Some might say, “It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.” The story goes like this: First, I caught my favorite pair of pants on fire when I got too close to a candle flame. (My two best friends were with me, so it was frightening and funny at the same time!) Then my precocious cat Amos (he didn’t confess, but I know he did it) knocked my new, none-too-cheap eyeglasses on the floor — and I stepped on them. (I’m not light on my feet, so the results weren’t pretty.) Next, Billy and I discovered we had a family of squirrels living in our attic. (The first clue was the sound of vicious “debating” at 2 a.m. right above our bedroom ceiling.) I told the professional critter-getter who came to our rescue that I’ve battled all sorts of critters since I’ve moved to the country, and it’s fairly difficult to shock me, although his squirrel eviction bill did stun me a bit.
For sure, it was a tough day. But everything turned out for the best. Yes, I caught my pants on fire, but that panic-filled moment still makes me laugh, and it gave me a good excuse to go shopping. My fabulous eye technician grinned when I handed her the pitiful remains of my glasses. Then she said, “Don’t worry, hon; your glasses are so new, they’re still under warranty!” (I almost hugged her!) The squirrel saga gave Billy and me the final push we needed to do the home remodel we’ve been talking about for years. Of course, after squirrels chew holes in your soffits and move into your attic, you start thinking steel construction instead of wood. But we’re settling for reinforced soffits, a new roof, a sturdy front door, energy-efficient windows, and leaf-proof gutter helmets. Not a super-fun shopping spree, mind you, but one that will make me feel more at ease in my house in the big woods.
The Bible tells me there’s a season for everything (Ecc. 3:1-8). It also unequivocally reminds me to make sure the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are acceptable to God (Psalm 19:14). This means I’m to praise God on the good days and on the not-so-good ones. When I pause and think about it, these days of fire, fragile things, and unexpected house guests are just small, foggy windows that, when cleared, help me to see the big picture: Things are just that — things — and on good and bad days, God is great! When I keep that in mind, even the worst bad days have a best side.
It was a pitiful sound, a mournful cry that drew me to its source. And there she was: a quivering, woefully skinny kitten, barely four weeks old, lost and alone, desperate for a home. So, of course, I took her to mine. That trembling hairball needed me. And, in many ways, I needed her. A few weeks earlier, our family cat, Butter, had been mauled by dogs. Butter’s death was hard to take. She was gorgeous, goofy, smart, hilarious, and a good snuggler. I still cry when I think of her.
The little orphan I rescued wasn’t gorgeous, but she was flea-infested. I couldn’t take her inside until she was devested of those critters. While my husband (sweet, servant-hearted guy that he is) drove to the overnight vet to get a flea pill, I fed the kitten and then bathed her in flea dip. Of course, she really looked pitiful then — soaking wet and shaking with cold and fear. I wrapped her in a warmed towel while I dashed inside to drag my old rocking chair out to the garage.
I cradled the kitten in my arms, right next to my heart so she could feel and hear the beat of it. Then I began to rock and softly sing ... “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
As I rocked and sang that song over and over to that dear kitten, I gently rubbed her nose. Soon her trembling ceased, and she fell asleep in my arms. I knew in that moment that I would call her Gracie, for she truly had been lost, but by God’s grace, was found. She found a home, and she found a place in my heart.
Gracie is now 10 years old — spunky and curious as, well, a cat! She likes to wake me up at 2 a.m. for a spontaneous game of “let’s rumble.” But all I have to do is hold her in my arms and hum “Amazing Grace.” She immediately snuggles next to my heart, sighs, and goes back to sleep. No other song will do. Isn’t that amazing?
I don’t know a thing about the feline brain, or its capacity to recognize a song, but I do know Gracie recognizes love when she hears it. And that’s what matters.
When I cuddle up with Gracie and sing “Amazing Grace,” it reminds me of how God must feel about you and me. After all, we, too, were once lost but His love found us. His love saved us when we were alone and desolate, covered in sin as thick as fleas. He pulled us close through His Son, Jesus, and every day He sings His amazing love song to us. In His arms, we are eternally safe and warm.
This week, let your life be a living example of amazing grace. Reach out to others who need you, those who are feeling lost and alone. Tell them God wants to wrap His arms around them and hold them close to His heart, secure in His eternal love. When your life is a sweet song, others will recognize love when they hear it. And that’s what really matters.
I remember the first Christmas I celebrated with my blended family. Courtney, my stepdaughter, was 10 at the time. She and her daddy hauled in a mountain of decorations from storage. Together we began placing the items. It didn’t take long to notice that Courtney moved or rearranged every decoration I touched. I was confused and a bit hurt when she grabbed a decoration and said, “That’s not where it goes!” But her next sentence explained everything: “Mom always put that on the coffee table.”
Courtney’s mom, Barbara, was a beautiful woman who died of cancer when she was 38; Courtney was 6 at the time. When Courtney grabbed that Christmas decoration, I realized she was not rejecting me; she was trying desperately to hang on to the memories of her mom and the Christmases they shared.
After that revelation, I simply asked Courtney where each item I unpacked should go, and I gently prodded her for memories about her mom. Both she and Billy shared stories of Christmases past, and I felt I knew Barbara a bit better by the time the last ornament found its home. We decorated the tree that year using small honor bows, each one placed to celebrate the life of a specific person. Barbara’s special bow found its home in the center of the tree.
Later that evening, as Billy and I sat on the couch surrounded by twinkling lights, I explained that I understood where Courtney was coming from but that, somehow, Christmas in our home would eventually need to have my fingerprints on it, too — without erasing Barbara’s touch. He agreed, and together we brainstormed ways to slowly accomplish that.
The next year, I added a few new decorations to the existing mix and replaced a weary wreath with one I created by weaving bits of the old one with new ribbon — a blending of the past and present. Together, Courtney and I decorated the den tree. I also decorated a small tree for our living room. Billy called it the “don’t touch froufrou tree.” Courtney called it beautiful because I decorated it with red roses in memory of her mom, whose portrait hangs in that room. Barbara’s favorite flower was the red rose. I told Courtney that even though her mom is gone, her love and influence live on, blooming in Courtney’s life. She liked that.
Each year Barbara’s Christmas stocking hangs from our mantel in celebration of the beautiful life she lived and the legacy of love she left for Billy and Courtney. I cannot grasp why God chose to take Barbara home at such a young age. Nor do I understand why He chose me to stand in the gap for her. Over the past 13 years, I’ve felt so inadequate. But my prayer is that, in small ways, I’m helping Courtney grow to become the young woman of her mom’s dreams. I see Barbara in Courtney. I see Billy in Courtney. And, some days, I see a bit of myself in our brown-eyed girl. We are indeed a blended family. And that is a great Christmas gift.
Dad has been joyfully running around heaven for almost 20 years now, quite likely spinning hilarious tales and grinning like a possum, just like he did on earth.
When he was running around down here, Dad was a real study in contrasts. He could rattle your teeth with some of his clothing ensembles but select a gift for my mom that would take your breath away. Dad just slap-dab loved Mom to pieces, and his gifts reflected that love. With six kids to feed, he rarely had two nickels to rub together. But one year for their anniversary, he gave Mom a few pieces of exquisite china he most likely found in a dusty but delightful antique store. The pattern was unique: delicate tea leaves framed by a rich teal band trimmed in gold. The china’s cups, elegantly curved and ever so feminine, most likely reminded my dad of the woman he loved so much. As a little girl I would gaze with awe at those exquisite cups, not daring to touch. Even then I knew they represented far more than beautiful china that could hold liquid; they represented a big heart overflowing with love.
A few years ago, to my heart’s delight, my mom gave me one of the cups to “Daddy’s China.” Showing it to my husband, Billy, I told him the story behind it and expressed how I would love to find more pieces of the set.
Now Billy is a real guy’s guy; china is not his thing. But for months he traipsed along with me as I combed every antique store in Tennessee and beyond, searching for pieces of “Daddy’s China,” always hopeful but always leaving empty-handed.
In many ways, Billy reminds me of Dad. He can spin a hilarious tale and grin like a possum, too. Gift-givingis also his love language. On my 46th birthday, Billy served me breakfast in bed. In he walked, grinning like a possum while balancing a covered breakfast tray. After a hilarious version of the “Happy Birthday” song, he removed the soft cloth that covered the tray. There was my breakfast, lovingly showcased on a place setting of “Daddy’s China.” I burst into tears — not quite the reaction Billy was expecting! As tears splattered my eggs and bacon, I could almost hear Daddy chuckling and telling Billy, “Atta boy, son! Those are ‘you done good’ tears!”
Finding a place setting of “Daddy’s China” was no small feat for Billy. But just like my dad, this husband of mine searches long and hard for gifts that represent his big heart, which is — to my amazement and utter delight — overflowing with love for woefully imperfect me. Billy’s big-hearted love has me sharing sweet tales and grinning like a possum.
Daddy would be proud.
I’m directionally challenged. Not a single cell in my brain has a sense of direction. Drop my husband, Billy, into a new city, spin him around, and he can point north faster than a bird dog can point a pelted pigeon. Drop me into a new city, spin me around, and I’ll probably throw up — with no sense of direction, mind you, so stand clear.
Case in point: A few years back, Billy and I were in separate vehicles at a tire store. While he prepared to wait the allotted hour for his new tires to gain traction on his truck, he told me to take the back roads home to avoid a traffic jam on the interstate. I was dubious; I’m a go-the-way-you-know kinda gal. But that day, some wayward cell in my brain was screaming “You can do it!” That was a very optimistic but totally oblivious cell.
An hour later, after turning my car in several wrong directions and myself inside out, I realized I was headed back to the tire store! God surely has a sense of humor because the next vehicle I passed going the opposite direction was Billy’s newly tired truck. It was like one of those slow-motion scenes in a movie: I looked at him ... He looked at me ... He was pointed north ... I was not.
In my rearview mirror, I watched Billy spin a U-turn, and I knew he was laughing his socks off. I pulled over and waited for him to saunter up to my car. He paused once, trying to buy time until he could stop laughing. It didn’t work.
I followed Billy home that day like a gosling follows a mother goose. My feathers were a bit ruffled because he was still laughing, but I followed him nevertheless.
A friend once said to me, “Ivey, I’m so glad God has a plan for my life because I have absolutely no idea where I’m going!” I second that.
Being directionally challenged has impeded my progress at times, but it has also made me a good follower. Just like my friend, I’m so glad God has a plan for my life. “Lead on!” I say this with gusto because the times I’ve detoured from God’s leading have been rough and rocky roads (to say the least).
On the other hand, following God’s lead has taken me to incredible places I would never have found on my own. One of those incredible places is Billy’s arms, where I feel safe, loved, and directionally secure. In daily life, I follow Billy. Better yet, I prefer the passenger seat with him at the wheel. He calls it “Driving Miss Ivey.”
In my spiritual life, I track to the wisdom of that old hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” That way, I know I’m homeward bound, and I can take joy in the journey, even when I don’t know what’s around the next curve.