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April ending 2018

Spring has finally sprung at my old Kentucky home. The trees have filled out and I no longer have a clear view through the little woods. One day last week, I saw two young deer wandering through. Maisie barked, of course, and the young buck began to stomp his feet at her. It was humorous to see them face-off each other. Never mind that a chain link fence divides their territory.

If I was going to talk about the weather it would be that in April we experienced a little of everything: sunshine and warm days, rain, sleet, snow, that kept me in my corduroy coat and a scarf. I saw Facebook pictures of men dressed in winter wear cutting their grass as snowflakes fell. Even this morning there was frost. After finally moving the plants from the garage to the outdoors this weekend, I had to cover them to prevent frostbite. It’s been a bit crazy.

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With all the growth going on, the yard calls to me. I’ve worked a few days doing the clean up required after winter. I dig, hoe, gather, pull, clip, and hope the fruit of my labor is rewarded. I know my body sure aches at end of day.

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We had some girls visit during the week of spring break, and the house rang with chatter, laughter, singing, and musical instruments. We craft and we eat and we sit at the table and enjoy the fellowship of the young who help us feel a little more alive.

We got to spend some time with our Mississippi relatives who came for a few days visit. Sweet William’s nieces, with their families, are real southerners, their accents delightful. We don’t get to see them often enough.

We celebrated the 16th birthday of our youngest grandchild in the way we can. I packed a birthday box to mail with surprises I hoped would please him. This year I sent vintage ties. Yes, the boy likes to wear a tie and has practiced different knots. Two of them had belonged to his great-grandfather and one was worn by his dad in high school. When we talked to him on the phone, our grandson was thrilled. And I told myself this is why I save things.

Family means so much, it is heritage and memory, our past and our future. We can neglect a lot of things in this life, but family should never be one of them.

Sweet William and I visited our first official yard sale of the year, and now I see them popping up everywhere. I’ve already had a talk with myself about stopping too often and buying things I don’t need. After my semi-annual garage clean-out last weekend and the things I threw away or put in the give-away box, I need to be more discriminating.

One of the books I finished in April was Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. Its theme is simplicity, family and faith. I can testify that a simple life is better We can complicate it with too much stuff, too many commitments and too much doing rather than being. Having been there and done that, I don’t intend to buy the T-shirt from that yard sale. The message of the book was a good reminder.

I’ve been reading memoirs lately and how-to-write-memoir books, as if I think I might. But the ones I’ve read recently are about people with very disturbed lives. I’m sure there are other reasons to write about one’s life then to tell how horrible it was. My life has not been that disturbing, so I probably won’t be writing my memoir.

I don’t often recommend movies, but we watched one worth mentioning this month. (And let me say we’ve “kissed a lot of frogs” in the form of movies which is why I prefer to borrow from my library. If I don’t want to finish it, it’s no big deal, and if Sweet William falls asleep during, that’s OK too.). Same Kind of Different as Me is taken from true events and contains an uplifting  message.

After a day digging in the dirt today (my fingernails are proof), the sun is beginning to set, and I hear the birds from my rocker by the window. They sing at end of day as well as at its beginning. These musical creatures have a rhythm to their simple lives. Nests in bushes are tended by hovering parents gathering worms, with the robin being the fussy one, until the young are old enough to be on their own.

There are four goslings on the lake across the road, their parents swimming before and behind them in single file. One goose sat for weeks through all kinds of weather, faithfully tending her eggs. I watched her, admiring her tenacity. Then last week she was off the nest and gone, the eggs broken and scattered by some critter, I assume. It made me sad as I stood and looked at the remains, and I wonder if she grieved the loss of her young the way we do.

Loss has been part of this month, us visiting the funeral home too often this entire year. Is it the stage of life we are in, where those we know are aging? I’m not sure. It never gets easier no matter how many times we stand at a casket, hoping our presence offers some little comfort.

April has spoken of life, newness, and Easter resurrection. And though we have bundled up against the cold, we expected the sun to shine warm.  We find hope in this place, in this time, casting off the bleak bareness of winter to enjoy rebirth.

And this is life. Birth. Living. Death. It comes full circle whether we plan and prepare or if we just skip along unconscious and unaware of how precious each day is.

While the days grow longer, the warmth of the sun boosts my mood and gives me energy. I read in John 1 how Jesus came as the Light giving Life to all who would receive Him.

Life. Light. It is what I crave. I choose it gladly.

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Remembering February 11

I started looking through the photos this week as I do whenever I think about organizing the boxes of pictures. I get a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing order to a hundred years worth of family images.

When I come to the old black and whites, I linger long. There is one of my maternal grandparents looking young and sassy, and then years later they are with their three young children at the beach. I gaze at faces in sepia, my newly-wed parents, in the flower of their youth, and it’s hard to imagine them that way.

There are pictures of my dad in his army uniform and small portraits of mother that she regularly sent to dad when he was overseas during World War 2. I think how handsome he was, how beautiful she was. I only know those young people by photograph, and I wonder what life was like for them with their dreams and plans still ahead of them.

 

With those faces in the back of my mind, it’s not surprising to me that I walked down another memory lane this morning.

I’ve been reading the Psalms during February, and today I landed in chapter 56. I love the songs of David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. In deeply troubling times, I have lived in the Psalms, the words reflecting my anxious heart and my dark emotions. Always, the writer points me heavenward, encouraging me to praise the God of mercy who is full of compassion and loving kindness.

This morning, this verse made me pause – Selah – and think:

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.   — Psalm 56:3

The lyrical King James language is so familiar and how I quote the verse to myself. It is the language of the Scriptures I grew up with and learned to love. Since then I have expanded my library to include lots of versions and paraphrases, all with the aim of understanding what God is wanting to say to me.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” I’ve been afraid, more times than I care to admit. One particular year comes to the forefront this morning. It was 1983, the year my mother took to a hospital bed in the living room of her and dad’s home, the one with red carpet on the floor. Mother loved red, and she had her way with this house.

Dad was a builder and over the years of their marriage, he built and sold our house four times that I remember. The red-carpeted-living-room house was to be the final home, and mother was a happy homemaker in it.

My mother, who had never been seriously sick, became gravely ill. When there was nothing else to do but make sure she was comfortable, we did all we could to see that she was, surrounding her with our presence. Friends and family filled the house during the early months of 1983, bearing food and fellowship, prayers and support.

My dad made gallons of coffee all throughout the day, standing at the gas stove stirring grounds into almost-boiling water. It was his old-fashioned way of brewing, and I suppose it gave him something to do. Coffee was our drink of comfort and he doled it out generously.

My mother loved to laugh and have fun. She was a warm and welcoming kind of person, inviting people into her life, loving them like they belonged. She was a woman full of faith in her Savior, and she had a voice that could “bring the Spirit down” as we used to say in our church. People loved to hear her sing, and everyone had their favorite song request.

As her life ebbed away, and that strong, vibrant voice became a whisper, she never seemed to waiver in her confidence in the God who was the subject of her songs. The words she sang so often were still true for her.

Sometimes when my faith would falter, and no sunlight I can see
I just lift my eyes to Jesus, and I whisper “Pilot me.”
“Fear thou not for I’ll be with thee.  I will still thy Pilot be.
Never mind the tossing billows.  Take my hand and trust in Me.”

Like those who experience heartbreak, I struggled with questions and doubts, not understanding why all this was happening. Why weren’t my prayers being answered in the way I wanted? I was grappling with my own faith, and fear was a companion.

When mother died on February 11 , dad and I were devastated, as were family members and those who felt like family. We wandered like zombies through many days and weeks, wondering how to live without the person who brought joy, laughter and love to our lives. But time passed as we tried to learn how to exist without her.

One day, I happened upon mother’s wallet. I opened it and saw her driver’s license. Those pictures are never good, but this time it was precious to me. Upon further looking, I found a strip of paper folded inside the wallet. There in mother’s familiar script were the words of Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Then I remembered that she has written that verse on paper and tucked it into the strap of her bra, wearing it like a badge of courage during the days of uncertainty.

She had faced fear too. In her love for us, she tried to be brave, but she had been afraid. It was astonishing to me at first, but I recognized my mother’s humanity in that moment. She had been my rock, unwavering, unfaltering, always there for me with a listening ear and words of wisdom. Looking at her handwriting on a scrape of paper I saw that she was much like me, me with my with questions and struggles and my grasping for faith when it is hard.

What made the moment profound was the understanding that she had taken hold of the only One who could calm her fears, and she learned to trust even in her fear. And here was an answer for me in my own weakness.

My heavenly Father knows I am prone to frailty and fear. He speaks “Fear not” to me and asks me to trust Him when I can’t see what He is doing. His provision of grace through Jesus gives strength when I have none.  He runs to my cry of Abba Father.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of mother’s death. That day long ago is forever etched in my mind. Grief overwhelmed me then, and I didn’t think I could go on. But I was strengthened by grace, the same grace that strengthened my mother as she walked out her calling on this earth, the same grace available to each of God’s children.

I’ve learned a lot in the years since that heart-wrenching day, learned that God is trustworthy in the darkness; that He has a bigger plan than I can comprehend; that He is good and showers us with daily blessings; that He fills the hungry with good things; that He loves the unloveable and watches for the prodigal to come home; that He gives a second chance, again and again and again.

I have found God to be faithful through my years, every single time. And when I am afraid, I can trust in Him.

 

 

 

 

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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