Monthly Archives: February 2016
I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years of age until thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a large weekend country house in a neighboring rural county.
As our own family grew, we spent more and more weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and charm of a by-gone era. It was on a two hundred acre rural setting of both woods and fields with a river sized creek complete with waterfall and swimming hole. It also had fields of peonies, horses and barns, a pond, a replica of Fort Nashborough built for the grandchildren to play in and a historic ruin of a real civil war powder mill.
At first I followed my mother-in-law on excursions into the woods to look for Jack-in-the Pulpit and tiny delicate wild Iris with a city dweller’s fear and trepidation. “Snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after my awakening to the reality of God, I began to fall in love with His creation from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section along with a scheduled hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, the tenant house, pond and the thirty- five acres of creek front woods and fields in exchange for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, but this was an incredibly good financial trade for us. Our house was a pleasant traditional two story, four bedroom house in walking distance of an excellent public school, but Birdsong was twice its size, historic, beautiful and unique in a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. There was even a tenant house that we had been remodeling. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due.
While I was in the hospital recuperating from my C-section and hysterectomy, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could have possession by January 1st. To say the least, the move was a daunting prospect at Christmas time in my post-operative condition with a new baby and four other children under ten. But, it seemed like a miracle to sell so quickly for the price we were asking. Besides, I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, my husband’s oldest brother had hired a baby nurse to stay with us for the first two weeks I was home. This was a perfect baby gift that would help us considerably. The move just seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately, shortly after we got home from the hospital, we discovered that our baby, who was miserably unhappy both night and day, needed surgery for a painful strangulated hernia. Our wonderful baby nurse and I prayed together for healing for him. But instead, at the hospital the night before his surgery, an intern discovered that our baby also had a heart valve defect. It was obviously his first examination of a baby boy, since he didn’t think to protect his new Christmas tie from a tiny fountain of pee. Shaken by his discovery, but hoping his lack of experience had allowed him to be misled, I called my pediatrician, who managed to get there in fifteen minutes. After emergency tests, the surgeon and our pediatrician agreed that the heart defect didn’t appear life threatening and since it was the type that sometimes closed naturally, they went ahead with just the hernia surgery. It was a scary, stressful time of tears and exhaustion, but with many people joined in prayer for Tommy. After the unscheduled surgery there was only room for us in a four patient room. The spoiled princess part of me was distressed over having to be in a room with three other mothers and their crying babies, all of us sleeping on cots literally under our babies in their high metal cribs. But, I had hardly had any sleep since my surgeries, so when Tommy awoke hungry the first time in the wee hours after his surgery, I didn’t even wake up when he cried. The kindness of strangers touched me deeply, when I finally woke and discovered that the other mothers had fed him, so I could sleep. It was a humbling glimpse of how false my priorities were.
The day we brought him home from his surgery, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted an offer for Birdsong, including the whole two hundred acres and all the smaller buildings . I was devastated. My heart felt literally broken and I gradually recognized that coveting really is different from just wishing for something. Eventually, I accepted that God was trying to set me free.
But ending up two weeks before Christmas having no where to go after the following week was pretty much of a shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling local realtors turned up nothing to rent while we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools mid-year, in case we decided to make the change to living in the country somewhere else than Birdsong. Available houses were as scarce in our school zone as apartments. After I had called the last realtor, I sat on the couch with tears flowing down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, an older black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for over four more weeks and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That will give us time to decide where we want to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded immediately with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c c can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, “We have to take the baby back to the doctor’s tomorrow and I’m not comfortable driving your car and mine needs a can of oil.”
I tried not to look incredulous, as she began to pray very specifically. When she finished and we said, “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman that I knew from the school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said,” I’m sorry to bother you. I hope I didn’t wake up the baby, but my car gets eccentric sometimes and it has stopped at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get my mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.” After making her phone call, she joined me for coffee while we waited for the mechanic and the can of oil.
“I hear you’ve sold your house and are moving to the country,” she said.
“Well, yes and no. The move to the country fell through and I’m in something of a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools until we figure out where we want to live. And right now there is nothing available to rent around here.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up as she asked, “Do you know about the Keck’s house?”
“No, where is that?” I responded.
“It’s one street over and two houses down from you. You can see the back yard from here. They are going to the Philippines as missionaries for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first of January, if they can find a renter. They aren’t advertising, because they will be leaving their furniture and possessions and don’t want to rent to complete strangers.”
Breathless with my heart racing, I asked, “What is the house like?”
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms and a study, and a large den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I actually gasped in disbelief. “That would work perfectly for us and we have a large basement storage area at our office where we could easily store their things. That would probably be safer for their belongings and happier for our kids.”
It turned out that we had many mutual friends with the Kecks, so they were happy to rent to us. Dr. Keck taught theology at Vanderbilt and had a library of books that I read hungrily in the months we lived there.
So, three weeks later we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own ‘hundred acre wood’ with a creek and hundreds of tiny wild Iris all along the banks. That fall, we moved into a marvelous house my husband had designed very specifically for us and in a county with a much better school system than where Birdsong was. Eventually, my husband started his own business here in this county where we still live and work forty-four years later.
One of the best parts of this memory is the woman who prayed with me. She had raised seven children in serious poverty and mostly by herself, due to her husband’s dependence on alcohol. To her, I must have seemed like a spoiled affluent weakling, yet she cared about my problems and believed God would help me just as He had her when she needed it.
An important addendum involves forgiveness. My in-laws had made an exceptionally generous offer, but were oblivious to the challenges their change of plans presented for us and I was not feeling very kindly toward them. I still couldn’t drive and our baby and I were both still recuperating. Christmas expenses and moving were draining our resources and as temperatures dropped along with my size, I needed a winter coat. As I worked on how to solve this, my mother-in-law appeared at our door. She came in obviously in a hurry handing me a shopping bag, saying, “I was in Dillatd’s buying underwear and saw this coat. You may not like it or need it, so you don’t have to keep it, but something just told me to buy this for you.” And there was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. It was a perfect fit. She brushed away my thanks and hurried on to an appointment.
As I prayed for grace to forgive, I thought, If she can hear God in this, maybe God has a reason for all of it. And I was able to shift perspective, let go of coveting and start looking forward again, seeking God’s will without assuming I knew what His plan for us was.
Time has made it clear that we were meant to start a totally different life in a house my architect husband designed specifically for us in a county with a better school situation. A few years later another crisis of circumstances led to starting an architecture firm in our new area which has been once again a challenging, but grace filled, serendipity.
Sometimes, it seems to me, there are values that we accept when we tell the creative force behind all things that we want to be aligned with its highest purpose, then we become part of the flow with complex circumstances uniting to accomplish this in our lives. And the pattern is like a tapestry that we are part of, seeing only the crisscrossing mish-mosh of threads from our perspective, while a glorious work of art is emerging from a universal, eternal perspective.
(However, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in a wine press! 🙂 )
I need to start with a disclaimer of sorts. Our five children not only survived my weird mothering style, but have all become basically good, reasonably happy, creative and productive people. This is the miracle. I dragged our family out of a comfortable suburban ghetto to live in the middle of nowhere, six miles down a dirt road from the nearest small town. We were the first outsiders to move into this particular back in the woods “holler” since before the civil war. It was a different world. After a couple of months, our first grader said to me, “You were right, Mom. We are going to learn a lot from living in the country. Before we rode the school bus out here we didn’t know any cuss words.”
When our preschooler and I spent days exploring the land collecting weeds and rocks for making nature crafts, we weren’t close to a bathroom. And frankly, I never really did very well with the whole toilet training thing anyway. So he just targeted the closest tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to teach him a protocol for trips to town where to my chagrin, he dealt creatively with the lack of trees by using car tires instead.
Another of our sons was by nature both incredibly kind and extremely private. For some reason this combination brought out my dark side. One Easter, I put money for each child in a large plastic egg and painted lovely flowers and scenes on them. For reasons known only to God, and maybe Satan, I cement glued this son’s egg together. I knew that of all our children, he would be the only one that wouldn’t destroy the art work to get the money, but he also wouldn’t let anyone know about his problem. Sure enough, there he was surreptitiously grappling with his egg as the others were happily counting their money. He finally quietly slipped away to his room, where fortunately he couldn’t hear his mother’s evil laugh. I finally did weaken and help him break the egg open while promising to paint him another one.
Siblings are going to fight. It’s a law of nature. Having been ten years older than my only sibling, I was not used to family infighting. It drives me over the edge. Our kids fought furiously every single morning. So as soon as they got old enough to pour milk on their cereal and get themselves dressed for school, I simply put the pillow over my head and slept until they left. One morning our oldest came in saying he was sick. Could he stay home? He still claims I was awake and said yes. That day, I was busy with a project and never got over to the kids’ side of the house. When I had finished my project by lunch, I began to regret that I had told him yesterday I wouldn’t be able come after school to take him to a friend’s house. So I called the school to ask them to tell him I would pick him up. I doubt if they ever believed he didn’t skip school, even though I tried to explain why I didn’t remember that my child was home sick.
I was an equal opportunity embarrassment for all my children. I variously humiliated: one by attending her elementary school’s Halloween Open House dressed as a witch, another child by gathering pine cones in his Junior High School yard while his classmates watched from the bus, and also the first musician in our family by running with tears of pride all the way down main street along-side his marching band. And I pretty much humiliated all of them by playing the senile fairy godmother when the local theater group put on a warped version of Cinderella at their schools. The list could go on.
Surprisingly, the only time they actually rebelled as a group was when I put our garden near the faucet right outside our sliding glass doors. In spite of my pressing all my children into forced labor, previous attempts at gardens had failed due to droughts and lack of accessible water. I now read that I could get a tremendous yield from a very small garden by making an environmentally friendly fertilizer using horse manure soaked in buckets of water. Unfortunately, our house was cooled by attic fans and lots of open sliding glass doors. Once spread, the manure tea was horrifically pungent. We had to choose between everyone gagging for days or dripping with sweat from closed doors. My lynch mob family threatened to either set fire to the land or run away from home en masse if I ever attempted another garden. My fantasy of a bountiful farm had to be traded for the creative possibilities of a weed and rock sanctuary.
can’t type caps much right now….last week i was carrying some laundry down the hall and managed to trip over a ladder back chair and throw myself full force, right shoulder cap first into a door jam! surgery scheduled for 2/22/16. need a what? reverse shoulder replacement? i picture me with my right arm on backward! 🙂 a nightmare week reminiscent of several levels of Dante’s Inferno……..another week still to go….then six more weeks with Dante…six months to almost full recovery. doctor sadly warned me i would never be able to reach the top kitchen cabinets again. i laughed! i was sitting in a wheel chair, so he didn’t realize at five foot tall, i’ve never been able to reach them. frankly, i’d be scared to see in them!
and though this has been one of the most physically painful weeks of my life, i have never felt so tenderly and totally loved. i know there are many many unsung heroes care giving elderly or ill spouses and i believe they, like my seventy-nine year old husband, are right up there with mother Theresa in deserving a nobel prize.
After all she got a face to face encounter with God to lure her into caregiving….not having had that i can’t claim to be able to compare that to what lured my husband into this situation. hmmmm…..on a scale of one to ten…..face to face with God or 50+ years of good nooky, but not so hot cooking? I won’t push my luck by putting that question to my husband, until i can manage the bathroom on my own. 🙂
When I married in the 1950’s, the domestic, house-proud woman was the cultural norm. Unfortunately, I was neither domestic nor house-proud, but self –awareness also wasn’t one of my strong points back then. My mother’s despair over attempts to teach me to cook as a teenager should have been my first clue.
She tried to start as simply as possible by just setting out a box of corn bread mix along with the other ingredients and utensils for me. I read the instructions and combined the ingredients in the bowl. That seemed simple enough. I might have actually managed, but mom came in at that point and said, “Wash your hands and put the mix into the pan.” After she left, I thought, “Why am I washing my hands? Is this one of those baking things I’ve read about that you do with your hands?” So, I used my hands to scoop the mix out of the bowl and to sort of shake/fling it into the pan. When not a whole lot of it made it into the pan, I began to suspect than my intuition about using my hands was off base. As I was trying to figure out how to get the rest of all the corn meal off my hands and into the pan, my mother returned to check on my progress.
She lost it. “What in the world are you doing?” she shouted. “What a mess! Why is it all over your hands?” I, in turn, had a meltdown, starting to sniffle, backing away from the mess on the counter into the stove behind me, where there was a pot of melted butter. As the butter poured into the burner and down the front of the stove, I ran crying from the kitchen with half the corn meal still on my hands. Neither mother, nor I, ever found the courage to attempt to domesticate me again
These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:
The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals..
The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’
Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house… Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community.. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say ‘Hell’ to someone who doesn’t care much about you.
Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.
Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall.. Music will follow.
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice ..
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered..
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow..
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon…
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin..
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. Is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church Please use large double door at the side entrance.
The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours
Tony Brown almost never fails to disturb, challenge, make me question my most cherished beliefs. And his style, though versatile, is powerful. Be sure to read to the end.
If I tell you that I was surprised to see
one ferret out of her cage
when I got home from shopping,
to find her strolling into the kitchen
to greet me, shoulder to shoulder
with the usually disdainful cat,
all because I’d left her cage partially open
by accident after filling her food bowl
an hour before, I will also have to tell you
of my complete lack of surprise when,
upon catching her and returning her
to the cage and latching it more securely,
I discovered her cage mate still sound asleep
in her hammock, apparently unaware
both of her botched chance of an adventure
and of her sister’s wild hour on the loose
with the cat who, when all was done,
simply returned to her usual spot
on top of the fridge and also
went to sleep.
Somewhere in here is a metaphor
and a moral and a meaning
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I used to think I had some sort of jinx about clothes, but I finally figured out that God just created me for comic relief.
I’ve already told about slipping on my strappy little high heels and bumping down the stairs on my tush when attempting to make a grand entrance wearing a new sexy and sophisticated black cocktail dress for a college date.
Another time I was wearing my more generously endowed debutante cousin’s hand me down evening gown. It was strapless with a lovely flowing soft chiffon skirt with a slight train. I felt like a princess. As I stepped forward to meet my date’s parents in the receiving line, he accidentally stood on the train. I almost made my own debut when I went forward and the dress did not.
In high school I was dating a very nice boy pretty steadily, but out of the blue, he asked another girl to a party at my best friend’s house. I was crushed. Particularly, since the other girl looked so much like me, we could have been sisters. Another boy invited me to the party, but he was a bit of a dork. So, mother took pity on me and let me spend more than we could afford on a wonderful dress for the party. I arrived at the party confident that my new dress would make me look prettier than the other girl.
I don’t know which of us was more stunned when we saw each other…….both of us were wearing the exact same dress. It struck me as funny. I think I made some comment like, “Which twin has the Toni?” But she not only didn’t laugh, she struggled all evening to always be in a different room. Humor won however. My boyfriend asked me to officially go steady the next week.
The clothes jinx tradition continued into my early forties. My husband had started a new business in what turned out to be a recession while we had three children in college, so money was tight. I was applying for a much needed civil service job as an Associate Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains’ Division on a nearby Army Post. I had recently been given several very smart hand me down dresses by my sister-in-law. I chose a tailored A-Line dark blue dress with a high neck and a zipper down the front. I combined it with a camel jacket and matching camel and dark blue colored neck scarf. I felt very chic.
I had to go through several interviews, first with the civilian Post Director of Religious Education, then the head Chaplain for the post, and finally the head Chaplain of my denomination. I made it through the first two feeling pretty comfortable. But, I could tell that the last Chaplain, an old time Catholic priest, had some reservations about working with a lay woman with the credentials required for the civil service job instead of a docile volunteer or nun. I would be working directly for him, but in a secure Civil Service position. I did my best Southern Lady imitation trying to come over as non-threatening. It seemed to go well and I was told to go get some lunch and come back in an hour after all three of my potential bosses had conferred.
As I went out the office door into the January cold, I felt a freezing blast on my chest that took my breath away. I looked down and realized that the zipper that ran from my neck to my waist had broken and pulled apart totally exposing my bra and upper torso. I hastily pulled my jacket closed and ran for my car. In the nearest McDonald’s, I scrounged in my purse and found one safety pin. My jacket had only two low buttons, so I used my safety pin at bra level and arranged my scarf to cover the rest of the gap. By the time I managed to get decent, it was time to return and learn my fate. Nervous and self-conscious, sneaking peeks at my chest, I struggled to sound delighted that I had been accepted for the job and restrain the overwhelming urge to bolt out the door.
I never knew when the zipper had come apart or whether anyone else had noticed, but later when I got to know the very Italian Chaplain, I always wondered if flashing him got me the job.
Well, according to Paul, “Everything works for good for those that love the Lord.”