Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Child Is Born

After teaching high school French for ten years while my husband pursued his career in law, I was both thrilled and frightened to death to learn I was pregnant.  It was God=s greatest gift to me, a woman=s ultimate glory, yet the timing couldn=t have been worseB or better.  My marriage was in grave jeopardyB was this God=s way of saving it?  It didn=t seem so through most of the pregnancy, yet now I know it was His way of saving me, at least.
Through nine months of sickness, my salvation was in the planning for the blessed arrival.  Through the caring of various female friends and family, and the assurance  that this child was a gift from God, I received solace from the pain of a marriage in shambles.  As soon as the baby began to grow in me, I dedicated him to God, knowing this was His child more than anyone=s. Christian became my life, my opus magnus.
When he was born, complications separated us somewhatB perhaps God=s way of bonding him to his father, because in order to grow into the man he is, he needed us both.  Due to a rare and unforeseen condition, I suffered a great loss of blood after delivery and had to undergo surgery to stop the bleeding.  I remember vividly waking up in the recovery room, when someone laid him on my breast briefly, one smile for a photo, and then I blacked out.  Once I was in Intensive Care, my baby had to visit me in a clear plastic Abubble@ to protect him from picking up harmful germs in the ICU.  I could touch him with my fingers through a small opening in the side of his capsule, but others (nurses, his father, his grandparents) were privileged to give him the caresses I longed to bestow.  It is no wonder, then, the closeness he feels to this day to his grandparents.  As I slowly recuperated at home over months and months, I also gradually took over his nurturing from the nurses, family and friends who cared for us both.
It is an oft-retold part of our family history, this strange time in our lives.  The day Christian was born his Dad's mother flew to California to care for another grandchild who had been critically injured in an automobile accident. I clearly remember her visiting us in the hospital, having a first look at her new grandson, dressed up to catch her flight to Los Angeles. Ten days later, the day Christian and I came home from the hospital, my father underwent open-heart surgery (scheduled months before) in a hospital across town.  My mother moved into my mother-in-law=s cottage in our backyard, and from there she drove across town to visit my father during the day, then back to help with Christian and me at night!  Once Daddy was out of the hospital, he took up residence in the cottage with my mother, where his new grandson spent hours balanced on a pillow on his grandfather=s knees.  It is safe to say that of all the people in his family, both physically and spiritually Christian resembles my father more than any.  NO ONE can convince me that God=s hand was not guiding every step of this bittersweet ballet taking place across 3000 miles and many months!
For the next six years Christian became my life=s work.  I cared for him day and night, experiencing a love I could never have imagined, a love which only another mother can understand.  He was the light in my life, the one common bond between his father and me.  Though the marriage continued on shaky ground, holidays and family gatherings became more special with the focus of a child.  My world shifted to shopping for baby food and diapers and communing with other mothers about the joys and trials of motherhood.

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

READ: 1 Samuel 1:1- 2:2
PONDER THIS: What has been the greatest blessing of your life thus far? Did it come at a price?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chapter 6 - The Hole

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: It's been far too long since I revisited "A Hole in My Heart." I seem to go through periods of avoidance, I fear, because it's not easy to expose the dark recesses of my soul, especially when I'm so glad they are in the past. Fortunately (I hope) I have one friend in particular who won't let me forget my story totally, because she firmly believes someone else could benefit from hearing it. I pray that is so, because for myself and most of my loved ones, the story is either known or does not need to be known, best left in the past. So here I go, dear Annabeal, for you and for perhaps one other who may stumble upon this blog and learn something about herself, perhaps avoiding or else correcting a misstep like any of mine.]

I remember the whole scenario as if it happened last week.  Frank and I were wandering around the mall on a Saturday afternoon.  Of course I had to stop and look at the puppies in the pet storeB I always did.  My mistake was taking this one out of its cage for a closer look.  And holding herB that was what did it.  She fit in my two palms and was all trembly in that spindly-legged, fat-bellied puppy way.  I rubbed my face in her downy chocolate hair growing every-which-way, inhaled her sweet-sour puppy smell, kissed her damp black nose no bigger than my fingertip.  It was the shiny onyx eyes to which I lost my heart, though.  I couldn=t put her down.
He was generous then, and so we took her home.  I already had a name, recalled from some novel or French reading I had done.  She was ANe Touche@B ADon=t touch@B the perfect complement to our beloved ATouche,@ the French poodle I would never have dreamed of owning.  But he had been a wedding present, and I loved him like a childB still the best, smartest, sweetest dog God ever created.  And my husband thought he was so wonderful that we should try to breed him, and so the practical reason for the purchase.
We had a glorious weekend with our new baby.  Monday morning it was hard to leave her and go back to work, but I did, then hurried home to play with her before taking her to our vet to be checked out and started on her shots.  I can still see smiling, bespectacled Dr. RobertsonB we trusted him so, and he was happy to see us adding to our brood.  His hands reached out to Ne Touche where she shivered on the examining table.  He scratched behind her ears, as all good vets do, then with both hands grasped her small body.  As quickly as his smile had appeared, it vanished, and my heart sank as I asked, AWhat=s the matter@  He said nothing for a momentB just donned his stethoscope to listen to her little chest.  It seemed an eternity, yet all too quickly, until removing the stethoscope he looked into my eyes and spoke softly, AShe has a hole in her heart.@  tears flooded my eyes, as they threatened to fill his.  He continued, saying that she could live a long life or die tomorrow, but that she was definitely not a good candidate for breeding, as my husband had intended. That was not the first time I found my heart up against Frank’s head with no chance to win. I was inconsolable, but of course he was “right.” And so we took her back, and I mourned, but tried my best to hide my tears (which he said were “unreasonable.”)
It would not happen the same way today, I know, but then I was only a child of twenty-something. Then he was my god and king. Then I didn’t know I had the same affliction as that little brown dog. The difference was, mine would be healed.
            “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

READ: 2 Kings 20:5, Isaiah 19:22
PONDER THIS: Do you have a painful memory that could be a metaphor for a significant part of your life? What lesson can you learn from it?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Celebrating Life 2014

        It’s been a year of celebrating life for our family from beginning to end. As the old folk song goes, “so early, early in the Spring” we were blessed with the arrival of Carter Rathvon Herring, born to Christian and Andrea March 1. He’s now a happy, healthy 9-month-old with an infectious smile that never seems to quit! We are so fortunate to live close-by, so that we’re able to watch his development week by week.
            June brought a milestone that few are privileged to witness: Charlanne’s Dad, Weldon Fields, hit the century mark, and it was celebrated in grand fashion with several parties. It all began June 1 at the Bender Worship Center at Badin Lake, where he amazed everyone by standing and teaching a meaningful Sunday School lesson. A sumptuous picnic lunch followed. On his actual birthday, June 8, heavy rains didn’t keep some 150 people from coming to wish him well over a big barbecue dinner at Hagan Stone Park in Greensboro. His year culminated December 10 when he received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II!
            In October we were thrilled to have an action-filled visit from Lisa, Sam & John, during which Lisa and John announced their engagement! In a few short days we packed in loads of WET fun at Great Wolf Lodge, high-flying adventure at Richland Creek Ziplining, and a relaxing family gathering at the lake house.
            This year we also sadly said good-bye to several loved ones, whose lives were shining examples of living to serve. Dick Zopf and Don Summers, dear friends from our Chandler’s Grove church family, brought light into many lives with their ready smiles and kind, generous hearts. Linda Beaulieu, as long-time reporter and Editor of the Montgomery Herald, beautifully chronicled many important events in our family history, from the Bender Worship Center to Christian’s return from Iraq. In the fall Bill lost his dear Uncle Harold and Charlanne her cousin Cecelia. At the same time two new cousins were added to the family tree... the circle of life. How thankful we are to know that we can celebrate that those we have lost from this earth are now in their eternal home, where we will one day see them again!
            And that is what makes this “Christmas” the most important celebration of EVERY year! It’s not about the lights and music, the parties and presents. It’s about life– ONE life– the life of the One Who gave life in the beginning, and then gave Himself that we could have life eternal. Without Him– no celebration, no life, no light. With Him, it’s ALL a celebration!

Charlanne & Bill

“Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem!” (Isaiah 52:9 NASB)

Other tidbits:

- Bill continues to reign as “King of 160" in ham radio, while working toward becoming an expert marksman and premier gardener and kraut-maker!

- Charlanne continues to sing with Wing and A Prayer, who produced their fourth CD, “Carry Me Away” this summer. (

- Even though we had to say good-bye to our eldest four-legged “child” Cassie, a certain Treeing Walker Coonhound named “Poppy” has taken over our life (and the house) and (happily) turned it completely upside-down!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Pause, 2013

          It’s been an unusual year, but then what is usual? In March we mourned the loss of a dear friend from high school, one whose acquaintance we had renewed just last summer. In a short time, we shared laughs, fond memories, and deep conversations enough to make up for the lost years. His death was one of those unexpected kicks in the stomach that made us weep not just for our own pain, but even more for that of his wife (also our classmate and life-long friend) and their family.

          Soon thereafter began the wettest spring and summer on record for North Carolina. Heavy rains poured down without a respite for days on end; gardens refused even to sprout due to lack of sun and heat. Slowly, slowly the earth turned green, and then grew more lush than anyone could remember. Bill counted days and watched the grass grow, searching for a break in the monsoons long enough to mow. And what a task: pushing the mower through tall, thick wet grass attached like velcro to the sodden earth, which seemed to suck at the mower’s wheels like quicksand.  We lived inside and looked sadly out to our dogs who seemed to go into a morose hibernation.

          May brought a brief respite from the rain and an unexpected joy with a visit from Lisa and Sam and the wonderful new man in their life, John! In spite of Sam’s difficult time with our North Carolina spring pollen, which was super-abundant due to the unusual rains, we managed to enjoy visiting the fabulous North Carolina Zoo and the nearby Aviation Museum; feeding the llamas and pygmy zebus at the always-fun Lazy 5 Ranch; and fishing and lying in the hammock at the lake. We can hardly believe our Sam will be 7 on December 19! 

Throughout the year Daddy continued to battle “the evil c.diff”– in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities, his body’s struggle to function normally as seemingly bogged down as the lawnmower in our soggy yard. But in August, a breakthrough! As the weather slowly returned to a more normal pattern, so through a miraculous encounter with a God-sent healer a cure was found! Though it’s been around for decades, its unorthodoxy has perhaps delayed its acceptance, which makes little sense, since its cure-rate is an extraordinary 92%! In any case, ever since his fecal transplant (Yes, it’s just what it sounds like!), he has been 100% normal and back to his routine of teaching Sunday School, “radioing” and gallivanting all around Greensboro and even to the lake. We are confident he’ll be around to celebrate the stunning century mark come June 8 of next year!

About the same time as Daddy’s turnaround, we received the news that will change our lives FOREVER. We were all at the lake, including Daddy with his newly healthy gut, when Christian asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. As soon as I obeyed, he placed in them a card holding an ultrasound image of his and Andrea’s first child!!! That’s right– in early March we will welcome into the world Carter Rathvon Herring! Mother and child are doing extremely well, and proud Papa is about to bust his buttons! Christian and Andrea recently moved into the parsonage of the church he pastors, Kendall’s Baptist, which is just about 2 miles from our house, so Grandma is rather excited herself!

And now about the Christmas paws– did I spell that right? YES! One sunny day in mid-September Bill looked out across the field in front of the house to see movement. That’s nothing unusual, since we frequently see deer, an assortment of large birds, even coyotes around the pond. But this movement was swifter and caught his eye with its stark black and white coloring. As it came closer its blaze orange collar showed, and Bill realized he was seeing someone’s hunting dog, since it was early in the dove season. He tried shooing the swift, sleek creature away, telling it, “Go back home!” and “Go find your owner!” but to no avail. By this time she was heading for our backyard to check out our two rescue dogs, Tut and Cassie. Bill came in and called my attention to the newcomer, and I joined him in trying to send the dog away, still to no avail. After a few hours our hearts went out to this obviously lost creature and we gave her a bit of food and water. At the end of the day she was still with us, and the next morning we found her curled up on our back porch. We took her picture and posted it around the community and on Facebook, knowing someone was missing their beloved hunting dog. After a week, our hope was waning, but sooner than that Bill’s heart was lost to her. He began calling her “Poppy” after about 3 days; in a week we had purchased her a house and taken down the postings. When we took her to the vet to begin her shots we learned she had heartworms. Neither of us had been through treating a dog with this life-threatening condition, so we had no idea what was in store. In brief, the treatment is also life-threatening and requires constant monitoring, which resulted in Bill breaking his own iron-clad rule of “No Dogs in the House!” Poppy has now been taken to the beauty parlor by her Dad, and sleeps wherever she wants in the house, including our bed! (Does anyone need a very slightly-used igloo dog house???!!!)  

And so we’ve decided on a pause this Christmas – choosing more deliberately than usual which activities will bring the most peace and reflection on the season’s true meaning. Our gift to each other has four paws – an unexpected but joyous interruption in our routine and a delightful excuse for spending time together with a common focus. We intend to revel more in the time we spend with loved ones rather than scurrying around to find the perfect gift at the mall, bake the perfect confection or put up the perfect decoration. Most of all, we are bending our hearts more frequently in gratitude to our Best Friend, Whose birth we celebrate this holy season.

“A friend loveth at all times...” (Proverbs 17:17a)

“Friends are friends forever, if the Lord is the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never, cause the welcome will not end ....

... a lifetime's not too long... to live as friends."  (Michael W. Smith)

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for His friends.”  (John 15:13)


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chapter 5 - Time to Be Married

I had  had Asweethearts@ since first gradeB in reality just friends of the opposite sex to call Amine@ for a brief time. In high school I experienced my first loveB a dear friend from church whom I dated until I left for college. Our dates were usually with our whole group of friendsB to the bowling alley or a movie, or just going to Youth Fellowship and then a Adrive-in@ (the eating kind, not the movie kind!). I broke up with Steve when I went away to college, from some perverse sort of reasoning that we would no longer have anything in common. Yet he continued to be my best friend, the one I called when things got difficult at school, or when I felt lonely.  I was devastated when he told me he was dating someone else, but eventually they married and I got over my loss, moving on to Asmarter@ guys from my university.
         It was in college, I suppose not surprisingly, that another world began to open up before me, ways of thinking I had to this point been protected from, the world of intellectual curiosity where the Enemy is so likely to attack our belief systems.  I continued to go to church and participate wholeheartedly in Baptist Student Union, and most of my friends and dates were still more like me than not. Though I was almost always on the sidelines of the Ain crowd@ and their parties and activities, I began to crave the adventure that my more sophisticated peers seemed to be having.  Within my own circle of friends I was confident, just as I had been with my church group in high school; outside this circle I was wide-eyed and insecure. I was ripe to be swept off my feet by someone more worldly and seemingly wise, who offered the excitement and adventure of the unknown. 
I didn=t really choose Frank.  I didn=t even notice him across the dimness of the coffee house on the top floor of the college library.  Heaven only knows what made him pick me outB probably the bright tangerine tent dress I was wearing, or maybe the huge mound of acrylic Ahair@ piled on top of my head.  What can I say?  It was the sixties!  And at age twenty I was more naive than today=s eight-year-old.  I had had plenty of dates with Anice@ guys who were vastly more suited to me than Frank.  Instead of sameness, though, I craved adventure, and there was no one more exciting and different from me than Frank.  He was brash, self-confident, and loud.  And because he thought he was wise, and I knew I was naive, who was I to question his self-assurance?
Soon, before I had any idea what was happening, he was telling me not only what was right or wrong, but what to think, how to dress, talk, act, even what to say.  How many times did I go back to my dorm room and repeat the words he had put in my mouth to my roommate, or go home and regurgitate his words to my parents?  How shocked my friends and family must have been to hear such new and radical thoughts come from my mouth.
The long and short of it is, even though the only thing in me that responded positively to Frank was my hormones, even though little about our relationship felt good, it felt normal and therefore right, because like my father and my brother, even professors, he seemed so superior to me, so worldly, wise and in control.  And feeling so naive and stupid, a sentiment he took every opportunity to reinforce in me, I suppressed every Agut@ feeling, every instinct that was my God-given legacy.  My heart aches even now for the lost joy and innocence, for the pain I caused my parents and ultimately myself.
We dated through my junior year, typical collegiate dates: basketball and football games, movies, concerts, family visits.  I was proud to be on the arm of someone so intelligent, even though his harshness hurt me and my parents and didn=t really impress my long-time friends.  He was graduating and heading for law school there on the same campus.  I was impressed by his family=s wealth and worldliness: his father was a New York City executive, and the family lived in a beautiful Connecticut suburb. How flattering that someone like this could have an interest in me!  And besides, it was the end of junior yearB all the girls were hearing wedding bells!
We were engaged at the beginning of my senior year; we married one week after I graduated.  It was certainly not all bad, because we found common ground.  The happiest times were traveling, something I have continued to enjoy all my life. He even began going to church with me, and seemed to take a serious interest in it.  But if I had looked then, I am sure I would have seen the black hole, the hole in my heart.  For years, though, I was just aware of the fearB fear of failure myself (just as I always felt I never quite measured up to the other men in my life), fear of displeasing Frank (because of the shame he poured out on me), fear of his unfaithfulness (because I knew I was a disappointment to him).  I grew more and more depressed, felt more and more hopelessly caught in the web of my own powerlessness.  By giving over the reins of my life to another human being, I had taken them out of God=s hands.  Instead of being wrapped in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father, I had let myself be trapped in the cocoon of control I had allowed Frank to spin around me.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”  (Galatians 5:17)

READ: Romans 11:32, Luke 16:13

PONDER THIS: Examine your heart for a major act of rebellion in your life which had serious consequences. Can you see times God tried to speak to you and you ignored His whisper? If you have not already, you can repent of your rebellion right now, as I had to do myself.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chapter 4 - Assembly by the Sea

          My teen years were as carefree and happy as I believe God intended.  My passion for Jesus was fanned to a roaring blaze, not only by my church, but especially by the North Carolina Baptist Assembly, the AAssembly by the Sea@ at Fort Caswell.  I remember my first glimpse of this special place as vividly as if it were just yesterday rather than over fifty years ago.
I was twelve years old, and felt as grown-up as at least a sixteen-year-old.  My parents had agreed to drive a carload of pre-teens to the assembly grounds on the North Carolina coast, where the youth would spend a week.  I was going along for the ride, but never considered asking to stay.  At this point in my life I was painfully shy, and so was content to ride along and then return home with my parents, likely stopping along the way as my father made calls on the textile mills to which he sold supplies.  It was a great treat for my mother and me to accompany Daddy on these trips during the summer, gliding in the big shiny Buick company car along  Ablue highways,@ stopping in the small mill towns he visited regularly. We=d  spend the night in a modest Amotor inn@ where there were always tiny soaps wrapped in interesting paper for me to collect as souvenirs.
Somehow, though, by the time this particular day-long drive was completed, I had bonded with the other children in our car. Before we arrived at the coast, I had overcome my shyness and was begging to stay for the week.  Driving through the big iron gates of the North Carolina Baptist Assembly, I was immediately enthralled with the spartan white wood buildings clustered inside the old red brick Civil War fortifications.  Or maybe it was just the smell of the sea, the taste of salt when I licked my lips, and the whispering of the wind in the sea oats that hypnotized me.  Whatever the reason, with the two dresses and two sets of underwear I had packed for the overnight trip, I joyously spent an idyllic week that would help mold my teen-aged passion for Jesus.  Every summer thereafter I would look forward to that most special week at Ft. Caswell.  I reveled in the Bible study, the Christian fellowship and the awe-inspiring vesper services at sunset atop the fort.  When I needed to find work my first two summers in college, I was thrilled to be allowed to join the staff, never minding rising before dawn to make jello and slaw, or working in the mid-day heat to sweep the sandy dormitory floors.
I recently had the opportunity to drive through Fort Caswell after some forty years away.  Much has changed, but somehow the sweet spirit echoed down the years in my heart and brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes.  Climbing atop the fort to gaze on the wooden cross that was still silhouetted against an azure sea, I could almost hear the sweet strains of Joey Overby’s trumpet floating on the soft breeze. In my ASenior Autobiography@ written for school when I was seventeen, I confessed, AThree years ago on these sacred grounds [Fort Caswell] I dedicated my life to full-time Christian service....  I have become more aware of God=s eternal presence with me....  To know that my Heavenly Father is guiding me and that my life is in His hands erases all need for any other means of security.@  Perhaps, then, the real cause of my tears was the deep-seated memory of the precious innocence of that time, an innocence I soon lost and yet have now regained.  I thank God that those days were not totally erased from my memory, and that His grace and mercy are great enough to have restored the passion of my youth.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

READ:  Psalm 95: 1-7, Psalm 100
PONDER THIS: Can you remember a time when you were more passionate about your faith than you are today? Ask God to remind you of that passion and restore it right now.