My Grandma’s House

If my grandmother still lived, she would have turned 108 yesterday.  She would have donned her Mary Kay™ makeup and Estee Lauder™ perfume before shuffling to the kitchen for a slice of custard pie and coffee.  And she would have soon found herself all covered up with grandkids and great-grandkids wishing her a special day.

Oh, how I wish she would have.

We all miss her much but look forward to seeing her in glory one day.  Until then, I like to read this poem I wrote for her 90th birthday (and later read at her funeral) and remember.

 

My Grandma’s House

 

Eight twenty-seven South Spencer Street,

Its last owner I’d like you to meet.

Born in May some ninety years ago,

Now with three children and their kids in tow.

 

Meet Florence Amelia Zaeske Chase.

We’ve come to honor her here in this place.

Some in body, some in spirit,

All to pay tribute to a woman of merit.

 

A day of remembrance, today it shall be;

A day when all of the world will see

Inside the door of my Grandmother’s house.

C’mon in!  I’ll show you around.

 

Down the long driveway of a stately brick ranch

Push open the screen, swing open the latch,

Through the Dutch door, you’ll see me grin

‘Cause now we’re standing in Grandma’s kitchen.

 

It smells of Palmolive and baking pie crust

A hug and a kiss for Grandma – yes, they’re a must!

The counter holds dozens of chocolate éclairs,

Cookies and donuts – so many to spare!

 

Gram smiles and shuffles her two slippered feet

To the big brown cupboard and pulls out a sheet.

It’s a wax paper bag to fill with goodies and sweets,

M&Ms and red hots, all kinds of treats!

 

At Christmas, it’s cutouts of snowmen and stars,

Bathed in sugar icing and hidden in freezer far

Far, far away with the chocolate and nuts,

Whirl-a-gigs, thumbprints – we wanted some, but

 

We played in the basement, good for hours of fun

With plenty of room for all little ones.

Perfect for hiding, perfect for play,

The best place to spend each rainy day.

 

Except for the Tomcats adorning the walls,

We loved to play store and whatever else.

Pool and shuffleboard, maybe dress-up,

We’d play ‘til grownups said, “Time to clean up!”

 

We’d sit at the kids table, never alone;

We’d devour our meals, then we would moan.

We giggled, we talked, we made memories galore,

And after Gram served pie, we’d clamber for more.

 

Us cousins, we loved to play all kinds of games:

Basketball, hopscotch – even in the rain!

Gram would make tea and all kinds of jam,

We’d watch from the sandbox, happy as clams.

 

Inside we’d go to taste her Swiss steak,

Maybe orange roughy or Texas sheet cake.

Whatever she made, it was the best in its class,

Gram’s a five-star chef, truly having a blast .

 

Cooking for grandchildren the dishes they loved,

Remembering with fondness her husband above.

Thanking her God she is able to cook,

She made her family a recipe book!

 

The love that she showed us, I’ll never forget

Nor the deep prayers her lips would let

Soar up to heaven each night on her knees,

Beseeching her God to “watch over them – please.”

 

Thank you, dear Gram, for investing your life,

I know Grandpa believed you were a wonderful wife.

You made a house into such a warm home,

I am so blessed to call you my own.

 

Happy Birthday in heaven, Gram!

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/

 

On My Birthday

Leave it to my sister, Krissie, to find the best in everything.  Even death.

Her birthday is January 16th.  Typically, her big day consists of dinner at the Japanese Steakhouse followed by a delicious marble cake topped with purple flowers.

But this year’s celebration was bittersweet.

Christian’s beloved grandmother, “Nani”, died the morning of January 16th.

Krissie had adored Nani.  When our remaining grandparent had gone home to glory over seven years ago, Krissie and I had come to think of Nani as our own.  Even though I was the one who had “married into the family”, Nani had drawn Krissie right in.

Nani had loved her so.

“Beth,” Nani would say, “when are you going to bring Krissie to see me?”

These two weren’t often together, but during the moments they shared, their eyes would sparkle as smiles covered their faces and giggles poured from their lips, both of them always ready for a good time and great conversation.

In many ways, two peas in a pod.  Simple and sweet, loving others selflessly, loyal to the end.  They enjoyed a relationship pure and precious, a bond strengthened by the “being together”.

Having just spoken with Christian about Nani’s passing, I called my mom, thinking she would need time to help Krissie start processing the loss before her birthday dinner that evening.  Mom answered.  Krissie must have stood listening closely beside her because almost immediately and none-too-queitly, she pressed Mom to handover the receiver.

As Krissie spoke, her voice trembled but never broke, and I easily pictured her long lashes moisten, framing her beautiful blue eyes.

“You know what’s really cool, Beth?” Krissie said.  “Nani saw Jesus for the first time on my birthday!”  Krissie paused.  “I will never forget that on my birthday as long as I live.”

Her instinctive response amazed and blessed me.  So sweet, so devoted, this one, this precious sister of mine.  So happy to share her special day with one she loved, deeply and wholeheartedly.

I, too, will forever link these lovely ladies in my mind every January 16th, one of the most treasured days of my year.

May God richly bless them – both today and beyond.

Captain Morgan

When people asked me during the 2016 election period who I thought would be the best President of the United States, my first answer was Jesus Christ.  My second choice elicited smiles, nods, and many times, for those who know my candidate personally, solid agreement.

He didn’t run for any office that year and sadly has no intention of doing so in the future, yet I believe he would prove a compassionate leader, fierce protector, and amazing hero.

He already is.

Nearly three years ago, this particular candidate harnessed the guts and gusto to step into a sinking ship with a marvelous resolve to right it and propel it along a prosperous new course.  Many had attempted this daring feat and failed, but after much prayer and prudence, he determined to set sail.

Within months, he surpassed his goal and gained the favor of kings.  The unwavering loyalty of his diverse crew spoke volumes about his management style and his ability to bring people together, unify a motivated team, and build them up with strength, vision, and purpose.

Today, other captains, both near and far, have noticed and called upon my candidate for advice, comraderie, products, and employment.  While blessed by finding favor, he vigilantly keeps his heart in check, knowing that humility permeates a truly successful man.  He couldn’t be labeled an ivory tower poster boy, as he never hesitates to toss his collared shirt aside and grab a pair of gloves, working the lines alongside his team when the call arises.

Fully aware when in the presence of his betters, he embraces opportunities to learn and grow rather than cower in fear or wallow in a pit of insecurity, asking, “Who moved my cheese?”  Respecter of persons, giver of grace, he takes responsibility for his actions, rights his wrongs, and makes it a practice to take the high road.

For years, he faithfully provided for a family with significant challenges.  This man has sacrificed much for the sake of many.  He is adored and appreciated far more than he knows.  Through wind, sleet and hail, he’s climbed uphill battles, the kind that separate the men from boys, clashes that cost him nearly everything dear.

He’s a man, one that stands in the gap.  When the going gets tough, he hits his knees and prays God would enable him to get tougher.  I’ve seen this Man of Steel fight fires and chase down giants, carry groceries for elderly ladies and visit men behind bars, befriend the outcast and weep with the homeless.

What kind of candidate does such things?

No, he’s not Jesus.  My candidate would detest the comparison and declare his shortcomings.

Yet, it’s Jesus’ heart I see in him.

Every man falls.  Faced with the choice stay down or rise up.  Learning from the “falling” and re-charting his course accordingly have defined the man he has become.  This post, this resume of character, reflects the heart of a man dedicated to living a life worthy of the words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”

Who does such things?  My nominee.

Movie-making, drone-flying mad scientist, this seafarer of mine.  Relentlessly-cycling, steadilyy-swimming, marathon-running machine.  Former skydiver and electrician turned poet and friend.

A leader who leads leaders.  A warrior who protects at all costs.  A chosen vessel who commands his ship with the wisdom of Solomon and the love of Christ.

A devoted father, husband, and friend.

Christian T. Morgan

The name Morgan means “of the sea” and well-fits this able and excellent Captain.

O Captain, my Captain!  Thank you for not hesitating to steer our ship straight into the storms of life, fearless and bold, loving to the end.  From the Bronx to the White House, I’ll hold up your sign, wear your t-shirt, and campaign across the USA, proud to be by your side.

And to nominate you for the office of President of the United States.

Happy Birthday!  We rejoice in God’s gift of you!

3-16

My little Abby Mae turns five today.

Tears blind me now, for I cannot recall her birth without remembering how close she came to death.  Many, many times.

We praise God for the gift of her life and love.  Although we celebrate today with butterflies and flowers, sparkly ribbons and bows, strawberries and sunshine, my heart trembles under the crushing weight of memory, ushering in mingled wonder and sorrow, hope and pain, joy and suffering.

And to think, the first specialist to diagnose Abby’s heart defect recommended I abort her.

I distinctly recall gasping at the mere mention.

“Mrs. Morgan, really!  Think of it.  The baby’s heart is a mess, her organs are positioned backwards . . . ”  The doctor shook her head and folded her arms with disgust.  “Why rush to CHOP (the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and make them go through all sorts of heroics to try and salvage this?”  She swallowed and softly said, “Besides, haven’t you been through enough already?”

She referred to my son, John, who’d received his diagnosis in the same office some two years earlier, a boy with intestines forming outside a large hole in his belly, intestines that were also blocked and likely damaged severely if not fatally.

The doctors had given him a 15% chance of making it.

I numbed out as the specialist built her case.  The inconvenience, the expense, the unknown outcomes.  As the doctor prattled on, I inhaled deeply.  I looked full into her fiery eyes and calmly said, “We’re going to CHOP.”

I will not lie.  Christian and I had both looked forward to a pregnancy without problems, a wondrous time we could spend with our children and heal from John’s traumatic birth and infancy experience.  What a crushing blow.  Thrust into the nightmare once again, same storyline, different details.

After extensive testing, CHOP informed us that our daughter did indeed have a severe heart defect, as well as Heterotaxy Syndrome (where the organs are abnormally placed within the body).  This five person team, although not nearly as blunt and insensitive as the first physician, waited for my decision about procuring further care.

I swallowed hard.  Then I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks.

“We’re cheerleaders.  And besides, we already know where to park, the cafeteria menu cycle, and how to avoid the construction traffic.”  I cried a little, and then I said, “As long as there’s hope, we’re in.”

My father sat at the table in lieu of my husband’s presence, his tears saying it all.  I knew I needn’t call Christian, for I knew what he would have me do, what God would have us do, what the mother in me longed to do, and what the warrior in me was destined to do.

FIGHT!!!

On our knees, day and night, night and day, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, fight for this little life we did.  Born with little chance in this world, but oh, how her cries and the prayers of all those who loved her moved the Heart of heaven.

And today SHE TURNED FIVE!

My thoughts began to swirl a few weeks ago when my church sent out a general email announcing the annual fundraising banquet of Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center (LPRC).  In the past, our family had participated in various support opportunities, and since we continue to lay down roots here in NJ, I spoke and prayed with Christian at length about contributing.

We decided to attend the banquet, but I neglected to make the necessary connections until after the deadline had passed.  As I sat up late one evening reviewing past emails, I discovered my error and froze.  I hadn’t realized until that moment how important it was to me but couldn’t explain why.

I had no idea how personal the connection would become.

Believing that God would make a way if He wanted us to attend, I shot an email to the Lighthouse events team, expecting to be graciously turned away.  Then I clicked to Facebook to check my most recent blog post picture.  Somehow as I scrolled along, a man’s voice came over the speaker, startling the daylights out of me (I thought I’d muted it).

Our family friend, Eric Bugbee, had shared a link to Wildcard’s video of Tim Tebow’s recent interview about keeping his priorities straight, which greatly aided him in keeping his cool on the field.  He recounted picking up castaways in Haiti, not mincing words as he declared his desire to be known as one who emits faith, hope, and love rather than as a  successful ball player.  While thankful for the platform sports has given him, his obvious passion is serving others, namely those who have no voice.

I was highly impressed.

I continued scrolling over the next few days and found that another family friend, Aegis Boyer Stuart, had posted a link to a live event at none other than the Tim Tebow Foundation!  Riveted, I viewed her video.  Again, Tim spoke from his heart, sharing his vision to supporters and proclaiming undying devotion to “those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”

I’d heard Tim mentioned among our homeschool community and knew he played ball, but I didn’t know about his foundation nor the parties it served around the world.  Curiosity caused me to thoroughly investigate, and sure enough, what I discovered blew me away.

Hospitals and play rooms.  Proms for the mentally challenged.  Dreams fulfilled for the terminally and chronically ill.  Outreach to orphans.  Surgeries for the sick and disabled.  Rescue for victims of human trafficking.

All totally up our alley.

Everything I saw and viewed resonated loudly with the call God’s placed on my life, and witnessing others living it out in such amazing and far-reaching ways stirred me to the core of my being.  Not only Tim but also his parents and siblings have long been involved with these causes, in years past as missionaries in the Philippines and currently in different countries and capacities.

As I researched the amazing Tebow family, I grew more excited about the possibility of attending the Lighthouse banquet.  It seemed a wonderful way to take another step forward in the same direction as they, a way to serve families in crisis with no voice.

I checked my email one more time after my research binge and read the Lighthouse event flyer one more time.  Lo and behold, I’d glossed over the name of the banquet speaker earlier in the evening, but now, it jumped out at me as if arrayed in Broadway lights.

Pam Tebow.

By the grace of God, two seats opened up.  Christian and I headed to the Venetian awed and humbled, for I had shared with him all that had transpired that week.  We knew that He had something special in store.

Pam shared her testimony about how, when she was extremely ill in the Philippines and carrying her fifth child (Tim), her obstetrician recommended an abortion in order to try and save her life.  She obviously declined and gave birth to not only an incredible athlete but more importantly, an amazing servant.

She also told of how her son wore the reference John 3:16 on his eye black during the 2009 college football national championship, during which 94 million people googled John 3:16. Exactly three years later to the day, Tim led the Denver Broncos to a win in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and after the game, his rep informed Tim that all of his stats included the digits 3-1-6.

He threw for 316 yards.  Yards per rush: 3.16.  Yards per completion 31.6.  Ratings for the game: 31.6.  Time of possession: 31.6

No coincidence.

Thank you, Pam Tebow, for sharing your story around the world.  Thank you for all you are doing to encourage mothers to give their babies life and inspire them to bravely face the challenges ahead.  And thank you for the reminder that every life is precious.

Even the most delicate of hearts.

Thank you, Abby Mae, for lighting up every room with your smile and song.  For the way you curl up in the arms of grizzly bears and melt their hearts like butter.  For the way you paint away problems, encourage the pessimist, and dance into the loneliest of hearts.

Young in years, yet a wise old soul.  Mistress of joy, deep and unspoiled, lavishly given and freely enjoyed.  Forever may you blossom and grow, little girl, spreading your sunshine and adoring ways.

Thank you, God, for this precious life.

Born on 3-16.

 

Tornado

Have you ever been caught in a tornado?

We nearly drove through one on Saturday.  Literally.

I’d heard a storm was coming, but because I no longer live with my weather-forecasting-sister, Krissie, I did’t think much about it.  Until . . .

All five of us Morgans felt quite festive as we barreled along the highway to the Scranton area for Nani’s 92nd birthday party.  Christian and I bantered back-and-forth while the kids watched a movie, so none of us noticed the ominous sky surrounding us.

Sometime around 3:15 pm, my phone beeped as it received an official weather text alert stating that a Tornado Warning was in effect until 3:30 pm and that we should seek cover immediately.

I grew up in Illinois where tornadoes are a part of life, so much so that we had tornado drills at school, scrunching up into little balls in the interior corridors.  I can still remember my surprise at seeing my mother participating in a real tornado emergency while pregnant with my younger sister, Jenny, all huddled up, lining the inner staircase of Wild Rose Elementary School with the other PTA parents.

So when I got the text message on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t watching for a tornado.  One had actually been spotted.

My eyes instinctively searched the sky.  There it was, a dark billowy mass of cloud hovering out the left-front window.  It wasn’t as defined as I would have expected, but only later did I realize that we were too close to see it.

I peered over my shoulder.  The kids were oblivious, thankfully, and I turned back around.  We were potentially in big trouble because the next exit lay several miles down the road.

As we drew closer, dark whips of cloud seemed to be everywhere in the sky immediately above us, and uneasiness rushed over me like the first jump into a swimming pool.  I felt small in the face of this inverted mountain of wind, rushing and swirling all around, tugging at our SUV with a vigor that made Christian hold tight to the wheel.

“Christian, we’d better get off at the next exit.  I just got a tornado warning text.”

“Really?”  He craned his neck and peered through the windshield.  “Awesome!”  He whooped and hollered while reaching into the backseat for his GoPro camera.  I motioned for him to keep his voice down, but he paid me no heed.  “Kids, check out the tornado!”

“Where, Dad?”  Hannah paused the movie as they pressed their faces against the windows.  They located the darkest patch and collectively said, “Ohhhhh!”

John complained loudly that he couldn’t see the vortex.  Hannah thought it was extremely cool and handed Daddy the GoPro.  Little Abby burst into sobs.

“Are we going to die?”

In that moment, something flashed through my mind that I’d read years ago.  Author and speaker, Christine Caine, had once recounted a time when she, her husband, and a few other tourists were stranded on a jungle tour.  Something went terribly wrong, and for a couple of days, they’d had to fend for themselves.

At times, Christine found herself wondering if they would survive their ordeal.  She shared that once she returned to safety, God impressed upon her heart to never forget for one day from what she had been saved.

Her story made a huge impression on me.  How true it is that I, with so many comforts and conveniences at my fingertips, can easily distract myself from facing my own mortality.

Life is but a breath.

Saturday’s storm jolted me into remembering how important, how essential the daily contemplation of death truly is.  Doing so doesn’t fill me with fear.  Rather, remembering that my days are numbered infuses me with passion to more fully live.

I found myself thankful Abby had voiced the question.

“Mommy,” she said again, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.  “Are we going to die?”

Christian seized the moment before I could speak.

“Who’s going to pray?”

Hannah volunteered and quietly offered up something sweet and simple.  Peace washed over our vehicle and stilled Abby’s soul.  As our eyes returned to the skies, Christian took my hand and smiled.

We were now less than seven minutes from our destination, so we decided to make a run for it.  Apparently, our family missed the heart of the storm by less than two minutes because cars still huddled under the overpass as we finally made our highway exit.

Residents started slowly emerging from their refuge as we drove through Dunmore and surveyed the damage.  Fences were down, branches strewn everywhere.  A trampoline stood awkwardly bent nearly in half, pressed up against a battered shop wall.

Christian whistled and murmured, “Something definitely came through here.”

We arrived at his grandmother’s house, grateful.  His family breathed a sigh of relief as we crunched across the hail-covered lawn and into the sturdy ranch-style house.

In the face of death, we celebrated life, the wonderful gift of Christian’s grandmother.  How ironic an afternoon, how fitting an ending, how blessed our family, getting to grow together through yet another of life’s storms.

May God continue to richly bless our family and yours, through storms and sunshine, both today – and beyond.

My Heart

What do you give a great-grandmother on her 92nd birthday?

I asked Abby that question when she woke on Friday morning.  My husband’s grandmother was turning 92 on Saturday, and Abby told me she wanted to give Great Nani something so that she would know she is VERY special.

“Like what?”

“A puppy!”

“Abby, that’s at the top of your birthday list.”

“No, no Mommy, it could take care of her!”

“What else could you give Great Nani?”

“A dolphin – or a shark!  She could keep it in her bathtub.”

“She could, but it might bump her when she’s taking a shower.  We don’t want her to fall down.”

“Oh, that’s right!  Hmm,” Abby said, index finger tapping on her temple, and then she pointed it straight in the air.  “I know!  My heart!  I want to give her my heart!”  Abby tucked her chin into her left shoulder and cradled her arms in front of her, twirling all around.  “That’s it, Mommy!  I’m going to make her a heart right now!”

She ran to her cubby and grabbed her yellow supply box.  Out came the glue sticks and markers.  For the next twenty minutes, Abby designed an elaborate birthday heart, complete with sunshine, banana, apple, heart, and 3-D flower.

It was beautiful.  The perfect gift for a beautiful woman.

The fact that my four-year-old feels deep affection for her comes as no surprise to me.  Rose Prizzi Perry is an amazing person, the unsung hero of a remarkable family.  Born as the second oldest of four girls into a hardworking  Italian family, Rose quickly learned how to support and encourage those she loved.

She married Army Veteran, Paul Perry, and spent many years raising their three children, Linda, Paul, and Ron.  Nani’s long hours at the shoe factory as well as those spent bending over her well-floured kitchen table making pasta, fashioned her into a patient, diligent soul, not to mention an outstanding cook.

I have gained much from her quiet example, one that never broadcasts but simply lives out her undying devotion to family and friends.  Her relentless quest to please reveals her immense desire to make every person feel valued and appreciated, known and loved.

Christian and I love to spoil Nani.  One of his co-workers told him about a top-notch Italian bakery, one known for its cannoli, which happens one of Nani’s favorite desserts.  We smiled on Friday when Christian’s mother relayed Nani’s message, “Don’t bring anything to the party on Saturday.  But if you bring the cannoli, bring the big ones.  Not the little ones, the big ones.”

Nani’s been there, through the good and the bad.  I can’t count the number of times she told me she was praying for us, tearfully clasping our hands the few times we got to see her in the midst of our hospitalization crises.

I distinctly remember one phone call during which God used her to speak into our lives in a powerful way.  I don’t remember the words but will never forget the way she held nothing back, declaring her love for Christian and I and our critically ill children.  That night, her tenacity and encouragement strengthened me and carried me through an extremely dark and difficult time.

I will never forget it.

How ironic that Abby wanted to give Nani the one thing that she has always freely given to others.  Nani taught her children well, children who taught their children, one who now teaches little Abby.

What goes around comes around.

Thank you, Nani, for investing so much love and life into the hearts around you.  Thank you for your gentle laugh and winsome ways, your giving spirit and open arms.  Thank you for your steadiness and grace during the storms of life.

I love you as my own and cherish the years I’ve been blessed to have you in my life.  My prayer for you is that you will continue to enjoy the fruits of your labor as well as good health all the days God gives you.

Many I pray they be.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Nani!