Category Archives for Family

rabbi ben ezra

30 Years and Counting (Blessings)

I was 22; he was just barely 24. We started dating when we were students at Campbell University and two and a half years later we said our vows. How thirty years have slipped away since that day, I could not tell you. But boy, have we made a lot of memories since then. Here, in celebration of our 30th anniversary last November, are just a sample of them.

  1. We married in North Myrtle Beach, SC on a rainy Friday--November 27, 1987--and by Sunday I had moved into Jay’s apartment in Panama City, Florida. He was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base at the time. Within the next few weeks, I invited Linda Reiman and Janet Elmore—also newly married to 2nd Lieutenants—over for lunch. A chance to make friends AND use my brand-new Christmas china: win, win! I don’t remember the full menu, but I do remember the desert: homemade peppermint ice cream. I still have the recipe. AND I remember Linda and Janet, two women who made my transition into the foreign world of military life so much easier.
  2. We moved to Oklahoma in January 1988; Jay would be stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The drive to Oklahoma from Florida—in two cars, before the days of cellphones—was interminable and not just because of the distance. We crossed into Oklahoma during an ice storm that slowed traffic to an excruciatingly slow and dangerous crawl. Luckily, it did not turn out to be any kind of omen. We absolutely loved living in Oklahoma.
  3. Jay went to survival school soon after we moved to Oklahoma—March as I recall. It was the first time I had stayed alone in our apartment overnight, and I was terrified. Don’t know why I was so convinced that I was the one who would not survive those few weeks—after all, it was Jay who was experiencing a prisoner of war simulation . . ..
  4. After about six months of looking and visiting, we joined First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, the first church we belonged to as a married couple. Seven years later, the sanctuary’s 100+ year old windows were blown out by the explosion orchestrated by homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh at the nearby Alfred P. Murrah federal building. That day, 168 people died and 680 more were injured. (Back then, we thought it would be the most tragic event of its kind in our lifetime.)
  5. In the Sunday school class for young couples at FBCOKC, we met a couple who married just five months before we did—Vic and Debbie Averitt. The first time Vic and Debbie invited us to join them for lunch after church, we accepted but we were so nervous! At the time, we were 22 and 24, lived in a just-barely-average two-bedroom apartment, and I was unemployed. Debbie and Vic were in their thirties, owned a beautiful home, and were established in successful careers. What kind of restaurant would such affluent, mature people choose? “I hope this place takes credit cards,” Jay said as we walked to our 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier and they headed over to their Volvo. “I don’t have much cash!” We followed Debbie and Vic to the fine establishment they had chosen: the local version of today’s IHOP. (We didn’t need the credit card.)
  6. Another young couple—fresh grads of Oklahoma State University—joined First Baptist OKC a few months later: Ken and Kimberlee Spady. Ken was beginning his career in agricultural science and Kimberlee studied law at OKC University. Kimberlee’s easy laugh and vivacious personality paired perfectly with Ken’s quiet strength and steady presence. In my memory, our friendship formed instantaneously.
  7. As soon as housing became available at Tinker Air Force Base—around 1990—Jay and I moved from our place at Lakeview Apartments in Northwest OKC, to a three-bedroom house on base. It felt huge! To me, living on base seemed a lot like college life. Everyone was about the same age (not quite adults, but on our way), we shared some communal spaces (officer’s club, BX, etc.), and we had few pressing responsibilities (no mortgages, for example). I loved it.
  8. Jay took up biking in Oklahoma and would go for extended rides of 50-75 miles. Soon, he was participating in triathlons and biathlons around Oklahoma, giving us a great opportunity to see some remote parts of the state. This will surprise all of you readers, but I played the role of spectator, not participant. (You’re shocked, I know.)
  9. After a couple of employment flops, I got a job in Chickasha as a recruiter for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, “Oklahoma’s ONLY public liberal arts university. Gooooo Drovers!” USAO was a great place to work. The only problem? Chickasha was a 55-minute drive from Midwest City. It got old. Fast.
  10. In 1990, Jay took his first leisure trip to that popular vacation spot known for attracting (or is that attacking?) international tourists. Yep, Jay and hundreds of his closest friends received an all-expenses paid trip to not-terribly-beautiful Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  11. In November of 1991, you may have noticed that the world was suddenly vastly improved. That would have been when our niece Rachel Elizabeth Webster (now Breckenridge) was born. We met her that December when she was still small enough to fit comfortably in my two hands. My palms still tingle at the memory.
  12. That 55-minute drive I mentioned? It drove me to resign from USAO so I could go back to school and complete my degree before Jay got out of the Air Force in 1992. I finished my MEd at the University of Central Oklahoma in July of 1992, just before we moved back east where Jay would go to NC State for his Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences which he completed in 1994.
  13. In August of 1992, we moved to a tiny apartment (exactly the size of a two-car garage) with a huge monthly rent (and still the cheapest we could find) in Cary, NC. That apartment . . . oh my. It was underneath a large home in a nice neighborhood (as garages so often are). The couple, smiling at each other with pride, told us they had renovated the space themselves. (This explained the mismatched paint, uneven molding, and the lovely rooster motif.) I am certain that the apartment had some insulation. I mean, surely the original builders included a layer above the garage, right? Anyway, we could neither cool the place in the summer nor heat it in the winter. What an adventure!
  14. We bought our first house in Sanford, NC in 1993. Painted pale yellow with black shutters, it had a front porch—swing added—and a big yard. One teensy little drawback—our yard backed up to an elementary school. (I could hear the tardy bell from my kitchen.) Still, it was my favorite house and if it were twice as big and in Asheville, I’d live in it today.
  15. Our three children were all born in the same room at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford, NC. (Not, however, at the same time.) Trellace, born in 1994, was 3 ½ and Baker was not quite 2 when Margaret joined the family in February of 1998.
  16. For about six years, I worked at Central Carolina Community College. My first supervisor at CCCC was Dr. Matt Garrett. He and his wife Becky had three teens (or almost teens) at the time. We learned so much from the Garretts about so many things: leadership, marriage, parenting, faith, and so much more. Of the many gifts we were given during our time in Sanford, NC, the Garrett family is one of our favorites.
  17. Keisha McLeod Petty and I also worked together at CCCC; having her as a co-worker for those six years is another of God’s gifts to me and my family. The kids grew up knowing and loving her and her husband Jeffrey Petty. A lot has changed for Keisha and Jeff since we moved from Sanford. Through it all, they have become even more beautiful and an even greater example for my family of abiding faith and enduring love.
  18. While in Sanford, Jay and I belonged to First Baptist Church (a recurring association, you’ll notice). We made many great friends there, among them Mark and Traci Willis. We have maintained our friendship with Mark and Traci, raising our families and navigating the complexities of life together. Yet another Sanford blessing!
  19. In May of 1998, Jay left his position with the State of North Carolina to accept a position with the National Climatic Data Center (now National Centers for Environmental Information) in Asheville, NC. From May until October of that year, Jay commuted to Asheville from Sanford. He lived in Asheville Monday through Thursday and spent the long weekend at home in Sanford. That went on for six extra-long months.
  20. We bought our third house in October 1998: 24 Cedar Trail in Asheville. (We’d sold the little yellow one and bought a size larger while we were in Sanford.) Margaret was just shy of nine months old; Baker was 2½ and Trellace was 4½. Our address falls in the A.C.Reynolds/Oakley school district, so approximately five minutes after we moved to Asheville, all three of our kids were attending Oakley Elementary, then ACR Middle, then graduating from ACRHS.
  21. In the fall of 2003, Baker and Trellace both made their professions of faith and were baptized by their Papa, my dad. Margaret was baptized in 2013, also by Papa. Beautiful.
  22. Remember that great trip Jay took back in 1990? It was so much fun that 14 years later he went back to the region for a second vaycay (that time to Tikrit, Iraq as part of the NC Air National Guard). Just before he left, our family joined—you guessed it—First Baptist Church of Asheville.
  23. From 1991 to 2003, our 12 (biological and otherwise) nieces and nephews entered the world. We have seven boys ages 26 to 14 (Cameron, Lane, Jake, Mitch, Connor, Cage, and Banks) and five girls ages 26 to 15 (Rachel, Emma, Meredith, Allie, and Anna Kate). They are all such wonderful people and we are privileged to share their lives.
    While today, all of our nieces and nephews are healthy, their birth stories are not all uneventful:
  • Meredith Averitt, born in 1995 at 25.5 weeks, weighed 1 pound 12 ounces and was about 12 inches long at birth. Her life hung in the balance for months; her identical twin had slipped past earth and gone straight on to heaven. Meredith’s survival, her vitality, brings me to my knees with gratitude.
  • Emma and Mitch Weiss (born 1997 and 1999), both had health concerns at birth due to my sister’s obstetric cholestasis—a liver disease that causes multiple problems, most predominantly chronic and insatiable itching. We could have lost any one of them. It was a harrowing time.
  • From day one, Anna Kate Willis’ gregarious personality and can-do attitude assured all of us that she would triumph over the medical limitations inherent in her cerebral palsy diagnosis.  Through multiple surgeries (we love Shriner’s Hospitals!) and countless therapy sessions, Anna Kate has maintained her strong will and indomitable spirit; at 15 years old, she is strong and independent—spending as much time as possible riding her horse, Houdini. Nieces and nephews: one of our life’s most delightful surprises.
  1. I thought it was cute, certainly nothing upsetting. So, when I was told that almost-3-year-old Baker might have a developmental speech disorder, I thought it was nonsense. I had him professionally evaluated, though, and then reluctantly consented to having him enter speech therapy after his third birthday. I learned that while there are plenty of appropriate developmental speech patterns, Baker’s did not fall within that range. For example, he called Trellace, “Hada” and when he said words that started with “s,” an “f” sound came out (“soft” sounded like “fof”.) Anyway, he had great therapists and after six years, he graduated from the program at 9 years old. (Seeing as now he pretty much uses his voice to make money, I’d say the treatment was effective.)
    Many adorable stories feature Baker’s unusual speech. Here’s one of the favorites. We were at the allergist’s office and had been there for some time. (Both Baker and Margaret had appointments; Trellace was along for the ride.) By the time we left, the kids were tired and hungry. As I was checking out, the clerk offered the children a sweet treat for good behavior. Baker didn’t hesitate to accept, responding loudly with great enthusiasm, “I want a GREEN sucker!” At least, that’s what he meant to say . . ..
  2. When Trellace was 8 years old, she got a bit of a tummy ache which turned out to be appendicitis—a diagnosis that occurred sometime after the appendix ruptured, shortly before the surgery to remove it. Peritonitis, as it turns out, is nasty business. Because of the superb medical care at Mission Hospital, Trellace got better just in time for us to go on our annual trip to The Woodlands, TX to spend Thanksgiving with the Averitt family—a tradition that we kept up for more than a decade.
  3. I had just finished teaching a fitness class and the kids were waiting for me there in the studio at the YMCA when it happened. Suddenly, Margaret began crying out in pain, describing the symptoms of a classic migraine; she was six years old. By that time, she had grappled with asthma for two years. Thanks to modern medicine for quality pharmaceuticals and to chiropractic care for healing adjustments, Margaret keeps both in check these days. Never a pushover, Margaret wasn’t about to let a little bit of neurological distress and respiratory dysfunction slow her down.
  4. This next story spans most of our 30 years of marriage, so allow me to truncate: when I was 42, in January of 2008, I returned to college for the third time, this time to Gardner-Webb University to pursue my Master’s of Divinity. I graduated in December 2010. In Fall 2017, I headed back to Boiling Springs, NC to begin my Doctorate of Ministry which I’ll finish in 2020.
  5. One weekend in the fall of 2011, I was out of town for a speaking engagement. Jay called me to tell me that Baker had gone to the school’s homecoming dance with a girl I had never met. (An aside: apparently my husband had never met ME seeing as he mentioned this casually and in passing. This was Baker’s FIRST date!) A few weeks later, they made it “Facebook official.” That Facebook status didn’t change until March 2017 when Addison Cook said YES to becoming a Lawrimore. (On May 19, 2018, they’ll change their status once more to “married.”)
  6. Our nest emptied out in the fall of 2016 when Margaret went to NC State, following her brother who had gone to UNC Greensboro and her sister who graduated that same year from Georgetown University. As of now, Margaret is a sophomore, Baker is a senior, and Trellace is in the PhD program at New York University.
  7. Both of our sets of parents have passed their 50th Mine are at 57; Jay’s just celebrated their 60th. Despite their share of health complications, all four continue to thrive, a fact that we never take for granted. Jay’s sister Jill and her husband Ted will be married 30 years in January; Aileen’s sister Dawn and her husband Mike are up to 27 years; Hal, Aileen’s brother, and his wife Kim had their 26th anniversary this past December. Add all that up and you’ve got about 200 years of marriage. Makes our 30 seem like just a short chapter in a really long and beautiful love story. We are grateful.
dexter avenue baptist church

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Kitchen

Dr. Sheri Adams led a class on Civil Rights and Religion in May 2009 which included a tour of key historic sites from the Civil Rights Movement. One of the places we visited was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage where Martin and Coretta King lived during their ministry there. This story comes from that experience.

I am standing in my Grandmother Martin’s kitchen. It’s true: Grandmama died nearly 14 years ago and her kitchen was dismantled long before that, but I’m telling you, this is her kitchen.

Her resin dishes are laid out on the Formica table ready for supper—though I remember them being a pale pink, not this mint green. The table setting includes a bowl of pecans. Granddaddy often collected pecans from the yard to be cracked after supper; and for the record, he and Grandmama called them “pea ca’ns,” giving equal emphasis to the first two syllables and letting the third one slip in for free. (Only those uppity carpet-baggers from the North used the term “puhcahns,” spitting out the “puh” just to get to the “cahns.”)

The ceramic napkin holder is new to me. I’m not surprised it’s in her kitchen though since it has strawberries on it; Grandmama did love her strawberries. Her oven, probably still hot from cooking biscuits, looks like it always did and her Frigidaire does too. The coffee pot—a percolator—has not changed at all. The kitchen shelves hold the usual, everything from Jewel® shortening to HotShot® bug killer in the pump and shoot tin can. Granddaddy murdered many a 6-legged intruder with that beastly weapon.

“’Get out of town within three days,’ the caller threatened, ‘or you’ll be sorry,’” The docent’s words drew me out of my reverie. “Martin knew this threat was different.”

“The call had awakened him and he could not get back to sleep, so he left Coretta and newborn Yolanda asleep, and came in here to the kitchen.”

This kitchen: this kitchen that looked so much like my Grandmama’s.

“He made himself a cup of coffee, but says he never even took a sip. And he sat down at his kitchen table. By the way, most everything in the parsonage here is authentic; however, this table is not the one that was here at that time, but it is very much like the one Martin sat at that night.”

(And it’s very much like the one my Grandparents sat at in their kitchen in Georgia during those very same years.)

My divinity school colleagues—19 of us counting students and professors—crowded into the parsonage's tiny kitchen and stood around the little table. Studying civil rights and religion, we were travelling to significant sites in the South, learning more about faith’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Coming to the end of this tour of the Birmingham parsonage of Martin Luther King, Jr., we found ourselves spellbound by our guide’s retelling of the famous  “kitchen table epiphany.

“Martin sat here, full of despair. He thought of Coretta, and baby Yolanda. He thought of all the threatening phone calls. He thought of all he had to lose. He sat here in the wee hours of that morning and cried out to God, confessing his own doubts, his own weaknesses.

“When Martin recalled the story, he said it was at that moment of confession that he heard the voice of Jesus say to him, ‘Martin Luther stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ He heard Jesus tell him he would never be alone, no matter what.” The docent looked up to heaven, lifting her hands as if in thanksgiving. Then looking down, she shook her head slowly.

“And he didn’t give up. Not even three days later when his house, this house, was bombed. You see Martin was right: the call he got that night was more than just a prank. It was a real threat. What a blessing that Martin had just reaffirmed his calling and his faith right here in this kitchen.”

This Montgomery, Alabama kitchen that belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an African American Baptist preacher and the leader of the Civil Rights movement. This kitchen:so familiar to me that it could have been in the Albany, Georgia home of Mrs. Mabel Louise Martin, my white, Southern Baptist grandmama.

 

anna kate and houdini

An Advent Devotion: Joy Comes Home

An Advent message from the prophet Zephaniah
"Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! . . .At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord."  
                                                                                                  Zep 3:14, 20 NRSV

2 Year Old Girl Caucasian"Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!"

Twenty voices sang to the little guest of honor enthroned in her high chair. Anna Kate, celebrating her second birthday, celebrated her first in a very different place. Back then, she lay in a Russian orphanage awaiting her turn for nourishment and a little nurture as well.

"Happy Birthday Anna Kay-ate! Happy Birthday to you!"

Anna Kate beamed, looking around at all the people gathered just for her. A look of wonder filled her eyes as she said just one word, "Happy."

And in that moment, I beheld joy in the shape of a little girl. I got a snapshot, just a glimpse, of what it must have been like to see the face of Christ.

Christ had a second birthday too, you know. When Jesus was two years old and toddling about, do you think humanity realized the treasure in its midst? Of course Mary did, and Joseph. And surely other family members recognized that this baby was indeed extraordinary. But there must have been those who missed their chance to cradle joy incarnate in their arms. There must've been.

This advent season, we are called to embrace the coming of Christ. Don't miss your chance. Celebrate the joy of Christ today.

"Jesus, let us glimpse this day, joy incarnate. In the midst of our 21st century frenzy, slow us down that we might recognize your face, thereby experiencing the wonder of Advent."

Advent picture of Willis Family 2014

Anna Kate and her family, 2014

1972 Chrysler Town and Country Wagon

On Our Way to Christmas

(an Advent Devotion I wrote originally for Asheville's First Presbyterian Church's Advent Devotional booklet in 1999)

1972 Chrysler Town and Country Interio

I always got the back seat. The very back seat. The one in our 1972 Chrysler Station Wagon that faced oncoming traffic. My older sister and younger brother sat in the middle seat, behind Mama on the passenger side and Daddy in the driver's seat. The windows, fogged from the cold, made fresh drawing slates for us to sketch Christmas trees decorated with thumb prints and lined with fingernail garlands. Eight-track tapes sang Feliz Navidad, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. Finally! We were on our way to Christmas.

It was a tradition, that trip. Almost every year, the five of us traveled great distances to be with my Mother's family for Christmas. I got my big Raggedy Ann doll in Atlanta, my dollhouse in Tulsa, and Redhead, my very favorite doll, at home in Wilson, North Carolina. The trip was just part of Christmas.

I liked the trip. I liked my hideaway in the wayback. With Redhead and a paper sack full of books I could ride for hours reading and napping and reading some more. I liked the car games we played as a family. (I can still spot an X or a Z on a billboard a mile away!) I liked having Daddy (a Baptist pastor by trade) to ourselves with no one to minister to but us. I liked that Mother was free from her at-home responsibilities. In that station wagon we found hours of forced respite, hours of what would now be called quality time.1972 Chrysler Town and Country Wagon

We would arrive at our destination, spill out of our car, and race to the bathroom or the fridge, whichever need was greatest. Tins of homemade goodies beckoned us to just taste one. Packages, their bows crushed from the journey, fought for a place under the tree. Hugs and laughter, "You're it!" "Come See!" Refreshed from hours of unhurried family and private time, we were ready to celebrate!

And so it is with advent, our journey to Christmas. My prayer is that this year, I will take time to prepare my heart for the celebration of Christ. This year, I want to spend the Advent season resting in Christ so that, when the time comes, I can fully celebrate Jesus' birth.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 

Romans 15:5-7

advice for struggling friend

Tempted to give advice? Don't.

Original Publication: July 31, 2012

“Oh, she’ll be fine!”  “She’ll love it there!”  “She is so ready for this new stage!” (And my personal favorite . . .) “Honey, it will be much worse on you than it will on her.”

True. Every single statement: absolutely true. In fact, because everyone knows these things are true, you will never need to say them to another mother whose child is going away to college. She already knows this stuff.  Trust me (more on this in a later post).

But NOT saying something can be so difficult can’t it?

For example, if someone has a stomach bug, it takes true restraint for me NOT to tell them to drink plenty of water. Everyone knows that gastrointestinal upset in the extreme can lead to dehydration. I know that everyone knows this. But I feel the urge to tell them, just in case they’ve been living under a rock.

Here’s another one. I’ve actually tried not to say this; I can’t do it. My kids leave this house, keys in their hands, and I’m going to say . . . (say it with me now) . . . “Drive carefully!” I can’t help myself.

There are more critical times than these though, when people seriously do not need our comments.

Like when my sister was pregnant. She had a highly uncommon obstetric liver disorder that caused her to itch constantly, from the inside out. It was miserable, plus it was life-threatening to her and to her baby. She finally got some relief from an internationally renowned specialist and both she and the baby managed just fine, but here’s the thing: long before any doctors knew what was causing her symptoms, complete strangers would come to her aid.

“Have you tried lanolin? That stuff is amazing!”

“No, go with cocoa butter. It’s better.”

“Girl you need to get yourself some hydrocortisone cream. That’ll take care of you.”

Naturally, she had tried all these things and dozens more before she got her diagnosis. She knew all that and was painfully tired of hearing such things. In fact, not only did she not need to hear their advice, she really needed not to talk about her maddening condition at all.

The truth is, people usually do not need us to correct, advise, counsel, or admonish them. They need only for us to be with them: completely—silently—with them.

 “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him,  for they saw that his suffering was very great.”                                                                                          Job 2:13

nephews

Favorite Things

“That pizza smells good,“ my four-year-old nephew Banks said, his blue eyes sparkling. We were sitting on the back porch of the cottage where our family (16 of us in all) was staying for a week of fun in White Lake, NC. Banks and I were working on a craft project while others were splashing in the lake or working in the kitchen. I had the terribly burdensome task of amusing the youngest, and cutest, of our ranks.

“It does smell good, Banks. I love pizza,” I told him.

“Is pizza your favorite thing?” he asked me, not looking at me, still focused on his task.

“No, pizza’s not nearly my favorite thing. “

“Well what is, then? “ Banks looked up at me then, his head tilted to one side as he waited for my answer.

“One of my favorite things,“ I said, meeting his gaze, “Is playing with my nephew.“

Banks nodded without changing his expression, and went back to work. In a few minutes he questioned me again.

“Aunt Aileen?“

“Yes Banks?“

“Nephew. Is that somebody that you love?” Banks, not knowing the meaning of the word, “nephew,“ had figured it out for himself.

“That’s right, buddy, a nephew is somebody that you love.“

(Originally published August 15, 2008; Banks' birthday is October 7.)

brookly bridge nyc

6 Things (and then some) that I saw in New York City

Recently, my daughter moved to Brooklyn to attend New York University in pursuit of her PhD. Other than the airports, I had never been to New York City and had no burning desire to change that. As a southerner born and bred, I’m not about to seek out cities that don’t understand the goodness of hot buttered grits, home-made peach cobbler, and sweet iced tea. It was with no small sense of trepidation that I visited this foreign region north of the Mason-Dixon line.

And cover me with kudzu, but I liked it! My favorite thing—other than my daughter of course—was the public transportation. Do you know that in NYC, you can walk to a designated spot, and a train will come and take you where you want to go? It’s true! You don’t even have to own a car, much less drive one. It’s amazing. AND, you have a built-in workout in every day because, not having a car, you walk everywhere you want to go. Awesome! Here are just a few of the other things I saw in NYC while I was there.

  1. Kids in parks. So many green areas; so many parks. I loved hearing children at play as I walked through the city: “Catch!” “Look how high I can swing!” “Ready or not, here I come!”
  2. Little dogs on strings. Apparently, New Yorkers don’t let their high-rise accommodations stop them from enjoying the companionship of pets. Admittedly, most of the dogs I saw were of the miniature variety—tiny poodles, little yorkies, chihuahuas. I would see a person holding a taut string, follow the string to its other end, and find some miniscule canine pulling its person along behind it.
  3. School children in uniforms holding hands. I suppose most kids walk at least part of the way to their schools in NYC. I saw moms walking with their kids; but just as often, I saw older siblings/cousins/friends walking with younger children, holding the smaller hand securely in their own. A beautiful thing, human compassion. Add matching school uniforms to the scene and you’ll understand why the cuteness factor was nearly unbearable.
  4. Lots of people with wheels under their feet without helmets on their heads. Naturally, I also saw the smarter folk who were not out to get a traumatic brain injury; but there were way too many people weaving in and out of NYC traffic with their noggins bare. Caveat: This is not a Yankee thing. I see this in my own neighborhood too. Bikers, skaters, or people on scooters—wear helmets. Your brain will thank you later.
  5. A street named Stuyvesant. When you are from Asheville, NC and also a fan of the Biltmore Estate, you recognize “Stuyvesant” as the middle name of Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, the wife of George Vanderbilt.(Edith was a descendant of the Stuyvesant family, on her mother’s side.) When my daughter was in the 7th grade, she did an extensive school project on Edith Vanderbilt and has since been an admirer of this strong world-changer of a woman. How lovely that this little reminder of home is on a street corner near her apartment.
  6. People on skateboards. Who knew people still road those things? Even better? I saw a dog riding a skateboard. True story. Check out the video.

Here are a few pictures illustrating the above plus a few more of the other interesting things I spotted. (Comment below and tell me your favorite thing about NYC!)

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Good. Acceptable. Perfect.

Me and My HeroOriginally posted in March 2013

We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.

It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.

“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”

Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.

“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.

“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.

“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)

Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)

Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.

So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”

And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

value of sisters

2 mothers + 2 sisters = (Emergency Room + ICU) to the 2nd power

During the last 3-4 years, my mother has had more knee replacements than anyone ought to have in a lifetime. It's a long complicated story, but suffice to say you do NOT want to get an infection when you get a knee replacement. Curing that infection is not a matter of proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and a prescription for a Z-pack. It's an ordeal that requires not one, but two additional surgeries, along with in-home IV antibiotics and so much more. And all that was just for the first knee. Getting the second one done was yet to come--overcompensating as it was for the pain and infection in knee-number-one.  It's been ridiculously frustrating and also rather frightening for Mother and therefore for all of us who love her.

You can imagine, then, my alarm when my sister called last night, beginning the conversation with, "Mama's fine. She's fine, really. She's in the Emergency Room, but she's fine." Naturally, I assumed that she was not fine in the least. Worst case scenarios raced through my psyche at a heartwrenching pace. Thankfully, Mother really is fine. It is not a blood clot as first thought; instead it is a common and treatable (though painful) condition that is (somewhat) easily corrected. Last night, the emergency personnel conducted the appropriate tests, applied the necessary treatment, and released her. As a matter of fact, she called me first thing this morning, sounding just like herself, getting ready to head to church. So she's fine. (Allow me to remind myself of this one more time, if you will; it's been our experience that where Mother's knees are concerned, everything is serious. She's okay though. Really.)

But that's not the whole story. Not even close.

My parents, though they are 79 and 81, are business owners who lead full, complex lives. (If something happened to either of them, our whole family would feel as if they'd been struck down in their youth.) Back in 2001, Mother and Daddy purchased Together Forever Wedding Chapel in North Myrtle Beach, SC; in 2008, my brother and his family moved to North Myrtle Beach to join our parents in operating Together Forever. So when Mother's knee gave out on her Saturday, my sister-in-law was nearby; Hal and Daddy were there too, completing one wedding and preparing to begin the next one. Mother wasn't in such dire straits that she wanted the business to come to a standstill to attend to her needs, so when she decided she should go to the ER, she asked her daughter-in-law to take her. After confirming the plan with Daddy and Hal, Mother and Kim took off, sans husbands.

Now, I have never taken for granted--I don't think--the gift of my sister-in-law's love for my parents. Even before she married my brother, Kim has been committed to our parents. She doesn't think her devotion to them is anything that remarkable; it's just who she is. But I recognize her unselfish commitment as extraordinary. You see last night, as my sister Dawn and I talked on the phone, trying to suppress our urges to drive straight to North Myrtle Beach, we would remind each other in turn, "Kim is there. Everything will be okay." We knew that Kim would not allow our mother (who--let's be honest--is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) to be ignored or overlooked. We knew that together they would ask the right questions. "Kim would tell us if we should go down." We could sit still, trusting Mother to speak for herself and Kim to back her up. "Don't worry. Kim's with her." And because she was there, we could breathe in and breathe out while we held our phones in our hands, waiting for an update. "Kim will tell us if she knows anything at all." We never doubted it.

That's power: the power of a sister who joined our family through marriage and instantly committed to be there for all of us, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

It was the second time in a week I had experienced the power of a sister.

My own beloved mother-in-law has been seriously ill for most of the summer. She was admitted to the hospital (for the umpteenth time this summer) on Friday, July 28, 2017. At the time, I was actually in North Myrtle Beach for my family's annual gathering there. When he heard the news about his mother, my husband Jay, who had not yet left Asheville, went immediately to his parents' home that Friday night. He spent most of Saturday in the hospital with his mother and was about to go over on Sunday morning when his dad called him from his cell phone.

"Jay, come to the hospital now. Overnight, your mother's health took a dangerous turn. Come now." He quickly explained to Jay that his mother had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit and was having a procedure done that required anesthesia. Now, my mother-in-law has had muscular dystrophy for 50 years or more and her lungs and heart don't always play nicely together any more. Adding anesthesia into that cocktail of concerns could end badly. Not doing the procedure would definitely end badly though, so they made plans to proceed.

As Jay got into the car, he called his sister with the urgent message; simultaneously, I happened to call my father-in-law. When he answered, he was distraught, beside himself with fear and anxiety. I'd never--in 30 years of marriage plus 2 and 1/2 years of dating--heard him sound that way. It was heartbreaking. I awakened my daughters to go with me to the hospital which, under the best conditions, was a ninety minute drive. Next, I called my son's fiance; my son was about to lead in worship at his church so I was hesitant to call him directly. I knew Addison would handle it and that together they would figure something out. (They were more than two and a half hours away, but arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.)

Oh wait. Did I mention that I had just had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery? Yeah, so that was about a week and a half old at that point. Pain was still pretty pronounced and function still limited to the slightest tasks. The surgeon's post-op directions had said to avoid using my hands for lifting anything over two pounds, or pushing, pulling, or twisting. (You might be surprised at how many activities those restrictions eliminate.)

"Get food, don't lift anything heavy, get caffeine, what else do I need, where are the girls, don't hurt your hands, is there anyone else to call, maybe there's a shortcut, is Jay at the hospital yet . . . " My brain was grabbing at whatever it could find so that it didn't have to process the possibility of losing my mother-in-law. It didn't work. "What if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies . . . " it was the cadence of the cacophony in my mind.

"I'm going with you." My sister, laden with a knitting project or two and her sling bag, wasn't asking me. She was ready to go when we walked out the door.

"I don't want to take you away from everyone," I looked from Dawn to Mother and around at the rest of the family.

"It's what we do," Mother said. "This is what we do."

We arrived at the hospital, emotion running high. The procedure was to take 15 minutes and when we arrived it had already been 45.

Dawn took a seat across the waiting room, present yet not intrusive. "I'll just be over here if you need me," she said, taking out her knitting.

I did need her. I needed her, for example, to run errands--it turns out that even in a crisis, people need to eat and dogs need potty breaks. But I also needed her to share the experience with Jay and me and the rest of the family. I needed her to be there in the flesh. My first best friend and playmate, my teacher and mentor, my friend and confidante. My sister's presence helped me to be my best self. That's a powerful presence right there.

Incidentally, all 12 of my mother-in-law's immediate family members made it to see her when she came out of anesthesia. She's still recovering, but for now the urgency has subsided. She welcomes your prayers for her continued improvement, as do we all.

So there you have it. Two mothers plus two sisters, at least in my life in the last week, equals the circumstances surrounding one emergency room visit plus one critical ICU patient, raised--that is, lifted--from untethered desperation to grounded hope by the power of two loving sisters.

Also, one more thing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that when Hal learned what was happening, his response was, "I'm so glad Dawn could go. If she hadn't been able to go, I would have gone with Aileen."

It's what we do. It's just what we do. 

Raindrops on roses

52 of my favorites

It’s my 52nd birthday. Here (in no particular order) are 52 of my favorites.

  1. Nephews and nieces. I always knew I’d love having my own children, but nothing prepared me for the blessing of my nephews and nieces. The joy they bring to my life is an ongoing delight.
  2. Rosa Parks. And Ruby Bridges. And Brown of Brown v. Board. And so many more. These women gave me the opportunity to have friends I could never have known without their courageous acts.
  3. Carrot cake. As I recall, the first time I tasted it was when Mother was trying out a new recipe. I’ve loved it ever since. Especially with extra cream cheese frosting. The best! If you’re in Western North Carolina, you can get great carrot cake at My Father’s Pizza in Black Mountain and in Weaverville at Well-Bred. I mean, it’s not my Mother’s, but it’s worth the drive!
  4. Diet Mountain Dew. (Don’t judge.)
  5. My kids’ friends. Who knew that my kids’ besties would become friends of mine? What unexpected gifts.
  6. Dinner on the deck. When we were kids, summer meant cookouts with friends and meals eaten outside. These days, as soon as it’s warm enough, my family eats on the deck. Food’s just better out there.
  7. Jane Eyre. Best book ever.
  8. Church. From Five Points Missionary Baptist Church (now Forest Hills) in Wilson, through First Baptist Church of Marion, to FBC Weaverville. I love church: I loved two-week long revivals (I went with Daddy if he preached out of town) and VBS that was also two weeks. Church is truly one of my favorite things. No kidding.
  9. School. You might suggest I’ve over-educated myself. You’d be right.
  10. 80’s hair. No seriously. The big hair styles of the 80’s? I totally rocked those.
  11. This is Us. This TV show premiered in September 2016 and is, I’m not even kidding, my favorite television show ever. I love it.
  12. Microphones. Especially when I’m holding one on stage and I have a huge audience before me.
  13. Bob Newhart. He’s hilarious.
  14. My parents' screened-in porch. Even more when homemade ice cream and great storytelling is involved.
  15. Caswell Beach, NC. It is heaven on earth. I do not exaggerate.
  16. Beagles. Loud as can be, but still my favorite breed.
  17. Encyclopedias. I mean, not now. But in their day, encyclopedias mesmerized me. I loved reading our World Book 1971 set. So much information on one book shelf!
  18. The library. Ahhh. My happy place.
  19. Pop music. When I was in college, a professor told me that adults stop listening to pop music and gravitate towards classical, country, or oldies. I thought that was a sweeping generalization even then and it has not proven true for me. I listen to what my kids do. Well, more or less. I don’t listen to opera or organ music like my son, or bassoon sonatas like my daughter, but you get the point.
  20. The NC mountains. Yeah, I know they aren’t the Rockies, but they are home.
  21. Jimmy Carter. The guy is 92 and is still building houses. That is impressive enough, but he is also still teaching Sunday school! Fantastic!
  22. Clementines. Oranges that are easy to peel=Perfection.
  23. Zero Bars. I rarely eat them anymore, but they are the standard by which I measure all other candy bars.
  24. Boat riding. Oh how I love riding in a fast boat! And
  25. Water skiing. It’s a little like flying, a little like walking on water, and a whole lot of fun.
  26. Queso. Liquid cheese=culinary delight.
  27. Drinking straws. Especially the purple ones.
  28. Purple. The best color of them all!
  29. Porch swings. When I sit in a porch swing, I’m transported to the 1970’s and my grandparents’ house in Albany, Georgia where I listen to my cousin sing and play her guitar. Or I find myself in one of a dozen other special places that are marked by the presence of an inviting swing. Sweet.
  30. Denzel Washington. I appreciate beauty; what can I say?
  31. Ellen Degeneres. Every day, she reminds people to be kind to one another. What a wonderful world it would be . . ..
  32. Tie Dye. My garment of choice is almost always something tie-dyed. Favorite tie-dye? Purple of course.
  33. Tervis cups. Lifetime guarantee, endless varieties, lids with straws. (See #27 above.)
  34. Podcasts and
  35. Audiobooks. When I discovered these, it transformed my long drives into time-just-for-me. I listen to my favorite speakers or authors and instead of being drained by driving, I’m energized by new information.
  36. Bananagrams. No other game compares to this fast-paced scrabble-style word game. Want to play? Let’s get together!
  37. Video chat. Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing (baby), but seeing my loved ones faces when we chat is pretty close. I’m grateful for this technology that, at least momentarily, eliminates the distance of my far away friends and family.
  38. Bullet Journaling. Changed. My. Life.
  39. Nonfiction. I do love a good story; but I’ve gravitated towards nonfiction my whole life. (I can still picture the biography section of my elementary school library.) True stories always called out to me even louder than their imaginary counterparts.
  40. History. My favorite subject, my undergraduate major. Love it.
  41. Preaching. Never expected to love preaching like I do. Such a beautiful surprise.
  42. Finding Nemo. Best animated movie ever made. This is fact, not opinion.
  43. Board games. There are few board games I don’t enjoy playing. Even when I’m not very good at the game, I still enjoy playing.
  44. Also card games. I don’t remember learning how to play cards. I think I was playing solitaire before I was in school. I played Crazy Eights and Go Fish, Canasta and Rook, and just about any card game you can name. A side note: my mother had played cards all of her life like I did. Daddy though, was never allowed to play cards and knew absolutely nothing about them. My mother taught him the basics (like how to hold the cards in his hand without dropping them all or showing them to the other players) and eventually he could play Rook with the rest of Mother’s clan. Pretty sure she never let on to Daddy’s mama though. That would not have been pretty.
  45. Watermelon. I like watermelon even if it’s not that great. But a cold Congo watermelon? That’s a taste of the divine!
  46. Carol Burnett. Nobody does it better. She is the master.
  47. And Tim Conway. Have you seen the skit where they are playing password and Tim Conway goes off about Siamese elephants? Drop what you’re doing and watch that right now.
  48. Children’s books. One of the best parts of my job as a children’s minister is reading picture books to children. Sometimes, like if it’s my birthday or something, my own children will sit and listen to me read their favorites again. That right there? That’s life at its finest.
  49. Robert Lake Park, Montreat, NC. I took my kids there when they were little, and I took the kids from church there last week. Putting my toes in that icy cold creek and watching kids play in the water and the Montreat park—that’s one of my favorite things ever.
  50. Yellow roses. From the first time I saw them, they were my favorite flower. Put those with daisies and you get Aileen’s favorite floral arrangement.
  51. Grace. Grace is my hands down favorite thing. I mess up all the time. When someone offers me grace, it’s just the best. The absolute best.
  52. My birthday! It is infinitely better to get older than the alternative.

 

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