Thoughts From My Front Porch Swing: Choosing My Battles

I love watching birds. I enjoy feeding them and seeing them flit about. What I don’t enjoy is glaring at squirrels emptying the feeders with lightning speed. Darned day rats! I’ve spent a lot—a lot—of money on squirrel proof feeders. But the birds seem to prefer the only one that isn’t squirrel proof. So every day I check out my window, or sit in my swing, watching for those pesky intruders.

Until one day…

While I sat on my swing, toeing it back and forth, sipping tea, it occurred to me. I cannot change and will never change a squirrel’s behavior. It is only an exercise in frustration and futility. So why not move the feeder they prefer to a place away from the others, fill it with cheaper seed, and let them go at it? That way I could also watch their funny antics as well as my lovely birds. So that’s what I did.

Funny thing. The birds now raid the squirrel’s feeder. Payback.

This battle with these fluffy-tailed rodents reminds me of all the Facebook wars I read every morning. And every morning I ask myself why? Why worry about changing another’s opinion? Why get flustered? Offended? Defensive? Angry? My comment isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It is better to just move on with my thoughts and let them have theirs. Perhaps I’m more sensitive because of the multiple deaths in my family last year. Life is precious. Life is short. As members of humankind, we have many other things on which we can agree. So why not focus there? Every morning we awake is a gift. Why fill it with offense?

My advice? Move the feeder. Just keep scrolling.

Thoughts From My Porch Swing: Love?

Wow. It is March and I’m still processing the election of Joe Biden, the behavior of Trump and his followers, January 6th storming of our nation’s Capitol, and all the fear, anger, even hate on social media outlets. Again, wow.

I lost both my parents in 2020. My dad died from heart trouble due to his COPD. He was 92. My mother died six months to the day later. She had three kinds of cancer—we had no idea. She was 86. My husband’s brother died two months later from Covid 19 complications. He was 62, So, naturally, I’ve been contemplating the mortality of mankind quite often these past few months, which leads to asking myself, How do I want to spend my days and what do I want to look back upon at the end of them?

For the past two years people I’ve known and respected for decades have behaved in a way that, considering their professions of faith, is just the opposite of those professions. Doubt, fear, worry, anger, bitterness, distortion of the truth, and even hate is all over their social media platforms. Where are the fruits of the Spirit? Where is the love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Gentleness? Goodness? Kindness? Faithfulness? Self-control?

To be honest, I cannot judge anyone. During Bill Clinton and President Obama’s elections, I’m ashamed to admit I acted in the same disappointing way.

I’m sorry that it has taken six decades for me to realize my shortcomings. Even though I’ve been a follower of Christ for over forty years, during the past five years I’ve sensed something wasn’t right. Therefore I re-examined his teachings from all angles. I’ve studied the culture during the time he lived on earth. I’ve examined key words and phrases in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Why? Because it is impossible to understand an ancient middle-eastern mentality with a modern western understanding. What I’ve learned is liberating. I discovered that a lot of the theology taught to me was smeared with man’s fingerprints. However, one teaching was pure, unchanging, and consistent over the centuries and that was the message of love. Agapao. Agape. Love is to esteem, cherish, favor, honor, respect, accept, prize, relish, devotion, to value. In the past I’ve felt that I could not express all, or even one of these elements for certain people. But, really, if I am to follow Christ’s teachings, I really did not have a choice, did I?

Love is the lens I want to look through. I don’t want to be a means for causing fear, spreading dissention, repeating falsehoods, and hate for any reason on any platform. Life is too short to be so angry, resentful, and fearful.

My mother spent her last days in my home. While she could still sit in her wheelchair, I pushed her to the porch every morning and afternoon. Sitting there, silent, with her eyes closed, hovering between two worlds, she always had the sweetest smile on her face. That is because she spent her healthy years focusing on loving others. Yes, she had to work through and overcome difficult situations and people like we all do. But her delight was in loving people and her God. That is what I want for myself every day. To sit on my porch swing and smile because I focused on love, gratitude, and the beauty of God and his creation.

Politics have given rise to many false prophets. I think back to what Christ said in the book of Matthew about how religious people declare, “Did we not prophesy in your name? In your name did we not drive out demons, and perform many miracles?” His answer? “I never knew you.” He is love. When we separate ourselves from his message of love, we are merely clanging symbols drawing attention to ourselves, our prejudices, and wanting our way. Even when we have a justifiable cause, how we go about justice often weakens our effectiveness. Essentially, we either believe God or we don’t. We either do things from love or we don’t. Sadly, we’ve made the name of Jesus into an idol of our red, or our blue allegiances.

From what I see on social media platforms, many hours are filled of people being offended, fearful, frustrated, defensive, angered, and downright mean-spirited. Such a waste of the soul.

Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” Each day I start my examination of spiritual fruit with the woman in the mirror. Why? Because I so often fail and I’m reminded to give grace to those I meet on a daily basis either on the street or the screen.

I want to live in a way that I can sit on my porch swing and smile.

Moments

Yesterday, January 17th, marked the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing from this life.

It was a somber day of reflecting. I remembered how all human vestiges of his ever being present on this earth was given away or donated. My children took mementos of their PawPaw and it gives them a connection and comfort. These mementos may be passed to their children who remember PawPaw, but as time goes on these cufflinks, newspaper articles, certificates, will, most likely, lose meaning, lose value, and will disappear. It is sobering to think that the sum of our lives on this earth is so easily disposed. Passed on to strangers, handed down to family. Swept from sight. Gone. No footprint on life.

But Daddy did leave a footprint. It is on my heart and the hearts of my children. My love Christmas is largely because of him. What a delight and comfort it is to this very day when I indulge in my memories of Christmases past. Mid-December we put up our artificial silver tree in the living room of our house on 1428 Neptune Street in Mexico, Missouri. We decorated it with red balls and then perfectly positioned a “color-wheel” next to it. Next, we’d bundle up, walk to the street and admired how it looked through our picture window. We finished the evening out with drinking eggnog and singing carols along with Bing Crosby.  

Another tradition I loved was visiting the town square to admire the store windows. Santa Clauses rang bells on every street corner. Dad and I tried to decide which fellow was the real Santa. These moments formed me into a Christmas traditions lover, and they have also formed the same love in some of my children, which in turn has formed in some of my grandchildren. No doubt, this love of tradition will also be passed down throughout the generations, thanks to Dad.

He reveled in family gatherings. Especially if there was good music to sing along with and to dance. He told stories of his childhood that both inspired and gave way to full-on guffaws. We barbequed in the summer, ate watermelon under black walnut trees, and enjoyed peanuts in RC cola while riding down dusty back-country roads of Vilonia Arkansas.

Moments. Simple things. Things of life. Treasures.

Not to say all moments were good. Dad was human and he suffered crushing failures that broke him over time. Failures that came from a huge corporation that opposed him. He, along with his brother, invented a device that proved to save significant money on natural gas bills. The aggressive measures taken by the gas Goliath against the Fuel Save Corporation, even made the newspapers. I guess you could say they were one of the first “green” inventors, quickly silenced by big money.

The other enterprises my father embarked on failed because dramatic drop in beef prices and because of a political embargo on soybeans. Both of these situations cost him everything. Still, he soldiered on. Even as life grew more disappointing, he focused on celebrating family and sweet life-experiences.

This should be our focus: Laughter, love, exploring nature, music, appreciating beauty, reaching out to each other, indulging in conversation both light and deeply intimate. These are gifts that will live in the memories of those we love and will be shared with those they love in the future.

These are the treasures we must seek and hide in our hearts.

RIP Daddy. Thank you for giving me such rich treasure. I miss you.

Late Bloomer?

To Everything There Is A Season…

My backyard is a forest of beautiful trees. But at the edge stood one that I thought was dead and I didn’t like how it marred the view, so I planned on cutting it down. That is until the other morning when I looked out my window and was surprised by what I saw. Long after the other trees had leafed out and their spring green leaves had deepened to a mature verdant, this little tree’s buds began to swell and open. In a few days I noticed how this late bloomer stood out from its fellows. Its bright young leaves were distinct against the dark green canopy.

This image reminds me of my inward struggle when I first began to write. I got a late start and felt I was too late to be considered a serious or professional author. My prose felt ugly amidst the beautiful writings of my fellows. Even so, I didn’t give up. Over time, clarity came and defined in me my place in the writing world. I feel sure that one day, I will be like this little tree and stand out among my peers.

What are your goals? Your hopes and dreams? Do you feel like a late bloomer? Well, good. That means that one day, if you don’t give up, you will stand out and be noticed!

Responding Rather than Reacting

I’m a part of a group called the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Back before the “Rona” virus, Jan, Ruth, and I, traveled together and conducted writing workshops. We are three VERY different women with different views, but we fit together because we respect each other and we focus on our commonalities. Because of this we are able to discuss our differences and come to a respectful meeting of the minds.

This is called communication.

In this group, I have been dubbed the Momma. And since one of my core values is communication, Momma Linda has something to say about our current state of communicating, or lack thereof.

One perusal of Facebook or Twitter paints a dismal picture of our ability, or rather inability, to communicate effectively. There is a lot of reacting, and not enough responding. In these politically charged and uncertain times, fear, anger, and hate, are more evident than ever on social media. Every day someone re-posts dubious warnings that are totally false without taking the time to check the validity of the statement, therefore adding to harmful anxiety. Folks, it only takes a few minutes to check out these bizarre claims.

But what dismays me the most are the posts written by angry people who spit their posts on social media using disgusting, foul language, and threatening anyone who doesn’t agree with them. These posts are usually political or due to the unrest we feel because of COVID-19.

I wonder, just what do these writers hope to accomplish? I suppose they want us to agree with them. And some do—those who are already in the fear-mongering or spitting-angry writers’ camp. But those who do not agree erect walls and react just as strong in opposition. So, nothing constructive is accomplished. Rather, more fear, anxiety, hate, bitterness, and anger is stirred into the soup of humanity.

The sad thing is? Some of the writers who react by posting with foul language and insults, actually have good points. But because of their inability to communicate, they have alienated many of their readers. To react is strong evidence of immaturity and a lack of a “filter.” And the truth is, oftentimes, these writers are behaving in the exact same way as the people they criticise. We need to begin with the wisdom found in Michael Jackson’s lyrics, ” I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

Instead of us reacting to people and circumstances, thereby, erecting a wall to our purpose, why not respond with intelligence and build a bridge to help others to recognize the problems we see? Jan, is the master at this. She is the pacifist of the group. Jan asks thought provoking questions and doesn’t feel threatened when someone doesn’t see things her way. She is professional and intelligent. She doesn’t need to hide behind anger and foul language. I admire her for that very reason.

Ruth is the fireball of our group and she has VERY STRONG opinions. But she has a filter. She has learned to tilt her head to one side, shrug her shoulder, and say, “Whatever,” even though her brain is screaming. I admire her self-control.

Don’t be fooled. When we vomit up anger and hate on “our” Twitter account or “our” Facebook page, we can’t hide behind the excuse of “I can put whatever I want on my page.” Especially if we are professionals who depend on others to invest in and help build our businesses. The same is true when we depend on people to buy our products. Our behavior on our social media accounts clue the public in on our character and professionalism. I’m sad to have to say this, but it seems to me that people actually want to be angry and combative. This is a sickness in our society.

Please, be bridge builders instead of wall erectors. Do it for Momma Linda’s sake. Life is too beautiful to waste on anger, hate, bitterness, and vindictiveness. Please do not alienate people, but find what you have in common and build on that commonality. Doing this builds trust and respect. Hey, you may be pleasantly surprised at how your responding may actually help people see your point.

The Big Little Things

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. ~ ~ Robert Brault

When I was a little girl, I visited my grandmother, Big Momma, in Durant, Mississippi. She taught me many things but what delighted my child’s heart the most was shelling speckled butter beans on her front porch. During warm summer evenings we sat together on her porch swing. It was magical. The rise and fall of cicada and tree frog song filled the humid night air, perfumed by gardenia blooms. We swayed back and forth while she showed me how to hold the bean in one hand and thumb it open with the other. I fumbled with each green pod and thrilled when I found a bean with bright purple splotches on its creamy white flesh.

Time with my grandmother on her front porch was a little thing.

I spent two weeks each summer with my grandmother, Mammie, in Jackson, Mississippi. As soon as I arrived for a visit, she bundled me up and took me to the grocery store so I could pick out my favorite treats to eat while I was there. The summers in Mississippi were brutal, but on late afternoons when the sun fell behind the trees, I’d follow her in the yard while she tended her roses and azaleas. As she watered her flower gardens, I’d beg her to turn the hose on me and let me play in the water. I always danced close to the mint bed because when the spray hit it, the disturbed leaves released their refreshing, spicy, scent.

Grocery shopping and following my grandmother in her yard was a little thing.

My grandparents, Granny and Granddaddy in Vilonia, Arkansas, included me in their day-to-day chores when I visited their farm. Granny let me collect the eggs and held the hens for me to pet. She showed me how to make biscuits. She called them catheads because of their shape. And when I was hungry, she punched a hole in the center of a cold biscuit and filled it with sorghum molasses.

Early mornings, on the cusp of dawn, I followed Granddaddy to the barn. I can still see his tall, lean, frame silhouetted against the waning darkness. He wore striped overalls and heavy work boots. I followed in shorts and flip-flops shivering from the dew-covered goose grass slapping against my bare legs. He milked cows while I hunted for a nest of new-born kittens in the hay loft. After breakfast he encouraged me to help him in his garden. Truth be known, I made more work for my grandfather than I helped, but it didn’t matter to him.

Time with Granny in the kitchen and in the chicken coop, time with Granddaddy in the barn and in the garden were little things.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I look back and realize these little experiences with my grandparents were actually big things because they made me a part of who I am today. I am a lover of gardens, hens, kitties, cooking, and front porches. But my grandparents influence didn’t stop with me. It reached much further. This revelation came to me when my grandson stayed with us one summer. The first thing I did was take him to the grocery store and told him to choose what he liked to eat. While I watched him peruse the aisles, the memory of Mammie doing the very same thing for me flashed in my mind. Later on, I connected the dots and realized how most everything I did with my grandchildren were the things my grandparents did with me.

I have a garden and I grow speckled butter beans. On warm summer evenings my grandchildren shell beans with me on my front porch swing and we listen to the rise and fall of the cicada and tree frog song.

I have a mint bed and the grands love to water it and smell the refreshing aroma.

I have hens, a favorite with the grandkids. They like to gather the eggs, however, some are a little shy around the curious chickens that peck at their shoelaces. So, just like Granny did for me, I hold the hens for them to examine and pet. When my grandchildren help me in the garden, I offer prayers of apology to Granddaddy.  

These are small moments with my grandchildren. Our times spent together. Little things. But when they are in their sixties, they will realize—just as I did—just how big these little things are.

A Phone Call

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Make sure you tell the people you love that you love them. Loudly and often. You never know when it might be too late. ~ Tom Hiddleston

I just finished a book by Mitch Albom titled, The First Phone Call from Heaven. It is about several select people in a small town receiving phone calls from loved ones who had died. A mother, a sister, a son, a friend, a wife, all reached out from Heaven to loved ones on earth. What struck me most is how Albom portrayed the desperation of the living for the ones who had passed on. Actually, the desire to communicate with the dead is  nothing new. However, in this novel after the shock of hearing the voice from Heaven the characters were consumned with the communication and nothing else mattered. They kept their phones close and were obsessed with the possibility of missing a call.

While I read the book the thought occurred to me, I have loved ones who are alive that I can still call, still go to visit and still email.  I can see them. I can hear them.  A tiny voice shouted, “Take advantage of this gift Linda!”

Another thought: enjoy this great privilege called life and the ability to still be with the living.  DO NOT WASTE TIME being angry or confrontational over silly things, such as politics. Forgive. It is a tragedy to erect walls that separate us from those, who after their deaths—or our own death—would be desperate for a call from Heaven.

Don’t waste precious moments…

Our Life is Our Legacy

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A godly woman is beyond average because she keeps her word. She honors her vows. She exhibits great faith. She overcomes great obstacles. And she affects her family, her community, even the world. ~ Elizabeth George

 

Recently I sat through the most endearing, beautiful, and honoring memorial for a long-time friend, Lewis Clark, Sr. I listened with rapt attention while his sons, grandsons, friends and pastor stood and shared the life of this amazing man. All the while I struggled to make out their faces through the blur of tears. I’ve never been to a memorial as beautiful as this one.

Some of the constant themes of Lewis’s life-legacy were how he taught men to be men, how to worship, how to grow in faith, and how to love their wives. Such endearing words were spoken of him that afternoon. He would have been humbled to hear them. While I sat in the service I thought of his widow, Patsy. It occurred to me that in the same way Lewis taught men to be men, Patsy mentored women. I am grateful she is still with us and I want to take the time to share what she means to me.

I met Patsy during one of the lowest times in my life when my first husband walked out on our three-month-old daughter and me for another woman. He never looked back. The only time he saw our baby daughter was when his mother kept her and invited him to dinner. I can’t begin to express the emotional traffic jam that went on in my head. Rejection – was I not good enough for his love? Did he care what happened to our daughter? Fear – I dropped out of college to marry him. I’ve jokingly said I got a M.R.S. degree. Now it had been ripped from me. How was I supposed to support our daughter and myself? At that time there was no such thing as the Internet. To go back to college meant I had to attend classes. My parents worked and I had no money for childcare. Add to that anger and a terrible self-image.

But even worse, back in those days, as far as most Christians were concerned a divorcee was considered tainted. I felt doomed to living my life alone. Honestly, one could have received forgiveness for murder easier than divorce. Well-meaning people told me, “God will be your husband,” and “God will be a father to your daughter.” I was only twenty-one. This didn’t comfort me—at all! I needed God with skin on. Needless to say, I felt like an outcast even in the Christian community.

Until Patsy.

She created a ministry for women and invited me to join. I was so lonely and I gratefully accepted. There was no condemnation in her sweet expression. Her touch was healing. Her hand was an extension of Christ to me. She was Christ’s love with skin on.

That poor woman listened to me for countless hours as I mentally processed all that had happened to me. I always called her as the sun set because that was the loneliest time of day. I guess because it was the time my husband used to come home. She always picked up the phone. I said the same thing over and over and over and to her credit, she listened patiently. She would say to me, “Linda, you can’t unscramble eggs. Jesus knows that your heart is bowed before him.” What comfort I found in her words.

 Later, Neal Apple came into my life. He loved me with the love of Christ. He adopted my daughter and we were blessed with four more children. I continued on in the women’s group where Patsy taught the ladies how to pray, how to worship, how to be Godly women and how to love our husbands.  As time went on she saw potential in me and mentored me to teach. In fact it is Patsy who set me on the path I follow today as a speaker for an international ministry. And it is she who inspired me to be a mentor to others.
When my soul was darkest, she was a light. I did heal. I did forgive. She was Jesus with skin for me. Patsy is faithful to the legacy God entrusted to her care. Today I want to honor my dear friend while we are still on this earth together.
I love you Patsy!

Drop the “S”

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People love that you’re human and that we’re frail and we face the same situations. Honesty tends to communicate with people better than standing up there like you have an ‘S’ on your chest. ~ TobyMac

This quote really resonated with me the other day while looking for my daily quote to put on my personal Facebook page. I scrolled past it several times, but something inside me kept urging me to go back to it. It reminded me of a time when I was having coffee with a friend. She was telling me her troubles with her teenaged son. I felt her pain and shared with her how my own son had been involved in the same thing. I’ll never forget her expression. She said, “Your son?” She had a totally different impression of our family. When I was genuine and didn’t pretend I was supermom, the whole atmosphere changed. My friend relaxed and our conversation went deep and was healing.

Someone today needs to take that fake S off their chest and be real. Connect with others on the same level. Share your experiences and how you overcame.

Some of you need to take that fake S off your chests and let others help you. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness.

We need each other. We are all woven together in the fabric of humanity. Allow the beautiful pattern to emerge

Moving Forward

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. ~ C. S. Lewis

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This quote really hit home with me. I remember hanging on those bars as a child. My weight pulled me down toward the ground. The longer I hung there the more my hands ached and burned. I had a choice. Give up and fall down, or move forward. When I reached the end of the Monkey Bars, my hands still hurt for a while but soon it was forgotten. I had moved on in play.

As an adult I still have a choice. Do I hang onto a painful experience and allow it to pull me down. Do I choose to let this experience cause me to ache and burn? Or will I let it go and move forward?

I choose to move forward. And even though the ache still lingers, it will be forgotten as I move on in life.