A Tribute

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend passed away. As I read about and talked with her family about her last weeks, I would find myself weeping…sometimes for myself and that I would not see her again this side of eternity, sometimes for her and the quickness, but at the same time slowness, in which her illness was taking her away, and sometimes for her family who were daily watching her slow decent into forgetfulness.

The first time I saw Ms. Mary I wanted to know her. There was something in her manner, her countenance, that was so inviting. When I began to know her, I was not satisfied with just knowing her. I wanted to be her friend.

I loved sitting by her on the couch as she knitted, listening to stories of her life in Ireland. She would always say that she was talking too much, which I refuted because I just wanted her to keep telling me stories. As she spoke in her gentle, Irish voice about her deceased husband or son, her eyes would begin to shine with tears. She spoke of how much she missed them and how she longed for the day to be reunited with them. She spoke of how ready she was to see Jesus as well.

She spoke of humorous things, smiling and laughing gently as she did so. She drew me into her memories. And then she would turn around and ask me questions about my children, my marriage, my life, giving me counsel that only someone who has lived 90 years and seen the things she had seen can give.

On first sight, she seemed frail…and physically she was frail. But she was also as strong as iron with the gentlest and most loving heart…at least, that was always my impression of her and it will be my lasting memory.

I will never forget the evening we spent with her and her family before we left Winston-Salem to come to Italy. After dinner, she called me to her bedroom to speak to me privately. She held out a little box to me. Upon opening it, I found a golden necklace with a three leaf clover. She explained that the Irish don’t find four-leaf clovers lucky. It is the three leaf clover that has meaning because the three leaves symbolise the Trinity. She asked me to take the necklace and when I wore it to think of her and say a prayer for her. She pulled me close and held me there a while, neither of us wanting to let go. As I got into my car, I looked up at her window and saw her standing there, watching us leave. She stayed in that window, waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

I still wear the necklace she gave me…and while she was here I thought of her and prayed for her every single time I put it on. Now when I wear it, I still think of her…my wee, strong as iron, tender-hearted friend.

 

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Like a Tree Planted By Water

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It was movie night. The kids were engrossed in the action on the TV, while devouring a huge bowl popcorn. Paul went to the bathroom, soon afterwards calling for me to come help him. Sitting down, he said he was having extreme pain in his side and felt like he was going to pass out.

I helped him to the couch, where he laid, curled in a ball of pain. The kids sat…still engrossed in the movie, devouring a now half-eaten bowl of popcorn.

I somehow knew immediately it was either an appendicitis or a kidney stone, which his father has and which I, honestly, have been waiting 10 years for him to develop. Either way, it was clear after less than five minutes he was going to need to go to the hospital.

I called Justin, our teammate. After apologizing for calling so late on a Friday night, I explained the situation. We decided it would be better for Justin to take him to the hospital and for me to stay at home with the kids, who are still glued to the TV but done with the popcorn.

I packed a bag just in case he had to stay overnight. Justin and Santei (an intern) came as quickly as they could, and after helping Paul down the stairs, I put him in the van and sent him to the hospital…without me.

I promptly returned upstairs to put the kids to bed. The movie had ended and they finally noticed Daddy wasn’t there. I calmly explained Justin was taking him to the hospital because Daddy was in a lot of pain and we weren’t sure why.

I crocheted and watched a movie and prayed. I waited to hear something.

Because that was all I could do.

And while I wanted to be at the hospital, I knew that even there, I would be doing the same thing and not even in the same room with my husband.

During this whole process, I remained calm. I did not once panic or cry or freak out. I don’t know that my reaction would have been the same a few years ago. I’m prone to dramatics, so needless to say, remaining calm during high stress situations is not my forte. My dad has always said there is something to be said about being steady, even during difficult times. He is the epitome of steadiness though. I’ve seen him break bad news several times, and the words that would always comes to my mind as I watched him were calmness and steadiness.

I have been reflecting on how it is I was able to stay calm. The one thing that keep coming back to my  mind is something I read several days before the kidney stone attack, which we learned it was about an hour after he got to the hospital. It was Jeremiah 17:8,”He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The preceding verse tells us whom “He” is referring. “He” is “the man who trusts in the the Lord.” Who is speaking? God. God is telling Jeremiah the man who trusts in the Lord will be blessed, though trials come, he will remain steadfast, strong, and bear fruit because he is rooted in the Lord. Back up a few verses and he tells us what happens when we put our trust in “man and makes flesh his strength.” Basically, nothing good.

It is not by my strength that I am able to do anything. My weaknesses are made clear to me on a daily basis. Like Paul, I want to be content with “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because “when I am weak, that I am strong.” I want to be steady and calm when the hard things come not out of vanity but because I believe it points to the power of Christ in me.

My strength would have failed me that Friday night. I would have been crying, worried, anxious in my own strength. I believe the Holy Spirit began doing something in me long before that night: showing me my weaknesses and finding strength in Him, giving me a thirst for Him so that I spend time with Him not just in the morning but throughout the day, and learning to allow Him to be the roots that hold me fast, steady, calm, bearing fruit. Because of these things that He was doing in me (and that I was allowing Him to do) I was steady and calm in a moment when I normally would have been anything but.

The Door That Never Stops Revolving

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Our doors revolve. And sometimes quickly. The door can be revolving so fast at times it makes your head spin. People come and go faster than the golden snitch trying to evade a Seeker during a Quidditch match (that one’s for you Vince Rice). Before they are over jet lag good it is time for them to return to their lives wherever that may be. It can be hard at times to keep up with everyone stepping out of the revolving door and into your life and then stepping back out again.

People coming is good. That is not the difficult part. Just the opposite. It’s the easy part. It’s the looked forward to part. The anticipated, over-the-top excited part.

One would naturally assume that the leaving would be the difficult part. While it is difficult it is not the most difficult part, at least for me. Why? Because they always leave. They have lives to get back to after all. No one expects them to extend their trip indeterminately. They did, after all, buy a return ticket.

No, the difficulty is not in the coming or the leaving. The difficulty is how to let them into your heart and lives on more than a superficial level knowing they are only here for a few short days or maybe months. The difficultly is not becoming numb to the emotion that comes with the revolving of the door with all the different people stepping off either into my house or out of it.

It would be so easy to not even try to get know people or not be “real” with them. It would be easy to not let them in, to put up a guarded fence that maybe one can peep through between the slats but cannot penetrate.

This is one of my fears. Not one that has been realized too much at the moment but one that I am fearful will develop if I don’t watch out for it and make sure that I don’t pick up the hammer and some nails to begin building that fence without even knowing it. I don’t want to become numb to the revolving door.  That’s not to say you don’t get used to it. You do. How could you not? But there has to be a healthy balance between letting people in and letting them go well, without either shutting down and not letting people in and becoming an emotional wreck every time the door starts to revolve when someone walks away back to their life. I don’t want to be an emotional basket case when folks leave but I also don’t want to shut down emotionally.

Almost more importantly, I don’t want my children to become numb to people coming and going. It is the way of their lives-people constantly coming into their lives and then leaving. Honestly it is one part of their lives that I don’t care for too much.  It is ugly and hard and not fun. But it gives us the opportunity to teach our children how to love people and how to let them go well, which they will need all their lives as people come and go for various reasons.

While constantly putting people back on the revolving door is an ugly, not-so-nice part of this life, the beautiful part is the people who step off that door as it circles round and round, the new friendships that are formed, the old friends whose faces you get to see, the family you cling to for minutes on end.

My prayer is that we as a family never become immune to the revolving door but instead embrace all who walk through it into our lives for however long they are here before they circle back around and head home.

How I Came to be a Lover of the Written Word

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My sixth grade English teacher passed away recently due to complications from lupus. Mrs. LeVert has remained one of my favorite teachers over the years. I can still remember where I sat in her classroom – second desk on the front row on the far side of the room, by the window. I remember how she used transparency sheets on an overhead projector and was constantly erasing her multi-colored writings. I remember how she wore her reading glasses on a chain  and when she put them on her nose they sat close to the nip of her nose. She would look over those glasses at you with kindness – or sometimes sternness- in her eyes.

Perhaps the greatest memory I have of Mrs. LeVert though is her reading, “The Bridge to Terabithia” aloud to us. I remember walking to her room anxious for everyone to sit down, pay attention, and get their work done so there would be time left over for her to read to us. How angry I would become at the other students when, heaven forbid, they asked a question. “I mean, for the love of Pete, just be quiet so we can get to the good stuff,” or something like it probably went through my mind. I’m sure there was a eye roll or two to accompany the thought.

On the blessed days when everyone cooperated with my need to hear another chapter read and got their work done (my work was probably done to half-par standards just so I could get it done quickly), Mrs. LeVert would pull out the book, sit down in her chair that she placed in front of the projector, adjust her glasses, and begin to read, magically taking us to another time and place.

As she read, “She stole my Twinkies!” Jess sighed. “May Belle, didn’t I tell you?” “You gotta kill Janice Avery. Kill her! Kill her! Kill her!”, Mrs. LeVert screamed and cried just like a small girl would do if some great tragedy has befallen her.

And when Mrs. LeVert read when Jess discovers what has happened to Leslie, anguish and tears in her voice, I sat at my desk sad, crying, and distraught. How dare Katherine Paterson do such a terrible thing. It’s the first time I can remember being so moved by the written word. It opened up an entirely new world for me. I enjoyed reading before this, but this moment, this reading of a now most beloved book, catapulted me into a love of reading that I hope to pass on to my children.

Mrs. LeVert accomplished many things in her life. But for me, she accomplished something that has continued beyond her classroom….She gave me a deep, saturating, never-ending love…a love for traveling to new places, meeting people, and having adventures that can only be found in the written word.

 

The Challenge of Interruptions in Life

A couple of weeks ago I had a incredibly crazy day stretching out in front of me.. I mean, C to the R to the A….well, you get the picture.

It was absurd the amount of things I needed to get done. I was feeling stressed and I didn’t even have children with me that day because they were at an English camp that this incredibly great team from Orlando was putting on.

I set about my day as soon as I had left the kids at the drop-off zone, said hello and good luck to the team, and kissed my cute hubby goodbye for the day. After a quick stop at the market I headed home to drop off my bags and then head out again to do more errand-running.

On the way home I ran into my friend, Sara*. We chatted for a few minutes and as good Italian manners dictate, she invited me for a coffee, which I accepted. I have to interrupt the story here to tell you what was going on in my head at the moment. If you are a task-oriented, ticker-off-of-list, “if I don’t get all the things done the world as we know it will cease to exist” person then you will understand my next few sentences. If you are a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person, you have no idea what I am talking about unless to are married to the other type of person.

Many thoughts ran through my mind in the five seconds after she invited me to coffee.

“I have too many things to do.”

“A little coffee break could be nice.”

“How will I EVER get it all done?”

“It’ll just be a quick, stand-up coffee. I have time for that.”

“I’ve got these heavy bags.”

“I’d really like to go have coffe.”

“Do I have TIME???”

I went. The bags were placed on the stroller, which contained her sleeping one-year old, and off we went. While walking Sara says, “Let’s sit down.” Oh mercy, this just turned into an event. An event that on one hand I was happy to attend and on the other caused my blood pressure to go up because of the bigger time crunch I’d be under.

We found a nice shady spot and ordered our coffee drinks and began chatting. The conversation quickly turned to more serious matters and I quickly realized  Sara was need of someone to talk to and I was that somebody.

We talked for almost an hour. She talked, I tried my best to understand and then communicate things accurately. Grace is seen abundantly when I am in the midst of hard conversations in Italian. And though Sara is a believer, I was able to remind of things she already knows to be true but perhaps needed a gentle reminder of. After an hour or so, the baby had awakened and could no longer be consoled with the playing of sugar packets. Thus, the conversation ended. But before we left I able to pray for her. Again, God is gracious and though my language during that prayer was HORRID, I left knowing that Sara understood what I was trying to say, but more importantly, God knew.

My busy day had been interrupted by someone who needed a listening and compassionate ear. I was able to check off most of the things on my list, and I felt better about the time I spent with my friend than the checked off list. Again, “list” people will understand the magnitude of that.

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Gingernut has NOT been sleeping at night. Annoyingly so. There is a part of me that sympathizes. Starting in childhood I have had trouble sleeping. I contribute my love for westerns, specifically Bonanza, to sleepless nights spent on the couch with my dad. However, there is a larger part of me that is just annoyed. Annoyed that “my” time is being interruppted. Annoyed that I can’t do the relaxing thing(s) I had planned to do. I’m just annoyed, which leads to irritation, which leads to anger, which leads to unkind words being spoken to a child who in that moment in no way can feel loved.

I will pause to say that I understand limits and boundaries will be tested. The “up-downs” (when children are up and down constantly from their beds) are real and alive and stretch the patience of parents worldwide. When the up-downs occur, discipline enters the scene. Every up-down cannot be cuddled and babied. Children need to have boundaries and discipline when said boundary is crossed. But there are times when they truly do just need another moment of our time. One more cuddle, one more story, one more kiss and tuck in goodnight. It’s our job to know the difference.

I was not seeing the difference. I was only seeing myself and what I wanted…time to myself or with Paul or the list of things I needed to get done. I was being unkind in my words. I wasn’t seeing that Gingernut just needed a little extra.

This hit me one night in particular. Paul was out and I was watching a movie and Gingernut had a bad case of the up-downs. She just would not go to bed. She kept interrupting my movie and I was getting upset. Then it hit me…like a ton of bricks…or maybe more truly it was the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention…what was I communicating to Gingernut in that moment? Did she think that a meaningless movie was more important to me than she was? Did she feel unloved? She certainly could not have felt loved, that’s for sure.

The TV was promptly turned off. I climbed the stairs with my little red-headed sleepy-even-though-she-didn’t-know-it girl. We climbed in her bed and snuggled. And I felt peaceful. I knew this was worthy. I was telling her in my actions that she was loved. And I thought as I laid there holding her, breathing in her scent, that I would remember these moments – cherish them – in years to come when Gingernut would no longer want me to snuggle up with her. Perhaps more importantly, she will remember that moment and ones that will come after it as how her mother did not see her as an interruption but as important, loved, desired.

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While I believe that times of quiet, rest, aloneness, and/or refreshment are good, biblical things, that is not what I am talking about here today.

I’m talking about when we have made time an idol so much that we view people as interruptions. I have made my time my idol. I hold it closed fisted. I have been seeing interruptions as stealers of my time and things I want to do. I have been seeing my alone time or my get-stuff-done time as more important than people. Shame on me. I have missed so many opportunities and moments that I will never get back to be a friend with a listening ear or a word of encouragement or a mom with hugs and kisses filled with love and care and tenderness, wrapping my children with words of Truth or a wife who gives her husband the attention he is needing after a long day.

This idol MUST be sacrificed for I cannot love and serve God as He desires to be loved and served when I am closed fisted with my time – or anything else. I pray that as I move forward I see interruptions as opportunities as John Newton spoke of when he wrote, “When I hear a knock at my study door, I hear a message from God. It may be a lesson of instruction; perhaps a lesson of patience: but, since it is his message, it must be interesting.”

He was speaking of pastoral interruptions, but I think it can apply to life in general, can’t it?

What if I stop seeing every single interruption of my life as an interruption, a task that will go uncompleted or five minutes of quiet that I will not get back, and instead viewed it as a lesson in patience or in selflessness (seeing others and their needs as more important than my own). What if I saw the people asking a question or needing something instead of only hearing that someone needs something from me? What if I saw people as Jesus did, not as interruptions but as people searching for something or in need of something? How many times was Jesus interrupted at a meal, while trying to rest, while on his way to something or someone?

As he walked to heal a man’s daughter, he was stopped by a woman who had a blood disorder and needed healing.

As he was eating a meal, a woman came in and washed his feet with her tears and hair.

While worshipping and teaching in the synagogue he was bombarded with questions from religious leaders as a means to ensnare him in something blasphemous.

While trying to catch up on some sleep on a boat, he was awakened by friends who were scared of the storm that had overtaken them.

While taking the disciples to a desolate place to rest, he was recognized and a crowd gathered to hear him teach.

How did he respond?

He stopped to speak to the woman who had been healed, teaching us all that healing comes from faith.

As a broken woman washed his feet, he allowed her to continue and taught those he sat with the preciousness and significance of what she had done.

While being bombarded with ensnaring questions from the religious elite, he responded in ways that were above reproach, continuing to teach those around him.

When he was awakened by his friends fearing for their lives, he spoke and the storm ceased, revealing  himself to be God to his friends and teaching them not to fear but to have faith.

When overtaken by a multitude when seeking rest, he taught them all day and then gave them more than enough food to eat.

Interruptions will happen. They are a part of life, but I hope and pray that I will begin to see them differently. More importantly to respond to them differently. To see them as opportunities to humble myself, be patient, have self-control, self-deny, help someone, to see people and not a checklist as the most important way I can spend my time. To love as Jesus loved.

 

Ode to Dad

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From life’s first breath there you were,

For every giggle and every cry.

And as the years passed in a blur,

Everywhere you went I was close by.

Like a puppy dog who happily follows behind,

I shadowed every step you made.

You taught me to love that which was designed,

By the One who spoke and there it stayed.

A hammer, a joke, a Bible, my brain,

A jack, a wheel, and a call;

All things that brought me gain;

 You taught me to use them all.

As time came to leave the nest,

I flew as far as I thought I could go.

As you sat in the car, about to leave me out west,

I watched from the window, though you would never know.

Many moons ago I knew,

that next to you would never be the place I’d again be.

I knew it when I flew,

But I wondered if you’d see.

A kindred soul I met out west;

Who wanted to be mine forever.

He asked you and you said “yes,”

And now alone I will be never.

Then time came to go far away,

Not only one time, but two as well.

And it meant so much that “no” you did not say

But it could hurt I could tell.

It is hard to be so far away,

From the man who so much taught.

But the greatest of all  I would say,

Is to follow the One who by the cross I was bought.

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The End of School

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I am done. Like stick a fork in me I’m overcooked kinda done. Truth be told I was done about a month ago.

The next five days Gingernut and Lil’ Paul go to school can’t come and go fast enough.

Gingernut is going to school with…hmmmm….maybe half of her school supplies every day. And that’s on a good day. She might have a pen, perhaps two, but one is probably one she found on the floor or that a friend let her borrow. She has a handful of colored pencils that look like the worse end of something a beaver has been gnawing on. I’m pretty sure I only saw about three markers floating around during homework time today. And a pencil sharpener…that thing was probably lost weeks ago, people. And don’t get me started on glue. I could have put this kid through a year of college with all the money I spent on pens and glue alone.

Snack? What snack? Are teachers still expecting us to send a snack? Honestly, I throw a pack of crackers in that snack box and call it done. And I even pat myself on the back for having something to put in there so they don’t starve between drop off and lunch.

And homework? Why are we still doing homework with a week left of school? I just can’t even.

So as the year is wrapping up, I am reflecting on the year. Not only was it the first full year of school but it was the first year in a foreign school. And as I reflect, I realize I have many different emotions and feelings and sentiments.

Accomplishment.  We did it. And I while I know it was the kids actually going to school, Paul and I might as well have been in that classroom with Gingernut. I have learned new ways to write in cursive and add and subtract. I mean, who knew there was more than one way to write a cursive “a”?? We all learned so much, and we are all alive to tell the tale, which is an accomplishment in itself. We have successfully accomplished completing the first year of Italian school. Gold star for all of us.

Relief. Relief that this first, and I hope, most difficult year is almost past us. I’m almost ready to breath that heavy sigh of relief. I can see the finish line of this marathon approaching. It is so close. One down, only about 13 more to go.

Pride. I was so nervous last September. I was sending my kids into an environment in which they could barely ask to go to the bathroom. But it was necessary. Necessary for them to learn the language and the culture, to begin making friends and hopefully to feel like they “fit in”. And our kids did it.  You guys, they DID IT. It’s crazy to think how much language they have learned this year. And while there were some battles, they did remarkably well. They did something that was hard – especially Gingernut – and persevered. I don’t even know that “pride” is a strong enough word to convey what I feel when I think about this.

Thankful. I am so thankful to my God who heard every cry, of all our hearts, on those hard days. Who stayed close not only to the kids but to Paul and I as well when all we wanted to do was keep them home instead of leaving them crying at school. On those days, I clung to dear Jesus with everything in me. I had to. Only He was going to get us all four through it. And I am so thankful he did.

Happy. I am happy to have Gingernut and Lil’ Paul home for 100 or so days. I am eagerly awaiting the first day we aren’t rushing to get out the door. I am excited to play and read and picnic and nap together. Especially the nap together. I realize that these are all fuzzy, warm dreams that may or may not realize themselves and by August I’ll be counting the days down to the start of school, but right now, I am just going to happily look forward to picture perfect lazy days of summer…and hopefully make it through the last days of school.

Understanding. Gingernut had a so many ups and downs this year. And while I am sad she had to go through so many hard things I am glad that I had the opportunity to speak the Gospel into those hard things and that I now understand more about the way she is wired, which in turn helps me to parent her better. I also understand better how to advocate for her because of all the trials that she faced this year.

Encouraged. We made it through the first year with everybody still somewhat mentally intact, which has given me encouragement that we can succeed at school and language learning. All of us. But beyond the school aspect, I am encouraged as I talk to Gingernut and Lil’ Paul about things of Jesus. They have grown in their understanding of him and are learning how to depend on him as their source of help and hope, especially Gingernut.  I am encouraged that they will one day see him as the Savior to save them, the Shepherd to guide them, the Protector to take away their fears, the Father who loves them unconditionally.

These end-of-school days mark a significant accomplishment for our family. It is one that I think I will always remember. How through tears, tantrums, and endless hugs and kisses goodbye at classroom doors we all persevered and made it through the first year with love and grace and  more understanding of Italian and one another.

 

The People You Miss

Living overseas you always miss things from your home country. I have a list a mile long…

The start of college football.

The first day of turkey season.

Chick-Fil-A .

Walking into my grandmother’s house.

The smell of gardenia coming from my neighbor’s yard.

The ease of finding and buying almost anything.

Laying in soft, green grass at night looking at a sky full of stars that are too numerous to dare count.

Good Mexican food – but this has been missed since I left Texas.

The smell of bacon frying.

The privacy of my backyard.

A dryer on rainy days.

Central heat and air.

A large shower…or at least a shower big enough so that I don’t look like some Picasso painting when I shave my legs. I ain’t twenty and bendy anymore.

Good candy and cereal.

But all the things pale in comparison to the people that you miss.

It doesn’t matter how “at home” I feel in my host country or how many new friends I make, I will always long for those people closest to me in my home country.

That’s why when one of those people does something special for me or our family, it sends me into ugly cry mode immediately.

For my birthday, my friend Jess sent me the most special gift. I opened my email to find a movie of friends sending me birthday greetings. Some were sung, some were spoken, all were cherished. And as soon as it started I had ugly cry face all the way to the end. And I felt loved and cared for. I felt connected to people that I have loved for over five years. I felt remembered.

Thank you to everyone who contributed. It was the best gift I received…barely beating Downton Abbey Season 6. 😉