Charlotte—More Than a Friend

Charlotte—More Than a Friend

I lost a dear friend this week. Actually, she’s not lost. It’s me who’s lost just knowing she’s not here. Her earthly ties were cut loose and she flew right into the arms of Jesus. I’m hurting for my loss but no doubt the loss is felt much more by her dear husband of over 60 years and all the extended family who loved her so much.

Charlotte Parker was a friend, a mother figure and a mentor to me. She lived large. Her presence wasn’t subtle. She knew who she was and knew how God had gifted her, and unlike many of us, she actually employed her gifts in gracious and abundant ways. She was like a walking Bible. She didn’t question whether the Bible was true or whether it was relevant today. That was a no-brainer.

In Charlotte’s mind there was never a doubt about the nearness of God and that He spoke directly to us through His Word. The last time I visited with her in her home, which was way too long ago, she had me on the edge of my seat as she expressed truth she was learning. When I returned to my sister’s home where I was staying, I quickly grabbed my journal and wrote everything I could recall that she’d shared. Her sermonettes were life-changing to me.

In my younger years, I was a single mom for what seemed a really long season. I’d occasionally have friends graciously help with all the children in my care—my two plus around five others. I’d go hang out with Charlotte and help in her home. She told me that she loved having me in her kitchen. I’ve enjoyed organizing things my entire life, and I’d empty the drawers and cabinets periodically and put them in better order. I remember snitching bites of the apple cake that had been sitting on the counter under the glass dome for just long enough to be extra moist. I’d clean out the fridge and help any way I could just to be around. I remember she insisted that I bring home lots of delicious leftovers (or they’d be thrown away).

Charlotte showed me how to cook summer yellow squash and onion in a skillet with oil–I can still smell it. We kneaded bread together and she taught me to spend that time praying for the loved ones who would enjoy the bread. I’d always wondered how to pass that boring time kneading. Many folks would agree she was a phenomenal cook!

I remember the time Charlotte asked me to prepare a layered salad for her house guests. A recipe from a bygone era—we used to make it often. The salad had layers of lettuce, bacon bits, peas, cheese etc. and was topped with mayonnaise for the dressing. It would keep in the fridge for a couple of days and was tossed before serving.

A week or so after I brought her the salad she asked me over for lunch. She served the yummiest soup. “Guess what kind of soup this is?”, she said. I made all kinds of guesses, then she grinned the biggest grin and said, “Remember the salad you brought me?” I was stunned! She’d used the leftover salad, added broth and served it proudly like the gourmet fare it was.

Here’s what is interesting and impactful about that story. Charlotte’s most profound and lasting lesson for me was her famous teaching entitled, What do you have in your hand? The salad-soup was a perfect example of utilizing to the best of her ability and creativity what she had available. The Old Testament reference for the story is from II Kings 4:4-7. It’s about a poor widow who encountered Elijah.  Even now that principle resonates in my spirit as fresh and powerful. I need to pass these truths on to younger women who haven’t heard.

I keep looking for an end to my story, but memories flood my mind.

Not long before I married Tom, my friends gave me the sweetest shower. To make it extra special, Charlotte shared from her heart an encouraging message, especially for me. I wish I had the words written down somewhere. What I remember is that she gave me a little candle table; the kind with a hinge to let the top swing down. She set a brass candlestick on the table and talked about what it meant to be a light to those around us. I now believe her comments were prophetic. She said Tom and I would be a light to the people around us. Ironically, we received an unusual number of candlesticks for wedding gifts. And we’ve hosted groups in our home for over thirty years. I guess it’s just an extension of who we are.

The last thirty-two years Charlotte and I have lived about 800 miles apart. She’s visited me a couple of times and I visited her when I was in her home town. But for so many years we hardly talked at all. An occasional note perhaps, but I’m realizing now I could have been much better about staying in touch. It was my loss for certain. I’m mad at myself for not following the nudges I had from time to time to call her or even write. I’m very sad today and somehow it seems that writing my memories and feelings will help.

My post is probably (selfishly) mostly  for me. But if there’s anything I can share with my friends, it’s this: Don’t wait to spend time with your loved ones and don’t ignore or put off those little nudges to take some sort of steps. Life is short and so unpredictable.

I think of so many things I haven’t mentioned; what a gifted artist Charlotte was, that she was a published author, how lavishly she showed hospitality, that she had a green thumb and grew the most magnificent roses…so many memories.

If you’ve been in our home, you might have noticed one or two of Charlotte’s paintings. I’m especially glad to have them now.

Finally, I’ll stop thinking of myself, and simply choose to rejoice for Charlotte. She’s happier and more fulfilled than ever before. In Heaven she knows no pain or sadness. I can imagine her reuniting with her friends and family who arrived earlier! I’ll gratefully carry the memories and allow what I’ve learned to change me. And I’ll continue to pray for the ones here who are bereft over her loss.

New Sight

One thing I’ll miss—my morning view.

A funny thing happened recently. I looked in the mirror two days after my eye surgery and saw an unfamiliar face looking back at me. I studied my skin with all its splotchiness and thought, “The sedation meds must’ve had some weird effect!” I couldn’t imagine why my skin had taken on a different color and older look. On the same day I noticed a Facebook update— the emoji colors were brighter and more vivid! Many things were taking on a new appearance. When I started noticing freckles on friends’ faces where I hadn’t seen freckles before I finally realized what had really changed—my eyesight!  I’d had brand new lenses inserted in place of my cataract covered lenses. I knew my vision was poor, but not until I saw clearly did I realize how skewed it had been.

The timing of my new physical vision was not lost on me. My surgery occurred at the very time I was packing for a move from our long-time family home to start a new life in another city. I looked into the mirror, trying not to be completely saddened by my image and said, “Lord, what other more important things have I not seen clearly?”

Growth implies change. Change doesn’t come easily for me. I need to remember that since I first began to follow Christ, my primary goal has been to grow in my faith; to be fully surrendered and aligned with His plan. Did I believe my growth would happen without experiences and surroundings changing? I’ve encountered plenty of change in my life; and our home and community were great sources of comfort during the changes. Now I see that even the absence of those comforts is incentive and impetus for growth. I recently read, “No beginnings without endings. Growth brings change.”

Gratitude isn’t dependent on circumstances. While reading the New Testament I noticed that Jesus thanked God when there wasn’t enough. In Luke 9 Jesus is concerned about feeding the 5,000 men and their families who had come to hear him teach. He asks the disciples to give them something to eat. Since they could only come up with five loaves of bread and two fish they were at a loss as to how they could feed all those people! Jesus, without hesitation, has all the people sit in organized groups. Then He proceeds to thank God for what clearly was not enough! As He gave thanks for the very small amount, there was enough food for all the folks with twelve to-go baskets of left-overs! What do I have in my hand that seems like not enough? How can I thank God for the not enough and watch Him create abundance? He’s done this for me many times!

I need to keep Jesus ever present in my mind. One day while I was taking a walk I asked God to show me, practically, what keeping my eyes on Him meant. I had the idea that whenever anxious thoughts would come, I’d imagine a looming image of Jesus in my mind overshadowing those worries and causing me to think of Him instead of the anxieties. I’m very visual and I think God obliges me often when I need a specific application. His Presence and influence is vast enough to overshadow circumstances. He’s always with me.

I need God to lead my life, not my feelings. My feelings and emotions are important and valid but they are not what I need to base my decisions on. I hear him primarily through reading Scripture, and He speaks to me in my thoughts. Many times I also hear him speak through other people. One day a dear friend spoke clearly into my life during a near melt-down. I’d thought, “I can’t do this!”  She confidently spoke to me, “Number one: you CAN do this. Number two, picture yourself happily in your new home doing things you enjoy. Number three; picture how your life would be if you stayed here rather than joining your husband in his new community.” I already knew what I was supposed to do, but I needed encouragement! Her words put hope in my heart and there was no doubt Who the Source was!  After following Jesus for over 45 years I recognize when thoughts line up with His Truth.

This morning in my prayer time I felt like the Lord said, “You were made for this.” I share that with you, my friends, because I believe you also, were made for whatever the this is in your life. If you know Him you will never be alone. He will never fail to lead you in the way He has for you to go. 

 

 

Our BFFs

Our BFFs

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”

Henry Ford

I’m not really sure how we ended up with such great friends. Six of our friends; three couples, come to mind. We’ve known them for so long that we can sometimes finish each other’s sentences. I sometimes think they know us better than we know ourselves. I spent time hanging out with some of them recently—it’s my favorite thing to do. I’d sacrifice a meal or walk a long distance to just chat it up with them, in silly times as well as the more serious. Recently we were brainstorming; I’d asked for some insight for our current conundrum. They didn’t disappoint; each brought a piece that carefully fit into my current life puzzle. I was grateful and encouraged by their insights. Being with them helped me.

I don’t know when it happened; if we were logging miles in the old mini-van enroute to soccer matches, or reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time, or if Tom and I were swept away in Poldark‘s English countryside?  All I know is somewhere along the way our children became our best friends.

Our children shot up like Jack’s beanstalk and we hardly noticed. I remember a photo of our younger two kids with Tom and me at a homecoming basketball game. A Facebook friend commented, “Are they really that tall or are you just very short?” I’m pretty average in height, but I hadn’t realized how they’d towered over me. They just shot right up without our permission. It just happened.

Who knew that this could happen? When I was changing diapers, blocking babies from the stairs, and reading Curious George I never once thought, “These kids are going to be my close friends one day. On the entire planet, they will be my favorite people to be with. It won’t even matter if we’re doing anything at all. I will cherish their very presence and personalities and their adultness.”

By rote, and numb repetition at times I prayed for them to be wise. They are wise! I prayed that they would love the things God loves and they do! I deeply hoped they’d know how much they’re loved by God. Against all doubting and wondering if this parent experiment would work, they know the Truth much more deeply than we did at their age. #grateful

One Saturday morning years ago, I was cooking breakfast for a table full of ravenous  teenage boys. A thought came to my mind, “You don’t even know who you’re serving.” It reminded me that all acts of love are done without our awareness of the ultimate outcome.  Who knew the character and accomplishments that would be present in the lives of those boys? God did.

The little kids around your table—you can’t see what the future holds. One day when they’re taller and stronger than you, they may drive to your house when you’re sick and can’t take care of yourself. They may lovingly transport you to the hospital when you can’t walk in your own strength. Keep on walking in courage and faith, young parents—you don’t know who you’re caring for. There’s no vocation more noble and crucial in the world!

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.”

Psalm 127:3 (Good News Version)

 

Ruts

rut1
rət
noun
plural noun: ruts
1. a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
2. a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.

I like ruts. Sameness, ritual, routine. I don’t tire of the same coffee, the same neighbors, same food. I like living in the same house where our babies learned to walk. The house Tom built.

My father used to tell me the horrifying story of driving his daddy’s car in the rural Ozark hills when he was eight years old. He told us about picking up his “girlfriend” for his eighth birthday party. He could drive somewhat safely because of the ruts in the road. They kept him on course. There wasn’t fear of veering to the right or left; the ruts kept him engaged in the familiar way.

I relate to the rut concept so much these days. For me it’s not unproductive or dull that I’m feeling. It’s safety and comfort. I’ve lived in the same home for about thirty years and I’ve learned how I fit here. I’m content with my roles as neighbor, mom, Mimi, and friend. I’m pretty sure that I’d stay right here in this house until my last breath if God and Tom hadn’t intervened. Stay happily, I might add.

The only thing I like more than sameness is a looming sense of what I call God’s Purpose. Since I was spiritually awakened and enlightened as a teenager many years ago, my daily prayer is for guidance into the plans and calling that God has assigned me. A pursuit of this Purpose has carried me through joy, heartache, divorce, longing, poverty, marriage, grief and celebration; always with a deepening sense of His reality and nearness in my life. At this point, with my history, I’d be foolish to disregard His leading even if it’s opposed to my comfort and desires.

Ruts can be good for specific reasons. Say, for instance, there is a project that requires your full attention or a discipline that needs to become a habit in your life.

I read a book about habits— The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. One of the most impressive examples given was the story of Michael Phelps’ training practices. For many years he’d gone through precisely the same daily and hourly habits that eventually brought him to record-breaking victories in the Olympics.

At some point, however, a person may need to take the steep climb out of the rut that’s unknowingly been created. Could there be a new unexplored road ahead?

Living in what we call Christianity—following Christ—calls for attention to His ventures. On the one hand, the not knowing can be rather exciting. On the other hand, for some of us, the not knowing what’s around the next corner can be quite terrifying.

This is where I find myself today. Change brought on by Tom’s job in another state. I’m pursuing another life and home because I know my place is with him.

Countless times I’ve been grateful to God for leading me. When life is most difficult, I’m most desperate to hear Him speak. Through the Holy Spirit, if I take time to be quiet, He never disappoints.

I know with all my heart I couldn’t have survived this life without the friendship and closeness of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. The Bible is alive and fresh each day and gives us everything we need for living life fully. I can never thank Him enough.

Screwtape, speaking of God says, “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” Screwtape calls God’s propaganda an “appalling truth”. “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life on its miniature scale will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.” The Screwtape Letters  by C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

Maturing

Maturing

Old age, to the unlearned, is winter; to the learned, it’s harvest time.

– Yiddish saying

I’ve come to disdain all the talk about getting old I hear from people in  their forties, fifties and sixties. It’s relative, right? We are truly getting older everyday. But must we constantly call ourselves old?

I recently chatted with a bank teller I hadn’t seen in awhile, exchanging niceties. I commented, “I’m doing well, just a bit older than last time I saw you.” Her reply has stuck with me. “Well that’s a good thing!” It is a good thing. Being older means I’m still alive!

For me, growing older happened overnight.

First there was that course black hair in the um… cleavage region that my daughter so kindly pointed out to me. I can still see her look of shock.

Then there was the time our son returned home to find us scooted up close to the TV with the volume turned up so loud we didn’t hear him come in. In our defense it was a foreign film!

The once silent knees now like to complain on steep mountain hikes.

Generic ibuprofen is purchased in the value-sized pack.

The precocious red-headed five year old, in my care, inquired about the whiskers.

Our prayers are long and laborious–and comical– multiple aching body parts have now made the list.

We are maturing. It took me by surprise. Not too long ago I was 35. Then I was 40 and all was well. But there was that day I showed up for a dermatology check up. I filled out the intake form and came to that pesky little space for age. I stopped and pondered—I’d had a birthday just that week. Was I 50??? No that can’t be right. So I did the math on scrap paper and it was actually true. I was 50. The only birthday to that point that mocked me and rang with disbelief.

When 60 rolled around I felt like everyone would look at me as an old person. They wouldn’t know that on the inside I was still young. It’s interesting how we make judgments by looking at someone’s exterior when we have no idea about their souls. I feel like an announcement is called for.  “I may look older and feebler but I am me—even more me than I was earlier!”

This is the time of life when I hold onto every positive comment. Recently a nurse taking my vitals stared at me for several moments and said, “There is no way in h*** you are 63!” I grinned for days…

There are things I love about having lived longer:

  • Comparison becomes less important. You begin to give others freedom to be themselves which frees you to be yourself.
  • It’s harder to criticize people when you’ve either walked in their shoes or know you could’ve.
  • Your life station has made a spot for you. Knowing your passions and gifts; the way you’re wired, helps you to know your calling and how you can contribute.
  • You can be more effective. There is only one you and no one has exactly the same assignment. You’re comfortable being unique; having opinions and strengths and weaknesses. They all make you who you are.

My hope is to make the most of the days and years and not be mad at God when things don’t go as I’d wished.

To cherish the moments as they come because they truly are gifts!

To invest my life in the tasks that I believe were designed just for me. Not to copy someone else’s schedule or lifestyle.

A life verse I adopted many years ago seems more applicable as the years go by.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Psalm 92: 12-15

 

 

 

Thoughts on a Quiet House

Thoughts on a Quiet House

The sink shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least one stray cereal bowl filled with water…waiting to be washed.

The desk in the entry way is naked—where are the keys with the antique bent silver spoon?

The window by the kitchen table is still smudged by sticky baby girl hands—it won’t be cleaned today. It’s a sweet reminder of the laughing little one looking for birdies and squirrels. (My big feelings have clearly taken me to desperate places!)

There aren’t enough dishes to fill the dishwasher.

The blankets and pillows on the sofas stay obediently in their spots.

Piles of laundry that bugged me for so long are gone. Even the laundry room is on a brief vacay.

One week ago our home was bustling with hurriedness and so much chatter and laughter. “Pull up another chair to the table…crowd in…there’s room at the table for you!” No extra chairs needed today.

I’ve been known to grab a neighbor, and drag her to my house for potluck….to clean out the fridge or scrounge the freezer and eat up what we have. Sharing life gives me life.

Spontaneously invite a friend! You can be sure that your fare is as good or better than what she’d eat alone. No need to make a production! And it’s always better together.

Two in a home are better than one. And ten are better than two. We are not meant to be alone. What a treasure loved ones are and what a comfort to connect to other souls; other spirits.

A house shouldn’t be so quiet. No sounds of hurried footsteps dashing out the door and no goodbyes and I love you’s quickly called out.

The porch light is on, but why? No one is coming. New habits new ways new normals—they are all harkening me on to the new chapter.

When our kids were little and there was zero alone time, my friend Cynthia and I would chat on the phone in the mornings. We’d discuss what we learned from Dr. Dobson on 90.5 about parenting and wifing. More than once we discussed the verse from Proverbs 14;4.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Oxen are messy and eat a lot. They’re expensive and time consuming. The manger would be clean without them; but they provide a great harvest. Their benefit far outweighs their drawback.

My friend and I imagined that theoretically we could have a tidy clean house with everything in order. But what benefit would there be to an empty house? We wanted to learn to embrace or at least accept the poopy diapers, never ending laundry, the continual spills. One day we’d miss those little rug rats.

When you’re there it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be here. And isn’t it funny that so much of the time there is a longing for the other season rather than a full on reveling in the present. We humans are so weird and impossible to please; or maybe it’s just me.

An advantage to having lived through lots of years is that you begin to finally realize that each season prepares you for the next. Every single one is as valuable as the one coming. God is always faithful. So why should I fret and why should I be sorrowful? Right now He’s preparing me for what’s ahead and even in my melancholy and tender emotions my hope is in Him. All the days planned for me are written in His book.

To Love a Child

To Love a Child

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s  3:00-ish in the afternoon. A chilly sunny February day. I’m kneeling on our deck, working on a current project— applying dark stain to 2×4 plywood boards.

Yesterday eighteen years ago at this very time I sat on this deck with a little six year old girl named Katherine, and served her tea. I’d cobble together whatever snack items I could find and fancily fill a tray. We called it a tea party. Specially cut mini round pb&j sandwiches, tea in the teapot (or lemonade), raisins, cut-up fruit, cookies. She’d talk about her day and I’d grin and marvel at the sweetest most joyful little one. My nickname for her was Joy.

After our tea party she’d invariably trounce upstairs to her room and begin another school day—this time she was the teacher.  She’d stand near her white board, writing lessons and enunciating to her slow of hearing students, correcting them soundly if they weren’t attentive. Sometimes her stern threatening voice sounded remarkably similar to the stern teacher she had that year.

She’d finish her pretend school day and then it would be time for entertainment. To the dress up clothes she’d go. She would don her favorite costume, jumping on chairs, off chairs, and spontaneously dancing and singing to whatever music was playing. So often she’d be bumped and bruised, but she kept going. We always said her two big brothers made her tough.

I’m glad I was there. I was privileged to be a stay at home mom for many years. I thank my husband for that. Today he thanks me for investing myself so fully in our four precious children.

There were the  daily events like tea parties and playing school and then there were the special occasions. The birthday parties, always at home, every year. One night our talented friends dressed formally and hosted a game show, microphone in hand, in our living room. All the guests dressed in fancy attire for the formal event. We decorated with hanging gold stars and played a boisterous Family Feud. To the girls, it was an authentic game show.

Movie night was another birthday theme. We borrowed a monstrosity of a first-generation big screen TV. Just moving it from car to home was an enormous task. I hung movie posters on the walls, there was a ticket booth and a handsome attendant (Daddy) wearing a tux to seat all the young ladies. We set up eight chairs right in front of that monster of a television and watched Parent Trap together. The girls were given tickets as they first entered which they used to purchase goodies at the concession stand. It was a rousing success.  It was also a lot of work and time and I would do it over 100 times if I could.

So many other memories swarm my mind as I remember this special girl. She was always singing. A small crack has opened in my memory and all the big feelings could just gush out and fill pages and pages, if I allowed them.

How can one capture what it means to have loved a child? Any parent would agree that there are no words to adequately capture the breadth and depth of the experience.

I always knew I loved my four children in an indescribable way. But, somehow as they’ve gotten older, and invariably I’ve gotten older, the feeling of love is so much deeper. Our second son was married almost three years ago. Two days after the amazing celebration, I found myself alone for the first time in quite a while. That Tuesday morning my husband left for a business trip, my best friends left to travel home, Katherine left to study in Spain, and our son and his bride departed for their honeymoon. I wish I could describe my feelings from that morning. I felt bereft and empty. I felt as though my heart was breaking into pieces, carried away with the ones leaving. I felt so full of love and pain at the same time.

The boards I’m staining are for a wedding next month. Our daughter Katherine’s wedding. Our last child to leave home. The one who makes us true empty nesters. It’s so cliche to say that the time has flown by. That you should cherish the moments because they pass so quickly. It’s all true. Time cannot be contained. It can’t be slowed. It can only be held and felt one moment at a time.

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
― Maya Angelo

A Fairy Tale Comes True

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Scoot a little closer my friends and listen to one of my favorite love stories.

Twelve years ago I had a phone call from a young woman named Barbara, inquiring about the small group we hosted in our home. The pastor of our church referred her to us since our emphasis was on marriage. She spoke through tears, sharing grave concerns over her marriage–her pain was obvious.

Barbara and her husband soon joined our group—together for a time. Sadly, Barbara eventually came alone. She fought desperately for her marriage, but they divorced in 2005. Barbara and I spent a lot of time together and began a treasured friendship. We shared meals, Bible studies, and lots of tears. We realized even though we were twenty years apart to the month, we had a lot in common. I also knew the heartbreaking devastation of divorce and the longing for a good marriage.

Barbara kept occupied with her job in the medical field and volunteering at church. As the years passed, I felt frustrated for her because I knew how badly she wanted a family. I wondered if she’d thought of online dating sites or even going to church groups for single adults. She told me that if God could create the world He could find her a husband. She said it so convincingly and confidently.

In 2012 June, a lady from Barbara’s church, attended a conference in St. Louis. While she browsed books, she noticed the guy who was manning the table. His eyes appeared unusually bright. June began a conversation with him over several days of conference and honestly shared how he’d caught her notice.

The young man, David, began to share about his life and that he was praying for a wife. She learned that he’d been divorced six years and had one child. Because his priority was his daughter, he’d decided not to date, but to trust God to bring his mate at the right time. June didn’t understand why she was drawn to him, but told David she’d ask God for an answer and let him know!

A few months after the conference, during a church service, June leaned over to Barbara and said, “You’re the one!” Suddenly she realized that David had been highlighted for Barbara! David and Barbara soon became acquainted with each other through email messages, and eventually through phone calls and photos.

Barbara had been promoted to a job that required traveling to various parts of the country each week. She typically flew to certain places on a regular basis. One day, out of the blue, her company assigned her a job in the very city where David lived. She’d never gone there. This was their chance! They met in person, formally and briefly. Soon after she was sent to the same city again, which was somewhat unusual. They enjoyed each other tremendously. A perfect match!  She got to know and love his daughter and he proposed.

They were married near the Cape Fear River. The grassy knoll was a lush bright green, having just been refreshed by a cooling summer shower. The expansive lawn was filled with so many celebrating friends and family, and not a few happy tears!

Barbara eventually quit traveling for work and she and David made their home in Florida. After several months of marriage she had started to gain a little weight. She took one pregnancy test after another, all reading negative. Disappointed and concerned, she made an appointment with a doctor. The doctor gave her news that she never thought her ears and heart would hear. She was expecting a baby! Conceiving a child had always been a desire of her heart. Another dream was fulfilled— a happy healthy Elijah was born into their world.

I flew to Florida a few months back for a wonderful visit with Barbara and her family. When we’re together we pick right back up where we left off, even years later. We celebrated all of her wonderful blessings. She and David are happier than they could ever have imagined. Their little boy is nearly two years old and adorable. To spend time with them was one of the highlights of my year.

Few things are more exciting than watching God orchestrate the lives of two people from different geographical areas and different backgrounds to bring them together in marriage. I still marvel that my North Carolina husband went all the way to Mississippi to find me!

As David says, “God has a way of putting us exactly where we need to be.” I ponder their story and I’m emboldened to let go and really trust God.

When we belong to Him, He really does work out everything for our good and His Glory. I share this not to promise specific results after waiting on God, but to say that God can be trusted in any and every circumstance.

He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

How I Got the Life I Really Wanted

God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens. (Romans 11:33).

My granddaughter and I were taking a stroll. I found myself looking for sale signs among a group of small houses. Subconsciously I was searching for a place to call home in Wilmington, assuming we’d relocate to South Carolina and return here to visit. I smiled as I thought, “Isn’t it cute to make plans and set long term goals?” To assume you’d live near your children forever, that you’d always have access to close friends, your church and all the familiar things. Then a thought came that has repeated in my head many times, “I’m so glad I’m not in control”. I’m grateful to God who whispers through His Spirit, showing me the way He has planned. He’s highlighted for me specific roles He has in mind for me and which one comes first. These are not the plans or priorities I would have if left to myself. I certainly don’t see the whole picture or understand why. I only take steps in the direction He’s leading.

I really do believe in setting goals. With hands wide open. What I mean is this: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9).

I remember a conversation I had in my twenties that was a defining moment for me. The person, who was very close to me said, “I just have to decide what I want to do with my life.” I humbly and spontaneously answered, “I’m trying to find out what God wants me to do with my life.”

Giving my life to Him and trusting Him in every uncertainty has been  good for me. I don’t mean it’s always easy. Following Him requires a death to myself. But He’s never failed me. The nights have been long at times but in the darkest of nights He gave me quiet strength when I couldn’t imagine how anything could work out for good. He eventually brought me into a spacious and lovely place that I couldn’t have concocted for myself.

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t been called out of my own darkness into His light. I would, no doubt, be grasping for my own way, my own rights, my own success, my own pleasure. I might be marching amongst a throng of women, feeling unfairly treated and denied “privileges” due me. I admire strong capable women who know how to get things done. God knew, when He created woman, that she would need unique strengths for many situations, especially in bearing  and nurturing children, that were very different from the strengths of man.

However, a downside to demanding and grappling for happiness is that we are, by nature, near-sighted and can’t see the entire picture. I’m grateful to be safely in the spot God has identified for me. After  following Jesus for nearly fifty years, I’m convinced it’s the rather upside down way to really get the life I always wanted. A life of real purpose, with deep meaning and tangible transformation. A happy life, I’ve found, is not equivalent to a life without pain. A fulfilled life is one with a mixture of joy and sorrow because the difficulties make us more complete; more like Jesus. Thrown in are the most meaningful and treasured human relationships that I’d ever hope to have.

One of my favorite verses is  For in Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17).

 

 

 

 

The Best Christmas Gifts

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When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

 

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. This was not a status I sought or ever dreamt I’d experience. But I had to make the best of it. In my care was a precious toddler son and a baby in my belly. I’d say that I had more time than money. But time wasn’t really that plentiful—to make ends meet I daily cared for five additional children in my tiny home. Time available still out-weighed the money, I guess. I took stock of materials I had and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made for my mom. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and covered the edges with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that today! I had embroidery thread and cloth to stitch so I made my dad a cross-stitched framed picture of a deer. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort! I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking treats, probably chocolate chip cookies. Those were difficult but memorable days. It’s funny when you think about what things are most important and the gifts that are most special.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. Again, I decided to make all of our presents. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand.  I think I had more fun than the recipients. Maybe not a stellar year for them, but fulfilling for me!

These days I almost don’t recognize myself. In years past, on December eighteenth, I would have been scurrying around, frantically shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. This year I’m embracing imperfection in all of its glory. I’m not getting everything done that I’d like to do. Grace  is what I’m giving myself. I’m savoring the moments and saying yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. This year I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before.  Here are some personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. Every year she holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and spends more time taking his bow. The quartet “sings” with the biggest smiles you can imagine. Then, Santa appears!  The folks jump up from their seats to give him the biggest hug ever. As you watch their interactions,  you know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations by the Occupational Prep class at a local high school. I’m amazed at the knack my daughter has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and the hope I have for their future! And I almost said no to her request to come! It was cold and dark, it was on Market Street, I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. I’m so grateful that she persisted!
  • Spending time with our first grandchild. Pondering the significance and blessing of bearing children and knowing and enjoying our children’s children. What a gift.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the work. They are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Enjoying the new clients I’ve met in my Tranquiliving business during the holiday season. One lady is ready for her children to join her for Christmas because of my help. Another will be hosting a party for her friends since we conquered the paper piles together! Everyone has a story and they’re all important!
  • Christmas music!
  • Gratitude for our grown sons and the way they love their wives.
  • Our daughter’s upcoming marriage to a great guy that God chose for her!
  • All the notes and cards from my husband while he’s working in another city. And for our thirty-one years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count. Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge