Glimpses of Heaven

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Miss Bee took this photo of the sunset over a church

When my daddy passed away five years ago, we gave our family the gift of Hospice care. We chose inpatient care because I wanted my mother to be a wife and partner to my dad, rather than a caregiver.  This meant they could spend time together holding hands and loving each other, rather than her needing to attend to his physical needs.  I am so glad we decided to afford them the sweet, precious moments to say goodbye.

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reflection

A few days before Daddy became unresponsive, he began having conversations with people we could not see.  He’d fidget with his clothing, or pull at his hospital gown.  He would even stare off into space as if he was looking at something.  He was at the point of sleeping most of the day with very little awake time and couldn’t respond with words. One night, I sent Mother home and stayed with Daddy.    As I sat by his bedside, I could see his lips moving very slowly, but with no sound or distress.  I leaned in and said, “I wish I could see what you see. Is there someone here with you.  Do you see Jesus?”  He didn’t reply, but I feel in my heart that his week had been full of visits with important people, perhaps those waiting for his earthly body to catch up with his heavenly one. We encouraged his conversations and the belief that he could see things we didn’t.

About a year ago, a dear friend from church, Dana, was experiencing the decline of her mother’s health, specifically to dementia.  While my dad didn’t have dementia, I felt like there had to be a similarity in the things our parents were seeing.  I shared with her my conversation I had with Daddy, and encouraged Dana to take the time to do the same with her mother.

16-1-1A beautiful thing happened.  Her mother responded with a clarity she hadn’t been able to show Dana in some time.  This past June, Dana’s mother passed away.  Dana emailed me the most beautiful poem she had written for her mother and with her permission I am sharing it with you. Thank you Dana for blessing us with your words.

Glimpses of Heaven

Dementia got its grip on Mother

Conversation exchanges were now rare.

Memories and thoughts seemed stolen from

the one I held so dear.

Ask your Mother what she sees when off into space she stares

A wise suggestion from a friend with experience

You might be surprised what you learn when

visiting with your mom again.

Praying to God for the opportunity to see the one who gave

birth to me just one more time

“Permission granted,” was His answer

“Go seek and see what you find.”

Once the noon meal was over I noticed her staring off at the wall.

The chance to ask the question arose.

So, even somewhat frightened I asked, “Mom, are you looking

at something?”

“Oh, I see a beautiful place” with a look of astonishment on her face.

“And there are lots of people there

and they ALL seem to be okay!”

Realizing that this illness had robbed her of nothing

But only given Jesus His space to show Mom glimpses of Heaven

Preparing her for His grace.

Dana Cook – 6/19/16

Dana is working on developing a webpage to publish this and many other poems she has been called by God to write.

Agape Meal: Faith, Hope and Community

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Mr. Bee and I are in a small group at our church.  We gather twice a month on Monday nights for fellowship and Bible study.  It’s been a great way to meet new people and make new friends outside of our regular Sunday school class.  We may have different beliefs, but our commonality is that we love God and want to seek ways we can be closer to Him.

Every Thursday Broadway Baptist Church hosts an Agape Meal for the homeless and people needing a hot meal and a place to be feel God’s love and a since of belonging.  Agape means love.  So, it’s a love banquet for God’s people.  The church has offered this ministry for over 20 years serving 175 guests, 51 weeks of the year only taking the day off on Thanksgiving when many churches and organizations offer a meal.

Tonight, our small group worked as volunteers to help serve as table hosts and servers. As we drove into the parking lot, there were already guests waiting in line to receive a ticket.  I suddenly felt overwhelmed thinking about our election and the very people that have been the topic of conversation — the poor and homeless — were right before me.  Many people were carrying duffel bags and suitcases with all of their belongings. The streets or a shelter were their next stop after dinner.

agape-meal

When we walked into the fellowship hall, each table was covered in cloth linens set with china, glass and silverware, a centerpiece of real flowers and bowls of home cooked, hot food.  Tonight’s menu was King Ranch casserole, corn, green beans, bread, salad and spice cake.  The mission each week is to treat each guest with dignity, kindness and respect.

Before the meal, the pastor gave a welcome and a prayer.  As we recited the Lord’s Prayer, everyone knew it!  The entire room, not just the volunteers and staff, recited the simplest of prayers we learned when we were children.  These guests may not have brought much with them of monetary value, but their worth was their faith.  They loved God enough to say His prayer out loud and with meaning.  It was beautiful.

Then, we got to work serving food, replenishing drinks, bringing out second helpings, and serving dessert and coffee.  As you can imagine, the guests were thirsty and wanted seconds of everything.  After the meal, worship was offered.  About half of the guests stayed for a few hymns, a scripture lesson and communion.  The pastor asked that the guests at each table share one thing that God provided for that week, and one thing we needed prayer for.  The couple at our table said they were thankful that God provided gas for their car all week.  But, they needed cell phone service in order for him to secure employment.  Suddenly, my Starbucks pumpkin spice latte didn’t seem that important.

We finished the night with prayer.  A simple prayer of asking God for us to be faithful and to have faith.  There are some days when faith is all you have to hold onto.  And then we sent the guests off into the night.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you,

ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  John 15:7

Happy Birthday Mother

Lizzie's Wedding Photos 030 (2)Today, August 15, would have been my mother’s 89th birthday.  She loved Jesus, strawberry cake, birds of all kinds, but especially cardinals.  She faithfully fed Mockingbirds, the Texas state bird, every morning.  They like mealy worms…and she kept a nice big tub of them in my refrigerator. My family came to learn this was normal.

Mother loved to read. She usually had three or four books going at the same time.  And she always made time to read her Bible at least once a day, if not more.  She never liked sweets, but in her older years developed a fondness for chocolate. She kept stashes of candy in her room.  For the longest time, after she died, I would open drawers or little trinket boxes and chocolate would be hiding inside.  She loved to garden. She was a great cook, hostess and home keeper.  She loved the color purple and wore “volcanic” lipstick.  She had her hair done once a week, and always had a pretty manicure.  She was kind and thoughtful and loved to send cards. She had beautiful penmanship.  After her stroke, her fine motor skills were affected making it harder for her to write.  I think that was one of the things that bothered her the most, but she still enjoyed finding just the right card for each of her friends.

She shared so many important life lessons with me over the years.  One lesson early on was to be tolerant of people’s behavior.  If they weren’t nice to me, they probably had something going on in their lives making them sad.  That mine might be the only smile they receive that day.  To look people in the eye when you talk to them and that people love it when you call them by name, it makes them feel important.  She taught me to say please and thank you and to be grateful for everyday.  She aged with grace and died with a smile.

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She was the perfect Mother for me.

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me.  They have clung to me all my life.”  Abraham Lincoln

Since Mother Died: Two Things I Haven’t Done, and One Thing I Did

mother and ruth up closeMy mother passed away in 2013. It’s getting easier to not have her with me, and yet there are some days it seems like yesterday. Grief is like an unannounced guest…it shows up when it wants to, stays as long as it wants, makes a mess and then leaves. Only to return again unexpectedly.

I experienced three major losses in three years — My dad died in 2011, my brother to suicide six weeks later, and my mother two years after that. So, in three years time I lost half my immediate family.  It was especially rough after my mother died, because it meant that both my parents were gone.  In these three years, there are two things that I still haven’t done since she died, things that I just can’t do. Not yet.

One, I haven’t been to the cemetery to see her headstone.  It just seems so final to me.  I can’t bear to see her name carved into the marble – her birthday which is two weeks before mine, and the day she left for heaven, May 23.  It was surreal to see her obituary on newsprint and the internet. But, to see her name alongside my daddy’s name…Not yet.

mother and ruthThe other thing that I know I should do…is reach out to her best friend Ruth. Here’s honesty for you, I haven’t talked to Ruth since my mother died.  As I write this, the thought of hearing Ruth’s voice over the phone makes me weep.  Ruth and Mother had known each other since they were 12-13 years old (Sister will fact check this for me). They went through everything together and remained friends until the day Earnie died.  When Ruth would call, she and Mother would laugh the entire time they were on the phone.  It was like Mother was a teenager again. Sister called Ruth to tell her Mother died and, as you can imagine, Ruth was devastated.  Ruth has called me a few times and I just can’t answer her calls or call her back.  I’ve tried a few times to get the courage up to call.  But, to hear her voice, it closes a chapter that I am just not ready to put aside.  Ruth is that last connection to a history of childhood memories I cherish.  I feel terribly guilty neglecting her in this way.  I share this story with you because I want you to know that in grieving there are just some things we cannot or won’t do and that is okay.  Like no two people have the same fingerprints, we each grieve in our own unique way.

God winked recently (and if you aren’t familiar with this term check out this book) and aligned me with a lady who lives in the same, very small town in which Ruth lives and she knows her.  This woman is one of those people you immediately feel a connection with and I felt safe sharing the story of my struggle in reaching out to Ruth.  I even told her I have a photo tacked to my bulletin board above my desk of Ruth and my mother when they were young girls.  This kind stranger said, “write Ruth a letter. Pour your heart out to her on paper and include a copy of that photo.  It will mean so much to her.  She will understand.”  So, that’s my homework assignment.

HazelLastly, about 4 months after Mother died, the one thing I did do was adopt a dog.  Mind you, I already had one dog, Ruthie the Wienerful, and four cats.  The last thing our house needed was one more pet.  The full story of how I went into PetSmart for fish food and came out with a dog is here.  In the course of coming to my senses that I had a momentary lapse of reasoning to add puppy training to my everyday routine, I also understood that adopting Hazel filled the void I had for taking care of someone.  Someone needed me.  Mother needed me and she was gone.  I got Hazel to replace the emptiness in my heart.  If I hadn’t blurted this realization in a stream of tears one day to Mr. Bee, I wouldn’t have believed this was true.

Hazel is precious, sweet, playful and so grateful to have a family.  This little bunch of love was just what our house needed.  I’m not sure Ruthie would say the same.

 

Bible Journaling — The Art of Worship

melissa shadowing

I took my first Bible journaling class at LifeWay bookstores in January when I made the resolution to use 2016 as my year to learn new things. The class peaked my interest to start a Pinterest board on the subject and take more in-depth class.  If you search Bible journaling you will find tons of great resources.  I had no idea there is a growing movement to express your creativity while you are reading the Lord’s word.  What an awesome way to combine both of your gifts!

My friend Terry hosted a class in her home on Sunday afternoon.  First of all, Terry’s house is one of my most favorite places to hang out.  She is a wonderful hostess and an excellent cook.  Her home looks like something out of Architectural Digest.  So, even if we were going to be decorating paper bags, I knew I had to go so I wouldn’t miss the fun and her fab cooking.

thumb print cookies

Buttery, lemon thumb print cookies that melted in your mouth.  I ate one and looked through her cabinets for a baggie to take one home.

peach poundcake

Peach poundcake.  I didn’t eat a piece, but I took one home.

lady fingers

Lady fingers with a wedge of apple, cheese, a drizzle of honey and sprinkled with chopped rosemary and pecans.  Ditto.  Didn’t eat.  But, took one home.

fruit

Last, she had plates of fruit and cheese. Terry can make fruit look like a million bucks.

The class was lead by the talented and beautiful, Kaylee King, from We Three Kings Illustrated (she’s on Facebook, Instagram and Periscope).  For $35 she led a 3-hour class on tips, tricks and how to’s.  First, she went through the supplies we were going to use.  She sent us home with a list of her favorite Bible journaling supplies.

supplies and lettering 2Each of us brought a journaling Bible to the class.  You can easily find them in most bookstores and online.   I chose to use the NIV version of Beautiful Word Bible which already has pages with illustrated verses to get you started.  Journaling Bibles are set up in a different format to allow empty space for drawing and taking notes.

beautiful word Bible

The important thing to remember here is that you can always reserve your daily Bible for study.  Then, you can use a second journaling Bible to focus on key scriptures you are studying.  This allows for an expression of creativity if you don’t feel comfortable drawing in your study Bible. Some people chose to bring watercolor paper to practice before they committed to drawing in a Bible, and that’s perfectly fine, too.  As Terry says “we are crafting people, not saving lives!”

Then we spent time lettering and once we felt comfortable we moved to re-creating this work of art Kaylee showed us as an example to do in our Bibles.

oh bless my soul sample

There are no right or wrong ways to do this.  It’s merely an expression of your imagination.  Kaylee walked us through cutting out the girl’s dress with scrapbook paper, how to draw the face and the hair.  Then we penciled our wording into the Bible and went back over everything with a fine-point liner.  She showed us how to wash the page with watercolor. Last, we finished with a date-stamp so we will know when we completed our work and be able to see how our skills grow over time.

This was my illustration…

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It was such a sense of accomplishment when we were all finished.  The Lord delights in seeing His people gather together to celebrate His name!

From Blind Date to Forever: My Tips to a Great Marriage

Doug and Melissa

Last week on “Tell me Tuesday” a reader asked me to share the story of how I met my husband, whom I refer to as Mr. Bee.  I thought I’d share that story, plus my secrets to how we have celebrated the last, almost, 20 years loving each other more today than when we said, “I do.”

My sister and her friend, Mandy, set us up on a blind date.  Mandy gave Mr. Bee my number and it took about four months for him to call me.  He admits now that one of the delays was related to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  If we didn’t click I guess he didn’t want it to ruin the season…and to avoid the awkwardness of buying a gift for someone you don’t really know.   He ended up calling me a few times, leaving messages with no follow up from me.  His friend Mandy reported this back to my sister who then gave me a lecture that it was rude to not return someone’s phone call.  I gave him a ring but had to kindly explain that I was dating someone however, I didn’t mind being his friend to assist in finding him a girlfriend.  He was agreeable to this plan.  But I think this made him think this was a “networking” event because he showed up in jeans, a flannel shirt and hiking boots.  I, on the other hand, had on my work clothes and a raincoat, because it was raining.  When I opened the door, he saw me in my raincoat and three cats lined up for inspection.  He thought I was a frumpy, cat hoarder.  I thought he was a lumberjack.

Dinner was okay.  I think he thought I was high-maintenance (what?), and I thought he was kinda boring and would probably run away as soon as I started talking about my feelings.  We agreed to meet for lunch soon which I had no intention of following through on.   After the “networking” was over, he almost ran me over trying to back out of the driveway.  He apologized profusely, I ran into the house glad the night was over.

My sister asked me how it went, I told her he was nice, but we were just going to be friends.  Fast forward about two months, I realized the weirdo I had been dating needed to be released back into the wild.  Mr. Bee and I started hanging out more often for “networking” which moved from casual coffee meetings at Starbucks to lunch at the museum.  As we were walking back to the car one evening, I asked him a question and he didn’t hear me.  He reached down and put his hand on the small of my back to lean in and listen to my question again.  An electric shock jolted sense into me that this guy was the real deal and someone worth loving.

Our relationship moved pretty quickly after that realizing we wanted to marry, which we did about a year later.  So, my sister’s maiden voyage at matchmaking was a success.  She retired right after this match so she could say she had a 100% success rate.

Sharing Secrets:

There are so many things you will hear from couples as to what works for them, but I think there are common themes that link all our success stories.

Open Communication — This is a hard one for a lot of men, some women have trouble opening up, too.  But, I think it’s harder for men.  As long as we have been married, I still have to coach Mr. Bee to tell me when I think something is bothering him.  Isn’t it funny how we automatically assume it’s something we’ve done wrong that’s bothering the other person?  We made a commitment early on that we were not going to build a wall of resentment between the two of us that was so tall we couldn’t reach each other.  It may not be pretty and, yes, sharing your feelings is hard, but you have to tell each other when something doesn’t feel right.  I make sure we have each other’s attention and that the setting is conducive to a conversation, which means don’t start with “you totally didn’t notice my new haircut and say thank you when I fixed meatloaf for dinner two weeks ago” during a big game.   Talk to your partner the way you would want to be spoken to.  That key has helped us to relate to each other in a respectful way because we are also mirroring to our daughter how she should be treated by her partner.

Laughter and Kindness — Mr. Bee is actually really funny.  Not in a “I’ve got a great joke” way, but just the funny words he uses or his responses, make me laugh.  A hearty out-loud laugh.   He’s also very kind.  He cares about people’s feelings.  I care about how he feels, especially as a man.  Men like to feel like they have respect and are the heads of the household.  Even, if I’m the one he and Miss Bee come to first when they can’t find something or have a cough or a boo-boo.  A common phrase in our house “I don’t know.  Let’s go ask your mother.”

Seek God — We both have a strong faith and rely on God’s strength to get us through life.  We have each lost both sets of our parents, our son, John, and my brother, Jim.  I am not sure where we would be if we didn’t keep God front and center during those trying times.   We pray for each other thanking God for bringing us together and blessing our marriage. We pray for our marriage that God continues to help us be loving, kind and respectful to each other.  We ask God to help us to be better parents and we pray for our daughter that her life is full and rich and that God help guide her especially on days when she may be feeling alone.

I could share more and maybe I will over time, but for now, I hope this arrived in your inbox just when you needed it.

P.S.  Mr. Bee approved this message.

Baking Sweets for Change

phoebe annie and debbie wood
The Flour Girls with Debbie Wood, UMW President 2012

In 2012, my daughter and my Goddaughter, were asked by their 6th grade confirmation teacher to come up with a mission project to serve the community.  They both love to bake and thought they could combine their interest in baking with finding a way to serve others.  Thus, Flour Girls was formed.

Over the next year they raised almost $2,000 for various agencies in the community including the church’s greatest need, our food pantry.

One agency in particular, Family Pathfinders, really helped the girls to understand the impact of their efforts.  The mission of Family Pathfinders is to strengthen the community by empowering families and individuals to attain self-sufficiency.  They help individuals who have expressed the desire to leave the welfare system to become independent or have recently been released from incarceration and want to begin a new life.  The clients are assisted with job and housing placement, educational opportunities and parenting classes.

When I told the girls about the agency’s annual Christmas party for the families they serve and how they depend on donations from the community for gifts for the clients, they decided baking gingerbread cookies was something they could do to help.

The first Sunday they collected almost 120 orders!  The members of our church were so generous.  Many weren’t even interested in the cookies, they just wanted to help two little girls with their mission.  Some people bought multiple bags to give as hostess gifts for the Thanksgiving holiday and one member bought 20 bags to give to their employees.  The timing of this was perfect!

Result — 1,062 cookies, 177 bags and almost $1,000 raised!  The girls were invited to attend the agency Christmas party so they could meet all the families they touched with their labor of love.  It was an amazing experience witnessing God’s work and love.

annie and phoebe decorating cookies 2 annie and phoebe decorating cookiesThe clients went home with baskets filled with toys, blankets and other goodies.   Watching others receive the blessing of two, innocent girls who just mixed together a few ingredients, was priceless.  They were even recognized by the United Methodist Women for their mission work and each received their own UMW service pin!  I couldn’t have been more proud!

They are older now.  Different schools and busy lives of being active teenagers has tabled their Flour Girls project in the last few years.  But, they will return this summer to offer Lemon Sugar Cookies to benefit the Arborlawn UMC Food Pantry.  If you would like to donate toward their cause, send me an email and I will make sure you are at the top of the list to receive their homemade goodness!

Daily Devotionals – Where Do I Begin?

With the new year comes a conscious effort to try something new.  I don’t refer to them as “resolutions” because that seems so regimented.  According to Merriam-Webster, resolution by definition means “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict or problem.”   I prefer to look at January as a chance to broaden my horizons, with a new slate wiped clean to start fresh and grow as a person, rather than checking something off my list.

This year, I am working on spending more time with God.  Reading, praying, being thankful, slowing down to focus on goodness that surrounds me, instead of focusing on the negative or how fast the days seem to fly.  There are so many resources out there, that it can be overwhelming for someone who is learning to know more about God’s word.  Opening your Bible can even seem daunting. So, I am sharing just a few helpful resources to help get you started.

First, is Lysa TerKeurst.  The President of Proverbs 31 Ministry, Lysa is real, down-to-earth, and easy to understand.  Her website offers inspiration and free resources.  When you sign up for their emails, you get cool stuff like “3 Bible Study Basics You Must Know” from her book Becoming More Than A Good Bible Study Girl.

Ann Voskamp.  If you follow me you know she is one of my favorite authors.  One Thousand Gifts is a beautiful journey Ann shares on how she took one year of her life to count and journal one thousand reasons she was thankful — from jam on hot toast to the love of her husband and everything in between.  It’s a reminder of how we should be thankful for even the smallest of gifts.

Her website A Holy Experience has a free library of resources — from artwork, to gift tags, to journal sheets.  It’s worth exploring.

Lastly, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young.  After Earnie passed away, I was going through her things and found a copy sitting right next to her chair along with her Bible and eye glasses.   I wish I had known how dedicated she was to reading her Bible everyday.  When I sat down to flip through her copy of Jesus Calling, I couldn’t believe it.  The daily passages seemed to be written just for me. Everyday, I would read it, God knew exactly what I was thinking and the message before me was perfect for that day.  I think every person who owns Jesus Calling would tell you the same thing.

Spending time with God, even for just a few minutes a day, will change your life.  I promise.

 

Pocket Full of Sunshine

These lovelies are growing in my flowerbeds.  Profuse petals of sunshine.  It’s all my Daddy’s doing. He loved sunflowers.  Probably from his time of having a farm as a “hobby.”  He’d plant seeds in the backyard and despite the fact that his eyesight was fading to the point of being blind, he would tend to his flowers.

We never got around to planting his seeds in our shared backyard once we moved in together as a combined family.  I suppose I was too busy being a caregiver and not slowing down enough to simply plant a package of seeds.

The first summer after Daddy passed away, a random sunflower plant popped up in the front yard.  A few pretty blooms, but not in a place I really wanted it.  After all, sunflower plants are top-heavy and pretty much fall where they want to.  Seeking perfection, I felt they were out of place for my manicured garden.

One day,  I stared at the toppled over plant and a thought came to me. It was exactly where it needed to be.  Front and center.  That was Daddy’s personality.  Always in the middle of everything.  We left the sunflower where it was and cultivated the seeds.

Now, we have five big stalks of flowers in the backyard.  One hot summery evening, I gathered a pocket full of Daddy’s sunshine.  His sunflowers and Mother’s pair of Cardinals that greet me every morning are reminders of their love and presence everyday.

My journey to One Thousand Gifts



 

I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts.  We were asked to read it for small group book study at church.  I have become intrigued by her message of expressing gratitude for even the smallest of daily gifts.  She challenged herself to record her daily gifts — 1,000 total — over a course of a year.  Intertwined with scripture, Ann shares that the gifts need to be small…like spreading jam on a hot piece of toast, or the greeting of a red bird sitting on the fence.  That to focus on the smallest of gifts makes us slow down and appreciate all of God’s gifts — even the painful ones.  She encourages us to consider the list as a “love letter” to God.

Ann’s website A Holy Experience is a beautiful free resource for inspiration.  She even has a section of down loadable artwork, bookmarks and lots of ideas of how to journal your gifts.

My boss gave me the prettiest journal with a note that said, “A new year is like a blank book.  I hope you write an amazing story this year.”