Monday, April 26, 2010

Northern/Southern Living

I moved to Charlotte in 1998 after spending my whole life in the North, living in fun places like Michigan, Ohio and North Dakota. Most of those years were spent in Ohio; I was Buckeye born and Buckeye bred. However, I can assure you that when I die, I will not be Buckeye dead. I love North Carolina and suspect I may be here for the duration now. Of course, no matter where I have lived, it's the people who are a part of my life that I always treasure the most. That’s what I appreciate the most about where I live now, and it’s definitely what I miss the most about where I used to live. But, beyond the people, there are some things that I really miss about living in the North, as well as things I love about the South. Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order.

1. Tea. I mean real tea. The first time I went to the Waffle House I ordered tea with my waffle. They brought me sweet tea. In the North, they know what tea is. It’s hot and unsweetened. If you want it cold, you ask for it "iced" and if you want it sweet, you sweeten it yourself. Enough said.
2. Major league baseball. Yeah, I know they have major league baseball in the South somewhere. I understand there’s a team in Atlanta. But if you live where I do and want to go to a game, you have to make a weekend of it. I want a major league baseball team that I can go to see play in the evening and then return home at a reasonable hour to sleep in my own bed. Is that asking too much? (Sure, I could do that with NASCAR, which is in my backyard, but that’s not a real sport.)
3. Lemon meringue pie. I can rarely find this in restaurants down here and when I do, it’s just not right. There are three main parts to a good lemon meringue pie. There’s the crust, the filling and the meringue. At least one of those parts always seems to be wrong.
4. Fast food. By fast food, I mean food that is served shortly after you order it. That’s how they do it in the North. In the South, the only difference I’ve noticed between fast food and non-fast food is that I wait for fast food while sitting in my car.
5. Apple cider. Real apple cider. You know, the non-translucent kind that tastes like squished apples.
6. The possibility of having a white Christmas. In Cleveland, Ohio, the probability is 40%. In Charlotte it is 0%. The last time they had a white Christmas in Charlotte was in 1947.
7. Snickerdoodles. Actually, I’ve met several people in the South who know how to make wonderful snickerdoodles. And they all come from the North.
8. Root beer stands. Loved going to the root beer stand on a scorchingly hot summer day and getting a frosty mug of root beer with 5” of foam on top. Haven’t seen one since I’ve moved here.
9. Mulligans. Best cheeseburgers anywhere I’ve been are in Canton, Ohio. I’ve been looking for something close since moving to Charlotte and have come to the conclusion that I’d be more successful searching for the Holy Grail.
10. A short grass mowing season. As I recall, in the North, mowing the lawn was a summer activity. In Charlotte, it is not a seasonal activity; it is a way of life.

1. Banana pudding. I didn’t know what banana pudding was until I moved south. In the North it is banana flavored instant pudding. Down here, it involves real live bananas and vanilla wafers. Some people bake it with meringue on top. My friend Dick Little tells me you can tell an authentic Southern restaurant if it lists banana pudding as one of the vegetable sides. (He also converted me to Duke’s as the only legitimate mayonnaise in the world.)
2. Okra. No, I’ve not gotten into livermush or grits. (Livermush is one of a long list of foods I’ve never tried but am certain I don’t like. And grits, well I did try one once, and that was enough.) But okra is a winner with me. I don’t do it fried. To me, once you batter fry anything, it tastes like fried batter. I love the squeaky-spongy way okra feels when you chew it and wouldn’t think of cooking up a pot of vegetable soup without throwing some okra in it.
3. Corn season. Yeah, they have corn in the North, but you can’t go to a vegetable stand and buy fresh, locally grown corn, picked in the morning so there’s still dew on it, until nearly August. It starts in June here.
4. Y’all. English is so much more precise when we can differentiate between second person singular and plural. When I speak to a crowd and say “you”, people can assume that I’m not talking to them, but some other “you.” But when I say “y’all”, there is no question that y’all best listen up.
5. The Waffle House. Some of you know that this was one of the reasons I moved here to begin with. Love their waffles, cooked extra crispy. The first couple years I lived in Charlotte I went to the Waffle House on Independence Blvd. every Friday and sat at the counter watching the cook. How did he ever keep track of all those elaborate orders coming at him at once, without writing anything down? It was very humbling to realize that there was no way in hell I could ever cut it as a cook at The Waffle House.
6. Fraser Firs. They definitely make the prettiest Christmas trees. In the North they are rare and cost an arm and a leg. In the South they are the norm.
7. Spring color. Spring comes early in the South. And it takes your breath away. I know they have flowers and blooming stuff when spring finally arrives in the North, but…
8. Being able to take morning walks all winter long without freezing my fanny off.
9. Fresh peaches. The kind where you bite into them and the juice drips down your arm, past your elbow and would go all the way to your armpit if you didn’t stop it.
10. Putting kindness before honesty. People in the south are basically kind. And they highly value kindness. If you want the brutal truth, they’re not all that reliable. But if you’ve done something really stupid and you want to feel okay about yourself, they’re good to have around. Although, I have learned that sometimes Southerners may disguise their contempt for individuals with kind words. For example, in the North they might say a person is ****ed up. In the South they say, “bless her heart”, which pretty much means the same thing. But it sounds so much kinder.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

No Matter What I've Done

I was a young mother and a young pastor in my first call. My daughter was four and my son Ben was 18 months old. Life was hectic in those days, trying to keep up with a busy parish and a home with two very active little ones.

My husband and I were going out that night to an international potluck. We were running late, as usual, and were trying to get our act together. We needed to give the kids a bath before we left and we needed to prepare something to take to the potluck. My husband took bathroom duty, and I started cooking. The counter was cluttered with dirty dishes and I didn’t have time to deal with them. So I just scooted them aside and made myself a small work space as well as a space for the wok to heat. I poured oil into the wok to heat it up while I began wrapping egg rolls. I was so frazzled that I wasn’t paying close attention. And I did something that I knew I should never do. I left the cord to the wok hanging over the kitchen counter.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw little Ben trotting into the kitchen buck naked. He had escaped from his father. And I stood about two yards away as I watched his chubby little hand tug on the electric cord to the wok. It happened so fast, but I remember watching it like it was in slow motion. There was nothing I could do. Hot oil landed on his head and ran down his back.

Well, this was just the beginning of the nightmare. One thing led to another and we spent years in hospitals dealing with the devastating results of this burn. Of course, while we were going through all of this, there was no disputing one critical fact. It had been my fault. It was my carelessness. There was no rationalizing my way around it. I was Ben's mother, the one who was supposed to protect him from anything bad happening to him, and look what I had done.

I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. How could Ben ever forgive me for this? How could my husband forgive me? Most significantly, how could I ever forgive myself? How could I ever get past it?

There was only one way. By the grace of God. By knowing the loving forgiveness of God, I also came to love and forgive myself. And I can tell you that there’s no other way I could have made it. In my struggles, I just couldn’t let go of the guilt. But as I prayed and worked through it, I kept coming back to the grace of God.

Finally, I had to ask myself-- If God can forgive me, why can’t I forgive myself? Do I think I know more than God? I realized that God’s grace was even greater than the difficulty I had receiving it. I could beat myself up all I wanted, but God was gonna keep on loving me anyway. It was one of those life-changing experiences for me as God’s grace became so real.

I know that God loves me, no matter what I’ve done. And that by his grace he makes me a new person. He’s able to transform my life through my struggles and take me to a place I never knew before. It’s happened in my life over and over again. Despite my limitations, God doesn’t give up on me. He comes after me with his grace. Just as he comes after you.