Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Long-Awaited Return

He cracked the door open, whispered into the dark, "Time to get up," and his silhouette disappeared from the vertical slice of light in the hallway.

I scrambled from under the covers and slipped cool denim over my bed-warm thighs. Adding a shirt, my teeth began to chatter. It was 4:30 a.m. and it was one of my favorite summer activities: going to open McElroy's Harbor House Seafood Restaurant with Uncle Mickey. I was nine.

We drove across town on unpopulated roads, the only vehicle stopped at an empty intersection for a red light. We soon stood in the damp morning air at the door, the sound of the deadbolt releasing a new day. The seagulls were still tucked tightly into their nests. Even the water in the harbor slept from its constant licking at the shrimp boat hulls, sailboats, and mini-yachts tied neatly in each boat slip. Shrimp nets stood at attention, dry from yesterday's drags. What never slept were the fishy smell of Gulf waters and the breeze with her indiscriminate, humid hugs.

Soon the cash register was spitting out yards of yesterday's sales reports, and coffee's aroma impregnated the dining room like a Folgers commercial. The good ole boys from Biloxi would trickle in for coffee and gossip like only a small town and a table at a locally owned restaurant can serve up. The police chief, shrimpers, business men all began their day with coffee served by Uncle Mickey himself, before the sign on the door read open or the wait staff arrived. Like a pinball machine, he would bounce from table to table, talking with old friends and acquaintances about the news of the day and yesterday's catch.

I also remember going to the kitchen with Paw Paw, an old white house on Gill Avenue, masquerading as a commercial kitchen that boasted only rudimentary equipment. He had made a vat of his seafood gumbo that morning and let me ride over the Back Bay bridge in the bed of his pickup after school. He would turn off four box fans that had helped cool the cauldron. I helped him divvy gumbo into about 50 three gallon containers, label them, and line them like white pickets on shelves in the walk-in freezer. The hot plastic would burn my fingerprints after awhile, so I dragged them over the frost accumulating on the freezer shelves from leaving the door open too long.

 Paw Paw always let me lick the vats, and never made me do the dishes.I'd ride back across the bay, full and happy, smelling of crab meat and gumbo gravy that started as an auburn rue early that morning. Paw Paw was happy in a kitchen: his own, his restaurant's, his brother-in-law's--which one didn't matter. The gumbo and Paw Paw's homemade butter were classic Harbor House fare, and McElroy's became a Coast icon slowly over thirty years.

Hurricane Katrina put an end to all that in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor on August 29, 2005.

Thirty foot storm surge has an uncanny ability to wash away a family business and a town's way of life. Memories may have been built to hurricane standards back in the 70s, but buildings bordered by land on only three sides weren't. Not a single building in Biloxi stood on stilts until after Katrina. Even Camille didn't change that.

Today McElroy's is back.

The path was not clear sailing, but long and arduous, ebbing and flowing like the daily tides. Some days it seemed as close as the sand on Deer Island, just right there. In the end, a lease agreement survived the hurricane's wrath, too. It's taken almost seven years, and McElroy's now stands atop spindly legs far above the new flood plane drawn by Katrina and the Corp. of Engineers.

Funny how precariously top-heavy is better defense against future hurricane fury. The strategy is to rise above it, wisdom that was learned the hard way.

It's a comeback story of all-American can do, served on a pedestal this time, instead of the old platter. It still goes great with the stuffed flounder. If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop in. I recommend the oyster po-boy.

Congratulations, Uncle Mickey and Aunt Jane. Grandmommie and Paw Paw would be proud.

To view a stunning before/after flash player version of Katrina damage to the restaurant, click here.
All images of the new building came from the local newspaper's website/Facebook page. The article and photo gallery can be found here.

Related Posts:
How to Weather a Storm

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sleeping Through the Light Show

I fought sleep all through the sermon yesterday from the center of the second row, right in front of the preacher (my husband). And right now I can't even remember what it was about, really, except to say that to love Him is to know Him. We were in 1 John, where all the red hearts and green circles dot my holy writ.

I was tired and tried not to sleep through it. I may or may not have succeeded.

A few moments prior, my son played his guitar from stage with a heart for God that's as bright as our stage lighting. He has one week left of 11th grade. I'm not sure when he reached 6'1".

The last time I considered this thought was a well visit at 24 months, when they showed a younger, skinnier me a grid with a soft, sweeping curve and said, "He'll be 6'2" as an adult." It was inconceivable when a toddler weighed down my arms.

Funny thing is, it still is.

Noelle was serving in the nursery she used to play in. Why does that seem like only a year or two ago?

Reagan sat with her cousin listening to the sermon, but I'm pretty sure she was thinking about the book in her hands. The cover was being caressed by her left hand. She's eager to read about guarding her purity and why dating may not aid her cause. You know. She's 13 going on 19.

That's why I haven't been around here so much lately.

I started blogging two years ago because life was speeding by so quickly. I wanted to slow it down, capture and hold it, if only a few glorious moments of it, so that in the end it wouldn't feel like it had all sipped by without being grasped and embraced wholly for all the bright life that it was, is.

So I tried to pin life to a page with words.

In the process I awakened my dreams, and it felt good and right to ... well, write.

Over time, blogging and the pursuit of writing had seeped into my whole life. My house became more unkempt, more groceries were left unbought and uncooked. My bible idled like a car at a red light revving its engine waiting to propel me spiritually forward. All the while my kids were growing, my waistline too, and I started missing the novels I used to enjoy reading. That is to say nothing of my deep bible study time that has dwindled to reading a devotional. I was busy being a writer.

And I just got so tired.

At some point I looked up from my laptop and realized I was now missing my life instead of living it more fully.

 I had forgotten that I enjoyed being a mom, a homemaker, wife, disciple. My love of cooking, reading, and taking walks with Noelle and Boomer had all fallen asleep.

: :

When you capture fireflies in a jar, they stop lighting up because they feel trapped. The best way to enjoy fireflies is to sit on the front steps and watch with a keen eye and delight in the fraction of a  second when a bug lights the night.

Life's kind of like that, too, maybe even more so when it's fully involved with high school kids. It's a quick flick of light and then it's over. I don't want to miss the electrified moments.

I'll still write, just maybe not as often. That way I can also enjoy working out, a cleaner house, better planned meals around our table, my husband, my God, and not sleep through sermons or my kids' growing up.

All these things light up with God's love right before my sleepy eyes if I would watch. I managed to learn yesterday in my half-sleep only this: that to love them is to know them. Surely I can wake up and execute better balance in my life so I don't miss it when my kids light up the darkness with their lives.

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men. ... For this reason I bow my knees ... that He would grant you ... to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to the fullness of God (2 Cor. 3:2 and Ephesians 3:14-19).

Sharing today with Michelle's Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday community.

Friday, May 11, 2012

'Twas the Night Before...

It's AP Exam day, your first one, too, with another next week. As a Junior. Last night you were at church in prayer rather than cramming with a study group. Although we, your parents, helped make the decision about where you would be and what you would spend your "night before" doing, I think we made the right decision, partly because it was the hard decision. 

You had two choices: 1 – pray or 2 – study the night before an exam that proves a full year of school work and could be worth college credit. You've studied for nine months and it all culminates in this exam. Conventional wisdom says study, so, somehow, in God's economy, I think choosing prayer was right.

It was beyond your control that our church's annual week of prayer collided with your AP Exam on the calendar.  All you can do at that point is choose: pursue God, His body, and the Christian disciplines or seek educational success and early college credit. When the hard decisions fall on the side of spiritual growth and eternity rather than education, career and the earthly, I think we got it right, Adrian.

We exist to serve His purposes. It behooves us to know—and remember in the crutial, inconvenient times—what we are to be about. Life's crossroads often hold difficult choices, decisions that will bear on our future, both earthly and eternal. This won't be your last test in life, Adrian. There will be many. The best way to prepare for those tests and to make the choice that best serves your future purpose is to focus on your God and not the task or dilemma at hand.

You're in good company, son. Jesus spent his "night befores" praying, too. A full night of sleepless prayer before choosing 12 men who were to change the world when He was gone (Luke 6:12-13). The night before his big decision, Jesus wasn't studying resumes; He was consulting his Father. Before the agony of the cross? A late night alone in a garden. Perhaps there's no better way to prepare for life's challenges. And we don't even have to wonder what Jesus would do. We just have to be brave enough to chose his way.

The Kingdom of Christ and devoting yourself to it will make you victorious, whether you pass the A PUSH Exam today or not. But I do hope you are giving that exam your all right now to the glory of God, and that you pass it.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you(Matthew 6:33). You are living it out loud.

So very proud of you,

Linking with Gail at Bible Love Notes today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Soccer as Sacrifice

Game Day dawns on a tired team. The day before had been an 18 hour travel day with two flights in coach and a five hour van ride packed like sardines in a metal box on wheels up windy, steep mountain passes into the Chinajá mountain range in northern Guatemala.

They arise early because there is no time for rest. There's a soccer match to be played, a village to be fed, and a gospel to be proclaimed. So, early, they repack their gear and finish their travel to the home field: a four hour hike up a rocky mountain path to the village of Sesaltul. They are the away team.

The hike is uphill, and splits a cornfield growing at a 45 degree angle right off a mountainside. They rest, but continue until they reach their destination:  brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are yet stranger and alien.

On their backs they carry jerseys for the home team, dinner for the entire village, tents to sleep in, and a trophy to give to Guatemalan winners. They knew before they left America they would lose the game, their best energy was spent in just getting there.

They pitch tents and enter the soccer arena, a littered field the length of an American football field. Men run and play like boys, and for awhile, the cares of life disintegrate into a set of rules with a ball and no hands, sportsmanship, clear goals, and team effort. A village is entertained.

It's a reprieve from daily survival for a whole village, a luxurious expenditure on pleasure. Like Christmas morning, those yellow shirts flashing adornment across an otherwise bare green. The scene is lavish and laughable, the poor made rich. It's an alabaster box broken and spilling soccer in a far away, humble village; the beautiful aroma smells like sweat.

There are hot dogs and cookies, children going first instead of last with colorful stickers and joy rising. A trophy is ceremoniously awarded, losers pray for winners, and men live out T-shirt words, plastered sweaty across their backs. Loving, Reaching, Growing: Fully devoted follower of Christ.

The day ran out into the arms of night like men who hiked a mountainside for soccer and ran right into the blazing heart of God. He consumes the soccer-and-supper sacrifice offered on a Guatemalan altar, like a hungry village eats hot dogs. The aroma to the Lord is sweet perfume. Not from an alabaster jar, but from the stuff that is far more precious: earthen vessels broken and spilling God's love.

Sharing Xtreme Guatemala with Jennifer's God-Bumps community.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dirty Shoes and Streets of Gold

I was just a smidge embarrassed the other day when my son invited his boss over to record with him. He didn't tell me beforehand, so I came home from work to a house full of clutter and music. They were mostly done recording by the time I arrived, so I didn't hear this beautiful music until I found it on Adrian's Facebook page.

I wish I had heard it that day though. It would have made me feel so much better. After hearing this, I know, somehow, they weren't looking at Reagan's shoes in the middle of the room or the glass that was left out on the computer desk. They were pretty intent on what they were doing.

But, I'm also happy the mic stand faces the corner. Just in case.

Week{ending} :: True Colors

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another,
“If Joseph is holding a grudge against us,
he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”    
~Genesis 50:15


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