The Red Kong

Maggie in action with her Kong

It happens about every hour when I am home. It begins with a look. Progresses into a nudge or a chin on my knee. If she is really desperate, she puts her front feet in my lap and proceeds to give me slobbery kisses, invariably causing smudges on my glasses. My girl, Maggie, is a playing pup. She is relentless in her asking me or my husband to go outside and throw her red Kong to her.

Maggie is from a long line of dogs at our house. Most of them have been acquired out of the puppy stage. Our first recue, Jackson Lamar, found us when he was a few months old. We already had a full grown, adult dog, but Jack needed a home and he picked us. We went through the chewing on furniture stage with him.  Next came crazy Annie, the pit/lab mix who showed up in our neighborhood with the pads of her feet so badly burned that she liked to just be right by my side. She had been on the road a long time when she found us. A huge challenge behavior-wise, but full of love relationship-wise. We worked with an amazing trainer who helped her become a wonderful pet. She helped rehab my new knee. Her life was cut short by cancer. Then came precious Dottie who was a rescue from a local organization that found her for me. An older adult but quite a lady who became the star of our respite ministry and the love of my heart after Jack and Bambi and Annie. Losing her to cancer made me decide no more dogs…for a few months and then enter 4-month-old Maggie. Maggie, a German Chocolate, is a dog all about play. She loves to chew and retrieve. She loves to steal things out of the house and bury them in the backyard. Nothing living, mind you, but papers and journals and toys.

Kongs by the kitchen sink

The best toy we bought this girl was a puppy Kong. It was small, rubber and came either pink or blue. As the pup grows, the Kongs become red or black. She progressed to red and has stayed on this color. We’ve learned, the hard way, that you need, at least at my house, three Kongs in circulation. They become lost…kind of like socks in the drier, so after a panicky couple days with NO Kongs, I have stocked up. Three on the sink and two new ones in the laundry room.

She likes her Tuffy toys and loves to pull the stuffing out of them, but her heart throb is a red Kong. Every day she is like clockwork. If we come in from our walk, she is ready to throw Kong. If we have returned from an errand, she is ready to throw Kong. Maggie, I have decided, is a great one to announce “Break Time” all day long. I don’t need a watch reminder to get up and move, I have Maggie.

Maggie, Moses the cat, and her kong

One of my greatest joys is to see the grandkids interact with her. I’ve taught them all to be dog trainers and how to get Maggie to work for her play and treats. Our oldest does not have a dog so when he is here, he spends as much time with her as he can. I can relate, I had no childhood pet, either. His sister loves Maggie, but not like him.

Isaiah and Maggie with Kongs

Scientists have great statistics about pet ownership. Stress reducer, blood pressure reducer, companion to counteract loneliness and on and on. For me, Maggie Girl brings the joy and fun into the day. From watching her run, jump, and catch, to seeing her chase the local squirrels out of the yard, at home she keeps me smiling and moving. Can you imagine mowing the lawn while you throw Kong to your dog? Come to my house each week and see this play out. Yet, she is a trained therapy dog and shares her fur with others. Kong doesn’t often accompany us, due to spatial restraints, but she would love to show off her skills if she could.

Maggie sharing fur at Peachtree Christian Health in Duluth Georgia

Where am I going with this random blog? We all need joy and fun in our lives. Life is serious yet the scriptures tell us that laughter does a heart good. If you are in a high stress job, dealing with depression and or loneliness, or just can’t seem to get motivated to move your body, get a red Kong.  You will thank me one day for this exhortation. Oh, yeah, you might want to go rescue a puppy to go with that Kong… I know a great trainer!

Another catch!

Mattie’s Call…Someone is Missing

Today I saw a woman’s face on a Facebook post. She was missing. You know the story…elderly woman with dementia goes down the driveway to pick flowers and is suddenly gone. What do you do if you are this woman’s family?

1. I would like to address being prepared for someone who has dementia and is mobile. Have some sort of tracking device on that person. It could be a bracelet, necklace, or on their shoes or even in their phone if they carry a cell phone. (https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/safety/technology-101). Some type of identification on them, as well: their name and current address and possible contact number.

2. Each day take a current picture of your loved one in what they are wearing that day. A current picture helps authorities to have a present idea of what your loved one looks like. That picture, taken every day, can be a huge help to the authorities because you have a description of their clothing and hair color, etc. If you haven’t taken a picture, DO NOT show the authorities an old picture from 5 years ago. Show them the most current picture available.

3. If your loved one is a wanderer, do not leave them alone. If they qualify, enroll them in a day program. If they do not, find people(family member, neighbor, church friend) who can either be their companion or pay for a person to stay with them. Do not leave them alone!

4. Be aware of their former habits. Many people with dementia time travel. Think about places they might go in relationship to the past, ie where they worked, went to church, where family lived decades ago. Especially if they took the car!

5. Speaking of the car, it might be time to take the keys away. Disable their car or sell it. Give them a fake set of keys, if keys give them security.

Now on to what might you do if your loved one is missing…

Alert family, friends, neighbors, and anyone who might know your loved one. Call 911 and ask to instute a Mattie’s Call. What is this?

Created as an Act by the Georgia State Legislature in 2006, the Mattie’s Call is named for Mattie Moore; a 67-year-old Atlanta woman with Alzheimer’s who went missing from her home in 2004. She was found dead eight months later in a wooded area about 250 yards from her front door.

From the Mattie’s Call website:( http://www.mattiescallga.com/)

Mattie’s Call Act, enacted April 28, 2006, is located in Article 7, Section 1 of Georgia House Bill 728. Mattie’s Call is a state-wide emergency alert for missing adults with disabilities, broadly defined as “individuals who are developmentally impaired or who suffer from dementia or some other cognitive impairment” by Georgia legislature. The system is activated by local law enforcement agencies, who notify the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (G.B.I) in the event of a missing person. Although families are not required to provide specific documentation to initiate Mattie’s Call, preparing the necessary information in advance may quicken the investigative and recovery process.

What is required to activate Mattie’s Call?

Although families are not required to provide specific documentation to initiate Mattie’s Call, assembling records about the missing person’s appearance, diagnosis and behaviors in advance may accelerate the investigative and recovery process. In this section, we explain Mattie’s Call activation criteria and discuss how to prepare the essential information that law enforcement agencies need to initiate the statewide alert and locate your loved one.

Criteria 1: A local law enforcement agency believes a disabled person is missing and is in immediate danger of serious bodily injury or death.  

Proof of disability may be a letter, report or statement from the missing person’s primary care physician or relevant medical professional on official letterhead stationery. The statement should report the overall health of the individual, including all chronic conditions, and clarify the potential health consequences if the individual is not promptly and safely recovered. Records from a federal agency that issues disability benefits, such as the Social Security Administration, may also be sufficient.

Criteria 2: Through its own investigation, the law enforcement agency verifies the disappearance and eliminates alternative explanations for the disabled person’s disappearance.  Families should be able to explain the missing person’s typical schedule and the circumstances leading up to his or her disappearance, including the time and location of where the individual was last seen, the name and contact information of the last person who saw the individual, and the direction the individual was traveling. Be sure to mention if the individual exhibited any self-injurious behaviors or an unstable emotional state in conversations prior to his or her disappearance.

Criteria 3: Sufficient information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the disabled person.

The local law enforcement agency will need descriptive information about the missing person to activate Mattie’s Call. Necessary information includes the individual’s full name, date of birth, birthplace, nickname(s), and current and former addresses and employers. Families should also have access to a recent photograph and be able to provide the missing person’s race, sex, age, height, weight, hair color and length, eye color, facial hair, and visible distinguishing marks (birthmarks, moles, scars, tattoos). Remember to provide the missing person’s preferred modes of communication, and explain any social, language, and emotional difficulties.

Law enforcement will also need specific information about the missing person’s appearance the last time he or she was seen, including the style and color of the individual’s clothing and footwear, glasses (if applicable), jewelry (if applicable), and headwear (if applicable).

 

Criteria 4: The missing disabled person is entered into the National Crime Information Center (N.C.I.C.) database.

National Crime Information Center’s (N.C.I.C.) Missing Person File, managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, contains records for missing adults with disabilities until “the individual is located or the record is canceled by the entering agency.” For missing adults with disabilities, law enforcement agencies must file a missing persons report using the E.M.D. category (verifies that the individual has a “proven physical or mental disability”) and provide signed documentation from a parent, legal guardian, next of kin, or another reliable source to verify contents of the report.

Criteria 5: The law enforcement agency must issue a statewide broadcast to law enforcement/911 centers and contact local media regarding the missing person.  

The law enforcement agency will notify other agencies, centers, and offices in the state. A non-profit organization, A Child is Missing, and the Georgia Lottery Corporation will also be informed. A Child is Missing uses recorded telephone messages to alert residents and retailers in the area the missing individual was last seen. The Georgia Lottery Corporation leverages businesses in the target area to disseminate information about the missing person to its customers.

The profile of the missing person will be posted on Georgia Association of Broadcaster’s AlertNet.

In closing, if you have a loved one with dementia, be proactive rather than reactive. Be three steps ahead of where they are. Plan ahead for the declines and be informed and educated! I can help…

Releasing

The now empty Blue Bird Box

It is now quiet and still at 1 Bluebird Box Way, aka the blue bird box in my backyard. Yesterday was “Release or Fledging Day” for the five babies whose life began a month ago. You may have read my former blog about the discovery of five eggs back in May. I must admit, while I rejoice in these babies growing and flying out of their first home, I am sad. I will miss the daily interactions I had with them as I watched their parents strive to provide for their needs.

Feeding Babies
Cleaning the nest

It has been an active couple of weeks for Momma and Daddy Blue Bird. First, laying on the eggs until they hatched. Then, looking for food, dodging predators, feeding babies, and cleaning the nest. Every morning I sat and watched the production unfold. It was a glorious couple of weeks after the babies hatched. Oh, there were frightening storms, during which I prayed for those little eggs and then hatchlings. There was cold weather and now, extreme heat. These little ones have been resilient, as have their parents. The parents, once babies themselves, were raised that way.

5 Baby Blue Birds left quite a disgusting mess after they fledged

Today, as I have examined the empty nest and all the residue of life with five growing hatchlings, I’ve asked God what He wants me to understand about this time. I have sensed that He has given me some perspective on the messy, busyness of raising young and then the pain and subsequent silence of releasing them into the world. This releasing, on our part, takes great faith. We must trust that all we have poured into our young will not be in vain. Oh, they may stray, yet, as Christians, we can trust that they will return, with a lively testimony and their own faith intact. Like the present Blue Bird parents, we do not abandon them to this new adult world. The Blue Birds continue to feed and nurture them out of the nest until they are ready to be totally on their own. I remember this season with our two college-age young adults. Encouraging from afar, daily prayer for their safety and friendships. Not always present, but close in thought and prayer. My quieter life, sometimes melancholy due to missing their physical presence, yet full of hope for their future. Presently, today, seeing them as parents whose days are busy and messy, raising their own brood.

Today I will clean out the mess of the box. I will remember the valiant couple who so diligently raised their babies. I will hope to see new nestlings in the future; nearby with the grown babies raising their young! I echo this hope for my own family…enjoying time with the new generation; my grandchildren. Geographically far but near in thought and prayer.

Mirroring One Another

It happened one Thursday morning at the O’Kelly Memorial Library in Loganville. An unforgettable experience that has caused this grandmother lots of pondering time. It was an unexpected observance of two little boys meeting for the first time. It truly was a divine appointment; I observed and was taught.

Back in April of this year I began reading to the kids at this library. It is called Storytime and it meets at 10:30AM on Thursdays. A neighbor and I switch off weeks; it has become a precious time of getting to know the families in our community.

During this time, I have met two boys; brothers who are regular attendees. The oldest is about six and his name is James. Oh, and he is white. On this day we were doing a craft that went along with the story I read. A mom entered our area with two adorable little boys. They were all black. As they entered, I welcomed them, and introduced myself. I asked the boys their names. The oldest, who was very outgoing with a big smile, told me his name was James!

“James?”, I said.  I walked him over to the other boy whose name was the same and said, “James, meet James.” I turned to the dark James and said, “James, meet James.”

The black James got a huge grin on his face and with an excited voice said, “We are mirrors!” And off they went talking and doing their craft.

WE ARE MIRRORS…out of the mouth of babes… a little child will lead us… Two little boys engaging at the library as opposite in color as they could be and one says to the other: we are mirrors.

I have pondered this for the past few weeks. What does it mean to mirror another? To be a reflection? How did this 6-year-old see this and most adults can’t? To be so free with our engagement that we look past the outward and see the heart.

WE ARE MIRRORS… we will reflect something to another. Will it be love or hate? Kindness or selfishness? Patience or frustration? Attention or indifference?

Listened to him on “That Sounds Fun” Podcast and bought this book

During this time, I was reading two books; one non fiction and the other fiction. Both concerning the issue of race. The non-fiction book is entitled How to Heal Our Racial Divide by Derwin L. Gray. I heard him on a podcast and purchased the book. I am learning a lot about God’s idea of our differences and that Jesus has brought us together as one. I am reading this book slowly and thoughtfully.

Saw this in the O’Kelly Library on the new book shelf
and checked it out. Great read but a lot of language.

The fiction book is entitled The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocomb. It is an enlightening read about the struggles of a black violin protégé and all he went through to become a master violinist including the racial barriers he endured. (Warning: there is a lot of language in this novel). I messaged the author of this book and told him how great the book is and how much I learned. I told him how my heart hurt as I read about the assumptions people made about the main character based on the color of his skin. I told him it made me pause and ask myself if I had acted in this way. I blessed him for opening our eyes, through his writing, to our failures so we can strive to honor each other and not disparage each other. He messaged me back and we had an incredible dialog!

Mirroring one another…This is something that I ask Jesus for in my prayers…to be able to see others as He sees them; hear as he hears; and to respond as He would with His love. I want to be a mirror of Jesus and look past the differences that I might have with another. I want authentic engagement and friendship. I want to reflect Jesus to the children and adults at the library and anywhere else I go. I am challenged and humbled to do this as I go.

May I challenge you as well? As Derwin Gray encourages in his book, “look for intentional ways to build cross-cultural friendships, where you seek to learn from your siblings of different ethnicities.” Gather a group of neighbors or church buddies and thoughtfully read and dialog through this book. Mirroring another might become a way of life, especially if the One is Jesus Christ. It will take time and effort but I believe it can be a culture changer!

Weeding the Primroses of Life

Primrose

It started out as a great idea. Buy a few perennials to plant at the back of the house between the rose bushes. After all, the area was in need of some color and texture. I drove over to the local plant store, perused the aisles and saw something that looked like it would blend well with the rose bushes that were anchoring the space. Three plants; correction three perennials that would accent the roses. I forgot to mention the succulent, that a neighbor shared, that was in that space as well.

The initial planting looked great until the primroses began to spread like wildfire on a hot and windy day. Not only did they fill in the space between the roses and the succulent, they began to take over. These once beautiful flowers are now out of control in my rose garden. They spread so much, I have transplanted one of the roses and have been slowly pulling out primroses that have infiltrated the other bush and succulent.

Out of control Primroses

As I have tried to pull them out, I am realizing the roots sent out runners that go in every direction! They are creeping into the walkway and moving toward more of the garden…

Primroses aren’t weeds yet I see them as such as I watch them take over my flowerbed this spring. They have become a blooming nuisance. As I have pondered this whole situation, I feel like I can draw some spiritual conclusions that might preach or at least teach…

Spreading Nuisances

How often does a great idea fail for lack of prayer and wise counsel? Taking the time to commit my plan to the Lord and watching Him prosper it is so much better than me taking matters into my own hands and impulsively going forward only to fail and wonder why… like planting those primroses with out researching the best area for them!

Or, how often do negative thoughts take root in my heart, multiplying out of control until I am in a funk of wrong perspective and feelings? Weeding out those errant flowers is like taking those negative thoughts captive and focusing my thoughts on things above versus earthly, shallow ones.

My garden has been a place where I have experienced God’s creativity and beauty. Recently it has been a visual example of how sin can insidiously slip in, like a primrose and spoil the beauty. My mind and heart are like the garden. Frequent weeding of negative or proud thoughts, watering of God’s word, and careful conversation with the Master Gardener will help me be a display of His splendor!

My garden is a work in progress…ever evolving with my desire to experience the beauty of flowers and plants. The mistakes have added to the experience…one weed at a time. No matter how imperfect, it grows and I do as well!

Cast Me Not Away When My Strength Fades…

Bluebird Box created by Grace Arbor Congregational Respite Ministry 2007

It hasn’t been occupied in years and there was recent talk of tearing it down. The bluebird box had been a gift to me from a dear member of First United Methodist Church in Lawrenceville. Donnie Brown brought the idea of a bluebird box ministry to me as a way to give purpose to our folks living with dementia at Grace Arbor. He laid out the idea; what he would do and what we would do. He gave the suggestion that this could be a service project and we could give them to people who donated to the Hope Clinic, which was a non-profit health clinic next door to the church. This project, still in operation, has produced hundreds of bluebird boxes and brought purpose to as many participants who worked on them. This box has sat at the corner of my rose garden for about fifteen years. In the early years it was well used. Yearly, three sets of fledglings would fly out much to the amazement of my husband, grandchildren, and me. But in the past five or so years, the box has been abandoned. Lichen has been growing on the outside and the paint has peeled away. As I said earlier, I was preparing to take it down and throw it away.

This spring, however, a brave chickadee couple decided that it would be the perfect home for their family. In and out they flew carrying moss and soft grasses. Momma laid eggs and every once-in-a-while I carefully peeked in to see if any hatched. Before Easter we had babies and Momma and Daddy Chickadee spent countless hours scavenging and feeding their hatchlings. Then one day I knew they had fledged. I had returned from a trip and felt that there was a change. I opened up the box and there was an empty nest.

In years past, I would clean out the box, discarding the nest but something told me to leave it. Last week I saw a bluebird couple investigating the box. I must insert here that I have a second bluebird box in my front yard that has had consistent nesting for many years. But not this year. I’ve wondered if the bluebirds had found another box in a neighbor’s yard to nest in. I have been greatly disappointed not to have them this year. So, when the chickadees nested in the backyard, I settled for that and found joy in watching them.

Can you imagine my surprise, when, after being gone for two days, I checked the back box and lo’ and behold…?

Five glorious bluebird eggs were discovered this morning. As I have pondered this whole phenomenon, a couple scriptures have come to mind.

Psalm 71:9: Cast me not off nor send me away in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent and my powers fail. Amplified Bible

2 Corinthians 4:14-17: Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. New International Version 

The bluebird box, in its present condition, is like all of us as we age. It looks worn down and the paint is chipping. As I look in the mirror I see wrinkles, age spots, and scars. Yup this is not the body of a young person yet…I am still serving my community and Jesus. Please don’t cast me aside.

Inside that bluebird box, life is growing. Outwardly the box looks used up and ready for the trash can but the interior continues to be a haven for eggs and hatchlings. Outwardly, I am no spring chick, yet inside me beats a heart for Jesus, caregivers, folks with dementia, and children. I may be aging, but God is not done with me yet!

Maybe this is you…someone may have said something about you recently that has caused you to question your identity and personhood. Take heart and be reminded that God does not cast us aside and continues to renew His children through His word and Spirit! Keep serving, Saint! We are needed! God is not done with us yet!

**To purchase a bluebird box contact Lisa Hale at First United Methodist Church Lawrenceville. 770-963-0386. I’m sure she has one for you!

Waiting on the Lord…Moonflowers

Moonflower bud at the beginning of the unfurling process

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him]
Will gain new strength and renew their power;
They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun];
They will run and not become weary,
They will walk and not grow tired. Isaiah 40:31 Amplified Bible

Moonflower bud unfurling

Many years ago, a dear friend and volunteer brought me an envelope of seeds and planting instructions. The seeds were Moonflower seeds. I was not familiar with this plant, but because I love flowers, I was willing to find a spot in my yard and plant them.

Moonflower continuing to unfurl

The whole planting/growing process seemed arduous. After any danger of frost, soak the seeds, plant them, tie a string or have a trellis for the vine to grow up and then…wait. I did the first steps pretty well. Soaked, then planted. Engaged my husband in the string tying but it was the waiting that was, well… time consuming. I’m an impatient gardener and want results immediately. Not so with moonflowers. So, wait I did and the reward was incredible.

Fully opened Moonflower

As the light of day faded, the bud on the moonflower slowly unfurled into a beautiful white flower with an incredible aroma. You could actually see drops of the perfume on the flower. It took about a minute for the bloom to open and it only lasted a night. At the light and heat of the next day, the blossom withered, leaving the future seeds encased in the end of the blossom. Each night until frost, our vine displayed from one to thirty blooms. It was truly a spiritual event to watch the blooms open and see the gorgeous flowers. It was a miracle-only something God could do.

At frost, the seeds were harvested from the now brown and dried out blossom ends. Seeds were stored over the winter in a jar and after the fear of frost is over, the process began again… soak, plant, trellis, wait, and be amazed.

As I write this blog, I have completed part of the process of the Moonflower journey…soak, plant, and trellis. I am in the waiting stage. Perhaps you, too, are in a waiting stage. You may not be waiting on seeds to germinate but you might have more important and serious waiting you are doing. Take your cue from the above scripture. As you wait, allow the Lord to renew your strength. Let Him infuse you with hope so you will be able run and not grow weary and to walk and not faint. Know that the Lord’s timing for all things is perfect. He never fails us, I can promise you!

Endnote: Author Jan Karon wrote a book about Moonflowers called The Trellis and the Seed. It has been a favorite of mine to give to fellow gardeners along with a packet of seeds. All who plant this amazing vine recognize the value in waiting.

Loss…what do you do with it?

Tom and Mom Christmas 2018

March is a tough month for me. Several losses have happened in or near this month. Two years ago we lost my husband’s mom on March 17th. Hers was a hard fought battle with cancer, diabetes, and dementia. Mom, as I called her, was one of the ones who led me to Jesus, modeled to me how to be a grandma, and cheered me on when I started Grace Arbor. She modeled to her whole family tenacity and grit as she battled two co-morbidities. My grandchildren knew her as GiGi. I miss her…

Barry Smith, Maggie, and me 2021

Barry, the man in the above picture, recently passed away. His was a hard struggle with early onset dementia, yet his family rallied around him in incredible ways. Barry’s sister is in my caregiver support group. She kept us informed of the progression of his disease. When he moved from Florida to Georgia, I began to visit him with my therapy dog, Maggie. Barry loved dogs, so taking Maggie was a joy. On different visits he engaged by grooming her, throwing her beloved Kong to her, and just sitting rubbing his hand in her fur. Barry was not a big communicator but I could get him talking about lots of things as we used Maggie as our mediator.

I tell you about these two precious people to bring up the point of this blog…what do you do with loss? How do you walk through the dark valley of grief? I would give you, from the experience of living through the death of many family members and friends, these following suggestions:

  1. Know that every person feels and experiences loss differently. There is no timeline for grief and just when you think you are on the road toward recovery, a memory or thought will come and bring up that pain of loss again.
  2. Pain from loss means you loved or cared about someone. As I told my dad his last year of life, “Dad, I’m cherishing the moments I have with you now. When you are gone, I will cherish the memories!” Remember… look at pictures, tell stories, go to places that your loved one and you spent times together. Feel and experience the pain. That pain, a dear friend told me once, is part of life.
  3. Know that as you go through this time of grief you have Someone walking with you Who is intimately acquainted with grief. You are not alone in this journey.
  4. Read books or articles or devotions that minister to your heart. Stephen Ministry has a wonderful series called Journeying through Grief. It is four books shared over the first eleven months after a loss. This series was compiled through the interviews of hundreds of people who had experienced loss. Martha Hickman has a lovely devotion book entitled Healing after Loss. It is a year full of daily devotions that can encourage you on your journey.
  5. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Think about what is going on in your life and how you might share it with that person and put it in that journal. So many folks say, “If I could just pick up the phone and talk one more time.” Journal what those conversations might be like.
  6. Talk to someone if you feel “stuck”. A Stephen Minister, a licensed counselor, or even a pastor may help you process through the stage of grief you are in.
  7. On the anniversary of loss, do something to honor the memory of that loved one. I try to do something with children on or near my dad’s anniversary because he loved children and read to them weekly at a program in his church.

Richard Morgan and me 2019

In closing, I add another loss to March…Dementia advocate, author, pastor, and friend Richard Morgan. Richard and I met on the telephone back in the mid 2000’s when I was in the middle of my time as director of Grace Arbor. He would call, email, and send me his books. I met Richard and his beautiful wife Alice Ann on a couple trips to Pittsburgh. He encouraged me to never forget those whose brains were failing them and look for creative ways to engage them. My life is richer and more focused because of his words of advice and encouragement. He will be greatly missed.

Christmas Disappointment…A New Perspective

What you are about to read is true and happened the Christmas I was eight years old. It’s a story I share yearly as a reminder- that while we can potentially experience disappointment at Christmas, there is a real way to change that disappointment to joy.

When I was seven years old, after multiple moves, our family settled in an area of Greenville, South Carolina, that was a great place to grow up. Safe roads to bike and skate on; big back yards to play kickball in; and lots of kids. Our house was large: two story, with five bedrooms and a huge backyard. It had a double back patio which was great for skating on and performing neighborhood plays. It was during this time in Greenville that this story is set.

The year I was eight, my best friend, Kelly Thompson, and I spent many moments speculating on the gifts we would receive for Christmas. We both loved girly things, so one of our shared hopes was for a new outfit, jewelry to match, and anything else Santa wanted to bring. I’m sure there were other “wants” that year but those were what stick out in my memory. Kelly lived in the house directly behind ours. We played together all the time even though she was a year ahead of me in school. There were many kids in our neighborhood that I played kickball and basketball with, as well as roller skated, and rode bikes, yet Kelly was my favorite. I always felt welcome in her home… it was special.

That particular Christmas morning, even though fifty-plus years have passed, seems just like yesterday. I woke up really early; it was pitch black outside. My bedroom was upstairs and adjacent to my parents. I quietly crept out of my room, walked down the hall, around the corner and then, with extreme caution, softly climbed downstairs to the den. My mom could hear the slightest noise so I knew I had to be extra careful.

There seemed to be magic in the air that morning as I rounded the corner to gaze into the den at the sight of the Christmas tree with all its packages and the stockings bulging at the fireplace. It was glorious to be the first one up and I quickly glanced at the gifts under the tree in the miniscule light. Next, I walked over to take my stocking down from the fireplace. It was packed and heavy! I reached inside and in the dimly lit den, pulled out a round wrapped package. I shook it and it made a noise. Hmmmm.

“Wow”! It sounds like a necklace! Won’t Kelly be surprised,” I thought. I reached inside and pulled out another round package. Shaking it, it sounded like the first package. A second necklace! Whoopee! As I was reaching my hand around a third round package, I heard my mom’s stern voice: “Robin Louise get back to bed!”

I quickly stuffed my “necklaces” back inside my stocking and scampered back to bed. “Oh boy oh boy!” I thought to myself! “I can hardly wait to see the necklaces Santa brought.”

I must have fallen back to sleep because the next thing I knew, it was daylight! I ran downstairs to see the den in the full light of the morning. It was even more beautiful than my early morning escapade. I was ready to dig into my stocking when I was told it was time for breakfast and I had to eat first. I could barely hold my excitement…

After breakfast I grabbed my stocking and took the first “necklace box” out of it and gently gave it a shake. I saw a smile on my mom’s face. “She likes jewelry, too,” I thought. She will be excited to see my new necklaces! Ripping open the package with all the enthusiasm I had, I was shocked to see not a necklace box but…. a skate wheel. A SKATE WHEEL?

What??? A skate wheel? What about those necklace boxes? As I unwrapped 8 round packages, I found 8 new skate wheels!! Oh was I disappointed. Yes, my wheels were getting worn skating on the asphalt but I really wanted those necklaces… I was beyond disappointed…I was heart broken!

I’m now in my sixth decade and have had many Christmases to ponder the disappointment I felt at age 8. I’ve tried to see the humor in the skate wheels and how my mom must have thought she was so clever wrapping them individually for my stocking. I have actually wrapped multiples of things,(socks), and probably generated the same disappointment that I felt. I’ve come to realize that… Disappointment can occur any Christmas, really any time, when what we expect to receive is not given. For me, as a child, Christmas was about Santa Claus. My satisfaction was all about having my expectations realized. I didn’t hear the true story of Christmas nor believe it until much later. It was when I listened and believed that my perspective about disappointment changed. I discovered, as well, why the Thompson’s home was so special. They had received the perfect Gift!

The true story of Christmas centers around the Perfect Gift given to man from Holy God. The Gift, His Son, Jesus, was perfect. Yet, just like any gift given, the recipient must receive it. The whole nativity story began before the beginning of the world but came to pass at just the right time. At that time, a young woman was told she would conceive and bear a child and that He would be the Son of the Most High! He would be the Savior of the world! Immanuel…God with us. He loved us so much that He came to have a perfect relationship with us. Our part is to believe Him and receive Him as that Perfect Gift. So simple yet so profound!

Intarsia Nativity made by my dad

Each year, we are reminded of the Perfect Gift at Christmas. It is the Gift that will never disappoint because He was given with perfect love to all men and women and children. The Gift brings the promise of life reconciled with God and then eternal life. It has to be received by you and me. The Gift cost God everything and is for all who would receive Him… It is the Gift that will forever change our perspective on life and our days and our futures! When I finally received that perfect Gift, true joy came into my life. Do I still deal with disappointment? Of course, but compared to the perfect Gift, that disappointment is fleeting. I’ve received the only Gift that satisfies me and it is eternal.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NASB

“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:12-14 NIV

May this be the Christmas that your disappointment turns to joy as you receive God’s Perfect Gift…His Son Jesus! Merry Christmas!

Being Rooted and Established in Love

American Chestnut Tree - Texas Trees Foundation
American Chestnut Tree-Texas Trees Foundation

“For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV

This past year I have been on a prayer journey for my family. For many seasons I’ve asked God for a scripture verse to focus on for the year. One year it was about prayer, another letting my light shine, and another growth. This year it has been praying the above prayer for my family. Not just my immediate family but my siblings, their spouses, their children and grandchildren as well as our kids and grands. At first I felt this was a prayer just about their salvation. Then, about 2 months ago, I saw the “being rooted and established in love” part of verse 17 with fresh eyes. I was struck by what it might look like to be rooted and established.

I got a first hand picture when we sodded our backyard in late September. The landscape company scraped the old soil, leveled it, and then very carefully laid sod. We began to water daily for 6-8 weeks until frost. We cut back to a couple days per week and are now, since the sod is dormant, letting the winter rains water it. Is the sod rooted and established yet? No. It will take until sometime next summer for it to be rooted in and established. This is a lengthy process that we had no idea about when we started this project.

I bring this up because it makes me think more deeply about this prayer for my family. Being rooted and established in love. This, too, will take time and patience, on my part, as I wait to see how God answers this prayer for each family member. I might never live to see the whole impact of this prayer but I will continue to pray it.

Recently, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the impact and it has made me so joyful! It so ties into this prayer about being rooted and established…

A couple of days ago a package arrived in the mail for me. It was from my oldest nephew, Hans. Hans is actually Dr Hans Wunch, a pastor and dad of two sons. He is the only son and child of my brother, who is agnostic. Hans has served at the local level, missional level, and is now the missional coordinator of several churches in south Georgia. He is a hobbyist woodworker like his grandfather, who was my dad. One of his woodworking loves is using a small lathe to create beautiful pens.

Pen made from American Chestnut

My package was a lovely pen made from a piece of American Chestnut from my dad’s stash of wood. When Dad died ten years ago, the grandsons divided his tools and wood. Hans told me about the rarity of the wood in a letter that accompanied the pen. He shared with me about the grain of the wood and the burl it came from. This burl, caused by possible disease and stress and the heart wood trying to repair it, was usually cast aside by builders because of its structural weakness. Its beauty was caused by this burl and weakness. So interesting, but it was the next part of his letter that caused me to tear up…how the wood reminded him of me and how I found value in people who the world may not. Those who were weak and cast aside, like this wood. He then reminded me of my lineage from a rare and creative man, my dad, and that I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

Dad
Close up of the pen..notice the hole where the inner lining of the pen shines through. Hans referenced 2 Corinthians 4:6-12

As I read these words, which ministered to my heart and soul, I realized that God had answered my prayer for this nephew. God prompted a busy pastor and dad to create something beautiful and unique for his aunt. He prompted him, as well, to write words that ministered to her heart and soul because God had given him eyes to see deeply and to, in turn, respond in love. Prayer answered…thank You, Jesus!