Two Babies and a Wedding

It’s been quite awhile since I posted a blog. Thanks to those who have reached out to ask where I am.

I haven’t been anywhere. But lots of stuff has been happening in my life. I know some of you are understandably disinterested in the personal details, but for those who are….

Silas Christmas

Now three months old

In early October we welcomed our 12th little person. Silas Joshua’s entrance into the world was all too slow for Janelle, but the room full of family and friends who weathered his leisurely arrival fell in love immediately. I spent two weeks hanging out with my new grandson and seeking to spoil my Missy. Watching her embrace motherhood with such passion warmed my heart. It’s a powerful experience to watch your child have a child, especially for the first time. And seeing Eric enjoy being a first-time Dad reminded me of how much I miss my own daddy who left for heaven nearly 40 years ago.  (How can that be?) For some reason this fall was a sad time for me as I thought about how much Mom and Dad would have loved knowing and welcoming all their great-grandchildren.

The fall was filled with anticipation and preparations for my youngest son Jake’s December 28th marriage to Sarah. What a joy it was to watch them (umm…Sarah, that is) turn yard sale finds into lovely pieces for their apartment and to experience their growing excitement for sharing life together as husband and wife. As any of you who have watched a son marry can attest, the convergence of the joy of my sons’ upcoming wedding and the melancholic sweetness of his years as “my boy” coming to an official end resulted in a strange roller coaster of familiar but nuanced emotions. Jake is the sixth of seven of my kids to marry so I’m pretty accustomed to the ride. But him being my last son to marry during the same year I will turn 60 made me feel…old. More on that another time.

Caroline Christmas

Merry Christmas to Granma!

Three days before the wedding brought a surprise for our family. Our oldest daughter Jaime, who typically gives birth a week or so late, called me the morning of December 23rd, about ten days before her due date. “Mom, I think something must be happening.  Can you come over?” Gratefully Jaime and PJ live just minutes away. Her biggest concern was the wedding. How could she be a bridesmaid with a 72-hour-old baby??? When I arrived it was clear that Caroline Rae was going to be the best Christmas gift a Granma could ever receive. In just a couple of hours she whisked into a room full of eager observers (yes, my girls actually like giving birth in a crowd!) and by early afternoon everyone was off to enjoy their Christmas Eve plans. Benny and I left asking ourselves if we really did just watch number 13 enter the world with just enough time to get ready for our 26 People to show up the next morning for Christmas breakfast?

Sarah and Jake

Jake and his beautiful bride

Jake and Sarah’s wedding was a wonderful celebration of God’s faithfulness. Benny enjoyed the privilege of performing our 6th child’s wedding and PJ worked hard the night before to “hem” one of the layers of Jaime’s dress (with scotch tape) so it would keep his no-longer-nine-months-prengant wife from tripping down the aisle. As I stood in the back waiting to be seated by my handsome and beaming son I realized afresh how forever blessed I have been. The doctor who told my parents when I was a teen that I could never have children didn’t know God had other plans. And that day I witnessed my youngest biological child say “I Do” to the godly woman for whom I’ve prayed for over twenty years.

Me and my beautiful daughters (and Jaime has a three day old baby!)

Me and my girls…yes, that’s Jaime 2nd from the left with her husband-hemmed dress.

After the whirlwind of two babies and a wedding the reality of life with a daughter still in college, getting caught up on some needed items with my part time job working for my son, ongoing adjustments to having Benny’s mom living with us and the joy of helping two daughters with newborns has left little time for writing.

Plus, God has been moving around in my heart about things I will likely write about at some point. In the midst of all the wonderful new things that have been happening in my life there have also been challenges. Isn’t He kind to wisely and lovingly govern both the joys and sorrows we face? Puritan Thomas Watson wrote about pharmacists of the time who skillfully measured just the right amount of ingredients to cure a patients’ specific need. And mixed in with the medicinal items was usually a bit of arsenic.

There’s a lesson there: sometimes poison can actually be added to life’s vicissitudes to heal what ails. And over these months I’ve seen that principle at work in my life. Through good times and hard; laughter and tears; joy and sorrow; bursts of faith and bouts with unbelief He has been near. My times of solitude with Him are among the most prized moments in recent months, even though they often happened through tears of joy one moment and sadness the next.

A few of you have asked how often I plan to post. I still don’t know. But there are some things stirring in my heart that I want to share. I think the time is right for some of them is soon.

I’m sure God has been busy in your life, too. What has He been up to? More on that in the next day or two.

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New Years Eve With a Cute Redhead

JJThis New Year’s Eve most of our adult kids were out for the evening — and no wonder we weren’t asked to join them. After all, it was a great night for a sleepover with four of our Little People. After dinner out with our oldest daughter, Jaime, and her family we took the littles home and tucked them in. JJ, age seven, learned over dinner that his cousin, Wyatt (also seven), would be staying up till midnight with his parents and sisters.

“Granma,” he said, looking up at me with tender greenish eyes that match perfectly with his red hair, “can I stay up late, too?”

What’s a Granma to do? Say yes, of course! The only problem was his two younger sisters were determined they would all sleep in the same room and go to bed at the same time.

“How ’bout if you lay down until your sisters fall asleep, then sneak out quietly to join Granma and Papa in the family room?” I offered.

The tired little girls fell asleep in record time and before long a little boy wearing only underwear under his new Auburn Tigers blanket climbed onto the recliner with Granma. Forget the movie Benny and I were watching. There was an adorable little redhead cuddling with me that wanted to talk. As I sat stroking his hair I couldn’t help but remember similar moments with his daddy. Replace the red hair with blonde, the green-blue eyes with sky blue and erase the freckles and you’ll know why Joshua Junior (JJ) is the perfect name for this little man.

Yet before long I will be looking up to him. Yes, it will happen faster than I think. I learned that from his father. He’s already getting lanky and calling guys “Dude.” It’s just a matter of time before I hear he’s got a crush on a girl or he’s wanting to show me his just-acquired driver’s license.

Getting old is hard in many ways. Sometimes I feel frumpy and unattractive. I can’t keep as many plates spinning as I used to. I can too frequently describe people to a tee but can’t remember their names. I ask Benny to hand me that…um…”metal thing with rounded spokes that I use to stir things fast when I don’t want to get out the mixer” before the word whisk meanders into my brain . Aches and pains linger and sleep evades.

But aging has some amazing perks. I get to play duck, duck goose and Candy Land again. Make bubble baths and convince little ones it’s time to get out when little fingertips get wrinkled. Listen to slowly spoken words of new readers who couldn’t wait to show Granma how smart they are. Get to use the small wooden table and chairs that still bear paint marks and scratches put there by their mommies and daddies. Pray for young hearts to be softened to their need for a Savior.

And snuggle with an underwear clad, freckle faced boy who thinks hanging out with Granma on New Years Eve is cool.

How many years will it be till spending time with friends means less time with me? When will he stop offering to talk about whatever comes to mind and make me work hard to ask just the right question to unlock his thoughts? Will he someday find time at Granma’s something he’s expected to do rather than gets to do?

Until these questions are answered I will just enjoy the gift of having Little People in my life.

I sure am happy I can still remember their names.

Grandkids Christmas 2012

My Little People

Kayla, Wyatt, Annie, Danae, JJ, Elsie, Ellie, Sam, Issac, Josiah and Amelia: I’m looking forward to another year of snuggles. And I’m hoping that Granma’s is a place you’ll always want to come. Even when you’re big, no longer want to take bubble baths with your cousins, and would rather be just about anywhere else but my house on New Years Eve, I want you to know that time with you is pretty much my favorite thing to do.

Well, except for getaways with Papa.

What Are Your Children Catching These Days?

I’m the blessed mom of both sons and daughters. There are priceless blessings about having both but when you have seven you’re bound to get at least one of each.

That happened to me with our first two.

Jaime was well known for her smiles!

When Joshua was sixteen months old a baby girl came into our lives. Back then you only had sonograms when there was a potential problem so we didn’t know who was coming that Saturday in the fall of 1979. As Benny drove me to the hospital I cried. First because I was overwhelmed that I was having a baby two weeks early on the very day people were coming to help us load a moving van with boxes I had been s-l-o-w-l-y packing for weeks. But my tears were mostly because my baby would be born on the anniversary of my older brother’s death at age 27 just four years earlier. A very sad day was about to become a happy one and I was especially thrilled for my mom. As we left the house she said, “My mourning is about to be turned to joy.” Wow.

If we had a girl Benny wanted her to share my name so we were both hoping for Jaime Sheree. Because of my longstanding battle with infertility (which we didn’t want to presume were over just because God brought us two children in just over a year) I knew this baby could be my last. A boy and a girl would be just perfect.

You seldom had to wonder what Jaime was thinking — her face usually showed it!

When my daughter was put into my arms I overwhelmed. Dolls. Toenail polish. Earrings. Ruffled socks. Dresses. This mini-me with light hair and slate blue eyes filled me with wonder. I had a little girl to raise; to teach; to train to be a wife and mother herself; to watch Disney movies with. The mixture of responsibility and fun squeezed my heart.

God wasn’t finished giving me babies and Jaime welcomed each with joy. At 3 1/2 she eagerly welcomed baby brother Jesse and by the time Joey came less than two years later she had become an experienced big sister. When another little surprise was coming soon after, God answered her prayers for a baby sister. By the time Jake and Julia came I had to sometimes remind her that I, not she, was the Mom.

If you have a daughter you know the feeling of wanting to do a good job of being mommy to a little girl. As the mother of boys I loved the fun, laughter, antics, rough housing and boy stuff.  I loved how different the boys were from me — and how they competed about everything. But I have to admit that mothering daughters has been more weighty to me. I’ve felt a level of responsibility that has a different “flavor” than raising boys — an awareness that a part of me was being duplicated in my girls for good or not-so-good.

The first of five siblings comes home to a delighted big sister (and brother).

One day I was enjoying what had become a favorite part of my day — eavesdropping on Josh and Jaime playing together. I especially loved it when they were playing Benny and Sheree, so whenever I caught wind of this I dropped what I was doing to listen. “Benny and Sheree” were sitting at a kid’s table (that their children now use at Granma’s) having dinner at a restaurant.

“Benny we need to go now cuz the baby needs to go to bed,” Jaime said. “Okay,” agreed Josh, “but wait! I forgot my wallet! Do you have any money?” “No!” Jaime snapped, cramming her hands onto her hips. “You NEVER leave me any money!”

I had to cover my mouth to silence the chuckles from blowing my cover. They had just role-played an interaction between Benny and me at a family dinner out just days earlier! I got to see and hear myself through my little girl’s eyes and ears. While there was some comic exaggeration in their exchange, it wasn’t that far from what really happened!

Yep, back in the day kids got “dressed up” every Sunday. I loved having an excuse to buy dresses!

That day I learned the next important truth I want to pass along to young moms: when it comes to parenting, more is caught than taught. (That phrase isn’t original; it’s one I heard years ago from a source I can’t remember.) We moms talk a lot to our kids. We correct; warn; instruct; remind; encourage; comfort. But nothing we say will affect our children as much as how we live

During her teen years my awareness of the importance of my motherly example deepened. While I tried to resist the pressure of thinking her maturity was directly related to my effectiveness, I found myself fretful at times. Was I doing a good job raising her in the throes of mothering her five younger siblings? Was I expecting too much help and service from her as the oldest girl in a large family? How affected was she by my struggles and sin patterns? What kind of young woman was she becoming? How would she reflect on our relationship when she looks back as an adult woman? Was she “catching” my preferences or my values?

I have some really good news for moms of daughters. How you live your life day in and day out is making a difference in your little girl’s life. You are weak and flawed. You don’t always set the kind of example you want for her. But you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t value motherhood and strive to be a really good mom.

I still see this face in my grown up daughter. Now she has a daughter this age!

Jaime and I went through our share of hard times. I didn’t make it easy for her to share her struggles and temptations. In fact, I assumed that how we were raising our kids meant they probably wouldn’t have the same kinds of struggles we did as teens. (What were we thinking??? If you have thought that, too, please reconsider. Temptations are common from one generation to the next, no matter how you are raised.) I didn’t ask enough gentle, compassionate and probing questions…then ask them again as the Holy Spirit led next week or the week after and the month after!…that would have helped our relationship and provided her with a come-alongside-me Mom to empathize with her struggles.

But God has been faithful.

In spite of my mothering weaknesses Jaime not only survived but flourished. She is the mother of four adorable children who are a joy to have around. She and her husband, PJ, are raising their children to love God and His church — and to enjoy their relationships as a family. My “I don’t wanna homeschool” teenaged daughter has become a vibrant homeschooling mom who is being used to serve and help other homeschooling families in our area. How wonderful it is to me to have a daughter who humbly acknowledges her temptations and struggles. I get to empathize with her, remind her of my own struggles and point her to the God who redeemed my own flawed motherhood for good in her life.

And He will do the same for her.

Jaime and the soldier boy who won her heart.

Please don’t interpret my homeschooling example wrongly. The point isn’t that I homeschooled and now she does. She and her husband could have chosen another educational route for their children that was best for their family. The point is this: more really is caught than taught. My little girl caught that being a wife, mother and homemaker is valuable even in a culture that salutes achievement outside the home over the daily grind of rearing children. What that looks like in her life isn’t exactly the same as it did in mine — but there are enough similarities for me to regularly stop and thank God for the incredible woman she is and that she did catch some good stuff from the mom who sarcastically chastised her daddy for never leaving me any money.

My daughter studying the beautiful face of her own just-born daughter. What a moment.

With God’s supernatural help, keep doing what you’re doing with your kids. Through countless baths, peanut butter sandwiches, reminders to be kind, requests for forgiveness for being harsh, diaper changes, bedtime prayers and corrections for doing wrong you are modeling for your daughter what godly womanhood is all about. And if you have boys, you are teaching them what to look for in a wife someday as your example creates in them an appetite to love someone that’s kinda like Mom.

Think about it. It’s likely that the little girl you’re reminding not to take the clothes off her dolly because you know she’ll lose them will have a real baby of her own someday. Until then, day by day you are demonstrating for her how to love and care for that little one she will someday hold in her arms. Oh, what a day that will be.

My Jaime Sheree has a Kayla Sheree with three younger siblings who are being raised by a mom whose mom is watching. You see, I’m still kind of eavesdropping on her. What I’m seeing and hearing still makes me chuckle at times — but it mostly makes me grateful to God for giving my grandchildren such an incredible mother.

Jaime and I are different in many ways. I don’t have a tattoo, never played basketball when I was 8 months pregnant, didn’t birth any of my kids in the tub at home and didn’t allow her to watch Star Wars movies till she was 14. Yet I’m grateful for what we have in common: saving faith in God; love for our husbands and children; affection for and involvement in a wonderful church; joy in our family; and a life of often exhausting and sin-tainted service to others. Only God could do that.

Happy Birthday, sweetie! The day you were born changed me — and watching you become the incredible, godly woman you are today reminds me that in the midst of the ups and downs of motherhood God makes sure that more is caught than taught.

PJ and Jaime with Kayla, Wyatt, Anniston and Danae. (Photo by Megan Kauflin)

Go Ahead, Laugh Now

If you’re a mom of small children, do you ever find yourself resenting the daily grind and responsibilities of caring for little ones? Of course you do! During this blog series one of my primary goals is to put my arm around your shoulder and remind you that:

  • You’re not alone
  • Don’t be condemned by your/your children’s sinful choices
  • You’re gonna miss this
  • Sooner than you think you’ll be looking up to them

(If you haven’t read those posts yet you can scroll down to do so.) Motherhood is like any other hard work: it’s tiring. Day after day you do the same things over and over. I want to share with you a really effective secret to offset the challenges of your often wearisome life. So here’s what I want to tell you today: effective mothers know how to laugh.

My mother taught me to laugh at my children. As a grandmother I now know why she so easily found humor in the things my kids said and did. She laughed as she told me that 2-year-old Josh put a booger in her mouth during worship one Sunday morning (she thought it was part of his chewing gum). Laughed when she tripped over one of the kids shoes and heard a little voice yelling, “Wow Nannie, your underwear is huge!” Laughed when antics that tempted me to be frustrated with interruptions and changed plans sent her scurrying to the bathroom because laughter pressure sends lots of older mothers running to pee.

She taught me well. While I worked hard to teach and train my kids, I also loved laughing at them. (Still do!) Laughter takes the edge off training and even disciplining them. Before Mom moved in with us for her last 8 years she and I talked on the phone almost daily. Her favorite part of the conversation was when I shared a funny thing or two that happened that day — and as soon as we got off the phone I knew she was calling one of her sisters to brighten their day with the latest grandkid story. Knowing how much Mom loved to laugh at my kids helped me look for and find humor in things that may have otherwise left me scowling.

Don’t get me wrong; I still got irritated. But when I would complain to Mom about finding clean and folded sheets turned into a fort in the boys room or finally discovering a bunch of missing apples in the toilet, her guffaws reminded me that laughter really is “good medicine.”

Recently a friend commented that she noticed how much our family laughs together. Hmmm…sometimes the laughter is in the form of mocking that we don’t know is hurtful (usually to one of us girls). But she’s right. We love to laugh. Mom taught us that. And without her reminders I think I would have taken motherhood way too seriously.

“Taken motherhood too seriously?” you ask. “Motherhood is the most serious thing ever! And if I laugh at my kids they won’t take me seriously. Surely you’re not saying I should encourage their wrong behavior or attitudes by laughing at them?!?”

Motherhood is the.most.serious.thing you will do with your life. Nurturing little people and doing your part to prepare them to be mature, wise, courageous and godly young adults is no small task! Rearing little boys and girls to embrace their roles and responsibilities in the home, church and society is…well…really serious.

But take it from a woman who has devoted nearly thirty-five years to the weighty responsibilities of raising kids: laughing at them is really important.

Sometimes you can’t let them see you laugh. Like the time 9-year-old Janelle ran headlong down the basketball court in the wrong direction but eager to score with her Nannie screaming, “Go, MIssy! Go!!!!” Or the time 4-year-old Josh “bathed” his little sister in (clean, thankfully!) toilet water using Mommy’s maxipads. Or the day I found my toddler sons in a fist fight for the first (and only, thankfully!) time and had to stop chuckling before I broke it up.

Even when letting them see your grins could embarrass them or minimize the wrong of what they’re doing, grin secretly on. Kids are funny and sometimes Moms can’t see the forest for the trees. Enjoying the wonder and hilarity of having little kids around makes the weight more bearable.

Once I realized that I needed to be a laughing mom I decided that the first words out of my mouth to Benny would be something funny the kids did or said. Prior to that I found myself looking forward to him calling or walking in the door because I could finally let off some of the days’ steam. I wanted something — sympathy? thanks? comfort? help? — so I too often unleashed my woes from the day onto my husband.

What a difference it made to let my first comments to him about the day be funny ones. Like the time Josh, Jaime and I searched for nearly 30 minutes for 3-year-old Jesse, only to find him in the kitchen closet patiently waiting to say “Boo!” to me as I walked by. In earlier years I would have complained about how exasperated I was by him not responding to our repeated calls — and how Daddy needed to talk to him about how important it is to respect and respond to Mommy and how dinner was gonna be late because I wasted thirty minutes looking for his son.

Stop and think about the things your kids did months or years ago that resulted in you being mad or frustrated or tardy — but that you now hold as endearing memories that make you smile. Why not smile sooner rather than later? Being a mother gives you a front row seat to a multi-year comedy club! American’s Funniest Home Videos is happening at your house multiple times throughout the weeks and months. When you walk in to get a 2-year-old up one morning  and find poop finger painted on the walls above the crib, you can think, “Perfect. Just how I wanted to start my day! Thanks, kid.” Or you can stop for a second and fast forward to the day when you’ll tell his or her fiance about this. So go grab your camera.

If it’ll be funny later, it can be funny now.

Papa’s Skipped Naps

It was the mid 80’s and we were spending another year vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our growing family. Benny decided to set aside his daily naps to spend time making memories with each of our children. One by one, he took them out for lunch and to get ice cream, buy a T shirt or ride go karts.

With each passing year they started anticipating their time out with Dad. But they were kids. Did they look forward to it just because being the only kid meant getting a bigger dessert or an extra go kart ride? Would they someday realize that memories really were being made or would their own fading memories result in forgetting Dad’s Day Out?

It was quite a project, but we got a family picture done last week!

Last week we were on our annual vacation at the beach. (My People, as I fondly call them, are pictured here.) Early in the week I was sitting under the beach canopy when I heard my two oldest grandsons, 7-year-olds JJ and Wyatt, interacting over their afternoon plans. JJ excitedly told Wyatt he was going out with Daddy on his motorcycle for lunch. “Really? I’m going out with my parents, too!” Wyatt responded.

Before I knew it my eyes were filling with tears. The kids did appreciate their times out with Dad! And now a new generation is benefitting from parents skipping their well-deserved beach naps to make memories with their kids.

Sometimes we parents wonder if our kids notice. Do they notice that we pray for them when we tuck them in each night? Stay up late to help them with a school assignment? Go without clothes or shoes so we can spend the money on them? Rave over their scribbled Sunday School pictures as if they’re works of art? Skip a nap to say “I love you?”

As a mother, I sometimes feel unappreciated for the sacrifices motherhood continues to place on me even though my youngest is nearly 18. I still don’t buy myself things so I can bless them, pray for them most nights, skip sleep to babysit the little ones or help with homework, and rave over their accomplishments. The fact is, parenting is hard and often thankless work with delayed benefits.

But when we get a glimpse of those benefits, it can take our breath away.

On the beach that day I got to see the fruit of Benny’s sacrifices. I saw the same glimmer of excitement in the eyes of two little boys that I saw in their parents eyes decades ago. Each day little people talked about it being their day out, then came back to chatter about what they had for lunch or show off their new T shirt.

Are you a parent who wonders if the sacrifices you are making mean much to your kids? Do you find yourself longing for some indication that you’re efforts appreciated?

Sometimes thanks comes in ways we can’t anticipate. Last week Benny received a great big “Thanks, Dad” without anyone saying a word to him.

Delayed parental fruit can sometimes be more sweet than immediate gratitude. If you are struggling with wondering if your sacrifices are even noticed by your kids, be patient. Your willingness to go without sleep or clothes or gratitude is making you like the One who sacrificed His very life so you could have a relationship with Him. The daily choices you are making are noticed by Him…and will produce fruit that you can’t yet see.

Someday your kids will thank you. Just maybe without words.

And take it from a Granma of eleven…future generations will be blessed by your every sacrifice. So keep laying down your life. Someday the fruit will take your breath away.

The Little People who are benefitting from their Papa’s skipped vacation naps.

6 + 5 = She Changed my Life

Who wouldn’t fall in love?

Granma doesn’t have many rules but there’s one really important one: my Little People aren’t allowed to get older than 6. I’m unapologetically unwilling to make even one exception.

So today my firstborn Little Person turns 6 + 5.

Little Fairy Princess

July 19, 2001 was a birth day for me, too. It’s the day the Granma in me was born. Before then I was Princess to my Daddy; Sheree (pronounced wrongly quite a bit) to most others; Honey to Benny; and Mom to my seven J’s. But a new “me” was born when Kayla Sheree rushed into my world.

Watching my girl have a baby girl was breathtaking. Kayla made her entrance in a room of family members eager to welcome the first in a new generation.  That day she didn’t have to steal my heart. I gladly handed it to her. This tiny little person immediately clutched my heart till I thought it would burst with love. I had wondered for months how it would feel. Would it feel similarly to the seven times eager arms had held my own newborns? Or would it take some time to fall in love with someone to whom I didn’t give birth? I had been a birth assistant numerous times and felt a sweet bond with the little ones I watched come into the world. Would the warmth in my heart feel like that…or different?

That sweet smile remains…almost all the time.

Even today she loves being “Sissy”

I don’t remember answering those questions. I didn’t have to. I realized I loved her that first night I learned from surprised parents that she was coming; loved her more when I saw her tiny body on the sonogram screen; loved her again for being used by God to remind my daughter of what she wanted to be more than anything; loved that my Jaime Sheree wanted to pass along my name to the next generation; loved her with intense anticipation as I coached Jaime through contractions and assured her she would be worth it all. And then loved her all the more when I held her in my arms that first time. Because of her I had a new name.

I chose Granma because I wanted a “real” Grandmother name that didn’t sound anything close to Nannie. You see, no one could ever replace her. When my kids saw my mother, there was a sparkle in their eyes I only saw then. Nannie was the object of special love from my seven J’s. So I would be Granma and no one could compare me to “the best grandmother EVER!”

There’s that smile!

Watching her grow up has been so much fun! One of the perks of being Granma is that I get to experience all the delicious joy with none of the weighty responsibilities! From birth Kayla has been smiley and pleasant. A “starter baby.” I warned Jaime not to expect future babies to be so easy. She later thanked me for the warning. Smile.

The best thing Kayla did for me is bring light into several years of darkness. The years preceding her birth were hard ones for our family, culminating in the sudden death of Mom and Nannie in July 2000. Her birth almost one year later to the day reminded me that joy really does come in the morning. After she was born there was something to look forward to each day. Even when I didn’t see her, I got to ask, talk,think and journal about her. Pray for and anticipate seeing her. Hold, rock and sing to her.

She made me smile and laugh and hope again.

I will never forget the day she ran to me for the first time.  It was the fall of 2002 and she was 16 months old. I was standing in our church lobby on a Sunday morning when I saw Jaime out of the corner of my eye. Momentarily, I heard that sweet little voice and looked down. From across the room I saw her trotting toward me with arms extended. And it was there! The sparkle! Could it be that she loved me like my children loved Nannie?

And so I loved her again.

Such a great big sister to Wyatt, Annie and “Nae Nae”

She keeps doing that to me. How can love keep growing like this? I love her for caring so deeply for others; working hard to help Mommy at home; spontaneously squeezing and kissing her little sister or calling Wyatt her “buddy”; getting excited about babysitting lots of nieces and nephews (and not just when Uncle Josh gives her money); thanking me over and over for “letting” her come over to help me clean; opening up to her mom about things she hasn’t yet realized most kids don’t talk to their parents about; kissing and hugging me at least 3 times before we leave; making me notes that tell me I’m the best Granma ever; standing next to me each Sunday morning so we can worship and hug; and exclaiming that she just had “the best day” of her life whenever we do anything special together.

She’s becoming a young lady way too quickly!

Does it sound like I’m pretty self-aware when it comes to her? LIke it’s all about what she does for me and how she has enriched my life and makes me feel special?

Her laugh still lights up my world.

Hmmmm. I think you might be onto something. One man said grandchildren are great because they are born with an understanding that their grandparents are far more wonderful and smart than their mom and dad ever realized. I’m sure part of why I adore Kayla is because she thinks I can do no wrong. (Like the day she asked why I had been crying and I told her it was because I had been asking the Lord to forgive me of some sin.  “Granma, you don’t sin!!!!” she confidently exclaimed.) Or maybe because she rescued me from a long season of heartache and sadness, so I’ve become overly focused on how my life has been enriched by her.

Becoming Granma ten more times to the Little People who have followed her so far has created explosion after explosion in my aging heart of fresh love for those with whom, by God’s saving grace, I will spent eternity. I regularly remind myself that they will become the grandparents of those I will not meet until That day.

No; being Granma isn’t about me but about spending myself to leave a legacy of godly womanhood for little girls to follow and little boys to look for when it’s time.

Recently she asked if I was planning to take her to Tea for her birthday this year. (Like her mother, I have to remember to think before I do anything with her because if she has fun it will likely have to become “a tradition.”) I asked how long she expected us to do this each year.

“Till I’m 6 + 100!” Looks like she and I will be having tea in heaven. What fun that will be!

But for now it’s time to get dressed for a birthday tea with 6 + 5.

My Legacy Curriculum

Yesterday would have been Mom’s 86th birthday. Since her death in July 2000, I have missed her greatly. But for some reason, this year it hit harder than in recent years.

One of my favorite pics of her…so typical.

Missing her has been tempered by a deep-rooted joy in knowing she is in heaven. Mom had a genuine, tested-by-fire and saving faith in Jesus Christ. I was there when she met her Savior as children and grandchildren worshiped around her hospital bed. And her final words have helped me through some weighty trials over the past 13 years: “God is in control and everything He does is good.”

Over the past week my thoughts of Mom have produced musings about the legacy I want to leave for My People. I want my life to count for those I will never meet in this life. Mom died before any of my eleven and counting grandchildren were born. But her life has influenced theirs through my children and me. How? Here are just a couple of the ways…

We love to laugh. Especially at each other.

Mom (far right) with Aunt Ocie and Aunt Vergie on Jaime’s 13th birthday.

Hardly a day passed without Mom calling one of her sisters to tell them some hilarious (to her, at least) story about one of her grandchildren. Sometimes I used to stand at the door of the little apartment we added onto our home just to hear her “die laughing” with one of the Aunts about some antic or silly saying by one of the kids. Her ability to find and enjoy humor in everyday life situations taught me to do the same…and one of our favorite things to do as a fam is tell exaggerated stories about one another. We love to laugh because of her.

One of the many showers she helped me with!

Food isn’t just to keep us alive.

Being raised during the depression affected Mom in several ways, and one of them was the cherished place food had in being a family. Everything was homemade with very few written recipes. Except for the Stove Top dressing. Mom had me in the kitchen at a young age making fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, pies, mac and cheese, pineapple upside cakes and chicken n dumplings. And cooking was a fun event, not a duty.Because of her, our holidays, birthdays and just-hang-out-for-no-reason times always involve lots of food and lingering around the table laughing and talking.

We cherish family…a lot.

Mom grew up with 7 siblings who she loved and stayed connected to throughout her life. Her sibs were her closest friends. They turned to each other for help, comfort and laughs. After Daddy’s death from a heart attack when she was just 49, Mom’s relationships with other couples waned and my aunts and uncles took even more of a front seat in her life. They argued, disagreed, fussed, gossiped and got angry…but the phone call was eventually made to be reconciled. She was the one who first told my little Joshua and Jaime, “You need to be nice to each other because your friends will come and go but you will have each other for the rest of your lives.”

How many grandmothers do “dress alike” with their 3-year-old grandson? (May 1981, Josh age 3)

A few nights ago when Josh texted Jake at 10 PM wondering why in the world he hadn’t come over the watch a game with him, I smiled.  I reminded him that this is what happens when you grow up in a litter. The puppies love being together. We have Mom to thank for that.

We want to trust God and persevere through trials.

Mom lived a life of suffering and sacrifice. She dropped out of school at age 12 to clean homes to help support the family; raised her youngest brother as her own when she and Dad were just starting their own family; lost several children to miscarriage; worked nights as a waitress to bring in extra money; watched one brother die in a house fire and another to brain cancer; cared for my older brother after he was left paralyzed at age 21 in a swimming accident; lived with chronic pain for most of her life before and after 7 back and neck surgeries; and lost my dad just 8 months after my brother died at age 27.

Yet her smile and veracious commitment to serving others remained through it all. In her early 70’s she accepted a job to be the companion of “an old lady” (of 80) — and

Vacationing in Cape Cod with us in 1996.

came home with funny stories (like the time this dear woman was confused about the Grand Canyon being in New York City). Through pain and declining health she babysat grandchildren, made biscuits and fried apples for whoever was craving them, taught me how to start Thanksgiving prep days in advance, reached out to neighbors with food or help with their own aging parents…without a complaint.

It’s an amazing thing to watch my children mirror the persevering love for God we observed in Mom. As they’ve gotten older, I have brought them in on her story more

Her favorite times were when all her kids and grandkids were together (1988 at Fairfax Covenant Church, Fairfax, VA)

and more. To them, she was Nannie: vibrant, fun, loving, involved, and cheering them on at basketball games (even when Janelle was running down the court about to score for the other team). Because of her faith and joyful trust in God, they knew nothing of her life of suffering. But they did know that she and her sisters climbed up onto the roof of their little house and threw the cat off repeatedly to find it if it would indeed have nine lives.

I have my legacy curriculum. God, by Your grace and power help me to pass on to my people what she passed on to me.

They Call me Mom

Still goofy.
From L to R: Jake, Josh, Me, Jaime, Janelle, Julia, Joey; Jesse (in front)

Last week’s Mother’s Day happening couldn’t include all of my people because a few were out of town. So we delayed our celebration until yesterday. Our loud and crazy group descended on Josh and Rachel’s home where we had lunch, watched sports and played in the pool. (You can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you would like.)

I love it when all of of are together. I often think about women my age who don’t have all their children and grandchildren nearby. Honestly, sometimes I feel guilty. In a store recently I was chatting with an older woman like myself and the conversation turned to family. Grinning, she told me about a daughter in the midwest who just had her second baby and asked if I had grandchildren.  When I mentioned I had eleven, she responded in typical fashion.

Take Two…or was it three?

“Eleven??? That’s amazing!  How many children do you have?”

I love those divine invitations to speak of God’s faithfulness. I explained that I was never supposed to have children, but that God gave me 7 miracle babies — the last being adopted. I can’t count the number of times God has used the heartache of my infertility and His power to heal as a way to communicate the gospel.

Our departure from the grocery store brought the familiar temptation to guilt. Why do I get the privilege of having all my people nearby when others don’t?

Then I remembered someone warning Benny and me years ago not to “apologize for God’s will.” He wisely discerned that we were nervously concerned about the affects on others of a decision we needed to make. He shared that while sensitivity was appropriate, we didn’t need to give in to the temptation to tip toe in conversations about our decision. It was the first time I had considered how often I did “apologize” for God.

Josh, please…just one good pic!

I don’t know how long all my children and grandchildren will live nearby. Once they start their own families Benny and I are intentional in doing all we can to encourage them to “leave and cleave.”  This could certainly mean watching the Lord move them to other cities to pursue God’s will for their lives.

And I don’t want them to apologize for Him.

For now, it’s God’s will for my 7 children and 11 grandchildren to live within minutes of each other. My children are all taller than me. Five are married and multiplying. The first to leave for college is moving in just months when we gather up his belonging to head up I-75 to Gainesville where he will attend the University of Florida law school. Julia’s high school graduation is in 2 weeks.

But they are still my children. My gifts from God. My regular reminders that God heals and answers prayer. The sources of both my greatest joy and my temptations to worry. The former babies and toddlers who I knew would grow up too quickly, yet I could find no way to stop it. The ones who show up on Sunday mornings (along with others) at our new little church to help lug chairs, play instruments, do children’s ministry, train their own toddlers to be still during worship, and greet guests. The godly men and women who are now among my closest friends.

These amazing people are the fulfillment of God’s promise to “make the barren woman live in her house as the joyful mother of children” (Ps 113:9).

I love them. They still make me laugh and drive me to my knees to pray. Even though they’ve given me the most adorable little people ever, their hugs remain the ones that warm my heart the most. Their opinions of me matter more than anyone’s on this earth. After Mother’s Day or birthdays, I take their cards into my bedroom and set them nearby for weeks to read and read again. I watch them from across rooms or gyms or ball fields and still wonder how I got to be the mom of someone so amazing.

Oh, how I love being Granma.

There they are…my Big People. Love them so!

But there’s a deep and protected and cherished place in my heart reserved for those who call me Mom. And as long as I can drop by Josh’s office to grab one of my boys for lunch; respond to Janelle’s spontaneous request to have me take her to lunch; meet  Jaime to run errands with the kids; or take Julia to Michael’s to get art supplies I will cherish every moment of having them nearby.

Unapologetically.

We Were Dreamers

I’m taking a quick break from the weighty posts I’ve been doing to share a fun update on our family.

Josh doing sound on the church’s first Sunday.

PJ helps with administration and heavy lifting. 🙂

When our children who now range from almost 18 to 33 were young, Benny and I dreamed and prayed regularly about the day when they would be adults who loved God and served alongside us in the church. Like most parents of young children, we assumed our kids would always live nearby and that we would spend decades together up in Fairfax, Virginia serving side by side. Over the years that dream has been disregarded when moves separated us and when we walked through hardships and sin that tested my faith. We struggled through, and came to a place of peace that the best and most biblical thing we can do for our adult children is to release them to love and follow God’s will — even and especially if that means living in a different city or being part of a different church than Dad and Mom.

Love the greetings from the Little People!

Before I proceed, I want to first express my heartfelt compassion for anyone reading this with a child who is not walking with the Lord or grandchildren you rarely see. The heartache of a spiritually wayward or rebellious child is one of the hardest things a godly mother can face. And being a grandmother whose little ones live far away is a challenge I’ve experienced but am not currently facing. My heart truly goes out to you. I hope my story sparks faith in your heart that God is good. His goodness may not look the same in my life and yours, and you may be in a dark and tempting time in your life, but He remains good and your story isn’t over. I hope my story doesn’t tempt you…but that it encourages you. Our family has walked through some really hard things and challenges remain. Some people look and think we have an “ideal” family. Yet those who know us well know that is certainly not true. We are sinners who have walked through our share of painful situations. But God has been faithful and has done a miracle by keeping us loving and serving together.

The kids enjoy our little children’s ministry.

Janelle enjoys her longtime desire to participate on a worship team.

Before Benny started Redeemer Church in January, we met with all our children to solicit their counsel and tell them what God was doing. At that time Benny communicated to our five married children and their spouses that they were under no obligation to join us on this crazy adventure. He reminded them of what they have heard from us numerous times before: we were available to ask questions and provide counsel at their invitation, but it was important that they spend time talking and praying as a couple, and pursuing the input of others.

To our complete joy, they came to us one by one over several months to say they had decided as a couple that God was calling them to be a part of Redeemer Church. While this was meaningful to me as a mom, it was especially humbling as a mother-in-law. My three daughters-in-law have dear friendships at  and warm affection for the church that was sending us out.  Two of them, in fact, had grown up in the church and had decades of fond memories with the people there. We made sure in each case that they hadn’t felt pressure from us to make this decision and were grateful to hear they each felt the Lord had spoken to them personally. What amazing young women.

Our church has several passionate worship leaders. So grateful!

The night the last of the couples announced to us that they would be coming, Benny and I laid in bed and cried. God doesn’t call all married children to do something like this. But story after story from our kids convinced us that God had moved their hearts and confirmed His will through their own subjective impressions, coupled with prayer and discussion.

We were especially moved when the parents said a big draw for them was giving their children the opportunity to be on a church plant. They wanted them to experience the joy and sacrifice of seeing God grow a church…with their help!

Wyatt here and JJ (below) are pitching in to serve.

Through every trial and storm, through all the years of doubting God’s faithfulness, and through numerous sinful choices that tempted us to believe our prayers long ago were just the sentimental desires of loving parents to want to do life with their kids, God was there. He knew what we didn’t: that Benny would plant a new church in his late 50’s that would include every one of our children and grandchildren.

There are numerous others who are making Redeemer Church possible — we couldn’t do it without them! And I don’t know how long the Lord will allow us as a family to do life and church together. But for now, I’m savoring every moment.

Every moment of watching my grandsons usher or lug equipment or learn to tear down drums with daddy — like he did many years ago with Papa.

Every moment of watching my little people walk up to visiting children to say hi and ask if they want to walk to children’s ministry with them.

Jesse preached for the first time at Redeemer last Sunday.

Every moment of watching my men lead worship; unload equipment; brainstorm with others about how to make things run more smoothly; preach; greet; or load equipment on the truck.

Every moment of hearing my ladies prophecy, head out to help with children’s ministry, invite someone new to lunch or walk up to pray for another woman during a ministry time.

Every moment of watching my Benny setting up chairs or greeting a guest or positioning himself at the podium to preach or grinning over how God provided all the funds needed last month.

Josh leading worship.

Last week I had a wonderful time of fellowship with a dear friend. One of the things we talked about (and that I’ve been blogging about) is how perplexing life is right now. We agreed that in many ways things just haven’t “turned out” like we expected. Another friend and I were chucking about this just yesterday. It’s not that we had a list of expectations in our minds, but obviously we were expecting something and whatever that was isn’t what life looks like right now!

But there’s an exception for me.

Benny doing what he loves!

I prayed and dreamed and hoped and…yeah, expected…that my kids would grow up to love the Lord and His church. I longed for my grandchildren to have the opportunity to be a part of a church where, like their parents, they were trained to serve and sacrifice because every single hand was needed to get the job done. (Which is true in every church — old or new; small or large!) I wanted to watch my Benny spend his latter years alongside his sons working to see the gospel preached through the local church. I prayed that I would have the kind of relationship with my adult daughters and (at the time) future daughters-in-law where we could enjoy biblical fellowship and pass biblical womanhood on to a new generation of little girls.

Our favorite (well, and only) bass player.

So much of my life is different than I hoped and thought. But when Redeemer Church was born and my amazing, humble children and their spouses started signing on to help, I became “like one who dreamed.”

Lauren on her first worship team.

Benny and I dreamed. Talked. Hoped. Prayed. Cried. Battled discouragement and unbelief. Let go. Found peace.

But God heard. Answered. Kept. Sustained. Patiently worked. And then surprised us.

He. Is. Faithful.

Resurrection Cookies

For those of you who have small children or grandchildren nearby, I came across a wonderful idea for communicating the gospel to kids in preparation for Easter.  I look forward to doing this with some of my Little People this weekend.

Ingredients:
1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
ziplock bag
wooden spoon(s)
tape
Bible
Prior to mixing anything: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Put the pecans in the ziplock bag and have children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Read John 19:1-3 and explain that after Jesus was arrested, he was beaten by the Romans soldiers.
  • Have each child smell the vinegar, then put 1 tsp into a mixing bowl. Read John 19:28-30 and explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink.
  • Add egg whites to vinegar. Throughout history, eggs represent new life. Read John 10:10-11 and explain that Jesus gave his life to give us new life.
  • Sprinkle salt into each child’s hand, asking them to taste it. Then throw a pinch in the bowl.  Read Luke 23:27 and explain that this represents the tears Jesus’ disciples cried.  It also represents the bitterness of our sins.  Ask why sin is bitter and wrong?
  • Draw to the kid’s attention that the ingredients so far haven’t been very tasty.
  • Then add 1 cup sugar.  Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Explain that the sweet part of the story is that Jesus died because of how much he loves us.
  • Beat with mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3 and explain that the color white represents how God sees us when we become Christians and our hearts have been forgiven and cleansed by Jesus.
  • Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Read Matthew 27:57-60 and explain that each “cookie” represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.
  • Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape to “seal” the oven door. Read Matthew 27:65-66 and explain that when Jesus was put in the tomb, the entrance was sealed. Jesus’ tomb was sealed. 
  • Tell the children the project is over.  When they ask when the cookies will be done, tell them they have to stay in the oven all the way till tomorrow. Ask if they are sad or disappointed that you will have to leave the cookies there in the oven. Read John 16: 20 and 22 and  explain that Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.
  • The next morning, or much later that day (Easter morning is perfect) open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! Read Matthew 28:1-9 and explain that on the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. 
Easter blessings to you and yours!