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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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Nina

David lost his beloved mother last week to a two year battle with breast cancer. From the first time I met her she treated me as a daughter. I tried to call her Mrs. Clark but she wouldn’t have it. “Honey that makes me feel so old! Please call me Nina!” And our friendship began. Her son would stop by a convenience store on the way home from our dates just to buy her cheese popcorn. At first I thought, “Really?” Then I remembered that old adage, “Watch how a man treats his mother for that is how he will eventually treat his wife.” It’s true. Both of them spoiled me rotten. Nina never resented my relationship with her son. In fact when our kids were little I was often too sick to do everything I needed to do. She’d come by and spend the morning cleaning house. She’d wash dishes, bathe the children then go to her second shift job in the mill. I had never experienced such kindness until this dear woman swooped into my life, loving me with all that was in her. The only thing we disagreed on was television. She believed in having it on 24/7. I am just the opposite. Often she tried to convince me that I could learn a lot from T.V. What I learned was to nod my head and try to change the subject. Now that she’s in Heaven, she finally knows that I was right.

Ironing was top priority in her life. She’s been known to iron dish towels and underwear. Her son is just happy if I iron the front of his dress shirt if he’s wearing a suit. For her funeral I ironed the whole shirt, sleeves and all in honor of his mom.

Nina had the sharpest wit. One of the funniest things she ever did was to suggest we lead the funeral procession for her husband through the Krispy Kreme drive-thru. As we passed it on our way to the cemetery she reasoned that it was a shame to miss out since the Hot Now sign was on.

She loved reading the Salisbury Post. Through it she kept up with all the local events, could speak intelligently about any athlete, and always knew when a new business came to town. When we moved across the street from her she insisted on bringing us the paper every day when she finished reading it. And I made sure to read it too because I knew she’d quiz me later on the local events. One afternoon I looked outside to find a line of cars backed up our busy road while they waited for her to make her way across. I teased her later that she should feel pretty good about being in her eighties and still able to stop traffic.

She loved church and music and preaching of all varieties. One time we took her to a service that ended up being rather loud. On the way home we asked her what she thought of the music. She commented that it made her pacemaker do something weird but other than that she liked it.

I think what I loved most about her was her optimism. Rarely did she speak a negative word. We took her out on my daddy’s pontoon boat not knowing that the transom would give way dropping the motor off somewhere in the middle of Lake Norman. As we sat there rocking back and forth trying to get a cell phone signal she commented brightly, “Oh what a nice breeze!” That was typical of my other mother.

Nina Clark, my “other mother.” I sure am going to miss you. Thank you for raising such a beautiful son for me to love. Thank you for taking me in and treating me like your own. Thank you for opening your arms and your heart to me from the very start, and never letting go. I can only imagine how lovely the gardens are around your heavenly home now that you’re healed and you don’t have to drag around your “bad leg” while you work. Heaven is surely more beautiful since you are there.

Nina with my daddy: A meeting of the minds.

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The Rest of the Story

It was the first day of Spring. We had just received the terrible cancer diagnosis for my beloved mom-in-law Nina. The first surgeon she visited spoke words we were not prepared to hear. “I can’t do surgery because if I were to take all of the cancer out I would not even be able to close you back up.”

I began gathering photos of Nina in preparation for… I cannot even speak the word.

Anyone who knows her also knows that she hates having her picture taken. Therefore the task would not be easy. Oh we had plenty of pictures, but nearly all of them have her wagging a finger in the direction of the photographer with a death threat hanging in mid-air. This woman is not to be trifled with. I joked with her one happy day that if she didn’t stop putting the stink-eye on those trying to capture her pretty image we’d have to resort to using all those ugly photos at her memorial. That would teach her!

Beautiful silver hair frames her lovely face. Her skin is smooth and nearly wrinkle-free. She and her son joke that all the butter they consume keeps the wrinkles pushed out from the inside. She was able to attend the graduation of her granddaughter Desani where someone snapped a gorgeous picture of the two of them. She showed it to me and said, “When I die just Photoshop my head onto all those other bad pictures.” Note to self: Never try to teach Nina a lesson.Nina & Desi

For those of us who live in Salisbury, Dr. Black is a household name. He and Nina go way back. He’s treated many members of her family for cancer starting with her husband. Even now while Dr. Black is in the midst of trying to retire he’s committed to treating Nina’s sister until the end. The only criticism I’ve ever heard her speak of him is that she cannot understand why he doesn’t wear socks. Something about his naked ankles has always been a little disconcerting to her. Nina has baked him and his staff many a pan of brownies. She was saddened to hear of Dr. Black’s retirement, but took right up with his associate Dr. Brinkley. Perhaps the fact that he wears socks gives him cred. She loved him immediately because he joked with her and understood her sense of humor. The three of them have a running disagreement on whether brownies should contain nuts or not. Dr. Black poked his head into her exam room one day and said, “Don’t you let him talk you out of putting nuts in the brownies!”

What will Salisbury do without Dr. Black?

What will we do without our beloved Nina? My heart grieves at the thought.

Last Spring I wrote a story called Daffodils of Hope which ended with a request that you pray for her. Here’s the rest of the story. Dr. Brinkley immediately started breast cancer treatment which has shrunk the tumors so much that everyone is amazed. Nina has had no terrible side effects, has not had to endure chemo or radiation. We had no idea such a hormone therapy existed. At this point it’s looking like she may not even require surgery. God willing, Nina will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday on Christmas day.

Never once did Dr. Brinkley treat her as though she were too old to hope. With each visit he listened intently as she and her children asked questions and relayed symptoms. In fact he listened so well that at times there was actual silence in the room as he processed our concerns. How rare is that? If you know the Clark clan you’ll certainly appreciate that abnormality.

Thank you doctors Black and Brinkley for treating her and many others so well. Thank you to all who prayed for our beloved Nina.

And thank You Lord that I won’t have to be learning how to use Photoshop anytime soon.

PS:

The Lord took Nina home on May 3, 2017. Her memorial service included lots of pictures with stern looks at the camera. But they just made us laugh as we remembered this lovely lady. The picture above with her granddaughter Desani is who she truly was. We miss her so much already. Thank the Lord we know where she is as she fully trusted her Savior when He said He would never leave nor forsake her. Praise God she is pain free, smiling, and out of the way of all those pesky cameras.

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I have an artsy side.  I’m just not sure what to do with it. Our pastor’s wife can start with a blank canvas at the beginning of her husband’s message and by the time he’s finished a lovely painting will emerge. I’d be so distracted with crying babies and such that I’d probably have a meltdown and tell everybody off for not paying attention to the words coming out of my spouse’s mouth. Yep. I’d be a fine example of the love of Jesus. Annyyywayyy…

I really had a hankering to do something creative and beautiful. I remembered seeing barn quilts a few years ago while we were traveling. Beautiful geometric shapes painted on huge backdrops formed lovely pictures on the sides of barns. In my brain I knew that I could totally do that; except I have no barn, no scaffold, no pattern and geometry was completely foreign to me in high school forty some years ago. [The only subject harder was chemistry. That was the class where I met my future husband. There was definitely chemistry but it didn’t translate well in the grade book.]

I decided to get a smaller board which would look nice on a shed or a small building. My sweetheart suggested using a black background so the colors would, as they say on HGTV, “pop.” After that, I taped off a pattern which I hoped would resemble a black-eyed Susan, my sister’s favorite flower. Bright yellow petals with touches of orange against a black background looked at me as if to say something was amiss. I sighed, painted black over the whole mess and tossed it in the nether regions of the mud room.

Mud room sounds a little highfalutin. It’s not really a room, but a space by the backdoor that catches all the stuff we have no idea what to do with; but there is actually mud. Annyyywayyy…

A few months later everything started to bloom with the beauty of spring. It seemed that all creation shouted in unison “Glory to God, Maker of heaven and earth!” With new determination I drug out my former project. Once again I taped off the pattern and went to work. Again I was disappointed. But before I could paint over it, David took the shed quilt outside and asked me to look out the window. To my surprise it was fine. In fact it was kind of nice. I had a feeling my sister would love it. So I started my other sister’s shed quilt. Hers would be a zinnia. Since I couldn’t make the geometry work, I skipped the painter’s tape and flew into painting all willy-nilly. I stood back to inspect my work and decided to add more color. I did that so many times it was nearly three dimensional. I was just about to start all over when I remembered my mother’s words. Usually she said them when I was trying to fix my crazy hair.

“You need to learn to leave well enough alone.”

So I stepped away, and decided it was just fine. Plus it could double as a bomb bursting in air on the fourth of July. [The zinnia… not my hair.]  And the black-eyed Susan could double as the cross section of a sliced orange. How many artists can claim dual meaning in their work?

Perhaps I am finally learning to leave well enough alone. In fact, I’m almost ready to go out in public without a hat.

I think Mama would be proud.

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Home Sweet Home

Bluebirds are scoping out their new digs this morning. My friend Randy brought me a house on a pole last year with a plastic pipe around it so snakes can’t slither up. For days now the bluebird couple has patrolled the area by sitting in the crepe myrtle looking in every direction before entering their new place. Last year I had the pleasure of watching two families emerge from that house as they taught their babies how to fly. I was hoping some of them would remember their cute little starter home and return this year. It looks like they have. Thankfully they are not nearly as picky as us humans.

Is it just me or do you get sick of watching folks on television hunt for a house and turn up their noses because there’s not enough room for “entertaining?” Who are these people who entertain so often that they need a ton of space? God forbid that one would have to pull up a chair from the kitchen or sit on an ottoman. Put the kids on the floor for crying out loud or do like my mom-in-law always threatened. Bang another nail in the wall and hang the extra bodies there.

And what’s the deal with stainless steel appliances? I remember the day when my sister, God love her, had an avocado stove with a harvest gold hood, and a white refrigerator. I vaguely remember an almond colored dishwasher. Her countertops were bright sunshine yellow. Every kitchen drawer was skewed sideways and there was no rhyme or reason to finding anything. But her house was the place everyone loved to gather! Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, summertime cookout or birthday party she’d pipe up and invite, “Let’s have it at my house. No trouble!” She’d pull out the plastic tablecloths, set up little eating areas all over the house, and tell everyone to grab a plate. We’d start at one end of her galley kitchen and serve ourselves buffet style. The threat of being trampled was real, but no one ever went hungry.

For years and years my sweet mom-in-law has hosted in a similar fashion. I think there were around forty or so people at her house Christmas Eve. Everybody knows where she keeps the TV trays. The littlest kids eat at the coffee table or the fireplace hearth. Sure stuff gets spilled. That’s why she has the carpet cleaned AFTER Christmas instead of before. Maybe the difference between these dear ladies and the house hunters on television is that while some seek to entertain, others just open their doors and say, “Come on in and have a seat if you can find a place for at least half a butt cheek.” I’ve got a feeling that one of these entertaining styles is a lot more fun than the other.

I just checked the status of my bluebirds. They have moved on, probably checking out other options. Sure wish I had a way to tell them how valuable that plastic pipe will be when their babies hatch. But I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Any birdbrain knows that keeping the family together is way more important than showing off a perfect home.

 

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The Paper Chain

He made a long paper chain for me to count off the days. Chemo had worn us both down to the very last nerve of our already fragile psyches. Since my cancer treatments started in May and would continue until the end of September, it had been a very long hard summer. But suddenly we had something to look forward to. A friend graciously offered her house at the beach for us to get away for a week-end and leave the Big C behind. If I could just get past that last chemo and take a few weeks to build up my strength, then we could get a glimpse of the ocean. And everyone knows that saltwater is good for what ails you.

Day after day I tore one ring off the paper chain and prayed for better days. We scheduled our trip for the last week-end in October and hoped for decent weather and better strength. Finally the time came and the last of the paper chain was torn away. The forecast was beautiful. Food was planned and packed since I have a hard time eating. We tried to think through everything we’d need for our little trip as I was still so weak.

We arrived at the house on Friday afternoon. The place was gorgeous and overlooked a marshy creek bed with lots of wildlife. We unpacked and took the golf cart toward the beach. The access where we parked was rather steep and involved a lot of steps. Resting often I was glad to spot a bench at the end of the long walk. There before me opened up the view of the ocean. Waves lapped gently on the shore and the water shimmered in the sunlight. After a short rest we took our chairs down onto the beach. But out of nowhere we were swarmed with biting flies. Have you ever been a part of such a lovely experience? It was not pretty. Though we had some serious repellent, probably harmful enough to kill us, it did not deter the flies. They seemed to lap it up like grandma’s Sunday gravy.  Suddenly I had sympathy for the Egyptians back in Moses’ day. We could not stay. Those nasty creatures followed us all the way back to the golf cart and didn’t leave until David picked up some serious speed.

Saturday a new day dawned and we wondered whether to try again. But I was so sick and needed to maintain a close proximity to a toilet. Sorry delicate readers– just keeping it real. David brought Cream of Wheat to the little patio table on the deck facing the marsh. We prayed for a good day and wisdom to know what to do. The sun was warm for October 29th so we lingered and watched the giant cranes and herons as they watched the tide come in with their breakfast.

Then we spotted him: a huge old buck wandered from a cluster of trees and just stood there for our viewing pleasure. One by one other deer joined him, some even splashing in the water that rose to where they were. We sat in the perfect place just far enough away that they didn’t notice us but we could enjoy their movements in the rising tide. It’s a picture I’ll never forget.

Sunday morning came and we decided to give the ocean another try. Again we armed ourselves with repellent and sunscreen and mounted the golf cart. This time we drove a little farther and found an access which was constructed more like a ramp instead of a stairway. Gradually it wound through the wooded area then offered benches overlooking the ocean. Sparkling water spread before us along with fishermen and families enjoying the sunshine and surf. Though I was too weak to walk in the soft sand, the bench worked just fine. We sat there soaking in the beauty of it all for what seemed like hours. It definitely cured what ailed me.beach

Sometimes it feels as if a trial will last forever, much like this story of our lovely week-end. Like biting flies, pain and despair quickly gobble up what little bit of strength we have.  I’m so glad we hung on and tried again to find that happy place. The next time I feel like giving up I plan to pull up those scenes I promised never to forget.

The majestic old buck with head raised sniffing the wind; the graceful doe frolicking at the water’s edge; the beautiful ocean pounding the beach then pulling away for another time; all just because the Lord made such a wonderful world. No, cancer is not so wonderful. But because of it my eyes are opened like never before. I never knew such joy could be gained by being still and watching the world. And never before has anyone made me a paper chain, counting down the days til we could simply be together.

 

 

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The church was packed and the climate was questionable. My pastor friend was approached by an elderly lady who expressed that it felt stuffy in the auditorium and that he may want to adjust the temperature before he started the service. He shook her hand and thanked her with a smile. A few minutes later he was again warmly greeted by a woman who faithfully served. “Pastor it’s a little cool in here. You may want to turn up the heat a bit before we begin.” He thanked her for her input. On his way to the front of the room before he began the message he stopped by the thermostat which was situated in plain view. There before God and everybody he looked at it closely as though pondering all things holy. He touched it but didn’t move it one way or the other. After church both ladies thanked him and expressed how much more comfortable they were.

True story.  I can’t share the kind pastor’s name lest I rat him out and ruin one of his most divine secrets. With the wisdom of Solomon he’s patiently shepherding his flock. I guess that’s why I am not a pastor. My solution would be to haul in a load of sweaters from the Goodwill and hang them in the vestibule. A sign above would read, “If you’re cold, take one. If you’re hot, don’t.”

One of our sweet daughters is a pastor’s wife. In times past she could never win at that game. However, currently they are in a church where they feel very cared for. She can tell that she is loved by the way people tease her. She sits near the front so that her husband can see at least one friendly face as he shares the heart of God. In case you didn’t know it, we Christians can be a tough crowd.

She picked up a bulletin one Sunday and fanned her lovely face which for some reason was a bit hotter than usual. She noticed that when she waved the bulletin to stir the air, all the ceiling fans would come on. When she’d stop, so would they. No pressure dear, but the comfort of the entire community rests on your sweaty shoulders. She had to laugh. It made her happy to know that the guys in the sound booth liked her well enough to do such a funny thing.

Can we talk? Imagine for a minute the heart of your pastor. Unlike crudmudgeons like me he actually has empathy… as in he cares. He’s grieved with the one who’s lost a child as though it were his own. He’s waited at the hospital for hours only to get bad news. He’s prayed for days which have turned into years and asked God hard questions. He’s spent precious time counseling couples who want to call it quits only to watch them give up. He feels the pain of his flock and likely wishes there were a thermostat he could touch to make everyone better… because he cares.

But mostly he feels the heart of the Savior, the One Who called him to lead on His behalf. Like the shepherd king David he “cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.” –Psalm 78:72

It’s official. October is Pastor Appreciation month. But it’s also National Window Covering Safety month. I may or may not check the curtains for hazards. But I do plan to at least cut my shepherd a little slack. With that in mind when I head to church I shall pack a sweater AND a fan. I may even uncross my arms or relax my frowning brow. I might get especially generous and smile, offering a little head nod at points of emphasis. Thank you Pastor Chris Shelton for caring for Life Church and for leading us so well. We sure do love you and Molly.

After all… it’s October! Church fan & scarf

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