I am made of summer bike rides down a dusty road, patted out cakes of sand decorated with leaves, and the sweet taste of honeysuckle nectar on my tongue. I am made from the bleating of sheep at the first morning light and the rule about no bare feet until May 1st.
I am made from faded 4-H ribbons, honor roll certificates, and every adventure of Nancy Drew. I am made of time spent practicing the old Baptist hymns played on a slightly out-of-tune piano for sweet Miss Ella Mae and of Vacation Bible School cookies and Kool-aid. I am made from the wiping down of tables in the Terry coffee shop, watched over by Gracie with the golden tooth to ensure I didn’t miss a single spot.
I am made of my father’s laughter and my mother’s quiet observations, my grandmother’s whisk, and of hours upon hours spent reading the Bible to Ma as I sat next to the crackling fire. I am made of Sunday brisket eaten around the long table at the Big House, of grilled cheese sandwiches cooked in butter, and of just a little too much sugar in my coffee milk.
I am made from the white stockings all bunched in the toes of my red buckle shoes, of itchy lace stitched along the hem of the Easter dress my grandmother made, and from tracing the wrinkles on the thin skin of my great-grandmother’s hand as The Word of God was preached every single Sunday morning of my childhood. I am made of Thanksgiving breakfasts and of Spring Ridge Sundays, of old family photos and of vacations spent traipsing through abandoned cemeteries to find that one ancestral grave we had never seen before.
I am made from fingers dry with chalk and red ink marks, and more lesson plans than I care to remember. I am made from large stacks of homeschool curriculum and unreasonably high library fines. And I am made out of 235,000 mini-van miles, most traveled with five kids crammed into the back asking “Are we almost there yet?”. I am made from living in six states, and from owning an empty passport.
I am made from the midnight prayers over sick babies. I am made out of my decision to welcome children from hard places into my home, from loving them as much as I loved my own blood babies, and from the tears of having to give them back. I am made from learning how to feed an anorexic child.
I am made out of pencils without a point, ink smeared words on loose leaf paper, and random blog posts. I am made from the strong desire to tell the tales my ancestors once told just so I can remember how the story goes.
Who am I?
I am all of these things, and yet so much more. For I am made in the image of the Great I Am, created only for His glory. I am made for His plans and purposes.
The events and people that shaped me are not the sum of who I am.
I am made for Him.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. ~Colossians 1:16 (ESV)
I realize this isn’t exactly a news flash for most people, but …
Today is Memorial Day.
It’s a day for being off work, flying the flag, celebrating the official start of summer with a BBQ or a day on the water (whether it’s a lake or enjoying the first swim of the season). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending Memorial Day having fun.
But, it’s also about pausing to reflect upon the price it costs to living in the land of the free. It’s a day for our nation to remember those who have served and the price they paid because …
Service to nation is never free.
Today is Memorial Day.
Nineteen years ago, on another Memorial Day, we buried my maternal grandfather.
He was a great man of godly character. My grandfather loved his Lord, his family, his friends and his nation. He was proud to be an American and truly embraced the freedoms we have here.
When my grandfather passed away early in Memorial Weekend, it seemed sort of fitting to bury him on Memorial Day. He had a plain wooden coffin that was draped in an American flag.
At the end of the service, some men from the local VFW came forward to fold the flag and present it to my grandmother, as is the tradition to honor our nation’s veterans. But what should have been a beautiful and simple ceremony to conclude the service quickly turned into a Keystone Cops sort of fiasco.
Three elderly gentlemen, who were also veterans themselves, stepped forward to solemnly remove the flag, They started the process of folding up the stars and stripes into a neat triangle, however, as they came close to finishing the men realized that they had folded the flag all wrong. Carefully, the men walked backwards and unfolded the flag.
The entire process started over … only as they reached the end of the flag, they again realized it had not been folded correctly. Once more they unfolded the flag and attempted to fold it again. I’m not sure exactly how many times these men folded, unfolded and refolded the flag, or even if they ever got it folded correctly. All I know was at some point during the ordeal I realized I was shaking with silent laughter. I was afraid to look at anyone in the eyes for fear that the dam would break and loud shrieks of laughing would burst forth.
Fortunately, I didn’t embarrass myself and eventually my grandmother was handed the folded flag in honor of my grandfather’s service.Afterwards, my entire family agreed that my grandfather would have gotten immense amusement out of the flag-folding episode at his funeral. The memory of my grandfather’s patriotism and the hilarity of the VFW attempting to fold the flag in his honor continues to be a Memorial Day memory I cherish year after year.
Today is Memorial Day.
For seven years, I was the spouse of a soldier. My ex-husband and I moved four times during those seven years. I gave birth to one baby on the west coast (my California Beach Boy) and another on the east coast (my Sweet Georgia Peach). Additionally, we spent time calling Virginia and Texas home.
I’m grateful for all that those seven years of service gave me and taught me. From sea to shining sea, I got to spend time exploring our beautiful nation. Living in military housing afforded me the opportunity to meet a wide-variety of people from all walks of life. Their stories have stuck with me. Their friendships have blessed me. Today, as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I am amazed at how many of my nearly 1000 social media friends came from those seven years of military life. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for the world!
And yet, there was a price to pay. While I’d never blame military service completely on the failure of my first marriage, I do believe that frequent deployments and the stress of separation played a major part in the death of that relationship.
Unfortunately, the high stakes cost isn’t over yet. Over a decade later, my children, who will always suffer to some extent as they deal with the effects of growing up in a broken family, still pay the price on a daily basis. They don’t have the pleasure of regular visits with their father, Currently, their dad is temporarily deployed to South Korea. With the volatile world climate, my kids worry about their dad.
Protecting their hearts gets harder and harder as they grow older.
Service to nation is not free.
Today is Memorial Day.
It’s always been an honor to say that my dad was a veteran.
My dad joined the army shortly after he and my mother were married. I recall him telling me that he knew he would soon be drafted, so rather than wait for the letter to arrive in the mail, he went to the recruiters himself. By doing so, my dad was able to finish college before leaving for basic training.
I used to love to listen to my dad’s tales about the Army. One of my favorites was how he used too tell about how once he was put in charge of an entire barracks of soldiers. He was responsible for the condition of the barracks (neatness and cleanliness) as well as knowing the whereabouts of all the soldiers assigned to that barracks. He had to report any that were not in by curfew and each morning at formation account for everyone.
Dad would always elaborate on how the other barracks were in such a disarray, with soldiers always out past curfew or not up in time to stand in formation. He would go into great detail about how the other barracks were full of fighting, drunken soldiers.
But not his barracks. Dad would proudly say that his group of soldiers were always on time. Their beds were made properly, uniforms sharply pressed, the floors were mopped and the bathrooms kept sparkling clean. He said not one soldier ever missed a curfew and each morning they were all standing outside, perfectly in formation with their boots shining in the morning sun. In fact, for three or four months in a row, my dad received the award for the best barracks, earning the right to eat a private lunch with the Lt. Col., and honor that still thrilled my dad years later.
Of course, it wasn’t until after my father thought he had duly impressed us all with his amazing leadership abilities that he would let you in on the secret to his success. You see, the barracks under his leadership was entirely made up of a group of Mormons. (Later, during my years as a military spouse, I began to understand just exactly how patriotic and honorable Mormons as a whole are.)
My dad was so proud of his military service. One Christmas, my siblings and I gathered all my dad’s military patches and medals, and put them into a special display case. I wish I could say it was my idea. It wasn’t. It is my brother who deserves the credit. I’m just grateful he included my sister and I, allowing us to share a part in giving the gift to my dad. I don’t know that I’ve ever had more pleasure in watching someone open a gift than I had that Christmas when my dad opened up the display case with all of his military regalia. I thought my dad’s smile was going to burst the seams on his face! For as long as I live, I will never forget that moment.
Yet as proud as my dad was …
Service to nation isn’t free.
Today is Memorial Day.
My dad was once a soldier who served his nation during a time of conflict and war. Though he returned home, my father long remembered the names of those he knew who gave their lives in protection of our nation’s freedoms.
When I was in high school, a touring replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial came to our area. My dad insisted we go view it. I could tell it was a solemn event for him, far more than a simple wall or just a group of names. He knew each one represented a real man who never came home. He understood the price these soldiers had paid.
My father didn’t die in Vietnam. Rather the war took nearly 45 years to kill him.
You see, during his one year in Vietnam, my dad was exposed to Agent Orange. If you look up the effects of Agent Orange exposition, the list is long. Everything from cancer and other debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
My dad experienced the last three, experiencing his first heart attack in his mid-40’s. I think he had 3 more over the next 20 years. The heart attacks were not due to blockages. My dad never had a stint put in place or a by-pass surgery to reroute blood flow. Rather his heart attacks were caused by an overall weakened heart muscle that was damaged from Agent Orange. In the last year or two of his life, my dad’s heart functioned at just barely over 20% of full pumping capacity, yet he continued to wake up each day and live a full life.
Several years ago, my father began to receive a full veteran’s disability from the U. S. government as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. While he was open and honest about the fact that he had suffered from effects of the exposure and was receiving compensation, my dad never once complained to me (or to anyone else that I am aware of) about those resulting consequences. Instead, he was proud of his military service, and counted it as one of the better things he did in his life.
I am proud of him too.
About two years ago, I learned about the Vietnam Veterans Program, which honors soldiers who returned from Vietnam but later died as a result of their service. Men who suffered from PTSD and committed suicide, those who died from Agent Orange related diseases are all eligible to be honored.
After a long paper chase to fill out the application, I am delighted to report that my dad was accepted. He will be honored at a special service near the Vietnam Wall on Father’s Day weekend. I am excited to be attending this ceremony with my mom, my sister and her family, as well as my dad’s two sisters. It’s going to be a special time of remembering and honoring my father.
Today is Memorial Day.
I am remembering that while there are those who paid the ultimate price for my freedoms, each and every one of our military men and women who spent time serving our nation has sacrificed something because …
Service to nation is never free.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” ~John 15:13
If I could bottle up only one sound from my childhood, it would be the sound of my mother’s voice reading to me.
Some of my earliest memories are of us reading together on the couch, my brother and sister and me all clamoring to sit as close to our mother as we could. My mother’s soft voice read to us fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss and Aesop’s fables, little Golden books and Bible stories straight out of our big children’s picture Bible. For a half hour or more each night, we sat enchanted by the words and the sound of her reading aloud.
This daily ritual continued long after I could read for myself. Not a day went by that my mom didn’t read a book to me, from the time I was too young to remember straight through elementary years. Even after I started Jr. High, my mother still often read aloud: short snippets from magazine articles, a particularly captivating paragraph from a book she happened to be reading for her own enjoyment, a chapter from the Bible in preparation for the week’s Sunday school lesson.
Sometimes my mother would help me study by reading my school textbooks aloud to me. Once, in college, I was frustrated with a very lengthy poem I needed to read for my literature class. I had returned home for a weekend visit, but spent the majority of Saturday in tears over the assignment. That evening my mother sat on the edge of my bed and read the entire poem aloud to me. Suddenly the poem made sense. My frustrations ceased, and I understood what the poet wanted to convey.
My mother always knew the best books to read. She was the one who introduced me to the wonderful stories that contained characters who became like special friends:
Scout and Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird
Anne, Diana, Marilla, and dear, sweet Matthew from Anne of Green Gables
Father Tim and his large dog Barnabas from At Home in Mitford
Ramona Quimby from Beezus and Ramona
Jo from Little Women
Sara Crewe who indeed was The Little Princess
One Christmas, my mother bought me an boxed set of The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those tattered books, read and reread countless times over the years, still line my bookshelf. Those stories are so ingrained in my mind that Mary and Laura, Ma and Pa feel almost like my own family.
One of my favorite parts of going to elementary school was the Scholastic Book Club orders. My mother always let me order at least one book, usually more. And if we walked into a bookstore, we almost always walked out with at least one book. I think it was hard for her to say no to book purchases.
Years ago, when my teens were toddlers, my mother called to tell me she had ordered books for my children for Valentine’s Day. She asked me not to open the box until Valentine’s Day to keep it a surprise for the kids. A few days later, a box arrived on my doorstep. I dutifully set it aside. One the morning of Valentine’s Day, I gathered my kids around to open the box together. Sure enough, inside were three new picture books, one for each child. But also in the box, were TWO books for me. It was maybe the best surprise gift I have ever received.
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A day or two ago, I received an email from BookBub, a free service that helps readers discover books. The email asked the question:
What book are you thankful your mother introduced you to?
The email went on to share the answers from several BookBub employees. The books varied from more recent books such as the Magic Tree House series and Harry Potter to older classics such as The Outsiders and various novels by Judy Blume.
Naturally, I paused to determine my answer to this question, but I couldn’t come up with just one book.
(Well, actually I could. I’m grateful my mother read the Bible to me and encouraged me to read the Bible for myself. But I almost consider the Bible to be far more than just a book, so it feels wrong to give that as my answer.)
My mother introduced me to so many books and characters that it feels impossible to pick just one. However, I’m grateful my mother introduced me to reading … but not because of the books or characters or authors.
I am grateful my mother loved reading for because she loved it, I did too.
And reading gave me:
a love for words and the thoughts they convey
an appreciation for good literature
a head start in academics
an entire world of experiences at my fingertips
imagination and creativity
the pleasure of visiting libraries and bookstores
sharing excitement over discovering new books and authors
writing and the power of using written words
But perhaps the most important gift of reading was a way to connect to my quiet introverted mom. Somehow, in the pages of books, I found a way to enjoy the world with my mother.
So on this Mother’s Day Weekend, when I have so very many reasons to be thankful for my Mama, I’m recalling one of the more precious memories from my childhood … reading with my mom.
Thanks, Mama, for reading with me. I’m so grateful that you did.
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
I grew up in north Louisiana, where most people are either Baptist or Pentecostal. My family was Baptist.
Baptists don’t do Lent. Pentecostals don’t do Lent either, for that matter.
To say that Lent was not a big deal in my early life would be the understatement of the year. In fact, I was in high school the first time I heard about Lent, and I was well into adulthood before I even began to understand what it was all about.
Then about 8 years ago, I moved to the very heart of Cajun country, where the people are mostly Catholic.
Catholics do Lent. And it’s a VERY big deal.
So … what’s a Baptist girl, who lives among the Cajuns, supposed to do during Lent?
Well, over time this Baptist girl has learned that Lent can be a very special time that draws a person into a closer relationship with God. I recognize that many of the practices of observing Lent are actually Biblical truths:
making personal sacrifices to honor God
being intentional about growing in one’s faith.
Lent can certainly be a season of intentionality about faith.
Yet, the Baptist in me would say it shouldn’t be the only time we fast or sacrifice or focus intentionally on our relationship with the Lord.
Kind of similar to Valentine’s Day …
Most people participate in celebrating Valentine’s Day, especially those of us with significant others. But there are those people who outright refuse to participate.
You might hear them say:
“Valentine’s Day is just a commercialize holiday. I can send flowers any day of the year, and it would be far more romantic than doing it on a specific day just because everyone else is sending flowers on that day too.”
This is true.
However, I always want to ask Valentine’s Day protestors:
Do you actually send flowers other days? And exactly how often during the rest of the year do you intentionally romance your spouse?
Yet, I also know that if Valentine’s Day is the ONLY time a married couple romances each other during the year, that marriage isn’t likely a healthy or happy one.
Romance is important in a marriage. Whether it’s on Valentine’s Day or another day, you gotta have some romantic overtures. Right? Which is why there is nothing wrong with specifically and intentionally making romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day. In fact, in my own experience, I have found that by observing Valentine’s Day, I am reminded to practice being romantic more often in my marriage.
I find the practice of Lent to be quite similar. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with observing Lent. In fact, these practices can be an incredibly worthwhile practice of faith.
But if Lent is the only time you focus on your faith, something is not quite right.
Several years ago, I began to observe Lent in my own special way.
Most people I know choose to give up something for Lent: caffeine, social media, sugar, TV, etc.
I rarely do Lent that way. I suppose it feels too much like a punishment, which seems like the wrong approach. After all, the goal of Lent isn’t to punish myself. The goal is to grow in my faith and relationship with God.
That’s why instead of giving up something for Lent, I choose to make my sacrifice through positive changes. Each Lent I try to pick one new thing to do that I feel like will draw me into a closer relationship with God.
In the past, I have attempted to memorized a lengthy scripture (or one shorter Bible verse each week) or maybe volunteer my free time with a local ministry. But the best thing I ever did for Lent was to read my Bible.
Up until a few years ago, I had been hit or miss with daily Bible reading. Truthfully, I was more miss.
I might do really well for a couple of weeks, and then not read the Bible at all (outside of church) for the next month. I could not seem to get into the habit of reading the Bible each day.
As a result, I often felt weak in my faith, as well as guilty for not having a time set aside each day to connect with God personally. I knew I should be reading God’s word, but I just wasn’t disciplined enough to make it happen.
Therefore, that particular Lent I decided my focus was going to be simply reading God’s word each day.
I did not rely on using a devotional book. I didn’t search out any Bible study to help me decide what to read, or listen to Bible teachers who would give me insights into what I read.
It was just God, me, and my Bible for 15-20 minutes.
Reading the Bible every day has been a faith game changer for me.
You cannot know God if you don’t have interactions with Him. In Christian circles, we talk about how we connect to God, and often the main answer is through prayer. Prayer is definitely an essential part of the Christian faith. It is when we talk to God.
Bible reading is more about God talking to us. It’s not the only way He speaks into our lives. The Holy Spirit can move us through a myriad of ways, but Bible reading is one of the biggest ways God reveals Himself.
Here are just a few Scriptures that tell us why the Word of God is so important for Christians to know.
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. ~ Psalms 119:105
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and mind … Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. ~ Deuteronomy 11:18-19
If knowing God’s Word is important, then we need to be diligent about studying it.
Back when I was a college student, I spent quite a bit of time studying my textbooks. I read every assignment diligently, highlighting the important sections and copying facts directly from the text into my notebook. I did this because I wanted to understand the material and make a good grade in my class.
If the Bible is the definitive book on God and Christian living (and it is), then we should diligently study it.
This means actually reading the Bible for ourselves.
All of it. Not just the New Testament. The whole thing. Not skipping over the parts we don’t like or have trouble understanding.
We also shouldn’t replace opening our Bible with the reading of devotionals. There is nothing wrong with reading books specifically about the Christian faith these books cannot begin to compare to actually reading the Bible for ourselves.
The reason for this is that we do not need any other human to interpret the Bible for us. The Holy Spirit is able and willing to impart wisdom to us through the words of the Bible. All we have to do is ask for His wisdom.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have told you. ~ John 14:26
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. ~ 1Corinthians 2:13
The words of the Bible are unlike any other book.
The more you read it, the more you will want to read it. The more you begin to understand, the more you realize how much more you still have to learn.
Hebrews 4:12 says this: For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.
Simply put: Bible reading is powerful.
Perhaps you are looking for a way to grow in your faith. Maybe you are pondering what you should give up for Lent.
Then allow me to suggest that if you aren’t already in the habit of doing so, a great option would be to make Bible reading a daily habit.
It won’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time. Simply open your Bible and begin reading.
If you don’t know where to start, then I suggest that you begin with the book of John. It is an encouraging book that focuses on who Jesus is, the events of His earthly ministry, and how we can receive the gift of salvation.
Additionally, there are 21 chapters in John, none of which are extremely long. Scientists tell us that it takes about 21 days of consistently doing something new in order to make it a habit. If you read a chapter in John each day, then at the end of the book of John you will have created a new habit of reading the Bible.
Bible reading is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to grow in faith.
If you haven’t started this life-changing habit yet, this Lent is a great time to begin!
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Several years ago, I wrote about my first experiences with Ash Wednesday. It’s by far the most read post on this blog. If you haven’t read it before, or if you would like to reread it, here’s the link: A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday
I was 7 years old the first time I stayed overnight with my great-grandmother, Ma.
Ma didn’t live alone, but that night it was just the two of us in the big, rambling house that she shared with my grandparents. Mammie and Papaw were away on an overnight trip. I suppose they were concerned about leaving my great-grandmother alone while they were away, although I am still unclear on what exactly they thought I could do should something unforeseen happen.
Yet there I was … Ma’s protector.
It turned out that from that night right up until the fall I left for college, whenever my grandparents left town, it was my job to stay overnight with Ma.
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Typically, one of my parents would drive me up to the big house on the hill, where they would drop me off.
I always tried to arrange things so that I would arrive sometime relatively in the early evening, yet late enough to have already eaten supper. Otherwise, all I might expect Ma to offer me would be a piece of dry toast or maybe some cornbread crumbled up in a small glass of milk. I knew that whatever my mother might be cooking that night would be immensely more appetizing than either of those choices.
Still, I didn’t like walking in and going straight to bed. I needed time to get settled and maybe watch something on TV … hopefully, while my father visited with Ma for a bit. Ma was a worrier, and I liked for her to get all her worrying out with my dad so that I didn’t have to worry with her after he left.
Besides, Ma firmly believed in that “early to bed, early to rise” business. I knew she was going to start turning off lights and shutting down the house about 8:30 pm. Bedtime in the big house came quickly. Being something of a night owl, I needed time to prepare myself for an early night.
Most nights with Ma went pretty much the same way. My dad would visit with her for half an hour or so. Then he would get up and say, “Well, ladies … I guess I will leave y’all to it.” (Exactly what he thought he was leaving us to, I still don’t know. Your guess is probably as good as mine.)
My father would go and there we would sit.
Just the two of us, together in an oversized living room …alone in that big, dark house, sitting high on a hill.
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Those first few moments with my great-grandmother were always slightly awkward. We would look at each other and exchange small smiles, unsure of what to do next.
Usually, at this point, Ma would ask me if I would like to eat an orange or an apple before bed. Most of the time, I did.
She would heave herself up from the chair, and march off to the kitchen to fetch me a piece of fruit. A few minutes later, she would return with the fruit, a knife and napkins. Once she had settled back into her chair, Ma would carefully peel my fruit for me.
Now, I could have certainly gone to get my own piece of fruit, and I could have even peeled it for myself. Nevertheless, I always allowed her to do these things for me … perhaps because whether she got me an apple or an orange, Ma’s method for peeling fruit fascinated me.
With oranges, she peel off the thick skin so exactly that not a single speck of the white pith remained stuck to the juicy fruit. Oh, but watching her peel an apple was my favorite! Somehow she could cut one long, unbroken strand of peel away from the apple’s flesh, until it finally fell into a heap on the napkin in her lap. Many a night I sat transfixed, holding my breath, until she had made the final cut and the peel came away in a giant curl.
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As I ate my snack, Ma would talk.
She had only two topics of conversation:
anything related to God or the Bible
anything related to sickness or death, particularly her own sickness or death
I personally preferred topic #1, which is why I learned very quickly that I could steer the conversation this direction if I asked her about that week’s Sunday school lesson.
Ma loved to study her Sunday school lesson each week, and diligently read the scriptures to prepare for the class discussion. My favorite nights were when she would direct me to read the week’s passage to her from her large-print Bible because generally she would allow me to read aloud for as long as I wanted. In this way, I found I could easily keep the conversation from drifting to more unsettling topics … like death and hell.
Death was probably Ma’s favorite topic, and she talked about it a lot. She talked about people who had died recently, or people she thought might be about to die. She talked about tragic deaths, not-so-tragic deaths, and her own death.
The last one was her most favorite topic. However, as you probably imagine, I did not share her opinion.
I’m sad to report that this distressing topic of conversation seemed to arise with regularity, generally right about the time we began to prepare to go to bed. It was nearly always a one-sided conversation, which went something like this:
Now, Paige, you know there’s a good chance I could die in the night. It happens to people my age all the time. They go to bed and do not wake up in the morning. You should know that I am not afraid to die, but I worry you might be afraid to wake up and find me dead. So, if that happens, I want you to know there is no need to worry. Just call Malcolm. He will know exactly what to do.
Malcolm, of course, was my father. I can assure you that if I had ever woken up to find Ma lying in her bed dead, I would have screamed so loudly there would have been no need to pick up the phone and call anyone, Malcolm or otherwise.
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Every time I every stayed overnight, Ma wanted me to share the bed with her.
I always felt rather conflicted about this arrangement.
There were quite a number of reasons I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same bed as her, the main one being the very concerning issue of her dying in the night. I wasn’t too keen on sleeping next to a dead person for any length of time.
Secondly, my great-grandmother was definitely NOT used to sharing a bed. She hogged the covers, and made all sorts of strange noises.
Finally, when Ma took out her dentures just before bed, it gave her face a strange sunken look … which, I hate to say, reminded me of what I thought a dead person might look like. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen many dead people at that time in my life, so I didn’t really know what to expect a corpse to look like. Sunken cheeks definitely could be something one might see on a dead body, so therefore it was another good reason to find another place to sleep besides my great-grandmother’s bed.
However, the thought of sleeping in a bed all alone wasn’t exactly a comforting thought either. My grandparent’s house was rambling old home, with floors that creaked and doors that squeaked. Who knew what was lurking behind all those shadows or what creatures might be making those strange nighttime noises?
Then there were large paintings of my aunts and uncles which hung on some of the walls. I had seen enough Scooby Doo episodes to know that large portraits sometimes have shifty eyes that actually hid some sort of terrible swamp monster.
Yes, the more I thought about it, if something bad were to actually happen (like monsters appearing from behind portraits or burglars sneaking in to steal the stale cornbread from the kitchen counter), then it might be comforting to have another person in close proximity … even if that person made strange noises and had sunken cheeks and claimed she might die before the sun rose in the morning.
Clearly, I had an overactive imagination. The truth is that the decision of whether or not I should sleep next to Ma was probably the hardest part of staying overnight with her.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
For the first few years, I generally slept next to her. After all, it seemed the safest choice. But by the time I was 10 or 11, I felt embarrassed about this sleeping arrangement. Yet deep inside, I was still very much a scaredy cat. I really didn’t want to sleep alone in a bedroom all by myself. I often resolved this problem by inviting a friend over to stay the night with me.
But sometimes, I couldn’t find a friend to stay … and then I was left to work out whether or not I was brave enough to sleep alone.
Once, when I was about 12 years old, I thought it would be nice to bring my younger sister Brooke along. Brooke is 4 years younger than me, and at that time we didn’t have a lot in common. But I knew she would stay up to watch TV as long as I wanted and I figured she wouldn’t complain about sleeping next to me in a bed.
It seemed like the perfect solution to my sleeping dilemma!
My father was the one to drop the two of us off that night. I recall him sitting next to Ma for a short visit.
On this particular night, Ma immediately started complaining about every ailment she had or thought she might have. At one point, she started telling my father about how she was likely to die soon, perhaps even that very night. My father simply patted her hand and told her not to worry.
Now Malcolm, you know I am not worried one bit about dying. I just want to be sure you know what to do in case these girls here wake up in the morning and find me gone. Now, I expect pretty quickly they will call you, so you will be the first to know. Then you should go ahead and call Ken and Greg. It doesn’t matter which of them you call first, but let them both know before you tell anyone else. Then one of you boys can call Herbert … but tell him not to rush home. I don’t want to ruin his trip, and besides there is nothing he can do here anyway. I guess you might want to call the preacher after that.
My dad laughed. “Ma, I don’t think you are going to die tonight. You still have too much fight in you. But I promise that if you do, I’ll take care of everything.”
And then, he quickly changed the subject. Probably to the topic of her Sunday school lesson.
Half an hour later, my dad got up to leave. He kissed my cheek and called for my sister to come give him a hug. But Brooke didn’t respond.
We both called. After several minutes, I finally got up to go look, but in that big rambling house, I couldn’t find her. Eventually, my father said he must go on home, and for me to tell her he said goodnight.
I waved as he stepped through the kitchen door.
But just half a minute later, Dad walked back in … grinning from ear to ear.
I have found your sister. She’s sitting in the car with her overnight bag on her lap. She says that if Ma is dying tonight, she will not stay here for it. I’m afraid you are on your own.
Ditched by my sister. Too late to invite a friend. I really was stuck in the big house alone with my great-grandmother … who seemed bound and determined to die on my watch.
As I recall, I hardly slept a wink that night.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Ma didn’t die that night… or for a good many years to come. In fact, she didn’t die at all on “my watch.”
The last time I saw Ma, she was lying in a hospital bed. Even though she was 91 years old, I didn’t think she was really going to die. After all, she was mentally sharp as a tack and every bit as feisty as I had ever seen her.
Later, she drifted into a coma, and the next day she passed away. No drama. Nothing traumatic or tragic. Just a peaceful and quiet transition from earth over into heaven.
What she longed for most of all, finally had come to pass.
It’s been nearly 25 years now since the day she died, yet not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way or another.
I miss the way she would pat my hand when she talked to me, or shake her finger in my face whenever she imparted some important truth. I can still see her face clearly: the big smile, the sly grin, the fiery look that made me want to hide.
She gave the best hugs, and the worst baths! (If she ever caught hold of you in a bathtub, look out! That woman knew how to use a wash rag, and chances were excellent that you were going to emerge from that bath missing an entire layer of skin! Every Terry child old enough to remember Ma knows the truth about this.)
Oh … and her chicken pie! How I miss her chicken pie!
When I finally get to heaven, I hope there’s an empty seat next to her at that great banquet table … because if there is, then the first thing I am going to do is walk straight over, sit down next to her, hold her hand, and tell her how grateful I am for all those nights the two of us got to spend alone together up in the big house on the hill.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believe Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life. ~John 5:24
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ~John 14: 2-3
I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love Ritz crackers.
My first Ritz memories are of eating them with peanut butter. I’m sure my mother made this delicacy for us, but I really recall enjoying peanut butter Ritz with my dad. In fact, when my mom was gone and my father was in charge of feeding the hungry horde of people left at home, you could count on peanut butter and Ritz crackers being on the menu.
My father’s mother enjoyed experimenting with making treats dipped in chocolate. Her kitchen as filled with all sorts of sweets covered in chocolate. But her best creation might have been Ritz cracker peanut butter sandwiches which were dipped entirely in chocolate. Those were amazing!
But really, if you ask me, a Ritz cracker can be topped with with nearly anything, and still be tasty: cream cheese, pimento cheese, spinach and artichoke spread. The list goes on and on.
Because there’s really nothing like a Ritz cracker …
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Yesterday was 4-H Fall Fest.
Fall Fest is a big deal in our house. It’s a fun day of 4-H competitions, including lots of cookery contests. Each year, we start several weeks before Fall Fest looking for great recipes to enter into the various food categories.
This year, Nathan and I found what we thought would be a winner: Creole Cheesecake Spread.
This wasn’t your typical cheesecake dessert. This was more like a savory dip that was baked in a springform pan. It contained shrimp, crawfish tails, some Cajun seasonings and a whole lot of cream cheese. And all of this was baked on a Ritz cracker crust.
When that baby came out of the oven, Nathan and I immediately spread some on top of a Ritz cracker. It was so amazingly delicious that we thought we had gone to heaven!
Next, Nathan and I packed some of this Creole Cheesecake over to our neighbor, who is about as Cajun as they come and known all over Lafayette for his cooking skills. We asked his opinion. After he took a sample taste, he asked us for the recipe! WooHoo … we felt good about our chances at a blue ribbon.
Would you believe Creole Cheesecake Spread didn’t even place? How is it possible for a Ritz cracker not to win? I am still not sure. However, my entire family enjoyed the rest of the Creole Cheesecake Spread while we watched the Saints games against the Bengals.
I am happy to report that the Saints won … and the Creole Cheesecake was a winner with everyone too!
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This weekend I enjoyed a lot of Ritz crackers. I don’t keep them in my house very often, because if I do, I will eat them one long sleeve after another. I don’t have this problem with chips or cookies, but give me one Ritz and I’ll eat a dozen!
I remembered a story my dad used to tell quite often about his days in Vietnam. Apparently, after he had been in Vietnam for quite some time, he went to the PX and discovered they had just received a shipment of new items to sell in the store. Among the new merchandise, my dad found a large tin of Ritz crackers.
Even though it cost over $5, he bought it! He also got some peanut butter. My dad said it was worth every penny because it tasted like home.
I always loved that story. Probably because I understood that particular story more than any of the other things he would share with us about his time in Vietnam.
Anyway, between my dad’s birthday on Nov. 9th, Fall Fest on Nov. 10th and Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11th, I’ve been eating Ritz crackers and thinking quite a bit about my Daddy.
Both have brought me a lot of happiness … though I enjoyed the memories of my father far, far more than the Ritz crackers. .
Tomorrow, the leftover Ritz crackers will go into the trash. I’ll no longer be indulging in one of my favorite unhealthy foods. As much as I love them, Ritz crackers aren’t good for me.
However, I’ll still continue to enjoy thinking about my dad. Not a day goes by when I don’t remember him in some fashion. And I plan on keeping it that way because generally whenever I think about my dad, it makes me smile.
So in this Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful for my dad and the wonderful man that he was. And I’m glad that God thought up giving us brains that are able to remember and recall the past so that it can bring us joy.
And every so often, I’m thankful for the enjoyment of a simple Ritz cracker … especially if it’s topped with a bit of peanut butter.
This past weekend my oldest son competed in his second collegiate debate tournament, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals before getting eliminated.
I am so stinkin’ proud!
You might be thinking to yourself:
“Quarterfinals?! It’s not like he actually won or anything … he just made it to the top eight. I don’t understand why are you so excited.”
Well, let me tell you…
That boy of mine has been giving speeches since he was quite young. But he had never debated at all until last spring. Now, six months later, he is competing with the college debate team at Louisiana College. I can’t help but think that’s pretty impressive.
However, I have to admit that just having the ability to debate impresses me.
To begin with, debating is a skill. One must learn how to logically present a case, while being able to strategically point out the flaws and fallacies of their opponent’s position. This takes lots of practice to hone and develop. I suppose I could learn debating techniques and tactics, but the truth is that I don’t want to learn. You see, debating stresses me out.
Debate feels a lot like arguing, which is not something I enjoy at all. Maybe if I had more experience, I would begin to feel comfortable engaging in friendly debates. But for the most part, I try to keep my life free of debates, whether it’s with strangers on social media, my friends in real life, or with my family and loved ones.
Let’s just say, I avoid debates at all cost.
Although there was that one time I purposefully debated Nate the Great.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This is my younger son Nathan.
We sometimes call him Nate.
Nate rhymes with debate. I should have thought about this when I was naming him. I regret to say that I didn’t even consider it. Not even once. Never even crossed my mind.
You see, he may look like an easy-going California Beach Boy with his blonde hair and blue eyes , but this kid loves to engage others in what can only be described as informal debates. He is so skilled at debating, that unsuspecting people (like me) don’t even realize a debate has started until you are already talking in a voice that’s a bit too loud and a tad too high.
In fact, the greatest debate I ever participated in was against Nate the Great. Yes, the same cute kid pictured above. Hard to believe, but it is 100% true. I’ll gladly tell you the tale, but allow me to begin by sharing the moral of my story:
Don’t ever let a cute boy with dimples woo you into a debate!
Chances are, it won’t end well.
Back when I was a single mom, I often entertained my children on long car rides with music. We loved to sing along to lots of oldies, and some of our favorite songs were from the 60’s.
On one such trip, Joel (who was about 9 years old), and Julia (who was approximately 6 years old) were singing loudly with me to one of our favorites songs: When I’m 64 by The Beatles.
Nathan (age 8) was not singing.
As the song ended, Nathan said in a very cranky voice, “That song made no sense.”
“Sure it does,” I said. “But even if it didn’t make sense, it is still a fun sing along song.”
“Momma … Have you ever really listened to the words?”
Let me step out of my story for just a moment. If you aren’t familiar with this particular Beatles song, you might want to take a listen by clicking on the photo below. It isn’t necessary to enjoy the rest of the story, but it might be helpful. Besides, it’s a fun song to know. You can listen if you like … takes about 2 1/2 minutes. My story will be ready to continue below once you return.
I started singing (off-key): “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”
Nathan glared. “You see? That’s ridiculous! Of course, she will still need him. But he might as well face it. She will NOT be feeding him anymore by then.”
“I guess I don’t understand, Nate. Why can’t she feed him anymore?”
Nathan gave me a look of disbelief. “Well, mom,” he sighed. “She will be very old by then and most old people have shaky hands. I bet she would drop food everywhere if she tried feed him! Besides, he just said he was 64. Most people who are 64 can definitely feed themselves. He should at least be able to make a sandwich or something!”
I chuckled. “Nathan, it’s not talking about spoon-feeding, like you would a baby. It’s just talking about cooking meals and eating together at the table. I’m positive a wife will continue to do those things for her husband, even when he is 64.”
“His wife?!” Nathan sounded incredulous. “He’s not singing about his wife! This song is definitely about his mother.”
Now it was my turn to feel stunned. I stared at Nathan briefly, before turning my eyes back to the road and my driving. Trying to focus on the task at hand and keep up my end of the debate was harder than I expected. “Um … no. You are wrong, Nathan. It’s about a girlfriend or a wife. The man is wondering if they will still be together many years from now, when they are both old and gray. He wants to know if they will get married and live their lives together, which is why he is singing, ‘Will you still need me, when I’m 64?’.”
I thought the argument would end there, but Nathan was not about to give up.
He shook his head vigorously and said, “Nah… Girls think about getting married, but guys try NOT to think about weddings! That’s how come I know for sure he is singing to his mother. He is asking his mom if she will still love him and want him to be home even when he is all grown up. That’s the kind of thing boys think about!”
I felt like I was in a quandary. To continue talking to this child would be nothing more than participating in a silly argument. Perhaps I should just drop it. But that would almost as if I were admitting to my son that he was right. And I definitely didn’t want to do that!
My mind whirred. What if I engaged him further in this debate by logically proving to him that he was wrong? Yes, that was the ticket! If I could get Nathan to see the fallacy of his own thinking, then he would have to admit that I was right.
“Nate,” I ventured cautiously. “How about instead of us arguing, we listen to the song again … only this time we will both pay close attention to the words. I can pause the CD every few lines so that we can talk about the words together. I bet in the end we will both be able to agree on exactly who this man is singing to. Are you willing to listen one more time?”
Nathan paused for a moment, considering my proposition. “Okay, I will listen with you,” he finally said. Then he took a deep breath and finished his thoughts. “But I already know he is singing to his mother.”
For a moment, I considered just letting the kid win the debate … but then I changed my mind and said, “Just try to listen with an open mind … okay, Nathan?”
I restarted the song and the bouncy tune began:
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
I paused the cd. “See, Nathan … right there, the singer says he wants to know if she will still be sending him a valentine. That definitely something that a girlfriend or wife would do, and not a mother. Valentines are exchanged by people who are in love, not between mothers and sons.”
“Well … YOU gave Me a valentine this year.” Nathan pointed at me first, and then at himself for added emphasis.
“Yes, well that’s different. You aren’t old enough to have a girlfriend or a wife. Lots of mothers and fathers give their children small gifts on Valentine’s Day, but once their kids are all grown they don’t usually do that anymore. For example, this past year I only got a gift from Mr. Jon. He’s my boyfriend. We are dating. My parents didn’t give me a Valentine’s gift. That’s because I am all grown up now. Understand?
“Yes, I do. And that’s exactly how come I know this singer is asking his mom about Valentine’s gifts. He doesn’t want to ever get married, but he still wants to get Valentine candy. So he is just making sure he understands what to expect. If his mother stops sending him Valentine gifts, then he will have to buy that stuff for himself.” There was a small pause, and then Nathan continued, “By the way, I’m not getting married either, so I hope you will keep on getting me Valentine gifts too.”
I sighed and restarted the cd.
Will you still need me, Will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
You’ll be older too.
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I stopped the cd again.
“Did you hear that, Nathan? He is telling his girlfriend that he will stay with her if she would like for him to stay. It’s another way of telling her he would like to get married.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Nate said, with a grunt.
I sighed. “Okay, Nathan. Tell me what you heard.”
“He said that when he is 64, his mother will be even older. Everyone knows really old people need someone to stay with them. So he is offering to stay with his mother when she is old. All she has to do is ask. I think that’s a great thing for a son to do for his mother!”
I had to laugh. “I agree with you on that one point, Nathan. It would be a great thing for a son to do for his mom. However, I’m still thinking he is singing to his girlfriend.”
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You could knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
I reached out and paused the cd again.
“Sounds like two people who are married to me! Mending things around the house, gardening, hanging out together, going for long drives … “
“Sounds like boring stuff to me! That’s definitely not the kind of thing married people do together!”
Stifling a laugh, I said, “So Nathan, what exactly do you think married people do together?”
“Not that sort of thing! No man is going to want to go for a long car ride with their wife. If I were married and wanted to take a car ride, I’d go by myself so that I wouldn’t have to talk. I could listen to my own music and drive really fast without anyone telling me to slow down.”
I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought I saw him give his big blue eyes a slight roll.
“I’m not sure you have a good concept of marriage yet, Nathan. You are still a bit young to really understand it. You see, it’s not about doing exciting things together all the time. It’s really just about sharing life and being with each other … even when you are just doing boring things. Besides, a son really isn’t going to want to do things like sit next to his mother while she knits a sweater.”
Nathan harrumphed. “I probably know more than you think. For one thing, his mother is old now. She can’t get up on ladders to change light bulbs. Her son is 64 and that’s pretty old, but he can still climb a ladder. He wants to be there to help his mother. That’s why he told her he would do things for her, like plant her a garden.” He stopped for a minute, as if collecting his thought. Then he continued, “Of course, it could be that he likes vegetables and he knows if he plants them his mother will cook them for him to eat. I think he’s just a really nice son who wants to take care of his mother.” Nathan sat for a second in thoughtful silence. Then he said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t understand why he is so worried about whether or not she will feed him …”
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave
“There! There! You see, Nathan … grandchildren! The singer is saying he wants to get married to his girlfriend, and then someday they will have grandchildren together!” I felt sure that this point would win the debate!
However, one glance over at Nate told me he wasn’t accepting this as the final answer either. Sure enough, Nathan spoke up, “He’s talking about his children … which are also his mother’s grandchildren.”
“But I thought you said he wasn’t getting married.”
“I didn’t say that. I said he didn’t want to get married. Sometimes guys don’t want to get married, but then it happens anyway because some girl tricks him into falling in love. He just knows that if he ends up getting married, then he will probably have children, too.”
I sighed loudly and started the cd once again.
Send me a postcard
Drop me a line
Nathan suddenly reached out and stopped the cd. “Postcards!” he said triumphantly. “Only moms send postcards. Girlfriends write love letters.”
“My mother has never sent me a postcard.”
Without skipping a beat, Nathan retorted, “My mother hasn’t either.”
Give me your answer, fill in the form
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
With that, I reached out and fast-forwarded to the next song on the cd.
“Why did you do that?” Nathan asked. “That song wasn’t even over yet … and I thought you really liked it.”
“Suddenly, Nathan, I don’t like it nearly as much.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
No doubt about it. I lost my debate with Nate.
But it wasn’t all bad. I learned an important lesson about intentionally starting a debate with a naturally argumentative person over a very minor issue: Basically, don’t do it!
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. ~Titus 3:9
Yet the Bible doesn’t say never enter into a debate. In fact, it says the exact opposite. We should always be prepared for a debate regarding our faith!
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. ~1 Peter 3: 15-16
It just matters how we go about the debate. When we focus on listening to the other person, on responding to their thoughts instead of trying to “win” the argument, and when we remain humble and speak from a place of love … well, that’s what debate is all about.
I’m not like Nathan. I don’t think debate is fun, and I probably never will. But I can follow my son Joel’s lead and learn how to debate. Because while debating isn’t pleasurable, it’s not evil either. And who knows where it might lead …
You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. ~Matthew 10:18
In my case, the Great Nate Debate didn’t take me to any wonderful places. But it did give me one of my favorite parenting stories to tell. And truthfully, I can’t wait until the day Nathan’s children come to visit me and I can tell them all about the time their Daddy debated me over the meaning of a silly Beatles song.
I knew the rule about snooping through my parents’ room. I wasn’t supposed to do it.
My mother said it was rude to go through other people’s things without their permission. I agreed with her reasoning. After all, I knew I would be livid if someone was poking around in my room, rummaging through the stashes of treasures stuffed back in various places.
And yet, I did it anyway.
Let me clarify. I didn’t pilfer through everything in my parents’ bedroom. I was mostly interested in their large chest of drawers. And truthfully, it wasn’t all of the drawers. Who cared about the ones crammed with socks? I was only interested in one drawer.
The top middle one.
The one that held all sorts of odds and ends that were clues about who my parents were before I existed, like my dad’s old tin box filled with tarnished 4-H pins and tie tacks that had no backs.
There were other treasures too, like a seashell necklace my mom got when she met my dad in Hawaii during his R&R from his year serving in Vietnam. I suppose a seashell necklace might sound rather gaudy, but it really was a dainty necklace. The shells were tiny, all the same size, and a beautiful golden color. I longed to see my mother put the seashells around her neck, even though it was hard to imagine my mother wearing such a necklace. As far as I knew, the only jewelry she ever wore besides her plain silver wedding band were a couple of pretty brooches on the lapels of her Sunday dresses. Sometimes I would look at the photos of my parents enjoying Hawaii together and think about the necklace and wonder about the person she was before she became my mother.
But the thing that drew me back to that forbidden drawer again and again was the sapphire ring.
Truly, this was the most impressive ring I had ever seen in my short life. To begin with, it seemed absolutely enormous. The ring spiraled into a tall cone of sapphires, which were the deepest, loveliest blue imaginable. Their color reminded me of the blue that ringed the irises of my mother’s eyes. Interspersed among the sapphires were small diamonds, which glittered in the light.
I remember that once my mother told me about the sapphire ring, stating that my dad brought it back to her from Vietnam. “Jewelry was cheaper there,” she said matter-of-factly.
Once when I asked my mother why she never wore the ring, she responded, “Paige, this is a cocktail ring. It’s meant to be worn on fancy occasions, such as a formal dinner party when a lady might wear an evening gown. I don’t go to parties like that so there is never an occasion for me to wear this ring.”
I was disappointed by her answer. Not because I didn’t understand her reasoning exactly, but rather because I wanted her to love the ring as much as I did. I wanted her to wear it anyway, even if there wasn’t a fancy party or grand occasion. Yet that was not my mother’s way, and so the beautiful sapphire and diamond ring was hidden away in the drawer.
Throughout the years of my childhood, I continued to regularly dig around in my parent’s top middle drawer. The contents rarely changed, but that wasn’t the reason I went snooping around. The truth is I was drawn to that ring like a moth to the light. Each time I eased open that drawer, I would immediately pull out the ring, and put it on my finger. Often, I would go over to the piano and play a song or two, envisioning I was a grand concert pianist performing before a large crowd of people. Other times, I stood in front of the mirror pretending to be a model or a superstar posing for photographs.
I might have been young, but I was certain of two things:
This was the most beautiful ring in the entire world.
Someday this ring would be mine to keep.
Neither turned out to be true … at least not in the way I envisioned.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
My great-grandmother, whom I called “Ma,” was a formidable figure in my life. She was a rather feisty woman, known for speaking her mind. She had an immense, intense, somehow fierce sort of love for her family.
And I adored her.
I was probably around 11 or 12 when I started sitting next to Ma in church. I didn’t want to sit with my parents anymore, but I knew they weren’t going to allow me to sit just anywhere. So I decided to sit next to Ma … at least initially because I knew she kept a stash of peppermints in her purse. At that time in my life, peppermints made just about any sermon better.
This might sound strange, but at some point I realized that I continued to sit next to Ma because I loved to hold my great-grandmother’s soft, wrinkled hands and admire the rings on her long fingers. She always had on a thin gold band along with an amethyst ring in the shape of a flower.
Purple has long been my favorite color. As much as I loved my September birthday, I truly wished my birthstone might be the lovely amethyst rather than the sapphire. Sunday after Sunday, I sat next to my great-grandmother and admired her purple flower ring.
Once my great-grandmother allowed me to try her ring on for size. As I stared at the ring on my own finger, I was captivated by its beautiful simplicity. When compared to my mother’s gloriously ornate sapphire and diamond ring, the amethyst flower on my great-grandmother’s hand seemed somewhat plain. Yet, I found it to be just as lovely.
Maybe this was the most beautiful ring in the world.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Christmas 1988 … give or take a year.
My parents gave me a beautiful sapphire necklace. I was thrilled!
While I preferred purple amethysts, sapphires were also among my favorite gems as it was my birthstone. My younger sister received an identical necklace, even though she wasn’t a September baby. It felt special for the two of us to have matching necklaces.
Later I learned the sapphires came from my mother’s ring, the one tucked away and never worn. Deep inside me, perhaps because of the little girl who used to sneak peaks at that enormous ring, there was a twinge of disappointment. I owned half of the sapphires, but …
What I once though to be the most beautiful ring in the world was no more.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
When my dad died 4 years ago, I found myself looking for ways to connect with him. I know it sounds strange … and maybe its just a way of grieving. You see, I knew he was no longer here with me, and I didn’t have any belief that he could hear me talking to him from the other side. As a Christian, I believe that because of my father’s faith in Jesus Christ when he died he went on to heaven to be with his Savior. And I don’t believe that he is up there looking down on me, or currently serving as some guardian angel in my life.
And yet … I just wanted to connect to my dad.
So I pulled out the sapphire necklace made from the sapphires he had brought to my mother from Vietnam before I was born. I thought perhaps wearing that around my neck would be a sweet reminder of my much-loved daddy.
But when I pulled the necklace out of my jewelry chest, I immediately saw the chain was hopelessly knotted. I remembered instantly why I hadn’t worn it in several years. The super find gold chain had knotted like that in one of my many moves. Even though I had tried many times before, I wrestled again and again with the knots, attempting to make the necklace wearable once more.
All of my attempts failed.
For a long time, the necklace lay on the top of my dresser, near where I put my wedding rings every night. I noticed it nearly every day, and thought about taking it to a jeweler to have the fine gold chain repaired. But I never did.
A year went by and then two …
One day, as I had my wedding rings cleaned in the jewelry store, I noticed a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring in the shape of a delicate flower. I pointed it out to Jon. “My next anniversary gift,” I teased him. “Probably not this year,” he responded lightheartedly.
But I couldn’t forget that ring.
Six months later, I went back to have my wedding rings cleaned again. I looked, and to my delight, the sapphire flower ring was still in the glass case. Jon wasn’t with me, so I asked the sales clerk if I could try it on. It slipped perfectly on my finger.
I did not want to take it off … but I did, somewhat reluctantly.
That was in April. All through the spring and into the summer, I thought and thought about that ring. It cost about $500, a bit out of the price range for our lower middle class income to spend on birthday, Christmas or anniversary gifts. The more I thought about the ring, the more I wished I could figure out a way to afford it. I loved the sweet flower setting as it reminded me so much of my great-grandmother and her lovely amethyst ring. And the sapphires … well, they nearly perfectly matched the sapphires on my necklace.
That was it! Instead of having the chain repaired, perhaps I could have those sapphires reset into a flower ring.
I tentatively brought the idea up to Jon. “I don’t know,” he said. “It might cost just as much to have the sapphires reset as it would to buy the ring you admire. Besides, are you sure you want to mess with the necklace your daddy gave you?”
I wasn’t sure.
So I thought about it some more. Once, I went back to the jewelry store to look at the lovely flower ring. My favorite sales lady said, “You really love this sapphire ring! When are you going to convince Jon to buy it for you?”
I laughed … and then told her about my sapphire necklace at home. “How much would it cost to have those sapphires reset into a similar setting?” I asked.
“Well … I am not sure. We could send it off to our jeweler, but he resides in another state, He will let us know what options you have regarding reseting the stones. I couldn’t tell you a price until we heard back from him. If that’s something you would like to do, then you would have to be willing to sign paperwork stating you understand we are not responsible if the sapphires you give us are lost or damaged while in our care.”
I was not willing to take the risk.
But when I told Jon what I had been told, he suggested we visit another jewelry store that had an in-house jeweler to get a few estimates. So, one September Saturday, about a week before my birthday, Jon and I set out to talk with a jeweler.
We went into one jewelry store and the quoted price was more than the purchase price of pretty ring that had started it all. “I was afraid of that,” Jon said. “Do you want to keep looking?”
I didn’t have to think long or hard about it. I immediately responded, “Yes … I do want to keep looking. Because I know that what I really want is not just any sapphire ring. I want to use my daddy’s sapphires to make a ring, and I want them in a flower setting.”
Jon looked at me and said, “I can’t promise you I can make that happen for this birthday or even your next birthday. It may not be for several years, depending on the cost. But if that’s what you want, then let’s find out the best way we can begin to work toward making that happen.”
Later that afternoon, Jon and I walked into a jeweler’s for what we thought would be just another estimate. But this time, after the jeweler heard me describe what I wanted, she said, “Actually, I don’t think we need to reset these sapphires at all. They are currently set in a diamond shape now, comprised of five rows of sapphires. You can see how there is one sapphire at each end of the diamond shape, with two sapphires on the second and fourth rows, and three sapphires set on the middle row. Now watch me … If I lay the charm on its side so that it makes a wide diamond-shape instead of a tall one, it’s easier to see that if we were to simply clip off each of the end sapphires, a flower shape would be what remained. That “sapphire flower” could then be mounted on a ring. It would save you quite a lot of money if we didn’t have to reset those tiny sapphires.”
Suddenly I saw it too. The flower had been there all along!
The new price was less than half of every other quoted cost, making it fall within the budget Jon had given me. I happily left my sapphire necklace with the jeweler and ten days later I picked up my beautiful new sapphire flower ring.
Even thought it really is a simple ring, I think it is the most beautiful ring I’ve ever laid eyes on.
The sapphires are a deep blue. The ones my dad brought home to my mom from Vietnam.
The flower setting reminds me of my great-grandmother, and all those times I sat holding her soft and wrinkled hands.
Now every time I look at my right hand, I think about my daddy and my great-grandmother … and I am reminded that love between people doesn’t end with death.
I also think about my husband who works hard to provide so well for our family, and yet didn’t freak out because I kept thinking about what must have seemed like a very frivolous thing. He could have shut me down. Instead, he was willingly to help me find a way to make it happen.
And I’m reminded of how I desired something so much I was willing to search for it … and in the end, I discovered it had been with me all along.
I suppose there is something profound in all of that. Or maybe it’s just a story that means something to me. I just know that the sapphire flower on my right hand is far more than a birthstone ring.
It’s a visual connection to people I love … and a beautiful reminder that sometimes the things I desire the most are much closer than I ever realized.
But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. ~Deuteronomy 4:29 (NKJV)
Saturday morning there was a big dilemma in my bathroom, but I suppose it really started on Friday night.
You see, that’s when I found the toothbrush on the bathroom counter next to the sink.
It looked like my toothbrush, but I thought I had put mine away already. However, now that I am in my mid-40’s, my kids constantly point out that my old memory isn’t as sharp as their young brains. Therefore, I figured I must have only thought I put my toothbrush away. So, I picked it up, threw it in the toothbrush drawer on my toiletry organizer, and went to bed.
That was Friday night, when all was still well with the world.
Jon couldn’t find his toothbrush. He looked high and low, but to no avail. His toothbrush could not be found. Several minutes into his desperate search, he asked me if I had seen his toothbrush. I hadn’t.
At least, I thought I hadn’t.
Then it hit me. Maybe that toothbrush by the sink wasn’t actually my toothbrush after all. What if it really belonged to Jon?
Sure enough, when I opened up my toothbrush drawer, there was one tube of toothpaste and two nearly identical toothbrushes.
Identical brands. Identical styles. Even the colors were oddly close. One was a sort of lime green and the other was a slightly darker, more tealish green.
Did I have lime green toothbrush? Or maybe mine was the teal blue one? I couldn’t remember.
Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t either.
He tried laying each toothbrush in his toiletries to see which one looked right. He couldn’t see any difference between the two.
I tried picking each one up and looking in the mirror to see if one appeared more correct than the other as I held it in my hand. I couldn’t tell. In fact, that little experiment only made me more confused about which toothbrush actually belonged to me.
It was no use trying to figure it out. Our toothbrushes were hopelessly mixed up.
But perhaps the biggest shocker for me was the realization that even after seven years of marriage … sharing drinks, tasting each other’s food (using the same utensil), and kissing on a daily basis … there was no way on God’s green earth that I would even consider for a brief moment sharing a toothbrush with this man. Not even for one morning. That would definitely be taking germ-swapping too far!
Oddly enough, this is not the first time I’ve had issues with toothbrush sharing. In fact, one of my mother favorite stories to tell involves me, my siblings, and a red toothbrush.
To really understand the story, you must first know that my mother staggered our bedtimes.
Give me a moment to take a rabbit trail here…
Why on earth would you stagger bedtimes? This just lengthens the amount of time it takes you to get everyone into bed. I used to think this was the way it had to be done, like it was some unwritten parenting rule. And then I had five children. Staggered bedtimes? Putting one child down every half hour? That lasted about two nights, and then everyone got the same bedtime.
Anyway, back to my mother’s version of the toothbrush story …
One night she happened to be in the bathroom when my little sister brushed her teeth with a red toothbrush. Half an hour later, she noticed my brother brushing his teeth, also using the same red toothbrush. (You can guess where this is going, right?) Yep, half an hour later, I brushed my teeth … with a red toothbrush.
Apparently, we all liked red, so we all claimed the red toothbrush.
To hear my mother tell this tale, you would think we were quite old when this happened. But, I’m thinking it’s more likely to have happened when we were all rather young. Perhaps I was six years old, which would make Reid about four and Brooke around two. I guess I could have been as old as seven or eight. I realize that six years old is plenty big enough to know better than to share a toothbrush. But I am guessing that I didn’t know I was sharing a toothbrush with my siblings. After all, we had staggered bedtimes, w which meant staggered teeth brushing times as well. Therefore, it’s safe to assume I had no idea which toothbrush my brother and my sister were using. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
(A little side note:This is yet another good reason to send all children to bed at the same time. By doing so, you will ensure that your children will not be able to use the same toothbrush … or if they do, a fight will break out. Generally, children do not willingly share anything, including toothbrushes. Now, back to the story … )
Obviously, my mother was extremely appalled to discover her children were into toothbrush sharing. Being a good and conscientious mom, she couldn’t let this horrid habit continue. The next morning my mother went straight to the pharmacy and bought three brand-new toothbrushes. A blue one for Brooke. A red one for Reid. A purple one for me (Paige).
This was the start of the color system.
Eventually, the color system grew to include many areas of our life, from plastic drinking cups to school supplies. If my mother had to buy three of any item, and there was even the slightest chance we would fight over which item belonged to which person, she color-coded. Brooke always got blue. Reid always had red. Usually I had purple … but sometimes I ended up with pink, which caused me great grief because pink was about the last color I wanted associated with my name. (Even back then, I was grateful I wasn’t a boy named Patrick.)
(Here’s a Parenting Tip: The color system only works if you name your children so that it is easy to match them with a color. I actually tried to implement it with my five children, but there aren’t any colors that match up with names starting with J, M, or N. Still I was determined to use this idea, so I randomly assigned colors. Naturally, I forgot which child I assigned which color, and they fought over who got the “cooler” colors. Then there was a period of time when all of them wanted orange to be their color, and they fought over orange items daily. Oddly enough, no one’s name starts with O! So while I might not see the brilliance of staggered bedtimes, my mother had a distinct advantage over me with her implementation of the color system.)
The color system worked wonderfully, and I am sure it simplified my mom’s life in many ways. Now if a blue cup was left on the kitchen counter, my mother instantly knew who forgot to put it in the dishwasher. Blue = Brooke. If there was a purple folder of schoolwork strewn across the dining table, she hollered my name because she knew Purple = Paige.
And it certainly solved the problem of the communal toothbrush!
On Saturday, I went to the store and bought myself a new toothbrush. I decided ahead of time to purchase purple. It was safer to go with a color I could remember belonged to me.
As I stood there in the store, looking at all the toothbrushes, I felt a twinge of jealously. There are no colors starting with the letter J, which means Jon has far more color options than me. Lime green. Teal blue. Bright red. Flashy orange. Why, I suppose he could pick a new color every single time he needs a new toothbrush!
Meanwhile, I’ve been using purple (or sometimes pink) toothbrushes most of my life. I would like a little variety from time to time. But experience has taught me the hard way, and right there on the toothbrush aisle of Walmart I realized the importance of sticking with a system that actually works. So purple it is … because Purple = Paige.
As I reached out to pick out a purple toothbrush from the rack, I was struck with the thought that I have my mom to thank for teaching me this life lesson. She’s a wise woman who taught me many, many things … but I bet that she never thought she would have to teach her children how to keep up with which toothbrush belonged to them!
Isn’t parenting odd like that?
You find yourself saying things to your children that you never imagined you would have to say out loud to another person.
“Of course, if you stick rocks up your nose you won’t be able to breath.”
“Plastic dishes are not oven-safe.”
“Quit brushing your hair with your toothbrush!”
As parents, we are constantly teaching our children. We train them in a myriad of ways, giving them daily lessons on a wide variety of topics, from the obviously big ones (how to manage money) to the insanely ridiculous ones (don’t share your toothbrush). We hope when our children leave us, they don’t forget the important lessons we’ve taught them over the years. It’s why I am so grateful for the assurance God gives us in the proverbs:
Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
My oldest biological child is turning 18 tomorrow.
He’s not nearly old enough to be eighteen. Yet somehow he is … and that boggles my mind!
Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating lately: Have I taught my son everything he needs to know to be prepared for life? What did I forget to tell him that he absolutely has to know before he leaves for college in the fall? Does he know how to jump his car, change a flat tire, cook a fried egg, or sew on a button? Is he prepared for adulthood?
I’ve been seeing a lot on social media lately about how the millennial generation doesn’t have many of the basic life skills that previous generations had. “Adulting” classes are actually gaining popularity. It’s rather sad to me that this is a needed thing, and at the same time it causes me to stop and ponder how well I’ve done at teaching my son the skills he will need to live a successful life.
Deep down, I know the biggest life lessons I need to have taught my son are simple:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Let the Lord direct your paths.
When he was born, I started teaching him about the Lord, and over the years I have prayed daily for him to know these truths. I know that if he has these lessons down, if his focus is on the right things, if his faith is intact … well, then everything will turn okay, even if he doesn’t know how to sew on a button.
Although, now that I think of it, maybe I would add just one more lesson to that list:
Perhaps the biggest mystery of my childhood revolved around green stars.
Green stars meant something special to my parents. The mystery was that I never could figure out exactly what it meant.
Occasionally, one of them would mention a green star in a passing comment. “Thanks for taking care of the dishes tonight! You deserve a green star,” my mother might say to my father.
Every so often, I’d find a green foil star stuck to a note. Maybe the author of the letter would have written something like “Here’s a green star, just for you! Have a good day!”
Once, my mother colored several small wooden stars with a green marker and put them on my father’s dresser. I asked her why she was doing it. She smiled and said simply, “Your father will understand.”
I guess he did, for several years later, I came across one in a box of my father’s old things … tie tacks with missing backs, lapel pins, random keys that had nothing to open, and that old wooded star now a rather faded shade of green.
As random and rare as seeing a shooting star in the sky, green stars wove in and out of my parents’ relationship.
Why were my parents always giving each other green stars?
How come I never got a green star?
All I really knew about the green star mystery is that it meant something good.
And as a child, this drove me absolutely crazy.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Do you remember the gummed foil stars teachers used to stick to schoolwork?
I don’t think teachers give those out much anymore, but when I was in grade school every teacher had a box of star stickers in her desk drawer. The old kind you used to have to lick in order to stick.
I loved those stars. I really liked getting gold ones. You had to do something really good to get a gold star … make a perfect score, have the neatest handwriting, not have a single spelling mistake.
However, if I am honest, it wasn’t just the gold stickers I loved. Any color star stuck to the top of my paper made my type-A heart happy.
Sometimes today when I see packages of star stickers in an office supply store, I have an urge to buy myself some. They aren’t gummed anymore. No licking’ and sticking’ these days. You just plop ’em down like any old ordinary sticker. I don’t think that would be nearly as much fun. Furthermore, even if I bought myself some star stickers, I don’t know what I would do with them.
Stick them on top of the bills I paid each month?
Mark my favorite recipes in every cookbook I own?
Print out copies of my blog posts and give myself a star rating?
I’m not sure star stickers have a place in my life anymore … but I wish they did.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Last weekend, my mom handed me my father’s Bronze Star.
I had gone up to help her for the day. We spent most of our time together, unpacking boxes in the dining room of her new house, placing her wedding china into the new china cabinet she purchased and organizing some serving dishes into the matching hutch.
In the middle of all that unpacking, my father’s army medals came to light.
How the Bronze Star came to be packed with the wedding china, I don’t know. Yet there it was, along with a few other army medals and a tin box filled with 4-H pins and a few other random items.
In her nonchalant sort of way, my mother asked if I would like to take Dad’s old army medals for my boys. Naturally, I did. The truth is that I wanted them more for myself than I did for my boys.
Somehow, standing in that room where my father never stood, touching those old army medals and 4-H pins … well, in that moment, it gave some sort of significance to my father’s life. Three years after his death, I still struggle with feeling as if he will fade away from me. I am often aware that I am grasping for the bits and pieces of what he left behind, as if it can bring him back or make him more real. Grief is strange like that.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I got back to my home that I realized I didn’t know why my father received a Bronze Star. I knew enough from my days as a military wife to recall that Bronze Stars are a significant award not given to every soldier.
What had my father done to earn it?
All I could do was ask my mother. Maybe she would remember. So I sent her a text message, asking for any information she could share with me about my father’s Bronze Star.
Within minutes, my mom replied:
Yes, I know why your father got the Bronze Star. He distinguished himself during the war. He was never in trouble. He always did his job, going beyond the call of duty. He was diligent in doing his part to win the war. He got it for his meritous service in a foreign conflict.
I read her words slowly.
Two times. Three times. Over and over and over. So many times I actually lost count.
As I stood there that night, thinking about my dad, I remembered how proud he was of his military service. But I couldn’t remember ever actually seeing his Bronze Star medal.
Slowly I opened the worn black box containing the medal. And there it was, pinned to a piece of yellowed velvet.
The star had tarnished green.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
My dad got a Bronze Star because he was a good soldier who strove for excellence. His hard work and diligent efforts were noticed. He stood out from the rest of the troops. And because of his good work, he was rewarded with a star.
Just like I got those foil stickers pasted to the tops of my best schoolwork … the ones I worked the hardest on and gave my best efforts. Lots of gold stars added up to being on the Honor Roll.
Even as a young child, I knew stars were a very good reward. Stars, whether the gummed sort given out by teachers or the bronze ones handed out by military generals, are reserved for those who excel.
Nobody gets a star for mediocre work.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul encourages us to strive to do our best. He writes: “I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)
When our time on earth is done, God will welcome us home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) These are the words every Christ-follower longs to hear.
More than that, we are promised a crown. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Crowns we will cast at the Savior’s feet.
Some days I think of my father in heaven… glorified body, worshipping the Savior, bowing before the throne.
Maybe it’s silly, but I almost hope his crown was embellished with a big green star.
It doesn’t matter though. My dad’s not wearing it.