Monday, November 30, 2009
I have said in the past I never cry in public. I also said it was becoming increasingly harder to control this emotion. Maybe it's age, hormones or just life's experiences, I don't know, but I am more emotional these days.
I have a good reason for not wanting to cry in front of others. I don't like a lot of attention and if I start crying I will draw attention. I'm not one of those people who can quietly weep, tears rolling down their faces, occasionally dabbing them with a tissue. When I cry it's loud uncontrollable shoulder heaving sobbing. It requires many tissues.
I try to avoid situations that will bring on these episodes. Sometimes it just can't be helped. If it happens at church, well I know I will not be the only one.
This time of year everyone is trying to make you cry. Coffee commercials are the worst. They are like mini episodes of The Walton's or Little House On The Prairie. On the news they will have soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan wishing their families a merry Christmas. OK, so no TV. But what about work? When we have our open house you know there will be children singing Silent Night and such. How am I supposed to handle that? I have to work with these people.
In the town I lived in before, there was this young African American Man, named Cory. He was around thirty but had the mentality of a six year old. He was one of the sweetest people I have ever known. He would come into the bank to see me all the time and talk about Jesus. He loved Jesus and he loved his church. He would tell me about a revival or something they were having and he would say" I'm going back tonight to get me another blessing". He always wanted to play the guitar in his church but he didn't know how. He told me his pastor would say "Cory that's not your gift". And he was happy with that answer.
We were having our Christmas open house one year and he came in for punch and cookies. He was so excited about Christmas, telling me what he was getting his grandma. He said " I want to sing you a song for Christmas". I said OK, not realizing he meant right then. He closed his eyes and sang Oh Holy Night. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. First I had chill bumps, then came the tears. His voice was amazing. I said "Cory, that's your gift". He said "I know".
Sunday, November 29, 2009
It's that time again. I have my tree up and my house all decorated. It's cold and wet outside and I plan to make fudge and Martha Washington candy today while Jon watches, of course ,football.
So far, I think Christmas is going to be easier this year. I still miss Lauren as much as ever, but like a thorn in my side or a rock in my shoe, I'm getting used to it.
I like Christmas music, but it gets old. It's the same songs sung the same way by different artist. I prefer the old stuff, or my mom's music. You know big bands like Glen Miller or the crooners like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole. But what I really love is the sixties stuff.
I used to have a Christmas album, or vinyl for those of you too young to know the lingo, that had Lou Rawls and Mary Wilson, among others. I have looked for it on CD but never found it. This was the kind of music we heard in the bus stations when Mom and I went to Washington DC in 1963. This music, along with Coca Cola Santa's always takes me back to that time. I even have an ornament on my tree that is a Coca Cola Santa with 1963 printed on it.
There was a time, when I began this season by making matching Christmas dresses for my girls. Soon they were too old for this little tradition. It broke my heart, but at least it was one less thing I had to get done. A few years later I was making red twirling suits with Santa fur on the skirts for the Christmas parade in Plainview. Lauren was thrilled the last year she did this parade when she got to lead the Plainview high school marching band. This band marched about 300 more students than her high school band and is kind of a big deal around here.
Hard as it may be, I know we will move on and make new traditions and memories. We'll just have to see how it goes.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
This morning I awoke to a lovely memory. The aroma of Thanksgiving turkey roasting in the oven and my parents moving around, talking in the kitchen. I remember my dad playing with our Pekingese, Puddles, who's senses were overtaken by the smell. He would say, "You want some turkey?", and she would stand on her hind legs and make this sound like she was talking back to him.
I got out of bed and made myself a cup of coffee, and there was my own little Pekingese, Mia, looking up at me. She looked so sweet, so I gave her a little saucer of the heavy cream I was putting in my coffee. She loved it. I had no idea Jon had already given her some milk, it's so unlike him. Spoiling the puppy is my job. Well anyway, I never would have thought such a little dog could throw up so much.
Judging from Thanksgivings past, I would say the thing my family is most thankful for is football. Dallas Cowboy football to be exact. But football in general, goes on for days. This is why I don't mind working the Friday after Thanksgiving. There will be football from now through Monday night, for sure, but sometimes they surprise me with even more.
I have a niece, Jeanna, who is more like a sister to me for many reasons. She is only three or four years younger and we were raised together. Of course, like a sister, I may see her faults, but you better keep your opinions to yourself.
One Thanksgiving she and her mom and step-dad were living down the street from us. After having our fill of food and football, we snuck off to her house and watched Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, played barbies and just laughed and had a good time. No one even missed us, but football was on so.........
Today I miss my mom. I can't believe she left this world without giving me her dressing recipe. Thank goodness for Praters.
I miss Lauren sitting on the kitchen counter talking while I make ugly pies she and Sarah will make fun of, but still eat. I miss her watching the parade and telling me every few minutes that I just have to see these twirler's uniforms.
I will take my turkey to my sister in law's house and eat with my dad and brothers while they ignore me, and I am thankful I can do this another year. I am thankful for the women my brothers married, they have been the sisters who stood between me and total despair.
I will talk to Eric and Sarah on the phone tonight and be thankful they are only a few hours away. I will pray for them and ask God to bring them home quickly and safely.
Happy Thanksgiving. May your hearts be full as well as your belly's.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Driving home from work today, I heard on the radio they were having a Thanksgiving giveaway called Free Bird. They were giving away Butterball turkeys with Lynard Skynard Cd's inside. It made me laugh. But then I realized Thanksgiving dinner will likely be cooked by fifty year olds. Or those of us who discovered Lynard Skynard back in the 70's when we were fifteen and sixteen, never knowing we would ever be this old.
It's funny to me how my generation has had such a hard time growing up. We run industry and politics, and are responsible for most of the mayhem in the world, waging war and brokering peace. And yet, we still love to crank up the tunes on the radio. There is no better feeling than hopping in your car on Friday after work just as a Zeppelin song starts up. And no better time to get the Led out.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The big topic at church and in our small groups right now is, "defining moments". Everyone seems to have one, some have several. I guess my big Ta Da was when I realized how much I need other people. I know that doesn't seem like much, but believe me, it was hard to get there.
I always had a lot of friends in school and didn't spend many weekends alone. But somewhere along the way I quit trusting people. Maybe it was the bitter sting of all the knives in my back or the constant ringing in my ears from the gossip. But I learned to keep people, even friends at a distance.
After I was born again, got married and had children, I felt like I needed friends even less. I was quite comfotable being alone. I had everything I needed.
I never cried in public. This was a skill developed over many years and I was very proud of it. My mother was a crier and it embarrassed me. I also married a crier. So many times, Jon would give one of his "mini sermons" at the dinner table and he and Sarah would break down in tears while Eric, Lauren and I sat in awkward silence. I wasn't heartless. I understood what he was saying. It just didn't make me cry.
Things started to change around the time my mom was diagnosed with A L S. I was constantly blinking back tears, and I had to carry Kleenex in my purse just in case the radio played a Vince Gill song. I don't know what it is about his voice, it just makes me cry.
After she died, it took me a while but I finally was able to suck it up and go on. After all everyone looses their mom at some point, right? It's just normal.
But the loss of my sister was different. It took months for it to sink in. There is something about the death of someone with your exact DNA that makes you realize how mortal you are. She was the one person I always turned to, and now she was gone.
I made up for all the years of not crying the night Lauren died. I cried until my eyeballs were sore and then I cried some more. I never knew it was physically possible to cry so much.
We had driven all night to Sherman, in hopes of bringing her home to get well. She was gone when we got there. The doctor let us see her before the coroner took her away. Then there was nothing else we could do, so we drove home. Everyone was so nice, offering us a place to stay. Telling us not to worry, they would pack Lauren's things for us and help us get her car home. We were in shock and all we could think to do was get home to Sarah, call Eric, take care of those we had left.
On the way home it occurred to me, I needed help. I couldn't do it alone. I was talking to my sister in-law on the phone and she asked what she could do. I knew we would have company when we got home, and so I set aside my pride and asked if she would clean my house. This was huge for me. Something I would never ask another person to do.
So many people came and helped. They fed my family and took care of all those heartbroken kids who had been such good friends to Lauren. It was amazing. Ive never known such heartache and felt such love.
I think to really experience God's love you have to let His people love you.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
There is one thing all the Armstrong grandchildren have in common, besides a biting wit and the smart _ ss gene. That is a yellow Kermit the Frog t shirt. They all wore it, from Cory to Lauren. We should have had it framed but in those days a hand-me-down t shirt was not near as sentimental as it was functional.
Little kids love getting hand-me-downs from older siblings or cousins. Our son, Eric was once given some play clothes belonging to his cousin Lance. There were several stripped knit shirts that were worn and baggy, but Eric loved them. I remember one Sunday, I had him dressed for church in a blue pullover with his name monogrammed on it. He was so cute and, I thought, way to young to care what other kids would think. After Sunday school, I walked into church and there he was, waiting for me on the front pew wearing one of those stripped shirts, his sweater crumpled up beside him.
Then there are those great finds or vintage clothing. We found a few neat old things in the attic of an old house we bought in the country. This included a fully in tacked cat skeleton. That's a story for another time. But what Lauren found up there was an old thread bare t shirt with "Lake Texhoma 1985" on the front. She washed it and wore it for many years. We had never even seen Lake Texhoma. A few years later she started to college in Durant Oklahoma, which just happen to be right by Lake Texhoma where she and her friends spent so much time. She was wearing the shirt at home one weekend and I said "Who knew when you found that old shirt, you would be hanging out at Lake Texhoma all these years later?" She said "Yeah, and I was born in 1985".
I think my favorite old clothes story is one about a S M U (Southern Methodist University) sweatshirt My husband Jon bought in the 70's. It was one of those old styles with a hood and front pocket, very soft and warm. After we married, SMU was on probation for something, I don't remember, and their football teams were really bad for several years. Anyway, too ashamed to wear it, Jon gave it to me. I wore it through three pregnancies and for some time after. At some point I decided I was too old for a hooded sweatshirt and packed it away.
One weekend, Sarah and Lauren were both home from college, arguing and picking at each other while I was cleaning out my closet. I pulled the sweatshirt out of a box and, not expecting any kind of a response, I said "Who wants a vintage SMU sweatshirt?" I think it was the word vintage, but they started to fight over it. Of course Lauren won, or maybe Sarah just gave in.
After Lauren died, I saw a picture of her very good friend and roommate, Amy wearing the sweatshirt. I smiled and then I cried. I hope when she is cold she finds comfort in the sweatshirt. And I also hope when she misses Lauren, Amy will bring the shirt to her face and take a deep breath. That's what I do with the Lake Texhoma t shirt. It kind of helps.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I am a "girlie girl". I always have been. That's just how my mother raised me. I don't like to get dirty and I see no reason to ever jog or run unless someone is chasing me with a gun or chainsaw. I have had too many abusive P E teachers in my life to consider volleyball as anything else but a form of punishment.
I know women can be tough and I have, at times, had to suck it up and be a little tough myself . My sister pierced my ears before the ice had time to numb them. I walked around on a broken foot for two weeks before I knew it was broken. I gave birth, naturally, three times. The third one was nine pounds and my doctor hadn't even shown up yet. I know a woman can do anything she has to do, but why volunteer?
For instance, women in combat. Sure she can do it, I have no doubt about that. But it wouldn't be all that comfortable at certain times, if you know what I mean. She couldn't just call in sick, have a glass of wine and watch her soaps.
A few ears ago, my husband and I were youth directors at our church. We, along with two other couples, took the youth group camping over night at a nearby campground. My friend, Debbie, chose one of the primitive sites for us and as the kids and husbands were setting up tents we went looking for facilities (out houses). She told me she wasn't feeling well and had a yeast infection. I said why in the world did you pick a primitive sight? I mean what could be worse, right?
That night a huge thunderstorm rolled in and seemed to last for hours. We were soaked to our bones, and all packed into the one tent left standing. It had been sprayed by a cat and smelled like a litter box. Frightened, wet and suffocating from the stench, all I could think about was, poor Debbie has a yeast infection. No woman should ever have to live like that.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Over the years Jon and I have had some cats we loved dearly. They have been sweet, playful and loyal and really just great companions. Before all these little dogs came into our lives we were considered cat people. But for me, this was not always the case.
I only had one cat when I was growing up. My father had very strong opinions and a deep rooted hatred of the creatures. We could have dogs, rabbits, chickens or goats, but he would not live with a cat.
When I was in the sixth grade, our house was destroyed by a tornado. We moved into a rent house while we were rebuilding, and our dogs stayed at the old place, where they could run and play and watch the property. We went to feed and play with them every day, so we were not just abandoning them. Anyway, with the dogs in a different location I thought this would be the perfect time for me to get a kitten. I begged and pleaded with my dad until he finally gave in.
My brother's friend said he had some new kittens and we could have our pick. Now, I had this picture in my mind of a sweet little white kitten, named Chantal, after Sandra Dee in my favorite Bobby Darin- Sandra Dee movie. She would sleep curled up on my baby blue bedspread beside my baby blue princess phone and my world would be complete.
When my brother, Jerry, and I went to pick out my kitten we were sent to the barn. We picked the one we could catch. It was yellow and dirty and MAD! I thought, "Oh, you just need some warm milk and a bath". The milk was a good choice, but the bath didn't go that well. You know how sometimes you look at an old scar and wonder why your parents didn't take you to get stitches? Well I wonder why mine didn't insist on skin graphs.
Chantal turned out to be a very large male cat. He hated us. He would hide behind furniture or in the hallway and attack when you walked by. We lived every day in fear. All of us except Mom. For some reason he loved my mother. She called him Precious, and when he meowed you would swear he was saying Mama. He was a real Tom Cat, staying out all night only to come in when Jerry, another Tom Cat, came home.
One night our house was finally finished so we packed up as much stuff as we could and started the big move. After the final load was ready we had intentions of spending the night in our new house. Someone said, "Where's the cat? " We looked around quickly, agreed we didn't know, jumped in the car and drove to safety. The next morning we went to get a few more things and clean the rent house. The screens were torn from the doors and windows, but there was no yellow monster cat in sight.
I know this sounds awful, but we had been through so much with the tornado and all. I felt sure Precious had found a new family to terrorize. Who knows, he may still be frightening children in that same neighborhood today.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I have a hard time hatting people. I may think or say I hate someone who has committed some horrible deed, but I know I don't mean it. For one thing, I suffer from Anne Frank syndrome, where I can't help but believe everyone is basically good. Like maybe something bad from their childhood is causing them such mental anguish they must lash out at the world, but really they just need a hug. Remember Peter Pan's little girl in Hook? She told Captain Hook he needed a mommy.
Also I know, to God, hating someone is the same as murder. Sometimes I do this thing where I imagine someone I think I may hate, being hurt. Even if it's just hurt feelings, not actual punishment, I feel awful.
I know a woman who, in the past, did things to hurt me and my daughter that were so ridiculous, well no one would believe it unless they were there. I thought I hated her, I really did. But then one day some women who went to high school with her told me about all the mean things they used to do to this woman and I wanted to cry. Lately she has had some hard times, divorce and loss, and I have to pray for her. I want her to know I do not delight in her suffering.
I always get picked for jury duty, and I'm the one who holds everything up, trying to justify the actions of the defendants. "He was just a kid, give him another chance", or "People do desperate things when they are hungry". Why do they keep picking me? I can't pass judgement on another's life.
But this guy yesterday, who shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, I felt like I hatted him. I prayed, God forgive me, but I have a hard time loving Muslims. What could be worse? It's not only hateful, it's racial. I know God does not honor these feelings. He showed me in a dream last night, my ears were full of dirt and mud. He was saying, turn off the news and hear my voice. Listen with your heart.
I will pray for this man and all Muslims every where. And I will pray that God will keep our hearts tender and open. What happens in this world isn't what matters anyway.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Do you remember the first time you said, "I love the Beatles", and the person you were talking to said, "What are the Beatles"? Or that day you realized you weren't going to be a rock star or Broadway actor? My point is, everybody is nobody to somebody. You have to have done something wonderful, like Lincoln, or horrible, like Hitler, for the world to recognize your name forever. Trust me, one day your grandchildren will say "Brittany who?"
When I was a little girl, I thought my grandfather was famous. He had a famous name, Francis Marion Bacon. But famous names kind of run in my family. Seriously, my father is Calvin Coolidge. Anyway, I don't know if it was the way my mom and her siblings looked up to Grandpa or maybe it was the stories he told.
He had been a bit of an outlaw before Jesus and my grandma changed his life. Both of his parents were half Native American, one Chickasaw, the other Choctaw. And his grandfather was a well known missionary in eastern Oklahoma. His mother died in childbirth and his father soon after was shot for being an Indian and riding his horse into a bar. And Grandpa grew up to be a bank robber. His wanted poster hung in post offices all over Oklahoma for some time. After some trouble, involving an unwed mother and her angry brother, he headed for Texas and never looked back. He rode with a man who was also hiding from the authorities, and married that mans daughter, my grandmother. They were married for sixty five years and had fourteen children. All this led to him becoming the grandfather of me, the apple of his eye. He died when I was only six, he was ninety. To this day, when someone says "unconditional love" first I think of Jesus, then I think of Grandpa. I am so glad God had grace for this man.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
People say a lot of things thinking they are quoting scripture. For example, cleanliness is next to Godliness. What does that even mean? Or how about, God helps those who help themselves. I could preach an entire sermon on why God doesn't need my help, as I have learned from experience, I tend to get in His way.
But the one that has always bothered me is, The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. You've heard it a hundred times at funerals. It must come from the Bible, right? I mean it sounds spiritual and the Lords actions even end with the holy "eth", but I cant find it anywhere. Ive looked in my concordance and searched Bible Gateway and found nothing even close. If you are reading this and you know where in scripture it can be found, please leave a comment. I would like to know.
The reason I started looking was, it's not comforting. I don't know what it is supposed to mean, but it is always quoted in times of loss. I thought maybe it was taken out of context. God has given me so much in my life, I would never accuse him of taking away anyone I loved and needed.
A few years ago, there was an elderly woman in my church, who my kids referred to as "the smiley lady". She was a very small framed lady who always wore a hat and gloves and homemade dresses. I am almost certain she lived with a cat named Sylvester and a bird called Tweety. She smiled all the time, that's why my kids called her the smiley lady, and always had something the Lord had told her to say. After my daughter, Lauren died, she told me about loosing her son in the Vietnam war. With the smile never leaving her face, she said, " The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, He gives us joy and takes away our sorrows". Now that made sense. He gives us peace and takes away our fear. He gives us health and takes away our sickness and He gives us life and takes away death.
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