Through It All – A Tribute to Mama

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and I’m thinking about my mama. This is how I remember her — the way she looked on my wedding day.

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She was a beautiful lady inside and out. I am so thankful she is my mama, and she is one of the reasons I say I am blessed beyond measure.

This is how my daddy always remembered mama — the way she looked when they met.

I like to think this is how she looks now!

It was 20 years ago this month that my mama died. I don’t remember the actual date, which is okay with me.  I just remember that she died when I was pregnant with my son David, and that it was a couple weeks before Mother’s Day. I had the privilege of putting together the program for my mama’s funeral, and the bulletin we picked out was perfect for her. It was a Mother’s Day bulletin that said, “Her children will rise up and call her blessed.” That was my mama — both blessed and a blessing to those who knew her.

I miss her every time I think of her, and there are days that I so want to talk with her. She was not just intelligent — she was wise. She had the white hair to prove it — ha ha — or maybe she had the white hair because she had 8 kids to remember in prayer.  Or maybe it was just because she had lived a good long life.

She was not really a singer — she rarely sang even during our church services. She was a pianist — she was well trained, and she could play just about any music you set before her.  She told me she didn’t think to sing because she had spent so much of her time playing the piano for others.

But she loved music. She loved good, gospel music. She loved to hear others sing. She loved to hear her family sing.

When my brother Phillip taught himself to play the piano, some of my siblings and I started to sing gospel songs at church and local Christian events. Both my parents loved this, but I think it really touched my mama’s heart. She was rarely emotional, but I remember her shedding a tear or two when she heard us sing Andre Crouch songs. This was one of the first ones we learned.

It’s really the story of her life.

I’ve had many tears and sorrows
I’ve had questions for tomorrow
There’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong
But in every situation
God gave me blessed consolation
That my trials come to only make me strong

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word

I’ve been to lots of places
I’ve seen a lot of faces
There’s been times I felt so all alone
But in my lonely hours
Yes, those precious lonely hours
Jesus lets me know that I was His own

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word

I thank God for the mountains
And I thank Him for the valleys
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through
For if I’d never had a problem
I wouldn’t know God could solve them
I’d never know what faith in God could do

I love you, mama, and I know — I know — I KNOW — that someday I will see you again. And oh, what a happy day that will be!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Little Rascals and Paper Airplanes

We have two cats, Luna and Midnight, and I like to think of them as Little Rascal 1 and Little Rascal 2. They are warm and funny and sweet — most of the time — and they help fill a void in the house now that my sons are grown. Luna and Midnight don’t in any way take the place of my two sons, but they do distract me from missing Nathan and David.

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Today they were being particularly rambunctious. (I guess I spelled that right, because the word processor didn’t red-line it. Good for me!) After they had their wet food for dinner, they must have been feeling pretty energetic. Midnight chased Luna all over the house. Then I heard a loud thunk in the living room corner and went to investigate.

I noticed candle holder missing from its place and found the large candle it usually holds lying on the floor underneath the end table.

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Frankly, I was thankful nothing broke — this time.

As I bent over to pick up the fallen knickknacks, I noticed it. Way back in the corner, almost hidden by the speaker and the long window coverings, it was resting as though it had just landed. It was a beautiful little paper airplane.

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I picked it up and took it to the kitchen to dispose of it. And then, I stopped. I could not bring myself to throw the little thing away.

It was a reminder of my sons when they were young.

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Both of my sons are brilliant and good at many things. As a child, Nathan was the puzzled solver, never able to leave the game until he had figured out the maze, cracked the code or finished the boss and made it to the next level. David was the creative one. When he was 2, the Sunday School teacher joked that we could not bring him back because he had made a little toy gun from Legos. He once created a sword from newspapers and duct tape. David taught himself how to juggle, how to make all kinds of origami figures, and how to make 110 different kinds of paper airplanes.

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So when I saw this beautiful paper airplane, I saw the face of my son and remembered.

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Then, I smiled over the memory.

We have a father in heaven who loves us — to death — and I believe he smiles over all the paper airplanes we make. He smiles because he loves us, and he loves the beautiful things we create. Who would have imagined that a paper airplane, found unexpectedly, could actually be a treasure? Beauty is in the eye and heart of the beholder. The plane is a treasure to me because I know who made it.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

I miss my sons, but I am thankful that they have grown into the smart, handsome, strong and kind-hearted Christian young men they are now. I miss their little faces and hands and all the mess and noise they used to make around the house. Yeah, I miss those little rascals.

 

A Place for You

This week I have the pleasure of sharing a wonderful letter my big brother Phillip sent me and my siblings a couple weeks ago. It was so touching, the thoughts so well worded that I asked him if I could share it on my blog. He graciously agreed.

Here’s a picture of me with Phillip a couple years ago.

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First, I’d like to give you a little family background.

My father was a minister in a small conservative Methodist denomination (the Evangelical Methodist Church, in case you are wondering.) He always pastored small churches, so the pay was also small. He and my mama were the proud parents of 8 children, and they loved each one of us very much. You could say they were called to pastor small churches, but they were also called to have a big family. And I, for one, am very thankful for that, as I am the youngest of the 8.

Here’s my whole family at our wedding — years and years ago.

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My parents’ calling meant they lived a life of sacrifice. And so did we, the children of the called.

Now, here is my brother Phillip’s letter:

This past week I had the opportunity to watch some interviews and special presentations with Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint who, along with 4 other men, was brutally massacred while trying to reach the Auca Indians for Christ.  It struck me how each of these people, and their families, saw something that goes beyond the physical.  Looking back on the lives of our parents, I can recall how they were able to see things in a supernatural way.  Each of these people, including Daddy and Mama, were not easily distracted by the tangible and were able to look way beyond it.
“I love to tell the story of unseen things above.
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true.
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.”
I can remember a conversation I had with Mama one day sitting on her bed when they lived in the upstairs apartment next to the Thompsons in Keysville (this was shortly after I moved back following graduation from dental school).  I was remarking how tough their lives had been, materially speaking, and how this was by far the best they had experienced.  As she replied, she started recalling how faithful God had been over the years.  At some point, she started sobbing and I didn’t understand what was happening.  I thought at first that they were tears of sadness for the years of tight bills, lean eating, sub-par housing, etc.  My heart was breaking for her.  However, when she was finally able to speak, what she said surprised me and made a deep and profound impression on me.  She shared with me John 14:1-3, not by quoting the scripture passage but by speaking from the depths of her soul.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  I can’t forget that conversation and, in fact, it comes to my mind more and more these days.
“I love to tell the story ‘tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own Holy Word.”
When I look back on my life, it did not turn out as I pictured it when I finished dental school in 1985.  It has been infinitely richer, and my 401K is not very impressive.  I can see things more clearly with every day as I see through scripture and in my own life how God is sovereignly in control of every step of my life.  I’ve tried to convey this same thought to Geli [his daughter] and Vicki [his wife] in our many precious conversations over the years.
Thinking back now to the 5 martyred missionaries, I recall what the Indians saw as they were killing.  They saw men that were mighty in appearance standing on the other side of the river bank.  These men did not attack them.  They were, I believe, angels who were sent by God to usher these saints into His presence.  “Precious in God’s sight is the death of His saints.”
“I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing a new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.”
Life speeds by exceedingly fast.  I’m glad I was able to have that conversation with Mama.
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I’m so thankful for my family, for my siblings, who are all still with us, and for my parents who have gone on to the home with many rooms that Jesus has prepared for us. I look forward to seeing my room someday, and to sitting on the porch of that big house and hearing my folks tell me once again “the old, old story that I have loved so long.”

Stronger

Did you ever have a song keep running through your mind all day long, over and over and over? And nothing could make that song go away.

When this happens to me, it is usually something stupid like, “My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.”

But today, it’s a really good one.

Some days I wake up feeling really strong — like the world is my oyster (whatever that means.) “Today, I will go out in confidence and live bravely, talk to people I don’t know and really be a blessing to everyone I meet.”

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But many days, most days if I am really honest, I wake up feeling a bit weak. The thought might go through my mind that —

if only people knew who I really am,

if they knew how ______________ (fill in the blank with the negative adjective) I am,

then they would not really like me, or respect me, or appreciate me.

Thoughts like these, some positive and some negative, are clearly lies of the enemy, deceptions from the one who seeks to kill, steal and destroy anything that is of God, anything that is truly good.

And then, God in His grace takes my mind back to that sweet song we all learned in Sunday school, so many years ago.

We are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

So, yeah, some days, I am weak, maybe weaker than I know. Other days, I am strong, maybe stronger than I know. But everyday, I know this. Jesus is stronger. He is stronger than anything I might encounter today, and He loves me more than I will ever know.

 

Stronger

There is love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner’s cross
You broke my shame and sinfulness
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

You are stronger you are stronger
Sin is broken you have saved me
It is written  — Christ is risen
Jesus you are Lord of all

No beginning and no end.
You’re my hope and my defense
You came to seek and save the lost
You paid it all upon the cross

So let your name be lifted higher
Be lifted higher be lifted higher

You are stronger you are stronger
Sin is broken you have saved me
It is written  — Christ is risen
Jesus you are Lord of all

Some days, you may feel weak, and other days, you may feel strong. But everyday, if you know Jesus, know this: HE is stronger.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

He is stronger than anything you will encounter today, and He loves you more than you will ever know.

I hope this song gets stuck in your head, and that it plays over and over until it is written in your heart.

Advent

Yes, I realize it’s February, and we are long past Christmas. So when you read today’s title, you may be slightly confused.

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I have two confessions. First, I love Christmas, and I listen to Christmas music all year long — and I may, on occasion, watch Christmas movies in the middle of the summer. Whew! I am so glad to get that off my chest.

 

Second, I am a procrastinator. I have a bad habit of putting things off to the last minute. I can’t tell you the number of times I have actually been up, into the wee hours of the morning, wrapping Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve / Christmas Day. When we used to travel to my in-laws for Christmas, we would take the presents and all the gift wrappings and wrap gifts when we got there — no lie. And sometimes, even though I love Christmas, I get the decorations up so late that I leave them up until, say, late January just so we can enjoy them a bit before I take them down. So yeah — I may have a problem.

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Two pictures of my family from Christmas past.

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This morning I was doing my devotions. I enjoy the YouVersion Bible app on my phone because I can read the Bible in several translations, and it has a wide variety of Bible studies or daily readings on subjects I can follow.

I’m doing one right now on Advent.

In case there is anyone who doesn’t know what advent means, I looked it up online. Here is what Wikipedia says:

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the second coming. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming”. 

Yes, again, I KNOW it is February, and Advent was officially over a month ago or more. However, I am a procrastinator, so I am still enjoying this little study.

Today’s lesson was on the passage in Luke that we hear every year quoted by Linus on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I love that scene and have enjoyed for decades. Here is the scripture:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, 
the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, 
and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”

Luke 2:8-20 (KJV)

In the devotional, the author says that we should go back and read these very familiar verses with fresh eyes, asking the Holy Spirit to show us something new that we may not have seen before. That sounded good, so that’s what I did. And you know what? God answered that prayer.

We all know, if we have heard these verses, that God proclaimed His coming into the world to the shepherds. They were the lowliest of the low in their culture, I think. There’s so much richness in that — to think that the God of the whole universe would, first of all, choose to come to earth at all, but then to choose to send His Son Jesus to our world through a messy human birth, to a young, poor virgin girl, to be born in a stable with  stinky animals, to be the Savior of all. Then add to that, He announced it to the shepherds.

With fresh eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, I suddenly saw these shepherds as real people in this real story. They were men that lived most of their lives alone, out tending the sheep in the fields and on the hillsides. They were loners. I wonder if they may have gone days without speaking to any other humans — days without hearing any other voices. It occurred to me that they were probably introverts, and maybe they actually were more comfortable out in the fields alone with the sheep than having to interact daily with other people. What an amazing and scary thing that angel army light show must have been to those poor souls out on the dark and quiet fields that night!

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, 
the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, 
and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And God chose them to be the first to hear that His Son Jesus had been born on this earth. He chose them to go see this thing. He chose them to leave the stable and go and tell others all they had seen and heard.

Why would God choose poor, lonely, introverts to go tell people about his birth?

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds…And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

That’s the other thing I noticed with my fresh eyes today. The angel said that this savior was born unto you.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto youYe shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

The angel made it really personal. God was sending His Son to the shepherds and this was good news – this would bring great joy — to ALL the people. This child was born for everyone.

And God told the shepherds first.

I have always thought of myself as an introvert. I am perfectly happy to spend an afternoon alone, reading, sipping hot tea, watching a good Christmas movie, haha! But getting together with other people takes effort. I realized recently that most of my best friends through the years have been extroverts. That’s because we may never have become friends if they had waited on me to make the first move toward friendship. That is not a happy thought for me.

So when I think that God entrusted the telling of the story of His birth to the likes of the lowly, introverted shepherds, I feel a bit in awe. The fact that the story got told and retold and is still being retold today is part of the miracle of Christmas.

God uses common, ordinary people in miraculous ways to do incredible things they could never have done on their own.

That’s a God-thing. And He gets the glory.

 

 

 

Christ in Me

It’s a new year and another new day. I’m still alive and kicking, thank the Lord.

A memory popped up on Facebook this week reminding me that 6 years ago this week I finished chemo. Wow! I finished chemo, and God finished the cancer. When God says it’s finished, it is finished indeed. Amen.

I’m doing a little devotional on worship through a Bible app, and it is amazingly poignant. Every single day God speaks to me through this little 5 minute devotional. (I think God is always speaking to us, but we are not always listening.) Anyway, this week I am hearing what He is saying.

One day, I think it was Tuesday, the commentary mentioned a quote from a poem by St. Patrick. Now, I happen to be a fan of St. Patrick — even gave my first son Patrick as his middle name. SO when I heard this quote, my ears perked up. Here it is:

“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.”

This started me thinking. What would it be like if I actively listened to people’s words to hear what Christ was saying to me? What if I prayed daily, and as often as it came to mind, that Christ would be in the ear that hears me, in the eye that sees me? And what if I prayed that Christ would help me to see him in the people I meet, to hear him in the conversations I have, to keep him close in my heart all the day long?

Okay, sorry to go there, but this reminds me of a little song we sang in Sunday school. “Oh, be careful little feet where you go…for the Father up above is looking down in love.” I used to think this was a scary prospect — that God was watching where I went and what I did so he could cream me when I messed up. But you know, He is looking down in love. In fact, He is walking right beside me if I am a believer, and THAT is pretty amazing. No fear in love, just love and grace and peace and security.

This new year I am going to pray for God to open my eyes, ears and heart to see, hear and experience Him however He may choose to communicate with me. And I’m going to pray for Christ to be present in the eyes that see me, in the ears that hear me.  Because life is really all about HIM. Life is really only in HIM. He is life.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1-5

Krispy Kremes and other miracles

Today, I just want to thank God for Krispy Kremes. You may think I jest, but I’m serious! I think He knew how much happiness they could bring when someone first thought of them. The Bible says God gives good gifts to His kids, so there you go.

September 29th is National Coffee Day, and I treated myself to the free doughnut and coffee Krispy Kreme was giving away. Wow! Was that good! It’s been a while since I had a real old-fashioned glazed yeast doughnut, and I enjoyed it, down to the last little bit of flaked off glaze. (If you’ve ever had a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you know what I’m talking about!)

Eating that doughnut brought back some of the best memories I have from my childhood.

I grew up, the youngest child of a large family, in a tiny town in southside Virginia.

Here’s a somewhat recent picture of me and my siblings, all but my sister Becky.

Our town was so small, it had no stoplights at all. In fact, I think there may have been just one traffic light in our entire county, and it was a flashing light meant to slow you down. We had one public high school and a middle school, known as the junior high — just one of each for the whole county. My graduating class had about 150 students. All this is just to let you know the place where I grew up.

When I was still in elementary, my teenage brother and sisters would always be raising money for something – usually band uniforms or class trips. Sometimes they would come home with about a thousand candy bars they were supposed to sell. They sold most of them on the bus ride to and from school and many of the rest to the members of our little country church. We usually ended up spending a good portion of our allowance to buy some goodies for ourselves, too.

My favorite fundraisers were the ones where they sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts. “How did this work?” you may ask.

Being from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, we had no fast food to speak of. As far as I can remember, the only place nearby was Tastee Freeze, which was the small town version of Dairy Queen.

So for the annual fundraiser, the band took orders for dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. They collected orders for weeks. Then, on the appointed day, someone would drive to Richmond, I think, and fill up a van with the boxes of golden goodness. The goodies were handed out to the students for distribution as soon as the van arrived back at the school. I think the band charged twice what they paid for them, and so they made a tidy little profit for their cause.

Although we had a tight budget, our family would buy several boxes of Krispy Kremes and store them in our big freezer. We would open one box the very day they arrived, but we saved the rest for some time in the future. On those glorious winter days when we would finally pull out a dozen doughnuts, we would revel in the lovely smell of warm sugar as my dad heated up the frozen ovals in the oven. Even after spending weeks or months in the freezer, those pastries tasted amazingly delicious.

We called this “having a treat.” You know, like “Trick or Treat.” And it was a treat in the real sense of the word because we did not have them everyday. They were special.

Sometimes I wonder if our kids, kids that grow up with so much  — of everything, will remember anything as special. Is Halloween candy really a treat when kids can get it any time they go to the store?

I’m sure our parents thought the same thing about things like driving a car, seeing a movie, making a telephone call, or maybe even going to college. Is it still special when it is so easily accessible?

I really don’t know. I hope so! I hope that each generation has something special to remember from childhood and something exciting to look forward to in the future. I pray each day for God to open my eyes to the beauty of that day. Everyday is a miracle. Oh, yes, it is! Life is a miracle. Just to be here to taste the sweetness, to hear the birds and the waves, to see the sunrise and sunset, to feel the breeze and the rain on my face.

So today, I just want to thank God for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.