Category Archives: HARD TIMES

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.

 

 

 

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.

Unjealous Heart, Chap 2, Post 11

Operating in that small kitchen proved excellent training for not only Sharon but for me as well — even before my current emphasis on not complaining.  I found the experience fertile ground in which to grow the good fruit of patience, especially when preparing a meal.

We both liked simple foods, a fact which should have prevented having to spread ingredients all over the counter.  Like so many single parents, though, I leaned toward short-order cooking of two separate meals, one of traditional children’s foods and another with foods more appealing to my adult taste and adult need for lower calorie intake.  So the end result,  preparation-wise, was identical.  I may as well have been preparing an involved, complex meal.

Cooking a typical evening meal might begin with hauling out a bag of carrots, cutting board, knife, and scraper.  The carrots had to be done first, because their preparation took up the sink and two-thirds of the counter space.  With the carrots scraped and chopped and back in the refrigerator to chill in their yellow plastic container (a former economy-size margarine container), I cleaned the counter, cutting board, and sink. Next, I hauled out ground beef, salt and pepper, eggs, milk, and bread to mix up hamburger patties.  There was not one inch to spare, and quite a few inches too few, by the time all that was sitting on the  miniature counter.

I used the ever-faithful, ever-useful large mixing bowl to mix the patties.  With two hamburgers sizzling in the frying pan, I packaged up the rest of the patties in aluminum foil, put them in the freezer, cleaned the counter, and started a can of green beans heating on the back burner.  Next, I took the cookie sheets and broiling rack out of the oven, put them on the floor by the card table, a further impingement on floor space, then arranged tater tots on a small pan and put them into the oven to heat.

I tried hard to see the humor in all the necessarily careful planning and timing and patient rearranging of bowls, food, pots, and pans.  At times, though, like tonight, the best I could manage was a caricature of a grin, a resigned slow shaking of my head, and a tight-lipped silence as I fought hard not to complain out loud.

“It’s so unfair,” I thought as I turned the burgers over and put the ketchup squirter and mustard bottle on the table.

“The Wexels and people like them have so much and we have so little and…”

As I closed the refrigerator door I saw the words, written in red, I had taped above Sharon’s first grade picture and her latest example of penmanship.  “Be patient with difficult circumstances.”

I smiled, not much, but a little, and with that, the tension began to ease.  I shook my head and laughed, this time a real laugh, as I turned down the heat under the burgers.

“If I hurry,” I thought, “I can get one of our special cheesecakes in the refrigerator before Sharon finishes her shower.”

The God of Angel Armies is by My Side!

So much to do – working on the website and everything connected thereto.  It takes me hours. How I wish I could just pay someone else!  Then there is writing posts for this blog, doing a fresh entry for the unjealousheart.com website, helping each day with my grandsons, maintaining my  relationship with God as top priority (which is really first in line), and then the unceasing demands of daily living – exercise for my back, groceries, errands, laundry, paying bills, cooking, cleaning  – and somehow getting adequate sleep so I can think clearly.

Dear dear Father, only You can enable me to get all this done, but I know You will.  I do not have the strength of youth, like I did during those blessed years when Sharon was home and I stayed up late and got up early to write.   Proverbs 3:5-6 is just as true today as it was  20 years ago.  I know that!  

And though, externally, my standard of living is about the same, it is infinitely richer, deeper, and satisfying. I know You better, and I trust You more.  I automatically treasure the unseen things – giggles from my youngest grandson, surprising wisdom from my older one, spontaneous hugs from both of them, and the relief on my daughter’s face when I walk in the door each morning to delighted cries of “Nana!  Nana’s here!”

Only rarely do I feel the poison of jealousy and envy now, like I did so many years ago when I wrote “Unjealous Heart”.  When I do feel envy, I confess and squash it immediately by counting my blessings and focusing on what I can do for those in my path at the moment.  And the same with fear and self-doubt.   The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “the God of angel armies” is by my side.  Whom shall I fear, as Chris Tomlin sings. http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=WDZYYWNX

God has promised to guide my steps as – or in proportion to how much – I trust in Him with all my heart.  I’m glad it’s too confusing to figure tjhis all out for myself because it makes me lean closer to Him.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the       wicked.”  (Psalms 84:10, NIV)

Yes, Lord, I would rather live close to You and be poor than have “riches untold”. You alone can satisfy!  You alone care for my soul and have a unique plan for my life and You are – still –  working all things out for my good! Thank you, Jesus!

Grateful in the Face of Setbacks

I knew something was up as soon as I saw the envelope addressed to me in my own handwriting.I held it up to the fading sunlight and saw the postcard, a form rejection notice from a prospective publisher for my children’s book.

“Thank You, Father, that You put it in my heart to gather a list of possible publishers when I first sent this off.  It will go right back out, tomorrow, to the next one on the list.”

The full day had brought on fatigue.  I was up at 5 a.m. to write, then to my daughter’s to pick up my four year old grandson at 8:00, then to three stores for quick errands, then to the gym where he had exposure to other kids in a daycare setting while I did the grueling workout necessary to keep the weight at least stable, then my daughter’s home again, in time for Mom to wipe him down and put him in a fresh shirt for nap, then an hour and a half alone time with my two-year old grandson and, finally, one blissful hour of lying down for a nap, snuggling with the pure sweetness and innocence that is a sleeping toddler.

When I got up, a voice mail from my veterinarian said to take my panicky Tonkinese back in for one more ear packing.  Each visit traumatized Barny so much he hid for an entire day in the closet.

Thank You, so very much, dear Father, for sending another Tonkinese, the only mink one listed with the Texas Tonkinese Rescue program.  He could be my beloved Thellie’s twin.  And thank You for sending him several months before Mom passed.  Cuddling him is such a comfort when the tears come.  Thank You for an understanding veterinarian and her staff.  Thank You that he is healthy.”

“Thank you, Father, for the privilege of writing this blog, showing my spiritual failures and all.  Please help it help others.”

Though it was 33 years ago, I remembered precious early evening times with Sharon.  In fall and winter, we got home just before dusk fell.  We talked about the evening news while I cooked and then as we ate dinner at our card table in the tiny kitchen.  Twilight, I guess, will always be my favorite time of day for that cherished reason.

Thank You for teaching me then to be grateful for all things, even in the midst of setbacks and hard times, no, especially in those times.   You keep my attitude healthy and keep me close to You.  Thank You for training me to be aware of complaining.  Please continue reminding me to take time to thank You for blessings as countless as the stars in the velvet sky.  You’ve truly showered blessings  over me and Sharon and  her family.  I love You, Lord. . . so much!!”

“It is Well with My Soul”. . . that (sometimes elusive) attitude of gratitude

Most days, I feel upbeat and find pleasure in so many, many  things throughout the day.   BUT. . . some mornings, even before coffee and devotions, my thoughts turn to finances, little physical challenges that come with age, frustrations of getting both websites to work right, yada yada yada. . . blah, blah. blah.   So go the attacks of the enemy of our souls!

Literally counting my blessings never fails.  I set my heart to be grateful, to trust God, and be consciously aware that God:

  • is in control of each moment of my life,
  • He planned every day of my little life since before time began,
  • His love for me, personally, is “as high as the heavens are above the earth”, and
  • He has “separated my sins from me as far as east is from west” (see Psalm 103, New International Version)

If I just begin that process,

  • I get my attitude of gratitude back,
  • I remember that worry shows I am trying to control the future rather than trusting God,
  • His peace settles in like a soothing, gentle rain as I focus my thoughts on how powerful and loving and forgiving and kind and patient and gracious and long-suffering He is with all of us.

So often, the melody and words of that cherished hymn “It is Well with My Soul” then float into my heart.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Chorus:  It is well. . .  with my soul. . . it is well, it is well, with my soul.

(Broadman Hymnal, 1940, page 73)

Even if you, for whatever reason, have never sung the old hymns of the church I urge you to get a copy of the Broadman hymnal (available on Amazon) and just read the verses of this and other hymns.

To hear the unbelievable but true story behind “It is Well with My Soul”,  see this link https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=C211US0D20140807&p=story+of+it+is+well+hymn

Dear Father in heaven,

Please help me keep my focus on You and Your love.  Help me share Your love with others, that they may know Your marvelous love for them individually.  Help me explain Your desire and Your power to comfort and restore broken lives, no matter how deep the tragedy or loss.  Amen.

Getting back up on that horse!

Well, it’s been too long since I posted.  I have to admit I was thrown for a loop when I learned I had my website and book site set up all wrong.  It has taken me a while to get back in the saddle. (Plus our family shared a cold, over and over, for a week and a half – yuk!)  So, even though I know better, I got discouraged to the point of paralysis!

But, praise God, getting stuck in feelings is always temporary now!  God does little HUGE miracles to lift me out of that old pit of fear and self-pity .  So, I am revamping part of this site and transferring the book “Unjealous Heart” to the website called unjealousheart.com.  FYI, it took more than a hour with the great support folks at Godaddy.com to get the changes done.

You may subscribe to the blogs of this book for free now.   Just visit unjealousheart.com and sign up.  Or, if you don’t want to receive posts in your email, just log in to the site and read the latest post that way.

Either way, please do share your thoughts with me!  Hopefully, this will one day be a print book, and I want the final version to be maximally useful and on target.  You can help tremendously with that by telling me honestly what you like and do not like and what you want to see that I have accidentally left out.

In so many ways I feel like it is 30 years ago and I am just starting to learn about writing.  I am at the beginning of another steep learning curve with having a website and how to do “marketing” – NOT my kind of thing!

But the wonderful thing is that the loving God who taught me how to write is the same One who is still teaching me.  And I still have the same peaceful but terribly excited feelings I did 30 years ago as I work in a tiny apartment so similar to the one Sharon and I shared for seven years.  Our God is far beyond awesome!

Bargains. . . A Double Blessing!

 

 

sketch lotion

In the cabinet under my bathroom sink stand five bottles of cream oil body lotion, with shea butter,  for extra dry skin.  (Thanks to Texas weather, that definitely describes my skin!)  The lotion was on sale in my favorite department store – clearance priced with a $5 card for buying four bottles, which made it an even greater bargain. Bottles of this lotion now stand next to my bed, my rocking chair, and the bathroom.  No more chasing one bottle of lotion all over the place  – luxury!

I rubbed some on my hands, arms and neck before sitting down to type this post.  The fragrance envelopes me like the finest perfume – at least for several minutes before it fades.  Scent is calming to me, and I have not purchased perfume for more than five years. But my loving heavenly Father gave me a six month supply of a most comforting scent for a miniscule fraction of the regular cost.

God consistently, faithfully leads me to bargains like the lotion.  It is always like a loving pat on my head.  “See Freda.  I am taking care of your every need, and I know every detail of your life.”  I bought five boxes of stuffing mix (which I love) for 81 cents, instead of the regular $1.15 in the same department store in January.  And the list could go on, with innumerable examples from the 34 years I’ve known Jesus.

Do I ever tire of having to be frugal?  After all, I’ve had no choice for most of my adult life and that’s getting to be a lot of years now.  Do I ever get sick of having not so much that the haves do?  Of course!  I am fully human, believe me.  But to keep the bitter roots of envy, resentment and jealousy from taking root, I do several things.

  • Keep a heart of true gratitude and express that to God continually.
  • Avoid malls, catalogs, television, and anything else that revolves around materialism
  • When I do succumb to wistful longing (usually about something I wish I could get for my family), I talk to God about it, add 10 things to my gratitude list, and take extra care to guard my heart.

I am far from perfection, but like the song by the group Selah says,

“In Jesus’ name, we press on. 

Dear Lord with the prize, clear before our eyes,

we find the strength to press on.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Bg2cJ5bw2k

Why set my heart on earthly things, more fleeting than morning mist, when I can store up treasures in heaven?   Unseen treasures – like love, joy, peace, and gratitude – are eternal.  (II Corinthians 4:18)

P.S.:  Yes, I know the sketches are by no means professional but I am enjoying doing them.  And who knows, if God helps me improve, we can watch the  progress together!!

 

Birthday Party. . . for $10 total

“Thank you for planning a wonderful birthday party for our gal, Nana. . . “

I smiled at the text from my son-in-law.  Yesterday, Frank, my two grandsons and I had celebrated my daughter’s birthday, in grand and excited style – for less than ten dollars.  I would have spent much more, but that was what I had.  I was grateful God provided a way to take good care of my darling daughter, just as He has done for more than three decades now.

Our secret?  The same tactics He taught me throughout all her pre-teen years, those sweet, sweet years of innocence.  I used lots of prayer for help, inexpensive items and then made a big celebration out of it.  With two grandsons, gifts were easy.  The boys (two and three and a half) gave Momma the gifts to unwrap but promptly claimed them as their own, according to my plan, and delighting everyone, Momma most of all.

The most expensive thing was a bedtime book.  The other gifts were from the Dollar Store – two tiny yellow shopping bags, two small memo books, two sprigs of plastic flowers, and two paint brush boxes.  Wrapped separately in white tissue paper (which cost one dollar), with festively generous curling ribbon, that made eight gifts for Momma to receive, open and watch her toddlers happily claim as their own.  Ta da!  No jealousy issues (at least for a few minutes.)

As for decorations, I hung one half of a “Happy Birthday” penant string from lights at the side of the room and the other over the room divider, then dangled long, curled strands of ribbon from the edges.  With bright “Happy Birthday” plates as the centerpiece, I covered the table with two dozen “curly cues” strips of the curling ribbon.  The oldest grandson kept asking me again “What did you call these, Nana?” as he tossed them in the air and uncurled them so he could watch them spring into curls again.

Our traditional birthday cake is a box mix cheesecake Sharon has enjoyed  since she was eight and everyone, except the two-year-old,  loved it.   We lit  candles, blew them out and repeated it all until the smoke–and laughter– overwhelmed us all.

I looked at my daughter and saw her down through the years, when it had been just her and me, with the same type of celebration:  numerous small gifts, carefully wrapped, decorations everywhere in our tiny apartment, and much prayer that she would feel as cherished as she was.

Thank You, dear dear Father, so very much for showing me how to give her good birthdays all these years.   What a gift it always is to me, from You, to see her smile.  And now, to see her do the same with her own children.  How loving You are and how faithful!