100

That’s a number we often associate with a perfect score on a test or a high speed on the Interstate. But rarely does someone make it to their 100th birthday.

My Mom would have been 100 today.

She was born in the small town of Jenks, OK, in 1922 following the tragic death of her brother in 1920. Her only living brother was 11 years old at the time and was angry she wasn’t a boy. I can only imagine the heartache he suffered losing his little brother and best friend at such a young age.

The family moved to Florida when she was just 9 months old. Citrus groves were a hot, new investment for farmers and my grandfather and great-grandfather took the bait.

They arrived with the whole family including two cows and a horse by train. Once here they planted 32 acres of trees that produced a healthy crop for decades.

We have been in Florida ever since, but the orange groves are long gone.

It was a sad time in our family when the 32 acres of citrus trees we had were killed in the double freezes of 1983 and 1984. Only one tree survived due to it’s location; it was next to the irrigation pump that kept the tree just warm enough to save the roots of the tree.

My grandfather had installed that pump and it felt like part of him saved the lone tree for us to have its fruit. He passed away when I was 4 and my only memories of him are his pipe, the way he teased me and his delicious creamed corn.

My Mom sold the 12 acres of dead trees in town for the city to build a public park complete with ball fields, picnic pavilions, a massive playground and boardwalk through the bald cypress trees to the lake.

The other 20 acres she replanted with tangerine and tangelo trees alongside the one lone original tree. It stood like the grandfather of the grove making sure the young trees grew healthy and strong.

They did grow well, and we loved harvesting the early fruit that ripened just in time for Thanksgiving each year. We would pick as many as we could and gave them as gifts to friends at Christmas.

Those days are gone. My Mom was unable to afford to keep it, since the cost to harvest the fruit was more than the price she’d make selling it.

I’m sad to say the grove is now a subdivision in the sprawling hills of Clermont. The only memory of our family is the name of the road—It still bears my grandfather’s last name, Oswalt Road.

My Mom and I vowed to never drive out there again. A promise I’ve kept even after she took her last breath in 2012.

Happy 100th birthday in Heaven, Mom. I miss you. 💯🥰

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It’s A Small World After All

Finding refuge in our hearts to pray for Ukraine

I was born in Orlando 12 years before Mickey literally came and welcomed the world to us. I’ve seen changes and met many people from other countries who love coming here because of him.

One of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World is called, It’s A Small World, where little wooden dolls, that are dressed in customary clothing for their country, dance, twirl and sing along with the ride’s theme song. If you’ve been here you’re most likely singing it now and will be for the rest of the day. Sorry.

But seriously I’m not sorry. Our world has become smaller to us personally.

We have had two pastors staying with us for this past week attending the International Grace Partnership Conference that happens every February at our church. One, has been a dear friend since 2016 when we first met him and his beautiful wife. Their home is far away, but our hearts are bound together like family.

Their home is Ukraine. The invasion of Russia began while they were asleep in our guest rooms. Each morning since, we awake to hear if their families made it safely through the night. We thank God over coffee for another safe night for them.

We have laughed together when we heard of how a gypsy band managed to steal a Russian tank by towing it away with their tractor.

We have cried together seeing his wife in a bomb shelter with a smile on her face as she sorts warm clothes and blankets for refugees passing by their town on the way to Poland.

Such a strong community, people and nation who have grown to love freedom these last 30 years, as I have all of my life.

We don’t know what the future holds for them. But My husband and I are grateful to have been able to offer them comfort, prayers and hearty meals at such a time as this.

If you would like to help you can donate through Grace Partnership and designate it’s for Ukraine. All money will go to Hosanna church in Rivne supplying food, clothing and shelter to the refugees passing through their town in western Ukraine. Every little bit helps.

All our pastors praying for our dear brothers who lead and serve the church in Rivne, Ukraine

Most of all, pray for an end to this evil attack on Ukraine. They love their freedom as we do. They have families and jobs as we do. They are like we are, but facing insurmountable odds to stay so. I pray we will all come together to help in their time of need.

Realizing more than ever…it is a small world after all.

Connect the Dots

Art by AKesterstudios.com

This past weekend a dear couple finally married. It was a celebration that all who attended will not soon forget.

Our church building, that is a multi-purpose complete with a wood basketball court under the carpet squares, was transformed to look like a grand hotel ballroom.

The days leading up to the wedding were full of happy friends eager to make this day one of dreams come true. We cut floral stems, hung fabric with twinkle lights indoors, market lights outdoors. We set tables with greenery, white flowers, candles and hundreds of clear bottles and vases.

The groom has faced tragedy in his young life. His Dad passed away suddenly a few years ago leaving him the oldest son. His Mother was left to raise their four kids while grieving the unbelievable loss of her best friend.

His siblings were all in the wedding party and his Mom was ready to welcome a new daughter to the family. Joy exuded as the wedding began!

The bride is the only daughter of three children. She is a talented musician and artist who spent much of her college years working for a prosthetics company making dreams come true for new amputees. In her off time she paints for fun and profit—and she’s very good. Check out her website AK Studios.

I was the recipient of a piece she was commissioned to do for me by one of my best friends for my birthday. You can see it at the top of this post.

His (God’s) faithfulness connects the dots.

And this couple personifies the faithfulness of God. As I write this they are enjoying their long-awaited honeymoon, and all of us who witnessed their vows couldn’t be happier for them.

Life brings so many difficulties including unexpected death. But if we wait long enough, the tides turn and the good God has stored up for us rolls in like a flood.

What troubles are you facing? Know that this too will pass. But we must connect the dots or we may miss the good that is sure to follow.

❤️ Mr. and Mrs. ❤️

Tears

I began the following post during the holidays. I’m just now sharing it with you…

We are doing what we usually do this time of year…driving to visit our kids and grandkids who live out of town. We spent Christmas with our son in Tennessee, and now we’re heading to spend New Year’s with our daughter in Georgia.

Today, driving backroads through North Georgia, we came to an historical marker that has significance in my family.

The Trail of Tears.

It begins in South Carolina and meanders it’s way to Oklahoma—formerly known as Indian Territory until 1907 when Oklahoma became a state.

The deal was that Indians would forfeit the land they knew and loved in exchange for 160 acres of deeded land in Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi River.

My ancestors reluctantly made the trek, but due to controversies within the tribe they broke off and settled in Texas. Horn Hill to be specific.

Many indigenous people died on this trail, thus the name. But many made it to their “promised land”. Although they had many tears too.

I don’t like change.

I can’t imagine a group of settlers telling me that what was once mine is no longer so. I must now relocate to and unknown land and start anew. Yet this is what thousands of indigenous peoples did. They had no choice but to take the next step.

My grandfather and great-grandfather ended up with two 160 acre plots of land east of Jenks, Oklahoma. Their names were recorded on the Dawes rolls.

Such a legacy. I would love to hear their take on this process. I do know that they eventually mortgaged their allotted land to invest in citrus in Central Florida. It was their next step.

They moved here in 1922 and never looked back. They even allowed their land to foreclose because they loved Florida so much more.

What is the next step in your family’s journey? It may involve lots of tears, but may also come with lots of hope for a brighter tomorrow. All we can do is take the next step in faith trusting in God who leads us into His perfect plan.

Crickets

Such an interesting word with multiple meanings.

Crickets are insects that sing at night by rubbing their wings together to make the familiar sound.

Cricket is also a game played using bats and balls.

Finally crickets are what is heard when someone isn’t answering your texts.

But crickets to me are a trigger back to my childhood days.

My grandparents lived on 12 acres of orange groves in the small town west of Orlando called Clermont. The trees blossomed in the winter filling the air with the sweetest scent of orange blossoms. At night this was accompanied by the sound of crickets—a symphony to my young ears.

My grandfather died when I was only 5. My grandmother when I was 19. But crickets transport me back to the 1960’s every January evening.

I’m not one to love bugs. But crickets are a reminder of days gone by. I can still smell my grandmother’s creamed corn simmering on her stove; my grandfather’s freshly refilled pipe billowing in the air as he puffs on it long and slow.

As a kid I didn’t realize how these ordinary moments were carving an indelible memory in my mind.

I’m 62 and just went for a walk after dinner. The crickets joined me and took me back in time. I miss those days, but I’m so grateful for the memories.

Crickets – they represent silence to some, but to me they echo memories loud and clear.

What sounds or smells take you back in time?

My Word for 2022

This year my word came slowly as I contemplated what God was currently saying to me. I was impressed, “Let Me take you deeper into My love and My joy for My pleasure.

Deeper – Honestly this word scares me a bit.

But if I’ve learned one thing through the past few years it’s that I can trust God to be with me every step no matter what comes.

Deeper means I will discover things I’ve never seen before; like a scuba diver is privileged to see wonders others can’t see, what will I learn in this deeper place?

Deeper means I will learn new things about God’s character.

Deeper means that I will hear God’s heart for the world around me and hopefully be moved as He is moved.

Deeper means my roots will be anchored in cool wells of the spring water of the Word, bringing healthier fruit.

Charles P. Jones wrote a hymn in 1900 titled, Deeper, Deeper. Following our country’s Civil War. This inspired a new focus on struggles and hardship in his life seeing them as a means to relate to Christ in His sufferings for us.

Deeper, deeper! blessed Holy Spirit,
Take me deeper still,
Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus,
And His perfect will. [Refrain]. Deeper, deeper! tho’ it cost hard trials,
Deeper let me go!
Rooted in the holy love of Jesus,
Let me fruitful grow. [Refrain]”

“But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ESV (emphasis mine)

The Holy Spirit lives within me, and He can lead me to a deeper knowledge of and love for God.

I plan to read through Charles Spurgeon’s, Beside Still Waters, and allow this famous preacher, who was himself familiar with pain, suffering and hardship to speak to me.

I pray I won’t be the same next New Year’s Day.

Beholding

I have chosen or been given a word to represent my year for at least 5 years now. Words of past years were: joy, trust, contentment, peace, faith. But this year, 2021, the word just dropped into my heart from the Lord.

It happened last New Year’s Eve. Following is an entry from my journal:

This morning I awoke before sunrise and noticed the nearly full moon shining brightly through our window. It was shining in a clear, night sky—a reflection of the sun not yet seen. I felt impressed to behold moments like these that happen everyday in the New Year (2021).

I have enjoyed this year beholding moments that bring joy or satisfaction. And they always lead me to thank God for providing such moments.

I used this hashtag throughout the year to document some of my favorite moments. #behilding2021 ❤️

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or do you also choose a word to pursue? I’d love to hear how you approach a new year.

Our Gift – a story of hope

It has been a season of loss for many, including myself. When I got the following article from Desiring God Ministries, it hit a chord in my heart that has resonated ever since. I pray it will do the same for you, but you must read it to the end. Otherwise, the article will leave you in a place of sadness, and I never want to do this for someone who is grieving.

Merry Christmas to all of you! May this serve as a gift from our table to yours. 🎄


Christmas With An Empty Chair

By Greg Morse

My grandfather is no longer here for Christmas.

I scarcely remember one without him, and yet now his absence is becoming the new normal. We no longer gather in his living room to read Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth, sing “Joy to the World,” open presents together, or eat the Christmas dinner he prepared. His chair, once so full of fondness, infectious laughter, and gentlemanly repose, now sits silent, full of memories. 

A new sensation now dines with me during my favorite time of year. As the dining table crowds with new faces, new grins, and new babies, nostalgias of past Christmases unfold in the background. Here, more than at any other place or time, days past and days present meet. Here I behold fresh holiday scenes with old eyes. So much is the same, and so much is different.

Loss has made me older.

I look around the table at the bright eyes of the children, and see a joy unburdened. The Christmas they have known is the same today. They can’t see what their parents see. They cannot detect the soft-glowing faces or hear the unspeaking voices. To them, chairs aren’t empty, they’re yet to be filled. They don’t know the ache in our celebration, the wounds that never fully heal

I now know Christmas as my grandfather had for years — as a mixture of gladness and grief, gratitude and regret, Christmas now and Christmas then. I could not discern the others who dined with us around the table from another life ago — parents, friends, his beloved wife. I never realized his Christmases filled with more than just that single Christmas. I now see the unspoken dimension. I better understand that weathered smile, brimming fuller, yet sadder than once before. 

Suffice it to say, Christmases these days aren’t quite the same. 

Out with the Old?

With this new experience of Christmas with an empty chair, comes certain threats and temptations. 

Jesus once warned about sewing a piece of new cloth onto an old garment; or putting new wine into old wineskins. The wineskins might burst, he taught; the cloth might tear. But here we are. In the mind of the man or woman who has lost, the new is patched with the old; new wine pours into old family wineskins. 

Perhaps you can relate. The pressure of sitting and eating and singing where he or she once sat and ate and sang can tear at the heart. You may have lost more than a grandfather. The strain of grief you feel around the holidays nearly concusses. The spouse whose name inscribed upon the ornament is no longer here. One stocking is missing. The beloved child you watched run down the stairs Christmas morning has not made it down for some years now. Christmas, this side of heaven, will never be the same.

I do not pretend to know such depths of despair. But I do know twin temptations that greet those of us who have lost someone. I hope that naming them might help you this Christmas. 

Past Swallows Present

The first temptation is to the variety of grief that kidnaps us from life today. This bottomless ache comes when we begin to stare and stare at the empty chair. The grief overwhelms all gladness; the past swallows the present. The good that arrives is not the good that once was, so all current cause for happiness becomes spoiled or forgotten. 

This is to step beyond the healthy grief and remembrance of our losses. It poisons the heart by entertaining the question the wise man bids us not to: “Say not,” he warns, “‘Why were the former days better than these?” For, he continues, “it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). This grief poisons the what is with the what used to be. It hinders the ability to go on. 

Grief threatens to lock us in dark cellars of the past, keeping us from enjoying the child playing on the floor or the new faces around the table. 

Over-the-Shoulder Guilt

Second is the temptation to bow to the over-the-shoulder guilt bearing down on us. Lewis captures this in A Grief Observed:

There’s no denying that in some sense I “feel better,” and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one’s unhappiness. (53)

“The empty chair can threaten to overwhelm all joy in this Christmas or shame us for feeling any joy this Christmas.”

This temptation sees the empty chair frowning at us. “Why aren’t you sadder? How can Christmas still be merry? Didn’t you love him?” The memory, not remaining in its proper place, looms over our shoulder, patrolling our happiness in the present. This shame is a sickness that tempts us to hate wellness.

So, the empty chair can threaten to overwhelm all joy in this Christmas or shame us for feeling any joy this Christmas — both must be resisted. 

Melt the Clouds of Sadness

So what do we do? There the empty chair sits. 

Fighting both temptations, I need to remind myself: Christmas is not about family around a dinner table, but about Jesus. And Jesus has promised that for his people — for my grandfather — to be absent from the Christmas table is to be present with him. 

I ask myself, Should I wish my grandfather back?Would I, if it stood within my power, recall him from that feast, reunite his soul with his ailing body — reclaim him to sickness, loneliness, sin — summon him from the heaven of Christ himself to a shadowy celebration of Christ on earth? 

Somedays I half-consider it.

But I know that if I could speak to him now, he wishes me there. The empty chair heaven longs to see filled is not around our Christmas dinner, but the empty chairs still surrounding Christ. Our places are set already. Better life, real life, true life, lasting life lies in that world. That empty chair of our loved ones departed is not merely a reminder of loss, but a pointer to coming gain. 

“That empty chair of our loved ones departed is not merely a reminder of loss, but a pointer to coming gain.”

This place of shadows and darkness, sin and Satan, grief and death, is no place yet for that Happy Reunion. The dull Christmas stab reminds me that life is not what it should be, but it can also remind me life is not what it will soon be for all who believe.

Jesus will come in a Second Advent. He will make all things new. Christmases with empty chairs are numbered; these too shall soon pass. And the greatest chair that shall be occupied, the one that shall restore all things, and bring real joy to the world, is Jesus Christ, the baby once born in Bethlehem, now King that rules the universe. He shall sit and eat with us at his eternal supper of the Lamb. 

And until then, while we travel through Christmases present and future, I pray for myself and for you, 

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day! 

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their son and daughter.

Some Songs Become Anthems We Never Forget

We went this week to see The Chosen Christmas at our local theater. We haven’t been to a movie theater in over two years, so being there was surreal. But this movie hit me on so many levels!

As you know our family took a big loss this year when my 66 year old, healthy brother whom I adored, died from Covid. Needless to say, it has been a very difficult year for all of us.

Then, one of the songs featured in the movie was sung by a group called Cain. The song’s title, Wonderful. Sounds like a typical Christmas song about rejoicing and celebrating the long-awaited arrival of our newborn King.

But that’s not the wonderful they’re singing of. Rather it’s to lift our drooping hearts to be embraced and cared for by our Wonderful Counselor.

He sees me. He knows my pain. And He alone can bring tidings of comfort and joy to my sad heart.

If you are experiencing sadness this Christmas, I am sorry for your loss. There are no words I can offer to make it better. However music has a way of reaching the depths of our pain and ringing comfort. I invite you to pause and listen to this song.

This will be the anthem of my Christmas 2021. May it be yours as well.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

My Christmases Past

It was an annual event in our home. It happened every summer, but it’s focus was Christmas.

My Dad was a pharmacist and owned his own drug store with everything imaginable for our seasoned shoppers.

There was a jewelry department—with costume jewelry, 14k gold options and sterling silver. They were displayed neatly on velvet lined trays that rotated around the glass case much like a Ferris wheel. Push one button to rotate forward, another to rotate backward. I loved looking at every shiny piece.

We also sold perfume, sunglasses, greeting cards, toys and of course drugs for anything that ailed you.

My favorite was the toy aisle, which is why I had a significant role in our annual summer event.

My parents purchased merchandise for our shelves from The Allen Drug Company. An independently owned drugstore distributor.

Every summer they put on a “wholesale only” trade show for retailers to select what they wanted to make available to their customers for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

My Dad invited me to come and help them purchase toys that kids my age would want. As payment for my expert opinion I was allowed to choose one toy for me.

It was a child’s dream come true.

Some now nostalgic toys that were new to me then:

  • Slinky
  • Gyro wheel
  • Clackers
  • Silly Putty
  • Weaving loom
  • Etch-A-Sketch
  • Lite Brite
  • Easy Bake Oven
  • And so.much.more

My dad also raffled off a giant toy and candy-filled stocking every year to one lucky child.

As a pre-teen I enjoyed gift-wrapping the items our customers purchased, a free service. We had a giant roll of red striped paper on a steel cutting wheel that worked much like a roll of aluminum foil does today.

We had a new contraption that made bows in no time. With lots of ribbon choices, each gift was a unique work of art. I loved creasing the corners and taping the gift perfectly. I still enjoy wrapping gifts today as much as I did then.

Remembering my Christmases past has been a delight to behold. What memories do you have of Christmases past?