Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give thanks...

Three batches of cornbread made.  Need to mix in the ingredients for the dressing.
A batch of salted caramel and chocolate pretzel bark ready for breaking.
Batch of pecan pie cookies to bake today.
Bathrooms need to be cleaned, entire house straightened, floors vacuumed and or swept, kitchen mopped.
Need to map my cooking game plan for tomorrow since we are eating a few hours earlier.
Pictures for the holiday card to be taken today.

Got just a little to do.

In the midst of this busyness, there's a quiet whisper in my soul reminding me to soak it in.  Reminding me that in a blink of an eye, things can all change leaving my normal life looking totally different.  I glance back in my mind to last year, last Thanksgiving, and I miss what was normal then.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  {1 Thessalonians 5:16-18}

Give an extra hug tomorrow.  Maybe a little longer hug than normal.
Take more pictures.
Let the dishes lie where they may until the guests are gone.
Soak it in, my friends.  Enjoy.  Laugh.  Love deeply.
And in it all, give thanks to the God of all Creation, our Strength, our Portion, our All.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ornament...

There's a part of me looking forward to pulling out the Christmas decor, rummaging through each box, looking at the pieces one by one and placing the spirit all over the house.  But then there's this other part of me that dreads it, knowing that most of what I have in some way reminds me of her.  Knowing that Christmas will never be the same.  It will be good in its own way, but never quite the same.

So many of my ornaments came from my mom.  She bought me Winnie the Pooh ornaments for years. I can't say how many I have.  She's bought me angels and crosses and whatnot.  In fact, I have purchased very few of my ornaments for myself.  But that has changed now, too.

I knew I wanted to buy one this year.  I needed to, you know.  Needed to keep a tradition alive for myself even though only the shell of the tradition itself remained.  I would purchase my own ornament without the ooh's and ahhh's of my mother at my side.  I would look for the perfect one which would make me feel like a little piece of her were hanging on my tree.  There are so many pieces of her to hang on the tree in the Pooh ornaments, the ones from my childhood, the many from Holiday shows we perused together.  It's hard to imagine no new pieces to join the others from Christmases past. So I will carry it on.  Carry it on without her presence, though she is ever present in my heart.

I found it hanging in the back of the little gift shop on a magnificent tree.  Mercury glass, eyes beaming into my soul with a magical stare.  A sweet little owl.  One she would have loved for her own tree.  It was perfect, and I knew it the moment I saw it even though I already had a different one in my hand to purchase.  I put back the one I previously decided on, and picked up my new friend.  A new friend for my tree.

New.  Everything seems so new and different.  As I tried to start my Christmas shopping yesterday, it felt like the first time I had ever done it.  I went here and there with what seemed to be no direction.  But I must find it, the direction, the new way.  I must and I will.  In due time.

Life goes on.  Lights are popping up all around town.  Some already have their trees up.  A local radio station has been playing Christmas music since November 1st.  And I dig deeper... deeper still to find the spirit within me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My first turkey...

In case you haven't seen a calendar lately, I will clue you in on a little something... Thanksgiving is next  week, folks.

Several years ago, when I was young and still relatively naive (or stupid, whichever term you prefer), I decided to take on Thanksgiving for my husband's family.  At the time, they didn't have much of a tradition, and the first time I went to eat at a buffet in a hotel restaurant, I knew that as soon as we had a place that would accomadate the number of people, I would host Thanksgiving.

My first time to host, I don't think my mother-in-law was certain I could handle all the cooking.  I had never done a turkey, after all, and never made a skillet of cornbread much less put together dressing.  So she offered to do the turkey and dressing and bring it, and I did the vegetables and rolls and tea.  All went well, but I felt like I had jipped myself out of an adult Southern woman experience.  So I declared that I would be doing the bulk of the following Thanksgiving, and that's just what I did.

I got a recipe for cornbread dressing from an old co-worker that seemed easy enough.  I will never forget reading over it and being so confused at first because it hadn't dawned on me that the recipe was for baking the cornbread and then the second part was what you did with the cornbread once you made it.  See there... young, naive, and stupid.  But I figured it out, and I tried the recipe on Scott for lunch one day before November rolled around, and it was surprisingly tasty.  In fact, no one could have been more surprised than I was in the moment that I tasted that cornbread dressing and realized it was actually good.

I purchased my turkey and thawed the big bird out in the kitchen sink according to package directions.  And then I did what any old Southern youngin' would do with a big raw turkey... I called my mom to come over and help me.  She reached her hand inside the gut of Mr. Turkey and pulled out all the stuff I was afraid to touch.  And then she retrieved the neck from the other side.  She showed me how to rinse it rub it down with oil while I curled my nose up at the notion of having to touch what once was covered with feathers and made funny noises.

But I did it.  And the next year, I had the complete turkey experience all by myself, putting my hands in the strange places and rinsing and preparing.  I can remember talking to my mother on the phone and her saying, "You did it?  You pulled out the giblet packet and the neck?"  Why, yes, I had, and I was darn proud of myself.

She was proud of me, too.

My first turkey.  I think about him every year when I am preparing for a new Thanksgiving.  This year, I am remembering how much she helped me through those first years and how proud she was when she saw I could do it all by myself.

Sure do miss that lady.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just because...

There's this whole side to Jesus I had been missing all along.

This is what I read this morning:
Soon afterward, Jesus went into a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out - the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  {Luke 7:11-15}

My jaw fell open as I read this passage.  I have read this account before, of that I am certain.  I've read every word of the New Testament before.  This little story is nestled between the faith of the Centurion and the woman with the alabaster jar, but I have no recollection of it, and none of it has been highlighted or underlined in either of my Bibles.  So this morning, I feel like I've unearthed something for the first time in this magnificent Word.

I imagine the scene.  I try to put myself on the dusty streets in the handmade clothing of that widow.  One son, now dead.  Who will take care of her?  How will she go on?  All that she had, lost, dead.  Not only her heart but her means of making it in the society around her.

She was stripped down to bare.  Nothing remained.  Grief so heavy one could see it as it weighed down upon that widow.  A grief too heavy for one to bear, the mass of it too much for her frame to handle.

I feel the grief, as Jesus did, too.  For he saw her... the Lord saw her, and his heart went out to her.    And then he said to her, "Don't cry."

Those two words in my Bible in bright red just protrude from the page.  "Don't cry," He says to me, an understanding, loving whisper I have never heard from Him before.

But He did not stop there.  No, He never stops where we think He should.  That's the lovely part about Jesus that makes no sense even to some Christians in our modern society who profess His name the loudest.  Jesus did something He had not even been asked to do, completely unsolicited, and seemingly out of sheer empathy.  He brought the dead man back to life.

Grace.

Precious friend, if you are reading these words today, it is no mistake.  Just as my discovery of this story for what seems to be the first time was no mistake as well.  Allow Jesus to touch your life, restore you, have His mighty way with you.  It's strange and familiar all at the same time.  Allow His Grace to wash over your soul and secure your place in Heaven for you, undeserved and unsolicited.  And don't listen to the voice of Satan anymore that tells you perhaps your misgivings and sins are bigger than the fellow next to you.  They're not.  There's enough clean water to go around.  Bathe in it... His love, His mercy, His amazing Grace.

And then, turn around, and share that love.  Share it, let it flow from you unending.

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."  {Luke 7:47}

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pansies...

I felt the need to plunge my hands in the soil, dark, moist and damp between my fingers.  Add a little color to the porch in way of bright mums and pansies.  A flash of life amidst the falling leaves, brittle and brown, covering the fading green of the lawn.

Life in a sea of death.

I have always loved fall, but this one feels different.  Everything feels different.  The luscious colors in the trees, deep mustards and brick reds, are heavy on my eyes and heart.  I look at each leaf, different shapes and sizes and colors, and I can't help but think, "When she died, these were new, just beginning."

Grief brings about a different perspective on the world and every little thing in it.

I was drawn to the pansies.  Can't say I have ever really planted them before, but this year, they called my name.  There's something so interesting about flowers that thrive in cooler temperatures.  It seems so far from what flowers should like... sunny, warm days would be my favorite if I were a flower.  But the pansies prefer a little lower sun than that of June, a little cooler temp than that of the summer.

I found a little planter already established with lovely periwinkle colored blooms on the clearance rack.  There were some dry areas, but I knew the planter alone was worth the $4 price tag.  I picked the dead pieces off and gave it a little water and found a place for it on my front porch.  This morning the pansies were cheerful, and it made me hopeful that they liked their new home.

In another planter, I mixed a variety of bold colors, plum, vivid yellow, deep crimson, and white with a dark center.  In a couple of weeks, they will all intermingle with one another and be a lovely mound of autumn color.

I am feeling so varied like that pot of pansies.  So many colors.  Mixture of emotions.  My mind seems to spiral in weird swirling motions, unable to focus on much of anything at all.  With the fall came the leaves and less sunlight and yet, still, more grief.  The grief never runs thin, I am finding out.

I look around me.  It all moves forward.  Another season beginning.  It reminds me of a passage in Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.  {Ecc 1:3}

There is a time for the leaves to fall and for them to spring forth from the trees again.
A time for flowers to bloom and to wither away.
Even a time to dance and a time to mourn.

But how long is the season of mourning?  No one knows.

If I seem off, it's because I am.  If I seem sad, it's because I am.  If I seem disinterested, detached, unfocused, it's because I am.  But I remain hopeful I will find a way to thrive.  If not today, if not tomorrow, somewhere right around the bend.

I will be like the pansy one day.  I will thrive with a little less light.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dear Mama,

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Do you keep up with stuff like that in heaven?  I don't know.  I wouldn't want to keep up with birthdays in heaven.  Or keep up with anything in particular for that matter.

So, tomorrow, I will be thirty-six.  Somehow, I never dreamed I'd be turning thirty-anything without you in the world.  Or forty or fifty-anything either.  It's so weird.  Weird to still have so much to share with you and yet you're gone.

Today, if you were still alive, we would have convinced dad to keep the kids while we drove to Wetumkpa to Southern Homes and Gardens for their annual Christmas Open House.  We started going back when I was Madalyn's age.  I remember walking around in amazement at the coordinated trees and decorations.  We never had anything that fancy in our house.  Our stuff was hodgepodge and handmade, but beautiful nonetheless.  At Southern Homes and Gardens, everything matched perfectly and the trees were full with stunning ornaments and lights.  Like a Christmas fantasy world with price tags.  You always bought me an ornament, and when my grandmother went with us, she did the same.

We would have gone, and we would have maybe gone to Belk.  And then we'd have gone back to your house and visited a while.  And then I would drive home with the kids for a normal Saturday night around here.  But there's nothing normal anymore.  Like my birthday... tomorrow... and I'd rather just pretend it wasn't a day unlike any other.

It's hard to imagine a birthday without the woman who gave birth to you.

I'm so tired of missing you.  I never knew what people meant before when they said, "Come quickly, Lord."  But I do now.  For when He comes, I won't miss you anymore.  We'll be together again in some capacity.  I don't suppose I'll need a Mama in heaven, but it will be so nice just to feel your presence again.

Until then...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This time seven years ago...


Seven years ago, I strolled this little flower around trick-or-treating.  A Blue Power Ranger darted around me, making noises with his mouth I never knew were humanly possible.  My house was always clean back then, toys contained to David's room and a small basket of baby stuff in the living room.  I was twenty pounds thinner, and I hadn't broken the thirty mark yet.  I probably only had five grey hairs on my head.  But do you know what stands out to me most about this time seven years ago?

We didn't know my mother had cancer yet.

It was in early November that we found out, that the call came in, that one word would change our lives forever.  It's hard to think back to a time when there was no cancer in my life, but this photo captures it in sheer perfection.  The simplicity of the life back then.  How easy it was to protect both my children from the uncertainty and disappointment of this world.  But now they know that life doesn't always come with a happily-ever-after, and that's a truth they will carry with them their whole life.

So funny how I would have never dreamed in the moment that I took the above photo that in seven years' time my mother would be gone.  Seven years... sounds so long, but boy has it flown by.

If I could bottle the last seven years, I would.  Open it up in the quiet grey moments when I need a splash of my Mama.  Instead, I can browse through photos, looking at them as I always have but finding different things within the frame.  Remembering what was going on behind the scenes.  Knowing that during this time or that time I had no idea how drastically different life would turn out than how I always thought it would.  Knowing how hard she fought, how brilliantly strong she was through it all.


Last night, neither one of them wanted their picture taken.  David is way better at faking a smile than my Madalyn.  Shortly after this photo, Madalyn locked herself in her room because she was scared of how one of our friends had his face painted.  She only went to a handful of houses and I walked her home to get ready for bed.  Our first Halloween ever to have a child that she was scared of nearly everything.  Funny.  But something tells me that I may not remember that little detail in seven years.  But I will always remember that that photo was from our first Halloween since my mother died.