Spending the Night with Ma

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:

  1. anything related to God or the Bible
  2. 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.

scoobydoo
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Kindergarten: Like A Dream Come True

Momma, you might not believe me, but this is true and for real and I am not making it up. Tomorrow is Kindergarten party jumper day at school, and …” my daughter paused, before finishing with a dramatic gasp, “I am the line leader!

Five year old Julia jumped up and down, as she excitedly clapped her hands. She let out a tiny squeal, twirled around and said, her eyes glittering with anticipation, “This is kind of like a dream come true!

All year long, Julia had lived for the days when she was the class line leader. As I imagined just how much Julia would enjoy leading the entire kindergarten class out to the playground for their end-of-the-year party, I could understand her joy and excitement over the unexpected treat of being line leader on such an important day.

Laughing at her giddiness, I reached over to give Julia a quick hug, and said, “Wow! What a great day you’ll have! But you know, more than a dream come true, this sounds to me like it’s a special gift to you from God … just to remind you that He thinks you’re pretty special and He loves you.”

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Sometimes, when I am reflecting upon the goodness of God, I think about just how often He has answers my prayers.  God is often merciful to give to me those things for which I’ve directly asked Him, and I am always amazed when I get to share the stories of His faithfulness to me.

Yet, I sometimes think God shows His love for me in a greater way by simply giving me something I didn’t even know I wanted or dared to ask … like getting to be the line leader on party jumper day, or finding money in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn in a while, or checking into a hotel at the end of a long, hard day to discover your reservation had been upgraded to a better room without any extra costs.

I’m so glad I am loved by a Heavenly Father, who not only desires to give me the desires of my heart, but also loves to show His deep love for me by surprising me in the most unexpected ways.

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Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. ~Psalm 37:4

Every good and perfect gift is from above. ~James 1:17

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

In Memoriam of Poppa: A Guest Post by Joel

Joel, age 15
Joel, age 15

This is Joel. He’s my oldest biological child, and the oldest son in our home. A few days ago, I shared this open letter to Joel, writing about how proud I am of him and what a joy it has been to be his mom. It probably describes him better than anything else I could say.

Joel is my high achiever with the big life dreams. He is my hard and diligent worker, who gives everything he does 110%. He is either utterly serious or the biggest clown you’ll ever meet. Tall, lanky, and tenderly sweet … he’s the boy that made me a mom, and I treasure the gift that he is to me.

Today I am proud to share Joel’s essay about his memories of his grandfather. He is my fourth of my five children to guest post for me during the month of April. Next week, I’ll share Megan’s story. But until then, please enjoy …

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In Memoriam of Poppa

Wednesday, September 17, 2014. 7:30 am. My mother’s 42nd birthday. Typically my siblings and I would have woken her up, but today I was the one being shaken awake. Bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed, I tried to comprehend her words. “Joel, your grandfather has passed away.”

Poppa? Dead? How could that even be possible? Just last night I had talked to him on the phone. Lying back down, I pulled the covers over my head. Maybe it was just a nightmare.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bad dream. My family spent the morning, throwing clothes into bags and boarding our two dogs at a local kennel. My mother, who was close to her father, seemed strangely calm as she double-checked our suitcases. She wanted to be sure everyone had packed dress shoes, and that my brother and I had both packed a tie to wear to the funeral. Shortly after 12 pm, everyone piled into the mini-van to drive the two and a half hours up to my grandparents’ home in north Louisiana.

Soon the flat swamp lands of southern Louisiana turned into rolling hills covered with pine trees. As the car sped along the highway, I began to recall the many road trips I had taken with Poppa. I enjoyed nothing more than traveling with him in his white Ford F-150. It didn’t matter to me where we went for I just enjoyed being on the road. Poppa and I both shared a love for just taking a long drive, no particular destination or schedule in mind.

I watched the trees pass by in a blur, and thought about the previous Christmas holiday. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to spend the week prior to Christmas with my grandparents. None of my cousins were there, so I got completely spoiled by my grandmother’s amazing cooking. During the day, Poppa and I drove around the back roads of Catahoula Parish together, making Christmas deliveries of jars of cane syrup to friends. . Sometimes we would go in for a short visit. Other times I would just jump out to leave the jar of cane syrup next to the door. Now I felt sad, knowing it was Poppa’s last Christmas, and yet at the same time glad because I had gotten to spend so much of it with him.

Before I knew it, we were pulling up the hill to my grandparents’ home. Cars were parked everywhere. Inside, there was a small crowd, talking in hushed whispers. Yet, even with all those people, the house felt empty and lonely. Poppa wasn’t there, and suddenly the house I always loved to visit didn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The following day we went to the church for the time of visitation. Slowly, I walked up to the open casket and stared at my grandfather’s body. I realized, as I stood there gazing at the man laid out in the casket, that a part of me still held on to the hope that perhaps everyone was just wrong. My grandfather was still alive and we weren’t about to bury him in the ground after all. Now, that hope was gone. I had seen for myself and I knew it was true. Poppa was dead.

I sat down in one of the empty pews, watching as the pictures of my grandfather’s life scroll by slowly across the screen. Photos of his boyhood, college years, and of the years when my mother was just a child. I didn’t recognize this younger man, though I could see the resemblance he had to the Poppa I knew and loved. Same twinkling eyes. Same happy smile.

Then there were photos of Poppa I clearly remembered, like the one of us standing outside in the yard with the white house on the riverbank behind us in the background. Poppa and Kaytee, my grandmother, had lived there for 15 years. My mother and my siblings and I had lived there with them for two years, after my parents were divorced. I learned to ride a bike down that old gravel drive, Poppa and Mama cheering me on as I pedaled faster and faster. One spring, Kaytee and Poppa planted a garden. I can still remember the feeling of the warm sun on my back as we planted the seeds. And I don’t know who was more excited, Poppa or me, when we started finding ripe tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be picked.

Another photo showed my grandfather at his retirement party, just four years earlier. Poppa had been a high school principal. I used to love to go visit him at “his school.” I really did think he owned it, too. Many afternoons, my mother would bring my brother and sister and me to visit him at his office. We would walk in, and Poppa would beam with delight. The first thing he wanted to do was walk us around the school, proudly showing off his grandchildren to his staff of teachers and to the students. If the gym were not being used for a P.E. class, Poppa would take us there so that we could run up and down the court. Later, before we left, Poppa would walk us to the candy machines. He would pull a key from his pocket and open up the door to reveal all the candy hidden within. “Choose whatever you like,” he would say. I always got the green bag of Skittles. My brother Nathan used to believe that we could have all the candy we wanted for free, but I knew better. I knew because I saw that before Poppa shut the door to the machine, he slipped a five-dollar bill into the coin box, payment for our snack and then some.

That night, we returned to my grandfather’s house. We were quiet and somber, everyone lost in thoughts and memories. How odd it seemed that a person could be so full of life one day and then dead the next! I had been hearing people around me talk. “Why just last Sunday, Malcolm was elected to be the chairman of the deacons at church!” Another mentioned how he was president of the town civic club, and was present at the club’s Monday night meeting. One lady shared how she had carried on a long conversation with my grandfather at the post office on Tuesday morning. I thought about all of this, and pondered proudly that my grandfather had lived right up until he died.

Lying in my bed, I thought of all the things Poppa had taught me: how to shoot a gun; to bait a hook and catch a fish; to drive a truck. Mostly though, he taught me by example how to live for God. Early in the mornings I would get up to see him sitting with his Bible in front of him, reading God’s word. He was a man of prayer, too. No doubt I am a Christian because of my grandfather’s prayers for my salvation. I feel asleep comforted by these thoughts.

The funeral the next day was crowded, the sanctuary of the Baptist church where my grandfather served as a deacon filled to overflowing. I felt honored that he was loved by so many. As I sat there during the funeral, in my heart I came to an understanding that to this day has helped me process my grandfather’s death.

While Poppa may have not lived as long as I would have liked, he left behind memories that I will never forget, a legacy for me to cherish, and a love that I will carry with me until the day that I die. Death may be able separate me from my grandfather, but the one thing it cannot do is put an end to the truths of who he was in Christ or the love that I hold dear for him in my heart.

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On my grandfather’s tombstone are engraved the following words: “The righteous will be remembered forever. ~Psalm 112:6”

Truer words have never been written.

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

 

Head, Heart, Hands, Health: The Four H’s

I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.

4H

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When I was growing up, there were three things I knew I would be required to do. Each of them was non-negotiable.

1.  Go to church

2.  Take piano lessons for at least three school years (3rd-5th grades)

3.  Join 4-H

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I was born into a 4-H family. My paternal grandmother was a 4-H Extension Agent for many years, and my father used to entertain us with stories about his 4-H adventures back when he showed prize-winning lambs. Not only did I always know that one day I would also be a 4-H’er, but eventually identifying myself as such ranked right up there with being from the South and attending a Southern Baptist church. It was just part of who I was and how I was raised.

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Mr. Neal, my county agent, helping me learn how to show a lamb and what the judges would look for at the livestock shows.
Mr. Neal, my 4-H agent, helping me learn how to show a lamb and explaining to me exactly what the judges would look for when I showed my sheep at the livestock shows.

My first experience with 4-H was getting a small “flock” of my own 4-H sheep. By flock I mean three lambs. I named them, which was probably a huge mistake. I didn’t realize that later on I was going to have to eat them.

Lambs look cute and cuddly in pictures, as they serenely eat along grassy hillsides. In reality, they are rather annoying and incredibly stinky. I didn’t like early morning wake-up calls to go outside and feed a pen full of bleating lambs, nor did I enjoy the chaos of livestock shows. So I soon discovered that what sounded like great fun prior to my enrollment in the 4-H livestock program turned out to be not to be quite my cup of tea.

My next 4-H project was the Foods and Nutrition project. I was so excited to spend time in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother. I was nine years old when I entered my first 4-H cooking contest, the egg cookery. My mother was probably as surprised as I was when I took the first place ribbon with my dessert. Later I went on to compete at the district level where I took another first place ribbon, before moving onto the state egg cookery contest where I placed second behind a high school senior.

In high school, I competed on a state level in the 4-H child development project, winning many ribbons and awards for the scope and depth of my project work. When I graduated from high school, I received a small 4-H scholarship to help offset the cost of my college books.

More than anything else I ever did, 4-H prepared me for my college experiences and gave me opportunities to practice real-world skills rather than receive just textbook knowledge.

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Over the course of the past 30+ years, I’ve been a 4-H member, a 4-H club leader, a 4-H adult volunteer, and a 4-H Extension Agent.  But the hardest job I’ve ever had is that of being a 4-H mom.

I’ve got five kids who are all active 4-H’ers. From monthly meetings to service projects to competitions, not a week goes by when my family isn’t involved in some sort of 4-H related activity. Take this week for example, I’ve taken one child to help with a 4-H service project, sold and delivered 4-H strawberries, made a trip to the 4-H office to pick up meeting supplies, answered several phone calls and emails regarding our club’s upcoming 4-H field trip, and collected 4-H forms for upcoming awards night. Whew! I’m tired just typing all of that.

It’s hard work, but I know my children are learning valuable lessons that they will carry into adulthood.

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

Fifteen: An Open Letter to my Oldest Son on His Birthday

Dear Joel,

Fifteen?! Seriously, kid … you have got to stop doing this. Enough is enough. It seems like every time I turn around, you are back at it again, blowing out candles and getting people to bring you gifts. If you would just look at this from my perspective, I think you would see how all these birthdays are not only making you grow up quicker than I’d like, but it’s aging me as well. Really, it will be okay if you would just lay off the birthdays for a year or two.

Okay, okay … I’m just kidding around. I really don’t want you to stop growing up. I just wish you wouldn’t grow up so quickly.

But now that I’ve gotten your attention, I’d like to  take this opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you, and what a joy it has been to be your mom for the past fifteen years.

You know, there was a long time when I wasn’t sure I’d get to be anyone’s mother. I want nothing more than a baby of my own, but for close to three years it seemed like that chance may never come for me.

April 4, 2000
Joel and me on the day he was born …     April 4, 2000

And then, rather unexpectedly, God gave me you.

Before I became a mother, people told me all sorts of things about parenthood. Much of it was true, but none of it prepared me for loving you.

From the very beginning, my experiences with motherhood have showed me one thing:  Expect the unexpected. Things rarely work out the way I anticipate. But, I’m glad to say that most of the surprises have been good things.

Right from the start, my plans for being a mother went on a completely different path than I ever had worked out in my head. You see, I figured I would have a houseful of girls, all pink and perfectly frilly. But when I found out that you were a boy … well, I was overjoyed.

Before I knew it, my home was filled with boy toys, boy activities and boy noises. Wrestling with your brother, throwing balls in the house, burping contests … these are things I never had to teach you. While I must admit that I really don’t understand what it means to be a male and sometimes boy behavior annoys me, I’m so very glad God saw fit to give me the son I didn’t even realize I wanted.

Sumo wrestling with your brother
Sumo wrestling with your brother

Of course, the unexpected joys didn’t stop after I found out I was expecting a baby boy. You see, I thought I knew what it would be like to care for a baby, but you turned everything I thought I knew upside down, and mostly in a delightful sort of way.

For example, one of my earliest unexpected delights was bringing you home from the hospital as a newborn and discovering that you were practically sleeping through the night. I could feed you at 11 pm and you slept peacefully until around 4 am. I marveled at how most parents of newborns complained of being up several times a night with babies who constantly want to eat or who seemed to have their days and nights mixed up, while my baby slept like a champ from the very beginning. There was no doubt in my mind that I had one special kid to call my own.

Age 4 ... reading a map at the zoo.
Age 4 … reading a map at the zoo.

Several years later, I found myself driving you and your siblings halfway across the nation to see your father. In that era of life without a smart photo or GPS to direct me, I found myself unable to drive and read the map at the same time. Afraid of getting us hopelessly lost, I prayed, asking God to help me stay on the right roads. I hadn’t gone another 10 or so miles when I realized that you were sitting in the backseat, following our path on the map in your lap. You were only seven and yet somehow you navigated me from north Louisiana to remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, once again amazing me by doing the unexpected.

Sometimes I say I don’t like surprises, but because of you, I’ve learned to treasure those unforeseen moments.

At your request, we celebrated President John Adam's 271st birthday ... complete with cake and ice cream.  Only for you, Joel. Only for you.
At your request, we celebrated President John Adam’s 271st birthday … complete with cake and candles. Only for you, Joel. Only for you.

One of the best things about being your mom is that you have a way of making me laugh. Perhaps it is because you do so many unexpected things. Perhaps it is because you are just a funny sort of guy.  Whatever the reason, being your mom is a hoot!

Your quirky sense of humor; your crazy antics. I enjoy the playful banter we often share with each other. You’ve kept me laughing for the past fifteen years. And you know what the Bible teaches us about laughter … it’s like good medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22).

But sometimes life isn’t all fun and games. You’ve taught me a lot about how to get through tough situations instead of being stuck in a place of anxiety or worry. Because of you, I’ve discovered that bravery comes in all sorts of forms.

You must have been about six years old when I realizes what a brave boy you really were. At that time, you were terrified of water being on your face, especially water anywhere near your eyes. I never quite understood that fear, but I could tell it was rather deep-seated. One afternoon, all of the cousins were playing together outside. I noticed you watching all of the kids drinking water from the hose … and I could tell you were torn between not wanting to be left out and the fear of doing getting your face water. It was pure agony watching you wrestling with yourself that way.

Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone ...
Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone …

Yet just a few minutes later, I watched in wonder as you squeezed your eyes tightly, leaned forward, and took a sip of water, boldly braving the splashes to your face. Another unexpected moment from you…

 

Then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised. You’ve always been an overcomer.

Taking a ride down the zip line
Taking a ride down the zip line

Do you remember the time we spent the weekend with another family for a big homeschooling get-together?  There were lots of kids, big and small and in-between sizes. Some of the bigger kids were taking turns riding a zip line. Oh, how you wanted to go down that zip line! It was one of those times when I couldn’t do anything to help you … all I could do was watch and wonder if you would gather up the nerve to give it a try.  And just when I thought you had given up on the idea of attempting that daring feat, I heard the sound of kids clapping and cheering. I turned around just in time to see you finish your first ride on the zip line. As your feet touched the ground, a smile broke out on your face that was a bright as a thousand beaming lights.

Joel, there is nothing shameful about experiencing feelings of fear, for it is just part of being a human. However, it is what we do with that fear that builds our character.  Watching you that afternoon, I learned a lesson about facing our fears head on. I was reminded of how often the words “Don’t fear” or “Do not be afraid” appear in the Bible. I pray you never forget God is with you even in your biggest fears.

As a parent, it’s been one of my biggest joys and responsibilities to teach you about the character of God. Just as He doesn’t want us to fear, God also loves a cheerful giver.

The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.
The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.

Over the last fifteen years I have been inspired by your selfless generosity. I’ve always been especially proud of your requests for your 7th birthday when you asked your friends to give you money to buy schools supplies and clothes for the soldier’s in your father’s Army unit to give to the children in the Iraqi villages near where they were stationed. That you would do such a big thing at a young age is still so very amazing to me.

Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion ... Again!
Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion … Again!

Joel, you are an intelligent and bright young man. I knew it when you were a tiny boy, but every so often I am reminded of it again … such as when you taught yourself to read before your fourth birthday or when you won the parish-wide math bee two years in a row.

When you were in the first grade, you wanted to know which Dr. Seuss book was most-loved. You decided to take a poll and asked the local library if you could conduct a survey. To my delight, you  got lots of participants and created a fun graph to display with the results. It wasn’t just the activity that impressed me, but also the sheer joy you obviously had while doing it.

You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library
You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library

I love that you are an eager and passionate learner. This has been a character trait of yours since you were a very young boy.

I’ll never forget the day you first learned about Abraham Lincoln. Not quite four, you were fascinated by the tall man with the tall hat who lived long ago. Within just a few weeks, you were taken with everything presidents, a passion that lasted for the next several years and included you writing personal letters to every living President and First Lady.

Dressed as Abe Lincoln
Dressed as Abe Lincoln

Among the items I’ve saved for you are handwritten letters that you received from Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson.

Later on, your fascination turned into an interest in politics. Seeing you participate in activities like Teen Pact, Camp Joshua, and serve on the state 4-H Citizenship Board are just further reminders that this is a God-given passion and He gave it to you for a purpose.

And you have other gifts too, like your talent for public speaking. It comes so naturally to you. I’m always so proud to see you serve as that Master of Ceremonies for our homeschool praise night, or go compete in another 4-H speaking contest. You just do it so very well that it gives me a certain parental joy to see you succeeding.

Touring a local news radio station
Touring a local news radio station

This past winter, you and I took a tour of a local news radio station. I could see the light in your eyes, as you took everything in and asked so many questions. You’ve mentioned before that you might like to be a radio broadcaster, especially for a sports or news station. And I can see you doing those things …

You may not be familiar with Eric Liddell, but he was an Olympic runner and a missionary to China. He credited as once having said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. “*

Joel, when I see you working with numbers and talking statistics, reading about and discussing today’s big political issues, or speaking to a group of people, I feel God’s pleasure reflected in you. I hope you do too, for each of these are God-given gifts.

Sometimes I wonder if you ever will run for a political office or if you will be be a DJ on a news radio station or perhaps be a statistician for a politician … maybe you will do something else, completely unexpected. But, whatever it is that you decide to do with your life,  I know you will stay true to the honest principals by which you have been taught to live.

Age 4 ... writing "incredible" on the driveway in chalk
Age 4 … writing “incredible” on the driveway in chalk

Joel, you are an incredible young man, the God-given answer to one of my deepest prayers.  I know He has a purpose for your life, good things He has called you to do throughout your years on this earth.

 

 

 

 

Even though I realize that this means you’ll be celebrating more birthdays and you’ll grow up into a man sooner than I really want, I’m also eager to see what God has planned for you.

Joel and me ... Nov. 9, 2014
Joel and me … Nov. 9, 2014

I couldn’t be any prouder or love you any deeper.

~Momma

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10

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BaptistGirlConfession

 This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

 

*While this quote is often attributed to Eric Liddell, it was actually written by Colin Welland for the script to the movie Chariots of Fire.

European Vacation: A Guest Post by Nathan

Nathan, age 13
Nathan, age 13

Meet Nathan, my thirteen year old son. He’s my very own California Beach Boy, as he was born while his father was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California. Of course, the blond hair, big blue eyes and a stunning double dimple on his right cheek on add to the image.

Nathan has a lot of bragging rights, but his favorite thing to remind me of these days is that he is finally taller than me. Of course, this is not my favorite thing about my son, as there are far more things to love than just his height.

Nathan is extremely generous. Once he used all of his birthday money to buy chickens and soccer balls as gifts through World Vision for children living in poverty in third world countries.  Nathan is a deep thinker. He loves to engage in conversation and debate discuss intellectual topics, especially those on Biblical issues.

Today I am proud to share Nathan’s non-fiction essay on his extended trip to Europe last summer. His is the third guest post from one of my children, but there are still two more yet to go as all of my children will have the chance to guest post for me in April.

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European Vacation

As your average American teen, there are many things I just assume I’ll never have the opportunity to do. I’m not rich enough or famous enough to have the world at my fingertips. Expensive vacations and trips to exotic places were just dreams for my future, not my current reality.

However, last summer, when my dad was stationed in Germany with his Army unit, I had the chance of a lifetime to go and spend six weeks with him. It was my Great European Vacation, and I came home from that trip with much more than a few great photos.

We arrived at my dad’s house late at night, weary from traveling for well-over 24 hours. I had been looking forward to seeing Germany for months, but now all I could think about was sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I really got to see my surroundings, both the house and the town.

My father’s house was interesting, having two main floors and an attic-type room that we used mostly for reading. My room had a great view of a restaurant called The Holstein Hut, which was situated at the top of a very high hill on the outskirts of the village. This restaurant was interesting for many reasons. First, it was only opened business randomly. You never knew for sure if it would be opened or not. The best way to tell was to look for the flag that was raised to indicate that The Holstein Hut was serving food on that particular day. Secondly, you could only get there by hiking, which is why I guess they mostly opened if the weather were suitable for hikers. But the best part about the The Holstein Hut was that it had a particularly great view of the area. Some of my favorite memories of my time in Germany is going out for an afternoon hike to get a sausage at The Holstein Hut and take in some of the beautiful German scenery.

My dad had opted to live in a German village instead of on the American base where he worked. The name of this village was Munchweiler an der Alsenz, which means “Munchweiler by the river Alsenz.” You needed the entire name because there were three villages with the name Munchweiler in the area. I suppose I thought that the river Alsenz would be something really special and worth seeing. However, we passed by the Alsenz on one of our many walks around the village, and I was surprised to see it was just this tiny stream! Hardly anything worth naming a village after, if you asked my opinion.

Munchweiler an der Alsenz was relatively small and compact, as were all the German villages in the area. Everything was packed close together, and yet it didn’t feel crowded at all. “Did you have a nice-sized backyard?” my mother once asked me. I regretted to tell her that we didn’t. No one had backyards. Yet the area surrounding the village was sort of like a big common backyard that everyone enjoyed. And what a common backyard it was! The entire area was covered in hills, with paths and small roads leading in all directions. There were plenty of trees dotting the most beautiful fields I have ever seen.

Everyone walked. No matter where you were going, you walked. You could walk just a couple of miles and pass through three or four villages on your journey. I loved walking because you could really soak in all the beauty. But if you were going far, then you could travel by car on the Audubon (where there really is no speed limit) or by train (which were used in a way that is similar to how Americans might use buses).

Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.
Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.

Once we took a weekend trip to the Black Forest in southern Germany. Right away I could see where it got its name. The trees were so thick that everything looked black, even in the middle of the day. The main thing to do in the Black Forest was hike. We hiked up to the peak and then back down, all the way in semi-darkness.

Kegel Bowling ... entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.
Kegel Bowling … entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.

 

However, it was also during this visit that I first learned about Kegel Bowling. The small bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had a bowling alley in the basement. It was just one lane with nine pins that were arranged in a diamond. This different style of bowling was invented in the 1300’s. Perhaps the strangest part was that there was no pin-setter in this bowling alley. Rather all the pins were attached to strings that were pulled up and lowered again to reset the pins once they had all been knocked down.

DSCN2806
with my siblings in front of the Eiffel Tower

Another weekend, my father took us to Paris, France. It was a quick trip, so we rushed to get in all the highlights. We went to the Louvre Art Museum, where I saw the Mona Lisa up close and personal. It was so much smaller than I imagined it would be. I also saw the Venus de Milo, which is a famous statue with no arms, and a sculpture of The Great Sphinx. We walked all over Paris. I stood underneath the Eiffel Tower, but I couldn’t ride to the top because the elevator was broken. We climbed every last exhausting stair to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. But my favorite part of Paris was all the cafés. Everywhere you looked there was another street-side restaurant, with delicious sandwiches made on baguettes, pasta dishes covered in rich sauces, and crème’ brulee, an amazing dessert that I had often heard of but never tried. I even ate French fries in France, which to me were exactly like American French fries only they were bigger. I suppose the saying that “everything is bigger in America” isn’t always true.

Eating ... my favorite thing about traveling to Europe
Eating … my favorite thing about traveling to Europe

Actually, my favorite part of the entire trip was the food. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed trying all the new cuisines. Leberknodle, bratwurst brochen, leberkase, jagerschnitzel. I loved it all. My taste buds were in heaven!

Leberknodle and bratwurst brochen would be instant hits here in Cajun country. The leberknodle is like a giant boudin meatball, only not quite as spicy. Bratwurst brochen is essentially a sausage poboy. Both are seriously tasty.

Leberkase literally means “meat cheese.” Basically, it is meat (sort of like bologna) that is packed tightly in a pan, just like a meatloaf. There is actually no cheese in this dish, but many people say it has the texture of cheese. That’s how it got the name. Honestly, I don’t care what the Germans call it. I just call it delicious!

Of all the foods I tried, jagerschnitzel was probably my favorite dish. Schnitzel is simply a pounded fried pork steak, which by itself would be totally awesome. Yet, typically when you order schnitzel at a restaurant, it comes with either cheese (kase) or mushrooms (jager, which is pronounced “yay’-gur”). So jagerschnitzel is a fried pork steak covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. Yummy stuff!

Six weeks is a long time to spend in another country. When I returned to my home in Lafayette, my mother hugged me tight and said it looked as if I had grown at least a foot while I had been gone! Of course, I hadn’t, but I had grown up in many ways I never imagined I would. As a result of my extended travels, I am now aware of how culture and history binds people of all nations together, how life in other countries is extremely similar and yet vastly different from life in the U.S., and that if all I ever do is play video games and eat fast food, then I am going to miss out on so much this world has to offer!

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

All That Really Matters

This morning, at about 4 am, my grandfather left this earth and entered the gates of heaven.

I’m sad. He is my father’s father, so in a way the grief from my father’s death feels fresh all over again. And yet, there is also peace and even joy. My grandfather knew the Lord personally and the comfort of that is a precious gift in the middle of the pain of losing our family patriarch.

In memory of my grandfather, I am sharing an essay written nearly two years ago by my daughter Maddie. It was a school assignment to interview someone and then write up the interview. I’ve always cherished that she chose my grandfather and the words she wrote about him.

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All That Really Matters

written by Maddie Hamilton

On the surface, the life of James Herbert Terry, my great-grandfather, seems to be very ordinary. Known to his family as Papaw, he was born on September 19, 1923 at his grandparents’ home, located in the hills of Catahoula Parish in north Louisiana. He grew up as an only child splitting his boyhood days between living in the small town of Harrisonburg (population 3,500 at that time) and staying at his grandparents’ rural farm eighteen miles away.

As an adult, he did all of the typical things expected for men of his generation — married, raised five children, served as a leader in both the local church and community. Papaw worked hard to provide for his family, working as a teacher, banker and real estate agent. He even became a small-business owner with his wife. Even though he just celebrated his 90th birthday, Papaw still goes to work at his office each weekday because he wouldn’t know what to do if he just stayed home all day.

While his life may appear to be typical to someone of my generation, Papaw actually lived through many big events of the 20th century. He can recall his boyhood years during The Great Depression. He remembers what it was like to fight for the freedoms of others as a soldier during the Second World War. Perhaps most importantly, Papaw lived his entire adult life with his personal foundation built upon faith in Jesus Christ. Because of all these reasons, Papaw has many things to teach me about how to have a life worth living.

Papaw’s earliest memory is of The Great Flood of 1927, which was so devastating it actually changed the course of the Mississippi River. During the spring of 1927, most people had between six and eight feet of water inside their homes, so they slept in attics and somehow survived until the flood waters receded. Even though he was only three years old at the time, Papaw can still recall taking a boat ride through the flood water inside of a hardware store owned by his uncle.

Life in rural Louisiana was hard even before the stock market crash of 1929. Papaw, who was just six years old at the start of The Great Depression, recalls that his life didn’t change tremendously as a result of the stock market crash because his family was already poor. His father was a carpenter. His mother didn’t work outside of the home, but she did help provide during those hard times by taking in ironing and babysitting for a family friend who taught school.

Papaw recalls everyone had a vegetable garden, mended their clothes, and learned how to “make do” with whatever they already had on hand. “Every little thing was used,” Papaw told me. To illustrate the point, Papaw told me the story of how he once asked his mother for pet dog. “What will we feed it?” she asked him. Papaw told her that the dog could eat the table scraps. His mother said, “No, Herbert. We use the scraps to make a pudding.” And Papaw said that’s exactly what she did — leftover rice became rice pudding, leftover bread became bread pudding and leftover corn became a corn pudding.

Looking back, Papaw doesn’t recall that he had many toys as children do today, but he remembers getting presents like oranges, apples and candy at Christmas. And once, when he was in the 5th grade, he got a dictionary, a gift he was especially proud to have received. Papaw told me that living through the Depression taught him many lifelong lessons, such as saving as much as possible, living on as little as you could, and never letting anything go to waste.

As the Depression came to an end, Papaw had grown up into a young man, eager to begin life on his own. Unfortunately, life did not get easier because shortly after Papaw’s 18th birthday America entered World War II. It wasn’t long before he was drafted into the army.

For his first assignment after basic training, Papaw was sent to Vail, Colorado, where he trained to be a medic in the ski patrol. It was a strange job for a young man who had never seen snow or mountains! Somehow, he managed to learn to ski and was soon ready to head to the war front in Europe.

Once he had finished all of his training, Papaw boarded a ship and set sail for Naples, Italy. It was a miserable boat ride! For eighteen days straight, Papaw and all of the other soldiers were allowed to eat only one box of K-rations a day. Each box of K- rations contained a package of stone-hard crackers, a tin of rancid cheese, a bullion cube, and a piece of chocolate. A soldier was to mix the bullion cube into some water, which he would heat for a soup. The crackers could be soaked in the soup before eating them. Papaw said no matter what you did to those K-rations, it still tasted terrible.

In May of 1945, the war in Europe ended. Even though Papaw was glad about that, he was still concerned because his ship was about to leave Italy and head straight over for the Pacific to help win the war there. Needless to say, Papaw was very relieved when the Japanese finally surrendered before his ship departed. By this time, he had been in the army for three years. Papaw was eager to go back home.

Once Papaw was back in the United States, he earned a college degree, married, and began his family. I wondered if perhaps all of the most exciting, interesting, and important parts of his life were over. However, Papaw told me that actually the most important part of his life is something he had all along — his faith in Jesus Christ.

Outside of his mother, who was perhaps the greatest influence upon his decision to become a Christian, two other people encouraged Papaw to grow in his Christian faith. The first was a preacher named Brother Miley. When Papaw was a young teen, Brother Miley would often ask him to go fishing. Papaw said, “I think he mostly wanted to take me because I would always dig the up the worms for our bait.” While he enjoyed those afternoons fishing with Brother Miley, Papaw also said, “I felt uncomfortable about going on those fishing trips because I knew at some point he was going to start talking to me about Jesus. Between him and my mother, I didn’t have a chance!” Finally, when he was 14 years old, Papaw asked Jesus into his heart. As Brother Miley baptized him in the water of Bird’s Creek, the crowd stood on the bank singing the old hymn “Shall We Gather at the River.”

The other person who greatly influenced his faith in God was his wife, Juanita. They were married for 60 years, most of which they spent working together in their family business six days a week. According to Papaw, she didn’t work with him for free. He chuckled, “I paid her in dimes. She literally took every single dime that came through our store!” Papaw laughed and then continued with a smile, “Some folks would come in just to pay their whole bill in dimes because they knew that way Juanita would get her spending money.” Describing her as his better half, Papaw said, “I never knew her to get angry or to say a cross word to anyone. She had a sweet spirit through and through. She’s been gone almost seven years, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss her being here with me.”

This past September, Papaw celebrated his 90th birthday with a luncheon party. The party menu was filled with many of his favorite treats, including “The Gospel Bird” — Papaw’s special name for fried chicken. Surrounded by his five children and their spouses, ten of his twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and a myriad of great-grandchildren, Papaw shared with everyone how he had very few regrets about his life. “I am happy. I am blessed. God is good.”

Lovingly, Papaw admonished his family to cultivate relationships with others. “Doing so,” he said, “will allow you to have more opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. When chances come along to talk about these things, do not be fearful to tell other people who do not know Jesus about the free gift of salvation found through Him. After all,” Papaw concluded, “at the end of your life, that’s all that really matters.”

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Papaw

James Herbert Terry

September 19, 1923 – March 6, 2015

The Greatest Gift

It was raining the day they came to live with us.  

 I hadn’t been given much time to prepare for their arrival, perhaps an hour’s notice at most. I suppose that in the end it didn’t matter all that much, as I didn’t have a clue how to prepare to welcome them to my home in the first place.

When the white government mini-van pulled up in our driveway, my sister-in-law, who had unexpectedly dropped by and gotten caught up in the afternoon’s drama, held an umbrella over my head as I reached into the vehicle to pull out a chubby nine-month old baby girl. As I carried that sweet little one into my home, her big blue eyes gazed up at me with what I can only describe as a rather dull expression. No fear. No curiosity. No spark. Only a blank stare.

Days, maybe weeks, later, I noticed she had a dimple, so tiny and sweet, that flashed across her left cheek with every baby giggle.

But that day, there wasn’t any laughter.

Her big brother, if you could call him that for he was as tiny as she was chubby, walked into our home and immediately found the small collection of toys arranged on the living room rug. He busied himself with the cars, not seeming to notice there was anyone else in the house.

As I signed the stack of paperwork, accepting the responsibility of caring for these two children, I wondered what would happen when the social workers left our home.  Soon enough, I discovered the answer to that question. Nothing. No crying. No fretting. No indications of concern.  In fact, these little ones didn’t seem to realize they had been left alone with strangers.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to happen in those first hours. Certainly not smiles or laughter, but definitely not this uneasy calm either. But then I had never been around neglected children, which explains why …

This was also a day without tears.

The days turned into weeks, and slowly our two foster babies began to meld into our family. We read for hours on end, The Little Engine that CouldChicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and Goodnight Moon. We sang all the songs toddlers love: If You’re Happy and You Know ItThe Itsty-Bitsy Spider, and Jesus Loves Me. We even taught them which little piggy says, “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.

As the weeks turned into months, we celebrated their birthdays, applauded first steps, and marveled over first words. When the oldest began to recognize colors, we proudly bragged to our friends about how smart and intelligent our foster son was. There were harder lessons to be learned, such as the importance of using a spoon, how to pet a dog without pulling on its ears, and that during the clean-up song everyone must pick up the toys. At mealtime, we taught them how to fold their small hands and say grace over their food; at bedtime, we tucked them into their cribs with kisses and prayers.

As the months went by, the two babies began to change.  A sparkle came to their eyes. Curiosity returned. They began to act like children who mattered, because they did.

No longer neglected, now they were loved.

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But some days, maybe most days, I didn’t feel like loving them.

These babies weren’t like other babies who had been lavished with love and attention and nurturing since birth. Instead, they came to our home, bringing with them an emotional baggage for which I was not prepared. My days consisted of dealing with their bad behaviors. Throwing food. Screaming matches. Biting. Pulling hair. Clawing skin.

Initially, I had wanted to foster needy children so that I could share the love of Jesus with children who might not ever taste of love. My fostering dreams were nothing more than a golden haze of envisioning how I would be God’s light in the darkness.

I didn’t realize the darkness could be so dark.

The bitter truth quickly became clear. I really didn’t know how to love these babies who struggled to accept and respond to my efforts. The more I struggled, the more I fell to my knees, begging God for help and mercy.

Being a foster mom was mostly a humbling lesson in learning to truly love others. I suppose I had expected I would learn a lot about love through the process of being a foster mother, but I was banking on more of the familiar warm, fuzzy, feel-good sort of love.

Instead, God showed me a love that hurts and stings. And while He taught me more about love than I ever knew before, what I learned was that true love has very little to do with how I feel and everything to do with how I treat the other person.

IMG_3834

Last Friday, our foster babies left us.

Once again, I didn’t have much notice. Less than 24 hours to get ready for them to leave my home.  Just like I didn’t know how to plan for their arrival, I had no idea how to prepare for their departure.

I put all of their tiny clothes into suitcases, along with the four toys they were each allotted to carry on to their next destination. I dressed them in their nicest outfits, so that they would look all clean and shiny for their momma.

While we waited for the social worker to arrive, we sat together in the big rocker, reading board books and singing songs. I wiggled their smallest piggies, and together we laughed as we chanted, “Wee, wee, wee … all the way home!”

This was a day of giggles and laughter.

As the white government van pulled into my driveway, drops of rain began to sprinkle over the lawn. The time had come, and though I thought my heart might burst apart, I gently buckled them into car seats for the last time and kissed their tiny faces. The chubby baby girl, now almost 15 months old, reached out for me and cried.

It was also a day for tears.

And though I still grieve the loss, I already know that if I am given another chance, I’ll choose to do it all again … for love, as much as it sometimes hurts, is the greatest gift we can ever choose to give.

But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

Christmas Lights

He had been in our home less than half an hour when our new little foster son began to request for us to turn lights on.  His chubby toddler hands would point up to the fixture, while in a sweet but insistent voice he would say, “Light? On?”

Before bedtime on that very first night, Jon was in the dining room changing out a burned out bulb in order to please the 22 month old boy who loved lights.

Even now, three months into this foster parenting gig, our family’s favorite two year old is still fascinated with light.

light

Christmas is a season of light. It seems that everywhere you look, trees and houses are lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, twinkling lights. Trees glittering through window panes. Colored lights outlining rooftops while white lights make the bushes sparkle.

At Christmas, there is nothing more lovely than a tree lit up with lots of lights. Normally, I relish in decorating our family’s Christmas tree. I love to cover it in lots and lots of lights, and then fill it from top to bottom with hundreds of ornaments. Finally, I wrap the entire tree is sparkly gold ribbon before adding our star to the very top.

Yet, as much as I love the process and result of tree decorating, this year I decided NOT to decorate a tree. It wasn’t easy to come to such a conclusion, but after a two hour attempt to keep our two toddlers from completely destroying my mother’s Christmas tree, … well, I realized it would not be a fun Christmas season if I had to spend every waking moment trying to keep myself between the tree and the toddlers.

At first, I tried to come up with a solution that would still enable me to have my cake and eat it too … or, rather in this case,  have my tree and decorate it too. Someone suggested surrounding the tree with baby gates. I considered it, but then realized it would cost me a small fortune for something I really didn’t want to have after Christmas.

I also contemplated putting the tree up in a more out of the way location in our house. However, our home has a relatively open floor plan. The only out of the way locations available were bedrooms, bathrooms and Jon’s home office. None of those options felt like a good place to put the family Christmas tree.

In the end, it seemed as if there were only two options. Put up a Christmas tree and then spend the entire season constantly guarding it from an attack launched by two small children. Or forego the Christmas tree this year and find other ways to decorate our home.

But if I thought I was disappointed about having a year with no Christmas tree, I should realized the magnitude of the reaction I was about to get from my five teens and tweens.  When I first broke the news, a few took the news rather well, but there were a couple that stared at me in stunned silence before beginning to beg and plead with me to change my mind. When I wouldn’t, I received several glares that could kill had there be any super powers involved. Fortunately for me,  I am raising humans and not super heroes.

My kids are fortunate too, for I am not a mean old Grinch … though they might occasionally beg to differ with me on that point. Still, I never intended NOT to decorate our home for the Christmas season. I just determined that a typical Christmas tree should not be part of this year’s holiday decor.

So instead of focusing on my tree, I decorated the doorways with garlands and decked out the walls.

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My banner that drapes across the kitchen. It says “Joyeux Noel.” I figure consider I that I live in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, I at least ought to include a little French in our Christmas decor.

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I set up displays of  nativity sets on every solid surface out of reach of little fat fingers.

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The stockings were even hung. Not over a chimney, which we don’t have anyway, or in their usual place along the living room shelves. Rather, the stockings found a place to hang over the living room windows. I liked the way they looked, nine stockings hanging in a row.

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In the end, there was tree to decorate after all. Last weekend, I found a mini-tree on sale for less than $10, so I got it to put on the ledge above the kitchen sink. It just so happens that it can be seen from the living room as well, which makes this small tree the perfect place to display each person’s new ornament for 2014.

Look and see if you can spot the:

(1) Eiffel Tower for Julia who has been collecting them since her summer trip to Paris;  (2) A plane for Joel to remind him of his first trip overseas;  (3)  A Rubik’s cub for Nate who figured out the key to solving them; (4) A sparkly owl for Meg;   (5) A glittery snow fox for Maddie; (6) Two reindeer with the initials K and C  for the foster babies;  (7) a turquoise and brown cross for Jon;  (8) and a cow bell which represents my wedding anniversary to Jon … it was tied to the back of our getaway car at our wedding which will be 4 years ago on Dec. 31st.

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But my favorite ornament on this year’s tiny tree is the one I bought just for me!

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While I take all the credit for decorating the inside of our home, Jon always takes care of making the outside look merry and bright. This year Megan helped decorate the front yard, stringing lights all around and placing a simple reindeer on the front lawn. As always, they did a fantastic job!

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But even though I loved the welcoming look, what I really wished was that we had a little extra money to buy a wreath to hang on the front door. (True fact: When you have seven kids, there is never any extra money.) Imagine my surprise when the very next day my sweet friend Korin gave me a beautiful fresh wreath that she made just for me to hang on my front door.

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The perfect finishing touch!

We may not have a tree this year, but the signs of Christmas are all around the house, and I am praying daily for signs of Christmas growing in our hearts as well …  the Christmas spirit of generosity and of love and of humble worship.

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Three months ago a tiny little boy and his baby sister came to live with us. And from the very beginning, the lights in our home fascinated him.

This Christmas, we have a blessed opportunity to share the wonders of the season with two innocent children. It may be the only chance we have to share Christmas with them. So we will drive that sweet boy up and down the streets after dark, showing him the city all lit up for Christmas. We will bake cookies and open gifts and bask in the glow of Christmas excitement.  And through it all, I will hold out hope that on some future day these precious kids will see the pictures and know how much fun our family had sharing this Christmas with them.

But more than anything else, I pray for our little ones’ hearts to be captivated by the Light of this World, the Holy Infant of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins. We may not have a big Christmas tree and the presents we open may be relatively few, but oh how I hope even at their tender ages they will see the light of His love living in us, and because of that they will long to know Him more.

Because really … that’s what Christmas is all about.

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Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ~Matthew 2:2

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  ~John 8:12

42 years today

Forty-two years ago today, I was born with a head full of black hair that stuck straight up and a head that, at least according to my father, was shaped exactly like a football (thanks to the forceps used to pull me into this world).

Every birthday, my dad jokingly reminded me of my oddly-shaped newborn head. He recounted how as he gazed at me he prayed and told the Lord that he would always love me, even if my head was shaped like a football.

For forty-two years exactly, he did just that.

My father left this world this morning. I wasn’t prepared for him to go.  It happened unexpectedly. But even though my heart is heavy and this is the worst birthday I can imagine,  I’m grateful that I spoke to him last night and told him again I loved him … just like I always did whenever we talked on the phone, which was usually three or four times a week.

I can’t think of much else to write in this moment of the man I loved first. He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord first, my mother second, and his children and grandchildren third. (If he were here right now, he would be correcting me and stating his grandchildren and then his children! I never knew a more devoted grandfather.) 

I wish my daddy didn’t have to die, and I wished he didn’t have to die today … but there is peace knowing that he is worshipping Jesus face-to-face.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~Psalms 116:15