Merry Christmas?

Although Christmas is my favorite time of year, Christmas is not “merry” for many.

The holiday season can become a catalyst that accentuates grief, sparks depression and brings about a range of emotions, some of which we would rather not face. Not everyone has a legacy of Christmas memories that leave them feeling warm and cozy.

This Christmas will be one for many who are struggling with loss, and a great number of them may be relieved when the holidays are over.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Some people may very well need to tend their wounds instead of catering to the expectations of other people.

Insisting those who are hurting be joyful is unrealistic. We can’t always understand someone’s pain, but we can certainly respect it.

By faith, I am trusting God that much joy and laughter awaits us this Christmas.

 One reason we celebrate the birth of Christ is the promise of a new life that doesn’t suffer the ills and pains of this earthly world. Those who trust Him have a promise of something better for eternity.

Through faith, we win the mental battle that allows us to see the light that eventually breaks after every storm. Jesus is the Light of the world elevating us above despair and defeat. If you are feeling overcome, look to the Light!

Call on Him.

If you are hurting this Christmas season, my prayer is that you receive His peace on earth and goodwill from men!

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NKJV

Hopeful!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NIV

“Overflow with hope.”

I’ll admit I haven’t been overflowing with hope lately. Part of this is due to lingering details concerning my mother’s death. Her birthday is tomorrow and I’ve been missing Mommy.

Recently, I was talking to my sister-in-law and she asked me what was I hoping for?

I didn’t have an answer.

There was a time I would have quickly rattled off a dozen or more things. Instead, it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer. Instead of being hopeful, I’ve been numb.

In Romans 15:12, Paul implores us to be filled with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, the events of life leave us less than optimistic so it is only through the “God of hope” that we can have joy and peace as we trust in Him.

Trusting God, it isn’t always joyful or peaceful. It doesn’t necessarily “feel” good. But we must trust anyway. The Holy Spirt can allow us to be hopeful once more when we allow His presence to overtake us. I want to once again be that “crazy lady” always expecting the best.

A few weeks ago, I had to deal with one of those “lingering details” by registering my mother’s car before the tag expired. As I’m down at the county tag office, I fill out the paperwork to get the vanity tag GRCNMRC. I figure grace and mercy held me together this year so it was more than appropriate.

When you fill out the form, you must make three selections in case the first one is taken. I wasn’t worried because I have always received the vanity plates I requested. Well, apparently there is another person of the same mind as myself because GRCNMRC was already taken.

Really?!

On to my second choice, the clerk quickly shook her head “no.”

“BBLESSED” was also registered. It would have been nice, still I can imagine someone having selected that one.

Frustrated, I held my breath as the clerk typed in my last choice. At this point, she surely thought I was wasting her time. I figured I would have to come back. The odds were slim.

Surprisingly, they were in my favor. I was filled with hope with I received this in the mail this week.

I see “signs and wonders” all the time but I took this as a definitive message to get my hopes up!

And Mommy would surely want me to.

I am now hopeful once more that my writing endeavors go well. I am hopeful both boys exceed their expectations in college. I am hopeful about this new phase of my life. I am even hopeful that my alma mater defeats North Carolina A & T this weekend for Homecoming.

Go Rattlers!!!

What are you hoping for? 

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. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Sunrise, Sunset…

“Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”
–Fiddler on The Roof

These lyrics came to mind today as I sat on the porch and thought about all the changes my family managed this year. Life as an empty nester is finally sinking in as there are no dishes in the sink, or crumbs on the floor and the cats are looking to me for food.

  It has been a year of both sunrises and sunsets for us. We celebrated a graduation and both kids are reaching new levels of independence. Yet, we also loss of both of our mothers and I felt it was best I retired.

These events force me to acknowledge how precious time really is. I have an ever-evolving perspective as I consider how to spend the rest (and optimistically, the best) of my life.

There are a few writing projects I want to pursue. I have a huge collection of books unread. I hope to become a better photographer too!  Yet, as much as I desire to do these things, I am no longer preoccupied obsessed with them. I’m trusting God that I’ll get around to them, eventually…

I want to live, not just exist,
I long to thrive and feel the bliss
to live by faith, not out of fear,
With time to cherish all who are dear;

With each sunrise, I seek to see
And do the work God has for me
May each sunset find me content
The time I spend, God finds well spent

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

Keep it moving…

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
Exodus 13:21 NKJV

Last week I endured enjoyed a “road trip” with my oldest who is now safely deposited in Iowa. This week, I’ll drive to sunny Orlando to get the second born tucked away as well. Racking up the miles, I recognized similarities between life and various portions of my “road trip.”

Driving  I-75 to Nashville, the mountains of Tennessee reminded me that we all have ups and downs. Sometimes the journey is perilous. Often, roads are winding and we can’t see what’s around the next bend. There may be times where there is no exit when you need one. We may be forced to maneuver, white knuckled and all, around two-ton hazards and pray for the best.

Moving on to St. Louis demonstrated there is always the other side to the hardest part of any journey. Life eventually evens out. We may face inclement weather and unexpected delays. Still, if we plod along, we make it through our storms and find our dark clouds behind us.

Finally, riding along US-61 we came upon blue skies and bright clouds. The sky was picturesque as Cam and I rode through lush farmlands and took in vistas unlike any other.

We don’t always know what awaits us at the end of our journey, still, we will never find out unless we have faith enough to continue.

We may experience fender benders or catastrophic collisions. We can become blindsided through no fault of our own.

I pondered all of this after I was safely home watching the clouds go by.

The ups and downs, twists and turns, hazards and detours forced me to concede life isn’t always easily navigated.

“You can’t move forward if you keep looking back.” I heard deep inside.

I’ve been looking back alot these past months, reflecting and pondering “could haves” and “should haves.”

Analysis paralysis, holding me captive.

I’ve traveled thousands of miles these past few weeks but not really moving forward.

It’s time to get moving again.

Forward.

What about you?

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV

Beauty for Ashes…

Isaiah 61 is probably one of the most comforting chapters in the Bible. The very first verse begins with good news preaching “good tidings to the poor,” speaks to “heal the broken-hearted,” and proclaims “liberty to the captives.”

Most of us need “comfort” at one time or another. We suffer wounds along our way. We lose people and mourn. Things we hold dear can be reduced to nothing.

Fear, doubt, and even daily life can sometimes pull us under yet thankfully we don’t have to stay under or bound by any of our losses. Isaiah teaches us not to wallow in our sorrows but instead be willing to exchange what we have for what our God is willing to give us.

Peace.

Joy.

Beauty.

I recall learning how the ashes caused by forest fires fertilize the ground to allow new growth. The “fires” in our lives have this same potential. How amazing that the remnants of what was can become the foundation for what can be.

If you are wounded, don’t give up. Instead, give yourself over to God. He can take you and your remnants and produce something new!

Isaiah preached of what was to come, our God is available to us now.

A Healer.

A Redeemer.

Receiving God’s beauty requires that we give up what we have, even that which is painfully familiar, so that we may receive His promises.

 What are you holding on to?

“To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified,”
Isaiah 61:3 NKJV

 

The Winds of Change, Again…

 Last year this time was a bit chaotic in my household. I wrote about the winds of change as my oldest son prepared to graduate high school and we joyfully prepared for his move out of state. I’d accepted a promotion; my husband started a new job and we were excited about what the future would hold.

We never imagined exactly one year later our next graduation celebration for would be haunted by grief. My mother’s absence at this milestone is painful. I have no doubt she will see her grandchild graduate, yet I miss her just the same.

And, once again there is change in my employment status.

By the time you read this, I will be “officially” retired. I turned in my keys to the pharmacy with no regrets yet grateful for the opportunity to practice pharmacy for twenty-five years. I’ll miss my pharmacy phamily and my favorite customers, but it is time.

It is time for me to nurture the talents God blessed me with. It is time for me to step out in faith and stretch myself. Sometimes we pray for change but when it comes we stand bewildered and confused!

God often answers my prayers in the most unexpected ways, ways that are far higher than my understanding. Yet, I trust that God knows what is best for me and when I’m mature enough to actually receive the answers I’ve prayed for.

 The child I never imagined leaving home for college despite prayers too many to count is actually leaving home for college!

Full Sail ahead for him!

He has changed drastically this year alone, fought his way through the trials of autism and matured in ways we couldn’t foresee only a few years ago. It will be quite the change when August arrives and our nest is empty!

Perhaps, the only constant in life is change.

Some changes we bring on ourselves. Others blindside us without warning.

We can never fully anticipate the future but we can be assured Who holds it.

I haven’t always embraced change in my life but maybe now that I’m a bit older, I hope I’m wiser as well.

Whatever changes loom on your horizon, I pray you trust God to see you to and get you through them.

Even the best of times don’t last forever. Still, we can cherish the good, learn from the bad and hopefully our experiences leave us changed for the better.

Whatever my journey, I hope to stay the course until His winds change it once more…

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course. Ecclesiastes 5:6 NIV

Home…

When I drove to my hometown in January, I had no idea of what lay ahead. What I thought would be a day trip, a weekend at most, would evolve into something completely different.

My mother and I spoke of the azaleas blooming all over. Lavender and hot pink azaleas were ablaze in her yard. Spring often comes early to Tallahassee, even still, January was way too soon.

 Our “trials” would teach me perseverance. My faith was indeed tested. I was blessed with prayers and understanding from family and friends in my “hometown” as well as “back home” outside of Atlanta.

Mommy’s initial surgery went well. Then, doctors would find the need to do another. She was out of one hospital and into another to transition to rehab.

Or, so we thought.

We talked and laughed.  We caught up with each other, watched television all while she would prod me, “Don’t you need to go home?”

I assured her there was no place I would rather be. I was blessed to be at her side, listening to doctors, giving my advice and whatever I could do for the woman who hadn’t been hospitalized since giving birth to me!

I would eventually put up her Christmas tree as it began to look oddly strange on Groundhog Day. I tidied up. I purchased a microwave for the kitchen that had gone forty-five years without one.

 Mommy was a good patient, exceeding expectations and many prayers were answered.  She pushed through surgeries, pain and discomfort. Only a few times did she ever complain, and prodded by docs to do even that.

Six weeks to the day of that emergency appendectomy I kissed her and said, “You’re going to be just fine.”

Those were the last words I would say to her before they put her under. I didn’t think too much of it. Just another hurdle to overcome like so many before.

I would later cry among those pink azaleas, uncontrollably and not sure why. Mommy’s condition hadn’t changed, but maybe God was changing me. After everything she had gone through, it was the first time I really contemplated that she might not return home.

Family and friends prayed for healing.

I often wonder now what she prayed.

Each week spent in the hospital meant the road to recovery became longer and longer. Mommy told me she did not want to suffer any lengthy illness. Or become a burden. She knew all too well what it entailed to be a caregiver. She had done it herself for years.

But, the woman who loved me faithfully and selflessly could never become a burden to me. Couldn’t she see how much I loved her?

Or maybe, just maybe, Mommy loved me more.

In the end, I was correct when I told her “she would be just fine.”

Those pink azaleas gave way to white.

 On the third of March, God called her home. And I suspect after seven weeks of poking and prodding, she was ready to go.

“Home” isn’t the same anymore.

The yellow house on the corner is just another house without her in it. When I think of home, my mind now looks toward a place of peace and joy unlike any other. One without pain. No doctors. No tears.

See you when I get home…

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NKJV

Winter Roses…

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I was recently discussing how this would be the first Christmas in over ten years that we have no pets in our home for the holidays.

We would always debate if our cat “Lucky” had been naughty or nice even as he precariously tried to become one with the Christmas tree within weeks of claiming us as his own.

That same year, my Shetland sheepdog was a Christmas gift from my husband, quickly renamed Noel to suit the occasion. We lost them both this year. I didn’t anticipate how much I would miss them this Christmas season.

Christmas is not a joyful time for many.

The holiday season can accentuate grief, spark depression and bring about a range of emotions, many of which we would rather not deal with.

I lost my father one Christmas.

This Christmas will be a first for those grappling with loss and barely hanging in there just trying to get through the season.

bnwrose photo chall 4  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Expecting those who are hurting to be joyful is unrealistic. We can’t always understand someone’s pain, but we can certainly respect it.  At the very least, we can extend peace and good will toward them.

Hopefully, the pain eventually wanes. Or perhaps, our tolerance for it becomes greater.

So what does this have to do with roses?

We are experiencing unusually mild weather. This allowed me to clean up the skeletal remains of summer.

And then I saw her.

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She was atop the retaining wall as I snapped dead branches from a hydrangea.

“Marie” sat comfortably trying to figure out just what exactly I was doing.

Now, I may be just one cat shy of the crazy cat lady on the corner, (and yes, I live on the corner!) but I haven’t seen any snakes so I figure it’s a fair trade. Regardless, I enjoyed Marie’s company and I suspect she enjoyed mine.

As I finished, I noticed the rose blooming.

We’ve already had one freeze so “technically” it should have stopped blooming by now.

Yet, God will occasionally remind me that He is not moved by any calendar. He provides streams in the desert. Roses in the winter?

Why not?

Marie filled my void today.

God can provide a bit beauty in the bleak. And sometimes when we feel we can’t hold on, God brings a bit of spring to us.

Unexpectedly.  And with Love.

If you’re hurting this Christmas season, may spring find you soon…

Peace to you.

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Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NKJV

 

Pretty Girl!

Last night I lost my pretty girl.

One moment she’s clearing her throat. The next, she is gone.

She was not a young dog. A cataract was slowly growing in one eye. I suspected her hearing might be waning (though she could hear a bag of chips opened in the kitchen from the second floor!)

She woke me each morning with her “dog breath” and tail wagging. She slept in our bedroom, often annoyed when we turned on the lights after she had retired for the evening. She faithfully greeted me when I came home, giving me a look that the “guys” had forgotten to let her out!

I knew she would not live forever. I thought I would have time to mentally prepare.

That did not happen.

A couple of minutes of increasingly labored breathing followed by a trip to the doggie ER would reveal cancer. Her lungs were full of it. By the time the vet could figure it out, she was leaving us.

I bawled like a baby.

A very ugly cry I’m sure. My husband held me tight through his own tears. The people in the waiting room probably thought we were crazy.

Or not.

Anyone at a Vet ER in the wee hours of the morning probably “gets it.”  In our waiting, another pretty girl came in. A black Chow. Within minutes her owner was told she wouldn’t survive the necessary surgery. She was fifteen. They had to put her down.

The tough guy owner cried. I cried. Again. I suspected we’d be next.

For about an hour it looked like she was “recovering.” It gave me and my husband time to hold her. Hug her. Love her. One last time. She had our undivided attention, just as she liked.

The labored breathing began again. And then I knew.

Really knew.

I read somewhere that the most important lessons in life you can learn from a dog. She taught me much.

The value of a nap. Unconditional love.  God’s love for me even in the “smaller things” in life.

You see, we lost her once. She got spooked and took off running.

She was gone for nine days.

We put up fliers. Put ads in the papers.  Offered a reward. Searched shelters.

My prayer was that she’d been picked up by some nice family and not hit by a car.

We got phone calls of sightings. We just missed her several times. Even customers from my pharmacy searched for her.

One night it stormed terribly. My girl was out there. I lay in bed sobbing.

Just weeks prior, we received news that my oldest son had a clean bill of health. We had gone back and forth to the Aflac Cancer Center after receiving a very rare diagnosis. So grateful, I figured I shouldn’t mourn my dog because God spared my child.

Grace came via a local mail carrier. She saw our dog and knew she didn’t live at that house. The mailman called the number on our flier. My husband rushed over.

I waited. No phone call. I resigned myself that she was gone. The garage door went up and my hubby came in holding the most beautiful, matted, tick infested bundle I had ever seen.

God gave me my dog back.  last happy Noel picture This picture was taken just last week.  She never liked having her photo taken. I guess she decided to humor me one last time.

Two wags of a tail and her smile made all her bad deeds go away.

She stole the cat’s food. Ripped napkins on the floor. Dumped her food out so she could pick out the prime pieces she wanted!

Noel, was my Christmas gift in 2004. I’ve been blessed with many gifts in my life. Many “expensive” gifts.

But she by far, was one of the best.

That day we rode to Ball Ground, Georgia and she let my young boys love all over her, I knew she was The One.

My pretty girl. Sabrina Noel. We love you. You Blessed Us!

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 NKJV