First Things

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Having taught English in the middle grades for over 25 years, there are stories, ponderings, and anecdotes rolling around in my head. Raising two boys, living in the rural South, and being raised by half the folks in my hometown adds to that list. This little blog is my attempt to get that stuff out of my head! If I encourage or entertain you along the way, that will make me smile.

My daddy, the true storyteller in the family, always, ALWAYS, at some point in my storytelling interrupted to remind me, “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version, Dede.” I do get long-winded with details from time to time. I’ll attempt to keep my ponderings short enough that you don’t repeat my daddy’s sentiment. No promises, though.

Welcome, and Blessings!
Dede

That Saturday Afternoon Car Ride

A Saturday afternoon car ride in the mountains with my paternal grandparents was a treat. MaMa Rene fried chicken, PaPa Ben checked the oil, and we grandkids loaded ourselves into the back seat. The trunk was full of home cooked food and a thermos of Kool-Aid. We were set for adventure. There was no such thing as air conditioning, carbonated beverages or salty snacks to ward off carsickness, but I didn’t mind as long as we had our grandparents to ourselves.

Ben and Irene Eades had an arrangement. She drove and he provided the quiet commentary. I didn’t know until I was an adult that PaPa Ben not only didn’t drive, he couldn’t drive. He didn’t care one lick about getting behind the wheel of a car.

One particular trip with our grandparents put us smack in the middle of a traffic jam in a small North Georgia town. The car windows were down (remember no air conditioning) and PaPa hung his arm out, methodically beating the side of their car as he watched the traffic. 

PaPa was usually a quiet man. And he was a whistler. We only knew he was upset or had some thoughts when he whistled. If he started whistling, we’d look at him and try to figure out what was rolling around in his head. If he actually said something, you better believe the room got quiet to hear what he had to say.

On this day, in this traffic jam, Ben Eades had something to say. He said it with gusto. He said it as he beat the side of the car. He said it loud enough the people on the street heard him. People in other cars heard him. We had never heard such a commotion coming from this man. We perked up our ears with amazement, then shock, then embarrassment. We started to giggle and decided the best course of action was to duck down so that nobody could see us. For real? We’d been in that traffic jam for what seemed like hours (15 minutes). How did we think the other people hadn’t already seen us? Two pre-teen girls with their grandparents–the female driving and the male directing traffic out the window–in the middle of a hot summer traffic jam in rural North Georgia? We had to save face somehow. We slid down those sticky-hot vinyl seats and giggled on. MaMa noticed us (imagine that) and the two of them got tickled. We finally admitted that PaPa’s car-door banging was just too much for us, and that made them laugh even more. In no time, that hot, rural North Georgia traffic jam wasn’t so bad. 

The four of us snickered and grinned all the way to the motel.

Notice PaPa Ben whistling…

Lessons from Singing in the Car

We love music in this house. Almost any kind of music. At only a few months old, Jesse actually would not ride in the car without Disney’s “The Jungle Book” soundtrack playing. By the time he was a toddler, he’d graduated to what he called “Rockin’ the Roll,” singing at the top of his lungs. When Ben came along, we played everything from Veggie Tales to Steve Green scripture songs in the car, eventually graduating to my personal favorite, 1970s pop.

One especially trying day, I noticed something I’ll never forget. The boys were fussy in the back seat and there was no music playing, so I turned on some random something. No effect. I popped that out and put in Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em In Your Heart.” The lyrics are actually quoted scripture put to original music for children. Within one minute, the whining stopped. They were humming and singing. It wasn’t the music. It was the words–God’s Word.

Not long after, the boys were in the playroom and I heard a crash. Ben had toppled out of a big toy storage bucket and popped his head on the table corner. I scooped him up and pressed his bloody noggin. The three of us hopped in the car and drove to the emergency room. Jesse and Ben were both scared and crying. I said, “How about we sing?” I started, “When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee, I will trust in Thee, I will trust in Thee,” the familiar scripture song we’d learned. By the end of that phrase, there were only sniffles. On the next phrase, there were two little voices coming from the back seat singing quietly with me. This momma just about squalled. Imagine trying to hold it together during that fearful time with such precious proclamations of assurance coming from a toddler and preschooler.

Those little boys lived out an important truth before me–never doubt the power of the Holy Spirit to work through scripture. Memorize it. Sing it. Say it aloud. Proclaim it to the mountaintops. Speak God’s Word back to Him, reminding Him of His promises, reminding ourselves of His promises.

When I am afraid.”

Fearful times aren’t limited to childhood, a particular life stage, or even circumstances. Sometimes fear seems irrational. It can be overwhelming. The Bible verse I sang with my boys even includes the word when, not if, to remind me there is no question that I will experience times of fear. It’s a given.

Throughout scripture, we see the command to fear not. Look at this little bit of research, the number of times these phrases are used in scripture:

“Do not fear.” 66 times (ESV translation)
“Fear not.” 158 times (ESV translation)
“Do not be dismayed.” 13 times (ESV translation)

If you look at just a few of the verses in context, the people God commanded to fear not had great reason to be afraid. They were afraid.

For example, the situation in Deuteronomy 31 gave Joshua every reason to be afraid. Moses was no longer going to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua was. He’d heard the report from the 12 spies who saw the giants in the land. It was a daunting task. But here’s what Moses said to Joshua:

It is the Lord who goes before you.
He will be with you;
He will not leave you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.
(emphasis mine)

Jump to Joshua 1. Moses has died at this point. The Lord commissions Joshua, sending him into the Promised Land with these words:

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened,
and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
(emphasis mine)

God knew how Joshua was going to feel. And like Joshua, God knows how we feel. He knows we will be afraid. He knows we will be dismayed. Praise God, He does not leave us alone to sit in that fear. He gives us Himself. He promises His presence, His help, His strength. When I live in light of that truth, fear doesn’t take centerstage. God does.

God’s promise of “I am with you” is attached to those 237 commands to fear not. Fear not is possible because He is with me. God is with me.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? 
Psalm 17:1

Memorize it. Sing it. Say it aloud. Proclaim it to the mountaintops.

Worth the Ride Part 2

“All of it mattered.” Beth Moore
“Nothing is wasted with God.” Jamie Ivey

I recently read Beth Moore’s Chasing Vines. She wrote about the desire to know that her life–all of it, good and bad–has had meaning. She even made a point to differentiate between something being “worth it” and something having meaning. I pondered that for a while, especially since I’d just written a whole post about things being “worth the ride.”

“All of it mattered.” 

I’ve used “worth it” as my go-to when I’ve had a difficult experience or season. I’ve said, “It was worth it,” trying to bring a sense of purpose to it. I’m ready to change that to, “It mattered.” I agree with Beth Moore. I’ve seen my family and friends endure hardships I would never say were worth it. There are things I’ve weathered I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve had to come to grips with my good God, His sovereignty and omniscience, and the reality that from my perspective the stuff was painful, wearisome, and just not worth the ride. Those troublesome times were not what I would have chosen at all.

God has been gracious to show me some of His purposes. Let me be very clear, in some instances the purpose for the hardship hasn’t been discernible at all, and it may be heaven before I see how it meant something.

Who can testify to us that there is meaning, there is purpose in suffering and hardship? Sarai (Sarah) would not have chosen the ache of childlessness. Ruth would not have chosen the grief of being widowed, the fear of leaving her homeland, and the stigma of picking up the scraps left behind by harvesters. Mary would not have chosen the shame of being unmarried and pregnant. Martha and Mary would not have chosen the heartache of their brother’s death. Mary Magdalene would not have chosen the torture of being possessed by demons. The woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years would not have chosen the grip of illness.

These women knew the pain borne of their circumstances. 

In the middle of the pain, I don’t know that they would have proclaimed, “Oh, yeah, it’s worth it!” I have to remind myself that like us, they lived the hardships moment by moment, not knowing if they would ever find rescue. 

From their stories, we know that rescue eventually came:
Sarah gave birth to Isaac in her old age. (Genesis 21:1)
Ruth met and married her kinsman redeemer and husband picking up those scraps. (Ruth 2:8)
Mary heard from an angel that this baby was the “Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:32)
Martha and Mary witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:43)
Mary Magdalene experienced the freedom from demons when Jesus cast them out. (Luke 8:2)
The physically ill woman found healing when she touched Jesus’ garment. (Luke 8:44-48)

Rescue did come. Before the rescue though, God Himself met them right smack in the middle of their aching need. He gave them Himself, His presence, and moments of respite. After God rescued them, their circumstances didn’t change completely or the hurt disappear altogether. They carried the scars of their suffering well after their rescue — and even their scars mattered. 

“Nothing is wasted with God.”
Our hardships and the scars they leave behind mean something.

James 1 and Second Corinthians 2 mention a few of the possible outcomes of our suffering:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4 (emphasis mine)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (emphasis mine)

Pull out those words and phrases that describe our sufferings’ fruit: steadfastness, perfect, complete, lacking nothing, comfort those who are in any affliction, comforted by God. Those aren’t just words. They are real evidence that God is leveraging our hardship for the Kingdom through fruit. (Beth Moore) They are evidence that our suffering and scars matter.

Would those women from the Bible say their pain was worth the ride? Maybe. Maybe not. I do believe they would say their suffering meant something, though. If we listen closely, we might even be able to hear them whisper, “All of it mattered.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The thoughts above remind me of a little story and a few photos about two fellows of mine
who were totally worth the ride:

I have often described three times in my life using Karen’s trunk-riding imagery (see “Worth The Ride” post):

1. My short stint with oral contraceptives (sorry)
2-3. My two pregnancies

All three were like being thrown in the trunk of a car with a flashlight and a book only to be driven through the hairpin curves of a rural mountain road for 9 solid months.

THREE times.

NINE months each.

I actually told my long-time family doctor if pregnancy was anything like being on birth control, those babies would have to get here some other way. It was just not worth it. He threw his head back and cackled at that! Well, those babies got here the usual way, and let me tell you, I was “not a good car rider” on those two “trips.” 

These are the two boys who made those 9-month trips worth the ride. ❤

Joy

She invited me to join her on that big organ bench. 

That organ mesmerized me. Its sounds from soft reeds to resounding trumpets drew me in. As a little girl, I’d stood by it so many Sunday mornings to watch her play the postlude for our worship service–usually something grand and stately to send us out into the world. I had to play it. 

She generously granted me access to the organ. She began by allowing me to turn the pages for her as she played. The most memorable was Handel’s Messiah, when she turned that organ into a work of art. On the last chord of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I even got to press the button that opened the organ’s sound to its grandest.

Eventually, she sat beside me and gave me lessons. Those lessons were about technique–sound choice, finger placement, volume, music choice. She taught me to be aware of the congregation. What did they need or not need from the organ, from me? How did I help or hinder their worship as an organist? 

Those lessons were so much more than organ lessons. They were lessons in worship. She taught me much more than when to turn the page of music for the accompanist, much more than techniques required to play the organ. She taught me that being a servant of those who worship was key. She intended to show me how to serve.

I recently read something that reminded me of her:

Joy was never meant to be a hit-or-miss condition of the people of God.
Joy was divinely determined to be one of a believer’s most consistent and distinguishing features.
Beth Moore, Chasing Vines

There it is. Joy can’t be hit or miss. Joy distinguishes us from those who do not know the Savior. That’s what she was telling me. With my hands and feet, could I serve others and remind them that joy, no matter what their present circumstance, is our gift granted from the One who works in, through, and beyond the present and draws us into His presence, a place of immeasurable joy . Tall orders. Worthy orders, nonetheless. 

I understood joy when she played that grand organ.

Joy Batson then and now

Joy Batson, Maggie to her husband and a few of us who were cheeky enough to take up that nickname, is the she of this writing. Though many years have passed since I sat on that organ bench with her, I can still conjure up the experience of that bench-sitting time. 
It’s joy.
That’s it.
Joy.

Little-known facts about Joy Batson, The Organist:
–She has the tiniest feet.
–She wore penny loafers as her organ shoes. She neither replaced nor repaired them the entire time I watched her play. 
–When her organ loafers fell apart, she used rubber bands to hold them together.
–She had multiple pairs of glasses in a day and time when people only had one pair. These pairs were for various functions: regular everyday glasses, organ glasses, handbell glasses, and such. They all looked very similar, so most people didn’t notice. I’m not sure if the similarity of them was intentional, for frugality, or for comfort. Those glasses were the topic of much discussion and laughter with her friends.
–She had a special hiding place for the organ key right under the keyboard of the organ.
–There was always a red pencil at the organ for marking her music.
–Her music library was the foyer half-bath in the parsonage. I was privy to it. There were stacks and stacks of organ books in there. I was both shocked and amazed by that library. Did people use that bathroom? How was the music organized? Did she rotate those books with the stacks at the organ?
–She didn’t own an organ of her own. She walked to the church to practice.
–Between the offertory and the choir message, she could scoot around behind the choir loft at lightning speed and enter the piano side without being winded. She even carried her music folder on that trek and never lost her place.
–She had her own special accompanist’s robe. It had cuffed sleeves. I think what made it special was its size. It was such a short robe.
–She had stock set-ups that were so good, nobody ever changed them…except once. A guest organist played the organ one Saturday for a wedding. He used his own set-ups and programmed them into the organ (I guess he didn’t know her set-ups were fabulous.). The next morning, her stock set-ups were gone. Lesson: make a cheat sheet of the sets-ups. She reset them, made a cheat sheet, and let us know where it was if we were to change the set-ups (which we NEVER did).
–She always, always held it together on that organ stool.
–She had the most inviting laugh.

Worth The Ride

For Eric and Karen:
Thanks for being the best traveling buddies!

If you know anything about me, you know that I am not a good car rider. I get motion sick — car sick, as I’ve always called it. My head hurts. My stomach hurts. I’m grumpy. I need air on my face. I need carbonated beverages. I need salty snacks. The list goes on and on. I do not, however, get “sick” in the car. That is one good thing, a blessing you might say. I do believe the demanding list above is more than enough for my man the driver and any passengers who may be along.

Some people would say a trip isn’t worth the misery if it includes being car sick.

Two college friends were my constant traveling buddies for quite a few years, and they know all too well of my car woes. Eric is right there with me on the motion sickness. Karen, however, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us. I’ll never forget Karen explaining that she could basically be thrown in the trunk of a car with a flashlight and a book and be perfectly fine riding those hairpin curves of mountain roads. That thought just makes all my sensibilities go nuts. Eric will tell you that if he doesn’t drive, he’s going to get car sick. Ditto. (By the way, Karen, Eric’s mother and I are the only people Eric has ever trusted to drive him. That is a small, closed club of  which I am proud to be a charter member.)

I love thinking about trips with Karen and Eric. We were young. We traveled where we wanted when we wanted. Sometimes it was just outside the back gate of Furman University to McDonald’s. Sometimes it was down a curvy dirt road in the north Georgia mountains to a beautiful river. Always, always it was adventure. Eric was the designated driver. See paragraph 2. Plus, Eric was the guy. We were the “submissive” girls. Mainly, Eric had the nice car with air conditioning and he got car sick worse than I did.

No matter where we decided to go, there was always a plan. Eric was notorious for planning with a spiral bound notebook and a flair-type pen. Planning our “going” also included where we were going in life. I remember Eric flopping that spiral notebook open, uncapping that pen, and making a list of items for me to consider as I tried to decide my life plan. We were all of 21 years old and we were going to change the world. I just had no clue how until Eric pulled out that notebook. A few minutes pondering the spiral-bound list and not only was I set, the queasy, unsettled feeling began to fade.

Whether the trip was a real live get-in-the-car-and-go kind or the life schemes kind, we were dreamers traveling wherever our imaginations would take us. Those were good plans and even better trips. Inevitably, some of those plans did go by the wayside. Some were replaced by different dreams. But all of them were worth the pondering.

Some people would say a trip isn’t worth the misery if it includes being car sick. I say if you’re traveling with the right people, a trip is always worth the ride.

My first ride. I named her Jewell.

Scribbles and Grace

In 1994, I sat in an inter-generational Bible study with a group of women and listened with heart wide open. I wanted to glean every bit of wisdom I could from the women who were walking faithfully through their lives as wives and moms. What I could learn from them was going to change the way I mothered. These spiritual mothers of mine would impart such wisdom!

I looked over to Becky’s Bible and saw orange crayon scribbles. What? How could that have happened? Then Becky said something that at the time shocked and amazed me, “Some seasons, it’s just about all a young mom can do to read a Psalm. It’s hard to do in-depth Bible study with four preschool kids, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on young moms.” Again, What? was my mind’s response. It was a little freeing and scary at the same time to hear another mom (an elder’s wife, too!) admit that all she could get to was a Psalm some days.

When I sat in that Bible study with Becky, Jesse was a baby/toddler. He took three-hour naps. He played quietly on the floor. I could get a shower. I read books. I went to weekly Bible study and did all my homework.

Four years later, Ben was a toddler and Jesse was almost 5. I refer to that time of my life as “And Then There Was Ben.” He was not a napper. He loved to be held. Jesse was active. He drew trains and started using scissors. I didn’t get books read. I didn’t get a shower.

That’s the season I started my first Beth Moore Bible study with a small group of ladies at my church–the kind of Bible study that was 10 weeks, five days of pages and pages of homework, a video to watch, and group time. I forgot Becky’s words from those years before. I set lofty goals for myself. I was going to get that homework done and be an example of a godly woman. In reality, I was good to get three days of that work done in the seven days I had to complete it.

My habit was to leave my Bible and study book on the couch opened to the day’s assignment. When I had a few minutes I could sit down to read and write. One day, I walked into the family room to see Uni-Ball pen scribbles on the pages of my Bible, Proverbs 28 and 29, to be exact. I’m sure my response was not as close to the Proverbs 31 Woman as Ben’s scribbles. As I looked at those marks, a memory came to my mind: Becky’s orange crayon Bible. I had to smile because it finally made sense to me! AND I felt like I had arrived! My Bible showed the marks of a young mom trying her best to read a Psalm!

Scribbled pages of my Bible from 1998

I realized then just a little of what I understand even more now. Giving ourselves grace in each season of life is important. Grace is finding scribbles in your Bible when you were just trying to get in a few minutes of Bible study and remembering to smile. Grace is eating too many take-out meals in a week and being thankful you are with your kids at a table eating a meal together. Grace is falling asleep before you kiss your husband goodnight and thinking to kiss him when you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

That old Bible? Still my favorite. Ben’s scribbles and Jesse’s paper airplane bookmark? Among my greatest treasures. They remind me of that precious season of life. They speak volumes about a young mom with lofty goals who was good to get a Psalm read and the grace she should have given herself. They tell a story to any woman who sees them, a reminder to follow in the footsteps of the godly women who taught me that scribbles and a Psalm (or Proverbs 28 & 29) a day are priceless treasures. That’s grace.

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV

DISCLAIMER if Ben should ever read this blog: Of course, the “And Then There Was Ben” season wasn’t Ben himself. It was all the things that come with being a wife and mom of preschoolers–and well, L I F E.). PLEASE. Jesse drew a purple smiley face the size of a small Hula-Hoop on our stairwell wall. He definitely left his mark as well!

Algebra Formulas and Life

Disclaimer: Algebra is not a course I taught during my one-year tenure as a middle school math teacher. This low man on the totem pole got moved to English her second year. I am no expert in Algebra. I even shudder a little at the thought that one of my math teacher friends may read this and be embarrassed for me at my complete and total misrepresentation of math and Algebra. Even so, knowing that I don’t remember all the ins and outs, what I do remember I can apply. I can help students apply–and they are shocked that a former English teacher can help them do a little bit of middle school math and Algebra. 😉

I like math. It’s usually pretty cut and dry. There’s a right answer. There’s not a lot of wondering what is good, what could be better, what needs editing or proofreading. And of course, there’s the “check your work” step that always gives a whew moment when I actually get the correct answer to a math problem.

I wish life were more like math sometimes.

Formulas are a good thing to know in Algebra. They are useful for all sorts of things. I do love a good Algebra formula. Memorize it, write it down at the top of the page, plug in the numbers when applicable (and usually the teacher tells you when it’s applicable), and voilà! there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got the correct answer.

I wish life were more like Algebra sometimes.

The other day when we were using formulas, a student looked at me as if I’d spoken a foreign language to her (Yes, I do realize Algebra is a foreign language and one must become literate in that language. That’s another post someday.). The class had some practice exercises for the formulas they’d learned earlier, and for the life of her, this student could not understand why she was getting the wrong answer even though she was using the formula. When I looked at her paper, she said, “I put the numbers in the wrong places and I can’t get the right answer.” 😳 (I didn’t say the many, many comments running through my head: use your eraser; put the numbers in the right place; did you even look at the formula? And oh, my brain went on and on) I wrote the formula on her paper and told her to find the numbers in the problem and plug them in the correct places. Still, she had that look. She said, “I put the ones on top on the bottom.” (UH HUH. USE THE FORMULA. Bless her heart. Bless my heart for keeping my mouth shut.)

Formulas are great. Life would be much less stressful if there were a formula or two that I could use for a fool-proof answer to my problems.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that there is no formula for being a great wife, a super mom, a best friend, a generous neighbor. Life is a little more like writing than math. There’s no write down the formula at the top of the page and plug in the numbers for a voilà! moment.

Life is a little more like writing sometimes.

As an English teacher, I often suggested that my students leave their writing for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. Often, time gave them a perspective on their writing they didn’t have before. Honestly, the same thing is true of an Algebra problem–maybe if they step away from it for a minute and come back to it with fresh eyes, they can see their mistake.

Come to think of it, fresh eyes might help me when I struggle with life stuff.

Taking a step back, waiting, listening to or reading something are all good strategies for fresh eyes. I need fresh eyes on life’s circumstances sometimes rather than a fool-proof formula. It’s time well spent to read my Bible and listen to what God is saying. The Truths of scripture applied to my present problem won’t be the formula for a voilà! moment, but experience with this practice tells me that my eyes are fresher when I come back to my problem armed with some Truth. I can see things a little more clearly.

Maybe there is a formula I can apply to life:
step back + read my Bible + listen to God = fresh eyes on my problem

Do I get an exact answer? No.
Do my circumstances change? Not always (I’m bold enough to say not usually).
Are there benefits in applying the formula? You bet.

A few benefits come to mind:
My memory of how God has cared for me in the past increases.
My anxiety decrease.
My trust in the unfailing love of God increases.
My fears decrease.

For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes.
Psalm 26:3

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides You,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

Isaiah 64:4

Who knew there were life lessons in Algebra formulas? 😉

Chinking Away at the Wall

(Names have been omitted or changed upon my son’s request. Smart fellow, that first-born.)

“I think the two of you have lost your minds.”

That’s a quote from our older son when he was about 10 years old. I like it.

I remember the moment he said it. I remember the circumstances surrounding his statement. I remember trying to hide my smile. I remember wondering if we were going to cheer for him or reprimand him for that statement.

We had unsuccessfully “ordered” the boys to clean the family room. Hours after the first and second failed attempts, David walked down to the doorway and declared, “Nobody is leaving this room until it’s completely cleaned!”

Thirty minutes later, we walked back to the doorway and saw that not one single ANYTHING had been picked up, put away, or cleaned. J’s response to our curious observation? “We decided to just stay down here.” (That “nobody is leaving” thing really worked on him.)

Of course, I went off on a diatribe about just how in the world they thought they would use the bathroom, what they thought they would eat and drink, and the like. J ignored me.

A few minutes later, as David and I were standing in the kitchen, our younger son, the little imp and messenger for J, plink, plink, plinked in and stated, “If this is supposed to be a happy home, then why aren’t we happy?!?” I could tell J had sent him with that message–it was a total J statement.

Diatribe Part 2: “Happy? HAPPY?? DO WE LOOK HAPPY?? NOBODY IN THIS HOUSE IS HAPPY RIGHT NOW. YOU JUST MARCH YOURSELF RIGHT BACK DOWN THERE AND TELL YOUR MESSAGE SENDER THAT!”

Plink, plink, plink, off he went. Plink, plink, plink he came back and relayed, “J says we want a Family Meeting.”

Up the stairs we went to B’s room for the Family Meeting. I don’t know that anyone in our house had ever called a family meeting before. Leave it to the 10 year old to think of that. David and I sat in the floor. J and B sat on the bed. J leaned over to whisper in B’s ear. “OH NO,” I said. “You just go ahead and say it out loud. He’s not going to be your little messenger anymore!”

And then it came. J looked at the two of us and proclaimed, “I THINK THE TWO OF YOU HAVE LOST YOUR MINDS.”

You have to understand a thing or two about J at that point in his life. Number one, J had a very difficult time expressing his feelings. Number two, J avoided conflict like the plague. So to hear our son make this bold proclamation made our mama and daddy hearts swell with pride. We almost cheered! J’s wall of protection had its first chink from a chisel and mallet in his own hands.

We glanced at each other, held our smiles and giggles in check, and carried on with the Family Meeting. Or J did, I should say.

Several weeks later as we repeated the Family Meeting story to J’s behavioral pediatrician, he threw his head back with joyous laughter. We’d been waiting for just this kind of breakthrough for J.

That Family Meeting created a little crack in the wall standing between J and his ability to express his feelings. The wall is still there, but there are gaping holes in it now. Some of those holes were chinked away by J out of necessity (like the crack he started when he was 10). Some of them were made by people whose motivation was selfish or unkind, slinging their sledgehammer of insensitivity. The most precious holes were made by people carefully chinking away at J’s wall–people who wanted to be a part of J’s life for his good and theirs.

One guy in college decided to befriend J. I heard from J that he and Max were in class together, Max was his RA, Max tutored him, and Max went on Walmart runs with him. After a year, Max was still around. After a third year, J declared Max his best friend. I smiled when I heard a Max story from J. This Max guy stuck with J, chinking away at his wall. Max was intentional as he interacted with J. His kindness was intentional. His friendship was intentional.

For J, Max was his friend. For me, Max was the measure of a Proverbs 17:17 kind of friend. That Max would stick with this kid who wasn’t popular, wasn’t easy to develop a friendship with, and loved solitude spoke volumes to me.

Max’s example reminds me of a few things: A person’s wall is there for a reason. What I do with the wall someone presents to me matters. My interactions should be intentional. Intentionally kind. Intentionally good. Intentionally FOR the other person.

There is a world of difference in the results of a using sledgehammer and using a chisel and mallet. One destroys and tears down. The other creates art and beauty. May I be as mindful of the tools in my hand as J’s best friend was.

Thanks, Max.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

What She Saw

(Originally written in August 2017)

My grandmother is almost 98 years young. MaMa Margaret has seen much in her years on this earth, living through The Great Depression, World War II, and every major world event since. She has outlived her 8 siblings and her husband. On a couple of occasions she’s said that she’s old enough now that she can say whatever she wants to. 🤐

A few weeks ago, the Upstate of South Carolina witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event for my grandmother, a total solar eclipse. Just to put the record straight, she went out for a little bit before the eclipse and then said she was going inside. (She’d decided to just watch it on TV. Yep! That’s what she said!) When I found out, I texted my mom in enough time to get MaMa back outside to see totality (A little guilt from the middle granddaughter goes a long way.😉).

MaMa Margaret looking at the solar eclipse

The photo of my grandmother viewing the eclipse brought a smile to my face and a few tears to my eyes. How wonderful that she saw it!

I’m not sure why it was so important to me that MaMa Margaret see the eclipse. Making history? Being able to tell my grandchildren that my grandmother saw this eclipse? I don’t know. I’m just glad my stubbornness won out over her stubbornness.

I wonder what I will see in my lifetime that my grandchildren will be able to talk about? I don’t have grandchildren yet, nor even a daughter-in-law, but I still think of the legacy I am leaving for a future generation.

(July 2019–finishing this blog post)
I do know one thing. I know that nothing I see in this lifetime will compare to my experience of the great grace God has lavished on me. My great God loves me. Jesus’ love for me is greater than my wildest imaginings. That truth is the best legacy I can leave.

My grandmother is now away from us and with her Lord (Oh, what a story. Another post.). I’m confident she would tell us that the things she saw in her near century of living pale in comparison to what she is experiencing now.

Honestly though, a total eclipse? That’s a pretty big thing. But I think MaMa would say, “Foot fire,” to that. It’s a mere shadow compared to heaven with God.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”
I Corinthians 13:12

Windshield Wipers & Drizzle

Getting ready for a driving trip is something of an adventure, especially being married to an auto technician. The car has to be inspected from one end to the other. Preparing another person’s car for me to drive is especially challenging for the auto man in my house. Does he tell the owner to replace windshield wipers? Does he say, “They have a squeak,” and leave it at that? Knowing that I’m going to be the driver, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The short answer is to go with the owner, my friend and traveling buddy. The long answer is, well longer. Little did my auto man know that his decision to not change the wipers one day would cause me no small amount of stress the next day. Little did he know that the drizzling rain would come at night. Little did he know that the squeak of the wipers was a squawk.
Yes.
Ten hours in my buddy’s car (the last hour and 20 minutes down a dark, two-lane road).
An hour of my buddy attempting to “captain” me out as driver.
A squawk.
If my auto man had been there, I do believe we would have found an auto parts store quickly.

Deleware RainThe next day, my buddy and I giggled at just how ridiculous the whole scene was. Still, in the middle of the squawking, drizzle, and her “captaining” of the “ship” I was driving, we weren’t laughing.

Have you ever had one of those days? A day when squawks and drizzle and benevolent “captains” seem to swamp you? A day when you want to throttle your man for not changing the wipers? Or maybe you have one of those days that is a little more difficult and less giggle-worthy the next day. Like me, I bet you’ve had those days and more.

On a good day, it’s easy to say, “This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118: 24). On a swampy, less-than-giggle-worthy day, can I still rejoice? Is it possible to be glad? Can I see this day, squawking windshield wipers and all, as one the Lord has made for me?

In the Bible, James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

My day may “change like shifting shadows” and my circumstances may not be good or perfect, but I can hold tightly to my heavenly Father who never changes, never wavers. That truth gives me hope to rejoice and be glad.

Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in Lord,
Still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Matt Redman