“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal – Love leaves a memory none can steal.”– from a headstone in Ireland
If I didn’t have photos, I’d still have memories, but I am so thankful for all the pictures I have to look back on and smile, even though sometimes the smile is between tears sliding down my cheeks. I may have too many photos, but that’s in large part because I am the keeper of the bulk of the pictures that were left behind by Mom and my mother-in-law.
Now in the digital age nearly everyone takes multiple photos on a daily basis. Back as a young teen when I first had a camera, I never knew until I got my developed film just what images I had captured. It was always a thrill to drive up to the Photo Bug to pick up my envelope of photographs.
I look forward to making more memories, taking more pictures, and one day passing them on for others to treasure.
“…under all the trials that weary me, the cares that corrode me, the fears that disturb me, I can come to Thee in my need and feel peace beyond understanding!”
For now and into the future, there is this: “Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in Thee…”
We tend to forget God during the good and easy times, so this reminds me to be thankful for all the ‘smiles of prosperity’:
“Do Thou with me, and prepare me for all the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity, the losses of substance, the death of friends, the days of darkness, the changes of life, and the last great change of all. May I find Thy grace sufficient for all my needs.”
All quotes from The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Canon of St. Albans Cathedral, England.
The above pictures were taken as we were preparing to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal in 2014. Just as we were about to sit down to eat, we got the call. Chuck and Danny’s dad was failing fast. They wolfed down some food, packed up and headed for Jacksonville, arriving just 15 minutes after their dad died. My father-in-law.
Now, six years later, I’ve lost three more. My mother-in-law (2017), my mom (2018), my husband (2020). Precious people who sat together for many Thanksgivings. Family who ate, told stories, laughed, loved each other.
Holidays can be hard. We miss the hugs at the front door, the smiles across the table, the hand holding, the traditions. But, we have to press on. No matter how hard a hand we’ve been dealt, there are still blessings.
Yesterday I had Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my daughters, Kat and Leah, and some of their friends. We gathered at Kat’s, and she is always the most gracious hostess.It was different, but it was good. Let me tell you about our little group.
Tim: a professional chef, Leah’s former roommate, who made the most delicious turkey I think I’ve ever had on Thanksgiving, plus some fabulous sides.
Candace: I hadn’t seen her since July. Having lost her mother to cancer, she was a big help to us when we were struggling with Chuck’s illness.
Justin and Leslie: Kat’s neighbors, California transplants, who made the best assortment of deviled eggs and laughed with us all day.
PJ: a friend of Justin and Leslie, who came in later in the afternoon with his precious Springer spaniel, Buddy.
Ruby and Poka: ever present underfoot, waiting for head pats and crumbs to fall.
We made sure to have some of our traditional family dishes: potato casserole- the recipe came from my brother’s mother-in-law years ago; a pepper cheese ball – Aunt Brenda’s recipe, miraculously made by Leah, the non-cook; Wassail; pickle tray; traditional and puppy chow Chex mixes.
For all those family we could not be with, I say in the words of Paul:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Philippians 1:3
“So I learned how to play the waltz during the waltz itself. And maybe that’s what my mother meant when she said life works that way. Maybe the circle keeps moving and maybe you keep finding new ways to move on the dance floor, even if your moves are all wrong. Eventually you learn to keep time in your own manner, no matter what happens, just as long as you don’t stop turning.” – May the Circle Be Unbroken by Sean Dietrich
I had lunch today with a woman who is an even newer widow than me. Her husband also had pancreatic cancer. It was so good to finally talk to someone with similar experiences. To sorrow together but also to have hope together. We are both trying to figure out this waltz, this dance that we are now dancing alone. But, even though we are dancing alone, we are in the same ballroom. I’m so grateful God drew us together, via my sister-in-law.
I’m sitting in the backyard testing out my fire pit and reflecting on the blessings God has sent me in the past 3-4 months. This list is not comprehensive, but a start at saying “Thank-You” to God and to those He has used to bless and uplift me.
To my daughters, Katherine and Leah, who were my anchor in the storm. Their love was expressed over and over in their actions, from making phone calls and making decisions to giving insulin shots and massaging feet. And finding this little house that is slowly becoming a home.
To my sons who called and visited and lifted my burdens in numerous ways. They provided expertise and they provided conversation and they gave love.
To my daughter-in-law, my third daughter, who gave so much advice and held Chuck’s hand on her last visit, with tears in her eyes and love in her heart.
To friends, known and unknown, who prayed when I couldn’t. I felt the prayers holding up my feeble arms.
To my little brother Norman who gave of his time to get me moved – twice – and provided his home to me and his heart. And his cooking- top notch stuff.
To my big brother David, who talked to me in the night as I walked Ruby, who knows firsthand the pain of losing a spouse.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” I Peter 3:8
To Al, who drove across town to take my car to get new tires. And visited Chuck. And Darlene who made cake.
To Holly and Ken, who visited and prayed and fed us with deliciousness and gave advice and showed the spirit of Christ in actions.
To Candace who was supportive in a time of need, who knows loss, and who gave me a bird feeder that brings me birds and joy every day.
To Darla, Jeannie, Robin, Peggy, Erica and Lee, who reached out and loved on me.
To Aunt Amy who was always a supporter of our family, and is no stranger to loss. She has empathized with tears and I love her.
To the nephews and nieces who have given the strength of their youth and reached out to me across the generational divide.
To Judy and Sheryl and Crystal and Maureen and Sarita who text and call and write letters from Birmingham. A sweet combination of southern hospitality and Christian fellowship.
To cousins, those childhood friends who are forever linked to my heart, no matter how many years go by. Thank you for all the prayers and conversations.
To my sisters in widowhood who have grieved with me and have suffered their own loss: Mary, Beth, Libby, Pam, and Tommie.
To Mark and Eric who prayed with me over the phone and Steve who texted scripture and encouraging words and prayers.
To Dorothy who prayed and wrote a poem, because those are her gifts.
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. – James 1:27
…then you are still here and have another year to be thankful for.
2019 is almost in the books. For these things I am grateful:
Grandchildren who make it possible to attend Grandparents’ Day at their school and to have Bell Camp at our house
Children who still love me
Southwest Airlines who make travel pleasant
All the beautiful places to hike in and around Birmingham
Ruby, my hiking companion
Students who make my days interesting and make me feel welcome when they greet me with “Mrs. Bell! You’re my favorite sub!”
Friends who read books with me
Record stores and bookshops
Cousin re-connections and family reunions
Weddings and birthday celebrations far and near
The Avett Brothers in concert with only a few sprinkles
Seeing old friends in Jacksonville
Being protected from snakes at Red Mountain and Lake Guntersville
41 years of marriage
New friends that make me smile and old movies that make me cry
Here’s to 2020!
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
On the other hand he tried to point out her that she shouldn’t give money to the beggars in the street, as they’d only buy schnapps with it. But she kept doing it.
“They can do what they like with the money,” she said.
When Ove protested she just smiled and took his big hands in hers and kissed them, explaining that when a person gives to another person it’s not just the receiver who’s blessed. It’s the giver. – from A Man Called Ove
Earlier this year I gave a writing prompt to some fourth graders. They had been focused that day on the character trait of “caring”, so I told them to pretend I’d given them $100. But, the catch was they had to give it to someone in need or a charity. Some of the students shared what they had written, and one young boy reminded me of Ove, and of myself in days past. He told of giving to the homeless, but also went on to say some of them would not use the money for food like they should. I remember grappling with this same issue years ago. I now believe that if I give money, it’s between them and the Lord what they do with it. I am not to be the judge.
A few other responses touched my heart from those students. Like the girl who said she would give it to her mother so they could move out of her grandma’s house and get their own home.
The past few years I have learned to give anonymously. Though I long to see the joy on a child’s face on Christmas, I am happy knowing I made it possible for someone. And when I don’t know someone well enough to seek them out for a hug in times of grief or crisis, I can ask God to bless the little I can give, and to send comfort along with it.
Extravagant Grace is a book written by Barbara Duguid. She uses John Newton’s teaching on sanctification to explain God’s sovereignty over sin. Duguid is the wife of a Presbyterian pastor in Pennsylvania and the mother of six. The quotes in this series come from her book. “When we are standing tall and strong we do not tend to look at Christ – we don’t need Him. But when we fall flat on our faces, overcome with sin and weakness, there is nowhere else for us to look but to the One who has died our death and lived the life we should have lived.”
How many times have you found this to be true? Yes, I praise and thank Him when the big, obvious answers to prayer are seen. I am joyful when an unexpected blessing comes and I give Him the glory.
But what about every day, when it’s the same thing you did the day before? I think I sometimes forget to go to God when everything is going smoothly. I forget to be grateful when everything is going as it should.
Seems some of us go from blessing God to begging Him. What would your friends think if that was the way you treated your friendship? Don’t you think your friend wants to just hang out with you sometimes?
My prayer is that I go to God every day, not just when I’ve messed up big time. Because, really, I mess up every day.
Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.