Friday, April 25, 2014

Faithful Friday: Hopes Springs

If all obstacles and fears were removed from your life, what would you want to do?  What are you working towards that if you snapped your fingers and could fast forward, you'd be there?

I was asked questions like this earlier in the week.
Basically....what are your dreams?

Some of them I found more difficult to answer than others.

I remember a few months back being asked, "where do you see yourself in five years?" and I was again at a loss for words.

Life isn't at all how I planned it now.  Life... didn't ask my opinion in losing my son.
And so, when I think about it, some of my hopes and dreams for the future were paused.

If I'm honest, I am fearful.  I worry that hoping too much or dreaming too big won't happen.
Because I've had the rug pulled out from under my feet more times than I can count.

Instead, I try to just make the best of what life hands me.  Instead I live now for today.
I find joy in the moment because I know how precious they are.  I appreciate the little things because I once took them for granted.

Living this way, I don't believe, is a bad thing.  Loss has made me value life more.  But in pondering those questions, and listening to my preacher remind us how important hope was, that we all need something to dream of, wish for, pray to God about, I realize maybe I'm missing out on a piece.

If I fully believe and trust God, I have to go all in.  I'm still not sure what that means but I am prayerfully looking to the future.  My God promises to prosper me, to give me hope, and a future.  So, I still need to dream...even if my happy ever after ends up on the other side.

The Lord your God is in your midst,

    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

Friday, April 18, 2014

Faithful Friday: Resurrection Rewind

While I don't often "cheat" and send you to past stories, I'm doing so this holiday weekend for my Faithful Friday post.

Having just started a new job, time has slipped away from me and this is one FF that doesn't need to be rushed through or taken lightly.  The story of Easter is so special and important that my readers deserve more - and so does He!

So, as you're waiting for your eggs to boil, kick back with a glass of sweet tea and peruse some former posts.  Wishing you and yours the most blessed Easter weekend!

Reflections on Good Friday

What it means to Be Still...

Sharing the Easter story with your kids

Fond memories with a special lady

and last, but not least...
How not to lose your sanity 
in the busyness of a holiday weekend

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Break in Spring

Spring Break has come and gone...
Tomorrow starts a new routine for me, familiar ones for the rest of the gang.

We say farewell to late nights and naps in the afternoon.
To eating far more than we should've, but it was oh, so good.
To carefree, no schedules, where clocks don't matter.

It sure was a good run and I feel blessed to have had the time.

We kicked off the break with a family day at the zoo.  It had been awhile since we'd gone as a group.

Growing up this was an annual trip, sometimes multiple times a year, with my mom and stepdad.  Traditionally, we'd end at the park across the street with a picnic lunch.

This April day was a wee chilly though so we opted for a yummy buffet at Golden Corral.  How can you go wrong with all you can eat cotton candy and a chocolate fountain with strawberries!?

I love this pic my sister captured of me and my itty bitty niece, Elaina Rae....

Monday the kids went to Mamaw's and gave me some alone time to do some of the heavy spring cleaning I'd been craving.  I balanced it nicely though on Tuesday morning with a shoe shopping trip, a heavenly facial, and lunch with my aunt and Grandma.

Still loving my Kitchen Aid mixer, I whipped up my first ever from scratch
And learned that you really do have to wait until it is completely cool...

A little sloppy but it didn't change the shut your mouth flavor one bit!

Wednesday, after a lazy good morning with the kids watching movies, 
I finally finished the winter to spring clothing swap.  Whew!

Now, where to put those new shoes?

Thursday we spent the morning at the park letting the kids be kids.
And then the afternoon at my uncle's pond.

Of course, getting to the pond was part of the fun, 
as it was more of a "truck route" and I was in my car.

Good thing I got hung up within in close distance to the pond, so we could fish while waiting for AAA!

When I called Tim to tell him I was stuck, he laughed it off and said 
"have Noah cut the line."
After I nicely explained we hadn't even made it to the pond, he laughed harder.
Really?  Did he think I'd call him if my fishing line got stuck?  

Friday Tim was able to take the day and go out with us.  
Sorry, I completely skipped my "Faithful Friday" post as a result!

We took the kids to a mini golf/laser tag place that I'd scored a big discount with a Groupon months before.  Outdoor golf...and I finally won a game! 
 Indoor where Tim redeemed his usual reign.
Then laser tag where I came in dead last.  Seriously, I think my gun was messed up.
And our first trip ever to Red Robin...

Our last blissful day of break was spent at the lake, 
where hours later we had only 4 fish to show for our efforts, 
but many memories of a wonderful week together.

How did you spend your spring break?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In Grief: What Mattered Most

There are many posts out there about what to do and what not to do if you know someone who is grieving.  I've thought many times about writing one from my own perspective, but didn't know if I had anything extra to add.  Or, I was fearful I'd leave something or someone out.

However, in the sudden loss of two teenagers this month, so many memories have been dug back up and I am reminded of that early grief, the raw pain, and yet, the moments that really mattered.

In the chaos of our loss, there are many things that stand out.  Acts of kindness that meant something, even today.  These are the things that mattered most when we lost our precious son...

Your presence matters....

Austin's passing was unexpected, tragic, and late at night.  It was a holiday weekend, Thanksgiving, and we gave him the rare treat of riding his bike around the neighborhood at that hour because the weather was unseasonably warm.  When I think back to the mass number of people that put their festivities on hold for us, it is humbling to this day.

There are moments I can't forget, that no amount of time or wishing will take away, memories so painful my heart breaks all over again.  And yet, there are also points of time I can't place.  How I got into a vehicle to follow my sweet boy in the ambulance is one of them.  I most certainly was in no condition to drive and I will always remember the kindness of the person who not just drove me, but prayed with me, for me, over me, the entire drive.

Or the cop and neighbors who, without hesitation, ran to our home to stay with Noah while we raced to the hospital.  They sat and talked to Noah about our newly hung Christmas decorations until my Mom could get to him.  They stepped in as family until ours could arrive.

Upon walking in to the ER, I was again met with people.  None of them were necessarily close friends.  At this point, we didn't know what was wrong with Austin or imagine he wouldn't survive.  Most of my family hadn't made it anywhere, some didn't even know yet.  To have those people there, so that we weren't alone, meant so much.  Even the crowds of people upon our leaving the hospital that night, though I didn't see or remember every face, was such a support to us.  And that support continued at our home.

Your prayers matter...

Shock planted me on a gurney and I was surrounded by more willing souls who wanted to pray.  They gave me strength to stand and enter the room to face the nightmare no parent should have to endure.

Our former pastor was soon at our side, there but in the background praying without ceasing.  He continued this practice throughout.  I remember him coming up to me at the start of our visitation to tell me he'd be in the back praying and how comforting that was to me.

There were - and still are- innumerable prayers said for us.  Aside from God, they are undoubtedly what carried us through.  The prayers said by people we didn't even know, or barely knew, spoke volumes to us.  The unexpected cards (so very much appreciated) that arrived in the weeks and months after with words of prayers held us.  People who reached out and specifically asked what they could pray for will forever be remembered.  I could write an entire post about the power of prayer.  Never doubt that your prayers make a difference to someone grieving.

Your attendance matters...

Until Austin, I never realized the importance of being at the funeral home.  I felt it was saved for close family and friends; and that I was taking up space or intruding on a personal, private moment.  But from the first face that greeted and hugged us, to the very last person who stood in line for hours - I cannot stress how much that meant to us.  People I haven't seen in years, those who drove hundreds of miles, ones I barely knew, to those closest to me were all so touching to see.  God granted me peace beyond understanding but it was those unexpected few that brought me to tears.  Show up because YOU matter to them.

Little things matter....

Meals, notes, hugs, flowers, keepsakes, calls and texts were all helpful and meaningful in our journey.  I remember all those calls, even if I didn't have the strength to answer them.  For me, talking on the phone was the hardest, but I thanked God for every ring because it reminded me someone cared.  But the little things, like someone stopping by the house before the funeral and asking for a list of things we needed was unbelievable.  Neither of us wanted to leave the house, I couldn't for weeks.  Having someone pick up toilet paper and stamps was beyond helpful and appreciated.  Think of ways outside the box or nontraditional to show you care.

Donations matter...

We were blessed to have life insurance on Austin, something I never imagined using, but it wasn't enough.  It barely paid for the service.  We were grateful for even the small amounts of cash given, so that we didn't have to go to the bank, could grab something for dinner once the meals ran out, or hand someone a grocery list with money.  There were times I would forget about a bill, from the fog I was in, and would regularly mess up our budget, yet somehow exactly what we needed found its way to us.  But what we'll never forget was the fundraiser given by former volunteers, which helped pay for his headstone.  To this day I can cry in gratitude for that gift.  And as time went on, donations to Austin's scholarship fund, whether direct or through purchasing a t-shirt or at a cornhole tournament were a hug to our healing hearts.

Friendship matters...

No, your friend will never be the same after suffering a tremendous loss, especially that of a child.  Don't think it is something you did or didn't do.  Don't rush their grief process.  Don't feel like you can't mention the one who is gone.  Even if tears fall, it means so much to know they are remembered.  Don't worry about what to say or not say, just be there.  While it added to our grief to lose some friendships after Austin, those that remained and blossomed through it are treasured by us.

Memories matter...

One of the greatest fears in losing a child is that they'll be forgotten.  We truly want to hear your memories about them, funny stories, what you miss about them, pictures you may have of them, etc.  One of the most special things we were given at the funeral home was a wrapped box full of letters from students/friends of Austin.  Even those who took the time to write but didn't know him well was so meaningful.  Those memories added moments we didn't know about his life.  They were a peek inside his world we were grateful to share a part of and they are a keepsake to this day.

Timing matters...

If I had only one tip to share in helping someone who is grieving is that time doesn't move at the same pace for them.  Grief doesn't stop after the funeral, in fact, it gets worse.  There are swarms of people, support, food, and help in the first week or two after a death.  And then, it dramatically stops.  Those who continued to call, send a card, or even stop by helped us heal.  Don't forget about them as time passes.  Anniversaries matter, whether it is the day they passed or their birthday, or even holidays like Mother's/Father's Day.  A hug or a text, letting them know you are thinking and praying will mean the world to them.  Those who still do an act of kindness to remember him on November 29 lift us up and let us know Austin still matters.  And that matters most of all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Simpler Times

I've been on a quest for days of old.  From the time of my childhood where less was more.

Several weeks ago we brought back Tech Free Time, where every evening all things techie go on the desk.  We have dinner while having face to face conversations; and a couple hours devoted to each other, instead of letting gadgets steal our precious moments.

Learning how to bake bread came at a great time, as I've been more conscious of the food we're eating.  Less processed, more made from scratch - the way Grandma did.  Last night I made chicken Alfredo lasagna and homemade breadsticks.

Tina said, "how do you even make alfredo?  doesn't it just come in a jar?"

I've trimmed and cut, shuffled and rearranged the budget the past few months, thanks to my unexpected stint in unemployment.  My coupon scissors have been dusted off and finding deals has again brought me joy.  And now, we're ready to downsize our television.

Because $1200 is an insane price to pay for watching a big black screen.

Of course, the kids think I'm a little insane.  But truly, with as many choices as are out there now, I just can't justify being a slave to satellite prices.  Where price cuts are only given to new customers and loyalty is rewarded by increased bills, it is time for me to say farewell.

We've had Netflix awhile and I was familiar with other viewing options, but I worried about losing our local news (and giving up Good Morning America).  Up until a few days ago, I didn't realize antennas still existed. Or rather, I didn't know how advanced they had become.  In my mind, I still imagined rabbit ears with tin foil attached.  And that really doesn't match my decor.

But after a trip to a local gadget store, and an afternoon with hubby on the roof, we now have 20 FREE channels.  Adding in Hulu for the bulk of regular shows we watch and cancelling satellite gives us a monthly savings of $87!  Now, if I can just convince the family that a chicken coop is ok for the suburbs...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Faithful Friday: Clean Me

Spring break has begun!  While the kids are lazily planning how little they can accomplish, my mind has been set on cleaning, organizing, and shaking off winter from the house.

Now, obviously I won't spend all my free time scrubbing and sorting.  My days will have a good mixture of hanging out with family, catching up on sleep, and still managing to check needed items off my to do list.

Yesterday, I started the task of putting away winter clothes to make room for warmer weather attire.  It's one I don't look forward to, as it is rather boring and time consuming, but I'm always glad once it's done.  A freshly organized closet makes early mornings so much nicer.  And it always puts a smile on my face to dig out those flip flops!

I spent a good chunk of today purging out cabinets.  Amazing how much junk can accumulate over such a short time.  But six trash bags later was a sign of how much it needed to be done.

The problem with cleaning places nobody really sees, is there isn't much proof of all the work you've done.  Until someone opens the door, they can't appreciate the hours you've spent.

And let's face it, even when you do the deep cleaning of scrubbing floors and walls, most aren't thankful for the sacrifice.

I wonder if God feels that way about us?  

There's been wasted years of my life where I certainly didn't act as if I appreciated the sacrifice Jesus made for me.  For a long while, I just spot cleaned, picked and chose the areas of life I wanted to let Him in.  Sure, He could have my entryway but stay out of the closets.  There were many years where I just scrubbed my appearance, but really didn't allow God to dust the cobwebs of my soul.

But when you take your dirty, your clutter, your sin - and fully expose it to Him, he'll set you free.  And just like the feeling of a freshly clean house in spring, there is nothing that compares to allowing God to cleanse you anew.  And the work he does within you is visible from the outside, much like the view from sparkling clean windows.

Just remember the human side of us continues to get dusty.  We fall back into bad routines.  Or become lazy and disobedient.  Or let the filth of this world influence us.  So even once we've fully committed to Him, we should still check ourselves seasonally.  Everyone needs a spiritual spring cleaning now and then...

So, as I tackle the house this week, might I remind myself to spend time with the Master.  To listen to Him on the areas I may need to dust or sort.  Because it won't matter how much my floors shine, if my feet aren't following the path of the One that matters most. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Joy Rising

Some of my sweetest memories are of time spent with the boys in the kitchen.  Last night might just be among the best moments ever.

From the time Noah was eye level with the oven, he was not just interested but excited to be cooking.  Standing on a chair, he'd don his little red apron and work side by side Mom at the butcher's block, complete with own set of kitchen tools.

As he has grown older, that interest has turned into a passion.  And at this point, he is seriously considering the culinary field for his future.

That passion certainly helps a busy, working mom, with a willing party to start or fully prepare dinner many weeknights.  He has been so helpful the past few months that, when I learned of a local culinary class, I knew instantly this was the perfect way to thank him.

Picking Noah up from school, we set out for an old fashioned "Mom & Me" evening.  And a date out isn't complete without sushi, so we headed for our favorite spot.  Laughing over chopsticks and soy sauce, I soaked up the one on one time with my son.

After explaining part two of our night, I nearly lost my breath, from the massive squeeze he hugged me with.  Excitement gleamed in his eyes and there was an added spring in already energetic step, as we crossed the street to the restaurant for our bread making class.

Donning flour dusted aprons, we immediately set to work at our stations from the crowded kitchen in the back.

A warmth filled the room, not just from the ovens holding samples of pretzel buns, pizzas, and sweet rolls, but from Chef Bill.  He welcomed us and quickly set to giving us hands on lessons of making a basic bread dough.  And then showed us the world of possibilities with that simple recipe.

We learned that bread is very forgiving from the lack of rules or strict measurements, as Chef Bill just sprinkled and tossed ingredients our way and could tell by the texture when we were ready for the next step.

I loved watching Noah work and knead the dough, so in his element.  
He didn't hesitate in asking the Chef for tips or any questions he had through the night.    

Living a dream.

Both of us left with our dough, a starter, and memories we'll both treasure for years to come.  Noah's joy followed us home, as he relived the night with his dad, sharing with his favorite moments.

Tonight we get to continue the fun, using our dough for homemade pizzas and french loaves.  And I can't wait for our next time together in the kitchen, when we get to start from scratch with a new batch of bread.
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