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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Living’

Don’t know why, but really missing my grandmother today. She wasn’t a Nanna, Nanny, MeeMaw, Granny – or even a Muddy like her mother and me (my grandmother name), she was a no nonsense, witty repartee-loving Grandmother. She taught me, by standing up to her over the important things, how to stand up to everyone else in the world. She wasn’t a huggy grandmother, but she made me feel beautiful on the inside. Would love to sit at the kitchen table with her right now. So I’m sharing one of my very favorite stories about her with you. Isn’t that what you do when you miss people? What to talk about them?

Grandmother's House

Grandmother’s House

Sunday Morning, Winter – 1981

I sat in my grandmother’s kitchen, Sunday morning sun pouring through the large latticed windows, spilling onto the table – a winter sun that did nothing to warm the chill that always seeped through the old house. Turning pages of print with one hand, I ate the coveted center of the baked pan of Pillsbury cinnamon roles with the other.

Bite by bite, page by page I read through the funnies, the features and paused a few turns into the fashion section – 1981 newspaper fashion pages resembled haute couture fashion magazines.

Skirt from Style Agency at Etsy

Skirt from Style Agency at Etsy

The page turning paused, the cinnamon roll returned to the plate. True love arrested my attention –  a navy, thin-pleated, an inch higher than tea-length soft, durable navy wool, accordion skirt.

The pleats looked sharp enough to cause a paper cut – yet soft enough for grace.

Think 1940s. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly – elegance personified in this navy blue confection.

Have I mentioned my favorite color was navy blue?

I called my grandmother and mother over to look. It was just too beautiful not to share. My grandmother appreciated beautiful clothes – she had the gift – the ability to go downtown to the department stores, look at dresses for her 4 daughters, come home and re-create them. She appreciated elegance, grace in the silks, the cottons, linens, organzas and wools.

Being poor and not having a lot of money are two different things. Not having a lot of money just meant $200 dollar skirts were things you didn’t buy – at least not full price – not until 70% off.

This pause finally gave way to  the well-oiled machine of Sunday morning routine. We all went out different doors – old houses allow that.

My grandmother disappeared out the kitchen door to the back porch – not a back porch by today’s standards – rather a storage stuck on to a house. Old houses grew rambly like that. It had all started 200 years ago when a French man built 2 rooms separated by a dog trot. Those two rooms, like a married couple, grew into a family of rooms.  The entry hall had once been the dog trot, my brother’s room had once been a porch off one of those rooms . The family room had once been a porch until in the 1950s when grandmother and grandfather added on a dining room and kitchen, tagging on a storage porch off the back. Porches were like quick-change artists of architectural expansion, becoming kitchens, family rooms, bathrooms, even storage closets.

The back porch taught me the meaning of haste – I hurried through – always.  If I didn’t wear shoes, I tip-toed rapidly across its pebbled concrete floor. I guess you could almost compare it to the dark forest full of creepy things in fairy-tales that the princess must walk through in order find happily ever after.

Bags of clothes and moth balls lined one section. Tools, a cedar chest, a lawn mower, my bicycle with its white wicker basket and dusty items filled the other section. Every Fall, we sorted summer cottons into those clothes bags and every spring, we stored away wool and winter. Why? To preserve and protect from hearty moth appetites – and, because the rooms in rambly old houses provided little to no storage.

That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.

About 30 minutes before we left for church, we all gathered in the kitchen. Mom, Grandmother, Aunt Joyce – they all sat around the kitchen table waiting. Aunt Joyce drove us to church every week. When I entered the kitchen, my grandmother stepped into the dining room, carrying something blue back to the kitchen.

“Try it on,” she said, holding up a navy, one-inch from tea-length, accordion-pleated, navy wool skirt in mint condition – exactly like the one in the newspaper. The waist – oh, it was tiny – 26 or 28 inches. It had been my aunt’s – sometime after the war and before her marriage in the late 1950s  – and in 1981, I would get to wear it.

It fit me.

I twirled. I laughed. I felt graceful, elegant.  That skirt, with its pleats creased enough for paper cuts moved with grace, no stiffness, no roughness – just soft grace – maybe back then I couldn’t be confident in who I thought I was – but I could wear something that symbolized who I thought I was – on the inside.

Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal.  Only 3 articles of clothing ever “spoke” to me –  a dress I wore when I was about 6, the dress I wore to my son’s wedding – and this skirt.

I wore it to a few senior year events. Girls schools are wonderful for providing events for their students – and, when we put winter away, the skirt was zipped back into my grandmother’s moth-ball-filled clothes bag.

The other day, I was thinking about Grandmother’s Magic clothes bag. How I never really knew what was in those bags –even though I was  handed clothes Mom and Grandmother pulled out every spring and fall since I was 6.

I’d never reached into those bags, zipping and unzipping.  A lot of reasons stopped me – even though those bags held my clothes, too – I didn’t think I had a right to it. Fear edged me out. Content ignorance, a soft boundary wall as effective as a prison wall, kept me out. No real curiosity, no recognition of need – maybe, just maybe, the comfortableness of allowing someone else to be in control of it – maybe that was it, too.

gmcoatA few years later, on a way to a Christmas dance with the guy I would marry, Mom, Grandmother and I debated which coat or wrap to wear. Nothing suited – nothing topped it off without looking awkward.

Grandmother never announced. Never said, “HHHHmmmmm – let me think.” This bridge-playing lady always kept the cards close to her vest. As Mom and I stood there debating the issue, Grandmother just took herself off – unbeknownst  to us – once again into the back porch, to reach into the clothes bag.

Minutes later, she walked back in, shaking out  a black tea-length wool coat with gold embroidery.

We had lived with my grandmother for 15 years by then. I was only just beginning to realize the hidden treasures within my grandmother, what really was there, what she stored away for us for when the want or need arrived, stored away in moth balls or in the strength of her soul.

When my grandmother died, I wondered what had happened to that bag of clothes, the hidden things on the back porch. I guess someone emptied them out – and what a loss, that emptying out can be.

That winter day, though, in 1981, when the weak sun spilled over the kitchen table – that day, she pulled something out of a back-porch clothes bag that was the catalyst for a soul reveal.

“That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.”

Disclaimer: Grandmother, if she knew I had turned this story into an allegory would probably have admonished me to “Stop that Silly Talk.”

Characters in the allegory of Grandmother’s Clothes Bag
Grandmother – Everyman
Granddaughter – Everyman
Navy, Accordion-Pleated Wool Skirt – A blessing shared
The Clothes Bag – The Bible
The Content of the Clothes Bag – Things of God
Moth Balls – The Holy Spirit

There’s a time when I moved from a child’s relationship to the Father, to an adult’s relationship to the Father. Where, as a child, I loved Him with abandon. Growing up led to self-consciousness, gracelessness from uncomfortable awareness, and learning to take the reigns of spiritual responsibility in hand.Growing up meant sifting through what I had been taught, becoming intentional in what I believed.

That meant I was alone responsible for that relationship. The training wheels were off. I was alone responsible for the reaching.

I didn’t do well early on, when those training wheels were off. My relationship with Him wobbled.

Like I hurried through Grandmother’s back porch, past the clothes bag, so I hurried past Him.

Self-consciousness, lack of confidence in who I was caused me to hurry past things that intimidated me through my ignorance – not just of the things of God but who I was to Him.

Faux gracefully, I enacted the ritual of sorting through winter and spring into the clothes bag – but I didn’t dig into that clothes bag. I stood in the kitchen and handed out.

I didn’t not know Him intimately. I could not truly catalog was what in His word. I needed to spend time with Him, with His word, to see what was there – not just the gospel, but Ruth, Jeremiah, Isaiah – all the one’s I skipped over, ignored.

I needed to spend time with Him, like my grandmother spent time maintaining the clothes bag, lined with those moth balls.

I couldn’t really help anyone. I couldn’t really even help myself – not until I delved into the contents of His word, His Holy Spirit – Him.

The Father wanted me to stop rushing past Him, open up His word and listen, really listen, catalog in my heart its content, wear it, walk it, know it – to continually wrap His word in His Holy Spirit.

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

One day, sitting in the car outside my husband’s work, waiting – which is something newleyweds still in college with just one car do a lot – the Father met me there. I asked the Father, “I want that relationship I had with you as a child. Teach me how to get there.”

He did. . . it was a journey, though – not an overnight arrival.

I learned to not rush past His word like I rushed over cool, pebbled-concrete floors. I dug into His word, like my grandmother dug into her clothes bag, cataloging, nurturing so that one day I could share what is within His word, within relationship with Him.

When grandmother saw a need – she went to the clothes bag and drew a blessing out – a blessing that caused a soul-reveal. I needed to learn to live that kind of relationship with Him.

I needed to believe what the word said about that relationship, about the hope, the healing, the speaking, the praying, the Holy Spirit, the believing without seeing.

 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”(Hebrews 11:6)

When I dug into His word, when I believed His word – I discovered who I was to Him – his beloved daughter.

I discovered a Father who wanted to become the shade in the glaring, uncomfortable heat of challenges, who wanted to shelter me beneath the feathers of His wing, who wanted to bind my wounds scarless, who wanted to shelter me in the storm – that He saves me when I cry out, like a Knight in Shining Armor:

“He’s riding a winged creature,
swift on wind-wings.
Now he’s wrapped himself
in a trenchcoat of black-cloud darkness.
But his cloud-brightness bursts through,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
Then GOD thundered out of heaven;
the High God gave a great shout,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
God shoots his arrows—pandemonium!
He hurls his lightnings—a rout!
The secret sources of ocean are exposed,
the hidden depths of earth lie uncovered
The moment you roar in protest,
let loose your hurricane anger.
But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but GOD stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”

(Psalm 18: 10-15, The Message)

One day long ago, grandmother pulled a skirt out of her clothes bag. As the years unfolded, that moment became an allegory of faith. Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal – and the truism made me a beloved daughter of the King, who willing jumped on His horse and moved heaven and earth to protect shelter . . . . save.

Because I learned not to hasten away from the things of God, I find blessings He leaves me, messages He leaves me in the ordinary of a day:

like the squirrel nest high in the barren oak, sways in the thin-limbed top, twigs, old leaves woven together, how does it protect against the bitter wind? And, I marvel – because it does.
or my mother-in-laws hands, folding laundry, teaching me to slip-stitch quilt binding, making banana pudding, hugging babies and boys

nine sherbet-colored bandanas bought in 2009 quilted, backed, binded and tied with raspberry, lime green, citrus orange, flamingo pink and lemon yellow embroidery thread.

red chili sauce in Thais Gopaw – taste buds delighting after days of illness

robin’s egg blue skies outside my work window

a lunch date with my husband, just the two of us

Italian chamber music diminishing chaos

the story of grace changing lives, redeeming from the law in a Les Miserable story and song

a two hour morning delay from an ice storm that never came, giving me time to love the boys with homemade chocolate chip granola bars and hamburger, elk and deer-meat chili.

(I’m in a tying-up-loose-ends season right now – and will be returning with fresh, new soon. Please stop by as I share some of my very favorite posts through the month of June)

(for a history on my grandmother’s house, you might want to read “if grandmother’s trees could tell stories”)

 

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whitehouse215_edited-1(Today just felt like retelling a story that brings joy to my heart. I’m still here – I’m just in a quiet season right now, where the words are few. It’s like I’m steeping in something new. I can’t put words to it, but I know at the right time, He will give me the words.)

The little years seem like once-upon-a-time ago – but it was once upon a time in the little years, when a little boy wanted to run away. He didn’t like his new room in the new house built in the woods near the creek. He missed his raspberry sorbet room with the blue and white ticking in the suburbs. The joyful little boy had misplaced his joy in the move and wanted to run away, back to the suburbs  – so he did.

His bigger brother still little came running into the kitchen while their mama stirred a pot of something good, holding a littlest on her hip.

“Mama, he’s run away,” said the bigger brother.

“Let me know when he goes past Ms. Judy’s mailbox,” she said, stirring the pot, soothing the baby.

“But, Mama,” he stammered, unbelieving (because, he just knew, that if it was him, he’d go beyond the mailbox).

“Just let me know when he goes past Ms. Judy’s mailbox,” said the mama.

Every 5 minutes, the bigger brother came back, flummoxed why his mama hadn’t flown outside to save his brother.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“At Ms. Judy’s mailbox.”

The little boy who’d misplaced his joy never went beyond the mailbox. His mama knew he wouldn’t. However, she knew the one who so worried about him, she knew that if he took it into his head to run away, he’d be down the road, onto the highway and halfway to where-ever he wanted to go before anybody knew.

That night, when the moon came out, the boys were tucked into their beds all snug, bedtime stories read, songs sung and prayers said – and all the hearts and minds that lived in the new little house in the woods near the creek slept in peace.

A few years later, when the little boys grew long legs that stretched for independence – the bigger one did leave home before he was really ready. The little brother who’d once misplaced his joy cried at his leaving and blamed his mama, not understanding. The bigger brother, he went past the mailbox about 4 times, and 4 times his mama found him, brought him back, knowing he wasn’t ready yet. Until one time, he packed all that was important to him and left, right after graduation.

The mama, she didn’t go get him. She stirred over the pots in the kitchen, matched socks, shook out the rugs. At night, she tucked the littlest ones in bed – because there were more little ones then. She read bedtime stories, sang songs and said bed-time prayers – and all the hearts and minds that lived in the growing older house in the woods tried to sleep in peace.

While the mama stirred those pots, though, she prayed. God knew what her son needed. She asked that God help her. Then she asked that God stand with her. Then she asked that God would help her let go and let Him help her son.

Some time later, her son walked through the back door of the growing older house on the edge of the woods, realizing that where he had been was not where he needed to be. As he grew stronger, he prepared to leave again, this time with a proper packing and a proper farewell, on a journey that took him closer to God and closer to God’s plan for His life.

As all the littles grew, the joyful one misplaced his joy again, misplaced who he was to God and to the family. One day, he packed his treasures, a table and a bed – and moved to a place he didn’t need to be.

The older brother, who’d so worried about him all those many years ago, who’d say, ‘Mama – aren’t you going to fetch him home,” who thought he’d go past Ms Judy’s mailbox, had found his bearings and in the finding made a home near the little house in the woods – he came to his mother, worrying, “Tell him to come home, Mom. He doesn’t need to be there.”

His mother stood in the kitchen, stirring a pot of something good, looked up at him, this boy who towered over her now, gave him a wry smile that contained sadness for the one who’d left and joy for the one who’d returned, saying, “Remember when you left? Telling you that you needed to come home only made you stay longer. The less I say, the sooner he will be home.”

The brother who’d lost his joy for a while, misplaced who he was to God and his family – one day, he remembered, and in the remembering, came home to the growing old house at the edge of the woods with his treasures, his table, and a bed.

In the growing older house in the woods by the creek, he grew stronger, reclaimed a bit of his joy and who He was to God and his family. Refreshed, he started hearing the call of the Father – until one day, he properly packed a bag, received a proper farewell, and set out on a journey past Ms. Judy’s mailbox on a God-designed journey just for him.

The Story after the Story

Some children launch by the book – and other children launch by, well, the other book – the one we don’t want to buy, the story we don’t want to read. It’s the hard story. It’s the story full of heart-aches so deep you know your soul has toes – it’s that deep.  It’s also a faith story, a story of redemption. It’s the dirt, grit and grime of the story that nobody wants to touch. A lot of people might want to talk about it – but they don’t want to touch it – with their hearts, with their prayer, with their faith.

It’s the dirt of rebellion, the grit of selfishness and the grime of sin that Salvation leaned down into, grabbed it by the filthy arms and pulled it up, took it on a journey, journeying along, and in the journeying along, washed the stains, the filth, the grit away. Salvation fixed the brokenness, both deserved and undeserved – until, somewhere in the journey, a new man was born again.

Sometimes, this happens because a mama somewhere loved enough to let go – and let God.

Think of Hannah who took an itty bitty Samuel to the temple, and let go of his hand – and let God.

Think of Manoah’s wife had to let go of a rebellious son – and let God redeem him.

and Jochebed who let go of the bulrush basket holding her son – and let God.

or Rebekah who stirred up a mess and sent Jacob away from home, who let go – and let God.

Today, I want to pray for those mama’s, whose children are taking the hard way. I want to pray that God bring them a peace beyond understanding that He’s got this. This is His job now – what He does best – work His saving grace in places we cannot.

I pray that in the letting go, you don’t feel as if you given up, quit before the job is done, didn’t love enough. I pray that you see that you love enough to let God, that you didn’t quit – just that your task is complete. For now, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. Now it’s time to let God.

I pray that you realize the greatest love we can give someone is to sometimes let them go – even into uncomfortable situations.  I pray that when you wrestle with trusting God that His determination to save your child is greater than the devil’s determination to destroy your child – I pray that you tell God you’re struggling with this trusting and believing because sometimes the right-now really hurts, really doesn’t look like it can come about right. He won’t get mad or be disappointed. He’ll love on you, comfort you. I pray that you ask Him to stand with you, to hold you close – because He is the kind of God that can save another while holding you, too.

I pray that you have dreams of salvation coming instead of nightmares. I pray that you find God messages in the daily, of God’s sweet encouragement that He has joy planned for you – and for the ones you love. I pray that He give you glimpses of who He created your child to be.

I pray that He surround you with people who believe that God’s got this – and I pray that He will surround you and your child with people who pray faith, pray love, pray hope until both you and your child are stirred in it, simmering in it, suffused with it, like a pot of good things on a loving mama’s stove-top.

fog

 

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bluecottonboys_editedccUnconditional Love, True Love, lives in a real world, with real challenges and other real emotions. It is incredibly beautiful Unconditional Love. But it takes lots of strength, courage and faith. A little humbleness, too. A little taking the back seat sometimes and a lot of never giving up! Unconditional Love is all encompassing. It loves your husband, your children, your friends, God – even strangers. I would not want to live without it.

Even when someone does something expressly against your wishes, like dump the chicken noodle soup down the side of the sink without the garbage disposal, does not wear their seat belt when driving without you, or gets a tattoo, Unconditional Love loves.

Unconditional Love sees your child (whether little, teen or grown), spouse or parent through God’s Eyes.
If you cannot see it now – ask Him!
He will show you through His Eyes!
It is life changing . . .
Changing how you think,
the words you use,
the feeling in your heart,
the expressions on your face!
It is a liberating love.

Kind of like God handing me His glasses with Hope and Faith Lenses
letting me see
what God sees
and
it
changed
everything

Unconditional Love knows how I love is not determined by success or failure
Recognizing that sometimes failure is the biggest step to success,
resulting in my needing to step back,
take my hands-off
hold the tears inside
staunch the fear that tries to rush out with a mental and emotional tourniquet
choke off words that do not need or are not ready to be said
believing that failure is sometimes the gas to the engine of success

How do you  know when you are loving unconditionally? Unconditional Love is like invisible ink. While the invisible ink is made visible by heat, another chemical or ultraviolet light, unconditional love is made visible by uncomfortable situations resulting in pain, disappointment, anger from another’s behavior. So how do you know when you love unconditionally? When you are uncomfortable, don’t really want to, aren’t feeling it, but choose to love anyway – then you are loving unconditionally.

PPPPSSSSsssssssttttt. . . . Unconditional Love – the God-kind of Unconditional Love is not reserved just for your very favorite people. It is a type of love that is like a Spring Rain, showering on everyone who comes into contact with you.

Unconditional Love is found in a Mary Poppins-Bag-kind-of-heart that is deep enough to fill with love for as many people, not as it can hold because the Mary Poppins bag is bottomless, but for as many people as you choose to love. It is priceless!

Unconditional Love grows, and groWS, and gROWS and GROWS
over days, with months, years
in sunshine and storms
if we let it
if we don’t hoard it
Then it grows, re-seeds, spreads like buttercups in a field
Unconditional Love is a choice.
Choose Unconditional Love

(Once upon a time, I wrote about 30-something unconditional love rules in the waiting of the journey of a prayer sent out. I finally took those 30 unconditional love rules, whittled them down to 10 – and created an introduction on the definition of Unconditional Love from the shavings of those 30 rules.  This post is that definition. I did this for my boys because I thought maybe one day they would value the message that sustained me during a challenging time. The guiding mission statement for Blue Cotton Memory is the faith, love and politics of raising boys to men. Very subtly it also includes another personal mission – to show my boys how to grow old loving the Lord. They aren’t interested in the heart thoughts of their mother right now – but, maybe, one day, they will be – and one copy of this, tucked on my bookshelf, will be pulled out to encourage in the waiting of a prayer sent out.)

 

 

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winterbirdtreecc_edited-1Growing up, I was told that my uncle believed cursing was a lack of vocabulary. I heard it so often, a word seed was planted.

A few years later, sitting at my grandmother’s dining room table, one of my aunt’s oldest daughters home from college the guest of honor, talked to us about her adventure. I was in middle school. She was so beautifully grown up – and I didn’t understand half the words she said. I asked her how she knew all those words – and the vocabulary seed was watered.

It is interesting, how little sentences here and little sentences there, leave an impression, light a fire that drives to excel. As a result, I worked hard, read a lot of classical literature to grow my word stock.

One afternoon, at my grandmother’s house along with my mother, Aunt Joyce, and my first-born who was just learning to sit up, a language mishap occurred. I failed, faltered – and, well, I put my wordsmith reputation on the line.

I’d just got up to go around the corner to the kitchen. There was a little hallway with a telephone desk between the family room and kitchen. Going around the corner, my very not-so-funny bone smacked into the desk – and a very lack-of-vocabulary word flew out of my mouth.

Dead silence replaced the chattering in the family room. I think the blood rushed from my head. I felt dizzy, but knew I needed to face this head on – but not before I peaked around the corner.

My mother and Aunt Joyce sat there, looking at my grandmother, waiting for her verdict. My son sat totally content, not understanding the expected set-down, a reputation-ruining set down. After all, to this group of esteemed women with memories like elephants, if you opened one present early on Christmas and re-wrapped it – and they found out, well, then, you were labeled an early-sneaky-present-opener for the rest of your life.

All eyes were on my grandmother, the matriarchal woman who taught me that if you could stand up to her, you could stand up to anyone. She had what I call “the power of the eye” – where with one look, her green eyes could slay you on the spot.

As the silence stretched, my reputation hung in the family room like an outdoor laundry line hung with ones intimate private unmentionables.

“My mother always said there was a time and a place to curse, and, I believe, you just found it,” she finally said.

Graceful redemption! The chattering picked up, the incident left behind. The lack of vocabulary incident was never mentioned again – while my Christmas-present snafu is bantered about all the time.

I’ve told you these little vignettes about vocabulary, to well, talk about vocabulary – particularly the over-used and potentially definition devolving word – love.

Love should never be diminished – the act or the definition.

It’s true – I might “love” your hair-style, your shoes, your photo you posted in your blog, your cake – even the ideas expressed in an article you wrote. Sadly, the use of love in this way is evidence of my laziness, the vocabulary slacker in me, the wordsmith on holiday. If I weren’t such a literalist, I would be able to write a funny, tongue-in-cheek post about it, but because I’m a literalist – I can’t even fathom how to do that.

As a result, I wrote an “I love” not-quite-a-poem about all the things I love – stretching those wordsmith muscles in a much needed way.

I love
admire, applaud, respect
Jane Austen, Margaret Wise Brown, Charles Dickens,
Jesse Stuart, Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett,
Robert Browning, Joan Walsh Anglund,
and Sam McBratney

I love
Relish, savor, indulge in
orchard vanilla black tea
white hydrangeas – blue and green, too
yellow spring jonquils
fluffy pillows and goose feather blankets

I love
cultivate, treasure, drink in
quiet time looking out my bedroom window
simply watching the burnt red of Dogwood
tree leaves where birds that stay
through the winter stop by for
berry picking

I love
admire, cotton to, still smitten with
my forever man who told me he loved me
over 33 years ago at the red stop light
in his daddy’s red and white truck
at the corner of Lancaster Road and the Eastern By-Pass

I love
Delight in, luxuriate, breath deeply
vanilla and lavender
cloves and oranges, too
making me smile in the easy and hard
moments of the daily

I love
Cherish, marvel, hold dear, safe guard
newborn smells and how
they fit against your heart,
lean against your shoulder
trusting without questioning
like God wants us
to trust him

I love
revel in, feast on, count the awe
the stories – funny moments, sacred sharings,
bed-time chronicles and wedding proposals
hubba-bubba, you’re a cake, and are you man-enough
kitchen counter lectures
loving to God’s beard and back
the journey of prayers sent out come home,
miracles and moments done right

I love
fight for, don’t give up on, believe in God’s plan
my sons beyond the stink
of Sweaty soccer cleats and socks
the quest for becoming their own man
and the uncomfortableness of holding my belief set
under the microscope of independence to
determine the truth and merit of a daddy and mama’s
faith and reasons
before claiming it for
themselves

I love
Esteem, glorify, honor, worship, adore, marvel
Shaddai, the might one of Jacob,
Jehovah Shamma, just as He was there in the low, dark part of the challenges, in the emotional cyclone that can sometimes be a part of raising boys to men
Jehovah-Raah,  The Lord My Shepherd, encouraging to love better, forgive better, be his child better
Jehovah Rapha, the Lord that Heals physically, emotionally and spiritually – and He breathed His Holy Spirit into this spent soul
Jehovah Jireh, who reminds me that He will provide, not just the outside stuff needed for growing a family, but the inside stuff I need – like the manna He provided for the Israelites – that He gave them more than enough everyday – His storehouse is open for me – already equipped for everything I need
and in this grace-filled love affair where I learn what true, pure, real God-designed love is . . .

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

(Note: a well-developed vocabulary does not immunize against foot-in-mouth disease – which is a whole different post)

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Dickens_edited-1Either deep within, wedged like a too chubby Santa in a too skinny chimney, or fall out the top – every stocking should find within itself a book.

Nothing says, “I love you” like either a heart-shaped piece of spinach on a sandwich or the gift of a book.

Books, like love, aren’t always received the way we hope – but sometimes, if we don’t give up – one day, we will discover that the gift was picked up, was absorbed – and hit its mark in the way we intended.

I was helping my oldest son pack up his books when he moved his wife and daughter across town to a new place. I found so many of the books I’d given him – Toqueville’s Democracy in America, Jefferson’s Federalists Papers, Payne’s Common Sense – I’d even found my copy of Hugo’s Les Miserable. 

“Did you every read these?”

He told me he’d read them all in college.

Tolkien, Lewis, Spradlin’s Youngest Templar series, A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier, Stephen Ambrose’s books, a huge tome on Merlin, Aesop’s Fables, The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (great for developing logic skills), an 1800 book on ethics for children, Mind Your Manners, Dick and Jane – maybe even little black leather journals for their own stories.

A few weeks ago, three of my boys were helping me make an elephantine move. We were moving the upstairs office to a refinished space in the basement. The 20 year old pulled down the framed Lion poster, turned it over and started taking it apart. He saw my astonished look – because, really, a why-are-you-taking-apart-my-picture look?

“Just wait,” he said, with a smug grin on his face. Layer by layer, he pulled the backing apart until he’d found what he wanted: a hostage contract with my signature of agreement from a long ago time when they were much littler. It was a note stating they’d taken hostage Mind Your Manners, Dick and Jane, which would I would never see again if I didn’t agree to never, ever, ever read it to them again. If I agreed, the book would be returned unharmed.

Right around that time in October, that same son was carrying around my very old paperback copy of Oliver Twist – and he was 3/4 of the way through it. I saw him sitting on the porch reading it. . . for enjoyment. Later that day, Oliver Twist sat quietly on my kitchen table like . . . like an old friend glad to be out and about.

Sometimes books become a part of another’s story – in unplanned for, unconventional ways.

This Christmas, one of my boys will find an old, red-and-tan backed Zane Grey book. Another is getting Toqueville’s Democracy in America – and I’m still turning over in my head what to get the others. One by one, I will find the perfect book that fits just right in each stocking !

I’m thinking about what to put in my Daughter-in-Laws stockings – maybe Laura Boggess’s Playdates with God – a book that beautifully encourages us to take time out of our day to go on a date with God. He’s just waiting to steal away with us – and in the stealing away with God, there’s always blessing.

Or  Deidra Riggs’ Every Little Thing – those little things that seem unimportant and ordinary might be how we see ourselves or our life in the daily. Deidra encourages us to see that every little thing has greater impact than we realize. What an encouraging mind-set as we review the end of 2015 and step into 2016.

Maybe Michelle DeRusha’s 50 Women Every Christian Should Know, that she included Therese of Lisieux went straight to my heart. I read her auto-biography in the 5th grade. It was through the outpouring of her heart and her relationship with our Savior that taught me the intimacy and realness of prayer. The women she lists are ordinary, everyday women who through their faithfulness in Christ became women of valor – one day at a time.

I met Laura, Deidra, and Michelle at the Jumping Tandem Retreat this year. It was a blessing to finally get to meet face-to-face women I have been blogging with for quite a few years – ordinary, everyday women living their faith one day at a time – becoming those women of valor Michelle talks about.

I haven’t met Mark Batterson’s, but his book The Circle Maker is another I recommend. It’s a book about praying for those we know and don’t know who are struggling – and even lost. It’s a book that doesn’t slam the door on the lost we come across in the daily – or maybe even across the Christmas table. It’s about not giving up on them – and battle for them through prayer.

My granddaughter’s? I think I’m going classical (Wait Till the Moon is Full and Wynken, Blynken and Nod) with something new and delightful- my friend, Amy Sullivan’s book, Gutsy Girls: Strong Christian Women Who Impacted the World: Book One: Gladys Aylward. Sullivan tells Gladys’ story, and in the telling, encourages all of us – little girls and grown up girls, to be who God designed us to be – not Wonder Girl – just God’s Girl – doing ordinary things through love that leave an extraordinary impact. Congratulations Amy on your dream finding its jacket. I am so happy to have it on my shelf!

A book has so much ability to be more than a book.

What is Santa leaving in your stockings?

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WWWBFAllfurrowcc_edited-1“You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth”
(Psalm 65: 9-11)

 This last year, I’ve had the privilege to speak at schools about my children’s books. Bicycling with Ava provided an opportunity to talk about the gifts we each have: not just gifts of writing or drawing, but the gifts of putting numbers together, theorizing science, fixing things or nurturing people, standing up for others, encouraging or teaching.

I talked about how the writer and illustrator sometimes work together to trick readers into learning by counting cattails on a creek bed and goose feathers for pillows, learning colors through red, yellow, green and blue sheep. They learned new words for fun, too.  As Ava struggles to make a decision on which hat to pick to hide her suddenly orange nose, she purses her lips, furrows her brow, and scowls. Did you know that a lip-purse + a furrowed brow = a scowl? My favorite children’s books are the ones that invite interaction in an unstated way. I wanted my books to me like that, too. LIke life, the details in the illustrations were not their by coincidence. There was a plan and purpose to the detail.

These Kindergarteners through 4th graders and I talked etymology, though they didn’t realize they were learning about word origins and history. For example, we talked about furrows on their grandparents’ farms, nestled next to mounds where seeds are planted. The furrows can be paths or narrow grooves, so big rains don’t wash away seeds or roots. Furrows, though, just aren’t in gardens and fields. Furrows can be on our brows when smiles turn upside down because of sadness, frustration, heavy or unpleasant thoughts. Try it – furrow your brown, making the space between your eyebrows crinkle and wrinkle. Now look at your neighbor and furrow your brow at them. Did you? Kindergarteners through 4th graders did – and had fun being tricked into learning something new.

Furrows are deep places – on our faces and in our hearts. Sometimes without the low places, the storm waters wouldn’t have places to go – and we would find ourselves washed away because of it.

Soil, furrows and hearts are a lot like you and me. When the soil is saturated, the furrow’s deepness provides an outlet, so as not to permanently damage the plant – or maybe the soul of you and me.

There’s been a steady stream of highs and lows this year. I used to think that when I mastered life, a steady, humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living would result.  If I were only good enough, pure enough, Godly enough . . . . I would be able to manage the daily into just humming along. Right?

Sadly – because I wish I’d realized much sooner before I’d invested so much energy and time into a project destined to fail – there’s error in that kind of thinking – error born out of inappropriate expectations.

If I’d never furrowed my brow, I’d never have reached deep to realize my need for God. I wasn’t designed for a self-fueled humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living. I was designed to need God – to be filled up by God.

The inappropriate expectation is being replaced, awkwardly at first, becoming more dexterous day-by-day, to the expectation that, yes, there is joy in the highs, but there something just as valuable in the lows, something souly nurturing in the steady drizzle, sometimes torrential downfall of the challenges in the daily.

I might have been designed for heaven, but without challenges that fall like a soft rain, I don’t know that I would realize that. You see, experience is the best teacher I know.

Maybe I needed a Hannah-unconditionally-loved-by-Elkanah marriage,

or a Jacob-wrestling confrontation in which to surrender,

a Doubting Thomas faith failure humbled and won through Salvation standing before him – hands open, wounds revealed,

a mother-of-the-prodigal revelation waiting in faith for her son’s homeward walk,

a faith-is-the-substance-hoped for woman-with-the-issue-of-blood journey,

a crippled man standing-on-his-faith encounter

Billy Graham said if you want to change someone’s life, tell a story – share the experience of your faith. The experience that changes lives is found in the hard and soft of our challenges.

The soft and hard rains of this year have indeed softened the hard edge of the mound, softening into the dip of the furrow and because of it, I move with more grace from the highs into the lows and back up again.

Through the soft raindrops like challenges, from the mounds to the furrows and the muddy mess of of it all – because challenges just leaves degrees of muddy messes, I have discovered goodness in both – a soul-preserving nutrient that without both, my growth would be limited or stunted. The challenge without him leaves me shivering to the bone in a cold rain. The challenge with him, seeps inside this softened soul or runs off into the furrows, leaving my roots stronger, my growth more than I imagined possible.

A little sweet with the sour.

A little low with the high.

A bit of raindrop to soften the soul

and out of that, the blessings grow.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I’m glad you haven’t forgotten your way here. This has been a year of big changes – leaving a 3-year-old job and launching 4 children’s books, a son marrying a beautiful inside-and-out girl, another son and sweet daughter-in-law’s second baby girl, one son steadying his step, a new high-schooler, a junior who is taking more college classes than high school classes, me teaching again since 2009 and, while loving teaching students how to strengthen their writing – and maybe discover wonderful things about themselves in the process, I am left wondering if God didn’t want me to walk through the classroom just one last time before walking through a door to a different way to fill my daily. All this has been drizzled with big and little challenges, expected and unexpected. To someone who likes a fairly regimented daily with time planned for the unexpected, I’m finding that every hour possibly contains unplanned tasks and adventures – meaning I’ve thrown the schedule out the window and am possibly free-falling into something unplanned and unexpected at any moment. I’m not quite sure I’m managing this with grace yet, but, at least, I’m not screaming (mostly figuratively) in terror at the chaos anymore. Right here at Blue Cotton Memory, it’s one of the places I come to just sit with God, talk over what’s going on, and tighten my grip on his hand, reminding myself that he is right here beside me, right now.

Dear Father,

During this Christmas season, I pray that we feel your Holy Spirit wash over us, mingling with the challenges that fall like rain, settling to softening the hard planes of our soul ridges. I pray that we see these challenges as softeners that make hearts more tender, understanding deeply dimensional, and grow a love taller, with beautiful blooms that re-seed in the mounds and furrows all around us, and that maybe, just maybe, some of those seeds just might be carried in a Holy Spirit rain down the furrowed path into a place that needs your kind of love seed – and that more will be blessed by the growth in us than we ever imagined. Thank you sending us a savior, your son, to show us the amazing grace that can come out of a hard challenge.

Amen

(Illustration by Lynda Farrington Wilson in the January release of Where the Wild Winds Blow Fall and Winter).

 

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hospitalbed_edited-1For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in (Isaiah 28: 20)

We are born with souls too short – too short for refreshing rest, too short to allow for growth. The fibers of our souls initially are too stiff for comfort, too abrasive to wrap around the bones, the mind, the heart where love lives.

How does one live with a soul too short?

This last week was uncomfortable – from Monday through Sunday. My mother had cancer surgery 3 hours away from our house and 5 hours away from her house in the middle of the week. Her surgery could result in a one to three day hospital stay. Add 3 boys still at home, 2 in high school, plus 2 soccer tournaments anywhere from one to three hours in different directions from our home, a golden retriever who recently met the new neighbors – squirrels from the woods who suddenly discovered a new cache of nuts from our Maple trees and frolicking in our Bradford Pear trees. She now has to be leash walked, or, in her euphoria, she finds herself two streets away playing with a family that isn’t hers. I’m also teaching again, twice a week. Did I mention out of town guest?

I imagine my mom felt even more uncomfortable than I did, though.

A soul too short is like a bed too small, like blankets that don’t cover feet on a cold, chill night. How can  peace, joy, love and gentleness be given when the soul isn’t big enough to even comfort itself?

How do you love everyone just right -filling them up with what they need the way they need it – when time and space result in half of everything dangling over the foot of the bed, like an overgrown teenage boy?

How do I “do” everything just right, when I’m just not consistently good at being good – with the right words and the right actions? When my goodness isn’t big enough to wrap around a need like a soft, warm, worn-in quilt?

. . . or when there just aren’t words right enough to cover moments or situations?

In a normal daily, I plan time for moments requiring more – more time, more attention, more me, more patience, more goodness. I try to add time to cover short-sheeted moments. Frustratingly, no matter how much I plan, I fall short.

It’s humbling when my children look at me in a you-missed-it-mom moment, and, all I can think is – “Imagine me without God.” Even when I run short in those moments, I know that because of Him, I am not as short on goodness as I would be without Him.

There was not enough of the good in me to stretch and cover the needs of this week. The soul blanket I was born with? It couldn’t have covered the big toe of my week.

Our soul blankets grow and soften in the outpouring of a Holy Spirit washing. Only then do the fibers of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control and goodness soften for comfort, and in the softening, expand and grow stronger.

Me without God cannot walk well through a week like last week. Me without God cannot love the way I want to love without God. Me without God is no comfort at all.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (Galatians 5: 22-23).

His Holy Spirit stretches me beyond myself. Everything He calls me to be in? The blanket of my soul will be able to cover it – gracefully. Even in the missed-it moments – grace will emerge.

“I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16 – 19)

Last week, my out-of-town guests and I went on a Monday morning photo journey to the Little Creek Farm and its pumpkins where I was strengthened through friendship – and God’s little orange graces – white, green and striped, too!

Tuesday found the car packed, the boys with a schedule and friends to check on them – and my husband and I drove to Atlanta. God surrounded my mom with an incredible support team: her doctor who did the surgery – and my brother, my mother’s friend, my husband and I – and my cousin – 12 hours older than me (our moms – sisters – shared the same hospital room when we were born) – he’s a minister now who was there on business. He prayed with us, stayed with us through the day. There are no coincidences when God is involved.

My mother loves hugs – arms wrapped around tight hugs. Me? I will gladly hug you to death with words – but too tight arm-wrapped-around hugs feel like I’m suffocating. I held her hand, smoothed her brow, held her arm in hospital walk-abouts and cheered her on with wordy hugs (which have the same suffocating effect on others). I think between all of us, we wrapped her in a love blanket that snugged around her just right.

One of God’s beautiful gifts is a family who works as a team – our family worked like that last week.

Mom left the hospital the day of surgery – and was ready to travel home the next day. My brother drove her all the way home which allowed us to cover the schedule that needed covering at home. His time sacrifice blessed us. We returned home earlier than expected to prepare for a weekend full of schedules and the unplanned challenges that come with the everyday in family – regardless, I think, of its size.

No – I was not all grace last week – but I was who I needed to be to those that needed me.

The God-designed blanket of my soul covered it all.

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