I’m “Officially” Old!

It has happened!  Today I am “officially” old!

Today I am 70 years old.

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How did that happen?  How did I become my mother?  Where did that thick head of red hair go?  What is that sagging thing under my chin?  That can’t be bags under my eyes?

Many of my friends have become very upset at turning 30 – 40 – 50 – 60 and I have always asked them:

What’s the big deal?  It is just another birthday!

But I have been dreading this day.  Somehow it has seemed to me until I hit 70 I could still consider myself – well maybe not middle aged – but certainly not old.

But 70 – I realize the days ahead of me are way, way fewer than those behind me.  I find myself looking back at my life and wondering:

Have I done anything of real value?  Is anyone’s life better because I have been a part of their life?  Have I done all I could do, all I should have done to be a good mother, wife, friend?

Over the years ministering with my pastor husband to the elderly both in our churches and in the nursing homes where we visited I have seen many different responses to old age.

There is the the old crank who complains about everything and constantly puts the younger generation down.

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And the one who wants to tell you all about her aches and pains.

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But there are also those who are a joy to know.  Those who still have a zest for life and a gratitude for the blessings they have.

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So as I move forward into this “old” time of my life I pray that:

I still see the glass as half full, not half empty.  I appreciate the health I have and not complain about what my weak knees, bad back and poor hearing.  Others still enjoy being with me and not dreading to see me walk in the door,

So – here’s a little “old folks” humor.  Laugh with me.

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If you do see me coming, just remember this:

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Remembering Mom

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Rosie Fern Sechrest – 4/16/1918 to 4/4/2006

Hard to believe it has been 12 years since my mother died.  Hard to believe it has been that long.

My birthday and my mother’s were only eight days apart so we often celebrated them together.   The year my mother died my husband and I had gone down to her house in southern Illinois in late March so we could celebrate our birthdays a few days early.  For years I lived in the northern part of the state while my mother lived in the southern part and so our time together was far and few between.  I worked a Monday-Friday job and my husband’s job as a pastor took up the weekends so I only saw her a few times a year.

But that was all going to change.  In February of that year my husband retired and now we would have our weekends free so we could make more trips down to southern Illinois to see her.

I was so anxious to tell her that now I would be coming to see her more often.  Being interested in my genealogy I was looking forward to asking her more questions about her childhood and maybe even visiting some of the places where she went to school or lived.

That was not to be.

When I arrived at my mother’s home I found her in a lot of pain.  She had made a doctor’s appointment for that afternoon so my husband and I took her to the clinic.  She asked me to go in with her for the doctor’s exam and it was only then that I found out she had been having problems for some time.

After examination the doctor admitted Mom to the hospital.  He did not seem to be too concerned saying only that she might have an infection and needed some tests and medication.

The first couple of days Mom seemed to be doing fine and the doctors assured me they would soon get to the bottom of Mom’s pain.  I even assured my sisters they did not need to come, Mom would soon be back to normal and I would be taking her home.

I still struggle that I told them that.  By the third day Mom took a turn for the worse and within a couple of days it was clear there was something seriously wrong.  By then I called my sisters that they needed to come, but I always felt guilty that I had assured them there was no need to come.  By the time they got there, Mom was clearly not doing well.

Yet, in a very selfish way, I was glad that I had those couple of days with Mom all by myself.  Being the baby in the family, Mom usually seemed to trust more on my older sisters for help and it made me feel so good to be the one adjust her pillows, straighten up her cover, being a help to her.

So my feelings still are mixed.  Guilty because I assured my sisters they did not need to hurry down; yet thankful for those couple of days of just me and my mom.

Mom was a jolly woman.  I remember as a child when she and my aunt (a Methodist minister) would do the Charleston dance at our family gatherings.  Her pies were the best.  Many Saturdays Mom would spend the day baking pies:  chocolate, coconut cream, apple, peach.  Sunday nights would find our kitchen and living room filled with members of our church who came over to visit – but I think more to enjoy Mom’s pies.

She always made her own crusts but as she got older she started buying frozen crusts from the store.  While I missed her delicious crusts, the pies were still good.  When my husband and I visited, I knew Mom would have a pot of beans (for me) and coconut cream pie for my husband.  Of course, she also had a chocolate pie because that was my favorite.

After Mom died, I grieved for her.  But, slowly, over time I began to get used to not having her around.  Lately, however, she fills my thoughts almost daily.  I think it is because I am getting old myself and as I age, I understand my mother better.  Sadly, I often wish I could apologize to her.  Many times I got irritated at her – and now I find myself doing and saying the very things she did.  I understand her better now than I did when I was young.

But it is too late to let her know that.

Because of my Christian faith, I believe someday I will see my mother again.  While I will try to apologize, I imagine she will just laugh and say “Come on Barbara, let me show you the rose garden”  for she knows how much I love roses.

Until then, if your mother is still living, give her a call and let her know how much she means to you.

 

 

 

 

Everyone Needs a “Big” Sister

She has always been there.  My “big” sister, Velma.  I call her big, not because she is physically bigger than me.  In fact, I think she is a little smaller.  But she was my oldest sibling and calling her “big” sister is probably better than calling her my “old” sister.

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Me and my “big” sister, Velma.

Velma was the oldest of four children and I was the youngest.  My parents told me from the moment of my birth, Velma felt that I was “her” little doll to play with and take care of.  They told me when I was only a few weeks old the whole family decided to go berry picking.  They packed the car with a picnic basket and Mom went into the house to get me out of my crib.  But I was not there.

A little panicked, my mother looked out the front door to see Velma carrying me to the car.  Stepping over the ditch by the driveway, she slipped and dropped me.  I was not hurt but the family often joked “that explains a lot about Barbara.”  Dropped on my head.

In the days before automatic washers and dryers, microwave ovens and all the conveniences we enjoy now, my mother had her hands full keeping up with the house work and taking care of us.  Velma stepped right in to help.  So when it was time to go to church or any other event where I needed to look my best, it was often Velma who helped me get dressed, fixed my hair, made sure I had brushed my teeth.

Velma took home economics in high school and became a very proficient seamstress.  Her senior year she made us matching dresses.  The school had a fashion show for the students to show off their sewing talents.  Velma was asked to include her “little” sister in the show.  Although that was years ago, I still remember how excited I was to be in a fashion show with all the “big” kids.  Velma and I practiced over and over in our kitchen how I was to walk on stage, turn around slowly and walk off stage.  The night of the fashion show I think I was the hit – a little girl with red banana curls!  I will always remember the pride my sister had in me – gave me confidence I needed.

Velma not only took care of many of my physical needs, she was concerned about my spiritual need also.  I had a Bible storybook that I had read over and over.  I loved reading about Joshua, Gideon and David and I loved the stories of the Old Testament prophets.   That bible story book was my first introduction to the wonderful stories about Jesus.  The book is worn out, but I still have it sitting on a shelf in my study.  Over the years I have moved a lot and do not have anything from my childhood but that book.  I still treasure it.

However, for my seventh birthday Velma thought it was time I graduated to a “real” Bible so she bought me my first one.  She also got me some new pajamas.  I was so proud of both gifts that I insisted I wear the pajamas and she take a picture of me in them with that Bible.  Although that Bible was the King James version (in the days before all our new translations) and hard for a seven-year-old to understand, Velma encouraged me to

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Just keep reading.  The more you read it, the more you will understand.  Ask God to help you.

So I did.    Perhaps the fact that I read the King James Bible faithfully instead of the “See Spot Run” books is why I became not only an excellent reader, but a very fast reader.

She was my role model.  As a young girl I was in the Sunday School class she taught for young girls.  I still remember the navy blue dress she wore with a white-collar.  Her shoes were navy, red and white.  I thought she was so sophisticated in that outfit.  When I got my first job I bought myself a pair of navy, red and white shoes and purse.  I watched her style of teaching – and I have patterned my own Bible teaching after her.  People say I am able to present great truths of the Bible in a simple way that a child could understand.  If that is true, I owe that to Velma.

I recently visited my sister and her family.  Got to me thinking.  I will be 70 in April – and my sisters are the only ones who share all my history with me.  They are the only ones who remember my banana curls, my playing and singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, and much much more of my history.  They are the only ones who share so much history with me.

My “big” sister has never had the joy of having a “big” sister, but I hope being her “little” sister has been a blessing to her as she has been to me.

Sis, if you read this, I LOVE YOU!

Collecting Joy

Joy Journal

A gift from my youngest daughter

March 4, 1998 – My youngest daughter surprised my husband and me by bringing home gifts for us both.  It was not our birthday, anniversary, not any holiday.  It was one of those “just because” gifts that are so special.

One of the gifts that day was “The Joy Journal” by Barbara Johnson.  Known by many as the “Christian Erma Bombeck”, she wrote many hilarious books such as:

Stick a ger

and

Humor Me

Barbara wrote in the introduction to this journal

This Journal is a new way for you to add joy to your life.  When good things happen to lighten your load and brighten your day, write them down.  When someone pays you a compliment, write it down.  When you remember nice things from the past, write them down.  Let the journal become a personal treasure chest – your collected thoughts of hope, gladness, and love.  When you start to collect joy, you will find it’s a magnet.  Joy is everywhere.  All you have to do is look for it and use it instead of saving it for Sunday-Best.

Less you think Barbara Johnson lived in denial and was just a “Pollyanna” telling people to “be happy” without really knowing what problems and sorrow were, she had plenty of sadness in her own life.

Barbara lost two sons, one in Vietnam and one at the hands of a drunk driver. Another was estranged for several years. A few years after her husband’s death she was diagnosed with Central Nervous System Lymphoma (CNS), a brain tumor and also diabetes.  Refusing to give in to despair, Barbara chose humor and looking for joy as a way to beat the odds of adversity.  In 2005 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded her the prestigious Life Time Achievement Award.  Her book “Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy” has sold over one million copies. While facing death, she was working on a proposed final book, Joyfully, Barb!

So – I took her at her advice and began looking for joy – and recording it.  Now 20 years later, I look back at all the entries in my journal and Barbara was right.  She had said this journal would be “a treasury of gladness to inspire you for years to come.”  And it has.

Most of my grandchildren are all grown up now – but I pull this journal out and relive those moments of joy I shared with them.  Here are just a few that make me smile and I  hope they will also bring a smile to your face.

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Matthew and Robert – my ‘little grandsons now all grown up

March 7, 1998 – Rob and Rebekah took Matthew to kindergarten roundup this week, a chance to show him the classroom, meet the teachers, etc.  After coming home he informed us that he was going to love kindergarten because there were lots of girls and they were going to love him!

January 16, 1999 – Robert spent the night with us and I took him to the Putnam Museum.  On the way there he just kept talking and talking.  I always want to give my grandchildren my attention when they are with me, but I had a headache and did not really feel like listening to his chatter.  So I told him, “Robert, Grandma has a headache and I don’t really feel like paying attention to what you are saying right now.”  His response was so funny, I had to try hard not to laugh.  He said, “It’s okay Grandma.  You don’t have to listen.  I just want to talk.”

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My beautiful granddaughter who is also my namesake, Barbara

April 4, 1998 – Took Barbara shopping at the mall.  Brought her a necklace and a headband.  We had tacos and sundaes.  She has been trying hard to “be good” so her parents would let her have this date with me.  As we were enjoying our sundaes she told me, “Momma is wondering if I am going to still be good tomorrow.  I’m not going to tell her but I’m going to surprise her and be good.  I’m going to try hard to be good but if I mess up, I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

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Granddaughter, Abby, has a lot of musical talent

I don’t have a date written down for the laughter this granddaughter gave us but when she was quite young she came with her siblings to spent a week with us.  Helping her Aunt make some cookies, she sat on the counter and began chattering away.  Seeing a frown on her grandpa’s face she asked, “Am I annoying you Grandpa?”  When he said yes she quickly responded “Good!”  Which brought laughter to us all – including Grandpa.

There are many, many more memories I could share but I’m sure at some point you would stop reading.  But I want to encourage you to look for joy that is all around you and record those special times.  Not only will you enjoy the moment, but like me, years later you can remember and experience the joy all over again.

As Barbara Johnson said in her journal, “Laughter is like a shock absorber that eases the blows of life.”

Get busy looking for joy!  I wish you good hunting!

 

 

Now That It’s Over

Christmas 2017 is now history.

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The beautiful tree we spent hours decorating is now ready to be taken down and put away for another year if it was an artificial tree, or it soon will join the landfill if we chose a live tree.

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All the presents that we spent days and weeks searching for in the store or online and then wrapped so carefully are now opened.  The beautiful packaging is probably in the trash cans ready to also go to the landfill.  Some are enjoying their gifts while others are perhaps a little disappointed that Santa did not bring them exactly what they wanted.  Maybe it was the wrong size so a trip to the store to make an exchange is on the agenda this week.

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All the delicious food that Moms spent hours preparing has long been consumed or is sitting in the refrigerator waiting for leftovers tonight.  The beautiful china has been washed and put away for another year – or the Christmas paper plates are also headed to that landfill.

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Some are savoring precious memories made this year with family and friends.  For them it was a time of great happiness and an almost Christmas-card perfect day.  There were newlyweds spending their first Christmas together.  Grandmas and grandpas were enjoying spending time with grandchildren they do not see the rest of the year.  Brothers and sisters, cousins laughed over board games or their favorite Christmas movie.

Still others are glad it’s over because it was a sad time.  There were family members who were absent at the table this year.  Some were gone because death tragically struck this year.  Others grieve over the divorce that split the family in two.  Some families spent the holiday in the hospital or sitting quietly by the bedside of a loved one who is quickly spending their last days.

But regardless of how this year’s Christmas season turned out – happy or sad, perfect or so imperfect, it is history.

So now what?  Do we just put away the decorations, replace our Christmas CD’s with our favorite music style, close our Bibles to Matthew and Luke and go on with “normal” life.  Did we just “enjoy” the Christmas play at church, the children singing “Away in a Manger”, the classic Christmas carols or the contemporary songs like “Mary, Did You Know”  Is that all there is?

While we hear the Christmas story every year and it is old and well-known, I think we would be wise to follow Mary’s example as found in Luke’s story of the nativity.  When the shepherds found the baby in the manager and told Mary and Joseph of the message of the angels, Luke tells us that

Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

So what do we do now?  Put aside all we have heard this season of the Christmas story and go back to our busy world.  Or, would it not be a good idea to stop now and then as winter turns into spring, then summer, then fall and think about what the Christmas story really means.  God come in the flesh to redeem mankind.  God’s demonstration of His love for us.

My prayer is that you will take time to think about Christmas – the real meaning of Christmas – in the days, weeks, months ahead and let it change how you live in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Am I Waiting For?

As we enter Advent – the season of waiting – I have been reading scriptures that speak of the wait for the Messiah, the one who would save the world, scriptures that speak of our wait for our Lord’s return.   Examining my life I realized I do a lot of waiting – but what am I waiting for?

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Banana curls just like Shirley Temple

First, as a little girl I waited:

  • to learn to read the “big” books.
  • to be able to jump rope
  • for Santa Claus to come
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Don’t you just love the hairstyle?

Then, as a young high school graduate I waited:

  • to find a job
  • to meet “Mr Right” and be married
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Home on leave just before going to Vietnam my Marine asked me to be his wife

When he came along, then I waited:

  • for the day we could say “I do”
  • to have my own home
  • to be a mother
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The major joy of my life – precious gifts from God

After my girls were born I waited:

  • to see them grow up
  • to see them married and with a family
  • to someday be a grandmother
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This grandson, who never met his grandfather, is so much like him

After my husband was killed in an accident, I waited again:

  • wondering if the pain would ever go away
  • wondering how I would raise my girls alone
  • wondering if there could be happiness again for me
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Thankful for this man who brought joy once again to me

When God took my pain (but never the precious memories I will always keep in my heart and treasure), I waited again:

  • for our blended family to become one
  • to grow old with this man
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I lost my beautiful red hair – but now I wear a wig so I’m still a fiery redhead

Then cancer came and I waited:

  • to recover from surgery and aggressive treatment
  • to get my hair back
  • to get past that 10 year mark of survival
  • to reach retirement

I spent so much of my life waiting for things in the “here and now.”  Spending so much effort and hope and time anticipating for my future in this life.

That is certainly not wrong.  God made us to enjoy this life and all of the things I waited for were good and blessings from God – job, family, health.

But as I reflect on the scriptures that speak of waiting, I realize the most important thing I should be anticipating and waiting for are not those things in the “here and now” but the hope of what is to come when the “here and now” is over.

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I can only imagine what this moment will be like

At this Advent season – this time of waiting and hoping – I wait for

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is…1 John 3:1-2

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed….Titus 2:11-13

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness…2 Peter 3:18

As we celebrate this season of waiting, anticipating – I ask you, what are you waiting for?

Historic Henderson House

I am a history nut!  That is, American history.  My library is full of biographies of presidents, secretaries of state, senators – the players in our country’s political life.  As I read of our country’s past, it is interesting to note that much of our current political events are really not new.  Attempts to destroy your opponent by rumors of bad conduct (both true and false) began with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and have continued throughout our history.

While many are frustrated with the lack of action from Congress, that too is nothing new.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was not referring to American politics, but his commentary on life certainly is true with our political history.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Loving history as I do, I was so excited when I was able to live in the Henderson House in 1969 for several months.  My husband and I were married in March of that year shortly after his return from 13 months in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corp.

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Me and my Marine!

After our wedding, we packed our wedding presents and our clothes into our 1966 Chevelle and headed for Quantico, Virginia where my husband would be stationed for the rest of his enlistment term.

The base at Quantico is where the Marines train their officer candidates and the FBI also does training exercises on the base.

Just young crazy kids in love, we headed out with no idea of where we would stay when we arrived.  After living in a small efficiency apartment for a few weeks we heard that the owners of the Henderson House had an apartment for rent in the town of Dumfries, just outside the base.  At the time we had no idea of the history of this house, we just needed a nice place to live.

The house had a huge hallway running completely down the center of the house.  On the front of the house it opened onto a beautiful large porch with comfortable chairs and a swing.  In the back it opened onto a large well landscaped back yard.  One side of the hallway had originally been the large formal parlor with a more informal music room on the other side.  The current owners lived in the rooms on one side of the hallway and rented the other side to us.

How excited I was as I talked to the owners and found that this house had been built by the father of Archibald Henderson the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Alexander Henderson built this home in the late 18th century near the Old Post Road (King’s Highway).

During the American Revoluntary War the Hendersons entertained many of the leaders of the revolution.  Both the Confederate and Union armies used the house as a hospital during the Civil War depending on which army occupied the area.  The owner showed us a hole in the side of where a cannonball had struck the house during the Civil War.  It had remained lodged in the west wall for about 100 years until a souvenir hunter stole in the 1960’s.

My imagination ran wild as I would sit on that front porch and imagine the wounded solders that had stayed in the same rooms I was now staying in.  I wonder if George Washsington or John Adams had sat on this same front porch sipping a glass of wine while discussing the fight for independence from England.

I was just a young bride then and while I loved the idea of living in such a historic place, I did not fully appreciate the history of that entire area.  Learning much later that the town of Dumfries received its charter on May 11, 1749 and was the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia, I wish I had done more exploring of the area.  Dumfries was  the second leading port in Colonial America receiving tobacco from the upland, it rivaled New York, Philadelphia and Boston. But long before my arrival in 1969 the town had lost its importance.  The Revolutionary War, erosion and siltation, and the shift in the main shipping commodity (from tobacco to wheat and sugar) led to its demise as a major port and today it is just a small town of about 5,000 people.

Guess it is just getting old myself, but when I reflect on how this once prosperous and important port became just a small town that most would drive through without taking a second look, I realize how quickly life comes and goes.  How quickly what is important today may become just a memory or a point in history.  How much we should enjoy this moment before it is gone!

Don’t miss today by regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.