All posts by Lorretta Stembridge

Christmas Everlasting

Her name was Charlotte.

I’ve wanted to write about her for such a long time but I couldn’t find the words until now. I’ve desperately wanted them all to be so honorable and right, full of grace and love— just like she was.  I confess I didn’t know or appreciate her half as well as I wish I had, but I know she loved me and I’m certain she knew I loved her too.

And… I won’t lie; we didn’t hit it off right away— I really wasn’t her type of girl. I might have scared her. Heck, I scared myself.   Thank heavens, she tried and kept on trying.

While she’s been gone for 6 years, so many things around our home continue to keep her memory alive. Especially at Christmastime; her most favorite season of all. Gosh, how she loved Christmas! Partially because she flat out thrilled at any chance to celebrate, decorate or arrange something. Seriously, she was the kind of woman who had a tablecloth and matching paper products on hand for every season. I used to tease her about belonging to the “Potholder of the Month” club for that reason alone! Yes, she loved a holiday but Christmas was her time to shine.  Charlotte understood as deeply as possible the real joy we have for celebrating the birth of Christ: Jesus was her Savior.

In her earthly lifetime, Charlotte was the classic “Southern Lady”- private, proper, loving and loyal. Hospitable and generous too— you’d have to work hard to out-give her and after she was gone it amazed us to discover how charitable she had been with her meager retirement income.  Whether caring for her aging mother, children and grandchildren, or serving her church, retirement center neighbors and community through delivering Meals on Wheels— Charlotte spent herself wholly in the name of Christ.   What a legacy.

Charlotte was forgiving— at least as forgiving as humanly possible and willing to pray for the strength to forgive better when necessary. Despite the pain and betrayal that singed her heart terribly, somehow she managed to never let it interfere with the way she lived on a daily basis. Pain just didn’t define Charlotte or her relationships with others—Christ did.  She taught me by these examples and her life is teaching me still today. Especially at Christmastime.

I vividly recall her last Christmas with us. We didn’t know it was the last one we’d have together and certainly she didn’t either.  There we were— crowded together in her tiny apartment visiting, sharing a modest but plentiful meal, and opening up thoughtful and silly gifts, much like we’d done the year before.

However, this year she had also decided to gift some of her precious Christmas dècor. She’d already done some considerable downsizing in order to move into the center, but now she was ready to decide what she wanted to keep and, to capture the spirit of her words, she “wanted to give it as her own choice”.  Because she knew that this life and these lovely things were only temporary, she happily gave the very things she treasured. That was Charlotte.

So, again this year, as I’ve carefully unboxed and unwrapped our family Christmas items, many which once graced her own humble home, I can’t help but remember my sweet mother in law with a special fondness for her steadfast example of what it means to truly love, truly serve and truly live to give of oneself.  And not just at Christmastime; her legacy is the every day sort of stuff meant to be applied each and every moment.

I have to ask myself why this year remembering Charlotte seems to matter more to me than ever before.  To be honest, it’s likely for a variety of reasons but mostly,  I need the anchoring in these solid memories to help me know how to move forward through this ever-changing season of my life and most importantly— why.

Also because, among these other things, this year also finds her four sons in the throes of trying to respectfully care for their aging father. 

The differences between the two of them are like night and day but Charlotte would not want me to dwell on that. However, the life-lessons are clear:  how Charlotte gave, he withheld; what Charlotte cherished, he dismissed; where Charlotte released, he spent his life gripping all the more tightly. Sadly, in choosing a much meaner course of life, this poor man put them all on a trajectory that might have ensured no one would be around to stand in the gap for him at this late and most difficult stage of life.   But God.

Because this is where all of Charlotte’s love and Christ-like example is bearing the best fruit and an everlasting example. Simply put: the way she raised her sons and lived out her life before them was so thoroughly saturated with God’s protective and sheltering grace, that they are emboldened and equipped  to do the very best they can for their father despite the fractured relationship that has existed most of their lives. Because Charlotte loved Jesus the most, she loved her sons well and out of this love they are now able to show love to one another and for this man, their father. In courageously caring for their father, they are honoring the memory of their mother and surely, God is pleased.

So alive and unshakeable for me this Christmas— so real and profoundly true, these things of God matter the most. As I look around our home today, I see a handful of things she passed along but my heart clings to the real treasure that doesn’t fade  and one we are attempting to pass along to our own children—  it is the Holy Spirit’s everlasting gift of witness showing us the path to follow in the weeks and years to come. 

This is Charlotte’s gift to us– the  truly, everlasting message of Christmas and I’m so grateful that it’s mine to share…now… with you.    Merry Christmas!

 

Dear Children… About Your Inheritance…

“I need something.”

The cryptic words from College Son flashed across the screen. After 3 weeks of minimal contact, this could mean almost anything. Historically speaking our relationship dictated this typically meant some research advice or proofeadery.

“What?” I replied while  bracing my jetlaggy brain for a challenge.

“Your recipe for spice cake.”

I stalled.

Ummm….  Seriously?

Inheritance Title

See, this is no ordinary recipe for no ordinary spice cake. I’ve been making and perfecting this dreamcake for over 20 years. This is my closely-guarded recipe for THE spice cake  I’ve kept tucked under my (ahem) “belt “ all this time.  It’s the kind of recipe a Ninja-Chef really must have in their personal arsenal for special occasions and surprise guests, new baby welcomes and potlucks. Savory, spicy-sweet and best of all: sinfully simple. I don’t part with it easily.

My daughter asked for it a year ago. Unbeknownst to me, she entered a contest and won a 250-dollar gift card to Ikea. She bought a chair. A chair. (Isn’t that like selling your birthright for stew? Never mind.)

Something they’d grown up with, now it was College Son’s turn to ask.

“Never.” I teased. Emoji-smiling, he explained that his girlfriend (the one I am trusting God to make my DIL someday!) wanted to make it for him.

At least she can cook.
From scratch.
My mock-resolve melted.
I sent it.

“There.  Now you have your inheritance.” I said Emoji-winking back. Digitally, we exchanged smiles, hugs and kisses and he was happily on his way with a piece of his family history. Truly, as silly as it sounds, he now possesses a solid piece of his shared inheritance.

Doesn’t seem like much, does it?

It’s no surprise though that if you took any of our children aside and asked them about their inheritance, three out of three times, their first response would be a mixture of low-toned laughter and chagrin. They know, by the worldly definitions, we’re “broke” and planning to be “broke-r” before it’s all over with. At least this is the current nature of our estate in terms of dollars and not a whole lotta sense!

Love And Marriage

Still I have a strong feeling in the pit of everything within me that their next response will be a knowing and satisfied smile. Because in reality, they know we have given them everything we have to give and oftentimes it’s been far more than anything our parents were able to give to us.  They also know it’s never been about money in the bank.

Make no mistake: it’s been a touchy subject through the years as they’ve reached the ages and stages where their friends were given cars, educations and luxury items we never were able to afford—at least not the way most people have done it. There have been many tears and tantrums on both sides of the equation. But we’re here. We’ve made it and we’re better than intact: we’re whole.

And while we pray there’s still plenty of time to amass more “wealth” to add to their inheritance, there are many things besides a knockout recipe for spice cake we’re striving to leave as our legacy– solid and eternal things we hope they’ll always treasure and, if Jesus tarries, preserve and pass along to many future generations.

The Family Bible

I hope they’ll find treasured comfort in knowing that we not only loved them and each other to the highest best of our ability but that it was a love deeply rooted in our shared love for God.

I hope they’ll find great inspiration in how we found this God-love so wild and wonderful that it was worth risking our place in a world-driven status quo to spend an adventure-filled lifetime stumbling along the lesser travelled path towards His greatest good.

I hope they will hold close and share often the stories of these adventures–many spent with them– and discover this same courage in themselves to step out in new directions to spend and experience their one beautiful life serving our one amazing God.

Humbly I hope they’ll cling as tightly to Jesus as we have because they’ve witnessed time and again how His grace, mercy and forgiveness have seen their two imperfect parents through many…  many….   many times of failure.     And every success.

I hope they’ll talk about how their Mom “trusted God and sought to pray the hell out of any situation!”, how their Dad was never so afraid of failure that he wasn’t willing to try—fail and try again and how both of them together fought arm in arm against the enemy who came to seek, kill and destroy their marriage and family.

And how through that same powerful grace from God, together… they won.

The Great Commitment

So that here now and in the future when they’re possibly surrounded by little ones of their own and telling the “once upon a time” portion of our newly-written family history— when they talk about the things they share together, most of the story will be told from the perspective of vast wealth and riches— of lives that were shaped and held together by God— all the while knowing and communicating that their inheritance from us was never merely “enough”:    it was always everything.

That’s our prayer.

And that amazing spice cake?
Well,  that was simply a bonus.

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Critical Mass

 

Back in the day there was an advertising campaign that said, “If you want to capture someone’s attention, whisper.”  I’m sure it sold a lot of perfume.  Honestly, that notion has never been more relevant than it is today. It’s so freaking noisy.

In this day of mass consumption and mass communication everybody has the ability to talk things to death and beyond, leaving little room for the thinkers, doers and listeners. We’ve been pushed to the fringes, trapped on the jagged cliffs of Mt. McBlahBlah while the lemmings leap over us to their deaths. Somehow, we need to regroup and remember there is a better way.

Critical Mass

You don’t necessarily have to be “qualified” to become an outspoken expert in the field of   ALL THE THINGS— along with half a bazillion others— myself included. I realize this truth.  However, there is something important to be said for motive, wisdom, logic and integrity—necessary ingredients for any decent conversation. I must ask myself this all the time, “Where is your heart anchored”? Because Jesus said that’s where the words flow from.

Until yesterday, I refused to read the recent news. I couldn’t. Not because I do not care or don’t want to know. I simply could not bear the cacophony and white-hot frenzy of more “qualified” experts quite unwilling to listen, hear, empathize or, for God’s sake, REASON with any level of intelligent compassion. Genuineness and integrity getting tripped up and stomped on by those just “here for the show”.  Loud voices with fingers poised on the trigger of their chosen weapon, lobbing word bombs from the safe distance of their comfortable homes. Bang-Bang.  AK-47s may not be the most dangerous weapons in the room considering the power of mob mentality versus the truth.     Think about it.

Satan couldn’t possibly be more pleased. Chaos and confusion—his specialties— are in perpetual supply and we have become a society that thrives upon them. His task is so easy now: drop the hint that the problem is “out there” in the form of terrorism, sexuality, religion, politics and patriotism—whatever. Set the bait, stand back and watch hungry masses tear one another to bits because somebody took a bite out of their sacred cow.  It doesn’t take much because we’ve reached the point of critical mass: the bare minimum required to initiate and sustain a chain reaction.   We’re close.    Feel it?

Sadly , it’s all satan has ever been good at: fear-flavoring every good thing. “Did God really say….?”  BAM:

Doubt.
Confusion.
Anxiety.
Self-ishness.

That one question reverberating across every “modern day” situation we face.  If somehow we buy the lie or at least invest time doubting God’s faithfulness, presence, goodness…or existence… a chink in our armor forms just wide enough for the arrows to bring us down.

Real damage is being done by all the “Us’s” and every “Them”.  No matter where you stand, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the anxious, spiritual buildup like the forges of Mordor rumbling beneath our feet. Not everyone will acknowledge these things. Too many prefer living anesthetized lives of stupefaction through various forms of media and medicines. Numbed and dumbed by an excess of pleasure thinking we can somehow avoid the pain while ignoring how even amongst the most successful in our society, the suicide and drug abuse rates are climbing steadily.

Because there is real pain. But the fact remains that what we’re experiencing in our world today — every bit of it— is not the central issue. These are *symptoms*. Horrible, horrible mutations and manifestations of the terrible disease of sin within.

You know, sometimes.. I can imagine why Jesus wept.  Standing before Mary, He knew even sparing  her this moment of pain would not stop it’s flow immediately. Looking out over Jerusalem then, wanting to gather that city safely into his arms, surely He could see ahead to the world as it is today. His heart was grieved that even in light of His example and sacrifice, choices were going to be made to look away and hurt others anyway.

Even as a Christian, sometimes I find myself wandering into the middle of the fray forgetting that’s not they way we have been called to do this business of life. Sometimes I struggle to remember that God is not a part of the chaos and has no need to shout past Calvary. It is finished.  So how can I live as a part of the “it is finished” people? What is there to say on behalf of those who have to exist in the midst of a world entangled in all the “These things” Paul talked about?

It was this statement this past week from Audrey Assad that brought me back to the center of the issue and before the cross:

Not Easy to Offend

I was reminded that though I’m a warrior for the Gospel, my anchoring and methods of doing battle must be radically different from what I see around me today.

Sometimes I have to take a step back from the noise to gauge more clearly and remember thankfully, our Savior is still speaking ferocious love through the same, steady whisper throughout the ages:  “Return and rest.” ,  “Be still and know.”  and then  Go and tell through and with our stilled, knowing, returned and rested lives.

Salt and Light: It’s how we can be the healing, preserving and seasoning of salt while we illuminate and guide with our light-saturated lives.

Being still, knowing, returning and resting doesn’t seem like much of a solution when you look at it in view of the chaos.

Seems too basic—like putting a bandage on a gaping wound. Instead it’s more like a kiss from God on that ancient snake bite that doesn’t just heal for the moment…it’s the cure— the antidote for the poisonous sin deep in our souls.

And perhaps, in this age of hyper-awareness it may be the only way we can “capture the attention” of this noisy world around us so that the healing Gospel can whisper through the chaos.  It’s my prayer: Let them see Jesus in me.

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