Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Delicious Memories

There are bowls of shiny red apples in my kitchen.  A sure sign Halloween is just around the corner.


These rich, deep scarlet fruits, with crisp and juicy flesh, are as much a part of Halloween for our family as are pumpkins, candy corn or popcorn balls for others.  A tradition passed down from my father-in-law, years before Tim and I were even together.

As a child, I remember few stops along our trick-or-treating route, but George's house is one I recall fondly.  At the bottom of a steep hill (great for sleigh riding), we'd knock on the door and a man with stark white hair would greet us.  He was quiet, often not even speaking, as he'd turn away at the sight of us, carrying the candy bowl back inside with him.  The first year this happened, I thought maybe we'd done something wrong or upset him by knocking too loud.  It wasn't until he reappeared with a handful of bright red apples, tossing them into our bags, that we were shared the Blair surprise. 

We were favorites! Only George's favorites, special kids of dear friends, got red delicious apples.  Everyone else...just candy.

These weren't your average apples.  They were enormous!  Stretching our mouths to chomp into them resulted in a chin dripping with juices.  Each noisy bite filling our mouths with sweetness no candy could match.  It was always a treat that never made it home, as we'd enjoy them in the car, candy bags awaiting inspection.

Tim and I were only married one Halloween without Austin, so there hasn't yet been a season that we aren't away from the house trick-or-treating with our kiddos.  This year, though my teens are "too old" we will happily be toting my baby sister's littles, as she has class.  Even if we weren't going door to door, we'd be at the annual fire department potluck, where we have ended our holiday for two decades.

As such, I've never really got to start the tradition of handing out apples to special guests on Halloween, but I do make sure we always have them at home to enjoy.  Every hand selected fruit is a reminder of a sweet, quiet man we dearly miss.  For now, I'll just share them with my family and company that happens to visit this time of year.  One day though, my husband's salt and pepper hair will become mostly salt, much like his daddy's, and we can continue the tradition like George.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Faithful Friday Rewind

My mind is not on writing a post about joy today.  The weather reflects my mood...gloomy with misty tears. 

I'm about to head out to the funeral home for the first child visitation since losing Austin.  Lord, give me strength...

I thought I'd take you back to former posts that I leaned on for inspiration today.  Back before I began Faithful Fridays.



and


My apologies for the hiatus.  Please pray friends.  Pray for Tim and I have to have strength to comfort friends.  Pray for the family saying goodbye to a sweet child taken too soon.  Pray for this community.  Prayers, prayers, prayers.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When the Unimaginable Happens.

Our community has been shattered by loss as of late.  It seems nearly every other day we hear of another heartbreaking story. 

Life is hard.  Life is unexpected.  Life is short. 

Loss is loss to whomever is grieving.  It matters to them and in those first few days is all-consuming.  To those unconnected, life continues without pause.  When the loss involves a child though, it is as if time stops for everyone.  If only for a moment.

A child should never die.  It goes against everything we believe.  Fairy tales have happy endings.  A child should never die.

I remember all too painfully well the night our world stopped.  Life as we knew it ceased to exist.  Austin was gone.  There were no answers that made it right.  No words that made it better.  Just shock, gut-wrenching pain, darkness and complete sadness. 

How my heart aches for so many living this new world right now.  In my backyard.  Some I know, some I don't, but all I feel for.  I know.  I remember.  I cry for them.
And then I do the only thing I know to do...

Pray.

In this moment, there is nothing else that matters. Right now, they are numb and they are raw with emotions, all at the same time.  To some, it may seem overwhelming to know what, if anything, you can do to help.  My best advice, from someone who lived it, do something.  Anything.  Just be there for them.

I remember those who reached out.  Even if I didn't reach back. 

So many phone calls, texts, emails, hugs, tears.  I remember them all.  They spoke volumes to me.  It didn't fix the broken inside of me.  Nothing anyone did or didn't do healed me.  But it meant the world at the time and those gestures, acts of kindness, will forever remain with me.

A friend I've never met, but joined this unwelcome club of bereaved parents, wrote the best collection of thoughtful ideas that I have found.  I encourage you to visit her blog and read this post:  What you can do to help a grieving family.  Her story is haunting but beautiful, as is her special boy Jack. 

And, as I'm a little further down the path than she, I'll add a final thought.

Don't stop.

One of the greatest fears for parents who've lost a child is that they'll be forgotten.  What I've learned is that they are not.  But never hesitate to mention the child.  Even if it brings tears.  We mommas don't mind crying in remembering our child.  They are thankful tears that tell us, yes my child was loved and is missed.

I call those "Austin hugs" now and welcome them.  Especially when they're unexpected, like yesterday.  In the midst of my normal daily rounds at work, I pass a young man at the hospital.  I've seen him before and we always exchange hellos.  One of us is normally rushing though and I don't think we've really ever talked.  Until yesterday.  On my way out, he says, "I think I know you."

This makes me stop.  I'm curious.  "How do you know me?" I respond.  He chuckles, somewhat taken aback at the question.  We swap names and families, jobs and other connections. 

"Aren't you Austin's mom?"

Now I freeze.  There was a time tears would be welling now.  This time I smile and proudly say, "Yes, I am.  Did you go to school with him?"  Internally I am gauging his age to be what Austin would've been by now - 18 or 19 and graduated.  I'm trying to search his face for resemblance of a younger version, to see if I can recall him.  Disappointed I cannot but we're both grinning now remembering him.

Back out in my car, though a piece of me aches for what could've been, my heart is smiling because of the memories of what was, and because I know Austin will never be forgotten.

It doesn't ever take the pain of losing him away - nothing will - but those "Austin hugs" sure do help me get through it.  And even still, lots and lots of prayers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Faithful Friday: Can I Get a Witness?

If you're like me your humming to Marvin Gaye right about now because of that title. 

Maybe I'm the only one who does that but, once I get little tunes in my head, it's hard to not to sing and dance.  This particular tune has little to nothing to do about today's post, other than it does bring me joy...much like the past two nights have done.  And the title is kinda catchy, once you read the 'rest of the story'.

You might recall me writing about an upcoming outreach our church would be doing.  It began this past Wednesday night.  As I predicted, I was somewhat apprehensive in the counseling role I would play, yet I knew it was in God's hands.  By the time our group met to pray though, calm washed over me and any uncertainty originally felt had disappeared. 

Until I reached the hallway.

Hearing the invitation, I remembered there were at least two other ways I might counsel someone.  One for re-dedication, the other for prayer.  I realized in that moment I'd only truly prepared for the possibility of leading someone to Christ.  My heart fluttered and I wondered if, in whatever situation that arose, I'd be prepared with what to say.  Thoughts returned to our pastor's prayer in that "we couldn't mess this up.  It didn't matter what we said or didn't say because God began this process long before they reached me." 

I am his vessel...

So many amazing moments have happened since I have let go and let God!  Words have flowed through me.  Maybe it was what they needed to hear, maybe it wasn't, but I can feel positive changes taking place.  God is most certainly at work through this outreach.  I am awe-inspired, spirit-filled, and excited for the days to come!
 
What has surprised me is the role I've been able to play in helping someone through grief.  I don't know why this didn't occur to me beforehand.  Maybe the fact that it didn't - and I couldn't worry or dwell on it - has helped.  While it is very easy for me to reach out and help someone through this blog, or in written form elsewhere, I haven't been as comfortable sharing my story in public.  Normally emotions get in the way.

Yet last night, I found myself sharing the story of losing Austin with someone who had suffered great loss.  Hearing the struggle they were facing and the turmoil in their heart as they questioned and battled with God spoke volumes to me.  I had to share the hope I knew.  Of where I once was, so deeply shattered by grief, to where I am today. 

When they left I realized it was the first time in the nearly four years since Austin's been gone that I've been able to get through that testimony without sobbing.  Yes, tears welled, but God took over and covered me in his grace to allow the story to be shared.  My prayer is that in some small way it helped, at least in a gentle nudging that leaning on God will help them in this journey.  In fact, it's the only answer I have for how I've made it through.
 

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.  -1 Peter 3:15 ESV




Sunday, October 14, 2012

Three Wise Men

October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I'm very appreciative for three pastors in my life, one from my childhood, one from my past, and one in the present.

The first, and most important of which, was my Grandpa Coons.

I've shared bits and pieces about my Grandpa on this blog.  In fact, one of my very first posts was about him and JOY.  Grandpa and joy just went together.  He exuded it.  You rarely saw him without his sweet smile, which lit up a room.  There are so many fond memories I'll always treasure of him... from late night sneaks for something sweet in the kitchen (ice cream and Sprite), to playing pool, to his milk delivery and a surprise visit to my school, to the weekends spent with him at church.   

My fondest and most grateful memory of my grandfather though is the faith foundation he gave me.  Those roots, from days spent playing in the pews while he prepared a sermon, to growing up hearing him in the pulpit, to witnessing his character, faith and how he lived his life, are most assuredly what helped me become who I am today. 

I still recall going forward as a child, into the arms of my smiling Grandpa, as I accepted Jesus into my heart.  His face - loving, tearful, proud, joyful, expressed everything he felt at the time, and I will forever remember that moment.  Hugging me into salvation...  It's a memory that comforts me each time I see someone else make that step.  It's a memory of what I know awaits me again, when I see his precious face in Heaven someday.

My children didn't get to grow up knowing my Grandpa Coons, but I'm blessed that they knew and loved our pastor, Brother Armstrong.  We joined the church under his leadership shortly after Noah was born, so he was the preacher of their childhood.  Brother Armstrong had that same warmth and grandfatherly presence, wrapping me in nostalgia each time I listened to a sermon.  The boys were comfortable with him, as he had a peaceful way and pleasant disposition.  Austin, though very young at the time, was at ease the day he spoke to him about becoming a Christian.  And I'm so fortunate to have watched my boys grow in their faith and be baptized there.

Though a Mom, I was still very young in my faith then.  Brother Armstrong taught me so many important life lessons, and his sermons and prayers remain with me.  My Bible, from that time, is filled with quotes from him and underlined scriptures he led me to.  I will be eternally thankful for the comfort and peace he provided us at our greatest and most traumatic times of need.

Now, I find myself under the care of another pastor, at our new church home.  Troy is uniquely different, unexpected at times, and yet everything we hungered and prayed for as a family.  His sermons are God-sent and we often leave in goosebumps, somewhat wondering if our home is bugged, because it speaks so loudly to whatever we are facing at the time.  I've never cried more thankful tears in my spiritual life than I have in the short time we've spent at this church.  He and his family, as well as the entire pastoral team, have been such a blessing to us.  We are so joyfully excited for each Sunday to arrive, as we know it will sustain and lift us for the week to come.  I am grateful, inspired, and faith-filled knowing him.

What an honor to have my life touched by three wise men, most certainly all placed in my path by God's loving and generous hands.


Don’t forget about your leaders who taught you God’s message.
Remember what kind of lives they lived and try to have faith like theirs.  - Hebrews 13:7





Friday, October 12, 2012

Faithful Friday: Life Transformed

Tim's changing before my eyes.  When I think back to my husband before his back surgery, compared to where he is now, it's as if a new man has replaced the old one. 

How a body changes during healing has always amazed me.  We've had our share of medical traumas so I've seen (sometimes firsthand) the physical transformation that comes with time and therapy.  When injured, healing comes slowly.  Often we can see the changes as wounds fade, strength increases and energy returns.  But with many, such as back surgery, there's also a lot of healing inside that we can't see. 

My husband has always been able to walk circles around me.  Being beside him and sensing his difficulty in taking those first steps was difficult for me to watch.  As the days continued, our walks moved outdoors.  At first we strolled the short distance of our sidewalk, leading from the front to the side door.  Steps were cautious, slow, and sometimes painful.  Eventually we increased the distance by turning down our driveway and onto the road.  For several days we only made it past two or three other homes, turning around before he grew tired.  Then, as time and healing progressed, we increased the distance. 

Making it to the curve, halfway around our culdesac loop, was a milestone.  I remember watching Tim's stride, noticing strength in his steps and hope return.  Last night, I realized as we completed a full lap there was no change in his appearance.  The walk was effortless.  We continued.  Moving into the house and completing our nightly therapy routine, the marked improvement was also seen in his movements.  Exercises that were once difficult are now being done with ease.  There is no shaking in the muscles, they move solidly. 

My husband grows stronger every day.  Restored.  Revived.  Renewed.


Those words are also synonymous with salvation.  At least that is how I feel my life has changed with God.  He transforms me daily.  And I see the transformation he brings in those close to me.  Healing from the inside out.

Thank you, God, for the changes you've made - and will continue to make in me and those I love. 


Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the one who made you. You are becoming more and more like him.  - Colossians 3:10




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Thousand Words

Day 2 and 3 of Fall Break can best be summed up with this...


and this...

and a little of this...



Taking & Making
Family Memories!

“Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.” ― Ansel Adams




My day began at my sister's house, capturing little grins and giggles and attempting a family photo or two.  It isn't an easy task getting three toddlers to look and smile in the same direction with mom and dad but we caught a few good ones.  I loved the babies expressions in this shot, taken under a shade tree in their yard.



I spent the rest of the afternoon shooting my niece for her Senior pics.  She better love her aunt, because I don't even want to guess what a six hour, unlimited mile, and full day of editing would cost from an average photographer! 

Honestly, I enjoyed every moment with my nearly grown oldest niece.  We shared laughs, walked through creek beds and mud, drove back roads and made dozens of memorable moments I hope she treasures for years.

Such a beautiful girl, inside and out, and I wish her future nothing but the best!


Part of our shoot included a trip to one of my old stompin' grounds.  A tunnel under  a bridge, down a long gravel road, called the wagonbox.  We also referred to it as "the movies" and I had my nieces puzzled as we took off in a direction they weren't expecting.  When we pulled up to the entrance and I told them to grab the spray paint, they were even more confused.  They snickered and whispered, "we feel like such bad girls" as they added their names to the hundreds of signatures.


We ended the day with Haylea on the four wheeler on the farm. 
It was the best reflection of who she is. 
Noah hopped on for a candid shot,
which ended up being one of my favorites.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fall Break Fun

Being on vacation this week will either mean one of two things.  This may be my only post...or, I may get the urge to write way more than normal.  I'm leaning toward the first.

This week's fall break is all about living in the moment

Enjoying each day as it comes.  Making memories.  Savoring fall.  And most of all, spending as much time as humanly possible with the family. 

The kids started out the weekend by bringing back Culdesac Camping.  Tim's still-recovering back allowed them full reign of the portable tent.  They snuck out snacks and gadgets and we smiled hearing them giggle and chat through the night.

Yesterday, as Tina went to stay with her sister, Noah deemed it "Mom & Me day."  As usual on these adventures, he gets to take the wheel, directing our activities.  Actually he really wanted to take that literally, as he begged to drive out of the subdivision!  I quickly distracted him with the mention of Island Burgers. 

Life had put a damper of my end of summer plans and we never did manage to make a family trip to the middle of nowhere for burgers, shakes, and cheeseballs.  The thought of that meaty-melty-cheesy goodness put him in a bit of food coma and we were soon on the road. 

The weather, sky, and fall foliage were in beautiful harmony as we made the drive.  We soaked in the burnt orange fields under a picturesque blue sky, marveled at the muted patchwork among the trees, and chuckled at the seasonal decor along the way.

Caloric containers in hand, we headed to an empty ballpark, and with windows down, enjoyed the car inside and out.  Noah ran bases and scored an imaginary homerun, we had a trash basketball game and we laughed until our sides hurt. 

On the drive home we stopped at a roadside pumpkin patch.  I'm happy to report I found my mini gourds to fill up our window boxes.  Noah searched out the biggest pumpkin possible and had it loaded into the trunk before I had time to think how we'd get it out once home. 

The rest of our Monday was spent in PJs...vegging on the couch, cuddled together, spooky movie marathon, amazing, memorable, blessed "mom and me" time!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Faithful Friday: I am the Clay

Have you ever felt not enough....strong enough, good enough, smart enough to do what it is asked of you?  Often, we let our fears of not measuring up control us.  Or, at least I have.

And that's not real typical of me - most of the time.  I'd say I'm a fairly confident person, on most issues.  I know my strengths and weaknesses.  Yet even in weak moments I know that God can provide whatever it is I need to get through.

He's the only explanation for how I've survived the past four years...

I know this, yet I still have periods of doubt.  I was in this place just a few weeks ago when I received a text from a friend.  She asked me to be a counselor for an upcoming outreach program we'll have at our church.  This role would help talk someone through salvation.

Hesitation.

Doubt.

But a still small voice inside nudged me forward.   I reluctantly, yet prayerfully, agreed.  My prayers continued leading up to the group training.  As He always does, God sent just the message I needed.

Our pastor reminded us that God will never put us in a situation to lead someone to Him and not give us the words. For someone to whom words typically flow, at least in written form, this was a concern for me.  While I've led children to salvation, having this conversation intimidated me thinking about what I would say to an adult. 

And I was reminded that it is not about me.

It isn't about what I can do, it's about what God will do.
He just uses me as his vessel.


"We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." -2 Corinthians 4:7





Monday, October 1, 2012

Octobertunities

Know why there's a smile on my face today?  Here's a hint...it begins with Oct and ends with ober.  One my most favorite months of the year!

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 chili...coffee on the deck, under a blanket...apple cider...Halloween parties...perfect hot tub weather...sweatshirts and hoodies...God's breathtaking landscape in the fall...

There's so many festivities and JOY I can hardly contain my excitement - or know where to begin.  I'm starting out the celebration with plans for a pumpkin spice latte to start my workday, free, thanks to the gift card won last month.  And, since my fall break vacations in five short days, I plan to dive in and enjoy every morsel October has to offer.  So many opportunities....so little time!

What's your favorite thing about October?


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