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Changing seasons

I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however,  still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.

As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.

When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one.  As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.

I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”

I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.

Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.

An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.

This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.

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Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.

Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions.  After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.

We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives.  We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.100_2694

We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.

blessings

 

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Monday grace

This week I’ve been practicing some remembering.

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The Bible study I’m doing with sweet sisters has led me to a point of recall. Events from my childhood and young adulthood have surfaced. Like every human on the planet, some of my memories were painful. But so many were amazing.

We’ve been looking for the hand of God in the places of our lives, sensing Him in the darkness, witnessing Him in the light, recognizing that He was there each and every time.

It’s a healthy exercise for my brain to remember 60 plus years past. What I perceive in the remembering is a loving, dependable Father who was redeeming the events of my life, conforming me ever so slightly into the image of His Son, causing all things to work together for my good and for His glory.

On Sunday morning, sitting next to Sweet William at church, it was not surprising that a song about the faithfulness of God resonated with the things I’d been studying, the events I’ve been summoning to the forefront of my mind.

And then, a few pews away from us, I saw an elderly woman lift her small wrinkled hand in praise, acknowledging the same faithful God. My eyes unexpectedly teared up thinking of the years she has lived. Perhaps a decade or more my senior, her experience with God exceeds mine. I wondered what she might tell me, how she saw Him active in her years, what hard places she walked with His hand leading hers, the victories they won together, how beauty arose from the ashes of her grief and tribulation.

We are different but we are the same. Both children of the living God who loves us and cares individually for us, always at work on our behalf, ever watchful of the journey we take, never leaving, never forsaking.

Later that evening, Sweet William and I accompanied a roomful of people singing hymns from days gone by. He and I had practiced the songs for weeks, their melodies etched in our minds. The words were old, familiar and true.

Voices echoed ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and testified of its certainty. Our God is strong. Our God is good. And our God is trustworthy.

It is well worth remembering that.

Monday grace.

 

 

Sunday grace

How many times did he tell me he was praying for me? A zillion it seems.

Every time we spoke on the phone, every time I saw him, he told me once more, “I have thousands of prayers stored up for you, little girl.”

I believed him. I knew he prayed for me. One of my first memories as a child is my dad kneeling beside my bed early in the morning. While it was still dark outside and I was tucked under the covers, my dad was dressed and ready for work. One of his last habits of the morning was to lay his hand on me and pray before leaving the house.

I found comfort in that as an adult, remembering how my dad loved me enough to consistently pray for me.

He believed he stored prayers in heaven, and Revelation 5:8 and 8:4 say the prayers of the saints are stored in golden vessels in Heaven. And so my dad prayed much. His prayer ministry was known by those in his circle of influence. He was a disciplined man in his commitment to kneel before the throne of grace and call out multiple names day after day.

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After his death, I had stacks of papers, listing prayer requests people had given him. He kept them in orderly piles near a chair in the basement of his home, a chair where he knelt at least twice every day while he was able.

Sweet William and I talk about my dad often, the way he loved his coffee and how he slurped it loudly showing his pleasure in it. He dispensed kindness and encouraging words regularly. He could tell a great story and it got even bigger and better when he had an audience. And if he got the joke on you, it was his delight.

He laughed with everything in him, his mouth wide open, sometimes slapping his knee from pure jubilation. He loved people, especially his family, and he would go to the ends of his earth to take care of any one of us.

He was a wonderful father. He knew how to show me the Heavenly Father’s love. The foundation he laid for me as a child helped me stand when the winds of tribulation have threatened to blow me away.

I knew my dad loved me. I knew he was there if I called him. I knew he prayed for me consistently.

My dad is with Jesus now. I miss him especially today, on Father’s Day. I would love to fix a plate of sausage gravy and biscuits for him and hear him say, as he always did, that it was the best I’d ever made. I’d like to hear the army stories he told until I had memorized them. I’d like to hear him laugh one more time. I’d like to hear him pray for me once more.

Dad in the army

I believe his prayers are still alive, kept in heavenly golden containers, and there is a large one with my name on it. Those stored prayers still come before God’s throne, intercessions on my behalf.

A good and godly father is a treasure above wealth this world can give. I am a rich woman because of it.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

Thank God for the women, for the ones who touched my life and left their fingerprints.

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For the women who lived before, fighting battles and suffering long that I might live free and equal and be considered a person and not someone’s property.

For the women in Scripture whose stories inspire me to be better, who stood tall and brave in the face of adversity, who spoke prophesies and championed soldiers, who stood between kingly decrees and their children, who faithfully followed in terrifying conditions and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

For the women who taught me through word and example when I was a child and grew unto an adult, who told Bible stories with flannel graph figures and expounded the deeper Truth, who lived lives of grace and mercy, who were mothers in the faith and endured to the end.

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For the women who lived quiet lives of joyful example, who were faithful to their husbands, who loved their babies, who freely gave to me and other people’s children, offering love and making a lasting difference.

For the women who saw my untamed talents and the beginnings of my gifts and nurtured them in me, smiling their encouragement and applauding my progress.

For the women who authored books that made me laugh and made me think, who pricked my heart and seemed to know my story, who did not condemn but showed me how to move toward healing.

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For the women who were my grandmothers, leaving their impression on my parents, passing along the inheritance and the blessings of their goodness.

For the women who were my aunts, who loved me and treated me like one of their own.

For the women who are my cousins, who have been like sisters.

For my dear mother, my mother-in-law, my step-mother, each one completely different yet profoundly impacting my life.

For my one and only daughter-in-love who continues to teach me about loving  her husband and training her own brood to fly.

From my now grown-up granddaughters, individual in their personalities and gifts, both so precious in my sight and a reward for living long.

For the women who are friends and have become like family and kindred spirits, who show me how each of us is unique and has a purpose in the kingdom.

For the women who are daughters-of-my heart, who have made their own special places, filling full the empty spaces in me.

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For the women, O Lord, who have been your vessels and have poured into my life, who opened their hearts and welcomed me into their circles, who have laughed with me and cried with me, who have held my hand and hugged my neck, who have prayed for me and inspired me to take courage.

For these women, the daughters of Eve, tough and tender, warriors all, leaving a legacy of love and devotion, being the beautiful crown of creation and housing the light of Jesus in their brokeness and letting Him shine all the brighter.

These women, all of them, have nurtured me in some way whether they ever bore a child of their own or not. These women are caring, loving, supporting, graceful and full of grace. They have made me better and I give You thanks for them on this Mother’s Day.

They bear Your image, they show Your feminine side in the most beautiful and unique way. They display Your heart as only the women can.

These women, they have left their fingerprints on my life.

Sunday grace.

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Revised and re-posted from May 2017

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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Finding treasures

I guess I’m a treasure hunter by nature. I like old things, and exploring is part of the fun.

One of the first pieces of furniture Sweet William and I bought as a couple was a rugged looking, six legged table he found in someone’s garage.  We gave it the tender loving care it needed, and it sits in the bay window of the living room.

I’ve enjoyed scouring antique and junk establishments, garage sales and thrift stores. Unique things are the reward.

We ventured to our first official yard sale this week, a rite of spring, at an ancient little church not far from home. The women of the church host a sale twice a year in their modern multi-purpose room, and it’s always a good place to search out something of interest.

This year I spied an item that was a close duplicate of what I have at home, a small china hand that I’m sure was originally meant as an ash tray, the gold-plated indention at its wrist just the size of a cigarette. Mine rests on my kitchen counter, near the coffee pot, as the holder of a cream-stirring spoon.

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The small hand used to sit on my mother’s gas stove where she placed the burnt match she used each time she lit a burner or the oven. Because the gas did not run continually in her stove, Mother pushed the burner knob and held a lighted match where the gas escaped to light the fire that would get the cooking started. I’m sure that is against all safety regulations now, but that’s the way it was done in mother’s kitchen.

When she died, that little hand was one of the first things I wanted to take to my kitchen. It held years of memories of good food and my mother’s daily activity. Feeding her family and anyone else who happened to sit at her table was primary, and she did it well.

At the yard sale I snatched that little hand and carried it to where Sweet William was now sitting with a plate of chips and a hot dog. “Look what I found” I said, and we took it home with us, the treasure of the day.

Last week, I decided to go through the contents of the cedar chest that doubles as a window seat in the upstairs office. I had not looked deeply into that space in a number of years.

I pulled all the memories out of the chest and laid them around me on the floor. There were items from our son’s childhood: a baby blanket, high school ribbons and awards; a child’s hand print on burlap and colorful boy scout patches; a green frog costume I made for his elemenatry school play; a couple of baby spoons and a small wallet housing his name and “F.B.I Agent” written on notebook paper.

There was Sweet William’s high school choir sweater, my girlhood autograph book and one belonging to my mother with wooden covers; baby shoes worn by the grandchildren and a faded picture of my dad in military uniform on cloth emblazoned with the United States flag, American Eagle and the Liberty Bell. There are a slew of stick pins, awards for piano auditions, safe driving, school clubs, and employment. An old Bible was wrapped carefully with no one’s name in it. I have not idea whose it was.

I found a stack of 3 by 5 inch recipe cards, the ones we used to keep in boxes before Pinterest boards and on-line organizational tools. They were in my mother’s handwriting, and I thought they had been tossed in the trash years ago for lack of thinking. I looked at each one of them, some written neatly, some scrawled quickly, no doubt in a hurry to get a friend’s delicious dish written down for future meals.

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When I held the items from the ancient cedar chest, nostalgia rose, memories came and tears welled in my eyes. They hold a treasure of experiences, remembrances of days gone by and the people who made those days important.  All of them, even the unknown owner of the Bible, left their imprint on my life.

This week I had opportunity to talk to family members I don’t get to see as often as I like. Those few minutes on the phone are precious, the laughter and love expressed in words and intonation are held close in my heart.

I think once again of how valuable people are, the ones who come for a while and the ones who stay a lifetime, how they all leave a mark in one way or another. They are the true treasures of a life.

I heard somewhere that we have “the precious present” to hold and give our attention. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. Today is a gift to be enjoyed.

I think how time goes by swiftly, children grow up before we are ready, parents die, and I am getting older by the minute. I pray that I can be aware of these days of my life, not only capturing them in my memory but taking the opportunity to express love to people on a daily basis.

There are still words I want to say, encouragement to be offered, prayers to send heavenward. I have life to share and hope to extend.

Time is always moving. I have the precious present and I know that people are my greatest treasure. I don’t want to miss a single one.

be present

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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.