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September 29th, 2016 was my last big chemo treatment… the kind that makes a person instantly old. After that came the “lesser” chemo every three weeks; surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and eleven lymph nodes; then thirty radiation treatments. All that was completed this past June followed up by hormone therapy. Hopefully those drugs will keep the devilish disease from returning.

Praise God I lived to tell about it! Now I have sense enough to really be thankful for things I missed while going through treatment; Simple things like sleep. I rest so well now that I’m back to snoring loud enough to rattle the windows. In fact, I’m so loud that I may be responsible for the zombie movement since I surely wake the dead.

I’m thankful for food that I used to love but couldn’t stand the taste of while taking chemo. Things like coffee, chocolate and fried chicken that David makes in his mom’s old electric frying pan. Oh how wonderful. He skins it then soaks it in milk, rolls it in flour and the crust is to die for! I even love the wonderful aroma of it cooking. Last year I would hurl at the thought. David literally lost twenty pounds while I was sick because he tried not to eat in front of me. Well, that and a boatload of worry when I prayed stupid stuff like, “Lord Jesus! Just take me home!”

Bless his heart.

I’m thankful for friends and family. Though I loved these folks before, something about a friend stopping by with a new nightgown she happened upon at Marshall’s’; brown sugar bagels from Panera’s; a new hat and a funny story… it felt a lot like love. One day I found a bright red picnic basket outside the door filled with lotion, lip balm, a funny coffee mug, garden clogs and flip flops. Just thinking about being strong enough to walk outside and have a picnic or work in the yard felt a lot like hope.

I’m thankful most of all for so many prayers and messages telling me often that folks were praying for me. In a time when I couldn’t process the words of Scripture, though I knew they were true, others lifted me up. A pastor friend stopped by and I told him of my struggles. Having been with many folks going through chemo he related that one of them said his brain was so foggy that reading the Bible was like reading a can of soup. It meant nothing. The pastor’s kind words helped me past the guilt I was experiencing to an understanding that God had not left my side. It felt a lot like faith.

I’m thankful for David. I knew to be thankful before I got cancer. But something about having a husband who cleans up behind a grown woman who is too sick to make it to the bathroom in time really shows what a man is made of. Again, bless his sweet heart. His kind example of faith, hope and love felt a lot like grace.

And lest I spiritualize things too much, I have to admit that I’m thankful for hair. Apparently God looked down at the curly bob I’ve worn since the eighties and said, “Enough of that girl! You need a new doo!” He grew it back, curled it not quite as tight and even gave me a few sprigs to pull toward my ample forehead. I imagine He smiled at His work and said, “Not bad for an old chick.” I know it’s vain, but I can’t even tell you how happy I am to finally have hair. It feels a lot like joy.

I have to say, I think I owe my life to you. Remember the story in the Bible of the men who carried their friend on a cot to Jesus? The place was so crowded they lifted him onto the roof. I reckon they had a pulley system of some sort. They removed the roof tiles and let him down right in front of Jesus. Luke 5:20 says that Jesus healed the man and forgave his sins when he saw the faith of his friends.

When I was so weak I had to be carried, you my friends lifted me up to the Lord in prayer. You faithfully asked Him to heal me. Praise God He did! It feels like faith, hope, love and grace rolled into a great big bundle of joy!

Yes! I’m so thankful!

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Similar Yet Different

I love the beach, especially during off-season. My autumn love affair began when our daughters were young. David’s vacation days landed in October and the weather co-operated enough to enjoy the surf. Apparently kids don’t realize how cold the water is when they’re having fun.

Fast forward about thirty years. Our firstborn lives in Illinois and her youngest daughter Kianna happens to love the beach too. However, they seldom get to visit there since it’s at least a fifteen hour drive. Kianna turned sixteen on Halloween so her parents surprised her with a long weekend at the coast. She is such a great kid and was thrilled with the gift even though it included me [her Grammy], her mom Stephanie, and Stephanie’s sisters Amanda and Hannah. Together the five of us stayed in a beachfront condo on Ocean Isle for three days. The Lord graciously blessed us with gorgeous weather: sunshine and mid-seventies; a beautiful harvest moon shining down over the sparkling water; and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Watching the waves lap at the shoreline was the best therapy of all.

We capped off Saturday night with a Bob Ross painting party. Stephanie collected the supplies we needed beforehand plus a YouTube video on how to paint a seascape. Though all of us watched the same recording, listened to the same instructions, and by the end of the day even had similar hairstyles as our teacher Bob, our paintings are very different. It is actually rather surprising how different they are. As the mother/grandmother it reminded me of an important truth. No matter how similar the parenting, our kids are going to grow up to do their own thing. Just as we were given freewill by our heavenly Father, so also were our children. With each personality, set of circumstances and choices made, our character is developed. It seems the best Parent of all loves variety.

I wonder why we struggle with that. We look at others and wish we were like them. They always know where they put their keys. When they pull off their shoes, their toes aren’t poking through their socks. They never take their kids to the grocery store with jelly on their faces. Their purse is not hiding last week’s banana and their credit cards are never declined.

Maybe it’s time we cut ourselves a little slack. Maybe those of us who march to a different beat are the very ones the Lord will use to make others laugh. Perhaps we’ll lighten a load and make the world a better place.

So to you who live on a continual guilt trip over your imperfect kids and your crazy life, I recommend jumping off that train. Lick your thumb and wipe the jelly from your kid’s face… or not. Relax and be glad that your offspring are different. At some point they’ll probably wonder why fruit flies are hovering around their purses and you’ll know the answer.

Paint the scenes of your life to suit yourself and the Lord. It just so happens, He loves variety.

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Mama’s House

We lost her last May. Our lives will never be the same. She fiercely loved her family, her home and her yard. In fact, my beautiful mom-in-law had a LOT of interests. Crafts, ceramics, decorations, gifts from a multitude of loved ones; it all had to go somewhere. We spent the summer cleaning out her house. Merciful heavens at the junk treasure! That old saying was never more true.

“No kid ever says when their parents die, ‘I wish they’d had more stuff!’”

Though we got the inside sorted, the outside would certainly not meet her standards. The woman would have surely cut back her giant snowball bush by now. Like all true southern women, she swept her patio every day. And even though she could hardly drag her bad leg, she would have already raked leaves several times. Yard work was her passion. When the pile of leaves got too large to push any further, she’d rake them onto an old blue sheet then pull them to the ditch. Then she would haul the hosepipe there so she could soak them down. That way they would stay put until the city crew came by to vacuum them up. Mama had a system. God forbid that anyone suggest otherwise.

We live across the road from her house. Currently her yard is covered with autumn leaves accompanied by a wreath in pink spring flowers on the door. Mama would not be pleased. She changed her wreaths religiously with each season. It comforts me however to imagine her in her new home. She made it clear that she loved the Lord so it’s easy to picture her in Gloryland visiting with my own mama. The two of them probably have more important things to chat about than leaves in the yard or wreaths on the door.

Man I hope so.

While I write this, an appraiser and a potential buyer are inspecting her house. Before they came, I removed the pink wreath. I left it as long as possible since it was the last one she hung before she died. Hopefully they’ll be able to see past the leaves to the lovely home Mama kept for over fifty years.

I know it’s crazy. Though I hope it sells, my heart hurts at the possibility. I keep thinking about taking her a loaf of cranberry pumpkin bread. It was her favorite and I have cranberries in the freezer that she bought me. My husband commented that we won’t know which yahoos to vote for this year since Mama’s not here to give us the scoop. His sister Gail still picks up the phone to call her as they were used to talking several times a day. His other sister Jo stops by sometimes just to sweep the patio.

Christmas will be the hardest I think. She would have turned ninety-two on Christmas Day. The whole family always met at her house on Christmas Eve for steaks with a side of mayhem. This year someone else’s family will likely fill the space. When they move in I hope they’ll love and appreciate the house as much as Mama did.

Maybe I’ll take them a loaf of cranberry pumpkin bread to welcome them home.

I’m sure Mama would be pleased.

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Our firstborn daughter was recounting a recent teen mission trip by way of her daily video. Each morning she visits with Facebook Nation and gives a little insight into everyday life. This time she quoted something I say that went with her talk on critical words and thoughts.

“It’s one thing to let those birds fly over your head. Just don’t let them make a nest in your hair.”

Though the adage is not original with me, I was happy to be associated with it. It made me wonder what other “wise sayings” I will be remembered for. Probably something motherly and nurturing like, “If you shrug your shoulders at me again I will jerk your arm off and beat you with it.”

Since the recent loss of my mother-in-law Nina, we often find ourselves quoting her. She loved to say things like, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger!” “Lipstick fixes everything.” “You can learn a lot from T.V.” And her favorite “One monkey don’t stop the show.”

She also said something so funny that I laughed much louder than I meant to at her own mother’s funeral. Nina being a woman of many words advised that when she died, we’d have to “cut her tongue out and beat it to death.” Later on in a church service we sang the old hymn There is a Fountain Filled with Blood that includes the words, “When this poor lisping stammering tongue lies silent in the grave…”

Suddenly I thought of Nina.  Laughter came and tears ran down my face from trying to hold it in. I wanted to bring my thoughts back to holy things but it was a lost cause. Those birds set up shop in my curly red hair and had their way. I didn’t hear another thing the preacher said.

Last month as we stood in line greeting all the wonderful folks who came to pay their respects to Nina, I noticed that her daughters had placed a tube of lipstick in her hand. The woman never went anywhere without it. No need to start now.

Right on cue my sister whispered, “Did y’all have to cut her tongue out and beat it to death?” Even in our sorrow, we smiled at each other tearfully remembering Nina’s great humor. Once again she made us laugh.

As I’ve talked about the loss of her with our preschool grandchildren, Able said he is happy she is in Heaven, probably eating Pringles. Jesse announced after our lunch time blessing one day that we didn’t have to pray for “Nanny” anymore. I asked him why and he confidently stated the obvious. “She is all better now!” I asked him and his sister Marie what they thought she was doing. Jesse decided she was listening to Jesus music like they have at church. Marie laughed and added, “She might be dancing!”

Like her great-grandchildren I picture her there too; eating Pringles and reapplying lipstick often. As her sisters and friends gather round, she is likely talking a mile a minute, catching them up on the latest news. If they happen to ask about her family she will probably add with a rose colored smile, “Oh they’ll be fine! What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger!” With a twinkle in her eye I’m sure she’ll add, “Besides, one monkey don’t stop the show!”

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When I look at my hands I see my daddy’s. His are larger but ours are both rough and shaped the same. His are more calloused from all the work he does. I just use my little man hands to type and occasionally dig in the flower beds. But they are still pretty rough for such a delicate woman. I also inherited my daddy’s sense of humor, his feistiness, and his love for sharing a good story. Oh how I wish I had them all recorded so you could hear them too. He told me one the other day about sneaking out to swim off the coast of the Philippines when he was in the Navy. The next day they pulled a shark from those same waters large enough that daddy said he could’ve easily crawled inside it.

“Still sends shivers up my spine!” Daddy laughed as he recalled it. I’m just glad he lived to tell about it.

Daddy came from a family of twelve children. His generation raised their kids with a firm hand. Being blessed with three daughters, I’m sure daddy tempered his words many times though I can’t remember any examples of that at the moment. I don’t know how the man lived with three teenage girls in a house with one bathroom. We knew better than to mess around when daddy spoke. However, I never doubted that he loved me.

I remember warning a guy I dated not to be afraid of my father just because of his rough exterior. He picked me up one Saturday and admitted later that he had polished his shoes in hopes of impressing my dad. Bless his heart. I could’ve saved him the trouble. Daddy was not impressed with any of the young men who expressed interest in his daughters. And this particular guy had very long hippy hair. I’m sure daddy’s steely gaze never made it down to the poor guy’s polished ankle boots.

They say that a girl will ultimately choose a husband who reminds her of her dad. The man I married is nothing like my dad… except that he too has three daughters who knew better than to mess around when he spoke. He loved each one of them through the teen years, coached their teams and watched their suitors with a careful eye. Come to think of it he has a great sense of humor and loves a good story too.

Like my father he loved his wife unconditionally through the horrors and uncertainties of cancer; through good days and bad; through the raising of daughters and eventually their marriages. With a firm hand he taught them the importance of obeying authority and especially that of the Lord. They watched as he quietly started every day with time in Scripture and prayer for his beloved ones. Though his daughters did not inherit his giant man hands, they certainly inherited his heart; his gentle but firm leadership in their own families; his smiling eyes and great sense of humor; and best of all his love for the Lord.

I think that when I get to Heaven, the first thing I’m going to do is check out my Father’s hands. I have a feeling they look like my daddy’s: calloused and worn from all the things He’s protected me from. But when I look into His eyes, I bet they’ll sparkle like my husband’s with kindness and love.

Happy Father’s Day to my two favorite men! Because of your example your daughters chose well when picking men who would become daddies too. May the resemblances continue through the next generation. And may we all live to tell about it.

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For nearly half a century we gathered at my mom-in-law’s house every Sunday after church for lunch. We’d try to have the food on the table by one o’clock at which time she’d announce, “Mute the T.V. and let’s grace the table.” As the family grew, the weekly event became more like the feeding of the 5000. And clean-up was a ginormous undertaking. Often we tried to convince Nina to let us use paper plates. She wouldn’t hear of it. And like her son, cooking required using every pot and dish in the house. Lord have mercy at the mess! Gradually we persuaded her to meet every other Sunday, then in her later years once a month. Bless her heart. It took her at least that long to recover. Plus it took a while to find everything once we washed and put her dishes away. I remember looking for her special ceramic slaw bowl that’s shaped like a cabbage for about six months. I think someone finally found it under the bed in her “craft room.” Thank the good Lord it was empty.

At her passing, we gathered in her home the evening before her memorial. Sweet friends and churches took on the massive task of feeding us all. Merciful heavens at the bread! We had so much that we had to load up a back bedroom since the kitchen could hold no more. As we stood there looking at the bed full of bread, a granddaughter-in-law suggested we give a loaf to the first hundred people attending the funeral. I’m guessing that would’ve been a first.

We also used paper plates that night. In fact there were more paper products used in the two days we met to say good-bye to Nina than the whole fifty-some years she lived in her home. I hope she didn’t mind.

With all those bodies in the house I got a little claustrophobic and stepped outside. One of my favorite nephews was there. As we stood on the patio he asked if I was okay. I told him I just needed a breath of fresh air. He smiled and confessed that he had stepped outside to pass gas.

Ah sweet family. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. At times there’s plenty to eat but nowhere to sit. At other times we’re thankful just to stand upwind. But at all times we are to love. Because before we know it, this blessed time will pass and the gatherings will be few.

Often it felt overwhelming to keep having the dinners as our family grew to over fifty in number. But I’m so glad Nina continued to have us gather. As she always liked to say, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” I’m sure our family is stronger because of those wild and crazy dinners. For Nina’s sake I hope we can keep the tradition alive. Perhaps if we use paper plates we can.

I don’t think she’ll mind.

 

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My mouth has gotten me into trouble more than once… mostly because I’m trying to be funny and something goes amiss. Two of my biggest regrets happened on Mother’s Day. As a kid, I remember making a card for my mama and putting in big letters “HAPPY MOUTHER’S DAY!” Daddy would not let that die. It got us both into hot water. Although I really don’t think I was at the age of spelling accountability yet, Mama was not amused.

The second mishap was all my fault. Mother’s Day used to be commemorated by wearing a rose to church. Red meant your mom was living and white that she had passed away. It was a pretty big deal to honor your mom with a bud. We’d ask a neighbor for permission to pick a blossom from her loaded bushes. One year I was especially cute… and unthinking. I came home with a pink rose and told my mom I’d wear that for her since she was always sick.

Not funny.

It makes me sad just remembering the look on her face. Funny is not fun if it is at someone’s expense.

Much later she overcame the sickness that had plagued her young adulthood. In those days asthma could not be taken lightly. Old Doc Shinn made emergency house calls to give her a shot of adrenalin straight in the heart. Times sure have changed.

Once her asthma subsided she was able to take up walking. She and daddy walked three miles each morning and repeated it some afternoons. They were very health conscious. So when a rare illness suddenly took her from us it was a terrible shock. Shortly after she passed away I went to look for flowers for her grave. She hated anything fake, so I was trying to find the most lifelike silk ones possible. Of course the prettiest happened to be pink roses. I stood there in the discount craft store sobbing like a baby.

Someday I will quit beating myself up for hurting her with my funny words. I’m sure if she could speak to me now she’d say, “Oh Lynna quitcha bawlin’! I’m fine! I feel better than ever!” … or something more heavenly.

Mother’s Day can be such a difficult time. A lady I know whose only son died, hurts terribly around this time of the year. Another friend in his sixties continues to grieve that his mother abandoned him and even though she lives near, still wants nothing to do with him. A young woman whose baby died before birth wonders if she counts as a real mother. Those of us with mothers who’ve passed on may find the sentimental songs at church unbearable. The pain for the childless woman, who must remain seated when the mothers in the congregation are asked to stand, is unspeakable. As she leaves and flowers are given to all the moms in attendance, she must shake her head, “Nope. Still not a mom.”

I don’t know the answer. Maybe there’s a way to do things differently. But how ever we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s think a little. Maybe an extra prayer for the childless couple could be offered. Perhaps a card sent to someone the Lord brings to mind would be a good idea. Just be sure to check your spelling on those homemade cards. And stay away from pink roses.

PS-

I thought you’d like to know that the mother who lost her son battled through a very deep valley of depression. She got busy and sent out an armload of Mother’s Day cards.

The man in the story will no doubt spend the week-end enjoying his wife, grown children, and grandkids, knowing he has made a great difference in the lives of those who love him.

The young lady whose baby died will celebrate with her precious little miracle son Able, who is now a healthy five year old.

And the childless couple was blessed with two babies at once who keep them busier and happier than they ever dreamed possible.

I pray that God will bless you too, in some unexpected way, especially if Mother’s Day tends to stink.

My beautiful mom on the right with Aunt Termey.

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