The last words you will ever hear…

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As you know, for the last few weeks, I have been attempting to post positive, uplifting, or humorous stories because I felt that we could all use that in today’s current climate. I was on a good run, and then the rug was pulled out from under me once again. My father unexpectedly passed away! Yes, he was 91. Yes, he had lived a long, wonderful life. Yes, he was ready to go. But I had just talked with him on the phone, and he was feeling great…

I got the call late Tuesday evening from my brother and sister, telling me that Daddy had passed out, was unresponsive, and they were taking him to the emergency room. Once he got to the hospital, he was in a lot of pain, and having great difficulty breathing. After a few tests, they “thought” he might have had a mild heart attack, was in the beginning stages of pneumonia, and had a horrible UTI. The decision was made to transfer him from our little local hometown hospital to a larger hospital in a nearby town. Once there, he was stabilized, and my brother reported that he was resting better.

Since I live in another state, I was trying to get to the hospital as quickly as I could. I did not make it in time!! I did not get to see him or tell him good-bye!! I was devastated that I did not get to tell him how much he meant to me, or that I loved him beyond reason. But then, I thought about our last conversation on the phone the week before. The last words he ever heard from me were, “I love you Daddy!” And the last words I ever heard from him were, “I love you baby!” He knew that I loved him, with every fiber of my being, and I knew that he loved me. We had spent a lifetime sharing and showing that love to each other.

I have always lived with the knowledge and the belief, that when you leave someone, it may well be the very last time you see them. None of us are really guaranteed one more moment of life than we have. As a result of that knowledge, I have always made certain that my last words to anyone are of full of love and caring. I have shocked some people by ending phone conversations, email messages, and direct dialogue with “love you,” or “you matter to me.” It seems to take them off guard. Some don’t know how to respond. Others respond immediately with similar affection. My message is clear: I ALWAYS want those in my heart to know how important they are to me, and to know that they are loved – fully and completely.

This whole experience made me start thinking about the words we use with others, and what will be remembered when we are gone. Are you careful in what you say to others? Think about your last words to those you love…Were they spoken in anger? Hurtful? Cruel? Lies? Or were the words spoken in love, supportive, meant to inspire, lift up, or motivate? You never know when any of the words that come out of your mouth will actually be the very last words that someone will hear.

When they explained to my Daddy that there was nothing they could do for him, that there were no options, his response was, “Praise God! Thank you Jesus!” Those were his last words before he simply stopped breathing in his sleep. I think that says everything you need to know about the kind of man he was. What will your last words be? And will people remember them? Will they be happy or terribly sad with that memory? Maybe we need to give a little more attention to what we say…and who is listening. I think I will try to be even more like my Daddy…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

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“Red and yellow, black and white…they are precious in His sight…”

It was late one night and I got the above message from two good friends…just a photograph that said “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” I knew that there had been no pregnancy, so I was clueless as to what this meant. I wrote back, “WHAT???” My sweet friend and her husband had desperately wanted to have a child together, but it was not possible. They turned to adoption here in the U.S. and learned that they were “too old.” I just busted out laughing when they told me that! I could NOT believe that was valid criteria for THEIR adoption, but learned very quickly that it was. So, like many individuals in the United States, who want very much to share their love and lives with a child who desperately needs a loving family, they turned to the adoption of a foreign child.

After a very long process, they qualified to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Turns out, though, there were TWO children up for adoption – a little girl and her younger brother that the agency did not want to separate. So my friends became “instant” parents to two beautiful babies. I have watched their growth and “blossoming” in the love of their parents and family. I have laughed at their antics and “discoveries” in this new life. I have watched as they grow into their “personalities.” They have had a wonderful life…up until the past few months. At school, other children are now telling them that they are going to be sent back to Ethiopia, that they will have to leave their parents. They’ve endured others yelling at them, “Go back to Africa!” My heart can almost not take this! I can only imagine what their parents are feeling in the depths of their souls. I imagine my own little niece and nephew…how scared and confused they would be if someone told them they would be taken away from their parents…that they would be sent to a foreign place that they did not know or recognize. I wonder how could you console those babies? How would you assure their fears were baseless? I cannot come up with any solution that would “fix” that particular situation. I don’t know how I would deal with attempting to comfort a child’s very real fear regarding these actions. I mean, really, what could you possibly say? And how would you deal with the anger over someone else doing this to your child? I don’t think I would be able to contain that anger, because I am angry right now about how these two precious children are being treated, and they are not even MINE!!

I have another very dear, close, lifetime friend who married an African American – she was, and is, a very white caucasian. Unfortunately, the marriage was not successful, but they had two precious, absolutely drop dead gorgeous, biracial daughters who I have had the privilege and honor to watch, and share their lives, as they grew to be wonderful, loving adults and mothers themselves. They are simply family to me, and I love them with a full heart, unconditionally. I have nieces and nephews who have dated, and do date individuals different from their own ethnicity and culture. I have Hispanic friends who fill my heart with joy. They work hard, are not on welfare, and have values that are very similar to mine. Although I am from the “South,” and “southern” through and through, I WAS NOT TAUGHT PREJUDICE!

Children are so wonderfully cute and adorable when they are babies. The thing about children though, is that they grow up into adults. And what was “tolerated” as a child, is not always tolerated and accepted once they become adults. Like being Ethiopian…or African American…or Hispanic…cute as babies, but not so much as adults…But here’s the deal, remember the song we learned as children in Sunday School? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have to believe that! I have to act on that! If God made us in His image, then doesn’t that mean that every race and ethnic group is in HIS image??

The God I was taught to love and serve dictates my actions…to feed someone who is hungry; to give them clothes when they have none; to provide monetary support if that is necessary; to treat them as equal, human beings with dignity and respect; to LOVE THEM AS I WOULD LOVE MYSELF!!

Most of you know that I lost my Mama to Alzheimer’s, and I have shared some of those stories from our journey. During one Doctor visit, they were giving her yet another Mini Mental Status Questionnaire. One part of the test asked her to write a sentence. (And with each test, her sentences got shorter and shorter, until there were no sentences at all.) On this particular test, she wrote “I love all people.” I knew this to be true, for that is how she lived, and that is how she taught me. “I love all people.” How profound! And wouldn’t the world be such a better place if everyone practiced this? For you see, they ARE precious in His sight, and as a result, they MUST be precious in my sight also! Maybe we could all be a little bit more loving and accepting during our journey on this earth. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Is that your duck…or just a quacker?

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As many of you know, I live on a beautiful lake in east Tennessee. Words like “breathtaking” or “beautiful” are so inadequate to describe the beauty and nature that I am fortunate enough to see each day. It would be like saying that a hurricane is a “little wind.” Words are just useless…but, hopefully, you catch my drift. Each morning, I look forward to what the day may reveal in the way of natural beauty and nature. We have had a wonderful Spring – not too hot, not too cool. Just right! And, oh my, the flowers, smells, sunrises, sunsets and new little “nature babies” are everywhere. So this week’s post is about some of those little babies…

We don’t know what happened to her, only that she was hurt. At first, we couldn’t figure out whether she had been hit by a car, been in a fight with a predator, or had gotten her foot stuck in a crevice or between rocks. The bottom line, however, was that she could only hop around on one foot. There was no way we could catch her, to take her to the vet. We simply had to watch her struggles, and each morning we were greeted with apprehension as to whether she had made it through another night, or had succumbed to the injury and died. Despite all the odds, she seemed to get stronger each day, and although her foot did not completely heal the way it was supposed to, she could still fly, and she now walked with a limp – a little “hop” actually. So one of our neighbors (the animal-loving ones…) named her “Hoppy.”

For the past three years, we have looked forward to Hoppy returning to our lake (and homes) each spring. This year, she had a little surprise for us…she was pregnant, and ended up having 11 (count ’em – ELEVEN) little ducklings. They have been adorable and we have had so much fun watching their “antics,” and watching them grow each day. As a result of my doing this, I have made some huge discoveries regarding motherhood.

Each day, this little mother has been responsible for feeding all of the ducklings, teaching them the “ways of the wild,” and keeping them safe every moment of their lives. (By the way, she really is a single Mom, with no help from anyone else, with the exception of a few neighbors who put out food for her and the babies.) We usually try not to count how many babies there are, because when you see that one is missing, you know that something bad happened. But I can’t seem to help myself, I count. So far (and they are almost totally grown now) she has only lost ONE baby. That is remarkable for this lake area, as we have eagles and hawks!

I have spent hours watching them, and what I see amazes me!! On one occasion, she apparently sensed some “danger” nearby, emitted a little sound that I could just barely hear, and every one of those ten babies swam to her side as if she were a magnet, and then they swam as “one unit” away from the danger, with her wings spread over them. You could hardly tell where a duckling started or ended. They looked like one bundle of feathers going down the lake.

I have watched as she finds a food source, and makes certain that each duckling is eating – all while she fervently scans about for danger. She is at attention and on guard every moment. Once they have all eaten, she will eat a little herself, and then off they go. It has been so much fun watching those babies learning how to eat. Some times they get too tired and will simply lay down in front of the food and eat. Other times, they will peck around the area quickly, getting as much food as possible. On another occasion, we had just put a little cracked corn out for them, knowing that they would be showing up within minutes to eat. In fact, they were in the next lot, watching us, waiting for the food. Mama took her time, but as she was watching the area closely, three HUGE crows zoomed into the tree just above the pile of corn. “In a New York second,” Mom gave another signal (I never heard it…), and ALL TEN of those babies raced over to the food before the crows could even get out of the tree! One crow made the mistake of trying to peck a little one, and Mama gave him a pretty good bite. He did not make a second attempt, and the babies got the food that was intended for them.

After eating, Mom took them back down to the water, and showed them how to “clean up.” She ducked her head under the water, came back up, spread her wings and flapped, all the while cleaning herself. Once she had done that a couple of times, she then gave another “silent” signal and all the babies began doing the same thing! Some got it right; some had to work at it a little harder. They were so adorable, doing everything that Mom did in perfect synchronization.

Those babies are smart! When Mom gives them direction, they respond immediately! They don’t lag behind, they don’t question “why,” they just act upon her instruction. Somehow they know that their livelihood and success depends solely on the teachings of their parent. And, of course, watching them got me to thinking about human parents and what lessons they are teaching their children. Do they let their children “slide,” and not follow directions or advice? Do they teach them lessons for failure or success? Do they love the children enough to be disciplined and to discipline? And most importantly, do they teach them by example? Those baby ducks get it! They KNOW that if they don’t do exactly what Mom is doing, they will not live to see another day. What are your children, grandbabies, nieces, nephews, etc., seeing when they watch you or observe your daily life actions? Is it something that will help them face the battles in life? Will they learn love and respect by watching what you do? Will they learn how to treat others with kindness and compassion? Will they learn how to work together? Will they realize the wonder and joy of what it means to be part of a family? Are you teaching them skills that can be used to succeed in life? Just WHAT are you saying to others as you live your life each day? Animals seem to get this…wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans got it too? Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Is that punch SPIKED???

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Sunday was Father’s Day!  I am so thankful that I still have a wonderful “Daddy” to honor and celebrate. He will be 90 in the fall of this year, and is doing well. We are going to have a HUGE party to celebrate this monumental occasion. He is already excited, telling everyone within listening distance that he is going to be 90!!! “90,” he says with wonder…he cannot believe it!  Most of you know that he was a Minister (preacher) for all of my life, which does make me a preacher’s kid…and I don’t want to hear any grief about that…lol! He pastored small country churches. I am certain that much of my love, respect, and passion for elders was developed in those little churches, because small country churches are FILLED with older adults (who sing really, really loud…). This week’s story is about an event that happened in one of those churches…

Just like in larger, metropolitan churches, babies are born, couples get married/divorced, and people die. As a result of those life events, my Father conducted numerous ceremonies for his church members. As the pastor’s family, we were not expected to attend the funerals; however, if it was a “joyous” occasion, like a wedding, we put on our “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, and got to attend. My Mama always made sure that we behaved and conducted ourselves in a manner befitting a “preacher’s family.” Although we had to put on those socks (with lace), patent leather shoes (that always hurt your toes) and wear the scratchy, “stand-out” petticoats (to look like a little lady), we always looked forward to going because of ALL THAT FOOD!!!

On this particular occasion, we had made it through the ceremony and had gotten to the reception without any incidents. Mama got us each a plate, filled with wedding cake and ice cream, a few peanuts, and a few of those wonderful “wedding mints.” She got us all together in one place, told us to stay put, and she went off to get our punch. Daddy, of course, was across the room talking and visiting with his members and the bride/groom’s family. Mama finally returned with the punch, sat down, and took a sip of the punch. She looked at me with horror on her face, and said, “The punch is spiked!” She then said, “Get over to your Daddy and tell him NOT to drink the punch!!” I ran over to get him, but he had already had THREE cups of punch, saying how good it was! Once we explained the situation, he immediately stopped drinking the punch and sought a way to remove himself (and us) from the vicinity. We could hardly stop laughing, trying to get to the car. (Daddy did NOT drive home that day!!) My Daddy had never tasted ANY alcohol, so he really was an innocent.

In today’s world, there’s not many grown children who can say that their Father never smoked, drank, cursed, or abused them in some way, whether physical or emotional…but I can! My Father set a true example for his children to follow. He never said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” He continually said, “Do as I do!” By living that sweet, pure life before us, he gave us the most wonderful example to follow. My Father took this responsibility to heart. He and Mother wanted (and planned for) all four children. He taught us wrong from right. He lived his life the way he wanted us to live ours…and we heard (and saw) that message loud and clear. We live fuller, more complete lives because of the lessons he taught us. I can’t think of any other person who truly emulates the word, “Christlike.” And no matter how old I get, he will ALWAYS be my “Daddy.” Let’s celebrate those Fathers every day – not on just one day out of the year. And stay away from that punch…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I just want to sharpen my pencil…”

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I’m wondering how many of you remember the item in the picture? Did you use this kind of pencil sharpener at school when you were little? Some will readily recognize the item, while others will simply not have a clue. But what you need to know is this little object had a lot to do with shaping me as a person. Here’s this week’s story…

As a child, I was very, very small; not “bigger than a minute.” In fact, I pretty much stayed that way until I reached young adulthood. In college, I would eat a Whopper hamburger each night and wash it down with a pint of half and half, just to break 100 pounds! I could hold the weight for only a few days, and then I would drop back down to under 100. And oh my, would it not be nice to have that “problem” now…

Each year, on the first day of school, the maintenance man would choose the shortest, smallest child and take a measurement as to where the pencil sharpeners for each room should be mounted. Each year, up until the fourth grade, I was that child! I would go up to that pencil sharpener, in front of the entire class, hold my little arms up as if I were sharpening a pencil, and they would take the measurement. After the first time, I caught on and realized that I was being singled out as the smallest child, and it would make me so upset. You see, to me, my height, or small frame, did not matter. I always thought that I was as big an anyone else, and that I could do anything that they could do. So it came as quite a shock that anyone considered me “little,” or “small.” In my head, it meant that I was “less” than the other children, that “less” was expected of me, or worse, that I “could not do” things as well.  I DID NOT LIKE THAT!! And you see, I had been taught, loved and supported by my family for those first five years of my life to believe that I could do anything….that I was no better or worse than anyone else, and no one was better or worse than me. I kept thinking, I will just show them…I worked hard to excel in everything!! No one was ever going to “out do” me! I even tried to eat more so that I could be bigger each year (not that it worked…). And so it began…all A’s…fastest runner on the playground…biggest, fastest talker (I’m sure all of you who know me are getting a real chuckle out of that one!)…best singer in the music shows…best actress in the school play…”must” win at games…most “popular” in school…it went on and on…Most of my school life was spent accepting “challenges,” and proving people wrong…all because of that dad-blasted pencil sharpener…

My senior Chemistry class was taught by the football coach, and my particular class was filled with the entire football team. There were only three of us ladies in the class. If we won the game on Friday night, we had a party in class on Monday. If we lost the game, we had a pop quiz. Early on, the coach began “picking on” me. For the first time ever, I failed a test…and received a big, old fat “F!” In front of the class, he held the test just out of my reach, giggled with delight, and told me that I was going to fail his class. I was humiliated!! I went home and all of those old “pencil sharpener” feelings bubbled up. It had been years since I had experienced anything like that! It made me angry, and the anger prompted action. I decided that I would never give the coach the satisfaction of failing me for chemistry! I decided that he would eat his words, and that I would prove him wrong. It was a very long year, with him pushing me and making fun of me in front of the class. I aced the class, and was exempt from even taking the final exam. I had come through once again, all because of that goofy pencil sharpener…

In today’s world, the coach would have been called a bully, and certainly, rightfully so! However, because of my experience as a child, with that pencil sharpener, I was equipped to face the challenges that were thrown at me. I know it probably sounds so silly, but most of us are “shaped” by “defining moments” in life, and our response to them. I could have let the “measuring” experience defeat me, but I just could not accept an image in my head, being smaller and “less” than anyone. It just would not compute!!

I don’t think that I could have ever been a parent. Actions, words, habits…you never know which “one little thing” is going to impact a child’s world negatively (or positively), and shape their future. The experience with the pencil sharpener could have defeated me, but my parents had already laid the foundation. They had already made me strong, no matter what my physical size might have been. I don’t think adults think hard enough about the effect they have on children’s lives. A spirit can be broken, or nurtured/cultivated, so easily. We need to think! How we face current challenges, disappointments, and failures is usually determined by how we were taught to face them when we were little. I’m going to continue to “prove them wrong” every time, and I intend to always be aware of my teaching “opportunities” with children and young adults. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I didn’t raise a dummy…”

So…you have not heard from me in quite a while…There are reasons, and maybe some day I will write about them, but for now, I am going to attempt to continue the posts on a more regular basis. With that being said, let’s begin with a new story…

I am at a time in my life where I find I want to “downsize.” For the last few months, I have been going through boxes that have been “stored,” and not been opened in over 10 years. You just have to wonder…WHY did I save that “stuff,” if I was going to keep it in a box for that length of time? And if I had not used it, or missed it, in over ten years, I surely don’t think I needed it NOW!! It had just gotten ridiculous!!

While going through some of the “memorabilia,” I discovered a little red New Testament Bible that my Grandmother had given me when I was just a small girl. I had forgotten that she gave me the little Bible, and also that I had saved it. The minute I touched the cover, all the memories came rushing back…when she gave it to me, and what she whispered to me as she held me in her lap. It is certainly one of the items that I will be keeping for the rest of my life. However, as I was looking through the old and worn pages, a note fell out. The note was from my sweet Mama, and here is what it said…

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When I first started speaking to various groups/companies/associations across the country, Mother always said, “I would love to hear you speak.” I was usually in some part of the United States, far away from where she lived.  But on one occasion, I was going to be nearby, so I asked if she would like to attend the conference to hear me “do my thing.” She was so excited! The day arrived and she rode with me to the conference. I got her a good seat so she could see her daughter “in action.” Conference representatives made the necessary announcements, introduced me as the speaker, and I began my presentation. Every time I looked at her face, she was grinning from ear to ear, and watching the people around her, listening to me. She wrote this note during the presentation, and gave it to me before she left to go home…a note that I will also keep for the rest of my life… Later in life, as Alzheimer’s devoured her mind and body, she would continue to ask me about my presentations, and if “they” liked me. And, as always, upon my affirmative answer, she would say with such pride…”that’s MY baby…”

I know children (both young and adult) who have never known that their Mom or Dad were proud of them. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must feel like, for all I have ever known is that unconditional love and support. I KNEW that my parents believed in me and thought I could do anything! And that belief became reality! I really DO believe I can do anything…even now, after all of these years! Parents, do you constantly berate a child (whether young or adult), and bring failures (whether real or imagined) to their attention? Do you make them feel as if they are NEVER “good enough?” Have you told your children how proud you are of them? Have you shared with them the joy they bring to your lives? Have you told them how much you love them, and believe in them? If not, why not take the time to do so today? It would be so wonderful for them to know they are valued and loved…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….