Cinnamon Toast and a Legacy

“A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” Proverbs 13:22

This past week marks the second anniversary of the passing of my dear mother-in-law, Jane.  I was never a person who remembered someone’s death anniversary, instead choosing to remember them on their birthdays, celebrating their lives on that important day.  But for some reason, my mother-in-law’s death has hit me differently.  It could be that Facebook reminds me with pictorial memories of the last visit we had with her in January, 2018.  We drove to Texas and spent four days soaking up her presence, trying to cherish every second, knowing that this would be our last visit.  We took family pictures at church, the last family pictures we would ever have with her.  It could also be that I feel a responsibility to pray harder for my father-in-law, my husband and the rest of the family, knowing that this day will be rough for them.  Even though I think these things are part of why I remember her death anniversary, I think it is so much more.  It’s an unpleasant reminder to me of what has transpired in the last two years; celebrations, accomplishments, and heartaches, for all of which she has been absent.

Jane loved her family fiercely and protectively.  More importantly, in the last fifteen years, she became the family prayer warrior, often spending hours on her knees interceding on behalf of her family.  She prayed that all of her children would grow in God, develop strong personal relationships with the Lord, and be Godly leaders in their homes.  She prayed that her children would have strong families.  She prayed over each of her grandchildren, calling them by name, that they would grow in God, be anchored in His word, and be used in the kingdom.  She prayed for hours, not simple words, but powerful prayers connecting with God, prayers that have blessed our family and left a Godly heritage.

She was also my confidant and cheerleader.  If I was concerned about a situation in our lives, she would encourage me by reminding me that God was in control.  She would then tell me that she was going to add this concern to her daily prayer list.  I knew she meant it.  I also called her when there was good news, and hearing her rejoice with the words, “Thank you, Jesus,” was the icing on the cake!

Yet, for two years, I haven’t been able to call her.  I couldn’t call her to tell her that the law firm that Terry worked for closed down, yet within a few months, God opened the door for another job that was better.  She would have rejoiced knowing that Terry is in touch with some cousins from his father’s side of the family, helping him to connect to his roots.  She would have been proud to know that Terry has stepped outside of his comfort zone and is directing an Easter passion play in our church.

I wasn’t able to sit with her at Ethan’s and Rachel’s wedding, hear her remark on the beautiful wedding ceremony and what an incredible wife Rachel was going to be.  I wasn’t able to share with her the link to Ethan’s church, so she could listen to some of the messages that he has preached.  I wasn’t able to celebrate with her over the news that she was going to be a great-grandmother to Ethan’s and Rachel’s baby.  I knew that she could no longer pray blessings over this little one’s arrival in July.

I wasn’t able to tell her that Maggie was successfully completing nursing school, with a little over a semester and half to go.  I couldn’t express to her about Maggie’s compassionate desire to help patients.  I couldn’t ask her to pray for Maggie when she had her car accident, or when she broke her wrist.  I couldn’t convey that her prayers for Maggie’s future were being fulfilled as I watch Maggie’s and Will’s friendship unfold into a lasting significant relationship in her life.

I couldn’t share with her my burden to start a blog, or ask her to pray with me that I might reach others.  I couldn’t discuss with her what I have learned on my journey for better health.  I couldn’t ask her to pray that God would anoint my words as I write a book on restoration, a book that she would have passionately supported.

Seven hundred and thirty days does not seem like many days, especially since I have been a part of Jane’s family for almost 25 years.  Yet, as each day passes, life continues on.  Unfortunately, when you lose someone you love, it continues without that person sharing those precious moments with you.  Yet, in these seven hundred and thirty days, I have learned that a person’s legacy continues on if you embrace what their lives stood for.

Jane loved God and her family unconditionally.  I can carry on her legacy by loving God and my family unconditionally, extending mercy rather than judgement.  Jane rejoiced in victories and kept those moments as monuments to God’s faithfulness in her life.  Like everyone, she had struggles, but whenever she got discouraged she would recall that God had never failed her.  She would remind everyone of all the times God had seen her through tough spots.  She kept holding on to God’s promises.  I can carry on her legacy by marking moments in my life where God has given me a victory.  I can remember when I face a new trial, that God’s promises are true and that He is working this out for my good.

Jane cherished the time she spent creating memories with her grandchildren.  My children still talk about her famous cinnamon toast that I can’t successfully recreate.  I can’t seem to slather the white bread with enough butter, or cover it with the correct sugar/cinnamon ratio.  She made every visit special by focusing on them and listening to their stories, showering them with attention and love.  I can carry on her legacy with my grandchildren, lavishing them with attention and love, and creating my own “cinnamon toast” memories.

Lastly, Jane prayed and spent time in God’s word.  She prayed about everything.  I need to learn to pray like she did and be willing to sacrifice my time to commune with God.  I need to call on God, like she did, for my future grandchildren.  Only God knows the true legacy of her prayers, how they might have protected us from danger or poor choices.  I can carry on her legacy for my family by investing time in prayer, not simple words, but prayers of blessings and protection.

The spring after my mother-in-law passed, my husband planted some trees in our yard.  We found a beautiful flowering magnolia tree.  When we looked at the tag and read that this particular tree was classified as a “Jane Magnolia”, we felt as if God was gently assuring us that she would always be with us.  We planted the tree, and it has continued to grow and thrive.  In many ways, this tree is a memorial to me that, although she is gone, I need to carry on her legacy.  I need to continue to grow and thrive like the magnolia tree.

Jane has been gone for over 730 days now, but if I serve God as faithfully as she did, I can spend eternity with her.  I can hear her southern accent come out when she says, “Thank you, Jesus”, while joy floods her face as she watches her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren enter into heaven for eternity.  Her legacy will continue on if I learn by her life’s examples

Candy Hearts and Real Love

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love, But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I had a sudden desire to buy a box of conversation hearts, feeling a bit nostalgic for the candy hearts with short “poetic” messages stamped in edible ink.  In grade school, it was guaranteed that one of your classmates would include these with their cards during the Valentine exchange party.  Romantic notions filled my head as I imagined the cute boy in my class purposely picking out for me the heart that said “I LUV U”.  As you can guess, I had an overactive imagination.  Fortunately, reality has set in over the last forty years.  After basking in my nostalgia and imagining placing a heart in my mouth, I vividly recalled the hearts having a flavor that was a combination of Bayer aspirin and chalk, and an aftertaste like envelope adhesive.  The memory of the repugnant flavor erased all sentiment, eliminating the desire to buy the box.  I have similar urges to buy Candy Corn each fall and Robin’s Eggs each Easter, usually resulting in similar conclusions.

I did end up buying the hearts for a picture and they do taste exactly like I remember.

Upon reflection, my conversation heart fickleness seemed eerily similar to how I treat Valentine’s Day and, more importantly, my husband.  Like most women, I love for my husband to spoil me on that day, with flowers and chocolate and a special card.  Besides being spoiled, I also like to pamper my husband, making him his favorite steak dinner, with baked potato and a gooey chocolate dessert.  After all, they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

Yet, the thought plagued me.  Do I often treat my husband like the conversation hearts?  Do I spend a few days being nostalgic about our marriage, basking in my memories, but then get the awful “aftertaste” of disappointment in my heart when he doesn’t meet my expectations?  Do I send a quick text saying “I love you”, but get annoyed with him when he doesn’t take out the trash?  Do I imagine the perfect Valentine’s Day date, but get disappointed when the date doesn’t meet my romantic notions?

I am human, and often my answers to these question have been “yes”.  Yet, if I really want to be the honoring, loving wife for Terry that God wants me to be, I need to examine what God says about love in the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13.  So please bear with me as I translate it into Sherry vernacular in relation to my husband.  Maybe you can relate…

1.  If I speak eloquently and with all poetic finesse expressing myself like the inside of a Hallmark card, but do not love my husband, I sound like pots and pans clattering on my kitchen floor.

2.  If I can predict when my husband is about to make a bad decision and have read all books on marriage and have a tremendous amount of conviction and do not love my husband, I am nothing.

3.  If I am constantly helping my neighbors and serving in church to the point I am exhausted, but give my husband all my leftovers, I am nothing.

4. I love my husband by being patient when he is still hasn’t finished my honey-do-list.  I love my husband by showing kindness when I’m irritable.  I love my husband by not being envious of what others have; making his contributions seem worthless.  I do not boast about my own strengths in my marriage and am humble enough to admit my faults.

5. Love does not dishonor my husband by complaining about him in front of my friends.  Loving my husband means I don’t manipulate circumstances to get my own way.  Love is not easily irritated by minor mistakes my husband makes.  Love is not bringing up his past wrongs when dealing with a current issue.

6.  Love does not relish when I am right and he is wrong, instead I love my husband by measuring my marriage to the Word of God, always allowing God to convict me of my own sin.

7.  Love is always protecting my husband’s honor by showing him respect.  Love always trusts that my husband will bless our family with the gifts God has given instead nagging him to fit my mold of what a good husband should be.  Love always hopes that in times of adversity, we will remain together, building our future.  Love always perseveres, never giving up when things seem hard.

8.  Love never fails.  This doesn’t mean I won’t fail or that Terry won’t fail, but that despite our personal failures, I will love my husband through the trial and stay committed to our marriage. I know that he is committed to us, and that he loves me and will continue to love me through my many failures.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Terry!  You are so much better than the conversation hearts!!!!

Wisconsin, Hygge and Loneliness

“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”

2 Corinthians 4:18

               I’m a proud Wisconsinite.  Yes, I have lived in Pennsylvania for nine years, but when people ask me where I am from, without hesitation, I say, “Wisconsin!”  My accent is still strong, using long a’s in words like bag and wagon.  I love cheese and still cheer for Wisconsin sports teams.  I proudly talk about my Wisconsin heritage and still listen to talk radio based out of Milwaukee.  I miss the lake that looks like an ocean, Sheboygan hard rolls, good pizza, and my family and friends.

               One thing I don’t miss about Wisconsin is the long winters.  Winter in Wisconsin starts in October and lingers through the end of April, with an occasional snow flurry in May.  Dirty snow banks line the sidewalks, obstructing views, and treacherous potholes cover the roads.  And then there is the cold so bitter that runny noses freeze upon contact with the air, leaving slushy residue in your nose.  If your eyes would happen to water while standing outside, your eyelashes would stick together with frozen ice crystals.  Add to that the dark, cloudy skies and short days that left me sun-deprived and dreaming of eating citrus on a warm beach.

               Like many people, I struggle when I’m in the doldrums of winter.  I feel more lethargic and depressed, debating whether or not I should stay in pajamas all day.  Moving to Pennsylvania, where winter is shorter has definitely helped, but I still struggled and often felt depressed in the middle of January.

Creating Hygge in my home. Photo credit Margaret Collins

               That is until I had a change of perspective!  That change occurred when I discovered the Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah).  This little word has a big meaning and is hard to translate into English.  It means coziness, comfort, togetherness, and warmth.   It can be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb.  Denmark is land where winter prevails even more than in Wisconsin, with colder temperatures and darker days.  Yet, research has shown that the Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world!  How does this paradox exist?

               The Danes would explain this paradox by how they embrace the concept of Hygge in all areas of their life, from decorating their homes to preparing their food.  They hoard piles of warm woolen throws, create ambience in their living spaces with candles and soft lights, eat steaming bowls of soup, and embrace the art of conversation with friends.  They take walks in the cold, bundled up and grasping what little sunshine reaches their corner of the world, then come home to a cup of hot coffee or tea.  They decorate their homes with plants and wooden accents, trying to bring as much of the natural world inside as possible.  They don’t hibernate during winter, separating themselves from the outside world.  Instead, they create opportunities for fellowship and camaraderie.

Dark Chocolate, coffee and fuzzy ottomans= Hygge. Photo Credit Margaret Collins

               As soon as I heard about this concept, I created the usual Pinterest board and checked out a book about Hygge from the library.  I started to look at ways I could create a warmer ambience in my home.  I purchased plants, and made excuses to add to my fuzzy throw addiction.  More importantly, I started to think of ways I could enjoy the winter.  I made hearty stews and embraced the produce of the season in my desserts.  I looked forward to snowbound days, breaking out puzzles or games, and sharing quotes and ideas from books we are reading.  Homemade hot chocolate became a regular menu item, no longer limited to Christmas.  I even decided to bundle up on cold, sunny days and take a short walk in my neighborhood.  Soon, I started looking forward to winter: a chance to wear fuzzy slippers and burn candles.  This perspective boosted my morale and has made January seem less oppressive.

               It shouldn’t have surprised me that God would use a change of perspective to help me deal with another issue in my life: loneliness.  For the last few years, I have struggled with feeling lonely.  Not many people were aware of this struggle, in social settings I would wear a happy face and interact with others positively.  Yet, I often would return home, feeling dejected and not connected to others.  I felt myself turning inward, and for a strong extrovert, that is a scary place to be!  It became apparent to me when I returned to Wisconsin for a visit, laughing and talking loudly with my life-long friends while desperately soaking up conversations to recharge my soul, that this feeling of loneliness was consuming me.  I returned home in a deeper funk, wanting to escape my social circles and stay in pajamas.  And then God changed my perspective.

               Our Assistant Pastor preached a phenomenal message about the words Jesus used while he was on the cross.  In Jesus’ greatest trial, He gave us an example by His words, of how to handle trials.  I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase his message, because I won’t do it justice.  One thing that stood out to me was that Jesus, while in the throes of agony and slowly dying on the cross, was concerned about his family, asking John to take care of his mother.  He chose to show kindness for others despite his circumstance.  This message, along with studying God’s word, woke me up from my slumber of loneliness.

               God started challenging me with thoughts, such as maybe God allowed me to be lonely so that I could be more sensitive to others.  Just maybe, others in my social circle were also feeling the same way.  And, just maybe, instead of wallowing in my feeling of rejection, I needed to reach out to others and be a voice of encouragement in their lives.

               I started sending text messages to others, letting them know I was praying for them.  I focused on being present in social settings, asking others how things were going in their lives, and truly listening instead of waiting for an opportunity to share my story. I started spending more time praying for people and asking God to bless them.  I looked for opportunities to have fellowship in my home, inviting others into my circle.  I also started a gratitude journal, focusing on the blessings I already have in the area of friendship.

               My perspective didn’t change overnight, but slowly things became clearer.  Soon, I felt God lifting my loneliness and turning it into joy.  I was focusing less on myself and more on ministering to others.  My external circumstances may not have changed, but God was doing a work inside me.  I like the quote from Tim Keller, “I do not think more of myself or less of myself.  Instead, I think of myself less.”  When I was wallowing in my loneliness, which was a legitimate feeling, I was more focused on myself, thinking of myself as being less in other people’s eyes.  Yet this legitimate feeling, if not dealt with, can lead down a path of bitterness and constant frustration.  This is not the place where God wants me to dwell.  Paul says it best when he challenges the church in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  In the scheme of my life, this season of loneliness is temporary.  I am a blessed woman, with a rich group of supportive friends.  Since I have a firm foundation, God used this temporary season to challenge me to think of myself less and of others more!  I just needed a God-sent Hygge change of perspective to lift me out of my doldrums and focus on what is eternal!

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins