Aunt Jeanne Marie

Before You Pour that Glass of Whine

It was a catchy title, so of course I clicked over to see why this writer was saying it sucked to be a Christian these days.

And in the article, did he tell stories of persecution, or his family being imprisoned, or perhaps, his house burned to the ground?


Let me attempt to sum up his problem – he doesn’t seem to fit in at his local church.

IMG_3450 I can’t help but contrast him with my Aunt Jeanne Marie and Uncle Eugene, who, at 89, are living out the last of their years with the same positive outlook I’ve witnessed all my life.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard either one of them complain. About aging, money, the church – well, maybe a little politics here and there, but that’s it.

Having spent most of their youth on the mission field with the Presbyterian Church, Uncle Eugene never felt led to be a pastor. So when they came back to the states, they settled in Daly City, California and Uncle Eugene entered the business world.

They didn’t spend a lot of time looking for a church to meet their needs. They did what they’d always done; they became members of the Presbyterian Church closest to their home. Aunt Jeanne Marie joined a women’s circle. She took courses in how to minister to those facing death. She served in hospitality, and visited folks in the hospital.

On my many trips to their home, I was often taken back at how my conservative aunt and uncle functioned so well within such a liberal church. But it didn’t take me long to realize, they went to serve, and not be served.

12734164_10153894649633864_11092912052327412_nI love my church. And I’d be the first to admit, it’s flawed. And if I look in the corners, I can see the hypocrisy, the fakes, and the insincere. But then, if I look in the corners of my own heart, I see those very same things in myself.

But when I focus on serving, I see my church differently. Or maybe I don’t have the time to check all those dirty corners.

So maybe the advice my friend Vonda Skelton gave me would work for this lost writer – offer grace, grace, grace.

Then shake the dust off your feet and go serve.

We’re all getting older. And at my age, I would have thought my corners would be cleaner than they are. But they’re not. So if you see them, let’s make a deal, I’ll offer you grace, grace, grace, if you’ll do the same for me.

Then we’ll all have a better perspective on the church.

We Were Her Monsters

She told me the story years ago. And to the best of my recollection it went something like this:

IMG_2779She was young, and very much in love. It led to an engagement that eventually fell apart. And in despair, she thought her life was over. Until she heard the gentle whisper of God. He asked her to give Him her life, so she did.

Against her parent’s wishes, she left the security of their Texas home, and started seminary miles away in San Francisco. “If I were catholic,” she told me, “I’d have become a nun.”

Having given up on love, she was surprised to find it there when she fell head over heels for my Uncle Eugene. They married in a small ceremony in August of 1950.


Aunt Jeanne Marie & Uncle Eugene on their wedding day

They graduated and the young couple, not yet fluent in Spanish, left to serve the people of a country village in Venezuela.

In those early years, she longed for nothing more than to have a baby. Month after month led to disappointment. One day, she thought her dream had finally come true. And desiring not to disturb nature, she sat still and busied herself sewing a quilt. Something to cover her future infant. When the sun set, her blanket was done.

But by morning her dream was shattered. A doctor told her it would never happen. Her body didn’t seem to have what it took to carry a child.

She could no longer bear to look at that quilt. So she sold it at a bazaar to raise funds for the village church her husband pastored.

A little old lady bought it as her burial cloth. She called it her, colcha de un día, her quilt of a day. And she cherished it until it fulfilled its purpose.

Aunt Jeanne Marie would never have a baby of her own. But that would not stop her from mothering. And to me and my five brother’s and sisters, she’s as much our mother, as the one who gave us birth.

You see, she came one May in the midst of our violent storm. I was ten that day.

Years later, I tried to get her to admit we were monsters. But she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. I chided her, “Come on Aunt Jeanne Marie, we were out of control.”

Final63c64-2802_1142623879990_1291601_nly she sighed, “Alright Ellen, you were monsters, but you were MY monsters.”

Over the years, I’ve often thought of that quilt. I’ve imagined my aunt meticulously sewing its seams. I’ve imagined her hope, and I’ve imagined her brokenness.

To this day she insists loving us filled that void. That she’s never looked back and wondered, what if?

So this Mother’s Day, I will raise my glass to my other mother, the one I proudly call, my Aunt Jeanne Marie. So indulge me as I honor this woman who taught me how to love. Because that love saw past the monster in me, and it embraced my potential. And it powerfully nudged me along, all the way to adulthood.

Now you tell me, where can you find a better Mother than that??

He was Always There

I was ten, but I saw everything she did. How she took care of my four siblings and me. How she turned back my mother’s bed at night. How she cleaned our tiny home. She didn’t have to do it; after all we were her nieces and nephews. My Mother, her devoted sister. But at the moment she heard of my father’s death, she came.How to get Mojo

For days I’d watched her every move, waiting for the perfect time to tell her how I felt. Then one night after she’d tucked us in, I got my chance.

After leaning into our bunk beds and kissing us good night, she touched the foot of our beds and said,

“God, put angels on their bedposts.”

Lying on my stomach I rested my chin in the palms of my hands and watched my Aunt Jeanne Marie shut off our bedroom light. Then she turned in the doorway and said goodnight. Long streams from the hall light fell around her and the raglan sleeves of her robe flowed when she moved. She looked angelic.

Overcome with emotion, my mind searched for something to say. I longed to tell her that I knew how much she loved us.

Finally I blurted out, “I got it Aunt Jeanne Marie. You’re our fairy godmother.”

She laughed softly and said, “Good night darlings.”

Then she turned off the hall light and I listened to her gentle footsteps fade away as she walked down the stairs.

In the dark, I rolled over on my back and tucked my hands underneath my head. I stretched out my legs and crossed my ankles and stared up at the ceiling.

Yeah, that’s it. She’s our fairy godmother. Just for me and my brothers and sisters.

I didn’t really believe there were angels on my bedpost. But, Aunt Jeanne Marie was real. And she was there and she belonged to us. I didn’t have to wonder if she loved me. I just knew she did. IHow to get Mojo didn’t have to wonder if she’d take care of us. I just knew she would.

Sometimes we must grow up before we realize, that from the beginning, God was orchestrating our lives. That in this crazy mess of a fallen world, brokenness invades, but God delivers.

I don’t think it’s by chance, who shows up or when they arrive. I now think it’s all part of His master plan.

Oh, Now I See

AJM DallasShe always asks the most amazing questions, and today was no exception. At 87 years old, she forgets a lot, but her desire to know how I’m doing hasn’t changed.

So yesterday, after our usual hello’s and how are you’s she asks,

“What flowers are blooming in your front yard?”

At first I thought it was hypothetical. But then I realize it’s almost spring, and this is probably a common question from a long gone era.

“It’s not quite spring yet,” I respond. “So nothing’s really blooming yet. But my Easter lily has sprouted, but there’s no flower.”

“Oh, I see,” She sweetly replies.

Aunt Jeanne Marie is the greatest conversationalist. And since she’s always lived on the west coast, while I’ve lived back east, she’s taught me how to use questions to engage with people.FullSizeRender

Many times we’d be a few minutes into our conversation and she’d stop.

“Wait a second honey,” she’d say. “I need to get a picture of you. Where are you sitting?”

“I’m sitting at my kitchen table.”

“What color is your top?”

“I’m wearing a denim shirt.”

“And your slacks. What color are they?”

“I’m wearing khaki’s.”

“And your hair, how are you wearing it these days.”

“Well, it’s about shoulder length, a little layered, highlighted a dark blonde. And it’s curly.”

“Oh good, now I can really see you. Now where were we?”

I updated her on my kids and grand-kids. Then we talked about my dreams and the ways she could pray for me. We laughed, and we cried. And we marveled at how many years had passed.

And after we hung up it hit me.

I was wrong, my yard is full of flowers.

5e67f-dscn0231_0001Because, Aunt Jeanne Marie, now that I think about it, you planted them there. Grace is in the middle just where you put it. It grew every time you loved me in spite of how flawed I am. Then there’s that patience. Remember how you planted it so deep in the soil so its roots would stay put? You made sure I could see it for many, many years. Oh and that perseverance, that flower is so stubborn. I couldn’t kill it if I tried. You made sure of that each time you stuck by me no matter what I did.

And I think I can speak for all of us when I say how grateful we are. It was you who tilled the soil of our broken lives. It was you who did the hard work so we could reap the reward. It was your love and devotion to a renegade bunch of kids that changed our lives.

So yes Aunt Jeanne Marie, my yard is in full bloom. And it will stay that way for many years to come.


Bitesize Pieces of Perfection

I’m sure it came inside a card I no longer have, but this little strip of paper made it’s way into a box of keepsakes. When I ran across it several months ago, I took it out and glued it into my art journal.AJM I Wish

Aunt Jeanne Marie has often sent me such treasures. When I was younger I didn’t realize their long term value, and many didn’t get saved. But somehow, I began to see these jewels of wisdom and I started tucking them away.

Today, I read this one over and over. Of all the things listed here, my mind got stuck on the, “…ordinary little bite size pieces of perfection…”

It got me thinking – just what does a bite size piece of perfection look like?

So here’s my short list from the past month:

IMG_3908Work has brought my son Daniel from Philadelphia to Florida for two whole weeks. So for fourteen days, we get to talk, dream, argue, and frustrate each other, just like the old days. It’s so wonderful to have my son in the house.

My granddaughter Juliette, who lives in Atlanta, shut herself in a closet to spend some quality FaceTime with me. For about thirty minutes, I got her all to myself. She told me about the recital I missed, her school work, and her latest writing projects. The memory of that conversation still warms me.

I spent the past couple weekIMG_3905s on the road for work. And in those travels, I got to eat at some amazing restaurants. All at no cost to me.

I met a new friend from Phoenix through my blog. Somehow we connected and began to support each others writing. I feel honored when she comments on my website. It’s an odd type of world we writers live in. One where we are often alone with our words. But when they go out to places unknown, and they latch onto someone else, it’s a real treat. So check out my new friend Tanara McCauley’s website. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Sometimes life just gets really hard. And it’s easy to get bogged down in the tough stuff of just getting by. And all the while, God is reaching down and handing us little bite size pieces of perfection. Moments He’s orchestrated on our behalf. But if we don’t take the time to reflect. If we just stay focused on the difficulties at hand, we’ll miss all the ways He’s wrapped His arms around us, and gently held us through the storm.