Saturday, January 25, 2014


Mrs. Beaver:

We were with the young family of our daughter Anna and her husband, Aaron, at Thanksgiving and again in mid December. One of the joys of the fellowship was getting to see our granddaughter, Brielle, use her first sign language. She was only just beginning to say her first words at the time, but, boy, could she sign the word, "please". (That sign is communicated by patting the chest once with the palms of both hands.)

I don't recall what Brielle wanted in this photo as she sat on the floor of her nursery amidst many of her aunties (our daughters), but she obviously wanted it badly. By the time she'd reached the ripe-old-age of 18 months, Brielle had learned to pound her chest emphatically and repeatedly when she wanted something as she's doing here. And, don't you love the imploring look that went with her plea?

Brielle's new-found ability to sign "please", coupled with her willingness to use manners, makes this grandmother beam. Anna and Aaron have been intentional in teaching their little one her first lesson in courtesy. And their efforts have required perseverance. They began to demonstrate to Brielle how to sign "please" when she was about six months old. They had a wait of nearly a year before they saw results, during which they had to teach and reteach and reteach and... And, that they did. They showed Brielle how to sign the word, helped her tap her chest and then eventually required the sign before they would hand her what she was wanting. They persisted in the training that is the beginning of our granddaughter becoming a gracious child.

Good manners aren't simply a beautiful-but-really-unnecessary bow gracing the top of a nicely wrapped package. We shouldn't think of good manners as the cherry on top of a sundae. Courtesy is an unseen bridge between humans. Honoring others by being polite to them is the bare minimum when Jesus says, "Love others." Here's what the authors of the outstanding book The Love Dare for Parents have to say:
"Manners, at their very heart, are a way of expressing love and showing respect for the intrinsic value in other people, each made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Respectful etiquette displays a practical, living example of the Golden Rule in action (Luke 6:31). It minimizes unpleasantness by looking out not only 'for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others' (Philippians 2:4). It's how we follow the biblical command to 'honor all people' (1 Peter 1:17)." (Stephen and Alex Kendrick, The Love Dare for Parents, pg. 47)
Good manners are God's idea. The Bible makes it clear that treating others with the kindness expressed through courtesy is "walking in a manner worthy of the Lord" (Colossians 1:10). Authors Stephen and Alex Kendrick make a powerful statement about the positive outcome of a parent's effort to teach their child good manners:
"Good manners...warm the heart and set the atmosphere at ease. Polite children make your experience with them a fragrance instead of a stench. They subtly raise the respect level in the house. Isn't that the kind of effect you want your children to have on others? On you?
"By intentionally teaching and modeling good manners for your children, you not only treat them with greater honor and respect, You also help them become a living blessing to others." (pg.46)
I love Brielle's emphatic thumps on her little chest when she wants me to know she really wants something. I feel inclined to lay down my own interests and meet her desires. And, honestly, I feel honored, even if she is only a toddler. Aaron and Anna have begun the process of teaching their first child that manners matter, and those who come into contact with Brielle over the years with be blessed. Manners matter.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Long Slow Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow

Jean Evelyn Montgomery (July 8, 1932--January 16, 2013)
holding her great-great-niece, Brielle, on New Year's Day 2013

A year ago tonight we got the phone call you never want to get. The call that comes after everyone in the house is sleeping peacefully. The ring that jars you. The news that really is as bad as you hoped it wouldn't be.

A year ago tonight we learned that Aunt Jean had fallen. She was eighty, but the news wasn't of the typical broken hip that comes with old age. Just as my husband's aunt was preparing for bed, she had found some reason to go down to the basement one last time. And this truly would be her last time. The impact from the tumble to her head was so severe that upon arrival at the hospital she was put on life support just long enough to allow the family to gather from around the country for their goodbyes.

Aunt Jean's death has stung for a surprising number of people over these past 12 months. This woman--who never married and therefore had no children--lived large. Oh, it wasn't that she made an impact by the world's standards. She never finished college. She never had a title greater than secretary. The largest piece of real estate she ever owned was a tiny two-bedroom house in a humble neighborhood.

Instead, Jean Montgomery lived large by loving large. Her lavish affection enfolded all those in her path. Her arms were open. Her life was open. Her heart was open. She was a woman without an agenda. She simply delighted in being with those she loved. As long as fellowship was possible, she didn't care what the day's activities would include. Aunt Jean loved to learn and was willing to try anything. She a rare individual capable of enjoying her own foibles. She could laugh at herself and didn't mind when others laughed at her.

Aunt Jean loved those God placed in her life--no matter their flaws. She just had this way of being satisfied with who you were. Aunt Jean saw God's giftings in those she loved and delighted in watching talents blossom. She had a way of seeing what was...exceptional...about you, no matter how deeply buried. In turn, her love had a way of making you believe that maybe you could be...exceptional. She left you feeling that maybe you could leave humanity a bit better for having passed through. The broad brush strokes of her affection built others up. Lifted us up, really.

Aunt Jean was openly grateful to God for the gift of the family and friends. And her gratitude to Him spilled over into action on behalf of others. She was willing to listen... really listen...and to care about what was important to you, just because of its importance to you. She spoke kind words. She had a caring touch and a comforting, enveloping hug that made the big bad world go away for just a little while.

Perhaps, however, the greatest legacy of Aunt Jean's love was her service to others. When her sister's husband was killed in an airplane crash in January 1969, she came alongside and helped raise the three boys who were left fatherless. Several years ago, that same sister, Jane, began the slow slide into the abyss of dementia. Aunt Jean, who had shared a house with Jane for over a decade, uncomplainingly picked up more and more of the chores until the full load of running their home fell on her 80-year-old shoulders, all the while maintaining her 82-year-old sister's dignity so well that no one truly knew the depths of Jane's decline or Jean's service. To her last day, Aunt Jean was loving large.

I think the words of her oldest nephew, Dave, may have summed up Aunt Jean's life best when he wrote, "AJ, your unselfish life is an example that will be spoken of to future generations. Your constant love and devotion to your parents, your sister, my brothers and me, and, in fact, everyone with whom you came into contact was a life-changing force for good in a broken world."

May Jean Evelyn Montgomery's love live on! 

You are deeply missed, Aunt Jean, by so many.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Bride Adorned

In October our second oldest daughter, Lissie, was married. I'm just now getting to posting the photos following some recent surgery.

In case you missed it, Eric and Lissie's love story can be found on her blog.

(Credit for all these photos goes to Lauren LaPlante of Lauren LaPlante Photography )

Lissie and her bridesmaids got ready in the basement of the church.

Her makeup artist was her sister, Daria, who had joined the family through adoption three years earlier. Daria learned her skill in her Russian orphanage when the director brought in a makeup artist to teach the motherless teenage girls how to beautify themselves.

The bride had her hair done professionally. However, all the other girls involved in the day's celebration had their tresses coiffed by family friends Bethany (below) and Sarah (not pictured). There was so much hair to be done that sometimes multitasking was required!

While one bride, five bridesmaids (including one sister) and seven additional sisters busily prepared themselves, 16-month-old Brielle, daughter of the matron of honor, patiently paced the floor.

Lissie's sisters, Jaynie and Sarah, laced the intricate corset of her gown.

When the lacing was complete it was time for a bride sandwich...also know as a sister hug.

I had been watching the hubbub from the side of the room...

...but now I stepped in to complete Lissie's adornment by placing the veil in her hair, just as I'd been blessed to do for her older sister, Anna, 2-1/2 years earlier.

And thus the bride was made ready for her groom!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The First Man in Her Life

Getting Lissie ready for her wedding day took a great deal of preparation. But that period of preparation can't be measured in months. Getting Lissie ready to be a bride took years ~ 21 years to be exact.

Long before there was Eric, there was Dad. Throughout her growing up years, Lissie's daddy stayed close to his baby girl. He spent time with her...just her. He listened to her. He cared about the things that mattered to her. He cheered her on when things went well and he held when she hurt. As a result, he had her heart.

Her dad taught her about God. Her dad taught her to read her Bible daily by reading his every morning. Her dad lead her to the cross and knelt there beside her.

By the time Lissie was old enough to approach the wedding altar, she'd been treasured so deeply that she only had eyes for a man who will cherish her and treat her right. She wouldn't settle for a man who didn't love Jesus. The bar was set high as a result of her dad's input into her life--throughout her life. And God answered her daddy's prayers of 21 years for just the right man to stroll into her life at just the right time.

I'm certain the first man in her life thinks his 21-year investment has paid off richly.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Joy...and Pain...for Our Twins

Twins John and Lissie, friends since conception, prepare for change

While our photographers were preparing their equipment to take pictures on the church's second floor, the Lord granted our twins, John and Lissie, a moment alone. In the hush of the cavernous sanctuary, our twins embraced and silently braced themselves for what the day’s “leaving and cleaving” would have to mean for the two of them. This brother and sister had been conjoined at the heart in a fiercely loyal friendship since sharing the womb. But the day had arrived when their friendship had to be remolded as Lissie became Eric’s wife. My heart ached as I looked on even though I knew that Lissie's marriage to Eric was God's perfect plan for her life. So I prayed. I prayed for God's grace to cover them both as they faced such profound change. I thanked the Lord that our twins’ hearts were so closely intertwined as they grew up. I asked God to provide the perfect wife for John. I look forward to the joyous day when it will be his turn to stand at the altar and pledge a lifetime of friendship and faithfulness to his soul mate. Both John and Lissie have learned much about living the kind of self-denying love that a great marriage takes through God's great gift of being twins.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Eric and Lissie's Wedding: Private Moments

Before I post the pictures taken by our wedding photographer, I want to share a few I was able to capture on Eric and Lissie's wedding day.

Each of these is a candid photograph, taken when the couple was unaware of anything but each other.

After the photographer had taken photos of the bride and groom on the church's main floor, she suggested we go upstairs and make use of some empty classrooms. I went up one staircase crossed the balcony, and met Eric and Lissie as they ascended a narrow back staircase. I readied my camera immediately because the couple had unwittingly created a perfect photo op...and I was the only photographer nearby! Eric had swooped Lissie into his arms and carried her up the stairs. The church's hundred-year-old arched door frame made a perfect backdrop for recording this unplanned act of pure romance.

To God be the glory!