Joy Comes in the Morning

A little over a year ago I met a woman named Mari Venezia who has become a dear friend to me and a mentor in my life. God has gifted her with a magnetic personality, and she is constantly talking about the Lord to those who are drawn to her. God has also given her a life full of stories–of sharing the Lord with others, of adopting twice, and of losing a teenaged son. Several months ago I adapted a testimony she gave into an article. I had hopes of the article being published in a particular magazine, but it was not accepted. I’ve decided to publish the article here on my blog, in the hopes that Mari’s testimony will be a blessing to you. By the way, she’s a better speaker than I am a writer, and if you’re looking for a down-to-earth, godly lady with a wide variety of experiences to speak to your group of ladies, I recommend Mari.

Joy Comes in the Morning
By Mari Venezia as told to Addy Forrest

I heard some clattering on the boat dock and poked my head out the door to see what was going on. It was Frankie, my 15 year-old son, looking for his kneeboard. As I watched him there in his red swimming shorts, I couldn’t help but notice how handsome, muscular, and bronzed he was. He grabbed his kneeboard and then raced toward the truck where two teenagers were waiting for him. Steve, a medical doctor from our church, was taking the boys jet skiing. I yelled out, “Be careful!” Before he reached the truck, Frankie whirled around and, with a playful smile said, “Did I tell you I loved you today?” That was one of our games we played together. Each day we would race to be the first to say it. “No,” I answered, “Did I tell you that I loved you today?” And then he was off.

It wasn’t unusual for Frankie to say or do something sweet like that. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he knew how to brighten my day. Just the night before, he had been riding in the car with his dad, Frank Sr., and he saw a flower vendor on the side of the road. He told Frank to pull over. Frank and I were having a young couple over for dinner that night. Frankie told his dad that he really ought to buy roses for me since it was a “romantic” dinner. And he told Frank that he ought to get some for the other guy too, so his date wouldn’t feel left out. He was always thoughtful that way, and the roses were a hit that night.
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Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 3:08 am  Comments (4)  

Princesses

Most young girls I know are infatuated with all things related to princesses. They love dressing up in crowns and royal gowns, and they adore the Disney princess movies as well as the newer line of Barbie movies. (By the way, I’ve never actually seen any of the Barbie movies…) I have to admit that I was a princess-lover, myself, at that age. But I believe there are certain values portrayed in the princess genre that cause me to shy away from exposing my daughter to those particular movies and stories right now. For one, I don’t want my daughter to become infatuated with boy/girl relationships too early. And princess movies and stories tend to portray marriage as love at first sight, giving no idea of what true love is really about. I get really uncomfortable when I see preschoolers playing like they are “in love,” acting out what they have seen in princess movies. Secondly, I think princess movies give the message that becoming rich will make you happy. I’d rather my little girl read a story that teaches that one can be happy even in the worst physical circumstances.

Am I being too picky as I evaluate the princess genre? Perhaps. Am I “straining at gnats?” Maybe. And I’m open to input from those who have different opinions on the subject. Perhaps there are aspects I have not considered. I have to admit that there are some good values in a story such as Cinderella. Cinderella’s good works are rewarded in the end, and the wicked step-relatives get no reward for their evil deeds. (Or is Cinderella rewarded mostly for her good looks and the step-sisters not rewarded because they are ugly? But I digress….)

At any rate, I’m not suggesting that you’re a bad parent or a bad person if you support the princess-producing industry. There are certainly worse things you could be supporting. But I’d like to suggest a few alternative picture books for those of you who are looking for ways to provide stories with good moral lessons for your little girls. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are all books that have recently impressed me with the good moral tone and character lessons that are hidden underneath a well-told story:

1. Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair by Pat Brisson: This is the story of a girl who has beautiful long hair and everyone always compliments her on it. Each night as her dad kisses her goodnight, he says, “Goodnight, my Melissa of the beautiful, beautiful hair.” Eventually, Melissa decides that she’d like to be known for something other than how she looks, so she tries basketball and drawing but realizes she isn’t very good at either. But in the meantime she’s been playing and drawing with the neighbor kids and realizes that one thing she’s good at is being nice to people. When she sees a sign at a hair salon asking people to donate their hair to cancer patients, she knows she wants to do it. So, she gives her beautiful hair away, and when her dad kisses her at night, instead he says, “Goodnight, my Melissa of the beautiful, beautiful heart.” I don’t care for the art in this book, but the story is sweet.

2. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart: Lydia Grace is a little girl living in the Depression era. She leaves her country farm to go live with her uncle who is a store-owner in a city. He’s a grumpy sort of man, and she makes it her goal to get him to smile. She loves flowers, and she begins to plant them everywhere. She brings a lot of sunshine to the store employees and also attracts customers to the store through the beautiful flowers everywhere. She also makes a “secret place” on the roof that is full of beautiful flowers. When it’s finally time to leave, her uncle still hasn’t smiled, but the look on his face leaves you with a sweet impression of the impact Lydia Grace has had on him. The art and story are beautiful, and I think about something new nearly every time I read the book. Also, I can’t get through it without crying.

3. Roses on Baker Street by Eileen Berry (a very dear friend of mine): This is a great story about a missionary kid named Danae who comes back to the states on furlough and feels out of place in her new school. Her dad has always told her to “look for the roses” in life, so she tries to be positive and hopes to make friends. She finally makes a new friend who invites her to her home. When Danae goes inside the home, she realizes that her friend’s mother is a florist and their basement is filled with roses. It’s a sweet story with nice art by John Roberts, who is also a friend of ours.

4. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes: A poor Polish girl is in school with a bunch of girls who make fun of the shabby dress she wears each day. She tells them that she has one hundred beautiful dresses at home. They make fun of her and don’t believe her. One day, the Polish family sends a note to the school explaining that they are moving to the city where they expect to find more acceptance. One of the school girls feels badly about not sticking up for the Polish girl, and she decides to go to their house to try to apologize. When she gets there, she finds that the family is already gone, but she also finds a stack of drawings–one hundred beautiful dresses that the poor girl had drawn. It’s a good story to remind little girls about the pain they can cause another person by making fun of her.

If you have other ideas about stories that teach positive moral lessons to little girls, or if you’d like to discuss the princess genre, feel free to leave a comment!

Published in: on March 13, 2007 at 1:19 pm  Comments (10)  

My Neighbor, Mr. Jacobs

When I was in the third grade, my family suffered a bankruptcy. We lost the house we owned and moved into a small rental house. Even though the rental house was much older and not as well maintained as our other home had been, my brothers and I managed to find the good qualities in the house. We thought it was neat that we had an old-fashioned bathtub that didn’t have a shower. I thought it was fun to use a wardrobe closet, since there wasn’t a regular closet in my bedroom. And my brothers and I were thrilled to see that our elderly next-door neighbor had a huge, smooth blacktop slab outside his garages. I could hardly wait to roller skate on the blacktop, and my brothers were eager to ride their Big-Wheels on it.

We didn’t think to ask our neighbor’s permission, however, before using his property. Instead, we raced out onto the smooth surface as soon as we had a free moment. While I was practicing my twirls, and my brothers were skidding their bikes, our neighbor’s back door suddenly flew open.

“What do you kids think you’re doing on my property?” Mr. Jacobs shouted. “You kids have no right. I don’t want to see you steppin’ foot on my driveway again. You hear? Now get on home!”

My brothers and I tore across the yard to our house as fast as we could. As soon as we got inside, we told our parents what had happened. Mom went next door shortly afterward to try to smooth out the neighborly relationship with Mr. Jacobs, but he was furious and obviously determined to remain enemies with us. We did all we could do. We steered clear of him and were careful to stay off his property.

A few months later, my schoolteacher gave our class an unusual assignment. We were to each write a kind letter to someone who we thought could use a bit of encouragement. It could be a family member, a neighbor, or a casual acquaintance, but the point of the letter was to try to brighten someone’s day. I’m not quite sure why, but I chose to write to Mr. Jacobs. I wrote him a simple letter, thanking him for being our neighbor and wishing him a very happy day. After school, I slipped the note in his mailbox then went home, not telling even my parents what I had done.

After dinner that night, Mom and Dad received a visit from a very tearful and humble Mr. Jacobs. He showed them the note I had written and declared that he hadn’t deserved it. He apologized for being so unkind to our family, and he invited us children to play on his blacktop anytime we wanted. But we were to be very careful of him coming and going out of the driveway in his truck.

From that moment on, Mr. Jacobs was almost like a grandfather to us. He would sit outside and watch us play. He would occasionally bring us candy or other treats. And I’ll never forget seeing him totter down the receiving line at my wedding years later. He was wearing a tank of oxygen, and he looked so frail. As I hugged him, he rasped in a weak voice that he wouldn’t have missed my special day for the world.

I would never have guessed that my simple act of kindness could have accomplished so much, but now I never underestimate the power of a kind note or a soft word. My little note broke down the barriers and opened the floodgates of love between me and my neighbor, Mr. Jacobs.

Ephesians 4:32 “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Published in: on March 10, 2007 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Picnics

What better way can you spend these perfect 70-something-degree spring days than by having a picnic? The kids and I (and sometimes Dan) have been having picnics….everyday. And it’s great. You have no mess to clean up afterward–no messy floor to sweep and no dishes to load into the dishwasher. You just put some sandwiches, pretzels, and grapes into plastic baggies, put all the baggies into a Walmart plastic bag (or if  you want to be really cute, you can use a picnic basket), grab a blanket, and you’re all set. You can go to a park, or your own yard works well too. We’re having a ball. Some people may say that being a stay-at-home mom is no picnic, but I’d have to disagree. 🙂

Published in: on March 9, 2007 at 8:34 pm  Comments (1)  

The Best Seat in the House

When we bought our first home a couple years ago, there were many things I loved about it—the open floor plan, that extra bathroom, the big back yard. And I was especially happy to have my own kitchen peninsula and its accompanying stools. To some women, having a kitchen peninsula is no big deal. To some it just provides extra counter space to deposit junk. Or maybe it’s just a good place to feed the kids their cereal in the morning. But to me, having a kitchen peninsula with stools is a special blessing from God. As I sat on one of my very own kitchen stools for the first time, filled with joy at owning our own home, I thought about the stools I had sat on during my teenage years, and I wondered how God might use mine for a similar purpose.

There were two different young mothers who took me under their wings when I was in high school. Terrie and Susan were best friends, and they and their husbands helped with the youth group at my church. They saw potential in me, for some reason, and each of them invited me over often. I vividly remember sitting on a kitchen stool, opposite one of my mentors, while we cut out cookies, formed yeast rolls, or made homemade noodles. And always, we spent the time talking about how things were going for me at home and at school and how I could better handle my problems. I don’t know what it was about sitting on a kitchen stool that enabled me to open up and talk. I was terribly shy and preferred to listen rather than talk when I was a teenager. Maybe the fact that our hands were busy with other things and our eyes were diverted to the tasks in front of us made me feel more comfortable opening up. Maybe the fact that we weren’t sitting down purposefully to have a conversation about me made me feel more comfortable, too. The conversation sprang up naturally as we did other things together.

I learned a lot during my teen years by spending much of my free time on a kitchen stool. Not only did I learn how to make fantastic cinnamon rolls, the secrets to a great piecrust, and lots of other cooking skills, but I also learned how to handle my teenage crises in a biblical way. By watching my mentors in their everyday lives, I also learned how to submit to and love a husband, discipline children properly, interact kindly with people on the telephone, show friendliness to neighbors, and a plethora of other things. I never did an official Bible study with either Susan or Terrie, but I learned much about how to apply the Bible to my life by watching those godly women.

Now, as a wife and mother, I still use the wisdom I gained during my teen years from Terrie and Susan. And, since I know how crucial their friendships were to me during my most impressionable years, I want the Lord to use me in the same way, to mentor teenage girls.

The Lord has already been putting my kitchen stools to good use since we bought our home. My husband is a professor at a Christian college, so we get to know a lot of teenage girls. I’ve had a few of them over to my house on different occasions. One time, a couple of girls came over to make brownies for their dates to a school concert. This time I sat on a stool and greased the pan while the two girls mixed the ingredients together. I wasn’t surprised when one of them piped up, out of the blue, “There’s a guy in my class who I think likes me, but I don’t like him. What do you think I should do, Mrs. Forrest?” We also have two “campus daughters,” and one of them has, on multiple occasions, sat on one of my kitchen stools, nervously pulling her fingers over and over a strand of her hair while pouring out a dramatic tale of woe and asking for advice on how to handle the crisis at hand. I love helping these girls by sharing with them the wisdom I’ve gained only because I was once just like them, and because I had some great mentors who shared the Bible with me at their age.

My kitchen stools have been used as a tool to minister to people other than teenage girls, as well. My 17-year old brother, whom I don’t see often, came to visit us during Christmas break last year. As I put together a chicken enchilada casserole, Jason plopped onto one of the stools opposite me, tipped it back precariously on its two hind legs while holding onto the counter with his fingertips, and started talking. He shared some struggles with me, and I was able to give him some sisterly advice. While I put the casserole into the oven, my back was turned away from him. I wiped away the tear that threatened to spill out, and I thanked God for giving me a comfortable place in my home for my brother and me to have a good talk.

I’ve noticed, too, that whenever my dad comes to visit, he finds a parking space on one of my kitchen stools (whenever he’s not holding or playing with his grandkids, that is!). He occupies his spot with a mug of coffee and a crossword puzzle in front of him. We have great talks while I tinker around in the kitchen.

I live hundreds of miles away from Terrie and Susan now, but my husband, children, and I still make visits a couple times a year. I’ve found that I’m still not too old to need an occasional visit to one of their kitchen stools myself. Just last summer, Terrie and I were making homemade egg rolls. Terrie stuffed and wrapped the wontons while I supervised the electric frying vat. We’ve both come to expect that these cooking sessions are really chances for us to talk, and I’m not timid at all anymore. As I dropped another egg roll into the vat I asked, “Terrie, how did you deal with your children when they…” The egg rolls were done all too soon and our hungry husbands and children were upon us. The stool time talks sometimes just aren’t long enough.

I’m so thankful the Lord provided us with a house that had everything we needed, plus a kitchen peninsula and stools. A kitchen stool isn’t the most beautiful of chairs, and it isn’t the most comfortable either. But in many ways, I think my kitchen stools are the best seats in the house.

Titus 2:4-5 “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children. To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”

Published in: on March 9, 2007 at 3:23 pm  Comments (1)  

‘Ole Money Bags

I distinctly remember the day I gave my grandma the nickname “ Ole’ Money Bags.” I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and I was spending the day with Grandma Mayhew, my favorite person in the world. We had just walked home from the bank where Grandma cashed a check. I followed her into the bedroom where she pulled a silver box out from under her bed. She unlocked the box with a tiny key and, when she opened it up, I saw a huge treasure! Inside her safe deposit box were several twenty-dollar bills as well as a few one-hundred dollar bills. I couldn’t believe it! Grandma was rich! I looked up at her with a sly smile and said, “Grandma, you’re an ole’ money bags!”

I guessed that she hadn’t told anyone else in the family about this secret box of money. No one would guess she had so much money, since she lived in an old sagging house, didn’t own a car, and never bought anything for herself but the bare necessities. Grandma laughed when I told her she was an ole’ money bags, then she smiled at me as though she liked the nickname. I felt that she had just let me in on her secret. I was willing to pretend I didn’t know about the treasure when we were with the rest of the family.

Periodically, after that day, I would see Ole’ Money Bags giving money to people. I would smile to myself, remembering our little secret. She often slipped bills into the hands of family members who were having money difficulties, she always gave to the offering at church, and she never heard of someone’s need without helping a little. She was so generous. But I thought, anyone with that much money would be, wouldn’t they?

When I was in upper-elementary school, my dad’s home-painting business collapsed. Rather than trying to shelter me from their financial difficulties, Mom and Dad took the opportunity to teach me just how much money it takes to buy groceries, pay for doctor visits, and pay for heat and electricity. They wanted me to understand why I couldn’t have the shoes, clothes, and toys that I wanted so much. I learned to conserve money, and I began to realize that Grandma wasn’t such a “money bags” after all. I wondered how Grandma took care of all her needs with just a few hundred dollars stashed away. Instead of feeling smug every time she gave money away, I began to feel humbled by her generosity.

When I became the first person in our family to attend a university, Grandma was extremely proud of me. She was especially happy that I had chosen a Christian college. Knowing I was paying for college myself, she sent me off with some cash from her box. For the next six years, while I was in school, she faithfully sent a significant amount of money every month to help with my school bill. Often I would start to refuse the money, reminding her of her own expenses. She would always say, “You can’t outgive God. He always takes care of my needs.” In the end, I always accepted the cash, knowing that she was right and that I would rob her of a blessing if I didn’t accept it.

Grandma reminds me of a special woman mentioned in the Bible. The widow of Zarephath, mentioned in I Kings 17:8-16, knew that “you can’t outgive God.” When Elijah asked her to use the last bit of her flour and oil to make him a bread cake, she gave willingly. Miraculously, the widow’s flour and oil never ran out during the drought that seized the land. God supplied that generous woman’s needs and gave her back more than she had given.

I’ve seen the Lord give back to my Grandma and take care of her needs in the same miraculous ways. There was a time when she found some money in a pocket right after she had given a sacrificial gift to a missionary. On numerous occasions she has been given gifts of groceries and money from a Christian couple that loves her. And once, a kind Christian man from Grandma’s church renovated her bathroom, not only donating all the labor, but all the supplies and new fixtures too.

I don’t call Grandma “Ole’ Money Bags” anymore. I’ve gained too much respect for her to call her that. When I talk about her to other people I usually refer to her as something like, “My dear, sweet Grandma.” Grandma’s example has influenced me greatly. I don’t claim to be as generous as she is, but I have found great joy in giving sacrificial gifts to those in need. And, on several occasions, I have received unexpected money after giving a monetary gift. I hope to be as rich as Grandma someday. She truly has more wealth than most people I know, but not in the way I originally thought. Her riches are in heaven.

Luke 6:38 “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

Published in: on March 9, 2007 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment