Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Little Moments with Mother

Mother's Day 2009

I am heading to the hospital today to join family at the bedside of my mother. She has been in ICU on life support since Saturday night, and doctors have informed us that it is probably time to say goodbye. Holding her hand Saturday night, I was struck with the thought that it is so difficult to let go of the first hand you ever held. Yet even in this most difficult moment, I thank God that He blessed our family with her presence for so long. Below is an article I wrote several years ago for Ideals Magazine. It was such a surprise to Mother to discover its publication, and she told me often how much it meant to her. Today we rise up and call her blessed. 

Little Moments with Mother

Many of my most special memories of childhood involve times spent with my mother. Mother stayed home with my sister, brother and me, and our home was her life. As a child, it never would have occurred to me to doubt Mother’s happiness or question her fulfillment in her role as Mommy. Her devotion to us was so complete, I really don’t think it would have occurred to her either.

The big events of family life – holidays, vacations and birthdays – are documented in volumes of photo albums Mother carefully organized, but many of my fondest memories of growing up are found in the snapshots of daily life that fill my mind.

Church was the central focus of family life, and I still remember the preparations Mother made to ready the family for worship on Sunday. She often rolled my hair on Saturday night. We would watch Little House on the Prairie or talk about “girl stuff” as she brushed each section of hair and twisted it into a curler. This was a small ritual, of course, but when I longed to have a daughter of my own, one of the first images that would come to my mind was snuggling up on my bed to roll her hair in pink sponge curlers.

Even the most mundane tasks of daily living seem more significant in retrospect. I remember one particular bath time when my 5-year-old heart was unburdened. Guilt overwhelmed me as I cried, admitting that I had been paddled in kindergarten that day for talking during nap time. Always a worrier, I was certain my once spotless record of conduct was ruined forever. Mother assured me that all was not lost. As she bathed me that night, she tenderly washed the scarlet letter of shame away. She reminded me that each new day provided an opportunity to begin anew, and I emerged from that bath feeling clean and hopeful again.

These little moments of care taking that filled Mother’s day showed me that I was not just taken care of, but also cared for. Because of her love, my teeth were brushed, my hair was combed, and I had vitamins to take.

Mother made me feel special in myriad ways. I looked forward to the end of each school day, knowing Mother would have ready a cup of hot chocolate in my favorite Raggedy Ann mug. I would tell her about the ups and downs of life in elementary school as I sipped the rich, warm cocoa, savoring the marshmallows she had sprinkled on top.

On days she was called to pick me up early because of illness, I would arrive home to find the covers already turned back on my bed and a favorite gown spread out on the pillow. While I snuggled cozily under the covers, Mother would make Welsh rarebit, a cheesy white sauce she would pour over soda crackers. Although its appeal is lost on our spouses today, my sister, brother and I still think of Welsh rarebit as the ultimate comfort food.

Mother showed me in moments like these that I was valuable. Although she often told me she loved me, her acts of nurturing spoke more eloquently than her words. Each time she rubbed my hand during church, hugged me when I came home from school, or kissed me goodnight, she left a lasting impression on my heart.

Many of my happiest moments were times when Mother paused to have fun with me. Once she draped a sheet over the kitchen table and we crawled underneath. What a magical time this was for a 4-year-old, drinking invisible tea with Mommy in our secret castle!

We also spent time together cooking. I still have the preschool cookbook with our recipe for peanut butter balls. In our earliest days of making the cookies, I dutifully rolled the gooey dough into balls as suggested. As my baking confidence grew, we progressed to pressing a Hershey’s Kiss into each ball or imprinting the cookies with a fork. Years later, I was shaping the cookies into letters, teddy bears and holiday designs.

Little moments of playfulness helped me understand that Mother not only loved me, but she liked me too. I felt special knowing that out of all the people in the world, I was one of her favorites.

Now that I’m a mother myself, memories remind me of the importance of day-to-day activities in filling our home with love. Each time I run the children’s bath water, snuggle up with one who is feeling sick, or call them all to the kitchen to make our favorite peanut butter pie recipe, I am reminded that these little moments will add up to a lifetime of love. Pieced together, little moments with Mother work together like a patchwork quilt to keep us feeling secure, knowing we will always be wrapped in our mother’s love.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Going to the Chapel ...

And they're going to get married.

Friends Haley and Neil tied the knot recently with a wedding as unique as they are. Here are a few of my favorite creative details.

Our church fellowship hall morphed into an enchanted garden for the reception, complete with a gazebo and fountain. All of the tables were decorated differently, tied together by the green and brown color scheme. Birdhouses, bird nests and bronze accessories set a theme for the party.

My favorite detail was this arrangement with tea lights aglow in shimmery ribbons, hanging from moss-draped branches.

While this cart of sugary treats delighted the young at heart. Monogrammed bags allowed guests to take home a sweet reminder of Haley and Neil's special day.

There is still more wedded bliss to come!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flower Girls

Mary Ashley and Emma were delighted to serve as flower girls in Haley's wedding Labor Day weekend.

I made the girls' dresses, ivory sundresses with wide satin bows at the shoulders. Haley's mother, Nancy, shared yards of lace insertion leftover from the heirloom garments she made for Haley through the years, so I used those for the lace panels at the top of the dresses. I love that the flower girl dresses share a connection with the bride's childhood!

Model Emma strikes a pose. Her motivation: wedding cake!

"The highest happiness on earth is marriage." -- William Lyon Phelps

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Three-Strand Cord

When Joe and I married, a friend advised us that marriage is like a triangle between husband, wife and God. The closer the couple draw to Him, the closer they will grow to each other. With this thought it mind, I made the three-strand bracelet pictured above for friend Haley whose wedding was Labor Day weekend.

Mary Ashley and Emma were her flower girls, so I used leftover fabric and lace from their dresses to make a little drawstring jewelry bag with Haley's new monogram.

Haley's wedding colors inspired her crystal and glass bead bracelet with Vintag findings (all from A.C. Moore). Smaller single-strand bracelets for the girls coordinated perfectly. Find instructions on making a bracelet here.

"And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thoughts of Beauty

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

—  John Keats

"Life is but a day:

A fragile dewdrop on its perilous way

From a trees summit"

— John Keats

"I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days - three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain."

— John Keats (Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne)

Today I am off to discover beauty in a new state as I visit Michigan for the first time. I will be speaking at the Waterford Church of Christ's ladies enrichment day tomorrow. Please join us if you live nearby!

Be sure to visit next week for a week full of romantic images and ideas from our friends Haley and Neil's wedding.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Bright Star to Catch

I recently discovered the movie Bright Star, a Jane Campion period piece romantics are sure to love. Bright Star recounts the three-year relationship between romantic poet John Keats and seamstress Fanny Brawne.

Nominated for an Academy Award for costume design, Bright Star is an enchanting film with artistic cinematography, beautiful music and touching dialog.

Actual love letters exchanged between Keats and Brawne enrich this timeless love story.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan calls Bright Star "one of the most moving, most transporting love stories in memory." He enthuses, "Bright Star satisfies a hunger we may not have known we had, a hunger for an exquisitely done, emotional love story that marries heartbreaking passion to formidable filmmaking restraint, all in the service of an unapologetically romantic belief in 'the holiness of the heart's affections.' "

Karen Durbin opines in Elle Magazine, "Campion's award-winning young cinematographer, Grieg Fraser, captures the vitality of Keats' and Fanny's world, as well as its plainness. But he also studs the film with gorgeous scenes of nature so startling good you could frame them. Like Bright Star itself, they delineate the difference between a pretty picture and a piece of cinematic art."

A.O. Scott of the New York Times calls the film "romantic in every sense of the word."

Find Bright Star on DVD here, or watch it instantly on Netflix.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Announcing Our Fall Book Club Selection

Boy, are you ever in for a fantastic ride with our fall book club selection, The Silent Gift by Michael Landon, Jr., and Cindy Kelley. Once you meet the book's main characters, single mother Mary and her deaf-mute son Jack, you will not want to put the book down as you follow the pair through the highs and lows of their life in the Great Depression.

But as one reviewer said, "The Silent Gift is more than an adventure story: it raises many moral and ethical questions as well as theological ones. ... Through the richly drawn characters who move in and out of Mary’s life, we discover the value of love, feel the pain of betrayal and marvel at the gift of God’s redemption."

If you live in the Montgomery, Ala., area and would like to join us for our book club discussion, leave a comment below. Or read the book and share your comments here on A Little Loveliness.

As the weather turns cooler, I hope you will plan to snuggle up with a cup of hot chocolate and this wonderful read. Find The Silent Gift here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Crossing Oceans Book Club Sweets and Savories

We enjoyed a delicious potluck menu of summertime favorites at our recent book club discussion of Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. Appetizers included fresh fruit and dip; cream cheese with cocktail sauce and crab meat served with crackers; Missy's Greek style tomato dip with toasted french bread; and warm spinach dip with wheat crackers. Dessert included key lime pie and coconut cupcakes. Find a couple of our favorite recipes below.

Missy's Greek-Style Tomato Dip
Missy Jones has served this refreshing dish all summer to rave reviews. Enjoy this appetizer for a taste of summer anytime.
Fresh cherry tomatoes (a pint will do for a family or small crowd)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Long, skinny loaf of french bread
Quarter tomatoes, leaving seeds and juice. Add feta, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar and thyme. Before adding the dried rosemary, crush it in your hand. Add just enough extra-virgin olive oil to "hold" it together. Adjust measurements to suit your own tastes. Let it sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving in order to allow the flavors to meld. In the meantime, take the bread and cut it on the diagonal into slices about 1/4 inch think. Brush with extra-virgin olive oil and toast in a 300 degree oven until very dry and crispy. Be careful not to let it burn! Let toast cool and serve with fresh tomato dip.

Warm Spinach Dip
Lynn McDaniel brought this tasty appetizer, a creamy spinach dip enhanced with picante sauce.

Vegetable cooking spray
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup picante sauce
4 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Spray a 2-quart saucepan with the cooking spray and heat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook until it's tender, stirring occasionally. Stir the spinach and flour in the skillet. Gradually stir the milk in the skillet. Cook and stir until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the picante sauce and cheese and cook until the cheese is melted. Serve with wheat crackers for dipping.

I have been waiting for a chance to serve shrimp tacos to my girlfriends, and book club gave me the perfect opportunity. Doubling the recipe yielded enough filling to make 20 tacos. Find this easy summertime recipe here.

Crossing Oceans Book Club Decor

For this season's book club discussion of Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes, dinner hosts Missy Jones, Teri Phillips, Julie Potter and I wanted to create a tranquil beach setting with allusions to sand, water and sea grasses.

Candles, candles everywhere! Candles topped our food tables, dotted centerpieces and marked each guest's place. Sand, shells and grasses added to the serene oceanside feel. Bookmarks and autographed bookplates -- compliments of author Gina Holmes -- tied everything together and gave us lasting mementos of a wonderful book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Club: Crossing Oceans Devotional

Last Friday our ladies book club met to discuss our summer book selection, Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. My sweet friend Tina Foster led our devotional. I greatly admire Tina's sweet spirit and godly focus, and I leave each conversation with her thinking about something insightful or encouraging she has said. Please read her message below.

The Big Question

by Tina Foster

While reading our book selection, Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes, I was once again challenged to grope for an answer to the one question that seems to pop up over and over again: “Why do bad things happen to God's children?” Just when I think I’ve got the perfect answer wrapped up neatly with a pretty bow, something dreadful happens to me, a family member or a friend. Almost immediately those two giants, Fear and Doubt, arrive -- flooding my mind -- and I seem to be right back at square one.

Jenny, our heroine, expressed these feelings well when she said to Craig:

“Sometimes I wonder if heaven is real or if I’ll just…you know…cease to exist.”
“There’s a heaven, Jenny.”
I warmed at the certainty in his tone. “Most days I know that.”
It’s those others days that turn our emotions inside out. And those are the times when it seems that people without Jesus are most interested in our response. We need to be keenly aware of demonstrating our faith in Jesus who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus remains King even after the bad news.

Recently on Christian radio, I heard a young wife and mother give a talk about her losing battle with cancer. In fact, within three months of giving this speech, cancer had taken her from this earth. Her name is Rachel Barky. Listen to her thoughts on the question “Why?”
The worst moments of each day are the ones right when I wake up, the moments when I’m just coming out of a deep sleep, and I’m becoming aware of what time it is, what day it is, and then I remember that I’m dying.

My frustration and anger are normal. They are even right—some would say. But at their root, they are unbelief. They are my sinful heart saying, ‘I don’t believe that this is the right thing for me, GOD. You must not know what You are doing, or if You do, You are not good, or You are not in control, or you are just being unfair because I don’t want this, and You are not giving me what I want.’
That is what my heart naturally says, and what yours does, too, when faced with circumstances we don’t like—when someone at work is making things difficult, when someone in our family doesn’t do what we would like them to do, when accidents, natural disasters, or disease happen. But GOD is good. He is in control. And He is fair. When I try to make Him into a GOD who serves me, I sin. Our natural bent is to sin, and it is our greatest problem.

Isn’t that so true? There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for why we suffer. Even when we understand intellectually the benefits gained through trials, we are still left to struggle through the emotional turmoil that makes us susceptible to an invasion of Fear and Doubt.

Remember, as long as we remain here, we will fight against the broken part of us, our sinful nature. If only it went this way: I sin, I repent, I ask God for forgiveness, and I’m never again bothered with that sin. But by God's omniscient design, that is not the way to perfection. We are being transformed. It is an ongoing process, and we can fully trust God to complete it.

Paul makes clear the continuous battle between our sinful nature and the law of the Spirit within us in Romans 7:23:  “But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

But because Jesus lives in us, we have been set free to live with hope and a peace that those outside cannot possibly understand. We must praise God in the very middle of our crisis so that others will want to understand. So they will ask. So it will be given to them.

It has taken way too many years, but now I can honestly say that I don’t want to be comfortable down here. Being comfortable -- having everything I want -- leads me away from the Cross, not to it. At last I have a better understanding and appreciation for the words of James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (perseverance). Patience must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Also, Romans 8:16-18 comforts and strengthens me, knowing that my Lord learned obedience through suffering: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are GOD’S children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of GOD and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Here are two more jewels from Scripture that remind me I’ve been bought with a price and now my life is hidden with Christ in God.

“Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?" (Isaiah 45:9b).

“But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
Regardless of my circumstances, I know to Whom I belong and that He will provide sufficient grace when needed most. I suppose the question “Why?” should be replaced with the question “Who?” -- which will always and forever more have the perfect answer: EL SHADDAI, GOD ALMIGHTY.

I’d like to leave you with the words to a song titled “What If Your Best” by Jeromy Deibler and Mia Fieldes.

I’m trying hard to keep from giving You advice
It’s like teaching Shakespeare how to write
Or Monet, the way to paint another scene
But there’s just something in this amateur that thinks
That my opinion’s what you need
On how to work in me
But I am only clay, and clay probably shouldn’t speak


I want Your best but what if Your best is brokenness
Would I be broken?
I want Your best but what if it’s less than what I ask
And what I’m hoping?
What if Your best is here in the waiting, here in the going through the motions?
I’ll still be trusting all I am, and all I have,
and nothing less to Potter’s hands.

Tina Foster is a homeschooling mother of two of the sweetest children you could meet: 8-year-old twins Ian and Anna. Tina's husband, Stan, is a well-known photographer in the Montgomery area.

Still to come, recipes and decor from our summer book club -- and our new fall book selection!

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