What makes a man a Grandpa?

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My daughters “Shadow” and “Giggles” with their beloved Grandpa

I remember his big hands.  They were very large, yet always gentle.

I remember the love and care he gave my daughters after their father was killed in an accident.

I remember the nick names he gave to both of them.  My oldest daughter was “Giggles” and my youngest was “Shadow.”

I remember how he understood my deep grief and sorrow after my husband’s death in a way no one else in the family did because he had also lost his first wife in death.

I remember how he just stood by my side in silence with his big hand on my shoulder in the days following my husband’s death while others in the family would be sharing their opinion on why God had allowed Lonnie to be taken from me and my little daughters.   Or, how he would give me a hug at family gatherings when my heart ached for the empty spot at the table where my husband would have sat and no one else in the family even mentioned his name.  It seemed at times as if they had never seen him as a part of our family.  But I knew that Grandpa Gerling missed him along with me and my girls.  He never had to say a word.  His hand on my shoulder, his hug, his whisper to me “It will get better in time” said it all.

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My mother and step-father — Grandpa Gerling

He was not biologically a grandfather to my girls but if love counts for anything, he was their grandfather.  My husband’s family seemed too lost in their own grief after his death to offer any love or comfort to my daughters.  My own father had deserted me and my mother when I was 13 and although he came back into my life later he was always very negative when we were around him and critical of me.  My hair was too short.  My slacks were too tight.  So the only love they were shown by a grandfather was my step-dad, Grandpa Gerling.

He has been gone now for many years, but I still miss him.  I often think how much he would have enjoyed seeing my daughters’ children, how much he would have showered them with love.

This time of year I always think of him.  In the fall he would always fix us his goulash.  My girls and I now make that dish – and remember his kindness and love to us.

He was not their “real’ grandfather.  They shared no DNA.  But he was the only “real” grandfather they knew.  Because what makes a man a grandfather is more than sharing his DNA, it is sharing his love.

So as fall comes and I think about the trips at this time of year to Mom and Cliff’s house for goulash, I thank God for giving my daughters a “real” grandpa.

 

 

Words Do Matter and I’m NOT Ugly!

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Edgewood, Illinois.

Just the mention of that town brings back bad memories.  About three months into my sixth grade school year, we moved from Mason to Edgewood (both small towns about 10 miles apart).  For me, they were opposite sides of the universe.  Mason Grade School was one of my happiest times in school.  I had lots of friends, was always busy playing with the group at recess.  I took my hula hoop to school each day and we would all gather in the playground after lunch to see who could keep the hoop going the longest.  It was great!

My fifth grade teacher was very impressed with me and told mother in testing they had done I tested as a genius.  She also thought I was the most polite child she had ever had in her classes.  When I began sixth grade my teacher designed extra curriculum for me and talked about advancing me to the next grade.   I was a very confident and happy girl.

Then came Edgewood

Shortly after sixth grade started my family moved to Edgewood and there I lost my confidence and happiness.

The school building at Edgewood had eight grades in four rooms.  The first four grades were on the lower floor and the last four grades were upstairs.  My first morning at Edgewood, I started climbing up the stairs to go to my new classroom.  About half way up the stairs, I met two boys coming down the stairs.  As they got about two stairs above me, one of the boys grabbed the other boy, pointed at me and in a very loud voice said, “Move over!  Don’t get near her.  That’s the ugliest girl I have ever seen.”  They both laughed and moved over as far to the other side of the staircase as they could get from me.  I hurried on up to my classroom hoping they would not be in my class.

Shortly after the teacher had showed me where I would sit and I was settled in my new desk, in walked the young boy who had just called me the ugliest girl he has ever seen.  He was sitting in the next row over from me.  Every time the teacher’s back was turned, he would look at me and make faces as if the sight of me was making him sick.  Kids around him started laughing.  Of course, when the teacher turned around and wanted to know what was funny, nobody seemed to know.

The harassment continued on the play ground.  When we played games that required us to pick participants, he would always yell out, “Don’t pick the ugly girl.”  Everyone would laugh and I would be the last one picked.  He was obviously the leader of the kids and he saw to it that no one played with me or sat with me after lunch.

Every day I cried as I walked to school.  I couldn’t wait for the dismissal bell to ring so I could get out of there.  I quit bringing my hula hoop to school because no one wanted me to play with me.  Most of the time after lunch I would sit and read my Bible.  Of course, that probably brought more ridicule for me.

Until that time I had not really given much thought about how I looked.  What little thought I had given was positive.  In second grade I had been in a style show at the high school with my oldest sister  She had made us matching dresses and we were part of a program at the high school showcasing the talents of the students.  My sister practiced with me over and over how I was to walk out on the stage, how to turn around to show off my dress and then return to the back of the stage.  I was the hit of the show.  Everyone had commented how cute I was, how beautiful my red hair was.  My sister was clearly very proud of me.

Everywhere my family went, people would comment on my beautiful red hair so I had a pretty positive image of myself.  But the experiences at Edgewood Grade School left me feeling very ugly.  All though my teenage years and even into adulthood, I felt ugly.  Although the compliments on my red hair continued, I always thought “Yeah, my hair is pretty but it doesn’t make up for the fact that my face is ugly.”

It was only years later that I came to understand perhaps why this boy made so much fun of me.  He was a poor student, barely passing.  He was also a bully and a trouble maker and spent a lot of time in the principal’s office or in detention after school.  And guess who his mother was?  My fifth grade teacher.

I, of course, do not know, but as an adult I realize it is very possible that his mother had told him about me transferring to his school and perhaps bragged on what a smart and polite student I was.  Or, maybe he was just a bully who picked on me because I was the new kid.

Looking at pictures of me as a teenager now I realize while I was no Miss America, I actually was a pretty cute kid.  How sad that it was not until I reached my 40’s that I began to gain confidence in my appearance.

Words matter!

So sad to see today how bullying on social media is causing other young girls and boys to have no confidence in who they are.  I also hate it when I hear parents in the stores yelling at their kids sometimes telling them they are stupid, dumb, mean.

Words matter!  Think before you speak.  Speak up when you see someone bullying another.

Big Things in a Small Town

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This week my husband and I, along with our youngest daughter and our youngest granddaughter, took a final road trip before summer ends and everyone heads back to school.  We had seen pictures of this town and it looked interesting, but we were not sure if it would be worth the trip (four hours one way).

It was!  If you are looking for something unique, let me recommend a visit to Casey, Illinois.

This small town has the biggest golf tee, the biggest wind chimes, the biggest rocking chair, to name only a few of the “big” items in the town.  There are also items that, while not the biggest, are certainly big, like an ear of corn and a bicycle.

All these “big” attractions started when Jim Bolin saw that small towns all over Central Illinois are slowly dying and he came up with the idea to create some offbeat and fun attractions that would entice travelers to make the journey to Casey.

What was really special to me is that all of the big items have a verse from the Bible written on or near it that has something to do with the object.  For example, the wind chimes has a fish, the sign of the early Christian church, and the Star of David, which refers to the Jewish religion.

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The scripture there is from Romans 1:16 which says

For I was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation, to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

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One of my favorites was the big rocking chair.  It weighs 46, 200 pounds and took over two years to complete.  In order to make it in the Guinness Book of Records, the chair had to actually rock.  It took ten of Bolin’s employees to move the chair and get it rocking.

Bolin suggested to the owner of the Yarn Studio that they built giant knitting needles and a crochet hook.  After she agreed and the needles and hook came to her store, she had to actually knit something with them in order to be recognized by Guinness.  She made a 10 x 10 square with the tools.  She said it felt like she was on a rowing machine and was a real workout.  Having the big tools in her shop has increased her business.  She has added a second room and also added home decor, jewelry and baby items to the inventory she sells.  The scripture near the knitting needles is from Psalm 139:13

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

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My husband and I loved the big shoes.

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Tourists toss money in the shoe for luck and it is collected and used to buy food for the local food pantry.

Bolin has opened up his work shop so people can come and watch as they make these big items.  We saw a couple that are still in the process of completion – the largest baseball bat and the largest gavel.

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Our granddaughter loved the biggest mailbox.  It is actually a functioning mailbox.  Visitors can drop mail at the top in a tube and it raises the flag on the mailbox while placing the mail in a ground level container where the postal service can pick it up.DSCF0087

My husband and I had fun sitting the giant bird-cage and proclaiming that we are truly “love birds.”

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If you are looking for a place to spend a fun day, check out Casey, Illinois.  While you are there, check out the candy store and for a great place to eat, visit The Farm Restaurant.

The God Who Sees Me – Part 3

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Studying the names of God, I continue to reflect on the name Hagar, the Egyptian Slave of Abraham and Sarah, gave to God in her encounter with Him.  It was a moment of great despair and hopelessness for her.  Despair and hopelessness until she realized that God saw her and cared about her.

As I continue to think about this concept that God sees us, I continue to be reminded of times in my own life when things seemed hopeless, but then God reminded me that I was not alone, that He saw me and He cared.  I shared the first two times in my life – at ages 14 and 33 – when God revealed Himself to me so vividly in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1 and The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

Perhaps the greatest time God showed up for me was when I was fighting for my life in a battle with an aggressive cancer.  After a mastectomy, the surgeon apologized to me because he said he had to cut a lot more nerves under my arm than he wanted to, including the main nerve running through my underarm down my side.  He had found so many lymph nodes full of cancer and he wanted to make sure he got all of them so he cut away more than he preferred to do.  He said I would have more pain than normal, but he felt trying to save my life was more important than inflicting some pain.  I totally agreed with him.  I wanted to live.  If that meant some pain, so be it.

Meeting the cancer doctor for the first time he told me my cancer was a very aggressive type and far advanced.  The type of cancer they found would also not respond to any further treatment after chemotherapy and radiation.  His first words to me will never be forgotten.  He said:

The odds are not in your favor!

After undergoing 16 chemotherapy treatments with three different powerful drugs, I began a radiation treatment which would include 35 sessions radiating not only the chest area where the cancer had been removed, but my underarm, the left side of my neck and the left side of my upper back.  Because so many lymph nodes had been cancerous, the doctors wanted to radiate all the lymph nodes in that area of my body to make sure any cancer cells left were destroyed.

Starting the first radiation treatment I was already exhausted from almost nine months of chemotherapy.  Several hours on two different days were spent in the radiation department as they worked to set up the computer to deliver the radiation to all four parts of my body.  They had to be careful to avoid my heart and my lung as the cancer had been on my left side.  Then the day arrived to begin treatment.

As I entered the room where the treatment would be given, I saw a sign on the door “Danger!  Radiation!”.  The technicians helped me on the table, working to get my body placed in the exact position needed so the radiation rays would reach the right places.  They then left the room and the heavy door slammed shut.  I lay on the table in a very painful position and watched the big x-ray machine begin to descend toward my chest.  Feeling so frightened, I never felt so alone.

As tears ran down my cheeks, I cried out to God telling Him I felt so alone.  At that precise moment, the elevator music they had been playing stopped and a song from my childhood came over the sound system.

Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so!

The song was so comforting reminding me that I was not alone.  When the treatment was finished I thanked the technicians for playing that song.  They did not know what I was talking about.  The music they were playing was canned music already programmed and that song was not on the program.  They also said they did not hear that song.

But I heard it.  The God Who Sees Me – the God who saw Hagar – was there.  He saw me, heard my cry, He cared.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

 

The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

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In our small group Bible Study we have been looking at the names of God in the Bible.  One of those names is El-Roi, “the God who sees me.”  I wrote about the basis for that name recently in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1.

Reading that story led me to think of times in my life when I experienced that same sense that God had seen me.   Times of my own fear or suffering when God ministered to me in a clear way that let me know He saw me.  He knew my distress and He gave me assurance that He was with me and would help me in this time of difficulty.

The first time was when I was 14 years old and grieving over the father who walked out on me and my mother and left us to get by the best we could.  That story is told in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1

Almost 20 years later, God again assured me that He was the God who sees me.  While working at the University of Missouri Extension office in Perryville, Missouri, I anticipated the daily call from my oldest daughter.  My two daughters would ride the bus each day from school to our home in the country.  Their father who worked the midnight shift would be getting up and waiting to greet them.  Although he was always there to meet them, I still had my daughter call me just to let me know they were home and see how their day had gone.

When the phone rang at work, I picked it up happily awaiting my daughter’s voice.  But as soon as she began speaking, I knew something terrible had happened, something that would change our lives forever.  I will always remember that little girl’s voice saying

Mommy, I think Daddy is dead!

My two daughters – only 6 and 11 – had come home to find their father laying in the driveway underneath our car.  He had been working on the muffler and the jack had apparently slipped and crushed him.  He had always been very careful when he worked on the car and to this day I do not understand why he raised the car with the jack and did not use anything to stabilize the car or the jack.  It was not like him to be so careless.  I always remind my family to be careful because it only takes one moment of carelessness to bring disaster.

Hanging onto the phone, I felt my heart would stop!  It was hard to believe it was really true but the moments that followed showed me it was true.  At 33 I was a widow with two little girls to raise.  All kinds of questions flooded my mind.

  • How would I get through the days, the years to come without my best friend?
  • How would I help my daughters cope with not only their father’s death but the horror of finding him crushed beneath the car?
  • How would I be able financially to take care of them with the loss of my husband’s salary?
  • Who would be there to take care of them when they got home from school since I would be working?
  • How would I pay for the funeral?
  • Should we stay in Missouri or move back to be close to family?  Could I make it on my own far from family’s support?

On and on the questions raced through my mind as I tried to grasp what had happened.  It still seemed like a bad dream.  Surely I would wake up soon and be in my own bed with my husband beside me and I would laugh at it all.

But it was not a dream.  For the next few days I was numb.  Planning the funeral, trying to comfort my daughters, trying to find answers to all those questions, slowly the sense of being in a dream began to leave and reality hit me hard.

Blessed to have family and friends who loved me and supported me, still the time came when everyone went home and back to their lives and I was left with my daughters to face the future alone.  This realization came to me the first night after everyone had left.  I fixed supper for the three of us and started to place the dishes and silverware on the table for us.  Turning from the table to get the food from the stove, I realized I had put four plates and four setting of silverware on the table.  With tears streaming down my face, I picked up the extra plate and silverware and returned them to the cabinet.  In the future, we would only need three sets of dishes.

I did what I had always done in times of despair.  I cried out to the Lord telling Him I did not see how I could make it through the months and years ahead, how alone I felt.

Instantly a verse of scripture came to my mind.

Lo, I am with you always…

While I know in this instance Jesus was speaking to His disciples – and through them to the church, I also realized this scripture had come to my mind by no coincidence.  God saw me – this young widow living in the middle of the country – and He cared.  He assured me I was not alone and that I would make it because He was with me.  He was the “God who sees me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Father I Can Count On

Father’s Day.  It is always a bittersweet time for me.  Growing up I looked up to my father and wanted to be just like him.  Then, as a teenager my father left our family and after that my relationship with him was very chaotic.  When Father’s Day comes and so many speak of their great fathers, I find myself wanting to feel the same.  My emotions run the gamut from fond memories to times I never want to remember.  I shared these feelings in a post some time ago.  Thank you Dad!

So, another year, another Father’s Day.  In a recent conversation with my pastor, he mentioned a verse in Psalms that he was going to use in his message.  That brought back memories again – but they were memories of my heavenly Father and how He has been such a comfort to me through all these years.  The verse is from Psalm 27 and it says

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

I am so thankful that early on I found God to be not only the Creator, the awesome God, but also a loving father.  How He comforted me when I cried myself to sleep at night missing my Dad, then actually scared of my Dad, then with great pity for my Dad.

I am thankful that my heavenly Father has been one I can count on.  Over the years when trouble came my way, He has been there.  His Word has strengthened me and given me hope.

So today for all who have fathers you can count on, make sure you let  them know how much you appreciate them.  For those whose great fathers are no longer with you, cling to those memories you have.  And for those who fathers were not there for them, I invite you to reach out to the Father you can always count on.  God loves you!

 

Little Country Church

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Little church in the country

Growing up my earliest memories of church took place at Zion Methodist Church.  This country church is just east of the town of Mt. Vernon, Illinois where I was born many, many years ago.  My mother and father made a commitment to serve the Lord in this little church when I was just a few months old.  Although I was obviously too young to remember anything about this event, I heard my father tell the story so many times I feel as if I do remember it.

The Story Goes

My parents were not followers of Christ and enjoyed going to the movies on Sunday nights.  My oldest sister, who was nine years old, started attending church with my aunt and uncle.  Although only a young girl she understood the simple salvation message the minister preached and made a commitment to God.  After that she began begging my parents to attend church with her.  One evening to just shut her up they agreed to pass up the movies and go to church with her.

Adam, where art thou?

My father sat through the worship, but about halfway through the sermon, his cigarette habit called to him.  At least that was the reason he was giving for leaving in the middle of the service.  Later he admitted he was feeling God speaking to his heart and he knew if he did not get out of the building, he would have to surrender his life to God.

He got up and started to the center aisle when the minister reached the point in his message where he said,

And God said, Adam, where art thou?

My father often spoke of this moment with great feeling.  He said his ears heard “Adam where art thou?” but his heart heard “Hal, where art thou?”

Decision time

At that moment he knew he had to make a decision.  Would he turn to his right and walk out of the church and silence the voice of God speaking to his heart?  Would he turn to his left and walk down to the altar and surrender his heart and life to Jesus Christ?

I am so thankful he made that turn to his left and said yes to the call of God.  I spent the first six years of my life every Sunday morning at the church.  My Sunday School teacher was the same one my father had when he was a young boy and attended that church with his mother.

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The church was heated by a pot belly stove in the center aisle.  In the summer there was no air conditioning, but we used paper fans.  Most of the fans had advertising from a local funeral home.

Because I was very young, I would often fall asleep in the Sunday evening services.  One evening my family started home, my folks in the front seat and my siblings in the back.  About half way home they realized I was not in the car.  My parents had thought I was sitting on my older sister’s lap in the back seat as I often did that.  My siblings thought I was layig down on my mother’s lap in the front.  They quickly turned around and headed back to the church.  Thankfully I was still asleep in one of the pews.  I cannot imagine how frightened I would have been if I had awoke and found myself alone in the darkened church.

Such are my memories of this little country church.  On a recent trip down memory lane I asked my husband to take me to the church and let me get a picture.  Standing in front of the church – all the memories that came flooding my heart and mind.  My parents are now gone, my aunt and uncle also.  But I will always treasure that little church where I first heard the words:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”