Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Such a Son (in-law)

My precious friend Becky, along with her family had to make a devastating decision last week. Most of you remember that Becky is also Nathan's mom.

Snowy, their little white poof of a dog, had aged beyond the help any veterinarian could offer. So last Wednesday, after Herculean efforts, they were forced to allow the vet to put him to sleep.

Snowy had been a part of the Smith family for over thirteen years. That little guy had done much more than his fair share of comforting, cuddling and laughter-creating! We know from personal experience.

He was part of the journey through Sarah's cancer treatments as well as Becky's. He shared their "Gypsy Lifestyle." (The Smiths were evangelists for sixteen years. Nathan and Sarah both were on the road within weeks of being born.) He accompanied them through three major moves. And assisted Nathan and Sarah as they braved the halls of new schools.

Having experienced a similar loss, my heart ached for Becky, Sarah and Steve. But it was Nathan that I was able to hug and listen to as he reminisced.

Nathan was actually the first Smith to request a dog, as I understand it. His level of loss became much clearer when I realized that Snowy became part of my son-in-law's life when Nate was only nine years old!

(When we look at grown men complete with facial hair, muscles and booming voices, we tend to forget that they were first little boys. Little boys with tender hearts.)

Snowy was Nathan's constant companion while the family focused on the battle for Sarah's life. He was the pest under Nathan's baseball cleats through high school. Whatever changes occurred once he went away to college, Nathan knew that nothing ever changed with Snowy.

I listened and watched his clear eyes become a bit cloudy as Nathan talked about the favorite, four-legged family member.

But his main focus made my heart cry. In typical Nathan-esque fashion he shared his perspective. "Yeah, this is tough. But I think the really hard part will come for Mom when Sarah goes off to college. She'll need something to nurture then for sure."

(The focus wasn't his own level of sadness but rather his concern for his mom and her future emotions.)

"I don't know. If it's not another dog it may be her writing or maybe even some new songs. Yeah, Mom's a nurturer!"

No, he isn't in his thirties. But I'll tell you what Nathan IS. He's a deep thinker and a man who understands the importance of feelings.

And that's probably why my youngest daughter is now known as Mrs. Smith!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Gift

Brace yourself!

This post will most assuredly disrupt your picture of the behavior deemed acceptable by middle aged pastors and their wives. The information I'm preparing to share will undoubtedly shock and at the very least surprise some of my readers. Feel free to click out now.

I want to tell you what my husband gave to me as a birthday gift. Never in a million years would you guess this on your own. Not if I gave you each a week to come up with an answer would you find the correct one. This gift ranks so far out of the box that I gasped and tears sprang to my eyes when I opened it. It has even been requested by other husbands that he not share the identity of this gift.

Are you braced? (Consider this your last and final warning!)

My husband of thirty-three years; my ordained minister husband; married to his ordained minister wife; father of three ministry daughters and two ministry sons (in-law); my ultra-conservative husband purchased, for us as a couple,................................


Shocker, right?! I tried to tell you!

While some of you are surprised, others wonder why I'm making such a big deal of this. Please allow me to explain. (After all, isn't the explaining the main purpose of blogging?)

I've mentioned before that we are part of a conservative denomination. Dancing is usually frowned upon in these circles.

When I was five, my dad found me hidden in our kitchen pantry. The transistor radio blaring the sweet sounds of Elvis while I did my best impression of the Twist! Dad helped bring understanding to me very quickly. Dancing was not encouraged nor tolerated in our home.

(Of course, the fact that I had hidden in the pantry reveals that I already knew this - even at five.)

As a teen-ager, I attended a conservative private high school that provided a Jr.-Sr. Banquet experience instead of a prom. Dangers of dancing dodged, yet again.

When we became pastors and young brides planned dancing as part of the weddings we performed, we always slipped away before the DJ could get rolling.

But genetic rhythm will not be denied!

You see, Mom Hawley is an incredible dancer! And she taught her young son (who became my minister husband) all the great dances of the forties and fifties. At holiday gatherings, it's been such fun to watch the two of them jitterbug or swing through several of Mom's favorite songs.

So when Joy married John, she insisted on a father-daughter dance. Definitely out of the comfort box for my parents. But her face just beamed as Daddy twirled her to the strains of "My Girl!" Who could possibly be offended by that?

Then came Meagan - who has never fit into any sort of box! Without question, she and Dad would dance to Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "Dance with Cinderella." But she also requested that everyone come to the dance floor for almost an hour of fun, family-friendly dance songs.

I bravely joined my family on that dance floor. But due to the fact that I'm severely dance-challenged, I mostly swayed slowly from right to left. Frank attempted a couple of easy twirls while giving verbal cues through-out the dangerous exercise.

I can "put my right foot in" with the best of them. But my skills falter sharply when instruction stops.

Because music is lifeblood to her, Kristin has made no attempt to hide the fact that she plans on a full DJ experience for her wedding some day. So for years, I've bemoaned how embarrassed I'll be at her wedding. I mean, what if she marries into a family of dancing divas?

Can't you just see it? The entire wedding party, every guest, twirling and dipping and jiving and hopping and........... I don't know, what else do you do when you dance? And there I'll be. Sitting demurely on the sideline, clapping politely, smiling broadly, wishing I could join them.

Well, not any more!

At some point in the very near future, I will don my most comfortable Clark flats. I will stand close to the man I love most in all the world. And with professional instruction, I will finally live a dream I've had since I was five years old.

I will dance!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Volleyball and Birthdays

Have you been watching the Olympics like we have?

May I just say -

I'm so very thankful that my work uniform does NOT look like the one the beach volleyball Olympians are required to wear?! And can you imagine not only having to don that attire each day but also playing volleyball competitively in front of millions of television viewers?!

Yep, pretty sure I could single-handedly extinguish the enthusiasm for beach volleyball after a single match if someone requested that I leap, lunge, or otherwise loudly participate in that mid-drift, baring sport! (Run-on sentence totally necessary!) I'm just sayin'.........

I most likely will return to the topic of the Olympics later this week. But for today, I have a more delightful topic to share.

Twenty-seven years ago yesterday, a precious blue-eyed, brown-haired beauty made her appearance. We named her Alicia Joy, after our moms; Alice and Joyce. While praying about what to call her, the Lord whispered to us, "Call her 'Joy' because that's what she will bring to your family." And so she has!

Her name means "One who rejoices in truth!" Which worked out very well any time she was tempted as a child to fudge the truth. I would look into those huge baby blues and calmly remind her, "Joy, you know you can't lie. Your name means one who rejoices in truth. Now, let's hear it!"

A few times she managed to hold out for about an hour. But eventually it would get to her. She would stomp into my room, lay out the actual facts, shake her head in frustration, demand to know why we named her that, then stomp back out! Gotta smile.

Her premature birth became a miraculous testimony which I'll detail for you one day. The short version involves undeveloped lungs. A disease that claimed the lives of many infants. Nine days in a NICU with doctors and nurses trying to prepare us for the worst. Young, terrified parents who only knew to pray and ask God to spare her life.

Going home from that hospital with empty arms carved a mark on my soul that remains til today. I will always have compassion for women who experience this for any reason!

Alicia Joy made a last minute turn-around. (Or at least, that's how Dr. Yoder described it.) We know that prayers of many people were heard in Heaven and, to our great delight, God chose to heal our baby girl.

As a teen she loved telling that out of the three girls, she ended up with the best set of lungs. And that really was the truth!

Today Joy juggles the hats of Wife, Mother, Youth Pastor, Sister, Daughter, Friend. And she does it all with such grace that I know the Holy Spirit must truly be at work in her life!

Happy Birthday, My Angel! Thank you for the 'Joy' you continue to bring to all those around you!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sharp Left

"Once you've passed the fire house, take the next sharp left. It's not real easy to see; so watch for it. Then you'll spot the building about a quarter mile down that road."

I listened as my dad gave directions to someone over the phone. The house my mom and dad shared the last eight years of her life sits a half mile off the main road which is five miles from the nearest distinguishable landmark.

Giving clear directions that far back in the sticks is an art form! It's usually better to have people wait at the final crossroads and go get them.

This past weekend, Frank and I made a second fourteen hour round trip drive in one month to check on my dad. He had a serious health scare the first part of July and I went up then to join my sister.

Frank wanted to verify for himself the reports that Dad is doing better now. (Although, the new medication has slowed him down some. Which causes considerable chaffing with his active life-style.)

I sat praying for my dad this morning and could hear him again giving those directions.

Because words and phrases intrigue me (inordinately), I started thinking how interesting that he always says, ".....a sharp left." Or ".....a hard right."

Is that as opposed to a "dull, meandering left" or a "softly bending right"? (I have a point with this, promise!)

The thought drifted through my mind that I'm extremely grateful for the "sharp lefts" and "hard rights" that God has directed me through in life.

Times when we were headed in one direction but the best route meant taking a sharp left; putting our feet on an entirely different path.

Leaving Asheville, NC was one of those times for us.

After nine years of wonderful ministry with an amazing team of people, we sensed a crossroads approaching. Life was rolling at an extremely brisk pace and a left turn at that speed wouldn't be easy. But we knew it was necessary.

So we packed up our little tribe (Meagan was only five years old) and moved to Ocean Isle, NC to pioneer a church. We left everything comfortable, safe, familiar and careened around that sharp left turn into a new life.

Nothing about the next six years was easy as we pioneered that church - but it was right!

Another sharp left came for us when we decided to follow a dream and become evangelists. Admittedly, when we first started down that road, I thought this would only be a jaunt. It morphed into a calling that continues to impact our lives even now.

That sharp left eventually led us to Garden Grove Church! Did I mention that I'm thankful for the sharp left turns God has sovereignly woven into our life journey?

Not all the sharp lefts and hard rights have been easy to spot. We've had to slow down a bit; watch for them. I wonder if there are turns I've blown right past. Hmmmmm.

Frank and I are currently praying for a young man who has chosen to take a sharp left turn. It's proving to be an uphill run for him. And just like every Olympian, he deserves to have people cheering his efforts from the stands.

Maybe you too sense a "crossroads" approaching in your journey. Slow down; watch for it; take that sharp left turn! You'll spot the place you're searching for about a quarter mile down that road.

It may not be easy - but it'll be right!