Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Little Shadow

I've written other blogs about Levi, so you may already know something about him.  He is my sweet, fun three year old.  Oh, how I love him to pieces! And, being three, he let's me.  He is forever following me around wanting to be held or carried or to snuggle.  What is not to love about that?  I hadn't realized how much I missed having a little snugglebug around the house.

In the mornings when Levi awakens, he runs to find me.  He comes with a big smile and open arms and jumps into my lap. I hold him and tell him how much I love him and how precious he is to me. This ritual can last a long time. Then I sometimes read a book or we might go right to the table for breakfast. Levi will usually start talking about something from "yesterday." For Levi "yesterday" means any day in the past. Or he may ask me what we are doing today. Often times he will say of my plans, "I don't want to go, I want to stay home." He is a homebody like his brother.

Currently, Levi likes to sit and read to himself. I love to watch and listen as he turns the pages and tells the story or recites the lines he knows. Like both Taylor and Caleb did before him, he wants to be read to. I LOVE that. Nothing beats a good book and a some cuddletime.

I think the thing I enjoy most about Levi at this age is watching his language develop. He is quite the talker (like his brother and mother before him). The interesting phrases and uses of words or misuse/mispronunciation can be funny, embarrassing, or adorable. Right now, magnets are called "cabinets." Yellow is "lellow." And when I had laryngitis, Levi said I had lost my "voice mail." He also likes to say, "You saved the day!" whenever I fix something or clean up a mess. Now that is appreciation. And at the end of the day when he is tired he will say, "I can't walk. My legs don't work."

The thing is, I get tired too.

It has been a different experience having Levi later in life. I don't have quite the energy and drive that I had in my 20s and 30s. I get tired more often and it seems my house is not as orderly and clean as it used to be.  And as I was reflecting on this and on how busy Levi can be, the Lord spoke to my heart. God reminded me that I need Him every moment of every day and that when I am strong I can easily forget that. In my weakness, God desires to prove Himself strong on my behalf.  Desperation for God and His power and strength are a good thing. I don't want to walk around believing I don't need God's power for my day.

Thank you, Lord, for Levi.  For the joy he brings and for the awareness of my great need for You.  Give me strength for this day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Entertainer

If you've been reading you've know about my daughters and now I want to tell you about my sons. Today I want to tell you about my oldest son Caleb. I am so thankful for him!

Caleb's coming into the world was a healing touch after the loss of Ansley. He was born a year and 3 months after Ansley. And he has been a gift of laughter and joy from the beginning. I often said that if we had waited for his personality to emerge before naming him, he would have been named Isaac, which means laughter.

When he was barely two, I remember him seeing a slapstick scene on tv and bursting out in giggles. Caleb has always had a great sense of humor and kept us laughing. It is a rare day when he doesn't give me the gift of a smile.

Caleb also likes to play Scrabble with me. Or maybe I should say he likes to beat me at Scrabble. I think I had to start playing competitively with him when he was about eleven and it is a rare day when I can pull out a win. However, my game has improved ten-fold by learning from him and watching his strategies. I learn something new almost every time I play him. And it is just fun to sit and play and converse; if I am not drawing all vowels.

Caleb has an amazing memory for anything on video.  He could probably go on tour doing a one man show of "School of Rock". I think he's watched it at least 80 times. Unless you have a good 30 minutes or so, don't quote a line to him or he will verbally replay the movie to you. Since, that is one of my favorite movies, I don't mind and I often quote right along with him (though I am not as accurate).

Caleb is something of a math prodigy, also. I can remember trying to teach him how to do his math when I homeschooled him. He would say, "But Mom, can't I do it this way?" And he would have come up with another way to solve the problem that I hadn't considered and that wasn't covered in the textbook. But it would work. He never liked to show his work because he just "knew" the answer. He didn't know how to break it down any further. It seemed so simple.

Caleb doesn't let everyone know, but he has a soft spot in his heart. And though I don't get to see it as much as I did when he was younger, I sometimes catch a glimpse of it. That tenderness peaks out when he is taking care of his little brother or empathizing with Levi's hurts. It is enough to make this mother's heart melt.

Yeah, we have our conflicts too.  He is a procrastinator and that can drive me crazy at times. He likes to walk around while eating instead of sitting at the table. And, just like Taylor, he has significant eye-rolling skills. Still I love him and am proud of the young man he has become.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In This World You Will Have Trouble

I am only four days into the experiment of writing down something I am thankful for each day. So far, it has been fun and easy and I think if  I were someone else reading my blog, I might just start to get a little annoyed. I might start thinking something like, "Well, she has an easy life. Everything is so great: her family, her job. Must be nice!"  I have focused on the things that are right and good, the things for which we are naturally thankful, but I want to take a different approach today.

We are all thankful for our families, our jobs, the roofs over our heads, the warm bed at night, the food on the table. We may take those blessings for granted and forget to appreciate them, but when we pause and think our hearts move toward thankfulness.

Then there are the other things. The bad things. The gifts I didn't want. And I am not talking about turtleneck sweaters or toe socks. No, the gifts I am thinking on are things like sickness, disease, tragic accident, betrayal, divorce, victimization, addictions, neurosis, depression, and death. The list could go on and on. I don't know what you have experienced in your life, but I promise you this life will have pain and sorrow and grief. But, don't take my word for it. Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

I wrote a couple of days ago about Taylor, my wonderful eighteen year old daughter. And now I want to tell you about my other daughter. Her name is Ansley and she is waiting for me in heaven. She was stillborn at thirty eight weeks gestation. Everything was perfect throughout the pregnancy and, in fact, she was perfect too. However, the umbilical cord had a weak spot and crimped, and cut off her life before I would get to hold her in my arms.

Sixteen years later, that day in my mind is like a 3D movie with surround sound. I remember going to bed and thinking that I wasn't sure that I had felt the baby move that day. We were moving back into our home in south Georgia after the flood of '94 and it had been a busy day of unpacking and organizing. I fell into bed exhausted and thinking that I would feel Ansley move during the night.

However, I slept straight through the night and immediately upon waking told Kevin that we needed to go to the doctor. I told the nurse my fear and she assured me that everything was going to be fine and she began to search for a heartbeat. After a moment or two of searching, her expression changed and she left the room to get the doctor.

Dr. Gatewood came in and tried finding a heartbeat; there was none. I was moved to a room with an ultrasound machine. The ultrasound confirmed what the doctor and nurse knew, Ansley was no longer living and growing or moving.

The pangs of grief that began to shoot through my heart were pushed aside temporarily as I focused on Taylor, two and a half at the time. She had come with us because we had left in a hurry and hadn't expected bad news. Kevin had taken her out of the room during the ultrasound. We hadn't told her anything yet. How do you tell your two year old that she is not going to be a big sister right now after all?

I don't remember exactly what I said to her. I'm sure I talked about heaven and being with Jesus. Those words could have been empty, but they weren't. I really believed all that God had promised. I still believe that one day I will be together again with Ansley, with my grandparents, and with all other believers in Christ. There will be a resurrection of the dead and there will be a judgement. And I have the righteousness of Christ covering me and opening the way to heaven for me. Speaking comforting words to Taylor was part of God's ministering comfort to me. The promises were true and I could depend upon Him.

Of course, that does not mean that I did not grieve. I lost a precious daughter and because I already had one sweet daughter, the reality of the loss was that much clearer. I wouldn't experience Ansley's coos and smiles and giggles and hugs. I wouldn't get to just hold her near to soothe her cries. On this side of heaven, I wouldn't get to hear, "Mama" from her lips. The grief was very real and painful. It would come like an ocean wave when I didn't expect it. Stabbing, throbbing, emptiness. Where there should be a child, there was not.

And yet at the very same time, during those trials of grief, loss, pain, and tears I experienced a  tremendous strength and peace from God. It was as if I was being carried along on the arms of God. Deuteronomy 33:27 promises, "The eternal  God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." When I needed to weep and to cry out my questions, my refuge was God. My strength was gone and I was lifted up by Him. My heart was ripped open and He was there holding me and healing me. God's grace went beyond words on a page and into the reality of my suffering. Those everlasting arms are real.

Am I thankful for this loss? No. Am I thankful for the pain? No. First Thessalonians 5:18 commands, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

I know God does not expect me to be thankful for loss, grief, and death. Those are consequences of the fallen world in which I live. But I was thankful IN the loss. I found myself being especially thankful for my extended family, for the daughter I did have, for my gracious church family, for His mercies and His peace, for His promises, for the realness of heaven.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Awesome Daughter Taylor!

I wasn't really sure what I was going to be blog about this morning. I had alot of different things in mind that I am thankful for, but I wasn't sure which idea I was going to go with. Then Taylor showed up and helped me add some cool pics to my blog, plus she taught me how to add a hyperlink on the blog too. And I just couldn't help but think how very thankful I am for my sweet and wonderful daughter!

Taylor is my first-born, so right away you know she is a life-changer. I mean when you move from being a couple to being a mom and dad it is nothing short of revolutionary. I can still remember the fear and trembling of bringing home this new baby. I had a hard time believing that the hospital would even let us walk out the door with her. After all, we had no idea what we were doing!

Sometimes it seems we still don't know what we are doing, but by the grace of God, Taylor has turned out to be a beautiful, smart, and kind young lady. Here are just a few things I appreciate about my daughter:

Taylor is a great helper with Levi. She knows how to have fun with him and how to set strong boundaries.  I can see that one day she will be an awesome parent.

Taylor likes to give of herself. She teaches Sunday School to sixth grade girls. She likes to surprise me by folding all the laundry that has piled up or by unexpectedly cleaning the kitchen when all the dishes are dirty. You can imagine how my heart overflows when I see these things; because I see a beautiful heart.

Gift giving is one of Taylor's specialties. She notices what her friends and family like and what their interests are and then she uses that information to bless them. For my mother's day gift Taylor made a video with all the family wishing me a happy mother's day and saying lots of sweet things about me.  It was so cool! And did I tell you she bought me some cute earrings and a necklace too? And that she fixed me shrimp and grits for supper that night?  Like I said, that girl knows how to give gifts.

And though there are times that we conflict and she does her share of eye-rolling (which I despise!), those times are becoming more rare. And I have often heard her arise and call me blessed.  What more could a mom ask for?

Thank you Jesus, for Taylor, for giving her to us and for teaching me so much through her life.  She is a blessing to me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Thankful Art Teacher

Today, I am thankful for my job. I have the great blessing of teaching art to 4 and 5 year old children at my church's preschool.

I love children, especially at this age, when they are so in awe of you just because you are an adult and know so much! You may know very little, but they don't get that yet. Being five years old they are almost always happy, full of life and excitement, and genuinely glad to see you. They love hugs and to say, "Hey Miss Karen!", or "Hey, Art Teacher!" Working with children brings many smiles to my day.

Yesterday, I received a handmade card from one of my sweet students and after reading it, I started to tear up. Today is graduation day and all of my pre-Kers are moving on to Kindergarten next year. I will miss them!

I love also the people I work with. This was my first year teaching art and I was fairly anxious about how I would do it and whether I would fit in. I could not have been in a more loving, encouraging, and supportive environment. So many spoke words of affirmation when I needed them, others were there lending a hand and seeming to anticipate what I needed next. Even down to the last days of preparing the art show, when I couldn't pull it all together fast enough, they were there helping me out and making me look good. What kind of price tag can you put on that?

Finally, I LOVE getting to do creative art projects and coming up with ideas for the kids to try.  I always try the project out first  to see how difficult it is and to figure out which parts I think the children can do and what steps might need to be eliminated or simplified.  Basically, I am getting paid to play with paints and oil pastels.  I even save my own favorite projects!  I haven't gotten so bold as to put them up on the refrigerator alongside Levi's.  I know teens would make fun of me.  But, it's like I am getting to do a redo on my childhood since we didn't have art classes in my school.  I love playing with art!

Thank you Jesus, for my job. I am indeed blessed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rocks Will Cry Out

I have been without my voice for going on four days now. Just about everyone in the family has gotten this yucky cold that starts with a sore throat and then progresses into other things, but I was the only lucky one who lost my ability to speak. This is a first for me, and boy, has it been a challenge. I just didn't realize how much I needed my voice to tell everyone what to do!

My family says they like this new voice, because all I can manage is a whisper. Isn't that sweet of them? I know Levi doesn't like it though, because he keeps begging me to read to him and I have to say no.

I've been thinking about God's desire to hear our voices praising Him. He delights in our praises, but not because He is an ego maniac. He loves praises, because we are speaking truth and giving glory where glory is due. Jesus told the Pharisees that if His disciples fail to praise Him, then "the rocks will cry out." I love that song, "Ain't no rock gonna cry in my place; as long as I'm alive I'm gonna praise His holy name." If you don't know that one, then search it on iTunes because it is a keeper.

I read recently of a study that revealed that those who kept a journal of gratitude were happier, more content, less likely to suffer from depression, healthier, and a lot of other good things that I don't remember right now. I want to have a heart of gratitude and thankfulness for all God has done and continues to do for me, so I thought this would be a great idea for me. Plus, I wouldn't mind being more content and healthier as a side effect.

Over the next few months, I plan to blog about a specific blessing I am thankful for. I will let today be day one. And so let me say it loud and clear: I am thankful for having a voice! I can praise, I can sing, I can say hello and get to know other people. I can tell my children what to do. I can ask for help. I can pray out loud. I can yell, "Look out!", if something dangerous is about to happen. Yes, I am grateful for my voice. Thank you, Lord, for my voice. And if I could get it back soon, I'd really appreciate it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lessons from Levi

Levi, my youngest son, teaches me something new almost every day.  Of course, I have to be paying attention to what he is saying, but his unique three year old perspective and vocabulary really paint a picture for me at times.

One night I was lying down on the bed with Levi and I was waiting for him to fall asleep. He was afraid because he is a little human being and human beings are known to be fearful.  I was telling him how the Bible says, "When I am afraid, I will trust in You."  I was explaining that being afraid is normal, but that we have a God who is with us all the time and that we can trust in Him.

Levi looked all around his darkened room and asked me, "If God is here with us, then why don't I see Him? Where is He?"  Well, if you have little ones you know these questions can get tricky.  How do I explain that God is a Spirit and has not a body like man?  And if I  have been talking about Jesus, then I have to cover the fact that He is God and was given a body and now has a resurrected and glorified body in heaven.  And then because Jesus has ascended to heaven, we won't see that resurrected body until we too are resurrected.  And on and on I can go. Things can get deep pretty fast and I wanted to keep it simple.  So, I kept the focus on that God cannot always be seen by us, but that He is there with us all the time wherever we go.  Levi was perplexed still. I could see his little wheels turning.

After a few more rounds of the same question, "Where is He? I don't see Him,"  and the same answer from me, "God is a Spirit and we cannot see Him now, but He has promised to be with us always.  Jesus said, 'I am with you always.'"  Then the aha moment came.  Levi looked at me and said, "I know where Jesus is.  He is right here behind my back." And he touched the small of his back.

Well, of course, that was cute and adorable and all of those things, but more than that it made me think:   I can see what is in front of me, but not what is coming from behind.  But God can.  Jesus is not just with me, He also has me covered.  I am not alone and I am not unprotected.  I have a Fortress, a Shield, and a Defender and He is with me always, even to the end of the age.  God's got my back.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Life Well Lived

My grandmother, Vera Mann,  (Granny Vera to me) passed away three weeks ago. I will miss her, but in a real sense I had already been missing her for the past several years.  She had Alzheimers and the disease was slowly stealing away her memories, conversation, and personality.  It started with the steady loss of short term memory: she would repeat the same questions and we would give the same answers and then a few moments later we would do it again.

About a year after she was first diagnosed with Alzheimers, she wanted to give her piano to me for my daughter Taylor.  Taylor was 10 years old and taking piano lessons and seemed to have a real knack, as well as desire, to master the piano.  I said, " yes", and "thank you so very much", and" wow", and " I can't wait for Taylor to get to practice regularly at home."  But, I also thought to myself, "She is going to forget that she gave me this piano and she is going to want it back."

And  eventually, that is what happened.  One day Granny Vera was in her home and looked over to where the piano used to stand and she asked my dad, "Where is my piano?"  My dad said, "Don't you remember you gave it to Karen so that Taylor could practice and play?"  She was astounded at that idea, "I did no such thing!  I want my piano back!"  This conversation would be replayed several times over a year or so before my dad and my aunt Jene finally bought her another piano that looked exactly the same as the one she had given to me.

This story is a great picture of what my Granny Vera was like.  She was extremely generous with all of us.  She liked to give gifts.  But to say she did not like to be taken advantage of would be a great understatement.  No one, but no one was going to short-change her or take what was hers without a fight.  She was a very determined lady.  You might say she had an iron will.  Of course, what was hers in this case had not been taken, but freely given.  However, she could no longer remember that.  We had lost that part of her.

Later, Granny would have trouble remembering the names of the great grandchildren and remembering whose they were.  And eventually if she remembered anyone at all, then that was cause for celebration.  I really hate Alzheimers.

So let me tell  you what I remember of my Granny before the disease began to do its work.
She was a hard worker.  Her house was always clean and in order and she was too.  Besides the waitressing job that she had for many years before she went to business college so she could work for the Veteran's Administration, she was also an Avon lady on the side.  And she looked the part.  Neatly dressed and always bejeweled with some kind of necklace and earrings and lipstick, of course, she presented an image of refinement and class.  And that was important to her.  She wanted to improve herself and to raise herself above the manual labor of picking fruit/cotton as she had done when she was growing up. However, that same upbringing is what made her so she very real and down to earth .

 She was honest and she was a people person, friendly and talkative, she never met a stranger and could have you spilling your life story in no time.  She was able to connect and relate to almost any one.  It was said of her when she first married and moved away from the family home, that the old family home was empty without her lively spirit there.  Her friendly outgoing nature had kept the family connected with the community. Those genes were passed on to my dad and my aunt and to my sister.  The rest of us have to work a little harder to break the ice.

She could do many things well. Sewing, cooking, cleaning, and all manner of household art forms.  She also knew when she needed help.  When my dad and aunt were growing up, my great aunt moved in to help care for them while my grandmother was working so many long hours waitressing.  When I was growing up, Granny Vera worked a 9 to 5 job, so she hired a housekeeper who would come and help clean the house and prepare meals during the week.

If I could have any of the traits of my grandmother, I think I would like to have a very clear sense of self.  Granny Vera knew who she was and what she wanted;  her yes was yes and her no was no and she never seemed to be confused or undecided about her answer.  It took some counseling and some years for me to learn that strong boundaries were a good and healthy thing, but Granny Vera knew it all along.

After the funeral I was talking with one of my cousins and we both came to the conclusion that we were exceedingly blessed to be in our family.  We talked about Granny's example and the other examples around us. Not all children grow up with honest, dependable, responsible examples.  I am thankful for God's grace in placing me in my family.

And Granny,  Alzheimers may have taken you earlier than the grave did, but your life and your testimony live on after you in the lives of your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Thank you for your life well lived.