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Fifth time lucky

My prayer for today.

Seventeen, an age most teenagers in the UK anticipate turning one day. It is the year one becomes eligible to apply for a provisional driving licence. Less than a decade ago, this was me. I had fantasized about the way my driving test would go; moreover I envisioned my first car. Never did I anticipate that it would have taken much longer for this vision to materialize.  

I was the first one out of my group of friends to start driving lessons, and ended up being the last to obtain my full driving licence (Matthew 20:16 “In the same way, the last will be first, and the first will be last, because many are called, but few are chosen”). As much as I prayed, believed, fasted and anointed myself with oil, I just kept failing. I didn’t understand how someone who was trying to do things “God’s way

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Giving Up is Harder Than You Think

forsythia“What are you giving up for Lent?”

This is a common question among my fellow Methodists. I must confess, the first time I “gave up” something for Lent was about five years ago. Oh, I had tried in previous years, but just couldn’t sustain forty days; just too much temptation I guess.

A few years ago I was determined to try again. I knew it had to be meaningful and near and dear to me – a real sacrifice! Anyone who knows me, if asked, “What would be hard for her to give up?” resounding response would be – SWEETS!!!

It was so hard. But every time I was tempted, I would tough through it by remembering why I was giving something up. After all, Jesus gave his own life for us.

What a success it turned out to be – I lost 14 pounds in forty days. This giving up something paid off. Oh, and Jesus’ sacrifice did too – so that we might have everlasting life.  Of course, it wasn’t long after Lent season when I began to eat sweets, and in the doing – you guessed it – I found those 14 pounds again. Lent didn’t change me a bit.

It is now Day 6 of this season of Lent. I didn’t give anything up this year except worry and anxiety. I modified my strategy because it’s so hard to give up something.  Therefore, this Lent season I am receiving by focusing on my relationship with God. I schedule a quiet time each day in self-reflection and prayer. I begin by closing my eyes seeing only darkness and I think about what happened yesterday, and what’s going on today, and I begin to feel His presence right beside me. I then pray by repeating, “God, God, God” with each breath as I allow sparks of thoughts in that darkness to guide me in my prayer, ending with,“Father, thank you, forgive me, lead, guide, and direct me that I may serve You through and with others. Amen.”

Until yesterday that is – it was but Day 5 of Lent.  I got busy with errands, laundry, and dinner and a movie with a friend, and I missed my time with God.

Temptations come in the most mundane forms; allowing worry and anxiety in again…just like those 14 pounds. I’ve always thought that the simple act of living your best life is a daily endeavor, requiring courage, which is but fear and faith holding hands.

As I took Teddie for his walk today, I noticed the forsythia bush has the slightest glimmer of tiny yellow buds. Snow and ice had bent it’s straggly limbs only days ago. I smile with the knowing that seasons don’t wait until everything is perfect. Nor does God.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  –1 Peter 5:12

Friendship

You can have old friends; you can have new friends – but, you can’t have new old friends. However, you can have new friends that feel like old friends, and you can have old friends that feel like new friends.

Life happens and as a result we change and our friends change. But, we don’t have to change friends; we just need to adapt to the changes in ourselves and those in our friends. Those inevitable life changes can make us angry, afraid, insecure, sad, happy, joyful – or, if we are lucky, a better person, albeit a different one. Love doesn’t dissolve for these friendships. Sometimes it’s the love we have for ourselves that dissolves. We lose our way, our identity and it’s just too hard to figure out how “to be”. So we just hide out in plain sight and true friends recognize that type of “hide-and-seek” game we play with ourselves.

Self-awareness limits judgement on the two-sided coin of friendship – with one side being trust and the other being forgiveness. Friends come and friends go – but a true friend sticks by you like family. Proverbs 18:24

That is what friends do.Friend picture

Soul Clutter

The sun’s rays peek above the tree line as twilight drifts quietly away, the wind propelling the pines from side to side, waving in this new day. The festivities of closing out 2015 and welcoming in 2016 was but a blink. This stillness encourages me to look up and forward for what is yet to be.

I cannot welcome this New Year just yet without contemplating on the ones past. My heart is heavy as I’m gripped with uncertainty, yet oddly thankful. There were six of us siblings – now there are five, as one of the brothers went to heaven ahead of the rest of us; all so close in age none of us remember a time when we were not all together on this earth.

Although it’s been two decades, I both miss and am thankful for all that I learned from my mother, from the quiet conversations with my gentle father, from my “John Wayne” father-in-law, and from my best friend for thirty years, my mother-in-law. Blessings of His grace for sure.

I still miss my husband. I will grieve for him for as long as I love him, and I will love him forever. Occasionally I will feel his arms around me as I rock in his old leather recliner. I smell his scent for a moment, and then gulp in air hungry for more, but it vanishes as if it never was. I recall his jokes that at first caused me to smile and then to just laugh right out loud! “How good is that?” he’d say.

Life for me is my simple home that gives me a hug every time I walk in the door. It backs up to woods filled with my beloved trees, making me feel close to nature and closer to God. My children are good – working on great – and Teddie, my “4-footed-ball-of-white-fur-gift-from-God” patched up my heart from the day he rescued me. These gifts make me happy.

While some friendships have grown distant, others have grown stronger with love, understanding, and acceptance, providing comfort each to the other through our joys and our sorrows. This is the cycle of old friends, new friends and new-old friends.

The general New Year’s protocol is to remember the year past and then to move on to the future. We make resolutions to complete items on our bucket list, to get healthy, to win the lottery, and various other ideas as we resolve to be happier than we were the previous year.

My new year begins on January 1st, every single year. On this day I cook our annual southern dinner of meat loaf fragrant with onions and peppers, the spicy tomato sauce dripping down the side causes my mouth to water. The country fried potatoes’ crispy edges align with the lucky black eye peas, the pepper sauce awakens the turnip greens, and the fragrant cornbread and homemade banana pudding comfort me with a gentle reminder of renewed grace.

Afterward I rush upstairs to begin my New Year’s Day tradition. I clean my closet.

This “tradition” may indeed be a head scratcher for some people who might prefer a nap, a brisk walk or football viewing. Never doubt that it has purpose as it provides much needed activity while I work off that second helping of banana pudding as well as providing a Zen state in which to ponder this New Year.

As I tackle my project, the thought that repeats itself is “let it go”. No, not the song from Disney’s movie Frozen; rather, that which causes confusion. Things like clothes that I hang onto in hopes I’ll get my “other” body back, shoes that defy logic as to why I bought them in the first place, all the junk in all those purses that I leave when I change to a different one, and lastly all those thoughts that throw life off kilter.

Some say the New Year provides the opportunity for a “do-over”. That’s an intriguing outlook with a big but, for the past is not the past – it remains the present and it will be the future unless I cleanse my spirit by letting go.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes; some were just dumb while others were hurtful. The question I ask myself is this – “Did I cause hurt to others on purpose.”

“Maybe,” I say out loud, after all I’m the only one in the closet.

“There was the time when I caused hurt to …?”

“But, but, but,” my mind continues to whirl. “What about the time when I got hurt by …?”

What about it? On this new day I forgive and then, I let… it…go.

After all, the best way to be forgiven is to ask for forgiveness.

Extra vigilance is required to  watch for soul clutter, otherwise, it collects like dust in an abandoned house. When my resolve weakens, I check my reality in my current moment – in this moment it is this cluttered closet. I stand back looking at the growing pile of clothes that are destined for the clothes ministry, while my mind discards those things that I need to donate to the forgiveness pile. While I’m at it, I throw in those shoes, and dump the crap out of those purses right along with anger, guilt, resentment and sour grapes.

An unintended consequence of cleaning is discovering hidden treasures. Part of my New Year’s tradition is finding gifts for the children that I had hidden and forgotten; they then became New Year gifts. I have found other delights such as my long-lost pearl earrings and those new embroidered jeans, now out of style. I’m now on the cusp of venturing into a New Year, which had seemed to be a dark and scary place, knowing full-well that I can’t go backwards just as I cannot stay where I am. So, faith and fear hold hands as I leap from my despised safety net into what is meant to be.

Things have a way of working out as they should and I will discern what clutters my soul; further avoidance is confusing to my spirit and to my mind. Embracing this New Year moment by moment, then day by day, then month by month creates, by its nature, a fulfilling life because it is a life of my choosing. I pause just one more moment and gaze around at my reality. The clutter is now out of my closet as well as my soul.

Peace be with you in this New Year.

1 John 1:4 “These things we write, so that our JOY may be made complete.”

A Mothers Love

It is late on this Christmas night as I sit in my favorite chair, the soft glow of the Christmas tree soothing in the tranquility of this moment. The last few days have been filled with the laughter of togetherness and of secrecy, of cooking and of eating, of wrapping and of unwrapping gifts that delighted the giver as much as the receiver.

I have enjoyed these holiday moments with my children. The memories of Christmas past influence the Christmas of the present with a bittersweet joy. Holidays reminding me that life goes by in a blink.

I look at my children – really look at the people they are today – such good people,  this awareness is my happiness.

A song comes on Pandora radio, as Pentatonix sings, “Mary Did You Know?” My fingers grow still on the keyboard as I listen to that question and I wonder what, on this day of Jesus’ birth did she know?

My pastor’s message last Sunday included a reminder about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was visited by an angel who said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Confused she said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the child to be born will be holy; he will be called son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to you word,”
Luke 1:26-38

So today we celebrate the birth of this Christ child who would suffer, but in the doing would provide for the forgiveness and redemption of people who choose to believe.

It could not have been easy for Mary to be unable to spare her son the suffering that was to come. Mothers feel the intensity of every hurt to their child and try to do everything to keep our children safe, no matter their age.

But what happens when sometimes we just can’t? Some things we don’t get to have a say in, or if it will happen or when it will happen.

Our children can fall down and skin their knee,fail to make the baseball team,are bullied or become ill. Mothers apply a bandage with a kiss, encourage them to find another team, to stand up to the bully and take care of them when they are sick. It is the same love, applied to each of these situations, that give us the strength when we can’t control what our children must face. It is also a good reminder of Mary’s willingness to serve God as she accepted the role of mother with great faith and love.

Regardless of what our children are faced with, our love for them and our faith that everything is possible with God is greater than that burden, and that is enough.

A Good Day.

Brewer Six

Sunday was a good day.

On Sunday the Brewer Six, noted in the photo, spent the day together reminiscing about our childhood and about all of the happenings of all of the times in-between linking us to this day. It was a day of laughter and stories – reliving the strength of childhood love.

Of course, memories must be filled with stories of shenanigans – many centering on Ronnie, the quietest of us all, but also the one that always smiled and with a twinkle in his eyes, would instigate pranks. Hysterical laughter erupted to the extent that Ronnie began to cough the deep cough that made all of us pause…waiting.

Someone reminded Ronnie of the time, when he was about five years old when I dressed him and our younger brother up in our mother’s clothes, complete with her hats, the fishnet veils shading their sweet baby faces and the dangling clip-on pearl earrings providing the finishing touches for their unusual, but stylish appearance. Dad stopped what he was doing and took a picture that resides in some dark and secret place today, both brothers only shrugging when asked to disclose its location.

Ronnie, along with our youngest brother and our cousin of about the same age, referred to as the three musketeers,  would have great adventures. By adventures, keep in mind we lived in the country which consisted of woods, fields and streams. One day, no one remembers why,  they locked Ronnie in the barn. Ronnie was so mad they were afraid to let him out so they left him there all day until Dad came home from work and found him. Ronnie said, “I’m going to find them and beat them up!” Dad, not knowing that Ronnie had been there all day said, “No you are not. Not get in the house.” Again, laughter erupted as he explained how Dad usually knew what they had been up to.

Our grandfather was a farmer who grew vegetables that my grandmother would put up for the winter. He would then sell the surplus vegetables along with the cotton that us kids sometimes got to help pick. The corn went to the grist mill for cornmeal and animal feed. Ronnie flourished in this farm life, staying with them whenever he could. He helped with chores, fishing in the pond at lunch and after the work was done for the day. He so loved it and would stay as long as he could until Dad would go get him, saying, “He’s got to come home sometime.”

Our cat, Tom, was allowed to stay in the house during the day, but at night was put outside to do whatever country tom cats do. Dad didn’t allow pets in the house, saying six kids were enough. One night the temperature dropped to below freezing and Ronnie smuggled Tom into the bedroom that he shared with our brothers, saying nothing to anyone for fear of Dad discovering what he had done. Sometime during the night, our youngest brother was awakened by something furry with big eyes standing on him and he began to scream, “Monster, Monster!!” Ronnie got in trouble of course, but he laughed the hardest, saying, “It was worth it.”

Ronnie’s teenage years continued his quiet delight of being a middle child. He and our younger brother would come home after school and prepare a little snack – usually one or two T-bone steaks to hold them over until dinner. Mother would shake her head and say, “Just can’t fill those boys up.”

So, on this remarkable Sunday in December, all six of us were together, clinging to what made us a family. Now, in our fifties and sixties, we allowed the years to drop away going back to a time when we only had each other for today was just such a day.  Times we are thankful for; memories we will always treasure. Sunday was a good day.

As we left, Ronnie, from his bed in the hospice unit at the hospital, gave us each a hug and kiss saying “I’ll see you here….or somewhere,” his eyes twinkling, his smile warm. “Text me when you get home,” he said to me, always concerned knowing mine was a solitary four hour drive.

Monday was a sad day. A day we knew was coming. Nevertheless, a day we wanted to deny. Ronnie’s month in the hospital ended when the unknown disease that had weakened his lungs, took his life, and our six became five.

Ronnie was a good man. He worked hard, and was always cheerful and concerned about everyone else. He told his pastor who visited him last, “I’m ready to go. I want to go. But I don’t want to make my family sad.” This simple sentiment gives us comfort because we know Ronnie felt loved and even more important to him, to give us the love he knew we would need.

Life certainly will end for each of us at some point. It’s important to give and receive love while you can and with all that you have by your words, deeds and actions – for these are  the stuff of memories worthy of joyful sharing. This is the best gift to those left behind; know it will bring comfort.

We will miss you Ronnie and will certainly see you “somewhere” in heaven – and that will be a good day.

 In honor of Ronald D. Brewer 1956 – 2015

special thanks to Bill Brewer for his inspirational quote, “Sunday was a good day.  Today is a bad day.”  at the passing of Ronnie.

Empty Holiday Chairs

“As a pastor I’m often asked during times of loss, how long the grief lasts. I respond, as long as you love.”

—Pastor Tony Stallings,Highest Praise Church of God, Austell, GA

Thanksgiving reminds us in all forms within our cultures here in America of how truly blessed we are. It is a day for the creation of new memories combined with the memories of times-past.

Among these blessings are many people who are struggling with losses and concerns for loved ones, me included. Holidays are the toughest times for they, more than any other time of the year, mark the passage of time, reminding us of how our lives have changed. Our memories are joyful and meaningful, yet sad and lonely because we just don’t get to choose when the unexpected happens; for loss doesn’t take a holiday.

The ways in which we handle holidays are as individual as we are. Grief is what we feel inside and mourning is our external expression. It is important to lean into both as we navigate a journey not of our choosing by being gentle with ourselves and to accept that’s all there is right now. We are allowed to be sad and to say no or to change our minds – more than once. It’s okay to spend time alone for as long as needed, to cry as many tears as necessary, and to pray without stopping and without words because He knows your needs.

Memories of other Thanksgiving days meander through my mind; times of sumptuous meals with our large extended families followed by washing dishes by hand while a flag football game is played in the backyard. Then, in a blink it’s Christmas Eve. The kids are in bed and my husband, Frank, and I are still putting together the Barbie dollhouse at 2:00 a.m. We finally fall into bed exhausted and before I can surrender to sleep, I hear Frank’s voice, “Knock knock.”

I respond sleepily, “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”

“Banana who?” I ask, playing along.

“Knock knock,” he responds.

“Who’s there?” I sigh.

“Banana.”

Again I ask, “Banana who?”

“Knock knock,” he continues.

I refuse to answer. A minute goes by and I think it’s safe to give in to slumber when I hear, “Knock knock.”

I remain silent. Another minute goes by and again I hear “Knock knock.”

“Whooooo’s there?” I squeak.

“Orange,” he says. “Orange who?” I ask with a slight tinge of annoyance.

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!” He chortled with delight as I kissed that smile right off of his face!

Such was life with my husband and joyful memories such as these now take on a bittersweet feel, magnifying my loss. Sadness is sadder and a yearning for what was, intensifies loneliness. Yet I catch myself smiling more and even laughing out loud as I talk about him with those who also have a need to share their own memories with me. That’s okay because in the doing of this we honor him, keeping love for him close in our hearts, a comfort like no other.

As I write these words, the lovely smells of a turkey browning in the oven and the spicy scent of cornbread dressing makes my mouth water while the cooling pumpkin pie tempts me with its cheerful color. My adult children are watching football, cheering loudly with touchdown or interception. A dog sleeping on either side soothes me into a state of contentment for this moment, on this day.

These past few years I have come to realize that holidays are exactly what we make them. Yes, I experience an assault of emotions, but the memories sustain me. As the holidays ended, I realized that I have lived through each day and with this realization, accept that life goes on as does my love for that empty holiday chair for all the days past, and for all the days yet to be. I’m thankful to have had thirty-seven years of such memories; and there is no doubt that Frank is also glad I’m glad. I pray you find your peace in the holiday season.

May this sparkle of His grace comfort you:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Paris – The City of Light

I sat in a local restaurant Friday night, chatting with friends and being in that ordinary moment of my life. I was oblivious to the fact that others, about 5000 miles over the ocean, were victims of evil as they too sat in restaurants in the Rue Bichat area of Paris. Only when I started home, switching on the radio, did I learn what was happening.

Today, I know that 129 people were killed and 352 injured. All were people just like me, sharing dinner, enjoying music, and just living their lives in all of these ordinary ways. Until evil entered their midst and changed that moment — for that is the intent of evil.

Today, the world stands with the people of France. We send what we have – aid, prayers, and love. Evil will not stop that. We are made stronger through the solidarity of courage not understood by evil, because by its very nature, evil is cowardly.

Yesterday, today, and in all the days to come, France, known as the City of Light, maintains this spirit as their light grows brighter during these dark days. The candles that glow in the windows of the homes and the businesses of France demonstrate their unflagging hope and faith as the world shares their grief. Their spirit is contagious as it ignites the world, continuing to burn freely.Paris

“Sun is rising, a new day begins. May it be with love. Please not with hate. I love you all, let’s love each other. Maybe the world will be a better place.”
–Thomas Tran Dinh, Paris Concert Survivor

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