The Old Kitchen Table

I cannot remember a time in my life that the forty-four-inch round, solid oak table was not present in my family. When I was a toddler, my mother purchased it at an unfinished furniture store. She spent weeks sanding, staining and finishing what would be a piece of furniture to last for generations. She purchased five ladder back chairs to put around the table not knowing at the time that her prize piece of furniture would serve the family long after she was gone from this earth. The oak table sat in her kitchen for fifty-four years and welcomed anyone who stepped through the door a place to sit, drink a cup of coffee and converse about hometown gossip, recipes, the weather and their children among many other topics of that day. There were many games of dominos and cards played on the surface as well. The table was a gathering place for recreation, rest, vulnerability and connection.

Forty-four inches is a small area for a family of five. However, it was in this tight circle where, as children we learned to say grace, listen to each other laugh, cry, and practice our best manners. Our family gathered around every evening, sitting in the tall back chairs that held each of our places just as a page marker in a book, to partake of a hot meal together and review the day’s events. For eighteen years, I had my designated place where I felt complete acceptance by the other four people seated around me. It didn’t matter what happened during the course of the day, I knew and felt the unconditional love as we sat elbow to elbow, knee to knee each evening. The kitchen table was a place of encouragement, learning, and the building of dreams year after year. It was steady. It was certain. It was a safe place.

The table has never been refinished. The edges are worn smooth where arms of the past, weak and strong once rested. The pedestal legs are a bit crooked from being kicked but are still sturdy, never wavering. There are rings embedded from hot cups without saucers and deep scratches caused by toys being drug across the top. Eyes cannot see but, there are also lots of tear stains soaked deeply into the surface as well, tears of sorrow and tears of joy. Each of the stains, scars, and tears serve as a reminder of past generations, stories told of heartache and triumph, lessons learned, and love shared. May the circle be unbroken.

Hold It

#Bloganuary Challenge 31, “How do you feel when you look at the stars?”

Two weeks ago, after the sun stopped casting its long shadows on the horizon and the black canvas of night took over the earth, my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter stepped outside on the front porch. Tilting her head back, she cupped her little hands, extended both arms upward and said, “Hold it?”. She was mesmerized by the site of the bright orange moon suspended in the atmosphere. In her best form of communication, “Hold it?”, she was requesting that I pluck the moon from the galaxy for her to hold just as she would cradle a large orange bouncing ball in her hands.

The over-powering lights of the city tend to dull the brightness of heavenly lights but, when I find myself outside of the city’s hustle, noise, and screaming neon, there is no greater wonder than to experience the illumination of what is miles above my head, the bright yellow sun by day and the moon and stars by night. The vastness of the dark night sky and all that it holds simply cannot be ignored. Stars too many to be counted, all twinkling with the delight of glitter on a child’s art paper or like fireflies on a warm summer evening darting around daring to be caught. Every element in the galaxy, the sun, moon, and stars, established and suspended for the intended purpose of marking seasons and giving light to the earth by the command of God’s powerful voice.

Genesis 1:14-19, And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from night and let them serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years and let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the STARS. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.

When looking up into the black of night, my eyes are drawn to the beauty and handiwork of God’s creation. I cannot help but be completely mesmerized just as my granddaughter. My heart resonates with her request as I feel the same when looking into the massive heavens and the miraculous wonder of God’s artwork. I feel as though I too want to lift my hands to the heavens and wish that somehow, I could scoop the luscious orange moon or swoop all of the twinkling stars into a jar like fireflies. My expression, like that of a little child is, “Hold it?” The answer to that question is, yes of course, in your heart with awe and wonder!

Power in Words

“Your words have the power to hurt, to heal, open minds, open hearts and change the world. Never forget the responsibility you have over the words you speak.” (Steven Aitchison). Words are the conduit of life; either giving life or destroying life. In the Bible, Proverbs 12:18 states, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”. Anyone reading this is able to recall examples of words that built them up and words that tore them down, words that pierced like a sword or words that brought healing.

It is through blogging that I use the power of words to encourage others to find healing in their pain and open their minds to a greater being in the universe which hopefully, in some small way brings about positive change in our society. It is sitting in a chair sometimes for hours, banging away at a keyboard that I feel the power of words flowing through my fingertips as my thoughts race wanting to be delivered in written word. On the computer screen these thoughts are brought to life and given power as they are transferred to the reader with a prayer of petition that God would use my words for the good of others. With the light tap of the “submit” button my words have the potential to bring life to a dying world. May we never forget, words have power.

The Beat Goes On

The sun rose in the east this morning just as it has since God spoke light into existence.  A quiet, soft breeze rustled the fresh leaves on the trees.  Hummingbirds whirred around the feeder hanging on the back porch.  Like school children at recess, three squirrels scampered along the top of the fence in a game of chase.  The flowerbeds burst with bright colors of red, yellow, purple, and white.  Branches of the old Loquat tree in the corner of the yard, hung heavy with Loquats waiting to ripen.  The grandchildren always enjoy the harvest and a dose of sweet goodness in the fruit.  A falsetto call came from an agitated Mockingbird diving in large swoops at the neighborhood Tom cat making his morning rounds.  Clouds rolled in to give the vegetation a dose of relief from the heat.  This is the world of nature.  Day in and day out, with perfect order, nature keeps constant rhythm as a pendulum on a clock.

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The news headlines are bleak as COVID-19 blows across the world seeking whom it may devour.  The fortieth case of Corona virus was announced for Houston, Texas  making the worldwide infected number over 200,000 cases.  Our current living population has never experienced the type of chaos and uncertainty as we are experiencing today due to the present pandemic.  The young look to the elderly for answers for which even they, in their years of experience and wisdom have difficulty explaining.  Fear knocks on the doors of our hearts wanting to overtake our sanity.  We ravage the grocery store aisles stocking our pantries with food and an occasional find of scarce hand sanitizer or toilet tissue which allows us to feel in control of the monster we cannot see.  The stock market continues to dive deep.  Some investors watch their life savings slip through their fingers like grains of sand.  The United States of America and the rest of the world is in perceived crisis.

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Seeking a way to escape the bleak news headlines and refocus my life, I strolled around the yard this morning and marveled at the beautiful peace we’ve been given in God’s perfect order.  Because most businesses, schools and public entities are closed to flatten the curve on the potentially deadly Corona virus, the City has less traffic and noise.  An eerie hush hovered on Lilac Street this morning allowing me to turn my thoughts to the landscape of creation.

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Just as the tick-tock of a clock, never missing a beat, the birds sing, flowers bloom, trees bear fruit, animals go about their routine, the rain comes, the sun rises and sets.  Soaking in the freshness of spring, I was reminded of Matthew 6:26-27 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value then they?”.  As I pondered this verse, two black crows landed in the yard each grabbing an earthworm right out of the lush green grass.  They hopped along as they enjoyed God’s provision then seemingly without concern, took to the air in flight.  As the crows flew away, I recalled Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  That was what I was seeking this morning, rest for my weary soul.  Rest from the burdens of dreaded news headlines and reports of doom and gloom we have all been hearing for weeks.  I opened my eyes and heart to the lessons in my environment.  Nature never over-gathers, never questions, or never stalls in its rhythm.   The constant, steady beat goes on, totally dependent on God’s control.

 

 

Ditch Robbing

Loaded with all the necessary tools useful for ditch robbing, along with the prodding of an old friend,  I donned my black rubber boots and headed north on Avenue D to the outskirts of Katy.  I drove under the 30-mph speed limit in order to soak in the change that has taken place since my childhood.  Forty-five years ago, I could name every resident along Ave D as they were my playmates; the ones who did life together.  Most of those homes have now changed owners, exterior paint, and landscaping.  The once innocent childhood of running door to door to collect enough kids to play a game of kickball or mumble peg is gone and is replaced with busyness, traffic, noise and insecurity.  This is called progress.

A small, fast car rode up close behind my bumper and honked.  Obviously, the driver was not reminiscing and didn’t appreciate that I was reminiscing on his time.  If he only knew what used to be…the honk of the horn snapped me back to my mission at hand and the reason for the tools in my car.  The ditches are full of wild Amaryllis this time of year.  They are all the same color, white with touches of pink  veining.  These Amaryllis thrive in warm organic mud.  They love the wet, soggy soil of deep road ditches which at one time all flowed freely with water draining from the vast prairie of rice fields or a welcomed heavy rain.  The long stemmed, wide leafed plants have come and gone for over a century, marking the entrance and passing of each spring.  These beauties are about the only constant among the rapid pace of development and expansion that drives our once small, rice farming community.  Morton, Clay, Beckendorff, and Stockdick School Roads all display these clusters of God’s handiwork.

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Raising the shovel and embedding the steel into the thick mud, I was reminded of the hands that toiled long before me in the same fertile soil.  In his younger years, my dad, Morris Oliver was one of those hands.  His shovel was like his right arm as he labored in the fields moving dirt, making way for the flow of water to irrigate and sustain rice on the Katy prairie.  Many calloused hands before him moved soil and assisted Katy’s agricultural progression. This morning, gripping my shovel like my dad and those settlers before him, I toiled to preserve a small piece of days long passed, by harvesting a wild Amaryllis to be planted and shared, as our beloved Katy presses forward in an ever-changing commercial and residential world.

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I Can’t Sing or Play Piano

Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa.  Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony.  And God made one version of you!  God custom-designed you for a one-of-a-kind assignment – “to each according to each one’s unique ability” (Matthew 25:15).

“The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  Did the apostle Paul say, “The Spirit has given some of us…”?  Or a few of us…?”  No!  “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”

You don’t have to do everything!  You’re not God’s solution to society, you are a solution in society.  Don’t worry about the skills you don’t have.  Don’t covet the strength others do have.  Just extract your uniqueness – to God’s glory! (Max Lucado)

A friend posted on Facebook these encouraging words written by Max Lucado.  I feel they are so worthy of sharing as I find myself at times waring against the feelings of inadequacy as I watch others, with polished skill, changing the world for good.

I can’t sing or play piano which is all I ever really wanted to do.  Because I’m not gifted in either of those areas, I sadly convinced myself that God surely forgot the dose of talent when He created me .  Since I believed I didn’t have any talent, I just needed something to keep my hands busy, so I decided to purchase a sewing machine.  Little did I know that God had a “custom-designed, one-of-a-kind assignment” for me.

Up until this point in my life, I had never had any training in sewing but I have always enjoyed textiles.  I love color and texture.  Beautiful fabrics have tantalized my eyes since I was very young.  With my love for fabric and a new sewing machine, I needed to find a beginner project.  My good friend Sherri, who is an accomplished quilter, encouraged me by teaching me to sew rag quilts.  Once the rag quilt was mastered, we decided to make pillowcases for foster children.  I discovered I can occasionally sew a straight seam!  I found that by not focusing on my inability to sing and play piano, that God really did gift me with a very simple ability to connect beautiful fabrics, by sewing straight seams, into something unique for vulnerable children – His children.

In October of last year, I made contact with a person involved with foster children and offered our service of sewing pillowcases.  He gladly accepted. This was the beginning of “Sweet Dreams for Children” (www.sweetdreamsforchildren.com).  The number of pillowcases needed seemed overwhelming.  We weren’t sure if we could complete the requested amount but we trusted God for the results.  The pillowcases were needed in December for a Christmas party where they would be gifted to foster children of all ages.  Sherri, along with her mother, Jewel and I spent our days and nights buying fabric, matching fabric, cutting fabric, ironing fabric, sewing fabric and dreaming about pillowcases.  Just before Christmas, we had completed seventy-five pillowcases and had them all sorted, labeled, and delivered for the upcoming party.  Although we were exhausted and thought we would never care to sew another pillowcase, six months passed since we made that first delivery and we have jumped in with both feet yet again!

It is our belief the Lord has something bigger in mind and all that we have to do is offer our time, treasure, and talent of simply sewing straight lines, leaving the rest up to Him to use us as He desires. “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”  Today, choose to “extract your uniqueness – to God’s glory!”

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Momma’s Thanksgiving Dressing

“Mix up a large skillet of cornbread.” “It takes LOTS of black pepper.” “Wash the celery really good and use the whole stalk.” “Once you get everything mixed together, taste it, if it’s not right, adjust it.” I stood at the sink today chopping ingredients for Momma’s cornbread dressing. I could hear her words as though she were standing right over my shoulder instructing me like a military colonel. It’s just downright funny how things stick in your mind. I continued chopping and pondering the years I stood, first on a stool, or sitting on the kitchen counter watching her every move until I outgrew those places. There was an unspoken message that this dish was of utmost importance to her.

You see, she passed away three years ago this week, two days before her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. To Momma, Thanksgiving was all about the cornbread dressing. That’s right. I said, “dressing” – stuffing is what sofa cushions are made of and you better not get the two confused. In her kitchen, the turkey could have burned to carbon and the yams could be bitter, but the dressing was always done to perfection. I was an apprentice of cornbread dressing for fifty years, and my Momma learned from her Momma. Truth be told, I probably could have attempted the culinary dish much sooner however, while she taught me everything there is to know about this southern Thanksgiving staple, Momma would never consider allowing me to make it if she was going to eat. She prided herself as an expert and her pride only swelled with the more compliments she received over the years around the family table. As her grandchildren married and brought their spouses to her home year after year, she delighted in watching everyone fill their plates with seconds and then ask for a to-go plate before heading out the door. Nothing pleased her more.

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After her cancer diagnosis, she managed to share with the family one more Thanksgiving and one more performance of preparing a huge pan of dressing which tasted as good as it ever had in past years. In October of the following year, her disease progressed causing severe illness. I was at her house one day sitting with her. She had not been eating well. It was fairly early in the day when out of the blue she asked me to make cornbread dressing. At first, I thought I didn’t hear her correctly. After all, I held the record for apprenticeships. I said, “You want me to make dressing?” This seemed very odd since Thanksgiving was still two months away. With a slight smile she nodded. I moved her to a chair close to the same kitchen where, as a child I had observed her cooking. She sat peacefully and watched my every move. I was careful to do it exactly in the same order and methodically as I had witnessed her, using the same knives, spoons, and bowls that she had used my entire life.

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While I knew how to prepare this dish, I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. My dear Momma was allowing me the honor of preparing this sacred dish for an audience of one, the Queen of Cornbread Dressing. Once it was browned to perfection in the oven, I pulled it out and placed a serving on a small plate and handed it to her. She smiled as if this plate of dressing had brought back all of her fondest memories. In her weakened state, she managed to take a couple of bites. Handing the plate back to me, she looked up in satisfaction and said, “It’s as good as mine.” At that moment, time seemed to stand still. The lump in my throat was uncontainable as I realized that I had just prepared my first and last pan of dressing for my Momma.  I passed muster and a big pan of cornbread dressing.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

Like some of you, I grew up in a small country church singing hymns. Apart from the Word of God, there is just nothing that speaks to me greater than the truth that comes from the lyrics of a gospel hymn. However, I must admit, that while I have found comfort and encouragement over the years as words of a hymn came to mind, I do not believe that I have fully processed the intended message of some of my old favorites to the extent that I did this week with a particular hymn that I learned as a child and have sung many times since.

Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast two and a half months ago. My husband, Bill and I had recently moved back into our completely remodeled home that had taken ten months to finish. We had only enjoyed it for six months when the water from Harvey began to pour under the baseboards from every exterior wall of the house. There was nothing we could do except watch the dirty water rise while listening to weather reports, as we obviously were not the only ones affected by this horrific storm. Flooded out of our house the first night, we slept in our car enjoying background noise through the cracked windows of storm water rushing across the carport. Water lapped against the wheels of the car sounding like a boat moored to the dock as waves roll by, slapping its side.

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During times of disaster, most people as a whole seem to be thankful for their very lives – just to be spared of death, which I certainly was, as well as thankful for the lives of friends and family who were experiencing their own uncertain storm situations. There were many people stuck on rooftops for hours, even days, as they waited for rescue crews to reach them. Sadly, some were not spared death. The water ripped and ravaged with great force throughout southeast Texas. The rising water knew few boundaries and delivered heartache with a vengeance.

Bill and I had to completely vacate our newly remodeled home due to the flood. Once the rain finally stopped, the rebuilding process began. We stood by in utter disbelief as our contractor removed the barely used wood flooring, sheet rock, baseboards, trim, as well as drilled holes in all of the new cabinetry. Painful to watch is an understatement. Nevertheless, I felt I could still praise God that the situation was not any worse, that we were spared our lives and would have a home to return to once repairs were made.

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As construction tends to go, we have had delay upon more delays trying to move toward our quest of returning to the house and resuming some type of normalcy. Because of the devastation to thousands of homes, construction trades have expanding backlogs of work. And with every delay notice, I find my faith being tested. As long as life goes according to my plan, I can praise God but, throw in a time of trial, disruption, or discomfort like we are currently experiencing, I find myself fluctuating between despair and gratitude, between complaining and praise. I ask myself, “Why us?”, “What are we supposed to learn from this?”, “Are you really for us Lord?” I then try to balance that in my mind and my heart with thoughts of thankfulness. “I’m thankful that we can eventually move back into our house”, “I’m thankful for our health”, “I’m thankful that our vehicles did not take on water”, “I’m thankful for the many family and friends who provided food and shelter for us”, so forth and so on… I wrestle daily with these conflicting thoughts.

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Yesterday morning, standing in front of the mirror drying my hair, a hymn mysteriously filled my mind. I began to sing. I had sung it hundreds of times during my lifetime. The words of the hymn freely flowed from my lips, but I sensed my heart wasn’t fully in agreement:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold

I’d rather be his than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land
Yes I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be the king of a best domain and be held in sins dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today
I’d rather have Jesus than worldly applause

I’d rather be faithful to his dear cause
I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things

I’d rather be true to his holy name
Than to be the king of…….

As I continued to sing, I asked myself if I honestly and deeply believed the words that I spoke. The question of truth stopped me in my tracks. Would I rather have Jesus than houses or land? Would I really rather be led by his nail pierced hands? Would I rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today? Would I rather?

According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the hymn, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” is the most difficult message to live into. The battle in the heart caused by the offerings of the world, whether it is riches, relationships, reputation, possessions, comfort, or fame, is difficult. It is not until we fully surrender our complete self and our circumstances, giving up the desire to gain more and have a life of carefree comfort, that we will find real fellowship with our Savior Jesus Christ.

Song video click here: I’d Rather Have Jesus

As we approach week eleven of our displacement, I will continue the process of surrendering my all to God and more boldly sing, “I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things. I’d rather be true to His holy name.”

 

 

What Does Your 2017 Look Like?

My husband challenges me daily to press into all that the Lord has created me to be.  The following, by Sir Francis Drake, written in the year 1580, was in my email box from Bill this morning as he asked me this question, “What does your 2017 look like?”  I pass this along to spur your thinking as well so that we all hit our mark with intention and without fear in the upcoming new year.

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

 

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

 

 

 

Parfum de’ Peppy

Fighting to open my eyes in order to escape the odor that was surely coming from a terrible dream, I sat up in bed gasping for fresh air. Upon gaining my complete senses, I realized the pungent odor was not a dream at all.

My husband Bill and I live in a very cozy, small, frame house that was built in 1950. The house sits on cement blocks with a galvanized skirt below the floor that encompasses the entire parameter of the house.   From time to time, small critters squeeze their way around the skirt to use the space in between the floor and the ground for refuge. I have seen cats come and go in order to escape the weather elements and an occasional litter of kittens has been born beneath our little yellow cottage with red doors. We have never been bothered by the fury squatters and have not deemed it necessary to completely seal the breaches around the house.

On this particular morning however, I knew we had an unwelcomed guest beneath the floor of our bedroom. We moved swiftly to get dressed and out of the house as the air spaces between the old pine floors seemed to emit the scent of a very agitated skunk which, more than likely, met up with one of the neighborhood cats as one caught the other by complete surprise. Before we could get out, the entire house was engulfed with Parfum de’ Peppy.

The scent gland of a skunk, located under the tail, is used to protect the animal when it is in defense mode. The small mammal sprays its musk at the perceived enemy without regard to the rest of its surroundings. Skunk musk has a lingering odor and is extremely offensive which innocent bystanders do not easily escape.

Lately, I have given thought to my own stinky skunk behavior. When I am agitated, give in to fear, cannot get my way and choose to spew my negativity at someone; I am no different than the pesky skunk beneath our house. My unwholesome words and attitude, like the skunk musk, affect the hearts of others in my environment causing them to repel rather than draw close.

Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.