Thanks, Mom!

Her children rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28a

Ok, you probably think I’ve gotten my holidays mixed up. No, I know it’s not Mother’s Day. But it is the season of Thanksgiving and today is my dear mom’s 87th birthday. Thus, I want to thank God for the blessing of a godly mother as well as celebrate this very special woman by documenting some of the nuggets of wisdom she’s shared with me for as long as I can remember.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom and I have been through numerous trials together in the nearly-60 years since she gave birth to me. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, deaths. Through it all, Mom has taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6); who faithfully keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23) and speaks only truth. (Hebrews 6:18) We will have troubles in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We can find peace in Him. (John 16:33)

When faced with a list of tasks, do whatever’s bothering you the most first and get it behind you. When I feel overwhelmed, which is more often than I like to admit, Mom encourages me with this time-tested advice bestowed upon her by one of her grade-school teachers. Though it may not have been inspired by scripture originally, there’s certainly a Biblical tie-in. Usually when my to-do list becomes over-loaded, it’s filled with chores associated with temporal concerns. Cooking, cleaning, weeding, mulching, paying bills and the like are necessary. But Jesus makes it clear we’re to seek eternal things first, trusting Him to provide all we need (Matthew 6:25-33) and spending time at His feet to learn of Him. (Luke 10:38-42)

We can’t change anyone else, much as we’d like to sometimes. We can only give an account of ourselves. My reply when Mom tells me this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” Once again, there’s Biblical truth in Mom’s statement. As part of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against judging others, especially since we have sin in our own lives to deal with. (Matthew 7:1-5) Praise God for giving us His Spirit, which is at work in us to bring about the transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) Furthermore, we’re called to pray for others, but only He can soften hardened hearts. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith and keep going. Throughout her life, Mom’s faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade alone, she:

  • shattered the bones in her right shoulder, an injury that required surgery to install a plate and multiple screws and left her with limited range of motion in that arm.
  • suffered a heart attack that led to the discovery of three severely-blocked arteries resulting in emergency open-heart surgery.
  • fractured a vertebra in her back and had a procedure known as kyphoplasty to repair it.

Mom endures daily pain due to the ravages of arthritis that have led to enlarged joints in her fingers and cartilage deterioration in her now-bone-on-bone right knee. Yet she rarely mentions her constant aches. Instead, she clings to God’s mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24) and encourages those in her inner circle to do the same. Though she’s never declared a favorite verse, I expect Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, would be a front-runner.

That’s a Gulf song. Granted, this statement isn’t advice, but I include it because it alludes to my heritage of faith. Mom grew up in the tiny town of Gulf, NC, where she attended a small Presbyterian church established in the 1800’s. When the strains of a familiar hymn from her childhood begin to play at our current church, Mom’s face brightens and one of us will usually lean toward the other and whisper, “That’s a Gulf song.” I don’t know how many generations my heritage of faith encompasses, but I know there are at least two behind me and two in front. I pray that legacy of faith will be passed continually from generation to generation until Christ returns. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

IMG_4723Though petite in stature, Mom’s my biggest cheerleader and most dependable defender. We all need someone who’s unconditionally, unreservedly in our corner. I’m so thankful Mom’s in mine. She’s my rock because she consistently points me to the Rock and reminds me His everlasting arms are securely holding all who belong to Him in an eternal embrace. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a) O LORD, please help me to do the same for my precious children and grandchildren. Thank You for the priceless blessing of a godly mother!

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Make note

The Lord has been faithful to provide for me and my family in so many ways across the years. In fact, a desire to encourage others by sharing some examples of His goodness is what led me to begin blogging. I promised to write this particular post for some friends in various stages of buying and selling homes, but I pray the over-arching message of God going before us will resonate with many of you.

As I open up my mental portfolio containing instances of God’s providence, the file marked “Real Estate Transactions” stands out because it encompasses events that still give me amazement-induced goose bumps when I recall the specifics all these years later.

Several months after my late husband Ray and I got married, we began to contemplate the possibility of purchasing our first home. The image of him sitting at his drawing board/desk, his silhouette illuminated by a clamp-on light as he calculated and re-calculated the numbers, is etched in my memory. After several such assessments, we decided to purchase a townhouse attached to one other unit. We had three bedrooms on the top floor, an open floor plan on the main level and a full basement which we partially finished – plenty of room even after our daughter Mary was born two years later.

But when I became pregnant with daughter Jessie, Ray and I decided to start looking for a single family home to accommodate our growing family. Unfortunately, the houses we could afford weren’t within our desired distance to work and those in our preferred areas were priced beyond our budget. We looked and looked, our hopes repeatedly dashed. It was a hot, humid summer in Delaware and I was eight months pregnant, with all the attendant hormonal upheaval. So, when Ray excitedly told me about an open house at an older home in the same neighborhood as our townhome, I suggested he check it out while I treated my hot, tired, grumpy self to a nap.

Ray returned from the open house, his spirits still high, and announced, “You really need to see this one! It could be our house.” Several days later, I accompanied him on his return visit. I, too, liked what I saw. Coached by our realtor, we made an offer slightly under the asking price, only to be outbid. Once again deflated by dejection, we surmised it wasn’t the one after all.

Several weeks and more disappointing house-shopping jaunts later, the owners called to let us know the deal had fallen through and their house was back on the market. After thorough consideration of our options, Ray and I decided their house actually was the one.

Having finally concluded the search phase of our mission, we asked fellow members of our Sunday school class to pray our townhouse would sell. A young couple came up to us after class and said they’d be interested in looking at it. They did just that a few days after Jessie’s birth[1] and, without ever putting up a for sale sign, we secured buyers.

5-29-2015, 108 DewaltThe house on Dewalt Road was to be our long-term, raise-the-kids residence, but DuPont decided to move my entire work group to Georgia so we could be closer to our customers in the carpet industry. Once again we were faced with selling a house, this time one filled with toys and accessories parents of toddlers are used to stepping over and around. I dreaded the process of keeping the house picked up and ready to show at any moment. After Ray and I signed a contract with our realtor the day before I left for a weeklong business trip to California, I told them, “Ok, you two. I want you to find a buyer before I get back.” (Cue laughter.) But God graciously provided a young family, much like our own, who could no doubt imagine their own children’s toys strewn across the playroom and parked in the yard. They were ready to make an offer by the time I returned home.

Fast forward five years to when the unthinkable happened. My beloved 39-year-old husband went to work one beautiful spring day, suffered a fatal heart attack and didn’t make it back to what has indeed been my long-term, raise-the-kids residence. My parents were living in Charlotte at the time and had been considering a move since my dad was recently-retired. What a blessing when they chose to move to Georgia to help me with the logistics and challenges associated with being a single mother. They had an offer on their house within a few days of putting it on the market. And, when my mom told the owners of the house they bought in Georgia the reason for their move, the woman replied, “Our house was under contract several months ago, but the deal fell through. Now I know why. God was saving it for you.”

I realize your real estate history probably differs from mine. Maybe you’ve endured weeks without showings and multiple price cuts during stagnant markets. But, as I hope you can see, this recounting isn’t about houses at all. It’s about remembering God’s faithfulness. About recording instances of His provision and sharing them to encourage yourself and fellow believers when times get tough. (Psalm 63:1-8) About speaking truth to yourself: “Just look what He’s done! He’s never forsaken me and I know He never will.” (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 37:25)

Your list of examples will be as unique as you are. But, even if you’re a brand new believer, you have instances to look back on, including the fact He called you out of darkness and welcomed you into His family. (Matthew 4:16; John 8:12; Ephesians 1:3-14) And the longer we walk with Him, the more extensive and varied our personal inventories become, as He does exceedingly more than all we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

May we be ever-faithful to recall and recount the Lord’s goodness.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

 

[1] We’d originally planned for them to come over earlier, “unless I went into labor”, which I did on the previously-scheduled date.

Thank You!

IMG_6549 (3)I don’t know about you, but there are times when I’m truly confounded by the things small children quibble over. For example, my dear grandchildren, ages 2, 4 and 7, will argue about whose turn it is to say the blessing. In fact, they’ll talk over said blessing should one of them start praying before we’ve fully sorted out whose turn it is. Although I’d like to think their bickering arises because they realize how important it is to thank God, I’m afraid it is due instead to a desire for the honor of saying it.

Ah, teachable moments around the table for sure. I’ve tried telling them they can each say a blessing or we can all pray together because God delights in hearing from us and receiving our praises, all to no avail. And so I’m often left silently raising a petition of my own, “Lord, please help them to always have this much enthusiasm when it comes to wanting to thank You!”

Several weeks ago, I was helping daughter, Mary tuck the children in. 7-year-old Joshua selected the recounting of Jesus healing the 10 lepers from his children’s Bible as his bedtime story. In my ESV[1] Bible, the narrative in the Gospel of Luke appears as follows:

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

All ten of the lepers cried out to Jesus to heal them. All ten had faith He could do so and followed His command to present themselves to the priest even though the healing didn’t occur immediately in Jesus’ presence. Yet only one took the time to come back and thank Him. And this was no weak, afterthought of a “thanks”. Look again. The passage states the man was praising God with a loud voice and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

When’s the last time we’ve acknowledged God’s good gifts with such exuberant praise? Not only do we rarely demonstrate such gratitude, but too often we behave like the nine who didn’t return to thank Jesus at all, overlooking or taking for granted His many blessings. Scripture is clear that God is worthy of all praise and thanks. David’s prayer after the Israelites made their offerings for the construction of the Temple is exemplary in acknowledging God’s ownership and benevolence:

Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1Chronicles 29:10-14)

Jesus himself set an example for us by thanking the Father for sustenance (Matthew 15:36; John 6:11), as well as for hearing His prayers. (John 11:41) And the Apostle Paul repeatedly thanked God for the faith of his fellow believers (see, for example, Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4, and Ephesians 1:15-16) and for the inexpressible gift of salvation itself (1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Corinthians 9:15), reminding us of Jesus’ teaching regarding the superiority of imperishable spiritual treasure. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Furthermore, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul instructed his readers three times in as many sentences to be thankful:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

From the priceless gift of salvation to daily bread, from the beauty of creation to the warmth of friendship, from answered prayer to our very breath and every heartbeat, the reasons to thank God are infinite. Let us avail ourselves of myriad opportunities to praise Him. In so doing, may we model for our little ones how important it is to thank Him with happy hearts and joyful voices for His gracious gifts – not for our glory, but for His.

[1] English Standard Version

Bickering

img_2702I love to feed the birds. I consider my feathered friends to be outdoor pets of sorts. Now that the weather has turned colder and there are fewer natural food sources, the activity around the feeders has escalated. In fact, I added a second feeder to accommodate the increased traffic. Tufted titmice and cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, wrens and woodpeckers are regular visitors, eagerly partaking of the sunflower seeds and suet. The feeding generally proceeds in a harmonious manner, with birds flitting from feeder to tree branch to deck railing, taking turns as it were. But occasionally one of the diners becomes impatient. A ruckus ensues as the bird brusquely flaps his way to the feeder, scattering his equally-hungry companions. Nonetheless,whether patient or pushy, the birds have done nothing to earn the savory seeds. They are a gift, freely given.

Having just celebrated Christmas and a December birthday for 3-year old granddaughter Lyla, I’ve witnessed an influx of presents at my daughter’s house. Thoughtfully chosen by the givers, there are plenty of toys to fill hours with imaginative play and help hone new skills, as well as clothes to fit growing bodies. It’s been satisfying to watch as Lyla and 5-year old Joshua have expressed their gratitude for the gifts they received. Lyla will often recount who gave her a particular item and say how much she “lubs”[1] it. Yet, just like the birds, there are instances when playtime fun is disrupted by a struggle over a particular toy. The fought-over item usually becomes the most desirable at that moment simply because someone else was intently playing with it. Even 10-month old Emma isn’t immune as she frequently finds her older siblings’ things much more interesting than her own and protests loudly if such a treasure is removed from her vise-like grip.

Observing the antics of the birds as well as the behavior of my beloved grandchildren reminded me of the sentiments expressed on Christmas cards I sent out years ago. Sigrid Undset’s[2] quote on the front resonated so deeply with me I made sure to keep a card for myself:

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in his name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave us himself.”

Indeed everything we have, all temporal and eternal blessings, are gifts, graciously given by our loving Father. [3] No room for boasting or bickering or grasping. Instead, may we say with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.”[4]

[1] Lyla’s endearing pronunciation of “loves”.

[2] Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian novelist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.

[3] James 1:17

[4] Psalm 9:1-2