Joy and Crescent Rolls

My phone rang yesterday while I was working in the kitchen.  Of course, it was Aaron making one of his several calls from his day group…calls in which he updates me on his doings, reports good times or bad times with friends there, asks me when I’m coming to pick him up, and stresses that he wants me to come EARLY!!

Since this day was Friday, and since Friday is the day we usually have a special meal of Aaron’s choosing, this phone call greatly concerned food.  He also wanted to know if we were going on our Friday Wal-Mart trip to buy him his “end-of-week and beginning-of-weekend” snacks.

“MOM!!” he began.  “Are we going to Wal-Mart after you pick me up?!”

I assured him that we were.

“MOM!!” he continued.  “Can I get some Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to have for our supper?”

I assured him that we could.

“MOM!!” he added.  “Not the kind in the box but the kind that you bake in the oven.  Pillsbury Crescent Rolls!”

I assured him I understood.

And then he chuckled…his deep-throated chuckle of pure delight.

Pillsbury Crescent Rolls filled him with the greatest joy at that moment, a contagious joy that was passed on to me as I joined him with a laugh of my own.

One thing about Aaron that continues to teach me so much about handling life is his joy in the simplest of things…things that I often take for granted.

I typically don’t play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, but for the past few years I have caved somewhat on that standard.  Two days ago, while cooking supper, I turned Pandora to a Christmas station.  Music has always, from my childhood, been a huge part of my life.  I listened as I prepared our meal, waiting for that illusive “Christmas spirit” to wash over me.

Instead, though, I was soon brushing away tears.  Silent Night was playing, and that song above all Christmas songs, reminds me of times past and of my parents and of how I miss them and of so many other memories.  Sweet memories, but memories now…people and events of the past, not the present.

And the present…the now…is where I wish they still were.

This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, above all other seasons…with its music and traditions and memories…is so very full of emotion and expectations.

Expectations that often don’t materialize and so leave us with sadness.

In November of 2004, my parents called with the unexpected news that dad’s cancer was no longer in remission.  Doctors had found inoperable cancer in his liver.  All our close family was devastated at this news.  Gary and I decided to quickly change our Christmas plans that year.  We loaded up our van the next month just before Christmas and traveled the long distance home to West Virginia.  All of us wondered if this would be Dad’s last Christmas.

This long, sad trip was very hard for Aaron in all the ways that change and travel have always been hard for Aaron.  The most stressful aspect for Aaron, though…for all of us…was the raw emotion that we couldn’t hide.  Aaron doesn’t like crying and on this visit we couldn’t successfully hide all our tears from him.  The early morning that we left Mom and Dad’s to return to Kansas, we all stood in a circle as we held hands and prayed.  And we all cried.

Except for Aaron, who sat off to the side rocking in a recliner and saying over and over, “Crybabies!!  Crybabies!!  Crybabies!!”

To borrow an Aaron phrase, it was half sad and half funny!

Yet a very sweet moment with Aaron happened during that trip.  As Mom and Dad opened their Christmas presents, they unwrapped a framed poem of sorts that someone had given them.  Aaron saw it and he held it carefully as he began to read.  We all sat still and listened to him read every word in his monotone voice.  It was good that he was looking down and didn’t see my parent’s tears, and ours as well.

 

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I have this precious piece now and was looking at it the other day as I did some sorting.   I thought of it as I listened to Silent Night and my heart filled with emotions about what used to be and what isn’t now.

I know that I have a choice to make.  I also know what God has told me to do.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  (I Thessalonians 5:18)

As the poem said, happiness is all around us.  I like to substitute the more meaningful word “joy” for happiness, for joy is a fruit of the Spirit in my life and is possible no matter my circumstances.  But whichever word you use, know truly that there is joy and happiness all around us, every day, in sometimes the smallest of ways.  Yet small things are huge when we look at them through the lens of thankfulness.

Over the years, life changes…a lot…but joy with a thankful heart should be a constant for us.

 

Aaron has seizures, but we are thankful for good doctors:

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Thankful for yummy and very cheesy chicken enchiladas:

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Thankful for God’s amazing creatures in our own yard:

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And thankful for Pillsbury Crescent Rolls!

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Hey, It’s My Birthday!!

We just finished celebrating Aaron’s 35th birthday.  We had three days of birthday events, full of fun and loaded with Aaron’s exuberance.  There aren’t many 35 year old’s who would embrace their birthday with as much joy and pure excitement as Aaron did.  His birthday is one of those times that we fully see how unencumbered Aaron is with adult responsibilities and burdens.  35 doesn’t seem old or worrisome to him at all.  He’s all about HIS day and all the fun it holds!  He’s very much like a kid, and everyone around him smiles at his delight.

Aaron begins planning his birthday months before the actual date.  I’m not exaggerating.  He talks and talks about his plans.  Can we go here?  Can we do that?  And often, he doesn’t ask us before he starts inviting people to come to our house or to eat out.  It’s easy to be exhausted long before the birthday celebration even occurs as we try to keep up with him and his grand plans.

His birthday was this past Friday.  On Thursday, he stayed home from his day group.  He helped me make lots of cupcakes for his day group to share the next day.

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We also made lasagna for some of his friends to have on Thursday night.  We loaded up the van with lasagna, garlic bread, cupcakes and drinks before driving across town to the residential home of some of his day group friends.  All girls, by the way!  😊

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On Friday, Aaron carried his cupcakes into his day group…chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and sprinkles, per Aaron’s wishes.  At the end of his day, Barb…dear friend, second mom, and Paradigm manager…brought Aaron to meet Gary and me at Texas Roadhouse for his birthday “eating out” supper – Aaron’s choice once again, of course!

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Oh my goodness, his excitement was almost palpable!  He could hardly stop laughing and talking, and rubbing his hands together, in complete happiness.

“It’s my birthday today!!” he immediately told our server.  “Can you sing to me?!”

Our sweet server laughed as well and said of course.  She mentioned the saddle, which we had to explain to Aaron, and which he agreed to our surprise to do…but later he backed out on that saddle business.  He wanted the largest sirloin, but we insisted on the next size down.  He barely quit talking and eating.  He was large and loud and very, very happy!

His gift bags from Barb, and from Casady – Barb’s daughter and another very good friend – were perfect for Aaron because they know him so well.  And they love him, which he fully knows.

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At home later, he opened more gifts and he talked to family…and he loved the shark cuddle blanket from Andrea and Kyle!

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Then on Sunday evening, we met his special friend Rosa for their traditional birthday dinner at Chili’s.  Again, Aaron announced his birthday to our server and asked if they would sing to him and bring him ice cream with chocolate syrup.  Look at Aaron’s happy face when after dinner several of the staff sang and clapped and made Aaron’s final birthday celebration complete.

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Rosa ran to their car as we left, bringing out her doll head that she loves so much, while Louise and I laughed and laughed.  We love Aaron and Rosa’s friendship!

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My heart was warmed later when Louise told me about how she and Rosa were looking at calendars to buy for Aaron.  Aaron loves animal calendars, so Rosa eyed each of the three that Louise showed her.  Rosa instantly chose the buddy calendar that shows dog and cat buddies for each month.  Isn’t that so sweet?

I’m very thankful for each of Aaron’s friends and family that love him.  Every text, Facebook message, phone call, and gift to Aaron was also a very deep gift to me, as well.  I loved seeing Aaron so happy, and I love seeing Aaron BE loved by so many precious people in his life.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone when you raise a child with special needs, especially when they are fully adults yet, as in Aaron’s case, still so fully dependent on the help he needs from the family and staff that surround him.

Easy to look at others who are Aaron’s age, or much younger, who are finishing school and getting jobs and raising a family.

Those thoughts for me are fleeting, though, because I know the danger they carry.  Aaron is Aaron, created by God, and my responsibility is to love and care for him – not to regret that he isn’t someone else.

Barb’s daughter, Casady, a kind soul who loves Aaron to pieces, wrote this in Aaron’s card:

“Happy birthday, buddy!  Thanks for making me see all the sides of life.   Love you so much.”

 Those words seem to just go over Aaron’s head, but not mine.  Her words go straight to my heart and come out from my eyes in tears that I don’t let Aaron see…or he would call me a crybaby.

But oh, life really is so much more than our routine and our version of “normal.”  Trust me, Aaron shows us sides of life that we never even thought of!  And other sides that we would like to forget!

Yet Aaron also shows us how much fun it is to relish routine and special days and music and warm blankets and coffee and cows and horses and bugs and steak and movies and shopping and dogs and cats and milkshakes and sharing and pennies he finds on the ground.

I sometimes stop and look at Aaron when he’s doing an Aaron thing, and my heart swells ‘til it almost hurts.  He is so unique, complicated, hilarious, maddening, and upsetting.  All the sides of Aaron are also the sides that all of us have, but Aaron doesn’t often have the ability to hide them like we can.  They’re out there for all to see…and to hear!

And this morning, I heard a seizure a little after 5:00, and another just before 8:00.  Then one that he’s only had once before, back in April – long and strange and scary.  This is the side of Aaron’s life I dislike the most, but it’s a side we must handle and manage as best we can.  I handle it by being thankful in the many ways that God brings to my mind, and by knowing as well that God is there for us and for Aaron with His sovereign protection and grace.

The sides of Aaron’s life…the good, the bad, and the sad…are all wrapped up like a birthday gift that God gave to us the day that Aaron was born.  It’s up to us to relish all of who Aaron is, even the hard sides of Aaron; to thank God for our special gift; and to care for him in all the ways he needs.

Every side of Aaron…every day.

Hey, it was Aaron’s birthday!!

And I’m happy about that!!

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The Skies From My Window

Many of you know that I love taking pictures of our pretty Kansas sky.  My favorite place to take those pictures is from the window in one of our upstairs bedrooms.  This bedroom will always be, to us, Andrea’s room – even though she moved from home several years ago.  When I see a particularly pretty sky I will run upstairs, open the window and lift the screen, and fire away with my phone camera.   

As I look back on these pictures, I find that no two are the same.  Absolutely every shot of our sky, on every day that I took those shots, is entirely different……if there are clouds involved, that is.  I don’t usually take pictures of a totally blue sky, though blue skies are nice.  But after a while, completely blue skies would be a little boring. 

Sometimes the pictures are simply beautiful, like the one I snapped last night.  Isn’t this just breathtaking?

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Some inspire awe, like this one.

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Sometimes I see life.

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Other times the seasons show themselves.

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This one view, from the same windows…..the same vantage point……is anything from being the same, day by day. 

It’s a lot like my circumstances in life……like yours, too, I’m sure.  Our circumstances change, sometimes often and other times less frequently.  At times the changes are dramatic.  Other times the changes come subtly, but they come regardless.

Our circumstances may be pleasant, and some of the changes we go through can be happy and pleasant as well.

But other circumstances are painful or shocking, involving deep hurt……fear……dread. 

Last week I found out about two friends who were just diagnosed with cancer.  And I took another friend for some testing after an X-Ray showed something suspicious.  We are still awaiting her results.  Some have already received disturbing news…..others are still waiting, with dread, on what may be.

My circumstances……my surroundings……can on one day fill me with peace and on the next day fill me with worry.  It’s like my view of our sky from the upstairs windows.  Sometimes peaceful…..

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Sometimes stormy……

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I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus.  Moses certainly experienced a variety of circumstances in his life……plenty of high’s and low’s.  From a basket in the bulrushes to the palace.  From the palace to the desert.  From shepherding sheep to leading a nation.  From the parting of the Red Sea to the grumbling of that unhappy nation.  From speaking to God on the mountain to confronting idol worship at the foot of the mountain.  From obedience to anger. 

After the Israelites had given up on Moses and turned to worshipping the golden calf, Moses and God both were pretty angry.  Moses went back to God after things settled down a bit and he prayed.  He said, “God, let me know your ways that I may know you….” 

God’s answer? “And He said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

God’s presence is all that His people needed……and it’s all that you and I need.  He’s promised to be with us, and He’s promised to give His children rest. 

Two things I’ve learned in the years that I have lived.  First, don’t look to my surroundings for rest…..even in the good times.  When life is going well, with sunny skies and soothing views ahead, those things should not be the source of my rest and peace.  I’m thankful when life is pleasant, but pleasantness is not the source of rest.  Only God is to be my strength and my peace.  Knowing Him and depending on Him, following Him and trusting Him, is still the number one thing I need to do when the skies are sunny and beautiful.

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Second, I’ve learned to also not let my surroundings…..my circumstances……pull me down and rob me of rest.  This happens so easily when skies are stormy and life is stressful.  Bad news…..stressful relationships……more bills than we have money……wayward children……    We all know what it’s like.  Life is full of the hard times, unfortunately, and they often happen suddenly.  At other times we live under the stresses day after day as they gradually take their toll.  But still, the rough times are to be a time of rest……..and they can be if we know the same God that Moses knew. 

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For God’s promise to Moses is our promise as well:  “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”  (Exodus 33:14)

Remember I said that pictures of blue skies would get boring?  I love blue skies, but honestly the best pictures occur when clouds are present. 

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So it is with us.  I believe the best lessons are learned when we have some clouds in our lives.  Deeper trust and greater joy have been my experience during the stormier times of life. 

Those clouds also bring a more intimate walk with God, full of so much beauty.  Hopefully I can reflect Him more as I walk closer beside Him. 

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And I can rest.  I don’t know today how God will give me rest, but He has said He will and I believe Him. 

Rest, and enjoy the view, because with God life is stunning.

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The Trumpet

This story is written by a dear friend from college, who gave me permission to share.  Her husband was a pilot, air traffic controller, and professor – among many other things – for years before a devastating stroke changed his life…THEIR lives…completely. 

 

The professor began learning to play the trumpet on a borrowed instrument when he was in the 4th grade.  His parents gave him a brand new trumpet, one that would be his very own, as a grade school graduation gift.  He played his way through middle school and high school, as well as some in college.  He must have studied some too though as he did manage to graduate.  😊

 

After college the trumpet rested on a closet shelf, only coming out occasionally.  Like the time the professor called the cows home with it.  And of course, it had to come out to play for that reunion with Old Green.  But it pretty much spent the last oh-however-many-years it has been tucked away.

 

Due to a number of factors, the professor has not been able to play it since his stroke.  We considered giving it away before making this latest move, but the professor wasn’t ready to part with it yet.  So, the traveling trumpet’s case was plastered with another sticker of places it has been. Figuratively speaking.

 

It took up residence in the back of the guest room closet, coming out last winter so a snowbird could use it to play in the Winter Orchestra.  When the snowbird went home the trumpet went back to the closet.

 

The Village has a cable channel for announcements, reminders, etc.  Village residents are able to advertise things for sale on the channel, as well as things they might be ISO.  We do not look at the channel as frequently as we should, sometimes even forgetting about it for weeks.  Shame on us.

 

But “for some reason” we decided to look at it prior to going to church on Sunday evening.  On one of the slides we saw that a friend who had arrived at the Village about the same time we did was looking for a used trumpet!  We about jumped out of our seats!  Looking at each other, we both knew this was why the trumpet was still hanging around.

 

On Monday afternoon the professor put the trumpet in his bike basket and happily pedaled over to deliver the horn.

 

Later that day the new owner came over to thank us again and shared the rest of the story . . .

 

That ad had been on the Village channel for some time and he had decided to remove it if he didn’t get a response soon. In the meantime, he had been looking at trumpets online.  He had given his trumpet to his grandson before moving down here.  It was going to cost him about $350 to get one to replace it.  He realized Sunday morning that he really hadn’t prayed much about it.  So, on Sunday morning he prayed, “Lord, if You want me to spend the $350 to get another trumpet, that’s okay, but if You want me to get one another way will You please show me?”

 

It was that day, after weeks of not looking at the Village channel, we “happened” to turn it on and see his ad. The professor was so happy and excited to be able to give the trumpet to his friend.

 

And would you believe the professor’s trumpet is exactly like the trumpet our friend used to have?  It even has the same mouthpiece.

 

God, You are so amazing.

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I love how God showed Himself to my friends, and to their friend, in this very personal way.  This is just a tiny snippet of their lives that our friends have shared over many years via her emailed stories, all full of God’s faithfulness and blessings, even in the very hard times.  Thank you for letting me share this, my friend!

A Sweet Touch from God

Aaron saw the commercial for Pumpkins at the Park, and soon after he was telling Gary and me all about it.  I had already seen posts about the event on Facebook and had told Gary that we should take Aaron, so with Aaron’s excitement already abounding I knew it was a match made in heaven.  Tickets were ordered and plans were made to drive the mere mile and a half up the road to Tanganyika Wildlife Park on the following Saturday night to experience some pumpkin Halloween fun.

Aaron, who must plan multiple details before any occasion that he will attend, began to ask questions and to get his mind organized for our fun night.  His list included:

  • Will I need a coat?
  • Will I need gloves?
  • Will I need a hat?
  • Will there be lots of people there?
  • Will there be food to eat?
  • Will the animals be out?
  • What time will we leave?
  • What time will we get home?
  • Do we have tickets?
  • Where are the tickets?
  • Mom, why are you sighing?

I answered all but the last question…multiple times.  Which is why I was sighing, but Aaron doesn’t know that.  It wouldn’t matter if he did.  He just knows Mom’s weird that way and by the way, “Will I need a coat?”

Sigh.

But this is Aaron, and we totally expect the repetitive questions and ultra-planning.  His comfort level depends on it, and trust me, we want his comfort level to be high…especially since our comfort level is so closely tied to his.  Like, totally tied to his.  COMPLETELY TIED!!

OK.  Moving on.

As Gary and I climbed into bed on Friday night, the monitor beside us on my nightstand turned on to listen for Aaron, I told Gary that I sure hoped Aaron wouldn’t have a seizure during the night.  You see, a nighttime seizure nearly always means a daytime seizure or more the following day.  I didn’t want Aaron’s much anticipated Pumpkins at the Park to be ruined.

Wouldn’t you know that at 11:58 I heard a seizure.  My heart dropped more than it usually does.  Why on this night of all nights must he have a seizure?  I was so sad for Aaron as I went to help him, and then returned to my own bed when the seizure was over, and Aaron was safe.

Surprisingly, there were no more seizures that night.  But in the morning, Aaron’s eyes and actions showed that he was still feeling the effects of just that one seizure.  I feared more would certainly come.  He couldn’t even stay awake for his coffee, and later slept on the couch for awhile.

Still, no seizure.

When he napped in his bed later that afternoon, I thought for sure he would have one because that is what’s typical.  I listened closely as I carried the monitor with me around the house.

And still, no seizure.

All day long, as we worked outside and as Aaron hung out with our little neighbor’s boys next door, no seizures.

And that evening, there we were at Pumpkins at the Park.

Aaron was totally ecstatic, and that’s no exaggeration.  He didn’t stop smiling the entire evening.

We went from this:

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To this:

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Look at his smile!!  Isn’t that just awesome?!

He loved every single part of the park that evening.  The scary:

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The spooky:

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And the sweetness:

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Speaking of sweet, I especially love this sweet picture of Gary and Aaron walking on the path.

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And I love the sweet touch from God we all felt on that day.  It was sweet to spend that time together and not have it ruined by seizures.

Sweet to have this special memory tucked away in our hearts.

Thank you, God, for such a sweet touch from You!

 

 

 

The Chicken Whisperer

God did the sweetest thing last week and I wanted to share it with all of you.  Some of you read my last blog about how Aaron and I went from a very happy almost three days, to having Aaron crash and taking me with him.  We went from happy to sad faster than it takes for me to run from a spider…and those of you who know me know that’s FAST!

On Saturday evening, while Aaron and I were happily watching a movie, I got a message from my friend, Summer.  She asked if Aaron and I would like to come down to her family’s home in the country to see their chickens.  A couple of the hens recently had baby chicks so Summer thought Aaron might like to see them.  I eagerly said yes!  That sounded like so much fun.  The invitation just added to my happy and I was…well…VERY happy!

Our future chicken visit was a bright spot after Aaron’s happy disappeared on Sunday night.  I looked forward to it so much…to having something fun to do with Aaron that was out of our norm.

Wednesday, chicken day, finally came.  Aaron slept later than anticipated, but at last he and I made it to Summer’s house.  How pretty the day was, and how pretty their home was as we pulled into the driveway!  I immediately noticed the windmill and thought it was a perfect Kansas scene.

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Aaron was a little nervous because he had forgotten meeting Summer, and he had not met her sons, and he wasn’t too sure about meeting the chickens – fun as it sounded.  But Summer came right out to meet us, as did Austin and Tyler, and they all put Aaron right at ease.  Right away we were standing at their pond, where they tossed out some fish food and up from the water appeared lots of catfish.

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Aaron thought that this very cool!  And what fun it was when he got to throw some food out in the water as well!

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We walked behind the house then, and there were the chickens…and a goose, Paco.  As we approached the gate, one of the chickens hopped up right beside Aaron.  Aaron petted her, and Summer told Aaron that he was a Chicken Whisperer.  😊

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Inside the enclosure, Aaron got to throw some chicken feed on the ground and soon we were surrounded by chickens.

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Aaron got to hold a chicken, managing to still hang onto his prized goose feather he had found at the same time.

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Then we saw the cute baby chicks under low hanging evergreen trees.  Surprisingly, the mama chickens were very tolerant of us being so close to their babies.

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Summer was telling us that no one had been able to hold a baby chick yet because of their protective mamas.  Just then we turned around and saw this:

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“How did you do that, Aaron?” Summer asked.

We laughed, and I wondered if maybe there WAS something to this Chicken Whisperer after all.

Aaron sat in a chair and Summer gently talked to him about how to carefully handle the wee one.

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Then one more up close and personal with one of the grown-ups:

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And the opportunity to gather some eggs with Austin before it was time to go.

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We left there later with a plate of cookies that Summer had made, and with the eggs that Aaron gathered, and with such happy memories just made.

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When we got home later, after eating too much at the Pizza Hut buffet, a thought hit me.  I couldn’t remember when exactly Summer had messaged me about coming to see the chickens, so I looked at my messages and there it was.  Summer had messaged me, as I said earlier, on Saturday night.

Saturday night…when Aaron and I were still in happy mode.  Saturday night…before the sadness of Sunday night.  Saturday night…before I knew just HOW much her invitation would mean to us.

I know in my heart that Summer was nudged by God to message me that night.  I was excited to receive her offer, but I had no idea what the next night held.  I had no idea that I would be wiping away tears of disappointment on Sunday night when on Saturday everything was going so well.

But God knew.  God cared about me enough to prompt Summer to invite us down.  God knew before I knew…and He knew what Summer didn’t know…and that was this:  that He wanted to bless me and give me a hug when I really needed it through the action of one of His children who was listening to Him.

This thought and this seemingly simple action is simply profound to me.  God indeed does go before me in ways I sometimes never see, but when I do see it I can only say, “WOW!!”

And to thank God for His sweet care for me, and for Aaron, by using one of His very sweet families.

No action is too small or insignificant to be used by God in a huge way in someone else’s life.

Thank you to Summer, Tyler, and Austin!

And a special thank you to God!

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The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.