When a cigarette lighter is part of Advent

We shared in our first Advent Sunday of the year. We celebrated with our men who live in this rehabilitation center, some working for change, others wishing for it like something on their Christmas list.

Three men stood to read prepared words for our first week. The second reader would light the candle before the third reader finished with his part. We do this every year, different men but the same process. Read, light a candle, sing a Christmas carol and pray. Time set aside for specific readings and candle lighting during the 4 weeks of Advent.


I usually place a lighter to be used for the candles on the table; one of those long gizmo’s that looks better than a cigarette lighter most have in their pockets.

And every year, said cigarette lighter will be pulled from their pocket and used instead of what is there. I shake my head and try to instruct them for the next week.

Until this year.

I thought about the conditions where Jesus was born: the animal sounds and stench, the stone trough with rough, itchy hay. I thought about shepherds being the first to receive the news. Men who held low positions. Men who smelled like their sheep. Men who rarely worshipped in the Temple because they couldn’t leave their jobs to perform the ceremonial washing to enter the temple.

There wasn’t much proper about Jesus’ birth. His mother wasn’t married when the Angel told her fiancé she was going to have a child. At the time of his impending birth, they had to go to another town where they found NO VACANCY signs throughout Bethlehem. The only place for them was some kind of stable, a bed of hay among the animals. No family around to help her. No proper bed for the newborn.

I’m worried about the lighter. That it will look right. That it will be proper and fit with the white and purple candles and the tree that’s been decorated in silver and gold.  There are men in this room who are struggling just to stay sober and I’m worried about this cigarette lighter and how it will look.

I let it go today. Let go of the worrying of how it looked, of the thought I might teach them something with a long handled lighter that doesn’t fit in a pocket. When Dan lit the first candle he pulled a lighter from his pocket and I thought, ‘perfect’.  It fit with the baby King born where animals were kept, whose birth was first announced to a lowly lot of shepherds.

The circumstances of His birth weren’t an accident. God chose the overcrowded, yet lonely place, the discomfort, the commonness of it all for the birth of His only Son. God chose the least of these. And every day he continues to choose us, the least, the last, the lost.

What kind of King would come so small
From glory to a humble stall?
That dirty manger is my heart too
I’ll make it a royal throne for You

Jesus, Jesus, precious one
How we thank You that You’ve come
Jesus, Jesus, precious one
A manger throne for God’s own son

Manger Throne, Third Day


My Best Black Friday Deals

I was out there. Once. Out in the lines of early morning crowds, when the sky was still dark and our light came from inside the store windows. I’m a passive shopper with little patience for this kind of thing but we were in a new city and the house was too quiet and empty at home so why not score a few deals.

I wasn’t after much. Just some DVD’s  to add to a stocking or two. Imagine my surprise when I saw hands, not reaching, but grabbing into the bin without so much as a preference to title. This was going on in every department as the shoppers took aim and hit the bullseye, the logo aptly chosen for this big box store.

I walked out empty handed. There were no deals worth this kind of frenzy. This isn’t my kind of bargain.

In years since, we’ve found the deals that best appeal to me. It’s of high value and worth the drive and dogs all over the sofa and the little kiddos running in and around the legs of the grown-ups with the occasional bump and tear.



kitchen window

original (4295587636)

Our chosen Black Friday starts when the sun is up and the house still quiet as family tumbles out of guest rooms when they hear sounds of an empty bathroom to grab.

Steve will have prepared the kind of breakfast that waits well for our lazy bones and Beki will be sitting at the kitchen island with her cup of tea. Henry is usually the first to join his brother and they’re most likely talking about their workout routines or Steve’s day of volunteering for The Salvation Army.

Even at mornings earlier hours, there will be a laugh or two, a staple when our family gathers.

This smallish house is enlarged with gracious hospitality. Lifelong familiarity of family that has no regard for chitchat but shifts as easily from aging parents and family struggles to our new favorite Christmas decor.

Commercials tout the gift that keeps on giving. I’m not sure what they’re talking about but it’s not something I’ve found on a store shelf. These two days, one full and busy and crowded and the next quiet and slow-moving, these two days are the best deal I’ve found. A gift of high value, one whose return is immeasurable.

It goes beyond our family roots to our family being rooted in the love of Jesus and his saving and serving. He has saved us, every day is saving us from ourselves, every day His mercies are new is grace enough.

The Thanksgiving Table

They will pull out the table, pull the two sides apart to fit the pieces in the middle so we can all sit around it. No kids table at this house, the little sit with the old. We’ll hold hands as the prayer is said and we’ll take an extra moment to speak aloud our thanks.

2007 was our first year of being part of this extended and growing celebration. We drove 9 hours north to come close to Henry’s mom and siblings, extra comfort on the first Thanksgiving without their dad. The give and take of life, as we lost from our midst a good man and would be smiling all silly like at the 3 week old baby, our new granddaughter.



The cousins children


One year there were 5 kernels of corn on our empty plates. Corn representing a Thanksgiving of long ago. We would name 5 things we’re thankful for and we’d hope no one would take our answers before it was our turn. It was a sure thing that of the dozen or so folks gathered round someone would say family before it got to you.

There was the year she’d put slips of paper in the dinner rolls. A blessing tucked into the bread as Jesus Himself is the bread of life and we would take this bread to share in our own form of communion. We would read the blessing of thanks and praise and celebrate a bit quiet-like for our rowdy group but hearts grow tender, even with us.

annual gathering

annual gathering

Heather and aunt Juanita

She will put clean linens on the beds with fresh towels at the end and food will be overflowing from the kitchen to the tables. They will open their doors and hearts and he will wear his biggest smile, the kind he wears when his family comes to stay a bit.

The smiles will greet us accompanied by hugs and we won’t stop talking until we can barely hold our eyes open at night or the football game changes our chatter into cheers.

This will be our 8th year to be part of this growing and shrinking group. Marriages have added to our family and age has taken three of our elders. The lone matriarch will be ushered in by her son-in-law or grandsons and she will take great notice of the conversations around her. The great-grandson will make a silly face because he knows she’ll laugh and she obliges in the way that makes me picture granny right there in front of me.

This is how our family has been celebrating Thanksgiving. With corn cornels and baked in blessings and writing our thanks on construction paper leaves to hang on the twig tree. Some years we take the table outside in the sunshine until the sun drops behind the trees and the chill starts to return.

There was a time it was our home where family and friends gathered. Where card tables were added to the end of the dining table and folks squeezed in on the side by the wall. The room was small but seemed to magically expand when plates and bowls were full for the sharing. Honestly, it was too small for any real comfort but that seems easily ignored in the presence of the people you love and love is rarely about comfort.

This is thanks and giving. This is all of it spread out in front of us in one beautiful display of grace.

They Came to Serve

We’ve been in some small church buildings but this was one of the smallest. Our modest chapel was full at 70 and breaking every fire code known when we added chairs down the center aisle to squeeze in 90 people for special occasions.

The room where we gathered for Sunday lunch only worked when the kids took their plates to another room or people ate quickly to give others a spot to sit. We could crowd 50 around the tables at one time. But it was tight.

This was the room where the community Thanksgiving dinner would be served. It was open to all. And all turned into more volunteers than we had places to put them.

We had volunteers as greeters, servers, one to set out the pepper and another to set out the salt shakers. We had a volunteer to put napkins on the table and others to take out the trash. We did our best to find jobs for everyone.

OMM 154

The Thanksgiving feast of my childhood was filled with the best smells of granny and mama’s cooking. Turkey with cornbread dressing, gravy, those big yeast rolls that enlarged under the magic dish towel granny put over the dough. There would be green beans and the other greens, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. But the best was the pecan pie. My favorite. Of course there was pumpkin pie and sometimes lemon meringue but the pecan….yes, my mouth waters.

Depending on distance from family, our table may have the 4 of us or cousins, aunts and uncles. It was family, food and football. That was our bounty. We gave thanks for these blessings and more because we knew God provided.

Tharps McFarlands Fort Smith

Some years, we may have had more volunteers than those needing a meal. We were a little spot in town and there were other places offering free Thanksgiving dinners. We were possibly the only place not turning volunteers away after we reached our needed number.

We saw these volunteers for a couple of hours. We couldn’t remember all of their names and knew nothing more except they came to serve. They came to bring joy and comfort to strangers. They had no expectations, asked for nothing in return.

I expect we’ve all been touched by someone’s kindness. I’m blessed by your presence in this tiny space on the internet. Your presence is no small gift. Whether you click “like” or leave a comment or leave without a fingerprint, thank you for sharing this moment with me.

Thank God!

Just like the kids who come running when you call out “Supper’s ready” we come running with our thanks when the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is drawing near.

I reckon we’re all scurrying about in preparation for this weeks main event. We’re packing the car to drive somewhere or we’re packing the washing machine to prepare fresh linens for welcome guests. We’re busy as we ready ourselves for our celebration of thanks.


Thanks notes



close up stones



The practice of gratitude through giving back is a main theme of recovery. The 12th step is about “carrying the message” and they encourage sharing their story through the spoken word and service. It’s an encouragement when I hear one of the men say he’s speaking at an AA meeting or he’s taking care of the coffee that month or he’s finding speakers for the month. Like following Jesus, recovery doesn’t work when it’s only words. Faith and works, hand in hand.

“I thank God for this place that feels like family.”

“Thank God for the struggles I’m going through and giving me integrity as I make it through.”

Most days, when I try to articulate my thanks I get frustrated trying to think of grander things than the ordinary parts of life. As if there are sizes of gratitude, or some ranking system that has a good job ranked higher than the breath I draw every moment of every day.

“I want to thank God for never leaving my side.”

“I’m thankful that I’m now considered a stable part of my family.”

We’ve written our thanks on cut out leaves and posted on the bulletin board. We’ve hung them on “trees” and written them on stones remembering God as our rock of help, our Ebenezer.

“I praise God for the suffering that brings endurance and hope and keeping his hand on me.”

“We are the miracle here”.

The men at our ARC are examples to me of bold thanksgiving. They are reminders that there’s nothing too small to acknowledge our gratitude, our indebtedness to God who makes us worthy of HIs grace.


In the pain, God provides

Sometimes looking back provides a new perspective. Not always good but even the less than good can be searched to find a good that came from it. Maybe that’s what helps me understand that God is working things together for our good.

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. Romans 8:28 the Voice

I’ve been doing a lot of looking back lately. Allowing myself to feel the hurt I hid and denied in those days of youth. What I’ve seen, is in the midst of the pain, God provided.

Thanksgiving 4306


It was my first Thanksgiving alone. Parents divorced and living in separate states and neither in the state where I was. I was 16 and living in the home of an older woman from church until the semester ended when I’d move to Texas where daddy had moved. She was ….old. Not a warm and fuzzy kind of old but she was gracious as she took me into her home those few months.

It was another woman from church who invited me to have Thanksgiving with their family. Two of her sons grown and married but the daughter and I went to the same high school and her younger brother were still home. All would be gathering in their small dining area for the traditional feast. This was the beginning of them becoming my second family.

Do you have a second family? The ones who know more about you than your hair color?

They’re the ones who see what you don’t and fill in the gaps you hadn’t realized were showing.

They pull you in and around and pull up another chair and they carry on as if you’ve been there all along. There’s laughing and teasing like families do and the food is just like what you’d have if you were home and it feels a lot like your own family and a lot like you belong.

There is a part of me that has felt alone for many years. It’s just recently I’m able to admit that, to recognize the impact it’s had on my life, mostly not positive. I see where I learned early on how to be the outsider. When you’re the new girl every semester in high school you don’t belong. There’s no finding your group when the pattern of leaving has been set and it’s easier to hold back from trying to belong than be hurt by leaving again. Only the leaving did hurt. It hurts still. But God…

But God is gentle and patient as He waits on us. He waits on us to see past ourselves. (and isn’t it the self that obscures our view of Him?)

It can feel like God isn’t there during the mess but once you recognize the pain you can recognize his presence. Like when he sends you a second family.

Five-Minute Friday: Dwell

You never know what word Kate is going to come up with for the weekly writing prompt so many of us stay up a little later on Thursday night to catch the first glimpse of. You never know what’s on her mind but you can almost be certain it my first reaction will be, “huh. I got nothing on this one.” This is one of those weeks when I saw the word: dwell.

So I go to sleep pondering this weeks word, turning it over in my mind wondering what, or if, inspiration will hit. Perhaps that’s the beauty of this challenge, and it is a challenge, friends. To let another person toss a word out to the hungry writers like you toss  bread crumbs to the school of fish below waiting to nibble it up.

We gather around our screens Thursday night, some lingering longer and some just waiting to get the first bit of bread tossed out. Some of us gobble the word up and others tend to push it around in contemplation.

watch face

It’s only suppose to be 5 minutes but your mind spends far more time digging in and searching, trying to mine new stories, new truths or just fresh words to tell a familiar story.

This was one of those, “huh” word for me. I can’t remember the last time I used the word dwell in regular conversation. It’s not part of our ordinary speech.

It brings about thoughts of a place where one lives or a place where our minds linger, a bit longer than a passing thought. I most often think of it being used to say “don’t dwell on the negative”.

It conjures up to me a depth that goes a bit deeper. A place where not only we live, but where we let our roots sink further into the ground, where we plant our thoughts, we settle ourselves with no thoughts to moving on.

Search any modern translation of the bible and you’ll find multiple references of this word. Perhaps we need to let our minds dwell on these thoughts, especially now when our world is at odds with fear and uncertainty. This is where I want my thoughts to settle:

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
6 God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. Psalm 68:5,6

Linking up with a tribe of bloggers for a weekly free-writing challenge hosted by Kate Motaung. Stop over to join the party.

No Regrets

The day before is the day I start recalling her birth. The announcement from my aunt that I’d never make it to my due date that led the nurse to say something to the doctor that changed the whole course of things.

In the days before home pregnancy tests and sonograms to determine gender, a wise mother of four took one look at my first time pregnant belly and knew what the doctors would have missed. It’s a story I love remembering and retelling.

How,  after that encounter with my aunt, I had a dream the baby would come and we had nothing but a blanket to swaddle her in-between us in our bed. That dream led Henry to tell his parents we better get the crib. Soon.

One month and two days earlier than predicted our little Heather Lee made us mama and daddy and she came home to a crib with sheets bought two days before. She came home in clothes bought by her aunt because her birth came before the baby shower was scheduled.

You could call her a surprise, I guess, but isn’t all of motherhood a surprise? What did we know? What were we thinking that we could parent this tiny little darling that cried at the most inconvenient times and would have nothing to do with pacifiers and preferred being cradled in my arms rather than in her crib?

They seemed such hard times then, the sleepless nights the uncomfortable bits that will get no further description 😉

Newborn Heather with her grandma Hudson

Newborn Heather with her grandma Hudson

Dress I made to hide the baby bump.

Dress I made to hide the baby bump.



With my girls 2012

With my girls 2012

me and sissy

I reckon it’s best to do these things when we’re young and think we have it figured out. When we’ve studied up on the latest and have the newest. When we have just a tad more energy than our infant and still enough left to run after the toddlers. Yes, I’m glad we did this when we were too young to think clearly. When we were innocent enough to think, let’s do this again!

Truth be told, it’s been my best times. The first few months of motherhood were trying. Time hasn’t colored that rosier. But there’s never been a moment of regret. We’ve shared our challenges and tears and a mama will also have concerns and fret over her young, even when they’re not so young. But regrets? None at all.

The good times are precious memories and the trying times bring tears, prayers, hugs, more tears and more prayers. Children teach us about God’s unconditional love. They show us how to believe in miracles, to never give up hope and how much we need God’s grace each day.

Somehow, God looks at us at our very worst,  and calls us His own.

This girl is a mama herself now and a good one. She’s shed her tears and more will come. But she’ll have no regrets. None at all.

Update and Apologies

Do folks think you’re “techie” because you use Facebook? Or know how to edit an image on PicMonkey or create one with Canva? Yeah, me too. If you know how to navigate the internet or apps on your iPhone a lot folks will think you probably moonlight at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store. But, you and I know, this isn’t techie. At all.

Techie, me?

That’s where I find myself. I can put together the basics, navigate and use editing tools to make things look pretty but I’m out of my element in learning all the things that come with having a self-hosted website. It sure sounded like it would be easy, but, that’s not a word I’d use to describe my early experience. That isn’t a complaint, just a fact.

All of that to say, there have been some issues on the blog. My apologies. One of the main issues is the pop-up sign up form that appears on the home page. Thank you Annie for letting me know this wasn’t working properly. My bad for not testing it before activating. I believe I have that issue fixed.

Cindy informed me this blog no longer shows up in her WordPress reader. That’s one I don’t know how to fix. I’ve relied on Reader too and have found my go to blogs are missing. I think this might be one of those “start from scratch” things.

I appreciate your feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

I’m trying to build an email list to send out a letter with updates and what’s going on in our little corner of Graceland.  If you’re interested, please try the sign up form again. I promise to be mindful of what is sent your way.

For those of you hanging with me through this learning process, THANK YOU! I appreciate your patience. I want this site to look good, look professional and to be something you look forward to seeing in your inbox or Reader (if we can figure that out!) I want you to come here for encouragement and the reminders we all need that we’re living in Graceland, that place where God welcomes us as we are and gifts us with his grace.



The Unexpected Life of Dementia (a tribute)

I am honored to guest post on Anita Ojeda’s blog, Blessed (but Stressed) as part of her Caregiver Connections tributes. I am paying tribute for my sister, Lisa, who has filled every gap the long distance of miles creates between us and mama. She isn’t superwoman, but she comes pretty close.

You don’t realize how much of life you can’t know.

When you’re a kid, you go with the flow, watch the family ties and expect things will play out by what you’ve seen. You learn the aunts that are the entertainers, with stories or shenanigans. You see who’s the wanna-be singer and who is the quiet type. You don’t see trouble coming. You don’t anticipate your world of family Thanksgivings or vacations will break apart.

It was the divorce that first blind-sided you. Then remarriages with both parents and new siblings who would be much younger than you. You couldn’t know you’d have a sister you’d never share a home with  that you’d end up on opposite sides of the country from your parents.

Life happens in unexpected ways but you grow up and live with the distance and look forward to visits. You even start to dream of the time your mama will retire and maybe then she can spend longer than a week with you and her grandkids. Until the other thing you didn’t see coming happens: dementia.

We think It’s Alzheimer’s dementia though I don’t think there has been a medical test confirming this. Just a knowing from the doctors and growing acceptance from the family.

It’s one thing to bridge the distance of miles, it turns out to be impossible to bridge the gap of a fading memory.

To continue reading, please join me at Anita’s blog here.