Work, Work,Work!

I believe every family has sayings that have been passed down over the years – sayings made by family members and then repeated again and again.  Often these comments are funny, laughed at every time they are uttered as memories of the person and the situation surface once more.

One of our family favorites is a comment made by Aaron years ago when he was very frustrated by having to pitch in and do some work around the house.

“Work, work, work!!”  he exclaimed.  “All I do is WORK!!”

No one understands the humor of his statement like we do.  That’s because we all knew…and know…Aaron.  He worked the least but complained the most.  Now when one of us repeats that phrase with great emphasis, we all just laugh and shake our heads…just like we did when Aaron first said it.

I do believe we now have a new phrase, thanks once again to Aaron.  Another one of many he has left us over the years, trust me.

Two weeks ago, Gary and I were packing up our vehicle for our annual trip to Houston.  We travel there every April to see Andrea and Kyle, and with the added bonus of spending time with Andrew, who is there for an NHRA race.

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This year we were taking lots of Andrea’s “stuff.”  That’s because she and Kyle are married now, and have a house, so her “stuff” is hers once again.

We had many loads to carry out and put in our vehicle.  Aaron was in the middle of all of it, talking and hovering, hoping that none of this activity was going to eat into our normal evening routine of watching a DVD or show.  He seems to think that his presence will continually remind me that he is my priority.

So, we put him to work.  He was willing to do so, thankfully, and really was a huge help.  He helped lift the heavy electric piano into the van, as well as carrying box after box outside for us.  Eventually, though, as we were nearing the end, Aaron’s impatience started to surface.  He knew that I still had other things to do before we could watch a show.  Bedtime was looming.  His routine was already a mess, and his nerves were showing.  He was excited at our leaving, with thoughts of all the restaurant meals awaiting him and his caregiver during the week, but also anxious at our being gone and his normal life being a little unhinged.

Aaron never offers to sit and talk about his feelings.  Goodness, no!  He doesn’t even understand what’s going on in his head and heart.  But he does SHOW his feelings by usually hurting ours.  Or by being confrontational, rude, stubborn…you get the picture.

His happiness at helping had turned instead to blame.  He blamed his anger on us for making him work.  He and I worked through all that for the most part, watching our show as he calmed somewhat, but then as I tucked him into bed later, he erupted again.

“Mom!!” he said.  “You made me do servant work!!  I don’t like SERVANT work!!”

It was so hard not to laugh!  But believe me, all of us…minus Aaron…laughed a lot about what he said as we spent a few fun days together.

Servant work!  Indeed!

In the week since we’ve been home, I’ve seen the other side of Aaron…the side that enjoys helping us.  He wanted to help me cook supper one night, and then to send a picture to Andrea – who told me that it looked I was making Aaron do servant work again.  😊

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He also wanted to share his Sonic mint with Gary that evening, so he put it on Gary’s supper plate.

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This past Saturday, he asked if he could help me with some pruning.

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He often takes our recycling to the container; brings down his laundry; sets the table; and other chores around the house.

Aaron is usually happy to help when things are going the way he wants.  But when his version of normal is anything but, then helping becomes “servant work.”  Not fun…not to be expected…not to be done!

I look at myself and I see this attitude of Aaron’s in me more than I like to admit, especially when it comes to caring for him.  I’ll be honest.  Taking care of a special needs child, even your OWN special needs child, is not all halo moments where we feel or act like angels.

Oh, my compassion is through the roof many times.  Like when I sat in the ER with Aaron for five hours four days before our Houston trip, waiting for him to be admitted to the hospital for seizures the day before and very low sodium.  Thankfully, we were sent home when his sodium level increased.

Home, where Aaron had a very long and a very scary seizure that evening.

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His seizures, injuries, staples, stitches, missed fun days, so many meds, the look on his face as he held his Subway sandwich on our drive home…so many times my heart just breaks for him.

But then he has those behaviors, rigid routines, expectations of me, nonstop talking at times, anger…

Seizures that keep me home, having to change all my plans…and his.  Extra laundry, sadness, worries for now and for the future…

A life unlike most of our peers for me and for Gary.  Not able to up and go, to travel at will, to plan for a fun life of retirement trips.

Special needs parents weren’t given our children because WE’RE so special and God knew we could do this.  God wants us to see that HE is the special One that we need, and that in no way could we live this life without Him and His grace and His strength.  Goodness knows I have none of my own.

Many times, and many days, this life that God has given me can only seem like “servant work.”

But really, there are two kinds of servant work, and it’s my attitude that determines which I will experience each day…each moment.

When I think of how God wants me to serve in every situation, and when I do this servant work with that in mind, my attitude is one of inner joy and peace – even if outwardly things are crazy, and I am frustrated.  My goal then isn’t about ME.  It’s about Aaron, and to serve him in a way that pleases God.

But when I get in my own way and take my eyes off God…and like Aaron, things aren’t going the way I want…then I sometimes get angry and frustrated.  When I do this, all too often, then I’m doing “servant work” in the way Aaron meant.  Unpleasant, yucky, unhappy work that makes me bitter.

So, to all of us…and ESPECIALLY to my special needs parent friends…know that God understands.  Just talk to Him when you’re exhausted, when you blew it, when you yelled at the child you love so much, when you’re envious of other’s lives, when you’re out of money and patience and even hope – just talk to God, lean on Him, and then know that each day is a new day.

A new day to do servant work, the way God intended.  After all, we have the best example in Christ.

“Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a SERVANT, being born in the likeness of men.”  (Philippians 2:5-7)

Servant work is God’s work, really.  And He’ll give us what we need to do it the right way, every day.

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Lessons From the Carrot Patch

Gary and I were doing lots of outdoor work one autumn weekend, partly because it was our neighborhood clean-up time and partly because the coming winter was urging us to ready our gardens before the cold weather hit. On Saturday I had been clipping and yanking out the dead growth in the flower beds. There was plenty to do and the piles were filling up our big outdoor trash can quickly. I had decided that if I had time I should visit the vegetable garden to see what I could pull up there. It was certainly time to be done with it, tidy it up for winter, and begin dreaming of a hopefully better vegetable season next year.

 
For several days I had been thinking about what I would try to clean up over the weekend and it hit me that I hadn’t even checked the status of our carrot patch. I had walked by our dying garden several times lately and had seen the sparse, stunted growth of the carrot plants. They were very unimpressive and hardly merited a second thought from me. The familiar lacy growth did remind me of the time several years ago that we first planted carrots. I was so excited about pulling up carrots that I became very impatient and was checking every few days to see if any had grown underground. One evening Gary, the kids, and I were outside when I stepped once again in the garden to bend over and do a little digging in the carrots. I gasped when I saw a large, orange protrusion in the dirt. A huge carrot!! I scooped back more dirt, reached down to pull it out, and discovered a very large and very fake plastic carrot. And out in the yard was some very loud laughing from my very amused family! They got me!

 
I grabbed my garden bucket from the garage, stepped over our little used-to-be electric wire fence into the garden, and walked over to the small carrot patch. We had planted quite a few carrots this year but many of them had died in the brutal heat and the awful drought of that past summer. I wasn’t at all hopeful that these measly few plants would produce anything of significance. They were hardly worth the effort, I assumed. Plus I remembered the beautiful, lush potato patch from earlier in the summer and how its yield was laughable and disappointing. Surely I could expect no more from this puny little row of struggling carrots.

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I bent over and gave a pull – and was surprised to see a pretty orange carrot slip out of the dirt. Well! After several more pulls and several more carrots, I was greatly encouraged. Certainly these were not state-fair-worthy carrots, but they were far better than what I had expected to find. Gary helped finish out the row with a pitchfork and we ended up with a healthy little pile of carrots. Despite their small size and their dirty exteriors, they were a delight to us – an unexpected gift at the end of our difficult growing season. And guess what I had just bought the day before when I shopped for groceries? Yes – a bag of carrots! O ye of little faith, I thought.

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I must admit that I am so often attracted to what is outwardly appealing, like the lush growth of our potatoes that fooled us into believing we had a bumper crop of delicious spuds. In reality they were only showy to the eye but had no substance and no real growth. It can be so tempting to participate in the ministries that are evident to all but to neglect the ones that are considered menial or boring. Or to not give much time or attention to people who are marginal to us – who maybe even annoy us. Can we lend a helping hand; make a phone call; fix a meal; send a card; clean a toilet? Sometimes God takes away the up-front, public ministries to put us in a place where we struggle; where our efforts seem puny and small, unnoticed and unimportant. Everyone gathers around the public persona but the unimpressive one is rarely given a second thought. Who wants to be a little dirty carrot when we could be a big, beautiful tomato that everyone looks at with pleasure?

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But God knows the work that is being done away from the public eye, the glory that is being given to Him through the efforts of those that He is using to quietly further His kingdom work. Paul talked to the Corinthians about this in I Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

 
All ministry with pure motives is valuable to God, but if our lives are changed for whatever reason and we find ourselves feeling like our work is sparse and we struggle with insignificance, may we be faithful to grow and serve where God has placed us. Remember that the work God is doing underground will one day shine for His glory and praise.

 

 

Taking the Bags Out

We’ve been very encouraged lately to see Aaron in mostly good moods at his day group, Paradigm.  He had some very discouraging struggles over the last few months of 2016, but now it’s like he’s turned over a new leaf.  We certainly pray that it lasts.  Perfection?  No, of course not, but he’s been far happier than he’s been in a long time. 

Honestly, one reason may be that we did reluctantly increase one of his drugs he takes for his autistic behaviors.  I think it has helped to calm him.  With this increased calmness, then, has come the ability to relate better to the people in his surroundings. 

Aaron loves helping.  He would rather be out somewhere helping with shopping or errands at his day group than to go on most of their activities.  The smaller group is more suited to Aaron, but the helping itself also does something for his ego, too…..in a positive way. 

We’ve been praising him for helping Amy, who works at Paradigm, with shopping at Sam’s or WalMart for Paradigm supplies.  We praise him for helping Brandy or Barb with work at one of the Paradigm residential settings.  Aaron, like any of us, thrives when he is commended.  And for all of us, it’s wonderful to be praising Aaron rather than to be fussing at Aaron. 

His personal relationships with Paradigm clients have been mostly better lately, as well.  Take his friend, A, for instance.  She is usually Aaron’s nemesis, and he hers. There is much bad blood between them.  But this week Aaron had a taco that came with his meal from Taco Bueno……and he gave it to A!!  Today Barb sent me a picture of Aaron hugging A!!! 

All which goes to show that when Aaron is happy, everybody is happy!

Getting Aaron happy, though, can be tricky.

And there’s something else.  Getting Aaron happy first thing in the morning can be virtually impossible.  That’s why this morning was such a shock, and worthy of a blog.

It started last night, when Aaron saw me carrying two pink AMVETS donation bags down to our guest bedroom.  He asked what I was doing, so I told him that I was preparing donation bags for AMVETS. 

“I’ll carry them out for you!” he enthusiastically offered.  But I thanked him and then told him that I wouldn’t be taking the bags out until morning.

“What time are you taking them out?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “Just sometime in the morning.”

Aaron lingered. 

“What time?” he asked again.

“I don’t know an exact time,” I replied, knowing how Aaron loves exact times.

More lingering.

“What time?” he patiently repeated.

I knew that Aaron would need an exact time or he would go to bed still asking me what time I was carrying AMVET bags outside!!

“OK,” I said.  “Probably around 7:45.”

“So, 7:45,” Aaron confirmed.

“Well, maybe not EXACTLY 7:45,” I said, “but sometime around there.”

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning.  7:45 had come and gone.  I hadn’t taken the bags out yet.  I heard Aaron on the monitor, up in his bedroom, stirring and then getting out of bed.  Before long, he came down the stairs and into the kitchen.  I looked up and saw right away that he had put on his tennis shoes, still wearing his pajamas, and I knew right away why.

“Mom?” he asked first thing.  “Have you taken the bags out?”

“No,” I said with a smile.  “But let’s do it right now.”

Aaron, who usually isn’t very chipper in the mornings and likes to talk about how he doesn’t feel well, turned and put on his jacket.  Then he followed me happily to the guest bedroom, took two bags, and carried them out to the end of the driveway.  He came back and carried a small table out for me.  Then we were done and Aaron went about the rest of his morning. 

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I was pretty amazed.  I thanked Aaron, but not in a way that was too exuberant.  Aaron doesn’t like excessive exuberance.  He can be excessively exuberant, but no one else usually can.  We’ve learned this about Aaron.

I’m a realist, born of experience with Aaron. But I am, at the moment, a very happy realist.  I pray that Aaron continues down this helpful path, learning how much fun it is to be needed.  We all love being needed, don’t we?

Aaron really is no different than the rest of us, despite his glaring differences that at times show outwardly.  His heart desires praise and love and usefulness, just like mine.

He also desires…..eating out. 

I think I’m seeing a Friday night plan taking shape.   

My Mom is Weird!

I haven’t done much writing lately for various reasons, a big one being that I had thumb surgery recently.  This clunky splint makes typing a little difficult.  My immobile, fat wrapped thumb keeps wanting to hit the space bar, so now you will understand if you see unnecessary spaces here and there that I don’t catch.   The backspace key is my friend!

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Gary has been taking excellent care of me, and taking up the slack in areas that I still can’t manage.  Even faithful Jackson seems to have been concerned for me at first.  I think now he’s just used to the new me. 

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But Aaron…..dear Aaron……has mostly been worried about……Aaron.  Oh, he’s shown a little empathy.   That’s not really the right word.  He’s shown a little interest in my condition, but showing a great deal of care doesn’t come naturally to Aaron.  But the times that he does express care are special indeed.

He was very happy that he got to stay home on the day of my surgery.  “When you go to take your surgery,” he had asked the day before, “do I have to go to Paradigm?”  Gary and I were at the surgery center very early, so neither of us could drive him to Paradigm.  He loves staying home for whatever reason, so I think he was secretly happy that I had surgery because it did benefit him on that day.

He eyed my left hand suspiciously when I got home.  I knew he was uncomfortable so I just tried to act normal and put him at ease.  But when I laid down in bed in the middle of the morning, he was very uncertain.  He understood, of course, that I had surgery.  But he did not  know how my surgery would affect our normal routine……and therefore affect him, greatly.

I kept the bedroom door open as I rested in bed.  It wasn’t long before I heard Aaron walking up  the hall from his room to my room.  I just kept my eyes closed.  Aaron just stood at the bedroom door, not speaking, but I could feel him staring at me.  He stood there and stared for awhile before he turned and walked back to his bedroom.  He was exhibiting his uncertainty.

It wasn’t very long before I heard his familiar steps once again in the hallway.  He stood once more at my bedroom door for a few seconds.

“What’s for supper?” he finally asked.

I told him there was plenty of food in the frig to choose from so he could have his pick.  It wasn’t really the answer he had hoped for, I knew.  He thought something along the line of pizza or a sub would be far better.  My hand surgery wasn’t working to his advantage as much as he had hoped!

But he was very happy that Gary brought him a cheddar pasta salad when he went to pick up my prescriptions from Dillon’s.  This surgery might work out after all, Aaron thought.

And soon I heard him walking heavily up the hall again.  No need to walk softly when there are matters to address that are very important.  I just waited quietly while he stared at me. 

“Are you watching Wheel of Fortune?” he asked.

No asking how I was feeling.  No wanting to know if he could bring me something.  No queries about my surgery.  And no surprise from me.  Aaron was uncomfortable and he wanted Mom to be Mom again, surgery or not.

I told him that I imagined I could watch Wheel of Fortune.  Later that afternoon, I went down to sit on the couch.  Aaron sighed when I asked him to carry my pillows.  He was seeing that this surgery would take a toll on him and his routine after all. 

We watched Wheel of Fortune that evening, and Aaron was happy.  He didn’t seem to notice my pain pill drowsiness.  He was just very happy that we could have this normal part of our day restored.  He was not so happy, though, to hear that playing Skip-Bo was going to be questionable for a day or two. 

Later that night, Aaron walked with purpose into the kitchen where I was standing.  “Mom!  Here!” he said.  “I brought you something since you had surgery.”

Surprised, I looked in his outstretched hand and saw that he held two yellow gumballs.  He had gotten them from his jar of gumballs in his room.  Usually he tells me I can have one gumball, and on a rare occasion I can have two.  This gift of TWO gumballs, then, was a true gift from his heart. 

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I thanked him and then put them on the counter.  “No, Mom!” he said.  “Hurry and eat it before it becomes tomorrow!”

So I had to smile and I had to “eat” the gumballs immediately.  I didn’t exactly feel like it, but I did chew those gumballs until all the taste was gone as I relished the kindness that Aaron had shown in his own Aaron way.

Life returned to a measure of normalcy fairly quickly.  A couple days after my surgery I even drove Aaron down to Great Clips for a much needed haircut.  As we sat in our chairs waiting for his name to be called, I showed him how I was to exercise my fingers that were protruding from my splint.  I tried to be funny as I bent my fingers, saying “Up, down, out, in!” as I bent them back and forth.  I should have known that Aaron wouldn’t appreciate my humor.

“You’re weird, Mom!” he said.  And then he looked toward the hairdressers and very loudly said, “My Mom is weird!!  She had surgery and she’s weird!!”  What do you do when all eyes turn to you and your son?  Laugh!  And hope they don’t agree with Aaron!

Aaron has done really well with this whole “Mom had surgery and she’s weird and I want things back to normal” business.  He has actually been helping with carrying and setting the table and bringing in trash cans and other things, much more that I thought he would.  He had a very grouchy week at his day group last week, though, and I don’t know if all this was part of why that happened or not.  Sometimes we just don’t know with Aaron.

And we have been playing Skip-Bo again.  Gary shuffles the cards for us and off we go!  Aaron sometimes acts like his silly self.  See the clothes pin on his ear?

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But he plays with the intent to win, realizing that Mom still can watch for cheating even with a splint on her hand!

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The other night he once again strode downstairs to find me on my computer.  “Here, Mom!” he said.  “I saved this for you.”

I looked at his bowl that he held toward me and saw it.  One lone little fruit gummy for me to eat. 

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It’s not the size of the gift that matters, but the heart behind it.  It’s true not just for Aaron, but for all of us.  Sometimes I have to look hard for Aaron’s gifts, but they are there, sweet and honest.

Brutally honest sometimes (weird Mom!)………but that’s Aaron!

 

 

 

 

 

A Thankful Moment

 

I was winding down a long day of cooking on Tuesday night when Aaron came bounding into the kitchen.  “Mom!” he said.  “Will you print off some cheat codes for me on your computer?”

 

Now the last thing I wanted to do at that point was go down to my computer and start looking up cheat codes with Aaron.  So I pretty well told him that.  But Aaron doesn’t take no for an answer very easily when he’s so set on something as important as cheat codes for his Star Wars Legos game.  I know that about Aaron, and therefore I was soon in my computer chair with Aaron hovering over my shoulder.  He instructed me on what to type in order to arrive at the correct site.  We printed a page but it wasn’t right, so we printed again and thought it was right…..but soon I could see that look on Aaron’s face that told me this looking up cheat codes job wasn’t finished yet.

 

I was really too tired for this.  I had reached that point of bone tired frustration.  I just leaned over then as Aaron typed in the correct information himself.  Sure enough, there on the screen popped up the precise cheat codes that he needed.  It was just two pages.  I clicked the print icon while Aaron gleefully rubbed his hands together.  He held the two pages with as much delight as if he was holding the title to a new car.  I stapled them together and we were done.  Thankfully done!

 

“Thanks, Mom!”  Aaron said.  He thumped with his usual loudness up the stairs to the kitchen, while I more or less dragged myself behind him.  There was the counter full of pot and pans and other sundry dishes that wouldn’t fit into the dish washer, waiting on me to dig in and get them washed.

 

“Mom!” Aaron turned and said.  “Since you helped me, I’ll help you.  I’ll dry the dishes!”  This unsolicited offer to help was a surprise to me.  He was so sweet about it and so sincere that I wouldn’t dare say no…..even though the temptation was there.  His drying skills are sometimes lacking, while his talking skills never are.  I knew he would be halfway drying and all the way talking.  My bone tiredness wasn’t looking forward to that scene.  But the look on his face and the willingness he showed kept me from refusing his offer.

 

I told him that of course he could dry the dishes, but he noticed the time then.  Shower time!  So he hurried off to take his shower with the promise that he would return to dry dishes.  And sure enough, he did just that.  After his shower, he stood beside me with the drying towel and dried each dish to some degree.  And he placed them in a stack on top of the stove or on the counter, laughing at how they might fall over and talking all the while about whatever came into his head.

 

I realized that I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was.  I was enjoying this time with Aaron as he did his part to help.  Then I thought about Pastor Bob’s sermon on Sunday…..how the ten lepers were healed by Jesus, but only one returned to give his thanks to the One Who had healed him so miraculously.

 

It would have been expected for Aaron to hurriedly take his shower and then get right back on his Star Wars game, using his brand new cheat codes, without a thought in the world for dirty dishes that needed to be washed and dried.  But he didn’t.  He knew that I was tired and he knew that he could help.  Plus, it was his way of saying thank you to me for printing the cheat codes.

 

In a sense, Aaron was the one leper who returned to give thanks.  Aaron, who usually only thinks of Aaron, thought of me at that moment.  And he saw a way to say thank you…..a tangible way to express his appreciation to me.  How could I say no to that?  I’m so thankful I didn’t!

 

It was another unexpected blessing from Aaron….a side of Aaron not always seen.  We shared some thankfulness that night during this season of being thankful.  It was good for Aaron, and it was especially good for me.

 

May I remember to not only BE thankful in every situation, but to allow Aaron the opportunity to also express his thankfulness in the ways that he can.

 

Happy THANKSgiving, everyone!

 

Unto The Least: A Man Named Richard

 

I remember him so well.  Richard……….nondescript, uneducated, stinky, and often unwelcome Richard.  Our paths crossed because Richard attended the same church where I grew up and where I worshipped.  Our paths also crossed because God ordained it to be so.  God ordained it to be so………so that I would learn a lesson.   It was a lesson best taught by the method that God loves to use – the weak things of the world confounding the mighty. 

 

Richard was a very short little man.  I often think that he was our version of Zaccheaus there in Princeton, West Virginia where I was raised.  Richard didn’t have much education and he was also very simple minded.  Today I’m sure he would be classified as being developmentally delayed, at the very least.  Yet he had served our country in World War 2, returning to Princeton when his time was up.  I remember hearing the story of how Richard wanted to help build the parsonage for our pastor at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church.  The men decided that Richard could dig the sidewalk, and so they used twine and little posts to outline the walkway that Richard should dig.  As Richard dug, his shovel cut the twine and it veered off to the side……..and Richard continued to follow the twine with his digging.  I’m not sure if the men let Richard dig anymore after that or if they found another safer job for him to do. 

 

I remember Mom and Dad loading us five kids into the old station wagon and then leaving for church.  We never missed a service unless we had a fever or were throwing up, or maybe if blood was involved.  This was in the day of services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anything in between.  This was also in the day of revival services that lasted at least a week, and sometimes longer if the Spirit led.  There were mission conferences, too, as well as other special services thrown in here and there.  The Kings did not miss church.  If Dad was working, then Mom loaded the station wagon and off we went. 

 

I loved going to church, but I always dreaded that drive up Thorn Street because often we would see him………..Richard, standing on one of the corners of Thorn Street, not far from his house.  Richard, standing there waiting for a ride to church from one of the church members that he knew would drive by in our little town and see him, and offer him that ride.  Richard, whom I was sure never, ever, ever took a bath.   The smell was just awful!  We kids would strain our necks to look ahead to see if he was still standing there, hoping against hope that some other family had come by before us and picked Richard up.  If we saw him, we would beg Mom or Dad not to stop for him………..to let someone else have that privilege on this day. 

 

But no……..Mom and Dad would always stop for Richard.  He would hop in our already crowded car and immediately we would be assaulted by that odor.  We girls learned a trick.  We would take a small purse-size container of perfume and try to hide it in our hand as we held it up to our nose.  Or at least have some perfume on our wrists that we could sniff in the hopes of blocking out that smell.  I’m not sure what John did to combat the odor but at that point it was each King for himself.   If no one was able to give Richard a ride, then he would walk to church, regardless of the weather……and that was probably a five mile walk.

 

Richard would talk, talk, talk.  He had a very fast, clipped speech.  I can still hear him make a comment and then say, “Isn’t that right?  Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  Then he would laugh and launch into something else, and ask again if that was right.  If he wasn’t talking, he was making a clicking sound with his tongue, as if he was getting food out from between his teeth.  He probably was, since I also doubted that Richard ever, ever brushed his teeth……….which just added to his unique smell. 

 

At church, Richard would lean up on the pew in front of him and talk to whomever was sitting there.  His eyes would dart between the people as he rapidly talked, and clicked his tongue, and laughed, and said, “Isn’t that right?   Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  The large church helped to spread his odor out some and keep it from being as strong……….unless you were the fortunate ones who were sitting in front of him and with whom he decided to engage in his mostly one-sided conversation.   Needless to say, when I was older and had the opportunity to sit in front of Richard……….I tried to find another seat.

 

Richard, though, was good at math.  I remember how that always surprised me.  On Wednesday nights, four men would count certain sections of church and then give the number to the pastor out loud as they were called upon to do so.  Richard almost always added those numbers faster in his head than Preacher Jimmie could do on paper, and he was usually right.  Amazing indeed!  And also amazing was the fact that Richard loved the Lord in his own simple way and was one of the most faithful church members that I have ever known.    I don’t remember seeing Richard carry a Bible and don’t know if he could read, but he knew his Bible.

 

Time marched on.  We King kids grew up, went to college, married and had our own lives.  Mom and Dad both eventually retired from their jobs.  They continued to be active at Johnston Chapel, enjoying the freedom to spend more time visiting the sick and those who were shut-ins.  Among those that they cared for, none stood out more to me than their continued care of Richard.  He had aged, of course, and time had taken a toll.  Richard was not only feebler, but was also dealing with the ravages of cancer.

 

I know that others helped with Richard, too, but Mom and Dad did a great deal for him in his old age.  They helped him find a better house to move into, and then helped him move his meager belongings.  They were shocked at what they found as they cleaned his house.  Such filth was hard for them to imagine!  And there in his closets and throughout his house were stacks of Christmas presents that church friends had given him over the years, still wrapped and unopened.   Inside were clothes and toiletries that he surely could have used over the years, but when questioned about it Richard said that he didn’t open them because he didn’t need anything.  Mom and Dad bought him clean clothes and new things, but Richard still preferred his old belongings and his old way of living.  Mom would take him home-cooked food and encourage him to eat better than he was.  She and Dad bought him a small refrigerator to keep his food from spoiling, but Richard refused to plug it in because he didn’t want to waste electricity. 

 

Dad helped Richard obtain his VA benefits, and then made sure that Richard started going to the proper doctors at the VA hospital.  He took Richard for many of his doctor appointments.  This was no easy task in many ways, but none more so than just the pure embarrassment of being in a public waiting room and doctor’s office with poor smelly Richard.  Mom and Dad tried countless times to teach Richard and to urge Richard to use better hygiene, but I don’t know that Richard ever took it to heart.  Dad would explain things to the doctor, but the people around them that they encountered must have wondered about Richard and about Dad.  Eventually Richard’s cancer became more complicated than what the local VA hospital could handle, so Dad took him to the nearest major VA hospital………..in Richmond……….a six hour trip one way.  Twelve hours confined in a car with Richard, as well as the time at the doctor appointments.  The smell……..the constant talking……….the clicking tongue.   Yet Dad just smiled and did what he knew that God would want him to do………..to take care of this little unwanted and unwelcome man. 

 

When Dad tried to see if Richard qualified for any other assistance such as Medicaid, it was discovered that Richard had money.  In fact, he had too much money to qualify for any government help.  Richard never offered to give Mom and Dad, or anyone else, any money for the things they did for him.  They wouldn’t have taken the money anyway.   That was not the motive.  A brother that no one knew about showed up at Richard’s death, and Mom and Dad walked quietly away from any further involvement……..but not before they gave Richard one of their burial plots since he didn’t have anywhere to be buried.

 

Mom and Dad didn’t want any public acclaim for what they did for Richard.  They just loved the Lord and they let the Lord’s love fill their hearts and direct their actions.  I know at times their service to Richard was tiring, was frustrating, was annoying, and very thankless.  Yet Mom and Dad, and the others who served Richard, did so because they lived out their faith and they believed Jesus when He said, “When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.” 

 

Dad is with Richard in heaven now.   I sometimes try to imagine it, the two of them together up there.  Both have new bodies and are totally equal physically and mentally.  Did they hug when they saw each other?  Are they ever beside each other as they sing and as they worship?  Richard doesn’t smell anymore and Dad doesn’t have to explain him to anybody, or be embarrassed.  I wonder if Richard still talks fast, and does Dad still smile patiently at him?  I doubt it, but it’s fun to think about. 

 

And we kids are left with not only memories, but more importantly, we are left with a real example of selflessness that my parents demonstrated.  They loved the unlovely in more than word…………they loved also in deed.  I know that each of us has taken this lesson to heart in our own lives in various ways.  But I doubt that anyone could be any more kind and any more patient than my sweet parents were to Richard.

 

I can’t wait to see Richard in heaven!  I’ll give him a hug……….and no perfume bottle needed!

 

 

Lessons From the Random Garden Phlox

In our back yard, Gary and I have two flower beds that I haven’t done much with for the past two years.  Plenty of our perennials still grow there, but some have died that I haven’t replaced.  Gary is planning a patio remodel at some point, and knowing that those beds would be downsized or moved caused me to just let them grow as they will.  Our tall Tiger Lilies bloomed out there recently, but now those bright orange blooms are gone. 

This morning I looked outside as I worked at the kitchen sink.  There among the flowerless Tiger Lilies I saw the bright pink blooms of a random Garden Phlox.  The pink was very noticeable now that the lilies weren’t all in bloom.  What a pretty sight that Garden Phlox was as it stood among all the green leaves of the lilies!  The Phlox is shorter than the all those giant lilies surrounding it, but it stands out beautifully because of its bright, pretty flowers.
 
 

As I looked at that Garden Phlox, I thought of a nurse…..a nurse that I have never met and whose name I don’t even know.  Andrea, our daughter, told us about her last night.  Andrea has moved to a new area of the big city in which she lives, so yesterday she had her first appointment to get established with a family practice doctor there.  The doctor’s nurse who worked with Andrea was not only very nice, but Andrea said that she also gave a clear testimony of her relationship with the Lord.  She was definitely born again, a follower of Jesus, so she and Andrea shared that common bond as they talked together.  She then gave Andrea the name of two good churches in the area for her to visit.

This interchange may seem like no big deal, but it was very encouraging to Andrea…..and a huge answer to prayer for Gary and me.  As our two children that have moved far away get established in their new lives, Gary and I pray often that God will protect and lead them.  Part of our prayers for them is that God will bring others into their lives who are believers…..who will be there to encourage and befriend them.  It’s a rough world out there for all of us, but as parents we especially worry about our adult children as they navigate life far away from home and family. 

I just love seeing how God answers prayers in ways we don’t orchestrate at all.  Who would have thought that God would use this nurse to speak her testimony to Andrea, to lift her up in that way, and to give her the names of two churches?  But God knew just where Andrea needed to be yesterday morning.  The first doctor in that group couldn’t see Andrea, so she ended up with another doctor…..who has this nurse….and she was working yesterday when Andrea was there.  Thank you, God!

And thank you, dear nurse, for not being afraid to speak of your relationship with Jesus.  She truly let her light shine, just as Jesus told us to do, so that others will see the Lord in our lives.  This nurse was a huge blessing and an answer to prayers for us…and she may never know it this side of heaven.  But she was just walking in obedience, letting her light shine, and she sure did brighten Andrea’s day and ours as well.

Then I have to think about myself.  Often as I’ve prayed for those who will come alongside our children, I wonder if I might be on the other end of such a prayer.  Could I be the one that God wants to use to answer a mother’s prayer for their child?  Could I be that person who could encourage and bless a person for whom someone is praying?  Am I letting my light shine in the lives of others?  That thought has given me great pause over the years as I’ve prayed for our kids, and now even more so as I think of this nurse…..this random nurse…..who meant so much to our family yesterday in such a seemingly simple way.   

This nurse was like my Garden Phlox showing its beauty among the lilies.  She was a bright spot in Andrea’s day, and she was a bright blessing to Gary and me.  I need to be willing to do the same…..to grow where God has put me and to share the beauty of my relationship to Him because of what He has done for me.  I need to be careful to reach out to ones that God puts in my path, in whatever ways that I can.  Even the simplest acts can be just what a person needs at that moment, and just might be the answer to a parent’s or another’s prayer. 

So may I not let fear or selfishness or lack of caring grow around me so much that I don’t even try to help those who come into my life.  I pray that I will be open to God’s leading and obedient to his command to let my light shine so that others will see God, and thereby be uplifted.  May I shine like my bright pink Garden Phlox amongst all the tall, crowded lilies. 

I’m certainly thankful for that nurse who was a beautiful blessing in our lives yesterday.  May God bless her richly as she shares His beauty with others.