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(Celebrating 34 years Sunday! God is so good!)

mllkwedding22A Letter to My Granddaughter on the Event of My 30th Wedding Anniversary

Sweet Grandbaby Girl,
I hope you grow up to be a Forever Girl – and by Forever Girl, I mean a wife full of love for her husband – feeling it in your heart, thinking in with your mind – and choosing it in moments you don’t feel it. . .

. . .who even after 30 years, 50 years, 75 years of marriage looks at her husband with bigger love than when she said, “I do,” who never stops seeing him as an amazing man. Despite moments of frustration and imperfection –  you still say “Thank you, God”, that his smile still dazzles you and a single word melts the anger away because trust, faith and love endure.

I pray that he is the Elkanah to your Hannah, that you are the Leah to his Jacob – that you would never sell a night with your husband to another woman for a basket of fruit, that he is the Joseph to God’s call on your life and that you are the Sarah to God’s call on his life.

mlkeith2I don’t know what my marriage will be like in heaven, but I cannot imagine it without my Forever Man– that I met over 30 years ago at a Mule Barn social– and he picked me to be on his football team. I want to be his Forever Girl – Forever.

I want you to be a Forever Girl, too – a Forever Girl who waits for her Forever Man.  At age 12 I entered into a covenant with Jehovah-Rohi, the Lord my Shepherd – that He would guide me to my bride groom – and in return, I wouldn’t be a Bond Girl , a Breck Girl, Harvey Girl, a Girl Friday, or a Girl who Just Wants to Have Fun– I wanted to be a Forever Girl – a girl who loves and is loved in return by her husband for as long as forever allows.

A Forever Girl asks ““Let me know, Father, who the right man is?”

I wish someone had explained to me that just because some young men had all the pre-requisites for my list (yes, I had a list – from a writing assignment my Sophomore year of high school) – just because that relationship doesn’t click doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me – or you. I wish someone had explained the following:

  • No answer to “Is He the one” means no or not now.
  • No means God has something better for each of you, better than you can imagine. After all, we only know what we have been taught, experienced or God-revealed: Our knowledge is limited to what we know; Understanding how little we know and how much God knows is the first step to having faith in a Forever marriage.

A Forever Girl is a Faith girl who by faith waits for her Forever Man. She doesn’t give up and give herself away. By trusting Jehovah Jireh, she knows God will provide in His time.

mlkeithWhen Forever Girl meets Forever Man a faith-kind of trust grows. Her mind might struggle with trust issues – but her heart will trust – and trust like children innately born to trust their parents. Only God can create that kind of trust between two people.

A Forever Girl
Isn’t taken for granted
is seen as an angel, like a rose (Psalm 5:18)
Is ingenuous, honest, courageous, full of valor
Striving to encounter challenges with tranquility and firmness
Delighting in benevolence
Not seeking revenge
Sacrificing personal ease, interest and safety
For her Forever Man
She is her husband’s crown (Proverbs 12:4)
liberated through submission

So many  think pledging their life to Adonai, Lord and Master, limits and confines – when really, in Kingdom principles – it liberates, frees us to be as we were designed. When we pledge in marriage to submit to our husbands, kingdom principles work the same way – it liberates. Our Forever Man is to love us as Christ loved the church.  A Forever Man allows his Forever Girl to soar, yet provides shelter from a harsh world (Ephesians 5:22-23).

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage (Ephesians 5:25-28).

Go all out for your Forever Man, too!

A Forever Girl is made whole through her Forever Man.

Forever Girl + Forever Boy + The Holy Spirit = One

IMG_6850The writer’s of the movie Jerry McGuire plagiarized with this statement., “You complete me.”  The world calls it a cheesy line . Cheesy implies infantile, unbelievable – but God wanted us to complete each other – through Him. Malachi tells us so (Malachi 2:15). Don’t let the world diminish your relationship potential.

A Forever Girl Champions her Forever Boy.

  • Do your Forever Man good and not harm, all the days of your life (Proverbs 31).
  • Don’’t diminish, excoriate, mock, talk down to, belittle, undermine, manipulate, harden her heart, threaten.
  • Don’t  see him a Neanderthal, a bumbler, a lower-being, which society encourages women to do.
  • Understand that God created man for himself – and God created woman for man ( I Cor: 11:9) – and they both need each other. That God took Adam’s rib – and made him incomplete without her testifies to that.
  • Strengthen all parts of the whole. Build it up:  respect, encourage, seek to understand, forgive, find merit in innate differences, lift him up when he falls down, keep each other warm in the cold (Ecc. 4: 9-11), strong in the challenge, comforted when you each reach the end of yourselves.

A Forever Girl doesn’t stop believing that God knew what He was doing when He said, “Yes, this is the man.”

Your daddy told me once when he was moderately little that when God answers prayers, He answers them abundantly. He grew up to be the Forever Man to your mother’s Forever Girl.

Praying you choose to be a Forever Girl – both for God and your husband.

Love,

Your Grandmother

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“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” ~ Galatians 6:9

I was in the garden with my half-hearted tomato plants, the whole-hearted cucumbers, gracefully quiet chard sitting quietly between the two, admiring the turtle-paced eggplant slowly but surely contributing enough – and coming to terms that one may be enough.

The chocolate mint is sneaking its way back in, but, then, it is a good place to be – this back yard garden. The bees and butterflies agree, but they don’t notice the chocolate mint. They’re much more interesting in the zinnias.

The zinnias at each end of the raised beds sway in the breeze, smile up at the sun, burst into yellows, pinks, reds, oranges – and a lot of whites his year. The zinnias despite their raucous petals, rays, discs and stigmas and, seemingly, breezy behavior – they always teach me something. Or maybe it’s really God teaching me through the zinnias.

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I’ve been thinking about this circle of life, this growing older, roles changing as needs change of both my children and older family members. In the process, I’ve been thinking about what 75, 85, 95 will look like on me. Not the petal part of aging, but the seed-planting part and harvest part – how the condition of the soul shows itself – either in waspish and testy ways, cheery and good-humored, bitterness or sweet savory, lost or found.

When my petals have fallen away, and all that remains of me as I sit on my front porch wrapped in a blue sweater are a few soul seeds left to be brushed or blown off, I want those soul seeds to be
joy-of-the-lord seeds
faith-is-the-substance-of-things-hope-for-the-evidence-of-things-not-seen kind of seeds
gentle seeds of God’s amazing love that go
soul deep
encouraging, spirit-lifting,
hands-raised high seeds
helping my neighbor seeds
holistic generosity of spirit seeds
delivered with hands and heart wide-open
so that when all is said and done,
all has been spent that could be spent
but for the crown no one noticed
in the days of petals and youth
the crown of whose I am.

Cultivating a cheerful heart given to smiling and laughing, a hope-and-faith heart, a daughter-of-the-king heart – I need to diligently cultivate that now. So, if you see me driving down the road with a crazy smile on my face, I’m practicing for 90!

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” ~ Psalm 126:5-6

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When the words don’t come, it puts me at a loss. That the words don’t come doesn’t necessarily herald a hard season. Sometimes it heralds a season to be savored. A season to just pause and take it all it – the sweet and the sour, the high and low,  the tough and the tender.

It’s been a year! Not a 2017 kind of year. Just a 365 days kind of year. This time last year, walking was terribly painful – after pneumonia and surgery – my muscles thought it was time to curl up and stop. Thanks to yoga, muscle stretching and time, I am myself again – which means I am still not an Olympian, but I can get the job done and then some!

These 365 days have been full of loss, birth and the in-between stuff.  I haven’t known how to write about it. God stayed my hand from writing, so I just watched and soaked. . . soaked up family during the loss of my aunt – the oldest of the sisters –  in September and my mother-in-law in early November . . . soaked up my 4th son’s final soccer season and graduation . . . soaked up a crazy-wonderful holiday full of laughter and adventure . . . still soaking up my first grandson that came over a week ago.

Soaking meant an lot of watching, a lot of listening and a lot of quiet, like watching one son face challenges to gain something more than he imagined – not what he wanted to gain – but something more valuable in the long run.

The daily living in between the mourning and the celebrations was the mortar that bound the bricks and stones of my soul house together during this year of extreme highs and lows.

No, I didn’t journal the tender or write through the tough. I took a lot of photos that helped me process – and I cooked through – and shared the fruits of both with family and friends.

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There were stews, and soups, pasta and chicken, fried chicken and gravy, grilled cheeses, bacon and cheese pastries, and garlic butter biscuits.

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There were scones, chocolate chip cookies, garlic buttered biscuit, and all types of Muddy Cakes: Muddy Cakes for birthdays – friends and family. Muddy Cakes for celebrations. Muddy  Cakes just to love others when I wasn’t sure what else God wanted me to do (Muddy is my grandma name – so I started calling them Muddy Cakes).

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Someone said, “You need to open a bakery.”

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No – they’re not for sale. They’re for love and friendship.

Toward the end of the school year, the boys had had enough cake.  I detected a potential revolution ahead.

The  youngest, he said to me, “You’re slipping, Mom. You used to cook the most amazing breakfasts. Remember those granola bars you used to make with the stuff with the man with the white hair?”

“You mean Quaker Oats?”

“You only have two more years, Mom. You need to push through.”

I pushed through, finishing the school year with granola bars made with the oatmeal that has the man with the white hair. I made eggs and bacon on toast with ketchup. I did it all – and then bought some Lucky Charms to give me a brief rest.

Maybe this pushing through made me remember other recipes from other times – tasty memories. This Spring, in the middle of soccer season, I remembered the Thousand Island dressing I’d made in high school for school lunches. It was a tasty memory that started a craving. Timing was somehow right, too. I found myself rummaging through Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that I received when I married. It had the recipe for a salad dressing from my grandmother’s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (not so new I guess) that I’d used in high school. About 35+ years later, I wanted to see if it was good now as it was then.

I modified mine a bit, probably just like I did all those years ago – the spices, pantry items and fridge contents aren’t all that different. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter after all. I mixed and stirred – and tasted.

Thousand Island

I cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup relish and 1/4 cup ketchup (not chili sauce)
2 finely choppped hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons each finely chopped: green peppers, celery, and onion (I spun mine in a food processor)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
If  you think it’s too thick, add 1 tablespoon buttermilk

It was – as good now as it was then.

Then, during our family holiday in France, yes –  France! I’ve always wanted to do a bicycle tour through the Loire Valley! And we didn’t because, well, I said I wasn’t an Olympian. ! We drove – through the Loire Valley, up past William the Conquerors place over to Normandy’s Utah and Omaha beaches and on to Paris. There was still miles and miles of walking a day.  I got the job done and then some!

Three of our sons went with us to France. After 48 hours, they missed my cooking.

“Mom,” they each said.” You could open a restaurant here, and it would be packed every day.” To them, I was the best cook in France. I tried to explain that the French would be just as miserable with my cooking. McDonald’s was greeted by these guys as a long lost friend after three to four days.

The most gorgeous art work was in the patisseries – Delectable! Divine! Delicous! Besides the patisserie offerings – one cafe’s buttermilk dressing on a salad made me want to make a Mason jar of it when I got home.

This newly discovered appreciation of my cooking increased my value in their estimation. When we walked – and we walked a lot, I found myself hedged in before and behind me. Losing me seemed a real possibility. Of course, the time in Chambord Chateau their dad offered them 5 Euros to whoever could find me first might have had something to do with it. They weren’t taking any chances of losing me again.

I found unlooked for treasures in France. Maybe these young men did, too.

I’d tried one of the buttermilk dressing packets months ago, but it just didn’t dazzle me like the recipe at the little French Cafe. I decided to try Martha Stewart’s Buttermilk Dressing. I didn’t veer much from her recipe.

Buttermilk Dressing

3/4 C. Buttermilk (I used whole Buttermilk)
1/2 C. mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot (about 1 shallot)(I used a garlic press)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (I used sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt (I used celery seed)

I made it when I got home – and it was a good thing! Martha’s tasted like the little French cafe’s buttermilk dressing that was so very delightful. I will admit that I just might have possibly fell in love with shallots!

My youngest, he tasted my Buttermilk Dressing – and liked it. “Not for salads,” he said. “Great for dipping. It needs to be thicker or salads – so just pick that up at the grocery story”

However, he’s keeping me busy keeping the mason jar full. I have trouble keeping this one for more than 3 days. It goes fast.

There’s a bit of chard in my little patch of garden. The cucumbers are ready. The tomatoes are taking their time. The grocery provides the broccoli – my youngest’s favorite. Carrots, onions and other items Peter Rabbit would appreciate come from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I wouldn’t want to grow everything, I enjoy my Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings too much.

Then there’s Aunt Joyce’s Salad Dressing. I make it year round (you can find the recipe here). Aunt Joyce started making it my freshman year of college.  It reminds me of all those nightly dinners with Grandmother, Mom and Aunt Joyce. I miss a kitchen filled with these women. I guess that’s the price you pay when your husband says “You’re a pioneer woman” when his company wanted him to move to Detroit and he found a different job in this little town in Tennessee about 26 years ago. We both left our families, packed up our red Ford truck, our first little boy and set up house in this sweet town. It’s our boys’ hometown now. All 5 of them. Except they’re not boys anymore. Not really even boys to men. They’re men – even the 16 year old. If you treat them like men, instead of boys, they tend to act like how you treat them.

Good recipes, like these salad dressing recipes, are reminders of the good things from where I came from and where I’ve been.

Someone messaged me wondering how I managed to do everything I do. To be honest, there’s a lot I don’t do – or do well. The dishes get stacked up, the socks left unmatched, this and that piles us. I plan for a Monday stew to last through Wednesday (Is that cheating?). There are dayswhen I feel like I’m being whirled in a lettuce spinner.  It takes me 3 hours to create a spotless kitchen that takes someone else 30 minutes. There are days when I need either to have taken more seriously conversations with my sons – and other days when I need to have been less serious.

“Mom, do I need a sign on my head that says, ‘Sarcasm?” the 4th one, the one with the humor so dry it is self-combustible asked.

“Ummmmm, Yes! Can you take care of that?” I say, really hoping that one day he will have one for me. It isn’t encouraging when your mom laughs at the wrong time or takes jokes seriously resulting in unwanted lectures.

This has been a year where doing what I love for the ones I love has also meant doing something things I love rarely, like writing.

In a soaking year, when the words don’t come, and loved stories ended, other stories wove themselves while all I could do was watch, love, and cheer – cooking was one of the few things I could do.

It feels like a new season is beginning. Something different is in the air. The words finally came. I knew God would send them when He was ready for me to have them.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a Muddy Cake! It has been an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of post – but it felt right to do it this way.

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The Joy Bearer being Tossed into the Ocean

To Barrett on the Occasion of your 21st Birthday,

I’ve always said since you were a little boy when I gave you and your brothers spirit-filled names that we should have named you Joyful Barrett Bucher. God saw fit to give you an extra measure of the Joy of the Lord, equipping you to be a Joy Bearer.

Being a Joy Bearer doesn’t mean you always feel joyful. Just like an Everyman, you might struggle to always choose joy. Sometimes you might balk and rebel against choosing to find the joy God leaves for us in the messiness of everyday living. . . . but just like building muscles, I pray that you will train yourself to choose joy for yourself.

There is a difference between choosing joy and being a joy-bearer, though. Choosing Joy is about your internal happiness. Being a Joy Bearer is about carrying joy into another’s circumstances.

You are a God-designed Joy Bearer. You have a gift for bringing joy into any room, any moment, any situation – and you bring it in all different ways. You bring joy with a word, an expression,  an act of compassion, encouragement, service or insight. Sometimes it can be called comic relief – though it is not an entertainer-kind-of-thing. It can be called unconditional love, hero to the rescue, faith for healing, beautiful timing that redeems a conversation, or simply a hug. It looks and feels like God’s grace being inserted into a moment  or situation.

Today you are 21. Your life is your story now. You hold the pen and eraser. You are its editor. Dad and I are now secondary characters in your story. It’s a hands-off, hands-up time, meaning the greatest impact we can have on your story now is through prayer.

My prayer for you is that you continue to be a Joy Bearer as you grow into independence. Yes, The Joy of the Lord is your Strength ( Nehemiah 8:10 ).

This strength can only be built in his presence – and, as you spend time in his presence, you will hear his guidance: “You will show me the way of life. Being with You is to be full of joy. In Your right hand there is happiness forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Faith is maintained through real, intentional relationship with the one who created you. Maintain that belief that God designed (Psalm 149) you to be exactly who you are even when others don’t see what God sees or know what God knows about you, even when you don’t see it or feel it.

There will be those who don’t believe – from teachers to peers, to strangers to even family – but as long as you know God knows- and hold on to that knowledge, you will fulfill your God-designed life, and a lifetime of people will be blessed by you, the Joy Bearer.

While the Joy-Bearer carries God’s joy into other’s lives, he doesn’t leave the joy-bearer a solitaire individual. God has people – and those people are the friendships and mentors who see you as he does. You will find them in likely and unlikely places, expected, but most often, unexpected. If you can’t see them or find them, ask him and he will reveal them to you.

I have so many stories of your Joy-Bearing moments in our family. One of my most treasured memories is the time you sneaked up behind me in the kitchen – you were the only one who could sneak up behind me – and gave me a hug. I consider that moment my greatest mothering failure.I was cooking and fraught over a different mothering situation when you sneaked up behind me, wrapped your arms around me and gave me a Bear Hug. I shook off that hug saying, “Not right now.” I regret that shaking off and not just allowing myself to enjoy the complete hug. I regret how it possibly made you feel. You haven’t sneaked up to give me a hug since then. You were a Joy Bearer bringing joy into a space and to a heart that needed it. I learned a lot from that moment. I learned to let go of the messiness and accept joy, accept love when offered. Sadly, in that moment, for you, Joy-Bearing proved itself not always comfortable.

The lesson in that for you is to never under-estimate the impact of giving a joyful gift. You might not see the impact in the moment of giving. As a matter of fact, it might be shaken off. However, like a mustard seed, it can grow into something bigger and more  beautifully life-changing than you intended, estimated or imagined. Today that mother-fail moment is a treasured moment because it taught me to love better, to find, accept and choose joy in a fraught-filled moment. Being a Joy-Bearer might not always be comfortable, but I don’t think any act of kindness returns empty. Sometimes it takes time – and that is a faith and hope thing.

You have blessed our family for 21 years as a Joy Bearer. Like all of us, you will have moments of living life all wrong and moments of shining rightness. From the wrong to the rightness and in-between, choose not only to be a Joy Bearer but a Joy Chooser, redeeming the messiness of everyday living into the God-designed life he intended for you.

“You always show me the path of life. You will fill me with joy when I am with you. You will make me happy forever at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11)

We love you. Happy 21st Birthday! Praying you have blessing, joy and sweet surprises as you write your story!

Love Mom and Dad

Below are some of my very favorite posts about the Joy-Bearer in our family:
The Center of the Brotherhood and Commemorative Poem
Lemonade Joy
Not Everybody Can Whistle; Not Everybody Can Wink
The Freshness After the Storm
Mystery of the Missing Turtle Head
The Owl and the Puppy Dog
Mother Words

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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)

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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)
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
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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hands4th

“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.

weddingbennanfam

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.

beach2016fam

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.

 nannylegacy

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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whitehall114

My Annual Ghost story, part of it passed down from Cousin Nancy, mixed with a story from my newspaper days. Pull your chair up to the fire, set your hot apple cider on the table, wrap the quilt around your shoulders. You wouldn’t want an unthinking draft to create a chill:

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place”
~ Emily Dickenson

The October day blustered its way to a stormy evening.  It was hard to tell what element bullied more – the wind or the rain spitting at anything in its way.  Baschum Sluckert slid down the wet oak tree, answering the coded call of Snuff Sparks.

Soggy leaves muffled their footsteps as they maneuvered through blackness down Boonesborough Road to the dilapidated manor house – their courage looking less promising with each wet step.

What could cause two 12-year-old boys to wander about on not just a forsaken, chilled night but All Souls’ night? A time it was whispered that all restless souls of evil character roamed free by the devil’s own decree until the saints sent them packing back to the netherworld the following sunrise?

Only a dare, of course.

Adley Bancroft, with his overly large head and punishing fists, had taunted them in nursery rhyme sneer that they weren’t men – they were just girls in boy pants needing their mamas to kiss their booboos and hold their hands.

Baschum and Snuff mustered up enough courage to be baited – and here they were. On their way to the abandoned Clay mansion up the road.  Back in their grandpa’s day, it had been a real showplace housing Cassius Clay, the notorious Lion of White Hall. Why, he had wrestled in political arenas from Russia to Kentucky.  He’d even wrestled the women folk in his home who wanted the right to vote.  So word said, he’d kicked them out, like an annoying cat.

Cassius Marcellus Clay

Adley’s ma and pa used the house now to strip tobacco in November and store hay through the winter.  Adley’s ma had found a statue, stuffed in a piano topped with salt licks for storage. The statue was a bust of old Cassius himself – and that’s what Adley had taunted them into taking. Not just taking it, though.  That would be too easy.  They had to stay until sunrise.

Not a soul would be there.  Adley promised.  At least, not a living one, he had snickered.

Snuff, breaking the quiet as they walked up the lane to the house, adjusted his back sack carrying a blanket and some marshmallows.  He asked “D’you believe in ghosts, Baschum?”

“’Course not,” Baschum answered, his courage insulted.  Sluckerts don’t get scared – he’d been taught that all this life.  At least, not the smart ones. “Besides, no ghost’s gonna bother me, even if’n that old Cassius himself steps out on that porch packin’ a rifle.  No misty piece of air’s gonna best me.”

“Adley said he locked his 14-year-old wife into his tie room, so she wouldn’t run away,” Snuff said.

“Don’t listen to nothing Adley says, Snuff.  Hes just tryin’ to get your dander in an uproar.”

“Adley said she jumped out of the window and some man on a horse carried her away.  Otherwise, she would’ve starved in that room.”

“She wouldn’t have, Snuff,” Baschum said, sticking his sweaty palms deeper into the pockets of his overalls, trying to stare down the white full moon.  The moon had an unfair advantage; it never blinked.  Sighing, he gave up, turning to see Snuff pointing frantically to the house.

“What’s th-that?” Snuff’s whispered.

A light blazed in an oval window, then vanished.

“That’s the room he kept her in Baschum. Adley said so,” Snuff reasoned.

“Now don’t let Adley go putting that fear in your head.  He don’t know beans with his head in the bag.  It was probably just him tryin’ to scare us,” Baschum calmly assured Snuff, albeit in a voice an octave higher.

Tugging Snuff’s arm, they moved up the brick sidewalk to the porch.  Rattling the door knob, the door opened easily. Earlier that day, they had gathered kindling for a fire in the hearth and cased the house to dispel any unwonted fears.

‘Anybody home?” Baschum called warily.  Black silence answered.  “C’mon, Snuff.”

‘Two hours later they were wrapped in blankets, roasting marshmallows in the front parlor.

“See.  There’s nothin’ to be frightened of Snuff.  Nothin’ here but us chickens,” Baschum laughed, his giggles rolling to echo beyond the parlor.

Suddenly, Baschum stopped laughing.

Chills shimmied up Baschum’s spine as the door beyond them creaked like leather.  His heart juggled up his throat.  Something rubbed against his back.

“Meow,” a cat trilled, stopping to sit by Snuff.

In disgust, Baschum spit into the fire.  Snuff spit.  The cat spit, too.

The cat looked at Snuff.  Snuff looked at Baschum, and Baschum looked at the cat.

“I don’t like this none,” Snuff whispered, his blue eyes wide as a meat dish.

“It’s just a cat,” Baschum said, bravado filling his voice.

“A black cat,” Snuff reminded in a hoarse whisper.

Baschum boldly picked up the cat, walked to the front door by the stairs, and threw the cat out.

Shutting the door, he turned around to the sound of furniture scraping across the upstairs floor and what-knots falling.

“It’s just Adley?” Snuff asked, hopefully.

Baschum didn’t say anything, just sat back down, pulling his blanket tight about.  The only thing upstairs that afternoon had been hay.

When nothing else happened, both boys stretched out, falling into a chilly doze.  Quiet – a heavy quiet resounded within.  The fire crackled comfortingly.

Snuff sleepily opened his eyes – to look directly into a pair of yellow-green eyes.  Hypnotic yellow-green eyes.

Frantic blue eyes turned to Baschum.  “I thought you put him out,” Snuff asked, nervousness edging his voice.  The cat just sat there, across from him, staring.

“I did.”

Baschum looked at the cat.  The cat looked at Snuff, and Snuff looked at Baschum.

The cat turned to the fire – and spit into the burning embers, causing it to hiss.

Baschum grabbed the cat, stomped to the door, opened it and tossed the cat into the spitting, blustery wind of the night.

Bang!

A door slammed within the bowels of the house.  Snuff lurched for the poker by the hearth as Baschum turned to look up the stairs.

Violin music wafted softly from the darkness above.

“C’mon Snuff.  We’re gonna give Adley the what for.”

whitehall300b_edited-1Moving quietly, they climbed the stairs.  At the landing, they listened at each door, trying to catch Adley. A pounding, thump, thump, thumping drew them to a room they had noticed early that afternoon.  A room trimmed in blue.

“One, two, three,” Baschum whispered before both boys slammed open the door.  No Adley. Just emptiness and a violin without strings.

“He must’ left somehow,” Baschum reasoned, not quite believing it himself.

Shoulder to shoulder in fright they walked back downstairs, practically holding their breath.

“Let’s just get that bust and leave,” Snuff offered. “I’ve had enough of this place.”

Sniffing, Baschum agreed. “It’s in what used to be the dining room.  At least that’s what Adley said.”

Walking carefully, quietly, they moved through the house until they came to a room used for stripping tobacco.

In a corner was a chipped, dusty bust of Cassius Clay.

Picking it up, they headed back to the parlor.

Looking into the room, they saw a little boy peering vacantly into the fire.  They blinked. And he was gone.

“I don’t like this Baschum.  I say let’s get out of here,” Snuff said shakily.

 Rolling up their blankets, they started to leave when out of the corner of their eye, they watched a black cat move to sit in front of the fire. “Mmmmerrrrrrr,” the cat growled looking at them, seeming to tell them to get out. Then the cat turned, spitting into the fire.

Screaming, Baschum and Snuff took off running, Snuff carrying the bust.

As they ran down the driveway, they saw a light flicker in the tie closet window above.  Horse’s hooves clopped, gaining speed as it neared.

Snuff dropped the bust.  A piercing keening sound echoed behind them as the head severed from the base, rolling to land by the gates.

Reaching, searching in pitch black night, Baschum grabbed what he could and ran. By Jove, he was not going to let Adley and the others think he had failed.  The base was better than nothing, and he just did not have the time nor the courage left for both.

whitehall1014Baschum and Snuff? They never returned. Not even years later when the great mansion was renovated, and its polished doors opened to tourists.

There is a bust of Cassius clay, the notorious Lion of White Hall, having been knocked off its base and reset.

Ghosts?  Even today it is whispered that footsteps can be heard on the staircase, doors mysteriously slam and a light appears in the tie closet of Cassius Clay.

A great ambassador who fought for the emancipation of slaves, he was also the father of Laura Clay who fought for women’s rights alongside Susan B. Anthony.  She was the first woman ever to be nominated by a political party (1920 Democratic National Convention) for president of the United States.

I collected information on White Hall State Shrine in 1984 for a Haunted House Series written for The Richmond Daily Register.  The Lion of White Hall was written shortly after.

The black cats were handed down from “Cousin Nancy,” my grandmother’s paternal aunt, Nancy Wills Chenault.  When Cousin Nancy came to visit (the last time was when I was 6 years old), everybody waited with great anticipation for her storytelling.  They would turn off the lights, light a fire in the big fireplace – and settle in.  I only remember 3 black cats spitting in the fire.  3 black cats without a story – is just a story waiting to be told.  I hope Cousin Nancy would like the home I found for them. 

Ghosty stories are great fun – at least the old-fashioned kind where it’s all really just a matter of mind over matter – or maybe faith over mind over matter. Often, what instills our fear is trumped-up worry, where things on the outside become stronger than things on the inside. Poor Baschum and Snuff – they were sneaking around, going places they shouldn’t – and the vapors of that behavior created a ghosty story – out of thin air.

Growing up in an over 200 year old house, I finally decided that God wouldn’t allow a ghost to scare me to death – and so everytime I climbed upstairs at night, in the seemingly ancient dark, He walked with me, my shield, my fortress and my deliverer – in the tangible and in the mind over matter.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Dueteronomy 31:6)

Of course, it helps if you’re not sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night trying to steal the bust of the Lion of White Hall in an abandoned house.

 

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