Friday, December 30, 2011
1. Plan too many projects that must be completed before the big day.
2. Plan too many activities that keep you running from event to event.
3. Plan a big holiday dinner with over-tired, over-stimulated children as guests.
4. Find your father who has been missing for 54 years.
This was an exceptionally difficult Christmas. There were some beautiful, meaningful moments--driving around looking at lights with Fred and the girls, the concert at church, our candlelit devotions in the morning, seeing the girls' joy with their gifts and receiving lovely handmade gifts from each of them. But overall, the holidays were stressful this year. And then, a most unexpected gift landed in my lap--the gift of a father. And I'm still asking if this is really a gift or something else.
My parents split when I was a little girl. I never heard from my father again. Was it his choice to never pursue me? Or my mom's choice to prohibit him from finding me? Who knows. And does it matter? I've been curious about him off and on through the years but I assumed I'd never know anything about him.
Right before Christmas I heard from my sons that their dad was researching his own family tree. For whatever reason, he left his tree and decided to go in a different direction and research mine. I think he wanted to give this information as a gift to the boys. He asked one of them what my original maiden name was. (I was adopted by my step-father.) Now here is the eerie part: Years and years ago my mother gave me a silver rattle and silver cup that belonged to my birth father when he was a baby. I still have the cup but the rattle has been long forgotten and lost. At the same time that the boys gave their dad my name and he did a little research, he discovered this rattle on his daughter's dresser. Where did she get it, he asked. She told him she found it at the bottom of his toolbox. He examined it and saw my father's initials and birthdate. He made the connection to recently discovered information he'd found. He asked my oldest son if he wanted him to contact his grandfather. Yes. So he called the home of my father, far away on the other side of the country. The rattle gave him an opening.
Two days before Christmas one of my boys tells me this story. I am shocked, and buried memories and emotions surface. At this point, the boys' dad has only talked to my father's wife, but they decide on a good time to have a phone conversation with my father--Christmas Eve. So he calls my father and supposedly has a long, interesting conversation. (All info is coming to me second hand from my sons.) My father says he never knew where I was all those years. He is interested in finding out about his daughter and grandsons. He is old. There may not be much time.
So I am planning Christmas with all this turmoil swirling inside. I can't concentrate on anything. I can't sleep. Where is God in all this? (For He is in everything.) The boys and I collect some pictures and information to mail to my father, their grandfather. I find an old picture of a young man holding a blonde giggling child on his lap. His arms are tight around her in an embrace and he is kissing her cheek. Father and daughter.
Christmas is over and there is time to contemplate all these things. I have no illusions of a grand reunion. I would just like a little information to fill in the blanks. Maybe some medical history. Maybe my father really doesn't care after all these years or maybe he wonders if I'm after something. Maybe this is the end of it. And that's okay.
When the girls and I were looking through the box of old pictures, I found several of my grandmother, the woman who adopted my mother when she was a tiny girl. No, she is not my biological grandmother. But she is the one I loved and the grandmother who loved me. I tell my girls that blood doesn't matter. This is my "real" grandmother and nothing will change that. Arielle says, "She's pretty." Liana says, "She looks so kind, just like my own grandma." They are right. She was the best grandma a little girl could have.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The same moon, the same house, the same child. But time has changed the people here. I grow old; Arielle grows up. I feel so blessed--so incredibly blessed--that I had the opportunity to nurture this girl through her childhood. I was chosen to be her mother! Of all the mothers of the world... What a privilege! Arielle will continue to grow apart and away from me. It's the plan. But she will always be my precious daughter and I will always be her mother and the moon will rise full through all the seasons of our lives.
Of course, I have another equally treasured daughter who might read this and say, "What about me?" Liana, I will tell your story at another time.
Monday, December 12, 2011
"It is foolishness and a stumbling block. Foolishness, because the very idea of the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe being born of a teenage virgin in a stable in a tiny nation of no account at the far end of the Mediterranean is utterly ridiculous. Indeed, one might say that it looks very much like proof that God cannot exist -- at least, that is, God built according to our specifications and requirements. An offence because I do not need salvation, especially salvation brought by a pre-modern peasant's child in some backward place nobody would otherwise ever have heard of." As we proclaim the message of Christmas, we should not attempt to "make Christianity look sophisticated or moral as the world understand these things. Least of all is it stand-up comedy designed to entertain those who might otherwise seek their fun elsewhere. Its agenda, especially at Christmas, is not to be determined by unbelief or what the hipsters in the Village will tolerate or what the brain's trust at MIT think is plausible."I stand on what I know to be true. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
It was a wonderful morning! Each year women volunteer to decorate a table, bringing their own special china and table settings and creating a centerpiece. I am definitely not creative enough to do this, but I so much enjoyed walking through the room seeing their beautiful artwork during the "Tour of Tables." Music played and the mood was festive. Then we had a lovely lunch, heard a speaker, played a silly game (Helen won!) and sang Christmas carols together at the end. A highlight was when I was able to introduce Helen to a single mom who has been blessed by Helen's generosity for years as she has shared her daughters' outgrown clothes with this mom who also has little girls. These two had never met and I was so glad to see them together for the first time. More than anything, this morning meant I was able to spend time with my friend and catch up with her. How can we be too busy for people we care so much about?
Helen says she knows how to decorate and we decided to do our own table next year! What about "I-can't-be-bothered"? Well, I'd forgotten that when women get together like this, there is joy. There is healing in connecting with other women, each of us with our own stories of happy times and heartbreak. We need each other.
I've just figured out what my real problem is, this sickness I have. It's called selfishness. We are not meant to live in seclusion and hoard our lives to ourselves. I hope to do better.
Monday, December 05, 2011
"So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time." Jonathan Liu
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
I remember praying fervently for Elizabeth Smart, the girl in Utah who was kidnapped. When she was found and returned to her family, a whole nation rejoiced. And those who had prayed had a certain joy in knowing somehow we had participated in bringing her home.
Early in the year someone asked me to pray for a friend of hers who was going through a hard time. This young woman lived in another state and I did not know her. But I prayed. Months later I actually met her and felt such love for this stranger, a tender place in my heart for her. In prayer, somehow, we enter into people's lives and see them as God sees them. I'll never forget when I read that Said Musa had been freed. I shouted to the girls that God had delivered him! We care about him, even though we will never meet him.
What can my fumbling, puny prayer do? Does God need my help? But we pray because we are told to pray. It is a mystery we can't explain. We can't pray for every hurting person in the world, but when the sadness and grief tears at your soul, pray. Pray for strangers. How about this boy Jonathan whose parents abandoned him to live alone in the Amazon jungle? He is only 15. You can read about him here. "When Compassion Becomes a Gold Rush."
Or Chen Guangcheng. He is a blind human rights activist who was imprisoned for five years in China for exposing forced abortions used to enforce the one-child policy. He was released from prison but during his time of house arrest he endured a brutal four hour beating in front of his young daughter. He was denied any medical care. This man and his wife are now missing and no one has been able to find them. His picture has replaced Said Musa's on my refrigerator, my reminder to pray.
Often times we need to DO something to ease the suffering in the world. Sometimes we are told to GO. Sometimes all we can do is pray. But don't discount its importance.
Musa is now living with his wife and six children in an undisclosed place. Their safety is still questionable. In an interview with a reporter, Musa told about his conversion. A bomb had shattered a house in his neighborhood and many people died. Musa was working with others to find survivors and two Western women were also helping dig through the rubble. Musa asked someone who they were. "Christians, followers of Jesus Christ." It was the first time Musa ever heard the name of Jesus. He thought he needed to find out who this man was. Finally he asked, "What is a Christian? Do you have a book?" Reading the Bible on his own, he found out. Weeks later he and his wife were baptized. Musa was bold in his faith and opened his home for Bible study and gatherings. He could recite the whole book of Matthew from memory. Of course, he was eventually reported and sent to prison where he was beaten and tortured.
Musa was asked how he endured his time in prison. He said at one point he was deep in despair and cried out to God. That night he had a dream and saw Jesus. Jesus spoke to him saying, "I am always with you" and Jesus gave him his hand. He woke with a new attitude. He said he saw that "his Lord was alive." His execution was imminent and Musa only asked that it be public.
He was finally released and secreted away to a new country. He says it is difficult for his family to learn a new culture and language. He still fears persecution from other Muslims. He still needs our prayers.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Why keep a list of blessings? Ann Voskamp, who turned my attitude to gratitude rather than complaint, is in the mountains of Ecuador providing food and labor to the poor. She says, "A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting out the love of Christ." We are filled so we can pour out. My blessings are overflowing. What do I do with this? I haven't a clue right now. So I continue to make my list, not to glory in what I've been given, but to acknowledge the Giver and be open to whatever plans he might have.
Monday, November 07, 2011
A phone call. It's Damien. I immediately know something is wrong by his voice. In a rush he explains that Jon, Chrissy and Lana went on a hike on the Appalachian Trail and have lost their way. They hadn't seen any people for hours and it is dark and cold. Jon had called Damien to let him know the name of the campground where they began their hike up the mountain, "in case something bad happens." The signal for the phone goes in and out and Damien loses contact. All he knows is the name of the area and that his brother and his family are on a trail coming down from the summit. My granddaughter is only 8 years old. Damien says he has been calling Jon every few minutes since the call broke, but he can't get through.
Damien hangs up quickly so he can try to call Jon again. I just kept saying, "What?? What??" Now a million questions fill my mind. When did they realize they were not on the trail? Do they have a flashlight or are they stumbling in the dark? What kind of trail is it? How far away are they? What should we do?" My heart is pounding. Is this the way people's lives change in an instant? An ordinary day turns to a nightmare.
Fred is in the shower. I grab the girls' hands and we pray. God sees Jon and Chrissy and Lana. We pray for their safety. We pray they find their way. We pray to know what to do. Damien calls back. Jon had called him again, but they were immediately cut off. Damien is very upset, angry even, but anger is easier to manage than fear. We are struck with fear, deep and penetrating. Do we call the police? Damien says he will go look for Jon. Fred says he will join him. I go to the computer and look up this campground that I never heard of before. When I see the name of the nearby town, my fear closes in tighter. Years ago the boys and I hiked there. It is extremely steep, rugged and rocky. The campground website has a weather forecast. For that night--25 degrees. I am trying to get a grip on my rising panic so I can think straight. Damien said Jon told him they had no camping gear with them, and they were not wearing winter coats. They had begun their hike in the warm midday sun with plenty of time to return to camp.
I look up the local and state police phone numbers and write them down. This is serious. We must get help. Then Damien calls back. Jon made contact! He is back at his campsite! He has quite a story, but we have to wait for the next day for that.
Jon said Saturday morning they had driven out to the campsite, as they often enjoy spending time together as a family camping. They had decided to take a hike before settling in for the night. Jon had a lighter, a knife, and a flashlight--just in case. They hiked to the pinnacle for a spectacular view, noticing that the blue trail markers of the campground had merged into the white markings the Appalachian Trail. Many people were at the top and they did not feel any danger. They left in plenty of time to return before dark. But coming down, they did not find the blue campground markers. They continued on the Appalachian Trail, lost, not seeing a single person. Jon said as darkness fell, fear rose in him. He alone was responsible for his little family. He knew it would be dangerous to continue hiking at this high elevation among the boulders. They could fall. Lana was crying, frightened. Jon carried her but he said he could not do it for much longer. And it was very cold. They cried out to God to deliver them. Finally he realized he had to make a shelter. The lighter he thought was in his pocket was gone! There would be no fire to warm them. Then, in the distance, they saw the light of a campfire. You never leave the trail when you are lost, but they knew they must. They walked toward the light and found a group of men, startling them, because these men probably were not supposed to be camping out there in the middle of nowhere. They offered food and water and warmth. Two of these men walked them to a main road and waited with them until someone from the campground came in a truck to return them to camp.
The conclusion of this story is obvious: PRAISE GOD! He answered all of our fervent prayers.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
It's sunny and the mums are in full bloom. What a lovely October day! The girls talk me into taking a day off to celebrate my birthday so I let them decide what to do. We all go to the mall and pick up needed items. Arielle says she might get her ear pierced. Maybe... She's been talking about this for awhile. She stops by the piercing kiosk but then changes her mind. Right before we're ready to come home, she changes her mind again and goes through with it! I am so proud of my brave daughter! She had been so afraid it would hurt.
He runs back to his car and comes in with a large tote bag. He said Joan told him to give it to me. It is her unfinished quilt. Last year we took a quilt class together to learn to make a unique regional design. I finished my quilt and gave it to Liana in the spring. Joan never completed hers. She was a perfectionist and worked with precision, not throwing things together hastily like I tend to do.
I shake my head no. No, I cannot keep Joan's quilt. She told me while she was sick that she hoped for some time to work on it. She never got that time. The quilt is not mine. I am stunned and grateful, but no. Then I told her husband I would finish it and give it back to him. Maybe he would find comfort in sleeping beneath the soft covering of colors his wife had chosen and skillfully crafted.
After he leaves I am overwhelmed with the gifts. I think of the profound mystery of marriage, the oneness Joan and her husband knew. He, acting in her place, bringing her presence here to my home. Her loss rips my heart once more. I miss my friend. I cannot fathom her husband's pain. I know what Joan would want me to do with this quilt. Give it back. I open the bag and unfold the partially pieced top. It is exquisite. I will not do it justice, me with clumsy hands. I see her small notes to herself, labels for the blocks and rows. She so much wanted to finish this work of art. I cannot look at it on this night.
The next day I unpack her bag with all the notes, her tools, and the careful squares. She is so organized that the quilt will not be hard to finish. I won't have to choose colors she might not have liked. The pieces are already there. I just need to sew them together--with the greatest of care. That would please her. I will do it for Joan. Hopefully, when it is once again in her home where it belongs, her quilt will continally remind her husband of Joan's deep love for him.
Friday, October 21, 2011
What made me stop and think was the second question, that God is preparing US for heaven. It reminded me of a biography of Hudson Taylor the girls and I read recently. The story of his life as a missionary to China in the 1800's is told in Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China by Janet and Geoff Benge. Taylor, a young Englishman, knew he was called to China, but information about this faraway country in that century was hard to come by. He did know his life would be difficult, so he tried to prepare himself in any way he knew how.
"Every decision and every activity became valuable only if it moved him towards his goal. This focus on China took several forms. First, he realized he would need all the academic training he could get...Second, he needed to toughen up his body. He started with a strenuous exercise program out in the cold. He also got rid of his feather bed and began sleeping on bare boards. He gave away many things that were not essential to his daily life. When I get to China, he told himself, my body must be ready. Third, Hudson had to find some way to learn the Chinese language."
Now I don't think we need to practice physical hardships to prepare for heaven. But some of these principles still apply. Are we moving toward our goal in our daily decisions and activities? Are we encouraging others to come along too?
The main point of Spurgeon's words is that God is the one doing the work in us. What does that look like? Maybe circumstances play out in our lives to prepare us for our eternal future. Hudson Taylor knew life would be different in China. We really don't know what heaven will be like. So how can we prepare for it? But God knows. He knows what we need before we get there. Maybe even our difficult situations here on earth are a preparation for life with him. So in all things we can give thanks because it all comes from his hand. We don't exactly know everything he's doing, but that's okay. We'll be ready when the time comes.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
We have a delicious meal and visit with people from long ago. Liana, Mattie and Lana can't wait for the music to begin. And when it does, they do not sit the rest of the night. With pure joy, they dance and dance and dance. Arielle gravitates to the little ones, carrying Laci around and playing with Deacon. Damien's band plays and even Damien joins in on the drums. I move to the front to see my son in action. He catches my eye and smiles.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
We all rode in a van to the venue, our driver a little boy I knew long ago who ate birthday cake with us every December. Now he is grown of course, just like my son. I got a picture of Gretchen in the van, just like the one I took of Stacia when she was on the way to her wedding. Stacia appeared calm and reflective. Gretchen seemed bursting with joy, apprehension, and excitement.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Friday, October 07, 2011
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
"Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy." (Ann Voscamp) I could not grasp this winged gift to hold or keep it. But by pausing in the moment to really see, we receive our gift. And then we give thanks to the Giver of the gifts.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
After dropping off the car, we got into Fred's to go home. But traffic at this time of day was crushing. We decided to wait it out a little. What to do? Fred suggests burgers. We rarely ever eat fast food, so everyone cheered the idea. We ordered and the clerk asked if the girls wanted crowns. Fred thought he said "crayons" so he said sure. The girls graciously accepted their paper crowns and then the clerk said, "How about you, Dad?" Fred said yes and promptly put his crown together and set it on his head, the girls laughing at the absurdity.
During our meal, the girls and Fred wore their crowns. I wish I'd had a camera! Fred even walked out of the restaurant still wearing his, amidst more giggles from us all. This is so not like him. We still had time to kill. Kill? No, time to enjoy each other and our evening out. We headed to our favorite bookstore and perused the shelves, looking for gifts to add to Christmas lists. (Fred would not wear the crown in the bookstore, much to our disappointment.) Fred and I relaxed with cups of coffee and the girls thumbed through a book on world records that someone had left on the table. Arielle filled us in on these foolish wonders. The wonder is right here--the four of us together, the laughter and conversation.
An errand to run became not just another irritation, but an opportunity. Parents set the tone. We can't blame the kids. So instead of taking out our frustration by bickering, our usual default mode, Fred decided the theme would be "family night out on the town." Simple things. Gratitude. It changes everything.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Friday, September 09, 2011
Seven is a sacred number to the Cherokees. If clan affiliation is not known, it is very rare that it will be identified. There is no record of clan membership on file.
The seven clans of the Cherokee are: Panther Clan, Long Hair Clan, Bird Clan, Paint Clan, Deer Clan, Wild Potato Clan, and Wolf Can.
We all traveled many highway miles to be together for one day. Our family from up north, two brothers and their families from down south, and all the roads intersect at a park just outside the Cherokee Reservation. We've been here many times before. So many memories fill my mind. A dark evening cooking chicken over a grill--just my mom and Fred and me. I remember not just the event, but what was stirring in my heart then. My temporary stint in Atlanta, the summer I was lost. My dear mother was my foundation of love and security, steadfast no matter where I wandered. I think of another time tubing down this same creek with my young nieces, all of us bouncing off the rocks with shrieks of laughter. Family. We change and grow but here we are, all together again. And then I think of the last time, three years ago. My brother's pain piercing us all. We upheld him with love and prayed for better times to come.
So we meet once again under the sheltering trees of the Smokies. Our time together here will be so short. One family will be here only for the day before taking to the highway again. How do you connect the years in such a short time? There is no time for deep conversation, but it is a joy to see the beloved faces and hold them close for a moment.
We have two new family members to meet--my oldest brother's fiancee and my new grand-niece. Everyone says, "You have to meet Angela. You will love her!" And we do! Then my sister brings her granddaughter, and we terrify the adorable baby with our exuberance as we crowd around her. We feast on unconventional picnic food--delicious tamales my sister has made. We take silly pictures and tell silly stories. The kids wade in the cold mountain creek. Then too quickly it is all over and we pack up the car and say sad good-byes. So many words left unsaid. Maybe too much silliness and not enough real connection. I want to know their hearts, their dreams, their regrets. Time races on. Where will are lives be at the next reunion?
All of us lay claim to Cherokee ancestry, but we do not know our clan. After spending several days with my zany family, I suggest we form a new clan. (I know, the number 7 is sacred, but really, who would take us in any of the other clans?) So I suggest we become the 8th Clan of the Cherokee, our own distinctive clan. We need a name. Please look closely at the picture below of the patriarchs of this family, and give me your suggestions for a name for the 8th Clan.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
When we left today a storm was brewing, the sky black. Worse than an ordinary long car ride is one in rain. I drove once from Atlanta to Philadelphia, all in one day, blinding rain. But this day we outran the storm by skipping lunch altogether until we got to Roanoke. We all played hangman while we waited for our food in Cracker Barrel, and I realized the drive wasn't so bad after all. Fred and I had time together to talk about whatever came into our minds, neither of us rushing off to the next task. I enjoyed hearing the girls sing all the way down while they listened to their ipods. Each was singing a different song at the same time. It made for interesting music. Sometimes I could even figure out what they were singing. Or else they were playing the license plate game. We are fiercely competitive with that. Fred and Liana on one team and Arielle and I on the other. You would think Fred would be at a disadvantage driving, but no. His sharp eye caught all the different state plates. He would see them way before my old eyes could even bring them into focus.
We stopped for the night in Bristol. Fred could have driven all the way, but there was no point. We did not have a room in Cherokee and it would have been stressful to drive through the mountains when he was tired. A hotel with a pool! That's all the girls need to be happy. The four of us all together without distraction. That's all I need.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Sewing season is over. But we need to keep up the momentum so we stay busy and inspired until next year. I'm trying to build inventory and possibly start an on-line store.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
My son had this test done in Europe with no anesthesia at all. He just had a tube shoved down his throat in a doctor's office. Our medical group is much more civilized and the test was really not much of anything because I was out cold. Oh, I had some apprehension. Like when I signed a form acknowledging that the scope can kill me, or if it doesn't, maybe the drug they give me might. It was also pretty frightening to see how much co-pay was required to get this done. But I'm thankful for health insurance because otherwise it would have been out of the question to do it at all.
"Okay, now we are going to sedate you." I had an IV in my arm and I guess someone injected something into it. I don't know. I don't remember anything else. Hiccups woke me up. It was annoying when I just wanted to keep sleeping, so I tried holding my breath to get rid of them. Then I realized that if I had the brain power to think of that, I must be alive and not brain damaged from the drug--one of the side effects listed on that paper I signed. Thank God! I could hear my heart beating on the monitor and the blood pressure cuff was pumping up periodically and no alarms went off, so I figured I must be okay. I heard a nurse call Fred and tell him to come in thirty to forty minutes. So long? Let me go now. The nurse brought me cranberry juice that burned my throat and she gave me a gluten-free cookie that expired last January. I realized I only had one shoe on! How did that happen? But then I think, I had a tube down my throat exploring my stomach, and on it traveled into my small intestine where the doctor took biopsies--cut me--and I didn't even know what was happening. Amazing.
I'm writing a few hours later and I guess this is coherent. So my brain is working, I'm alive, and I'm healthy-- today. We're all just buying time, aren't we?