Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gifts and Griefs of June, and Birthdays Galore

Dear friends, I have been about to bust in the last few weeks, or "burst" as the more cultured folks might say. I cannot tell you more than that, but I can say that life can be oh, so hard, but it can also be oh, so sweet whenever there's a change in the air, the dawning of a new day, the taste of unexpected joy. Sometimes, it’s that lonely walk through the deep woods, when we have no idea what’s around the bend, that turns out to be an amazing journey. We become a better, stronger version of our former selves.

I know these words well, for I have lived them. Things I thought I could not face, or even scratch my way through, revealed more beauty at the end, and produced more strength, than I could have ever imagined. It is in the difficult journey that unlikely dreams come true. Lord willing, I will tell you more one day. In the meantime, how has June been treating you? Summer has certainly arrived in these parts. We are doing what we can to keep cool and carry on. 

June is always a busy month for us, as there are special days and special people to celebrate. Tomorrow, my beautiful daughter will celebrate her 30th birthday.


Earlier in the month, those who could gathered for a time of celebrating the birthday girl. There's something about food that tastes better when shared with family.


It's like I blinked and my baby was grown, and now .... she's 30. I've told her often that once you hit 30, your life goes by in a snap, and I do mean a snap. Here's wishing her a birthday as special and sweet as she is.


***


Another June birthday belongs to one of my grandnieces—the one I call pie. She turned three a few days ago and I can hardly believe it! I have written often of pie since her birth in 2013, but I'm sad to say that our family has not been permitted to see pie or her family since April of last year, for reasons unknown. This is the last picture I captured of her and her Nonnimy twin sisterreading together on April 25th of 2015.

My love for both my niece and my grandniece has always been and remains unconditional and forever. I will never forget the time I spent taking care of pie in the comforts of her home, while her mommy worked. What precious days they were. For now, I hold my memories close, and carry sweet images of them both in my heart.




***

As long as my dear old daddy is alive, he will be celebrated on the third Sunday of June. I don't always get to be with him on Father's Day, but I try to see him during that weekend whenever possible. This year, The Man and I, along with twin sister, drove over on Saturday and enjoyed his company. At the age of 89, each visit is cherished, for we never know what another year will bring, for any of us.


Can you believe our precious Julian turned 11 last week? Eleven!


He is the kindest, sweetest, smartest, coolest, most mannerly young man I know, and we couldn't be more proud to call him ours.


***


In other news, cue the violins: The girl has a new accessory. For months now, I've been having big issues with my right foot, even resorting to a wheelchair for awhile, so hard it was to walk. After three medical opinions, this attractive boot is part of my latest treatment plan, along with steroids, cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory meds. The good news is, the boot really helps, and I don't have to wear it every waking moment. The Man also says I look "cute" in it. Mmmm hmmmm. He's a keeper.


One day last week, Papaw and I took our precious Arabella down to Hermann Park for a ride on the little train, the same train her mother rode many moons ago. 

The weather was perfect, overcast, with a slight breeze, not hot at all. She was entranced.


Just as we completed our trip and stepped off the train, it came a downpour, as you can see from the picture. Thankfully, the gift shop was right there, so we didn't melt.


Here's Arabella's mother, on the same train, a lifetime ago.


***


Yesterday was a sweet Sunday morning at church with Arabella. She wore a little dress my mother made her and how adorable she looked in it. My mother is in her 80's and still sewing like a pro. I will treasure the little dresses she is making Arabella for as long as I live.

Well, dear friends, I think that about wraps it up for now. Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Until next time, spend time with those you love, whether near or far. Life is fragile and uncertain.

***



Saturday, June 25, 2016

Revisiting the Past

My dear friends, occasionally I feel a need to reconnect with the past, so Friday morning, under a magnificent June sky, The Man and I drove up to the little lake house where my in-laws used to live, a house my father-in-law helped build, a house that holds a lot of memories, both before and after Ernest passed away much too early, in 1985. 




In the beginning, the house was olive green, and it remained the same color for as long as we knew it. 

Through the years, family members gathered at the lake house to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, to spend a few days sharing food and fun, enjoying a little fishing, throwing a football around, or shooting the breeze in the shade of the trees.


Ernest and Mildred were crazy about their grandchildren, seen here at the lake house in December, 1982.


The Man and our precious little daughter and nephew fishing off the pier, in the summer of 1987.



Our daughter turned four the weekend these pictures were taken, in 1990.


We were all sad when the lake house was sold a couple of years later, but things change and life moves on.


It had been awhile since we’d driven by, but it’s one of those places where not much changes, except maybe the color of the houses that line the unmarked streets of this secluded neighborhood. The little green house is now a pleasant shade of blue, looking as sturdy as ever, and I hope it remains so for many years to come.

As we made our way down the old road that leads into town, I was captivated by the beauty of a summer day, perfectly framed by blue skies and green earth, just as it should be. I noticed everything we passed—the cows sitting in the shade, a wide field dotted with hay bales, a patch of Texas wildflowers. 

I knew I would carry this sunny afternoon with me, to remind me of all that was and is right in the world.


***



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

From Morning to Night, my Heart is Full


Yesterday morning, on the day of the summer solstice, I found her in the sun's path, exploring her favorite drawer. 



Later, there were things to study, books to read, and ottomans to climb.




***


In the evening, after her bath, I found her again at her favorite drawer.




Later, there were bottles to find and babies to feed.





From morning to night, in ordinary moments, on ordinary days, my heart can barely hold all of the love that belongs to her, my darling cupcake.


***


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Good Fathers find a Way


A version of the following article appeared in my first book, Whispers from Heaven (Pacific Press). Since then, it has been adapted and published in a host of publications. 

I post it today to honor good fathers everywhere.

When I was growing up, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, I used to think how refreshing it would be to have a "normal" father. A carpenter, a plumber, even a used car salesman would have been nice. But it fell my lot to be the daughter of an old-fashioned preacher, and it didn't take long for me to realize that my father—with all due respect— was nowhere near "normal" on the scale of fatherhood.

At the seasoned age of eight, my twin sister and I had our first male caller. Danny, a harmless third-grade classmate, lived a few blocks away. One sunny Saturday he trotted into our yard on the back of a speckled pony.

Hardly had we said hello when the screen door squeaked and there stood Daddy, his tall frame filling the doorway. Like a sheriff on a mission, he ambled down the steps and over to our knight on the pony. “Young man,” he said, “I don't want you coming to visit my daughters again. They’re not allowed to play with boys.”

Mortified is an understatement. As Danny and the pony clopped down Hill Street, my sister and I contemplated stoning our father.

As I grew older, I discovered other abnormalities about my dad. Unlike many of my friends' fathers, Daddy never played golf or went fishing on Sundays. He never swore or drank or cursed. And he always said, “Thank you for the good meal,” to my mother after dinner, before bending down to kiss her soft cheek.

Yes, Daddy’s habits were of a different kind. One in particular was a humdinger.

From the time I entered high school, I was awakened every morning by the sound of my father praying. Many were the days I piled pillows on my head for relief. Some mornings I bolted out of bed and shut my bedroom door with such force I hoped he got the message that he was disturbing the peace.

Not a chance. If anything, Daddy prayed louder. During his morning ritual, I heard him praying for friends, families, church members and neighbors. But most of all, I heard him praying for me. And every time he called my name, I experienced remorse over some unkind word or deed in bygone days. I wondered if any of my classmates had to wake up under such alarming conditions.

During the years following high school, I longed for Daddy to share his feelings and thoughts with me. I pictured us sitting together on the front porch while he discussed his hopes and dreams for my tomorrows. I guess that wasn't Daddy's way.

One crisp morning just before my 18th birthday, I waited with my parents in a small room at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital. Weeks earlier, my dentist had discovered an unusual knot inside my jaw. A biopsy had been taken, and the results proved troubling. We were sent to the experts for further evaluation.

The final diagnosis was not good. I had a malignant tumor that would require surgery and radiation. Nothing more would be known until the extent of the tumor was revealed.

As the days unfolded, Daddy prayed with more fervency than ever. “God, if it be your will, please heal my daughter,” I heard him implore over and over. I was prayed over by ministers from all over the country, but none meant more to me than the prayers of my father.

The morning of surgery found my family gathered in a solemn circle around me as I was being wheeled into the operating room.

“Why don’t we pray one more time,” Daddy said, his voice soft and steady. I offered no resistance but let Daddy’s prayer seep into my soul, melting away my worries and fears. The love I felt for my father in that brief moment—a love I scarcely knew was there most of the time—filled me through and through.

After hours of surgery, the surgeon appeared and triumphantly declared me healthy. I wouldn’t need radiation after all! In his words, it appeared the roots of my tumor had “shriveled up.”

Upon hearing that, our faces glowed and I have no doubt that Daddy’s prayers played a big part in that miraculous shriveling-up process.

As I grew older, I realized that, although we may have not had that chat on the front porch, through his continual prayers for my well-being, my father—in his own way—was sharing his thoughts with me. Those things he never said to my face, I heard him saying on his knees. He prayed that I would grow up to be moral, responsible, compassionate and truthful, with an unshakable faith in God. Such were Daddy's hopes and dreams for his daughter.

And in retrospect, Daddy's way was just fine. Like powerful magnets, his prayers drew me closer and closer to him, locking our hearts together with an unbreakable force. 

And so it is with good fathers everywhere. Somehow they make their own path to their children—in ways that only hearts can hear and understand. Such is the mystery and power of fatherhood.


***


Monday, June 13, 2016

Camp can be Frightening ~ Especially for Moms

My daughter turned nine in what I call the summer of my bleeding heart. It all started when her cousin mentioned the two of them going to summer camp. Anna Marie was ecstatic. I, on the other hand, completely terrified.

I asked my husband what he thought.

"Absolutely not!" he fairly thundered. “She’s way too young.”

But parents aren’t always as firm as their voices. After much pondering, amid pleas from the girls, we capitulated.


On the day of our departure, I couldn’t stop thinking about my not yet nine-year-old spending a week without me. Would she remember to bathe? Who would comb her hair? What if she cried for me at night?

Despite such tormenting questions, my twin sister and I drove our daughters to the place of surrender. Upon arrival, maternal terror washed over me like a tidal wave as I observed a sea of youngsters swarming in every direction, looking as I feared my child would as soon as I was out of sight: hair disheveled; clothes rumpled; hard candy hanging out of their mouths. Lost and without hope. It was all I could do to keep driving, but the campers in the backseat had ants in their pants.

By mid-afternoon, we stood inside a sweltering dormitory, staring at rows of metal bunk beds atop stark concrete floors. My stomach lurched. I couldn’t imagine leaving my child—my baby—here for one minute, let alone for a week. I considered grabbing her and running, but it was too late. She and Leslie now stood beaming beside the bunk they had chosen as "theirs." Could we please unload their luggage?

Exchanging horrified glances, Gayle and I managed to stumble outside and return with suitcases holding fresh-smelling clothes and linens. As I spread sheets across a puny mattress, I heard my sister imparting motherly advice to her offspring, so I decided it was a good time to offer my umpteenth lecture concerning housekeeping and oral hygiene.

While I rattled off a list of ingenious tips, Anna Marie’s eyes remained on my face, but she appeared to be in a trance. "And don't forget to brush your teeth and ... are you listening, sweetie?"

She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Mama," she said, "I know you’re worried about me and everything, but—are you finished?” I wasn’t, but just then a dorm monitor announced that teams were being formed for a volleyball game—commencing in 30 minutes. Anyone interested, please form a line.

Like calves out of stalls, the girls bolted forward and were assigned to a team. It appeared to be our cue to leave.

"OK, girls," my sister said, sounding as faint as I felt. "I guess this is goodbye for us."

That's when my child’s face wilted. "But I'm fixing to play volleyball, Mommy," she said. "Can't you stay and watch me?"

Upon hearing her call me "Mommy," I was renewed. Maybe this was a sign she still needed me. Of course, we’d stay!

The volleyball game ended quickly. My little camper was among the losers, but didn't seem to notice. She dashed over to where I stood, her face flushed. "You played great, baby!" I said, but she was too busy eyeing the horde of kids headed toward the cafeteria for dinner.

"Well, I guess Mommy and Aunt Gayle are leaving, sweetheart. We’ve got a long drive home. Are you sure you want to stay?" She nodded excitedly. I hoped for a bear hug, but she only smiled. Kissing the top of her head, I said, "Bye, angel. I love you."

Watching the girls sprint toward the cafeteria, Gayle and I let out a collective sigh, a pitiful sigh, and my heart hurt.

As we drove away, I circled the campgrounds, unable to resist a final look. When I spotted them, they were standing side-by-side, discussing whatever nine-year-olds discuss on such occasions, their faces anxious and eager.

It was almost unbearable to look at them standing there, because I knew they would never be that small again, because of the way they were growing up, right before my very eyes.

I gave a long blast on the horn. When they finally saw us, I waved frantically out the window. Timidly, Anna Marie waved back. And, ironically, I was filled with an intense pride that she was able to stand there—without me.


***


This story is adapted from my book, Silver Linings. It also appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sunshine and Clouds; Chaos and Clarity ~ Scenes from a Blessed Life


Well, dear friends, it is Tuesday as I write and I’m happy to report that sunshine has found us again. Monday, under blue skies, I was able to get out and enjoy running errands, some long overdue. At every stop, I found myself welcoming the sun’s warmth, like the embrace of an old friend.

Despite that good news, the week has already been filled with stressful encounters, with chaos and tight spaces, a necessity from having to clear out the bedroom that didn’t fare so well in the recent monsoon season


Things are progressing, but slowly. Decisions have to be made and I’m not always good at being decisive. Still, I have no complaints when I consider those who are dealing with a million times more chaos because of the same monsoon season. In all things, I am blessed.


After she got off work Monday, twin sister asked if I’d like to ride with her to look at a pair of sandals she’d been eyeing. As I waited for her to finish up her shopping, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the early evening sky—the grays, the blues, an occasional white—a canvas of water colors, announcing an uncertain forecast.


It seems that daily I hear of families splitting apart, of people losing their jobs, of death coming way too soon. Like yesterday's skies, the forecast is uncertain, for we cannot know what a day will bring. But if we are believers, we know that we are never alone. No matter what comes or who goes, no matter how bumpy the road or how cloudy the day, we have a friend who holds our hand, one who will never leave us. This belief is what keeps me going, when quitting would sometimes be easier.


***


video
On a lighter note, if you have nine seconds to spare, I am certain you will feel altogether better after listening to a recent morning's exchange between our precious Arabella and her mommy. Her mommy asks, “What does a lion sound like?” and “What about a choo-choo train?” The lion is a bit soft-spoken but if you listen closely you’ll hear its gentle roar (love her mouth), and the choo-choo train, well, I promise you’ll smile. It’s no surprise that Memaw and Papaw have played it over and over again.


As The Man and I returned from looking at flooring options today, our precious passenger soon drifted off into dreamland. While she slept, I captured this photo, and in it I found all that is pure and lovely, all that is true and good. 

Tender moments have a way of bringing clarity, as this one did for me: No matter what may be wrong in my world, she is here.

Until next time, sweet friends, I hope that June is being especially kind to you.

***


Sunday, June 5, 2016

More Rain and Wet Carpet ~ But Blessings Abound

My dear, longsuffering friends, I’m certain you would be just as happy to not hear another syllable about the rainy weather in these parts. I cannot blame you, for no matter how much I crave the occasional rainy day, we have had quite more than our share in recent weeks. 


While there are those in certain areas who have experienced their homes being total losses, we have been fortunate to have only one bedroom with a damp floor. Considering that you're looking at part of our neighborhood earlier this week, that is, indeed, a blessing.

I’m not sure how the water seeped into the room, through the wall, around the foundation, I don’t know, but the good news is the damage appears minimal, and nothing was lost, except the carpet, of course, but that might be a blessing as hardwood flooring has been on my radar for some time now. We'll see. At the moment, we’re a bit displaced, and we’ve a smelly mess we're dealing with, but we are ever so grateful.

Rain, whether literally or figuratively, is simply a part of life. I’m reminded of the Scripture in Matthew where Jesus says: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

And let the people say, “Amen!”


I haven't much interesting to say these days, for the days are all starting to look the same. But nothing lasts forever; change will come. For now, all is quiet in the room that is my office, night has fallen on yet another gray day in the neighborhood. The rain came in soft sprinkles today, then in steady streams, leaving the air heavy with humidity. Alas, more rain is predicted this week.

I’ve written often about life’s storms, how one minute the landscape is in order, only to find it altered in drastic ways the next. Death, divorce, abandonment—all of these things reshape our lives. Afterwards, we are never quite the same.

But I also believe that those who’ve lived through stormy seasons, who’ve borne them with courage and grace, come out with a deeper appreciation for the ordinary things in life. The first light of dawn. The last glow of the sun as it slips below the horizon. The smell of morning. That first cup of coffee. A full moon rising. The sound of a child’s laughter. The touch of a loving hand. 

It is in the small things that I find great strength during the rainy seasons of life.

Until next time, sweet friends, may the sun shine upon you, wherever you are.


*** 



P.S. I don’t think I shared with you my latest published article. It appeared in Nashville’s paper, The Tennessean in May, both online and in print. It is a gentle essay about the heartbreaking disease of dementia and Alzheimer’s. You may recognize part of it from a blog post here, earlier this year. 




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