Happy Sunday! Today’s message in church was entitled: Leaving a Legacy. Our Pastor reminded everyone that we’re all leaving some kind of legacy and it’s either a good or bad one. My thoughts returned to this series, and I’m so thankful of the good legacy I’ve been left to pass on to my children.
This is the second of a three part series narrating my family’s living legacy. I love sharing the timeless treasures I learned from my grandmother, taught my adult children and am currently teaching the last babe at home. Grandma represents four generations of faith. What an incredible testimony! Today I present more sage wisdom from my family’s practical, down-to-earth matriarch. Enjoy her witty, southern twist on city living:
MAINTAIN THY CASTLE
4. Be ready for visitors. My grandmother really loved having guests! That meant you kept the living and bathrooms tidy and coffee on the stove. We got a jump start on the day by making the bed as soon as we got up. “You see,” she’d say, “that’s one thing done today.” Years later, I would collapse with exhaustion (and relief) into the plumped pillows and cool sheets of my pre-made bed after an endless day of running behind infants and children. Today when my older children visit and make their beds right away I smile and whisper, “one thing done for today!”
5. Wash, hang, iron…repeat. I didn’t have dirty clothes growing up. Okay that’s a stretch, but my grandmother had a remedy for every stain, rip, or missing button. She fixed them, and taught me how to do it myself. I had church, school, and “play” clothes with shoes, and knew the difference! Nothing was replaced unless I grew. She taught me to do my own laundry, and hang it outside on the clothes line. Times have changed, but I like grandma’s mindset. My children learned to do their laundry and iron in middle school, and mend and tailor their clothes in high school. Their father and I purchased the essentials, but they were responsible for the upkeep until they outgrew their clothing and gave them to younger friends or relatives.
6. What’s for dinner? Chicken. As a child I never asked, “What’s for dinner?” It was always ready after school, and I ate it! If I became hungry in the evening I had a snack or a piece of fruit. My colleagues find this amusing, but friends and family know the truth: Grandma cooked every day and every day she cooked chicken. While other proteins were available I can say with certainty we ate chicken for dinner 99.9% of the time during my childhood. As a working Mom I treasure the dinner hour with my family, and taught them to make it their priority too. It’s hot and usually ready to be set on the table at 6pm, and no cell phones are allowed. I’m a stickler for serving vegetables, but yes a lot of times it’s chicken!
Stay tuned for the final installment of my grandmother’s lasting legacy!
Photo credit: Four Generations: my grandmother, mother, and daughter with me in North Carolina. 1993. Used with permission.
Spring’s here! I love how our tiny, green island awakens from cool and windy slumber as the refreshing rains come. It gets warm a little earlier than on mainland Japan, and my beloved cherry blossoms have already bloomed and faded away. Spring brings happy memories of waiting with my Grandmother for the blossoms arrival. They make their annual presence sometime around Easter in the U.S., and fill the nation’s capital with their pink and white delicate beauty. Grandmother loved spring and gardening, and passed her passion on to me. We’d talk about so many things working in her garden, and later sitting on the porch admiring our labor. When my children came along I kept the tradition alive as we gardened together, talking and sharing, sweating and laughing. Here are some treasures I learned at my Grandmother’s knee and passed on to my babies:
1. Apologize (and mean it). Sincere apologies are good for the soul. No one’s perfect, I’d remind my children when they were frustrated with a friend or classmate. This includes us. When we commit an offense we should quickly say we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. “Don’t let your pride get in the way of saying you’re sorry,” Grandma would encourage me.
2. Manners matter most. The military didn’t teach me to say yes Ma’am/no Sir, please, thank you and you’re welcome. I learned at home and taught my children early on. Recently a young man held the elevator for me, and in relief I greeted him, “Good morning Sir, and thank you so much!” Visibly shocked he mumbled no big deal. When we reached his floor I called out have a great day. He turned around, smiled and replied you too Ma’am! “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Grandma would say. That’s a southern way of saying “bee” kind!
3. Have a genuine, personal relationship with God. I’ve always been fascinated by behavior, but not many adults wanted to be scrutinized by a quiet, little person. Grandma didn’t mind as I watched her cook, clean and garden. She had these daytime conversations with God, sang songs from church and prayed for family, her friends or people I didn’t know! God was important to her, and she loved spending time with him. Each day began and ended the same, on bended knee at her bedside. Long after she was crippled with arthritis and the pain was visibly unbearable, she’d clasp bent fingers together and give thanks for another day. I wanted that kind of special relationship with who she called the Holy One of heaven and earth. “If you let Him, God will lead and guide you through life’s journeys,” she promised. She lived to see me choose Him for myself, and offer the same gift of choice to my children.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of my grandmother’s lasting legacy.
Photo credit: Cherry Blossom Festival. Washington, DC. 2014. Used with permission.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version (NIV)
Through the years this verse has given me comfort and strength. It’s a reminder to hold on tight to my faith during personal trials, and to keep going after crashing and burning professionally. During the darkest periods of my life it would bubble up and out of my spirit, and I’d pray until I felt steady again. Does that make sense?
There was a period as a young adult when I stopped going to church, and foolishly told myself it was because for the first time no one was forcing me! As the deacon’s grandkid, I was raised in the Baptist church. Sunday school, midweek service, baptisms, communion…you name it! So when I moved out on my own and had the choice to please myself or continue following God let’s just say I did not choose God, and my new “all about me” persona had the uncanny ability to say the wrong things, hurt feelings and cause offense. It bled into all areas of my life and drove my friends and family crazy!
The decision to return to God and never look back occurred in a new church I attended sporadically. A visiting pastor called up parishioners toward the end of service. I watched him from the back of the sanctuary as he began to pray and speak words of encouragement. Thinking back on that day, I remember feeling so defeated. The pastor gently called me up and began to pray with me, and said close to my ear:
“Don’t be discouraged daughter. God will bless you with another child.”
I lost my collective mind. Who said I wanted another child? We already had four: a baby, a toddler, one in kindergarten and the oldest in second grade! We were so broke, and lived paycheck to paycheck. Money problems started arguments which had our marriage resembling the movie Fight Club. What was this man talking about? As I looked at him I began to cry, no correction, I started wailing. AT THE ALTAR. God was so unfair and this pastor was crazy. I hid that word in my heart, because I couldn’t mentally or spiritually comprehend it at the time.
My out of character response that Sunday deeply affected the regular pastor too, because he and his wife began to spend more time with our family. They prayed with us and checked on us more often. Women in church reached out and I made new friends. My family started attending regularly and eventually I joined the choir. With time and through faith my defeated thinking became clearer and more focused! Many of my family relationships and friendships were restored, and professional success followed self-discipline and mentorship. But the biggest surprise of all? Ten years after the pastor’s prayer I delivered a bouncing, baby girl!
Today I KNOW I am a blessed woman of God. Despite too many medical procedures, an adamant doctor who repeatedly told me I was infertile, and a third who would perform emergency surgery to rule out cancer, our daughter arrived healthy and right on time. She is my gift, a masterful centerpiece in a jeweled crown God sent from heaven. When I held her for the first time God firmly placed in my spirit that “this is the fulfillment of my promise. NOTHING can EVER separate you from My love!”
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (NIV)
Autumn’s arrived and brought along changing leaves and cool, crisp mornings. Wait a minute! Over the summer we moved across the globe to a tiny island with two seasons, and humidity and sweltering heat play a large part in both. After the initial sensory overload my family’s settling in nicely and embracing the opportunity to slow down.
In addition to moving, I’ve spent lots of time bringing my requests to God as the Word says we should.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
As followers of The Exceptional Life, you’ll find this and other encouraging verses because I love good news! The response to a summer immersed in prayer has been amazing.
So I brought God my laundry list of requests. Lord please cover my marriage, bless my kids, heal my body, and provide favor over my career. Sound familiar to anyone? When I didn’t sense a breakthrough, I called in the prayer warriors. For my non-Christian friends these are like-minded men and women of faith who petition God through corporate prayer. From the season of prayer two truths became crystallized in my spirit.
First, in my spiritual walk there must be an unflinching obedience to God. Even when it’s unpopular, and especially when it’s uncomfortable. In order to gain wisdom and live a life of excellence my priorities have to be in order. In the past when I experienced setbacks, I would be crippled by discouragement, and discouragement undermines vision. God revealed there will be no shortage of critics to my dreams, so I have to toughen up and learn to stop questioning myself whenever they come around. The book of Exodus has been an incredible testimony that me plus God equal the majority, and now I quickly move forward in faith when prompted. Bad grammar, but you get the point. No more paralysis by analysis!
Second, I am called to write, speak and lead. It’s my destiny and what I was designed for when God created me in my Mother’s womb. She actually birthed three writers but that’s a story for another time. Trust me when I share that whenever we turn away from what we’re created to do, the Lord brings us right back to our purpose.
Friends, do you know why you’re here? Are you curious as to what you were placed on this earth to do specifically? Don’t confuse your true worth with your sense of worth. Our feelings don’t always line up with the truth. I too struggled with self-worth for quite a while. Be encouraged and seek God through His Word. Today could be the day you pray as I did, and ask for clarity in your life. It’s time to walk into your destiny!
1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
How excellent You are Heavenly Father! Thank You for creating, redeeming and calling us by name. In the many seasons of life, and in all the unspeakable situations we find ourselves in…You are there.
Today I lift up my Exceptional Life friends and ask that You fill them with wisdom, understanding, and great comfort in knowing that as Your redeemed they were bought at a great price! As we commit to learning more of Your ways, I stand in agreement to whatever changes needed: spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Lord bless us richly as we seek to live out lives that are pleasing to You. To God the Father be all glory and honor and praise. Amen.
Photo credit: https://www.quotesgram.com
Video credit: Redeemed by the Skit Guys. I have no copyrights to the song and/or video directly above.
I’ve missed you something fierce, but took much-needed time away to rest and recharge with my beloved husband and precious babies.
We’ve crossed moutains…
and fished on beaches…
We even managed to spend some time in our hometown and visit with friends and family. One afternoon we drove through the city and my husband asked out of the blue, “would you like to see Ivy City?” TOUCHY. This was my childhood neighborhood, and Mr. Excitement seemed truly ready to take me back there to travel down memory lane with me and our youngest daughter. Time to slam on the figurative brakes! No need for us to revisit the past Sir. It’s best summed up by:
While living in the infamous Ivy City, my growing up years spiraled into a long nightmare outside of church and school. Let’s talk seasons. The spring rains flooded the two main roads of the neighborhood with storm water, the summer heat plagued us with horrible rat infestations from inconsistent trash pickup, and winter brought everything to a standstill! There was no snow removal, and no emergency city services…the roads cleared when the sun melted the snow. We simply did without the basics.
My Mom and Grandmother held many conversations with other elders about the community’s heartbreaking statistics: DC’s highest birth rate at 49.4 per 1000 women, the most households led by a single mother, and the poorest residents (those earning less than $5,000). Things only worsened as I entered high school. Washington, DC was named the murder capital of the United States, and with skyrocketing unemployment and high school drop out rates, Ivy City held one of the highest crime rates in the city. The National Guard was called in to assist, and began using horrible industrial arc lamps to illuminate our streets and alleys at night to discourage drug dealing. IT DID NOT WORK. What it did was make sleep next to impossible for those living in the community. I began drinking coffee just to stay alert in school.
Through prayer, sacrifice and a tremendous amount of hard work I finished high school, and went to college. With God’s favor I’ve traveled the world teaching sanitation and public health principles to others living in similar conditions I grew up in. It’s with gratitude those dark times are behind me, and thankfulness God freed me from the fear and pain of my past so that I’m able to freely share His good news from my heart. Until that car ride I have not had a single desire to return home. NOT ONE. In my spirit there has only been an intense urge to continue forward and spread the love of Christ. When I reflect on what little value man assigned my community or its people, and how statistically my future was forecasted towards loneliness, poverty, and death, I’m reminded of the chorus of a song that ministers to me by Israel Houghton and remind myself:
But…The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
Disclaimer: I have no copyrights to the song and/or video and/or hyperlinks to songs and/or videos directly above
::Un/Faithful Today’s prompt is pretty interesting: tell about the role faith plays in my life – or doesn’t.
I created The Exceptional Life blog less than a year ago as a medium to share posts on my faith, personal growth and happiness journey.
Concerning faith, for years I sat in church in confusion as our Pastor talked about faith. I quasi-understood it: you just need a little bit to start, don’t doubt and above all never fear, because fear and faith can’t co-exist in the mind. Yes, okay and really? The last part was a gotcha because deep down inside I did doubt at times. ALOT. I doubted my abilities as a contributor at work, and if I could complete my studies at the university without drowning in debt. As a wife and working mom I was afraid of being absent too much, and juggling so many other tasks outside the home. So I sat stoically in church, alone in my thoughts as the message once again centered on faith. The challenge to your faith is not as important as the response, Pastor ended, your response is key.
My husband and I would talk about this message throughout the year, but nothing prepared us for what was to come…
Later that summer, we decided to leave earlier than expected from our annual vacation, and head home to surprise the kids. School was starting on Monday, and my Mother-in-law graciously offered to stay with teens who felt they no longer needed a sitter since their brother was officially a college freshman. The attitude of three teenagers permeated the home, a la skunk spray, as we left for the airport one week earlier. Only our little one cried and hugged our legs, begging us not to leave. Sigh, it felt good to get home early and make things right with the children again.
As we powered up our cell phones during a connecting flight, both our phones began ringing at the same time from our kids and neighbors. It was total chaos! Our middle child finally got through and screamed in terror that our son was in a car accident, and she didn’t know where emergency services had taken him. Further complicating matters my Mother-in-law was having chest pains after hearing the news, leaving our 16 year old as the decision maker to search for her brother and care for her two younger siblings.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear the uncertainty and her fear as she cried on the phone that day, and fervently pray that eventually the Lord will remove that memory. I don’t know how we did it, but right in the airport her father and I calmed down enough to pray with her. We asked aloud for God to take control of the situation. We prayed for a miracle for our son, and thanked the Lord for our faith that we would be always be together, on earth and in heaven. As friends and family searched for our son, we began our flight home not knowing whether he survived, and totally relying on the mercy and grace of our heavenly Father.
I wept the entire flight home, leaving my husband to mumble an explanation to the flight attendants, and worried passengers offering tissue after tissue. After landing, we were off the plane and finally heard good news, our son was airlifted to a trauma center two towns away! The bad news was it was really bad news: he had a skull fracture, brain bleeding, and was in an induced coma…I stopped listening, and hung up as we raced to him. Where is he, I demanded once at the ICU? There were too many people talking to me, and all I wanted was to see my son and hold my other children. At his bedside a chaplain and nurse were intent on explaining the visitor limit to me. I looked into the nurse’s soul, and replied,
“No one will keep me from my son EVER AGAIN. It took too much to get to him, and I’m never leaving him alone in this place.”
I don’t know what I looked like when I said it (probably insane) but no one challenged me or mentioned visiting hours again. The main concern was that he wouldn’t survive the first night, and so I prayed a simple prayer of promise:
I love you son. Continue to rest, and know it is written: For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster to give you a future and a hope. Jer 29:11 (AMP)
For nine days we kept vigil, prayed and stayed at my son’s side. Our church held a special time of prayer during mid-week service, while friends, family and other churches prayed all over the country. One week after being admitted unresponsive and unstable he opened his eyes and began breathing on his own. Another three days later he was discharged to continue what would be an extended, one year recovery at home.
His father and I were given a devastating diagnosis, a long rehabilitation period, and lists of things he’d be unable to do, but with time his recovery has been remarkable. I stretch my faith, and call this period of our lives a divine miracle from God. Even doctors on his medical team can’t explain his rapid healing in certain areas. One excitedly shook our son’s hand during a later visit, while another kept staring at him as if he were an alien. The second doctor kept repeating, “but I admitted you in the ER,” and, “I ordered your transfer to the ICU when you began to crash!”
Six years later and we’ve grown and changed! The teens are now adults and living on their own. Instead of many feet running around the home, there’s one little set left, and we’re just as happy. Whenever I run into an old friend or neighbor, and they ask about my son’s well-being and abilities I thank them for their prayers and kindness, and patiently answer any questions. Is he driving? Yes. Did he return to college? Absolutely. Is he working? Yes! While our lives haven’t been an overnight success, the profound change and increase in my faith since that terrible time is my testimony.
In my life faith is the “God thread” that sews up all my imperfections and pieces me back together so that I’m whole again. When I’ve been given little hope, my faith in God allows me peace to see beyond my circumstances. Finally, in my darkest hour and greatest time of need when it was just me calling out to God, He gave me assurance in two verses. The one above which I still pray over my son, and the following one encompassing every area of my life:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Php 4:6-7 (NIV)
The post took me down memory lane, and after popping through a few more country links I saw his bucket list of the most amazing places he hoped to visit in the future.
Whoa, I actually visited a few countries mentioned, and Jem…they are truly, truly, truly outrageous! He asked for reader suggestions, and I hoped to offer some place special where he could make memories of a lifetime. My travels have taken me many, many places, across five different continents. I finally settled on…Cambodia.
What! Wait, why? Here’s the background:
My grandmother, God rest her soul, was known to be generous to a fault. Not the here’s a buck until you get on your feet generous. She was the real deal growing up people! The stay at my house, let me feed you dear, accompany you to the doctor and pray with you until things get better type of generous woman. Growing up there were people constantly staying with us “for a while,” and it didn’t seem odd at all that they came and went until I married and started my own family.
As a young wife and mom I changed, and became laser focused on my immediate household. If it didn’t concern the individuals within the four walls of my home I didn’t look twice, but during one family visit I noticed my Grandma was sick and it terrified me. She was dying, and I selfishly was not ready. When what I later describe as a complacency fog slowly began to lift off my life, I started praying for her and noticed she was also praying for me! My memories of Grandma were always of her serving others, praying for them and praying for me. She would sing soft, sweet songs of praise and worship while cooking and cleaning, and talk to me about being humble and thankful for God’s blessings. As I grieved her passing, I became closer to God by asking for forgiveness for living such a closed and selfish life. One day during housework, I began to sing songs of praise, smiled and thought, Grandma’s here!
Shortly afterwards my travel for work increased, and I hoped for opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life. During my travel throughout SE Asia, God answered every one of my prayers, and I returned home fundamentally changed.
Before arriving in Cambodia I knew its basic history, involvement in the Vietnam War and the genocide that claimed up to a quarter of its population. Nothing prepared me for the realization of actually visiting and working with men and women one generation removed from those events and elbow deep into rebuilding an entire government to modern day standards. From the humbleness of the medical students I worked with, to the gentleness and shyness of the children playing in what we would sadly describe as garbage dumps, I felt calm even in the midst of the many apologies everyone gave ME for arriving during the wet, rainy season. As if I controlled the weather!
Experiencing life through another’s eyes, and seeing how other cultures, faiths and norms exist just saturated the already deep and abiding love I have for my Grandma. I come from a long line of amazing women, and through faith and God’s grace can pass on the legacy of generosity to my children. My Grandma taught me with her life to pray, love and give. Cambodia opened my eyes to the reality of what man is capable of: heartache and resilience, beauty and redemption. Hopefully that makes it worthy of the Bucket List.
My prayer is that each of you has the opportunity to visit that special place, your Cambodia, where life shocks your socks and you’re forever changed. You are valuable, so special, and created for a purpose. You were created to live The Exceptional Life.