Skip to content

Family

Welcome Home

With our Toyota Venza tightly packed with luggage, boxes of organic produce from a recent co-op order, a power saw, and a myriad of tools, we prepared for an early morning departure. Our kids, recently back    from living abroad, had returned to their home. Six years of renters had taken its toll and their house needed some TLC. Happy to answer their call for assistance in preparing their place to feel like home again, we began our three-day trek from South Texas to Northern Virginia.

It was nice of them to choose my favorite season to move back to the States! The leaves, just beginning their remarkable transformation, already flaunted dazzling shades of golds, oranges, and crimson. Our lackluster South Texas autumns couldn’t compete with this show of brilliant colors, still two weeks from its peak performance. Stuck in the car for hours and hours each day, uninterrupted by the distractions of daily living, I had hoped to get a lot of writing done. But the beauty of the drive hijacked my attention for much of the drive.

As we pulled up to their house, four kids, squealing with delight, madly dashed out the front door. They practically knocked us down as we got out of the car. What a nice feeling to be greeted with such gusto! I found myself wondering if that nice feeling may wane just a little after ten days together with five kids, four adults, and a dog under one roof.

Nope, don’t think about it! Just decide now to lower idealistic expectations of that perfect week where all continually find delight in the presence of the other.

Living in China and Colombia had been an adventure for our daughter’s family. It’s remarkable how quickly deep bonds develop in relationships among temporarily displaced expats. Employed in their own countries’ foreign services, families, homesick and eager for connections, instantly gravitate toward each other. We had experienced this same phenomenon during our years in Vienna, Austria. Our grandkids, sorely missing their friends, spent time every day video chatting. The ability to just click a key on the computer and communicate face to face anywhere in the world still blows my mind.

As our kids prepared for this exciting adventure in foreign lands, there was no way of knowing how the next six years would forever impact their family.

In China they were asked by an American social worker from their church to temporarily foster a Chinese baby, abandoned on the street. They said yes. We all fell in love with that scrawny little baby boy with the big smile. The Chinese government, realizing the extent of his disabilities, decided he wasn’t a keeper. So, the “throw-away” baby came to be known as Hudson Taylor. God has richly blessed our family with an extra measure of joy in this special little guy, lovingly referred to by his brothers and sisters as Huddy Buddy.

Their dog Isa, a Colombian addition, arrived in Virginia soon after we did. After two days of being cooped up in a crate on an airplane, she was overjoyed at her new-found freedom in the great outdoors. They lived in high-rise apartments in both China and Colombia so  neither she nor the kids were able to leave their apartment without an adult escort.

We had put much thought into goals for the week, so we each knew well our individual roles, but with limited resources, I was skeptical how much we could actually expect to accomplish. Due to delay of their shipment of household goods from Colombia, resourcefulness would definitely need to be employed. After the first day, I was impressed by a sense of organization, even in the midst of bedlam. This “organized chaos” had brief frantic moments that caused fleeting flashes of:

 Whatever were you thinking when you said yes?!

After the calming effects of a cup of tea, I reminded myself:

What in the world do you expect with five kids and a dog, running in and out of the house, dodging packing boxes and piles of items longing for a permanent home.

I, Nana, took on the role of chief cook & bottle washer. Since there would be few kitchen accessories, I had ordered from Amazon a round carbon steel paella pan, large enough for one meal dinners (chicken pot pie, lasagna, etc.) to feed all nine of us, plus an occasional visitor or two. At times, it seemed like a never-ending job. I had just finished cleaning up from one meal, and it was time to begin preparations for the next one! But, thankfully, I loved the challenge and the fun of it.

Pop commenced to a’ sawing & a’ hammering. His saw horses provided legs for a large piece of plywood on which he sat his compound miter saw. The screened back porch housed all the tools. The boys, showing interest in the building projects, were given scraps of wood, an electric drill, and screws to create their own masterpiece designs. Thankfully, this kept them busy for hours at a time.

An acre of land to accommodate a garden and wide-open outdoor play spaces took priority over a more spacious house. Simple beds and desks needed to be designed and constructed to maximize space in the small rooms. Our daughter, anxious to be part of the building projects, finished unpacking all the boxes from storage in just a few days. After minimal coaching from her dad and DIY instructions from Pinterest, she launched out on her own to build queen and double bed frames. I’m pretty sure she inherited her dad’s woodworking gene.

Our son-in-law  tackled the basement, painting the floor in preparation for the onslaught of storage boxes. On the nice days his attention was directed to the severely overgrown yard, now covered with a heavy layer of colorful leaves.

Each of the four older kids (ages 8-14) took turns tending their five-year-old special-needs brother: “Huddy duty”, as they affectionately dubbed it. I loved to watch as they smothered their little brother with attention, never complaining or looking at it as a chore. They absolutely adore him and he is always happy to be with them.

I treasured little snippets of daily time spent with each grandkid:

  • A long walk with Delaney, breathing in the crisp Fall air and admiring the beauty of God’s handiwork, while discussing important matters from the perspective of a twelve-year-old young lady.
  • Reading over and over Hudson’s favorite book to him, followed by a tickle session. This boy doesn’t talk, but his language of laughter had all within earshot in hysterics.
  • Special tea time with Aidyn, a budding young woman, about to turn fourteen. As we sipped the nectar of the gods (as she refers to it), she was eager to glean everything she could from my organic gardening experience. In the Spring she plans to build a deer-proof cage for her own garden. She researches the amount of produce it will take to feed a family of seven.
  • Watching Anderson and Sheppard, on the sofa, deeply engrossed in a book or movie, while Hudson lazily lounged on their laps. Often he became so relaxed he would fall asleep.

One excursion with all five kids, searching for a pumpkin patch we never found, stretched into an hour car ride. Somewhat embarrassed by my direction-impaired brain, I quietly prayed that the winding, scenic country road with the same name as one near their house would take us back to where we needed to be. Thank goodness, it did. I imagined their conversation with their parents after we left:

“We think Nana may be coming down with old-timers disease-she took a million wrong turns and couldn’t even find the pumpkin patch!”

More than happy to pose for a snapshot by the giant box of pumpkins in front of Walmart (not exactly the pumpkin picture I had in mind), they knew perfectly well that the reward for self-indulging their picture-happy Nana would be a special treat from inside the store.

Our grandiose goals, coupled with the chaos that goes hand in hand with a big move, could have easily created the perfect storm, but God’s blessings of patience, understanding, and ability to overlook things turned that impending storm into a joyful event. Visits with friends and relatives, sandwiched in between our busy days working on house projects and late evening rest and recovery periods, resulted in ten days that flew by.

We had fallen in love with the Northern Virginia area when we lived there for three years in the late nineties. Close bonds, formed in the church we attended, have continued over the years. In our short time living there, God beautifully arranged the union of two of our daughters with the special young men whom we now proudly call our sons-in-law.

We sadly said our goodbyes, not knowing when we would see each other again, and headed down I-66. My spirit, lifted by sweet family time and all that we had accomplished by working together, plus our excitement in anticipation of visits with other family and friends along the way, provided incentive to look forward, with less dread, to our long drive home. 

The beautiful drive to Virginia, combined with daily walks on quiet streets lined by lofty trees, radiantly clothed in their multicolored dress, impressed an unforgettable picture in my mind.

My soul, feeling peace, granted permission to focus on other matters, like writing, on the journey home. I must record my thoughts before they escape this “old-timer” brain!

 

 

Our Joy Boy

As I at on the sofa in the living room my attention was drawn to the inspirational words on the wall: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.” Overcome with emotion, I peered down at the baby in my arms and then, again, to the inscription on my daughter’s wall.

God, please give my daughter and her family the strength and energy to meet the challenge of caring for this child.

I tried to imagine the night this sweet baby boy in my lap was relinquished.

Did his birth parents feel they had no other options? Was he born with brain damage or did the malnutrition cause it? Where did his parents abandon him? Why did he end up in a hospital instead of an orphanage?

Read More →

SHEPPARD FAMILY 2016 HIGHLIGHTS

20161113_115920

In early January, our long-dreamed-of family vacation to Hawaii finally became a reality (just 1- 1/2 years before our first grandkids graduate high school and scatter to the four winds). The plan was for all of our grandkids and their parents to go, but…

erin-selah-sarahGod’s plans to surprise the lonard-kids-christmas-pictureLonards with a pregnancy prevented their making this trip. We dearly missed them, but our 13th grandchild, Sarah Elizabeth–our little miracle baby–has already blessed our lives beyond measure.

We also celebrated Greg’s parents’ 65th wedding anniversary in Hawaii. Wow!

garden2Greg built our first garden at our Texas house in March. It’s critter-proof because we don’t want to share our organic produce with the deer!

mom-bd-lunchCelebrating Mom’s 82nd birthday at a luncheon in Kerrville.

 

 

choppedsummer-kidsJune was glorious with all the kids and grandkids coming for a visit. One of our favorite activities when together is doing a “Chopped” (the tv cooking show) session. The kids paired off and came up with some tasty creations, all on their own.

nana-hudson-castgreg-hudson-readingWe had the joy of spending Thanksgiving in Bogotá, Colombia with the Turk family. We supervised home school of the older four kids for a few days while the youngest (Hudson-4 years old) underwent surgery to fix his dislocated hips. His full body cast adds extra challenges. We are all praying he will now be able to walk.

des-mom-dadA huge blessing in our family occurred this year when, following years of prayer, we reconnected with our daughter, Deserea. God is good!

 

As we reflect back on 2016 we feel blessed and thankful for you, our family and friends.

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased. Luke 2:14

 

On Turning 60

Welcome, brother, to the 60s club! I am proud to be your sister, but mostly, I am proud of the amazing man of God you have become.

Congratulations! You now qualify for senior citizen discounts. Not trying to make you feel old! Really!

As I recall memories of our childhood, certain snapshots are still vivid in my mind.

I was 5 1/2 years old when you were born, but clearly remember the excitement that cute, little red-headed baby boy brought to our family. You turned one-year old the month before I began first grade in Natalia.sherry, ken, me as kids

Daddy fenced in a giant play yard (palm leaves spread over the chicken wire roof to provide shade) in the front yard. You rode your little trike and played with toys, as Mom cleaned the house, periodically checking on you. How times have changed! I doubt that in this day and age a toddler would be left unattended outside, even briefly.

One day I came home from school to discover you had caused a little excitement in the neighborhood. Convulsions, brought on by a high fever, had given Mom (along with a few neighbors she summoned for help) quite a scare. Needless to say, you were pretty lethargic the remainder of the day.

I believe apologies are in order for the times your big sisters were less than kind to you. I’m not sure what possessed us to come up with the wicked idea to convince you that the eggs in the henhouse were in jeopardy of not hatching unless you sat on them in the absence of the mother hen. Shame on us! But, it did provide a few chuckles. I sincerely hope you find it in your heart to forgive us!

The year we moved to Devine, you entered 1st grade. Sherry was in 3rd and I began junior high as a 5th grader. With the birth of Brian the previous year, our little house in Natalia was busting at the seams. The new house on Transportation Drive in Devine seemed like a mansion. The acre of land, complete with an old barn, offered ample space for hours of outdoor exploration.

Strangely, I don’t have as many specific memories of you after we moved to Devine. I recently read some old letters I sent Greg during my times home from college where I wrote about taking and picking you up from school and activities.young ken I believe you were just entering high school when I was in my freshman year of college. Greg and I married in-between semesters of our sophomore year. By the time you were in college we already had two kids and Greg had accepted his first employment position in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

A special memory of mine is that of you and Brian walking arm-in-arm ken & brian down the path at his wedding and the picture I have of you, Brian, and me. brian, ken, me

So, now here we are, in our 60s, with much to be thankful for-solid marriages, amazing kids who have given  us beautiful grands.

Richly blessed in so many areas of our lives!

I thank God for you and pray that our relationship continues to grow stronger  in this “Autumn stage” of our lives.

Oh, yes, and don’t forget that the 60s are the new 40s! We still have a lot of life to live!

Happy 60th Birthday, Ken!

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln

A Man’s Man

As I pored over photographs,

a particular one, my dad and I performing our Sunday afternoon ritual of reading the funny papers, caught my attention. Sprawled on the living room floor under the swamp cooler, I (four years old), in a summer dress, and he, clad only in his jeans, together, looking peaceful and relaxed. That was how our relationship developed, and blossomed through my childhood. KarenDadComics [38828]

 

A quiet man by nature, he didn’t talk much, but we did things together. I watched him, and I learned.

 

Sunday mornings, I, along with my sister, walked with  Dad the few blocks to attend Sunday School. Mom usually drove to church after she finished straightening the house. It never occurred to me to question attending Sunday morning and evening church. My dad established this priority early in our lives. He consistently led by example.KarenDadSherryDressedUp [38829]

 

When I was nine years old, his employer sent him to work in the devastated area hit by hurricane Carla. He had never been absent over night, so these two weeks seemed an eternity in the mind of a young girl. What an exciting day when he safely returned, bearing presents for my brother, sister, and me. They weren’t expensive gifts, but I thought the frog slinky he brought me was the coolest toy ever!

 

Following the birth of my youngest brother, as I was about to enter fifth grade, our family of six had outgrown our small two-bedroom home. A house in a neighboring town, a perfect fit for our family, came up for sale. An acre of land, complete with a barn and tool shed, provided ample space for a garden, a clothes line to hang diapers to dry, and plush carpet grass to play on.

 

After sealing the house deal, Daddy wasted no time plowing a portion of the land for a garden. I frequently observed his “go-to” book, pages worn from daily use, laying on the coffee table. The author, Adelle Davis, a pioneer in her time on recommending methods of healing the body naturally with vitamins and minerals, presented methods for growing food organically.

 

Many days, after supper, we made the ten-minute drive to our thirty-two-acre farm across town. Much more comfortable with my driving than my mom, Daddy would take his place in the passenger seat, which signaled that I was doing the driving. I much preferred the rustic outdoors to being indoors. A large pond, teeming with fish and frogs, and our small herd of cows added even more motivation for these weekly farm visits. The wide open space provided the perfect setting for us kids to explore without interruption.
Vivid in my mind’s eye was the night I held a light while Daddy assisted our oldest cow (Beauty) with the birth of her breech calf. Arms, deep inside her, he grabbed the stubborn little guy and turning him, assisted him through the birth canal and safely into his new world. Looking back, I am amazed that observing this birth didn’t seem the least bit gross or strange. We had watched, and even participated in all types of animal activities (cattle branding, administering immunizations, doctoring wounds) since we were very young children. Nothing seemed gross, just a natural part of life. We had also been taught the value of life, even that of a tiny calf.

 

I loved to go places with him. Fond remembrances of a weekly Greek class ranked as one of my favorite Dad and Daughter Activities. I, thirteen years of age, and the youngest member of the class, felt special and valued, believing that my dad thought I was smart enough to attend this class.

 

A few times a year my dad was asked to replace and adjust lights at a ballpark in a neighboring town. His occupation, an electrical lineman for CPS (City Public Service) in San Antonio, more than qualified him for this task. On these weekends he was allowed to take his pole-climbing equipment home from work. I felt proud, but also frightened for him, as he made the dangerous ascent up the tall creosote poles. Once at the top, he appeared as a tiny stick figure hanging in the clouds high up in the sky.

 

Although his occupational work required mostly physical labor, he exercised his mind by reading and seizing every opportunity to acquire knowledge. As a result, there was little he couldn’t figure out how to do. This “life-long learning” gene, most likely passed down from his dad, has continued to show up in various members of our family. I feel blessed to have inherited this love for learning.

 

On work days, rising early before anyone else, Daddy prepared his breakfast; usually eggs scrambled with peppers from our garden, bacon, toast, and coffee. The peppers, spicy hot, triggered beads of sweat that trickled down his forehead. As he ate, he read from the Bible and Reader’s Digest..

 

When it came to singing with his quartet, he easily overcame his natural shyness. When they practiced at our house, I, always an enthusiastic spectator, loved listening to their toe-tapping, acappella renditions of Stamps-Baxter songs, such as “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”.  Leading singing at church proved more challenging for him. He had perfect pitch and a beautiful voice, but his nervousness, evident when standing in front of a large group of people, kept him from volunteering too often.

 

My dad, a handsome man, with black curly hair and dark skin, looked younger than his age. Although, standing only 5’8” tall, he always seemed taller to me. A friend from High School, who used to sometimes come home after school with me, shared she had a crush on him. At the time, I thought this to be so peculiar, but it explained why she would always finagle a way for him to drive her home. Of course, I would always go, too.

 

A hard and conscientious worker, both on the job and at home, he would have never considered hiring anything done. Besides, there was no money in the budget for such extravagances.

 

He was highly respected by fellow employees, relatives, friends, and church people.  Ready and willing to help anyone in need, he did so with humility and selflessness. I never observed even an ounce of pride in his attitude.

 

My grandmother (called Mickey by her grandkids), a positive influence in my dad’s life, consistently modeled Godly character. Her unfailing demonstration of these values in our lives spoke volumes. I don’t remember her ever saying a negative word about anyone. She worked hard (even into her 70s), alongside my grandfather, in a hot and dirty plumbing shop, and never did I hear one complaint uttered from her mouth. I will be forever thankful for her example that contributed to the amazing dad he was.

 

Forced into early retirement, he fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. I remember, as a child, feeling blessed to have a dad who lived such a healthy lifestyle, and thought this most certainly guaranteed him a long and good life. I also felt blessed to have had a dad present all the years I was at home. For reasons we had difficulty understanding, God chose to take him much earlier than any of us were prepared for. I always wondered if the creosote (now known to be a cancer-causing agent) in those poles he climbed may have triggered his cancer. Due to the altered state of his brain following the cancer surgery in 1975, he wasn’t the same man I had known as “my daddy.” He lived twelve more years, seemingly at peace with the changed person he had become.

Rare is a man who possesses the integrity and honesty my dad practiced his entire life. A close friend paid quite a compliment by writing a poem for the memorial service entitled “A Man’s Man”:

You really never really know a man

Nor just how much he’s worth,

Until you’ve seen him tested

In the fires of this earth.

The measure of a man is not

The way he uses tools,

But a man is big or little

By how he suffers fools.

It’s not how hard that he can hit

Nor paint his opponent black,

But rather how hard a punch he can take

And still come bouncing back.

If he can laugh a belly laugh

And shiver when he fears,

Or love with all his openness

And not ashamed of tears.

A man will do what he must do

Sometimes that’s all that he can,

But when he does what he should do

Then he knows that he’s a man.

I know an awful lot of males

Acquaintances without end,

But I know a man who is a man

And count him as my friend.

Kenneth Young-As I saw him, by Ben Clement

 

We chuckle at a young grandson who contends that you are not a man until you have your very own pocket knife. I find myself wishing he could have known my dad. This grandson will someday realize what it really takes to be a man and I have no doubt that he, like his great-grandpa, will understand.

“But when he does what he should do

Then he knows that he’s a man.”

 

I feel sure all who knew my dad would agree he demonstrated the attributes of a Godly man in integrity, work ethic, strength of character, and selflessness.

 

He will be remembered as “A Man’s Man”!

 

Welcome, Fall

What a glorious time of year! Here in the Texas Hill Country, it hardly qualifies as Fall, compared to the ones our family knew and loved for twenty four years in Northern New Mexico.

Ahhh….. How well I remember the sights, sounds, and feel of Fall in Los Alamos!

The tall, slender Aspen trees on the ski hill, golden leaves rustling in the wind, displaying their grandeur, invited those willing to take a break from daily routine.

Fall Aspens
Fall Aspens

The air at over 8000 feet was brisk, even in September. Calmness flooded my soul as I sat on the deck of the lodge with a thermos of hot chocolate and a good book. The icing on the cake was watching the kids run up the grassy hill and roll down, pausing occasionally to examine one of God’s wonders that piqued their interest. Too soon this hill would be bustling with people, decked out with snow gear; some daring, ready to tackle the most difficult hill, while others, content to ski the bunny hill. But before the snow completely blanketed the slopes, I took advantage of soaking fup all the quiet, peace, and beauty that Fall brings to this special place.

Already, this year, in early October there is snow on the mountain top and a dusting on the ground. The Aspens, peaking out between the Evergreens, put on quite a show.

Snow-capped mountains
Snow-capped mountains

The sweet aroma of roasting green chile (we call it the nectar of the gods!) at the Thursday farmer’s market wafted through the air as I strolled down each aisle, lingering at my favorite stands. I sampled green chili jelly, hot apple cider, mango salsa. Yum! Inevitably I encountered friends, so it was important to allow time for a chat. In a small town you can’t go anywhere that you don’t see a familiar face.

Oh, and I always had to buy a  chile ristra for my doorpost.

chile ristra

Even in August, evenings might find us sharing home-made ice cream around a fire pit with friends. Getting too far from the fire would nearly always guarantee the shivers.

And then there’s the apples! What’s Fall without apples?! Eating apples, sweet and crisp, and baking apples with just enough tartness to make a good pie, were ready for picking by the end of September. Apple trees, preferring cool weather, grew well there. Since we had no apple trees in our yard, the elderly woman across the street generously allowed us to pick from her three trees. I canned, dried, froze, and juiced. Peels and pulp from juicing provided nourishment for  worms in the outdoor compost pile.

A large box dehydrator made its home in the dining room during this season, providing both warmth and divine apple fragrance (to rival Bath and Body Works Fall air fresheners any day.) Using our hand crank apple peeler/corer, much faster than using a knife, allowed us to process through many more apples in a day. This handy device provided lots of family fun and is a tradition that continues with our grandkids.

Now, in mid-November, it finally feels like Fall in the Texas air, at least in the early mornings and late evenings, but not much evidence in the leaves or our 75 degree days. The Red Oak, one of the only local oak trees to lose its leaves, barely has a hint of yellow in its treetop.

As I sat around an evening fire pit this past weekend with friends…….

And as I take in the sweet smell of roasting chiles in front of HEB…….

And as I smell apples baking…….

 If I close my eyes real tight and use my imagination I can almost feel like I am transported back in time to Northern New Mexico, experiencing the sights, sounds, and feel of “real” Fall.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Stepping into a new season, be it seasons of weather or seasons of life, brings new changes. Not all are as glorious as those New Mexico Falls, but I am grateful for an unchanging God Who walks with me through it all.