Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Musings : On Enduring Hurricanes and the Aftermath

Eleven years ago, the wrath of Hurricane Rita, the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, made landfall near the Sabine River, devastating southwest Louisiana and the Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas areas.

In anticipation of the storm, my parents followed the advice of weather experts and left their home to drive north to where my older sister and her husband lived at the time. When the okay was given for residents to return home, they found that things could have been so much worse, but their house and property got quite a blow. They lost seven large trees, lost their chimney, and a tree landed on the roof of my dad’s office, a branch breaking through and causing damage inside. They were without electricity for weeks.






 In the days that followed, I remember they came to stay with us. About every other day, they would go back to their place and work long and hard. Although they were physically well and strong, my heart hurt for them, having to deal with the mess, and the changes that came with it.




It took months to repair the damage, months to get the downed trees taken care of, and the yard will never look the same. To this day, whenever I go back home, I remember what used to be and a part of me still grieves.

Storms. They change everything. Sometimes, in a hurricane’s fury, historical buildings and homes are destroyed, and while you can rebuild a house or a building, the history is not in the new structure.

If you live long enough, you will encounter a bad storm. They are part of life. And they leave you changed, don't they? The landscape is never the same. We are never the same. Sometimes we're seriously wounded. Scars follow, and we look at our scars and always remember the storm that caused them.

And the landscape. It's never the same after a storm. Whether by death, or divorce, or just an irreparable wound to a relationship, a storm often takes people out of our personal landscape, people who were so much a part of our lives. We never imagined life without them. But a storm came and now they are not part of our personal landscape anymore. Their smiling faces are no longer in the holiday pictures. We miss their funny jokes and their silly songs. But they aren’t there. Eventually, we move on without them.

You can move forward and build a new life, new relationships, but the history is not there. The course of your life has been altered forever.

I believe, from personal experience, that storms make you a stronger person—you build strength and character just by surviving them—but they are a hard thing to bear.

I don’t know who wrote it, but part of a favorite poem goes like this:

“Because of storms that lash the ocean waves,
The waters there
Keep purer than if the heavens o’erhead
Were always fair.
The brightest banner of the skies floats not
At noonday warm;
The rainbow traileth after thunder-clouds,
And after the storm.”

Until next time, dear friends, if you are in a storm, remember the words of George Mueller when asked how to have great faith: “The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”


***


Friday, September 16, 2016

The Joys of Listening : Do You Hear What I Hear?

I live in a large metropolis area—big, bustling, loud. It’s not my dream location, so I have to make it work for me. One way I do that is to occasionally drive a few miles down the road and visit a tranquil garden, open to the public without charge. It is here that I come when I need to be quiet, to simply sit and listen.

Life seems to be gentler whenever I turn off the noise and just listen.

I hear soothing, healing sounds.

The trickle of a water fountain.

The melodious song of a bird.

The music of a wind-chime.

The crunch of gravel as people pass by.

Whenever I listen, I hear a gentle wind whispering through leaves.

The scampering of a squirrel up the trunk of a tree.

The voice of God.

Oh, the joys that await us whenever we listen.


Joining Kate for five-minute Friday, where today's prompt is: listen.



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sweet September : Scenes from a Blessed Life

Dear friends, while I was looking the other way, September arrived with sunshine and rain, and just a hint of a breeze. That doesn’t mean the heat and humidity have lifted though; summer always outstays her welcome around these parts. But we look ahead and know things will change, as they always do.

Well, well ... cue the trumpets. The girl has lost 15 pounds this summer, just by counting calories and making wiser choices. Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before, because it’s the same 15 pounds I bragged about losing two years ago, and the same 15 I lost four years before that, but, hey, it’s still 15 pounds.



When you count calories, you don't have to, necessarily, eat healthy; moderation is the key. But it's hard to beat simple food, prepared in the simplest of ways—like roasted asparagus that melts in your mouth.


That said, there are also times when I crave a not-so-healthy choice—like this small stack of lemon pancakes. It was my first time to try making them but I may never go back to the old way. All I did was add a tablespoon of lemon zest, per pancake, to the batter. The flavor is light and lemony and heavenly.

***


Our darling cupcake turned 18-months old yesterday. Papaw and I enjoyed taking her to see the ducks at the cemetery where my in-laws are buried. I wish you could hear the sound she makes for a duck. It rivals anything I've ever heard and sounds like nothing I've ever heard. I've tried to capture it on video but to no avail. Maybe my luck will change soon.


Three months

Six months

Nine months 

12 months

Yesterday

Oh, how swiftly the little ones evolve and change, but some things stay the same. Her smile is fairer than any sunrise; her kisses sweeter than candy. She fills my heart with joy whenever she reaches for me, or snuggles in the crook of my neck when I lift her from her bed. I never take for granted that I am here, that she is here.


On a recent evening, after the dwellers were all in bed, I walked through the living room, picking up this and that, straightening the quilt on the couch, fluffing the pillows, clearing the floor. On any given day, walk in any room of my home and you’ll find toys and stuffed animals strewn about, children’s books, and random items bearing the sticky fingerprints of a toddler. But on the messiest of days, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this big and beautiful life I get to call mine, a life filled with tender moments like those you see in the photos above.

Until next time, dear friends, may the days of September be filled with kind words and gentle moments.

***




Friday, September 2, 2016

Meet Michael Strahan's Parents

Gene and Louise Strahan
There are those who travel down the road of life tooting their own horns, making sure that others notice them. They are quick to boast of their exploits, where they have been, what they have done, and who they rubbed shoulders with while doing it. I suppose they don’t realize how annoying they are to those of us who get stuck at their table during social events.

Then there are those who, from all appearances, are rather ordinary people, living rather ordinary lives. You never hear them tooting their horns or touting their accomplishments. Yet, when you take a closer look, you discover that they are, indeed, extraordinary people who happen to prefer traveling down the road of life, quietly doing business very well. They are the kind of people with whom you would be happy and honored to share a table. Anywhere. Any time.

Such people are Gene and Louise Strahan, and I was honored to visit their home and interview them several years ago while writing an article for a Christian magazine. 

You've probably never heard of Gene and Louise, but if you’re a fan of professional football, you have heard of their son, hall-of-famer, Michael Strahan. 



Michael Strahan played defensive end for the New York Giants for many years and will join “Good Morning America” full-time on September 6th.


Gene Strahan with his four sons.

While Gene and Louise may have a famous son, that is not what makes them extraordinary. To them, Michael is simply one of their six talented children—all equally special in their eyes. What makes Gene and Louise Strahan stand out from the crowd can be summed up in two words: faithfulness and dedication.

Since their marriage in 1957, Gene and Louise have always been a team. A military man, Gene has been all over the world, but spent a lot of his enlisted time in Mannheim, Germany. 

After his retirement in 1985, the Strahans remained in Germany while Gene worked under the umbrella of Chicago’s City College as the coordinator of the drivers training department in Germany, training military personnel in the driving of military vehicles—everything from jeeps to tanks.

In 1989, Gene and Louise formed their own transportation company, working together as a driving team. For the next 10 years, they carried much-needed humanitarian aid to eastern European countries. Rightfully so, they were called “angels” by many of those who were on the receiving end of their road trips.

The year 1992 proved to be a monumental year for the Strahan family. Michael was drafted by the New York Giants, but something much greater occurred, as they see it. Gene had been attending a “prayer and share” service at the Spinelli Military Base Chapel, hosted by the Pentecostal Church of Calvary. Three months later, on November 25, 1992, he was Spirit-filled and baptized. Eventually, Louise followed in her husband’s footsteps.

In 1999, while still in Germany, the Strahans received an impressive award, in recognition for their 10 years of  “outstanding sacrifice in providing humanitarian aid to Eastern Europe.” This beautiful plaque now sits in a prominent place in the Strahan’s home.

In 2000, the Strahans said good-bye to Germany and moved to Houston, where today they are faithful members at the Church of Champions.

It isn’t every day that you meet extraordinary people like Gene and Louise Strahan. But whenever you do, you just know that you will never forget them, because they are people who will always make a difference wherever they go.

***




Sunday, August 28, 2016

"TURN ON THE RADIO!" : An Unforgettable Moment

I'm ashamed to admit it, especially having been raised in a minister's home, but many years ago, back when I took care of writing checks for bills, I decided we just couldn't afford to pay tithes anymore. Bills were multiplying and the 10% of our income that we’d always paid to the church would give us a little breathing room, a little spending money, if you will. 

Mind you, it wasn't God's fault that we had let our credit-card debt get away from us, and even with our bad spending choices, God was still honoring our obedience by not letting us go hungry. But the thought of having this extra 10% kept gnawing at me and so, without consulting anyone else, I made an executive decision and quit paying tithes.

At first, things were wonderful. Having breathing room felt amazing. But not too long after, everything went south. The refrigerator broke, the car stopped running, the washing machine went berserk. I'm not kidding. Soon, we were back to where we started.

One night I was home alone—my husband was working—and I remember lying in bed feeling utterly miserable. I felt as if there was no way out of our dilemma. I began to cry; nothing loud or hysterical, just a quiet trickling of tears down the sides of my face, onto the pillow.

"Help us dear Lord," I whispered, and, all of a sudden, out of the blue, I felt in my spirit the Lord say to me, "Turn on the radio."

Now, that may sound strange to you, but it sounded even stranger to me. I had no desire to turn on the radio. I wasn't a radio person. So, I didn't. But I kept hearing the words in my heart: "Turn on the radio! Turn on the radio!" Finally I reached over and hit the button, and what I heard changed my life.

A female DJ was hosting a late Sunday night show on a gospel radio station and this is what she said the very instant I turned on the radio: "God sees your tears," she said. "He understands what you're going through." Needless to say, she had my full attention. "I want to read you some scriptures," she said. "And I believe this is what the Lord would say to you tonight."

She began reading from the King James Version, Hebrews 12:5: "Despise not the chastening of the Lord, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." 

And then, to my astonishment, without pausing, she began reading Malachi 3:10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

It felt as if I'd been struck by lightning. What was happening here? I got out of bed and fell to my knees. I asked God to forgive me for making the decision to stop paying tithes, and I thanked him for loving me enough to chastise me. I vowed, from that day forward that, as long as I was in charge of bill-paying, I would always pay tithes first, even if they turned off our electricity. It took us awhile to get out of debt, but I'm happy to say that I kept my promise, and God kept His.

I have not been responsible for seeing that the bills get paid on time in many years, but I will never forget the night that the Lord prompted me to turn on the radio, and I’m so glad I obeyed that prompting.

***

This post is part of the series, Spiritual Sundays.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday's Photos : Scenes from a Blessed Life

Dear friends, the week has been painted with shades of gray. As I write, The Man is trying to finish mowing the front lawn, amidst great claps of thunder. I do hope he makes it in before the downpour.

Since my writing slate seems to be blank these days, I decided that, instead of trying to force words to come, I would share some random photos with whomever may be out and about in blogland today. There may be more than a few photos of my darling granddaughter, Arabella, my precious cupcake. Consider yourself warned.



But first, if you’ve followed me here for very long, you know I have a grand-niece that I call sugar plum, and I love her dearly. Can you believe she is entering first grade in a few days? Last week, her Nanna (my big sister) posted this picture on Facebook and I loved the story behind it. After sugar plum finished playing and singing a little tune, my sister said, “Ainsley, you are a great songwriter,” to which sugar plum replied, “Nanna, I just write them as they come.” I got a big laugh out of that. Perhaps she will take after her Aunt Gayle when it comes to songwriting. 


Our darling Arabella will soon be 18-months old. She is a lover of books.


Most of her books belonged to her mother, but she has a few new ones, as well. Did I mention there's another whole tub of books in the attic? There is.


We have read to cupcake almost since she was born. I remember one evening, when she was just a wee little thing, not even walking yet, I started quoting the beginning lines from Goodnight Moon, a book I'd read to her many times: "In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of ... a cow jumping over the moon." Immediately, she stopped what she was doing, crawled over to her stash of books, and pulled out Goodnight Moon. Have you ever?


It seems that every time she gets quiet I find her with something to read in her hands. As a lover of books myself, and a writer, nothing could thrill me more.


Her vocabulary is growing almost daily, but, so far, she still calls every letter in the alphabet A. Anytime she sees letters anywhere, on menus, on billboards, on the side of a bus, she points and says, "A." I love it! I told her A is for "Adorable Arabella."


Another of her favorite activities is watching children's music videos with her Aunt Gayle. Seeing these two together warms my heart.



Before The Man and I left on our anniversary getaway a few weeks ago, we had the RV in the driveway. The last time Arabella was  in the motor-home, she was four-months old, too young to know what was going on, but this time, oh boy ... she was completely entranced. It was hot as hoot in there but I thought I was not going to get her out of it! And she only went kicking and screaming, believe me.


I clearly remembered both of the grand-nieces being just as captivated by the idea of playing in the motor-home. I couldn't resist making this collage of their adorableness.



In other news, on Tuesday, The Man and I went over to spend the day with my parents. In the afternoon, I drove Mother to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Before we reached the counter, the pharmacist saw us and called out, “Hello, Mrs. Allen. How are you today?” Mother returned her greeting warmly and said, “I have my daughter with me today.” That’s when the pharmacist said, “I’m sure you know it, but you have the sweetest mother.” I couldn’t agree more. I love my mama no end.


And I love these two beyond words. Our precious Julian is now in middle-school. Unbelievable!


Last but not least on the "love" list, twin sister and I stopped and ate supper at Cracker Barrel on the way to church Wednesday evening. The Man and I have a tradition that we never leave a Cracker Barrel without sitting a spell in a rocking chair, so Gayle and I carried out the tradition in his absence.

Until next time, sweet friends, I'm afraid I overdid the photos. Please forgive. Here's wishing you all a terrific Friday and a peaceful weekend.


*** 





Monday, August 22, 2016

Life Changes Us

Dear friends, it is Monday again. I had planned to blog during the week but the week wore me out. It seems my body has been dictating my activities lately, and in my spare time I find myself resting more than usual. Perhaps that comes with aging, and we're all doing enough of that around here. 


Last week, The Man had a birthday, so, in ordinary fashion, we celebrated him, the middle brother, awesome husband, amazing father, outstanding grandfather. 


I'm an avid collector of old photos and probably have hundreds in my family collections. They remind me of simpler times.


Whenever someone in the family has a birthday, I decorate the dining room table with photos and memorabilia, with fresh flowers, a “Happy Birthday” banner, and an occasional balloon bouquet. I fell in love with this image of Arabella staring at an old photo of her Papaw, probably wondering just who it was we were celebrating. I remember that man in the photo, but she has no idea.

Time has a way of changing things, from how we look to what we think. Life's experiences influence us, shape us. In a single day we can experience great joy and deep sorrow. Our lives are always subject to change. 

That brings me to this: My heart has been so heavy this week for the good people in south Louisiana whose lives have been devastated by flood waters, including personal friends of ours. One day they were in the comforts of their homes, the next day, the waters rose so quickly not much could be saved. 

Pets, precious children, newborn babies, senior citizens, handicapped people. Tens of thousands had to be evacuated and placed in shelters across the area. Businesses, churches, schools, many unable to open because of flood waters. 

Here's a snippet taken from Facebook, written by someone we know, and a photo of their home. Floods are heartbreaking. Here, we have experienced our share of flooding, as recent as April, but our home has never flooded, and I can't imagine how it feels.


My FRIENDS...🙏🏽💔 I live on the edge of East Baton Rouge Parish...in the outskirts of Livingston Parish. Central, LA is 2 miles minimum from the Comite River💙. And about 5-6 miles from the Amite River💙 In Flood Zone X. I never flooded. And when my home was built 8 years ago was told I was second highest elevation in the CityPeople would always say to me, you're built high, if you ever flood, the entire city will be drowned! Well. It happened. And it did💔 We lost everything😳 Our home had 5.5 feet of the Comite River in it for 90+ hours💙 imagine this... 💔You take everything you own, one item or shovel load or backhoe load💔 Every piece of furniture, every keepsake, everything, every memory People are putting all of their belongings by the road & looks like a war zone. 💜Just like the footage I've seen in Serbia... Iraq...📣💜Blackhawk helicopters plucking people off of rooftops. 💚Fishermen or sportsmen in their private boats, with their own gas, rescuing person after person💛People being turned away at overfilled shelters💙It is heartbreaking. It's gut wrenching😢 and the majority...have the wrong type of insurance to cover this type devastationSo technically, No insurance. It's heartbreaking at best💔 It is truly a disaster💙 Prayers are more than welcome. Nothing was spared. So goods and drugs stores, and groceries are in very short supply😳 one station owner got his gas delivery (10,000 gallons) in the morning and hours later, completely out of gas💔 It is like living in a NIGHTMARE  Words cannot express the destruction💙 Thank you for your prayers for our state... Cajun Paradise prayers appreciated



I gathered the following photos from various sites online. I don't know who to give credit to. I only know I cannot look at them without tears springing to my eyes.









Such events change our lives, but one thing cannot be changed and that is the sovereignty and faithfulness of God. In sickness, in health, in heartbreak, in joy, in loss, in abundance, in grief, in human weakness, in wealth, in financial ruin, in both the desolate and prosperous seasons of life, God remains Godfaithful and sovereign. As a believer, that is what keeps me steady, what keeps me joyful, even in troubling times.

It is Sunday evening as I write. The weekend did not go as I had hoped but my blessings are abundant; I can't complain. I have been wishing for sunshine on my skin, and, with any luck at all, we may get a sunny day or two this week. Fingers crossed.

Until next time, dear friends, please pray for Louisiana, and for all of those who are donating their time and energy to help the flood victims, and please ask your friends and churches to pray also. Thank you!


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