Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Tribute of Love

      We mark time by the events in our lives. Weddings, deaths, births, and graduations are the benchmarks of living. Some events are so cataclysmic that our before’s and after’s are worlds apart. For me, the death of my mother when I was fifteen was the first major before and after in my short life. Everything from that point on was measured by that loss. There was a period of time I felt no one else’s pain or suffering. The worst thing I could imagine had happened to me, and I simply felt nothing.


     Other milestones in my life include leaving West Virginia and moving to South Carolina, adopting my children, moving from the coast of South Carolina to the upstate, and the different homes we lived in along the way. The year my dad lived with us, and his subsequent death, were defining moments. I changed in ways I never thought possible during that time. 


     The most recent marker in my life has its first anniversary on September 30,2020. My dear cousin and friend, Ruth, went to heaven after a very short illness. Our family was shocked and grief stricken at her passing. She was the connection to my maternal family. Ruth was loved deeply by everyone who knew her, as witnessed by the standing room only crowd at her home church who wept at the realization she was gone. The story of her sickness and death on our lips as if to say, “How did this happen?”


    She was young and young at heart in the very best of ways. Her husband, children, grandchildren and extended family and friends loved her beyond words. She earned respect and honor as the Proverbs 31 woman exemplified. Her friendships spanned sixty plus years, an amazing quality in this day and time of throwing people away when they no longer meet our expectations. 

Sisters, Alice and Ruth

     The quality I loved about her most was her ability to love unconditionally. She was my go-to person. She listened to the details of my deepest wounds and fears when my world was falling apart, not just once, but twice. When my mom died, I gravitated to her kindness and loving arms. When my marriage was in deep trouble and I was going through a breakdown, she’s the one I ran to. She comforted me and shared godly wisdom with no condemnation. We laughed together and cried together and reminisced about our family until the late hours of the night. She made my visits an occasion with the best food, surrounded by her girls, and then later her granddaughters. Her husband, Emil, ventured into the dining room every little bit, smiling and shaking his head at our laughter and conversation. I will never forget those visits and the love that filled every nook and cranny of her home.


     My heart aches for her family. Our loss was palpable at the recent wedding of one of her granddaughters. Her picture adorned a memory table, her presence felt among us. Her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter are in my thoughts and prayers as they mark the date of their before and after. We have the blessed hope of seeing her again one day, along with the rest of our family who have already entered glory. 


     Ruth, you were loved as well as you loved. The light dimmed in our world when you left, but the life you lived will never dim in our memories. Until we meet again…

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Books for Quarantine Reading and Other Free Time

I don’t know about you, but this time in our world has affected me mentally, more than physically. I’m a very content introvert, so being at home is not an issue. I love having time for all the things I love doing. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know I love to read, write, and ponder. What more perfect time for these pursuits? However, it’s been difficult to focus. I normally read six-eight books per month, but during the month of March when I’ve had more time, four books was the best I could do. This frustrates me to no end.

I believe this too shall pass and decided it was time for a book recommendation post. I keep a book journal and enjoy reading over titles that were especially good. Here are a few of my favorite books from the last year:

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, was one of the best books of the year. This is a story of a girl who lost her entire family, one at a time, and lived alone on the coast of North Carolina. She was tough as nails, and smart enough to feed herself from the river she grew up around. Nicknamed the  “Marsh Girl,” she proved how resilient she was from the tragedies she suffered
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, is a great book if you’re interested in social justice. This is a memoir written by a South African man whose mother was black, and his father white. Interracial relationships were illegal at that time in South Africa. Mr. Noah relates his story with humor and heartbreaking details of life as a young boy who was rejected by the black community, as well as the white community. If you prefer audio books, Mr. Noah is the narrator for his book. As a disclaimer, this book is laced with profanities, which I normally shy away from.

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, is a short book written by the prolific author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Mr. Lewis married later in life, and lost his wife to cancer after only a few short years of marriage. As many writers do, he grieved through writing words of consolation to himself. I’d highly recommend this book if you’ve lost a loved one, especially a spouse.

We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter, is based on the true story of a family who survived the Holocaust. Their gripping story is one I could not stop reading. It helped to know from the beginning that they survived, but the details of their place in history kept me thinking about them long after I finished the book. Ms. Hunter is the granddaughter of one of the main characters. She was able to interview some of the original family members, but had to create dialogue and some of the scenarios. For this reason, this book is listed as Historical Fiction. Anne Bogell, interviewed Georgia Hunter on her podcast What Should I Read Next, Episode 157, dated October 30, 2018. Their story of family love and survival is truly inspiring.

I saved the best for last. My favorite book of the year is One Good Mama Bone, by Bren McClain, an Anderson, South Carolina native. Bren weaves the story of a woman raising the illegitimate child of her dead husband and her best friend, with the wisdom of Mama Red, a cow with a nursing calf. This story is heartfelt, and teaches the reader the meaning of perseverance, honesty, and faithfulness. Life lessons are here for the taking, and the local references make it especially genuine. 28-year-old Mama Red lives on a farm in the New Prospect Community of Anderson County. 

Here are a few books that also made the list:

Educated by Tara Westover
Inspector Gamache Series (14 books) by Louise Penny
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
White Heather by Eunice Sullivan Pracht (poetry-local author)
Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer
For All Who Wander by Robin Dance


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Such A Time As This

My quarantine may look different from yours. While I have shunned people, I still make trips to the grocery store, the bank, and the recycling center. I continue to put gas in my car, and stop at Starbucks for my favorite latte. I’ve continued to cook for my family on Tuesday night, and Sunday lunch, and every meal in between. I haven't done this much cooking since my children were home and around the table every night. The walk I take every day is therapy for my soul, cows or deer the only living thing I see. Occasionally, a neighbor drives by and we share a heartfelt wave.

A recent trip to the grocery store rewarded me an air hug from twenty yards with a church friend. Fluorescent tape announced the border I mustn’t cross in the Starbucks line, as conversation revolves around “me too” experiences. Relationships have been made sweeter through Zoom connections online. 

Life before Covid-19 will resemble nothing of life after Covid-19, and that may be a very good thing. Gathering for worship is a privilege, even more than a right. Embracing those you love will be instantaneous, rather than an afterthought. Dining in my favorite restaurant will be savored and celebrated. I often say it’s the simple things that make life extraordinary, and this crisis earns exclamation marks after that statement. Our simple activities are no longer so simple, and must be thoroughly planned so we don’t harm our fellow humans.

But, the one thing that will never change, or be taken away is the intimate connection with my heavenly Father. There are no borders, no rules, no guidelines to ban me from His presence. He is as close as a prayer, the whisper of His name on my lips. He is my comfort and peace in the midst of every storm. “Do not be afraid,” is the most repeated phrase in all of scripture, and yes, it applies to such a time as this.

This virus did not take Him by surprise. Because of this, I choose to welcome every day as a gift I will use to bring honor to His name. I choose to delight in the beauty of this glorious spring, and serve those around me until this passes. I choose to speak words of encouragement, and not words of criticism. We each have a role to play, some much more important than others, but all necessary. I’m encouraged by the evidence of families spending more time together, laughter surrounding the amount of food we’re all eating, and the abundance of entertainment on social media. There are some crazy, funny people out there helping us navigate these strange times we’re in. 

My prayer is for you to be safe and well, and tucked in with those you love each night. I pray there are more books than you could possibly read, laughter that makes your belly ache, and enough food to keep you satisfied. And when you lay your head on the pillow at night, pray for those who are suffering, and those who care for them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020!

        A new year, a new decade, the roaring twenties updated. I usually ponder the year just spent before moving ahead, it helps me put life in perspective.  

     2019 was a year of good things, sad times, and everything in between. I can see areas of growth in places I’ve struggled in the past. My desire for perfection has slowly been replaced with good enough, and the need to please people has lessened. Those are great strides for me, having lived most of my life in bondage to the whims and fancies of peoples’ expectations. That’s a lot of baggage to unload, and I don’t miss it one iota.

     2019 was a year of family togetherness, celebrations, Sunday lunches, Tuesday dinners, a wonderful vacation, and bonding with the granddogs. My family lost someone dear this year in the death of my cousin, Ruth. Her death left us shocked and saddened. There will always be a hole she filled with her love and kindness. The bonds of family are important to me, and I treasure time spent with those I love.

     I was blessed to lead a Bible study in the spring and fall, work in a ministry feeding the homeless and shut-ins, serve as secretary for the Foothills Writer’s Guild, and serve alongside women who have hearts for missions. I enjoyed playing hand bells and singing in my church choir. I don’t say all this to brag, but to say I’m thankful to be well emotionally and physically to do all the things I feel called to do. There was a time when I went through the motions of a happy life, but didn’t feel it. My smile was a mask that covered the turmoil within. 

     This was the year I became a published author with a collection of poetry, Breathings of My Heart. Exposure to great writers and the opportunity to take two poetry classes through Anderson University helped produce enough work to compile a collection. My healing continued as words from my heart found their way to the page. In all these things I give thanks to the One who has my life in the palm of His hand.

     As I look back on this year filled with many good things I realized it’s the simple things that mean the most. I’m thankful for special moments around the table with family and friends. Life isn’t always easy, but living is sweeter when shared with someone else. I treasure coffee dates, deep conversation, fellowship with my Bible study sisters, laughter about getting older, walking under a Carolina blue sky, front porch pondering, and the sight of cows and their calves. My passion for reading and learning was cranked up a notch in 2019. I’m thankful for new friends, and cherished friends of many years. I marvel at the beauty that surrounds me living the country life. The simplicity of a cup of tea as the sun rises reminds me of God’s mercies, new every morning. 

     A new decade is here, with new possibilities for serving and loving those around me. I pray blessings on you, my reader. I pray you know God this year in a deep and profound way that leaves you speechless at His goodness. Happy 2020!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What Does Your Home Say?

     One of my favorite Christmas movies is the 1994 version of Miracle on 34thStreet. The movie centers on the Santa Claus, hired by Cole’s, the fictional department store that sponsors the yearly parade in New York City on Thanksgiving Day, and a little girl who must be convinced that Santa Claus is real. Near the end of the movie the main characters arrive at a charming house in the country. Susan Walker, the six-year-old daughter of Coles’ director of special events, runs inside to find a perfectly decorated home, complete with a tree covered in beautiful ornaments and tinsel, and Christmas presents stacked eye level. Her mother tells her this is their new home, as her eyes sparkle with delight. The house exudes warmth and the façade of a perfect life.
     My all-time favorite movie and its house is quite the opposite. Beaches was showing in theatres in January, 1989. We were in Charleston, South Carolina waiting for our daughter, who was arriving on a plane from Guatemala, making our family complete. Due to a delay, we had several hours before her appearance. The title of this movie beckoned us inside, unaware of the emotional wave about to hit. While the movie has a poignant ending, the friendship between the two main characters is sacrificial and faithful. The two friends retreat to a beach house as one of them prepares to die. This house is my vision of the perfect beach setting. The one-story cottage, with wraparound porches, draws me into the story, leaving me with the desire to sit, and breathe in life, even as death is lurking. Simple furnishings convey a laid back, homey feel.
     My choice in home atmosphere will always be simple living, rather than magazine worthy perfection. Natural hardwood floors that forgive footprints cast a golden glow. Long, bare windows invite sunshine to brighten the interior on cold, winter days. Spring breezes wafting through open windows are more appealing to me than heavily draped windows. 

     My desire is that guests are greeted by the luscious scent of freshly baked scones, and flowers that remind you of your grandma’s garden. A warm greeting will be remembered more than the first impression of a perfect room.

     The table decorations may be lovely, but is there lively conversation where you feel known and loved? Listening has more value than fussing with details in the kitchen, though details prepared beforehand speak volumes.

     What is the temperature of your home, and I don’t mean the degree you set your thermostat? Is it calm and peaceful, or loud and stressful? Our home has been all these conditions at one time or another, but I strive for calm and peaceful.

     If your children are still living in the home, are they comfortable inviting friends over? Is your home the “go to place,” or is it too much work hosting young people? 

     I can tell you from experience, my children won’t remember how the house looked, but they remember how our home made them feel. In a culture where children are often stressed over cultural issues, and the need to fit in, home should be a sanctuary from a troubled world.

     Are you present with your family members? Huddled together in the same room, each one’s attention buried in some form of technology is not being present. Conversation that involves listening and sharing communicates your presence, your availability. 

     We need to extend grace to one another, and remove the superficial tone of the perfect house, or life. The Biblical story of Mary and Martha sitting at Jesus’ feet is as current today as it was 2,000 years ago. Martha complained that Mary was lazy, and she was left to do all the work. Each of us can claim being Martha's or Mary's in a busy world.

     Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better thing.”

     I want to choose the better thing as well. In a world of busyness, and the lust for perfection, I want to choose simplicity that breeds joy and freedom. I want my home to say, “Welcome, I’m happy you’re here.”

     The two houses mentioned in the beginning are very different from one another in both style and temperature. The Miracle on 34thStreet house was a catalog home, decorated to sell Christmas. Life was make-believe until the new owners moved in. The Beaches house was filled with love, friendship, joy, pain, and grief. 

     Isn’t that what makes a house a home? The normal rhythms of life ebb and flow; seasons of pain and sorrow are followed by exuberant joy. As life happens, the good, and not so good, be sensitive to the atmosphere you allow. Pay attention to the subtle hints of your family and adjust the temperature to one of comfort and joy. It will cost you little in dollars, but the result is priceless.