My head rises and falls with each breath my daddy takes. I close my eyes and take in the smells that belong to only him: a mixture of smoke from his Pall Mall Golds, tinctures and creams lingering from his day of barbering, Vel Soap, Old Spice aftershave, and Secret deodorant (the kind that came in the jar and was not yet marketed towards women). Black coffee and nicotine escape from his tongue when he talks. It is not offensive. It is just my daddy.
I sit as still as possible. I don’t want to leave this spot. This is my safe place. This is my home. Being my daddy’s girl means the world to me. I wait patiently for his callused hand to pat my arm while the television reports the chaos of a world I am not yet fearful of.
I wait sometimes there, in his chair, comforting myself with the worn out material, throwing my legs over its arms until Daddy comes home from work. I will read and fill my head with stories and dreams; things I know he’ll understand.
I see him in his other place, also; clear and solid. He is behind the wheel of the car, I am behind him. He tells me one more time to get my feet out of the back of his seat. I don’t know what to do with these long legs. I look out the window at clouds, telephone lines, and tree tops and listen to his elevator music. On the way home, I search the night sky for every star, waiting for one to fall so I can make a wish. Then, I lay my head over and pretend to sleep. Daddy talks of grown up things with Momma; words that buzz around the car to the tunes of the radio, never settling in my memory. My mind is there in that back seat, dreaming without sleep, waiting for our car to pull in the drive. Hoping that I will fool Daddy into thinking I am really asleep…hoping that instead of waking me and telling me we are home, he will lift me in his strong arms, carry me inside, and place me on my bed like he did when my legs were not so long.
Sunday afternoon. Church services attended. Noon meal consumed. Momma & Daddy napping. A beautiful spring day and I am in no need of rest. I am young and love to explore, walking randomly as my mind fills with dreams as beautiful and airy as the clouds waltzing their way across azure skies.
I tell no one where I go, not knowing this myself. The family dachshund, Buster, follows. Being full of energy and nosiness, he loves an adventure as well as me. I say nothing, enjoying the silent comrade as he swishes through the growing brush; watching as he jumps above vegetation taller than him. I know he searches for rabbits.
We make our way across the pasture behind the house, then, across plowed fields further west. The exercise feels good. The sun’s heat is like a gentle hand placed on my shoulder, urging me toward the tree line that follows the Middle Sulphur River. Back then, it was a creek to me. It seemed too narrow and shallow to be a river. Rivers were big and dangerous; swift of current, gurgling up debris swallowed up by recent storms. This river was humble and boasted no such excitement. It’s debris consisted of trash thrown off a nearby bridge. Shallow pools separated by dry earth were its bottom. It was here that my brother and I sometimes fished for the mud catfish that survived in meager waters.
The trek through the thick brush to get to the banks of the river was something only the determined would attempt. Mesquite trees with long, dangerous looking thorns and innocent-looking vines with needle-like stickers reached out and grabbed at my sleeves and pant legs; often penetrating and leaving hair-thin red scratches on my skin. My arms reached out and bent tender limbs as I made my own path. I ducked my head and sometimes felt the pull of my hair as it got caught.
Finally, we reached the river. We made our way down the steep bank and headed north. I knew this direction would lead me to the wooden bridge that spanned its width, where the trees bowed their heads together above and filled me with awe. I did not take into consideration the winding course the river took. What seemed to be a short distance, took much time to cover; like a winding road up a mountain. I had not counted on the pools of water, either, that I would have to skirt which meant climbing up and down the steep banks of dirt, holding onto tree roots and vines to keep from rolling back down again. Buster was not bothered with this, but simply splashed his way through; cooling off and enjoying a good shake as water sprayed around him.
A sense of fear came over me. I felt that it was taking too long to reach the bridge. The darkness of the wooded area fueled my imagination. What if I got bit by a snake? What if I fell and broke my leg? No one knew where I was. They wouldn’t even be alarmed until supper time if I didn’t show back up at the house. The joy I had felt at being on my own had been overshadowed by the fear feeding in my head. Not wanting to go back through the brush, I trudged forward, carefully watching each step, although trying to quicken my pace.
Finally, the old wooden bridge came into view and the fear left my mind like a window had opened up for it to pass through. I climbed once more up the steep earth and made my way to sit on the edge of the bridge, dangling my feet over the side to take in my victory. Buster took it all in stride, ever hunting and scouting. He came to my side panting his happiness. He knew we would be fine all along.
Summer weather approaches, bringing with it warm memories of family camping trips at Lake Texhoma. My father instigated these annual trips that only lasted a week, but were so packed with fun that all the years seem to melt into one hot, blissful remembrance. Camping together as a family forces you to share the same sleeping quarters, eat meals together, and play together. It’s like the fresh air can hold you closer than the sturdy walls of a home.
Momma’s memories are not as fond as mine. Camping, for her, was a lot of work. She usually had most of our things together before Daddy pulled in the driveway on his last day of work, knowing that he would be ready to go as soon as we could get everything loaded up in his beige International pickup. My older sister, Tina, my younger brother, Brady, and I were put to work as well. We were the fetchers; fanning out to gather items for Mom to put in saved brown grocery sacks and cardboard boxes; selecting shorts, tank tops, swimsuits, and underwear to throw in her suitcases. These suitcases were wedding gifts to my parents. They were hard, covered in burgundy and cream leather. When Momma placed her thumbs on the two brass buttons and pulled them to the outside edges, the latches “clicked” open and Momma lifted the lids to reveal burgundy cloth interiors perfumed with an antique, musty smell which was not offensive to me, but smelled of summer vacations.
Momma always said that Daddy expected her to pack up the whole kitchen to take on these camping trips. The cardboard boxes were made extremely heavy with cast iron skillets, pots and pans, utensils, old silverware, and such. Daddy loved breakfast cooked out in the open. We might eat sandwiches for lunch, hot dogs for supper, and roasted marshmallows for dessert, but breakfast was a full-on feast of bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes; after which, the skillets would be carted to the nearest water spout, where cold lake water was pumped for us to wash them clean.
We were all called to action when Daddy got home. It was like thoughts of pitching that green army tent of his made him more of a “general” than usual. Two cotton mattresses were hoisted and thrown in the bed of the truck. We didn’t use cots. We didn’t use air mattresses. These older mattresses were stored away all year for this one purpose: to lie side-by-side in the floor of that old tent, Momma and Daddy sleeping in one, us three children crammed tight on the other. Can you imagine a hot summer night…the only breeze coming through the mesh windows of the tent (maybe, if you were lucky!)…stuck between your hyperactive younger brother, whose sole purpose in life was to torture you to tears, and your older sister, who being four years older than you, made her almost too superior to be forced to sleep with you in the first place, on the other? It was hard to get to sleep, as you can probably imagine!
Anyway…everything was loaded in the back of that truck: Coleman cookstove, lanterns, coolers, broom, kitchen, suitcases, etc. Then, hoisted on top–last but not, least–us three kids. Oh, we were told to sit all the way next to the cab because it was not safe to sit anywhere else! That way, Momma could bang on the window and motion to us if we misbehaved. My long hair would whip around all the way there. I’m sure I looked like Bob Marley by the time we arrived, complete with my first sunburn of the week.
Daddy liked to stop on the way to take the family in Gibsons to get our vacation flip-flops that might, or might not, make it through the week. I loved these stops! You never knew what Daddy might buy you; it just depended on how much money was burning a hole in his pocket that week. He was generous to a fault, but knew how to show us kids the way to have a good time. The buggy squeaked its way up and down the aisles with kerosene, lantern bulbs, large square batteries for the flashlight (a must-have for any camping trip, doubling as a middle-of-the-night light used for scouting out a safe place to pop a squat and a prop for great shadow puppets), flip-flops for one and all, water floats and inner tubes piled on top of each other. Sometimes, you might even score a new bathing suit!
When the truck finally made its way over the Denison Dam, you knew you had arrived. Oak trees thickly lined the park roads. Lake air kissed your skin. Heaven and the water beckoned…but not until camp was set up! Young eyes were directed to scour the area for sticks and sharp rocks that might puncture the bottom of Daddy’s prized tent. I was so afraid we would miss something! Nothing was scarier to me as a child than scorn behind my daddy’s big brown eyes. We swept the ground with a straw broom just to be safe. Then, all together, we hoisted the massive tent with a shout here and a tug there, hammering down the stakes on all corners and sides. I’m surprised we didn’t stand there and salute the thing when the assembly was completed.
When the beds were made and all things unloaded and placed in the best possible spot, we were finally allowed to change into our swimsuits. We sat on rough, concrete picnic tables waiting for our parents to make their change. The urgency that we had felt at getting loaded up at the house was now, somehow, shifted into low, slow gear. It took them forever to come out of that tent! “Can we go swimming, now?”
Finally, what I had been waiting a whole year for was happening. We were making that family trek to the water where I would wade in the coldness until about knee deep and then, dive in, allowing my hot skin to adjust to the coolness of Lake Texhoma. I would rise to its surface, look back to the shore, and laugh at Momma. Daintily, she would be inching her way into the water, OOOOing and shivering, and shouting, “It’s cold!” Whereby, my brother would begin splashing her so he could hear her scream, “Stop it! Let me get used to it my way!”
Daddy would swim and laugh. He always seemed happiest in those moments. Later, he would come over to us and let us dive off his legs or shoulders. Often, he would try to fool us by telling us that he had found something. He would clench both hands together like he was holding something and then, when you got close enough to look, he would squeeze his palms together and squirt water in your face.
I sure do miss him and love him as much as ever! He gave me so many gifts; only one of them being the love of camping.
I’ve wanted to write. I’ve wanted to lower my pail into the cool, refreshing well of ideas and pull it up gloating in it’s abundance; but I must confess, I thought my well was dry. Then, out of desperation, hope came. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t going deep enough. I lengthened the rope on my pail and lowered it again, deeper, and deeper, still. I heard the echoing splash as my pail hit water; felt the tug of the rope in my hands as the weight of water filled its emptiness. My heart felt it’s fullness. I pulled, marveling at the heaviness of its contents. The weight was almost more than I could struggle to pull up. Finally, I reached for the wet, dripping bucket and looked at the surface of water contained there. The ripples soothed themselves within contained walls and granted me my reflection on its surface. I look away, shamed. I know what I must write.
As I sat amongst a group of friends, the subject of forgiveness was raised. Quietly, I listened as these voices around me shared their experiences, their beliefs. “What do you do…how do you forgive…when the same person hurts you over and over?” I saw tears in the eyes of some. The question itself had brought back painful memories. That was all it took for that same hurt to enter the heart of the injured. Quivering voices spoke their truths and struggles with forgiveness. I sat in my chair as if alone and kept my lips tightly sealed. My mind, though, betrayed me and let my past hurts bubble up. I constricted my throat and choked those feelings down. I wasn’t ready to share.
I believe this: that when you are deeply and tragically hurt by someone you love that it is like a physical wound. You look down at this gaping slash in your quivering flesh and it fills you with shock. Surely, you don’t see what you think you see. It just isn’t possible that someone who claims to love you could do what they just did to you. When the shock wears off, you practice some self-care. You apply whatever salve you can find: God, food, movies, books, sleep, and then, you carefully protect your wound. It helps some if the offender seems truly sorry. It is like an antibiotic that keeps the ragged flesh from festering. Finally, after time has passed, the wound closes and heals, leaving a ugly scar on your once perfect skin.
Now, let’s look at what happens when that same offense is repeated; the same offense…the same offender. They take their finger and rip open your scar. They know exactly where to poke. They know exactly how to hurt you. The pain is magnified. The flesh that you thought was healed was somehow, more vulnerable…like an “X” that marked the spot. Shock again hits you with its blow. How could this be happening again? How could you have ever trusted this person? Why did you let them near?
You retract to heal. This time, you seal the gash up tight with stitches. You cover it with bandages. The words “I’m sorry” don’t ring as true. Sometimes, you learn to keep your distance. You run. You find some little corner and build up your wall of defense. You stock up the things you need and prepare for the worst.
I’ve thought this to myself; I’ve prayed this: how can I ever forgive, truly forgive, if I can’t forget? It is not only the offender who can rip open my wounds. A word, a phrase, a story, a flash-back…these are simple, innocent things that can turn what was once healed into angry, infected cuts in my being. Peace can not come when you can’t forgive.
It is easy to become filled with righteous indignation. Your own pain can blind you to the hurts you inflict on others. Bitterness is an evil companion. “Evil company corrupts good habits.” I Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) You can find yourself blaming the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. The armor can be thick. It may protect you, but it is very heavy. Try to picture a joyous person frolicking through a glorious field of wildflowers with a full set of armor on. There is something comical about that vision. We must be free and unencumbered to be truly happy.
Now, to what really fills my soul with shame…
Picture Jesus, our Lord. He is covered with severed flesh. Each wound caused by my sin. Look at Him. Remembering my own pain, is it possible to imagine how many times I’ve inflicted my Sweet Jesus with hurt? How many times have I ripped open those gashes again and again by committing the same sin over and over? How many times have I gotten down on these knees and begged Him to forgive me?
What if Jesus were like me? What if those nail-scarred hands turned me away each time I came to Him for forgiveness? What if He remembered every blow I’d dealt Him instead of looking down on me in Love, embracing me, kissing the top of my dirty head before sending me out to try again.
I’m not worthy of this love. My reflection shows it to me every day. How can I not see that every other man, woman, and child is just like me? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 (NKJV)
In the words of Jesus: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:25-26 (NKJV)
In the words of my husband, James: “That’s in the past. Every time you go back there, you know you’re going to run in to something!”
Don’t dwell. Keep busy. Move on. Throw off your armor and go pick some wildflowers!
Please make me like the waters of a winding, lazy river. Keep the rhythm slow. Give me time to see all that you have created. Give me time to appreciate the loved ones you have placed along beside me.
May I have enough energy, motion, and movement to make my own mark on this earth as I flow along the path cut deep for me and all mankind. May that mark expose something raw and beautiful.
May the ones beside me feel my love. May we float together…flow together…bounce off one another in a constant, playful joy.
As my waters near the end of the course laid out for me from the beginning of time, may I meet up in the Great Waters with the other souls of water that have gone on before. May we be together in perfect harmony…reflecting the colors of Your Wonderful Light…until the time comes for us to rise up as white, fluffy mists to meet with You in the Glory of Your heavens.
In Your Son’s Name,
*note: This was an edited version of a note I published on my private Facebook page in November of 2012.
This morning, I opened the door of my refrigerator, slid open the crisper drawer, and peered at the fruit lying there. I have a bad habit of buying healthy food (with the best of intentions, of course) placing them in that bottom bin, and then, forgetting all about them until one day, I remember and ah-hah!!!! it is too late! The once lovely fruit is now shriveling inside its own skin and maybe wearing a little fuzzy mold cap to keep it warm. Well, I got lucky on this day! There, still in the plastic bag from the grocery, were two beautifully ripe mangoes. What a sight! After battling the flu for a week, my body is craving some vitamins and I was so happy to see the forgotten mangoes.
I got out my favorite knife; one given to me years ago by a wonderful friend; and my large cutting board. I peeled it first, knowing that this is not the correct way but is still the way I like. Then, I proceeded to try and cut its flesh into bite size chunks. Each insertion of the knife made my mango’s juice spill, overflowing the cutting board’s large surface. What a waste!!!, I thought. I ate the two slices that I had managed to cut off. The taste was pure joy: like sunshine, beaches, and ocean waves packed in its golden fibers.
I migrated over to the kitchen sink with my remaining treasure, leaned over the sink with the skinless mango dripping its nectar from my hands, and proceeded to feast. By the time I had gotten as much of the fruit from its core as possible, my face and hands were sticky and wet. I felt like such a child and I loved every minute of it. It transformed me to my childhood backyard…to the small peach trees that grew between the fence and the swing set our father had made for us to play on.
My sister, my brother, and I spent many summer hours swinging back and forth with a peach in our hands; sneaking bites and letting the juices run down our chins, staining our clothes. If there were bug holes, I simply bit out the bad spot and spit it out on the ground. And, after I had taken my last bite, I sucked on the pit until it was completely clean. I enjoyed it’s rough texture on my tongue until the roof of my mouth got raw. Then, I spit out the seed and greedily went for another.
Peaches are like an edible memory for me, still, but only if they are allowed to ripen on their mother tree; the sun beating down on them until they are fully flushed like the face of a young girl after her first kiss. Their flesh is soft and fuzzy and their meat is juicy, giving itself freely to lips, teeth, and tongue. It only feels right to eat a fresh, ripe peach outdoors where you can make as much of a mess as you like; you can feel the sun on bare arms; and you can hear the buzz of bees swarming their sweetness.
That is what my mango gave to me, today. It gave me a peach of a memory, literally. It made me think of my childhood, my brother, my sister, my daddy, my momma…happy times. Maybe that is what my flu-ridden body needed instead of the vitamins: a dose of happy.
I have many friends who are dealing with illnesses much worse than the flu, today. It is my prayer that you will find something today to lift you up. When our bodies are weakened, if forces us to be a little stiller…and maybe, in that stillness you will find what God wants you to see. I pray for your comfort and that you may know how much you are loved.
Aunt Ruby was my great-aunt; my maternal grandmother’s sister. She grew up in the community of Wagner, Texas; a farmer’s daughter. She and my grandmother, Lois married cousins so that even in marriage, they shared the same last name, Thomason. The two sisters had their differences, though. Ruby went on to further her education, moved to the big city of Dallas, and worked outside of the home. My grandmother continued on in the small farming community she was raised in, living right across the road from her childhood home, and there, she raised her two children.
If I was to try to describe Aunt Ruby, I would use the adjective “spunky”. Even as she progressed in years, she continued to work at Payne’s Grocery in Caddo Mills, Texas. She walked to work every day. If a train stopped on the tracks between her house and the store, she simply crawled under it and kept on towards her job as checker. Every one loved her and called her, “Momma Tom”: short for Momma Thomason. She made it her goal to live a productive life. Her sister, her parents, and even her husband preceded her passing from this life but she strove to make it to her 100th year marker. She almost made it. I was honored to attend her 99th Birthday Celebration. Ruby glowed with all of the attention showered her way. She was presented with a large box full of cards and well wishes and she wanted to read them all, right then. They placed a crown on her head and she was so pretty to me…like a child.
I wish she had made it to her 100th, but it was not to be. Her 99th was her last celebration and I’m glad that her children kept it well.
In her later years, Ruby was asked to make a list, kind of a recipe, of what she felt had let her have such a good, long life. I am pleased to be able to present you with her list.
RUBY’S LIST FOR A LONG, HEALTHY LIFE
Get up every morning about 6:30 am.
Repeat the 23rd Psalm.
Read the Bible.
Attend church regularly.
Devote your life to God.
Don’t smoke or drink.
Think of ways to make life more enjoyable for others.
Stay active…Senior Citizens: working in the yard, cleaning the church, visiting the elderly.
Have a devoted family like mine…love them like I do!
Have at least four kids.
Eat three regular meals a day.
Drink 1 cup of coffee a day.
Drink plenty of milk and water.
Drink a moderate amount of tea.
Don’t drink carbonated drinks.
Have lots of hobbies…collecting neat stuff.
Have a cat that loves you…like Kathy.
Love, Ruby Thomason
Well, it’s too late for me to have a fourth kid, but maybe I can do most of the rest. I especially enjoy tip #10…visiting the elderly. That just shows you how young Aunt Ruby was in her heart. I don’t think she ever considered herself to be in that category. Maybe, there lies her secret.
My husband, James, and I are about to set out for a road trip, heading for Savannah, Georgia. Neither of us have ever been and we are both getting pretty excited. Last night, after Wednesday bible class, good friends were telling me of their experience with the historic town. Their stories fueled my excitement even more. My mind is racing back and forth like a squirrel in the road, trying to decide what to pack. James and I aren’t planners. We like to go with the flow, letting someone else do the planning. Two non-decisive people trying to pick highways and hotels can get pretty interesting. We can get in some heated discussions just trying to pick a restaurant…not trying to get our own way…aggravated that the other one won’t pick!
I love the spontaneity of the open road, trusting that the right hotel will have an open spot for me; I will find a nice juicy hamburger at the little dive on the right; I won’t run out of gas before the next station; my car won’t have engine trouble or a flat tire; someone will help me if I need help. Give me a map that has been folded and unfolded. Let my eyes scan the roads for my next destination. Give me interesting things to find that I didn’t even know I wanted to find before I left my driveway. Color my world with tinted sunglasses that give the reds a deeper hue, polarizing the blue sky and contrasting it with white fluffy clouds, while cutting down the glare of the sun’s bouncing rays off the car ahead of me.
One of my favorite road trips was one I took with my three children and my young brother-in-law (who was only six months older than my oldest daughter) back in 1995. It was spring break for the Dallas school district but I was in the midst of my home-schooling project. I had convinced their father to let me teach my children at home after two years of persuading. I was worried about the environment they were being exposed to on a daily basis, as well as the flaws I felt were in the curriculum at the time. Part of their new homeschool studies was Texas history. We had been reading about the Alamo and I had decided it would be exciting for them to see it for themselves.
This trip was an adventure in more ways than one. For instance, not only had I been homeschooling, but my ex-husband and I had just started our own business. Money was more than tight. We developed a thing my oldest daughter, Michelle, worried her pretty little red head about…”THE DEBT”! It hung over our heads like our own personal storm cloud, threatening to come flooding down on us to wash us and our dreams away. I was driving an old Ford van that we had bought used from a good friend. It was clean but we had to replace the motor in it just a few weeks before my planned trip. It had no seats except the one vinyl bucket-style driver’s seat. I had the kids load up their beanbag chairs they had gotten for Christmas, along with one tent, pillows, sleeping bags, a flashlight, a cooler, peanut butter, jelly, bread, and lots of Pop Tarts.
This journey was one of many that my children and I would make together. Their father worked almost non-stop. I knew that if we were to have any adventures, we would have to go on…just us. I wasn’t afraid to venture out without a man. Not sure, why. My brother once told me that I had Jesus riding around with me. I told him that I thought he was right. I have always felt protected. Jesus is my man. He holds my hand when there is no other to do it. He sends my help when I need it.
Once, on another road trip, I had a tire blow out while driving down the interstate highway between Texas and Louisiana. As soon as I pulled over, a truck driver pulled his semi over behind me. He told me he had seen my tire in distress and had been trying to get my attention. He put my spare on for me and got me back on the road out of pure kindness. I had two little children in the back seat and I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t “been there”.
Another time, my youngest daughter, Amanda, and I were on a trip through California when my car broke down. Mind you, we were far away from anyone we knew, but we just happened to break down in Santa Maria. We had arrived there safely the night before, lucky to find a room as we had arrived just before the paparazzi. When we selected this town to spend the night, we had no idea that Michael Jackson’s famous trial was to be held there the next day. Anyway…that morning we got a few miles down the road when the check engine light started flashing. We turned around and went to the dealership and were told that the alternator had gone out. The mechanics fixed it and as part of the service, washed and vacuumed the interior. An older man came out and handed me my keys and several hundred dollars in an envelope. He said, “Ma’am, I found this money under your floor mat when I was vacuuming.” He smiled as I sighed in relief at his honesty. I had forgotten in the mayhem that I had stored some money there to keep from keeping too much cash in my purse. Another case of being taken care of. Not only had the car broken down when I was near a town and not on one of the many long stretches of lonely highway we had driven on, but also an honest man was put in charge of vacuuming my car.
The spring break trip I took with those four kids back in 1995 went as smooth as butter. With my weathered map as their guide, my children navigated me from one state park to another. We stopped in Goliad State Park and camped by the river and told stories lit by our one flashlight. We heard the canon fire, like it had many years ago. We camped amongst the deer and hills of Inks Lake, the children feeding the deer out of their hands. We saw the Alamo, thronged by hundreds of other visitors that spring. We walked the famous River Walk. We drove down to the coast, intending to camp on the shores of Mustang Island, but instead stayed overnight in a Corpus Christi hotel due to the weather. We went to the ocean for the first time together that next glorious morning. What joy it was to see my children and their young uncle taking their first jump over the lapping waves, to see Amanda hold out her fearless hand to feed the hungry gulls, to see them all laugh and play in the sand, to witness their first love affair with the ocean. My son, Matthew talks about this trip to this day. All my children do. It was as special to them, as it was to me.
Road trips are a lot like life itself. You’ll be cruising along on a beautiful day and out of the blue, literally, you’ll be thrown a big curve in the road or, an obstacle will fall right in front of you. (You know, those “WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS” signs? I wonder how many people really had time to react to one of those!) I’ve been on trips, trapped in the car with ill moods and bad tempers, clenching my teeth together while all the better-left-unsaid words hammer at the back of them. There have been trips were those bitter words escaped and turned a beautiful memory into gall and regret, looking out the tinted window with eyes blurred by unshed tears, not really seeing anything but my own misery, wishing I could just jump out of the car and run as far as I could.
Would I let those roadblocks keep me from taking another adventure? No. And, I mean, NO! Life is an adventure. If there isn’t a highway, find a dirt road, a trail, or make your own path. Just get out there! Put on a pair of shades, let the sun hit your face, feel the wind in your hair. Stop along the way to explore. Maybe jump in every body of water you come to. (That’s on my bucket list!) God gave us so much to enjoy. Don’t disappoint Him by sitting around watching other people’s made-up adventures on that glaring box in your living room.
All those little sayings. Little gems sparkling in a glorious crown, encircling your head with knowledge, set in gold by those who loved you enough to pass them on. They twinkle and glow if often recalled. They tarnish and dull with age if forgotten. This particular gem of wisdom came to me from my mother: “Never say ‘Never’.”
My mother. I watched her as a young girl, mesmerized. I thought her beautiful, smart, and wise beyond what I could ever achieve. Maybe all young girls think of their mother this way. I don’t know.
I sat on the commode lid like it was a front row seat to the best concert in town. I studied my mother, clothed in her frothy, peach-colored night gown with its matching robe, putting on her makeup. Baby pink tiles surrounded us with a female hue. Her mouth formed a little “O” as she put on a thick coat of black mascara. Her lips pursed alluringly as she applied orange lipstick to her cupid-like lips. I watched carefully as she strategically dotted on Estee’ Lauder’s Youth Dew cologne. I didn’t know what she was getting ready for, but I sensed a ritual that I couldn’t wait to take part in. She didn’t seem to mind my peering into her special time. With only one bathroom for a family of five, privacy wasn’t something that you thought about much. I quietly watched and learned. My mother was the best teacher a girl could have on glamour.
Even when she went to work in my father’s muffler shop and had to learn to weld so that she could put on mufflers and tailpipes, my mother put on her full makeup. Her hair was done as if she was going to worship. Her flannel shirt looked fit for Marilyn Monroe. Her jeans were in style with the times, faded and flared in the leg. Teenage boys praised my mother at school. How many girls have a mother who can look like a movie star while putting stacks on the coolest truck in town?
It didn’t matter how disheveled she was going to get. She knew it was a dirty job. Momma came home every night, exhausted. Burns scarred her skin. Grease and oil perfumed her clothes. I learned what it meant to sacrifice and work hard for the welfare of the family. When Daddy was diagnosed with a severe heart condition (which turned out to be a misdiagnosis) she ran the whole thing with what help she could get from the teenage boys they hired.
I felt a pressure to live up to my mother. At the same time, I felt that I never would. If she praised me, I was on cloud nine. If she berated me, I was the lowest of lows. Everything I did, or didn’t do, weighed heavily on my mother’s opinion.
One thing sticks out, of all the phrases spoken to me as guidance by my beautiful mother: Never say ‘never’.
You know? That is probably one of the truest statements a mother could pass on to her daughter.
I know it to be an accurate turn of words. If you say you will never do something, YOU ARE BOUND TO DO IT!
Paul wrote in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (NKJV)
It’s like planting a seed…a weed, really. You try so hard to aim your arrow at the heart of your problem. You are focusing so hard. But, where are your sights? Are they set on things above, or are they so honed in to the very problem that you are trying to annihilate that you have blinded yourself to everything else? Are you letting it pull you like a magnet by giving it so much attention?
We must lean on God. I say this, knowing that I need it the most. We must go to Him in prayer with the knowledge that He alone is in control. It is true that we are His glorious creations. So much good can come from a pure, gentle, and giving heart. But “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour.” I Peter 5:8 (NKJV) Don’t you think that it is his wish that you become distracted with every flaw in your character? Don’t you know that he wants you to be discouraged?
If you backtrack a little in Peter’s letter, he says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV) HE CARES FOR YOU!!! Rest in His loving arms. Pray for His guidance. Ask for forgiveness and then release your grip on whatever is pulling you down. Let God pull you out of that dark hole and revel in His excellent Light.
I used to run. Not this attempt I call “running”, now. Real running. Real racing. Legs pumping, goal reaching, side-stitching powering forward. Definitely not the fastest. Certainly not the best, but I loved it.
There were fears I faced: not winning, not pleasing Coach Felty (whom I wanted to please like a father), not doing my best. The thing I feared more than these was the handoff; that part of the relay when it was your turn to hand the baton over to your team-mate. What if I dropped it? What if we lost precious seconds because of me?
We all have a handoff moment in our earthbound journey whether we run, or not. There comes a time when we pass what we know, what we learned, what we feel to those whose turn it is to carry on the race.
I remember when my father was on his last stretch of the track. I spent hours with him, caring for him, watching over him. He sat in a chair at the table, unable to find comfort, afraid to lie down. He wanted a cigarette in his hand and a piping hot cup of coffee in front of him to sip on. It was never hot enough and the cigarette was rarely puffed on. The weight of his sickness didn’t allow him to enjoy even these vices that used to bring him pleasure. I wanted him in these moments to speak to me. As I sang hymns to him in the dark, I waited for his words to me. They never came. He did teach me to play a domino game called Moon. To my shame, I can’t remember how to play it. I don’t know why it was ever important to him to teach me.
This thought came to me in the middle of the night, while I should have been sleeping. It nagged at me until I got up and dealt with it. I think we didn’t have a handoff moment. I think Daddy was more like someone in the crowd, cheering or a teammate, running along-side me to encourage me to do better. Daddy was a dream-chaser like me. He taught me that I could learn to do anything I wanted by reading a book or finding someone to instruct me. He taught me this by example. He also taught me to love God. I saw his struggles with being a christian. I know he wasn’t perfect. No one is, certainly not someone who loves life as much as Daddy did. There is always that fence waiting to be climbed, torn down, or simply sat on.
Being the control freak that I am, I want to take charge of my handoff moment. I want to tell my children now, while I am full of life and not distracted by pain or death some things that I need them to know.
I love you. I love you all and I love you all the same. I know children think that is something parents just say, really having a favorite, but this is my truth. From the time I knew you were in my womb, I was thrilled. When they placed you in my arms, they placed part of my heart right there were I could touch and care for it.
I know I made mistakes. I’m sorry. I’m also sorry that you will make mistakes with your own children. It is part of what makes us one of God’s creatures. I hope that you know that even so, I never wanted to do anything, say anything to hurt you.
If you don’t learn anything else from me, I hope you learn this: God loves you. Yes. You will screw up and make a mess of things from time to time. It is never too late to turn to your Maker and ask for forgiveness. He is never further away than a prayer, a earnest cry.
I tried to keep your ancestors alive for you through the stories I told. You may have tired of hearing them, but I hope you will remember. I hope that you will carry them forward like a treasured heirloom. Keep them and pass them down.
This is your baton. Hold tight to it while you run your race. Don’t forget to release it when it is time. Your children are standing there, panting with excitement, waiting for their turn. Their “track” may not be as easy as yours was. The world is a scary place. I don’t envy the environment they are being released to. Let them see that you will meet them where they are and that you will be there when it counts. I see you, standing there waiting for me. There are not any hands that I would want to pass my baton on to, more. God blessed me with three beautiful souls. I know you will run faster than me. That is why God put you where you are. A good coach always puts the fastest runner last. Now, go!
“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)
To others that may read this, other than my own children, I hope you take some thought about passing your own baton. Maybe there is someone’s forgiveness you need to ask. Maybe there is someone to whom you held a great love, but never told them. Maybe you know a soul that doesn’t know Jesus and your heart aches with the Spirit’s urging to speak to them, to share the story of your Savior.
Not long ago, my mother told me that she, like me, had waited for some word or instruction from my father. She honored his request to be cared for and to die at home. This was at great cost to her. In the 1980’s, hospice came about once a week. My father’s cancer was quick in its work and my father suffered much because there was no one there who was qualified to monitor his pain medicine. He was never put on morphine. His pain was excruciating and Momma did the best she could. They spent all their final time together. She never got the words she craved.
After his passing, she searched the house, going through books and papers, drawers, everywhere she thought he might have hidden a last letter to her. It was never found. It was never written.
I believe flowers are better appreciated by the living than by the dead. All the money we spend on funeral flowers to ease our own suffering could have just as easily be spent on flowers that they could have enjoyed. Imagine your loved one receiving a beautiful bouquet of their favorite flowers with a note written in your own hand. See, in your minds eye, them smile as they read your words, as they press their nose in to the soft, velvety petals knowing that they are loved.
We have the power to spread so much joy. I pray that we will all take the time to honor that gift while God lets us hold it. How do we best honor it? By giving it away.
“And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 (NKJV)
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (NKJV)