Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Thanksgivings

One of the best things I've done this year is start a list of 1,000 things I'm thankful for.   Here are a few things from my list this month...

The smell of fresh cut Christmas trees

Christmas lights reflected in the window

Making gingerbread houses with friends

Drinking hot chocolate and watching "Elf" outside with the neighbors

A daddy/daughter dance date

A Baylor Heisman winner who gives credit to God

Moms who pray for their kids' teachers and then take them cookies

Having a cup of tea at the Jefferson Hotel while watching Audra sing

Watching Will and his friends sing Christmas carols at the Jingle Bell Run

Boys sleeping under the Christmas tree

Ice skating outside

Celebrating 18 years of marriage

722. A crisp, quiet morning
723. A cup of tea and my Bible
728. God's grace measured in proportion to my need
731. A shoulder to cry on
741. Un-rushed family dinners
744. Package deliveries
745. A date with my daughter
749. Reading a book by the fire
750. Flannel sheets
752. Someone saving me a seat 
753. A new friend who dreamed we were moving--and cried!
756. Christmas cards in the mail
758. Pumpkin bread ready to be delivered to the neighbors
760. Finding the perfect gift
761. Sharing the comfort I've received
768. Having tea in a friend's kitchen
770. Frosted sugar cookies
780. Newborn baby bundles
788. Seeing someone I know when I'm out Christmas shopping
791. Dinner by the fireplace
794. Arms full of Christmas goodies from friends at church

I have so many good things to be thankful for!  
But last week I put something on the list that wasn't so good, but I was trying to "Give thanks in all things."  

767. A broken retainer

I didn't feel like giving thanks for that, but I did out of obedience.  ("I don't know why, but thank you Lord for broken retainers.") 
 Somehow Will's retainer was on the floor and somehow Richard stepped on it.  We had just been to the orthodontist the day before.  I was not happy with how Will's teeth were looking and I did not want to spend $200 for a new retainer.  I was grumpy, grouchy, and not happy or thankful, but I gave thanks anyway.  Hmpff!  A couple of days later I took Will back to the orthodontist to get fitted for a new retainer.  I was getting my teeth cleaned on the other side of the building so I left him in the waiting area with a note for the doctor.  In the note I might possibly have mentioned that when I first saw Will after he got his braces off I thought he was wearing "those fake teeth you wear at Halloween," but I said it in a very nice way and I signed it "weary mother of three kids with braces".  After reading the note, the doctor came and found me and thanked me for writing it and telling him what I was thinking.  He assured me that this was only the first phase of Will's treatment and that his teeth would look better when it's all over (in a few years).  Then he said that he looked at the broken retainer  pieces I had included with the note and that it shouldn't have broken like that.  (You mean Richard should be able to step on them?)  He said this new retainer would be "on him".  Whoo-hoo!!!! 
  I gave thanks for a not-good thing and God changed it into a blessing.  Does that always happen?  Well, I don't always get free retainers, but I do think that if we thank God for the good things AND the bad things, we will always be blessed.

Merry CHRISTmas!!!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Joseph's Choice

When Joseph was confronted with a pregnant fiancee, he had a choice to make.  He could choose scorn, shame, and an uncertain future, or he could quietly break his marriage agreement and walk away.  Marrying a woman impregnated by God was not what he expected.  It wasn't the respectable, uncomplicated life he had imagined.  But think of what he would have missed out on if he had rejected God's plan for his life because he thought what God was asking him to do was too hard.
He would have missed out on the nativity.
He would have missed out on hearing the testimony of the shepherds.
He would have missed out on the visit from the wise men.
He would have missed out on holding the promised Messiah in his arms.
He would have missed out on taking the son of God to house of God.
He would have missed out on being the earthly father of the eternal King.
Joseph accepted God's will, as difficult as it was, and was blessed by it.

Like Joseph, we all are confronted with life's interruptions.  Unlike Joseph, most of us aren't given a choice.  We are forced to learn to live a life we never imagined.  And we think what God is asking us to do is too hard.  We may not get to choose our circumstances, but we do get to choose how we respond to them.  Will we accept God's will for our life even if it's not what we want--even if it seems too hard?

The prophet Ezekiel describes an encounter he had with the Lord.  God told him, "Open your mouth and eat what I give you."  Then Ezekiel saw a hand reaching out to him.  It held a scroll covered with funeral songs, other words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom.  Then a voice said, "Eat what I am giving you."  So Ezekiel opened his mouth and ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey.

God interrupted my life and what he gave me to eat was lament, mourning, and woe.  At first all I could taste was bitterness.  But as I ate it; as I lived it; as I accepted it from God's hand--those things that I thought could only bring pain and sorrow have brought wisdom, perspective, purpose and strength.  Those events that appeared tragic and unable to be redeemed, have now become the sweetest part of me.  I trust that, like Joseph, God has a plan for my life.  And so I will continue to say, "Yes" to God and eat what he gives me.
Because I don't want to miss out on anything.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prescription for grief...

Because Anna died the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we like to do something special to remember her on that day.  Last year I spoke cried in front of everyone at church.  This year we were a little more subtle, although Richard did wear his butterfly tie.

After church we went out to eat enchiladas.  
In 2007 when I carried Anna to the table filled with our Thanksgiving feast, she took one look and said, "Why can't we have enchiladas?"  

After lunch we went to Hollywood...Hollywood Cemetery that is.
Since college, I have enjoyed walking around cemeteries.  
It's very peaceful and reflective.  
This was one we had been wanting to visit and it seemed like a good day.

 This tombstone reads "Virginia Johnson Pegram.  Who died in the seventy eighth year of her age; and who for the sake of the living, had borne nobly her grief for the dead."   I found a stone nearby with the names of her husband and son who were apparently killed in the Civil War.  
Borne nobly her grief
I hope that can be said about me.

Here's another monument to a son who died at the age of 29.  Obviously the figure is of a grieving parent.  The inscription says, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." (from 2 Samuel 12:23)

This was one of my favorites.  Of James T. Gray it say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Of his wife Elizabeth it says, "She hath done what she could."
I  don't want to end my life on this earth with a "Well, you did what you could."  
I want a hearty, "Well done!"

We also saw the graves of John Tyler, James Monroe, and Jefferson Davis.  Will wanted to see the graves of some movie stars (Hollywood Cemetery), but this was the best we could do.

Jacob enjoyed taking pictures of the monuments and I enjoyed taking pictures of Jacob.  I like this one because he is not making a weird face.  Of course you can't see his face, but I think the picture somehow captures him.

There was a beautiful chapel/mausoleum overlooking the James River.

I had to set the camera on a bench and use the timer because I didn't want to ask anyone for help.  Some people might think we were strange for taking family photos at the cemetery.  

 Later that night, after leading our GriefShare group, we went home and signed up to sponsor a girl in Ecuador through Compassion International.  
SO, my prescription for grief is... 
go to church, 
think about how short life really is, 
help someone else, 
and eat enchiladas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks

I can't let you feel sorry for me thinking I was sad all weekend.  Thursday was a perfect Thanksgiving Day. It was full of food, friends, and laughter.  
It started the day before.  I was thankful for all of the help I received.  It was so much fun to get ready for the big day.  Well, I had fun.  It doesn't look like Audra was having too much fun.

A couple of early birds :-)  
Even though I put the turkey in the refrigerator on Saturday, it was still frozen on the inside.  Richard saved the day and helped me get it in the oven in time. 

I know some of you make "real" deal, but one year my sister was in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day (because she broke her leg skydiving) and the rest of us went to a friends house for dinner.  Later, when we took my sister a plate of food, she burst out crying because there wasn't any canned cranberry sauce.  It's been a family tradition ever since.

It's not enough just to be thankful.  It's important to know who to thank.  Everyone had a verse to share.

I even invited a friend for Buttons.  I just forgot to tell Richard.  Putting a male and a female bunny together was both entertaining and educational.

I love having a table full of people!

After dinner it was time for Thanksgiving tattoos.

Audra gave me a butterfly.

Don't worry, it's just temporary!

See the girl in the bottom left of this photo?  That's Letha.  I was her teacher for two years in Kisumu, Kenya.  Now she is a grown-up and I'm a grown-up so we are the same age--weird how that happens!

This is what was left of the pecan/chocolate chip pie that Jacob made.  I didn't get a picture of Audra's oreo pie, but it was good too.

I am thankful for such a good day.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday

Four years ago, Black Friday took on a new meaning for me.  It used to be a day of shopping and excitement.   Yesterday I cried on my morning walk.  I cried on Richard's shoulder.  I avoided putting up Christmas decorations and then got mad at Will for getting everything out of the attic.  I took a nap and didn't want to get out of bed.  I went to see Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Miller, but didn't laugh.  I got through the day, but not well.
 The memories are too painful to remember, but too important to forget.  I can choose to allow my memories to crush me or to remind me that this world is not my home.  What I need to do on Black Friday is renew my commitment to stay changed by my experience.
When the world says, "Hurry!  Buy! You need this! You want this!  You won't have a good Christmas without this!"  I can refuse to get caught up in the frenzy of temporary things and remember that the important things are things I can't buy, can't see, and can't wrap.  Instead of watching the commercials and reading the advertisements I can read God's word and refuse to be distracted by the things of this world.

Yesterday I read in 1 Peter that since Christ suffered, we need to be prepared to suffer as well.  And that he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.  After you have suffered, "You won't spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God." (4:2)  Staying changed is hard.  It's easy to go back to chasing my own desires.  It's easy to self-medicate my pain with food, activity, or more stuff.  It's my nature.  But for me Black Friday is not a day to get more stuff, to eat too much, or to distract myself with frenzied activity.  It is a reminder to focus on the unseen eternal and press on.

The best part of my day yesterday was when the kids showed me the butterflies that someone had put on our bushes (and on this candy cane).  I can think of a handful of people in Oklahoma who would do something like that, but I didn't know I had friends like that in Virginia.  I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In everything give thanks...

I am thankful that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 doesn't say I have to be thankful for all things, but it does say that I need to be thankful in all things.
There are times in life when being thankful is easy.  I wake up and hear the birds singing and I'm thankful.  I kiss my children awake and I'm thankful.  I spend time with friends and I'm thankful.  I snuggle on the couch with my husband and I'm thankful.
There are times in life when being thankful is hard.  It's hard to be thankful when you are lonely.  It's hard to be thankful when you can't have what you want.  It's hard to be thankful when you feel sick or tired.  But if God says to be thankful in all things, there must be things to be thankful for even in the hard times.
When Anna was sick, I  still had things to be thankful for.
I can remember one really bad night when I was curled up with her in the hospital bed--worn out, without hope, and crying.  A nurse came in and stood with me and rubbed my back.
I was not alone and I was thankful.
Another time I remember asking God to provide for my physical needs.  Later that day I went down to the cafeteria and the person in front of me had extra money on her meal ticket so she paid for my lunch.
  I was not alone and I was thankful.
When Anna was first admitted to the children's hospital, I was exploring the oncology hall and found a playroom.  It was old and hardly had any toys, but there was a cabinet in the corner with VCR tapes.  Most of the tapes were old Barney episodes or Disney movies, but one of them happened to be my favorite movie--a 1970's Barbara Streisand film.  It's not a kids movie.  You can't even find a copy in stores, but it was there.
I was not alone, and I was thankful.
You see, even in the darkest times, God is there with us.  He can reach out in any way he chooses--a pat on the back, a stranger buying your lunch, or even sending your favorite movie--to remind you that you are not alone.

"Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there...
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-8,11-12)

There is no place you can go that he is not there.  There is no darkness that is too dark for him.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of are with me. Psalm 23:4 
When you are in that dark place, look for him.  And when you see evidence of him
--in the kindness of strangers,
--in the change of seasons,
--in unexpected blessings,
be thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blood Drive

Anna Salamy
Memorial Blood Drive
November 16, 2011
Northwest Baptist Church
Oklahoma City, OK
Donors will receive their choice of OU or OSU T-shirts and a barbecue dinner.

(Come for the blood.  Stay for the barbecue.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Not Home Yet

This is part of a letter written by a mom to the daughter she lost 11 years ago. ( I don't know the name of the author, but the daughter's name was Samantha Faith.)  It made me look at my loss in a new way...

It isn't that you have missed the life we feel you should have had, you are living the life you were meant to have. It is not you that is missing from where we are, it is us that are missing from where you are. You've achieved the dream I pray for all my children; for their lives to lead them Home. This was the way it was meant to be all along, but somehow, along the way, we made up our minds that parents need to get there first... even though Jesus clearly said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14) Oh how foolish I have been in not letting you go.

Maybe it's not what we wanted at first, but in the end, if we had wanted what He wanted all along, we would have found peace much sooner than we did.

Now, instead of my heart seeing your shoes missing at the front door, I see my shoes missing beside yours. 

Rather than my heart noticing the empty chair alongside mine at the table, I see the seat you've saved for me at His table.

There are no photos of you missing in God's family photos -- you're where He pictured you to be all along.

It's us who are missing... we're not home.

It was never my place to teach you here on earth;  I could never have taught you as much as you're teaching me.

I no longer see us growing up without you, I see you growing up without us... waiting for our hearts to understand what you've understood all along, waiting for the day until you can teach us about where you've been for the last 11 years.

Not too much longer... 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pizza and Cucumbers

The last time I wrote about my Eucharisteo(Thanksgiving) list, I was at number 271.  Today I am at 610.  How about you?  Are you still finding things to be thankful for?  Sometimes it's hard to think of new things.  After I hit 500, I found that I was repeating myself.  I guess there are some things in life that I really love!  Richard said that he started repeating himself after the first six things.  He wrote down me and the kids and our house and our parents and then got stuck.  I told him that there were at least 100 things to be thankful for about me alone and that he just needed to try harder!  Smile.
If you are having trouble seeing what there is to be thankful for, here's a few from my list that might spur you on to think of your own...

273. Driving with the sunroof open and singing
276.  When everything is ready for company to come
281.  Sonic ice
287.  A table full of teenagers
292.  Running into friends at Target
301.  Friends to pray with
305.  Pizza and cucumbers
310.  New recipes
329.  Running through sprinklers
332.  Special Olympians
338.  A sister with a boat
344.  Christians in Congress
351.  Being missed
357.  Kisses in the elevator
363.  Pregnant bellies
375. The high/low game
376.  Sittie's spaghetti
392.  Finding out I can resist fresh baked chocolate chip cookies
396.  Listening to Will tell me about his day
407. Squeaky clean dishes
414.  Laughing in a crowded theater
428.  Generous lemonade stand customers
431.  Using our guest room for guests
458.  An innocent daughter
468.  A new friend on FB
477.  People who wave when they drive by

Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you.  1 Samuel 12:24

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Creation

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

A couple of weeks ago we took the kids to the Byrd theater  (which, by the way, was listed in USA Today as one of the 10 great places to see a movie in splendor) to see the movie "Metamorphosis."  As you may remember, when we tried to explain heaven to Anna, we used the example of the caterpillar and the butterfly to show her that someday she would be transformed and that she would be able to run, and jump, and play in her new heavenly body.
Anna painted a picture of a butterfly a few weeks before she died and it is hanging above our fireplace.  We have a butterfly tree when you walk in our front door.  I am always wearing at least one butterfly--ring, necklace, or earrings.  We love butterflies because they remind us of Anna's new life.  But when we went to see "Metamorphosis" I learned something about butterflies that I did not know.
A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings.  Once the caterpillar enters the chrysalis,  it can never go back to being a caterpillar.  In fact, the caterpillar has to die in order to become a butterfly.  The cells that make up the caterpillar parts break down inside the chrysalis and become food for the cells that grow into the butterfly parts.  Besides the wings, the butterfly has totally different eyes, feet, stomach, and body than the caterpillar.  Everything is new.  It is a new creation!

The butterfly helped Anna understand heaven, and it helps me understand who I am as a Christian.   Just as the caterpillar dies and the butterfly is created,  when I placed my faith in Christ,  I  died to my old self and became a new creation.  I am not Marlo with "peace" stuck on my arm, and "love" taped to my back.   I am a new creation--as different as the caterpillar is from the butterfly.  The old has gone, the new has come!  Do I always feel like a butterfly?  No. I often return to my caterpillar ways.  I crawl around in the mud instead of flying.  But if God gave us the butterfly as a picture of what it means to be a new creation, then it is impossible for me to go back to being a caterpillar--even if I act like one.

"Go in new life with Christ... Go, and be as the butterfly."
(Quote from At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall 2011

Just in case you were wondering what we have been up to lately...
Starting in August, our lives seem to revolve around FOOTBALL!

Do you remember last year when I wrote about Will being Benched?  Well, this year he is on a smaller team so he has been playing offense and defense.  That has presented a new set of problems--mainly stress and bruises!

Here's a picture of the scoreboard from our only win so far.  After the last game (score 6-7), Will said, "That was our best loss of the season!" It's all in how you look at it...

Long after football started.  I couldn't find my camera on the first day so this picture is from the second week of 5th grade...

The second week of 7th grade...

And sometime during the first half of Jacob's sophomore year.  (He wouldn't let me take a picture outside.)

The holiday season starts in September at our house with Will's birthday.

He wanted to celebrate by bobbing for apples--never mind that it was a cool rainy evening.  No one seemed to mind getting wet.

Some friends of our happened to be driving through town on the day of Will's party and joined the fun. Audra was happy to hold their new baby...

While Kevin led the boys in playing Ninja in the kitchen at 11pm.  Way to go Kevin!

Besides football, we have been enjoying cross country meets and cheering Jacob on.  Go Jacob go!!!
(Yes, I do think he was wearing some sort of headband in this picture.  Don't ask me why.)

The schools here are T-O-U-G-H.  One afternoon, Will set up his perfect homework station, complete with popcorn and a drink.

I surprised Audra by taking her out of school one day to go see "Wicked".  She said it was amazing.  I just said, "Wow!"

This is what Jacob wore on school picture day--the sweatshirt I bought his dad at Disneyworld on our honeymoon.  Jacob LOVES retro anything!

Some nights there is no time to make dinner, but no one complains about eating Chic-fil-A at a football game.

With a grateful heart...

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change (James 1:17)