Monday, November 5, 2018

Autumn in Dixie

Autumn sighs and tiptoes down an old country lane while squirrels and chipmunks chatter overhead. Scampering here and there, those agile acrobats busily stash nuts and acorns away for cooler days ahead.  Dozens of trees line the sides of the lane, and depending on their heritage, don uniquely-designed garments of crimson, gold and fiery orange. Across a distant field, a farmer hauls in the last load of hay onto his wagon and heads for home.  Autumn in Dixie has arrived.

Friday, November 6, 2015

B & B's

Of Birthdays and Blessings ...

The past two months have been full of both birthdays and blessings!  After Mom's 91st birthday on September 22nd (see previous blog), we were blessed to celebrate other birthdays ...

October 5th was our grandson Jason Cody's 6th birthday.  He is a sharp little man who enjoys trains, LEGO's, playing soccer with the Cyber Rays and also enjoys learning about ships, boats and planes. This grandson is a real student of his interests and knows more about trains, their design and their functions than most adults!  His favorite birthday gift was riding on an AmTrak into Union Station.

We love you, Jason Cody!

A few weeks later, we celebrated our grandson Caleb's 2nd birthday on October 29. This little fellow is in the high-energy-catch-me-if-you-can stage.  His Mommy has found him standing on the arm of their couch, on the kitchen table and sitting on the snack bar. To his credit, he also enjoys cuddling in a lap and having favorite books read aloud, and that megawatt smile of his melts my heart!

We love you, Caleb!

Then, on November 2nd, my dear hubby's birthday #64 was a celebration and blessing. I am so grateful and thankful for this man God placed in my heart and life!  He is my soul mate and confidante, my parenting partner in raising our three children and my grand-parenting partner in loving our four grandsons.  We see them only once or twice a year, and while that is painful to bear, it is eased by having someone walk the Papa & Nana path with me.

Back to blessings, I can't begin to enumerate them all here, but I'll share a few.  We are blessed with good health at this point in our lives and a warm, cozy home in this rainy autumn season.  We also have clean water to drink and food supplies as needed.  Not everyone has that in this world, and we do realize what a blessing it is.

Not only has God provided our physical needs, He has also supplied much more - comfort in sorrow (our precious young niece died in late September), comfort supplied through friends and extended family who came to celebrate her life & legacy with us. Comfort in knowing she was a bright light during her brief lifetime and was ready to meet her Maker. The moment He lifted her out of pain and suffering, she was at perfect peace with Him.

I am blessed to still have my Mother - the only surviving parent in our married life.  She is fading in so many respects but is still my sweet Momma.  I am blessed to see her at least twice a week and sometimes more, and we are very grateful for the staff and caregivers at Mitchell Hollingsworth who tend to her.  We are also blessed with memories of our parents who are now with the Lord.

My Dad's birthdate, October 31st, and his life ended on January 30, 1991.  His birthday stirred lots of memories for me in the days before and after October 31st..  He was a quiet man in many ways but a fun-loving parent, a faithful, gentle husband to our mother and, above all else, a man that studied the Word of God and had a burden for those who were hopeless, helpless and in need of the peace and joy that knowing Christ as Savior can give.

Phillip's mother, a sweet, quiet woman who was a wife, mother, grandmother and homemaker for her family, passed on to glory in October of 2001.  Phillip's Dad, a hardworking man who also served his country in WW2, loved his Lord, his family and his country. We were blessed to have him in our lives until March of 2013.  What a precious heritage our parents passed down to us and our children! How grateful we are for their faithful examples before us.

We have also been blessed with two more grandsons who did not have birthdays recently, but they deserved to be pictured here, too!

It's a joy when the phone rings to answer and here their voices!
What a joy to hear those little "men" tell us, "I love you!" and/ or "I wish I could see you again soon."  or  "Guess what I learned today?"  Truly, grandchildren are the blessings of our senior years, and we thank the Lord for them daily.

We love you, John-Phillip!

... And we love you, too, Ethan!

This is what makes our life rich and precious - having precious loved ones to cherish and celebrate.  Those who have gone before us are are still remembered, cherished and celebrated in our hearts and lives.  They are very much still a part of us.

Thank You, Father, for birthdays and blessings!

Each year added to our life is a precious gift from Your hand to us.  We rest in You for the future ahead of us and our children and grands.  Use us for your glory, and grant us wisdom, faith, hope, and peace as you see fit.

There is much to pray about for our nation, our neighborhoods and our personal need for wisdom and grace to make wise decisions as we go forward.  Lead us as you see fit, and use us to glorify Your name.  Amen.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The parenting journey takes many twists and turns ...

Thinking about my precious Mom tonight.  She lives across the Tennessee River in a lovely facility where she is under nursing care at all times, due to Alzheimer disease. This past Tuesday I celebrated her 91st birthday with four friends that know and love Mom -- two of whom helped me care for her when she still lived here with us.  In those days, she still raised tomato plants and various plants & flowers on her deck and delighted in each growth spurt or colorful blossom.

Mom doesn't yet know her children are driving in from various states to celebrate her birthday again tomorrow! She will be so excited when everyone gathers for her party.  Those blue eyes will sparkle and a few happy tears may slip and fall, but that's okay. 

We want to celebrate her life, her can-do attitude, her appreciation for the kindness of those who assist her, her gentle spirit with other residents who are feeling poorly, and even her desire to still keep her room in good order.  (Bless her heart, she double checks the staff's bed-making skills and will "fix" things that aren't lined up just so.  If her mattress shifts a few inches, she wants it straightened, please. Gotta love my Mom's eye for detail!)

I am so very grateful to still have her in my life and want to love and appreciate her every day. We all miss Daddy, who died 24 years ago with a massive heart attack. He was 68 at the time and looked to be in fine health, but atherosclerosis was taking over his blood vessels and, eventually, he had a massive heart attack. Mom still thinks of him and will sometimes ask where he is.  At other times, she doesn't recognize him in photos of them together.

So each new day is another confusing struggle for her on this journey with Alzheimer disease. Bceause she was raised in hard times, Mom is strong in spirit and determination to do what needs to be done.  While we were growing up at home, we often heard her say, when we were being pitiful or whiny to "buck up."

To Alzheimer patients, reality is sometimes unreal.  Some dreams take Mom far away back to childhood or her young adult life and that's where she is upon waking.  This means she sometimes looks around the room and tries to remember where she really is and why she isn't "back home." I am never sure what she is experiencing until I spend some time listening and observing. The Alzheimer journey means you make the effort to step into your loved one's world and let them talk about what they are thinking, experiencing, feeling, etc.  That's what our parents need most - to know they are not traveling this journey alone.  I've found that with Mom, holding hands, singing softly, stroking her hair or patting her back can help. When she is ready to interact, she'll smile or speak.

At other times, Mom naps while I read in a chair at the foot of her bed.  When she wakes up, she will usually remember me being there and smile.  At other times, she will be in a dreamlike-state and say things like, "Johnnie (my father) was sitting in that very chair last  night reading his Bible." I'm sure she is comforted by the thought, and I don't correct her.  Sometimes she will ask if Dad is already gone, and when I see that look in her eyes - that faint remembrance of his being absent for a very long period of time - I answer her question honestly.  "Yes, he is in heaven and at perfect peace." This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, she grieves his death all over again.

Though Mom's mental and physical abilities have been declining steadily, she is very aware of other things -- like a rose blossom in a vase that is needing more water ... or a fellow resident feeling poorly or upset.  On many occasions, she has paddled her wheel chair over to them, patted their arm and proceeded to pray with them!

Music is important to Mom, and she still recognizes tunes of hymns we sang for so many years.  I often see her hand keeping time with the music - even when her eyes are closed. And I think to myself, what a blessing that she still remembers those comforting songs!  We also read Bible verses together, and I will pray with her.  At times I've asked Mom if she'd like to pray, she speaks clearly and expresses herself better to her Heavenly Father than she does with us.  Her prayers are almost always for others, not for herself.

As we continue on this journey ... it's like waving goodbye to a loved one who goes toward the horizon on their travels to a strange land, a loved one you will miss while they are gone.  When communication is infrequent or absent, your eyes will sometimes leak and your heart will get heavy because you know they are farther away with each passing day. But you pull up your courage and smile and wave anyhow and remind them that you're praying for them.

We have no idea how long Mom will be with us, but we will celebrate her birthday together as family and rejoice in the fact she still knows - at this point - that we are her children.  She is still a sweetie, a grateful lady who freely shows her appreciation to caregivers, nurses and assistants.  She likes to be with the other residents who sit around the nurses' station or in the adjoining "day area" to relax and/or catch a few winks.

While this journey has been trying and tiresome for Mom, it is an opportunity for me to grow in things that matter: Patience, courage, love, kindness, wisdom and faith. The end of the Alzheimer journey will not be the end for my Mom.  When she slips from here to there, she will wake up in heaven totally healed of all disease, confusion and loneliness!  Perfect peace awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ as their substitute - the perfect, sacrificial "Lamb of God."  John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-10

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Some journeys are pleasant, others are painful

Ever felt like you were at the end of the road with nowhere to go?

We used to walk down a long, lovely lane in Kentucky just off Woods Point Drive.  The children were ages 3, 6 and 8 at the time, and while the two older ones on bicycles, our younger son pedaled along on his little red tricycle. It was especially lovely in autumn when the Lord touched thee maple trees with golden flames of color! The entire lane was perhaps a half mile long, but to the children, it seemed we'd never get to the end where we would turn back around.

Life can be that way at times-- it throws you a curve and you struggle along, peddling as best as you can, but your "legs get tired." It's only normal to wish you could see the end of the road where you'll rest a bit before heading back the direction you came from!

We also traveled long distances with those three little ones just to see their grandparents.  While in Kentucky, we had to go south 10 hours to see Papaw and Mamaw Potter, or, if we were heading west to see Grandpa and Grandma Keltie, it was also a 10 hour trip!  I always packed lots of goodies to hand out along those journeys  -- a new book or two for each of the children, some dried fruits and nuts for snacks, a new CD of songs, etc.  Other times, I'd sit in the back with them and play board games while the scenery zipped by outside. I'd also packed favorite read-aloud books and ... thank you whoever invented earphones (!) ... story tapes they could listen to while their Daddy and I chatted up front.

We bought our travel van especially for a trip out West, and I remember their excitement during the planning stages.  We mapped our trip to see the Cowboy National Museum (Oklahoma), Crater National Park (Arkansas) Grand Canyon (Arizona), Sequoia National Park, Redwood Forest and the western coast scenery along Highway 10 (California).  Then there was Old Faithful ( ), Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace (yes, outer wall murals made from kernels of corn!) and the HUGE Kennicott Copper Mine and the Dinosaur National Park in Utah.

That van put in a lot of miles, and we made a lot of good memories.  The only thing about traveling that seemed monotonous was turning back east and heading home.  You know, the sing-song voice of "Are we almost there yet?" ;-)  But I wouldn't take a million dollars for those experiences and the time we spent with our children.  It was not just vacation -- we were soaking up some amazing life-long memories and fascinating facts for the rest of our lives.  But yes, the home stretch was a good thing after 21 days of travel - even if it would take awhile to get back in the swing of things.

Fast forward to an "unpleasant journey" I experienced in the spring of 2014. One morning when I started to get up, I could not stand without crying out in pain.  Electric-like shocks raced down my lower back and were shooting into my left leg.  After 15-20 minutes, the pain would lessen,  It was odd that it only occurred when I had been sitting or lying down - something that made the doctors scratch their heads.  They'd never had a sciatica case quite like mine before, and they weren't sure it was sciatica, but that's what they tentatively labeled it.  One doctor gave me a shot in the lower back to block pain, but it didn't work. Day after day the pain was present, and I was unable to function as usual.  That problem lingered for 3 months -- something doctors, therapists, our faithful chiropractor and no one else could ever figure out nor solve.

I was exhausted by traveling that road and wanted to get back "home," to life as I used to know it. Oh, to be mobile and pain free again ... especially since our son was graduating with his MBA in June and we had planned to make the 12-hour trip.  As things stood then, I didn't see how I could go at all, and that broke my heart.

After on particularly-bad day, I was washing a few dishes at the sink when tears began to fall into the dishwater. Basically, I gave up all hope of recovery and cried out to the Lord in desperation that day. "Father, You are the Great Physician, and You know exactly what is going on.  If You are willing to heal me, You can, but  I don't deserve Your favor, nor do I make any demands.  If you choose not to heal me, I'm going to need a lot of grace to get through this pain in the days to come. I so wanted to go see Jason graduate, Father!  Give me grace.  It's in Your hands, and I surrender it to you."

Up to that time I had been sleeping sitting up in a recliner for 8-10 weeks due to the pain of getting out of bed.  That evening, after a good cry and the exhaustion that accompanied it, I made a decision. I wanted to sleep in a real bed ... no matter what it might cost me in pain the next morning.  So I went to bed, went to sleep and slept all night.  The next morning, I slowly stretched my left leg and tentatively moved my body toward the edge of the bed.  So far, so good.  I "tested the waters" by putting one foot on the floor and then the other.  And then stood up and - for the first time in months - without pain!! All I can say is, the Lord graciously healed me, and the doctors were dumbfounded by it all. Since then, I have done well and have never experienced that particular problem again.

Sometimes journeys are pleasant, like our vacation out West or that long-awaited trip to see family and friends. At  times, our journeys may be painful --  the loss of a loved one, the agony of a lingering illness or an unexpected injury.  There are also painful journeys of stress, financial problems, natural disasters and more!

While the painful journeys are ones we'd rather not take, most of us will find ourselves along those roads at one time or another.  One thing we must remember, however: There is an end to the journey at some point, and we will find peace and relief in the end.  During the meantime, the Lord promises to be with His children every step of the way.  Sometimes He may hold our hand and at other times carry us on His shoulders, but one thing is certain ...

He will never, ever leave us nor forsake us. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Raising our sons to be men ...

There's just something about raising boys!

We raised two sons of our own and now have four precious grandsons. I can honestly say there is a lot of joy in raising boys. Let me explain ...

A baby boy is a man in the making, pre-wired with all that's needed to develop into an adult male. Thankfully, he doesn't sport any whiskers or smelly armpits ... yet!  Still dependent on his Mama, he cuddles next to her and pats her face. Then he opens his little mouth and plants warm, slobbery kisses on her cheek, chin or forehead. Not once does he worry someone will think he is a "sissy." And we mothers love it!

As they grow, most little boys enjoy toys like little Hotwheels, tractors, Lincoln logs and Legos. They also enjoy bikes, sports, going fishing and hiking in the woods (while moms worry about snakes).

The boys we raised didn't mind getting dirty, either. They weren't too particular about mud or grass stains or holes in their jeans. If they were called on to work the farm, they flexed their little-boy muscles and pitched in. If someone said "Isn't that heavy?" they would more than likely swagger a bit and say, "Naw!"  (Photo: Kevin in the middle, Jason on the right, friend Kyle on the left).

Boys don't mind the rain like girls do, either. They don't have to worry about their hair or makeup, nor do they mind stomping through any puddle in their path. Now and then, when we had a really good rain that caused low-land flooding and run-off, our rural drainage ditches would practically boil over with muddy water. And that attracts a real boy!

In my experience (having grown up with a brother and later being blessed with two sons and four grandsons), I've learned younger boys are pretty low-maintenance. If you give them room to run and a few simple toys, they can entertain themselves for hours and hours. With a little free time, their imaginations kick in and toys will often become unnecessary.

When not infatuated with electronic gadgets, most boys will get outdoors and explore their world. Before cell phones and iPads, our son and his best buddy next door went outdoors a lot to climb hills and bluffs, to plan and build a cave for an escape route in case of enemy attacks. Another time, they designed plans for a fort, "just in case." Nobody suggested it - they just did it because they were boys.
Another important point: Boys are fairly easy to feed. As long as there is good food and enough of it to fill their tummies, they're fine.  If it's up to them, they'd gladly palm a sandwich and run back outdoors with their "fast food."  When moms insist on having them sit down, nice dinnerware and attention to manners can be a painful experience for boys. They'd much rather wolf it down, slurp their drinks and let out a good belch when they're finished.

But any mother worth her salt will insist, now and then, on setting a fine table. She'll use her best dishes, arrange the flatware properly and add a nice centerpiece or candles. This is called introducing our sons to "culture." One day those same fellas are going to be young men.  At a formal dinner or nice restaurant they will feel awkward and embarrassed if they don't know how to conduct themselves. That's why the Lord gave boys their mothers, right?

Little men-in-the-making also enjoy flexing their muscles and playing the part of brave knights, warriors and heroes. They have an inborn tendency to protect or rescue the helpless and display their bravado on any occasion. Thus, the plastic swords, swaggering walk and slingshots on the floor of their closet or tucked under their beds. And that should make us moms feel much safer, you know.  But one thing we must never do, and that is to tease or ridicule their attempts to play the grown-male role. Thank your sons for carrying heavy packages, pushing the loaded grocery cart and checking to see if doors are locked before bedtime or on the way out before leaving for a trip to town.

Young sons play act, but they are also seriously preparing for the read deal - the important role of protector and family man some day.  In their play, they don't try to negotiate with serious enemies -- they just wrestle them down and tie them up or throw them in jail .. all in the name of patriotism, play-acting and male bravado. You see, if we encourage and allow them to act out these situations in play, they will grow up to be strong young men with convictions of right and wrong and the courage needed to defend and protect their own families one day.

But every now and then, boys need to put down their toy swords and other weapons to read a good book... or have one read aloud to them. When they're toddlers, their books may be soft and fuzzy farm books or books about all kinds of trucks and cars.

 As they grow, their story books should also include topics that prepare them for manhood... books about the great outdoors, tracking animals, hunting and fishing, how to set up a tent or shelter, how to cook over a wood fire and all kinds of outdoor adventure and the safety rules that go with those adventures.  Other good book titles will introduce them to heroes and inventors, famous scientists and businessmen, historical and contemporary men that are to be admired. This gives boys an opportunity to daydream about all kinds of adventures and careers.

As we are blessed to visit with our children and interact with our grandsons - two in Virginia and two in south Alabama - I see the little men inside them already developing.  They like tractors and trains, building Lincoln log forts, riding with Papaw on his tractor and running around outdoors.  I pray they will be fine young men like their Dads.

We Moms do have a lot of impact in our sons' lives, and that is also part of God's plan.  We teach them how they are to treat girls and ladies. We love them as they are, because God's plan for boys is to grow up and become brave, strong men.  He has a grand purpose for their lives, and we as parents are to train them while they are young to follow His leading. What a joy it is to be part of God's plan in shaping them in their younger years. Thank You, Lord, for our sons and our four young grandsons!

What a blessing it is to experience the joys of boys ... again!