Finding Splendor in Time

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I dug up the rocks and plopped them in a bucket, leaving digits in our front yard. Churned up over and over by the farmers in the hopes our soil would eventually swallow them, but the stubborn rocks still prevented the football games I’d imagined here. I stretched the kink out of my back, as my husband, the builder, wants to take my picture. I pose with my shovel.

“My country girl.” He laughed and shook his head, not understanding why I like to play in the dirt. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of gal, while he’s a “we’ll just hire someone to do it” kind of guy, but somehow in our zooming twenty years of marriage, we fit like the soil hardened around those large rocks jutting my yard.

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Bella joined me. I told her to search for dinosaur bones, and she’s delighted.

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The next day, Colin and I drove the ATV to the river to look for fossils. I’d read shark teeth were found there. We dug in spots at the edge of the dark water only finding the treasure of each other again.

“Momma, we need to get a metal detector. Imagine the pirate treasure that could’ve washed up here from the ocean,” he said. Several times metal detector comes up as Colin often does when his pubescent mind wants something.

“Colin, you need to learn to live in the moment God puts in front of you, instead of yearning for something better.” I found a piece of driftwood. “Here, look for driftwood if you’re tired of digging in the sand.”

“But it’s just wood,” Colin said.

“It’s a piece of art, wood that is shaped and preserved by the salty waters.”

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We hiked along the beach and woods searching for nature’s art, spotting large cat tracks, coyote, raccoon, deer, wild hog along the way. A wildland recorded as scary to the white settlers. A place the Native American’s hid. A land we love. He made me laugh. A twig snaps. We spun around. My middle son Christian snuck up on us in full camouflage.

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“You guys need to clear out by 6:30pm,” he said walking toward us. “I’m hunting wild hog tonight.”

I stepped back knowing he’ll scold me for wearing perfume and leaving a trail along the beach. He walked on without noticing.

“How much time do we have?” I said.

Colin glanced at his phone. “Twenty minutes.”

I sighed.

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Our twentieth wedding anniversary snuck up on me this week. Earlier, Jay suggested dinner out. It seemed casual. We glanced at our sick Bella on the sofa snuggled with Nick, my eldest son. The builder wanted time… my time. I agreed to go.

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He pulled into the Ritz at Amelia Island. “Can’t we go to some small seafood place on the beach?  Someplace dark and intimate.”

“Nope, it’s a special night tonight,” he said.

We sat in the lounge. My black pants were a little short as my ankles peeked out. It was too cold for the dress I bought. I tugged my pants down to touch my ankle boots. He handed me a glass and we toasted our twenty years. The guitar player played our song, Someone to Watch Over Me. Gershwin’s words bring my late twenties with them. I didn’t think I needed him then. I just wanted him.

Today, I know I need him to watch over. He shoves the gun and radio in my hand before I head to the woods, while I roll my eyes. He yells at me as I dive off the ATV when it starts to tip over. While I never worry about dangers, he keeps a lookout. While I like to do the work, he tries to make life easier by hiring the help.

At the Ritz, he kneeled on one knee. His lip quivered. He opened a box. I stared at the contents afraid to touch the too much. “Will you have me another twenty years?” he said. Tears filled his eyes. He was more nervous than he was asking me the first time. He’s tried to build a perfect moment.

I lifted my weathered hand… artist and mother…hands that are washed too much. He slipped the ring on my finger, and I saw the remnants of our dig still under my nails after all the brushing. I’m embarrassed.

“That’s your original diamond, just a new setting. I built it myself.” He’s proud. I told him I’m relieved he didn’t trade up my diamond. “I wanted to build on our foundation,” he said.

I glanced at the ring and see my ankles sticking out again. I remembered the scolding I gave Colin to enjoy the moment in front of him. I forget my fingernails. Stopped tugging at my pants. Gratefulness pinks my cheeks. I lowered my hand and looked at my treasure. A treasure I found drifting by when I was picking in the dirt of my career. In him, I’ve found splendor in the grasses of time, in the plucking out the rocks so the roots of love grow deep, and in the simple moments that drift by.  

He lowered his glass. “I reserved a room on the ocean, but since Bella’s sick I didn’t think you’d want to stay the night, but we can get room service. Spend some time alone before going back.”

I smiled. “That sounds perfect.”

 

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I’m Full of Bull!

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At the farm, there’s a gentle bull in the pasture behind our house. Some mornings he’s standing there by the fence looking through the french doors at me. I step out onto the porch and sweet talk him. If we’re by the fence, he’ll trot over and without warning give you a lick across the face and neck with his enormous tongue.  It’s gross, but you can’t help but walk away feeling loved and a bit sticky. He’s a new Brahman bull the farm has acquired from a ranch in Texas.

While the other bulls buck each other over territory and food, he meanders away, not wanting to participate in the conflict. He not only stands out from the herd in behavior but in his appearance as well. He is pale in color and has an enormous hump on his back that looks burdensome and painful to carry.

            I’ve nicknamed him Ferdinand after the once controversial classic children’s story, The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf.  Ferdinand is a bull who’d rather smell flowers in the paddock than fight with the others. It’s a Bella fav.

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I find it intriguing how much we can learn from a bull. His breed is named after the Brahmins who were Hindu priests. It’s ironic considering the Brahman is looked upon as sacred in India, the Brahman breed is the largest source of meat for carnivores today. Due to their thick skin, they are resistant to extreme heat and pestilence. They also do well in extremely cold temperatures.

Traditionally, the Brahman bull is used in a sport called Bull-butting. It is a ferocious game between two bulls until one falls to the ground disabled or gives up and retreats. To prepare for their sport, their bodies are strengthened on a diet of milk and honey. It is beyond my comprehension how so many people enjoy watching sports involving hurting animals. If there’s one thing I would change about this world, it is purposely hurting the defenseless for pleasure, power, or convenience.

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Yet, we have become a world of bullies haven’t we? One can scroll through Facebook and find political rantings written in a way that shames those who have a different viewpoint on the matter.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything political or responded to anyone’s comments. God impressed upon me it’s not my place, for I’m His. He doesn’t want me to lose my clout by being a lout (sort of speak. I tried here.)  I’ve been obedient, but I admit, some days it’s not easy. I pursued a Political Science degree in college, and I was raised in a very political family that loves a good debate, but then there’s Jesus. He didn’t waste breath or influence on politics. Although He had the power to overthrow the Roman government, He used his energy and His influence on Kingdom work alone. I love that about Him!

 

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There is also body-shaming going on throughout social media. It’s another kind of bullying it’s just hidden under self-promotion. I was blessed to see what that does to a woman whose breast was chopped off, whose hair and eyelashes had fallen out, and who felt she lost everything that made her a woman. My sister Tricia died of breast cancer in 2014. One night, I found her sitting on the bed staring at a friend’s sexy pictures with tears in her eyes.

“She’s supposed to be a Christian,” she said. “Does she even know how this feels to someone like me?”

I snatched her phone away. “That’s it!” I said. “We’re having a friend deleting party!” I deleted all the women from her friend file who made her feel inadequate. You see, the enemy tried to use those pictures to steal her light, but he didn’t win.

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I say I am blessed to have witnessed this because it gave me a love for women and their struggles. I know the women who reveal their bikini-ready bodies, are not thinking about how this affects women who are hurting, women who can’t lose weight, women who are sick, women whose husbands find them unattractive, but I plead on their behalf that you remember to love them by considering their feelings. We need to be more outward- focused in a world focused inward.

On the flip side, we Christians have to stop being so easily offended. We tend to live with our hearts outside our chest, which causes them to get bruised and banged up. In defense, we want to stand up for ourselves or our Lord, while God is saying “it’d be better for you to get out of My way.” There have been times I’ve wanted to stand up for myself because I felt attacked or accused unfairly, but you know what? God’s got my back.

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We as Christians should carry our cross of self-denial like Ferdinand carries that large hump on his back. We should learn from a gentle bull not to bothered by the heat of politics or the pestilence of a self-obsessed culture. Just as he gives kisses to a carnivore like me, we should be willing to love those undeserving as well. When we see some bucking going on, it’s best to get out of the way and mind your own Kingdom-building business. The cold don’t bother Ferdinand, so don’t let the times people are cold bother you. Allow God to thicken up your skin and see yourself through His eyes.

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Momma often rolled her eyes and said “Bull!” when she felt we fed her a tall tale, or she used the cliche’ “He’s full of bull,” meaning he’s full of you know what (wink). I no longer subscribe to those cliches. Don’t go offending my bull now, Momma! In the case of Ferdinand, I hope someone thinks I’m full of bull, for he’s a bull with a lot of heart. See you soon Ferdinand.

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Far Reaching Branches

There is a citrus tree in my garden, although one would never know, for it has yet to produce a single piece of fruit. One day feeling green, I stuck the roots in a hole and filled in the dirt around the base. Standing back, I wiped the soil on my jeans, and admired my twig, before walking away. That is the extent of the care I’ve given my fruit tree.
“Baby, you do realize you’ve placed a citrus tree in a small corner of the garden. It needs light and space to grow.” My husband said, six months later.
I called the neighbors attempting to find new parents for my tree.
“It’s a good little tree. Won’t be a nuisance whatsoever. All it needs is a yard with plenty of sunshine. It will give you plenty of citrus fruit.” I said.
“What kind of citrus?” A neighbor asked.
“Um…I don’t know. The citrusy kind I guess.”
There were no takers.
Two years later, it grows wildly it’s many limbs spiral over the pavers and back again. I imagine it’s stretching it’s arms out, in attempt to wiggle out of it’s small space, but it’s produced no fruit, for all of it’s energy has gone into the limbs…into the reaching.
Jesus used an illustration of the grape vine when teaching the disciples. In John 15 he said, “I am the true grapevine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (NLT verse 1-3)
“Yes, I am the vine you are the branches. Those who remain (abide) in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain (abide) in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” (NLT vs 5-6)
There is no real spiritual fruit in your life apart from Jesus.
The vine feeds the branches, and God the gardener takes care to cut off branches that are not producing.
Looking back, there have been times in my life where my branches sprawled all over, I’ve had my attention reaching out to perform good deeds, buying the latest, and performing for the approval of man. I’ve scattered my attention so broadly, I’ve neglected my personal walk with Jesus. Today, I wonder if any of those deeds produced fruit at all.
Multiple times, God has walked the garden of my marriage and chopped away things that produce void. He has taken away relationships that drove us towards materialism. He removed things that have kept us from depending on Him as a couple. With those vast branches detached our limbs point upward, and our hearts yearn for a smaller life…a simpler life. Little by little…chunk by chunk…He cut away the weight that tore our attention away from our vine Jesus.
Our branches unburdened by the useless weight of this world feel true freedom to grow fruit.

True freedom is found only in the will of our Lord.
I walked through the garden this morning, and found my landscapers felt pity on me and cut back my fruit tree. A beam of sunshine shot through the shadows and flittered over it’s crown. We will see if fruit can grow in small spaces.
I think it can.

Personal Application: Are you finding your limbs spreading out over the earth reaching for empty activities, materials, or destructive relationships? A fulfilled, meaningful life is a life attached to the true vine Jesus Christ. If you haven’t accepted Christ, you haven’t experienced true freedom. Today ask Christ to take your life and fill it with Him. Know that Jesus died for you… YOU…no matter what you’ve done…no matter who you are… He loves you, He knows you, and He wants you. He wants to attach you to Him and give you a fuller life, a life filled with promise, hope, and a purpose.

Finding Contentment in the Dark Part 2

Phillipians 4:12-13
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
I finished nursing my infant, laid him in his bassinet, and reached for my suitcase. I was going to run for it… escape in the cover of night. This was not the motherhood I signed up for, and my sanity was at stake. My baby cried day and night from colic, before falling asleep in the wee hours of morning. He threw up all day, sometimes projectile style, giving Mommy a taste, and if that was not enough that week the pediatrician peered suspiciously over the growth chart, “And… how often did you say you are feeding him?” she asked.
Let’s just say he nursed so often, I barely had time to slop on the utter cream before he rooted me again.
He was failing to gain weight and I was failing motherhood.
In one year, I had everything I thought I wanted, a beautiful home with a pool, new furniture, a new husband, a new dog, a new town, a new name, and on the day of our one year anniversary a new baby….It was maddening!
I missed my old life, coffee with colleagues, the satisfaction of achievement, wandering the beaches of the Tampa Bay, My worn sofa in my own apartment, and most of all… freedom. The first year of marriage, Jay and I drifted down the inter-coastal of marriage fighting over who would man the oars.
When Nick was a few weeks old a friend asked, “I bet you can’t imagine your life without Nicklaus in it?”
I plastered a blissful look on my face and said, “I had no life before him.”
Meanwhile every fiber of my being screamed, “Somebody give me my life back and while you’re at it, I’d like my bootie back too!”

I was discontent.

The word contentment as defined by the world is “A state of happiness and satisfaction.” I would argue God’s definition is slightly different. According the Holman Bible Dictionary contentment is “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances”
In 2013 a Harris Poll revealed only 1 in 3 Americans consider themselves very happy or very content.

Today, I’ve noticed a rise in restlessness among women. Those that seem to have it all, the nice cars, the big house, the great kids, seem to be the most dissatisfied with their life. In my experience, having it “all” didn’t equal contentment as one would think, because I was looking for contentment outside of myself. It is not your circumstances that produce peace. I found three actions I needed to take in order to bring my life into state of contentment.

I.. Identifying your Purpose:
God blessed me with a purpose greater than myself and He trusted me with a baby. He had more faith in my abilities, than I could muster in myself. During those difficult months, as I carried that screaming infant around in my arms, I often wondered, what was God thinking giving him to me? I didn’t realize at the time, there was a new purpose in my life. You have to realize your purpose, and if you don’t have one, ask God to reveal it to you.

II. Fill your Spiritual Well.
I was empty. Those first years, I was a Sunday Christian. I neglected my quiet time and veered away from God’s guidance. I was stepping out on my own, and attempting to mother in my own power. When you are lacking in your personal walk with Christ, you can expect the fruits of the Spirit to weaken within you. I was impatient with my baby and husband. I lacked peace, self control, long suffering, and love.
Several nights practically tossing Nicklaus into Jay’s arms and yelling, “I can’t do this anymore. You take him!”
“He’s only a baby!” Jay said.
I stormed to my bedroom and slammed the door. I resented Jay because he was able to go to work and have the life I gave up. Meanwhile, I assumed he thought I was a bad mother.
I was the woman at the well filling my bucket with destructive thoughts leaving me spiritually dehydrated.
(The story of the Woman at the Well illustrates the need for a relationship with Jesus. You can find that here https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4.)
III. Surrender to God’s authority.
I had to surrender to God’s authority and will for my life. Surrender doesn’t come natural to me, I tend to paddle against the current, but I am thankful God’s will is much stronger than my own. With grace, He has bent me into crying “mercy,” many times in my life.
My most recent surrender was my sister. For four years, I obsessively threw out the life-savers trying to find the cure for her breast cancer, while God’s will was to bring her to the shores of eternity.

Before my daughter was born, she patted my belly and said, “When this baby’s born, it won’t be long for me.” She knew I would struggle with letting the life line slip from my fingers.
She was right, around the time Bella was born, I stopped searching for miracles, for Tricia was slipping away, and by the time Bells was a few months old, I was begging God to take my sister.
The two events back to back was almost too much for my heart to bear. I had to let go of my closest earthly relationship (beyond Jay) and embrace another baby, just as I was settling into my writing chair and spit shining my laptop.
Surrendering to God’s will is not always easy, but always brings peace.
The house was so quiet the night I reached for that suitcase. I grabbed clothes off the hangers when Jay began to snore, and my baby made a gurgling sound from his bassinet. I glanced back at the two of them, and knew I was at an important crossroads. I had a decision to make.
I hung the clothes back in my closet. I loved them too much to leave.
‘What kind of mother abandons her newborn?’ The thought landed me on the bathroom tile in a pool of tears. I told God I give up, I’d do whatever He wanted me to. I asked Him to help me find contentment in being a wife and mother and admitted my fears of inadequacy. God’s response to me was as clear as if He was sitting right there beside me. It is the only time in my life, I swear I heard him audibly speak to me.
You know what He said?
“Tammy, the baby’s sleeping. Wash your face and go to bed.”
You thought it’d be some ground shaking insight didn’t you? God isn’t about nonsense.
It was my first test of obedience. I washed my face and went to bed, and that was the first night Nick slept for five hours straight. I felt like a new person the next morning.
I found peace and contentment in surrender, even while navigating the white waters of fear, insecurity, and colic.
Finding contentment is not finding happiness, it is finding peace. It takes work on your part to be content. You must find God’s purpose for your life, pursue a relationship with God, and surrender to His authority or will, through these actions you will find your contentment.
Nick is now sixteen years old, and he is a blessing to me. He became such an easy baby once his stomach issues disappeared, and I found joys in being his mother. By the time he was nine months old, I became pregnant with colicky Christian, and there was a whole lot of surrendering after that boy was born, but that’s another story.

A Story from India



A few nights ago, I played old hymns on the piano as my boys nestled into bed.  As I played, each song brought a memory to mind. Some of them, my family would sing around the piano, while my mother pelted the keys, Brandon banged his drum set, Tricia shook her maracas, and I… well, for those of you who know this story, I had my sticks. (My mother gave me the sticks, while my siblings got the cool instruments at Christmas time.) My dad would proclaim proudly, “We are the Carters!” (meaning the Christian Griswolds) The windows were open for we had no air conditioning at the time. Begrudgingly, I hit my sticks, thankul we lived in the country, so no neighbors could hear us.

 

That night, I started playing a song I loved growing up, it was a Griswold favorite.

“Peanut, do you know this song?”

“No, Momma what’s it called?”

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” I said.

“No, but I like it,” he answered back.

While Jay was working, I took a minute to look up the stories behind those old hymns. I was shocked to find “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”, was a song written in India, by an Indian family who decided to follow Christ.

I have a fondness and a curiosity for India. God has brought many Indian people into my life. For one, my sister- in -law Prem, who is a princess to me. She has this gentle feminine air about her, which makes me want to throw down my cloak over mud puddles, so her toes don’t get dirty. She wears flowers in her black hair at the beach, and drifts around in her pink tubby, while I am in complete snorkel gear rising up out of the deep, my hair coated with the green slime, I collected on my swim. We are complete opposites, my blood contains the savage sort, while her’s the exotic type. Somehow, though different Indian blood, we still fit, as sisters do.

I have several close Indian girlfriends as well, whom have opened their hearts to me. I don’t understand what they see in me, but they are a giving, gentle lot. They love to feed you their food and laden you with gifts at Christmas time. My friend Sanjita explains it is her culture, to feed those you care about. I’d be loving some Indian culture. Pass me a fork!

There is a little girl in India who has won my heart. Her name is Abilisha. We write each other regularly. She constantly pours the grace of God on me in her letters. What a cutie! The night I was playing this on the piano, I found a letter from her in my mailbox, along with a picture of her new rusty bicycle. Her smile could have lit up Disney World.

So, as I was reading the story of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”. I thought all the while as a young girl singing this song with the Christian Griswolds, I didn’t know one single person from India, nor did I know the horrific story behind the song. Here it is….

 

One night, around 150 years ago, in a North East area of India called Assam, an ordinary man opened his door to an angry mob of villagers. He and his family were dragged into the town square. The tribe pointed their spears into their chests. Their anger was ignited by a change in their village. A change caused by a group of missionaries from Wales, who took a dangerous journey to bring the message of Christ to a corner of the world, where no one wanted to go, and only one family decided to follow Jesus.

I imagine the missionaries thought their efforts were in vain, yet one family started a movement throughout the tribe, that the elders did not like. They decided to make an example of this family, in the town square.

“Denounce your belief in Jesus and you will live,” the chief shouted. The man and his family began to sing.

“I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back….No turning back.”

They snatched his two boys from his arms and speared them through the heart.

As they fell writhing on the ground, the chief yelled. “Denounce Jesus or your wife will die.”

He and his wife sang.

“Though none go with me, still I will follow. Though none go with me, still I will follow. Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back. No turning back.”

They grabbed his wife and speared her. She fell alongside her boys.

“Denounce Jesus and you will live.”

The man sang.

“The world behind me. The cross before me. The world behind me. The cross before me. The world behind me. The cross before me. No turning back….No turning back.”

The man fell on top of the heap.

Although, tragic, the story did not end tragically.  The chief walked away, and began to think of the words of this Indian folk song. He thought about the sacrifice an entire family made for their belief. He and his elders began discussing this man called Jesus, soon all agreed to become followers of Christ. The story of Jesus spread throughout the entire village, and many fell to their knees before God. For one ordinary Indian man and his ordinary Indian family, made an unordinary decision to follow Jesus to death.

 

If you would like to hear the song, “I have Decided to Follow Jesus” Click the link below. I also found some special Indian ladies to sing it for you.

http://www.youtube.com/sajideepa