Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Secret Ingredient

In my mom’s kitchen, there is a stool. This stool has been a fixture since my youth. It was a place for “time out” when I had exhausted my mother’s patience. It was the stool where I sat and talked for hours on the phone with my husband during our dating years. It was also the spot I sat and learned to cook.

I would sit there as my mother prepared meals for family gatherings. I watched her hands measure, mix and serve. I loved this spot for several reasons … one, I could visit with my mom; two, I got to sample everything she was cooking and three, I could learn how to cook as well as she always had for our family.

After I was married, I assumed all those things would automatically follow me to my kitchen. I wanted those same things in the kitchen I would share with my husband and someday children. I remember the day I unpacked all my kitchen wares. Each utensil and canister had a specific place. I chose the place according to what I had seen in my mother’s kitchen. I unpacked countless recipe books and hand scribbled recipes from my youth. I recall thinking how great it would be to have my husband and his friends enjoy a meal I fixed with my own two hands.

Surprise, I found I could NOT cook! I made a disaster of recipe after recipe. I tried so hard and got myself so upset, I made silly mistakes … like the time I mixed up the measurement of sugar and salt in a pumpkin pie. Yes, I did! I put a cup of salt into a pie! I wanted desperately to make “biscuits and gravy” for my young husband. I wanted it to taste just like my mom’s and his mom’s gravy. I had the recipe and all the perfect equipment. Why wasn’t I achieving my goal?
This entire frustration came to a boiling point when I was about 7 months pregnant with our first son. We had been married 8 months and I still did not know how to make gravy. My husband was craving it and our moms lived about twelve hours away. So, there wasn’t a simple fix of driving to our parents for a quick satisfying meal. I called my mom … she said yes I was putting in all the right ingredients. I stewed and fretted … and then my husband did something that I nearly beat him over! He called his mother and gave the phone to me … he told me to listen to her and do it her way. Oh yes, he did! My mother-in-law is a great cook ... one to take advice from and I love her ... but in that moment, I wanted to be the great cook. I didn't want another woman telling me what I was doing wrong. We can laugh about this now but as a very pregnant woman … this was not funny and not a happy moment. I listened and did it … still it didn’t work.
I ended up calling my mom and telling her I was a complete failure. I couldn’t cook my husband’s favorite meal and I had boiled my frustrations over a phone call to his mother. There was a moment of silence … then, my mom’s soft laugh.
“Aine Marie, did you remember the love?”
“What are you talking about Mom?” I was not in the mood for any hidden meanings.
“It won’t taste the same without the love.”

Stop and think about that for a minute … It’s not the same without the Love. I ended the call and spent a lot of time thinking about her words. I had used up so much energy trying to perfect my cooking skills. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to impress everyone with my abilities. I wanted … I wanted … in all my wanting I forgot about the wants, desires, needs or pleasure of my husband.
This situation reminds me of my walk with God. And, it reminds me of the scriptures in 1st Corinthians 13 “The Excellence of Love.” We can do all sorts of things trying to find a perfect recipe for salvation and pleasing our Father. But, if we forget to do it with love … it just doesn’t come out right.
Today, when I make a meal for my family, the most important ingredient ... the secret ingredient is love. I put my love for each person into the meal.
How about you … do you remember the love in your daily walk with God?
1st Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two Bare Feet

My husband and I maneuvered across the ice covered sidewalk. The large cardboard boxes in tow made it difficult to keep our balance. Our destination was a small white house filled with children longing for Christmas gifts. It was early Saturday morning, the air was cold and icicles hung from every possible point. I looked up the steps and noticed one thing ... no festive lights were shining from the windows.

We reached the door and knocked ... once, twice and a third time. The door opened to a smiling woman still wearing pajamas. She looked from me to the boxes. I recited the speech given at each house before ...

"Merry Christmas, we're here from Operation Elf."

Again, the woman smiled and then whispered "Thank you." She reached for the boxes.

From behind her, a small boy of maybe 7 stepped out of the half darkness and pulled the door further open. His smile was huge and his eyes were bright. What caught me the most was his hair, a mohawk style haircut ... Having three boys, I know this haircut is huge with the little guys.

"I love your hair, that is so cool!" I leaned down and met his gaze as his mother took the boxes from us and placed them inside.

I glanced over his shoulder, my eyes adjusted to the half darkness and I saw bed sheets hanging
over the windows and very little furniture. Something caught my eye, in the middle of the room was a mattress. I could see tussled hair from three or four sleeping individuals sticking out from thin blankets. At the bottom of the blankets ... two small bare feet poked out.

I swallowed hard at the lump growing in my throat. We finished our delivery amidst the little boy's reciting of his Christmas wish list. I swallowed again, his wishes were not in those boxes. My oldest son and I had helped wrap those gifts. So, I knew there wasn't a Nintendo DS in any of the brightly wrapped boxes. We made our way back across the ice and into our warm car.

There were no words at first, just the quiet and exchanged looks between my husband and me. Our three boys sat in the back seat, bundled in their winter garb. I felt the tears form at the corners of my eyes ...

"Jerry that house felt really cold." On a day like that, heat would normally welcome you from the doorway. I had felt no heat from this house.

"Yeah, it did ..." Jerry's voice trailed off and he looked back at our blessings.

"Did you see those little feet poking out from the blankets?"

"No, I couldn't see past the door."

I went into an explanation of what my eyes had seen and my heart had felt. We fell silent and drove to the next delivery point. In my mind, I started a wish list of my own. I wished I had enough money to go and buy that little boy everything on his list. I wished their house was warm. I wished the provider in their family could find work and provide things for his children.

I didn't wish that because I felt those parents were failing their children. I wished them because I think those parents were wishing the same things.

That was mid December last year. Our family signed up to be part of a community project to provide presents for struggling families. We're planning to take part in the community service again. But, just taking part doesn't seem like it's enough. I am still adding things to my wish list. I wish I could do more. I wish there something I could do for those families. I wish I could provide jobs for each family.

Why is it some people pray and get a miracle and others pray and get the answer no? Have you ever felt this way or questioned this same thing?

For me, this is the most difficult aspect of my faith. With every other question, every other hurt ... I can find peace in my faith.

Why is it that one person wins a battle against cancer and another person looses? Why does one child have friends and another not? Why are some wealthy and some poor? Why do some children live carefree lives and other children endure pain? Why do some men find jobs and others don't?

These are just a small portion of the questions fighting for first place in my mind?

It's easy to say ... In God's time ... when you aren't the one facing a difficult situation. Don't misunderstand me, I am a firm believer in God's timing. He sees a bigger picture, the future and all the possibilities and outcomes for each situation. I trust His perfect timing, but that trust doesn't always mean the journey is easy. And, it doesn't make each step certain.
As a believer, sometimes I think I am not allowed weakness or difficulty in understanding God's ways. Sometimes, I feel like any sign of weakness will cause others to doubt the One I put my trust in. I realized something ... in all those things ... I'm the one not trusting. I have to trust in each situation, each answer "no" ... God is in control. My weakness lets Him shine. My fears, let Him prove His love.

In all my wishing ... in that long list of wishes ... I forgot to give it to God.

Have you ever felt that way?

Revelation 7:17 "For the lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes."

Luke 9:23 - 24 "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This House We Built

I love music, especially country music. I'm a huge CMT and GAC fan. There are numerous songs that spark memories of my childhood, my marriage and my children.

Do you have those songs? Maybe a favorite song and when you hear it ... you are immediately caught up in a memory?

Today, as I was driving home from work, Brooks and Dunn was playing on my radio. "I'm Proud of the House We Built" came flooding through the speakers. Every lyric fits the life I have lived with my husband, Jerry.
We were married just two short months after I graduated from high school.
While most of my friends were picking colleges, I was picking out a wedding dress. While those same friends were moving into college dorms, I was moving into my first apartment as a married woman.

A year later, my friends were starting their first summer break from college and I was bringing home my first son. We were barely getting by paying the bills and supporting our little guy.

At the time, I never really gave much thought to how different my life course was from my friends. At sixteen years of age, I knew my days would be numbered right beside Jerry Willis. I didn't want it any other way and I wouldn't trade my today or yesterdays for any other.

When I hear "I'm Proud of the House We Built", I see an 18 year old, brown eyed boy ... asking
me to marry him. I can feel each memory in my heart and I'm very proud of the life we built. I'm thankful God gave me a man who could love me through the tough times and enjoy the good times right beside me.

We don't have a mansion on the hill. There are usually more bills than money. But, our house is stronger than any stone or steel. Our house is built on a strong foundation of love.

One truth kept me going and holds today, lots of things will come and go ... but love never will.

What's your favorite song and why does it mean so much to you?

Luke 6:48 "He is like a man building a house, who has dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Favorite Cup

This is a picture of my favorite coffee cup. Do you drink coffee, do you have a favorite mug? If you do, then there is probably a story behind the mug. A reason why it's your favorite. My cup is special because it was a gift from Jerry, my husband. A few years ago, Jerry worked for a trucking company. He was away for days at a time, traveling all across the United States. The one place I wanted to go with him was Maine. Of course, he got a trip to Maine on an occasion I couldn't be off work and the boys had things going that kept me at home. He knew I was disappointed. The trip took him several days, he drove home late at night and crawled into bed. The next morning, I got up and went to get my coffee. This cup sat right beside my coffee pot. It let me know Jerry understood my disappointment and he cared.

Not to mention the words on the cup are true ... "Crabby Till I Get My Coffee." Jerry knows me so well.

Only a few months later, my cup fell and cracked. I was devastated. Sure, it's just a coffee cup to most people but for me, it's the story behind the cup. I spent a lot of time gluing and testing the cup. It took a while for the cup to repair and hold liquid again. And, it may not look the best on the outside but it serves the purpose intended. Not to mention, I can still enjoy drinking coffee out of that cup and thinking about how it came to rest in my hands.

Each time we have company, I make a pot of coffee. Everyone knows where the coffee cups are kept. Each time, it never fails, they pass on my favorite coffee cup. They might reach for it, but when they see the crack ... they pass and pick a different one. In fact one person even pulled it out and told me I shouldn't keep it.

That particular person looked directly at me with my cup in hand and said "You should throw this thing out, no way it's ever gonna hold liquid. As soon as you put hot coffee in that thing, it'll crack again and you'll have a mess to clean up."

I took my beloved cup, walked to the fridge and put some (OK, well maybe a lot, that's how I like it) creamer in the bottom. Then, I moved to the coffee pot and poured the dark steaming liquid directly into MY cup. I held it up as proof. No leaks. I took a sip and said "It's not worthless, it's mine and I love it."

There's another reason I love this cup. It reminds me of my Father's love. Even when I fall and get "cracked", He doesn't give up on me. He picks me up and takes time to repair those cracks. When everyone else is looking at my faults and all the flaws on my outside ... He looks at my heart. He sees the me that can still be used for His purpose. He knows the story that brought me to rest in His hands. That's what He cares about. He doesn't care about the cracks or how much time He had to spend fixing each blemish or flaw.

Sometimes I kind of think about Him holding me up when someone else looks at me and says ... "She's worthless." Or, when I'm looked over because someone else looks better. I can hear Him say ... "She's not worthless, she's MINE and I love her."
Are you feeling worthless today? If so, turn your heart over to the One who can repair those broken places.

Psalm 62:1-2 "My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him alone. He alone is my rock, my salvation. He is my fortress, I will not be shaken."

Every saint has a past ... Every sinner has a future.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One Tear Drop

There have been times in my life ... times when another person's tear causes me to cry. Thursday was one of those times.
I went to my sister's house. I stopped by to see her and my nieces. Have I told you about those two nieces? I love them like crazy. Outside of my three boys, these are my favorite kids in the world. I've blogged before about my niece who has been touched by Treacher Collins. Her name is Hope and her sister is Alex. Treacher Collin's is a craniofacial syndrome that affects the ears, nose and throat. Hope was born without ears ... only buds (or lobes). Her biggest wish is to have ears just like her big sis, Alex. Why? Because she wants to listen to her MP3 just like all the other kids.
Thursday, I was visiting them because Hope came home from surgery. She had extenders put into the skin just below the hairline and above her ear buds. This was a painful process and it was only the beginning of an even longer process. Those extenders will be inflated once a week for the next eight weeks. Ending with the effort to form ears for her from that skin.
I climbed the stairs to their rooms. Along the way, we passed family pictures and Hope gave an excited breath. "See, my ears are cute like Alex!"

I played Littlest Pets and listened to the girls tell me all kinds of stories about those toys. Then, it was time to get ready for bed.
Sometimes, I forgot how much my sister and brother-in-law handle with Hope's disability. Thursday, I was reminded as we all piled into the bathroom. My sister filled a small cup with a mixture of Peroxide and water. Hope started to whimper, Alex reached for her little hand ... it was time to clean her incisions.
Alex and I held hands with Hope as my sister cleaned the incisions on both sides of Hope's head. My brother-in-law was at work or he would've been right there with us. That's how it works for their family, they are a team.
My sister spoke soft words of comfort, calming words. That's when I saw it ... one small tear slid down Hope's cheek and landed on the bathroom countertop.
In my lifetime, I have cried tears over many things. Some trivial and some not so trivial. This evening, I considered how many tears my niece would cry in her lifetime. She is spunky and full of spirit. She'll endure this pain because it is the path to something she desires ... ears . Something most of us take for granted. For Hope, each piece of independence is gained at a price. That price is pain.
I realized pain is a process that is followed by healing. Most every desire we have is achieved through the endurance of pain. Whether that pain is physical or emotional, it is necessary.
Is there something your heart desires?
Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."
This picture is our youngest boy, Kregg, with Hope. They are rather impatiently waiting for fireworks to start at our annual 4th of July cookout.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mama's Hands

Have you ever seen the movie "Beaches?" I love the movie. I cry every time I watch it ... I love movies that make me cry and ones that make me think. "Beaches" does both.

The entire movie is based on the friendship of Hillary and CC. Two girls from completely different backgrounds. We watch them become childhood friends and follow that friendship through adulthood. One scene in particular captures me. Hillary had found out she is ill and dying. Her little girl is sitting on the beach with her and makes a comment that they have the same hands. Hillary begins searching for a picture of her mother's hands. It was extremely important to her and CC (her friend) helps her find it. She holds the picture and compares her hands to those of her mother.

As I look through pictures of my own mother, I see the resemblance in my hands to hers. But, it's not the physical comparison that matters most to me. It's the emotional, spiritual comparison that I'm after.

Her hands held me when I was a baby, when I cried and wanted rocking. Her hand held mine while I learned to walk and her hand let go at just the right time for my independence.

Those same hands administered a swat to my backside when necessary. Which seemed to be rather often for me ... I was strong willed and still am.

Her hands could be found baking various things during the holidays. I recall a family friend who moved away and when I saw him years later ... his first comment was "Does your mom's kitchen still smell good?" I looked at him oddly ... and he said "What, you don't know what I'm talking about? You're mom was always baking something and it always smelled so good. I could go for some of her cinnamon rolls right about now."

Those hands decorated our home with Christmas ornaments. They washed my clothes and my face. They held me when I was a teenager and needed a safe place to figure out how to make my own way in this crazy world.

They wiped away tears of disappointed when I lost my first art competition, broke up with my boyfriend and buttoned up my wedding dress. They were there when I had my first miscarriage.

Those hands folded in prayer for me, my sister and our own families.

All of these things were done with two hands.

I stretch my own hands out and look at them. What are my hands doing? Do my boys have my hands? And, what will my boys remember about my hands?

My prayer is that I am using my hands for the purposes God intended. I want them to give love to my husband and boys. I pray they are a safe place for my children and a comfort when my boys need someone to hold them.

What are your hands doing? Whether you are a father, mother, daughter, son or somewhere in between ... God has a purpose for your hands ... for you.

Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it."

Proverbs 14:1 "The wise woman builds her house. But the foolish pulls it down with her hands."

Saturday, October 3, 2009


My husband and I built our home just across the yard from my parents. Between my parents house and ours there is a gravel walkway. I couldn't even begin to number the times my boys have ran back and forth across that walk. The boys have carried goodies home from Grandma's and jogged back for lawnmower rides with Grandpa. I, myself, have ran across to gain comfort from my parents when a workday has been especially stressful.

During the summer months, the walk is shaded by a large walnut tree. When the days grow cooler, those walnuts begin to fall and cover part of the walk. This season in particular, the tree produced a large amount of walnuts. I started noticing them scattered across the walk and even part of my driveway. Just this past week, the green balls took over and chocked out any semblance of a path. Our boys used them for batting practice and putting practice. The cats played with the smaller walnuts, batting them around, chasing them and jumping back and forth between the ever growing numbers.

On Wednesday, I decided we better do something about the walnuts. It was getting so we couldn't walk to my parents or them to our house without tripping. So, after school, the boys joined me in the driveway with buckets to collect the pale green balls. We filled one five gallon bucket and turned to see our progress. Honestly, it didn't even look as though we had made a dent in the amount of nuts. There was still this ocean of nuts between our houses. Another five gallon bucket, a little progress ... at least we could see the gravel peaking from beneath the nuts.

My seven year old stopped mid stride, toting a bucket and sweating from the work. "Man, Mom ... this is hard work, it don't even look like we did anything yet!"

I stopped beside him and tussled his hair. "You're right, there are still lots of nuts. But, let's keep going, we'll get it done."

He sighed and heaved the bucket along, collecting nuts as he went. I stood straight, arching my back and realizing he was right. This was pretty hard work. And, in that moment, I saw something.

I saw my life and my walk with God. There are times when it's easy, when the weather may be hot but I walk in the shade He provides. Then, there are difficult times. Those times are usually a result of my own poor choices. My poor choices seem like those walnuts. They scatter across the path between me and God. If I don't take care of the poor choices and clean them up, I find myself tripping and I can't make my way to the comfort He is waiting to give.

Sometimes, there are so many nuts on my path, I feel like giving up. I want to walk away from the hard work and ask somebody else to clean it up for me.Italic When I feel that frustration start to take over, God is right there telling me ..."You're right, there's still a lot of hard work to do. But, keep going, we'll get it done."

How are you feeling today? Is your path cluttered with walnuts (poor choices)? Join me in the hard work, clean the path leading from your house to His heart. He's right there waiting, encouraging you and telling you not to give up.

Psalms 119: 2 "Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their hearts."

1st John 2:1-2 "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. "

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words will never hurt me."

I think we've all heard this phrase a time or two. During my grade school years, this was a taunt on the playground. It was usually accompanied by the sticking out of a tongue or an ugly face made to be cruel.

Have you said something ... done something lately without thinking? Have your words been chosen with little regard for how they may hurt?

I wish I could say this happens only in our youth. But, it doesn't ... adults are guilty of this perhaps even more often than children. And, Believers are guilty of this same shortcoming. We are no exception to this fault, we sin and fall short. In thinking about reckless words, I've come to a realization that this is directly related to judgement. Our judgement of others. Don't misunderstand me, I believe we should hold one another accountable. However, I feel there is a big difference between holding someone accountable and judging someone.

Holding someone accountable is to go to them with love in your words and let them know you disagree with something. Whether it is something the person has done, said or a particular behavior ... you are to go to them in private.

Standing in judgement of someone is to "wave a flag" of disapproval. That flag draws attention of others to the person's behavior or actions. It demeans the person and hurts them.
Angry, critical or reckless words are like bullets. Once you pull the trigger, you can't take back that round. No matter how hard you try or how much you wish those words out of existence ... you can't. Long after you've forgotten the words you shot, the hurt goes on. The person you hurt plays those words over and over again. The sting of your bullet doesn't easily heal.

Putting down the gun filled with bullets of angry words takes the help of God and our own personal discipline.

Years ago, my Uncle Leonard gave me a "life lesson." I was young and making a point to let my uncle know exactly how "bad" another child had been. He stopped me mid sentence, took my hand and bent my fingers so I was pointing at him. He asked me "How many fingers are pointing at this other kid?" My answer was "one." Then, he asked "And, how many fingers are pointing back at you, kid?" I remember looking at my hand and the realization of his point hit me. There were three fingers pointing back at me.

In that moment, he taught me something. Don't misunderstand me, there are days when I fall short. I judge rather than hold someone accountable. I say hurtful words rather than words of love. But, I try to remember the lesson he taught me.

Sawyer Brown has a song about this very subject. If you haven't heard it ... find it and listen to it. I believe the title is "They Don't Understand". The song tells judgement from the heart of the judged.

How is your heart today? Do you have scars left from the shot of someone's angry words? Have you been the one shooting bullets of anger or criticism?

Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge or you too will be judged."

Friday, October 2, 2009


Yesterday, our church family celebrated the life of a beautiful young mother. Her life on earth was cut short by cancer. What happens when you hear the word cancer? For me, I feel like my very breath is snatched away. It frightens me because there seems to be no way to prevent it from happening. It makes me think a lot about my own mortality.

Something about this woman ... her life and death ... Something shook the safety net I've knit around my life. Have you ever done that? Created a net around your life to protect you from the world and all its sadness? I do that ... a lot. I think I am healthy, so I won't get sick. I'm a safe driver, so I won't be involved in a car accident. I don't smoke, so I won't have breathing or respiratory issues. I don't drink to an excess, so I won't have liver damage. My children and husband are healthy. I have a full time job and benefits. So, death, injury and financial struggles aren't going to touch my life.

But, then I learned this woman had cancer. A form of cancer someone her age, health and background of life should not have. And, I realized, it doesn't matter what I do, I can't stop death or sadness.

The only thing I can do ... make my life, every moment of it ... matter, count. To live my life so in the moment I pass from life on earth into life in the hereafter ... my loved ones mourn and the angels rejoice. I haven't been living that way. Lately, I've been too wrapped up in my own work and wants.

Today, I want to say ... Thank you, Angie. Thank you for your life and death.
Your death has reminded me of things I take for granted. Your passing made me realize there are things I should be enjoying, because tomorrow isn't a guarantee.

Today, I will stop to color pictures with my 5 year old instead of doing the dishes. I'll listen to my 7 year old talk about football and StarWars instead of doing the laundry. I'll talk to my 15 year old and let him share his thoughts, feelings. And, I'll let my husband know how much I love him, I need him and ... even after 16 years of marriage ... I still love it when he stops to see me at work with a cup of coffee or even just to say "hi."

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away. Cherish the memories, the laughter and love"