What a Fall Festival taught our family about Palm Sunday

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It’s hard to think about Fall Festivals near the end of March, but I’m asking you, just for a moment to imagine that it’s autumn. It’s a beautiful fall day in October. The leaves were golden and orange and speckled with brown. A somber reminder that their time on the branch is coming to an end. The leaves quiver and rustle with every breeze curling their ends and tugging them loose. The sky held a thin, white blanket of clouds and at the same time showcased a stellar blue canvas. It was a gorgeous day for a festival. Around the edge of the parking lot, the pumpkins and gourds boasted extra colorful splashes against the weathered, decorative stalks and hay bales. There were bright red and yellow bouncy houses, a snow cone machine and carnival games. Children held balloon animals and stuffed their prizes of wrapped candy into their boots as they waited in line for the cake walk. Parents kept an eye on the kids while talking and laughing with one another. They balanced a plate of barbecue in one hand and held a water bottle in the other.

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The golf course first tee was to the left of the parking lot. There were not many golfers there that day because the tree covered walkway that led to the tee off was blocked. It was lined with all kinds of animals from a local petting zoo. That’s where I found my teenagers. They had no interest in the festival food and games. They were away from the crowds, petting the animals and loving them as if they were old friends. With dirt on the bottom of their jeans my kids took turns moving around the animals. They sidled up next to sheep, llamas, goats, ponies, bunnies and a Scottish Highland Cow named Divot. They hugged the ones that would allow it and pet the ones who didn’t. But there was one animal that stood out that day and it’s the reason I wanted you to think about Fall Festivals at the end of March.

The Donkey 

Have you heard about the legend of the Donkey?

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I’m in my mid-forties and raised Christian my whole life.  I’ve never heard the legend before that beautiful day in October at the Fall Festival. The story made such an impact on our family that I’m sharing it with you now, just before Palm Sunday. According to legend, all purebred donkeys are born with a cross on their back. The marked fur on the donkey is a gift from God. It’s powerful symbolism is used as a reminder of the humble donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.

I mean.  Chills.

How amazing and beautiful is this story?

I took pictures of the donkeys while my kids and I listened to the owner of the petting zoo recite the story. When we returned home, I had to find out more and this Bible verse appeared on my screen.

“Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 ESV)

The Bible verse is clear - “Coming to you....humble and mounted on a donkey...” The donkey signified arriving in peace. Jesus came into the city in the most modest, non-threatening, ordinary way. He rode upon a lowly donkey instead of a magnificent steed.

The legend goes on to say that the Donkey loved Jesus so much that he followed Him to Calvary. Grief-stricken by the sight of Jesus on the cross, the donkey turned away but could not leave. He wished to stay until the suffering was over because of his love and loyalty. The image was forever committed to the donkey as the shadow of the cross fell upon the shoulders and his back. Lore tells us that ever since that day, all pure bred donkeys have this distinction. The donkey carries the cross as a sign that the love of God carries a reward for all to see.

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Do you see how beautiful and complete this story is?  That a donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem and a donkey brought Jesus to Jerusalem? Palms waving and falling at his feet, the crowds acknowledging the prophecy of the Christ, shouting, “Hosanna in the highest.” The donkey represents the ironic beauty of God’s love. Pure and unpretentious. The King of Kings as humble as a servant.

This is why I’ve been saving this blog post since last Fall. There is so much symbolism in the changing of the seasons, the excitement of the carnival atmosphere, the ebb and flow and cycle of life. Months ago, a donkey at a festival showed us the beauty of a legend which reignited our faith. It was a gift of deeper understanding and glorious symbolism of Palm Sunday.  The Lord is the the Alpha and the Omega.  The beginning and the end.  The donkey was with Him in the beginning and a donkey was with Him in the end.







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Bad Days are Lucky

So the other day I had to do this hard thing on my daughter, Sophie’s behalf.  It was icky and uncomfortable and mildly confrontational.  Not fun. When I was younger, (BC - before children) I didn’t mind conflict.  I’d find every elephant in the room or make one up if I didn’t see one. Now that I’m older, it’s different. I want to encourage and support and love people. Not argue or struggle. But several days ago, I had to pull up my proverbial big-girl panties and deal with it.  I did my best to cover the problem in love, use kind words and then move forward.

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A few days before this thing with Sophie, I faced an issue that made my heart get that weird electrical vibe when your body reacts to a mixture of humiliation and anger.  That stinging chest pain that popcorns on all the nerve endings around your heart and face.  The unexpected hurt zapped me in the form of words.  The worst kind. Those words flushed my face and pounded my heart rate into an irregular drum beat. Lopsided and heavy.  A recent acquaintance expressed prickly words directed at me.  I’m human, fearful of being vulnerable but do it anyway, and I’m a writer.  I value words and deeply appreciate their context and believe me, these words stung me on all parts of who I am.

Now I feel like I know you guys.  You are some of my dearest friends, my tribe and loyal readers. A few of you may think about sending me encouraging feedback and uplifting words (I love those messages, btw) to counteract my rough couple of days, but it’s not necessary.  I want to encourage YOU and tell YOU about something more powerful than words.

About how blessed and lucky we are that God and The Universe love to love on us when we’re feeling knocked down and rejected.

After that terrible, awkward meeting when I had to wear my big-girl bloomers and deal with a problem on Sophie’s behalf, Danny and I had lunch at a local deli. Understand that Danny and I having lunch together is a rarity in itself so that was a God wink if there ever was. But the other gift came in the form of the little girl sitting in a high chair at the table next to us.  I promise you, she could have been Sophie’s sister when she was about one-year old.  Those feathery blonde ringlets at the back of her neck, the bright, crystal sky eyes and the widest toothless grin.  That baby girl and I played peep-eye for a few minutes and her breathy, happy, giggle delighted me.  I felt like I was transported to a simpler time, making my own little girl laugh and smile.  That sweet baby even tossed her sippy cup on the floor and looked at me with expectant eyes to pick it up for her.  I know a lot of babies play this game, but for a moment, I slipped through time and it was my baby Sophie.  I was grateful for the gift.  I drove home with tears slipping off my cheek because it felt like God was letting me know that I did the right thing.  I was looking out for my daughter by having that difficult conversation.  I did what mother’s do.  I protected her as if she were still an infant.

But wait. There’s more.

Let’s revisit the electrified, hurtful words - the part-two of the story from the new acquaintance.  I had been mulling it over for awhile.  Bringing it up to Danny at odd times so I could efficiently rehash it.  Discuss it.  Verify for the 87th time that I was reading the person’s words exactly as they were intended.  

The 88th time was one night after dinner.  Danny was in the recliner, feet up, one dog in his lap, glasses resting on the bridge of his nose about to open his latest good read.  I broke the silence and said, “It makes me not want to get out of my hermit shell.”

He sighs, moves his legs so they cross at the ankle, takes his readers off and turns to face me.  He knew where this was going. “What’s that?”

“It makes me not want to meet new people.  Stay to myself like I did for so many years.  Not leave the house. Shell up.  Become like turtles.”

“You’re going to let the words of one person keep you from going out and meeting new people?”

“No. I. AM. NOT.  I’m just saying that it makes me *feel* like staying away from people. And *those* words of *one* person as you say, HURT me.  So if it’s okay with you, I want to circle the wagons for awhile. Stay in. Alright?”

He nods, holds up his hands in surrender. “Okay. I get it.”

Just then.  (I pinky-promise this happened.) I got a text message from a friend that I had not seen in a month of Sundays.  It had been forever.  She asked if we could meet for lunch and bring our husbands.  I looked up from my phone and said, “Babe.  We’re going out with our friends.  We’ve just been invited to lunch and you know how much fun we‘ll have with them!”

Danny failed miserably at crushing his grin and said “What’s that?  No circling the wagons?  No turtle-ing up?”

How lucky and blessed are we that God is like an Echo dot?  He hears everything but not in a weird, electronic way.  He saw that I was retreating and falling back into my old flight pattern.

Avoid tough issues. (Beats wings.)

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Avoid uncomfortable feelings.  (Beats wings harder.)

Instead of focusing on the positive - my supportive friends, tribe and readers - I was focusing on this one small speck.  This one grain of sand even though I was standing on miles of glorious beach. Focus on the good, more good comes. Focus on the positive, you won’t stay negative for long. Bad things and words are going to happen but we can’t let it be where our heart and eyes settle.

Sometimes we’re lucky when we have bad days, because then we can experience all the good that comes from it: Gifts from above that remind us we are loved and friends who are angels at all the right times.

Mothers who weren't mine

(Edited May 2018)

In the summer of 1999, my fiancé and I traveled to my hometown. It sounded like a romantic idea - visit the place where my life began and share with him pieces of my childhood.  But, looking back, that trip became so much more than nostalgia.

We drove through my old neighborhood and slowed in front of the only house I knew for 21 years. We cruised my high school parking lot, went for ice cream at one of my favorite shops then meandered through one of Greensboro's many historic battlegrounds. For several days, we let the sunroof show us the stars and street lights of a not-so-big downtown. It was fun and maybe just a little romantic. There are two moments of that trip that stick out more than any of the others. The first, seeing my guy so interested in my roots, and the second, visiting the memorial gardens.

All the romance just fell away in your mind, right?

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Danny had heard a thousand stories from my family about how much I was like my Grandmother. One of the places he wanted to visit was her final resting place. He admitted that it was foolish, but added rather shyly that he wanted to talk with her. Hand in hand, we climbed the small hill and followed the pathway to the columbarium. It was darker and cooler than I remembered but we found my grandparent's nameplates almost immediately that it was as if I had just been there. I settled myself on the bench inside the small, musty room and watched as my future husband touched her name. He began whispering, barely a sound from his lips. He made promises to take care of her granddaughter, her namesake. It moved me but the longer I observed him, the more intimate the conversation and it seemed almost intrusive for me to be there. I decided to slip away into the adjoining gardens and I allowed the path to lead me to another special place I wanted to visit.

A newer columbarium was built down the hill.  I followed the walkway lined with dogwoods and azalea bushes. I took a deep breath, whispered my own words of encouragement then opened the doors in a beautiful marble entrance. I went to the room where I knew she was. I found her name on the wall and as soon as I saw it, my chest filled with all the pains of pent-up emotion.  I crumbled onto the bench in the center of the room. There was no one there so my tears and visible grief were uninhibited. After a few minutes of hard crying, I wiped my eyes and nose on the edge of my sleeve. Even alone, this embarrassed me and I couldn't help but laugh. Wiping tears on my sleeve in front of this woman I was grieving who had so much class and dignity.  Her grace was like no other and she was a gorgeous combination of Jackie O's style and Lucille Ball's captivating eyes.  Her brilliant smile joined her eyes connected with marble chisled rose cherry cheeks. 

She was my best friend's mother but she was like my mom too. She helped raised me since I was at her house a great deal of my middle and high school years. She cared for me and she loved me. We lost her beautiful spirit when we were only in our twenties. The pain was dreadful for me, but I couldn't imagine what her daughter was experiencing. Why take her mom? She was kind, generous and compassionate. She loved children, those who were her own and her children's friends.

Danny found me as I was drying my eyes with an unused section of my sleeve. He moved in beside me on the bench, offered a handkerchief that I could've used 15 minutes before and held my hand. He let a few moments pass then said, "Tell me about her." And I did. For over an hour. 

History repeats itself

Many, many years later, I had bosses who were a husband and wife team of a local school uniform store. They had two young, grown children - a son and a daughter - the same as my childhood friend. Unexpectedly and without reason, their mother died. Here again, I was faced with a death so sudden and untimely that mirrored the pain of so many years ago - watching two children - in their twenties deal with the white-hot pain of loss. Everything around them felt lonely and left a huge void in their life without their mom. I loved these two remarkable women. They left behind children and even though they were considered adults, they were still new to life on their own. It never made sense why some mothers are taken away when others seem as if they do not cherish their role at all.

So this Mother's Day and every other Mother's Day after this one means so much to me because I treasure the gift of mothers even more. Mother's Day tangles up a web of unresolved issues and stirs a myriad of emotions, but there are three things that are the clearest to me the older I get.

I am grateful for my mother.

I am grateful that I am a mother of a boy and a girl.

I am so grateful for the mothers who did a damn fine job raising their children especially those who were only given twenty years to do it. And there was no reward of watching their children's families grow. God bless every one of you who do the best you can with your children every day that you're given. Thank you for loving your children and also the ones who claim you as a mother figure in their life. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Seeds to Share: 
Proverbs 31:28 - Her children arise and call her blessed.