Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thanksgiving JOY

Christmas seems to start earlier every year.  While stores are focused on sales and quick to replace pumpkins with pine trees, people also appear to be yearning for the season a little sooner.  Maybe because Christmas is a favorite holiday of many, but maybe also because people need more joy.

On the road, the hodgepodge of the holidays hits you with each passing mile.  Ghosts, pumpkins, harvest wreaths, inflattable Santas and giant penguins are scattered from house to house.

Thanksgiving, a celebration of gratitude for our blessings, has nearly been replaced by the countdown to the ultimate shopping day.  Families no longer linger over pie and coffee but are out the door and off to the mall, while the dishes soak.

When I was a little girl, the wait for Christmas seemed unending.  Now that I'm older, time passes much more quickly.  One can sit and almost watch it slip away.  No matter how much you will it to slow, there is no stopping the ticking of the clock or ending of another day.

It's already the middle of November.  

The busyness of the holidays are among us and, before you know it, another year will be gone. 

Choosing to pause in gratitude is how I welcome the season.  Focusing on thanksgiving each day keeps me from getting swept up in the chaos that can become christmas.

Recognizing my blessings is the best tradition I can think of to celebrate the birth of my Savior.

Because, to me, Thanksgiving isn't just a day - not even just a month -but something I hope to encompass every day of the year.

Gratitude = JOY 

In the search for the perfect season, slowing down in Thanksgiving might just be the unexpected gift people are looking for - and one that can never be found in the store.


Psalm 100
A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for JOY to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with Thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Little Lies…Big Trouble

Many years ago I took a few classes on writing for children.  It has always been a dream of mine to write a book and this was a way to practice the art.  Going through old files I found a few of the short stories and thought I'd share one with my readers.  If you have kiddos, maybe it'll give you a new story to read to them.  Stories like these remind me of the Highlight magazine I used to read as a kid.


Little Lies…Big Trouble


“But I don’t want to live in this dumpy old trailer!” 

The walls were so thin, I could almost hear the tin rattle with my scream. 

“Jeremiah, I know this place isn’t great to look at but I’ll fix it up.  I can’t pass up the chance to live somewhere free, work is hard to find,” Dad said, exhausted from the arguments we’d been having about our new move.

“What do I tell kids at school?”

I didn’t hang around for an answer but huffed down the tiny hallway, my elbows banging against the dingy walls, to grab my backpack.  It was my first day at a new school, which is never easy, but when you move around as much as me you get better at it.  Dad lost his job again and he’s decided that moving in next door to an old lady, Betty, is the answer. 

We live in ugly, rundown trailer for free and he gets paid to work at her house and farm.  I guess the good thing is that the trailer sets far enough off the road that nobody can see it from the bus stop; besides, the walk lets me think up my new identity.

The roar of the bus alerts me, as it comes down the gravel road, and slows in front of Miss Betty’s house. I notice it’s already full.  So much for finding a seat early and trying to blend in! It’ll be obvious I’m the new kid now.  I scan the rows for an empty seat up front, but no luck.  The only empty seat is at the back, and of course, it is surrounded by boys my age, at least they look about 11. 

I can hear the whispers and feel their stares on the back of my neck.  I wait.

“Hey kid, are you new?”
            “Where’d you move here from?”
“Did you all buy Miss Betty’s house?”

Looking down at my ratty sneakers and last year’s jeans, I know the story of buying that house would never fly.  I had to come up with something – and fast.

“Uh, no.  I’m just staying with Betty for awhile.  I ran away from home and she found me in her barn.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Said I had to go to school or she’d call the cops.  Name’s Jeremiah.”

All their mouths dropped and the boys huddled in, ready for more.  They hit me with a dozen questions like why and how and when.  I didn’t want to give away too much at one time.  After all, a run-away needed to have his secrets, be mysterious.

“Listen, my dad is an undercover cop.  I didn’t really run away. I just had to get away from the trouble.  Dad will come get me soon as things cool down.  Can I trust you all with this?” 

I locked eyes with each of them, hoping they’d buy it.  I explained that we were running from a bad gang my dad was trying to bust.  If they wanted to help in this secret operation, they needed to keep it quiet.

“Well, who do we say you are?” one of the boys asked.

“Just say I’m Jeremiah and that Betty is my grandma,” I explained as we pulled into my new school.

I hopped off the bus. I could feel a line following me.  The good news was they believed my tall tale; the bad news was it was a bigger lie than I had planned.  I made my way into the office to find out what class I needed to be in, hoping my new fans would disappear.

As I exited into the main hall, most of the boys from the bus were gathered, waiting.  Maybe I’d get lucky and I wouldn’t have class with any of them so the questions wouldn’t continue.

“Who has Mrs. Tichenor for a teacher?” I asked, hoping.

Only one kid raised his hand and the great thing was he was kind of shy.  Maybe I could escape this lie; or better yet, they’d all forget about it by the end of the day. 

It was so busy that I actually didn’t have a chance to talk much to other kids, this was good because I felt like my little lies were growing bigger on their own.  I worried about the bus ride home and the questions I knew I’d get.  I tried to make it to the bus early so I could pick my own seat, but I was one of the last on and again had to make my way to the back.  The boys didn’t waste any time.

“So what kind of bad guys was your dad chasing?”
      “Was there a gun fight?”
“Did you go on the bust with your dad?”

I tried not to go into too much detail, using the excuse that it was all top secret police stuff and telling them would put them in danger.  As we neared my stop, one of the boys, I think his name was Gavin, bounced next to me in the seat.

“Hey, I live pretty close to you.  Maybe I could get off the bus with you and we could play ball or something?” he asked.

I gulped. “Uh, no.  I don’t think Miss Betty would like it if I just brought company home without asking.”  I slid out from around him and headed for the door, eager to get home and over this crazy day. 

“Hey kid, how was your day?” Dad asked soon as I walked through the door. 

I shrugged it off, “Ok. I’m pretty tired and I have lots of homework.”

That would keep him out of my way for the day.  Maybe I could figure a way out of this lie before it hurt my Dad.  I wish I had told the truth.  Now I was in too deep.

During the next several weeks I avoided questions about my hero-cop dad.  I used to love making up stories because they were more fun than real life. But this lie was too big – too heavy to carry. 

When I had a day off from school, I looked forward to exploring more of Miss Betty’s house.  As shabby as our trailer was, Betty was a great lady who made terrific cookies and let me look through her old things.  As I stepped onto her porch, she met me at the door.

“Jeremiah, one of your friends called for you this morning.  Good thing I wake up with the rooster’s crow or I’d not been too happy answering” She held her arm out from the screen door so I could duck under and go inside.  “Don’t really remember who it was, but he said he’d come by sometime today.”

I froze in my tracks.  I’d tried to avoid having kids come home with me, using every excuse my mind could invent.  If they showed up, they’d want to see my room, which was not in Betty’s house. Worse yet, they might run into my dad and start asking questions.

“Uh, thanks Miss Betty.  Sorry about that.  Listen, I forgot something back at the house so I gotta go,” I yelled on my way out the door.  As I made a turn for the dirt path that led to my trailer, I heard voices at the side of the house.  It was my worst fear.

“Hey, are you Jeremiah’s dad?” Gavin said to Dad, trying to keep up with my dad as he worked on the yard.  “Jeremiah didn’t say you came back home.  You sure don’t look like a cop. Are you still undercover?  It’s ok, you’re secret is safe with…”

By this time Dad’s eyes locked with mine, and I could see the pain that my lies had caused.  He didn’t say anything to Gavin, just made an excuse to go to the shed.  I didn’t even care about being in the trouble I knew was coming.  It was punishment enough to see how much I’d disappointed him.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lois and Eunice

Reading 2 Timothy the other day, I stumbled across two names that, in the past, I've probably overlooked.  Sometimes I tend to skip over names, assuming they may be insignificant.  Yet, there are no filler words in the Bible and every name in the book has a purpose.  

It was only one sentence  of scripture but had a profound effect and has stuck with me ever since.  In fact, it took me back to my childhood and replayed a favorite memory of being with my Grandma.

Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy, clearly recalling your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and that I am convinced is in you also.    2 Tim 1:4-5

My maternal grandparents were my faith foundation.  Grandpa, a Baptist preacher, and Grandma, his devoted wife, both taught me what Christian living was all about.  They were role models and examples of what it meant to love and live for Jesus.  

I remember as a child, going with my Grandpa on the weekend and playing at the church while he prepared for his sermons.  How I miss seeing and hearing him in the pulpit.  It was into his arms that I was hugged, as I came forward and found salvation.  Although that has been thirty some odd years ago, I can still vividly see his smiling face as he welcomed me into the family of God.

The childhood memory that came to me from 2 Timothy though was sitting by Grandma in the evenings, both of us in dusters and nightgowns, smelling of soap and lotion, Bible in her lap.  

As I grew older, she let me either search for scripture, read the devotion guide, or passage for that day.  This simple act taught me how to find books of Bible, not to have a fear in reading aloud, and the importance of being in it daily.  

When it was time for bed, she would go with us to our rooms, kneel on the floor and pray with us before we drifted to sleep.  Above my headboard now is a wooden sign with the words, "Now I lay me..." and reminds me of those childhood prayers.  

Grandma and Me at her surprise 85th party

In this month of gratitude, I chose to honor my Grandmother today for her diligence to instilling faith in my life.  Yesterday's sweet memory of growing up with her Christian influence, made me thankful for the role she played in my beliefs.  Her persistence, prayers and example helped shape the woman I am today.      

As a little girl I would play dress up in her shoes and dream of what I could be. My feet have since outgrown her size, but I know her shoes are too big to ever fill. 
Thinking of her witness and how she has been a role model for our family, makes me realize the eternal responsibility we have for our future generations. May I continue to press on with the foundation she's given me so that our family tree grows in faith with each new branch.  

I'm grateful for the "Lois" in my life and hope to continue in her footsteps as the best "Eunice" I can be.  

#justbreathechallenge  Day 2: Childhood Memory

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Love My People

After a loss, one of the most common phrases you will hear is "if there's anything you need, call me."  We say this because who really knows what to say in the midst of someone's grief.

In reality though, it would be rare for someone grieving to call out for help, even if it were for something simple.  Grief holds you hostage and normal, everyday tasks can seem overwhelming.  To think in advance or even know what to ask for may feel impossible.  And even if you do, it feels like you're imposing to ask.

I remember a few people who were very specific with help when we lost Austin.  One asked if they could go to the store for me.  With casseroles running out our ears, you might think this seemed like an odd suggestion.  But stores carry more than groceries - and it was the last place I wanted to be.  Public places made you vulnerable.  Well meaning people, even if they just glanced pitifully your way, could send you spiraling.  I sent her for random supplies that I needed - hair supplies, toilet paper, stamps, paper goods, and it was so appreciated.

Others asked how they could help with Noah.  Did he need someplace to retreat to when/if the funeral home became to much.  What was his favorite snack, or movie?  Could they take him out or let him play with their children?  Pick up his homework?  Siblings are often forgotten in loss so this meant everything to me.

Austin passed the day after Thanksgiving.  A few special friends sent flowers or keepsakes weeks later, right on the cusp of Christmas.  As holidays make it extra difficult to be grieving, this hugged our broken hearts.

Of course, so many prayers were offered and lifted up for us but some asked me exactly how they should pray.  Being able to vent, even if electronically, and share unique burdens in the journey of child loss was an unexpected relief.

Prayers are appreciated, coveted by those in grief.  But sometimes - often - prayer is not enough.

A few weekends ago, we were wakened with the news that my husband's friend since childhood had suddenly passed.  I began cooking, my go-to in condolences, as Tim made calls.  On our drive to their home, we thought of the many times since his illness we'd meant to stop by and visit.  He was a private man, not wanting anyone to even know he was sick, and so it made it difficult to know what to do.  Instead, we frequently prayed for them.  Now, we're saddened that he didn't see him in the end.

His wife said something that has stuck with me since.  We'd exchanged thoughts about how life gets busy and both sides meant to connect sooner, hindsight-wishes now.  She was realizing what she should've done for us, in our loss, even the midst of hers.  She told a story about helping others.

"Jesus said, 'Love my people' and often we just don't."

How true.  It is so easy to say or post that we're praying for a situation.  Or to give the standard "call me" response when tragedy strikes.  But we need to be moved to react.  We should be His hands and feet and literally love on those who are in need.

I began writing this post before his funeral but received a God wink when one of the pastors spoke on this very thing.  He read scripture about Jesus being questioned on the greatest commandment and challenged everyone to love God, love people.

Our friend was the epitome of a true servant.  He served God, his country, his community - even in his battle with his health, his service to his family was that not much changed during his illness.  The  rows of people and longest procession I remember ever driving in, showed the vast number of lives he touched.  When I think of him, I always picture him doing, never one to sit around.

We could all learn from his example to serve more, unselfishly. And be reminded to not just think but do, especially in times of grief or great need.








Sunday, October 15, 2017

Camp Connection

One of my favorite parts of travel is searching for the perfect spot and planning the trip.  For our mini fall break getaway, I had a wish list in finding our home away from home.  We wanted to camp but indoor plumbing was a must.  Since we had a small window of days, it needed to be realitively close so we didn't spend all our time driving.  Something near the water and promising views, since we enjoy being outdoors.  And my hope was to be tech free, though being more than a request to my guys was an added bonus.

In the end, we chose to rent a camper in Cumberland Falls, Kentucky.  It was a state park we haven't visited, even though I'd traveled near there for work a few years ago.  I knew from driving it before, the scenery would be amazing this time of year.

It did not disappoint.

We purposefully set the GPS to take us there via back roads and avoided the interstate as much as possible.  For me, in a road trip, getting there is half the fun.  I love spontaneous stops and finds along the way.  The photo above was actually called Haunted Cave Road, as peaceful as it seems.  Noah noticed it, and much to his surprise, I said, "Let's go down it!"

Through the curves and winding roads, we talked and laughed, while Noah took turns between being DJ and helping me drive.  Tim, ever the trooper, worked the night before we left so he napped in between raising up to view the scenery or see why we stopped.

Noah realized, as we entered Daniel Boone forest, the cell service became sketchy.  Luckily, his phone was pre-programmed with our route.  Truly, that and taking photos were the only thing we really used our phones for the entire trip.  I knew the camper didn't have a tv, which was fine by me, and my plan was to invoke our "no tech" rule we have on similar vacations.  Much to my delight, the area took care of that for me, as the only way you could get a signal was to turn your head just so and point your arm at an angle while walking uphill.  

Being disconnected from the world allowed us to connect more deeply with each other.  

In fact, apart from the scenery, my favorite memories of the trip are of the time we spent playing games, cooking over an open fire, and sitting around talking/laughing/telling stories.  When I replay this trip over in my mind, I smile over scenes of us at the table playing cards, singing along to classics on the camper radio, and enjoying amazing meals together with no outside distractions.  
We had so much fun in the camper, we plan to extend our next camping trip - wherever that may be.  Even my techy-phone always in his hand-teen enjoyed the time being unavailable and not receiving constant notifications.  All three of us decided we could easily handle a week of nothing but togetherness.  Not being instantly available is a peaceful freedom, circa 1996.

Of course, one of the special moments of our trip was our day spent visiting Cumberland Falls.  I've had this place in my "go to" folder for years, always trying to coordinate our breaks with the moonbow that happens there.  Even though we missed the moonbow by a matter of days, it did not diminish the astounding beauty of the place.

I could've stood for hours marveling at this landscape.


To get to this particular spot, took walking down several sections of steps, something I might have opted out of even a year ago.  With my knee injury, steps are not my friend, but I decided the memory worth any temporary pain that might come.  

Life is too short to sit on the sidelines.


Although I wasn't as adventurous as this duo, who had me randomly stopping at any rocky spot that seemed interesting throughout our trip.  Besides, somebody had to stay with the car and drive to a signal, provided a bear jump out - or an ankle twist!

However, they were pretty proud of how well ol' mom hung on the trip.  
I'm pretty proud too...
even if my hamstrings still feel those hills!

We packed a picnic for our visit to the falls but just happened upon our spot.  It was just up the road, nestled by the river that fed the waterfall.  With only one other family there, it made for a quiet and beautiful place to dine outdoors.  


As do all vacations, the end came before we were really ready.  But this area and the memories made will always hold a special place in my blessed and joyful heart.










Monday, October 9, 2017

Fall Break Festivities

Fall break began this weekend and many of our friends headed south, so they are dodging hurricanes and torrential downpours.  We are headed east and hoping the rain-clouds steer clear!

Saturday we spent the day festival hopping.  A yearly tradition, we began at the Nut Club, a foodie lover's dream, full of food trucks as far as the eye can see.  Nearly every booth has unique items, such as brain sandwiches, centipede suckers, and snails. 



Some years we strategize, some we are spontaneous on our choices.  Though I had a few stops in mind, we ended up just eating what caught our eye.

I've been low-carbing for a couple months but planned to cheat this day with a "one bite rule."  What I quickly realized is that my belly has significantly shrunk in capacity so, after a few bites, I was full.  It didn't help that one of our first stops was the giant turkey leg booth.  Tim bought one, feeling it was a safe choice amidst the freaky fried delicacies, and I shared it with him. 

By the halfway point we were stuffed, hot and inching toward being miserable, so we cut the trip short.  Noah decided we need to come twice next year, once at night and once during the day.  Sounds like a plan!

We made it home in time for the tail end of our hometown fall festival but rain saw many of the booths close early.  Since it was a record year of vendors, I was a little disappointed to not browse but my hubby's wallet was relieved. 

Noah had entered the chili contest though so we hung around for the results.  He placed 2nd.  This momma is biased and isn't sure how he didn't claim 1st, but we're proud either way.  Added bonus is we got to enjoy the leftovers!

We're unplugging the rest of the week and going on a mini camping retreat. I cannot wait for some family time around the campfire and surrounded by God's beautiful landscape, especially this time of year.   I'm sure there will be a post to update you, once we return.

Wishing you and yours a blessed and JOYFUL Fall Break!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Be Still...and Write!

I am still over-joyed from the experience of our first ever women's retreat this past Saturday.  Event planning is my jam so when I discovered this on our church calendar this girl was all about helping!  Aside from getting a nerdy fix on all the registration details, what I loved most was the opportunity to share with women about self-care.

The overarching theme was to learn how to better "Be Still" before God and to not let the distractions and worries of this world take us over.  My session was on prayer journaling, self care, and a little of my testimony mixed in for good measure.

Self care is something I talk about with young moms on a daily basis but having the opportunity to tell how God is the best source of our care was amazing.  As I shared with them, if you aren't going to Him daily to get renewed, refreshed, and refilled, everything else is just a band-aid.

My mornings start out in a quiet spot from the center of our home.  With a steamy cup of coffee, I nestle in to dig into God's word, spend time being still before Him, and writing notes in my Bible that speak to me.  There is no outside sound or distraction, other than the birds chirping awake.  This simple act and shift from what used to be a chaotic rush of a morning has changed everything for me.

I wake up craving this time with God and it sets the course of my day.

Going through old prayer journals in preparation for the class, I had many "Wow, God!" moments.  I was reminded that often when we journal or make a note it can mean something totally different years later.  There were so many entries I would read and know - this is why I experienced that, I understand this season now, etc.  Looking back gives us the ability to see how much we've grown in our walk with God and the lessons He's taught us along the way.

Prayer journaling can be stepping stones in our faith.

How often have we whispered a prayer and moved on, not even really giving thought to the end result.  Unless it is a major prayer, sometimes recalling those answers are even difficult to do.  Recording them in a journal gives us a history to look back on.  They show you how your relationship grows with God.

Love letters to Jesus, I like to think of them as. 

If you aren't currently journaling, I encourage you to try it.  Any notebook will do but there's nothing better than a really good pen.  One that flows with ease and glides across the page.  Or, you can join the world of virtual journals and start a blog.  Even if nobody but you reads them, I promise you'll be changed by the process.

Here are a couple I found online and shared in my session.  So, now I'm sharing with you.

Easy template (see #9)


Your journal can have a theme, like finding joy or giving thanks.  It can be focused on a specific scripture, book of the Bible, or use a different scripture each day.  Or you can dedicate pages to prayers about different people or needs in your life.  The choices are endless!

Don't spend a lot of time trying to create the perfect journal, just start writing.  Your journals will change as you do.  

In the cusp of the busy holiday season approaching, a first entry might be how you hope to Be Still before God and let Him calm the crazy of this world within you.

Joyful Journaling!








Monday, September 18, 2017

Something about September

September  - an interlude between summer and fall.  Warm days and cool nights.  Butterflies among falling leaves.  Where daylight is slower to disappear.  Golden hues adorn the landscape, under a blue canvas.

Outside my kitchen window I see the faintest turn of color in my trees.  Early mornings greet me with a foggy sunrise.  Crickets still chirp as darkness stretches into night but there is a coolness in the air. The last of summer with hints of autumn mixed between.

There's just something about September that makes me want to linger.  As if time stands still for just a moment more...


"By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer."
-   Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

Fall is my favorite season.  This Friday officially welcomes it in but I've seen signs for a few weeks. While October steals the spotlight, with it's patchwork quilt of Autumn leaves and pumpkins galore; September is silently sweet.   

The pause before the busy holidays swirl and fill every empty space.  

Maybe I'm more sentimental as this is my baby's Senior year.  Every moment and memory has an invisible stamp of "last" attached, though I'm trying not let it.  Instead I'm making an effort to live in the present - and be fully present.

Perhaps that is why I've realized how special September is and am willing it to slow down.  The month is half over already.  It seems that after Labor day, you blink and find yourself in the new year. 

So I'm purposefully hesitating the quick passing of each day.  Soaking up the simple joys.  

Pastel skies said hello against an amber sunrise today.  Normally, I'll shut the blinds soon after waking, as it is difficult to read with the sun beaming in the window; but this morning I let it be and sat quietly watching the world awake, coffee mug steaming beside me.

I'm pulling over to take in the changing countryside or pausing in the warmth of the day.  Too soon, I know colors will fade and cold weather with seep in.  Storing up the smiles of this season before it goes away.

My wishlist for fall includes crunching through leaves and a caramel apple.  Picnics in the park. Bonfires and blankets under the stars. Picking pumpkins and mums.  Lazy country roads and colorful trees.  Hot bowls of soup and hayrides.

What's on yours?...

  




Monday, August 28, 2017

Hairy Adventures

When I was pregnant with Noah, I suffered horrible heartburn.  Every. Single. Day.  There's a wives' tale this causes your baby to have lots of hair.  In Noah's case, it was very true.

He was born with a head full of dark hair.


As a toddler, he had the sweetest curls and his hair began to lighten a bit.



Though he was blessed with good, thick, curly hair he was cursed with a double crown. When he was younger, he called it a "double crayon" and would pout when I'd lick my hand and force it to tame.

One year, as I was cutting his hair, he asked if he could have a "real person" do it.  That ended my days trimming  -but not styling.  Through all the years, he's asked me for help with his hair.  I too have thick curly hair and know what a pain it can be.  You either cut it short or learn to work around it.  As a boy, he doesn't have the patience but he likes having different hairstyles.


And like most with curly hair, you always long for something different.  He played ball with a boy who had slick straight hair that flipped when he dribbled across the court.  Noah wanted his hair.  Much as I tried, his tight curls wouldn't give.  So we had a chemical straightener applied at a salon.  Though we pulled it off, those mornings were torture.  He was convinced I was going to burn off his ear with my flat iron.


As he grew older and started to drive, he began to branch out more on his hairstyles.  In the summer, he's usually more adventurous and tends to let it grow out.  Which in his case, can become pretty hairy.


This is a version when the curls are "tamed"...


I love running my fingers through those curls.  Though these days, the older her gets, I wonder what other girls might as well. 

This summer, he shocked us by coming home with a mini mohawk.  Though it startled me when he first came in, I quickly fell in love.

             

I wish I'd taken photos since the start of the school year because almost every day he asks me to do something different with his hair.

We've slicked it back old school style, straightened to the side, let it be curly, afro-like, and this morning it's grown long enough to full spike it.

He kept his eyes closed the whole time and was shocked it got so high.  He's already so tall but with the spike it makes him seem even bigger.  I love how it turned out but, most of all, I love his confidence and willingness to be himself.  In a world of copycats, I'm proud he marches to the beat of his own drum.

 

And I'll happily be his stylist as long as he allows because our mornings bring me lots of JOY!








Monday, August 14, 2017

Senior Sentiments

I almost lost it in the underwear aisle.

Back to school shopping with my son, it hit me this was more than likely our last outing for such a thing.  Part of me tearing up and the other wanting to laugh at how sentimental one can become about buying boxers with their kid, er -nearly grown man.

I'm facing this season with the heavy weighted knowledge that it is our final year as mom and child.

My baby is entering his senior year.  Towering over us, his large frame makes most think he's already graduated college.  At 17, there are ways he's still very much a boy though.  The Nerf attacks he and his friend has through my house when together is proof.  But in many ways, he is changing into a responsible adult.

This teetering on adulthood has my momma-heart bursting with emotions.

His last "first day of school" found me sobbing, after he pulled out of the driveway.  My husband shook his head, not understanding my reason for tears.

But a mom is forever connected to her child.  Growing inside inside my belly for nearly a year, our hearts beat in sync.  And with each step further into becoming an adult, I feel that tether being stretched.

Nobody really warns you of this stage of parenting.

Sure, you hear, "they grow so fast."  And, as you're buying shoes and pants mid-school year, because he's already outgrown them, this knowledge is easy to understand.  Yet, I wasn't prepared for how quickly the years would pass by.  It seems as if I have blinked to find my little boy standing before me as a man.

This weekend, he asked if we could go out.  As the waitress brought our tickets, he quickly grabbed them. And again, as we pulled into the drive-in, he handed his cash to pay.  I was tickled enough he chose to spend a free Saturday with his parents, much less offer to cover the cost.

By the first of the year, he'll be officially an adult.  Next summer, a college student.  With such milestones hovering, it is difficult to not feel like a giant clock is counting down the days you have left with them.

I'm trying to embrace the days instead.  To not dwell on the lasts but to soak up the moments.  To let my heart record more than my phone does so I am fully present.  To linger in the laughter and simple joys.  To lift up thanks for the blessing it is to be called "momma" and to hear it spoken from his stubbled lips but still baby face.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Checkin' off Boxes

I'm a planner-organized-check the box kinda gal.  Forms on the first day of school make me smile.  A neatly stacked cabinet or freshly straightened area is happiness.  Tackling to-do lists is my jam.

(Now, please don't think if you stop by my house you'll see perfection.  While I love a clean home, housework is not on my list of faves to do!  Life is too short to scrub toilets and floors every day!)

This past weekend however, we were super productive.  Saturday was packed with accomplishments, for both Tim and me, and with each checking off I felt a sense of contentedness.


With the summer we've had, wish lists and need-to-dos have piled up more than I care to admit.  Whenever I've tried to plan something, life has had a way of turning things upside down.  But, thanks to a healthy dose of energy, we knocked out much of my internal list.  Because school starts in days, this has me breathing a little easier.

I'm not sure why organizing and back to school go to together but they just do.  Last night, Noah and I cleaned out last year's battered backpack and kept what we thought was reusable.  I've definitely passed down my OCD to him, as although the exterior of his bag was well-worn, the inside was immaculate and everything had a spot.  How he's grown from the early days of finding soggy banana peels on top of permission slips shoved deep into the scary bottom of the backpack!

Before he'd made it home, I surprised him by finishing his laundry and organizing the closet.  Dirty clothes is a chore I gladly assigned to him when he hit puberty.  Stinky socks, no matter how much you love them, are not fun to touch.  Plus, I know this is a life skill he will need when he moves away to college, or marries a girl who thanks me for teaching him.  Luckily, everything had been washed, just not put away.  The back-to-school shopping bags from weeks ago were still stacked, waiting to be put on hangers.  So, I helped him out.  In doing so, I quickly discovered this boy has such a collection of T-shirts, he could literally wear a different shirt through the first nine weeks - and then some!

As soon as he entered his room, he made a U-turn and gave me a giant bear hug in gratitude.  That was so worth the hours spent tackling the task.

Tim spent Saturday repairing our deck.  Ten years of sun and weather had worn it down to the point that one of our steps was nearly broken.  It's a blessing that he noticed it before someone's foot found the damage.  He's become quite the handyman the past few years.  Hearing the saw and hammer and watching him work quickly filled my eyes with tears.  When you've seen them down in sickness, normal feels amazing.  I lifted a prayer in thanks for the healing he's had over the summer.  My guy is a doer so I know he felt the same relief and praise for a day's hard work.

Lots accomplished, yet I still went to bed with dishes in the sink.  Guess it gave the ants something to do...I'm a sharer like that!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sweet Summertime

We've not had much of a summer.

My husband was in the hospital and not well most of June.  Dealing with respiratory issues, being outdoors was pretty much out of the question.  There's summer heat and there's Kentucky summer heat.  Trust me, air conditioning around here is a pure blessing from above!

Being confined meant our normal summer activities were put on hold.  As soon as Tim was well enough to work again, he pushed himself to get extra hours, medical bills looming.  Our son has also taken advantage of extra hours at work, being out of school.  We've all been ships passing the past few weeks.  As it is Noah's last summer home, that makes me a little sad.

It seems we blinked and we're at the final stretch of freedom before school begins.  Thankfully, we had an amazing, impromptu weekend to celebrate the last hoorah.

Friday, I spent the day with my Aunt and nephew painting rocks, my new hobby.

Eli, like my Austin was, is a lover of rocks (and trucks).  Our day began at the landscaping yard to scoop a bucket of tiny canvases.  Beside us, a construction crew was moving, plowing, and lifting.  I do believe, for Eli, it was Christmas in July!

"Look!  Look!" he'd exclaim, "It's lifting!"

He knows all the "official" names of the machinery.  Aunt Heather would call this a scooper.  
You'd have to ask him what it really is!


I came home to find hubby prepared for dinner.  Such a loving gesture, since he knew I'd be tired from my adventures.  And it kept us from the dreaded, "What's for dinner?" dilemma.  

Saturday's weather was unexpected for the end of July - low 80s and NO HUMIDITY.  In unison, Tim and I said, "Let's go fishing!"


Even though I didn't catch a thing,
 floating on the river on such a serene day was just what I needed.  
We were so relaxed we nearly napped on the boat!

Noah had a rare Saturday night off and, since none of his friends did, he opted to spend it with us.  
One of our favorite activities in the summer is going to the drive-in.  Unfortunately, ours is in the middle of a remodel.  But a hop and skip away is one that features five screens.  We'd never been, as our schedules don't seem to ever match up so this was the perfect opportunity.

Nestled between my guys, under the stars, I was content as one could be.

Sunday capped it off with a wonderful worship service and glorious afternoon nap.
A simple, blessed summer weekend bursting full of JOY 
that has me still smiling this Monday morn.













Sunday, July 9, 2017

Birthday Stones

Nobody gives you a guidebook in grief for how to handle holidays, anniversaries or birthdays.

One of the biggest fears, as parents of loss, is that our child will be forgotten. Celebratory milestones magnify that. While you want your child remembered, it's necessary to tiptoe to the occasion in case the pain is too much.

In the past nine years, we've recognized Austin on his birthday in many different ways. None of those years were ever really planned, I just let it be. For a natural born organizer, that's difficult to do but grief changes what is and used to be. Instead, I've let God and Austin guide us through the day.

Landmark birthdays have been the hardest for us...16, 18, 21. Most of the time, Austin is forever 14 but birthdays push us to realize how much time has passed and imagine who he might've been.

His 23rd was yesterday so I knew it would be special. 23 was Austin's favorite number. His first baseball jersey adorned that number and it just stuck. Through the years, he's used 23 to send us sweet signs to let us know he was there.

But the symbolism also put pressure on how we could remember him. Everyone handles grief differently and truly you never know how a certain day will hit you – until it does. Because of this, I never make definite plans in case one of the three of us can't commit.

Sadly, other than Austin's 16th birthday, we've never included other family in his day. Most years, I don't even hear from the majority of them. Maybe it's too hard for them too, or maybe they've just forgotten. While that hurts, my focus moves to my three guys – my husband and sons, one towering over me and one watching from above.

A few days ago, the inspiration came to paint rocks in Austin's memory. Rock painting and hunting has become a recent fad for kids to do at local parks. Our county even has a Facebook page where people can post pics of hints or tag the found rock before rehiding. Knowing how much my boy loved rocks, this seemed like a beautiful way to remember him.

I spent Friday afternoon surrounded by stones and art supplies. With each stroke and swish, my stress seemed to brush away. It's been too long since I've painted and I realized how much it was missed. Creating is therapeutic. I may have found a new hobby.

Saturday the guys agreed to help me hide. We decided to focus on the parks where Austin played ball. Driving down memory lane, we recalled funny moments at the field. Baseball and rocks were two of Austin's passions. His spirit filled the car and every mile of our day.

                   



 


Watching three adults pull into a park, run and play around, searching for the perfect spots to hide, even playing on the equipment probably doesn't look like grief to an outsider. We laughed and enjoyed the day without guilt. We talked about Austin without tears.



Nine years of loss is a place we never expected to be but it's given us permission to grieve out loud. Sometimes grief is uncontrollable sobs and sometimes it is the sweet sound of laughter.

Pulling into the driveway, eight parks and many miles later, I glanced at the clock on the dash and felt Austin's hug. 2:30 pm. A beautiful birthday, indeed.









Friday, June 30, 2017

Tourist Trap

My news feed is swimming with tropical destination photos of families frolicking and posing on the beach.  Or hiking through the mountains and jumping into lakes.  And everyone I know seems to be visiting Disney.

If I'm being honest, there's a bit of jealousy as I scroll.

It's been so long since our family has been on a vacation.  We dreamt of doing so this year, as it is Noah's last summer home before going to college.  But, then a medical scare with my husband wiped out the vacation days saved along with the hope of spending any extra change we might find in our couch cushions.

Geez...

When the enemy seeks to hiss and remind me of all the things I don't get to do - or have - or places we can't visit, I must cling to the roots of the One who has already given me all I'll ever need.

I'm already a traveler, a tourist, as this earth is not my home.  May I not get trapped by the enemy's lies and manipulations to make me feel He has given me less.  Comparison is the thief of joy!

After my pity party, I'm reminded of all I have to be thankful for.  Despite not having answers, Tim is gaining health daily and by my side.  We have each other and an amazing son who still enjoys simply hanging out on the couch with his parents.  In so many ways, I know we are more fortunate than most.

Ironically, many of the photos I've seen online also contain complaints about the vacation they're on.  Disney may be known as the happiest place on earth but apparently it can also bring out the worst. I can recall some vacation disasters myself, or at least moments of the trip that were not so enjoyable.  In fact, our last beach trip ended with a visit to the ER, when our son fell and tore a ligament.  Not the souvenir we intended to bring home!

A wise and dear friend summed it up best today and I couldn't word it any better.  Sweetly, she agreed to let me share.

 No matter where we may be, we can still choose that happy place in our world. Someone is always going to want to rain on our parade, but we can choose joy, despite their disposition. 
Our own position is what really matters.

I know that my position places me in a bloodline as an heir to Christ. I am a child of the One True King! I celebrate the Giver of life and all He has given me! 
I can stand under His umbrella when others try to drown out my Son-shine! 
And I must remember that a little rain helps my growth process.

Tomorrow, my location may change, but I can still choose joy



Wherever life takes you this summer, I hope you pack and carry a little JOY with you!



Monday, June 19, 2017

Dad's Day Delimmas

After the month Tim's had, I wanted him to have a good Father's Day.  Not knowing how he'd feel though made planning difficult.  And, being that we couldn't do his favorite outing - fishing, it left us wondering how to make it special.

We set out Saturday for lunch and a movie, figuring both were indoors and cool so not to aggravate his breathing.  But about 10 minutes into the meal, Tim quickly deflated.  Actually, he later admitted that he wasn't feeling well when he awoke but he didn't want to disappoint us so he pushed through, hoping it would pass.  Stubborn man...

Once home, we got him tucked into bed and worked on making the most of Sunday for him.  It further put a kink in our plans because, as a side effect to the numerous meds they've pumped into Tim, he now has thrush.

Poor guy.

Father's Day is hard enough.  Every day is difficult when you've lost a child but a holiday dedicated to reminding you about being a parent adds to the sting.  Not that we'll ever forget Austin - or want to - but I usually try and plan things centered around what he loves most, in hopes to somewhat distract from the pain of the day.

When you take away fishing, fun and food from my guy, there isn't a lot left to make him smile.

But his baby boy stepped up big this weekend and helped Tim feel extra loved.  And the best part is, he did it on his own.  Sometimes I forget how grown up he has become.

Having his Dad in the hospital was tough on Noah and I think the timing of the holiday allowed him to share how much he really means to him.  When we returned home from church, Tim found a note and photo collage that brought tears to both of our eyes.

While his dad was napping, Noah set to prepping the feast he'd shopped on his own for.  My spice master had to tone down his plans a bit, taking into account Tim's tender mouth.  But, as always, our chef in the making did not disappoint.  (those ribs...that sauce!  Man, I'm hungry now)

As you can see from Tim's expression he was well-pleased.
And that was before he even tasted!

     

After dinner, when Tim starting hinting for dessert, Noah left to get his favorite shake, extra soothing in his recovery.  He came in with more than a frosty cup though and shocked his Dad even more.

We'd heard Tim mention a new pole the store got in stock and knew it was on his wish list. After losing a pole to the "one that got away" earlier this year, he was tickled to have a high tech version with an bite alarm.  Both Noah and I got a chuckle at him dream fishing from his recliner.  He held on to the pole until time to leave for work!

In the end, I think he had a Father's Day to remember and felt how loved and treasured he is to both of us.  Now to just get him well and back on the boat!



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mind over Matter

One of our summer traditions every Friday is that Noah and I will go out for lunch on a culinary adventure.  We've been doing this for the past couple years and it's something we look forward to all week.  Given his interest and passion in the field, our trips seem to fuel his desire to be a chef even more.

We're a month into the season and this has been the first outing I've been able to really enjoy.  Sickness seemed to hit our family on the cusp of Memorial day weekend, so our summer hasn't quite been what we'd imagined.  Given that it is Noah's last before college, it makes it even harder to see the weeks slipping by.

Illness has taken the driver seat in the Blair house and attempted to steer and control our emotions.  While it has been what has kept from writing, I'm determined to not let it steal my joy.

Even when you're aware and fighting against it, stress has a way of sneaking in and distracting you without your permission.  I've noticed it in my guys, as they've been very forgetful.  Tim fell asleep the other day and left the dogs outside.  Noah turned his back on the stove and filled the house with smoke.  I'm not even sure what day it is most of the time so I know I'm not in any better shape!

For those of you who are inclined to pray, we're hopeful for complete healing for my husband from an unknown respiratory illness.  And answers.  This momma has a hard time hearing "unknown" and respiratory illness in the same sentence, after losing her son in a very similar way.

It doesn't matter how many eye rolls, avoidance, or even being called "Dr Google" by physicians, who don't seem to care about my concerns or lack of a diagnosis, I will press on.  

As determined as I may seem at present, it has been difficult to stay focused on what matters most and find joy in every day.  Yes, even this joy-seeking girl was knocked on her bottom the past week and had my own share of pity parties.

Though we've been blessed with church family and friends, who have walked alongside us, visited Tim in the hospital, checked in regularly, and are praying constantly, there have been times I've felt very alone. 

But God hasn't ceased in sending me hope and encouragement. 

Somehow messages always seem to come when I need them most, as well as scripture. It is no surprise I've been studying Ephesians, Philippians and 1 Peter, Suffering is inevitable in this world but despite life's roller coaster, our constant is the JOY of the Lord.  

We may never get the answers to why this is happening but we do know Who is in control.  Time and time again, I'm reminded that my joy is not tied to my circumstances.  Happiness can change with the weather but my joy comes within and nothing can take that away.

Aside from my faith, I've been practicing a simple technique I read about during the long hours waiting in the ER.  When we're faced with every day obstacles, chores, needs, we can choose our attitude in how we approach it.

Instead of saying I have to....I try to say I GET to.

Goodness, how that shifts my perspective.

I get to sleep in the chair next to my husband, night after night, because he is still with me.
I get to drive back and forth from home to hospital because I have a job to help provide for us.

I get to do extra laundry and dishes and sort out medicine and take on extra responsibilities around the house because God gives me the strength to endure.

I get to ask for prayers for my family because we have loving relationships with faith-minded friends who will stand with us in trials.

I get to stay inside where it is cool and keep my husband from the heat because we are fortunate to have a home with air conditioning.

And funny enough, I used the same technique to get through a creepy culinary bite that my son ordered.  Our goal each Friday is to either eat somewhere new or try a dish we've never had.  Yesterday we checked both those off our list and ordered a quail egg appetizer off the sushi menu.  



I'm not sure what we expected but the raw eggs staring back at us on a plate were not what either us envisioned.  Noah's giant hand gingerly picked up his tiny shell and held it up for me toast the moment.  

Instead of saying, I have to eat this slimy egg, I whispered, 
"I get to try a new experience with my son"....
several times before I sucked the concoction through clenched teeth.


I can't guarantee that this technique will make what your facing any easier to swallow 
but it will help you stomach what's ahead!





Friday, May 12, 2017

Braking for Butterflies

Self-care has been the topic of conversation in the homes I visited this week.  As Mother's Day approaches, I felt it was timely to remind these new and young mommas to put themselves first - at least once a day.

That's not easy for most moms.  It's natural for us to want to help and care for others and put ourselves last.  But, if we are running on empty, we aren't offering anyone our best.  Practicing self-care is the one time in our day it is ok to be selfish.  Mommas, you need this time.  

It doesn't have to take long or even cost money.  In digging online to find nuggets of inspo for my visits, I found two great resources that I'll share with you too:  31 Quick Self-Care Tips and a Self-Care calendar.

I also found a list of Affirmations I'll challenge each of you to print and read to yourself as you begin or end every day.

In my final visit of the week, as we were painting butterflies with tiny baby footprints, a mom made a suggestion that changed my day.  She mentioned that if I drove a different direction home, I'd come across a spot where butterflies liked to play.  Little did she know how special those tiny flying creatures are to me.

Butterflies, specifically yellow ones, have been a sign from Austin since we lost him in 2008.  He's sent them at times there can be no other explanation than to know it was heaven-sent.  For instance, we've been visited by butterflies in the middle of winter, upon freshly fallen snow.

As I headed out her driveway, I began to make excuses as to why I didn't have the five extra minutes it would take to go another direction.  But a persistent little butterfly cut in my path and demanded my attention.  It danced in front of the car as if to say, follow me!

I'm so thankful I listened.

What a difference one turn or choice makes in our day.  Within moments, it felt as if I was on Butterfly Drive because I had to slow down, just to prevent hitting them from fluttering across the road.  Easily finding the spot she'd recommended, I pulled over to take in the scenery.

They were very camera shy so I didn't capture any to share.  Honestly, I was so mesmerized and at peace, I didn't think to take any until almost ready to leave.

I did pause to take a photo of a nearby creek because it was also breathtaking and stilled my soul.


Though I stayed only a few moments, it was sustenance I didn't even realize I needed.

Upon leaving, I broke down in tears and found myself in prayer the remainder of my drive.  Mother's Day weekend will always be bittersweet.  When you have lost a child, it changes the holiday forever.  And although I am beyond blessed to have a towering gentle giant still at home, I will never forget the one who made me Mom first.

Though I prayed for peace and strength as I face the weekend, what I found is that most of my prayer was gratitude.  For the 14 years we had with Austin...for the way God has healed us through this journey...and for the sneak peaks of Heaven he allows when Austin sends us whispers of love.

If you are facing this holiday with loss, whether from a baby you never got to meet, a child gone too soon, or even your own mother's passing, my heart goes out to you.  Be extra gentle on yourself this weekend.  Allow tears to fall.  Embrace the memories.  And if one dances by, brake for butterflies.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Fancy Dance

My baby attended his junior prom this past weekend.  It's hard to believe he is old enough for such a thing.  I'm still getting used to the fact he can drive.  Goodness, how quickly kids grow...



Seems like just yesterday he was preparing for his first grade school dance.  In fact, while attempting to search for a photo from long ago, I stumbled on a funny story.

(Gotta love Facebook for a history log of memories!)

I asked Noah what he wanted to wear to his
 Valentine's Dance tonight. 
He said, "Mom, it is just a 4th grade dance, 
not the Jr Prom...who cares?!" ...such a boy!

After reading it, I remembered the occasion, and thought it was timely to find, since he just went to his actual Jr. prom.

Being one of his first dances and on Valentine's, I expected he would want to go all out.  Noah was quite the romantic in grade school.  In first grade, he actually had five "girlfriends" - one for every day of the week!

And even though he commented he didn't care what he wore, pictures don't lie.  He was stylin and profiling.

He certainly changed his tune for this event, as he had definite ideas for how he wanted to dress for the occasion.  Purple became the main color because it is his favorite but each piece, even the suit, had stylish details.  He chose a pop of orange, despite the frown of the clerk measuring him, just because he wanted to.  I loved the end result.  And of course, as you'll see below, he had to include funky socks from his ever-growing collection.

Seven or eight years may have dramatically changed his height, maturity and looks but he still has lots of spunk and character.  We were rolling in laughter Friday night, while trying to take photos.


     

Oh, how I love his spirit.
This boy sure brings me joy!

Not having a current girlfriend, he contemplated even attending this year.  Momma talked him into it though, as I didn't go to prom and always regretted it.

Going with friends made for a unique experience.  They met up for sushi and went bowling afterward but neither were really planned.  I'm sure there were lots of laughs and stories he didn't choose to share through the night.  The only thing he didn't do a lot of was dance.  Mr. Social, he said he spent most of the night just making rounds and talking.


However, I'm sure there was a girl or two there that wished he had asked them to dance.  This mom may be biased but he is a cutie pie.

I asked him later what he thought about prom.  He said he was glad I nudged him to go but that in the end he decided it was just an expensive homecoming.  Aka - a Fancy Dance.

That's my boy...


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