Monday, May 30, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Overcast Skies and Shout Outs

Wednesday afternoon following the end-of-school party (see earlier blog, Summer's Dance) Rachel and I walked into the house and I was planning to start dinner - a celebration meal of one of my family's favorite dishes.  However, as I walked upstairs from the basement I was smacked in the face by the realization that the house felt extremely warm.  Here in Atlanta we were blessed with an extremely pleasant Spring and have recently entered the summer days that push temperatures into the 90s.  I checked the thermostat and held my foot up to one of the air conditioning vents.  Everything seemed to be working properly.  Stalling on dinner because I knew the oven would be involved I made a few phone calls, checked my email, and put away some laundry. 

About an hour later the house was still getting warmer and I had a growing concern that we were in for some bad news about our a/c system.  Not something we wanted to have to deal with any time, but especially with Richard and me both unemployed.  By 11pm on Wednesday night the temperature was a sweltering 81 degrees inside the house!  Then I remembered we had a cheer uniform consignment sale scheduled to begin the next morning which meant a house full of moms and cheerleaders trying on uniform parts and pieces trying to save a little before ordering a brand new uniform from the rep.

We decided to go ahead and call our heating and air guy, George, and leave a message so he would know first thing the next morning that we were having trouble.  I was shocked when he answered the phone - it was after 11pm - but very thankful.  He stayed on the phone with me while I checked a few things before concluding that, in fact, we were going to need a service call.  He was planning to be out late in the afternoon on Thursday.  I got up early Thursday morning and opened all the windows trying to move air through the house and was grateful to see that the skies were overcast. 

Consignment sale went well, temperatures stayed moderately comfortable, and the sun stayed hidden behind dense clouds most of the day.  Thank you, Jesus.  Sitting at the computer late Thursday afternoon I looked out the window and saw really dark skies moving in our direction.  Yes!  Rain is coming!  I love, love, love rainy days but it seemed especially welcome knowing that it would carry with it dropping temperatures and breezes.  Boy, was I right!  We had a whopper of a storm - thunder, lightning, lights flickering on and off, and hard rain.

George finally made his way to our house well past dinnertime.  After checking a few things he determined that the pump had gone bad.  Great. How much is this going to cost?  And how long before we have air?  George could tell by the look on our faces that we were near panic mode.  I finally bit the bullet and asked, "how much? and how long?"  He broke into a huge smile and said, "Let me tell you a story."

George then began to share with us that he had installed a brand new, several-thousand-dollar system for a customer earlier in the week.  This same gentleman had bought a new pump last year but when he opted for the new system he wanted everything brand new, high quality, and that had resulted in another new pump.  The guy could easily have sold the pump to someone else or even sold it back to George but he didn't.  He told George to put it on his truck thinking that someone else might be in a jam and need one.  Really?  Richard then asked how much the 'used' pump would be.  George smiled again and said, "you know, I could sell it but I'd rather bless you with it."  Really??  Arrangements were made for the new pump and Richard walked outside with George to pay him for the service call - we should at least pay for that.  George wouldn't accept a penny.

We have been navigating the jagged-edge State of Uncertainty for quite some time.  Our jobs (or lack of), our finances, even our housing is on shaky ground.  I have to admit I've been questioning if God is hearing my prayers or cares that my hands and knees are getting bloody.  What began yesterday with overcast skies as a gentle reminder that He knows, He hears, and He cares ended with a shout out of provision for me and my family.

In case you're wondering, yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer's Dance

Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids, 3rd and 6th graders.  Correction: they are now officially 4th and 7th graders.  We met them at the bus stop, arms flailing out of bus windows, kids screaming at the top of their lungs, tears flowing, and the bus driver looking like he had either taken several too many Valium or already crossed the line into shock, awe, and complete denial.  Within seconds of their freedom, Stephen wanted to know how many friends he could invite over and Rachel reminded us of the end-of-school party she had been invited to attend. 

Stephen ended up going to a friend's house in our neighborhood and I helped chaperon her friend's party of somewhere around 15 middle schoolers - they never were in one place long enough for me to get an accurate body count.  The boy/girl ratio was staggering: about 11-4 in favor of the girls (or boys, depending on your perspective).  When I was 12, I still thought boys had cooties.  My crush was David Cassidy and I was quite confident the opportunity to actually meet him would never present itself, thus relieving me of any pressure to actually have a conversation with the opposite sex. 

Fascinating. Awkward. Frightening. Weird.  The world of adolescent and pre-adolescent boy/girl relationships.  The simple fact that the girls look like high school sophomores and the boys still look like fourth graders cracks me up.  The girls are easily 4-6" taller and becoming shapely young women.  The boys' voices are still vacillating between tenor and soprano, cracking like the eggs I boiled for Easter Sunday dinner.  They have baby faces, baby fat, and baby attention spans.

No matter, the girls mostly ignored them and focused on hugging each other, writing on each other with Sharpie markers, and finding out who could scream the loudest.  Music blaring, the boys actually danced.  One of them was quite good so I complimented him.  He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I wasn't even trying.  Watch this!"  What followed would have made Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga collectively blush.

Four hours, six pizzas, five soda bottles, and all around ice cream sundaes later it was time to go.  The boys gave a 'peace out' and headed for their bicycles.  The girls hugged, cried, hugged some more and exchanged promises to see each other every day. In the car on the way home my daughter declared it was the BEST party she's ever been to.

Rachel has not mentioned one of those classmates today. No phone calls. No texts. No negotiating if one comes here or she goes there. She slept late this morning, watched some TV, and did a little housecleaning with her Mom.

And so it begins...the dance of summer vacation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Murder at Walgreen's

Last month I wrote about the mutual crush my 9-year-old son and I have shared since sometime around Christmas (see My Son's New Crush on this blog site).  Sadly, the honeymoon is over.  I know this because I endured a shameful public break-up yesterday afternoon.  Stephen and I were perusing the aisles at our local Walgreen's in search of tennis balls before he went to a friend's house.  I detoured past the toilet paper aisle (we were dangerously down to two rolls, not a good plan at our house) and then over to the wall of refrigerated drinks to grab the 3/$5 bottles of Gatorade.  It's travel baseball season and we go through Gatorade like most kids go through frozen popsicles during 'adult swim' at the pool.

Stephen and I reunited at the front of the store and headed for the cash register.  The man behind the register is the same familiar smiling face who usually rings up my purchases and is always quick to look through the flyer to see if I've missed a sale or a coupon.  He heard me call Stephen by name as we were standing there and after I ran my debit card through the machine, he looked at Stephen and asked, "Are you going to help Mom out today, Stephen?"

In a moment of in-your-face-alien-abduction my son shrugged his shoulders and answered, "Probably not."  And then, to add utter humiliation to my shock and awe, he turned and walked toward the door with his tennis balls.  "Stephen Clay Hood! Turn around and get back over here [pause for effect and lower voice before continuing]. Right. Now."  There was no mistaking the steely tone of my voice or the fiery darts shooting from my blue eyes.  It is unfortunate for me that so many people were in the check-out line to witness my son's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde moment.  It is indeed very fortunate for my son that there were so many witnesses to what could have been a horrific crime of parenting rage right there in front of the bubble gum and breath mints.

The only words I could muster after he lazily sauntered back over to the counter were, "We are still in the store young man, and I can easily return those tennis balls I just bought.  Now pick up the Gatorade and go to the car."

Ruth Bell Graham was once asked during an interview if she had ever been tempted to divorce her world-famous evangelist husband, Billy.  She wittily replied, "Divorce? Never.  Murder? Yes."  I know exactly how she felt.  Honestly, in that nano-second of anger and embarrassment I visualized several ways I could rid the free world of my son's belligerent and disrespectful attitude.  There's not a parent on Planet Earth who would convict me: we've all been there, done that, and hidden the t-shirt.

The ensuing car ride was stifling in its quiet.  Stephen dared not say a word and I was biting my lip afraid of what I might say if I opened my mouth.  By the time we turned back into our neighborhood I was able to calmly but firmly express that his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable.  I'm fairly certain he got the message and is afraid to find out what the woods behind Walgreen's look like after dark.

It will probably be a while before I summon the courage to shop again at my neighborhood Walgreen's.  I can guarantee you it will be a long time before I walk through those doors with Stephen at my side.  I still love him and I know he still loves me.  But in a moment of stretching his proverbial wings, he knocked me off my pillar of sweetness and light.

And the crush was crushed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: My Ghost Whisperer

My Sentiments Exactly...: My Ghost Whisperer: "This past Friday evening I had the privilege to walk the Survivor's Lap during the opening ceremonies of the Cherokee County Relay for Life...."

My Ghost Whisperer

This past Friday evening I had the privilege to walk the Survivor's Lap during the opening ceremonies of the Cherokee County Relay for Life.  My daughter's best friend, Meghan, had joined a team from her middle school to raise funds for the American Cancer Society - the "Official Sponsor of Birthdays".  When we arrived at the high school hosting the event, it looked somewhat like the inner circle of the Daytona 500.  Brightly colored tents everywhere, loud celebratory music blasting from the speakers on the stage, and a huge inflatable birthday cake covered in blow-up candles.  It was a long drive to the school, the traffic was terrible (go figure - Friday afternoon at 5pm), and it was one of the first really hot days we've had here in the area.

I was wearing my "The Chemo Made Me Do It" t-shirt with a pink breast cancer ribbon on it.  The kids and I walked around from tent to tent admiring all the creative ways people show their support and raise funds for cancer research.  Rachel and Stephen excitedly pulled me in the direction of the Survivor Wall of Fame and helped me sign it, adding their own personal touch to my autograph. 

To say that I attend these events with mixed emotions is an understatement of epic proportions.  It is with a deeply grateful heart and tremendous pride that I call myself a 'survivor' and I have gained laser precision accuracy at spotting others in the same camp.  There's something a little different about us and unless you are one, there's no way to explain it.  We simply know each other.  But I have to admit, there is an indescribable pit in my stomach that rears its ugly head when I see a man, woman, or child walking around with the telltale ill-fitting baseball cap.  It forces me to remember.  It smacks me in the face and screams, "I almost had you, too".  And as proud as I am to be a survivor - as strong as I feel every day - it is my ghost whisperer.  An unexpected ache or pain or an unusual lack of energy always provokes the inevitable "what if it's back?" in the deep recesses of my mind.

Thankfully, my kids were with me and Meghan was happy to introduce me to her classmates/team members.  The emcee for the event called all the survivors to gather around the stage and after a beautifully patriotic national anthem, we all sang Happy Birthday to each other.  Rachel and Stephen were on either side of me and before we started the first lap we heard a couple of stories from other survivors who had joined the celebration.  One young man was diagnosed with colon cancer barely a year ago and shared about his treatments and prognosis.  His young wife and son were sitting on the grass as close as they could get to the front of the stage, obviously proud of their warrior husband and dad who was fighting hard and winning his battle.

Then we heard from a young lady (barely 19 years of age) who is preparing for surgery this week.  She has had FOUR cancer diagnoses in the last few years.  Four!  She is a beautiful young lady, full of energy and a positive spirit.  She talked about her cancer as if she were sharing with us her volleyball schedule.  I felt some very familiar emotions start to rise as she shared about the support of her family and friends, and the daily conflict of emotions.  She even made a statement that I remember jokingly sharing upon my initial diagnosis, "I'm too stubborn to let cancer beat me." 

As I was standing there I met two other ladies, Donna and Laurie, who less than a year ago were photographed at the lake together enjoying each other's friendship, their families, and life in general.  And here they stood this night, both diagnosed within weeks of each other, currently in treatment, and bald.  I briefly shared my story with them and introduced them to my little hero (Stephen) and my private nurse (Rachel).  We chatted as only survivor sisters can and then Laurie looked at me and said, "can I ask you a question?"  "Sure. Anything."  She looked at me for a few long seconds and asked, "Is that your real hair?"  I smiled.  "Yes, every single strand of it."  Smiles.  Hugs.  Hope.

We walked the survivor lap, my children and I, arm in arm.  To see several hundred people standing on the inside track clapping, cheering, and waving was incredibly moving.  Tears.  I couldn't speak, and my kids don't see me like that very often.  Rachel held my hand a little tighter.  Stephen put his arm around my waist.  And then I rounded that last curve and looked up.  Meghan was standing there with her team, clapping and cheering like crazy.  It got the best of all of us and as I started to run to meet her, she and the others broke away and ran right towards us.  We met in a huge circle of hugs and cheers and smiles.  And we walked that final stretch together.   I turned around and looked back through the crowd of other survivors.  A few paces back, Donna and Laurie were walking arm in arm surrounded by their circle of friends.  Our eyes met and we exchanged a 'thumbs up'.  New friends.  New heroes.  And a fresh reminder that beauty is often found in the most unexpected places.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who's Drinking the Kool-Aid Now?

Sitting in front of my computer last night, catching up on emails, and reading a detailed online article about what an "After Rapture Party" is (for those who remain after May 21st), I saw a new 'friend request' on my facebook page.  I recognized the name and clicked on the picture to enlarge it.  Sure enough, it was one of my daughter's classmates from school.  She and another friend had posed wearing spaghetti strap camisoles holding wine glasses up to their lips with what appeared to be white wine in their glasses.  I can only hope it was apple juice or sparkling cider. They were clearly trying to convey a seductive look (as much as a 12-year-old is capable of) and pass themselves off as older, sexier, and ready to party.

Mortified doesn't even begin to describe my reaction.  This little girl (and yes, she is still a girl) is advertising herself on the internet very much like some of the ads you would be able to find on the back pages of any edition of Creative Loafing.  At first I was angry and reached for my phone to call her dad and tattle on her.  And then overwhelming sadness replaced the outrage.  I remembered that she's had 'boyfriends' all the way back to fourth grade.  She was given a cell phone long before any of the other kids her age and has privileges at home that are part of the reason Rachel is not allowed to spend the night at her house. She's a sweet, smart girl who refers to me as Mrs. Mom and runs to hug me every time we see each other.  Maybe that's one of the reasons her facebook page bothered me so much.  If she were a 'bad seed' or a bully or just plain mean maybe it would be easier to write her off.  But she's not. 

She's one of millions of girls in our society today (yes, my daughter included) who are being blatantly told by the media, TV, music, and movies that the only thing they are good for is sex - and they better look the part.  It's everywhere, in every form of communication.  Hip-hop and rap music seem to take it to an extreme but don't be fooled.  It's in country music, too.  And top 40.  And rock.  Pop artist Rhianna, who became the poster child for domestic violence about two years ago has now released a song containing the lyrics, "sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me."  What?!?!?  And my kids say the same thing to me that I said to my parents: "I don't listen to the words. I just like the music."  Yeah, right - as they sing every word to every song on the playlist.

Our county's school system has a dress code.  Not uniforms mind you, but a certain degree of standards that must be adhered to during the school day.  And I'm happy to say they are quick to enforce it.  I'm also sad to note that I've actually heard parents complaining about it.  Yep.  Parents.  Dads griping because their daughters can't wear 'booty call' shorts and Moms whining about the fact that their daughters' midriff must be covered at all times.  Really?  You, as a parent, are incensed because the school system is requiring your daughters to be modest?  Who's drinking the Kool-Aid now? 

Because of my cancer and the grueling reconstruction surgeries that followed treatment, my husband and I have become more than just acquaintances with my doctors.  We've gotten to know them and have taken the opportunity to talk about a myriad of topics other than just my particular procedures.  We were shocked to learn that my plastic surgeon's office does breast enhancements on girls as young as 16!  My specific doctor does not, and as a whole the practice does not encourage it, but there are parents - right here in the Bible belt - giving their daughters plastic surgery procedures as high school graduation gifts.  Excuse me, what planet are you from???  It's one thing for 'the world' to be telling our daughters to go to any lengths necessary to make themselves a hot mess, but it's another thing altogether for their parents to be footing the bill.

This has been my soap box for years.  I've noticed even at our church - one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country - a growing number of girls and young women who obviously put a lot of thought into what they wear and how they wear it on Sunday.  And not in a good way.  It occurs to me, especially for the younger girls, that they are not old enough to drive nor hold down a job.  So who is taking them shopping and who is paying for these clothes?  Mom and Dad.  Which means that as they are walking to the car on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week) unless Mom and Dad are blind they see what their daughters are wearing - and the message it's portraying.  I for one would have been locked in my closet for 30 years if I had ever tried to dress that way, much less leave the house.

And maybe that's the key.  My Mom taught me - by her example - what was appropriate.  She dressed like a lady.  When we went shopping together she would let me pick out what I liked.  If something didn't fit properly or wasn't appropriate we would discuss the why behind the 'no'.  And after we talked about it, 90% of the time it was still a 'no' but she taught me to use good judgment and good sense and to be careful what I presented to others.  But here's the key: she didn't hesitate to say 'no'.  My mom wasn't so obsessed with being my best friend that she stopped being a parent.  And my Dad didn't use the excuse of "giving me a competitive edge" to justify allowing inappropriate behavior.

Maybe we should add a new line to the children's tune, "Oh be careful little eyes, what you see."  It might go something like this:

"Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy. 
 For the world is standing by and your daughter will pay the price.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pouring, Blending, and Serving

I blogged about this during the week of Mother's Day but thought you might enjoy a different spin on the same thought...

 Sitting in a doctor's office (one of many) a few years ago, I came across the following quote and inconspicuously attempted to tear the page out of the magazine without calling attention to the ripping of the page. It reminded me of trying to open a cough drop wrapper in church – could anything be louder when it’s not supposed to be?  Well, after the deed was done my conscience got the better of me and I approached the receptionist, asking sheepishly if I could keep the page I had already torn out.  I mean, really, what was I going to do if she said 'no'?  Re-bind it?  Go buy another magazine?  It was a periodical from about six months prior!  She graciously agreed to let me keep it – I think she may have misinterpreted the chemo-induced hot flash I was having for actual fear that I had committed a crime. The quote read simply,“The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.” 

As a Christian, I have a unique privilege to share this concept - by my lifestyle - many times a day with my family and those whose path I cross.  My neighbors, friends, and even strangers who deal with struggling marriages, wayward kids, diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, elderly parents who require time and energy, businesses that have gone under, stocks that have tanked, homes lost, lives devastated, and unexpected deaths. How has this little nugget impacted the way I filter what I do, how I do it, what I say, how I say it, and what the Scriptural truths are behind this anonymous quote?

“Pouring of Compassion”.  Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of and sympathy for the suffering of another; the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it; a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, this feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s pain or suffering.

The Old Testament is packed full of references to compassion, most often referring to God having compassion over us.  It is an active verb that indicates God is doing something towards us and on our behalf.  One of the most memorable acts of compassion among humanity is told in I Kings.  You may remember this story of two women – prostitutes actually - who were brought before King Solomon.  They were roommates, both pregnant at the same time, and delivered their infant sons within three days of each other.  One woman’s baby died during the night – Scripture says the mother actually smothered him in her sleep, and so, in her grief she took the other woman’s baby as her own.  In the morning, as the other woman prepared to nurse her new son, she realized not only that the infant beside her was dead but that it wasn’t even hers! 

A quick sidebar to this story is the incredible realization that from the moment of birth we know our children.  This is true throughout all of the animal kingdom and with human nature as well.  I remember my first son’s birth over 21 years ago.  Back then, all the babies went to the nursery – they didn’t have a “rooming in” plan like they do now.  The following morning, this cute little candy striped volunteer showed up in my room with a perfect bundle of joy all swaddled up and sporting the blue knit cap they put on all the newborn boys – girls of course get a pink one.  She brought him over to the bed and laid him in my arms.  I took one look at him and felt sick to my stomach.  I knew instantly that this wasn’t my baby I was holding.  As the panic rose, I hesitated for just a millisecond wondering if I had lost my mind during the night and then said to her, “this isn’t my baby!”   She quickly went out into the hall where three other bassinets of babies were waiting to be delivered to their moms on the same hall and came back in with another baby.  She looked almost as panicked as I and said, “I’m so sorry!  I looked at the wrong card on the bassinet!  Is this one yours?”  She was now asking me if we had the right baby!  A huge flood of relief swept through me as I instantly recognized my precious baby boy.  She begged me not to tell her supervisor and disappeared down the hall.  I remember being shocked that I, in less than 24 hours, knew my son. 

So here sits King Solomon on his throne listening to these two women ferociously argue back and forth about whose baby has died and whose baby was there with them, still living.  King Solomon makes what appears to be a violent, irrational decision when he orders that a sword be brought out and the baby cut in two!  “Give them each a half”, he callously renders judgment.  And immediately – immediately – the mother of the living child responds.  Scripture says in verse 26 of chapter 3 that she was “filled with compassion for her son” and shouted out to the King, “no! Give her the living baby!  Don’t kill him!”  This young mother’s compassion prompted an action to save her baby even if it meant giving him up. To another woman.  A fellow prostitute.  Her room-mate!  And King Solomon had his answer. 

“Gifts and Generosity” – what do they have in common? And how do we most effectively mix them?  Gifts are defined this way: Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation; a purchase which, when given, omits key information - including the price paid for the item!  Generosity is defined as liberality in giving or willingness to give; the trait of being willing to give your money or time; and (I love this one) freedom from meanness or smallness of mind and character.  Let me attempt to illustrate.

When my daughter Rachel was about 5, her favorite thing to do was invite people over for apple pie.  She loves my apple pie with ice cream and she would regularly call either or both sets of grandparents on the phone and invite them over for dessert.  The conversation would go something like this:

“Mimi (or Honey)? Can you and Papaw (or Granddaddy) come over for apple pie?  And ice cream, too?  Mommy!  Do we have apple pie?”  You see, she felt absolutely free to give and give generously – without regard to anything but the heart with which it was given.  Including whether or not we even had apple pie!  All motivated by love.  In the tender heart of my 5-year-old daughter, Mommy's apple pie was the grandest thing she had to offer.

Esther illustrates this concept of gifts in a beautiful way.  After Esther was taken into the king’s harem at the citadel of Susa, she immediately won the favor of the king’s eunuch, Hegai.  When the time came after a year’s worth of beauty treatments for her to go before the king she asked Hegai, who probably knew the king better than anyone, what she should take with her.  Esther was a wise woman, very aware that this moment – this one night – could be the beginning or the end for her.  She sought wise counsel and she listened to it.  She set herself up to succeed.  Well, it worked!  The king was so pleased with Esther that he placed a crown on her head and named her queen.

Chapter 2, verse 18 says, “And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.”  Royal liberality!  Now that’s a party I want to get in on!  Her desire to please him resulted in his desire to honor her.  There is great bounty to be had from the heart of a happy king, especially when he’s not looking at the price tag.

II Corinthians 9 offers another illustration of this concept.  II Corinthians is actually Paul’s fourth letter to the church at Corinth, and his response to Titus’ report on the condition of the church there.  Addressing their giving Paul reminds them that he has bragged on them to other churches for their eagerness to give and then cautions them to check their motives for giving.  “…not out of regret or necessity…”  Then he blesses them with this charge in verse 11, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

The generosity we offer from every area of our lives, not just our wallets, results in others offering thanksgiving to God!  Think of it: we have an opportunity to be the catalyst for someone else giving thanks! Paul is reminding the church here that rich in every way means literally every way – rich in time, talents, energy, wisdom, vision, and yes money.  And as we have opportunity to be generous on every occasion – whatever the occasion calls for – the results are that those around us offer their thanksgiving to God.  And I think you will all agree with me, that is a win-win.

“Serving Miracles”.  How exactly do you serve a miracle? 

A miracle is defined as any amazing or wonderful occurrence; an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God; even the Qu’ran defines a miracle as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings.  Certainly, God performed miracles numerous times on behalf of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament.  The records of Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament are probably, to use a classic Greek term, just a 'smidgen' of what He actually did as He walked among us.  And yes, there are records of what we call modern day miracles that are clearly an intervention of God’s power and presence in the lives of humanity.

But within the context of this train of thought, maybe we can look at miracles in a slightly different manner.  Is it possible that ‘serving miracles’ is simply the end result of pouring compassion and mixing gifts and generosity?  Again, an illustration...

About 12 years ago, Richard and I had gone through a particularly traumatic time in our lives, mostly at the hands of another believer who had taken advantage of us financially.  I had a very dear, very elderly friend who was quite concerned about me because I had pulled away from her and became increasingly isolated.  We had been sharing a weekly prayer time together for almost two years and she had mentored me specifically in the area of my prayer life.  The stress we were under had taken its toll physically.  I wasn’t sleeping; I had lost a lot of weight and generally looked every bit of what we were going through.  Miss Dottie called me several times on the telephone; I didn’t return the favor.  She finally showed up at my doorstep one afternoon and announced quite emphatically, “Dawn darling, you look like flesh draped over bones!  Your eyes are dead – there’s no life in you!  You’re coming to my house right now and we are having tea!”  Well, tea at Miss Dottie’s house meant we were going to talk.  I surrendered my vacuum cleaner to the middle of the living room floor and followed her to the car.  A few minutes later at her home, as her fragile hands poured a cup of freshly steeped hot tea into a delicate little china cup, adding just the right amount of milk and honey, she looked me in the eye and said, “Honey, every time I pray for you the Lord lays on my heart the word ‘betrayed’.  Has someone betrayed you?”

Well, I began to break.  For the next two hours I literally laid my head in her lap and cried as she gently stroked my hair and prayed over me.  That afternoon, Miss Dottie poured compassion over me; she gave me both gift and generosity.  The gift of a wise, loving, discerning friend; the generosity of time set free and prayers unhindered.  And I realized later that night that only God could have laid that particular word – betrayed - on her heart.  That afternoon, in fact, was a miracle: a supernatural intervention of God in my life through the life of another one of His children.  I’ll never forget how deeply I was touched and the many times since then I’ve thanked God for serving the miracle of that afternoon.

Compassion is choosing to act, respond, and reach out; a gift is a gift because it is not motivated to seek its own reward; generosity is freedom from predetermined limitations and boundaries; and miracles?  Miracles, I believe, are very often simply witnessing the presence of God in an active, living, here-and-now kind of way.  It is the driving force behind our desire to be more like Him - and that may very well be the greatest miracle of all.

So I ask you: how have compassion, gifts, generosity, and miracles marked your life in the past or in the present?  Is you pitcher filled with compassion?  Are you pouring out of the fullness of your own life? Are gifts and generosity fighting for their place like oil and water? Or do they blend together undetected, perfectly seasoning our lives like sugar and salt?  Are you feasting at a table of miracles?  Are those around you enjoying God’s goodness, love, mercy, forgiveness, and joy served from your life?

The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.

My friends, let us serve well today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Norman Rockwell at the Kitchen Sink

Some time before Thanksgiving last year my dishwasher went kaput.  I opened the door one morning to unload the previous night's dinner dishes and noticed detergent baked onto the bottom of the dishwasher floor.  Along with last night's dinner baked onto my dishes, glasses, pots, and pans.  Apparently the tube thingy that comes out of the middle to spray water everywhere had snapped.  So instead of actually washing the dishes with hot water, it simply baked at high heat everything I hadn't rinsed off.  Note to self: Mom was right - rinse the dishes thoroughly before placing them in the dishwasher.

After fiddling with it a few times, we determined this was something a little more advanced than a do-it-yourself superstore fix.  I called a reputable appliance guy in our area and after his assessment and estimate, we realized we could replace the dishwasher for about the same price as repairing the existing one.  One problem: with my husband and I both unemployed, it didn't matter how comparable the costs were - neither repair or replace was an option.  Now, let me say I love to cook.  I really do.  But I love it a lot more when I can stuff all the evidence into the dishwasher, press a couple of buttons, and walk away.

So it was with mixed emotions that I began washing dishes at the sink.  And let me just tell you, a sink doesn't hold as much as a dishwasher.  It seemed like every time I turned around the sink was full again.  Yes, I enlisted the help of our kids to gather dishes, help rinse, and put away (I'm very particular about the washing part).  But it's still a time consuming process and something about standing over the sink really bothers my lower back.  Not to mention, I have dropped and broken more dishes from slippery dish washing liquid than I care to admit (maybe a Freudian way of justifying less elaborate meals?)  Anyway, after a particularly big meal one evening - roast in the crock pot, potatoes, carrots, green beans, biscuits and gravy - Richard half-heartedly said, "I'll do the dishes tonight.  You cooked a nice, big meal.  It's my turn."  Woohoo!  I was out of the kitchen before the kids took their last bite of biscuits.

A few minutes later, feeling a little guilty about taking such great delight in my mini-vacation from the kitchen, I walked back to the sink and began rinsing the growing pile of now soapy dishes and glasses.  At first we just stood there, side by side, my husband washing and me rinsing.  And then Richard, never one to be quiet for long, started making small talk.  Nothing major, simply news of the day or something he had heard on the radio or something about the kids.  The conversation started flowing, moving seamlessly between us.  And before we knew it the dishes were done.  A few nights later he helped me do the dishes again.  And so the pattern has continued.  There have been a few nights when Richard and Rachel have taken clean-up duty.  I think there may have been more soap sud battles than actual dish washing but it was great to hear them laughing from the other room.  Stephen has helped  a few times but usually ends up asking for something else to eat, making more dirty dishes.  You see where this is going, don't you?

My point is this: sometimes the unexpected, even aggravating circumstances in our lives create an open door for us to discover a whole new way to connect with one another.  The dishwasher is still broken, and I still do the bulk of the clean-up after dinner, but I may wait a while to replace it.  That broken dishwasher has given me a new place, and a new way, to connect with my family.  And I love it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: Making Space for God

My Sentiments Exactly...: Making Space for God: "Many years ago, my firstborn and I found ourselves at a local mall on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Cold and rainy outside, the only thin..."

Making Space for God

Many years ago, my firstborn and I found ourselves at a local mall on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  Cold and rainy outside, the only thing on my mind was getting in, getting out, and getting home.  “Alex, start praying!” I called out as we turned down another row to see the endless display of metal and rubber.  I was four weeks away from my due date with my second child and not looking forward to a long trek across the back 40 in order to mark the final ‘x’ on my list.

As we approached the store end of that particular row, a shopper scurried out and pointed to her car, parked to my delighted surprise in the second space!  Thrilled at our good fortune, I flew into the space with laser precision accuracy, threw the car in Park and reached for the keys.  “Let’s go, sweetie,” I called to my son as my legs were swinging out the door.  He looked at me, blue eyes soft and clear like a new marble and said, “Mom, since we asked God for this space and He gave it to us, shouldn’t we just sit here and enjoy it?”

Dumbfounded.  Embarrassed.  Ashamed.  I felt all these emotions and more in a nano-second.  In my haste to move on to the next thing, I had completely ignored the simply asked and immediately answered prayer of a child.  My child, whom I had taught from infancy that God delights in relationship with us and always hears us when we pray.  I surrendered the keys to the floor mat, sat back, closed the car door, and meekly responded, “You’re absolutely right.”  Silence followed.  Alex leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes in great anticipation of the moment before us.  I followed, though not so relaxed, in awe of the dramatic life lesson God was playing out using my car as His stage.

In the midst of the quiet, I recalled the words of Psalms 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Almost laughing, I reached into the back seat, grabbed my Bible, and hurriedly turned to the passage.  Unable to remember the first nine verses it seemed very important to read the complete passage.  To my surprise I found that verses 1-9 are chock full of noise and activity.  And then, in verse 10, our Father calls us simply to “be still and know that I am God.” 

My son and I sat in the car that afternoon for only a few short minutes before he was ready to move on.  But that day, and his stunning observation, has never left me.  In seasons of haste when my heart is anxious, my list of ‘next things’ is long and life is overwhelming, I’m reminded to find a place where I can enjoy a few moments of being still.  God is always there.  And more than anything I can ever do for Him, I know in my heart He simply longs for me to be with Him.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Soul of a Champion

My son's baseball team is playing for our park's little league championship tomorrow night.  They played last night to determine whether we would stay in the winner's bracket or move to the loser's bracket and have to win our way back up.  I love the boys on our team.  They have souls of champions.  They are a group of 8- and 9-year-old boys who get along with each other, respect their coaches, hit hard, run fast, and field the ball as if their life depends on it.  Oh yeah, and they've been down one player the entire season.  Every other team in our league has 11 players.  We lost one of ours to a broken jaw before the season even started.

Last night's game started out fairly evenly, two runs scored by each team in the 1st inning.  Second inning: the other team scored five, we put only two more on the board.  Play by play, swing by swing, we hung in there.  In the fourth inning, we kinda' fell apart.  Our first baseman - who happens to be my son - missed a couple of key throws that moved the other team's runners around the bases and gave them the maximum five runs for the inning.  He was also up to bat in this same inning and hit a short pop fly that made an easy out for the other team.  My big #15 came in the dugout - where I hang out and help with catcher's gear, caps, and misplaced gloves - bordering on tears in his eyes, clearly annoyed.  "Hoody, come here a minute," I called to him.  "What's up?"  I asked, as if I didn't already know.  His frustration was evident, his disappointment blatant.  "Mom, they were perfect throws and I missed them!  It's my fault!"

He was ready to call it a day - blaming himself for letting the team down - and hit the shower.  I got down on my knees, looked into those chocolate soup eyes and said, "Hey, it's not over yet.  You have one more inning to show them what you're made of.  Losers quit and you haven't lost yet."  And with a tender smack on the very round backside of his uniform he ran back out onto the field with the rest of his team.

I'd like to think my pep talk made all the difference.  I'm sure it didn't.  I'd like to think my words burned a truth into his heart that he will carry into adulthood.  I'm sure they won't.  But the boys played a stellar fifth inning, Stephen had a couple of tournament-worthy scoops at first, and hit a smacker to the outfield off the bat.  The boys won 16-15.

I've been a bit frustrated as of late.  Unemployed since last August and struggling to admit that I've crossed the line from "great investment" to "maybe too old to invest in" has beat me down a little.  As I thought about writing last week, I couldn't get the words on paper fast enough.  I literally laid in bed at night writing more blogs in my head than I could remember the next morning.  And then nothing.  Not a thought.  Nothing remarkable, nothing to put a twist on, nothing even remotely blog-worthy.  And only one person noticed.  Now please don't send me a bunch of comments saying, "I was wondering why you hadn't written anything."  I won't believe you. 

But I had a moment of clarity in the dugout last night.  As I was encouraging my son to get out there and keep playing, it was almost like an out-of-body experience.  I heard myself saying those words to me, too.  So today I've been reminding myself that I have 'one more inning'.  Losers quit and I haven't lost yet.  I don't have any idea how long my 'one more inning' is, but I'm not going to quit.  Yes, my life is difficult right now.  Yes, I'm frustrated, disappointed, and confused.  I don't understand what lesson or lessons I'm supposed to be learning in this unfamiliar place.  But I won't quit.  For however long this season is, I believe there is a purpose and a plan.  My faith tells me I'm not a loser.  So here's to one more inning.  And winning.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: Serving Miracles

My Sentiments Exactly...: Serving Miracles: "An anonymous poet once said, 'The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles...."

Serving Miracles

An anonymous poet once said, "The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles."  The first time I saw this printed in a magazine, it was the artwork that caught my attention.  The artist had captured an old world feel, something between Renaissance and Renoir.  I read the words again, promptly tore the page out of the magazine, and taped it up on the wall where I could read it daily - sometimes several times a day.  In light of Mother's Day I would like to tell you about a very special woman who epitomizes every word of this short but powerful prose - my Mom.

The pouring of compassion... my Mom feels things deeply and even though her strong Southern upbringing won't always allow her to show it, her heart is as tender as fresh biscuit dough.  She will be the first volunteer to provide a meal for someone who's sick or recovering from surgery.   When she and my Dad travel, she always tucks away the complimentary shampoo, conditioner, bath gels, and lotions from the hotel so she can deliver them to a local ministry helping underprivileged women.  Whether she's praying (I've heard her) or writing in her journal (I've read a few entries), nine times out of ten it's about someone else and their needs.  When I had breast cancer and was overwhelmed by everyone wanting to take care of me, she touched my arm and said gently, "Sweetie, they love you.  Let them."

Combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity... my Mom has many gifts and she happily, generously shares them with anyone and everyone.  She has the gift of beauty but you won't find one vain bone in her tiny frame.  She has the gift of hospitality and can instantly make anyone feel at home, ready to put their feet up on the sofa and stay a while.  She has the gift of creativity and can make the simplest meal beautiful and memorable.  She has the gift of music and sings with a joyful spirit.  She has the gift of reading.  That may sound strange but no one - and I mean no one - can read a story to a child like my Mom.  She can literally make time stand still in a story.  I'm thankful my children have been the benefactors of that one!  Everything she does is blanketed in generosity.  She regularly goes above and beyond and finds tremendous satisfaction in making life a little sweeter for others.

Blend together to serve miracles... my Mom always made our house a home.  We may not have had a lot in the world's eyes but we didn't know it.  She made birthdays, Christmas, and sometimes a regular old Saturday morning magical - usually on a shoe string budget.  She worked a full time job, volunteered (for everything) at our church, kept our house clean and the laundry done, carted my brother and me to all our social and sporting events, and taught me by example to be a gracious, kind, compassionate woman.  I learned to respect others by watching her respect others.  I learned to do my best by watching her touch everything with excellence.  I learned the deep satisfaction of a 'Norman Rockwell' moment by helping to prepare a special meal and gather her family around the kitchen table.  And I learned to be fiercely loyal to my family by understanding that sometimes it's alright to not keep your mouth shut.

I lovingly refer to her as 'Miss Daisy' (when she's not around), my children call her 'Honey', and our friends know her as 'Mrs. C'.  She pours compassion, combines it with the mixing of gifts and generosity, and blends it all together to serve miracles.  She is simply, beautifully, my Mom.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: Of Mother-in-laws and Other Friends

My Sentiments Exactly...: Of Mother-in-laws and Other Friends: "Motherhood at times can be an incredibly lonely job. No one knows your children like you do. And you don't want anyone to. Moms can, at t..."

Of Mother-in-laws and Other Friends

Motherhood at times can be an incredibly lonely job.  No one knows your children like you do.  And you don't want anyone to.  Moms can, at times, be their own worst enemy.  We find it very hard to admit shortcomings, ask for help, or acknowledge that our child may in fact be the problem instead of the solution.  I've been a mom for a little over 21 years.  And in those 21 years of parenting three children (see Friday's blog, The Three Bears) I've learned the value of having other honest, authentic, passionate, unsure but wonderful moms in my life.

My mother-in-law.  She's been married as long as I've been alive and raised three boys with an iron fist and a velvet glove.  Born and raised in East Tennessee she can cook up a storm, surprise you with her quick wit, and remember every child's name she ever taught in pre-school.  My mother-in-law tells me regularly that I'm a good mom - and she tells my children, too.  She's got my back when the kids go to her for something she knows I've already put my foot down on.  But she will also be the first one to quietly, privately tell me when I need to let go a little.  She and I made a pact early on to be honest and open with each other.  It is refreshing and comfortable to be with her no matter where we are.  I've learned from her to make a big deal about the big stuff.  Period.  She encourages me, prays for me, and loves my kids real good.  I'm blessed to have her as a mother-in-law and one of my dearest friends.

My best friend.  We refer to ourselves as 'Thelma and Louise' and share a love for coffee that probably has crossed over the line to an addiction.  And neither one of us is signing up for an intervention.  Our daughters actually introduced us at the mall one afternoon - at the age of 3! - and it's been 'best friend bliss' ever since.  Early in our friendship our family was at her house with two other families enjoying a lovely Sunday dinner.  After our meal, the ladies were all in the kitchen washing dishes, putting away leftovers, and cleaning up.  I noticed one of them knew where all of Lori's dishes belonged and I remember thinking, "I want a friend like who knows me so well that she knows where all my dishes are."   On SO many levels, I can honestly say that nine years later, Lori knows where my dishes are!  We laugh, we cry, we pray, we watch movies, we sit quietly, we 'vent', and we share a ministry at our church together.  Lori knows me and loves me in spite of - and because of - my weaknesses and warts.  She is my safe place and my secret keeper.

My cousin.  Growing up one of ten cousins on my mother's side, we were equally divided among boys and girls.  The one closest in age to me, thankfully, was another girl.  She is physically beautiful but her inner qualities make her breathtaking.  Barbie is warm, engaging, witty, unselfish, and strong as steel.  She married earlier than I did and started her family before I did.  Nothing in this world has ever brought her more happiness, joy, and contentment than being a wife and mom.  She truly lives for her family.  Her boys adore her, her daughter wants to be like her, and her husband is a great guy who knows he married WAY up.  Barbie is happiest when her home is full of family and friends and she can take care of everyone around her.  I honestly believe if God had chosen to bring Jesus into the world in the 20th century, He might very well have chosen my cousin to be His mother.

Miss Dottie.  One of the greatest blessings I've experienced as a grown woman is knowing Miss Dottie.  We met by chance (and God's design) at a Wednesday evening church supper and I knew instantly she was someone special.  Miss Dottie was put on this earth to love people and to pray.  She has the uncanny ability to make everyone around her feel important and special.  She calls me 'darling' and it somehow makes my whole world better.  Miss Dottie has literally prayed down mountains.  If it's 95 degrees and clear blue sky outside when she prays for rain, she picks up her umbrella.   She will cry over a friend's pain as if it's her own and shout for joy at the smallest victory.  I had the amazing privilege of being mentored by Miss Dottie for two years.  She taught me how to pray; and that taught me everything else.

My Mom - Quite simply, a fabulous woman.  You can read more about her in tomorrow's blog because I saved the best for last.

These women are my family, friends, truth-tellers, and cheerleaders.  I'm not alone in this thing called Motherhood.  And I'm so very thankful.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: The Three Bears

My Sentiments Exactly...: The Three Bears: "I am the loud and proud mom of three great kids: Alex, Rachel, and Stephen. My hair has been varying colors and lengths throughout their li..."

The Three Bears

I am the loud and proud mom of three great kids: Alex, Rachel, and Stephen.  My hair has been varying colors and lengths throughout their lifetime, the size of my clothes has changed (just a little), and sometimes I am not on my best behavior when they're around.  But they know I would throw myself in front of a train for them.  In birth order, they are:

SugarBear - my firstborn.  The child I cut my parenting teeth on.  The pregnancy for which everything was a first: the first ultrasound, the first 'butterfly' of movement in my womb, the first completely guilt-free lunch at Wendy's consisting of a double cheeseburger, large fry and root beer, followed by a medium Frosty.  I have never been so sick.  After that disastrous outing my diet consisted mostly of Mexican food, Chick-fil-A, ice cream, and TUMS.  The first labor pains (after measuring a barely detectable contraction on the monitor, I asked the nurse how much worse they would get before I delivered; she didn't answer) and the first clumsy attempt at nursing.  I gained only 18 pounds and wriggled back into my favorite cords in just two weeks.  Alex was born with a smile on his face and I learned from him the truth of Erma Bombeck's words, "having children is to forever have your heart walking around outside your body."

PoohBear - my only daughter.  An emotional pregnancy - I didn't eat as much but cried about everything.  Alex was nine years old.  When we told him I was pregnant he wrote my grandmother a note that said simply, "God answered one of my prayers.  We're having a baby!"   I gained more weight during this pregnancy (don't ask me how or how much) and we chose not to learn the sex prior to delivery.  Our ultrasound technician wrote the results on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope.  We poked a tiny hole in the corner, put a ribbon through the hole, and hung it on our Christmas tree.  Delivery day began very early on a January morning and less than four hours later we held our little angel.  She was long and lean with porcelain skin and every time we swaddled her she managed to work one foot loose from her blanket.  Rachel is still our free spirit, best described by her Uncle Bo as a cartoon character come to life. 

LittleBear - my personal proof that God is still in the business of miracles.  Just three short weeks after 9/11 and my husband losing his job (along with a huge commission), we learned I was pregnant.  Oops - not really planning for a third child.  At our first baby checkup my midwife felt 'something' in my right breast.  A core needle biopsy at the women's center of our hospital resulted in the phone call that changed our lives: "Mrs. Hood, all four tissue samples were malignant.  You have breast cancer and should call your surgeon immediately.  I'm so sorry."  The moment I saw our baby's tiny frame on the ultrasound monitor I was head over heels in love - and fiercely determined to beat cancer for both of us.  Three surgeries, a serious infection, and four rounds of chemotherapy later, I held our little miracle in my hands.  Born three weeks early, he weighed a whopping five pounds, eleven ounces and was barely 18" long.  Hard to hold and impossible to diaper, Stephen has grown to be my living, breathing, running, jumping, chocolate-soup-eyed boy.

Being a mom to my three bears has taught me many things.  Here are just a few examples:

1/ There is nothing sweeter in the whole universe than sitting quietly in a rocker at 3a.m. snuggling your newborn with a full belly.  Conversely, there is nothing more stick-a-fork-in-your-eye maddening than your baby screaming at full volume at 3a.m. for no apparent reason.

2/Boys like to be naked.  Girls like to wear pretty dresses.  Boys like to pee in the bushes.  Girls will lie to your face and "pwomise" they did not pass gas.

3/My greatest accomplishment with my first child was teaching him to fix his own bowl of cereal and find the cartoons on Saturday morning until at least 9a.m.  My greatest accomplishment with my second child was teaching her to wake her big brother on Saturday morning.  With my third child, I was so happy we were both here - and healthy - that I got up and made waffles for everyone on Saturday morning.

4/Kids are incredibly resilient.  With Alex I worried that every scratch, bump, and belly ache warranted a trip to the ER.  After Rachel was born, the nurse-on-call and I were on a first name basis; she was always calm and reassuring.  By the time Stephen arrived, if there wasn't a bone sticking out of place or enough blood to soak through a bath towel I patted him gently and said, "Cool - that will be a great scar!"

5/My kids notice when the house is clean but don't judge me when it's not.  They like it when I make their favorite meals but don't complain when dinner is PB&Js.  They know holidays are special to me and endure my long list of photo ops.  They want me close by when they don't feel good, look to see if I'm on the sidelines at their sporting events, and still like for me to tuck them into bed at night. They have patiently endured my long recoveries from multiple surgeries and have cared for me far better than any private nurse ever could.

I'm crazy about my three bears.  As Goldilocks discovered, they're just right.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Memaw

I come from a long line of strong Southern women, one of them my maternal grandmother.  She is 96 today, my only living grandparent.  I feel extremely blessed to have had a close relationship with all my grandparents and have wonderful memories that span from my childhood well into adulthood.  But Margaret Louise Shigley Crowe, known to me and my nine cousins all our lives simply as "Memaw" is especially dear to me.  Born the youngest of 12 children, she developed a crush on my grandfather in the third grade - and her hooks go deep and long.  After graduating from high school (as salutatorian of her class in 1932) she and my Papa were very much in love.  My great-grandmother didn't care for my grandfather and didn't want them to marry.  So they eloped!  And kept it a secret for three months, my grandmother still living at home with her parents and my grandfather with his.  Finally, my Papa decided their arrangement was for the birds.  He went to Mamaw Shigley's house to tell her he had married my grandmother, stated his intentions for them to 'set up house' together, and held his ground.  My great-grandmother responded simply, "Well, what's done is done.  I guess I'll learn to love you."  And love him she did.  It wasn't long before Papa was her favorite and everybody knew it.

Memaw and Papa raised five children, four girls and a boy right in the middle.  They lived in a small house and managed with only one bathroom between the seven of them.  My grandfather never failed to start the day with all his children kneeling for prayer around the kitchen table.  And very few mornings passed that my grandmother didn't prepare a full Southern breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, made-from-scratch biscuits, and grits.  As a pastor's wife my grandmother was expected to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, raise perfect children, keep a perfect home, coordinate and organize church events, weddings, funerals, baby dedications, and teach Vacation Bible School.  She did it all with grace, beauty, and excellence.

Papa was a preacher for 57 years before his death in 1992 and my grandmother was undeniably his biggest fan.  He struggled occasionally with feelings of inadequacy because he never attended seminary.  My grandmother would pat him gently on the arm and say, "now Charles, you are a student of God's word and He never fails to give you a strong message.  Don't you ever let anyone tell you otherwise."  My grandmother never denied that her family had its faults and shortcomings, but God help the person outside the bloodline who brought it to her attention!  She is fiercely loyal and it wouldn't surprise me if her picture is listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica next to "Bear, Mama".

Memaw was a school teacher for 32 years, receiving her teaching degree in 1934 and many years later her BS in Education from Berry College at the age of 50.  Around that same she also learned how to drive, instructed by the calm and gentle guidance of my grandfather.  She stopped driving barely two years ago and only recently gave up her condo to live with one of my aunts in south Georgia.  Strong indeed.  I've watched her hands prepare countless meals, fly across the keys of a piano, and gently caress many a loved one.  I've chuckled as she washed a piece of tin foil, dried it, folded it squarely and returned it to the drawer for later use.  When I think of her I visualize crossword puzzles, reading voraciously, and going to the beach. 

And when she prays, I am convinced God raises His hand and says, "Listen, it's my Margaret."  My grandmother.  My Memaw.  My hero.    

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Sentiments Exactly...: Innocence Lost

My Sentiments Exactly...: Innocence Lost: "I have known women over the years whose deepest heart's desire is to be a mother. They are kind, loving, generous, tender, compassionate, a..."

Innocence Lost

I have known women over the years whose deepest heart's desire is to be a mother.  They are kind, loving, generous, tender, compassionate, and dedicated to giving their absolute best to the fruit of their womb.  But their womb is empty.  They know all too well the words, 'barren', 'infertile', and 'incapable'.  Motherhood defies them, even mocks them.  They pray, they fast, they cry hopeful tears of joy followed by devastated tears of sorrow.  They visit doctors, search the internet, and subject themselves to all sorts of tests and procedures.  All to no avail.  

These women grieve what will never be.

I have also known women over the years who had the opportunity to bask in the glory of being called 'Mother'.  They are women of integrity, character, strength, and passion.  They know the thrill of announcing, "We're having a baby!"  Delivering their very own bundle of joy is excruciating and exhilarating, counting fingers and toes is fascinating, and kissing those rose bud lips is glorious.  They have swaddled an infant to their breast, nourished them with the very best nature has to offer, and settled their anxious child with a softly whispered, "shhhhh...Mama's here."  But they know the excruciating pain of losing a child - a child of any age - and being forced to say good-bye much too soon. 
These women grieve what was.

And over the years I have known women who had the opportunity to be a Mother, women who saw the stripe turn pink or blue and decided - for good reason or for no reason - to end the life of their unborn child.  Whatever your thoughts and feelings about abortion, make no mistake about it: these women grieve, too.  Maybe not publicly, probably without condolences from loved ones, but they grieve.  In the quiet of the night when thoughts will not surrender to sleep, they remember.  As they pass a maternity store window, or gaze across the park at a mother pushing her child in a stroller or on a swing, they remember.  They wonder.

These women grieve what might have been.

None of these women would deny in their heart they want to be, have been, or could have been a mother.  They all had dreams of some sort: to be a Mom, to be a Mom forever, to be a Mom later.  My guess is that for these women Mother's Day is the most difficult to endure.  Hopes crushed.  Dreams lost.  Choices made.  Innocence lost for both mother and child.  I believe, as Scripture promises, that God keeps their tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8).  If He in fact knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30) and sees the sparrow fall (Matthew 10:29), imagine how His heart must break when tears flow from agonizing emptiness, grief, and regret.  

As we approach this Mother's Day may we look beyond the greeting cards, department stores, perfume counters, and jewelry stores to see those who truly need our love and encouragement ~ these women who would be Mom. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


As we approach Mother's Day this Sunday, I'll be looking at Motherhood from several different perspectives for the rest of the week. I had the privilege to meet Anita Renfroe several years ago and have spent a couple of mornings at Waffle House with her complete with waffles and coffee.  And yes, she eats waffles with her hands, ever so delicately tearing a piece of waffle and dipping it in syrup like most people eat pita bread and hummus.

Anita is uproariously funny and brings a stunning perspective to every topic she touches.  She is a student of God's word and has learned not to take herself too seriously - a lesson I am still learning. 

I hope you enjoy the lighter side of living "In Tha Muthahood"...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Letter to My Past

Who doesn't enjoy receiving a handwritten note or card in the mail?  Amidst all the junk mail, bills, and 'free' offers - which require you to buy something to get something 'free' - landing in our mailbox each day, my heart always quickens a bit when I see something hand addressed to anyone in our family.  It means that just beyond two thin pieces of paper held together by a light strip of glue is something personal, something specifically written to me or one of my precious loved ones.  I fear letter writing is becoming a thing of the past; something I will tell my grandchildren about some day.  Can't you hear it now? "When I was younger we didn't have text messaging, email, and e-vites.  We had to actually pick up a pen or pencil, write something on a card or piece of paper, address an envelope, put a stamp on it, place it in the mailbox, then wait for the other person to receive it.  And then wait again for the response to come back by the same process."  It sounds laborious to me even as I write.

Not so fast.  There is much to be said for the art of expressing ourselves through real words - taking the time to actually think about what we want to say and expending the energy to physically write it.  Not LOL or BRB or TTYL.  (For those of you who are not 21st century savvy, the above internet slang means Laughing Out Loud, Be Right Back, and Talk To You Later.)  Some of the greatest books ever written are simply collections of letters written down through the ages...expressions of love, heartbreak, struggle, death, joy, childbirth, marriage, and war.

I made a lot of mistakes and bad choices as a young adult.  Some were the stupid kind: not finishing college, spending more money than I earned, and staying out too late on work nights.  Others were the serious kind: and before I divulge too many secrets let me just say they were serious.  Enough said.  For many years I struggled with the memories of those bad decisions.  So one morning a few years ago, I sat down at our kitchen table and wrote letters - with a real pen on real paper - to some of the people who bore the consequences of my bad choices.  I didn't really think much of it other than a way to finally get out of my heart and head what I had been feeling and thinking for years.  I didn't even mail these letters; I simply wrote them.  The results were astounding.  Literally, within 24 hours there was a sense of relief and calm.  I actually felt forgiveness.  And release from some of those painful memories.

I was pleasantly surprised by how therapeutic it was for me to simply pour out my heart to those who would never read the words I wrote.  Wanna' try some cheap - and I mean really cheap - therapy?  Pick up a pen and paper, find a quiet place to sit, and write a letter.  What you gain in return might just surprise you.