Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fleeting Seasons of Childhood

It was a chilly evening in October. I was preparing for my annual garage sale and had solicited my 10-year-old's assistance in separating toys to keep from toys to sell. This was always a difficult assignment for me, and a little company would be nice.


Sitting on a small bench in the drafty garage, Leslie and I rummaged through the disorderly pile of playthings from days gone by—shabby dolls, wind-up gadgets, building blocks. And then, there was her beloved plastic food. So many memories were there, but space was a factor and something had to go.

After questioning Leslie about the play food—“Does it stay, or do we sell it?”—her expression suddenly became serious. Methodically, she took the various pieces and placed them in her lap.

"I used to have so much fun with these," she said, an uncharacteristic note of sadness in her voice.

Without warning, a huge lump settled in my throat. Not trusting myself to speak, I sat in silence as she struggled with the weighty matter at hand.

Afer a long time of staring at each piece, she gathered them all to her chest and gently lowered them into the towering box marked: "Garage Sale Stuff."

"Well…good-bye," she whispered, touching the pieces a moment longer before letting them go.

The garage was heavy with emotion. I looked at her, she looked at me, and tears began trickling down our cheeks.

"You can keep them if you want to," I said, fighting to turn back the speeding hands of time. She shook her head. "Are you sure?" I asked, sniffing unashamedly. She was sure; the food should go.

Wrapping my arms around her small shoulders, I knew that, alongside the beloved pieces of make-believe food, pieces of childhood lay inside the tall box, never to be seen again. A season had come and gone. My heart ached as I, too, reluctantly let go.


Leslie turns 25 today. I love her beyond words, and am forever grateful that God made me her mother.  ♦

Thursday, December 23, 2010

God Is With Us. All Is Well.

It doesn't take a pessimist to see that we are living in uncertain times. Global crisis and a global government are common topics of discussion these days. Chaos abounds.

During such uncertainty, the Christmas story has more meaning than ever for Christians everywhere.

Christmas isn't a story about Santa Claus, sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. It is a story about a starry night in Bethlehem, when Love entered the world, special delivery.

No longer would man have to live under the weight of sin. The little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was Emmanuel, God with us, the sacrificial spotless Lamb for all mankind. All who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life.

Some say that God, in his master plan for redemption, took on the form of man because he wanted to better understand the plight of his creation—to know their grief and to feel their pain.

But I disagree.

God is omniscient. He knows everything about everything. He didn't need a trip to earth to enlighten him. Just the opposite, in fact.

God took on the form of man to enlighten you and me. Only after seeing his tears, his bleeding hands and his broken body would we know—beyond any shadow of a doubt—that he knew our grief and felt our pain. His coming to earth was a selfless act of immeasurable love, bringing hope to a hopeless people.

Thousands of years later, when the world spins out of control and crisis looms, hope still reigns in the hearts of those who believe. Let come what may. God is with us. All is well.
________________________________________

A version of this article appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Christmas Day, 2002.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unto Us

Looking at Christmas lights has been a family tradition since childhood. My daughter and I browsed the neighborhood last night, keeping the tradition alive. Christmas music on the radio, windows down and cameras flashing.

My favorite part of any display is always the manger scene. What a glorious gift from heaven! God, the giver of life, robed in flesh, giving himself to mankind.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah prophesied, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

I'm glad I know who Jesus is.
 
  


  

Linking to Spiritual Sundays.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Magical Music

Last night, me, my twin sister and her husband took in an evening of Andrea Bocelli. It was a magical night. His rendition of "Blue Christmas" made me swoon. Listening to gifted singers and musicians is one of my very favorite simple pleasures.

I love downtown Houston at night. Looking festive.

The amazing Houston Symphony Orchestra
 
What a talent!

Me and my lovely twin sis.

Me with popcorn and my fancy ankle boots. :-)
Joining twin sister's Simple Pleasures.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gratitude Has Rich Rewards


One of my daughter’s first sentences as a toddler was, “Thank you.” Her exact pronunciation, as I recall, was “tattoo,” and she said “tattoo” on a regular basis—her mom and dad made sure.

Regrettably, thankfulness is a vanishing art these days. All across the fruited plain, griping has become the national pastime.

Certainly, we all have things we could gripe about—nobody’s life is perfect, after all. But there are enriching rewards in the simple act of gratitude.

Author Melody Beattie describes it beautifully: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

Of course, ingratitude has “rewards,” too—but they aren’t so enriching.

Young or old, prosperous or poor, ungrateful people lead miserable, defeated lives. The more they’re given, the more thankless and greedy they become.

In his devotional, “The Attitude of Ingratitude,” Woodrow Kroll tells the story of a tourist, visiting a certain part of Mexico where hot springs and cold springs run side by side.

Houston Woman Magazine
While watching the peasants boiling their laundry in the hot springs and rinsing them in the cold, the tourist commented to his Mexican guide, "I imagine they think Mother Nature is pretty generous to supply such ample, clean, hot and cold water side by side for their free use."

With a sigh the guide replied, "No, SeƱor, there is much grumbling because she supplies no soap."

At best, ingratitude can become a habit, difficult to break. At worst, it can become a way of life, where nothing is ever enough.

I, for one, have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season, and I refuse to focus on anything negative in my life. I have health, food, clothes, shelter, family, friends and peace of mind. Indeed, it is all I need and much, much more than I deserve.

So, from grateful me, to generous you, Lord, Tattoo.
____________

Linking to Spiritual Sundays, my favorite weekend blog.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blogging Blues


I don't know if one can blog part-time and be considered a real blogger, but such is my life. I rarely have time to blog, and even less time to read other blogs. Maybe one day when my ship comes in or my rich prince comes calling or I win the lottery, I'll be a true-blue blogger and blog on a regular basis.

Til then, it'll be weekly. Or maybe monthly. Or maybe yearly.

Don't miss me too much.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

History in Stitches

I'm showing up a little late to my twin's Airing of the Quilts party. I had no intentions of joining the fun, but here I am, and here is a quilt that is very special to me. When my daughter was small, she snuggled under it many winter nights. It's quite fragile now, so I keep it tucked away for safekeeping. Sorry the photography isn't top-notch, but that's what happens when you don't plan ahead. :-) 

Butterfly Quilt: Made by my paternal grandmother, Anna Estelle Carter Allen.

I can almost see my sweet MawMaw, stitching each butterfly.

Walter and Anna Allen - 1927

Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Old Window





 
The minute I saw it, I wanted it: An old window in an antique mall. But times were tough, so I kept walking. Out of sight; out of mind. Right?

Not a chance.

A week or so later, I visited the antique mall again. My identical twin was along for the pleasure. I strolled back to see if the old window was still there. It was. I showed it to her.

"Why don't I get it for you for your birthday?"

Our birthday was months away.

"It could be an early present. It'd look great hanging in your entryway."

I couldn't resist.

I had no idea how heavy it was, but a nice guy loaded it for me, and I managed to get it home and unloaded without breaking it or my big toe. Sadly, it sat on the floor for months and months.

A few weeks ago (after our birthday had come and gone), I finally got a handyman to come hang it for me. I couldn't be happier! It's a great conversation piece and gives the room a much warmer feel.

What do you think?
___________

Linking to Cindy's Show and Tell Friday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday


I hope ya'll don't laugh, but my simple pleasure this week is dust-free furniture. Working 8-5 leaves little time for dusting, but whenever I haul out the Pledge and do my dusty duties, I love the magical reflections left behind. Just wish the dust would flee longer than an hour. Ha!


Project Simple Pleasures2

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Challenges Can Render Rich Rewards


After months of searching for employment without any prospects, the job downtown was a gift from above. My only concern was the long commute. I had enough challenges in my life without rush hour traffic, and I dreaded it like the plague.

My first morning out was stressful indeed. An ocean of taillights awaited me.

Trying to focus on which lane to be in, exactly when to be in it and how best to get there left me tense, tired and longing for a chauffeur.

As I topped the final hill before leaving the other travelers behind, I found myself with an unexpected front row seat to Houston’s magnificent skyline.

Etched against a canvas of midnight blue, the stately skyscrapers, twinkling in the distance, were breathtaking to behold. Instinctively, I slowed down, mesmerized by the sight.

A few bends in the road later, the sun peeked over the horizon. The skyscrapers, appearing close enough to touch now, turned into giant packages of gold as shafts of yellow sunshine climbed steadily up metal, glass and stone.

It was a spectacular scene—sunrise in the city, you might say—and I felt richer for having witnessed such grandiose grandeur. Perhaps the dreaded commute wouldn’t be so dreadful after all.

As human beings, we tend to resist challenges as a whole. Instead of launching out into the deep, we hover near the shoreline, coddling the familiar and feeling safe.

Perhaps we fear the unknown.

Perhaps we dread the known.

But despite the reasoning behind our limited way of thinking, undoubtedly, beautiful rewards have been forfeited along the way.

When my daughter was five, she wanted a sibling more than anything in the world. Every day she talked about becoming someone’s big sister.

Certainly, I never planned on having an only child. But at 35, I wasn’t thrilled about starting over either. My spouse felt as I did, and so, together, we made the definitive decision that one offspring would be the magic number for us.

It is a decision that I lived to regret. And even today, I wonder what beautiful reward might have ensued had the challenge of another child not been surrendered all those years ago.

Of course, not every challenge in life is optional.

A newborn has Down Syndrome.

A loved one has an incurable disease.

A fire leaves ashes where a home once stood.

Indeed, it is those challenges—the unavoidable, unexpected ones—that we resist so vigorously. We didn’t sign up for such painful disruptions in our lives. We want things as they used to be.

Certainly, such thinking is understandable; no one enjoys pain.

But it’s my belief that, even in the direst of circumstances, when every moment is a struggle to survive, beautiful rewards can be found among the shadows that be. Not tangible rewards, perhaps, but rewards just the same.

Maybe it’s a restoring of the soul, a softening of the heart or a renewed sense of gratitude—for life, health, family and friends.

As James Buckham once said, “Trials, temptations, disappointments—all these are helps instead of hindrances, if one uses them rightly. They not only test the fiber of character but strengthen it. Every conquered temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered 'in the right spirit' makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”

How true those words are, and yet how difficult for us to accept them.


But accept them we should.

Whenever challenges come our way, instead of dreading them like the plague, we should cast our fears aside, start our engines and embrace the road before us. No, the commute won’t be without pain, but skyscrapers of gold might be over the hill.
_____________


Linking to Spiritual Sunday, where faith lifts are free.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

D is for: DAYLE

L-R: Dayle, Big Sister Elaine and Gayle

What a perfect letter for Alphabe-Thursday! Not only is today my birthday, it's also Dayle's birthday, my identical twin sister. I call her my wombmate.

One of my "Dayle" stories is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More. I titled it, "Weirdly In Sync," which perfectly describes the two of us. Below is another story I wrote about Dayle. It appeared in Reflections magazine, and remains a favorite of mine. Happy birthday, dear Dayle. And MANY more!
____________________

THERE SHE IS—MY BELOVED WOMBMATE

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. Dayle and I have just finished our third game of Scrabble, yet neither of us is anxious to retire. We’re having too much fun; sleeping can wait.

My Scrabble partner is a reflection of me in so many ways. Born 11 minutes apart, we have the same nose, same eyes, same hair, same fingers and same feet. We talk alike, walk alike and laugh alike. Our tastes are the same. Our thoughts are the same. Even our DNA is the same.

I can’t imagine my life without Dayle.



Once when we were kids, we lost sight of each other in Piggly Wiggly. It was a game of hide-and-seek, and Dayle was “it.” After searching everywhere for her wayward twin, Dayle rounded the produce aisle, saw herself in a mirror and hollered, “There you are!”

As I observe her across the table tonight, I find myself repeating those same three words: There you are.

My beloved wombmate. My God-created clone. I love you more than words can say.

I love the way you look in that yellow housecoat. I love the way your hair is piled on your head, with only a pencil holding it in place. I love the way you scowl as you shuffle your letters, hoping to make a high-point word out of “EIEIOOO.”

I love laughing with you, drinking coffee with you or doing nothing with you.

You’ve been a compass to me in times of confusion. A haven to me in times of storm. An encourager to me in times of doubt and dissatisfaction. What a glorious gift you are.

These days, you’re traveling the globe, enjoying life with your retired spouse, but I don’t miss you when you’re gone. No matter how long the road is between us, you’re never far away. Like threads joined together in a piece of crochet, my heart is forever intertwined with yours. All I have to do is breathe, and there you are. ♦

Fall ~ Inside and Out

Friday evening, after a long day at work, I turned into my driveway and my mouth fell open--literally. My flowerbeds, once plain and boring, had become charming and quaint. Seems my twin sister and her spouse had ventured into my yard and left wonderful things behind. The pumpkins, scarecrows (notice the twins on the right-hand side), mums, pansies and crotons are all their doing. Simple things; loads of pleasure.

Their labor of love nudged me into bringing fall inside as well. I've posted of few glimpses.





 


 ____________

I'm linking to my twin sister's Simple Pleasures blog party. Come on over!

Friday, October 8, 2010

All Things Work Together


If I live to be 105, I'll never figure out certain things. Why some sick people pray and get well, and other sick people pray and die. Why some jobless people pray and find a job, and other jobless people pray and collect unemployment. I really don't understand why some prayers seem louder than others, but what I do understand is that all things work together for good to those who love God. It might not look "good" at the moment, but it's working together for good.

Just recently, I suffered a devastating personal disappointment. What I thought was going to happen didn't happen. I had devoted months of mental, physical and emotional energy to this particular event. However, within a few moments, it came to a screeching halt. I was beyond distraught. I felt like a bride must feel, jilted at the altar: Now what? I didn't know what to say, or what to do, or how to move forward.

But I did move forwardone gray day at a time. And now, a few weeks after the fact, after the tears have dried and the anxious thoughts have ceased, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the thing I had hoped for and planned on happening wasn't meant to be right then. That my timetable wasn't in my best interest. That despite the tears, the fears, and the endless list of questions, all things were working together for good.

Whether or not my plans ever evolve is yet to be seen, but it really doesn't matter anymore. Either way, I'll be OK. My Father knows the end from the beginning, and I trust him with my life.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose,"
Romans 8:28.
_______________

Linking to Spiritual Sundays.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Chicken Soup for the Soul"

At the risk of causing a national stampede, "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers" will be in bookstores everywhere tomorrow. It's their first devotional for moms, and I'm honored to be a contributor. The stories I've read thus far are superb!

These books make great gifts for moms of all ages and stages, even moms-to-be. My story is on Page 355, and I believe it'll make you smile. It's called "Magical Mirth," and it starts like this:

(The Silly Kid)
"It was a rainy evening in December. School was out for the holidays, and after a long day of shopping, my six-year-old daughter was wound tighter than a top. Seeking solitude from her silliness, I put on a pot of coffee and retired to the den."

What happened next had us both in the floor laughing til we cried. Precious memories. How they linger.

Happy weekend to you all. Join me at Spiritual Sundays, where good people blog about good things.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Elaine

My big sister's birthday is today. All who know her love her, but to those who don't know her, she's mega-gifted musically.

At the age of two, she was singing harmony with her Sunday school friend, Yolanda. A few years later, a little accordion introduced her to keyboards, and by the time she was 13, she was an accomplished pianist—not by notes, but by ear. If she heard a song, she could play it.

Elaine has always used her gifts for the Kingdom. Whether playing before small, intimate gatherings, or before thousands in packed auditoriums, her desire is to lift Him up. She gives because she’s been given. She doesn't seek earthly rewards.

Sadly, she’s experienced deep hurt in her life. False accusations. Vicious attacks against her character. Wounded in the house of friends, you might say.

But through it all, the music never died. Many times, in the midnight hours, when her impending loss was almost more than she could bear, I heard her at the piano, weeping while she sang of God’s abiding love and faithfulness. I never heard her speak an unkind word about those who lied and did her wrong, but I did hear her pray for them.

I can't be with Elaine on her birthday, but I hope it's everything she wants it to be. She's an amazing woman, a wonderful role model and the best big sister God ever made.

                               ~~~~~~~~

“For there is no friend like a sister, in calm or stormy weather, to cheer one on the tedious way, to fetch one if one goes astray, to lift one if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Simple Pleasure - Living Near To Those Dear

(L-R: Gayle and Dayle)

(L-R: Gayle and Dayle)

She sent me a text the other day, as I was leaving work, saying turnip greens and cornbread were still warm if I wanted some. The food hit the spot, but the simple pleasure is knowing she's around the corner, a stone's throw away. I smile everytime I drive by her street. Life without her would be hard.
_______________

Linking to her blog party, where simple pleasures are celebrated every Thursday.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Persistent Love

While parked in Taco Bell’s parking lot one afternoon, waiting for my daughter to get her after-school bean burrito, a small vehicle wheeled in beside me and screeched to a halt. A frustrated-looking woman, carrying a Taco Bell sack, got out and went inside. A mixed up order, no doubt.


Remaining in the car was a little boy, about six years old, who looked as if he had been crying. Hoping to change his mood a bit, I flashed him my best and brightest smile. He didn’t smile back.

Undaunted by his lack of response, I smiled a second time.

Again, the little boy stood motionless, staring at me as though I had just arrived from outer space.

Not wanting to give up so easily, I smiled a third time.

To my dismay, the little boy kept scowling, as if to say: “You can’t make me smile, so quit trying.”

But I didn’t quit trying. I smiled again, unscathed.

After the fourth smile, the little boy ducked out of sight.

But not for long.

Unable to resist the cheerful lady in the dirty brown car, he inched his head up slowly until his eyes met mine. I smiled again, fully expecting him to duck again, but he didn’t. Instead, he opened his hand and showed me a nickel. A peace offering, perhaps?

Not a chance. Before the fifth smile ever left my face, the little boy hit the floorboard, more boisterous than ever.

About that time, the woman with the mixed up order returned. As soon as she got in the car, the little boy hopped up and sheepishly glanced my direction.

He seemed more relaxed than before, and I smiled a sixth time, hopeful. I wasn’t disappointed.

Not only did the little boy return my smile, he gave me a curt little wave as they backed out and drove away. I waved back, pleased that my persistence had finally paid off.

Once upon a time, my heavenly Father smiled at my cold and callous heart. Each time he smiled, I ducked for cover, saying, “You can’t make me smile, so quit trying.”

But my Father didn’t quit trying. He kept smiling my direction, hoping his prodigal child would come running home soon.

Romans 8:38-39 says, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

It doesn't matter how bad we've been or how lost we are, our Father’s love persists and persists.
_________________

Linking to Spiritual Sundays, where good bloggers blog about good things.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Simple Pleasure - Simply Speaking

Two years ago: Me. Dayle. Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA. Dr. Berke. Throat surgery. The most surreal (and miraculous) week of my life.

The "surreal" part is another post for another day. The "miraculous" part? Well, to make a LONG story short, due to a rare vocal condition, my voice had all but quit working. Dr. Berke (and his expert team) rewired it and put it back together again. I'm eternally grateful.

Below is a stroll down Memory Lane:
 
Leaving on a jet plane - despite Hurricane Ike.

Me and Wombie at the hotel - after a frightening taxi ride.

Dr. Berke's office. 

Wombie: Her sister's keeper.
 
Me...waiting for final inspection prior to surgery the next day.
  
Me with Dr. Berke--my brilliant knight in the brown shirt.

  
Twelve of the most gorgeous yellow roses I've ever seen.

The whispering, monotone patient, smiling for Wombie (reflected in the glass).

The Pacific Ocean, glistening like a gem.

Two weary, but happy travelers. "Are we there yet?"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

My simple pleasure today..and every day? Opening my mouth and speaking.
_______

What's your simple pleasure? Inquiring minds want to know.
Click on Wombie's blog and tell us.