Shared Memory

I remember the sticky sweet smell of blueberry pie

filling grandma’s kitchen when we told her, and the hushed

smile when she saw the ring.

She pulled me close and whispered her approval:

You caught yourself a good one, girl. I’m glad. You deserved it.


I remember the hardwood floors, and the way we danced

in the living room before the children came–and still do

as they’re sleeping.


I remember the fish in the bathroom wall. The swirling blue

we painted below it. Our faces aglow

laughing

waiting to see the awe and wonder

of our children in their own aquarium.


I remember the way you first held my hand:

slow and gentle,

afraid to be touched but hovering to touch mine.

You warmed to a long sought-after embrace,

mellowed by wrinkles and tears, strengthened

by a life well lived together.

Now your hand is paper thin; a ghost in mine.


I hold the vapor of you, relive

every memory of our shared past, wish

I had you sooner, thank

God that I didn’t miss you–

that you were mine!

The Dream of My Son

You would love my son.
When he was young, his black hair curled around his ears and bounced when he ran outside to play. He had long eyelashes that feathered his light skin like angel wings when he slept.
It was hard for my son to sit still–he was like his father in that. He was always on a mission to build the next fort, fight the next enemy raid, save the next princess, or build the next rocket to Mars. When his imaginary world wasn’t fully booking his time, he was in the garden or kitchen or studio helping me. He was always bringing me flowers or little drawings to make me smile. He was not the kind of son that troubles his parents; he was the one that lived to make them proud. My son’s imaginative and compassionate heart surpassed my wildest dreams for him.
You would have loved my son…if he were here yet.
Sometimes we dream about the future and what is yet to be. That’s the way my son came to me. I knew his name and his character long before I met the man that would be my husband. Though I have never held my son in my arms, I feel the joy and pain of his memory as if it had really happened.
I am not a mother.
Yet the dream of my son rests heavy on my heart denying the truth of that statement.
I am not a mother…yet.
This world is full of injustices:
One woman has an unwanted pregnancy while another tries for years to have one. One woman longs for a godly husband while another cheats on the good one she has. One child wants for nothing while another struggles to find a safe, happy home. One parent sacrifices everything to care for her child while another ignores hers to pursue her own selfish desires. Children are forced to act like adults in a godless world devoid of a moral compass.
All this angers me. All this grieves the heart of God too.
I am not old and yet, at my age, most of my peers are married with children having children now. If I think about it too much, I am easily angered by the fact that I am not there yet.
Why, oh God, do you give me the vision of a happy life, married, and my son…why my son!…when every year my body ages towards infertility or worse!
You may have said something similar to God yourself. God likes to remind me of Sarah every time I do.
Um, you know I made a dream like this come true for a woman in her 80s, right?
Oh Lord, please don’t wait that long!
But that’s the point: WAIT!
When the vision hasn’t happened, prepare your heart and life as if it were. That’s what it means to wait. Get ready in every way possible. If you can save money towards your vision, save. If you can get healthier, get healthy. Some complications and health risks in pregnancy can be avoided by losing weight and getting healthier before you are even trying to get pregnant. You’ll be thankful you put in the effort too when you try to chase around a toddler in your 80s…I hope that isn’t literal for any of us. 😉
During this time in our lives when we don’t really understand what God is doing or why we don’t have the hopes and dreams we planned to at this time, it is easy to start comparing ourselves to others and despairing at our lack. I like what a local friend and pastor said about this:
When you compare yourself to others, you rob yourself of what God is trying to do in your life. –Ryan Barbato
It is very easy to get caught up in comparisons and judgments of others, but we cannot change the world, we can only change ourselves. Furthermore, judging others fills us with resentment and anger about people and situations we don’t know all the facts about. God is writing their stories in the same way that he is writing ours, and he can make lemonade out of our lemons better than we can.
Maybe we need to start asking God to help us judge others from His perspective through eyes of forgiveness and love instead of holding on to our sour lemons.

Charles Pulley: Non-Traditional Student Graduate

In 1964, in the rural country of Micro, NC, a young man named Charles Pulley was forced to fill some very big shoes when his father’s health deteriorated to the point of no longer being able to maintain the family farm. At seventeen, he left school and went to work on the farm. He met a girl at a dance, fell in love, and married her. If he had any hope of returning to school, that hope ended when he got married. Within a year, he was a father. Over the next eleven years, they would have two more children.

Charles did not regret his choices. He loves and lives for his family; he is a family man. Still, he regrets that his sacrifice was not enough to save the farm. By 1965, he was forced to sell it. The farm had been in his family for generations.

Charles divorced and remarried in the 1970s. He lights up when he talks about his second wife, Kathy, and the 42 happy years they have had together. Charles is happiest with his family; he has lived a full life with them. He worked in construction for over 50 years building bridges. Though he was a superintendent most of those years, he got involved with all aspects of the job. “You always got to jump in and help,” he says, “you can’t just sit around.” He was good with his hands and good with math; he was proud of the work he could do.

As his family grew, Charles grew more ashamed of his education. He had six grandchildren, and he didn’t want to tell them that he didn’t finish school.

“I want my grandkids to finish school and be the best that they can be,” he said, “and I don’t want to be the only one in my family without a high school education.”

Working and taking care of his family, Charles never really had the chance to come back and finish his high school education. When he started summer classes at Wayne Community College in 2018, he realized that it was harder than it used to be. Though he had designed and built bridges and managed job sites for half a century, he was dumbfounded by the math needed to complete the High School Equivalency test.

“I thought of dropping out,” he said, “but I told myself that I am not a quitter. I have never been a quitter, and I’m not gonna start being one now.”

Instead of quitting, Charles jumped in and committed himself to learning as quickly as he could. He attended night classes faithfully and absorbed material like a sponge. When he wasn’t picking up the math as quickly as it was being taught, he took it to his granddaughter and had her help him. Within a month–faster than most students half his age–Charles completed his High School Equivalency degree. On a test that requires a minimum scaled score of 45 to complete it, he scored 63. He didn’t just finish his degree, he finished with excellence.

Charles Pulley

Charles Pulley

Charles advises his peers to try harder and keep pushing towards completing their educational goals.

“Education is one of the main things in life,” he says, “Ignorance is an uneducated person.”

Charles is looking forward to the graduation ceremony in May 2019. He is on the church board at his church and has a lot of friends who want to be here to see him walk. “I like that,” he smiles, “I think that will be fun.”

Charles looks forward to sharing his story with his grandkids and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

A Biblical Perspective On Caring For Aging Loved Ones

When I was very young, maybe five, I visited my great-grandmother. She was crippled with arthritis and bed-ridden and she scared the crap out of me. She said, “come here let me squeeze the puddin’ out of ya'” and I thought she really could squeeze the life out of me. Of course, I know better now, but that doesn’t change the fact that my only living memory of a woman I would later love and respect is one of fear and retreat.

When I was a little older, I used to visit nursing homes with my parents. We would sing old hymns and dad would preach a short sermon. Then we would visit the rooms and pray with anyone that needed it. I remember the people would smile and mumble along to the familiar tunes. They were especially happy to see young people and stared at my sister and me as if they could drink in our youth through exposure. I remember they smelled like moth balls and looked a little frightening with their sagging jaws and skin.

When I became an adult, I volunteered at a nursing home to help teach a lady to paint. I went into her room and talked to her about her life and shared with her some fun techniques to try with her art. I got to know her and some of her life story. She didn’t seem old or scary, she was experienced and interesting with a strong, healthy mind. I thought of her as a friend. One day she had bad headaches and couldn’t see me. One day turned into two. Another day she was fine and happy to talk again, but she told me she didn’t want me to “waste my time” coming out there. I got busy and stopped coming for a while. The next I heard, she was dead and gone. I never got to say goodbye.

I think humans are funny about age. When we are born, we think it is adorable when babies are covered in drool, spilling their food, and making messes. We have compassion for their short-comings and reward every small gain they have because it is progress. But when all these things happen with an adult, we treat them with fear and disdain. We invest in plastic surgery, exotic pills, and drastic health care programs to try to stave off getting older. Nothing stops the inevitable.

It’s one thing to deal with the effects of aging personally, but what about when our parents are getting older?

My pastor, Andrew Price, says there are four stages that aging parents go through.

  1. First, they become grandparents and enjoy being able to invest in their kids’ kids without all the hard work of day-to-day parenting.
  2. Second, they become retirees and get to reap the rewards of hard work and investments. They have time to relax, travel, and enjoy life. They make great mentors for others at this stage.
  3. Thirdly, they realize they can’t do all they used to do and they have to start relying on their kids to do some things for them. During this role-reversal stage, parents worry about having enough insurance and money to cover their needs and children struggle to care for their parents without treating them like children.
  4. Fourth, they become completely dependent on others for their care. In this stage, parents are no longer able to care for themselves, so the kids have to arrange for care for them. This can become a financial and emotional burden for everyone.

Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children. Proverbs 17:6, NIV

There is a lot of joy for stages one and two here, but I feel a deep sadness for stages three and four. Some may say it is because dealing with aging parents reminds us of our own mortality, but for me, it is more personal than that. My parents are my heroes; I’ve always looked up to them. They are barely into their sixties, yet I am living through part of these later stages with them now because of their health.

It is hard to see your heroes get knocked down.

It is hard to see them depend on people for their basic care. It is infuriating when those people also don’t care about doing their jobs well...if at all. Strangers will never know the value of your loved ones or care to know their story the way you do.

What is also hard about stages three and four is realizing that the person you love may not be with you much longer. You’ve gotten used to life with them in it. Now you feel cheated to think they won’t be there for the rest of it. At some point, whether you want to or not, we all have to say goodbye and try to live without our loved ones. It’s not easy.

I’ve had to say goodbye to more loved ones than I care to think about, and I have never been good at it. I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn from old people, even the mean, and scary ones.

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  Psalms 90:10 NIV

Some Lessons I’ve Learned From Older People

First, take care of your health. The stuff you put off when you are young catches up to you when you are old. It pays back with interest…negatively.

Second, spend quality time with the people you care about. If you didn’t care to get off your phone and play with them when they were young, why should they care about taking time out of their busy lives to visit you when you are old?

Third, be encouraging to your children. No child deserves to be put down by their parents. If you can’t be nice to them and encourage them into being a better person, you probably shouldn’t have been a parent at all. Don’t be surprised when no one comes to your funeral.

Fourth, plan ahead. Save what you can save. Invest what you can invest. Life costs more when you are older.

Fifth, don’t live with comparisons and regrets. You can control your choices but you can’t control them for someone else. You gain nothing from holding back on your dreams and goals or comparing what you have to what others have. At the end of the day, Facebook lies, Twitter glimpses, and Instagram only shows the cropped shots. If you get too caught up in what others have, you will end up scared and wasteful with what you do have.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. 

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear (revere) him.

–Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, NIV

What Happened to the Lost Boys: A Discussion About Abandoned Children in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland and Beyond

…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40, NIV

I’ve always been a bit curious–and sad–about what happened to the lost boys in Neverland. Were these poor children abandoned by their parents? Were they kidnapped? Were they orphans? And when Peter Pan leaves the island, do they feel abandoned once more? In this post, we discuss the issue of orphaned children and what we can do to make a difference in their lives.

There are several versions of the classic J.M. Barrie tale and the adventures of Peter Pan. According to the author, the lost boys are children who fell out of their strollers when their nannies weren’t looking and were then whisked away to live in Neverland after they were unclaimed for seven days. These lost children were always boys because, according to Barrie, girls were too clever to get lost that way (though they do in some of the stories).

I think the idea that a child could be missed for seven days suggests the child likely was an orphan.

There are several stories that suggest the boys come and go off the island as they show signs of growing up or desiring to do so. For a full history of the story as it has been told through film and prequels like the Starcatcher series, check out this website.

Though J.M. Barrie wrote about the lost boys based off of real boys he had befriended personally, I have to wonder what happens to the lost boys–and girls–today. What happens to orphans when they become orphans?

I’ve heard horror stories of orphans being abused and neglected first by their biological parents and then by the guardians and system of care that is supposed to protect them. These stories were shared with me firsthand by the orphans themselves as adults in my classroom.

One child remembered being taken from her abusive parents in the middle of the night with nothing but a black trash bag to hurriedly gather her belongings. She didn’t understand that her addicted parents were doing something to her that they shouldn’t. She didn’t know she was being neglected. Therefore, she spent a lot of years bouncing around the system and trying to call her abusers every chance she could get. They would try to manipulate her into getting the money and supplies to continue their addictions. Even when she realized that they were asking her to do something wrong, she still called them. She so desperately wanted their validation of her worth.

Another child remembered being removed from a neglectful home only to end up in a foster home where the fosters pocketed their government aid, kept too many children, and provided minimal food and necessities for them. In this scenario, the heroes became villains as well. Children were left to grow up fast and find creative ways to provide for themselves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:3-5, NIV

How many times do adults treat children like burdens, free labor, or worse with little to no consideration of the heritage they are building in them?

How many times do we see examples of adult selfishness playing out on the values of younger generations we see in the groceries stores and streets today?

Many of the orphans I have talked to describe their feelings like being on a rollercoaster. They lash out at people that treat them kindly because they don’t know who to trust and they fear being abandoned again. Because a child’s sense of safety and self-worth comes from their parents and these kids had toxic parents, many of them never found the understanding and sense of belonging they needed to become healthy, balanced adults.

What could we do to make a difference in just one life like this today?


There is good news! Not every lost boy and girl stayed in that place of abandonment.

I have a friend that grew up in a Christian orphanage not far from me. He doesn’t talk about his birth family, but he talks about life in the orphanage and the people that poured into him. You can read more about him and his story on his blog. 

Despite what others experienced, my friend was loved in his orphanage. Employees that saw their job as an opportunity to minister gave him hope and life when his own life “sucked”. He found hope and faith in Jesus, and he became a Christian. Then he realized that he wanted to be a pastor.

Two weeks before his sixteenth birthday, he was adopted by a prominent pastor and his wife. His new family showed him love and kindness. He found a sense of belonging and purpose through his faith and his adopted family. The family mentored him in the career path he would later pursue and introduced him to the woman who would later be the wife and mother of his children. God was looking out for this little lost boy!

Do you know a lost boy or a lost girl?

What can you do to speak hope and life into their world today?

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 2

As class ended, I didn’t want to leave my new friends…and new passion for quilting. I was midstream designing another quilt on our last day of class when I heard about Row by Row Experience 2015. Row by Row is a quilting challenge that happens annually across the US where quilters travel to various shops to collect patterns and make quilts. The first quilter to use eight or more of the 9 x 36 rows in a finished quilt, wins a stack of fabric. If they use the row from the store they turn their quilt in to, they win an extra prize from the store as well. This year, all fifty states and parts of Canada participated.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

A collage of some of the quilting work I've done since class.

A collage of some of the quilting work I’ve done since class including my first quilt, a runner of drawings done by my nieces, and the start of my own Row by Row water themed quilt.

The idea of throwing travel and quilting together over the summer was a win-win for me. I bit hard on the idea like a fish on a hook. By summer’s end, I traveled all over eastern North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, and all over eastern Florida for patterns. Telling my friends and family members about it had patterns coming in from Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon too. Some of those helpers have bitten the quilting bug themselves now as well. 😉 By summer’s end, I had over 30 patterns and the beginning of a water-themed queen size quilt.

One surprising fact about quilt shops: they are all uniquely different and all uniquely happy, even if they are close together. In one area of Raleigh, NC, for example, there were four shops within a few minutes of each other, but each carried very different materials and supplies from the other. Quilt shops are specialized to certain niche markets and maintain clientele through customer service.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister. Notice the bus tour crowd in the bottom corner at Calico Station, FL.

I don’t know if it is the “your husband called and said you can spend all you want here” signs or the bright, colored fabrics, but I rarely found a sour faced, curmudgeoned quilter. Quilters invest in fabric and pattern stashes with pride. They shop in groves (even bus tours), little two-by-twos, or individually. Quilters are young and old, pop artists and antique traditionalists. We are a wide and varied group, but a happy one.

If we count the cost of how much we spend in quilting, we may not be so happy, but I believe we quilters are happy because we feel fulfillment when we sew…and there’s no price tag for that. We are also happy because quilting generates friends. From the old days of quilting by hand in large circles around a loom (which apparently my great-grandmother and grandma did) to going to classes and working on machines to shopping and sharing pictures and ideas with strangers, quilting is a universal language of love.

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 1

A few months ago, my mother and I signed up for a quilting class at our local quilt shop, Thistlebee. I had no experience sewing, but she did. My mother grew up sewing her own clothes and even made her wedding dress. I, on the other hand, didn’t even own my own machine. I was ambitious and didn’t know it.

On a work trip through Little Switzerland, I found a cute little quilt shop. The owner stood in the doorway on double crutches and said to me, “you’re a fabric artist, baby, I know you’re coming in here”. When I told her my story, she told me hers. She had lost everything, and now she was selling away her personal fabric stash to build a life for herself. When I told her I was planning on taking the quilt class and sharing my mother’s machine, she said, “wait right here, baby”, went home and brought me back a machine.

Charlie's Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

Charlie’s Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie's Quilts.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie’s Quilts.

I was blown away by this stranger’s generosity and odd prophetic ability to look at me and see me as an artist with fabric. I accepted her gift, and had it serviced and working good as new before the class began.

Joining the quilt class was a good decision. It was good bonding time for mom and I, and we also made good friends at the shop with the instructors and shop owners. Mary Ellen, the shop owner, helped me figure out fabric measurements for the designs in my head. Pat, our teacher, helped me square up my work and learn to love my seam ripper. I went from not sewing at all to sewing a straight line to reading patterns, learning quilt tools, and designing my own quilts. Thistlebee became my home away from home, and something mom and I looked forward to sharing together.

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Mom working on her quilt while Pat helps square up some other work on the ironing board

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

As class approached its end, I realized I would not get my project done in time (I redesigned the project from the original lap quilt to a full queen quilt). I didn’t want to disappoint, so I designed, pieced, and finished a small tabletop pinwheel quilt instead of the rail fence we had started. This little quilt was a big hit in the class (Pat and Mary Ellen wanted to keep it), and it has since been used to teach math in my classes. When I see it now, I smile. I think about Pat and Mary Ellen and Charlie and mom; all the ladies that opened the door for me to learn how to quilt.

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

Reliving Civil War History in Bentonville, NC

Near Newton Grove, NC, over 150 years ago, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place. Acres of farmland were overtaken in gunfire and the home of the Harper family became a hospital for injured soldiers.

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The Harpers were not your stereotypical Southern plantation family. They cared for the wounded on both sides of the war with equal charity. Many of the wounded that died were even buried in their personal family graveyard.

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Why would a Southern slave-owning family show such compassion? The answer may be in the long history of their family line.
Generations of Harpers, before and after this particular family unit, were in the forefront of important historical events. There were Harpers in the Revolutionary War, Harpers on both sides of the Civil War, Harpers in industry and trade, Harpers in education, and Harpers in religion. One such famous Harper was a preacher set to do a revival in America when he went down with the R.M.S. Titanic. He went into the water preaching the gospel of Christ and did not give up till he finally froze to death. So I have to think there is something in the Harper line, some great Christian heritage, that taught them to be industrious, strong, and kind people.
The Harpers of the Harper house did own slaves, though, so they must have been bad people, right? Wrong. One of the biggest misunderstandings about slavery is that those who owned slaves were immediately bad because they were buying and controlling other people as property. It is equally assumed that all slave holders mistreated their slaves. What we are missing is the fact that slavery was a way of life back then. Slaves were necessary to do manual labor that machines had not yet been created for.  They were paid in room and board and, in places like the Harpers house, education. Where it would have been a cause for beating to read elsewhere, Harper slaves were taught to read. Instead of the shanties on other plantations, Harper slaves lived in their own modest cabins.

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Most importantly, Harper slaves felt loved and valued by their masters. In letters to the Harper family after the war, slaves praised the Harpers for their kind treatment and shared fond memories of their time there. Though our modern minds cannot fathom any humanity in owning slaves, there are many things about the past that we cannot comprehend without living it.
Today, tourists can visit the Harper House free of charge year-round. There are also many activities to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville every year on the anniversary of the battle. The most exciting part of these activities is the reenactments of life and cannon fire during that time. It is an opportunity to relive history that you don’t want to miss.

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For more information about the historical site and how you can go visit it, check out their website at:
http://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/

The Forgotten Field in Morganton, NC

2014-04-25 12.10.50In a little corner of the mountains of western Carolina, lies a field of the forgotten. These were once mothers, daughters, sisters, and sons. They were somebody’s friend, somebody’s family member, somebody’s…somebody. Today, they are just numbers along a rusted chain. Tags along a line that are nearly completely faded into history. Once in a while, a stone leaves a more lasting impression. This stone, in particular, broke me. Beneath the words of names and dates, it remembers the person as an artist.

Here lies an artist.

It has not always been cool, especially in the place this stone lies, to be an artist. Cast down, abused, medicated, they were often treated like the rejects of society because they saw the world a little differently. When I see this stone, I think about how many things have changed and how many things have stayed the same.

This final resting place is part of a much older and sadder story.

Mountain people are particularly gifted in textile trades. Wood carvings, furniture making, basket weaving, and loom tapestry weaving were marketable skills passed down amongst them for generations. In the early 1900s, western North Carolina was a booming place for furniture and upholstery. The generations of talent in making housewares by hand now turned to factories and annual market sales. The trade continues to thrive for generations there and bring in buyers from around the world.

But one other thing set up roots in Morganton, NC: Broughton Hospital. In the early days of mental health, a series of brick buildings connected into a beautiful castle. It was one of the largest hospitals for the mentally ill and people were sent there from all over. I imagine people were amazed by the beauty of the place and left their loved ones there easily. But not everything that happened in mental health medicine at that time was good, kind, or ethical. In fact, it was quite common for families to be so embarrassed by mentally ill family members that they would either hide them away in “disappointment rooms” in their homes or send them to places like this.

Over time, parts of the hospital closed down, and only a small section of it remains in use today. The old castle bits have wasted away almost completely. All that remains are a few condemned buildings across from the forgotten field like this one. 2014-04-25 12.14.59 Windows broken by ivy vines and basement boiler rooms full of shoes and old tin cans are the only signs of life here now.

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I wonder what stories this place could tell.

What lessons would we learn from their mistakes? What acts of kindness would warm our hearts and inspire us? What horrors would make us sleepless at night?

We can learn from the past–and I hope we all do–to be better people today. Enjoy your life and strive to understand the people in your world, especially family. Forgive them, love them, and make the most of your time with them.