Life Given

ceb family c and j small
Jenny & Curtis Bostic

I’ll never forget what attorney Curtis Bostic said to me on our first meeting.  “Wait until you meet my wife.”  He said proudly.  “I smacked that one out of the park.”

And when I met her, I knew instantly that he was right.

She was beautiful.  Not in a fake “Hollywood wanna-be” sort of way, but in a classy, contented sort of way.  She radiated a joy that was mature and gentle.

Two weeks later, I packed my suitcase and moved to Charleston.  My job started Tuesday and when I left the office Friday, the weekend stretched out in front of me and it hit me that I was in a new city.  All alone.

That was B.C. (before cell phone) for that matter, there was no internet or TV in the little home I shared with Miss Sandra—who worked all the hours I didn’t.

I don’t know why I checked the answering machine when I got home—no one I knew had the number, much less a reason to call.  When I did, however, I heard Jenny’s cheery voice inviting me to dinner.  She also encouraged me to bring “a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush” and spend the night.

I hesitated.  This was my boss’ family.  As to spending the night—I didn’t really know the Bostics and I was a little old for slumber parties.  But after piddling around the empty house for a few minutes, I found myself pulling the pajamas and toothbrush out of my suitcase.

I’ve often wondered since then if Jenny would have still invited me if she had known that I would stay the next five years.

But Jenny was gracious and hospitable.  She went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family’s double wide which was neat, clean, and tastefully decorated.

The more I got to know Jenny, the more amazed I became.  She was intelligent, educated, and gifted—an excellent musician, fantastic cook, organized home-school mom, amazing housekeeper, and devoted wife.  She jogged faithfully and ate healthfully; yet didn’t criticize those who didn’t.  She worked hard; yet didn’t make others feel bad about taking time off or having fun.  In fact, despite her many strengths, she didn’t come across arrogant at all.  She always treated other people like she had all of the time in the world. Though she didn’t.

I remember one time shortly after that the she took me to downtown Summerville just for the fun of it.  She bought me a milkshake at the drug store even though (for health reasons) she could not have one herself and showed me some of her favorite stops and shops.

Jenny was probably up until the wee hours of the next morning making up the lost time on a Saturday—folding clothes and doing all the things that keep a household functioning.  But the pressure of those chores had not kept her from taking time with me.  It is humbling to think about even to this day.

Perhaps that is what I find so incredible about this dear friend.  Some people give from their surplus—not Jenny.  Some people give until it hurts—not Jenny.  Few people give until they have nothing left to give.  Even fewer still give beyond nothing left—but that is Jenny.  You’ll never know when you exhausted her limits because she won’t show it; she will just keep giving.

After getting to know her some, I thought I wanted to be just like Jenny—always joyful, always patient, always selfless.  But I wasn’t.  Not even close.  It frustrated me, but the more I tried the more hopeless it seemed.

Gradually it sunk in to me that the spiritual maturity is not inherited or won, it cannot be had for the asking.  It is earned.  Even a tree planted by streams of water will grow undetected—slowly, painfully, quietly.  Jenny had persevered through some storms in life—choosing joy over depression, forgiveness over bitterness, meekness over her own way.

Over the last nine years that I have known Jenny, my respect for her has continually grown. We have been on many trips together and at first it surprised me that she would bring along a book about being a godly parent, an excellent wife, or a better Christian.  She could have written all of those books and then some.  But that wasn’t her mentality—she was still growing and learning.

In fact, she hasn’t written any books that I know of; doesn’t have a full speaking schedule, a TV show, or even a blog.  From what I’ve seen, much of Jenny’s time during this season of life is filled with the thankless tasks of loading the dish washer, teaching reading, solving math problems, grocery shopping, scrubbing bath tubs, and driving kids to karate.

When I thought about her life, I was reminded of Mary and the costly perfume that she spilled on Jesus’ feet.  Many criticized the offering as resources wasted—a year’s worth of labor gone in a few short seconds benefitting no one but Jesus.

But Jesus saw the act of selfless worship as a great gift—so much so, that the God of the universe took the space to write it down in His short book so that her life and action would be read and remembered for years to come.  Her perfume was not wasted; it was given.

Likewise, a life given in simple, selfless ways is not wasted.  It is invested.

Jenny’s daily routine is not wasted to the five kids who call her mom or the husband who calls her “sweetheart.”  And it is not wasted to the hundreds—perhaps thousands of people whom she has taken time for, listened to, and encouraged.

I know many who would say that they are a better wife, a better mom, or a better Christian for having known Jenny Bostic and I would count myself in that number.  Her gentle, quiet spirit convicts and motivates me on an ongoing basis.

And I can’t wait to see the incredible things that are to come for a life so freely given and so gently sustained as Jenny Bostic’s.

Joy Bells

As a teenager, my dad took us to a small church across town on Sunday evenings. When I say small, that is what I mean. There would be about a dozen people, and seven were my family. The rest were over the age of seventy.

They were sweet people and they loved to have us join their Sunday evening routine. We would open our hymn books and the pastor would take favorites. My sister would accompany on the piano as we picked the same handful of songs. Despite the age of the group, it was not unusual for us to sing “Arky, Arky” and strain our voices to reach the high notes of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.”

After we were sung out, Pastor Dana would preach to us and then the “whole church” would go to Denny’s.

I remember all the members of that small congregation. Best of all, I remember the pastor’s wife, Louise Dana.

I first met Mrs. Dana when I was in kindergarten and I had liked her then.

She always dressed smartly. Her two inch pumps would match her dress and her chunky earrings would match her necklace. She was pleasantly plump—she didn’t bother with any diet that came between her and a banana split. And she had an amazing laugh. She laughed loud and she laughed often. Wherever she was would be a party.

When we started attending some ten years later, Mrs. Dana had not changed a bit and probably neither had the evening routine. Mrs. Dana knew the staff at Denny’s by name and they knew her. We would talk and laugh and she would eat a banana split.

Then came the news that Mrs. Dana had Lou Gehrig’s disease. I didn’t quite believe it–she was so full of life and I just couldn’t imagine her anything but her boisterous self. But she seemed to handle the news well. She would be there every Sunday evening happy.

The effects of the disease came on gradually. Her speech became a little slurred and she became less mobile. We never talked about it at church. Everyone knew; we just didn’t know what to say. Things stayed at their “normal” routine, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” and all.

Her speech continued to get more slurred although she tried hard to communicate. When we couldn’t understand, we’d nod and smile. The evening outing to Denny’s just wasn’t the same though when the boisterous storytelling was replaced by a few laborious phrases. Her mind was still sharp, but everything she wanted to say and every laugh she wanted to laugh was trapped inside and it couldn’t get out.

Then one week we got a new hymn request— “Joy Bells.” And she requested it every week after that. It started, “You may have the joy bells ringing in your heart and the peace that from you never will depart…”

Mrs. Dana couldn’t sing, but she started bringing a bell to church on Sunday nights and she would ring it every time we said “joy bells” and at the end of every line of the chorus. It was her way of letting us know that even though she could no longer laugh, she still had joy in her heart.

One bell was not enough. She brought two…then three…then four…and each week she would ring her bell to make her request and make us ring the bells as we sang. Honestly, it wasn’t very musical. But from Mrs. Dana it was joyful.

Time continued to waste away and so did Mrs. Dana. She had her husband bring Krispy Kreme donuts to church because it was all she could eat and she wanted to share them. Even on a Krispy Kreme diet, she was now less than 90 pounds. She would sit silently in the pew and when we said hello to her, she would do her best to give a slight nod. But when we sang her song, she would ring her bell. That was all she had left.

When I rang my joy bell, it was neither musical nor joyful. I would be too choked up to sing. I felt strongly for this dear woman whose body could no longer communicate in the ways she loved best.

Or maybe it did. I doubt any of us who knew Mrs. Dana will ever forget the joy that was her strength in the most difficult of circumstances. She expressed it in a means and with a fervency that none of us will ever forget.

That was probably 16 years ago, and I haven’t sung “Joy bells” since her funeral. But I’ve thought of it many times—always with the collection of souvenir handbells ringing in the background. And I know that in heaven, Mrs. Dana is talking and laughing again. And on earth, her memory is reminding us that despite our circumstances, we’ve been instructed to “rejoice always.” Even when you cannot talk and cannot laugh—no excuses. Find yourself a bell and let the world know that you are joyful—even when it is through tears.

Two Become One

My hairstylist tells me that there are 2,500 weddings a year in Charleston. I’m sure the month of June claims a disproportionate share of that number…My parents were married in June. All three of my sisters we married in June. It’s just the month for weddings. School’s out…Spring’s hanging on… Love is in the air.

And no where do I sense the love more strongly than during my frequent trips to Penney Farms, Florida.   That’s where my grandparents live. They are now 95 and 98 and their lives have been simplified accordingly. They live in a two-room apartment. Their kitchen is the size of my closet and boasts only a hot plate, a microwave, a refrigerator and a small sink.

Their bed swallows the bedroom, leaving room for an 8” TV. Grandpa will pull his wheelchair next to my Grandma and they will watch the Andy Griffith show. And when Andy isn’t “sherriffing,” they will watch the goings’ on around their retirement community on closed circuit TV.

My grandparents weren’t married until they were in their 30s. But that still leaves a lot of time—65 years.

They are both from the Philadelphia area, but met at Wheaton College. Grandma—Frances she would have been called then—was a student there. And George, my Grandpa, met her when he came to pick up his sister one weekend.

It wasn’t really the beginning of anything although Frances was later invited so spend some holiday time with his family. And when she stayed for a few summer classes after her last year, George was there too and she remembers some long evening walks in the cornfield affecting her grades.

But they didn’t stay in close contact and when she went to Florida to teach at a Christian boarding school, he went to seminary in Texas, and later, to the South Pacific on an aircraft carrier.

I haven’t heard too much about the seven years Frances spent teaching except that Elizabeth Elliott was one of her students. And that she loved it.

As World War II came to a close, George wrote to Frances and asked her to marry him. She wrote back and said yes. That’s how it was told to me, anyway.

When the school found she was leaving, an angry headmaster had her pack her trunk and dumped her off at the train station during a chapel service. She had nothing. She got to say goodbye to no one. Seven years of investing in students ended abruptly, and suddenly, she was alone in the world with one trunk and a fiancé that she had hardly seen in years.

“But,” she told me, “perhaps it was for the best. Because I never looked back. The next few years were not easy. But I never looked back.”

Six babies came in rapid succession, starting with my aunt, Christine, less than a year after their wedding.   George and Frances were practically living in their car while doing deputation around the country but by the time my mom was born, they were trying to plant a church in the war-torn country of Japan. Of course, between those two was a three month boat ride—the only means of transportation between here and there.

They started from scratch in Japan. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t know the culture. They didn’t have a way to communicate back to friends and family. They didn’t have a lot of money. But they had each other. And they put their whole hearts into their new life in Japan.

After about 35 years, my grandparents retired from the mission field and took jobs in Florida. They used to travel to California to see us for one week every summer. Grandpa would take us on bike rides, buy us ice cream, and let us blow on his trumpet. I remember sitting on his lap while he read “101 Dalmatians” to my sister and I.

Meanwhile, my grandma would take over the laundry and for a week nothing could hit the bottom of a hamper before it would be snatched out; and nothing came back to you without starch in it.

They were both hard working, frugal, and godly. That isn’t to say they always agreed. Grandma would try to discourage my grandpa from buying so much ice cream, for example. Nonetheless, they complimented each other well. Grandma was good with the check book, but she didn’t operate anything with a motor it. Grandpa not only could operate a vehicle, but he was adventurous.

They could eat at Wendy’s for $2. They would order one baked potato and a cup of coffee. Grandpa liked sugar in his coffee and Grandma did not, so they would put one pack of sugar in, but not stir it. Grandpa would put his straw on the top; Grandma would put hers on the bottom, and everyone was happy.

They seemed timeless to me.

But old age creeps up even on the most stalwart of people. I took my grandparents on their last plane ride out of Florida last year—Pushing Grandpa in a wheelchair and waiting on a skycap to come get Grandma. I remember waiting at the gate in Atlanta for a flight and getting hungry. Grandpa, who is always hungry, agreed to go with me to find food. Grandma, who is never hungry, preferred to stay at the gate. “Don’t get me anything.” She called after us.

As we placed our orders, Grandpa was quick to ask me, “What are we going to get Grandma?” I opened my mouth to remind him that she didn’t want anything, but shut it again. I repeated this. “What do you think she would like?” I finally asked. And when we headed back to the gate, we were carrying three Styrofoam boxes.

He did the same thing a couple of weeks ago when my grandma wasn’t feeling well. Although the doctor couldn’t really find anything wrong, she had been in bed the better part of the week, and Grandpa was as frantic as I’ve seen him. At this stage in the game—they heavily rely on each other. She has the legs to get up and find things, he has the arms strong enough to dish the ice cream. She has good enough ears to hear the TV, and his eyes are still able to see well enough to read her magazine articles, her Sunday School lesson, or whatever else.

When she was sick, he was rattled. It wasn’t just like having a sick family member. It was like part of him was sick too. I could tell he wanted to “fix it,” but he couldn’t. So when she insisted that we go to the dining hall without her, he agreed only when he knew there was no changing her mind.

She said she wasn’t hungry, but he picked the entrée and sides that he knew she would like best. He ate half of each, dutifully saving the rest and carefully arranging it in a “to go” box. He didn’t say so, but I think he knew that she wouldn’t eat it, but she would know he cared.

He did care. He does care. In fact, I suspect he is holding on to life because of her. Because if something happened to him, who would dish the ice cream? who would read the Sunday School lesson? who would operate the golf cart?

Conversely, she is holding on for him. She is still trying to find things—even though her eyes are bad—because he can’t seem to find them without her help. She is still trying to move money from one account to another to get a little better interest rate. Still picking his laundry out of the hamper and making sure it comes back to him with starch in it. Still washing his ice cream dishes. Still discouraging him from buying ice cream.

They’ve never owned a home, yet they’ve built a beautiful family. They’ve never been famous, but they have touched many, many lives. They’ve never written a book, yet theirs is a beautiful love story. And as of yet, it’s still not all told.

Of the 60 weddings this weekend in Charleston, I wonder if even one of them will stick together enough to know the kind of simple, faithful love my grandparents know.

I’ll always remember the image of my 98 year old grandfather, after 65 years of marriage, saving half his dinner in a “to go” box. Because half of him was still at home. The half that he loves most.

photoShe had a temper growing up.  Of course, so did I.

The difference is, people who knew us then will believe it about me.  My sister was like a living Elsie Dinsmore—sweet, sensitive, and obedient.

I was more outspoken and more type-A, so I was often the ring leader even though she was two years older.  I was also a merciless competitor.  We ended up in the same grade homeschooling, and in my immaturity, I made it a point to finish first and be the best at everything.  The only game I couldn’t beat her at was Monopoly.  She could pinch a penny.

For a while, we shared a room.  Mom used to say of us that we were “enemies all day and friends all night.”  I don’t remember what we stayed up late chatting about, but I do remember some of our fights.  I thought she was messy; she kept entirely too much junk.  I also rebelled when she came up the idea of washing our clothes in the bathtub instead of sending them downstairs to the laundry.  Allyson was more than a tad obsessed with anything old fashioned, and the idea of washing clothes by hand appealed to the pioneer homemaker in her.   I was a lot happier limiting old fashioned ways to my imagination.

Allyson was blessed with a very keen sensitivity toward sin.  What was right was right and what was wrong was wrong.  If something was right, you did it.  And if it was wrong you didn’t.  For several years, she determined to carry her Bible with her everywhere she went.  And when she was twelve or so, she decided to wear only skirts or dresses; a resolve she has kept to this day.

Despite our differences, we called ourselves best friends.  Looking back, that was her idea, and she was a loyal best friend.  I kind of drifted a bit, especially when people started of thinking of her as “different”—carrying around her Bible and wearing skirts all of the time.

She was one of the most disciplined teenagers I’ve known.  She would get up at 5:00 am to do aerobics (to classical music).  By then, I shared a room with Erin, but Allyson would knock on our door every morning and ask if I wanted to do them with her.I would say: No.

After she graduated from high school, Mom and Dad let Allyson take over all the food preparation and grocery shopping.  I’m not sure that did a lot to generate peace in our home because Allyson’s primary goal was to save money and the rest of us didn’t have a lot of appreciation for that goal.  To put it mildly. Some of her “empty out the refrigerator” recipes were met with lower approval ratings than US Congress.

We weren’t particularly close anymore by this time; I was into all of the things I was into—debate, tutoring, Awana, computers, and whatever else that packed life full.  There was a lot I could have done to show gratefulness to her for the things she did for our family, but I didn’t bother.

Nevertheless, Allyson was a persistent homemaker.  She wasn’t intent on going to college; school wasn’t her love or her strength necessarily.  However, it still bothered her when people asked her the usual, “what are you going to do next?” questions in a way that sort of hinted that college was a prerequisite for heaven. I don’t think anyone meant to be harsh; they just took it for granted that the transition into adulthood should look a certain way.

But she was just gifted in other ways.  She sang beautifully and she took up painting china.  Allyson had—and still has—a tender heart that is often conscious of needs the rest of the world overlooks. Allyson looks out for the “uncool” people. She meets needs that are truly needs.

In the next few years, Allyson went through a difficult heartbreak.  Some would think that would be the time that having sisters would come in quite handy.  But I’m not sure we were any help.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care—I just didn’t know what to say or do besides give her space.

So she really surprised me when she gave me two hand painted china plates.  They had birds on the fronphoto (1)t, and on the back of each, she had written scripture in her elegant script—“Behold the fowls of the air…” She must have spent many, many hours tediously painting those beautiful plates. At the bottom of one she had written, To my amazing sister, Danielle.

When the opportunity came for my family to move from California to New Hampshire, Allyson was the only dissenting vote.  But we went anyway.

And the day we moved in, we met Kevin.  Kevin met Allyson.  And as his grandmother said, “I’ve never seen a young man more in love.”

Shortly after their wedding, Allyson was expecting.  And she just glowed.  She is a beautiful girl anyway– but she was even more beautiful pregnant.  And we were all very, very happy for her.  She was a wonderful wife and I was sure she would be an equally good mother. Her child would be the first grandchild on both sides as well as the first great-grandchild for the two set of great-grandparents that lived locally.  Yeah, a little bit of pressure there.

A few months before the baby was due, she went in for a check-up and the doctors became concerned that the baby wasn’t responding to pokes and prods. I was at work when I heard there was a good chance she lost it, and I cried so hard I got in a wreck on my way home. But the doctors were wrong, and this little baby was born healthy as can be—even if he came a few weeks late.

It has been a steady stream of beautiful little lives since then: seven in the past ten years. And Allyson has handled it expertly. The nine of them live in a 1500 square foot house and she keeps it clean, orderly, and entirely devoid of junk. She still cooks food from scratch and washes her dishes by hand although I imagine she has said thanks more than once for their clothes washing machine. They have no TV, and she home schools the older three kids. Somehow.

By contrast, I feel like I’m doing good when I can see the corner of my desk. And people have started asking me what I’m going to do when I grow up.

But what is most amazing is not what Allyson does, but how she does it. She has the beauty that comes from a quiet contentment; an authoritative grace; a contagious peace.  And I can lay claim to being a part of the test panel for her rise to low-budget cooking genius.

I think college has its place in this world, but it isn’t for everyone and it probably would have had nothing but debt to offer someone like Allyson. If homemaking is an art, she has mastered it. And she did it by faithfully applying the lessons God teaches best in His way and in His time.

With the score 7 to 0, I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll never catch up. Thank goodness, it isn’t a competition anymore. Just two sisters who love each other even though they live a thousand miles a part. It’s hard to believe that we ever shared school books, a bedroom, and shoes.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my amazing sister, Allyson!

My Dad

IMG_0531“Ta Die Ma” Dad would often say as he came through the door after work.  It was a phrase that he had picked up from his year in Japan and it was music to our ears.  When Dad was home, it was the final and official indication that home school was over for a day.  We would clear what was left of books and projects off the dining room table to make room for supper.

Dad was always home for supper except when he had long commutes.  Super long commutes.  Dad did what he had to do to provide for his family and sometimes that included hours on the road every day.

After dinner, we had family devotions.  We read the Bible, Character Sketches, other devotional books.

We didn’t have a TV.  But sometimes we went to the park to play baseball or tennis or played basketball in the driveway.  And each evening before bed, Dad would read to us.  Over the years, he read the entire Anne of Green Gables series, the entire Little House on the Prairie series, the Little Women series, and more.  While other men might have been watching football, Dad would be sitting on our bedroom floor reading about the Ingalls’ long trip west.  And when Jack the faithful bulldog walked his last mile under the wagon and all five of us cried, Dad was in tears too.

Dad was our biggest cheerleader.  When I used to write little stories, poems, songs, and skits, he was the first one I would show them to.  He would usually tell me that he was impressed that someone my age would write stories, poems, songs, and skits on her own initiative.  Looking back, that was probably the nicest thing he could think of to say about my work.  But I was always encouraged.

I wanted to play guitar and I think it was mostly because my dad did.  He had a repertoire of songs and we would sing them together every few months when he pulled out his guitar and tuned the strings.  Dad loved to sing—and not just when he was playing guitar.  In fact, Dad’s favorite thing in all the world to this day seems to be Christmas Caroling.  Any time of the year.  I have enough material on that for a whole blog of its own.

For a few years, Dad had four teenage daughters.  Not many men could handle that.  Not many men who worked a nine to five job at a private university.  We were never wealthy and I’ll probably never know just how much my parents sacrificed to put all four of us through braces.  But for all the good traits Dad passed down, straight teeth was not one of them.  And while he could grow a mustache, that was not a desirable option for us girls.

Dad loved to grill.  We loved it when he went to the grocery store because he would come back with more than just hamburgers.  He would buy chips, soda, and dessert…things my mom would never buy.  He has expanded his culinary skills and now he not only grills Thanksgiving turkey but also makes breakfast often.

I suppose Dad, like most guys, would have liked to own fast, cool cars.  But he hasn’t had any as long as I’ve been alive.  In fact, more often than not, he got to spend his Saturdays trying to fix the family van.  We didn’t always have two cars, but when we did, his was usually even less reliable than the family van.  When his truck was stolen—a truck that was two different colors in the front and back; had a broken gas indicator, and boasted a block of wood for a parking break—the police found it not too long afterwards.  I guess it wasn’t even worth the upkeep when the price was free.

When I was about 11, we bought a Chevy van for $6500.  That was the most we ever spent for a vehicle and I thought we were big stuff.  It was just a few days later that I accidently scraped the “new van” with a hose while trying to wash it.  I expected Dad to be mad when he saw it, but he didn’t really say much.  I remember clearly that night when he came in to tuck us into bed and he told me he loved me.  His treasure was not in his cars.  It was his family.

But that’s just a glimpse of who my dad is.

When I think of him, I often think of Proverbs 20:6 – “Most men will declare his own goodness, but a faithful man, who can find?”

We live in a culture in which faithfulness is the exception rather than the rule.  It is not even expected anymore.  Not really in any arena—employment, marriage, church attendance, anything.  It is increasingly hard to be faithful.  It is increasingly easy to cheat.  Most people will take the easy road.

But not my dad.  He was the one who tried to convince me to stick with piano lessons when I wanted to quit.  He was always at church no matter what the weather and he would have all of us there with him.  He taught Awana Clubs, Sunday School, lead worship, and coached basketball week after week and year after year.  He was the kind of man you could count on.  He worked tirelessly to provide for his family, even when jobs were hard to come by.

So…in the answer to the question, “a faithful man, who can find?”

The answer would be: my mom.