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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

I know you’ve heard the following statement a jillion times. “People are the product of their environment.” Some folks wear that statement like a badge of honor, but that’s not necessarily true.

We all know people who came from wonderful homes and someway, somehow, they took a one-eighty and ended up destroying their lives. And then there are individuals from terrible circumstances who determine to endure and learn to live joy filled, successful lives.

In either situation, everything depends upon your heart, your choices, your character, and your God.

The year was 1921 on a snowy Christmas Sunday morning in Sebrell, Virginia, Christine Bell Davis arrived in this world. She was sixth in a line of thirteen children—seven survived.

If success depended on environment, my Mama would have been a failure before she began. Her mother was married five times and their home was a movie epic titled Dysfunction. Yet a determined will to prevail filled my mother’s young heart from the beginning.

In her later years Mama wrote a book for her children and grandchildren, a legacy to show how different life was in pre-World War II years and beyond.

The first two husbands provided for the family and life, while not affluent, was certainly average or above. But as the list of husbands grew life changed. Especially as their income slipped below the poverty line. And one of Mama’s old quotes certainly applies here: “When money problems come in the front door, love goes out the back.”

At age nine, Mama, her parents, and five children (at that time) walked from Augusta, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida, on the promise of a job for the current step-father. That was the summer of 1931. And, if you remember, the stock market had crashed in October of 1929. The depression was in full swing and the country was in chaos. People had lost their homes, their savings, and their jobs. There was no money for bus fare. No car to drive and even if they had a car, no money for gas. No. Money.

They ate when food was offered by kind farmers, slept on bare floors in empty houses along the way—no electricity or running water. But even then the hand of God was on my Mama. This rag-tag group made it safely to Jacksonville. Finally. Mama has no idea how long the journey took other than a long, very long time.

Old deserted St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville was used to give shelter to the needy. And they were needy. The family set up housekeeping and Mama was allowed to enroll in school again. But after so many moves and never finishing a grade, she was placed in the second grade. However, Mama was a good student; and, in spite of several more moves, she skipped portions of the third, fourth, and fifth grades and by early 1934 she was back with her proper age group in sixth grade.

The following year, without explanation, her mother sent her to a small town outside Jacksonville to live with an unknown family on a farm. She didn’t remember their names and never knew why she had been sent away.

When she returned home the following year the family was falling apart. Another husband was in the home and several children had run away. My mother’s mom took a job in a small community near Jacksonville and took their younger brother with her. But she left Mama and her eleven year sister in the care of their seventeen-year-old sister. Three girls alone, with no money. Not wanting to care for them, the elder sister put the younger girl on a bus and sent her to their mother. Then without telling my Mama, the older sister left.

Mama was thirteen, by herself and frightened. She found a distant cousin, with five children of her own, who made arrangements for Mama to attend a camp for underprivileged children for two weeks. But this lonely thirteen-year-old had to walk three miles to catch the bus for camp.

When she returned her mother placed she and the eleven year old sister in the Parental Home for Girls and their brother in the Boys Home. Mama admitted being angry, but also said it was the best thing that ever happened to her. Again, God was in charge of Mama’s life. Keeping her safe. Providing situations and people to nurture endurance and strength of character in her and teach her life skills.

The next few years were secure, happy years, and Mama excelled.
But the year Mama was to be a senior in high school her mother took her out of the Parental Home and was told she must work to help provide income for the family. There were no social services to intervene. You obeyed your parents.

A couple of years after that Mama met my Daddy and the rest is history. They married, had two children, three grandchildren, and lived together fifty-five years ‘til Mama’s death.

This godly woman taught her children the principles of God’s Word by the way she lived and treated others. Mama loved to sing and cook. Her favorite sayings: “Actions are caught—not taught.” And, “If you don’t want to get in trouble—don’t be where trouble can happen. . .” have stuck in my head through the years and I’ve passed them on to my children and grandchildren.

We weren’t a wealthy family by the world’s standards but she and Daddy provided a secure home for my brother and me. They cared for us and loved us and their grandchildren.

In the final months of her life Alzheimer’s had robbed Mama of almost everything. She was in the hospital when I called to check on her one evening. The nurse said Mama was groaning about something and they couldn’t find out what was bothering her.

I asked the young woman if she was familiar with church hymns. She said “yes,” so I asked her to go, lean down close to Mama and let me know what she was saying. It must have been four or five minutes before the nurse returned. I could tell she was weeping, when she gasped, “I can’t believe it. Your Mama isn’t groaning. She’s singing Amazing Grace.”

Mama knew God’s Word and held onto His Truths. She knew first hand: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NAS).

Could you have weathered a childhood of destitution? Dysfunction? Despair? How about your children? If all their toys and cushy way of life was suddenly snatched away who or what would they cling to?

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NAS).

And He promises, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3 NAS).

Through all the trials and heartaches Mama’s heart was fixed on Jesus. And she served her Lord by helping others. She refused to allow her environment to define who she was. She chose to trust God in the terrible circumstances and endure the trials He allowed in her life. And today her heart is at peace with her Lord. Her King. Forever. Just like Jesus promised.

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            Springtime in Florida was always a multi-colored landscape of hues of green, buttercup yellow, and pastel pink. We watched for those delicate white blooms to dot prickly vines that grew along roadsides and covered fence lines. Those tiny flowers with pollen-filled centers, swayed in the breeze and honey bees swarmed, promising yummy desserts and black stained fingers.

            Lumpy, green balls soon replaced the blossoms and confirmed this was indeed the perfect patch. Our very own blackberry patch. We kept an eye on those hard green spheres as they ballooned into hundreds of scarlet berries. And we waited for sunny days and spring rains to urge their yearly transformation into plump, delicious blackberries.

            Eventually the day arrived. And the berries were ripe for picking. One such day, our family piled into our ‘57 Ford, and headed toward our special berry patch alongside a country road near the marshes of the St. Johns River, outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

            The Gooding family joined this annual first-blackberry-picking event of the season. There were six of them—three boys and three girls. My brother and I brought the number to eight boisterous youngsters—ready for the hunt!

            Parents set our boundaries and issued warnings about snakes, stickers and sandspurs. They might as well-a’-been-talkin’ to the wind. We grabbed our buckets and raced down the slope to be first to find the biggest blackberry in the patch.

            Shouts of competitive exuberance filled the air.

            “I got the big one!”

            “ Nope, I do!”

             We shrieked and laughed and scrambled here and there, hoping to find the berry of the day—waiting to be picked by someone—hopefully me. And truth is, we ate as many as we picked, evidenced by toothy grins smeared with tell-tale black juice tinting our lips, our tongues, and grimy fingers.

            During one of those scrambles Elaine, running faster than all the rest, lost her balance, bounced bottom first down the sandy slope, and landed right in the middle of a patch of cactus.

            Her wails brought an end to our fun. We gathered our juice-stained buckets, full of  luscious berries and trudged up the hill. And deposited our black jewels in pans provided by the moms. The two dads carried the wounded berry-picker to the car where she laid, face-down across our laps, and cried all the way home.

            Our moms washed the black treasures, then mixed ingredients for the anticipated cobbler. My dad churned the homemade vanilla ice cream that would crown the scrumptious berries already bubbling in the oven.

             That left the unpleasant task of removing those nasty stickers from Elaine’s backside to her dad.

            I’ll admit, we were not sympathetic onlookers. She had spoiled our fun. We sneaked peeks around the corner and snickered and giggled with every shriek of pain—secretly grateful it wasn’t one of us.

            Glasses of iced tea with mint sprigs, bowls filled with warm cobbler and scoops-full of homemade ice cream proved our blackberry-picking day a success.

             Then we lingered in the backyard as the last moments of the day slipped away, swaying and singing in old wooden swings that hung by gnarled ropes from aged oak trees. But when fireflies flickered in the hedges, a whole new chase was on—to see who would capture the biggest, brightest insect.

            Everyone but Elaine, who stood with her bowl of cobbler and a sore backside. And her reward? The paddle from the ice cream churn!

            I no longer search country lanes, but drive to Walmart and buy expensive berries, packed in plastic—not a kid’s bucket—with a layer of moldy ones on the bottom.

             This evening I sat on the patio and watched the sun sink below the horizon, while the latest accounts of troubling information blared on the evening news, and my grandchildren texted me in three word sentences.

            I recalled these joyful childhood memories as I watched a couple of fireflies dart in and out of the bushes around our pond and marveled that times may change, but God is the same—yesterday, today, and forever. He is sovereign and on His Throne.

            But it makes my heart sad that my grandchildren will never experience the excitement of beating their friends to the biggest blackberry in the patch, or catching the brightest firefly in their jar, or joining lighthearted conversation with grown-ups as the day comes to an end.

            My memories of a tummy full of cobbler, topped with fresh homemade ice cream, wrapped in the blanket of love provided by family and friends, while holding my jar full of God’s miraculous, little lights, are safely tucked in the secret places of my heart.

            Precious memories this world of technology and idols can never duplicate.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 NAS).

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Ever throw a party and no one showed up? I have. It’s humiliating. But have you ever heard of not having a party and everyone came? It happened at our house one Christmas Eve many years ago.

My earliest memories of Christmas Eve were Mama and Daddy’s annual Christmas Open House. Invitations went out the first of December, addressed, with times staggered, so folks would arrive in small groups because of the size of our modest home. But every year they came, fifty, sixty, seventy-five of them, all arriving early and staying ‘til…

Laughter, singing, and joyful conversation filled all the rooms of our house and Christmas Eve became a Rockefeller-Center-event for my brother, Andy and me.

Mama’s food would have made Paula Deen proud. The house sparkled, the tree shimmered, and the table—always a picture out of Southern Living. My brother and I were as excited about the party as we were the gifts under the tree. And we were allowed to stay up late while other kids had to go to bed. Daddy said Santa made an exception for us and placed our house on his last-stop-list before returning to the North Pole.

But one Christmas Eve in the mid ‘50’s, my parents decided not to have their annual Christmas Eve party. No polishing silver, no party preparations, no delicious smells from Mama’s kitchen. It didn’t even seem like Christmas to my brother and me.

Andy and I moped over Christmas Eve dinner and prepared for a gloomy evening with the folks and the sentence of an early bedtime.

Until headlights shined in the driveway, followed by a second set of headlights, and then another and another. The doorbell rang and a crowd of expectant-party-goers shouted “Merry Christmas”.

Daddy opened the door and after an awkward moment of silence between the guests and would-be-hosts, Mama and Daddy’s smiles lit up as bright as our Christmas lights and they ushered the confused guests into our living room.

There would be a party after all.

Mama’s Christmas cookies were rushed to the table, and the fresh coconut cake ready for tomorrow’s dinner would soon be gobbled. She was the poster model for magic chef. Within minutes the table miraculously filled with delicious tidbits from Mama’s fridge and pantry.

I heard ladies tell her over and over, “I thought my invitation was lost in the mail.” And, “it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without gathering at your house.”

Next day we ate left-over’s for Christmas dinner and laughed and agreed it had been the best party ever. Mama and Daddy pledged never to cancel their party again. They couldn’t—the people would come even without an invitation.

How times and relationships have changed. I marvel at these precious memories. A night so many years ago filled with good news. The good news of friendships—love and delight in just being together. The good news of  Mama and Daddy who gave us a home where grace and love and friendships trumped all else. The good news of confidence that all who came to our table would be blessed and welcomed by my folks.

How appropriate is this loving memory of my parents tonight, at the beginning of the 2012 Christmas celebration.

Yet, over two thousand years ago, another invitation was issued by an angelic choir in the skies over Bethlehem. An invitation first given to shepherds who received the Good News of Jesus.

God’s invitation, brought by His Son, who guarantees a place at God’s table. A table in an eternal home, with a forever family where mercy and grace and a loving relationship wait to be lavished on any and all who will come to Jesus.

Have you accepted your invitation? It’s not lost in the mail, it’s in the Word and in your heart. He promised, there’s a seat at His table—just for you. Your name is engraved on the place card and the smiling face and loving arms of Jesus are stretched open to welcome you.

The date’s been set. The preparations are in order. Will you be there?

Award winning article in North Texas Christian Writers 2012 “Write Before Christmas” contest.

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