Caring for God’s Creatures

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 God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. –Genesis 1:25 (NLT)

I love that last part: God saw that His creation was good. Simply put, He loved them. And, it has never been lost on me that God created animals before He created man and woman. His word tells us that He gave responsibility for the animals to those He created in His own image. (Genesis 1:26) Ponder on that a bit. If we were created in God’s image then we have a clear direction for how we are to treat others — and that includes animals.

I have a cousin who is a rescuer of cats with special needs. Some come to her lame, blind, sick from infections, horribly ridden with fleas, and many are traumatized by abuse. These little creations of God are found abandoned, even thrown in trash containers. It’s heartbreaking. But the happy part is seeing how Jeanie and a caring cat clinic rally to make most of them well and give them a chance at life.

Some time back, I volunteered at our local Humane Society. The Humane Society operates no-kill shelters. Every effort is given to providing a safe haven for dogs and cats. Hopefully, most will be adopted out to good homes. You will never see them euthanized unless there is absolutely no quality of life left for the animal. Let me give you an example I saw firsthand.

Tabitha, a cat thought to be eight or nine months old, came to the shelter pregnant. She was far too young (small) to carry what turned out to be a litter of seven. But Tabitha did it, delivering all seven alive and healthy. However, there were two kittens that had badly deformed back legs, most likely from their crowded quarters. Their tiny legs looked as if they had been put on backward; they bent in the wrong direction. 

I was at the shelter just hours after Tabitha delivered and found a small crowd gathered around mom and babies.  Laura, the cat adoption manager, pleaded the case for these new babies. She was imagining all sorts of ways their crippled legs might be helped. It was decided by one of the vet techs to try tiny leg splints. She whittled away at a tongue depressor until she had splints about the width of a toothpick and half its length. She wasn’t all that hopeful the splints would work, but willing to give it her best shot. 

 For six weeks, Tabitha and all seven kittens lived in Laura’s office. The two in splints required close watch and frequent changing of the splints to maintain cleanliness; the others were kept there to lend family love and support. 

It was an ideal outcome: After six weeks in splints, the kittens’ legs were corrected to normal shape and without one bit of evidence that there had ever been a problem. Those little babies, named Sara and Foster, learned to walk while in the splints and were ready for foster care at eight weeks, along with the rest of the litter. 

That was just one of many miracle stories I saw there. It was a sheer joy to know that individuals were living out God’s direction to be responsible in the fullest sense. I think people like this really make God smile.

The Humane Society carefully investigates those who seek to adopt. You don’t just walk in and walk out with a cat or dog. If approved for adoption and for any reason it doesn’t work out in the home, the cats and dogs are always welcome back to the HS. In fact, part of the adoption process is to sign an agreement that you will return your adopted cat or dog if for any reason you can’t keep it. Once a rescue of the Humane Society, an animal is never again without a place to call home.  

It is the same kind of process for my cousin Jeanie’s rescue site. Those who care so tenderly for helpless animals don’t want to have them traumatized all over again through lack of care or abandonment.

If you have animals, treat them well. God gave us that charge at the beginning of time. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, think about a local animal shelter. Finally, consider making a charitable contribution to a rescue site. Be reminded that God cares for people and animals alike (Psalms 36:6 NLT).

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. — Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

I adopted Chloe while volunteering at the Humane Society. It was one of my best decisions.

Perspective on Life from Hospital Days

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Hospitals know a lot of heartaches. An illness brings someone in, but that person comes with all their problems and they should never be under-estimated in their journey of healing. During my years as a patient advocate, I came to know a lot of wonderful people and a lot of their heartaches.

The very first patient I ever dealt with was a teenager battling a rare disease. It wasn’t thought he would recover, but he did. After being home a while and getting back on his feet, he fell in with a wrong group and was killed as a result of association. When his dad came to tell me, I found it hard to take in. This young man who had won the battle of disease, only to have his life end in senseless tragedy – how could it be? How did his parents manage their grief so soon after being on a mountaintop of joy?

There was an elderly woman who was with us one December and it was uncertain as to whether she would be staying through Christmas Day. Most patients wanted badly to be out and home for Christmas, but this dear lady preferred staying. She said she would rather be in a hospital with people around her than go home and be alone.

I think about another elderly and gentle woman. She confided in a nurse that she knew her children were taking things from her house while she was hospitalized. They were using her absence and access to her house keys to take what they wanted. How can children do that? Social Service was called, but intervention didn’t take away the sadness of such abuse nor the pain that mother’s heart knew.

There was a delightful man who did his best to make every day positive in some way, all the while knowing he was dying and would probably not leave the hospital. He called for his grandchildren to come so that he could talk to them about how needless his early death was, that he was dying because he had abused his body, and wanted to impress upon them their opportunity to live life better. He gave his speech and then went back to bringing laughter into the room. What a brave individual!

I recall the many families who were torn apart by end-of-life decisions. Spouses and children couldn’t agree on when it was time to let their loved one go, even when the patient had made personal wishes clear to the family. Sometimes it was a spouse who held on, other times it was the children. Before the day of the Patient Self-Determination Act that gave us the Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney, it could be an especially tough issue to resolve. Just when families needed to pull together, impending death often brought family discord and added anguish.

There was a very loving wife who delayed bringing in her husband’s Living Will because she wasn’t ready to give him up. They had been married more than 50 years and she thought she would rather take him home and care for him like an infant rather than lose him forever. After taking some time to work it through – weighing what she knew he wanted against her heartache in giving him up – she did eventually bring in his Living Will. Decisions in the midst of grief are always the hardest to make.

I think about the nurses who cried when babies would not live outside their mothers’ wombs and how they consoled those empty-armed mothers. And I remember the doctors who gave the extra measure of hope to their patients while battling extremely tough medical cases. There were pharmacists who spent time explaining a medicine or apologizing for delays and confusion when the fault wasn’t theirs, kitchen staff that made special surprises for those who needed an emotional boost, chaplains who counseled with family members in despair and prayed with patients over their fear and confusion.

One caregiver that really touched my heart was a physical therapist who was an expert at building bridges with patients with her sense of humor. I remember a family support meeting in our rehab area where we all sat around a table with the patient and caregivers explained to his family the patient’s progress. The stroke victim was expressionless until it came the physical therapist’s turn to speak. Ellen jumped right in, applying her good-humored teasing directly to the patient, and speaking much more frankly than any of the others. She told this patient he wasn’t doing all she knew he could do and she didn’t soft pedal it. Was he offended? Oh, no. His face just lit up with joy. For the first time in the meeting, he participated to the degree he was able. His therapist had made a heart contact when she worked with him; he knew she saw him as a unique individual and not just another patient recovering from a stroke. It was a beautiful moment.

A hospital is a microcosm of society. My point in reflecting on what I learned there is this: what I saw in a smaller setting is what we have all around us. Wherever we work or live, there are hurting people. Life is filled with opportunities to help someone along the way. By realizing that we walk amidst suffering, we can be more kindly observant and less judgmental, more giving and less self-centered. We can choose to not have as one of our biggest regrets someday, the things we had a chance to do for someone else and didn’t.

There is not one single person anywhere who doesn’t appreciate a little extra kindness, some measure of caring. Often the tiniest efforts mean the most. The degree of appreciation usually lies in the size of the hole in the heart – and that, only the hurting one knows.

Pat Rowland is retired from Methodist Healthcare in Memphis, Tennessee, where she was Corporate Director of Patient Affairs.

Commercial Appeal, December 2012

Sorting Blueberries — and Life

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A few days ago I bought blueberries to make my favorite blueberry muffin recipe. This morning, ready to make the muffins, I emptied the blueberries into a bowl. I had noticed when I opened the container, there were some bad berries right at the top and decided to inspect them all very carefully.

Finished with sorting, I ran cold water into the bowl to rinse the berries. As I moved a few at a time with my fingers into a measuring container, I found there were more mashed and overripe berries. I felt them, rather than saw them.  It took several times of sorting to completely get just the berries I was happy using.

I had gone from two cups of blueberries to a cup and a half, but it was just the amount called for in the recipe. All my berries now were quality. I felt confident about my muffin outcome. They would be muffins I would feel good about sharing.  While still warm, I carried some over to neighbors for their morning coffee.

God has a way of doing that with all of life when we truly trust. When we apply Romans 8:28 with a full heart of faith, he picks us over and gets rid of the things that shouldn’t be in our lives. We have to be willing. Sometimes we don’t see the part that shouldn’t be there, but God does. And when the bad or useless is removed, the quality of life is much better.

Just today I listened to a young couple talk about the things that God had removed from their lives. Things they had very much wanted. They were confused. They prayed together and eventually gave up the dreams they were holding dear. Then God moved into their lives with a much better plan. I’ve seen that happen over and over in my life.

The young couple had a suggestion worth heeding. It was to keep a journal of what you had hoped for that didn’t work out. Give the final outcome of the situation. Be sure and enter dates. Write out the curves, the delays. Tell how you saw God give you more than you had dreamed. In so doing, it will give you confidence in God’s better plan the next time you feel disappointed or discouraged.

Trust God to see what you cannot. Trust that He wants for you the very best of life. 

_______

BLUEBERRY-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Stir together and set aside
2 cups plain flour
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
Combine in a large mixing bowl
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup white sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Add alternately the flour mixture with
1 cup sour cream
Gently fold in
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries that have been sorted and rinsed.

Spoon the batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each nearly full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack for a few minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely.

Establishing the Faith of a Child

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Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6

In the nine years I tutored second graders, I learned a lot about my young friends. I heard their stories. Happy stories, some sad stories, and lots of wishful ponderings. There were times they seemed to need to talk more than work on their reading skills, so we did that.

There was one little girl I think of often. Late in our year together, she told me she didn’t have any close friends in her class. She said she felt like she didn’t fit in. I couldn’t have been more surprised. I thought she had the full package: well-mannered, respectful, smart, neat in appearance, attractive in every way. Why would this delightful little seven-year-old ever feel rejected?

Maybe it was just a bad day or week for J. I hope that’s all it was. But there was one thing I knew for sure. Her young life was being built on a solid foundation of faith in the Lord. She had told me of her recent baptism and I knew she was very familiar with the Bible. J astounded me one day with the correct pronunciation of each book of the Bible! It was something that happened by accident but was the highlight of that year’s tutoring. She said she had been taught all the books of the Bible at her church.

Like J, I was brought up in the church. Also like J, I experienced times of being left out. I experienced them as a child and I’ve experienced them as an adult. They aren’t good memories.

Sometimes we feel rejected without an actual reason, of course. We have summed something up to be true when it really isn’t. Other times we are deliberately treated unkindly and those wounds go deep. I read recently of someone who moved far away from where she had known deep pain from rejection. She determined never to return to the place where people had so harshly judged her.

Feeling rejected or judged may be two of the hardest things we deal with in life. It shouldn’t matter that we don’t meet others’ standards, but it does for most of us. Some of us care too much. (Can you see my hand lifted high?) We are all different in how much being rejected or judged affects us.

J’s mother had to be soundly grounded in her own faith for she knew the importance of what she was passing on to her daughter. How I admired this woman I never met!

At the earliest age, children need Bible instruction. They need to be taught about Jesus and that He is our safe place. No matter what may be happening, or seem to be happening, we can count on Him as a friend who will never leave us. When I’ve felt rejected or judged, it has always been to God that I have turned. I’ve leaned into His embrace and found comfort and new strength.

Though something had happened to cause this child to feel rejected, I saw strength. The strength that comes from knowing Jesus. Close attention was being paid to J’s spiritual growth. I saw the solid footing for making it through the storms of life.

It is a very wise parent who makes spiritual training a priority.

__________

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. –Deuteronomy 6:5-7 NIV

Gift-Giving

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One Christmas season, my mother said to me don’t give me anything else if I can’t wear it or eat it.”  Mother spoke out of her practical nature. She was cut from the cloth of her father, always sensible and direct. Mother had reached an age where she didn’t need nor want anything else. It wasn’t a gray mood, just how she wanted things. That was pretty much how I gifted her anyway, so we were good.

Then the day came when she shortened her directive to “If I can’t eat it, don’t give it to me. I have all the clothes I can ever wear.” Now that kind of made me sad as I remembered how her eyes would light up over gifts of new clothes. This time I thought it was a gray mood and I didn’t like it. But as is often the case with my assumptions, I assumed wrong.

Here I am nearing my 80th year and now perfectly understand Mother’s thinking. I have too much stuff and I don’t want any more stuff. All that I once loved having around me now seems too much. If I were to do things over, I’m pretty sure I would be a minimalist. I have a closet full of clothes that I still enjoy. It’s either wear them or give them away. The shopping gene was left out of my female development so I prefer wearing my closet favorites. Not to say I won’t enjoy a new thing here or there or replace something worn too long.

It has been said by various philosophers in a variety of ways that the best gift you can give someone is a gift of yourself. One of my dearest friends, who is also my housekeeper, did that for me this past birthday. When she finished cleaning, she surprised me by saying it was a gift for my birthday. It was wonderful! I felt so loved.

Another friend surprised me by dropping off a little birthday cake. That was special because a birthday doesn’t feel complete without a cake. It’s like the cherry on top of a sundae or the period at the end of a sentence.

Another friend called and sang Happy Birthday to me. What a smile maker! We talked about why we were never asked to join the choir.

Via social media and US mail, I was sent birthday greetings. Some had comments that touched me deeply. I read them several times.

My daughter and son by marriage understand that I am at this special place in my life and for Christmas and birthday made a significant donation to the local Humane Society. This was a perfect gift. It gave help to animals in my name. Animals without homes or special needs have my heart. It was a gift that made me teary.

When Mother gave me her new rule for gift-giving years ago, I didn’t much like the rule. Yet now, I understand. It was not a decision made out of depression, rather what felt good and right for a particular time in her life. I am now at that place. No more storing up things here on earth, but enjoying the things I already have and love.

It amazes me how much more like my mother I get with every passing day. And I like it. Hebrews 13:5 says to be content with what you have. I am content.

 The greatest gift is a portion of thyself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The greatest gift in life is to be remembered. –Ken Venturi

The Labor and Love of Quilting

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Do everything in love. –1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)

In the 1970s, I became interested in old things, mostly due to a neighbor’s living room being beautifully furnished with old things. Some were valuable antiques and some were simply aged pieces Betty found interesting.  I was fascinated with her finds and found them more appealing than new-from-the-store decor.

I caught the love for vintage and Daddy, taking note of my excitement, began looking for things to gift me. There was an old oak rocker purchased originally from a Sears catalog, a faux Chippendale coffee table from L&M Tea Company, and the quilt you see pictured.

Dresden Plate design

Actually, Daddy found, or was given, the quilt top and then paid someone to quilt it. Mother shook her head in bewilderment that Daddy spent money to have it completed. She didn’t think it was a very pretty piece and it was not in good shape. It was certainly not a fine quilt top like she and her mother, my grandmother, had done in their early years.  I saw all she said but I loved that my dad wanted to do this for me and accepted it with much appreciation. 1 Peter 4:8, simply put in the NLT, says the most important thing of all is to love each other deeply. This was a demonstration of Daddy’s love and I would receive it as a demonstration of mine.

For years, the quilt remained folded and stored, never used. It was too small for my bed but I could never part with it because it was a gift Daddy had taken such pleasure in giving me.

One cold night recently, I pulled the quilt out of storage, ran it through the washer and dryer, and put it on my bed. It didn’t quite meet the sides of my bed but layered between a sheet and comforter, it held in place. It felt so good to lie beneath its warmth and remember how I came to have it.

I wondered who the women were who put the quilt together — the one who pieced the top and the one who later did the quilting. I especially thought about the one who put the pieces together, thinking she would have used whatever fabric scraps available, maybe even some passed on by friends and family. I have had the quilt for almost 50 years and the top showed a lot of age when Daddy came upon it. I can’t imagine how old it is from its beginning.

When I married in 1962, my grandmother gave me a beautiful Double Wedding Ring quilt. Oh, how I wish I still had it, but it was lost along the way. The stitching in that quilt was so fine and delicate. I don’t know how many hands were involved in the quilting, but I’m sure Mama pieced it all by herself.

My favorite of the old quilt designs was Little Dutch Girl. I was fascinated by the girls in profile with their calico bonnets and dresses. I slept under one of those growing up that my mother made. Some quilters called the pattern Sunbonnet Sue.

Every stitch of my baby quilt was done by my mother’s hands.

I have my baby quilt that my Mother embroidered and quilted. Twelve little animals play across its top, each one different. It first snuggled me, then each of my brothers, and finally my own daughter. It’s close to 80 years old and though the edges are frayed from many washings, I don’t find a single missing or broken stitch. I find that amazing. For Mother’s handwork to hold up for 80 years reminds me of Colossians 3:23 that says Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord (NIV).

A close-up of a lamb on my baby quilt that Mother embroidered about 1943. Every stitch is tightly intact.

In the days of quilting by my grandmother and mother, quilting frames were quite large and usually dropped from the ceiling. Then all who could come and help would sit around the frame and delicately lay stitches, piercing through the top piece, batting, and under piece, then returning from the bottom. They shared their labor and turned out creative works of art. The work of their hands provided warm beds for their families. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands (NLT). That verse well describes the women of an earlier era who labored long and hard over what was before them to do. It was the life my mother and grandmother lived.

Quilting still happens, but the stitching today is done by sewing machines. Quilters often have machines just dedicated to quilting. The artistry is through the colors and designs and precision. To hear my friend Bonny talk about all that goes into her quilts is a delightful experience. You hear the love of the design, the challenge of selecting the fabrics that fit the person, and her anticipation of the recipient’s response. Bonny made me a lap quilt years ago. She said she chose colors that reflected my personality.

My quilt from Bon. It is a variation of Uneven Nine Patch. In the past 25 years, she has made at least 120 quilts.

Quilting was and still is an artistic labor of love. And I’ve been a grateful recipient for a lifetime.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. –1 Peter 4:10 (NASB)

A Song in Mama’s Heart

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We fall down,
we lay our crowns
at the feet of Jesus.

This was the music playing to call our prayer group to worship. Suddenly came a strong vision of my grandmother kneeling before Jesus with her gaze fixed solidly on Him. She saw only the One she had loved all her life and it was if she were the only one in His presence when she placed her crown before His feet. Tears filled my eyes.

It was fitting that during this sacred moment such a strong vision of my grandmother would come. Seeing her with the Lord, giving back to Him the crown He had given her. While on this earth, she lived daily in His presence. She was constant in prayer and song was one of her ways of praying. 

papa, mama, mother, me 1943

With Papa and Mama and my mother. The little quilted-brim sunbonnet would have been made by Mama or my mother.

My earliest memory of my grandmother, Dulcie Cotton Spencer, is of her kneeling beside her bed at bedtime in a white homemade nightgown. Her long braids that she wore wound around her head during the day were loosened to fall down her back at night. Mama prayed aloud. Maybe that was her way of including Papa in the nighttime prayers.

While too many of us have concern for our worldly possessions, how ours are stacking up against others, Mama’s concern was gathering up treasures for the king of Kings. She was instructing us in the word of God, sheltering us in His and her love, providing for the sick and grieving with pots of her famous Chicken and Dumplings, welcoming all into her home without regard for what she had to show. Mama and Papa lived a frugal life, but they always had money to help others — and they helped many. They had their priorities in order.  

Copy of spencer family about 1951

1950-51

Both of my grandparents had an intimate, abiding relationship with the Lord, but it was Mama who kept a song in her heart and on her lips. Every day, all day, Mama sang about the Jesus she loved. Ephesians 5:19 says speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and Mama did that. When she cooked, she sang. When she cleaned house, she sang. And when Mama ironed, she sang again. 

Mama Dulcie especially loved songs about heaven. Two of the hymns I remember her singing a lot were When the Roll is Called Up Yonder and Ring the Bells of Heaven. If I close my eyes and sit very still, I can hear her sweet, joyful voice.

Ring the bells of Heaven! There is joy today,
For a soul, returning from the wild!
See, the Father meets him out upon the way,
Welcoming His weary, wandering child.

Glory! Glory! How the angels sing:
Glory! Glory! How the loud harps ring!
‘Tis the ransomed army, like a mighty sea,
Pealing forth the anthem of the free.

Thank you, Mama, for loving Jesus so much and teaching your children and grandchildren to love Him, too. Thank you that you never stopped singing about Jesus. You sang with strong and confident assurance because you knew Him so well. I look forward to being with you again and seeing the mansion Jesus prepared just for you, but for now I sing the song that you sang:

When the roll is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

______________________

I cherish letters from my grandmother. I was not able to be at the family gathering on Christmas of 1986, so she wrote to tell me about it. She closed out her letter with these words: I thank God every day for all my blessings. I know he hears me. I know He heard you, too, Mama, and I’m grateful for every prayer you offered with my name on it. I feel certain I’m still reaping the rewards.

My treasured picture with Mama, 1982, was made by The Jackson Sun when they published an article I wrote about Christmases at my grandparents’ house. Papa had died a few months before.

The Best Christmases of All

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Mama and Papa 001There was only one thing my grandparents wanted each year for Christmas—for all their children to be home at once. That was the gift that brought tears to Papa’s eyes and radiance to Mama’s face. All seven children home with spouses and children. I think it was what gave all of us the best of Christmases.

DAY_DADDY_CAME_HOME_FROM_SE - Copy

Their house was humble in appearance. A white frame house Papa had built onto as need required. My mother and I were the reason for one addition. When Daddy went to war and I was just months old, Papa brought us there to live with them. It was a house made for practicality and not show.

At Christmastime, the multi-colored lights on the tree shone through the living room window, beckoning us home. Cars parked on the narrow street up and down both sides for a block. Neighbors never minded; they were invited to join us and some always did. 

Each time the front door opened laughter and greetings of welcome rang out. It was good to be together again. Mama and Papa would stand just inside the door waiting to embrace every family member and friend. Papa would chuckle with delight because his “chillun” had come home. Christmas with Papa 1979 001

Packages were stowed under the tree and dishes of food taken on to the kitchen to help Mama feed the multitude. She had cooked for days and if no one had brought a single thing, there would still have been plenty. After the tree and kitchen visits there was one more stop before joining the men for talking or the women for getting the food ready. That stop was to find Mama’s large blue granite roasting pan. For in that pan would be the one dish we had looked forward to all year—Mama’s cornbread dressing. I guess we just needed a little reassurance that it was there waiting for us.

Christmas at the Spencer’s was for love and sharing and the larger the crowd the better. Boyfriends, girlfriends, in-laws, great aunts and uncles, our pastor and his family, our small town’s highly revered doctor and his wife. Everyone was welcome. We sat everywhere, even in the bedrooms. And the food was like the loaves and fish that Jesus blessed, it seemed to keep replenishing itself.  JIM_AND_DULCIE_SPENCER_001 - Copy

One thing always happened in that house before any meal was had and that was a prayer of thanksgiving. At Christmastime, everyone migrated to the spot where Papa and Mama stood and a hush fell over the house. If Papa said the prayer he thanked God for every person there—and he cried. Papa couldn’t pray without crying because his heart was ever grateful to God for His blessings, and when Papa spoke to the Lord, his love for Him spilled out emotionally.

Money couldn’t buy the blessing of having been born into the family of Jim and Dulcie Spencer. I am indeed rich in heritage. I thank God for giving me two of His finest creations as grandparents and for the many memories of Christmases past on Campbell Street in Medina, Tennessee.

Mama and Papa 1977

Jim and Dulcie Spencer (Papa and Mama) at their house on Campbell Street in 1977. The place we all called home and would rather be than anywhere else.

The seven Spencer children, mid-1980s, probably.
L-R (standing): Tera, Betty Jo (Replogle), Bluford
Front: JB, Louise, (Luffman), Evelyn (Barnes),
Cornelia (Cagle)
Spencer children standing in birth order. The picture was probably made about 1938 or ’39. Louise (my mother), JB, Bluford, Cornelia, Tera, Evelyn, Betty Jo. All deceased except for Cornelia (94) and Tera (92).

This was first published in 2014. I have added a few pictures and am posting it again today in honor of the 30th anniversary of my grandmother’s going home to Jesus. There was never a better woman than Dulcie Cotton Spencer. She witnessed her faith and love for Christ every minute of her life.

Thanksgiving 1982 at my house. She was 82.

The Problem with Assuming

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I am reading an 1800s novel about a man who causes himself great heartache when he assumes something to be true solely based on what he sees. In the story, Larson is badly burned while away from home on business. He survives only by a godly couple’s determined care for his body and soul. He is unable to get word to his wife, Kathryn, and is thought to have died in a snowstorm. Yet his wife never gives up hope that he is alive and will come back to her.

Months later, when Larson is able to travel, he lingers on the outskirts of his rural community’s small town, watching for his wife and wondering if she will accept him back into her life. The burns have left him scarred beyond recognition. He is hesitant to reveal himself to his wife for fear of her disgust and rejection upon seeing him. 

Larson, looking on from the shadows of the small town, sees his wife going into a brothel and assumes she has turned to this kind of life to make a living. They were barely surviving when he left home. He also notices a bulge at her waistline and assumes, rightly so, that she is pregnant. But Larson believes Kathryn is pregnant by someone she entertained. Now he is the one filled with disgust.

Larson’s assumptions were wrong. Kathryn was taking food to a woman in the brothel, a woman she was bearing witness to that God had a better plan for her life. And the baby she was carrying was his, conceived on their last night together. He had not given room for that possibility because, after 10 years of trying to have a baby, Larson believes himself to be sterile.

For quite a while, Larson watches from afar, loving her with all that he is but doubting his ability to accept things as they appear to be. He finds solace for his heartache only when he turns to the Bible the couple had given him. Philippians 4:8 said to Larson, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (ESV).

Kathryn had been all these things and when he focuses on these truths, Larson finds peace. God’s word becomes a shelter for him from the harsh winds of his conjecture. When he falters and lets go of God’s wisdom, each time he falls back into assumptions which leads to agitation and anger. He inflicts needless pain on himself by believing what he thinks he is seeing — but isn’t real.

Aren’t we all guilty from time to time? Making ourselves miserable with assumptions? Remember how Jack Webb of Dragnet fame used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am (or sir), just the facts”? That’s still good advice. We can wind up in a place we don’t need to be and find later the destination was completely unnecessary and not on God’s map for us at all. The Message Bible says this in Proverbs 25:8: “Don’t jump to conclusions. There may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.”

Tamera Alexander is an inspired writer, weaving scripture into the storyline exceptionally well. Her book, Rekindled, is a good reminder of many things, but for this blog purpose, it is that we should never make decisions based on assumptions. And, even should our assumptions turn out to be correct, God’s overriding principle is still Love. His word is a book of love. His love for us and how He wants us to love others. We shore ourselves up mightily when we read and practice its wisdom daily.

God’s word is always wisdom.

Prayerful Pondering’s beautiful header is by Mark Hearn, my son-in-law.

Saying Goodbye

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Goodbyes are especially hard for me. I just don’t handle them well — never have. It’s a part of me I don’t quite understand.

When I took early retirement from a job that I loved, I refused the customary appreciation reception; I simply couldn’t bear to think how emotionally hard it would be. I had poured heart and soul into my job. I knew it was a place that God had brought me to serve Him and letting go was necessary but not easy. Additionally, I asked my staff to treat it as if it were any other day and not say goodbye. I felt it was the only way I could get through it. I slipped out the side door of my office and quietly drove away.

When my 14-year-old kitty had to be put to sleep, I declined the private time at the Veterinary ER with her prior to the moment. I knew when I left home with Chloe that she would not be returning with me, so I had said the things that I wanted to say to her before we left and while we traveled to the point of goodbye. After she had entered heaven’s gates, the veterinarian told me I could have as long as I needed to stay and hold her, but I couldn’t stay. While I was still in control of my emotions, I had to get back home.

I was at my husband’s bedside when he died, when they unhooked him from life support, at the time of his last breath. Again, I was told to stay as long as I needed, but I could not extend that goodbye either. Richard wasn’t there anyway. I saw him go home to be with the Lord. I saw him healthy and happy. So did our friend who was with us. She said the presence of the Lord was so strong in the room that she would never again be afraid of dying.

My manner of goodbye seems to be through hurried escape. It’s my way of surviving the pain, I think. I need to distance myself and be alone. I need to move through the sea of grief and get back to shore where I feel safer. I really don’t think it’s the best way to handle goodbyes, but it’s my way and God understands. He understands because He created me just as I am. I have been told that when we love deeply, with total abandon, we hurt just as deeply. In all three of the events disclosed, I loved in total abandon.

When something ends that has been important to our life as we’ve known it, we lose a part of who we are. A layer of our being is permanently gone and can never be recaptured. What it was will forever be, but we can’t enhance or change any part of it.

A friend invited me to a ceremony of closure regarding the ending of her marriage. Just months after they were married, she learned her husband was still married to not one but two other women. Yet knowing this, she continued to love and mourn him. Her counselor suggested the shredding of their marriage certificate with her pastor, the counselor, and a close friend. We sat in our church sanctuary where she was given time to say anything she wanted to say. She did it without anger, just brief statements of her love, disappointment, and deep sadness. Then she tore into small pieces the paper that had officially bound them. She told me that the ceremony provided the closure she needed and afterward she was able to move on without looking back. That was powerful. I wish I could be like her: get help with grief, embrace it, take action, never look back. But we just aren’t all built the same way. I’ve tried to imagine handling differently the ending of things in my life and maybe I wouldn’t even if I could. So there’s so reason to look back with regret, is there?

There was a wise old sage that I used to quote in customer service training. He was filled with such good advice in the most uncomplicated of terms. His name was Winnie the Pooh. He said this about goodbyes: “How lucky I am to have had some things that make saying goodbye so hard.” So am I. Blessed, in fact. Thanks, Pooh, for making something that I’ve thought complex sound so very simple and clear.

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I am so sorry I have confused many with this blog. I am not giving up my blog, not moving, not going anywhere. This was simply meant as a reflection on how I have handled permanent losses in my past.

~~The new masthead is a photograph by my son-in-law, Mark Hearn.~~