The Wonder of a Little Girl

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My Annalise is quite a special little girl.  She has bright blue eyes that sparkle with life.  She has cute little dimples in the corners of her mouth when she smiles and one on her right cheek as well.

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She loves to run around the house in bouncy, toddler circles.  She loves to run on the sidewalk outside our home, her small arms pumping with the joy of childhood.

I am certain that she must be one of the most beautiful creatures in the universe.  There is no sound more beautiful than her high-pitched voice exclaiming, “Mama!”  when she sees me.  There is no feeling more wonderful than when she puts her chubby, little arms around my neck and rubs her soft cheek against my cheek, slowly and lovingly.  I can feel her long, dark eyelashes brush my skin.  She snuggles in and expresses her joy by sighing, “Ohhhh, ohhhh,” like we do when we hug her.

Throughout the day, I will call out to her for fun, “Lisie, Lisie!” which is her nickname.  She responds, “Mommy, Ahmmy!”  I can’t hide my absolute delight in her.  I smile wide and my eyes tell her that she is the light of my life.  She smiles back with those dimples and a look that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

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Recently I gathered some pictures to decorate my mother’s new room.  She just moved to an assisted living home in March.  Now when I visit my mom, my attention is always drawn to a particular picture on her bookshelf.  It is an old photo of me.  I look to be about three, just a little older than Annalise.  I have noticed that I have the same bright blue eyes.  I have those cute mouth dimples.  And there it is, the smile that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

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My mom had told me many times that Annalise looks very much like I did at her age.  Mom also says that she acts a lot like me, sweet and kind but also feisty.  I wanted to believe it, but it wasn’t until I saw that picture did I begin to think, “I was just as precious and marvelous as Annalise.  I was loved and cherished just as Annalise is.”

I don’t know why I had forgotten that.  Somehow the years and my life experiences had told me a different story; that I wasn’t that special, that I had to work really hard to get people to like me, and that I had to worry about losing that approval.

God is taking me back to that little girl.  The one who was the most beautiful creature in the universe.  The one who captured her Father’s heart with one glance of her eyes.

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The one who already had the perfect love that could never be earned, the love that could never be diminished, the love that could never be lost.  That little girl is me… and I really AM something, aren’t I?

I Heard God Serenading Me

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It was late January of 2011.  Christmas had just passed.  It was the bleak midwinter, and Chris and I found ourselves emerged in the cold and snow of Wisconsin.  We were in a situation we never anticipated and were unprepared for, in over our heads and praying for strength and wisdom.

My grandmother, who I always affectionately called “Grammy”, had suffered a stroke.  She was placed in rehab and we expected her to make a full recovery and return to her assisted living apartment.  Then my mom received a call from the fancy, new rehabilitation facility.  A social worker informed her that Grammy had refused all rehab and had hardly walked since the stroke.  Grammy had developed dementia and was deemed unable to make her own decisions.  She certainly couldn’t return to her apartment and the very expensive room at the rehab facility was doing her no good at all.  Yet she was still paying for both places.  We were told that if a relative didn’t come to Wisconsin and become her guardian, she would become a ward of the state.

We all felt that Chris was the best candidate to travel to Wisconsin.  He would take care of Grammy’s finances and get her situated in a nursing home. He was so gifted at organization and decision making. His time as an employee of Home Instead Senior Care had well acquainted him with the needs of senior citizens. At the last minute, it worked out for me to go as well.  I left my seven children with trusted friends and traveled with Chris into the unknown.  I felt a special grace for this time, yet I felt a huge weight of responsibility as well.  Grammy had always been able to take care of herself, being very healthy and as sharp as a tack.  Now at 96, she was to become our responsibility.  I was used to Grammy telling me what to do, not the other way around!

We rented a guest room at Primrose, the assisted living community where Grammy had an apartment.  It was new and beautiful and very comfortable.  We were only supposed to be there 3-4 days which meant our schedule would be non-stop.  We had to see a lawyer and then a judge to be granted guardianship.  Then we had to visit nursing homes and chose one.  We had to visit Grammy several times, of course, and work things out with rehab and Primrose.  We had to think about applying for financial aid.  Although the nursing homes were not nearly as nice as her current home, they charged a lot more, and we had no access to Grammy’ financials until the judge said we did.  Once the judge granted Chris the guardianship, we had to visit all Grammy’s banks and clear out her apartment.  We had to sell her car and forward her mail.  The list went on and on without end.  I kept a pen and paper with me constantly to write down every new name and number, every new appointment.  My mind was so overwhelmed with details that I could hardly think straight.

When visiting Grammy, my heart was torn.  She spoke so intelligently.  She sounded so much like the Grammy that I had always known.  I would think that I was making a horrible mistake by taking control of her life and moving her to a nursing home.  Then she would remind us of why we were there.  She would think Chris was one of the nurses.  She would talk about the “seed soup” that she loved to eat.  It turned out that “seed soup” was just tea with thickener added to it so she wouldn’t aspirate.  That was about all she would ingest.  She had stopped eating most food and had stopped walking.  Yet the nurses would mash up a horrible concoction of all her medications and force her to eat it, usually on an empty stomach.  Awful!

She would take a phone call from her boyfriend.  After a minute, the phone would slip out of her hand and into her lap, yet she would continue talking as if the phone was still up to her mouth.

I knew we had made the right decision, transferring her to a memory care facility.  Grammy was still very strong willed and feisty, and I wasn’t sure that she would agree that we had her best interests in mind.  I told her gently that she couldn’t return to her beloved apartment but that we would be moving some of her things to a new place.  She became so upset that she started feeling sick and displaying all manner of symptoms.  Then she promptly fell asleep, sitting up and in the middle of our conversation.  I prayed desperately that God would comfort her.  She woke up a few minutes later and was in much better spirits.

It was Tuesday morning and like every other morning of the trip, I woke up at 4am and my stomach fluttered with nervousness.  I felt so overwhelmed with all we had to do that day, and it seemed like more than we could handle.  In addition, I was supposed to be flying home on Wednesday to be with the children.  There was a historic winter storm with blizzard conditions and freezing rain from the Rockies to New England.  The airports were being shut down, and I wouldn’t be able to fly home.  My heart ached for my children.  I hated to ask our baby sitters to stay with them for a whole week, but we had no choice.

I felt sad that I hadn’t visited Grammy in the past 12 years.  We didn’t have the money to travel to see her, and it was hard to coordinate to take the whole family all the way to Wisconsin.  Yet, here I was now, when I had to be.  I was grateful to be able to help Grammy in any way that I could.  Yet we still didn’t have the money to travel, and we weren’t sure how we were going to purchase plane tickets home (whenever the snow cleared) and how we were going to pay our babysitters.

I thought about how we had to go through all of Grammy’s belongings and decide which things she would like to keep with her at Harbor House and which we had to get rid of.  I thought of going through all her personal papers and financial documents, all of her private memories and treasured trinkets, and I felt wretched, as though I was betraying her trust!

I felt awful about putting her in a nursing home.  I wanted to bring her back to Pennsylvania to live with us, but I just couldn’t see how that would work.  Could she even travel?  Would she be devastated to leave the town that she had spent most of her life in?

All these thoughts wouldn’t allow me to get anymore sleep.  I slipped out of bed as quietly as I could and got into the shower.  The spiral of thoughts and emotions continued until I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.

“I just want to go home and be with my children, but there is no way that I can!” I said to God.

Then sweetly and softly I heard God singing over me!  It was a song by Mercy Me that I had heard on the Christian station, and God sang it to me something like this:

“You’re Beautiful!  You’re Beautiful!  You are treasured, you are sacred, and you are mine.  You’re beautiful.”

I felt wretched.  I felt homesick.

God was calling me beautiful!

I felt overwhelmed.  I felt inadequate.  I felt like I was doing everything wrong.

God was calling me beautiful!

And I experienced his deep, deep love for me when He sang it.  It was like the love of a husband watching his wife have a stressed induced meltdown over some silly thing.  He understands her thoughts and knows the depths of her heart.  He is used to her swirling emotions.  He knows that all the details that she is so concerned about will simply fall into place.  He knows that she doesn’t need to worry at all, and her freaking out will accomplish nothing.  Yet he looks at her and he can’t help but love her, despite her failings…because she is his beloved bride. Even though her face is red and blotchy with tears, her husband can’t help but see her overwhelming beauty. He is totally and completely in love with her at all times, no matter what.

That is how God made me feel that day in the shower.  Isn’t He an amazing God!  That He loves us so completely!  His love was all I needed to take courage again and keep pressing forward, through the rest of the week, through moving Grammy’s stuff and moving Grammy and preparing everything that needed to be done before we returned to Pennsylvania.

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Now, years later I look back on that frozen week in Wisconsin with awe and wonder.  It was a blessed miracle.  I saw God give us favor with the right people and witnessed Him work out all of the details.  I got to spend precious time with Grammy.  And the blizzard?  God worked it out for my good.  Instead of traveling home early, I was able to see Grammy comfy and cozy in her new little room.  I got to see her happy in her new home (even though she did call it a “nut house”).  I got to see her enjoy food and walk again!  I got to kiss her and say goodbye before she took an afternoon nap.  It turned out to be the last afternoon nap she would ever take on this earth.  She finally felt at peace enough to let her spirit fly…and I got to be there…while God sang.

 

“He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:17

 

Our Love Story is My Favorite!

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The first time I met my husband, I was in a church gym surrounded by cheap lunch meat and the overpowering smell of raw onions.  My “boyfriend” Jesse had invited me to a sub-making fundraiser for the youth group of his church.  I must qualify the term “boyfriend” by saying that we were in junior high, and our “serious boyfriend/ girlfriend” relationship meant that we had each acknowledged that we liked each other, and on rare occasions our parents would drive us to see a movie together.  This time, my parents had driven me to Jesse’s church.

It was there that Jesse introduced me to his best friend who had just coasted into the gym on a skateboard.

“Anne, this is my friend, Chris.”

And that was the first time I met him, the man of my dreams.  Of course, at the time he was still an awkward teenager who simply said, “Hi,” and then skated off again.

I became very involved in Jesse’s church until it became my church as well.  I went to every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and every special event.  Chris and his brother and mother stopped going to church, so I never saw him.  Jesse and I broke up, but stayed really good friends.

About two years later Chris showed up for the annual youth group retreat. During that retreat, I realized that Chris had been an integral part of my circle of church friends before they had become my circle of friends.  He easily became part of the gang again. We all had a lot of fun.

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We were all together again at Jesse’s birthday party when Jesse blurted out, “Chris, you should take Anne to your prom!”

This seemed like a totally bizarre outburst on Jesse’s part, but Chris answered as though he had been already thinking about it.

“Yeah, do you wanna go?”

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“I guess so,” I replied.  I never thought it would happen.  He was a senior, I was a junior.  We went to different schools.  We didn’t know each other that well.  The prom was three months away.  He would most certainly have a girlfriend by then.

Chris started calling my house a few nights a week.  Then he asked me to accompany him to pick out a tux.  It was on that little date that he asked if I was his girlfriend.

I sat in stunned silence for what seemed like five full minutes.  I thought that in order to be his girlfriend, he had to ask me to be his girlfriend.  Perhaps I had missed something very important during our interactions the past few months.

“I don’t think I am,” I replied.

“Well, do you want to be?”

Again, silence.  I hadn’t thought about it.  I just didn’t know what to say.

“Could I think about it and let you know?”

We got together the following weekend to discuss our relationship.  I told him that I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and when I did get into one, I wanted to be sure that it was what God wanted.  Chris agreed and didn’t seem too discouraged.

Our friendship grew and deepened, and we did go to the prom together.

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We spent my entire senior year just “being friends”, although everyone else knew that we were more that just friends.  We would go on marathon dates that would consist of wandering around the city for 10 hours or more. We became youth leaders and had fun and wild times at church functions.

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We would pray, teach, preach, and put on crazy skits.  I played a party animal and heavy drinker in one skit, though in real life I had never had a drop of beer.  Chris dressed up as a nerdy scientist for another drama.  His entrance into the youth room was supposed to be especially dramatic as flash pots exploded behind him.  Unfortunately the flash pots were poorly timed and went off right in Chris’ face.  His eyes were sprayed with part of the explosion, and they were watering profusely for the entire skit.  Chris didn’t miss a beat and continued to act his part perfectly.

Once, the youth group went white water rafting.  It was great, except there was no white water.  We were floating lazily down the river.  This was ideal for Jesse and me, but Chris required more excitement.  He proposed taking the bailing buckets that our raft was equipped with and using them to douse a nearby raft with water.  Jesse and I insisted that such behavior would be rude and uncalled for and would ruin the peaceful boat trip we were enjoying.  Chris proceeded to fill up the bucket and dump the entire load of water on my head.  As I was dripping and gasping in utter disbelief of the horrendous treatment I had just endured, Chris leaned in to my soggy ear and whispered, “I love you!”

When time came for me to graduate, I had decided to spend a year doing missions with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rather than go straight to college.

For the next year I was training in Texas and then went on outreaches to Belize, Central America and many places in the US.  I would write Chris long, chatty letters almost everyday.  Chris would write maybe once a month.  There were no cell phones and no land lines in the girls’ dorm where I was staying.  Chris and I would plan via letter weeks in advance to talk on the phone on a specific day and time.  I would take my quarters and go to the pay phone in the cafeteria, praying that there was not a line.

Both of us had to answer the question our hearts kept asking, “Is this the person I will marry?”

In my training classes, there was a teaching about laying everything important in our lives on the altar before God.  Being a Christian didn’t just mean believing in God.  It also meant giving Him everything!  I spent a good prayer time with God giving Him my dreams, ambitions, and Chris.  I wasn’t sure that God would give him back.

I knew that I loved Chris.  I loved his sense of humor, his incredible work ethic, and his high morals.  I loved that he always respected his mom.  I loved that he loved God.  I loved his dark brown eyes and his single dimple that would show itself when he smiled.  I truly felt that he was the most handsome man I had ever met.    But perhaps he wasn’t THE ONE. Maybe God’s perfect plan for my life didn’t include marrying Chris.  I was willing to do anything He told me to do.

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I was talking a walk around the lake in the beautiful countryside of the rural mission base when I felt God speak to me so clearly.

Do you think I blessed your relationship with Chris just to take it from you now?”

From that moment on, I never doubted that he would be my husband.  It took Chris a little longer.  He was talking classes at a community college, renting a room from a gentleman at church, working as a waiter, taking impromptu road trips with his crazy guy friends, driving fast in his sporty CRX, using his limited spending money on CDs instead of food, sporting a new bleached blond hairdo, and turning down offers from interested pretty young women.  I was a bit worried about him.

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He decided to fly out to Texas to visit me in May, even though he was basically a starving student.  He must have gotten his answer during that trip.  As soon as he returned home, he drove straight from the airport to the jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring.  I had no clue.  In my slow-moving fashion, I thought marriage would be years away, perhaps after college.  I did have a small scholarship to Eastern College that I was planning on using to study Elementary Education.  Yet I thought God might have other plans.

When my training school with YWAM was coming to an end, all the students were encouraged to ask God for our next step.  I was determined to hear His voice.  There were so many opportunities to be a missionary in any country in the world with YWAM.  I really thought that God would tell me to take everything I owned in a backpack and go to some exotic place.  His answer surprised me.

Go Home.”

I was home only a month when I decided to plan a special picnic dinner for Chris’ birthday.  I wanted it to be a special surprise.  My best friend, Autumn, was over, and she helped me prepare four courses and pack them carefully into a picnic basket.  When my mom heard of my plans, she offered the good china and a special table-cloth.

As I laid out the feast for Chris at our favorite date place (Negley Park), he seemed distracted and hardly ate anything.  After the meal, we sat together on the swings that overlooked the Harrisburg skyline as the sun set and the lights made the city sparkle.

Chris got up and then went down on one knee.

“I had a long talk with your parents….”

He took out a tiny box and I knew what he was going to say!  I gave him a huge hug and again, I was speechless!  I was overjoyed to become his wife, yet I was so surprised, I could not respond.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

I nodded.

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love story 9Eleven months later, we became Mr. and Mrs. Brandenburg!  That was 18 years ago today.  So many volumes I could fill with all the adventures we have had, all the mountain tops and all the valleys, all the joys and all the sorrows, all the faith and all the doubt…but mostly all the love!  Perhaps that story is being written here on this blog, one precious chapter at a time.  It is my favorite story!