Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012...Year in Review

If you've been a visitor of this blog very long, you know I'm a fan of recaps.  I've done a YIR since beginning this blog and, if nothing else, it's fun for me to take a walk down memory lane.  Here's hoping you find some enJOYment too...

January - Our first day of the year began a frantic search for sauerkraut!  I was surprised with a lovely trip to Birmingham for work.  Noah had an epic birthday-palooza.  We purchased our first camper.  And Tim and I discovered impromptu date nights.  We visited a new church, which little did we know at the time, would become our new home.

February - The creation of "Tech Free Family Time" was invented, thanks to two tweens in the house.  My new year's resolution to read the Bible daily spilled over onto Noah and family devotion time.  I kicked Tim out of the bed, but not how you might think.  Kale became my favorite veggie.  We spent our Leap Day doing acts of kindness and surprised the kids with a picnic supper.

March - My first taste of guest posting.  Noah's love of baseball returned.  We tested out the camper in our culdesac.  The kids enjoyed their first church sleepover w/a weekend retreat.  In preparation for our upcoming spring break trip, I developed Camp Rules.  Our first experience of a Lifegroup.

April - The camping trip was everything we'd hoped for and more.  We said good-bye to our dear family cat, Tux.  Selecting our scholarship winner for Austin's Legacy was a goosebump moment.  Noah and I took in our annual Indian Breakfast.  Baseball Season in full swing.

May - Honored to be offered another guest post.  Noah broke his finger playing ball at church.  We didn't think it was broke and basically told him to suck it up.  Needless to say he still hasn't let us live that down! Tim and I were simply blessed with a simple day together.  We were held by loving prayers of friends, family and our Lifegroup to see us through the difficult month of what would've been Austin's graduation...  And it was an unexpected blessing to attend.  We ended the month by sharing our testimony to our new church family.

June - Noah's big game.  Tina's foot surgery.  Which led to a month of accidents...  We planted more tomatoes than ever and loved every juicy bite.  Fishing trips and homemade ice cream.

July - Austin's heavenly birthday was celebrated with a tree of hope.  Staycations.  Noah discovers Andy Griffith.  Tina's mission trip with Ky Changers.  Tim continued the accident curse with a scare in the midst of VBS.  We juggled and still joyfully served at VBS, with downtime at the hospital. 

August - First day of school.  I attempted couponing again...and failed.  Tim had back surgery.  We quickly remembered how much he does not like to Be Still.   

September - I treated Tim to his annual fried chicken birthday dinner.  Tim continued to learn to be still...I learned to be silent.  The beginning of fall festivals and our first pulled pork nachos!

October - Yellow mums...pumpkins (pies, lattes, candles, cookies, carving, painting, oh my word!)...caramel apples...autumn leaves...crisp mornings...bonfires...hayrides...scary movies...candy corn...soups, stews and on the deck, under a cider...Halloween parties...perfect hot tub weather...sweatshirts and hoodies...God's breathtaking landscape in the fall...Plan B Fall Break Fun.

November - a month of Thanksgiving.  Upward Basketball.  Operation Shoebox.  Noah's first deer - and he got 2 for 1!   A new Thanksgiving tradition - delivering meals to those without.  Another blessed RAK in memory of Austin...all month long.  Our first real Christmas tree.

December - Tina's baptism.  Joy Dare.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.  Lifegroup party.  Lots of lovely Family Time.  Lord of the Rings marathon.  A month of #23s...hugs from Heaven.  This Christmas.

The highlight of 2012 for me though wasn't from one moment or event, it was from a single choice.  Choosing to try "one more church" changed our lives.  God has blessed us beyond measure through our new family at EHBC and I'm hopeful for what 2013 has in store. 

What was your favorite moment or memory of 2012?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Faithful Friday: Selflessness

My husband is a doer. 

He most certainly is not a sitter.  Doing so drives him crazy.  About the only time he willing does nothing is when he takes a nap.

You might recall this little tidbit of information from my posts this past summer, when dear hubby had to endure weeks of nothing but sitting due to back surgery.  That was certainly a learning experience - for us both.

So it was not much of a surprise to me when our hot water heater ceased working last weekend that he rolled up his sleeves and attempted to fix it himself.  It happened on a Sunday.  The Sunday before Christmas, which was scheduled to be a rather busy day.

Noah was showering and, as he always does, took nearly an hour.  Halfway through it, he began to holler, "there's no hot water!"  I assumed it was due to the length of his shower, not any household snafu.  As I began washing my hair in the sink a short while later though, I realized he wasn't exaggerating.  A quick and brisk rinse later, I was consulting Tim. 

By this point the kids were late for Sunday school and growing restless, so he ran them over, coming back to do a quick check.  A few peeks, tweaks and fingers crossed, we slipped into the pew just 10 minutes late to worship.  Tim hoped it was fixed. 

Knowing we were leaving directly from there to my Grandma's house, I whispered a silent prayer that we'd return to hot water.  To our dismay, late that evening, we did not. 

Tim awoke at sunrise the next morning, a Monday, but Christmas Eve nonetheless.  He needed to start early so that he could visit whatever store happened to remain open for the holidays in our little town.  It wasn't quite the way I'd planned for us to celebrate or him to spend his sole vacation day.

Several hours and a few trips later, Tim hit his easy chair just in time for dinner.  Grateful for such a selfless and loving husband, we ate our meal while watching a holiday movie, and ended the evening at church for a candlelight service.

There were no homemade donuts for breakfast.  No lazy PJ day full of board games and Christmas shows.  No baking cookies for Santa.  My kitchen was still a mess though, only tools and contents from the closet which holds the water heater replaced mixing bowls and a dusting of powder sugar.

It wasn't the Christmas Eve I had envisioned but it was still very much a gift.  I counted my blessings.  My husband was making sure on his only "free" day off that his family would have hot water all week.  He knew he'd return to work on Wednesday and didn't want us waiting until this weekend when he'd have time again to fix it. 

I realized the sacrifices Tim makes for us every day - without hesitation - and tears filled my eyes, watching my tired hubby settle in for a long winter's nap.  His selflessness is a quality I both admire and strive to have a percentage of.  It's one of the many reasons I love him so.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
- Philippians 2:4 ESV

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

This Christmas...

After the confetti of wrapping paper scraps and pine needles are cleared away, what's remembered of this Christmas?

Fireworks at the parade.  Tina's Baptism.  Hosting our first Lifegroup Christmas get-together. 
Baking cookies with the kids.  #23.  Youth Progressive Dinner.  Christmas movies.  
Impromptu McGuffin pizza party.  Volunteering at the Community Christmas Celebration. 
Our annual No-presents presents day.    Holiday snacks at Grandma's and the annual reading of Luke 2.  Early morning, 9 am Hobbit movie, which led to a Lord of the Rings marathon.   Viewing Christmas lights, while singing carols.  Eggnog shakes.  Hiding presents, then forgetting where they are. 
Noah not yet outgrowing leaving cookies for Santa.  Silly string fight at Mom's Christmas breakfast. 
Joy Dare - #1000gifts.  A surprise sitting for our great nephew Liam.

But, for me, the highlight of the holidays in 2012 will be the way we shared a simple Christ-centered Christmas Eve night. 

Breaking tradition, as is how most of the day was spent, we attended our first candlelight service.

It is something I'd always wanted to do, but when the boys were young, 10:00 pm just seemed too late to venture out.  Calming two excited and hyper-ready to see Santa-kiddos at that hour of the night, didn't seem possible.  Someday we thought...

Time passes.  Lives change.  Children grow.

And we decided this was the year to start something new. 

In the dark sanctuary, one by one, four candles were lit, representing the love, hope, peace and Joy of Christ, and then, from the center, the Christ candle began to radiate light. 

One by one, each member of the church took in prayerful communion, lighting their small candle from the center.  Watching the darkness slowly fade, as a soft glow filled the room, tears found their way down my cheeks.  I was overcome with emotions. 

Speechless from the simplicity and beauty.  Prayerful for the pain still felt in missing Austin, and pausing to think of so many other families hurting this season.  Thankful for the birth of our Saviour.  Grateful for this blessed memory and beloved tradition for Christmases to come...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Faithful Friday: Holding onto Heaven

I'll love you for forever, I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.

Before Austin was even born, I whispered this to him.
Sitting in his nursery to be, hands on my belly, I gently rocked back and forth.

Months later I would repeat this same story, only now looking down on the tiny face
of the beautiful gift God had blessed us with.

Fourteen years later, gently stroking his jet black hair, I whispered those words,
but to only the shell of his broken body. 
My baby was gone.

How does a mother go from the joy of having a child
to the pain of losing one and survive?
Much less, to find joy again?

My joy comes from God.  In knowing Him.
My joy comes from believing my forever exists...someday. 
My joy comes from knowing one day I'll hold my son again
and can sing those words to him. 

This knowledge has me holding onto Heaven.  It is how I live each day.  Not for this world, but for Heaven.  And, it is how I survive.

I'm comforted in knowing the mother we remember this season
endured the same joy and pain. 
But that because of her son, we who know and love Him, will all enjoy forever...

Then Mary said,
“I praise the Lord with all my heart.
I am very happy because God is my Savior.
I am not important,
but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.
From now until the end of time,
people will remember how much God blessed me.
Luke 1:46-48

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger...
Luke 2:6-7

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother...
John 19:25

Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.
John 11:25

For those families in Connecticut, I pray...
for strength...
for peace...
but mostly,
for salvation.
So they may know forever too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Christmas when...

What signals the start of the Christmas season to you?

Putting up the tree?  Lighting the first Advent candle?  Decorating the house?  Baking cookies?  Hearing the first carol on the radio?  When your holiday vacation begins?  Snowflakes.?

Mine may seem strange, but it's almost Christmas when...I watch "Meet me in St Louis" on tv.

You can imagine my excitement when I noticed it recording last night.  Every November, I set it to auto record, never knowing exactly when they'll show it.  I keep telling myself to just go find it and buy it, but I haven't yet.  To me, part of the magic is the surprise of seeing it in my queue.

The family was startled when, remote in hand, I squealed with delight at the holiday find.  They did not share my jolly spirit, much like they do not share my love for old movies.  Tim will watch -and actually does enjoy many "old" shows- but if it's black and white or appears aged, the kids put on the brakes.

Last year, I began discovering Christmas Classics - all those movies I'd heard of, maybe seen a clip or two, but never truly watched, and I made it my mission to do so.  (You'll have to share your favorites with me below.)  But "Meet Me" wasn't part of that, because it has been a treasured favorite for a few years now.

One Christmas break, donning PJ's and beside a roaring fire, I happened upon the movie.  Not yet a full fan of the classics, I was hesitant, but seeing a familiar beautiful face from another favorite, The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland sparked my interest.  One song in and I was hooked.

Taking place in early 1900s, for whatever reason, it reminded me of my Grandpa McGuffin.  The setting, scenes, clothing and music just reminded me of him and made we wonder if his young adulthood was anything similar.  Many of the songs were the same ones he'd sung to me as a child, some of which I'd imagined he just made up, until hearing them on the big screen. 

"Meet Me" isn't even truly a Christmas movie, just having a few scenes that take place during the holiday season, but it will forever be on my favorites list.  And, I'm eager to slip into some PJs with a steamy cup of cocoa and enJOY it very soon!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It came without ribbons...

On Friday, I shared some of our past and expected group parties of the season.  The Lifegroup Christmas meeting was a blessing.  So nice to share our home with our new church family.  My walls soaked up the prayers, as we stood hand in hand, circled around our living room, to close the night.

Saturday, when my uncle Ronnie called, surprising us that he was in from Illinois, an impromptu party began to form.  His voicemail invited us to Pizza Hut the next day, a frequent spot for us to gather when he drops in, but I called back with another offer.

Why not just have it here?

Just like my Uncle, he didn't want to impose.  Or cause a mess.

What is there to mess I say? 
Pizza boxes are easy to throw away.
A home is meant for crumbs and dust. 
Meant to be shared.  That is a must.
Meant to be elbow thick with family piled into one room.
For that is how, with family, love grows and blooms.

And so we did...just because.
And what a beautiful Christmas gathering it was.

How could it be so?

It came without ribbons.

It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

 What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store?

What if Christmas,


 means a little bit more?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Faithful Friday: Crowd Pleaser

I spend more time in groups this month than probably the entire year.  And almost all of them involve food!

Within the past week, we've had Tim's annual fire department dinner, a youth progressive dinner, two company Christmas meals, and tonight, we'll host our monthly Lifegroup.  (Yes, I wear a lot of elastic!)

In a crowd, I'm an observer, a people watcher.  I'll talk quietly with whoever is around me, but for the most part, I'm a wallflower.  As such, I'm normally not one for crowds and will choose a quiet night at home any day, but when they're filled with dear friends, it's something I enjoy. 

Tim's fire dinner was a great time, as usual.  New members mixed with veterans, spouses, and tiny additions.  It was nice to see the next generation coming through, as I sat on the sidelines to support my hubby, salt and pepper hair among the young pups.  Watching him with his second family brings me joy.

Keep on loving each other as brothers. (Heb 13:1)

Sunday night the kids experienced their first progressive dinner.  I helped at the spaghetti house, so I was able to taste a portion of their fun.  They came home excitedly laughing about the dirty Santa game.  We are so blessed to have such a positive outlet for them to be in and spiritual friends to know.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:12)

Tim and I both had company meals this week, making our evening dinners very light to balance out the feasts.  I traveled to Bowling Green, an office I only get to see every month or so, but one that is always a joy to visit.  It was extra special this trip because both my current boss and my former were there.  I consider myself very fortunate to have two wonderful mentors in my career, who motivate and challenge me.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thes 5:11)

And last, but certainly not least, our Lifegroup.  Tim and I are thrilled to host this month's in our home tonight.  Lifegroup is such a new concept for us, even as simple as it is.  It's basically a small group from church that meets about once a month for fellowship, food and prayer.  I remember several months back, as we attended our first, and how hesitant we were.  Our fears were quickly relieved as the warmth, love and friendship we initially felt when visiting EHBC was present just the same in that group.  Over this year, we've shared recipes, tears, laughter, prayers, and grown closer.  We are so glad we stepped out of our comfort zones and into these people's lives, for they've made ours so much better.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.    (Gal 6:2)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yes, God, I hear you!

Tim and I had goosebumps the moment we walked into church this morning.

We have been praying and talking ...and if I'm being honest, hesitating, with the answer God had given us.  So many times in our lives we've seen the good that God provides.  We've been the recipient of "God gifts" only He could know about and send to us.  We trust God and we know he always, always provides. 

Sometimes though, we doubt.  We wait.  We question.  We test. 
And even when He shouts, we still don't listen.

Today, we heard him loud and clear.

We walked in on mission and set out to complete a task God had laid on our hearts for many weeks.  It was something we should've been obedient in doing awhile back, but given the events life dealt us this past summer we just wanted to make sure we could handle the commitment.

Bending down to sign up on a list, I noticed a gap on the page.  An obvious line had been skipped.  At first, I was just going to drop to the bottom and write our names in the next slot, but I glanced back up and questioned why there was a hole.  Moving my finger, I noticed the number in front of the blank line.

#23.  _____________________________

We both just stood there for a moment in shock, awe, and thankfulness for God     (and Austin) smacking us upside the head with grace.

You see, #23 has always been a significant number for our family.  Even more so now that Austin is gone.  It was his favorite, his jersey number, and just a short sweet symbol that has always represented him.  Since losing Austin, we've been blessed with so many signs from him using that number.  Many times it is to let us know that he is ok or he is near, but we also get the number, almost as an Austin hug, to let us know he approves or is proud of whatever we're doing. 

I know God uses the number too, because it always gets our attention. 
And it certainly did today. 

Praying He doesn't have to throw a brick at me to get it next time...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Faithful Friday: Christmas Lights

Driving my mom home this evening, she said something very wise, nestled between shopping bags from our successful outing.

Noah was asking me about our weekend and I was rattling off the packed agenda of the next 48 hours.  December is just a busy, busy month I reminded him.

"But it is also important to pause and enjoy it too," whispers Mom.

Yes, Mom, it is...

Even me, someone who pauses regularly in every day to find joy and give thanks, needs a reminder now and then. Although I'm cautious that what I put on my calendar is Christ-filled this month and focuses on family, it is also so very important to pause in the season and seek God.  To remember the reason and feel his very presence.  To let his light shine through us so that when we share the holiday with others, we show Christmas.

And so that is just what I did.  Shopping bags empty, pjs on, I sat in the stillness of the living room, with only the light from the tree and fireplace glowing.  No TV.  No phone.  No distractions.  Just me - and God. 
I soaked him up, breathed Christmas in...and it was beautiful.

May I be reminded to do this daily.  After all, a week of December has already come and gone...

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
 —2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV)

my sweet nephew, Leeland, sleeping under the lights of our tree this December


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Hodgepodge

So, I'm not quite as organized this year to plan and write a series for Christmas, like the 12 days I shared with you last.  Funny though that the first 12 day post was about carols, which inspired today's writing.

If you're new and curious about last year's festive fare, feel free to browse by many of the handy links on the site, for posts such as "12 cookies, 12 decorations, and 12 memories" of Christmas.

Anyway, back to the point, if there really is one with this post...

I was perusing the internet this week, working on a project for our upcoming Children's party at church, when I found a beautiful video of my very favorite Christmas song.  Each time I hear it, I'm filled with a mixture of emotions and covered in goosebumps.  Seeing a visual portrayal along with it, just adds to the beauty.

"When you kiss your Little Baby, You kiss the Face of God!"

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you do know that I've been sharing 3 gifts each day.  Much like the November Thankfulness Challenge, I'm listing 3 gifts every day, following a project called the Joy Dare by Ann Voskamp.  Amazing writer...check her out.

Today's was 3 gifts silver –
 my baby spoon. 
the Tea kettle Austin bought me with his own money. 
 every cloud has one.

In a season where such a focus is on what's under the tree, prayerful projects like Ann's help us remember this is Christmas. 

It's not too late to join me.
Amazing what happens when you pause in thankfulness
for the many gifts God gives us
every. single. day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One. Blessed. Day

Ever had one of those days that was just filled with greatness from start to finish? 
Yesterday was such a day!

I guess my body was in anticipation for it all weekend, as I slept little and busied myself getting the house ready for family.  Nothing makes me happier than cooking and hosting a get-together for those I love. 

The icing on this cupcake of a day was the reason we were gathering.

My niece Tina, who has been with us a little over a year now, was baptized this morning.  We are so proud of her decision and were thrilled to celebrate it with family.  In fact, we took up two rows in church today, having four generations snuggled together in worship.  There just isn't much better of a feeling than having both your church and biological family joined in the same room.
Tina can be somewhat shy and is nervous in front of crowds, but her sweet smile was contagious as she cautiously stepped into the waters.  Her posts on Facebook summed up her feelings before and after her dunk.  Before church she wrote, "This girl is getting baptized today and she is excited!!!" and I noticed practically the moment after she posted, "That was AMAZING!!" 
 ...Hope she didn't take her phone in the baptism with her. 

Because EHBC is just so cool, they even taped it.  You can see it on the YouTube link below. 
I never grow tired of seeing someone baptized.  Goosebumps!

The family joined us at our house afterwards for a smorgasboard of soup and snacks. We spent the afternoon eating, laughing, napping, listening to Christmas songs, laughing, eating and rejoicing. I can only imagine the excitement in Heaven, as I'm sure Austin was at the center of an eternal celebration up there too.

Ignore the napping.  They had fun too!  lol

Friday, November 30, 2012

Faithful Friday: Kindness

My heart says it was just head knows it has been 4 years.

The only part of yesterday I looked forward to was knowing the many acts of kindness done in Austin's memory.  I'm grateful to friends and family who won't let Austin be forgotten and choose to remember him in this way. We're blessed from the many prayers said for us yesterday- the many days prior - and those in the future.  Thank you!  For an otherwise terrible date on the calendar, we felt Austin everywhere and the day was filled with kindness.  God was certainly holding our family and His love was spread throughout.

The Lord says: Don’t brag about your wisdom or strength or wealth.
If you feel you must brag, then have enough sense to brag
about worshiping me, the Lord.
What I like best is showing kindness, justice, and mercy to everyone on earth.
Jeremiah 9:23-24

A collection of kindness done this month in Austin's memory and shared with us...

In honor & memory of Austin I called a friend this morn offered to
keep her sick child so she could go to work & not miss a day.

Our school club, friends of Rachel, is planning on helping a family on Christmas.

Our next RAK is collecting mismatched socks and gloves for a shelter.
My goal 300 socks and gloves! I know it will be a success,
you will be watching over us Austin!!

...we've taken meals to sick friends, sent random texts to encourage someone, stopped to help a stranded motorist, delivered thanksgiving meals to those working or without, prayed for the vehicle in front of me while driving, surprised workers with donuts...

Preparing and delivering a meal to a friend,
 whose family is in another state and has no family to spend the holiday with.
Giving toys for the EHBC community Kid's Christmas party.

At work we are going to adopt a family from Christmas Wish instead of doing our usual gift exchange.
Operation Christmas Child Boxes filled and delivered to church.

Helped prepare a meal for a group of hardworking kids.
Helped fill Thanksgiving food boxes for families in our community.
Salvation Army Bell Ringing Days picked.
Thoughts of you were with me all day!!

My random act of kindness is taking a sweet baby boy to see his grandma at work today. The smile on her face when seeing him melted my heart I am so glad that I was able to do that for her today :)

My friend Katie was at the mall and found $10 bill and turned it in instead of pocketing it like most would have done. Then here is the big story, as we were headed to Louisville to go to her house, we passed a car on fire, we automatically turned around and called 911. A man was in a ditch, his car was on fire. We saved this man's life by calling 911, along with another couple we met, who ran down the hill to the man who had somehow managed to get out of his car.
My friend Rachel was at work & she saw a man who had run out of gas, he was outside in the freezing cold so she gave him gas money. She said he thanked her numerous times and it brought tears to her eyes.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18

The last two days have truly been "all things Austin". The blessing yesterday from a stranger. Today, a phone call asking if I needed "some" food for families. The answer was "YES"!! It was the end of the day and I didn't know how I would get this done. I called my "RAK" partner in kindness and she went picked up "some" food. She brought "some" food back to school. Stuart and I went to help my friend and her daughter fill the boxes only to find "some" food was enough fresh fruit and veggies to feed "17" families. We have 8 of of the boxes delivered and tomorrow I will take the rest. I can't even explain the excitement on the faces of my kiddos. The sweetest moment was when two of my kiddos asked if they could help me take them for their neighbors!! They knew the need. I said, "How do you know where they go". One replied "We know because we know you and it's where you would take it." It was "all things Austin!"   I bought groceries for a friend

Austin, I try to do RAK everyday..not just this month. It doesn't have to be something big..a smile can make a difference to a person! Because of you, I try harder and harder to live my life by the Golden Rule!!

I know this isn't much. But at Hobby Lobby today I paid for the lady's next in line purchases and told her the story of how Austin was so giving and generous and how I was helping her in honor of him. After a few tears and a hug she departed and the clerk checking me out said "God Bless You, I don't know your situation or your friend but I think he would be proud, I know God is." Such a great feeling.
Thank you Austin for your inspiration and warm heart. I miss you!

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you. 
It truly hugs our hearts to see Austin remembered this way!

We ended last night with our annual tradition of letting the kids do a reverse shopping spree, surprise free drinks, and included free laundry at local laundromats.


Austin, you are still missed with every breath, but we feel you so close whenever we're helping others. 


Monday, November 26, 2012

O' Christmas Tree!

What's so big...

you can't see around it.
..can't see over it.
..can't see under it.
And can't see through it?

...Our Christmas tree!

so big I can't get it fully in a picture!

What's new for us is that it's a real tree.  Our first ever.  Last year's pre-lit pine didn't make the cut as we packed away the decorations at the first of the year.  The problem was, I forgot until we were at the point of putting it up this weekend.  The kids and I searched the shed three times over, before Tim arrived home and reminded us.

So, much like our family is accustomed to, we moved to plan B.  A quick trip to our local fruit market for a magnificent 8 foot fir.

It's tradition that we decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend.  Of course, that weekend is also one of the most difficult for us, as it was our last holiday with Austin. The next few days begin our hardest season, as we try to move our memories away from the tragic to the precious. To hold onto the sweet moments we remember, instead of the pain that comes with this time of year.

One of the sweetest gifts Austin gave us on that last perfect day with him, was that he insisted we finish decorating.  We'd spent all Saturday working primarily on the outside of the house, taking advantage of the unusual warm November weather.  At day's end, when I wanted to call it quits, and save the trees for tomorrow, he insisted otherwise.  Reminding me of our tradition, we set to completing it all.  That night was magical, as we snuggled together under the glow of Christmas lights watching a holiday movie.  Our last memories as a family...

Several days into our tragedy Tim and I realized what a gift it really was. Those trees would've never been put up, in the chaos of our loss, and our tradition would have forever been changed.  None of us would now have those precious memories - like how easily Austin placed the angel on top because of his height, what ornaments were his favorite (because he'd told us that day), or the laughter he and Noah shared in decorating the kids tree.  Every moment now locked in our hearts to recall each season.

That gift also ensured Christmas continued in the Blair house.  Our first one completely without Austin was painful, but remembering pushed us to continue with decorating.  We imagined Austin smiling down from Heaven, and Noah wondered if our lights were bright enough for him to see.  It kept us going...moving forward.

Here we are four years later, once again a family of four, with the addition of Tina, but forever holding Austin in our hearts and memories.  We're stronger, thanks to many prayers and ultimately peace from God.  We are hopeful.  We are thankful.

Wishing you new memories, old traditions, and many blessings this holiday season!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Faithful Friday: Thanksgiving

Coffee and PJs...a roaring fire...Macy's Parade on the TV...turkey roasting in the oven.  Such has been our Thanksgiving morning for about as long as I can remember.  But yesterday that changed into what I hope can become an annual tradition for us.

We swapped all of that homey comfort to get up and out early.  To give back.
To make a difference...

Our church cooks a Thanksgiving meal for those who would otherwise do without, or have to work on the holiday.  My family was blessed to be able to help in the deliveries.

We were actually giddy with excitement the night before and throughout the morning.  We opted to drive both our vehicles, to make room for the food trays we'd be delivering.  Having an extra spot in my car, we brought along another kid from the youth group who wanted to help.

Routes in hand, the scent of Thanksgiving drifting through the car, we headed out on a mission.  Our first few stops were at businesses, bringing lunch to those who had to work.  Many of them were surprised and that tickled the boys, as they placed meals into their hands.
They were both so well mannered, saying "God Bless You" to each person and wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving - and it was sincere.  After each stop, they'd talk about the smiles or thankful faces and how good it felt to do this. 

Our route led us to an apartment complex and on into a more rural area of our county.  In most cases, they were single, often elderly women, possibly widows.  It was a wake-up call for the kids that not everyone has a family on the holidays and how many needs are right in our backyards.  On our drive we would mention things we might pray for about individuals we had met.  For all of us, it was a reminder of how much we each have to be thankful for.

The church sent us with two extra meals, just in case.  I told the boys to pray that God would lead us to whomever might need them most.  On one of the stops, Noah noticed a little girl in a far corner of the room.  From my position at the door, I had not seen her, but as we walked away he said, "Mom, I think we need to go back and offer another meal."  After he explained, we went to the car and got one of the extras, knocking for a second time at the door.  The lady was so grateful, saying that she didn't want to impose, but that her granddaughter would love it.  Hugging Noah on the way back, I thanked him for being observant and could tell he was touched through helping.

All meals delivered, we took the longer route back to the church, as we had one container left.  The boys were looking at businesses we passed, hoping to find someone working. From the backseat, Alex shouted, "How about that gas station?" and we pulled in, seeing one worker.  Perfect.  As Noah stepped out, he realized it was someone we knew, a former neighbor.  The man was shocked and very thankful for the timely hot meal.

"The service you are offering helps God’s people with their needs,
 but that is not all it does. It is also bringing more and more thanks to God."
- 2 Corinthians 9:12

We returned and gathered as a church, and a family, sharing stories of our visits. Much like any other family, kids clustered together to play ball or hangout.  Adults remained busy getting our food together, for those who worked, and anyone who wanted to join us for a group meal.  We filled the old sanctuary, prayed, and feasted on an enormous potluck.  
Though the kids were happy playing "Thunder & Lightning" outside, we coaxed them home to greedily get in a nap before going to my sister's for another meal.
Though tired, Tim and I spent some time talking about the experience.  We found ourselves mentioning it throughout the day, and then again last night at the close of our day. We were just so grateful to have spent the better part of it giving back, and it blessed us beyond our expectations.

This holiday is rough one for our family, as it was our last with Austin.  We tiptoe through this season, never knowing when painful memories will attack.  And even though tears fell in missing our sweet boy, we know Austin was very much a part of the day.  Having the heart of a volunteer, I'm certain he was smiling down and watching over every mile.

The pain from losing him never leaves, but helping others was such a healing way to spend this Thanksgiving.  And what we plan to do every one to come.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Still Standing...

Twice on Monday, I was taken aback.  First, it was pleasant news to find out that an article I'd submitted to an online magazine on the topic of "Finding Peace" would be ran.  Second, I was asked to exclude (or rather reduce) my religious tone and sections about God.


This brought me great pause.  Instinctively my initial reaction was to say, "No God, no deal," but I prayed and thought more on the situation, and ultimately agreed with their minor tweaks.  Might I add that I'm in no way speaking poorly of the magazine.  I understand their reasoning for the position they have to take, even if my personal beliefs are different. And I was and am honored to be featured.  My allowance came from knowing not everything I had written about God, and how he's healed us through great loss, would be taken out. 

If even one sentence could make a difference, change someone's heart, then I was ok with that.

Maybe that one sentence would provide someone hope, or courage, to seek out God in the midst of their pain.  I honestly do not know how one would survive such a tragedy as child loss without God's help.  Truly, it saddens me to think of grieving parents out there who don't have Him in their life.

This adds to the concern I've had all week, after our pastor shared a scary statistic on Sunday.  85% of our county - a small, rural "everybody knows your name" kind of place - do not attend church.  On any given Sunday, 20,000 people are doing something else.  My town, which I've lived in my whole life, chose to raise my kids in, love and feel safe in... is not churched.  This makes me sad.

Have I been among the 20,000?  Yep.  I've been lazy, undedicated, lost.  I'd convinced myself for awhile that I didn't need church - that it didn't factor into the relationship I had with God.  Have I tried to reject God?  Tearfully, yes.  Anger welled inside me from the moment they called time on my precious son in the emergency room.  But I fought it.  I crawled myself out of the hole and reached for God, even through anger, because I knew in my soul He would be the only way I'd survive. 

In case you're curious, here's my original post.  Really, when I compare them side by side, there wasn't a great amount of change.  Still, those words meant something to me when I wrote them - and still do today.

Our continual restoration comes only from the Master Carpenter. God is the only answer I can give as to why we've survived all this time without Austin. Only through Him did we find peace, strength and hope. true those words are.

And, the only reason I am Still Standing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Oh, Deer!

I slept alone last night  - and my husband was home.  This is not normal for us, as we don't have a "sleep on the couch" type of marriage.  But, it's hunting season around here, and since my guys planned on getting up at 4 am, they decided to sleep in Noah's room to keep from waking if that worked.

I heard them tip-toeing and whispering before the sun was up, slipping into camo of many layers.  Of course they know the rule is you can't leave until I get a hug and kiss, so both of them were soon at my bed saying good-bye.  As I hugged Noah, I told him "today is your day, I feel it" and wished them both luck, but included my typical be safe reminders.

Around 8 am (sleeping in for me), I awoke and grabbed my phone to check on them, just as it rang.  A very breathless and excited Noah was on the other end. 

"Did you get my text?!" he shouted. 

Disappointment quickly replaced his vocal tone, when I told him I hadn't.  He told me to call him when I did and hung up, refusing to answer any of the dozen questions I hit him with. 

Ding. Ding.

Text box open, four pictures soon came into view with a happy smiling boy and heap of deer.  I quickly called him back, keeping it on speaker so I could see the photos.

"What you get two for the price of one?" I joked when he answered.

Dad and son are now laughing in the background, as Noah proceeds to give me the play by play.  Like rapid fire ammunition, he goes through his morning, Tim shooting in his comments every other sentence.  I can tell how proud Noah is - and how proud Tim is of Noah. 

A couple hours later they drop by so we can see the kill in person.  Adrenaline is still flowing, flushed cheeks, antsy with anticipation of me joining them outside.  I put my squeamish-poor-Bambi feelings aside and head for the truck, congratulating him on his win.  Nothing compares to seeing Noah smiling - or his Dad's giggles, as he beams at his son.  It always, always brings me joy.

My Big Hunter

Hard to believe just two short years ago was

How much he's changed. 

My little guy...all grown up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Faithful Friday: Love in a Shoebox

How can a shoebox give hope?  When it is packed with goodies, sent with love, and includes the best gift ever - the message of Jesus!

Mark 16:15 “Then he told them: Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.”

We've decided to donate through Operation Christmas Child in memory of Austin, as one of the many acts of kindness we'll do this month.  It's an added blessing that our church is partcipating so it makes sending the shoeboes even easier.

The kids and I have been packing our shoesboxes over the past couple days.  Well, techinically they aren't shoe boxes, they are plastic containers with lids around the same size.  We thought they might be more useful to the child receving and durable to hold their treasures.

I've been touched by how excited they have been to do it and the serious conversations we've had around the table.  As they put in flashlights, we discussed how many of the children live in a world of darkness - both literally and figuratviely.  And although the gospel is shared with each child who receives a box, the kids wanted to include items within and on their box declaring the love of Jesus.  We've prayed about the kids who, within weeks will open these boxes of hope.

Originally our kids decided to do teenage boxes, figuring most people would probably buy for younger children.  We enjoyed it so much though that I surprised them tonight with an extra bag of goodies to do for the next age down as well. 
I think we've found an annual tradition and one that I hope to grow next year.  We jumped on too late to make a large impact, but every single box makes a difference.

Want to help?  Click below to learn how to make a shoebox.  Or, if you want to donate online, you can even track where your box ends up.  If you're local and you get it together this weekend, I'll even pick it up and take to church with me Sunday morning.  ....Get packing!  :)

Operation Christmas Child seeks to bring hope
and joy into the life of a child through the shoe box gift, but it doesn’t end there. Operation Christmas Child has worked with the local churches in over 150 countries to make sure that children know that long after the candy is gone and the toys have worn out, God loves them, has not forgotten about them and longs for them to be His children. We share with them a very simple, but profound message of hope, a message that you have probably heard before: John 3:16.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Faithful Friday - Pause. And Be Thankful.

Tis' the season! 

Know how I know?  A quick glance at my ever-growing busy calendar!  I just gave it a once over and realized there is not a "free" weekend again for the rest of the year.  Seriously!?

Dinners, Dinners, and more Dinners. (unbuttoning pants now...) Parades.  Holiday functions.  Church activities.  Family get-togethers.  Annual Traditions. 
And So. Much. More.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to get lost in the chaos and forget to pause in Thanksgiving and enJOY the moments.

"All our busy rushing ends in nothing."
- Psalm 39:6 NLT

That's one of the reasons I adore the new Facebook tradition of posting a thankful thought each day.  Not only do I enjoy posting, but it is so nice, especially after the political season, to see positivity in my news feed! 

Pausing to reflect on our blessings is truly the way we should start and end each day.  It is not happy people who are thankful - it is thankful people who are happy.  Such truth in that!

The first season in my life I remember pausing in thanksgiving was after our wreck.  Each night I would record thankful thoughts, prayers, scriptures, etc.  Such a blessed way to end each evening.  If I came across a difficult period, I would simply flip the book to the beginning and read over what was written. 

Prior to that I wonder how often I gave it thought.

Sure, I was thankful but did I pause in it?  Give humble thanks for what I have?  Praise God regularly for the good he'd given?

I'm sad to recall I did not.  Or maybe it just didn't mean as much until recent years.  After life turned upside down.  Tragedy has a way of putting things into perspective.

My hope for you is that tragedy isn't your wake-up call.  For some, there are no second chances.  Make the most of your life here and now so you can enjoy the hereafter.  I know I'm ever-thankful for every blessed moment God gives me.

What are you most thankful for this week?

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. - Psalm 95:1-3

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Looking Upward

Upward Basketball was a big part of our family when Noah was little.  A positive sports experience with a spiritual background, it was a wonderful way for him to be introduced to basketball.  He started playing in first grade, with his Dad as coach, and a very special person as the assistant.

His big brother, Austin, helped coach Upward that year. Initially, I was somewhat concerned, because Austin was young himself, and we didn't know if the church would even agree. Thankfully they did and it was a blessing for so many reasons...
Together they coached Noah's team through a perfect season. I was touched by how generous and motivating Austin was. The boys enjoyed having him and learned so much that year.

Austin continued to "coach" Noah for any sport he played. He was always there on the sidelines, rooting for him or pushing him further because he knew Noah could do it.  When we lost Austin, sports seemed to be put on pause.  Noah had a hard time being on the field because baseball was such a huge reminder of his brother.  In fact, he took a break for several seasons, not coming back to that game until this past year. 

With basketball, it helped Noah transition because of where the game was played.  By 2009, he'd outgrown Upward and moved into school sports.  Sadly, we had no memories of Austin cheering from the stands at a school game, but that made it easier for him to continue on the court.

Cheering for Noah the past few years has brought us so much joy.  Our "little" big guy has grown in the sport, his defensive game improving as his size increased each year.  Normally the tallest kid on the court, "Brickwall Blair" dominated and we'd chuckle overhearing comments from some of his smaller opponents.

Now in middle school, we were all disappointed when he didn't make the team last month.  We knew going in it would be difficult, as multiple elementary teams merge into competition for one small group.  Knowing his passion for the game, I needed to find a way to keep him involved.  Not wanting to travel, remembering our season in AAU, a friend mentioned Upward. 

When my little guy was still little

Upward for middle school?  It didn't seem possible from what I remembered of our timid, non-competitive, seasons past.  Noah joked that he really wasn't interested in playing for stickers anymore. 

Last night was his evaluation and we were all thrilled to see the growth and change in the sport.  I think it will be the perfect mix of competition, improving his skill set, laced with the positivity and uplifting spirit that is Upward.  We're excited for the season.

During evaluation they randomly called boys up and placed a numbered sticker on their back, which would help the coaches score and rank them as they played.  These scores would later be used to form teams.  Goosebumps covered both Tim and my arms, when #23 was patted onto Noah.  Our special number symbolizing Austin.  As he always does, Austin was sending hugs from Heaven, letting all of us know he would also be there this season, cheering from above in the best seats in the house.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Faithful (Sat): Belated Help

Ooops!  I forgot to write a Faithful Friday post yesterday.  Of course I realized it was Friday - I mean who can miss such a great day of the week?  I just neglected to ever put a post together, until this morning.  My hope is that you'll excuse me, as the afternoon was spent preparing for some upcoming "RAK" ideas I have.

As the saying goes, it's better late than never, right?  And that is also true for helping someone.  While RAK can be either planned or spontaneous, we often overlook helping those in need because "time" gets in the way.  Maybe someone you know has just suffered loss or was recently in the hospital.  You missed the funeral or weren't able to visit them in recovery.  So we sometimes shrug, maybe say a prayer, and go on with our lives.  It's easy to not do something because time has passed.

But it's never too late to do an act of kindness.  Even if it is a phone call or hand-written letter (yes, people still do that), just to say you've been thinking of them.  What I know from tragedy is that the pain and the need doesn't go away after the first few days.  Perhaps your delay in offering help was God's plan all along.  You were sent to that family at just the perfect moment they needed a ray of hope.

Is there someone out there today that you could be a help to?

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ -Matthew 25:35-40

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