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beachwedding.jpgMy husband and I married in August, 1983. We were both still college students. We were young, poor, and, yes, love did make a difference. I remember my husband telling me, with our $25 a week grocery budget, frozen water pipes in the winter, no phone or television, and one car between us –  “We’re going to look back on these days as the best of our lives.”

A year later, he had graduated and found a job right across from the high school he had attended. We moved to a new apartment with pipes that didn’t freeze in the winter, bought both a phone and television, increased our grocery bill – and still had one car between us.

As I was waiting one evening in our car for my husband to come out from work (when you share one car, waiting becomes a pastime), I remember praying that God would show me how to love him(God) the way I had loved him as a child – so heart-full, trusting, seeking him in an arms-wide-open, flung-around-his-neck-in-total-acceptance kind of way. I needed him growing up – and He was there – faithfully.

Another year later, in 1985, I was in graduate school, working on a Master’s Degree in English because I wanted to be an editor. I’d worked for a local paper for about two years, typing up AP stories to be sent over to layout – and writing movie reviews and articles on local living. In graduate school, I was working on the next step. I received an assistantship  teaching remedial writing to college students while earning that degree.

The teaching, it stretched me. It took me two weeks for my eyes to stop watering in front of a classroom full of students – and, at least, a year before I stopped having nightmares of student mutiny in the classroom.

I made dear friends, including a fellow Teaching Assistant (TA) who was a missionary-minded young woman with a heart for reaching out to others and sharing, not just kindness, but the gospel.

My friend, Rhonda, asked if she could share some bible tracts with me – and I said sure, even though I had no clue about what a bible tract was. If you asked me today, I still probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. We met for coffee in between classes and teaching– a beautiful, sunny day when over a cup of coffee,  my religious pride bumped into a heart-wide open to the love of Jesus Christ.

I’d been in church all my life – had gone to Christian schools and read my bible at home. I could probably count on one hand the Sundays I missed church until I went to college. This new friend was sharing scripture with memorization plans – and I felt so lost, as if I’d studied hard for a test only to fail.

She probably thought her time with me was a mission fail. Nothing she said seemed to stick – and I’m sure she could see my pride right there behind my smile – you know the smile you keep on your face when you don’t know the answer – but you don’t want anyone else to know you don’t know the answer? Yes! That smile.

I didn’t leave our conversations slamming the door shut behind me. Yet, I didn’t leave those meetings with a heart-wide open, flinging myself into this God-adventure with a bring-it-on attitude. There was so much I didn’t know – that I needed to know. I’d happily said, “I do” to a lifetime with my husband, but I blanched at whether I had the faithfulness for a lifetime as a Christ follower. How does one prepare for that?

My Master’s would prepare me for editing – Right?  Pre-marriage classes and lots of love prepared me for a life time of marriage – Right?

This is where I bend over in a faux laugh – at the ridiculousness of thinking six weeks or two years can prepare anyone for an actual, daily experience with all possible contingencies – whether it be editing or marriage.

If it’s impossible to prepare for editing or marriage, how could I possibly prepare for a life time of God? How can anyone ever be fully prepared for the fullness of God?

Life got busy, my friend and I met once or twice again. She was so kind, so affable – someone comfortable to be around, yet I always felt like a student in the classroom who thought they knew everything but actually knew very little. In hindsight, we both had the Gospel. Yet, the gospel was just Logos to me (just the words), but it was Rhema to her (the gospel alive).

Like the father of the demon-possessed child, my heart was crying out, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). My spirit cried out for more than a word relationship with God. My spirit was crying out for an alive relationship with this loving Father who’d taken such good care of me all my life.

I’d prayed over a year before for God to help me love him like I did as a child – and this sweet friend was one of the first he sent across my path. Her job was to crack the hard crust of pride around my soul, and in that crack, plant a seed.

In her faithfulness, she planted the seed. There have been many Apollos who have watered that seed – and God, in his faithfulness, has made it grow.

God meets us all in the hard brokenness of where we are – His word tells us that over and over again. He met Jacob and Rahab, Jonah and Daniel, Rebekah and Ruth, Paul and Peter – he meets us and draws us closer to him in all manner of ways – God-designed ways to reach each of us. In each, the seed was planted and watered – and God made it grow! It’s not something just for bible heroes – it’s for every single one of us. God tells us over and over again – he can crack through whatever is keeping us from him.

My friend, Rhonda, went on to be an ESL teacher overseas, taking along with her the gospel to share with those who might never have heard it, planting seeds, and I’m sure, watering seeds others have planted.

Me? I graduated and taught college students to write for a number of years as I raise five sons. Editing? Well, God had other plans – and, most likely, you’ll discover if you read often, that I need an editor for those pesky typos. Marriage? It will be 34 years this year – and, no, I don’t think anything can really prepare anyone for a lifetime of marriage, though faith and love are what sustain and grow it. My pride? It crumbled and dissolved, replaced with grace and humbleness, faith and hope, forgiveness and unconditional love. That arms-wide-open kind of relationship with God? It’s a work in progress. Now, instead of hanging at the door, too shy to enter where He is, I know I can run into him and fling my arms around his neck.

dollyfinalI’m joining with Dolly for the next few weeks as she shares questions from her 7 Days of Soul Care as writing prompts. The questions are ideal as prompts for journaling because these are not surface questions. The questions invite you to pull out your life experience and study it through Soul Care eyes. Won’t you join Dolly at her blog, Soul Stops and share your response?

Questions From Day 1 (Know God, Know Yourself) of 7 Days of Soul Care for next week (or you can pick another question from the book):

Who or what influenced your perspective of God’s character? Could you ask God to reveal what experiences affected your view of him? Was it a person? Experience? Media? Book? How does that message about God compare to the God revealed by Jesus and the Bible (God’s revelation to us via different people across hundreds of years)?

http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday
http://crystaltwaddell.com//Fresh Market Friday
https://susanbmead.com// Dance with Jesus Friday
http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace
http://www.journeysingrace.com/ Grace Moments
http://www.christinemalkemes.com/ The Loft
http://mecoffeeandjesus.com/ Me, Coffee and Jesus
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
#TeaAndWord#TestimonyTuesday#TellHisStory, #Glimpses,#LMMLinkup,

cakecollage1 “So, whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God”
~1 Corinthians 10:31

 I gave my youngest son a gift the other day after school – silence on the ride home. As the car climbed the mountain to home, I pointed out, “Just to make sure you understand – this silence is a gift. I don’t want you to accuse me later of not paying attention to you”

“I know, Mom,” he answered, with a smile that told me he valued this gift. He’s 16 and, right now, he and his 18 year old brother are sharing a car, hence the ride with mom.

This youngest one, he’s an introvert (an engineer-type like his dad) – until he’s not. When he’s not, roll the camera – it’s a sight to see.

One evening last week, as I was cleaning the kitchen, he slid onto one of the five stools at the kitchen counter. I hadn’t cooked dinner. I think I’d brought in t0-go because I’d been run down from the three-week crud going around.

He unleashed a lecture on me: ” Mom. . . Mom! You’re slipping. What happened to the breakfasts – the homemade pancakes, the granola bars made with the oatmeal with the picture of the man wearing a wig, the eggs and bacon sandwiches with ketchup? Breakfast used to be your BEST. You  only have a few more years before we’re gone. I think you  need to step it up. You’re slacking – you need to push through – Be Your Best with the time you have left with us at home.”

Teens like turning the table – giving your words right back at you wrapped in one liners and lectures. foodcollage

I stood  on the other side of the  counter, cleaning up after having let the kitchen go for a while under the weather. Really, to be honest – I probably hadn’t really been my best since right before this time last year when I’d been hospitalized with pneumonia – this time last year when this same boy  the day before I’d gone into the hospital had asked me for “Just  one Word, Mom” – because I’d stopped talking -Talking cost so much physically.  All the boys were a bit unnerved that I’d stopped. But when this boy asked for one word, I gave him that one word – he’d bartered a two minute snuggle for that one word – and, well, no matter how ill, I guess the mom in me values that more than anything in the world. But I digress.

I stood in the kitchen, drying soup bowls,rinsing milk out of glasses, smiling sheepishly – admiring my son’s eloquence, loving that he admitted enjoying one of my love languages (not the talking gift, but the cooking gift) – and dismayed that one of my sons labeled me a slacker.bakecollage3

Later, as I mulled over what  he’d said to me, I realized that since I was released from the hospital last year, I have baked through this year-long recovery – and it has been a year-long recovery. Two months after pneumonia, I had a complete hysterectomy (planned) – accompanied by plantar fasciitis. I went from walking three miles about three times a week to not being able to even walk to my mail box.  There were other challenges, too,  maybe just as you had your individual brand of challenges.

After you have prayed, what do you do? How do you walk through, push through, live the daily through your challenges?

We all have different ways of pushing through these challenges  There have been challenges I’ve knitted through, written through and just stood through. Last year, I baked through.dishcollage1.jpgA few weeks ago, I drove my sons to Death at Dawn (a two week running event in our community at 5:30 a.m.). I did my own version, walking around town, climbing the bleachers -to, finally, reach my three-mile goal. I’d pushed through to rebuild my strength.

This last year, I’ve felt like an introvert – and wondered where my extrovert went. No knitting. Not much writing. I gardened, grew zinnias and cooked soups, stews and bisques. I grilled cheese, burgers and brats. I baked and baked and baked cakes, cookies, brownies, cake pops – and cakes and cakes and more cakes. Of course, it helps  to have 5 sons with 5 birthdays plus grand girlies and beautiful daughter-in-laws to bake for. That’s at least 10 birthdays a year – but baking steadied me. It allowed me to love when the words didn’t come, the directions wouldn’t knit – and, well, the get-up-and-go just wanted to stay home.

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God met me in the baking – in my kitchen – over the flour, vanilla, sugar, chocolate, flavorings and fixin’s.  Measurement by measurement – faith step by faith step over big and little things that make up the daily – my father and I met there, shared the big and little things on my heart – and I just trusted it was o.k. to have this quiet that left me wordless. I didn’t chase ideas down rabbit holes, searching them out like I’ve done all my life. In the quiet, he assured me this was exactly how he wanted it for now. I didn’t need to know why. I just needed to live faith in it.

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A few years ago, this quiet would have unnerved me – but I have learned to trust that He’s got the plan- and this year, I’ve trusted him so very much about this quiet, wordlessness. Somehow, all this baking  (but, apparently, not cooking the good breakfasts) has been my way of trusting, my way of walking my faith in the daily, of pushing through by trusting that my faith in the hope of his care, all will be well.

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This has been a year of baking sandwiched between a son asking for, “Just  one word, Mom” and giving a lecture encouraging me to start doing my best again, at least with breakfast.

I realized as I was cleaning my kitchen one evening last week, that we all have different ways of pushing through challenges. I have baked my way through the last 365 Days, so much so that my boys are tired of cakes. The Year of Baking Through is done.

I don’t know about this next year. I don’t know if the words will come more frequently. Maybe my extrovert will re-assert itself. I do know one son graduates from high school in May. Another son and his sweet wife are having a baby boy in July. In between is the daily and all its challenges, the best breakfasts and God’s plans for it all!  I will taste and see that the Lord is good! I will take refuge in Him – and be blessed! (Psalm 34:8, paraphrased).

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“They Broke Bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” ~Acts 2:46

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/     Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
http://www.thebeautyinhisgrip.com/    Sharing His Beauty
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday
http://crystaltwaddell.com//Fresh Market Friday
https://susanbmead.com// Dance with Jesus Friday
http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace
http://www.journeysingrace.com/ Grace Moments
http://www.christinemalkemes.com/ The Loft
http://mecoffeeandjesus.com/ Me, Coffee and Jesus
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
#TeaAndWord#TestimonyTuesday#TellHisStory, #Glimpses,#LMMLinkup,

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It’s January in Tennessee – the winds have one moment blown a smackerel of cold and snow and another moment rain and mildness. Mild warmth in January is over-bearing, so the heat is off, the windows cracked open to let in a little coolness. I woke to the Robins and Cardinals chirping backyard chats. These backyard residents always remind me of Jimmy Stewart’s Rear Window living.  This morning, these flighty neighbors called back and forth to each other as if . . . it were Spring.

Spring? In January! Even the Bradford Pear buds are emerging.

They do this every year! Every single year!

Instead of falling in with them (nature duped into thinking Spring is here; me anxious I’ve missed the snow), this morning I said to myself, “Spring weather in a Tennessee January? It’s just a stage.”

I didn’t say it out loud. After all, the birds and buds wouldn’t have listened to me. So I just left them to fall for it all over again..

Year in, Year out – you’d think they’d learn and not be fooled – Two weeks of Spring weather during January in Tennessee is just a stage. Misbehavior? Sass? Mischievousness? Unhealthy boundaries? Rebellion? Lack of Discipline? Weather behavior run amuck?

It’s all happened before. Springtime in a Tennessee January is as predictable a stage, as a 10-year-old with the blues, a 12 year old pushing buttons, a 16-to-19-year-old with no smiles for the camera, and a 21-year-old who figuratively come home.

“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done will be done again” (Ecc. 1: 9)

“I’ve never had a truly happy day in my life,” my first-born said when he was 10. I knew better – I had videos and photos testifying to happy days. However, I thought I’d failed, that somewhere I’d totally, irrevocably ruined his life despite trying to hard to be a good mom.

The second son was so dramatic, his blues much deeper and louder, that I didn’t recognize the pattern. However, when my third son, the joy-of-the-Lord son turned blue at 10 – I heaved a huge sigh of relief. “It’s just a stage,” I exhaled.

It’s liberating, to say, “It’s a stage” – for both of us. It means it’s o.k. to be blue. It’s o.k. for seasons to be uncomfortable. I wonder if sometimes our greatest fear is that we’re made all wrong, irrevocably broken, “unfixable.” It’s liberating for him to realize he’s a regular boy just as it’s good for me to realize I’m a regular mom. Each stage is designed with a beginning, a progression, an end and an ever-after.

Twelve is a dicey stage. It’s a button-pushing stage. One day, the 4th son came in, saying about the 5th one, the 12 year old, “I’m going to kill him. Really, Mom. If he doesn’t stop, I’m  going to haul off and hit him.” The button-pushing stage can be wearisome – not due to lack of excitement, but for the repetitious nature of cause-effect in the stage.

Three sons ago, I would have panicked. Don’t kind, loving moms who love, discipline and pray for their children have obedient, happy-go-lucky children who adore being together? All hugs and love! Right? A mischief of boys doesn’t work like that – training to be a knight in shining armor is filled with wrestling, challenges, showmanship – learning how to lead and follow. These stages have been humbling, sending me closer to the Father, looking to find that place of comfort under his wing the bible talks about.

“It’s a stage,” I told this son who was terribly tired of his brother in this stage – but he didn’t know it was a stage. “You did the same thing to your brothers. He’ll grow out of it.”

The pressure seemed to just fall off of him. “Well,” he said, turning away. “Then I deserved everything I got when I was his age.”

Interestingly, once the boys seems to understand the behavior was part of a stage, their vengeance tempered. The cause/effect of this button-pushing staged seemed more survivable.

Maybe by recognizing there are stages, we are better able to understand where we are isn’t permanent, that where this stage leads is to something God-better. Uncomfortable? In a hard challenge? In a hard winter before a reviving spring?

Just like a tide’s ebb and flow

Just like seed-time and harvest

Just like springtime weather in January

It’s not a surprise – to God. Maybe to us, but not to God. It’s not the precursor to a fail, to a world-gone-wrong season. Sometimes a stage is a new season, a new life-appropriate challenge we haven’t yet experienced yet – and, like all new things, live the beginning of it awkwardly, inconfused and frustration.

“There is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything about which is said,
‘Look! This is new!”?
It was already here long ago,
    in the ages long before us” (Ecc. 1:10)

I’m in a new-to-me stage. It’s like the first time I experienced the 10-year-old blues, the 12-year-old button pushing – and all those other stages I experienced as the mom in the relationship. It’s new territory, a new adventure – but now I’m tempted to be excited that God is adding a dimension to my story. Maybe it’s more of a rueful excitement that recognizes the awkwardness, moments of self-doubt, frustration, even the failure – all sorts of growing-pains, the kind that sharpens and softens the soul.

This time, this stage, I know that after every hard challenge, there is a period of refreshing. That because of Christ, after every crucifixion moment comes resurrection.

This Spring weather in Tennessee is just a stage. I’m in good company, with these red birds, cardinals and Bradford Pear buds, learning how to live these stages God designed.

“The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns”
(Ecc. 1: 6)

winteroak2

Treating Boys as Knights in Training
When the Knight Pledges His Life to His Lord
Raising boys as Knights in Training
Six Mom-Stages of Raising Boys to Men

http://arabahjoy.com/ Arabah Joy
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
http://www.spiritualsundays.com/ Spiritual Sundays
Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday, http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/     Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
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http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday
http://www.journeysingrace.com/ Grace Moments
http://www.christinemalkemes.com/ The Loft
http://mecoffeeandjesus.com/ Me, Coffee and Jesus
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
#TeaAndWord#TestimonyTuesday#TellHisStory, #Glimpses,#LMMLinkup

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It was a June evening when my second son married. Chaos had been hood-winked by a Thursday evening wedding. The couple was to leave on a cruise the following Saturday morning, so a Thursday evening wedding it was.

Because the bride’s family lived out-of-town, she invited me to help. I gladly let her take the reins. How I enjoyed being invited along for the ride! She took me with her to the baker, the caterer – and anything else in between. As a mother-of-sons-only, this invitation was a beautiful blessing – a God-sees-me blessing.

The wedding was small, about 40, a family-only wedding, on a farm retired to host celebrations. A young couple, the husband with his cello, the wife with her violin played, their music wafting through the ceremony and celebration of this sweet young couple. Family came from the east coast, the west coast and in between.

Maybe it was because of the un-traditional weekday timing. Maybe because it wasn’t designed to be a blow-out. Maybe that’s why chaos was kept at bay that delightful June evening – when Spring still ruled, just-right coolness fell over the party, and fireflies attended, and evening let twilight linger gracefully: gentle breezes, gentle music and family at its best reaching out to meet each other, reaching to begin friendships.

I’m learning to stop inviting chaos into the daily – whether it’s a big event daily or a regular daily with all its dishes, dirty socks and Sadie needing a walk.

The boys had all  outgrown the jackets, dress pants, shoes and starched shirts and had to be fitted for new ones. All of it had been organized down to the socks days before.  No tuxedos, but how handsome they all looked in suits, jackets, ties and shiny shoes. No last-minute chaotic scrambles.

Home had been mowed, mulched, trimmed and arranged by four of the boys with a team-work camaraderie that was a seen moment born out of a “faith-is-the-substance-of-things-hoped-for,-the-evidence-of-things-not-seen” belief. Brothers in a brotherhood work best when they know they’re needed by each other. Being needed is to be seen.

tablesI tempted chaos, though. The night before the wedding, I finished putting together bright-looking fabric banners for the Friday morning breakfast. The morning of the wedding, my mother used her special brand of magic to create white roses, pink roses and baby’s breath arrangements for dinner table-tops. My husband took the wedding poem I’d written, What are you Doing for the Rest of Your Life II  accompanied by the art work my son’s mother-in-law-to-be had created . He delivered 50 copies  by lunch time for each place setting. I was also prepping for the breakfast the day after the wedding: Blueberry French toast, Pigs in a Garden with country ham, biscuits, sausage gravy and chocolate gravy.

There was so much to think about, about 40 people to think about, and, not the least, were thoughts about my once little boy all grown up and marrying a sweet girl I’d prayed for since he was little.

There were so many people who needed to be seen – really seen, really met – because all who came loved part of this new whole – and love like that deserves to be seen and met.

I pulled the evening bag out of my top drawer, the one my mother had pulled  out of her top drawer for my very first formal dance – because, I guess, every girl needs a handbag to go with a beautiful dress. She always made sure  10 cents were tucked away in the inside pocket in case of emergencies. It was a twenties-looking confection with silver beads and threads around and about a silver-beaded flower embroidered on white silk, lined with satin.

I pulled it out of my top drawer, and paused, thinking of my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter who had a new baby sister. Weddings risk being stuffy affairs  for little ones. They have to not spoil their dress clothes, keep quiet at the right times when they don’t even know  what all the right times are yet, and this little one who gets all our attention when she comes to visit, risked not being seen. Since it was a small wedding and she was the first grandchild, she would be the only little one walking around – no playmates for the swing on the big oak tree. No playmates for impromptu tag when the grown-ups aren’t paying attention. Even in big events, like weddings, when all eyes are on the bride and groom – each person still needs to be seen to truly belong.

I carried the purse through the house, pulling a tiny, pink heart-shaped sucker from a vase I’d put sweets in for the next day. I wandered to my thinking room, where there’s a child’s table, a Mrs. Potts tea set and a mischief of tiny mice  waiting for Ava to come play. Since it was going to be a grande occasion, I tucked the Prince and Princess Mouse into my purse, snapping it shut!

What little girl doesn’t want to carry around a sparkly purse filled with a prince and princess mouse. I could just envision it, the snapping open, the snapping close, and the little mice in-between all that elegant snapping. All was ready!

Maybe it’s just me, maybe sometimes you feel it, too – the little bit of Hagar within each of us who so needs to be seen by someone who loves us. Hagar only had God. God didn’t tell her that her life journey would be easy – but the relief she felt is palpable, relief that God saw her,  the realization that she wasn’t alone. He was there, El Roi, the God who sees me – and sometimes the realization that He is the only one who sees us must be enough – for her – and you, and me.

“So she called Adonai who was speaking to her, “You are the God who sees me.” For she said, “Would I have gone here indeed looking for Him who looks after me?” (Genesis 16:13, Tree of Life Translation).

“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!” (Genesis 16:13, The Message)

Maybe that’s why it’s so important to reach beyond our inside circle, to reach outside our comfortable companions – and find the Hagars, the ones who don’t know God sees them, who feel invisible, who don’t have a comfortable inside place with someone who loves them. Sometimes we have to realize He sees us – because he stepped right in front of us – either literally, or through you or me, or in the Lord’s own mysterious way of making himself known when our words cannot.

When Ava saw me, she ran, hurtling her little self at me, wrapping her arms around my legs for a hug. I knelt down, and asked her if she’d take care of my purse for me during the ceremony and festivities, if she’d take care of what was inside.

Her face lit up and broke into a smile, her little fingers snapping open her Muddy’s purse, to find her two friends inside. She took care of it all evening, until it was time to leave for bedtime.

weddingbenboysChaos tried to find a way in to the wedding. The wrong cake was delivered. It was forgotten that Brooks and Junior, the two golden retrievers, were to walk down the aisle. A few little things here and there. But those things?  They weren’t seen then. We didn’t realize about the cake and the dogs until the next day – and the next day, well, we laughed about chaos’ attempt to be seen at the wedding.

It was a day of good things seen – a couple saying their vows to God under an oak tree with a swing, family members seen laughing, telling stories, weaving their stories into ours, smiles and joy were seen, love, too – and a little girl snapping open and pulling out a prince and princess mouse from inside her Muddy’s purse.

 “Therefore Yeshua answered them, “Amen, amen I tell you, the Son cannot do anything by Himself. He can do only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does. He will show Him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed” (John 5:19-20, Tree of Life Translation).

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“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?” ~ George Eliot, Adam Bede.

The oldest son walked in first, into the hospital room that Saturday in late February. I’d been admitted just long enough to have IVs placed. The antibiotics hadn’t even been started yet. I was septic with double pneumonia. My husband had gone home to bring back what I’d need for a stay. The second son and his wife came with my two youngest about 30 minutes later, followed by the 3rd son. I couldn’t talk; it wasn’t worth the effort, but, like any time all the boys gather, there is more entertainment to be found in the listening than by trying to add my 2 cents worth. It was an unanticipated gathering where love doesn’t need to invite, love just comes.

2016 was a year of unanticipated gatherings. I call them grace gatherings.

Gatherings: fellowship, belonging, inside the circle, storytelling, listening, laughter, tears, highs and lows, memory-making, engaging authentic caring, maybe just a just-holding-hands, sharing, quiet or loud, praying, believing, forgiving, hoping, choosing love, a just-being-there kind of gathering.

You see, there are the on-the-calendar gatherings with cakes and candles and a year added to someone’s count. There are holiday gatherings with feasting, thanksgiving, sparklers and fireworks. There are Soli Deo Gloria gatherings reminding us of God’s love and faithfulness in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of His son. There are back porch gatherings, kitchen counter gatherings, breaking bread or sharing a cup of tea gatherings. People arrive either through formal invites or the casual, southern-styled, the-door’s-always-open invitation to stop by, sit long and talk much over a glass of sweet tea or lemonade.

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Ben and Katrina’s June, 2015 Wedding

Then there are the big-moment, still-planned gatherings like weddings and graduations with suits, ties and starched shirts. Or planned family gatherings in flip-flops, sand with a dab of beach soccer. Last summer,  35+ members of my husband’s family gathered at the beach. We’ve done this since 2009. This was the first year all my boys (with their family) have been together like this since 2008. It was a memory-making gathering.

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Family, June 2016

. . . and then there are the unwanted gatherings where grace just brings you to stand with others in the hard moments when illness threatens or death comes . . . . unwanted gatherings redeemed by grace.

Grace:
1. 
Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace
2. Appropriately, the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. ~ 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary

Twice this year, Grace gathered and lined up, gave hugs, shared stories that touched our hearts and brought smiles.

Grace always makes time to love.

Those memories we’d all gathered?  Memory stories overflowed with more than enough grace to pour on aching, loss-sore hearts. Nanny had sowed enough love to bring grace to every one of our hearts when she went home to heaven in November. Those memories we’d gathered? Whether 6 or 66, we each had within us a lifetime of memories gathered to pull out when we miss her, to pull out to comfort in her absence.

It’s hard when a beloved character in your story leaves your story. It’s like when Beth dies in Little Women. The gatherings are never the same kind of sweet as when she was there, and it leaves the reader poignantly homesick for earlier chapters, even though the story continues on, fulfilling the designed hope for each character remaining in the story.

Yes, I would have preferred only the birthday sparkle and back-porch kind of gatherings in 2016. Who wouldn’t? But I find myself humbled by a loving God who instills in the hard gatherings grace that redeems through His unfailing love, a love so big that not only does he seek a one-on-one gathering with each of us, but manages to give each of us what we need in the table-packed, porch-packed, house-packed, beach-packed easy or hard gatherings.

2016 was a Grace-in-the-Gatherings kind of year. I don’t know God’s design for 2017. I do know there will be birthday gatherings with cakes and sparkle. When Spring comes, the back porch will open up again and sweet tea and lemonade will taste mighty fine with those who come to sit long and talk much. My 4th son graduates in May, a new grandchild will come in July. The one thing I can rely on is my reliable  Father-God who always shows up, whether I’m alone or in an easy or hard gathering – and brings His abundant grace to share with all who come.

Praying grace in your gatherings in 2017!

“Remember: He WANTS your fellowship, and He has done everything possible to make it a reality. He has forgiven your sins, at the cost of His own dear Son. He has given you His Word, and the priceless privilege of prayer and worship” ~Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day: Words of Wisdom and Faith.

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http://arabahjoy.com/ Arabah Joy
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
http://www.spiritualsundays.com/ Spiritual Sundays
Giving Up on Perfect, A Little R & R Wednesdays, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday, http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/     Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
http://www.thebeautyinhisgrip.com/    Sharing His Beauty
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday

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The Great Smokey Mountains in 2012, after a torrential storm filled the rivers and streams to overflowing

“we can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”
~ Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected.

The Great Smokey Mountains caught fire and burned, and in the burning almost feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The loss of children in Chattanooga to a senseless school bus accident, a car accident over Thanksgiving that took one of our town’s last year’s high school graduates, merciless violence at Ohio State. In the last few months, we lost my oldest aunt, my husband’s mother. A strange red car drove through my front yard today and off into the field beside us, and, like each one of us, I have my own challenges that try to steal my peace, grace and faith. It’s not just me that feels breathtakingly overwhelmed.

There are so many people hurting right now – hurting through the loss of loved ones through the in-your-face hard things like sickness, disease/cancer, car accidents, violence, through wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and all sorts of natural disasters, hurting, too, through the inside hurts that most cannot see but are wounds that nevertheless try to steal the grace, faith and hope right out of our souls.

In all of this, I hold on to the one who won’t let go of me.

Mountains may burn, the senseless and overwhelming may happen, the little foxes may tear at the vines, but God never waivers in his constant love for you and me. God has ever remained faithful, has always pursued each of us, sent his son so that we could live resurrection after each hard crucifixion whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.

I pray each person hurting right now stand firm in the Holy Spirit overflow of God’s love, knowing that He’s got it – whatever you’re wrestling with, whatever sadness or fear that threatens to overcome -each of us rest in the peace of comfort that He’s got it.

The solution may not look like what we anticipate.

The right now might not feel like salvation or resurrection. Yet, despite the crucifying hurt of the right now, I pray that we stand in the hope of our belief in our faith that with Him we will rise out of the darkness of these overcoming hurts into the joyous hope that Christ’s resurrection brings each of us.

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Growing along the trail about 1/2 from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains, Spring 2016

 

a legacy of love

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About 10 days ago, our family celebrated a life well lived, well loved. There were roses symbolizing the 12 grandsons, and another set of roses, symbolizing the 12 great-grandchildren (11 here and one on the way). Her quilts were displayed, along with the little girl dresses she’d made for these long-awaited great grand-girlies. Every stitch, every story was a testimony to how well she loved.

Nanny’s  son, my husband talked about how “Dad and mom would turn small accomplishments into big accomplishments.  The grade was not the measure, but how hard we tried.”

One of our sons, the joy bearer,  read 1 Cor 13:4-8a. Like any good composition teacher’s son, he added a coming-away comment to explain how the quote promoted the point being made: “Nanny loved everyone the same way she made pancakes. There was always too much, but you could never complain.”

Two of her 12 grandsons shared stories. Love isn’t meant to be always somber and serious. Love is meant to laugh, too – and we laughed in remembrance of the joy and unconditional love she brought to our lives.

Then Sherry, her daughter spoke – and she knocked it out of the ball park! If you’re a stay-at-home, well, you will be doubly blessed by the  insight into the life career you have chosen.

“Mothers/Grandmothers are a model of hope to the young. Hope means to long for, envision and anticipate. Although mom dreamed some dreams that did not come true, set goals that weren’t met or had ideas that never became reality, her children and grandchildren did not know that.

They saw dreams coming true when they attended Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. They saw goals accomplished as mom lovingly made quilts for them or taught them how to sew or attended ballgames, plays or whatever else they were involved in.

The hope for tomorrow always depends on the accomplishments of yesterday. Our success and strength for the future depends largely on our past. A mother’s decisions, accomplishments and dreams are really the beginning of a child’s life. My mom’s decision in choosing her life mate affected not only her but all of us. While mom did not have a workplace career, she made her family and friends her life career. The memories that she gave her children will live on in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After my dad died, mom asked me many times, ‘Why am I still here?’ My answer was always the same, ‘God is not done with you yet.’ I believe she remained to show us how to go on and live with strength, grace and, most importantly, love. Never forget how much she loved her family. When she wanted to give up, she didn’t – and we are all better people for witnessing her life” ~Sherry, November 16, 2016

She made a life-time career out of loving others – I don’t know about you – but that is the best job-description I’ve ever heard for housewives and stay-at-home moms! What a job advertisement!

What a legacy of love Nanny has left us – a legacy gently stitched into the heart of everyone standing under the apple tree with the tire swing – a legacy strong and true enough for passing down.

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” ~ (1 Cor 13: 4-8a)

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