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My list

A friend invited me to read James Herriot’s books, the ones he wrote in the mid 1900s about his experiences as a veterinarian in England early that century. I’ve always loved animals and considered becoming a vet when I was young, so his book was enticing.

all-things-bright

I checked out All Things Bright and Beautiful at the library and understood my friend’s love for Herriot’s books and language.

Reading Herriot’s description of the people and animals he encounter was often funny, sometimes sad, but always entertaining. Herriot wrote frequently about his wife, them only newly married in this particular book.

Herriot said of her, “She was always kind.”

That description stayed on my mind for a while. “She was always kind.” I would like to be remembered that way.

In 2007, a movie called The Bucket List was shown in theaters across the country. It was a comedy-drama starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Two terminally-ill men shared a hospital room, and because their lives were nearing the end, they decided to do and experience things before they “kicked the bucket.”

It became their Bucket List. As a result of the movie’s popularity, people began making their own lists of goals, dreams, experiences, places to visit, and people to meet, with nothing being too lofty or extravagant for the list.

There are websites that will help you understand, envision and make your own list.

I understand the idea. If we never set our sites on something, we will never try to reach the goal. I’ve been a list-maker and a goal-setter for a long time, so I get it, and I appreciate the focus required to strive for something.

I made a simple bucket list once, thinking outside my ordinary box to dream big. Through the years, I’ve crossed off some things as achieved, some as not-gonna-happen, and some that are no longer important to me.

As my years add up, what I think of more often is the legacy I will leave behind. I’m not talking about bank accounts, houses and land as an inheritance in monetary terms. Instead, I think about what people will say when I’m gone. How will I be remembered?

“She was always kind,” would be on my legacy bucket list.

There are some other ways I would like to be remembered.

  • She was a good listener and a safe place to express oneself.
  • She was real, not a fake.
  • She prayed for you when she said she would.
  • She was the kind of wife whose husband trusted in her, and she spoke well of him.
  • She loved her children and grandchildren unconditionally.
  • She was a loyal and true friend.
  • She gave of herself and her resources.
  • She had real joy in this life and hope for the next one.
  • She knew Jesus and her life reflected Him.

I’ve walked by many caskets in funeral homes. I’ve heard stories of the deceased and told some of my own memories. It is sometimes serious and sometimes joyful, and a combination of both, remembering the life lived.

When it’s my time to die, and all of us have that appointment, I want to have lived out my days with joy and gladness. I want to have loved with abandon. I want to have treated people right, with respect and honor. I want Jesus to shine brightly through me.

And I want to always be kind.

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When family comes together

Sweet William and I are mostly home bodies. Partly out of necessity but also because we just enjoy being at home.

While we’ve had dreams of traveling to far countries, of cruises to the islands, and seeing other parts of the world, travel is arduous for us now.  The baggage and effort are heavy duty.

We are still in the learning process, learning to be content where we are planted. We have comfort of home and nature’s beauty around us. We know all our neighbors and can call them when we need assistance. Maisie and I walk our quiet lane safely, watching the wildlife and waving to passing cars.

On the occasion we do travel, it will usually be to visit the family, our dear ones,. Such was the case last week. Our eldest granddaughter graduated high school, and July was the opportunity for her family to gather to celebrate her accomplishment.

Sweet Home Alabama

The trip took us to Sweet Home Alabama, the place of our daughter-in-love’s heritage and childhood memories.  Alabama is hot in July, the air thick with humidity. The skies are the bluest blue and the clouds fluffiest white (I always find a poodle somewhere in the sky).

The Live Oaks are just amazing. Crept Myrtles grow like trees and color the landscape in pastels and deep hues.

Southern is spoken there, y’all.

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The evening of the party, tables were set in white with flowers and candles. Food was abundant and iced drinks helped keep us cool. We fanned ourselves like a group of old-time tent revival attenders.

Children, teenagers, middle-agers and older-agers (is that even a word?) congregated to congratulate our granddaughter for another milestone completed. She looked beautiful and was the princess for the evening. The next journey she takes will be as a young adult. She will try her wings and see where they take her.

Elyse's graduation july 2016 (2)

Family is God’s plan, His idea from the very beginning. We are born there and other times we draw people to us and call them kin. Either way, we are blessed to be connected to others in deep relational ways.

Our strengths combined help us accomplish much more than we could on our own. Our weaknesses are quickly evident, and we learn to forgive and be forgiven. We challenge one another to grow and to become our best selves.

Iron sharpens iron. And in the family, we rub each other the wrong way and then pat each other on the back. We get on each other’s last nerve and jump to the defense if someone is threatened. We don’t see eye to eye as we all have our opinions. We can even talk politics or religion and still love each at the end of the day.

As extended family, we may not be together often enough, as often as we would like.  But we do whatever it takes when one of us is in pain, when death takes one of us home. And we drive the distance to celebrate the triumphs.

Joy and sorrow bring us back together once again. For whatever reason, whatever the event or need, we show up because we love each other.

It is the love that is God, the love that he lavishes on us, the love that makes us family.

family

Photos were taken by different family members.
As the one and only son said so aptly, “I love these people.”

 

The stepmother

She introduced herself as the Wicked Stepmother to my friends and colleagues.

We can thank Disney for that stereotype.

She married my dad after my mother died when she had been widowed herself for 15 years. She’d had other marriage proposals and told us she never intended to remarry. I guess my dad was more persuasive than the rest.

She was independent, feisty, and had a quick wit. She saw life in a unique and fun way. She laughed easily and walked into a room with a “here I am” swagger.

She loved my dad.

She did card tricks and made origami birds and could fold a dollar bill into different shapes.  She had a treasure of family heirlooms and could tell the stories of each one.

She was a child of the depression who salvaged, reused and re-purposed before it became popular. She knew how to make a dollar stretch until it squealed.

She loved food, especially my sour cream cake. She enjoyed gathering with people at the table and had her own method of involving her senses in the process of eating, slowly relishing each bite.

She became a minister and performed marriage ceremonies for about a bazillion people, some of whom would only have been welcomed by Jesus himself. Her stories of those experiences were both touching and hilarious.

She had been our neighbor when I was just a little girl, and she was my mother’s friend. How ironic that my dad would spend his last 30 years living next door to the house he built for my mother and me.

She re-entered my life while I was still in the depths of grieving for my mother. It was a hard dance at first, us trying to find our rhythms in a new normal.

Our one and only son who was only ten years old wanted to call her Grandma from the beginning. She soothed a fresh wound in his heart left gaping from the death of a grandmother he loved dearly.

We welcomed her into our lives, celebrated her on her special days, and she became part of our family’s holidays and everyday events. It was like grafting on a new branch to a tree whose deep roots were already well planted.

She was a friend to Sweet William and me. She was the grandmother of the groom when our son married and became Grandma to his sweet wife. She was the great-grandmother who held their babies on her lap. She was the woman who gave meaning and purpose to my dad when he didn’t think he could live without my mother.

She endured hardship during her 88 years. A tragic sudden death of her first husband. The murder of a close family member. Her own children living cities and states away from her. Stolen assets and property. A devastating house fire. A caregiver for my dad in their home until his death.

She encouraged others going through tough times, reminding them to trust God as she recalled His faithfulness in her trials.

She witnessed with her words and her life. The message on her telephone answering machine was “Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready to meet Him?”

No one can take another’s place, and my step-mother never tried to become my mother. Instead, she made her own place in my life, in our family. We were not blood related but joined by heart and by spirit.

She prayed for us. She loved us by her actions. She claimed us as her own. She was our family and we were hers.

She died yesterday and we are left with a hole in our hearts.

Gramps and Grandma.

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Investing for the future

Since my one-handed typing is slow and tedious like everything I do these days, I want to share some places I visit that often lift my eyes and heart upward.

This one from Proverbs 31 Ministry is on point. We may not be able to change the world but we can influence one person. Ask God who your person is and then start investing for the future.

Hope you enjoy . . .

THE QUIET IMPACT OF ONE WOMAN

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My little corner of the world

I surveyed my kingdom today, and I am queen of Quite-a-lot.

It’s an annual ritual that takes me back to a time with my father, a farmer at heart.  I remember walking with him through the yard looking for signs of spring.  He would point to plants that revealed the seasons were changing.

Dad and I walked together through his yard when I was young.  And in later years, we took the annual trip in my yard as we enjoyed seeing the fruits of my labor.

So when I stroll through my own little corner of the world, I think of my dad who influenced my love of sowing and reaping.

Today it was just warm enough for a flannel shirt atop my clothes.  Donning my garden boots with the pink horses on them and grabbing a walking stick, I set out to see what’s coming up.  I spotted our neighborhood hawk circling above, keeping me company.

There have been crocuses surprising me by the front steps since last week.  Their purple, white, and yellow offerings make me smile.

I saw one lone forsythia bloom on the bushes near the driveway.  There are small shoots of hibiscus pushing through the dirt.  They were transplanted by the back walkway last fall.   The pussy willow already has the little fuzzy “catkins” showing up on long branches.  I found enough early daffodils to pick and bring in the house.  With a little water in a vase, they will open to full flower shortly.

My yard is not pristine and manicured like some I admire.  I’m as likely to find a carpet of yellow dandelion blooms in summer as I am a patch of moss amongst the Kentucky fescue grass.  I live in the county and random seeds will fly in regularly like the Canadian geese on the lake across the road. Weeds are a constant in my world.

While I survey the potential beauty just ahead, I also see the potential work.  Fallen sticks are scattered everywhere.  There’s a boggy area that needs fill dirt.  And the weeds, always the weeds.  I think there is more effort required than there is of me to do it.

But today, I will just enjoy the hope of what is to come.  Today I’ll just survey my kingdom and find pleasure in the knowledge that lo, the winter is past . . . flowers appear on the earth.  The season of singing has come, and the cooing of doves is heard in our land.  

I will remember my dad and the heritage he passed on to me. It is a heritage of investing in growing things, whether that is people or plants, and the knowledge that both take time.

I am indeed Queen of Quite-a-lot.  I am thankful for the good earth, strength to work in it and see it produce because God made it to be that way.

In this my “season of Lent” I will enjoy the season of new life and what that means to me.  New life in my yard.  New life here and now because of the cross.  New life in the hereafter because of the resurrection.

The old must give in to the new.  Because when life comes, death takes a holiday.

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Forty years ago . . .

Amidst the stark bareness of winter, I see it green and living, nestled and attached.

It is mistletoe in the upper branches of an old water maple tree that grows near my yard.  The bunch of green grows where nothing else does in the deep of winter. The season that hangs heavy around us.

And it reminds me . . .

A tall young man, muscular and strong, walked with me, just a young woman, to the back of property owned by my uncle, Sam Rayhill, Jr.  It was just fields and high weeds and a few trees, a place for a courting couple to be together in the outdoors that seemed a bit of Heaven on earth for those who are young and falling in love.

We spied the mistletoe in the top of a tree that day. It was nearing Christmas, and wouldn’t fresh mistletoe be wonderful to hang in my mother and dad’s house, already decorated with reds and greens?

I’d never seen real living mistletoe before.  But how to get it out of that tall tree in the uppermost branches?  The tall young man borrowed my pellet gun, and we walked back to that tree.  He aimed with an eye trained to hit the target.  The bullet struck its mark, a piece of the mistletoe fell to the ground, and I thought he was just wonderful.

I gathered the green plant and took it to our house.  We hung it with some ribbon.  And we kissed underneath it.

Now, forty plus years later, life has taken its toll on that tall young man.  He has suffered much, grown weary at times with too many illnesses and too many surgeries.  Yet . . . he is still the one and only love of my life.  He is my hero, my friend.  After all these years, I still think he is so handsome.  And he tells me I am beautiful.  He will always make my heart thrill.  Today we celebrate 40 years of marriage.

We are two who have beaten the odds to remain as one.

We almost lost this precious gift of love, of covenant promised long ago. Once I held papers in my hand that read, “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” and I cried, uncontrollable, inconsolable, unable to breathe. I had never wanted that.  Neither did he.  But there seemed to be no other solution.  Too much pain and too many hurtful words.  Too many misunderstandings and too much anger and too much pulling away.  Too much dysfunction.

How did we manage to salvage what was so broken and beyond repair?

Grace.

There is no other explanation except that God will have compassion on whom He will have compassion, as He told Moses on the mount when He revealed to him His glory (Exodus 33:19).   God’s glory announces “I AM” when He pours out compassion and mercy on souls so undeserving.  Souls like us.

And we were soaked, drenched, plunged into the glory.

Sweet William and I will rejoice in this milestone of our lives.  It will not be picture perfect this year.  No fine restaurant, no trip to the Bahamas, no sparkling gemstone in a setting of gold.

But we will celebrate nevertheless.  How can we not?  We who believed have seen the glory of God (John 11:40).

The glory that picks up the pieces of shattered lives, that puts brokenness back together while leaving the scars.

The glory that restores what the locusts had eaten and destroyed only to gives life in its place.

The glory of love renewed from Love Himself.

The glory of covenant kept and of legacy passed to the next generation and the next.

The glory of grace.

I love you, Sweet William.  Happy Anniversary.