My Mama’s Journals

I had the extreme fortune of being raised by a truly amazing woman. She was little more than a girl herself when I was born, and in many ways we grew up together. But my mom excelled in certain ways that I may never match. She was an artist. Her primary medium was cloth. She made most of our clothes until I became a brand-conscious middle schooler, and she could take a pile of random scraps and create adorable dolls or stuffed animals. My mom sang beautifully and sketched realistic renditions of her creative ideas. My sister and brother respectively inherited these traits, while I shared her enthusiasm for the written word.

One of my favorite things about my mama was how she loved. She cared and sacrificed for us kids, even into our adulthoods. But the One she really loved was Jesus. This woman was gaga crazy over her Jesus. It was practically impossible to talk to her without His name coming up, not even as an intentional thing, but simply because of the depth of their relationship, it naturally sprang out of her. If you talked to Florence, you could know that some Jesus was going to overflow out of her and get splashed all over you. And that was a good thing.

In her latter years, one of the things Mama was famous for was her emails. Of course, as an older person just becoming savvy to the ways of technology, she forwarded every single remotely meaningful thing that someone else forwarded to her. I think perhaps there’s some sort of geriatric rite of passage involved in this. What she was most known for, however, were the emails she wrote herself. Have mercy, that woman was deep! I would grin every time her name appeared in my Inbox. I knew great wisdom was coming my way, but that I would have little or no idea what it really meant. This tiny, sassy yet meek woman understood things about God that few people ever will. She could take the most mediocre-seeming event or visual image and mine it for rich, impossibly deep truths about the heart of the Father and His great love for us. Nuggets, she called them. The words made sense, but the concepts were always juuuuuuuuust beyond my grasp.

When my mom passed away, almost two years ago now, my siblings and I each kept a few of her things that were most meaningful to us. I got her Bible, the one I remember from my childhood days, full of her notes and underlinings and personal reflections. Held together by love and duct tape, it remains the roadmap of a 50-year journey with her Savior and Best Friend. Just opening it up and catching a whiff of that soothing old leather smell brings a flood of happy memories. Seeing her familiar handwriting on the page is a bittersweet reminder of what a gift it was to have her as my mother. Reading her words never ceases to amaze me. There was more, so much more, to this brilliant, unassuming woman I thought I knew so well.

The other thing I kept was her box of journals. I’ve stored them in a closet for the past couple years, not quite ready to break open the seal and investigate the treasure inside. I knew that her deepest thoughts and a great deal of wisdom were residing inside a simple cardboard box. I haven’t felt strong enough to face it. There are so many things I wish I could talk to her about, so many things that just don’t make sense right now that I could really use her advice on, so many situations in which I wish I had the comfort of knowing my Mama was praying with me and for me. Yeah. I really miss her, ya know? So today I dug that box out of the closet and opened it up – not because I was strong enough to see what was in there, but oddly enough, because I wasn’t.

My heart was beating a little faster than normal as I lifted the lid. And I laughed. On the top was a huge binder – one of those five-inch monsters – full of pages that she had typed, and of course they were organized by date. Once I got past that, I laughed again. Underneath were probably 20 different books – legal pads, writing journals, steno pads, loose sheets of paper held together by clothespins – all filled with her comforting script. One of the legal pads had notes from a sermon on one page, tax information for her embroidery business on the next, followed by her Christmas shopping list for that year. My two favorites were some personal reflections scribbled on the back of a voter registration form, and notes on a passage of scripture that filled the front and back of a bank deposit slip. One thing that my brother, sister, and I determined after sorting through her important papers after my mother’s passing is that there most definitely was an intricate organizational system in place – we just had no idea what it might be. The same is true of this box. It is a most delightful hodgepodge if ever there was one.

I am still not quite ready to dive in and read all of her words just yet. That day will come, but this is not it. My spirits were lifted simply by sifting through the contents of her box. Today that was more than enough.

 

~~~~~

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This picture by Egyptian artist Kerolos Safwat, entitled “First Day in Heaven”, immediately made me think of my Mom. This is how I envision the moment when she finally met Jesus.

Photo credit goo.gl/images/JUmrQT

What IF….

At some time or another, I’m sure we’ve all heard some pretty amazing God stories. You know the ones: someone goes on mission trip or participates in a special event in the inner city. Ordinary people find themselves involved in extraordinary encounters which can only be explained by the power of a loving, Almighty God. We are stunned and a bit in awe. It’s easy to listen to these stories with a bit of envy and think, “Well, that’s great for them, but nothing amazing like that ever happens to me.”

But what if it could?

Recently at my church we heard some fantastic God stories from Honduras. What did Jessica do that was so utterly amazing? She said Yes to God’s invitation. Inexplicably prepared by a lifetime of difficult situations, she simply showed up with a willing heart, and then God pretty much took it from there. People’s physical, emotional, and eternal healths were waiting to be transformed, just on the other side of one little Yes.

It’s easy to let fear and circumstances keep us from going deeper in our walk with God:

  • What if it’s dangerous?
  • What if I don’t know what to do?
  • What if I say the wrong thing?

But what if instead of asking those questions, we asked different ones:

  • What if God has been preparing me my whole life for this moment?
  • What if I am exactly the right person for this specific situation?
  • What if God has bigger things in store for me than I ever dreamed?

When I was a very chubby girl, I used to look at lean, healthy people with envy, feeling that somehow something good like that would never, ever happen to me.

Only one day it did. The transformation began when I dared to believe it was possible, then took the necessary steps to change. It took a Yes.

So I ask you, What If?

  • What if you embraced the thought that there are God stories inside you, eager to be written?
  • What if you dared to believe that God has perfectly equipped you for the mission at hand?
  • What if all those God stories are right there, waiting, just on the other side of one little Yes?

What If Jesus said, “Come, follow Me”…and you simply said YES???

 

~~~~~~~

Photo credit – https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4228

I Didn’t Read My Bible Today

I’m sort of an OCD kind of person. Actually, I am a really OCD kind of person. Structure and organization give me a sense of calm, and nothing makes me happier than having a good plan and seeing it through to completion. That’s just how my brain operates. The same principles that held true when I was an English/Social Studies teacher are relevant in my personal life. I like for things to be in their “proper place” – in the refrigerator and in life.

When it comes to my personal quiet time/devotion, I also like normalcy and order for the most part. One of the first things I do each morning is to read my Bible, usually working my way slowly through a specific book or topic; read a daily devotion from Oswald Chambers; and record key quotes or personal reflections in my journal. Then I pray about whatever God has brought to mind or any specific issues I’m facing, before beginning the day-to-day part of my day.

This is a pretty doggone good system. I love communing with God before I have to face the rest of the world. Keeping a journal is also a great way on those tough days to look back and see the last thing God said to me.  This helps to anchor me when life seems crazy. Seeing His fingerprints from days gone by remind me that He is still very much in control today.

One day recently, though, I did not do that.

I gathered my materials, a meeting of ancient and modern, with both an iPad and a soft, leather-bound journal, and just sat there. I simply could not bring myself to read the Bible. I couldn’t. On this particular day, I was more than just bothered by something; I was distraught. My mind was locked up almost. I could not think straight. Reading was out of the question. I tried to pray, I really did. Nothing was coming out right. My sentences were a tangled jumble that made absolutely no sense, and I’m sure they even contradicted each other as I attempted to bring my petitions before the Father. Then the tears started – not polite little drips, but monsoon-caliber torrents accompanied by much wailing and a fair amount of snot. It was not a pretty scene.

In that moment a couple of things happened. All that Scripture I had hidden in my heart from the time I was a young child came rushing back to me. I wasn’t worried about chapter and verse, but the words from the greatest love letter that has ever been written flooded my heart and my mind and my jumbled up prayers. A line from this verse, a line from another, swirled together, all pointing to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father Who is at work behind the scenes in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

I also understood a passage I’d always heard, and have probably referred to on more than one occasion, in a totally new way. Romans 8:26 says,  Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (NKJV) This is one of those really great verses to pull out when times are tough. I expect I had done that before. But on this day, I totally got it. I was so wiped out, emotionally, spiritually, and physically; I had nothing left. The only word I could utter that made any sense at all was, “Help!” I reached the end of me, and allowed Holy Spirit to take over, which He had probably been patiently waiting for me to do. Somehow, I knew, whatever the outcome might be, God was very much in control of the entire situation. I could rest in that truth and quit trying to resolve this on my own.

So, is a carefully planned devotion time or simply winging it the better option? To this question, I would have to say, Yes. There is a time and place for both. There is a danger, of course, in being toooooo orderly all the time when spending time alone with God. It can quickly become more of an itemized checklist than ever-deepening relationship. Years of diligence in study, reflection, journaling, and memorization combined to lay a foundation upon which I could depend when I needed it most. Sometimes though, you just have to chuck the plan and go with the moment. When I had no words of my own to offer up, Hope – stored away in a lifetime of memorized Scripture, along with the promised presence of the Holy Spirit – filled in my blanks.

Cutting & Rolling: Lessons From a Paintbrush 

Truth be told, I really hate painting. Not the fancy kind that people display in art museums and dentist offices. The kind where your living room looks dingy or dated and the obvious cure is a fresh coat of paint. That’s the one I’m not so fond of.  

I think it all started when we were building our house. My husband told me that as soon as we were done painting, we could move in. I thought, “YES!!! We will be in by the weekend!” HA! Or not. We painted for a month. One long, hot, thought-it-would-never-ever-end month. We both worked full-time jobs, came home, consumed some manner of edible substance, grabbed our brushes, and picked up wherever we’d left off at midnight the night before. It was not my favorite aspect of the house-building process. 

My first job was putty-er. Jeff would nail the trim down with an air hammer, then I would come along and putty each and every individual hole with caulk. I used a caulk gun, popsicle sticks, my bare fingers, damp cloths, anything to make the job go easier and faster. Then I had to sand the trim to a smooth texture. By the time this was completed, my fingertips were raw and swollen, my back ached all the time, and my attitude was slightly south of chipper. Then…and only then…was I given a paintbrush. Finally, we’ll make some progress, I thought. Or not.  

While Jeff and some friends who were kind enough to come bail us out on occasion were wielding paint rollers and even this awesome electric air sprayer for the cathedral ceilings, I had a brush. A stinking, hand-operated brush. I may have contemplated bopping them in the head with their fancy equipment. Maybe. One thing is for sure, I was exhausted, and I was grumpy. It’s a wonder that people who were around during this season of life still spoke to me without an armed guard and a pound of chocolate present. 

I’ve matured a little bit in the last twenty years. Painting is still my least favorite construction activity and I will do just about anything to avoid it. While on mission trips with my church, this has led to me developing other skills, like operating a skill saw, running a weed eater, and even using a bit of feng shui to build a pretty amazing rock-lined ditch.  

Recently my friend asked me to help paint the stage at church. I still hate painting, but I love both my friend and my church. Of course, I said yes. As is so often the case when there is painting to be done, I found myself in command of a hand-operated brush. I got a little pan of paint and set to work. Rather than being resentful of this particular duty as I have in the past, I found myself waxing philosophical as I began tracing around the edges of the trim. 

When it comes to painting a wall, there are two primary roles: roller and cutter. Rolling creates the more noticeable end product. Great masses of wall can be covered in a very short time. The results are obvious, and the room looks better almost instantly. Rolling is showy. Rolling is glam.  

Cutting-in, by contrast, is slow. It is tedious. It takes time and precision, and often brings tired knees and aching backs from sitting in the floor to carefully trace over electrical outlets and along baseboards, window casings and door jambs. Cutting-in requires a steady hand; rushing can be disastrous.  There is little to show for your work. Certainly it lacks the “ooooh” factor of rolling an entire wall in five minutes.  

But is one better than the other? Absolutely not. If the wall were to be painted using only a roller, the outer perimeter would look sloppy and highly distracting, in a word, awful. Of course walls can be painted using only a regular brush, but the time and effort involved would most likely outweigh the benefits. Your list of available friends would diminish quickly if that were the proposed painting plan.Each method of painting has its strengths and weaknesses. Rolling gets the job done quickly and thoroughly, and and cutting-in provides the pop, the attention to detail, that sets the room off properly. Cutting makes rolling “work”. 

So that’s all well and good if you happen to be standing there with a gallon of semi-gloss and a natural bristle brush in your hand. But what does this have to do with real life, you may well ask. Quite simply, everything. We all have our own fair share of both strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we do well and things that we wish we were better at. In the Bible, Paul speaks to this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12. Using the analogy of the human body and its many parts, he says that while some are more prominent than others, the contributions of all are essential to the proper functioning of the whole body. Ever broken a finger or had a toothache? It impacts the efficiency of the entire body. This is true of our physical bodies, our churches, our businesses, our families, and of our society as a whole.  

We each have different roles to play. Some are more flashy, more noticeable. Some are more subtle and occur quietly, behind the scenes. Each has great value. Every individual part matters to the proper functioning of the whole. So we all need to figure out what we are wired to do. What is your passion? What are you doing when you feel most alive? Writing news stories? Cooking? Building houses? Balancing budgets? Organizing gala events? Designing spacecraft? Teaching a toddler to use a spoon? All of these things matter. Learn your role and do it with excellence. Even if you are one of those wacky, amazing people who just so happens to love painting. Whether you are the roller or the cutter or the kid who stirs the paint, give it all you’ve got. Our businesses and families and nation and world need you to get out there and be you! 

You are the only one who can. 

(On a side note, in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by Chapter 13. I’m pretty clever, huh? This famous passage is known as “The Love Chapter”. I don’t think this progression is an accident. Once you figure out your passion, consider how you might use it to love the people around you, and maybe even those on the other side of the globe. Goodness knows, genuine love and compassion can be hard to find these days. But we can be the generation that turns that around. You hold in your hands an incredible amount of power. You possess the ability to impact the world …..beginning by being nice to the people you come into contact with. Think about that.) 

The Day I Wore Red

Losing my mom has been hard. Very hard. Seems like every day I think of dozens of cute stories to tell her or questions to ask. I long to see that little smirk, or even have her raise that eyebrow of discipline at me. My memories of her are deep and rich, so losing her is just stinking tough. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, the “normal” of my life completely changing, and somehow making it through all the Firsts without her. In some ways I am just now beginning to truly process it all.

Last spring, when Mom had a bad fall, we knew that things were getting serious with her physical condition. I remarked nervously to a friend that when Mother’s Day came, I might not have one. Little did I know how true that would prove to be. As the date grew closer last year, I thought perhaps I might squeeze in just one more; but that did not happen.

Mother’s Day has always been special in my family. As my brother, sister and I got married and began our own families, the two days every year that we set aside – set in stone – to assemble as an extended family were Mother’s Day and Christmas Eve. Sometimes due to work schedules we had to celebrate Mother’s Day on a different date, but celebrate we did. I have many happy memories, and some goofy photo ops, from those occasions.

Then, with very little warning, everything changed.

Several days after the fall, my daughter and I were spending the afternoon at the hospital. I was feeding my mom lemon pudding. Those huge green, earnest eyes were gazing up at me. Even as her body declined so quickly, my mother’s eyes remained as beautiful as ever: The first eyes I saw when I drew my first breath. Eyes that could discipline me from across a crowded room without a single word. Eyes laughing at my horribly not-funny jokes. Eyes where I’ve seen joy and pain and anger and pride over my smallest accomplishment. Eyes closed as she taught me to pray, framed in the face of the woman who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I lost it.

Chelsey had to finish feeding her the pudding while I tried to collect myself.

That night as I said goodbye, we clasped hands, not willing to let go just yet. She reached her tiny, frail hand up, brushed away my hair and wiped a tear from my cheek. Then she said, “I hope you know how deeply I love you.” And those beautiful green eyes smiled into mine.

The reality hit me hard that day. There was no telling what the future would hold. Hopefully there would be many other moments of laughter and tears, but even then, I recognized this was precious moment I would carry with me for always.

 
In the following days, my siblings and I juggled our full-time jobs, hour-long drives to the hospital, and discussions of hospice and nursing homes, doing the best we could to provide quality care for the woman who had cared so well for us. Then, equally without warning, an ordinary Friday at work suddenly turned into one of the toughest days of my life. My precious little mama, who had been fighting off cancer for three years, took a sudden turn for the worse. I spent a long day with her, thankful for every breath, praying that there would be another.

Cancer is a merciless thing. It doesn’t care about your family pedigree. It doesn’t care about how intelligent you are, what a gifted artist or doctor or chef you might be. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Cancer strikes where it will. Some kinds are more aggressive than others. Knowing that she had breast cancer and that it had metastasized into her brain – and how very ghastly that particular type can be – I began praying for two things: 1. For God’s perfect timing, and 2. That God would be gracious and take her Home before it became extremely painful for her. I just wanted her to have a peaceful ending.

And I do believe God answered both prayers. My precious Mama passed away at 3:00 AM Saturday morning, quietly in her sleep. I knew what was coming. I thought I was ready. I was not. Not even close. We all shed buckets of tears, knowing that she awoke in the arms of her beloved Savior, but brokenhearted at the thought of life without her. Then we dried our eyes, and began focusing on the happy event of this day – my niece Emily’s wedding. Here is where I believe the perfect timing comes into play. My family was able to channel our emotions into this beautiful occasion. We didn’t have to second-guess ourselves: Do I go to the hospital, or do I go to the wedding? That was no longer an issue. So we celebrated at one of the most picture-perfect, and fun, weddings I can ever recall. It was so therapeutic that in the middle of our grief, there was such an expression of love and joy.

Then, came Sunday. Mother’s Day. I won’t lie; it was hard, so very hard. Facebook was filled with pictures of people with their mothers. I tried to stay away from that. It was just too raw. I didn’t so much feel jealous of those people, but the ache in my heart was fresh and deep. What I did do, that day and this one, was remember. So many happy, angry, laughing, problem-solving, creative, hard, wonderful moments spent with this amazing woman. I was the first person to hear her heartbeat from the inside. I was the first person she taught to ride a bike and use a spoon. I was the first set of ears to hear her stories, to have her stroke my hair as she sang and prayed over me. I curled up with her on Sunday afternoons and took naps in her big fluffy bed. I learned about Jesus from her lips and from her life. In all of this, I have been remarkably blessed.

The picture included with this post shows two women, connected by a series of events, large and small, that together add up to a lifetime. On the left, in pink, is my Mama. This was taken at my wedding. Moments before, she had sent her first baby girl off to begin a life of her own. The second picture, on the right, is me. This one was taken on the day of My Mama’s funeral. Perhaps red may seem rather unconventional for such a solemn occasion, but I wanted to honor this sweet and sassy woman by wearing her favorite color. In a way, on this day I was the one sending her off to a new life. The cancer is gone. My Mama is whole and perfect, and as a lifelong lover of Christ, her joy is now complete.

If you look very closely at my life, you will see Florence’s fingerprints all over it, both her strengths and her weakness, and even that little smirk. I feel so fortunate to be her daughter. She invested 50 years into teaching me, shaping me, loving me. Her work here was done. My job now is simple – to continue the legacy of faith and family, and to somehow, someway, one year, one breath at a time, to learn how to live without her.

I love you, my Mama.

I close this post with what my daughter wrote on the day of my mother’s funeral. How fortunate am I to be a conduit between these two incredible women.

 
Today will be tough. You taught me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Today I will be sad and shed some tears. You showed me that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” (Psalm 34:18)
Today we will celebrate your life. You without a doubt showed me that “His love gives life.” (John 10:10-11)
Today is not goodbye, it’s see you later, my beautiful Grandma!
“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.” (Proverbs 31:25)