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!
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