Appalachian Thursday–When there’s a need

lasagna-kidsOur little, mountain church got word not long ago that some missionary friends on the far side of the world need a van. The old one gave up the ghost and transportation is important.

There were probably folks who thought about sending a few dollars, doing what they could. But a van, even used, well that would cost a good bit.

The kids, though, they got serious and began brainstorming ideas to help. They settled on a lasagna supper. They wouldn’t charge, they’d just ask for donations and have a few things to raffle off. They also thought about karaoke, but who does that?

Well, the adults got behind the idea. Donations came in for food and raffle items. Volunteers set to work helping the young’uns get their project off the ground. And one elder of the church mentioned in men’s Bible study that the kids wanted to do karaoke–ain’t that a hoot?

Such a hoot, that the next thing he knew, he’d been challenged to sing for his supper. And a fair amount of cash money was put up to see him do it.

The night of the supper the kids donned their aprons and served plates of pasta, salad, and rolls. The ladies set up a dessert table. That elder stood off to the side, trying to look calm.

mike-singingWhen he got up on the stage, he introduced the band–mandolin, guitar, and bass guitar. “This is how we sang karaoke when I was a kid,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and they were off. “Sing to the living God,” the tune went. The crowd grabbed the beat and kept a steady rhythm. Verses, choruses, instrumentals, steady on through to the end and a round of thunderous applause.

Then an encore of “Rocky Top,” just for fun.

The kids pretty well finished off the dessert table while the donation jars were emptied and counted. And the grand total was . . .

. . . $2,600 that will help buy a van for a missionary family on the far side of the world.

Amen to that.

An Unconventional Valentine

ladies-of-the-churchLife is hard.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but just living life really does get tough some days. Sometimes you’ll run into a whole string of those tough days right in a row.

I’m part of a group of women at my church who gather for Sunday School and Bible study and food and fun and sometimes all of the above. And I’m grateful to have ladies who challenge me to dig deeper in my faith; who hold me accountable and encourage me.

But here’s why I’m especially grateful for this group of ladies. They make life, if not easier, at least more bearable. Because when life inevitably gets hard, there they are with hugs and smiles and casseroles and maybe even a measure of correction if it’s needed.

Our last few meetings have included tears. There’s been the loss of a child. There’s some tough stuff happening with parents in their 90s. And illness. And frustrations. And family challenges. But there’s also been joy. A health scare that miraculously turned out well. A child who got a good report. One of our own who passed her exams and is ready to be ordained.

But whether we’re laughing or crying, here’s what this group gives each other that I don’t ever want to do without. L.O.V.E. If we need to cry, there’s someone to cry with us. If we want to celebrate, there’s someone to cheer with us. Listening ears, soft shoulders, warm hugs, sage advice, and hearts lifted in prayer.

Your support group doesn’t have to be church ladies, but I hope you have one. I think we were designed to bushwhack our way through life as part of a community.

Life is hard. But when I’m with my girls, it’s not nearly as hard as it could be. Thanks ladies. I love you, too.

You’re Never Too Old

I’m closer to the half-century mark than I used to be.

Which, I suppose, means I am undeniably a grown up whether I want to be or not.

But still . . . there are days when I just want my momma.

I recently spent several days at home in West Virginia. I wish it were just because I so love being there, but there was more to it than that. Mom recently had surgery and Dad was due to see his neurologist to monitor his Parkinson’s Disease.

They aren’t getting any younger, either.

So many of my friends are in the same position–parenting their parents in some form or fashion. Which is hard not only logistically, but also emotionally. For all those times I felt like they were smothering me with their rules, love, affection, and support–that’s exactly what I crave now.

And the funny thing is . . . there were moments on this last trip when that’s exactly what I got.

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Sunday evening I sat in the floor at my mother’s feet chatting and halfway watching football while she fiddled with my hair. If you aren’t aware, having your hair fiddled with is one of life’s great pleasures. And it’s something my mom used to do often when I was younger. Sometimes she was brushing or braiding my hair, but there was also plenty of soothing, affectionate fiddling. And for that hour or so, I was a child again, simply  being soothed by my momma.

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Then, just before I left to drive home, my Dad did something wonderful. His health and really his whole way of life is very much in limbo as we try to keep Parkinson’s at bay. He actually seems pretty stable right now,  but we both know there are decisions to be made and tough choices likely up ahead.

As I was saying goodbye, he wrapped me in his arms and said, “I don’t know how, but this will all work out.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear from the man who for so much of my life, seemed to have all the answers. And here’s the best part–I’m pretty sure he’s right.

Eight ways to battle the post-holiday blues

church-doorsI have a day-after-Christmas tradition to fight those post-holiday blues. Good King Wenceslas.

Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia during the 10th century. You’ve probably heard his song–a Christmas carol. Except there’s no mention of Christ and the song is about the day after Christmas, also know as the Feast of St. Stephen. It’s about a king, a rich ruler, seeing a poor man and reaching out to help him.

Sounds like a lovely way to spend the days after Christmas–reaching out to help someone. Here are ideas to get you started:

  1. Clean out your closets and donate good, gently used items to a charity.
  2. Speaking of charities–there’s still time to give financially and get a credit for your 2016 taxes.
  3. Volunteer–at the animal shelter, a nursing home, a children’s home, a food pantry, your church–options are plentiful!
  4. Write a note to someone . . . on paper . . . and mail it.
  5. We’ve all eaten too many sweets–make a pot of chicken soup and take it to someone who could use a pick-me-up.
  6. Call your grandmother, or mother, or uncle, or cousin, or–well–you get the idea.
  7. Write a book review to cheer your favorite author (really, these are HUGELY cheering!).
  8. Tell someone you love them. Maybe several someone’s.

And just in case you don’t know all the lyrics to the song, here’s your post-Christmas inspiration:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

An Appalachian Fourth of July

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Back home in West Virginia there was always a bean supper at Lucille’s for the Fourth of July. George and Lucille were first cousins to my dad and they had a little, white house up on the ridge above the church.

Each year, Lucille would organize the event with a big kettle of beans bubbling out in the yard, cakes of cornbread, chilled watermelons, and every kind of dessert you could imagine prepared by the ladies of the community. It was a potluck of sorts, although you knew the ham and beans would be there, having cooked for hours and hours in the open air.

Men played horse shoes and told tales. Women fussed over the food and talked the day away. Children ran wild, looking for trouble to get into and usually finding it. Some years we’d have a few fireworks that set Lucille to worrying we might start a fire in the pasture.

And as evening fell we’d gather–bellies sated, stories wound down, and children wore down–for music. They’d gather in the little front room of the little house and play and sing. Folks would sit wherever they could on the floor or the front porch, and listen or maybe join in.

And I would curl in Dad’s lap, dried sweat prickling my arms, equal parts exhausted and contented, and fall asleep to the sounds of music, crickets, and the voices of the people of my particular slice of this amazing country.

God bless America. God bless Appalachia. God bless the people who loved me so well when I was young and didn’t know how lucky I was.

Appalachian Thursday — Lazy Summer Days

What do you do when you have a whole day before you with pretty much no digital technology to distract you?

Oh wait, I remember! That’s how it was when I was a kid.

Sure there were three or sometimes four channels to watch on TV, but nothing of much interest. And we eventually had an Atari system, but that couldn’t hold a candle to, well, everything else there was to do! And having a five-year-old on hand for a long weekend at the farm in West Virginia helped me remember all the fun we used to have doing things like . . .

Yup, turns out having a whole day with nothing in particular to do is a fantastic thing. When can I sign up for another, please?

Because we need reminders . . .

Reach outIf you read last Monday’s post, you know I shared my experience of having a minor stroke. I’m ten days out now, and doing remarkably well. The only lingering effects seem to be some bruised ribs from falling and continued numbness in two finger of my left hand.

But I think the numbness is fading.

And as weird as it sounds, losing the numbness makes me a little sad.

Because something happened to me. Something significant. And I know it happened and wasn’t just a crazy dream because these two fingers feel odd. I know it because my left hand doesn’t work quite as well when I’m tired.

You know how it can be when something dramatic happens. You lose your job. You fall in love. You wreck your car. You inherit some money. Something unexpected happens and it changes your life.

But then . . .

You get used to the new thing. You find a new job. You take love for granted. You buy a new car. You tuck the money in the bank for a rainy day. It’s not a big deal anymore, it’s just your new normal.

The Israelites were chased by the Egyptians right up to the edge of the Red Sea. They were done for and they knew it. Then God parted the sea and destroyed the army chasing them. Talk about dramatic. Talk about life-changing.

But what did the Israelites do just three days later? They grumbled because there was no water to drink. I’m not saying it wasn’t scary, not having good water, but they’d seen God part a sea three days earlier. And then they thought he’d let them die of thirst.

How quickly we forget.

I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the way God has been oh-so-present with me throughout this stroke experience. I don’t want to forget the lessons he’s taught me. I don’t want to forget how blessed I am. How beloved.

And each time I brush my hair back and notice the strangeness of my fingers; each time I rub my dog’s ears and fail to feel their silkiness; each time I sit down to type and have to trust my hands to find the way without the fine brush of fingertips against keys . . .

. . . then I remember. God is with me. And this, too, is part of his plan. I need reminding and so, am grateful for it.