God Takes Notes

 

man desk notebook office
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

In 1985 I eloped to New York City and married a man my parents did not approve of for many reasons, but he told me many times every day he loved me, and because I was a naive 20-year old, I thought that meant he loved me. Turned out, not so much. We returned from the city and moved away from home to finish our college degrees. After graduation, when I accepted my first teaching position, he moved in with his girlfriend. That went as might be expected and our divorce was finalized January of 1991.

Also in 1985, while at university, I would occasionally run into a lifelong acquaintance, Edward. He and I had grown up in the same church and had always known each other, although our age difference made courtship inappropriate as kids. Once when we passed each other on campus and spoke briefly, Edward later told me he had commented to himself, “Thank you God I’m not married to her. She’s so miserable!” And God, hearing His name, took note.

What He and I knew, that Edward could not know, was that I had admired Edward throughout my childhood. When we were in elementary school I watched for him on the side walk, in the halls, the library and the cafeteria. In town I looked for his Mustang. At church I watched for him at the water fountain and even joined the choir in 8th grade so I could be closer to him and have the additional chance to see him at Wednesday evening choir practice. I never had any real hope that he could ever be romantically interested in me. Then he graduated high school and left for college, and after earning his degree he moved to Nashville, TN. I finished my degree, secured my first professional position, filed for divorce and took my miserable, heart-broken self home.

A few months later, Edward was laid off from the company where he worked and he also came home and God set about healing my misery and my broken heart. We both rejoined our home church and choir and struck up an adult friendship that has brought us many wonderful times, as well as carried us through some incredibly rough patches in life. It has also been the foundation that made a home for our three daughters to grow up in. Next month we will celebrate our twenty-sixth anniversary. Although he never said the words, “I love you,” until after we were married, I knew from the way he spoke to me and treated me that his love and affection were deep and true, not just a momentary feeling, but a commitment to a loving way of life.

I admire Edward as a tennis player, a musician, a handsome and honorable man, a hard worker, a respectful and dutiful son, a loyal friend, and a caring and kind husband. On this day when we celebrate fathers, I honor him for being a father who would love his children unconditionally, be patient and thoughtful of them from the moment he was aware of their presence in his life, cuddle, diaper, rock, and walk them as infants. He cooked for me and kept our house running when I went into labor early and was put on bed rest. He went to all my doctor appointments and attended the birth of all his girls. He made up little songs for them, played games with them, told them stories, listened to their chatter, welcomed their friends, encouraged them, and shared the lessons he had learned along the way, offering, not insisting, suggesting, not dictating, and allowed them the space and freedom to figure out their own gifts and find their own way. I never doubted that if something happened to me, Edward would be able to finish rearing our girls with grace, faith, patience, and love. He is not perfect, but he’s the best he can be more often than not, and he demonstrates the ancient word “husband,” – house bond, or, the one who bonds the home together.

Not everyone has the fortune to grow up with such a daddy, and surely many suffer neglect and abuse at the hands of those they call “father.” I am grateful today that our girls, young women now, have had this example and model of what a good father, a good husband, a good friend, a good man looks like and how he behaves. And I am grateful for the little screenshot Edward shared with me, “Thank you God I’m not married to her!” Sometimes the world is confusing and confounding, chipping away at our peace of mind, casting shade across our light, crushing our joy, and snuffing out our hope. But God, our Heavenly Father, takes note of what we need, sometimes even granting us the desires of our hearts, maybe even with a little chuckle along the way.

May He grant you joy, hope, peace and light, a laugh to lighten the load, and good memories in rough times until the path straightens and points you to a brighter view.

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Last Man Standing…

selective focus photography of u s a flag on poles
Photo by Benjamin Lehman on Pexels.com

Uncle Joe was one of nine children born to my maternal great-grandparents: Gilliard, Dorothy, Janey, Lena, Jacob, Annie, Joe, Hubert and Betty Ann. From a small town in Alabama, they all answered the call to serve our nation and all of them survived to return and make civilian lives for themselves. Of the nine, Joe lived closest to the land, raising his garden year after year, putting up quarts of tomatoes, corn, beans and peas, soup starter, peaches, apples and a variety of other vegetables and fruits that would carry he and his family through the winter. He also enjoyed hunting. It was at Uncle Joe’s table that I first tasted venison, and it was delicious, well-seasoned, well-prepared. Uncle Joe was a prepper before prepping was popular, when everybody prepped because, well, that’s what they did.

I guess that was why it chafed him so badly when he offered to serve his country and they insisted he go where they sent him and stay there until they sent him elsewhere. He was a G.I., but G.I. Joe he was not. The story has been told that he missed his mother’s cooking so badly that he would sneak off his guard duty post and run home through the woods for a few meals, and then head back to camp with biscuits and cornbread filling his pockets. After being reprimanded for this a couple of times the Army realized it could not break Joe of this annoying habit and so put him on a ship, a place from which he could not run. The first shore liberty he received, his feet had barely hit solid ground when he spied his older sister Dorothy, an Army Captain, walking down the street ahead of him. He ran up to her and whisked her up in a big, brotherly bear hug, for which he was again punished, this time assigned to chipping paint off a destroyer scheduled to receive a fresh new coat. Apparently G.I.s weren’t allowed to come into physical contact with officers, even if the officer was his sister.

Uncle Joe’s next assignment was on a cruiser in the Pacific, the last place he could run away from or get into trouble with his siblings because he did not receive shore leave in the Pacific theater. Joe was put to work in the kitchen. One morning a curt young officer approached Joe as he was cooking breakfast and stated, “The Captain would like butter on his eggs.” Without looking up, Joe responded, “You can tell the Captain he’ll get his eggs just like everybody else,” and as he finished the sentence, he turned to find himself face to face with…the Captain. And that is how he found himself chipping paint again, only this time in the Pacific instead of the Atlantic, exhausting work and much harder than scrambling eggs or peeling potatoes.

And perhaps that explains why Uncle Joe slept through battle stations a few days later when the ship came under attack. He tried to explain he was just so worn out from the intense heat and labor that he simply did not hear the alarms. This time he was court-martialed, and although the details are unclear exactly what his punishment was, I know he finished out the war without any more stories, at least no stories he would tell his great nieces and nephews.

I only saw Uncle Joe a couple dozen times in my life. We lived so far apart, and once I was married I never went back to Alabama with my mother and aunts for the annual family reunion, with the covered-dish dinners, 4-part hymns around the piano, little cousins spread out on palettes wall-to-wall at Aunt Annie’s or Aunt Dot’s. Over the years, there were less and less siblings of that large family to gather with. Uncle Joe did come up to North Carolina once a few years ago with his sister Dorothy, Aunt Dot to me, and my husband finally got to meet him and listen to his stories and see his great beaming smile. Aunt Dot passed away a couple of years later, and that left Uncle Joe, the last of the nine siblings.

Uncle Joe suffered a stroke three weeks ago and passed a week later. He has rejoined all his brothers and sisters now, as well as his wife and all his in-laws, and my Grandaddy and Granny Hogue. I imagine there is great joy in that reunion, and probably quite a bit of 4-part harmony in the hymns they’re now singing, in that place of eternal light, where there is no longer the need for hope, and where they practice war no more.

As I saw the flags lining the main drive on my way to town this morning, I thought again of all those good people, and gave thanks for their willingness to risk everything, to sacrifice their health and potentially their lives so that I, and my children, could enjoy the freedoms we have today because, well, that’s just what they did.

Thank you, Uncle Joe, for your service, even if it was reluctant at times, for the light in your smile, and the joy you spread through your stories and your memories. And many thanks to all those families who observe an empty place at the table this Memorial Day, who continue to burn the light of hope, who dare approach each day with joy, until the time we all rejoice that at last there is peace on Earth.

 

Bread and Butter

autumn leaves bread and butter

I grew up on a farm in a rural area just outside of a small town, across the road from my paternal grandparents. My Mom and Pop were my earliest, best buddies, and even as a small child I would walk across the road to visit them almost every day. Pop would take me fishing in the pond in front of their house, or to the back pasture to feed the cows. Mom would bake sugar cookies with me or let me help her with her ironing, allowing me to sprinkle the starch water as she guided the hot iron back and forth across Pop’s shirts and her dresses.

Once I started elementary school,  Mom, my grandmother, would pick me up from school and take me back to her house to complete my homework assignments at her kitchen table until my parents got home from work. Our routine rarely changed. Mom would hand me a spoon to take to the corner cabinet that always held my personal jar of crunchy peanut-butter, which I would scoop out and enjoy while I worked math problems or practiced spelling words. There was usually a small green-bottled Coca Cola to enjoy with my snack while she started cooking supper for Pop who would be in to wash up shortly.

The week before Thanksgiving, when I was ten, my Mom suggested we take a walk one afternoon after school. I usually walked with Pop, so this was novel and I was excited. I pulled on my jacket as she tied a scarf over her hair and reached for her own sweater. It was a cool, cloudy autumn afternoon. The red and brown leaves crunched under our feet, and small birds and squirrels chirped and chattered in the trees above our heads. At one point our path parted around a huge oak tree and I dodged left while she continued on to the right. “Bread and butter,” she said. I stopped, sure I had misunderstood her. I hesitated, staring at her. “What?” I asked, waiting for her to repeat or clarify what I thought she had said. She stopped and looked back at me. “Bread and butter,” she repeated, holding out her hand to me. I took her hand, still curious, as we continued on our path. “Whenever you are going along with someone you love, and your ways part, you say two things that go together, to bring you back together again,” she explained. We spent the rest of our walk coming up with things that traditionally go together – moon and stars, peanut-butter and jelly, thunder and lightening, salt and pepper, and so on.

My grandparents were farmers primarily. They were simple people who grew up together, married, created a family, worked hard through the week, worshipped on Sundays, went to the mountains or the beach occasionally, pressed on through life’s challenges and tragedies, and lived quiet lives of reflection, close to the land which allowed them to make their living.  They took care of their parents, and aging relatives and neighbors. They spent as much time as possible with their grandchildren, and loved us, encouraged us, listened to us, told us stories of their own childhood, and made their home a place of peace and joy where we were always welcomed.

While Mom and Pop’s lives on this earth concluded several years ago, the unwavering light of their mutual life continues to shine, in memories, in photographs, in traditions, and in the hope that one day we, their grands, may pass on that light through our own families. And as Bob Cratchit reflected in A Christmas Carol, “…however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget…”

I am grateful for the legacy. I pray its recollection brings you a moment of peace today in a sometimes turbulent world.

Until we are together again, bread and butter…

 

 

The Unexpected Stop

This past Saturday I attended a memorial service for a former student who took his life one week into the New Year. His mother told me he had Facetimed her the day before and they shared a three-hour conversation that basically boiled down to, “If I happened to die angry at God will I go to Hell?” She gave him all the comfort she could, explaining that God can handle our anger and He loves us no matter what we do or say or feel and that he could still go to Heaven just the same, no matter how he died and no matter how he was feeling at the time. He thanked her, closed the conversation with all the usuals, and ended the call.

The next morning he got up, washed and dried his laundry, rolled up all his clothes and tucked them neatly into drawers, took his father’s gun, went out in the woods behind his father’s house, sat down, and pulled the trigger. In the note he left his mom he explained that he was happy and that nothing anyone said would have changed the decision he had made, that he loved her and she had helped him have peace in his heart.

And for the rest of her life, she will hold onto those words of encouragement, cherishing them as a final gift from a broken son, who sought refuge in the thoughts and views of his now-broken-hearted mother. She, and he, are why I am starting 52 to a Brighter View.

Behavioral research scientists tell us we can break, or establish, a habit in thirty consecutive days of effort. I don’t know what habits this young man had. I have not seen him in five years. I know he enjoyed music, skateboarding and time with friends. To all appearances he seemed to be enjoying a ride many sixteen-year-olds would envy. I know a new habit his mom will have, and for many more than thirty days. She will question herself and her own choices in ways she never has, and reflect on her relationship with her two sons, with both ecstasy and agony.

I have to reflect too. When he was a student in my Social Studies class in sixth grade was there anything I said that put despair in his heart? Was there anything I said that caused him to lose hope? Did I encourage him in any way? Perhaps he hung on longer than he would have if we had never met. Just maybe I said something that lightened his load even briefly. Or maybe something I said was one of the proverbial straws that drove him to call out, “Stop!” before he reached his destination. There’s no way to know. He got off before I could find out. But I do know this. Words have power, and I want to use my words to encourage.

So. I hope you and I have thirty days in which to establish a habit of encouragement. I hope we have thirty weeks, maybe even thirty years. Let’s start with this year. Fifty-two weeks, each one the opportunity for a fresh start. I’ve lived long enough to know that they won’t all be happy or cheery or delightful. No rose-colored shades here. But I’ve also lived enough to know that we can feel joy as tears stream down our faces. We can experience hope in the midst of devastation. We can make peace when the world seems to be burning down around us. And we can find light in endless, darkest night.

Please join me each week, in pursuit of joy, hope, peace and light, as we encourage each other to A Brighter View in 52.