The Plan

Today is a super special day!  You see, it’s my anniversary…OUR anniversary!  The day that Gary and I said “I Do!!”  It was 39 years ago that I wore the beautiful dress that my mother had made, every stitch lovingly sewn by her hand.  39 years ago that I walked down that aisle of the brand new Johnston Chapel Baptist Church, the first bride to do so in our new sanctuary.  39 years ago that I joined my hand with Gary’s and we embarked on our new life together. 

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Doesn’t it sound perfectly romantic?  And it was!!  It was because we planned it that way.  Every bride plans her wedding day to be exactly as she wants it to be.  We’re watching our daughter, Andrea, plan her wedding to Kyle now.  It’s fun to see their special day taking shape. 

No bride and groom plans for things to go awry on their special day.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned on the big day, but the plan is for all to be as perfect as possible.  Perfect plans, planned with perfection…the dress, the tuxes, the flowers, the attendants, the food, the music…each checked off the list as the plans take shape. 

The PLAN!!

Fast forward 39 years, to this morning.

I had a plan for this morning.  I was going to sleep in on this Saturday morning.  My normal wake-up time is 5:30. That’s a.m.  So on a Saturday, I love having no alarm go off.  I love waking up when I wake up, which is never real late but any time past 5:30…A.M.!!…is late for me. 

Part of my careful plan is to even set the coffee-maker alarm for one hour later than normal.  Ahhhh…luxury!!

Therefore, you can understand my irritation when our old Great Dane stood up this morning in our bedroom where he sleeps, and halfway shook himself, and woke me up.  I knew…I just KNEW…what I was going to find.  Jackson doesn’t get up off his mattress on the floor very easily now because he is so old and stiff, but the one time that he will get off his bed is when he either has to go potty, or he already HAS gone potty.

This morning it was the latter.

And it wasn’t even 6:00 yet…which means it was five something…too close to my normal wake-up time for this Saturday morning when I had so carefully planned to sleep late!!

And yeah, there was poop involved, on the floor and on his bed.

I did finally go back to bed after the clean-up, but it just wasn’t the same.

Happy Anniversary day!

Dear Gary had given me flowers yesterday evening, and this morning they were joined by the sweetest card.  Then later, coffee cups in hand, we walked down to our little Mulberry tree with Jackson sniffing all around, and we picked mulberries.  It’s so us, this simple kind of thing.  It’s the simple life that we love in the place that we are.  I was planning breakfast on the patio with the birds and me and Gary, then making his favorite cheesecake, and on I went with my planning.

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Then the back door opened.  Gary and I saw Aaron coming across the yard.  He was early to get up, as well.  We both looked at each other, knowing what we each were thinking.  Aaron joining us wasn’t really in our plan for this morning quite yet.

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Aaron wondered what we were doing.  He was unimpressed with the fact that we were picking mulberries.  He wanted us to be back in the house, where we could see that he had his coffee and where we could listen to him talk.  But we continued picking our mulberries while Aaron walked back to the house, a little in a huff because his morning wasn’t beginning as planned, either.

Soon I did fix our breakfast, where Gary and I were once again joined by Aaron.  He was still a bit huffy and on edge, but bacon helped.  I thought it was quite ironic that he was wearing a shirt that said, “No Bad Days.”  HA!!

I wish it could be that simple, but with Aaron it’s just not.  A day not going as he so carefully plans can set him on the wrong path for sure, and Gary and I are dragged along as well.  But breakfast, and joining me as I watered the flowers, and going with Gary to the hardware store, did a world of good for Aaron…and for us…and so our day has been going along just fine.

Not perfect, though, as we would like to plan for our anniversary to be.  But it’s us, with Aaron, and it’s really what it’s supposed to be.

39 years ago, in that pretty church with all our plans coming together, I would never ever have dreamed of having our 33 year old special needs son still living with us.  It’s not that we don’t love Aaron.  It’s just that having ANY child with special needs, and all that this life entails, would never have been in our master plan. 

But our life, with Aaron, WAS in God’s master plan for us…because He is the Master of our lives.  We’re not.  It really is that simple.

Yet not that easy, on many days and in many ways.  We have questioned and struggled and been angered plenty of times over these years.  And still, God reminds us that our plans are not always His plans.  He tells us that He knows the path that we take, because it’s the path that He put us on.  It may be a path with suffering and pain, with questions and even anger, but it’s always with God beside us and under us and all around us. 

I’m thankful that God also forgives us, because we don’t do this very well on some days.

I looked at my cup of tea this morning as we ate breakfast on the patio, Aaron included.  My tea was in a wonderful mug that our friend, Terri, helped Aaron make for me while we were out of town last week.  He wasn’t sure that he would like painting, as he calls it…and he still isn’t sure that he liked painting.  But he is very proud of that mug.  He even opened the running dishwasher the other night when friends were over so that he could show them his mug that he made for Mom. 

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I will treasure that mug.  I will treasure our Aaron, even on the trying days, with God’s strength.

And I will treasure the careful plan that God has made for our life, including the trying days, with God’s strength. 

Our life began with a plan, and our life will end with a plan. 

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God’s plan!  The best plan!!

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The Signature

It was last December 13, a Sunday afternoon, when I heard my text notification buzz.  Reaching for my phone, I saw that the message was from our friend Dona in Texas.  My first thought was that maybe she and her husband Steve were coming up our way and wanted to stop in for a visit.  But I gasped when I read her text.  Then I read it again to be sure that I had understood it correctly while hurrying downstairs to tell Gary the news. 

“Please pray,” Dona texted.  “Steve has had a major stroke and is being airlifted to a hospital in Dallas.” 

How could this possibly be happening?  Steve is our age, healthy and very active.  He had recently completed his Master’s; taught in the aviation department at LeTourneau University; and was a Colonel in the Texas Civil Air Patrol. 

All that day, Gary and I prayed as we waited for more news.  And my mind went back over the years of our friendship.  Dona and I went to college together at Piedmont Bible College, where Gary later joined our ranks as a student and Steve came as an aviation instructor at the Missionary Aviation Institute there.  Steve and Dona fell in love at the same time that Gary and I were doing the same.  And on May 26, 1979, Gary and I were married……and so were Steve and Dona.  We even married at exactly the same time in the evening, though in different towns.

Our friendship grew during the time that Gary completed college, Steve continued to instruct missionary pilots, and Dona and I worked.  Life was simple and sweet.  One day Steve told Gary that he wanted to teach missionary pilots how to fly helicopters, but one thing needed to happen first……..Steve needed to learn how to fly them.  Steve decided to try to join the army, learn to fly the choppers, and then go back to training missionary pilots when his time was up.  Gary had been in the army during Vietnam, so Steve asked Gary to go with him to the recruiter’s office in order to keep an ear out for anything that wasn’t quite kosher. 

Gary and Steve went to several appointments together.  Some people would say as luck would have it, but the four of us knew that it was as the Lord would have it that Steve did not go into the military, but Gary did.  Steve and Dona ended up living in Tennessee, where Steve was an air traffic controller.  Gary and I lived in six different places during his time as a military pilot. 

Steve and Dona remained dear friends over those years.  We visited each other when we could, with Steve and Dona coming to see us at several places where we lived, including here in Wichita.  They moved to Texas several years ago, and Steve remained active in aviation both as an ATC instructor at LeTourneau University, and as a commander and pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. 

Then came December 13.  It was a cold, rainy Sunday in Texas.  Dona had stayed home from church with a cold.  And Steve was found after church, lying beside his vehicle in the rain, mostly unresponsive.  A major stroke.  Airlifted to Dallas, where he spent weeks in the hospital and in a rehab hospital.  Home now, facing continued extensive rehab.  God has been so gracious to Steve.  Much of his function has returned, though he is still profoundly affected by the stroke. 

His life has dramatically changed, as has Dona’s, in ways that most of us never consider until we are faced with the reality of something like this……something completely life changing.  Dona writes about their life and about their Lord, and sends it out as emails.  She’s written these devotional and inspirational pieces for years.  What a treasure they are!  And especially now, as she has allowed us to walk with her as she walks with Steve on this path full of twists and turns.  She and Steve have always been examples to us of steadfast faith, but never more so than now, when their faith has been tested as never before.

In November of last year, Steve and Dona sent Aaron a birthday card.  There at the bottom was their signature.  Steve signed his name.  Dona signed her name.  That’s how they always did it.

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Then in April another card came from Steve and Dona.  My dear friend, Atha, had died and I was still reeling from her unexpected death.  Dona knew how my heart was hurting, so she pushed aside her own pain and she sat down to write some very encouraging words to me and Gary.  And then as she ended her note, there it was.  The signatures.  Steve…..and Dona.  But look at Steve’s, written with his left hand when he is right handed……and written after having to learn how to write again. 

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I burst into tears when I saw it.  Dona’s words were uplifting and so sweet, but Steve’s signature is what really got me, because it showed volumes to me of where Steve was now.  What a difference from November to April!  What life changes he is having to adjust to! 

And so is Dona, who is with him every step of the way.  How her life has changed!  Steve walked out the door that Sunday morning, and their world as they knew it collapsed.  But I know they don’t really think of it that way.  They see God’s hand in it all……they trust Him completely……and they are putting into practice the rock solid faith that they have cultivated in our loving God all these years.  But it’s still hard.  It’s not without frustrations and fears and tears.

Back on May 26, 1979, Steve and Dona promised to be faithful to each other, too….for better or worse, richer or poorer, and in sickness or health.  So did Gary and I.  Steve and Dona’s promise has been put to the test, and they are passing…..with God’s grace…..with flying colors. 

Gary and I are very, very thankful that we have another year to celebrate our joint wedding anniversaries.  We are very, very thankful for the enduring friendship that we have shared with these dear friends.  We are very, very thankful for their example to us of steadfast love in the life changing hard times. 

And I’m very, very thankful for Steve’s signature that is so telling on many levels.  It tells of sadness, of strength, of progress, and of grace. 

Which means that Steve and Dona’s life really has God’s signature all over it. 

Happy Number 37, Steve and Dona!  Here’s to many more!

 

Who Did He Ask to Dinner?!


I was a senior at Piedmont Bible College in January of 1978 when this tall, handsome student came walking across the parking lot on a Wednesday evening.  We had a tradition at PBC on Wednesday evenings.  The guys would wear suits and it was a night for asking a girl to dinner.  Girls would sit in the windows watching to see who would walk over to Lee Hall, and if the guy didn’t usually accompany a girl to dinner then the tongues would fly as the girls tried to guess each new young man’s date.
 
On that night the new male student who walked into the sight of all those wondering girls was Gary Moore.  And walking back across the parking lot with Gary was me!  I would say lucky me, but I don’t believe in luck so in keeping with this being Bible college I’ll say that I was blessed!  HaHa!  But I was and I still am today……..blessed to still be walking with this wonderful man, Gary Moore.
My eye had been on Gary ever since I walked into the student center on our small North Carolina campus in January a year earlier and had instantly noticed this new second semester student.  He fit several of my very serious future husband requirements, the first two being:  1) he was tall  2) he was handsome.  Very spiritual, huh?
It was also convenient that I was the student council secretary/treasurer and that I had access to the student mail boxes………in which I inserted special announcements……and in which I also took a look at Gary’s mail to see if he was getting letters from girls.  Yes, I did that.  And yes, he was getting such letters.  So I gave up hope on ever attracting Gary’s attention.  I decided that it would be friendship that we would share.  But I sure did still notice him.
Things happened……I dated another guy during the fall of my senior year.  And Gary kept going home to Bryson City on the weekends….to see girls, I thought, but in reality he was helping out in his home church.  He actually attended a mission’s retreat that Piedmont held at Groundhog Mountain that fall because I encouraged him to come.  I didn’t know that he thought I was wanting him to come so I could spend time with him, so when I drove up with the other guy that I was starting to date, Gary nearly decided that he had already had enough of me.  
My boyfriend and I broke up before Christmas.  And just before I left to go home for the holidays, Gary came in the dining hall and gave me a Christmas stocking!  Except he also gave one to my best friend Janet!!  Now I was confused!  But when I returned from Christmas break, Gary finally asked me to dinner on that Wednesday night……and all the girls sitting in the windows were surprised that it was me walking to dinner with Gary.
We never looked back from that point forward.  Love was blossoming for both of us.  But soon there was a big bump in the road.   A huge bump for me, and could have been for us……..except for the integrity of this man I was getting to know so well.  
I noticed that something weird was going on with my neck.  I couldn’t quite define it but things weren’t feeling right in there at all.  Before long I noticed that my neck was wanting to pull uncontrollably to the right.  I tried to hide it but eventually it became noticeable to everyone.  And the pain became severe.  My dear friend Janet talked to my parents, and I ended up going to different doctors in order to find out what was going on with my muscles.  It was a challenge to finish my last semester of college, especially writing my senior thesis, with my neck pulling and the pain being so bad.  Plus the drugs the doctors put me on were strong…….things like Valium and other calming drugs in an effort to quieten those muscle spasms.
Doctors didn’t have any idea about what was happening to me.  Several blamed stress, so they put me on some pretty strong drugs for that.  Nothing was helping at all.  I walked around most of the time with my right hand raised up to my neck.  Holding the back of my neck helped relieve the spasms a little.  I hung on for as long as I could, finishing my course work and knowing that I could graduate.  But the pain was so strong and the pulling so severe that just before I was to march in our graduation ceremonies I ended up in the hospital.  
That was a tough time for me, but it was also a relief to be able to rest.  It was so sad that I didn’t get to march with my class.  I’ll never forget Dr. Drake, Piedmont’s president, coming to my hospital room along with Dean Reinert to present my diploma to me as I lay there in bed.  I think that was a first for them!
Mom and Dad were there as well, worried about me and wondering what was wrong with their girl.  And also there by my side was the man that had come to pick me up for dinner on that Wednesday night four months earlier.  He wore a suit on my graduation day, much like the suit he had worn on our first date, except now he sat on the side of my bed and we both smiled broadly…….just as if I was standing in that auditorium along with the rest of my graduating class to receive my degree.
On a fairly superficial level, my illness was exceptionally hard for me as a young woman.  It changed my appearance, making me look weird as my neck pulled and as I held my right hand around my neck a large part of the time.  I didn’t feel pretty at all.  And pain took a huge toll as well.  It’s hard to be your best or look your best when you’re absorbed in pain.  So on that level alone, I wondered if Gary would stick by me or if he would be turned off.
And what about the future?  We didn’t even have a diagnosis and had no idea what the long term would hold for me……..for my body and my health.  What man would want to venture into that arena?  Gary and I were not engaged……he wasn’t bound to me in any way like that.  Yet there he was, faithful to me with his support and his love and his attention.  He never made me feel weird or ugly or a risk too great to take. 
I moved home to West Virginia to live with my parents, and tried to get well.  Doctors still didn’t know what was wrong.  Gary still wanted to be with me when he could travel from college to visit.  He saw the pain and the awful reactions to drugs and the huge unknown, but he stayed by my side.  And one day he even asked me to marry him!!  I didn’t waste a second before saying yes.  Time and rest helped me get better, but the effects of my illness were still somewhat visible……….and I could definitely feel them.  
We had a beautiful wedding, where I even sang a surprise song to Gary. 
            “God has given you to me, as my loving friend.
              From beginnings love has grown, may its growing never end.
              From beginnings love has grown, may it never end.
              God is joining here today, families and friends.
              Yours are mine and mine are yours, how the richness blends!
              Yours are mine and mine are yours, how the richness blends!
              You are handsome in my eyes, I treasure and adore.
              But my heart determines this, I must love God more.
              Though I love you oh so well, I must love God more.
              I love you where you’re strongest, your strength can help me stand.
              I love you where you’re weakest.
              There I’ll care, I’ll help you there, and give your heart a helping hand.
              God has given you to me, as my loving friend.
              From beginnings love has grown, may it never end.”
So we began our life together.  Today we celebrate 35 years of sharing this journey together and with God.  We have three beautiful children.  We have tons of memories.  We have each other still.
Doctors know now that I have something called Dystonia.  I will always feel the effects of this muscle disease in my neck but I am so very much better than I was back in 1979.  Gary didn’t know this would be the outcome, though.  Yet he loved me regardless, and he showed his strength and integrity when I needed it most.  He’s still doing that today, and I am forever grateful.  
36 years ago I walked across that parking lot with that tall, handsome man.  35 years ago I walked down the aisle to say “I do.”  And I am so thankful that I did!

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.