Everything Counts

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I sipped iced tea waiting for my fried chicken salad and looked around at the families with toddlers in wooden booster seats and teenagers playing the peg game on the tables. Two scruffy ten-year-olds were playing checkers by the fireplace while they waited for their food to come. A grey-haired couple over by the barn wood wall was pointing at the vintage portrait of a serious-looking woman in a high, lace trimmed collar, as their waitress sat down a white stoneware plate of biscuits and corn muffins.

I picked up the package of soda crackers my server had brought to go with my salad and noticed that they were thicker than most crackers. I wondered to myself what company had made them for Cracker Barrel to custom label. Curious, I turned the packet over to check and noticed a small box of very small print, so small I reached for my glasses to read the tiny message.  It said:

People often ask us where we got our name. It’s simple—back in the old days, crackers were shipped in barrels to country stores. When the barrels were empty, they were used as a place to hold a checkerboard, a conversation, or both. We’d like to think some things never change.

At Cracker Barrel everything counts: every rocking chair on the porch, every package of penny candy or Clove gum, every country churn on the shelf, every rusty Barq’s Root Beer sign on the wall—everything counts to make us weary wayfarers feel like we just dropped by the ol’ home place for pot roast and mashed potatoes.

In life everything counts, too. Every part-time job we ever held, every softball season we played through the dog days of summer, every great book we ever read, every experience at youth camp, every girl or guy that broke our hearts and we survived, every term paper we ever researched and wrote, every car we worked to pay for, every sweet and thoughtful thing we ever did to help grandma—everything counts.

I have a feeling that people who “make it big” with their worth and integrity in tact, got where they got one small thing at a time, because age and money only make us more—more whatever we are. If we are kind, generous, thoughtful, honest young people, chances are we will be kinder, more generous, more thoughtful old people. If we are responsible, caring, dependable teenagers, we probably will be responsible, compassionate, dependable leaders when we’re older and have more resources.

But if we take the easiest way out, cut corners, and cheat on exams when we’re young, we will most likely spend our later years “covering our tails”, betraying our friends and spouses, and making up bigger lies to cover the last ones.

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The great news is that if our kids are discouraged because life isn’t happening fast enough, or if you are 45 and still don’t feel as if you are where you had hoped you’d be by now, everything counts. Everything matters. Every choice, every failure, every experience—all of it informs and equips the way we’ll spend the moments we have today.

Today I am switching the house around from the look of the busy summer to the warmth and colors of fall. Everything counts:  the smells, the colors, the tastes, the textures, the music…. All of it is intentional and all of it matters if I want those who come through our kitchen door to “love it here in the fall!” I am peeling apples for a cinnamon apple cobbler. I am playing a CD of dulcimer music while I wrap a garland of fall leaves around the bannister of the staircase leading up to the playroom. I am bringing in acorns and pumpkins, cattails, bittersweet, and berries. I will light the rust colored candles and change the yellow tablecloths to the brown and copper ones. I just put on a pot of Bill’s favorite black bean soup and made a pan of cornbread. I say to myself: I have this day! Everything counts.  

Isn’t it about time to set up a new fall puzzle?

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Beans and Corn

I’m a water person (Pisces), born in Michigan and surrounded there by literally thousands of fishing lakes and encapsulated by seas of fresh water we call the Great Lakes.  It would have taken a call of God on my life to make me leave these amazing waters and move to “seas” of corn, soybeans, and wheat.  But that “call of God” showed up when I met Bill Gaither, a Hoosier English teacher who was teaching at the high school near Anderson College.  I was a junior in college when I was sent to that high school to teach the French classes for a teacher who was out for a whole six-weeks period for cancer treatment.

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When Bill and I were married a year later, it took a while for me to deal with the withdrawal from water I felt and even longer to actually fall in love with beans and corn.  As we have since traversed this great country singing, I have discovered that every region has its own particular charm—the desert states, the mountains, the seashores, the towering forests—and the great belly of the country we call “the bread basket of the world” is no exception. 

 

I have grown to love the subtleties of shades of freshly plowed earth; I love the fields at rest, covered with the forgiving snows of winter.  I love the gradual changes from the tender green of miles of winter wheat when all else is still brown and thawing in the spring.  It takes my breath away when the soybeans are two feet tall and thick as fur on a husky, turning all of central Indiana into an expansive, green lawn as far as the eye can see—or, at least until it collides with another infinity of tasseled corn way higher than “an elephant’s eye.”

Folks here have the saying about the corn: “knee-high by the fourth of July,” but, trust me, the corn behind the barn at Grover’s Corners (Bill’s grandfather’s farm) is twice the height of our 6 ft. tall grandson Will.

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By the time the corn is that high, the beans are turning golden, so gold it dazzles the eyes to see it in the late afternoon sun.  And in a week or so, the gold leaves disappear and the stems of ripened soybeans are a brown as rich as the acorns on the oaks.

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Our son Benjamin (who has created several fun projects for kids) used to joke with his sisters about the conversation neighboring farmers must have at the grain elevator when they get together to plan the next season. 

            “What you gonna plant next year?”

            “Oh, I put out beans this year, so I’ll pro’bly plant corn.  How ‘bout you?”

            “Ah, I think I’ll plant beans.  Had corn this year.”

 

There had to be a song about that!  But, trust me, it’s fun among friends who love this vast prairie and are thankful for it!

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We Have This Moment

In my life I have been given many wonderful gifts: lovely handmade embroidered items, expensive works of art, earthy rustic crafts, primitive water paintings on simple newsprint created by the chubby little hands of children. I have been honored and complimented. I have had the thrill of hearing the songs I’ve helped to create recorded by famous singers and sung by congregations in my own language and in foreign languages. These are all gifts I treasure.

But none of these gifts have been so valuable to me as the gift of a rich childhood and youth in a solid, loving, celebrating home. The heritage of a family who loved God and each other, who greeted every new day with anticipation and openness, shaped my values and taught me that life was good. The healthy balance of discipline and freedom, the love of simple things, the respect for all kinds of persons, a deep reverence for God – all these wrapped up in special moments and given to me in the package I call my childhood.

I truly believe that most of what I’ve been able to do with my life has been a direct result of the rich heritage I enjoyed. I am certain that my family gave me a head start on life with a realistic concept of God and His Son, a love affair with nature, and an excitement for living. My home brought me to the threshold of adulthood with a secure confidence that I was loved and a deep responsibility to myself and the world around me for developing whatever special abilities and gifts God had given me.

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My parents always pastored small Michigan churches, so we never traveled widely or were afforded the luxuries some families enjoy. Instead, we learned to celebrate life in simple ways and to create our own special moments and traditions from the raw material of common things. My mother, who was an artist and writer, taught my sister and me to see what many others missed. She gave us a deep appreciation for beauty and books and a great love for words and language. Daddy was the master of spur-of-the-moment parties on a shoestring: a Dairy Queen after church, a roadside picnic breakfast, the presentation of a special dress he’d scrimped to buy for Mother for an important event. It was Daddy who gave me my very own garden spot (even though he had to dig up the thick, green sod to do it) and gave me full rein to plant anything I wanted to. I learned from him the joy of “preferring one another,” as every summer we would take fishing trips to the far north because Mother loved to fish. I remember him digging fishing worms, cleaning bass and catfish until midnight, lugging soggy rowboats into and out of the lakes, and rowing for miles, all just because of seeing Mother get so much fun out of “hooking a big one.”

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At our house everything was an event, and it was to our house that Evelyn’s and my friends always came to “hang out”; we knew that if we needed a place for a gathering of any kind, it was okay to volunteer our place. Mother was the confidante for many a teenager, and it was not uncommon for someone in distress to knock on our door at midnight seeking comfort and advice. It never occurred to me to keep anything from her. She was my best friend. Soon our own children were running to her house whenever they needed someone to talk to or simply a place to be. She taught our son to paint with oils and to see things in a world around him that others miss. She critiqued our daughters’ poetry and boyfriends. She was their best friend too.

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When I married Bill, I found another big, loving family – an Indiana farm family, who loved the earth and celebrated harvests and holidays, Sundays and birthdays with big dinners and warm family gatherings: tables groaning with home-grown vegetables, fresh corn-fed meat, and steaming fruit desserts; children of all ages and sizes scampering around the patriarchs and assorted distant relations; the joyous noise of adult conversation, shrieking children, and spontaneous music.

Because we so appreciate our own heritages, Bill and I chose to live near both our families. We believed there was great value for our children in knowing their roots, which gave them a sense of perspective and continuity. In a society as mobile as the one we all live in, Bill and I feel very blessed that we were able to offer our children a close relationship with their extended family and close friendships with their young cousins and aging relatives. Living close to our extended family has not always been problem free, but we feel the benefits far outweigh any problems.  Good or bad, family is family and life is life. Children need a realistic view of the influences that have come together to make up the sum total of what they are.

As Bill and I welcomed Suzanne, Amy, and Benjy into the world, we drew from the rich heritage we had been given to work toward becoming the kind of caring, compassionate family we believed God wanted us to be. Now our children have homes of their own, and Bill and I find great delight in watching them and their spouses pass on to our grandchildren the principles our parents gave us. We are all still “kids under construction,” fed and nourished in the soil of our shared pasts from the seeds God has planted in us. Just as our parents contributed so much to our children’s memory banks, we are now helping to make memories for our children’s children!  

The home is the natural habitat for growing human beings and shaping eternal souls. Whether we like it or not, we are molding lives … now. Let’s make these precious moments count.  

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The Porch

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“Come sit a spell.” These old words lapsed into disuse for the decades of manufacturing and “jobs in town,” the decades after the farm. But now, thankfully, porches are reappearing on houses and the invitation to share them is back in our vocabulary.

When Bill and I first built our colonial house in the early 60’s, the “porch” was basically a façade barely wide enough to accommodate the pillars and a lawn chair. Our children grew up tumbling down our hillside and fishing in “Gaither’s Pond,” but there wasn’t much porch-sitting going on.

Just before we learned our first grandchild was on the way, however, Bill and I said to each other one day, “Why don’t we build a real porch, upstairs and down?” So we called a builder to explore the possibility of moving the pillars out about 12 or 15 feet, turning two of the upstairs windows into doors, and making porches accessible to both downstairs living and upstairs guest bedrooms.

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Now the porch is like a special summer room, with lots of rocking chairs and conversations. People who used to hurry by afraid they were “putting us out” when we invited them inside, quickly accept an invitation to have a lemonade on the porch. At night when the grandchildren are in their pajamas, we make tea and take snacks upstairs on the porch which feels like a treehouse. We listen to the frogs and cicadas and watch garden spiders crocheting lace between the white porch rails.

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I take my journal and coffee to the porch very early in the morning to talk to God and hear the world coming to life for a new day. When the kids who have spent the night awaken, we eat scrambled eggs and fruit at the little glass table and talk each other’s legs off while the tulips, geraniums and impatiens watch us from the garden that edges the porch steps and the black squirrels chase each other through the limbs of the maples and oak trees in the yard.

Oh! The joy of porches! No house should be without them. If the world is alienated and people are lonely, maybe porches can be the catalyst for bringing us together again.

Come. Sit a spell!

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Love Song To My Life

Welcome!

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At the urging of a close friend, I have decided to write a blog. Now, this is funny, because all my life as a writer I have written short observations of life. I wrote short pieces because for more than 20 years I was traveling every weekend with my husband as part of the Bill Gaither Trio while having and rearing three children very close in age, writing lyrics for the songs Bill and I wrote together, and entertaining a constant stream of friends and guests and, eventually, teen-agers and college students that came through our house.  All this while trying to help run a publishing company, pull weeds in the gardens, teach a college class in Songwriting, keep up the laundry, run kids to a variety of activities and lessons, and keep romance alive in all the ways I could think of—romance with my husband and romance with my life.

I would periodically complain to God asking, “When am I ever going to get to write a real book?" Truth is, I could hardly get alone time in the bathroom, let alone to Hawaii for two months at a time (like male authors I knew did) to write their latest book while their wives waited on them hand and foot.

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The other day I had an epiphany! I’ve been writing a blog before there were blogs and before ADHD was a national epidemic. So I guess I’ll just keep writing what I see and what life is teaching me in short snippets. I hope you will tell me what you see and learn too.

Most of all, I hope we all get better at noticing the beauty in the common things and the miracles we trip over all around us every day, 

For we have this moment to hold in our hands
And to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand;
Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow may never come,
But we have this moment...today.

 
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