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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 love my little town. Salisbury, NC has so much going for it. Sure, that includes some crazy but don’t you think every family has a touch of crazy? It keeps things interesting. Sometimes folks refer to us as “Smallsbury” in a derogatory fashion. That’s okay. I think small is a good thing. In fact, someday when I write my book I might just title it that. Smallsbury, USA.

Many neighborhoods still exist here where we look out for one another. The other day I was standing at the kitchen window when I noticed a cop car slowing down. It proceeded to pull into my mom-in-law’s driveway. My heart just stopped. I alerted David so we both moved to the front window and peered through the curtains like Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. What is going on across the road?!!

We checked our cell phones to make sure we hadn’t missed a call. As we watched to see what was afoot, David grabbed his shoes so he could run interference between the police and his eighty-nine year old mother. Not that we needed to warn her in case she was smoking pot or something. We just wanted to be there if she was going to be arrested while “Bad Boys, Bad Boys” played in the background.

However, before David could get his shoes on all fear was gone. The policeman turned out to be our nephew. Since he was in town for court, he decided to stop by his grandmother’s house to check on her. Then every cop’s worst nightmare happened. His grandmother sent him across the street to our house with a box of doughnuts. Talk about stereotypes. Bless his heart. Jay w KK

This would not be Nina’s first brush with the law. She was driving home from serving Meals on Wheels one night years ago, when she made a right turn beside a vehicle which was stopped for a light. Since there was no turning lane, the police pulled her over. When asked for her license she realized her purse was locked in the trunk. Exiting the vehicle into a night filled with flashing blue lights, there she was, guilty before God and everybody. As she opened the trunk she was sure that all who passed thought she’d been busted for drugs. Nervously she retrieved her purse. Suddenly matters got even worse. Dropping her pocketbook, as we say in the South, she watched as the contents spilled across the pavement. No telling how many tubes of lipstick rolled into the gutter that night. As she stood there mortified, two nice policemen chased down the contents. Her lifetime motto has always been, “Lipstick makes everything better.” That night might have been the one exception.

As you know, things aren’t always as they seem. The policeman knocking on her door was not there to interrogate. The cop carrying doughnuts across the road was just doing his grandmother a favor. And the lady in the blue light was not being busted for drugs. In Salisbury though, we already knew that. Word travels fast here because we’re all standing at our windows, peering out checking on our neighbors. I especially love that small town living includes policemen who love their grandmothers, deliver doughnuts, and chase lipstick for nervous women.

God bless Smallsbury!

*Special thanks to my beloved nephew Jason who allowed me to take his picture while in uniform holding a box of Krispy Kreme. What a man!

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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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 As we started out onto his new pier, he turned and said, “Let me get my stick.”

“Are you expecting trouble?” I asked.Daddy's Stick

My daddy lives on Lake Norman. After mama died he moved there full time. What once was a summer cabin has now become his home. He’s turned it into such a nice place and his view is amazing. Most evenings end with him on the porch swing watching the sunset over the water. I remember when he and mama went out on a limb to get the property way back before the area was developed. The land was overgrown and thick with briars. Many a week-end was spent clearing the property. Our reward as kids was to swim in the muddy water, but not until we’d been warned a thousand times to stay close to shore. We’d end the long day a copper-toned mud color, wore out and happy.

Gradually the place was decent enough to add a picnic table. Then one year they were able to build a pier. Finally we could jump off into the deep clear water, swim around to the ladder, climb up and do it all over again. Oh what sweet exhaustion!

One summer daddy found a giant tractor tire inner-tube. We’d take turns tucking inside and rolling down the hill. Even better, that giant tube made a great float. We’d work and work to get four or five of us on it before it flipped over flinging bodies across the water. After that got old, we figured out how to stand up on our giant float. Keeping balance by holding onto each other, waves would rock us until we could stand no longer.

Mama and daddy dreamed for a long while about building. He and a buddy drew up a plan on the back of a calendar then began gathering supplies. When the house was finished we all praised God for a place to potty and change clothes. As grandchildren came along, we continued to gather there for cook outs, swimming, volleyball, horseshoes and softball. Daddy would kick the summer off by frying chicken in his giant cast iron skillet over a campfire. His skill at getting the wood to burn at the perfect temperature was always amazing. Mama’s favorite holiday was July the fourth with fireworks across the water as we listened to the radio blast patriotic tunes. Waving tiny flags in time with the music, we thought our summers would always hold such fun. Memories stacked on top of memories, joys on top of joys, the lake house was always home base.

However families like seasons change. The kids have scattered like leaves on a stiff cold wind. Our gatherings are fewer and farther between. We drove up to see daddy one sunny winter day.  The lake sparkled beautifully beyond the new pier. He had replaced the top one board at a time, using screws instead of nails so that it would be even sturdier. Five screws per board, it was amazing. Who does work like that anymore? As we walked out he carried his stick so he could measure the depth of the water by the floating section. “It’s dropped six inches since Thursday,” he observed.

Memory making continues with great-granddaughter Marie.

Memory making continues with great-granddaughter Marie.

Memories flooded back as I looked at this man I love with all my heart. Thank you Daddy for giving our family a home base all these many years. Thank you so much for the wonderful memories. The measuring stick of time reminds me often how rare and beautiful days with loved ones really are.

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We don’t have time or space for a vegetable garden, but I thought I’d try my hand at growing a little okra this year. Hannah gave me some seeds she had saved. This variety produces large white hibiscus-like flowers with deep red centers and is aptly named “red velvet.” Did you know that okra and hibiscus are in the same family? I soaked them in water the night before planting, then dropped a few at a time in the hard red clay I had scratched up. I sprinkled potting soil on top for good measure. That poor flower bed refuses to grow hardly anything. So I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for a bumper crop of “okrie” as we say around here. A few days later I checked their progress.

Would you look at that? They’ve sprouted!

Hannah told me to thin them out so they wouldn’t compete with each other for space and nourishment. It hurt my heart to pull some up. But it had to be done.

At times there are perfectly good things in our lives that need to be pulled up. They may look useful but they’re taking too much time and energy.

It can be something as beneficial as sports for our kids. But if it’s sucking the life out of our family we may need to yank a few of those sprouts out of the way. [The multiple athletics… not the kids.]

Or it may be as godly as church activity. If you find yourself bedraggled and hating life because your family is expected to be at something churchy every single night of the week, may I suggest that you reassess the situation?

At the risk of getting stoned, and not in a fun way, may I also suggest that if Sunday is your only day of rest and it wears you out more than any other day of the week, you may be missing the point?

Do I hear crickets chirping?

Today is a great day to weed [and thin] the garden. Start building a little margin for your family. They will bloom even more beautifully with extra space and rest.

 

Too close for comfort

Too close for comfort

 

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to His loved ones.” –Psalm 127:2

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The picture my daughter sent gave my heart a little hurt. A recent spikey hair cut made my grandson look so much older than two. Sporting his new yellow sunglasses caused me to wonder when he grew up. I was comforted somehow by the pacifier he smiled behind. Though only using it for naps now, it assured me that he is still just a toddler. His mom explained to him and his sister that if they took a nice long nap, when they woke up they’d be very close to the beach.J man

Apparently the nap idea made perfect sense to Jesse for he kicked back with blanket in hand ready to oblige. His sister Marie, who is also two, decided she would help everyone pass the time by chattering all the way. Of course she must call out to her pop who traveled in the vehicle ahead of them. Surely he could hear and would be encouraged by her many words.

When we were kids traveling to the beach, the first one to see water got to shout, “Land o Goshen! Yonder’s the ocean!” Anything a parent can do to keep a long trip happy is very wise. Unlike Jesse I was always too excited to sleep. Much like Marie, even now I tend to talk my way through the unknown road ahead. Chattering along I can usually put on a happy face calling out to anyone who will listen. Before the journey ends however, I’ll be worn out and growly. If only I would listen to my Father and rest.

Rest in the fact that He has always provided and will continue to do so. –Philippians 4:19

Rest in the confidence that He daily carries me in His arms. –Isaiah 40:11

Rest in His promise to direct my path if I choose to trust Him. –Proverbs 3:5,6

The sweetest Parent of all has my past, present and future in His plan. He has a journey designed especially for me and invites me to rest in His care.

“Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for Him to act.” –Psalm 37:7

Perhaps if I would rest things would go much smoother. How wise it would be to trust the One Who actually knows where we’re going. Then before we know it, we’ll be calling out

“Land o Goshen! Yonder’s the ocean!”

Why not kick back and rest in His care? It sure makes a long journey better.

Happy trails beloved sojourners! The One Who loves you best can surely be trusted.

 

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