Friday, May 08, 2009

Welcome Home by Jaye Lewis

Hello friends,

This is a true story from my childhood. It's not a perfect story, but it does have some beauty. It's a story of my mother, a woman who did the best she could with the life that she was given.

So, Mom, if you're listening, please believe me now. I love you. I always have. I'm glad that you are home.

Welcome Home by Jaye Lewis

It was not long after we moved from Florida to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1958, that my Dad was caught embezzling from his company. The story goes, that he had taken the money to move his family up to Louisville, and he was paying it back, little by little. When the company auditors arrived, my Dad, being the “honest” person he was, refused to doctor the books to save himself, and he just waited to “take a licking,” which meant the loss of his job and the impoverishment of his family. Supposedly, the authorities were so impressed with his honesty, that they decided to just “let him go,” without criminal charges.

At the age of eleven I found this very confusing. He was without a job, because he did something wrong, and he was too proud to go on welfare, so we went hungry. We ate until the food ran out. My Dad was able to find a job at a diner, but we had two weeks to wait before he would see a paycheck.

The food supplies were rationed for over a week. Each meal became smaller and smaller. We lost weight, especially my mother, and I can’t help but wonder just how much she sacrificed for me. I’ll never forget that last meal. Hard biscuits. Chicken gizzards and livers. I hated that stuff! And rice. Oh yes, there was that lovely dessert of canned pie cherries and chocolate syrup made with cocoa, water, and a small amount of spilled sugar that was brushed from a shelf. It was just awful! I refused to eat anything but the rice. My brother was glad to eat my gizzards and livers, but I had such a small amount of rice, that my plate was nearly empty.

My mother looked at my plate, and she quickly scooped up all her rice and put it onto my plate. Then she picked out all her chicken livers and gizzards and distributed them around the table to my father and brother. I was so aware of her pain, that I wish now that I could go back and tell her just how heroic I thought she was.

“I’m so stuffed!” she lied. “I picked while I was fixing supper, and now I’m just not hungry. You go ahead and eat this. I don’t want it.” It was our last meal for two days. We had already pulled in our belts, and now there was nothing left to pull in.

The next day, my Dad went to work. He ate at the diner, so that there would be one less mouth to feed, but there was still no food in our house. That was a hard day. I would have done anything for a sandwich. I didn’t understand, at the time, where the food went. I remember a terrible empty feeling and a stomach that ached to be filled. The ache turned into a gnawing pain, and my mother became terribly anxious. She begged my father to let her go to the church, so she could ask for money. But my father was proud. He wouldn’t accept charity, and I never understood.

Finally, after two days without food, my Dad agreed to ask his new boss for an advance on his pay. He came home with a five dollar bill. That would feed us inadequately for a week if we were careful. I believed that if I went with my mother and brother to buy the food, I could control the outcome. I begged and pleaded, but to no avail. So, when I was ignored, I flew into a rage. Perhaps it was the hunger speaking. Perhaps I thought I could control how the money was spent. My Dad drank, and everyone in my family smoked, except for me. In my childish ignorance about addiction, I resented every beer and cigarette that ever came into our house, and I guess I hated them a little for needing such things.

My Mom and brother returned with bologna, bread, milk, a jar of instant coffee, and a pack of cigarettes. I knew it! I just knew that they would buy cigarettes! I was so angry about that pack of cigarettes. In spite of warnings to eat slowly, I wolfed down a sandwich and a glass of milk. When that food hit my empty stomach, it recoiled. Instant agonizing pain! I screamed! I grabbed my stomach, and rolled on the floor, half blind with pain. I just kept screaming. I’ll never forget the terror in my mother’s eyes. Finally, I threw up all over the floor! There was relief as my stomach emptied, but I was in bed for days.

Somehow, miraculously, my mother got extra food. I was put on a diet consisting of soft boiled eggs and dry toast. I never knew if she went to the church or if angels showed up at our door. Knowing my mother, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised about either possibility. It took me over a week to recover.

One day, while I was still recovering, there was a knock at the front door. My mother hurried down the inside stairs and opened the door. My bedroom door was just above the landing.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” a man said, in a quavering voice. “Do you have some food you can spare for me? I’ve been walking and walking, and no one can spare even a piece of bread.” There was a long pause. Curious, I tiptoed out of bed and peeked down the stairs. My mother’s face looked pale, and she was so thin.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “We don’t have any food to spare.” She pointed her finger, in the direction of town. “Try the restaurant, down the block. Surely, they will have enough to spare.”

The man shook his head, sadly, and turned away. I watched as my mother slowly shut the door. She stood there awhile, with her face pressed against the glass. Her shoulders began to shake. I thought she was laughing, but when she turned to come up the stairs, I saw her tears. I tiptoed back to bed, and I never breathed a word about it. I can still hear the sound of my mother’s sobbing, as she sat on the stairs.

“I’ve missed Jesus!” she sobbed. “I’ve missed my Lord. He came to my door begging, and I’ve turned him away!”

She sat there for a long time, my mother in her grief. I had never doubted her love for Jesus. I knew that whatever she did for the “least of these,” she did for Him, and now she had to turn the “least of these” away. I’d seen her in terrible circumstances. I’d seen her reach into empty pockets and give away all she had. I’d seen her angry. I’d seen her on her knees. But I had never seen her cry, until that day.

Something left my mother that day. I believe that it was hope. Little by little I watched her slip away from me through the years. She still loved Jesus, and she clung to Him, like a drowning woman. She could still be a force to reckon with, but she quit the fight too soon. I didn’t understand then, but I do now. When God’s grace began its pull upon my life, I remembered, and I decided to allow Him to change my course.

Years later, after I got tired of being battered in my own marriage, I made the choice to change my course, at first for my children, and then for me. Each time that I felt as though life would overcome me, I remembered my mother’s defeat, and I refused to give in. The best part of my journey is that God never gave up on me. He drew me to Him, and He convinced me that, as I trusted in Him, He would transform me. Somewhere inside of me, He found courage, and through His grace, I began to change.

By the grace of God, after two failed marriages, God stepped in, and He brought Louie and me together. It’s been a wonderful marriage. We’ve shared joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats, but nothing could shake the love we have for each other. I’m amazed that God loves me so much that He would care enough to bring us together. But then, that is God ― He is a God of tender mercies.

I do not blame my mother for the defeat that she suffered on this earth. She was from another time, when women had few options. Knowing what I know of her life, I realize that she didn’t know she ever had any. My mother died in October of 1982. She would be the first to tell you that she never accomplished much. I disagree, because I would not be here without her, and I would not choose to miss my memories of her. There were no accolades. She was buried in a plain pine box. A woman of simple tastes, she would have wanted it that way. She made mistakes. She was not perfect, but she clung to her faith.

I have no doubt that my mother was joyful to be able to cast off the things of this world. She must have run into the arms of her Savior. I can almost hear His words as He greeted her. “You’re safe now, Margaret. Welcome home.” © Jaye Lewis, 2004

Monday, May 04, 2009

For the Love of God by Jaye Lewis

Hello friends,

I haven’t been keeping in touch as much as usual, due to some super bug that no one tested for in my region. It’s probably because most people (even those who live in Virginia) forget that our region exists. Strangely enough, our President came to our region several times on his campaign. His manner was warm, inclusive, and sensitive. I was astounded and pleased. The last candidate for President who visited us was John F. Kennedy, nearly fifty years ago.

I love where we live. I love the people, who are honest and outspoken, kind and generous, unspoiled and patient, and who have etched themselves upon my heart. Because of my health, we attend no celebrations, parties, or other functions. Not many people understand, but my gosh they are polite about it.

Church became an impossibility for me. Colds and flu can literally mean the death of me. Being an asthmatic and a diabetic is a little like playing Russian Roulette with a shot-gun. To survive, I must go on prednisone, which shoots my sugar up to 600 or more, a number which can mean coma, even death. So, I fight, by using my diabetes medication, not knowing which numbers are real. And finally, as I am now, I get well.

The thing we all missed most, about Church, was Bible study. Oh, how we missed that hour, immersed in the Word of God. One day, my husband suggested we do our own Bible study, right in our living room, sometimes at the table, and it has become such a blessing. We take as long as it takes, from one hour to three or so. We share wonderful things that God has done for us during the week, and, dear friends, God never sleeps. He is always busy blessing, correcting, and loving each of us.

One might think that since my daughters and I all have serious health problems, that we might resent God’s correction. Well, being human, sometimes we do. But gathered around the kitchen table, or ensconced on the couch, in our living room, we share all that God has done in our lives, and we know that we are truly blessed.

That relationship with God, is the best thing in my world. He has given to me, the best man, the kindest man, without guile or pretense, loving, unselfish and so very funny. I love his sense of humor. I would rather laugh than eat, and there is much laughter in our house.

God has been impressing new understanding to me, during this last illness, and I realize that everything we have comes directly from Him. Evidence of a loving God is written in the universe. In order to dismiss Him, we must close our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to the beauty around us, refusing to see that all the earth belongs to Him, and we are His caretakers. We haven’t been doing much caretaking in the last hundred years, or so. So my gift to God, are my gardens, just as my children’s and my husbands efforts to beautify our God’s little acre, is all because of their love for me and Him.

God is good. He delivered me from a hopeless life, and He gave me the best man I have ever known. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and devotion. He is a man who sacrifices every day, to make a home filled with laughter and caring. I can’t say enough about him, and he just hates when I write about the beauty of his soul, but I cannot help myself. I believe that with a little effort and will, any marriage can be a joyful thing.

I hope you know that I am not bragging. I just had so many hopeless years, that I can’t shake the newness of the love I’ve been given. I will never “get used to it” as I’ve heard people say. Each day is a miracle, knowing, to the best of my ability, a loving God, and seeing how evident is His love for me and my family. Knowing exactly from where my blessings come, is the greatest miracle of my life. And one of the blessings is sharing my heart with you.

Things are tough right now. I know that. I get scared every day about what could happen, but I also have evidence in my life before, that God is still with us, especially now. I wish I had a plan for you. Just writing to you, and sharing my life and loves, has been a blessing. Thank you with all my heart. Jesus said, that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. I hope that you have seen abundance in my heart.

Many years ago, long before my beloved Louie, I was pregnant with my last child. It was a difficult pregnancy, and I was in a town where I was a stranger. I was a member of a church, but I was isolated. My health was so bad, that I was expected to die in child birth. The last six weeks of my pregnancy, I became very close to God. However, closeness to my Church family simply did not occur.

One day I had visitors. Two ladies from the Church were handing out pamphlets filled with the love of God, but love was not there. I staggered my way to the door, my heart uplifted. Somebody cared, and they were coming to visit me. I opened the door, dressed in my nightgown. When the door opened a crack, they pushed the pamphlets in to me.

“Oh, come in,” I cried, thrilled to see them. “I’ve been very ill,” I said.

“Uh-huh. Oh, we can’t come in, we have so many people to visit.”

What? This was a visit? “Please come in, I could use a friend.”

“Oh no, we can’t. I’m sure with your sweet spirit, you have lots of friends.” But I didn’t. I didn’t have a friend in the world, and if I did die, no one would know or care. It was one of the hardest days of my life. Through a crack in the door I received the gift of indifference, but I learned something very powerful. I made a promise to God. Lord, if you let me live, I will find a way to reach others and give them the hope and peace of your love. I will not turn away souls who simply need to know that someone cares.

I did my best in spite of my health, yet I felt I was not doing enough. Twenty-eight years ago, God led Louie into my life, and my life changed forever. One day, about ten years ago, I went before the Lord. I was so sick, and felt I couldn’t do what God laid on my heart twenty-four years before.

“Lord,” I again prayed, “why do you allow me to be housebound, so that I can’t go out and do what I promised you?”

I felt His answer, so clear in my heart. “I will bring souls to you.”

I was dumbfounded. Were people going to line up in our driveway? I couldn’t think of any way to reach anyone. Then we got our computer, an old one, and we discovered the world wide web. In spite of me being dragged kicking and screaming, I learned how to use the dad-blamed box, and a whole new world opened to me. People, whom I had never met, shared their hearts, and I to them. That was ten years ago, and much has changed, but I kept my promise, and God showed me how.

So, I want you to know I care about you. I pray for you, and I ask God to bless you with your daily needs. I beg Him for jobs and a government that does not forget whom they are working for. I pray for our President, that he will be given the wisdom of Solomon and the faithfulness of David. Yes, I disagree with him on some very important issues; however I believe that his heart is honest and faithful, not only, to those who voted for him, but also, for those who did not.

Father in heaven, bless every soul who reads this, every soul who is searching, and especially those who are suffering. Make yourself known, Lord, in each life, for we are strangers in a strange land. May we understand that we have the most powerful being in the universe on our side. May we walk with You, and when we stumble, may you pick us up in Your arms. Protect each of us, oh Lord, and grant us Your peace in our hearts.

With love,
Jaye Lewis

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