This is my blog where I write about my daily walk and lessons learned as I change from a caged gerbil into a loved dog at the Master’s knee. Come back soon to read my latest lesson.
My boyfriend’s dad was a big man, the kind that commands attention. His voice was loud, and his intensity often made it seem like he was yelling at you. He could be gruff and was always opinionated. So you can imagine how I felt when I called my boyfriend’s house in the middle of the night and this man answered.
I was living alone in a flimsy trailer. Someone, probably drunk, was walking around my trailer banging on the walls, the door, the windows. Screaming, threatening, and basically scaring me to death; I had no idea who the culprit was. I did the first thing that came to mind: Call the boyfriend! He would help.
Did I mention it was the middle of the night? Yeah. We hadn’t been dating long. I think I had met the father twice. So in the middle of the night, I call his house, and the the father answers.
“It’s Traci,” I sobbed. “Someone is trying to get in my trailer.”
“I’ll be right there.”
And just like that, he came over. He didn’t wake up Matt. He didn’t tell me to call my own dad. He just got in the car and came to get me. He looked all around the trailer, found nothing, and told me to pack a bag. He took me back to their house, put me in the guest room, and made me feel safe.
Later he set up a camera in the trailer and stayed to tape whomever might come back, but I guess the guy realized he had gone to the wrong trailer and never returned.
A year later that gruff, loud, intimidating man became my father-in-law. He still intimidated me, but I knew something about him, a secret that he hides from the rest of the world. He is a protector, a guardian, an alert and mindful watchdog.
But that isn’t the sum of this man. No. One year for Christmas he had a special gift for me. As soon as I opened it I started crying like a sentimental fool. Everyone else in the room was perplexed.
In the gift-wrapped box lay an oddly shaped wooden something. It was, in fact, the ears to a wooden donkey. The donkey is a special keep sake of mine, and he had noticed on a visit to our house that the ears had broken. He took the time to make a pattern, find materials, and cut out a new pair of ears. It was the best present I received that year.
That gruff, sentimental, loud, caring protector of a man is an enigma. And he is my father-in-law. I love you, Larry.
“The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7
“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.” John F. Kennedy
I have had great relationships with my neighbors over the years. Our first apartment was in a complex that served married students. Two doors down lived another couple from the school where Matt was attending and often in the mornings the other wife and I would meet for a cup of tea. We grew vegetables together in pots at the back door, had each other over for dinner, and just enjoyed each other’s company.
When we lived in the Philly area, our apartment complex was separated from another complex by train tracks. A seminary couple with a baby the same age as ours lived on the other side of the tracks. We would walk through the unofficial path that connected the two places and walk our babies together. After a while we started sharing babysitting dates. I took care of their baby on Friday and she took care of ours on Saturday so that we could each have a little alone time with our husbands.
In Arlington our back door neighbor had kids the same ages as ours and the path that was worn through the two fences became a rut, nearing ravine proportions by the time we moved. It was the fences in Arlington that drove me crazy.
So when we moved here I was excited to move out to the country where there were no fences, just open space. Two weeks after we moved in, the cotton field was transformed into a subdivision and I was devastated. But it didn’t turn out as badly as I imagined.
I have a wonderful neighbor who mows my yard when I am out of town, who weed eats my ditch, and cuts down stray tree branches. He is friendly and helpful, and for Christmas he delivered a bucket of home baked goodies. Two women in the neighborhood like to walk and chat, and one year for Halloween they brought me a homemade pecan pie. When Jonathan had a bike crash and cracked his skull, it was the people in that neighborhood who waited with me, took care of Amos, and came to visit the next day.
On our own lane, we have a neighbor that will go after our run away beagle, even tromping through muddy fields. The other neighbor has been a God-send time without number. She has kept our dog in her kennel whenever we couldn’t find a dog sitter. She and I have enjoyed many good conversations, prayer requests, and updates.
Having space and solitude are something I need. I enjoy time for reflection, and quietness is rejuvenating, but neighbors are needed. I need them to help with chores, with emergencies, and with spiritual direction. I need them to remind me that we don’t live in this world alone, and that is a good thing.
I love you, Neighbors.
“And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 7:39
“She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, feared at tea-parties, hated in shops, and loved at crises.” Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd
I feared her and adored her all at once. I sat on the couch with my legs spread-eagled around her shoulders. Her thick, dark hair shone as I brushed its full length, the tv playing Dallas in the background. She patiently sat through the tugging, pulling, braiding, and brushing. It was our Friday night ritual.
My mother started college when I was four years old. It seemed like she went for the rest of my childhood. It’s not really an exaggeration since she ended up with more than a Master’s degree.
She became a school teacher, was even my fifth and sixth grade teacher. Later she moved into the position of Principal at the WV Industrial School for Boys (reform school). She was 5’4″ and didn’t take anything from anyone.
Other than lightning storms, I only remember her being afraid twice. When I was in middle school, probably eighth grade, she and I were driving slowly through traffic on Main Street. A friend, Kirby, came running down the hillside and slammed into our car. He meant it as a joke, but it scared her to death. It was the only time I ever heard my mother swear. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
The second time I witnessed her fear was when I was just starting college myself. I came home to my trailer one day and she was sitting on my couch crying. The doctor had found a lump. I held her while she cried, tried my best to comfort, though how does an eighteen year old comfort her mother after news like that?
Thankfully, the lump wasn’t a major issue, and she soon was strong and healthy again. But for me it was the beginning of the unraveling of what I believed about my mother.
She lost her invincibility and became human. She had fears, failings, weaknesses, secrets, and shortcomings. This strong woman, this person of fearlessness and fortitude, was at times frail and fragile. Oh, she would hide it, still does. But she doesn’t fool me.
Under that coat of armor is a heart soft as a kitten’s purr. I love you, Mom.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
For there is no friend like a sister in calm or stormy weather; To cheer one on the tedious way, to fetch one if one goes astray, to lift one if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands. Christina Rossetti
Nineteen years ago a special woman came into my life, and seventeen years ago she became family. I love my sister-in-law, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.
She loves football. Tonight at the Super Bowl party I will be in another room talking or watching Downton Abbey.
She loves to shop, even going out in the wee hours of Black Friday. Shudder. I shop from the comfort of my computer.
She likes to poke people with sharp objects. I told Matt it was a good thing he was able to give himself the insulin shots a couple years ago, because there was no way I could ever poke him with that needle. (I said this under the guise of true love, but really I would just have let him go into a coma.)
She’s up on the latest clothing and hair styles but still is cute and attractive in sweats or yoga pants. I prefer the classics. It’s just easier. Back to the shopping thing . . .
So why do I love her? Because out of all of the things we DON’T have in common, we DO have the best thing in common: a love of the Lord.
When my church sisters here can’t or shouldn’t be approached, she is my go-to-gal. When my soul sags lower than a hound dogs belly, she’s the one I call. When I feel forgotten, unheard, or ignored by God, she’s the one who turns me back to Scripture. When my faith grows weak, she’s my training coach.
So even though we don’t have a whole lot in common, she’s the best sister God could ever have given me. I love you, Polly.
” I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” Philippians 1:3 KJV
When Matt switched from business to ministry as a career choice, a dear friend and long-time preacher’s wife gave me this advice: Make sure you have a very good friend that you do not go to church with.
While that is wise advice that I have taken to heart and followed many times, I have to say that I absolutely love the women at my current church. They are truly my sisters.
They text me, call me, email me, and poke me. We go to movies together, eat together, and laugh together. We cook together, teach together, and serve together. We pray together, cry together, and cling together.
When we moved here, these sweet sisters came to clean my house, paint rooms, and bring meals. They have learned many of my secrets and love me anyway. They help celebrate my birthdays and send me cards at Christmas. They have been in my home many times for many reasons.
One of the things I love most about them are their texts. While I was visiting my niece in Indiana there was a flurry of texting that involved a naked turkey with some lemon-seasoned breasts. Not to be outdone, another sister sent a picture of a turkey chilling in the sink with a remote and a drink.
Before we headed home for Christmas, Matt made a comment during his sermon that put him in the doghouse. I sent a picture to the girls of me giving him the cold shoulder in the car. They responded with tactics they take when a husband needs a little “discipline”. I especially liked “Ask him senseless questions over and over.” Another suggested I poke him with my knitting needles. It was all in fun. I think.
So while God didn’t give me blood sisters, he did bless me with soul sisters. And I love them to the moon and back.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34 ESV
“You think me foolish to call instruction a torment, but if you had been as much used as myself to hear poor little children first learning their letters and then learning to spell, if you had ever seen how stupid they can be for a whole morning together, and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it, as I am in the habit of seeing almost every day of my life at home, you would allow that to torment and to instruct might sometimes be used as synonymous words.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Our journey to home schooling was a reaction to a crisis, but our journey through home schooling was a reaction to a pleasant occurrence. We discovered that we enjoyed the time with family, the discoveries our children made, the flexible, less stressful schedule. But not every day was filled with hatching chicks and fun books to read. Some days were rotten eggs and War and Peace.
I was blessed with good friends to help me through those terrible days. Sometimes it was a muffled conversation on the phone while the kids knocked on my locked door. Some days there were picnics at the playground and a veerryy long recess while the teachers visited on the park bench. Occasionally there were field trips where the moms stood in the back of the group and enjoyed doing the dissections and experiments as well.
This is my last year home schooling. Amos graduates in May and I retire from the Home Educators Guild. (That’s not a real thing if you are looking it up.) So I decided to join a monthly Bible study group for home school moms in order to offer a little support to those filling in the ranks behind me. Last night was our February meeting.
Although the meeting is Bible focused, it is much more a Christian home school moms’ support group. Last night we talked about college applications, whether college is a good choice for everyone, unwed mother birth statistics in our town, places to volunteer, how much money a person should make, and sex education. We ate brownies and grapes and discussed whether parking garages in our community are a safe solution to a problem.
And all of it, yes all of it, was said in loving support, even when we disagreed. Because at the core of our discussion is the Great Mediator who has forgiven us all and asked us all to walk this path together.
You probably have an idea in your head of what home schooling moms are like. Let me break a few of your bubbles: Some have advanced degrees, carry weapons, and are veterans. Some take belly dance lessons, are single, married, divorced, or widowed. Some have ten children and some have one. Some eat made from scratch meals every night at home, and others are happy if they can down fast food without choking. Some go to the gym, to karaoke bars, and to exotic places like India.
Home school moms are a diverse breed of animal, but they have one thing in common. They make very supportive friends. I am blessed beyond measure to be able to say they are my friends. I love you, home school moms!
Without good direction, people lose their way;
the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.
Proverbs 11:14 MSG
I had the privilege of knowing both my grandmothers and one of my great-grandmothers. Amos carries the middle name of my Great-Grandma Phillips.
Stella Blanche Wilmoth Phillips was raised in a back woods holler in the fairly new state of West Virginia. Of course there wasn’t anything new about the people there. They were poor Anglican and German descendants eking out a living from the rocky, mountain soil. Coal miners, farmers, and factory workers labored together to create a home that true mountaineers consider “Almost Heaven.”
Grandma Phillips carried furniture on her back to place in her new home when she married. She lived with her in-laws and abode by their rules, meaning she was not free to choose the church she wanted to attend, but worshiped with her husband’s family instead. She was a thin woman with very dark eyes and a beauty mark on her cheek. I remember her best rocking in her chair watching Hee Haw and spitting her snuff in a can at her feet. She would motion me over when the other adults weren’t watching to tell me to go in her room and get some pink peppermint candy off the mantle. You know, the Pepto-Bismal type candies. I would sneak in her room, gather a few pieces from on top the mantle, and then sit under her sewing machine pushing the wrought iron foot pedal that made the wheels turn.
By the time I arrived in the world, life for Great-Grandma had changed. In my time, Great-Grandma Phillips lived with her daughter, my Grandma Fitzwater. When Great-Papaw Phillips passed away, Grandma brought her mother out of the holler and down the run to live with her and Papaw. The Fitzwater house had coal stoves for heat, a wringer washer for the laundry, and moles in the ground. The water was sulfurous.
But it also had Grandma’s homemade chocolate cake. There is none other like it.
While Grandma Phillips had wished to choose her own church, Grandma Fitzwater wished to finish school. When she was young, a girl didn’t “need” to go past eighth grade, and so she was made to stay home working on the farm, learning skills she would need to take care of her own home one day. When Great-Grandma joined the Fitzwater house, she also returned to the church that she had wanted to attend for many, many years. Her wish came true.
However, Grandma never finished high school. Her desire was forever a pipe dream.
She read all of the time. She studied Scripture with a passion. She watched her daughters complete high school, trade schools, colleges, and universities. She lived her dream through them.
If Grandma were alive today, I would tell her that I love her. I love her for working hard, for her generosity that paid for many of my trips home to visit, for her strong faith that she passed on to daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, and that now is being passed to great-grandchildren.
I remember one day in Kindergarten, Grandma picked me up after school. As we walked to the car parked on the curb, I looked all around for Papaw. He was nowhere to be seen. “Grandma, how will we get home?” I asked.
“I’ll drive us there,” she answered in surprise.
“But you’re a grandma,” I explained. “You can’t drive.” My other grandmother didn’t drive, and so, I assumed, no grandmas drove.
She chuckled, opened the door, and slid next to me on the bench seat. She didn’t need a diploma to prove to me she was a capable, intelligent, wonderful person. She was my grandma, and I loved her.
“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 1:7 NLT
Surrounded by a large group of old, white men, I felt deflated. We had spent the last year living with my in-laws while Matt finished his dissertation and looked for a job. Now we were interviewing, and I wasn’t feeling the love. The interview was lackluster in my opinion.
The questioning was nearly over and we were asked if we had any concerns. “Yes,” I said. “I am moving my family halfway across the country, away from all of the family they have ever known. What will you do for us?”
Their blank stares told me all I needed to know. This was not the place for us. One rotund man began singing the praises of the school system. My kids were toddlers.
Finally a quiet man in the rear of the room spoke up, “If you are wanting someone to step in and be surrogate grandparents, my wife and I would be happy to do that. Our grandchildren live halfway across the world.”
“Thank you. That is what I was asking.”
I told Matt later that I was voting “NO” for the position until that gentleman answered. We took the job and moved. My initial instinct was right. We should have stayed home.
Our current church has not been without its own lackluster moments, but our rubber has never had to meet the road because when it comes to “family” they have it right.
They have attended our son’s plays. They have visited school programs. They talk to the boys about school, work, plans, ideas, books, whatever.
But it isn’t just the kids. They have embraced me, and I am not the quiet, submissive, stereotypical preacher’s wife. Embracing me has been prickly for some of them, I know.
But they love me. They pray for me and my plans, dreams, and aspirations. They ask about my parents’ health. They let me cry and dance. They celebrate with me. They listen to me, offer help, rescue me when the dog sitter doesn’t show, and most importantly . . . They love my husband.
My church family is just that: a family. We have squabbles, disagreements, controversy, and discord. Of course, so does my biological family.
But just like the blood family, my church family has fun together, works together, defends each other, encourages each other, loves each other.
One of our family members says that our biological families share the blood of our veins, but our church family shares the blood of our souls.
I quite agree. I love you, Church Family.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:10-13 ESV
When I was about four years old, as my father tells the story, I ran outside just in time to catch him start the rabbit butchering process. “Wait, Daddy!” I called and ran over to the black and white fluff ball.
I snuggled my face deep into the neck of the soft, gentle creature. This is the end of butchering, he thought. “OK, now you can kill it,” I said and skipped on back to the house. Rabbits were food, not pets, Dory.
I grew up with dogs and cats for pets. Skeeter was the first and only indoor dog. He was hit by a truck during a snow storm when I was about five years old. Soon we moved to my grandparents and adopted their dog, Duke. An ancient basset hound, Duke was cantankerous and bit. I probably would have given permission to butcher him, too.
When I was ten or so, Lucy came into my life. She was a black and white short-haired Australian Shepherd, and one of my best friends. She lived a long, long time for a farm dog, maybe twelve years.
Soon after I got Lucy, another dog entered my life, Allen. I don’t remember how he came to be in our family. I rarely spent time with him or gave him any attention. A beagle on a farm is easy to forget about.
But when I was around 13 or 14 years old, Allen died. I sat out near the silage pit, drowning in the sour smell of fermenting corn and sorrow over a dead dog. My cries evidently reached inside the milk barn.
“What are you going on about?” Uncle Bobby called out as he trudged over to the tractor.
“Allen died!” I wailed.
“What do you care? You never paid that dog any mind. Stop your belly aching and get on with yourself.” (Sensitivity is evidently genetic.)
But I did care. I was heart broken. Uncle Bobby was right. I never paid any attention to the dog, but somehow his death seemed so permanently tragic.
A recent study shows that dogs love their owners five times more than cats love their humans. No big surprise there. But did you know that some dogs show a higher level of love than some humans do? Yep, Captain loves me more than the kids. I’m pretty sure it is true.
But just like I ignored Allen until it was too late, I often brush aside Captain until it is a convenient time for me to enjoy him. And my lack of affection for Kelly is out there for everyone to see in Devotions of a Gerbil. Pets are good for “convenient love.”
Yet, Captain greets me at the door with joyful abandon, cries when I leave, searches the house for me whenever he comes back inside, and plops himself on top of my feet while we watch tv in the evening. So today, during this month of devotions to those I love, I want to say I do love Captain.
Tonight he will get an extra bone just to prove it.
“The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” Numbers 22:32-33
A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities. William Arthur Ward
He was quiet with intense eyes and a winning smile. The boys across from me were talkative and interested, but his gaze drew me in. An introduction was made but no other conversation. The smell of french fries and burger grease clung to me as I stood to leave. My white skirt swished and twirled as I turned to say goodbye. I caught his eye one more time and waved.
The next time our group went out he sat closer. I explained where I was living and how I was getting to church and other places. “You’re going way out of the way,” he said, and a date was made to show me around town. Great confusion ensued as he also gave rides to another girl, who sat in the front seat and I falsely assumed was the lady du jour.
A little over a year later we were married.
He is an introvert; I am an extrovert. He enjoys watching football; I don’t care to know a thing about it. He is quick-tempered; I am patient. He is an artist; I can draw stick figures. He is categorically organized; I hate making notes. He is extremely time-conscious; I prefer to play with the edges of etiquette.
But I love him. And I know he loves me.
Once in a cleaning frenzy I threw out years and years of investment statements. He came home and I proudly showed him all of the room I had cleared out. He was apoplectic; his eyes bulged, the vein in his neck throbbed, his hands shook, and his voice was barely controllable.
It is true that I laughed. It is also true that I went through the trash and pulled out all of the old statements, even the food and beverage stained ones, and reassembled them in the thick three-ring binders.
Even with all of our differences and personal quirks and tics, he is my best friend. I enjoy his sense of humor, our spiritual discussions, travelling together, and sharing books. After twenty-six years of marriage what I am beginning to realize is that we complete each other.
Not that we can’t be without the other. We do a lot of things apart- did I mention I don’t care a flip about football- but our completion comes in our weaknesses. In areas where his light dimly shines, I join him and add a little oxygen to the flame. In areas where my light flickers from too much distraction, he wisely closes the window and sets me back on the lamp stand.
Together we lead each other on the path marked out for us. Helping each other to come closer to the Lord, to Love.
He answered, “Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh—no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.” Matthew 19:6 MSG