I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I needed to take a hiatus from writing. I set my book aside and my blog and spent some time living.
In the latter part of June, I packed up my youngest kids for a trip to Virginia, to see my family where we counted the deer at night, puttered around historic towns, and meandered down country roads.
By mid-July, it was off to Muir Beach a bit north of San Francisco, California, where we rented a quaint cottage overlooking the Pacific. Every night we slept with the curtains open and a full moon slipped between the California mountains sprinkling its diamonds over the ocean; yet like clockwork each night the fingers of fog curled around the mountain peaks, before tucking us in a hazy cocoon.
We wore sweatshirts during the day and built fires at night. We listened to the stories of Alcatraz and slopped through bowls of Cioppino, (If you’ve never had it, you have to try it).
We checked the Redwoods off our bucket list…
And our little one Bella hung in there with us like a champ.
Because this guy makes her the toughest five year old around…
Once we returned home we packed my boys up for college. We moved Nick and Christian into their apartment in Tally, where they are attending college. Not wanting their momma to get bored, they left me tons of junk to clear out and rooms to refurnish.
By mid- July, I was itching to paint. I picked up the brush and went to work on a large canvas, I titled “God’s Grace.” I painted my niece Aubri, curled in a nest, while butterflies are creating a blanket over her to keep her warm. I am so happy with this one. Writing is a job for me, while painting is my vacation.
Once the painting was completed—check, and bedrooms done—check, my brother Brandon came for a visit. We took him to the farmhouse and enjoyed a weekend together.
The farm is good for getting dirty and riding ATV’s through the woods.
I thought today, I would get you caught up on where I’ve been and discuss where we’re going. I’d like to change things up a bit on the blog. I want to hear from you. What do you enjoy reading about? I have so many interest such as homesteading, decorating, refurbishing furniture, the cultural climate, history… I would still keep writing what God puts on my heart through it. I’d just like to mix things up a bit. So, what blogs do you enjoy or what would you like to learn? Speak to me privately via email or leave a message here.
Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.
Today around noon, I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.
Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”
Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.
Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!” Today, I crossed milestone.
Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her. She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.
On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)
Today, Vanessa met her sister.
Today, I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.
Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.
With the boys back in school this week, I’m longing for the smell of fall candles, cooler evenings, and a pot of chili, but we are in our hottest time of the year here in Florida. I wonder if I’m the only woman who gains weight in the summer and loses that weight every fall and winter. I suppose it’s because I tend to hibernate through the hottest months and when that first breeze kisses my cheek, I take a long stretch and become alive again. I’ve told my peoples I’ve decided to become a European. I’ve outfitted my bike with saddle bags, mirrors, head and tail lights, and a cell phone holder. I’ll be the biggest bike nerd in Dr. Phillips. I have a plan to fit exercise into my day, get ready for it… I will bike to the grocery store. Of course, I know this seems a bit counterproductive exercising to get food, but I see it as a way of shooting two chickens with one bullet. Contemplate my brilliance, I can only buy that night’s dinner ingredients, which will keep me from buying anything unnecessary. Save money…loose fat…fetch dinner. I see it as a win-win-win. Make that three chickens. The truth is I’ve been seeing that middle-age monster lurking in the shadows and I know he’s out to get me!
There are times our heart needs to get into shape in a spiritual sense as well. When we’ve had an absence of hurt or joy in our lives, our heart can go into a complacent hibernation. Sometimes, this is caused by protecting our heart too much, by tucking it in a dark cave.
This week, we celebrated my daughter Bella’s fourth birthday. Every year when her birthday rolls in I can’t help but think of my sister Tricia. When I announced I was pregnant with Bella, it didn’t go over so well. We found Tricia an hour later sobbing on her friend’s sofa.
“I’m so sorry Tammy,” she said. “I’m happy for you and Jay, it’s just this… while you are getting ultrasounds, I’m getting PET scans, while your body is creating life, mine is creating cancer, while you are looking forward to the day you meet your baby, I’m dreading the day I say goodbye to mine. You’re looking forward to the future, while I’m holding on to the past.” It was a painful irony.
The next morning, we stood outside our parent’s home riddled with guilt for the pain we caused the other.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” I said. “I would’ve felt the same way. I want you to know I wasn’t trying.”
“I know God is giving you this baby to… ya know… keep you busy so you’ll keep going when I go.” She smiled and placed her hand on my belly. “You’re already showing.”
“My body knows what to do by the fourth one,” I said.
Her eyes met mine. “When she comes, I will go,” she said.
Although she whispered the words, I jumped back as if she’d punched me. “Wait, No, You don’t know everything Tricia Baines. Besides, I know you’re wrong because Jay only makes boys.”
She grabbed my arm. “I know okay.”
The moment Bella propelled herself into my world, my heart stretched between conflicting emotions of incredible joy and wrenching pain. I smiled through tears at my tiny baby before Tricia’s words flooded my memory, and I let out a sob. Tricia happened to be in a Virginia hospital bed as well that day. True to her prophetic statement, she died around the same time my baby was born, exactly nineteen weeks later.
After she passed, I kept having these terrible chest pains. Convinced my pregnancy had put a strain on my heart, I underwent an EKG, and a stress test. When the tests results were in, Jay and I sat in the cardiologist’s office for a consult. I knew he was going to tell me I’d need some sort of heart repair, but instead he looked up from his file and said, “Everything looks good. Your hearts in good shape.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense, my heart hurts.” I said pointing to my chest. “I’m having this sharp stabbing pain.”
“Have you experienced anything traumatic lately? Have you been under any strain or anxiety?”
Jay nodded. “Her sister died.”
“That’s not it!” I said pointing at him. “I’m fine with that. This is physical pain.”
“That’ll do it to you.” The doctor turned around in his chair dismissing further objections. “Looking over your tests, your heart is great. Our bodies have a way of letting us know when we’ve experienced something difficult.”
Every Bella birthday, I celebrate the day my heart stretched and in the looking back, I’ve come to realize a stretched-out heart can only hold more. My larger heart holds more compassion, empathy, and love than it did before, allowing more blood to flow through…more life. I believe sometimes God lets our heart stretch between pain and joy so we can feel a tiny bit of what He felt as He watched His Son die on the cross. He must have mourned watching the pain and suffering of His Son, all the while feeling great joy for the birth of salvation for mankind.
Has there been a time in your life when your heart stretched? See it as a blessing. Or do you feel your heart has been in a complacent hibernation? Stop protecting it. It needs exercise. Pull it out of the cave.
On top of the Montana mountain attired in a heavy BMX helmet and pads, I found clarity on why the rental bike clerk responded with an “Ohhh…” When I told him we didn’t have any mountain biking experience. An awkward silence ensued, so I felt the need to elaborate, “We’re from Orlando Florida. The land’s flat there.”
“Well, in that case I think I should warn you we don’t have any beginner trails. At the top of the mountain there’s only intermediate and expert trails, I’d recommend starting with the intermediate. There’s a good chance you’ll wipe out at least once… probably more. The trails only a foot wide and you’ll feel pretty vulnerable biking on a cliff. The rocks will wiggle your tires a bit. You have to trust your bike to follow through, don’t fight it. But if you don’t like the first mile, bike back up because it’ll be that way for over seven more.”
At the peak, my boys took off without looking back (it’s a male pride thing) and Peyton rode off after them, but I’m at an age where I no longer think of myself as invisible like I did throughout my twenties. I took a steadying breath and prayed God would not let us fall off the edge before pushing off. Right away there was a ramp and a curve on a cliff that made my stomach flip-flop. “Are they crazy? This can’t be the intermediate trail!” I screamed. Once the trail leveled a bit, I saw the kids ahead waiting for me.
Peyton, my niece glanced back. “I already fell!” She said. She seemed a bit shaken.
We all rode together, at the next curb Peyton wiped out again and rolled a bit off the edge. I jumped off my bike. “Peyton!” I screamed. “That’s it, we are going back. It’s not worth it.”
“I can’t do it!” she said, rubbing her scraped up arm. I recognized the look of exasperation that crossed her face. It was the look of hopeless defeat. I remembered her Momma giving me that look when she was scared to climb the tree I’d been climbing for a while. Being only seventeen months younger, she was no longer content to stand at the bottom and watch. Tricia wanted to know what it felt like to wrap her arms and legs around the pinnacle and ride in the wind.
“One limb at a time Tricia, I’ll go with you.” Limb by limb we climbed together until we reached the weakest branches at the top and held on tight. Tricia smiled until she looked down. “Don’t look down,” I said. “Always, keep your eyes straight out.”
Peyton is so much like her Momma and I. We’re all rooted in the southern soil of determination.
“Boys, go. Leave us.”
“Are you sure Mom?” Nick said. What if you get hurt?”
“She’s going to get hurt if you stay. Ride ahead, we’ll be fine.”
They got on their bikes and rode off.
I turned to Peyton, “Do you want to do this?”
“Yes, but I can’t.” Her arms shook.
“Look, the way I see it, is this, you were trying to keep up and that’s why you are falling on the curbs. Walk the curbs until you get used to them. And we’re not competing here. Take it slow and steady and enjoy the ride. This is not a race. We are challenging ourselves to finish something that is ridiculously scary, so we can say we did. Okay? We got this!”
She nodded, climbed on her bike and rode. At the next curb, she climbed off her bike as did I, and we walked our bikes around the edge of the cliff. A few miles down, she gained the courage to bike the remaining curbs, and I biked them too. One curb at a time.
We completed the eight plus miles downhill, and met the boys at the bottom, standing with my daughter Bella and my husband, Jay. Over lunch, my son Christian bragged about how fast he was going and how he had to wait thirty minutes for Mom to arrive.
I leaned across the table, snatching one of his fries. “Pretty sad you need to compete with a mother of four who’s nearing 50. Just saying.” I popped the fry in my mouth, shutting his up.
The times I’ve compared myself to others or tried to keep up, I’ve always wiped out defeated. I’ve always lost hope. After Jay and I married, one of our close friends had the perfect home. She enjoyed cleaning and she was a great cook too. Her home was spotless every day, I tried to keep up and soon found I did nothing but keep a clean house. I didn’t play with my children, I didn’t see girlfriends, I didn’t write, I didn’t paint. I neglected to use the talents God gave me that bring me joy and Him glory. My life felt flat all because I thought that was what a stay-at- home Mom was supposed to be. It didn’t take long to realize Jay preferred a happy, well-rounded wife to a housekeeper.
Recently, I’ve seen friends become published authors, I’m thrilled for them, but cannot help but fill that angst that I’ll never finish my book. Just like Peyton trying to keep up with her cousins, my book will wipe out if I write slop in haste.
I admit I’m pretty proud of myself for conquering that Rocky mountain, I know Jay’s tired of hearing about it, but that mountain taught me a valuable lesson. We all have our own trail our own race to complete in this life. A narrow trail God’s already cleared for us alone. It will be filled with hills, cliffs, curbs, and rocks that shake you to the core. I can guarantee you will have the occasional falls and it will seem to fly by; but if our focus is on the ones we perceive are doing it better, we will fall off our own trail and miss the blessings and opportunities surrounding us. Think about that the next time you compare yourself to someone else. Til next time take it slow and steady and above all enjoy the ride!
(Please note: If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of Half Naked and Picking Weeds, I suggest you scroll down and read those first as this is a continuation of it.)
Out of the Boat
I asked Vanessa what she wanted everyone to know. Before the words slipped from her lips, she closed her eyes to concentrate on forming them. “Every day counts,” she said. “I want them to know, every day counts.”
Every day counts. Even the humdrum days? Even the days when the kids are driving us cray-cray? Even the days we can’t wait to slam our bedroom door and disappear under the cool sheets because the to-do list whipped our butts? Even that day when her head is wrapped in cold rags and she has to wear sunglasses because her eyes hurt from a cancerous tumor pushing against her skull? She would tell you…yes, even that day.
I’m convinced there are days of our lives that count more than others. They weigh more in value on eternity’s scale.
The doctor didn’t lie when he said rotator cuff surgery was painful. I’d given birth to four children and after surgery the pain sent me moaning on the floor rocking back and forth. He’d stated my arm was so tore up it looked like an eighty- year old woman’s with an old tear and new. For six weeks, my arm was in a bulky sling and I couldn’t hold my baby, so I borrowed Vanessa’s arms.
You can’t help but get personal with someone who’s loving your baby. Her affection for Bella built the foundation of our friendship… our sisterhood. One day she casually mentioned that she worshipped the Hindu gods, Allah, and the Christian God.
I laughed. “What are you doing covering all your bases?” I said.
“Oh my gosh!” She burst out laughing. “Yes, I want to be sure I get it right. Besides, I think they’re all the same anyway.”
“You should look into the characteristics of each of them, that’s how you’ll know if they are the same,” I said. “I think you’ll find the Christian God is far more personal. He’s the only one out of the bunch that gave His life for mankind. He’s the only One who loves us whether we love him or not.”
I walked her out that day and knew when I closed the door, God just opened one.
The next afternoon, “So, how do you worship all three gods?” I said.
“I have three altars in my apartment. I’m drawn to the Christian God, so I go to church on Sunday, but I have a Hindu altar, an Allah altar, and an altar with a cross. I pray at each.”
“What do you pray about?”
“I just want some direction you know? I want to know what I should be doing in my future,” she said. “I’d like to use my experience with cancer for something good now that I’m healed.”
It amazes me when God opens a door. Sometimes, it’s just a crack, while other times it is thrown open so wide the light is blinding. Soon after, over the phone my father told me what he taught in Sunday school that week, the story of Paul’s travel to Athens.
“When Paul arrived in Athens he noticed all the gods and altars scattered around the city,” Daddy said. “but there was one altar titled the “Unknown god,” and Paul stood before them and told them about that God, our God. You see, baby, they were trying to cover all their bases, as many people do today, but in doing that, they are lost.” (Acts 17: 16-34)
I was blinded by the light.
The next day, Vanessa sat across from me at the kitchen table. Praying she’d understand, I slid my open Bible across the table. “Before you go, I want you to read something.” I pointed to the passage.
After she finished, her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! That’s me!” she said.
“You said, you were praying for guidance and for your next purpose in life. How can God lead you if you haven’t made Him Lord?”
“I don’t want you to do anything for me, but you need to think about that,” I said. “God will never lead you if He’s not in the lead.”
She promised to think about it. I wasn’t there the day Vanessa chose to make Jesus Christ her Lord. God placed the seeds in my hands, I pushed them under the soil, and moved on to tend to the weeds of life, but God sent others to water it.
After I recovered, Vanessa remained Bella’s babysitter one day a week until Bella started preschool. Jay, my husband, then hired Vanessa to work at the office for him and his brother Shaun. She was so happy to be back behind a desk. One Thursday morning, Jay stopped by her counter.
“Why are you sitting there?” Jay said. “Come join our Abiding study in the conference room.”
“Really?” She jumped up and followed him.
She sat in a men’s Bible study every Thursday morning learning how to Abide in Christ. Between Jay and Shaun his brother, Vanessa had two very determined men pouring Jesus into her on a daily basis. She told them she’d made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.
It was then…the cancer returned.
Last week, I wanted to hear from her own lips she’d made a decision. I swabbed her bald head with a cold cloth. Our relationship had come full circle I was now at her home.
“The last time we discussed God, you told me you’d think about it. Did you?” I said.
“Yes, I chose Christ.” she said.
“Did you tell Him that? Ask Him to take your life?” I said.
“Yes, I did.”
“You’re undertaking the most important assignment of your life, but you know that don’t you?” I said squeezing her hand.
Vanessa nodded. “I do.”
“You are just as much a sister to me as Tricia was. Our relationship is eternal.”
“Really?” she said.
“Yes, in fact if Tricia wasn’t a Christian you’d be more of a sister to me.” I hugged her.
I’ve never seen a faith so strong in someone so new to it. How does she know He’s a loving God when as soon as she gave her life to Christ, her cancer returned? I’ve pondered this. I’ve asked God why didn’t He allow her some healthy years to use her faith for Him.
Then, I glance at Vanessa she’s filled with a peace that is not human. She knows God loves no matter what she’s going through. If anything in this life can give us comfort, it’s this…our circumstances are never indicative of God’s love.
What a relief! Having a bad day? God loves you! Husband’s left you? God loves you. Your son has passed away? God loves you! Your addicted to drugs or alcohol? God loves you. You’re sick with cancer? God loves you. Praying to the Hindu gods or Allah? God loves you right where you are. Vanessa’s proof of that.
It’s time to harvest at the farm. There are rows of heavy vegetables curling the stems. I don’t know about you, but there’s something satisfying about snapping them off and filling a bucket. We load them in the back of the ATV and drive them up to the farmhouse. In the sink, we wash them one by one, preparing them for the job they were born to do. Nourish.
Just like those vegetables waiting to be plucked off the vines, Vanessa’s story will become someone else’s spiritual nourishment. In time, someone will be walking ankle deep in the dirt and weeds of this world and feeling empty. They’ll wonder is this all there is to life? They’ll witness the light and color of a young woman’s faith and want to consume the invitation of salvation for themselves. The circle of life is eternal.
When Vanessa’s time comes, I’m so sure Tricia will run up and greet her at the gates of heaven. “Vanessa! I’ve been waiting for ya. What took you so long?” She’ll give her a hug with a hard pounding on the back. “Welcome home, sister. Welcome home.” She’ll wrap her arm around her shoulders. “So you gotta tell me, is Tammy fat? I sure hope so.”
If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. Tricia, my sister, and I were sitting on the veranda watching the sun go down at my Orlando home. I was going over the plan to send her to Germany for breast cancer treatment. I would keep Peyton with me, so she could finish the school year, while her and Thomas would travel back and forth to Europe. She would be receiving hyperthermia, a treatment that is now in its experimental phase here in the states.
“I feel good about this one,” I said, for this was our third hospital…third attempt to fix this and my anxiety was heightened by the cancerous sores spreading over her abdomen and back.
She glanced at me across the table. “Tammy, if God doesn’t heal me in this life, He will heal me in the next,” she said. “Besides, if my cancer reaches one person for Christ, all this is worth it.”
And there it was suspended in her prophetic words. Although, I was too preoccupied at the time to recognize it for what it was…Purpose.
We will never know how many she reached for Jesus. Tricia and her husband Thomas handed out the gospel message everywhere they went in Europe. Tricia let her bald head and joyous spirit tell the story.
But there was the one…the special one…and she wasn’t from Europe. She was an American immigrant from Guyana. A twenty-nine year old, my sister never met. A girl my sister had nothing in common with except one thing…cancer.
Vanessa worked at the bank where my husband Jay had his account. He’d gone in one day to make a deposit and mentioned I was writing a blog about my sister’s journey through breast cancer. Vanessa wanted to read it.
“Send my wife a friend request on Facebook, because I know it posts there. I don’t know how that whole blog thing works,” he’d said.
Somewhere at the starting line of my sister’s four-year illness, Vanessa’s friend request came and I accepted. I can’t tell you how many times I saw her face pop up on Facebook and couldn’t remember who she was. Nevertheless, I left her there on my friend list.
One month before my sister passed, I was nursing my baby Bella in the middle of the night when my phone lit up a private message sent to me on Facebook. The message came jumbled a bit, but I deciphered what she was trying to write. I will take the liberties of writing it clearly below.
“Hi, you don’t me but I know your husband from the bank. I’m in the hospital, just had a cancerous brain tumor removed. I wanted to thank you for writing your sister’s story. I’ve been reading it. How is she?” (from Vanessa Raghubir)
Ironically, a month later I posted a blog about a girl with brain cancer who was taking her life via pills. I had no idea when I posted that blog in the morning, my sister would pass that afternoon and due to the controversial topic that blog post was read all over the world. You can find the post Right to Life here:
After Tricia passed Vanessa and I communicated via text. She’d shared her heart’s disappointments regarding marriage and children, while I set out to save her by giving her nutritional advice. I look back at those posts and feel ashamed. I was manic to save her as I couldn’t do with my sister, but there are times people don’t need fixing, they just need to be listened to.
One day, Vanessa messaged me she was having trouble paying the bills and wanted to know if Jay was hiring. She’d completed treatment but due to being left with a speech impediment, she couldn’t return to her former job. Jay had just started his own development company and couldn’t hire at the time. I told her I’d keep my ears open for an opportunity.
Soon after, I lifted an iron pan with my bad arm, something tore and I landed on the floor howling.
“It’s a double rotator cuff tear,” the doctor said. “One tear appears to be very old, I don’t know how you’ve been living with it, and I may not be able to fix that one, but it put a strain on the remaining tendons until another one snapped. You need surgery and I think you should know it’s a painful long recovery.”
“What?” I said. My eyes widened before landing on my baby girl. He followed my gaze.
“I know it’s not the best timing for something like this. We can wait, but I don’t recommend it.”
We scheduled surgery.
We hired Vanessa.
The first morning she arrived Jay asked her to wash my hair. I shot him a look that said, I don’t know this girl, you wash my hair, but he ignored me. Vanessa followed us to our bathroom and while he brushed his teeth, she leaned me over the tub and washed my hair. It was like a weird blind date.
After she blew it dry using her fingers instead of a brush, which was uh…different…I looked at her reflection in the mirror.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know this is awkward, normally my sister’s here to take care of me in times like this. It’s what we did for each other.” My eyes teared, for my heart felt her loss that day.
“It’s okay.” Vanessa said smiling. “Your sister brought me to you.”
It is often said God works in mysterious ways. It is like the seeds growing under the soil, we can’t see the sprouts bursting from the shell, until the healing of time passes, the tears pour, and God mercifully shines His grace on our mournful soul. One dawn when we’ve moved onto plow another plot of land in our lives, we look back and see fresh green shoots popping up, that’ll eventually produce their own fruit. We’re taken aback by it, because it’s this miracle that we were allowed a small part of or at least to be a witness to.
Vanessa is that to me.
If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.
When I was a little girl we had this huge garden running alongside our house on Mockingbird Lane. Mornings and evenings when the heat was bearable we’d pull the weeds and collect our bounty in baskets. I can still feel the prickle of the cucumber stems and smell the pungent scent from plucking the tomato off the vine.
My sister, Tricia and I labored in our underwear. The sun-browned our bodies to the color of mahogany and we’d moon Granny our bright white bottoms because she’d laugh so hard tears spilled out of her eyes. We didn’t have air conditioning in our home until I was almost a teenager. Daddy clutched the coins and feared a high electric bill. In case you’re unaware, summers in the Tidewater area of Virginia can get extremely hot and sticky.
We didn’t have a microwave either. Momma feared her children would glow in the dark from the radiation. She was a purist when it came to feeding her brood. Most of our food was homemade for she didn’t like preservatives. While Tricia and I raided our cousin’s house for the Pop Tarts. No amount of begging in the grocery aisle would make my Momma cave.
“That’s junk!” she’d said. “Do you want your poop to turn green? I’ll bake you a banana bread instead.”
Momma was a firm believer in the color brown, brown eggs, brown bread, brown cereal, brown poop. She was obsessed with us having a good BM (Bowel Movement) every day. This obsession peaked in her wheat germ phase. As I sat guarding my mashed potatoes like a dog over a bone, and hoping Daddy would hurry up… for all things good and decent in this world… and say the blessed blessing so I could get in a few bites before she came around with that jar of brown granules…splat! It was too late, my potatoes were healthy-matized brown.
“There! Now you’ll get a good cleaning out,” she’d said.
I can still picture Momma clad in a halter top and shorts standing by the hot stove. Her dark hair piled on top of her head, while her brown skin glistened from perspiration, cooking up dinner or canning the cucumbers. Without air conditioning, summer meal preparation was a true labor of love. It probably explains why Momma’s lost the joy of cooking today.
I suppose my nostalgia stems from just returning from taking care of Momma after her surgery. Time has a way of turning the table. I was the one standing by the stove cooking the meals albeit in a nice cool kitchen.
I haven’t written in a while because I’ve gone through an extended season of illness. I had Influenza B, then strep invaded our home, after that a dear friend named Vanessa who’s been battling brain cancer took a turn for the worse, followed by my trip to Virginia to take care of my parents.
Meanwhile these last two months, I’ve felt half-naked in the scorching heat picking through weeds while they keep popping up through the soil of my garden.
Speaking of gardens, we’ve entered the garden season at the farm. The land is plowed and planted. The families on the farm are pitching in, to weed and harvest. We are then going to learn to can the produce in an assembly-line fashion. I’m surprised I’m excited about this, and yes, for all those dirty minds out there, I wear clothes when I garden now. (Farm friends you can thank me later…Ha!) Our last attempt at gardening, we ended up with vegetables rotting on the vine, that eventually sank into the earth and fertilized the soil.
Lately, I’ve thought about times we feel like that, the times we feel God out of reach or not answering our prayers, the times we think He’s neglected us, left us drooping on the vine. If only we could peer into the future and see our rotten times just may be the fertilizer in someone else’s life, would we be more willing to allow ourselves to be bruised… to feel neglected?
I imagine Vanessa feels that way as she lies in her hospital bed suffering from seizures. There were times my sister Tricia felt as if God left her dangling on the vine during her battle with breast cancer, but her rotten part revived the heart soils of those around her.
The older I get the more thankful I am for the rotten times. I hated my sister’s suffering, but it was through it my husband strengthened in his walk with God. It was through it, we all strengthened our faiths in a God who’s sovereign and holy. My sweet Tricia passed away in the winter of 2014.
When vegetables rot on the vine, they not only fertilize the soil, but their seeds fall into the earth as well. After the vegetables have been long forgotten, a new shoot springs up from the earth. Lately, I’ve witnessed one of Tricia’s seeds in the green faith of Vanessa.
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.
Bella joined me. I told her to search for dinosaur bones, and she’s delighted.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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, TheStory 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball. A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.
This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:
III. When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.
My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.
“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”
That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.
“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.
His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.
“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.
“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”
“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.
I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.
He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”
“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”
Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.
My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.
Nick is reading Discerning God’sWill, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.
“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.
He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.
“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)
Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.
What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change? Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!