Turning points

Dear One,

When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.

Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.

I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.

One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.

As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.

“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”

That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.

The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted  specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.

Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.

When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.

I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.

 

Illumination

*Today’s beautiful post is written by my friend and frequent contributor Debra Dickey. I’m so thankful for Debra’s insights and for her willingness to share them.*

Illumination

For light to flood the darkness;

The hidden to be revealed;

The honorable to prevail,

Luminescence to fill minds and spirits.63910_552312649722_1189983164_n

For moonbeams and sunlight to be precursors

To God’s Light

That will infuse all mankind,

That will illuminate paths,

That will distribute warmth into hearts and lives.

A burnish that will create intuitive relationships with God,

An autogenetic will to know His Ways,

And an inherent desire for God’s Grace and Glory.

The longing to be within the radiant glow

That exudes from His Presence.

The yearning to absorb His Essence into ourselves

To receive the Heavenly Empowerment that is promised us.

The vision to recognize His instruction;

The insight to see His leading.

To be in the center of the frequency

That energetically influences our senses,

Guides us with His Resplendence,

Shelters and Protects us by His Might,

And makes Miracles happen.

Sight and beyond, unearthly.

Brightness in colors of vivid learning.

Crystalline prisms of faith.

Glistening drops of Favor

Within the gifts and talents He has given us.

Enlightenment for knowledge.

Clarity and discernment

From His Brilliant Eminence

Received as blessings;

Ambient refractions of His Honor and Majesty

For those who search for Wisdom in His Purpose.

And seek His Abounding Love.

 “There are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  -Shakespeare

“Now we see through a glass, darkly . . . .”  I Cor. 13:12

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended (conquered) it not.” John 1:5

Give them their flowers

Today’s beautiful post is written by Latresha Woodruff Johnson, one of the most encouraging people I know. Latresha, thank you for continually pointing me to God and reminding me that there is always hope in Him.

IMG_7283My grandmother was named Jewel, and how fitting, because she always gave us little pearls of wisdom.  She also left us with some funny saying as well, some laced with a few four letter words (I won’t repeat those here), but I will share these:  When talking about my uncle, whom she said couldn’t keep a secret, she would say, “That boy couldn’t hold 5 ounces of water in a 10 gallon bucket with a lid on it,”  or for people who think they know it all, “His head is bigger than yours and he don’t know everything so neither do you.” And this is what she would say when you were “testing her nerves” by doing something she told you not to do: “You don’t believe fat is meat greasy!” 

Momma, as we all affectionately called her, tried to teach us to always be grateful to people even for the small things that they do.  Now here is where I insert a pearl of wisdom from Momma, “Give them their flowers while they are here.”  

 

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

That’s pretty self explanatory, but I will further break it down. She meant — say thank you to people while they are living on this earth; don’t wait until it ‘s too late.  I  know what it feels like to smell the flowers of gratitude.  I spent 16 years as a television news reporter, and now my job is to keep news reporters informed.  There was one particular reporter who I saw some promise in, but she tended to be very inconsiderate of my time and would show up unannounced.  I am a matter-of-fact person, so I definitely put her in her place, nicely though.  But again I saw promise in her, so whenever she would come by, I gave her pointers on being a great reporter and putting her stories together to make them effective.  I have watched her grow into a seasoned reporter, always thinking some veteran reporters at her TV station really must be spending time mentoring her.  Well, to my surprise, she sent me flowers this week – not literally but figuratively the way momma sent flowers.  I got a card (a nice handwritten one the way I like them–all personal) from this young reporter which read:

 

LaTresha,

You have taught me so much!  Your encouragement and feedback has helped me grow over the last 3 years into the reporter I am today.  I’ll be sending you my work from Cincinnati for more tips!  Thank you for always being so sweet, so accessible and such a joy to work with. I wish you all the best! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..

 

I can still smell those flowers… the fragrance will linger in my mind for years to come.  I feel like a proud parent. She is going to one of the largest TV markets, and I, the little ole girl from Mississippi, played a small role in molding someone into not only a master at her craft but into a kinder person. 

 

*So Lisa, I am giving you your flowers and showing you gratitude for making me proud of you and for making me feel that my words to you resonated and made a difference.  

*Bethany, I am showing you gratitude for being that person who isn’t afraid to share with the world your struggles with raw and pure emotion and honesty and allowing us to celebrate your victories and milestones and sharing that beautiful baby girl with us.  I know you, like us all, are a work in progress, but it’s clear GOD has his hands on you.  It’s so nice to be there to watch you continue to evolve.  You are a wonderful person and a woman of GOD, and I love you.  Smell the flowers!!  

*and God,  I try to show you gratitude daily by praying, reading your word and being an elevator person to others instead of a basement person.  Thank you for looking past my faults and seeing my needs.  Thank you for your Grace and Mercy (or as momma would say “thank you for dem old twins  — Grace & Mercy”), they are new everyday.  I love you Lord, I have your flowers, and I know one day you will call me home to heaven, and I will be there with a big bouquet saying,”Here I am Lord; smell your flowers!”

 

LaTresha Woodruff Johnson

Day 23: Dear Stick

*Today’s post on day 23 of the Dear Gratitude project is written by Toi Thomas, a talented writer and fellow blogger.*

Dear Stick,

Hey man, we been friends a long time, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad. I mean, I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to be your friend. When I look back and think about how rocky things started out for us, it makes me laugh, but hey, you were there; you know what I’m talk’n bout.

For more than ten years now we’ve been hanging out and talk’n bout movies, especially the weird ones that none of our other friends or family seem to like or get. We been talk’n bout comic books and action figures, which seems to only become cool recently thanks to The Big Bang Theory, but we were already cool long before that. And now, even our days of vinyl hunting don’t seem so magical now that “Vinyl is back with a vengeances,” but it hasn’t stopped us from growing our collection anyway.

What else can I say man; it’s been really cool having you around for all these years. I hope to continue hanging out with you for many more.

Dear Eric,

Toi and husbandIt’s been so long since I’ve taken the time to let you know how blessed I am to have met you. I remember how much I used to be so annoyed by you and all your “cool” friends, but then one day… you were mine. I know how it happened, I was there, but it still seems so unbelievably amazing to me.

From the beginning, you have showered me with: food, laughter, culture, affection, attention, understanding, acceptance, and most of all, love. You see beauty in me when I don’t see it in myself, and you make others view me the way you do. I could be happy to sit alone with you in a room for days, but you won’t let me. You give me strength to go out into the world and interact with people. You make me look and feel good in so many ways. It’s the way you build me up and make others take notice of me when they normally wouldn’t; thank you for that.

Thank you for being with me through those years of maturing. I’ve shared so much with you, so much more than I ever have or will with anyone else. Mind, body, and soul, I am a strong and fulfilled woman for so many reasons, but one of the major ones is you. Everything I know about intimacy, respect in a relationship, and how to really “be” with someone, I’ve learned from loving you.

Every morning when I wake up, I’m glad to see your face, and every day when I come home, I look forward to your kiss. I hope this never ends. I hope to wake up next to you until the end of time.

Mr. Thomas,

If gratitude could be measured, or perhaps weighed, you’d find yourself only yards from Heaven and showered in gold. For everything you do for me I’d give you a gold coin, and for every sacrifice you make for me, you’d be catapulted that much closer Eternal Peace.

But let’s be practical about this, Mr. Thomas. One cannot do these things, but one can proclaim, acknowledge, and praise where praise is due. You turned your life over and accepted the mantle of husband, and a man of God, and far exceeded my expectations. You are not perfect, but:

You always take out the trash and attend to the yard when it’s needed.

You’re not a slob, and even if you were, you’d feel bad about it.

You actually look forward to spending time with me and talking with me.

You like to share life and daily experiences with me, from all those times you and I can’t be together.

You help out around the house, especially with laundry.

You take care of all the car stuff between you and me.

You actually know me well enough to pick things out for me because I don’t like to shop, and you will even go out and get things for me.

You like me just the way I am even if I’m not the prettiest girl in the room, and you’re always trying to protect me because you think some weirdo is staring at me ( Sometimes I think you’re right).

You take care of me through all my ailments, and though it’s so much more than you had imagined, you show care and nurturing effortlessly.

You know how to make me smile when I get sad for no reason, and you stick with me through all my dark spells.

You believe in my dreams, even though you don’t always know how to say so.

You work two jobs to help make our lives together more comfortable while I pursue my dreams.

You are not a demanding and needy man, unless you fall ill, but who isn’t then?

While you love and enjoy spending time with your friends, you honestly proclaim that I am your best friend.

Mr. Thomas, you have proven yourself above and beyond to be a good husband. Your methods put forth to show me love and affection have been so catered to my needs and desires, that it seems you could not have been made to love anyone else. I do not believe there is an exact or accurate way to properly express the amount a gratitude I have for you.

I am truly a blessed woman.

Eric “Stick” Thomas, I love you dearly and am eternally grateful to have you in my life.

Your adoring friend, lover, and wife,

Toinette “Toi” Thomas

 

 

Day 15: Dear Serena

*Thanks to my friend Samantha Hogan for sharing her letter to her sister, Serena, on Day 15 of the Dear Gratitude project. Her letter reminds me to share my gratitude with the people I love TODAY.*

To my sister Serena:

Sam Hogan familyI know I should have written you this letter long before you went to be with Jesus, but sometimes, a person doesn’t realize how thankful they are until it is too late to say so.  So, today, I am writing this letter to tell you all of the things I should have told you before now.

First of all, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.  We definitely had our ups and downs in our relationship, but you taught me so much as my older sister.  Growing up, I can remember you doing some of my chores because I just wouldn’t do them.  You’d swear to me that you were going to tell mom on me when she got home, but I’m pretty sure you never did.  I specifically remember sitting down in the hallway one time and refusing to empty the bathroom trash.  You told me you’d had it and were telling on me, all the while, emptying the trash that I was in charge of doing.  Never once did I get into trouble for that.  Thank you, for saving my rear.

So many basketball games I had to cheer at from fifth grade to senior year.  You weren’t always at mom and dads, but when you were, and it was ‘french braid’ day on the squad, you never complained to get up at 6:30 in the morning to braid my hair.  I wonder now how I’d have ever gotten my hair done had you not been there. I’m sure I’d have gotten a demerit for sure!  You even tried to teach me to do it myself.  To this day, I still practice some, but can’t quite get it.  Thank you for being patient enough to try and teach me.

On my wedding day, you were there. Sitting quietly and out of the way.  I remember you were so excited to get to be there, and offered so many times to help.  Thank you for showing up for me. I know I didn’t say it that day. I have a picture of us from that day that I will forever cherish.

Sam HOgan Christmas 2011Thank you for all the Christmas presents you worked feverishly to find for me. To make sure that even if it wasn’t much, it was just the perfect thing for us.  I see now just how much love and heart went into the things you did for me.  And I am so thankful for them.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you for the dozens of telephone calls you would make to me on my birthdays.  So many times I would pick up the phone, thank you for the birthday wishes, and so many times I would ignore the calls, because I’d just talked to you an hour before.  Oh I wish I could ‘ignore’ your calls now on my birthdays! But, time passes and God had other plans for you.

So, on this day, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all those times you covered for me, for all the times you helped me out, for loving me when I probably didn’t deserve it, and for being my sister.  You truly made my world a better place to live in.

I love you,

Samantha

A Place Where There Are No More Tears

I’ll never forget my friend Josh Lane picking me up and carrying me through rubble and downed power lines to get to my parents’ house 30 minutes after a tornado did epic damage to my hometown.

The college days

The college days

At the time, I was a college student living on campus 20 minutes away. I tried reaching my family, and I couldn’t get in touch with them. In those pre-cell phone days, the fear accompanying the “not knowing” was prolonged. Even though our county was still under a tornado warning, and I’d heard on the radio that one of the entrances into my hometown was barricaded, I decided to hop in my old blue Toyota Camry and haul tail home. I could not stand the not knowing. I had to see my sisters and my parents in person.

Three of my good friends from college knew I was nuts for driving in my old cruddy car through all that mess, but they were crazy enough to go along with me for the ride.

After reaching the house, we went inside and called out names. No one answered. Planks had pierced the kitchen walls, knocking countless dishes to the floor, and shards of glass and random personal objects were askew throughout the house. As my friend Josh threw open the door to one of my sister’s bedrooms, he exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. Look what happened in here.”

“Oh no, that’s not from the tornado. That’s just how messy she is,” I laughed in relief.

When we entered my parents’ bedroom, we saw the worst of it. The roof was completely gone. But in the middle of my parents’ bed, all our pets huddled together, too afraid to move despite the rain soaking their fur.

Minutes later, my parents arrived. They’d been out of town that day and had headed home when they heard what was going on since my sisters were at home alone. My older sister had the wisdom to stop by the house and take my two younger sisters with her to seek shelter at the high school gymnasium, which has plenty of underground shelter.

Everyone was fine.

But the clean-up process took months. The insurance company dragged its feet. We kept finding sentimental objects destroyed, or worse yet, missing. I spent most of my free time at home, helping my parents dig through the rubble, repair fences, itemize losses, and rebuild a home from what seemed like one huge pile of mess.

Each night, when I came back to campus, most of my friends and the rest of the student body were happily encased in the college campus bubble. I felt incredibly alone in the aftermath.

One night, at our campus ministry meeting, a friend who knew about my hometown and the damage there asked, “How’s life?”

“It’s pretty bad right now,” I responded truthfully.

“But God is good.”

He is. He sent angels in the form of friends and church folks to help repair damage. He enabled my parents to pay off their home due to the extent of the damages incurred. And we didn’t lose each other–just things, objects that ultimately mean absolutely nothing.

The day after the tornadoes in Oklahoma, I’m reminded of the gamut of emotions I felt all those years ago. I want to do whatever I can to help them. I’m praying for the people who’ve been affected and lost their homes, their vehicles, their livelihoods. Their children.

I don’t know what that feels like.

???????????????????????????????All I know is that in my own life, if I let Him, He takes every disgusting, heartbreaking episode and transforms it into something breathtaking, useful, and meaningful. This is my prayer for the people who’ve lost what can never be replaced. And that someday, they will be reunited with the people who’ve passed on in a Place Where There Are No More Tears (Revelations 21:4).

 

Day 18–True love

*Big thanks to Betty Gail Jones for sharing her parents’ true love story with us today on Day 18 of our 28 days of love project. She’s living out her own true love story today with her husband, Mickey, and their love is inspirational to all of us who know them.*

The war was in full swing – I mean the big one, World War II.  Clif was stuck on the family farm and spent most days dreaming of just leaving it.  He had graduated from high school at 16 and spent a hard winter in the CCC camp at Blanchard Springs.  There was no money for furthering his education, and being the youngest, he was needed at home.

Some local folks knew the young people were restless so they would throw get togethers on occasion at their homes.  They would push back the furniture and crank up the phonograph and have a dance.  Clif didn’t really like to dance, but he was desperate for the faces of the other local youth who were in his same predicament.

Clif and Jane

Clif and Jane

He was greeted at the front door by Violet, a pretty dark headed gal whom he had known in school.  She smiled and welcomed him.  He really wanted to command her attention, but she was quickly swept to the dance floor by one of the gents who had come from Peace Valley.  He looked around to see who else might be there.  Quickly his eye was drawn to a tall, thin, dark haired girl who seemed to be surrounded by some other girls with whom he was also familiar.  They were locally known as the Knothole Gang.  He decided to put on his best smile and join them.

He found out that the beauty upon whom he had gazed was actually Violet’s little sister, Jane.  She looked up at him with snapping green eyes and quipped, “Well, if it isn’t little Cliffy”.  Though not impressed with her jab, he was intrigued by her spirit and really liked the way she looked in her red dress as she engaged him face to face.

One thing led to another and soon he realized that joining the Navy would be his way off of the farm and a ticket to an education afterward.  He signed up without a thought.  As many of the sailors did, he gave a last stab at romance.  He loved himself and Jane suited him just fine.  With this realization, he popped the question, “Will you marry me?”

Just about as quickly, she answered with a definitive and quick, “No.  I’m too young to be a widow and you might…well, not come back.”  She was immovable on her answer, and he was mad.  So they parted – he going to the South Pacific on a submarine, and she going to Austin, Texas with a cousin to work.

He found many girls willing to follow and befriend lonely sailors. He would have his picture made with them and send them home.  He enjoyed the female company and would hang out with other sailors and their girlfriends, but still, his heart was in Austin, Texas, and he knew that wouldn’t change.

His submarine pulled into the bombed out Pearl Harbor following the catastrophe there and he quickly made up his mind.  He found a store on the Islands that sold diamonds and liked to take the US sailors’ money.  He purchased the prettiest one he could afford and put it in the mail.

Back in the US, Jane was living it up.  She was working in an egg candling factory and then found a job as a waitress.  She had a lot of time to think about her sailor sweetheart and how things had ended badly.  Mail call was announced at her cousin’s house as he produced a small package – a box.  She could see that it had been mailed from Hawaii and couldn’t get it open fast enough.  Reflections of the diamond facets danced in her green eyes.  He truly did love her, and now that she had had time to miss him, she knew she loved him, too.

The war was over, and as Clif stepped on the banks of the US, his spirits were high.  He had come home to claim his bride and to finally attend college to be an engineer – his hopes and dreams were coming true.  Jane waited anxiously for his train to pull into the sleepy little Arkansas town with her soldier and future husband aboard.

They did, indeed, marry and had four children, of whom I am one.  It is with a grateful heart that I tell this story of love and romance.  They have been a model for me and my siblings to follow – each of whom married and have lived life with our best friends and sweethearts totaling 147 years of happy marriages.   They were happily married for 66 years.  Clif has once again sailed away to a distant land and so now they are apart once more – but not for long.  This time he will be waiting for his lovely green eyed girl from Heaven’s shore.  Perhaps she will arrive in a pretty red dress, who knows… and they will never have to be apart again.