More Kissing Frogs For Labor Day

Tracey watched Joanna dash down the marble halls like they were a concrete basketball pad. Her ability to make any space seem comfortable was one of the things Tracey loved about Joanna. Even back in the worst days of living in someone else’s basement, Joanna made it all feel like camp instead of exile.

“I think you owe her an apology.” Edward’s voice was surprisingly gentle in its firmness.

“I know. I’ll find her after fight club and buy her lunch. I was a pretty big fool.” Tracey dropped her head onto the table top and was surprised to feel her father’s strong hand on her shoulder.

“The right man will come along, Tracey. You don’t have to push it.”

“You know how it is,” came her standard reply, “If you want to find a prince you’ve got to kiss a few frogs.

She stood up, before Edward could respond and beckoned Joey to join them.

The poor man looked so out of place here in the club. It was everything that he wasn’t, but rather than making him look rough and unpolished, Joey seemed to make his surroundings look pretentious and artificial. It was one more surprise in her short history with Joey Dreus.

She reached for his hand, and shook it.

“Thank you for everything, Joey. You are a true tradesman, and I am sorry for underestimating you.”

Joey was looking flustered, and his ears were turning red, whether from anger or embarrassment she couldn’t tell. It was like they spoke different languages and everything that came out of her mouth ended up in confusion.

“Am I fired?” came the reply.

It was Tracey’s turn to blush as she turned on her father.

“You didn’t tell him why you wanted to see him? You just summoned and he came?” Tracey laughed, and shook her head. She patted Joey on the shoulder as she walked away.

 

*****


From Potato Flowers to Pickles . . . OR . . . The Tyranny of the Urgent

From Potato Flowers to Pickles LifeMoreAbundant.meFor most of the summer our garden has occupied a small, but regular, portion of my schedule. Every morning we would go out and pick potato bugs from the potato plants, pull the largest weeds, and check on the plants. Occasionally, I would carry water over, but for the most part I did no heavy lifting. I had many philosophical thoughts, from being captured by the beauty of flowering potatoes, to musing on the way the Lord’s provision to us has changed over the last year, while being still entirely dependent upon Him. I pondered these things while walking peacefully through the rows before turning my attention to my other chores.

But for the past two weeks my home has been a hot, hairy, mess while I learn about the urgency of harvests. Everything bows to the timing of the garden, because while laundry and dishes and mopping the floor can wait, if you decide on Saturday evening to pick corn on Monday morning, the racoons may just beat you to it. Did you know that in three days a cucumber can go from the size of a thumb to “oh my goodness, the only thing I can do with that monster is pickle it!”? I didn’t either. I have gallons and gallons of pickles, and relish. I picked, and shelled, and blanched and froze peas every four days until I had to give up, because . . . cucumbers and cabbage, and broccoli. . . . The tomatoes and peppers are finally beginning to ripen, and I have moved from pickle to salsa production. Plus there’s apples literally falling from the trees in the back yard so there is apple jelly and apple butter, and apple pie filling all being sealed in glass jars with a satisfying “pop”.

The freezer is filling. The jars are going from empty to full. The Lord is providing for us, as he always has, in a completely different way than he has before. While He is doing that, he is also teaching me about how to tell the urgent from the truly urgent. Sometimes it means letting the cucumbers get a little bigger, or sacrificing a tomato to the worms. Sometimes it means cooking supper in between rounds of peeling, or stewing, or canning, or blanching. It is the Lord’s provision, and if I have learned anything over the last ten years, it is that the Lord’s provision is perfect, abundant, and wildly unpredictable.


On the Surreality of Being “The Preacher’s Wife.”

Just for the record, I will never look, or dress, or sound like this . . .

So technically Jonathan is not yet a pastor. He is preaching here as stated pulpit supply until he passes his final presbytery exams and can be called and installed as the minister of this congregation. In a direct correlation I am not a pastor’s wife. However, on two occasions in the last month, Jonathan has traded pulpits with other pastors in our presbytery. As we have had the joy of worshiping with other brothers and  sisters in Christ, I have had the strange experience of being introduced as the preacher’s wife.

The title brings with it a sense of inadequacy and not a little bit of anxiety. I found myself standing before a mirror in Nova Scotia psycho-analyzing what my hair would tell the congregation about me. Too elaborate says that I’m vain, too plain says that I’m lazy and I don’t want to look like a grandma, but I certainly don’t want to look like I think I’m still twenty. I put it in a bun, just like I do every Sunday because there is still a rational brain talking back to the crazy. On that same Sunday I employed the phrase “Suck it up, Butter-cup” while telling a story and thought to myself, as I watched the words zoom past me, “Probably not found in the “preacher’s wife accepted glossary.”

But in our travels around our sister congregations, I have had a wonderful realization. I am unlike all of the other pastor’s wives, and they are all unlike each other. There is no type or style or glossary, or wardrobe committee, or list of acceptable hairstyles. The way I am being introduced may have changed, but in reality I have the same job I did in St. Louis, and Columbus when I was just introduced as “Coralie.” I am Jonathan’s helpmeet and the mother of my children. I am married to a preacher. That is just an interesting fact about me, it is not a job description.


Another Kissing Frogs

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

Joey nervously brushed his work boots against the door jam before stepping on the rich plush carpet he saw stretched out in front of him. He had never been to a country club before, and the idea of it had managed to be much smaller than the reality.

 

“Meet me at my club. Joanna will get you the address.” Was all Edward MacManus had said, and then he had hung up. What he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to go once he had parked his work truck in the same lot as those sleek sports cars and fancy SUVs was still a mystery to him.

 

“Joey? Joey!” The call came from somewhere to his right, and he was bumping into the speaker before he saw her as he turned to find the voice.

 

“Joanna? What are you doing here?” He was so relieved to see a familiar face. Joanna smiled up into his confusion.

 

“Tracey and Edward are still talking some things through, so Edward asked me to make sure you were found. It’s quite the maze, isn’t it? Come on. They’re on the patio. Are you still hungry? The brunch buffet is still being served.”

 

She was chattering along seamlessly, but noticed Joey’s hesitation at her suggestion of brunch.

 

“Oh. It’s on Edward. He said to make yourself comfortable.” She grinned at Joey, “And he told me to join you. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

 

Her relaxed enthusiasm was contagious, and as Joey followed her through a startlingly lush lobby, across a marble courtyard and out to a walled garden, he relaxed and began to look around him in curiosity. Before he knew it, the two of them were sitting at a small table on the periphery of a beautiful garden restaurant. The plate in front of him was a collection of anything Joanna had indicated with “That’s delicious!” He doubted his ability to consume it all, now that he really got a good look at how much was there.

 

Sitting in a booth close enough to see them, but far enough that he couldn’t hear, Tracey and her father were locked in a firm, but seemingly friendly, discussion.

 

“So you and Tracey are okay after that reprimand yesterday?” Joey managed to squeeze the words out between bites of the best food he had ever eaten in his life. He suddenly felt the need to apologize to his mama for even thinking it, but it was true!

 

“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve had a falling out over a man.” Joanna’s flippant words were not matched in her tone, and Joey let the silence hang long enough that she knew he wasn’t buying it. She looked down at her plate and then started again.

 

“I’ve known Tracey since before either of us can remember. We go a lot deeper than this. We’re okay.”

 

“So you’re not fired?”

 

Joanna laughed, “She can’t fire me. I don’t work for her.”

 

Joey’s confusion was evident on his face, even with all the chewing.

 

“I work for her Daddy. I have for years.”

 

As Joey seriously considered licking the hollandaise sauce from his plate, Joanna spun her tale.

 

“Mr. Edward is a salesman. He always has been. You’ve heard about guys who could sell ice to Polar bears? Well Mr. Edward could sell those guys ice. He just wasn’t so good with the details like where the ice was coming from and how it would be delivered. When things were good, they were rolling in success, but things weren’t always good, and twice they were so bad the entire family moved into my family’s basement for six months with only two suitcases between the five of them.

 

The first time it happened, Tracey and I were eight. It was like the best slumber party ever that didn’t stop. We convinced almost everyone at school that we were sisters. We did everything together. I cried when they moved into an apartment the next summer, but Tracey and I stayed close, and even years later we would be asked if we were sisters or cousins.

 

The second time Mr. Edward hit rock bottom was six years later, and it was a completely different experience. Everyone was older, and the bankruptcy hit harder. Tracey’s oldest brother was planning to go to college, but there was no money for tuition. She and her second brother had to drop out of everything from tennis and music lessons to school clubs. She would leave the house twenty minutes early to walk four blocks and get on the bus in a different neighborhood, just so no one would see us living in the same house. She kept a notebook of what clothing combinations she wore so that she could rotate as many top/bottom combinations as possible so that it looked like she owned more clothes. And she hated her father.

 

That time the recovery wasn’t so easy. No one wanted to hire a two time loser, and he was completely out of next big ideas, until he realized that politics was all about selling, and very little about delivery. He ran for state representative in an off year by-election and won, and he has never looked back.”

 

Joey was watching Edward and Tracey over Joanna’s shoulder as this tale was being told. They were wrapping up their conversation, and Tracey was smiling and even laughed once. He looked back at Joanna.

 

“So how come you work for him?”

 

“My degree is in economic development. Every summer I would intern for Mr. Edward in some political capacity or other, but the place I shone was community involvement. I found places where he could step in with a little money and some hand shaking, and build some good will and political capital. Thing is, what I did better than the other interns was finding him projects that would actually last. I wasn’t bringing him playgrounds and overpasses, so when I graduated he hired me. My title is “Constituent Economic and Commerce Developer,” which is a real mouthful. I don’t use it much. Sophia publishing is one of my projects, but Tracey only agreed to head it up if I was her contact, not her father directly. So I work for Edward from a desk at Sophia and because I love everyone involved I also answer the phones and send emails and occasionally fetch coffee and the like. It seems to work for us.

 

Anyway, it all means that I’ll probably still be working with you pretty closely if you take this next project because that’s one of mine too.”

 

She swallowed some of her breakfast, then glanced at her phone.

 

“Oh darn! I’m running late for fight club. Just sit tight here until Edward and Tracey are done. Sorry to leave you hanging. I hear the coffee is really good.” The last sentence was hollered over her shoulder as she dashed out the door.

 


Kissing Frogs . . . Some More . . .

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

 

Tracey’s face went white hot. She could feel anger climbing her spine like a wild rodent and her palms began to sweat. She took a deep breath before putting on her game face.

“I am sorry that you feel that way. I think that if given the chance to speak to a young woman considering going into business I would tell her that my deepest regret was allowing myself to be duped into pretending to be a princess by someone who claimed to be a prince, but was really just a toad in some fancy clothes. I would tell any young woman coming to me for counsel that she should read this book, of which I am especially proud, and that she should realize that she does not have to be a helpless princess and she does not have to be a bitter goddess. If she read the book – which you clearly did not, and that disappoints me more than anything else that has happened to me today – if she read the book and then wanted to talk about what the alternatives look like in a real world instead of the fairytale world of this book, then I would be happy to speak to that young woman about my successes and my failures.”

 

*****

An abrupt commercial break seemed to come as Tracey was in mid breath for more tirade. No one said anything. No one moved. And then all four phone lines began to ring at once.

 

*****

 

The second Tracey heard the commercial music cut in through her headphones, she peeled them from her head, and grabbed her few belongings. She turned to one of the webcams, and smiled her best smile.

“Tracey MacManus. T-R-A-C-E-Y M-A-C-M-A-N-U-S of Sophia publishing. Google it.”

What she wanted to do was sweep majestically from the room without giving so much as a backward glance to Dr. Toad sitting in his wire cage. But her left foot had fallen asleep, so she resigned herself to a slow gimpy walk through the glass doors.

 

*****

 

There was a flurry of activity as the women of Sophia publishing ran to their desks and took battle stations. Amidst the sound of women talking in every office, and the fax machine ringing and printing and the phones ringing incessantly, Joanna quietly stepped to a corner and dialed her cell phone.

 

“Mr. Edward, whatever you are doing to help, please stop. Tracey has done it for herself. Today she is a rock star and she needs you to tell her that.”

 

Then she hung up, and dashed to her despised desk.

 

 


Kissing Frogs is Back . . .

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

 

At some point in the last fifteen minutes, Jack and Joey had found themselves sitting in the break room, staring at the radio. Joanna was pacing, wrapping a strand of hair around her index finger, then un wrapping and wrapping again. In fact, every staff member was sitting in the break room in some form of concentration so deep the speakers should have combusted from the combined force of their listening.

 

“He hasn’t read the book,” said Joanna, for the fourth time.

“He hasn’t even read the promotional materials,” muttered Jack, clearly disgusted. Joey’s head snapped around at that comment, his focus on the interview suddenly broken by his friend’s seeming intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

“What?” asked Jack, “I have three daughters. This is a subject about which I am very concerned.”

The commercial break washed over their combined intense silence with no effect. Everyone’s future was hanging in the balance, and it was beginning to look very dim indeed.

 

*****

It was clear that Andrew hadn’t even glanced at the promotional materials she had given him months ago, let alone read the complete digital manuscript she had given him. This was not the interview that was supposed to happen today, of all days.

“Let’s take a call,” said Andrew abruptly, as he pushed a flashing line on the touch screen in front of him. The sound of a young woman’s voice suddenly coming through her earphones made Tracey jump a little.

“Thanks for taking my call, Dr. Faulkner. I am a twenty-three year old woman, and I just feel like all of my friends are married and having children and moving past me. I want to know what I should be doing while I’m waiting for my life to begin?”

Tracey didn’t give Andrew a chance to even take a breath.

“Thanks for calling. I’m going to assume that you are not being held in a tower by an evil woman who wants to protect your hair. Am I right?”

The caller sputtered for a moment before saying, “No.”

“Then I have great news for you,” said Tracey, brightly. “You are not a Disney princess. What has been happening to you over the last twenty-three years is not backstory. It is the actual story. This is your life. It is happening right now. You do not have to wait for it to begin. It has begun. Congratulations!”

*****

There was a moment of spontaneous applause in the break room, but the feeling of doom did not completely lift from the people gathered anxiously around the radio.

*****

Andrew was unimpressed. His face hardened, and if his demeanor had been controlled at all by his personal feelings for her, it was restrained no longer. She recognized his tone of voice from years of listening to his show. He was going for the rhetorical kill.

“Tracey, maybe you can tell my audience why you think young women are so content to leave the role of princess behind and strive with so much effort toward that unattainable goal of goddess?” Andrew uttered the words without so much as a glance in her direction.

“Well Andrew, and I certainly don’t want to give away any spoilers. I would much prefer that your listeners read the book for themselves. This book is about the fact that those aren’t the only two choices available to women. In fact. . . “

“For instance,” Andrew cut in over her words like she hadn’t even drawn breath, “what would you tell a young woman who was trying to become a goddess by running her own business, based on your experience and regrets in that area.”

Tracey’s stomach fell, and she could feel her jaw clench for a moment as she choked out her response, “I would love to speak to any young woman considering entering the business field. While there are certainly always areas in which I could improve, I have found a measure of success in my field and . . .”

“No one is doubting that you are very good at the things at which you are very good, but I’m talking about the day-to-day business issues that are better left to a man. Like appropriate hiring practices, instead of just paying your friends like women tend to do.”

*****

Joanna’s face went white. She stopped completely in her tracks, but refused to look at the radio, as if she feared that by turning to the radio she would alert Andrew Faulkner to her presence.

 


Not A Redneck Joke

redneck  Two weeks ago, I uttered the sentence: “I’m sorry we couldn’t make it to the tractor pull. We had to move chickens.” Yes. Really.

My children have to pick potato beetles from the potato plants every morning before they can play, and some days we see more tractors and four wheelers on our road than cars. This is rural life.

It is easy when my to do list includes “hill potatoes” and “shuck peas” to present myself as a caricature of the country preacher’s wife, becoming the stereo-type I have always hated to read. It is tempting to go for the easy laugh.

But for all of the ways that our life looks different from the life we lived in St. Louis and Columbus, there are infinite ways that it doesn’t. There are still hurting people and happy people. There are victories and defeats and the mundanes in between. We are praying for health and for jobs and for lost souls. We are doing our best to love people, and we are sometimes failing. The promises of God are true, and we all need to hear them every week (or more) no matter where we have lived.

So yes, there are tractor pulls and chickens, and I have shucked a lot of peas. But there is so much more to this life than those trappings. The people we love and the life we are building here are precious to us, and Jonathan’s calling to serve the church is an honor. It is rural life, and rural ministry, but I will not make it one big redneck joke. It is so much deeper than that.


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