Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Quilt Scraps" ~Shannon (Sosebee) McChristian

     My Grandma Sosebee always had a quilting frame up in her house.  It occurred to me recently that my future grandchildren may never even see a quilting frame, in spite of the fact that it was such a regular and expected  part of my own childhood.  The quilting frame has gone the way of working large gardens and canning the food picked from them.  There are still a few hold-outs who hang on to these traditions, but for the most part they have gone the way of the eight track tape and wall mounted telephone, fading into a time that is quickly becoming history.
     The quilting frame of my childhood was a perfect indoor fort for us grandchildren, although Grandma would shoo us away if she caught us playing beneath it.  I can remember laying quietly underneath the frame until she came to sneak in a few stitches, then grabbing her ankles and giggling as she squealed.  If you multiply the grief I gave her by eight, which is how many grandkids she had under foot at one time or another, it’s amazing that I don’t ever remember her raising her voice to me in anger.
     My grandparents didn’t have much money, but my first lesson in a charity cause was my Grandma’s church quilting circle.  I must have been about ten when I understood how much money a quilt could be “raffled” for when the church ladies finished it.  It was shocking to me to think that something I used just to wrap up in on the floor on Sunday mornings and watch cartoons, could be worth that kind of money.  I had stacks of things Grandma had sewn and quilted for me in my closet.  I was suddenly inspired to take her up on the sewing lessons she constantly offered me.  I saw a great money making opportunity and couldn’t understand why Grandma wasn’t rich!
     After many hours of her patient tutelage and my sore and bloodied fingers, I decided the time and effort needed wasn’t worth the earning potential.  Quilting was quiet and tedious work.  More work than my ten year old self wanted.  I was soon ready to rejoin my brother and my boy cousins outside, to chase chickens and fish in Grandpa’s pond.
     Grandma often sewed baby clothes, hats and tiny quilts for the newest grandchild, dresses and shirts for the adults, and beautiful handmade doilies in between.  Almost anything you could think of or need, she could find a pattern for.  I can close my eyes and still see stacks of patterns, boxes of buttons, and multiple rolls of brightly colored yarn.  On Sunday afternoons after a big lunch, the bolts of fabric would come out and she would share her latest projects.  Occasionally a finished quilt would be brought out for all of us to “ooh and ahh” over.  
     Grandma always had “scrap” bags, and nothing was ever wasted at her house.  This was a lady who saved every butter tub and bread bag she over purchased, and was amazed at ziplock bags.  She carefully washed and reused every one many times.  Grandma didn’t worry too much about decorating her house or how things looked.  Every item stacked in her cabinets had a function and could be used many times.  The things that had no oblivious use “might come in handy” and were saved for “someday when we may need that.”  Left over food was scraped off the kids plates and fed to Grandpa the next day, then his leftovers were saved for the animals.  Milk cartons were used for all kinds of good uses, cut and reshaped in every way I could imagine- and some I couldn’t.
      The point is that my Grandma had a good imagination and lots of ingenuity long before Pinterest was ever a thought.  Oh, what she could have done if she had been able to Google “uses for quilt scraps!”
     As the oldest granddaughter and only girl in a houseful of boys, I had full access to the quilt scrap bags, and Grandma often encouraged me on one small sewing project or another, but I never developed her skill or natural talent for quilting.  How I would love to sit in her lap again as she patiently guided my fingers and pulled out my crooked stitches.
      Grandma’s social life, what little there was, centered around her little country church.  And only as an adult did I understand how she must have looked forward to her afternoon quilting sessions with the other ladies.    This was the closest thing to a support group or therapy session she ever took part in.  These ladies prayed for each other, cooked for each other, and helped raise each others children.  They talked quietly for hours at a time, sharing recipes and concerns about bills and cranky husbands.  Many times in my daily life I long for a quilting circle of my own.  I think my generation lost a treasured resource when we decided life needed to move a little faster…and in the process we gave up quiet afternoons in church fellowship halls, with our children playing at our feet, surrounded by women who loved and supported us.
     My birthday was last week (they come faster and faster these days) and I came home from work to find a handmade eight foot tall quilt rack that my dad had built for me.  I spent this cold winter morning unpacking my Grandmas quilts and hanging them one by one over the rails, all the way to the ceiling.  So many sweet memories are stitched into every piece of material.  I can lay my hands on her straight even rows and feel so close to her.  Some of the quilts still have county fair ribbons hanging on them.  I had to swipe them from her house when she wasn‘t paying attention- as she doesn’t see the value of ribbons.  Some have my name and the date they were completed stitched discreetly into a corner.  One or two of the quilts are very tattered and old.  After my house burned, she gave me those particular ones to replace the many I had lost in the fire.  She had quilted them as a little girl with her own Grandmother.  These quilts are some of my greatest treasures on earth.
     If she walked into my office right now, she would be puzzled and a little disappointed, as she always thought she had failed when we displayed a quilt instead of using it.  She would be polite about it, but in her heart she thought it was “wasteful.”  She made the quilts to keep her family warm.  She knew what it was to be hungry and cold.  Therefore much of her life was spent canning food for our bellies and making quilts for our beds.  It was how she tried to show us her love.  If I could make her believe one thing today, it is that she was very successful.
     My grandma couldn’t imagine a world when I would hang all those quilts on a rack just to look at every day.  I often wonder what she would say about the waste I see in my world every day.  I don’t think she understands it, and I’m glad she doesn’t.
     Lately I’ve been wondering what my own grandchildren will inherit from me someday.  Sadly, it won’t be my quilting or canning skills.  But I know I can tell them my stories.  Stories of the many generations of love they come from.  Stories of heartbreak and happiness, hard work and ingenuity.  I can tell them about their sweet little great-great grandmother, and I can show them what she could accomplish with just a bag of scraps, a patient heart  and a little love!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Jeremy's Story" ~Isaiah 41: 9-13

     My baby is fifteen as I write this.  He was the third chance God gave me to raise a child right.  Third time is a charm.  I like to tell the other two I just practiced on them.  My husband travels for work, so most of the time these days it is only my youngest and me at home.  He is my quiet one.  My deep thinker.  Blond and blue eyed.  He is wise and funny and wonderful when he wants to be.  My baby.  My heart.  My company in middle age.  My surprise child.
     He almost didn’t exist. I had a boy and girl already.  Two years apart.  Typical American family.  No plans for a third child.  My older two were both in school.  I was going back into the work force.  Things were tight financially.  My marriage to their daddy was struggling.  Hard decisions were being made.  I was facing raising my children as a single parent.  I was hurting badly.  Not in a good place.  Scared and overwhelmed by the needs I couldn’t meet for the children I already had.  Trying to hold on. Clinging by my fingertips.  And that’s when God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to surprise me.  An unplanned pregnancy. 
     I wish I could say I trusted His wisdom gracefully, accepted His will, glowed in a Madonna type way.  That’s what happens in the movies.  But that’s not exactly the way my story really played out.  I was angry and confused.  I yelled at God, alone in the shower.  I cried giant messy tears.  A lot of them.  I prayed.  I questioned and reasoned.  I told Him about His bad timing.  About my bills.  About the heartaches of my marriage.  I told Him I wasn’t capable.  I told Him I was weak.  Empty.  And I didn’t tell a soul that I was pregnant.  For months. Oh, how scared I was for this tiny child I carried secretly. How unsure his future looked.  I was devastated for him. 
    I had many angry questions, but God didn’t give me a lot of answers during that time.  He was quiet in the face of my rage and uncertainty.  Finally, calmly and gently, he gave me a promise to cling to.  And it may have been the biggest one of my life.  He led me to Isaiah 41:9-13.  Please read it slowly.  It’s a whopper.  It quickly became my lifeline.  I played it over and over in my mind like a broken record as I hung my head with morning sickness, crying into the toilet bowl.  I taped it on the fridge and in my checkbook.  Closed my eyes and repeated it to myself when the anger and fear overwhelmed me.  ”Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”    I felt so weak and unprepared to be what this child was going to need.  I felt our chances of success together were slim.  I was the epitome of “dismayed“.  I was exhausted and terrified.
     But I gave birth in joy in spite of it all.  My baby boy was sweet and perfect.  And so loved.  However, the years ahead proved that many of my fears would come true.  Although his daddy and I hung on for a while, we did eventually divorce in a messy, heartbreaking way.  Today we are on more solid ground.  Our children will always link us.  And our youngest is now the most active part of that link.  He has a tribe of parents, stepparents and grandparents raising him and loving him.  It’s not just me.   Financially, things did get tough for a while.  We all struggled.  My faith was weak.  Many times my children did not have all they wanted.  But I promised my babies God would provide enough for the day.  One day at a time.  One hour at a time.  It was a blind and trusting faith.  And He did provide.  We made it.  We held on.  He held on tighter.   His mercy carried up through.
    Understanding of my surprise pregnancy did not come quickly, or in a flash of insight.  It took a long time.  It has occurred slowly in these later years of parenthood.  My older two are gone now, out into the world to make their own way.  My husband is away from home a lot.  And who is here to fill my days and nights?  To make me smile?  To tease me and torment me?  My surprise child.  
     He is strong today in spite of my many and vast failures as his mother.  I believe he is who he is today because of the prayers whispered in secret anguish all those years ago.  I begged God to take him and mold him when I didn’t have the energy or strength.  I begged Him to use him in a mighty way.  He was born into such a mess, and yet he is grounded in God, firm in his beliefs.  He is an example of what God could and did do, when I couldn’t and didn‘t.  
     This child’s strength and faith are a living example of God‘s bigger picture.  I know he will do great things in God’s name.  I can feel it in my bones.  He is one of the Chosen.  God had plans that I couldn’t comprehend.  How awesomely they are now unfolding.  I can see His living promise.  He makes me laugh and love every day.  And his middle name is Isaiah.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Leaving a Legacy" ~Shannon (Sosebee) McChristian

     Christmas Eve just came and went again…I spent it the same way I have for the last forty-four years, with my Grandma.  She is ninety-three this year and is beginning to fade a little.  I treasure every moment with her these days.  She is the only one of my four grandparents still living.  
      I found out over Thanksgiving that I will be a “Grandma” myself soon.  In case you are the only person in the Charleston area I haven’t told about it, I’m on cloud nine!  The news has caused me to do a little reflecting on my own grandparents and what they meant in my life.
     The four of them could not have been more different.  But as I reflect in my adult years, I find that each of them played such a key role in developing me into who I am today.  I’m grateful.
     My earliest memories include my grandparents farm in Ozark, trailing my grandfather as he tended chickens in his chicken house, fed dogs, horses and other assorted animals, all the while whistling and singing old church hymns. He was a large man, a giant in my little eyes.  He only had one arm, but could hit a baseball, lead a church service, serve in County office, and spank a child if needed.  He always had a large garden, and worked sun-up to sun-down it seemed.  He was a church planter, led worship in a lively voice, and didn’t put up with those who didn’t sing along in services. The only thing I remember that he had trouble with was tying his shoes.  One of my sweetest memories is seeing my little Grandma kneel each morning to tie them for him.  
     In his later years, he began to have “sugar issues” and was limited on sweets.  This was a big problem, as my Grandma was an excellent cook.  Many days he would send her outside on one errand or another and have me stand guard at the door while he downed half a pie or a plateful of cookies.  The first time I was an accomplice to crime was in my Grandma’s kitchen.  He and I would giggle uncontrollably while she chastised him.
     Grandpa was the head of our large Sosebee family.  No one doubted it.  Until the day he died, I never saw one of his children or grandchildren “talk back” to him.  His three grown sons, including my daddy, always knew their place.  Every Sunday afternoon, we would all attend church, followed by a huge pot-luck meal.  Then Grandpa would take his place in his chair with an assortment of grandchildren fighting for a place on his knee, where he would pull out his old harmonica and play church hymns while my aunt played the piano and we all sang along.  In the summer, the men would gather out under the shade tree in the yard and visit, while the women stayed in the house talking about quilting, canning and babies.  The children played hide and seek, chased chickens and fought and made up.  It was an unspoken rule that we never turned a television on, never mowed a yard, never missed a Sunday.  That was understood.  It was a day for worshipping God, visiting with family, and joyful rest.  Oh how I miss those Sundays.  How I took them for granted.  I treasure those memories now.  Sometimes I close my eyes and go back.
     My Grandma Sosebee was the opposite of Grandpa in many ways.  She eloped with him when she was eighteen and he was thirty-two.  Her dad was opposed because of his so-called “handicap” and so, after a secret courtship during church services, she took off and married him, leaving a hard life behind.  They had a long and fruitful marriage, but it wasn’t until later years that I ever heard her stand up to him.  She is a gentle and meek woman, but I have heard her “let him have it” on occasion- such as in the aforementioned pie and cookie incidents!  Grandmas life has been a life of service.  The lessons this lady taught me can’t all be listed.  She cooked, cleaned, gardened, canned, sewed, knitted, taught Sunday School, and baby-sat several generations of children to supplement their meager income.  She raised five children, buried one, and had a large hand in raising us eight grandchildren.  She’s working on the great grandchildren now, and my grandbaby will make her first great-great grandchild.  Little did that scared eighteen year old girl know what God had planned for her.  Grandma always had a baby in her lap or under her feet.  She taught me to read my Bible, holding it in her lap with a bookmark underlining one sentence at a time.  Taught me the books and stories in it, and taught me what patience really meant.  Grandma always had time for me.  As a child, there was nothing more important than that.  I still get to spend some Sundays at my Grandmas.  She still sews a little, still hugs me tight.  Still inspires me and makes me strive to be a better person every day.  
    My other grandmother we called NeNa.  She was a “Lacy” from the Booneville area, raised in a family of nine beautiful girls and handsome boys.  From her childhood she was different from her brothers and sisters- she dreamed of escaping small town life.  She succeeded most splendidly, becoming a model in Tulsa, Ok, which in those days was the “big city,” very glamorous and far away.  She was a head turner in every way.  And left a trail of broken hearted men in her path.  She gave birth to two children, one of which she also buried when he was twenty-one.  The other was my mom.  The pride of her life.
     By the time I came along, she had settled in Barling, happy in her single life.  She lived in a cute little house that seemed like a museum to me, with crystal in her china cabinet and beautiful knickknacks scattered about.  I loved to go to her house, where I was the only child present and the center of everything.  I felt like a “grown-up” there.  We looked at fashion magazines and she let me sit at the kitchen table with her round lighted make-up mirror and practice putting on lipstick.  She was of the impression that neither of us should ever leave home without it.  She could dance like nobody’s business, and won several local contests even in her later years.  She had a closet full of beautiful dresses and shoes, and put them all to good use.
     In later years, when I was grown with toddlers, I would go and take her on her weekly shopping trip for groceries and necessities.  I knew to “dress up” a little because if not, she would lecture me on appearances and taking care of myself.  She kept an immaculately clean house, and baked a very good carrot cake.  The lessons she taught me have grown in importance to me as I’ve gotten older.  I learned many things from watching her.    
     I remember her coming out to our little Vesta farm on the prairie to visit.  She stuck out like a sore thumb.  She was usually wearing her fur coat, lipstick perfectly in place and hair teased and colored.  She was the talk of the town when we drove in to get cow feed in the old farm truck.  
    When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up and be her.  Every time I put on my lipstick and jewelry these days, I realize that a little part of her lives on in me.  I am so thankful I had her in my life, to learn from and to love.  She was a beautiful lady.  She loved her daughter, my mom, with a blind and total love.  And that love extended to me, her granddaughter.  There is nothing greater than that.  I’m so thankful.
     One of the men she left behind was my other grandfather, my “Papa Bud.”  My earliest memory of him was while he worked full-time for Synergy Gas and lived in Ft. Smith.  That may have been his “job,” but our little family on the farm was his “life.”  On Saturday mornings, Cody and I would stand in the dusty driveway watching down our dirt road for his truck to come.  He would arrive for the weekend, bearing bags of candy for us.  Many times he bought us things that mom and dad could not afford.  He had a giving spirit that my brother inherited.  He spent his life helping others in quiet ways, and following us grandkids around.  I thought he would literally “bust” with pride when Cody started performing in and winning junior rodeos.  It was all he talked about.  I remember when I was in junior high school and made the cheerleading squad- I came home to find a crooked hand lettered sign duct-taped to our old back door that said “Congratulations Sissy!”  At some point he retired and moved into a little trailer up behind our house.  He loved to walk down and take over the kitchen from mom, cooking whatever squirrel or rabbit had not escaped the hunting posse at our house that week.  He loved fishing, music and baby animals.  What I remember most about my Papa Bud is that he taught me laughter and fun, and to help others every chance I got.  Great lessons from a quiet and hard-working man.
        Four great people.  Four great lives of lessons lived out that formed the person I am today.  I miss them all every day.  The thing they all had in common was that they took time for me and made me feel like the center of their world.  I pray every day that in the midst of the busy world I inhabit today, that I can slow down and have the time, energy and love to do the same for my kids and grandkids.  This is what God intended.  This is how one generation should carry faith, love and family history to the next.  It is my firm belief that many foundational life lessons should be learned while sitting on a grandparents knee…I had some of the best.  
Today I’m so thankful.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Broken Pieces" ~by Shannon McChristian

     2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

     There is a beautiful church in the little town where I grew up, built with ancient stones and colorful stained glass windows.  The first time I visited it as a child, I stood amazed.  I couldn’t concentrate on the message, the songs, the people.  Just the windows.
     They were amazing.  The sunlight poured through the color, changing the scenes minute by minute.  They told the story of Christ.  Scene by scene, image by image.  They  showed His suffering, His glory, as clear as day.  Without using a word.  Amazing.
     I was an innocent little girl then.  But those windows stayed with me as I grew.  As a teenager, I sang a favorite “special” over and over in our little country church.  It was called “Broken Pieces.”  The words are embedded in my mind, even today.  The song was about God being able to put things back together, when life has fallen apart.  At the time, when I was young, it was just a song I memorized.  But it seemed to speak to my heart somehow.   I realize now that God was preparing me, even then.  Giving me tools.
     Many years later, my well-ordered, perfectly-planned life had fallen apart.  I was filled with pain, ugliness and sin.  Broken.  Shattered in a million tiny pieces that ripped my heart and soul apart with every deep breath I took.  I couldn’t go to work, couldn’t see friends or family, found it impossible to walk into church and face people. 
     But I could pray, and  I did.  Constantly, without ceasing, asking for Him to restore me, rebuild me from scratch, make me feel whole again.  Take the ugliness away.
     And amazingly, over the days, months and years, He began to put my pieces back together.  One tiny slice at a time.  It seemed an impossible, time-consuming task.  It seemed hopeless.  Pointless sometimes even, at least to me.
     Some pieces were jagged and rough.  Some smooth and liquid.  Some ware dark and stormy, others clear and pale.  But patiently He worked, day by day, reattaching the shreds, fitting the tiny pieces gently together and pouring His grace in the cracks.
     And a funny thing happened. The more scripture I studied, the more I prayed, the more I suffered, the more He revealed Himself and His truths to me.  I lived in His world.  I depended on Him completely, trusted Him deeply, relied on His strength, wisdom, and forgiveness to get me through each hour, each long day.  And all that time He was rebuilding me into His plan.  In His grace, He still is.  All these years later.
      As I say often, my favorite Bible character is Peter, without a doubt.  Peter, Jesus’ loudest cheerleader.  The one who pledged to witness and protect.  Big plans, big promises, loud praises for all to hear.  But God knew Peter was shallow.  Nothing to back up the claims.  No spiritual depth or knowledge.  And when the chips were down, Peter folded, fell apart.  The hardest thing for Peter, I think, must have been the next morning.  Waking up to the truth and the consequences.  Waking up knowing the world as He planned it was shattered and broken.  Wondering where to go from there.  Feeling like an embarrassing failure. But Peter is a story of redemption.  Of God slowly and lovingly rebuilding him from the ground up.  And in the end, God used him mightily, in spite of his own weaknesses.  He put Peter’s pieces back together again, just like in the nursery rhyme.  Just like me.  Me and ‘ole Peter have a lot in common.   
     These days, I can’t look at a stained glass window without tears springing to my eyes.  For they represent what I strive to be.  Many jagged, hopeless, shattered pieces that have been restored to make up colorful, changing pictures of Christ.  That’s me.  Stronger than before, better in spite of the breaks.  My edges have been smoothed, my gaps filled in.  Yes, I am a work in progress.  I have to be maintained, patched up here and there.  But I am so much stronger and better that the big shallow piece of clear glass that I once was.
     And I hope as people look at me, at my jagged pieces, my different colors and textures, as they delve more deeply into my picture, all they will see are the images that are reflected of His life, His work, His grace and forgiveness.  His amazing, patient, loving Restoration.  That is, just like Peter, the finished picture I want to reflect.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"A Time to be Thankful..." ~Psalm 106:1

     It’s not Thanksgiving…and yet I am so thankful.
I am in the middle of Wedding season…my oldest son got married in the Spring.  My middle child, and only daughter, will marry in the fall.  It’s early summer now.  I am in the middle.
     Both have had rocky relationships in the past.  Not your usual teenage drama, but serious, scary, run-for-your-lives relationships.  I have cried, prayed, begged and let go…then grabbed hold again.  I watched and waited, praying we would all come out of them unscathed.
     And the miracle of it all is, we did... I am so thankful.
     I publicly and privately gave my son to God when he was a baby.  And it’s a good thing I did, because it took God’s daily help to raise him.  Every day, some days every hour, he was a challenge.  I loved him greatly and disciplined him greatly.  And prayed.
      He was always the leader of the pack, whether on the football team or church youth group…he was the instigator and the inspiration.  He was strong in his ideas and beliefs.  Which is another way to say he was stubborn.  I loved him with all my heart, even on the days when he broke it.  A child like that is a challenge and a joy.  The joy just takes patience sometimes.  
     As a young man he drifted away from God’s plan.  He had the wrong friends.  He did the wrong things.  He was in a serious long-term relationship that wasn’t right for him.  I watched the path of destruction he walked on.  I talked until he wouldn’t listen.  Cried until I was dry.  Gave up and tried to quit many times.  But moms don’t get to quit.  We love too hard.
     My daughter was born two years after him…and as happens so often, she was his opposite in almost every way.  Blond hair and green eyes, tiny and sweet.  She was a joy from the start.  Sitting quietly for hours, watching her whirlwind of a brother entertain her.  She didn’t talk until she was three because he talked for her.  She was eager to please.  A follower, loyal and true.  She hated conflict of any kind.  She was our laughter and joy.  
     Our divorce messed her up…she was thirteen.  A hard age to face the things we faced.  She got caught in the crossfire, swept up in the whirlwind.  Deposited in the debris that was the life we had left when the dust settled.  She didn‘t complain.  I thought she was okay, but she wasn’t.  She just didn’t tell me.  And I didn’t understand.  But I prayed.  More than ever before.
     What followed were several years of the biggest heartbreak of my life, as I watched my baby girl struggle.  She also left God’s will…in a much quieter and less rebellious way.  
     So now I had two in crisis.  In very different ways, one publicly, one privately.  Both just as heartbreaking.  I felt helpless and overwhelmed.  Out of my element and over my head.  Some days I couldn’t breathe.  I was in a battle.  Spiritual warfare.  If you don’t believe it’s real, you haven’t been where I’ve been.  I prayed and I cried.  I screamed and I begged.  
...Alone with my God.  Many times He seemed far too silent.  But I prayed some more.
     Hours passed, one by one, then days, months and years.  There were not any simple solutions, not any quick fixes.  Daily, continuous, soul-wrenching prayer.  That’s what saved us.
     It’s been many years as I write these words.  We are in the middle of Wedding Season at our house.  But, as you can imagine,  it feels more like Thanksgiving.
     Both of my children have chosen mates well.  My daughter-in-law grew up far away from us, being molded and shaped into an angel for my son.  They are a good fit.  And she handles his stubbornness like a pro.  She told me this week that he has been starting to share his testimony with the youth group in their church.  I could only smile.  Bet those kids are in shock!
     And as for my precious little girl, I prayed so often that God would send the “Perfect Guy.”   Someone to cherish and love her unconditionally, someone to show her what a healthy relationship could be.  I could only laugh when she introduced him and his name was actually Guy.  My God took my prayers literally.  As he so often does.  I couldn’t have chosen anyone more “perfect” for her, even if it was up to me.  Glad it was up to God instead.
      So I am in a thankful phase…just sitting back and watching answered prayers walk up church aisles to marry.  Seeing God's big picture unfold.  The "mess" become a "message."  Seeing my babies restored and stronger than ever.  Believing in miracles.  Believing in prayer.  Believing in God’s promises.
     Love Never Ever Fails.  Neither does He.  I’m Thankful.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"The Tin Cup" ~by Shannon (Sosebee) McChristian

     Thinking today about an old tin cup.  
      When my kids were small, I often tried to “create” good memories for them.  I thought somehow by making a huge deal of the happy moments, I could balance out or erase the bad ones.  Of course it didn’t work that way.  Now they are adults, and when we discuss their childhoods, I don’t remember half of the events they can describe in vivid painful detail.  And they seem to remember more negative things than positive.  Epic fail on my part.  My efforts to pick and choose only happy memories for them failed miserably!
     When I think back to my own childhood memories, I realize the difference in the generations was that my parents didn’t have some of the luxuries I did as a mother.  They were too busy trying to keep us all fed and clothed to worry too much about what memories we would have.  The “creating” of memories was left up to the will of God, which is as it should me.  Most of the time, we can’t successfully force happy memories.  Sometimes they just happen. 
     And so that brings me back to the tin cup.
     We lived on a farm.  It didn’t look like the farms I see in glossy magazines today.  But it was a farm none the less.  We had cows and horses, dogs and more dogs, barn cats and occasional goats.  Eggs to gather and babies to birth.  Prairies, ponds and pastures.  Old hay barns to play in, and a mountain in the background to climb and explore.  Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  It was a farm all right.  And a wonderful place to grow up.
     One of the advantages of a farm like we had was self-sufficiency.  My parents worked hard to raise animals that provided meat for our table and vegetables that made up our side dishes.
     We had a small garden plot near the house that was handy to send us kids running out to just before supper, maybe to grab a couple of last minute squash to fry, or a tomato to slice up fresh.  Nothing has ever tasted better to me till this day.     
     But the real garden was about a half mile away.  The big garden.  Part way up the mountain.  We called it a “truck patch.”  Maybe because you could easily drive away with a truck-full of fresh grown produce on any fall day.  We would ride our ponies bareback to the patch, or maybe catch a ride on dad’s open tailgate, bumping through mud puddles and squealing with delight when our hot bare legs got sprayed with muddy water, bare feet dangling and brushing the ground.  Those dangling legs are how we measured our growth, mine were always longer than my baby brothers.  Wondering now at what point he outgrew me…been a while since we’ve ridden on a tailgate side by side.
     I’m sure that large truck patch was a lot of work each year for my parents.  That’s not the part I remember.  
     I remember all of our relatives coming to work side by side on weekends.  I remember racing down the perfectly straight dirt rows.  I remember running wildly with my cousins and the neighborhood kids, climbing in the trees nearby.  Climbing the nearby mountain.  I remember on long summer days when our parents were busy, how my brother and I would “sneak away” alone to the truck patch and work together to lift a big watermelon high above our heads.  Then turn it lose and watch it bust into edible pieces.  
     There is nothing better on a hot summer afternoon, than to sit barefooted in the dirt and eat a watermelon without any silverware.  I dare you to try it.  (But don’t tell my dad we did that.  We told him it was wild animals.  And I’m just sure he believed us.  In spite of the tiny human footprints in the dirt.)
     But I have gotten off track.  I wanted to talk about the tin cup.
     Up behind the truck patch, on the side of the heavily wooded mountain, ran a little stream of water.  We called it a creek.  The water was icy cold and crystal clear.  The rocks scattered throughout had been washed smooth and stayed cool year around.  It was a quiet place.  Shaded and peaceful.  Perfect for a mid-day break from working in the heat of the huge garden.  That creek was one of the happiest places of my life.
     There was a small tin cup that hung from an old piece of hay-baling wire, high in a tree limb above.  I remember my Grandpa holding me up so I could “get it myself.”  I remember that cool water trickling down my hot dusty throat.  I remember noon-day breaks sitting near the creek to eat our sandwiches.  All the people I loved most in the world spread out resting and visiting in the shade around me, with the sounds of the creek running close by.
       I’ve lived in nice houses since then, with air conditioning and cool showers.  I’ve had fancy smoothies and cold milk shakes on hot summer days.  I’ve taken naps in luxurious hotels.
     But  I’ve never rested better than on those hot summer afternoons by the creek.   I’ve never tasted a better drink than from that old tin cup, with my Grandpa’s calloused hand holding it steady.  
     And I don’t think I ever will.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"The Mirror...a Christmas Memory"

     Two of my (grown-up) babies got engaged at the same time this last Christmas season.  I caught myself thinking several times that this might be my best Christmas ever.  It brought back a long forgotten memory of what really was perhaps my favorite Christmas gift ever.
     I was about twelve or thirteen, and it had been a lean year financially for our little family on the Vesta Prairie.  It was cold and we were broke, but that isn't the part I've been remembering...  
     Christmas was coming, and I had my mind on the expensive designer jeans my “town friends” were wearing.  I was experimenting with make-up and spending hours locked in the bathroom curling my hair, surrounded by clouds of hair spray.  The teenage years were hitting fast and furiously.  My emotions were spiraling out of control.  I spent the majority of my time with the phone receiver cradled to my ear and the cord stretched to my bedroom.  Gossiping with my friends about cute boys, piles of “Teen” magazines scattered across my bed.  I wanted to be a rich glamour girl.  I wanted to live in New York City.  I had a ways to go.  In every sense.
     My dad and his brothers had been out hunting in the woods on our mountain every night, coming home late and exhausted.  They skinned the animals they killed and sold the skins.  “Hide” money funded my parents Christmas shopping.  I lived in a state of constantly conflicting emotions, stuck between praying for those poor animals to get away, and hoping for money to buy those designer jeans.
     Dad spent more and more time working out in the barn at night, often going back out in the cold weather after supper and staying until long after my brother and I went to bed.  I assumed he was skinning animals.  I avoided that barn as much as possible.  I can smell it in my mind, even today.
     After much anticipation, the long-awaited Christmas morning finally dawned…my brother and I opened the gifts stacked under the tree one by one.  I can’t remember what they were that year…maybe make-up or a cassette tape for me, maybe a football for Cody.  No wrapped expensive designer jeans- and I tried not to show my disappointment… but then Dad slipped outside when we were almost finished, hurrying out to the barn and coming back with something wrapped in black trash bags.  He handed it to me excitedly…
    He had secretly spent those hours late at night out in that barn with all those stinky skinned animals- in the one place he knew I wouldn’t snoop- building me a large oval make-up mirror surrounded by lights.  He fashioned the frame, positioned the mirror and attached it, ran the electrical cords and carefully screwed in the large bulbs…all with money we could hardly do without.  It was beautiful.
      I can close my eyes even today and easily remember the excitement on his face when I squealed with joy as he carried it in from the cold outside.  
     Mom spent Christmas Day hanging my mirror above a fancy new vanity table, with its short and padded stool.  Oh, the many happy hours I spent primping in front of all the bright lights, pretending I was headed to model for a fancy magazine, applying and reapplying my make-up, modeling every outfit I owned.   Getting ready for the day I would move away to the big city.
     It’s been about thirty years since that Christmas morning so long ago.  I’ve received a lot of presents and given a lot of presents myself, many of which cost much more than that mirror did.  But I’m not sure I ever received a gift that had more effort and thought put into it, or brought me more fun and happiness.
     I still lived in the country.  I was still poor.  I would never model for a magazine or even own those fancy designer jeans…but each and every time I sat in front of those bright lights, in my private little dressing room… lost in my pretend world…I was glamorous and rich.               
     I never made it to New York City.  At least not to live.  Never fulfilled many of those teenage dreams.  As I got older, other dreams replaced them.  Better dreams.  Of family and faith, and small town life.  It took me a lifetime to understand that I wasn’t poor- even in my childhood, but rich in ways that I wouldn‘t understand for many years…