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He was known as the mean cousin. But I liked him. When we were little, we used to play together at my grandmaw’s house. The warning was always the same. “Don’t knock over those spit cans or you’ll find yourself cleaning up a mess.”

For those of you not familiar with spit cans, they are either peach or coffee cans whereby one can spit snuff or tobacco juice. Conveniently placed between platform rockers, we learned to avoid them at all cost. The best way to do that was to take our rowdiness outside or into a back room.

The den, or the front room as it was called, had the only heater. That room was hotter than a hooker’s doorknob on payday.

Wait a minute. Everybody knows I am a follower of Jesus. Should I say stuff like that? I told David what I wrote and asked what he thought. He commented, “I’ve been in your grandmaw’s den and remember how hot it was. That sounds about right.”

Anyway, the front room was hot, and crowded, and hazy. Those who weren’t dippin’ or chewin’ were smoking cigarettes. This was North Carolina in the early sixties after all. So me and my mean cousin would go elsewhere to see what we could get into.

Upstairs was haunted. Every kid knew that. Plus one of my drunk uncles was usually passed out up there.

Yes, mine was a magical childhood.

Grandmaw’s bedroom downstairs was off-limits. But she had a cedar wardrobe that I thought smelled like heaven. I’d send my cousin off to the barn or somewhere and slip into grandmaw’s room. The few church dresses she owned were hung neatly in that wardrobe so I’d climb in behind them. Sitting quietly in my hiding place, I’d breathe in the scent of cedar. By the grace of God, no one ever caught me or I would’ve been labeled the sneaky one.

I bumped into my mean cousin recently at a Christmas gathering and had to ask who he was. The last time I saw him he didn’t have a beard down to his chest. He reprimanded me for ditching the past holiday dinners where the bulk of the cousins get together. I think in his own way he was saying he missed me. At least that’s how I took it.

After the meal I found my mean cousin again. He warned me not to skip the party next year then added, “It was good to see you.”

For a moment we were seven years old, running through grandmaw’s backyard toward the barn. We climbed the ladder to the loft and hid near the trap door for a quick escape. I always felt safe when he was around. Suddenly I missed him very much. In fact, I can’t even remember why he was considered mean. Perhaps part of Christmas is about learning to give grace. Every family probably has at least one crotchety old guy, a drunk uncle, or a mean cousin. Maybe they’ve worn that label so long they don’t know how to be anything else. At the first Christmas Mary was likely labeled immoral, Jesus illegitimate, and Joseph foolish. Thank God He is not interested in outward appearances. Labels fall away and we’re welcomed into His fold.

Grandmaw’s Wardrobe

He sees through both the tough exterior and the self-righteous façade. He pulls us from our hiding places and loves us where we are. Whether you’re considered mean or just down right sneaky, may you draw near to the Savior this Christmas.

He misses you very much.

Oh, and stay away from those spit cans at all cost!

 

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What Joy is Mine!

David’s mother was born on Christmas day and loved the holiday with all her heart. The first year I was part of the family I was struck with wonder at all the decorations… as in I wondered where in the world she kept all that stuff. It was like Santa had thrown up. Every shelf, door knob, corner, and countertop had something festive on it. The toilet lid had Santa with mittens over his eyes. Even the family dog sported a jingle bell collar. My beloved mom-in-law adored all things Christmas.

I hate to sound like Scrooge, but unlike Nina, decorating for me is a chore. I mean, why turn the whole house upside down for a month just when every long lost cousin on the planet will be dropping by?

Bah stinkin’ humbug.

Getting merry at my house involves taking the summer wreath off the door and hanging something green. If it has a splash of red, then call me jolly.

This year, I got kind of festive. We gathered our three local grandchildren who are all five, and decorated a twenty dollar tree from Big Lots. Since I love seashells and have them scattered throughout the house, we turned them into ornaments. The kids painted pinecones white while we figured out how to hang corks on the tree to add to our nautical theme. I have no idea where all those corks came from. Anyway, the tree turned out beautiful. Every time I look at it I get this crazy feeling inside. It feels like… joy. Nina would be proud.

This will be our first year celebrating Christmas without her. We lost sweet Nina in May to cancer. Her things were divided amongst the family. There was plenty to share with the “thundering herd” as she used to refer to us when we piled in for Sunday lunch. Her beautiful collection of handmade ceramic décor was enough to fill the homes of her three off-spring, their kids, grandkids, great-grands, and five great-great grands.

That’s a lot of Christmas.

But it won’t be the same.

Nina is not with us.

The joyous holiday was not about the beautiful things. It was about the beautiful person.

As usual, I will keep decorating to a minimum. The hand painted ceramic manger scene that Nina made for me years ago will be brought out. The wise men and camels will be placed at a distance in order to symbolize that they were on their way and didn’t arrive until baby Jesus had moved to a house.

I’m Biblical like that.

But this year I feel more inclined to focus on the joy. What joy Nina brought to her family for so many years! What fun it was to have our grandchildren over to make homemade ornaments. For the first time in a quite a while, I have the strength to enjoy family and friends.

And at the risk of sounding over spiritual, I must say that going through cancer this past year has taught me to have an abundant joy in the Lord. When I was so low that I begged Him to take me home, He graciously declined my request. With Him by my side, holding me up, I have lived to see another Christmas.

And I’ve learned. Christmas is not about the beautiful things. It’s about the beautiful One.

What joy is mine!

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New Book

 

 

 

My new book titled Too Far Gone is available on Amazon. BUT I’d love for you to wait to order it on Cyber Monday, November 27th at 7pm eastern time. If everyone orders at the same time [all seven of us 😉 ] I might hit the best seller list. Below is a little video, only five minutes and 37 seconds, with a little preview of the book. Sure hope the book brings you joy. Thank you sweet readers! Much love from Clarkville!

 

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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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