A Smiling Six

Abby Mae turned six on Friday.

Her smile says it all.  I have zillions of pictures of her, but this one makes the top ten without question.  Sheer joy encompassed her in the Chuckie Cheese ticket blaster as she frantically grabbed at colored scraps swirling all around, shrieking with delight.

And to think I almost didn’t get to write this.

Nothing short of miraculous is her life.  Even her birthdate, 3-16, symbolizes the hand of God upon her soul.  I tell the whole story in one of my favorite blog posts titled 3-16, linked below.

https://drinkingfromthewell.com/2017/03/16/3-16/

 

A Timely Reminder

It’s finally done.

After years of living it, writing it, and praying over it, the manuscript and full proposal for my book, Carried & Kept Through the Hospital: A Provider, Patient, and Parent’s Perspective, stand complete and ready to head to the literary agent I at a conference who was interested in representing it years ago.

I pray she still is.

God’s timing is perfect.  While I sat in the River Edge Diner (locals have dubbed it the R.E.D.) on Monday night madly typing, a waitress approached me, peering at my screen.  She’d taken care of me before, and even though I had not been seated in her station, she’d wandered over to say hello.

“What ‘cha writin’?”

I told her briefly about my blog, Drinkingfromthewell.com, and its purpose, to help families during crisis and beyond.  Her face paled as her eyes clouded with tears.

“I sure could have used that.  My brother died in May of 2016 of ALS.”

She launched into a heart-wrenching account of her family’s struggles with his diagnosis,  their difficulties in acquiring resources for his care, and the toll it took on all of them.

Her story moved me.  Hers was the face of why I sat surrounded by piles of papers at a greasy spoon in the late evening hours, urgently refining pages crammed full of information that I believed would help families in their most desperate hour.

Families just like hers.

How timely the reminder.  As I finalize the proposal to send out tomorrow, please join me in praying that God would open doors far and wide for our family’s message of hope, help, and healing.  May many hear and be blessed.  May many be helped and find hope.  May all turn to Him, that He may carry and keep them.

Always.

Fight the Good Fight

Ever had a close call – the scary kind?

I have.  The time when two men followed me around Wal-Mart and then out to my car.

On Father’s Day, 2016, my family and I had stopped to pick up a few groceries after church to make a scrumptious celebratory feast.  I flew through the produce section, grabbing a watermelon and onions, unaware until I reached the back of the store that I was being watched.

I passed the children’s clothing section and noticed two tall European-looking men sporting casual business attire eyeing me.  They carried no basket and pushed no cart as they huddled along the edge of the aisle, one fingering a rack of dresses, the other boldly staring, his hands in his pockets.

Odd, I remember thinking, what are two businessmen doing in a closed toddler girls’ department?  (We live in a county that only allows pharmacy and grocery purchases on Sundays.)  I thought it strange, shrugged, and moved on.

I had a feast to prepare.

Shifting my focus to the five-item list, I grabbed a pint of cream, a gallon of milk, and a box of butter and then scurried to the cashier to make the purchase.  Within minutes, I realized that the unnerving pair had parked themselves at the store exit.

No bags in hand.

I gulped.  There I was in my mom-dress, trying to play it cool.

Is this all in my head?

I completed my transaction and walked slowly toward the door, questioning whether-or-not the fiction-writer in me was having a heyday.  As I approached, I found no trace of the pair.  I exhaled loudly, allowing myself a small smile, chastising myself for getting all worked up.

Beth, Beth – you silly goose.

My husband, Christian, had parked close to the door, so I headed to the car.  Even before I reached it, I could tell he was yapping on the phone with his dad, wishing him a Happy Father’s Day, no doubt, as the kids bounced around in the backseat.  I whisked open the trunk and unloaded the bags.  As I reached back for the last item, I gasped.

One of the men stood there smiling wide, holding my watermelon.

My heart stopped.  Not in a good way.

Pretending to be helpful, he moved close to me, passing the watermelon in front of my face and into the trunk a little too slowly.  I felt another person move directly behind me, and as I tried to turn around, I realized I couldn’t.

He was that close.

I froze.  It took me a moment to process that this was actually happening.  Shock overtook me like quicksand a gazelle, and I found myself engulfed in a quagmire of danger.  Fear threatened to immobilize my ability to escape, and my would-be captors capitalized on my hesitation, gaining great and strategic position.

Flight-or-fight kicked into high gear and ushered in a growling Mama Bear Morgan.  Just as I was about to unload every jiu-jitsu takedown I’d practiced with my kids, the watermelon dropped into my car with a thud.  My eyes whipped to the carrier’s face, now covered in terror, his eyes riveted on one thing.

Christian staring at him in the rearview mirror.

And then they were gone.  Just like that.  Vanished into thin air.

Thank God!

I slipped into the car, not quite right.  Music swirled around me as the kids sang along, clapping and nodding their heads to the beat.  Christian, oblivious to the danger lurking outside, ended his happy chat with Dad and then smiled at me.

“That was nice of that guy to help you with the watermelon.”

Not really.

After I told him what happened, he made a U-turn to go back to Wal-Mart, hunt them down, and clean their clocks.

That’s MY man, ya’ll.

It being Father’s Day and with a carful of hungry kids, we settled for calling Wal-Mart security.  They handled my call well, stepped up parking lot patrols, and reported it to the local authorities.

The incident shook me more than I would have expected.  It also made me realize the value of being prepared for such a time as that.  We just never know.

I detailed the incident to Professor Wil Horneff of Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu and MMA in Westwood, NJ, ending my account with, “Maybe the guys were just trying to be nice, and I misread them.  Maybe they just like watermelon.”

Wil shook his head.  “No.  They had a plan.”

We’d met Wil during a time of great instability in our lives.  Our family had just survived several life storms, moved to New Jersey, and wrestled with how to return to normal life while daily grappling with intense post-traumatic stress.  At one point, we had huge concerns for our son as he seemed unreachable, unable to focus, and unaware of the depth of his need for help.

Our pastor recommended we try jiu-jitsu at Training Grounds.

From day one, we were grateful.  Master Wil took John under his wing, and within three months, John became Student of the Month.  Abby and Hannah sat on the sidelines watching John’s classes.  Soon, they asked to join the ranks, and now, all three of our kids have gained a solid foundation in self-defense through the extraordinary programs at Training Grounds.

Master Wil is fantastic, an award-winning black belt as well as a gifted teacher and communicator.  My kids love him.  All the kids love him.  He’s like the Pied Piper.

Adults, too.  Law enforcement, military, active adults wanting to stay in tip-top shape.  Wil just has a way with people.  Tough skin, warm heart, great teacher.

Winning combo.

Master Wil knows what it’s like to be bullied.   He knows what it takes to stand up and face anyone with confidence, not looking for a fight but ready to face whatever comes his way.  Everyone in class benefits from his years of experience as he pours not only skill training and technique but also wisdom and character into his students with the intent of preventing problems before they escalate.

He strives for excellence in every aspect of his organization.  Wil’s wife, Alisha Horneff, not only does a fabulous job running the office, but she also helps train the female students in the adult classes.  The other Training Grounds staff members are top-notch, too, working together to ensure all who enter receive the best possible experience.

Hats off to you, Wil, for leading by example.  Thank you for sowing not only valuable skills but also excellent character into the lives of our kids.  Thank you for inadvertently teaching me what I needed to know if things had gone differently that day back in June.

You and the entire Training Grounds staff are a blessing to many.  I thank God for you and pray He continues to use you in powerful ways to train up warriors to fight the good fight.

To the end.

Night to Shine

I want to remember last night forever.

My sister, Krissie, was absolutely stunning in her lacy black gown, her makeup and curls, but I’ll never forget how she “looked”.

Full of sheer joy, glowing and radiant, wearing a wide, full smile that lingered, resting across her pretty, glittered face all evening long.  She practically floated around the dance floor with her wonderful Buddy, Leah, at the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine event in Allentown, PA, sighing dreamily.

Utter bliss.

Krissie wasn’t the only one.  Continual displays of delight from guests at this prom for people with special needs made the night.  These precious souls hit the limelight running, posing for the paparazzi, waving from the limo, strolling the red carpet, cutting super-slick moves – the dance floor was packed, especially during the crowning ceremony at the end of the night.  Kings and Queens of the Prom, royal in their right, children of the King, displaying the splendor of His love as they basked in it.

I’ve been to proms and parties in rooms filled with glitter and gowns, tuxes and roses, DJs and treats.  The element that sets Night to Shine apart?

Love.  Unbridled, ardent, beautiful love in its purest form.

Years ago, I’d volunteered at Krissie’s Special Olympics swimming practice, and I’d noticed a new volunteer standing off to the side.  I walked over, shook his hand, and introduced myself, asking how he’d gotten involved.  After glancing downward for several seconds, he raised his eyes to mine.

“I want to find God – I thought maybe I’d find Him here.”

God’s presence was undeniable at last night’s event.  He has deep affection for people with special needs, and the many who served at Night to Shine passed His love onto guests in a way they could see, touch, hug, and feel, allowing them to experience Him through the heart of another, a person not bound to them by blood or by paycheck, a person who wanted to give of their time and attention because their King/Queen was worth it.

And so much more.

From the radiant guests strolling the red carpet in fancy attire to the volunteers steadfastly serving and smiling, all present were blessed by each other.  Every person, young or old, small or tall, needs to feel loved and valued for who they are. Last night, that need was fully met in an arena that was safe, loving, and celebratory of each person as a unique and beautiful child of God.

Tears and tissues were everywhere.

Parents oscillated between beaming and tearing up.  That night meant the world to their children, who longed for a place outside of their home where they could be free to be themselves and be fully loved, appreciated, and celebrated for who they are.  Throughout the evening, parents enjoyed the opportunity to gaze from afar as others buddied up with their son/daughter.

Krissie hadn’t wanted me to be her Buddy.  At first, I was a little disappointed, but I soon realized why.  She wanted somebody new to love her that didn’t “have to” – she wanted the chance to be loved solely for the person that she is, the chance to receive love from another because they want to give it as she gives her love to others.

Completely.  Unreservedly.  Wholeheartedly.

Buddy slots for the event filled to capacity as volunteers came out in droves from all over the Valley – and beyond – to love on their honored guests.  So organized, so united in their mission to make every guest feel like the royalty the are.  It was evident that the event impacted every person involved, from the parking lot attendants to the photographers, the hairstylists to the foodservice workers.

It impacted me.  Deeply.  To see my sweet sister, this one I love so much, beautified and honored in countless, thoughtful ways.

I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.

Thank you, Riverbend Church and Pastor Joe Velarde, for opening your doors and hosting this incredible event.  Thank you, to the Tim Tebow Foundation, for having the vision and heart to make every person feel loved and valued.  Thank you to every volunteer who made my sister feel like the Queen that she is.

Thank you all for making this her Night to Shine.

 

 

 

Paper Plate

What on earth am I going to do? 

Homeschool would begin in less than ten minutes, and there I was, scrambling to pull together an engaging lesson on an important topic.

Respect.

Over the past two days, my children had completed activities on the subject.  Both had gone well, but I yearned for something more, an interaction that would engage their hearts and impact them forever.

I hadn’t realized until that moment how much this meant to me.  Normally I would let a less-than-perfect lesson go and revisit it the following day, but this was different somehow.

I wanted this morning to matter.

The clock ticked on as I grew exponentially agitated.  Nothing was coming to me.  No lightning bolts or ingenious worksheets.  No personal flashbacks or astounding video presentations.

I couldn’t make it happen.

 

I felt ridiculous slapping the lesson together.  How could I not have placed a higher priority on preparing to impart such a critical character trait to my children?  Respect was important!  And there I was, disrespecting respect.

God, forgive me.  Please, Lord, grant us breakthrough.

Peace washed over me.  God gave no immediate answers, but I knew He would somehow provide.  I rose, resuming my morning preparations.  As pancakes sizzled, I unpacked our picnic basket, drawing out yesterday’s leftover paper products.

As I stored them in the cupboard, my eyes fell on a stack of paper plates.  They were the six-inch dessert size.  I stood mesmerized.  The small circle was milky white, so pure.  No cake crumbs or watermelon seeds, no ketchup smears or pickle juice.

It looked perfect.

I felt this tugging in my heart to pull one out, so I complied.  I raised the plate eye-level, as if it were a face looking right into mine.

And then it hit me.

“Good Morning, Mom . . . uh,“ said the Early Bird, peering around the corner.  He balled his fists, rubbed his eyes, and then looked at me again.  “Mom, what are you doing?”

I lowered the plate and smiled.

“Good Morning, John.”  I grabbed a stack of plates, tossing, “I’ll be right back!” over my shoulder as I darted out of the room.  As quickly as I could, I affixed tape to the backs of the plates and stuck one in a visible area of every room in the house.

I texted my husband for assistance.  He loves impromptu requests and happily obliged.  While I poured milk and juice, pictures popped onto my phone of plates hanging all around one of the recycling plants he runs in New York City.  A plate on his office wall, another wired to his hard hat so that when he went up to the roof, the plate was there, overhead.

I texted him a big heart and a smiley face.  My lesson at long last stood ready.  This was going to be great!

The girls emerged from the stairs sleepy-eyed and sweet, taking their places at the table.  After greeting my children, I waited to see who would ask first.  It didn’t take but two minutes.

“Mommy, why is there a paper plate taped to the wall?”

“It’s a reminder that God is here with us.”  We discussed all the places God could be.  Outer space, Australia, Dairy Queen, etc.  We talked about the world, our country and state, as well as various places in our community.  Then I shifted the conversation to how we would handle our interactions with people differently if God were visually present in every conversation.

“We would be on our best behavior – everywhere, all the time,” John said.  Their heads nodded.

“That’s right!” I said.  “Sometimes we all need help remembering to make good choices.  These plates are a good reminder for adults, too!”  I picked up my cell phone and captivated them with their father’s “Plates at Work” photos.

“Daddy’s doing it at work?”  They beamed, incredulous that a grown man would play along in a professional environment.

“Don’t you think God is at Daddy’s work?”  More nodding.

“Hey, wait a second,” said my son, pausing dramatically, folding his arms across his chest.  “Is God watching us like a spy?”

“Not really,” I said.  “He’s not waiting to zap us if we make a mistake.  He’s always loving us, standing with us, using His power to help and strengthen us.  The plate can remind us of all those important things in addition to helping us remember to make good choices if we take the plate seriously.”

“You mean take God seriously,” Hannah said.

“That’s right,” I said.  “That is respect.  Taking God – and others – seriously.”

Quiet chewing of pancakes ensued as these ideas tumbled around the young minds seated before me.  We paused the lesson while one of the girls used the ladies’ room.

Upon her return, she said, “There’s a plate in the bathroom!”  Laughter filled the air.  Hands on hips, she turned to me and said, “Ok, Mom.  This is really creepy.  I took it down.”

“Don’t you think God is in the ba–“

“Mom!  That is SO gross!”

“Well, I didn’t mean it in a gross way.  Haven’t you ever prayed in the bathroom?”  Eyeballs rolled.  Lungs exhaled large, long sighs.

The child who prays a lot in the bathroom and will remain nameless nodded discreetly.  I sacrificed myself before the others picked up on it.

“I have!  When I’m sick or having a hard time, I pray – even in there!  Look, I didn’t want to leave anything out for the lesson’s sake.  I can’t use paper plates to show God is everywhere and then skip a room, now can I?”

Giggles.

“Well, I’m taking it down when I’m in there.”

“Fine.  Put it back up when you’re done.”

Over time, the plates have blended in, losing the “what’s that doing there?” eyesore effect.  Admittedly, sometimes I blow off “the plate” and don’t take it seriously.  Sometimes I pretend it’s not there.  Sometimes I don’t see it because I’m not looking for it.

But often, I see it and smile.  Other times, I’ve searched it out and turned my heart heavenward.  And in several trying moments, my eyes have been drawn to it by Him.  Most of the plates have come down (I kept one in our bedroom, and my husband left one up in his office), but the lesson remains.

For us all.

 

Never Stop Singing

Have you ever had a dream crushed in an instant?

The aftermath can last long.  Like 25 years.

As a child, I loved to play outside.  My favorite was the swing.  I could swing for hours and hours, cherishing the rocking motion that moved my wiggly body high into the sky.  But better still was what I did while I swung.

Sing.

Oh, how I loved to sing!  I dreamt constantly of being a worship leader at church someday, writing my own songs, and leading others in praise to God.  Most of the time, I sang just for Him.  Songs I knew from church and school.  Songs I’d heard on the record player.  Even songs I made up as I went along, belting them out at the top of my lungs, arms extended and free, smiling and twirling all around, shining before my Best Friend.

Until one chilly winter day.

Sixth grade came with many changes in my life.  My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, so my family moved closer to help during her illness.  I switched schools (as I had the previous year), and within the first week of attending, I encountered a difficult situation in, of all things, music class.

The teacher, whom I happened to like very much, asked the class of about 20 to go around the room and sing two lines of a common song so that she could hear the sound of each voice.  Everyone complied as did I when my turn arrived around child 16 or so, but as I finished, something horrible happened.

Everyone laughed.  Even the teacher smothered a grin.

At first, I thought something silly had happened, like a poster falling off the wall and sticking to the bushy, well-plastered hairdo seated behind me.  But as I glanced around, reality struck hard and fast as tears filled my eyes.  I sunk lower in my seat.  The teacher held up her hands and motioned for the kids to settle down.

“Now, now,” she said with too big of a smile, “we are all different and have different sounds.  That’s why I want to hear all of you.  Next, please.”  And just like that, she moved onto number 17 but not before the damage was done.

Two short lines had broken my heart.

Interestingly enough, I hadn’t really given much thought to how I sounded.  Ever.  I had always sung for an audience of One, enjoying the sheer joy of the experience simply for “the doing” of it.  Comparison and competition weren’t on my radar.

Not until the moment when I thought others labeled me “horrible”.

In retrospect, I think I totally misread the reason for their laughter that day.  My father had affectionately and appropriately nicknamed me Little Mouse during my toddler years because my voice was high and squeaky.  When I’d sung the two lines, I now believe neither my teacher nor the other students expected such a high pitch to come out of me, hence their surprised response.

But for years, I’d thought they laughed at me and my singing, so, unfortunately, I believed “them”.  I bore my wound in silence until many years later.  I could’ve ended the pain that day, that miserable moment in sixth grade, by quitting.  Tossed my records and tapes, lyrics and chords, background vocal tracks and piano music into the trash, determining once and for all to never succumb to such ridicule again.

However, there was one ginormous complication to this would-be arrangement.

I couldn’t stop singing.

Tunes kept popping out when I least expected.  I sang while playing in my room, riding my bike, taking a shower, unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog, riding in the car.  So I adjusted to my perceived reality, hiding behind powerful voices in choirs and groups but never attempting a solo.  Over time, I sang more and more, joining various worship teams, deciding the risk was worth it.  More and more contemporary Christian worship music kept coming out, and as it did, I couldn’t keep my song in.

I’m grateful I didn’t.

Today, I’m the Children’s Ministry Worship Leader at my church.  I’ve written and directed a children’s Christmas musical, and I recorded my first song with Nat Jenkins Music last week.  Not to mention all of the FUN my family has singing in our home!

No bragging here.  God gets all the glory for everything good in my life.  I’m well aware that apart from a lot of heart-healing and by His grace, all of these things (and countless others) would never have happened.

I simply share my story to encourage you to never stop using and developing the gifts God’s given you.  No matter the criticism, no matter the struggle.  Hide in the choir for awhile if need be, that’s okay, but don’t give up.  Never, never give in and allow your wounds to define who you are.  He can give you the courage to face your fears, His love to heal your hurting heart, and the strength to rise and try once again.

And sing.

What Love Looks Like

“What does love look like to you?”

I asked my five-year-old Abby Mae this question one day.  She responded by quietly smiling and hopping off her chair.

“I need my art box, Mommy.”  With titled head and thoughtful gaze, she poured over a simple sheet.  I expected something with hearts and flowers, maybe butterflies and family, but her final masterpiece took my breath away.

“Jesus on the cross.”

My eyes filled with tears as had hers.  I took in her glowing countenance, her tender gaze.  Her love for Him was beautiful.

“Sweetheart, this picture is wonderful!  Please tell me all about it.”

“There’s Jesus on the cross,” she said, her small finger tracing his form, “and all of those circles are his boo-boos.”

The week prior, I’d searched online for Easter movie clips and briefly previewed a scene of The Passion of the Christ, which portrayed Jesus’ agony immediately after Roman soldiers scourged Him.  Abby had passed through the room at that moment and froze when her eyes landed on the screen.

“Why is Jesus bleeding?  He’s not on the cross yet.”

I explained to her that the beating was part of His punishment, the one He bore but never deserved, for her, for me.

It bothered her.  To her core.

“I don’t want Him to bleed, Mommy.”  She wept and wept.

It had obviously affected her in a profound way, for as I sat with her, gazing at the picture, something about it further struck me.

“Abby, I’ve never seen Jesus smiling while He’s on the cross.”

“He’s smiling because He loves me.”

I had the privilege of leading our children’s Sunday school class in their Palm Sunday song, The Salvation Poem, on Sunday.  We’d practiced for several weeks, and even though Abby had always sung with a smile, the difference was marked after we’d seen the movie clip.

After she’d noticed Jesus bleeding.

Her every word flowed past thoughtful lips, her misty eyes closing at times.  Her little hands moved fervently as we made a cross with our arms and hung our heads to die.  Radiant joy spread across her face as we sang the news of Jesus rising to save the lost and forgiving our sins.

At only five years of age, this sweet girl loves her Savior and feels deeply loved by Him.

May we all bask in the precious love of the Savior.