Remembering Mama

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Mama died four years ago today, and I think of her everyday. She was, and still is, more than a mama. She and I were kindred spirits who understood and loved one another in a special way. Mama wasn’t like everyone else, and neither am I. Since her death, I’ve come to love who I am, and I know she would be very happy about that. She was always trying to warn me that I was different and not to let that hurt me when others didn’t understand. Unfortunately, I’ve let a lot of people hurt me and even more convince me I needed to be someone other than who I am.

Being loved just as I am changed all that, and that love has enabled me to love myself just the way I am.  Mama was trying desperately to tell me something before she died, and I believe it was to not give a flying flip what other people thought and to just be me:) I’m sorry to say that I’ve allowed my fear of disappointing others to guide my heart for most of my life. Christ’s precious love has changed all that since mama died, and I’m happy to say that my heart is finally wide open. I am free to be who God created me to be instead of who I or others think I should be. That makes sense to mama and me; but if it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s okay too:)

The lessons in witness have been about being who I am, loving others as they are, and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest. I used to think I had to be who I could never be and get others to be the same. It sounds silly now, but that’s the story of my life. I eventually do get it, but it takes me a little longer than most:)

Mama’s name was Mary, and God placed another Mary in my path yesterday to remind me that being different a good thing in His eyes.

 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary,  for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'” Luke 10:38-42 NASB

All the commentaries have a different take on this story, but the meaning for me yesterday was crystal clear. It’s okay to be who I am even if I or others do not understand. Mary and Martha are very different, and that’s okay. What isn’t okay is thinking that others should be like me or trying to get God to make them do what I want them to do or be who I want them to be. I’ve always loved Mary and can relate to her in this story because, like her, I would most likely be caught sitting at Jesus’ feet and not paying any attention to whether or not it was the proper or right thing to be doing. I know the dishes have to be washed, and I’ll eventually get to them. I’m listening to Jesus right now, and that’s all that matters:)

I wore mama’s favorite Fourth of July shirt yesterday. She used to say, “Doesn’t this look good on me?” when she wore it. I always smiled and said, “Yes, it does mama. Yes, it does!!”

Gigi & Lilly on the 4th

Happy Endings & Happy Father’s Day :)

Today would be daddy’s 97th birthday if he were still alive. Foy Hart Holden was a man who lived his life with a determination to be more than a farmer in the mountains of western North Carolina. While gardening was something daddy loved to do, he did not want it to be his occupation. Like his father, Flave, daddy loved making things grow, but he was not going to live on a farm for the rest of his life. Foy was the oldest of nine children, and he often went along on his father’s trips to Greenville, South Carolina to sell vegetables at the market. He loved the trips, and I’m sure they fueled his desire to leave the mountains.

Daddy, mama, and Ann did move to Atlanta as soon as he got out of the army. Mama hated Atlanta and cried for a year after they moved. Daddy would not return to the mountains, so they ended up settling in Hickory, North Carolina. Mama could see her beloved mountains, and daddy could have his city life, even if it wasn’t a big city as he would have preferred. Once, on a visit to see me in the mountains, daddy told me that he worked his tail off to get out of the mountains, and I ran right back to up to them. He asked me what that said about me, and I told him that it said I was smarter than he was. I could see a little grin on his face as he realized I might be right, for once:)

Daddy was discontent much of the time, and I believe his angst was about always wanting more. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but dreams were deferred in both his and mama’s life. When I read the poem, “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, I think of my parents. Mama’s did “crust and sugar – over like a syrupy sweet” and daddy’s would “explode” on occasion when he turned to alcohol to relieve his stress. I bore the brunt of those explosions, but I remember and thank God for is the happy ending He gave to daddy and me.

Tyler and I were in Hickory for a visit when daddy had a stroke. Mother didn’t wake me up when it happened because she wasn’t sure what was happening. I immediately called the hospital when I saw him, and they told me it would be best for me to bring him in rather than call an ambulance. He was calm and had been up most of the night talking nonsense. We didn’t want to scare him, so I told him we were going for a ride. I’ve never been more afraid in my life.

The hospital was being renovated, and they had given me directions for navigating the construction. It turned out that daddy and I had to walk a distance to get where we needed to go, and I wasn’t sure he could make it. I was shocked at his childlike manner. He did whatever I asked him to do without complaint or his usual colorful vocabulary. I knew something was terribly wrong, and that was verified when we saw the doctor.

I was surprised by the calm demeanor of the doctor. He began a conversation with daddy and acted as though we were all sitting on the porch sipping lemonade. I expected more rushing around and thought they would whisk daddy away as soon as we walked in. I listened and kept quiet while the doctor asked daddy questions about the date, the president, the news, and his family. I did my best not to let daddy see the shock on my face as his answers showed serious problems with his thought process. I’d never seen anything quiet so confusing, but the doctor seemed to know what he was doing. He looked at me, smiled, and said calmly that daddy was fine, but they wanted to keep him overnight so he could rest. He sure didn’t seem fine to me, but I breathed a sign of relief at the news and left when they said they needed to get him ready.

My nephew, Steven, was at the hospital by the time the interview was over, and I told him what the doctor had just told me. He quickly went to call my sister and her husband who were at the beach on vacation. As soon as Steven came back from making the calls, the doctor came out of the room where the interview had taken place. He looked directly at me and said in a very different tone that daddy had suffered a massive hemorrhaging stroke at the base of his brain, and he should be dead. Steven and I were shocked and realized the conversation in front of daddy was simply to keep him calm. Now that he wasn’t in the room, the doctor’s calm dissipated, and he was clearly rushing to find answers in regard to treatment. Steven returned to the hallway to make new calls, and I called my other two sisters with the news. I decided to tell mother the candy-coated version until my sisters arrived.

I went looking for daddy and found him lying on a gurney in the hallway. I saw something I had never seen before, fear in my daddy’s eyes. This mountain of a man who put fear into me for so much of my life was suddenly looking at me with eyes that spoke volumes, but his mind and mouth forbid communicating. I didn’t need to hear his words; I saw love and sorrow in his eyes and knew without hearing what he was thinking in that brief moment of clarity God provided for our hearts. I held his hand and told him that I loved him and that I knew he had loved me the best way he knew how. I told him I had no hard feelings and would not leave him alone. I wish I could explain the exquisite feeling of freedom his look and my words brought to my heart, but there aren’t words that describe the peace that surrounded both of us for a beautiful moment before he was whisked away. 

Daddy healed physically, but his mind was never the same. He was confused about so very much, but he always knew who I was and brightened up when he saw me. He was a die-hard Democrat before the stroke, but all he talked about after his stroke was George and Barbara Bush. He was convinced they came to see him on a regular basis. I think he might have had a crush on Barbara because he talked about her the most. I agreed with everything daddy said and enjoyed our new relationship and our interesting conversations. It was the happy ending my heart needed, and I thank God for the healing and the love that took place between daddy and me.

Life is very short, but love goes on forever. When I think of daddy now, I think of those silly conversations about George and Barbara Bush or the fact that he thought he was in charge of the rehabilitation home where he spent his last days walking up and down the hallway making sure everyone was okay. Daddy was a worker, and he taught me much about working and about making a living. I thought of him on Thursday when God made me decide if I was going to live in His Spirit or in my flesh.

God reminded me that He and daddy agreed on who I was and what was best for my heart. I had to smile because I could see daddy in the background with a big smile on his face, shaking his head in agreement with our heavenly Father. That made the decision much easier, and the image of my daddy and my Father will help me if I ever forget to see myself as they do. Both want me to live and love in God’s Holy Spirit, and I want the same thing. I did inherit my daddy’s stubbornness, and that’s handy when it comes to making a decision and sticking to it. I pray it will help me remember that I want my daddy and my Father to be proud of me, and I want to be proud of myself too. As Pastor Jeff reminded me this morning. He is my God and I am His daughter. It was nice to learn that I’m also my daddy’s girl, and he was proud of me this week:)

Happy Father’s Day daddy!! I love you and thank you and my heavenly Father for helping me take a very big step this week. I know I can live and love in God’s Spirit with the help of both my fathers:)

Dead Ends

God placed the image of a very familiar dead end street in my heart this morning. I haven’t thought about Mrs. Norton in a very long time, but God reminded me of the strange little woman who lived near my childhood home. Mrs. Norton captured my imagination as I watched her walk up and down our street each day, talking to herself and ignoring all of us. There were many rumors about her, and I was shocked to learn that she had once been a school teacher. Her husband was dead, and she lived in an old Victorian home that was in a little glen at the end of a dead end street near my home.

Mrs. Norton had long toenails that curled upward, and her cheeks were covered with rouge. Her hair was a mess and her clothing disheveled. Anytime I asked about Mrs. Norton, my mother would warn me not to talk to her. She also told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to go anywhere near her home. One day, my sister Edie and I threw caution to the wind and decided we were going to see the inside of her home. Curiosity got the best of us, so we ignored mama’s warnings and headed down that dead end street.

The house had been grand at one point in time, but that point was long gone. There were rumors that she had once been a very wealthy woman. Her house had the appearance of the classic haunted house, and my knees were knocking as we walked up the rickety steps to knock on the door. I’m sure Mrs. Norton was used to kids knocking on the door and running away. The windows of her home were broken, so I suppose some threw rocks to prove their courage. Our curiosity was stronger than our common sense, so we waited for her to come to the door.

She did come to the door and even asked us to come in. I thought of Hansel and Gretel and of mama’s warnings as we ventured in. She was kind and told us to stay near her because the floor was filled with holes and stacks of all sorts of things. I remember the books; they were everywhere! It was dark and musty inside, and there were cobwebs on everything. She brushed them aside as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, but I didn’t like brushing against them! I don’t remember much about that visit, but I do remember that she gave us books. We ran home excited about our adventure and our treasure.

Mama was not happy when she saw those books and found out where we had gotten them. She never did spank me and rarely raised her voice, but she put Edie and me in the tub and scrubbed us until we were pink all over. She was especially attentive to our hair, and I suppose she was concerned about lice. The books went straight into the garbage can, and our clothes were put on the back porch. Edie and I never went back to Mrs. Norton’s, but we had a grand adventure that we shared with the kids in the neighborhood. We both decided it wasn’t worth another one of mama’s scrubbings to revisit her. Besides, she said she would tell daddy if we ever did it again!

Mrs. Norton lived on a dead end street in more ways than one, and I’ve been on too many of those dead end roads myself. God reminded me that a dead end is a wonderful place to hide my heart, and it can even be a happy trail; but it leads to nowhere. I’m learning that walking in God’s kingdom is much better than happy trails and dead ends. Joy comes from obeying and trusting Him, and I love enjoying what God so graciously gives. He asks that I give Him everything for a reason. If I don’t, I’ll never be able to get off those dead end streets. Mrs. Norton was stuck in the past and could not move forward. I may not have her appearance, but I have shared her desire to hold on to what I have lost. I see now that I miss all God has for me in His present and presence when I dwell on that dead end street.

There are many folks in this world like Mrs. Norton who have given up or shut themselves away from the world. It’s not easy to move on when love is lost, and separation from love is the definition of hell. I wish I had been able to learn more about her story because I’m sure it would explain her odd appearance and behavior, but I pray remembering her will make me more mindful of those in my path who are on a dead end street and need a little love. 

An Out of Body Experience

Walking in God’s kingdom is an out of body experience that requires the faith to go when I do not see and do what I do not understand. 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 says it powerfully.

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” NASB

My body gets me into trouble when I get too comfortable in it. These verses and the ones that follow were at the heart of the message at Jack Lyday’s funeral yesterday. He was a believer with tremendous faith. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 addresses such faith.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”NASB

I lose heart if I focus upon this temporary vessel, but I can experience beautiful glory beyond all comparison if I gaze at my beautiful Savior and remember that it’s His temple and not my own. Walking in God’s kingdom requires faith, and I cannot get out of this body without it. I found yesterday that I couldn’t think of Jack without grinning, and I know he would appreciate that. In fact, I could see his amazing smile as I heard God’s sweet Word read. Pastor John reminded me that Jack told everyone he met that he was a believer, and he always said it with a glorious grin. He walked his life in God’s kingdom and trusted God with powerful faith that others saw clearly. If I do the same, I can smile as Jack always did, especially when I talk about my beloved Savior.

Being absent from the body isn’t easy, and I slip back into it often. Like a favorite shirt or pair of shoes, it bids me to relax and stop this out of body nonsense. My body isn’t the only one who feels more comfortable when I stay in it. Some insist that I stop my folly and get back where I belong! Staying in the body is easy and makes everyone comfortable. Well, everyone but God, and He’s the only one I want to please. I love being present with Him. God’s presence trumps any pleasure or escape I get from staying in this body. I think I’ll just keep on listening to Him and walk in His kingdom with the grin full of the glory God’s presence gives me now and will give me even more when I am one with Him in heaven. I know God and Dot had a glory-filled grin when Jack joined them. I look forward to seeing God’s grin myself one day. Until then, I plan to stay out of this body as much as possible and focus upon pleasing God and God alone.

Crusade or Revival?

The Crusades were the darkest days of Christianity. There is nothing noble about forcing people to believe as you believe. There is nothing gallant about galloping around the globe in concerted effort to promote your agenda or eliminate everyone else’s. I am guilty of being mesmerized by knights in shining armor and tales of princesses being recused by them. I’ve had my share of knights and knaves on this journey, but I repent my fascination with that time period. There is nothing romantic or wonderful about it. There is no body count for how many died in those senseless holy wars, and there is no count of the tears that fell from heaven as countless men, women, and children were slaughtered in God’s name.

The difference between a crusade and a revival is that one comes from the efforts of groups on the outside and one comes from a renewal within an individual. Spring is a beautiful example of such a renewal. I can go out armed with shovels and fertilizer and force plants to either bloom or die, but that stops the process of breaking through the cold earth on their own and results in a short-lived, painful imitation of true renewal. 

Crusades  thrived on an “us/they” mentality. Revival involves a “me/God” realization. There is a world of difference between the two. God can have a crusade if He so desires, and Jesus could have performed the most amazing trick ever by pulling His hands away from those hate-filled nails on the far left and far right, bringing havoc down upon this world in a way that would have left us believing in a different sort of Savior. Maybe He would even have a shining knight’s suit of armor. We would still be quaking and doing whatever He said for us to do. He chose to die. He chose to love. He chose to forgive. He chose to extend mercy and grace. It’s what we must also choose to do. It’s much easier to wield a sword in a safe suit of armor, but God knows better than anyone that force doesn’t work when it comes to love.

Revival comes from God, and it comes one person at a time. It’s the feeling of seeing how the love of God is working in the life of another and wanting the same thing. It’s coming to the realization that it is God in that person that makes a difference and letting God come to me in the same way. I have a dear friend who loves God more than anyone I know. When I first heard him speak of God, I knew I wanted what he had. I have it now, but I learned that the process of getting it involves more than simple imitation. More people die in a revival than in a crusade because everyone who experiences revival dies. You cannot be revived if you are alive and kicking on your own terms. Surrender is necessary for revival, and that means going in a new direction. There is nothing more difficult than leaving the known and stepping into the unknown. It takes great faith and personal sacrifice, but the resulting peace truly is beyond our understanding.

Not everyone involved in those hate-filled Crusades died, but Christ’s love was trampled into the ground where the blood of those who did die flowed. Holy wars trample upon God’s heart and bring the very thing He hates the most, division. I pray we learned our lessons from those first disastrous attempts at forcing religion down the hearts of others. I look around today and see the anger and contempt that comes from mixing politics and religion, and it breaks my heart. I know it breaks God’s too. In a true revival, there is no agenda. There is only love. In a crusade, there is no love. There is only an agenda. 

Words Are Not Necessary

When praying and loving, words are not necessary. In fact, the lesson yesterday was that weeping is praying and loving at a deep level. As I wept, I wasn’t consciously praying or loving, but I felt a sweet sense of relief and love. God hears my heart more clearly when my mind and mouth are still, and nothing silences them like weeping. Words are not only not necessary when loving and praying, they often get in the way. When I offer consolation, advice, or comfort, I never know what to say. When I pray, I am the same way.

The most important lessons so far in the path to the praying life have been about words. All who know me, know I love words, but I’m getting better with silence and am very thankful for God’s patience in that regard. I have practiced prolonged silence at the reflection center, but I have difficulty with silence around others. I have a need to fill the space, but I’m learning to give up that space to God and be still. There is nothing like silence to help the spirit and heart draw near to God, and there is also nothing like silence when it comes to worshipping and loving Him. I love raising my voice in praise, and I will sing as long as I have breath in me; but silence is the sweetest worship.

I sat for a long while yesterday and watched the beautiful horizon. After a week of crying and a morning of weeping, my heart lifted in God’s presence. The sounds from above blessed my spirit and I thanked God for Mylah and Lillyann’s healing. They have a way to go before they are up and running, but they are on the mend. While they are sick, only mommy will do, so I know Gina is worn thin. I’ve thought of God as I’ve seen the girls cling and even fight over mommy’s lap. I am the same way when I’m hurting; I want God, and nothing or no one else will do. That was the message this week. The only way to survive grief here is to have God at the center of my heart and life. Only His Holy Spirit can offer hope when I am hurting. Nothing or no one else will do.

I may have a tough day today as two little girls go through mommy withdrawal. I’m hoping they are well enough to play and eat, so I can fill in for her while she’s away at school. I’m sure mommy will have Mylah and Lilly withdrawal as well because I’m ready for some little girl time myself:)

Good Grief

I didn’t expect to find myself kneeling and weeping with abandon on the altar this morning, but that’s just where I found myself. God is calling me to be part of worship in two places right now, and that’s not something I understand. I have learned not to question His ways, but sometimes He confounds me. Perhaps He knows I’ll get lost in the confounding and find Him. I love both places and know He is present and alive in both. It’s a rare blessing to find someone willing to speak the truth with love, and both Pastor John and Pastor Jeff do just that. 

The deaths this week, especially Dorothy’s, left me numb. I’ve heard five amazing messages this week, and the message this morning touched me more deeply than I was prepared to be touched. God knew it was time to weep for mama. I put off weeping four years ago. I cried and cried and cried, but I didn’t weep until today. Weeping with abandon in front of others isn’t something I would have chosen to do, and it’s far too personal and intimate to do in from of others, but God knows that weeping together is part of the grieving process. I felt a sense of release on that altar that can only come when I let go of everything and let God and others hear my heart and my hurt.

It isn’t easy to let others hear my heart, but weeping frees the spirit and opens the heart as nothing else. As I watched Pastor Jeff, a big strong man, tear up as he talked of his own journey, the way was wide open for me to do the same. Letting others see our vulnerability opens doors for ourselves and others. Jesus wept openly for Lazarus. He was a very strong man who loved his friend dearly. Perhaps He cried because He knew he was bringing his friend back into a world of pain. Perhaps he cried because he knew Lazarus had suffered and would suffer again at the hands of death. 

Christ gives me hope and is my strong center. That was the beautiful message this morning. God’s grief is good grief because He is my hope, my comfort, my rock, and my redeemer. He never moves or changes, and that is the best news of all. There will always be weeping and loss in this world, but I can walk in God’s kingdom and chose to grieve as He grieves knowing that I can grieve with Him and share my grief and His love with those in my path. I will weep until I am with God in heaven, and I learned today that weeping is a very powerful form of prayer. That changes my journey in a most beautiful way. That’s good grief, and I thank God for showing me the difference between the world’s way of grieving and His.