Life-Changing Truth from Mrs. Betty’s Tea Parties

I’ve always been drawn to quiet, gentle people–the ones content to serve others without recognition.

In May, I spoke to the ladies of Galilee Christian Church in Jefferson, GA  at their annual tea party and wrote about it here. 

But there’s more to the story. 

Once a month, a small group of ladies from Galilee Christian invite women who are new to their church to a tea party. In May, I received an invitation.

The minute I arrived, I felt loved. They welcomed me. Served me. Treated me like I belonged. 

Their kindness inspired me. My sister and I are having a little tea party for Mother on her 80th birthday in July. 🙂

And the ladies invited my mother and me to their June tea party–

So yesterday we headed up Janice’s walkway.

“You’re gonna love it,” I said.

“I already do. Look at her gorgeous hydrangeas. Reminds me of childhood summers.”

“Just wait.”

“How sweet. Two chairs under the tree,” she said.

“One would’ve looked sorta lonely, wouldn’t it?”

Everyone welcomed us. The tables had been set with TLC.

Our table below…

When we sat down, our plates had been prepared, along with handmade place cards.

Mother couldn’t decide what to taste first.

The centerpiece came from flowers in Janice’s yard.

So much laughter…

They made a gluten-free plate just for me…

And my very own gluten-free chocolate chip scone! 🙂

The food was amazing, but the best part came after we ate.

We read Scripture verses inside our place cards.

Simple.

Powerful.

Then Betty Williams (90) told us how she began having tea parties twenty years ago. She wanted ladies to feel loved and accepted.

When she joined Galilee Christian Church eight years ago, she began a Tea Party Ministry.

Mrs. Betty’s below, on the left. Janice is on the right.

Right before we left, one of my new friends gave me a precious gift–tiny spoons, knives, napkins, and a teacup from her own collection–

To help me with Mother’s birthday tea party.

I came home with a car full of goodies and life-changing Truth.

Nothing–absolutely nothing–outshines kindness when it comes from the heart. Click to tweet

Mother Teresa was right. “Do small things with great love.” Click to tweet

…serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13 NIV Click to tweet

Do you see other Truths from the tea party? 

Does this give you any ideas for new ways to love others? 

Love,

Julie

 

Robin’s Early Christmas Gift

I’m just now acknowledging a touch of sadness leftover from childhood. After all these years, Mother and I finally talked about it.

“When I was little, you didn’t enjoy Christmas very much, did you?” I said, hesitantly.

“No, I dreaded it–the cleaning and cooking and pine needles everywhere. I’m so sorry. If I had it to do all over again–”

“No, no. No need to apologize. You did all the right things. We had presents and a tree. It’s just…you didn’t smile much. Maybe you were depressed or had autoimmune illnesses back then.” (She has three.)

“I can still see my grim face. It breaks my heart. I wanted to smile, but I was just so tired.”

With this conversation circling my thoughts last week, my friend Robin called on Halloween. We love books, antiques, and we feel things deeply.

But there’s something very different about us.

Robin celebrates holidays with her whole heart. 

It’s always fascinated me.

When we were young mothers, she sewed pilgrim outfits for her four children. Everybody made crafts.

I don’t sew or even own a glue stick. And that weird Christmas emotion (guilt? sadness?) creeps in every so often.

Robin and I chatted about everything from hair color to motherhood, and the conversation shifted.

“Jewels, guess what I did yesterday?”

“No telling.”

“I watched my favorite Christmas movies.”

“You watched Christmas movies before Halloween?”

That secret place in my heart clamored for attention.

“I had the best time!” she said. “On November first, I always start planning Christmas.”

What if it’s really okay to love Christmas? 

Something clicked into place like a key unlocking a door.

Robin has the gift of anticipation.

And it’s okay to anticipate Christmas!

Was it too late for me? Could I change?

After we hung up, I made our first fire of the season.

Mother called. “What’re you doing?” she said.

“Looking forward to Christmas.” I told her about Robin’s plans.

“Bless her little Christmas heart. And yours too. I love Robin.”

“I’m washing Christmas mugs, and I’m going to have a Porch Party all by myself with real whip cream, and–”

“Julie, Christmas is spilling into my heart and spreading across my living room. I’m going to get out my nativity right now!

Who knew anticipation could be contagious?

“And even healing,” Mother said softly. “It’s a form of worship.”

What about your childhood? Is there something that needs healing? 

Robin’s blog, All Things Heart and Home, is full of anticipation!

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Trusting God and Letting the Pansies Go

Mother called late Thursday afternoon. “Julie, your brother (Jeremy) is making me a pansy garden. You’ve gotta see it. He bought special fertilizer, planted them in a big dirt mound, and covered them in mulch. He even pressure-washed my angel birdbath, and put out my ‘Trust in God’ sign.”

Friday, she met me at her carport door, sad-faced. “Early this morning, a neighbor saw a 10-point buck eating all my pansies!”

She showed me a picture. “I took this before everything was ruined. Jeremy built the wall by hand with a mallet and hammer. All that’s left now is his rock wall and my sign.”

“Can’t he replant your pansies?”

“Well, he could, but I’d have to stand guard and watch for the deer.”

“That’s a lot of work.”

“Yep. I thought about artificial pansies, but Gene (her husband) said no.”

Monday afternoon she called. “Jeremy’s replanting the whole thing. He’s spreading mothballs to repel the deer.”

“You don’t sound excited. Have you seen it?”

“No. I’m afraid to look. I feel so sorry for the pansies. I can’t stand it if they get eaten again.”

“They’re my favorite flower.”

“Mine too.”

“They’re so brave,” I said.

“They’re survivors. They make it through bitter cold winters.”

“Well, you can’t be afraid to look at them. Let me know when you gather your courage.”

Later that day, she called. “I haven’t looked yet, but I visualized each pansy and prayed over them.”

I could feel her peace through the phone.

“Okay, I’m walking to the window now. Oh, Julie. They’re gorgeous. He planted them not once, but twice, so I love them twice as much. I’ll let you know what happens, but I’m trusting God. I can’t live in fear. Not even about my pansies.”

“Wonderful! Now, send me a picture of you smiling.”

P.S. This week the “pansies” in my life are something I’ve been writing for a long time. Soon, I’m pressing send, trusting God, and letting go.

What are your “pansies” right now?

P.S.S. I just talked to Mother. So far, so good. 🙂

Love,
Julie

 

Do it Scared

My childhood is different from most people’s. My mother is a writer. She spent her days hunched over the typewriter wearing her bathrobe. When I was ten, she appointed me her editor. I took great pleasure in using a red marker. “Boring. You can do better.”

Here we are at a GUIDEPOSTS writers workshop in 2009.

She called last week. “My writing days are over,” she said with a sigh. “I’m going to become the mother y’all always wanted. I’m going to dust the baseboards and post menus on the refrigerator. I’m even going to learn to sew.”

“You’re not going to be happy.”

“Gene’s going to love it. (Gene’s her husband.) I’m going start using cookbooks.”

“Mother, you’re a writer. You hate directions. And nobody learns to sew at 77.”

“My creativity’s dried up. I have nothing left to say.”

“You taught me to feel a story moving in my heart long before it comes to life, remember? And to love words and books and the rhythm of sentences.”

“Those days are over.”

“You’re afraid to write, aren’t you?”

A long pause formed. “Perhaps.”

“You taught us rejection is part of life. And when we fall, we don’t stay down.” I felt my throat tighten. “And to keep our eyes and God. And to never ever give up.”

“Well, I quit.”

“Who am I supposed to call when I need the perfect adjective?”

“You’ll figure it out.”

Two days she called. “Can I read you something? I’ve wanted to write it for a while, but I lacked the courage.”

“Welcome back. How’d you conquer your fear?”

“I took that first terrifying step. I typed the first sentence. And then another. And another. God was right there with me.”

“This is bigger than writing, you know.”

“Yep,” she said. “No matter what you face, say ‘Shut up fear.’ And tell your heart, ‘Full steam ahead.'”

Is there something you want to do, but you’re afraid to try? Share it in the comments. That might be your first brave step. We’ll be rooting for you! 

Love,

Julie

 

Life…in Retrospect

I stopped by Mother’s the other day. She was sitting at her desk in her office. “Sometimes I wish I could do it all over again,” she said.

“What?”

“Motherhood. Remember how it feels to bring a new baby home from the hospital? You put them over your shoulder and pat their little bottoms. Sweetest weight in the world.”

“And kiss their soft heads. People tried to tell me how fast it would go, but I didn’t listen.”

“Me either,” she said. “I just thought, I’m tired of folding diapers, getting supper ready, making formula, and feeding the dog.”

“Wish we could go back for a few days. I’d hurry less. Laugh a lot more.”

“I wouldn’t talk near as much,” Mother said leaning on her typewriter. “If one of you wanted my attention, I’d stop putting the clothes in the washing machine or reading the mail, or even writing, and be quiet and listen.”

I smiled imagining the thought.

“Another thing,” she said. “Making sandwiches. I’d cut them in half and trim off the edges. And I wouldn’t pinch y’all in church.”

I laughed. “I’d forgotten about that.”

She turned from her typewriter to face me.

“And never in a million years would I scream unless the house was on fire,” she said. “I’d make homemade Christmas cookies and let ya’ll decorate them. I wouldn’t care that the kitchen got messy. I wouldn’t make you and Jennifer sleep in tight pink sponge rollers every Saturday night. I’d never lock y’all out of the house and make you drink out of the hose while I was writing. I’d smile every time I looked at you. No more frownie faces.”

“You’re smiling now,” I said.

“You are too.”

“Anytime we talk we’re making a memory. A memory happens when hearts connect.”

“And when someone really listens,” she said.

Love,

Julie

A Bit of Culture and a New Friend

Books are some of my dearest friends.

When I was a little girl, they introduced themselves to me on the way home from the library. I ran my fingers along their plastic-lined covers, inhaled the scent of the pages, and fell in love with first sentences.

Thursday night, it happened again.

(On the porch at Ivy Hall)

Mother and I attended a book signing and teaching time at Ivy Hall in Atlanta by Carol Wallace who wrote Leaving Van Gogh, a historical fiction based on the last two months of Vincent Van Gogh’s life.

Carol, writer-in-residence at SCAD Atlanta 2012 ,(Savannah College of Art and Design) is married to Rick Hamlin, our GUIDEPOSTS editor.

As Carol described Vincent Van Gogh’s years of mental illness, Mother and I glanced at each other.

Quite possibly, Vincent was bipolar, like my brother. Van Gogh was difficult to live with, painted obsessively, and never quite fit in.

Carol Wallace had my heart.

So did Vincent Van Gogh.

Before writing this novel, Carol considered weaving the story into a thriller. Then she went to the house where Van Gogh died and spent a few moments “alone with her heart.”

Sitting in his lonely bedroom, Carol knew she couldn’t write a thriller. Instead, she decided to lean into his difficult life and write from the compassionate point-of-view of Van Gogh’s personal physician, Dr. Gachet, who specialized in mental illness.

Mother called early Monday morning. She’d just finished reading Leaving Van Gogh.

“I didn’t think I had the intellect to appreciate it,” she said, “but I read every word. Holding it, the novel felt like satin, yet strong, but not too heavy. The pages turned like windblown leaves.”

“It’s a work of art,” I said. “And I’ve never liked historical fiction.”

“Me neither.”

“But Carol took me there,” I said. “Just think about her research. And what about the power of her nouns and verbs?”

“She describes Madame Chevalier’s walking as…’She stumped back into the house.’ Stumped! Isn’t that wonderful?” Mother said.

“Wonder if Carol wrote and rewrote? Or if she ever got frustrated?”

“She makes writing look like a tidy process,” Mother said. “The book is absolutely perfect. Just like Carol’s blue toenails. They matched her book cover, you know.”

“I didn’t notice, but what about her dialog! I underlined conversations all through the book. In pen,” I said, feeling a tad guilty.

“I wanted to underline, but it’s such a masterpiece I couldn’t mark in it. Not yet anyway.”

                                                                                 * * *

Leaving Van Gogh and even Van Gogh himself have become cherished friends of mine.

The magic happened the moment I began to care about him.


Do you make friends with books or characters in novels? 🙂 I sure hope I’m not the only one.

Love,

Julie

 

Part Two On Aging, Motherhood, and Marriage

Last week, I reposted parts of my friend Robin’s blog. Almost three years ago, Robin asked my mother how she felt about aging. Mother talks about that and a few more things below:

Thoughts on my feelings…

I’ve come to believe that our thoughts create our emotions. We only have eight seconds to refuse a thought. This has taken me a lifetime to even start to learn. I guard my thoughts like a mother lion guards her cubs. I’m allergic to fearful or worrying thoughts. They are not permitted to trespass in my mind. This discipline helps me every day.

Worry is a waste of time. I never thought I’d be free of worry and fear. They were constant companions. Not anymore. I give God praise for all He’s allowed to come into my life that’s allowed me to relinquish those two bothersome tag-alongs. Worry and fear. It’s never too late.

Thoughts on my grown children…

I’ve learned we can’t force a grown child to choose life. I don’t believe this is ever learned quickly or easily. Pain after pain after pain brought my solution.

I can’t do this, I told myself one day. I thought God smiled and said, Of course not, child. You were never supposed to.

Grown children make their own choices. Sometimes all we can do is stop trying to fix them and pray hard.

Thoughts on friends…

I have friends of all ages now. From teenagers to seniors much older than I am. Age isn’t a consideration at this time in my life!

I’ve learned not to say everything I think.

Sometimes I see a need that deserves to be met and there’s no one around but me. I meet it and my joy is explosive. People all around us need compassion (not pity). Some need a little money. Some need to laugh. And some need a Savior.

Thoughts on love…

When my husband of 25 years died of brain cancer in 1983, I knew my life was over. I couldn’t imagine going on. My greatest battle with fear ensued. God won that battle for me. It was moment by moment agony though. I was 46 when Jerry died and after a year or so, I began to talk to God about being a wife again.

I like being the other half of someone. After four years, He brought a Guideposts reader into my life and we fell in love through letters and phone calls.  In a four-month delicious courtship (in which we never met until becoming engaged) my life began over. I was so in love I couldn’t eat or sleep or concentrate. Gene Acuff and I have been married for 25 years this August. Sigh!

Gene made me feel like Cinderella–and still does occasionally! Life is good…welcome every day, every year, with an open heart.

(Here’s Mother story in Guideposts about their marriage.)

It’s Julie again. Lots of good stuff here. Thoughts?

Love,

Julie

 

 

On Aging, Motherhood, and Vanity

Now that I’m a smidge over 50, I’d like to share my mother’s thoughts on aging. Some things are worth preserving.

Almost three years ago, my BFF Robin had the nifty idea of asking my mom (Marion Bond West) how she felt about aging.  Mother doesn’t use a computer. She typed her response and snail-mailed it to Robin.

Robin posted Mom’s thoughts on her amazing BLOG (All Things Heart and Home) and I decided to repost it for you.

And speaking of Robin’s blog–it’s one you’ll want to follow~~~

My mother, 75, is a contributing editor for Guideposts magazine, and incredibly honest. Her thoughts are below in bold.

Aging is not what I thought.

It’s like the old timers told me decades ago. “On the inside, I still feel 35, 20, or even ten years old!”

Now I know what that means.

My insides–my emotions–still want to do energetic stuff. Clean house, run, engage in passion with my husband, organize my closet, my paper-strewn office, answer mail, shop ’til I drop, vacuum (well, I never did believe in vacuuming, to be totally honest).

As my wonderful mother (who died in 2001) said, “I’m fine–I just have the old age infirmities.” She died at 92 and beat cancer three times. I believe because she wasn’t afraid of it–or of anything. She was quite a mom. If I could mother  my children over again, I’d do for them what my mother did for me. She marveled every time she saw me as though I’d just returned from the moon.

I can’t remember her ever looking at me without smiling.

She made me feel like I was special (which holds over today) and I was/am barely average.

The way she treated me stayed with me for a lifetime.

Moms, what you do matters.

As you get older, occasionally you get a pleasant surprise. After I turned 70, I discovered I had naturally curly hair! In my younger years, I’d prayed for it, fervently, as well as a turned-up nose, and size 5 1/2 feet rather (rather than 8 1/2).

 I only discovered my curls because was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and couldn’t put hours into my hair care every week. So I shampooed it and fell back into bed. I awoke with curly hair! Oh, joy! Now, I only wash and scrunch it (and of course have it colored a believable reddish/copper). 🙂

I’m a little bit vain. When I travel, half  my luggage is all the things I use from the neck up! I also have to bring all my prescriptions. I take a bunch of them–one being a weekly injection of Embrel for rheumatoid arthritis. It’s working, now I’m mostly pain-free! But with the RA, I do have to guard my energy. I don’t hesitate to say no to anything I don’t want to do.

That’s another nice thing about getting older–not feeling the need to say yes to everything.

But there are some things I love that I don’t get to do anymore. I walked 4 miles a day (early mornings) up until 3 years ago, when the RA became tough. I miss early morning walks.

Here’s something else about aging. My arms. I hate the wrinkly skin on my arms when I hold them up. But I’ve figured out how to cope with that….I just keep my arms down! You’ve got to roll with the punches.

Okay, it’s me again, Julie.

(Here’s Mom’s article in GUIDEPOSTS about being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.)

So, what do you think? Do you have a hard time saying no? Have you learned that little life lesson? I’m getting much better at it. 🙂

And what about my grandmother? She wasn’t afraid of anything! Ever. And what about Mother’s sweet thoughts on motherhood?

Have you learned to roll with the punches–with whatever you might be struggling with right now? I’m still working on this one. Maybe it comes after age 70 like Mother’s curly hair. 🙂

I’ll post more of Mother’s thoughts next Wednesday. Thank you for visiting!

Love,

Julie

My Middle of the Night Prayer

Over the past couple of weeks, my mother’s had some medical tests. Friday, fear got the best of her.

Jennifer my sister, me, and Mother

Her mammogram and ultrasound were clear, but an MRI showed a possible abnormality. She’s scheduled for a surgical breast biopsy February 3rd. My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at my mother’s age. She had mastectomies.

Mother sounded like she was covered in cold clammy fear. She wasn’t eating. Didn’t want to walk the dog–afraid she’d miss her doctor’s call.

Fear is an emotion I understand. I’ve been there plenty of times. Fear can take me under.

We talked about a book she’s written, The Nevertheless Principle. It’s the story of how she rose above fear during the last few weeks of my father’s life. He died from a brain tumor.

I reminded her of “The Island of Trust”  she describes in her book–a warm, wide, safe place where she finally let go and trusted God with everything.

She didn’t want to hear about the Island of Trust.

I told her I’d pray for her.

For a few minutes during the middle of the night, between sleep and wake, I prayed.

I’d never prayed like this before.

I imagined the Island of Trust and visited it in my mind.

Sat beside a palm tree.

Squinted at the bright white sand.

Put my toes in the clear-blue waters.

Felt the sun on my back.

Inhaled the scent of suntan oil.

 

Help her get to the Island of Trust, Lord.

Saturday morning she called. “You’ll never believe it. I woke up between two-thirty and three during the night. The giant fear monster was gone! I made it to the Island of Trust. Why would I ever go back into the shark-infested waters of fear?”

I have no idea how or why this prayer worked, but I know there’s an escape from fear.

If you’re afraid, I understand. Let me know, and I’ll pray for you.

(lower photo courtesy of Christianphotos.net)

Love,

Julie

I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJ)