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A boy named Zach

Zach was a handful. Zach was either always being reprimanded by the adults in the room or causing trouble among his peers. I spent five days around Zach, just a few hours each morning…he was a boy in the Vacation Bible School class that I helped teach one summer many years ago.
In the South, VBS is a big deal. Most churches have VBS at some time in the summer, and many children flock to those churches to hear the Bible stories, play the games, make the crafts and eat the snacks.
My impression was that Zach didn’t like coming to VBS, at least not that any of his teachers could tell. I don’t remember any part of the mornings’ activities that Zach particularly enjoyed. And truth was, we adults didn’t really enjoy Zach being there either because there was no peace when Zach was in the room. But, his grandmother brought him faithfully each morning and we would welcome him into the classroom.
Zach stayed with his grandmother most of the time. He was almost as tall as her smaller, slightly bent frame. And you could tell by the weary and tired look in her eyes that Zach was a handful for her as well.
Looking back, I wish I had tried harder to relate to Zach. I wish I had loved him in a way that stuck with him. I wish I had tried to see him as an active nine-year-old boy that needed to know that he was loved instead of regarding him as a disruption and trouble-causer.
At the end of the week, as the kids all exited the classroom and hallways for one final time at noon on Friday, I sighed a heavy sigh of relief and began cleaning up the room. I noticed a nametag on the floor. The kids had all worn nametags throughout the week, nametags on cords hung around their necks. As I read the name on that tag I wasn’t really surprised that it was Zach’s.
I walked across the room to toss the abandoned papers, etc. into the trashcan, along with the nametag. But I couldn’t deposit that nametag into the trash with the rest of the paper.  I held on to it. I placed the nametag into my bag and took the nametag home with me.
That afternoon I placed Zach’s nametag in my jewelry box, along with some of my “special” things, my grown-up treasure box. I knew in my heart that to the God whom I had talked about all week to post-third-grade children, Zach wasn’t just a disruption or trouble-causer. Zach was a precious child and creation of His. So, by faith, probably less than a mustard seed of faith, I placed Zach’s nametag in that jewelry box and I prayed for Zach.
Over the years, when I see Zach’s nametag, I still pray for Zach. My family has since moved from the town where I met Zach. I never heard about Zach after that summer. Still I have hung on to Zach’s nametag and I pray for Zach sometimes, who would be an adult in his 20-somethings now.
And I have also learned the meaning of the name “Zachary” since that summer long ago. It means, “God remembers.” I think God remembers Zach, just like God remembers any of us. Isaiah 49:15-16 describes the way God remembers people:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I (God speaking here) will not forget you! See, I (God speaking again) have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.”
I want God to remember and think of me. I want God to remember and think of my husband and our children and the rest of my family and friends and neighbors. And, I want God to remember and think of Zach…and I am confident that He does.

Caught off guard

I was talking to my husband on the phone. The doorbell rang. I could hear our two dogs barking. Then I realized that their barking was coming from outside the house, not inside the house, and whoever was standing on our front porch had probably already been accosted by our two friendly, perhaps overly friendly, pets of the canine variety. I was right.
As I looked out the window to see whether it was the UPS delivery person or a local candidate seeking a vote in the upcoming county elections, I was surprised to see that the stranger who had just rang the doorbell was a boy, fully engaged in petting our pups.
I opened the door to see what the visitor wanted. He quickly handed me four plastic cards, spirit cards, we call them around here, which offer discounts at local businesses and raise funds for whatever your good cause may be. He was selling the cards for his school.
I took the cards as he continued to pet and play with our dogs. I didn’t know the boy, but I had flashbacks to my own childhood and going door to door in the small town where my family lived, selling some item to raise money for my elementary school. I looked through the cards and found one that had a few businesses that my family frequents, and told him that I would take that one. I offered the card I had selected back to him while I stepped inside to fetch my $10. He looked at me and said, “No, that’s your card, you keep it.”
So I got a $20 out of my wallet and asked him if he had change. “I will have to check, as he glanced over to the parent waiting in the car in our driveway. I think I do. But would you take a check?”
“No,” I said, “I will not take a check.”
“Ok,” he said as he grinned in my direction, “I’m pretty sure we have change.” He ran back to the waiting car, with my dogs running alongside him.
He returned to me momentarily with the change and gave it to me. Then he held out his right hand and looked me in the eye. I shook his hand. And as we finished shaking hands, he hugged me. I wasn’t expecting the handshake, much less the hug, but both of his gestures warmed my heart and brightened my day…and caught me totally off guard. Sometimes maybe the unexpected is just what we need most.

I know in my head that she is not in her apartment across town. The apartment sits empty waiting on new tenants. I know in my head that she has a new home, complete with a new husband and new adventures to look forward to as they begin their life together.
I know all of this. But still, sometimes I pretend. I pretend that she is still in her apartment across town. I pretend that she has been so busy lately with the two part-time jobs that she had until recently and hanging out with her friends at coffee shops that, well, she just has not been able to make it out to the home where she grew up, and where her mom and dad and youngest brother all still reside. It’s all good really.
And even when I am not pretending that she is in the apartment across town, it is still all good. I am very happy for her to be married to the man she loves and whom loves her abundantly. I rejoiced with her when her young man proposed. I was delighted to sit on the love seat in the dress shop, watching her try on wedding dresses, waiting to discover if she would find the right dress to say “yes” to. I was more than happy to hear the music she had selected to be played before her wedding ceremony and the piece that would be playing as she walked down the aisle toward her future, holding her daddy’s arm. I ordered the beautiful bright blue suede pumps that would adorn her feet under her once-in-a-lifetime dress. The blue suede shoes seeming like a perfect match to walking down the aisle to Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” (My little girl never particularly cared for the traditional wedding march.)
Two days after the pretty-much-perfect-in-every-way wedding day, our daughter climbed into the passenger seat of her new husband’s loaded down GMC truck, pulling a trailer with her equally loaded down Nissan Altima, and off the two of them drove, out of the parking lot of the apartment building where she no longer lives and toward their new home a few states away. Her oldest brother, whose flight back to his life in another state, and her youngest brother and mom and dad, all waving bye for now.
So, I know in my head, and even in my heart, that she is not in the apartment across town. But just a week into this new stage of life, with a married daughter and all, the reality hits in new ways. Like when I walk into her old bedroom, where she stayed before the apartment across town, and where she also stayed the week before her wedding…and I see her old softball glove, the one her coach gave her when she was 10, lying next to the Ziploc sandwich bags containing all of the volleyball ribbons that signified team victories from her junior high and high school days. That’s when I realize anew, she is not in her apartment across town.

There is a golf ball in one of my kitchen drawers.  It’s in my kitchen towel drawer to be exact…the drawer to the left of the kitchen sink, at the end of the kitchen counter.  The golf ball is a Nike golf ball and it has been in that drawer for a long time…I mean for years.

Why is there a golf ball in my kitchen towel drawer?  Well, I don’t remember exactly how it got there originally.  It was either because I took it away from then-much-younger brothers who were playing with the golf ball in the house and I was pretty sure that if the indoor golf ball play continued, something was either going to get broken or someone was going to get hurt when one brother decided to throw it at another brother.  Or, it may have ended up there during a mad cleaning dash when guests were about to arrive at our home.

Both are plausible reasons why the Nike golf ball landed in the kitchen towel drawer.  But, as I mentioned earlier, the golf ball has been in that same drawer for a long time…for years.

Every once in a while, I pick the golf ball up as I place clean kitchen towels into the drawer.  I turn the ball over in my hand.  Then…I place the golf ball back into its designated space…in the kitchen towel drawer and I push the drawer handle until the drawer closes snugly.

The golf ball reminds me of young brothers, sometimes with sister included, running through our house… giggling, yelling, wrestling, chasing, being underfoot, getting scolded to take their play out of the kitchen where I might be busy cooking a meal or washing dishes or putting groceries away or talking on the phone.  The brothers, and sometimes sister, usually left the kitchen much as they entered…giggling, yelling, wrestling, or chasing.

Squeals and screams would come and go, into and out of our kitchen, throughout days and over months and years.  A door frame leading from our kitchen into the laundry room marks the heights of the brothers and the sister who passed through that kitchen.

The kitchen is quieter now…noisy conversations conducted by deeper voices descend upon it less frequently.  But, every now and again there still may be quick-paced footsteps heard in that kitchen, accompanied by giggles and yelling and even some chasing.

I treasured the kitchen traffic then…and I treasure it now.   And as a memorial…I keep a golf ball in my kitchen drawer.

I spoke with my dad on the phone last night.  He asked me if I remember the first time I drove on a Mother’s Day Sunday.  I thought back to my learning-to-drive days as a young teenager, but that was not the time frame he was remembering.  He began telling me a story that I’ve heard many times, but do actually remember parts of myself.

My dad reminisced about that Sunday morning long ago when he took me along to a little farm our family owned on a country highway, to cut some roses for my mother.  I accompanied him on the short trip, sitting next to him on the long bench-like front seat.  I was probably four-years-old.

When we arrived at the farm and turned into the graveled driveway, my dad decided that it would be easier and quicker work if he went and cut the flowers while I sat in the car.  I sure didn’t mind that because I would hold onto the steering wheel and pretend to drive while I watched him meander up the drive into the farm yard to retrieve the roses.

Evidently, on this Sunday morning, I decided that simply holding on to the large steering wheel wasn’t realistic enough pretending and I decided to grab the gear shift on the steering wheel column.  I moved the gear shift into neutral and the car that my dad had left in park began backing down the narrow driveway toward the highway.

My father heard the crunching sound of rubber tires rolling over gravel and looked up to see his black and white car with his four-year-old at the wheel moving away from him.  I was thrilled to have the car moving, never recognizing any danger whatsoever and then happy to see my daddy running to meet me.

Thankfully, the wheels on the car had been turned,  so the car was not going to roll too far and my daddy ran really fast I thought to get to me.  My dad stopped the car, opened the driver’s side door and scooped up his little girl.

I’m sure my dad breathed a sigh of relief and maybe even a prayer of thanks, but I was none the worse for wear; excited that I had gotten the car to move all by myself.

My father mentioned in our phone conversation that he doubted  I would remember, but often during my childhood years, he would take me along for the ride when he had to go somewhere.  But, I do remember.  I remember that some of my favorite times were sitting alongside my dad, riding in his Chrysler or Dodge sedan or later in his Jeep truck, running an errand for my mom or him going to check on some of his business matters.  It wasn’t that the errand missions were exciting.  Sometimes I would end up sitting in the passenger seat waiting on my dad to finish a conversation with one of his friends or business acquaintances, for what seemed like a short eternity to a kid.  But, that really didn’t bother me…it was a small price to pay to go riding with my dad.

Mothers

It’s the day after Mother’s Day and thoughts about the mothers in my life still bounce about in my head.  Yesterday I went to church with my family and at the beginning of the service we watched a video of a man interviewing job candidates for a job with a list of requirements that no one human could ever fulfill.  Except… women all over the world carry out the tasks every day that were listed in the job description presented in the interviews.  These women are moms.  My eyes welled up with tears as the interviewer revealed to the multiple interviewees that the job description was for the job of “mom.”

I watched the video and thought about how I love being a mom…and I thought about my mom and my grandmothers who influenced my life so much.  I’m thankful for each one of them.

My maternal grandmother grew up in eastern Tennessee, the daughter of a farmer.  She worked hard all of her life.  There was not a physical task that she was afraid to undertake.  She didn’t have a lot of education.  Her handwriting was always hard for me to read.  But she knew a lot about a lot of things, like growing any kind of plant.  She had the greenest of green thumbs.  The yard around her house across the street from ours was full of all kinds of flowers and trees.  She could take a cutting from any plant, put it into the ground and it would grow at her command.  It was amazing to me, even as a child.  I did not inherit her green thumb.

My grandmother like to play ball with me when I was little.  She would throw a rubber ball and I would catch it and toss it back.  She was always up for buying a new large in diameter bouncy ball, that we would bounce back and forth.  A love for bouncing balls I did inherit.

My maternal grandmother liked a good April’s Fool prank.  I remember listening to her stories about pranks while lying beside her in bed after the lights in our house were turned out     for the night.  Her stories made me laugh.

This grandmother of mine loved music and liked doing the twist.  She taught me how to ride my bike and let me and my cousin stay up late at her house watching Elvis movies or westerns.  She loved her children and grandchildren, but didn’t always know how to express that love.  She was a simple woman who appreciated hard work and sitting outside on a big swing in the evening.

My paternal grandmother was also a native of eastern Tennessee.  She had a gentle southern Tennessee accent.  She was a baker of breads and cakes and sometimes when I smell sausage cooking the mornings, I feel as though I’m walking into her kitchen.  She took a lot of meals to many people in her community.  She could talk to anyone and was charming with her southern graces.

This grandmother was tall and loved wearing sandals.  I remember her taking me to feed the ducks at a small lake near her home.  She loved a good cup of coffee and visiting with my mom.  She adored my grandfather and he adored her right back.  The two of them taught me how to bowl and play golf.  She would let me spend hours and hours running through her shrubberies playing games with the neighbor boy who lived across the street.  She taught me how to play a game of rummy and let me teach her how to play crazy eights, though she would mention that I sometimes changed the rules a bit during the game.

She is what comes to my mind when I think of a southern lady.

And then there is my momma, the lady who most inspired me to want to be a momma myself.  My mom was and is a hard worker like her mother before her.  She can manage a budget with amazing capability.  When I was young, she typically wore pretty shirt dresses and nice shoes.  I used to think that when I became a mom, I would have to trade in my favorite blue jeans and sneakers for shirt dresses and dress shoes.  Thankfully, times and styles changed and I have done ok mothering in my blue jeans and tennis shoes.

I have watched my mom do whatever she needed to do to care for her family.  She loves her children and grandchildren with the utmost loyalty.  She is proud of every one of them.

Moms can be amazing women and I am blessed to have watched three of those amazing moms up close.

There’s a puppy in my lap.  His name is Scout.  His sister, Darcy, is lying nearby on a blanket on our sectional.  Scout and Darcy are the dynamic brother and sister puppy duo who arrived at our home in January at the age of six weeks.  Now they are five months old.  They have grown so much from the little fluff balls they were when we first brought them home.

Scout and Darcy were part of a litter of pups that belonged to a friend of mine.  The momma, a terrier mix, and the daddy, a beautiful Brittany Spaniel, belong to my friend as well.  It was an unplanned pregnancy, but turned into a blessing for us all.

Our family had been searching for just the right puppy for almost a year, without success.  Then I heard about my friend’s litter of puppies, free to a good home.  Our family decided to take a look at them.

When four members of our family went to pick out one puppy to love, we picked out two.  We had just lost our much loved golden retriever, Ellie, and our dog-lonesome hearts decided that we needed two pups instead of one.  It was the right decision.

Puppies…they are a lot of work.  And puppies…they  bring a lot of joy.  Scout has a low-to-the-ground stocky body, the shape of his mother. He has a  white wiry coat with large brown spots, a terrier nose and beard, and floppy brown ears.  He has lots of brown freckles on his otherwise pink tummy.  Scout’s white paws are huge.

Darcy looks more like their Brittany Spaniel dad, only much daintier.  Her features are fine and her legs are long.  She has jet black, soft fur, except for the whitest white fur that interrupts her shiny black coat in places.  Her paws are dainty and small. Darcy has a lot of energy, whereas her brother,  Scout, is much more laid-back, an enjoyer of sitting quietly in our front yard watching a butterfly flutter by.

Darcy likes to run and run and run and run.  Scout likes to run and then sit…while Darcy continues to run and run circles around him.

Scout likes to wander off into the woods for a great explore.  Darcy likes to follow Scout.  They both have learned to accept the bath time that they need after a great explore into the woods, where they find all sort of smelly smells to adopt as their own and bring back home with them.

They both prefer to eat our cat’s weight management cat food to their premium brand puppy food.  They both like our cat, Chris (long story about the cat name).  Chris the cat tolerates the puppies, often with much hissing and spitting and tapping a pup’s head or nose.   But, Chris the cat has not scratched either of them…yet.

Scout likes to lick.  He seems to like to lick anything, but human limbs attached to his people’s bodies seem to be his favorite.  He especially likes to lick feet.  Darcy doesn’t lick as much as her brother.  She does like to stand on her hind legs and ask to be picked up.  She likes to be held and comforted, which is fine for now, but could be a problem if she gets much bigger.

Scout likes wearing a bow tie on his collar.  Darcy likes to look at Scout when he is wearing the bow tie on his collar.  Both of them could do a better job of coming when they are called and they still don’t let their people know every time they need to go outside before they go inside.  But, they love their people and their people love them.  That is why this morning, there’s a puppy in my lap.