Category Archives: GRATITUDE

Cardinals on My Christmas Card – A Loving Pat on the Head

My daughter sent me the most beautiful Christmas card ever this year.  She knows I have loved cardinals for many years.

cardinal card 2012 from b

Inside the card was a photo of my daughter, her husband and my two darling grandsons, 2 and 4 years old.   Just getting them all together and looking good and sitting still for 10 seconds all at the same time and all together for that photo was a true labor of love, I know.

Her personal note (which is, uh, personal) was also beautiful and the kind that delights every Mother’s heart.  How blessed I am!   But just being reminded that she notices what I like and remembers and gets and does things to make me happy is a priceless gift in itself.  Again I say, how blessed I am!

So. . . why do I adore cardinals?   For two reasons – one, they always remind me of my earthly father, Fred Farmer (yes!  I was named after him : – )    He passed away many, many years ago,  creating a hole in my heart that only God could heal.    Daddy liked cardinals and always pointed them out to me.   Anything my father liked, I liked, too of course.

The Northern Cardinal is listed as one of the 100 common birds in Tennessee, my Dad’s native state.  So I’m sure he saw many growing up, just as I did growing up in Florida.

cardinals in snow male and female

Of course, the ones Daddy saw were possibly seen in snow, like the picture above.  And snow just hardly ever happened in Central Florida!

The second reason I love cardinals is that they remind me of my Heavenly Father’s unending love and presence and tender care.   I gave my heart to Jesus in 1981, and Daddy passed away in 1986.  I think somehow in my mind, the two thoughts and all the feelings associated with cardinals and Daddy and God were woven together in my heart.

All I know is that ever since I met Jesus, when I see a cardinal, even a fleeting glimpse, I feel like God has just given me a loving pat on my head and said, though not audibly, “I love you, Freda, and I am taking care of everything.  Everything is going to be okay. ”

It never, ever fails.  I can be in the bluest of moods or frustrated or stressed or whatever other negative thought pattern we humans so easily fall into, but the sight of a  cardinal works a true miracle in my heart.

Dear Father in heaven, thank You for loving me and reminding me in so many, little ways constantly of that love.  Thank You for such a wonderful earthly Daddy.  You know Daddy was a big and strong “man’s man” but he was so tender and gentle with me.    I know his love prepared a place in my heart for Your love, Father.  Thank You, Lord, for my father and for the way cardinals remind me of both of you.  I love You, Lord!”

cardinals

 

What the World Needs Now. . . A True Fortress

autumn leavesI

I was pondering what would be appropriate to say about Christmas in general, as the days of mid December fly by.  Here in central Texas, the golden and red-hued leaves are starting to fall off the trees, all at once it seems, as the wind blows, and sometimes blasts, through the branches.

In the last post, I included a link to a video by Christy Nockels and Janna Long.  I think the best thoughts I can offer you today about Christmas are in the link below.  In it, Christy Nockels sings a beautiful rendition of the classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God’, which is based on Psalm 94:22.

In the middle of this stress-filled world we live in, at this time of year when so many are troubled by what they do not and cannot possess, what better thought can there be than this simple unalterable fact:   the God Who created the universe is with and tenderly watches over His children?  He truly is our fortress, no matter what comes.

Let this video help you keep your eyes and your heart on our loving Creator during times of personal unrest and distress.  And remember the comforting words of Jesus to those who have decided to follow Him:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. [emphasis added]”   (John 10:27-28, New International Version)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRQp1bUJkBE

Expectations . . . Blessing or Affliction? Part 2 of 2

The sadness I so often felt at Christmas I knew was in large part because of unrealistic expectations.  It had been that way since my childhood.  It was time to stop that habit of mind!

I now understand and deeply appreciate all that both my parents did for their three children.  They both sacrificed and gave selflessly of their time, energy, and resources so that their children could have advantages they did not.  Through just plain hard work and common sense and thrift, they raised our family’s standard of living year by year.

When I was two years old, we moved to the lovely little antebellum town I grew up in.  My parents had to really pinch pennies at first but by the time I was in elementary school (back then that was fourth through sixth grades), our family was well established and respected in our little community.

However, about that same time I began to notice differences – in cars, clothes, houses – all the trappings of wealth or lack thereof.  My family was working class, and I always wanted more and better toys then clothes, radio or whatever at Christmas than I got.

I never knew, until late in high school, that the parents of some of my classmates – the very ones who wore the “groovy” Villager skirts and penny loafers and flaunted Gucci purses and every other gadget and gizmo that was advertised – did not pay their bills.  Some of them also had other, more serious financial problems created by excessive spending.

My family was working class but our bills were always paid, we always had an abundance of good, healthy food to eat and all the clothes we needed and then some.  I learned even later that some of the small business owners in town had been forced to close their shops because the folks who appeared in the society page owed thousands to the plumber, the contractor, etc.

Once I became a parent, then a single parent, I understood the sacrifices my parents had made.  However, for all these years, even with all the writing about gratitude, this little poison of jealousy at Christmas time has been hiding in the dark corners of my heart.

Dear Father in heaven,  I can only ask for Your forgiveness.  Forgive me for this sin of coveting, or desiring, what other people have.  Forgive me of being ungrateful – after You have been so very gracious and faithful each day of my life to provide so generously for my every need and those of my family.  Thank You, for shining the light of truth into my heart and freeing me from the bondage of jealousy. During this season, when we celebrate the greatest gift ever given – Jesus, Your very own Son, help me keep my mind on You.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14, New International Version)

Below is a link to a video by Christy Nockels and Janna Long  that embedded this attitude even deeper in my heart.  May it do the same for you!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKfhlHoemPI

 

 

Expectations . . . Blessing or Affliction? Part 1 of 2

christmas wreath and star 2015

I looked at the glittering star and wreath my four-year-old grandson Ben had delightedly helped me hang on the wall.  I felt a twinge of sadness and knew I had to get to the root of it.  Ben and I had had a delightful time decorating a few days ago.  Why was remembering it now making me sad?

My first thought was that all the decorations were from the Dollar Store.   Such a contrast with the pricey items lining the aisles in every store!  Next, I realized I had subconsciously envisioned covering every available surface of my tiny apartment with glittering tinsel and garland and bells and wreaths.   Ben and I had made two trips to the Dollar Store and had quickly spent the ten dollars I had allocated, which was all my budget allowed.   However, the ten decorations looked few and far between to my adult eye.

Then, thankfully, common sense and a grateful attitude prevailed.   Ben could not yet perceive the difference between our decorations and those in the mall windows.

Not only that, for a solid hour last Tuesday, Ben had been in charge of the decorating project, which satisfied his emerging leadership qualities..  As we opened the packaging, we discussed the best placement for the wreath, the star, the bell door knocker, the huge red bow, the two soldiers, the two red skates and the  “candy sticks”, to which we tied the jingle bells.  But Ben made the decisions, with confidence and big smiles each time.

As I had done with his Mom, I had taken the little I had and make it seem much to his innocent eyes.  As we celebrated our decorating with some shared crackers, Ben’s eyes sparkled as he looked around.  He said things like, “I really like the shiney star, Nana” and  “I have a soldier and stocking and Allen has a soldier and a stocking.  Thank you, Nana.”

If you look at the picture again, you will see the star hangs next to the plague that says “Enjoy the little things in life. . . for one day you will realize that they were the BIG THINGS.”  Truth was literally, written on the wall.

I had to face the fact that I had had unrealistic – and materialistic – expectations.   Aye, there was the rub!  And, I reflected, it had been a problem ever since childhood.   How had I let it go on this long?  And how much joy had been stolen each year?  I knew I had more mental cleaning house to do.

 

 

 

“We have nothing to fear. . . ” – Part Two

That’s become the SOP when I take my Barny back for visits to the veterinarian.  The receptionist smiles “Welcome back, Mr. Houdini!” and off we go, directly to a quiet exam room to wait for Dr. Smith.  No more noisy big back room for Barny.  He is in my arms, or in his carrier with my arms firmly around the carrier, the entire time.

God speaks unceasingly to His children, all day, every day, if we have ears to listen.  That first day and every day since when I take my fearful little Barny for his nail-trimming, God reminds me, yet again, that I do not need to worry.  I only need to actively trust Him.  I may still feel fearful, like my little cat, but so long as I stay in God’s arms—in the path of obedience—I am completely and totally safe.  And, eventually, my fear fades as I relax into God’s calming, loving presence.

Our Heavenly Father whose love for us is greater than the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103), who is all-knowing, all-wise and, all-powerful has promised never, no never, to leave His children   He daily carries us close to his heart, like a shepherd with an injured lamb.

In His infinite, boundless wisdom He gives us the ability to think on one thing at a time, if we choose to focus.  He promises to keep us in complete peace IF we fix our hearts on Him.  (Isaiah 26:3)  That is often a challenging “if” for my type of personality but I usually get my mind where it should be, sooner rather than later now.

He also soothingly tells us we will face trouble each day but not to worry for He HAS ALREADY overcome the world.  By His grace, I am learning to take a light-hearted approach to problems and to see them as chances to stay close to my beloved Father.  I am learning to sense His nearness and hear His soothing whispers of love, right in the middle of my storms, just like my darling Barny.

One of the many places God promises to be with us and to take care of us always is Deuteronomy 31: 6.  In this passage, God is reassuring Joshua, who is soon to succeed Moses, who led God’s people for forty years.  The Israelites are about to enter the land promised to them, but it is a land occupied by their enemies.

Each and every day, if we are following Christ with all our heart, we can confidently face whatever fear or danger lies ahead.   We have this promise from God. And He is oh so faithful, oh so trustworthy!

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them [the enemy – explanation added], for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6 (New International Version)

“We have nothing to fear. . . ” – Part One

1 Barny summer 2015

(Isn’t my Barny gorgeous???  This is his favorite “observation post” by the porch window.)

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

For 19 years, I had a beloved Tonkinese cat named Thellie.  He passed away shortly before I moved from Florida to Texas in 2012.   My darling little shadow, Thellie, lies at rest in my neighbor’s back yard, with a little marker I made just for him.

Exactly two weeks before I relocated from my daughter’s home (where I’d lived for two tender years as a live-in Nana when I moved from Florida), God sent my beloved Tonkinese, Barnabus Bartholomew Farmer, through a rescue shelter.  He was the only natural mink-Tonkinese listed for rescue in the entire state of Texas (which is fairly big, you know!).   His coat is, indeed, a luxuriantly rich mink color, just like my little Thellie was.  They could have been twins.

Typical of his breed, Barny is hypersensitive.  In addition, somewhere in his previous five years he was apparently traumatized about some things, like feeling pinned down.  I can hold and cuddle him a long time but the moment he feels squeezed or pinned down, he becomes the world’s best escape artist.  Clipping his nails by myself was out of the question.

His first two visits to the veterinarian with me, my little Houdini quickly escaped two different vet techicians who were trying to clip his nails.

“Cat on the loose!” I heard from the back room.   I had to go back to the big workroom and coax him out of the tiny corner he’d found, the dark underside of the desk in the very back of the workroom.  The technicians, smiling and laughing, put us both in an exam room to wait for the veterinarian.

When Dr. Smith came in, I was holding Barny lightly, but up close to my face, murmuring baby talk and rubbing my face over his fur, like we cuddled at home.   Dr. Smith paused and studied the two of us for a moment.  Then she smiled.

“He obviously trusts you so let’s see if I can do his nails while you hold him.”  Barny flinched a bit but never even tensed his muscles to leap out of my arms.  He did, indeed, trust me!

Trees By My Window . . . God’s Touch on My Heart

sketch back porch burleson rd

             When my daughter was eight and I was a new Christian, our second floor apartment at the back of the complex overlooked a home with a grandfather oak and a stand of four Florida pines in the back yard.  I wrote my first poem while watching God change the oak’s silhouette into the filigree of inky black lace one day at sunset.  And those tall, thin Florida pines swaying together, yet somehow alone, in a late night thunderstorm stirred me to start my first book.

                Our next apartment was a 900 square-foot one bedroom, where we lived in from my daughter’s fifth grade through her graduation.  Outside the bedroom window stood another grand old oak of a different sort.  This one had thinner branches that caught the slightest wind all day long.

                When Sharon was 16 and began taking the car to work on Saturdays, I sat in the rocker with a cup of coffee, staring at that tree and writing for most of the day.  The gentle movement of wind through that tree made the leaves reflect the bright sunlight like so many little diamonds.   Those Saturdays looking out at that tree were the first long days I had ever had to devote to uninterrupted writing.  Writing all day helped me get over missing Sharon and start accepting that she would one day leave home..

                When we finally had our own little townhome, after 15 years of apartment rent, we had our very own grandfather oak — that we owned!   My bedroom felt like a treehouse.  My view was through broad, far-reaching branches. I felt like I was in God’s own arms for the 19 years we lived there.

                Next came my daughter’s home in Austin—which I shared for two glorious years as a live-in Nana.  Sharon’s home was surrounded on all sides and as far as you could see by old, established trees.  I smiled as I rocked my grandsons and watched the seasons truly change the leaves, for the first time in my native Floridian life.  As I did so, God was dramatically changing my heart, preparing me for the next phase of our life together.

                Today, in my tiny one-bedroom apartment not far from my daughter’s home (and my grandsons!)  I again have a huge oak right outside my window and in the distance mature trees of all kinds.  As I write each day, He always reminds me that one reason He put trees on earth is because they are “pleasing to the eye.”

                “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye [emphasis added] and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9 NIV)

                Thank You, dear dear Father, for giving me eternal life, through loving and knowing Your Son Jesus.  And thank You, Father, for sending your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for the way He moves in my heart, just like the wind through the trees.  I like how You explained in John 3:8 that the Holy Spirit is like the wind.   I feel His gentle, loving touch, but I don’t understand where He comes from or where He goes.  I just know He is right here with me, as I look at this beautiful tree.  I love You, Lord!

My Mother’s Ironing Board

The iorning board, with its pale green cover, stands in a corner of my bedroom and every time I look at it, it speaks of how much love empowered the hours of hard manual labor Mom invested in caring for her family.  I also smile, because that work strengthened her hands so much that she rarely had to ask Daddy to open jars for her.

She covered the ironing board for me decades ago now, decades before her strokes began the long, slow decline that has now ended with her enjoying the fruit of her righteous life in heaven now.  She made the ironing board cover more than 40 years ago, when I was privileged to be a a stay-at-home for three tender years.

Having ironed and sewn since her own childhood, she knew the value of a good ironing board cover.  I remember her showing me each step, so I could do it myself, little knowing the one she was making would last my lifetime and beyond.

She cut a thick towel a bit bigger than that distinctive rectangular shape, then covered it with a sheet double-folded.  Starting at one end, she secured all the layers snugly from underneath with about two dozen safety pins, then basted the top in place, carefully inserting the needle through each hole.  Next, she attached the ironing board cover springs, which I don’t think you can even find anymore!

It was during this last step that I remember seeing her hands strain and the tendons stand out.  I noticed, yet again, that her wrists were thick and strong in comparison to her long delicate fingers.  Years of rubbing clothes on a washboard and wringing them out by hand as a young girl and helping with farm chores had begun strengthening those hands.

Then had come diapers on a washboard for the first of her three children (before they could afford a washer), not to mention lifting cast iron skillets every day, sweeping and mopping the entire house, and all the manual labor that homemaking was back in the 1950s and 60s.  Those strong hands and arms were necessary, just like the Proverbs 31 woman.

And I never once heard her complain.  She always described herself as a “homemaker”, not a housewife, and that is what she was and what she did.   Her eulogy, based on Proverbs 31, was easy to write because she had lived out so many examples.

I praise and honor her memory, with deep, deep gratitude.  When I see her on the other side of glory, I think I will spend about a thousand years or so, just hugging her and saying thank you – only then I will have the words to express how much I mean it and how deeply I now understand her unconditional love for her family.

Thank you, Lord, for two wonderful parents.  Show me how to use my words to inspire others to be the same for their own children.

He Molds the Soul. . . Sometimes in Darkness

As a secretary for 20 plus years, I worked in uncounted offices, each one different.   One was, literally, a converted storage closet.  No windows and Lilliputian in dimensions, but it had four walls.  One office, two decades later, comprised an entire floor, with cubicles in the middle and old-school four-wall offices along the perimeter for supervisors.

Somewhere in the middle of this years, my desk was in a small reception area.  I was gatekeeper/executive secretary/gal Friday for two supervisors.  This office was deep inside a large facility – again, no windows but fortunately, a glass wall with a view to the large worker-bee area just outside.   In this office, I kept one pot of pothos.  The bright green leaves warmed the sterile office atmosphere and grew, even with only artificial light.

The little the pot lived on top of the filing cabinet.  When composing letters for my bosses, gazing up at it relaxed me and let me think.  Soon after moving in. however,  all the leaves turned their faces toward the middle of the office.  I rotated the pot, then watched its leaves time and again revert to the same slanted stance.

“Odd,” I thought.  “There is no sun, the entire place is well lit during the day and in virtual darkness all night.”

Late one evening, I headed out the door and switched off the lights. The bright red emergency light suspended from the ceiling two feet from the plant flashed on.  I knew the secret now. Each night, in the solitary night hours, the little plant strained its utmost toward the light made bright by the darkness.

Dearest Lord,

Please make my heart like that plant.  In our times of solitude each morning, mold me and incline my heart to You and Your ways only.  You are the only Light in this world.  You alone are our source and our salvation.   And when I stray from that way and You lovingly send darkness into my life, for a season, so I’ll lean toward You again, grant  the wisdom to do so quickly and gratefully.

For I know that You discipline those you love, that You are a jealous God, that Your love for us is greater than the height of the heavens above the earth, and that You want our hearts turned toward You for safety and to have sweet, sweet communion throughout the day.   Thank You for telling me in Your Word that You delight in hearing my prayers.  Please do whatever it takes to keep me close.  I love You, Lord!  Amen. 

“Taank yoooo”

For the third time I straightened the tangled thermal blanket so that the cottony softness lay gently over my grandson’s face, all the way over his blonde head.  Then I tugged the blanket in around his tiny feet and spooned him in close for a soft squeeze and two mutual “hmmms.”

A soft “Taaank yooooo” came from under the aqua blanket. I gave him another soft squeeze and whispered.

“You’re welcome, baby.  Nana loves you.”

Finally, my two-year-old grandson settled down.  When my hand, stretching lightly across his little frog belly,  felt his breathing deepen, I uncovered just his face and then let myself relax. I might or might not be able to sleep but for sure I had some good prayer time available.  The little rascal slept better if someone was with him for at least the first hour of his afternoon nap at which point, he tossed and turned (yet again!) then settled again, his eyes never having opened.

Monday through Friday, I have the greatest possible privilege  – helping my daughter with my two- and four-year-old grandsons.  I get to see these tender years, and with two children!  I’ve always said the hardest thing I ever did in my life was putting Sharon in daycare at the age of 3, when the divorce happened.

I cherish each day with them, yes, even though they are both all-boy and quite the handful at times.  I learn so much from participating in their innocent joy and spontaneity.  Can anything compare with collecting acorns in a bucket, digging in the sandpile, or building playdough cats?

But the one lesson I absorb each day is how happy they seem to be, with so little, and how totally they give their love and acceptance.

Dear Father, thank You, again, for letting me walk through these precious years alongside my grandsons.  Help me be more like them in their contentment and unconditional love.  And help me remember that my every expression of gratitude to you touches Your  heart as much as Allen’s “taaaank yooo” touches mine. I love You, Lord!”