Tag Archives: Memories

The Phone Call I Never Wanted

Oh Glenys… this is the phone call you never wanted.

I hear the tremor in my brother’s voice. He’s 4000 long miles away, and I say a prayer in my head.

God, whatever this is, give me strength.

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Dad is dying. 

I can hear those three words like it was yesterday. My heart is beating fast and I kneel by my front window like I always do when I don’t know what else to do.

That was one year ago today.

My little grandsons are running around the house. There’s Christmas music playing. I’m setting the table with a cheery red cloth, preparing for a party. And then the next day, I’m on a plane, England bound, where I get to kiss my dad for the last time as he lies with his eyes closed and his hands folded in that quiet, quiet room, with a stuffed dog at his feet and an acorn tucked in his pocket.

Please, God, let me know you are real.

Let my dad be living in heaven.

Let my faith not be in vain.

Let my words, let my words that I write for children, be true.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, there’s this little nagging doubt that creeps up inside me and I wonder what life is all about, and if I really will get to see my dad again, like I told him with absolute certainty on my knees that day in front of my window.

I love you Dad, and I WILL see you again.

I could hear his breathing.

My voice was strong, and in that moment, I was convinced, just like Paul, that NOTHING, not even death itself, can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But today, I’m not strong. I’m not convinced. And I’m trying hard to hold on to my faith, my God, like I’m drowning in the ocean and it’s my only life-line, my only hope and it’s slipping fast through my fingers.

But what is faith? What is hope, the writer of Romans said, if it can be seen?

The day after I kissed my dad goodbye, as he lay in that simple wooden box, I stood in the street just a few doors down the road, while my sister and nieces played Christmas carols in the brass band. The icy wind blew my sister’s hair, and the rain in Wigan was cold. I wondered if my dad could hear them play his favorite carol, as he lay there, all alone.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

I know my dad has been raised. I know my dad has gained that second birth. I just miss him terribly, and there’s this big, empty hole in my heart that no one can fill.

And so as my family gather in England today to celebrate and remember the life of the most Christ-like man I have ever known, the one I was utterly, utterly privileged to call Dad, I will take a walk in these Michigan wintry woods, and I’ll admire the splendid trees, all covered in soft snow, and I’ll listen for the birds he loved so much, and I’ll thank God that my dad, my wonderful dad, is in heaven.

The Big Surprise… and Christmas Love Letters Giveaway Number 7

I loved Christmas when I was a girl.

I remember when my mum discovered ‘catalogs’… the perfect, stress-free way to shop for Christmas for all eight of us. We would pore over the pages, and then she would order what we wanted.

One year was a big disappointment. It must only have been a few days before Christmas when she broke the devastating news to an expectant ten year old:

Glenys, I’m sorry, but your pogo stick didn’t arrive. You’ll have to choose something else.

I didn’t want anything else. I wanted a pogo stick so I could boing up and down the driveway to my heart’s content. I don’t even remember what I chose as an alternative.

But what I DO remember is coming downstairs that Christmas morning, waiting patiently outside the living room for all my siblings to line up, and then opening the door to see…

a POGO STICK!

It had arrived after all, and my dad had dutifully hidden it away in the back of his wardrobe so it wouldn’t be seen. (He’d also forgotten to tell my mum). How excited she must have been to be able to surprise me with that gift after all.

I was a happy little girl, and spent the next several months boinging away happily to my heart’s content, up and down the drive. It was the best surprise ever.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without surprises. A little baby, in a manger, who would grow up to be King of the Whole World… what could be more surprising than that?

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Traci Smith, a Presbyterian pastor in San Antonio, has a Christmas surprise for her two young sons. She wrapped up 25 books and beginning December 1st,  they’ll open one book a day until the 25th.

And can you guess which book they’ll save for last? It’s Christmas Love Letters from God. What a wonderful surprise for me to find that out!

Read her post and be sure to enter the Christmas Love Letters from God giveaway. You never know… you might win.

What a lovely surprise that would be!

Why You Should Always Read the Author’s Dedication…

I’ll never forget the thrill of writing the dedication in my first book.

This book is dedicated to the oldest and youngest members of my family…. I wrote.

To my dad, Harry Hughes, who first told me the wonderful Story of Jesus. And to my grandchildren, Xander, Sam, and Brixham, who are just beginning to hear the wonderful Story for themselves.

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When I penned those words I was nervous. I wasn’t sure whether my dad, frail at 90, would ever be able to hold that book, or turn its pages, or see that it was dedicated to him, or even remember that his daughter was the author. But he did. I have the photograph to prove it:

My dad & I B&W

And how glad I was, because he never did get to hold my second book. He died while it was in the mail on its way to him, all wrapped up in Christmas paper, on route over the wide sea from Michigan to England.

If he could have opened it, he would have seen that I dedicated that book to my first granddaughter, newly arrived into the world.

For Colette, my first granddaughter, I wrote. How my dad would have loved to meet her, and lift her high onto his shoulder. But it wasn’t to be.

There is a time for everything, Solomon wrotea time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh.

Isn’t that true?

When the time came for the third title in the series, Christmas Love Letters from God, I was ready when my editor asked, Who would you like to dedicate this book to? 

I knew, straight away, whose name would be printed in the front of this book, and why. And so when Laura Sassi, children’s book author, welcomed me to her blog, and asked me to share the story behind its dedication, I was happy to do so.

Do you know who I dedicated Christmas Love letters from God to?

Read the story to find out…

When Time Flies By and You Never Even Knew…

I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t.

Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, this first grandson of mine managed to turn five years old, swiffed his blonde hair to one side, and knocked on the doors of kindergarten.

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Gone are the days of painting at grandma’s and singing songs at the library together. Gone are the alphabet rhymes and the sensory bags filled with birdseed and pasta. My boy is grown up.

I picked him up from after-school for the first time just yesterday. I was there when the doors swung open and he jumped down from the yellow school bus, laughing and jostling and chatting with his little kindergarten buddies. I watched him swing his back pack onto his shoulder, his laces all undone and his blonde hair blowing in the wind.

He didn’t see me for a few minutes as I glimpsed into his new world. But then, his eye caught mine… and there he was after all, my little grandson running, running, and squealing with joy.

Gandma!!! he squeals in delight.

(Yes, that’s right… I didn’t mis-spell that word. He still calls me Gandma  sometimes).

And I swing him high into the air, back-pack and all, and hug him close. All is not lost. This little boy still loves to see me, and he’s not embarrassed to show it… yet.

This is my Gandma Glenys, he announces loudly and proudly to all his friends, and hugs me tight around the legs as if I might escape. But where would I go… if not with him?

I tuck him into bed that night, and I tell him:

I love you to the moon and back.

He thinks for a minute, before he responds: I love you to… (a little pause here) the mountains and back.

How did he fill my heart like that? I kiss that little blonde head as he snuggles under the covers and closes his eyes.

And I think to myself, seize this time Gandma. Hold on to it like it’s the last thing you’ll ever have, because that gorgeous autumn tree, that one you took a photo of just the other day? It’s leaves are almost all gone. 

And if I could hold on to a season, I surely would… before the ground is covered with what was once so lovely.

 

The Inspiration Behind Snuggle Time Psalms

I’m only about six or seven years old, but already I know that I love to write. I love to read too.

My brother and I, we sneak into my dad’s study and pull the big heavy book from the shelf. We huddle together and turn the pages. Already we’re giggling.

It doesn’t take long to find what we’re looking for… a photograph of a fat bird with a huge, puffed out red chest protruding from under its chin like a ball. The Apple Bird we used to call it. It seemed to us that this strange bird must have swallowed an apple and the gigantic fruit had somehow made its way outside the bird’s skin. We couldn’t believe that such an exotic creature existed… it was so unlike the tiny red-breasted English robin who hopped around our front garden, waiting for my dad to feed it.

This big book of wonder was only one treasure in a room containing many. The shelves in my dad’s study were bulging with encyclopedias and classics and poetry books and bibles.

And something else….

In a tiny corner, in the smallest of spaces, sat a little desk… containing notebooks and paper and pencils. And a chair. It was my desk. And it was all I needed.

I think it may have been at this desk, surrounded by my father’s books and bibles, that I began to write poems. And even though I inherited my dad’s passion for poetry and his love for God’s Word, I never, ever would have thought that fifty years later, I might be able to combine the two in Snuggle Time Psalms.

Snuggle Time Psalms Cover

And all I can think, when I leaf through its pages, is how much my dad would chuckle to see it, and how much he would love it so.

And maybe one day, there’ll be two little children, who will lift it from the shelf, and giggle over it together, and wonder at our great God, who made Apple Birds and English robins, and brothers and sisters, and all things good.

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The Check I Never Wanted…

It was sitting quietly in the mailbox one misty morning. Waiting for me to find it. I knew what it was before I opened the envelope.

International Special Delivery, the important stamp said. I normally love mail from England… it’s always family-sent. But this one was different.

I opened it slowly and pulled out the contents. An impressive logo announced, ‘Zurich Bank’.  So here it was…. the check I never wanted.

Dear Mrs Nellist, Paying the claim on your father’s Adaptable Life Plan, the words said in bold.

Your. father’s. Adaptable. Life. Plan. 

I had to read those words three times and still I didn’t want to believe them. Is that my father? The one with a twinkle in his eye and a love for life?

2016-01-13 22.41.27The one who taught me how to swim, and played badminton with me on holiday?

The one who walked with me through the woods, and taught me how to spot glow worms in the dark?

The one who held my hand when I was in the dentist chair, and read books to me every night?

The one who taught me the name of every insect and every tree?

The one who happily gave away everything he owned, and the only things he ever saved for himself were acorns in his pocket?

Do you mean my father? Surely not.

Because if you do, then I don’t want this check.

What I want is for my wonderful dad to see what I’m seeing… which is a fiercely protective robin, who labored long to build a scraggly nest in a ladder outside my front door; who carefully laid four little blue eggs in there; who chases away every naughty chipmunk that dares to go near her home; who sits on those eggs every minute so that her young can have the very best future possible.

Who, when those babies are born, will watch over them, and love them, and feed them, and nurture them, and teach them everything they need to know about the world….

just like my wonderful dad did for me.

And if I could hug him again, and laugh with him again, and walk with him again, and show him the robin building her nest, I would gladly rip this check to pieces.

But it’s his way, my wonderful father’s way, of caring for me, even though he’s gone.

He’s gone.

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I Wish You Knew. (A Tribute to My Mum)

Her name was Isabella. She hated it, and preferred to be called Isabel. But she hated that too. She thought it old-fashioned.

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I wish she knew now how popular that sweet name is, and how, when I meet that little girl called Bella, she always makes me think of her. But there’s a lot I wish she knew now.

I wish she knew that I married David, whom she adored.

I wish she knew that he became a pastor…how surprised and thrilled she would have been!

I wish she knew that I had four wonderful sons, that my family has grown to welcome three daughters-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren.

I wish she knew that I went into teaching, and eventually became a children’s book author.

Because it’s really due to her.

Those who know me well would never, ever believe that I was a naughty girl at school. But I was. My poor parents were constantly hauled into the headmaster’s office, as he tried to rein in my unruly behavior.

I remember one of those occasions more than most.

I’m sitting in his office, while he glowers at me from behind his big important desk. His black gown is as dark as his mood. I’m sure I deserve to be there. I probably deserve to be shouted at too, but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Perhaps I got caught smoking again, or perhaps it was the time when I nicked someone’s bike from the bike shed and rode off down the road with my best friend. But we had only sneaked away from boring science class to get some fish and chips… what’s wrong with that?

Whatever it was, I’m upset. And that’s unusual too… because I’m a bit of a rebel, and I have a hard exterior. But the headmaster in the black cloak has no hope at all for my future; in fact, he thinks I’m heading for failure.

And perhaps I was.

But that’s when I hear Mum come to my defense. To be honest, I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:

But did you know, Mr Ellis, that she is SO very good and patient with children? I wish you could see Glenys at home. She takes her little niece, stands her on a chair, and they bake dozens of wonderful fairy cakes together. They line them all up on the kitchen table, and fill them with custard and jam. Glenys is so good with her! I just know she’s meant to work with children.

Mum didn’t know that she had just sowed a seed in my heart, that I would one day become a teacher, and out of that, my love for writing for children would grow.

She didn’t know because she took her last breath the day I sat my final exam at college. She never saw me wear the cap and gown, or pick up the pen to write Love Letters from God.

Mum has been walking those gold-paved streets for thirty-five long years. This month, I will turn fifty-seven, the age she was when that cruel illness stole her from us.

I wish she knew how thankful I am, what a privilege it was to be raised in that wonderful home, a place full of laughter, and busyness, and song.

A place where a hard-working lady called Isabel did her best to raise eight children, and saw the good in them when others couldn’t.

I wish she knew.

The Last Time I Saw my Dad…

The last time I saw my dad he was sitting under a magnolia tree.

It was the last time we would smile for the camera together; the last time we would laugh together; the last time we would sing hymns together under its leafy shade. But I didn’t know it then.

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It’s a splendid tree, this love, he said, with that wonderful twinkle in his eye that characterized my dad so perfectly. Just look at it! It’s really at its best. 

It wasn’t quite the truth. I knew it, and he knew it. The tree’s best days were certainly behind it. The tell-tale carpet of pink blossoms on the ground beneath our feet gave it away. But my dad was always one to look up, never to look down. It was the reason he saw the best in everything and everyone.

And so we smiled, and nodded together, and admired the splendid tree.

Now then, said my dad, as he looked up into its leafy boughs. Is that Mr Blackbird? He’s always here love, and he’s always singing. Well then, give us a tune.

And Mr Blackbird did. Perched high up on the branch as it swayed in the wind, the blackbird opened his beak and sang at the top of his voice. It was a beautiful tune, shrill and clear, a morning song that carried on the breeze and brought sunshine to the grey skies overhead.

My dad chuckled.

What about this one then? he asked, as he pursed his lips together and began to whistle a tune. The blackbird cocked his head to one side and listened. We waited. And sure enough, there came the obligatory reply. And so it went on: my dad whistling a tune and the blackbird copying.

That was in May, before summer gave way to fall, and autumn gave way to winter.

And on a December afternoon, I found myself kneeling at my front window, saying good-bye to my dad, as he lay 4000 long miles away, taking his final breaths.

Dad, it’s Glenys, I say, very deliberately and very slowly. It’s really important to me that my dad hear these words.

I have something very important to tell you. I can hear his breathing.

I love you Dad. And I WILL see you again. 

I can’t bring myself to say the word goodbye, and so I don’t. I save it for the moment I see him again, lying very still, and peaceful, and quiet.

I slip an acorn into his pocket as he’s lying there and kiss his head.

And on the morning of his funeral, I’m in front of the mirror, getting ready, when I hear something right outside my window. It’s a blackbird, perched high in the treetops, swaying back and forth in the wind, and singing for all it’s worth.

It’s so very loud. And it’s so very lovely. You’d never guess it was singing in the rain that morning, or that the sky above was so grey.

It’s just singing for all it’s worth, that little blackbird…

singing its song for a man who truly taught me how to live, whose legacy of love will last forever, who saw the best in everything, who sat with me under a splendid magnolia tree in May as blossoms of pink covered the ground.

What Happened on the First Day of Fall…

It was the first day of fall when they came to take the silver maple down.

I had loved that tree so much. So ingenious the way the previous owner had wrapped the deck around her sturdy trunk.

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‘Our Shady Deck’ we used to call it. It was like being in a tree house. No one could see you. No one knew you were sitting up there except the birds.

And now she’s gone.

Just this morning I went out there to take one last look. One last photograph.

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And call me crazy, but I even put my hand on her strong trunk and apologized for what was about to happen. I prayed over that big stupid tree who was making me cry and thanked her for the shade she brought, and the squirrels she entertained, and the sheer beauty of her yellow and orange leaves in the fall.

And you can laugh, or snort, or scoff, but I wouldn’t be my dad’s daughter if I didn’t love all living things, and marvel at the beauty of every tree, and respect their place in God’s world.

I was there when they made the first cut, like a mother accompanying her child through surgery.  For three long hours, I endured the incessant whirring and grinding and sawing.

tree being cut

I saw every leaf flutter helplessly away; every branch plummet to the ground.

It’s eerily quiet now.  Even the birds are not singing. She’s gone.

And now when I look up, instead of her leaves, shimmering and dancing, I see blue, blue sky instead.

And what, you might say, could possibly be wrong with that?

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The Story of the Hippo Bucket

Twenty six years ago, a grandma in a floppy hat was shopping In a little seaside town in Spain.

She wandered among the colorful stalls, looking for just the perfect beach toy for her newest grandson. She paused outside the toy shop where buckets and spades swung cheerfully in the Spanish sun and fishing nets stood to attention. And there, on the shelf, sat a little blue and yellow bucket, waiting patiently to be bought.

The grandma in the floppy hat picked the bucket up. It was a hippopotamus, whose nostrils made the perfect watering can. And she bought it for her little grandson.

Grandma & James

That was the day the hippo bucket joined our family… just a little plastic toy that James, my son, loved to play with. Every day of our two week holiday in Spain, he would scoop up the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea and pour them out onto the golden sand. Wherever James went, the hippo bucket went too.  On the beach, in the pool, in the bath tub, the little hippo bucket accompanied him everywhere.

Me and James with hippo bucket

 

We snapped the picture of his little blonde head as he bent over the bucket, gripped the handle in his chubby fingers, and poured water from its nostrils.

James with Hippo Bucket

Somehow, we made room in our suitcase to fly that bucket home to England. And for the next ten years, whenever we went on holiday to Devon, the hippo bucket came with us.

One day a big truck came to our home and delivered twenty empty boxes. We were emigrating to America and our sons were given just one box each, in which to pack their toys and games.

Choose wisely, we told them. Take with you only what is precious.

Into James’ box went the blue and yellow hippo bucket, where it sailed four thousand long miles across the Atlantic Ocean, on its way to our new home in Michigan.

And for the next twelve years it lay in that box, along with legos, and teddy bears, and a little yellow robot.

Until one day James had a son. And when that son was three years old, the hippo bucket came out of the box.

Now it’s my little grandson who plays with it on the beach, who bends his blonde head over the bucket, who holds it with his chubby hand, and pours water from its nostrils.

james pouring hippo bucket

And suddenly I am the grandma in the floppy hat, my blonde haired son has become the father, and his smiling grandma who flew with us to Spain lies in a quiet graveyard in England.

Take with you only what is precious. My words echo back to me.

And even though oceans may separate; even though the waves of time roll incessantly in, erasing our footprints and stealing our yesterdays, I’m holding on to those precious memories and taking them with me…

And when I close my eyes, or watch my grandson play, I can still see that little blonde head, and his grandma on the beach, as the waves roll in on the shore.

James smiling with hippo bucket

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. Dr Seuss