My Mother’s Love

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Me and my wonderful Mother in 2009.

I first saw him that day we picked him up. On the lapel of his shiny polyester suit he wore a large rhinestone pin that said “JESUS”. His brown hair was slicked back and shiny. The smile on his face added to his overall gleaming appearance. He wreaked of cologne. He had a goatee and one lazy eye.  As a ten year old girl, I didn’t give much thought to this twenty-something guy we were taking to church. We often brought people to church. I would ignore them, not because I didn’t like them, but because I didn’t know what to say to them. After my introductory “hello”, I would stare out my window and imagine I was doing something else. I mostly did interviews with my reflection. They were silent interviews, meaning I would think of the question in my head and mouth the answer to myself. It was a lot of fun. As soon as we arrived at church, I hopped out and headed to my area which was wherever my friends were. My mom and dad would escort our visitor around the church and introduce them to everyone. I followed them inside the day we brought Morris to church.

My mom spoke to the first person we encountered in the lobby, who was usually looking as though they were in the middle of something important, “Nadine!” Mom would call out.  Nadine would stop and stare a second, then approach us. “I’d like you to meet Morris Rook.” Mom would say. “Morris, this is Nadine. She works in our Sunday school.” My mom’s smile lit up the room almost as much as Morris’s did. Nadine gave a shy smile in return. Mom would proceed to share something that Morris had in common with Nadine. Perhaps it was that they both lived on the west side. Or maybe they both attended the same high school. Or maybe Nadine had family in Pine Bluff like Morris did. By the time the introduction was over, Nadine had a sparkle in her eye that wasn’t there before.

Everyone in my church was friendly to Morris, and to each visitor that we brought. All the men wore sharp looking suits and ties; the ladies all wore lovely dresses and shoes that clippity-clopped on the linoleum in the hallway. But they didn’t offer to pick him up for church. I’m fairly certain they didn’t want him calling them at home, like Morris did us. And they probably wouldn’t show interest while he talked about his heartless family; about how they stole from him and took advantage of his mental disability. They wouldn’t want to read the cards he sent us, with his large all-caps handwriting pressed deeply into the paper, covering both flaps of the card and continued on the lengthy letter folded up inside it. Mother was different from everyone else though. She did do all of those things. She always smiled at his notes and told me what a lovely card he had bought for her. And she always wrote him back.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t care much about Morris, myself. I had important things to do. At church, I had friends to talk to. In the car,  I had those interviews to give. At home, I had bike rides to take and dolls that needed care. I couldn’t take time away for Morris! Years would pass before I would realize that my mom had things to do, too. She was a teacher at Bryant Elementary School. She had 130 students a day. She tutored many of them for an hour after school. She came home and made supper. She did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. She taught Sunday school. She clipped coupons and bought groceries. She graded a stack of 130 papers regularly. She listened to me complain about my problems and then told me from the Bible how I should feel about those problems. And then she had those letters to write to Morris.

This past December, my mom was visiting me for Christmas when we got a text message from her pastor. Morris Rook had died suddenly in a car accident. We sat in silence after hearing that news. My memories of Morris came rushing upon me like a crowd bursting into a store on Black Friday. I realized that this meant there would be no more cards or phone calls. No more smiles from Morris Rook. He was now in Heaven. Morris had had a hard life. His parents didn’t care very much about him. His siblings mistreated him. He had many learning disabilities which held him back. But because he knew Carolyn Courtney, he knew love. He knew that one person cared about him and prayed for him. He knew that he had at least one friend. Morris had a difficult time on Earth, but God sent him compassion in the form of tiny, red-headed school teacher. Today, he is in the presence of the Lord, free from pain and sorrow. Someday, that school teacher will see him again on those streets of gold. And I have a feeling that Morris’s first words to her will be “Thank you.”

From a heart bursting with love,

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Uncovering a Memory

If you read my blog, you know I love to read. It’s probably my favorite hobby. Sometimes, though, I can’t read because I know as soon as I sit down, I’ll doze off. (I hate that!) Yesterday, after church, I knew I’d better keep moving or I’d fall asleep. I’ve been meaning to organize my cookbooks and recipes since *ahem* Christmas. I’m not a great cook, but I give it my best shot. Over the years, I’ve developed several favorite, easy, standby, easy, yummy, easy recipes. Some are here on the blog. As I worked, I ended up tossing several that we didn’t like, copied some on fresh 3 x 5 cards, or glued them on cards from magazines.

I still use the recipe file that I made as a project for my 9th grade Home Economics class. Yes, that was a while ago! As I was sorting, I came across a recipe for Enchilada Pie, an old standby, that I hadn’t made in years. I saw that I had written the date that I first made it in the upper right hand corner of the card:

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Seeing this card brought back so many memories. Please notice the purple ink. I wrote almost every card in purple ink. I learned the hard way that it tends to bleed over the years. I remember that after we made this in class, I couldn’t wait to make it for Mom and Dad! I remember going with Mom to buy the groceries. I picked out everything and she paid. I prepared it all on my own, set the table, and served this delicious meal to my wonderful parents. I can still see them, sitting there, gratefully devouring my “gourmet” feast, then guzzling some tea. They complimented me and drank more tea. They raved about it, and sipped more tea. Finally, mom said, “Mmm…you know, this is kind of spicy.” She wiped her mouth and swallowed more tea. Dad said, “Yes, it is a bit on the hot side, but it’s good!” Then he gulped some more tea. I sat watching them with a satisfied expression, not really noticing their three refills of tea, and then I started on my portion. Yes. It. was. SPICY!

“When I made it in Home Ec. it wasn’t this hot, Mom!” I exclaimed.

She got up, a napkin still to her lips with one hand and gently looked through the top portion of our trash can with the other. She pulled up the empty can of enchilada sauce and held it up. It read, “HOT” in big yellow letters.

Whoops.

We all had a big laugh! Then, with sadness at the thought of wasting food, Mom threw away the remaining Enchilada Pie. None of us were spicy food lovers.

I did make it again – with mild sauce –  but somehow, it wasn’t quite as memorable as that first time. What can I say? Some of us were not meant to be chefs.

Fortunately, I do have other talents.

I think.

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Let’s See…Where Was I?

I feel like I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of my life with you and somehow got stopped mid-story. Where was I in all of my catching-up? I *think* I was about to share a few photos of my mom’s visit with us at…ahem…Christmas. Yes, (gulp) I know I’m behind. In my defense, life has been exceedingly hectic. As opposed to just normal hectic. Visitors, missions conference, school, Sunday school, outreach and more has dominated my life in recent days. I’m enjoying spending time cuddling with my kids and sipping coffee whenever I have a free minute.  I will never regret falling behind on my blog, but I will regret missing tender moments with my kiddos – who lately seemed to have gulped down some Miracle Grow! 😉

Without further ado, here are some photos of my mom’s visit back in December and early January. She was here for only a few days, but we valued each minute. She got to see our home and church for the first time, and of course the kids dominated much of her time. She enjoyed reading Flat Stanley to them all and decorating some gingerbread houses with them.

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A sweet lady in our church gave us some gingerbread men decorating kits, as well as some gingerbread houses! Grandma Kathy decorated the gingerbread men with the kids when she was here, and my mom made the houses. They had a great time.

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The girls were very proud!

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Mitchell used some of his Christmas money to buy a house to decorate on his own. He got it on clearance and had a lot of fun with it.

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I really liked the little flower pots he put by the front door!

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And his icicles! We have the real thing hanging from the eves right now! Brrr! (I love it!)

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We took a few photos by the tree before she left.

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I am so grateful for the opportunity to see my mom. She my hero and my favorite lady in the world! I miss her.

I apologize for being AWOL lately. When I don’t have time to update here, I do try to still post on my Facebook page. I am hoping I can post more regularly in the future. Thank you so much for reading!

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Calm Down, It’s Only Temporary

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Matthew, while we were shopping yesterday.

We were all talking rapidly and excitedly as we walked from the airport to the van after picking up Nana (my mom) for her Christmas visit. This was her first time to our new home in Oklahoma, and I don’t think sugar could have pumped our kids up more! The van was rather crowded and some of the kids wasted no time in turning that gleeful chatter into complaining about being cold or squished. In fact, there was quite a ruckus for a minute or two. Into that noisy moment, my three year old interjected, “Everybody, calm down! It’s only temporary!” I’m not clear on where he first heard that phrase, but it cracked us up! No more complaining, only laughter that such an astute sentence could come from the mouth of a little boy!

As all good visits do, this one, too, came to an end. We were more somber as we walked into the airport to see Nana off last Saturday. We huddled in a large circle as she came to each of us with a warm and tearful embrace. The children were sobbing and sniffing, tears streamed down my cheeks unabashed and, yes, people were staring.  As I reached for my mom to hug her goodbye, I whispered with a slight chuckle, “Calm down, it’s only temporary.”

“That’s a good thing to remember.” Mom said.

As I sit here now, with life trying to right itself after a whirlwind of holiday activity, I’m still missing my mom and in-laws who came in for the Christmas break. I’m missing the tree and the music, the laughter and the food. I’m gazing down the unknown road that will be 2014. I feel sadness and fear with a little worry mixed in. I’m thinking how that phrase from my little guy is appropriate for the life of a Christian – for our entire lives. For the born again believer, this life in this flesh is the worst it can get.  Are you sad? Me, too. But it’s only temporary. One day, we’ll be with our Lord and loved ones in Heaven.  Are you lonely? It’s only temporary. Are you sick? Or broke? It’s all only temporary.

I’m a child of the King, and my home is not of this world. So this sorrow I feel certainly will not last forever. God has been so good to me, that even on this Earth my joy will surely come in the morning. (Psalm 30:5) The next time everything is upside down in your world, just remember to calm down. It’s only temporary.

With love,

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My Goodly Heritage

I re-covered a flannel board today that my mother used to teach Sunday school when I was young. Flannel graph pictures have gone the way of the dinosaur, but a few brittle, yellowed envelopes of them can still be found in the attics of former Sunday school teachers and in the bowels of church storage rooms. Our church is starting up a new Sunday school program and I am overjoyed to be a part of it! I’ll be using some flannel graph items (new ones!)  in my class and I noticed that my old board needed a makeover.

Mom’s faded signature on the back.

But, as I started to work, my flannel board kept interrupting me, sharing its memories of Sundays gone by. I know, I’m crazy to let inanimate objects talk to me, but I couldn’t help listening. It told me about Jonah and the whale, Noah and his ark, Adam and Eve (and the serpent!), and Elijah in his fiery chariot! It reminded me of how my mom carried it in to church each Sunday and how she brought it home. It shared the memory of the little aluminum table-top easel she used to set the board on. That made me think of the cupcakes she made for the bus kids and how my dad drove the bus, oh! And that tragic fall I took while riding with him at age five! This old board kept talking and talking. It talked about how dad covered it for mom using a staple gun. That had to hurt. I think we used masking tape at one time, too. Then, I thought about the Sunday afternoon lunches and naps, my dad in his recliner with a toothpick, watching football. (And trying, for the 80th time to explain “downs” to me!) It asked me if I remembered the times I would set it up in my bedroom and play Sunday school, using my dolls and stuffed animals for students. Of course, I did.

So many memories, so many happy times because my mom taught Sunday school.

An old staple from dad and on the right, some masking tape residue. 

My mom was not just any teacher, she was an extraordinary teacher, as in, she-won-awards kind of extraordinary. When she entered a classroom full of students, regardless of her subject matter, she did it with excellence. She has taught elementary English and Special Ed. She has been a principal (which meant she was in charge of everything from the food served in the cafeteria to balanced budgets). She was the kind of teacher that made the kids say “I hope I get Mrs. Courtney this year.” My mother doesn’t think she’s so great, but I do. She has given her time, talent and treasure more times than I can count. She does it in the background, not out front where the world can see. But I see it. I see how hard she works to put up bulletin boards in the halls of her church, how she volunteers to teach at the small Bible college in her church and how she gives to those less fortunate. I see her boldness to witness for Christ. I see how she drops everything when she is needed by one of her children. And yes, I see how she’s still teaching third graders in Sunday school. I see my goodly heritage.

All because I listened to a flannel board.

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A Visit with Nana

My mother is a very busy lady. She volunteers to clean a portion of the church building. She volunteers to teach Sunday School. As a retired elementary principal and Special Ed. teacher, she volunteers to teach education classes at the Bible college operated out of her church. She also goes soul winning and changes out several bulletin boards at church. Summer time is also busy with Bible conferences and other trips that she makes. Usually, we allow the kids to go visit her in “twos” each summer. Since we live far away now, going in groups wasn’t practical. I knew time was getting short to visit her because she would soon begin teaching in the college for the fall semester. When she called me in tears last Sunday (July 28) to tell me that my pastor’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Joann Goad, suddenly passed away, I was heartbroken! My pastor’s mother died from a long illness in June. I couldn’t believe the Lord was taking Mrs. Graham’s mother now, too! I decided we should just pack up and go. Terry had a lot of work to do, so he was unable to go. That’s right, it was just me, the road and five kids…

We had a very exciting week:

Monday, I arrived safely. It took us eight hours to make the trip. Six for driving, two for stops. It was my first time to travel alone with all the kids and go so far away. I hope it was the last time. 😉
Tuesday, we had to have a plumber out to repair a toilet. The kids painted a billion pictures and built with the blocks.
Wednesday, we ate lunch with my aunt and then went to Goodwill and Kohl’s. When we got back to mom’s, I locked my keys in the car and had to call a locksmith to have it opened. Right after that, a female cardinal got trapped in mom’s garage and we worked for several hours to free it. She finally flew out after much prayer and supplication. After we got to church, a terrible thunderstorm blew rain in the building and caused the power to go off and on about twelve times. The last time, it stayed off. The last quarter of the preaching was done in the dark with sporadic illumination from cell phones. Mine was one of them. We were able to get home safely and Mom still had power. I slept like a rock.
Thursday, we went to the library and the kids played at mom’s. That night I went to the visitation for Mrs. Goad.
Friday, we left about 8:00 AM to head home. I was crying very hard. The tears made it hard to see. I was merging onto I-30, or trying to, when I realized I was in the wrong lane. I had to stop. Several native Arkansans bid me goodbye with not-so-nice gestures. As they drove by, I hope they saw my tear-stained face and felt a little guilty at their reaction. But I doubt it. I’m sure those 14 seconds that I held them up probably cost them a job or something. We arrived back in Lawton at 3:30, which was an hour less than it took me to get to Benton. I guess I got better with practice. 😉

I only had my phone with me, so I could travel light, and I didn’t get a lot of photos. Here are a few of the best:
We stopped at a Sonic that had a playground somewhere in Oklahoma.
Almost there! I love this street! 🙂
Every grandchild loves this suit of armor! 

Ready to fight…but first, “Cheese!”

How do I look?

Mitchell’s block city.

Laci’s block creations. 🙂 

I used some Kohl’s gift cards to get Lauren some new sneakers  for volleyball. She will get to start playing with our homeschool group on August 19!

Whenever we’re visiting Nana, we have to use their great library! 🙂
Matthew is getting very good with a computer. He’s intent, anyway! 
Look at that itty-bitty hand!!! 🙂 
My mom spoiled me when I was little. Some would say she spoiled me when I was big, too. She used to wash my hair like this so that water wouldn’t get into my eyes. She did the little girls’ hair a few times like this while we were there and Matthew wanted to do it, too! 🙂 

Ahhh! So relaxing after a hard day’s play! Thank you, Nana!

He made himself a chair out of the pillow shams.

My church has this in the hallway to honor my dad, one of their most faithful men.

As I walked into the auditorium at the visitation for Mrs. Goad, I was overwhelmed with grief. I know I’ve been away for over a dozen years now, but, that doesn’t change my love for my church family. Mrs. Goad, like Mrs. Bobbie Graham, always took the time to speak to me when I would visit. In 2009, I wrote about my dad in a devotional booklet called The Baptist Bread. I was the first woman to write for them. Many people complained to the editor that a woman was published. But Mrs. Goad came to me smiling and said, “I liked what you wrote. It was a blessing.” I needed those words at that very moment. In fact, she always had something uplifting to say. She spoke at the Mother/Daughter banquet at Victory in 2012, and her testimony helped me to grow in faith. If the Lord could help her through hard times, He certainly would help me, too! Even though I didn’t know her as well as I wish I had, I do know that she touched the world around her for good; she influenced many for Christ.

We had a great time being with Nana, and we miss her so much. But it’s also good to be home!
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I Love This Picture

Not too long ago, my mom shared a few old photos with me. A former teacher at Jessieville Elementary school sent her some extra snapshots of Mom’s going away party when she resigned as principal there. (The theme was “Mayberry”, since Mom is a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show.) As I flipped through the photos, this one stopped me cold. I have many pictures up of my dad, but since I see them everyday, I’ve become numb to their affect. I suppose I’m desensitized a bit. But when I saw this picture, I felt tears form behind my eyes, and my throat got tight. Waves of sadness washed over me and I grieved for a few moments the loss of my dad all over again. Here is the picture:

Do you see the love and admiration for my mom in his eyes? He would look at Mom as well as each of his children that way. Do you see the respect he has for my mother? He respected women – he wasn’t threatened by them. He never beat my mom or threw “temper tantrums”. Do you see the genuine gladness on his face? That is how he looked every day of my life.

I saw this photo and, for just second, he was alive again. He was laughing and talking and enjoying his family. He is now enjoying the glow of the Savior’s love in Heaven; he is in the very presence of God! Because of my parents’ testimony, I trusted Christ as my Savior, too. I will see him again. But until then, I will thank God for these two amazing people that I am blessed to call Mom and Dad.
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