Thinking Ahead–My Mother, Myself

My mother is the Queen of Preparedness. She’s always giving me detailed instructions about the future, how-to articles, and insightful books to read. You’ll never believe what she’s preparing me for now.

Friday she sent me the strangest text from her new iPhone.

I can’t find our obits. Didn’t I give you copies? Where are they?

What kind of message is this?

She’d met with the man who makes granite headstones in her hometown two weeks ago. And now this.

I couldn’t take any more. And I didn’t want to think about any of that right now.

I texted her back: You gave me some papers. Didn’t read them. Put them in the lockbox. 

The next day in her kitchen:

“Your brother must’ve accidentally thrown the obits away when he cleaned,” she said. “By the way, there’s a sack of stuff you might want on the kitchen table. I have one for Jennifer too.” (Jennifer’s my sister.)

My heart gonged.

I knew what she meant by “sack of stuff.”

Pictures from a long time ago. Love-notes from my children. Things too sentimental to throw away.

I didn’t want to dig through memories with her looking over my shoulder. I could get trapped in another world like Alice in Wonderland.

Too many emotions.

But I could see my parents’ wedding picture from 1958,

My grandmother, my niece, Mother, and me, 1992.

Enough.

I looked away from the sack. “Do we have to talk about obituaries right now, Mother? You’re only 78.” 

She pretended to straighten some papers.”I just wanted to make things easier for you.”

Oh. I swallowed the softball-sized lump in my throat.

Quickly changing the subject, she smiled and handed me an article from the sack.  “This is wonderful. It’s helpful for writing dialog. It’s called, ‘Speaking Southern.'”

“Mother!”  I pointed to her note on page one. “You even gave me instructions on how to read it!”

For Julie: take your time and read this S-L-O-W-L-Y.

We laughed until the tears rolled, and for a few minutes, nothing else mattered.

Lord, if families can laugh, surely we can get through anything. 

Has laughter helped you through a tough time or an awkward situation?

Have you had this conversation with someone you love? It’s tough, isn’t it?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

So Much More Than Chicken Salad

Have you noticed that when girls get together to celebrate, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re eating, we share one thing in common.

We love laughing and talking–just plain being silly and having fun.

Maybe you do too. 🙂

This past Friday, we had a birthday luncheon for my mother and sister at a quaint little tea room in Atlanta called The Swan Coach House. We’ve always just called it The Swan House. This picture is from their Facebook page.

They specialize in Southern yumminess like as cheese straws, chicken salad, and frozen fruit salad. The chicken salad is to…die…for!

Here we are from left to right–minus my other daughter Jamie and our son’s girlfriend Brittany who couldn’t make it.

My daughter Katie, my sister’s daughter, Libby, me :), my sister Jennifer, and Mother.

Right before this picture was taken, Mother had been craning her neck to check out everyone’s shoes.

“I don’t get out enough,” she said. “I can’t stop staring at people. Look at the hostess’s shoes. Aren’t they adorable? Beige and wheat colored flats with black trim. They match her dress perfectly. And I’m wearing a very brave shade of bright yellow today. Want to see?” She raised her foot slightly. “I’ve never had yellow shoes.”

“Y’all know I don’t know about colors, or clothes, and I hate to shop,” I said.

“We know, Mom,” Katie said. “That’s why I shop with you.”

After lunch, we went to my sister’s house to open presents.

Mom hugging Libby and me …

Libby, our matriarch, and Jennifer …

I felt a touch of anxiety as they opened their gifts from me, but bless their hearts, they oohed and ahhed over them.

Sitting there on Jen’s back porch, I said, “This has been so much fun. We should do it more often.”

We talked about going to the Fox Theater in Atlanta, or maybe even flying to New York to see a Broadway play.

“We could, you know,” Mother said.

“We should,” Jennifer added.

Driving home I thought about something.

At The Swan House, everyone feels like a beautiful swan. And if you ask for a box for left-overs, they return with your carry-out tucked inside heavy tinfoil fashioned into a perfect swan.

But we left with so much more than swans.

In our hearts, we carried out sweet memories.

My sister’s amaaaaaazing chicken salad recipe (gluten-free!)

Jen’s Jenerous Chicken Salad

3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

A stem of grapes, red or green, cut in half–a good handful or so

Slivered almonds, about half a cup

A big spoon of mayo (start with maybe a third cup)

Sour cream, (optional) about a teaspoon or two

Salt and pepper to taste

Thyme (optional) about a teaspoon

Boil chicken breasts in water sprinkled with salt, pepper, and thyme. Boil for about 45 minutes. Let cooked chicken cool. Either shred it with a fork or chop it really small. Stir in other ingredients. Delish!

Love,

Julie

 

He’s Got the Whole Wide World in His Hands–Really



This past Friday after reading ATLAS GIRL: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, by Emily T Wierenga, I sat on the steps that lead to my office. Thinking. Praying.

Completely blown away by Emily’s memoir.

I’m honored to be part of a blog tour to share the news of ATLAS GIRL, but for me, the book was so much more than that.

Staring at the cover, I remembered my own childhood–those family shaped places in my heart that sometimes still throb.

Growing up, I tried to hold our world together. I tried to hold us together.

In March of 1968, my mother gave birth to twin boys. My sister and I were thrilled. We’d each have our own baby to feed and dress–what fun!

But nothing stays the same for very long, does it?

Especially in families.

As our babies grew into rambunctious little boys, I thought …

If I try hard enough, I can fix my family. 

I can …

Run fast enough to catch my brothers and make them behave

Lighten my mother’s load so she can smile

Be smart enough to impress my busy father.

I had no clue our family would break in almost every possible way.

When my brothers were 15, Daddy died with a brain tumor. There was a suicide attempt,  mental illness, homelessness, prison, and addictions. When I was 34, I broke. I couldn’t hold my world together any longer. I experienced clinical depression and wrote about it here for Guideposts.

So this past Friday afternoon, I sat on the steps thinking.

Remembering.

Emily’s memoir is real and raw, and yet there’s hope and healing too.

Flipping through the pages, I re-read something I’d underlined.

Page 221:

“…The thing about God is, he sees the big picture. And that big picture is framed by grace and it includes us in it, and he cares more about refining our character and our spirits than he does about acknowledging our feelings. Sometimes he risks us not liking him for the sake of the bigger picture. For the better picture.”

God cares more about refining our character and our spirits …

Could it be …

The jagged places

The messiness

The sickness

The crooked lines I couldn’t straighten

Are somehow part of God’s bigger better picture?

Then I imagined His strong hands holding my lopsided world 

And my family.

Thank You, Lord. You’ve got the whole wide world in Your hands.

So I can keep letting go.

 Emily’s incredible book trailer …

Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. You can grab a copy here.



ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go to Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel. Find our more and connect with Emily on her blog at www.emilywierenga.comor find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Love,

Julie

Remembering the Good Stuff–Only the Good Stuff

Saturday night, my sister Jennifer celebrated her 50th birthday. After dinner she said, “As I reflected on turning 50, I realized I didn’t want a big blowout party. I guess there’s something about aging that makes you grateful for your family, your health, your marriage, your children, and your dearest friends.”

Uh-oh. My heart pounded triple time. She planned to say something about each of us. I was the bossy older sister. The tattle-tale. I organized neighborhood plays and always got to be the director.

One night in the tub, I convinced Jennifer to take a bite of Dial soap. I told her everybody ate soap.

I told her if she’d put her Popsicles in my mouth, they wouldn’t melt so fast because my mouth was just like a refrigerator.

I told her to never say the words VENETIAN BLINDS. 

VENETIAN BLINDS  means something dark and scary, and you’re way too young to understand.” Bless her heart. She believed me.

Would she remember all the ugly stuff I’d done? Would she tell everybody at the party?

Flash back to 1968. Mother’s folding diapers. Jen’s twirling her hair. I’m smiling at the camera with my hands on my hips, probably telling Jen to behave and smile too.

Okay, back to Saturday night, Jen’s words…

“As my sister, Julie, you truly know me better than anyone, next to Charlie, Libby, and the Lord! It’s hard to put into words the gratitude I feel for you.” (Charlie’s her hubby. Libby’s their daughter.)

Gratitude? Did she say gratitude?

“From the time I was a little girl to now, I’ve looked up to you and admired you. We had such fun as sisters.”

Me? Fun?

We were both crying, but somehow she continued.

“Playing in the sprinkler in matching bathing suits, groove-ins on Nancy Clutter’s porch, cereal and cartoons on Saturdays, me, jumping in your bed with you at night because I’d heard something and was terrified. You let me put my cold feet on your warm ones. You’ve always been there for me. I know I can confide in you.”

Oh, wow. She only remembers the good stuff.

How can it be? She’s let go of all the mean things I did to her.

(Jen, me, and Mother–44 years later–the night of the party!)

Staring at her 1960’s groovy cake, I thought…

What if I could live like Jennifer?

What if I “kept no record of wrongs?”  1 Corinthians 13:5

And dwelled only on the good stuff.

Help me, Lord.

Love,

Julie~ Was anyone else a bossy child?