Lessons From the Rooted Redbud

We have three Redbud trees out in our back yard, standing alone in a little row.  Every spring they bloom beautifully and give us a lot of joy as we look at them from the house.  However, we began to notice over the past couple years that they were struggling.  They just weren’t as vibrant and full, especially the tree in the middle.  Finally, last year, we had to cut down that middle tree.   We felt it was just too far gone to have any hope of survival.

Weeks went by, and one day as I stood at our kitchen window, I noticed something between the two remaining Redbuds.  It looked like a clump of some sort.  Was it a pile of dead grass left from Gary’s mowing?  I soon forgot about it, but once again several days later I noticed it in the distance.   This time my curiosity got the best of me, so I walked down to the two trees to investigate.  I was a little surprised to see some small twigs poking out of the ground, complete with little leaves on them.  Could it be the Redbud still growing? 

Of course, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  The following few weeks proved my guess to be true.  The chopped down Redbud was indeed growing again, and why shouldn’t it?  The Redbud roots were still in the ground, undamaged and alive.  Those roots were doing what Redbud roots do.  They were growing a new little tree, or at least the beginnings of a new tree.  So there between the two tall Redbuds stood this living, growing small tree.  It wasn’t showy…..it wasn’t big…..it was hardly noticeable…..but it was growing faithfully.

A couple weeks ago I was reading Daniel 6, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den.  Yet what captured my attention this time, more than the den of lions, was what brought Daniel to this point in his life.  Daniel had shown maturity and faithfulness over the years as he was held captive in Babylon.  There he was, along with his friends……young Jewish men in the middle of their enemies.  They continually obeyed God while living in very difficult circumstances, all the while being mature and respectful.  God blessed them for their faithfulness.  He gave them protection and He gave them responsible jobs within the Babylonian government.

Darius decided to appoint 120 assistants that would be in charge of his kingdom.  He appointed three commissioners to be in charge of the 120 assistants.  Daniel was one of those three commissioners.  As time went on, Daniel distinguished himself so much among the other commissioners and the assistants that Darius planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom.  This made the other commissioners and the assistants very angry.  They were jealous of Daniel, and so they decided to plot against Daniel……to find some corruption in him concerning his government job, and then to use that as grounds for expulsion.  However, they could find no grounds of accusation, so they went to Plan B.

Plan B was to devise a plot of some sort concerning Daniel’s religion that would at last give them grounds to be rid of Daniel.   They approached Darius with praise as they stroked his ego, telling him how almighty he was.  In fact, they managed to talk Darius into believing that he was so majestic that he should build an image of himself, and then enforce a law that everyone must bow to his image and pray to him for thirty days.  If anyone prayed to any other god during this thirty day period, then they would be cast into the den of lions.  Darius, full of himself, signed this law…..a law of the Medes and Persians that could not be revoked. 

Now Daniel knew about this law, of course.  After all, he was one of the three highest ranking rulers in the land.  So what did Daniel do?  We’re not told that he went into a rage, that he insisted on seeing the king, or that he stormed into the next commissioner meeting and demanded to know why he wasn’t involved in the planning of a new law.  Nope.  Instead, when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he just quietly went home.  Daniel 6:10 tells us what happened:  “…..he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.”

In other words, Daniel just kept being faithful.  He continued to obey God.  He continued to grow.  He knelt as he always did, in front of his open window for all to see, including the hateful plotters.  And his conniving fellow workers came by agreement, we’re told – and just as they planned, they found Daniel praying before his God.  I’m sure they were beside themselves with satisfaction as they presented their evidence to Darius……evidence that Darius’ favorite was a law-breaker……along with the reminder of the new law, the one that couldn’t be revoked.  Darius was in a pickle, and soon Daniel was in the lion’s den. 

Just before Darius tossed Daniel to the lions, he said a most amazing thing.  Darius said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.”  And we know the rest of the story, how God did just that.  He stopped the mouths of the lions, and Daniel was not the main course that night.  But what I noticed the most on my recent reading of this ageless story was the fact that Daniel was just quietly faithful.  He CONTINUED kneeling three times a day to pray, as he had always done.  Even Darius noticed as he said, “Your God whom you CONSTANTLY serve.”

You and I live in some pretty stressful times…..times that are particularly stressful for followers of Christ.  Our culture and our politics are full of craziness right now.  I’ve never talked to so many who are feeling burdened and even very worried about the future.  God’s Word is being rewritten by those who want it to say whatever would support their lifestyle.  Legislation is being enacted in order to legally defend their beliefs.  Christians are mocked, hated, ridiculed, and even arrested.  And though these times were prophesied and we have known that someday they would come, many of us find ourselves awake at night, wondering how bad it’s going to get. 

So I think of our little Redbud and I see a lesson.  I see faithfulness to grow….to grow from the roots that are deeply planted.  Just to grow, surrounded by trees much larger than it is.  To grow like Daniel, faithfully serving God in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances.  Daniel knew what he faced.  Lions…..very hungry lions!  Yet he just quietly and constantly obeyed God by praying as he always prayed, and trusting God to take care of him. 

So I want to say to all of us who are walking the narrow way, following God in this world where to be narrow is considered an insult, to just be faithful in the ways that you have always been faithful.  Be like Daniel.  CONTINUE to obey God, and CONSTANTLY serve Him, even if there might be some lions in our future.  Don’t bow to the pressure of this culture and to the pressure of large issues that we face.  Instead, let’s bow our knees to the one and only God in Whom we need to be deeply rooted.

The same God Daniel served is here for you and for me today.  And we do know the end of the story, don’t we? 

 

 

Glittery Moments

 

My day yesterday, Sunday, began at 4:12….to be precise, like Aaron.  Aaron had a seizure for the second early Sunday in a row.  Then he had another at 5:45, so I just stayed up then, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.  This is a very busy, tiring time for everyone.  To start my day off so physically tired wasn’t what I had planned, but as usual my thoughts went to Aaron and how awful he was going to feel when he woke up.

 

I heard him upstairs through the baby monitor later in the morning, stirring and stretching and then getting out of bed.  I knew that he was marking his wake-up time in his notebook that he uses to record all that important information about his life.  Later he slowly made his way down the stairs.  I noticed that he had on a different pair of pajamas than he had worn to bed, and I knew right away what had happened.  I went up to his room after he and I talked for a minute to gather up his wet linens…..all of them, including his waterproof mattress pad.  Poor Aaron.  Such hard seizures take a toll on him, and can be embarrassing as well.

 

So the day began in earnest with mounds of laundry and mounds of Christmas preparations and plans to accomplish.  I was thankful for the time that day to prep and plan, but as the day wore on I was very aware of my fatigue…..fatigue that was probably only going to increase as the week continued.

 

That evening, as I finally cleaned off the kitchen table to some degree, I was looking forward to a little time to chill out.  Catch up on Facebook, look at emails, read the news…..   But of course, I wasn’t downstairs very long before Aaron came thumping down the stairs.  First he talked to Gary about the movie he had finished watching today, and then the current movie he was now watching.  Soon he came to me at my computer, and began the same recitation.  Gary and I finally had to tell him that movie talk needed to stop.  We were depleted when it came to his long movie reviews and endless questions.

 

I had told Aaron earlier that maybe we could play a game of SkipBo……emphasis on MAYBE.  As Aaron left me at my computer, the last thing I really wanted to do was to drag myself back upstairs and play a game of cards with Aaron.  I was tired.  And I was very weary of listening to all the movie talk.  But we hadn’t played SkipBo in a while.  This time of year takes much of the fun time away.  I felt badly for Aaron, who asks me every single night of his life to let him know if we can “do something, like SkipBo …..”

 

It was around 9:30 when I went upstairs and asked Aaron if he wanted to play a game of SkipBo.  He was very happy to hear me ask that question, so while he took his pills I shuffled the cards.  We had a normal game, with me having to monitor Aaron’s every move in case he cheated and with Aaron thinking he had to monitor my texting with Andrea.  I could feel my nerves getting a little more worn.  Of all nights to have a slow game, this was not the night!  But was it ever a slow game!  Where were all the 3’s?!  I was getting irritated for sure.

 

Finally the game was over!  I wasn’t nearly as happy about winning as I was happy that I could go to bed at last……after turning off all the Christmas lights, fixing the coffee pot, helping Aaron get his bed all perfectly ready, and listening to his non-stop chatter.  Ugh!  All these thoughts were going through my mind as I put the cards back in their box.  I looked up then to see Aaron sitting very still across the table from me, peering down at something on the table.

 

“Mom?” he asked.  “What’s this?”  I thought he was pointing to a little indention on our distressed kitchen table that’s become much more distressed under Aaron’s attention.  I brushed him off with a quick “I don’t know.  It’s just a little dot.   A little mark.”

 

Aaron wasn’t deterred.  “No,” he said.  “It’s sparkling.”

 

And I knew then what “it” was.  “It” was a tiny little piece of glitter from all the wrapping paper and glittery tissue paper I had used that day.  Of course, Aaron noticed this miniscule piece of glitter that to most of us would have gone totally unseen.  Or seen, but not cared about.

 

Not so with Aaron.  He was intrigued by the tiny sparkle that caught his eye.  He knew that it was worth exploring, so he did.  Furthermore, he hoped that I would do the same.  I was headed to the coffee pot when I stopped and turned around.  There sat Aaron, pointing to the itty bitty glitter, and I was drawn to that scene as I stood there for a few seconds.  I smiled as I realized that I should not miss this moment.  So I walked back over to the table, and I bent over the little glitter particle with Aaron.  We both smiled as we noticed the glitter’s tiny shimmer.  I realized that this glitter wasn’t round, but that it had definite sides.  I counted six sides, and so Aaron and I talked about the fact that this glitter piece was in reality a hexagon.  It was pretty and sparkly and more complex than either of us realized until we took the time to look at it carefully.

 

All day today I’ve been thinking about that glitter moment with Aaron, and what I would have missed had I dismissed his interest in favor of a coffee pot to fix and Christmas lights to unplug.  I would have missed a sweet moment with Aaron……a time of simple sharing…….a smile……a discovery.

 

At this time of year, especially, but at any time of year, I need to often remind myself to stop my fussing and flittering……and to take some time to see what Aaron sees.  Take some time to see who Aaron IS.  See the world through his eyes, with all its complexity and its beauty.

 

And to apply this lesson to so many other areas of my life as well.  Stop to see what’s around me that’s not so obvious, lest I miss out on some real beauty and some sweet moments.  Don’t let my schedule or my tiredness rob me of discovering some sweet moments with those I love…..or with those whom I need to know better…..or with those that I can help.

 

Coffee pots and other chores will always be there.  Glitter has a way of blowing in the wind and never being seen again.  I need to treasure it while I can……with Aaron, of course.

 

Do You Know Shiphrah and Puah?

If you had asked me this past Saturday who Shiphrah and Puah are, I would have responded, “Uh………you know, as familiar as those names sound, I’m just not remembering Shiphrah and Puah right now.”  Perhaps some of you know of these two women, but I would have drawn a blank.  Not now, though.  Yesterday’s message at church from Exodus 1 reintroduced me to these two women, and I’m very thankful for that privilege.
For a little background, the people of Israel had traveled to Egypt under the rule of Joseph.  Jacob’s family grew and grew, filling the land of Egypt and becoming mighty.  All the original Israelites had died, including Jacob and Joseph, as well as the Pharaoh who knew and loved Joseph.  A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.  This king became fearful of the numbers of Israelites who lived in the land, thinking that if there was war then the Israelites would join with the enemy and overtake Egypt.  Therefore, this king made the Israelites become slaves……….but the more he afflicted the people of Israel, the more they multiplied and spread out.
Seeing that Plan A wasn’t working, this Pharaoh moved on to Plan B.  He ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all the boy babies that were born, thinking that this barbaric form of birth control would limit the growth of the Israelites and thus eventually rid Egypt of the Jews.  This is where Shiphrah and Puah come in.  They were midwives……….probably two chief midwives.  Pharaoh instructed them to kill the boy babies that were born to the Israelite women but to keep the girl babies alive.  Simple enough, right?
But Pharaoh didn’t count on one complication.  Exodus 1:17 says, “BUT the midwives feared God…….”  This fear of God forced Shiphrah and Puah to make a decision.  Verse 17 continues, “……….and did not do as the King of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”  So sure enough, Pharaoh found out that Shiphrah and Puah were not killing baby Israelite boys………and he called these two midwives to come in for a little meeting.
I don’t know how Shiphrah and Puah felt at this point, but I imagine they were more than a little scared.  This is Pharaoh, who had no qualms about killing innocent baby boys and other Israelites as well.  From everything that was going on around him………….everything that he had initiated concerning the Jews…………..this Pharaoh seems more than a tad bit brutal.  I wish we knew all that was said at this appearance before Pharaoh.  I love thinking of the bravery of Shiphrah and Puah!  Yet it goes far beyond being brave.
Shiphrah and Puah were obedient to God, first and foremost.  I imagine that they feared Pharaoh………..but they feared God more.  This is the fear of God that involves reverence OF Him, and trust IN Him.  It’s the fear of God that Peter and the apostles had when they were given strict orders by the authorities not to teach about Jesus anymore………and Peter answered in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
So back to Egypt.   I had never paid much attention to the fact that in verses 20 and 21, God lets us know that He was “good to the midwives.”  Verse 21 clearly says that “…….because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them.”  God blessed them and was good to them because of their obedience.
I really like Shiphrah and Puah.  I love the example they have set for me…………an example that is both profound and yet very simple.  Obedience to God comes first, in every single area of my life.  Obedience takes many different forms for each of us, but in whatever area that God is requiring obedience to Him, it’s best to obey.  Solomon said it so well in Ecclesiastes 8:12, “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God – who fear Him openly.”
Shiphrah and Puah probably wondered if they would have their heads cut off……….or worse………..as they stood before the king and declared their loyalty to God.  I don’t know what my obedience to God will cost me, but obey I must.  I do know that God promises it will be well for me if I obey.  His blessings take various forms, and some we won’t see until eternity.  But we can take God at His word and know that it will be well for us when we fear Him, and fear Him openly.
Shiphrah and Puah are amazing!  Not because they were women, or because they stood up to mean old Pharaoh, or because they saved babies………all of which are important…….but they are amazing because they obeyed God above anyone and anything.  That’s the kind of amazing I want to be, every day, through good and bad.  Whatever the pressure……whatever the decision………whatever the pain……….whatever the outcome………

 

Fearing and obeying God!

What Dad Taught Me in Death

 

I’ve heard it said that our parents are the most important teachers that we will ever have.  I would agree with that statement, for as we grow we are constantly watching our parents……..listening and absorbing and learning through their words and deeds.  Hopefully the lessons learned are good ones.  My parents were very beneficial in my life in more ways than I can count.  Yet some of the lessons that I treasure the most are the lessons I learned as I watched my dad live the last month of his life on earth.  What were some of those lessons?
 
1.  Know When to Ask For Help
 
Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000, and with liver cancer in 2004.   In September of 2008, dad was put into Hospice care.  We knew that no more could be done for him medically, so as he declined I told him and Mom to let me know when they wanted me to come and help them.  I got that call on November 2, and in a few days I was on a plane headed home.  I was fearful of what I would find and how I would handle all the emotion of what was ahead, but I was very thankful that I had the opportunity to go and help my dear parents.
 
2.  Don’t Stop Thinking of Others
 
Dad had always been very kind and sweet to others, and loved reaching out to help people.  This continued even as he deteriorated.  I quickly learned that the real reason he had wanted me to come was that he was  worried about Mom.  He knew that she was physically more frail than she had ever been………..emotionally drained………and that she was showing signs of progressing dementia.  He was more concerned about me helping her than of me assisting him.  In fact, when I first arrived he resisted my help in several ways.  I understood this about him……his independence and his desire to maintain his privacy.   She was his first concern, even though he knew he was losing his fight to live.
 
 Later, when he finally allowed Jan and I to assist with his toileting needs, I found him crying one day as he sat in his wheelchair.  I knelt down and asked him what was wrong.  Through his tears, he told me that he was sorry to have to make us help him in that way.  I was so amazed at him…….at his selflessness and his kindness.  I assumed he was crying from embarrassment, but his tears were not for him…….they were for us.  He told me that he was sorry that he had to make us do this……..sorry for any embarrassment that we might be feeling, but not feeling sorry for himself.  I have never seen such love and concern as I saw in him at that precious moment. 
 
3.  Keep Your Routine
 
For as long as he could, Dad continued to get up early in the morning and to stay up as long as he could.  He needed help but he did not want to lay in bed all day.  He wanted to eat at the kitchen table, sitting there in his wheelchair and eating oh so slowly, often with his head bowed and his eyes closing.  Mom and I would speak to him, and he would perk up, slowly raising his head.  He would manage another few bites and some soft, slow conversation before slowly nodding off again.  Yet he was determined to keep going and to keep his schedule for as long as he could.
 
He also wanted to read the mail and the newspaper every day even though his eyesight was failing.  It was hard to see him struggling to read but he was not to be deterred.  He finally had Mom make an appointment with his eye doctor, even as we knew that this doctor visit would be impossible.  We didn’t tell him that, though…….we wouldn’t take away that hope that he had.
 
We would watch Little House on the Prairie videos at night.  Dad wanted to still be in charge of the remote – just like a man!  He would slowly push the volume button but he had a hard time controlling his movements, so the volume would shoot up sky high.  As he tried to correct it, the volume would go to mute.  He was frustrated but finally relinquished the remote to me and Mom. 
4.  Pay Attention to Details
 
When I first got to their home, Dad was managing to walk with his walker.   He was very, very slow…….walking with me by his side, ready to steady him when he faltered or wobbled.  Dad was always very meticulous about things and this trait continued.  He wanted his sweater on and liked it when the sweater matched his pajamas.  As he would slowly walk from room to room, he would sometimes stop and just stare down at the floor or the carpet.  Then he would ask what that spot was on the carpet, and as I looked down, sure enough I would see a bit of a leaf or a string.  I would laugh as I bent over and picked it up, and Dad would smile as I teased him about being so picky.  Yet those small details were still very important to him.  
 
5.  Mind Your Manners
 
Dad was always polite and proper, never crude or inappropriate.  I guess that’s one reason why the five of us children enjoyed teasing him.  He was great fun but he did have boundaries.  One morning as we ate breakfast, Mom……….well………..she had some gas.  She laughed and said,  “I farted!”   Dad very slowly raised his head, looked at her, and softly said,  “Passed……..gas.”   Mom and I cracked up, and Dad gently smiled – satisfied at his correction and realizing the humor of it.
 
He was always careful to say thank you when any of us helped him in any way.  Close to the end, after I had gone back to Kansas, Jan was rubbing his back and very quietly he said to her, “Do…..not…..do…..that.   Please.”   He didn’t let his situation rob him of his manners.
 
6.  Keep a Sense of Humor
 
Dad loved to laugh and smile.  He was a delight as he loved to tease in a kind way, and also was often the willing recipient of much good-natured ribbing from all of us.  Shortly after my arrival, we had to get him a hospital bed.  He was not happy about this and was especially unhappy about having the bed rail put up at night.  We had to insist, though, and he finally resigned himself to this fact.  One night as I raised the rail, he told me, “Don’t put that rail up.  I’ll remember you in the hereafter!”  And then when I walked in his room to help him out of bed in the mornings, he would greet me by calling me his prison guard or the great emancipator or other funny names having to do with my control over his freedom. 
 
One day he jokingly said, “I’m sorry for every mean thing I’ve ever said about you.  I have to stay on your good side!”  And when we bought him silly pajama pants he went along with the fun.  One day when Jan and I teasingly asked him which of us was his favorite, he immediately looked straight at his hospice nurse, Amy.  Every day there was humor from this wonderful man, even as he was suffering.
 
7.  Show Love
 
Mom and Dad were very close, especially after they both retired.  They were hardly ever apart.  When Dad had to start using the hospital bed, it was the first time in nearly 60 years of marriage that they had slept in separate beds.  We pushed his bed very close to their bed, and at night Mom would lay there with her hand between the rails of Dad’s bed.  They held hands or she would rest her hand on his arm…….still together and still close despite this circumstance. 
 
There were times that I would be holding Dad up as he stood, and there would be a pause.  I would turn to look and find that he had put his frail, skinny arm around Mom’s shoulders and was pulling her close to him.  I felt like an intruder to this moment of intimacy, and the tears would spill down my cheeks as they embraced.
 
In the midst of these days, there were times of stress.  One day Mom and Dad were facing one of those frustrating moments.  I waited in the living room until it was time for me to help him to the couch.  I sat there and laid my head on his shoulder, telling him I was sorry for how hard it was at that moment.  He smiled his sweet smile, very slowly raised his head, and said, “Smooth………it………over.”   I’ll never forget those wise words. 
 
8.  Always Pray
 
Dad continued to pray for as long as he could.  His walk with the Lord all of his life was of primary importance to him, and that never diminished even as he was weak and full of pain.  One of my dearest memories of my time there was of his quiet, halting prayers before meals.  He continued to lead us in prayer for as long as he was able.  He rarely asked anything for himself, but thanked the Lord and then made requests for others.  When my niece, Ruth, had a tumor removed from her spine, Dad was heart broken for her.  He would always pray for Ruth, sometimes with tears.  Always thinking of others………..that was my Dad.
 
9.  Be Ready to Go

 

Dad was afraid to die.  This fact puzzled me at times, although I do understand.  It’s just that Dad had such a close walk with the Lord and I was surprised at his fear.  However, as we talked I realized that he was afraid of leaving Mom…….both for her sake and for his………both of them without the other for the first time ever.  He was looking forward to seeing Jesus, but wondering what he would say to his Savior.  Dad liked having everything thought out and orderly, and this dying process was anything but orderly and known. 
 
Finally one night, John spent some time talking alone with Dad…….assuring him of things about heaven and answering his questions.  This comforted Dad greatly, and later that night Dad shared these things with Mom and me.   Our hospice nurse had told us that often a person needs to be released to die, so that night through our tears we told Dad that it was all right for him to go on to heaven……….that we would be fine and most important, Mom would be well taken care of.
 
 
A few days after that conversation, on Dec. 4, I tucked Dad into his bed at night.  I adjusted his oxygen and did  all the other things I had done so many times over that past month as I got him settled.  But this time was different.  I was leaving early the next morning to fly back to Kansas and to my family.  Dad knew it was time for me to go, but I think he was afraid.  Jan and John would be there, but I had been with him full-time for a month and he had come to depend on that.
 
As I leaned down to tell him good night, the tears fell.  I kissed him, and then he asked me if I would come back after Christmas.  I assured him that I would, even as I knew that it was unlikely he would be there at Christmas.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to kiss him that last time and walk out of his room.  I went home to Kansas the next day, and Dad went home to heaven five days later.  Oh, we miss him! 
 
But I am ever so thankful for that month with him and with Mom, and for so many special memories shared and lessons learned.  What a hope we all have, too, as we know that we’ll all be together in heaven one day.  I didn’t get to see Dad again as I assured him I would, but I do have the assurance that I WILL see him again………..for eternity.
 
And I want to thank him for all that he taught me in life, but especially for what he taught me in death.
            

Quilted With Love

Some of my earliest memories of my mother revolve around her amazing skills as a seamstress.   I remember being very young and seeing Mom sitting at her sewing machine, turning out something beautiful and seemingly perfect from all sorts of fabrics.  She kept us girls busy in those early years while she sewed by giving us pieces of felt in various colors.  From this soft felt we fashioned  clothes for our little troll dolls, cutting and fitting each ugly troll as if it was a priceless and beautiful doll.  Mom provided glitter and sequins and odd buttons for us to glue onto our awkward handiwork.  We stayed busy for hours laboring over our important creations.  I don’t remember all the mess we must have made, but I do remember laboring over our little troll dolls while Mom labored over her more important sewing jobs.   Mom made small, meticulous Barbie doll ensembles which she sold in a local craft store, and also made some for us to keep.  Yet her most loving works of art were the countless pieces of clothing she made for her girls to wear.
 
Every Easter we had new Easter dresses.  I especially remember the Easter that she made all of us girls pink gingham dresses – and then made one for herself, as well.  I thought it was wonderful to not only match my sisters, but to also be dressed like my mother!   I remember the trips to Penny’s in Bluefield, the bigger town that was near our hometown of Princeton.  I loved the escalator ride down to the bottom floor, where we would choose patterns and fabrics and buttons for our new clothes.  Never did we go to the ready-made clothes upstairs or enter a dressing room.  Our clothing was there amongst the bolts of fabric, waiting to be matched to patterns and later sewn into pretty dresses and jackets and blouses.  I do believe that I took the longest to select the fabric to match the patterns as I had such a difficult time seeing the finished product in my head.  I would stand there, rubbing the fabric between my fingers, trying to visualize a finished product that somehow wasn’t materializing in my mind.  I can imagine Mom’s frustration as I lingered there trying to make this important decision………..as well as the rolling eyes of my sisters who had finished this process long before I did.
 
Mom worked full-time after we were all in school, yet still managed to sew all of our clothes.  She was a natural at this art, yes, but it still took lots of time.  She would sew late into the night, her dedication undeterred by her tiredness.  I never gave enough thought to how tiring this effort must have been to her until I had children of my own.  How did she do it all?  I have no idea, really, but she did.  Her work was not only beautiful with matching plaids and perfect zippers and flawless fit, but each stitch was filled with a love that wasn’t recognized by us until years later. 
 
One of my most special memories was of the year when we were teenagers, and Mom made us skirts for Christmas.  I don’t know how many skirts she made, but there were quite a few.  Then she not only began looking for matching sweaters to wear with each skirt, but matching knee socks as well.  She did not give up this quest for the correct colors of sweaters and socks until each skirt had what it needed to make it a perfect ensemble.  We learned about this later, from Dad, who accompanied her on many of these trips.
 
Dad, who was color blind and absolutely no help when it came to matching colors of anything, would patiently take Mom on many of these shopping trips.  I can still see him standing silently on the sidelines in the fabric stores, hands behind his back and a sweet smile on his face.  He never rushed Mom or any of us, but stood there until we had come to the point of methodically selecting every button and every spool of thread.  I can still hear him say, “Did you know that there are 53 light bulbs in this ceiling?”  Or, “Did you know that there are 271 zippers in that display?”  Dear, sweet Dad!
 
John and Jeanie’s Quilt

When Mom and Dad both retired, Mom only continued her sewing.  She had sewn for her children, for grandchildren, for friends, for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and who knows what else.  Upon retirement, she decided to take up quilting.  Of course, she was a natural at this skill.  She practiced by making her and Dad a lovely quilt, and then took up the goal of making each of us five children and spouses a quilt.  These gorgeous works of art were each sewn entirely by hand with no sewing machine used.  She had us each pick our pattern and our colors – there I went again, having to make this difficult visual choice!  Mom never wasted a minute in any day, and before long she was completing our individual, personal, 
gorgeous quilts.  Dad took her to countless stores and quilt shops, patiently waiting over and over again as she selected just the right fabrics.  Each stitch was a labor of love……….each completed quilt a perfect picture of her devotion to her children.  I keep my quilt hanging in our kitchen area so that we can see it every day and enjoy its beauty, and bask in the warm memories that it evokes. 

 
Mom made many, many quilts during the next few years.  She made quilts for missionaries; she made a special quilt for a dear friend who had no mother of her own to make her one; she made a quilt for the Prophet’s Chamber at church where missionaries 
stayed when visiting; and she made a memory quilt that has special fabrics and mementos from each of us children and our children.
 
 
Bob and Jan’s Quilt
Jimmy and Kathryn’s Quilt

Mom has Alzheimer’s now and lives in an assisted living center.  Tomorrow she will celebrate her 86th birthday.  Dad knew that Mom was showing distressing signs of forgetfulness before he passed away nearly four years ago, and he worried so about her.  He would be happy with her living arrangement now and with how well cared for she is.  She doesn’t sew at all now.  She’s even forgotten how to put her jigsaw puzzles together that she loved so much.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember all of our names, and definitely not the names of all the grandchildren and great-grands.   But she is sweet and she is happy and she still seeks to serve others.

 

Bob and Mary Beth’s Quilt
Gary and Patty’s Quilt

And just as our keepsake quilts will always be an heirloom to pass down to our children, even more so are the pieces of our lives that she shaped and fashioned together with her tireless love and effort.  She took care of us, providing the atmosphere of a happy and warm home to treasure as she sewed and cooked and played and laughed.  She made sure that we had family devotions every morning before school because Dad was at work and so it was up to her.  She took us to church when Dad was working late, and didn’t just drop us off – she was there, too, worshipping and serving.  She  showed us how to love and how to work and how to pray and how to laugh and how to persevere through hard times.  She exemplified great care in 

how she took care of her mother for 14 years, as well as her mother-in-law for part of that time.  And she loved Dad, totally.  She never left his side, especially for the eight years that he fought cancer.  Even when they no longer could share their bed they had slept in together for 59 years, she slept right beside his hospital bed, her arm and hand resting on him between the bed rails. 

These traits of our mother are the stitches that are sewn into our very being.  The pieces of our lives were begun by her, thought-out and cut, measured and pieced, day by day.  As the years marched on, the shapes of our lives began to unfold.  The beauty of the various patterns began to be seen.  These are the treasures that are eternal.  These are the heirlooms that have more value than any quilt will ever possess.  And while our mother may not remember much anymore about the details of the past or the present, we have the evidence in our lives of her love and her faith…………a beautiful quilt of a life well lived.

Count Your………Our………..MY Blessings!

It’s been one of those mornings.  You know……..one of THOSE mornings.  I went to bed bothered by worrisome issues that I should not go to bed being bothered by……….those worrisome issues.  Can’t end that sentence in a preposition.  🙂    I went to my new location in Andrea’s old room that I’ve set up for myself……..a new desk and an alone place to have my quiet time.  The new location didn’t seem to help.  I felt stifled and ineffective in my time with the Lord this morning.  Distracted…….and thinking that I needed to dodge my prayers that were bouncing off the ceiling, going no where.  Is Satan unhappy about my desire for a more intimate time with the Lord?  Perhaps.

Later, I looked at the weather forecast and the upcoming week of temps above 100 and no rain only increased my weariness.  Our scratchy dog with allergies; laundry waiting to be washed or put away; dishes to take care of; even a Supreme Court ruling and an election in Egypt that I don’t agree with were piling up in my mind.  Talk about taking on the cares of the world.  Come on, Patty.  This is really ridiculous!

After my shower, I heard good old Aaron in the hall.  “Mom?”  I told him that I would be out in a minute.  I could tell that I would have very little patience with him today………shame on me.  He thumped downstairs to take his pills and thumped back up to see if we could now talk.  I again told him to wait……….and when I did open my door, he was in his room and promptly told me to come look at his finger.  He held it up for me as I walked in, and there it was………….his index finger, all wrapped up in a bloody band-aid.

My patience was even less now.  “Mom, last night I had some loose skin and so I used my knife to cut it off.” Oh Aaron.  We’ve heard this story before and I knew what was coming………..and it did.   He wanted to know if he should have used his little pocket knife to cut off the skin; why not?; what would I use?; that he couldn’t help it that the knife slipped, etc., and etc.  I removed the band-aid and saw the raw wound where he had cut or pulled off his loose skin.  I could feel my irritation increasing.  I told him to go shower…………his whole body, by the way, not just his finger!  I know how he thinks.

Aaron showered and then came to my bathroom, where I further cleaned and medicated and dressed his wound.  He could sense my mood and so he scurried on downstairs, deciding to get his own coffee and carry it to his room himself without bothering his moody mom.  Soon I heard, “Mom, I spilled some coffee but I’ll clean it up.”  Oh goodness, Aaron!  Where did you spill coffee?  “On the stairs.  I’ll clean it up!”  No, Aaron…….I’ll get it.  All the while, I was muttering under my breath about how this is the last thing I needed and why did he have to carry the coffee up himself when he’s so shaky and of all mornings…………

Then I saw the spill, which looked more like a gushing of coffee.  It was splattered on several stairs, but one stair in particular was soaked with coffee.  Oh Aaron!  Look at this mess!  Next I saw coffee on the living room floor, so got the Swiffer and mopped that section.  I headed for the soppy stairs, with Aaron saying, “I’ll clean it up, Mom!”  But I grabbed towels and began the clean-up, while Aaron then said, “Here, I’ll help.”  He proceeded to carry a wad of paper towels from the kitchen into the living room and instead of heading for the stairs where I was, he started wiping off the piano.  WHAT??!!  Sure enough, some coffee had splattered onto the piano and Aaron was working to clean up the brown spots…………….while he stood on the still-wet floor.  I went from unhappy to unhappier, all the while muttering about how my nerves couldn’t take much more and of all mornings and please, Aaron, don’t talk right now………..

I continued my shallow thinking as I realized that I would indeed have a bad hair day, no matter what I did to try to improve the mess on my head.  The clothes I chose to wear today didn’t help any, nor did the sandals.  No time to change all that now.  Of all days for me to have a doctor appointment, I moaned to myself.  Little annoyances for the remainder of the morning reminded me of my misery.  Aaron and I hurried out the door, stopping at the grocery store on our way to meet his group.  I had promised him a Cheddar Pasta Salad to take to his group.  Of all mornings to need to leave early, I grumbled.

At the deli counter, as we waited to be served, Aaron began to notice all the dishes.  He leaned over and oohed and aahed over the Deviled Egg Potato Salad, The Layered Salad, the Fruit Salad, the German sandwiches, the Spaghetti Salad…………and his joy over simple food began to silence my distasteful attitude.  He had moved beyond spilled coffee, bad hair, wounded finger, scratchy dog, and hot temps.  He noticed the good things before him.  As we walked out with not only his Cheddar Pasta Salad, but also a bottle of flavored water and some Skittles, he chattered happily about anything and everything.  If I wasn’t listening, I would have missed his observation that the entrance sidewalk at the Warren Theater is, in his words, “…….twinkle stone.  Does it have jewelry in it, Mom?”

I had to pause in my heart and smile.  As we drove to meet his group, I told him that I was sorry about my attitude that morning.  He didn’t say a word, but I  know he filed that apology in his mind.  I needed to say it and he needed to hear it from his grouchy mother this morning.  Later, at Sassy Nails, I sat across from a stranger – another mom – while our toes dried.  We talked and she shared how her sister had died of cancer, and how through it all she had blessings to be thankful for.  This woman, this mom, this sister, had no idea about how much I needed to hear those words.  How easy it is to let the slight troubles of my life ruin my disposition and take my mind off the Lord!

So I have counted my blessings for the rest of the day:
1.  The spilled coffee matches the carpet, especially in the dim light.
2.  A coffee smell on the stairs beats a dog smell any day.
3.  The living room needed to be mopped anyway.
4.  My new pink toes hopefully took the doctor’s eyes away from my bad hair.
5.  I do have hair.
6.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have working AC inside.
7.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but I don’t have to be outside working.
8.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have water for our thirsty garden.
9.  Our neighbors have to  move for various hard reasons, and the man taking pics of their house this morning wasn’t taking pics of our house.
10.  I have a faithful God; loving husband and children; and Aaron to remind me of what’s important.

And I have forgiveness – God’s forgiveness – and even Aaron’s forgiveness……..unspoken but there none the less.

Lessons From the Loaded Truck

Gary and I appreciate how our neighborhood association has a designated clean-up weekend twice a year. The association rents a huge dumpster and puts it in a field that’s just around our circle from us. It’s the perfect time for us to unload any large unwanted items that are allowed in the dumpster. Our big goal, though, is to cut and trim many of our branches, bushes, and trees that have gotten out-of-hand or have died. This last clean-up time a couple weekends ago was no exception. The weather was perfect in every way for Gary and I to head outside and begin our chopping and sawing. It wasn’t long before the piles were growing all over our couple acres. It was time for the dying cherry tree to go, as well as an old long-dead spruce. Our huge Crepe Myrtles needed to be cut down low, and the violet bush badly needed some work. Off came the bottom branches of our evergreen that we lovingly call our Gumdrop Tree as we try to save it for one more year of Christmas lights. And there were many, many other branches and limbs and parts of trees that needed to be sawed down and disposed of.

We used to use Andrew’s old truck for these days but now that he’s off to college we pile the mounds into Gary’s truck. What a blessing to have this means of hauling all that mess down to the dumpster! We drag and lift and load over and over again. It’s amazing how many loads we haul away! The truck is filled as full as it can be with each trip, that’s for sure. Gary has it down to a fine art of how to load the truck and it works very well. We pile it high, and then Gary uses a rope to tie it down before he drives off around the circle to unload. I either ride down with him to help unload, or I stay back at the house to do other things until he returns. One thing I’ve never done is to run along behind him, yelling for him to stop so that I can take some of the load off and carry it myself; or telling him that I need to rearrange the load; or offering to ride on top of the load to help hold it down. No, that would be silly! The truck is able to carry the load perfectly and the rope holds it secure. I have every confidence in the ability of Gary’s truck to do the job and do it well.

As we loaded Gary’s truck, I was reminded of what I had read in Isaiah 46 recently. God began that chapter by talking about how the Babylonians would load their false gods onto donkeys when they were being attacked. However, soon both the donkeys and the false gods were taken into captivity. Neither was able to help the other. Then in verses 3 and 4 God reminded Israel: “…….you have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you! And I shall bear you and I shall deliver you!” What an amazing promise that is true for believers today as well! It’s true for me and for you! God will be the same for our entire lives, from birth til death. He desires to bear me and to deliver me! He wants to carry my loads and bear my burdens! Just as I could trust Gary’s truck to carry the weight and the amount of our limbs and branches, so I can trust God to carry all the weight and the amount of my troubles and my burdens.

Peter said in I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” This carries the idea of throwing my cares upon God. Just as I threw those branches and limbs on the truck, so I can throw my cares upon God. And just as silly as it would be for me to chase Gary around the circle and try to carry the limbs myself, so it’s silly for me to throw my cares upon God but then try to take them back. Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing every time I pray but still worry and stew over my problems. Why is it so hard to just leave my burdens on the God Who WANTS to bear them for me? Why do I think that by losing sleep, or talking and talking about my issues, or continuing to try to solve my problems myself, or reading the next self-help book – that I can in any way accomplish any more than the donkeys and the false gods did in Isaiah’s time? Oh God, may I throw my worries and hurts and fears and pain upon You, fully upon You, and allow You to bear them and to carry me and deliver me!

Just like Gary’s good old truck!