Just Watering the Plants

watering plants
This morning I was driving to pick up ice for the coolers.  It’s Sunday, the tea making day for the picnic with our friends at the Park.  As I was leaving the neighborhood, I saw someone parked at the entrance.  A man was working on something with the plants there, and a young girl stood beside him, ready to help.  Ah…..a Daddy and his daughter.
As I drove on the quiet road away from their concentrated efforts, I was on memory lane again.  Daddy worked until his retirement for the USDA.  Back in the 1970’s I guess they didn’t have the programmable watering systems that they do now.  It was before Daddy’s special gifts with computers was discovered, so he did all kinds of jobs out there.  One of the jobs was coming in on Sunday mornings and watering the plants in the greenhouses.  It was a great joy for me to go with him.  All was quiet there, as no one else was around.  I suppose it might have been a little “spooky” at times, especially if Daddy wandered off to take care of something else, but mostly I remember the sheer happiness of being there.
We watered with hoses.  Between the plants were the cream and brown pebbles to help with erosion I suppose.  Little tiny frogs hopped about when you least expected it.  No matter how early it was, it always seemed tropical inside the greenhouses.  I still recall the smell of the water hitting those warm rocks.  I remember the dark caverns between the greenhouses.  The grate of the metal doors.  Waiting on Daddy to unlock them so we could get started.  We watered and watered and watered.  It was a tropical paradise.  I don’t remember if we talked much, but I loved being there, around all those wonderful plants and being a part of their growing…..and yes, I loved being there with Daddy.
There’s a song recorded by country artist Trace Adkins, written by Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell, and Ed Hill:
And all this laughin’, cryin, smilin’ dyin’ here inside’s What I call, livin’
And she thinks we’re just fishin’
On the riverside Throwin’ back what we could fry Drownin’ worms and killin’ time Nothin’ too ambitious She ain’t even thinkin’ ‘bout What’s really goin’ on right now But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in
And she thinks we’re just fishin’

When I was headed back home, coolers full of ice, I saw Dad and daughter had moved on to another project on the other side of the road.  I smiled and remembered how great it felt to be Daddy’s helper, to be learning from him how to do it right (though probably not getting it every time), and what a treasure it is to have these precious memories right now.  As I came back from memory lane, I whispered a little thanks to them for the trip they inspired.
I wonder if Daddy thought we were just watering the plants…..

daddy girl

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Compassion

Stray dog
Stray dog (Photo credit: Wim Mulder)

This was his second visit to the picnic in the park.  He’d been there last
Sunday for the first time.  Some folks had tried to engage him, while others had
ignored him or shied away from him.  It was the children who were most
excited–some downright delighted.  Several were suprised to see him there for
the second Sunday in a row.  His kind didn’t tend to hang around one spot for
long.

But this stray puppy hadn’t.  There he was.  Maybe he’d caught a
whiff of the fried chicken that was being served that night.  Maybe he was more
hungry than afraid.  Maybe he saw the children and knew he wouldn’t be hurt.

He hung around the outskirts of our picnic.  It was a big group of
folks, and they were finishing up their fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.
I noticed one of our friends, Mr. R, picking something out of the trash can.
When he moved over to the second can, I saw he had chicken bones in his hands.
He tossed some over at our hesitant guest, who ran up, grabbed one, and ran back
at what he perceived to be a safe distance.  I spoke softly to Mr. R, “That’s
really sweet, Mr. R.”

As he tossed another set of bones over to the
same spot, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well…..he’s homeless too.”

Compassion.  It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Hard Questions

Question Mark Graffiti
Question Mark Graffiti (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

We had a small “incident” last week.  My two littles, four and six were playing
with friends in a rarely trafficked area.  They were throwing the frisbee, and
it landed in the street where there was usually no one driving.  As my four year
old little guy, the Moose, ran over to pick it up, a car came around from where
it had been parked out of sight.  His sister, Princess, ran over to grab him up,
at the same time waving frantically for the car to stop.  Their older friends
assured me it wasn’t a close call, but Princess was in tears from the adrenaline
and from being afraid she was in trouble.  After hugs and reassuring she was
much better.

Later that night she needed some more reassurance that she
had done the right thing and wasn’t in trouble.  The house was quiet.  Little
brother was asleep, big sister was upstairs, it was just the two of us.

“Mama, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  Keep somebody you love
from getting hurt?”

“Yes, baby, you’re not in trouble.  It’s
okay.”

“Mama?”

“Hmmmm?”

“What if there’s a bad
person–someone who did something wrong, really bad–what if they’re about to
get hurt?  Should you save them from getting hurt?”

Wow.

I was
speechless.  Ummm, of course?  I don’t know?  No?  I think I mumbled something
about that being a hard thing to think about, and that we should help all
people, but really–what do I believe here?  What is the right
answer?

Sometimes there’s no easy answer to the hard questions. Sometimes
there’s no answer at all.

And sometimes we have to let go and be okay
with that.

The Journey

Irrigation at Sunset
Irrigation at Sunset (Photo credit: Shawn Econo)

Two years ago tonight my Daddy went into the hospital, and it changed all of our
lives forever.

I was out on a walk in the late summer evening, when the
sun sank behind the trees and allowed us a brief reprieve from the sweltering
heat.  My walk was nearly over, when I saw my husband walking in the dusk toward
me.  I knew in a moment something was wrong.  I wanted to run…..toward him
mostly, but there was a part of me that wanted to run.  Fast.  In another
direction.  Away from whatever news he would share.

We had been over
at my parents’ house the day before celebrating my nephew’s birthday.  I knew
Daddy had been having some balance problems in the past few months, but I kept
telling Mama maybe it was his medicines, or maybe he was tired.  I sat close to
him on the couch that last day before the world changed.  I’m not saying I knew
anything, but we could all sense something wasn’t quite right.  Either way, I am
a Daddy’s girl and it was where I wanted to be.  Sitting next to Daddy.

The evening of the phone call Daddy had been trying to raise his glass
of water to drink from.  His hand shook and he couldn’t get it to his mouth.
Mama, trying not to panic, said, “That’s new.”  Daddy agreed and confessed he’d
had vision problems too.  A phone call to the doctor on a Sunday evening
followed by a trip to the ER.  Followed by a call to us.  “Don’t come tonight,”
she said. “There’s nothing you can do.”  So I got up early the next morning and
went before my husband had to leave for a doctor’s appointment.  Seeing my Daddy
laying there–still in the ER, so helpless, so worn out.  It was a sight I’ve
unfortunately seen many times since.

That week was a long one.  It was
as though something had snapped and many of his systems went awry at once.  His
motor skills were deteriorating rapidly.  He even seemed to have trouble
swallowing sometimes.  Daddy, who very rarely got emotional, would start out
laughing and wind up crying.  It was a frightening and precious time.  The
doctors who began working with Daddy were excellent, and they promised to get
Daddy to Emory, where they believed doctors had more resources to diagnose and
treat him.  Within a week they had him there.  No small feat.  Daddy’s primary
care doctor had not been able to get him a doctor’s appointment there until
three months later for a consultation.

Daddy spent most of the
remainder of that year at Emory in one way or another–for test after test
including a brain biopsy. Finally a tenuous diagnosis of lymphoma of the brain
was delivered.  Our lives changed again.  It was, I think, about six weeks
before he was home again.  In the ultimate Murphy’s law experience, their well
went out the day they were scheduled to come home.  In the time since then, he’s
had chemotherapy, radiation treatments, chemotherapy again, a severe reaction to
the chemo (which entailed a trip to another ER on their way home from Atlanta).
We’ve heard the word “remission” and we’ve heard the words “it’s back.”  This
past spring he went to the ER for severe pain in his hip.  After many scary
possibilities, it was determined that it was a hematoma.  The doctors treated
that, and he was sent home.  Mama and Daddy were home for six hours when he fell
and broke his hip.  It was my cousin who lives nearby who called me, telling me
they were headed back to the hospital.  “Your Mama said she just couldn’t call
you and tell you she let your Daddy fall.”  My heart broke for them
both.

After another three weeks he came home.  Life is very different
now.  Each time we say this is our new normal, and we can do this.  And we do.
Daddy is a fighter.  When he is home, his will to fight is stronger.  There have
been times, when he was in severe pain and at the hospital, that he felt like
giving up.  Letting go.  But when he is home, his spirit seems stronger.  Even
spending most of his days in a hospital bed in what used to be the living room,
he seems stronger.

I have to tell you my Mama and Daddy are my heroes.
This has been a long journey, but they continue to travel it together.  We have
been blessed with prayers and love and support of so many friends and family and
even friends of friends–folks we’ve never met–it is amazing.  There have been
so many ups and downs that the greatest of roller coasters would be envious.  I
saw Daddy out washing his truck after the successful radiation treatments about
four months in.  He’s used a walker and we’ve celebrated his walking without
it.  He fell with the walker and came home to a wheelchair and motor scooter and
hospital bed.  And now when it’s a good day, he gets up to the wheelchair and
has breakfast up at the table before heading back to the bed to rest.

I
was thinking about this journey when I was at the start of my two littles’
soccer season.  It’s a first for our little guy, and after watching his sisters
play since he was a newborn, he is THRILLED to be out there.  At Opening Day, I
saw an older gentleman wearing a button that said, “Proud Grandpa of Sam.”
Tears welled up, as I gave thanks for Sam’s grandpa who loves so freely.  And I
felt a moment of loss.  That Cap (what the grands call Daddy) couldn’t be there
for Opening Day.  If it weren’t for cancer, he would have been there.  If it
weren’t for cancer, Mama would have been there too.  I try not to get on my
“pity pot” often, but there are these pangs of loss that pop up in the most
unexpected places and moments.

But I am so thankful for the journey.
There have been so many shining moments that stand out: of the goodness of
people, of hope, and of unexpected strength.  A few weeks back my children and
I were blessed to take a trip about 45 minutes south to a farm to get some fruit
and vegetables with dear friends.  We took the long way down–not exactly on
purpose, but it turned out to be the more scenic route.  It was a delight to
find ourselves behind a tractor on the country backroads, fields on either side,
huge irrigation rigs creating rainbows as they tended their fields.  And to be
relaxed…..not in a hurry a bit.  We all were enjoying the ride, looking
forward to getting there–yes, but not so intent on the destination that we
couldn’t enjoy the journey along the way.

Daddy’s journey–our whole
family’s journey, has been much like this.  We are enjoying each day on this
journey…..whether Daddy’s washing the truck, sitting at the table, or eating a
piece of his favorite pizza in the hospital bed.  Every moment is worth
treasuring; the journey is too precious to be worrying about when we’ll get
where or how.  It’s the moments of sitting next to Daddy, watching the Little
League World Series in the Emory Hospital that second week of the
journey…..listening to him talk cars with my little guy…..watching him hug
our baby girl over the bed rails.  He taught my oldest how to ride her bike.  I
try to focus on the journey–he may not be able to teach her to drive now, but
he’s giving her advice.  He is here.

That’s the greatest treasure of
any journey.  Being present with those who are there, and not worrying over the
why’s and wherefore’s.  And if you are really looking, finding the blessing of
rainbows in the most unexpected places

Telephone Poles

Utility Poles
Utility Poles (Photo credit: Theresa L Wysocki)

I was on my way to Mama and Daddy’s today to take them some special tomatoes
they had requested when I passed by a new subdivision that I’ve driven by many
times.  This place did not exist five years ago.  It used to be an old pasture.
I’m not sure what will happen, as it looks like the developer built a few houses
and then gave up.  His sign is up at the entrance though, with weeds standing
tall around it.  On this sign it says, “Underground utilities” among other
descriptive terms.

That got me to thinking as I drove on to the road my
folks live on–it was a dirt road until–oh maybe 16 or 17 years ago when the
county decided to pave our dead end dirt road.  (We held our last game of
hopscotch in the middle of the road a few days before it was paved.)  All around
me were utility poles and wires above the ground.  I hadn’t really thought about
it before.

Telephone poles were pretty important as I was growing
up.  Granny lived down a long dirt road that as far as I could tell was
specially made to get to her house.  Down this road, filled with red dirt clots
that would explode when you threw them, were many telephone poles.  They were
spaced equidistantly with the long cables strung gracefully along their path.
They served more than just the obvious purpose.  Granny would tell us how many
poles we could walk down to when we’d head out on our walks.  We were so proud
when we were allowed to reach the number five pole and were out of sight of the
house.  As we walked, we’d hear a faint buzzing coming from the poles.  My
cousin and I talked about how we could hear Granny talking, but we couldn’t
understand what she was saying, thinking the buzzing meant she was on the
phone.  (Though, why we didn’t wonder at the fact that she was never on the
phone when we got back and rarely talked on it when we were in the house, I’m
not quite sure.)

When I rode my bike at Granny’s or in the area around
our house, many times I counted off by the telephone poles.  I’ll ride down to
the next one…..or after three more poles, I’m turning around.  I suppose that,
for these neighborhoods where there are all underground utilities, telephone
poles seem to be something of an antiquity.  More and more neighborhoods seem to
be going to underground wires, and I suppose that’s progress.

But forgive me if you see me driving a little slower down the roads with poles with
wires draped along them.  I’m traveling down memory lane and the speed limit is
very slow.

Love Amongst Puzzle Pieces

Yesterday I read this from Max Lucado:  “Everybody has a piece of the jigsaw
puzzle.  Only God sees the picture on the box.”

What an image this
creates for me.  My daughter, Mama, and my great aunt all loved puzzles. I would
watch them working diligently, turning over the pieces, organizing them by
color, so as to be prepared to piece it all together, frequently looking at
the “big picture” on the box.  Without that big picture, it made it hard to see
the value of each piece, but you definitely knew you needed every single piece
whether or not you could see where it went at the moment.  The greatest moments
were when two pieces you didn’t exactly think would fit together did, and it all
started coming together.

When I read this thought yesterday it hit
me–God has a place for each one of us, every single one of us, in the big
picture.  Each of us are equally important in the beauty of that completed
picture.

So why do we spend our precious time and energy “hatin'” on
other “puzzle pieces,” judging them, finding a reason why we shouldn’t have to
deal with their issues, think about their problems?  What if we gave each other
a chance?

We are all a part of His creation, His world, His beautiful
finished picture.  The fact is we (and I am guilty of it too) spend time
separating ourselves from the other pieces of the puzzle rather than finding
ways to join together, to share and to care for each other.  I heard my little
one recently saying about his sister, “Well, I don’t want to play with her
because we don’t have much in common.”  *sigh*  Instead of focusing on what we
don’t have in common, let’s start looking at what joins us together, brings us
closer–our hearts, our dreams, our world–and how we can fit our lives
together.

Our lives intertwine with others, just as the linking
puzzle pieces do.  If we truly seek, I expect we can find and be amazed at the
puzzle pieces around us and at whose lives touch ours in the most wonderful and
amazing ways.  And when one comes along with a different shape that doesn’t
quite fit ours, we need to remember it takes all of the pieces to make the
beautiful completed picture that He has created.  Then we will begin to see what
the world can look like if we only give each other a chance…..

Mason Jars & Small Change

For a while there before Daddy got sick, we would all drive down together from
time to time and take my great aunt to lunch.  Or she’d take us.  There would be
a fight about who was going to pay many times.  I took great delight in sneaking
up and paying before anyone else, but my aunt soon figured it out, and the
cashier sold me out, so that was that.  My parents, my aunt, my children, and I
would go to the buffet down by the railroad tracks in this small town in south
Georgia.  We’d fill up a table and load it up with good Southern eats.  Collard
greens were a favorite of mine as I don’t cook them often.  Mama and my aunt
loved the real banana pudding with meringue on top and would be greatly
concerned if we were much after 11:30 arriving, as once the pan was empty, there
was no more.  (And no one wanted to be responsible for that!)  Daddy would
wander over and get himself a piece of the coconut cake, of which Mama would
always be given one bite.  I have made his Mama’s recipe for years, but he
always preferred the taste of the coconut cake from the buffet.  Go figure.

I have always loved the environment in that place.  Folks in everything
from suits to overalls.  Bankers, teachers, grandparents with granchildren,
farmers, retirees–all gathered together in this microcosm of small town
America–to eat, to catch up, to give and receive hugs and handshakes, and to
support each other.  It was never more precious to me than when we were living
out of the country and I’d come home to visit.  I just loved that
place!

One of my favorite things there were the jars on the checkout
counter.  The cashier was the owner of the place and the head cook.  She’d sit
up on a stool greeting folks, having done a majority of the cooking before folks
got there.  She’d always ask how things were, how your family was, what you’d
been up to…..sweet lady.  Her counter was full of cards and brochures from
area folks and businesses and there was always at least one or two jars up there
too.  On the jar would be a picture of a local person who needed help with the
cost of treatment for their cancer or someone who was raising money to help a
family rebuild a home that had burned down.  Those jars touched my heart just as
the suits and overalls did.  They were a big part of my growing up.  I love
going in local places and seeing those jars…..the community’s way of reaching
out to someone and saying, “You matter.  I care.  It’s a little bit I got, but
what I got is yours.”

It’s amazing how small change can bring about big
change and can shed all kinds of light in our world.  Showing others we care
about their struggles and hardships.  Lighting the way when things get dark, and
never letting them feel alone.

Good stuff.  All from small change dropped
in a Mason jar.