What Alzheimer’s Can Never Take Away

Sweet, familiar faces greet me at the glass screen door. Through tender hugs and peering over beloved shoulders, I begin my search for her. It’s hard to believe this day is here. I’m amazed. Her kids weren’t sure she’d live to see this day. It’s been a rough road lately, I hear. But she’s entered into the hour of her 80th birthday.

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The last time I was here, she conversed with me. She won’t be able to today.

I see her. I take in her sweet details from a distance.

She’s so loved. Disease can take so much from a person. People can give up on you, and one can choose to give up on themselves and others, but from where I stand, Alzheimer’s can’t take away your loves. She is curled up on her side, on the couch, cuddled into her pillow and blanket. So much princess pink. Her loyal Maltese blends in to the white cotton pillowcase, taking up more pillow space than my aunt’s precious face is. The beloved caregiver beckons the help of my cousin, the daughter, and they ease her to standing at the walker. The caregiver cups my aunt’s face in her hands and kisses her forehead.

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She’s so strong, even in her weakness. Because she’s all heart–all heart that fought for grandkids, that survived cancer, that survived the loss of two beloved children, that survived the loss of a husband, that fought and survived so much more than I’ll ever be privy to. Her fragile fingers grip the walker rails. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away a fighting spirit. Time after time, her kids wonder if she’s being escorted away into the arms of God, but to everyone’s surprise, He wonderfully escorts her wandering mind and body inch by inch to the table through the hands and feet of Christ. She takes a seat at the queen’s chair, the candles are lit, and everyone gathers around her with love, in love.

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She’s so tiny. Always has been. But a recent chest cold pummeled on top of Alzheimer’s leaves her frailer than ever. Her beautiful skin clings to her precious cheekbones. Yet a glow emits from her eyes, as her two remaining daughters sprinkle her face with kisses. She looks, in part, like a ten-year-old with her sweet braids. The room fills with the fragrance of a struck match and a rising melody, happy birthday over her. And the words we know so well since childhood seep from her lips … happy birthday to you. “She’s singing,” I say. “She’s always singing,” says her caregiver, smiling. She is. She sings hymns with her sisters–my mom, my other aunt. One voice begins and hers will blend, like always, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your treasure. A tiny package containing years of stored-up infinite treasure. Childhood treasure. Leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms kind of treasure.

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She’s so determined. She sits there, wobbly. But she will see this through. Her daughter opens the presents before her, for her. Chocolate and more chocolate. Giggles disperse. I think back over my conversation with my cousin, when I’d inquired over what I could possibly get my aunt for her birthday. If time is short and space is limited, what can I give her? “Chocolate,” said her daughter, my cousin. “She can still eat chocolate?” I asked, surprised. After the week she’d had, being so sick … “She sure can.” Would you look at that? My cousin places a slice of cake before her, crackers and Coke. All her favorites. She parts her lips for one tiny bite after bite, one tiny sip after sip, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your favorites. 

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She’s so … Heading home, I ponder my aunt in admiration. I can’t quite put my finger on the situation. My oldest says, “Mom, did you hear what Aunt Novie said when we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ … when we sang ‘and many more’?” My daughter giggles. I glance at her through the rearview mirror. “No. What?” I say. My daughter gasps for air, trying to compose herself. “She asked, ‘There’s going to be more?'” I laugh. That’s exactly right. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your humor.

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And that’s when I put my finger on it, really put my finger on it–when it seems one doesn’t have a lot to go on, one goes on what they’ve got. Illness can take away much, but some things found in this life can never be removed without authority–love, treasure, a fighting spirit, determination, humor, Coca-Cola, chocolate, and best of all, Jesus. 

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Do you know anyone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer’s? What can you add to the list that can never be taken away? 


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©Shelli Littleton

When The Yoke Seems A Little Runny

I take the bread, cupping my fingers over it and guarding it with my life. I glance down the pew at God’s sweet provision. With my head bowed, I take a long look inside …

Life can be excruciating. It can.

My grandfather answers the phone. “Yellow” … (his version of “hello”)

With excruciating fear, I say, “Pa-Paw, we’re thinking about adopting a baby …” I hadn’t been able to sleep. My gut churned. All the “what ifs” …

“I kindly adopted you, didn’t I.” My grandfather’s words wrap peace around me, like an old familiar song. If I could love this man like I do, who took me as his very own, maybe just maybe a child could love me, too.

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I play and replay that scene over in my mind when life is hard. I remember all the ways God came through for me, through fear, how my two daughters resemble me in the seen and unseen. From the perfectly placed freckles to the seemingly imperfectly placed …

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Because I go to my knees with fear these days. I tell my doctor that I’m not handling things well. Is this coping? She assures me that she’s there to help me, should I need it. Medication, she surely means.

The unease in my heart has kept me up many a night. My insides are doing abnormal things. “Or is this my new normal?” I ask myself. When my pulse races away, I count to ten over and over throughout the night. I pray continually. I chastise myself constantly. The Lord offers the light and steady yoke, and time after time, it seems I take on the weight of the heavy yoke and allow it to run away with me, spinning me around and solidifying my impending disaster, allowing the weight of it to press me to my knees.

And the guilt drives me deeper into the mud and mire.

Why? Where is the peace?

And just this morning, I beg God for answers. God, why? Why can’t I have peace in the midst of the storm? The storms that pummel me, one after another. Why can’t I sleep?

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“I kindly adopted you, didn’t I.” That’s what I hear spoken over my heart. And I think of that night after the Passover, in the garden, before Jesus went to the cross, the excruciating pain.

An angel from heaven appeared to him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22: 43-46

“Do you really think you are so different from me?” I hear spoken over me. “You love. Your heart is soft, not hard. You’re in pain, Shelli. You’re scared. You’re sweatin’ it out. But you keep kneeling and praying … kneeling and praying …. You are not crippled. You keep getting out of bed each morning, you keep taking step after step, you keep going a little further … with me.”

And as I sit in the midst of the flood, the guilt of how I should be handling things rolls in waves away from me, back out to the ocean.

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And relief, full of peace, splashes over me like new rain. Like Heaven sent.

“This is my body given for you …” I swallow hard and take the cup, wrapping my fingers securely around it, guarding the lifeblood with my life.

“Do this in remembrance of me …”

Do you ever feel like you are handling things all wrong? Does Jesus’ example comfort you, too? 

Much love and Happy Easter, y’all. 

Letting Go Of Your Child

It’s never easy. Letting go is never easy. Especially when you’ve had a needy kid. Life has always been a balancing act for me. One I fear I’ll never perfect. One kid is this way, and another is that way. One kid can eat anything; the other needs to proceed with caution. One has perfect balance; the other needs a hand. It’s just the way of it. But it’s also the life you carve out for yourself and your child when you’ve dealt with the big C. One kid is independent, but enduring surgery and chemotherapy takes a toll on the other … simple things can cause panic, weakness takes hold of the ankles.

Under that curly top lies a head of fear. Afraid of her own shadow.

I take her hand and often. If I can keep her from falling, I’ll do my best, I’ll be there, I’ll extend a hand. She often says, “I go where you go.”

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But time passes, and a kid growing up has a way of changing everything. She doesn’t reach out for my hand anymore.

I open the door for Him. “Come in.”

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I smile because I adore Him. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted for my daughter. Everything I’ve ever prayed for. Everything. I’ve known Him for so long, and I’ve just always loved Him. Something about Him. Even His name …

She doesn’t wait for me. She’s received Him with open arms, and she runs off with Him.

The chair scrapes the dining room floor, as she sits down to Bible study with Him. She’s always been nervous about reading out loud, but she reads aloud to Him. For Him. I’m so proud of her. She loves Him. She loves being in His presence. He brings out the braveness in her.

What do I do with myself? I try to find something to busy myself. This is so new. I’m not as needed as before. And I’m really feeling okay about this. I’ll go for a walk.

I open the sheep pen, and my feet hit the leaf covered dirt path. Hooves scramble behind me. I hear a different shuffling sound. She’s behind me with Him. The light radiates around her, and she’s glowing.

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It’s the sweetest sight I’ve ever seen. I laugh more than I should. I tear up more than I should.

I speed up. I don’t want to be a bother or interfere. This is good for her. I can’t help but look over, through the forest of trees, as the oaks are slipping on their sundresses. I grasp a small glimpse of her stroll … a shoe here, a pant leg there, color amidst the greenery.

He’s so tall and strong and kind and loving. He’s a gentleman. A real gentleman. I never thought I’d trust my daughter with another.  But here I am … trusting. Trusting more. If she trips, He’s right there. If she balances a log, He’s right there.

She’s more talkative than I’ve ever seen her. Where did the shy, quiet one go? She shares her dreams, her fears, her insecurities, her laughs … with Him.

All her late night conversations … Him.

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“Bye, Mom.” She closes the car door, and she’s off. The car travels through our windy driveway. She’s off with Him.

I wave my empty hand, blow a kiss, and watch the car till it’s out of sight. I look at my feet. The trees. The garden. The Rose of Sharon. And peace wraps around me like a shawl. I bow my head. Thank you, Father, for taking her hand and traveling this road with her. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter man in her life. You’re everything I’ve ever prayed for, since the day she was born. I’m thankful she knows you. 

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~~~

Are you having to let go of something? Someone? How has God helped you through this? What insight has the Lord given you?

 

When You Are Losing Your Vision

I fuss in the car. “No one can check to see if they have $7 to loan me?” I huff and puff. The girls remain quiet. “I’m going to have to stop for money. Where can I stop? Time is short. I should’ve done this earlier today …” I pull into the gas station, use the ATM machine, and hit the road again.

Arriving at the church, I’m greeted and hugged by my cousin, and I hand over the ticket money.

And I just feel …

I’m trying to make peace.

All 7 of us girls pile into a row of chairs.

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And the Lord waylays me.

Anthony Evans … front and center. “Come, Lord, like a rushing wind. We are desperate for your presence. Revive us by your Spirit within. We want to see you again … We remember all the great things you have done. We believe that greater things are yet to come. We remember all the great things you have done. We believe that greater things are yet to come.”

My hand lifts into the air. I remember, Lord.

Priscilla Shirer joins in singing with her brother. And then she begins praying over everyone. “Are you going through this …? Raise your hand.”

Fear presses into my wildly pumping heart. I don’t have a choice. I know. My loved ones know. My hand lifts into the air again. Hands reach for me, and prayers cover me. Tears flood my face and drip down to my heart.

“Are you going through this …?” My daughter looks straight at me. Afraid to raise her sweet hand, she sits there, vulnerable, begging and pleading with her eyes …

There is no greater honor than to pray over your child. I reach across my other daughter, take hold of my oldest daughter’s hand, and I present her unspoken requests to God …

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Priscilla asks us to get out our Bibles. I flip open the pages. I can’t see. I don’t have my cheaters.

I remember my daily Bible reading from earlier in the week …

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’  They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

‘Hosanna!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts.” –Mark 11:1-11

The 3 things that stood out to me were … Go, Find, Untie

Priscilla says, “We all want others to think our lives are perfect. It’s all over Instagram … white couches, white carpet. Who lives like that?” She pauses. “Who fussed at their kids?”

The girls look at me. I look at them. Busted. Busted at the door. We laugh.

“We are dealing with our own leprosy,” she says. “But this is a place to be real. You weren’t cheated; you were chosen.”

My Bible lay open on my lap …. I’m blind to you, Lord. I’d left my broken cheaters at home. A nose-piece is missing, and they sit lopsided on my face. I look at my cousin beside me. Her eyesight is diminishing, as well. And she’d forgotten her Bible in the car. I pull out my phone, opening the large print before me … God’s beautiful Word before me, no matter the form …. I nudge my cousin’s arm.

We will remember.

Oh, Lord, I’m desperate for you.

I’ve come, Lord. I’ve found you. Untie me.

I’m throwing my cloak down for you. You are welcome in this place.

With all my life’s messy, I know I’m not cheated. I’m chosen.

And I want to fuss over you. I want to see you again.

Living On The Border Of Danger

My girl reclines in the dental chair. Her x-rays hang enlightened on the wall behind her.

“You need to wear this retainer,” the man says.

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Hard to believe two years had already passed, wearing braces. I didn’t really want to get braces for this daughter because her teeth were straight, her bite was just off a bit. She had the cutest crooked smile. But the doctor insisted that her teeth wouldn’t wear correctly, and she’d have trouble in her later years. But she had a gap in her front teeth for years, and I was told she needed this simple surgery to cut the gums between her teeth to allow her teeth to grow together. I didn’t buy it. And sure enough, her two front teeth grew together over time without surgery. Why did she really need braces? We don’t need perfection. My other daughter’s braces came off months ago, and she constantly jokes that it looks like she’s wearing dentures because her teeth are just too perfect. Too straight.

The dental assistant jumps up and runs toward me. “Did you hear there’s been a mountain lion spotted in your area?” She shows me a picture on her phone. “The dog at Tiger Mart got killed” (this is where we refuel our vehicles, and the sad irony …?).

I want to buckle over with grief. I figured there had been a mountain lion, bobcat, but I had no idea it still prowled around. My mind flashes back to nearly two years ago when our lamb had been killed and eaten. The guilt stabs me time after time. We didn’t protect Bindy like we should have. We didn’t  protect our property. I can still envision seeing her, going to my knees our on Texas land, crying, my husband dragging her sweet remains.

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Sandy and Bindy when we first brought them home, and they didn’t like us.
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Working hard to gain their love and trust. We miss our little black sheep of the family.

The same happened to my neighbor’s baby goat. They’d been searching for her, neither hide nor hair surfaced. That had been my warning, but I didn’t heed it. We didn’t realize the danger that lurked, that could so easily cross over into our property.

My heart still breaks at what Sandy witnessed. How long she stood nearby the scene, waiting for us to come out and help her. And from that moment on, she wouldn’t leave my side. She’d jump the entire fence to be with me.

Apparently, there’s been a mountain lion in our area for some time. No one’s stopped it. No one’s caught it. It leaves trails of death, sandy-powdery tracks. We hear about it from time to time.

Some are helpless to do anything about it, helpless to protect their large herds of livestock. How can they?

Some make light of it. Do they have nothing to protect? Have they not been injured?  Do they not understand? Do they not live in the danger zone?

We don’t make light of it anymore.

We basically live in a slim shade of fear. But that’s how the world is … carnivorous. I know that mountain lion needs to eat. And I adore mountain lions. Beautiful. But I don’t want my babies killed. Sheep meat might be purchased at the grocery store, but not my sheep meat. And I don’t want to be hurt or my girls hurt. I’ve heard of mountain lions tearing off people’s faces in broad daylight.

We walk our property line daily.

One must protect their own.

I think of the wall of fencing where we’ve enclosed our sheep. Blankets hang over the wiring to keep out the cold wind, to keep them warm and protected. We’ve done just about all we can do. We can’t keep them totally protected, there’s no way, so I pray the perpetrator isn’t that smart. Maybe it’s just enough to deter.

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Sandy couldn’t make it alone. She needed a companion. So here is baby Ginny.
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Ginny and Sandy

But a few weeks ago, my husband found a powdery print outside the pen in the sandy soil. Right outside the gate. I found the blanket that drapes against the wall of fencing half torn down. Like something had sought to devour.

Some mornings, the babies just seem spooked.

We put the sheep up every evening. By morning, if I think we’ve forgotten, I go into sheer panic mode, unable to recognize myself, until I see their sweet faces, see they’re safe. See that I really did protect them.

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Ginny and Sandy, all grown up
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Sandy and Ginny

My gaze returns to my daughter’s x-rays. The old x-rays versus the new ones. What? Look at those huge gaps in her back teeth. Goodness, that bite was really off. I look at my baby girl smiling. Perfect, straight teeth now.

Was it that bad before? Really? I didn’t realize they were so bad. Sometimes it takes comparing where we are now to where we were to see that we really needed change. Desperately needed change. The danger had just crept in so slowly. Year after childhood year.

“If you wear this retainer every day for six months and every night after that, your teeth will stay in place. They’ll be protected. Everything that you’ve worked all these years for will remain intact. It’s so important,” the dentist says, trying his best to enlighten her.

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Valentine’s Day Tips For Giving And Receiving

When someone gives to me, I yearn to give in return. My heart is still melting into a little pool of mama love over my youngest daughter leaving a letter for me several weeks ago out in the mailbox that borders our property walking trail.

The fragrance of chocolate wafts through the Valentine aisle as I select the perfect little heart box. And what are these? Tiny ceramic type decorations to stake into a potted plant. Mushrooms, squirrels, gnomes. Bright and colorful, except for the squirrel. I know … I’ll place these along the trail. Daughter’s been out walking every day. I’ll surprise her.

The girls are gone. Finally. I race outside, insert the little heart box into the mailbox, sprinkle the ceramic decorations along the trail. It’s time to wait.

I’m not a good waiter. Do you remember that my daughter waited 6 weeks for me to notice her letter? Whatever she has, I don’t.

We return home from church. “You going walking today, daughter?” I try to hide my smile.

“Why?” She sees right through me. Blast.

The door closes, and I can’t wait to hear from her. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“Did you see anything?” I text her.

She texts back an attachment picture of her hand, holding a broken piece of glass. Oh, my word. Am I going to have to show her?

She texts me back. She found the heart box. “Is this for me?” Yep. She’s walking the trail, but she’s still not opened her eyes to what I’ve left her.

Sometimes one has to search a little deeper for treasure.

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I race out, uniting with younger daughter. Our steps join in the same direction. “Keep your eyes open,” I say. I’m mentally trying to identify just exactly what makes the heart worthy and open to receive from others, to uncover buried treasure.

Find Someone To Love

We come across the little gnome. She smiles while giving me that mom-you-are-ridiculous look.

I laugh, a proud-mama moment.

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My oldest 18-year-old daughter’s words surface in my memory. “Do you remember Evan, Mom?”

“No.”

“I used to buy Evan a Dr. Pepper on Wednesday nights at church.”

The Conditions Need To Be Just Right

Proceeding, the younger and I stumble across the mushrooms that I’d inserted into the soft soil. Both of them. One red. One blue.

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“I touched it earlier. I thought it was real. It felt real.”

We laugh. Another proud-mama moment.

Older daughter’s voice floods my heart again“I’ve worked with Evan at church since he was in kindergarten.”

Don’t Miss The Blessing

We reach the final one …. She searches all around, but she still can’t see it. I bend down and brush my fingertips over the tiny squirrel holding a treasured acorn.

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I recall older daughter’s final words. “Mom, Evan’s in 4th grade now, and every Wednesday, he now buys me a Dr. Pepper. He uses his allowance.” I envision her smile, my smile.

“This one’s a bit camaflouged,” I say to younger. Brown squirrel against brown dirt and nearby leaves. “You have to really be looking to see it.”

Sometimes it seems we have to wait, and sometimes it seems we have to search.

But we are loved.

Love doesn’t always come in a heart-shaped box.

We love because He first loved us—1 John 4:19♥


What tips do you have for giving and receiving? How have you been loved recently in a not-so-heart-shaped-box way? And Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

A Return to Family Devotion


I inch open the door. Two teeners are playing. I’m so happy to see them playing, taking life by the reins. Like they used to. When did life get so serious? 

One’s perched on the other’s back, having turned into some type of cowgirl. The other’s on all fours, and somehow I’m waiting for a “neigh” to bellow out of her mouth. Instead, all contagious laughs, giggles, smiles.



“What?” I nearly fall over laughing.

They jump up, place sweet hands in mine.

It’s bedtime.

“Do y’all want to start reading together through the New-Testament-in-a-year?” I ask the girls, switching gears and interrupting their Lone Ranger and Silver moment. But it’s been weighing heavily on my heart. 

Both nod so eagerly.

Whew! Because I’m going on fumes right now.



And I need to get at least one weight off my heart. Taking something off my shoulders would be nice, too.


We always did pretty good at family devotions when the girls were small. But things shifted somehow. I tried to get them started on Bible Gateway, helping them establish their own routine. No more “we” but God in thee. That went good for a while, but like with all things, discipline tiptoes out the door, and we’re left crumpled on the floor. And that’s a complete disservice to my girls.

I need jumper cables. Um, okay … spurs kicking into my sides.

Because when serious sickness enters your home, even teens can only go on fumes for so long. Anxiety hugs the heart, pinching in the night, demanding conversation.

And one daughter wraps her arms around me. My teetertotter emotions …. “I understand, Mama. Shh. It’s okay.” I adore her motherly way. What gave it away? Hands that I used to hold everywhereonce so tiny with tiny nails that I used to clip with the baby clipperssoothed over my face, wiping away the moisture. Tight hugs. My other daughter gifts me with one, too.

Life has been so busy. Where has my time with them gone?



Is it okay for a mama to admit she’s scared? She’s scared of the present, the past, the future. She’s scared of every day she tried to make it on her own and failed miserably. She’s terrified of the scars etched into her heart from days without holding her Savior’s hand. She’s scared of every reminder, every memory. She wishes for white-out, do-overs, the delete key for her heart. 

What does she yearn for more than anything for her girls? A clean piece of paper, a clean heart. One prepped and ready to type God’s beautiful future, beautiful present on their hearts, to accompany their beautiful pasts.

But we can’t pour out our heart’s desire on that blank page what we aren’t pouring in. The page will be written on, but it won’t be desirous, the Godly way. It’ll never sell.

And when I’m too tired, I’m reminded I’m too tired not to. I’m loading dirty dishes in the dishwaser, and I don’t think I have the stamina to finish, but I will. That’s my disciplined, determined self talking. And I’ll collapse into that bed.

And a brush of wind swirls past me, sweet arms envelope me. “You ready to read our devotion?”

“We better do it now, while I can.” Anxiety only falls away when we fall into the arms of God.

We plop down onto the floor, circle around, maybe hit the couch, maybe climb into my bed …. She takes my phone, hits the Bible Gateway App.



“The verse of the day,” she says, “is Ephesians 4:2‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.'” She clicks on “Begin A Reading Plan” and continues right where we left off. “Matthew 20:1-16,” she says. 

Verse 16 ends with, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

We all chuckle. “I used to say that to you when you were small all the time,” I say. “I wanted you to be giving. It feels good to give.” And I didn’t want them to fight. But my version usually came out like“If you want to be first, you have to be last.” And that’s where I might blow a raspberry, if I were that kind of mama.

fishing in the swimming pool … caught a plastic fish each and every time




floaties in the shallow end

They laugh. Then nod.

“I remember, Mama. I say that to all my Sunday school kids,” one daughter admits.

Yes. They haven’t forgotten. Full circle. God is writing on their hearts. The giving has been received. Because when we give, we always receive. An honest servant is always rewarded in time. It might seem like a rough draft, but it’s the real, published deal, where purchases are final. It’s sitting on the heart-shelf, waiting to be taken, to be given to their friends, anyone blessed enough to receive from their hands, maybe their future kids.

We take the limited time in this life together by the reins.

A return to family devotion.

~~~


Do you have a family devotion? Have you had to take life by the reins recently?