Tag Archive: dawn hood


The Disease of Expectation

winter snow heartAhhhhh, February – Christmas decorations are packed away, tax returns are being filed, winter stews fill the crock pot, and we watch the skies anxiously for a cozy blanket of snow or a promising hint of spring. And Valentine’s Day…oh yes, Valentine’s Day: the one day that possibly generates more stress in the hearts of men than a wedding anniversary; or a first date; or the wedding day itself; or the honeymoon; or becoming a father; or being a father on his daughter’s wedding day.
In a word, Valentine’s Day = anxiety.

Here’s the quandary: if a man spends too much his wife may question his motives or wonder if he is being financially responsible; if he doesn’t spend enough she may feel cheated, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected. This presents a tightrope walk for sure with only past successes (or failures) as the balancing pole for our men.

Enter peer pressure. “Well, so-and-so’s husband took her [fill-in-the-blank]” or “you should see what so-and-so’s husband gave her for Valentine’s Day” or the ever popular “I just thought you knew how much this day meant to me” (accompanied by sad little tears, manipulative pout, and possible stomping of feet and/or a lock on the bathroom door).

And exactly when did one day on the calendar become the benchmark for LOVE? Love can’t be measured in a day! I propose we have taken a dangerous detour from the word’s true meaning when it has been reduced to what can be paid for, wrapped up, and tied with a bow.

A group of professionals recently posed the following question to a few children between the ages of 4 and 8: “What does love mean?” The answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think (italics mine):

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4 (Love protects)

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl, age 5 (Love inspires our best)

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy, age 6 (Love shares)

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri, age 4 (Love energizes)

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, age 7 (Love makes the extra effort)

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy, age 6 (Love is committed)

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy, age 8 (Love is empowering)

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. I don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare, age 6 (Love is affectionate)

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine, age 5 (Love is selfless)

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann, age 4 (Love is happy)

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, age 4 (Love is smart!)

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, age 7 (Love is romantic)

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8 (Love is expressive)

And in my personal opinion, hands down the best one:

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby, age 7 (Love is profound)

WoW! “… if you stop opening presents and listen …”

As parents, my husband and I have tried very hard to instill balance in our children’s expectations about holidays, and about life in general. While we want them to always believe in the magic of Christmas and the unique celebrating of their birth day, we have worked to keep their expectations within the framework of reality. As in, “I don’t care if one of your friends got a limo ride downtown to share a hotel suite with their friends for the weekend, complete with 24/7 room service and tickets to a concert.” Someone – or several someone’s – will always have more, do more, be more. And the disease of ‘expectation’ may be far more dangerous than any other childhood illness they will ever face.

So what kind of example are we setting for our children when it comes to this one day set aside for lovers? What are we teaching them about what love really means? I’m not suggesting that gifts are not appropriate; I certainly enjoy opening a pretty little box or two and I have never been accused of turning away from chocolate. True, there are times when a card can express what we may not be able to say in our own words. But maybe right alongside reining in our children’s expectations, we ought to be evaluating our own.

Ladies, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to set aside your expectations of the presents you ought to get – or stop comparing what your friends and co-workers get – and simply listen to what’s already around you?

Men, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to pause, look your wife in the eyes and give to her from your heart? Not as an excuse to squeeze your wallet a little tighter, but because you truly want to share yourself with her.

sharing hearts

It’s easy to buy something. What takes time and effort is giving of our selves. To share a piece of who we are. This Valentine’s Day, let’s stop opening the presents and listen. It just might be the best Valentine’s Day ever.

A Boy, A Girl, and A Canvas

ImageMy parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary this past week.  55 years. My mom was not even 19 when she and my Dad married – and he was an old man of 21. Robert Vern Chambers and Charlotte Cathleen Crowe married on a very hot June afternoon in a sweet little southern church with no air conditioning — at 6pm! My mother was every bit as elegant as Grace Kelly in her borrowed wedding gown and my Dad would have given James Bond a run for his money in his elegant white coat tuxedo.

Shortly after they were married my Dad, enlisted in the Army, became stationed in Germany. Mom went along and without the comfort of cell phones, email, or Skype to reach ‘home’, they managed to turn his call of duty into an extended honeymoon all across Europe. For two full years, each time my Dad had leave, they would set out for a previously unvisited country and explore the diverse and unique beauty that is the continent of culture. My Mom still tells wonderful stories of their ventures into Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monte Carlo among others.

As I’ve watched them over the years, there are many things that stand out to me about their relationship. My Daddy is reserved, kinda’ serious, a packrat of sorts, and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. He enjoys spending time with friends but would never be one to initiate any kind of social gathering. An excellent (and sometimes experimental) cook, he especially enjoys baking. For years, we have enjoyed his homemade cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, and German Christmas bread. I can think of only one mishap of his which has jokingly been placed in the annals of history as “Dad’s sauerkraut cake”. Ick – my mouth curls up even now as I remember that first (and last) awful bite.

My Mom is super organized, highly social, and has an incredible way of making everyone around her feel special and important. She’s tenderhearted and compassionate to the core. Watch out though, she will cut you like a butcher’s knife through soft butter if you come after her family! Mama can make popcorn and brownies seem like a feast fit for a king, cry tears of joy as quickly as tears of sorrow, and read a story in a way that truly makes you feel as if you have been transported through time.

Daddy gave me my blue eyes, my appetite, and my ugly knees. Mama gave me my great cheekbones, my love of entertaining, and my stubborn streak.

So how do two people, with such diverse personalities, make a marriage that is still going strong after 55 years? There are several things which come to mind:

Commitment. The dictionary defines the word “commit” this way: To give in trust or charge; to pledge oneself; to entrust, especially for safekeeping.  My parents have encompassed all those beautiful attributes of commitment in their attitude and actions towards each other. They trust one another. And they know that no one else on Planet Earth has more invested in their safekeeping than each for the other.

My grandmother told my mom the morning of her wedding that if she ever showed up at their door after she married my dad, she would swat her on the backside and send her back home.  Bottom line, it was my Memaw’s way of saying ‘you’re in this for the long haul; be committed to it and work it out.’ And work it out they have. There have been incredible highs and devastating lows, but my parents have gone through it all together. Their commitment to each other is absolutely unwavering. And everyone around them knows it.

Strength. Strength is not the same as commitment. One of the definitions for strength is moral power, firmness, and courage. My mom and dad have been strong for each other, strong for their marriage, and strong for each other’s families. My dad has always had an excellent relationship with my mom’s parents. Daddy grieved the loss of one of his best friends when my Papa died. And Mama was every bit as caring and loving towards my dad’s family as she was her own. They have been strong and courageous for each other, on behalf of each other, and with each other. They give strength to one another and receive strength from each other.

Loyalty. In a word, faithful. My parents have many friends and acquaintances of the opposite sex. But they have observed and respected undeniable boundaries, remaining loyal and faithful to each other from before their wedding. They are truly each other’s one and only.

Perseverance. Definition: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Nothing could be more true of two people in this world than the perseverance of my mom and dad. They have faced insurmountable odds, endured betrayal by those they considered friends, survived financial hardships, and suffered the heartache of their extremely rebellious children. But they have stayed the course. Unwavering in their faith and their commitment to prayer, my parents have walked what they talk.

Unity. Oneness. “The state of being one.” I remember growing up, there was no playing one against the other in our house. Mom and Dad always presented a united front to my brother and me. Even if they might have disagreed behind closed doors, we never knew it. Mom and Dad truly enjoy each other’s company and have made their friendship a huge part of their marriage.

My parents are not perfect. They have disagreements and spats. They get frustrated with each other. And there have probably been at least a couple of occasions when they questioned their sanity. But they have, over the years, taken a blank canvas and painted a beautiful picture of commitment, strength, loyalty, perseverance, and unity. In their 55 years of marriage, that canvas has become a masterpiece. And I, for one, am grateful to have watched these two artists at work, at play, at home. Together.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you.

This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

800 Feet in the Air

My family and I went on a week’s vacation to Florida last week, compliments of a Christmas present from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) We moved to our new home in early April and I hadn’t needed our luggage until last week.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

So we opted for Plan B: everyone packed their own duffel bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m usually a complete nut about everything being packed, perfectly organized, in its proper space, folded correctly. Not this year. It was every man, woman, boy, and girl for themselves.

We started out early in the morning and between GPS and the directions provided by the resort we managed to turn a 5-1/2 hour trip into 7+ hours. For all her engaging British-accent instructions, Miss GPS led us astray. By the time we arrived at our destination we were an engaging mix of slap-happy and belligerent, which is probably the reason I misunderstood the directions to our room provided by the smiling young lady at the front desk.

The kids and I unloaded the ‘luggage’ while Richard went to park the car. What we thought was a direct route to our room took us to a revolving door that launched us out onto the ocean-front pool deck. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies trekking across the landing with our mis-matched duffel bags, pillows, blankets, and bare feet. I was tempted to call out to the children in my best redneck accent, “Looky thar, kids, it’s a cement pond!”

A kind (and slightly embarrassed) security guard rescued us and escorted us straight to our room. Oh, the stories he must tell his family at the end of a shift!

We enjoyed a week of gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful accommodations, late nights, and later mornings. On our last full day the kids decided their big splurge was to go para-sailing. After several phone calls we made an afternoon reservation and headed out for a bite of lunch.

We had a grand total of 12 on the boat, plus two instructors. Eleven of us were flying and Stephen had made it perfectly clear we were NOT going to be the first ones up. He wanted to see what everyone else thought about it before the captain strapped us in. Much to his dismay, we were the very first ones – the chosen ones – to venture up into the Big Blue.

I was not about to let the kids know I was afraid but I have to admit I was a little shaken by the thin strap under my seat, the one (only one) buckle around my waist and the two hooks above my shoulders. This is really the only thing connecting me to that chute and this rope??? 

Because of the weight distribution (no sarcastic remarks, please) I had to be in the middle with the kids on either side. Stephen was none too happy about being on the outside. He had planned to be safely encased between his sister and me.  Rachel, on the other hand, could not get up in the air fast enough. The metal bar to which our hooks were strapped was literally shaking with our fear as the chute inflated and began to take us airborne. Higher, higher, higher: 800+ feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The boat appeared like a toy in that vast expanse of ocean.

I kept reminding myself to breathe while trying to take Stephen’s mind off the fact that we were 800 feet in the air by pointing out how far we could see and how beautiful the water was as we looked out. The thought kept running through my mind, “I wonder what would happen if I just leaned back and let go.”

I didn’t find out.

After about 30 seconds in the air, I noticed Stephen’s legs swinging back and forth. He was smiling, pointing things out here and there across the horizon, and almost laughing out loud. He loves it! He really loves it! Rachel was shouting down to the boat, and at first I looked at her and said, “Shhh, not so loud.” Then I checked myself and laughing out loud, I said, “Go ahead, girlfriend, give it all you’ve got!”

Back on the boat we were all smiles and talking a mile a minute. Stephen couldn’t wait to tell everyone about his adventure once we got back home and it has now been permanently placed on his “all time favorite things” list.

I’ve been thinking about that sky-high ride a lot since last week.  

Sometimes life brings us to a place where we have to hang on with both hands and simply let the chute take us where the wind is blowing. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also exhilarating. The sun is warm, the breeze is perfect, the view is breathtaking. Fear makes us more aware of what’s around us and sometimes we see things we might have otherwise missed. White knuckles and all, you realize you wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

800 feet in the air; and 14 minutes that will last a lifetime.

It’s Really Not A.D.D.

Ready to leave the house yesterday morning, I walked downstairs and noticed the flower pots on the front porch needed a drink of water. So I headed to the kitchen to put some water in a pitcher.

As I stood over the sink ready to fill the pitcher, I noticed a few dishes that needed to go in the dishwasher. While I was shifting the pile from sink to dishwasher I came across an item of some sort that didn’t belong in the dishwasher – its home was in the trash can. So I walked over to the pantry where the trash can is kept out of sight.

The trash can was full (as always). Removing the lid, I wrapped and twist-tied the bag and took it outside to the big trash can. Walking back across the patio, I stopped to ‘dead-head’ a few petunia pots and a basket of impatiens, observing that they were the perfect dampness for that time of morning.

Back inside the house to put a new bag in the trash can, I noticed a trail of ‘something’ brown and icky across the floor that had apparently dripped out of the trash bag. I took the mop out of the pantryand gave the floor quick once-over to clean up the mess; back to the pantry to put a new bag in the trash can.

As I reached for the trash bag I noticed a plastic Home Depot bag with some items that my husband needed to return. Better move this right now, I thought and walked back outside to his truck where I laid the bag on the front seat. Back to the pantry and finally, a new bag was in the trash can.

I turned around towards the sink (why is that pitcher sitting out on the counter?) and remembered I had left my cell phone upstairs on top of the dryer. I walked upstairs to retrieve my phone and realized that the washing machine cycle was finished and the clothes were now ready to go in the dryer. I put my phone down (big mistake) and moved the clothes, set the dryer cycle, and trotted back downstairs.

Grabbing my purse, ready to go, I opened the door to the garage. Remembering that I wanted to take yogurt with me, I turned around and went back to the kitchen. When I opened the refrigerator, an opened stick of butter fell out – someone had forgotten to close the little plastic lid on the shelf where the butter sits. I grabbed a paper towel (the last one) and cleaned up the butter mess on the floor.

I went to the cabinet under the kitchen sink where the extra roll of paper towels is kept.  By now I had to go to the bathroom, which was thankfully right by the kitchen. And which I discovered was out of toilet paper. Back upstairs to the closet where bathroom supplies are kept. Downstairs again to the bathroom (why didn’t I just go while I was up there?)

Out to the garage again, I got in the car, hit the garage door button and reached for my phone, which was still upstairs on top of the dryer. Okay, really? This is getting ridiculous! Another trip back inside the house, upstairs to grab my phone, and finally out the door.

About halfway down the driveway, I remembered the yogurt. Forget it, I told myself. At least I had my purse, my keys, my phone, and matching shoes. Thank the Lord my head is attached at all times to my shoulders.

Pulling out onto the street, I looked up at the house and muttered to myself, “Oh yeah, I forgot to water the flower pots.”

I don’t have A.D.D. – I have T.M.D…. Too Many Distractions! 

Taking the First Plunge

I wrote recently about our impending move to a new home (see, The Beauty of Transition on this blog site). Well, last week was not only Spring Break for our county school system, it was our week to move. Sometime soon I will blog about all the God-orchestrated events that brought us to this place. But my emotions are raw and my body is tired so for right now, let me share with you a few thoughts about packing, unpacking, and moving lives.

Our very first day brought an unexpected and wonderful surprise. A friend of mine had called and told me she would help. I wasn’t really sure what I would ask her to do that first day because we had only so much packed and we were going to take it slow. You know, pace our selves. Well, she showed up with a carload of high school boys who spent the next several hours moving everything they could get their hands on. She said, “Dawn, you know I refuse to break a sweat but I sure don’t mind making these boys work!” She helped orchestrate moving some major pieces of furniture and we ended the day excited, deeply grateful, and way ahead of the game.

The funny thing was that when the guys were moving a couple of particularly special pieces I had told them in the event of an impending fall to get out of the way. The furniture might be antique, but their lives could not be replaced. Come to find out, Richard had just told them a few minutes earlier that if they started to drop something they should sacrifice their bodies, not the furniture!  Thankfully, no one had to sacrifice anything. Everything and everybody survived the afternoon.

We had ideal weather throughout the week. Cool mornings and not-too-hot afternoons allowed us to have windows and doors wide open all week. Our children were incredibly helpful, picking up boxes, moving furniture, and climbing endless flights of stairs. We did everything ourselves except for a 3-hour shift late in the week with three professional movers who looked like they had just walked out of a wrestling arena. Man, those guys were big! And fast, too! Rachel and I were trying to move a mattress while struggling to hold its shape intact as we navigated through the hall and around a corner to the stairs. One of the movers walked up and said, ‘let me get that for you.’ In one quick motion, he threw that mattress across his back and had it in the back of their truck faster than Rachel and I could silently call each other wimps =)

Box after box after box after box made its way to the car, the trunk, the back of the truck, and the trailer. After surveying that every available space was filled, we would convoy over to the new place and unload box after box after box after box. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. We put our kids’ friends to work and bribed them with pizza. Little by little, one room at a time, one house was emptying as the other was filling. We still had a very long way to go, but we were making great progress.

On Wednesday afternoon Stephen, our youngest, asked if we were going to be able to have Easter Sunday dinner on “Grammie’s china”. It is a long-standing tradition that I bring out my paternal grandmother’s beautiful, antique china for Easter Sunday. My dad cooks a beautiful ham (a two-day process that makes my mouth water just thinking about it) and we sit down to a lovely meal around the dining room table. There was no way I could say ‘no, not this year, honey’ but I wondered if it was even remotely possible that we could pull it off in just a few days. On Thursday, my Mom emailed me to say that she and my Dad were preparing the entire meal and if I could just have the table set, Easter Sunday dinner was a go.

And so, amid still unpacked boxes and a mattress leaning against the wall just inside the front door, we sat down to the first of many family celebrations around the dining room table. Grammie’s china was in place, all our favorite side dishes had been prepared (we even had two of the same thing that Mom and I accidentally duplicated!), and Easter Sunday dinner found a new home for the Hoods. Exhausted? Yes. Unpacked? Not by a long shot. But looking around the table at my family, taking the plunge to make a home out of this new place, I felt incredibly blessed, thankful, and satisfied.

And I hadn’t even taken the first bite of that beautiful, scrumptious ham.

When Love Isn’t Pretty

Valentine’s Day. Cupid’s arrow. Hearts. Cards. Balloons. Flowers. Chocolate. And maybe some bling. It’s a day we specifically set aside to show our love in tangible ways. A special dinner or concert, maybe a romantic getaway, or an evening out to see the latest romantic comedy at the theater. February 14th is a day to celebrate and express some of the deepest feelings of the heart.

It’s a beautiful day painted with reds, pinks, whites, and even purples in every possible combination. And isn’t it easy to love when love is easy? When it feels good, when it warms the soul, when it brings uncontainable joy?

But what happens when love isn’t pretty?

I must confess I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. I love romantic novels (real love stories, not the sleazy ones), romantic movies (Somewhere in Time, The Notebook, Sleepless in Seattle) and romantic music (no one does it better than Rachmaninoff and Barry White). But I’ve been reflecting these last few weeks about love. Real love. Enduring love. Love that goes the distance. It’s a very different thing from what we see portrayed on TV commercials and in magazines.

My maternal grandparents were a powerful example of real love. Oh my, how Memaw and PaPa loved each other! My grandmother could walk into the room and PaPa’s face would light up like Christmas morning. Memaw always spoke my grandfather’s name, Charles, with uncontested pride and respect. She genuinely adored being his wife. My PaPa was a preacher for 57 years and Memaw was a faithful preacher’s wife, pianist, Sunday School teacher, mother to five, and elementary school teacher right along beside him. Any time my grandfather expressed his concern about not being a seminary graduate, my grandmother would pat his arm sand say, “Now Charles, you’re a good preacher. And you love your people. Don’t you let anyone make you feel badly about not having a piece of paper on the wall at your office.”  Memaw and PaPa loved their children, their extended family, their neighbors, and their church. But they loved no one the way they loved each other. PaPa kept his good looks all throughout his life and Memaw was careful to keep hers, looking mighty fine for him as well. She still has the prettiest legs of any woman I’ve ever known – and she’s 96!

When my PaPa’s cancer returned aggressively in early 1991, he endured extensive radiation treatments that can only be described as horrific. My grandmother never left his side. When it was time to make arrangements for hospice, she found a nurse to come live with them. But Memaw made it very clear she was his caretaker; the nurse was there only to help her manage his pain. After he passed, through deep sobbing cries she said, “I miss him so much. But I wouldn’t bring him back for anything. He’s whole now and I wouldn’t want to take that away from him.”

That, my friends, is real love.

My paternal grandparents were a beautiful example of love that goes the distance. My Grammie and PawPaw were kind, gracious, respectful of each other and those around them, and hospitable. They loved their family and especially their grandchildren. PawPaw always planted an amazing garden in their enormous backyard and Grammie would surely have hosted a cooking show if The Food Network had been around in her day.  I don’t remember them being openly affectionate with each other but their love and commitment was undeniable. And I do remember upon my first trip home from college, PawPaw actually returned my hug when I threw my arms around his neck.

When doctors confirmed my Grammie’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, we knew it would be difficult. We had no idea how agonizing it would be. My beautiful grandmother, an elegant, strong Southern lady who never had a hair out of place, who taught me to peel peaches and cook fried chicken, who gave me my love for rocking chairs, lost herself in a place too far away for us to reach. I’ll never forget the first time I went to their house and she didn’t recognize me. It was crushing. My PawPaw gently, lovingly, stubbornly cared for her in their home 24/7/365 until it nearly killed him. By the time he finally relented and moved her to a nursing facility, he had not slept more than an hour or two at a time for months.

PawPaw spent every day with her, holding her hand, talking to her, bringing her things that might touch some place deep in the recesses of her mind. When she yelled at him and called him names, he loved her. When she tried to run away in her nightgown, he loved her. When she accused him of holding her hostage and keeping her from her parents (long since passed), he loved her. And when she could no longer communicate at all, he loved her still. He grieved the loss of his beloved Anna Mae for years before death finally released her.

That, my friends, is love that goes the distance.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2001, I was shocked to learn that many of our ‘friends’ told my husband that our marriage would never survive such a traumatic event. “Hang in there as long as you can, Richard,” they told him. “And when it’s finally over, just know you did your best.” That’s not enduring love. Enduring love doesn’t bail when love gets hard. Enduring love digs its heels in and finds a way to stay. And stay he did. Richard was by my side through every surgery, every doctor’s visit, every chemo treatment, every perinatal checkup, every lab appointment, every radiation treatment, every day, every week, every month.

Richard took care of the kids, managed my care, maintained the schedule of meals and house cleanings, and stayed on top of Alex’s homework. He knew when to let me do a little and he knew when to make me stop. He was my bodyguard when people wanted to hug me too soon after a surgery, my protector when strangers turned away from my bald-headed, pregnant, one-breasted self, and my personal comedian when we needed to add a little salt to our very full plate. There were many things we were afraid to confess to each other during that time; things maybe the other one of us hadn’t thought about yet. But leaving was never one of them. Richard is loyal to the core. And he would take on the devil himself for his family.

That, my friends, is enduring love.

All these examples point me to a greater love – undoubtedly the best example ever provided to humanity. His wasn’t pretty either. Subjected to cruel mocking and bitter hatred, an inhumane beating and a torturous crucifixion, Jesus showed us what love looks like when it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. His was a real love which valued obedience to his Father over his own comfort and convenience; an enduring love that bore the shameful, humiliating penalty of our sin on his own sinless body. Love that felt no bitterness, hatred, or judgment towards the one who betrayed him, only deep sorrow. Love willing to go the distance, even unto death on a cross, willing to do whatever it took to defeat Love’s enemy which he triumphantly accomplished on that glorious third day.

For your sake. For my sake. For eternity’s sake.

As we exchange cards, flowers, gifts, and our affection on Valentine’s Day, let us remember the greatest love of all, expressed in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world [real love] that He gave His only son [enduring love], that whosoever believes in him should have everlasting life [love that goes the distance].”

Love that loves when it isn’t pretty.

Scrabble With God

After my cancer diagnosis years ago I had a small window of time between my last surgery and the first of four chemotherapy treatments. My ‘chemo cocktail’, Adriamycin and Cytoxan (known affectionately to us cancer insiders as A/C), would cost me my hair, my energy, and very possibly the child I was carrying. At the time, some precious friends of ours owned a cabin nestled deep in the mountains of north Georgia. They generously offered to let me have a mini-retreat there, providing a much-needed opportunity to clear my head and focus on what we were about to undertake. I tend to be rather introspective and, unlike my husband who would have chosen this time to be immersed in family and friends 24/7, I really wanted and needed some time alone.

Richard was concerned about me going so far away by myself, especially where cell phone coverage would be minimal, so we invited my ‘chocolate chip cookie’ friend, Alison, to join me.

A little back-story: The day I received my diagnosis (over the phone) was one of the longest, most bizarre days of my life. Time stood still in a way but also seemed to suddenly spin wildly out of control. A friend of mine recently described it as “frozen, but moving.” I became a cancer survivor, patient, victim, and fighter in a matter of seconds. By evening we were all completely exhausted. I had just finished giving Rachel her bath – she was 2 ½ at the time – and had walked into the kitchen to make chocolate chip cookies for Richard and our older son Alex. They had seen a commercial on TV while I was bathing Rachel and a nice plate of comfort food with a glass of cold milk sounded pretty good to all of us.

As our little Rachel was helping me find the cookie dough in the refrigerator, we heard a knock at the front door. Honestly, I wondered who on earth would be coming over at this late hour and headed through the family room to see who had come for a visit. When I opened the door, the unmistakable delicious aroma of chocolate hit my nose. There stood my friend, Alison, with a basket of homemade fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Flashing that celebrity smile of hers, she stepped inside and said, “I didn’t know what to do except pray and bring chocolate!” We laughed. We hugged. We cried. We ate every one of those cookies.

Now back to my mini-retreat: Alison and I agreed that this was not going to be a trip for shopping and gallivanting. We have similar personalities and she was one of the few people in my life who truly understood my need for solitude. Heading out early one Wednesday morning we enjoyed some specifically chosen CDs on our beautiful drive into the trees. We found the cabin after only one wrong turn and it took just a few minutes for us to unpack and become acquainted with our surroundings. The cabin was gorgeous – beautifully decorated and perfectly inviting. Smiling photographs of family and friends were everywhere and I instantly felt a sense of peace and calm about my time there. The sun was warm and high in the sky so Alison and I ventured out for a walk.

We walked quietly together, winding our way through the trees and embracing the chill in the air. As much as I was enjoying the simple therapy of being surrounded by all things natural, Alison could sense that I was running out of steam. “Hey, why don’t we head back? I’m about ready for a bite to eat. How about you?” I agreed and we soon found ourselves back inside, deciding on popcorn and an apple for our snack. We were thrilled to find an enormous deck on the back side of the cabin complete with oversized rocking chairs and a breathtaking view of those rolling north Georgia mountains.

I grabbed a blanket to wrap around my legs and was rocking gently, watching the sun change the sky as it began to settle. Alison broke the silence by asking, “Have you ever played Scrabble with God?” My raised eyebrows answered for me. She explained that this was a game she had been playing for years by simply laying out a Scrabble board, choosing random tiles, building random words, and when no more tiles could be used, looking at the board as a whole and reflecting on what was there. I decided to give it a go. At first we joked and laughed a bit about some of the funny, crazy combinations we could design and how the words played off each other. But the more I pulled those random tiles from the table, the more focused I became. This game was drawing me in. It was truly as if God was allowing me to see words in my tiles before they were even a conscious thought.

When the board was full and I couldn’t build anything more with the remaining tiles, Alison and I began to read the words aloud. I don’t remember all of them, but I do specifically recall words like faith, joy, courage, family, spirit, and hope. I’m sure my frame of mind made me more attune to such words but still, the tiles didn’t lie. I hadn’t exchanged any, hadn’t turned in my slate for a do-over, or manipulated any of the letters. It was a simple yet profound way of God reminding me that He was very aware…and He was there. Alison and I sat quietly and watched a beautiful sunset paint its way into darkness before going inside. The rest of our time together was exactly what my doctor – the Master Healer – had ordered: I read, I wrote, I prayed, I laughed, I slept, I cried a little.

We arrive back home a few days later and I felt refreshed, focused, even energized.

Scrabble with God. Just one more beautiful way in which He reminds us that we are never far from His heart. Or His hand.

“Be careful – you’re gonna’ reap what you sow.” Remember hearing these words spoken from someone older (and probably wiser)?

I certainly do. I found myself on the receiving end of this admonishment from grandmothers, parents, teachers, my parents’ friends, neighbors, you name it. Having been born and raised in the South, this little nugget of truth wedged itself in my brain right alongside the more classic, “you ain’t got no dog in that fight” (translation, mind your own business) and “bless her heart, every dog has to have a few fleas” (translation, no one is perfect).

Of course, I also learned at a very early age that we could say anything about anybody as long as it was preceded by “bless her heart”.

Ahhh, how I love the South! But, that’s another blog for another day…

Karma; consequences; GIGO, the iconic ‘garbage in, garbage out’ which originated with the IRS during its shift to computer science in the early 60s.  Whatever terminology you use, it boils down to the same thing: if you do good stuff, you’ll get good stuff back; if you don’t, you won’t.  Now, try this on for size:

Hosea 8:7, “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

This tiny little verse in the tiny little book of Hosea takes the concept to a whole new level. These words introduce the principle that we actually reap exponentially MORE than what we sow; ‘they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’. I like the idea of reaping more than what I sow when it’s in the positive; but wow, not so much the negative. As I reminisce through the years, I can think of very specific examples where both these principles have played out in my own life and the lives of those around me. What about you? Are you able to temporarily see through the glasses of your past and examine where you have reaped – for the better or worse – what you have sown?

Our children begin to experience this at an early age: if they play nicely and use their manners, the reward is praise and encouragement – and sometimes an ice cream cone! Conversely, when children lie or act out inappropriately towards another, the consequence takes on varying forms of discipline. Discipline is a tricky thing these days, ranging in severity from the Time Out chair (or corner) to having the Hand of Knowledge applied to the Seat of Understanding (my dad preferred the latter but hey, I’m old school). Hopefully, these life lessons are engrained in our psyche very early on. But all too often as adults, I think we challenge this truth and try to beat the system. Minor offenses, ‘little white lies’, nothing significant or alarming to those around us. Until the whirlwind hits.

We behave based on the mindset that we are above negative or unpleasant consequences. We are not.

There are laws in nature: survival of the fittest; predator versus prey; gravity; the cycle of the tides. There are laws in life as well and this one is a classic. I’m taking this new month in this new year to re-examine some of the actions I take for granted and my mindset behind them. There’s some sowing I need to do and some sowing I need to stop. As my best friend shared with me recently, “if you don’t like the dance, change the steps.”

If you’re currently reaping an unpleasant whirlwind, may I encourage you to take a closer look at what you’re sowing?  And if you’re in that wonderful place where you are reaping a bounty and experiencing a refreshing whirlwind of blessing, be thankful…and do a happy dance!

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