I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.
(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)
Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.
Seeing my sweet mother again.
Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.
I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.
Back in Houston last Sunday, I tried a new church, River Pointe, by recommendation of my friend Mary. Like my Chase Oaks back in Dallas, the music was outstanding, a mix of contemporary and traditional, and for the second time in a week, I sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” This time the minister referenced the songwriter Horatio Spafford and said, “You should Google him.” I remembered the story from last week’s service in Oklahoma (Thanksgiving Episode 1) and silently wondered if God was trying to tell me something. I mean, my soul still felt pretty darn good. As pastor Ryan Leak spoke, I heard the boom of God’s voice and a special Thanksgiving message crystal clear.
Regardless of what you think about Jesus, you have to admit he has a common sense approach to relationship restoration. And while some of us can’t wait to gather with our families at Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming holidays, some of us have some relationship issues that strike discord and darken spirits.
As I typed up a few sermon notes to keep for myself, I decided to share with you if you so choose to read on. Let us now turn to the New Testament.
“Then Peter came to Him and asked, ‘Lord,
how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let
it go? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven
times, but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
Did you see the italicized and? It’s
not just about the forgiveness. We must also let it go.
“If your brother or sister sins against
you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against
you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’
you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).
Before you sit down to the Thanksgiving table, remember the words. You see, faith allows you to do what sometimes seems impossible…like letting go and moving on. It is impossible that no offenses will come. We are human. None of us are perfect, but it’s so much easier to point the finger in blame rather than to let a wrongdoing go. Jesus says, “Let it go. 490 times. Let it go.” Did you notice the imperative statement, also known as a command (ment). Ask God to give you an opportunity to be honest (rebuke them), then be generous with your forgiveness and discerning with reconciliation. That is God’s message. The message I needed to hear.
As I left the sanctuary that day, the woman sitting next to me turned, looked me in the eye, and said in a lilting Nigerian accent, “And to think that God would give us the grace to forgive every family member.”
For so many years, my students have studied and discussed George Ella Lyons poem, “Where I’m From” and then written their own.
So many years later, I wrote mine.
Where I’m From
I am from wide open spaces, from endless horizons and Oklahoma skies. I am from dancing lessons on Main Street. (Pirouettes and plies and a shuffle ball change, it felt like Broadway.) I am from faith and gratitude, peace and hope.
I’m from banana bread and books, from Sharon and David. I’m from “Treat people how you want to be treated” and “Participate.” I’m from “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “When you know better, you do better.”
I’m from Ada and George, Catherine and Ed, many more books and second-hand shopping. From lifelong friendships and hometown happenings, hard work and hellos. From mistakes and heartaches and forgiveness.
Turned pages of my history bookmarked to guide me through the next chapters of my unwritten future.
When I stepped into the blue rubber raft from the safety of the river bank, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope). Before the bus ride to our launching site, I had skimmed the release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that whitewater rafting can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH. Then I signed on the line and proceeded to pick up my wetsuit, spray jacket, helmet, and life-preserver.
Colorado’s abundant snowfall last winter through May translates to deeper, faster water and what may have been the best white water rafting season in decades.
Shout out to my brother Scott and his beautiful, adventurous wife Gerri for having a 30th wedding anniversary and a reason to celebrate with friends and family, to Rapid Image Photography for the complimentary photos, and to Zach, Ivan, and Kerrie of Clear Creek Rafting Company for the safety debrief and an adrenaline-fueled float through he Rocky Mountains. No one fell off of the raft. No one died. And the river of life keeps flowing, sometimes with faster, deeper waters and cold splashes in the face, sometimes with the possibility of tipping, relying on your life vest, and swimming to safety.
When I stepped back into my ordinary life from the perfection of vacation, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope).
Happy Independence Day to my American friends! And Happy 4th of July wherever you are!
I wish I could say otherwise, but this marathon stretches past the normal twenty-six miles into nine new-normal years on a treadmill to nowhere fast. I understand why people quit, and I understand why people can’t pick up the pace. Marathons require stamina and an unswerving belief in the ability to finish, and so I cling to my belief in God and his timing, medical advancements and the promise of stem cells, sun-filled days and peaceful nights.
When I compare each year to the previous one, I measure our progress and remind myself, “The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.” For more of the marathon, click here.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been a mama’s girl. I dropped out of pre-school, and my mother was my safety net. She chose her battles and her strategies, and in the end I finished out the year. I remember her tucking me in each night with a “Good night, Sugarplum” or a “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I remember her chauffeuring me back and forth to school each day and the aroma of banana bread awaiting in our kitchen. I remember changing clothes for dance lessons or gymnastics and jumping back in the car with mom. I remember when those lessons moved south by two hours to Amarillo during 5th and 6th grade and forty minutes northeast to Liberal during the 9th. How many hours did we spend together just the two of us? She was in my every audience at every recital, every swim meet, every school activity. And after my freshman year at OU when I found myself pregnant, she helped me move from my dorm into my first apartment and accompanied me to childbirth classes. Even though I lived five hours from home, she drove ten hours round trip each week and held my nineteen-year-old hand as I became a mom.
My mother taught me unconditional love, stood by me during the best and worst of times, and prayed with me and for me non-stop. Somehow my best doesn’t seem to compare.
Once upon a time, I was a soccer mom, Lauren was highly competitive, and we criss-crossed the U. S. for the love of the game. One spring evening about thirteen years ago, I remember sitting on the sidelines watching practice with Jane, another mom, who confided, “Natasha told me that Lauren pierced her belly button.”
“Oh, really?” I said.
Lauren was a freshman in high school at the time, too young to be showing anyone belly buttons or belly rings. Even though I may or may not have revealed more than my belly button at her age, I sat through soccer practice devising my mom-plan. The next day the girls would be boarding a plane for a tournament, location now forgettable. Practice gear needed laundering, and I would wait until we returned home to “discover” the piercing for myself.
I remember smiling at Lauren after practice and saying, “Nice workout!” I remember the ride home as if everything was completely normal. I remember walking into Lauren’s room once home, pointing at her Texans practice t-shirt, and saying, “Take that off. I need to start a load of laundry.”
On cue, Lauren flipped up her shirt, and I gasped with added Mama drama, “What have you done?”
“I pierced my belly button,” she may or may not have said, the memory a teenager now.
I pointed at her navel and said, “Take that out—It’s going to get infected.” Ripped out on the pitch would have been the scarier possibility, but I hadn’t thought through my words or possibilities or consequences, only my detection tactic in keeping the confidence of both Jane and Natasha.
And on cue, Lauren pulled out the piercing and handed it over. At the time, in my mind, removal of the belly ring was punishment enough.
Flash forward a year, same teenager, now a tenth grader.
Lauren’s friend Savannah vacationed in Amsterdam the summer before sophomore year, and Savannah returned with a wonderful souvenir for Lauren—a sterling silver pair of marijuana leaf earrings. I have to give Lauren some credit for showing me the earrings, but I warned her, “You cannot—ever—wear them to school.” Lauren attended school where I taught, and no way ever could she be seen—ever—with cannabis leaves in her ears.
I remember riding shotgun to school one day, Lauren driving with her learner’s permit, a typical morning and a smooth ride considering the fifteen-year-old behind the wheel. At the end of the same day on the way home, Lauren drove once more. This time, I remember the glint of sterling catching my eye from Lauren’s ears. I remember sitting at a red light and commanding once more, “Take those out.” I extended my right hand, palm up. “Give them to me.”
Lauren unscrewed the backs, dislodged the earrings, and placed them in my upturned palm. I can still picture the open field on the passenger side of the street. I remember rolling down my window with her jewelry in hand. In slow motion, I still see myself tossing the silver weed as far as possible into the weeds. I’m pretty sure she hated my guts for that.
Momming ain’t easy, even though my mother made the job seem effortless, but she’s a saint. Sometimes emotions stand in the way. As far as I know, there’s no parenting manual on actions to take when your teen-aged daughter pierces her belly button or sneaks around with marijuana leaves in her ears or hates your guts. I think we all do the best we can, and after that, I’ve found prayer my best hope.
And you know what? Here she is now, age 27, my adulting daughter, BBA in Finance, earning a salary, supporting herself, buying her first car without help, and smiling from ear-to-ear.
And anytime I ask my self, What would my mother do? I know, and I pray.