Jammies If I Choose

As you have been quarantined with family or perhaps “sheltering in place” alone, was this a time of productivity? Perhaps you caught up on stacks of “must do’s” or even many of those “wanna do’s.”

I’m sure there was much “jammie and lazy bones” time. I recently told someone I needed to resume a routine because even though I was constructive throughout the day, I found my hours and days blending together. It was delightful not awakening to an alarm, but I also realized how mundane my life would be if I didn’t have a regimen. Now as our lives resume to normalcy what did we learn?

Did we lay aside those times with friends and family of trivial disagreements? For persons totally alone, as am I, I don’t have incongruities.  Nonetheless, I came to appreciate each and every time I’m able to walk to my garage, sit in the seat of my car and pull from my drive to go wherever I choose. Since I spent my life in health care, I was always cognizant of my freedoms, opportunities and abilities, as I cared for many persons whom were much younger than I, living their lives in total immobility, illness or severe handicaps.

I know each has been blessed by stories we’ve read or heard of strangers reaching out to others. As we listened to the interviews of healthcare workers on the front line, working long and fatiguing hours in order to serve those in need, we may have felt incredible appreciation toward them. However, we also realized we could not overlook those not being interviewed; isolated while caring for terminally or critically ill loved ones, caregivers of handicapped children or loved ones with Alzheimer’s. They could not call for someone to come by and relieve them, for all were in quarantine.

As we resume our lives, will we recall those days we traipsed from store to store seeking toilet paper, yearned for a time to sit in our favorite coffee shop chatting with friends, or longed to have a family celebration in our favorite restaurant? During this time, I also prayed for those families losing loved ones, unable to provide an avenue to honor them. Memorial and funeral services were postponed to enable “greater than ten” to gather and remember.

I trust that as I return to my “normal” that I don’t fail to speak to another when passing by, or that I fail to offer assistance to anyone I’m aware of  that has a need or that I fail to offer gratitude daily for those things I take for granted.

I will enjoy jammies and “being lazy days”, if I choose. Yet how grateful I will be that it is a choice rather than because I’m prevented from leaving my house. I trust each of us have memories which imprint us for the remainder of our lives. Psalm 9:1 NKJ, “ I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart…”

 

 

 

 

 

Next Year or Now?

Are we going to be the “next year” people of the dust bowl or the “here now” people? We are in a situation now; one which will imprint each of us. There are many loses, but through a time of tragedy and sorrow there are also rays of “sonshine.”

As I watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the dust bowl, I was astounded that so many could be optimistic in the throes of such devastation; loss of income, homes and lives. Their food was gone. Their children and family were dying from dust pneumonia; dust filled their nostrils and lungs causing mud and suffocation; some dying within minutes or hours.  If their homes were not destroyed or foreclosed, the home values depreciated by 90%. They had no financial means to move. They remained with the determination and confidence of better days ahead.

As the calamity progressed, Black Sunday in April 1935 affected persons throughout the continental US. 12 million pounds of dust from the great plains blew across the country, even some descending upon the President’s desk in the white house. Opinions and ideas were sent from across the country on methods of stopping this catastrophe.  Suggestions of covering the 100 million acres of the great plains with concrete or asphalt were only a couple of dozens of such irrational suggestions.

How did the survivors of the dust bowl maintain their positive outlook when their livestock was buried alive or when only the roofs of their homes were visible under colossal mounds of dirt?  If the cattle didn’t die from asphyxiation of the dust, the starving cattle were herded into massive trenches and killed as a mandate by federal and state governments. Interviewed survivors from this trauma touted of pleading to retain the younger and healthier cattle, but it was refused. All were killed. Even if farmers had a single cow for milk for their families, they would kill newborn calves to conserve the mother’s milk for their own families.

Yet, in the midst of calamity, rabbits survived. I found that to be somewhat humorous, but it wasn’t. For the thousands of rabbits were obliterating everything in their path, including fence posts. I pondered the reality of such adversities. The tenacious farmers and their families endured destruction of their livestock, homes and family members, only to be further assailed by rabbits.

Do we ever have times in our lives when we feel we have been defeated by rabbits? We feel we have lost everything and as we are trying to recover, the rabbits arrive.  For the “next year” generation, hope kept them going. Hope was also their disappointment. Year after year they hoped and year upon year nothing changed.

“But then”….it did change. For those that survived and hoped, the winds blew, but without the dust. The skies were blue and not black from dust. The land beneath their feet once again produced food for their families and livestock. Homes were rebuilt and families restored.

Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV, “the Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

He Is Not Here

Dear Readers, I had planned on concluding the chronicle of the Dust Bowl. However, because this is Easter Sunday, reflections of this special day are more appropriate. Each of us has special memories of the day; purchasing or making those special Easter outfits, planning and preparing Easter dinner and of course the piece de resistance; the colorful, surprise filled eggs and chocolate goodies cascading from the exquisite baskets.

My warmest memories are when my then husband and I had the least amount of income. For it was during those early Easter celebrations hours of time, preparation and love were spent in decorating, sewing and baking.  How I loved making dresses with ruffles, bows and lace for our little Easter Princess. Hats and Easter coats were also a “must” for the ensemble. As with Prince George, our little prince was attired in the latest trend; tailored short pants and handsome shirts.

Some of those Easter fashions were complimented with fragrant corsages from “Daddy Easter Bunny.”  Before dashing out the door, I donned my “Easter Bonnet” to complete my outfit.  The attire of the 1970’s is satire today, but we were the “picture perfect” family for those early Easters.

Not only did homemade cakes adorn our table, but friends and neighbors engaged me to make their floral and bunny embellished cakes. The children’s baskets were never complete without handmade chocolates and assorted goodies. Love was sewn into each stitch of fabric and added to every ingredient of the cakes and basket goodies.

Nonetheless, with all the groundwork to make the day perfect, it was not about the frocks, meal, colored eggs or baskets, but the celebration of the day; the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  As we currently view our church services in the comfort of our homes, the Easters of today and yesteryear have the same message.  Max Lucado noted, “Easter cannot be canceled. The church doors might be closed, but the promise is alive and well. It was Sunday morning after the Friday execution. Jesus’ final breath had sucked the air out of the universe.”

Today our Lord has risen. Pastors throughout the world are proclaiming the Easter message with their own personal reflections. Our pastor shared that our lives are now free; free to enjoy happiness and joy which comes only from the “empty tomb.” He also shared we should never “forget in the dark what Jesus showed you in the light.”

This includes the freedom from the brokenness of our lives. Many of us have endured broken promises, broken vows, broken marriages and broken families. Yet with the “empty tomb” we have a hope and promise that the sorrows of this brokenness will give us the freedom for a restoration of our lives.

Matthew 28:6 NKJ “He is not here, for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plentiful Soil or Dust?

For those that have resided in Oklahoma, you understand the lyrics of the song are accurate, “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain. OOOOk-lahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin’ lazy circles in the sky.”

During my years of early marriage, we spent approximately five years in Enid, OK, surrounded by ranches and wheat farms. How greatly I enjoyed watching the wheat flourish as the beautiful, golden, stalks waved and glistened before the harvest. The wheat harvest was not beneficial for our asthmatic son whom endured the symptoms during his infancy and pre-school years. Nonetheless, I recall it as a vivid and picturesque memory.

Oklahoma doesn’t possess the same beauty as the states with mountains, rivers, streams and tall majestic trees, but how I cherish the splendor and magnificence of the wide-open spaces as the brilliant sun sets upon those plains. Recently, I viewed Ken Burns, documentary on the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. As Ken noted, “this was one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of our country.”

Have you heard of the “next year” people? They are the optimistic people from the dark and incomprehensible days of the Dust Bowl which developed in the lower portion of the great plains.  When the “next year people” realized their current year was a “miss” with their crops and finances they said “there is always next year.”

The dirt below each of us is land, soil, dirt or dust depending upon its’ form. For them, their land; the soil which had provided their food and financial security became something to be despised; the soil became dirt and dust which decimated everything in its’ path.

As I viewed this poignant documentary, I thought of our current situation causing life altering changes. While many of us are now wearing masks as we go outside our homes, the people of the dust bowl wore masks or wet towels over their heads and faces day and night inside their homes, as well as outdoors.

It is beyond comprehension, that in addition to the hardship of the dust bowl, the country was experiencing the great depression. Tearfully, these survivors shared of the nightmares they all experienced during one of the gloomiest eras of our US history. People were contracting dust pneumonia as rapidly as the virus which is now spreading throughout our country and the world.

As the dust filled the nostrils and lungs of animals and mankind, it became mud, suffocating those it affected, causing countless fatalities.  Crops and livestock were annihilated as cattle died where they stood, unable to breathe. Crops were suffocated, buried under tons of dirt mounds.

Can we realize that even during these times of tremendous adversities, God is with us?  NIV, Job 1:21, “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Life Is What Happens

Does it seem as though when you are considering a life decision such as a major purchase or a change in your situation, there are constant reminders and reinforcements? I have often heard people say, “I’m planning on purchasing a new car and now I see those cars everywhere.”  I’m confident there are no more of those cars currently than several months ago. However, awareness of them is now more evident.

Over these past eight years as I’ve had to accept a “new normal” for my life,  God has placed many people on my journey as prompts or an awareness that I’m not alone. Most have been butterflies; merely flitting by for a few days or weeks, but then flew off to pursue their life.  As my daughter reminded me years ago, God brings us the people or things we need “for that season.”

One of those persons that very briefly crossed my path gave me a gift; a book by Jeff Manion on “finding God in difficult transitions”. I’ve read numerous books during these past eight years which were referred to me or given as gifts, during my own “difficult transition.” Do you ever read or hear something that makes you feel as though someone was present in your life? The words they speak are what you have been living. As I read a passage from Jeff’s book, I realize there are common threads for all going through evolutions.

As Jeff shared of a friend going through a divorce and the frustration over the division of the property, Jeff cited years from now, none of that would matter. However, it was as though he had known my heart and mind when he stated, “but the decisions of the heart made in this troubled space could affect Tony’s life fifteen years later…he would need to walk through the stages of grief, as he worked to process the betrayal, heartache and loss…Tony was in the process of deciding who he was becoming…it is critical to recognize that not simply the hardship, but also the reaction to the hardship is forming us.”

Leslie Koh reminds us that even when Paul was doing the work, he believed God asked him to do, Jesus stopped him.  Paul’s work was needed more elsewhere. Leslie notes, “It’s sensible to make plans. A well-known adage goes, “Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” But God may disrupt our plans with His own. Our challenge is to listen and obey…As we continue to make plans, we can add a new twist: Plan to listen. Listen to God’s plan.”

I’ve offered many thanks during these past eight years; thanks for allowing me to see and understand situations I might not, if my life had been as I planned.  I’m grateful for the reminder there is still time for God to use me; to form me for what He desires of me.

Proverbs 19:21 NIV, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

 

 

 

 

Soapy Windows

As the summer drew to a close, there were other escapades with Clyde and Sharon, but none as harrowing as the broken window accident. With each passing year, our family’s level of poverty increased. There were no birthday or holiday celebrations. However, once a year our local fire department held a fall festival on Halloween night. The town’s children of all ages and income were welcomed for homemade chili, treats and a night of games and prizes.

My excitement had continued to increase from the moment I first heard about it until the day of the event. There was so little happiness in our family, but tonight would be a wonderful memory.  Little did I realize my excitement would turn to sadness within a matter of hours.

When Dad arrived home, he noticed soap on some of the windows. With Dad’s harsh interrogation, I readily admitted I was the guilty one. My classmates said they were going to soap windows as a traditional Halloween event. I wanted to be accepted as one of the “cool kids” in town.  I soaped only a few windows, enough that when queried the next day, I could exclaim I too had participated in such an adventuresome tradition.

Upon confessing to my crime, Dad hastened to deal with what he deemed a most dastardly deed.  As he immediately removed his large, leather belt, I knew the beating awaiting me. I thought the beating would be sufficient, but not to Dad.  Following my beating, I was forced to remain at home scrubbing all windows, including those not soaped. While my siblings and other children were attending the fireman’s party, I sobbed and pleaded for Dad’s mercy.

I carried the bucket of water from window to window; my hands numb and painful from the water and cold, northern OH night air. The few soaped windows could have easily been cleaned the following night, but Dad insisted I receive the maximum punishment that very night.

When my schoolmates passed by querying if I was attending the party, my moans and cries could be heard for several houses away. I continued to plead with Dad to go to the party. His word was law; “no.”  Only months earlier Dad tearfully stated I had assisted in saving my sister’s life. Now I was being unjustly punished for a childhood prank. No windows were damaged or broken. Nonetheless, my spirit and heart were shattered.

Such incidents reminded me my parents not only viewed me as someone that completed their household chores and tasks, but their refusal to accept me as their 8 year-old daughter that sought to be a child.  It was as though my siblings and I lived in different homes. They were free to play and relish their lives as children.

I can now reflect on those times realizing there would be more times of disappointment. However, I learned at a young age God was with me in all situations. He gave me the strength to endure iniquitous individuals and the disillusionments they bestowed and a reminder He would never forsake me.

Colossians 3:21 NKJ, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

 

 

Stay Here

How I yearned to be a child; to enjoy my life as all the other children. Yet as a missionary friend of our family’s cited frequently, “Janie, you were born an adult. You were never permitted to be a child.” I now realize that God was preparing me for a life filled with challenges beyond comprehension. Had I not learned to be self-sufficient and a care-giver at my young age, when the tempests of life came, I would have been unprepared.

During those years in OH as our family moved from house to house and town to town, there were several memorable incidents. One of the most paramount was  during a summer in the 1950’s. As the eight-year-old care giver of my siblings, I was fulfilling my role as the family laundress on the first floor of our house when I heard an agonizing shriek coming from upstairs. I left the hot iron and ironing board, vaulting up the stairs to discover my brother awe struck while my three-year-old sister stood on the bed, a bloody hair brush in her hand, blood pouring down her arm, as the sun glisten off a jagged, broken window.

Certainly, at age eight, I had no training as a nurse or doctor, but God imparted me with the calmness and knowledge to do what was necessary in this dire emergency. As my brother and sister were jumping on the bed, the hair brush which Sharon held in her hands, was thrust into the window. Still grasping the brush, as she pulled her arm into the room, the window tore a large and deep gash in her upper arm. I clutched my younger sister grabbing a blanket from the bed as I raced down the stairs into the kitchen. I gently sat her on the blanket on the kitchen floor, while dashing to grab a towel and tightly wrapping it around her arm. At age four, my brother understood the urgency as I screeched, “you stay here with Sharon, while I run to get Mom and Dad.”

Following my Dad’s recovery from his injury, my parents opened a drapery installation business in the town where we now resided. It seemed as though I was running for miles to alert my parents of Sharon’s accident. Upon arriving to the security of realizing my parents could now come to take care of her, I screamed, “come quickly, Sharon was badly hurt.” Returning to that house and town, years later, as an adult, the home was at least two miles from my parents’ business. I then realized why it seemed like such a long distance for an eight- year- old in distress.

When my parents returned from the hospital emergency room with my sister, my father was crying. It was the only time in my entire life Dad was sincerely appreciative of my actions. As the tears washed his face, he said “Janie, if not for your actions, the doctor said your sister could have bled to death.” Before the summer ended, there were other mishaps, but I was grateful, not as serious as my sibling’s gymnastics on their bed.

I Timothy 5:8 ESV, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

What Is Your Impression?

I will occasionally deviate from the journey of my life and the gifts of God’s love to share topics which may be an encouragement and/or inspiration to you; my readers.  Don McMinn shared a subject, which I also have strong opinions about; the last and enduring impression. As Don mentions and we all know, making a good first impression is important, but isn’t it often the last impression which remains with you?

I think of my own personal experiences and sometimes there is great joy, while at other times the last image or impression was one which leaves me with great sadness. Have you taken a trip where the last memory of the trip was a departure dinner or gala? As Don mentioned in his blog, it isn’t always about the weather or the “oops” moments on the trip, but the last event before people shared their hugs and good-byes.

What about the service person that enters your home? Do you offer a “thank you” as they depart?  How about offering them a bottle of water to continue on their journey? I’ve always desired to be the customer they recall that was kind to them.

My daughter and I went on a trip last year; our first together and one which has lingered in my heart and mind for these past nine months. Our last evening together was in Canada and I both cry and smile when I think of some of her departing words to me, “Mom, the smile has never left your face.” She is right. If I had died that night, I trust my smile and the love I have for her is what she would have remembered.

When I last saw my mother, the sadness still fills me with tears.  As I held her tiny, frail face in my hands, I told her I loved her and I would see her again. I told my mother often in her life that I loved her; always hoping to hear her words of love for me. It never happened.

I don’t know if my mother did love me, for she refused to articulate those words.  Yet, as I bid her farewell with a promise to see her the following month, that moment would be our last.  Days before her 89th birthday, God called her home. My last image was that of my mother with stage 4 colon cancer, telling her I loved her and yearning to hear the same.

There are many sentiments I tried to instill in my children, but one which I spoke over and over is that we can “never travel this way again” and “what if”, that moment with someone was your last? The impression you leave may be a gift or an offense.  Don McMinn states, “think carefully about how you end all relational encounters…A well-orchestrated ending can make a significant difference.”

Do you want your last encounter with someone to be one they cherish or a memory which causes them to be sorrowful?

Luke 6:31 NIV, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Pack It Up

As I shared in my last blog, at age five, I understood roller skating to my neighbor; Auntie Alice was a respite from the chaos of my home. Due to my father’s injury, my mother had become the sole financial provider for our family of seven.

As a result of my grandmother’s extreme mental illness when she was not a patient in the state mental hospital, her care was shared between my mother and maternal uncle. As a child, my heart ached to see my grandmother’s mental and emotional condition, sobbing when visiting her at the hospital.  Although young, I understood these patients’ dignity and self-respect were striped away. They were treated only slightly better than a family pet.

Therefore, even though Grandma was a challenge, I was always happy she was with us. She didn’t always grasp her surroundings, but I did. With Grandma’s illness and my father’s injury, neither of them could care for us children. I was designated the day-time care giver for my brother, less than two years of age and my sister, an infant.

This was not discussed, but mandated. As my mother departed daily for her employment at the local green house,  she left bottles of milk for my sister and instructions to change her diapers often. I was also instructed to prepare lunch.

Mom’s arrival home was seldom pleasant. Her mood was agitated. Now as an adult, I realize the burden of caring for our family of five, plus the challenges of her mentally ill mother and the addition of my uncle, was solely on her tiny, frail shoulders. Mom never had the life she had desired. Thus, her unfulfilled dreams also altered my life as a child and later as an adult.

The charming house in northern OH which Dad built himself, would become a mere memory. For my parents, it was the last home they would own until almost twenty years later. Our residence there was short-term following Dad’s accident. In less than five years, our family of five moved six separate times.

Because I had been given the role of “care-giver”,  I was also assigned the task of maid and chef during my mother’s absence. As the boxes were moved into an aged, rented farmhouse, I was instructed to unpack all the kitchen items and place them in the cabinets. My memory is as vivid today as then. I had to walk on the counters to reach the tall cabinets, but my task was completed without breaking even one glass or dish.

What a tremendous disappointment when less than 72 hours later, my Dad announced we were moving from that house into another. All the work of unpacking was now left to me to repack. This would be the saga of moving in and out of homes in four different OH towns over the next four years.

Hebrews 6:10 NIV, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

The Key To Take Flight

As I hung the skate key around my neck and strapped on my roller skates, it was my way to “take flight” from the reality of life. The house at the end of our tree-lined street in northern Ohio was a “safe haven”; a place for me to find a hug and always a treat. Auntie Alice, as I fondly called, Alice Sharp was a neighbor, full time house wife and mother of a young adult son and a daughter whom had drown in Lake Huron when she was five years of age, several years earlier.

Auntie Alice became a surrogate “mother” for me and I,  a substitute daughter for her. Our friendship remained for many years, but the frequent moves of my family diminished the friendship as I could no longer “drop in” for those sweet times of fellowship. I now realize Alice comprehended  my life was more of a challenge than any five-year-old should endure.

Her 1940’s home with the large wrap around porch possessing a wicker swing, seemed like a fairy- tale castle to me, filled with treasures my young senses had never experienced.  Her parlor was laden with beautiful tapestry chairs and love seats, but the showpiece was the player piano. When hearing it, I longed to learn to play the piano, but it would be years before the dream became a reality.

Aromas filled the air which I desired for our own home; fresh flowers and home baked cookies, breads or cakes. These sweet treats were always enjoyed with lemonade or a cold glass of milk on Auntie Alice’s sunny screened in porch or her garden filled with the fragrant flowers which bedecked her home. I was also intrigued with the beautiful summer cottage in Auntie Alice’s garden. The cottage had a fireplace and furniture with gorgeous, floral cushions, which appeared to have been freshly picked from her garden.

The large garage was designed with an upstairs apartment, which I deemed would make a great hideaway where I could reside.  This young girl was convinced Auntie Alice truly lived in a castle. Our home at the end of the street, built by the hands of my skilled, carpenter father was new and lovely, but modest compared to Auntie Alice’s fine home.

With seven family members residing in our two-bedroom, one bath house, it seemed smaller than it actually was. It did however have a basement which had been my parents’ home before Dad built the primary residence. Our immediate family of five consisted also of my paternal, teen-aged uncle and my widowed maternal grandmother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Tragically, my father sustained a broken back when falling from a second story scaffold while working in his profession as a carpenter. This fall left my father partially incapacitated for several months. This was a tremendous setback for the family, but also for me as a child. My life as a care free child ended the day of my father’s accident.

I learned at a young age that life would never be one of joy, but God would be with me.  Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you…”