Wednesday, March 28, 2018

And That's What Easter Is All About, Charlie Brown

Today, I drove to a cemetery in south Mississippi, a couple of hours away, where my Daddy and several other relatives are buried. I haven't felt good, all week, but the thought of Daddy having red roses and Christmas greens on his grave for Easter served as my motivation.....well, that and an Excedrin and downing a dosage cup full of Delsym at a red light.

Anyway, I made the trip and parked near where his grave is. I opened the back of my car to get out everything I needed. I looked around and saw that I was the only one in the beautiful cemetery. It was so quiet and peaceful with a nice breeze blowing. Most of the graves were dressed with fresh looking spring bouquets, undoubtedly, recently left by loving relatives for the occasion of Easter week. I walked over to Daddy's headstone and removed the faded red roses and changed them out for something more appropriate for this season of new life. A sort of monochromatic bouquet of blues and purples. I thought it looked nice against his black marble headstone, which stood to remind me that his date of passing was just a few days ago. It's been 9 years.

I finished up there and headed back to the car to get my second load of flowers for my maternal grandparents' graves. Their plots are pretty close to Daddy's and I walked over there to give their vases a facelift. I'd brought a knife and, because their vases are more difficult to work with, I just plopped down on the ground to cut the foam and try to get it all secure in there.

As I sat there, I looked around and thought about all the lives that were represented there in that place. Just from my family alone, there was quite a crowd gathering there. My father, maternal grandparents, two uncles, my mother's cousin, two of my first cousins, my uncle's mother, my first cousin's wife, and a second cousin's young wife. That's who I could come up with, off the top of my head, but I'm sure there were others there, who I was forgetting.

There are a lot of stories in a cemetery. A lot of tragic ones. From where I was sitting, I could see my mother's cousin's headstone. He died, many decades ago, as a 23 year old in a car wreck. My cousin's wife's grave was a ways off to my left. She died, not so long ago, in a wreck, leaving 2 small children and a newborn behind. Close to her was one of my cousins, who died unexpectedly, this past Christmas day, while enjoying Christmas lunch at his mom's house. On the other side of me was where my beautiful cousin was, who didn't survive her 40's because of breast cancer. That doesn't cover the others, who lived a lot longer, but lost their ability to remember or died of heart disease or some other age related malady. And those were just the stories I knew among the countless headstones under all those oak trees.

I made my way back to the car and was careful to notice a few of the headstones, along the way. With a little arithmetic, I could see that some were given many, many years to enjoy life and died in their 80's or 90's. Others were taken so young like the 41 year old woman, who died about 25 years ago or the 18 year old who's been gone for several years or the grave of the toddler marked by a statue of a child playing.

For every stone in that place, there was a life and a family and a story and a soul. A lot of suffering. Physical pain. Shock. Grief. Chemotherapy. An accident. Surgery. A phone call. For every name etched in marble, there was a family who felt a void. Parents who lost a child. A wife who went home to an empty house. A child who'd grow up without a mother. In this life, there are just a lot of troublesome situations in which we can find ourselves. Frailty, sickness, aging, weakness. All have their way with us, eventually. Some stories are just more tragic and heart wrenching than others.

With all of the bright Easter bouquets around me, I thought about Jesus. How He voluntarily came here to this place to live among us and experience all the pain and limitations of our existence. He left perfection to take on about 33 years of knowing what it was like to feel tired, lonely, cold, hungry, rejected, disappointed, aggravated, betrayed, sorrowful, distressed, and a million other emotions, stings, and hindrances that we endure in this earthly life.

He did that, so that He could relate to us when we feel those same tentacles grip us. All of those people in that cemetery had experienced life, at its best and its worst, and had finished the course laid out for them and He could relate to each and every one of the emotions they ever felt and could minister to all the physical burdens they pulled along behind them, each day. But, He also came so that, when life comes to its inevitable end, as it had for them and will for us, that there would still be hope left. That there would be more. That there would be life on the other side of that physical end. He came to experience our sin-scarred life, so that we could experience the perfect life that He left to dwell among us.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16

Not only did He endure the trials and constraints that we face in our daily existence, but He took it a colossal step further. He was flogged and beaten and mocked and crucified. I'd dare say that none of us has endured that level of human suffering. He did all of that so that He could offer something better for those who'd believe He's the only way to salvation. Something perfect and beautiful and glorious and eternal.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16   

I don't know how you'll celebrate Easter. We've got family gatherings and church decorating and another cemetery visit and church services and big meals. You may have egg hunts, consume a lot of ham and deviled eggs, and don a new dress for church. No matter what you do, just remember to thank Him for His sacrifice. He came to live here and experience the very worst we could offer in order to give us a path to experience the very best that He could offer.

And that's what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown.
Hope it's a blessed and worshipful Easter for you and your family.


  







Sunday, March 25, 2018

Or Die Trying

Well, prom is in a couple of weeks and Carson's date had recently said yes to a dress, so it was time for us to go tackle the comparatively light task of outfitting Carson for the big night. I decided that Saturday would be the day we'd conquer that. I knew it wouldn't be his first choice of things he'd want to do on a Saturday morning, but I promised food at the end of our excursion, because everyone knows taking a teenage boy out for lunch will make just about any task tolerable. Even having one's inseam measured.

So, with a small swatch of the dress color in my hand, we got out of the car across the street from the formal wear shop. Did I mention it was a blustery day? Well, it was. Awfully blustery. The wind was really whipping and, as we walked across the busy street, it caught hold of the tiny piece of material and away it went. Oh, my word. It was all that we had to work with and there it was blowing around the busy downtown street like a tumbleweed.

Well, I'd already been bragging publicly about the ease of being the boy mother and here I was messing up at my cushy job. So, putting all fears for my own personal safety aside, I decided to run after the fabric sample.....wherever the wind would take us. First, it went this way and then that way and I zig-zagged to try and keep up with it. I knew if I lost sight of it, even for a second, it was all over. Soon, I found myself in a real life game of chicken as I raced toward an oncoming car. I knew I must have looked like a fool, but I decided to bet all my chips on the driver braking for the lunatic running toward her in the middle of the road. The bad thing is that the sample was so small that the drivers couldn't see what I was chasing. They just saw a nutcase looking down at the ground, while weaving through traffic.

About that time, I heard Carson yelling behind me, "Mom, don't get killed running after it." I thought, "What a sensible child, he is and, under normal circumstances, he'd be so right, but I cannot fail at this. This is such an easy, easy job description, with which I've been charged."  I could almost hear my friend, Laurie, aka his date's mother, taunting, "You had one job."

As luck would have it or, more likely, by the merciful hand of God, the wind took a slight southern shift and blew the swatch up under a parked car, so I stepped out of the road, so that normal traffic could resume. I mean, parked cars are much less likely to hurt you, so that was a good development. I had it cornered between the front tires of a Mustang and just waited until the wind blew it right at my feet, at which point, I stomped on it with all my might to snag it once and for all.

A bit grimy and a little damp from what I hoped was rain water, we proceeded into the store with the tattered color swatch in hand. Of course, the store front was all glass and a couple of young, millennial associates had been standing behind the front desk enjoying the death defying show I'd been performing in the middle of the street. I knew this by the sizable grins they were wearing as we walked through the door, but I couldn't be bothered with them and just grinned back as if to say, "I believe you have a little dab of Tide pod on your lip."

So, as Carson got measured and made his color selections using the runaway, ragged swatch, I looked around the shop. Everywhere I looked, there were girls in flashy gowns standing on elevated platforms, looking into three way mirrors with their mothers looking on and holding all the purses. I've held some purses in my time, so I knew there was no telling how long they'd been there or how many dresses they'd tried on or how many other stores they'd shopped. Granted, it may have cost me a jog into approaching traffic, but I knew I'd be getting out of there a lot sooner and a heck of a lot cheaper than every single one of them.

We were all done there and I suggested we go by the florist, order the corsage, and then we'd have all of his boxes checked as far as prom was concerned. We were just a couple of blocks away and so we were there in no time. We went in and, after telling the lady what we needed, she directed us to the corsage bar. Oooo, fancy. I'm not sure if you're familiar, but it's an area they set up around prom time, which consists of all manner of ribbons, jewels, feathers, and other adornments available in a rainbow of colors in order to customize your date's corsage.

So, Carson and I sidled up to the bar and I could tell he was kind of zoning out, at this point. I mean, it's one thing to pick out a tie and pocket square, but choosing between organza and satin ribbon and deciding if feathers or rhinestones would be a prettier accent in a wrist corsage, well, that's a little more than a young man can handle on a Saturday morning....or any morning, really. Especially, when lunch is just on the other side of the decision. So, together, we got everything selected, checked our last box, and headed back to the car.

I looked at the clock as I drove him to his edible reward and it was 11:48. We'd started our list of 2 tasks at around 11:10....I mean, if you want to count the time we spent running down the middle of the street. Either way, it took 38 minutes.....tops.....to complete the traditional male prom responsibilities.

Someone pinch me.

So.....I'm just thankful to be here and wish you a blessed Easter week.


We'll talk again soon.
 

    

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Our Old Friend

Forgive me for the gloominess that's ahead. You know when I'm having trouble with something, it helps me to sort it out by writing about it, so here goes.

Davis and I just got home from walking our old dog, Sugar. She'll be 13, in a couple of weeks, and our walks just aren't what they used to be. For as long as we've had her until just recently, our dog walking regimen has been the one mile round trip of our cul-de-sac; stopping at every mailbox and light pole to sniff around and leave our calling card. But, lately, heart failure has our nightly walks cut down to about 1/4 mile and half of that is spent carrying her. When she stops and looks up at us, we know that's our cue that she needs a little help, even though we can tell she wants, with all her heart, to keep going like we used to do.
 
One of the times Davis bent down and picked her up, tonight, he kind of made a soft grunt as he stroked her head. I knew exactly what the sound meant. Even before he said anything else. It meant that she's been here, scurrying around the feet of our lives, for so long that it hurts really bad to see age slowly taking her from us. She's in the background of our kids' pictures when they were little; looking up as they'd blow out birthday candles or on the floor in the middle of father/son wrestling matches or sitting in heaps of wrapping paper on all those Christmas mornings. She's cuddled up with us when we've been sick. Been our nap partner. Our biggest fan. Our security system. Our welcome wagon. Our loyal companion. Our constant shadow. But, little by little, without us really noticing, as our kids were growing up, she was growing old.

I suppose when you get a pet, you're signing on for inevitable heartbreak. When something you love ages seven times faster than you do, well, there's going to be a goodbye that comes way before you're ready for it. Odds are that you'll be forced to grieve the loss of your devoted friend and be left to decide if the love is worth ever doing that kind of pain again. As our family is getting closer to that point, it's breaking our hearts, really.

I know I've told you about Sugar. She's half dachshund and half chihuahua. She didn't cost us a dime. No papers. No pedigree. No show ribbons. Just 13 years of pure mutt love.

It's funny how pets fit into the family. Davis is the one who feeds her, so she sees him as her provider and caregiver. She looks to Blair kind of like a sister or her contemporary. And, we can't figure it out, but Carson has always been like her child. She licks and tends to him and scolds him like he's her puppy.

I'm security and emotional support. Especially now. I look over from my chair, where her bed sits, and she's curled up sleeping. She's doing more and more of that. If I'm not in my chair, she won't settle in for the night. She's like a little child, who wants you to lie with her until she falls asleep, except her face and paws are white with old age. I'm the one she looks for when the house is full of guests. The one she runs to when thunder roars. The side of the bed she comes to when she's scared in the night. The one she waits for by the door when I'm out of town. It's a lot of pressure being that person, but it's my distinct honor. As long as she needs me to be.
I know that there are so many people, who are hurting and it may seem trivial to pray about animals, but I think God is ok with that. He's big enough to care for all of His creation. So, when the vet told us she was going down, I asked God, in all of His busyness and concern for His people, that He'd just be merciful to our little dog and, when life becomes more of a burden for her than a gift, that we'd know it. I asked, if at all possible, that He'd just let her go peacefully in her little bed......next to my chair....where she feels safe. And that, when the day comes, whether it's soon or a ways off, that He'd help us to let go of our faithful friend, knowing we've done all we could to show her what it feels like to love and to be loved back.

Night, night, y'all.








Monday, March 12, 2018

Expectations

I thought we'd talk about expectations, today, with a few random stories from past and present.  

I remember the day that Davis, little Blair, and I went to the hospital for my gender reveal ultrasound. Eighteen years ago, the ultrasound was your gender reveal party. They told you what the baby was and then you went home and called everybody and they'd tell you how excited they were and that was that. It was a simpler time and I'm glad I lived in it.

Anyway, the technician informed us that our bundle was definitely a boy and Blair immediately crossed her arms as her eyes filled with tears. She had these great expectations of having a little sister to share all things girly with and the news was a big blow to those dreams. Davis and I were thrilled, though, because his family name had met a dead end with only one more chance expected for it to continue and this was it. 

Also, from the moment they told us that our second child would be a boy, I expected it would be a much less complicated road to travel than the girl route, but I don't think I fully appreciated what a step down in the level of difficulty it really was until Carson's senior portrait session, last week.

First, let me clarify.....Blair was a dream. She was so easy to parent and never gave us one minute of trouble, but girls, in general, just require more. More of everything, really.

Anyway, I went with Carson to the studio of our sweet friends, the Whiddons, and I'm telling y'all....this son thing is a dream. He wore a pair of jeans and we took three shirts. And, really, that was one too many. There were no humidity issues or accessory problems or shoe changes or bobby pin shortages. Nope. He'd just go take one shirt off and put on another one. No one was bloated or cried about their hair or lost an earring or needed a strapless bra. Just pure simplicity. Even more simplicity than I could've ever expected, all those years ago.

I have to share a couple because I'm a Mama and that's what we do...... 
I got a text from Blair, last week, that read "Note to self...always ask about prices before making appointment at new salon". She and John Samuel are living in a new town and, well, you know how it is when you move somewhere new- you have to find a new church, dentist, doctor, salon, etc.  Well, it was time for a haircut and she did her research, got some referrals, and made an appointment. When her chair was twirled around to face the mirror, she was feeling so good about her new cut at her newfound salon......that is, until they told her the bill was $205.

Needless to say, as the daughter of "Dave-is" Ramsey, she wasn't expecting that. Who would have? I mean, there is a range in which haircut prices are expected to fall and that was way outside those perimeters. The said father would have lost consciousness, collapsed, and busted his chin on the counter on the way down to their marble floor, but Blair paid the bill and left looking so good, but feeling shell-shocked. Times like this make me thankful that our expectation, that she'd graduate from college and get a job, was met.  

Anyway, she said when they put her in a big, comfy, reclining chair and covered her with blankets and placed a warm compress over her eyes with a drop of lavender under her nose, just to wash her hair, well, she started to have suspicions that she might be in the wrong place for someone in her tax bracket. It just wasn't what she expected when she called and made an appointment for a simple haircut. (I wish I had a picture to share here, as well, so you could all see what a haircut of that magnitude looks like.)

I remember when I did floral work for weddings. One evening, we were putting the finishing touches on a reception, while the caterers worked around us and the band set up their equipment. There was a large woman, who seemed to be hanging around the area where the band was. She was in a wheelchair and wore an oxygen mask, so I was sure she was just a friend, not expecting that she was part of the group as she appeared so weak and unhealthy.

We worked, as it was getting down to the wire, and I was so excited when the instruments started warming up. One of my favorite parts of doing wedding work was the music. Whether it was a pipe organ and piano practicing at a church or a band warming up at a reception hall, I do love some music and always enjoyed having my own private concert to work by.

Anyway, the band started playing the intro to "Moon River" and the lady in the wheelchair did something that was not expected. She took off her oxygen mask and picked up a microphone. When I tell you that I've never heard a more beautiful, robust, and smooth voice sing, I am telling you the honest truth. Such a magnificent and glorious sound coming from such an unexpected source. I had to stop what I was doing, pick my jaw up off the floor, and fully appreciate the talent I was witnessing.

My Grandmother was 43 when she came to help my mother with her firstborn son. Mama was 21 or 22 when she had my brother and Grandmother traveled in a snowstorm to get to her on his December birthday. Little did my Mama know that, 8 months later, she'd be traveling to help her mother when she'd give birth to her little brother, the following August. With Grandmother well into her 40's and my Grandaddy being 50, and with them having a grandchild, they certainly didn't expect to have any more children. And my mother didn't expect that her first child would become a playmate to her own little brother. I'm sure Grandaddy strutted around at work like a Rhode Island red rooster, for a couple of months, but it wasn't what anyone was expecting to happen.

We've been to a restaurant that looked like a big dump situated about 3 yards from a railroad track with beach towels for curtains, because someone told us it served the best BBQ in the world......and they were right. Unexpected.

I always imagined that both of my parents would live to be a ripe, old age until my big, strong Daddy got sick with cancer and died before my children were even grown. Unexpected.

I've had initial doubts about people, who turned out to be a wonderful friends or just lovely individuals. Unexpected.

I've spent holiday seasons building up my mind's vision of Hallmark Christmas channel scenes, which were never quite realized. Unexpected. 

I have a blog and it's customary that, when you have a blog, you post on a regular basis. Sometimes, blogs sit quiet for a couple of weeks waiting for a blog post, which never comes. Unexpected.

Expectations. We all have them. Expectations about people and life. The way we expect people to act or the way life should be. They're deeply engrained in us. Some are formed from our life experiences and others are spiritual, personal, or societal. Whatever their origin, we gauge our lives by them. They're either unmet, achieved, or exceeded.

God never promised us baby sisters, old parents, or perfect Christmases. He never promised that we'd be able to meet the heavy expectations placed on us or that we wouldn't be disappointed, sometimes, when others failed to meet ours. He did know that there'd be gifts He'd send that would be more than we could ever dream of and there would be blessings that would take us by complete surprise. Life happens on both sides of expectation. The good side and the bad.

What He did promise is that, in those times, when life is showing out and giving us bigger helpings than we could've ever expected to receive, that He's there. And that when things are falling far too short and leaving us unfulfilled and disappointed, well, He'd be there, too, bringing joy and hope to the most unlikely places. He can bring the unexpected out of both and help us to live above and beyond the constraint of our expectations. 

"Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us."  Ephesians 3:20

That means in both joy and disillusionment, He can accomplish more than we could ever imagine or dare to dream.....on whatever side of expectation we find ourselves. He can take us to places that our expectations didn't even know existed.

If we trust Him, we should expect no less.


Happy Day to y'all.