WordFULL Wednesday: Then and Now

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“I want to feel your hand in mine as we walk through life. Together.” ~ Unknown

 

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“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

 

In celebration this month of October for 41 years of marriage, the words in these quotes hold true for the Papa and Mama of this empty nest. 

May it always be so.

©2018 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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How do you love?

Love you collage.jpgIt’s the love month – February – and I often wonder why we don’t celebrate love all the rest of the 11 months of the year? Surely this world would be a better place if we were reminded to show love all year long, wouldn’t it?

Yeah, I know, we celebrate love and affection this month because of Valentine’s Day which is tomorrow.  But today, I’m considering why we even celebrate this holiday at all.

I know the day is named for Saint Valentine, a Catholic priest who lived in Rome during the third century and secretly performed Christian marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers and their wives.

At the time, Rome was ruled by a pagan emperor who outlawed marriages for his soldiers because no doubt he believed their only focus should be Rome and protecting it.

Valentine was imprisoned for his so-called crimes and eventually executed on February 14. His focus on the importance of love survived and became the stuff of legends.

When Rome became predominantly Christian 200 years later, the Catholic Church, in an attempt to abolish a pagan ritual which had been annually held in February, proclaimed this day as Saint Valentine’s Day.

And so a holiday began. Now all these centuries later, it’s a highly commercialized money-maker. If you visited any store shortly after Christmas – and in some cases even before – store shelves teemed with Valentine greetings, gifts, candy, and all kinds of merchandise pertaining to this holiday.

Buy your sweetheart this fancy card declaring your love. Or this gargantuan stuffed animal. Or this massive heart-shaped box of chocolates. Or a dozen (or more!) red roses. Or this glittering diamond jewelry.

All purchased and delivered to demonstrate your love.

Well, gifts are nice. They can be lovely and yes, certainly heart-felt tokens of affection. And some folks’ boats are definitely floated by receiving gifts. It’s one of those five love languages first written about back in the 1990’s in a book by Christian counselor Gary Chapman.

But for me, purchasing a Valentine doo-dad off the Wal-Mart shelf just doesn’t measure up to showing how much you love someone.

Instead, my go-to for demonstrating love – any kind of love, not just romantic – comes straight from one entire chapter in my Bible.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 New International Version (NIV)

How can I show love every day of the year, not just on Valentine’s Day? 

By being patient with those around me. Being kind to others and not envious of someone else’s success. By not boasting or being prideful about myself.

By honoring others and putting them before me. By being even-tempered and keeping short accounts when it comes to wrongdoings done to me. By seeking truth and rejoicing in it not in evil actions.

By always being faithful to protect my loved ones. By trusting, hoping, and persevering through difficulties with them.

My litmus test? Inserting my name in place of the word ‘love’ in a passage of that scripture. Example: Mama’s Empty Nest is patient. Mama’s Empty Nest is kind, etc.

Because when I do these things, I open up my heart to love – real, honest-to-goodness love. Love to last beyond Valentine’s Day.

“Love stretches your heart and makes you big inside.” ~ Margaret Walker

©2018 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

My beloved

blogIMG_2570.jpgIt’s February and now that we’re past Groundhog Day when that famous weather prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted to everyone’s dismay that we would have six more weeks of winter, we prepare to celebrate the other holiday of the month.

Valentine’s Day. And our minds turn to love.

Love is a word we banter around a lot.  I love this song. Or I love my pet. Love to ski. Love doughnuts. Love this, love that.

It’s one of those words in the English language that we use to proclaim our fondness for all sorts of things unlike the Greek language which has different words for different types of love.

The photo challenge for this past week was Beloved

While deliberating over what photograph to post for the challenge, I asked myself who do I love? Who is my beloved?

My husband of 40 years? Absolutely. My three adult children? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. My two adorable grandchildren?  Oh, yes, indubitably!  

My sisters and their families? Sure thing. Friends? Well, of course. And the list could go on, just like the many ways I could count to say why I love all of these people.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

You may recognize this as the opening line to a famous poem written by Elizabeth Barret Browning (1806-1861). She wrote this sonnet (#43) to her beloved, her husband Robert Browning.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Even though I love those I’ve listed above beyond measure, there’s one I love even more. He is my beloved and I am his. His name is Jesus and he is my Savior.

It occurs to me that I could read this poem and address it to him and it would aptly fit. And he could read it right back to me because he loves me that much.

And he loves you the same, even if you don’t know him yet.

I don’t have a photograph of my beloved to share for this challenge. Oh, there are artists’ renditions out there of him, but we don’t know how accurate they are. But I do have something tangible that represents my beloved and I can photograph that.

It’s my Bible. And when I open it to read it, it tells me what I need to know about the one I love, my beloved, the one who loved me and you so much, he died that we might live.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~  John 3:16 (NIV)

“I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’  ‘This much,’ he answered. Then he stretched out his arms and died.” ~ unknown

©2018 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Bulls-eye

blogimg_3892-3It shocked me.

Utterly shocked and pierced me right in the heart like a swift arrow hitting the bulls-eye.

One Sunday afternoon, alone in peace and quiet, I decided to plunk myself down and try to conjure up some blogging ideas on our office desktop computer. 

Nothing came to me.  I felt totally devoid of ideas or even coherent thoughts.  So I logged off, drifted into our family room, settled myself on the comfy couch, and picked up my iPad mini thinking maybe I’d just play a game or read something on my Kindle app. 

Each time I fire up that tablet, it shows me app updates/notifications which I generally ignore.  But not this time.

This time, I actually blinked at the very first notification that presented itself right there in front of my eyes.  Blinked. Opened my eyes again to read it. And blinked again.

“Are you listening to what God’s Word is telling you?” it said.

Say what???? Arrow to the heart.

I have a Bible app downloaded on my mini, but it has never given me a notification like this one before.

“Are you listening to what God’s Word is telling you?” Bulls-eye.

All I could do was stare at that question so plainly stated on my tablet’s opening screen and believe in my heart of hearts that God was truly speaking to me.

You see, I’m mired in an ongoing struggle and it has derailed me enough to make me feel just like a freight train wreck sometimes. I have never really grappled with such negative feelings in the past. I may have run across people a time or two who I didn’t necessarily like, but never have I experienced these kind of feelings. Until now.

I have struggled daily for quite some time with ill feelings of…take a deep breath, wrestle with the guilt, and admit it boldfaced in writing…loathing for one person. Someone who lied, betrayed trust, and deeply hurt people I love.  

And I ashamedly admit that I have succumbed to too many truly negative thoughts about this person and I’ve even uttered them out loud.

As a life-long believer in Christ, I KNOW this is wrong. I KNOW it!

I KNOW this a vile emotion and I KNOW that as a Christ follower, I should do all things with love.

I KNOW that my Savior told His believers to love our enemies and pray for them.  He plainly spoke these words in the Bible – Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

And I KNOW I need to forgive.

I tried. I really did.

I fought to dispel my passionate emotions and show this person love. I prayed daily for weeks and weeks for that one soul. But as weeks turned into months and even years went by, I just stopped. The offender demonstrated no remorse, no apology, and no signs of even remotely caring about the sorrow and heartache that person’s actions caused.

As a result, disgust and abhorrence engulfed me. I found this fellow human utterly despicable and in doing so, ugly, hideous thoughts of anger filled my heart at the mention of the person’s name. 

Those feelings have shaken me to my very core. The thought that I could harbor such animosity towards another human being shocks me because never, ever in my lifetime, have I felt this way towards another. It’s proved to be a daily battle and I have prayed, I have wept, I have retreated, I have discussed it with those closest to me until I am exhausted.

And then that Sunday afternoon, my iPad confronted me. “Are you listening to what God’s Word is telling you?”

Am I listening? I’ve tried to. But that’s the thing.  I have tried to do it on my own. I have tried to sweep this ugliness away myself but haven’t allowed God to truly transform my heart as only He can do.

Why did this hit the bulls-eye with me? Because on that same Sunday, just a few hours before my tablet asked the question which seared my very soul, our pastor preached a message called “Clarifying Love.”  

Real, honest to goodness love. Not the giddy, fuzzy warm feelings of love, but love that is an action, love which is the “non-negotiable fundamental of Christian faith,” according to my pastor and I agree.

Sacrificial love. Love that is deliberate.

As I sat in worship listening to Pastor’s message and reading the scriptures he cited, I found my thoughts centering yet again on that person who I still harbor ill will against. That one who proclaimed with words to exhibit this kind of love yet, when the price of love was difficult, didn’t manifest it at all, and wouldn’t even try to make amends to the ones hurt most.

And I realized that I wasn’t exactly manifesting sacrificial kindness myself. When my pastor reminded me that this kind of love – or the lack of it- reveals the state of my heart, I knew his message was for me.

My heart surely has been in an awful state. I felt that check in my spirit as I read scripture that I have read many, many times before in the book of 1 John, Chapter 3 and 4:  Anyone who doesn’t love is in death.  If you do not love, you don’t know God.  Yes, yes, I knew that!

But the next passage was a full frontal assault on my heart and spirit. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. A murderer?! I tried to brush that off.  I’m not a murderer. This person who so willfully wronged my loved ones is the guilty one.  But yet, wasn’t I “slaying” this person with my negative words and unforgiving actions?

I thanked my pastor and told him it was a great message – which it was – and then jokingly told him that I knew I needed to take heed to it but I still wanted to punch this one person in the nose. And my pastor, being the great person that he is, laughed with me. He didn’t chastise me or give me that righteous look that makes one feel condemned. No, he laughed. That’s why I like him so much, he’s real.

Pushing that message to the back burner of my mind, I searched for something distracting to do later that Sunday afternoon. And that’s when my iPad challenged me.  

“Are you listening to what God’s Word is telling you?”

No, I must admit, I have not been listening to what God’s Word tells me. But it’s time – actually past time – that I do. When I don’t speak love with my words, I am wrong. But I’m even more wrong when I don’t love with my actions and in truth.

It’s not an easy task – a work in progress. I must willingly submit myself to the Lord every day to help me rid the malice from my heart and to forgive with sacrificial love even though the offender has never asked for that forgiveness and maybe never will.

Someone once told me that to be unforgiving is like drinking poison and waiting for the wrongdoer to die. I’ve never forgotten that and I’ve even used those same words in a women’s Bible study on forgiveness that I once led.

Being unforgiving doesn’t hurt the one who wronged you, but it does great damage to your own soul.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes

How well I know. I have been forgiving so many times in my lifetime, but this one has been the most difficult ever and I don’t understand why.

But this I do understand – God promises to help and guide me as I apply His Word to my daily life –  “Are you listening to what God’s Word is telling you?” – if I allow Him to do so. 

Just like He did when I opened my Bible app that Sunday afternoon and discovered the verse for the day:  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” ~ Psalm 32:8

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G.K. Chesterton

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

A good match

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He is tall. I am short. He loves seafood. I hate it.

He didn’t wear glasses until the last few years and needs them only for reading.  I’ve worn glasses since I was five years old and need those to make everything blurry clear.

He’s a terrible speller. I always excelled in spelling.  He admits he is not a writer and doesn’t enjoy doing so. I’ve always been a writer and it gives me joy.

He came from a family of brothers. I came from a family of sisters. He had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins in his extended family.  I had only a handful.

His family vacationed at the Jersey shore every summer. My family took very few vacations and I never saw the ocean until I was a young adult.

He grew up in the city with bricks for a yard and no grass. I grew up in the country with a yard a couple of acres large to play in.

As a youngster, he ran up and down the halls of the Capitol building in our state capital while playing with neighborhood friends.  I rode up and down country roads on a bicycle playing with my neighborhood friends.

He has the patience to read the instruction manuals. I have little patience with them and tend to just wing it until I encounter a problem; then I turn to him and his instruction manuals.

He is usually slow to anger. I often possess a short fuse.

He takes his good old time working on projects. I want to hurry up and get them completed ASAP.

He loves all things historical and pertaining to the military and reads just about every display card in museums. I am more fascinated by the personal touches of history and am not interested in movies, books, or displays about wars or the military. I also am way ahead of him while making our way through museums.

He would love to go on a cruise someday. I am terrified of the concept.

You might say we have enough differences to prove we are not compatible at all. But you would be wrong. Our differences aren’t what define us. Our shared history together makes us who we are. And we are not totally mismatched; we do have several things in common.

We are a married couple who have spent the last 43 years together – dating for three years before marriage and this fall will mark 40 years since we said “I do” in front of family and friends.

We’ve endured separations when Papa was obligated for military duty far away, many moves, job changes, health scares, and difficult circumstances during our time together.

We’ve experienced grief and sadness, but we have shared so much joy and laughter as well. And through it all, we endured together. Ours isn’t a perfect relationship but it is one cemented with commitment, love, and respect for one another.

You might just say we are a good match after all (which happens to be this week’s photo challenge).

“It’s not about having the perfect relationship. It’s about finding someone who matches you and will go through everything without giving up.” ~ Unknown

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Stitched together in love

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Beautiful quilts on display at my church

When the air turns frosty and the night is long, I reach for it. 

It not only warms my chilled body, but heart and soul as well.  And I sleep peacefully beneath it enveloped by comfort.

It boasts bright, colorful squares hand-stitched together and arrayed in a specific pattern.  When turned over, it displays yet another intricate design of the tiniest, near perfectly formed stitches.

It is a quilt, hand-made by my mother and woven together by thread, material, and love, that rests on my bed. When I pull that cover over me, I think of Mom and the endless hours she spent pursuing one of her favorite pastimes – quilting – and I’m reminded not just of her but of life. 

Quilts are composed of bits and pieces which by themselves look just like what they are – bits and pieces.  But when arranged, they portray a picture and often tell a story reminding us of joys or sorrows, good times and difficult times.  Somehow, when those bits and pieces are stitched together with loving hands, they become a beautiful work of art, just like life.

Sometimes, when I pull my quilts out of my Mom’s old cedar chest,  the lyrics of a song come to mind –  “Silver threads and golden needles can’t patch up this heart of mine.”  But unlike the song, remembering the thread and needles that so lovingly formed these quilts actually does patch up my heart when I’m feeling a bit melancholy.

I once read a quote that I stashed away in my tattered quotes notebook that said, “Love is the thread that binds us together.”   My treasured quilts truly do form a patchwork of love that binds me to my family history.

I cherish one quilt my maternal grandmother fashioned. Grandma married my grandfather in 1900 and times certainly were different back then.  Quilts were made not for displaying on a wall, but for daily household use.

Grandma didn’t purchase special fabrics in matching colors to make this quilt.  Instead it’s a jumble of many colors and shapes because the patches were cut from leftover material she saved from old clothing or even flour and feed sacks which consisted of brightly colored cloth.

Patches, irregular in size and color, form a unique design called a crazy quilt.  It’s safe to proclaim that my Grandma’s crazy quilt isn’t a beauty.  Odd, yes.  Beauty, probably not. But it speaks love to me. 

Each time I handle it, I reminisce about the grandmother who taught me old hymns and silly songs, rocked me in her rocking chair, and loved me for only nine years before she died.   When I lift that old quilt up to my face and inhale the scent of it,  I’m transported back in time to my childhood because this cover, well used and hodge-podge in appearance, smells like my grandma.  Often that makes me smile and weep at the same time.

I keep two other quilts fashioned by family members I never got to meet or learn to  love.  One quilt is worn, a bit stained, and slightly tattered, but it’s special to me.  The pattern is called fox and geese and it belonged to my paternal grandmother.   I assume she made it, but I’m not sure of that.

I try to imagine what she must have been like – that grandmother I only know from a few photographs because she died when I was an infant.  Widowed in 1920 with a houseful of children, one of whom was my father then just a baby,  I suppose she made this quilt to keep her family warm.  I imagine the stories Grandma’s quilt could tell me – stories of family and love and even heartbreak.

The other treasured quilt in my collection belonged to my husband’s paternal grandmother who he doesn’t remember well.  Her life is a bit of a mystery to us.  We know her name,  the names of her husband (my husband’s grandfather) and all her children, the oldest being my father-in-law who was born in 1898.  But we know little of this grandmother’s life, her history, her parents, her stories.

It’s been said that a quilt tells a story and that story is our past.  If this red and cream-colored intricately patterned quilt could talk, it would tell us about this grandmother and her daily life.  It would tell us family stories long forgotten and left untold to the next generation.

Last month, I attended a Mother-Daughter dinner at my church.  The theme revolved around quilts and many ladies loaned their quilted treasures for display there.  Wooden racks constructed to exhibit them lined the entire length of one wall of the fellowship hall. 

I don’t know how many quilts adorned those racks, but I do know that each one of those beautifully handcrafted works of art represented a family story, a fond remembrance, a life well-lived.

Together all of those quilts spoke of love.   One stitch at a time.

©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Dance with me

At a college dance in 1975

At a college dance in 1975

Just a few notes of a song from my youth ring through the air and I can name that tune.  Music always sticks in my mind.

And it does something else – it transports me back in time.  When I hear a familiar tune and commence singing along with the words, a kind of magic descends.  My surroundings fade away and it’s almost like I’m immersed in a time machine. 

Years, even decades, melt away and there I am.  Transported to the past, reliving a memory.  And all because of a song.

I experienced a little time travel while driving to work the other day.  Often I drive in silence with the car radio switched off.  I don’t listen to talk shows.  I don’t even listen to music stations very often although I do love music. 

I imagine after all of those years of being the ‘mom taxi’ and driving three kids and friends around while listening to chatter and loud disagreements from the back seat, I relish the quietness of just me and my auto.

But the other day, I switched on the car radio and a classic rock station sprang to life.  I moseyed down the highway singing, “big girls don’t cry” anticipating the next fun song from the past. 

The first couple of notes sounded and instantly my time machine, doubling as a car radio, transported me back in time to my college days.

The song was Dance With Me by the group Orleans.  I used to own that record album and I loved that song. 

Dance with me, I want to be your partner
Can’t you see the music is just starting?
Night is falling, and I am calling
Dance with me

Middle daughter & son-in-law

Middle daughter & son-in-law

As I sang along with the lyrics, I recalled dancing to that song with my college sweetheart, who is now my husband of 35 years.  We were young, we were in love, but we weren’t the greatest dancers. 

Dance inspires and moves me when I watch others interpret music with their bodies.  I can remember wanting to be a dancer as a kid.  Gliding on tip toe through the house, I pretended I was a ballerina. Or I danced and pranced like a go-go girl with dances called the Monkey, the Jerk, the Swim, or the Pony.

But I never was a very good dancer.  Enter boyfriend/husband, who was even more of a non-dancer than I was. 

Son & daughter-in-law

Son & daughter-in-law

My husband listens to music every day, but his sense of rhythm when it comes to dancing leaves something to be desired.  He knows it, he jokes about it, and he’s never been a confident dancer by any stretch of the imagination.

But that song…dance with me. 

Fantasy could never be so giving
I feel free, I hope that you are willing
Pick the beat up, and kick your feet up
Dance with me

Oh, how we danced to that song.  I recall the way his arms held me tightly and even though we just swayed, moving in a tight little circle to the music, it was heavenly. 

Listening to that song in my car reminded me of the first taste of real, true love.  My mind jumped to thoughts of my grown-up children dancing with their own true loves at their weddings last year.

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Oldest daughter & son-in-law

Let it lift you off the ground
Starry eyes, and love is all around
I can take you where you want to go

But then, the words of that old song from my youth suddenly transformed into new meaning for me.  I thought about true love and my first real true love – my relationship with Jesus.

As much as I love my husband, my children, my family and friends, my first love is for my Savior.  My dance partner for life. 

Thinking that over, I suddenly pictured myself in the arms of Jesus, my Lord. I could hear Him whisper the words of the song, even though they aren’t scripture.  I could imagine Him singing these lyrics to me.

And today, on this best day of the year, I wonder.  Can you hear Him sing these words to you?  Have you chosen Him as your life’s dance partner?

Dance with me, I want to be your partner
Can’t you see the music is just starting?
Night is falling, and I am calling
Dance with me

Let it lift you off the ground
Starry eyes, and love is all around
I can take you where you want to go

Dance with me, I want to be your partner
Can’t you see the music is just starting?
Night is falling, and I am calling
Dance with me

Dance with me

Dance with me.

©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com