A Grateful Heart

Words can be such a comfort and a blessing. They can change a day by being the pivotal moment, bringing light in the darkness, joy in the midst of sorrow, laughter in remembering.

Today a dear friend sent me a picture of her daily calendar. No message, just the photo. The January 15 entry:

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed.

Proverbs 11:25

It moved me to tears. Tears of remembering, of gratitude, of joy.

Today was Mama’s birthday. Our ninth without her here. I didn’t want today to be about being sad about that. She would not like that one bit. When my friend sent me this message, she had no idea it was Mama’s birthday. Or that this verse describes my Mama so well. Mama blessed so many people during her life, and gratitude was her focus. Even after the love of her life passed on, she continued to find things to be grateful for. Every. Single. Day. The last gift she gave me was a gratitude journal. I was not in a place at the time to fully appreciate it, as I missed my Daddy, and just a few short months later, she was gone from this world as well.

But over the years, I remember and I think about how she found things–big and small–to be thankful for. To give thanks and praise for. She never ceased letting others and her Creator know how thankful she was–no gifts or blessings too small.

Time and timing are fascinating to me. And with the message today and another one I received earlier in the week, I was reminded of my Mama, on her birthday, and to be thankful. To my Mama for the blessing she was and continues to be in my life. And I’m thankful for those who have reminded me, without even realizing it, of how she lived her life.

In honor of Mama and Daddy’s anniversary in December (this would have been their 54th), I created a wish list for a young teacher who teaches children for whom books are not always readily available. So many of you reached out and sent gifts to her classroom, and it blessed my heart. Thank you all for taking time to lift up this young teacher, with thoughts, words, prayers, and gifts. For whichever way you blessed her and her students–I am grateful. And so is she. Miss M sent me this note and asked that I pass it along. (Amazon doesn’t always make it easy to thank senders on a wish list, and she didn’t want to miss anyone.)

Dear Friends: As I’ve watched box after box arrive with books and supplies for my classroom, I’m reminded once again of how God works through the hearts of His people. I arranged all of them on their little shelves for them to come back Wednesday, and the first thing they wanted to do was grab them and start flipping through the pages. I don’t know to adequately say thank you enough on behalf of all of them! You’ve blessed a young teacher’s heart. And what is normally a hectic time of coming back to school after Christmas was made a little easier and a little more fun. Thank you all for your generosity to us!

Ms. M and her Kindergarten Class

Gratitude. Mama would have loved Miss M…..and her sweet students.

Today I’m thankful for friends who send photos without really knowing why, for teachers who love and encourage and empower young children each and every day, and for people who send books and supplies for children they will likely never meet. On this day of remembering my Mama, I am thankful for the way she loved books, loved children, and loved sharing books with children. I remember how she so enjoyed giving gifts and how her presence was the greatest gift of all. In a world where things can seem so frightening and chaotic at times, the reminder of what Mama’s last gift to me–that gratitude journal– encourages me to focus on, brings me some comfort and peace.

“Find something, just one thing, anything, to be thankful for, Tara. We are so blessed,” she would say. “The Lord loves a grateful heart.”

Thank you, Mama. Love you. And thank you, friends.

Love to all.

If you would like to send a book or crayons and haven’t had a chance to yet, here is Miss M’s Wishlist . Thank you all again!

A Dented Door and An Empty Journal–On Gratitude and Grace

Tonight I had the privilege of going home–to my alma mater Wesleyan College–again and sharing in their chapel service.  It gave me such joy to be with those young women.  Tonight’s post is what I shared with them.  Thank you for the honor, my sisters. 

My Daddy used to say I would go around my elbow to get to my thumb when I told a story or tried to make a point. One of my favorite bosses told me my writing was too flowery. So if you’re up for a little bit of elbow floral-scented travelling, let’s go.

About a year ago, my oldest, Aub, went to grab a bite to eat with two of her friends from school after class. As they were leaving the parking lot, one motioned for her to back out. With a quick glance back she did—and backed into the other friend’s car. The first I knew of it was when she came in the front door in tears. I was upset—frightened that she’d driven home upset, worried that they hadn’t called the police to get a report, and concerned at how bad the damage was on her friend’s car. She had been driving my Mama’s car, left to my brother in Mama’s will. He later gave it to her for graduation, but this was before that happened. So that was another concern. She called her Uncle who was very gracious and kind. I tried to call her friend’s parents but was only able to leave a message. I was sick with anxiety over how to make this right.

The next day I was on campus, and I saw Aub’s friend’s Dad. Ollie Horne. I took a deep breath, told my littles to sit still, and I opened the door and walked toward where he was heading.

“Mr. Horne. Mr. Horne!” I called, trying to get his attention.

He turned, and had a welcoming smile that extended from his eyebrows to his chin. This was a man who enjoyed meeting new people and soon put everyone who crossed his path at ease.

“I’m Tara. Auburn’s Mama,” I started rambling. “I am so sorry about the car.” I looked back toward it. I had parked next to it and saw his dented back door. It was bad. BAD.

He walked toward the car with his hand extended. “Yes. Have you seen his car, Tara?”

Gulp. I was mortified. He was right.

“Yes, yes I did. I am soooo sorry. We will make this right. If you will get an estimate—“

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, Tara, have you really looked at this car?” He laughed as he pointed and waved his hand at the whole length of the car. “It’s a dent magnet, isn’t it? This is certainly not the first dent he’s gotten in it.”

He turned to face me. “Now I won’t have you or Auburn worrying another second about this car. It’s a CAR, for goodness’ sake. Promise me you’ll let this go.”

Y’all. I was practically in tears. Bless him. This was a man who gets what and WHO is important in life.

In that moment, Ollie Horne preached a sermon on grace to me. And I held on to every word and smiled for dear life. And I give thanks for being the recipient of that gift.

Last Tuesday Ollie Horne left this world for a better one after fighting brain cancer for over two years. He was in remission when this happened last year I think. After he was diagnosed, he did not mope, he did not worry—that any of us knew. He had a motto: “Watch me live.” This is a man who decided to become a flight attendant so he could continue traveling, touching lives as he did when he was a missionary.

One of his friends quoted him:

“just love…it’s my answer to depression, bitterness, suicide…I sincerely believe there is a such thing as “following Christ” that isn’t built on religion, judgment and finger-pointing but on living life and changing the world.” -Ollie Horne, January 25, 2011

Watch me live.

My Mama lived that way too. She had every excuse in the book to let her life go down a different path than the one she chose. She was from a broken family, a broken home, full of addictions and hurt and few good examples. But she sought those examples out and lived and loved as they did. She married her best friend—oh I know some people say that’s who they are marrying, but she really did. She and Daddy were not just alike—actually they were quite different, and yet they admired and appreciated those things about each other. They were in sync. And it worked. When Daddy got sick, Mama didn’t give up. Each day he lived to fight the Giant that was Lymphoma, she fought right alongside him. And when he didn’t overcome it and could only be healed by heading on up to the Big House, she didn’t become angry or bitter. Like I did. She wanted me to find peace and love and have faith in things as they were.

Two weeks before Daddy died, Mama gave me this journal for my birthday. I didn’t say anything to her then, she raised me better than that, but all I could think of was, WHAT? Are you kidding me? A gratitude journal? My Daddy, one of my best friends in this world, is not getting better, no matter how many people are praying that he will, and you want me to be thankful? For What?

No, I never said that to her. But after Daddy died, and I was still hurting, she saw it and knew. And she pleaded with me to find something to be thankful for. To let some light in.

Mama spent the fifteen months after Daddy died, a time when she could have crawled in her bed and never gotten up—we all would have understood that—LIVING. She loved and she shared and she embraced what she had left in her life, and she reckoned, even without Daddy, she still had a whole lot. She gave thanks for her new grandson and then her grandson who was real close to arriving. She thought all of her grandchildren were the grandest gifts God ever gave her.

It wasn’t until she got sick and went in the hospital January of last year, that I found a little of what she was talking about. Each night I started posting little updates for friends and family who wanted to be kept apprised of how she was doing. She spent most of the 25 days in the hospital unconscious. I could still hear her voice though. I talked to her and could almost hear what she would reply. And each night, almost without thought, I found myself typing “Tonight I am thankful for—“ Some days it was a nurse. Others it was the good veggie burger in the cafeteria. My Fella taking care of home. My sister Mess Cat working from the hospital (sitting on a closed toilet) to stay there with us. My siblings. My children.  My Aunt. Mama smiling with her eyes as she did.

I finally got it. Just in time for Mama to leave and finally be with Daddy again.

It was almost two months after Mama died that I started writing. I sort of challenged myself to write something every day. To see something through. Everyday I was looking for a story, for something from my journey to share. Whether it was a silly thing my baby boy said or observing an earthworm crawling along the sidewalk and finding a lesson in it. Each day. The journal remains empty–I type faster than I can write by hand, but my heart is full, and I continue to find something to share everyday.

Last May I visited a church home of some dear friends. When it came time for the children’s sermon, the pastor asked someone to bring “the” box up. They did. Apparently each week someone took the box home, put something in it, and brought it back. When the time came he opened the box, and shared an impromptu lesson on whatever was in there.

Oh. My. Land.

That made such an impression on me. So much so that I can’t remember what his sermon was about that day, but I sure remember the tie-dyed paper napkins and his lesson he shared about them still to this day.

Y’all. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Each day? Every day?

Take what comes along on this journey and make our life an example of love and light in the midst of it?

Today in the Christian tradition it is Palm Sunday. Which is in part, among other things, about a journey. A journey that leads to life and redemption and resurrection.

That’s what I want my journey to be about too. It’s about taking time to look in the rearview mirror at the stories from before—remembering and revisiting and loving and learning from our people in the past. It’s about looking ahead with hope in our hearts and kindness in our plans. And it’s about the now. The road we are on this very minute—and making time to appreciate, to share, to listen, and to help.

To give grace to strangers and kin alike.

And have gratitude in all of our days.

My Mama used to say to us quite often—“The Lord loves a cheerful giver, and so do I.”

I want to give grace and gratitude with a cheerful heart—just as Ollie and my Mama did. I think that’s what we are all here for. To love. Others.

Always.