Dumb Way to Die: Thoughts on Living with Fear

Several summers ago, when all five of my kids were pre-teens or young teens, they found this YouTube video of a song called “Dumb Ways to Die” (lyrics by Tangerine Kitty).

You can click the link to watch for yourself. Alternatively, you can just trust me … it’s a dumb video. (Jon disagrees. He liked it as much as the kids. Sometimes I question his taste in entertainment, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Just imagine five kids (and their crazy dad) trying to out-sing each other:

Set fire to your hair; Poke a stick at a grizzly bear …

Keep a rattle snake as a pet; Sell both your kidneys on the internet …

Dumb ways to die-ie-ie, So many dumb ways to die

No one sang in tune or in the same key. Heck, they didn’t even all keep the same tempo! This truly was caterwauling at its finest … and it went on every single day, all summer long. They thought it was hilarious and spent hours laughing uproariously as they watched the video on repeat, until I thought all of their brain cells were going to rot from the continual inaneness and stupidity of the song.

For my children (who at the time were ages 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13), the summer of 2012 was The Summer of Great Silliness.

(Personally, I called it “the summer from you know where” … however, in light of the Summer of 2020, with its pandemic and riots and swarms of locusts, I admit in hindsight that I may have judged 2012 a bit harshly.)

The truth is, back in 2012, I wasn’t totally sure my kids would all live to see the end of the summer. I worried one of them might get the idea to try out one of the dumb things from the song just to make their siblings laugh and end up … well, you know … dead. Furthermore, based on their insane senses of humor, I had very little hope for their futures to be bright or successful should they survive after all.

Thankfully, that summer didn’t last forever.

I’m glad to report that not only did we all live to see the summer through, but no one actually tried out one of the dumb ways to die. (Don’t laugh … success is sometimes found in the small things.)

I’m even prouder to say that currently those same five children (now ranging in age from 17 up to 22) are doing quite well at managing their mostly adult-ish lives: holding down jobs, making great grades, washing their own clothes, returning library books. The list goes on and on.

That thing I was missing during the long summer of 2012 … well, I have it now. In fact, I have lots of hope for their futures.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The world is currently a rather scary place.

Apparently, 2020 is determined to be the year from you know where. We cannot escape bad news. As if pandemics aren’t enough, people are rioting in the streets and killing each other and arguing over who should or shouldn’t have to wear a mask, all while children are being trafficked as objects of sexual gratification.

I don’t know about you but I have a lot of fear. Here’s a short list of things I’ve feared in the last six months:

  • getting sick and/or dying with COVID
  • not getting the correct medical treatment if I do get sick
  • wearing a mask / not wearing a mask
  • riots and shootings
  • police being defunded
  • going to church / being banned from going to church
  • schools re-opening / schools not re-opening
  • mail-in ballots
  • outcome of the presidential election
  • truthfulness of the media
  • truthfulness of the government
  • sending my kids out into this world
  • my kids never leaving home (cause frankly this college break has been going on since mid-March and some of these people need to go back to their prior living situations — just sayin’)

The list is endless. I could add probably 50 more things to it right off the top of my head. But the point isn’t the list or any one of those items on it.

The point is that I don’t think I am the only one who is feeling fearful. In fact, mostly what I hear these days is fear … and it doesn’t matter which side I’m listening to.

We have become a fearful nation. And we are fearful because we have lost our hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve lived a lot of my life in fear. This is not a lie. You saw my partial list of fears from this summer! The struggle is real for me, y’all. Anxiety likes to snuggle up with me at night and be my bed buddy.

And that’s so not cool because as a Christian, there are three things I know about fear:

  1. Fear is a liar.
Fear is a liar image: VectorStock.com/20532337

I live in the State of Louisiana, where the number of COVID cases since March is about 84,131.

That number is pretty scary. Eighty-four thousand people. That’s equivalent to a fair-sized city! And the more I think about exactly how many people that is, the more I start to freak out.

It’s not just that big number either because if you keep up with the headlines, the media announces each day the number of new COVID cases.

Are you like me, wondering will this ever end?!

Last week, I decided to take a good look at the COVID numbers on the Louisiana Department of Health website. These numbers, which are presented as straight facts, are updated every week on Wednesday. The numbers below were posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Total Tests completed by both state & commercial labs — 1,001,200

Total positive tests — 84,131

Total Deaths — 3,351

Normally, when I view the map with the numbers, I feel my anxiety start to ramp up. My throat tightens, my heart rate increases, and I feel the familiar panic start to set in. But this time I pushed through that initial anxiety. I didn’t stop to question whether or not these numbers are real or fake or inflated or whatever. Instead I did a little math.

(By the way, this isn’t rocket science math. It’s just basic percentages, exactly what my math teacher showed me how to do in Jr. High school. Your math teacher probably taught you how to do it too. If not, google has pretty simple explanations on how to figure up percentages. I know because I doubled check, just to be sure I remembered how to do it correctly.)

Louisiana has a total population of around 4.6 million people.

84,131 cases / 4.6 million people = .07% of the total population positive for COVID-19

84,131 cases / 1,001,200 completed tests = 8.4% positive test rate for those tested

3,351 deaths/ 84,131 cases = 3% death rate for those with COVID-19

The numbers haven’t changed. They are still big and scary. But, when looked at from a big picture perspective, I can also see the situation isn’t totally without hope. And while I still hate to think so many people have suffered and died from COVID, I can now view it in a more realistic manner.

COVID-19 is certainly a terrible thing to experience. But this world is full of many terrible things.

How about cancer or pneumonia or car wrecks or snake bites, just to name a few? I would hate for anyone to go through terrible things like this, but the truth is I don’t exactly live my life in fear of it happening either.

(Except for maybe the snake bites … I am currently pretty anxious about getting bitten by a snake. You see, several weeks ago I joined a FB group on snake bites and suddenly I am more worried about coming across a snake while weeding my flower beds or putting the trash can out at night. See, I told you I have a problem with anxiety.)

Anyway, here is my point:

Just because something is terrible doesn’t mean it has to be terrifying.

You see, fear is a liar. Fear is never from God. Furthermore, Jesus Himself said, “The truth will set you free.” (~John 8:32)

Truth will set you free image: VectorStock.com/15478485

If fear is a liar and the truth can set us free, then …

2. Fear is a dumb way to live.

It shouldn’t surprise us that terrible things happen because the Bible tells us that in this world we will experience troubles. (John 16:33) Bad things are going to happen to us.

Even so, a Christian has no reason to fear.

In fact, you will see the words “Fear not” or “Do not fear” more than 100 times in the Bible. (This number does not include all of the other 500+ verses that address fear but do not use that phrase.) Obviously, God does not want us to fear.

But about when we do fear? Like right now … when the world seems to spin out of control and all hope feels lost. I’m human and I get scared. As a Christ-follower, how do I deal with my fear?

Here are a few things I’ve found to help me deal with my own fears in this life:

Remember who God is.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not be afraid though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. ~ Psalm 46: 1-3

Over and over God tells us that He will not leave us. He promises no matter how dark or how long the night, He is with us. Sometimes, when the fears hit me hard, I have to say it over and over and over again, like a spiritual mantra. Breath it in. Breathe it out. God will never leave me or forsake me. He is my strong tower.

Spend time in the Bible and in prayer.

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. ~ Psalm 34: 4

How do we seek God?

Well, one thing is for certain: keeping track of the ever-changing numbers or tuning your TV to the 24-hour news cycle or spending hours keeping up with the social media frenzy about whether or not to wear a mask will not bring you peace or comfort! (I know because following that FB snake bite group has made me more afraid of snakes than ever before!)

There is such a thing as too much information.

Instead, spend time reading the Bible and talking to God in prayer. Call up another Christian friend for encouragement. Tune into online worship services or attend in person if you can. God wants to be close to you, and when we make God a priority in our life, then we will ultimately find more of the things He has promised us … mainly His peace and joy and love.

Troubles may find us, but Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) I am grateful I can experience God’s abundance here on earth, even in the midst of bad things.

Living a life of abundance is good, but eventually we are all going to die. And if we are going to experience death, then …

3. Fear is a dumb way to die.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

My husband Jon likes to ask me this a lot … especially when I am particularly anxious about something really random, like being bitten by a snake as I push the trash can to the end of the driveway.

Generally, my response is, “Well, I could die!”

Is that really such a bad thing? (Snake bites, yes. Dying, no.)

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” ~John 11: 25-26

We know that this earthly life will end. What happens then?

Some people say those who have died go on to sleep in the arms of Jesus or rest in eternal peace or become an angel. According to the Bible, none of that’s true.

Lots of people talk about Heaven being our final destination. It’s a perfect place: a beautiful place with streets of gold and a crystal sea, where the inhabitants experience endless joy without tears or pain or sorrow.

The great news is all of that IS true! In fact, the Bible indicates that Heaven is a place where we will eat and work and laugh and worship. We certainly aren’t going there to sleep in heavenly peace; we are going there to live with abundance!

However, there is only one condition. In order to go to heaven, you must submit your life to Jesus Christ. He is the only way. Only He can forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to God. There is no other option.

Have you thought about eternity? Have you asked God to forgive you of your sins and given your life to Him?

If not, I urge you to do that today because dying without Jesus wouldn’t just be dumb. It would be tragic.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is save. ~ Romans 10: 9-10

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The summer of 2012 was a hard summer for me as a mom. I felt like my tweens and young teens were never going to be responsible adults. I was parenting without hope.

A lot of people today are living in fear: COVID, unstable economy, cashless society, race relations, lack of respect for police, upcoming elections, etc. It feels like a hopeless situation.

It’s not.

But in order to get that hope, you have to know where to find it.

In Christ alone image: VectorStock.com/30495253

Jesus is our great hope. Trust in Him and see what a difference He can make in your life.

Without Christ there is no hope. ~Charles Spurgeon.

Ripples

Today I am missing my grandmother. It’s been a year since she passed away … but grief really doesn’t know a time table. When my maternal grandmother died, I wrote this essay about her and posted on my Tales from the Laundry Room blog. Today, I decided to repost it here in her honor as part of my 52 Ancestors posts (which I am terribly behind on writing … but it is 2020, so no extra excuse is needed, right?!).

~ ~ ~

My maternal grandmother died yesterday.

The old adage goes, “There’s no place like home.” That’s probably true, though I might make one small change:

There’s no place like home … except Grandma’s house.

I remember driving up to my grandparents’ home at 407 Kelly Street in Woodville, Texas. My brother and sister and I could hardly wait for my mom to park the car before we jumped out and raced through the kitchen door, each of us trying to be first!

My grandmother would look up, and say in a delighted voice, “Look here … it’s those Terry children! I was just telling Daddy Red that you would be getting here just about any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

Baby Paige with Red and Thelma
Photo: My first visit to my grandmother’s home in Woodville, TX.

I spent many summer days at my grandmother’s home. She loved to host a “cousins’ week” for all her grandkids. No parents allowed. Just our grandparents and our great-grandmother and all seven of us grandchildren.

Boy, did we have some fun adventures!

We went set up tents and camped out in the backyard … at least until humidity melted us and the mosquitos got us and the night noises spooked us. Then one-by-one we snuck back inside to the comfort of the a/c and real beds and less chance of meeting up with the boogie man.

We swam in the backyard pool until we were too tired to enjoy our popsicles. We walked around the block and down the street to the old cemetery. We picked berries, played loud games of dominos (Chicken Foot was our favorite, but we liked Mexican Train too), and watched old Jimmy Stewart movies in the heat of the afternoon.

Breakfast never arrived without watching cartoons in bed with my grandmother and large mugs of coffee milk served by my grandfather. Lunch was never served without a big plate of sliced tomatoes, and (thanks to my brother Reid) there was always rice with brown gravy for dinner. Bedtime never came without big bowls of Blue Bell ice cream. (If we picked enough berries, rather than eating them all straight off the bushes until our bellies ached, our great-grandmother would bring over a big berry cobbler for us to eat with that ice cream.)

Galveston trip 1982
Photo: Riding the ferry to Galveston Island, circa 1981

Those summers with our grandparents weren’t complete without a short trip.  Sometimes they took us to Galveston Island, where the best part of the whole day was crossing over to the island on the ferry and feeding the seagulls bread that we tossed into the air. Other times we went fishing at nearby Dam B (later renamed Martin Dies, Jr. State Park) near Jasper, TX.  On other occasions they would take us to visit my grandfather’s family in Lufkin.

My grandmother was a talented seamstress. She always had multiple sewing projects going on at the same time, as evidenced by the pile of bright fabrics by the sewing machine and the perpetually set-up ironing board next to it.

My cousins and I often wore matching holiday dresses. I was the oldest so I wore my dress only one season. My poor baby sister had to wear her dress, then my cousin Steffi’s dress, and later on my dress. If you look at old family photos, it seems that my sister Brooke only ever owned about 2 dresses for her entire childhood.

Thelma Paige Steffi
Photo: My cousin Steffi and I wear our matching dresses, circa 1975.

My grandmother loved to host “hot water tea parties” with her granddaughters.

She would cover a large cardboard box or coffee table with an old sheet. Next, my grandmother had us set the table. We would pick a small bouquet of flowers from around the yard and set it in a vase on the center. Then we took the tiny tea set from her china cabinet and set out the cups and saucers, the sugar bowl with tiny sugar cubes, the milk in the pitcher. Meanwhile, my grandmother added some hot water (or rarely a weak tea) to the teapot. She put a plate of pink sugar wafer cookies on a pretty plate and set that on the table too.

Now we were all ready to enjoy our tea party.  My grandmother acted as hostess. You had to wait for the hostess to serve the food before you could eat, and no one could slurp their tea. Sometimes we brought our baby dolls, and practiced introducing our “children” to our friends.

Later on, when I was about 10 years old, my grandmother gave me about five old teacups. I kept them on a shelf in my room, and in high school I decided I liked them so much that I started collecting teacups. Each time I look at my teacups, I am reminded of my grandmother and her hot water tea parties.

My grandmother also introduced me to England’s royal family.

Okay, she didn’t actually introduced me … but she is the one who turned me into an Anglophile, or lover of all things English.

During my teen years, my grandmother and I often discusses Princess Diana and Fergie. Years later, when I watched the movie The King’s Speech, I recall how my grandmother had shared this story with me during my childhood.  If I ever get to travel to England, which I hope I actually get to do, I know I’ll wish I could return home to share all about my English adventures with my grandmother.

There is so much more that I could tell about my grandmother …  for example, she was an avid traveler who visited 49 of the 50 states in this great nation, but loved Texas best of all. And while all of those things are special to me and the rest of us who loved her, there is truly only one important thing about her life.

Thelma Kay Easter 1948
Photo: With my mother, her oldest daughter, on Easter Sunday 1948, perhaps a year after her salvation . 

Early in their marriage, my grandparents weren’t big church attenders. However, shortly after the birth of their first child (my mom, Kay), another couple began to invite them to come to church. My grandparents decided to go. One church service lead to another and another. Listening to all the preaching had gotten my grandmother to contemplating life and whether or not there was a place for God in her’s.

One a stormy night in 1947, as she rocked my infant mother in her arms, all those thoughts about God and trusting Him just overwhelmed her. In the middle of that thunderstorm, my grandmother decided that she was going to follow God. The next morning, she told my grandfather that she intended to join the church and be baptized the following Sunday. According to her, he didn’t say a word and the subject never came up again during the next few days. She assumed that he wasn’t going to try to dissuade her from joining the church, but he wasn’t going to join her either.

On Sunday morning, as the music for the invitation began, my grandmother moved to step out into the aisle. My grandfather stepped out of the pew, too … but she thought it was simply to allow her to get out. Then, to her surprise, my grandfather took her hand in his. Together they walked forward to join the church. They were both baptized and spent the rest of their lives dedicated to their faith in Jesus Christ and in Christian service.

From leading GA’s (Girls in Action missions) when her daughters were young to traveling the nation building churches with the Volunteer Christian Builders during retirement to knitting prayer blankets when she was homebound, my grandmother loved sharing her faith in her Savior and using it to bless others.

Her one decision, made as a young mother,  has rippled through my family through the generations, paving the way for the salvation of her husband, her daughters, her seven grandchildren and her 29 great-grandchildren.

Her’s is a legacy worth leaving. Her’s is a life well-lived.

Thelma Kay Wedding Corsage
Photo: My grandmother pins a corsage on my mother’s dress the night my parents got married.

All grandmothers are made of gold … but mine sparkles! ~Unknown

And sparkle, she did!

My grandmother was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a bright mind, big heart, and a bold personality.

Yesterday, she left this earthly home for her heavenly one.

I sort of imagine her walking through the pearly gates, stepping onto the streets of gold, and hearing her Savior, “Look here … It’s Thelma McGee! I was just telling the Father that you would be arriving any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

I will miss her.

young Thelma
Photo: Thelma Stinson McGee, November 12, 1926 – July 8, 2019

Spending the Night with Ma

I was 7 years old the first time I stayed overnight with my great-grandmother, Ma.

Ma didn’t live alone, but that night it was just the two of us in the big, rambling house that she shared with my grandparents. Mammie and Papaw were away on an overnight trip. I suppose they were concerned about leaving my great-grandmother alone while they were away, although I am still unclear on what exactly they thought I could do should something unforeseen happen.

Yet there I was … Ma’s protector.

It turned out that from that night right up until the fall I left for college, whenever my grandparents left town, it was my job to stay overnight with Ma.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

Typically, one of my parents would drive me up to the big house on the hill, where they would drop me off.

I always tried to arrange things so that I would arrive sometime relatively in the early evening, yet late enough to have already eaten supper. Otherwise, all I might expect Ma to offer me would be a piece of dry toast or maybe some cornbread crumbled up in a small glass of milk.  I knew that whatever my mother might be cooking that night would be immensely more appetizing than either of those choices.

Still, I didn’t like walking in and going straight to bed. I needed time to get settled and maybe watch something on TV … hopefully, while my father visited with Ma for a bit.  Ma was a worrier, and I liked for her to get all her worrying out with my dad so that I didn’t have to worry with her after he left.

Besides, Ma firmly believed in that “early to bed, early to rise” business. I knew she was going to start turning off lights and shutting down the house about 8:30 pm. Bedtime in the big house came quickly.  Being something of a night owl, I needed time to prepare myself for an early night.

Most nights with Ma went pretty much the same way.  My dad would visit with her for half an hour or so. Then he would get up and say, “Well, ladies … I guess I will leave y’all to it.”  (Exactly what he thought he was leaving us to, I still don’t know. Your guess is probably as good as mine.)

My father would go and there we would sit.

Just the two of us, together in an oversized living room …alone in that big, dark house, sitting high on a hill.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Those first few moments with my great-grandmother were always slightly awkward. We would look at each other and exchange small smiles, unsure of what to do next.

Usually, at this point, Ma would ask me if I would like to eat an orange or an apple before bed. Most of the time, I did.

She would heave herself up from the chair, and march off to the kitchen to fetch me a piece of fruit. A few minutes later, she would return with the fruit, a knife and napkins. Once she had settled back into her chair, Ma would carefully peel my fruit for me.

Now, I could have certainly gone to get my own piece of fruit, and I could have even peeled it for myself. Nevertheless, I always allowed her to do these things for me … perhaps because whether she got me an apple or an orange, Ma’s method for peeling fruit fascinated me.

With oranges, she peel off the thick skin so exactly that not a single speck of the white pith remained stuck to the juicy fruit. Oh, but watching her peel an apple was my favorite! Somehow she could cut one long, unbroken strand of peel away from the apple’s flesh, until it finally fell into a heap on the napkin in her lap. Many a night I sat transfixed, holding my breath, until she had made the final cut and the peel came away in a giant curl.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

As I ate my snack, Ma would talk.

She had only two topics of conversation:

  1. anything related to God or the Bible
  2. anything related to sickness or death, particularly her own sickness or death

I personally preferred topic #1, which is why I learned very quickly that I could steer the conversation this direction if I asked her about that week’s Sunday school lesson.

Ma loved to study her Sunday school lesson each week, and diligently read the scriptures to prepare for the class discussion. My favorite nights were when she would direct me to read the week’s passage to her from her large-print Bible because generally she would allow me to read aloud for as long as I wanted. In this way, I found I could easily keep the conversation from drifting to more unsettling topics … like death and hell.

Death was probably Ma’s favorite topic, and she talked about it a lot. She talked about people who had died recently, or people she thought might be about to die. She talked about tragic deaths, not-so-tragic deaths, and her own death.

The last one was her most favorite topic. However, as you probably imagine, I did not share her opinion.

I’m sad to report that this distressing topic of conversation seemed to arise with regularity, generally right about the time we began to prepare to go to bed.  It was nearly always a one-sided conversation, which went something like this:

Now, Paige, you know there’s a good chance I could die in the night. It happens to people my age all the time. They go to bed and do not wake up in the morning. You should know that I am not afraid to die, but I worry you might be afraid to wake up and find me dead. So, if that happens, I want you to know there is no need to worry. Just call Malcolm. He will know exactly what to do.

Malcolm, of course, was my father. I can assure you that if I had ever woken up to find Ma lying in her bed dead, I would have screamed so loudly there would have been no need to pick up the phone and call anyone, Malcolm or otherwise.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Every time I every stayed overnight, Ma wanted me to share the bed with her.

I always felt rather conflicted about this arrangement.

There were quite a number of reasons I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same bed as her, the main one being the very concerning issue of her dying in the night. I wasn’t too keen on sleeping next to a dead person for any length of time.

Secondly, my great-grandmother was definitely NOT used to sharing a bed. She hogged the covers, and made all sorts of strange noises.

Finally, when Ma took out her dentures just before bed, it gave her face a strange sunken look  … which, I hate to say, reminded me of what I thought a dead person might look like. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen many dead people at that time in my life, so I didn’t really know what to expect a corpse to look like. Sunken cheeks definitely could be something one might see on a dead body, so therefore it was another good reason to find another place to sleep besides my great-grandmother’s bed.

However, the thought of sleeping in a bed all alone wasn’t exactly a comforting thought either. My grandparent’s house was rambling old home, with floors that creaked and doors that squeaked. Who knew what was lurking behind all those shadows or what creatures might be making those strange nighttime noises?

Then there were large paintings of my aunts and uncles which hung on some of the walls. I had seen enough Scooby Doo episodes to know that large portraits sometimes have shifty eyes that actually hid some sort of terrible swamp monster.

scoobydoo
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy

Yes, the more I thought about it, if something bad were to actually happen (like monsters appearing from behind portraits or burglars sneaking in to steal the stale cornbread from the kitchen counter), then it might be comforting to have another person in close proximity … even if that person made strange noises and had sunken cheeks and claimed she might die before the sun rose in the morning.

Clearly, I had an overactive imagination. The truth is that the decision of whether or not I should sleep next to Ma was probably the hardest part of staying overnight with her.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

For the first few years, I generally slept next to her. After all, it seemed the safest choice. But by the time I was 10 or 11, I felt embarrassed about this sleeping arrangement. Yet deep inside, I was still very much a scaredy cat. I really didn’t want to sleep alone in a bedroom all by myself. I often resolved this problem by inviting  a friend over to stay the night with me.

But sometimes, I couldn’t find a friend to stay … and then I was left to work out whether or not I was brave enough to sleep alone.

Once, when I was about 12 years old, I thought it would be nice to bring my younger sister Brooke along.  Brooke is 4 years younger than me, and at that time we didn’t have a lot in common. But I knew she would stay up to watch TV as long as I wanted and I figured she wouldn’t complain about sleeping next to me in a bed.

It seemed like the perfect solution to my sleeping dilemma!

My father was the one to drop the two of us off that night. I recall him sitting next to Ma for a short visit.

On this particular night, Ma immediately started complaining about every ailment she had or thought she might have. At one point, she started telling my father about how she was likely to die soon, perhaps even that very night. My father simply patted her hand and told her not to worry.

Now Malcolm, you know I am not worried one bit about dying.  I just want to be sure you know what to do in case these girls here wake up in the morning and find me gone. Now, I expect pretty quickly they will call you, so you will be the first to know.  Then you should go ahead and call Ken and Greg. It doesn’t matter which of them you call first, but let them both know before you tell anyone else. Then one of you boys can call Herbert … but tell him not to rush home. I don’t want to ruin his trip, and besides there is nothing he can do here anyway. I guess you might want to call the preacher after that.

My dad laughed. “Ma, I don’t think you are going to die tonight. You still have too much fight in you. But I promise that if you do, I’ll take care of everything.” 

And then, he quickly changed the subject. Probably to the topic of her Sunday school lesson.

Half an hour later, my dad got up to leave. He kissed my cheek and called for my sister to come give him a hug. But Brooke didn’t respond.

We both called. After several minutes, I finally got up to go look, but in that big rambling house, I couldn’t find her. Eventually, my father said he must go on home, and for me to tell her he said goodnight.

I waved as he stepped through the kitchen door.

But just half a minute later, Dad walked back in … grinning from ear to ear.

I have found your sister. She’s sitting in the car with her overnight bag on her lap. She says that if Ma is dying tonight, she will not stay here for it. I’m afraid you are on your own.

Ditched by my sister. Too late to invite a friend. I really was stuck in the big house alone with my great-grandmother … who seemed bound and determined to die on my watch.

As I recall, I hardly slept a wink that night.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Ma didn’t die that night… or for a good many years to come. In fact, she didn’t die at all on “my watch.”

The last time I saw Ma, she was lying in a hospital bed. Even though she was 91 years old, I didn’t think she was really going to die. After all, she was mentally sharp as a tack and every bit as feisty as I had ever seen her.

Later that evening, she drifted into a coma. The next day, May 25, 1994, she passed away. No drama. Nothing traumatic or tragic. Just a peaceful and quiet transition from earth over into heaven.

What she longed for most of all, finally had come to pass. She got to meet Jesus face-to-face.

Image-2

Today is this 26th anniversary of the day Ma died, yet not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way or another.

I miss the way she would pat my hand when she talked to me, or shake her finger in my face whenever she imparted some important truth. I can still see her face clearly: the big smile, the sly grin, that fiery-eyed look that made me want to hide.

She gave the best hugs, and the worst baths! (If she ever caught hold of you in a bathtub, look out! That woman knew how to use a wash rag, and chances were excellent that you were going to emerge from that bath missing an entire layer of skin! Every Terry child old enough to remember Ma knows the truth about this.)

Oh … and her chicken pie! How I miss her chicken pie!

When I finally get to heaven, I hope there’s an empty seat next to her at that great banquet table … because if there is, then the first thing I am going to do is walk straight over, sit down next to her, hold her hand, and tell her how grateful I am for all those nights the two of us got to spend alone together up in the big house on the hill.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believe Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life.  ~John 5:24

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ~John 14: 2-3

The Trouble with Judas

I wish Judas hadn’t killed himself.

Judas Iscariot
 Image from: http://ubdavid.org/bible/characters3/characters3-11.html

You know the Judas I am talking about. Judas Iscariot. The disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Bible tells us he killed himself. Every time I read through the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection,  I always find myself wishing that Judas hadn’t made the choice to end his own life.

But he did … and it bothers me.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Recently I read through Matthew 26 during my morning devotional.  This portion of Scripture gives quite a bit of insight into Judas.

For many years, I thought of Judas as some bumbling sort of soul, the kind of person who could easily be duped. In regards to his betrayal of Jesus, I assumed perhaps he was manipulated by the Jewish leaders for purposes much greater than anything he could aspire to do on his own.

Maybe he was a loser looking for friends in high places.

Perhaps he was a people-pleaser who couldn’t figure out a way to say no.

I wondered if he might be a young guy just looking for validation. 

Whatever his personality type, I always figured Judas sort of just “fell” into an unintended role as part of the Pharisee’s plan to get rid of Jesus.

According to Matthew 26, nothing could be further from the truth.

 Image found at Image Gallery: Miercoles Santo

Turns out, it was Judas who went to the chief priests.

Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you.”

~Matthew 26:14-15

It wasn’t the priests who were actively looking for an insider willing to betray Jesus. Rather, Judas was the one who took the first step. He set the betrayal in motion himself.

For the love of Christ, why did Judas do that?

Some people might use that phrase flippantly, but I’m serious.

Judas had just spent three years of his life walking all over Judea with Jesus. He had seen all of those miracles. He was there when the lame man walked, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, and when Jesus walked on the water. He had seen the miraculous healings. From the Sermon on the Mount to the feeding of the 5000, Judas heard and saw it all.

Didn’t he grow to love Jesus during that time? If so, then why would Judas betray Him?

Maybe it was …

For the love of money.

There’s no other reason that makes sense. Especially when you consider everything the Bible has to say about Judas and money.

You don’t have to dig around in the Gospels very far to figure out that money must have been extremely important to Judas. He was, after all, the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, which meant he was in charge of the money bag.

We also know from Scripture that Judas was prone to helping himself to the money that was in that treasury. (John 12: 6) I can’t imagine that Jesus and his disciples had a lot of money to begin with, but Judas was sneaking out small amounts of it here and there for his own use. I’m sure he thought what he took would never be missed, but it appears that the others were aware of his tendency to take that which wasn’t rightfully his.

It seems that Judas had a problem money.

So money-loving Judas decided to go see the chief priests to barter for Jesus. The chief priests offered Judas 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus’ betrayal. I have always assumed those coins must have been worth quite a large sum. But (as we have already seen), my assumptions aren’t always correct.

I did some research because I was curious just how much money Judas earned as Jesus’ betrayer.  And what I learned is that Judas was most likely paid with Tyrian shekels, which was the type of currency used to pay the Temple taxes. In those days, every Jewish male over the age of 20 paid a Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days wages or 1/2 shekel.

So if 1/2 shekel was worth two days wages, then 1 shekel would be worth four days wages. Do the math and 30 shekels of silver would be worth 120 days wages. Therefore the coins Judas received in exchange for the betrayal of Christ would be worth approximately one third of a year’s salary.

Not too shabby.

Unless you read the previous passage in Matthew 26 … .

Start reading in Matthew 26:6 and you’ll come across the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with the fragrant oil. It’s another very familiar passage. According to the Gospels, Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) came into a dinner party and poured out an entire alabaster jar of oil on Jesus’ head.

This oil was very costly. In fact, in another Gospel’s version of this same event, Judas himself tells us exactly how much this oil was worth:

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarius, and given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

~John 12:4-5

Later in the passage, we learn that Judas wasn’t known for being a man who cared about the poor and needy. His life of sneaking and stealing that which didn’t belong to him was known by those in Jesus’ inner circle. They recognized in this situation that Judas wasn’t concerned about money being used to help others.

So what was Judas concerned about? Why did he protest?

To Judas, anointing Jesus with an entire alabaster jar of fragrant oil was a nothing more than pointless extravagance. He didn’t see the oil being used in a sacrificial act of worship from a loving heart. When the precious oil was poured over Jesus, Judas could only see a frivolous waste of money. Money that could have lined the bag in which he freely dipped his hand.

It’s interesting to me that these two passages can be found side-by-side in the same chapter of Matthew. One tells of worship and sacrifice. The other is filled with betrayal and greed.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil. As she broke the bottle, out flowed the precious oil which could have been sold for an entire year’s salary. Yet, she knew the worth of the oil couldn’t begin to compare to the worth of Jesus Christ.

But to Judas, Jesus Himself was worth only about one third of a year’s salary.

Perhaps more accurately … a third of a year’s salary and his own soul.

Most Christians are familiar with how Jesus sent Judas away from the Passover table. Later, Judas led the Roman soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus was bound by Roman guards and led away like a criminal.

I wonder what Judas was expecting as he stood in the garden and watched Jesus being led away. Did he have any idea that Jesus would be condemned to die?

The gospel of Matthew (chapter 27, verses 3-5) tells us the once Jesus was sentenced to crucify, Judas was “seized with remorse.” He actually went to the chief priests to return the money.

“I’ve have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

~Matthew 27:4

The priests didn’t care about Judas’ admission of guilt or confession of Jesus’ innocence.

Matthew’s gospel says that Judas threw the money into the temple and went away to hang himself.

This is what boggles my mind … if Judas knew he had done something terribly wrong, why didn’t he confess it to Jesus? Why didn’t he seek forgiveness from the one he wronged? After three years, didn’t he know the heart of Jesus? Didn’t he know he could pray to God and receive mercy?

So what kept him from seeking out forgiveness?

Pride?

Probably. It’s what keeps most of us from going to God and seeking forgiveness. At least, pride is what most often keeps me from admitting my sin.

This is why I wish Judas didn’t hang himself: Feeling remorse for our sins doesn’t do us any good.

It never has. Go all the way back to the book of Genesis and there in the Garden of Eden we read about Adam and Eve and the very first sin. What was the immediate reaction of Adam and Eve? Remorse. They experienced was remorse for their actions, and then they tried to hide their sin from God by sewing clothes from fig leaves.

Those first remorseful actions didn’t work for Adam and Eve. 

Remorse didn’t work for Judas either. 

Remorse still will not work for us.

So the lesson from Judas is to recognize that remorse for our wrongs doesn’t solve the problem. There needs to be more than just regret and remorse over our sins.

We need forgiveness. How do we get that forgiveness? It comes through the confession of our sins to God.

We also need repentance, which is simply the act of turning away from the wrongs we have done as we commit to live our life according to God’s way. (It doesn’t mean we never sin again. Far from it! It just means we look to Jesus as our example as we strive to live our life according to God’s way.)

I believe if Judas had confessed to Jesus and asked for it, he would have been forgiven. There would have been no need to hang himself in shame.  He would have received grace and mercy. He would have the promise of everlasting life.

Because that’s what the cross is all about.

For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:7-11

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. ~John 8:36

Write It Down

My one word focus for 2020 is WRITE.

This weekend, I spent some time creating a vision/encouragement board for desk area. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out when I started, but I love it! It has a fun vibe that makes me eager to plow ahead with the work I feel God has called me to do.

On the board, you may notice two handwritten squares. One of them boldly states, “I am a WRITER.” I’ve never called myself a writer before, but I decided that starting in 2020 I would use this descriptor.

Last Wednesday at our church supper, a rather precocious 5 year old girl was sitting at the table where Jon and I were eating. She peppered us with all sorts of questions. She asked Jon what sort of job he had, and when he told her that he was a geologist, she nodded her head as if she knew exactly what that meant. Then she turned to me and asked, “What is your job?”

I almost said, “I am just a mom.” But I caught myself.

I’m a writer,” I said.

A what?

A writer. I write books.

There was a moment of silence as she considered my words. Then she asked, “Do you mean librarian?”

I have to admit that even though the line of questioning was making me feel a bit like I was about to be accused of just pretending at what sort of job I had, I was impressed with this kid’s vocabulary.

“No,” I said. “I’m not a librarian. I am a writer. I write the words that you read inside the books at the library.”

“Oh … a writer.” She sighed, picked up her fork and said, “That’s a weird job.”

Weird or not, it’s what God has called me to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In 2012, I attended two writer’s conferences.

Up until this point, I wrote as I felt the urge. I had a blog, but it was mostly just a hobby for me. But then my parents insisted I go to a local writer’s conference one weekend in March. I couldn’t say no as they paid the conference fee and kept all five of my kids for the weekend. I spent the entire conference wondering why I was there.

But, when it was over, I met a sweet friend named Christie … and somehow we ended up in Michigan three months later at a big national writer’s conference. Talk about being out of my league! I left there questioning what it was God wanted to do in my life in regards to writing.

All that summer, I prayed and asked God, “Do you want me to write?” Over and over and over I prayed and asked for direction.

That September I turned 40.

Remember Christie, my writer friend? Well, she sent me a box of gifts to open, one gift for each day of the week of my birthday. Each gift was wrapped individually and had a tag with a Scripture reference.

I had been opening gifts for three or four days when my actual birthday arrived. That morning, the kids excitedly asked if they could pick me a gift to open from the box. When I agreed, they brought me a gift … and when I opened it, I found a beautiful new ink pen, tagged with the Scripture Psalm 45:1.

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;  I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready writer.

Psalm 45:1 (CSB)

And that was when I knew God was calling me to be a writer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s been 7 years since that September morning. Honestly, I haven’t done much with that calling other than blog. I tried but as a homeschooling mom I often felt pulled in many directions. Ask any stay-at-home mother and she will tell you it’s a full-time job!

Last year, I began to feel like I didn’t have a job anymore. One by one, my teens were leaving the home for college and jobs. With just two left at home, I had all sorts of free time on my hands. I felt confused about what I should do. Go back to teaching? Take in more foster children? Volunteer at some worthy place?

And then God graciously reminded me … He already gave me a job. I’m His writer. I work for Him.

At first I felt guilty. Had I just been wasting time the last seven years? Had I neglected my calling?

And this is the verse God gave me:

Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19 (CSB)

In the Bible, the number seven represents perfection or completion.

I don’t think the seven years between my calling to write on my 40th birthday to this new season in my life was wasted. God was preparing me and growing me. Instead of feeling confused and uncertain, I am confident in knowing my calling, and eager to do what God has given me to do.

It’s January 2020 … a new month, a new year, a new decade. And for me, it’s the start of a new career.

I am a writer.

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.

Jeremiah 30:2 (ESV)

All the Pretty Girls

The first time I ever remember having a distinct feeling that I wasn’t a pretty girl happened on my very first day of kindergarten.

A faded photo taken that morning shows me standing at the end of our driveway, waiting on the school bus. Dressed in denim vest, red shirt and bell-bottom jeans with embroidered pockets, I am clutching a school box filled with crayons and pencils as I smile a confident, snaggletoothed grin at my mother. A sweet Dorothy Hamill haircut framed my chubby face.

Just a couple of hours later, after learning how to recite the pledge to the American flag,  there was a knock on the door of the Kindergarten classroom. The teacher answered, and in walked the principal with another student, a little girl named Charlotte.

Not only was Charlotte fashionably late, but she was also wearing the fanciest red dress I had ever seen. Adorned with yards and yards of ruffles, her skirt flounced airily as she walked past my desk; her black patent shoes made a soft clicking sound on the hardwood floors.

The following day Charlotte wore another dress, just as fluffy and frilly, but in a different color. In fact, during that first week of school, Charlotte showed up at school each morning wearing a more beautiful dress than the one she had worn the day before.

It didn’t take long before I became enchanted with Charlotte, who looked just like a living doll. I had never seen anyone so pretty. I loved the way her black curls formed perfect ringlets. My thin, straight hair never held a curl, no matter how many hours it was left in those hated pink, foam rollers.

One afternoon, I confided to my mother how I thought Charlotte must be a real princess. My mother laughed as she patted my head and stated emphatically that there definitely were not any princesses attending my school. But, in my mind’s eye, all Charlotte needed was a tiny tiara on her head and the vision would be complete.

However,  I didn’t tell my mother everything I was thinking or feeling in regards to Charlotte … like how ugly I felt in my new cotton shirts and stiff blue jeans, or that my deepest wish was to be pretty and dainty, the way Charlotte looked in her lavish dresses.

I might have been only five years old, but already I felt like…

I wasn’t a very pretty little girl.

Confession time.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt pretty.

During fifth grade I won a small beauty contest, the sort that is more fundraiser than pageant. The winners didn’t receive crowns or trophies, just ribbons. Even as I stood on the stage holding the 1st place ribbon in my hand, I felt like the results were somehow a fluke, fearful the judge might raise her hand and point out the real winner.

The following week, my dance teacher asked if anyone wanted to share happy news with the class. I raised my hand and when it was my turn told how I won a beauty pageant. All I really wanted to hear was that she agreed with the judges, for her to confirm that I was indeed a pretty young lady.

Instead, my dance teacher smiled and suggested I might like to ride on the “Beauty Queens’ Float” in the upcoming Christmas parade. “Of course, you wouldn’t be able to ride on the dance school float … but if you have a crown and a sash, I believe a spot could be found for you to ride with our other local pageant winners.”

Don’t ask me how, but I managed to borrow a crown and get a sash … and as I rode through the streets, smiling and waving, I felt something I couldn’t remember feeling before.

I felt pretty.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Society tells us that gorgeous women are thin with a headful of thick, flowing hair, and flawless, sleek skin.

Women with PCOS often struggle with weight issues, male-pattern baldness, extra facial and body hair, severe acne, skin tags and psoriasis. This genetic, hormonal disorder strips away all the physical feminine qualities, and sadly there is no cure or quick fix or answer to unraveling this medical mystery.

The women who live with PCOS often struggle with anxiety or depression or low self-esteem. Perhaps a lot of that is driven by a bad body image because a woman with PCOS is rarely going to match society’s standard of beauty.

And yet, how can we possibly feel pretty when PCOS steals away the very things we are told makes a woman pleasing to look at?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am wonderfully made. ~Psalm 139:14

Confession time … again.

I don’t think — no, the truth is I don’t believe — I am wonderfully made.

I look at my reflection in the mirror, and all I see is me. My physical flaws. My less-than-perfect features. The bald patches in my hair. The flaky skin on my face. A woman who is far from thin and hasn’t worn a swimsuit in more than a decade.

Oh, how I long to see myself as pretty … yet most of the time I feel so much less than that.

And this presents a problem because the Bible tells me that I am wonderfully made by my Creator.

As a Christian, I must ask myself this question:

If God says I am wonderfully made, and I have judged my body to not be a worthy creation, then which of us is wrong? 

Either God is a liar (and how can I be a Christ-follower if I think such a thing), or I must be using the wrong standard for beauty.

One thing is certain.

Both God and I are not correct on this issue.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.                 ~1 Samuel 16:7

It’s true. Humans tend to focus on outward appearance.

We like to believe we aren’t biased, that we don’t use physical features as a way of judging others. But the evidence says otherwise.

Not long ago, a friend (whom I really love) made a comment about one of my teen girls. “She’s become so pretty, now that she is wearing make-up and fixing her hair and losing a little weight … not that you have to do those things to be beautiful …  but you know what I mean.

Yes. Yes, I do. I’m human too, and somehow (as much as I hate to admit it) the way someone looks matters.

But not to God.

He looks at our hearts and knows our minds … and loves in spite of all the negative, mean-spirited, ugly feelings and ideas we have. His measure for beauty is far above our own earthly ideas.

So what does God have to say about being beautiful?

Here are a few of God’s truths:

  • We are created in His image. (Genesis 1:27)
  • We are worth far more than rubies. (Proverbs 31:10)
  • He makes all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  • He brings beauty from ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)
  • He is enthralled with our beauty. (Psalm 45:11)
  • All who look to Him are radiant. (Psalm 34:5)
  • We are a crown of beauty in His hand. (Isaiah 62:3)

The Bible has much more about God’s standards for beauty, but that’s for another post. Today, let’s simply focus on this truth:

Beauty is far more than outward appearances. 

Neither PCOS, nor the opinions of humans, can take away our beauty.

This blog is part of my PCOS series. Check back every Friday for a new post on PCOS and God..

Meet Theophilus Daniel

 Allow me to introduce you to Theophilus Daniel, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

Theophilus Daniel (1786-1865)

Theophilus was born around 1786 in North Carolina to William and Elizabeth Daniel. During his life, Theo moved, first to Georgia and later to Alabama. He married Penelope Goodson, and is known to have supported his family by farming. Records seem to indicate that he had a small flock of sheep, as well as owned a spinning wheel and a loom. He also was reported to have made furniture. We also now that Theophilus Daniel was not a slave owner even though he lived in the south during the years when slavery was legal.

           

Church records indicate that in 1817 Theophilus was kicked out of church for “not filling his seat.” It is unclear why he skipped church services, but one must wonder if it might have been due to having moved away from the area. Later, in 1827, he was instrumental in the formation of Sweet Water Primitive Baptist church.

At the time of his death on October 2, 1865, Theo was living in Butler, Alabama. His life spanned 79 years, with his birth prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution and his death coming just at the end of the Civil War.

One of the first things I remember my mother having among her genealogical possessions was a very old piece of woven brown cloth.

This material, handed down now for six generations, was actually homespun by Theophilus himself. He made it for his granddaughter, Matilda Caroline Daniel, perhaps as a wedding gift for her marriage in 1851 (although the exact date the cloth was made is unknown). I wonder if the material was woven from thread spun from the wool sheared from Theophilus’ sheep.

Facts about Theophilus Daniel and his life are fairly sparse. His exact date of birth is unknown, and the truth is I have a lot more questions about him than answers:

  • Why was he skipping church in 1817? Was it due to a move or did he find himself feeling disconnected from the Lord?
  • What prompted him to form a church ten years later?
  • And what is that large growth on the side of his face?!

Yet, touching the cloth that he spun for his granddaughter suddenly makes this man leap off the old census records. A piece of cloth doesn’t get saved for 170+ years for no reason. It meant enough to his granddaughter that she passed it down to her children and grandchildren. It meant something to her because she loved her grandfather … probably, I’m imagining, because he loved her too.

Whatever the reason, Theophilus more than lived. He loved. And 155 years after his death, he is still remembered for it.

The memories of the righteous is a blessing … ~Proverbs 10:7