Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Mysterious Wisdom of Nancy Drew

If favorite books are like good friends {and I think they are}, then Nancy Drew is one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I grew up reading about her adventures, along with her fellow girl-detectives -- Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames and the Bobbsey Twins -- but it was no coincidence that Nancy Drew was my favorite sleuth. 

Her stories had everything I loved. Two chipper chums in Bess and George to make mysteries fun, travel to enthralling locations, and plenty of dusty attics to explore, secret passageways to uncover and lost diaries to find. 

Besides Nancy was smart, capable and always stylish -- everything my pre-teen heart aspired to be.

And it was thanks to Nancy Drew that I practically became a speed-reader because I couldn't wait to finish the book. 

I never liked pausing in the middle of the story with an assortment of clues that didn't add up and a slew of unanswered questions. 

I'd seclude myself up in my bedroom, finishing a book in one day so I wouldn't have to lie awake at night, wondering how the mystery was solved. And then I couldn't wait to start the next one.

Evidently Nancy's appeal continues today.

Last weekend I went with my 10-year old niece to watch Nancy and her pals solve her Biggest Case Ever in a play staged by Orlando's repertory theatre. 

To my relief, Nancy hadn't changed a bit since I last read about her. 

She still had her zippy blue roadster {which she drove while wearing an ultra-fashionable scarf} and she found an old map with a puzzling riddle about a long-lost treasure. 

Occasionally throughout the play, the lights would dim and Nancy would turn to the audience to share some words of wisdom with us about sleuthing.

And then she seemed to look straight at me. 

{I was just a few rows from the stage, after all, quite close to my favorite heroine.}

She said she's discovered that when solving a mystery there are no coincidences, and what seems to be coincidental usually requires a closer look.

I think Nancy's onto something. 

{As she usually is.}

A chance meeting, someone crossing our path that seems like a fluke, a variety of random occurrences -- are they really coincidences or is God at work in the smallest details of our lives?

That's a mystery I can't seem to crack and I've been doing a lot of thinking about it lately.

But when things in our lives look a little dark, or clues don't add up, or what we see isn't making much sense, does it mean that God isn't there in the midst of our lives and at work in those very details?

I wonder if we're confused because we just can't see what he's doing.

Maybe he's the underpinning of it all. He's the one holding us up. 

Maybe he's balancing it all as we ineptly search for clues to confirm our actions, our direction and our intentions. 

And I think there is evidence that what happens to us isn't random and meaningless.  

That's why we have the biblical examples of people, who were just like us, to remind us of the truth about coincidences.

Was it a coincidence that Pharoah's daughter just happened to be in the Nile river at the same time baby Moses in a basket floated by her so she could raise him in a palace that prepared him to turn the tide of history?

Was it a coincidence that new-girl-in-town Ruth just happened to be gleaning barley in Boaz's field, only to discover he was a kinsman of her mother-in-law Naomi, and would become her husband securing her place in the lineage of Christ?

Was it a coincidence that Esther just happened to be chosen out of a myriad of women competing to become queen for such a time as this, to take a risk and save her fellow kinsmen?

So isn't that enough inspiration for us?

I think coincidences open the door to shed a little light on the dark quiet spaces where God is working in mysterious ways. 

And when we believe that he is personally concerned about us and working everything that happens to us into some sort of ultimate good, we can live at peace with the mystery.  

Although that's why I enjoyed the play about Nancy Drew so much. In just two quick hours, the clues made sense and the mystery was solved.

I can't wait for my niece to read all my old Nancy Drew books and get to know her like I do.

But at least she's already met Nancy.

After the play, my sister and niece took a photo with the cast.

I stayed behind the camera, too in awe of my old friend Nancy Drew, to get too close to her. 

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When You're All Over the Map

I’m a miserable map-reader. 

I suppose that’s why there’s Siri. 

But she’s not always helpful to me and I get annoyed with her. 

Just the other day when I asked her to take me home, she scolded me in a cheeky tone saying, “Valerie, I don’t know where home is.”  

{I thought Siri should already know where I live since she spends a lot of time with me at home, but she impertinently pointed out that I hadn't entered my home address in my phone settings.}

So when I was in Rome, I kept my phone use to a minimum and instead relied on my mother’s navigational expertise.

Now she is a master map-reader. 

My mother has logged years of navigating our family vacations, studying the map in the front seat of the car. She'd advise my dad on the best routes to take, as every summer while I was growing up we wound our way south from Pittsburgh to the beaches of Florida.

So if she’s with me on a trip I don't worry about looking at a map, confident she'll get us where we need to go.

But Rome’s streets were all Greek to her. 

We’d optimistically head toward one of Rome’s neighborhoods and before we knew it, we were curving around an ancient building or ducking down an alley or looking up a steep flight of steps. 

We wondered where in the world were we?

We'd walk another block looking for landmarks only to be met with the name of a street {often abbreviated} we couldn’t seem to locate on our map. 

By the end of the trip my mother was so rattled by the apparent loss of her navigational skills that she was reluctant to venture out.

Which resulted in the night we opted for take-out at Pasta Chef in our neighborhood  -- rated #1 on Trip Advisor -- and dined on antipasto salad and lasagna in the dining room of our apartment, as I'd imagine the Romans must do. 

{Which also proves that losing your way is sometimes rather delicious.}

Frequently we were surprised as we headed out, armed with maps and cameras, sure we were walking toward the Forum only to find ourselves confronted with the Colosseum instead.

We were constantly asking how'd we end up here?

But mostly we were mystified and thought maybe our difficulties with navigating Rome were because official signage for tourists is non-existent.

But unofficial signage  -- in the form of graffiti -- is abundant and was quite useful in helping us find the famous Trevi Fountain. 

After walking for 45 minutes, we spotted the words Trevi with an arrow, sprayed in red paint on the side of a building.

{At least one past traveler was thinking of his fellow tourists and was kind enough to paint -- and point --the way.}

And it's possible we were a bit exasperating to our fellow tour-group-goers, who brushed off our worrisome questions when we asked for directions to the Spanish Steps.

Oh it's easy to find, they told us {all of them Rome-returners}, just follow the crowds.

Surely everyone in Rome couldn't be headed to the Spanish Steps, could they? 

But when we finally reached the famous set of 138 steps, maybe they were right, for it seemed as if half the world were there, basking in the sun.

Ironically, the entire time we were in Rome, we had what we needed.


Several of them. 

In brilliant color, detailing the neighborhoods of Rome, and we still couldn’t find our way.

And yet, isn't that what we often want for our lives?

We want directions mapped out for us. Exact instructions for life's major choices.

We want to know the plans God has for us, what work we should do, who we should marry, where we should live. 

We ask God for clarity for difficult decisions. We pray for a big bright spotlight to show us the way we should go. 

But we rarely get those things. Instead he gives us his presence.

He promises to go with us, wherever it is that we happen to go.

Maybe instead of trying to map out our course and look so doggedly for signs, we might take a look backwards. And notice how far God has already brought us.

We might realize that we've navigated obstacles and pushed through confusion and persevered despite a thousand questions.

We might see that we've ended up in a tight spot, encountered a dead end, retraced our steps and recharted our course.

Maybe finding our way isn't part of the journey. 

It is the journey.

And could it be how we find our way to God? 

In the Vatican's Gallery of Maps, I gazed at vivid frescoes of Italy painted on the walls during the sixteenth century. 

It was startling to see how accurate the map-makers were as they depicted mountains and land and sea long before Siri or satellites. 

As I made my way through the long corridor of symbols and coordinates and arrows, trying to make sense of the maps, I didn't realize that just ahead was what I had long been waiting for.

The map room is a prelude to the Sistine Chapel. 

It's the last stop on the long journey through the halls of the Vatican to reach the historic, magnificent art of Michelangelo painted on the chapel's ceiling.

Maybe we don't realize just how close we are.

To finding God’s will; working out his purposes; living the life he created us to live.

Maybe we're already there.

So with this trip to Rome, my mother has declared herself retired from map-reading and told me to use Siri instead.

But I'm not so sure I agree with her.

Her map-reading skills took us all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. 

Which is, after all {when you take a look at the map}, quite a long way from Pittsburgh.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Dirt Where Happiness Grows

I visited a goat farm in Umbria. 

I'm not sure how a city girl like me keeps finding herself on goat farms but my third time to meet goats seems like two times too many for someone who doesn’t particularly love farms.

But attired in my multi-pocketed goat-coat and my very sensible goat-farm shoes, I had traveled across the ocean and was ready to meet the goats. 

Since my previous encounters were with goats outside of Atlanta, I couldn't help wondering if Italian goats would be any different than their U.S. counterparts. 

Maybe more polite? {No butting in.} 

Maybe clean-shaven? {No goatees.} 

Maybe more honest storytellers? {No goat-tales.}

{You know I can't resist making some goat puns!}

So early in the morning {before I'd even had my coffee} I boarded a bus for the one-hour drive to the town of Orvieto outside of Rome to meet the goats. 

Sophie our tour guide promised us a stop for coffee as soon as we got outside of Rome's busiest traffic, but it seemed a long time coming when I was dreaming of smelling the aroma of coffee. 

It was worth it though since even gas station coffee is elegant in Italy. 

I loved how a uniformed man with a jaunty red hat made our cappuccinos as we stood at the convenience store counter to drink them. 

So after being duly fortified with coffee, we were on the road again to see the goats. 

Sophie told us how she had just spent an entire month staying on the farm and couldn’t wait to introduce us to her baby goats.

As we approached them, the goats saw us coming and rushed eagerly to the fence to greet us {or maybe they just noticed Sophie}

But I felt as if they were acting a little too familiar when we'd only just met, sniffing pieces of my hair, licking it, and nibbling the pockets of my goat coat {that sadly, held no treats for them}. 

From my vast experience with goats on two continents, I can assure you that Italian goats are definitely quite frisky, don't hesitate to whisper a goat-load of sweet nothings in your ear and then leave you all alone to run off with the rest of the goat herd.

{It reminded me a lot of dating.}

We went to see the goats inside the barn and the farmer’s wife brushed by me with a huge bale of hay.

As I watched her tend to the goats, it looked to me like a difficult life, busy from morning to night with little chance to get away from the farm.

When Sophie told me the farmer's wife had been a city girl working at a business in Rome but traded her office job for life in the country, I thought about the courage to change course.

I thought about how willing {or unwilling} I am to go in the opposite direction of where I think I want to be.

I sometimes resist change because what's knocking at my door doesn’t look like what I've visualized. Or I'm reluctant to reset my plans because I'm just so sure I know how my life ought to look.

But maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's a matter of response. 

Maybe we're more adaptable than we think to our outside environments and what needs recalibrating is what's inside our hearts and minds.

I think sometimes God invites us to sift through the dirt in front of us -- the difficult and uncertain and complicated things in our lives -- to find the deeply rich soil where the seeds of a good life are planted and already tenderly growing.

Maybe that's where the holy ground is. 

Maybe there's more than one way to find happiness and contentment.

Isn't it true that what's sometimes so hard can offer us joy, fulfillment and peace in much different ways than we could possibly imagine?

Over the ridge and across the rolling hills from the goat farm is a castle that's for sale. 

We asked the farmer's wife if she was going to buy it and she laughed and shook her head.

I don't know if she wishes she lived there instead of her goat farm, but she works the dirt in her little corner of the world, raising two young daughters in the country and selling goat cheese to local restaurants.

I think the goat farmer's wife has discovered the secret to a satisfying life.

Our group packed up the goat cheese she'd prepared for us and headed to the winery across the dirt road where a grape-grower was hosting a wine tasting for us.

This immediately raised this goat expedition to the top of my list as the favorite of my three goat adventures.

And speaking of packing, I decided my goat coat {with all the pockets} might come in handy in the future sometime so I put it in my suitcase for the trip home, but I left my sturdy goat-farm-flats behind in Italy. 

No need for something so practical to clutter up my shoe shelves.

Besides, I'm hoping three is the final number of goat farm visits for me. Maybe that's the end of this goat-tale for me.

But now that I'm back home, I think so fondly of those baby goats in Umbria and wished I could have stayed longer. 

Kidding! {But of course I’m kidding.}

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.