Tuesday, November 26

When you don't feel thankful

Thanksgiving is this week, but in my heart it's more than Thanksgiving week. It's also an anniversary: one that I'll always remember, although sometimes I wish I could forget it.

It's the 20th anniversary of my mother's death.

I had left the room for a few minutes when my mother died.

It was 1999, and I was a young mom with three little boys—a young mom who desperately needed the help and support of her mother. But that’s not the way things worked out. At just 58 years of age, my mother’s life was ending. My father kept a vigil at her bedside, supported by my two sisters and me.

On Mama’s last night, my sisters left the hospital for a much-needed break. My father never rose from the chair at the side of Mama’s bed. I asked if he wanted something to eat, then hurried to the hospital cafeteria to fetch some food I could bring back on a tray.

When I got back to her room, my father’s chair was empty. I could hear the shower running in the attached bathroom. And I knew.

One look at the bed confirmed my fears. My mother was gone. I’d left the room for 15 minutes, and in that time her eyes had fluttered open one last time, then closed for good. 

After he finished his shower, my father came back into the room where I sat, horribly alone. He touched my mother one last time and said, “Well, we gave it a good fight, didn’t we?”

That was all. 

Here's my mom back in 1995, with my two little red-headed boys:

Her hair was as white as snow, even though she had just turned 54 years old when this was taken. At this point I imagined how proud my mother would be as she watched my boys grow up.

But that's not how things worked out.

Here's the very last photo I have of her, taken just four years later:

This is her with her two brothers, reenacting a favorite photo from 25 years earlier:

I guess my family always took pictures on the front porch, no matter where we lived. It's just the way we did things.

But we didn't know what to do when my mom died. I guess I'd imagined that it would be a solemn, holy moment. I had read stories over the years of how families joined together to make a beautiful occasion of the passing of a soul from this life to the next. I had sort of pictured that my sisters and I would sit at my mother’s feet, collecting last bits of wisdom and sending my mom off with words of thanks and hymns of praise. Somehow I’d always thought this would be a special, sacred time, when we would all feel the presence of the Lord and weep together.

As it turned out, my mom slipped away while I was out getting sandwiches. It was not what I had imagined. 

Perhaps most cruel was the fact that this happened two days before Thanksgiving. Even as we fought our own fatigue and heartache, my sisters and I were clear on one thing: our job was to support our father during those days. 

Circumstances required that I be Daddy’s companion for the first dark hours after my mother’s death. Late that night I drove him to my house, three hours away from the hospital. He and I spent the day before Thanksgiving shopping for a dark suit for him to wear to my mother’s funeral. 

Honestly, I was ready just to skip Thanksgiving that year, but my husband refused to let the day pass by with no commemoration. He arranged for a turkey dinner to be prepared at a local store, then invited my sisters and their families to come to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone gathered at our house on Thursday, and we forced ourselves to name things we were thankful for. We offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God and ate our store-bought dinner. 

Of course, even in those difficult days, there were things to be grateful for. The doctors had thought Mama might linger for days at the end, but that didn’t happen. After months of suffering, Mama was no longer in pain. Although we’d made no advance plans for the funeral, my brother-in-law was able to find not only a good funeral home but also a burial plot. Despite the fact that her death occurred during a holiday week, the small-town funeral director attended to every detail with exceptional care. 

My husband had been right in insisting that we not let Thanksgiving go by unheralded. Even though our hearts were heavy with grief, even though our meal lacked the usual homemade delicacies, that time of giving thanks refreshed our spirits. Together we voiced our gratitude, however feeble it was, and we gained courage for the next step. 

Bone-weary and grief-stricken though we were, my sisters and I did what had to be done that week. We honored our mother and cared for our father as no one else could. I’m convinced that part of the reason we were able to do so was the time we spent giving thanks. As we made our way through all those heart-wrenching tasks, we needed to be reminded of what God had done for us. We needed to remember that life is full of blessings, not just heartaches. 

We’d grown up singing “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise what the Lord hath done.” Turns out that song is true: when we stopped to count our blessings, we were surprised how many there were. God had provided for us even in the darkest days, and we could trust that He would keep on providing. And that’s proven true for me in all the years since then, as I’ve faced countless life circumstances that didn’t turn out the way I’d once imagined they would. I’ve now been married 34 years, and my three little boys are young men. Every year has brought its own difficult circumstances, but there have always been reasons to give thanks.

When Thanksgiving time comes around, I’m sometimes tempted to redress my grievances rather than count my blessings—to bemoan the unfairness of my mother’s early death, to weep for all the questions I wish I could ask her, to rail against the fact that my children have almost no memory of their grandmother. Sometimes I let myself wallow a bit; I know that I must allow myself to experience those feelings when they arise.

But I’ve learned that the strength I need does not come from wallowing in my pain. It comes from placing that pain on the timeline of my life, remembering the joys as well as the sorrows, understanding that God has been good and faithful in all times, and giving thanks to him for every good gift. 

Giving thanks is a choice we can make even when we don't feel thankful.

Has your holiday season ever been interrupted by grief or sorrow? How have you reminded yourself to give thanks?

Thursday, November 21

Grace at Home No. 358

The weeks fly by, and now we're just one week away from Thanksgiving! This year, I'm especially grateful for YOU. And today I'm glad you're here for the Grace at Home party, where we celebrate all the ways we make our homes places of grace.

Here are some highlights from our last party.

I was thrilled to find some inspiration for Thanksgiving table settings! (If you're like me, you won't set your table for Thanksgiving until next week!) Check these out:

Thanksgiving centerpiece in a dough bowl from Pam at Everyday Living

Several Thanksgiving table ideas including this one made from thrift store finds from Marty at A Stroll Thru Life

Casual setting for the kitchen table from Shelley at Calypso in the Country

Free printable Thanksgiving place cards from Linda at It All Started with Paint

Of course, on the days after Thanksgiving, some of us will be doing our Christmas shopping. If you prefer to shop online, read this post about safe shopping from Carol at Comfort Spring.

If creating homemade gifts is your goal, you'll be glad to get these step-by-step directions for making vanilla extract from Joy at Artful Homemaking.

I'll be honest with you: I have no trouble cooking Thanksgiving dinner, because I know exactly what I'm going to make. But everyday dinners? Now, THAT I struggle with! If you also struggle with meal planning, you'll be glad to read how Jennifer from The Everyday Farmhouse does it. SO helpful!

Now, in the flurry of planning for Thanksgiving, if you find your soul in need of some encouragement, you'll be glad to read Scott Bengtson's thoughts on why Thanksgiving is the best holiday. 

Thank you to everyone who joined our last party! Now for this week's link-up. Here at the Grace at Home party, I invite you to link posts about
  • DIY projects
  • decorating
  • recipes
  • hospitality
  • homemaking tips
  • parenting
  • marriage
  • faith
  • self-care
  • soul care
Whatever you do to make your home a place of grace, I'd like to hear about it.  Here's what I ask of you.  Please include the permalink to your post, not your blog's home page.  Please let people know that you've linked up.  No more than three posts per person, please.  Note that if you link a post here, you are giving me permission to share your post, including a photo.  And visit at least one of the other party participants--that's what really makes it a party!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Tuesday, November 12

A few of my favorite things

One of my oldest blogging friends is Melissa from 320 Sycamore. Melissa is one of the kindest persons on the planet, and when she asked if I'd like to join her for the 10th anniversary edition of her Favorite Things party, I jumped at the chance!

While most of us agree that our favorite things aren't things you can buy, it is helpful (and fun) to know what some of our favorite buyable items are, don't you think? Here are some of mine.

This year has included many exciting events for our family—a college graduation for our youngest son, a graduate school commencement for our middle son, a U.S. Navy winging ceremony for our oldest son, and a wedding! Wow. I have to confess that never before have I cared so much about my appearance. But I'm one of those women with hair that really reacts to humidity. So I was thrilled to find this weatherproof humidity resistant finishing spray. It's kind of expensive, but I purchased a can in June and am still using it. It doesn't hold your hair in place, but it protects your hair from the frizzies better than anything I've ever tried. One note: it's very heavily fragranced. The smell dissipates from your hair quickly (I promise), but it kind of hangs in the air where you spray it. So I spray it and then leave the room quickly.

Here's a photo of me with my middle son at his master's degree commencement. Isn't he the cutest? I'm not a midget; he's a giant (6'8" in his sock feet!). And although the day was hot and humid, my hair isn't frizzy!

Of course, it took some doing to get my hair this smooth in the first place. I have really thick hair, and it's just wavy enough to be irritating, if you know what I mean. Not gloriously curly or even chic beach-style wavy, just—blah. So a flat iron is a must-have tool for me, and I've tried them all. Once I even spent over $200 for a fancy salon iron, only to ruin it when I took it to Europe! This year I discovered this flat iron and I couldn't be more pleased. It's less than $40, heats up quickly, retains heat, and it's 1.75 inches wide, which is great if you have longer hair. Highly recommend!
I've finally found a perfume that I love to wear, but it's expensive. The most economical way to buy it is to purchase a large bottle, but then I can't take it with me when I travel. But recently I found this
travel atomizer that is just wonderful. It's a little glass vial inside an aluminum tube. It holds enough for quite a few days' worth of good smells, the perfume is kept fresh inside the glass vial, and the aluminum tube protects glass from getting broken. AND the whole thing is small enough to slip into my purse or into my quart-size plastic bag for going through airport security. It's sold in a package of six, so it's really affordable. Win-win-win!

I hate to admit this, but I've never been able to use headphones. I've tried airbuds (they won't stay in my ears) and expensive Beats headphones (they hurt my ears so badly I can't stand it!). But this year I had the chance to record an audiobook (the audiobook edition of my own book, Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison). The headphones I wore for three days in the studio never hurt my ears at all! Can you believe that? And it turns out that they're not nearly so expensive as other headphones I've tried. They're called Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones and they're very comfortable to wear. I know they're large, and honestly I look a little goofy wearing them, but if you've ever struggled to find comfortable headphones, I know you'll appreciate these!

Here I am pointing to my book on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble. Talk about a surreal experience! I have to admit that Mythical Me is my favorite book this year. If you struggle with constantly comparing yourself to others, then you'll want to check it out. And if you'd just like to read a little more about the book, click here. Or leave a comment and I can email you the first chapter to read to see if you're interested!

Around the house, I can honestly say my favorite things lately are light fixtures! Does that sound silly? Well, we moved into this house in 2005, and some of our light fixtures had become pretty dated. So we got a new chandelier for the dining room, new lanterns for over the kitchen island, and a new hanging fixture for over the kitchen table. You can see the complete kitchen remodel here, and just look at these gorgeous lanterns! All my new fixtures came from Wayfair, and I can't say enough about their excellent prices and their amazing customer service.

I love kitchen gadgets, of course, and one that we use every single day is this Nespresso milk frother. We also have a Nespresso original line espresso maker, and we love it, but the most important part of making specialty drinks is frothing the milk. We've tried other machines, and nothing has ever come close to the quality of this frother. It's not just for coffee, either—I make myself chai lattes by brewing an extra-strong cup of chai and adding milk prepared in this frother. It's just amazing! While this frother is a bit of a splurge, we use it multiple times every single day and it's still as good as new.

Another gadget I find absolutely essential is at the opposite end of the spectrum—it's inexpensive and not very fancy! My oldest son lived in East Asia for a year, and when he came home he told me flatly that I had to get a rice cooker. As you can see, it's not very fancy, but it cooks rice to perfection with almost no effort. I don't usually keep "unitaskers," as Alton Brown calls them, but this one has become essential for us. Believe it or not, when we get Chinese take-out now, we prefer to cook our own rice in this rice cooker!

One last favorite thing comes from the kitchen of our little place in the mountains. That kitchen has a single-bowl black sink. It's a big, beautiful sink, but honestly I find single-bowl sinks to be not very practical. If you run a sink full of dishwater, where are you supposed to rinse the dishes? The answer, of course, is to use a dishpan, but I didn't want to put an ugly dishpan in my pretty sink. The solution I found is this cool gray dishpan and drainer made by Joseph Joseph.

This dishpan includes a drain hole and a tight-fitting plug and a drying rack that lifts out of the dishpan. Look how nice and neat it looks in my black sink:

Honestly, sometimes the littlest things end up being some of my favorites!

Hope you've enjoyed this little glimpse into my everyday life this year. Now you'll want to hop right back to 320 Sycamore, where Melissa's amazing sister-in-law Christine will be sharing some of her favorites. Or you can see everyone included in this year's line-up here. Thanks so much to Melissa for including me!

Now tell me: what are some of your favorite things?

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Thursday, November 7

Grace at Home No. 357

Hello, friends! Can you believe that we're well into November already? Since I live in the South, November is one of my favorite months of the year. Temperatures have finally fallen so that I can wear sweaters (yay!), Thanksgiving is approaching, and the Christmas frenzy hasn't kicked into full gear yet.

I'm glad you've taken a moment of your busy day to visit the Grace at Home party, where we celebrate all the ways we make our homes places of grace. Here are some links from last week's party I thought you might enjoy.

If you've ever wanted a beautiful cornucopia for your Thanksgiving table, you'll love this handmade creation from Jennifer at The Everyday Farmhouse.

If you have some velvet pumpkins you've been using in your Fall decor, you can use them now to create a beautiful Thanksgiving centerpiece. Julie at My Wee Abode shows you how.

I don't like to start decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it is nice to get a head start on Christmas crafts. I love this plaid plates made by Stephanie from The Style Safari--a simple DIY!

As joyful as the upcoming holidays are, they are also times that add to the burdens of persons suffering with depression. Dr. Michelle Bengtson from Hope Prevails offers practical advice about what NOT to say to someone who is depressed.

Tiffiney from Welcome Home Ministries is doing a series called "Because of Jesus, my home is. . . ." Check out this post: Because of Jesus, my home is welcoming (with an occasional hissy fit).

Thank you to everyone who joined last week's party! Now for this week's link-up. Here at the Grace at Home party, I invite you to link posts about
  • DIY projects
  • decorating
  • recipes
  • hospitality
  • homemaking tips
  • parenting
  • marriage
  • faith
  • self-care
  • soul care
Whatever you do to make your home a place of grace, I'd like to hear about it.  Here's what I ask of you.  Please include the permalink to your post, not your blog's home page.  Please let people know that you've linked up.  No more than three posts per person, please.  Note that if you link a post here, you are giving me permission to share your post, including a photo.  And visit at least one of the other party participants--that's what really makes it a party!
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Monday, November 4

Time for a change

When I was in college, I used to LOVE the weekend when we changed from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time. Back then, it seemed to me that I was gaining an extra hour of sleep. What could be the downside of that?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

That picture flew out of my head as soon as I adopted a puppy. Try telling a little doggie that he doesn't need to get up because it's actually only 5:00 A.M., not 6:00.

And it got worse when I had children, of course. Kids' internal clocks are very trustworthy, and they don't adjust to time changes very well.

I will admit that I was grateful this morning that I didn't have to get out of bed in the dark. But I'm going to be a little grumpy when the sun sets tonight at 5:17 P.M.

But I'm grateful that the weather here has finally turned fallish, so when we're gathered around this evening at least we can burn a fire in the fireplace. I'm trying to think of these autumnal evenings as cozy.

How do you feel about the time change? Are you glad to "fall back"? Have any tricks for adapting to the time change? I'd love to hear!