Oklahoma Our Prayers Are With You

The past couple of days have been devastating for Oklahomans. I live in Florida and we face Hurricane season from June until November each year. But nothing can compare to those who live in Tornado Alley. Sure many towns are missed for years, but when one finally sets its course for your spot on the map…there is no place to hide. That is unless you have an underground storm shelter.

Today, Monday, May 20th, a huge storm crossed over parts of Oklahoma City. It hit two elementary schools, and one didn’t have an underground shelter. I am sad. Even though I’ve never lived in the OK state, I feel such a connection with the people, the land, the history, that this hurts so bad. It feels as if one of my own has died.

Would you join me in praying for the those whose lives have been tragically changed forever? It’s easy to grow used to seeing these types of storms on the television, but if WE were the ones devastated by this storm, we would never forget it, would we? God please be with those who have suffered loss. Comfort those who mourn. Heal those who are injured, and bring help where help is needed. In Jesus’ precious name, I pray!

Watch this amazing video of the tornado as it cuts a path across the fruited plain.

What Weddings, Funerals and Reunions Have In Common

Photo Credit: qcveterans.com

Photo Credit: qcveterans.com

A reader posted yesterday about how she discovered more about her family’s history at her uncle’s recent funeral than she ever had before. It’s sad in a way to think we don’t talk about such things until there’s a death. In fact, this is the opening scene of my book, Through The Eyes Of Grace. At my grandmother’s funeral I am given a beautifully wrapped gift. I want to put off opening it until later, but my Mom insists on me opening it now. Here’s a portion of it:

As I plopped into the black leather seat I felt something crunch underneath me.  It was the gift I had seen on the table!  This was all I needed to deal with now.  I tossed it aside no longer interested in the who or the why questions that had incensed me before the service.

Mama picked up the gift, “Gracelyn, this is for you.  Don’t you want to open it?”

“Um, no! Not now.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Oh, Mama! It’s just not right.”

“Gracelyn, I insist.  It may be the giver will be at the dinner.  You’ll want to be sure to thank them.  I really think it best to open it now.”

Mama usually had the last word, and this time was no exception.  I have learned it’s best to do what she says.  Picking up the gift I slowly rip the paper away revealing a stained wooden box that smelled much like the old church we had just left.  Lifting the lid I discovered the source of the scent – a worn out leather journal.

“What’s this?”  I asked casually hoping my excitement didn’t show.

“I’ve seen this before; why, it belonged to Mama.  See the engraving – Grace Stella Oswalt?”

As I opened the cover a note fell on the floor.  I picked it up only to discover it was in Big Mama’s handwriting.  The brief excitement drained from my fingertips as if the dead were calling my name.

“M-Mama, you read it.”

Dear Gracelyn,

I am an old woman now, and time is running out for me to share with you my story.  I’ve waited for you to ask, but now the waiting ends.  You are my youngest granddaughter, and one who reminds me so much of myself.  It is my prayer as you read this journal you will grow in your understanding of who you are and to whom you belong.  Your life is not your own to live as you want.  I learned this the hard way, and I pray this journal will help you after I am long gone.  Read it well and remember, although life is brief – love is forever.

Affectionately,

Big Mama

I sat there in disbelief as the limo came to a stop.  I wasn’t sure if I was happy to have this gift or angry she singled me out as needing special help.  Maybe it was a little of both, but as hard as it was to admit, I was comforted.

Older family members tend to talk more at reunions and weddings as well. So it’s not just during the saddest of times, it’s more at the pivotal times when family is elevated and given the prominence it deserves. Many young people roll their eyes when they think of going to a family gathering, especially if there’s going to be old people there who only remember them when they were knee high.
We had our first family reunion of distant cousins a few years ago here in Orlando. People traveled from all over the country, but the majority flew in from Oklahoma. My Mom had the time of her life. At 87 she was the oldest living family member there, and everyone had questions to ask her. We made a huge family tree on the wall of our meeting room and asked those attending to bring pictures in order to tape it next to their name. This helped us realize how far reaching our roots have spread in the past century. I also happened upon a conversation starter called Table Topics for Family Gatherings. This ended up being my favorite part of the entire weekend, because people told stories we had never heard before–and we laughed. We laughed until we thought our sides would split.
May I encourage you, if you have the privilege of being invited to a family reunion this year, instead of being the one to roll the eyes, why not look at it as a great adventure where you’re setting out to discover things you don’t know about your family. And then, come back  here and let us know what you’ve learned. A story become more permanently fixed in your mind when you’ve repeated it to someone else.
We all have a story, we just might not know it yet!

Questions #11 – Have you ever been to a family reunion? What was it like, who was there, and what stories did you learn?

______________________________________________________

This is post #11 in the challenge to post everyday in April.

UBC-banner2

Roots Matter

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 1.05.10 PM

I’m going to take a break from a specific question today in order to talk about the larger picture of knowing your roots and why it’s so important.

I remember the first time I went to Oklahoma with my Mom back in 2000. I hadn’t been since I was little girl, and I barely remembered it. But this time it felt like home. It was the strangest thing to not know how to get anywhere, but once I did it seemed I had been there many times. Strangers seemed familiar. Restaurants served food I thought my mom had invented. I came to realize that much of who I am stemmed from this community that made my mom and grandmother who they were.

Roots matter, for the family tree is more about the roots than it is about the branches.

Where do your family roots come from? Do you know? Do you care? Oh, I beg you to care. There are stories waiting to be discovered that will encourage you, motivate you and help you understand more of the why’s of your parents’, grand-parents’ and great-grandparents’ decisions.

Starting on Sunday, April 21st, PBS is continuing a new series titled, Finding Your Roots. It will explore the world of immigrants to America and help them go back and uncover stories they have never known. It sounds fascinating! So much so, I want to share with you the following video that explains the motivation behind the series. Pay special attention to Martha Stewart’s interview–I love her heart for uncovering the stories of old.

What stories are hidden from your history waiting to be discovered?

Now That’s A Great Question

Photo Credit: Neodesha Chamber of Commerce

Photo Credit: Neodesha Chamber of Commerce

I am privileged to be taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post everyday during the month of April. I must admit I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with the thought, but I’m compelled to do it. I pray you will find my posts helpful as you take the time to discover your family’s story and hear a bit more about mine.

My goal is to provide a great question each day that you can use to ask your older family members, be it a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. You can choose who to ask, hopefully it will be someone who has an interesting answer. Then, come back and share what you’ve discovered with us. It should be a fun and rewarding month as we purpose to uncover stories that may have never before been told.

Question #1

Where were you born, and what is your earliest memory?

oklahoma-landrush-1893My grandmother, Grace Stella Kirwin, was born in Neodesha, Kansas (pronounced Nee-oh’-deh-shay), located in the southeastern corner of the state, on March 2, 1889. Unfortunately, I can’t ask her what her earliest memory was, but I do know that when she was only 4 years old, her Uncle Charley took part in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893. He had a race horse named, Pigeon. I wish I knew why in the world he named his horse that–but one can only speculate. Not only was Pigeon a good horse, he was fast. Uncle Charley staked two claims of land for the family.

At precisely twelve noon on September 16, 1893 a cannon’s boom unleashed the largest land rush America ever saw. Carried by all kinds of transportation – horses, wagons, trains, bicycles or on foot – an estimated 100,000 raced to claim plots of land in an area of land in northern Oklahoma Territory known as the Cherokee Strip. There had been a number of previous land rushes in the Territory – but this was the big one. (Source: eyewitness to history website)

The claims ended up being in what is now called Noble County, Oklahoma. My Mom and I had the chance to visit the little town of Ceres, where we think the homestead was located.  It looks like their land is now owned by the power company and is underwater of a man-made lake.

So, what have you discovered about your relatives earliest memories? Won’t you join the conversation? 

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from.”

                                                                                                                   – Alex Haley
filigreeblackdivider
We are taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
UBC-banner2

A Rut Can Be A Good Thing

Screen shot 2013-02-13 at 11.01.03 AM

I have always loved maps. Maps help you see where you are from a different perspective, and they help you get to where you want to go. Traveling without a map would be unheard of, unless you are familiar with the layout of the land.

In Grace’s day, maps weren’t readily available to the common traveler. Instead, they followed ruts in the ground using a compass to make sure they were heading in the right direction. The ruts were well-worn paths that were a good thing. It showed many people had traveled that way and they most-likely led to the next town.

The map above shows what Oklahoma territory looked like in 1905.

You can see Noble County, where Ceres (pronounced like the store–Sears) is located, as well as the Creek Nation, where Jenks is located (marked with a yellow arrow). Both towns are where my book takes place. How Grace would have loved to have had a map like this when she discovered she would be leaving everything that was familiar to her in Oklahoma Territory for her new life in Indian Territory. But she didn’t. She had to rely on the advice of those who had traveled that way before, and it was frightening.

How often we are forced to depend on the advice of those who have gone before us as we face a new normal. The Bible provides an excellent map for Christians to follow day in and day out, and the wisdom there is not a well-worn path, but a proven guide that is not limited by the time in which it was written. Maps expire. GPS systems are practically obsolete from the moment an update is finished. Time marches on and marks are made along the way. Only those who are looking for guidance find the help they need.

What are the well-worn paths in your life that you can’t do without? What paths would be best to leave behind to pursue a new way?

 

 

Taking Notes

My Beautiful Mom

My Beautiful Mom

In case you are wondering where I’ve been the past couple of weeks – my mom has terminal cancer. We found out a week and a half ago, and life hasn’t been the same since.

My days are spent at her house with my sister and brother caring for her every need. We sit and talk while she listens because talking wears her out. Sometimes she chimes in and shares a story I know I don’t want to forget. If you recall in my book I’ve mentioned my mom saying,

“Every time someone dies a library of information dies with them, unless some one takes the time to write their story down.”

This is why I’m taking notes…lots of notes. I don’t want to forget these precious stories. She helped me research Through The Eyes of Grace. What a blessing it was to take three separate trips with her to Oklahoma over the past decade. We made memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. Writing my next book will be easier because I know how the process works, but it will be harder because I won’t have her to help me. God help me face the future with faith, not fear.

We’ve been blessed to have family near and far come to visit. She is deeply loved by all who know her. Most days she doesn’t remember her diagnosis and is hopeful she’ll soon be well. But barring a miracle, we realize her days with us are few.

We are sad.

We cry a lot.

We hug a lot.

And we pray a lot.

I just wanted to take a moment for you to know why I’ve been silent–I’m busy taking notes.

Officially Yours

It has been mine for the past 25 years. Ten  years ago I began the process of making it yours, and in the Fall of 2012 it will be official – officially yours that is.

I have prayed, cried, and labored over this project. I have gone from being a novice writer to a full-time writer of a blog, our neighborhood newsletter, and my own journals. The project of which I speak is my first novel titled, Through The Eyes Of Grace, and is based on the life of my grandmother. The story takes place in Oklahoma just after the turn of the 20th century. Oklahoma was called Indian Territory then, and is still home to hundreds of Native Americans today. I didn’t know her story until after she died when I was 19. I was her youngest grandchild, and how I wished I could have heard these stories from her first-hand. What lessons I could have learned from her, but at 19 I was too young to appreciate the value of asking good questions.

My Mom was her youngest daughter. Of my grandmother’s six children she outlived all of them except for her. My hope is that her story will compel you to ask good questions of your own parents and/or grandparents. My Mom says that every time someone dies a library of information is buried with them. Sadly, this is true. Unless we ask and remember their stories will be gone in one or two generations. What a gift to know those stories and pass them onto your children and grandchildren.

I’ve provided at the back of the book a list of great questions to help you get started in discovering your own family history. We all have a story, but we may not know all the details. My prayer is that you will not only enjoy reading my book, but that you will find yourself drawn to talk to loved ones about it.

Through The Eyes Of Grace is my gift to you.

If you are interested in reserving a copy of my book, simply sign up to receive my blog posts by e-mail (see right column). This will guarantee you’ll be one of the firsts to hear of it’s release. 

Blessings to you and yours,

Debi