Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Father's Gift

I know, I know. Two posts in a row about my dad, but birthday coming. First one without Dad. Father's Day not far behind, and then the first anniversary of his passing. Friends, if you've been reading here awhile, thank you for hanging in there while I work through my grief.

On my birthday in 2011, Jerry and I were in another state to finish his cancer treatment.  That's when I wrote this post  I plucked from the archives today, which was originally written for Father's Day. I couldn't help but think of it as I approached this first birthday without the man who's been there since the beginning. And I suppose in this article I am now doing what I've noticed over on Ruth Chou Simons Instagram page. #preachingtomyownheart.

This little boy in chalk dusted overalls was born just months before the event we historically see as the beginning of the Great Depression.

His early childhood bridged some of the darkest years our nation has ever known. His mother gave birth to seven children before his arrival, and buried four of them at various ages.

The son of a sharecropper, this boy’s meals often consisted of a biscuit for breakfast, a biscuit for lunch and whatever the family’s farming provided for supper (as Southerners have called the evening meal).

He’d attend a schoolhouse with several grades in one room and drew close to a pot-bellied stove to keep warm in the winter.

Just out of high school, he imagined his life would be spent working in the local textile mill, but circumstances led to his joining the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. Later offered officer’s training, he declined because he was home sick.

On his homecoming, he learned about the GI Bill. It’d be hard with a family to support, but for years he worked full time at the textile mill and went to college.

I’d be there to stand with my dad as we had our picture made just after he received his college diploma. I was four, and it is one of my few early memories, but I recall a sunny day and the green, grassy slopes surrounding the community college nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My dad became a business man and provided the financial resources for both my sister and me to attend college. I am grateful for the sacrifices he made and the example of perseverance in the midst of hardship he has established.

A Sunday school teacher for dozens of years, he has now retired and handed the torch to someone else. Sometimes the memories grow as faded as the photographs, but on my last birthday, I discovered some precious ones remain, as my dad passed another lesson on to me.

I knew it would be an uneventful birthday, because I was out of state with Jerry while he was having his radiation treatment. We’d already planned to celebrate as a family when we returned, so, Jerry and I tried to make the best of an odd sort of day. As we sat down for lunch, I noticed a cell phone message from my dad. I pressed play:

“Beverly, it’s ten o’clock on a Sunday morning. And so many years ago, you were born on a Sunday morning about six-thirty. And I called to wish you a Happy Birthday, today.”

As the tears rolled, I forgot all about my mahi and pressed play again to let Jerry listen.

“How many Dads remember which day of the week their children are born?” Jerry asked.

“I’d almost forgotten I was born on a Sunday.” The only reason I ever remember at all is the little poem about birthdays. I liked my day. “Sunday’s child is full of grace…”

How many Dads would remember? I don’t know, but mine does. He remembers a Sunday morning baby just stirring to the world, and that she weighed ten pounds and eight ounces and dwarfed all the other infants in the nursery. He remembers and that gift makes my birthday so many years later a very special one.

I’m making a note to remember for my own children’s sake—to tell them the stories that have shaped their lives. The details matter, even when they grow older and have children of their own.

His caring gives me a greater understanding of my Heavenly Father, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:17-18).

God remembers and unlike our finite earthly fathers are able to do, he is always thinking of us. Nonstop. And for those who are without Fathers for some reason, that is good news.

And with that in mind, no matter the circumstances concerning your earthly father, remember God the Father has his eye on you. May your Father’s Day be blessed.

And, Happy Father’s Day Dad!! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Backstory, the last chapter, and the answer at last

Years ago, I sat in a class by the prolific author, Angela Hunt. She declared, “Back story belongs in the back of the book.” I etched those words in my notebook, and every time I start to give a character’s whole life story in the first chapter, Hunt’s words sound in my head.

But however much we construct our books with the backstory of a character’s motivation in the last chapter, life itself rarely works out that way.

But, if writing a novel with my dad as the protagonist, in one circumstance, it’s almost as if a novelist had constructed the plot.

My dad, a Korean Conflict air force veteran, was stationed in several places in this country and spent time in England as well.
Here while stationed at Chanute Air Force Base, my dad second from left on front row

Here with comrades (Dad's in the middle)
Of course, he flew to most of these places. He was a mechanic and good at his job. He was offered officer’s training, but declined it and left the service after his term was up.

You might find it odd, as I did, from that point on, my dad never flew again. Oh, he traveled. He zigzagged coast to coast across the country several times in an RV. He made the 8400 mile round trip from Georgia to Alaska. Twice. If there’d been a bridge to Europe, I have no doubt he would have gladly crossed it.

Through the years, as I’ve traveled, he’s occasionally picked me up from the airport, and was always interested in my adventures, but never so much as to become an airline passenger himself.

My dad could be somewhat oblique and quite skilled at deflecting a question he didn’t want to answer. I’ve always attributed that to his English ancestry. So, I never knew why his feet stayed firmly planted on terra firma.

Until what was to be the last chapter.

A couple of years ago, after the cruel dementia had set into my dad’s brain, I sat across from him at our family Thanksgiving meal. Somehow, the conversation turned to travel. Because of his mental decline, Dad in the last years could be removed from what was going on, but this day, he seemed to be more on his game.  I dared to ask, “Dad, why is it you never traveled by air again after you left the service?”

In a single moment, decades of defenses crumbled brick on brick as his eyes met mine. “It was because of the crash.”

Everyone at the table grew silent. We put our turkey-laden forks down.

“Crash? Can you tell us about it, dad?”

“I was stationed at Barksdale, and we got word one evening that a B-45 jet coming back home was in trouble. We all rushed out to see, hoping they’d make the landing, but they didn’t. The plane crashed east of the runway. Several of the men stationed at Barksdale were killed in the crash. My friends.”

I don’t know how we even finished our food after that revelation. It was hard to bear that he’d carried this horrible memory all these years and none of us knew about it until he was 85 years old.

Later, I researched and found news releases about the crash. Poignantly, one was on a site entitled, GenDisasters.com, Events That Touched Our Ancestors Lives.

On March 21, 1951, three men died instantly in the crash, and a fourth died later trying to put out the fire. My dad had been witness to it all at 23 years old. My son is now a year older than my dad was then.

That may not have been all there was to tell. Incredibly, I found another tragedy connected to Barksdale occurred only a couple of days later on March 23, 1951. According to this source, “Brigadier General Paul Thomas Cullen was the deputy commander and chief of staff of Second Air Force at Barksdale and had just been detailed to establish the Seventh Air Division in England, a unit that would have spearheaded any air attack on the former Soviet Union. He, along with four other senior Strategic Air Command officers on his staff and several dozen top nuclear experts from the secret 509th Bomb Group were lost in the north Atlantic Ocean, when their C-124 transport vanished.”

No reason has every been found for the plane's disappearance. That’s a lot in a very short time for a twenty-three year old to process.

Fact is, many of our vets are carrying around backstory―the tragic details of war and service that have left indelible marks in their lives. And often, those who love them never know the why's. I wish we had known earlier what happened to my dad, but it was either too hard for him to discuss or perhaps, he wanted to protect us from the painful past.

This Memorial Day, I’m thinking about those service friends my dad lost one March evening before I was even born. I want to remember their sacrifice and so many more like them that gave their lives across the years serving our country.

As we barbecue our hamburgers and make our potato salad, let’s remember and give thanks that we have the freedom to do those things because of the extreme sacrifice of brave men and women who in Abraham Lincoln’s words have given “the last full measure of devotion.”

“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Phillipians 1:3).

"They fell heir to what others had toiled for ... " (Psalm 105:44).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Challenged by Joy

The weather turned out glorious for our daughter’s graduation from Oglethorpe University this past Saturday.

Family lined up across an entire row to witness the memorable event.

As she processed in, she blew me a kiss. She really didn’t want to go through all the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. She just wanted her degree, but I thought we should celebrate. That kiss said, “Mom, this is for you.”

Thanks, my sweet girl.

Celebrate we did, because (let me brag a bit) as a James Edward Oglethorpe full tuition academic scholarship recipient, we are so very proud of all that she has accomplished.

Adding to what was already an amazing day was the commencement speaker, new CEO for the National Center for Human and Civil Rights, Derrick Kayongo, awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Oglethorpe.

He began his address to those gathered on the campus of this liberal arts college by saying, “God is good. Good morning.”
He immediately had my attention.

He shared that as a ten-year-old child in Uganda, he was dragged from his home along with his parents and witnessed a firing squad execute several of his friends and neighbors. His family managed to escape to Kenya from the horrors perpetrated by Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin.

There in a refugee camp he met a missionary worker from Pittsburgh who along with his parents became one of his greatest influencers.

He eventually made his way to Pittsburgh and while staying in a hotel, he was amazed to find three bars of soap in his bathroom. He put two in his bag and used one. The next day, he magically found three more bars of soap. He was shocked to find his used bar of soap had been thrown away. Kayongo’s father had been a soap maker, and Kayongo knew that soap could have another life.

It was then that the incubus of the Global Soap Project began, a project that has taken some of the 800 million hotel soaps discarded each year and recycled them into new soap for poor nations in Africa where children are dying from inadequate hygiene.

His delivery was filled with such joy and hope, I believe the graduates as well as their families felt inspired to leave that campus and make a difference in the world.

From the horrors of his childhood, Kayongo has by the power of God, grabbed hold of joy, and from that infectious and effervescent place, he challenges us to joy as well.

One of the last pictures we took of my daughter on the campus was with the Lupton Hall Carillon in the background.

I was aware of the bells tolling. I listened a moment to the song they played.

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee,
Opening to the Sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!”

A party still lay ahead.

But our hearts were already spilling over. A joyful day, for sure.

God IS good, friends.

". . . for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

Consider taking a moment to watch this you tube video when Kayongo was selected as one of CNN’s top ten heroes, HERE.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When you're waiting on a return

If you’re a master gardener, you’ll probably want to skip this post. Just saying.

Every year at Christmas, my sister gives me an amaryllis. I force the bulb to bloom during the winter and then take it outside and plop it in the ground.

Yes, I know that in the middle south, this variety of amaryllis is not supposed to bloom again. But I hope.

Last year, like many years, I had nothing but leaves on my amaryllis bulbs.

I thought maybe I should dig up the bulbs and use the ground for something more reliable. However, I remembered what my neighbor Mell used to say, “Just leave it alone, and see what happens.”

So, I did.

Last week, while talking to my sister on the phone, I glanced over at the plot of ground where my amaryllis bulbs were planted, and I had not one, but two bulbs planted in years past about to explode in bloom―perhaps because our winter was milder than usual, perhaps because God knew I needed a burst of color right now.


Most of us like a guaranteed return on our investments, but those amaryllis bulbs are a lot like our lives. We plant, we water, we hope. Sometimes we get a return. Sometimes, it seems we don’t. Occasionally, like my blooms this year, the return is so bountiful, we’re astounded.

If you’ve been standing by waiting for your investment in some arena to bear fruit, just know it‘s all in God’s hands and His timing. Those returns often don’t come fast and furious, but in patience, waiting, and hoping.

So, here’s to unexpected flowers at unpredictable times.

All thanks to THE master gardener.
"It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow" (I Corinthians 3:6 The Message).

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Old Barbies

With the loss of my Father last year, I am especially missing my mother this Mother’s Day. I wrote this piece shortly before her death fifteen years ago, and we read it at her service. I thought it might be time to share it with One Ringing Bell readers. May you have a blessed Mother’s Day no matter your circumstances.

The Old Barbies

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Philippians 1:3


In three worn plastic cases on a shelf in the top of my daughter’s closet is a collection fondly called the “old Barbies.” These are the dolls of my childhood; some look better than others do.  There’s my first Barbie with blonde bubble hair and a red swimsuit, the Barbie with a molded plastic head and three wigs, Skipper and Francie who still look pretty good, and a Barbie who had the first bendable legs, but now also has green oxidized ears. Store-bought Barbie clothes came at a high premium for our family in the mid- sixties.  I only received these on my birthday or Christmas. 

However, when I was eight or nine, my mother spent days making an assortment of tiny hand sewn garments: evening gowns of satin and tulle with sequins around the bodice, sixties print skirts and blouses, a lined purple velveteen coat. Even Ken had a suit, a sailor outfit and pajamas.

All of these fashions have grown a little shabby through the years, as many small hands have imagined wonderful things with them. Even after decades of wear, the “old Barbies” have a mysterious appeal. They have been highly favored over “new Barbies.” 

Somehow, little ones always sense the love sewn into these  pieces of fabric; somehow, they know the precious labor that produced them. In those weary hours my mother spent crouched over a sewing machine fitting sleeves no bigger than a finger into dime sized arm holes, she had no way of knowing these would become a legacy. When I see children playing with the “old Barbies,” I know the hours my mother spent making these were some of her crowning moments.

As a child, I never understood the price my mother must have paid to make these doll clothes, for she bravely fought many private battles that spanned her adult life. Many never knew about her struggles. Now, I realize that every garment she made cost her dearly. I don’t know how she did it. Making tiny doll clothes would be a challenge for almost anyone, but for her—they were a costly labor of love.

My mother is now in Heaven, but at our house we will always give thanks to God for her life, as we remember her for many reasons, especially the “old Barbies.” 

Related: A Chair and a Mother's Courage HERE
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...