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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Who Are These Special Moms?

As the mother of a son with special needs, I have often had people tell me that they think God gives special children to special moms.  While I realize that this sentiment is meant to be encouraging and kind, I also must say that I think it’s misguided.  A big reason I think this is because I know me.  I know me better than anyone else knows me, except God.  I know that I’m no more special than any other mom out there.  This isn’t fake humility, either.  It’s just the truth.

All moms need God’s grace for each day.  We who are His children need His grace for our own children in so many different ways.  How amazing is God’s grace, too!  He promises this undeserved favor to us over and over, greater grace for greater needs, along with His mercies that are new every morning.  He has all that I need.  He has all that any mom needs.  I asked God many times to give me grace for the challenges that I faced as a mom to all three of our children.

Having said all this, let me also say that I have a great respect for the moms that I know who are walking this life alongside their child or children with special needs.  My heart goes out to them, ones I know and ones I don’t know, as they face demands that they never dreamed they would encounter as a mother.

So as Mother’s Day approaches, and we see the beautiful cards…….heart tugging commercials…….perfect mother and children photos…….and all the lovely images of motherhood through the years – let me give a “special” shout-out to all the “special” moms of special children.

Those dear Moms:

  • Who spend hours researching your child’s diagnosis rather than hours researching what sport for him to play.
  • Who pray for your child’s teacher to be understanding of meltdowns, bluntness, and a zillion other things that have nothing to do with her grasping of educational facts, and yet have everything to do with her ability to learn.
  • Who dread with a passion those IEP meetings.
  • Who dread having to once again explain your child in every new setting.
  • Who dread high school graduation because……then what?
  • Who try to ignore the stares from others in public places instead of basking in admiring glances.
  • Who are learning how to use your child’s feeding tube rather than planning his fun pizza party.
  • Who are searching for the best wheelchair rather than the best bicycle.
  • Who watch their child being marked for radiation rather than getting a cool tattoo.
  • Who are shopping with their daughter for a wig to cover her bald head due to chemo instead of shopping for the perfect new hair products.
  • Who are driving their older child everywhere because he can’t have a driver’s license due to seizures or other medical issues.
  • Who hurt because their child doesn’t have many, or any, friends.
  • Who are signing guardianship papers instead of college admittance papers.
  • Who are scouring the internet for the latest medical treatments instead of scouring for the best college scholarships.
  • Who know more drug names and side effects than they ever wanted to know.
  • Who spend far more time finding caregivers than finding cool vacation spots.
  • Who are adept at rearranging schedules due to unexpected medical issues.
  • Who lay in bed at night with the sound of your husband sleeping on one side, and your adult child breathing heavily in the baby monitor on the other side as you listen for seizures.
  • Who read your adult child the same book every single night of his life.
  • Who keep waterproof mattress pads on your child’s bed – your adult child.
  • Who have a hard time finishing a conversation with your husband without being interrupted over and over.
  • And who, for some, will find themselves looking at a gravestone on Mother’s Day instead of looking into the eyes of their child.

 

So to all of you amazing mothers of special needs children, I give you a huge high five!!  I hope you know that you are loved and that God does have special grace for you every day.

And may you, as my friend Atha would say, be established in your purpose……this God-given purpose……of raising one of His very special children.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day……Aaron’s Way


 I was sitting at the kitchen table on this beautiful Mother’s Day morning when I heard Aaron yank his bedroom door open upstairs.  Down the stairs he lumbered, and then across the family room he walked with his usual heavy steps.  He didn’t say a word to me as I so obviously sat there, but instead loudly said, “Dad!  I’m ready!”  As Aaron walked by the table where I sat, he glanced over at me with his darting eyes.  He was nervous and had no time for small talk with Mom as he hurried by me, glancing quickly at me again and then looking away once more.  
Aaron hurried downstairs, and then soon he and Gary were both upstairs again, hurrying off to the nearby guest room.  This time Aaron didn’t even look my way, but instead just followed Dad as he kept his focus on Gary’s back.  I heard a little rustling and then back came Aaron, carrying a gorgeous flower arrangement.  He walked over to my chair while I exclaimed my surprise and my delight. 
“Oh Aaron, they’re beautiful!” I said.  “Thank you so much!”
“Uh-huh,” Aaron flatly replied to my thank you. 
By this time, Aaron was off again, walking once more toward Gary who stood in the little hallway.   He took two cards from Gary’s hands and once again came over to where I was as he handed them to me.  He was turning to head off again from all this embarrassing pleasure of Mom’s, but I reached out and pulled him toward me.  
“Wait, Aaron,” I said.  “Let me open the card from you.”
He gave a little half-hearted chuckle, not really wanting to stand there any longer, but he did stay as I opened his card.  I knew that Gary had helped him pick it out.  One of the captions had been whited out by Gary and replaced with a more appropriate word.  The card was perfect and I laughed as I told Aaron that I loved it, and I thanked him again.
“Uh-huh,” he repeated.  And this time I let him walk away after I grabbed a quick, uncomfortable hug………more me hugging Aaron than him responding much.  
This is how Aaron celebrates special days.  Quickly, with as little fanfare as possible, and hopefully no gushing emotion.  Yet he clearly wants to recognize special days…..just on his own terms.  Short, not necessarily sweet, and then we’re done.  
He was ready to cut out coupons that he knew were there waiting on him.  His routine needed to be restored.  And please don’t ask me to talk a lot about this Mother’s Day business, he was thinking, or to say you’re welcome and DEFINITELY not “I love you!”
OK, we’re done, right?  Can I just cut out my coupons and talk about the movie I’m watching or the one I want to watch?  But no!  Dad came in the family room and sat on the couch, and had to mention something else that we were going to do on this special day that’s getting a tad stressful.  
But going out to eat IS pretty fun, and so Aaron agreed to go with us.  Honestly, Gary and I had been unsure about taking Aaron with us, but I was very glad that Gary invited Aaron along…….and even happier that Aaron agreed to go.  We later made our way to the restaurant, where there were a lot of people there celebrating Mother’s Day just like us…….well, like Gary and me.  Not Aaron so much.  But a meal out is worth celebrating, so Aaron didn’t even complain about the crowd.
The host told us that the wait would probably be 20 minutes, so as we stepped to a quieter area to wait, Aaron asked what time it would be when we were called.  Gary gave the time that was about 20 minutes away, and immediately Aaron checked his watch.  Here we go, I thought.  If we don’t get called by just that time we might have a problem, Houston.
I told him it didn’t mean that we would be called at exactly that time.  Aaron said he knew that…..as he checked his watch.  We talked about this and that……he checked his watch.  We discussed an issue he’s been concerned about……he checked his watch.  We talked about the service dog that walked past…..he checked his watch.  I reminded him of the time issue not being exact and he said he understood……as he checked his watch.  I was getting a little nervous……and he checked his watch again.  WHY DID WE EVER BUY HIM A WATCH??!!
Finally, before the 20 minutes were up, we were called and a crisis was averted.  A frustrated Aaron is not a pleasant Aaron to have around a huge, happy crowd of Mother’s Day celebrators.  Thank you, Lord, for small blessings that to us are huge.  As we sat at our table, the server came over and we all agreed on coffee to drink.  Then immediately Aaron asked, “Do you know where the bathrooms are?”
Our server laughed and said, “Of course I know where the bathrooms are.”  I realized that she didn’t quite understand Aaron, but I knew she soon would.  So Gary took Aaron to find the bathroom per the server’s instructions and soon returned, with Aaron not far behind.  We placed our orders, and then Gary and I watched as Aaron took his napkin and began wiping up all the stray coffee and water splashes on the table.  
Soon the table was satisfactory to him, and he proceeded to scarf down his first of several cups of coffee.  Plus his omelet, his hash browns, his biscuit, his water, and more coffee…..in that order.  He only eats one food at a time until it’s gone, and then moves on to the next item, not even wanting his biscuit buttered until he was ready to eat it.  There is a method to all things, you know.  People are silly if they don’t understand this.
Before long, we were on Kellogg driving toward home.  His biggest concern at this point was whether to cut out the page of Burger King coupons that were in the paper or to just leave them together on the sheet.  Are we on coupons again, I thought?  
We passed by one of Aaron’s favorite places, where at least for a time he was distracted from coupons.  Resthaven Cemetery.  Not that Aaron is obsessed with death, but you have to admit that a cemetery is rather unusual and you know how he loves the unusual.  
“You know what they do at that ceremony place?” he asked.  I didn’t even correct him about ceremony versus cemetery.  I wanted to hear his insights his way.  
“What do they do?” we asked.
“They do cremations and burials and one other thing, but I don’t remember the other thing!” he exclaimed.
“Cremations are when you burn yourself!!” he then informed us.
So Gary stepped in at that point and corrected that mispereption as gently as he could, and off we drove to the house, well past the ceremony place and all those things they do there.
I talked Aaron into letting Dad take a couple pictures, barely.  He was so ready to be done with all this Mother’s Day hoopla, and hugging, and thank you’s, and mushy stuff.  Finally he was free to finish a couple lingering coupons and then bounce between his room and the rest of the house, comfortable once again in his world done his way.
I enjoyed calls from Andrew and Andrea, with Aaron trying to interrupt, as usual.  I’m thankful for my three children, thankful to be their mother and to have their love as they have mine.  I’m very thankful for a husband who makes it all possible, and who loves and leads us all still after all these years.
And I’m thankful for celebrating another Mother’s Day…..Aaron’s Way!  
I’ll grab another hug before bed, just watch me!

Mother’s Recipes


I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s.  It was for the most part still a time of innocence and good old fashioned values.  Growing up on North Third Street in Princeton, West Virginia was an experience that I dearly treasure.  There at nearly the top of third street sat our house, with large maple trees out front and apple trees in the back.  We were surrounded by neighbors, most with kids the age of us King kids.  I remember riding bikes, skating, playing hop scotch and jumping rope in the street, sledding in the winter down the Lockhart’s hill, climbing trees, having sleepovers with friends, and playing kick-the-can until our parents called us in at night.  It was a wonderful, carefree childhood. 
Certain sounds and smells carry me back to that time.  When I smell fresh mowed grass, I think of Saturdays when Dad or John would mow the lawn.  Then I can almost smell Mom’s pinto beans, onions, cornbread, and fresh tomatoes out of their garden.  That was a summer Saturday routine at our house.  So many of the highlights of my youth seem to end up in our kitchen where Mom worked her magic.  Our kitchen was the heart of our home.  We cooked and ate and talked and laughed and cried in that one room. 
Of all the things that my mother did so very well, I think her cooking is the thing that we and others remember the most.  Mom was an expert seamstress, a great organizer of our home, a responsible director of the school food service programs in nine WV counties in later years, a college graduate, and she was a beautiful soloist.  But oh, her cooking……
I can still see our kitchen table overflowing with her homemade rolls, ready for her to package and put in the freezer.  She cooked in bulk and cooked ahead because she was just that organized.  Down in our basement, there were two upright freezers full of all sorts of goodies and essentials.  Not only did she freeze, and also can, garden vegetables and fruits, she also made endless dozens of cookies and then froze them in empty coffee cans.  Who can count the number of trips we kids must have made to those freezers, where we would open the door, crack open the coffee can lid, and snatch a frozen cookie…….and then breathe into it as we held it in our mouth, our breath thawing each bite just enough as we ran back outside to our play.
Inside those freezers were stacks of her homemade pizza crusts, each crust separated by waxed paper from the one underneath.  There were little bags of frozen homemade pizza sauce in just the right proportion for each pizza, as well as bags of frozen toppings such as cooked hamburger or sausage, pepperoni, and cheese.  Her pizza was the best!
I’ll never forget how she would bake hamburger on large sheet pans and then cut our hamburgers into squares.  And because you shouldn’t put a square hamburger on a round bun, she made her own square buns.   She even made hot dog buns, and somehow got the recipe for Dairy Queen chili, to boot!
Who of us can forget preparing for Thanksgiving dinner?  Mom’s Cranberry Jello Salad was a staple every year.  She would let each of us kids take a turn at her food grinder, dividing up the cranberries and the whole orange slices equally between us.  We would then turn the handle of the grinder as we listened to the popping of the cranberries and the squishing of the oranges.  The experience is just not the same now with the whirring motors of our food processors.  But it all comes back to me in a rush every time I taste that salad in my own kitchen.
Sunday dinners were always a large affair, with a roast or maybe some fried chicken, and all the fixings.  Often we would have a pastor or a visiting missionary eat with us.  Then we would eat in the dining room and use her good china.  She even had autumn china that had leaves on it, which I thought was pretty amazing.  She taught us the proper way to set a table…….fork on the left, knife on the right with the serrated edge facing the plate, and then the spoon. Drinking glass on the right, above the knife and spoon.  We all knew Mom’s strict rules, too.  Do NOT take seconds until the guests have had seconds.  Do NOT put your elbows on the table.  Do NOT interrupt the conversation.  And by all means, do NOT look at each other and start laughing during dinner!!  That was the hardest one to obey, trust me!  Laughter was always just seconds away at our house.  
  
Sometimes when money was low at the end of the month, Mom would make fried mush for us to eat.  We just loved it, all buttery and soft.  Mom was embarrassed, though, and we never understood why until we were older.  And sometimes after church on a Sunday night, we would all sit around the table and drink her wonderful hot chocolate while we ate buttered toast.  
We never left for school in the mornings without breakfast.  But it wasn’t only breakfast that Mom made sure we had.  She would also have us open our Bibles with her, and she would then read the devotional Our Daily Bread with us before we left to hurry off to school.  We would follow along with the scripture in our Bibles as she read, and then we would listen to her read the devotion, and we would pray.  
I have some of my mother’s recipes.  Actually, I have many of her recipes.  I spent a year at home between college graduation and marriage, so I took lots of time at home to copy her recipes.  Most are in my hand writing.  
I especially treasure the ones that are in her handwriting.  They are bent and stained and are becoming hard to read as they fade with time, but I would NOT trade them for the best typed recipe in the world.  Not at all!  For her handwriting makes me feel that I have a part of her with me each time I use that recipe.  
Our mother gave each of us, however, the most important recipe there could ever be.  She taught us how to live, teaching us about the proper ingredients and the instructions of living life in the right way.  It went far beyond how to behave at the dinner table when company was there.  It was much more than how to cook a meal, clean off the table, and wash the dishes in the unique way that she followed………and that I bet each of us girls still follow today.
Our mother taught us how vital it was that we ask Christ to be our Lord and our Savior, which we each did at an early age.  She made sure that we knew the importance of beginning our day with time in the Bible and in prayer.  Dad left for work very early so it was up to Mom to be sure that happened……and she faithfully did just that, even when she had to go to work as well.  She taught us to consult the Bible about decisions; to let God have the final say when we wondered what to do about all the issues we faced as we grew up; and to be faithful in attending church, not letting any other activity be more important in our lives.
She taught us girls to be modest, and what to look for in a husband.  Her favorite quote, which she shared many times with me, was – “God gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him.”  She taught us to handle life’s good times with thankfulness and the bad times with trust.  And she showed us how to handle any situation…….ANY and ALL situations…….with humor.  
Her recipes for life are hidden in our hearts, not written on a card and tucked away in a file.  Her five children, and hopefully our children, carry those values with us every day.  Those instructions are seen in our decisions, our values, our attitudes, our hopes, and most certainly in our laughter.  
Our mother doesn’t know us now.  She doesn’t remember Dad.  She is struggling with some health issues and with Alzheimer’s.  But the ingredients with which she raised us are, and always will be, a part of us.  Her life is bearing fruit in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  It’s a sweet savor, more wonderful than the smell of her fresh baked rolls.
            “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of
            idleness.  Her children rise up, and call her blessed.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  We love you.