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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.

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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.

 nannylegacy

 

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“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat-the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself is truly hidden”
(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

Your neighbor – in the car line,
the slow poke in front of you on a late morning
an unsaved brother
or school mate
the stranger in your neighborhood
the parent on your soccer team who
is really quiet
a political opposite
the friend inside your circle
the acquaintance whose circle you know
nothing of
the fella who lives seemingly all wrong
and the girl who lives seemingly too always right
the workplace neighbor
who doesn’t understand you
and the mother-in-law God gave you
the barista who makes your coffee
the server who spills
soup into your lap
the teacher who doesn’t understand
your child
alongside the one who does
the coach who doesn’t see
what you see
and the one who manages to inspire
beyond your child’s confidence
the easy and the
hard
your mother and father
the siblings
the “I do” man
for better for worse
in the good times and the hard hauls
through to the other side
and the children growing
and, yes, the pizza delivery man
alongside the driver of the
ice cream truck

all designed to be, next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor in the daily of your God-designed life, the holiest object presented to your senses!

“Jesus said, ‘The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these’” (Mark 12:31).

Love your neighbor means to love those God gives you through birth and marriage, those next door, around the block, along the daily by-ways, hallways, cow paths and concrete paths you set your feet on.

This intentional loving is not an instant thing, an over-night thing. Grasping how God loves is something we grow into, one love-choice step at a time.

It’s your choice, this loving – those you asked for and those you didn’t.

Grow it, nurture it – believe it!

*************************************************************************

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flowrjar2I am so glad God
Loves
with immeasurable capacity
More than just
his Son
Who didn’t just love James and John
Plus 10
But loved each of us
Who hadn’t even been born
Yet
With equal, immeasurable capacity
The Father and His son knew
Love might be washed in a Holy
Spirit baptism
and not be
diluted
Not diminished

Like the Zarephath widow
With only a handful of flour
remaining
in a jar
A bit of oil
And a prophet promise
The flour jar didn’t empty
didn’t exhaust itself
spend itself out
Because the promise of God
Left more than enough
always more than enough
for the daily

Wouldn’t a God who wouldn’t
empty a jar
Not empty a heart
Of love
But refill to overflowing
every time
It spent itself
On one of us?

And aren’t each of us
One of His?
If God would send His son
To spend Himself
On each of us to come
The jar of meal runs not out
The oil bottle empties not
So trust your heart
To love more than enough
For all He sends you
To love
The easy and the hard
The ones you want
And the ones you don’t

For God so loved the world
He sent
His only begotten son
to teach us about
love choices
so then how can we love the world
when we cannot love
those He gives us
through birth,
marriage,
backyard mazes
classroom halls
church steps
grocery aisles

how can we love the world
unless our heart
loves like
the widow’s jar
that empties
not




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Sometimes, you need to live a quote – and by living the quote, you can smell the basil, the rosemary, lavender and thyme from the garden on your fingertips

and you can savor a half-dozen pairs of hands reaching for out-of-the-oven warm chocolate-chip muffins

or a smile thrown my way by one of my growing-up boys

or sitting, just sitting, with my aunt on a rainy day

or an early morning call with my mom

or brown smudge on my retriever’s nose from digging mole holes

or an encouraging note from a friend

and feeling the love from those God gave you – over a bowl of curry chicken, or a cup of honey-infused lemon sorbetti tea

the first-person story of a son pushing himself over a challenge to be who he thought he was

a to-do-nothing time with my husband – no outside challenges invited or allowed to crash in

and the first, second and third person story of my boys helping my husband build a dream

Yes, sometimes, you have to live a quote, in order to see yourself as God sees you, to be who God designed you to be – and know it. Sometimes you have to live a quote to let go of things we were not designed to carry.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered,
forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,
be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies,
succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you,
be honest and frank anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous,
be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow,
do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough,
give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God,
It was never between you and them anyway” (Mother Teresa)

Sometimes you have to teach yourself to recognize that what you do, how you live, the decisions you make, what’s really in your heart – how your children, your parents, your neighbors and everyone you walk by in the daily – their interpretation doesn’t matter a hill of beans – it’s only what’s between you and God in the living of it that matters.

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There are moments when my husband dazzles me, moments when the sun just dog-gone shines brighter because he walked in the room. When I feel slimed by the world, it all washes away with one word, one smile from him.  It’s as though someone sprinkled me with. . . pixie dust.

“All the world [marriage] needs is faith and trust. . . and a little pixie dust” (Peter Pan)

An enchanted marriage? Where there is more to our marriage then two people? More than the strength in our 2 pairs of hands, 2 pairs of feet. Where my guy doesn’t ride a horse – and I don’t have hair as long or as sturdy as a rope ladder – but we survive the challenges that threaten us, yet still retain that dazzle, that enchantment, that love. Retain it despite life’s roughness, imperfection, graceless moments, conflict and self.

I’ve always heard about marriage turning two into one – at every single wedding: “Did he not make them one” (Malachi 2:15).

Yeah – there’s a heap of him and an armful of me (Granny’s measurements) – but it is a secret ingredient that mixes us into one, breaks down the individual ingredients for marriage one-ness – one-ness God’s way. We are a mixture with many things dissolved between us: sweetness, saltiness, spice.  According to Chem4Kids some mixtures are better combined “than any of the metals would be alone.”

But nobody every told me about the other ingredient, the secret ingredient, the more-than-pixie dust ingredient, the not-talked-about part of this transformation into one. I never heard the second part of Malachi 2:15:

Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” (Malachi 2:15)

The Father gives an amazing wedding gift: A portion of the Holy Spirit. The same powerful gift He gave on the day of Pentecost, the gift that enabled Peter the courage to never deny Christ again, the power to overcome adversity, for love to grow big enough that to lay down one’s life for another, faithfulness that never turned away, wisdom to say the right word at the right time, insight to love completely and unconditionally, grace for forgiveness.

I love how The Message translation says Malachi 2:15:  His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage.”

“The smallest details of marriage” – How small can you think? As small as a tear drop? As small as the penny in the bottom of your purse when that’s all you have?  As small as the alone-time with your husband when everybody’s need is so big?  As small as the letting out of the cat at 4 a.m.? As small as the lining of your kitchen drawers? Or the sliver of soap in the shower? As small as the energy left at the end of the day? As small as your confidence in the face of a mighty challenge? As small as your affection in a moment of big anger?

Sadly, this is often the wedding gift most often left unopened. When it is opened, it is a gift no one ever quite knows how to use, so it is shoved to the back of a closet.

It is a gift most successfull when used by both  husband and the wife –  in equal measure. Like cooking, familiarity, skill increases with use. Like spices, the more you use them, the more you understand just how powerful each is. The Holy Spirit is to marriage what yeast is to flour. It enables your relationship to be more than it was. It is the ingredient that dissolves two into one with the strength to maintain that mixture of oneness.

It is a gift that requires interaction. It won’t act until activated – until you mix it into your relationship through prayer, through asking. The Holy Spirit is like a spice in your cupboard. You might have it, but it cannot do anything until you pull it out and mix it in.

It is a gift that requires belief. When both believe  “the Holy Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage.”  The power of 2 married believers (Matt. 18:20) + the Holy Spirit = a blessed marriage.

I tell my sons to pray, ask God to show you the girl He made for you, to pray about it – and to both have God in your marriage. If the Trinity is in it, you can face and overcome anything, your oneness intact.

That special something in your marriage? Not a sprinkle of Pixie Dust. Not that old black magic. Just a powerful portion of the Holy Spirit.  Pull it out of the pantry of your soul and use today! Embrace the Power of One.

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Forgiveness tastes salty. Sometimes, unconditional love tastes salty, too. The only thing I know to do when hurt comes, not offense, just hurt – is to call on the Father, maybe sometimes in a Knight in Shining Armor kind of way to save the damsel in me. Because sometimes when hurt comes, love and forgiveness are overwhelmed and need saving, He is the only one who can do it.

Prayer for when Love and Forgiveness feel Overwhelmed by Hurt

“Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
‘I am your salvation!’”
(Psalm 35: 1-3)

Father, yes, contend against those who contend against me. Champion this damsel in distress. Let me feel your protection from the fight, the battle – you are my salvation. You are the only Knight in Shining Armour who can win this battle. But let your spear and javelin be the spear and javelin of truth that pierces hearts, lancing untruth, prejudice, negativism and applying the healing balm of your spirit.

“Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them”
(Psalm 35: 4-6).

Father, if there is shame or dishonor, let it be only in the recognition of the truth and love of my heart. When turned back, let it be with peace and rejoicing in truth. Do no let them become like chaff before the wind, let not the angel of the Lord drive them away. Let their way become sure-footed, truth-footed, God-footed, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them for salvation, not destruction. Let your love and forgiveness be meted out by a heart embracing truth and love.

“For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!”
(Psalm 35: 7-8)

The evidence is before you Father, the nets hid, a pit dug – all without merit. Yet, let not destruction come, let not traps ensare into destruction. Let Salvation ensare, captured by your saving grace. Let truth and love permeate  souls Father. Let redemption be found through your ways.

“Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his salvation.
All my bones shall say,
“O Lord, who is like you,
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

(Psalm 35: 9-10)

My soul rejoices in you Oh, Lord, exulting in your salvation. All my bones, from my toes upward cry out, “O Lord, who is like you” for you deliver me from situations too strong for me, from situations that seek to rob me, from situations I cannot comprehend.

“Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft”
(Psalm 35: 11-12)

 I try to love Father – in words, actions and thoughts. But my words, actions and thoughts are mis-interepreted, mis-used or lost in translation.  My soul is bereft: beggared, destitute, left without, impoverished, disinherited, barren, cast off, without breath.

“But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning”
(Psalm 35: 13-14)

Oh, father, I can only love the way I know how. Is there more? Is there a better way? I have tried every love language, tried to love your way, through you, sometimes graceless like a dancer with wounded feet, but always full-hearted, a no-holds barred loving.

“But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth”
(Psalm 35: 15-16)

At each wrong foot unintentionally placed, at each word imperfectly chosen, at each moment awkwardly loved – offense was taken, resulting in retribution that tore at me, constantly. Not forgiven or overlooked, like spilled milk at a feast where it is cleaned up and camaraderie continues – but my gracelessness, my imperfection stays center stage, judged, ridiculed, continual bruising and scratching of my heart, no moving forward, no loving forward, hurt that nips and pulls at my soul. Who cares but you, Oh Father, about these wounds? Who but you can heal them?

“How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause.
For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, ‘Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it'”
(Psalm 35: 19-21)

If there is something barring you from interceding on my behalf, open my eyes to it Lord. Is there a reason I am to walk through this Father? Please rescue from this destructive hurt. You have told me I am precious to you, a favored daughter. Rescue me,  Father. I will tell the story of my Knight in Shining Armour who rode out of heaven to lift me up, who saved me, healed blindness, healed embittered hearts, healed wounds – and restored.

Let restoration be true Father. Not a 6-year-old, “I’m sorry” to escape punishment – but real heart changes. Let there be change, deep soul-change: restoration where love flourishes, words embrace, peace flows from a Holy Spirit stream of heart – oh, Father, let us embrace each other inside the circle of your family with loving intent.

“You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
Let them not say in their hearts,
‘Aha, our heart’s desire!’
Let them not say, ‘We have swallowed him up'”
(Psalm 35: 22-25)

Rescue me Father. You know the truth. Champion me, Lord. Ride to my rescue. Be. With.  Me. – be with this heart that strives imperfectly to live your cause, to live as your daughter, to love all your children. Vindicate. Exonerate. Defend me, Oh, Lord. You have said I am your daughter, a daughter of the King, the creator, the great I Am. You have pursued me, told me I belong to you, that every hair on my head is counted, that every tear is collected. In your mighty love for me Father, that is too much for me to comprehend, to big for me to fathom, in your mighty love father, rescue me, redeem me, restore me, save me from this battle.

“Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!
Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long” (Psalm 35:26-28)

As I try to live love and forgiveness, Father, I ask for shame and dishonour to not be brought against those who hurt me. I ask that shame and dishonour be replaced with forgiveness and redemption, that hearts are changed, that souls are changed – and that love prevails. Thank you Father for surrounding me with those who encourage me, who know the righteousness of my heart, my intents. I thank you that they rejoice with me that you delight in the welfare of me, your servant, your daughter – and I will tell the story, the continual story of your Hero to my damsel in distress.

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“Mom! You’ve told that story a hundred times,” the oldest son will tell me, exasperated. He isn’t a parent yet – not until New Years Eve – so he doesn’t really understand what your children do to  you.

“Well, it’s just that good,” I toss back at him, finishing my story. I feel that way about my Relationship Trilogy for Teens (7th, 8th and 9th grade relationship “lectures”).  While I move today and unpack, maybe you would enjoy hearing these stories again – and if you have not read them yet – well, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy telling them! Sit down, grab a Pain au Chocolate and cup of coffee – and let this mama tell her stories!

Hubba Bubba

One of my sons didn’t have a girl friend until he was 17.  However, a little girl did ask him to be her special friend the first few weeks of first grade.   He told me that right when he got in the car.  I replied, “Oh, how sweet – that someone wants to be your friend.”  I knew life had definitely changed when he said, “She didn’t mean it that way, Mom.”  [Read Full Post]

You’re a Cake; She’s a Cake

Seventh and eighth grade are rife with drama.  Young boys and girls budding into young men and women – wanting to be all grown up.  Gymboree is all packed away – no more Baby Gap.  Disney is passé and, suddenly, you realize most movies aren’t what they used to be.  However, it’s the relationships that rule the day – and the emotions. [Read Full Post]

Are You Man Enough

My second son came in the kitchen late one winter afternoon. He was a freshman in high school. He pulled up a stool at the counter. I was doing dishes and cooking. He was dazzled again, by the sweet girl who had dazzled him in the 8th grade, the lovely girl who prompted the “You’re a Cake” lecture. They had “broken” up way back in the old days of the 8th grade. To be honest, even though they had broke up, they still admired each other” [Read Full Post]

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 “One more year of loving you; one less year to love you in.  That is the sad side.  Meanwhile, without totting up the time that remains, let us love each other as much as we can” (Alexander Dumas, New Year’s greeting to his son Alexander, Jr.)

My guy’s love langauge is Acts of Service. This Acts of Service Love Language must be the pre-requisite to be hero – however else would they be able to save their damsels in distress or impress with big and little acts of bravado.

  • When we were dating, he took me with him to help feed the cattle. He has his own cattle call – and a commanding way with a corn husk. He even let me think the cows were coming in all because I stood there on a hay bale reciting Shakespeare.
  • Every time my garbage disposal stops working, he fixes it.
  • He knows how to change my oil, my breaks and those lights behind those awkward fixtures.
  • Every time I start painting a room, he saves me from myself, doing the trim. He is awesome at the detail, while I am a big picture kind of girl – at least with painting.
  • When the doctor, who was checking my labor progression, said, “Stat c-section” with my 4th son, well my guy pushed my bed, with the doctor in it who was holding the baby off the prolapsed umbilical cord, all the way to the ER, slamming us through too crowded corridors, while I held onto the doctors legs so he wouldn’t fall off the bed. And when he got us there, he leaned over me and prayed, while we waited for the anesthetist who never heard the words Stat. I had 2 heroes that day – my husband and God who held my baby in His hand until he was born safely with APGARs of 9 both times.

He is more comfortable with his Acts of Service Love language, but when he does use the Word of Affirmation Love Language – well, it is probably more eloquent, wise and concise than mine. He has an amazing wisdom and heart. I want to share with you an abridged version of  his father’s eulogy he wrote. He allowed me to include it last year for Father’s Day. It is all about the love his parents gave him – and how that is a part of who he is, which is just another of the many reasons why I love him.

I remember reading once that a son mimics his father’s gait – Blue Cotton Dad has tried to do that with his parenting.  Following are Blue Cotton Dad’s list of the Important Stuff:

        • Love Unconditionally: Throughout my life, I have always felt the unconditional love of my mother and father. I was always assured that no matter what I did, no matter the choice, the reward or the punishment, I was always loved.
        • Exact Punishment for misdeed, followed by reminders of that unconditional love:  I remember looking with my brother and sister out the front window watching for Dad’s car to come over the hill and make the turn to head to the house – worrying because we were in trouble. All of us would be crying even before he entered the door.  Our deeds would be cataloged and Dad would determine the punishment, usually bending over his knee and receiving a three finger swat to our behinds. We usually ran straight to our rooms and cried until the pain was gone. Then we’d come back out, mom and dad would tell us they loved us and life would return to normal.
        • Encourage big and little things: Dad and mom would turn small accomplishments into big accomplishments.  The grade was not the measure, but how hard we tried.
        • Recognize what is important to your children: My dad’s encouragement and pride doubled when he recognized how important it was to us. Encouraging words were heard often to keep pushing and not give up.
        • Selflessly, wantingly, give of yourself: His willingness to lend a  hand or words of encouragement to guide through tough decisions continued through marriage, never over-reaching his opinions. True Success comes from the selfless care for others. He was a man who lived biblical principles – never verbally preaching, but preaching through action.
        • Be Master Builders: My dad and mom made it look so easy – but it was not. They were masters at building up children to be comfortable with who they are. I cannot say enough that loving unconditionally, making small accomplishments look big in the eyes of little children had a magical effect on all of us. Being around both my parents made you feel better because there was always some praise coming your way.
        • Throughout my life, I have heard that my parents are proud of me.  I can never repeat those words enough back to them. I am proud to be their son. The best way to let them see how proud I am to be their son is to raise my sons in the same encouraging, self-less way.”

        The greatest sign of a great father is not only when the children and grandchildren say “I want to be just like him” but when the great-grandchildren say, “I want to be just like him.”  It is not because of fame or wealth or the coolest car.  It is all based on the love you made and gave. That is the kind of inheritance God talks about! The best kind! That is the kind my guy tries to give his family.

        “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).

        “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
        and his righteousness with their children’s children”—Psalm 103:17

*Blue Cotton Dad wrote his list to celebrate the kind of man his dad was and read them at his funeral.

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Friendship makes a trip to the hospital to put socks on your feet, which you cannot reach, so you can walk, like the doctor ordered, after your baby was born. Friendship answers the phone call to pray for a child – no details needed, no questions asked – friendship just prays. Friendship helps you give your child that first breathing treatment at home or helps with hand-prints on t-shirts at birthday parties. Friendship brings you a chocolate martini at your son’s wedding – just because.  My particular friends enjoy my humor! Friendship knows you at your ugliest and loves you better for it!

One friend had me on her bathroom mirror – my name, that is, on a post-it note. She prayed for me daily.  When my husband was in Chicago on business for the entire Fall semester (except for weekends), she brought my family homemade Mac ‘N Cheese. She was over 75 years old. She’s in heaven now and I really miss her. I am glad I had the courage to seek friendship in unexpected places. That’s where you find the best of friends.

I ♥ my friends. They are each gifts from God.

But I had to learn to look for these gifts from God in unexpected places.

If you walk into a crowded room of people you do not know, who do you migrate toward? Do you have a mental list of measurement traits? No! No! Don’t tell me. Just think about it. I think we all do. It is human nature.

I remember doing the same thing….sitting down by someone who looked like they would make a nice friend. Yet, they were not the relationship, the friend God had in store for me. By not looking beyond my expectations, I had missed the Lord’s companion.

I do not mean that I came to expect more. I mean my expectations were re-defined, like Mary’s relationship expectations were re-defined.

Mary had help seeing the companion God provided. An angel told her, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:36,37 NIV).

I do not doubt that Elizabeth would have been the last person Mary would have sought out for companionship and relationship. After all, she was an old woman. Mary’s story speaks to us as clearly as the angel did. The Lord provided an ally, a companion, a friend who understood and believed what the Lord had told her. The catch? Mary had to look beyond her expectations.

Mary heeded the angel. How hungry she must have been to share her burden with someone who could understand. “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:39 NIV). Elizabeth welcomed and honored her.

God’s guide will welcome your companionship, not scrunch you into a busy schedule or emit a charity-case mentality.

Yet, keep in mind that first, Mary hurried to meet her, and then she greeted her first. You cannot wait for this person to come into your home, sit down, and comfort you. You must prepare your heart through prayer (Mary got ready), move out of your comfort zone of friends (Mary left her town and hurried to a town in the hill country), and then introduce yourself (Mary greeted Elizabeth). Mary could not have known Elizabeth would have received her so warmly, but she took the chance. You need to take that chance, too.

The benefits of fellowship with God’s companion are spiritual blessings. When the two women got together, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. They were bold about the Lord’s place in their lives. Then, so wonderfully, so simply, Elizabeth encouraged Mary saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”(Luke 1: 45 NIV). Mary probably needed someone to tell her she was not crazy, that what happened was real. Who could better understand the condition of Mary’s heart and mind than a woman who had been barren all her life and probably condemned for it! Mary was pregnant and was condemned for it. Yet, here was somebody who understood the power and might of the great I AM.

Mary’s Song is evidence of her belief that God provided peace in a very difficult situation: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant…” (Luke 1:46-48 NIV). These two women’s shared common experience enabled them to comfort each other.

Find friends who lift you up when you are down. Comfort comes with encouraging words, not discouraging words. Surround yourself with people who talk about overcoming the challenging, not the stench that created the challenge. Make sure they support! Re-define the expectations of your support group.

The next time you walk into a room full of women, where will your eyes go?

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There is nothing like girls to show a mom of sons the incredible differences in each boy. One son probably went out with a girl while he was in the hospital nursery. One did not date until the end of high school. It is all about those internal soul differences. One thinks girls are like “Candy Bars” and just cannot pick his favorite. Another goes the friendship route. One married his best friend.

You can imagine our amusement when our 3rd grader went to the “Candy Bar” brother for girl advice. A 4th grade girl told my son she liked him.

“Go up, stick out your hand and introduce yourself, say, ‘Hi I”m _____ ______,” he advised, telling him to be sure to include his last name.

If I could raise my eyebrow like my 3rd son, it would have arched beautifully. “You gave such good (thinking tame) advice?” I asked amazed. I hazard to think what I would have guessed.

“I’m great at giving advice, Mom. I’m just not as good at living it,” he conceded.

Then, the Joyful one entered into the conversation – the one who is friendship-oriented but comes up with the greatest lines,” No! No! No! You should have come to me. That’s terrible advice.”

Then he commenced to throw out a few lines he likes:

“If you had a pet parrot,” he asked, “Would you want it on this should (pointing to the closer shoulder) or this shoulder (reaching around to touch the farthest shoulder, his arm ending up around her)?”

“No! No! No PDA (Public Display of Affection),” I countered, the mom who never heard about PDA until the second son. Just what I need – my 3rd grader being sent to the office for PDA infraction and it placed on his, gasp, Permanent Record (which my older sons’ lived in fear of for years – like it would follow you to the Pearly Gates for Judgement Day)

“Are you from Tennessee because you’re the only 10 I see,” was another one he so generously provided.

The boys finally settled on, “Do you have a band-aid?  ‘Cause I just scraped my knee falling for you.”

After practicing with him for a while, they abandoned the smooth pick-up lines and encouraged winking.

“Wink,” they ordered.

His eye-lids fluttered – like a gnat had flown into it, his mouth twitching, his nose scrunching.

“No! No! No! – Only close one eye,” his brothers coached.

Bless his pea-picking heart, but if he had to produce a fetching wink to survive an on-slaught of rabid beavers, he’d be heaven-bound right now!  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life

His brothers coached, trying different techniques – mixed in with lots of good-natured laughter all around.

Finally, the joyful one, the one with the nice lines said, “Not everybody can whistle; Not everybody can wink.”

And it was o.k. not being able to wink. Because not everybody has to be able to do everything. Everybody’s gifts are different – not everybody is created equal. And somehow in all that coaching, conversation, and cajolery, everybody valued each brother’s differences and had a great time with those differences.

Update:  The little 4th grade girl gave my sons a gift: a ruler.  “It freaked me out, mom,” he told me.  “So I gave it to my friend.”

“Not everybody can whistle; not everybody can wink;” not every moment is so perfect in the brotherhood.

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This is my Valentine’s Post after the fact – because, well, love is all year long – and that is when it means the most. So, what kind of man do you love?  What kind of man did you decide to spend the rest of your life with, 365 days of the year 24/7 for 75+ years? Is your man a gift from God or did you set out on a quest from Barbie Doll days to find the biggest, ummmm,  dumb a** in the world?

As a mother of 5 sons, I try daily to raise Godly men who will be an Elkannah-type husband to a Hannah-type wife. It is tough when society, egged on by a media separated from the cultural roots, provides layers and layers of video and audio that redefine the character of men and even women. Society has created a culture buffett of husband molds for boys and men that create inappropriate expectations like the hero-role  or, sadly, the blockhead roll .

Of course, we do not see much of the Hero Role lately.  However, the hero-role says the husband will fix everything from your history of dysfunction to the harvest of bad choices to even saving you from yourself.  Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment. No man could ever fulfill the hero-roll.  Only God can do that.

The second role gained momentum in Everybody Loves Raymond to radio DJ girl-guy pairings.  I stopped listening to a Christian radio channel every morning on the way to school because I grew tired and frustrated hearing demeaning comments about men and their abilities and thinkology to the male DJ.  We recently moved and the music channel we listened to had the same type of pairing with the same disparaging comments about men.  Just last week, they changed to a two-male DJ format – and I love it – no more man-bashing and treating the man as if he would a Neanderthal. Why would I want my boys to listen to that?

What woman wakes up every morning saying, “I am so excited.  I am marrying the dumbest guy on the face of the earth.  I cannot wait to spend my life with an idiot.” Did you every say, “I’m in love.  He’s such a nitwit!  You are going to love him, too.”

This attitude has permeated our culture so insidiously that even a  comment made by Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor was debated during her nominee hearings: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Men are so pathetic that they have no richness of life? No qualifying experiences to denote wisdom? Intelligence?

Would moms of daughters like it if moms of sons raised them to not only view women as subservient, intellectually inferior and Pavlovian in nature – just pat them on the head like a favorite dog and they’ll come to heel nicely? I think not.

People always live up to standards and expectations set in a classroom, in a youth room, in the family room. Expectations need to be set high for these boys to men, not set to the lowest common denominator equivalent to a trained chimpanzee.

Valentines Day, a day where the love between a man and a woman is celebrated!  How beautiful, sigh. . .

What kind of man do you want for your daughter? What kind of husband do you pray for your daughter to marry? What kind of boy does she want to “go” together with in the 5th grade when she is not supposed to be going with anybody?  What kind of young man in high school do you want her to date?  What kind of man do you want her to walk down the aisle with? What kind of man do you want to raise your grandchildren?

Discard the media-driven faux-culturally created man.  Talk respect.  Talk nobleness. Talk about the amazing qualities of men. Yes, women have these same qualities, too, but girls lives these traits differently. I love being married to a man with the manly qualities of these traits. 

Strength: Face it ladies, men are stronger than women.  Wait until your 13 year old can lift the edge of a couch easiser than you can.  Men can slam the ball harder in a tennis game. Yes, they can even win every arm wrestling match. And then, there’s that inner strength, too.

Courage: Who gets up to check on the scary sounds in the middle of the night?  Who do you call when there is a snake or mouse in the house? Who would stand in front of you to protect you from danger? 

Nobleness: I think this must be one of the most romantic words in the language. Nobleness is knightly. Nobleness opens doors when your hands are full or not. Nobleness self-sacrifices.  Nobleness meets your family and loves you and them anyway.  Nobleness sees the best in people. Nobleness wraps its arms around you when you’ve behaved badly and helps you forgive yourself without making you feel like a stink bug.

Confidence:  A confident man does not say, “I think I love you. . . I think we can make it. . . Sure, I guess I want to spend eternity with you.” A confident man says, “I know I love you. I know we can make it. Enternity would be empty without you.” A confident man may not know all the answers, but walks in faith.

Leadership: Leadership takes responsiblity for the vision and success or failure of that vision. True leadership allows the support team to soar as high as it possibly can.

Protector: A true protector allows you to fight your battles, but when you are unable to fight or the fight has gone out stands guard, providing the opportunity for emotional, spiritual and physical recovery. Of course, they do it much differently than women but that makes it so much more wonderful.

Steadfast: Always Faithful! Never gives up or lets me give up. Steadfast is never a duty. Steadfast is driven by conviction and belief to the core of the heart.

What are the favorite qualities of your husbands?  What are must-have qualities you want from your daughter’s future husbaands? You can find out about mine in the following: Prayer for My Sons Wife  and Mr Right.

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