"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

November 14, 2017

Life in Mayberry

Just a fictional town where Sheriff Andy Taylor and little Opie live in syndication? Nay, my friends. Mayberry is a real place.

It's just not called that. And rather than a small town, it's a small neighborhood of townhomes where the spirit of Mayberry abides. I've lived there for 6 months now, too busy enjoying my new life to even write about it.

Arriving at my destination, however, was a long, hard road that ended in my second divorce. Over a period of years, I prayed persistently for two things—peace and a home. I longed for a place that truly felt like my home instead of just somewhere I kept my things. A place where the door is always open to family and friends. Where peace and quiet reign.

In God's meticulous timing, He graciously granted my prayer and, in His usual fashion, did immeasurably more than I asked or imagined (see Ephesians 3:20).

Getting there

I decided to buy a townhome so I wouldn't have all the outside maintenance. But I became discouraged after looking at several places. Although the neighborhoods were nice, and the prices were high, the homes were claustrophobic. Low ceilings. Small rooms. Dark cabinets. Scarce natural light.

Other things I didn't like were that most had an upstairs master and a single-car garage. Some had a side entrance with a servants' quarters feel. All of them needed repairs. And all had a thumbnail of a patio. Just a cement slab with barely enough room for a couple of chairs, next to a tiny patch of grass.

Surprisingly, most of those places were getting snatched up fast. So I actually made an offer on the best of the worst, but I lowballed the amount because I just wasn't feeling it. What I felt was relief when I didn't get the house. And then ...

My lovely, determined realtor, Kim, sent me more listings online. And when I saw the pictures of my future abode, I knew it was the one.

We went to see it the next day. From the driveway to the back gate, I liked everything about it—starting with the Magnolia tree in front, the northward facing of the house so the sun goes over it instead of through it, and the tiled sidewalk by the door. What else?

High ceilings. Lots of big windows and natural light. Plantation shutters. White cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms. Downstairs master. Two bedrooms and a loft upstairs. Two and a half baths. Over 1700 sq ft. Two-car garage. Move-in ready. And, maybe best of all ...

A flagstone patio with a gazebo and a wood-burning fireplace.

Here's the current view to the left, and below, the current view to the right.
Two flower beds and potted plants amply satisfy my gardening bug.

When Kim and I were checking out the patio, a friendly voice called to us through the fence from the big, corner-lot townhome next door. Ron introduced himself, then talked about how he and his wife (both retired) were the first homeowners in the neighborhood and how much they love living there. He assured me that I'd love it too.

We opened the gate to see a nice bit of green space with a sidewalk leading to a black iron fence. Noticing an entrance to what might be a park, Kim and I strolled the short distance to have a look.

The gate was locked, so we peered through the fence at beautiful foliage, an enchanting little bridge, a guy casting his fishing line over the water, and other delightful sights. We heard the soothing sounds of water fountains and birds singing. It must have been the Zen-like vibe that caused us to speak in a hushed tone.

When I jokingly asked why we were whispering, Kim pointed to these words etched in stone in front of a park bench ...

As a former hippie chick of days long past, I considered this Beatles lyric a
special confirmation that this charming neighborhood is where I'm meant to be.

I didn't need any more convincing, but I got it anyway. We walked back to the front of the house and met the other next-door neighbors, an adorable young couple who greeted us warmly. Kim told them I was considering buying the house. That was all Kevin needed to shake my hand and give me a hearty, "Welcome to the neighborhood!"

He and his wife, Kiara, told us how much they enjoy living there. Kevin talked about what a good neighbor Ron is and how they all look out for each other. He also said that I could expect an invitation from Ron for a beer on his "tricked-out" patio. Then when Kiara asked if I like wine because some women in the neighborhood have a wine club, I just looked at Kim and said, "Are you kidding me right now."

Oh, and the house is just 10 minutes from work.

Naturally, I told Kim to submit my offer. No lowballing this time. She submitted it that evening, the sellers accepted the next morning, and by noon I had a contract.

Now here's the really amazing God part of the story. Those inferior townhomes were selling fast, typically within 2 weeks. But guess how long this perfect-for-me house had been on the market ...

An astounding 5 months! God saved it just for me.

While my contract was pending, the house continued to be shown and people started making offers. I found a passel of various realtor cards in a kitchen drawer, so there was apparently a lot of interest. Had they only known it was a gift to me from the Maker of Heaven and Earth, they could have saved themselves some time.

Immeasurably more than I asked or imagined.

Here's one of three fountains in the park.
The tunnel goes under the street to a fountain on the other side ...
... where the sidewalk ends with an engraved quote from Seinfeld: "Serenity now!"

Being there

The first night I slept in my new home, it was on the couch in an otherwise empty living room, with stacks of moving boxes nearby in the dining area. May 17 was a special night.

The only other furniture I brought was my desk, a small bookcase, a trunk, and the nightstand and lingerie chest I've had since I was 8 years old. So I spent the next few months shopping, decorating, organizing, and planting. It was a fresh start on life, and every morning felt like Christmas.

I'm not exaggerating, folks. That's how good life has been lately. And one reason I'm reveling in it is that all will not be right with my world forever. Some trial or trouble is always around the corner. But I do feel better equipped to handle whatever comes next, because how could I possibly complain about anything?

In my old neighborhood, I barely knew one nice neighbor. And right before I moved out, a crazy neighbor severely vandalized my brand-new, long-awaited vehicle (my first one in over 20 years). It really stinks when you're an innocent victim caught in the crossfire of a feud.
Bless the rule-following
citizens of Mayberry

How different it is here! The people are all so friendly. Many of them have dogs and are often out walking them in the quaint, well-kept neighborhood or the marvelous park. So far, I've met Coco, Rocko, Jo-Jo, Tup-Tup, Charlie, Gwen, and Macey, and their owners, of course.

Even the delivery drivers are friendlier here. With my extensive add-to-cart activities online, packages were arriving frequently. I was cleaning my front door one day and stopped when I saw a FedEx guy getting out of his truck. He smiled and waved as he bounded up the walk. I returned the greeting, but my face fell as he veered toward Kevin and Kiara's door. "Don't worry!" he called out cheerfully. "I'll bring you something tomorrow."

I was outside again the next day, and sure enough, he brought me a package, beaming as he said, "I told you I'd bring you something!" I think he was even whistling while he walked. And I think that was the moment I first realized I was living in Mayberry.

If a package is left at my door when I'm not home, Kevin puts it in his house for safekeeping. Then he sends me a text that he has it and to let him know when I'm home. After I do, his next message is "Here I come."

During the Hurricane Harvey aftermath (another great thing about my house is that it's never flooded), I got a text from Kevin that said "Hungry?" After replying "Always," I got the familiar "Here I come." I walked outside to a big smile, a sweet hug, two kolaches, and a donut. Now that's a good neighbor. He's also a brother in Christ.

Ron is great too. He has loaned me his big ladder, unstuck my garage door, and replaced my driveway lightbulb. Every trash day, he picks up my empty can and recycle bin from the curb and puts them by my garage.

One Saturday, just like Kevin said would happen, Ron invited me to have a beer with him and Ruth on their tricked-out patio. It was while I was sweeping out the garage. I was so happy to get the coveted invitation that I dropped my broom and scampered over without a moment's thought of my appearance.

It wasn't until I was sitting on their swing with a cold beer in my hand that I realized I wasn't even fit to be seen at Walmart. No makeup and pulled-back hair were bad enough. But no bra and pajama shorts? Goodness gracious. The best I can say is that my T-shirt wasn't hideous. And all I could do was try to curl up in a ball as much as possible without looking like a total freak.

With Betsy & Jen. We laughed so
much that day it was ridiculous.
Anyhoo, I've been having the best time extending invitations of my own. Friday dinners and Sunday lunches with family. Saturday morning coffee with Aunt Jeanette. Saturday afternoon brunch with Betsy and Jen. "Happy hour" with a gang of work friends. Dinner with my pastor and his wife. Coming up: "Bull Durham night" with Clai.

These times are wonderful even when things don't go as planned. It was raining during the happy hour get-together, so people couldn't flow out onto the patio as I had hoped. But it was cozy with all of us crammed together in my little living room (the open layout makes it feel bigger).

And when Lance and Cheryl came for dinner, my crockpot had been on warm all day instead of low, growing bacteria in the brisket instead of slow-cooking it. But just before they arrived, I made it back from Goode Company BBQ with meat quite likely tastier than any I could have made.

As much as I love having people over, I cherish my alone time, doing things like:
  • Sitting on the patio in the morning, drinking coffee and reading my Bible
  • Standing barefoot on the patio in the evening, watering my plants with a hose
  • Walking in the park at sunset, enjoying God's creation and reflecting on His kindness
It's not always quiet, though. Sometimes I like to crank up the music and dance like nobody's watching, because nobody is! Living alone certainly agrees with me, especially in a place like this.

I'll leave you with just a few more park pictures and this blissful thought ... Mayberry abides.





December 29, 2016

O happy day

Instead of writing about the joys and pleasures of this Christmas season, I thought I'd share my testimony, the story of my redemption. Without it, all joys and pleasures would be fleeting.

Besides, sharing about the "happy day when Jesus washed my sins away" is a pleasure in itself. Please read and enjoy:

My testimony of salvation

Well, and maybe I'll share just one picture of the grandkids on Christmas Eve ...


November 14, 2016

Chicken Thursday

A white-haired veteran who had served 10 years in the Marine Corps said, "I try to have more hope than opinions." That gem of wisdom from Arthur might have contributed to him living a life with no regrets—a claim I've never heard from anyone else before.

I had the pleasure of meeting him during a visit to the spinal cord injury unit at the VA hospital, along with my friend and colleague Jasmine. We were there as part of a volunteer group.

Arthur’s roommates, Claiborne and Mr. Johnson, are both Army veterans who live in Louisiana. Claiborne served in the Korean War and Mr. Johnson served in Vietnam. (No disrespect intended. I just remember two first names and one last name, although one first name might actually be a last name.)

We brought them a box lunch from Jason’s Deli and a “Home of the Brave” T-shirt, both provided through our employer. The men appreciated those things, but clearly not as much as they appreciated our listening ears. We mostly just asked questions.

They seemed to relish telling their stories and giving us a glimpse of their lives. The men spoke of their infirmities only when asked and even then just briefly.

Everyone needs for someone to be interested in them, even if for just a little while. And how much more for veterans like these—away from home, away from family and friends, held captive in their beds.

After 4 months in the hospital, Arthur is hoping to go home in a few days. Claiborne and Mr. Johnson have been there most of the year and still have months to go.

Besides all of them being disabled vets with ongoing medical issues, they have much in common. For example, each one of them:
  • Raised a passel of "good kids"
  • Raved about Chicken Thursday
  • Had no complaints
  • Praised the hospital staff for the care they provide
  • Expressed gratitude for their many blessings
  • Welcomed our offer to pray over them
  • Thanked us for our visit as heartily as we thanked them for their service

To expound on a few of the bullet points above:
  • Arthur raised 8 kids, and Mr. Johnson raised 5 foster kids in addition to his own.
  • The second Thursday of each month, a charity provides Church’s fried chicken. God bless whoever does that. The men love it and really look forward to it.
  • Burly Mr. Johnson actually did have one complaint. It was about the always-steamed-never-seasoned hospital food, which in context was only to express how much he enjoyed that deli sandwich.

Mr. Johnson shared fond memories from long ago as well as from last month. He reminisced about taking his brood fishing in the Louisiana swamps when they were kids, beaming as he spoke of fishing poles sticking out of both sides of the car. He also spoke of his wife’s last monthly visit when she brought him gumbo and boudin. The way Mr. Johnson described her Cajun home cooking, it was as if he could almost taste it again in the retelling.

He hopes to go home in March, but said he’s not counting the days. He did express gratitude for the laptop and TV that helps him pass the time.

After Claiborne served his country, he served God as a minister until old age and health issues forced retirement. He has no legs, has undergone over 30 surgeries with more to come, and lost his wife this year. Yet Claiborne talked of God’s goodness, grace, and blessings.

Let me tell you, we had worship with this precious man. At the end of our visit, while the 3 of us clasped hands, leaned in close, and prayed, Claiborne kept whispering, “Yes, Lord. Thank you, Lord.”

Earlier, as Jasmine and I were walking toward the hospital entrance, she suggested we have a “No Whine November.” I agreed it was a good idea, though not confident I could pull it off. A scant 2 or 3 minutes later, a complaint rolled effortlessly off of my tongue. “No Whine November," I declared, "starts … now.” Pitiful.

How apropos that Jasmine would suggest this before we visited men who had reason to complain but didn’t.

And it’s a shame they don’t have more than Chicken Thursday to rave about. Why don’t more people do more for our veterans? Why don’t I?

Confession time. I’m good at giving when it’s easy.



Visiting the VA hospital was a company-sponsored event. I was encouraged to volunteer and driven there as a carpooler. It was during paid work hours. I was given a T-shirt to wear and a nice challenge coin as a new member of the Veterans Employee Network Group. And I was incredibly blessed by the veterans I met.

That’s a whole lot of receiving for a little bit of easy giving.

Something I’m really good at giving are my opinions. It’s easy with so many!

Now, thanks to Arthur, I aspire to have more hope than opinions. Because you tend to give what you have more of. And wouldn’t hope be a good thing to give?

Along with other needed things, of course, like a deli sandwich and a little time spent listening. Even when it's not convenient.

August 23, 2016

Splendid isolation

According to the National Park Service, Big Bend offers "splendid isolation." Indeed it does.

I went camping with my brother Rex at the park, which encompasses 800,000 acres and the Chisos Mountains. For 3 full days and 4 nights, we were completely off the grid. No electronics. No internet. No clocks. We heard no news. And the only music we heard was what the birds and crickets were making.

It was lovely ... peaceful ... still. Just what I needed.

Even the 13-hour road trip from Houston was pleasant. We drove the back way through little towns so we could stop by if we saw something interesting. In Castroville, it was Haby's Alsatian Bakery, where we each got a ham and cheese croissant, a hearty sausage wrapped in a freshly made tortilla, and their best-selling apple fritter. Because how could we possibly choose just one thing at a place like that?

Then it was an antiques store in Uvalde, where I bought a few books, mostly for decor. My favorite content is a 1942 volume of "The New Human Interest Library," subtitled "Gems of Literature." It contains the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, famous speeches, fairy tales, and poems. How cool is that? And Rex bought two wine goblets because that's what he does.

Another stop was Langtry to visit Judge Roy Bean's historic saloon, the Jersey Lilly.

Rex bellying up to the bar


Let it rain

As we were entering Big Bend territory, the windshield wipers were working overtime. Several campers passed us going in the opposite direction. Yay! Fewer people at the campground.

I love rain, and it's a good thing because it rained every night we were there. The best rain was on Wednesday. After a day of fun meandering and for at least an hour before the rain began, we were relaxing in our camp chairs, sipping red wine, and enjoying the magnificent thunder roll across the mountains as the cool breeze swirled around us. It was a glorious time for a thunder lover like me.

When the rainstorm hit, it came fast and hard. Rex looked up to see it right on the edge of camp, so he grabbed the food containers and ran for the tent, hollering, "Get in here now! Leave the wine if you have to!"

Whut? I don't think so.

Under my arms I tucked my paper and pen, hat, shirt, and water bottle. I grabbed the wine bottle, then realized I couldn't carry two goblets in the other hand without spilling them. (Rex has metal wine goblets for camping. We like to rough it, but we're not animals.) Since mine had less vino, I chugged it down so I could hold it at an angle. Then I ran to the tent and dove in, spilling nary a drop.

Camping necessities:
Screw-cap wine, water, shop towels
I had teased Rex about having a fold-out nightstand for his tent. But now, it made perfect sense. Where else would there have been a level surface for setting the bottle and goblets?

While the rain and thunder continued, we foraged in the food supplies for dinner. What pairs well with sweet red wine? Vienna sausage, of course, served with mustard and saltines. It was quite delightful. And it was a nice follow-up to our tasty meal the first night of beef jerky, hard lemonade, and the apple fritters from Haby's.

What is it about camping that makes any food taste fabulous!

Our prime spot in the Chisos Basin Campground


Rex's trusty tent kept us dry all week. And although we had a little mud, we never had a puddle since we were camped on a hill. The desert air would dry our canvas chairs in no time at all, and it wasn't even humid after the rain would stop. So no complaints from me about the rain. Well, except for one ...

Star light, star bright

The cloudy night skies were pitch-black, shrouding the stars from sight. And stargazing topped the list of things I wanted to do! I hardly ever see a star in the city, so I was really looking forward to that. There was also an unseen meteor shower the last two nights we were there, and the opportunity to see it was one of the reasons I was okay with going in the August heat.

Every night I prayed that the sky would clear long enough for me to see the stars at least once. As I retired on Thursday after another dark, rainy evening, I was beginning to lose hope.

It must have been well after midnight when my eyes suddenly popped open. I was wide awake. My first thought was how I had been sleeping much deeper than the previous nights. Then I looked out the tent window, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... stars!

Rushing outside before my legs were steady, I threw my head back to survey the wondrous sight and almost fell down. So I leaned back against the car and slowly rolled my head from side to side, marveling at the illuminated expanse above.

A little while later, I made my usual predawn trek up to the restroom—sans my umbrella, flashlight, and staring down at the path in front of me. Instead, I fox-trotted up the hill and kept my eyes on the sky. There wasn't a single sound nor a single light in the entire campground. It was just me and the stars.

Then I sat in my chair for a bit, reveling in the splendor of God's light show. (No, I wasn't being selfish by not waking Rex. Unlike me, he camps often and sees plenty of stars.)

Although I was wide awake, when I lay down again I instantly fell back into a deep sleep. The next morning, I reflected on what a beautiful, unexpected way God answered my prayer. It was as if the Almighty had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Come and see."

Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all stars of light! (Ps. 148:3)

Boquillas

I've been to Mexico border towns before, but nothing like Boquillas. Even getting there was different. After passing through customs on the US side, Pedro took us across the Rio Grande in his rowboat, gallantly helping me in and out of it.

Then we had the choice of getting to the village by walking or by truck, horse, or burrow. If not for the triple-digit heat, we would have preferred the slow burrow experience, but opted for Felipe's truck instead.

After the sweltering trailer where we went through customs on the Mexico side, we strolled through the poor little village, first passing the two restaurants, then a house where a man sells his wares from the porch. He called out to us, but we wanted to see what else was there first, so we waved and said we'd be back.

Just one little girl approached us selling bracelets, and the only other people we saw were huddled under canopies at the end of a road. It looked like a personal gathering, so we turned and went back to the vendor we saw earlier.

Ranger Mark and Pablo
Pablo seemed to understand what we were saying, even though he spoke no English. As I selected a couple of walking sticks, an amiable park ranger, Mark, came up and introduced himself. He told us about the village and why it was so quiet that day. Victor the Singing Mexican, their premier resident, died the day before of a sudden heart attack at the age of 65.

So instead of the street being lined with canopies under which vendors sold their wares, the village was in mourning. As Pablo talked about it, the only words I understood were "Victor" and "corazón," but his sadness translated clearly. I told him how sorry I was for his loss.

We then went to the Boquillas Restaurant for an authentic Mexican meal, made from scratch by Mena in her clean little kitchen. Every bite was truly delectable.

The owner and waiter, Ventura, told us more about Boquillas and Victor's funeral procession that would go through the village to the little cemetery on the lower level. They were just waiting for Victor's son to return from helping fight a wildfire in Colorado. I really wish we could have stayed for it.



Ranger Mark stopped by the restaurant for a cold cervesas and sat with a couple from the Czech Republic, whom we also met. And all the visitors met Joaquin, an 86-year-old resident. He spoke of living on a ranch for over 70 years, and proudly showed off a rock with his face drawn on it, which sat on the table near him. Later, Joaquin carefully wrapped his rock in a cloth, tucked it away, and ambled down the street using a rickety old wheelchair for a walker.



That was a special day.

Pine Canyon

Our one big hike was the Pine Canyon trail. Off the beaten path, it isn't even in the park brochures. The "road" to the trail is so rough and rocky that we could barely drive 5 mph, so it took 50 minutes to go about 4 miles.

The first part of the trail was a slight incline on a mountain in 103° heat, with only an occasional tree to duck under for quick relief. Rex assured me that there was plenty of shade in the canyon.

Now to me, a canyon trail would be on somewhat level ground. But oh no. Even after we got in that shady, breeze-less canyon, it was uphill most of the way with the trail winding along the mountainside.

The last part of the trail was much steeper and rockier than this,
but I was too weak by then to take a picture.


So how long do you think it took me to walk 2 miles uphill on a rocky, uneven path in stifling heat? ... No, longer than that ... longer ... try a whopping 3 hours! I thought about quitting a few times, but I'm so glad I didn't.

At the end of the trail, we stepped into a waterfall oasis—a beautiful, refreshing place to rest, cool off, enjoy our surroundings, and have a little picnic lunch. I knew then I would live.

Turn your sound up to hear the gentle waterfall (01:08)

Two good things about me taking numerous and lengthy rest stops to get there were: 1) The only other hikers, who arrived shortly before us, were able to enjoy the waterfall by themselves as we did later; 2) Rex didn't have to hoist my limp, unresponsive body across his shoulders and carry me back to the car.

You're welcome, folks.

Actually, Rex said he would not have carried me—deeming it more prudent to make sure he was able to get himself back safely so he could tell my story.

What played a big part in helping me soldier on was knowing that the 2 miles back would be mostly downhill, which I covered in a mere hour and 15 minutes. Then after another 50 minutes of 5 mph driving, we were back on the paved road. When we passed the crowded parking at one of the touristy trails, I was feeling even better about the experience.

It left us with a hefty appetite, so on our last night we actually cooked dinner (that is, we heated canned chili) and feasted on Frito pie.

Oh, I would be remiss not to mention the exquisite pleasure of pour-over coffee every morning. Utterly sublime.

Homeward bound

Dividing the drive home over two days, we stopped at brother Mike and sister-in-law Toni's charming little ranch in the hill country of Camp Verde, where there were long showers, soft beds, good food, and sweet fellowship. What a lovely way to assimilate back into society.

I limited this post to just a few highlights of the trip for your sake. But if you're not tired yet, take a gander at more pictures below.

And until next time ... via con Dios, mi amigos!

One of the two Boquillas shopping outlets we visited on the US side
(Money goes under the rock that's inside the can)
Rio Grande view from the shopping outlet above
Our ferry captain (and the glow of Rex's finger)
Scene in downtown Boquillas
Our muy bien lunch and Joaquin's rock (circled in the background)
View from our camping chairs
View slightly to the left
View from the early stage of Pine Canyon trail
View from a drive
Entrance sign (taken on the way out since it was raining on the way in)

July 25, 2016

An unexpectedly good birthday

The third annual "Treat Yo Self Day" didn't happen. Instead of the birthday extravaganza where I lavish myself with treats from morning to night, I just went to work.

The last time I worked on my birthday? I honestly can't remember. It just never seemed like the right thing to do.

But I took most of this year's vacation days to take care of Mom before she passed—an infinitely better use of my time off. So now I'm carefully meting out the few days I have left. Ergo, the extravaganza was forgone.

Nevertheless, I always love my birthday, and today was no exception. It started out a little shaky, though. I cried most of the way to work, thinking about Mom. I wonder when I'll quit thinking, This is my first [fill in the blank] without her.

My friends and colleagues certainly turned things around. They gave me treats ...


... decorated (trashed) my cubicle while I was at lunch ...


... and as I walked back in, lunged out of their cubicles on cue and blew horns. Yes, they tried to give me a heart attack for my birthday. Thankfully, there's no picture of my reaction.

I liked the message on my whiteboard. Jasmine ran out of room to finish writing "birthday" and had to improvise. I also appreciated her omission of the obligatory exclamation point. It reminded me of something Dwight from "The Office" would write.


The cake Melissa got me was delightfully unique as well. It was supposed to be cupcakes with white icing and cupcakes with red icing arranged to look like a target—commemorating the acquisition of my License to Carry. Apparently, there was a slight misunderstanding at the bakery. Don't you just love it, though?

Not a lot of work got done, so it was practically like having the day off anyway. And in honor of the special occasion, some of my colleagues took it easy as well, spending generous amounts of time visiting with me. Now that's true team support.

Of all the birthday wishes on Facebook, my favorite ones were from Sara and Christian, my little brunette darlins'. And of the birthday wishes via phone, my favorite ones were from Evyn and Ezra, my little blonde darlins'.

The blondes & brunettes when we were at Sub Zero Ice Cream on Saturday

So when I don't treat myself, God does it for me, in His usual fashion of pouring out showers of blessings through others.

Even so, a little online shopping before bed might be nice ...

April 27, 2016

Sara Jane

My first post of the year is never this late, but 2016 has been very different so far. My life, in fact, will never again be the same.

Mummy & me quite a few years ago
The woman I've known longer than anyone—who loved me more than any person could—is gone. 

I was privileged to be with Mom on the ride to the end of her life on earth. One day she sighed, "I've been dying for 3 months." "I know, Mom," I replied. "But since you know Jesus, you're really just getting ready to live forever."

She's with Him now—He who is sovereign over all and whose timing is perfect.

Mom was ready to go weeks before Jesus took her. She told us she wasn't afraid, and she pleaded with God to take her on home. But He said, "Wait."

While we waited, I got to spend more precious time with Mom as well as write her eulogy and, with the help of my sweet and talented daughter, Angy, create a video of her life in pictures. 

I was staying at Mom's house. Angy came every day to help me take care of her. For weeks, we thought she could go at any minute. But when the day came that God ordained in eternity past for Mom's death, He let us know that it was imminent.

After Angy got home that evening, the Lord wouldn't let her sit still, stirring her heart and prompting her to go back to Mom's. About an hour and a half after she returned, Angy, Rex, and I were caressing Mom, loving her, softly weeping over her, and watching her take her final breaths in peace. God arranged it perfectly.

He brings about all things at the proper time—
"He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15).

December 31, 2015

The most wonderful time of the year

Pajamas. Pillows. Laptop. Wine. I've got all the makings of the perfect New Year's Eve celebration. As the sound of fireworks punctuate the night outside my window, I sit propped up in bed, reflecting on my lovely 24.5-day Christmas vacation.

After many days of joy and good cheer, I've been experiencing some of the emotional downside of the final days. Sadness over the last piece of fudge. Bewilderment over what to have for breakfast since the leftover sausage balls and deviled eggs are gone. Dread over the thought of having to set my alarm again.

But there's plenty of good things to reflect on. Aside from all the wonderful holiday festivities, it's been so nice to just have time. Time to do things like:
  • Sleep late, one of the many benefits of which was watching movies and football games at night without crashing before the end
  • Meet my son for a delicious breakfast followed by firearm shopping
  • Finish reading one book and resume editing another book, both of which I started months ago
  • Search 9 stores for little "Mashems" because one of my grandsons wanted them
  • Be cool in holiday traffic and just enjoy singing along to Christmas carols on the radio
  • Take 5 days to wrap 35 gifts for grandkids (It's enjoyable for the first few; then it's just work.)
  • Complete my gift spreadsheet to ensure that each kid had the same number of gifts to unwrap and that I would pass them out in the correct order, aided by my new method of including numbers on the name tags (How did I not think of that before!)
The wee ones
I also spent an entire day revamping the story of "The Three Trees" and coming up with illustrations for the kids to color as a Christmas Eve activity. They took turns holding up their artwork while I read the story, fighting back my tears during the parts about the tree that became a makeshift cradle for the newborn Christ and the tree that became His cross. It was a fitting prelude to talking about the reason for the season before gifts were opened.

The big one with his new robe and keyboard
Throughout the evening and all day on Christmas, it's like I told my friend Monica—for a solid day and a half, my mouth never stopped moving because I was either eating or talking. She made some "as usual" comment that I could only agree with. Her honesty is appreciated.

Most of my Facebook friends posted pictures of Christmas celebrations with their families. I don't know what this says about me and mine, but our main post was just a lot of trash talk about the annual Scrabble tournament on Christmas night. I was humbled again this year, but I'm still doubling down on my accusation of ... well, I don't want to say cheating, so I'll go with "unfair advantages."

The song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has been playing in my head, so I took a moment to personalize the chorus. All I had to do was replace "mistletoeing." We didn't do that, and it's not a word anyway.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
There'll be much mistletoeing Scrabble crowing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The sock snowmen makers
For a day of post-Christmas fun, Sara and Christian came over. I love that they showed up wearing their new robes and pajamas. We made sock snowmen and a Happy New Year card for their mommy and daddy. We played Spoons and rolled dice. We talked a lot and laughed a lot. We ate candy. When Angy asked Sara if she had a good day, she replied, "I loved it so much." Yeah, me too, little girl.

Well, it's getting late, and all that's left to complete my New Year's Eve celebration is venture outside at midnight to see what's popping. Or not. At least my new year's resolution is made—get a concealed carry permit in January to go with the late Christmas present I'm getting myself.

Here's to an armed and safe 2016!