Dirty hands. Porcupine quills and the grace of gifts.

Dirty hands. Porcupine quills and the grace of gifts.

He had a sign on the front of his old work truck and it said Native American.  I called him Willie.  He was short with a long gray ponytail and he looked like Willie Nelson.  And for a few short months he worked on a construction site of the business where I worked.  I asked him if was a Native American–an Indian and his voice grew softer and he said, ‘Part.  My Grandmother was a full-blooded Sioux.

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My Daddy often stopped by where I worked during his lunch or in between factories and on this day Willie happened to be working inside the building and I introduced Daddy to Willie.

Daddy reached out his hand to shake Willie’s hand and he said, ‘You don’t want to shake my hand–it’s dirty.’  And my Daddy, his hand stood firm in mid-air and said, ‘That don’t bother me.’

Willie, he then stroked his hand on his worn blue jeans, trying to clean the dirt away and reached for Daddy’s hand. And the handshake, it was the union of two men much more alike than they realized–

And we all look back on memories and wish the moment would have lasted a little longer.

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What Willie didn’t know was my Daddy worked in some kind of maintenance work and electrical work all his life.  My Daddy’s hands–they never looked clean even though water ran through his fingers and cracks of hard work, daily.  His hands were rough, dry, chapped, strong.  

I miss watching my Daddy relate to people such as Willie.

Days later Willie walked in my office carrying a gift. ‘I brought you something.  It’s not much. You can hang it on your mirror in your car or you may not even want it.’

And he handed me this necklace with leather and orange, yellow, red, brown and white beads.  ‘The long white ones, those aren’t beads–those are porcupine quills  and my Grandmother made this.’

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Weeks passed and the construction done and Willie, he moved on to another construction site and I never saw or talked with him again.  And sadly, I don’t remember his real name.

The necklace–I did hang it on my car mirror and it rode along with me for many miles over the years until the quills grew weak and began to break.

And in a few days we will celebrate the holiday of gratitude.  Of giving thanks.  This reaching out to others.   Seeing two dirty hands gripped together in a bond that may only come around once.  The holding on to the treasure of a grandmother who with worn hands and fingers intricately weaved this gift–and then to reach deep and give it away.  

The hands on the clock are spinning.  Clouds are rolling in and there’s these acts of kindness in our lives that may seem to last for only a brief moment of our time. And we wish for just a second we could go back to only cling to the memory a litle tighter. 

And His grace, it comes in the smallest of gifts.  

 

Oil for my lamp

Oil for my lamp

I haven’t thought too much about the old oil lamp that used to sit on top of the dresser in my Grandpa and Grandma’s bedroom.    The clear glass lamp was always filled with red oil–ready to be lit along with just enough wick to light a flame.

Me and my brothers, we would sometimes get in trouble if we messed with the lamp.  Our Grandma was afraid we may break it and get cut. And our Grandpa, he yelled at us because we would sneak and roll the wick up too high.

Since our Grandparents died, the lamp has been resting in my kitchen for years, the base filled with potpourri.  I washed the lamp a few weeks ago–the roller rusted with age. And I removed the potpourri and placed it back on the shelf.

And the emptiness of the lamp was just what it was—empty.

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Many years ago I was serving in my church as the Sunday School teacher for the four and five year old class. And it was my Sunday to teach.  Lesson number 16–The Parable of the Ten Virgins.  I was a little hesitant–no, I was A LOT hesitant about teaching this lesson.  I wanted to call the other teacher and tell her we were skipping lesson number 16 and move on to the next one.  I wondered how the children would react when the wise virgins wouldn’t share their oil with the foolish ones among other questions  But not once did they question God’s story.

Never once have I had one child ask me how God makes rainbows…how all of the animals fit on the ark…how Jonah survived in the belly of the fish…or how a rock could kill a giant.  Children are like that–they believe with a much larger faith. 

It’s been a while since I read the scriptures written in lesson number 16.  And maybe it’s because the hollow of the lamp and the lack of oil and the lack of the wick that I have been thinking hard about the ten wise and the ten foolish.

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And really, thinking back…why would the children even ask about the sharing… the parable has nothing to do with the sharing of the oil.  It’s the diligent faith. The watching.  The waiting.  The preparing for the coming of the Lamp.   And five were ready and five were not.  

For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.  

2 Samuel 22:29 

And with a kindness only found in the local hardware store where wood floors sing old songs–he said, ‘may I help you find something?’ 

‘Yes, please.  I need a new wick and oil for my lamp.’

And the flame in the old lamp still burns bright and warm after all these years, and the bitter wind whispers in the dark, winter’s coming.  And the glory of the Lamp–it will never dull or grow dim for the path will always be lit by His flame.

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. Matthew 25:13

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Tomorrow may not come, but today is still here.

Tomorrow may not come, but today is still here.

He sits on the corner near the newly planted city street tree.  And his dog is draped on his lap like a warm pillow—a place to lay his weary head—his troubles.  The busy of the people, they’re carrying their five-dollar cups of coffee and he, he bows his head leaning closer to the warm of his companion.

And this bus ride seems to go on forever—ten hours is a long time when you are yearning for home.  Cornfields are waiting patiently, ready for harvest.  Clouds are rising from the valley and a flock of birds pepper the roof of a weathered black barn with green trim.

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He stood on his tip toes to see his great-grandmother as her body laid in her earthly casket.  He rubbed his face trying to hide the sad. And we all know the heart of a child is smaller in size, but that doesn’t mean the break is any less filled with hurt.  And their tears may not be as many, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as heavy.

The anniversary card with the red rose and the words written, I love you was the card he chose as he stood alone in the sea of greeting cards.  His feeble hand trembled as he opened the card to read the message inside.

How is it that tears can come so fast from an overflowing of the heart? And why is it that on some of our hardest days God places our footsteps in the paths of blessings?

But the thing about these footsteps—the seeing with our eyes—the tears that flow straight from an overwhelmed heart—grasping a blessing by reaching out to others in need— There are only so many moments that God will allow these in our lives—

And when we stop seeing, when we stop feeling, when we stop reaching out in love and giving—we stop living.

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I heard a Christian author speak these words. She said, ‘I don’t want to stand before Jesus one day knowing I could have done something and I let fear or my choice to remain silent be my excuse.’

James wrote, Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14,KJV)

Peter wrote, For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: (1 Peter 1:24, KJV).

And the psalmist David wrote, So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12).

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The choir sings loud Sweet Beulah Land and her great-grandson sits quietly between his Mama and Grandpa–his tiny hand cleans the water from his face. The lyrics in the song, although I have heard it a thousand times, it’s like I am hearing it for the first time, “For time won’t matter anymore.”  And the pastor spoke of her 60 years of service to their church and held up the Bible she had given to him many years ago.  He said she was like that.  Giving.  She was always giving small gifts to others.

 

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I reach for my phone to read there is a wreck up ahead on the road we are traveling—a fatality has already been reported—someone’s husband, grandpa, daddy, son.  I tell the bus driver of the detour.

Tomorrow may not come, but today is still here. And what we do today is what matters—not what we plan to do tomorrow.  Because a life worth any kind of living can never be lived fully without the outpouring of giving.

And sunset comes. The old barns along the side of the road adorned with their worn tin roofs—wearing their age with grace, they disappear into the darkness.  And with every mile we are aging.

All photos are copyright of author and A Beautiful Grace

 

 

 

 

 

Giving in the quiet

He or she…I have never seen their face.  But this person they drive in and out of my neighborhood in the early morning–delivering newspapers.  And on more mornings than not, I stand at my kitchen window waiting for the last drip of caffeine to splash dark in my cup.  The cup that looks like sunshine–the cup my dear friend gave me.  The cup that says “A friend loves at all times”, Proverbs 17:17.  

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The delivery person, he or she, they slow and honestly I thought the person was trying to avoid the neighbors’ dogs who like to think they are more the speed control dogs–no one can go too fast with them guarding the road–barking.   But this 4-wheel drive, the dogs treat it a little different–less harsh,  never barking or darting out in front of it.

What is this delivery person doing, I thought. And then I watch as the vehicle comes to a complete stop.  The window rolls down, a hand reaches low and the two dogs—they walk away with dog treats.  And I have not witnessed this just one time, but on several different occasions.  This act of kindness, of giving. 

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They said we do this every Saturday morning.  The Topsail Island Sea Turtle Patrol. Every nest along the beach–every Saturday morning.  They secure the posts–clean the runway–rake away any trash or obstacle that could hinder a baby turtle from reaching the ocean.

Turtle eggs take anywhere from 45-90 days for the babies to hatch.  That’s as much as 13 Saturdays of time given. And the closer to the time of the hatching of the eggs these givers, they camp out at dusk every evening and they wait for the babies to dig their way out of the sand and make their way home to the sea.

The members of the Patrol, they give.

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These quiet givers. They see a need, a place where they can make a difference and they give.  And this doesn’t just happen on beaches or on rural roads.  These silent givers give to our children at schools, on school buses, to our sick and hurting in hospitals, rest homes, churches….

And there are no trophies or fanfare for these givers. No plague on a wall or buildings named in their honor. No public applause. There is only the sound of quiet–of selfless surrender.  

The changing of the season is near and fall is upon us.  The leaves on the trees have shined their brightest, the deepest of greens, and soon many will dance their slow descent before their skin can transcend into orange and reds and purples.

And on this evening there’s this lone leaf slowly spinning in the air and I cup my hands reaching and it twirls away from me landing softly on the ground and there on the green grass lies this heart.  The heart, it reminds me of the faceless and nameless, the givers who reach out their hands and hearts in kindness and expect nothing in return.  

And God, the greatest of all givers–with His gentle breath, in the quietness–He gives.  

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He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not his mouth.  Isaiah 53:7

 

 

 

 

 

His prayer–Her fancy cap and it’s one year later. Today.

His prayer–Her fancy cap and it’s one year later. Today.

He stood at the end of my bed and said, ‘I ask my patients if they would like for me to say a prayer before surgery, so would you want me to pray?’ And I answered yes, most definitely.  I knew he was going to ask.  The nurse had told me earlier that morning what a good Christian man my surgeon was and what a great doctor I had.

He prayed a humble prayer and gave thanks for many things I had taken for granted.  Thanks for the hospital. Thanks for the opportunities to serve and trust in the everyday trials.  And so much more. Amen.

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He told my daughter he would be back to talk to her once the surgery was over. And he walked out of the room–this gentle man of faith.

My heart began to beat a little stronger knowing it was almost time.  I can’t say I wasn’t nervous–never having surgery–my first time of being sedated–put to sleep.  But there was also this calm and the worry seem to fade.

A petite woman entered my room–in scrubs and of course her plastic surgical cap.  She had one for me and I said, are you going to make me wear a fancy cap like yours and her smile brightened even more and said, ‘oh yes.  This one is the latest in designer fashion.’ And they got me ready to roll me into surgery.  I remember telling my daughter not to worry as a tear rolled down her cheek.

One year ago today.

And months later began the 30 consecutive days of the burning treatments of radiation.

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I watched as this lady walked out on the sand–the beach almost bare as the skies grew more dim at the close of the day.  She stood in this one area for the longest of moments.  Then she looked out over the ocean as in deep thought.   And I thought to myself, what is her story?  She seemed so sad.  Why was she so lost in her thoughts?  Alone. And I felt somewhat like an intruder from a distance.

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The next evening watching the sun fall I see a small group of people walk over the dunes, a family all dressed up in flowing whites and jeans. At first I assumed it was a beach photo shoot and then as I keep watching a bride appears escorted by her son to a bearded man that awaits with smiles that can be seen for miles.  I run back into our house and tell my family–there’s a wedding on the beach!  And here we are all silent on the deck watching as they pray.  As they hold hands.  We watch as they draw each other close in love. And the bearded groom he raises his clenched hand to heaven and gives thanks once again and my family, we all clap in joy.

I knew it! I said to my son.  That’s the same woman who was out on the beach last night.  Alone in her thoughts.  I knew she had a story.  And maybe it wasn’t as I had thought–of sadness but more of the shedding of pain from days long ago for the allowing of joy to come.

It’s still hard for me to say out loud, I am a breast cancer survivor.  But we are all survivors in many ways–all fighting our own battles–some stories seen, lived out loud and some not. But the goodness of God’s mercy and having those surround you–loving you–lifting you in prayer–that is not merely surviving. It is so much more. It is His grace.

And gratitude comes most abundantly in the wearing of scars.  And joy does come in the morning.

It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23, KJV

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Psalms 30:5, KJV

 

 

 

 

 

Misfit Women of the Bible: I Can’t Make You Love Me. Leah and Rachel

Misfit Women of the Bible: I Can’t Make You Love Me. Leah and Rachel

Listening to the words over and over, the repeat button was all too familiar. And the words to the song, there were like slow stabs to the heart. “Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” Bonnie Raitt, you sing the words like you know. Like you know how it feels to sit in a pitch dark office alone and sob. Like you know how despair can lead you to drive through a rainstorm of tears to the church, run to the altar in the dark of night and cry out to God during the brokenness. You sing like you know, Bonnie.

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Her name was Leah, the oldest and less attractive daughter of Laban. His firstborn. Rachel’s older sister. And she was given as a bride in secret to a man by her father. A man named Jacob–a man who would never truly love her.

Her outward appearance—she was “tender-eyed” as scriptures describe her and her younger sister’s appearance, “beautiful and well-favored”. In the Hebrew language, the word tender-eyed is noted as weak. If we think about weak eyes today, most often we relate this to a person’s poor eyesight and the need for glasses.

However, the only description the Bible gives us of Leah’s physical appearance relates to her eyes. As we imagine her appearance she could have suffered from swollen or red eyes due to sand irritation or large eyes or even cross-eyed. Whatever the reason, we compare this tender-eyed, older woman to the beautiful younger sister. And it’s much easier to imagine in our mind beauty and youth, rather than abnormal eyes and the adjective, older, which sometimes seems as long-forgotten.

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For seven years Leah watched Jacob’s love grow for her younger sister. She stood on the sidelines as he labored for her sister, day and night. She watched as they would share giggles and maybe even share a secret kiss. She listened as they talked about their future children, their home, their hopes, their dreams. And I am sure she wondered when will my time come for love such as this? Where is my prince?

Seven years past and finally the big day came for Rachel. Her wedding day. And Laban approaches Leah with his despicable plan. Did Leah know about this beforehand? Was she forced by her father to obey him and go along with his cruelty? Was she so envious of her sister she wanted to hurt her?

As she took one last look in the mirror before pulling her veil over her face to hide her imperfections and her tears, did these words whisper in her heart as she tried to make excuses for her actions —‘my sister won’t have any problems finding another husband. She’s beautiful and young and this may be my last chance. This may be my only opportunity to have a husband, children. He will love me, I know he will. I can make him love me. I can make him forget about Rachel. In time.

Where was Rachel during the feast? Where was Rachel while her love she had waited anxiously for seven years lay with her sister? The Bible doesn’t reveal to us all of the story but what we do know is time started again for Jacob. Seven more years he worked for his father-in-law and as promised, Laban gave his youngest daughter Rachel to be Jacob’s wife, because “he loved also Rachel more than Leah” (Genesis 29:30). 

Seven years is a long time to allow hatred and envy to grow in one’s heart toward another. And it grew between the sisters. But God saw Leah’s affliction, He saw her desperation. He also saw she needed someone to love and someone to call her own.
And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.” (Genesis 29:31). 

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_DSC0523Leah’s childbearing began with the birth of Reuben, followed by the birth of Simeon and Levi.

“And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” (Genesis 29:31)

And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.” (vs. 33)
“And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.” (vs. 34).

Do you hear an echo in Leah’s voice after the birth of Reuben, Levi?

Leah saw the gift of her three sons, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi as God’s rewards for her suffering. But then look closer to the words from her heart after the birth of Reuben and Levi, “now therefore my husband will love me” and “now this time will my husband be joined unto me.” Leah was searching for anything she could do to make her bond with Jacob stronger, something that could win the love of her husband.

There have been many young girls who have whispered these words—maybe, just maybe, if I give myself to him, all of myself….then he will love me and forget about all of the other girls. A baby will finally bond us as a couple and we will live happily ever after, our little family.

And older women have not been immune to this behavior. Maybe, just maybe, a new dress, lose that extra 10 pounds, get a new haircut, then he will see me with different eyes, a different heart.

We have all searched for love. A love lost. Acceptance. And not just women in search of a love, but children in search of a parent’s love or a mother or father in search of a child’s love. To finally be given a chance for that promotion. To be appreciated, noticed…anything. We have all made wrong choices in the pursuit of belonging.

And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.” (Gen. 29:35)

Finally Leah, finally! Now she praises the Lord!

Without hesitation, she gives God the glory. And for the first time she didn’t speak of her desire for her husband’s love. No, maybe this will be the child who brings me closer to Jacob. No, possibly this is the one. But all her praise, she gave to God.

As we read this story we are drawn to place all of our sympathy on Leah, but what about Rachel. Rachel watched as her sister shared a bed with a man that was promised to her and she watched as their family grew. And day after day, her womb—barren. We judge from the outside—Rachel had the love of her life, beautiful—she had everything, to those looking from the outside. She too was hurting, wounded. It is often times hard for us mothers to see the brokenness of the heart of a woman who longs for a child to grow in her womb.

Rachel resented her sister so much she approached Jacob and uttered these words of desperation, “Give me children, or else I die.” (Genesis 30:1).

And these words angered Jacob. So Rachel stole a chapter out of Sarai’s story and took matters into her own hands rather than waiting on God’s timing. Rachel gave Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah. “And Rachel said, “With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.” (Genesis 30:8).

Then Leah was left barren and what did she do, follow her sister’s game plan! She gave Zilpah, her handmaid to Jacob, who bare him two sons. What a tangled web of jealousy and strife we weave…to the point of using others with no regard for their feelings. It was only what the sisters desired and in turn they used their handmaids.

God, even in the midst of blame, jealousy, hatred, and reprimand between the two sisters, He remembered both of them. God blessed Leah with seven children of her own, six sons and her last child, her daughter Dinah. After the birth of her sixth child, Zebulun, Leah, once more spoke these words, “now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons.” (Genesis 30:20).

And Jacob didn’t leave Rachel or Leah, and neither did God.

And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The Lord shall add to me another son.”

His name was Joseph. And in later years God blessed Rachel again with another son, Benjamin.

In the story of Leah and Rachel, we see them both at different times as the villain as well as the victim. We also see jealousy and envy in the story of their sons when Leah’s sons, Reuben and Judah threw Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn into the deep pit, stripped him of his clothes, left him to die, and then later sold him as a slave–an evil act of hatred from brothers who shared their father’s blood.  But once again God turns their story into one of grace and forgiveness.

Leah knew from the beginning Jacob’s love was steadfast for her sister. And even though she never became Jacob’s chosen, she was one of God’s chosen. There are many times I am certain Leah felted defeated. She wanted to run away, quit, give up. But she didn’t. She learned to not dwell on her wants or even what she didn’t have. She turned to the most High and God blessed her. Her children–they were her shining crown. Her love.

God’s word tells us that Jacob buried Leah in the cave in the field of Machpelah in Canaan with his grandfather and grandmother, Abraham and Sarah, and his father and mother, Isaac and Rebekah. “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.” (Genesis 49:31)

And that, in itself was an honor and tribute to Leah–Jacob’s wife and the mother of his children. One of God’s daughter. 

Second in the Series–Misfit Women of the Bible

All photos and writing are copyright of the author. 

 

I think I will just throw my hands up and quit…..my Mama said this often.

I think I will just throw my hands up and quit…..my Mama said this often.

I think I will just throw my hands up and quit…..that’s what I heard my Mama say and sometimes she said it often.

You see raising two boys and a girl who was a tomboy–all of us two years apart and then another baby girl nine years younger than my youngest of baby brothers—most days for our Mama were not for the faint of heart.

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In the summer time it was rare if my Mama missed a week in the ER with one of my brothers.  There was this one time when one of my brothers had watched a little too much of Evil Kinevel one Saturday on our three-channel televison set.  It wasn’t long after watching the show he had a grand ideal. My brother went right out into our driveway where a man with a big dump truck had unloaded a pile of gravel for my Daddy.  And my brother–which I will not name the one who did this, he built him a ramp of old boards and with his supped up spider bike tried to clear that huge mound of rocks.  And me and my other siblings were off to my grandmother’s house and my Mama and my brother to the ER.

And there was another time when and again I won’t name names–one of my brothers decided he would tape 50 firecrackers together and light them all up at the same time.  Needless to say he was the one who was lit up the most–and another trip to the ER.  And on one occasion one of my brothers decided to it would be cool to stick his fingers into the spokes of his upside down bicycle wheel while it was turning at full speed.  Not good.  My grandmother then called my Mama at work and off they went to the friendly hospital.  My brother with his hand wrapped up in a large towel and my grandmother almost in a panic.

Blood and stitches–they didn’t mix well with our Mama and because she was a frequent flyer in the ER they knew her well and prepared for her to pass out at any given time while stitching up my brothers and sister’s cuts and wounds.

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Mama and baby

It wasn’t that I didn’t ever get hurt–I did.  But never did I have to require a trip to the ER for stitches. Although one time I did cause my little sister a trip to the ER to have stitches just above her eye.  It wasn’t my fault.  The story goes like this—every night after supper we would hit the ball field with my Daddy.  The ball field, meaning our front yard.  We had three trees for bases and home plate was right in front of the window–the big window we called the picture window.  I was warming up in the batter’s box and my bat connected with my sister’s head who was a toddler at the time.  She claims I did it on purpose.  But everybody knows you don’t walk up behind someone when they are warming up to step into the batter’s box.  It wasn’t a hard hit–but enough to cause a cut–one that required stitches.  

Back to the picture window.  My Mama is not the athletic type, her gifts are in the creative.  She never joined us for our athletic events in the front yard.  It was her sewing time. I am sure our after dinner baseball games gave her some much needed stress relief in that sewing chair.  She sewed a lot while we were growing up. Her sewing chair always sat in front of the big window.  So one night she was sitting in her comfy chair stitching away on some curtains and the baseball that one of my brothers fouled off cracked through the window and landed right in her lap full of half-sewn curtains.  And the picture window was no more for a few days. 

But the thing was about that foul ball and the broken window–my Daddy told my Mama he did it.  And I argued with him.  No it was ….., one of my baby brothers.  But Daddy took the blame.  Something I will never forget.   Don’t get me wrong, we broke out several other windows during my childhood with foul balls, wild pitches, and wrong infield defensive plays but we never broke the big picture window but once. The other times we broke out the small windows—me and my brothers and we took the share of the blame.  And Daddy, he would keep on replacing windows and Mama, she kept on sewing to pay for the glass. 

And this is just a short glimpse into our childhood.  Our teenage years–I won’t go there but my Mama’s frustration at times, it was like a broken record.  Throw my hands up and quit, she would say.  And honestly looking back we gave her plenty of reasons to want to quit.  But she never did.

Mama, Happy Mother’s Day!  I’m glad you didn’t quit on us.