Friday, December 31, 2010

Medically Necessary

*Due to the sensitive nature of this post, I would like to ask that we just keep this between us, k?

So, we have survived Christmas and are facing the New Year. Today, I made a fateful decision. I stepped on the scale. I  would have stepped on it several days ago, had I been able to get to it under the 95 loads of laundry in our laundry room. So, anyway, having made progress in that area, I stepped on the scale. Up five pounds. Yep. For real. You might think that I collapsed in a heap of tears. I was tempted, but seriously, I didn't want to lay on the dirty clothes. I was tempted to cry a river, but instead I started thinkin'. What, just what if, those five pounds were a good five pounds? What if they went to my chest??? Denial. Yes. Delusional. Yes. I knew it. But that got me to thinkin' about something else. How does my fat decide where it will go? Do my hips and thighs hold up welcome signs and offer free room and a continental breakfast? With my sense of direction, just once couldn't my fat cells get turned around and head to the part of me that could use a little help? As I contemplated this I came to the conclusion that these are my fat cells we're talking about and they are probably just too lazy to travel uphill.

Now I know that those of you who have been blessed in the area that I am so lacking want to tell me how bad you have it. I've heard it all before. You can't find shirts that button. Well boo-hoo. Personally, if I try on a shirt that won't button over my chest (as opposed to my stomach) I do a little happy dance in the dressing room. Just sayin'. And I know, some of you say it hurts your back. In fact many women have surgery to reduce that area to ease the pain. Well, that got me to thinkin' too....

You see a few days ago my back started hurting real bad. I thought it was because I saw a picture similar to this and decided I should try it out. I do teach 3 year olds ballet and all.
The thing is, not only have we been off of dance for the last two weeks, and honestly it's been a long time since I've been stretched out enough to do this sort of thing. Okay, so maybe the last time I was dancing that much we were all doing the Tootsie Roll. Does anybody else feel a woot comin' on? Oh. well. I really don't think I could do this if I stretched 26 hours a day. Dern. I was so hoping we could use this in "Good Ship Lollipop". Maybe we'll wait until they turn 5......BTW, if you ever do see me in this position, please call 911. Odds are good I've fallen down a flight of stairs and broken something. Or everything.

So, there's a chance I may have hurt my back while I was attempting this little pose. But, as I pondered my traveling fat cell issues, I came to another conclusion. You know where I'm going with this, right? Yep, I think I need a booty reduction. For medical reasons of course.

I'm off now to eat a piece of peanut butter pie. Oh, who am I kidding. I just finished it. What? You didn't think I meant to reduce my size by eating healthy and exercising? Puh-leez! It's New Year's Eve. I'll start the whole not eating thing tomorrow. Or the next day......

Happy New Year Y'all!!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Remember

As we mark the one year anniversary of my Dad's funeral I thought I would share the message that Josh gave. I learned from that experience that the word "surreal" is defined as: a moment when your body makes an appearance but you are unable to locate your heart or mind. I remember certain things from that time very well. I remember waiting in the car while Josh checked us into the hotel and my Uncle Jamie walked up and told me I looked like a movie star sitting there with my sunglasses on. I remember that because it is something my Dad would have said. I remember standing at the visitation as countless numbers of people came by to talk to us. I remember that after everybody left we sat in the first few pews with some of our family and tried to figure out who Uncle Fred was. We had gotten some flowers from "Uncle Fred and the girls" and nobody had a clue who Uncle Fred was. I remember the day of the funeral taking Sarah up to look at the casket. I remember putting pictures of the kids and some drawings they had made in a "lockbox" in the casket. I remember when the slideshow started playing and the tears that came as I watched pictures of much happier times in our life. I remember when they played Willie Nelson's version of  "Amazing Grace" and the good Baptist preacher's wife in me thought, "What will people think about this?" as the guitar solo kicked in. Before I had too much time to worry I could almost feel my Daddy as if he was right there kick back with his ankle over his knee, wrap his arm around me and whisper, "Isn't that cool?"  It was. It was very cool and exactly what my Dad would have wanted. I remember a man whose cell phone kept ringing until finally my cousin, Drew, dragged the man outside and let him have it. Later it became the joke that he must have been Uncle Fred. :)  I remember driving to the cemetary in the rain and cold. It was so cold and downcast and drizzling rain. It was as if the weather shared my mood.

It's amazing how you can remember so many specific details and yet not really remember something. Those days were blurs, and yet these things are as fresh on my mind as if they happened yesterday. It's taken me a full year to write about the funeral, but I think that is okay. I know this is for me more than anyone else who might come across it. I just wanted to share the wonderful words Josh shared about my Daddy. I don't think either of us realized how difficult that day would be. He says he's never been so nervous in his life. I didn't realize how much I had depended on his strength until he wasn't right there next to me. But what an honor that my husband performed my Daddy's funeral. He wouldn't have had it any other way. And I was glad that I got to have my input into what was said. :)  Sometimes there are perks to being the preacher's wife....

The Legacy of a Loving Father

(Commentary for Roger Strickland)

We gather this morning to honor the life and memory of Mr. Roger Strickland, or “Pappy” as his grandchildren know him. We come this morning not to merely mourn our loss, but to celebrate the life and the legacy that he left.

Any time I stand in this place, in a pulpit on such an occasion, I am reminded that my presence is a mere formality. A preacher at a funeral is simply a matter of tradition and ritual. I say that because the funeral message has already been preached. Our values, what we believe, is declared more definitively in the way we live than it could ever been stated in an address.

Mr. Roger declared his message loud and clear. His life has spoken to what he believed. His message and his legacy have been shared openly for more than fifty-five years.

Billy Sunday once said, “Live in such a way that when you die you leave more than an obituary in the paper and an epitaph on a tombstone.” Your presence this morning is a testimony to the fact that his life has done just that.

As I began to think about Mr. Roger and the things I learned from him, I cannot help but recall the first time that we ever met. My junior year of high school, Emily asked me to escort her to Azalea Trail. (If you don’t know what that is, it is a scholarship contest where girls dress up in old antebellum dresses and stand in front of houses that no one can afford and wave to people driving by.)

That particular morning I arrived a little early to pick Emily up. After knocking on the door, I was greeted by a seven foot tall, three hundred pound monstrosity of a man in the doorway. (Maybe he wasn’t that big, but it sure seemed like it) And wouldn’t you know it, Emily wasn’t ready. So I had the privilege of sitting with this giant of a father that I have never met before in a dark empty room for a half-hour.

As a scared sixteen year old, I nervously showed him the bouquets of flowers I had purchased- one for his daughter and one for his wife.

You can only imagine my fear when he questioned, “That one is for Mrs. Libby?” As I prepared to be pulverized, he told me to hold on, and while I counted the remaining seconds I had to live, he went to get a vase and some water. He simply wanted them to be displayed when she got home.

I discovered in that moment that this man needed such a big body to hold the heart that was inside.

I learned a few things about this man over the course of the past twelve years. And as I’ve thought over them, this loving father gave some wonderful parallels to our Heavenly Father.

When I think back on the stature of this man, I think about…

Arms Large Enough to Keep His Family Safe

It is hard not to notice how big of a man Mr. Roger was. As my wife put it, he was “Daddy-sized.”

He was the dad with hands big enough to scoop up a child with ease and shoulders broad and high enough for them to see over the crowd.

He was the dad that later struck fear into the hearts of his daughters’ boyfriends. And he was a dad that watched carefully over his family and was always concerned with their safety- even after his two daughters were married and his son grown.

He wasn’t simply big, but he was also a man’s man. He loved football and baseball. He talked guns and fishing. He was a provider and a protector.

I truly believe that his greatest concern in life was not social stature or personal acclaim. It was not a concern with an illustrious career or a prominent position. Rather, he simply wanted to take care of his family. He wanted his wife and kids to feel safe and secure.

While heartache and difficulty are certainties in life, he wanted to shield them and protect them in those times.

While Mr. Roger was big enough to keep his family safe, we must be reminded in these times that our Heavenly Father is big enough to keep us safe and secure.

To Mrs. Libby, the kids, his family, while Mr. Roger’s arms will no longer provide us protection, we can take hope in the fact our Father’s arms are big enough to carry us in this time.

Psalm 46:1-3 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

I know that in this time of loss, it may seem that the world is caving in around you. It may seem like things are falling apart and nothing is right. In fact, life may seem like uncontrollable chaos. Yet, we have a God with arms big enough to shield and protect us in this time.

He is our refuge and our help in this time of trouble.

We find arms big large enough to keep a family safe. Then we find…

A Voice of Encouragement, Truth (and Humor)

Pappy was known for his speeches- both for their simplicity and their depth.

He offered Emily the deep speech- “If you have sex, you have babies.” To Jenny, after countless people tried to predict the sex of her baby, he simply responds, “Well, Jenny, it’s either a boy or it’s a girl” as if he had just reduced the options and solved the dilemma.

He had countless inside jokes with his family- things that he would work into a conversation without anyone expecting it. Some of his favorite words and topics included answering all questions with the suggestion, “put it in a lock-box” or we need some “strategery.” (Both of these came from an SNL skit in 2000)

To say that Mr. Roger was hilarious is an understatement. In fact, there were times that when we would laugh until it hurt. While he could be extremely funny, he was still an encourager for his kids.

He wanted his family to know that he desired great things for them, and he encouraged them to chase their dreams. He wanted them to succeed.

I remember when Philip was twelve. He was playing baseball for a team in Parker, Florida. One evening, Philip was tapped to pitch unexpectedly. We intended to go to the game, but apparently we could not wait as the phone starting ringing off the hook because Mr. Roger wanted EVERYONE to be present to see Philip pitch.

I remember for days afterward how he talked about how well his son had done that evening. He was a man of encouragement.

Mr. Roger’s words of affirmation and encouragement all mirror the voice of God.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 says, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

Paul was concluding his letter with a word of encouragement and affirmation. He was reminding the people of Thessalonica that their God gives eternal encouragement and hope.

God continues to be a God of affirmation and encouragement. He continues to desire the best for us.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Our Heavenly Father’s desire for us is much like Mr. Roger’s desire for his children. Our God longs to see us succeed. He wants to see us prosper. His desire is for our good.

I know that life is difficult at this moment. I understand that death is something that causes us to question God’s motives and plan. It is something that often makes us wonder about the extent of God’s goodness.

However, let me encourage and reassure you this morning. While we are going through a time of grief, God desires to give us encouragement. He longs to see us succeed. Our Heavenly Father is much like Mr. Roger was as an earthly father.

He has arms large enough to protect His children. He speaks with a voice of encouragement, truth and hope. And lastly we find…

A Heart Big Enough to Love Greatly

Mr. Roger had a large stature and an even larger heart. He had a heart big enough to love greatly.

I know that he loved his wife. He and Mrs. Libby have celebrated more that thirty years of marriage together. In a day and time where marriage is more likely to fail than succeed, their love has stood the test of time.

In addition to loving his wife, it is abundantly clear how he loved his children. You could rarely speak to Mr. Roger and not hear something about Philip, Jenny, or Emily.

His attendance at ballet recitals, his coaching basketball, his endless hours of playing chauffer to a van full of girls speak to a love for his kids.

Even in recent weeks, he would post on his Facebook page when he got to speak to one of his kids on the phone.

Pappy loved his kids immensely. And he loved his grandchildren as well. It seems when he wasn’t talking about his kids, he was talking about his grandkids. He was talking about Luke, Eli, Sarah Beth, or Kate.

He loved them all deeply.

Also, he was a man of compassion. He could not stand to see someone suffer. He hated seeing people in pain. I’m still convinced that he would have freely offered the shirt off his back if he knew someone was hurting and in need.

In our first year of marriage, Emily and I were like most newlywed couples. We were not completely broke, but we were far from wealthy!

Just to make things easier, and to let us know that he loved us we would occasionally open the mailbox to find a letter marked, “Hamburger money.”

It would typically have ten or twenty dollars in it with the instructions “Go and get a hamburger- Love, Dad.”

Mr. Roger was a man that loved his family dearly. In fact, I am certain that my attempts at communicating his love are falling horribly short.

Yet, he is again a fitting picture and example of the love of our Heavenly Father. While Mr. Roger was exceedingly compassionate with his kids, we find in Scripture that God is compassionate with us as well.

Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”

In this time of grief, please do not think that God is silent or unconcerned. Rather, He hurts with us much like Mr. Roger hurt when his family was suffering. He gives mercy to those that are hurting that call on Him.

He is a compassionate and loving God. We are reminded again of his love in 1 John 3:1a.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

As loving and good of a man as Mr. Roger was- we are assured in God’s Word that we serve a God that loves us even more deeply. He loves us so deeply that he freely lavishes his love on you and me.

To the friends and family present today, I am not going to pretend that there is not a hole in your lives at this moment. Mr. Roger was a great man that I loved deeply. He was a man that earned my respect. He was a man that leaves a big void to fill.

Yet, in spite of this void, I can promise you that we have a God big enough and good enough to fill those missing areas. Where Mr. Roger’s strong arms may not be felt, God’s are continuing surrounding His children. Where Mr. Roger’s voice of encouragement may not be heard audibly, we have a God that seeks the best for us. While Mr. Roger loved you each deeply,you have a God that loves you more intimately that even Pappy could.

Let me offer you this encouragement today. When you begin to feel that void, when you notice what is missing, call on Jesus. He can fill the shoes that are left empty.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dear 2010

Dear 2010,

 I met you on a cold winter's night, sitting in the recliner in my pajamas. I remember you, not because of the celebratory activities I was participating in, but because of the party I couldn't bring myself to go to. Please don't be offended, but I didn't much care about your appearance. In fact, no day, week, or month had impressed me lately. Not since Christmas day had I taken note of what day or hour it was. We buried my Daddy that week after Christmas, shortly before you came. That's the only event I remember, but I don't even know the date that happened.  It wasn't your fault. I'm sure you didn't choose to be THE YEAR. Everyone told me it would take a year. My counseling classes told me that. My work with Hospice told me that. The brochures the dr. gave me told me that. One year. A single year to process and experience what a friend called a tsunami of emotions. Shock. Denial. Anger. Depression. Bargaining.  Acceptance. It sounds so neat and orderly, doesn't it?

When I finally decided to greet you I jumped in with full force. Daily exercise. Vitamins. A new Bible study. I knew I added those things to my life only to have something to fill your days and give me a reason to change out of my pj's. I had no idea how quickly those days would fill themselves or how many emotions would squeeze their way into the neat order of the staged grieving I was trying to checklist my way through. You turned out to not only be the year of grieving. You were a year of moving. After 3 and a half years at our first church God led us to move 7 hours away and take a position at a new church. My heart was unprepared for the amount of grieving that would happen in a different way over that move. It was in the top 5 of tough things from this year and you, 2010, were a tough year! Leaving our first church and the family we had formed there was no easy task. Organizing and packing a house while my mind was anything but organized was just as difficult a task. I can't lie that the distraction of moving kept me from sinking to a very low place and I believe that God had already ordained that that move would happen exactly when it did, months before the plans were official. That battle had belonged to 2009. You brought the answers and direction we had been desperately seeking for months.

Our move brought many exciting new things with it. A new house. New furniture that we like to brag we were able to get because we were poor enough to have such a good tax return. :) Baby showers and visits with family. A new church.  A new church family. New friends, and incredibly special ones at that. While I continued to grieve, you brought new hope. New opportunities. A new niece. A new decade in my life.A new job. Was there anything you left out this year, 2010?

It is easy to be overcome with frustration and sadness over much of this year. You brought the greatest feeling of failure I have ever experienced as we made the decision to hold Sarah back a year in school. I can't explain it, but it may be the number 1 tough thing of this last year. Was it the pride? The fact that nothing hurts a Mama's heart like watching her children struggle? Was it just the fact that it happened on top of so much other grief and change? I don't know. I just know it devastated me in a way that was new for me. You, 2010, hurt me worse than any other year. Spiritually, emotionally, and physically. We've had some scary times. Some challenging times. You will forever be the year that I had to wear a leotard for the first time after having 3 children. I guarantee I will never forget you, 2010!

You have also brought an equal amount of joy, love and laughter into my life. You've given me a sense of purpose and contentment that no other year has come close to bringing.You've offered me something other years have attempted, but not achieved. You've offered me perspective. As difficult as so many of your days have been, I've forced myself to face them. I've had a passion and a desperation to make the most of them as I now know what a gift they are. And as I get ready to greet 2011, I know you've made me better. God has used your days to refine me, restore me and refresh me. While you may hold my lowest days of grief and failure, you also hold the moments when God lifted me up and showed me that it is possible to walk in the dark and through the wilderness as long as He is guiding.

I was recently told that the whole one year thing isn't really true. So, I hope you don't feel too disappointed with the things we didn't accomplish. Let's face it, you had a lot on your plate. I hope you have a good retirement, you've earned it. I'm pretty sure you contained a decade worth of lessons and experiences. You must be exhausted. I am. Now, we'll let 2011 take over. I know better than to say I hope for nothing but good things in 2011. You taught me better than that, 2010. Instead, I will just pray that 2011 will be as patient a teacher and that it will promise to sprinkle in as much fun and happiness as you did. And I'll promise to do my best to make the most of every day, every lesson, every opportunity. So long 2010!

Emily of 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Memories. That is what the title refers to. My memories have never meant as much to me as they did this year. All month long, I have wanted to laugh with my Daddy. Of all things. During a time when I expected to be plagued with painful memories of last Christmas or struggling through guilt and loss, I've just wanted to laugh. With my Dad. When I've missed him recently, I've missed his smile and his laugh. And his sense of humor. He had the best one. He could make me cry and wet myself at the same time, he was that funny. He didn't just make me laugh, he made me laugh during times in life that otherwise made me want to cry or crawl in a hole. I shared this picture last year, but I'm going to share it again. Because it completely exhibits what I've been missing this year....

Oh my gracious. Family pictures. They are so nice to have to look back on, but man are they a pain in the hiney to get! Especially with a 2 year old and a baby. I wish I could remember what my Daddy said. I don't, but obviously it cracked me up. To me, this picture perfectly sums up my relationship with my Dad. During the times of life that were stressful, crazy or sad, he could make me laugh.
Christmas 2007

I feel like God has paid close attention to my heart's desire to laugh with my Dad. All throughout the month memories have come to mind of laughable moments, and trust me, if you know my memory, God sent them! One of my favorite memories came Thursday night before Christmas. Josh and I finally had the opportunity to go do our shopping for the kids and as we perused the store I was amused by the number of men who were obviously last minute shopping for their wives. At Wal-Mart I had a man ask me in a whisper, "Excuse me, do you come to Wal-Mart often?" I began to wonder if this was a pick-up line. I was tempted to answer with, "Do birds fly?" but he quickly followed up that question with, "Do they have rice cookers here?" Bless his heart. I honestly had no idea. I started to tell him where he could find the Hamburger Helper when a woman came walking up. I sincerely hoped she had begged and cried for a rice cooker and that it was truly what she wanted.

Minutes later I saw a man pushing a buggy with a poinsetta in it. In that moment I decided I should really start a business to help men shop for their significant others at Christmas time. Really, I wanted to advise him that a Christmas plant was probably not on his wife's wishlist. Then again, I could be wrong. I later saw him in the make-up aisle. Oh brother. I shared this with Josh and he responded with, "Never try to get make-up unless you have specific names and colors."  I've trained my man well. I hope this other  man was also armed with a detailed list. Bless his heart.

Anyway, all of this brought back memories of shopping with my Dad on Christmas Eve for my Mom. Without fail he would always get her a John Grisham book, her favorite perfume and usually some chocolate covered almonds. If he wanted to branch out he would take me. I can still remember flying from store to store in rapid fashion and him saying, "This is how you do it. You just go in, get what you want, and get outta  here."  All week I had stressed that we we're waiting so close to Christmas to shop (especially when funerals and ear infections entered our week), but Thursday night turned into one of my favorite Christmas memories.  Making memories with Josh and feeling close to my Dad.

Speaking of last minute shopping, Josh still hadn't shopped for me. So, as we went to different stores (flying through them, Roger Strickland style) I would point out things that I thought were cute. After we shopped for the kids Josh dropped me off at Books-A-Million where I settled down with a chai latte and a book while he flew back to pick out my presents. It occurred to me that I need to train my girls well for the day he takes them shopping with him. :) Getting to sit and read a book could have been my present, but I trusted he would do good since my list was so fresh on his mind.

He did very good! One of my favoritest gifts is a coat that I just casually made note of on our way out of the mall. I mentioned that it wasn't very practical because it was green. I usually stick with browns and blacks just out of practicality. I figured when I said that he wouldn't think anything else about it. But he got it! And not only did he get it, but he got a really good deal and he knows that 75% off  and winter coats are my love language! :) Sarah is my daughter. She picked out the coat she has on MONTHS ago and of all of her presents this one must have been special. She reached over and hugged me when she opened it. *Wipes tear*.
It's another special memory because one of my favorite gifts of all time was a jean jacket I got when I was about Sarah's age. The reason it was so special was that my Daddy picked it out. My Mom has always been the gift person, and getting something that my Dad picked out himself was a really big deal to me. Who knew a person could be so sentimental over coats? Leave it to me.....

I had so much fun shopping with Josh for the kids. Let's face it, it's just fun to shop for toys! Is it just me? Every year we talk about how we are going to cut back the number of presents our kids get and every year I push the number back up just a little. I can't help it. It just brings out the kid in me. I have tried really hard over the last couple of years to be in tune with what the kids really want (as opposed to just what I want them to have) and also research and find out the things that will last and be worth the  money. 'Cause we have sho nuff wasted some money on toys in our day! Well, the one thing I always want to get my girls, whether they want them or not, is dolls. I LOVED babydolls when I was little and I would still be playing with them if my real kids didn't require so much attention. Just kidding. Kind of.....Anyway, I am a little obsessive over finding the perfect doll for my girls. Last year we got Sarah an Our Generation doll which is the Target version of the American Girl dolls. It took Kate about 23 and 1/2 seconds to cover that baby in nail polish and I never was able to get it out. Poor Sarah. So, she asked for another one this year and I found the perfect one. Her name is Jenny and she is a baker! She came with all of the baking accessories and I just knew she was perfect for my daughter who, despite being my daughter, loves to be in the kitchen and bake.

Kate was the tough one. There are only a trillion babydolls on the market and I had to find just the right one for her. Or ones. Y'all, we got her twins. They talk to each other. A lot. One of them must have talked the whole way from the north pole because her batteries were dead before we could finish opening presents. The other one will not shut up! I know, I brought this on myself. I knew I was really in trouble when she (the doll, not Kate) was dropped on her head and started saying, "MOM! HELP ME! HELP ME MOM!" Oh no. Never fear, Sarah had already turned her off by that night. She said she talked too much. In the same conversation she also told me she wanted a new sister. I informed her I haven't given birth to a child yet that came with an off switch.....

                                                        Isn't Kate a great little mommy?
Well, we all have our moments in motherhood, don't we?
I have a little confession here. I *may* have picked these dolls because of these really cute shoes that came with them.
I kind of sort of had a moment in Toys 'R Us when it dawned on me that maybe I just wanted to buy baby clothes and shoes. Josh came to speak sense into me. I thought. I thought he was going to tell me to get a grip and that we were shopping for a doll and to get over the shoes. Instead, he picked up those silver sneakers and said, "They need some twinkle toes, too." I heart my husband! We have since discovered that while the shoes are the same brand as the dolls, they don't actually fit the dolls we got. Dern. You might think we would take the shoes back. Nope. We will just have to find a doll they fit. :) Come to think of it, Josh is probably just trying to keep me focused on dolls as he reminisces about the cost of real baby gear!

Before you give me too hard of a time, I don't think I'm the only parent around here who has had a little too much fun with the Santa presents....
                                       Don't worry, we let Eli play with it every now and then....

Call me a wimpy Mom, but I am much happier with a skateboard that stays on the carpet.

As tough as this Christmas has been, it has had it's share of sweet and fun memories too. Like driving through the ghetto looking at Christmas lights in the church van with Matt and Cortnee. While Matt sang"Ice, Ice Baby". I can't explain it. But I'll never forget it. :) Like my Mama taking our Christmas pics that I decided not to use for Christmas cards. I got some great ones of her though!

In fact, I am overwhelmed trying to decide what pictures and experiences to share. Maybe I will be able to share more later. If not, hopefully Josh will remember them so he can tell me about them later as I have a 5 minute memory. I cannot end this blog though without telling you the story of this season that began with panic and ended with hysterical laughter. It could only happen to me, y'all!

You see, about a week ago we were watching something and Josh said, "Whatever happened to that "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" show?"  I said I didn't know and teasingly asked if he missed it. Well, fast forward to this past week and I was at the grocery store picking up some sandwich meat and stuff for our pastor and his family. You may remmeber me talking about how much he and his wife ministered to us last year when my Daddy was in the hospital. Sadly, his MIL spent the most of last week in the ICU. I wanted to show them just a tiny bit of the kindess they had shown us and anyway, there is a reason I'm sharing all of this. As I was checking out, I just happened to notice that next to the candy and tabloids there was a "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" DVD!!!! For a dollar! I couldn't help it. I had to get it as a joke for Josh's stocking. Well, I checked out and headed by Bro. Randy's house to drop off some stuff and talked with him for a few minutes. It wasn't until I had made the 40 minute drive home and was turning onto my street that panic struck. WHAT BAG WAS THAT DVD IN???????? OH. MY.WORD.!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAD I JUST LEFT A "QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY" DVD AT MY PREACHER'S HOUSE????????  There are no words y'all. I was just imagining Bro. Randy opening a bag full of sandwich meat and cheese and.....that dern DVD. Only me, y'all. Thankfully, after jumping out of the jeep almost after it came to a complete stop and tearing through the bags in the back, it was there!!!! Praise the Lord.  I didn't know how I was going to explain that one. Seems humiliation is also a gif that keeps on giving!!!!!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

He's Just Here For You.....

I cannot believe it is Christmas Eve. Blows my mind. I have no idea where the last year of my life has gone. I mean, with the exception of moving, starting a new church and job, putting the kids in school, welcoming a new niece into the family, and caring for a litter of puppies I just don't know what we've had going on. :)

I have expected this week to be so emotional and upsetting. I just did. And while I've had a few moments, for the most part it hasn't been that way. I think being too busy to think or sit has helped with that. For anyone who doesn't know, this time last year my Daddy was in ICU on a ventilator. We were waiting for the official word from the neurologist that he had suffered too much brain damage after a heart attack and discussing what that would mean and what decision would need to be made. I can type that matter of factly because even as I remember completely falling apart in the hospital, I do not remember the feeling. Does that make sense? I can't explain it. I guess some would call it shock and denial and I believe those are both gifts. But I also believe in something much greater and while I don't know exactly how to explain it, I call it grace. While this time last year was without a doubt the most diffcult time of my life, I was also overwhelmed by the presence of God that enveloped me during that time. His Spirit was the air bag that cushioned the blow of complete and utter devastation in my life.

Christmas Eve afternoon we got the official word and while there was total heartbreak, there was no question for my family what we needed to do. My Dad had always made it clear that he would not want to be kept alive in those circumstances. My Daddy had been a nursing home adminstrator for almost all of his adult life and had spoken often of his wishes for situations like this. I was so thankful that we had had those discussions, morbid as they seem sometimes. It helped that I could know in my heart that the decision we made was what my Daddy expressed as his wishes. So, we made the decision to take him off of the ventilator and that began the most tragic and traumatic hours of our lives. TV gives us the idea that the dr. pulls the plug and the person just goes to sleep. That was not the case. For hours we watched me Daddy struggle to breathe. I thought the hardest part through everything was watching him be unresponsive to us, but just this last week I visited a friend who has spent the last week in ICU with her mother who is not expected to make it. She was aware, but confused about things going on and it made me almost thankful that my Daddy wasn't aware to know what was going on.

I know this is a depressing story to share on Christmas Eve when we are gathering with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy this time. I just couldn't let this day pass without sharing with you the reason I truly celebrate this holiday. You see, that night, just a few hours after we took my Daddy off of the ventilator our family gathered to be there with him. When I say my family, I do not just mean my Mom and brother and sister. I mean my Dad's brothers and their wives and my cousins who drove many miles to be there. In fact, they had been there since the beginning of the week when my Dad was first taken to the hospital. We have always lived spread out from our extended family on both sides, and this was the first time in years that I had seen them. It still to this day is such a gift to me that my cousins sacrificed Christmas with their own families to be with us. It is still a gift to me that my Uncle Reggie was there telling stories from my Dad's childhood that I might not otherwise know. It was a gift that my Uncle Jamie was there to put his arm around me. It was a gift that they were voices of reason during a time when we were too emotional to think straight. I still remember talking to a nurse and learning that we had to make yet another impossible decision. And my uncle gathering us and saying, "This will be the most difficult night of your life."  And I prayed that it would be, because I didn't think my heart could handle anything worse than this.

Well, during this time my Aunt Trish came in to tell me about an encounter she and my Uncle Reggie had in the waiting room. While getting coffee they began talking with an older man and learned that he had lost a twin brother not too long ago. (Uncle Reggie was my Dad's twin.) They talked some more and Uncle Reggie inquired who he was in the hospital with. He answered, "I'm just here for you."  That story still gives me chills, but about a month later Uncle Reggie called and told me the rest of the story. After that encounter my Dad was moved to a different room on another floor. I ended up leaving in the wee hours of the morning so I would be there for my kids on Christmas morning. Uncle Reggie stayed there with my Mom and he said that in those early morning hours, not very long at all before my Daddy took his last breath, that man was walking away from my Dad's room. He said that he had no idea how the man even knew where my Dad was since he had been moved out of ICU. Call me crazy, (and I know y'all have. :)  but I know how he knew. He was there for us.

We prayed so hard for a Christmas miracle last year. We didn't get the one we prayed for. But I learned that just because we don't get the miracle we pray for doesn't mean there aren't miracles happening. God is always there for us and that is what Christmas means. I experienced that last Christmas in a way I had never experienced it. There is no question in my mind that He was there for us. With us.

For many people Christmas equals lights and food and trees and presents. I love all of those things. I do. I would say that even after last year I still love them. But really it is more like especially because of last year. I just have a greater appreciation for everything in life to be honest with you. But so much more than those things, Christmas to me equals having my Lord and Savior with me.

This Christmas has been equally sad and tragic for many close to me. So much loss and heartache. Loss is never easy, but let's face it, it is just that much harder during a time when everyone else is celebrating and enjoying life. I could pray they get the Christmas miracles they want. But, I can't guarantee them. I can guarantee that prayers for them to feel the presence of God will be answered. Because, when a baby was born in a manger and placed in swaddling cloths, God came to be with us! That is what Christmas means to me. He's just here for you....

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Matthew 1:23

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Going Green

All I want for Christmas is a nap!  Can I get an Amen out there? Right now I'm waiting on my  9.500th load of towels to dry, so I thought I would catch y'all up to speed with what's been going on around these parts lately. I think I mentioned that our friends Matt and Cortnee came to visit this last weekend. They are friends from our former church  and it means a lot to us that they wanted to make the trek down this way and during such a crazy time of the year. They always went so out of their way to bless us with gifts and invite us to their home. I was excited to play hostess this time.

One of the things I really wanted to do this year was bake. I did a little bit of baking last year, but it is kind of a blur. This year as I was up in my insomniac fashion watching Hallmark movies I had a psychotic break moment of inspiration and decided that it would be so incredible to find some recipes, hand write them in my Christmas binder, make these cookies and candies and make it a tradition that my girls and I will do every year until my great great grandchildren are filing for social security. It was a beautiful, beautiful thought at 2:30 in the morning in the euphoria of Hallmark movie bliss. The first step of this process was shopping for the ingredients. This is key. Because I can spend $50 but if I forget one ingredient it just throws me all off and I abandon my project immediately. It was IMPERATIVE that I leave the store with every.single.ingredient. Even if it meant asking a complete stranger if vanilla almond bark would do the same trick as a white chocolate bar which did not seem to exist in Wal-Mart's baking section. This also included a man telling me he wanted some of my cookies when he saw my buggy loaded down with enough junk to recreate candyland. I felt obliged to tell him that we might all want to see exactly how this turned out first. Well, let me tell you how this turned out.

First, I attempted to make Christmas wreaths out of cornflakes and green food coloring. I never could find red hots to decorate my wreaths, but I am proud to annouce that I did not give up on these wreaths. Well.....kind of. You see, I believe some people are genetically gifted with the ability to shape certain objects into the likeness of other objects. For the record, I am not one of those people. At least not into the shape I am ATTEMPTING to make. Let me just show you.....I call this....The Cabbage Patch. Seriously, all I needed was some little babies. In case you are wondering, they didn't taste good either. The thing is, most of what I cook is ugly, but it usually tastes good. This......well, I tried to like it. I kept eating them thinking that, I don't know, the taste would change? Leave it to me. My first attempt at baking and candy making and I think I'm Willy Wonka creating flavor changing food! Cornflake wreaths=Epic Fail. They joined their cousin, Oscar, in the trashcan.

I was a tad bit discouraged, but I pressed on. Cortnee was at my house now and I thought perhaps her presence would bring me some luck. Our next effort was Peppermint Bark and FINALLY, we had success!
You know you are in the kitchen with Emily when you hear, "Can somebody bring me the hammer?" Don't worry, this had nothing to do with my wreath cookie frustrations. We just had to crush up that peppermint. I will say, during this time of holiday stress, I would highly recommend making this candy. :)

One day I envision my great great grandchildren looking fondly at this picture saying, "Aw, there's Mamaw with the hammer and that stinkin' binder. Have we had the Hallmark channel disconnected yet?"
This is what I was dreaming of!
Kate took this picture and it was a very timely reminder to put the candy down and walk away.....

I almost forgot to tell y'all that shortly after this, I kind of set a butter wrapper on fire. Oops. I was unwrapping the 8 sticks of butter my peanut butter fudge called for (did anybody else just feel an artery close up?) and set one down too close to the gas burner. Kate wouldn't come back in the kitchen for the rest of the day. She went to the playroom saying, "Don't want my pants on fire."  Geez, what a wimp!

I actually got candy made and even some fudge. Three days later I'm still waiting for my Ho Ho Snowballs to chill enough to roll into balls. It could still happen, y'all. I wasn't even on the list to bring goodies for either of my kid's parties at school, but you better believe that if I sucessfully make homemade candy, people are gonna know about it!!!!!

Did it matter that Eli's class had a breakfast party and all the Mom's who were supposed to bring stuff brought breakfast food? Nah. Did it matter that the president of the PTO stayed up all night making cupcakes for Sarah's class that had the perfect likeness of Santa on them? Nope. I didn't care. I made goody trays for my kid's parties and didn't have to unwrap a single Little Debbie wrapper to do it! Yes, I am bragging. :) After the wreath failure of 2010, I have to keep my spirits high. I hope this will serve as inspiration to all of you out there who don't know how to boil water and think Suddenly Salad is cooking from scratch. I am one of those people. There is hope for us. We, too, can fill our children's lives with Christmas memories including hammers and small fires and scar them from ever eating cornflakes. What can I say? It's the most wonderful time of the year.....    :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Girl, Interrupted

Not too long ago, my bestie, Karen, wrote a blog that you can read here. It's titled "What's Important" and as you will see from my comment I "love it!" She shares a great quote about the interruptions in our daily life and how they are often the God ordained appointments we are to keep. It's a great quote. Sounds great in theory. It's certainly a lesson I've learned. Okay, that I am learning. Okay, that I'm making a D- in my remedial course. I'm a slow learner, y'all.

Just days ago Josh and I set off to run errands together. We had in tow, the youngest Fidler offspring (Eli left school early with me after our gingerbread house building) and they were hungry. It was our plan to go to 4 places (QUICKLY!) then run by McDonald's. First, I ran in the post office where I spent a half years savings on stamps. Next, I was going to run in a store to get a gift certificate. Josh accidentally passed the store and decided to drive on down the street to pay the power bill. For some reason I don't understand, we pay our power bill at the Radio Shack and Josh has become friends with the man who works there. He is a bi-vocational pastor and they always enjoy talking and catching up. I knew that Josh understood the time crunch we were in. I just knew he would make this errand quick. After 10 minutes of sitting in the Jeep listening to Eli ask, "Can we go in? Can we go in? Can we go in?" and Kate saying, "Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah" I decided to take matters in my own hands. Since it appeared Josh was never coming back, I just  moved my happy self over to the driver seat and headed back to the store I needed to go to. As I backed out I looked in the store window only to see Josh SITTING AT A TABLE talking with this man. OH.MY.WORD. I may or may not have given my husband an ugly look and tore off down the street. I drug (dragged? drugged?) my grumpy little youngin' through the bookstore all the while repeating, "Don't touch that. Put that down. Stop. Don't touch that." I got the gift certificate and we headed back down to pick up Josh. They were still talking. I was ill. Eli and Kate have recently discovered that they are brother and sister and now find it necessary to annoy the ever loving snot out of each other and me in the process as well. I thought Josh was never coming out. Had he snuck out the back door? Had he fallen down the rabbit hole? No, he was still sitting at that table chatting like they had set up a coffee date.

25 years later Josh came back to the Jeep. He immediately started apologizing. Then he told me that his friend's son had suddenly passed away just the day before. And yes, I did feel like the most awful person on the planet. I apologized for my attitude and felt both extreme hurt and grief for this man and his wife, and extreme pride in my husband. I am so thankful for both a husband and a pastor who makes friends with the guy you pay the power bill to at Radio Shack. And I am especially thankful that he is sensitive enough to be there for that man even when he knew his evil wife was threatening his children and driving up and down the street in a huff. I was reminded of this particular week a year ago and that my stress level was through the roof. And that was before my Daddy went in the hospital. I thought shopping and baking and church cantatas were stressful. This year, here I was thinking that shopping and baking and church dinners were stressful. And this man lost his son.

Saturday our good friends Matt and Cortnee came into town to stay with us for a few days. I've spent the last couple of days in a blur of cleaning, shopping, cooking and all other manner of holiday chores. Saturday night, just as we were about to sit down to eat Josh received a phone call. Just a few days earlier there had been a wreck on the bridge that is literally less than a minute from our house. A head on collision that killed a woman and had injured a man and his baby. This man just happened to be the grandson of our sweet neighbors and church members. Well, last night we got the news that after getting some positive reports earlier, he had suddenly passed. Our neighbor's son was concerned because news of his death had been posted online and no one had told our neighbors yet. He asked Josh to hurry over and share the news before people started calling them. With our kids being so young I miss out on much of the ministry that Josh does. So many things just aren't for children and I don't always have baby-sitters, especially for things like this. But, it just happened that with Matt and Cortnee being here I was able to walk the few yards with Josh to our neighbor's house. As our neighbor opened the door he invited us in and told us his wife was in the shower. I knew Josh's dilemma. Did we tell him now or wait for her to get out of the shower? Before Josh had a chance to say anything he began telling us the good news he had heard earlier and commented that he thought he was going to come out of this. And that was the moment. We couldn't wait. There I sat, just a day short of the one year mark of the day that I received a phone call that forever changed my life. News so shocking that there is no way to absorb it in that moment. I cried with them and for them. And for me. Because news like this is that much harder in rooms with Christmas trees.

I don't share these stories to exploit the pain of these people. I share them because they have been an important reminder to me of the most important gift we can give during this busy, crazy, often stressful time of year. Our time. Our hearts. Our listening ears and caring words. I have been so overcome by that realization. As someone who received that precious gift in such abundance this time last year, I pray that God will allow me to get over my superficial, worldly, unecessary sense of stress. Because let's face, there are so many things during this time that we put on ourselves that are not necessary. But this....this is necessary. People are important and pain and suffering are still pain and suffering, even in rooms with Christmas trees. Especially in rooms with Christmas trees.

2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us

2 Corinthians 8:2-5

Dear Jesus, please allow Your Spirit to be so alive in me that the greatest gift I can give this season is the time, love, and compassion that you would give if you were sitting in the room with every person I come into contact with. Please replace my stress over details and chores with an urgency to share You and Your love.  Please interrupt me when I am focusing my attention on things that will mean nothing a year from now, much less in eternity. How I pray that in the midst of my severe trials, there would be an oveflowing joy. I love you. In Jesus' Name, AMEN

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree......

There comes a time in every girl's life when she must make an important decision- cry hysterically and throw yourself in a heap of laundry OR- laugh. Well, I've done my share of cryin', fussin', whinin' and hollerin'. So.....I just have to laugh. Hysterically. In a delusional, slightly creepy, make my husband look at me like I've lost my mind kind of way. Of course, we all know I lost my mind a long time ago. What is lost now? My Christmas ornaments.

I just have to stop right here and tell you that any time I brag on my kids, I pay for it. Just a few weeks ago I was going on and on to Josh and my brother about how this was the first Christmas in 8 years that I've been able to put decorations in places where little hands can reach them. My baby is 3. She "knows better" now. Because she's 3. And being 3 is practically like being 20, right? I mean, grown. NOT! I haven't told y'all about our Christmas tree, but last year was our first year to have a real tree. I was really excited about it. I couldn't decide if I wanted another real one this year, but I finally decided I really did. So, we went up to the Pig and picked us out a tree. It was quite a magical moment. You know you live in Florida when the Christmas trees are surrounded by palm trees....
The next day Josh and Eli went out to have some guy time and me and the girls decorated the tree. Really, the girls did most of it themselves. I was so proud. I gave up a long time ago being obssessive about where the ornaments go. They got on the tree and that was all that mattered to me.
We did leave Eli's ornaments out for him to put up...
Well, the tree was up, it smelled great and it feels really cozy in the corner of our living room. Occassionally I would notice an ornament on the floor in the morning when I got up. I would chastise Kate and put it back up. Last night I got home, plopped on the couch, looked at the tree, watched TV, looked back at the tree......something just did not look right. I got up to do some laundry and the mystery was solved. My laundry basket was full of ornaments. I wasn't happy. It wasn't funny. It had been a long day and I was trying to be mad about something stupid. Do y'all do that? I went to the tree to angrily put the ornaments back on whilst sighing heavily and expressing my frustration.Josh sat in silence, scared for his life. I went to put the first ornament on and.....our tree is dead. I mean, DEAD. Brittle. Hard. Falling off. In that moment I felt like I should be very sad and upset. But, all I could do was laugh. I mean, seriously, I won't buy plants because I feel like it is premeditated homicide, but I will bring a tree into my house and expect it to live?  
As pieces of the tree fell to the ground around me as I carefully placed the ornaments back, I had visions of Clark Griswold hanging lingerie on what was left of his charred Christmas tree. Of the crazy look in his eyes. Of the family watching on as he attempted to keep his holiday spirit despite a night that got continually worse. And the realization that I relate more to Clark Griswold than Martha Stewart humbles me once again. I've decided to embrace it. Perhaps I will star in a "how-to" holiday special that features shopping for your Christmas tree at the Pig, dumping store bought cookies on Christmas platters in the car on the way to parties, and how to redecorate your dead tree on a daily basis. If you really become a pro like myself, you can teach your 3 year old to cover her tracks. And your tree will look like this....
Please take note of the orange extension cord and the pine needles on the floor. Yes, we have an orange extension cord across the front of our tree. Josh told me it was just to try the lights out and that he would get another cord. That was 2 weeks ago......

I guess the important thing is that when I put the topper on Kate said, "I love it!" Of course, this is the same child who thinks black dress shoes go wtih everything and that you put mustard and peanut butter on a sandwich together. Oh well.

In happier domestic news, Eli and I built a gingerbread house today! I learned the best secret. You use a milk carton to put the crackers around! For those of you who have known that since kindergarten, please don't spoil my moment. Please just be in awe that I participated in something that involves food and crafting and it worked!
We did that, y'all! His teacher didn't even have to help once! After seeing this picture I've decided that I have a long lost twin......
Picture courtesy of Muppet Wiki
What do you think? We totally have the same eyes. Okay, all togeher now...."Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree....."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Our minds are amazing aren't they? Have you ever just stopped and marveled at the creativity, imagination and brilliance that are around us? Have you had one of those moments when you've thought, 'Who came up with that? How did they think of that?'  As fascinated as I am by the awesome, divinely created human mind, I am equally intrigued by what happens when it fails to reach it's potential. Because let's face it, like all human, flawed, part of this fallen world things, it is not perfect. We all have times when something "slips our minds". We forget. We confuse. We overlook. And in worst case scenarios, we snap. Things aren't working in our minds like they are supposed to at all. I for one, am fascinated by such cases. Maybe fascinated isn't the right word. But I can tell you that if a show like "Hoarders" or "Intervention" or "Strange Addictions" or something along those lines are on, I'll be watching. Because I want to know. What happened? What is wrong with these people? What life scarring event caused them to be this way? And I think deep down, there is a part of me wondering, 'Could I become one of these people?'

Usually, when there is a story of violence or strange behavior, there is a backstory. This happend when they were 5 or they experienced this as a young adult. But sometimes, there is no backstory. To me nothing is scarier than watching a show about a serial killer and they say those fateful words- "He was a bright, attractive, outgoing young man. NO ONE had any idea he was capable of this." Does that just totally creep anybody else out? Well, I say all of this to make the point that whatever battle someone is facing from hoarding to addictions to killing someone, it starts in their mind. Perhaps I can impress you and say that I have a social work degree and that gives me the authority to make such a statement. But the truth is that I've learned this the good, old fashioned hard way.

God  placed this blog on my heart earlier today as I have continued to struggle with some personal battles. In addition to grieving I've been experiencing some health issues and as I have dealt with my body hurting and being fatigued, I've realized that I can handle that. I've danced with pulled hamstrings. I've danced while having asthma attacks. I had a needle put in my eyelid while I was awake. ( I will tell y'all about that one day. Or maybe I will spare you...)  I've given birth with an epidural that DID NOT work. So what I'm saying is, I have a pretty high pain tolerance. What I seem to be lacking lately is the mental power to keep myself going. And I've decided that it has been the emotional fatigue of grieving meeting the physcial fatigue of my body and my brain saying, "I've had enough of all of you. I'm checking out."  Anybody been there? Please tell me I'm not alone.

After a few days of checking out and giving the enemy too much power in my life, I was reminded of the importance of taking every thought captive. "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5.  I believe that this Scripture makes it clear that becoming a Christian does not keep wrong, untrue, and sometimes sinful thoughts from entering our minds. Man I wish it did! But the truth is that our minds are still very human and very vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. ESPECIALLY during the times when we are tired and isolated. Those were the times Jesus Himself was tempted. (Matthew 4) Whatever thoughts we are struggling with whether they are obssesive, unforgiving, angry, selfish, or whatever they are, Christ gives us the power to take them captive and give them to Him. This was one of the biggest steps of healing in my depression. I really had to begin to claim Scripture in my life and replace the lies I often told myself. Whether the thoughts we struggle with are sinful or just hurtful to ourselves, we need to remember Romans 12: 2,  "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." I don't think it is by chance or coincidence that we are told to renew our MIND and not to change our habits or  go to church more. The truth is that no matter what attempt we make at changing our life, it has to happen in our  minds, first.

Sometimes I get the impression that people think that being obedient to God is a chore or something they just have to do to keep God happy. I do believe that God not only desires, but commands that our hearts and thoughts be pleasing to Him. But it has been my experience that it is not only for Him. It is also because of His love for us. Because He knows the captivity our minds can put us in. For weeks after I lost my Dad I would lay in bed unable to sleep. Everytime I would close my eyes I would see my Dad laying in the hospital suffering. I would relive the experience as over and over. Finally I prayed one night and I asked God, "Do I have to think about this? Is it necessary? Is it part of healing?"  And I felt like He answered with His Word.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Philippians 4:8

He brought to mind Scripture I learned many years ago and I felt like He was releasing me. Like He was telling me it was okay not to dwell on that pain, but to focus my heart on the closeness I felt with my family, the peace He had given me in the hospital and the good memories I had of my Daddy. I am a big fan of  facing things and dealing with them. I feel like the church has been guilty of telling people to put on a happy face and pretend like things are peachy even when they're not. So please don't think I'm downplaying pain and suffering. Please know I only want to offer the peace and comfort that was given to me in my time of pain and suffering. I do not write this as a preacher's wife who wants everybody to put on a plastic smile and tell people to drink the happy Kool-aid. I say this as someone whose heart has been completely broken and has to continually, on a daily basis, give those pieces to Jesus and trust Him to put it back together.

I already had this blog on my heart when another event happened today. We're having visitor's week at the dance studio today and Josh and I were there to watch Sarah's classes today when he recieved a phone call. It was his Mom and they talk a lot so I didn't think a thing about it. Josh excused himself and when he didn't come back after a few minutes I had the feeling that something was wrong. Once the class was over Josh explained to me that a man had walked into a school board meeting with a gun and shots had been fired. Josh's Mom works in that building and was in another office watching the meeting on a TV. She witnessed the entire event as it unfolded. You can read the story of what happened here. Obviously we are very relieved that she and all of the others are okay. I talked with her tonight and she is holding up much better than I would be! I thought about this subject that I already had on my heart as I watched the video footage on the news tonight. As I looked at a room I've sat in for a meeting. As I looked at the room in a building my husband had left 30 minutes before the incident took place. A room my mother-in-law was too close for comfort to as a man who was out of his mind walked in carrying a gun. Who knows what was going on his mind? All I can think is that he was a man who let his thoughts control him. They took him captive. They consumed him. Those thoughts led to a tragic outcome for him and affected many others.

I also think tonight about those who were in that building. Those who felt fear many of us will hopefully never experience. Those who will replay the events of this day in their minds the same way the news channels are replaying the video on their shows.  My prayer for them tonight is that they can take those thoughts captive and give them to the One who is strong enough to handle such fear, pain and stress. I pray these Words would be real for them.

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7

Friday, December 10, 2010

And The Winner Is......

So, the time has come to pick the winner of the "Back to Africa" giveaway! I really enjoyed hearing about all of the ministries y'all love and the ways God has allowed you to serve others. Perfect examples of how we are the hands and feet God uses to reach others!

Some of you mentioned ministries overseas that minister to overlooked, difficult to reach people. Some of you shared about churches that minister in your area. And some of you shared personal ways that you minister on a one on one basis. I loved that we got responses that covered all of those because I love being able to feel like a part of big, global missions, but also meet the needs of those right around us. There are certainly enough needs to go around!

Well, I will get onto what you've been waiting for. The winner! I would just like to say that this person was obviously meant to win. You see, this drawing was the excitement of our house tonight (it and bake and break cookies) so we actually did the drawing early because I hadn't had any new comments all day. Then, after we did the drawing, I got another comment! So, we redrew (is that a word?) and it was the SAME person! Here is the highly professional way Speaking the Truth in Love and Laughter randomly chose our first ever giveaway winner.....

                      Yep, we chose a name out of a bowl. We are a first class, high tech organization around here.

                                                  And the winner (both times!) is.......

Um, in case you can't read that it says LORI! Lori at The Foremans wins a necklace from Back to Africa!

This giveaway has been so much fun for me. Hopefully I can do another in the future. Thanks so much for all who played along!

Nobody Gave Me the Rules

It's 2:00 am and I just finished loading the dishwasher and folding a load of clothes. For some reason my mini-me (Kate) has joined the insomnia bandwagon and is up at this very minute asking me what spiders eat. Does that question keep anybody else up? I'm pretty sure my insomnia has other causes, but at least I've been productive a couple of these insomniac nights. A few nights ago I cleaned out our front closet and would you believe that every person in my  house has a minimum of 55 pairs of shoes? I also discovered where all of the missing socks go...I am very tempted to put a sign by the closet door that says NO SOCKS ALLOWED! I would hope that sign would motivate my people to make their way to the laundry room, but I'm guessing we'd just end up with a trail of socks from the front door to the kitchen.....Anyway, there is a good chance Josh may really start believing in the cleaning fairy....

So, the reason I am writing is that obviously this is a challenging time for me and my family. For anyone new to the blog, I lost my Dad last year on Christmas Day. As the one year mark rides in on the holidays, I find myself experiencing a wide range of emotions. It is hard to explain, but as this season began and I started unpacking boxes of Christmas decorations, it was like everything happened yesterday. Like I had just packed those boxes. Or not packed them. Good grief, you would not believe the stuff that got broken. I have no memory of undecorating my house last year, and between that and our move there were quite a few things that have now been retired. I've been telling Josh for months that I had no idea how I would feel or act once this month arrived. So far, it has been a mixture of tears, angry outbursts and excitement. Yes, I've still been able to feel excited. In fact, I've gone into overdrive this year. Y'all, I have a binder. Anyone who knows me well will probably leave their computer right now and come to check and make sure I have not had a brain transplant. I've gone from not even being a list person to having a whole binder full of lists with gift ideas, recipes, and people to send cards to. I haven't even sent cards the last couple of years and that was just out of pure laziness. For some reason I really wanted to send them this year, but as I was ordering them I felt unsure. Does one send cards out the year after such a loss? Should they be serious, sad cards? And it hit me that no one gave me a rule book explaining these things.

Being the overanalyzer that I am I have become aware that my overplanning and list making and binder toting is my attempt to control this time in a way that I obviously could not control what happened last year. Josh shared with me that after what we experienced last year that it gave him a new appreciation for what this time of year is about and that he just wasn't as into all the hoopla this year. That's when I had to break down and tell him that for some weird reason, I am. I had just spent the morning at Lowe's  looking longingly at outdoor lights and decorations and searching for the perfect wreath. And I didn't get it. Because I had feared that I would never want to see Christmas decorations or hear Christmas music again. But I do. Maybe this time makes me remember this time last year when my Dad was still here. Maybe I just realize how much I've let little, petty things steal the joy of Christmas from me in the past few years and now I am reminded of what is special about it. Maybe I just desperately need to keep focusing on other things except the tragedy of last year. Whatever it is, when I ashamedly admitted my longing for icicle lights on our house he said, "Well, if it's important to you, than it needs to be important to me." And they were the sweetest words I needed to hear. And as I thought about my card dilemma tonight, I was reminded of them. And I understood that there is no rule book because everyone is different. We all grieve differently. And that's okay. And as we seek to comfort those who are grieving, it's not so much about knowing a magic formula to make things better or the perfect words to say. It's about seeing where they are and holding their hand through it. It's what Jesus what do.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."   Romans 12:15

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Giving Looks Good On You!

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a jewelry party. Now, I am one of those people who has attended every kind of party you can think of. I've bought candles, kitchen gadgets and jewelry. I always enjoy the time with other ladies visiting, eating and shopping. But tonight after I got home from this party I thought I would extend the invitation to all of you, my blogging buddies. Iwish you could have been there with me to eat the best stuffed mushrooms and try on jewelry, but since you couldn't I thought I would offer the next best thing. Online shopping! Please understand, I won't make a dime off of promoting this. Let me tell you who will....

My sweet friend, Audra, served as hostess for this party representing a ministry called "Heart of the Bride".  You can read about their mission on their website. This particular party benefits a part of that ministry called "Back to Africa." This is a program that allows women in Africa to create the beautiful pieces of jewelry sold at these parties and the money goes back to support them. I think it is such a great ministry and I just want to share it with you! If you still have some Christmas shopping to do or just want to add a gorgeous piece of jewelry to your own collection you should check out their shopping site HERE.

AND.....for the first time ever.....a giveaway on my blog! I believe so much in this ministry and feel so strongly that this is a time of year that we should celebrate opportunities to give back to others. So, here's the deal, If you leave a comment sharing your favorite ministry or way to show love and help others during the Christmas season, you will be entered to win a necklace from "Back to Africa"! I don't want you to feel like you are bragging or patting yourself on the back. I just think it is neat to hear the great ideas people have and you never know what you may inspire someone else to do! I will announce the winner on Friday. Get to sharing!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas in the Caribbean

Well it must be Christmas. We had a Christmas parade! This was our first year here and what a great experience it was being a part of the parade! The dance studio participated and our theme was "Christmas in the Caribbean". A couple of the dads worked super hard on our float and it turned out soooo cute. We won first place! Not only did we have a super cute float full of super cute little girls dressed in their best Christmas wear, we also had live entertainment. A full crew of girls in Santa hats dancing with candy canes to Jimmy Buffet's "Christmas in the Caribbean". Our float was pulled by a tractor and the stereo was tied to the front of it. I forgot to get a pic of that, but it was great. I got to help our studio owner carry our banner and I just had so much fun walking down our little downtown street. I am amazed everytime there is a town event how many people I know.  The parade was short and sweet and that's how I like 'em. We had about 2 and a half hours of prep time for a 10 min. parade. :)

Our studio is right next door to a hair salon/ Merle Norman store and one of the hairstylist had offered to do the girl's hair. Isn't that sweet? So, we shuffled the girls back and forth between the salon and the studio. That proved a little challenging with Kate who kept getting lost in the shuffle. At one point I found her hanging out with our float designer at the tailgate of his pickup truck eating oysters. (Well, Kate just ate the crackers.) You know you live in the Florida panhandle when you're eating oysters before the Christmas parade. :) I had another terrifying moment when I lost Kate. All of the little girls had arrived and I was trying to keep up with the crowd and realized Kate was missing. I was informed (after running around screaming like a crazy person) that she had gone to the bathroom. My child who refuses to potty train decided that in the midst of the parade chaos she should just escort herself to the bathroom. After my heart stopped racing and I could breathe again, I congratulated her on going potty.

Now I will share an obnoxious amount of pictures. I will also put "Christmas in the Caribbean" on here so that you, too, could have it stuck in your head for the rest of your life. You have to listen to it to get in the proper mood. Did I mention that last Wed. was our last class to practice and I danced to "Christmas in the Caribbean" no fewer than 15 times?  "It's Christmas in the Caribbean........"

Our talented dancers
My Dazzling Dancer, Sarah!

Our award winning float!

Me with some of my baby ballerinas

Kate's first ride on a Christmas float!

A pic with Kate smiling! She called the float the "snowflake" and I was able to get her to smile and wear her hat by promising a ride on the snowflake!!

Since Jimmy Buffet is on replay in my head these days I'm taking his advice for this season. "We don't live in a hurry....."   Doing my best to slow down, enjoy the season, and avoid the stress!  What is your favorite part of this season? What is the most stressful part to you and what do you do to cope with it? Inquiring minds want to know...... :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Dazzling Lesson

I would be remiss to let it go unannounced that my child, my only manchild, my very own kindergartener was named a Dazzling Dolphin a few weeks back. This is an award given at the kid's school every week to someone who has exhibited exceptional behavior. As Eli's card pointed out, he works hard and shows kindness and respect. Please just allow this Mama a moment to brag.... :)   (And I won't tell you about what went down that day after he got home and demanded to go right that very second to get his rewards of a free kid's meal from Subway and an ice cream cone from the Pig. Or that I had to give him a talking to about showing kindness and respect at home as well. We won't talk about that....)

My Dazzling Dolphin with his rewards.

I am very proud of him and Sarah was too. I know she was. But she was a little bummed I could tell. She hasn't been named a Dazzling Dolphin yet. Well, today she came to talk to me while I got ready for dance and she announced that today was another Dazzling Dolphin day. And she didn't get it. Bless her heart. She went on to tell me that she had discussed this with Josh.  Let me stop this story right here and tell you a little story about when Sarah was a baby. She had colic. She cried a lot. And fussed a lot. And cried a lot. Did I mention she cried a lot? I still clearly remember a night that Josh tried to have a discussion with our crazy, hyper cocker spaniel, Abby and Sarah. She was 4 months old. Sitting in the baby swing. Josh very reasonably tried to discuss with Abby and Sarah why they should stop doing things like screaming for hours on end and peeing on the carpet everytime somebody walked in the house (screaming=Sarah, peeing=Abby). I shook my head. Was he not aware that babies and cocker spaniels cannot be reasoned with? I let him have his moment then I went and wound up the swing for the 850 thousandth time and turned on the vacuum cleaner. Did you know some babies are comforted by the sound of a vacuum cleaner? Crazy.

Okay, back to today. As Sarah told me about her discussion with her Daddy I was so proud of him and for him. He is finally able to discuss and reason with our sweet firstborn who thankfully no longer needs the comfort of a vacuum cleaner. She told  me that Josh had shared a story about a time when he was playing baseball and he felt like nobody was noticing how hard he was working, but then finally he got his recognition and realized people had noticed all along. Then, she shared something that was a lesson even her Mama needed to be reminded of. She went on to say, "But Daddy said even when other people don't notice us trying hard or being kind, that God always does."  I'm tearing up writing that. It always amazes me when I'm reminded that my babies haven't yet learned all of the lessons I've learned through the years. That while I definitely needed to be reminded of that, this was exciting, breaking news to Sarah that her kind words and deeds were indeed noticed and appreciated by her Heavenly Father.

It is so easy to become discouraged. To think that our efforts are in vain, our kindess wasted. To work and work and not feel like anybody notices or appreciates. How sweet to know that God knows. And not only does He know, but He actually prefers that we be willing to work without the praise and recognition the world seeks. I absolutely believe in the power of encouragement and know better than anybody how refreshing and motivating it is to hear appreciative words or recieve thoughtful, positive recognition. I believe we are called to give that to our brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also know that Matthew 6:3 tells us, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,". This tells us that we are not to do good out of a desire for that praise or recognition, but because it is the right thing to do. I was told once that character is who you are when no one is looking. I am thankful for a school that encourages and recognizes kindness, respect and good behavior. But I am even more thankful to serve a God who longs to make our hearts more like His. I pray that if others see kindness and respect from my children it won't just be in order to win prizes. I pray that not only my children, but myself as well, will keep our eyes on a greater inheritance. Even better than ice cream from the Pig. :)

" Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

1 Peter 3:8-9