Mother’s Day Ramblings

mom and dad and Peter

A rooster is crowing in the distance.  Soft light dances through the trees as the morning breeze rustles the leaves.  Birds are in full song, up for their busy day.  The spring greens are full and intense after a long barren winter.  I sit in my favorite place on my back porch and it feels as if I am in a tree house.  The quiet morning is a balm to my soul.

The past weeks have been full of trips back and forth to Atlanta, to place my aunt’s treasured items in the hands of those who will appreciate them. I am unearthing history, and it feels like a museum of the past to go through all the memorabilia and determine what is of value and what is trash.  It is physically and emotionally exhausting, yet, it is fun at the same time to relive the past and to meet her lovely friends.  My sister Melinda has been helping me, but her father in law was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer so she headed right back into end-of-life care.  He passed in just two short weeks, but the back to back deaths have taken their toll on Melinda.  I am praying she can have some rest and recover from being the medical-go-to-person for the last days of life for two people she loved.  Grief is hanging over us all at the moment. Betty would have been 85 years old today.

Last week, Ray’s dog, Mango, was violently killed as he stood by and watched two big dogs tear him apart.  He tried to beat them off with his cane to no avail.  It is a miracle they didn’t turn on him.  Mango was his source of purpose and caring for him was what got Ray up in the morning.  It has been a hard thing for him to bear, and we have been popping in on him more than usual to be sure he is okay.

At the same time, we have had the joy of watching Peter graduate from Berry.  He is moving to his own place this week and we couldn’t be prouder of his new season of life. All the moving of furniture and rearranging of things has got me wanting to purge the house.  I don’t want my kids to have to figure out what to do with all this stuff someday!  It is not a good time to begin this task until we get all the other moving completed, then, watch out, because I am going on a cleaning frenzy!

I leave for a trip to Uganda next week.  It is an honor to be invited to a teacher’s conference.  I am always excited for any chance to encourage teachers, especially these who have experienced so much loss, and still go into classrooms to teach the future generation.  It inspires me.  I pray my friend Karin and I can bring some practical knowledge that will help them to help the children.  We will be taking some supplies for them as well as purchasing some supplies when we arrive based on how much money we raise to do so. Hopefully, we will be able to supply some books, puppets, art supplies, and maybe some chalkboard paint and chalk.  I am looking forward to this trip to see what God does among these amazing teachers.

As I read back over this, I can tell I haven’t been to my computer in a bit!  I am dumping out all my stuff. Thanks for listening. It is a good feeling to sit and soak in the peace and quiet, if only for a moment.  I had to get all that out of me before I can even start the piece I sat down to write.  Please pardon my rambling and disconnected thoughts.  It is where I have been living as of late, and it does seem that grief causes my thoughts to be more fragmented than usual.

Let me see if I can get back on track with my original intent. As I sit here on this glorious morning and listen to the symphony of the wind, I think over the list of the days I posted above.  So much gut-wrenching activity that could not be approached without a support system of family.  We are all leaning on one another these days.  It is a beautiful thing to have each other in seasons of change.

Mother’s Day is Sunday and all the latest events in our family have given me new eyes.    In reflection of how time marches forward, I have come to see clearly how my mom has been the backbone of our family.  She has been our rock.  My whole life she has supported my endeavors, even when she didn’t always agree with them.  She has been there for the good and the bad years, and has always had words of encouragement or wisdom. Not just for me, but for my siblings and her grandkids as well.  She is one who contemplates her words carefully before she shares them with those who seek her out.

I have watched her seek the Lord my whole life.  I have seen her wrestle with her own changing beliefs and have seen her step into herself more fully as she has aged.  Her home is her heart.  She has been a nurturer and her hospitality is welcoming.  She is a strong woman, who comes from a long line of strong women.  She has passed that family trait down to us, the women whom she bore, and we in turn, have raised our own girls to follow the pattern.

She has been an example of how to love ALL my kids and to trust God to take them where he will.  I don’t think I fully appreciated my mom until my own kids began to leave the nest.  Watching your offspring struggle is one of the hardest things to witness as a parent.  You want to jump in and rescue, but that would circumvent their growth, and so you learn to keep your mouth shut and pray more.  I am sure that my mom’s white hair is due in part to my choices and struggles.  I also know that her strong prayer life is due to the fact she has a connection to God that only a mom on her knees can cultivate.

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Mom has been dealing with memory issues, as of late.  It is difficult to watch her struggle to find words.  She has always been a communicator and I can see the frustration on her face when she cannot say what she wants to.  She has always been the glue and taken care of all of us.  Now, Dad is returning the favor. Caregiver is not his most familiar role, but his deep love for Mom is teaching him how.  They are adorable…always have been.  That kind of love is rare these days, and I have had the privilege of being an up-close witness to it my whole life.  The way he helps her, and the way that she lets him help her is a beautiful thing.

This Mother’s Day comes on the heels of a very difficult year.  It is taking its toll on us all, but we are all in it together.  Our mom taught us how that works.  Loving your people and being there for them.  It is what we do, thanks to Mom and her example of how family works.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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Full Circle (Guest Blog)

This is a guest blog, written by my sister Melinda Jenkins for Betty’s memorial service. 

melinda and betty

 

My Aunt Betty passed away peacefully in her home on April 3. We are all here because she was so special to us. She has touched the lives of each of us in some way. In fact, she touched the lives of many, thousands over the years, as a music teacher, choral leader, and organist. For me, Betty gave me the gift of knowledge. Let me explain.

I am the youngest of 3. My older brother has always been smart. Betty exposed him to the arts, as she did us all. They were drawn together not only by the arts, but by current events, NPR and politics.

My sister has always been smart too. Also exposed to the arts, as well as drawn to Betty by her love of music and education. Both of them are school teachers who have such passion for education. She and Betty could talk endlessly about education theory, methods, and process.

I am smart too. I was also exposed to the arts by Aunt Betty. But my connection differs from theirs, in one distinct way. I remember being shy in 2nd and 3rd grade. I did not want to be called on in class. My mother, after having to go through the education process, grew concerned at my tentativeness when it came to reading.  You see, my mom is also smart, still is an avid reader and she knows books = knowledge. She took me to the public library. She had me join a book club that mailed a new book each month. I would get so excited to check the mail. Curious George, Runaway Ralph and Socks were a few of my favorites.  It was perfect, as long as she would read to me, but not so great when I would read to her.

Early in my 3rd grade year, she talked with my teachers about her concerns. They reassured her that I could read, but was choosing not to due to my shy streak. Then at the end of 3rd grade suddenly, the teachers were concerned and called my mom in to tell her that I could not read. My Mom reached out to her sister Betty for help.  I still remember a conversation that I had with my Mom, Dad and Betty. Should I be held back and repeat 3rd grade? I was adamantly opposed. I wanted to stay with my friends and classmates.

Betty looked me in the eye and said, “Well, if you will work very hard everyday this summer with me, we will get you caught up.”

I thought to myself… ‘I trust her. She will help me.’  

And so, that summer Betty would pick me up each day. We would go to her Condo (where she has lived all these years). We would sit at her dining room table (still the same one) and she would work with me for hours, keeping me engaged, focused, and learning. In just 3 months (yes summer was 3 months long at that time) she took a 3rd grader, who struggled to read at all and help me become a 4th grader who was reading on grade level.

So my bond to Betty is the gift of reading, because books = knowledge. I continued to read on grade level throughout my high school and college years.  I never developed a passion for language arts, to this day poetry or classic novels still give me trouble. I did learn to appreciate them, but I developed a passion for reading the sciences… all of them biology, cellular biology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. I like to call it… technical reading. My love for technical reading and knowledge drove me into the medical field, where I have worked for many years as a nurse practitioner.

Fast forward now to Feb 26th, 2018

When we were alerted by her sweet neighbors that Betty was not well, I met my parents at her condo. A quick assessment found that Betty was seriously ill.

I looked her in the eyes and said “Betty we must go to the hospital. Something is wrong and we need to go now.”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said “I trust you.”  

So, at 8 o’clock at night we headed to the emergency room. The weeks that followed were full of ups and downs. There were glimmers of improvement, flashes of hope, followed by tremendous setbacks.  

At one point, while at subacute rehab, a nurse said, “Oh Ms. Betty just loves to watch TV all afternoon”.

Now, all of you here know that Betty does not watch TV except an occasional PBS special or DVD documentaries. This confirmed to me that she was not improving and not in the best place. She was not herself.  We worked tirelessly over the next 2 weeks, Betty and I, for one goal…..to get her home to see her cherry tree. You see, our family has always known where Betty wanted to spend her last days on this earth. It was in her home, where she has lived independently for so many years, looking out at her cherry tree.

So we have come full circle……She and I trusted each other in our time of greatest need.

Betty’s Cherry Tree

This what I shared at Betty”s Memorial Service.  Several people asked me for a copy so I am posting it here.  Feel free to share.

When it came time for us to plan this service, I thought of a European cathedral with a grand pipe organ where each of her organ friends could play one of her favorite Bach pieces, but I’ve never planned a destination memorial service before…so…instead, we opted for something simpler, that would honor Betty, instead of Bach.  Something that would express her heart, where we could share our Betty memories.  I wish I could read you every email I have received, because each is a piece of her.  She talked to the family about her friends and vice-versa…I know for a fact, she has force fed many of you with my writing for years!

Seriously though, her accomplishments are so many I couldn’t list them all in her obituary. I could stand here half a day and read them off, but that would not give you the heart of Betty.  Stories are much a much better vehicle to show rather than tell.  So let me show you Betty.

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The cherry tree outside her front window is spectacular.  It is evident that it has been there for decades, from its thick trunk to its broad reaching branches. Last week, the buds were opening into fluffs of ballet slipper pink.  Other petals varied from the color of an embarrassed blush to pink lemonade. Whole blossoms had multiple shades of pink which brought depth and texture to the tree.  When the wind rustled, powder pink confetti rained down, like it was a garden party.  And when the sun hit those blossoms, they glowed. It was as if the tree was enchanted the way it stood guard over the house, watching all who came and went to care for its owner.

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On Saturday, Betty was sitting up in her wheelchair.  It was the clearest she had been mentally in days.  We facetimed her grandnephew David in India, for his birthday.  Her grandnieces Liane and Kara were there too along with others who joyfully sang happy birthday to him as Betty joined in the song.  Then she asked, “Is my tree blooming?”  A parade of people wheeled her into her newly organized front room so she could stop worrying about the piles of papers, and so she could get a good look at her tree from the window.  When she saw her tree, she smiled the most genuine smiled we had seen in weeks.  “It is worth it,” she said.  It seems the tree’s roots had entangled in the AC unit. She told us how she had been 6 years without AC in order to preserve the tree.  She knew the cost of that beauty, and she was willing to pay it.

cherry tree front view

It struck me that her cherry tree is a metaphor for her life.  Each of us is a blossom she tended to in her own Betty way.  Like the story Melinda just told of Betty teaching her to read.  Or the way she stood by each of the grandnephews and nieces, when they graduated college.  The ways she mentored so many of you in the different organizations.  Or the way she stood up against injustice by simply being a friend. She knew that different shades of skin color made for more depth and texture in the world.  She taught hundreds, maybe thousands of kids all about music, but also about life.  She reached her arms wide to include all in her embrace.  Knowing that sometimes roots get tangled and life is messy, she willingly paid the cost to help others, many times at her own expense. Her heart was generous in both time and donations.  She was loyal and devoted to the things she loved. Dependable as a clock on the wall, in her dedication.  She was passionate about education and music.

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I remember a gift I gave her one time that combined the music and education. I made it back in my college days, but I bet many of you have seen it.  A purple sweatshirt with kids painted on it in the shape of musical notes.  I have to tell you, we do a name draw at Christmas, and for some reason it always seemed that I got her name.  She is the hardest person to buy for because she doesn’t care about stuff at all.  I can only remember two gifts I ever gave her that she loved.  One was that shirt, and the other was the gift of a donation to a girl in Africa so she could buy a uniform to go to school. When she opened the card, she cried.  I had never seen her so taken with a gift, but I finally got it.  She was wired to educate, to pour into, to tend to, and to give, not to receive or accumulate.  Seeing those tears showed me her heart for less fortunate children and her passion to see girls educated so they can be world changers. They are more of her cherry blossoms.

She worked tirelessly with programs to bring help to others, especially kids.  She included us in her efforts by introducing all of us to the arts. Our children remember her attention to detail in the grandkid Olympics my mom had each year. Betty wanted each thing to be as accurate as possible, and she would know since she was a hostess in the 1996 games here in Atlanta.  She cooked some of their favorite foods, and knitted for them until her hands were raw. She poured into her students like that as well. They remember her music class as one of their favorites.

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If kids were her heart, music was her soul.  She must hold some kind of a record for most concerts attended. She provided a string trio for her grandniece Sarah’s wedding. She passed on her love of music, if not her talent, to all of us, and many others as well.  She planted the seed of song in so many students and children, that her tree was full of the buds of life waiting for their time to burst forth.

The cost of such beauty? Years of teaching.  Years of sacrifice.  Years of waiting and watching.  Years of encouraging.  Years of giving of herself.  Today she gets to rest from her labors and take in the fruit of all those years. She gets to see what was invisible to the eye while she was here, but is in full bloom in eternity.  She paid the cost of comfort, to impact those around her and bring out their beauty.

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On that day when She said, “Is my tree blooming?” I think she was asking, “Has my life been fruitful?  Has what I have poured myself into blossomed, yet?  Can you see my life’s fruit?”  Maybe she wasn’t conscious of the questions in that moment, but I think her spirit knew. When she saw the blooms on the tree glowing, multilayered pink, in the morning sun, she smiled so big.  I think it was confirmation that her life’s work was at its end.  Her spirit rejoiced and spoke… “It was worth it.” It was satisfaction that the beauty of her life…all her sacrifice and commitment, her loyalty and generosity, her music and compassion was complete.  It was her last big rally, and I think it filled her up with strength to get her through the remaining difficult hours until she shed her physical shell, and was set free to worship in full.

Now when I look at a cherry tree in full bloom, I think of Betty.  I see her connection to each flower.  She was so proud of ALL of us, and though we haven’t all met one another, we are family… because we are all Betty’s blossoms.

 

 

 

 

These Hands

hands pastor

These hands…

have played the great organs of Europe.

have knitted Christmas stockings for an entire family.

have baked banana, zucchini, and cranberry bread for the multitudes.

These hands…

have edited hundreds of newsletters.

have played hand bells and numerous other instruments.

have sewed clothes and embroidered pillowcases.

These hands…

have directed children’s choirs.

have clapped in ovations to the symphony.

have tapped to the beat of percussion.

hand

These hands…

have guided students into the world of music.

have influenced many with their diligence.

have created calendars and organized mailing lists.

These hands…

have clipped coupons and newspaper articles.

have driven all over Atlanta.

have taken the family Christmas picture for decades.

These hands…

have responded to pain.

have given generously to others.

have fought for the freedoms of others.

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These hands…

have reached out in friendship.

have flipped through magazines.

have inspired with their talent.

These hands…

have written notation and transcribed music.

have folded in prayer.

have cooked with love.

These hands…

have lauded my creativity and talents.

have held mine and guided me to art museums and symphony halls.

have educated and applauded me.

have imprinted music into my being.

These hands…

will be missed.

Scraps of Paper

betty

Photo Credit: Beverly Brown Photography

I have spent the past two days going through scraps of paper in my Aunt Betty’s house.  As she moves closer to the fullness of life beyond this temporary body, going through her things seems an invasion of privacy.  Yet, I have learned a lot in these past two days.  Going through scraps of paper can tell you a lot about what someone values.  The things we save, show what is important to us.

In her scraps, there were tons of email addresses of friends and family scribbled onto envelopes (She’s pretty tech savvy for an 84-year-old) and historical information about every organization, of the many, she is a part of. There were receipts from her considerable charitable giving.  Organ music. Hand bell music.  Guitar music.  Choral music.  Whole sets of magazines…most about music. Photographs from the distant past as well as fairly recent ones.  Notes given to her by some of her many former students, from her 37 years as a music teacher.  Signatures of her honor chorus students wishing her well.  Thank you notes from people she’s played for some occasion or another. (A couple with money still in them!) Newspaper clippings of everything from the 1996 Olympics, to comic strips, to obituaries of her friends. Scrapbooks filled with high school football scores and hand drawn pithy cartoons about their losing record.  Every single card she has ever been sent, for any occasion, as well as every program from every concert she has ever attended.  You could say she is a packrat, but I prefer the term historian. Her front office is a time capsule.  This makes organizing both exhausting and interesting because of the treasures you find along the way, buried under piles.

When I think of a life well lived, I never have considered paper scraps before.  Yet, they tell her story, like a mosaic.  A lover of all kinds of music.  A fighter for human rights. A generous heart to give to others, while she herself lives frugally, as taught to her by the Great Depression. A stickler for details that are historically accurate. An educator in more ways that just the classroom.  A proud Aunt, Sister, and Daughter. An educated woman.  A talented woman.  An independent woman. A woman who is loved by many.  A woman who cares deeply about many things.  A woman of faith expressed through music.  A complete picture.

She may have been concerned and embarrassed as I dug through her stuff. I know I would be if someone went through mine!  But in the cleaning, came some more knowledge of what is in her heart.  My whole life, I have known her as my aunt who loves me as her own child.  She treats us all that way.  She is an influence on us with her dedication to the arts. She has made homemade computer cards for all of us for each occasion and she has knitted thousands of things, as long as we have been alive.  Those are all Aunt Betty things to do, but the things I learned in her office are things she did for others, whom I did not know.  Things that she accomplished that are hung on her walls.  Things she attended to with love and detail. Things that mattered to her deeply…all from scraps of paper.

I write an Easter blog each year with a grateful heart for the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.  It is important to me in my faith to remember the profound love of God.  This year, I am ever so grateful for his provision, so that Aunt Betty will soon be able to hear the music her heart has always been longing for.  One of her friends wrote me that it is time for her life’s crescendo.  I think that is a perfect way to say it.  Blessings to you all on this Resurrection Sunday, may you live your lives as well as my Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty

betty

Photo Credit: Beverly Brown Photography

When I was a little girl, my Aunt Betty used to take us to the symphony.  She is a music lover who wanted to pass her passion on to the next generation. She did that for my brother, sister, and me, since she never married or had children of her own.  We were her charges, to carry on her musical legacy.  We saw Robert Shaw’s Christmas Concert every year.  We went to see the opera. We went to organ recitals. We went to the High Museum of Art.  We went to a children’s museum called The City. Her home was, and still is, filled with interesting instruments.  Recorders from far-away places, thumb pianos, maracas, dulcimers, guitars and she even has an organ in her apartment!  When I was little, she didn’t have a TV, but she had a record player and it played classical music or organ music, regularly. She taught me how to play the guitar, or I should say, she tried to.  I am not a very coordinated person, so my attempts at guitar and piano lessons didn’t go well. None of the three of us have the musical talent she does.  However, I do know that we admire talent when we see it, in part, because we were taught what it looks like from a young age.  She has carried on that tradition with our children, her grandnieces and nephews. Taking them to organ concerts, and gifting a string trio to the first grandniece  to marry, at her wedding. It will be a legacy of music passed on for sure.

Betty has been an accomplished organist for as long as I can remember until now.  She played at all our weddings. She has played the organ in numerous churches over the years, and until some recent falls where she broke her elbow, wrist, and shoulder, she was still playing at the age of 84. Her first fall was carrying a box of music from the church at which she was currently playing.  At one time, she traveled the world with the Organ Guild to tour and play some of the most beautiful instruments in the cathedrals of Europe.  To say she likes music is an understatement. To say music is her life, would be more accurate.

What she did for us, she also did for hundreds of school children as a music teacher in inner city Atlanta, for 37 years.  Christmas season during that time was her busy season. Chorus performances, concerts, and church programs filled her days and nights. At the lighting of the Great Tree in Atlanta, you might find her on one of those bridges, either singing or directing a children’s choir, or she might be playing the organ for a Christmas cantata somewhere. The children in her schools benefited from her passion.  I have met some of her former students, who sing her praises, (pardon the pun) and they talk about how her teaching inspired them to pursue music into adulthood, in one way or another.

It didn’t really occur to any of us, until recently, that she was a renaissance woman involved in the tumultuous 60’s in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation of schools, marches, and all that was happening in that time period, whirled around her everyday life in the city.  Her best friend, Mary Frances Early, was recently recognized as the first African American woman to graduate from UGA. I only knew Mary Francis as Betty’s friend, not a Civil Rights heroine.  When I thought about the years in which she was teaching in the Atlanta City School System, it dawned on me what that would have been like. Teaching is not an easy job anytime, but during that era it was downright dangerous, especially to be a white single woman teaching in black schools, when race polarized the nation. It kind of helps me to understand the spunk of my aunt which has followed her into her old age.

She knows her way around the world of music performance in Atlanta, and is friends with many of the great symphony players and/or choral members as well as the conductors. You might say she is a friend of the arts.  In fact, her latest fall in December where she broke her arm and knocked out a few teeth, was at Symphony Hall getting from the parking lot to the auditorium.  Did I mention, she is fiercely independent? Insisting she is capable of going and doing the things she has always gone and done.  It is true, that she does things her way and always will.  She is not intimidated by much, and afraid of even less. In fact, I would say, probably the only thing she fears is losing her independence.

She landed in the hospital last week, when she got dehydrated and her kidneys refused to cooperate.  The reality of age catching up with her set in, for all of us as we made the back and forth trips to Atlanta.  The falls of the past few years where the evidence things were changing, and now it is clear the changes she, and all the rest of us have wanted to avoid, are here. It is not an easy place to be in any sense of the word. She is at rehab now, getting stronger.  It is our prayer that she will be able to return to her home soon with some help there so she can continue to go and do as much as she is able.  We covet your prayers as well.

Celebration!!

 

peter birth

It makes sense that I would be awake at 2:30 a.m. this morning.  Unlike other mornings, when insomnia keeps my mind turning, this day brings memories of my fourth birthing day.  The first contraction was about this time and with it came the rush to get from Clermont to Dunwoody Medical Center.  Bill was flying down the highway and for once, I didn’t complain about his speed.  I knew from my previous experience I was having back labor, meaning the baby was coming sunny side up and would have to be turned before birth.  By the time we got to the hospital I was having piggy back contractions, where one came before the previous one was finished.  I asked for medicine and they told me the doctor was on his way to check me to see how I was progressing, and then he would give it to me.  When he arrived and checked, he said it was too late for meds I was 10 cm already.  He broke my water, turned the baby and ordered me to start pushing.  In 30 minutes, he was holding my baby and taking his guess as to the weight.  (My doctor was known for his accurate predictions. With each baby he delivers he guesses before they weigh the baby and is usually right within 2 or 3 ounces. He guessed all four of mine correctly…to the ounce.)  He asked me what my biggest baby had been to that point.  I told him 10 lb. 5 oz. which I thought was pretty huge. He said, “Not anymore, this one is over that by 11 oz. or so.”  He was correct.  I had an 11lb. baby, 22 years ago today. He came home in three-month clothes.  He was a chunk, now he’s a hunk.  Those dimples, right?

Peter Josiah Gunnin.

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This year I celebrate not only his birth, but also his graduation from Berry last week. (Official ceremony will be in May with photos following.  J ) I cannot say how proud I am of him.  The last several years our family has gone through some rough times. He has taken it all in stride, stepped up to the plate, and taken on responsibility of financing his own schooling and completing his degree in Marketing a semester early.  This, his last semester, has been his most challenging yet with even more life trials and a significant loss which turned his world upside down.  Yet, he has finished with flying colors.  He worked hard taking on three jobs and continued studying all while processing deep heart issues. I am amazed at his work ethic and his determination.  He is moving on to the next phase of his life, and has a job doing what he loves.  He is remarkable.

To say I am a proud mom is an understatement, and to top it all off he is the last of the four to graduate…which means we are officially done with college!!  At least, with first degrees anyway.  All of my kids made it to adulthood, and for that I am ever grateful and so very proud.  Being a parent is my primary life’s work.  Seeing them all find their path may take some time yet, but they are well on their way to becoming who they were designed to be. It has taken much prayer through laughter and sometimes tears, but today is a day for celebration of an accomplishment!

Happy Birthday and Graduation, Peter!

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The Gift of Words

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote last at Christmas last year for Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog.  As we prepare gifts this season let us not forget, words are powerful, can be given to everyone on your list, and…they are free! You can read the entire piece here

christmas-ornament

I am a natural encourager.  I am also a teacher.  It is not clear to me which came first.  Am I a teacher because I am an encourager, or is it the other way around? Either way, I have found great pleasure in building others up and helping them to feel valued.  I do this in several ways, but mainly I write notes.  They started off as handwritten expressions of appreciation.  Never underestimate the power of a good thank you note.  From there I started writing little memos just to brighten someone’s day.  When the internet was invented, my note writing grew to a whole new level. The speed with which my words traveled was amazing!  Notes turned into letters at the point when my typing speed surpassed my handwritten scrawl, and while I still love a handwritten note, the ability to communicate instantly has made inspiration easy to spread on a daily basis.  Nothing motivates me like motivating someone else.  It is my passion.

All this encouraging had been going on for a while before it occurred to me that I should use words to bless my own family.  I was busy reaching out to those who were downtrodden or had been through some trauma or another.  Having walked those roads myself, I knew the importance of not feeling alone.  However, there came a day when I recognized my words could bolster people even in good times.  I knew I had been given a gift of words, but I also learned that words are a gift, like a present to be opened.

At Christmas, in the bottom of the stockings, I began to give the gift of words to my children.  I mean, I had been doing this for years for other people, so why had I not ever done it for my own children?  They are simple notes, no more than a paragraph, or two, that tell them what I see in them.  They are expressions of how they have grown over the past year, and what I see forming in their lives.  Gifts and talents are affirmed, but I also tell them how proud I am of them and how much I love them. Simple.  It doesn’t take much time and even less money, yet they are some of the most anticipated gifts I give all year.  I have found them on bulletin boards in college dorm rooms, and on desktops at home.  They are stuffed in Bibles, and taped to walls and magnetized onto refrigerators.  I put a little of myself in every note, and that heartfelt sentiment brings lift to the lives it touches.

My point is that words are a powerful, meaningful gift.  As writers, we might not realize that.  For us, words come naturally and so we do not always recognize what a gift they can be to someone.  Yet, as an encourager, I can tell you that many to whom I have sent messages, treasure them.  They hold them for years.  They reread them long after I have forgotten what I even wrote. I know this because they tell me so.  I don’t know why it always surprises me, because I do the same thing.  I have a collection of letters given to me in difficult times which bolstered me.  I have a box of cards with notes written in them that made me feel loved.  It wasn’t the cards that were the gift, it was the WORDS.  It is the season for giving presents wrapped in shiny paper with bows, and while ‘words’ may not be on the top of anyone’s Christmas list, they are definitely a gift to be given that will last longer than most, and be more significant. Here are some things you might want to include in your gift…

For the rest go to Two Drops of Ink.

A Frightening Moment

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A beautiful fall day calls for…housework, right?  Maybe.  Just a little.  Then a drive through the brilliant glowing mountains, as a reward.  Bill was changing lightbulbs on the outside of the house in preparation for the darker evenings.  I was inside working to ready the guestroom for any visitors coming our way.  Bill was on a step stool which wiggled underneath him and bucked him like a bronco.  He went down on his back, hitting the corner of the concrete slab of the driveway.  Without his phone, he had no way to notify me of his plight other than to crawl into the house with screams and groans, which brought me running.  I found him face down in the floor writhing in pain, unable to tell me much other than he fell.  As he was pointing to his back, I did an assessment of the situation to determine if an ambulance would be necessary.  I found scrapes, but no bruises.  However, he is notorious for not bruising easily, so that meant nothing.  I grabbed the ice pack and plopped it on the area of concern.  When he got some of his breath back, he told me both his elbows where hurting.  We determined he had somehow put them behind him in trying to catch himself.  Both were scraped and bleeding and required ice as well.

He attempted to turn over onto his back and for the first time I saw his face.  His eye was black.  To me, in that moment, all my world got what I call fear-foggy.  I forgot the back and elbows and immediately asked where he had hit his head.  He insisted he had not hit his head.  However, since he does not bruise, for his eye to be black already I knew he must have really done a number on his noggin.  I was checking for bumps or knots on his face.

He kept saying, “I did not hit my head.  I fell on my back.”

I questioned, “Then why is your eye black?”

“It must be dirt,” he said.

I could feel panic rising in my chest and had to take a few breaths to bring some calm into my fear-fog.  I reached up and wiped at his eye, and removed his black eye.  It was dirt.  My relief was instantaneous.  I even laughed a bit at my concern over a dirt smudge.

I shifted my focus to dealing with the back, which by now was improving pretty rapidly.  He was able to sit up slowly and move, breathe, and twist.  His elbows became increasingly sore, but the back seemed okay.  He managed to stand and I got him to a chair.  Once he realized his back wasn’t broken and he could bend and straighten his arms, he took me outside to where he had fallen.  I have to tell you, it is a miracle he didn’t break his back.  Truly.  The concrete edge he fell on should have snapped his back in two.  I cannot explain to you how scary the whole event was.  But I can say, it showed me something significant about how our pasts effect our present.  The fear-fog that came over me when I thought he had hit his head was immediate.  I could deal with a possible broken back, or a couple of broken elbows…but just the thought of another TBI put me into a panic.

Which made me wonder…what things in my past are still fresh enough to interrupt my thought processes and create a fog?  What fears am I unknowingly living with day to day?  The most obvious ones, cancer and TBI will probably always be in the back of my brain somewhere waiting to jump out on days like yesterday.  But what of the others.  Are there others?  In moments which can be life defining, is fear bigger than life to me? I am aware of how things can change in one heartbeat…an instant.  I am also aware God carries me in those times of crisis when I cannot even think straight for the fog. Fortunately, yesterday Bill was spared any significant injury.  He tossed and turned last night in his sleep, moaning and groaning at the pain in his elbows.  This morning he still insists he is fine and no x-rays are needed.  We will see about that. 🙂 My heart is grateful beyond words that miracles still happen, and in a frightening moment yesterday, we were recipients of one.

A Lovely Surprise

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At my alma mater, Berry College, we have a tradition called Mountain Day which is sometimes difficult to describe.  When asked, “What is Mountain Day?” I usually just say it’s like homecoming, because it is easier than giving a full explanation. Martha Berry, the school’s founder, had her birthday on October 7.  The celebration all started back in the early 1900s. The poor mountain students wanted to give Martha a gift for her birthday, but they knew she wouldn’t accept a gift for herself.  Instead, they each gave the number of pennies of their age in a basket as a scholarship for other kids to be able to come to Berry. That was a big deal. The students wore uniforms back in those days; women in pink and men in blue.  The seniors had the designation of women in blue and men in white.  They gathered at Lavender Mountain and marched down the hill to present Martha with their pennies.  After the first trip down the hill they marched back up to meet up and march down in pairs.  As the band played, they did this trip three more times until they were 16 across for the final march down and the singing of the alma mater.  Martha was presented with the basket of pennies and there was great celebration.  The day at the mountain has continued to this day.  In fact, it has expanded to include the entire first weekend of October each year, with Mountain Day Olympics, a talent show, a chapel service, a picnic, a Marthapalooza fair with carnival rides, and class reunions from previous decades.  Unless you went to Berry you probably can’t fully understand this rite of passage, but it brings all students, former to present, together to celebrate the heritage of the school and its amazing founder.

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This past weekend Peter was wearing white.  His senior year.  All those previous years of marching up and down the hill came to fruition in this last march. Next year he will be on the sidelines with the rest of us who have marched that hill before him. He will not be dripping with sweat, or huffing and puffing, but he will go back with fond memories to meet up with friends and reminisce.  He will have a new appreciation of the traditional event and its ability to bond all generations of students and their families.

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This past weekend it was also Hannah’s 5-year reunion.  We were sad she was going to be unable to come the distance from Seattle for the celebration.  Unbeknownst to us, she hatched a plan.  She and Peter conspired to surprise us with her presence.  Bill and I were in Atlanta at an event and had planned to go to Rome for Mountain Day from there.  Peter knew the hotel we were at and Hannah had contacted someone at the event to get our room number.  At 6:30 in the morning I thought I heard a knock at the door.  I was sound asleep so I kind of dismissed it as a dream.  I heard it again and woke enough to listen more carefully, but was still unsure if it was our door or the one next to us.  I got up and looked through the peephole in the door.  No one was there and I thought I had imagined the whole thing.  I started to head back to bed, when another knock came.  Definitely our door.  Afraid to open it without knowing who was there, I asked.  I heard a muffled voice, so I asked again.  I still didn’t understand but it was a woman’s voice so I took a chance it wasn’t a crazed killer and opened the door.  “Surprise!” I was stunned to see Hannah and the squealing began.  I pulled her into a hug and drug her into the room.  Yelling for Bill to wake up and ‘look who is here!’  It was a wonderful surprise!!  We got to ride up to Mountain Day together and spend time with Peter on his senior day, the two of them laughing at their successful ability to pull one over on mom and dad.

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The class of 2012 banner was strung between trees at the picnic. Hannah found her friends there and surprised them too!  No one else knew she was coming either, except for those she was staying with for the night. She got to see all her former roommates and catch up.  It was a whirlwind, last minute decision on her part to come to Georgia for 24 hours, but it was worth it to be with family at a significant event and to see her friends…all in one place!

Generations of students and their loved ones were able to participate, either marching or watching, as the students marched up and down the hill. Hurricane Nate even held off so the march was able to be completed in the sun and humidity…haha.  This year, Peter’s senior year, my heart is full.

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