This time of year is always hard for me. I start becoming anxious when the year rounds second base in late June. First there are just passing twinges of nervousness as I notice the days growing shorter. By September, with the cooler temperatures around and football blaring from every angle, the anxiety has upgraded to a steady underbeat running through my days…”Christmas. It’s going to be Christmas soon. Have to get ready. Can’t get ready. How will I do all that?”

Added to my perennial anxiety about Christmas is my perennial realization that the final days of Daddy’s life wound down this time of year. The last Thanksgiving–him sitting small and gaunt, dwarfed in his recliner, grinning that “I know you know I’m dying…” smile at me, broaching the topic without ever upsetting Mother, while others ate (and slept in the only other chair in the room) around us. Two weeks later as he struggled to tell us how it felt to die (although he didn’t use the words “I”m dying”), his urgency to give voice to what was happening to his body leaving me certain he was trying to prepare us for the final unknown thing we’d ever face without him. (Always Daddy. Always taking care of his “wimmen”, whether we realized it or not.) The final, groggy “Lub you” the last time I kissed his cheek…the snow flurries blowing against our cheeks as we got into our van and drove away from my Daddy, alive, for the last time. And the phone call the next morning…two words as horrible as the two he’d spoken to me 22 months earlier–“It’s cancer.” This time, they were “Daddy’s gone.”

Carrying Mom through the stupor of the next days…planning the funeral…visitation night when the line was snaked around the parking lot, two hours long, in the cold wind…people waiting to say goodbye to him and to love on us. Then…that most horrific of events…on a cold shady hillside…the final goodbye as we left his body to be put into the ground (by a man he looked upon as a son, who we knew would treat him with respect and care).  All the horror of that event comes center stage by Thanksgiving.

Aside from that, by this time each year I’m in full panic mode. Presents are rarely bought, I’m juggling work and worries and stress while TRYING to be excited, at least for the kids. The huge burden of making Christmas happen has always fallen to my shoulders, alone, and I’ve always fretted over it. Even if I were a millionaire, I’m fairly certain I’d still panic that the tree wasn’t the right one, the gifts were inadequate, and that my doing of Christmas would be found lacking. Perhaps that’s because for 25 years or more, no matter how I tried, I never got it right. Each year something was pointed out that I’d messed up. Or perhaps it’s just me, my own worst enemy, criticizing myself internally while others see nothing amiss.

I realized this year that due to my stress over the season, I’m robbing myself of 1/4 of each year (September-December), and thereby 1/4 of my life. This is all simply due to my OWN worrying and fears of failure. So…how do I fix it? How do I make it better? (No, there’s no pill to fix it. At least not yet.)

This will be a milestone Christmas–my fiftieth. (To be fair, the first Christmas I celebrated I was in the hospital, 3 days old.) I’ll celebrate it as always since I became a Mom–Christmas Eve dinner with the girls, reading from the book of Luke, and our newest tradition of having Mom sleep over. Christmas morning will be very different from those golden years when Mammaw Chapman was as excited as we kids were, and would have a steaming breakfast (including Candler Supermarket sausage!) waiting for us as soon as we’d had our “Santa” time and made it to her house. The mountain of wrapping paper we’d pile up in the middle of her floor as we opened gifts won’t be happening…Daddy and Uncle Joe won’t be cramming it into bags to burn. There will be no males present, in fact–just us wimmen. Yet…there’s good, too. The girls won’t be racing from pillar to post to visit everyone, eating 3 Christmas dinners so no one is offended. We’ll be here, in our nice warm new home, sharing our first Christmas here at a leisurely pace…just my little family. There will be time for each other, time to finally relax after the insanity which is the byproduct of working in retail during this season. Time for them to do something I always secretly longed for on Christmas–the chance to be at home and enjoy my gifts, rather than being gone all day.

After this year, I have promised myself that Christmas will change. I haven’t yet decided what or how that will happen…but it’s time. It’s pretty certain that I have fewer healthy years ahead than behind me…I can’t afford to fret away any more of my life.

It’s time for grabbing onto those bootstraps, for acknowledging how wonderful former Christmases were, but also for deciding which parts of celebrating them should stay, and which parts should go. Time to establish traditions which look ahead–to the days when I will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will want to be home with their gifts on Christmas Day instead of traipsing about. Time to make peace with celebrating Christmas morning alone, which is such a daunting prospect that I can barely fathom it.

Time to listen closely…to hear the echoes of Daddy’s favorite song (Jesus Loves Me) still resounding in the valley where we’ve spent our lives…and to pick up THAT song, replacing the worries and fears which have shadowed every holiday season I’ve known. Time to focus on HIM…instead of on US, or ME. Somehow…some way…to replace the anxiety of the season with the joy found in the reason for it. To wrap myself in Jesus rather than in trinkets…to feel His love instead of my insecurities…to celebrate HIM and His love, in a way that will honor Him. And, once I’ve figured it out, to share that peace and joy with as many as I can.

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I suppose there’s a reason they call them “hysterectomies”. After all…it’s the same root word as hysteria. Which is where my mind went when contemplating my own hysterectomy.

Had to do it, though–the anemia and pernicious anemia I was battling were killing me. It literally saved my life to stop losing all that monthly bleeding.

The day they took my baby oven, though, I lost a huge part of my sense of being–of what I was called to do in this life. Granted the doc said I had “beautiful ovaries” (like I could see them), so I figured maybe someday i could help someone barren by sharing  my own ovae. But I’d NEVER bear another child. It was horrendous to think on.

In the following three years I lost a lot:

  • A 23 year marriage
  • The home the kids and I had shared with him for 15+ years
  • “Back Up” where the household/children were concerned
  • 2 jobs
  • A boyfriend I loved deeply, totally and completely–one I’d walk through fire for.
  • My daughters–they stepped into adulthood (even though they sleep here, their lives keep them busy)
  • My sense of being a successful person
  • Everything material-wise I’d gained over the past 24 years
  • The belief parents/relatives will always be young and healthy
  • My fainting goats (ok that’s weird to most of you but…Bowser, Princess Paisley and Boomhauer were my babies)
  • My I.D. as part of a “couple”
  • My rental home
  • A steady income
Mind you I am not complaining…just jotting down what has happened and trying to make sense of it all.
It’s like I’m a ship adrift on the ocean; I’ve lost my identity and everything else. I don’t know HOW to be “Single Beth”–after 30 years total with a significant other, how does one find that identity? Prayer’s great but at times the wait is too long to offer comfort when I’m in a dark place.  (Although I know “His ways are higher than our ways, and his plans are perfect.”)
Some of those were simply mental losses. Others shook me to the core and are still in my mind.
Daddy gave me wisdom once when I said “I feel like running away.”
His answer? “You’d just be trading one set of problems for another one.”
Now that I’m out of that marriage, I can see what he meant. Parenting is hard. It’s even harder alone.  And though I’ve never missed the ex, there are times when i wish he could just “pop in” and provide constructive assistance w/ the girls.
I know this is a season. I know our situation is stressful. I know GOD holds us close. I just long for that peace in the valley that waits for me.

I’m a person who never wants to stop learning. I fully believe that when you stop learning, you start dying. So my mind’s always looking for something else to glean–primarily from those who have walked this path before me.

Here’s a brief list I’m sure will be amended:

1-Aging is hard on the body. Make the most of your strength, stamina, determination and perseverance while you’re young. Those “impossible” things you want to try are more attainable if you’re younger.

2- There are very few things in life which are worth risking relationships over. In fact, unless it’s life-threatening and MUST be changed, it’s better to let it be.

3- “I love you” is far better by example than by word. For some, wording is hollow and holds no promise.

4-Learn, learn, learn from your grandparents, parents or anyone else whose life you respect and wish to emulate.

5-Be happy. No matter the circumstances.

6-The Bible can be simplified to one phrase–“Love one another”. Apply that and you will have no trouble with the rest of the teachings.

7-There is a “right” and there is a “wrong”. Your conscience will tell you. Even if you aren’t a believer.

8-There’s a reason for observing Sabbath. Your body isn’t meant to go full-tilt 24/7/365.

9-When in doubt, go to God. If you aren’t a believer, go to those whose wisdom has proven itself.

10-Don’t settle for someone as a partner. If they don’t care about you and your needs, they will never. Narcissism rarely ends.

11-Anger is an all-empowering emotion. If you don’t learn to react AFTER you have your anger under control, you will make mistakes. Huge ones. It IS ok to be angry…put your words down, and leave them…come back the next day and re-read them…you will SEE how your emotions can over-run your ability to reason. So be slow to act but quick to think.

I can’t recall when my life started. I don’t know if it was when my heart began to beat inside my Mother’s womb, or if it was when two cells met and began to replicate and specialize, ultimately becoming this body my soul walks around in (I call it my “soul suit”). I don’t remember being born (with a big hemangioma just above my cute lil belly button that disappeared in time, just as the doctors said it would). I can’t remember the day my Daddy came back from the Army. They tell me I stood at the top of the stairs and asked “Who’s dat man? Who’s dat man?” in my 21-month-old voice…not quite the greeting he’d hoped for, I’m sure.

After that there are bits and pieces I remember. I can remember the smell of the new trailer Mom and Daddy bought for us to live in, across the road from and up above my Mammaw’s house, where I’d lived since birth. I can remember crying for Mammaw, but Daddy, in his wisdom, limiting my time with her because he knew HE had to establish a presence in my life. I can remember having a tiny piano, a little table with two chairs that were just my size, and my very own bed in our new home. In the daytime Daddy worked at a textile plant and Momma took care of home and me. They were a great team…each was strong where the other was weak. And that never changed.

My first true, strong memory came in July, 1965. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are normal here in the mountains. Momma and Mammaw had learned from Mammaw’s mother, Grandma, that everyone should be together in one room when a storm hit. Momma scooped me up and dashed across the road to Mammaw’s just before the storm hit.  Suddenly there was a HUGE CRASH!!!POP!!!BOOM!!! of lightning. The lightbulbs in Mammaw’s house exploded. Fuses flew out of the fuse box, and outlets flew out of the walls. I’d never experienced ANYthing like it before, and haven’t since. And, amidst all the scurrying around to make sure the house was ok, my Momma yelled “Mother! Your house is on fire!!! I can see the flames reflected in Preacher Parker’s (he lived just below our trailer) roof!”

Someone picked me up, someone went to the window where Momma stood…and suddenly my Momma was screaming and sobbing “It’s OUR house! Oh God it’s OUR house on fire! Oh GOD!”  Someone called the fire department while others tried to calm Momma down. At that instant I had my first thought that I can remember–I thought “If it’s bad enough that Momma is crying, then I should be, too. She’s my Momma!” I sat down on a little round brown vinyl ottoman and sobbed. Momma had picked me up with just a diaper on and she was wearing one of Daddy’s t-shirts and a pair of shorts. By the time the fire trucks got there, that was all that remained of our possessions.

Lightning-the same bolt that caused all the electrical carnage at my Mammaw’s-had entered the trailer at one end and passed out through the other. All of my parents’ belongings were scorched or gone. And after the fire crews left…the scavengers came. Someone found Momma’s jewelry box and took it. Others kicked through the rubble, looking for anything of value. It was gone, though; all of it. The 20  months of reel-to-reel tapes of me talking that Momma had sent Daddy while he was stationed in Ethiopia were destroyed. Our clothes were gone. My little piano, the one I remember loving so much, was gone, too. There was a jar of money–Daddy was in charge of counting and depositing our church’s offerings each week and hadn’t gotten around to it for that week yet. Years later (at least 30), after my Daddy’s father died, Daddy found that jar of burned coins and scorched money. My Daddy’s father, my Pappaw, had brought it to his house, and replaced the money destroyed in that fire with his own. He’d hidden the charred money in the basement, I assume out of modesty and because he didn’t want the reminders seeing that jar would bring to mind.

When my Great-Grandma, who I never met, taught her children that they should all be together in the storm, I wasn’t even born. My Momma wasn’t born. Yet Grandma felt strongly, for some reason, that it was of the utmost importance to be together during thunderstorms. That lesson saved my life. If Momma hadn’t grabbed me and gone across to Mammaw’s, we’d have been in that trailer when the lightning hit, erupting the trailer into flames as if it were made of tissue paper. There wouldn’t have been time to get out, even if we DID survive the strike. She was obedient in teaching something God had placed upon her heart, even though I’m sure she didn’t fully understand why.

In the Old Testament, a very brave woman named Esther was chosen by King Xerxes to be his most favored queen. Esther, however, was an Israelite. Her father, Mordecai, warned her never to let that fact be known or she and her family would be in grave danger. Eventually, through a series of deceptions and lies, an evil man named Haman tried to persuade Xerxes to make it legal and desirable to kill Israelites. Esther, having been warned by her father, went to King Xerxes and invited him to a feast that evening; a feast which Haman would attend. After the meal the king offered Esther anything she desired up to half his kingdom. She refused, but asked him to return again the next evening and feast again, along with Haman.

The next evening Xerxes and Haman enjoyed another splendid feast, prepared and served by the most beautiful Esther.  Again Xerxes was pleased and offered Esther anything she wanted. She asked that her life and the lives of her people be spared. She’d never told the King she was an Israelite, and he was confused. When she explained she, too, was an Israelite, Xerxes became outraged. He ordered Haman hanged and restored safety to the Israelites living in his kingdom.

There’s a verse in that story which has always stuck with me…a verse spoken to Esther which says “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” When I think of people being placed upon the Earth with a specific task to accomplish, and then of their completing the task despite their doubts, I think back to Esther. She could’ve been killed at Xerxes command at any moment–and would have been had she not been obedient to God’s calling. She had lied to the king!

I never met my Great Grandmother, Zora Hestella Robinson Bugg; she passed before I was born. I’ve seen grainy photographs of her, and I have the sewing machine upon which she sewed clothing for her children and grandchildren. I’m sure she never dreamt that her fear of storms would one day save the life of her Granddaughter and Great-Granddaughter. Her life, though, is a perfect example of someone being placed in a certain place and prepared in a certain manner to protect God’s children.

Momma’s always said she loved Grandma Bugg’s name–Zora Hestella. I don’t believe Momma realizes that my middle name, Starr (although creatively spelled) is actually the English equivalent to part of Grandma’s name–Stella. I DO believe that God realizes it, though, and placed that name in Momma’s mind so *I* wouldn’t forget that *I* was placed upon the earth, just like Grandma, for a specific task. For such a time as this, or as one that is to come.

His ways are higher than our ways. We must never forget that.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

I grew up with parents who loved each other. I thought that was normal; that all kids had a stable home life and parents who might disagree but who didn’t fight and who CERTAINLY didn’t get violent or split up. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized not everyone grew up like me. That marriages could be filled with ugliness, hatefulness, spitefulness, violence and ultimately could fall apart. That words cut just as deeply as knives, and that those you love most can hurt you most.

I guess I was a Pollyanna. But I’m not anymore. And I’d rather MY girls know things I was shielded from so maybe, just maybe, they can end up with mates and a good marriage. So…these are things I’ve learned that I don’t want to forget to pass on…

  • You deserve to be treated with respect. ALL the time.
  • You need to show respect. ALL the time.
  • If you can’t control the situation, you CAN control your reaction to it.
  • Don’t roll your eyes. It’s rude.
  • There are needs, and there are wants. Take care of the needs first…you’ll have money later for your wants, and your husband will appreciate your frugality.
  • Your babies are beautiful whether they’re wearing high-dollar name-brand clothes or hand-me-downs. A label isn’t what makes them beautiful. What they see in YOUR eyes is what will resonate in their souls. Just make sure the clothes fit and are clean and neat, and any clothes are good enough.
  • Don’t scrimp on their shoes.
  • Don’t try to live your life through theirs. Let THEM choose the things they want to try.
  • Use your “designer clothing” money to set up their college fund.
  • Make sure they know they are kind, they are smart and they are important.
  • A wedding is one of the biggest days in a woman’s life, but if you find yourself more enamored with the thought of it than with the thought of life with your husband afterwards, stop and notice. Be sure you want a marriage,  not a wedding. If you’d be willing to elope and forgo the wedding, you’re okay.
  • If you have to “trick” or “trap” him into marrying you…he isn’t who you should marry. A marriage built upon lies will be a miserable one.
  • Never be in a relationship which must be kept secret. If you aren’t “good enough”, or it “isn’t the right time”–he isn’t the right guy.
  • Just because he’s “separated” doesn’t mean he will choose you. Most of them go back. And most rebound relationships fail.
  • If he won’t marry you, he’s unworthy to live with you. Period. You aren’t a car–he doesn’t need a test drive. You are a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman and there IS a man who will commit to you, who will find it impossible to breathe without you as his wife. THAT is the man you should marry. IF you love him just as much.
  • Don’t waste time waiting for him to see your value. If he doesn’t value you once he gets to know you, he never will.
  • Just because he isn’t the right one doesn’t mean there isn’t a right one–it just means you haven’t met him yet.
  • You deserve a proposal. A romantic one.
  • Gorgeous guys are great. But humility, decency, honor and respect trump beauty ANY day.
  • If he’s threatened by or resents your intelligence, he isn’t the right guy.
  • Don’t be arrogant about your intelligence. Intelligence doesn’t equal wisdom.
  • If he isn’t willing to put up with your family and be part of it regardless because it’s YOUR family, he isn’t good enough.
  • Fix him breakfast in bed.
  • More things don’t equal more happiness. Be happy with enough.
  • Don’t marry him unless you’d be proud to have him as a son.
  • Choose your battles. Some things aren’t worth the fight.
  • Listen to your elders–especially the women. They have the wisdom that only comes with years. And they WANT you to have the best life you can.
  • Prepare early on to support yourself in a comfortable manner in case you find yourself single.
  • Live on your own awhile before marrying.
  • Learn who YOU are, not who others think you are or want you to be.
  • Love yourself.
  • Pamper yourself.
  • Jewels on every finger will never replace peace in your soul.
  • Never buy a “new” car.
  • Pay your housing and utilities first each month. You can’t lose your groceries or credit card.
  • Limit yourself to one “emergency” credit card. Only use it for true emergencies.
  • If he doesn’t open the door and let you walk through first, he isn’t the right one.
  • You deserve to be treated like a lady.
  • Act like one.
  • Don’t allow others to speak poorly of your husband. He became half of you the day the two of you became one.
  • Start saving for retirement NOW.
  • Spend time with your grandparents and aunts/uncles. They’ll be gone way too soon.
  • Study the roots from which you came.
  • When you make mistakes, don’t make excuses. Apologies and changed behavior show character. Making excuses is weak.
  • Vote. EVERY election. It’s a privilege your grandmother’ s grandmother didn’t have.
  • Politics is not good dinner conversation.
  • Take vitamins and calcium.
  • Empty the dishwasher first thing every morning, and fill it all day then run it at night. Your kitchen will stay cleaner.
  • Change the filters in your house when you pay your utility bills.
  • Give him little gifts “just because”.
  • The right guy will reciprocate without prodding.
  • If he thinks flowers are a “waste of money”, tell him you’ll take plants for the yard. If he won’t give those either, he’s not the right guy.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day de-cluttering and straightening your house.
  • Vacuum, dust, mop and the like on Saturday mornings (or Friday evenings) so you can enjoy your weekend.
  • Do laundry twice a week.
  • Trust but never turn a blind eye. Temptations are many.
  • Teach your children early on that they are each other’s best friends. The relationship between siblings is the longest relationship of their lives.
  • HEAR them when they speak to you. Help with what you can…give wisdom when you can…but show them how to resolve conflict and allow them to.
  • Never argue in front of the kids.
  • Never undermine your husband’s authority in front of the kids. Never allow him to undermine yours in front of them, either.
  • Watch your husband/fiance/boyfriend’s parents closely.  Be prepared to walk away if they bicker, fight or get violent. Those are the relationship skills he’s learned and he will probably not get over them.
  • It’s a good bet that he will be a husband like his father patterned before him.
  • Smile…sometimes for no reason at all other than it will improve your mood.
  • Just cause it’s cheaper in the giant economy size doesn’t mean your cabinets will contain it or that you will use it all before it expires. Don’t waste money.
  • Make sure your child’s surname is one of which she/he can be proud. Reputation matters.
  • Read with your child. EVERY day.
  • Somewhere, somehow, grow a tomato plant every year. Nothing beats a fresh off the vine tomato. (Unless you hate tomatoes. Then, grow lettuce. Grow SOMEthing. There is nothing as soul-soothing as the feel of the sunshine on your back and dirt in your hands).
  • Be honest.
  • Read and apply your Bible. Especially the “how to be a good wife” parts.
  • Never think you’re too grown up to swing on a swingset or play tag.
  • TV will rob you of your hours. Turn it on to watch a show, then turn it off when that show’s over. Don’t waste your life watching others live theirs.
  • Check your oil. Have it changed on time.
  • Never get below 1/4 tank of gasoline.
  • Keep candles, flashlights, a source of heat, water and food on hand in case the power goes out.
  • Keep your cell phone charged.
  • Train your children. If you have to work and leave them in daycare, train them every minute you’re with them. They have to be taught how to live and how to treat others.
  • Training them includes teaching them manners. Well-mannered people go far in life.
  • Take your kids to Vacation Bible School.
  • Dress in the manner of the person at your job you most want to emulate.
  • If someone continually abuses you (verbally, mentally, emotionally or physically) you have the right to walk away. Even if they’re “family”.
  • There are books about codependency. Read one. Apply.
  • Never mix ammonia and bleach.
  • To stop learning is to begin to die.
  • Pray.
  • Get mammograms. Breast cancer runs in both sides of your family.
  • Having a living relationship with Jesus is more important than “going to church”.
  • Jesus loves you, regardless.
  • So do I–forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as you’re living my baby you’ll be.