Going Home

 

 

 

Gary and I just returned this past week from a most wonderful trip back home…home being the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, and the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia.  We are both mountain born and bred.  Now we live in a different kind of beauty surrounded by southern Kansas farm fields and beautiful skies.  But when we go home to where we were “reared,” as we say back there, our hearts are stirred by our mountains…and more so, by the family we love even more than those hills and valleys of home.

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The reason for this trip began because of my one and only brother, John.  We four sisters love blaming our only brother for lots of things, so we’ll lay this one on him as well.  John has retired from 45 years of pastoring, the last 28 years being at our former home church in Princeton, West Virginia.  Johnston Chapel Baptist Church is where all five of us King kids grew up, both physically and more important, spiritually.  So there were many, many reasons why going home on this trip was so special to all of us.  And as I said before my sisters and I sang on Sunday morning, “Any time there’s a celebration about getting rid of John, we’ll be there!!”

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But as we all planned this special weekend, the trip morphed into much more than only John and Jeanie’s celebration day.  We added on a Hollandsworth cousin’s reunion on Saturday before the Heritage Sunday service.  Then Gary and I tagged on a couple extra days so that we could spend time with his sister and family in western North Carolina.  Aaron stayed home in Kansas with our friend, Casady, watching over him.

Gary and I flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Bryson City in steady rain.  Even with the rain and the low-lying clouds, the mountains were so pretty.  I love the drive, and I love the stories Gary tells as we pass by little old mountain roads that wind up to sights unseen from the highway.  Stories of his youth, with certain details untold, I’m quite sure.

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How good to see his sister, Sandra, and his Aunt Mary Leah!  We had two nights there, the second evening being joined by Gary’s cousin Nita, and her husband Charles.  Such delicious country cooking, Sandra’s specialty!  And such fun conversation and sweet fellowship!

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On Friday we made our way to Weaverville, NC, where we visited the dear woman who was married to Gary’s dad – twice! – and about whom I wrote a blog earlier this year.  (The Last Puzzle Piece )   Leo is so dear to our hearts, being responsible for getting Gary and his dad to finally meet after decades of never knowing each other…and allowing our children to know their other Grandpa.  Ray died two months before my dad passed away.

IMG957830Gary and I were very happy to spend a little time with Leo and her daughter Jonni, along with Sandra and Mary Leah.  Leo is on Hospice, so our time with her was extra precious.

 

 

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Then up to Winston-Salem, NC, to visit with Gary’s Uncle Jay and Aunt Teetle.  We love them so much!  Jay and Teetle added Gary to their family of four boys during Gary’s junior and senior years of high school.  Oh, the stories they could tell!  They hold a very dear place in Gary’s heart, and mine as well.

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We then drove a few miles to spend some time with our wonderful friends from way back – Bucky and Janet.  Janet and I were college roommates but knew each other before then as we went to summer youth camp together.  How fun it was to get together, to catch up with life and kids, to laugh a lot, to see their son Whitson on his dinner break from the Sheriff’s department, and to thank the Lord for healing Janet’s cancer.

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Next we headed for West Virginia, taking a detour on old curvy mountain roads in the dark so that we could avoid long waits on the interstate due to construction.  Those roads brought back many memories to me of multiple trips to college, the many turns and the small towns and the rock cliffs all a part of me from decades gone by.  But before we left the interstate, Pilot Mountain loomed before us as always – this time its top covered with clouds, making this old mountain sentinel look eerily beautiful.

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I began the day on Saturday with my dear high school friend, Karen.  We caught up over breakfast, somewhat.  Time always goes too fast but how much it meant to both of us to see each other again!

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Saturday was a wonderful day – our Cousin’s Reunion!  Bob and Jan, my sister and her husband, did a fantastic job of orchestrating this day.  First we drove in a large rented van to Welch, West Virginia, through small mountain towns…towns ravaged by the downturn in the coal industry over the years.

Trains are the lifeblood of this state.  My dad spent his life working for the railroad, and my niece’s husband is carrying on that tradition.  Coal is coming back, so maybe hope will return as well to these little struggling mountain towns.

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We cousins have reconnected due to Facebook.  It’s been so much fun to get to know one another again and was especially sweet to actually hug one another on this day…and talk and talk and talk.  Our grandparents, Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth, raised their children…our parents…in the town of Welch.

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Their house no longer stands, destroyed by one of Welch’s many floods.  But the school where Grandpa was the principal is still there.  We talked about how amazing it was that so many of his grandchildren were now standing in view of his school…the school our parents attended.

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That evening, more cousins came into town.  We enjoyed dinner together, and desserts at Bob and Jan’s house.  So much laughter, catching up, shared memories, and new ones being made!

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Sunday was Heritage Sunday for the church, as well as celebration day for John and Jeanie, and their family.

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What a very touching service, listening to so many testimonies about how John and Jeanie have cared for and shepherded this dear church.

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Jan’s girls, two sets of twins, sang beautifully.

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And we King Sisters tried to, as well, after many years of NOT singing.  We so missed our youngest sister, Kathryn, unable to come because of health issues.

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There was dinner on the grounds after the service.  No one puts on a spread like church members, especially in the south!

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It was just awesome to see so many old friends from my growing up years at Johnston Chapel!  So many hugs and smiles and memories!  Won’t heaven be wonderful?!

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It was over all too soon.  Everyone had to go back to their homes and jobs.  Gary and I drove back to Bryson City, relishing our sunny mountains on this drive…and relishing time with Sandra before flying back to Kansas…our other home.

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There is a bond with family that is unlike any other.  No amount of time apart or number of miles between can take away the shared connection of family.  And old friends have a connection nearly as strong as family.

It’s largely a matter of roots.  Our roots are imbedded in the ground of our youth…our growing-up years…our family and friends.  It’s where we are from, and it’s also who we are.  It’s the part of us that only our family and old friends truly know.  Going back to the place of my roots…to the people whose roots are entwined with mine…was, and always is, a nurturing time for me.  A time of thankfulness, refreshment, and peace.  A time never lasting long enough.

I love the song about home that Celtic Thunder sings.

“Home, I’m going home.  Home to the people I left behind. 

            Home to the love I know I’ll find.  Oh, take me home.”

 

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Feeling The Lines

Aaron walked into the kitchen the other night and my eyes were drawn to his feet.  Why?  Because this is what I saw.

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I poked Gary with my hand and motioned for him to look, and then we both stifled our laughter.

“Aaron?” I asked.  “Why are you wearing your slipper socks that way?”

“Because I get tired of feeling the lines,” he answered, matter-of-factly.

Who cares about the safety factor of non-skid lines NOT being on the bottom of your feet where they belong, right?  Comfort was most important to Aaron, as it always is…not safety, and certainly not style.

Comfort in areas other than clothing is also very necessary to Aaron.  However, these “other” areas are sometimes a mystery to us.  Or they are areas in which we know Aaron struggles because of his autism but are also situations over which we have no control.  And, I might add, over which Aaron has no control.  No matter how much we wish he did, or think he certainly could or should, he just doesn’t have the ability to corral his emotions and frustrations like a typical person does.

Here’s an example:  Aaron and I were recently in Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch before one of his doctor appointments.  There was a table near us where several businessmen sat.  They were having a normal conversation, but one of the men in particular was rather loud.  When his animated voice was combined with the normal give and take of the other men, their voices at times overtook our area.

I saw Aaron’s eyes dart over to their table several times.  Soon I knew that Aaron was bothered by the sound of their talking, especially the louder man.  They would talk, and laugh, and talk and laugh some more.  Finally, Aaron was downright staring at them, so I told him to stop doing that.

“Why do I need to stop?” he asked.

“Because you need to mind your own business,” I told him.

“How can I mind my own business?!” he impatiently answered.  “They’re talking and laughing!  I can’t stand it!!”

I was proud of Aaron for verbalizing his feelings to me.  I was also nervous that he would tell those men to be quiet, as he has done in other situations.  But he didn’t do that, thankfully, and I was able to keep him engaged in our own conversation about movies and aliens and other subjects that were far more valuable to him than all that silly, loud business talk!

Sometimes the slightest nuances can trigger Aaron.  Sometimes what triggered him yesterday might not trigger him today.  Or what upset him today is something that he laughed at yesterday.  We just never totally know or can predict with accuracy when his anger will erupt…or simmer.

This is one of the very most difficult parental aspects of raising a child…or having an adult…with the behavior issues associated with autism.  And even when you have had smooth sailing for a while, a storm can always be on the near horizon.

Another example:  Last week Aaron got out of bed and came into the kitchen.  I don’t remember what I said or did, but I think I told him good morning and I said it with a face that was a little more alert and happy than Aaron wanted at that moment.

He looked at me with bleary eyes, no expression at all, and then flatly said, “I wanted a normal face.”

And I knew, as well as I knew that the sun was shining outside, that Aaron was very irritated.  I mean, it was really pretty funny that he wanted a “normal face.”  But I know him well and I knew that if I laughed then I would be in for a very rough morning.

So I just turned away…and therefore he couldn’t see my rolling eyes and my smile…and I made no comment.  Sometimes silence…my silence…is definitely golden.

But my silence was also to him, at that moment, a cause for further frustration.

“How about if I tell Sarah about your face?!” he said with challenge in his voice.

Sarah is one of the staff at his day group.  Aaron thought that I would not like him to tell Sarah about my abnormal morning face.

Oh, Aaron!  Here we go, I thought.  So I poured his coffee and escaped to my shower, door closed on both Aaron and his unpredictable anger.  Thankfully, by the time I was ready to go a while later, he was over his mad spell and all was well.  Plus, I don’t think Sarah ever knew about my weird face…but if she did, I’m sure she smiled behind Aaron’s back as well.

My friend, Wendy, texted me yesterday about her particularly rough time with their Elijah the night before.  She went to see a play that her other children were in.

“I thought I had my props ready, the stage set, E primed and ready for our outing…but oh, no.  It couldn’t be that easy.”

She went on to tell me that he wanted to take his hot chips and his balls into the theater, how he ran in front of a car, how he sat and very loudly crunched his chips, and how humiliated she was.

How I wanted to hug my friend!!  How well I understand how she felt!!

We have had those terribly embarrassing and difficult moments with Aaron over the years.  In fact, when Aaron attended the day school here for special needs students, we got a phone call one night from his amazing teacher.  Mr. Z told us that Aaron had won the Student of the Week award for best exemplifying the classes’ word of the week, which I believe was “patience.”  He told us that Aaron would receive the award the next day, and that he just wanted us to know about it before it happened.

Gary and I were amazed and thrilled!!!  I felt like Aaron had won a Nobel prize!!  I hurried down to the family room to tell Andrea and Andrew.

“Guys!!!” I excitedly started.  “Aaron is winning the Student of the Week award tomorrow!!!  Guess what the word of the week is?!!”

And without skipping even a beat, Andrea answered, “Hateful?”

We laughed and laughed and laughed.  Of course, Aaron wasn’t there to hear any of this.  But really, that was a true question.  Andrea and Andrew had endured many experiences like Wendy described with Elijah.

At times, Aaron and Elijah just cannot stand to “feel the lines.”  None of the rest of us mind the lines at all.  In fact, we don’t even see the lines.  But our boys do…and so do many, many others who struggle with the issues of autism, be it noises or lights or people or social situations or food or any one of dozens of other frustrating cues that only they see and feel.

So, if you’re out somewhere and you see a meltdown happening, and you see a desperate and exhausted parent, and very humiliated siblings – please don’t assume that this eruption is a result of bad parenting.  Don’t assume anything.  Just give a smile, lend a hand if needed or possible, show some understanding instead of judgment, and pray for that family as you walk away.

And know that in that paralyzing moment of public shame, every parent would look at you and say with Aaron:

“I just wanted a normal face.”

 

 

 

 

My Crazy Start

022419-061718It was a hot June 18 in Princeton, West Virginia, WAY back in 1955. Beth King was busy watching over her three children, ages 4 and under, as well as preparing for her parents to arrive from Florida. Her husband, Jack, was at work and so she busily got the house and dinner ready for her family to arrive. Oh, and someone else was getting ready to arrive, too. Beth was 9 months pregnant! And so in her typical hard-working fashion, she decided to tackle one more task that needed to be done. Grabbing the lawn mower, she set out to mow the large yard. She was barefoot – after all, this WAS West Virginia!

 

After mowing awhile, Beth ran in to check on the dinner in the oven. She had made a specialty of hers – Cheese Souffle – and knew that she needed to watch its rising very carefully. Bending over, she slowly opened the oven door and received quite a surprise. Her water broke!!

 

I don’t remember all the details at that point – I was the one about to be born – but I can imagine that there was much rushing around and changing of plans and phone calls and getting to the hospital!

 

Dr. Pace had to be called in from a family picnic on this beautiful summer Saturday. I had no concern for other’s plans, only my own! Dr. Pace was wearing a very bright Hawaiian shirt and didn’t have time to Patty as a baby with siblingschange because I was in a hurry. Mother had green feet from mowing the lawn. And so I was born, looking at green feet and a bold Hawaiian shirt.

 

Does this explain me to all of you? It should.

 

And guess what my favorite meal is, the one that Mom always made for me when I would come home from college or from being around the world as a military wife? Cheese Souffle, of course!!

 

I love you, Mom, for giving me life on this day 63 years ago – strange as it was!

Singing We Go

Aaron LOVES listening to CD’s when we drive places…and yes, we still use CD’s in our van, and sometimes in our kitchen, because we’re old and our van is old and Aaron LOVES CD’s. 

Why does he love CD’s?  Well, he can hold the case and look at the title of each song that is playing, as well as the number of the song on the back of the case.  This is orderly and sensible, which makes great sense to Aaron. 

It’s pretty hilarious, actually, to watch Aaron go through this process, and to hear his voice.  He watches the CD player in the van, for instance, and as soon as the number of the song pops up, he then repeats the number to me and tells me the song title.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t asked for this information.  He gives it anyway.

The current CD that we are playing becomes his sole focus for however long it takes us to finish this CD.  It’s usually several days, so for that period of time we hear all about the singer or the group.  Again, it doesn’t matter that we haven’t asked for this information.  We will get it anyway, an any time of the day or night. 

At this moment in time, Aaron is listening…again…to Ronnie Milsap.  He adores Ronnie Milsap.  He knows all about Ronnie Milsap…where he was born (near Gary’s hometown!)…his childhood…his blindness…and definitely his songs!  And I can’t tell you how many times Aaron has said, “Mom, when Ronnie Milsap sings, he goes like this!”  At which time Aaron jerks his head around just like Ronnie Milsap does, because Aaron has watched him on YouTube and has keenly observed Ronnie Milsap’s head jerking and swaying as he keeps time to the music.  But when Aaron copies those movements, it’s quite hilarious…and to people in cars beside us, it’s probably quite puzzling.

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Another musical trait that Aaron displays, proudly and loudly at times, is to sing a main phrase of the last song that he has heard before we exit the van.  There was the day, etched into my memory, when the last song that was playing before we entered Wal-Mart was Shania Twain’s classic, “Man!  I Feel Like a Woman!”  So yes, Aaron walked around Wal-Mart singing…more like saying…with his unexpressive and flat voice, “Man!  I feel like a woman!” 

That was a very interesting day.

Aaron had a doctor appointment today, so I decided that it was a good day for a morning haircut and beard trim on our way to lunch.  We drove to Great Clips, and on our way Ronnie Milsap was singing.  Aaron reached down between our seats to grab the CD, look at the number displayed on the CD player, and then match the number to the title index on the back of the CD box. 

“Number 6,” Aaron intoned.  “All Together Now Let’s Fall Apart,” he read with no expression. 

We soon sat in Great Clips after confirming our on-line check-in.  Aaron was ready for his hair cut NOW, but I told him that we needed to sit and wait…that it wouldn’t be long. 

I hoped.

Soon another customer entered and walked up to the counter.  Aaron immediately thought that she would delay his haircut.  In disgust, he uttered his favorite saying lately.

“Oh, puhleeeese!” he muttered.

“Aaron!” I then muttered close to his ear.  “Don’t say that!”

So I began tickling his back, which always calms him, and sometimes gives me hope that he’ll be quiet.

Then another customer entered.

“Oh no!!” Aaron said. 

Now I was REALLY tickling his back, pushing him down so that I had better access, and also so that his face and mouth were facing the floor!

He then decided to sing.

“All together now, let’s fall apart,” he spoke/sang in his usual monotone. 

No joke, I thought!! 

But soon his hair cut was done, lunch at Longhorn was happily completed, and we ran home for a few minutes.  I needed to let Jackson out to potty, and I also had another chore to do…a bit of a yucky one.

Aaron had informed me, just before we left for Great Clips, that he MIGHT have wet a little…maybe just a little…in his bed during the night.  It wasn’t a seizure, but instead a result of TOO much water before bed.  He has been read the riot act on that, by the way.

More of the story and the extent of the damage was found just before we left, with no time to clean it up.  I couldn’t stay too irritated for too long, though, when at Longhorn Aaron agreed to ask the blessing before we ate.  He stretched his hand across the table for me to hold.

“Dear Lord,” he began.  “Help me not to pee in my bed again.  And thank you for this food.”

How could I stay mad?

So at home, I gathered up his bedding…ALL of it…his many covers included.  I examined the carpet, and then knelt down in the tight spot between his bed and the wall.  The spray bottle wouldn’t work at first, but eventually it did.  But my legs wouldn’t work well, either, as I struggled to get up.  Just then, I heard Aaron at his desk…singing…

“All together now, let’s fall apart,” he once again flatly sang.

He has no idea how my loud laughter made getting up off the floor even harder!!  And how much it helped dissolve my frustration.

I have two Ronnie Milsap songs that I have decided are Aaron’s songs, though he is clueless about them. 

The first one was playing in the kitchen last night. 

“Number 11,” Aaron said with no emotion.  “There’s No Getting Over Me,” he read. 

“That’s a funny name for a song,” he added.

But it’s a PERFECT song for YOU, Aaron!!  There’s no getting over you!! 

And I don’t want to, either!

The second song?  It was playing when we pulled into the driveway after his doctor visit today.  It’s on the second CD disk, in case you’re wondering.

“Number 1,” Aaron said, of course.  “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World,” he finished.

BINGO!!

 

 

Happy, Helpful, and Forgiving

It’s beyond time for an Aaron update.  I do believe I could write every day about life with that young man of ours.  I wish I had that kind of time, so since I don’t, I’m sitting here wondering how on earth to corral my rambling thoughts on recent…or not so recent…Aaron antics.  And not only his antics, but what those actions show about the real Aaron, deep in that brain of his.

Aaron has been mostly happy lately.  He is showing that happiness in various ways.  One way is by being extra helpful, so he’s been taking out the trash and the recycling; setting the supper table; carrying in groceries; and even helping others in ways that are…well…a little intimidating.

I saw that for the second time yesterday as we left Sam’s.  We were walking to our van when Aaron spied a lady near where we parked, putting her items in her car trunk.  She had a couple heavy packs of drinks.  Before I knew it, Aaron was running toward her.  I knew what he was going to do because he had done this same thing last week at Wal-Mart.

“Aaron!” I said.  “Come back here!”

But he was determined to help this random lady.  She looked up, a tad startled at first, but then she quickly relaxed when she saw Aaron.

“Hey!” Aaron blustered.  “I’ll help!!”

She smiled and actually let him!  Then she looked at me with a big smile, which made me very happy, as Aaron proceeded to put her two heavy drink packages in her car.  She thanked him as he stood there with a huge smile, rubbing his hands together in his Aaron way, and then came back to the van.  And I don’t know who was happiest at that point…Aaron, or me!

The lady last week at Wal-Mart was kind but said no to Aaron.  So as I did then, I once again explained to Aaron that his offer was very nice but that he had to understand that running up to various women at their cars might be scary to them.  Aaron thought this to be strange, even after I explained it to him.  It’s so amazing that he doesn’t get it, that social norms elude him. 

I had just seen this demonstrated a few minutes prior to the parking lot incident, while we were in the self-checkout lane inside Sam’s.  A man in the other lane beside us was trying to get the attendant’s attention.  She was talking to someone else and was unaware that this man needed her help.  He continued to try to get her to notice him.  What I was noticing was that this exchange was bothering Aaron.  He was bothered by the fact that the man’s voice was rising, and he was bothered by the fact that the attendant didn’t hear him.  Therefore, Aaron decided to be helpful once again.

“HEY!!!” he yelled out. 

Well, well, well.  This did get the attendant’s attention.  And Aaron got a very annoyed look from her, with a raised eyebrow to boot.  I apologized to her while correcting Aaron, and then she realized about Aaron, and she was kind and understanding, and Aaron’s face turned very red, and I have no idea what the irate man was doing. 

WHEW!!!!

It was another teaching moment for Aaron, with me doing the teaching and Aaron looking around for someone else to help. 

OK, where was I?

Oh yes, I was talking about how happy Aaron has been and how he shows it.  He was so happy to see my good friend, Jennifer, in Sam’s that he gave her a big hug.  Yeah.  SO big and strong that I texted her last night to see if she was hurt.  She said she’s not.  Oh, Aaron!  Just another social norm and boundary that Aaron doesn’t get. 

Sam’s was pretty exhausting yesterday, can you tell?

In fact, by the end of the day, Gary and I were at the end…of our patience and our wits and our nerves.  I don’t know, it was just such a tiring evening with Aaron.  He wasn’t bad at all.  But goodness, he LOVES to talk!!!!

That’s another way that he shows his happiness.  Talking!  Almost incessant talking!!  He’ll be in his room for a few minutes and then we hear him barreling down the stairs.  He finds us no matter where we are…outside, downstairs, in the garage, on the porch or patio, or in the bathroom.  It matters not!  Aaron has something to say and he WILL say it, even if he’s said it a million times before.  You think I’m exaggerating?  It certainly doesn’t feel like it to me and Gary.

We often tell Aaron that we just talked about this…that he needs to look that up on his computer…that we don’t have a clue about it…and we even throw up our hands as we say, “I DON’T KNOW!!!!”  But Aaron is not easily deterred as he pushes on with his comments and his questions and his observations…over and over and over. 

I wish I could say that I’m ever the wise and patient mom.  I wish I could give examples of how to always be on top of these issues.  But in all honesty…and I do try to write this blog with all honesty…I’m just not.  Not always patient and calm and understanding, much as I want to be. 

At the end of last night, when I was at the end physically, Aaron and I were in the kitchen.  He was talking again and I was just so done.  He, I thought, spilled a little water on the kitchen floor and that was it.  I didn’t yell, but I talked through…I’m ashamed to say it…gritted teeth. 

“Just clean up the water,” I said, in my “gritted teeth” voice.

I hurt Aaron’s feelings. 

“Shut up!” he responded.  More than once.

This prompted a stern rebuke from Gary.

Well, the rest of the evening went fine as Aaron and I went through his bedtime routine.  But when it came time to give him his hug and a kiss on his cheek, he put his arms under his covers and said no.  No goodnight.  No hug.  No kiss. 

“Because you were mean to me,” he said.

So I left his room.  But before long he was at my bathroom door.

“OK, Mom,” he said.  “I’ll say goodnight.”

He walked into his room with me following.  He got under the covers, held out his arms for my hug and accepted my kiss on his cheek.  Bless his heart.  He so wants our love.

Forgiveness is a big part of our life.  We have to forgive each other a lot. 

God forgives, too, and I’m surely thankful for that.

And God understands, as my dear friend Linda reminded me this morning.  She understands this kind of weariness as she reminded me that Jesus often tried to get away to be alone…but the crowds still followed Him.  I’m so thankful that God understands, and ever thankful for the forgiveness and peace He gives.

I’ll end on a funny note.  I am sometimes amazed at how quickly Aaron can be irritated by me.  I mean, really – ME?!  Be irritating?

It is very puzzling, though, at what can set him off.  Like the other morning, when feeding our Great Dane and fixing his pills in some peanut butter, I dipped into some peanut butter for myself.  This really bugged Aaron. 

“MOM!!  You act strange!” he said angrily.

“How do I act strange, Aaron?” I asked.

He stared at me a minute.

“In lots of DIFFERENT ways!” he replied as he turned and walked away.

Now if that’s not the pot calling the kettle black!  HaHa!!

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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 Last Puzzle Piece

For some of us, at some point in life, a person will come along who will…through gentle words and a huge kind heart…have a profound and lasting impact.  Gary and I, and our three children, have been privileged to have such a person in our lives.  Here is her story…a very small part of her story…but such a large part to us. 

Her story, at least the part that was to affect us, began before either Gary or I were born.  In the little Smoky Mountain town of Bryson City, North Carolina, a very young couple were married.  Sixteen year old Leo Briggs married 19 year old Ray Moore.

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They were so young, and I’m sure so full of youthful hopes and dreams.  But those hopes and dreams did not fully materialize.  There are many details that are unknown to us…details that don’t need to be known.  At some point the marriage was over, and Ray and Leo moved on with their lives.

Both remarried.  Ray’s second marriage was to be greatly important to us.  You see, Ray married Willene Edmonds.  Ray was in the Merchant Marines, so he took his new bride with him to Port Arthur, Texas…far, far away from the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. 

Again, details are sketchy to us, and perhaps that is best.  Willene was soon pregnant, and Ray was thrilled.  That we do know.  What we don’t know is why Willene called her brothers when Ray was out to sea and told them to come to Texas.  She wanted to move home to Bryson City.  So move she did, while Ray was gone, and it seemed that this chapter of her life was over.

The marriage was over, as well.  But Ray really wanted to be there for his baby that was coming.  For some reason, this wasn’t allowed.  Ray did pay for the baby’s birth, but he never got to see his new baby…his son.

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Ray and Willene’s new little son was named William Gary Moore, and known to all as Gary.  I know this Gary very well.  He is my husband, a most wonderful man on whom God’s grace was abundantly given.  It wasn’t easy to be raised without his dad in his life.  It was especially hard to never know why his dad wasn’t in his life. So Gary grew up thinking that Ray didn’t care.  In reality, the opposite was true.  But in those days, especially, secrets were kept close inside a person’s heart, not to be spoken of ever again.

Ray married again, as did Willene years later.  Gary grew up in Bryson City, and was blessed to have many wonderful uncles and other men in his life…men who taught him how to be a man.  Gary spent his last two years of high school living with his Uncle Jay and Aunt Teetle in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Then he was drafted into the army during Viet Nam, went to Thailand, and returned home a tired and philosophical young man who still had no father in his life.

God reached down into those mountains, through His Word and through the prayers of his godly grandmother, and miraculously saved Gary.  Gary went to Bible College, where I met him, and the rest is history.  Another marriage took place…ours…and later military life took us around the world. 

In the meantime, Willene was a fabulous part of our lives.  She was a wonderful mother-in-law to me and a very loving Granny to our three children.  But there was never any talk of Ray.  It seemed to be a closed subject.  Willene’s husband died when I was pregnant with Aaron, and she moved back to Bryson City. 

Ray’s wife, unknown to us, died.  Leo’s husband also passed away.  Ray was living back near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Leo was living in Florida. 

There is a part of this story that I didn’t mention.  Leo and Willene had been friends growing up together in Bryson City in the 1940’s.  Despite having married the same man, their friendship continued. 

One day, Willene got a phone call.  Leo was on the other end, excitement in her voice.

“Willene!” she exclaimed.  “Guess what?  I’m getting married!!”

Willene was very happy for her friend.

“And guess who I’m marrying?” Leo playfully asked.

“Ray?!” Willene guessed.  And she was right!  Leo and Ray were going to be married…again…after all these years!

Willene was very happy for Ray and Leo.  There was never a hard feeling there at all.  And you know what’s amazing?  Willene went to their wedding, held in Bryson City where they were now living.  Willene and Leo laughed and laughed at what people must have thought.  And Willene gave herself a new name.  She called herself the Wife-in-Law!! 

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During all this time, Leo had begun to do her gentle work.  She began reminding Ray that he had a son and three grandchildren whom he had never met…and that he really needed to meet.  Ray was hesitant, understandably so, after all these years.  But finally, Ray reached out to Gary with a letter.

I will always remember the way this impacted Gary…the way he responded upon receiving this first letter…having this first contact with the dad he had never known.  Gary’s response was actually very concise.

“Patty,” he said, “I just don’t feel like a piece of the puzzle is missing.  He’s never been in my life and I don’t think I need him in it now.”

I had been excited about this new development with Ray, but I also totally understood Gary’s reaction.  So on our end, I was patiently trying to encourage Gary to respond to Ray.  And in North Carolina, Leo was also encouraging Ray not to give up.  Willene, of all things, was very hopeful, too, that this long-closed door would open.

It was God Who did the best work, though, and eventually Gary did write a letter back to Ray.  In the summer of 2000, at Ray and Leo’s beautiful mountain home, father and son finally met.  Ray also got to hug his three grandchildren for the first time.  He became Grandpa…and dad. 

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The next few years were full of communication…of learning about one another…of sharing love too long denied.  It was amazing to see how similar in personality Gary and Ray were.  It was sweet to see them walking together in the mountains they both loved.  We wished we lived closer.


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We also wished we had been given more time.  You see, Ray developed a pre-leukemia condition and was placed on chemo.  He developed some random infection that quickly and unexpectedly took his life in October, 2008.  Once again, time with his dad was denied to Gary, but all of us were very thankful for the time that we DID have.

And it was all because of the loving prodding of Leo.  She knew that this missing puzzle piece truly was of upmost importance.  She knew that her Ray needed to get to know his son and his grandchildren.  It didn’t bother her one bit that they came from his marriage to another woman.  She opened her mouth and her heart when it was extremely important to do so.  It would have been easy to ignore it…to stay silent…to go on with her new life with Ray again. 

Leo made room for all of us in her huge, loving heart.  She is still a part of our lives.  It’s because of her that Gary got to know and love his dad…and call him Dad!  Our children know their Grandpa now.  All of us know that what Leo told me once is very true.

“Ray is a very wonderful man,” she said.  And he certainly was.

And Leo, you are a very wonderful woman!!  We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for completing our family circle.  Your love and influence will never be forgotten. 

As you struggle with your own health issues now and are on Hospice, may you know how deeply you are loved and respected by each of us. 

Thank you for finishing our family puzzle…for completing our picture.  That last piece has been amazing and beautiful!

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