

No, my mother didn’t go around saying things like “I’m tired.” That would never do.

As Mother started to feel worse, her appetite waned. When another friend was asking her about this, Mother seemed to search for the right words. “I ate a tomato sandwich,” she thoughtfully replied. “I liked it.” Later that afternoon, when we came home from a doctor’s appointment, three red tomatoes were waiting at her door. This friend had gone to the curb market and left for our return the one thing that she hoped my mother could eat. I never saw a sweeter offering than three red tomatoes waiting at the door.

Around that time, the son of one of my mother’s other friends had become a father. This was a successful son with an important position at a major corporation. In my view, he was a man of substantial means. In my view of my mother, she was a retiree on a limited income in the middle of a major illness. These differences came to mind only because Mother had asked me to take her to town to get a baby gift. I did so, but when we pulled into a parking place, Mother was too tired to walk into the store herself. She stayed in the car while I went in to make the purchase.

“Now, why are we doing this?” I wondered but did not ask. “Why are we getting a gift for a man who needs no gifts when Mother is too weak to get out of the car?” Still, I did as I was told, and we were soon on our way to the friend’s house. While Mother stayed in the car again, I went to the door and offered the gift for her son’s baby.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t necessary,” her friend said as she received the gift on behalf of this new grandchild. “But I thank you.”

That’s what I’d been thinking myself — that this certainly wasn’t necessary — but perhaps I was wrong. A week or so later, my sister Anne told me that she and Mother had been dining in a restaurant when this friend’s son had seen them and walked over to the table. Anne said, “He thanked and thanked and thanked Mother for that baby gift.” Then I realized: his mother made him do that. She may not have said so specifically. She may not have even used words, but you can sure bet she was somewhere in his head telling him what to do when he crossed that room.

The Bible says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” At some point, however, we won’t be able to do to others anymore. Our physical strength will give out, and the only thing left will be our influence. The question is whether our influence will be lasting enough that someone will one day cross a room to do to others based on something we once did ourselves.

***

My 14 months of lessons were up, and I had one last night to spend with my mother. The next morning I waited for help to arrive, then I came to Montgomery to go back to work. Anne spent Thursday night with her; my sister Jane and brother Kirk would stay over the weekend. I was headed for a trip to Callaway Gardens to be with 20 women from high school for a reunion which had been planned for many months.

That Saturday night, as I sat in a circle of friends on a lawn outside one of our rooms, I felt a pressure on my spirit, and a thought entered my head: “In the morning, I will get up and go home.” I knew at that moment that in the morning, when I woke, I would get dressed and go to Alex City to see my mother.

That’s what I did. I woke up. I got dressed. I put my bag in my car. I would have left then, but I needed to say goodbye to the friend who had planned the reunion. She was in the restaurant, someone said, so I walked that way and found her.

“Don’t you want to eat breakfast?” she asked.

I could have said yes, but I said, “No, I’m going to leave now. I’m going to Alex City.” And I left.

On the way home, I took one wrong turn and had to turn around — just a few moments delay, that’s all — then I was on the right track again on Highway 280.

Thirty minutes outside of town, I plugged in my cell phone — this was an old bag phone that I had to plug in to use — and I called my mother’s house. Anne answered. Only moments earlier, she’d come in from Montgomery to meet Jane and Kirk at the house. “I knew you would call,” Anne said. “They just took Mother to the hospital. Everything is OK, but come straight there.”

Russell Hospital is on Highway 280. All I had to do was keep driving. I sped up, but my control of the car wavered for a split second, and I felt uneasy. I didn’t know how fast to drive, and I didn’t know how to make that decision.

In that moment, I looked ahead, and I saw two cars that were obviously traveling together. They were going above the speed limit, but not too much to be scary. I fell in line behind them. When they passed cars, I passed cars. I let them make all my driving decisions for me, and I followed them until I turned into the parking lot at Russell Hospital. I met up with my sisters and my brother right in those moments that our mother left us.

The lady working behind the ER admission counter that day was a neighbor. Mother had asked her to help with her last party, and she had come that night and spent it in the kitchen washing dishes. On this Sunday morning, she called First Methodist and First Baptist, and people we knew left the churches and came quickly there. The lady who came for the Baptists said she was in the choir room when she heard and already had her robe on. She took it off and headed for her car. The lady who came for the Methodists had also been at that last party, and her husband was one of the ones who had been in my mother’s first class as a teacher.

***

There’s something about the loss of parents you might not expect. When the house gets cleaned out, you get your baby pictures and take them with you. I thought of that in a very early draft of my novel, Life with Strings Attached, as I tried to make this point:

Daddy was sad to lose his mother; I remember that. The weekend after the funeral, I found him in our living room, with his head in his hands quietly weeping. He and Aunt Frieda had spent the day in Grandmother’s apartment dividing furniture and belongings, and Daddy had gotten a box of his own baby pictures. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief and returned it to his pocket. 

“When you become the caretaker of your own baby pictures,” he explained, “that’s a very sad day.”

If you’re made who you are by those who surround you, you’ll always be losing parts of yourself. There’s no way around it. Which is why I have wondered how many parts I can lose and still be myself. In the images of my own baby pictures, I can see the person I was, in whose mind I saw the person I might become. Though some of those ideas remain, not all do. They have come and gone.

 The loss of my mother and end of my childhood filled the pages of that manuscript. But it was impressions from her last 14 months in a small town that were in several ways interwoven into the next. Within the characters of a work-in-progress that I continue to this day, there is an interconnectedness of circumstance and happenstance. And in a town peopled only by friends, a teacher keeps teaching long after she’s gone.

 

The Path Ahead, the Voice Behind

fork1I get to these places quite often it seems – to these forks in the road. “Good morning to you too, Universe,” I might like to say whenever cutlery crosses my path. “I see there’s a message here somewhere.” But I usually keep walking in the way I was headed.

Still, I know that there is change afoot. I can see it, feel it, sense it. Every time I see a fork in the road, I know there is a turn to take – even if I don’t know which way to turn.

fork2I can hardly reflect on forks in a road without considering my primary walking verse, the one I have thought of many times when I put one foot in front of the other, uncertain of the path ahead:

“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:20-21 (NIV)

fromhere-postNo surprise — I used a variation of that verse in one of my Nail’s Pace pieces.

Pretty much anytime, it’d be nice to know which way to turn.

Some days I find my navigational skills are lacking. So I watch for the teachers who know more than I do. And I listen for that voice behind me.

Sunday the sermon was on Elijah and how he was having a bad day during some difficulties with Jezebel. I noticed this verse again from 1 Kings 19: “The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came…’”

I have wondered before if that direction was just a bit of instruction for Elijah that day, or if, within that text, there is an idea that has broader application.

This is something I do over and over on my morning walks. I go down one direction for a while, then I go back the way I came and end up right back where I started. Even so, I am changed for the experience, at least a little bit. For one thing, I’m 45 minutes older, yet I have more energy and often more motivation than when I began.

There’s another application too to this idea of going back the way you came. God set “eternity in the human heart,” Ecclesiastes says. There is within a need to repent, return, restore… a call to turn around and go back, come home, be whole.

knifeSometimes, or all times, life is tough, and the cross we bear cuts like a knife.

It was always this way. Our need for reassurance is no different now than when Moses told Joshua, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

So He’s there. Always. Whether you turn to the left or the right, you can know that you are never alone, even if you don’t know what is being stirred by the steps you take.20151001_074241_resized

Be not afraid, y’all.

What Starts Today Began a Long Time Ago

Last Thursday I drove to Birmingham for reasons having to do with the fact that I bought six containers of Play Doh in 2008. Or maybe it was because I was working at an advertising agency in the late 1980s when Autauga Medical Center opened a teen treatment unit. But it was also because I spent a dozen years working with a company that developed content management systems for church websites.

The point I’ll get to is this: whenever I have a new opportunity for my work as a copywriter, you can sure bet it’s because of something else I’ve already done.

I’ve told this story in other places. In 2008, my great niece Sally was turning 2 years old. Her mother said she needed new Play Doh. I said I’d get it. At the time I had no idea I could get this done for so little investment: six containers totaled about two dollars. When I found them at Target, I pulled them off the shelves and headed to the checkout line, where I saw my PR colleague Lenore checking out ahead of me.

We spoke. She asked, “Are you still freelance writing?”

I said, “Yes, I am. Here’s my card.”

That, again, is how that Play Doh investment turned into projects for the Business Council of Alabama, and, eventually, a coffee table book sponsored by the BCA to promote economic development. Also, when Lenore moved on to become editor of Alabama Living, she didn’t have time for an article assignment that she’d been offered for Business Alabama. She gave the editor my name, and that’s how I ended up at an economic development conference last February, where I ran into another long-time colleague, Julie.

About that. In the late ‘80s, Julie was marketing director for what was then Autauga Medical Center, and I was a copywriter for the ad agency helping her promote the new teen treatment unit. Now she’s with Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

CAEC has a leadership consultant who assists with their organizational planning. One day Julie and Mike were talking about a project for another of his clients, and, having seen me at that recent event, Julie gave him my name and contact information. He called on her referral. That particular project didn’t pan out, but when I followed up later to check on its status, Mike and I began to talk about some of his own projects.

We’ve gotten through many of the pieces of Mike’s projects, but as we get into next steps, I thought the person who would best be able to help us move forward is my buddy Jason. I was his client for about 12 years when he was marketing director for Axletree Media. Now he’s running his own branding and marketing shop, and he and I set a time to meet with Mike in Birmingham. And that’s why I was driving I-65N last Thursday thinking about how I got on that road in the first place.

All I can say is, in this work, nothing starts today. Or, rather, everything that starts today actually got its start sometime back.

IMG_5409This week I received an email from an advertising colleague who said she was sitting in the security building of the Toyota plant in Huntsville and saw that BCA coffee table book, Alabama: Moving Forward, on the table. Cate sent me a picture as proof. Last week, I got a text from a PR friend who was in Washington calling on our congressional delegation. Linda saw the same book on Senator Sessions’ coffee table and sent me proof. So sweet they both did that. I was touched.

The point is: I wrote those chapters in 2011, five years ago. I was pretty sure the book had been forgotten, until I got these reminders that those contacts that came this month were generated by something that happened a long time ago. In this work, things don’t drop in out of the blue, or pop up out of the ground, or fall down from the sky of their own accord, even if it seems that way, because everything comes from something that came before.

This week I’ve been working on a big new project. I’m pretty sure that I can trace that back to my seventh grade science teacher because the work’s being done for her son. Also, I have a new assignment writing/editing a newsletter for the Montgomery Area Council on Aging. That came from my PR colleague Rosemary, who was visiting the agency for a Leadership Montgomery meeting when someone mentioned a need, and she mentioned my name.

You know what’s been pretty good preparation for me to interview clients being nourished through the Meals on Wheels program? All those stories I wrote about people I met at church….

So, if you should be out someday and you hear of someone who needs website copy or case studies or an email series or blogs or white papers or articles or other types of stories for their businesses and organizations… I hope you’ll think of me. Whatever it is, I can tell you this: I’ve been getting ready for that opportunity for a good long while.

Be not afraid, y’all.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ecclesiastes 11:6 (NIV)

Messages that Stick

During the group time for my preschool class this past Sunday, our director was explaining to the children that 12-year-old Jesus had been left behind at the temple, and His family had traveled toward home without realizing He wasn’t with them. At some point in the story, one of the 4-year-olds asked, “Is this true?”

Ah, the age-old question asked by a young voice. Is what we read in the Bible true? Or more to the point, is it true for us?

There’s an old joke about a Presbyterian minister who took a wrong step at the top of a staircase. He tumbled downward, and when he was at the bottom, he got up and said, “Thank goodness that’s over.”

I have a similar feeling about 2015. Looking at the before-and-after pictures, it’s hard not to wonder if I misread some verses. For starters, can I really get up, pick up my mat and walk? Will I really increase my strength and soar on wings like eagles? Should I really fear not?

A few stresses here and there, and you can loosen your grip on things that sure sounded right at the time. Or maybe it’s more like Scott Peck described: Life is difficult. You can’t get to a certain age and read all the Facebook posts of illness and struggle without seeing that there are bumpy roads everywhere.

Anyway, back in Sunday school, our director, Donna, didn’t miss a beat. She explained that yes, the story is true, and the reason we know it is true is because it is in the Bible. Good teaching moment. She’s awesome that way. I am lucky to be in her class for all these teaching moments.

Moving along here… I gave Donna one of my hand-crafted magnets for Christmas, based on a verse from the Bible. Teacher gift, you know? And getting to the point, this is how I’m telling you about The Nail’s Pace Collection, Phase III. Refrigerator magnets. With messages that stick.

I make notes from time to time about the issues I puzzle through. Over a couple of years, as I was trying to figure out how to be a copywriter with an interest in art, I wrote down this phrase a few times: “paint the messages.” What messages these would be and how to paint them… well, that took a good long while to answer until I started creating The Nail’s Pace Collection. And now the magnets.

Way back when, the first phrase I wanted to paint was “Go forth and fear not.” I’d once heard a speaker use those words in a way that was memorable, and I thought that would be a good message. But those attempts didn’t work out, and I discarded them.

Over time, I came up with a new way of saying that phrase, something that sounded more like me: “Be Not Afraid, Y’all.” And that’s what I’ve put on one of my magnets.

Then I thought about another possible message. Since I have these heart stamps, shouldn’t I say something about love?

Everybody likes love, right? Pretty. Big. Deal. So, in the same style of “Be Not Afraid, Y’all,” I came up with “Loveth One Another, Y’all.”

Oh, and I have one more, sort of in keeping with the phrase “Go forth and fear not.” But I said it this way: “Go out today and be beautifully brave.”20160116_083419_resized

So, those are my messages. Hope they stick.

You can get more info right here: http://minnielamberth.com/artprojects

New story that’s different in one big way

Hello Friends,

eliseThis story about Elise Sailors is a little different from the other posts about people I met at church – because it also involves a note from my mother as well as the start of my career as a copywriter – and how Elise connects to both.

Hope you’ll enjoy:  Noteworthy Memories with Elise.

Oh, and this is different too. While this series is about people I met at church, I don’t actually remember where I met Elise. It wasn’t First Baptist Montgomery, for sure, but it might have been First Baptist Alex City. So I say that counts. Find out more in her story: http://minnielamberth.com/noteworthy-memories-with-elise/

Until next time,

Minnie

What to Do with an Old Barn Photo

barnscene2My sisters remember my grandfather’s barn. I don’t. Roscoe and Inez died before I was born, and I never visited their house in Fort Payne. When they lived there, Roscoe was a dairy farmer. He kept his cows in the barn.

On a trip last May to visit old family sites, we pulled over to see the old place. “It’s Roscoe’s barn,” they said. “It’s still there.”

We took a few quick photos on our smartphones. This one was mine.

For months, this photo was just one of the images taking up a little memory in my gallery. What can you do with something like that anyway – a poor-quality picture of a barn in a field with power lines in the scene, and a whole lot of road at the bottom? My sisters did not have much sentimental attachment to the electrical supply and asphalt, as far as I know. Just the barn.

In case, here’s what I did with it. Christmas was upon us, and I was giving some hand-crafted gifts to family members. And I remembered that barn. So I transferred the photo to a canvas panel (twice) and gave the pieces to my sisters. It was really easy, and here are the steps I took:

barn4Step 1: Crop the photo. As I mentioned, the image from my smartphone was of a wide shot with a lot of “non-barn” detail.” I used the default Paint program that comes in Windows to crop the image. Also, I reversed the photo. You need a mirror image so that it looks like it’s supposed to when transferred.

Step 2: I inserted the image into a Word document. I was going to transfer the photo to a 5×7 canvas, so I adjusted the image size to 5×7. I printed the document on my ink jet printer. (I don’t know what happens with laser printers; I didn’t try it.)

barn2Step 3: I cut out the image to fit the canvas panel.

I mention this to make a point. When I first started experimenting with mixed media, I wasn’t sure how best to cut the tissue paper and cardstock that I was using in my pieces. I tried several methods that seemed like they’d be “artist-y” – such as an X-acto knife and a paper cutter, when one day I hit on the process that works best. Scissors. I use scissors now.

Do not discount how hard it is sometimes to recognize the obvious.

barn4Step 4: I covered the image completely with sponge brush and Mod Podge Photo Transfer Medium. I placed the coated image face down on the canvas panel.

Instructions say to burnish; I don’t have a burnisher. I pressed down and smoothed across the canvas panel to make sure the paper was securely affixed with no bubbles.

barn5Step 5: Wait 24 hours.

Step 6: Take a sponge and water and remove the paper.

The image (reversed back) stays on the canvas panel. barn6

After it dries, you may need to repeat. I have to do this a couple of times to remove all the remaining paper.

barn7Step 7: When the paper is removed, let dry completely. You can paint over the piece if you want, or just cover with Mod Podge Matte or Gloss.

When it dries, you’re done. Unless you want to put it in a frame, and then you’re done.

barn8framed