Saying Good-bye to a Dress

Nothing about the estate sale was easy, but it was essential. Mom had slipped into the presence of Jesus a few weeks earlier. She was 97 and had left a house full of furniture, clothing, dishes, and massive amounts of other miscellaneous items. Many of the objects really weren’t things that would evoke much emotion, but some had the potential to tear your heart out.

Were we wise to sell her clothing? Maybe, maybe not. We offered great deals. Day One–pants and shirts 50 cents apiece; Day Two–half price. Mom had always had a heart for the poor and our clientele were 95% Hispanic working poor. She would have been pleased to see so many people leave with great bargains.

However, when the red shoes which she wore so often walked away, it was like a part of Mom walking away with them. Several of us experience lumps in our throats as we watch them leave.

The most difficult for me was saying good-bye to a dress. There was a story behind it. My parents had gone through a rough patch in their marriage and had divorced when I was in my late twenties. Two years later, when they planned to remarry I made Mom a wedding dress. It was not made with miles of lace and sequins, but rather a simple long dress made of pink brocade fabric and trimmed with silver lace.

For forty-two years, that dress had either hung in her closet or been kept in a drawer. I had seen her wear that dress when she and Dad were married. I had tremendous emotional attachment to the dress. It was my choice to either put the dress out with the other clothing or take it home, put it in a drawer, and let my kids decide what to do with it after my death.

Mom and Dad on second wedding day

The dress was pretty and I felt maybe we could bless another person with a lovely outfit for a special occasion. It would not be put with the 50 cent pile of clothing. I put a ten dollar tag on it, feeling I would be absolutely fine if it didn’t sell at all. The difficult choice would be made for me.

Day One and no one seemed to give the dress a second glance. That was all right with me.

Day Two is coming to an end and still the dress is hanging where we had placed it on Day One. Then I see a lady pull it down and take a long look. The lump in my throat returns big time. She is a Hispanic lady and she has her husband and two little girls with her. One is probably six or seven years old and the other is younger. The lady struggles with English, but the husband and the older girl understand well.

She comes and lays the dress on the table along with her other purchases and asks, “How much?”

I hesitate as I try to swallow that massive lump in my throat. God gives grace and I reply, “Today is half-price. I will give it to you for five dollars.”

Her husband looks at the waistline of the dress and then at the waistline of his wife and says, “Too small.” She understands and decides to leave the dress behind.

My emotions are in turmoil. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad.

The family takes their other purchases and get back into their car. A moment later the older girl comes back with a five-dollar bill in her hand and says, “We want to take the dress.”

I take her money and hand the dress to her. Sadly, I cannot keep the tears from pouring down my cheeks as she walks away with the dress in her arms.

I feel my daughter’s gentle tug, “Mom, turn around so they don’t see you crying.”

Too late! They have already seen what I could not hide. The entire family has come out of the car and I hear this precious little girl ask, “Are you sad because we bought your Mama’s dress?”

“No, it’s OK. We want you to have it.”

My daughter tries to explain, “This dress has very special meaning. It’s kind of complicated, but her mama and daddy got married two times. She made this dress for her mama and it was her mama’s wedding dress.”

This sweet little girl wraps her arms around me and gives me the longest hug I have had in ages. Then she says, “My mama wants to make dresses for me and my sister to wear to church.”

“Oh, that would make my mama so happy because she loved Jesus very much!”

She smiles and exclaims, “I love Jesus, too!” and I reply, “So do I!”

While I am still an emotional mess, I am comforted by the caring concern of this family of strangers. I am genuinely happy they took the dress. It was meant to be.

I’m not sure if the extended hug and the expressions of love were a gift from God or a smile from Mom. I like to think they were both.

(Photo is of Mom and Dad, April 2, 1973 – the day they married the second time.)

 

 

 

 

The Blessings of a Godly Mother

Her children arise up and call her blessed. Proverbs 31:28

IMG_2949Today is the 97th birthday of my awesome mom and how blessed we are to still have her with us. What an incredible and godly example she has been to all of us.

Mom was the 13th baby in a family of 15 children and is the only one still living. She was raised in a home rich in love and laughter, but extremely poor in material wealth. As far as I know there is only one photo of my mother as a child. That picture is a school class photo and her face in the picture is about one-half inch high. With such a large family and extreme poverty, there was no camera and no money for non-essentials like photos.

Her clothing was either of the hand-me-down variety or dresses made from flour sacks. Being the ninth daughter in the family left very little possibility of ever having new store-bought clothing.  Her mother was a good seamstress and always altered the hand-me-downs to make sure they fit well. One year, Mom was certain she had out grown every available coat and hoped desperately that this would be the year she would get a new coat. That hope was dashed when a kind lady offered her daughter’s outgrown coat, and it fit.  Mom found it difficult to be thankful for that gift!

She got one new pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year and they had to last the entire year. Summers, they went barefoot. Unfortunately, kids’ feet don’t always stay the same size for an entire year. She wore out and outgrew her shoes in the 8th grade, and there was no money for another pair. Her “make-do” dad cut the tops off of a pair of old-fashioned button-hook, high-top shoes. Mom wore those embarrassingly ugly shoes to school the rest of the year.

Her mother ran a cook-house for an orchardist during apple harvests. Mom and her sisters helped to prepare food, set tables, serve the workers, and wash the dishes. It was there she met the love of her life, our dad. He was a young, hard-working man who took a fancy to her and soon he had won her heart. They were married in January of 1935 when she was just 16. She wore a new store-bought dress that the hard-working young man had purchased for her.

Two sons and two daughters were added to the family and she was a wonderful parent to all of us. She loved and accepted us unconditionally and always put our needs above her own. She was a strong lady who made us behave and treat others with respect, but she was also fun and played games with us. She still has her sense of humor and loves a good joke. She taught us to laugh at ourselves and not to make fun of others.

At the age of 24, she committed her life to Christ and determined to bring her children up in the love of the Lord. I can never remember a time that I didn’t love Jesus and want to serve Him: I know the Holy Spirit used the love and compassion of Jesus, demonstrated so clearly in Mom’s life, to draw me to Himself.

She taught Sunday School for years. One morning a couple of rambunctious boys kept crawling under the table—being ornery and causing distractions. They didn’t realize who they were dealing with. She took the entire class under the table, and that’s where they spent the rest of the hour. At the end of the class, they decided it was not fun to have their class under the table and it never happened again.

Mom was a gracious hostess who loved to have company and it didn’t matter if the house was a mess—it was comfortable and lived in! Company was and is warmly welcomed and she makes sure they are well fed.  At 97, she still loves company and is always happy to see friends and family.

The past year has been difficult for her. A fall in November caused her a lot of pain and left her needing a wheelchair. Her body is tired and she sleeps a lot. She has told me she is ready to go and be with “George and Jesus”. As we see her failing health, we grow more appreciative of the time we still have with her. She cared for us so well and now it is our turn to care for her.

Last week two of my siblings and I got together to celebrate her 97th birthday. We celebrated early to include my Alaskan brother. As usual, she was happy to see us and when she was awake, she was willing and eager to play some pinochle. Yes, she still likes to play and is a fearless bidder. (Family members know that is an understatement!)

Today, she will celebrate with my daughter who takes remarkable care of her and with another granddaughter who has driven up from Oregon. I would love to personally give her birthday greetings today, but I know her hearing loss prevents communication by telephone. I will trust my daughter to give her a birthday hug and a kiss from me. Next weekend I will deliver that hug and kiss in person.

I feel tremendously blessed to have this wonderful lady as my mother and to still have her with us at the age of 97. She has been and is a loving, caring, and compassionate mother and grandmother to our family. I will forever thank God for the incredible gift of a mother, who gave us a happy, secure childhood and who taught us the love of Jesus!

Happy 97th Birthday, Mom! I love and appreciate you more than my words can ever express.

(The photo above was taken during the late 50’s when Mom was in her thirties, and was published in the Brewster Herald with a copy of her fudge recipe.)

Cancer is a Scary Word

Cancer is a scary word. Metastasis is an even scarier word. It is Monday morning when I first hear those words related to my health. A recent MRI to see why my shoulder was hurting has identified a partially torn rotator cuff as the source of the pain. However, the MRI has raised a far more frightening issue and the doctor’s words chill me.

“The MRI shows a lesion in the bone marrow. This could represent a metastasis if you have had a primary cancer. Have you had cancer in the past?”

“No cancer in the past,” I reply, and although I don’t say it, my mind takes a rapid journey to “Do I have it someplace in my body that I’m not aware of?”

He continues, “The radiologist is recommending a bone scan to further define this lesion and to make certain it’s not spread to other parts of your body.  I concur it’s something you need to do.”

I agree to the bone scan which he promises to have set up in the near future. I ask him to fax me a copy of the report and I read it for myself. “Bone Marrow: 1 cm lesion in the proximal humeral metaphysis with intermediate T1 and bright STIR signal. There is an indistinct border. If the patient has a history of primary malignancy, this could represent a metastasis. Alternatively, atypical bone cyst or angioma. Consider bone scintigraphy for further evaluation.”  So many words that I don’t understand, but the ones I do permeate my very being with fear and dread.

That night I lie awake in bed, unable to block the words that I have heard and read. I wait for the call to set up the appointment and get this test scheduled. No call comes. By Friday, I call them to see what is causing the delay. I want to know what’s going on in my body, but I’m afraid of what they may find. They promise to get it set up as soon as possible. They are waiting for the insurance to approve the request. A week later, I still don’t have the appointment made. I call again and I will nag them until this is resolved. For the most part, I can block it out of my mind, but the scary thoughts and the what-ifs keep resurfacing.

Finally, twelve days after that initial call from the doctor, I have an appointment set up with nuclear medicine radiology. Surprisingly, it doesn’t make me feel better. When I discover it’s nuclear medicine, the fear returns with a vengeance.

On Day 16, I report to the nuclear medicine area for the test. One of the technicians greets me with a cheery, “It looks like we’re going to do a scan of your shoulder today.”

I reply, “I was told it would be a full body scan to rule out cancer.”

She hesitates and talks with her colleague. He confirms my understanding of the issue. “They found a tumor in her shoulder so we’re doing the full body scan to see if it has spread.” His words only escalate the fears that are already raging in me.

I am injected with a radioactive substance and told to report back in three hours for a sixty-minute exam.

When I return, I am placed on a skinny stretcher-type table while huge cameras slowly scan my body from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Lying on that table with an enormous machine just inches from my face freaks me out. As I lay there in the quiet, my mind races to scary worst-case scenarios. I am afraid. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I try to reassure myself with the fact that God knows, but it does not stop the fear from bombarding my every thought.

“What do I have lurking or growing in my body?” As I lay on that table, my hip hurts. It’s been hurting a lot lately. Is that cancer-related? If cancer is in my bone marrow that means it’s in my blood. If it’s in the bone marrow in my arm, where else is it?  Lord, I am so horribly frightened. I feel drained by the emotion and the tension. Will I live long enough to enjoy my new great granddaughter? Will my 96 year old mother face the grief of losing a daughter? So many thoughts and none of them cheerful! Oh, God, I need you and your peace to surround me.

As I leave, I feel a chill and an intense urge to cry, but tears do not come yet. I go home, unable to return to work with my mind in such turmoil. My daughter drops by the house and asks how it went and I dissolve into tears. “You’re really scared, aren’t you?” I can only nod, and she just hugs me and lets me cry. “I would be afraid too,” she acknowledges.

I’m scheduled to teach Bible study that night, but I don’t know if I can teach or if I will just be a soppy, teary mess. I ask God for His strength and amazingly, the tears dry up and I am able to teach that class. When we share prayer requests, I ask them to pray that God will give me His peace for whatever news I receive. It’s Wednesday night and I will know the results on Friday afternoon.

Thursday is another day of wrestling with fears and fighting off tears. I cannot understand the intensity of my feelings. I believe in God; I believe in heaven; I believe Jesus died to open the way for my sins to be forgiven and to give me eternal life. Why am I so afraid? Is my faith so incredibly weak when tested?

My husband indicates his plan to accompany me to the doctor. He doesn’t want me to face what could be life-altering news alone. My appointment is late afternoon. He will drive me to work and come pick me up before the visit to the doctor. I am grateful.

I awaken on Friday morning with an unusual sense of peace and God’s presence. I often stop at the hospital chapel on my way into the office, just to give my day to God. On this morning, not knowing what news the day will bring, I feel compelled to praise Him. The lyrics to the song, You are my all in all, are running through my head. You are my strength when I am weak; You are the treasure that I seek; You are my all in all. Jesus, Prince of Peace, worthy is Your Name… I feel such absolute peace that I totally surrender my future to God’s loving hands and simply praise our Prince of Peace.

I have a peaceful day at work and I am ready when Robert comes to take me to the doctor. As we prepare to go through the clinic door, he stops, takes my hand, and says, “I think we need to pray before we go in.” We stand outside the office door holding hands and he prays a precious prayer for strength for both of us. I am touched by his prayer and his words bring tears to my eyes, but they are not the tears accompanying frantic fear. They are tears of gratitude that he has chosen to vocalize this prayer for me.

We are ushered into an exam room and the doctor comes in with awesome news. There is no sign of cancer in my bones. They had taken extra pictures of the area that had shown the lesion and there was no glowing from the radioactive substance that had been injected. Whatever they saw in the MRI is not malignant and we are both tremendously relieved. We go out for steak dinners to celebrate, feeling very thankful we can put this scary few weeks behind us.

As I reflect back, I have gained tremendous understanding and compassion for those who receive frightening words and horrific diagnoses from a doctor. I was reminded of my own weakness, my glaring fear, my inability to trust. I am thankful for friends and family who have prayed for me. I am thankful that Jesus is my strength when I am weak. He does not condemn my weakness. He understands and walks beside me. I am blessed.

 

The Reach of God

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

I was a teenage mom, not by accident, but by choice. From the time I was a little girl, dragging around a baby doll, my greatest desire in life was to grow up, get married, and have babies. I was just 18 when I married my High School sweetheart. A week later, we headed across the country to Florida where he was serving in the Air Force and would be for another seven months. Did we want a baby? Absolutely! Did we have any sense? None! Did we stop to consider he would soon be unemployed and we would be uninsured? No, we didn’t think of that.

I had an easy pregnancy, happy to be carrying my new husband’s child. As we got close to my due date, the doctor commented that the baby was not turned in the head-down position, but expressed confidence he could turn it before birth.

Unfortunately, she arrived more quickly than anticipated, coming feet first with her umbilical cord collapsed against the birth canal. I was in imminent danger of losing our baby at that moment. I was rushed to the delivery room where they cut me and literally pushed and pulled my baby out of the womb.

As they pulled her out, she was ghastly white and I thought that my baby was dead. There were no congratulations, no happy cheers, and most ominous, there was no cry from the baby. She was immediately whisked out of the very somber delivery room. In panic I kept asking, “Is my baby OK? Is my baby OK?” I could not bring myself to say what I feared most—was my baby dead?

They could only respond, “We’ll know in a few minutes.”  That few minutes seemed such a long time for this panic-stricken young mom. Finally, I heard a weak little cry and someone said, “That’s your baby.”  Words cannot describe the incredible amount of relief I felt with hearing that tiny cry.

A few minutes later they brought her to me, and I was certain she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  She had totally captured my heart.

As I think of Mary, another teen-age mom, I wonder how it felt to know she was carrying God’s child. As she gave birth to her first born, I cannot imagine what it must have like giving birth in a stable instead of a cleaner setting. She gave birth not to the son of her new husband, but to the only begotten Son of God.

Knowing mankind’s desperate situation, God reached out and became a helpless baby to bring salvation to all who would receive. At Christmas we celebrate God’s incredible gift to mankind. Stepping out of heaven’s glory, Jesus became human. His mission was to become sin for us that we might receive the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

If you have not yet received the precious gift of salvation, I urge you to invite Jesus to be your Savior and Lord. God in His grace is reaching out to you today. Celebrate Christmas by rejoicing in the most precious gift ever given—God’s beloved Son. Let Him capture your heart.

Daddy’s Pet and Yet?

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law, we become conscious of sin. Romans 3:20

I was a born pleaser, blessed as a child with two loving parents. I tried so hard to do everything they asked. Not understanding the deep love of good parents toward their child, I came to the twisted conclusion that they loved me because I was such an obedient child. I knew my parents loved my siblings, but being the first-born daughter had given me a special daughter-to-daddy connection

When my baby sister was born and Mom’s lap became occupied, I climbed into Daddy’s very open lap and almost took over sole possession. My place at the dinner table was right next to him and no one else had better try to sit there! I would watch for his car coming up the dusty country road to our house as it neared time for him to come home from work. When it came around the corner, I ran as fast as I could to the gate at the end of our long drive way to meet him. He would open the car door and I would climb in to greet him and ride to the house by his side. I was teased about being “Daddy’s Pet”, but I relished that position.

Although I tried so desperately to be the perfect child, there were times when I messed up. Any harsh word from my father crushed me. Could I lose my special place as Daddy’s Pet? A nagging thought crept in–would he still love me as much?

As I grew up, I tended to view God the same way. I tried to be his perfectly obedient child, but I was hopelessly unsuccessful. As an adult, I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect Christian, and I dreadfully failed at all three. Ugly attitudes plagued me even when my actions hid what I felt.

Overwhelmed by feelings of failure and doubt, I wondered if God could still love me.  Through a miraculous demonstration of God’s grace, I came to the realization that he loved me not because of my goodness, but because of His.  What a tremendous relief and a life-changing revelation! Feeling secure in His love only increased my love for Him and my desire to serve Him more fully.

God revealed His holy standard by giving the Law, understanding that we would never be able to keep it completely. No matter how hard we try, we cannot be good enough to make ourselves right with God. We are desperately lost apart from the grace of God.

The Law was intended to demonstrate our hopeless condition and to draw us to the One who loves and forgives. Only Jesus was able to perfectly obey the Law. Through Him, and only through Him, we can come into God’s presence assured of His love and acceptance.

Take a few minutes to thank God that He did not leave us in our helpless and hopeless state, but chose to send His beloved Son to bring us into right relationship with Himself.

Mary’s Servant Heart

I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said. Luke 1:38   

How easily we identify ourselves as being the “Lord’s servant”, but do we stop to consider what that really means?

Mary had been given a startling revelation, along with a difficult assignment. She would be privileged to give birth to the Messiah, but most would doubt her story. Being pregnant before marriage would certainly cause people to question her morality and the law said that an immoral woman could be put to death. She had no idea how this pregnancy would impact her engagement to Joseph.

There were risks for Mary, but she didn’t seem to contemplate the cost. Her response, “may it be to me as you have said” demonstrates an unreserved commitment of her body to the Lord for His purpose. Disregarding any cost, she responded in total and absolute submission to the will and plan of the Master—that is the essence of true servanthood.

How was Mary so quickly able to come to a place of total surrender? She had a deep and abiding trust in a loving God—One who would not ask her to do anything that He would not empower and equip her to do. If her Master gave the assignment, He would also protect her. He was and is totally trustworthy.

When God places you on a difficult path, He can be trusted to give you the needed strength to complete the journey. He wants us to trust Him enough to accept the challenging assignments, with a true servant’s heart. Your assignment may involve risk, the possibility of being hurt, or doing mundane tasks.  Can you say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said”?

God’s Power Plan

His incomparably great power for us who believe . . . is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.  Ephesians 1:19-20 NIV

You may think I’m crazy, but I actually enjoy mowing the lawn and when you can’t walk, you can’t push a lawnmower. Following foot surgery in 2012, I faced a longer than anticipated recovery. The bones didn’t heal in the three months the doctor had predicted, and I was restricted from full-weight bearing for six months. During that time, I was unable to do many of the activities that I enjoy the most. I couldn’t hike or take walks with friends and family. I couldn’t plant flowers or dig in the dirt which I’m convinced in good for the soul. I longed to be outdoors during the long June days and focused too much on what I couldn’t do. Whining “I can’t” easily led to poorly attended pity-parties.

During that extended period of forced inactivity, I asked God what He wanted me to learn. One lesson became very evident—when I focus on what I can’t do, I am blind to see what I can do. When I changed my focus from I can’t, to what was achievable with my limited mobility, God opened my eyes to see the possibilities. I found I could pull weeds sitting on my backside, although I once scooted right through a dog pile. I learned to build a website. I had time to write and teach a new Bible study book. I was definitely able to do what God wanted me to accomplish during that time.

How often do you use the words, I can’t when faced with a challenging task? Do you recognize the “incomparably great power” that is available to those who believe? I find it mind-boggling that the power that raised Christ from the dead is available to me—to all who believe.

Paul recognized that potential when he indicated, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil.4:13). Although Paul wrote roughly half of the New Testament, I cannot find a single instance where he said, “I can’t,” to something that God asked him to do. He recognized the tremendous resurrection power of God that was active in His life.

When Jesus faced the unimaginable task of taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our place, He did not say, “I can’t”.  Motivated by love and strengthened by God, He chose the difficult path of obedience.

God’s plan is for His power to flow in and through believers to accomplish His ultimate purpose for us. Whenever He asks you to do something, He will empower and equip you to do it. He will never ask you to do what He won’t give you the strength to accomplish.

As Christmas approaches, is God asking you to do something difficult or challenging? Are there relationships you need to take the first step toward mending? Is there someone you need to forgive? Never forget, the power that raised Christ from the dead resides in believers. Take hold of it and choose the path of obedience.