December 2, 2015

Dear Grief

Dear Grief,

We've been keeping company for the last several months, but we haven't spoken directly.  We have simply coexisted. Although you have been relentless in your pursuit of me, I've been tentative in embracing you as more than an unwanted intruder.  Friendship was an offer you put on the table, and frankly, I found it pointless.  That is until the One who sent you was kind enough to let me see glimpses of who you really are.  You are the remnants of losing both my parents just three months apart during the early summer, but I know now that you are more than that. You are a beautiful ugly presence.  When I think of the most beautiful ugly thing that ever was, I think of Jesus on the cross.  Could anything have been more ugly, more cruel, more barbaric, more seemingly pointless on the surface?  Yet could anything more beautiful ever exist?  Could anything more amazing result from such violent conditions?

In the spring and early summer, the gardening begins.  We cherish the beauty and wait with anticipation for the harvest that will come, bounty for the table. But this year, you injected yourself into our lives, and the garden had to take a back seat.  We harvested tomatoes, and okra and the like, but the time and energy for tending was sorely missing.  The longer you decided to stay, the taller the weeds grew.  The vegetables, and the flowers we planted amongst them to fend off pests, grew side by side, and the weeds joined them. 

At first I saw it as an eyesore, but the taller the grass grew, the more whimsical the site became to me.  I would lie on my bed next to the open window and look upon the sight, breeze blowing through, birds chirping as they sat perched on tomato cages, and butterflies flitted to and fro in the sun.  The neighborhood cat had even found a jungle playground to romp around in as he caught bugs, and  I laid in the bed on a tear stained pillow watching.

I began to see the beauty in this odd peaceful picture, and it became a symbol for my pain and my growth. Before I knew it, fall arrived, and I begged my husband not to mow down the garden because to mow it down was to mow down this beautiful thing that was happening inside of me.  The work wasn't complete, and I wasn't ready to see you go or to distance myself too far from those final painful moments of losing my parents. To distance myself was to forget, and I feared forgetting. You were drawing me closer to my God.  As painful as it was to lose my parents I realized that you didn't cause the pain, loss did, the loss that has come to all of us since we were separated from God in His garden.  You weren't the pain, you were the force pushing me to my knees in prayer.  You were the voice echoing in my ear that said, "Go to Him, and find rest."  And so, I embraced you.  We have journeyed together into the presence of God, and we sit side by side as you help me more deeply feel the love my parents had for me, that God has for me now and always, and that I need to have for others.  You are a healer, not a hurter, and I have grown to realize that you are God's gift.

Like the struggle of fall taking over summer, the drop and rise again in temperatures, your presence has come and gone and come again. Just when I think you have left, there you are again.  You are so dominant, so hard to ignore, but I know God has sent you because there is work to be done. Like a mother, my mother, trying to keep me on the right path, you always usher me to the foot of the cross where each visit makes me more like the person He intends for me to be.  Anything that draws my closer to the Heavenly Father is good.
"Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.  He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation became his prized possession." 
James 1:17-18

So we understand each other these days.  I've embraced you as a welcome guest. You stay more often than you leave, and I work on not needing you, and I know that's what you want too.  I call on God, and you move to a corner in the room, but you know I'll take on the pain again so you don't leave the house altogether. Your job is to push me to God. And like all good friends should do, you remind me of Who holds me.

Because of you, I'll never see the seasons the same again.  A wilting flower won't signal the end of something good,  but the beginning of something new.

It's winter now, and the garden has been mowed down.  It was sad for me, but I'm sure the neighbors were relieved.  The garden spot is barren, just dry frozen ground, no visible life.  And it is still a symbol of this healing process.  The space that Mom and Dad vacated, feels barren.  I understand barren.  But I also understand that barren can be beautiful.  There is a beauty in a garden spot that waits for spring planting.  The soil lives and breaths and waits to enrich the seeds that are planted there. God too remains in the barren, and he plants seeds in our soul soil that has become rich and fertile through the trials in our lives.  I can't keep you at arms length, Grief, for He's commanded me to consider you an opportunity for great joy.  And you've proven Him right.

"When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."
James 1:2-4

So I thank God for how He's using you in my life.  I can almost see you smile when I say those words.  I know He's smiling.  It brings Him great joy when the lessons of his Word take root.



Thank you to Kate Motaung for giving me this opportunity to write a letter to grief. This is the third letter in a row that I've written in this space.  These letters are valuable tools in the healing process after great loss.  I am hoping this will be a re-entry into blogging for me.  The care of my parents over the last few years has left me with little energy or time to blog much.  I've missed it.

August 28, 2015

The Roughest Road, In the Deepest Valley, on the Darkest Night

Dear Mom,

I've been wanting to come to this space and write about your journey home, but it's almost impossible to come up with words to describe what life is like now without you.  I can feel, and I often become overwrought with emotion, but words escape me.  Words have never escaped me when I sit down at a keyboard or with pen and paper.

You're gone.  It's not plain, and it's not simple. It's the roughest road, in the deepest valley, on the darkest night, that I have ever walked.  I thought I knew what grief was, but now I know I had no idea.  I have no doubt that losing you and Dad just three months apart makes my grief significantly more difficult, but it's my reality.  You've been gone for 61 days, and Dad has been gone for 159. It's been a long night, and daylight isn't in the foreseeable future, but the beautiful thing is that God is lighting this path just like He has lit all the other dark paths I've traveled in my life.  He promised He would, and He has.  If it weren't for Him, I'd be wandering around in the bramble bushes.

I don't want to take away from the beautiful joy of your new life in the presence of God.  I can't grasp it.  I can't pretend to. I read about it every day in His Word, but I can't really fathom it, not until I'm there. To be well without worry, and to never have death hanging on your horizon again must be perfection for you.  I haven't made it one day since your death without crying.  I have at least one meltdown a day, but often the tears come when I think of the overwhelming peace that must have washed over you the moment you left your broken body.  Your joy is my joy, and my joy often sheds tears.

Grief really is a selfish thing, but it's a necessary thing.  I celebrate your joy, but I mourn my loss.  The space you occupied in this world became sharply empty when you vacated it. I knew in an instant that the world had changed, and life would never be the same again.  Well meaning people say time heals, or it will get better.  I used to say that to people too before I lost both of my parents, but now I've joined the ranks of those who understand the spiritual reshaping that takes place when relationships like this are severed.  To be torn from the voices I heard even while living in the womb, and yet continue to be eternally intertwined with them is not an easy thing to experience or explain.

I'm shuffling through the days trying to figure out how to grab a hold of the moments and make something useful of my life.  Caregiving was my life for 8 years.  During those years I didn't care much for myself or my home, and now I look around and wonder what in the world happened while I was away.  I've got work to do, and it's hard to get back to it.  I miss everything about caring for you from feeding you to kissing your cheek.  I miss those evenings when you would lay in bed, and I would read from Streams in the Desert.  But I also know that all of that caring meant you were suffering and needed comfort.  I'm so glad you don't need my comfort anymore. You've found your resting place, and I will find a new place to serve when the time is right.

You and Dad have been my beloved parents, my spiritual rock, and my best friends all of my life.  I was at home wherever you were. Dad gently slipped away day by day, and you just plain snuck out when I wasn't looking.  I've seen myself in a vision running down a dirt road behind the dust of an old Model A pickup truck screaming, "Wait, wait for me!!"  Dad is driving, and you can't hear me above the whir of the engine, or the rickety rackety of the old metal frame, or the whisper of the still small voice that called you away.  I wouldn't have wanted you to ignore that voice for anything, but as I stand in the middle of the road in a cotton print dress watching you disappear, the little girl in me longs to go home too.

I'll be there.  I'll be there soon enough. What a day of rejoicing that will be when we, through Christ, are together once again.  It's the beautiful part of the story, the part of the story that waits for all of us who dare to trust Christ.  Thank you for giving me this Good News.  Thank you for telling me His story. It's because of His story that I can know how ours ends.  How can I keep it to myself?  Let it not be so.

I love you sweet Mom, and I miss you so so much!


My beautiful Mom. 1929-2015

May 7, 2015

A Final Letter

Dear Dad,

The tears have already begun to flow.  My scrunched up face and saltwater filled eyes gaze at this screen as I type.  I miss you so much.  It's been 46 days since you died.  It's been harder than I anticipated, but just as you always said, "God is not in the forsaking business."  He has been faithful in big and small ways since your death. There was that time just a few days after your funeral when I just "happened" to come across your entire lesson on suffering, based on the book of Job. What a God thing to be able to learn from my Dad, in his own hand writing, how to deal with his death. And then there was the day recently when I opened the hymnal to sing, and your note fell out - the one you wrote to me while in Memory Care - the one where you spelled my name wrong. : )

It seems fitting to write you a letter because I've written so many before.  That's how I've shared my deepest thoughts and feelings with you.  And perhaps this won't be the last letter I write to you. I may over the weeks, months, even years to come, feel the need to talk to you, and you know how much easier the words come to me when I write.  It seems appropriate to share my letter here in this space where over the last 8 years I have shared much about our journey together.  Even in my absence from this place with no walls, I know friends who are sitting behind bright screens in dimly lit rooms talking to our God about my suffering.  They have loved me from a far and walked this journey with us.  

I spoke at your funeral, Dad!  Did Jesus tell you about it?  There were over 350 people there and my nerves didn't take over. God's Holy Spirit did.  We had a worship service to honor you but more importantly to honor your God.  Our God. I shared parts of some of the letters I had written you over the years, and I testified to God's faithfulness to us as we walked a dark road called Alzheimer's.  Here are just a few of the words I shared.

"Just 10 short months after Mom and Dad moved into Independent Living at the senior living center, Dad moved to the Memory Care wing.  It was there that God faithfully showed me that just  because a road is not well lit, does not mean it is unsafe or unsavory. It was on the dark road called Alzheimer's that I more deeply grasped the matchless grace of Jesus, and the deep love God has for me.  In the darkness, God's light shines the brightest.  In the darkness, we seek Him out.  Because with God, there is no such thing as pitch black.  John 1:5 says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."  And so, if we are on a path which God has placed us, we can know by default that he will light it.  God's word is true.  It can be trusted.  So we must not fear the dark road, we must trust the one who lights it.  God's fingerprints were all over this journey with Dad, and He was not only faithful to him, but faithful to continue His good work in me by using my Dad's life to mold and shape me further, even in the midst of Alzheimer's."

So you see Dad, not a moment of your life was wasted. Even in those moments where you didn't have a clue who I was, God was using you to teach me and others!  Our God is an amazing God!  You know that even more than I do now.  I'm so glad you are in His presence.  Yes, I do miss you, but I'm glad you are whole again.  I'm glad you've received your reward.  It's hard for me to imagine that if God allows me to live as long as you did, I will walk the roads of this life for 40 more years - without you.  You have been my rock, but that is one thing that God has taught me, and that is, He must be my rock.  You were and are a perfect Dad.  Even after your death your words and all that you instilled in me are with me. Because you poured into my life all that you could while you were here, you will continue to be with me every day until I join you.  And Dad, I will join you as only those of us who are in Christ can.

Of course, my privilege now is to continue overseeing Mom's care. Here, we are celebrating at the family gathering after the funeral.  Mom's getting used to selfies! Your beautiful bride is suffering Dad, but she is tough, and she loves Jesus.  I will be faithful to her Dad, and she too will be with you soon, probably sooner than I would like to see her go.

I love you Dad.  I miss you.  And I am so very proud of you.

Your youngest,

This is the final photo that was taken of Dad.  He was leaning in to listen to hymns being played on my phone as I held it near his ear. This photo was taken on a Sunday, he died one week later.

Thank you to my internet friends who have walked this journey with me, who have prayed and shared words of encouragement.  I continue to need your prayers as I care for Mom and the handling of Dad's estate.  I still love this blog space, and do hope to return.  Until then, know you are loved and thought about often!

December 25, 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!  I'm sorry I've been mostly absent from here in recent months.  I'm still pondering the direction of this blog, and have so little time due to my commitment to my parents care, but I do cherish my blog friends!  I'm looking forward to a new year, and am hoping this blog will find a renewed purpose in 2014. 

I pray you are having a blessed day.  As you enjoy the festivities, I thought you might like this sweet reminder of what Christmas is all about.  May God bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you today and in the new year ahead!

November 24, 2013

A Day In November

Today is . . .  November 24, 7:32 PM

Outside my window . . .It's been sleeting and snowing all day. Cold. Temperatures in the twenties.  The big fluffy flakes made me feel nostalgic, but the cold seemed to sink into my spirit as my second day of vacation lent itself mostly to reflection.  Something I've been doing a lot of lately.

I am hearing . . . the sound of the washing machine washing a load of towels, and my husband's voice as he talks on the phone to his son.

I am wearing . . . jeans, a sweatshirt, and pink fuzzy lined Crocs.

I am creating . . . a gallery of photos on my tumblr blog.  Not my photos, but a scrapbook of others photos that represent my likes, my tastes and my dreams.  In some odd way it is helping me to pinpoint some things about myself that I already knew, but didn't acknowledge until I saw them in pictures.  It's also helping to rekindle my own photography motivation, and to revisit that gift and what God might have me to do with it.  He's been speaking to me about extreme generosity, and I believe I hold too tightly to my talents for fear I will lose credit, but I think in the giving is where I will find my truest fulfillment.

I am discovering . . . that giving myself away, doing for others, and working with my hands is a form of creativity all on its own. That it isn't just about art, or photography, or writing.  Friday afternoon my two female co-workers, one female student, and I walked to our cars early in hopes to beat some of the bad weather before driving home.  We walked out to find our cars covered in ice.  We started our engines, and tried to let the defrost do its work.  One lady sat in her car to let the defrost do all of the work.  I got out, and began scraping, then I noticed Grace was standing out in the cold shivering and wanting someone to recognize that she didn't have a scraper or gloves to keep her hands warm.  I chipped away at the ice on my own car, and then I ran to where she was standing, reminding me of when I was her age, a college student without an ice scrapper, far away from home and Dad, and no man to do it for me.  I began scraping her car as well.  Grace is her name, but I realized in that moment that grace isn't just something that embraces us, it's something that we must embrace as well.  Just as I cry for grace, it beckons for me as well.  If I can't accept it, and nurture it, how can I extend it to others?  I felt so content after I scraped the ice off Grace's car.  It was the same feeling I have after I edit the perfect photo, write the perfect piece, or take care of my Alzheimer's stricken father.  I felt completely spent, and completely satisfied at the same time. Poured out. Grace and generosity go hand in hand and they are characteristics of the Creator, and they must be characteristic of me, and they must be my motivation for why I do what I do. Creativity motivated by grace and generosity must exist in all aspects of my life.  I can't hold on tightly or selfishly; I must give away freely.

I am looking forward to . . .Thanksgiving at my sister's house.  I haven't been there in a couple of years, since looking after my folks has kept me tied down.  I am sensing the wear and tear on my spirit that is bound to come after such an extended time of keeping up this pace.  Respites are necessary. Jesus needed them.  Why do I think I should be any different, or stronger?

I am remembering . . . Thanksgivings as a kid.  Grandma and Grandpa, and later just Grandpa, would come to visit.  It was their favorite holiday.  Life has changed so much for me recently as all the grandparents are long gone, Mom and Dad have lost their independence, and my nieces and nephews have grown up and started their own lives, and scattered.  I'm recognizing that cohesion in the family must come from something deeper than proximity.  If you are reading this, and you are still in your twenties or thirties, please remember that it does not take long to live a life.  As the important people in your life age and die, or maybe just grow up and move away, something about the culture of your life changes little by little.  Cherish each and every moment, but cultivate your soul with seeds of eternal hope that will grow and bloom right when you need them. Realize that everyone in your life will one day leave or die and loving them like it is the last day of their lives will bless you both.  Does this sound morbid or depressing.  Quite the opposite; it is freeing.  It frees you to love passionately today because you may not have tomorrow to do it.  It frees you to love in such a way that people leave you better than they were before.  Leave joy wherever you go, there are not always second chances to do it.  Do it now for now is all we have.

I am thanking God . . . for hope eternal. 

I am praying . . .that God will make me just like Jesus, and that he will cause me to be long suffering with the difficult people in my life.

I am noticing . . . that I often feel that I don't have long to live, yet I'm only 47.  Does this come from the fact that Dad has Alzheimer's and Mom is alive, but not living, and their weariness rubs off on me a bit? Or is there something more to it?  I have a longing to get on with things as if tomorrow may never come.  Yet, there is so much to do it is overwhelming.  I often find myself paralyzed, looking around wondering where to begin.

I am needing . . . to figure out what I want to do with this blog.  I need to figure out it's purpose, and give it an identity of sorts.  I need to write more freely from my heart, blind to an audience.  I need to just let my soul bleed onto the keypad so to speak.  I need to give of myself with words and photos.  My step-son reminded me this week that we are to scatter seed.  It won't always land on fertile soul, but we scatter it just the same.  I need to scatter my words and my pictures and let God direct where they fall.  Maybe you will be blessed or maybe it will be someone else, or maybe it will just be me.  It's always been hard for me to give away what I create, because when I do, I give away a part of me.  I think only an artist can understand that completely.  It's like I'm made up of patches, like a quilt, and when I give away my creations, anything I've poured myself into, a patch is torn loose and there is less of me.  But God has shown me that eventually the patches will all be given away, and I will be no less me, I will just be me spread out into the hearts of those who accepted the patches to mend their own holes.  He's blessed me to be a blessing. 

I am reading . . . Oswald Chambers

A quiet time thought . . . "Beware of posing as a profound person; God became a baby." - Oswald Chambers.

Words to think about . . . "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
~ C.S. Lewis ~
A random fact about me . . . I am horrible at throwing a Frisbee.  If you want to get some good exercise, running  back and forth,  just come toss a Frisbee with me!

One of my favorite things . . . I love canoeing.  I love being on the water, paddling, and spending time with God and my husband. 

A blessing captured . . . My husband and I went for a picnic last Sunday afternoon.  The temperatures were in the seventies, and we knew it would probably be our last chance to have a warm picnic!  We ate dinner on a quilt laid out on the ground, and tossed the Frisbee, which you now know I'm horrible at.  As the sun started to set, we sat on a park bench near the lake.  I snapped this photo.  It was the first time I had picked up my camera in a long time.  Taking quality photos is not quite like riding a bike, it seemed a bit awkward, and I realized the time away from my camera was taking it's toll.  It's time to pick it up and begin tiring it out again.  There's nothing special about this photo, it's not great in quality, but what great memories are attached to it.

Sharing with The Simple Woman

October 19, 2013

Fit Because of the Cross

Beauty might not be in the slim lines of a fashion model.

And it might not be in the defined curves of a body builder either.

We aren't one dimensional.  God created a whole person that is mind, body, and spirit.

But beauty might just be found in fully realizing the gifts that God has given us, in digging deep within our souls and far into the wonders of God's Word to be all that he intends physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  Inner strength that comes from tapping into the resources God has given us, by saying yes to the completeness of who He is and the gifts he has placed at our fingertips, is truly beautiful.

This video may inspire you to put on your running shoes, but I hope it inspires you to dig deep and ask yourself if you are developing your inner person with the discipline of an athlete, fit because of the Cross.

I've been away from social media for a month and away from blogging even longer.  I have been digging deep, and listening to the Lord.  I come back almost with fear and trepidation as I have so enjoyed my time alone with God in the quiet, so I return slowly and possibly in fits and starts.  I'm glad to be back among friends though, and look forward to hearing from you.

Sharing with Still Saturday, Spiritual Sundays, Sunday Stillness, and the Weekend Brew.

September 6, 2013

The Cherry On Top

She's got fire red hair right out of a bottle and sticks for legs, the skinniest you've ever seen.  She wears slippers instead of shoes, and always wears navy blue knit socks that are a size too large, causing them to sag and hang loose around those wispy, thin skin covered limbs.    A floral cotton skirt, gathered at the waist, rests just below the knee, and she keeps her tiny frame warm with a pearl buttoned turquoise sweater. Her hair is always combed and neatly coiffed above her haphazard outfit.  That hair, it's the cherry on top. But, she never smiles.

I've seen photos of her beauty queen days; they're displayed on the nursing home wall.  She had a throw-back-your-head laugh in those days, and was dressed to the nines.  I think she tries to mimic her old fashion sense when she clips that string of pearls around her neck, but it's not quite the same.  Something's missing. The joy.

Where did the joy go?  Where did that old beau from the photos go - the one that's sitting on the hood of that convertible with her?  Somehow, between then and now, her stride turned to a shuffle, and she lost it.  She turned her head, and tossed that crown of red, and life passed by.  And now, turning the silver to red does something for her in the drudgery of assisted living. She may not have anything to smile about yet, but with her roots done, she's ready for whatever may come, or whoever may come to interrupt the bleak.  Painting her hair red, it means she's got hope.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. ~ Proverbs 13:12

Today I'm sharing with Five Minute Friday where today's word prompt is RED.

September 4, 2013

The Legacy Box

Sweet Katie,  If you're reading this, please stop!!  I don't want to spoil any of this year's surprises for you, and if you keep reading, or even viewing, there will be a bit of spoiling! In fact, I'm not emailing you this post just to ensure secrecy!  To your sisters and cousins who are reading this, no telling!!

It's been 13 years since I made the first legacy box.  That's how long it's been since my oldest niece entered her freshman dorm to begin a new journey as a university student.  I've been making a legacy box every year as niece after niece has entered and completed college.

But it all began in 1985 in another dorm room, at another university, my university as I began my sophomore year in college.  I had big hair, and wore things like stirrup pants! My dear friend Teresa, who lived across from me in Nesbitt Hall, gave me my first introduction to a legacy box. It wasn't called a legacy box back then. It was just the box her mom sent with her every year as she packed up her car and headed back to campus for another year of study, and friends, and boys.  It was a gift that kept giving each and every month while she was away from home.  Teresa stored her box on the top shelf of her closet, and each month she pulled a chair up in front of the closet door and, on tiptoes, took the box down as her friends anxiously waited to see what she might pull out of it this time!

The box itself wasn't special; it was just a cardboard box, but it was special inside.  Teresa's Mom wrapped nine gifts, one for each month that Teresa would be away from home, and placed them in the box.  Each gift was labeled with the month that the gift was to be opened.  I know I would have been tempted to open them all up at once, but Teresa was faithful to open only one gift at a time.  They were usually simple gifts: new underwear, mittens for winter, an umbrella, and candy, but it wasn't as much about the gift as it was the anticipation of what was under that wrapping paper, and perhaps it represented a moment with her mom, a glimpse of home. There were no rules about when each gift could be opened, only that it had to be opened in the month for which it was designated. And so it went month after month.

 I decided then and there at the age of 19 that I was going to make "the box" for my daughter each year and send it wither her as she made the trek to university. I would wrap up a little love along with her so she could experience a bit of home away from home. I knew the day of becoming a mother was a long way off, but the box had such an impact on not only Teresa, but the rest of us who enjoyed it with her, that I never forgot it. This would be one of the traditions I longed to begin with my own daughter.

Thirteen years ago I was still waiting on God to make me a mother when my first niece was getting ready to leave for college.  I was 34 years old, and something deep inside told me even then that I would never be a mother.  It didn't keep me from hoping for a miracle, a hope that didn't fully burn out until this year.  But I was an aunt, and I loved being an aunt!  And so that was when I decided that I would begin this tradition with my nieces, and if a daughter came along, she would just be added to the joy.

So just as my friend's mother had done so many years ago, I created my first box with an added twist.  I decided that I wanted to make it even more special.  I wanted to give it a deeper meaning than just the excitement of opening material gifts that these girls may or may not need in any given month. I decided to choose a scripture that could somehow be illustrated by the gift I was giving, and write a letter or a note with each one.  I have tried to leave a legacy of hope and love with each gift.  The gifts will all disappear someday, but the words, the words can be kept.  They can be meditated on and held close to the heart. I can leave a little bit of me and Jesus in the words.

So every August I sit down and find nine scriptures illustrated by the gift, and I write nine letters and post-date them, wrap the gifts, and bundle it all up in a box and send it on it's way.  Two of my nieces attended college nearby so I was able to give their box in person.  Sometimes I don't use a box at all, but a large basket, decorative bag, or hamper that holds all of the gifts and notes.  My niece Katie, who is currently in college, attends school several hundred miles away so I put all of her gifts in a shipping box and mail them. She doesn't get a fancy basket or bag, but she still gets the box and all the love included.

The legacy box has been a tremendous blessing to me, and I hope to my nieces and maybe even their friends as well.  One of my nieces shared with me that she didn't always open the box on the first day of the month.  She saved it for those days when things weren't going well, and she needed a little lift.  I know at least one of the girls has saved every letter I wrote. I hope they all have. The main message I am trying to send them is that they are deeply loved not only by their Aunt Steph, but their heavenly Father. It's a tradition that I wanted to have with my own children, and well, these girls are my girls as far as I'm concerned.  I love them with a love I don't think they can fully grasp. I am so proud of them. 

Would you like to create a legacy box for someone special in your life?  I think it is a tradition that will bless you and your loved ones for years to come!

Let me share with you exactly what I do each year to help you get started.  Of course, you can adapt this for your own needs and desires.

1.  Buy or make one gift for each month your loved one is gone to school.

2.  Shop throughout the year so that you don't have to spend one lump some of money at the end.  It can get expensive .  Shopping throughout the year also helps you to be able to buy seasonally appropriate gifts for the following year. Also, remember you can make gifts to save money!

3.  Find a scripture applicable to each gift.  For example, if the gift is perfume, you might use the scripture about our lives being a Christ-like fragrance found in 2 Corinthians.

4.  Write 9 notes or letters to include the scripture you've selected.  Use this opportunity to share words of wisdom and love.  Speak truth into their lives.  They  need to hear the Word of God, and they need to know they are loved and prayed for in their absence.  Pray before writing, asking God to give you words that will be appropriate for them this coming year.

5.  Wrap each gift, and label it with the month you want them to open it.  Attach that month's letter to the gift. Be sure to write the month on the letter as well as the gift so they can easily be matched up if they get separated.

6.  Bundle it all up in a resuseable box, decorative basket, hamper etc. 

7. Pray over your box. Ask God to use it to bless their lives and bring glory to Himself.

8. Deliver it to your loved one, and pray for them throughout the year.  

9.  Continue shopping for gifts for next year's box.

Gift ideas:

What you give totally depends on the recipient, your budget, and the size of the box.  Anything goes!

You can see in the photos above a couple of items I included in this year's box - homemade pickles (she loves pickles) and a book.  One thing I try to do is to have one gift that is consistent every year.  For example, I bought this niece four Christmas stockings that match.  Each year she gets one of the stockings filled to the brim. She opens this particular gift in November so she can use the stockings for decoration in her dorm if she chooses.

  It's not too late for you to send a legacy box this year!  It's only September so you could actually have a box sent off in the next couple of weeks that includes your September gift!  And it's okay to just send one box each semester.  If buying or making nine gifts is not in your budget right now, just buy or make 4 for the first semester.  Send a second box in January!! Otherwise, begin shopping and planning for next year!

I just decided this year that I'd like to keep this tradition going for a lifetime. I am going to continue to send a legacy box to my nieces on special occasions throughout their lives.  It's not something I can do every year for every niece, but it could be done once in awhile on a significant anniversary, a marriage, the birth of a child, a milestone etc.  How fun to make a box of 12 wedding gifts and have them open one each month the first year of their marriage! And how about shopping for 12 gifts for a first child? That sounds pretty fun!

I pray this idea will be a blessing to you and yours.  If you choose to make a legacy box this year or even sometime in the future, I would love to hear about it and hear how it has become a blessing to you!

What traditions do you share  in your family?  I'd love to hear your ideas!
Today I am sharing with Three Word Wednesday - My three words today are The Legacy Box. I'm also sharing with Tell His Story,  DYWW, and Little Things Thursday

August 28, 2013

Too Many Tomatoes

bacon and tomato sandwiches

sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt

tomato soup

braised okra and cherry tomatoes

poor boy sandwiches

summer salads

gift giving

donations to the food pantry

popping cherry tomatoes like they're candy - they're sure sweet enough!

These are just a few of the things we do with our summer tomatoes, but the plants are producing faster than we can keep up with.  My dining room table is covered in Romas, Cherries, and Slicing tomatoes!  We have pounds and pounds of them.   It's time to break out the mason jars and get to canning some homemade spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and maybe we'll even make up some ketchup this year! It's a bountiful blessing, but it's lots of work!  I wish you all could come over for a canning party.  It sure would make the work seem a lot less like work!

How about you?  Do you have a garden?  What did you plant this year?

Today I'm sharing with my friend Beth and her brand new link up - Three Word Wednesday.  My three words are, Too Many Tomatoes!

I'm also sharing with Sarah for Click and Submit/Wordless Wednesday. (Can you have a three word Wednesday and wordless Wednesday together?).  I haven't participated in a photography link up in ages.  I've been on a photography hiatus and it's been tough getting back to it!

August 26, 2013

Finding Something More, Right Where We Are

I used to be mostly a city girl, a bit awkward in the woods - one foot in and one foot out.  But now, I'm mostly a country girl, a bit restless in the burbs, still one foot in and one foot out.  Just as comfortable in high heels and an evening dress as I am in camo and hiking boots, I get along just about anywhere. However,  I've seen my desires shift from fancy to familiar, from savvy to simple since I've been married to that fisherman of mine.  I like a simple life, stripped down of all the excess making it just that much easier to touch God.  It seems there's less in between us. Fewer distractions and less stuff, whether by choice or not, make it easier for He and I to breathe together in this space.

I'm rich here in this low-income neighborhood. Hubs and I struggle right along side him as we watch a neighbor get his water cut off, and the teenage boy down the street comes knocking on our door asking for $50 bucks to get his car going again. We live in this space in a city block where no one has much, but neighbors talk over the fence and borrow sugar, yet most don't know Jesus. We're rich, not simply because of what the Lord has given us, but because of what he's done for us. We have something to offer. My dream is that even if the external struggles in our neighborhood don't ever end, that the internal ones will. We're trying to plant seeds here, not just in the rich garden soil next to our house, but in souls because it's not just empty pockets here, it's empty hearts.  Oh yes, God's given us rich soil to plant in here - spiritual soil.

I'm ever so thankful for my home and the opportunities we've been given here, but sometimes when I look out my window, I pretend I can see for acres rather than a stone skip to the house across the street.  Then God brings my mind back to the aching of the bones inside these siding slapped houses around me.  I long for the freedom and hard work of country life, the sentimentality of a home on the river, a tree stand in the woods out back, and a living room large enough for parties, but then God calls me back in to this place, this place I call home, where all around me hearts lie empty without Jesus.  Mission fields aren't just over there, or out there somewhere.  Sometimes, God calls us to stay right where we are for the time. I wonder how often we dream about moving up and out to better houses without ever considering that God has us where we are for a reason.  Sometimes we stay because we have to.  Sometimes we stay because we should.  He's kept us here for reasons unbeknownst to us, but we know we are needed here. So we live here, and we pray here, we struggle here, and we bring the country here. We don't long for something better.  We just long for what God has for us, and sometimes God holds back so that we can give out what we already have. We're suburban farmers with more garden covering our yard than grass.  We have little, but we have a lot.

So today, it's not about wishing for something different or more, it's just about being thankful that I have anything at all, that I can do anything at all, that I can give anything at all because God so lavishly and mercifully extended his hand when  he gave me Jesus, when he spilled his blood instead of mine, when he held back the wrath that I deserve.  In light of this, my little corner of the world seems quite grand.

It's been awhile since I shared bits of my gratitude here.  I was on my journey of counting to 2000 when I left off with 1452. I've been jotting them down in a phone app and on scraps of paper, but not here. So, today I continue with the count.

1452. My precious little house where we live and love and talk over the fence

1453. Good neighbors that really can be depended on

1454.  A garden and the husband who takes the time to cultivate it

1455.  The stretching that depending on God creates

1456.  God's miraculous provision in times of need

1457.  A cold glass of orange Kool Aid after a long drive in a car with no air-conditioning

1458.  Putting lotion on Dad's arms.  He winced at the cold, but then relaxed and closed his eyes.

1459.  Learning that my Dad used to make Angel Food Cake when he was young, and then having the opportunity to feed him some during our visit to memory care.

1460.  A renewed commitment to the Sabbath and all it holds dear. It's more than going to church.  It's a day with no work or labor of any kind.  We rest, we reflect, we refresh, we read, we pray, we worship, we fellowship, we honor. I'm even skipping social media on that day!

1461.  The sound of the harmonica coming from the front porch

1462.  Early morning walks with my puppy.  Not so much a puppy anymore, the walks seems to wear him out!

1463.  Books on theology and time spent digging deep

1465.  New friends and fellowship online

1466.  A new morning routine and stewardship over those all important morning hours

1467.  Lots of new reading material

1468.  Chocolate Molten Lava Cake ice cream from Braum's

1469. Evening drives with the windows rolled down - an unusually mild August!

1470.  Knowing that as the winds whirl around me and the debris flies, God will speak it to stillness when the time comes.

Today I am linking up with Ann Voskamp and others as we count gifts at A Holy Experience.