Sunday, July 13, 2014


Something no one ever mentions about growing up is the sudden appearance of skin tags.

I shouldn't be surprised.  Everyone older than me has them.  (And unfortunately for you, I am the sort of person who would notice.)  Still, it intrigues me that my body is celebrating age thirty-two by sprouting extra bits of tiny round flesh on my eyelids, nose, arms, and... other parts.


Instead of growing taller as a whole, my body will now grow out in just a few places?

Because plucking, picking, painting, shampooing, flossing, brushing, scrubbing, and self-breast-examming isn't enough maintenance -- I should throw in general worry about pimples that won't pop?

Speaking of pimples, what's with those?  How come I'm still getting them?  Shouldn't one skin issue come to a nice, gratifying stop before the next one begins?

Tonight I discovered the ultimate slap to the face.  On my face.  A pimple growing BENEATH a skin tag. What the what?  Right on the bridge of my nose.  I could tell it was a pimple because it hurt like one, but I knew it was a skin tag too because I've been staring that thing down for like four months now.

I let it sit all morning, but after a hot shower it was throbbing and I wanted it GONE.  (I know I know.  You're "supposed" to leave these things alone.  But this is from the same people who tell you to wear sunscreen when you're in the sun.  Whatever.)  So I tried to pop it.  Ow!  Bleepity-bleep!  I tried a few different angles.  Nothing.  All I managed to do was irritate my skin and decorate it with little fingernail dents.

It was time to call in the Big Boys: my sewing needle.  I first sanitized it wiped it on my shirt, then set to stabbing my raw forehead.  Unfortunately that little sucker was hard to locate, buried there beneath the vastness of this particular mound of unwanted flesh.  I had to stab it in three different places to get anything to come out.  Which means that my irritated, acne-dotted face is now also bleeding in three different places.

That feels like success to me.

Courtney - 1.  Skintagpimple - 0.  Bring it on, aging!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Box

14 inches by 18 inches, just large enough to hold
My childhood collection of tiny elephants: ceramic, wood, and plastic;
My high school yearbook, graduation cap, diploma;
The class photos of all 13 years and those of dozens of friends;
A wood-carved camel my grandmother brought back from Egypt;
A Goofy-eared hat from Disney World;
A drawing my first boyfriend made for me;
And notes: passed to me in class, stuck under windshield wipers,
Wrinkled and rain-stained and worn.

I lugged my box to college with me, and wore the Goofy ears
To a party.  They’re under someone’s couch now, I believe.

During a move my first daughter found my box, and asked
What are all those elephants for? 
To play with, I answered, and she spent the afternoon
Constructing a circus. 

I pulled out my yearbook to compare senior photos with her.
She looks like me in the eyes, but her ears are her Dad’s.

When her two sons stayed at my house for a week,
They sorted through my box in search of crayons. 
They thought the notes looked like scratch paper,
The kind they were free to create with.

When I moved to Twelve Oaks, the kids came home
To pack my belongings.  We spent the morning folding
clothes, putting books into boxes, cleaning out the fridge.
My box wasn’t full anymore, so my stationery was added to it:
A box of assorted cards, 6 pens, and a book of stamps,
As well as the contents of my scarf drawer.

When they buried me, eleven grandchildren and two
Great-grandchildren sorted out and divided up my room.
One little girl tucked my Egyptian camel deep within
Her sequined purse, and one preteen boy thought
My graduation cap would be perfect for his Halloween costume.
Then the youngest child, ruffling through my box, asked,
Why did Grandma keep all this junk?
His mother hushed him, swallowed the lump in her throat,
Then explained in a voice mixed with respect and awe,
Honey, Grandma was a very practical person
And I’m sure she had her reasons.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This Thing I Wrote

Can you blame me if I think this thing I wrote
is simply the best thing ever? 
Note the alluring alliteration
and that rhyme in line four -- how clever 

of me to birth it.  To create it. 
To breathe life into dry vowels.
Of a hundred thousand English words
I chose these ones, and made a fresh, whole 

new thing.  For you, and for me
(but maybe mostly for me) to love
and nurture -- and protect and shield --
and maybe show off a bit on my blog,

but not because I'm boasting.  No,
because I'm grateful that it's mine,
Glad that it came out of me and that it
has signs of me all over it.  Do you see

that metaphor?  Precious, yes?  And the 
tender way it points to greater truth?  
I will use it as my Facebook profile, tape
it up for my mom to see and comment

and just adore it.  Because she adores me
and thinks I remind herself of her.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why I Will Miss the Inner City

In case you haven't heard, after four years of ministry in Indianapolis, our family will be soon be moving to Durham, NC so Greg can attend Duke Divinity School.  I think it will be a healthy change for our family.  I'm looking forward to having more time and energy to care for the three people I love most.  We'll be close to the ocean, which thrills me.  We'll be right on top of one of the most influential, academic hubs in the world, a place where (I hope) I'll find motivation to do something with my brain that has grown mushy.

But today I am grieving.  There is a part of my heart -- a pretty large portion, actually -- that has also grown mushy.  In a good way.  There are things and people and experiences here that I am sure cannot be found in any other place in the world, and I fear that no matter where I go in life I will always be searching for the equivalent.  No doubt there is plenty of heartache here as well, but I've had plenty of time to focus on that.  Today, as therapy I suppose, I just need to highlight the good things, people, and experiences of our little stint in the inner city.

1.  A beautiful, gutsy 12-year old named Coreyona.  For two years she and I have laughed together, played games together, and struggled with grade school math together.  Despite all the disappointments in her life, despite how impatient I can be with her junior high-ishness, Coreyona has given me vast amounts of attention, patience and loyalty.  She even threatened to beat up a kindergartener I tutored one day, fearing that I was replacing her.  Bless you, you crazy girl.

2.  The food pantry.  It's an event more than a place.  (See Aromatherapy.)  I haven't attended much the last few years, because, frankly, it saps all of my emotional strength for the day.  (And I believe when there are children in the home, only one parent at a time should be depleted of emotional energy.)  But if I was a better, stronger person, I would devote my Monday mornings to the ministry of conversation.  There are people that come to food pantry who beat their children, people who prostitute themselves for drugs, people who have lived half their lives behind prison bars.  There are people who immigrated in order to feed their children, people with extreme mental illness, people who live their lives under bridges.  Their stories are incredible, their ability to absorb life's blows is astonishing.  It has been an honor to sit, listen, and learn.

3.  Three very angry, very demanding females: a grade schooler, a teenager, and a 60-year old.  At different times, all three of them spoke truth into my life.  These were hard truths to hear, wrapped in raw, harsh language and sometimes profanity, but I definitely heard them.  Maybe that was point.  Maybe Holy Spirit thought I was growing immune to her sweet, forgiving tone.

4.  Friendship Community Garden, the little growing/gathering place carved out of an empty lot next to our house.  I've learned so many things here: how to keep kids from stealing tomatoes, how to mulch properly, how to direct a work team of suburban teens, how to use a 20-horsepower wood chipper.  I've learned that even if I sow seeds at the wrong time, forget to water, and generally neglect the weeds, God can still produce a little something from my efforts.  I've learned that I am very small; sometimes, something grew out of the ground that I hadn't even planted.

5.  Leading kids in musical worship via voices, instruments, dance moves, and motions.  I didn't know I could do this.  But thanks to lots of practice in front of the mirror, I have become quite adept at singing, dancing, playing a toy tambourine, balancing my daughter on one hip, and disciplining unruly children -- all pretty much at the same time.  I've also learned that everyone likes me better when I smile.

6.  Daystar Child Care and Westminster Presbyterian Preschool -- where, for two years, my daughters have spent a few mornings each week.  One is low-cost, the other is completely free, but both have quality programs and are run by folks with passions similar to my own.  I'm grateful for people who believe that investing in early child development will not only help increase school attendance and achievement, but will ultimately help children grow into more loving, responsible adults.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When Pastor's Wives Throw Eggs

Warning: This post contains sensitive material.  I'm pouring out my heart here.  Please read with caution... and forgiveness.

Last week my husband got a curt email. He responded politely, in typical pastorly fashion. This was followed by two more emails from the same person, each nastier and harsher than the first. His work ethic, his calling, his abilities as a pastor and his dignity as a fellow human being were all attacked. What stung most was that this person had been a steady supporter of our ministry for years.

I take that back. What stung most was that, in typical pastorly fashion, Greg did not throw cruel words in the opposite direction. Instead, he wrote an apologetic letter stating how much he respected this person and how much this person had contributed to the life of the church and how much this person's prayers had sustained him and how very, very sorry he was for sending that polite reply in the first place. He even wrote the line: "I beg your forgiveness."

It's a week later.  He's yet to receive a reply.

This stuff sucks the life out of me. On the day my husband received the second two emails (also his birthday, in a cruel twist of irony), I couldn't focus. Not on my children, who badly needed my attention. Not on myself. Not even on my husband, whose spirit was understandably shattered. My hands were shaky. My chest felt tight. I wandered around aimlessly. On several occasions, I buried my face in my lap and wept.

The only part of me that seemed to be working properly was the angry-email part of my brain. The section that produces biting sarcasm and defensive, cutting wit.  That part was working overtime. In my head, I had written a reply letter that would have sent this particular person running for cover. Or, optimistically, to the knees in humble, repentant, self-loathing prayer.

In the end, I decided not to send that email. This is because I strive to do my pastor's wife thing well. Which means I cannot blindly jump into these sorts of situations, cannot rush angrily to defend, and most importantly, cannot call a parishioner a well-deserved name or two. Instead, I get to politely practice the art of "shelving" it. I get to hold the hurts inside and, one-by-one, choose to let them go as time softens their sting. I get to pray for help. I get to learn that eventually life goes on, even if I never pushed the "send" button.

In anger management therapy, it's commonly held that the end result of "shelving" or "absorbing" other people's angry tirades is unfortunately not a calm and forgiving attitude. The end result is stress headaches, anxiety, depression, disillusionment, bitterness.  Sometimes suppressed anger even manifests itself in acts of physical and verbal violence, or fantasies of the like.

In the last four years of ministry, I've seen all of these "symptoms" in my husband. I've seen all of them in me.  We both have felt anger so deep and so wide that we've wanted to detonate something.  We've had thoughts of shouting expletives or slamming doors in board meetings.  We have thrown things.  Punched holes in walls.  Spoken hurtful words that really weren't meant for the spouse we love dearly, meant instead for the person who put us in such a mood.

I hate the way our "shelved" anger comes out, how it eventually must come out, so tonight with a small group of trusted friends I broached the subject.  Here was my plan: I would, with a careful tone and under close supervision, reply and respond to those hurtful emails.  It was water I'd never tread in before -- actually REPLYING to that crap.  Defending my family's honor sounded delightful.

My friends weren't so sure.  They agreed that it might make me feel better to let out some steam, but it wouldn't accomplish anything in the way of mending what was broken.  Bless them.  (Curse them.)

I was holding the stack of emails in my hand, and feeling defeated, I announced that if I could not reply, then I was going to take them outside and ritualistically burn them.  The council approved.  One friend mentioned that writing the offender's name on an egg and throwing it might be similarly therapeutic (but that just sounded weird and wasteful to me).

The papers flamed orange and red, dissolving into soot.  It felt sort of nice.  Before the last flames burned out, I aired out my feelings one last time before finally putting them to rest.  "It hurts how people treat my best friend like he's a punching bag."  I wiped at my tears.  "It hurts that my children need me, and I can't give to them because someone else stole all my emotional energy.  It hurts that people cannot control their tempers.  It hurts that people don't think to say 'I'm sorry.'"  The friends listened with sweetly sympathetic faces.

So when my burn party was over, I was surprised to hear one of them say, "I want to throw an egg."  The truth comes out: I wasn't the only one in the group with anger issues.

I grabbed some eggs from the fridge, and the three of us scrawled names on them with a Sharpie.  I had to go back for more eggs.  Some eggs had three or four names on them.  Who knew such levels of rage existed beneath these pleasant smiles?

We lined up, several eggs in each hand, and took turns throwing them at a cement wall near the back of the church.  Some bounced off the grass in front of us, smashing yellow and white on the wall.  Some soared right over the wall and smacked on the church exterior.  One even sailed over the roof of the church.  We howled with laughter.  Eggs are surprisingly hard to aim when you let loose all your fury on them.

After picking up the scraps and hosing off the church (we are, after all, good church people), the three of us parted ways.  And I began to reflect.  How did Jesus handle his anger?

Overwhelmed by crowds of needy people, and the hard work of healing, teaching and preaching to such people, it strikes me that Jesus looked them square in the eyes, and "had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless..." (Matt 9:18).  I like that Jesus, the one that sees beneath the surface of things.  I admire him for his goodness, his steady streams of love.  But some days I can hardly relate. 

The Jesus I can relate to is the one who called people names: Fox (Luke 13:32), Hypocrite (Matt 23:25), and Whitewashed Tombs with Filthy Dead Bones Inside (Matt 23:27) are my favorites.  I like the Jesus who premeditated a violent temple clearing, taking a moment to form himself a sturdy whip to use, presumably, for hitting stuff.  There are words like "scattered" and "overturned" in that story; exclamation points abound!  This Jesus of ours knew about the woes of "shelving it."  He needed a place to insert all that righteous rage.

On days like these, it's that second Jesus I adore.  I appreciate so much his passion, his loyalty, his devotion.  I like that he threw a fit when people he loved were being abused.  It's that Jesus who makes me think it might be okay to throw a lot of eggs at a church building.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This one's a bit of a downer

This is the first poem I remember writing. I wrote it when I was eleven. I believe I was thinking about death a lot, in those days.

With that in mind, enjoy a leisurely stroll into my junior high-aged brain!

"The Painting"
(or maybe, "The Waterfall". Or something equally profound.)

A solitary waterfall
slips and slides.
Over rock and trees and hills
it glides.

Never stopping, never ceasing
so unlike life,
which can easily be ended
by a gun or a knife.

As I stare at the painting
frozen in time
I wonder: "Who was this artist?"
and "Where was his mind?"

Morbidly thought-provoking, yes? Great use of quotes, yes? My favorite part is the cute rhyme scheme, despite the fact that my subject matter is death and deadly weapons.

Friday, March 23, 2012

There's Ranch in my Pants

One of my favorite read-alouds as a kid was "A Light in the Attic," which I remember being quite hilarious for both my mom and us kids. Thankfully my girls love this and other Shel Silverstein volumes, so we've been plowing through them and cracking up together -- nightly. So here is my tribute to Mr. Silverstein: a fun little creation that was inspired by Eve when she wiggled on the couch and said to me, "I think there's ranch in my pants." Enjoy!

There's ranch in my pants,
and beans in my beard,
And ham slices, for worse or for better,
Are dangling like weeds
grown from sunflower seeds
amongst arugula in my argyle sweater.

There's a billion bacon bits
scratching my arm pits,
I've got olives in my front left pocket.
There's asparagus to spare
filling my underwear
and falling out, unless I can stop it.

And then there's the croutons,
the carrots, the cheese,
which squish all around in my socks.
While I haven't checked there
I think there's eggs in my hair,
and somewhere, my celery stalks.

My belt bursts with spinach.
There! I'm finally finished
with this funny, food-stuffed ballad.
My message complete:
You are what you eat.
And sometimes you have to be salad.