Christy

May 7, 2011 | My Jottings,My Joys

I have a friend in Tennessee. She is one of the people I love most in the world, yet we’ve only had the opportunity to be together six times.

The first time we met was in 1994 at her and my brother’s home in Southern California, a horse ranch on the high desert at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. The next time we saw each other was just a year ago, when my husband Michael and I traveled to their current home near the banks of the Tennessee River in the eastern part of that state. The last time I got to spend time with her was in August of 2010, when she and her daughter (my beloved niece) came to visit us in Minnesota.

I’m not sure how someone can have a close and devoted relationship with someone they’ve only seen in person for three periods of time, but I know it’s possible.

I’m talking about my sister-in-law Christy. Christy married my oldest brother Larry a couple of decades ago, and introduced herself to me through a letter in the mail. I knew we were kindred spirits as soon as I set the letter down, but I had no idea that we would be dear friends someday.

Christy loves knitting, books, animals, long vigorous walks, quiet times in a hammock in their fruit orchard, canning the bounty of what they grow, crafting, her family and the Lord. Even though she loves her alone and quiet times, she’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.

Christy is a woman of deep, solid faith in Christ, and we pray for each other and for our loved ones. I would trust her with my life.

She is an educated woman who gave up her secure and lucrative ob/gyn nurse practitioner job in order to school her daughter Savannah at home for twelve years. Christy and Savannah did a lot of their homeschooling in a tent that they moved around on their five acres of land, so they could be outside while they read and learned and drank in the beauty of the land around them. Christy has told me of those golden days when she and her daughter would take pillows and blankets to the tent and read and study for hours while the breezes blew the tent flaps and the bees buzzed and the birds sang and the river just over the edge of their property streamed slowly by. As the years passed, Christy and her only child grew very close, and the result of Christy and Larry’s sacrifice took firm root, grew tall and bloomed. Savannah is a lovely young woman who went on to graduate from college with honors, and is now getting ready to enter grad school. She is a daughter any mother would be thankful for.

When Christy and I occasionally talk on the phone, it’s entirely possible for an hour or two to go by and still not be enough time to cover all that we could in conversation. Christy is a wonderful, compassionate listener. She’s hysterically funny, which in my opinion is largely wasted because “she’s not a people person but is a person person,” so her ability to make people laugh is only revealed in small, infrequent measures.

Christy has a slightly warped sense of humor that I absolutely love. When Savannah was a young girl she was saying her own name out loud one day, “Savannah Kate,” and Christy sat down and looked into her eyes with great concern and said to her innocent little daughter, “Savannah…did you think your name was Savannah Kate? Oh, honey I’m so sorry. Your name is Savannah Gate.” Can you imagine what must have gone through Savannah’s mind? A small child’s world must have shifted right then. Savannah Gate? My name is Savannah Gate and not Savannah Kate? Think of the bewilderment and the sudden reorienting it must have taken for Savannah to realize her name wasn’t at all what she had thought for her entire young life! When I asked Christy how long she allowed Savannah to think her real name was Savannah Gate she answered “About three or four days.”

I must confess that when I heard this story I was practically pounding the table and could hardly catch my breath from laughing so hard. Here was a woman after my own heart! I never told my daughter Sharon Lindsay that she had heard me wrong and was really Sharon Whimsy, or my Carolyn Beth that she was really Carolyn Bath, or my Sara Yvonne that she was Sara Beyond, but after hearing Christy and Savannah’s story I almost wished I had!

One might think that this was not a particularly kind trick to play on a child, but you would have to meet Christy to understand. No one loves her daughter more than she does. It’s just a quirky way of hers that I love and that she and Savannah giggle over years later. There are other stories of theirs that I always crave hearing because they make me laugh so hard…maybe I’ll share about them someday.

Here is a photo taken of Christy and me last August…

Now that I’m a grandmother, my thoughts sometimes meander ahead to what my later years might look like. I realize that today could be my last day on this earth and do not presume upon any time the Lord gives me. But if I should ever outlive my husband, I’ve always known that I would like to live alone in those later years. I don’t want to remarry, don’t want to share a house with anyone, and I know I would fill up my days with my children and their families, books, times with friends, possible travel, and blessed quiet and solitude.

One of the last times I talked with Christy on the phone, I told her all of the above. And then I also paid her the highest compliment I could ever give to someone. I told her that if there was one person on this earth that I could live with in my retired years (aside from Michael, of course), I think it’s her.

I don’t know if she thought that was much of a tribute, but it was.

She is the sister I’ve never had, a friend I completely trust and adore, a fellow believer who radiates beauty and grace, and a woman I can never spend too much time with. I thank God for blessing my life with Christy.

Denel

May 7, 2009 | My Joys

I’ve been waiting a long time to introduce you to Denel. img_0008I hardly know where to begin, because she and I have been friends for so long, and we are such an ingrained and beloved part of each others’ lives that it seems almost impossible to summarize in a simple blog entry what we mean to each other. I feel like it would be more appropriate to embark on a full-length book about our friendship, instead of a humble blog post.

Denel and I met when we were spindly-legged seven year-olds in second grade in Southern California. We were both in Mrs. Lokken’s class and have been friends ever since — forty-four years and still counting. She was the oldest child of Eddie and Millie, who became like second parents to me. Eddie was the principal of an elementary school and Millie was a health conscious stay-at-home mom who always welcomed me in their home. Denel and I became inseparable, and today I can hardly think back to a time in our youth where there isn’t some sparkling memory to laugh or marvel over.

Denel and I even took vacations together. When her family went south to San Diego for a week, I was invited. We sat in the back of their blue-with-wood-grain-sides Ford station wagon and listened to music or made up silly games. When my family drove north to Morro Bay for a long weekend, Denel was invited. We bought salt-water taffy on the Embarcadero, played at the park at the foot of Morro Rock, and we would stop on the way at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo to look at the over-the-top interior and the unique bathrooms with the miniature toilets.

Here are some memories I have of this rich friendship God has blessed me with: riding our bikes (Schwinn Sting Rays with banana seats and plastic-flowered baskets) all over our neighborhood, and later when we were cool enough to graduate to 10-speeds, riding for an all-day excursion to the Eastland Shopping Center. We shopped at C.H. Baker’s for shoes, The Show-Off to buy dresses that were too short, and had lunch at the cafeteria in the basement of The May Company. In the summer we swam at The Plunge, our city’s huge public pool, and we bought candy necklaces at the concession stand there. We went to the beach together dozens of times. Denel always tanned, I always burned. In this photo taken at Huntington Beach, CA, we were nine years old and had been best friends for two years.

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I told you we had spindly legs.

Music was a big part of our lives and friendship. In 1966, when we were nine years old, Denel’s uncle took us to the Beatles concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. We were surrounded by thousands of screaming and swooning young women and the music was almost impossible to hear, but we will never forget that night.

Denel also loved Elton John and we saw him in concert twice, once when he was a new phenom at The Amphitheater and another years later when he packed out The Forum and wore those hideous outfits and flashing eyeglasses. We used to sit in her room, which had pink and lavender ballerina wallpaper, and listen to Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection. We spent a lot of time dancing. We would turn up the song “All Right Now” by the group Free, and dance while it played over and over. Denel’s mom would be making manicotti with sausage in the kitchen, and we would close our eyes and wildly dance in the living room with hair swinging and dreams winging. We weren’t even teens yet.

Denel’s father is a USC alumnus, so we went to many football games at The Coliseum, and even had gold and maroon striped matching dresses we wore to show our fervent support for the mighty Trojans. We were certain our dresses would help USC win the game. Denel later graduated from USC as well.

We spent one New Year’s eve together in her uncle’s apartment in downtown Los Angeles, and we went out on to his balcony high above the city traffic and banged pots and pans together and whooped and hollered at the stroke of midnight. Then we leaned over the edge of the balcony and took turns spitting, and watching until we could see the splats on the pavement below. We were having so much fun. We went to The Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena the next day.

To try to list the silly things and sayings that made us erupt in laughter over the years would take pages. We could take a simple phrase and turn it into a gut splitting event that we still talk about now that we’re in our fifties. With Denel’s younger brother Brian’s invaluable assistance, we took the simple sentence “I want an apple” and said it with snapping jaws, jutting chins and weird voices that entertained us for hours on end. We hid in the bushes in Echo Park in LA, and jumped out at unsuspecting people, spraying them with a powerful, imaginary mist that we could emit from our armpits. “PSSSSSSST!!” we would hiss as we sprayed, and then laugh uncontrollably when we saw peoples’ startled reactions. In the retelling this sounds so mean, but we weren’t mean-spirited little girls – you had to have been there, I guess.

We went to the movies on summer Saturdays a lot. I remember the year our mothers had to hold a serious conference on the phone, because they weren’t sure that Denel and I should be allowed to see a questionable Elvis movie with a bikini/beach theme. Looking back on how relatively benign those movies were compared with what our young people see today is pretty sobering.

We always spent the night at each others’ houses. At Denel’s, I loved her white Samoyed dog named Yuki and her black cat named Sebrena. We played hopscotch and rode the dizzying whirlybird in her back yard. We listened to music, talked with her mom Millie, and sometimes played foursquare.

At my house we listened to music, shot baskets, ate popcorn balls my mother made, tinkered around on my mom’s huge Hammond B-3, and watched TV. Denel and I both loved to read, and we traded our Nancy Drew books back and forth a lot.

For a while Denel and I were into wearing matching clothes. We would occasionally call each other before school in the morning to make sure we were going to wear the same outfit — my mom helped our cause by making us each a pair of bell-bottoms that were a black print with bright daisies on them, and we wore identical black turtlenecks to match. This was the ultimate in cool, believe me.

And each time we saw a photo booth, we had to get our pictures taken. We’re both twelve here below, and in the seventh grade. Laughing our heads off, as usual. Probably one of us just said, “I want an apple!”

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This is one year later – we’re finally teenagers at age thirteen, and in the eighth grade. I’d already had my braces and am wearing a very attractive retainer. Notice the cool factor with Denel’s sunglasses.

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Big high schoolers now – we were fourteen year-old Freshmen and still having fun together. Who knew that in four short years our lives would be on the trajectories that helped determine where we are today?

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We were sixteen here, Juniors in high school. Now it was Denel’s turn for a retainer.

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And we were no longer spraying people with our deadly projectile armpit mist, but were obviously still acting ridiculous. These pictures make me smile.

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Denel and I were in Girl Scouts together, and were Junior Scouts from fourth through sixth grades and Cadette Scouts in seventh and eighth grades. I remember camp-outs when we slept six to a tent and sang “Taps” and the haunting round “Rose, Rose, Rose, will I ever see thee wed?” around campfires at night. We camped on the beach of Carpinteria and body-surfed the large, foaming waves until dark. We had many overnights as scouts in our local Girl Scout House where we learned how to tie bowline knots and to roll our sleeping bags up perfectly. We worked on earning badges together, and along with another friend, Ann B., we made matching lime green outfits for our Sewing badge, with Ann’s mother’s cheerful and patient direction.

Like most intense friendships, Denel and I had our squabbles when we were little girls. It was usually because one of us needed to be right (I won’t say who, but some readers might be able to guess), and we were both strong personalities who didn’t hesitate stating our opinions, even when we were young. These times of pouting rarely lasted, though, and we always moved on to more fun times.

We had wild imaginations, Denel and I. For a very short-lived time we thought we’d join forces and become a two-girl detective agency, and using portions of our last names, we were going to call our company The Lupi-soo Detective Agency. **Smile**

We both had our own cars by the time we were sixteen. I wrote about my little blue Opel here, and Denel had a light blue Volkswagen bug with personalized California license plates that I gave her for her birthday – they said 4DENEL.

In high school I was a cheerleader for a year, but stayed behind the scenes and began to veer off in a different direction since I had a boyfriend. Denel was involved in student government, journalism and many service clubs at our high school, and was so well-loved she was crowned homecoming queen our senior year. I cried when I saw the crown come down on her head, even then marveling that such a smart and popular girl would call me her best friend. I couldn’t have been more proud.

After high school our lives took turns that hindered our paths from crossing as much. I married my boyfriend, and his stint in the Air Force took us to northern California and eventually Germany. I gave birth to a daughter at each place. Denel went to USC as I said, and then got her Master’s at San Diego State, becoming a licensed therapist.

She has known her share of heartaches. Her first husband was a police officer and was gunned down in the line of duty by a drug-crazed man in our hometown. I was living in Minnesota by then and felt so helpless talking to her from a distance and hearing the pain in her voice, and wanting so much to do something to help my oldest friend.

Denel eventually married again, and she and Jerry have two beautiful grown children, Nicole and Christopher. Denel and Jerry are both skilled and compassionate therapists who help bring hope and change to their clients’ lives. Their own life experiences make them the kind of empathetic counselors that anyone would appreciate. They own and operate the clinic in which they serve, and it’s no surprise to me that the very traits that made Denel a sought after friend even as a child are the same that have brought her to her life’s work today.

Denel and I keep in touch today by text message and by telephone. Once in a blue moon one of us will fly to the other’s part of the country for a visit, and we always slip right back into that love and comfort and intimate sharing that has been a part of our friendship since we were spindly-legged little seven-year olds.

We have such a long and wonderful history together. Our memories are priceless, and we both know that so well; we don’t take each other for granted. We pray for one another and have supported each other through some of the hardest things life could dish out. And her mom and dad are still like my second parents – I love them so much.

As I look back on forty-four years of friendship, I see the hand of God. My heavenly Father knew I would need a friend like Denel. I think she would say she needed a friend like me. Now that the AARP literature is beginning to arrive in our mailboxes (although I’d like to know why, since it won’t be official for another four years) our enduring friendship becomes more precious to us with each passing day. We have years of love and memories, and we are truly sisters in Christ. I trust her and love her with all my heart. I wish you all could know her.

She exemplifies one of my favorite quotes on friendship: A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.  

Wait…I can hear her voice singing to me now…

The SAGs

November 22, 2008 | My Joys

Julie, Lorna, Pat, Gail
Julie, Lorna, Pat, Gail

Allow me to introduce you to the SAGs. This group of four women has been meeting together monthly for almost seven years, and it all began when Pat got an interesting idea.

Pat had read a fictional book about a group of women who called themselves The Saving Graces. In the book, these women were from diverse backgrounds and were different ages, but they met regularly and saw one another through all the happy and heartbreaking things life hurled at them. Pat thought it would be good to start a similar women’s group, where we could share our lives, carry each other’s burdens, laugh together, be loyal listening ears for one another, hold each other accountable, and encourage each other in our faith in Christ.

When Pat first shared her vision about this, I’ll admit I was a little doubtful. Not because I didn’t like the idea, but because all four of us hadn’t spent loads of time together prior to this. We all knew each other from church, and the other three had been pretty close friends before this, but I wondered if just putting us all together every month and calling us a women’s group might not be a little forced. I wanted it to work, but because I am a dark-hearted melancholic, I was dubious that it would. Was I ever wrong.

It has been close to seven years now, and we haven’t missed a month of getting together. Right off we searched for a name to call our little group. Saying goodbye to each other with, “See you at Women’s Group on Wednesday!” just didn’t have that special ring to it. After laughing about a variety of titles each of us suggested, we settled on The SAGs, short for The Saving Graces. Which is what this group truly is.

We meet together each month, and we take turns choosing which restaurant to go to. We enjoy a meal and then spend hours catching each other up on our lives, crying together about the hard times, laughing and rejoicing about the good, and reminding each other about what is true.

This is Gail. She is a devoted wife to Mark, and they have three phenomenal adult children. Gail is a Physical Therapist, an avid reader, a quilter, and a friend to many blessed women. She grew up in Massachusetts, part of a large Irish family, and like me, is a grateful transplant to Minnesota, where she met her husband years ago. Gail loves to learn, and she’s also a wonderful, sensitive listener.

Gail is the heart of The SAGs. She is kind, full of compassion, warm and tender, affectionate and encouraging. Everything she does and says literally “beats” with life, and is pumped into the rest of us, giving us hope and comfort.

And this is Pat, the one who came up with the idea for The SAGs. She is married to Mark, and she has two very gifted adult children. Pat grew up in a tiny rural town in Minnesota, part of a hardworking family who made faith and a strong work ethic part of their everyday lives. Pat works with women who are victims of domestic abuse. She is a super-fit cyclist who considers riding her bike 100 miles in one day no big deal, she’s a voracious reader and organizes a long-standing book club, and she knows how to maintain her many cherished friendships.

Pat is the mitochondria of The SAGs, the constant energy-infuser of our little group. Pat is one of those people whose very presence lifts, relieves, and enlivens. Her smile, personality and sense of humor truly energize us, and there has never been a time after being with her or talking on the phone with Pat, that I haven’t felt better and more hopeful.

This is Lorna. She is married to Steve, and is the blessed mother of three brilliant adult children and has four sweet grandbabies. Lorna grew up in a large, musical family in rural northern Minnesota. She has the voice of an angel, and uses her gift of song whenever asked, which is often. Lorna teaches Kindergarten, loves to read, quilt, and bake. She has a selfless servant’s heart, and can always be counted on to lend a hand wherever needed.

Lorna is the lens of The SAGs. She has a deep love for God’s Word, and is always able to help the rest of us gain perspective when it’s sorely needed. She helps us to focus on Jesus, and to look through that lens of truth in our life circumstances.

And this is me, Julie. You can read more about me here and all throughout this little blog. The three other SAGs have said I am the brain of our group, but it’s certainly not because I’m any brighter than they are. I am not – these are such smart women, it’s scary. I guess I could be thought of as the brain because I’m an organizer, like to make sure things are remembered, and am always, always thinking and (sometimes uselessly) analyzing. The brain is the control center, and there have been a few times in my life when I’ve been called a control freak.

Over our seven years together, we have eaten at almost every restaurant in our area. We have driven far to dine in beautiful surroundings, we have had fellowship around simple tables with hamburgers and fries. We have dressed up and had our SAGs meeting on a train, and in the rain. And in a boat, and near a moat. Oops – that’s Dr. Seuss. No boat or moat, but that’s giving me an idea – maybe someday! We celebrate our birthdays together. We have taken walks, driven a four-seater bicycle carriage with a canopy, and sat in a van after dinners, praying together for our precious children.

We have memorized scripture together. We each have a spiral bound booklet of note cards, and each month one person chooses the restaurant and the verses we’ll work on during the coming month. At the end of the night, we say our scriptures out loud together one right after the other. II Corinthians 9:8, Lamentations 3:37-38, Romans 4:21, and I Corinthians 13, among many others, will always be hidden in our hearts because of The SAGs.

Sometimes our life circumstances are such that we’ve considered “calling an emergency SAGs meeting” – that’s how important our fellowship and support is to us. And yet we all have other dear friends, and there are aspects of our lives that don’t always intersect outside of SAGs.

And we do our share of laughing together. You can imagine the mileage we’ve gotten out of the name we’ve settled on for ourselves. The SAGs. What does that conjure up in your mind?  Probably the same things it conjures up in ours!

One night after a fine dinner, we SAGs were sitting out on the huge rocks by the shore of Lake Superior, talking about our lives in Christ, about books, children, and our hearts’ deepest desires. And then we got on the topic of which of our own sagging parts we would change if we could.  :)

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Here are the SAGgy gals, holding up the parts of us we wish weren’t so saggy. (At least the parts we could put in this photo.)

In truth, we really do hold each other up. That’s what Pat’s dream was all about, and that’s honestly what the Lord has done in our midst. He has brought us together and taught us more about Himself through our little group. For me personally, I have learned more about love and loyalty and acceptance by being a SAG. Gail, Pat and Lorna have done for me what I couldn’t have done for myself.

We even talk about growing old together, continuing to meet each month for as long as we are able. We have spoken candidly about how the odds are that three of us will attend the first funeral among us, and we’ve solemnly promised to share at each others’ services. We do life together, and we want to be there for each other in death as well. We share the wonderful promise in which Christians rest, that we are His and He is ours, not only in this life but in the next.

Meet the SAGs.  I thank God for them…these Saving Graces.

E-Boy

November 8, 2008 | My Joys

This wonderful little boy is my grandson Elijah. He’s the second child and only son of my middle daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy. Elijah is five years old and is in Kindergarten this year. IMG_6176

Now, I know what I’m about to write will sound like a typical obnoxious, boasting grandmother, but I promise you it’s all true: there is nothing not to like about E-boy.

He is tender hearted. He is compassionate and gentle with his little sisters. How many five year-old boys would truly rejoice over a baby sister’s first word (“hot!”)?  Elijah leans close to baby Audrey when she tries out new words, smiles hugely and encourages her, and probably makes her feel like her big brother thinks she’s really amazing.

He loves to draw and create and I have never heard him say “I’m bored”. Elijah makes great things out of Legos that really do look like what he says they are: ships, dinosaurs, robots, swords, dragons, and castles with towers. He and his older sister Clara often sit at Grandpa and Grandma’s kitchen table with blank pieces of paper and crayons, and they’re happy and content to draw for a long time, and to look up occasionally and watch the birds that come to the feeder outside the window. There’s a peaceful calmness about Elijah that isn’t often seen in little boys his age.

Our E-boy is also funny and silly, quick to laugh and to make others laugh. He’s also really good at cleaning up when it’s time to put the toys away. He does it quickly and without complaining.

When I pick Elijah up at his house to bring him back to spend the night at Grandpa and Grandma’s, he runs out of his front door with glee and throws himself at me, he’s so excited for our time together.

I asked Elijah’s daddy to give me a couple of words he thought best described his son, and he said, “Willing and brave.” I see these traits in Elijah, and pray that God weaves them into the very fiber of his character as he grows. Elijah’s name means The LORD is my God, and as he learns to walk with Jesus throughout his life, I believe God will help him to be a willing and brave man in his generation.

I told my grandchildren that when they look at the moon and stars in the night sky, to think thoughts of the fun times they’ve had and will have with their grandparents. I remind them that when they see the moon, Grandma can see the same moon at the same time, even though we’re apart. I tell them that when I see the moon, I send my love winging its way to them, and am thinking of them and praying for them. Elijah listened intently to this and later told me sweetly, “Grandma when I see the moon, I think of you and all the love there is at your house.” Even as I type this I have tears.

Oh, such a tender and beloved boy he is. And even at this young age, he’s a boy of substance, willingness and courage. He’s a blessing in every sense of the word to his family, and one of God’s most extravagant gifts to me. I’m very proud to introduce you to my grandson Elijah David.

Tauni

October 11, 2008 | My Joys

I am excited to introduce you to Tauni, one of my oldest friends. She’s only a year older than I am, so I don’t mean one of my most ancient friends, I mean that Tauni is someone I’ve been friends with a long, long time. 

Tauni and I met when we were very young – she lived in the house behind mine, or you could say I lived in the house behind hers. My family moved into that particular house when I was three and I believe Tauni and I met within a year or two, so we have known each other for over forty-five years. Our yards were separated by tall cinder block walls typical of what you still find in Southern California, and Tauni’s family was one of the privileged ones in our neighborhood who had a built-in swimming pool in their back yard. As I wrote earlier here, I was passionate about swimming from the time I was about five, and it was in Tauni’s pool that I spent most of my swimming hours. It was on that high block wall that separated our back yards that I often sat, looking longingly over into her yard and hoping that I would receive an invitation to come and swim.

Our lives did not converge that much in school. Tauni played the flute and was in band; I took organ lessons at home on my mother’s behemoth Hammond B-3.  Tauni and I even had different groups of friends we hung out with. Her parents were much younger than mine, and her family vacations usually centered around water-skiing at Lake Nacimiento, while mine were more sedate and involved driving north to Morro Bay and taking lazy strolls on the beach. Tauni was the oldest of four children; the only girl. I was the youngest of three children; also the only girl. We often spent the night at each others’ houses when it wasn’t a school night, sleeping in a pull-out couch and staying up late to watch television. Almost every scrapbook from my childhood has several photos of Tauni and me doing something together.

I think Tauni would say that she best remembers our many outings to Disneyland, our just as many trips to the beach together, and my mother’s homemade popcorn balls, which we wrapped in wax paper and were the size of cantaloupes.

I remember all of Tauni’s younger brothers, Rodd, Brett and Glenn, and the constant activity in their home and back yard, and the fun and the wild splashing and the creative games they engineered. I remember her dad, who teased me for years about being a Tibetan Llama (too long of a story), and her mom, who had a huge and warm smile, and always elicited the open-hearted sharing a young girl thrived on. I used to marvel at the intercom in their house, and the soft and soothing music that always came from the speakers in each room. I used to covet the lazy susan sitting in the middle of their round dining table.

A very vivid memory I have of being with Tauni and her family involves two specific songs. I can remember riding in the way-back of their station wagon with a posse of kids, on the way home from a day at the beach. We were all full of sand and either tanned or sunburned, and Tauni’s mom Ann was driving, and the radio was on. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” was playing, and Tauni’s youngest brother Glenn was singing his heart out on the “toot, toot, toot” part, with a huge grin on his adorable face. Then, when B.J. Thomas’s “I Just Can’t Help Believing” came on, Tauni’s mom murmured, “Oh I love this song”, turned it up and sang along quietly. To this day, whenever I hear those two songs, I’m instantly transported back to their car and the water-logged, sun-drenched days of our childhoods.

As the years passed, my parents divorced and my mom and I moved to another house, and Tauni’s family also moved, toward the end of her high school years. They were still in the area, but we didn’t see each other that often. We didn’t even go to each others’ weddings.

But God is the most brilliant crafter of friendships, and He knew when He merged our lives as children, that Tauni and I would need each other decades later as grown women. So we never completely lost touch. Sometimes years would go by, but we would still occasionally write letters, exchange our children’s school photos, and call each other to catch up. It seemed that the closer Tauni and I both grew to the Lord, the closer we grew to each other. Our friendship as adults is much deeper and more connected than it was as children.

I have watched this dear friend walk through things that would have ruined some, but she has clung to the Lord and His fragrance is always around her. I have seen Tauni persevere in circumstances others would not have endured. The loss of a cherished brother. The end of a marriage. Dark times. But I have also seen that she has chosen to forgive, to bless others in the midst of her suffering, and to allow hardship to make her better, not bitter. 

We all know people whose hard and relentless circumstances are written into the very lines and expressions on their faces. But Tauni isn’t one of those people. Look at her picture. The vivacity and joy and optimism you see there are real and deep. The trust she has in her Savior not only permeates her life, but shows on her countenance as well.

Tauni is the mother of two beautiful adult children who consider her their hero. She has made her mark on this world in many ways, but as a mother, most don’t even come close. She is now enjoying being a new grandma to her daughter Shannon’s baby Ben, and someday he will know how blessed he is that God gave him Tauni for a Nana.

Tauni and I are separated now by over two thousand miles. In years past we have each traveled and visited one another, and now we’ve made tentative plans for a long-overdue visit in 2009. The last time I saw her in person was in January of this year, when she and her new husband Curt (who is the blessing she has deserved all her life) drove quite a distance to attend a memorial tribute for my father held in Southern California. We only had a couple of brief hours together there, but as we sat together, I pondered thankfully what we’ve shared. Tauni and I share years of history. Countless memories. And an abiding faith in Christ that has kept our friendship intact for all these many years, and will continue to bind us together for the rest of our lives on this earth, and into eternity.

I admire and love her so. To me, she is beautiful inside and out. I wish everyone could know her. I am so glad to introduce you to my dear friend Tauni.

Doc, my dad

October 2, 2008 | My Joys

This is an amazingly accurate likeness of my father drawn in about one hour, by my gifted son-in-law Jeremy. This is the quintessential Doc, from the expression on his face, to the cigar in his hand, to the mouth poised to speak on whatever things he felt passionately about, of which there were many.  

Most people knew my dad as Doc the high school basketball coach. Some knew him as Doc the golf coach, as Doc the veteran, Doc the patriot, or Doc the conservative. To me, he will always be Dad.

From a very early age I began to sense that my dad was well-known in our community, someone special to many people. Whenever anyone heard my last name they asked me, “Are you Doc’s daughter?” I was proud to say that I was.

My dad was the grandson of an itinerant preacher and the son of a pastor. From the time I was three years old, he made sure I got to Sunday School at the First Baptist Church where we lived, and I believed everything I was taught there. I remember every one of my Sunday School teachers, the first Bible verse I memorized, and the songs we sang. I remember the first time I realized that I needed a Savior and couldn’t be good on my own no matter how hard I tried. I remember walking down the church aisle at age twelve to ask Jesus to come into my life and take over.

Aside from being a record-setting basketball coach, my dad taught Driver’s Education, so I was a proficient and illegal driver by the time I was ten years old. There isn’t a time today when I’m effortlessly parallel parking and slipping into a tight parking spot in one try, that I don’t think of my dad teaching me the secret of that “very valuable life skill”.

My dad sang to me. He sang goofy songs he’d learned as a farm boy in rural Missouri, and old hymns that I learned by heart as I listened to him sing the words. Whenever he sang The Old Rugged Cross, he would get tears in his eyes.

Dad always let me tag along. He never treated me like I was just a child. He actually enjoyed my company, even though I could be a whiny little thing with a thousand questions. He never shooed me away, never once told me to be quiet, never told me he didn’t have time for me. I didn’t realize how remarkable this was until I had children of my own.

He was a kid magnet. He loved children, and children loved him. My three daughters couldn’t wait to take their summer turns to fly to California and spend two weeks with Grandpa. He sat for hours while they played beauty shop, putting gel in his hair, hanging dangling earrings on those huge ears, and giggling with him. He doted on them and made them feel special and cherished.

My dad was never one to hold back. You always knew where you stood with him. With Doc, you knew that winning was paramount, liberals were suspect, and that one should have at least six cigars in one’s shirt pocket at all times. And if you were fortunate enough to play basketball for him, you knew exactly how to snap your wrist sharply out to the right when you took a shot.

My father could be difficult too. He was opinionated and hated to be wrong. I think he probably thought he rarely was. He demanded a lot of his basketball players and of those he loved. But I can honestly say that I always knew he loved me.

Even though my father didn’t live out his Christian beliefs as openly as I think he would now, I know he wanted to pass on his foundational faith in Jesus, and it “took” with me. I caught it.  It has changed my life, saved my life, altered my outlook and lifted my chin. I want nothing more and nothing less than to pass it on to my daughters, and I take every opportunity I’m given to let my seven grandchildren know how much they are treasured by their Heavenly Father. I fervently pray that they will catch it too.

My dad’s last words to me were on the phone on Saturday, November 17th, 2007. His voice wasn’t the booming, assured, laughing one I’ve known all my life. Instead his voice was weak and raspy, and he was closer to death than any of us knew. But we know now that he knew how close he was to leaving here. The last thing my father said to me was “Love you, love you, love you.”

My father died on November 20, 2007, in his home in San Luis Obispo, California, where he was lovingly pampered and selflessly cared for by his wife Dorothy. He was 87 years old.

My dad left me many things, but I’m most grateful for two. I’m thankful he led me to a place where I would hear and eventually believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m so grateful that he made me feel loved. For a daughter to know that she was her father’s delight is a priceless gift.

My father had a presence about him that isn’t often seen. So his absence seems to leave a larger void. Even now it doesn’t feel real that someone so commanding and confident is really gone. But I will see him again.

And today, nearly one year after not hearing his voice anymore, I miss him.

Ginny

September 27, 2008 | My Joys

If you don’t know Ginny, you are really missing out.  She and I have been friends for about eleven years now, but it seems like we’ve known each other since first grade.  Sometimes it feels like we were twins separated at birth and then returned to each other’s lives as middle-aged women.

She’s the first to admit that she’s a sanguine party animal by nature, and I believe everyone always has a great time with Ginny.  But she’s also quick to remind her friends  that “this ain’t the party”, helping us to look past our current hard times and to never forget that untold joys await on the other side.

Ginny is one of the first people I go to if I need prayer. I always know Ginny will pray. And keep praying.  I cherish this about her.

If you meet Ginny and become even slightly acquainted with her, she will very quickly christen you with a nickname.  Sometimes the nicknames make sense: she calls my husband Michael “Mickey”, and she calls me “Jewel”.  I like that.  She calls my youngest daughter Sara “Bubba”.  Now Sara no more looks like a Bubba than Queen Elizabeth does, but because Ginny says it with such fondness, somehow it just seems right.

Ginny’s passion, I think, lies in the word connection. She’s someone who has a passion to see people connect with each other and with God – she wants people to feel welcomed, included and loved right away, and no one else makes that happen quite like Virginia Kay.  She would eradicate loneliness from the face of the earth today if she had the power to do so, and sometimes I think she just might.

She likes to connect with her friends on a deep, sharing level. She cares, she calls, she listens, she laughs, she prays out loud for me and makes me feel loved. She knows how to put people in touch with whatever it is they need, whether it’s a wallpaper hanger, a restaurant, a blazer that’s 32 inches long, or Almighty God Himself.

She has nurtured women young and old in the faith for years. She says she can’t bake and can barely cook, yet each time she invites me for a meal I end up salivating all over the table and begging for the recipe. She loves the “type and shadow” found in the Bible and her huge eyes fill with tears when she learns a new truth.  Ginny and I were in a book club together for ten years.  We go to the same church. We have husbands with similar interests, primarily food and guns fishing and travel. We love attending Community Bible Study together.  And we are very partial to our Danskos.

Ginny has never chosen to have children of her own.  I once asked her why and she cracked me up by responding, “I didn’t have kids because I didn’t want to wreck anyone – I was pretty sure mine would end up being the ones who sit on the tops of buildings with rifles in their hands.”  Yet she is the most maternal, wise, insightful, nurturing woman you could meet.  I recently heard this phrase and it so applies to Ginny: that girl could mother a fencepost.

For my last birthday she took the time to write out fifty of our memories, on fifty small strips of paper. I cried fifty tears and thanked God fifty times for a “jewel” of a friend like her.

Meet Ginny.  If you don’t know her yet, you should.  Your nickname awaits you.

Carey

September 23, 2008 | My Joys

This is my dear friend Carey. She and I met about 24 years ago at a young couples’ small group gathering through our church. We were in our twenties then and still pretty naive about so many things. Now we are middle-aged and hopefully a little wiser. We giggle about how in another 24 years we’ll be clacking our dentures and cackling together on the phone like we always have. Cackling and clacking. We won’t look as cute if we cackle and clack, but the love will still be there.

Carey and I have seen each other through a lot in life. Or you might say that we have clung to our friendship while we’ve waited and watched for Jesus to see us through.  We have cried to each other too many times to count, carried one another’s burdens as the scriptures encourage sisters in the Lord to do, and laughed and lunched and longed for higher things together.

My husband and I were eating dinner with family the night we got the horrible call that Carey’s husband Gary had died suddenly at age 26. I spoke at Gary’s funeral and wondered how God would show Himself to a young widow who had experienced less than two years of marriage. Then God brought new love to her life, and I rejoiced when she and David were married. I also remember the phone ringing in the night and Carey’s soft voice saying, “We have a girl!” Now that little babe is doing wonderfully in college. I will never forget the night their third child was born. I went down to the hospital to be with their two sleeping young daughters, while she and David waited to welcome their son. I couldn’t help bursting into tears when I heard his healthy cry, and when I drove home I pondered: death, life, tears and tragedy, health and happiness. I’m so glad God gives us friendships to help us hurt and to help us celebrate. Carey has certainly done this in my life.  

Carey isn’t just a loyal friend. She is a real-life version of Wonder Woman, if you ask me. There are so many things she does well it’s astounding. She can cook and bake delectable meals and treats, and the desserts she makes look like they’re off the cover of Bon Appetit.  She can expertly fish for walleye, bring down a deer with an accurate shot, then gut it with a knife. She can butcher the deer and then make her own sausage from the meat. She can properly tear apart an outdated room in an old house all by herself. She can install ceramic tile. Carey can sew beautifully, and used to have a business doing just that. Then she started making the most unique and gorgeous dried florals, and couldn’t keep up with the demand. Today she makes jewelry and when she eventually has the website I think she needs, I’ll update this post and you can see her gorgeous creations. She can read a how-to manual on just about anything and then do the job well. She handily changed a flat tire for me once. She has sewn incredible Halloween costumes. She sacrificially and cheerfully did all the flowers for the wedding of one of our daughters. She can pour concrete and she can create a breathtaking English flower garden. She can canoe, portage and set up camp in the Boundary Waters and she can put on a fabulous English tea. But even though she’s strong and can meet a physical challenge, she’s very feminine, tender, beautiful and kind.

Carey is smart, too. Really smart. She has two college degrees and could probably get a third while building a garage, altering a wardrobe and feeding the multitudes. But she wouldn’t like me telling you that, because she’s humble. She has a quiet servant’s heart that always wants to make people feel cared for, listened to, and helped in a practical way. Not too long ago she came to my house and helped me put a bed together, move some furniture around, prime the kitchen walls, and fold some clothes. She made me feel like this was no big deal to her, yet it meant so much to me.

We were in a book club together for a decade. We have read and discussed and recommended books to each other time and again. I can imagine we’ll be talking books while we’re clacking and cackling. We’ve even talked about visiting some of the places we’ve read about. Our most recent travel dream is the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Up until now the farthest we’ve gone together is Minneapolis, but we had so much fun on that trip I think we could handle Guernsey someday.

One special memory is when we met for a movie one evening – a film about chocolate. Or maybe it was just a movie about life, with lots of chocolate thrown in, which isn’t that far from the truth of our own lives, actually. Carey and I couldn’t simply sit there and enjoy the movie together. We hunkered down in the theater seats and ate huge, freshly baked and still warm, gooey, appropriately chocolate cookies as we watched, and washed them down with jars of cold, smuggled-in milk.

We know what brings joy to each others’ hearts. We well understand what brings pain and fear. But we also know how to point each other back to the Lord, and that is what I cherish about our friendship. 

Carey and I have been in many Bible studies together, marking each summer with a different Beth Moore study, and each fall, winter and spring we attend Community Bible Study. We have learned so much about God and His goodness together, talking things out and praying for each other. I think that’s the main thing that comes to mind as I think over the years we’ve been friends – God has grown us up together, in Him. He has instructed us about life and eternity, and about His inscrutable ways; He has shown us what we can live through as we walk with Him, and in His kindness He has given us our friendship, which is truly rooted in Christ.

After all these years she still warmly says to me, “Julie, it’s so good to hear your voice.”  I feel the same way about her. 

I want you to get to know Carey. It’s so good to have her as a friend.

Meet Mrs. Nisky

September 20, 2008 | My Joys

This is my beloved granddaughter, E.  If you look closely you might be able to see the light beaming from her face.  She is the second child of my oldest daughter Sharon and her husband Chris. Auburn-haired and copper-eyed, Miss E. has always looked to me like she could have been named Penny.

Although we learned when she was in utero that E. was going to be a Long-Femured Woman, this sweet four year-old is a peanut. Uncharacteristically petite (for our family, anyway) and thoroughly feminine, she reminds me of a pixie: gracefully flitting here and there, quieter by nature than her older brother and younger sister, yet fierce and feisty when she’s bossed around. She has a unique quality about her that is hard to put in words, and it’s apparent whether she is with you in person or just talking to you on the phone; she has this luminous essence that shines out from her and beams right inside of you and wrenches your heart. She has a whispery voice that, when accompanied by that pure and disarming smile that no one else on the earth has, just sort of melts me completely. 

Miss E. loves to draw and paint, color and create. If her brother, Mr. McBoy, isn’t often trying to engage and direct her in playtime, it’s likely she’ll be found stretched out on the rug, chin resting on one hand and legs behind, intensely concentrating on the small figures she’s drawing. 

E. has a penchant for collecting things. It started way back when she was a mere toddler. She always wanted to be carrying a purse or basket of some sort, and all throughout the day she would select small things to put in it, and then treasure and guard them carefully. If she was playing with a saucepan, little bits of things had to go in it. If she chose a decorative basket to put over her arm, hair bows and crayons and pennies and beans would be added. For a while she said her Rs in the endearing way so many young children do, and one winter when visiting Grandpa and Grandma she proudly announced, “I’m the collecto of the family.” Little does she know that she has collected and carries around our hearts as well.

This summer her parents gave her the best present for her birthday, one totally in keeping with her personality. She attended a week of “Cinderella Ballet Camp”, where this group of little girls were taught the fun basics, and got to be ballerinas and princesses at the same time.  It culminated with a darling recital at the end of the week, and the photos of E. doing her broom dance show a little girl truly aglow with satisfaction and excitement.

E. loves music too. Sharon says that she loves to sing and is always making up her own little songs, and she wants to know what the title is to every song she hears on the radio.  Sometimes when the music is instrumental and Mama doesn’t know the title, she’ll explain to E. that it’s classical music.  So now E. thinks that the name of all instrumental songs she hears is “Classical”. 

Miss E. likes being a big sister, and evidently thinks that very exaggerated baby talk is the best way for her little sister to understand her.  “Are you the cutest baby in the whole wide world, you big girl honey? Yes you are! YES YOU ARE! You’re the cutest little sweetheart!”  I wish I could be there to hear it, and to see little sister M.’s delighted reaction. 

When I was about three or four years old, I used to grapple verbally for ways to tell my parents how much I loved them, and apparently I used to declare, “I love you two chibben and fee!” which was my way of saying the biggest number I could think of – two, seven and three.  This bent for hyperbolic expression must run in our family, because Miss E.’s parents tell me that when she expresses affection to them, she says things like “I love you twenty-four six hundred!”, meaning, of course, lots and lots.

Over a year ago when her parents were talking with her and of course, using her first name, Miss E. interrupted and said firmly (and out of nowhere), “Don’t call me E.!  My name is Mrs. Nisky!” They never knew where that new moniker came from but had to restrain themselves from laughing because she was so serious. So while other families have nicknames that make sense, as in Bobby for Robert or Jenny for Jennifer, our little Miss E. wants to be called Mrs. Nisky.

Mrs. Nisky on her fourth birthday

Mrs. Nisky on her fourth birthday

When I talk to E. on the phone I often ask her when she is coming to our part of the country to visit us.  “How ’bout Saturday?” she always cheerfully answers.  Oh, how I wish it were so.  We live far away from each other, so twice a year visits will have to do for now, along with frequent phone and e-mail updates.

When I look at E.’s sweet face and deep into her eyes, I think of the song, “This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine!” because that’s exactly what she does.  It’s who she is.  She has this wonderful and steady little light inside of her, full of innocence and love and spirit, and she lets it shine, and shine, and shine.  Our family is so happy and thankful that God has blessed us with the luminous Mrs. Nisky.

Clear and bright…

September 7, 2008 | My Joys

If ever a child has grown into the meaning of her name, it’s Clara.  

All the baby name books say that Clara means “clear and bright”, and here are some of the definitions of those words from Merriam-Webster: Clear: luminous, cloudless, serene, transparent, unmistakable, keen, innocent, pure.  Bright: shining, sunny, lively, cheerful, intelligent, promising. 

She is my oldest grandchild, firstborn of our daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy.  Clara is six years old and is in the first grade. She loves to read (“Grandma, I guess you could say I’m a bookworm!”) and she’s very content to spend hours drawing, creating and imagining.  While she was at our house yesterday, she read Charlotte’s Web, made an 18-inch tall weather vane out of felt, construction paper, tape and pipe cleaner (making sure I knew which were the North/South/West/East arrows), built a small room out of Legos with an “emergency exit window”, demonstrated the difference between the calls of the chickadees and nuthatches at our deck feeder, and told me she loved me about seven times.

One of the things I love most about Clara is her very real devotion for her three younger siblings. She and her brother Elijah are sixteen months apart and are true friends. There is a deep bond between them and it’s beautiful to see. She thinks the antics of her little sister Vivienne are adorable and says, “Grandma, isn’t Vivie so sweet?” And Clara is genuinely delighted when baby Audrey smiles or accomplishes something for the first time (“Grandma, Audrey can crawl and sit up now!”).

I grew up loving books, and remember the first time that excitement for reading began in me: in the second grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, when my teacher Mrs. Lokken read aloud the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to our class.  We would sit resting with our heads down on our desks after a hard-playing recess in furnace-like Southern California weather.  I remember thinking that I was going to read those books to my children when I became a mother someday.  And I did.  What never entered my seven year-old mind was that I might eventually be a grandmother as well, and perhaps I would read them to my grandchildren. 

So when the children’s play “The Magic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” came to The Children’s Theater in Minneapolis earlier this year, we began a tradition that I hope to continue for many years: a Grandma Date. Clara and I drove to the Twin Cities and saw the wonderful production, stayed at a nice hotel, ate at restaurants, and made some memories. Elijah knows that next year when he is six, he and I will do the same together.

Clara is tall and long-legged, has golden hair and skin, and expressive blue eyes.  She can be shy around new people, but her conversation with those she’s comfortable with is constant, full of hypothesizing and frequent words of love. She is obedient to her parents, helpful and peaceful. She’s an amazing example for her younger brother and sisters.

Clara loves to watch reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights.  When she happens to be spending the night at Grandpa and Grandma’s on a Saturday, she’ll often look at me with wide eyes and say, “Grandma! Remember what’s on TV tonight!”  And when I say, “Lawrence Welk?”, she smiles and nods emphatically, knowing in a little while we’ll be watching together, swaying to Guy and Ralna or Bobby and Cissy doing their thing.

She likes to hear about life “back in the old days” when I was a child, or about poignant memories I have of her when she was younger. Recently she asked me to tell her some things I remembered about her when she was a baby. One vivid memory came to mind. I told her that when she was about a year old, we had a high chair in our kitchen that we used just for her visits.  I told her how she would sit in this high chair and tentatively try some of the new finger foods her mama gave her. Even at a year old, Clara was watchful and quiet, and as I moved around the kitchen her eyes followed me, and when I spoke to her in Grandma-like coos and smiled at her, she grinned back hugely, breaking my heart into pieces.  I told Clara that as long as I was in the room, she was content. But if I left the kitchen and moved out of her eyesight, she would burst into tears. After hearing all of this, six-year old Clara looked into my eyes and placed her hand on mine and said, “Grandma, it’s still pretty much like that now.”

There are days now when life seems a little overwhelming to me. Years ago I couldn’t have looked in my mind to the horizon of our future and seen there the things that make up our life now. We have things I never thought we’d have, and are missing things I never thought would be lost.  Sometimes it feels like we are muddling around in the dark, trying hard to hold on to our Savior’s hand. Theologically, I know that He is holding us in His hands, but I forget that much too often.  How thankful I am for our grandchildren and the riches and perspective they bring to our lives. They cause us to lift our chins, roll up our sleeves and set our hearts and minds on what’s truly important. They help us to pray and to dream and to hope. 

My oldest grandchild Clara brings me joy.  She is just plain good company.  Her very presence can make things seem clearer and brighter, although at age six she has no idea that she exemplifies the meaning of her name. It is my prayer that as she grows, she will learn to walk closely with the Lord and that she will look to Jesus as the Protector of her heart.

I’m so proud and thankful to share about my granddaughter Clara.  I love her so.

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