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As we come to the table

Just a few days left before we celebrate Thanksgiving in all of our varied and crazy ways. Relatives and friends of all shapes and sizes will gather with food dishes that range from vintage recipes to gluten-free concoctions.

101_1203 I’ve been making my efforts at having a thankful heart during the month. I’ve tried to be disciplined to write three things that brought me joy at the end of each day. At least I’ve tried.

I started my annual Joy List this morning, counting God’s graces one by one on paper. There are so many, I could write forever. I had to stop for breakfast with the promise of “to be continued.” Tomorrow my prayer partner of many years will call on the phone, and we will look back at the prayers prayed and how God answered them this year. Our voices will be full of “thank you’s.”

From Old to New Testaments, we read instructions to remember how God has been  faithful. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we are in the throes of difficulty, tragedy, or grief. And honestly, sometimes it can be simple neglect or a lack of contentment.

Just as our menus will be different, not everyone will do Thanksgiving the same way. I read one blogger who thought making a daily count of grace was too regimented, and she was definitely not putting kernels of corn beside each place settings for a round robin of being grateful. She preferred more spontaneity and daily mindfulness. She did her thankfulness in a different way.

There isn’t a prescription for how to have a grateful heart, but we are told to practice it regularly. And in the same way God’s commands are good for us, being thankful brings joy to our lives.

The method is not as important as the message. It’s the heart of the matter that matters. Be thankful in your own sweet way, dear friends.

This year has brought much loss to my friends and family. I feel it in my own heart, the tears flowing unexpectedly this morning. At many holiday tables this year, there will be an empty place.

Life can be hard during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

And yet God is good even in this present circumstance. His grace is still sufficient. He remains the God of all comfort who gives us comfort in all our troubles. His presence in our days continues as a promise.  He still walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And we are never, ever alone.

If there is nothing else today or this year, there is Jesus who is God’s love demonstrated in tangible, relatable, identifiable form. He wrapped himself in skin and bone and showed us the glory.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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Sunday grace

The sun shines in the afternoon, and I feel it in my bones. Cold dark days are hard to navigate sometimes.

Thanksgiving anticipation looms in my view. Most of the shopping is finished except for broccoli that needs to be crisp and fresh. Recipes have been pulled from books and boxes. They are old and spattered with years of memories. I recognize my mother’s handwriting on one of the folded papers.

I remember other Thanksgivings. Some are full of wonder, like last year when my dear ones drove long to be here around the table. Others years found me with an ache in my heart, like the year when my mother first became sick or when there was one less person at the table.

Holidays are a mixed menu of sweetness and salty tears. It is the stuff of real life. The rain and the clouds can suddenly turn into rays of brilliant sunshine. And vice versa.

When we gather at the table this year, let us give thanks for those who are there. Whoever they are, whether relatives, long-time friends, or new acquaintances, they are gifts God has given us for a time, this very moment.

They are more important than the food or the table settings. More important than the football game or the black Friday ads. More important than the Christmas gifts we are hoping to get at a bargain.  More important than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We will set across the table from one another, face to face with daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, God’s image breathed into human form.

Let us give thanks for each one and love them with all of our hearts.

Sunday grace.

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It’s November!

Yesterday morning, after two cups of strong coffee and an hour of quiet time and Bible study, I greeted Sweet William with enthusiasm. “It’s November!” I said. I was fully caffeinated and ready to face the day and the month.

As the cold temperatures become the norm, I admit unashamed that I don’t miss the garden work at all. Not. At All. Oh, there’s plenty I could do, things left on my outdoor to-do-list. But November gives me permission to stay indoors in fuzzy socks and flannel shirts while I think about projects that were laid aside when summer called to me.

This month of November, I want to focus on November and not stress about December coming close on its heals. One of my piano students told me yesterday, “Christmas is only 54 days away!” Please, I’m not ready to think about that.

November is the first pumpkin pie of the season, hot cocoa, fireplaces glowing (even if it is gas logs), shorter days that naturally cause our bodies to long for cacooning. I say, “Let’s do that.” Could we actually slow our pace in November instead of speed it up?

The anticipation of Thanksgiving will encourage me be more grateful for God’s bountiful grace and mercy. He is over and above the best gift giver. A sign over one of our doorways says, “Count Your Blessings.” Thinking about my blessings throughout the day and recording them in my Joy Journal each night will help keep me accountable to having a thankful heart, especially this month.

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I want to sit at the table with family and friends and enjoy those precious occasions. Eat slowly. Talk much. Listen well. Laugh often. Treasure friendships. Appreciate family. Marvel how the children are growing. Wonder where the time goes. This is the stuff of life. I don’t want to miss it.

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November is my time to leisurely shop for Christmas gifts, thus leaving December less stressful. Shopping on-line is the preferred method, avoiding the traffic, crowds, and advertising glitz that entice me to buy something I really don’t need. I’d rather be thoughtful about gifts and not just add to someone’s clutter and over-abundance of stuff.

I will consider how I might give to ministries I endorse: World Vision, A Woman’s Choice, Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Library International. These are the organizations that are doing something positive in our world. I’d like to be part of that by planning how I can fit it into the budget.

November calls me to celebrate in its own way. I will make an effort to stay focused on this month and what it offers, not allowing myself to feel pressured as December approaches, sapping the joys I could be experiencing today.

Part of my happy perspective in a season that has found me stressed in years past is due to a podcast I heard recently. Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective talks about Opening and Closing Ceremonies on her podcast, making the most of each holiday. She has wise counsel to offer me.

If you are interested in getting a boost of happy as you move into these last two months, then give a listen.

November is Thanksgiving, Family and Friends, Snuggling with Hot Cocoa, Turkey and Dressing, All Things Pumpkin.

Let’s slow down and enjoy it.

 

 

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May ending

May sang her song: “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.” And then she broke into the chorus of: “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.”

So much rain in May caused the grass to grow as high as an elephant’s eye, almost. Flooding in parts of our country caused grief as we watched our own Salt River rise and ebb. Our yard, with its peaks and valleys, was water-logged, and days went by when it was simply too wet to mow. It got so bad that a lawn care company rep came by to give me his card.

The rain also brought flowers, and oh how I love the flowers. I like to cut them and put them in the old mason jar filled with water. Whatever is blooming becomes a serendipitous bouquet. Sometimes a tiny bug or spider has crawled out from the buds, so I have relegated the mason jar to the table on the deck.  In the morning when I sit there in the quiet of a new day, I enjoy the flowers in the outdoors. The creepy crawly things are at home out there.

There’s been lots of outdoor work, planting, pulling weeds and digging in the soil. The dirt under my fingernails continues to be an issue. The yard looks reasonably well kept this spring, though not perfect. My yard will never be perfect or perfectly groomed like yards I admire, all prim and proper. I’ve come to terms with it, because this is the way I garden. It’s slightly wild and slightly pruned, and I’m OK with that. It is ever changing, evolving, becoming something different and new.

The daily walks for Maisie and me down our lane rewarded me with the heavy fragrance of honeysuckle blooming at one corner of the yard. It’s uncultivated growth sprawling in the little woods brings back childhood memories of pulling the buds and sipping nectar.

I had two recitals this month, one at the Academy of Arts and one for my home students. I am always aglow at these events, so proud of my students’ hard work that produces music to my ears. Teaching piano came to me late in my career as the result of a job loss. At the time, I couldn’t have dreamed what grace would come from something so shocking and disturbing. It is the way of God, to bring life from what seems like death.

Mother’s Day came in the middle of the two recital. My own mother has been dead for over 30 years, and our one and only son is in another state celebrating his wife, as he should. What’s a daughter/mother like me to do but be good to myself? I called a friend who shares a similar situation and suggested we spend a few hours together before Mother’s Day, somewhat grieving our loss but more celebrating friendship, our sons, and the love of all things growing.  We spent a lovely morning and afternoon together, and our shared joy helped us ease into the weekend when pictures of gathered families would multiply on Facebook.

On Mother’s Day, I did what I wanted and treated myself with much kindness and grace. It was one of the best day I’ve had in a long time.

I’ve enjoyed watching the Canadian goslings growing daily, grey downy feathers giving in to the white and black distinctive color of their parents. They look like miniature versions of what they will eventually become. I spy the single mallard mamma and her little bitties occasionally. There are six of them left and still so small in comparison to the geese. Watching these babies grow has been life-giving this spring.

I resumed my task of going through the saved mementos from the box in the garage. I came to the cards, letters, notes from my years working at the YMCA. It was my first management positions, and some days I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Nostalgia took me on a journey of memories and faces, experiences and people who helped me grow. It’s been over 15 years since I worked at the Y. They were formative years for me when I learned so much from the staff whose names appear on those mementos.

yard sale signIt’s the season of the Yard Sale. Usually I am quite the sucker for a neon pink hand-lettered sign, but I’ve passed by more often this spring. As the wise Solomon said, there is a season for everything, a time to gather and a time to scatter, a time to keep and a time to throw away. I’ve had my season of gathering and keeping. It’s time to let go.

Rather suddenly at month’s end, we excitedly arranged for a visit from my daughter-in-love, eldest granddaughter and her friend.  I prepared the house, filled the fridge and pantry, and cleared my calendar. The few days would be open for whatever plans they had. I would be bed and breakfast for them and take whatever moments I could get with each one.

They came for a wedding, my granddaughter being a first-time bridesmaid of a childhood friend. My granddaughter is grown up in many ways, and yet I see the little girl who used to come spend the night, who sat at my piano and learned music with me, who sat on the stool at the kitchen counter and told me what was on her mind.

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She and her friend had their own agenda, attending wedding festivities, visiting friends, and staying out later than my bedtime. And we who waited for the sound of them slept lightly as we prayed for their safe return. Her mother and I shared the mutual feeling of wanting to know all the chicks are home, safe in the nest, before we can settle down for deep sleep.

One has to experience it to understand. Parenting cannot be easily explained or described. The bond between mother and child is something unique and beautiful and lasting.

I enjoyed hours of conversation with my daughter-in-love as we sat at the kitchen table and drank sweet tea. For me it was like old times when she lived in the house next door. We laughed and remembered and talked about so many things. It was a balm for my soul.

I made strawberry shortcake for breakfast on the day before they left for home. It was well received and may become a tradition whenever my dear ones come for a visit.

I’ve missed my family in the years they have been living away. The few days with my girls were a jewel in the month of May, memories to record in my journal and on my heart.

Too quickly the days passed and  we said tearful good-byes, unsure when we would be together again, face to face.  And the house that sang with voices familiar is quiet once more, remnants of breakfast and cold coffee all that is left behind.

May has been delicious in lots of ways and difficult in others. And this life I live is very much like the garden surrounding me. Days are spent pulling up the weeds and clearing away the mess of a long winter. Other days I dig in the dirt and plant with hope for something bright and beautiful. Flowers bloom and fade, while others bud with promise. One morning is cloudy, rain falling; the threat of storms makes me run for cover. And then the sun emerges and water droplets glisten like diamonds. A rainbow appears in the sky and I stand in awe.

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There is a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance

May brought different times for me.  I live with fervor some days. I taste the bitter and the sweet. I sing songs and cry tears.

It is all part of this wild, wonderful life I’ve been given. It is mine to live. And I shall live it.

 

 

 

A week after

After last weekend’s celebration of a risen Lord, a joyful afternoon spent with extended family, and counting multiplied gifts from the bounty of God’s blessings, the week after is fraught with things difficult. My mind whirls and tilts like an amusement park ride. But I am not amused.

I hear of an untimely death and sorrowing parents. Sweet William underwent a minor surgery, but nothing is minor when one has been in too many hospitals to bother counting. News about a dear one’s jarring diagnoses leaves us in shock and questions. Yet another one close to our hearts battles dreaded disease and the pain that accompanies.

And we pray. What else is there to do?

We ask in faith, believing God already knows and nothing takes Him by surprise. We trust in His goodness and His strength because He is a good and strong Savior. We know we are His children and will not be given a stone when we ask for bread and fish. We petition a Mighty Warrior who fights our battles with a powerful arm.

We pray and wait to see what will be His answer.

“And we know with great confidence that God, who is deeply concerned about us, causes all things to work together as a plan for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” — Romans 8:28 Amp.

I have recognized this week that trials bring people together. Texts and phone calls run to and fro through space, keeping us updated, friends and family expressing their love and offering help in some way. As a result, prayer is our connection to those we care about and to the Father who loves us with an everlasting love.

If trials bring people together, then prayer binds us to one another, brothers and sisters reaching heavenward as the family of God and the body of Christ. One one hurts, we all feel the pain.

Jesus offered reassuring words just before He disappeared into the sky as astonished followers watched:

” . . .  and lo, I am with you always, remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:20 Amp.

In all of our trouble, trials, testing, there is only one consideration:  Jesus.

Jesus with us, in pain, in uncertainty, even in death.

Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering and runs to our cry.

Jesus, the One and only who came from the Father’s loving hand to open the way into His presence.

Jesus, dying for us so that we might live free and abundant.

Jesus, showing us how to love one another by His own extreme love and servant hood.

Jesus, holding onto us when the rope we cling to frays at the end and we lose our grip.

Jesus with us at all times, “regardless of circumstance and on every occasion,” giving us His strength and comfort and answers we cannot even imagine.

Pain and suffering draws people together. Sometimes we sing the song of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion in the minor key. As God’s family, we sing united.

Prayer binds us as brothers and sisters. And our chorus, ascending upward, is heard and is answered. We sing the song of the redeemed. And the world will hear the melody.

Perhaps that is part of the plan.

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Sweet 16

Today is my granddaughter’s 16th birthday. I was blessed beyond measure to celebrate with her last weekend.

Sweet William and I traveled the long road to where our precious ones live, the one and only son and his family. The drive was worth the hours on the road to see smiling faces and be received with such warm welcomes.

I’ve missed some birthdays since they moved from the house next door. Thankfully, I did not miss this important milestone in my precious Grand Girl’s life.

She is the middle child. At times she is the quiet, introspective one. At other times she is the comedian, actress, goof-ball who makes us laugh.

the-3-grandsShe was born without me being at the hospital. Her older sister was brought to our house early one morning in November when time came for her parents to rush to the hospital. I supposed we had plenty of time to shower and dress since her sister took her time coming into the world.

I was wrong. Before many hours had passed, I listened to the message on my phone, “You have another granddaughter.” Elation and disappointment mingled, but I was thankful for her birth. We hurriedly made our way to the hospital where mother, dad, and new baby girl were contentedly waiting for us.

It was a day to remember.

Memories surface today as I think of my Grand Girl, us miles apart and in different states but joined at our hearts.061-2

She was the queen of dress-up. She loved the costumes and cast-offs kept in a box in the back room. She emerged as a character of some sort and took on the persona and accents with ease. One of my favorite personalities was Dr. Bendova, dressed in a white shirt, silly glasses and top hat. She made us laugh a lot.

Being the second child, she was often the companion and follower of her big sister. Once when she was allowed  to spend “alone time” with us, all by herself, she climbed up on the stool next to the kitchen counter where I spend a lot of time, and commenced to talk up a storm. I was surprised at all the words coming from this child who was usually so quiet. It was as if she finally had a captive audience to hear what she had to say.

She loved to cook with me, sitting on that same kitchen stool, us sharing tasks of making meals. Her consistent game began with, “Let’s pretend we’re on a cooking show.”

100_1062-2A few days ago we made pumpkin pie together in her kitchen. It was as special as it always was.

She was a girl of many faces, most of them silly. For years we could not seem to get a serious picture of her. With everyone posed for a snapshot, she invariably make a goofy face just at the moment of the shutter’s opening. While it was frustrating at the time, it has given us myriad photos of this girl’s special way of bringing comic relief to us all.

This past weekend, we celebrated that special girl.

She has grown tall and beautiful, graceful and distinctly herself, studious and artistic, bright and cheerful. She is thrifty with her money and has an entrepreneurial spirit.

She brings gladness to this Grammy’s heart. I love spending time with her.

As Sweet William and I drove home after our three-day weekend celebration, I thought of the trip, the memories we had made, the joy of being with our precious ones, the fun and laughter, the shared table of fellowship where hearts are content just to be together.

Time slowed for me those few days. I forgot what day of the week it was, living in the moment with each sweet soul.

Good-byes are never easy, no matter how often we practice them. But good-byes are as much a part of life as the welcome homes are. We must receive them both if we are to be loved and to love in return.

As we headed east to our old Kentucky home, the sunset glowed brilliantly. A song came to mind:

I think of my Grand Girl on her special day. My eyes mist and there’s a lump in my throat as I remember the child and watch her blossom into a young woman.

Her life is a gift to all of us who know and love her. Her gifts and talents are from the Father above who planned for her life. My prayers seem unceasing for her, that she will know the way the Father leads her, that she will follow Him with all her heart, that she will understand how great the Father’s love is for her.

I pray that her heart is open to receive all He has in store for her. It’s her birthday today. I’m so thankful she was born.

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Little girls and dollhouses

The dollhouse came to me as a rescue, kind of like Maisie but not exactly.

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[from Pinterest. Different house but a close idea-picture]

 

Parents periodically go through the mass of toys and clothes that accumulate in a house full of kiddos. Children outgrow things or there just needs to be space to walk on the floor. Thus the large plastic dollhouse had been marked to go.

My daughter-in-love asked if I would like to have it at my house for the grand girls to play with when they came to spend time with us. I said, “yes,” of course, because what Grammy does not want to have cool toys for her precious ones to enjoy.

The big house stayed in the downstairs extra bedroom, the one that used to be the one and only son’s room until he went to college; then years later I transformed it into the Grands Room. It was the main play place. There was a closet with boxes of dress-up things and toy dishes, a child-size table and chairs perfect for a tea party. The chest of drawers, an heirloom of my dad’s making, held changes of clothes, PJs, and underwear just in case they got to spend the night on the spur of the moment. And there was a bed waiting for me to tuck in sleepy heads.

It was a room they could call their own. The dollhouse found a new home there.

The girls and their cousins played with the house, furniture, and small-size family for hours. Sometimes I had visiting little ones who enjoyed the house. It was a fixture in the room.

I carried the house upstairs to a different room after the family moved from the house next door. I needed a change in the Grands Room, not a reminder of their absence.

For years, the house lived upstairs, its contents boxed away in a storage area. The box came out occasionally for play when the grands came here or when other children visited.

This year, I wondered if it was time for the house to find a new home. My grand girls are growing into young women. I didn’t think they would sit in front of the house and play like they used to.

So I asked the two girls, via Facebook, if it was OK for me to give the house away.

Their comments were sweet and filled with memories of the house, but they graciously agreed to let another child have it to enjoy.

I knew who the little girl might be,  the tiniest and youngest member of our family, so I texted her mother. She said, “yes.”

This past Sunday, this mom, her husband and children were in our neighborhood, visiting our common relatives and celebrating their daughter’s second birthday. I decided this was the day to deliver the house.

I carried it and the box downstairs and out to the garage. I walked the box down the lane to the neighbors’ house. Many family members were out in the yard enjoying the beautiful evening weather. Maisie was an attraction to the littlest girl as she reached her hand and said, “Me woof-woof” to Maisie.

I went back to my garage and carried the big house down the lane. When the littlest girl saw the house she began to smile and bounce up and down with joy. I grinned at her excitement, my heart warming to her enthusiasm. She began to play with it immediately, right there in the driveway. Her 15-year old cousin, the one who had played with my grand girls, began to help her pull furniture and tiny people from the box and place them in the house.

The experience was melancholy for me. It begins to close one era, the childhood of my grandchildren. They are growing up, each one of them gradually turning into young adults.

I walked back to my house, my eyes a little misty, remembering their childhood and how much of it I got spend with them, how precious those days together were. It is a gift I don’t take lightly.

As I talk to those young women who are now my grand girls and my growing-up grand boy, they sound mature in many ways. They are looking toward the future, and I wonder what God has in store for them.

I pray for His hand on their lives, that He will direct their choices, that He will show them His path.

Life changes and life changes us. We have to accept it, allow it to help us develop and blossom. We are always becoming, even as we age.  If we dig our heals in and refuse to see change as an opportunity, we will stagnate.

I anticipate a different kind of relationship with my growing-up grandchildren, one where we share ideas and experiences and we begin to relate as adult to adult. They will always be my sweet Grands no matter how old they get.

The dollhouse has left the building. It’s OK. The memories are still here.

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