Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Rewind

Though these posts may not be among this blog's most popular, they are one of my favorites to write each year.  Thank you for indulging me as I take a trip down memory lane...

JAN:  2014 was a year of many, many changes for our family.  Two new jobs for me, quite a change for someone previously in the same career for 16 years.  And, the ending of a 30 year fire career for my hubby.  Both were unplanned and caused quite an uncertain start to our year.  It led us to truly search out who we are, not what we do.  Timely that I chose "Assured" as my word for the next 365 days!

Noah would turn 14, the same age as Austin when we lost him.  This mom found it more difficult than she imagined.  Yet, as always, sweet signs from above helped me through.

FEB:  We experienced our first KCDO dance competition and watched our girl bring home many awards.

I took the #100happydays challenge and found much JOY in capturing daily photos.

With Tim recovering from an injury, it added an extra challenge to our new year.  Our marriage has been full of them but in every battle, I try to see the blessing.  One day and one simple question gave us a great opportunity to share with our teens what a true fairy tale marriage is.

MARCH:  I was in my first of two wrecks for the year, both no fault of my own.  Thankfully they were both fender-benders, unluckily they were in two separate vehicles!

The hopeful season of spring arrived!

APRIL: I surprised Noah with a bread-making class in a real restaurant with a real chef.  One of our best "Mom & Noah" days yet!

We enjoyed a hodge-podge spring break of mini trips and fun.  It was my last hurrah before starting my new job.

MAY: My dream of being published came true with not one, but two books.  Bittersweet that child loss had to be the topic of my first contributions, but I'll gladly share this milestone with Austin.

My sweet Grandma turns 85 and we surprise her with a party!

And my baby graduated middle school, complete with purchasing his first real tie.

JUNE:  Ah, lazy days of summer... Or, not?  A new handy dandy chore chart entered this house.

Tim and I celebrated 21 years, on the 21st at the beautiful wedding of a friend.  We got a small taste of having an empty nest, as the kids are away at church camp.  And we experienced our first family mission trip, two hours from home but a world away from our reality.
JULY: We shared goosebumps at the ballpark, remembering Austin on his birthday.  Our family enjoyed many days on the river, revisiting tech free time, saying goodbye to a beloved pet and welcoming a new member into our home.

AUG: My baby started high school.  Sigh, that still seems unreal.

Having a very awkward food experience led me to share my food bucket list.  

And with all trainings under my belt, I truly dig into my new career and find an unexpected love.  It inspires me to write this post about motherhood.

SEPT:  Such a busy time but the beginning of fall, my favoritest of seasons!  I learn what a joy it is to be on the road this time of year and am reminded again how thankful I am for my job.

It brings me views like this...

And then I shared one of my most controversial posts, about not going to church.

OCT: As the days turn darker and November looms, I accept another photo challenge, to capture my grief for the month.  I found it a much deeper journey than anticipated, as I search out what it means to heal, to forgive, and to get support.

A sermon speaks soothing into my soul on something I've struggled greatly with since losing Austin.

NOV: A month of gratitude, of remembering, of giving back.  Our Random Acts of Kindness begins with favorite traditions and new opportunities.  I dedicate the blog to needy charities all month long.

We receive more feedback and heaven-sent hugs from our RAKs than ever before.

And we spend Thanksgiving by feeding those in need.

DEC:  This December came harder than some years past.  It slowed me down, which isn't necessarily a bad thing this time of year.  Instead, I focus in on the reason for the season and dwell over peace, joy and love.

2014 wasn't a banner year.  It had valleys we didn't see coming, yet we came out stronger after every mountain climbed.  We are still in uncharted territory but becoming more comfortable with our new roles each passing day.

My wish, my prayer, for the coming year is that it is one filled, of course, with JOY but also of health, of togetherness, and of a closer walk with God.  If we're granted all of these, we will be more than blessed.  And it is my prayer for each of you...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Love One Another

Obviously I took a bit of vacation from blogging and am a few days late for Faithful Friday.  Sorry, friends!

We've enjoyed spending quality time together this past week, thanks to a tech free ruling most of the holiday.  In fact, I've lost my phone on more than one occasion because it's been on silent and not within arm's reach.  If I've missed your call, it wasn't on purpose!

Instead, we've spent hours cooking goodies in the kitchen, playing dominoes at the table, coloring by the fire, and of course, a little tech was allowed for viewing our favorite Christmas movies.  It's been a simply special week.

Though we did some visiting, it wasn't the hustle and bustle of years past and I appreciated the un-rushed pace, which allowed us to truly linger and relish time with family.  Even still, after the festivities, I looked forward to a few do-nothing days to rest and recharge before the cleanup and return to reality.  As you can probably guess, this didn't really happen.

The past two days have instead seen my hubby helping others, a trait of his I love and admire most. He truly is one of the most selfless, giving people I know.

Without hesitation, he offered up his last vacation day to spend it fixing something in need of repair for another.  Not one to sit around for hours, he prefers to be busy and if it is helping someone, that makes it even better.  He came home that night, cold and sore, but never offered a complaint, only a slower moving and deeper sleeping body than normal.

The next day was no different, when after two separate phone calls, he slipped out of his comfy pjs and traded a quiet, lazy day at home to be out and about giving aid to others.

And what makes me love him even more is that he'd never mention it to anyone, wouldn't expect even a thank you, and would probably "fuss" at me for even writing about it.

God fit us together much like a puzzle.  Areas I lack, Tim excels and vice-versa.  Though I'm empathetic and would hope a loving person, it isn't often I go out of my way to help someone, especially if it requires a lot of physical activity.  Yet Tim is just the opposite.  Explains why firefighting came so naturally to him all those years.

It's no surprise that his latest business venture also has helping others as the common theme.  My prayer is that he'll see success in the next year.  Not because he's looking to gain financially, but because I know it truly gives him joy to help someone.  And if my husband is happy then I'm most definitely filled with joy.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Faithful Friday: JOY

Joy wasn't something I thought we'd ever feel in December again, much less the other 11 months of the year.  When our world turned upside down, after the loss of our son, joy seemed impossible.

I remember seeing the scripture, "Joy comes in the morning," shortly after Austin's death and almost feeling anger at the thought.  In the depths of our grief, the idea of ever waking up to joy wasn't something I could comprehend.

But great loss doesn't always have to be the reason joy escapes our lives.  Sometimes, some seasons, joy just seems hard to find.  For whatever the reason, morning after morning, joy doesn't come.

As the days grow shorter and colder, finances tighter, and stresses increase, depression can peak.  If this sounds more like what you are facing now, friend, my prayer is that joy will find you this Christmas.

For me, it did come in the morning, just not right away.  Nearly two years after, in the wee hours, well before the sun arose, a stirring brought me out of bed.  God nudged me to the computer to write, my release, and told me I had to choose joy.

This blog, my life's challenge, began.

Has it always been easy?  Absolutely not.
Are there days joy is hard to find.  Sometimes.
Did it erase all the pain and hurt?  No, but it helped to soothe it.

With each day, each effort to search is out, the challenge became less and less.
Until eventually, joy was just there.  Here.  Everywhere.

Through this journey I've learned that joy is not the same as happiness.  Something doesn't need to happen, for joy to be.  It is more an internal radiance that, no matter what is going on around you, still exists.

"Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness -- happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes, 
when you're lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love."
Saint Adela Rogers Johns

Joy comes from gratitude.  Having a thankful heart increases joy.  It is a focus on what you have, not what you haven't.  There's a statistic that says those who track their gratitude are happier by 25%. More joy just from being thankful?  Yes, please.

And true joy, for me, comes from God.

A fruit of the spirit.  Joy is something that stirs and grows within us from Him.  As we walk closer with Him, our joy tank overflows and spills out to those around us.  Joy shared is joy doubled!

My challenge to you for the rest of this season, is to seek JOY.
Search it out.
Find it in the small, every day moments.
Live in gratitude.  Count your blessings.
Connect with God.  Pray.
And soon, one morning, joy will come.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Faithful Friday: Peace

Last Sunday, the candle of Peace was lit at our church.  Instantly, I was taken back to my greatest experience with true peace...the kind that only comes from God.

Peace from Above 
- originally posted on

The night before Austin's visitation, I prayed for peace. Our emotions were so fragile and raw, I didn't know IF or How we would get through the services.

A simple phone call would set off a roller coaster of emotions, so much so that we gave our phones to family members to just take messages. We didn't want to seem rude but it was just too hard to live the horror over and over again with each new voice on the line.

We managed, for the most part, to do fairly well when visitors came to the house. I think it was a mixture of shock and the comforting distraction of being at home. I was worried though how we would handle the hours and overwhelming emotions that lay before us that week.

So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I prayed for peace.

At that point in our loss, we had no answers. When you lose a child, even with answers, it never seems right - or fair - or something you feel can completely wrap your mind around. It just doesn't make sense, life happens in a sequence and this type of loss is unexpected, unnatural. I didn't understand, certainly didn't agree, but I knew we needed God's help to get through.

Without realizing it, I began to pray from a scripture. Prior to that point, I don't know if I really even knew the true meaning. It wasn't until later, when I saw the scripture again in print, that I remembered it being my heart's prayer.

It always amazes me when the scriptures you've read over time come out in true form. That you not only understand them - but you live them.

People commented on how calm I was during visitation and at the funeral. I'm sure some thought I was medicated to get through it. But I didn't take so much as a Tylenol through that time - or since. Me "getting through" that difficult time was all God.

He gave me peace.

And it was a complete peace. I felt it wash over me as we entered the funeral home. It was incomprehensible. I still hurt and grieved for my child but I had peace. I knew where Austin was, I knew he was safe and happy and healthy and watching over us. It was a peace that passed all understanding. It was amazing and God is the only explanation.

That peace helped me get through the most difficult journey of burying my child. It is a journey no parent should ever have to make. The peace helped my family as well. They all looked to me and my emotions that week; I set the mood. My peace (His peace) carried over to them.

It didn't stay forever. There were deep, dark days of painful grieving. There still is sometimes. But that peace was there when I needed it most. For two complete days I had a glimpse of what Heaven must be like. That peace was amazing - there really are no words. That peace still helps me because I know someday we'll all have that,,,forever.

"Then God will give you peace, a peace which is too wonderful to understand. 
That peace will keep your hearts and minds safe as you trust in Christ Jesus."

Friday, December 5, 2014

When December is Hard

Maybe you've faced the start of Advent with more of a feeling of hopelessness than hopefulness.
Perhaps the joy of the season just feels a little too overwhelming.  And the smiles, scents, and sounds of the holidays are more than you can muster.

It's ok.  I have been there, friend.

Sometimes, like a few days ago, I am there still.

We "made it through" the 29th better than I expected.  When Sunday came and the fog rolled in, it actually took me by surprise.  Joy was nowhere to be found and it took everything I had in me just to get to church.

Sometimes grief hits us like that.  One step forward...twelve steps back.

I expected it to come on the anniversary of our loss, but it didn't.  In fact, it was a beautiful day filled with family and giving back, of remembering him.  There were many signs from Austin letting us know he was there, which was a comfort, as well as the prayers and texts sent from those who haven't forgotten.

When night came, there was a peace that surrounded us and we went to sleep without the horrible flashbacks and painful memories.  Tim even grabbed my hand before we drifted off and said,
"It's been a good day."

Six years of healing will do that, or so I thought.

When morning dawned, it was the only brightness to be found.  There was a hurt I could not shake. Tears kept welling up in my eyes, for no reason other than to blind and sting.   Instead of the message bringing me comfort at church, it brought more pain, as our pastor shared a message of hope.  Of miracles and prayers of healing.

For a mother who prayed fervently for her son to survive one November night, it was difficult to hear.  Not this weekend.  Not now...

Evil hissed in my ear and brought back the flashes of my son that didn't come back.  Evil told me my prayer wasn't heard.

Though we had family activities and busyness the rest of day, the heavy coat of grief would not let go.  It made the process of putting up the Christmas tree, our final activity with Austin, even harder to bear.

The next two days played quite the same.  Murphy's law came for an unwelcome visit and lingered.  Monday night found me sobbing in the laundry room, after everyone had gone to bed.  Though it was hateful words said from an uncaring soul that broke my spirit, having an already broken heart allowed for the easy fall.  That night made up for Saturday's lack of tears, I guess - and then some.

This is how I welcomed December.  No tinsel and merriment, only heartache and grief.  And for a moment, I feared this is just how this month would be.  That this Christmas would somehow disappear into darkness.

But as God often does, He found ways to send me hope each day I found despair.  Sunday, a ding on my phone brought a hug to my heart, in an unexpected message from someone who found a RAK.  Their daughter holding a toy from the reverse shopping spree and filled with joy.  Monday random check-ins from family at just the needed moment and more messages of RAK recipients.  In all the years we've done the reverse shopping, we've never heard back from those who found them.  I guess God knew we needed it this year.

And Tuesday, exhausted and spent from the hours crying the night before, I entered the house to find a package on the doorstep.  Hand-addressed to me.  Priority packaging.  Whatever could it be?  Though the gift was visible, the card was the first thing I grabbed, although tears (happy now) soon made it impossible to read.

A friend, remembering Austin and knowing my love for butterflies, sent a beautiful afghan.  It arrived at the perfect moment.  I dropped everything, went to the couch, sat under the lights of the Christmas tree and wrapped myself in love.

This afternoon, home early, found me on repeat.  Sitting in the quiet of the living room, the soft glow of the season all around me, I realized joy had returned.

In truth, it never left because He never leaves us.  Grief can cast a shadow but The light will always find a way to overcome darkness.  And for that I will forever praise Him!

So, if you're facing loss this season, I'm lifting up a special prayer for you.  Whether it has been five minutes or fifteen years, I know grief knows no timeline.  There is no magic ending, no pill, or therapy, or neat little bow to wrap it up and put on a shelf.  If I've learned anything in this walk, is it to be gentle with yourself, to allow tears to fall when they come, and to let God hold you through the journey.  He will bring you to joy again.  I pray it finds you this Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holiday Throwback: 12 Cookies of Christmas

A few years back I did a countdown to Christmas.  This was one of the favorite posts, from the readers and yours truly.

One of my treasured memories and beloved pastime each season is to bake cookies as a family.  Both in scrapbooks and my mind, I have pictures of little boys covered head to toe in flour.  Noah began tiptoe from a kitchen chair and now towers over me, mastering my chocolate chip recipe better than I do.  I'm counting the days until the warm scent of vanilla, sugar, and all things sweet fills our home.

That brings me to a list of my 12 favorite circular delights.  I've tried to link you to a recipe (or close to mine) if they exist.  Many of my versions are handwritten in the smudgy, worn dog-eared cookbooks lining my counter.

Not Mine
Of course home-made are the best, but I enjoy trying any cookie
and if I didn't have to slave over the oven to make them,
they're even yummier!  From the store, my picks are:
frozen thin mints, pecan sandies, and Nutter Butters.

This is a new recipe I "borrowed" from my friend, Liz a few years back.
Her link is no longer available so this was the closest I could find.  They're different and oh so good!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'm a picky choc chip connoisseur though,
and in this case, it's basically just mine I like.
They're chewy, chocolately and the perfect size.

I don't know why but I really
only make these around Christmas.
You leave them in a warm oven overnight, hence the name!

Peanut Butter
simple, 3 ingredients, criss-crossed with a fork
Great to do with kids!

Red Velvet
my favorite cake of all time is Red Velvet (but it must be moist!)
when I happened upon these I was ever so joyful
-on the box of Duncan Hines cake mix

when I was little, my grandma made these in her school cafeteria but could never figure out how to reduce the enormous recipe for normal use. 
I stumbled upon a recipe a few years ago...happily!
I like this link because she shows pictures
 - they are time consuming but worth it!

Macadamia Nut
I'm a nut lover anyway so give me a cookie with nuts and I'll probably like it. 
What's odd is that macadamias are not my favorite nuts to just eat.  There's just something about adding it into a cookie alongside white chocolate chips.  I've never made them so I don't have a recipe.  When all else fails, there's always Subway!

Ok, I know these are not technically a cookie but they are chewy, chocolately
and you can bake them as cookies, so in my book they count!
I also like to make them as cupcakes, adding in choc or peanut butter chips.

Peanut Butter No Bakes
This is one of the few things Tim makes!
He never adds cocoa, just doubled the peanut butter,
and now that's the only way I like them too.

Classic.  Chewy.  Chocked full of goodness.
These are a cookie you feel almost healthy eating.
I've never tried the recipe above but it looks good
and was recommended by other blogs.

The link above doesn't give you a recipe but a story of my memories of these sugary cookies with raisin smiles.  I have her recipe but they never come out quite like I remember.  She must've used a dash of love I just don't have!

Did your favorite cookie make the list?
Have a recipe to share?

I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Faithful Friday: Thanksgiving

Happy belated Thanksgiving!  Knowing the week I would have, this post was started early, something I don't normally do.  I put the finishing details on it this morning, complete with coffee and PJs.  My hope is that your bellies and hearts are full by the time this reaches you.

Our Thanksgiving day was spent serving, a fairly new tradition our family started a few years ago.  As usual, God had great things in store for this year's event.  In the midst of the organized chaos, He never ceases to amaze me how it works out perfectly.  As the drivers were dispatched, trays of turkey and dressing in hand, calls began to come in.  "Where is this street? GPS can't find it."  And unexpectedly, "I have the same list as someone else!"  -oops.

The best message though came from a driver who shared that at his last stop, the lady answered and told him someone had already been there.  (Not the duplicate list mentioned above!)  As he was about to leave, she shared that her two sons were on their way.  As it so happened, two meals were what he had left.  I double checked all the routes and the lady was only listed on his.  Most certainly a God thing!

Thanksgiving had been a particularly difficult holiday for us, as it was our last one with Austin.  As such, there's a lot of painful - and bittersweet emotions around this day.  The first Thanksgiving without him I just wanted to ignore and avoid.  It was a welcome change and a perfect fit for a family focused on RAKs in the month of November to be a part of delivering meals to those in need.

Of course, with this new tradition, I no longer cook a big meal to have family over.  Instead, we eat lunch with the volunteers that day.  In some ways I miss it, but knowing how special our last get together was, which happens to also be my most popular post, gives me comfort in how it ended.  Time changes things and God has a purpose in it all.

The week will still be peppered with family, beginning with a Wednesday meal at my niece's (so strange to see her all grown up and hosting!), a visit at my grandma's, and ending with our own little turkey meal at home.  A new-to-Tina activity will be a night at the Shriner's circus, thanks to this girl winning tickets on the radio.  We haven't gone since the boys were little.  She is super excited and I'm thrilled to share this experience with her.  An added bonus is that my mom, sister and her littles will be joining us.

Folded in will be lots of Random Acts of Kindness as we wind down to Austin's Heaven-anniversary. We've done RAKs throughout this month but tomorrow will be the big day, complete with our favorite tradition, the Reverse Shopping Spree and a new one, backpacks for foster kids.  

Though we may do better year to year, prayers are still appreciated.  Keeping our minds busy doesn't take away the tug in our hearts.

Truly though, when I think back to those first holidays after losing him, it is amazing the healing that God has brought to our family.  I remember the broken, being lost in the darkness and depth of grief, and wondering if the pieces would ever come together again.

We will never have a day that we don't miss Austin but the pain, most days, does ease over the years.  And for that I am ever-thankful to my God.  He has returned JOY to us, even in the midst of our loss.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Hodgepodge of Help

In this season of thanksgiving, this spirit of helping others in need, I bring you a hodgepodge of helping opportunities.  My collection this week may seem random but all serve a purpose.

First of all an update to Habitat.  I hear they are still in need of Saturday workers.  Below is a message from the Baptist association:

"If you would like to help with this project I encourage you to call Steve Flener and 270-256-6950 for more information.  The home is located at 728 2nd Street in Beaver Dam and they usually begin work around 9am in the morning.  This is a great opportunity to help out one of our own! So even if you only have a couple of hours on Saturday please consider helping out.  Every volunteer hour that is recorded helps the Mason's out tremendously!"

A "hug from above" update on the food pantry, in that I heard they helped 232 people last week.

Now, to other needs around us.

"Betty's Buddies" is a beautiful new program, formed in honor of a wife battling Alzheimer's.  She is currently receiving care in a nursing home and her husband noticed how many others never receive visits.  BB is a "mentoring" type program where people can sign up to be a buddy and just simply visit someone, to make them smile and give extra company.  Right now, they are doing a fruit basket campaign by partnering with IGA to provide for every nursing home member in the county.  You can give a donation as small as $5 to help ensure someone gets a smile this season.

Thanksgiving is 1 week away.  Do you know someone who is home bound and will not have a meal this holiday, perhaps a neighbor or someone you know in need?  If so, please contact me personally, as our church delivers meal on this day throughout Ohio county.

Or, perhaps you could use this as your RAK opportunity and invite them over to your home?  Or stop in and surprise them with a plate and a quick visit.

With the holidays in mind, do you know someone who is newly grieving this season?  I just had a comment from a mom who lost her dear daughter just four weeks ago.  How I remember the firsts after losing Austin.  My heart goes out to those especially who see the anniversary of their loss around the holidays.

If someone comes to your mind now, consider that as a God-nudge asking you to do something for them this season.  It doesn't have to be big.  Maybe a note on their door or in the mailbox.  Everyone gets Christmas cards but how many get a card around Thanksgiving?  Or, as you are packaging up leftovers from your dinner this week, maybe you could deliver it to a new widower, who finds it hard to eat alone this season.  The next time it snows, maybe you could surprise them with a salted and cleaned driveway?  A simple act of kindness to someone grieving can go so far to their health, happiness and healing.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday: There's No Place Like Home

Home is my safety net.  The ultimate comfort zone.  A haven at the end of a long day.
Where my family is gathered will always be Home.

Through our married lives, we've lived in several houses.  From tiny apartments to country rentals to life in the suburbs.  Owning a home was a dream of ours but one that didn't come right away.  And while it wasn't my dream home, I'm grateful the wish was fulfilled.

Ours is a simple home.  No bells or whistles and in great need of refreshment and repairs but it has a roof and four walls to contain the love within.  And though it be modest, I know we are blessed to have this home, even with dated wallpaper and tears in the carpet.  Because so many do not.

Working with families who can't find adequate housing, I know the struggles.  Everyone just wants a place to call their own.  A home.

One organization helping to meet this need is Habitat for Humanity.  Our county is blessed to have an active chapter.  In fact, the ninth house is currently being built - just a hop and skip from where we live.

There are many ways you could volunteer to help with the current or future projects.  From money to sweat equity, your donations can make a difference.  They are about 100 tickets shy of completing the gun raffle.  Another need I've heard they have is feeding the volunteers while they are at the job site.  Lots of potential RAKs with this project!

For some, the thought of owning a home isn't even on their dream radar.  Just having a place to lay their head is.  Homelessness happens, even in small rural counties like ours.  But a homeless shelter is in the works.

Actually as this posts, there is a planning and zoning meeting tonight concerning the shelter.  Pray that votes go in the shelter's favor for them to move to the next step.

How else can you help?

A big need is money.  The next lofty purchase for the shelter is a fire alarm system so watch for upcoming fundraisers and support them, or donate direct below.

Checks can be made to:  Promise Home
1081 Rochester Rd, Beaver Dam
Or take to Commonwealth Community Bank. 
Other donations or questions call Angela Porter Stewart at 2561504

Supplies are also helpful.  Here is a list of their greatest needs.  They do not have to be brand new but should be gently used.  Desks and baby beds have been filled.

Promise Home is a 501(c)3 organization so donations are tax deductible

If you're reading this from the comfort of your home, consider doing a RAK or helping someone in need of housing today.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude

Every November, I think to myself, "I won't participate in the gratitude challenge online this year. People probably get tired of reading those statuses.  Maybe I'm turning someone away from gratitude?" Yet, every year I do.

Kind of hard to see it as failing though when there's focus on the good each day!
Truly, I can't help myself.

No matter the circumstances, no matter the trials, there is always something to be thankful for.

But this attitude isn't just how my Novembers are spent, it is how I live my life.

Thanksgiving is not just a day, 
or even an month for me, 
but how I try to live every single moment.

There's research that shows people who express gratitude on a regular basis are happier.  I like to say the more thankful you are, the more JOY that comes into your life.  You appreciate the little things more.  See more silver linings.  And that makes every day brighter.

Go ahead, give it a try.  

In this very moment, what are you grateful for?  Think about it, dwell on what it is.

You're welcome.

Here's a few of mine so far this month.

Thankful for an impromptu family day full of 
laziness, snacks, movies, laughs and littles!

Today, I'm grateful for a job that allows me to make a difference in the lives of new families every day. They bless me each and every week. I'm thankful for new opportunities, a career change, and continued learning.

 ‪#‎thankful‬ to live in such a beautiful county and to be on the road this time of year.

 ‪#‎Grateful‬ for a cousin's night out. My first best friend. We don't spend enough time with each other, life gets busy and in the way. But I'm ‪#‎thankful‬ for opportunities like tonight to reconnect. Giggle. And have a sleepover.

Thankful my boy is stocking his momma's freezer! 
Will be even more excited for a batch of his famous ‪#‎deer‬ chili! 
And grateful for a wonderful dad who spends time with his son.

Thankful in every moment...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thankful Thursday: RAK Kickoff

Faithful Fridays will be temporarily on hold for the month of November, in order to bring you something timely for the Thanksgiving season.

November is a bittersweet month for us, a time of remembering what a special gift we had in Austin, but also in reliving the horror of losing him.  As the first anniversary of his death rolled around, something difficult to celebrate even knowing where he was, our family decided to do random acts of kindness in his memory.

The next year it grew as friends and family jumped in to remember our son.  Every RAK done for Austin is a hug for our souls!

I've pondered this year on how to roll out Random Acts for Austin and been in prayer for needs in the area.  Between last night's scene and an inspiring story on tv this morning, Thankful Thursday was born.

Each week, I'll bring ideas for our area of things your family could join in on in memory of Austin.  Now, I realize many of my readers are across this earth, so just use them as a springboard of inspiration.  There are always needs all around us, we just have to use God's eyes sometimes to see them.

A new activity our family plans to do this month is to fill a backpack for a foster child.  We happened upon this beautiful idea on social media and it instantly spoke to me.  You see, for those who are new to this blog, our niece unexpectedly landed on our doorstep 3 1/2 years ago, with only the clothes on her back.  Even though she was family, it was a difficult adjustment period and just stocking her with clothes and basics was quite an undertaking.  Thankfully God, friends and family helped us through.  Now, she has so much "stuff" we periodically have to purge and donate!

But I remember the look on her face, the shock and loneliness, even though she came to family she knew and loved.  I can only imagine the feelings foster children go through, as they are planted in a new place with unfamiliar faces and surroundings.  Most have nothing of their own to go with them.  These backpacks are a wonderful idea and I can't wait to go shopping with our kids to build some hope and love for two teens.  The link is above for Katie's project.  If you aren't in the area, you can donate to her cause.
**(when I went to copy her link, 123 shares was the first thing I saw.  Austin wink!)

Last night, on my way home from work, I passed a location that I drive by multiple times a day.  With the time change, it was already very dark but the lights from this building shone on the line of people waiting to get inside.  It was our local food bank.  My heart broke in that moment and I found myself praying for the people in line the rest of my drive home.

We've never gone without food in our life.  Growing up, I remember "tough times" and we poke fun of my mom for the month of dumplins we ate one year, but looking back I'm tearful and grateful for her dedication to ensure that no matter how tight finances were, she always had a hot meal on the table as we came home from school.

My children have never known hunger and for that I'm ever-thankful.  Yes, there have been rough moments, due to job losses and tragedies, but God has always provided.  Some meals the kids might not have listed as their favorite, but their bellies were full when they fell asleep.

Groceries are expensive!  Our own household has recently had a tightening, a readjusting of meal planning, in an effort to trim the budget.  But I cannot imagine knowing I didn't have anything to feed my family.

Below is the contact info for our local pantry.  I have a message in for what needs they currently have and will update this post when they call.  Search out your local pantry this month and consider donating to help those in need.

If you donate or do a RAK this week, post a comment and let me know. I have no doubt Austin is smiling down on all that will be done!  Thank you for giving of your resources!

Ohio County Food Pantry 
boxed, canned, perishable goods to the low income citizens 
1220 S. Main Street, Hartford, KY 42347
Telephone - (270) 775-5913

**Post Update:

The Food Pantry serves over 600 families a month in Ohio County!
So they are ALWAYS in need of food or money to purchase it.
If you're interested in donating, Pat (number above) will arrange for pick-up or delivery.
Thank you!!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Grief to Thankfulness

During October I participated in a photo challenge.  30 days of capturing the grief of child loss. Though it is something I live with daily, it was fascinating to see it visually.  To focus on a topic and a picture to describe my feelings each day.  Purposefully, I didn't really look ahead or think about what I would write each day; instead, I lived in the moment.  Capturing photos from where I stood in the day.  Where grief found me at various points of the day.

Goosebump hug - "23"1 posts on this last day

As I looked back this morning through my collection, a collage of grief, 
something stood out.  

Healing.  Truth.  Joy.  Life.  

For so long, in the darkness of grief, 
I didn't know that any of those would ever exist again.  
Below is Day 29.

Day 29: Reflect #captureyourgrief
All day I've thought "how can I sum up the past six years of #childloss in an Instagram post?" Impossible.
But driving home I saw this tree and turned around to capture a photo. It spoke to me about grief.
Ugly/beautiful. Gradual. Slow, like that of the seasons. Change. Death and yet, life.
After taking it, I looked down and noticed the arrow. Moving forward. Looking ahead. Hope. #joy. And it's all a cycle. Yes, if a paragraph can sum it up this tree inspired that reflection... #whathealsyourheart
The project actually went through 31 days.  The final day we were to capture a sunset.  Day 31, Halloween, found me knee deep in trunks of candy.  Organized chaos.  The scent of chocolate.  An array of costumed kiddos.  And sleet.  Seriously, sub-zero temperatures and just as we began to set up - freezing rain!  We pushed through and, although very chilly, it was a beautiful night.  Even in the weather, over 700 kiddos came through within an hour and a half.

Needless to say, I didn't have an opportunity to capture a sunset.  (Or post for Faithful Friday.) Honestly, I don't know if a sunset was even visible.  But here are some photos of my last night of October.  A sweet ending.

A panoramic view of the start of the night - Trunk or Treat @ EHBC

Our trunk - Monopoly
and the cutest "Mr & Mrs Moneybags" ever!
Now...we are in November.  A bittersweet month.  

A month of memories, our lasts with Austin.  Remembering the pain, the nightmare.  But also, absorbing the gratitude.  A month of thankfulness.  

For what was... and what is...and what will be.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faithful Friday: Forgive

Day 24: FORGIVENESS. Today let us open our hearts to forgiveness. Even if it is just a conversation that we have with ourselves. You may not be ready to forgive someone today and that is okay.  True forgiveness can never be forced so if you are not feeling it – then you are not feeling it! But we can still plant a seed. Forgiving someone may take years. It is a process. When you forgive another person you are not condoning their actions, you are just releasing yourself from them. When you hold onto anger or resentment for too long, you only end up hurting yourself. It is an easy thing to know in your heart that forgiveness will help you but to actually feel that is a whole other story. 

What are your thoughts on forgiveness? 
Have your had to forgive someone in your life? How did you do it? 
How did you let go of resentment? 

- - - - - - - -

Two years ago I wrote about this topic, specific to forgiveness in child loss.  Reading it again, I had to give praise to God for where I am now.  In 2012, I was still hurting, healing, processing the forgiveness needed to move on.  Now, I can't even pinpoint who or what that post was about.  And I know, without a doubt, any forgiveness I gave came from and through Him.  What a wonderful feeling when your soul is free from anger and resentment!

Today, I thought I'd focus on forgiveness of self in child loss.  Guilt is common with losing a child, no matter the circumstance.  As parents, we feel a responsibility to keep our children safe, happy, healthy.  When that goes wrong and life turns upside down, we blame ourselves.

For so long, it seemed, that night was on auto play in my mind.  I relived the moments leading up to Austin's death over and over and over.  Was there anything I could have done to prevent this?  Should I have made him get his flu shot that year?  What if I'd said no to the bike ride?  Should I have postponed his tonsillectomy, even though he'd begged to wait until after Thanksgiving so he could taste all the family's traditional foods. Why didn't I help Tim with CPR instead of sitting there sobbing, screaming, holding Austin's hand?

Would any of it have mattered?  Would anything turn back time and return my son?  

Months later, when we discovered the true cause of his death and heard the medical examiner assure us there was nothing before-during-or after that would've changed things, it helped.  Somewhat.  A piece of the guilt we carried went away.  But, I just replaced it with other reasons to not forgive myself.

Did Austin know we loved him?  Should I have not shopped on Black Friday and spent the day with the boys instead?  How many times that last day did I hug him?  Was I good mom?  Did he realize how much he meant to us?  to everyone?

And even now, six years later, I still find myself wishing, wondering.  I still have moments of guilt and areas I haven't forgiven.

I look at his little brother, now the same age but stockier, taller.  He fills up the queen size bed in his room and my heart cringes, remembering that Austin was still in a twin.  He'd grown faster than we'd ever imagined and the bed seemed to shrink beneath him overnight.  Though we'd talked about buying a bigger size, we hadn't yet.  And I think about whether his nights were uncomfortable, or if his back hurt in the mornings from being cramped in a small bed.  He never said.

Or that I never bought him the Iphone he wanted.  Perhaps I didn't spoil him enough.  Guilt has caused me to do so more with his brother, I know.  We never went on that trip to New York.  Or to a concert to rock out to AC/DC.

Your mind is continually filled with coulda/shoulda/wouldas when you've lost a child.  You wonder if you made the most of the time you had with them?  If it - or you - were enough...

There's no cookie cutter response to forgiveness, whether it is to yourself or others.  Each situation, every hurt or wrong or regret comes down to time and prayer.  Time helps anger and guilt fade.  Prayer erases the pain and replaces it with healing.

Thankful I'm not where I once was, hopeful I'll continue to grow, and laying it at His feet to help me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


There's a bucket list in my head every fall.  You know, where it isn't fall until....

The leaves start changing, creating a patchwork quilt, and then begin to drift toward the ground.  
And at least in my mind, I envision scooping them up into a giant pile and jumping in. 

Trust me, it is much more of a "Hallmark moment" in my visions vs reality.  
Should I actually attempt it, it would be more iFunny or AFV.

And it isn't fall until...

All the seasonal food favorites make their debut.
Like the first pot of chili.
The gooey crunch of a caramel apple.
Pumpkin flavored anything.
A mug of hot cocoa.

or until...
My steps are covered with mums and pumpkins.
The fall wreath is hung and other decor.

We've attended at least a handful of fall festivals.
Craft booths.  Food trucks.  Cake walks.  

and until...
We visit the Apple orchards.
Corn mazes.  Apple everything.  Hayrides.

or until....
A few bonfires have been had.
Feet warmed and belly full of laughs, surrounded in a circle of friends.

or until...
My guys take off to the woods to hunt
and me and my girl snuggle in for movies.
Spooky, creepy, sleep with the light on movies.

And as we wind up October, with a little over a week to go.
Halloween is calling to cap off the fall season.

With costumes, trick-or-treating, crockpots of soup and trunks full of candy.
Where I sneak and steal all the dark chocolate.
Jack-o-lanterns glowing.  Pumpkin seeds toasty from the oven.

Then, the fall-la-la-la-la (October) bucket list will be complete!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Faithful Friday: Trust God

When I think back to last October and all the change that has come, I'm amazed.  Life isn't anything like I'd expected or planned it to be.  But still, life is good.

Last fall was a major life change for me, leaving a job after 16 years.  For the first time ever, I was unemployed.  And instead of providing, helping, doing, I was on the other side.  It was a scary, uncertain future.

For a girl with a slight case of OCD, and one who surely likes to be in charge and control, not having a job was like setting out in a boat on choppy waters.  For awhile, I didn't know where I'd end up and it felt like I'd been abandoned.

Our finances took a hefty ding and, at times, I felt like God let us down.  Hadn't we suffered enough on this earth?  Why must we struggle again so soon?  How were we ever going to manage?

Eventually, with my hubby's loving reminders, I let go and just trusted God.

The past year hasn't been easy.  There have been huge adjustments, changes, of figuring out who I am in a new career, and a shifting of priorities. Not that we ever lived extravagantly, but we lived in excess.  Now, we've learned that less really is more.  There's a tremendous difference in needs versus want, something the kids have been somewhat less eager to learn at times.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, 
to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” 
~ Will Rogers

Change has helped us to refocus and reminded that God is in control.

What's been wonderful is that somehow, every need, every time, God has provided, often to the penny.  There's been unexpected blessings and many lessons along the way.  What we know, no matter what, is that we can trust God with our tomorrows - and our todays.

We may not have a lot but we certainly have all we need.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Faithful Friday: Support in Childloss

If you've been following me on Instagram or elsewhere, you know I'm participating in the #captureyourgrief project with CarlyMarie.

Day 10, today, is Support.

That's a tough one for me to verbalize because, in many ways, I've felt alone while navigating my way through child loss.  One of the most popular posts I've written about support, or rather lack of, can be found here at Still Standing magazine.

What I know six years later, is the majority of people just don't know how to begin to support someone who has lost a child.  Because, for the lucky ones, they've never experienced the horror.  To step out into that possibility is just too scary.  So most just avoid it.

Where I found the most support {from people} was from those who had already walked this dark path.  Even from those first days at the funeral home, I recall every heart-aching face that came out to relive their nightmare, just so they could hug us and let us know they were here.  The pain was tangible, even if their loss was years prior.  With so much truth in their faces, we knew what we were up against, seeing their lingering grief; but we were grateful for their help and guidance.

Where I found the most support {online} was through child loss sites.  Message boards, where I could pour my heart to strangers who knew my pain, helped me cope in the middle of the night. Websites specific to child loss gave me a connection, an understanding that others had experienced what I was going through, hope to see how other's had survived. Reading and researching grief, watching for the signs of depression in my family, how to help my marriage and prevent the staggering divorce rates shown on Google, and what to say to my little boy grieving his brother helped me process, plan and prepare.  I was in charge online and could choose when and where to go, what to say, and when to shut down.  Online, it has been easy to share about Austin and our child loss journey online, but face to face, my emotions usually fail me.  Online, I have been able to bare my soul and heal with each typed word.  Along the way, I've been blessed to gain many new friends, members of a club no parent wants to join, but united just the same.  One such friend has about the best collection of what to do for grieving parents I've ever read.

Where I found the most support {from community} has been our current church home.  We wouldn't find this home until we were 3 1/2 years out from losing Austin, but the timing of when we found them was impeccable.  We joined our church in what would've been Austin's graduation year from high school.  So many milestones and missed moments, heartaches we could have never anticipated, and pains, like a wound ripped open again, led us to covet the many prayers freely given for us by our church family.  It touched our hearts even more that we were so new but they welcomed us with open arms, and treated us as if we'd been members for years.  The church typically gave all students a gift card the Sunday after graduation.  For Austin, they made a donation to his scholarship fund.  That first year, we also joined a Lifegroup, something foreign to us, but that close knit group of friends surrounded our family with love and support in a time we needed a sense of belonging most.

But how I've survived most, where I've found the biggest comfort, solace, peace and support is {spiritually}.  Even when I pushed Him away, God was there to hold me through the darkest pain my soul would ever know.  He has been my guide, the place where I find rest and compassion, where I could pour out anger, heartache, questions, and tears, yet still find kindness and understanding.  He carried me when I couldn't take the next step, held my hand as I braved another day, and nudged me to help others facing this loss as I began to heal.  I cannot imagine my life, especially these past six years, without Him by my side.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Faithful Friday: Unanswered Prayers

For six years I've struggled with one very personal factor of losing my son.

God said no to my deepest, most heartfelt prayer.

While I would never wish this pain on even the most evil in this world, in the early days of grief, when I heard of other's answered prayers - of healing, of miracles, a part of me would twinge. Sometimes, if I'm honest, a part of me still does.

Why not my son?  Why not my prayer?

It's the question that's crept doubt into my faith.  Why I felt anger brimming on the surface, even from the ER that first horrible night.  What turned me away from church for awhile.  And why I tried to push God out of my life.

I couldn't understand how He could let my husband and me survive a motorcycle wreck, but take my son while simply riding his bike around our neighborhood.

Nothing made sense anymore.

Our wreck had changed me.  It was a stop sign for our life.  During the days that followed, I appreciated moments more.  Sunrises and sunsets had meaning.  I treasured every moment with my family because I knew how precious time was.

And I shared it with others, frequently giving praises to God for saving us.  Helping others see the special in every day, was what I thought my purpose was.

So when God pulled the rug from under my fairy tale dreams, nothing made sense anymore.

What more could he want from me?  How much more did I need to suffer on this earth?  And how could I ever share the good news when so much good just left this earth?

I know now our wreck wasn't just a stop sign - it was a gift.  Those three years after were the closest our family ever was.  We made the most of every single day, packed more "I Love Yous" than ever before, and created sweet memories, not realizing a countdown was ticking away in Heaven.

Somehow we came through the darkness that comes with child loss.  Eventually, slowly, joy returned.  And my relationship with God strengthened beyond measure.

Yet, in the background hissing now and then was the reminder that God didn't hear my prayer.

At least not the one that mattered most.

To this day it is something I've fought with, what I've internally pushed aside during moments that required my faith to stretch and reach.  Though I tried to ignore it, that question was always lingering.

And then, in His perfect timing, He sent me a message that changed it all.

Last Sunday, our pastor spoke the words God knew I needed to hear.....

Even Jesus had unanswered prayers.

Wow.  That single sentence weighed heavy, bounced around the corners of my mind, and settled into my heart.

In the Garden, on the evening before Jesus would die for my sins, he prayed his deepest, most earnest prayer to His Father.  But even in his distress and agony, God couldn't answer His prayer.  His own son's.

Even knowing the pain it would cause, there was a purpose and a plan.

 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, 
and he said to them,
Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, 
and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 
Then he said to them,
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. 
Stay here and keep watch with me.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. 
Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October: Capture Your Grief

I've been drawn to sunrises and sunsets for many years now.  When you've faced a life or death experience, in addition to the deepest of pains - child loss - it, without a doubt, changes the way the you look at the world.

I try to treasure every moment, to make the most of each day, and to celebrate the joys it brings.  I do this because I know ours day are precious and never promised.

So, it is nothing unusual for me to comment about a sunrise, to stop my car in the middle of the road to capture a photo, or to even call someone and have them look outside if they're not with me.

This morning, the sky was beautiful.  

We were headed out a little earlier than normal, as I'm traveling this week for training.  With the kids in the car, I leaned on them for photo assistance.  Noah, still half asleep, grabs my phone and starts clicking.

Not pulling over, windshield between, and the limitations of a camera phone, I didn't expect to get great quality, but wanted to catch it even still.  But, dropping them to school, commuting, and then jumping straight into an all-day training, I didn't have a chance to look at what he caught.

As I'm relaxing and catching up on my news feed tonight, I notice a photo project online that catches my eye. From a sister-in-grief, she shares of a project for all of October to capture our loss and what heals our heart through photos.

November is right around the corner, a difficult season for us.  I love photography.  Sharing our grief to help others.  ....Seems like a perfect match.

Day 1:  Capture today's sunrise

Wow.  I remember that I did just that today.  But I hadn't even looked at them yet.

Pulling up the photos, I'm covered in goosebumps when I see the symbol reflected onto the windshield.  Call it angel wings....perhaps a butterfly, but there's obviously something there, under the sunrise.

It wasn't something I could see with my own eyes, only the photo captured it.
I wasn't in my typical vehicle, but Tim's.
It wasn't our normal time of time to catch the sunrise.
And I didn't even know about the project until after the sun set.

I'll take that as a big sign I'm meant to participate in this challenge.
Want to join me?  Comment below and I'll follow you.
Follow me on Instagram @ joyfulchallenge for each day's capture.

Joyfully expectant for where October takes me....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Faithful Friday: I'll Take You There

Oh, what a glorious day!

I've had the privilege to be out and about every day this week.  The drives have been absolutely beautiful.  Each time I walk outside, my lungs deeply inhale, almost effortlessly, because my entire body and soul just wants to soak. up. every. ounce. of Autumn.

Today, has been a picture perfect fall day.  
Sunshine with a cool breeze.  
Blue skies and fluffy clouds contrasted against amber fields.  
Tunes on the radio singing, "I'll take you there."  
And I was grateful for where I was in each moment of this day.

My eyes yearned to look on both sides instead of the road ahead of me, 
each view more wonderful than the last.  

Perhaps, because of  my busy week, the peacefulness of outdoors called to me.

But, there's healing, I think, 
when you're surrounded by God's beautiful landscapes.

With my head hanging out the window, soaking up all splendor of fall, I lifted up praise to Him for creating such views.  As my eyes would scan the patchwork terrain, my thoughts would wonder how majestic Heaven must be.  

If earth is even a fraction of what awaits....

I know a place, ya'all
(I'll take you there)
Ain't nobody cryin'
(I'll take you there)
Ain't nobody worried
(I'll take you there)

Let me take you there
(I'll take you there)

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