Friday, February 1, 2013

Life Songs

I've been so thankful for so much time to be quiet this week and spending time being my “quiet, contemplative self.” For the last several years, I've fought a sense of guilt about retiring early and my desires to stay at home and follow my heart to write the thoughts that crowd my brain each day. On days like this one, I find such solace and peace in who I am becoming. Once a part of the rat race and the anxiety of checking the coffee pot, my hair curlers and the status of my car windshield before heading out for a day, the serenity just feels right for me. I am finding myself less comfortable with crowds, lights and all that seems to thrill the world of today. I know I am to live in the tension between the two and bridge the gap by taking the strength I get from my quiet times into the world. But first I believe I must accept the “me” that loves this quiet place and remove myself from the guilt of being who God has called me to be in this part of my life.

This morning I received an email of Psalm 34 which begins with the words,

“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”

This Psalm of David's deliverance from his fears, his shame and all his troubles began to speak to my heart as I went for another cup of coffee. As I stood pouring the last of the coffee into my cup, I heard this old praise song in my mind. I say “old” because it is one that I learned upon first coming into a Pentecostal church in the early 80's. To that point in my life, I was only acquainted with hymns.

“Your loving kindness is better than life,

Your loving kindness is better than life,

My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee,

I will lift up my hands to Thy Name.”

As I thought about this Psalm and thanked God for his protection over my son and grandson in a wreck two days ago, I was reminded of God's faithful love to me as a mother and grandmother. In the quietness of my surroundings, no CD or Sirius or Internet radio, God had reminded me of His presence in my life since the day I went as a single mother to a new church with many needs and concerns. The memories of my children lifting their hands in praise for the first time were followed by memories of my first grandson's chubby arms lifted up in the balcony of this same sanctuary.


The songs have changed and I worship in a different sanctuary now, separate from my children and grandchildren. But no worries, because God continues to speak in the quietness to remind me of His faithfulness in so many ways. Because of this faithfulness, I trust He also speaks to my children and grandchildren in ways they can uniquely hear His voice.
In my own personal life, He speaks most frequently through scripture, music and nature. It's been the quiet days that have made that evident to me. I'm beginning to hear the “life songs” he sings to me and hear the “life verses” more clearly each passing year.


I absolutely love the music on Christian radio. Contemporary remakes of old hymns at my church do not offend me but I'm still moved deeply in my heart by hymns played on the organ at my home church when I was a girl. Sometimes when I'm praying, the tune will just come to me and I find myself singing the words of a familiar hymn. I'm learning there are certain hymns that return in certain seasons of my life. One of my favorites is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Once when I was a teen, I sang this with other young women in my Baptist church for radio. My daddy told everyone to listen to the show that day. To our surprise, the recording was faulty and we sounded like a men's group. After we recovered from the surprise, it became something we laughed about. How it came to be the most cherished hymn of my lifetime comes from something disappointing as do other songs I hold dear.

It is the same with Life Verses. I could never have imagined that Isaiah 30:18 would repeatedly come to my mind when adversity showed up in my life.


Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for Him!”

And in prayer this Word and covenant promise has become a part of the fiber of my being.


Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever! Amen!”

I could add others to my list of scriptures, hymns and songs of praise that continually come up in my heart during these times of quiet with Him. As I thought of the reason I wanted to share these thoughts today, I realized it is because I know there are those who haven't had the liberty to spend quiet mornings with no distractions. Mine are not always so.


There always is that challenge of making a choice. The choice to stand by the window and really watch the bird feeding her newborn baby or the cat waiting quietly then pouncing on its treasured find in the edge of the wood. Every morning and evening the sky puts on a show that declares the beauty of the Creator but we can often find ourselves grumbling over the stresses of the day and forget to just look up and see His handiwork.

One of my life songs has become an old hymn from my Baptist church hymnal, titled Be Thou My Vision. Sometimes I sing them as a prayer and I think God must love my attempt at musicality.

Be thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art,

Thou my best thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
He simply is our best thought day or night, but we even need His help to see our need for Him.

We are all so uniquely created to respond to Him in our own special ways. It only makes sense that He would give us each our own “life songs” and “life verses” and how beautiful is it that He knows what touches our individual hearts.

Today He has touched me with Psalm 34 as I was reminded to extol Him and give Him praise. The words of verse 3 say, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.” I'd love to hear some of your “life songs” and “life verses.” I have an idea that is how we are being made into His image. One beautiful promise, lyric, awareness of His creation at a time, we are becoming uniquely who He created us to be.

Today, let's let our “life songs” sing to Him in praise and adoration for who He is and how we are becoming more like Him.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Quick and Inexpensive Memory Keeper for Valentine's Day

If you're looking for a Valentine project that you and your children or grandchildren can complete together or even make as a gift for that special child in your life, I would like to share my idea in time for this Valentine's Day. It's a three ring binder filled with special things you and your child can collect over the next year or years, filled with memories and special times together. This is a gift that can continue to bless your children and grandchildren long after Valentine's Day is over. It only takes a few hours to complete. If you are a scrapbooker, you can use scraps of scrapbooking paper and stickers or pick up most of the materials for less than the price of most bags of candy these days.

Materials needed
Three ring binder
Color tabbed subject dividers
Scrapbook paper in desired colors
Stickers (Valentine preferred, but can use other types)
Glue, glue sticks or scrapbook adhesives you prefer)
Your own photographs
Notebook paper

Here is the one I made for my grandson

Front cover

My grandson likes to play Shark Tank and come up with inventions. He has filed his inventions behind this first divider. He enjoyed creating the lettering and the title of his first section. One day my little Valentine will invent something really special and perhaps create his own company or business!

We have always cooked together. I have shared a recipe from my own grandmother here along with a picture of my grandson making my dad's favorite strawberry cake. See the next picture for how we store the recipes.

I found these clear plastic three ring folders with velcro closures to store recipe cards with our favorite recipes. We have added recipes from our sleepover nights and those that are special to our family.

Behind this divider I put notebook paper where I have recorded some special thoughts and love notes to my special boy. Enough said... these are private.

Every week we have Neenie Day at my house. It's all about the grandchildren that day. Here I included pictures that remind us of some of the fun times we've shared together.

As you can see, it's not a fancy gift with lots of hours of work in the creating but there are lots of hours of fun and creativity recorded and kept within. We got them out yesterday and I realized they had been on the shelf too long. We need to bring them out for this Valentine's Day and add some new memories. Now, take a look at my grangirl's binder.

My little Valentine princess

Inside.... Will you be my Valentine? Check Yes___ or No___
What do you think the answer was?

Not sure what this little baker was about to make but I can predict she'll be taste testing the powdered sugsar before it goes into the oven. She's my little sweetheart and she absolutely loves cooking!

Her pink plastic folder for recipes.. including her all time favorite... Neenie's scrambled eggs.

Loved this picture taken from a birthday card I received from my sister... love to recycle..knowing this section may fill up more as she becomes older and wants to share things about her friends. Right now she's pretty satisfied to have family as her best friends....

Neenie Day with my girl has been happening for six years now. We have had loads of fun and lots of those scrambled eggs. I know we will go from high chairs and step stools to high heels and cooking for her own family, but we will have these memories that will last a lifetime.

And last but not least... meet my youngest grandson... My Funny Little Valentine... Baby D....

He's not bigenough to cook just yet. He lives two hours away and his visits are not as frequent but I'm taking photographs and looking for a binder to start his Valentine memory keeper. I can't wait until the first time he gets on the step stool and helps me bake a cake. Until then, I'm collecting materials and looking for just the right stickers to get started on his special project.

Since my first posting of this idea, I was able to cook with Baby D, who is no longer a baby. We've had the pleasure of making his birthday cupcakes together and at Christmas, he helped me make soup. This year, he'll get his Valentine notebook to fill with memories. Enjoy the photos of Neenie and Davis Britt.

Kiss the cook or kiss the oven, doesn't matter!
Getting his Neenie time...

Hope you have found some part of this project something you might try for your children or grandchildren. You certainly can make it as fancy as you like. This project is all about us and although it is simple and something made for just a few dollars, it holds heartfelt memories and times of love in one place.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Picture Prayers

This morning I opened the door to the frigid temperature only to close it and return to the chair where I pray each morning. After a time of talking to God and asking Him to protect those I love and thanking Him for all the times He's protected me, I began to reminisce about other times when the thermometer plunged into the 20s and 30s and winter weather caught us unawares. With all the predictions available to us even now, some things cannot be determined with certainty. It seems today was one of those, as sleet and snow arrived earlier than expected. In the south, this can create much anxiety for parents with school closings and drives to work that leave everyone unsure of what a day is going to hold.

This summer I was a bit surprised to see the term “matriarch” used to describe me to friends on Facebook. The truth is, I have become the matriarch of my own crew. My grandmothers and mother have been gone for some time and I am left to represent my own family as the eldest female member.

I'm settling into that title and today more than others, I find myself remembering my mother and can identify with her concerns for her family. Most of her life, my mother was a stay at home mom and was there at home when we were all forced to go out into the world, even on what she called “bitter cold” days like this one. She must have prayed for us on these days and I'm sure she must have found herself looking out windows or doors to check the status of the roads and waiting to hear we had all arrived home safely. I confess quite a few gazes out the window as I remembered the tug of war mothers and fathers faced with the dilemma of children/job responsibilities. A picture of myself slip/sliding down Pump Station Road in Kannapolis after school was officially closed and all the students had been picked up came to my mind. I couldn't remember where my child was at the time. Perhaps not even born yet. Our memories can become fuzzy as matriarchs. However, I won't forget to remember my safe arrival home!

Since I was not forced to go out to work today, I began reading Facebook posts by others who grew up in my hometown. “You know you're from Kannapolis when...” has become one of my favorite pages and today I found myself reading posts about years gone by. There were posts about icicles hanging from the roofs of houses on the “mill hill.” Someone posted a photo of “galoshes” they wore to school and another shared how some people put plastic on the windows at the beginning of winter. Suddenly, I realized how many winters and snow seasons I've seen and I exercised my memory muscles and pulled up a cache of pictures that are printed on my mind. Why not pull out some of my photos and share them with my friends? That's one thing I inherited from my mother, a love for photographs. My family knows I can sometimes annoy at family functions with all the snapping of photos. I see it as memories in the making. Perhaps one of these days my photos will make it onto the some newer form of social media. Who could imagine what that might be a half a century from now, the age of some of the photos I'm sharing?

In my memory bank, it seems there used to be far more snows in winter in this part of the south. I also might add that many mothers, like mine, were stay at home moms and many of us walked to school. I remember it being a time of much less concern during my childhood and teens. I lived on Central Drive in between two really great hills for sledding. Often we'd be out for hours, having to peel the gloves off our hands and warming them by the fireplace my daddy built during the coldest part of winter. Once it even snowed on my birthday, March 4th! Instead of the traditional cake, my mother baked a stack of Toll House chocolate chip cookies and put a candle on top. I've never needed a photo of this memory, as I remember the substitution of hot cocoa and cookies well. Some pictures are safely kept in our minds.

I do remember breaking icicles off our house and having a taste as well as my trusty rubber boots stacked with all our wet clothes by the door after a day outside with my brother, sister and friends. Photographs of my brother in snowsuit bring back memories of one who left us too soon. Then there's my grandmother, once the matriarch, wearing a scarf about her head and the plastic, snap on shoe covers she wore when she braved the cold with her grands in the snow March of '62. Fifty years of memories since this snapshot with a backdrop of bushes blanketed with snow.

And how could I forget the teachable moment as I helped kindergarteners spread peanut butter and bird seed on large pine cones from Southern Pines, NC as giant size snowflakes fell silently outside the pull out windows of McKnight Kindergarten?

Shouts of “It's snowing, let's hurry so the birds can eat their food!” Who could have timed it more perfectly? Something inside me felt warm as my daddy's fireplace, in spite of the anxieties about getting all those kids home. This memory came as I viewed a picture posted by one of my former students, now a teacher. Her students donned chef hats and had a cooking class shortly before being dismissed early from school today. One memory can birth another.

My season of life has changed and the setting has changed as well. Now I can include memories of grandchildren building tiny snowmen from the seemingly smaller snowfalls of the past ten years. There's only been one really large snowstorm in quite some time. Looking through more photos, I see a grandchild bundled up in a parent sandwich and remember a White Christmas just a couple of years ago. I see names traced in the snow and I see traces of love and happy times. For all the cares and concerns we can have when the winter season brings a mixture of the elements our way, there's beauty to be found if we just look for it. The quiet whisper of days gone by can be heard as well as the shouts of excitement right outside our window.

It has to be our perspective that creates that warm place in our hearts when it comes to seasons like winter and what we sometimes call “bad weather.” Perspective can be everything and I have come to know in this season of my life that hindsight is indeed 20/20.

As the matriarch of my family now, I want my words to reach forward to a day when my grandchildren might be facing days like today. Anxieties and bitter cold concerns will certainly come their way as they most likely did for the woman in snap on galoshes standing by me in the snow. There's something warm in a picture the heart remembers. Who can't read the joy on the face of a little brother who's obviously just hit big sis with a snowball or proud smiles peeping out from under tiny toboggans beside a miniature snowman? The rosy warmth of a baby boy squeezed between mommy and daddy are certain to provide some warm fuzzies for the chilliest days.


My photographs became my prayers today. I asked God to allow these words, these memories of our family and some of the brightness of my former days to drift down quietly into this frigid day and their future days. May they settle over them like a warm blanket. May the blessing of a picture or the sound of far away laughter come floating into their memories no matter whatever the season of life. May they always feel a warmth like their Papaw's fireplace burn in their hearts where they can go for respite on the coldest of days.