A Memorial Memory and A Childlike Faith

I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 years old that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother, who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was a challenge due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get passed.

I am claustrophobic. Being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety for me. In order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory sense before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way I would not and could not smell anything thus disconnecting my mind and my body.

It is kind of like a superpower.

We happily pulled up that Memorial Day, and I remember helping my daughters out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s beforehand and picked up some Frosty’s, a treat my Memaw enjoyed.

I was a bit distracted by my small children as we walked through the parking lot. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.

Startled by his presence, I pressed my youngest daughter’s  little hand into mine. He pulled up as well, and his startled eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him.  He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.

He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed, “I am so sorry.”

I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes as she took in the man with the gurney.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced watching a child process something in real time, but notice they were unable to grasp fully what they were seeing, but that was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.

The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”

He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the sidewalk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”

“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”

We walked through the front door, and like clockwork, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.

The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.

At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.

That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.

“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”

I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.

Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.

“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”

That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.

“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”

She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”

I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”

She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”

I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this (pointing to her brain) and this (pointing to her heart).”

She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.

“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”

She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.

I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.

“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.

I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.

What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?

Isn’t one of my superpowers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.

I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.

I longed for that type of peace and rest.

I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.

The Divine Chuckle

Bear with me. Sometimes a stage must be set.

On Saturday, I took my youngest to see the movie, “Ramona and Beezus.”  It is based on the Beverly Cleary children’s books that have been in circulation since the 50’s. I have not been a huge fan of the books in the past, and I can’t say that my reason is good as I have read nary a one.

It’s because we have one of the books on CD.  Stockard Channing who narrates uses the screechiest, whiniest voice for the character, Ramona. It literally grates away at your last nerve and wears it down to a nub. Kind of like the small fragment left in your hand when you are finished shredding a block of cheese. But, I digress.

Having this as my only reference for the story line did not prepare me for what I was about to experience sitting next to my daughter in a dark, full, movie theater. Half way in, when Ramona’s cat “Picky Picky” died…..I started to cry.  I’m not a cat person. It was not a deep, visceral cry, yet those tears began a steady flow that did not stop until the movie ended. My husband texted me and asked how I liked it. All I could type was that it made me cry for a long time, and I didn’t know why.

Later that evening, he tried to engaged me on why it made me a wreck of sorts, so I began to explain the movie to him. I told him how Ramona was a third grader who was very misunderstood in school. She was always messing things up and not because this was her intention. In fact, many times, she was trying very hard to do the right thing but it generally ended badly.

I talked about how all the kids laughed at her when she was giving an oral report and how the teacher was always exasperated with her behavior and performance. I shared other things, but he interrupted me after I said, “What was so beautiful was that in the end, she was accepted for being different and never getting it right.”

That’s when my husband said, incredulously, “Seriously!? You don’t see why this movie made you cry? Carrie, It’s autobiographical.” I was stunned by his comment. Then he ended with…”Don’t you remember, the little girl whose teacher  threw away her homework in front of the entire classroom?”

There’s something beautiful about someone who knows your stories.

He was right, and I didn’t want to see it because it was too painful. School was a horrible place for me.

What my husband was referring to was that in the 4th grade, I had a very harsh teacher. One day, we had an assignment to draw a hot air balloon. I was excited about this because there was no writing, reading, or math involved. Finally, a level playing field. I remember being in my room for a long time creating. I drew a hot air balloon in the shape of Snoopy, the Red Baron.  Afterall, he could fly, right?

The next day, the teacher called me to her desk. She held up my picture and asked me to explain myself.  I don’t remember the specific words but after getting the attention of the entire class, she made an example of me about what it looks like to not follow directions. She pointed to a huge stack of pictures on her desk that were ‘correct’ then held up mine and crumpled it in my face. She threw it in the trash and then told me to go sit down and do it again. Correctly.

This is just one of a zillion stories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Stories where I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Today, they would say that I am “Dyslexic” and have “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Back then, they had other words.

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore with my husband.  I was done with memory lane, but God was not.

On Monday morning, my girls and I read about an artist named Peter Brueghel(1525-1560).  You need to know that the readings and assignments for our school day are preplanned by the  My Father’s World curriculum. I open a teacher’s guide, and it tells me exactly what to do for several subjects. Art being one of them.

We learned that Brueghel was a genre painter living in a region of turmoil caused by the Spanish Inquisition. Our book described him like this, “Throughout these years of war and religious subjugation, the artist was well aware of the sorrows of his day. Even so, with Peter Brueghel there is a fresh breath of life as his art brings laughter to the soul.”

Because his paintings are often full of people celebrating and enjoying the simple life, my daughters art assignment (that was preplanned) for the day was to draw a large family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Later that morning, my daughter, who is in the fourth grade came down the stairs to show me her picture. She was very excited and proud. She wants to be an artist, one day.

When I looked at it….I was taken a back.

Now, no one said that it couldn’t be a family of mice….celebrating Thanksgiving. Or a hot air balloon shaped like the Red Baron.

And that’s when I heard it….”The Divine Chuckle.”

I hear it every time I refuse to deal with something painful, and God brings it back up in a way that shows me it’s redeemable. He brings it to light to show me He is aware of the hurt and wants to communicate to me that it can become a beautiful wound.

Later I asked her if I could take a picture of her drawing, so that I could blog about it. She asked me why. I told her the story of why Ramona and Beezus made me cry, and then shared with her my Red Baron story. She was horrified and said, “Mommy, if you draw me a picture, I won’t throw it away. I will hang it on my wall.”

Now…..where are my crayons?

Flecks of Faith

Last month, my friend and I took our children to Reed’s Gold Mine. We had just finished up the school year exploring the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. This triggered a memory of being shocked to learn years ago that the first gold ever to be found in the United States was discovered in my home state. Actually, about 20 miles from my back door. My friend and I packed everyone up for a teachable moment that for our family that would reach far beyond our school room.

The field trip would consist of a tour, an instructional video, and panning for gold. There were five kids in our group, and they stood in line eagerly awaiting their chance to find treasure in a pile of dirt. The woman at the front desk was less enthusiastic about their venture. She sees kids come through everyday who ask the same question. “Will we find gold!?” Our children were no exception, and she looked at them with her dead pan expression and answered, “Probably not, but you have a one and six chance.”

Our crew was not discouraged, except for my youngest. It was the pin that popped the balloon of her hope. She tends to be a glass half empty girl, and I admit that she comes by that honestly. I too have a pessimism astigmatism that blurs my vision.

I have to squint very hard and with great effort look at a situation to find its outer and inner form of beauty and value. Even though, I would love to just easily put in a corrective lens and be done with it, I am thankful that I have taken the time to train my misshaped eyes to see differently.

My girl’s eyes are still young and developing, and I am hoping to catch her impediment early enough so her compensation will not be as difficult when she grows older.

We took the long walk out to the panning site. Being a home-schooling mom who has discovered a deep love of history, I talked to my children about the men and women who left everything to head to California to strike it rich. It was like a cosmic “rapture.” Fields, homes, and towns mostly emptied over night as people abandoned their daily grind to find quick financial deliverance. “What would you have done?” I asked them. “Would you have risked everything for a chance to find gold?”

Their answers varied, but mostly they just try to humor me.

We gathered together and listened to a man demonstrate the panning process. He had a large, Abraham Lincoln beard and talked about the patience it was going to require because the gold would be small and hiding. More than likely, it would just be a fleck. In haste, you could overlook it because the water and sun love to play tricks on your eyes.

First, they pulled out the big stones and rocks. The obvious. Then, they began to add the water, and it was time to jar and shake the pan. It felt like rolling dice or scratching off numbers on a lottery ticket. I said this to a gentleman who reminded me of Johnny Appleseed. He adamantly responded quite the opposite. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s just chance. This here has a good probability of finding something.” My daughter looked at me skeptically, already determined in her mind how this was going to play out.

I stood with her and listened as she shook the pan over and over again. “Mom, this is ridiculous. I’m never going to find anything.” Never. Such a dark, empty word, but one I understand well. It is so comforting to the discouraged heart because it slams the book shut. Sometimes, it’s just too difficult to wait for our own story to be written by the Author of Heaven, so we scribble an ending on the page ourselves.

I prayed quietly that the Lord would help my children and I have a heart that is not afraid to hope. Not to find a precious metal in a pan on a field trip. But, for the ability to wait for the uncovering of flecks of gold buried beneath years of rocks and dirt in our own lives. In the things that we do not like or understand.

We got to the bottom of her pan, and very little remained. Her resignation early on made me sad. But I had done all I could to convince her to wait it out till the end. Johnny Appleseed traveled around to all the children to scan their pans one last time.  He came back to my girl. He swirled the last little bit a few times. Then he held it very still. And smiled.

I was confused. He grabbed a small vial out of his back pocket and began talking about how heavy gold was. Still, we did not understand, because we could not see. Then, he took his index finger, the tip of which was pointing to shiny, yellow fleck. He pressed into it, lifted it up, and scrapped it off into the vial filled with water. He looked at my girl, handed her the container, and said, “You found gold.”

Her eyes got very big as she held it up. There it was shining in the sunlight. He was right. Gold is heavy, and this small fleck became a family anchor.

Maggie’s Silver Key

*Here is Maggie’s article that won a “Silver Key” in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Contest. I have been wrestling with WordPress for 30mins trying to get it correctly formated, so forgive me for its present state as I no longer have the time to fiddle with paragraphs and proper indention.

This was an AMAZING opportunity suggested by my daughter’s writing teacher in early October. I never dreamed of all that we would gain by her taking on this project which consisted of interviewing a passenger on the 31st floor of the Duke Energy building, countless drafts and revisions, and visiting the Charlotte Aviation Museum to see the plane.

The article was due December 15, 2011 and Maggie found out last week that she received a “Silver Key” for her work. She was SO excited but not nearly enough to make her want to read her article again. By the time she submitted it, she did not care if she ever saw it again due to having to go through it so many different times welcoming her to the true writing process.

One day in her writing class, she turned in the article thinking she was finally finished. Her teacher looked at her, praised her effort, and told her to go through it again. Maggie, fully believing she had reached the finish line felt dejected. Her teacher wisely said, “Maggie this is like running a marathon, and you are around mile marker 20.” And when all else failed to encourage my daughter, her teacher looked at her with all sincerity and said, “Maggie, you is kind, You is smart, and you is important.”(a line taken from the book The Help)

Several friends and family asked to read the article, so I am putting here for ease sake. Again, I apologize if it reads disjointedly due to having to copy and paste it.

“Better Late Than Never” by Maggie Luke 13 years old.

A massive commercial airliner has just arrived at the Charlotte Aviation Museum.

From one angle, the plane looks as though it shouldn’t be lying motionless in a

museum. It should still be soaring, gliding, and maneuvering through the skies. Then

suddenly, its battered appearance is revealed.

From one point of view, the airliner seems tall and proud, altogether triumphant at its

survival. But at the same time it looks sad and dejected, a shadow of its distinguished

former self. Whether it looks sorrowful or dignified is a decision that the thousands of

people visiting it must make.

At the very back of the aircraft, the tail is raised high, but below it is complete chaos.

The covering of the body is ripped off, and the inside is rusted. It seems as if the

underside of the aircraft had to bear an extremely violent collision. Instinctively, anyone

who sees it realizes that there has to be a story behind this plane. Even now it stands

there, silently telling a tale to inspire the world.

In January 2009, Flight 1549 set out on an ordinary routine flight, set for an hour and

a half. Most of the people on that flight expected to be home in time for dinner. Two

and a half years later, it arrived at its destination.

Forced to make an unplanned ditching in the Hudson River, the unfortunate aircraft

had been stored inside a hanger in New Jersey for the past two years. Finally, it felt the

wind again as the plane was hauled along to its original destination. This endeavor was

estimated to cost 2.8 million dollars. But whatever the expense, the receiving city was

determined to have the plane home. Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte, N.C.

On June 10th, a special ceremony was held for all the passengers of the flight

which so many called the Miracle on the Hudson. A large part of the miracle was that

no fatalities occurred. Only two people were seriously injured.

It so happened that one passenger was not present at the ceremony due to a

previous family engagement. His name is John Howell, and this is the person I had the

privilege of talking to about his experience that day.

As John Howell stepped aboard Flight 1549, he wasn’t contemplating anything out

of the ordinary. He was thinking of his meeting, and the dinner that was waiting for him

at home. But about ninety seconds into the flight, he was definitely thinking about the

plane, and his thoughts were not carefree.

“I was in the second row, and we could hear the geese crashing into us,” he said.

Either from the perspective of the geese or the perspective of the plane and its

passengers, this was definitely not a good thing. Since the beginning of flight, birds

have been a serious complication. Even one of the Wright brothers collided with a

songbird. Unfortunately, these weren’t songbirds that fate collided with Flight 1549.

Huge Canadian Geese flew in a V shape formation towards the plane, and somehow

managed to strike both engines. John remembers the engines revving up very hard,

and then breaking down. All was deathly quiet aboard the plane. “Then you could hear

the clicking noise of the engines trying to turn back on,” recalled John.

It cannot be said that the plane was doing anything dramatic. The pilot was in

control, and the flight glided up and down, heading for the George Washington Bridge.

“I could see that we were headed for the river,” John said, “I stared at the flight

attendant, trying to confirm the situation. She gestured to me, saying that everything

would be fine. At that point, I realized that she had no idea where we were headed.

Probably, she thought that we were on our way back to the airport.”

John knew that this was not the case. “I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my

family. They had already lost my brother, a first responder, on September 11, 2001. I

didn’t know how they were going to survive this.”

When the plane landed in the Hudson River a minute or so later, there was a severe

jolt. One passenger remembers hearing the airbus groan, as if complaining about

the collision. Looking out the window, all anyone could see was murky water. Suddenly,

the plane bobbed up, and people could perceive sunlight. John remembered how he

had slowly unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Already, the aisle was jammed with

people on their way out.

“I travel to New York frequently, and all the safety instructions that they give out, I

know by heart,” he said, “But I went out onto the wing without even retrieving my life

jacket.”  “When I stepped outside and saw the ferry boats, I wasn’t worried anymore,”

John said. After a while of holding ropes for other passengers, John finally clambered

onto a boat himself.

Every passenger that day was brought safely off the plane. Captain Sullenberger

walked the interior of Flight 1549 three times, making sure that no one was trapped


The full count of people saved that day was 155, and everyone was accounted for.

This was extraordinary, for never before had a plane crashed in water with no fatalities.

At that time, the mood in New York was not good. The people needed a miracle. On

January 15, 2009, they received one, with the Miracle on the Hudson.

Now, two and a half years later, this plane was on its painstaking journey to

Charlotte. It took a whole week to get it there, but now it sits inside the Charlotte

Aviation Museum, which is near the Charlotte/Douglas Airport. Flight 1549 was not

repaired, and visitors can view it almost exactly as it had been when the plane was

submerged in the Hudson River.

It seemed fitting to John that the aircraft should be moved to Charlotte and left

untouched. Many of the passengers live in Charlotte, and now their families can see

the plane. No one can fully appreciate the devastation done until they witness it.

When I asked John Howell if there was anything he wanted to see in the plane, his

reply was immediate, “My seat,” he smiled, “Originally, I thought that they would be

auctioning off pieces of the plane, and I wanted to find a way to get my seat. I thought

it would look great in my living room.”

Not many days go by when John doesn’t think about the Hudson and what

happened there. “For me, the story is tied very closely to my brother who died on 9/11.

Finding myself in New York, such a short distance away from where my brother died,

and all of us getting to walk away from the plane, I think that must mean something,” he

said. “Do I have some higher calling, or something that I’m supposed to be doing? Or

does it just give me more opportunities to tell people what my brother did?”

For John Howell, the Miracle on the Hudson was a series of miracles. Everything that

happened that day aligned to make January 15th end the way it did. The pilot was

prepared for the job, the water was smooth, there was no wind, no ice, and no rain. So

many things could have gone wrong with the rescue, and none did. In short, this is why

Flight 1549 is a miraculous plane. This is also the reason why the Charlotte Aviation

Museum is honored to be its final landing place.

Maggie and John Howell


Though both experiences in DC were almost indescribable, the difference between our time at Mt. Vernon Estates verses walking the Mall to see the monuments/memorials was about 36 hours and 18* degrees. That Friday, I walked into George Washington’s Mansion and saw his original bed, desk, and travel trunk wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But a day and a half later, I stood before a chiseled Abraham Lincoln and a wall covered with 58,267 names of the men and women who perished in the Vietnam War zipped up in a fleece and wrapped in a scarf. One day was sunny while the other promised rain.

Looking back on it, the weather was a foreshadowing of my mood to come. I had never seen the monuments or memorials before that day, but I had always wanted to walk along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. When I was in Jr High School, I became fascinated with the conflict. Like any and everything academic, the larger picture was lost on me at the time. But, one night I came across the song “Goodnight, Saigon” by Billy Joel and for some reason, the loneliness and egregious loss of war resonated deep within me.

It is very difficult to walk the 493 feet of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not become overwhelmed or desensitized. So, we just stopped and took in a few names to make it seem real.

I really do not have words to describe what it was like to see the Korean Memorial. I did not know it existed until I saw it, nor did I know the details of that conflict until my sister’s fiance(now husband) explained it to me over a popsicle.

The faces of those sculpted soldiers walking through the rice patties is STILL imprinted in my mind four months later. It is hard to say that something so penetrating and haunting is a “favorite” of yours, but it most certainly left the greatest impression on me.

We were fortunate enough to be in DC just two months after the new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial was opened. As you walk up to it from behind, there are three mountainous structures with the Jefferson Memorial seen across the water.  It does not make sense until you see it from the front.  MLK is chiseled into the middle, protruding structure and there is a beautiful inscription on the side of his rock.

*a picture of my girls standing where Martin Luther King, Jr stood giving his “I Have A Dream Speech.”

*Jefferson Memorial

*Lincoln Memorial

*Rocket Pops at the Mall with my girls and my twin sister, Susan. She’s just a wee bit taller than me.

Interceding For Me

I don’t know why Sunday mornings have to be so difficult. Trying to get ready and out the door for church can produce so much ugliness in me, its a wonder that I don’t get banned each week. Sometimes I cannot shake the feeling that a heavenly alarm will go off as I pass over the threshold alerting everyone to the fact that I have just been very mean to the most important people in my life.

Yesterday was one of those mornings. I just woke up ‘off’ as my husband and I both agreed that we are heading into a season of change within the next few years. We do not know exactly what it will entail, and it is not necessarily ‘bad’ change. But we sense we’re on the eve of a ‘different,’ and I detest different.

I woke up earlier than normal and began looking for my bible.  I’ve walked long enough to know that I can endure most anything as long as He goes with and before me.

I looked in the normal places for my Bible and could not locate it. My oldest has taken to reading it quite a bit. She likes the translation in modern English. (NLT) But I’ve also worried, because she has a tendency to misplace and lose things. I began to panic. I “knew” that she was the last one who had it.

Now I could spin this and tell you just how special this specific Bible is to me. Because it is indeed…very, very, special. It has been with me though the past 7 years of my life that were also some of the most difficult I have ever had. The Bible was new then but now speaks more accurately of the journey I have been on than I can.

It has answered many questions for me. They weren’t necessarily the questions I was asking, but they were the answers that I needed the most. The Word has spoken to me in some of my more terrified and desperate moments.  So I have underlined things and put a date by the verse/s I knew could only come from a God that was real, living, and active.

Like the time I was sitting with my grandmother, “Memaw” the day before she died. I was so frightened, because she wasn’t responding.  All I could do was say Psalm 23 over and over again. The Spirit began talking to my heart all around that familiar passage. It showed me what was going on inside of her, since she was unable to with words. Until she finally called out, “Oh, I’m SO Happy!”

This is when I was so scared because my friend Sydney, wife, mother of three, and a friend to many had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

There are so many other times, but the ones that will always anchor me are my life verses. This will always tell me who I am and who God is when I lose my way. It assures me that all that was wrongly taken from me will be given back to me. One day.

And though this book has walked with me through a lot of hard things and tears, it was not what was inflaming my anger when I could not locate it. And my poor daughter was just collateral damage. I had so much fear and angst going on inside of me thinking about the change looming in the distance, and I just needed someone to take it out on.

I told her very coldly that she was not to do anything else until she found it. 10 minutes went by, then 20, then 30. Then it hit me. I knew exactly where it was…. because I was the one who had it last. My heart just sank. I’d like to tell you that, I immediately went to her and apologized. But it was not my first thought.

My first thought was to get it out of my backpack (where I put it) and plant it somewhere random, and ‘discover’ it later. I’d rather lie than confess. That lasted about a minute (well maybe 5) …the grace and mercy that I have received over the years kicked in, and I went to relieve my daughter of the burden I had unfairly placed on her shoulders. I called her up to my room, and she was so upset. The pressure of disappointing me was destroying her.

I let her talk first after I told her that I was sorry and the one who missed placed it. And the tears began to stream down her face, because I’m pretty scary when I’m mad.

She was so brave and honest. She said, “Mom, I prayed and prayed but just couldn’t find it. I was so scared I lost it.”

Then it hit me. She was praying for me and did not know it. I know her prayers were instrumental in my confession and apology. They gave me insight into where I had put it and helped soften my heart in order to apologize and ask her for her forgiveness for taking my fears of the future out on her.  It was a wonderful moment. One that I would have missed in order to protect myself and my pride in order to become ‘mother of the year.’

We were restored and later that morning was able to receive communion together. Her walking in front of me. Checking over her shoulder to make sure I was there as she still is timid receiving this blessing. I smiled at her and wanted to encourage her to receive it the same way that I received her forgiveness that morning.

open-handed. open-hearted. undeserved. grace and mercy. freely given. for us.

age 3.

Dexter, the Pug Who Made Me Cry

I am of the opinion that there is only one dog breed, and it is the Labrador Retriever. I have had three yellow labs in the past 13 years, but I have loved them since I was a little girl and didn’t know what they were called. They have always made me smile and laugh. I love their floppy, velvety ears and how they are always excited and ready to play.

Pugs on the other hand are just different. I look at them and hear my grandmother’s voice in my head saying, “Now, bless their heart.” I’ve never understood how someone could see a pug amidst other breeds and say, “Yes, that one. That is the dog I want.”

Until Dexter came into my life.

See the family resemblance?

Dexter joined our family last summer while we were at our favorite vacation spot in the mountains. For the last several years we’ve packed up the girls and headed to Bryson City to go tubing at Deep Creek. It’s very restful, and we have wonderful family time.

During our trip my husband gives both of our girls $20 to spend over the course of the week. There is a general store up the hill from our cabin where they can buy candy, t-shirts, and toys, or they can save it until we head into town for a shopping spree.

My youngest had spent a good portion of her funds early in the week on candy and a minnow net for the creek. I believe she had about $8 when we headed to the town’s local bookstore. It was really the only place worth purchasing items. I mean other than Dale’s Bait and Tackle shop. As we were walking down main street, my oldest spotted a Hallmark store on a side street.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Webkinz stuffed animals (which is what Dexter is) are very popular with children, and the Hallmark store is a Mecca to find them.  Because we have made the pilgrimage more times than I care to confess, we tell the girls that Webkinz are special items that they can receive as gifts around their birthday’s and Christmas. So technically they are off the table as an impulse purchase.

We went in just to “look.”

As we walked around the tension growing inside of me was palpable as I could see a gigantic collection of “special items” looming in the distance. I knew that only one of my girls at that point could afford a Webkinz if the restriction was lifted. I could already see the wheels turning in the mind of my oldest as she fingered the fluffy stuffed animals.

She grabbed a black cat and went to my husband (not me…she’s no dummy) and asked him if she could use her money in order to buy it. He thought that it would be alright for her to get it if that was how she wanted to use her money. She was ecstatic.

My heart just sank. I knew that the next several hours were going to be very unpleasant when my youngest learned that buying a Webkinz was an even a possibility on this trip. They live for webkinz right now. (* see “what I see vs. what they see” posts.) I got all geared up and grabbed my parenting script about living with the tension of disappointment.  But before I could even practice my lines……it happened.

My oldest daughter ran to the other end of the store, grabbed her sister’s arm, and said, “Guess what!!?? Dad said we could get a webkinz with our money!!!”

My youngest had the exact look on her face that I expected. It was a mixture of shock and confusion which then turned into betrayal. “But I don’t have enough money,” she said.

To which my oldest daughter said without a second thought, “I know, but I have enough money for both of us! C’mon, let’s go pick out one!!”

Then I had to leave the store, because I started to cry.

The Beauty of a Mediator

Yesterday, Holly and I were set to enjoy some ‘catch up’ time on my screened in porch. Our kids were gearing up for a game of capture the flag and what better way to extend a summer send off than outside time with special friends.

Before we could nestle into ‘how are you doing?, her daughter came in a said frantically, “A boy is screaming for help outside!”  We looked at each other dubiously, both thinking this was a joke. When we stepped onto the front porch, we didn’t hear anything.

Then, it rang out. “Somebody HELP me!!!”

Shielded behind our big tree, a young man laid in my neighbor’s yard. With his bike strewn onto the concrete, he rolled from side to side in the grass clutching his foot. I did not recognize him though many kids use our cul-de-sac as a dead-end to cruise around on various wheeled contraptions.

We ran over to him and it was not long until his friend and sister, also on bikes, joined us. The boy did not want to be touched or helped; his toe had a nasty cut and was bleeding.  In absolute hysterics, he screamed that he could not feel his leg.

The sister called her mom and then handed me the phone as if it were the final round of hot potato.

It did not take long for it to register where this boys pain was truly coming from. He was terrified, because he had disobeyed his mom. He was biking without shoes and had not stayed in his own neighborhood.

There I was caught between a scared little boy and a very angry mother with nothing between us but an iphone.

I told her my name and explained the situation.

“Where are you, anyway! What is he doing there!!?” she fumed. As if I had been the destination.

I laughed internally at the uncomfortable situation I found myself in while telling her how to get to my house. I then explained calmly how all of the neighborhood streets were connected like an anthill and it would be easy for her kids to find their way here without using main roads. She hung up.

While waiting, we offered the boy some water. He had yet to make eye contact with us so we settled on making small talk with his sister. She told us that they had just moved to the city two weeks ago. More data.

The phone rang again and the boy was given the phone. Still laying on the ground, he said repeatedly and frantically,  “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” He was hurt but mostly he was in deep trouble. In exasperation he stuck the phone back in my hand while his mom was in mid-sentence.


“Hi. It’s me again,” I said.

“Is this (insert her daughter’s name)!!!???”

“No,” I said calmly. “This is the woman who found your son.”

I do not know what it was about that sentence, but it  brought sanity to the situation. Somehow it finally got quiet.

“Listen,” she said. “They were not supposed to leave the neighborhood, and I told them to wear shoes. They completely disobeyed me. We just moved here.”

“I understand,” I said. “That is very frustrating when kids do that.”

“What is wrong with him anyway!?” she asked.

I walked away to get some privacy. “Well, he’s cut up his big toe pretty bad. He won’t let me clean it. He also says that he cannot feel his leg. I don’t see any bruising or swelling. Honestly, I think he is just terribly afraid and in shock.”

She was quiet.

She told me that she was close and would be there in minutes. I hung up the phone and walked back to the boy. What a pickle he was in. He was caught between her anger, which frankly was merited in part, and his own fear at being caught in disobedience.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I were listening to a program hosted by Michael Horton on our drive to the beach. I was half asleep, literally curled up in the seat with my pillow and my exhaustion, when I heard Michael Horton say, “The hellishness of hell is not the absence of God. It is the presence of God without a mediator.”

That woke me up. Instantly.  I sat up and wrote down the quote, and it has lingered with me ever since. Being on the receiving end of someone’s wrath is a horrible thing, especially when you are defenseless. I thought of this as I watched a little boy squirm and writhe not from the pain of a bike injury, but from the reckoning that was to come.

When the mom pulled up, he was already saying that he was sorry. Over and over again. She brought some first aid but quickly saw these were not band-aid wounds. She sat before him at the crossroads of her own anger and her son’s pain. I wondered which direction she would choose.

Which direction will I choose the next time my child’s foolishness reaps such consequences?

She helped him up and he apologized again. She finally took a deep breath and said, “You don’t need to apologize anymore.” Her voice had gentled and she had found compassion. “This is just a consequence of a bad decision, and I hope you will learn from it. Let’s go get you taken care of for now.”

She chose mercy, at least for the moment in front of us. She braced up her son as he hobbled to the car. As they drove away, I thought how hard it is to extend mercy when you are in the right. What mom is not angered and exasperated by a child’s willful disobedience? I equally know the temptation for retribution and “I told you so’s.” But the truth is, neither are hardly helpful.

When I heard the Michael Horton quote two weeks ago, I knew it was important. I knew then that I wanted to put it on Facebook or blog about it, but had yet to have the gumption or the time.  And quite frankly, I lacked the words to describe what it stirred up inside of me.

Now I have a picture of the beauty of a mediator. I know that Christ does not use an I phone when standing between my sin and my Heavenly Father’s perfect nature. But I do know, through Christ’s own bleeding wounds and atonement for my disobedience, I do not have to fear the reckoning that is to come.

To God Be the Glory.

An Early Morning Perspective

It has been almost two weeks since I began my quest to gain a better understanding of my camera. Like with any foreign subject, I have had to learn new vocabulary, concepts, and directions. Photography seems to be both a science and an art.  Just scratching the surface can be overwhelming. Since my only goal is to take better pictures in manual settings, I am not panicked.  I have a life time to dig.

One of the most distressing things I have learned so far is the concept of the “golden hours” of photography. Some professionals will not even take outdoor pictures if they are not done in the magical light of the dawn or dusk. I myself am not a morning person though I have tried for years.

As a matter of fact, when I worked out years ago with a friend at 6 am, I would show up to the gym with out my contacts. Having a heinous astigmatism, she would chastise me about getting behind the wheel of a car so visually impaired. I tried to put them in, but that early, my eyes rejected them like an organ transplant.

Since I am a school teacher, I am making the most of my summer free time.  There was no denying getting up early to practice a bit because theory is meaningless without implementation.  This morning, I tried my hand at some portraits. I found that last weeks blue berries and butterflies were much easier on my eyes and heart.

They say that photography is about seeing. Well, as a home schooling mom, I am always with my girls. It took me waking up early with some light and lens to get this shocking insight into my own children.

They grew up when I wasn’t looking.

After this morning’s practice shoot, my only advice to people photographing their own children is…..Don’t blink.

A Gold Mine

“Mommy, we won’t have to go far underground, will we?” asked my youngest the night before our field trip to Reed’s Gold Mine. She still remembered her unease of watching men get swallowed up by an elevator shaft in a movie about coal mining in West Virginia that we saw over a year ago.

“Oh no,” I said, “You never go so far into the mine that you cannot see the light from outside.” 13 years ago, I had gone on the same field trip with my 3rd grade class as an assistant teacher.

Reassured, we both slept soundly that night.  Confidently.

The next morning, our guide pulled open the large double doors that led deep into the earth, and a rush of cold, musty air hit our faces. “That’s 50* degrees you feel waking you up, folks.” I looked at my friend, and we both laughed as our kids huddled against us for warmth. No matter, this will be short and sweet, I thought to myself.

We entered into the cold and dark. But, unlike my other experience, we kept walking.  I did not want to cause any confusion, so I followed the people in front of me. My oldest pulled me aside and said, “Mom, are  you alright?”

“Sure, honey.” I said. “We’re not going far.”

“O.k.” she said,  “but if you get really scared just stay in the back away from all the other people.”

“I’m fine.” I was amused by her concern for me and added, “I can handle anything for a few minutes.”

But, after 10 minutes of twists and turns, the guide stopped and declared, “You are now 50 feet underground.” That was enough to shake me out of denial and the moment when I realized something was grossly amiss. I leaned over to him and whispered, “Excuse me sir, how much longer is this tour?”

“Oh, well over 30 minutes,” he said.

In shock at his response, all of the blood ran out of my face in front of about 20 onlookers. Two of which were my own children.

His eyes widened with recognition and said, “You’re claustrophobic, aren’t you?”

It was not a question. It was a statement.

“Yes,” I said tearing up. In a childlike voice I heard myself say, “I don’t remember this part.”

So many thoughts raced through my mind. None of which were encouraging or stabilizing. I began berating myself for being so foolish to think a trip to a gold mine would not include a tour of the actual gold mine.

I felt so vulnerable and exposed which is never a good cocktail of emotions to drink in front of strangers. And then it hit me. The reason my only memory was of the mouth of the cavern was because I had opted out of the tour all those years ago.

I wiped away a tear and searched for my daughter’s faces. They knew my secret, and now so did everyone else.

I did self talk and breathing exercises. But, nothing was touching my deep fear of being trapped because “what I knew to be true” was lagging too far behind “what are these people thinking?” It seems silly now, I suppose, to be SO concerned with the opinions of others I will NEVER see again. Worried about the thoughts of those who know nothing about me or why I panic when I feel like there is no way out.

It seemed like I stood there holding up the tour for hours feeling like I was drowning.  Splashing and flailing around internally with no hope of finding solid ground and suffocating beneath the mountain of rock and moisture.

But then, surprised by grace, the hand of a stranger reached in and pulled me out. “It is ok,” the guide said very gently and calmly. “This happens all the time,” he smiled. “All you have to do is stay away from the crowd when I stop to talk. You’ll be the first one into a tunnel, but then move to the back to be the first one out.”

“I promise you,” he said as he looked at me pointedly. “It will be alright.”

There was no condemnation. There was no judgement for my lack of foresight. Only compassion and mercy. I looked at my dear friend, and she smiled so tender and knowingly at me.   My girls too nodding that it was going to be fine. All of these visual and verbal cues helped me find my footing.

We moved on, all the while the guide was checking in on me in a way that was not patronizing right down to the moment when we emerged from the cavern. I leaned over with my hands on my knees.

I was fighting the urge to be sick and panting for the air that escaped me so far below the surface. I took it into my lungs and began laughing like a crazy person. My friend’s daughter went to her mom, and I over heard her asking in a concerned voice, “Mom, what is wrong with Mrs. Luke?”

“It’s ok, honey,” she said. “She just has a really hard time with small, tight places.”

I’ll say.

Finally, I was calm enough to sit down and rest. I felt my sanity returning to me very slowly.  I looked at my friend, my girls, and the kind, patient guide as he walked away very thankful for the grace and compassion I found deep down in the darkness of my exposed weakness.

I guess you could say, I struck it rich.