It Takes a Village

I have never really put a lot of thought into the statement “it takes a village to raise a child” and that may be because I heard Hillary Clinton say it once and I some how associate that phrase with her.  But in the Christian community, in the church family, it does take the village to raise our children to be people who understand what God did for them, then to teach them what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and to live a life that honors God.  That church family of precious believers are the family that pours truth into their lives.  The family that cheers them on, encourages them and often comes to their rescue.

This weekend I saw this village of believers came to rescue the wedding day of my youngest daughter.  My girl had been dreaming of this day at this perfect outdoor venue for well over a year.  Our area of Alabama is known for unpredictable weather.  It is said, if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.  Saturday morning, just as forecasted, was rainy.  Not torrential, downpour rain. But steady rain.  I stood inside the house of the Historic Malbis Nursery watching the puddles form outside, trying to devise a Plan B.  I could not fathom how we would get over 150 guests, the food and the ceremony inside the building.  We decided to wait it out and be flexible with some of the decorations.  Thankfully I had brought a stack of towels “just in case”.  We delayed putting linens and centerpieces on tables.   And we prayed.  Yes.  We asked God to make the rain stop for a wedding.  It seemed shameless and selfish to ask such a thing when people in other parts of the world were praying for food!  But we prayed.  We asked our friends to pray.  We asked social media to pray.  My husband and I went back to the hotel to get ready while our baby girl was in the bridal suite getting hair and make-up done.  We got a phone call right before we were leaving to return to the venue.  We were needed for a “first look” picture asap.  As we rode back to the venue we noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to shine.  We just smiled.  God in his sovereignty had chosen to answer our prayer.  As soon as we arrived we were wisked away to see our baby girl for the first time.  We were in awe at the young woman standing before us.  No longer a little girl.  No longer our baby.  But a beautiful young woman ready to marry the love of her life.

When we stepped inside the venue there was a beehive of activity.  Friends were everywhere blowing rain off the outside brick flooring, drying chairs, wiping down tables.  Linens were being put on tables and centerpieces arranged.  The caterer was busy organizing the banquet of food.  The one desire of my girl was to have chiffon draped at the ceremony site with a beautiful wooden cross draped in eucalyptus.  With the rain it didn’t seem an option because of the continued light dripping of rain off the greenery that covered the venue.  One of our friends told me to send him the picture of what she wanted and he would make it happen.  Within a short time I looked out and two wonderful men had intricately draped the chiffon exactly like the picture I had sent them.  I grabbed my daughter as she was headed back to the bridal suite and showed her the ceremony area.  Big tears welled up in her eyes as she smiled.  She was so happy.

The events of the day progressed.  People kept coming.  Chairs were pulled from the reception area to accommodate the number of guests.  First the pastor, groom and groomsmen.  Then the bridesmaid along with my grandson wearing a sign “Uncle Zach, here comes your bride?”

Then the moment came, my sweet big guy escorting his last daughter down the aisle.  My memory raced back to a year ago as he escorted our second daughter down the aisle for her November wedding.  He had only been out of the hospital for a week from his last week long chemo treatment.  He was weak, bloated and hairless from five months of treatment, but he was there, walking her proudly down the aisle.  Here we were a year later and he looked amazing.  New suit, bowtie, goatee and a huge smile.  He proudly held her arm in his.

The ceremony began and then finished with our girl and her young man washing each other’s feet as their first act of love toward each other as they served each other just as our Savior did for His disciples in the last days before His return to heaven.  It was sweet, it was moving, it was precious.

The reception followed with lots of dancing, hugs and laughter.  They were surrounded by people who have poured into their lives.  People who love them and have watched them in their walk with Jesus.  People who willingly came and made this day perfect for them.

They departed in a flurry of confetti, bubbles and silly string. All appropriate for these to kids who fell in love in their church youth group, then dated for two more years before becoming engaged.  Then they went to their hotel, quickly changed clothes and went off to bowl with a group of friends until almost midnight.  I have to laugh at this last part.  It just speaks volumes about the relationship and personalities of these two kids.  Because in reality they are still kids at heart.  Two twenty year olds stepping into adulthood, filled with love and excitement for what the future has for them.  They have a wonderful support group around them.  A village.  A church family.  They love Jesus and desire to live for Him.  So here’s to a new life for Molly and Zach Johnson.  I have a feeling God has big plans for these two!

As a postscript….I received a text from my baby girl later that night, while they were hanging with friends and bowling.  It said “thank you for making my dream come true today, it was perfect.”

 

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Happy Fall Y’all

I live in the south.  No, wayyyy down south. Where the real, real southerners live.  We’re the last city you see before you hit the warm gulf waters.  Mobile is a beautiful city filled with true southern hospitality and charm.  We boast yummy foods that most northerners do not understand.  We love tradition.  We love the coastal life and we love each other.  However, we do not completely understand a life filled with distinct seasonal changes.  Our landscape doesn’t change that much from one season to another, with the exception of spring when our cozy little spot at the most southern part of Alabama explodes with color….and allergies!  As we stroll through our spring enjoying azaleas of every color, every imaginable shade of green in our foliage and relishing in the salt air floating in from the gulf, we find ourselves loving the world.  It’s hypnotizing!  A few days later, summer stomps in announcing a season of sunbathing, island living, hammock swinging, barbecue loving, horseshoe playing, baseball throwing, outdoor concert dancing, boat riding and every other warm weather, summer loving, activity you can think of.  Did I mention we have very long summers?  We are located on a bay, connected to an island by a small bridge, an hour drive to a sandy white beach and a quick thirty minutes to a small artsy town.  Again, our summers are long.  So long we find ourselves every year saying “Summer was never this hot and long when I was growing up!”  Every year. We long for fall weather, pumpkins, sweaters and spiced lattes and yet, they are very slow in coming.  We do our best to bring on cooler weather with our fancy fall door hangers and decorations.  We sit in our air conditioned cars, warm lattes in hand, wishing for that pre-thanksgiving crisp air.  We fear we will jump from summer straight into winter, completely skipping the cozy fall weather.   We’ve even been known to have a late season hurricane, as if nature is making a last ditch effort to show us her skills. Thanksgiving is a toss up as to whether it will be cool or warm, we never know.  We just hope.  Today it is cold outside and rainy.  Our hopes rise.  Sweaters are jerked out of the bottom drawers and the lines at Starbucks are long.  It’s fall y’all….at least for a few days!  Winter will be upon us before we know it…..at least for 15 minutes!  Then we will head back into spring and then summer.  It’s been said about Mobile that if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.   It is so true.  I believe this has produced a culture that adapts quickly to any weather change.  Well, except for that occasionally snow flurry that happens about every five to ten years and causes school and work shut downs because we have no clue how to drive on ice and snow.  No worries, though, it will be gone tomorrow!!!  But today it is fall.  Like legit fall.  Like in the mountains of Tennessee fall, except we still have green leaves on the trees.  Enjoy it while you can, because we Mobilians know Thanksgiving is coming and we’ll probably be wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops while eating smoked turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé, dumplins, carrot cake, pecan pie and sweet tea!  Happy Fall Y’all!

2:48 AM

2:48 AM.  The last time I looked at the clock this morning. Here I sit.  Awake. Miserable.  All because of a large unsweet tea from Foosacklys.  That’s right.  I’ve been robbed of blissful slumber because I can’t handle my caffeine.  I admit it.  What was I thinking?  That’s the problem, I wasn’t.  I just rode through that drive-thru with my daughter, chatting away, ordering dinner, and as bold as a twenty-something, I ordered a LARGE unsweet tea with my meal. I’m 58 years old and I know that I cannot consume anything caffeinated after 5:00pm!  I admire those people that can guzzle coffee or tea, or even devour chocolate at any given time of the day and not suffer from sleep deprivation!    The sad part of this saga, is I have lay in my bed for the last 4 hours straining to go to sleep, my eyes feeling like sandpaper, but my mind running in five different directions all at once!  I have redecorated soon to be vacated bedrooms, organized things to do for a ministry kick-off, planned rehearsals and costumes for student choir, sent out texts to people (and that should be interesting when they get up and read the time I sent them), reviewed details for a meeting I need to have on Thursday, planned out how to help two of my daughters get settled in their new houses over the next two weeks, hold on, I’m not done yet, made notes of editing I need to do on my childrens book, chided myself for not being more disciplined about dieting, planned Christmas gifts for family members, planned dinner for tomorrow, I mean today,  made a list on my phone of anything and everything I need to do in the coming days with neat little check off circles so I can feel good about myself when I check them off, and considered what kind of things we want to do on the Alaskan cruise we’re planning for next year.  I’m just going stop right here.  There are probably twenty more items I could add to that list.  Now you see why I just surrendered and got up, I mean I had already started writing this blog entry in my head, so why not just get up and go ahead and put it in black and white!  Why not, I’m awake, right?  Did I mention in that crazy, chaotic thinking, I was counting forward twenty years to 78 and wondering if I’d be still kicking!  I mean, who knew I’d get to 58 so fast, and still feel 38 in my head?  The last 20 years have flown by so fast, I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow, if I ever go to sleep, and be 78!  I won’t be drinking any tea after 5:00pm, you can bet on that!

So, as I get ready to post this and try to leave you with something spiritual to chew on, check out this verse I found during my sleeplessness:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Psalm 4:8

I think that’s a sweet promise.  A promise that if we will quit trying to plan, make lists, re-think our lives or even plan out the next twenty years, we can know a peace that passes all understanding, we CAN lie down and sleep, for in His arms we are safe, knowing He is our Lord, our Father, our Savior, our Provider, our Redeemer, our Healer, our Everything!  I think I’ll sign off now, and go lie down and sleep.  He is such a sweet and loving Father to give me this verse in my delirious, caffeine induced insomnia.  He is bigger than my sleeplessness!!!  Goodnight!

It Matters. (Found this in some old files of things I had written a few years ago)

I stayed home from work today.  I felt somewhat achy, was it headache?  Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home.  The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face.  I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.

After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet.  I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house.  “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy.  “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say.  They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest!  “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.

I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking.  I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years.  It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned.  That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads.  Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition.  I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved.  He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me.  I have three amazing daughters.  The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school.  They are strong in their faith and they are living it out.  Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends.  I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School  for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago.  Frightening!

We have experienced hardships just like everyone else.  God has blessed us time and time again.  He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met.  We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy.  All this matters.

Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time.  Our daughters were getting older and more expensive.  My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company.  Financially it seemed the right thing to do.  Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances.  The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling.    Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.

This full time employment had never been part of the plan.  I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels.  The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats.  This kind of work mattered.

I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters.  I got to work cleaning up the house.  I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom.  I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day.  The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done.  The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.

At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school.  We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind.  Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.”  Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.

I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment.  It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college.  This is what matters.  It matters that I am there for her when she comes home.  It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend.  Being there for her is what matters.  Preparing my home is what matters.  Serving others is what matters.  Seeking God above all else is what matters.  This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media.  It is subtle.  It is constant.  But it ways in heavy on what really matters.  We become confused about what is important.  We strive to have it all and do it all.  We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids.  We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.

I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything.  It’s too exhausting.  I will never live up to my expectations.  The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy.  I am not a great cook!  There I said it.  I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly.  I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef.  I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories.  I will probably never be a published writer.  As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.

Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter.  Nurturing is what matters.  Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters.  Cheering each other on matters.  Calling a friend matters.  Writing a note matters.  Listening matters.  Spending time with our sweet Savior matters.  Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.

Our family is FAR from perfect.  We are loud.  We laugh inappropriately sometimes.  We may be a little judgmental at times.  No one is brilliant.  No one is incredibly talented.  Not one of us will be famous.  We are not rich.  But what matters is we love each other.  We talk about everything.  Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything!  We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips.  We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades.  We go to church together.   I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours!  We are freakishly close.”  If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that  we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight.  We hug and make-up.  Then yes we are freakishly close.

There is one thing that matters.  Love.

Rock and Roll, Baby!

Last night something was confirmed about me that may surprise many of you. I am not a rocker. I know you are shocked and surprised. I’m not even a poser. (I had to look that term up, fyi) It was evident by my lack of knowledge about the music or words to the signature songs of the band. I spent more time entertained by the people in attendance than the actual concert. My husband and I were given tickets by sweet friends to a concert by The Black Jacket Symphony: A Night at the Opera and The Best of Queen. My big guy was very excited about hearing favorite songs of his younger years. I confess that I wondered what kind of opera the symphony would play. I honestly expected an orchestra. I was wrong! I am not completely in the dark, I do know who Queen is, but I didn’t realize it would be a real deal rock and roll night! You may not believe this, but I’ve never been to a rock concert. It’s true! I know I’ve surprised you again.

Parking was the first step to getting to our night of rocking and rolling….obviously not an easy task in downtown Mobile when a rock concert is about to happen! We finally parked in a church parking lot with a sign that said “Private Parking for…(and I’ll leave the church name out here just in case someone wants to report two rebellious fifty somethings!): Violators will be ticketed or towed at owners expense. I was a little anxious as we got out of the car and proudly walked toward the theatre, impressed by our night of living on the wild side. I secretly asked God to forgive us and please allow the car to still be there when the night was over!

As we entered the door of the Saenger I was asked to open my purse for security. I looked at my big guy and asked, “Are these people famous?” The security guy asked him if he had any weapons. He confessed to a pocket knife and suddenly the guys hands went up and said “You can’t enter with a weapon, sir.” I looked around at the other security people standing ready to pounce, beginning to wonder if the real Queen was in the house. My sweet husband informed me later that the lead singer died in 1985. He handed over his knife, it was obvious to me that it was worth the sacrifice to hear the band! We then walked to another security checkpoint and were scanned with a wand for any other concealed weapons. This didn’t make me feel comfortable about the obvious possibilities of events that could happen if there was this much concern for what people would carry into the concert hall! We finally got to our seats and waited. We were in the balcony, third row, dead center. Perfect view of the stage. I noted the massive speakers hanging from the ceiling, both sides angled right at us. This wasn’t going to be good. There was an atmosphere of excitement all around me. As I watched people, which I love to do, I realized the average age in the room was somewhere in the mid fifties. But the energy was more like a crowd of twenty somethings! I noted the lights, the instruments and party like atmosphere. Suddenly the lights went down and the band ran out. The crowd went crazy. The lead singer belted out lyrics and people were screaming. I looked hard at the singer trying to recognize him. I did not. But then a familiar tune came, Bohemian Rhapsody. I looked at my big guy and said “I know this!”, but my words were lost somewhere in the midst of the screaming crowd and the blasting music. He leaned down and I got as close to his ear as possible and I repeated my words. He smiled and nodded. I still don’t think heard me….but I saw the smile on his face as he took in the loud music and I knew he was having a good time. I found myself watching people more than the concert as they got lost in the music, reliving the moments of the 70’s and 80’s when they first heard the songs. People were standing and dancing, hands in the air and singing at the top of their lungs. These people knew every word. Then I heard a familiar beat….the crowd began to stomp, stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap. I looked at my man with shock, it was my high school senior class song! I found myself following along and singing “We will, we will, rock you”. I was no longer a fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. I was a rocker! They sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust. I suddenly felt cool because I knew these songs. I didn’t know all the words, but I knew the songs. At the end of the night, my ears were numb and I honestly was glad to be headed home. I observed something as I left. It was 10:15pm and the crowd that had just been jamming out for two hours were leaving in an orderly manner, laughing and chatting as we exited the nearly 100 year old Saenger Theatre. Forty years ago, these same people would have been jumping up and down demanding an encore still full of youthful energy, demanding to be blown away by the rock band, Queen. We made it back to the church parking lot (along with many other concert attendees) and our car was still there and no ticket on the windshield. Prayer works! We drove home and I listened to my sweet man talk about the band and how good they were and how fun it was to hear some of his favorite songs. I listened and thought how thankful I was for the gift of tickets for us to enjoy a non -typical night out for this “square” chick, and to sit next to my man who has had such a difficult year. All I can say is…..rock on!

V Day

Tomorrow I wake up to the 30th Valentine’s Day with the man God gave me. But this year it is different. This year I will be mushy. I will kiss him every chance I get. I will tell him I love him every hour of the day. I will give him his favorite peanut M & M’s and maybe go have a spur of the moment lunch somewhere. Things could be so different. This past year made the fragility of life so real to me. It gave me a reality check that we are getting older and we need to cherish every day, even the ones when he is driving me crazy and pushing my buttons. Because the truth is I love this man. I know the lengths God went to to orchestrate the events and people to have our paths cross. Even the back story to us meeting is an amazing logistical undertaking. His plan for us to meet was two years in the making! We knew from the beginning that what we had was special and we wasted no time in starting our life together. I love this man because he sees me. Not the fat girl I see in the mirror every morning. Not the failure I think I am. He thinks I am beautiful and smart, and he tells me often. He values my opinion on everything. He calls me friend. He is not perfect, but neither am I. He has held my hand through giving birth and through miscarriages. He has put up with my strong opinions. He has encouraged me in my writing. He has held me close and let me cry when my Mom died. He has told me many times that everything would be okay, when I was shaken over circumstances. He has worked hard to take care of me and his baby girls. He has taken care of me when I have been sick and when I have had surgery, and been so sweet when pain meds made me whiny and weepy. He has made me laugh so many times when I wanted to be mad at him. He has held me close when I needed the security of his arms around me. He held me up and gave me strength to walk through difficult family situations and then the death of my Daddy. This man loves God and has learned to trust His hand this past year. He is the spiritual leader of our family. I love him and I am so proud of the man he has become in the last thirty years. I could not have survived without him walking by my side. My daughters are so blessed to have grown up with a Daddy who was at every event, said yes a thousand times, helped pick out prom dresses and even knows what pantaloons are and all the other parts of a Trail dress. He can brush hair into a ponytail and can cook up some amazing potato gravy and biscuits when his baby girls come asking. He has taken them on motorcycle rides and played with them in the surf at the beach. He has laughed as hard as they have on every ride at Disney. He has given them an amazing example of what a father is supposed to be like. They are strong, opinionated young women who can hold their own with any boy because of him. I love this man and tomorrow I will kiss him and tell him that I am blessed because God gave him to me.

Thankful

Today.  Today was the last day of the last treatment for my big guy.  Woohoo!  He’s been a trooper through it all.  He has endured eight weeks of five day stays in Springhill.  He has had 114 bags of chemo pumped into his body.  He has had optimistic days and grumpy days. I would probably have had a lot more grumpy days.  We can honestly and wholeheartedly celebrate Thanksgiving next week!  We are so excited.  We are headed to the mountains.  We planned this trip a year ago.  Lynn has always wanted to go to Gatlinburg for Thanksgiving.  We had no idea what the next year would hold when we gave the kids a year notice to plan for this Thanksgiving.  God is so good!  He knew.  He knew every storm we would walk through.  He knew we would desperately need time away as a family to breathe and be normal.   So we are off to a cabin in the woods.  We will sit around a long table eating turkey.  We will laugh and yes, we will probably cry.  But mostly we will enjoy time together away from the normal we’ve been living in for the last year.  We’ve had good days and bad days.  And He has been faithful.  We have been afraid and confident.  And He has been faithful.  We have been optimistic and unsure.  And…He has been faithful.  Because that is who He is.  He is faithful when we are faithless.

Deep breath.  I am thankful for every storm this year.  Every painful moment, every emotional roller coaster, every shaky moment has moved us to walk a little closer to Him, to hang on tighter to His hand, to acknowledge Him in our lives and to trust Him.  He allowed us to experience the love of His people through texts, visits, emails, meals and hugs.  He took away a job that allowed me to walk every step of the way with my big guy.  He allowed a precious moment with my Daddy hours before he went to be with Jesus.  He had his hand on my new grandson born 5 ½ weeks early without complication for him or my precious daughter. And I watched my big guy walk his beautiful middle daughter down the isle for her wedding. There are a few other storms that I won’t mention here, but in each one God was there, holding me up, brushing the hair out of my eyes and the tears from my cheeks.  I have missed more church then I ever have and I have had to step back in a few ministries, but I feel I am walking closer with Him then I have in a long time, because the walk isn’t based on any “works” or “faithfulness” on my part.  I am not sure if this will make sense to you as the reader, but I know what it means.  It means that inner part of me that sometimes gets a little wrapped up in doing, that pride part of me that rears its ugly head concerning being faithful was taken down a notch or two in the  midst of this stormy year.  I cried out and He heard me.  I cried out and He wrapped His powerful arms around me.  I cried out and He loved me right where I am.  Not because of anything I did or because I deserve it, but because He loves me.

God is amazing people.  We have absolutely no idea what the future holds.  And that’s okay.  Because we know He will be walking with us through it.  I trust Him.