It’s over a month away and it falls on a day after Thanksgiving.
No, I’m not talking about Black Friday. That event is just not my thing. Too crowded and too crazy for me. I’m not referring to Cyber Monday either although I have taken advantage of the online savings you can find on that day.
No, I’m thinking about a day sandwiched in between those two – Saturday. A few years ago, a movement began to categorize the Saturday after Thanksgiving as “Small Business Saturday.” The idea was to visit actual brick and mortar businesses and shop there, helping your local business owners and local economy.
And that’s the key to my thoughts this week – local. It just so happens to have been the theme of a weekly photo challenge as well. What photo could I capture that expresses the theme “local?” Several ideas came to mind.
Here at Mama’s Empty Nest, we live in a rural area a few miles outside of our small town. There are plenty of photo ops in town with the beautiful river that flows through and the lovely waterfront park alongside it. We have a picturesque bridge over the river with hillsides on either side full of trees changing their summer clothes of green leaves for their glorious, colorful fall ones.
Or maybe I should just wander down one of our many country roads and snap away at the local views I find – in the woods, alongside a clear stream, a vista of farmers’ fields. There’s always something worthwhile to photograph.
But then, I started thinking about local in terms of what our mostly rural area offers as far as businesses go. We have our fair share of big chain stores and restaurants just like the rest of the country, that’s for sure. And downtown in our little burg isn’t quite the same as it used to be when I was younger and it was the place to shop. Many of the locally owned stores have closed but there are still enough around to enable us to support our own community.
From local pizza shops and restaurants to gift stores to florists to appliance stores to newsstands, we have a number of local options in our area without having to drive to the city or the suburbs. And a sweet gal I know and her friend just opened a new shop which features items from local artisans that I want to visit soon.
So when Saturday, November 26 rolls around on the calendar, you may find me supporting our local businesses to shop and/or eat instead of following the masses by driving to the mall down the highway to shop or dine at big chain restaurants.
You see, running with the crowd doesn’t make me happy. It usually just stresses me out. And I’m pretty certain I can find a little happiness right here in my little town.
“You can’t buy happiness but you can buy local and that’s kind of the same.”~ Unknown
Sometimes life is troubling and the path we must travel becomes arduous. The last thing we think about is being thankful because it’s just too hard and we want to take the easy route.
It’s hard to be thankful when the roof leaks and rain water pours through the ceiling ruining your carpet and furniture.
It’s hard to be thankful when yellow jackets invade your attic and eat a hole through another part of your ceiling.
It’s hard to be thankful when your six-month-old refrigerator’s freezer stops working for the third time.
It’s hard to be thankful when your not-so-old microwave dies on you.
It’s hard to be thankful for job losses than become the norm instead of the exception.
It’s hard to be thankful for decisions that go against you instead of for you.
It’s hard to be thankful when the price of everything goes up and your income goes down.
It’s hard to be thankful when a family member or friend receives a serious health diagnosis.
It’s hard to be thankful for car brakes that go out.
It’s hard to be thankful for circumstances that break your heart and drive you to your knees in prayer.
It’s hard to be thankful when tragedy strikes or nature is destructive or the world feels out of control.
It’s just plain hard to be thankful during some of the seasons of life.
But as a friend said recently to me as we discussed less than pleasant situations in life, “We were never promised a rose garden, were we?”
We will have thorns amidst the roses in our garden of life and often we don’t appreciate the loveliness of the roses because we’re stuck in the thorns.
Sometimes the troubles are minor, sometimes they are so major, they rock our little rowboat paddling along in the sea of life knocking the oars right out of our hands.
Yet even when I’m set adrift in an ocean of difficult situations or pricked by thorns of trouble every way that I turn, I am called to be thankful. Why? I’m a believer. My faith is in Jesus Christ and He stated the obvious for those of us who have thick skulls and don’t quite ‘get it’ the first time.
In this world, you will have trouble.
Notice He didn’t say:
In this world, you will have smooth sailing.
In this world, you will have good times always.
In this world, you will never cry.
In this world, you will never be weary…or unhappy…or depressed…or discouraged…or angry…or sick…or heartbroken.
No, He laid it on the line. In this world you WILL (emphasis mine) have trouble. He warned his disciples this in John 16:33 when He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.”
All too often we dwell on our problems instead of the promise Jesus gave us, a promise of hope. Because in the last part of that verse Jesus said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
If Jesus’ disciples were warned of trouble and theirs were mammoth compared to mine, then why on earth would I think I (a lowly sinner saved by His grace) would be any different? Why would I be immune to troubles great and small?
I’m not. As each difficulty comes its way day after day, I will continue again and again to remind myself of the passage of scripture that sustains my sanity:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 New International Version (NIV)
No, I’m not an idiot when I say I will rejoice always even when I don’t feel like it (and believe me, there are way too many times when I want to kick and scream instead!).
No, I’m not immune to difficulties when I give thanks in ALL circumstances.
I’m just trying my best to follow God’s will for my life and believe His promises because His Word is Truth.
So I will be thankful.
I will be thankful that I have a home with a roof over my head.
I will be thankful for someone brave enough to tangle with yellow jackets and remove their huge nest from my attic even if I did have to pay him a lot to do so.
I will be thankful the store where I purchased my refrigerator replaced the dud with a new one and better yet, I will be thankful I have refrigeration for my food at all.
I will be thankful I have the means to cook my family’s food in my comfy, modern kitchen without slaving over a hot fire outside.
I will be thankful to the God that provides even when job losses come.
I will be thankful that I have a God who cares and loves me when it seems things just don’t go my way.
I will be thankful that my needs are met, my tummy is full, and I have clean water to drink.
I will be thankful for procedures and treatments that prolong and save lives and health insurance to help pay the costs.
I will be thankful for warning signals that car brakes are in need of repair.
I will be thankful that I can cry out to a God who hears my wails for help, answers me, and never leaves me.
I will be thankful that I have fellow human beings to love and support.
And yes, I will be thankful even for the difficult seasons of life because that’s just it…I will be thankful for life.
The reason is because my faith in Christ gives me hope and that’s more than enough to be thankful for.
“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” ~Albert Barnes
Grandparenting. It is so much more than I ever expected.
Recently, our daughter (and Little One’s mommy) resumed her career as a hospital nurse and this Nana was transported back into the world of providing care for a toddler full-time on the days daughter works.
I find it interesting that the everyday occurrences that drove me crazy when my own children were this age– spilt milk messes, toys strewn willy nilly across the floor making it an obstacle course, constant activity except during nap times, sticky finger smudges everywhere – don’t bother me.
Is it that grandparents are wiser than we were as parents? Is it that we recognize that we only have so much time with our sweet grandchildren so we don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ anymore? Or have we finally reached the age where we just don’t care as much about appearances but relish time spent together with our child’s child?
The former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani once said, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”
This statement rings true for me and not just the cookie part. Pure unconditional love that just about makes my heart explode is what I’ve felt for this grandchild since I cradled her in my arms shortly after her birth. I find humor in things she does that I never would have laughed at as a young mom. I recognize that I’m much more patient with Little One than I ever was with my children.
No longer do I worry about whether the bathroom gets cleaned or the laundry is finished like I did when my kids were small. Instead I willingly spend all day just playing and exploring the world with my granddaughter.
And she is one busy bee. So inquisitive and so full of wanting to learn and do and examine and discover. Sometimes I feel guilty thinking that perhaps I didn’t spend enough time doing the same things with my children. And I wonder if that’s the thing – grandparents are given a second chance to ‘get it right’ with our grandchildren.
Since her mama leaves for work before the crack of dawn, Little One wakes up to find Nana lifting her from her crib. She definitely misses her mommy because she inquires about her upon awakening in the mornings, after naps, and often during the day by asking ‘mum?’ I tell her mommy’s at work, Little One nods her head and says yes, and I reassure her that mama will be home later.
Nana and Little One have settled into a nice routine. Last week we had beautiful fall weather – warm, sunny days when we could be outside playing and exploring in the mornings after the temperature warmed up and the dew on the grass dried.
After a bit of time playing in the sand box, we went for walks around our 2.25 acre yard and made visits to the garden where Roma tomatoes, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, and sunflowers were still producing.
She enjoyed picking tomatoes and wanted me to lift her up high so she could gaze into the sunflowers’ cheery faces. From there we ventured to the raspberry bushes to pick this last crop for the year. Little One loves raspberries and eats them faster than I can pick them.
One day on our way back to the house with our bounty, we spied a butterfly which had lit upon the grass. She pointed to it and as I told her to be gentle, she crouched down and touched the delicate creature.
I couldn’t believe it didn’t fly away immediately but it stayed in place while she touched it yet again. When it took off soaring into the air, floating and flitting around us, Little One laughed happily and clapped her hands. Such a simple thing that brought such merriment.
Another day we examined the leaves on our maple trees and saw that they are starting to turn from green to red and also that some leaves had already fallen on the ground. As she picked up some of the fallen leaves, I noticed a tiny green inchworm. She giggled with delight when the little critter crawled on her hand.
It’s a full and, to be honest, tiring day taking care of our Little One but watching her eyes light up over a new discovery gives me so much joy. She doesn’t miss a thing whether it’s spotting an airplane soaring overhead, watching birds chow down at the bird feeder after we fill it, or an ant crawling across the sidewalk.
I’m just so blessed and grateful to be able to spend this time with her and nothing compares to the hugs and kisses our sweet girl bestows on me.
I wouldn’t trade being a Nana for anything in the world and come December, I’ll have two sweet grandbabies to love. Double perfection.
“Truth be told, being a grandma is as close as we ever get to perfection. The ultimate warm sticky bun with plump raisins and nuts. Clouds nine, ten, and eleven.” – Bryna Nelson Paston
You might be able to tell by my mindset that I spend a lot of my waking hours with my sweet grandchild.
Why? Because as I reread the WordPress post from this past summer announcing day two’s theme in the Developing Your Eye photography challenge was ‘street,’ the first thought that crossed my mind was a familiar line – “What’s the word on the street?”
What street came to my mind? Not my own street because I technically live on a state country road not a city street. Not a street in my hometown either. Or a famous street that I once walked upon like New York City’s Wall Street or Broadway.
No, only one street surfaced to the top of my thought ocean. A street where the “word on the street” is specific for a particular group of people. A street that only exists on a television set.
Sesame Street that is.
Long ago in a different house in a different part of the country, my three wee ones would sit glued to the television getting an early education in numbers, letters, colors, and all kinds of exciting things in this world by watching Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, and Cookie Monster. Puppets interacting with humans on the street. A whimsical place called Sesame Street. They loved it back then.
And now, I feel like I’ve come full circle because our Little One is enthralled with Elmo of Sesame Street fame. When the show comes on our PBS station after her beloved Daniel Tiger, I hear the theme song question I heard so many years ago, “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”
Often on this show for the preschool crowd, a segment called “Word on the Street” introduces new vocabulary words to young viewers. Catchy little idea that seems to have ensconced itself into my brain.
So there you have it. Now days, my mind drives down a preschooler’s street.
What’s the word on my street today? Bricks. You don’t see too many streets still paved with bricks any more but I managed to capture this photo of one located in a small picturesque town in the state next door. Brick paved streets are a throwback to days gone by but I remember them well in my own little hometown.
Just like I remember those days of watching Sesame Street with my children. And now those days of “street” watching have returned once more. Maybe streets paved with bricks will make a comeback too.
So that’s the word on the street from this Nana. When it comes to Sesame Street, I’ll stay on that street as long as Little One lives there.
“People stop and stare
They don’t bother me,
For there’s nowhere else on earth
That I would rather be.
Let the time go by,
I won’t care if I
Can be here on the street where you live.” ~ Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics from My Fair Lady)
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. Home – that’s a subject I find myself writing about often in this blog. You might say I adhere to that old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” My heart has always claimed home.
So Papa and I live in this house which we call home. It’s just an ordinary house, nothing fancy; it has that country farmhouse look to it, especially plunked down in the middle of a field that we purchased from an elderly farmer to make our building lot.
I do love my home. I’m happy in it. And I hope that when folks come to my house they feel welcomed and ‘at home.’ But this place that I call home is just a house that Papa and I have lived in for over 16 years now.
There have been other places we have called home over our 39 years of marriage. His hometown is in the central part of our state, mine is here where we live. The home in which I spent most of my growing up years in is only a few miles down our country road. That place was the anchor that I tethered myself to while Papa and I wandered across the country from one place to another during a good portion of our married life.
No matter how far away I wandered though, I knew home was still there waiting for me. It was a difficult task for me to relinquish my parents’ home after they both died and my sisters and I decided to sell it. The ties that bound were strong.
Having lived in several homes in four different states, home takes on an entirely different meaning for me now as I’ve matured not only in age but also in wisdom. But even more importantly, as my faith deepens and matures, the thought of home evokes an even more profound meaning than it once did.
The words of an old gospel song ring through my memory bank:
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
This home here on this planet revolving around the sun, on this earth held in place by the omnipotent hand of its Creator, is really just temporary. My permanent home lies beyond in a place I can’t describe but will know and recognize it when I finally see it someday.
But for now, I offer up praise and thanks to God for the earthly home He has provided, for the wondrous work of artistry He paints on the day and night canvas right outside my window, and for the loved ones He has given me in my life to share this home with.
In this crazy, mixed up world, I can only feel at home when my thoughts are centered on the One who loves me beyond measure, enough to die in my place, enough to leave His glorious home to enter ours. His name is Jesus.
What signifies ‘home’ for you?
[Day One’s theme in the “Developing Your Eye” photography challenge this summer -which I missed due to my hibernation lethargy – was “Home.” The photo above which I captured on a sunny early September day represents both the theme and my thoughts today.]
“God’s thoughts, his will, his love, his judgments are all man’s home. To think his thoughts, to choose his will, to love his loves, to judge his judgments, and thus to know that he is in us, is to be at home.” ~ George Macdonald
Now there’s a word that scared the daylights out of me.
The thought of being alone stirred up a restlessness inside of me that soon heightened to nothing short of anxiety. Being secluded or separated from other people caused me to feel trepidation, which I managed to hide well for a very long time.
I grew up the youngest of three sisters in a relatively small family. No aunts or uncles on my mother’s side since she was an only child. My father was the youngest of his family and most of my cousins from his side were old enough to have been my parents. So my fate was always to be the youngest in a family of older folks.
Even my own sisters were considerably older than I was. When I was a youngster interested in playing ‘house’ with my dolls and tootling around on a tricycle, they were teenagers interested in boys, music, and their friends.
Honestly, I experienced a lonely childhood being the youngest. My sisters were beyond the age of playing with me or even having the arguments and little spats that most siblings experience. In essence, it felt like I was an only child. By the time I was six, my oldest sister got married and by age nine, my next sister joined the ranks of wedded folks.
I can still feel how loneliness washed over me time and time again even though I lived in a loving home with two parents and my maternal elderly grandparents until they passed away when I was nine. And I can distinctly remember the scary feeling of finding myself…well… by myself.
Embedded in my memories are incidences when I jumped off the school bus after a day spent learning, skipped home, and couldn’t find my mother, who was either in the basement doing the laundry or somewhere where she wasn’t in clear sight when I walked through the kitchen door. Near panic seized me and I would run frantically through the house shouting for my mom only feeling at ease again when I heard her familiar voice calling back.
Didn’t like it. I avoided it as often as I could. And that mode of operation continued through my teen years and even into adulthood. Oh, I would sequester myself into my bedroom reading, listening to music, or daydreaming alone just like any normal teen girl but I still felt assured when someone else, either mom or dad, was at home with me.
Because I didn’t want to be totally alone. Privacy was one thing but isolation was the scary monster lurking around any solitude.
Feeling off balance from that loneness was one of the hardest obstacles I encountered when I graduated from college (never had to be alone then as there were always friends and a roommate nearby), secured a teaching job in a town a couple of hours away from my family, and moved into an apartment alone.
I hated it. I dreaded coming home from a long day of teaching middle schoolers to an empty and lonely apartment with absolutely no one there. No family. No roommate. No pets. Nothing. Just me and the solitude of an attic apartment on a quiet street in a town where I didn’t know a soul.
Just so I had someone to converse and spend time with, I became fast friends with my neighboring landlady whose husband worked night shifts. She was kind and didn’t seem to mind when I showed up at her door so I didn’t have to endure an evening by myself.
My phone bill (in those days long before cell phones) was high with long distance calls to my parents, my boyfriend (who lived quite a distance away from me), friends, anyone to talk to so I wouldn’t feel so alone. One lonely evening everyone I telephoned wasn’t home. Since there were no answering machines, the sound of the ringing phone in my ear just droned on and on while no one answered. It felt like I was the only human being on planet earth. Again that scary feeling of isolation reared its head overwhelming me. I literally cried myself to sleep many nights hating the seclusion and separation I felt, totally forlorn.
Being by myself seemed like the worst solitary confinement on earth. I came to the realization that my idea of never marrying was ridiculous. I was not equipped to live life alone without a loving spouse to share it with. So I was ecstatic when my boyfriend proposed to me. Married, I wouldn’t be alone.
Fast forward several years. Three children growing up in our household in the suburbs meant lots of activities and a noisy household filled with people. And even though my husband traveled overnight in his position as a sales rep, I wasn’t completely alone since children, friends, and neighbors were always around, and I kept busy all the time so I wouldn’t actually have much ‘by myself time.’
Recently I found an old journal from a ladies’ retreat I attended one weekend many years ago with my church. I recall how lovely and fun it was socializing and studying God’s Word with the sweet gals there, but one of our scheduled activities was to go off and find a quiet spot in the idyllic setting – a retreat center in the woods of the Pacific Northwest – and spend time alone.
I can still recall how unsettled that made me feel. This is what I wrote in that journal dated September 24, 1996 – exactly 20 years ago this week:
We talked about waiting for the Lord, quiet time, and solitude. The retreat center here is perfect for this. But solitude and quietness are scary to me. I’ve realized I tend to fill up my time with chatter and being with others. I would really like to change that. I desire quietness sometimes because of all the noise and hustle and bustle of our household but I also fear the silence. Sometimes I feel like I’m on sensory overload between the kids, the TV, the noise of traffic, etc., and I’m angry when someone interrupts what little bit of silence we get by turning on the TV or stereo. Right now, I enjoy the quietness I have in the mornings after my husband’s gone to work and the kids have gone off to school. But still a part of me doesn’t want to be alone in solitude. I’ve feared that all my life. I do realize though that I’m not alone. The Lord is always with me if only I choose to be with Him.
Apparently, what I wrote then I soon forgot because after that retreat I continued to fill up my time so I wouldn’t be by myself. Classroom volunteering and parent teacher organizations at my children’s schools, sports boosters, church activities galore, leading Bible studies, social engagements, lunches with friends, and even 13 years spent filling up my ‘spare time’ with a part-time position in a ministry I had a real passion for. I wasn’t happy unless my calendar spaces were full of things to keep me from spending time alone.
I think that’s why the empty nest hit me like a ton of bricks, knocking me off center, and honestly, freaking me out. Our home, which had been a busy beehive of activity for so long, sat silent when our last child graduated from college and moved out of state to begin his career. My last living parent, my beloved Dad, passed away the year before that. My husband was still working long hours even though he wasn’t traveling any more. But suddenly, I was alone. Really alone. A lot.
That’s when I turned to this blog and pouring my heart and soul into writing posts for it. Still filling up those moments of solitude by reaching out to you, my readers, via this online highway of connectedness.
Circumstances have changed significantly lately. My home is no longer a picture of quiet solitude. For the last 18 months, our daughter and granddaughter have found sanctuary from a heartbreaking situation by living with Papa and me. Our home is filled with busyness, laughter, and noise again with our sweet little one. My quiet time is sparse because while her Mama resumes doing what she is so very good at, her hospital nursing career, Little One is under Nana’s care.
Other life changes once again derailed our train of well-made plans when my husband was unwillingly forced into semi-retirement at age 61 this year, but he is happy and contented working part-time in a position where he just fulfills his job duties at work and then comes home and can forget about it. The weighed down boulder of responsibilities he once had has been lifted and he no longer brings his job and its problems home with him. Peace of mind is priceless, it’s true.
I haven’t had much alone time for over a year and a half, and I’ve shocked myself by actually missing some solitude. But even in the midst of all these changes and the return of a busy household, I do get snippets of time when Daughter and Little One are away and Papa, working various hours in a more random schedule, is also gone and I am alone.
I can do whatever I feel like doing or not. I can sit on the front porch swing uninterrupted and read. I can clean out a closet and reminisce over the things I find there. Or I can just curl up on the family room couch, enjoy the silence, and do nothing. And here’s the shocking revelation – I like it.
I’ve come to appreciate those moments of solitude, something I never thought would happen. Finally, in my quiet alone time, I realize that I’m not feeling lonely, or isolated, or fearful. It’s a surprise to me. And a welcome one at that.
I truly do have the best company and always have. His presence wraps around me like the warm, fuzzy fleece throw that is draped over our easy chair. He has promised to never leave me, never forsake me, and never leave me feeling alone. The issues and problems of life still continue but He helps me face them and persevere through them.
I like the way devotional author Erin Keeley Marshall once wrote of Him, “Next time loneliness hits, imagine yourself resting in the shelter of his palm, and realize being alone is an impossibility since his hand never lets you go.”
Who is He? My Savior, my Redeemer, my Jesus. And I believe I’m finally accepting and yes, embracing the lesson about solitude He’s tried to teach me for all of these years.
“Isolation is aloneness that feels forced upon you, like a punishment. Solitude is aloneness you choose and embrace. I think great things can come out of solitude, out of going to a place where all is quiet except the beating of your heart.” -Jeanne Marie Laskas