Seeing Where I’ve Been.

According to Mom, when I was little, I preferred riding in the car with my back facing the road. One day when she and Mamaw were in the car with me, most likely going shopping, Mamaw was holding me. I started to cry and no matter what she did, I could not be soothed. Mom said, “Mother, put her on your shoulder. She likes to see where she’s been not where she’s going.”

I’ve thought about how people live their lives in much the same way. Sometimes we get so focused on where we’re going in life, we forgot to look back to see how far we’ve come. But there’s a danger also of being so hyper-focused on the past we don’t move forward.

Here’s the reality I’ve learned in my life. My past teaches me. As I recall past events in my life, I am reminded of how great the hand of God has been in my life. I see His protection. His leading. His discipline. My past has a hold on me only if I allow it. The old things are gone.

My future is definitely something to look forward to with great anticipation. However, I’ve learned not to put great expectations on what the future may hold because my expectations may disappoint me. The best part of my future is knowing that I will eventually die. When that happens, all of my hope, dreams, and expectations will more grand and glorious than I can fathom.

I am learning to just be present in the present and to know that each day comes with opportunities. Every day, I can be a blessing to someone. Every day, I can enjoy a new sunrise or sunset.

The truth is, I need my past to learn. I need my future to grow. I need today to because it will never come again.

Opportunity to Love More

“Honey, I love her more now than I did almost 67 years ago.” The words flowed from his lips as we sat by her bedside in the early morning hours of May 26, 2010. We both knew she was on a very limited time. Popaw had decided to stay the night with her and I lingered with him until my eyes burned and needed a break from my contacts.

It would be her last night and just as it should be. The two of them together.

As I’ve spent the last nine years replaying much of our conversation I keep coming back to his words, “I love her more now..”. It finally occurred to me that Popaw saw every hardship their marriage endured as a means to love her more. And to be completely honest, she loved him with every fiber of her being as well.

So often when relationships hit a tough spot or an obstacle, our first inclination is to hit the door and run. Take the easy way out. Leave him. Leave her. But what if, we looked at our obstacles or hardships as opportunities to love our spouse more? What if we displayed unconditional love?

Listen. Popaw and Mamaw were not perfect people. They were simply held together by an almighty and perfect God. They recognized early one they could not do marriage without making Jesus the center.

I shared in a previous post that my grandmother was mentally ill. As a result of her mental illness, she was also a hypochondriac and by the time she was in her 40’s had already had thirty or more surgeries. I also shared that she spent some time in the mental ward in Winston Salem and had shock treatments.

To be frank, if Terry had all those issues, I would definitely be tempted to hang in the towel. I mean who wants to deal with all of that plus raise children and work full time? Troy, that’s who. He didn’t see her as being a hindrance. He viewed her through the same rose-colored glasses God views us from and he loved her and devoted himself more to her. You see, he was more interested in maintaining and growing their relationship rather than looking outside to find a greener pasture.

Do you know what happened? She recovered from most of her ailments. She was never able to fully escape the anxiety and worry but she thrived and survived because he loved her.

Interestingly I saw this on social media the other day. I’ve heard the adage, “The grass is greener where you water it”. But I had not seen this.

So often we look to run from the hard when God says, “Wait. Stay. Hang on. The best is yet to come”.

To be certain, Troy and Colleen experienced a blessed marriage and a lifetime of precious memories together and were more in love after almost 67 years than when they first fell in love.

Who doesn’t want that for themselves?

The next time you find your marriage on rocky ground look for the opportunity to love more. I guarantee it will be worth it in the end.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Special times with Popaw

By now you know that not only was Popaw one of my favorite people, he was also my hero.

Over the next few.weeks, I have plenty of stories to share. This particular story happened within the last three years.

Before Ned’s diagnosis with cancer, Mom.had predominantly been responsible for Popaw’s health care.

Prior to moving him to the assisted living facility, Mom would. commonly meet him at his appointments. However, when he no longer had use of the car, Mom had to take him.

With Ned’s.illness and all.of.his appointments, it became increasingly harder for Mom.to.keep.up.

One day. I announced to.her that I would start.managing his healthcare. It was the one thing I could completely take off her shoulders to allow her focus to be more on Ned. Besides, I reasoned, if something happened to her, I would be the one responsible for him. It just made.sense.

I viewed it as an opportunity to help her and spend some. extra time.with Popaw. I enjoyed his company and he enjoyed mine.

Our first trip to the doctor without Mom would be unique and different for him. He was so accustomed to her taking him, I knew it would be slightly awkward. I decided, on my way to pick him up, to pop in my Selah cd because he would recognize all the Hymns.

In classic Popaw style, he got in my car and immediately began to thank me. ”Honey, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such good treatment but I sure appreciate you taking care of me.”

After a few minutes of small talk, the car grew silent except for the cd playing. The silence was soon interrupted by a sound I now wish I had recorded. The raspy bass voice of my Popaw singing, ”I sing because I am happy. I sing because I am free. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”

At that moment, any twinge of nervousness he had about me taking over his care, or any fear I had that I wouldn’t do it the right way was completely absorbed by the fact that we both knew and understood a valuable truth at that moment. God was taking care of both of us.

Can I be really blunt here?

To say I miss this treasure of a human being is an understatement. There will never be another like him. I am thankful I didn’t waste the time of frivolity and that my earlier choices had dictated time I would get to spend with Popaw.

Listen here

Made for More Than This

Do you ever sit back and think, ”I was made for more than this?” It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. However, as God began transforming this rebel heart, I remember distinctly having this thought permeate my mind for weeks.

It all began when I was twenty barefoot and pregnant. We’d moved to the Bremerton, Washington. I was alone. Oh, I had a few friends but they had decided to live in base housing. We chose townhome living.

After a week of being there, I decided to look in the phone book for a list of nearby churches. Considering I didn’t know anything about the area, I reasonably set out the day before to find the location of the church I wanted to attend.

Fortunately, it wasn’t far from our townhome. It was a small church with a down-home country feel. One of those little white churches in the Wildwood but this was more like the little white church in the evergreens. I can’t even recall the name.

The next day, I readied myself and went. I had no expectations. I just desired a sense of community and hoped I’d find it there. Little did I know that I would discover far more than the community.

From the moment I entered until the time of my departure, I felt welcomed, loved and accepted. This unique community of believers would provide the backbone for teaching me how to love and accept unconditionally.

During this time, I began to realize that Christianity is far more than religion. It’s based on a relationship with Jesus. These people truly loved and devoted themselves to Jesus and each other. The Bible was their moral compass and from that, they did not waver.

I loved these people and they truly loved me. For the first time in my life, I could really be me. No pretense, no undue expectations, no condemnation, just love in its purest and most rare form.

I wish I could tell you that my rebel heart was totally transformed. It wasn’t but God began showing me through the love and devotion of these precious people that I was made for much more than the path I was headed down.

As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of how God relentlessly pursued me. He loved me back to himself. He used this small church and its people in an unfamiliar place to teach me how to love and accept others and more importantly to love and accept myself. It’s called grace and mercy.

A Special Day…..with a nervous twist

On February 6, 1966, Popaw had the honor of walking both of his daughters down the aisle. Yes, a double wedding ceremony with, you guessed it, matching dresses. What a joyous occasion of all and a certainly a day not to be forgotten.

Just look at those sweet smiles. They all look so relaxed. Trust me, Aunt Trisha and Mom were very relaxed, or soon would be. Popaw is just naturally relaxed.

My precious Mamaw had some serious bouts mental illness during her lifetime. It wasn’t something that was brought up on a regular basis. However, there was a period in her life when she had to be given shock treatments and spent some time away in a mental hospital. Fortunately, after that time her issues were controlled through medication.

At this point in her life, she only needed Valium to calm her nerves. She was a bundle of nerves. Apparently, on this day she was more than a bundle of nerves. She was so nervous, she decided that Mom and Aunt Trisha would be nervous too. So, she gives them both a Valium and they take it. Little did they know how one little pill would affect them.

Mom doesn’t recall exactly when the pill kick in. She just remembers that by the time they got in the car to head to Florida, she was sound asleep by the time they reached Ceasars Head, which is about 15-20 from where the reception was held. And she slept and slept and slept, only waking for a potty break and food. She awoke when she and Daddy reached their destination.

I recently asked her, ”One thing I am curious about, did you have sex on your wedding night?”

She began laughing and said, ”Yes, but I couldn’t do much. I was too tired. Your Dad told me that I would never take one of those pills again.”

The moral to the story: just because you’re a nervous wreck doesn’t mean others feel the same way and never give your child a Valium on their wedding day.

Daddy, I Can’t Choose Just One…

Her plea began, ”But Daddy I need to take my family with me. I can’t choose just one.”

I’m fairly certain this was our annual Spring Break trip with the kids to the beach. Amy was probably five or six at the time. She proudly announced to all of us that she had her things packed and in the car the day before our scheduled departure.

I already had her necessities packed so I just assumed she was eager for our trip.

The next morning we gathered our things and began towing them outside. We had to haul most of out things in gigantic luggage bag on the top of our van. A must when you have limited space and a half dozen bodies in one vehicle.

Once the luggage bag was secure, Terry opened the trunk to fill it up. To his surprise the vans limited cargo space was already half full…….of Amy’s stuffed animals, at least twenty and probably more. They were piled and luckily there was a cargo net which hindered an avalanche of stuffed animals.

Terry called her over and told her that we couldn’t possibly take all of these animals. And that’s when she began her plea, ”But Daddy, I need to take my family with me. I can’t choose just one.”

That’s the first time she referred to her stuffed animals as her family. It was one of those moments you want to bottle up and keep forever.

Aren’t you glad that God didn’t tell Jesus that He could only choose ”just one”? His reason for subjecting himself to the brutality of the cross was for all of us. He chose to die in your place and my place. It is our choice to chose to believe in Him and the power of His resurrection.

A Celebratiom of Life

Monday was a beautiful spring day in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Crisp morning air followed by blue skies and sunshine. A gentle breeze to keep it cool and comfortable. A perfect day to celebrate a beautiful life.

When my grandfathers younger sister died in August of 2017, on the way home from her service, Mom told me that when Popaw died she wanted me to speak at his service. Little did I know what a task and challenge I would face.

Popaw took his breath last Tuesday. I had almost a full week to prepare. One would think a week would be enough time. Normally, it would. But this was not normal.

Stories and memories were swimming in my mind. I could barely finish one thought before another would interrupt. Not one story won. Each story held a specific and special meaning and not one more meaningful or important than the next.

How could I tell one story without telling ten? Honestly, I struggled. There’s no way to choose just one and we hadn’t the time for more.

So, instead, I chose to speak about the character man Popaw displayed because his character has had a profound impact on my life. So, I asked family members to send me three words that came to mind when they thought of him. Here’s the list.

Mom, Aunt Trisha, and Uncle Onald: kind, faithful, pleasant, Godly, easy going, trustworthy, loving

Kristi: giving, loyal, wise and intelligent

David: Hero, unconditional love, father.

Ryan: kind, wise, patient

Matthew: observant, loyal gentle

Alex: calm, wise, virtuous

Amy: generous, tender-hearted, earnest

Zach: Generous, loyal, caring

Terry: hero, wise, loving

Me: generous, wise, joyful

As I prayed and thought over these words, I realized they all had a commonality. They all speak to the character of the man behind them and his integrity. Popaw was man-marked by integrity. Integrity derives from the Latin word integer meaning whole or complete. Popaw was the whole package. But his full wholeness was not realized until April 23, 2019, when God called him home. At that moment Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 became Popaw’s reality, ”For I am confident of this thing, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”

Popaw was a humble, gentle and kind man who exercised patience, generosity, and wisdom throughout the course of his life. He was a man marked by unconditional love, faithfulness, and complete joy.

I rarely remember a time I didn’t see him smile. His smile was infectious and kit up a room. In fact, at the very moment, he breathed his last breath Robert, a family friend, and I were standing over him talking about his sweet smile.

Popaw knew his strengths and weaknesses. He was not a perfect man but he was truly a blessed man. I am not speaking from a monetary perspective, although he always had enough. When I say blessed I am talking about the constant joy that welled up in him and spilled into those who knew him. This is not a common joy but one that comes from knowing the Lord.

Last week our Pastor, Bruce Frank, said, ”Until Jesus is enough for you, nothing will be enough for you.

I am here to tell you that Jesus was absolutely enough for Popaw. This is why his life was marked by integrity, wisdom, and kindness. He knew the joy of being content no matter what.

His life exemplified the following:

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. —Psalm 73:23–26

The Times I Saw Him Cry

I’ve known him my whole entire life and in this time, I have only seen or heard him cry three times. It’s not that he has no heart. In fact, he’s got the biggest heart of anyone I know. Read here. He is the kindest, most gentle and humble man I know.

Oddly, I didn’t see him cry the day he got the call his Dad, my great-grandfather shot and killed himself. He was melancholy and I’m sure he cried. I just didn’t see him cry.

The first time I saw him cry was the day my grandmother, the love of his life died. He had stayed the night before with her and we all encouraged him to go home and get rest. He did. A few hours after his departure, Mamaw died. Kristi and I went to his house to tell him. I will never forget. We stood in his kitchen and told him the news. Tears welled up in his blue eyes and he said, ”I knew it. That was the exact time I awoke and I felt like a part of me was gone.” His words broke and tears flowed.

The second time I see him cry was the day we moved him from his house to The Bridge at Lake Point Landing. He knew it was time to go but leaving his home ripped his heart out. He.felt like the Israelites when God led them out of Egypt. How do I know this? He told me so. Read here

The third time I didn’t see him cry, I heard him cry. I called to let him know that Ned had died. As soon as the words left my lips, he asked, “How’s my little Annie?” I couldn’t answer. Then he began to weep and said, “Honey, thank you for calling but I just can’t talk to you right now.”

My tears turned to sobs and I told him, “It’s okay Popaw. I can’t talk to you either.”

The first time he cried over my grandmother, I thought my heart was going to rip in a thousand pieces and I know Kristi felt the same way. If we could’ve shouldered his grief, we would have. The second time, I felt the sadness of him being removed from all that was familiar into the unfamiliar. But the third time, I wept with him because he hurt for his little girl. As a parent, there is nothing harder than not being an to take away their pain and I knew what he was feeling, not sorrow for his loss, but sorrow for her pain.

Now, we are embarking on the journey of saying, ”goodbye” to him. We don’t know the hour or the day but the time is coming. This time, he won’t cry but I will. But here’s what I know.

Jesus is tidying up and preparing his place and when it’s all complete, he will come and take him home. This is His promise and this is what fuels my hope.

New Living Translation
” When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. ” John 14:3

Was it worth it? …..Absolutely

I’ve been avoiding this post like the plaque. A few weeks ago when God began churning my heart, I told Him, “Not now”. Yes, like I’ve said before delayed obedience is disobedience and I disobeyed.

I think as I write you will see why I avoided writing. However, the urge is so great within me, I can no longer resist.

As you know my biological father died when I was 7. He died from Melanoma and you can read some of his story in my blog post, My sweetest sorrow.

Now, we are at another crossroads with cancer. My stepfather, Ned. He was diagnosed 18 months ago with Stage 4 Atypical Non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. It sucks. I’m just not going to sugar coat anything about it.

A few months back, well technically a few years ago God began to stir this thought and idea about these two men I have had to privilege of calling Dad.

First, you must understand the first to understand the second.

Mack, my dad, had a strong enduring faith in God. He hoped beyond all hope that one day a cure for Melanoma would be discovered. Knowing full well it would not be in his lifetime, he allowed the doctors at Baptist Hospital (Wake Forest) to try new treatments on him. He was their guinea pig. His philosophy and mindset was to aid in the research and help others in the future.

Another thing to understand about my dad is that he never shied away from sharing his faith. He firmly grasped and held tight to his belief in Jesus. He had strong convictions about sharing his faith and the above picture is a treasure straight out of his Bible. His desire was to see that no one would perish without knowing Jesus. His chief goal in life.

I believe that through his death his chief goal was reached and realized. When Jesus tells us in John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Bear with me while I explain.

When Mom and Ned began dating Ned wasn’t really living out a full life with Christ at the center. He had made a profession of faith but wasn’t really living a life totally reflective of Christ.

As their relationship began to grow so did his love for Jesus. Eventually leading up to his rededication. In perfect Ned style, it was not a haphazard decision, it was done with intent and passion. A decision he will tell you was the best choice he ever made aside from marrying my Mom.

The reality here is that without my dad having died, Ned may have never been able to experience the blessed life that only Jesus can give. If you ask Mack if it was worth dying for he would say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

—————–—————

That was the original post from September 11, 2017.

When I wrote these words, Ned was still with us and it would only be another six weeks until God would call him Home. Today marks 43 years since my Daddy has been in Heaven. In the past, this particular day has been such a painful hard day, but not today. What’s different?

My attitude. What I’ve realized with both Daddy and Ned was they were willing to embrace the process, to endure the pain to receive the victory. They both knew earth was their temporary dwelling and they both knew where they were going. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross?

He soul agonized over having to endure the cross. He begged God for another way. When He knew there was no other way, He simply said, ”Not my will but yours” At this point, He embraced the process. He endured the cross. And when he spoke, ”It is finished” is His declaration of victory.

You will never get to the victory of the cross without enduring the pain and you’ll never be able to endure the pain without embracing the process.

I found this devotion in my Dad’s Bible. I wonder if it was something he had before his diagnosis or if he found it later. I don’t know the answer but what I know is that He bravely witnessed for the Lord and many lives were changed…….mine included.

That was my ”Today”

Brad Paisleys, Today, is probably one of the best songs ever written and sung. It’s such a great reminder that if we can hold on to special memories today, those memories are what will get us through tomorrow.

And I don’t know about tomorrow 
Right now the whole world feels right 
And the memory of a day like today 
Can get you through the rest of your life.

I’ll eventually get back to our Lexington trip but I keep mulling this post over and over again. I know from previous experience when these thoughts don’t go by the wayside, I am supposed to do something about it and so I’ll write.

It was the most gut-wrenching day of my adult life. The moment when the Hospice Doctor tells me, you need to call the family in. ”Ned’s time is short. I don’t know if he’ll be here more than 3-4 days.”

Just to clarify, I asked, ”So, you’re telling me that I need to call my sister to come back and I need to try to get my brother here from Oregon and any of the grandchildren that can come?”

”Yes, and I wouldn’t linger.”

I graciously thanked him and called Kristi. Call one. Check.

Knowing full well that David would unlikely be up a little before 6 his time, I called anyway. I held firm and didn’t get shakey with my words. ”You need to make arrangements to get here ASAP! And please call Zach and let him know.” Call two. Done.

Breathe. Focus. Breathe……reality set in. I had to call my children. All of a sudden, like a tidal wave, I collapsed screaming and crying into Terry’s lap. ”I can’t do this. This is too hard. I can’t call the kids and tell them their Papaw is dying. I can’t. I just can’t.” The weight of it all finally took its toll.

Gently rubbing my back, he said, ”It’s ok. I’ll call them.” I cried harder. I ugly cried. Every ounce of what I’d been holding back was now gaining momentum and no matter how I tried, it wouldn’t stop until it all filtered out. When it was over, I dried my tear-stained eyes, blew my nose and announced with all the confidence I could muster, ”No, it’s something I need to do. I’ll call them.”

The first call was to Ryan. I knew he was working and I wasn’t about to leave a message of such magnitude. I just left a message asking him to return my call.

Next up was Alex. Keep in mind. Matthew was deployed. I would later have to contact him through the Red Cross. Alex had just seen Ned a few days before. He wasn’t shocked or surprised but he was quiet. Knowing he had classes, I tried hard to keep things as upbeat as possible. He would be home tomorrow and that was good enough.

In between, calls, Ryan called me back. He knew. I didn’t have to tell him. I did anyway. Sometimes, its just good to give reality a voice. Hard. But good. Immediately, he asked, ”Mom, are you okay? I know all of this has been hard on you.”

Tears fell as I assured him I was okay. Truthfully, I was okay. His sensitivity made me cry a little.

Finally, I called Amy. There’s never a good time or a good way to do these things. I knew her schedule and she was finishing up classes and would be heading to track practice. With every ounce of strength, I could round up, I said, ”Amy, they’ve only given your Papaw a few days to live. You’re gonna need to come home.” Silence. Dead Silence.

Sniffling she said, ”Mom, I’m crying and everyone is seeing me cry cause I’m walking in the courtyard. I’ll have to call you back. I can’t talk right now.”

It wasn’t long until she called me back and I could tell she’d still been crying, ”Mom, when I told Cale (her coach), he told me to skip practice and come home.”

I pleaded with her to be careful.

An hour and a half later, she arrived. Safe and sound.

It’s what transpires within the next hour or so that touches my heart in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Amy’s main focus was to attend to her Papaw. He was still coherent but wasn’t talking much. A few words here and there. A nod of the head. Maybe a smile or two. She asked him if he wanted some ice cream. He nodded and she took the spoon and began feeding him. She would ask, “Papaw, do you want another bite and he would nod.” After a little while, he threw his hand up for her to stop and clamped his lips together, indicating that he was done. No more.

Sweetly she leaned close to him and said, ”See Papaw, I can feed you just like you fed me when I was little.”

So, if I’d had a lot of tears left in me at that point, I would’ve been balling like a baby. What a tender and precious moment my baby girl had just experienced with her Papaw.

As it would turn out, Amy fed her Papaw the last meal he ate. It would be a memory etched in our minds forever. A precious memory.

It makes me so grateful for the early morning hard because, at the end of the day, God gave us such a great gift. The gift of His perfect timing and placing us at the right time and place. I think today, that’s what He wants me to remember and He wants me to tell you, His ways are always perfect. He is always on time and His goodness abounds in rich mercy and grace.