Crossing the Street to Peace

Naomi Judd’s battle with depression saddened me in a way few understand.  Hers was a “drug-resistant,” lifelong struggle with a disease that eventually took Naomi away.  She fought abuse and poverty earlier in life, worked diligently to become a nurse to support her children, and used her Christian faith to live through hardships.  She gained fame with her God-given musical talent, was loved by her family, and lived in comfort.

“So, why did she take her life?”  “What in the world could be so bad that she no longer saw any good?”  “I don’t understand how she could be so selfish.”  These are examples of comments people who don’t understand say after one hears about a suicide.

Lack of mental health knowledge and compassion is akin to a person who lives in poverty versus the individual who has always existed with the proverbial silver spoon.   If one has lived most of their days happily, how can they possibly understand some find it difficult to just discover peace?  

My own battle

When I was a little girl and watched my friends be carefree, I recall thinking, “I wish I were like them!”  As far back as I can remember, I was always a bit embarrassed being me.   I tried to hide my wheezing caused by asthma, my allergy-induced swollen eyes, or the eczema that covered my arms.  The Oscar-worthy comedic acting routine I used was to conceal the pain deep within my soul. 

I loved people but was never sure that anyone truly loved me.  Because of my health issues, I felt like a burden, a loser, and since I wasn’t the smartest kid on the block, I deemed myself to fail.

Did anyone understand me?  No, not even my parents.  I was called too sensitive, too emotional, and told to be more thankful. 

The asthma was gone before I was thirty, and the allergies were under control.  However, the cheery act was up, and the little girl fell to the floor.  The hiding and charade were over when I raised my hand for help.

I tried to be more grateful, prayed to God for aid, and wondered why I was not like my pals.  I once told a friend who wanted to comprehend how I felt, “I envision myself on a busy street in New York City.  All the people hurry in one direction, talk to each other, laugh as they walk, and enjoy the sunshine.  On the other hand, I am walking alone on the other side of the street in the rain, but not sure where I am trying to go.  I want to join the others, but I can’t find a way to cross the road.”

Hope on the way for some

Naomi Judd suffered from treatment-resistant severe depression.  She was open about it and shared her journey, hoping to help others as she tried to help herself.  However, I cannot imagine her despair and anxiety. 

After receiving my own clinical depression diagnosis, I imagined that I would cross the street to normalcy one day.  In the beginning, I, too, was drug-resistant and used therapy, jogging, and prayer to get through the hours.

Looking back, I am thankful I wasn’t financially comfortable.  I needed to work to put food on the table for my children.  That was my sole motivation for living, which undoubtedly saved my life.  Even when the depression tried to kill me, I fought, in the end, to live.  But let me tell you, at times, it wasn’t easy, and I thank God today that He saved me from me.

When the newer medications for anxiety and depression arrived, I was one of the lucky ones they helped.  Naomi was not so fortunate.  She tried everything from potent drugs to complex therapies, but she lived with hearing the whispers of depression daily.  I suspect the voice told her that she was a burden, unlovable, and useless, and though the crowds applauded her, she could not cross the street.

On some dark days, even I still hear those same faint, annoying whispers.

A Promise

Friends, family, and advisors help, or they try.  What a person suffering from mental health issues does not need is to be judged by others who haven’t walked on that agonizing road alone.  We, who suffer from depression, do not need to be told how grateful we should be or how selfish we are, and we certainly don’t mean to be thoughtless.  In those dire moments when we contemplate ending our lives, most of us feel we are making yours miserable, so we should leave.  Understand, the depression causes our minds to become ill and grow weary.  

So, Naomi, I promise to continue being transparent to help those who suffer cross the street toward peace.   I pray you found it. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

A More Perfect Union

Why do I feel that “We the People” have collectively taken on more than we can chew?  News is flying at us faster than that speeding bullet regarding so many diverse, complicated, and polarizing issues.  Does anyone out there have Clark Kent’s telephone number?

A tragic war is raging, inflation is climbing, a recession looms, gun violence is rising, and evil COVID has not left the building.  We add the conflicts over abortion laws, immigration issues, and spar over books in school libraries.  Oh, and let’s not forget climate change, fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

You are lucky if you can get through a day without a headache.  And, if you did avoid a throbbing head, perhaps watching television will help you relax.  But, alas, your “Happy Days” rerun will be interrupted by the same old, tiresome political rhetoric of potential candidates slinging their mud.  Yep, you will proceed to bed with a bona fide migraine.  I am so sorry.

Empty church pews

Last Sunday, I returned to the pews of a church I attended years ago.  I sat in the same seat I once occupied and turned to see if I recognized anyone, and I did not.  Many of the pews that were once full of worshipers are now empty.  And, I saw no children and few adults under age fifty.  “Maybe they were all at the earlier service,” I hopefully pondered.

My other thought was that folks were hidden under their Sunday morning bed covers to avoid the world’s reality.  I can’t say I blame them, but hiding from our troubles is not the answer.

We can blame many of our woes on ourselves.  We can politicize everything from a peanut butter and banana sandwich to a hurricane.  Some events, such as inflation or supply chain issues, are partly due to the worldwide COVID outbreak and its havoc.  But one of the pandemic disasters was how we turned on each other over our polarizing opinions while watching millions die from the disease.  Many lost their families, while many others lost their hearts.  In the end, it hurt us all. 

And we wonder why many folks are not sitting in the church pews.

Yes, sometimes we are a mess.  We do dumb things, act foolishly, become self-righteous and hypocritical, forgetting how blessed we are.   But I believe one thing to be true of all of us…. we cherish the freedom we have in our country.   And, like those citizens of Ukraine, we will fight together in trenches to protect it.

War changes our perspective

Yes, a war is raging.  That war can remind us of what is vital in our world today.  When evil comes to visit, we will unite in battle.  Our differences are forgotten the minute a bomb falls on our soil, and we will band together to defend America.    That is what we must remember as a diverse group of people living under the umbrella of freedom.

It’s an odd emotion knowing there are so many people suffering in Ukraine while we freely, angrily clash with each other over our dissimilarities.  Instead,  Ukrainians have set aside their personal ideologies and merged to defeat tyranny.  And today, they collectively loathe the person who is determined to take their freedoms and independence away.

I am confident we will never agree on the abortion issue or what books should be allowed in school.  We never will all vote for the same person to lead us, and because our beliefs are different, we will still have backyard arguments.  However, we must stop much of the angry, conspiracy-laden, and hate-filled rants we have endured in the last few years.

Maybe our lack of respect has to do with those negative political ads that tell you not to vote for the other candidate.  Perhaps, those running should try a different tone, like explaining their platforms or touting their accomplishments.  Condemning others to win usually causes me to vote against those who do because they give me that migraine! 

No more vacancies

And we wonder why those church pews are vacant.

We may have taken on more than we can handle ourselves, but perhaps we can obtain strength and resolve from a higher power.  Maybe we should settle ourselves by sitting on a church pew, looking up toward the cross, and asking the Lord to help us quell our bitterness.  Using respect, honor, compromise, and understanding will please not only God but bring others to Him.

And that’s how we stop hurting ourselves and our children.  We can unite to foil the evil within us, find solutions, and prevent the violence and dissent we endure.  We, after all, are free to do so.  

“We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect union….”

Let us try.

Still Miraculously My Own

My three-year-old daughter stood below me, gazing at her mother’s swollen belly.  And, while pointing, questioned, “Did you have me in your tummy, like that?” Her nose scrunched in disgust at the thought.

It was a moment in time that is as clear today as it was forty-nine years ago.

 “No, honey, I didn’t carry you in my tummy.”  I leaned down, looked into her soulful brown eyes, and explained, “Your daddy and I chose you.  We went to a beautiful castle full of infants, and when we saw you, we said, “That’s the prettiest baby in the world!  So, we wrapped you in a pink blanket and brought you home.  Always remember, Amy, you are special and unlike anyone else.”

“Whew, that’s good, Mommie, ‘cuz I wouldn’t want to be in there!” Still pointing to my abdomen, which was carrying her baby sister. 

I watched her as she walked away.  She was happy as a lark and relieved she came from a castle instead of a fat belly.  Tears mixed with relief, a touch of sorrow, and extreme thankfulness begin to pool down my cheeks. 

Amy never forgot the castle

Within the next three years, she shared a room with her toddler sister, and a surprise brother was added to amuse and pester her. 

When Amy was eight, I realized she had never asked another question about her birth.  She knew she was adopted, but it appeared it wasn’t a big enough deal to discuss. 

Actually, I would often forget myself!  When you have three kids and are working full time, you can forget where they came from or why they are there!  Y’all know what I mean, right?

It was open house night at her elementary school.   “Mommie, everyone in 3rd grade had to draw an outline of our bodies on paper and write about ourselves.  They are taped on all the hall walls.  It’s funny!”  Amy explained as we walked through the school doors.

She was correct; life-size paper cut-outs of 3rd graders were lining the walls everywhere.  When I glanced far down the longest corridor, I noticed a large group of parents and children were gathered around one paper outline, reading the biography of a child.  Amy grabbed our hands as we moved closer to the crowd.

The throngs of people were looking at our daughter’s display.  Many with tears in their eyes as they read Amy’s three-page story.  Every other 3rd grader had written a one-page note, but not our Amy. 

“My name is Amy, and I am special.  I am adopted and proud to be.” She wrote.  Amy relayed the story about the castle, the pink blanket, and the family she belonged to now.  Her pride in who she was, was nothing compared to the thankfulness I had for her being ours.

Good news

Through the years that followed, I would occasionally say, “Honey, if you desire to find your birth parents, I will help you.  But just so you know, the person who cradled you when you were sick and the one who changed and washed all those yukky diapers is your mom!”  She would snicker each time I would say the words, but she knew I was serious. 

I watched my gifted honor student daughter complete college, obtain her master’s degree in counseling, volunteer for her communities, move to the west coast, return to the east coast, and help our family through divorces, illnesses, good times, and disasters.     

She phoned a couple of years ago and calmly said, “Mom, I know who my birth parents are.”  I was beyond elated for her.

A mother’s love measured

 She discovered her birth family by happenstance through DNA results on a heritage website.  Unfortunately, both of her biological parents had passed away, but she found half-siblings and cousins.  She has learned about her ancestors and has met a few who remain today.  Her first cousin, who resides outside New York City, has a three-year-old daughter with Amy’s soulful brown eyes and the same golden curls surrounding a recognizable inquisitive face.

Today, we are all still the same.  We have an expanded family thanks to Amy, and we possess even more love than we did when we first saw the prettiest baby in the world wrapped in pink.

Isn’t it true that being a mother is not about how you become one but how much love you can give?  God hugged me the day Amy was placed in my arms, and I knew it.  Adoption is as stunning as childbirth, as beautiful as a castle, and nothing but love for a child is what makes it all magical.

“Not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone,

But still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute:

You didn’t grow under my heart,

But in it.” 

Fleur Conkling Heyliger, author

*The story was blessed by one incredible daughter.

The Power of our Kindness

Kindness is a powerful word full of good intentions.  Everyone believes kindness to be an asset, but like anything worth having, it takes work.  Components of kindness are love, compassion, understanding, and thoughtfulness.  We can all be nice, but ‘nice’ is akin to lifting a one-pound weight expecting to build muscle in a week.  Being nice is nice but being kind is how we collectively become strong enough to change our world.

When my granddaughter was entering her pre-teen years, she witnessed bullying in school.  She explained how some of her friends made fun of others and did so as a group.  I recall telling her, “Honey, don’t fall into the trap of following unkind behavior no matter how popular it may be.  Bullying is the antithesis of kindness.  How do you want your friends to remember you?  Were you the one who knocked another down, or were you the one who helped someone stand?”

She answered as only the young can, “Oh Grandma, I feel horrible when people get hurt.”   That night, I recall lying in bed thanking God that my granddaughter understood compassion.

Turning a blind eye

 How can any of us be loving if we avoid feeling the pain of others?  How often have we closed our eyes to suffering because it hurts to look?  We are kind to ourselves, but we are inconsiderate when we bypass viewing the agony of others.

It is heartbreaking to watch the world suffering today and see the monstrous acts of leaders who create hell on earth.  It is dreadful to hear words of hatred and vile tempers running amok, creating friction and division.   How do we douse the fire, thwart the evil, and build better character?  How do we save our world from the bad folks?

Well, for one thing, we sure cannot do it alone, and we can’t turn away or ignore the raging inferno in front of us.  Because a fire out of control reduces all in its path to ashes.

 Mariupol, Ukraine, was a beautiful seaport city full of trees and treasures.  A town not unlike many of our beautiful American seaside locations where people go to unwind, relax, and enjoy the culture.  Mariupol’s population of over 400,000 was living a peaceful, productive life.  That is until the bully came to town.  A tormentor with no concept of compassion or kindness.  Two months after he arrived, Mariupol is no more.  The trees are barren, the earth scorched, and families are broken.  Within two short months, 95% of all that once stood is destroyed.  An out-of-control bully, unchecked, is a fire waiting to be ignited.

Dousing the fires

Zero Dean says, “If you want kindness in the world, put some out there.”  Thoughtfulness and civility create the waters to douse the fire.  It’s not up to our leaders alone; it is up to every human to pick up a pail of empathy and throw it on the flames.  We can’t just talk about being kind folks; we must actively distribute abundant acts of kindness.

When I first began my career in interior design, a good friend advised me, “The only way to compel your business to grow is to be genuinely kind.  Kindness will earn you a better reputation than your talent and provide for you and your children.”  My career lasted over 43 years.   I was never wealthy, never the most talented designer, but I always put my clients first, and in the end, my work nourished and enriched my family.

Kindness means putting down your anger, filing away your distrust, and ending rude, crude behavior.  And often, it is not popular to do so.  We find ourselves with crowds who believe misery loves company.  Sometimes, we cowardly accept the self-righteous actions, the rudely uncivil folks, and forget our place in God’s world.  We listen to the loud and obnoxious, causing us to not hear the whispers of the Almighty. 

Sow the seeds

 Acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can spread if we sow the seeds.  Love, mercy, and understanding are what God expects of us.  When we judge others, cause harm, and are bigots, we defy God.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. 

I know what you think, “Heck, I am kind!  A lot of us are good folks!”  And, yes, you are.  However, could we all take it further and think before speaking and stopping before judging?  Could we be more courageous and not accept others’ incivility?  If we do, that kind of work will dispense enough powerful kindness to douse the raging inferno of evil, keep the bullies at bay, and save us all.

“It is not genius, nor glory, nor love that reflects the greatness of the human soul; it is kindness.” Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire.

Grandpa’s Golden Egg of Joy

She was usually in her kitchen by 4 am to prepare for her day.  Grandpa (my grandmother) deemed Sunday the most important day of the week, and it required dedication and early rising to make it perfect for all.  I recall her preparing the roast, fried chicken, and her heavenly biscuits before Sunday church services.  However, there was never a feast like her Easter Celebrations.

Grandpa and Grandaddy hosted most of my cousins, aunts, and uncles for this special day.  The food was enough to feed an army, prompting my mother to say each time, “Mama, why do you cook so much food?”  Grandpa always replied, “Well, shoot, Elizabeth, I try to prepare everyone’s favorite because my family is my favorite!  And, besides, it’s Easter, for Heaven’s sake!”

Sometimes, practicality takes a back seat to make others feel special.

After washing all those empty dishes after the feast, the famous Easter egg hunt ensued.  Each family brought at least a dyed dozen for my grandparents to methodically conceal.  The bright-colored goodies were hidden in bushes, under branches, and budding flowers throughout the yard.  The lucky finder of the well-hidden golden egg received a whole one-dollar bill from Grandaddy’s wallet!  Of course, Grandpa became a kid again when we would close in on an egg, “You’re getting hot, nope cool, no hotter!!”  

Sometimes, adults need to become as a child to experience unbridled happiness.

Easter is never over!

“Grandpa, I don’t like it when Easter and Christmas are over!” I exclaimed one day when we were about to head home after an enjoyable time. 

“Now honey, let me tell you something…. Christmas and Easter are never over.  Jesus came to us on Christmas and left us around Easter, but guess what?  He returned, and He lives right there in your heart.” With her finger still touching my chest, she continued, “Yep, those holidays are fun, but when Jesus is with you each day, that’s a pure golden joy!”

Sometimes, fun is like a dyed gold egg that eventually cracks.  However, the heart that is filled with Christ’s joy last forever.

I was watching a newscast just before Easter Sunday.  A television reporter happened upon an elderly Ukrainian woman sitting in a wheelchair outside her bomb-riddled apartment building.  The woman’s head was covered with a small scarf, and her age-worn face filled with sorrow.  In her attempt to keep warm, she wrapped herself in layers of clothes covered by a robe used as a coat.  After speaking to the trembling lady, the reporter felt compelled to help her.  It took her a few days to assemble a team to rescue the appreciative frail woman and transfer her to another town for safety.  The journalist put aside her own well-being to bring physical and mental warmth to a stranger.  

In acts of kindness, we see the spirit of the living, resurrected Lord.

I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother being alone, dirty, quivering with fear from cold, calculated, evil.  I cannot imagine my beloved Grandpa in a dire situation where her only aid would come from a passing stranger.  The thought caused me to cry and pray for all who suffer such indignity at the hands of depravity.

Who would we be?

 Who would we be without the compassion, kindness, and tenderness bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit?  Where would we be today without Christ giving His life for us to live in hope?  How could we handle death, fear, rejection, war, and strife of any kind without the love of God?  I believe we would probably be a bunch of cracked souls constantly searching for another fun adventure yet void of joy. 

Today, the colored eggs are found, and the dinner dishes are put away.  The children will eventually outgrow their new Easter outfits, and leftover jellybeans and half-eaten Peeps will find their way to the trash bins.  Yet, Easter is never over.

War continues in Ukraine, uncertainty surrounds nations, and turmoil seems a constant companion.  Even though worries abound and inhumanity continues, hope does thrive.  A risen Christ walks among us to point out the strangers who need aid, the fallen who require help to stand, and the broken who need mending.  He is the one who provides comfort in worry, strength through sorrow, and the sword to slay evil.   

Grandpa’s life was joyous because she listened to the voice of God daily.  She taught me by example to trust that Easter is unending and to believe the words of the Lord, 

 “…. And be sure of this…. Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”  Jesus proclaimed after Easter passed.  Matthew: 18:20

Sometimes, we need to be reminded to celebrate such certainty each day.

A Conversation with the Lord

First, Lord, thank you for coming to us, suffering for us, and teaching us the power of God.   None of us thank you enough.  Sometimes, we don’t hear you knock on our door or listen to your whispers during noisy days.  We tune you out when we want our way and yet call your name when we are desperate. 

Remember when I was little, and Dad would tell me what I should do, but I didn’t listen?  You also remember the trouble I was in afterward, right?  Since we are all your children, we create problems when we don’t follow your instructions.  And I know such behavior must tempt you to leave us a zillion times a day.  So, Father, I sure appreciate you sticking with our silly selves.  Do they have ibuprofen in Heaven?

Lord, today the world is suffering.  Your people in Ukraine are experiencing devastation akin to ancient times when ruthlessness and barbarianism were rampant.  I never thought I would witness such, but I suppose time doesn’t change evil.  I am reminded that until you return, the dark one is always lurking around a corner, no matter how ‘advanced’ we think we are.  Please, Lord, render aid to those who suffer from the brutality of evildoers.  And remind us to open our hearts to the plight of others and give all we can.

Earthly angels

Many good people do humanitarian and Godly work, but their efforts are often drowned by cynicism and shouts of violence.  I trust you will give them the strength to plow through the cruelty and listen only to your words of encouragement.  We need all the earthly angels we can gather.

Some young people want to end their life and give their souls back to you before you are ready to call them home.  Mental health solutions are desperately needed today due to the rise in suicide among teens.  If you could possibly send seeds of more understanding and kindness to us, I promise to help plant them any way I can.  Too many are leaving before they understand your purpose for them, and it must break your heart.   

As you know, we have a bunch of ‘upstanding citizens’ who, in error, believe they stand taller than you.  Do you remember when I thought I was on top of the world, and life was just grand?  If you recall, you humbled me, put me on my knees, and told me to not get up until I had changed my attitude.  Maybe I should give you a list of folks to call on.  

The need for humbling

The truth is we all often require humbling.  My big mouth and I need a daily dose of humble meds.  You would think I would know by now, but I sometimes forget my lessons, for which I am genuinely sorry. 

It is Easter time, and each year, I listen to your song, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…!”  Yep, you triumphed alright.  Gives me goosebumps when I hear that hymn and how you showed the world just who you were the day you rose from the dark domain.   Because you defeated death, you gave each of us a song of hope, clarity, and eternal life if we just choose to believe.  

Some folks don’t acknowledge you as Lord, which is astounding.  Before there were telephones, television, internet, social media, and mass communication, you gathered 12 disciples to follow you.  You roamed from village to village preaching the word of God.  Today, 2022 years later, your name is still spoken by millions daily.  So, I ask the doubters, “How did that happen?”

Thank goodness for faith

  The innocence of children is a joy unmatched by most anything around here.  I pray they are learning that you are the gift of Easter because you will be with them all their lives.  Children see you clearly, but adulthood can blind them unless they are taught to always keep you in focus.  Please surround them with teachers bearing eye drops of faith.

Forgive us for idolizing people and things we shouldn’t.  Man-made power is mesmerizing,  but remind us that you are the shining example of authentic leadership, enormous strength, and unmatched sweetness and mercy.  And that if we can’t see you in the things and people we idolize, then help us to turn away.  

Lord, I can’t imagine what your followers thought when they saw you alive again through their tears of grief!  Then, after giving them instructions, you assured them that your spirit will remain even after you leave the earth again. 

I am not sure how it works, but your spirit does fall into our hearts if we fall to our knees.  That is the absolute miracle of you!

Hallelujah!  Christ arose….. thank goodness.

The Simple Structure on the Hill

As I approach the Easter season, my mind does not immediately envision the joyous day Christ rose, but instead the day He died.   When I think of myself below the cross, watching Him suffer as nails spear his flesh and His tears fall to the dry earth, I am filled with sorrow and dismay that human hearts could sink to such despicable levels.

Jesus used his short mortal life to teach us the ways of love, kindness, mercy, compassion, selflessness, and faith.  With the touch of his hand, he healed folks from disease, darkness, and despair.  Christ taught us that the wicked ways of judgmental thinking, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy only harm us and that forgiveness mends us.  He preached to those who would listen, and he prayed for those whose ears only heard lies and whose eyes were blinded by power.

The son of God was tortured and crucified by hardened hearts which couldn’t see who He was. 

Would Jesus die the same barbaric way if he were to come to the earth today and lead the same life?  Would we recognize him and treat him differently.

Recognizing Christ

To see Christ begins with viewing the structure on the hill.  Hopefully, there are times when many of us finally decide to fall to the feet of the cross and meet our Savior.   This iconic symbol rises to the sky above our churches. It is the primary focus in all Christian sanctuaries, and is the key to recognizing Jesus.

It is a personal journey to arrive at the cross.   For some, it is a crawl from our life’s lowest point to grab Christ’s hand so that he can pull us from our drowning sorrow.  For others, it is a long-held belief that began early, as if they were born with the knowledge that Christ was king.  But no matter how one comes to know the Savior, there are still times we all need saving. 

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t believe in God.  Yet, there are many times I stumbled and required God’s support to stand again on solid ground. 

In a bomb torn Ukrainian village this Sunday morning, folks braved the journey to their churches.  Bodies, debris, and chaos littered the earth around them.  Their lives have been on the brink of death each day for over a month.   Yet, they walk to find comfort and hope at the feet of the cross.  In desperation, they pray for peace and freedom from evil.

Faith and Compassion

Their faith in what they cannot see helps heal the horror of what they have seen.  They believe life will return no matter if death takes them away.  Does their horrendous plight deter them from their love of God?  No.  They know with certainty, without faith, that the enemy always wins.  They clearly recognize the son of God as He walks beside them on their horrific journey.

Many of us are blinded by the glitz and glamor of life.  Often, we fall short when we don’t put the teachings of Christ front and center.  I know I do.  Temptation, money, fame, power, greed, and ego are a few dangling carrots that can pull us away from our Savior.  However, when all we have is destroyed, and there is nothing left, the only thing remaining is the old cross beckoning us to return home. 

Imagine that you are attending a church service this morning in Ukraine.  You are hungry and cold, and all your earthly possessions are discarded.  You are not sure where your relatives are or if you will see them again.  How do you feel? 

Compassion is necessary for us to understand the plight of others.  Loving others is how we fight evil and come to the feet of the cross.  Christ gave His life out of love and compassion for us.  Empathy and understanding of all God’s people are precisely how we recognize Him.  

The power of the cross

“Faith” is the title of a chapter in my latest book.   When my friend and artist, Michaele, asked me what scene I envisioned to illustrate the chapter, I replied, “Oh, this one is easy!’  “Draw a massive simple cross on a hill and place me below, alone, with my arms reaching up to its power.”   I have the art framed on my desk today, and it is the entire story of my life.

How often have I felt isolated on the barren ground only to find that the cross was still powerfully there to pull me to my feet?  Too many to count.

Would I recognize Christ today?  You bet!  I know Jesus didn’t remain on the cross; He lived on to be with me daily and be with all who turn to view the simple structure on the hill.   

Seek Truth to Destroy Distrust

When my niece was a young teen, she phoned me from her summer camp, “Aunt Lynn, why do my parents not trust me? If they love me, they should trust me!”

I don’t recall what precipitated the call, but I answered, “Sweetheart, love is a gift, but not trust. Trust must be earned along with respect. If we lie, cheat, or dishonor someone, trust erodes, and it is up to us to ask forgiveness and repair the damage. So, no, trust is not a free ticket on the love train.”

Suspicion, doubt, and mistrust in our society have become a problem not just concerning government. Distrust of religion, journalism, and law are but a few areas that have put a rip in the heart of America. Even the average citizens often look at each other with a wary, questioning gaze.

Soon, after watching footage on the news, I remarked to an acquaintance, “How terrible is the war in Ukraine? It is so difficult to view such horror.”

“I don’t watch the news because I don’t trust what they say!” She declared.   My smarty-pants response was, “Then turn off the sound and just view the film.”

I was astonished that because she trusted no one in journalism, she was not informed about the devastation taking place in Ukraine. She chose to close her eyes to the bravery of the people, the humanitarian effort to aid others, and the evil regime creating problems for the world. 

Government, law, & religion

Distrust of government is a huge issue. What do we do when federal and local officials harm America?

  “Why didn’t you vote the other day?”  I recall asking another young friend. “Shoot, what good would it do? They are all bad!” He answered. 

My response was, “The only way to get rid of rotten representation is to vote them out of office.”

 When we view government decisions and leaders only through the lens of party affiliation and not for the betterment of America, the result causes mistrust and disrespect to multiply, especially in the eyes of our young citizens. Our duty to fortify America’s future is to use our precious right and vote.

For most religions, their purpose is to preach God’s word and save souls. How does the gospel’s message penetrate the heart when the congregation is full of cynical folks? How many “Godly” folks leave the church at noon, hop on social media, and spread vitriol-laden words by early afternoon? Perhaps it is not the church that is to blame for a decline in membership; maybe it’s the hypocrisy found in some congregants sitting in the pews.

Distrust in the law and law enforcement. My cousin and many friends are lawyers, and, boy, they are good folks. Yes, the law profession has some shady characters, as does government, businesses, and religions. Does that mean we don’t trust any who choose to protect and serve our nation under the law? Yet, when we get in trouble, who we gonna’ call… Ghostbusters? 

Read, watch, listen

When we question every aspect surrounding our lives, we begin to welcome the conspiracy theories, scoundrels, and untruths to walk through our doors. Cynicism rises, evil penetrates and permeates our environment, and we replace hope with fear.

A society that breeds doubt becomes a victim of decay.   However, we could individually help America and the world by simply choosing to be informed and active. 

Take the time to research which news outlets are the least biased. We need to use several sources to obtain fairness in journalism. Read, watch, and listen to a variety of information services. Truth is obtained through knowledge.

We must cast our ballots for whom we believe are the best candidates to lead the nation. Who would do the best job of unifying our country, defending our nation, and bringing honor to our land? Character matters, and the only way we can discern who is the best person, is to read, watch, and listen. 

It is our responsibility to always seek the absolute truth.

God gave us a soul and a brain to accompany our free will. But He also laid down mighty hefty rules. The Bible directs us, “Go, therefore, and teach all nations.”  We are to do so not just through words but also by our actions. When we don’t follow His rules, we literally lose souls.   He meant it when He asked us to do His will and love. Throw insincerity out the church window, and the pews will be filled. 

  Take the time to read, watch, and listen to find the truth. Let’s show the world that our ultimate trust in God gives us the power to change, love, and mend the tear in the heart of America.  

For the Good of Others

It was a sun-drenched day Saturday as the end of winter blew away, and spring began to show its magic.  A day when Little League baseball was in full swing, and parents cheered their children to victory or comforted them in defeat.

Golf courses and tennis courts were packed, and basketball’s March Madness increased competition and fans’ shouts to a high pitch.  Young parents pushed babies leisurely in strollers down neighborhood streets as joggers raced by.

Tulips, buttercups, and budding tree branches completed nature’s goodbye to winter in the Southland.  However, for me, it all seemed a bit unnatural.   Spring usually gives me a boost and typically reminds me of rebirth, rejuvenation, and hope.  But this Saturday, this first moment of a beautiful season, is not the same, nor perhaps, should it be.

As I watched my grandson run the bases and cheered him to a win, I couldn’t help but think about another five-year-old in Ukraine sloshing through snow and cold to escape the horror of war.  Many children hide in darkness while bombs rain down from a gray sky.  Their homes are gone, play is over, and the joy of spring is just a memory.  Along with their parents, some children will never witness another sunny day.  

Abundant gratefulness

  I can’t imagine or understand that type of misery and heartache.  The human price of war is catastrophic and barbaric.  However, when a fight is unprovoked and civilians become targets,  such heinous crimes increase the battle price to another despicable level.  Such actions should raise our compassion, abundant gratefulness, and humility to a higher level of excellence.

Today if we are lucky enough to go to a restaurant with a group of friends, maybe we shouldn’t complain if the food is not to our liking or the wait time is too long.  Instead, pause and ponder those who waited for days attempting to obtain bread or water.   We should be grateful for the simple joy of having friends and food.  

If we take a stroll in the bright sunshine on any given day, let’s look up to the sky and be grateful no bombs are forcing us to run.   Or, if we are watching a child run the bases at the ball field, be ecstatic that we are listening to the sounds of a loved one play. 

When we witness the glory of spring unfold here, reflect on those who ache to see unscorched earth and a yard of their own.

What we should toss

This spring, we should toss whining, fussing, and ingratitude with the dead plants of winter.  We can be and should be better, wiser, and abundantly determined to rise above our petty discords and anointed self-importance.  

Today, 10 million innocent Ukrainians are displaced because a dictator wanted more.   As a member of humanity, we cannot ignore their plight nor be unappreciative for anything we own, enjoy, or see that is free from torment and terror.

When I think about our past foolishness over mask-wearing, disputes over our individual rights, our battles with our leaders, and our vicious attacks on social media, I want to hide in shame.  How ridiculous compared to the fight we watch from afar for a country’s right to be free, live in a democracy, and survive.

During the last few years, Americans have often reduced every aspect and event in our lives to politics.  A deadly illness became political along with everything involved with it.  We began to choose friends or dismiss friendships over political differences.  People searched endlessly for news channels, newspapers, and magazines that sided with their political preferences to confirm their own beliefs.  Conspiracies grew along with animosity and damaging division.  The far-right and far-left threw our common bonds into trash cans everywhere. 

The best use of freedom

 In a way, that’s what independence can produce, but is it the best use of our freedom? 

Let us increase our American spirit with less complaining and bickering.  Instead, for today, choose compassion over competing theories.  Choose respect over dishonor.  Show dictators that a nation’s unity is what provides courage to win wars and triumph over their reign of evil.

We are free to choose love for others.  Free to be thankful for each other and praise God for our abundance.  Free to give others the finest of who we are and offer hope.  Our best use of our freedom is to prioritize and agree to help keep others free from oppression, free from iniquity, and free to enjoy life on a sun-drenched spring day.

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

 1 Corinthians 10:24

One Lone Man

“I never thought I would view such horror in the year 2022!” How often have you heard those words since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine?  

Indeed, we assumed that we had evolved above tyranny, evil, and barbaric dictators as a society.  We also thought there could never be another Adolph Hitler or Stalin.  Leaders of nations today would undoubtedly fear repeating the destruction of World War II and any threat of nuclear warfare.  Certainly, humankind has learned its lessons from history.

Yet, one lone man rose from the bowels of immorality, unchecked and unleashed, to render havoc and instill terror into the world.  How did that happen? 

Is it, in part, due to us wearing blinders?  When we become comfortable and complacent, something will usually shake us up.  We are reminded that we might not be as safe as we thought, as invincible and that our corner of the world is not all that matters.  We watch the atrocity of babies dying and parents fleeing their bomb-torn Ukrainian villages.  Thus, we realize the comfort of life can disappear within days due to the actions of one lone man.

A man who has lost compassion, love, humility and has sold his soul for power.  Hatred holds court, and lies fill the air where he roams.  His nation is his and his alone, and he shows no remorse for forcing his citizens into isolation and uncertainty.  He is the revival of the tyrant, and he is Vladimir Putin.

Revival of tryranny

I am bothered by those Americans and others who hail his name and extol his authority, and I pray they are a minuscule percentage of folks because praising a dictator slaps freedom in the face.  These individuals kick the graves of all the fallen soldiers who died on battlefields to keep us from falling prey to monsters.  There is no excuse for favoring someone who is so blatantly heinous.

Party politics should never be played in this game.  It is the one issue we should all agree upon.  If we cherish American democracy, we must be on the side of liberty for all people and a renewed determination to keep it that way.  We cannot sit in our lounge chairs, kick back, put on our blinders, and not be affected by what goes on elsewhere.  Who knows when a despot might arrive on our shore and attempt to sabotage our corner of the world.  

Turning blind eyes to evil and those who perpetrate it fuels the tyrant.  Sometimes our bravery is just absolutely required.  Courage to speak up, denounce those who spew hatred, and stop the madness of dissent. 

Extremism is increasing, and a threat will rise from these extreme corners.  I believe folks drawn to hostility are those who have been hurt and harmed at some point in life, and they search for a place that accepts their ire.

Common sense or truth is lost on them, and there are no words to change their minds.  Anger rules, animosity reigns, and wickedness will grow.   They twist facts into lies, turn God’s words to ashes, and swear they do so to save us all.  We must open our eyes to their malevolence  … now.   

Demise of Democracy

Democracy can fall to dictatorship, as proven by history.  There are many reasons, including a new crisis or economic failure, but three stand out as warning signs.

 Political polarization is one main contributor.  When competing political sides no longer want to cooperate with one another, they open the doors to allow violent or extremist groups to take over politics instead.*  

Democracy fails when a nation’s elites decide democracy no longer works for them.  When these elites feel that losing an election may mean forfeiting their power and influence over a country, they may seek to take over the nation by force.*

Apathetic citizens are another reason we will lose our freedom.  When we believe our vote no longer counts, our words do not matter, and we are not brave enough to stand firm, we invite tyranny home.

Hitler was one lone man who manipulated many, including educated intellectuals, into submission and cowardness.  Such monstrosities should never be repeated.   If the American majority believes in love, giving, compassion, and hope, we must be bold enough to open our eyes and close our doors to those who have no concept of freedom, faith, and fairness.  

Christ was one lone man whose gentle words influenced our world, changed our hearts, and was brave enough to die for us.   He condemned hatred, detested bigotry, despised hypocrisy, and preached kindness.

One lone person can create a hell on earth or bring heaven to our world. 

Which lone man would you ask to enter your home?

* Study by Alec Medine for Renew Democracy Initiative

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Love: The Word in the Shadows

She stood on the cold tile floor of the train station surrounded by luggage that appeared taller than her actual height.  She held a sign just below her soft brown eyes as she looked up to the photographer who captured her.   The sign read, “Poland, best frind!” She may not know how to spell ‘friend,’ but this Ukrainian child understands more about evil oppression than most of us will ever comprehend.

My friends’ parents and in-laws were at the train station in Poland when they noticed the little girl.  They witnessed tears as if they seemed to fall in slow motion on the faces of countless refugees.  When the weary travelers stepped off crowded trains, Poland’s compassionate citizens greeted them with their own signs.  “We can take a mother and three children.” Or, “We have room for a family of four.” Humanity united to form a chain of love, goodness, and mercy to give complete strangers relief.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian fathers and husbands are in their homeland trying to fend off the opposite of good, the attacker, Vladimir Putin.  These Ukrainian men understand courage, dignity, and sacrifice are required to combat evil.  They may lose the battle, but they will be victorious in the end.

Watch and learn

I watch the news several times a day to see a war rage in a world I know little about.  My friends ask,  “Lynn, how can you watch such horror as much as you do?  It’s depressing.”  

“I feel we must watch because it is how we learn what depravity is and when we ignore it, how fast it will grow.  At the very least, we can be courageous enough to cry with the victims of such corruption and pray earnestly for them.”

   Our comfortability is a non-issue compared to the plight of the citizens of Ukraine.  America’s political and social division does not resemble the potential loss of freedom and the countless lives lost due to tyranny. 

If we learn nothing else from witnessing these March days, we must understand we are blessed to be here in this place called America.  Yes, evil does roam here, but we, so far, have not let it consume us.   And it never will if we do not lose our souls, our hearts, and be a “frind” to those who need us.

Frankly, these last few years, after witnessing pals become enemies over political differences, folks battle over a lethal disease, and rising violence, I thought God might just walk away and leave us to fend for ourselves.  I guess that is why I write so much about human kindness and how love can save us.

Sounding Cymbal

“Love.”  The word that is often placed in the shadows as namby-pamby, too sensitive, not reality, and blah, blah.  Anger fueled by hatred creates louder words,  instilling fear and division.  Those who espouse such emotions often obtain fame and rake in angry supporters’ money to gain power.

Presumed intellectuals opine over every facet of our lives but speak little about love, harmony, and understanding.  Are they incapable of such deep thought?

Bullying, rudeness, lack of decorum,  and loss of civility have reached epic proportions spread by social media, political leaders, and talking heads in the last few years.  And, folks, no matter how one tries to twist such behavior into a cause or for a greater good, it will never work.  

Love is power

What is more powerful than hate?  What did the leader of all humankind mean when he demanded, “love one another?”  Babies die without love, and so does our spirit.   Love is the most potent weapon we embody to prevent the annihilation of humanity.  If we have no love for others or God, we are nothing but that old-sounding cymbal.

A person without love shows no compassion.  Their hearts are hardened to suffering and pain, and their souls are lost.  Those filled with loathing cannot hear God because their loud voices drown His whispers.  These evildoers choose not to respectfully speak of goodness because power is more important.  And when their influence continues to thrive unchecked, a Hitler or Putin rises to destroy.    

A dictator may win a war through hatred but will always be despised in the end.  May we understand our behavior is measured each day.  How we love counts.

Do you know what matters most in our world?  Our love for God and love for our family and “frinds.”  Love: the word in the shadows that must become the light.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” 

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

The Day the Sky turned Gray

The rain is steadily falling through a sky of gray.   It seems apropos today as a world away in Ukraine, their citizens are gazing at skies filled with smoke.    A desk lamp dispels the darkness in my office, and the hum of electricity breaks the silence.  However, I know others in the world are huddled in the dark, cloaked in fear.  My grandchildren play in their heated rooms, relishing a Sunday with their parents and playing games.  Yet, Ukrainian children are fleeing their homes, tearfully waving goodbye to their fathers while clutching their mother’s hand as she attempts to reach safety.

I was a World War II baby.  When I was small, my parents would occasionally take me to see a movie.  Mother said my fear of evil began in the darkness of those theaters.   I don’t know how old I was, but before the film started, newsreels would run, showing the audience visions of war and genocide. 

When my young eyes viewed the grainy black and white images of Adolph Hitler’s carnage and the horrors of concentration camps, my nightmares began by the dozens.  For years, when I heard a siren, panic set in, and tears flowed.  Mother was horrified that because they took me to enjoy a movie, I would be forever terrified that Hitler would rise again one day.

Tryants and war

Tyrants rise because of their lies and insatiable thirst for power.   They divide and conquer the souls of their people and create anguish and hostility wherever they roam.  These cruel oppressors are recorded in our history books and in the Bible as insane, narcissistic, egomaniacs intent on destruction.  

Good versus evil is at the heart of any war, and it always has been.  Those who seek to control and conquer, love to confuse, enjoy the battle, and cause ethnic division are the same nightmare evil autocrats of old.

To avoid such evildoing should always be our primary motivation as a country.  For several years we have battled each other over everything from mandates, elections, liberalism, conservatism, welfare, bigotry, and good Lord, have we blamed everything on everyone.  We are a nation filled with free individuals who often behave like spoiled brats because we have no idea what it feels like to live in a country without the freedom to be bratty… until today.

Character of a unified nation

Today, we can turn on our televisions and witness the cost of freedom, the fear of dictatorship, and the price folks are willing to pay to keep their sacred rights.  We understand the definition of unification and its importance when it is time to fight for independence.  Our infighting suddenly pales in the face of the Ukrainian battle to remain sovereign.

The character of a nation matters and must be reflected in its citizens and leaders.  We cannot, nor should we ever, condone racism because it breeds fascism and tyranny.  We must never idolize leaders but hold each of them accountable to keep the sanctity and character that reflects the good citizens of our nation.   If we do not, dictators will rise from the ashes of an apathetic public. 

I do not know what tomorrow will hold for Ukraine, but I applaud the spirit of their nation to combat depravity.   The bravery of the Ukrainian men and women teaches the world the value of liberty and what people can achieve when they bind their hands together to save their lives and their land. 

A teachable moment

Six-year-old Jaxon was sitting on the sofa with me, playing a video game.  The attack on Ukraine had just begun, so I was watching the breaking news. 

“Grandma, what’s happening?”  I decided it could be a teaching moment. As Vladimir Putin’s face sneered across the screen, I replied, pointing at the television, “Jax, you see that man?” He is the head of another country far away, and he is an evil man.” 

“Why is he bad?” Jax replied.

“Well, son, there will always be bad men and women who want to control people. However, the trick is to recognize who they are and stop them before they become supervillains.”

“Like the Joker?” Jax’s eyes grew bigger.

“Yep, and we all have to put on our Batman capes to fight them because good must always triumph over evil.”

 He nodded in agreement and went on to play his video games beside his Grandma in a warm place called home.

A tear rolled down my cheek when I realized there would be children who will forever have nightmares about the day when the sirens roared as evil began to stroll down their streets, the skies turned gray, and their home was no more. 

Do Good While Standing Strong

Daddy always said, “The only problem with living long is watching others go away while I still stand strong.”   He was right about that. 

Many in my family lived long lives, and they were surrounded throughout their days with an abundance of good friends.  However, when the Lord finally called them home, few friends were left to bid them farewell. 

My friend, Allison, passed away this week.  She was quite a force in the writing world who edited words, wrote books, and inspired many with her wisdom.  She was one of the first who thought a southern chic could tell a story she could promote.  Today, because she believed in me, I am blessed to see my essays in senior publications throughout the country. 

I met her only once in Denver, but one didn’t need to physically see Allison to know her.  Her humor, skill, and enthusiasm permeated through her letters and into our hearts.  What a gift she was to the publishing world and to me.

Her earthly life is over, but boy, did she do good while she was was here!

The purpose of our journey

Isn’t that what our journey here is all about?  Doing good while we are here?  No matter how long we live, the point is to live well.  Living to be old should never become a primary purpose.  A person who lives richly by caring for others with sincere devotion lives forever.

One of my best friends passed away at the age of 52.  I can quietly be in my office, recall something she said, and start laughing because the girl was such a hoot.  She was cheerful, loving, kind, and could sing like an angel.  What an impact she had on so many because she lived well. 

Ryan White, the courageous child, infected with AIDS in the early days of the outbreak, spent all his remaining days teaching others about the disease.  He died one month before his high school graduation, leaving this earth a hero.  Even though his years were short, long will live his spirit.  How many have been blessed by Ryan White’s short life?  Countless.

The sum of our life is not counted in days but in deeds.  I have said this many times, but I will share my theory again.  I believe our tenure on earth is a test to see if we can fulfill the purpose of why we are here.

Facing the Professor

Those who promote ill will, violence, and prejudice of any type, fail.  We get a big fat F on our report card if we are self-righteous, cantankerous, complainers, or are hate-filled.  We will leave no exemplary, lasting footprints for loved ones to follow. 

All of us make mistakes in life, and we sin and often fail miserably.  But in the end, if we atone and truthfully try, we just might pass the final exam because we overcame our errors with integrity, kindness, and humility.  That is what living well is all about.

We wake every morning, never knowing if it will be our last day to accomplish those things we desire to do.  When we procrastinate, waste  our days, and spend precious time doing little for others, we come to the end of the road saying, “I should have, or why didn’t I do…?”  And guess who is waiting at the stop sign?

How do we face God with a failed report card?

Leave your footprint

All of us are blessed to have the opportunity to take the test.  We are given a chance in life to be caring and help humankind.  It is usually bigotry, money, fame, power, and evil that thwart our purpose and cause us to ignore the teacher.  The Holy Professor taught us how to live well, be happy, and leave a positive imprint on the earth.  

A boy was born long ago and lived a short earthly life.  For a mere 33 years, he taught us that love, faith, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and thankfulness were the keys to living a good life.  He was not wealthy, had no awards, and dared anyone to judge others.  He suffered on a cross, died, and rose again for us all to follow in his mighty footprints. 

And to this day, 2022 years later, He still walks among us, teaching in whispers as he goes.

So, if I pass the test and join those friends and family members who received A’s for achieving their purpose well, my sadness will be gone.  And, I will rejoice in their accomplishments, praying I, too, left a footprint on the earth.

What will you do well today while you are still standing strong?

A Snowy Day in Georgia

It’s a snowy day in Georgia and much of the south today.  A soothing comfort envelopes me when I watch the lacy flakes gently fall to the ground. 

As a child, when I noticed a winter Tennessee sky turn a pale grayish-white, I pulled my white rubber boots lined in red fur from the back of the closet.  I dressed in two pairs of pants, multiple pairs of socks, sweaters, earmuffs, and gloves, then bolted for the door.

“Lynn, it is not snowing yet!  Where are you going?”  Mom would shout when she saw me resembling a stuffed polar bear heading for the wild white yonder. 

“But, it’s fixin’ to!  And it’s going to stick too, Mama, so I want to be ready to sled!” 

The houses, full of young families with children, stood side by side on a long straight street.  By the time my boots were barely damp, all the other neighborhood kids were outside, watching the sky in anticipation.  Parents everywhere turned up their furnace, made cocoa, and searched for extra gloves and mittens.  We yelled as we watched the snowflakes stay on the street and gathered in groups to go sledding.

By the end of the day, tired, wet children sloshed home, stood in front of the fire where socks and mittens lay across a fire screen to dry by the following day.

Remembering the highlighted days

If they are still living today, I doubt anyone who resided on that neighborhood street would disagree that those days were highlighted as some of our best.  For me, I wouldn’t take anything for the wonder of a snow day that brought laughter into homes everywhere.

Not much has changed since then except for my boots.   I never grew up, nor did my friend who lives next door to me today.  I believe we are about the only ones on our street that pray for enough snow to cover a hill so we can go sledding.   The little kids look at us kind of funny, but do I care?  No.  You see, age has nothing to do with having fun. 

I learned that little tidbit of wisdom from some folks I wish were with me today.

 One day in the early 1960s, a Tennessee snowfall began on a Wednesday.  My father’s best friend was the town pediatrician who regularly took Wednesday afternoon off to play golf.  It was an absolute, die-hard, must-do mid-week activity for Dad and Dr. Gene. 

The rest of the story

The snow started to stick to the ground the minute it began.  However, Dad and Gene were concerned that they might not see a white golf ball on white fairways.  They briefly wondered if playing golf was such a good idea.  As we know, good ideas and fun may not always go hand in hand.  

So, rather than giving up a golf day, they each took red and pink fingernail polish and painted dots, stripes, and stars on little white dimpled balls.  They were the only proud souls on the course, of course,  because they assumed they had outsmarted the snow!

Soon,  the local newspaper staff heard about two undeterred gentlemen playing golf in the foul weather.  The news crew quickly scurried to the course, and, sure enough, the boy’s picture was on the front page of the paper the next day.

The only thing these intelligent grown boys forgot was when the snow piled upward, the balls sank deeper!  Even as we laughed about their escapade for years, my dad would respond, “Hey, at least we got to play a few holes before we ran out of balls!”

Continue to play

The humorous, fun, playful things in life give our stay on earth the sunshine.   And no matter how old we are, we need to still play.  We should laugh at ourselves and join the kids in frivolity.   Our sense of humor is just one of the best ideas God had when He built us. 

I would command everyone to quit putting their age before joy if I could!  Be the kid, be happy, be humorous, and don’t wear frumpy clothes.  Stay bold, stay relevant, and laugh.  Take a moment to be funny, be silly, remember your childhood friends, and savor the memory.   How grateful I am for that long street where children gathered, dogs howled and smoked billowed from chimneys in a place called home. 

Our days are numbered here, but someone might remember us and our goofy ways long after we are gone.  It is then that you will still create a smile like my dad and Dr. Gene did for me on this snowy day in Georgia.

Grandpa’s Diary: A guide to living

It was Christmas 1969 in the Tennessee mountains when my grandmother (aka Grandpa*) opened her gift from a friend.  The present was a handsome, small green leather diary with a gold lock and key.  Grandpa had never written in a journal before, but she felt she must use her friend’s generous gift.   My humorous grandmother wrote on the inside cover, “I’ll try to remember to write as the days pass, but guess I’ll forget to write half the time!” 

Grandpa never missed a day until the end of 1970, when grief left the pages void of words. 

Last year, while searching for an old photo in a box Mom left me, I  found the diary.  Reading this beloved woman’s words as she lives through the year is an indescribable blessing.  I feel Grandpa left a bit of her soul for me to find.  And ironically, in 1970, she was the same age I am now.

The first days of a new year

Thursday, January 1, 1970:   “Mother fell and hurt her arm.  Ice and snow accumulated on Monterey’s roads, causing treacherous driving conditions.  I stayed with her all night.  It was slick out there, but I made it!” 

The next day, she wrote, in part, “ I finished crocheting an afghan, but I didn’t like it!” Why did she diligently work to complete it if she didn’t like it?  But knowing her,  I am confident she gave it to someone who indeed loved or needed it.  

On the following Sunday, she bathed her mother, washed her clothes, attended all church services, and relished the beautiful winter day when the sun glistened on the new-fallen snow.   

January 11, 1970:  “The weather dropped to 8 degrees below zero today.  I couldn’t go to Sunday school because I needed to stay with my mother, who is in the hospital, and also help my very sick brother.”

This was how Grandpa spent her first days of a new year.  As I read each page, I realized there was not one day that she didn’t explain the weather conditions, care for someone, check on someone else,  prepare a meal, and go to church on Sundays.  She was able to “get her hair done” on some Saturdays, listed the folks who had passed away, and prayed for folks who were still living. 

The rest of 1970

By early June that year, while caring for all the others, Grandpa was hospitalized.   She took her little diary with her, and even though ill, she still described the weather as she looked out her hospital room window.

Later in June, my first child was born, and she visited us in Georgia.  How joyful we were, but her mother and brother were not well when she returned to the mountains.  And she again drove the roads each day to care for them.

On December 2, 1970, Grandpa’s mother, Mollie Randolph Sparks, died with her daughter by her side.   On December 5, she wrote, “It’s mother’s birthday.  She would have been 94.  I miss her so much today, but she is asleep in a better place.  No more suffering and pain.  “

Nine days later, on December 11, Grandpa’s beloved brother died and was laid to rest beside his mother.  After the funeral, the words ended in the little green diary except for one sentence the following day, “It’s pretty today.”

A year in the life of a woman that cared for others more than herself.  She found beauty and wonder in the sun shining, the garden blooming, sewing aprons, laughing with her grandchildren, attending church every Sunday, and catching fish.   Even in pain, Grandpa was happy.  Unlike any heart I have ever known,  her  life reflected a soul filled with love for her friends, family, and God.

Enriching our lives

Not once on her pages did she speak of politics, philosophy, or discord.  She was the salt of the earth,  a beacon for faith, and adored by countless folks.   Her unselfish acts of kindness and giving taught me courage, determination, and to relish even the coldest, darkest days.

Grandpa lived God’s words and principles all her days without one ounce of hypocrisy, complaint, or self-importance.  She could be willful but never mean-spirited, and unkind words were never spoken or written.

What story will your diary tell this year?  Will your days record your unselfish love for others?  Will kindness reign in your life?  And will you notice how beautiful a day is even when life is challenging?

If you do, someone in the future possibly will write your name and spread your life journey to inspire others.  It is how we live each day that gives our earthly time value.  

How do we enrich our lives, heal our souls, and enjoy our world?  The answer is simply, ” with love and kindness.”

*if you would like to know why Grandpa was called by that name, go to www.lynngendusa.com and read the blog: “Her Name was Grandpa” Note: “Her Name was Grandpa” was one of my first columns and it spread throughout the country from Seattle to New Hampshire and throughout the south. What is in a name? Everything.

The Heart of Christmas

The fog settled in for the evening and a steady drizzle chilled my bones.  While driving a short way home after visiting a friend, I noticed the Christmas lights on neighbors’ houses were blurred, and their decorations were barely visible through the dense air.   In poor visibility, I navigated down the hills, past the lake, and toward my house. 

 Christmas will be difficult for many this year, especially if they are trying to weave their way through the blur of loss, grief, sadness, or troubles.  Those suffering desire to break through the darkness and clearly see the light of happiness once again.  However, sadly, many believe they never will.  It is as if the fog and foul weather will continue to dampen their lives and chill them to the bones.

Since Christmas Eve two years ago, the world has lost 5 million people to COVID alone.  And countless others have suffered the loss of a loved one through another illness or tragedy.  Death’s stings and hardships are part of our earthly journey, and they, unfortunately, will never go away.  However, sometimes even in our darkest hours, we can find a spark of light to help us heal and regain our hope.

When Christmas joy seems forever lost

Several of my friends have lost the loves of their lives this year.  We can sit and hold their hands, offering comfort and encouragement, but Christmas can be the most challenging time for those in the middle of grief.  They recall the past and the delight of sharing their special day with their partners, children, and friends.  Then, with stark realization, they understand their usual traditional holidays are over. The thought of Christmas being joyful again for them seems unfathomable. 

Yet, it is actually Christmas that brings the light, the healing, and the aide.  A baby lay in a manger on a clear evening long ago, who brought joy to the world and redeemed hope.  Even when we are in the middle of a struggle, it is this day to celebrate and be thankful.   

Jesus came into the world to save us.  He taught us about a merciful God who understands our suffering, heartaches, and doubt.  Christ showed us life goes beyond our days here. If we just believe in Him, we will again be reunited with those we lost.  When the Lord’s earthly 33-year tenure was over, He again explained to us through the Resurrection that He is with us through all our days, including those shrouded in haze and sorrow.

The true definition of Joy

I love Christmas, as you probably know by now.  I love all the hoopla, the Hallmark Channel, the decorations, and those sinful cookies.  But none of those things are the heart of Christmas.  The holiday festivities are not only about being with family, friends, or opening presents. In reality, Christmas is celebrating our Savior who gave those gifts to us in the first place.

For Heaven’s sake, it is His Birthday!  Even when we don’t feel quite up to life, he is entirely up to help us through it if we just ask.   That is why Christ is the heart of Christmas. He is the true definition of joy. There is nothing he would want more than to hand us the lamp to guide us through our dreadful and dreary days.

We travel to our churches, light candles on Christmas Eve, and wish each other a Merry Christmas.  Our personal traditions of these holidays are stamped in our memory forever.  We make sure our children visit Santa, hang their stockings, and be good so they will receive the toys they desire.

Heart of Christmas

During our busy, bustling Christmas holidays, Christ quietly remains in the wings. He waits for all children to come to Him to seek refuge from pain, hope for tomorrow, and be filled with love.  He watches and waits for us, yet we can overlook the very one who is the reason for our celebrations.

I have lost much in my life, struggled with depression, divorce, broken relationships, traumatic events, and dumb decisions.  I have sinned, and I have failed numerous times.  However, I have been blessed with enough faith in the little baby born on the first Christmas to sustain me always.  I know I can survive because He lives.  With clarity, I know that when the fog sets in, I will eventually find the light to navigate my way home.  

The heart of Christmas is the gift of joy God gave us all when his only child was born into our world and became our miracle.   

And the angel said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  Luke 2:10. 

I wish you all a blessed and beautiful, hope-filled, safe, and joyful Christmas.

Mrs. Shirley Claus and her Elves

She is just under five feet tall with rosy cheeks that illuminate a pixie face.  Her smile can light up not only a room but a heart.   This Mrs. Claus does not reside in the North Pole because she dislikes, rather abhors, the cold.  No, this merry soul prefers palm trees, ocean breezes, and sand, not snow, between her little pink toes.

Mrs. Shirley traded Rudolph for a Cadillac years ago and prefers listening to Elvis on her radio rather than Christmas music.  At home, pink flamingos hang on her Christmas tree along with an array of mermaids, shells, plus tiny beach umbrellas and chairs.

If you gaze toward the sky when summer fades to fall, you might see Mrs. Shirley flying south with the birds.  You will recognize her by the sleigh, or rather the grocery cart trailing behind her.  You better wave, holler and wish her well because Mrs. Claus is always watching out for the ‘good’ in all of us.

All children belong to Mrs. Claus

I had the great fortune of meeting Mrs. Shirley years ago, and we became close friends.  I knew her to be a generous soul but didn’t recognize her lineage from the North Pole Santa Claus family until recently.   I guess kinfolks of Santa, or his wife, are not recognizable when they prefer to wear pink T-shirts instead of red coats or aqua flip flops instead of black boots.

Mrs. Shirley has children who refer to her as Grandma, but they may not be related by blood.  Like her kin, Mrs. Claus, Shirley views all children as hers.   I would become so confused speaking with Shirley about “her family” that I finally gave up and decided the whole world was related to her.

For over 20 years,  Grandma Shirley has gathered her brood during the Christmas season, loading them in the Caddy with its reindeer antlers adorning the roof.  They listen to Elvis singing “Blue Christmas” while driving to a local department store, yet they know there will be nothing blue about the day.

Stay away from the naughty list

Before pulling into the parking lot, Mrs. Claus discusses the rules of the day.  The smallest and newest member of the grandkid group, eyes widen as his Grandma Shirley explains what they will do once they are inside.

“Each of you will take your own sleigh, rather grocery cart, and we travel together toward the toy aisles.  No one is to ask for anything for themselves, and if you do, you will go on my naughty list very soon.” 

The small boy’s eyes now appear troubled.  “Son, you will have so much fun; you will not think about yourself, especially when I sprinkle you with my pixie dust!” 

He relaxes a bit yet remains focused as his Grandma Shirley continues, “You are to fill each cart with toys for both girls and boys of all ages.  If you have questions, ask me, for I know all about what my children love.”

The children form a line trailing one another with their carts and scan each shelf in every row.  Dropping toys in the carts with precision care as they begin to feel the effects of warmth and wonder from Grandma Claus’s pixie dust. 

“To know the joy of giving is a fundamental rule all children must learn.” She tells them each year to encourage them to “load more.”   “You will find this is the day you will remember as the years fly by.  You will not recall what you received every Christmas, but you will remember what you gave to others, and it will always warm your soul.”

The wide-eyed little boy looks up to her, “Grandma, can we do this next week?” Her rosy cheeks turn red as she giggles down the aisles, watching the pixie dust as it settles on the floor.

Teach the wonder of giving early

If we are blessed to be grandparents or just grand people who adore children, and we can share or spare a bit of money or time, let’s teach our little ones early the true meaning of giving and the immense joy it brings for all. 

At the end of Grandma Shirley’s big day, they all piled the toys in the back of the big Caddy and dropped them off at the Claus Family Bank, which was collecting Toys for Tots. 

The bank employees were accustomed to the scene unfolding before them.  As the children placed the gifts around the lobby, smiles began to illuminate faces throughout the bank as if magic had spread and the glow of Christmas shone brightly.

We all can become a Mrs. Claus if we take the time to teach our children and grandchildren the wonder of giving from the depth of our hearts to those who need to believe in the splendor of kindness.

My Name is “Old Glory”

As my cousin drove his ATV over the Tennessee hills and green pastures to show me his farm on a recent visit, I could see from afar our American flag flying high above the main house.  It was as if the banner owned the sprawling land below and she waved her stripes declaring so. 

 God’s lush acres encased by an azure sky dotted proudly with the red, white, and blue depicted a picture-perfect Americana post-card.

Once we arrived back at the house, I looked toward the banner high atop the flagpole.  Old Glory’s ends were frayed and worn, her stripes a bit faded, but she continued to valiantly wave. 

“Yes, I need to purchase a new flag. This one is about worn out.”  My cousin stated as he, too, noticed her. 

The perfect flag

Old Glory appeared oddly perfect to me because she reflected America today.  A bit worn, faded, frazzled, and dazed from turmoil.  Her nation has suffered from disease, violence, political unrest, and loss for months.  But she has seen it all before during her lifetime of being America’s symbol of liberty.  And even though she is tired, she continues to remind us just where we are and who she is.

Her blood-stained stars and stripes were hoisted by soldiers to proclaim victory against her enemies throughout her history.  She proudly stood when all her people were freed from slavery.  Old Glory marched with women when they demanded their right to vote.  She lowered her colors when Presidents were assassinated, and heroes perished.  She sadly laid across coffins that held the remains of those who died for her to remain standing.

Our flag flies high above our government buildings, reminding those inside to continually work to maintain her glorious land.   Some people treated her with disrespect and even burned her, but she rose again from the ashes.

Old Glory never gives up, she never gives in, and she, who represents all that is good about America, waves her tattered cloth to remind us that we must battle to save her.

We must not self-destruct

Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

If we self-destruct, there will be no more freedom nor honor, and the red, white, and blue will fall to the earth in shreds.   

Selfishness, apathy, lack of respect, and extremism will end America.  They have battered us these last few years.  Recently, personal ideologies often replaced cohesive, healing behavior, thus costing us lives and livelihoods.

When we no longer care about the whole of our nation, we will no longer have the right to voice our personal ideologies.

Bullying and lack of respect for others should and will rip Old Glory to threads.  America was based on a belief in God.  God might believe we no longer deserve our abundant country if hurting one another with foul words and violent conduct becomes a norm.

The extreme far-right and left of our government and the radical behavior of self-interest groups are splitting our country apart.  The flag represents over 330 million Americans. And most understand a productive government is in the ‘middle’ where we find compromise and solutions.  We cannot stand on divided land, or we fall into the abyss it creates.

Be what Old Glory represents

Unfortunately, some believe America is finished. Well, I am not one of them.  I love this country, its people, and the God who gave her to us.  We must pull together and not lose our nation.  Those who attempt to divide us should remember that our heritage was built on courage.  They, who precariously traveled across the seas to an unknown world, did so to escape persecution, famine, and lack of hope. 

It is here where they fought to keep dreams alive and have the freedom to see them come true. They toiled the earth, built communities, braved the elements, and cherished America.  They sent their children to war, begged for innovative medicines to keep their families from succumbing to smallpox, polio, and countless unforgiving diseases.  Their courage and sacrifice gave us all that we enjoy today.  That alone should force us to stop our oft-inane behavior.

We cannot destroy ourselves.  We are a priceless free nation.  Old Glory represents a battered and bruised land, but we will become the healers to repair her.  With our help, she will continue to proudly wave over our hills and homes so that her stripes and stars can always be seen from afar.

We must endeavor to be what our flag represents; a will to never give up and bravely stand tall even though the winds from storms may fray us.

Salute the Vietnam Warriors

While recently thumbing through my old Tennessee and Georgia high school yearbooks, tears pooled in my eyes.  Yes, they were all there, young men with hope in their eyes and their youth on the edge of disappearing. I wonder what they would have accomplished in their lives if they had the promise of a future.

 Would they laugh as I do at the silly antics of a grandchild?  Would they still possess the impish grin the camera caught in the 60s? Maybe Howard would have made it onto the big screen with his good looks.  Perhaps Bobby would be a renowned physician today, and Larry would have climbed up the ranks in his beloved army before retiring to Florida. 

However, the maybe’s left when they all boarded a military bus to serve our nation while a war escalated in Vietnam.  They, like so many, returned only to be laid to rest in their hometown cemeteries before they had a chance to see what could have been.

Bearing a scar

These young men joined the service as so many do to become soldiers of war.  They are the elite among us who, I believe, God anoints with an extra dose or more of courage.  These soldiers go blindly into battle to defend the land they love.  They steadfastly look out for each other and often give their lives to save their comrades.

The Vietnam warriors were no different in character and honor as those who bravely fought for our Independence.  They held the same gritty spirit as those who battled before them in the Revolutionary War or World War I and II, as well as all other conflicts.  Thousands of soldiers have responded to the call to serve, but the warriors of Vietnam bear a scar.

By the time our troops were pulled from Vietnam in 1973, over 52,000 young soldiers had perished.  Between 1964 and 1975, 2,709,918 men and women wore an American military uniform in Nam.  240 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor as Bobby Ray was for saving many lives, except his own. Of those killed in combat, 61% were younger than 21. Just out of school, just beginning to dream, just starting a future.   

Also, in 1973, America’s electorate was deeply divided, and some say the military was demoralized.  So, for those who returned from the rice paddies and trenches, ships, the skies, and prisons of Vietnam, there were no homecoming parades or bands of screaming, happy folks in Times Square to greet them. Instead, Vietnam was simply over for America.

Never blame the warrior

Today, those fallen Vietnam soldiers are immortalized on a wall in Washington, D.C.  For those who lost friends or loved ones whose names are etched in this wall, the war is not forgotten, nor is the sacrifice.   We are the older generation now, and our young faces are alongside those in the yearbooks who remain ageless. 

Today, 610,000 courageous Vietnam Veterans are still walking among us.  Of those who risked their lives in Southeast Asia, 97% were honorable discharged even though many were drafted for service.

Even after hearing countless stories of the heroism and bravery shown by our American troops during the second-longest war in our history, they returned home to be treated harshly by many for just doing what they were asked to do. Unfortunately, this response created a loss of self-esteem and grief for many young soldiers, leading to future deep-seated problems.  

Our worst divisive behavior is the scar of Vietnam.  The wound was not caused by the soldiers.  The injury was inflicted by the free citizens who remained on American soil that turned their anger toward those sent to battle.  

We can fairly charge those in government or politics for most anything but not the bravest, best, and the most elite among us. So we should never blame the warrior, nor the ones who suffer and give the most.  Nor the over 150,000 who were wounded in Vietnam, or the prisoners of war, or those missing in action.

Take the time to notice the brave soldiers

I look into the eyes of my framed Vietnamese doll my brother sent me in 1965.  She has my POW/MIA bracelet around her waist to remember another pilot whose remains were finally located a few years ago.   My brother lived until 1998, but his time spent in Vietnam was always fresh in his heart.  I, too, vow to honor those who gave so much to receive so little.  

Memorial Days will come and go, but this year stop for a moment, look around, and notice the brave soldiers of long ago and celebrate them.

Maybe it will help heal the scar a divided nation caused and remind us never to produce such a wound again.  

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”  General George S. Patton, Jr.

The Music Just Beyond the Doors

Years ago, shortly before my mother passed away, she described a vivid dream she experienced one night that prepared us both for what was to come.   

In the Tennessee mountain town where she and I were born, the vacant old Imperial Hotel stands frozen in time as if passing years dare to touch it.  The brick three-story building next to the train depot was built in 1909.  Weary rail passengers would spend the night, enjoy a good meal, and feel the cool air as it whirled around the mountain.  The Imperial boasted 30 rooms and indoor plumbing, which in 1909 was quite extraordinary in the hills of Tennessee.    

When I was a small child, the old hotel was a magical place where I could imagine myself as a traveler on the Tennessee railway or attending a gala in the main ballroom.  However, in the late 50s, the passenger trains discontinued their service to stop at the depot just below the hotel. As a result, the Imperial closed its doors to guests, and silence filled the halls.   

The once-thriving resort town and tourist destination withered.  All other inns and hotels succumbed to the ravages of time.  But the Imperial still stands today determined not to be forgotten.  It is as if she is still waiting to greet her visitors when they walk through her doors once again.

The dream

“Lynn, I dreamed I was at the Imperial last night.  I stood in the foyer hall alone, and the doors to the ballroom were locked.  A band was playing and people were laughing as if they were attending a fine party.  I wanted to join them, so I knocked and then banged on the old wooden doors.  The noise inside grew louder, and my attempts to be heard were useless.  I begin to weep with frustration because I desperately desired to see everyone, but I could not.  I woke up this morning with the dream still fresh and to find my pillowcase was damp with tears.  So strange.”  Mom declared after detailing her dream.

When Mother passed away a few months later, we took her home to the little mountain town to rest beside Dad.  A day after the service, I drove toward the Imperial and wondered if I could somehow get inside.  After parking my car, I found, to my surprise, the front door was unlocked, and I discovered I was alone in the foyer. 

Wooden doors were open to reveal a large room perfect for hosting a huge celebration complete with a band. But, unfortunately, the hotel was void of sound. Yet, I could feel the beat of the music as I envisioned my parents dancing as they always loved to do.

The unwritten messages

While standing among the spirits still alive in the Imperial, I understood how Mom’s dream prepared us for her departure from this world.  In the end, Mother was ready to join the others who await her just beyond the doors to eternity.  Her frustration was over.

We receive images and messages of eternal life all the time.  Either we decide to pay attention to them or ignore them completely.  Usually, when we don’t trust what we hear or see, we deem ourselves more intelligent than the Divine, causing us to not be very intelligent.  

People call such events everything from God-Winks to bizarre coincidences to hogwash, but I call them gifts.  Precious connections to unite us with God and those we have lost from this life.  They remind me of a small present tied with a satin ribbon.  Once you untie the bow, the box reveals glimpses of forever.

Listen with your soul

Today, the depot near the hotel is now a museum run by its cultural administrator, a young man new to the area.  Mr. Cleary fell in love with the town’s history and the under 3000 people who call Monterey, Tennessee, home.   I met him for the first time when I visited a few weeks ago. 

He had just purchased his first house.  “Where is your new home?” I asked.  After a brief conversation, I knew exactly where it was. It was the house where I was born.

 I looked up to the hill just beyond the depot to the old brick Imperial and smiled.  There is no music flowing from the rooms, nor sounds of laughter, nor trains that stop to deboard weary travelers seeking rest.  Yet somehow, the magic that makes life whirl like the wind in the mountains reminds me that we all remain connected to the past, to those we love, and not even death can stop the dance.

Sometimes, when we are caught up in the noise of life, it is vitally important to become quiet and listen to the music just beyond the doors.