Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pews Blues

This arm belongs to a man named Marty.
This summer, I'm finding myself taking an unexpected journey. Not a road trip, not a flight to an unknown city, no cross-country trek to the tune of "This Land is Your Land." No, my journey will take place within four walls (give or take), and I think I'm more nervous about it than I would be if I were to hit the open road without a road map.

You see, I'm losing my pew. And I have to find a new one.

When I say I'm losing my pew, I don't mean that I'm losing it to a new family in church. Sure, that happens sometimes, and I greet them sweetly during that awful, awkward hand-shaking time, and then settle myself in to scowl behind them for the rest of the service. (And I ditch Sunday School five minutes early for a few weeks to make sure it doesn't happen again.)
And, it's not like we're going into a time when, like, all the youth have to sit in a designated spot--my spot--for a special series on Christian dating.

No, my spot, my pew, my SECTION is disappearing for a time of construction. What will remain afterwards remains to be seen. Nobody has been forthcoming, which means I can only assume the worst. And by the worst, I mean, of course, the balcony.
Now, I know there are bigger problems in this world. I sit around people who deal with bigger problems that this. (at leas, I used to...). For goodness' sake, I have bigger problems that this, but it's rattling nonetheless.
You see, we've marked this pew. That spot? Next to my Thompson NIV Chain Reference Bible? That's from the Sunday when our youngest son showed up withe the home-made Silly Putty he'd created in Sunday School. It leeched into the fabric, and I spent every Sunday for more than a month trying to pick it out of the fibers. Eleven Years Ago. I should have kept it and sent it to NASA.

That "help" message? Scratched into the pew in front? My boys swear none of them are responsible. I suppose it could be the work of some first-service hooligan, or a desperate Academy kid in chapel, but there have been several occasions when I have rested my head right next to that word, and "Lord, help me..." was the closest I could come to an articulated prayer.

I'm not merely a creature of habit. My spot was carefully chosen to take into account my attention span, angle of pulpit in respect to note-taking and screen-reading, and ration of people in front of me to those behind me which has a direct effect on how boldly I will attempt to sing the alto part of my favorite hymns. And, most importantly, there are zero kids. Since my own have grown, my tolerance has diminished exponentially.

I suppose, sometimes, God has to nudge us out of our rut, and as far as rut-nudgings go, this is pretty tame. So, look out Brothers and Sisters, I'm moving to your side of the church. If you're a gum-smacker, spit it out; if you're a candy-wrapper-rattler, put it away. And if you're a Soprano, well, my apologies in advance.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why the Downton Season 3 Finale was Terrible

(the following is nothing more than my humble opinion...)

Let me say first of all, that Mikey and I watch Downton Abbey like it's an episode of Mystery Science Theater, with our own self-indulgent and frankly PG-13 witty commentary. I knew going in to the episode that Matthew was going to --wait for it-- be "written out." And I understand. On any given serial, you have to cut the dead weight every now and then, and no weight was deader than sincere, floppy-haired Matthew. We spent the whole episode anticipating his demise. Train wreck? Highland Fling Fatality? Suffocation as Mary sucks all living joy out of a room? Any of those would have worked, because you can't--you just CAN'T bring a lorry out of nowhere careening around a corner intercut with shots of people talking about how unpredictable life is.

I mean, you can, but it's a stupid way to do things. A sloppy, shabby shortcut. To very loosely paraphrase the brilliant Steven James (because it's late and I don't want to go looking for my notes...) you have to lay out a few crumbs for the story to follow. You have to do something that ups the ante, and Matthew Crawley laid out by the side of the road does none of that. Here's why, and my humble offering as to what should have happened instead.

WHY IT WAS STUPID: We already have the tragic story of a parent dead in the wee hours of a their child's birth. (Anybody remember Sybil?) So--it's a lazy way to create "drama." The circumstances work well with Tom Branson, though, because he now faces an added conflict of wondering where his place is in the household, as all of his status came from being the son-in-law of the Earl.  Mary's thrust into single parenthood accomplishes nothing along those lines. I mean, yeah, she'll be in mourning and she loves Matthew and all, but there's no interesting added dimension to that. Plus, she's so hateful, it's kind of hard to feel sorry for her, especially after cuddling her baby and giving him his first nickname: "Duty."

WASTED OPPORTUNITY: For the first time (how convenient) we hear about the hi-light of Lord Grantham's year--the trip to Scotland to hang out with Shrimpy and Susan. Here we learn of a miserable marriage, barely clinging to civility, with a post in India the next best thing to a scandalous divorce. I kept thinking...hmm...why do we care about these people? Why are we wasting our time with this when the Dowager could be zinging us with snappy dialogue about kilts and bagpipes? And then--oh. Rose. Because that's what every soap opera does when it starts losing brings on the teenagers. (Any All My Children fans remember Greg and Jenny? ) This plot development only proves that Julian Fellowes knows his Brady Bunch and is dressing Cousin Oliver up like a flapper and teaching him the Charleston.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE: If Fellowes knew that actor Dan Stevens wanted out of the Abbey, he should have given Matthew and Mary a long, miserable year of marriage. Goodness knows it would be believable, given that Mary has all the humor and compassion of a Hot-Pocket. Yes, there could be a pregnancy and an heir, but then Matthew could have looked into the eyes of his little chap and said, "Well done, old girl. I'm off to Australia to learn more about the profit of sheep." or "Good on you, Mary my dear. I'm off to America. Send the boy over when he's 12." That way, we'd have a character in a dicey position. Mary, not-quite-divorced, dealing with the rising above the scandal, and fighting off suitors. She could name the boy Telemachus and take up weaving. Plus, that could explain why he was so gung-ho about bringing Branson in as the estate manager. Not because he's a nice guy always wanting to do the prudent thing, but because he didn't want to leave his son's inheritance in the hands of a bumbling Ponzi-enthusiast and a status-obsessed ice queen.

Believe it or not, I really do love this show for many, many reasons, and I'm just as eager to see what Season 4 offers. And, if Julian Fellowes ever reads this...give me a call. Because it would be really, really cool to spend part of it playing Gaslight with Anna and Bates!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love is Messy...

(Re-sharing from last year...)

Every year for Valentine's day, my Mikey finds some quirky way to present me with my box of chocolates. Years ago, I opened my eyes to find myself staring right at it as it nestled on his pillow. I went straight from dream-land to treat-land, popping two or three before I even crawled out of bed. What a yummy, decadent way to start the day, even though it would soon dissolve into the normal chaos of trying to get two grown-ups and three little boys ready for a day of school and work. That's how I lost track of my chocolates, leaving the open box sitting right on the foot of the bed, which wouldn't have been that big of a deal if it weren't for ... the dog.

This was long before Stella, when we had a faithful old man named Neumann to fill our canine needs. Neumann was perfect--in any other situation, you could leave him in front of an open bag of chicken nuggets and he'd sit patiently by, the thought never entering his mind to do anything but sit and wait for an opportunity to obey. But, for some reason, on this day, I came home to find a mysterious trail of little brown papers, leading to the empty heart-shaped box. The only pieces left were two half-eaten coconuts. Not even my dog liked coconut.

Now, animal lovers everywhere, take a collective breath. Yes, I know chocolate is bad for dogs, and a phone call to my vet said to just sit and wait and watch...which, we did. We watched my Valentine's chocolates reappear all over our house. In the hallway, in the kitchen, the living room, the entry way, the bathroom. From both ends and possibley places in-between, my gived was oozed and splurted and plopped. And there was my Mikey, with a scrub brush and carpet cleaner, paper towels and Febreeze, taking care of every bit of mess.

I call this my favorite Valentine, because I love the lesson here. (And when I was a teacher, I told it to my students every year...). Love is a messy, messy thing. It's not enough to wallow in the romance of a pretty box of chocolate--you've got to be able to laugh and forgive and work together when it's in danger of going to the dog!

Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone!!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 -- My Personal Highlight Reel

My favorite time of the entire Holiday Season is this week between Christmas and New Year's. Pressure's off, house is in a big enough to make you really want to do something about it. The days alternate between accomplishment and laziness. It's a time to look back and look forward. Transition, if you will. And while it's tempting to post my resolutions in some attempt at accountability, I'm taking a moment to pause and look back at the year made famous to be our last, ever, and ponder a dozen of the high points.

1. The Last Weeks of Summer--in which a weird set of circumstances left us with a 10-week stretch without a pay-day. It was a time to see God work amazing financial miracles, and I learned to stretch, shop and cook like I never have before. I've brought a lot of new habits into our breathing-room budget. Pre-peeled baby carrots are a luxury I might never visit again.

2.  My boys--of course. Seeing Jackson land the job at a frozen yogurt place--a job for which he'd been patiently waiting for almost a year. Seeing the change in Ryan over a summer of lifeguarding at a water park--one day he was just standing taller, with more confidence. Speaking of taller...seeing my youngest, Charlie, finally grow to be taller than me. Some bittersweetness there!

3.  My amazing husband, Mikey, losing 50 pounds. Nothing fancy--just counting calories and playing disc golf. Love seeing his health improve before our very eyes!

4.  Spending a week playing "nanny" to my friend's beautiful daughter, Lorelai. It was right in the midst of a whirlwind of difficult days in our home. It was truly like a mini-resort leaving the world of drama-ridden teenagers to spend endless hours snuggling with a baby.

5.  Ferb. One day, during the last week of school, with absolutely nobody's blessing or permission, one of the boys brought home a kitten. Today she's a spoiled, clueless, enormous cat, and I adore her!

6.  The Family Reunion -- In all, we had about 6 hours together, but how sweet to gather together 5 generations, 10 family groups, aged 90 to 1. All of us loving each other, and loving the Lord.

7.  Losing the Christy for Forsaking All Others. Yeah, it would have been cool to win, but then I wouldn't have had the awesome experience of sitting in a bar with my agent, Bill Jensen, and drinking a beer while debating the false church in the book of Revelations. All in a fancy dress!

8. Winning Mentor of the Year at the ACFW conference a few weeks later--because as much as I know God has called me to write, I know He has called me to work with other writers.

9.  Ditching our DVR. At first, it was a grand gesture to reduce a monthly bill, but while I don't really watch less TV, I find my watching infinately more purposeful! Of course, that all might change when Mad Men starts up again...

10. Summer movies--one luxury we kept in the tough times. One theater has $5 showings in the late afternoons, so we had a regular Sunday "date" with another couple. Best movie of the summer? Hands down, Premium Rush. Worst? The Master. (I will not honor it with a link.)

11. Giving up, cutting back, cutting down on church commitments. God just very clearly told me--"Stop." And I did. A few weeks ago I talked to a woman who, in the middle of our conversation, confessed she had no idea who I was. It felt wonderful.

12. The constant, ever-present, day-by-moment-by-second renewal of God's faithfulness. They aren't just new every morning, they are new with every breath. This year, perhaps more than any other, is testament to that.

Friday, November 30, 2012


All month long I've been reading my friends' and family's posts on facebook for the 30 Days of Thankfulness. And, with every post, I've felt more and more like a slouch for not participating. But, that's me--this frustrating combination of hating to be late, but always missing deadlines.

So, as we cling to this final day of November, I'm clinging to the caboose of gratitude and giving it a twist. Here, in brief, are a few things I'm grateful NOT to have:

1. My DVR. I know, I know...I'm such a TV junkie, I never thought I'd be able to handle not having immediate TV at my fingertips. But we're saving about $80 a month, and I'm watching a lot less TV. With that, I'm not missing anything. The only real casualty was not getting to see the final 4 episodes of America's Next Top Model, but the love of my family ushered me through that dark time. I hear the blonde chick won, right?
              1 (a) -- I'm actually thankful for the new American Idol judges, because now I think I can be free from the burden of watching that show. On a side note, here's a great song from the original AI winner, Kelly Clarkson, whom I love. It is called, appropriately, "Thankful." Have a listen...

2. A gym membership--yet another casualty of our budgetary down-sizing. Because, for every day I went to the gym, there were at least 5 that I hated myself for not going, and then that one day a month seeing the membership fee sucked out of the checking account that left me riddled with more chubby guilt than any eliptical could erase. Instead, I have a dog who loves to go for walks, and a beautiful track where deer come out at dusk. And, no, I haven't taken advantage of either of those for about 6 weeks, but at least they're free!

3. Daughters. Sorry, y'all, but I'm barely a good mother, I know I'd never be a good mother to a child who might actually crave my attention and opinion. My sons are sweetly reticent and low-maintenance. We enjoy our comfortable silence and low-scale drama. If I were saddled with a creature  prone to cry, I'd lose my mind.

4. A million dollars. Really--in light of the recent Powerball excitement, it might seem strange to be grateful not to have excess money. It's been an incredibly tight year for the Pittman family--these past few months more challenging than any since the early days of our marriage when I stole toilet paper from the faculty restroom. (I figure I'd eventually be using it anyway, so why not at home?) But, I've learned so much about myself, our family has learned so much about what really, really matters in life. We've found joy in such simple, small things, and most of all, we've been AMAZED by God's provision and faithfullness. When I look at our budget and then look at what we have, it doesn't compute. It doesn't balance.  I'm tempted to think God is just as bad at math as I am.

5. Finally, I'm grateful NOT to have the burden of my sin--God's grace is sufficient to carry that all away, to leave me fresh and whole moment by moment as I look to Him for daily refuge. I'm thankful to have such a strong heavenly Father to take my burdens away, to soothe the emotional, crazed daughter the way I myself could never do. (see #3) I think maybe I stayed away from posting my daily thankfulness because i just couldn't winnow it down. I'm overwhelmed wih blessings--too many to begin to name. Enough to breathe gratitude in every waking moment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Everything I Meant to Say...

Last Saturday night, 700 people witnessed a miracle. Me, speechless.

Gals at the gala: (l-r) Raquel, Anita, Moi, Sandy, Elizabeth
I was on the stage at the banquet that caps the annual American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. Moments before, I had the honor of being named ACFW's Mentor of the Year. I knew I was a finalist for the award, but as I never really pictured myself winning, I hadn't prepared a speech. I had a few ideas of what I might say, and if I'm going to be at all honest, I'd run through a few phrases in the shower, but when I got up to that podium, holding that bouquet of roses and lovely award with my name etched in the glass, well, my head went empty. That doesn't happen to me often. I'm glib on my feet, usually. And now, looking back, I feel like my lack of preparation was an amazing show of disrespect to my wonderful friends who cared enough to nominate me in the first place.

So...what I'm sharing with you now isn't exactly what I'd planned to say in some acceptance speech. It actually comes from my sermon notes from the Sunday before the conference.

The text: John 15: 5-8
  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Years ago, before I even knew about the existence of Christian fiction, I knew I wanted to be some sort of writer. I clearly remember reading these verses and thinking that, if I didn't follow through in some sort of obedience, God would dry up my very ability to write. Then, last Sunay, as this was the focal point of the sermon, I sat thinking about how far God had brought me. Until that moment, if anyone had ever asked me about the "fruit" of my writing, I would have told of my novels--Nine of them!--and my Awards and Almost-Awards. But that Sunday, God spoke just as clearly to me as He had all those years ago. My fruit wasn't on my Amazon Author Page. My fruit was in the lives of people in whom I am invested. One point our pastor made was that a healthy, fruit-producing vine remains green--healthy enough to produce a crop year after year. My writing friends feed me. I nourish my own career by trying to clear a path for others. My stories thrive because of my critique group, and I yearn for the professionalism of writing-centric conversations.

So...yeah. That's what I meant to say. You know, all eloquent with scriptural references and alliteration and the occasional clever twist of phrase. It's just never easy for me to talk about myself. About my books? Sure. About YOUR books? Absolutely!  Instead, I was all weepy, weepy, bwah, bwah, bwah...ill-prepared for the magnitude of such a blessing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to My Magic Man

Earlier this summer, women were flocking to theaters to see a little film called Magic Mike. I don't know much about the story line, but then I'm pretty sure few of the women dragging themselves out of the theater did, either. Something about strippers and oil and that odd fashion choice of opting for a tie and vest while eschwing the shirt. (That's ESchewing ladies, not chewing...)

Anyway, not me. I didn't see it. Didn't have to, because I have my very own Magic Mike at home. I, affectionately call him "Mikey," as do his older brothers and now--somewhat to his chagrin--so does a whole family of facebook strangers. And, today is his birthday.

Such a goofball, but I love him!
I call him "Magic," because he is. Anybody who could live with me for 22 years and not be under felony indictment has got to have a spirit of supernatural patience. Today he spent his birthday getting my van tire fixed (again) after I drove clear across town on a nearly flat tire (again). He's spending his evening at church orchestra practice. He is a strong man of God who loves his family, serves his Savior, and makes me laugh every single day.

Mikey's a big guy with a bigger IQ and a photographic memory. He loves Vampire novels and kittens equally. Some men spend their time on questionable websites, my Mikey rarely navigates away from anything Disney related. He knows just enough about absolutely everything to make him the perfect guest at any party. He never makes me watch football, yet he indulges my Investigative Discovery addiction. (though he refuses to spend even five minutes with the Real Housewives of...anywhere.)

Quite simply, I love him, and I don't know anybody who doesn't. In fact, I kind of think that not to love Mikey is a sure sign of psychopathy.

My mother always said that few people are able to love each other equally, and I think that's true. I don't think Mikey loves me any more than I love him, but he's better at it. Less selfish, less demanding, less...crazy. I thank God every day for bringing us together.