Monday, December 26, 2016

Good News...Great JOY

Though it feels nothing like Christmas, due to a random Kentucky heat wave, I've been full of holiday spirit for days.

We've had our windows open and fans blowing, but I've lingered beneath the tree, resting in the glow of the lights and pondering on the magic of the season.  It's been a beautiful weekend and I just wanted to savor Christmas a bit more.

Life moves so quickly, children grow, parents age.  The older I get the more I find myself dwelling on the passing of time.

We kicked off the festivities on Friday with our annual craft day.  This marks our sixth year of spending the day with our kids focused more on the presence of each other than presents under the tree.  From toddler to teen, they each look forward to the day.

My baby was such a help this year, from set up to clean up and all the places in between.  He led our first craft, his idea, making hot chocolate spoons.  Several weeks back, I'd asked him about his favorite Christmas memories and craft day was among them.  I would guess it's a favorite memory among all the kiddos.

Although my body ached from head to toe by the end, my heart was full from the memories we made.  
Christmas Eve was packed with our typical traditions from beginning to end, though with a working teen we needed to jam a lot into a little time slot.

He was a trooper though, waking early on the weekend to have appetizers for breakfast.  We managed to squeeze in a holiday movie,a long game of dominoes, a visit from Santa and even a nap.

Thankfully, Noah got out of work early enough to go with us for our favorite, fairly new to us tradition of attending the candlelight service at our church.  In fact, that service is what inspired the title of this post and has me feeling well within my soul.

Preparing my heart, I began to lift up prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us this year.  And suddenly, the pity party I had in my last post seemed very petty.

Life is going to have hills and valleys but we can't lose sight of God's love for us when we're in a lull or a pit.  That's exactly what the enemy wants.  In fact, it is in those trying times His love is never more present.  And truly, the health hiccups of 2016 are nothing compared to what we've already endured and survived.

In the quiet, simple service my heart swelled with remembrance of His many blessings.

Darkness will never cease trying to stop us from shining.  But light always overcomes.  As our church began to glow in increasing brightness, one candle after another, it was a visible reminder of the difference we can make in this gloomy world.  We must keep sharing the light.

That light, pure JOY, carried with me into the birthday of our Savior.  It is my prayer that Christmas will remain in my heart throughout the new year.  And also my prayer for you.

The best "gift" under our tree

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016: Record Year?

2016 was supposed to be The Year of Blair's.

January seemed so promising.  A milestone year, as each of celebrated "big" birthdays.  My one word for 2016 was chosen - Forward - with hopes and dreams of a record year. has left it's mark.

For Tim and me, milestone birthdays just meant a big reality check of aging.  More on that to come.  But for Noah, turning 16 has been filled with changes, opportunity and possibilities.  And for that, despite the hiccups that this year has brought, I'm thankful.

We've watched him hop from the nest and soar this year.  It's bittersweet as your child grows.  I'm proud of his independence but it isn't easy letting go.  As he's closer to an adult than a child now, I find myself mentally counting the days he's left to nestle under my wing.

In less than a year, he's become a licensed driver and been accepted to college.  How did that even happen?!  I'm thrilled he already knows what he wants to do with his life and is so passionate about his future.  For that, 2016 has most definitely been a record year for him.

Spring saw me with an extra bounce in my step, not just from the return of warmer weather but also because this 40 year old body moves much better without ice and snow.  I welcomed the season with a trip to the mountains with my momma and restoration within my soul.

By summer, with half the year gone, I found myself grabbing hold of joy.  Realizing that my focus was slipping, I pondered on what began this little blog and challenged myself to find joy every day.  And record each moment.  31 days of Joy.

Perhaps it was because God knew I needed to store it up for the season that was coming.

Tim welcomed 50 with a surprise retreat.  Though my dream was that somehow a free cruise or trip to the beach would have landed from the sky and whisked us away to celebrate, I was pretty proud with the mini vacation Noah and I pulled together.  It was relaxing and everything that Tim loves.

And it was the respite we needed to prepare us for the storms ahead.  Once Tim blew out that big 5-0 it was if someone flipped the switch on his health.  My rock began to crumble.  Without warning, we found ourselves in the ER for random pains and scares in October and health concerns would continue to be the theme for autumn.

As I write this post, he's off for the week recovering from a foot injury, though there wasn't an accident to cause it.  None of his ailments have been serious but they've been enough to shake us.  He's struggling with having to be still and not be the doer, providing for our family.  For me, it hurts to watch him hurting.  I'm worried about his current issues but also stewing on our future.  We're so not prepared for aging, or the potential of either of us not working.

It's enough to have me concerned about the forward that it pulled me from the bed at 2 a.m.  And I know that isn't at all the purpose God would have for me, when he sent that word twelve months ago.
Through 2016, He's helped me learn to let go.  Now I must lean in and trust Him for whatever is to come...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Winter Wonderland Woes

We're just a few days in to the holiday season and stress has already reared it's ugly head.  Yesterday it was the "Search for the winter coat tote fiasco".

Crunched for time, hoping to get in a bit of our downtown festivities before Noah went to work, I popped open the blue tote that should have contained our winter coats.  Instead I found it full of spring jackets and hoodies.  Poor hubby made numerous trips to the shed, up and down the ladder, pulling back out the near empty Christmas totes to see if one got shoved in the back.  No luck.

Clock-ticking, Noah still not fully ready for work, no coats in sight.
I chose to deal with it by having a bit of a meltdown.

Yes, with a wonky thyroid, not having a warm coat and gloves can send me spinning this time of year. I knew my fingers would go numb, my teeth would chatter, and I'd feel miserable.  But it wasn't my hubby's fault, who caught the bulk of my fit.

Now, there are several factors I could blame in this scenario.For one, I obviously wasn't as organized as I should have been last spring when putting everything away.  For another, I've needed to get our coats out and organize the hall closet for a few weeks but just haven't made the time.  And, we were all a tad lazy Saturday morning.  It is rare the guys can sleep in and I treated them to a big breakfast as they awoke.  We then lingered and caught up on shows we never seem to have time to watch, played pool and enjoyed each other's company.  As such, Noah was more than a little delayed in getting ready for work.

But when I really press in to the reason for the meltdown it has nothing to do with any of that and more to do with adjusting to the changes in our family.  Noah is nearly grown and the holidays are just different as your kids get bigger.  With work and being a teen, he's rarely home.  Family moments are harder to capture.  There's a shift, a transition in time and this momma bear is struggling.

The picture perfect Christmas festivity I envisioned didn't happen.  

Instead of being pouty that Noah couldn't be with us, I should've been thankful for the time we had together that morning.  Instead of whining over the coat that matched my outfit, I should've changed clothes and added layers (and been grateful to have more than I need).  Instead of wishing for what was or could've been, I should have thoroughly enjoyed the couple time and my supportive hubby, who tried his best to appease his cranky wife.

How often does that occur this time of year?  We dream up an idyllic Christmas and anything less is a disappointment.  Overbooking, tight schedules, and thin wallets can add to the chaos.  Toss in healthy doses of family drama and you have a recipe for disaster.

But in the hustle and bustle that can become Christmas, how many of you hope to slow things down and simply soak up the goodness of the season?

As my calendar begins to fill and time gets squeezed out, I begin to feel that way myself.  When we have to decline a function and feelings get hurt, it makes me question priorities and relationships.  As the date draws closer to the 25th, I'm mindful that the relationship which should be my priority is the very One whose birth we are celebrating.

Amidst the chaos of Christmas, why don't we instead seek a moment with Majesty.  To be still and know...  To let everything else go and just be in His very presence.

I'm reminded that my Christmas wish should be so simple...

To not compare the presents (or lack of) under my tree with those I see
and focus more on the presence of who is around it

To say no when there's no space to give and be well in my soul in doing so

To pause whenever I feel the stress of the season and remember the reason we celebrate

To be fully in every moment, grateful for the memories in the making

To seek Him in the midst, to search Him out, and surround myself with His very spirit

To let it go when others hurt me and share examples of His love

To let His light shine through me everywhere I go

To be still...and know that He is God.
Above all else.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Thanksgiving Wish

Maybe it is pressing the invisible brake on time, as we're days out from our first college tour with our baby boy.

Maybe it is the numbness from the horrifying news of the bus crash in Tennessee, on the cusp of this holiday weekend.

Maybe it is that this weekend holds horrible, terrible memories of our own in losing our firstborn the night after Thanksgiving.

Maybe it is sharing in the pain of loved ones facing the chaos and sorrows of life.  Unexpected upside downs.

Or maybe, it is the mixture of it all.  All the melancholy, on the heels on "the most wonderful time of year".  Whatever, it has me extra grateful for time off, a slowing down for the season.  Welcomed relief and rest, space for self-care.  Retreating and staying in with the ones who mean most.  Serving others and giving thanks.  Coffee and board games.  Random acts of kindness.  PJs and pie.  Family dinners.  Fireplace and Christmas movies.  Kitchen messes.  Macy's parade.  Christmas tree scents and sparkles.  Laughter and tears.  Memories and mementos.

Unplugging and reconnecting.

And so I'll leave you all with this, my wish for each and every one of you.
Be kind to yourself - and kinder to others.  Seek gratitude.  Embrace and treasure the day, whatever it brings.  Prayers it is filled with goodness...

Image result for thanksgiving prayer


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Country Mouse visits the Big City

When Noah was younger, one of my nicknames for him was "my little mouse."  He was not a fan.

Anytime I said it, he'd scrunch up his nose, make fists, and tighten his shoulders as he'd growl,
"My not a ittle mouse, my a boy!"

As he towers over me with his giant frame, I rarely call him that anymore but was reminded of it Friday when a major milestone took place.

My little country mouse toured the Big City and his future college.

The entire day seemed like a dream, in every sense of the word.  For me, it was hard to imagine that in a year and a half my baby will be on his own, hours from home.  For Noah, it was a glimpse into the future he's always wanted.  And seeing him experience his passion helped take some of the sting out of him growing up, up, and away.

Wednesday night we realized that each of us would be off on Friday - a rare occurrence in this house.  Noah was also in the midst of picking his senior schedule and trying to decide about dual credit courses for college.  It hit me that this was the perfect opportunity to tour his top pick - Sullivan University.  Tim made the call the next morning and, thankfully, they were able to work us in for an early Friday slot.

Though we had to set an alarm at 4 am, the entire day could not have been more perfect.  We toured the campus, spending most of our time in the culinary hall, which is where Noah plans to major.  He was able to meet a few of the chef/professors, a couple students, and see the kitchen/labs where he'd be learning.

There were many times I got teary but my voice even cracked, as I shared with the rep how he's wanted to be a chef since he was knee-high to a bar stool.  I can still picture him donning his yellow apron and setting out his own supplies to cook beside me.  Where did the time go?...

We also visited the dorm, which is actually a renovated hotel, complete with individual bathrooms, a pool. fitness room, convenience store and even a movie theatre on site!  The excitement as he soaked everything in was visible.

This was getting real.

We were so caught up in the moment that few pictures were taken.  Looking back, I wish I'd gotten more but I know there will be future visits to do so.  What we did capture was our next stops, once leaving campus.

Recommended by his advisor, we stopped for lunch at a local place ran by a graduate of Sullivan.  Super Chefs was everything Noah rolled into one establishment.  God, superheroes, and amazing food.  If he could've envisioned his dream restaurant, I imagine it'd been very similar.

Every wall had cool hero art, Noah was mega-jelly
I'm not sure why the Grinch was eating at Super Chef
but it was pretty cool to meet him

The food was amazing.  Our server called it "Caviar taste on a Rally's budget."  It did not disappoint.

Tim played it safe with steak and eggs.  I had fish tacos and a Caesar salad.  And Noah ordered shrimp quesadilla.  After seeing his dinner menu, we have to go back.  And the red velvet pancakes were calling my name for breakfast.  Guess we know where we'll eat while visiting Noah in the future!

We did save room for dessert, as Noah wanted to stop back by the campus bakery on our way home.  He plans to double major in both culinary and pastry, so it was neat for him to experience where he'll someday be.  Asking the lady for a sample box, we began pointing to the various delicacies.  At the end, we received a heart hug, as the total was 23.32 - a sure sign big brother approves of his future plans.

I'm still pinching myself and trying to ignore the giant red countdown clock that reminds me how quickly time is passing.  Though I know I'll miss him terribly - and can't even envision what life will be like then, seeing his smile makes every tear this momma knows will come so very worth it.  

Dream big, sweet boy.  The world is your oyster.  Or shrimp.  And even creme brulee. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

THANKS-giving comes

We lost Austin eight years ago, Thanksgiving weekend.  As such, November is a bittersweet time, filled with emotions and memories, some of which we'd rather forget.  Instead of focusing on the pain of the season though, we lean hard into the kindness and gratitude that comes with the turning of the calendar.

The year after he passed, I challenged myself to post something I was thankful for every single day of November.  As the days drew closer to the 29th, I questioned whether or not I would be able to post something positive when my heart was still shattered.  Once accomplished, it forever changed me; because it was proof that despite the circumstances life may send your way, there is always, always something to be grateful for.  

Aside from posting gratitude in each day, we also use this month to do Random Acts of Kindness in Austin's memory.  It has grown from doing it only on the 29th, to celebrating kindness all month, to truly having a heart for it all year.  

Noah shared with me a couple weeks ago that the past several times he's stopped into a local fast food joint, someone has paid it forward to him.  And while he admitted he sometimes gets surprised in the moment and forgets to continue the trend in that line, he makes sure to send anonymous kindness in other ways to keep it going.  Or sometimes he starts the movement.  I can't even begin to tell you how that made my heart swell.  

When we began doing RAKs, I was hesitant in including Noah, unsure if it would cause him more pain than good.  Instead, it helped bring healing to us all in a way I could've never imagined and became a family event we actually look forward to.  Helping others, bringing a smile to someone's face in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, is a far better way to spend that anniversary, than reliving the horror of losing our boy.

Austin had such a servant's heart, I can only imagine how happy it would make him to see us doing RAKs in his memory.  This time of year, he would already be asking to stock up on supplies so we could make treats for every person he knew - from mailman, to bus driver, to every school employee he came in contact with.  And the legacy he left behind for his friends is one that helped others.  A Christmas box remains wrapped in our living room, filled with notes from classmates who shared just that - how he made small differences with big impact every single day.

He's been on my mind a lot lately, probably the timing of the year, combined with the constant news of the World Series.  I haven't really watched baseball on tv, since he's been gone, but we have this season.  So many times, sitting on the edge of my seat, I could envision him pacing the floor, enthusiastically yelling, freaking out if we'd changed the channel, and celebrating the win.  How I miss that contagious smile and personality!

Losing a child is daily reality of how fragile life is, how much every day matters - what a gift it is, and hoping they are remembered in some way.  My prayer is that we make him proud this time of year - and always.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Pause

There's a bend in a road I travel occasionally that takes me back to when Tim and I were first dating. Whenever I drive it, no matter the weather, I roll the windows down and remember what the breeze felt like all those years ago.  Riding on his motorcycle, my arms around his waist, nestled up to his strong back, there was a warm safety that continues to do this day.

Back then, young and full of dreams, I would envision our life together.  Thinking of our future always filled with me happiness and I couldn't wait to be his wife.  Being with him then, wind in my hair, our love felt carefree and that's how I imagined our marriage would be.

Twenty-some-odd years later, there has been much joy and days upon days of happiness, but there has also been loss and heartache, sickness and pain.  I don't know a marriage that doesn't have a mixture of it all.

Last Saturday night, I was stewing a bit and not feeling the hearts and butterflies of that young love.  Tim had been an absolute grump and was not my favorite person.  And even though I more than a little frustrated with him, I sat thinking about how often little hiccups like ours send some couples right apart.  Maybe it is because we've endured most of life's big ones, but I just don't understand how easy it is for marriages to simply end.  So often I see emotions dictate permanent decisions.  It saddens me to see others fall "out of love" faster than they fell in, as I don't know how that's possible.

Maybe I'm extra sappy from the week's experiences, but Tim is my person.  My best friend.  My soul mate.  And I can't imagine life without him.  

Almost exactly a week ago, I wrote about prayer.  Little did I know that God was preparing my heart for a storm.  While my mind was heavy with the needs of others, I neglected to see those of my husband.  

After over twenty years together, I should've seen his grumpiness last weekend for what it was.  My husband was not well.

I went to bed in tears Saturday for his attitude and awoke in tears for his safety.  Waking for church, I finally noticed signs that something wasn't right.  Struggling for nearly every breath, we locked eyes and he admitted what I saw.  Hearing him ask to go to doctor, while clutching his chest, is a snapshot in time I'd soon forget.  Though I remained calm, there were pieces of me breaking inside, as they
they took him back for tests in the ER.  

Sitting with my back to the same shared wall that I said goodbye to my son in eight years ago, I questioned my peace.  Was I dreaming?  Was I really back here?  For awhile, it was as if I had a foot in both places, remembering my screams that November night and quietly petitioning for Tim's healing in the room I now waited.

To date, we still don't have answers and he is still struggling.  We spent a long night in the hospital with every test coming back normal.  While I am grateful, it is hard to watch the love of your life hurting, uncertain, and not being able to do anything but pray.

As such, I've spent a lot of time at His feet this week.  

At one point in the hospital, my body so physically tired from watching over Tim and mind racing with prayers, I just mentally imagined myself there.  I didn't know what else to say, what other prayer to offer, so I simply said, "I'm here, Jesus....I'm here."

Often in this life, we don't get the answers we're looking for and sometimes we have to wait.  Neither are easy but I trust in His timing.  And I'm listening to what He's trying to teach me in the pause.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pray, Pray, Pray

Pray without ceasing.....

is among one of the first scriptures I recall memorizing as an adult that had great meaning for me.  I found this verse after our wreck and it became my daily mantra.

Be JOYFUL always, pray continually, 
give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you.  1 Thes 5:16-18 

In the midst of the chaos from the wreck, moments after the crash, I remember praying both audibly and internally for God to help us.  As the pain increased and my consciousness drifted, my prayers began to decrease until they were unintelligible moans.  But I knew God heard me.

I came upon this scripture one day, while confined to a hospital bed, and it stirred within me.  It gave me such comfort, such drive and purpose that I wrote it out and stuck in in various parts of the house.  Those index cards reminded and pushed me forward.  As I made the painful, but joyful, progress to be back behind the wheel, that index card went with me, attached to my sun visor.  Though I was healing, I didn't want to forget the lessons learned on my journey.  The biggest of which was to pray continually.

This revelation changed my prayer life.  Of course, in the beginning, my prayers were self-centered.  I needed help, healing and recovery.  Most days, my prayers did begin with my needs.  But over time this constant "telephone line to God" became much more.  I realized that prayers were not just in times of need, nor were they to be done only at meals and bedtime.  God desired to have my connection all the time.

Never stop praying...

Because of this strengthening in our relationship, I began to seek him frequently for others.  

Prior to the wreck, I had joined the fire department, and though responding was delayed due to my injuries, once back in the field, I found my greatest purpose on the scene was to pray.  As soon as tones would call us out, I began lifting up prayers for scene we would face.  Kneeling beside someone to do early medical care, I was whispering prayers with every movement.  Holding back loved or little ones from a trauma or fire, praying internally made me feel I was helping them even more.  

Pray without ceasing...

When we lost Austin, I remember prayers were the first utterances I made.  From the moment they placed me in a car to follow the ambulance up until I mustered the strength to enter his room and face the worst news of my life, all I did was pray.  

Never in my life had I prayed a more constant and continual prayer.  Again, I remember that at times my prayers were simply spiritual moans.  I was comforted in knowing the scripture...but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Through this child loss journey we've said prayers beyond counting, for ourselves, our son, our family, and others.  

To this day what touches me is the number of prayers that were -and still are- said on our behalf.  People I've never met, strangers, acquaintances prayed for us.  Friends who continue to share that they pray, even eight years later.  It is most certainly, without question, what has helped us survive.

And so we do the same for others, those who walk this same dark path.  Because I know prayers are the only thing that lights it enough you can see to move forward.

Continually, pray...

In the position I'm in at work, I consider it a great honor for God to have placed me in these families lives.  It is a privilege to pray for them and I do so regularly, usually on the way and leaving their homes.  Some mothers, knowing my faith, even text outside our normal visits asking for prayer.  

Lately, given the state of this world, our upcoming election and the state of our nation, turmoil within my family lines, and so many struggles I see and hear daily, I feel the urge to be in nearly constant prayer.  Often "pray without ceasing," will whisper across my soul.  

Sometimes, the amount of those in need of prayer overwhelms me.  How can I?  Where to begin?  What if I leave someone off this never-ending list?  Who first?  

Then God reminds me, "Lay it at my feet.  I have this.  And you.

Having a constant line of prayer isn't meant to be stressful, but instead a source of peace.  Our burdens can't outweigh the power of God and they will never be too much for Him to carry.  

So, when your prayers become a source of stress, remember the beginning phrase of this scripture...
Be JOYFUL always.  Even when troubled in prayer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transformation Tuesday

This past weekend we had family photos taken and I am seriously in love with them.  Maybe because it has been so long since we've done it (5 years).  Or maybe because I'm pausing to remember every morsel and milestone as Noah is on the countdown to graduation.  Or maybe because the photographer was super special and captured JOY in the photos.

I shared about our experience today, on my monthly post at Still Standing Magazine.  You can read more about it here.

In the meantime, how about the transformation...
What a difference five years makes.




Mom & Son...

Dad & Son...


Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Break Recap

How I miss those long blissful school breaks with the boys when they were little.  Every spring and fall, whether we went anywhere or not, I would always take off the entire week to be with them.  Fall was my favorite - still is - and I could hardly wait for the vacation each October.

As the years go by, it gets harder to schedule time off, or rather coordinate everyone's when you have a teen who also works.  Though I took a couple days off, in anticipation and hopes we could get away, life did not cooperate.  But, as we Blair's do, we pulled up our bootstraps and made the most of it.

I was determined to carve out some type of fun last weekend so we crammed what we could into those days.  It took some creativity and planning, as Noah worked Saturday night and Tim Sunday but we managed and made some sweet memories in the mix.

cheers - Brain sandwiches!
Saturday we awoke early and headed to our now annual trip, the Nut Club Festival.  If you remember from last year's post, it was our first for me and Noah.  This year, we took Tim along for the all-you-can-eat feast.

Our fave food this year was the meatball sliders.  #Best.meatball.ever

Noah was thrilled to find a booth serving okonomiyaki. The cook even more impressed he knew the actual name of the dish.  They called them banzai pies.

Last year we were spontaneous, this year we strategized.  Not sure which way I enjoyed more.  Next year we plan to visit and eat what speaks to us, since we've pretty much tried it all now.

Tim's not as adventurous as we are but it was fun watching his expressions of horror as we nibbled on brain sandwiches and other weird foods.  Somehow Noah got Tim to take a bite and I managed to capture his face of disgust.  We enjoyed them though and it will certainly be our first stop in years to come.

We had enough time left Saturday to swing by my nephew's 2nd birthday party.  He's such a cutie and we enjoyed watching him run around chasing balloons, yelling at us to stop singing to him, and screaming for more choc-ate!

This was one of my favorite pics, snapped of Kaiden and his great Grandma.
So much sweetness...

Sunday we opted to play hooky from church and soak up a bit more "fall break" by sleeping in, watching a matinee (even opting for the big popcorn) and having appetizers for dinner.  Though we were less than an hour from home, it felt like a vacation day, as those are all splurges we don't normally do.

pumpkin pickin'

Though I took off Monday, both the guys had to work, but we had time to squeeze in a sushi "mom & me" date before Noah's shift.  Tim slept right through our excursion but, given that he despises rice, I don't think he minded.

As I went back to work Tuesday, Noah enjoyed his day off by having a friend over for a sleep-over and xbox marathon.  One of my favorite sounds is laughter from his room with a buddy.  Really anytime I catch him just being a kid is a delight.

Today was my typical Friday off, so I did get to spend extra time with boy before he returns to school.  Though most of our time was spent running errands, being with him made it fun.  We shared many a belly laugh, I introduced him to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Elvira and sorghum molasses, and of course, a yummy lunch was had together.  

It wasn't a luxurious trip, no sandy beaches or touristy destinations were explored, but I'm rather thankful for the bookend break we shared.   Any moment spent with family is always a precious gift.

How did you spend your fall break...or plan to?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fabulous Fall

Driving home just now, I became teary, lifting up prayers of gratitude.  The prayer was for nothing special or big but instead something quite simple.  Or rather, many things.

It's only past lunch but it has been a truly beautiful, wonderful fall day.  Everyday, normal moments I feel extremely blessed to have had.

the seasons are "kissing" as summer meets fall at the house
Watching my son bounce off happily to school, earlier than normal so he could get a good parking spot for "Fun Day."  

Morning coffee with my hubby.  

Running errands in the sunshine, taking in the changing trees and blue autumn skies.  

Sneaking in a treat of a pedicure...purple toes. 

 And...yellow mums!

Yes, I chuckled aloud as I thanked God for yellow mums.  But then, he is the One who created them.  And I kinda think He takes pleasure when we show gratitude in the little things.

More than anything, I like to imagine that He is filled with joy when we are - and we pause to also be thankful for the experience.  I know that when my children showed joy and gratitude in the moment, it always overflowed me with the same emotions.

And on the opposite side, when they whined and complained, I was clouded with a whole different set of feelings.  So I would guess God shares the same sentiment.  How often we grumble and moan about things that really aren't that big in perspective.  I'm sure we're all guilty of having those pity parties.

Yet I see families struggle weekly with troubles that would knock most people flat out and yet they still go on, with their head high, and those around them aren't even aware of what they face.  Many prayers are said for families like these, or those struggling with illness, loss.  My heart has also been tugged toward the south, watching the mighty destruction of Hurricane Matthew.  When you compare your issues to something of that magnitude, it really helps change your outlook.

In my experience, focusing on what you have to be thankful for always adds happiness.

We've had our share of sorrow, but we also have had seasons of singing and JOY.  And I'm ever-grateful for this glorious season I'm basking in today.

What are you thankful for in this moment?  I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

50 Shades of Suprised

Last year, around this time, my hubby conquered his fear of heights and rode a sky lift with me and Noah. Somehow that turned into a plan to celebrate his 50th birthday in 2016 by jumping out of a plane.  As the months drew nearer however, I could tell there was a bit of trepidation in following through with the crazy idea.  For one, the price tag was rather hefty for the chance of a jump, considering Kentucky's unpredictable weather.  For another, fear of heights had not disappeared.

Wanting to still have something special for Tim to remember this milestone birthday, I went into planning mode.  Typically, his birthday is a carbon copy of the years before, at his request - fried chicken and some type of yummy cake, usually from scratch.  Last year, although he still got his annual fried chicken, I changed things up a bit and had a surprise pizza party where our son works.  Tim thought we were just joining him for dinner and walked in to see family and balloons.

But 50 needed something....more.  50 is one to remember.  

He never takes selfies - proof he was pleased
Tim would just shrug, as I searched for interest and ideas, and say he didn't need anything but us.  Turning to my trusty pals, Pinterest and Google, I began combing ideas to celebrate his big day.  As both guys had already asked off, it hit me that we had an opportunity to get away for the weekend.

It's been a year since we've been on a trip, even longer for a true vacation, but regardless of the short time frame, I accepted the challenge to find an amazing excursion.  And after lots of queries, a few tears and many prayers, Operation 50th Surprise was born.

What helped was that Tim was away the entire week leading up to his birthday, traveling for work.  This gave me extra planning time and allowed us to talk freely about ideas without him overhearing.  Noah and I would work late into the night, writing out menus, packing and preparing.  By the time he arrived home, everything but his boat was ready to go.

It was the only hint I gave him, leaving him with a small list of last minute needs to have ready by the time I would be home.  He headed out for bait, ice, and to gas up the boat with a puzzled but excited look.  Adding a trip to the dog kennel gave him one last hint we'd be gone at least overnight.

Later that day, as we hit the parkway, he continued to question and beg for tips on where we were going.  Each twist and turn of the GPS would confuse him even more.  As we pulled into the cabin, he was all smiles.  I managed to check everything off his perfect getaway checklist - fishing, food, family, beautiful views and quiet.

just of the many breathtaking views!

I settled in to unpacking and sent him down the hill to explore and take in some fishing.  

view from his fishing spot
As Noah wouldn't be joining us until much later, I'd planned a romantic steak dinner for two to kick off his birthday weekend.  He came back to the scent of potatoes roasting on a wood fire, music floating through the air, and a giant porch swing to watch the sunset.  

Deeming him master of the remote, we snuggled in to await Noah's arrival, which ended up being close to midnight.  I didn't even nudge him when he nodded off a few times, as I know that is a late hour for his senior age.  (tee hee)

Having a dock right off the property, allowed Tim to do both night and early morning fishing, something he loves, so he took in the sunrise by the creek.  I had coffee perked and a big breakfast of pancakes and sausage to greet him good morning.  We again enjoyed swinging and watching the dozens of birds flitter between all the unique birdhouses on the grounds.  

God blessed us with an uncharacteristically warm weekend, so we were able to head out for a fishing trip on the boat and actually take along sunscreen.  The creek, a watershed from the river's dam, was low and quiet.  Shady spots felt like you were floating into a magical movie scene.  Though we didn't catch a thing, it was a perfect outing, complete with relaxation and lots of laughs.  The boys were proud I even managed to keep myself composed, despite the fact that we saw three different snakes while out.  (A quick search of previous blog posts will let you know that was no easy feat for me!)

We returned home to shower and cool off, as Tim took in a long nap before sneaking down the hill to take in a bit more creek time, while we prepared his birthday feast.  

Having a chefy son has many perks, including that he loves to grocery shop, which he fully did for this trip (even paying for them!).  Noah started the wood fire pit (such a lovely addition!) while I chopped and prepped.  The boys played cornhole and I helped baby the most delicious pork loin we've ever eaten.  
Just as the sun was beginning to set. we called him outside for dinner.  And what a meal it was!

In fact, I don't think he even noticed or missed the fried chicken.

Sunday morning was much of the same, although we did take the long, lazy way home and stopped along the way to remember a trip from years ago where time stood still.  It was a sweet way to include our boy, who I know was smiling down at Dad on his special day.  As he always does, Austin sent special signs throughout the weekend.

All in all it was one blessed, surprise weekend I am sure Tim won't soon forget.
Here's to 50 more, my love...

Friday, September 16, 2016

See Inside!

What a blessing it is to be on the road this time of year.  Actually, most days I enjoy that my desk has a windshield.  But late summer/early fall in Kentucky is just fabulous.

Blues skies, amber rows of farmland, and the slightest hint of changing leaves.
Be still, my soul...

Even though my travels are among the same winding roads each week, I am continually joyed at finding new views, hidden gems along the way I've missed before.

Yesterday, although I was in a bit of hurry to get back in time for a training, a sign caught my eye.  Lately, I've been interested at the number of homes for sale.  I always wonder what the story is, as to why they are selling and the life lived among those walls.

The sign on the road was an obvious real estate notice but the wording was what grabbed me.

"I'm beautiful on the inside!"

Chuckling out loud, God nudged me and inspiration rose for this post.

The home wasn't a show-stopper.  I've driven past it more times than I could count the past few years and never paid it much attention.  Yet the sign made me want to stop and explore more.

I pondered how often I feel overlooked or insecure because of my outside.  My self-doubt often causes me to retreat or feel uncomfortable in gatherings.

If someone does glance my way, I will their eyes away, at the same time mentally panicking on how many things about me they could be scrutinizing.  I'm overweight, scarred and misshapen, thanks to injuries and auto-immune issues.  If I catch someone looking at me, I feel they are focused on my crooked face, scars, lumpy, deformed knee or any of the other areas that cause me to lack confidence.

Or, when I'm hoping to be noticed or chosen, I assume my appearance will be the reason they don't.  While internally, I may be screaming but I'm beautiful on the inside!

And I don't care if you are a size 0 or in double digits, I would guess there are far more women who have these feelings than not.  In a society focused on appearance, we so desperately just want to be noticed and known for who we are at the core.

How different might our interactions be, if we complimented the inside, opposed to the outer shell?

You exude kindness.  
Your laugh makes me smile.  
What a generous heart you have.  
How creative you are.
Your faith inspires me.

And how sad it is, we often don't stop to take the time to get to know someone better and see the inside.  

My prayer is that I start by seeing myself as God sees me, worthy and beautiful, and that I take the time to see others with His eyes too.

People judge by what is on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1 Sam 16:7

Monday, September 12, 2016

Breathe, Momma...Just Breathe

If you're a mom and you're stressed out....
funny, I couldn't even finish the sentence because of the irony that hit me.

It would probably be simpler to remove the word "and" because "Mom & Stress" seem to go together.  I know this because I am one, and my job is to visit with moms every single day, so I live and see lots of stress.

Not to say that everyone doesn't have some, we live in a hectic world, but most mommas tend to take on all the burdens of the family.  We're women and we worry, whether we want to or not.  And it doesn't matter what season you are in - from waiting to meet your bundle of joy, to chasing toddlers, to approaching an empty nest, we all have our own set of stressors.

I'm in the latter, so I'll tell those of you behind me in the mom line, it doesn't necessarily get any easier.  Just different.  You swap out sleepless nights from a crying baby to restless nights awaiting a teen driving home. Gone are the crazy, jam-packed weeks of homework and after school activities.  Now is learning to find new ways to spend your time, because your nearly grown child is working or out with friends.  For everything you are wishing away, you'll long for those days again.  Promise.

Truly, the stress I'm feeling lately has nothing to do with raising a teenager and everything to do with being a 40-something woman.  I think...

I'm blessed with a wonderful kid.  He still hugs us and says "Love you," no matter who is around. He's mature and wise beyond his age.  This school year, I've been especially proud to see him growing up, handling more responsibility, and staying very organized.  As a mom, I can't complain.

But there's this feeling of anxiety I can't seem to shake.

I'm not sure when it started or where it is coming from but it isn't enjoyable.  In fact, it threatens to suck the very joy out of me.  If I tally my list of potential stressors, I could blame it on many things.  But being worried about Noah's safety on the road, having a heavy caseload at work, church obligations, tight finances, or the start of the holiday season isn't why.  Not even November looming, my now least favorite time of year, because of such painful memories of loss.

If I'm being honest, there isn't a valid reason for the anxiety.  It is just upon me, which makes it that much worse.  It would be easier to accept if I could blame it on a laundry list of valid causes.

I'm jumpier, emotional and impatient.  Things that would never bother me before are now.  The other night from out of nowhere I was covered with overwhelming panic.  Heart racing, tears falling, I didn't know where else to turn but scripture.  With a shaky voice, I began reciting peaceful, hopeful phrases from memory.  When that ran out, I searched my Bible under those key words.

I visited my trusty oil box for a natural dose of God's gifts from the earth.  Soon sweet scents were diffusing through the room, uplifting me with every breath.  I prayed, journaled, read.  And I turned on soothing music.  Before long, the feelings passed.  But it wasn't a solitary issue.

While it is uncomfortable to share and write about, I know this same scenario is all too familiar to many reading.  Maybe anxiety is something you struggle with daily, or you've just experienced recently like me, maybe you're in a season of continued stress, or maybe you just really need a mom time-out.

With moms, I know all too well, we tend to put ourselves last.  Self-care goes way down on priority for both time and money, but it is so very important.  Much like when flying in an airplane, the demo speaks to the importance of using the oxygen mask on yourself first.  Because you can't fully care for someone if you are out of air.

So what gives you breath?  What sustains you?  What refills you when you're empty or drained?

I've shared some of my go-tos for stress relief, I welcome you to share yours below.  Or prayer concerns.

If you aren't currently memorizing scripture, I encourage you to do so.  Write it out.  I write a scripture each month on our family calendar, I've been known to write out a treasured one on an index card and place strategically where I need to see it, I've written them on mirrors and even on my hand.  They truly are pieces of armor you can use to weather life's storms.

And as of late, I've been putting my Ipad on a timer and going to sleep listening to God's word.  It has helped my mood, my dreams and my spirit.

I'll close with an invitation for those of you who are local to our church Friday night.  We're having a family movie night and showing the comedy, "Mom's Night Out."  You're guaranteed a free, fun night of laughs.  My cousin and I escaped for a mini hotel getaway when it came out on dvd so I know you'll enjoy it.  It's worthy of a repeat watch.  Message me for details or follow us on Facebook.

And for those afar, I'll leave some of my favorite scriptures that I'm praying will bring you renewed breath.  Put on that oxygen mask and let Him sustain you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lessons from the Road

Ok, big oops for the few that read this UNfinished post a few days ago.  
Not sure what happened there....but now it is complete.  Yikes!  

My newly licensed teenage son called me the other night as he was leaving the house.

"I think I may need to replace a tire or something." he says, calmly.

A dozen frantic mom-thoughts ran through my head but I managed to get an equally calm-ish response back to him.  In our brief conversation, I realized he probably had a flat tire.  He turned back into the house to wake his sleeping dad up for a check.

Sure enough, there was a nail inside.

Dad took the opportunity to instill some life lessons in the checking and patching of said tire.  While it may seem obvious to someone who has driven awhile, for a newbie on the road everything is a first.  In Noah's case, he has "low profile" tires - whatever that means - so it wasn't as easy to tell.

Regardless, I'm so thankful for God's protection, and that he took the time to call mom when something didn't seem quite right.  He was going to a night Lifegroup meeting on a curvy road he's never driven, in what was later a nasty thunderstorm.

As he headed back out, a little behind schedule but safe, I thought about how often we barrel down life's highway without checking first.  Or rather praying.  Instead, we just hit the road, oblivious to the dangers that may be lurking.  Taking the time to check - a prayer pit stop - can make all the difference when you're hit with a surprise around the next corner.

This past weekend, Tim and I snuck off for a mini hotel getaway and concert from tickets he'd won on a radio contest.  It was a venue I'd been to before but still needed guidance from the GPS to get me across metro-streets I'm not used to.  I knew the general direction and could basically follow the signs but felt more secure having the back-up.

Though the GPS was guiding me, Tim was in assistance mode from the passenger seat.  He knows I can sometimes get antsy if directions aren't quick enough for the twist and turns ahead.  At one point, I rejected both their suggestions and went with my gut.  My husband let out a sigh and dramatically motioned to the phone, which was also objecting to my lack of turning.

"You're going the wrong way," said Tim.

"Please make a U-turn," states Google.

And I just as dramatically motion for Tim to look up and out.  We were at our destination!

I'm not sure where either were taking me but I had the advantage of seeing where I was going and not just depending on someone else to get me there.  Sometimes, no amount of counsel can get us where we need to be if we're not focused on the road ahead.  I chuckled, remembering our Bible study discussion that same morning.

Prayer is important.  But we sometimes use it as an excuse.

"Well, let me pray on that...."

Goodness knows I'm guilty.  Often I know what I should do, what direction God is nudging me, but I lean on the brakes in hesitation.

When we know where we should go and where God wants us, we just gotta get in, buckle up and drive!  Trusting that, with God as your co-pilot, He'll never steer you wrong.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Age of Innocence

My 16 year old fell asleep last night in my bed.

I lost count of how many times I awoke, not because his giant frame took up most of the space, but to soak up the moment, to pray for him, and to stare at his changing face while he dreamt. 

I'm grateful my son still enjoys cuddling with mom and dad. Every hug he ever gives is savored but I'm most thankful for the conversations we have. Oh, the giggles we share late at night.

Sometimes those talks break my heart though, when I realize all he is hit with daily.

Which led me to my prayers. Last night, I had the privelege to literally put hands on and pray over him as he slept.  I don't know that I ever prayed as much as a momma as I have these teenage years. You think as a new mom, or mother of a toddler you worry, but it just increases as they age.  We just want the very best for our babies, no matter how old they are.

As a child loss mom, I know I pray for safety and protection, maybe more than the average parent. Because I know the unimaginable. Maybe I over-pray...if such a thing exists. In reflection, it's probably a sign of my worry and not giving it to God as I should. I say I trust in the plans He has for his future...but then I want to put conditions on what it holds.

As I found myself staring at his face in the moonlight, a mix of sweet innocence and manhood, I wished that I could reach out and push pause.  While he's barreling down the highway of life, eager to reach the next milestone, I'm pressing the invisible breaks of his childhood.

Days when I catch him watching cartoons or wrestling on the floor with dad, I'm thankful for the innocence of the moment. But then I sigh knowing his childhood is slipping away. And I'm not naive, as I know he's exposed to way more to any 16 year old should be, but that's the world in which we live. As such, I want to bubble wrap and trap him in the safety of our house. Yet I also know living life is what he needs to grow, no matter how difficult it may be for him.  Or me.

There are so many more temptations and stressors he faces as a teen compared to my generation. I can't help but worry about the decisions he'll make. Part of me hopes what we've instilled in him sticks, but the other knows mistakes and bad choices are a part of growing up.

And I've got to show the same love in the messes that I do in the blessings. While we have high expectations for him, he also needs to know we'll always be his safe place to fall.  

Because isn't that the same God offers us?

My teens and twenties were littered with mistakes and bad choices, but those lessons are what shaped and made the woman I am today. Sometimes those decisions are what led me closest to God.

Being a parent is the most precious, rewarding and difficult job to ever have.  You're responsible for the outcome of a future adult but there's also a season where you have to let go and let God. I know that's coming for us soon. And maybe that's what He wanted me to hear today.

Maybe someone out there reading needs to hear it too.

No matter which side of messy you're on, God is always there ready to go elbow deep to meet you in grace and love.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

First Day Firsts

I've always been a weepy woman, tears streaming against my control at a sappy love story or goosebump moment in life.  As such, the guys often make fun of me, or turn in unison to see if I'm crying at the sign of something emotional.  Even knowing this, it took me by surprise that I was so teary on the first day of school.

Noah's been driving since the beginning of the year but today was his first day driving himself to class.  I thought I was prepared for it - until he backed out of the drive.  Walking back into the house from our annual photo opp, it hit me that he'd probably never again ride shotgun in the mornings or after school.  Though our drives were brief, they were memorable and I will miss sharing that time together.

The morning went much smoother than anticipated, another sure sign my baby is growing up.  He was ready to head out the door before his dad even arrived home from work.  Sitting together on the couch, I decided to bring back the morning verse of the day.

We started this tradition when the boys were younger, as it was a quick and easy way to get them in the Word each day.  Alternating between Psalm and Proverbs, you choose the date for your verse.  Noah flipped to Psalm and found there was no 8:10 so he moved to Proverbs.  It was so fitting for the first day of school and I hope Noah felt God's presence in the room.  I pray He covers Noah with protection this school year, guides his steps and decisions, and guards his heart.  While I want him to do well as a Junior academically, it is more important to me that he follow the wisdom and knowledge gained from this book...

I can hardly contain myself, as I want to text and check on his day; however, I will refrain for now.  You best believe I'll be ready with our annual cupcakes to share and hear all about it this evening.

Meanwhile, if you're wanting a distraction from all that back-to-school paperwork, here are some of my favorite school related posts from the past.

My handsome junior, no more bus rider

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Morning, Glory

Tomorrow begins the end of summer sleep and the start of an earlier alarm clock.

With a sleepy-headed son who snoozed right through a window installation, I'm not seeing joyful mornings in my future.  I'm determined though to make them as cheerful as possible.

Armed with an array of oils, (including wild orange/peppermint - his favorite wake-up combo) my diffuser is strategically placed and ready to spray.  Because he has a rare night off, I'm planning a family dinner and movie tonight to get us settled before bed.  I'm arranging many snooze alarms on both our phones and may even have to drag out the water gun.

This morning was our second "trial run" before school begins.  The past two days I've woke Noah extra early, hoping to rearrange his internal clock.  Morning one was rocky.  I was hesitant stepping out of bed this morning for fear of the same but then I checked my attitude.

More than anything, I know my outlook will help determine the mood of the house.  If I wake up grumpy and have little patience in stirring him out of bed, he's likely to wake with a snippy attitude.  If I face the day with a smile, I have better odds of getting a chipper "morning, mom" and perhaps even a grin.

And isn't that much like life?

If we face it with a bitter or sour or depressed attitude, that is what we'll get in return.  But if we start our day on a positive note, chances are happier faces will greet you.  I also find that when I end and start my day in prayer, I'm prepared for pretty much anything that comes my way.

Lately, I've been going to bed listening to the Bible.  A few years back I remember reading that Beth Moore sometimes went to bed with her Bible on her face, because she just felt she needed to be that close to the word of God.  As I am a tad on the claustrophobic side, I've discovered my Ipad timer can read me to dreamland.  I've found that my dreams are more pleasant and I've even woke singing songs of worship since doing so.  Now, if I could just set an alarm to read me awake....

Fixing breakfast and walking out the door, I noticed earth is aware of the back to school calendar too.  I'm not sure how it knows we turn the page to August, but like clockwork, my trees are fading ever so slightly and the morning glories have begun to bloom.  These are sure signs that fall is near!

Praying all those who are facing a new school year have joyful mornings and a blessed season, whether you're a momma juggling alarm clocks, supplies and sack lunches, a kiddo adjusting from carefree summer days to a stricter schedule, or the school staff who has to greet them both with a smile.

**Please ignore my "natural" flower bed and the miscellaneous ivy that is growing through my plants.  Whatever one of those green things are I'm allergic to it and my hubby is super-allergic, so we let it be...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August Joys with my Boys

August is in full swing and summer seems to be winding down.  There's something about the calendar change to this time of year, life gets busier and the last half goes much quicker than the first.

We've spent the past week getting our Junior ready for school.  That in itself seems unreal.  While his looks would pass for a college student, it seems he should still be the excited little boy awaiting his first bus ride.  Instead, he'll be driving himself to class this year.

This momma bear isn't sure how to process that just yet.  

We enjoyed our final "Mom & Son" date on Friday with lunch at our favorite sushi spot.  How I will miss those afternoons together!  Between school, his job, and the loss of our morning commute together, it'll take some creativity for quality time.  

Anyone want to teach me how to Snapchat?!

On Monday, I took a vacation day to finish shopping for what he needed.  As he has years past, my gentle giant was ever grateful and humble while browsing for clothes.  If he spied a price tag that seemed too hefty, he'd move on, whether he loved it or not.  I'd have to catch glimpses of his body language and use my sales experience to seal the deal, vowing use of a coupon to add it to our cart.

Somehow that didn't translate at the grocery store yesterday.  I should know better than to bring hungry boys, as there were lots of unnecessaries by the time we reached the register!  But Noah is such a hard working kid, who pays for so much of his own things, how could I deny him extra cans of Chunky soup and chocolate chip muffins for after school snacks.  And, of course, the perfect pack of mechanical pencils that "don't squeak" when he uses them.  

As our big boy headed to work, we got a call from my niece with an offer to watch her baby.  Well, maybe it was a request, but any time with that sweet boy seems like a reward!  His momma couldn't stay away too long but we loved seeing him for as long as he stayed.  Our doggies weren't quite sure how to react to someone so small.  Both were protective, though our smallest dog was just rather curious.  Ross, on the other hand, would sulk at the outline of his tummy time blanket and then slowly army creep closer to him.  Once his head could reach Isaiah's feet, he was content.  

The rest of Saturday was spent with my sweetie.  With the heat, we've pretty much retreated to the house and stayed lazy.  He did however move long enough to relocate from his recliner to sit by me on the couch.  Love his heart, he didn't complain about watching a romantic comedy either.  Afterward we flipped between the Olympics and crime dramas.  Hearing him mention steak earlier in the day, I made sure my grocery cart contained all the fixing for a "fancy supper" at home. We almost settled outdoors to eat but even with the sun setting the humidity was too much.  Besides, how often can you watch volleyball live in Rio and eat a steak dinner?

But the simplest joy I tucked away from yesterday was holding hands with my hubby.  I love how we still enjoy and want to be close when together.  I noticed that both of us would search the other one out, if we moved or shifted positions during the movie.  

Yes, I even broke our tech free rule to sneak a pic.

I'm thankful to have lingered through a slow Saturday, as I don't see many lazy days of summer left. This girl is ever-ready for fall and all that comes with it but I sure found lots of joy in doing much of nothing yesterday with my boys.  Welcome August, whatever joys may come....

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