I Remember Mutti

I grew up calling her Mama. By elementary school she was Mammy-Jay. Don’t remember the joke now, just the name. When I became very sophisticated (around twelve or so), I called her Mother. Mother it was until I studied German in high school. That’s when I began calling her “Mutti,” (pronounced kind of like Moo-tea’ ), the German equivalent of Mommy.

That’s the one she really liked. It may have had something to do with her German roots. Her great-grandmother came over on the boat. Or it may have been because it was special — just between Mutti and me.

My Mutti was a woman of great intelligence, ‘way too much common sense, gentle ways, a quiet demeanor, fierce loyalties and even fiercer done-with-yous. When she was done with you, she was done with you. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was final.

She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Virginia where the church was the center of everything — community events, social life, politics, business, and oh yes, religion. That’s where she met my daddy. They eloped when she was sixteen. It was 1931. They spent the next eight years living with her mother-in-law.

The Great Depression was on, but they didn’t feel the effects as much as others. She said it was because they never had very much, so they didn’t expect much.

She and Daddy both worked six days a week at the garment factory where they manufactured work shirts. My daddy cut out the patterns. My mother sewed on the yokes. For every 144 yokes she was paid 12 cents. She made $6.50 her first week. On the weekends my father and grandfather (Mother’s father) played semi-pro ball. Daddy made more playing baseball than he did all week at the factory.

Even rural Virginia was touched by the New Deal’s alphabet agencies. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, sent a music teacher to Woodlawn Baptist Church. My mother and daddy, along with other young people in the church, were taught to play piano, mandolin, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, drums, trumpet and more.

Then the classes were over. Where would they play?

“In the church, of course,” my grandmother, who was also the choir director, announced.

Guitars in church? Drums in church? Horns in church?

My granny was a slight woman, just about five feet tall. But she could wrestle a six foot deacon to his knees. So that settled it. The music ensemble played in church.

Their first child was stillborn. The baby weighed over twelve pounds and had a birth defect, spina bifida. Her name was Anne Marie. Judy was born next, followed by Linda (born during that bad August storm), Jimmy (who contracted polio at the age of one) and Patricia.

My mother was so grateful my brother recovered from polio that she wanted to help other children. When she was 42 years old, she got her chance. She went to nursing school and became a pediatric nurse. I was ten at the time, so I was the guinea pig for her homework. She wrapped me in every kind of bandage imaginable, but she also gave me back rubs.

As soon as I met the age requirement, I became a candy striper and got to share a bit of hospital life with my mother. The flowers I delivered to patients had to be kept in the coldest part of the hospital. That meant my “office” was in the basement next to the Morgue. We were also pressed into service to transport “liquid specimens” to the Lab. I quickly learned I did not want to go into nursing.

Mutti was an excellent nurse — highly respected by doctors, nurses, patients and parents. When my teenage girlfriend was dying of a kidney disease, she was one of her nurses. When my teenage male friends “played the fool” and totaled their cars, she took care of them as well.

She prepared all of us children to leave the nest and fly on our own. And we did. We were independent and accomplished. We were not afraid of life. At one time Mother and Daddy had children living on three continents — I was in Europe, two were in the United States, my sister Judy in Asia.

After my father died Mutti lived independently as well — learning to manage the checkbook and to pump her own gas. She continued to travel — even visited Russia. She delivered “Meals on Wheels” to senior citizens because she didn’t know she was one. She drove her friends and neighbors to appointments and took time to wash and mend clothes for a local Christian charity.

Nearing the close of her life I was able to spend quality time with my Mutti. She was in her 80’s and only had a few years left to live. God let me enjoy those last years with her even though we lived over 600 miles apart.

She would call and say, “Can you come see me? I’m hungry for you!”

In the German version of Bambi the little fawn cries, “Mutti! Mutti!” as the shots ring out in the forest. His father appears and tells him his “mommy” can no longer be with him.

When my Mutti died at the age of eighty-seven, that’s not what my heavenly Father told me. I missed her so much, but I knew it was not the end. I knew she was in the arms of our loving Saviour and that I would be with her again.

“But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed.

You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again.

At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” — 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (The Message)

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Itching to Give Thanks

Giving thanks. That’s what Thanksgiving is. It is a time set aside to give thanks to God for His bounty.

The Pilgrims knew this. Rev. Robert Hunt knew this. Abraham knew this. David knew this. A Samaritan leper knew this. It is not a secret. Thanking God is as natural as a stream overflowing its banks during heavy rain. He pours and pours His blessings into us until there is no longer room to contain them. So we explode in joyful thanksgiving, letting it spill over to family and friends.

The true first American Thanksgiving took place in 1619 in the Virginia Colony at Berkeley Hundred near my birthplace in Williamsburg. Maybe that’s why I have such a special attachment to the holiday. I grew up with a sense of history. I also grew up with a knowledge of God — without really knowing Him.

Thanksgiving wasn’t just the amazing food or family or football. It was more than that. It was the sacredness of the day — a time to acknowledge how little we are and how big God is and how grateful we are to Him for every breath. I saw people praying and thanking God on that day that never even gave Him a nod the rest of the year. They just couldn’t help themselves.

My mother’s sage dressing was the best! I could eat it until I was just on the brink of being stuffed myself, but I always left room for the cranberry sauce, Parker House rolls and pie. When I grew up, I started my own Thanksgiving traditions, including an expanded menu. My mother and father drove from Virginia to celebrate with us.

One year as I was chopping and pounding and stirring away, I stopped briefly to ask my mother if there was anything she would like to do. She didn’t even have to take time to think about it. “No, I waited on you all those years. I’m content to just sit here and watch you work.”

And work I did. And I made the kids work, too. Their favorite thing was to whip the cream cheese into shape, stir in sliced olives, and spread it on the celery. As they got older, less and less made it to the plate.

I ran across some Thanksgiving menus recently. Here’s a sampling of what I liked to serve: Turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, candied yams, cranberry sauce, congealed cranberry salad with cream cheese and roasted peanut topping, stuffed celery, carrot sticks, assorted pickles and relishes, spiced apple rings, homemade cheese bread, apple pie with extra sharp cheddar cheese, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie with whipped topping.

The running joke in our family, and I must admit that my annual forgetfulness never failed … thus perpetuating the joke, was the candied yams. I carefully prepared them, baked them to perfection and then placed the marshmallows on top for a quick run under the broiler. I would forget, leave them in too long, pull the flaming mass out of the oven, scrape off the top layer, replace them with fresh marshmallows, set the timer, put them back under the broiler. Voila! Perfect every (second) time! Year after year.

Year after year I cooked myself into a frenzy. Afterwards I looked like a self-sacrifice – fingernails chopped off with the celery and onions, burns on hands and forearms, bruises from carrying heavy pots. But I felt marvelous!

Sometimes it was just family, or family and friends. When I came into the church, it was family and church family and anybody else who wanted to come. My reputation grew. I usually served lunch between noon and 2:00 pm, but people would drop by late afternoon, suppertime and even later. We would drag it all out again, reheat it and serve it up. The children and I really enjoyed entertaining.

One time my two younger children dressed up as Pilgrim and Indian Princess to perform an original Thanksgiving play for us. One time after our meal, we packed up all the food and transported it across town to share it again with the “Great Aunts,” who were homebound. The pleasure of spending time with the children and consuming a feast gave them lasting memories.

One time we did not have enough money to purchase the Thanksgiving meal. I had been working with a family from my church to place meals in the homes of those less fortunate. The husband worked for a company who supplied turkeys and trimmings. They had given away all the boxes except one, and my list had been exhausted.

“Can’t you think of anyone?” he asked. “Surely someone has a need.”

In obedience to the voice of God urging me, I hesitantly responded, “I have a need.” “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “We’ll come over tonight.”

And they did. He and his wife supplemented the company’s offering and brought us everything from butter and milk to Parker House rolls and everything else we needed for a glorious meal! We were really thankful to God that year!

When I was in junior high school our principal called us to the auditorium for a reading of the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation made by George Washington in 1789. It cemented in my mind that even the president was subject to God, and willingly submitted himself to God’s sovereignty, and wanted the whole country to observe a day of thanksgiving.

I had experienced a similar thing a few years before. When I started school, we memorized the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. A year later we had to re-memorize it and add the words “under God.” Our government officials wanted everyone to know that God was undergirding our country.

Another memorable Thanksgiving Day began with the usual madness and mayhem. I had been cheffing for 3 days and was up ‘way early to throw the bird in the oven and tend to all the other dishes in the works. We were expecting several special guests, so I was paying particular attention to the way we were dressed and groomed. I wanted everything to be just so.

Flitting around in my best dress, hair and make-up perfect, I was queen of all I surveyed. The place settings were set. The children had made name cards for each person. Just lovely! That’s when my daughter announced, “Mom, my head really itches.”

“What’s wrong? Let me see.”

I parted her beautiful, long hair and peered at the scalp. Ew! There were bugs crawling all over her head. What in the world was that?

I remember when I was twelve or thirteen. My grandmother asked me about my teachers at school. “How do you like your teachers this year?”

“Well,” I answered, “mostly they’re OK, but this one woman is lousy!”

“Oh, no!,” Granny exclaimed, placing her hand over her mouth trying to hide the shock of what I had just said. “You mean she has lice?!?”

With the same amount of shock I realized my daughter had lice. I put in a call to the pediatrician. Doctors love to get calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. It has always been my practice to oblige them as much as I can.

They called in a prescription to the 24-hour pharmacy and told me that I could give her vinegar shampoos in the meantime to start getting rid of the worst offenders. So that’s what we did.

Minutes later our first guest arrived. He was a really good friend, so I didn’t hesitate to ask him to drive to the pharmacy to pick up the shampoo. He laughed, shared his story from elementary school of when he had lice. After his head was shaved and treated with a black, tarry substance, his mother covered it with a knitted cap, which remained there for weeks.

“Oh, joy,” I thought, “will I have to shave her head?”

I decided to wait until after the meal to use the medicated shampoo, so we sat and ate – sharing lousy stories — with my daughter sitting there scratching a bit and smelling like a tossed salad. This did not even remotely resemble Norman Rockwell’s picture. Later we became aware that as one of God’s creatures, the louse does have its place.

Corrie Ten Boom recounts her own lice story in her book, The Hiding Place. During World War II when she and her sister were in a concentration camp, they were confronted with lice among the imprisoned. At her sister’s insistence, they thanked God for the lice, Corrie complying grudgingly. As it turned out, because of the lice the guards did not go into the place where Corrie and her sister conducted Bible study. The word of God went forth unhindered in that dark pit of wretchedness. Hope was born in the hearts of the hearers.

The Rev. Robert Hunt arrived in 1607 with the settlers of the first permanent English settlement in America. Before they reached their final destination at what was to become Jamestown, the ship and crew came to rest at a place they called Cape Henry in Virginia.

After spending three days on the ship consecrating their hearts and lives to Christ, Rev. Hunt led the group to the shore where he planted a seven-foot wooden cross in the sand. He knelt on the beach and worshiped God, claiming the land for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Understanding the full import of the journey, he wanted their first act in this new land to be one of giving thanks to God.

An American tradition, a biblical directive, a joy and a pleasure … Happy Thanksgiving!

“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” — Psalm 65:9-11

Pocahontas and Me

Despite what my children may tell you, I was not born during the Colonial period, but growing up in the Tidewater region of Virginia did give me a definite connection to history. I was afforded a unique perspective of life as it is and life as it was. After all, Pocahontas (“Girl-who-likes-to-frolic-and-play”) grew up there, too.

The life of Pocahontas was much more adventurous than mine. Read her real biography when you get the chance. In her short time on earth that girl covered a lot of territory. Pleading for the life of Captain John Smith was only one of her desperate moments.

As a teenager she was kidnapped and held hostage by colonists. She had a bit of a set-to with her father, Chief Powhatan, (OK, she really let him have it!) when she realized he valued her life less than the tools and weapons demanded by the ransom. So she decided to stay with her English captors! Placed under the tutelage of a Christian pastor, she was won to Christ. Feisty young girl redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!

My father used to tell me about the Guineamen, the watermen of Gloucester County. They were isolated, tended to marry among themselves, and had a language of their own. Guinea talk included words like boughshes (pronounced bowshes), instead of bushes. And the ultimate commitment query: “Is you is, or is you ain’t?”

One of my sisters was born in Bena, right in the heart of Guinea territory. My brother was born nearby in Ordinary. Thrust into the Guinea culture when they moved there in 1939, Mother and Daddy learned a few things — one of which was a little ritual they liked to perform in Guinea talk.

When I was about so high, Daddy would come into the kitchen, put his hands on Mother’s waist and ask, “Love I, Hon?”

My mother answered shyly, “ ‘Course I does.”

To which he replied, “Kiss I then.”

Just as they started to embrace, I would scurry to get right between them and be enveloped in the cuddle. It gave me a feeling of supreme security and protective love. I would twist around and crane my neck between the bellies to watch their lips touch in tender affection. Then Mother would giggle, pretend to protest, and remind him she had to finish cooking dinner. Before they pulled away, they would each hug me tight to confirm I was a part of their love for each other.

Even though I never met them, I cradled a fondness for the Guineamen.

Colonial Williamsburg in the fifties was a perfect place to grow up. President Eisenhower liked to play golf there, so I saw him several times. One time school was dismissed so that we could line the streets and watch him ride through town in an 18th century horse-drawn carriage with the young Queen Elizabeth II of England.

It was a busy tourist town, but a small community. Everybody knew everybody, and you couldn’t get by with anything. We attended the annual lighting of the Christmas tree — an outdoor event for the whole town. William & Mary College held a homecoming parade each year. My friend Anne and I would scramble for the candy they threw from the green and yellow floats.

There were competing drug stores, The College Pharmacy and the Rexall. There was an indoor theatre downtown, and a drive-in movie called the Stockade. It was built like a fort with restrooms located in the lookout towers. Kids were allowed to sit on the benches down in front by the big screen to be entertained by a banjo player until sunset when the show began.

In the summertime I could ride my bike from one end of town to the other, dodging tourists, horse poop, and the Fife & Drum Corps. When I was on foot, I could always catch a big, gray CW bus and ride as long as I wanted to around the restored area. The buses were free and ran on schedule every eight minutes.

Boys in tricorn hats and knee breeches ran down Duke of Gloucester Street providing a bit of atmosphere. As did the ladies in powdered wigs and silk dresses with panniers (side hoops) jutting out from either flank. The shelf-like protrusions looked extremely awkward, but appeared to be able to support a three-course meal — serving dishes and all.

A brick wall separated my school from the grounds of the Governor’s Palace. It was great fun to climb over the wall and spend a summer’s morning darting through the maze in the palace gardens. Then a quick trip over dirt paths to see the horses and watch the blacksmiths forge horseshoes. It was always so hot in there. Sunday afternoons found our group of friends playing football on the Palace Green.

The Perzekows owned The Food Center, a grocery across and down the street from my house. Their daughter Ethel was about my age. Anne and I liked to play with her. They lived in an air conditioned apartment above the store. They had carpeting, heavy drapes and a striped couch. It was very luxurious and very cool.

The Hitchens’ lived next door to me. Our houses were separated by a big field. Mr. Hitchens had a rotating lawn sprinkler and would invite us kids to come over and run through it when he turned it on. Mrs. Hitchens offered her lovely home for my sister Judy’s wedding reception. People were neighborly.

And then there was the Baganakis family. They lived in a simple block house between Anne’s house and mine, set back quite a distance from the road. They were always very nice, but we didn’t realize how nice until they built a doughnut shop on the front part of their property! Yummy neighbors!

As time passed, Anne’s house became a service station; the Hitchens’ place is now a motel; my house survived as an antique shop.

There was a little rise in our front yard overlooking the road. I loved to sit there in the afternoons when people were coming home from work. I would sing, write songs in my head (I guess that’s why I ended up moving to Nashville), and listen to the sound of gears changing. I still feel a thrill when I hear an engine going through the stages of build, climb, settle in and go! (Fill in your own sound effects here.)

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my favorite singers then. “How Do I Know? The Bible Tells Me So!”

Have faith, hope and charity, That’s the way to live successfully.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Do good to your enemies, And the Blessed Lord you’ll surely please.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, Just be real good today.

The Lord is right beside you, He’ll guide you all the way.

Have faith, hope and charity, That’s the way to live successfully.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so!

They had a television program that was “must see.” Roy and Dale starred, of course, with horses Trigger and Buttermilk, Pat Brady with his Jeep Nellybelle, and Bullet the dog. One episode that really stands out in my mind told the story of a prospector who bragged about the treasure he had found. The bad guys killed him, but never could find the treasure. Roy found it, though, hidden in a strongbox under a floorboard in the old man’s cabin. It was his Bible.

My family attended the Baptist church; Anne’s, the Methodist. I went to Vacation Bible School at both, though. We made decorative paperweights out of the glass insulators from telephone poles. I guess that made the gift more dear for my mother, who was a telephone operator.

This was back in the day when our number was 395-J, and we were on a party line. My mother had a headset, a special metal pencil with a magic round dialer on the end, and a switchboard with lots of wires and plugs and levers. “Number, please!” she would say, greeting the caller.

I can remember picking up the phone and hearing her familiar voice, “Number, please!”

“Mama, where’s the peanut butter?” I asked … as if she were in the next room.

But the absolute funniest was my friend Anne. She picked up the phone one day and heard the operator utter a cheery, “Number, please!”

Anne, who always called me “Trusha,” instead of “Tricia,” told her quite matter-of-factly, “I want to talk to Trusha.”

Trying to conceal her laughter, the operator turned to her colleagues and asked sardonically, “Anybody here know Trusha?”

“395-J,” my mother piped up.

Do you know that I was quite old before I realized my name was not, “Judy-Linda-Jimmy-Tricia?” That’s what my mother called me for the longest. My daddy called me Huckabuck … after the little known and little remembered dance craze and song, “Do the Hucklebuck.”

Daddy was at his best, though, when he called us to get up in the morning. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and roared like a Drill Sergeant, “Hubba! Hubba!” We knew not to dawdle. We flew down the stairs at his command like the Von Trapp children when their father, the Captain, blew his whistle.

The family ate breakfast together — all six of us. It was monumental. I remember the sunlight dancing across the table as Mother placed before us fresh-squeezed orange juice, bacon, eggs and toast. Sometimes she made sausage, pancakes, waffles or French toast. Pain perdu, the French call it … lost bread … day-old or hardened. It can be revived and redeemed by dipping it in milk and egg and giving it a quick pan fry.

Mother’s was always dark, dark brown with an almost-black crispy crust. She margarined it liberally, gave it a liberal sprinkle of sugar and sliced it into nine conservative pieces. I saved the centermost piece — where the lion’s share of the drippy oleo and mounded sugar had congregated — for last.

Daddy had a coffee ceremony he observed, don’t know why, but this is how he did it. After mother served him, he poured a goodly amount of the coffee into the saucer to let it cool for a bit. Then he transferred it back into the cup, added cream and enjoyed!

My father had an experience with Jesus when I was young. That’s when he introduced Bible reading at the breakfast table. We took turns reading a scripture before we prayed over the meal. I was just learning to read and loved when it was my turn to read from the big, black book with black and red letters.

He also taught a boys’ Sunday School class. A few years later when I was eight or nine, he helped initiate a Children’s Church — quite an innovation for the day. The kids were set free from the constraints of Big Church: “Sit up straight.” “Shh, be quiet.” “Quit fidgeting.” “Stop kicking the pew.” “No gum.” “When I get you home …”

Now get this: The MEN OF THE CHURCH taught Children’s Church. Yes, in suits and ties. They took turns teaching a lesson, leading us in Sword Drills (a competition to see who could find a certain scripture first) and singing lots of hymns. I was the organist. There was an old pump organ with a tiny keyboard that worked just fine for our purposes.

Lunch on Sundays was the most amazing meal of the whole week at our house. We usually had not one, but two fried chickens, mounds of mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, beans (green, lima or navy), celery sticks and carrot curls, other assorted vegetables (never broccoli, cauliflower or anything else considered exotic, though), and cloverleaf rolls. For dessert Mother baked a cake AND a pie.

On Mondays we had ”sloppy chicken.” That was the leftover fried chicken reheated in the leftover gravy. So good and so sloppy.

Impromptu described my daddy. He loved to “spur-of-the-moment” us into all sorts of adventures. This particular night he invited Anne’s family along. We jammed everyone into two cars and headed for ?????

“You’ll know when we get there,” he assured us.

Anne and I sat in the backseat giggling, not caring where we ended up. Wherever it was, it was certain to be fun! And it was fun! It was Buckroe Beach. We walked around the Pavilion where the voice of Elvis blared from the loudspeaker, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog cryin’ all the time.” Over and over and over. We rode the rides, ate the eats and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The mothers couldn’t take the round and round of the Merry-Go-Round and Ferris Wheel, so my mom and Anne’s mom cheered us on from their command post on a sturdy, stationary bench.

It was a Norman Rockwell painting — well, almost. Things happen. That’s the way it is in families, but there were so many exceptionally good and precious times.

On a trip to Jamestown Island recently I stopped to look at the statue of Pocahontas. I know she had some family issues, but there must have been exceptionally good and precious times for her, too. The excitement of meeting those fair-skinned people from across the sea, having her village life turned upside down as she learned a new language and new ways, marriage to a successful English tobacco planter, the birth of her son Thomas, her presentation to King James in London. And, of course, the most exciting thing of all — she found Jesus. Girl-who-likes-to-frolic-and-play” met the Savior of the universe. Just like me.

”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Nature or Nurture?

“What do you think is causing the rise in drug use among teenagers?”

This was the question posed by a politician to a group of high school students in 1987. He was ostensibly trying to get a teen perspective on teen issues. It is more likely he was trying to build his voter base for a future run for President.

The kids made a few stabs at trying to answer the question. Things like:

  • Both parents at work, leaving kids home alone
  • Boredom
  • Poor parental role models

My son was not patient enough to endure any more. He stood, identified himself and addressed the speaker, who, by the way, had attended divinity school as a young man.

“Senator,” he began, “the problem is the condition of the human heart. The cause is sin.”

He then gave the politician a concise presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained that until the heart is surrendered to Christ and comes into obedience to the Master, evil will abound. The students cheered. The politician was speechless.

Several years later a young woman approached me at my office in the church. She had just started working in the day care and came in to introduce herself.

“I went to school with your son,” she said. Then she told me the story of that day at the high school.

“We were so proud of him,” she disclosed. “We thought he was great!

“There were lots of us who had been Christians for years, but we were silent. When we saw how bold he was, it made us want to speak up, too. I mean, he wasn’t afraid. It gave us the courage to start standing up for Jesus. It changed us.”

“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel …” — Ephesians 6:19 (KJV)

Killer Mom

In the days before health food was chic, I did my very best to feed my children healthy food. This required a lot of extra work on my part, but it was my joy to provide for them.

“Mom, I’m thirsty. What can I have to drink?”

“Oh, there’s a drink machine in the kitchen. Why don’t you try it out?

“Where? I don’t see any drink machine.”

“It’s the shiny, silver thing at the kitchen sink.”

“Mom, that’s just the water faucet.”

“Bingo!”

My big thing, though, was fresh vegetables. We had broccoli, cauliflower, squash, celery, carrots, cucumbers and on and on. It seems like I was always preparing plastic bags of chopped, diced and sliced veggies for their school lunches.

Years later I was sharing with the children how much I appreciated the way they always listened to me and were respectful of the things I had to say. That’s when my older son told me the ugly truth.

“Mom, you were always in the kitchen, and you always had a knife in your hand. That’s why we showed you respect!”

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” — Proverbs 1:8

.10

I was using the envelope system before it was cool. As a matter of fact, I thought I invented it, although noted financial counselors would disagree. Whoever came up with the idea isn’t important. The fact that it worked effectively in my family is. It helped to give me a visual on exactly how much money I had and how I could shape it, sort it and stretch it to meet our needs without having to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

I would like to interject a word here about tithing.

TITHE!

Once you do it, you will wonder why you ever hesitated. It is a biblical directive. It increases your income and decreases your outgo. It makes no sense to the worldly checkbook. It is a biblical directive. And did I mention that it is a biblical directive? It honors God.

Tithing will set you free financially. That doesn’t mean the water heater won’t break down, or the car, or the air conditioning. It does mean that God is aware of all these things. Trust Him to meet your every need … and a lot of your wants. We entrust Him with our souls for all eternity. Why should it be so difficult to trust Him for the house payment?

My envelope system would never have been as successful as it was if I had not first committed it, and the first fruits of my increase, to God. It combined basic financial principles with a willingness to sacrifice and a willingness to show some restraint. Being a bit creative, I tweaked mine, of course.

Getting started was easy because I already had a box of envelopes. I made out a list of everything I paid the year before, assigned categories and specifics, divided by 12 and started stuffing.

My children outgrew, blew out, or mangled a pair of tennis shoes every three months. Let’s see … 3 kids times 1 pair of shoes times 4 quarters in the year times $30.00 for sneakers (they were cheaper in 1985) equals $30 in the shoe replacement envelope each month. Here is where the creativity came into play.

I decided to stagger the start of the first buying cycle so we would always have money in the sneaker pipeline. That way we could take advantage of sales, close-outs or other discounts. Of course, this meant that I became the shoe judge. I had to determine whose shoes were in the worst shape, how much super glue to apply to the flapping soles and toes, and how to camouflage the stains and holes.

This process was made a whole lot easier because the children were involved in it, too. They liked the idea of the envelope system. As an added bonus they agreed to let me be the shoe judge or jeans judge or whatever was needed.

Once the envelopes were in place, I didn’t have nearly as many surprises or crises. Every month I stuffed enough in to cover that month plus a little. Quarterly insurance premiums were planned for on a monthly basis. The same strategy was applied to yearly registration fees. I even had an entertainment envelope.

This was a luxury for us, but I insisted on it. One month I added $20, the next $15, the next $10; then I restarted the cycle. We started off the first three months with free entertainment so that we had a reserve to draw on. Each of us participated in selecting the entertainment. Usually it was a meal after church or ordering in pizza.

One of my favorite things to do was to dine out. “Dining” connotes linen tablecloths, floral vases, soft music, attentive servers and food prepared by a chef who is steeped in the culinary arts. For us that translated into Red Lobster. Close enough.

I used these elegant nights out to teach my children which fork to use, how to order, what to order (for instance, you cannot drink a shrimp cocktail) and how to behave. The boys learned to be gentlemen by opening doors, helping my daughter and me with our chairs, summoning the waiter for more water, and paying the bill. Learning a few social graces helped them to be more comfortable in formal settings in the years to come.

Since so many of our expenses were fixed, I improvised in the areas where I could. The big one, of course, was groceries. My kids still tell their friends they were raised on Spam. I guess they forgot about the fried bologna and the hamburger. Did you know you can stretch hamburger by adding oatmeal and stretch chili by adding spaghetti?  In truth, we did count meat. They were allowed so many slices of bacon, so many pork chops, one hamburger, two hot dogs. This quickly turned my growing sons into hoverers. They hovered over the plate of their younger sister who was a much daintier eater.

“Are you gonna eat that? Can I have it?”

“You don’t want the rest of those fries, do you? I’ll just put ‘em on my plate.”

My next financial innovation was coupons. We learned to coupon as a family. This was not just an exercise in comparison shopping. The children learned math, the layout of the grocery store, and how to carry heavy bags.

It went something like this: I made out the list and clipped the coupons. I divided the list four ways and divvied up the corresponding coupons. Armed with coupons and a mental calculator, they flew around the store to find the best bargains. They sorted through generic brands, name brands, add-ons (you know, if you buy this ham, you will receive a five-pound bag of potatoes for a penny). They climbed shelves, asked questions, priced and compared, then proudly returned to the shopping cart with their treasures.

This was in the era of double and triple coupon days, so we racked up on the savings. One time we purchased enough groceries to last us for two weeks for less than $10. The store almost had to pay us! We had a whole lot of fun and learned a little bit as well. It wasn’t just another day at the grocery store. It was an adventure!

The other area of savings was clothes. One year in late spring I realized there was no money for summer clothes for the children. Exploring every avenue led to a lot of dead end avenues. I decided to trust God instead. That was the summer my older son didn’t change sizes, so he wore clothes from the summer before. His brother, who was three years younger, got his brother’s hand-me downs. My daughter received her wardrobe from an exchange with the girls of our church. This practice became quite a tradition. The girls were always excited to see their last year’s dresses being worn by one of the younger girls on Easter Sunday. They really looked forward to getting new/old clothes.

As our financial situation brightened, I used the envelopes less and less. It’s a lot easier to manage money when you have some. But sometimes I miss it.

“What do you want to do this weekend?”

“I don’t know. Let’s see how much money we have left in the entertainment envelope. Wow! There’s enough for Cracker Barrel if we share the sampler plate.”

“Yeah, I get it. And if we drink water with our meal, we’ll have enough left over to get dessert.”

“Let’s go!”

 

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

“I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.” — Malachi 3:8-12 

I Ran

While I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink, my son strolled in and asked me a question.

“Mom, I know if you’re Christian, you’re not supposed to sin. But what if you do? What do you do then?”

“1 John 1:9 tells us, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ ”

I love that scripture. It reminds me of my mother when I was little. She gave me a dollar, which was like $20 back then, and sent me to the grocery store across the street.

“Don’t run,” she admonished.

So proud that she trusted me on this important mission, I was anxious to get started. So I ran. I ran, and I fell … right in the middle of the street. Our street was actually a highway, so this was no small matter.

Crying, limping, bleeding and remorseful, I hobbled back to the house and sobbed, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, my!” my mother exclaimed. “Did you fall?”

“Uh-huh. In the streeeeeeeeeeeeet! I’m sorry.”

“Come here. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

The cleansing of the wound was not without pain, but the dressing of it eased the pain considerably. Then came the hard part. As my mother held me and wiped away my tears, I held up the dollar bill. It was ripped neatly in half. I waited for the worst lecture and/or spanking of my life.

“That’s OK. Don’t worry about the money. I’m just glad you’re safe,” she cooed and held me even tighter. I determined right then and there NEVER to run across the street again.

That tender scene from my childhood perfectly describes 1 John 1:9 for me.

“OK, I understand the verse,” my son continued, “But, say you did that, and then you do it again. Then what?”

“ ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ ”

“And the third time?”

“Same thing.”

“So you can do that, that sin thing, over and over and God will just continue to forgive you?”

“Well, son, the Bible says that there is a time when the Spirit of God will no longer wrestle with the spirit of man and will let man have his way. That’s not good.

“And the apostle Paul said, ‘God forbid!’ that we should keep on sinning just because we are under grace and not the law.

“So I think it’s better to get at the root of the sin and stop it.”

He looked at me quizzically, shook his head and walked slowly out of the room. A lot to think about, I guess.

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” — 1 Timothy 4:12

Wisdom Teeth

“They have to come out,” Dr. Reynolds informed us. “I’ll give you the name of a good oral surgeon.”

Two boys, eight wisdom teeth.

We met with the oral surgeon and scheduled the procedures. They would go to the hospital to have the teeth extracted under anesthesia. I don’t think they do that so much anymore, but that’s how they did it then.

Brave boys, 14 and 17, both over six feet tall, and ready to face whatever it was they had to face.

The first indication we had that this was going to be another adventure was while my daughter and I were observing the anesthetist.

Keep in mind that these were big boys, and not very knockout-able.

“Can you feel it?” the doctor asked. He was from India and had a definite accent.

“Can you feel it? Can you feel it now?”

“Can you feel it? Can you feel it yet?”

He continued to increase the anesthesia after each question. These boys were not giving up.

“Can you feel it now? Can you feel it?”

My older son finally started to drift off, but the younger one persisted.

“Can you feel it yet?”

“Nope.” Then he immediately conked out.

“I guess he felt it,” I remarked to my daughter.

They wheeled them into the Operating Room. In a little while, they wheeled them back out. We waited until they were awake enough to walk, then we put them in the car and headed for home.

I decided to set up their recovery room in the den on a queen-sized sleeper sofa. That way my daughter and I could keep a close eye on them. Oh, they were pitiful as they lay there side by side.

The nurses had wrapped them up in ice bags which wound under their chins, around their swollen jaws and tied neatly on the tops of their heads. They looked like cartoon characters!

We took pictures to capture the moment for posterity. They were not pleased. But you simply could not look at them without laughing.

For the most part things went well, and they healed from their surgeries, but then came the day when I stopped laughing.

I was opening the mail and received two bills (two boys, two bills) from the anesthesiologist. I was visibly aggrieved.

“What’s wrong?” my daughter asked.

“I can feel it. I can feel it now.”

“My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.”  — Psalm 49:3                          

                                                                                                                                                            

                            

Refrigerator

Wouldn’t you know it? It was Sunday afternoon, and the refrigerator stopped working. Rattle-rumble-gurgle-splut! It was gone.

“Now what, Lord? Help!!” I pleaded.

“Call Janice,” the Lord whispered in my heart.

So I called Janice.

“So glad you called,” Janice remarked after I explained our latest plight. “We have an extra refrigerator in our garage. We were wondering what to do with it. If you can get some guys to load it, you can get it today.”

I did, they did, and the party was on. After church we invited people over for an “All-You-Can-Eat-Whatever-Thawed-Out” supper. There were a few hot dogs, a couple of hamburger patties, homemade soups, assorted vegetables and bread. Quite a feast from a broken-down refrigerator!

“Form your purpose by asking for counsel, then carry it out using all the help you can get. ”   — Proverbs 20:18 (The Message)

The Third Commandment

I was recently reunited with a dear childhood friend. We e-chatted back and forth with treasured memories. I soon learned that her remember-er is different from mine.

For instance, I remember getting in trouble for crossing the highway to play with a friend. She remembers getting in trouble for crossing the highway to throw rocks at that little boy, whose name she says was Lars. I say it was Sven.

Play with the boy, stone the boy; Lars, Sven. Things get lost in Memoryland after 58 years, but one memory remains unshakeable. My friend Anne shared the word of God with me, and it left an indelible impression on my life.

We were sitting on the floor in her bedroom playing something and listening to a red vinyl record of the marches of John Phillip Sousa.

I do not remember exactly what I said, but all of a sudden my diminutive friend, who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, exclaimed, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain!”

Where did that come from? I had never heard anyone use the Word of God in a regular conversation before. At first I was offended (I think the Word of God does that), and I felt upbraided. Then I felt conviction (I think the Word of God does that, too) and a sense of having done something really wrong. But I didn’t want to run away and hide under the bed or anything.

Then I was curious. How did she know that, and how did she know how to use it in the right context? Not even my mother had ever said anything like that to me. How could a kid do that? It was direct and powerful, and it was right.

When I recovered from the shock of what had just happened, I think I replied something like, “Oh, OK.” But I pondered it for years. It had depth of impact. It was simple, but profoundly complex.

It was obviously something that required extensive and detailed study or knowledge, but it came from the mouth of a babe. It was emotionally intense, pointing the way to a place remote from me and inaccessible.

I’m telling you. I pondered it for years. And then I decided to test it.

I was thirteen and defiant. I was the master of my fate. I was thirteen and scared to death. But with typical teenage bravado, I decided to challenge Anne’s admonition and let fly with some sort of sacrilegious verbiage. Then I waited.

It was not long before I felt the effects of that outburst. Sparing you the gory details, I will say that I fell into a cycle of sin and sadness that lasted for years. And I knew it had begun when I shook my rebellious tongue at the Almighty.

Not satisfied with two proofs of purchase, I challenged God and His Word yet again as a young married woman — again on purpose — with the same sad and sinful result.

Finally I began to catch His drift. Taking His name in vain was a thing not to be done. God is real. God’s Word is real. There are consequences for breaking the commandments.

Later I learned that if you have broken one of the commandments, you have broken them all. That’s when I knew I was in BIG trouble. I started looking for that remote and inaccessible place, and He drew me closer and closer. It was not so remote after all and was easily accessible. You just had to say the right words.

“Lord, forgive me.”

Thank you, Anne. You can remember our growing up years any way you want to, but this is how I remember you.

“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” — Matthew 21:15-16 NIV)