God’s Sense of Humor

God’s Sense of Humor,

There is a time to laugh and a time to cry

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

“There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 

a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

In my writing over the years, I have referred to God’s sense of humor as something that I am so thankful for. I have never questioned it, I just assumed that He has one because He made us in His image, and we have a sense of humor and we laugh. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” He created us in His image, our sense of humor must come from Him. Our lives are His plan, every moment is part of His plan, I can think of no other way to explain the things that have happened in my life, than to say I inherited my sense of humor from my Father, My Almighty God, because He created me in His image.

There is a time (or many times) to weep also, but God makes sure our lives have many times to laugh, mourn and dance, and love and hate. My devotion this morning focused on the times in life that God has given us to either laugh at ourselves or to laugh at the events he has placed in our lives. Events He placed just to see how we would handle life. Do we pass the test? Sometimes those things that happen in life we do not laugh at in the beginning, it takes days, weeks, months, or even years before we can look at the event and laugh at it. However, God places these events in our lives for a reason. Someone is always watching, and they are watching to see how we as Christians handle the events, the trials, and the challenges in our lives that God intentionally places us in. Do we pass God’s test? What do others see in those moments? Are we a testimony for God and His loving nature, or are we a testimony for Satan and how he uses those weakest moments to pull us away from God? It truly is our decision how we will handle the trials, the challenges, and even the humor God places in our lives.

There are days that I swear God, my parents, and Mike are just sitting up in Heaven and thinking what we can do next to drive her crazy! It is just so much fun watching her trying to figure life out!

A perfect example of God’s sense of humor and plan for my life would be July 20, 2020. “This morning started out trying to figure what Greenville County Schools and PEBA have done with my insurance. Then it was all the Atlanta Airport Officers who kept telling Steve and I to move when there was nowhere to go because of all the traffic.

But the best part was this evening . . . All I needed to do was return an Amazon item through Kohl’s and then go to Walmart. Kohl’s returns are in the middle of the store now to prevent possible spread of the COVID-19. Excuse me but how is creating a separate Amazon return desk in the middle of the store helping to prevent the spread of the virus? I just entered your store, walked to the middle of the store carrying a package I brought from home, met you behind a screen, placed my item in a plastic bag while you had on plastic gloves, yet everyone around me is not wearing a mask?!

Then I go to Walmart! You have a huge sign in the front of your store that says everyone must wear a mask! Yet, when I walked in with about 5 other people, I was the only one with a mask. Okay, I am not saying a word. Then comes the fun! As I am walking around Walmart, I get the feeling I am being followed. There is this friendly white-haired gentleman, riding one of Walmart’s scooters, just sitting there smiling. The funny thing is is that he is wearing the same kind of shirt and shorts that Steve wears, and is just riding around the store. Every time I turn a corner there he is, just smiling. I told Steve Murrell I saw his doppelgänger today. Literally, I could just imagine Steve doing this same thing every time he goes to Walmart by himself. This man never said anything, but he was literally there everywhere I went. Very spooky!

So, while trying to get away from the spooky guy on the scooter, I am in the back of Walmart trying to find the paper products. I find two young guys who are working on stocking the shelves, and I asked them where I would find paper plates, plastic forks, and spoons. They both look at me like I am an alien, and truly one of them says, “I don’t know, but we will help you find them.” Within a few minutes, I find the right aisle, but then I hear one of these young men say, “I found them.” The other one responds, “No, they are over here.” To which I join the conversation and say, “No, I have them” To which they both responded, “Are you sure?” They both walked over to the aisle I was standing in and realized I had found them. They both just smiled!

When it was time to go to the register, my friend on the scooter did not have anything, but he was up front. I went to a register as far away as I could get, checked out and got to my car as soon as I could.

However, it did not stop there. As I approached my car, I realized the car parked next to mine had a man sitting in it with the windows down, and the music blaring. He was genuinely enjoying his music, head just bopping to the beat, and just smiling. As I approached my car, he just started waving and smiling! I smiled back and then he wanted to start a conversation about the music. I mumbled something and got in my car as quickly as possible.

Then after all this wonderful fun, I get home only to realize my insurance is still not settled! Life is just so much fun!!! Thank you, God, for another blessed, but humorous day!”

Then there were the moments when as a teacher I just knew God, and probably my parents and Mike were sitting together in Heaven and thinking what can we do today to get Lynne to smile, to laugh, and just to enjoy the moment? Again, it was God’s intent to place me in situations to see how well I would represent the fact that He is the focus of my life. One example would be January 6, 2016 and a reflection I wrote at the end of the day:

“God is so amazing! He has such a sense of humor, an incredible sense of timing, and an unbelievable ability to know what we need in our lives, who we need, and when we need them. I kept seeing and feeling his presence all day. One of my precious girls came in this morning in tears, and obviously terribly upset!  She wanted to talk, so she stayed with me this morning while the class was in related arts, and we talked about her daddy, and how he must work out of state, for days at a time and how she just misses him. I told her about my daddy being a truck driver, and how he was often gone days at a time. I told her I have always been such a daddy’s girl, and I missed him so much. I still do. Before long we were just talking about our daddies, and she was smiling!

Then there is the fact, that my class has just had a wonderful 3 days back in school. We have probably laughed over 1/2 of each day but isn’t it wonderful that they feel relaxed and safe enough to do that in school. One of my students asked me today how students are chosen to be in my class, and I jokingly said Mr. Golden chooses students who he thinks will work well with the teacher. She thought a moment, and then asked, “So does that mean we are crazy too?” I answered, “Sure!” She replied, “Great! I want to be just like you.” God was either laughing out loud or shaking hands with Mike and my daddy! All a part of God’s plan!

This is always such a hard week for me, the anniversary of Mike’s death is Friday (Jan. 8th) and his birthday on Saturday, (Jan. 9th). It is hard to believe it will be 29 years this Friday. But God knows who we need, and exactly when we need them. Obviously, this year he thought I needed 17 of the sweetest 5th grade girls around, and all of them with a great sense of humor and such a loving nature! Life does not get any better, than when I am in my classroom with my girls!”

There was another day on January 17, 2017 that I honestly thought God was just laughing the day away at the events and students He placed in my life.

“I honestly think God has an incredible sense of humor, and today He was sitting up in Heaven just laughing at the plans He had for me today. I am quite sure He was tired of me feeling sad and worried, and was thinking “Okay, Lynne, if you are not going to have faith in me, I am going to make you laugh and shake your head so much today, that you will have no choice but to snap out of this mood you are in. You have too much in your life to be thankful for, so here goes!”

Another day of testing today had its moments of laughter. About 30 minutes into testing, I noticed one of my girls just sitting at her desk shaking her head. I walked over and whispered to make sure she was okay. Her whispered response, “Oh sure, I am okay, just trying to shake up all this knowledge in my head so I can answer all of these math questions. I know they are there somewhere. ” 😁 I told her just don’t shake so hard that they come out. She just smiled and said, “They’re not that loose. ” 😂

After testing was over, we were working on our decimal math lesson. My girls are struggling with just reading them, so we have been practicing just reading them without saying “dot” or “point” when we read them. Today was very frustrating, so I used one of “many voices” to illustrate how it should be said. One of my girls raises her hand, and asked, “Mrs. Murrell, just how many of those voices do you have? I think we have heard like 1,000. Don’t you get confused listening to yourself and all those voices?” 😂😂

Later in the day, a student brought me a bracelet she had made for me and it had my name on it. I asked her why she put my full name on it, she responded, “I want you to remember who you are when you get older.” 😂😂😂

During indoor recess, the laughter just escalated while trying to teach a small group of my girls how to play my mother’s favorite game, Scrabble. The whole idea of when letters touch, they must form one word simply just did not work for some of my girls, as is obvious in such words as “lowfits” (translation: low fence, “You know, Mrs. Murrell, some people have high fences and some people low fences.”) or “woajeep” (translation: “Whoa, jeep!” “You know, Mrs. Murrell that jeep is headed straight for you, and you yell, Whoa, Jeep!”). Then there was the student that obviously didn’t like her choice of letters, so she dumped them all out and started picking her own letters so she could make a 7-letter word and get the 50 extra points. 😂😂😂😂

Yet, when all is said and done, it was their responses to the morning message about how they can be stars on the test today that touched my heart, and then there was that moment in the cafeteria at lunch, when I watched every girl place her napkin in her lap before they started to eat, that made me smile and almost cry. Oh, my heart! I thank God every day for these girls! It is just sometimes my personal emotions try to distract me from my goal and purpose in life. Thank you, God for reminding me today!”

However, my best example of God’s sense of humor and how He uses the events in our lives for us to stand as a witness for him, a testimony to those that are watching, happened way back in 1981 when I was pregnant with my second child (I had miscarried my first child). This day, this moment is a moment in life I will always remember, and I am quite sure it was God’s way of saying, “Okay, Lynne, here comes another trial, another moment when we are going to see what you are made of, when we see how much you have learned from me and those I placed in your life. You can either laugh and move forward, or you can panic, cry, and get mad. Let us see how you handle it. “The day started our pretty normal, but soon changed as part of God’s plan. The year was 1981, the month was November, and the place was a farm in the middle of Mebane, NC. Mike and I were renting the basement of a house on 250 acres of land, from this sweet older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They were both retired, they built this huge house on this beautiful piece of land with a lake, and beautiful sunsets and sun rises. Other than the 30-minute ride to any civilization, Mike and I loved it! Mr. Smith had horses, cows, pigs, goats, and a bull! A huge bull! The basement we rented for $100.00 a month was beautiful, about 1500 square feet. They were such a sweet couple. I was pregnant, and of course both of our mothers were genuinely concerned about us being a good distance away from hospitals and doctors. I was working at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mike worked at the hospital in Chapel Hill. Everything was going great!

Then on this morning in November, Mike had already left for work. I was getting ready to leave and go to a doctor’s appointment, and then work. I am feeling great and then opened the door. Imagine opening your front door, and there stands a huge bull, striking the porch with his hoof, making snorting sounds, and truly looking like he is ready to charge. I looked at him right in the eyes and said, “Hi George!”, closed the door, calmly walked to the phone, picked it up, called Mr. Smith, and said, “Mr. Smith, I just wanted you to know that George is out of his pen. He is on my front porch, looks like he wants to charge someone, and I need to go to the doctor.” Mr. Smith chuckles and says, “We will be right there.” And they did come, Mr. Smith and 5 of his workers. It took them about 30 minutes to get George to move away from the front porch!

As I walked out about 45 minutes later to get in my car, Mr. Smith was standing outside, and he apologized greatly for George and hoped my doctor’s visit went ok. I looked out the corner of my eye, and there stood George. It truly looked like he was standing there with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk in his smile, as if to say, “Lynne, if you can survive a bull charging on your front porch, you can survive anything! You can handle whatever life throws at you.” And I have!

Later that evening when Mike got home, at first, he thought I was just making it all up, then he called Betty Kay McGinnis and told her what had happened. Within 30 days we had moved into a house, in the city, within 10 minutes of Alamance County Hospital! Patrick was born about 4 months later, which was about 6 weeks early of his birth date.

God truly has such an enormous sense of humor!”

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to this. . . Everything that happens is part of God’s plan! So how do you handle yourself each day? With grace, understanding, empathy, a sense of humor, and smiles? Or do you get impatient, angry, or does hatred enter your heart? God has an incredible sense of humor! He gives love, grace, and mercy beyond measure! When you are blessed enough to receive the blessings from each of them, how do you respond!” Our lives, every moment, every second is a testimony to how focused we are on God and His plan for our lives. Those around us are watching, they are taking in every second, every decision we make in response to the events God places before us. What incredible opportunities we have every day to be a witness for Him and what He does in our lives, what He does for us. His grace, love, and mercy are there for us to shine for others to experience. His sense of humor is there for others to delight in and enjoy. Do we laugh at the events that challenge us or do we get angry and mad? Each moment, each event is an opportunity to show others that God is loving, merciful, extends grace to everyone, and that He definitely has a sense of humor.

God Moments

God places people and moments in our lives with a purpose.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

There are so many moments in life that God gives us an opportunity to meet a stranger or just to reflect on the lessons He wants to teach us. Each day is a day that the Lord made, and each day has a purpose that is part of His plan. Each person we meet along the way is part of God’s plan, each person has a purpose in our lives. Let us rejoice and be glad in each person, each moment, and every single day of our lives. God knows the plan He has for us, and His plans are perfect. Rejoice and be glad in God’s plan, His purpose for our lives.

Rejoice in the moments in life that cause reflection, yet even more important that show God’s presence in our lives. Each moment reflects His purpose! Each moment gave me the opportunity to rejoice and be glad in God’s plan and purpose for my life. Each moment taught something especially important about God’s character, God’s plan for my life, and God’s grace in my lives.

There was the morning in the winter of 2016, when I went to a local grocery store to do a little shopping, and to get warm (we had been without heat for 24 hours), however, after my visit I decided God had other reasons for me to shop that morning. He just always places those people in our lives that bless us beyond measure. I had only been in the store for a few seconds, when I heard a small voice behind me, “Ma’am, excuse me? Could you help me?” I turned around and saw a small lady, probably late 70s, in one of the scooters, and she needed help reaching some things. I reached them for her, and she was so gracious and thankful for my assistance. She proceeded to talk about her recent diagnosis of cancer, and how they are treating her with an aggressive form of chemo and radiation. She was very weak but determined to get groceries.  She said this had really scared her and so she was going to make healthier choices. I asked her if she was by herself, and she told me her granddaughter brought her, dropped her off, and was sitting in the car waiting for her. I immediately wanted to go have a word of prayer with the granddaughter to find out why she did not come in and help her. However, God urged me to stay with the woman, so I helped her as we went through the store. She talked about how she felt, and how God was with her through it all. I told her I was a cancer survivor myself, and she asked if she could pray for me!! We prayed together in the store. Although we may have had a cold night and morning, I have so much to be thankful for. God has a way of reminding us of those blessings, and uses the sweetest, most thankful people to remind us.

Then there was the moment where I had traveled by myself to visit my daughter in California, and when traveling back and finally arrived safe and sound in Atlanta, where Steve came and picked me up, I began to reflect on the stress and anxieties of the trip home. I realized yet again though that it is not up to us to question why things work the way they do. God is in control. In the middle of all my anxieties and uncertainties about getting home, I sat beside a young mother and her three-year-old daughter on the way back, and we started talking. They still had to make a connecting flight to Charleston after landing in Atlanta. They had been in California, visiting her estranged father for the first time in 3 years (since her daughter was born), I did not ask why they had not spoken since then. It did not seem important. What was important was the fact she said her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he had asked to see her and her little girl, his granddaughter. So, she took her little girl to see her grandfather. You could tell she was still upset over the visit and her father’s health. So, we just talked. We were both teachers, so it was common ground. I told her about myself, my family, my experiences in life, and my faith in God and how it had gotten me through so much. God’s plan that day, absolutely! Get my mind off myself, and onto his mission. Planting seeds, setting examples, being a witness. If I had not been stressed, would I have reacted the same way. I do not know; I do not think so. I would have been comfortable, in my own world, and not looking for a way to get my mind off the stress. However, God knew I needed a distraction, and He knew this young mother and daughter needed someone to listen.

Then there are those innocent moments with a sweet child that do not happen often, but when they do, you know God is speaking to you and He is using that moment to tell you something. It is those times where we truly need to be still and listen. A moment when a cute little, dark-curly haired girl stops right in front of you on the beach and says, “Hi, my name is Sara, and I am two. What is your name?” I bent down to start talking to her, and her mother said she has never talked to a stranger, she did not know why she picked me to talk to. I told her I knew why. Then I looked at the little girl, and told her my name was Sara, and my mother’s name was Sara, and I have a niece named Sarah. She looked up at me and said “Cool!  Look at the beautiful shell I found.” Just like that the God-moment was over in this little two-year-old life, but in my life, it was such a special God filled moment, one that will live with me forever, and just what I needed.

There are also those moments when you realize life and its moments are truly gifts from God and when you follow His directions, the blessings will be ten-fold, if not more. Steve and I were in local store one day, when I caught a glimpse of a familiar face, but I just was not quite sure. It had been 20 years! Then she turned around and smiled, and I knew it was one of my students from teaching at Carolina High, when my teaching career just got started. At Carolina, I taught a very mixed class of students with varying disabilities and it truly was a test of my patience, my ability to teach, and the beginning of my motto, “You just have to laugh as a teacher, if not you will cry every day or pull out all your hair.” This student was one of the sweetest, most caring, compassionate people I have ever known. She had a severe learning disability as well as a physical disability, but it did not stop that beautiful smile every day or that sweet spirit. When she realized it was me, she literally cried, and it took her breath away. I cried too and just hugged her! I have thought of her often over the years, and she told me she thinks of me all the time. She was with her husband and her 6-year-old son, and my heart just skipped a beat again, just knowing that she is doing well, and she is happy. Thank you, God, for your blessings! Thank you, for letting me know that past students are doing well and that they do not forget their teachers! She asked for my number so she could call, and we could catch up, and I did not hesitate! This is someone who touched my heart years ago, and I cannot wait to be able to sit down and talk with her!

I will never forget the day I substituted in a kindergarten class, and at first questioned why I agreed to substitute in an environment I had no real experience in. Yet after a short period of time in this classroom I knew God wanted me there that day and he was determined I would feel at ease and just enjoy the day. It began as soon as the students finished their morning work, they could draw or write anything they wanted to while they were waiting. The first little boy called me over to see his picture, I told him it was a great helicopter! He said, “Thank you, but did you notice it is an ambulance helicopter?” Yes, it was! Ok, God, I am listening. Then there was the little girl who brought her paper to me so I could see the words she had written, right there in front of me, “love God.” Yes, I am listening! Yet, another little girl comes up to me and said, “Mrs. Murrell, my nose really hurt last night.” “I am so sorry, what caused it to hurt so much?” Her response, “I had a really big booger in it, and I couldn’t get it out. I kept pushing, but it just wouldn’t come out!” “I just hate it when that happens.” She just smiled and said, “I do too!” and walked away. Thank you for the laughter and innocence of the little ones, God. Reflection at the end of this day, a day in the life of a teacher from a completely different grade level is always eye-opening and, in this case, very educational. God does not place us in places or classes without a reason or purpose. It may not be for our benefit initially; we may be there for someone else’s benefit. Yet, when we follow his plan we are always going to be blessed! As different and maybe just a little frustrating as that day was for me, I truly was blessed by their sweet smiling faces, their laughter, their hugs, and their enthusiasm for life.

Thank you, God!

There are also the days I was absolutely amazed at the way God spoke through my students. They did not even know He was doing the speaking, but as soon as I heard the words and got passed the chills, I knew it was God. One moment began with Social Issue Book Clubs reading groups. The social issues varied from homelessness, losing a loved one, discrimination, women’s rights, to as simple as protecting our animals and the environment. As they read, I walked around the room, sat, and talked with different groups. One conversation still resonates very personally with me. On this day, the conversation turned personal, very personal. It also eventually included the whole class instead of just the small group.

Student, “Mrs. Murrell, when you married Mr. Murrell, did you say the ‘to death do you part stuff, promise to love and honor?'”

Me, “Yes, I did!”

Student, “Did Mr. Murrell say it too?”

Me, “Yes, of course.”

Student, “When you got married the first time, did you both say it too?” (My students knew about Mike dying in the helicopter crash.)

Me, “Yes, we said it then too.”

Student, “Did he love you until he died? Did you love him? Would you have ever left him? Would he have left you?”

Me, “Yes, he loved me until he died, I loved him too! No, we would not have left each other. We promised to love and honor.”

Student, “So, Mr. Murrell loves you too and you love him? Would you leave him?”

Me, “Absolutely not! We made a promise, we meant that promise, we made a vow! We will be with each other always.”

Student, “Are you sure, Mrs. Murrell?”

Me, “Yes, I am sure!”

After a few quiet moments, she spoke again (or God spoke through her as a gentle reminder).

Student, with a big smile on her face, “Then, Mrs. Murrell, you are really lucky, aren’t you?”

Me, “Yes, honey, I am lucky. I am blessed, truly blessed.”

Student, “You really are, because you have us too!”

Welcome to my world and the insights of 5th grade girls, who do not have the blessings of strong families.

Other moments in time came through loud and clear when we decided to renovate his childhood home and make it our home. I began a blog when we started on this journey, and I wanted to share the moments during this time that God used so many moments and people to speak to me and give us His blessings for this journey, His plan for our lives.  “In February, we went over to Steve’s childhood home, with the intention of cleaning it out, fixing a few things, and either renting it or selling it. I went in, thinking, “Finally, we will get it clean in a couple of weeks, get it sold, and have one less thing to worry about.” Little did I know how much life would change because, I fell in love with the memories, I fell in love with the details and handiwork that it took to make it a home, and I fell in love with the quaint little neighborhood that it was built in. My whole attitude changed at that moment. Every time I walk in its doors now, I look at it with different eyes and think about all the possibilities and all the good that will come out of this move for Steve, mother, and even myself. So the walls are going up, the ceilings are being repaired, the new floors are going in, cabinets are being built, appliances have been ordered, paint colors selected, yard work is being done (by yours truly), and the excitement is growing! Even my children come over to see the progress and are amazed and excited over the changes. The amazing thing though is that they come over to visit and make comments, like “I am glad you are not changing this because it was always special, or it was the one thing I remembered the most.” It validates our decision to do this when they recall the memories from their childhood, and they are sweet memories for them too. We added a special little something this weekend – a cute little blue golf cart, thinking it would be great for going downtown, going to Kmart or the grocery store, or just little rides around the neighborhood. Steve and I rode all around the neighborhood streets Thursday night, and it was wonderful. So peaceful and quiet, friendly neighbors waving as we rode along, and seeing houses I have not seen before and streets I had not been down yet. It was such an enjoyable thing to do on my birthday. Just ride around, enjoy each other in the simplicity of the moment. Life does not get much better than that! However, the best time was this afternoon when we took mother for a long afternoon ride, on the golf cart, around the streets she grew up on. Listening to her talk and reminisce about her childhood was incredible. We rode by her old houses (and even though they are old and run down, to her they hold incredibly special memories), her church, and up and down the streets she walked as a child and teenager. She talked about walking and playing on those streets as a child, walking and flirting as a teenager, and walking to the mill when she went to work. When we started this journey, I was looking at it through my eyes, and today I looked at it through her eyes. Life is so much different when you look at it through the eyes of those you love. I honestly believe this is part of God’s plan. As we have been going through the frustrations and holdups of reconstruction, there have been days I have questioned our decision to do this.  Today, the affirmation that we are doing the right thing came through loud and clear as I listened to Steve and mother talk about their memories of days gone by. Such a sweet connection for the two of them, one that I am anxiously waiting to be a part of.” I am sharing all of this simply because today once again God used a stranger to confirm we have followed His plan for our lives. As I was working in the yard today, a sweet lady walked by, shouted out “Hi!” and then continued with “I am so glad I saw you out here today. I have been wanting to tell you how beautiful your home is again, and how lovely it is to see it well cared for again.” I walked to her and we started talking about how she grew up in this area, and she remembered this home as a child and teenager and how it was always so charming. Then the years of neglect were so sad for her and her family to watch. She talked about the streets she grew up on and the schools she went to. Her and her husband live right around the corner, and her children are grown. She talked about how her daughter talked about the changes and how much they loved everything we have done, and that we had brought charm back to the street. I could just feel Valoree and Johnnie smiling! At the end of our conversation, we shared names and she was so surprised when I told her my name was Lynne. She told me that was her daughter’s name, although her daughter says her name is really Sara! It was my turn to be shocked, when she told me her daughter’s name is Sara Lynne. Quite a chill from that one, so I had to ask how she spelled her name. “Sara Lynne”. God truly works in mysterious ways! She said she could not wait to get home and call her daughter.

There are so many moments, places, and people I could talk about. Moments, places, and people God has placed in my life that are all part of His plan. Each moment, each place, each event, and each person have blessed me beyond measure! God moments! Quite often I know I take those moments, those events, and those people for granted. That I do not look at the reason or the purpose that God placed them in my life.

My goal for this New Year of 2021, is to make sure I rejoice in each day God gives me, that I rejoice in each simple moment and with each person and event He places in my life.

“This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” Exodus 12:2

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

“So do not fear, for I am with you; for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Thank you, God, for the moments, the people, the places, and the events you have placed in my life and that you will continue to place in my life. Help me to never forget to rejoice your plans, your purpose, and your name. Help me to always remember “Your grace is all I need!” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Christmas Memories:

Luke 2:1-20

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.  So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

I love this time of year, Christmas, the birth of Christ, families coming together, the sights and sounds, the food, and the memories from Christmases gone by.

As I think of Christmases of my childhood, I remember my family coming together with friends and just enjoying each other’s company. Memories of driving to South Carolina first thing Christmas morning to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Memories of our pastor visiting us first thing on Christmas morning, having a cup of coffee, seeing the surprises from Santa, and then he would leave to visit all the other families of our church. Memories of waiting nervously for my daddy to get home from driving his truck in time to celebrate Christmas with us. Memories of singing Christmas songs around the piano. But the most cherished memories are of my daddy reading the story of Jesus birth to us on Christmas Eve as a reminder of the real reason we celebrate. I remember when Christmas was simple, and the focus was Jesus and family.

As I think of Christmases from my teenage years, I remember my high school sweetheart and how much he loved Christmas! It truly was his favorite time of year. Memories of his first Christmas as a Christian, and the reverence with which he read the Christmas story for the two of us. Memories of how he would decorate his parent’s attic with a tree, lights, and even one of those cardboard fireplaces, so we could sit upstairs in front of the ‘fire’ and look at ‘our’ tree. The memories are there like they just happened yesterday. That fireplace traveled with us through four of years of dating and our 10 years of marriage, and through 12 moves. It was in front of that fireplace that he proposed after accidently losing the key to the cabinet where he had placed my ring. Memories of our first Christmas together, married, a couple. Memories of making our first Nativity scene. Memories of working together to build a stable for our scene, and the tradition began of it being placed in the center of our Christmas decorations every year. That Nativity scene is still placed in the center of my Christmas every year, for 44 years. Memories of the two of us traveling to his parents’ house and then my parents in South Carolina for Christmas. It was what we did. Memories of family coming together. Memories of some Christmases without everyone, memories of a certain sadness, yet happy, cherished memories also. Those memories were soon even more cherished with the first Christmas after becoming parents. He was more excited than any of us, and we still had the fireplace. He insisted on a real Christmas tree every year, and he insisted on ‘snowing’ the tree. Memories of the aroma of that fresh Christmas tree, mingled with the smell of the ‘snow’ on the tree will forever be there. Memories of Mike reading the Christmas story with our son. Simple, precious memories.

Memories of a first Christmas without Mike were the hardest. Memories of our new home, memories of new friends, memories of a new puppy, memories of my grandparents coming to our house, and memories of being surrounded by family to help with the pain. Memories of sadness, loneliness, and still a twinge of anger clouded that first Christmas without him. Memories of a faith so strong in Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, that brought me through that first Christmas and all the days ahead. Memories of tears, yet memories of laughter, hugs, smiles, and love too!

Then came the new memories of a woman stronger than ever before! Memories of a new family, memories of new Christmas traditions mingled with the traditions of two families before that became one. Memories of families coming together to blend into one. Memories of our children growing up and a living room filled with presents, laughter, and family on Christmas morning. Memories of two of our children not so patiently waiting for their sister to wake up so we could go downstairs as a family to see all that Santa had brought. Memories of Grandma Murrell being a part of our new Christmas traditions each Christmas morning. Memories of the story of Jesus’ birth being read to our children by their father, and sometimes by Grandma Murrell. Memories of later years, after my father was no longer with us, of my mother sharing Christmas traditions with us. Memories of stories being told by my mother and Grandma Murrell to our children about their Christmases growing up. Memories of my children growing up, moving away from home, starting families of their own, and now it is their turn to ‘come home for Christmas.’ My heart hopes those times will never just turn into memories of past days.

Now we are in the stage of our lives where we are retired and we are grandparents, and I am all about creating memories for them. I want them to always have special memories of coming to Grammy and Papa’s house for celebrations, for Christmas, and just because we are family. Each time we are together I try to create memories for my grandchildren, but for my children as well. I want them to know they are loved, and that Jesus is the reason for the season, but He is so much more. I want them to know and always remember that it is because of Jesus Christ and his birth in a manger and his death on a cross, that we are all saved. I want them to remember that it is because of God’s mercy and grace, and His plan for all our lives, that we are together as a family because of His intervention and His plan. There is no other explanation for us coming together and creating this blessed family. I want them to remember the truths they were taught as children, I want them to remember the family get-togethers, the laughter, the music, the food, the sights and sounds the way I remember all those memories from my childhood, teenage years, and even into adulthood. May the memories always be a part of my heart and my mind, and may they always be a part of their hearts and minds.

The season and memories on FB reminded me of a conversation I had with Patrick when he was 5 years old, almost a year after his daddy died.  Such an innocent conversation, yet here I am almost 34 years later still remembering it, like it was yesterday, and the impression it left on my heart.

Picture a beautiful day in Burlington, NC and mother and son were driving back to visit his grandparents. The sky was a beautiful blue, with clouds scattered through the sky. When suddenly from the back seat, Patrick asked, “Mommy, what do you think God and my daddy do in Heaven all day?” Truly taken by surprise, it took me a few seconds to respond, but the only response I could think of was, “Well, Patrick, knowing your daddy the way I do, they are either talking about the medical profession, running, or his family.” Patrick was silent for a few seconds and then responded, “But mommy, do you think they are sitting side by side, or walking around Heaven?” My response, “I am not sure. What do you think, Patrick?” Patrick’s response, “Well, mommy, I think God is sitting in his big chair, and daddy is sitting in his not so big chair, and they are watching me!” Me, “Patrick, you are probably right. Sounds exactly like what they would be doing.” Patrick’s response, “Yes, mommy, they are watching over us and smiling. But mommy, how do the chairs stay on the clouds and not fall through?” Me, “What do you mean, Patrick?” His response, “Well, mommy, chairs are heavy. How do they sit on the clouds? And mommy, do you think they get tired of the sun shining all the time? And mommy, do you think daddy misses me?”

And it was about that moment we reached the driveway at the McGinnis’ house, and I prayed a silent prayer of thankfulness. Patrick was so curious as a child, still is. I truly could not respond without bursting into tears, so Memaw and Pepa standing outside with arms wide open were the perfect response to his innocent questions.

I think back about that day, and the days before when we were dealing with Mike’s tragic death, and how much we went through. I praise God for providing us with the family and friend support we would need. I praise Him for giving me the strength and wisdom to make it through those moments, those days, months, and years to get to where we are today.

The Christmas season is such a reminder to hold our family and friends close to us, to celebrate with them and because they are in our lives. We are not promised tomorrow. Christmas was Mike’s favorite holiday, and every year 34 years later, it brings back so many memories of our time together and a reminder to be thankful and praise God for what we have . . . God, love, family, happiness, health, and each other! That is what this season is about. Notice the small moments, really listen, and pay attention, because I guarantee you that God will use those moments later in life to remind you of the blessings He gives, the mercy and grace He bestows upon us, the unconditional love He shows, and the protection He showers over those that follow His will. He does everything with a purpose, and everything He does is full measure. Never doubt His love, His timing, or His purpose for each of us.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Spend time with your family. Show everyone love and care. And know that we are not promised tomorrow. But know that one day you may wonder yourself exactly what God and your loved one do all day in Heaven. I like to think they are sitting in their big chairs, on the clouds, smiling down at the loved ones they left behind, the loved ones they are so proud of here on earth!

The simple cardboard fireplace seems to symbolize so much about my life and my memories.  Yet, I hope my friends and family see so much more to the significance of the memories of my life. They are all a part of those memories.

The Heart of a Woman

Psalms 34:18 “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Job 11:18 “And you shall be secure, because there is hope; yes, you shall dig about you, and you shall take your rest in safety.”

Prov. 3: 5 – 6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Psalm 28: 7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

              Scripture tells us the heart is central. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23. God knows that our heart is core to who we are. It is the source of all our creativity, our courage, and our convictions. Our beliefs, our faith, and our trust in God is held and treasured in our hearts. In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the brain is not mentioned once, whereas the heart is cited 826 times. www.csun.edu The Bible uses the word ‘heart’ to refer to the whole person, the ruling center of the whole person. Look at the importance of our hearts in the scriptures above. The most impactful one to me is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” The trust we have in God, is held in our hearts. How powerful is that!

              There is something fierce in the heart of a woman. Think about it, scripture tells us in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.” Scripture also says in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.” Woman was created to be with others, to help others, to nurture, and to care for others.  In our hearts we want to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, a beauty that glorifies God, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. WHO WE TRULY ARE!

              Recently, I have wrestled with feelings of not quite living up to God’s expectations, His purpose for my life. When I look at the gifts, He has given me, I question if I have fully used all of them. I think of who I am, the relationships I have, and the choices I have made and reflect on how I have lived through those. Was I an example to others and if so what kind of an example? My struggle with my sense of worth points to something glorious God has planned for me, something He designed me to be. I am still living in this earthly plane, so my heart tells me that I have not reached that glorious plan quite yet. God is still working with me, and still preparing me for His ultimate plan. My heart fiercely wants to fulfill all God has planned for me, and as a result I started writing. God gave me the gift of teaching, the gift of nurturing, the gift of hospitality (and a mother who was a true example), the gift of serving, the gift of knowledge, and the gift encouraging and evangelism. I believe He also gave me the gift of writing, to enhance the gifts of encouraging and evangelism. I cannot always speak in front of a group of people, but I can write and share my faith with others as a way of encouraging and sharing my testimony. A few days ago, I found all my journals and writings from over the years. I read through each of them, and the tears flowed quite often. Writing has always been a source of comfort for me, yet recently it is more an expression of my life and the lessons learned. My desire now, and I believe part of God’s plan is to use my gift of writing as a way to share my testimony with others.  

              How we nurture relationships with friends, family, and even strangers are part of that testimony. God has placed me in many relationships too. These relationships and how I have lived through them reflect God and what are in my heart. These relationships are my testimony. These relationships are who I am, who God created me to be!

I am God’s child,

I am a Christian,

I am a daughter,

I am a daughter-in-law,

I am a sister,

I am a wife,

I was a widow,

I am a sister-in-law,

I am a mother,

I am a grandmother,

I am a friend,

I am retired,

I was a teacher,

I was a co-worker,

I was a caregiver,

I am a survivor,

I am a woman,

I am a woman with a fierce heart for God!

              Women tend to define themselves in terms of these relationships and the quality of their relationships. This is not a weakness in women. It is a glory. A glory that reflects the heart of God, and of a woman with a fierce heart for God. A woman’s desire to fulfill these relationships relates to God’s vast desire to have relationships with each of us. A woman’s capacity to have relationships or to be defined by her relationships reflects God’s capacity and ability to have relationships with all his creations, man, and woman, and all the earth.

              God endows women with certain qualities that are essential to relationships. He gives us qualities that speak of Him: inviting, vulnerable, tender, embodies mercy, fierce, and fiercely devoted.     God also gives us women in our lives that serve as examples of these qualities and serve as mentors to us as we grow and mature in our relationships with Him, the most important relationship.

              As I think back on my own childhood and teenage years, I can think of many women who served as examples to the woman I am today, they are the women who helped me grow and mature in my relationship with God and in all the relationships I have experienced in life. For each of them I am eternally grateful God placed them in my life.

              My mother and her friends were some of the first examples of Godly women I had in my life. Helen Chandler, Diana Hearne, Frances Allison, Ramona Glenn, Peggy Tilley, Viola Phelps, and so many more. A church family that gave me so many wonderful examples to learn from and to model after. Ethel Smith and Catherine Farrell were probably two of the most incredible women in my life.

              Catherine Farrell was such an incredible woman of grace and poise! She was my Sunday School teacher, GA leader, and church leader. She had a heart so fierce for her love of God and the heart of a servant. Her strength and courage were so amazing, her and her husband served as missionaries in Africa for several years. I remember as a young girl being in awe of her and the way she carried herself, and the way she spoke with such quietness yet with such strength and assurance in each word. Her words were from her heart, they were from God. She used her own experiences to teach us, to help us understand the part God wants to play in our lives. When she spoke, God was in each word, and you just knew she was speaking from her heart. I used to think I wanted to be able to speak like that, I wanted to influence others the way she influenced me. What I admired the most about Mrs. Farrell was her desire to teach me poise, grace, and patience. She exhibited those qualities every day. She never gave up on me. I often wonder if now she looks down on me and thinks, “Finally, she has poise, grace, and patience.” I pray that I exhibit those same qualities to others, my past students, my children, and grandchildren, and even to strangers. My last nine years teaching, all girls, at Hollis I often thought of Mrs. Farrell and my desire to instill in my girls those same qualities. I used to reflect back on those lessons, and think “Look, at me, Mrs. Farrell! I am teaching young girls how to use a napkin, how to set a table, and how important manners are.” Oh, my goodness, the impact this woman had on my life.

              Another incredible woman and one so responsible for me being the woman I am today was Ethel Smith. Oh, the lessons I learned from her. She had such a demanding presence, yet a presence of a woman with such a fierce heart for God. I truly believe God knew I would need such a fierce, strong woman in my life to help shape and mold me to be the woman I am today. This woman was so knowledgeable of God’s word, but it was not just that she knew God’s word, literally every word, but she believed every word with her whole heart. There was never a doubt of her love and faith in God. The most incredible quality of Miss Ethel was that even though she was fierce and devoted in her knowledge of God’s word, we all knew she loved us and her one purpose in life was to share God’s word with us and to help us become women of God! She wanted that with her entire being. I think back with fondness now, but growing up as a young girl, tomboy and stubborn, I used to think she was my worst enemy, but now I know she only wanted me to know God and to have faith in Him. Today, I am so grateful for Ms. Ethel Smith’s presence in my life. I am sure she looks down on me in wonder, yet at the same time, with pride in the role she played in my life.

              These two women, as well as the other women of my childhood church, gave me strength and courage to survive, to grow in my faith in God, and to hopefully be an example to others around me. God gives us the people we need to help us become the person He wants us to be. He is there always, knowing exactly who we need to help us to follow His plan for our lives.

              God knows that our hearts are the core of who we are and who we are to become. God knew that I would need certain women in my life to help me build the relationships I would have, to help me overcome the struggles I would meet, and to help me be a testimony to those around me. From my mother, to Diana Hearne, to Peggy Tilley, to my grandmother, and even to Ethel Smith; they were all placed in my life at the exact moment He knew I would need them. What incredible examples of women I had in my life, that each played their role in bringing me to this point in life. For each of them I am forever grateful!

              The heart of a woman is a beautiful thing. It is fragile, yet so very strong. It is delicate, yet resilient. The heart of a woman is fierce. It is fierce in her faith in God. It is fierce in each relationship she cherishes. It is fierce in her devotion to her family. It is fierce in love! It is fierce in her determination to see things through. It is fierce in desire to do her best in all things. It is fierce when it comes to protecting her family. It is fierce in surviving and overcoming obstacles in life. It is fierce in following God’s plan for her life. A woman’s heart is amazing! A woman guards her heart, nourishes it, and opens it wide to love others God places in her life.

              Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

God Gives Us Opportunities

“God will supply us with the opportunity, but it is up to us to do something with it.”

“Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives in the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” Corrie Ten Boom

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

“Be strong and immovable, work enthusiastically, nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” I Corinthians 15:58

Over the last few days I have experienced first hand the people and the opportunities God gives us, His opportunities are there every day, and it is up to us to acknowledge and make the most of the people and the opportunities He places in our lives. I will be the first to tell you that I do not always acknowledge them or use them to the best of my ability, I take them for granted. Yet, over the last few days the people and opportunities He has given me have blown me away and given me chills. They cannot be swept away or ignored, they cannot be taken for granted, I had to acknowledge them and grow from them. Hence this blog!

From an experience in our local grocery store, to an experience in my front yard, to experiences with relatives, and to experiences with memories and artifacts, God has presented me with many opportunities to be grateful for His love and mercy, and to grow from their existence in my life.

The grocery store experience was simple, yet strong enough to remind me of the good in others. The first was a young mother searching for Sage just days before making dressing for Thanksgiving, which was the same thing I was looking for. She was with her son, and we had a conversation about going several different places trying to find it, to no avail. I told her to have a wonderful Thanksgiving and proceeded to the dairy section. After being there several minutes, I heard the sweet voice of her son, “Ma’am, ma’am! We found some and my mother wanted me to find you and bring you some.” In his hands were two bottles, which he tried to give both to me. I told him thank you very much and took one. He smiled and turned and walked away. God’s intervention in both of our lives.

The experience in my front yard was just as simple, yet just as thought provoking! I was in the front yard raking leaves, yet again! After raking for a couple of hours, an elderly man walking down the street, stops and says, “Ma’am, it looks like you are getting your exercise. I know exactly how you feel, because I feel like I have raked every day for the last couple of weeks.” After a couple of minutes of both us lamenting about raking leaves and they keep falling, he looks at me and in all seriousness, says, “Ma’am, if you need help I will walk down to my house, get my rake, and come back and help you.” (This was an elderly gentleman of probably around his late 70s, early 80s, and struggling just to walk himself! Yet, he is putting the needs of others before himself.) My heart just stopped, and I told him thank you but that I was almost finished. He looked at me, smiled again, and said, “Well, honey, if you need help you just let me know. I will help you!” Again, I smiled and told him thank you very much. The rest of the afternoon I worked in our yard with a big smile on my face, and a song in my heart. I thanked God for his thoughtfulness to place this sweet man in my life on that day.

Then come the moments that God placed family in my daily presence to remind me of His faithfulness and plan for my life.

Through this Covid situation, and parents making decisions about their children and school, I have supported our daughter and her decision to keep my grandson at home and do virtual school. Cooper has asthma, and if he were to get Covid, it could cause him many health concerns. So at least once a week, I have him with me and I help him with his virtual school for the day so she can work from home. He is in the 5th grade! If that is not God presenting me with an opportunity, I do not know what it is. My love and passion in my 27 years of teaching was 5th grade. I love the Social Studies, the Science, the ELA, and even the math. The fact that it is my grandson and I get to help him with school is like a dream come true. He works so hard for me, and it makes me so happy to see him work to overcome the issues of virtual school and his learning disabilities. He is one tough kid, smart and kind, he makes me proud. The caveat to working with him, though is the Social Studies. I love history, and any student I have ever taught will tell you how much I love history. Yet, God really brought it home to me over the last couple of weeks when Cooper has been studying Immigration, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, WWI, and now WWII. I have such a passion for how these units are presented so that students understand the impact these events had on the United States then, and still have an impact today. My past students will also tell you how patriotic I am, and as a result I want to instill that same patriotism in my children and grandchildren. My parents and grandparents instilled patriotism in my heart, and I feel it should be there for every American. I want to give my grandchildren experiences that show them what it means to be an American. To share these moments and my knowledge with my grandson is a dream come true. Several years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to renovate his childhood home and move into it, we were both shocked and surprised to find the treasures from the Great Depression and WWII hidden behind the walls of the house. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent reading letters from his daddy as he served in the Marines during WWII from 1941 to 1946. Oh my, the letters, the photos, and all the other artifacts I have found behind the walls of the home I am blessed to live in now. I did not have the privilege to meet my father-in-law, he died before I met Steve. Oh, but if I had had that opportunity, I would have sat for hours listening to his stories if he had been willing to share. However, all I can do is read the letters, touch the photos, reverently touch his uniform and hats, and cry tears looking at and touching the flags, the helmets, and all the many others treasures he hid behind the walls. I have so many questions for him, and I just want to hug him and thank him for his service. As a young man, about 19 years of age, he joined the Marines. He ended up serving in the Philippines, Hawaii, Nagasaki, and who knows all the other places. I have sat on the floor for hours and cried as I read each letter! I have mentally made a list of all the questions I want to ask when I finally meet him in Heaven and believe me, I am going to ask questions. The thing that really thrills my heart though is that I get to share those artifacts, those letters, those pictures, and so much more with students across Greenville County, but more importantly with my grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. How special, how God given is that opportunity. Cooper is studying WWII right now, and over the last week I have been able to share Mr. Murrell’s things with him, and my heart is full! Today Cooper was completing a project about Pearl Harbor, and I was able to go upstairs and pull-down items Mr. Murrell had from Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, and WWII. If that is not a God given opportunity, I do not know what would be. Even if Cooper does not understand the implications of these things now at the age of 10, one day when he is in his 20s, 30s, or older he will remember and he will think of the day his Grammy shared with him the artifacts from WWII that his great-grandfather fought for. My heart is full. Thank you, God, for these opportunities with my grandson.

Yet the opportunity that just touched my heart and gave me chills this week was the conversation I had with my daughter-in-law’s brother, who has Multiple Sclerosis. He has been in a wheelchair for most of his life, but MS has not impacted his brain and his thinking in any way. He is one incredible young man, and every time I am blessed to have a conversation with him, I walk away in complete awe. Last Saturday was only one example. God gave me the opportunity to have a very meaningful conversation with him that started out as a conversation about his experiences in school, and the way he was treated simply because he was in a wheelchair. The fact that people could not look past the wheelchair to see all the possibilities he has within him and all the things he can do just breaks my heart! The wheelchair just stumped them! My heart broke for him and what he experienced as a student growing up through a faulty system. I told him I was familiar with that system because I taught in Special Education for over 10 years, and I knew firsthand the mistakes made. The fact that he thanked me for being a teacher that cared and went the extra mile was truly humbling. Yet, it was when our conversation took a turn towards our mutual love for history that my heart starting racing and a chill took over my body. I started telling him of the artifacts I had found, and there was a kindred spirit instantly. I love my children, but none of them have the same love of history as I do. Yet, here was someone I had taken for granted because of his disability, and all of sudden I am looking at him in a completely different light, and I have found someone I can talk to about my love of history. I cannot wait to share with him, to have discussions with him, and hopefully to gain more insight into the treasures I have found.

My love of history comes from parents who grew up during The Great Depression, WWII, Civil Rights, and so much more. My love of American history comes from parents who grew up during periods of sacrifice yet remained faithful to their country and their beliefs in God. My love of American history comes from parents who had an appreciation for their upbringing, the history of their country, and the Christian beliefs they were taught. My love of history comes from my parents love of music and the arts, and how they exposed us to those things while we were growing up. Yet here sat before me a young man who did not have those same experiences growing up, yet he professed a love and an extreme interest in American history, and my heart leaped, and goosebumps went all over. So now we have a standing appointment where he comes to my house and I share with him all the things I consider as family treasures. No one else may consider them as family treasures, but God gave me the opportunity to discover them, God gave me the opportunity to appreciate them, and so God will give me the opportunity to share them with others and to share history of our country that every American should be proud of.

God gives us opportunities. He gives us people, places, and things to share His message. I fell short in so many opportunities, until now. I think I finally understand God’s plan and His opportunities. I needed to go through every single opportunity, every experience, each hardship and failure, and each person to understand how He continues to work in our lives and to be appreciative of the moments, the opportunities, the people, and the experiences He places in our lives. The artifacts from WWII are such a small part but they have such a huge impact on my life, my beliefs, and the impact WWII had on our nation. These photos are just a small part of that impact.

Reflections

A Retired Teacher’s Reflections:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I am forever amazed at God’s presence in my life and how He has guided me towards His plan for my life all along. My plan included going to Elon University, majoring in Religion, and then going to seminary to become a minister. In my mind, it was what I was supposed to do. So, I went to Elon, and graduated with a degree in Religion, despite God giving all kinds of guidance and direction that my focus, His plan was for something totally different. Let us just say I am very stubborn, and after 4 ½ years of college, and no job options, I finally started praying to God and LISTENING to His words. Through several experiences at church and college, the direction was always there and now as I look back, I realize all the times He tried to tell me He had other plans for me. After graduation from Elon, and Mike graduated from UNC, life took a completely different direction for both of us, and we moved to Chapel Hill. Mike went back to school, Nursing School, and I got a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield. As Mike was working on his second degree, God truly started speaking to my heart about what He wanted me to do, and teaching was the direction. My heart had always been sensitive towards children with special needs and after a lot of prayer, I finally realized that was where God was leading me. After Mike graduated from UNC School of Nursing (with honors), and after the birth of our son, we soon headed to Greenville, NC where Mike would become Chief Flight Nurse for Eastcare, and I would start school at East Carolina University. In 1987, I graduated with honors, and then my world turned upside down with Mike’s death. Once again, God’s plan for my life took another turn, because instead of immediately going to work I felt like my son needed me more, so I put teaching on hold. We moved to Greenville, SC to be close to family, and I decided to pursue my Master’s in Education at Furman University while Patrick was in school. Then life took another turn when I met Steve, we got married, and I was pregnant again. Once again, I decided my daughter needed me more than I needed to teach, so I stayed home with her and my three nephews until they were four/five and ready to start kindergarten.

Finally it was time for my teaching career to start, time for God’s plan to continue (because I know now that all of those turns and twists in the road were part of God’s plan!), even though it took me 19 years to finally follow God’s plan for me to become a teacher, I learned so much about myself through each change in life. I became stronger in my faith, I became more confident in my ability to teach, and because of all the twists and turns God gave me patience to work with students of such varying needs that I am sometimes overwhelmed just thinking about His gifts. Isn’t God amazing? “Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7 I truly did not understand all the events I went through in life at the time, but now as a retired teacher I understand God’s plan and every stumble in the road I had to go through to get to this point in life.

So my reflections started a few days ago when I started going through my boxes of teacher memorabilia, and the memories of single moments in time through my 27 year teaching career starting overwhelming me and causing me to give my utmost thanks to God for my life, for all I have been through, for all I have learned and experienced. There were no mistakes in His plan!

I am retired now, but the memories and experiences of being a teacher for 27 years will never fade. There is so much that I miss, there are so many mornings that I think to myself I should still be teaching, I should still be in the classroom. There are mornings that I wake up and have to take a second or two to remind myself that there are no students waiting on me to come to the classroom, and that breaks my heart just a little. There are days when I wonder if I did all I could as a teacher to make a difference, to create relationships with my students, to encourage my students to always do their best, and just to be there for them. I love being retired with my husband, but I truly miss teaching!

I miss the planning for my students, knowing their needs, and the curriculum and what I need to teach and how I need to teach the material.

I miss the smiles I would see every morning when students would walk through my door. Believe me some of those smiles made me feel like a movie star, like I was the best thing they had seen in a long time. Those smiles would make my heart sing all day long.

I miss the hugs! Oh, the hugs from students that are excited to be at school, that are excited to be in your classroom, those are the best hugs in the world. They made me feel so special. I miss the hugs.

I miss the laughter of students, especially 5th grade girls. That laughter is the best in all the world. It took so little on my part to cause that laughter to happen . . . a simple change in voice, a soapbox session, a mistake on my part, and my stories always caused laughter in the classroom. Maybe the stories were the best and caused the most laughter because they were real, and I was being real when I told the stories – stories of my children, my life, my mistakes, and the lessons I have learned through life. Whatever it was that caused their faces to light up and the laughter to erupt, it was well worth the life experience and the willingness to share the story so my students could see I was telling my story.

I miss the conversations. Oh, the conversations to take place in a 5th grade class with 30 students or with 16 girls! Fifth graders are on the edge of becoming teenagers and they are so eager to share their thoughts and give their opinions. I remember being in fifth grade. I had so many opinions and thoughts. I wanted someone to listen. I loved listening and being included in their conversations.

          One example: Conversation from today while my students were writing . . . One of my girls raised her hand and when I called on her, she responded, “Mrs. Murrell, I am worried about you.”

Me, “Why are you worried about me?”

Student, “Well, I am worried about you when you retire. You have to admit Mrs. Murrell it is your students who keep you on your toes, who tell you when you are dressed cool like today, or who keep you from going crazy, because we keep you busy. Who will do all that for you when you retire?”

Me, “I am sure my husband and my family will keep me busy. I will be fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Student, “But Mrs. Murrell, I am afraid you are going to get old and frumpy like my grandmother. I mean, she is 64.”

(Me thinking to myself, yes, that is really old.)

I just smiled and thanked her for her concern.

          Another example: It never ceases to amaze me the thoughts and words that come from 5th grade students. In a discussion today about being able to go back in time, one of my girls said she would like to go back in time to see and talk to some of the great people from our past. People like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and others. But then she said, “But Mrs. Murrell, I just want to ask them questions. I don’t want them to ask me questions about life today.” I asked her why. She responded, “Because I think they would be sad at the mess we have made in the world.”

Amen! From a 5th grader!

          There are so many conversations that I could copy and paste, and each one would demonstrate why I miss the conversations so much.

I miss the curiosity and the inquisitiveness of students in elementary school. Oh my, it knows no boundaries, and they have no fear of sharing and asking their questions. I miss their openness and their honesty so much!

          One example:  

Student, “So, Mrs. Murrell, I go home and read my Bible every night.”

Me, “Really?!”

Student, “And the Bible says, God don’t like no lying lips!” (Direct quote)

Me, “Really?”

Student, “That’s why I don’t lie to you, Mrs. Murrell, but if I do I go home and ask for forgiveness.”

Me, (trying hard not to choke and bust out laughing)

This is what we do! Teachers have quite a life! Would not trade it for anything else.

          Their honesty and willingness to share knows no limits or boundaries. They just want someone to listen. I miss being that person who is willing to listen.

I miss their excitement to learn something new. I miss their willingness to try something new. I especially miss the looks on their faces when you present them with a situation, they are unfamiliar with, like a pretend campfire when you are getting ready to start a unit in Social Studies on Westward Expansion. I just miss their enthusiasm.

I miss planning with other teachers to present the best, most excited activities for learning for all our students.

I miss the camaraderie between teachers, especially that teacher right next door or across the hall. Those relationships are so special. No one understands that relationship until you have been the teacher next door.

I even miss the professional development and the faculty meetings, not because they offered such great insight, but because we were all there together with the same thoughts and concerns. Just tell us how we can help our students succeed! That truly was the reason we were there. We did not want to hear all the things you thought we were doing wrong, we just wanted to hear some encouragement and some belief that we were doing our best to help our students succeed. We talk all the time about the self-esteem and self-concept of our students, but no one talks about the self-esteem or self-concept of our teachers. What a shame! I do not miss the blame, but I do miss the fact that the teachers came together and supported each other.

I miss the emails, voice mails, and text messages from parents asking me about their child. I miss them because they showed me the parents cared! I miss parents that held me to the boundaries or parameters of an IEP or 504 because I knew they cared.

I miss the letters from American Education Week because I would get the sweetest letters from past students.

I miss teaching lessons that were because my students needed them, not because they were in my lesson plans.

I miss teachers coming to me for advice or suggestions, as much as I miss going to other teachers for advice or suggestions.

But most of all, I miss the ‘aha moments’ for my students. Those are the absolute best. Those moments were why I wanted to go to school every day and teach my students. I longed for those moments in math and science especially when I was teaching all girls. Those moments when the light came on, and they understood the problem, oh my, my heart would just leap! Those were the best moments!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 Oh my heart! I trusted in the Lord and look at what He gave me. Students who placed their trust in me, parents who placed their trust in me! And look at the blessings! Students who remembered me! Parents who appreciated and remembered.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 I love God! I am so thankful for His plan for my life, and His guidance and wisdom in working towards those goals. Yet, I know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

His purpose was for me to be a teacher. I finally became the teacher He wanted me to become. I received so many more blessings than I could have ever imagined, but He knew the blessings I would receive. Today as I read letters from past students, I became very much aware of His plan once more. I needed to become a teacher to fulfill God’s plan. I needed to go through all the twists and turns in life to appreciate His plan. I just needed to follow His plan from the beginning. Isn’t He amazing! I owe my teaching career, the relationships formed with students and parents, my life to Him! He is amazing!

Being thankful for all things…

Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 4:15 “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thanksgiving is just about 2 weeks away and November is typically the month we associate with giving thanks for all we have. Many of us show our thanks through social media and some of us just simply say thanks through prayer to our Father in Heaven. I am blessed, and I am so thankful to God for all I have, for all He has given me. Family, health, a home, friends, laughter, food on my table, an education and a career, being able to retire and still live in comfort, years with my mother living with us, pets, and so many more gifts from God that bring me warmth, love, and happiness.

Yet, I am thankful for so much more too. I am thankful for the things that brought tears, sadness, stress, fears, doubt, and even anger. In Thessalonians 5:16 – 18, God tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We should not just give thanks for the good things in life, for the happy times, but for every situation, every circumstance in life. God teaches us so much through the trials and strife in life. Rejoice always!

I can remember disappointments, trials, and hard times as a young girl, and especially as a teenager. At the time growing up, I did not give thanks to God for those situations. I did not understand the importance of those difficult moments in life until I grew up and went through so much more. So today, even though I have said thank you to God so many times, I am writing out the gifts, the situations, and the circumstance that I will be forever thankful for.

Today, I am thankful for the store losing an order for my wedding dress in the summer of 1976. At the time, it was devastating to find out the perfect dress I had ordered had not been ordered just 2 weeks before my wedding. Every girl dreams of the perfect dress! Yet, without their mistake, I would not have had the privilege and honor of wearing my sister’s wedding dress. When I look back at pictures of her wedding and my wedding, it is with love knowing that on our special days we shared the ‘perfect dress’. Disappointments around a wedding can be devastating, but I choose to think God used the moment to bring my sister and I closer together.

Today, I am thankful for the years Mike and I worked so hard to earn our college degrees. We worked so hard, and often barely had enough time to say hi to each other, much less spend an evening with each other, even as newlyweds. We worked full time and went to school full time, to fulfill our dreams and follow God’s plan for our lives. Those five years were not easy, but by following God’s plan we both earned our degrees, and even furthered our educations past the four years, and we both began our careers. Those five years made us stronger and more determined to finish what we started and to follow where God leads us, yet even though we did not spend a lot of time with each other, those years actually brough us closer together and our love was stronger than ever.

Today, I am thankful for the miscarriage of a beautiful baby boy so early in 1980. The tears and the heartache that were a part of those days of losing him were devastating! I questioned God many times during those days. There were even moments that I was angry. I could not understand what God was teaching us through this loss. I do not know if I will ever understand the reasoning, but I do know that the birth of our healthy son in 1982 was filled with such love and amazement that we were completely overwhelmed with love and joy. Every single moment with him and us as a family was appreciated so much more after experiencing such a loss earlier. Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” I Peter 5:10 also tells us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

God wiped the tears from our eyes and gave us such joy with the birth of our son. The sadness, the suffering, and the tears were necessary for us to receive the strength God gave us for the future. God knows His plans for our lives. He knows what we are going to need to make it through life. God restored us, He made me strong, firm, and steadfast because He knew what was coming. I am so thankful for the tears, the sadness, and the suffering. I am so thankful God never left our sides but gave us what we needed to make it through one of the hardest situations we had faced to that point in our lives.

This is a more difficult moment, but it truly is one I am thankful for. I am thankful that God knew His plans for Mike way before we knew. I am so thankful for the 10 years I had with him, and the fact that I was given 10 years to observe Mike’s compassion for others and his love and passion for his career. I am thankful for the things I learned about myself while we were together. I am so thankful for the hardships and the stressful days of our early days together because they made me stronger and have more confidence in my ability to handle the most difficult moment of my life. Mike’s death in a helicopter crash! I am thankful that Mike’s last evening was filled with our son and his coworkers celebrating his birthday. That he knew he was loved, appreciated, and respected by those around him. I am so thankful that our son was able to sing Happy Birthday to his daddy that evening before they took their final flight to save an infant. I am thankful God surrounded us with family and friends that stepped in and stayed with us every step of the days that followed. I am so thankful that God knew Mike had made his impact on earth, and from that moment on God needed him in heaven more than I needed him on earth. Do not get me wrong though, there were moments after his death for weeks, months, and even years when I was angry and mad at God for taking him, but as I look back now I am so thankful for the time we had, the son we had together, the memories I will always hold in my heart, and the lessons learned during this time. Through Mike’s death, God showed me how strong I am, how courageous I was during that time, and He reminded me of His strength and mercy. He taught me to lean on Him more than I ever had before, He reminded me of His love for me and that He would never give me more than I could handle. For God’s love, mercy, strength, wisdom, and understanding I am so incredibly thankful.

Today, I am so thankful for doctors and x-ray technicians that caught a small place, a minuscule place, on my left breast that looked suspicious to them. I am so thankful for a doctor who laid his tablet to the side, and took my hand after my diagnosis, and said, “Please let me pray for you before we go any farther in discussing treatment.” I am so thankful for medical technology that gives doctors the opportunity to detect cancer at such an early stage in its formation. I am so thankful for surgeons and their God-given skill that allows them to locate such minuscule places and take them out before they grow and spread to become so much more life threatening. I am so thankful for my husband, children, and family that had patience and love for me as I went through the very painful recovery and five years of a medicine that made me feel sick most of the time. Today, I can honestly say I am thankful for a diagnosis of breast cancer, through that diagnosis God reminded me once more of His strength and wisdom, but He also reminded me of how strong I am and that He has given me courage to face so much more. He was not going to fail me through this either.

Today I am so thankful for my mother’s health issues that allowed her to come and live with us for the last six years of her life. She had several health issues that were too serious for her to live by herself, and a nursing home was out of the question. I am so thankful for those six years. My children and grandchildren were able to build stronger relationships with her because of her living with us. I am so thankful for the memories created during those years. I am so thankful that I can still hear her laughter and still feel her presence in our home. Today I am so thankful for the changes in our lives that were made to have mother living with us. I am thankful for the lessons learned, but most important I am thankful for the opportunity God gave me to take care of my mother and to show my children how one day the roles will be reversed for them too. Taking care of one’s parent is not the easiest journey to travel, but it is a journey with so many rewards and honors.

Today I am thankful for a teaching career of 27 years that taught me many more lessons than I probably taught my students. Teaching is not always easy, and quite often it is a thankless career path. However, it is filled with rewarding smiles and hugs, and memories to last a lifetime. Today I thankful for a God that knew His plan for me, and even though He had to truly push me towards that career because my plan was totally different, and I even spent my first 4 years pursuing a college degree that was not in God’s plan. I am thankful for my God who did not give up on me and gave me so many situations to see where He was leading me. I am thankful that He never stopped talking to me and leading me with His grace and wisdom. I am thankful for the blessings received from my students and their families over 27 years, and I am thankful for the relationships created and nurtured throughout the years. My God never gave up on me and His plan for me to be a teacher, and I am so thankful He did not give up.

Today I am just thankful! I am thankful for every lesson learned, every sacrifice made, every tear, every difficult situation, every challenge in life, every bump in the road, and every disappointment in life. Today I am thankful for a God who never gives us more than we can handle, and my God who knows me so well! I am reminded of a poem I have read many times:

I asked for Strength . . .

And God gave me difficulties to make me strong

I asked for Wisdom . . .

And God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for Prosperity . . .

And God gave me brains and brawn to work.

I asked for Courage . . .

And God gave me danger to overcome.

I asked for Love . . .

And God gave me opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted . . .

I received everything I needed.

And for that I am forever thankful for My God!

Being a Caregiver

“Treat your parents with loving care . . . for you will only know their value when you see their empty chair.”

I Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Ephesians 6:2 “Honor you father and mother,” this is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Sara Ellen Cox Westmoreland: my mother, my role model, the most loving grandmother, and great-grandmother, and now she walks in her heavenly home with Jesus. She is missed! This is not an easy post to write because the memories are already pouring through, but I feel God is calling me to write this as encouragement to others who may be living the role of caregiver to your parents. It is not an easy role, but it is a rewarding and worthy role.

My mother passed away in July of 2017. The six years prior to her death, she lived with me and my husband. My mother was very independent and very smart, moving in with her daughter was not something she thought she would ever have to do, but after a stroke we felt it was the best thing for her. A nursing home was not an option. In 2011, mother and her precious Chihuahua, Taki Bella, moved in with Steve and I, and forever after our lives were changed, yet enriched by her presence.

Routines change. Daily life changes. I Corinthians 16: 13-14 tells us to “Watch, stand fast in faith. Be brave, be strong, let all that you do be done in love.” While my mother never thought she would need to move in with one of her children, I never really thought about her moving in with us and being available to take care of her every day. Little did I know that her presence in my house for six years would give me so many wonderful memories to hold onto now that she is no longer with us.

I do not want to talk about the stress that is a part of being a caregiver. That is different for each family and each caregiver. Your role as a caregiver will not always be easy, but then it was not always easy for our parents to raise us. I am sure there were days when they were stressed and worried about your welfare, finances, health, and so much more. What I hoped to offer is encouragement to those who may find themselves in this role. I just want to remind you that each day you have with your parent is one more day filled with memories that you will hold onto for years to come. “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” Tia Walker

One of our first commandments is to “Honor your father and mother.” I cannot think of a more rewarding way to honor your parents than to take care of them the way they took care of you during our childhood and teenage years. Personally, I know I was not an easy child or teenager, and my mother had the patience of an angel on her earthly walk to deal with me every day. Yet, she did! She was always there! She was there through the good and the bad, and she listened and loved through all of it. How could I not do the same for her when she needed me.

Our new normal involved doctor’s visit, medicine management, insulin shots, and so much more. Laughter, music, teasing between her and Steve, a beautiful relationship that grew between her and my grandsons, someone else to love my fur babies, thoughtful conversations, and did I say laughter? I wish I had the time, and you had the patience to read through every quick-witted moment with my mother, but there were just too many. Here are just a few of those very precious moments that I would not trade for anything.

September 14, 2013 “On the flip side of my Saturday morning, my mother and Steve are carrying on their own conversation. Mother asks if there is anything she can help with today (bless her heart, she always wants to help), Steve says, “Sure, how about going outside and work on closing up the pool.” My mother in her quickness, says “sure can I push you in first?” She is so quick with those come backs.

October 2, 2013 “I just love my mother! While watching TV tonight, the contestant on X-factor says he has the sweetest wife in the world. Steve says, “No way, I have the sweetest wife in the world.” My mother with another one of her quick come backs says, “Well, you are just doubly lucky then, because you have the sweetest mother-in-law in the world too!” Surprise, surprise! Steve got absolutely quiet!”

September 5, 2015 “So, mother, Steve, and I go to K&W for supper tonight. When you get to the register, they will ring the bell if someone needs help getting their tray to the table, so they rang the bell for us since mother has a cane and so does Steve. The waitress comes and gets mother’s tray and I follow behind them. She puts mother’s food on the table, and turns around and looks at me and says, “I’ll go get your daddy’s food now for him.” Mother and I just about lost it. So, when Steve gets to the table we tell him what the waitress says, and then mother adds, “Okay Steve, how am I going to get a boyfriend if everybody thinks we are together and Lynne is our daughter?” I truly busted out laughing. I just love her quick wit and sense of humor. Katelyn Murrell, I wish you had been here. It was hilarious!”

But you see it was not just her laughter and quick wit that I will always cherish, it was the lessons she taught us and the relationships that grew from her presence in our house for those six years. Yes, there were tears and frustrating moments, but I do not remember those. I remember and feel blessed in the laughter, the quick wit, the lessons, the relationships, and the memories.

My two grandsons will be forever blessed for having her in their lives for those six years. They genuinely loved their Grandmami Sara, and they will always remember her. She went to their ball games, school plays, birthday parties, but even more she sat with them when they were at our house. She danced with them, played with them, and most important she loved them the way only a great-grandmother can love her youngest great-grandchildren. After her death, our youngest grandson was asked to draw an illustration and write a story about one of their fondest memories. Cooper drew a picture of him with Grandmami Sara, in her room, jumping on her bed, and watching Clemson play football. That moment can never be replaced. That moment would not have happened if mother had not been living with us. Some days I think she was more my caregiver than I was hers. She never stopped caring for and loving her family.

There is a familiar joke in our family among the girls about the word ‘fine’. You see we always knew if mother was not happy about what we were wearing she would simply respond, “That is fine.” There was just something in the way she said it, you knew she was not happy. When mother moved in with us, those three words were still spoken often. To this day, when I get dressed, I can still hear saying those words and I have been known to change on several occasions, and I never regret the change because she was always right. She was the epitome of the Southern Lady. She knew how to dress for every occasion, she knew how to set a table, and she was an incredible hostess and cook. I learned so much from just observing her, but when she moved in with us her presence was even more valued than before.

My mother loved words, reading, and history. She loved God. She loved our country. These things were evident in every facet of her life. She would come to my classroom and share stories with my students of The Great Depression, WWII, and so much more. She would join my summer book clubs with my students, read with them, and discuss the books. She grew up in the mill villages of Greenville, SC and she had so much history to offer anyone willing to listen. She was a phenomenal storyteller. My love for words, reading, and history came from her inspiration.

In closing, a few years ago my husband and I decided to renovate his childhood home and move to the neighborhood where he grew up, yet it just so happens it was in the area my mother grew up also. The move was beneficial for me because our first house was huge, and the yardwork was very demanding. Trying to take care of mother, Steve, the house, and the yard was draining. The move was beneficial for my mother because it took her back to days gone by, filled with love and memories. It was another one of those wonderful periods of time that I will always cherish. After we moved, I wrote a tribute to my mother that I would like to share now.

Tonight, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting about life through my mother’s eyes, heart, and memories. She amazes me every day with her ability to recover memories from days gone by.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every house and street they lived on while she was a child in a blended family.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the stores she went to as a child, the streets she walked with her step-father (my Papa), and the businesses they frequented as a child.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every mill they worked at during the 1930s and 1940s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers Pearl Harbor, the day the USA entered WWII, and the day the war was over.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she still remembers every song sung and played at the piano, every message learned through a Southern-Gospel song, sung, and played at the piano in our living room, growing up in Burlington, NC.

She remembers what she was doing with her sisters when they announced WWII was over. She remembers walking down Main Street, Greenville, SC and celebrating when it was announced the war was over.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers graduating from Parker High School the same year WWII was over.

She remembers what Greenville, Main Street, USA looked like in the 30s and 40s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers marrying the love of her life, starting a family, and moving to North Carolina.

She remembers the nervousness in being alone, yet meeting new people who would become lifelong friends – the Tilleys, the Hearnes, the Glenns, the Morrises, the Tylers, the Chandlers, the Allisons, and so many more.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the sadness, the happiness, and the fear of times that families go through to show their strength and their faith in God.

She still remembers lessons learned, respect earned, and lessons taught through her parents, from friends, and from family members while she was growing up and becoming an adult.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories she still remembers the heartache of a cherished son-in-law lost through tragic circumstances, another one lost through cancer, and a daughter-in-law lost through divorce. She still remembers the heartache and the love gained through all these experiences.

Yet, through it all. Through all she has lived, loved, and lost, she is the one who remains the strength, the grace, the poise, and the measure the rest of us should live by.

My God is an incredible God, but my mother is the best! At age 87, she still insists on going to every baseball game, play, musical performance of every grandchild, great-grandchild, step-grandchild, and so forth, not for herself, but so those around her and those that are a part of her life, do not have to grow up wondering and thinking about whether or not they matter to someone else.

We can learn and experience so much from the ones who learned and experienced from the best years of their lives! What examples our older generations set for the rest of us!

Caregivers know that your love and care of your parents is of the highest honor! Cherish the moments that make you smile, that make you laugh, and even the ones that make you cry. You will have all those memories to hold onto when they are gone. Nothing can wipe away your memories and the moments you shared with them.

Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.” He will be with you every moment, every smile and tear, and every frustration and success.

Family

“Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9

According to Merriam-Webster, a family is “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also, any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” What a cold, insufficient definition of a word that means so much, and that God created. There is nothing basic about a family formed with God’s grace and blessing, and that puts God first in their relationships with each other.

A Christian definition of family written by Auburn University says, “The family is the foundational institution of society ordained by God. It is constituted by marriage and is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.” Even this definition does not quite seem to adequately define the term, family.

Family: people brought together by the grace and blessings of God. Family: people who live together, grow together, make mistakes together, focus on God together, forgive each other, and who love unconditionally. Family: people who learn from each other. Family: people who support and encourage each other. I could go on and on!

Steve and I were blessed with parents that gave us homes with families much like I described above. Our parents set wonderful examples for us in our Christian faith, and we both witnessed the love and devotion our parents had for each other. We were both blessed with extended families who felt the same way, so our childhoods and teenage years were filled with love, laughter, acceptance, forgiveness, and prayer. Neither of us could ask for more than the parents and families God blessed us with.

When Steve and I met in 1988, we already had children. We also knew that not only did we have children, but our children also had other families that would be a part of lives, not in terms of being a part of our immediate family, but they would still be a part of Stacy and Patrick’s lives. Our coming together as a family would impact those families as much as it impacted our immediate families.

I remember the first night we introduced our parents to each other. It was a simple dinner at my house, and I was a nervous wreck. I loved Steve’s mother, and wanted so much for my parents to love her also. I stressed all day long with cooking, cleaning, and making sure everything was perfect. Yet, when it came down to it, I had nothing to worry about. Our coming together was God’s plan, he was bringing them together too. It was a perfect evening, and from that point the relationship between our parents flourished.

From the beginning our parents did an incredible job of making sure Patrick and Stacy felt welcomed and loved in their homes. Mrs. Murrell was an incredible grandmother for Patrick. How many children get the privilege of having three grandmothers who just want to love you and spoil you? What a blessing! And Stacy, from the beginning there was an instant connection with her and my parents. My daddy loved her from the first moment, he even came up with a nickname for her (like he did with his other grandchildren). “Troublemaker”, which was as far from the truth as it could be, but it stuck.

It was not long before we introduced our siblings to each other as well, and we chose my parents’ house to do those introductions. What better way to introduce brothers and sisters, grandchildren, and anyone else but with basketball, good food, a game of Scrabble, and even some singing around the piano. Again, God placed us all together.

There was one more family that I was concerned about telling them about Steve and that we had decided to get married. I knew they needed to be told because they were Patrick’s grandparents. They had lost their son a little over a year before, and I was not sure they were ready for this news.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

“Do not be afraid. Do not be silent. Keep on speaking.” Acts 18:9

“God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.” Joel 2:25

Pep talks to myself did not really work, but when I went to God in prayer and asked for guidance and wisdom, His words were exactly what I needed.

  • Christ will give me strength
  • I will not be afraid because Christ is with me, and He will give me the words to speak.
  • Christ can do all things, He can restore what is broken, and HE DID CHANGE IT INTO SOMETHING AMAZING! All I needed to do was have faith in Him.

As I got ready to make the phone call to the McGinnis’, I remembered another night I had to make 2 phone calls I will never forget. This call was different, but I was hypersensitive to making sure I had just the right words. From the moment Mrs. McGinnis answered the phone, the words came, and as usual she was the perfect Southern lady. She wanted to meet Steve, so did Mac. I understood their thoughts and reasons. He was going to be the father of their first grandchild. He was going to step into the position that Mike once filled. They needed to be reassured and comfortable with him too. So, we planned a weekend trip to Burlington, NC so they could meet. Stacy went with us because they would be a part of her life too. Once again God showed us how this was all part of His plan, that He was in control, and with faith everything would work out according to His will, and it would be amazing. There was an instant connection between all of them. After a weekend of getting to know each other, Steve and I headed home with our children, knowing we had their blessing as well. Their only concern was that we might want to change Patrick’s last name when we were married, and we assured them we had already discussed that, and we had decided Patrick would keep his daddy’s name. It was extremely important to everyone. Over the years, the relationship between Steve and Mrs. McGinnis grew to be something incredibly special. She would even write him letters, just to let him know she was thinking of him. We had become a family!

I have told people over the years that blending a family, with small children and other families, is never an easy journey to travel, yet I have learned that it is the most rewarding journey to travel. I would not trade the last 32 years for anything. We have had our share of tears, frustrations, laughter, accomplishments and setbacks, growth, and blessings untold. There have been days I have wanted to just get down on my knees and cry out for wisdom and strength to lead three children, children who are so different from each other, yet knowing we needed to lead them to know Christ, have faith in God, and to love one another. Again, this verse was my solace:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Christ does strengthen us! He gives us strength beyond measure. Yes, we are a ‘blended’ family! But we are so much more.

  • We are a family! We are father, mother, sisters, brother, with two daughter-in-laws, and three grandchildren.
  • We love each other, we recognize each other’s differences, we understand that we are each unique.
  • We support and encourage each other.
  • We are strong because we love each other, support, and encourage each other, and we know our strength comes from God.
  • Over the years, we have come together many times in crisis and walked away stronger as individuals and a family.
  • We are just a family – no stepsisters, stepbrothers, or stepchildren, no half-sisters, no step-grandparents, aunts, or uncles, just a family!

“Joyful, are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.” Psalm 119:1

“The Lord is Good, a strength and stronghold in the days of trouble; He knows those who take refuge and trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7

God knows! He knows each one of us. He created us, so how can He not know each one of us in the very core of who we are! He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows when days are going to be hard, and He knows when days will be smooth. God’s plan was for Steve and me to come together and make our two families ONE, God’s plan included the struggles we have faced and the laughter and tears we have shared with each other. Following God’s plan gave us blessings beyond measure.

Following God’s plan for my life gave me strength and wisdom to face every road I have traveled, and hopefully to travel those roads with strength and dignity.

“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25

I laugh, I love, and I cry but none of these are with fear of the future in my mind and heart; I laugh, I love, and I cry knowing God is my strength, and He knows my future! I will not be afraid!

I bow on my knees unto the Father . . .

that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith, that ye being rooted and grounded in love.

Job 37:5, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways: he does great things beyond our understanding.”

Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

Ephesians 3: 14 – 17, “For this cause I bow on my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.”

It is funny how the girl who always loved and believed in the ‘one true love’ myth, and that everyone should have the ‘happily-ever-after-love-story’ was actually beginning to believe that God’s plan included a second true love.

Steve and I had a strong connection from the very first phone call. So many things in common that just made the connection even stronger – our strong faith in God, our love for family, and our ability to laugh at life brought us together from the very first moment. With our very first date, we had a chance to see the laughter in the lighter moments in life. It was all quite funny, and just what was needed to help overcome any awkwardness that might have normally come with that first date.

Steve had been married before also. He had a daughter from his first marriage, and it was obvious from the beginning that she was the apple of his eye, just the way it should be with a father and his daughter.

From that first date, our romance was a whirlwind. We started dating in April, we were engaged in May, between June and August we sold two houses, and then began to build our new house. There were some moments in July though, that I began to doubt and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for moving on. I became incredibly quiet, and had a hard time communicating with Steve what I was feeling. I began to doubt God’s plan for Steve and me but was unsure how to tell Steve that and not lose him. I needed to talk with someone that knew Mike and would be able to tell me what I should do. I was so torn up with guilt and doubt that I did not think to stop and pray and talk to God. So, without saying anything to anyone, I got in my car and drove to Anderson, SC. A reality talk with my brother-in-law was just what I needed. He never minced words, he just laid it out there and gave you something to think about. In our conversation, he reminded me about a conversation that Mike and I had had a couple of years before his death. When Mike realized how dangerous his job was, he told me that if anything happened to him, I was to move on. I needed to find someone to love and someone for Patrick. Harry reminded me of how young I was, and that God did not intend for me to live the rest of my life without love. We talked about all the connections Steve and I had with each other, and we talked about how Steve made me feel when we were together. I remember Harry using the scripture that had resonated throughout my life, Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” His words were a great reminder of God’s plan for my life, a gentle reminder that in times of doubt and fear I need to go to God in prayer and supplication, and a lovely reminder that God had given me a second chance for true love and that I should run to it and hold onto it with Mike’s blessings. On the drive back home, all I could think of was another scripture that speaks of God and the marvelous things he does in our lives. Job 37:5, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways: he does great things beyond our understanding.” God’s voice was thundering in truly marvelous ways, and through this union of Steve and me, great things would be done beyond my understanding.

On August 27, 1988 we were married surrounded with the love and support of our family and friends. Even in the wedding there was a sense of this is right, this is what God planned. I was reminded once again how Isaiah 14:27, “Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life.” Not fears, not doubts, not guilt, not snags with selling and building houses, not even the speed at which everything was moving. It was meant to be. Our blended family with two children soon became ‘our’ family with three children. Our daughter was born in December of 1989, and from an early age it was obvious she was also part of God’s plan, and we became a family, not blended, just our family. Now 32 years later, we are still married, in love, and retired. We have three beautiful grown children, two loving daughters-in-law, and three wonderful grandchildren.

Throughout our 32 years together, I have often called Steve my ‘Knight in Shining Armor.’ Even though he is very humble and does not see himself that way, to me it is because he has always been there to rescue me, support me, encourage me, and to be my shoulder to cry on. About a year after we were married, I realized that I truly had not gone through all the grieving I needed to, as a result I began to feel a lot of anger and guilt. Steve was my rock! He understood every outburst, every tear, and every period of silence. He supported and loved me throughout a year of counseling. Later, when the hospital that my Mike worked at built a memorial in his honor, they invited our son to come and be a part of the program. Steve went with us, helped Patrick pick out a tree, and helped him plant the tree in his daddy’s honor. Even later, when my hometown built another memorial to honor all their fallen heroes, Steve was there with Patrick and me, holding us and helping us through the memories and the pain. When I was given a diagnosis of breast cancer about 17 years ago, Steve was there through all of it. He never left my side, and once again was my rock to lean on. When my mother had a stroke, and we had to make decisions about her care, Steve was the first one to say she is coming to live with us, and she lived with us for 6 years, until she passed away about 3 years ago. It was not just that he invited her to live with us, but he went the extra step and learned how to help with her care, her medicine, and even giving her shots. Steve and my mother had an incredibly special relationship, and for that I will be forever grateful. Her last six years were filled with family and love, both are things that meant so much to her. So, maybe it is just the romantic in me, the girl who has watched far too many romantic, happily-ever-after-movies, but Steve is my knight-in-shining-armor, my hero.

The love that Steve and I share has not always been easy, but it has always been worth every minute of blending our two families and creating memories to last a lifetime. I truly have been blessed with love in my life, and for that I will always be thankful. Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” The Lord has been my strength, my song, and my salvation throughout life, love, sadness, pain, and guilt. He is my God, and I will praise him, I will exalt him!