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In honor of fathers

It took me a while to understand and to appreciate the fact that men are not like women.  If I had known it when I first married Sweet William, I think it would have made both of our lives easier.

But I love it that they are different.

As I think of Father’s Day and the men in my life, I am thankful.  So many have left their mark on me, have changed my life for the better, have shown me the face of God.

There are the pastor and choir director who encouraged this shy young musician to use her gifts in spite of her fear.  There is the uncle who gave me money to help buy my first car and sent me on a trip to New York City free of charge.  There  are the ministers who preach the Word that cut like a sword and healed the wound and helped me grow.  There are the deacons who take their role seriously, who visit the sick and shepherd the flock.  There are the teachers who challenge me to think deeply, to question what I believe, and help me confirm what “thus saith the Lord” really means. 

Men are focused.  I love it that they can stay on one task and not veer off until it is complete, unlike me whose brain scatters from one thing to another to another until I wonder how anything gets accomplished.

Men are protective.  I remember when my very young grandson, Ethan, was pretending to be in a battle.  He looked at me standing there at the kitchen sink and said, “Don’t worry.  I’ll save you.”  His DNA is infused with a warrior spirit to fight for and take care of those he loves.

Men are courageous.  It isn’t that they are unafraid.  It is that they are willing to go check on that noise in the dark or to tread foreign soil for freedom’s sake.

Men are tender.  I’ve seen them cry over a sad movie, trying to hide their sniffles.  The tough exterior is just a covering for a soft heart where gentleness resides.

Men are strong.  They exert their strength to lift heavy loads, to trudge off to work every day, to go the extra mile, to be there for their friends and families.

I come from a long line of good men.

My grandfather Charles Lockard was a minister of the gospel who paved the way for me disregarding the persecution.  Yet he was one of the gentlest souls I ever knew. 

My dad, John Rayhill, is a man who knows how to take care of the women in his life.  He prides himself that he never let my mother take out the garbage.  That was his job.  He was always busy with something but he was never too busy to stop for me or one of the neighbor kids who needed a bike tire pumped up or something repaired.

My husband, Bill Wright, is my hero.  He was a good provider until his health took him down.  He fought for our marriage when everyone else gave up on it.  He has endured so much pain and too many surgeries with courage.  He still tries to look on the bright side, and he makes the effort to be kind to the hospital staff and learn their names, making him their favorite patient. 

My son, Travis Wright, is funny and fearless.  He has an infectious joy that draws people to him.   He has been my Son of Consolation through many tough years.  He is a faithful husband and a playful dad.  He bravely left his hometown and moved his family to Oklahoma to pursue his dream (though I have not yet gotten over it). 

I honor the men who stand for God, who take care of their families, who protect their children, who are determined to do the right thing even when it is hard. Men who go to war so I can be safe, who fight fires and keep the peace.  Men who lead with courage and care.  Men who put their lives in harm’s way for the sake of others.

Thank God for fathers who show their boys how to be good men, who treasure their daughters and teach them how a man should treat a woman.  Thank God for fathers who love their wives and stick it out when it would seem easier to walk away.  Thank God for fathers who love and care for other men’s children who have walked away.  Thank God for fathers who discipline with love instead of anger, who set a high standard of living so that their children have a role model worthy of following.  Thank God for fathers who get on their knees and pray every day, who take their children to church instead of just send them.  Thank God for fathers who go to work, for fathers who know how to play, for fathers who teach right from wrong and walk their talk.

I love those men in my life:  my precious going-on-91 Dad, my Sweet William, my son of consolation Travis.  And there is still one more, our little man, Ethan, 10 years old.  He is watching these good men, listening to their words.  He will be influnced by their lives. 

May he follow their footsteps.

 “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”    –Deuteronomy 4:9

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A little help from my friends

Yesterday did not go as I planned. 

My Sweet William and I went to Audubon Hospital for a scheduled heart catheterization on Bill’s heart.  I was hoping, expecting for something routine like a stint in a mildly blocked artery.  After the test, the doctor’s report did not meet my expectations.  One artery was completely blocked and two others were 80 percent blocked.  Open heart surgery was the only recommended option.

I’m glad there was a door frame on my immediate left for me to fall against.

We learned that the heart surgeon had an opening at 2:30 (sounds like making a hair appointment!).  Bill made the decision to go for it since he had not eaten or drank anything since the day before.  The next few hours were a flurry of medical tests and preparations for surgery.  I began making calls to family, friends, and coworkers.  My mind started mentally adjusting to this new information, changing all my plans for the next few days, even weeks.

Time and again as I talked with someone on the phone, he or she said, “Let me pray with you right now.”  And how I needed it.  I was trying to be calm and composed on the outside, to be strong for Bill; on the inside, however, I was crumbling into pieces.

My friend, Margie, had come at 8 am to be with me through the heart cath.  At the news of impending surgery, she set her mind to stay with me throughout the long day.

Two men from our Sunday School class, Paul and Ronnie, and a couple of my family members, Danny and Linda, had also been with us during the test.  They left and went home around 11 am.  When they heard surgery was imminent, all four of them returned in the afternoon, holding vigil with me.

Staff in the heart wing were divinely appointed to be there for us.  A man named Darrell helped to prepare Bill for surgery while they talked about the goodness of the Lord.  One of the surgical nurses told Bill she would say a prayer with him before he went under the anesthetic.

Thankfully, I did not have to walk this day alone.  People kept arriving, pastors, Little Flock staff, our Sunday School teacher and his wife, and more family.  Our son, Travis, his sweet Renee and the three grandchildren came bringing hugs and smiles.  My 89-year-old dad came rolling up in a wheelchair, pushed by my stepmother, Esther.  Calls came to me and to Travis, assuring us that prayers were being lifted up toward the throne of grace for a successful surgery for Bill and strength for us.

About 8 pm when surgery was over and the recovery room gave way to an intensive care room, we were allowed to see Bill, tubes and wires connected in so many places.  My dad said a short prayer.  Bill would spend the night being carefully monitor and attended.

As was recommended and urged by caring people, I went home to try to rest my weary body and mind in preparation for the long days that follow heart surgery.  I decided to briefly look at Facebook.  I was astonished to see so many comments from friends of mine, Travis’ and Renee’s saying they were praying for all  of us.  The messages kept me scrolling down the screen as I read each one.

It sometimes takes an event such as an emergency surgery to remind me what a vast circle of love encompasses us.  The promised prayers were lifting us up, giving us strength to endure, filling us with God’s love. 

A very profound thought comes from John 13:35.  It reads,

“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other,” (The Message).

I stand as a witness to this truth.  God’s amazing plan was that we would need each other.  As His children, we love others because He first loved us.

Friends rally around when you are hurting.  They come, they care, they offer, they pray, they stay.  Tonight I feel so blessed to be the recipient of this kind of friendship, this kind of love.  It is God’s hand extended and one of the ways He makes Himself known in the world. 

Hanging with the MOPS

 I went to a MOPS meeting this week, and spent some time with a group of beautiful young women. Their common bond is mothershood.

MOPS, an acronym for Mother of Preschoolers, has been around for 40 years. According to its website, MOPS is “a place to find friendship, community, resources and support” for mothers. It is a place where women can connect with other women who share the challenges of raising young children.

It was my privilege to be invited into their inner sanctum as the guest speaker this particular week. I observed their faces, listened to their chatter, watched as they cared for their precious little ones, shared their food and fellowship, and remembered when I was a young mother of a preschooler. I needed the support of other mothers just like they do. And I needed the guidance of older women who had been where I was and had gleaned wisdom along the way.

This group has chosen to let the woman described in Proverbs 31 lead them this year, taking small bites of this chapter at their bi-weekly meetings. This day they were focusing on verses 11, 12, and 23.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. . . . Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

I referenced the book by Shaunte Feldhahn, For Women Only, and her professional survey results revealing what really goes on in a man’s mind. I chose to focus on a particular chapter, the one that discloses a husband’s need for his wife’s respect and trust.

These women listened attentively, took the words to heart, and wrote down ways they plan to implement this important area of the husband-wife relationship. I could see they wanted to be good wives and well as good mothers.

Later this week, I just so happened to observe a large cage of small finches.   There were about 20 of them fluttering about in what was their permanent home. Small basket like containers were  hung high in the cage for nesting purposes. One small bird had latched onto a sprig of plastic greenery meant to make the cage look natural. The tiny bird kept picking up this oversized stem of tiny white artificial flowers and flying up to the nesting basket, trying to pull the stem into the hole of the basket.

I watched as she struggled and dropped the stem over and over. She was never deterred from her purpose. When the stem dropped, she would swoop down and grab it again, maneuver it in a clear area, then fly back up to her basket with stem in her mouth. I found myself rooting for that little bird to get that stem in the basket, even though I knew it was only plastic and would never settle in like the natural materials she needed to make it comfortable for her and her soon to be babies.

It made me think again of the MOPS group. They have the nesting instinct that comes with having children. They will do whatever is necessary to make the best home for their fledglings, even if they have to struggle, even if they drop the ball – or the twig – sometimes and have to try again. And just like I felt about the little bird, I will be rooting for them to succeed. 

Leave a comment.  I always like to hear from you.

A gentle reminder

 

This week I randomly picked the book of Ephesians to read at my early morning quiet time.  

When I’m not in a group Bible study with a particular passage to survey, I am free to go where the Spirit leads. I came to a halt at verse 12 of chapter 1. This is how it read in my Amplified Bible:

So that we who first hoped in Christ – who first put our confidence in Him – have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory.” (emphasis mine)

I was struck down by those words and began to meditate on them. Right there at that very verse, I had penciled in a date, 1-23-10, almost exactly a year from this day.

Hum, the same book of the Bible and the same verse captured my thoughts in January. Something is up. I wanted to go back to last year’s journal writing and see what was going on with me then.

Sure enough, on January 23, 2010, I had recorded my thoughts. Here is a portion of what I wrote:

What would it look like if I lived out my daily activity for the praise of His glory?

I’m stumped and stymied by that heart question this early morning. I try to be pleasant and put on my best face and behavior at work and with my piano students. My work and performance evaluation reflect my attitude for sure, and I want a good reflection. Even one of my goals is to ‘leave them smiling’ whether that’s a checkout person at Kroger or the optical assistant at Lens Crafters. What if I did that in the deeply intimate confines of my home – with Bill each day? What if I determined to leave him smiling each morning and came home with my most cheerfulness each evening. What if he so looked forward to my home-coming because I reflected the joy of the Lord within me?”

It would seem that I am still a work in progress; otherwise why would the Holy Spirit bring me back around to that mountain again?

I must confess there are long days at work, and I come home weary and worn out. I’ve given the best I have to other people. Sometimes when I come home, I’m just given out. I’m not sure that is a good enough excuse to allow me to grump and grumble as soon as I walk into my home.

Home should be a refuge, a safe place, a sanctuary for Sweet William and me. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a tilt-a-whirl and a roller coaster.  

So once again in January 2011, I pray a prayer from last year.

Oh, Father, I pray for a Son-shiny day in my heart today. I can determine all I want to, but unless Your strength is exerted in me, I am helpless and hopeless. I am asking for bread this morning, not candy or frivolous stuff. Bread that gives strength and nourishes my very soul. Bread that only You can supply. Bread that will make my inner woman strong and able to live a life pleasing to You all day long.”

And I add one last request this Janaury 2011.

Let me live for the praise of Your glory!

Merry Christmas Eve

Speaking of interruptions, (see yesterday’s blog post) I burned the ham I was planning to serve our family for our Christmas Eve dinner. My Sweet William said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Just go get another ham.” Interruption.

Bill struggled in the bathroom (he’s just had knee surgery) and knocked several things onto the floor. Nothing was broken, but water from a vase went on the floor. Interruption.

After bowls of oatmeal and raisins (the last good-for-us-food we will probably eat today), I donned my Neiman Marcus green felt fedora (a cast off from my cousin – a find for me), hoping to cover the bed-head hair, threw my cape over my PJ’s (actually sweat pants and an old shirt of Bill’s), put on my sunglasses, and set off for Kroger, hoping to see no one I knew.

I quietly asked the Lord for a close parking spot. He gave me one, bless Him! I rattled my memory for the four items I was going to get: ham, a package of dry yeast, whipped cream, and a replacement soap dispenser for the one in the bathroom that quit working this morning. Interruption.

I only saw one person I knew at Kroger. She looked at me with her head slightly turned, smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas. It was the hat, I’m sure.

I grabbed my items quick as I could, trying to be pleasant to other last-minute shoppers like myself. I bought chocolate cream puffs from the frozen section, a substitute for homemade cookies this year.

I went through the self-serve check-out and wished the young man stationed there a “Merry Christmas.” The car trunk popped open with the press of a button, and I deposited my purchases. I took two bascarts back to the store, and a Kroger employee smiled sweetly and said a genuine ‘thank you.’ I smiled as I walked to the car.

At home, I put the new ham in the oven, careful to follow the instructions this time. I went into a food preparation frenzy. In between recipes, I grabbed stockings and stuffed them, put gifts in bags and added some tissue paper hoping they would look OK. It’s been such a busy few days with quite a number of interruptions.

Before the family came, I managed a quick shower and change of clothes, fixed my hair and make-up. Soon the house was full of my loved ones, lots of smiles and laughter, hugs and hearts filled with thankfulness that we have each other. And after all, isn’t that the best Christmas gift of all?

Merry Christmas everyone. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Wedding bells

 

I attended a wedding last week, smack dab in the middle of December. Actually I played the organ for the ceremony. This sweet young bride had picked some very classical and traditional songs, Canon in D, Bach’s Prelude in C, Bridal Chorus, and Wedding March. She knew what she wanted. I had to wonder if this bride had dreamed of a Christmas wedding since she was a little girl.

There is an electrical tension in the air the hour before the service starts. The photographer caught a few candid photos along with some specifically posed shots.  The videographer (now that’s a 21st century word) set up the tripod in preparation.  The wedding coordinator was a flurry of activity.

The groomsmen were ushering in guests, and the groom himself nervously paced about. I had to imagine the room where the bride and her court were making final touches to make up and hair.

The music started, the candles were lit, and it was now or never for the bride and groom. The bridal party marched in. The four children came down the aisle and performed their parts perfectly. They went to sit with their parents during the remainder of the ceremony, a wise decision. Children can steal the show with their cute, childish antics.

The color theme was red, of course, with bridesmaids dressed in beautiful red satin dresses. The church’s holiday decorations of Christmas wreaths and seasonal greenery blended beautifully.

The bride marched in on her father’s arm and the groom’s eyes were on her and her only.  The mothers dabbed their eyes with a tissue.

From my vantage point on the organ bench, I usually have a bird’s-eye view of the couple as they stand at the altar and repeat their vows. They have stars in their eyes, looking dreamily at each other as they repeat things like:

for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”

If they are anything like I was at my wedding, I expected that there would never be another really bad day. After all, we were entering into wedded bliss, and just like the movies, we would live happily ever after.

Not!

The bridal couple never expects “worse” or “poorer” or “sickness.” They expect the path to be paved with rose petals, endless meaningful conversation, and romance every evening. They don’t count on bad hair days, sour moods, angry words, in-law problems, or where to spend the holidays. Who even expects the exorbitant cost of car repairs, a maxed out credit card, or the rising price of groceries and gasoline.

It’s probably best we don’t know the future, or we would gasp in fear and run the other way. God in His wisdom keeps our future a secret known only to Himself, promising His grace and His presence for the journey.

As I sat listening to the young bride and groom confess their love for one another and make a commitment for life, I prayed they would fight for their marriage, that they would not give up when it got hard, and that God would help them remember their promises.

Marriage is not to be entered into lightly. It is a covenant we make before God and these witnesses to love each other no matter what.  It isn’t easy to do.  But it is worth it when we arrive at those 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th anniversaries.  A committed marriage is a legacy we leave our children and our children’s children.  It proves to them it can be done and that they can do it too.

 

There are no final words I can give on marriage. But there are a few things I’ve learned during my almost 39 years of marriage to my Sweet William.

  • Forgive and ask for forgiveness – often.
  • Pray for one another daily.
  • Go to church together.
  • Seek godly counsel when necessary.
  • Try to understand the other person.
  • Love with deeds when the warm fuzzy feelings are missing.
  • Hold hands and laugh a lot.
  • Don’t let anything or anyone come between your hearts.
  • Keep only to each other.

And ask God to help you love like He loved you. It’s the only way it can be done.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Remember the blog from a few of days ago, Christmas fun – December 8? I wrote about Elyse searching on-line for the perfect Christmas tree. Well, I found it! It was just like she saw it on Walmart.com. There is was at Wal-Mart dot Preston Highway. I spied it in the Christmas section, soon-to-be garden center when New Year’s Day comes and goes.

It was sitting on the corner display with a price tag in my range. It was a bit narrow and small enough to fit in and later be stored in our house. I bagged it in my bas-kart and called Elyse. “Guess what?” I said. We giggled together as I told her about the tree and anticipated how we would soon decorate it.

When I arrived home and unloaded the car of all the things I’d bought (why can I not get out of Wal-Mart without spending $100 plus?), my sweet William started unpacking the tree from its box. I saw its colored lights and was disappointed. I was expecting clear white lights, and I began wondering if this was the tree I wanted at all. 

But Bill was excited, as excited as I can remember him being about a Christmas tree. He was like a little boy again, transported by memories to his boyhood days when the family tree was filled with large colored light bulbs. Perhaps you can remember them, too. The bulbs were huge in comparison to the tiny lights we use today.

Bill reminisced and talked about happy Christmases past as we unfolded and fluffed the tree. I was no longer disappointed in the colored lights. It was well worth not getting my first choice just to see Bill’s delight.

The next day, the grandchildren came to the house. I carried down boxes of ornaments. There are the vintage ones, saved from my childhood, fragile and losing some of their color. Then there’s the collection of plastic bells my dad bought the year after his little girl (me!) broke too many of the glass ornaments. There are ornaments from Bill’s and my first Christmas together, and the yearly ornaments bought as our son, Travis, grew up. Some ornaments were gifts from other people and provoked a sweet memory. The grandchildren had fun hanging them as I told stories of each one.

Better late than never, our tree is finally decorated.  I remember Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas when he said, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree.  It’s not bad at all, really.  Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

Love makes everything better, doesn’t it?