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.