Above All Else, Love.

Above All Else, Love.

1 Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. Or maybe more positively put, a “hopeful romantic?” Like many little girls, I dreamed about my wedding day at a very young age. I just celebrated my 16 year anniversary. Naturally, celebrating such a mile mark causes one to reflect:

I planned out my wedding long before I knew Jeff and then again after we were dating and then yet again after we were engaged. A friend/coworker of mine was engaged before I was, so we spent a lot of time looking through wedding magazines and discussing ideas. I was uncertain of Jeff’s intentions for our relationship at the time. I would tear pages out of the magazines that had ideas and pictures of things that I liked. That is how I found my wedding dress. As soon as I saw the dress, I knew it was the one for me. I saved the picture for whenever the time came to buy a wedding dress. It was like someone had made it from my imagination.

After I got engaged and the time did come for me to buy a dress, I took the picture down to a local wedding dress shop. I told them that that was the dress I wanted. They found the exact one for me in their catalog and had to order it. It was $400 on sale. Score! I had to buy it without trying it on and the purchase was final. It was a gamble but I took it because I was certain that it was the right dress for me! How about that for a “Say Yes To The Dress” episode?!

My dress was my biggest expense for the wedding. To this day, I would not have chosen anything different! I chose it because it reminded me of the pictures of my Grandma Mildred’s wedding dress; a classic 1940’s look. Very simple and slim-cut, with a deep-V opening in the back. A long, slim train and some simple pearl and sequin beading. I borrowed the veil that belonged to one of my good friends, she was one of my bridesmaids. It was long and very classic. I wore a necklace that belonged to my mom; a simple, thin gold chain with a single, real pearl as well as her pearl-drop earings. The look was timeless. I would not have done anything different to this day.

The wedding ceremony was simple but beautiful and very classic. It was held in a church full of candles, white Christmas lights, red berries, and evergreen. The ceremony was held at 4:00 p.m. The sky was a pretty, wintry dusk blue. Heavy snow had started around noon that day and turned into a full-blown blizzard by the time the ceremony was ready to start. Many people were not able to travel, and guests later told us that they had started out and had to turn around. So the wedding turned out to be an even smaller gathering than planned, but still really beautiful. My dream wedding never took place in the winter, but it really turned out nicely other than bad weather. We didn’t want a long engagement and so the Christmas season is what we chose. Also for the ease of family who travels “home” for Christmas, they were already around for the holiday.

I can still see the huge, fluffy snowflakes swirling around outside the window that was located at the front of the church. We could see our reflections in the window during the ceremony. Thinking back to all of this, it is a reminder to me of how God cares about every detail of our life and the desires of our hearts. I had seen his hand in the smoothness of how plans fell into place. He brought along the right family members and friends to help and used their talents. The ideas I had pictured in my head were all unfolding before my eyes on this day. It seemed surreal. God is good!

My parents had given us a set amount that we could spend on our wedding. They said that it could all be spent on the wedding ceremony or we could have a simple wedding and use the rest to pay for our honeymoon. My dad encouraged us to elope and just take the cash to start our life out together as a married couple. Looking back, that probably would have not been such a bad thing to do. We both wanted a ceremony and since I love to travel, I wanted a nice honeymoon. Since I’m pretty frugal we found a way to do both. I was able to accomplish my “dream wedding” at right around $1500 and the remaining ($2000) covered most of our travels. I know this sounds impossible, and today that amount would be unheard of but God provided everything we needed and it was done nicely. It really was a pretty wedding!

We had a relaxing honeymoon at Sanibel Island, Florida, one of the world’s top shelling beaches. We were both really tired from the months of planning, me finishing up college and graduating, the holidays, and then I was still adjusting to my new diagnosis of an autoimmune condition and battling the symptoms and medication side effects. A relaxing vacation was much needed! We spent most of the time either sleeping or picking up seashells.

I share all of these details because not only is it fun for me to reminisce, but a major point I want to bring across is that it’s not the size of the wedding or the amount of money spent on it that makes for a successful marriage! I need to add about 16 exclamation marks after that sentence. The amount of money spent and debt accumulated on weddings these days is, in my opinion, absolutely ridiculous! It does not make for a successful or lifelong relationship!

I recall sitting through sermon messages when I was a teenager (and yes, I was listening)! My pastor would talk to the youth about marriage and he would say, “there will be times when you don’t like each other. There will be times when you don’t feel in love. The glue that holds you together is commitment.”

Commitment. Loyalty. I think our culture is forgetting what these words mean, or perhaps not learning how to walk it out for starters. Is it yet another dying art? In my mind, commitment, loyalty, and perseverance all go hand-in-hand.

I will be the first to admit that marriage is hard. Really, really hard! My husband and I are opposites in so many ways. It’s pretty amazing that we have found a way to cohabitate and find some middle ground in many areas. I speak for both of us when I say that there are probably a handful of times over the years when one or both of us wanted to quit. I look at all that my husband has had to face regarding my medical battles and the stress and strain that it has put on our relationship from the very early days. He very easily could have thrown in the towel; said: “This isn’t what I signed up for,” and walked away. Sadly, many men would have done that.

The struggles we have faced right out of our first months of marriage are things that most people don’t expect to face until they are elderly and in their very last years of marriage. We were just 22 and 23 years old when we got married. We really did not have much of a “honeymoon phase” because of the physical battles I went through. That makes me sad. I feel that we lost that and it’s not something we can get back. Commitment is what has held us together when we wanted to quit. It is what has caused us to move forward and to find our rhythm together once again. I would also say, a healthy dose of humor! I encourage couples who are facing difficult times to seek counseling. Or even if things are going pretty well and you just want a little “tune-up.” This has taken some pride-swallowing for us, but been beneficial. There are still wrinkles to work out after nearly 2 decades together. That is a long time!

1 Corinthians 13. The “Love” chapter in the Bible repeatedly read at weddings. Verses 1-3 speak about if you do not know how to love, no matter what amazing things you do accomplish…you are nothing. Wow! Without love…we are nothing! That is a big statement. To me, that shows the significance God places on love. Verses 4-8 break it down for us and describe what love looks like. How to love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails.

Love has so many faces. There is the love between a couple, ultimately a married couple because they have vowed before each other, God, and witnesses to stick together no matter what. There is the love between a parent and child. There is the love between friends, which I put on the same playing field as the love between family members. God even tells us, not once but twice, to love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves (Mark 12:31 & Matt. 22:39). Then, the ultimate love, God’s love for mankind:

Live a life filled with love (some versions say “walk in love”), following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 (New Living Translation)

Christ set the ultimate example, he gave his very life so that we could experience salvation (redemption from a life of eternal damnation and reconciliation in a relationship with God). So that we can experience a life of freedom from the bondage of sin and new life in Christ! What a gift!

The Bible speaks of God’s love for us as being so great that he will go to any great length to seek us out and draw us to him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep appears in Matthew 18:12–14 and Luke 15:3–7. It is about a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost. Following this story are two other parables with the same concept; the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son.

I enjoy the song lyrics to Reckless Love by Cory Asbury. They paint a beautiful picture of God’s unfailing, unlimited, neverending, pure and unadulterated love for each one of us:

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it…

I don’t know about you, but I feel so undeserving of this kind of love. It’s hard for me to accept it. Who am I? What have I done? That’s the beauty of God’s love…there is nothing that we can do to earn it. His love is already there in full-force. It’s the same for the Mother Theresa’s of this world as it is for the Hitler’s. That is mind-boggling to me! You mean there is nothing I can do to cause God to love me anymore than he already does? Nope! Absolutely nothing! He is sold-out for you and willing to do whatever he has to, to draw you to him. The book of Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon) is a romantic love story between a man and woman and his tender and adoring pursuit of her. It is also a picture of God’s tender and loving pursuit of us, for our salvation.

As a parent, I can most easily identify to a sliver of what God must feel for us. Personally, there is nothing I would not do to save one of my children. I would give a kidney. I would give my very own life. Now love others, those who are not so easy to love, even sometimes my own spouse…that can be a little bit harder. That requires a little more of God’s grace, his love through us.

At a recent women’s conference that I attended, a speaker was talking about God’s grace. She said, ” Grace means love. If someone loves you, it’s because of God’s grace. If someone has favor on you, it’s because of God’s grace.” What a concept! Grace and love go together!

Because of God’s grace (love), he pursued me. He wanted me back! Lavish people with God’s grace (love)! 1 Peter 4:10 says that each of us should use our gifts, which are trophies of God’s grace (his love). I don’t know about you, but the times when someone has gone out of their way for me; shown me grace, kindness and ultimately love, when I did nothing to earn it. I have felt so undeserving. That is the ultimate picture of love and God’s love towards us. God, loving us through others and loving others through us. What a mystery! What a beautiful picture of the greatest of all that remains! In the end, above all else, is love.

Love wins. It always does!

I See You

I See You

Mama, I see you. Yes, you. You’re brand new at this, aren’t you? You’re driving that sweet bundle home from the hospital. Wide-eyed. You are in awe and amazement. Those tiny fingers and little lips. You can’t believe that just days ago…hours really, that little person was living inside of you, feeling her kick. You gave that tiny being life. You brought that perfect little human into this world. There is also another part of you that is silently terrified. “What have I done? You mean…I’m 100% responsible for this little person?”

I see you, Mama. Yep. You. You’ve been up all night with a sick child. Rocking her. Telling her that everything is going to be alright. Your body aches from exhaustion. You can see the first glimmer of daylight starting to peek through the curtains. You know that in just a short period of time the other kids will be waking up for the day. If only you could catch a few minutes of sleep. Perhaps extra coffee can help you make it through the coming day.

And you, Mama…you’re a single mama. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Everything your kids need is all on you. You’re working two jobs, trying to provide. It’s hard to find much time where you can recharge your own battery, let alone stay on top of all the housework, help with homework and be everything to everyone. There is no back-up or extra hand to give you assistance at night when you’re putting the kids to bed or having to discipline behavior that you have had to deal with umpteen times. You’re trying to make decisions and navigate your little family through this world on your own. I see you too.

Mama, I see you. Your child has special needs. You’re doing the best you can. Learning and planning and adjusting life to help both you and your child; to make the days go just a little bit smoother. You call ahead to a location before your first visit in attempt to plan for anything that could “throw him off.” You know…loud sounds, long lines…simple stuff. All those over stimulants. You ask about a bathroom that can accommodate his specific needs. Every part of your day seems to revolve around this child. The slightest thing can make a good day turn bad. The public tantrums that make you want to run and hide. You watch other parents and their kids play. They move through life with such ease. They play and interact with their children in what appears to be so care-free in comparison to you.

What would it be like to simply have your child be able to carry on a conversation or reciprocate love back to you? What is going on inside of that child’s head? You know there are thoughts. How can you draw them out? Every once in awhile, there is a glimmer of hope. A smile or eye contact. You love your child so much. You don’t want to change your child yet sometimes you just wish that he could be…well…”normal.” Yet, you realize and are strangely thankful for the great lessons in life this pure, innocent little person has taught you. Lessons such as kindness, compassion, enjoying the simple things, loving others with nothing but pure, unadulterated love. Inclusion, “not judging a book by its cover.” The list goes on.

It can be easy for dark thoughts to loom. What will it be like when he gets older? Will he make friends? Will he be able to care for himself and live on his own as an adult? What about college? Is a career at all possible? You push the questions aside and resolve not to entertain them for now.

And Mama. Stay-at-home Mama. I see you too. You’re feeling a little lost in the piles of laundry and dishes and the endless messes. Every time you finish a job you turn around and it’s already undone. It’s the simple things that you desire: to use the bathroom without an audience. To sit and eat a hot meal all the way through or drink a cup of coffee without having to microwave it 17 times before it’s gone. To go to an appointment without juggling and entertaining a child by your side. If only there was a reason to fix your hair and dress nicely. You know…an outfit that doesn’t work boogers and spit-up into the dress code. Those days you long for adult conversation. Days at home with little ones often leave you feeling lonely, unappreciated, depleted and questioning if you have a “greater purpose.” Oh, you know deep in your heart that your job is a high-calling; that you are molding and shaping little lives and not just any lives, but those of your own children. Those judging comments from the world that leave you feeling less-than. Remarks that conclude the misperception about what your day entails. “Do you work or just stay at home with your kids?” You do not sit and eat bonbons and watch soap operas all day! You work hard at your “job!” I see you too, Mama. Your work is valuable.

Then there is you, Mama…you put in well over 40 hours of work per week at that career you’ve spent years aspiring to achieve. Years of school. Piles of student loans. You’ve moved up the ladder to a head position. You have worked and worked and it feels good. There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You’re doing what you love, right? But you’re also tired. Very, very tired. You’re trying to do it all and you are spread so thin. There is so much “mom guilt” resting on your shoulders. How can you be everything to everyone? You had to miss your daughter’s softball game last weekend. She still hasn’t forgiven you for missing her dance recital last spring because you had to travel out of town for a conference. No matter how hard you try, you still feel like you’re coming up short. Cutting back hours on the job doesn’t feel like an option. You feel torn. Many days you feel like you have to pick a team. Career or family?

Mama, I see you. You are trying to just have a fun outing with your kids. You know, be “fun mom.” But the oldest won’t stop picking on the youngest. Every time you blink, middle child turns up missing. Getting everyone safely from point A to point Z feels like an ultra-marathon. That walk across the parking lot, purchasing passes, the summer heat, the toddler meltdowns. Is anyone having any fun? What? Baby just blew out her diaper and your package of wipes is almost empty? Who came up with this bright idea anyway? Next time you all will just stay home and take a walk around the neighborhood.

And you Mama. You’re just trying to take a walk around the neighborhood. You’re pushing that big ol’ double stroller with two crying little ones while big brother is following behind, army crawling across every yard. I see you too, Mama! I’m cheering you on! Go! Go! You can do it! Uh-oh…brother just army crawled through dog doo-doo. You got this Mama! I’ve been in those shoes too!

I see you, Mama. You’re the one down the grocery store aisle. It’s been a long day. Everyone is tired, but your fridge is empty and your cupboards are bare. You just need a few things to give you something to eat for a few more days before payday. I hear your kids arguing and crying. You lose your cool. It has been a hard day. Actually a hard year. All eyes are on you. One lady makes a sharp remark towards your child and gives you some unsolicited parenting tips. You about come unglued. Hang in there, Mama. They don’t know what you’re going through. It will get better. The pendulum has to swing to the other side at some point, right?

And over there. You. Mama. You are sick and tired. And so tired of being sick and tired! Trying to care for your babies when you yourself need someone to care for you. You spend your days pouring into others from what is oftentimes an already empty cup. You don’t feel well. At all. You’re so used to not feeling well that you wouldn’t know what it felt like to feel healthy. To have energy. To smile and love life and feel blessed by all of these great blessings because there is constantly a weight on your shoulders and a dark cloud hovering over your mind’s eye. Mama, I see you and you are doing the very best that you can! Hang in there! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And you, Mama. Yes, you truly have earned the right to be called “Mama.” I know it may not feel like it to you, but truly, you have! You’ve tossed out more “negative” at-home pregnancy tests than you can count. Each month brings you new hope and added disappointment. And the positive tests? Well, you’ve seen those too. Each one makes you want to hold your breath and brace yourself for what may lie ahead. The letters D & C have brought on a whole new meaning to you over the past few years. Dashed hopes and dreams. You feel your heart becoming calloused. Can it take any more loss, hurt and pain?

And that one time…remember…you knew your baby’s gender. You had a name all picked out; a closet full of infant clothes. You thought this time…THIS was going to be it! Holding that baby in your arms felt so real, you could just taste life as a Mama, that life was so close. Now your baby…well, never did you imagine that you would be picking out a coffin and paying for funeral expenses. Your baby was born early and stillborn. How can a good God allow this to happen? Where did you go wrong? What did you do to deserve all of this? Mama…I see you. Despite not having those babies to hold and rock in your arms…you too are a Mama! God’s shoulders are big enough to handle your hurt and anger. He feels your pain. He catches every tear that you cry. He desires to wrap his big arms around you and hold you. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. Death is just as sure of a thing as life. God sees the desires of your heart. Don’t lose hope!

Then there is you, pretty Mama. Oh, I think I may hurt most of all for you. Your life looks perfect on the outside. You have it all, or so it seems. The big, beautiful house, the nice vehicles, closets full of name brand clothing; your hair and makeup and kids always look so put together. You are the president of the PTA and first to volunteer in your child’s classroom. Make cookies for the bake sale? No problem! Your kids all get straight A’s and excel in every, extracurricular anything, that they pursue. And your husband, he has that high-paying, prestigious career. You get invited to all of the fancy parties by everybody who is anybody. Yep, you’ve got it all together and life is perfect. Right?

The truth is…inside those walls…behind closed doors…you are crumbling. Not just you, but your entire family. You have turned a blind eye to all of those “late nights” and “out-of-towns” your husband has “career obligations.” Your kids…well, you give them anything they want so that they will see you as the “cool mom” and “favorite parent.” It’s often so much easier to just give them things instead of saying “no” and hearing their snarky comments, back-talk and teenage tantrums. Your Ladie’s Night Outs are just another opportunity to compare and compete and downsize anyone who may closely “measure up.” Mama, I see you. You are hurting and not ready to see your life for what it really is. Healing and change cannot come until you are ready to be honest with yourself and those you love.

Mamas. I see you. All of you. If there is one thing that I can say that I want you to walk away with is this…You are NOT a failure. You were chosen to be that baby’s Mama. It was no accident. God gave you that child or those beautiful children because he sees you as fit…able…capable for the job! He hears those guilty thoughts that so easily get stored up inside. The questions that ask, “am I able? Am I good enough? Will my babies somehow turn out lacking in some way?”

Mama, I see you. For many of you, I have walked in the same shoes. If only I could give you a hug. Tell you that everything is going to be alright. Tell you that you…just being you; being present and loving on those babies every chance that you get…speaks volumes to their hearts. Your actions say to them “You matter. I’m here for you.”

Mama, when God placed that tiny little baby into your arms, He…the Creator of the universe. The One who spoke, “let there be light” and established day and night. The same God who hung stars and galaxies and told oceans where to start and stop; that same God wove your child’s figure together in your womb (or into your heart, adoptive mamas). Those perfect toes and nose and tiny little fingers, He had it all planned out even before time began. He knew that child would be yours! He breathed the breath of life into your baby’s lungs and set her rhythmic heartbeat. This is the same God who ever so gently cradles your face, Mama. He wipes every tear and gently lifts your chin so that He can stare into your beautiful eyes. The ones that He too created.

He says, “Mama. Precious Mama. I love you. And…you…

YOU are doing a GOOD job!”

Sisterhood

Sisterhood

Friendship is so important! There are many amazing people in my life who come from all different walks and varying ages. The people who I spend the most time with and who significantly impact my life, are the women in my life! Some are related to me through some form. Many are not related, but I still call them my “sisters.” Each and every one of these ladies brings something to the table that I can learn and grow from. I love each of them!

There are my young, more hip, edgier friends. They help me to wear my ponytails just a little bit higher and stay out of the “mom jeans” awhile longer (mom jeans have made a comeback with teen girls now. I just don’t think I can pull that style off).

There are my girlfriends who have been around since we were kids. I love the sweetness of those relationships. We have a history together. We can still, to this day, laugh at the same “inside jokes” that we giggled at years ago. There is a lot of comfort that comes from spending time with these special ladies.

Then there are my fitness-fanatic friends. They motivate me to get up off the couch when I’m tired and MOVE my body! These ladies always have tips to impart about health and fitness; the latest keto wine or how to build up that booty (I can’t believe I’m writing this). My “mommy friends” are experts when it comes to parenting. They are often juggling 5 young kids, homeschooling, and running a small business all at the same time. I like to bounce questions off of them when it comes to kids and parenting or marriage.

There are my “hippie chick” friends. Together, I’m sure we could come up with more than a dozen uses for breast milk other than feeding a baby (yes, there really are so many other uses). We could talk about essential oils and supplements for hours. I have friends who are savvy in budgeting and finances. Those who could become professional organizers. They label EVERYTHING including their kids. Kidding! My career orientated friends who have jobs in healthcare or real estate or who are business owners. Most all of my friends can make me laugh, often without trying (FYI- this is like my top “friendship criteria”).

My Bible teacher friends who are so full of knowledge and wisdom. My prayer warrior friends, my adoption and foster mommy friends. You just can’t fully understand that arena unless you have walked through it. I have many friends who have. It’s such a comfort to be able to relate!

I could go on and on with the varieties. My “family friends” fit into many of these categories. In fact, many of my friends possess several of these qualities all at once. I admire each of these women for who they are and what they stand for as well as all that they accomplish in their lives. Some have experienced very difficult times in their lives and I have walked beside them, just as they do for me.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a group of ladies, many who I have known for several years. They have witnessed my walk through the difficult seasons of my life. A few have known me for well over a decade, long before kids were in the scene. These ladies are REAL women. Women who do not have any expectations, except to simply show genuine, sisterly love to one another. There are no masks or barriers or walls. No competition; just spending simple, sweet, refreshing time with one another.

We all brought food to share for a brunch and we drank good coffee. Parking ourselves on couches and recliners, we passed the time by catching up on each other’s lives. There was laughter. Lots of laughter. Some tears and time lifting one another up in prayer and…encouragement. So much encouragement! I even learned the proper way to pronounce “memes.” Note to self: They are not called “Me-Me’s.” (insert self-directed eye-roll). I’m learning. πŸ˜‰ Some woman’s kids were in and out. I stopped once to pick my youngest up from preschool. We continued right on with our fellowship together.

Some ladies brought clothing that they no longer wanted and needed to find a new home for. I walked away with a large bag full of “new” clothing (to me). It was like Christmas! What a beautiful picture of friendship and sisterhood. True sisterhood. Relationships where you can bear your soul and not worry about rejection or back-stabbing or gossip or any of the things that cause people to shut oneself off from relationships.

We need people. We need relationships like the ones mentioned above. We are created to be with one another. Life was not meant to be walked alone. It can be hard and lonely. We need support! I can’t tell you the number of times I have been struggling and others have come alongside me, lifted up my arms up (figuratively) and helped sustain me until I could stand on my own two feet once again. Ladies, we need sisters. Guys, you need bros. Friends pick us up when we are down. They give us a new perspective and refresh our mindset.

If you feel alone and do not have others to come alongside you, find a place to get plugged into and start developing relationships. For me, a church is my number one place because my faith is my top priority and I can develop relationships with like-minded people. Other places where I have developed friendships is through an exercise class or a gym. Sometimes through a group of people who enjoy the same hobby such as runner clubs or mountain bike clubs. There are yoga groups; sewing, cooking, you name it. I’ve even seen tightrope-walking and jousting groups and people who dress up in medieval attire. There is something for everyone. Pick a group. Show up. Begin building relationships today! You’ll be glad you did!

I’m reminded of the song lyrics, written by Gary Portnoy. The words go to the theme song of the 1980’s sitcom, Cheers. I used to watch this show often as a kid:

“Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to getaway? Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name. You want to go where people know the people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name”

You Can Call Me “Grandma”

You Can Call Me “Grandma”

A Tribute:

January 8th at 12:02 a.m. a beautiful and dear friend to me drew her last breath on this earth and slipped away into eternity. She was 72 years old. “Grandma Carolyn,” a name that she gave me the honor of calling her, had never married or had children of her own. She had lived much of her life full of hardship, abuse, addictions, sadness, loneliness, poverty, and trials up until 2010 when she came to know the Lord. It’s not that every trouble just disappeared, but slowly as she grew in her faith and walk with God, He began to set her free. She began to experience a life filled with freedom from addictions, peace, joy, and contentment. For some of these bondages, she experienced immediate and miraculous healing. Other changes took time.

Carolyn was a simple woman. She lived with little…just the basics for survival and comfort. She didn’t own a car. Never owned a home. She never won a major award or found success as society defines it. Yet she was one of the richest people in my eyes. She was content, full of joy and a grateful person! She was a woman of unhindered faith and God’s love shined through her. Her smile would light up a room and her blue eyes had a twinkle. She loved others. She loved children. She was a prayer warrior. She invested herself in relationships. Time, prayer and encouragement were the gifts that she had to give to others. She invested her life in walking with God. She studied her Bible and “ate of its fruit.” This is a woman who had her priorities straight. This is a woman who stored up her treasures in heaven (where moth and rust cannot decay- Matt 6:19-20).

Three ladies and I worked together to clear Grandma Carolyn’s belongings out of her apartment. She had very little; just some food and personal belongings. She had lived there for 10 years. Those walls had witnessed the countless hours of prayer and praise and her transformation in Christ. With a few boxes, we hauled the remains of her possessions out. So strange to wrap my head around this occurrence. Everything there spoke Carolyn, yet she’s gone. Her legacy lives on because of what she poured into those who were around her.

I had the privilege of keeping her Bible. What a treasure! I am not exaggerating when I say that EVERY page, from cover to cover, was highlighted and marked up with underlines, circles, and notes written in it. She had studied and studied God’s Word. In the back note pages, she had filled it with dates and testimonies of God’s provision, miracles, answered prayers, and ways God had used her to minister in the lives of others. I will treasure this!!!

I share this to honor Carolyn’s life. She did not have a funeral service or even an obituary written in the paper. I share this in hopes that it will spur other believers on. Help those whose lives have gotten off track. Those who have been devoting everything they have to earning the next dollar, award or success. It’s not that these are bad things, but they don’t last and they don’t satisfy for long.

Folks, in the end, it doesn’t matter. You can’t take it with you. As you breathe your last breath, what matters is what you invested into eternity and the lives of others while here on earth. The rest just fades (James 4:14).

Carolyn passed in complete peace. In the days leading up to her death, she lived at the hospice house, she was full of peace and joy and thankfulness. There was even a glow about her that was noted by many. God gave her a platform (as she had been praying for) and he used her mightily in the lives of all who were in contact with her, including several medical staff. Carolyn knew that God could miraculously heal her just as He had done in other ways in the past. She was also ready and anticipating seeing God’s face. She would tell everyone “whether I’m healed and dance out of this place or I die and I’m dancing at Jesus’ feet, either way, I’m a winner-winner!” (see Phil. 1:20-21).

So, Grandma Carolyn, I honor you. Your life. Your hope and unwavering faith. Your continued prayers and love for me and my family. May we strive to pick up your torch and carry out your legacy. To impart into others God’s truth, that you instilled into us. May we fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! (2 Tim 4:7-8)
“I’ll see you later.”—
#winnerwinner #livealegacy #humblelifehappylife

Grandma Carolyn’s Story/How We Met:

Grandma Carolyn battled many health problems in her life and particularly in her last 12 to 18 months before she passed away. She found it difficult to leave her apartment for errands or go to church (in her final months). She greatly depended upon friends to help her with many of these tasks.

One of the highlights of her life was being able to share her personal testimony of God’s salvation, deliverance, goodness, and faithfulness. She loved having the opportunity to go down to the local Hope Center and share her story with those who are struggling with many of the same problems that God had helped her to overcome. I think that she would be pleased and excited that her testimony continues on through this writing.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Carolyn was introduced to Christ and the good news of His love, forgiveness, mercy, and freedom. She was so deep into her addictions that they were slowly killing her. God was like a hand reaching down to her and pulling her out of the destruction and messy life that she was in. Although God’s forgiveness of our sins and salvation is instant when we call out to Him, it sometimes can take some time for our lifestyle to change. This was the case for Carolyn.

I can’t clearly recall the order of how everything happened. I do remember her saying that one morning on November 5th, 2010 (I think this was the year) she popped open a large beer and sat down to read her Bible. She said that she heard the Lord’s voice clearly speak to her in her heart, “Today is the day.” She had been praying for deliverance from her addiction to alcohol. She described to me how much she would drink throughout the day. It was a large quantity. When she heard Him speak to her, she went and dumped her beer down the sink and proceeded to open up the entire new pack of beer and dump it all down the drain. She poured every last ounce of alcohol down the drain that was in her house. She never had another sip again. She claimed God’s healing and freedom in her life. She celebrated this date, every year after that as her “Freedom Day.” It was two months later (January 15, 2011) that God set her free from her addiction to cigarettes, in which she had smoked for most of her life. That was the last of her addictions. She worked hard to pay off her thousands of dollars of credit card debt that was from gambling. She had gotten it down to about $1000 remaining when she passed away.

Although we become a new creation in Christ, at the point of salvation it can take time for our minds to be renewed and transformed. (Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Learning God’s word (the Bible) and claiming his promises as truth in our lives begins to give us a new mindset and fill us with His hope and peace as we discover who we are in Christ (who He says we are). God is such a good, kind and loving God. He is not waiting to strike us with lightning for making a mistake or wrong choice. He is also near to us and wanting to be in close relationship with us. He says that we will seek Him and find Him when we seek Him with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”

Carolyn’s life slowly began to change. She found a church to call “home.” She got plugged into a Bible study and began developing friendships. I didn’t meet Carolyn until she had been a born-again Christian for about 7 years. The person I knew her as was very different from the person she described herself as in her earlier years of being a Christian. She was so “on fire” for Christ because of the work He had done in her life; the things He had rescued her from. She was living a life full of freedom, joy, peace, and purpose.

She spent a lot of time in prayer for others. I believe her prayers played a big part in our adoption process going as smoothly as it did with our daughter. When she was able to, she would walk miles of neighborhoods in her part of town and pray as she felt the Holy Spirit led. She didn’t know the impact of those prayers while here on earth, but she did it anyway, by faith. Perhaps God is allowing her to watch from heaven and see what is taking place in those areas as a result of her faithfulness to the call to prayer.

I slowly began to get to know Carolyn through a women’s Bible study at church. She would often seek me out afterward to visit with me. I was immediately drawn to her because of the way she reminded me of my Grandma Slaughter, who had passed away in May 2009. They looked like they could have been sisters. They had the same sparkling blue eyes and similar smiles. Both had wheezy sounding breathing from asthma and respiratory issues. Their voices sounded similar and even their handwriting looked alike. When my grandma passed away from cancer, it left a HUGE hole in my life because we were very close. I prayed for years that God would send me someone in my life who I could have a similar relationship with and would help fill that void. Carolyn was His answer to that prayer.

One day after church, I was chatting with Carolyn in the foyer of the church. I told her about my grandma who had passed away and how she reminded me so much of her. I already knew her story of not having children (or grandchildren) of her own and how that was a desire that had not been fulfilled in her life. She never had married so she was all alone. Her one sister lived in another state and her parents were already gone. I asked her if she would take on that “grandma role” in my life. She was honored and touched by the request. She said, “You can call me Grandma Carolyn.” From that point on, that was her name to me and my family. We adopted her as our own, and the same with us to her.

Grandma Carolyn loved my kids! She devoted a great deal of time praying for all of us. We saw God’s hand at work as a result of those prayers. In the few previous weeks when Carolyn was in the hospital and then before she passed away, we had shared some sweet time together. She often told me what a miracle it was for her to have gained a family through my family. To have someone who was like a granddaughter to her. She needed us and we needed her.

A few years ago, when Carolyn turned 70, some ladies from church put together a surprise birthday party for her. There were several people there to celebrate and honor her life. She made such an impact on so many people! What a special event to witness!

Losing Grandma Carolyn, significantly affected this past year of my life. Watching her die from cancer, just as I had watched my Grandma Slaughter go. It was like reliving that death all over again, plus losing another special person in my life on top of it. The finality of death is hard to take. For those of us who believe in life after death, it is comforting to know that we can see that person and be together someday again.

A Final Story:

December 2018 we had Grandma Carolyn over to our house for the first time, to have dinner after church. This was a courageous step on her part as she fought fear and anxiety about going to new places, especially someone’s house.

Before having Grandma Carolyn over, I asked her what she wanted to eat for her meal. Her main request was “homemade cookies.” She also enjoyed soups. I made homemade soup and homemade bread with REAL butter (she was so thrilled over real butter) and homemade frosted, decorated sugar cookies. I did my best to spoil her! I also wanted to give her some gifts to open. I had gone to Kohls and bought her a beautiful, NEW sweater. It was light pink with sparkly gold flecks in it (she looked beautiful wearing it). She always had to buy used clothes from the thrift store and I wanted her to experience getting something brand new to wear. I also gave her a framed family picture of our family. She was so touched by everything and she felt very loved by it all. She sat and wept at how much love she felt. It was so good for my children to witness the touch of our family in her life. I hope that it left an imprint on their lives as it certainly did on mine, and I know on Carolyn’s life as well.

She called me a few times in the days following the event just to thank us again and again and let us know how much everything meant to her. I still feel like we got the greater blessing by how much joy it brought to us to do that for her and see her soak everything in. She was so appreciative! During dinner, she shared her testimony in detail with us and I told her that I enjoyed writing and someday I wanted to write about her. Well, here I am writing about her. I pray that her story will spur others on to live a life built upon the rock of Jesus Christ, not the shifting sands of the things of this world. To focus on eternal blessings and how we can be a blessing to others!

Pineapple Princess

Pineapple Princess

“She’s mine.” This is a phrase that I have become quite accustomed to saying. We adopted our second child, Regina, through foster care when she was 17 months old. She entered into state custody on a cold, snowy night in February, at the age of two weeks. She was moved into our home just before she turned five months old. It is very common when we are out in public and Regina is wandering a distance from me, I will see the question in other adults’ eyes as if they are asking “where are that child’s parents? Is she all alone?” I quickly let them know that she is with me.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on Regina. She was a beautiful baby. She had the most delicate hands and feet; to this day, she has the most beautiful feet I’ve ever seen. Her smooth, brown skin and dark brown, nearly black, almond eyes. And her hair…oh, my! A head full of black hair that stood straight up from her head like the top of a pineapple. She very quickly gained the nickname”Pineapple Princess” in our home. Regina is Lakota Sioux; full blood to our knowledge. She had a very strong Polynesian appearance to her as a baby, and still has a bit of that look today. People would often ask me if she was a Pacific Islander, even some Asian strangers who would strike up a conversation with us, thought she was.

They say that when you meet “your child” as an adoptive parent, you just know that that is your child. We had fostered a handful of children before Regina, and become very attached. There was something different about when I met her. Maybe it was hopefulness. When you adopt through foster care, there are so many unknowns. A rollercoaster of emotions. It’s hard to even put into words the broad range of emotions a person goes through. So many question marks as to how the case will end. That was definitely true for Regina’s situation.

Foster to adopt is emotionally draining. There are hopes, attachments, and good-byes. So, so many good-byes. It can be emotionally brutal. What kept us going was the fact that we really felt God calling us to adopt through this route. We also saw the HUGE need for foster families in our area as well as an opportunity to love on “the least of these.” My heart broke for the children who came into our home. Just so much sadness and loss and pain as a result of selfish choices made by their parents. I often pray, “God, protect the innocent.” Our eyes were greatly opened doing foster care. Most people cannot fathom the things that take place in children’s lives who are living right here in our community. Right next door, even. And no, it’s not always the impoverished families. I think that should be saved for a whole other post.

Looking back, I see how God really gave us a lot of grace as well as peace throughout the adoption process. There were times when it was looking like things were going to go in a certain direction and then at the last minute that route would switch. I grew accustomed to walking around on pins and needles. Every phone call from the social worker could mean anything, we just never knew. I always wanted whatever was best for Regina. I also wanted to be able to adopt her. I knew that whatever the outcome would be, one mama was going to end up with a broken heart.

I love this girl so much! When I look at her, I just see my daughter. Regina is 5 1/2 now. She does not know yet that she is adopted. She just is noticing that she doesn’t look like the rest of the family. She will say to me, “Mom, I wish I had light skin like you.” I tell her, “I wish I had beautiful, tan skin like you!” I reassure her that she is beautiful in every way. I tell her that God made her just the way she is and that He doesn’t make mistakes! I hope that I can reaffirm that to her again and again as she grows older.

Regina was diagnosed with autism when she turned four years old. We went through several months of tests and observations. Most people do not realize that she is on the autism spectrum because she “looks normal.” She is bright, her brain just processes slower and differently than the rest of us. Other than certain repetitive gestures, she physically doesn’t stand out from a crowd.

For anyone who has special needs kids, you know the challenges that go along with that. There are many, on so many levels and every child is different. There are good days and hard days and small things that we wouldn’t normally think much about that can set a child off or create a huge mountain of an issue. The crying fits that seem like they won’t end. Some of the behaviors that she displays in public that are sometimes so embarrassing. The stares from other adults and the invisible thought bubble above their head that says, “lady, get your kid under control.” They don’t know what I’m dealing with or how long the day has been or how many times we’ve had to go around the mountain, dealing with a particular behavior. It adds to the difficulty. Patience and energy are a huge requirement and I often feel like I’m lacking in both.

We were given a day to figure out what Regina’s adoptive name would be. Actually, her lawyer wanted me to tell her right at that moment over the phone so she could draw up the paperwork. I said I needed a little time to discuss it with my husband so we were given until the next morning. A name is a big deal in my opinion.

We decided to keep her first name as Regina so that she could have a part of her biological heritage with her. We learned that she was named after her great, great-grandma. Her biological mother described this person as the only caring and kind person in her life. Someone who was always smiling and happy and a ray of sunshine. I love that! Regina is definitely a ray of sunshine! What a great heritage to carry on!

We call her Reggie as a nickname. It just fits. She has a bit of an edge to her and can pull it off! πŸ™‚ We changed her middle name to Joy, then, of course, she has taken on the Williamson name. We wanted her adoption to mean a fresh start and a new life for her!

She started kindergarten this year and everyone calls her Regina. I asked her the other day what she prefers to be called and she said “Regina.” That is the first time she has said that. In the past, she has expressed liking the name, Reggie. So, Regina, it is. I like that she has a part of her ancestry always with her. I do not know where her birth mom is. I pray for her and hope she is well. I want good things for her! I’m thankful that she chose to give life to this child! In my mind, Regina has two moms, both of us have given her the gift of life, just in different ways.

The time will come when she will have more questions and when she will be ready to understand adoption and her past. For now, all she needs to know is that she belongs. She is loved. She has been chosen. “She is mine!”

Family Heritage

Family Heritage

My family history intrigues me! I enjoy learning about my roots and seeing bits and pieces of myself in those who came before me. Trying to imagine what life was like a century ago…two centuries ago…

Having lived almost my entire life in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I have a love for this state and my local area. I’m a total history buff and have taken several classes on Black Hills History. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one! I like thinking of my ancestors and their journey to America. What must that journey have been like? The harsh conditions. Survival. TRUE survival. The adventure. The risk. Their dreams. Their will to endure in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their future family members. I like hearing stories about past family members from the older generations. All of my grandparents are gone, but I enjoy thinking back to the stories that they did share with me.

Here’s a little snapshot of what I know about my family heritage:

My great-grandparents on my dad’s side of the family were all immigrants and came to the area from different countries. My dad’s maternal grandparents, Louis and Anna Karinen, were both from Finland. They came to the U.S. in 1880. They didn’t meet until living in this local area. They were homesteaders; sheepherders in the Fruitdale and Sonoma, SD area. My great-grandma, Anna, worked as a maid in 1908 at the historical Adam’s House in Deadwood, SD (prior to marrying Louis). She and her husband, Louis, later bought land outside of Spearfish, SD so that my grandma and her siblings could go to high school. I recall my grandma talking about riding her horse to school. That land later became home to my dad’s parents and today is known as “the farm” in our family. Anna and Louis are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Spearfish. Other relatives are buried in the tiny, rural, Sonoma Cemetery.

  • Side note: The farm is about 100 acres, west of Spearfish. In one section, there is a meadow on top of a hill. It has a 360-degree view that includes Crow Peak, Spearfish Mountain and Lookout Mountain (the “jewels” of what is also known as “Queen City”). Someday I hope to own this small portion of land and build a house. I would love to continue on as a fourth-generation owner of this property. And perhaps I will finally get to have my very own horse and use my grandma’s saddles and equipment. I would even be content with a tiny house, as long as there was a nice porch where I could sip my coffee in the morning, wine in the evening and room for my large rescue dog to lay next to me. It’s always good to dream! So many good memories at the farm. I will have to save it for another post.

My paternal great-grandparents, Mary and Joseph Auer, both lived in the historic town of Deadwood, SD and are buried high up on a hill in the old Catholic Cemetery, up Burnham Avenue. Joseph Auer, born in 1846, was a blacksmith in Tyrol, Austria. He immigrated to Deadwood sometime in the late 1800s, a few decades past Gold Discovery days. His name is listed on the Ellis Island registry. He worked at the Golden Reward Mine in Deadwood.

Upon moving to Deadwood, Joseph bought two placer mining claims (10 acres each) in what is today known as land at Terrace Hotel. The mineral survey shows that his land extended from First Gold Hotel up to Cadillac Jack’s. Having an entrepreneur mindset, he built what became the historical Deadwood Toll Booths since the main road going through Deadwood crossed his land. He put a tollbooth on both ends of his plats. Anyone entering or exiting Deadwood had to pay a toll fee to cross his land. Pretty smart if you ask me! A picture of one of the toll booths is seen in the Historic Preservation Office inside Deadwood City Hall. One of the tollbooths was later moved to behind the Auer Service Station that my grandpa and his brothers owned and operated. The booth was used as a back-office for the station. Sadly, the toll booths were not adequately preserved. I’m not sure what happened to the first one. The second toll booth that had been used at the service station, collapsed during a snowstorm in the mid-1900s.

I love Deadwood history, especially during the Gold Rush era. I just think that it’s so fun my ancestors were around and a part of the hustle and bustle of that fascinating little town! A little side note on Deadwood history for anyone who enjoys this sort of thing too: Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, our country’s 26th president, also loved this area! He was actually very good friends with Wild Bill Hickock. Such an unlikely friendship of two seemingly opposite characters. In fact, they were such good friends, that Mt. Roosevelt Monument has a tower that Teddy had built, called Friendship Tower. It’s located up on a hill across from Mt. Moriah (where Wild Bill was buried). It is said that even upon death, Teddy Roosevelt remained a true friend and wanted to be able to look out after his good friend, Hickock. Also, the rumors of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane ever being in a relationship are not true. Calamity always loved Wild Bill and wished that he loved her back in the same way. It is thought that she started those rumors. They were somewhat of friends, however, Calamity was a bit of a menace to Hickock.

Back to my family history…

Joseph also had a patent on something he made having to do with a horse-drawn wagon. Something with the reins or hitch, my dad could not remember exactly. It sounds like he was a busy man! He was 66 when my grandpa was born and he died at the age of 78.

My great-grandma, Mary, was 35 years younger than Joseph and from Russia. They met after immigration. Together, they had 9 children, my grandpa being the youngest of this large Catholic family. Both of his parents had passed away by the time he was a teenager and he was looked after by his older siblings.

My grandpa, Albert Auer, born in 1912, had only an 8th-grade education. This was not too uncommon for his time period. He owned and operated a gas station, along with his brothers, in Deadwood called Auer Service Station. The station had the first automated pumps in town. Grandpa built a house in 1938, located on the main road going into Deadwood (CanAm Hwy). The house is white, with a white picket fence in the front and located next to what today is the Deadwood Cottages. My dad grew up in that house and it still stands there in very good condition. In the back of the long driveway is a large garage. My grandpa built an apartment above the garage. I think I recall my dad saying that they would rent the apartment portion out to people. The house is located next to a Big D Mobil gas station today.

Auer Service Station: Deadwood, SD

While working at the service station, my grandpa drove a large diesel truck to the town of Pactola, to deliver gas. It was a steep, windy road to get down to this little town. The town is no longer there but was flooded and dammed, now at the bottom of Pactola Reservoir. Grandpa had to drive the truck backward up Strawberry Hill because it didn’t have much power. In his adult years, he worked as a miner and retired from what was called Home-stake Mine. He was a master carpenter and mechanic. He could fix or build anything.

For Christmas one year, he built my sister and I the most amazing play kitchen. It had real stove burner knobs. You could turn them and make the burners turn red or back to black like the stove was hot or cold. He also built doll highchairs, cradles and a little kid table for us. I still have a cradle and the little table that my kids use to this day.

My grandpa stayed and fought the Deadwood Fire of 1959, along with other men, while the town evacuated. Grandpa was very strong-willed. He smoked cigarettes for 60 years of his life (age 13 to age 73). One day he decided to quit and gave smoking up, “cold turkey.” He passed away in July 1996 from cancer.

My grandparents Auer met while my grandma was going to nursing school in Deadwood. She graduated from nursing school in 1937. My grandpa and his friends liked to date the nurses. He and Grandma met and the two eloped to California after a little time of dating. They were married on Christmas day, 1937. They lived in Deadwood for many years, all while raising their boys, then later bought my great grandparents’ farm outside of Spearfish. They lived there for many years until they both passed away in 1996, both at the age of 83.

Albert and Mabel Auer outside of their home at the farm. Spearfish, SD

My grandma, Mabel Auer, also born in 1912, was quiet and very kind. She loved gardening, birds, riding horses, listening to music and attending local concerts. She worked as a nurse at Deadwood Hospital while raising their 4 boys. In her later years, she had Parkinson’s Disease and a series of small strokes. I wish I had known her better while she was in her younger years and better health. I am the youngest of all my cousins on the Auer side of the family. My older cousins have a different perspective on Grandma. From their stories, I think grandma was a little bit on the feisty side. Growing up as a ranch girl and raising four boys, a lady has to be a bit that way!

Dad and my sister going for a ride at the farm.

My grandma’s signature meal was stew and bread-sticks. She made it whenever we came to visit. I liked to help roll out the breadsticks. She loved horses. We would go riding and help care for the horses during the years that my grandparents owned them or would board horses for friends. The barn still has my grandma’s old saddles, bridles, and horse equipment. I have always hoped to own my very own horse and am waiting for that dream to come true.

Grandma made doll blankets as a Christmas gift for me one year when I was a child. The quilted blankets were made out of her old shirts and my grandpa’s bib overalls (grandpa almost always had on bibs). I still have those blankets. My girls use them now to play with their dolls. I treasure those blankets because of the clothes from my grandparents and the small hand stitching by my grandma. She passed away in February of 1996, five months before my grandpa. My grandparents were married for 60 years.

I got my middle name (Rae) named after my dad (Ray). He was named after his uncle (Ray Karinen). My youngest daughter and niece also carry on the same middle name. My dad just turned 74 and is an avid outdoorsman. Hunting and fishing are his main hobbies. Growing up in the historic town of Deadwood, SD, he played football and was on the ski team in high school. He has had more broken bones and injuries than the average kid, from all of his boy ventures. It’s a good thing his mom was a nurse!

My dad (middle) along with neighbor kids. Riding his horse, Babe. Backyard of his home in Deadwood, SD. Early 1950s.
My dad on the Deadwood Ski Team

Dad taught me how to downhill ski when I was three years old. Before learning, I would ride down the slopes on his shoulders. Once I began to ski, I was fearless. I recall skiing right over the tops of another person’s skis on more than one occasion, as I sped straight down the slope.

Dad working as a Highway Patrolman with the family dog, Barney. 1970s.

A Biology major, Dad lived out his college years in Alaska, hunting and exploring the Alaskan wilderness in his free time. After graduating from the University of Alaska, he worked for several years in law enforcement and was also a businessman. From being a real estate broker to house-flipping, owning rentals and owning and operating various businesses (particularly in the tourism industry), he always had projects he was working on or planning to begin. Growing up, I remember him waking me up before sunrise to go hunting along with him; scouting out deer or walking cornfields to stir up a pheasant. I thought it was fun to use the coyote call. We always owned a Labrador Retriever as our family pet and his hunting helper.

Mom (Connie) as a baby.
1952?
Mom with her youngest brother, Bryan.

My mom (Connie) moved almost constantly in her growing up years. From Michigan, South Dakota, Montana, and other states (I have lost track). She attended Grace College, a private Christian college in Indiana, with a degree in Psychology. She loves traveling, music, books, and children. She worked in schools for most of my life as a teacher’s aid and later, a school librarian. She went back to school for her library media degree when I was a teenager and worked as a school librarian for many years before retiring. She also enjoys gardening, being a kids’ church teacher, leading Bible studies and hosting dinners with friends and family.

Mom. 1970s.

My mom is my biggest cheerleader and advocate. Both of my parents have been a huge support to me throughout my adult years as I have faced major medical issues. My mom especially is the main person who I can share my struggles with and she is constantly praying for me. Her faith in God is very strong and she is a great example of a Proverbs 31 woman.

October 12, 1974. Custer State Park chapel.
Check out those bell-bottoms and all that polyester!

My parents met each other while my dad worked as a highway patrolman officer. My maternal Grandma, Mildred Slaughter, worked with him as a dispatcher for the Sheriff’s office in the small town of Custer. She liked my dad and teased that since he was an “old bachelor” (28 years old) he should meet her daughter. My mom, being right out of college and my dad, six years older, they met and got married within 3 months (not a “shotgun wedding” either). They celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary this month. I’m thankful for the heritage and foundation my parents have set for me.

I’m in the process of learning more about my family history on my mom’s side of the family. There is a long line of war veterans and active military, even to this day. My mom has Civil War discharge papers that belonged to my great-great-great-great-grandpa. Actually, four relatives fought in the Civil War. One died a few years after the war was over, at the age of 40 due to repercussions from war injuries. I have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. My grandma was a member of “Daughters of the Revolutionary War.” There is information about family members who came over from Europe (to what are now the New England states) before America was even its own country. My mom’s side of the family is made up of German and Scandinavian ancestry. There is even a full-blood Cherokee woman and African man that made it into the bloodline so we are very much a melting pot on my mom’s side. Red hair runs strong in this genetic line, at least five generations. Blondies and blue eyes too.

My grandpa Slaughter (also named Albert) grew up on a farm in Springfield, IL. He had a younger brother who died as a toddler, so Grandpa was raised as an only child. He was a very loving and caring man who loved meeting new people and visiting with them. He always had a dream of owning a little hot dog and t-shirt stand. Grandpa had many different jobs over the years and moved his family several times (over 50). They stayed in their last house for several years, in Belle Fourche, SD, before they both passed away. I think that Grandpa’s pursuit of moving and changing jobs so much often was the thinking that the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” He was a veteran and took great pride in his service to our country. It is through my grandpa that I am related to Daniel Boone via his sister, Eleanor Boone.

Grandpa passed away right before Christmas in 2007. His funeral and burial were held on my wedding anniversary, December 27. I recall the taps were played as his casket was carried out of the church. He always was so honored by the time that he spent serving this great country. After his burial in Custer, SD. The flag that had laid over his casket was folded and given to my oldest cousin on the Slaughter side. What a treasure and so deserving, having served in the military for over 30 years and fighting in the Gulf War.

Grandpa was a good writer. I have a few of his handwritten letters. We almost always lived in the same town or close by, yet he would still write me letters and notes. He was always concerned about the well-being of his grandkids and would worry a lot. He looked after us like we were his own kids.

Grandpa was very generous. He liked to buy and give gifts to others on his birthday. The gift to himself was blessing others. He loved to laugh and have fun. He was also very sensitive, often tearing up when sharing a sad story. One year he went sledding with my parents and sister and me on Christmas day. He was a heavy-set man. I will never forget him flying down the hill by our house in Custer, on that old runner-sled!

When I was in high school, I was involved in a lot of activities and had many opportunities and experiences. During my sophomore year of high school, I traveled to Hollywood with my cheerleading squad at the beginning of December and we performed in the Hollywood Christmas parade. It was from that experience, my grandma nicknamed me “Miss Hollywood.” A few weeks later, my family and I went on a trip to Florida over Christmas break. Grandpa would often say to me, “slow down or else there won’t be anything left for you to do when you get older. You will have done it all before you even graduate from high school.” If he only knew how long my Bucket List is, because it grows with time. πŸ™‚

As a soldier, Grandpa met my grandma at a town dance in Sioux Falls, SD and he was smitten. She was a stunning redhead who had many suitors. Looking at pictures from her younger years, she could have been a 1940’s covergirl…a classic American beauty. Grandma said that she would hide at the back of the library so that Grandpa couldn’t find her when he was in pursuit of her. He just wouldn’t leave her alone. Eventually, he won her over and they married at the ages of 17 and 19. They were together for over 60 years.

My grandma (Mildred Slaughter) grew up on a farm in Minnesota (her siblings called her Millie). Her father died when she was very young (Grandma was around age four) and her mom was left to raise four children on her own. They later moved to Sioux Falls, SD. My grandma recalled that they lived in extreme poverty, yet she and her siblings were always loved and cared for. Around Christmas time, as a child, charity boxes would be left on their doorstep. My grandma did not understand why people were doing that for them because she didn’t realize that they were so poor. My great-grandma often worked more than one job in order to try to support herself and her kids. She later remarried. Grandma’s stepdad cared for her and her two sisters and brother as if they were his own.

Grandma Mildred had a fun, witty personality. People were just drawn to her. There was a bit of an “entertainer” in her. She liked to tell jokes and funny stories. She was not intimidated to be in front of a group of people.

Grandma was also a bit of a rebel. She and her siblings were often finding mischief. She told stories of going to the drive-up movie theater. They would pack as many people into a car as they possibly could fit. Even hiding some in the trunk of the car because the cost to get into the theater was by car rather than per person. She also recalled walking across the tracks of a train bridge with her sisters in Sioux Falls. A train came and they didn’t have enough time to get across the bridge so they had to crawl down onto the bridge leg posts and hold on as the train passed overhead. She had so many funny stories about dating more than one guy at a time. Sometimes having a few dates on the same night and having to send one out the back door so he wouldn’t be seen by the next date who was coming to the front door. Her stories were so entertaining! She told them in such a matter-of-fact way!

Grandma was very intelligent and caught on quickly to new skills. She worked a variety of jobs in order to help her family make-ends-meet. My grandma was a survivor and had a ton of wisdom. She developed a personal walk with God when she was in her 30’s. I recall her memorizing and reciting large chunks of scripture. She loved to read the Bible. Grandma was a prayer warrior. She spent her final weeks of life, as she battled cancer, laying in bed and praying for others. She very naturally shared her faith in God wherever she went. People would seek her out, even strangers, to talk with her. She always cared and was willing to listen. At her funeral, there were so many stories and testimonies of people who she had led to Christ. What a legacy!

Grandma Mildred was like a second mom to me. I often went to her seeking advice and to chat as friends. We would have good laughs together and heart-to-heart talks. She was the last of my grandparents to pass away in May 2009. The last time I saw my grandma was on Mother’s day, a week before she passed. I knew in my heart that it was “good-bye for now.” My husband and I sang songs over her and she prayed over us. It was a very special time together! Losing my grandma left a big hole in my life!

Grandma loved animals, particularly dogs. The other week, I was visiting the local Humane Society. I noticed, one of the dogs had a sign on his cage that said “Millie Slaughter: guardian of all the animals.” That meant a lot to me as I have been writing this post and thinking about her. I think God put that sign there just for me to see; to bring comfort and remind me that I am loved.

I have one sibling, an older sister. She is four years older than me. She probably doesn’t want me to share anything about her in my blog, but being a typical little sister, I will do it anyways. I wouldn’t be doing my “job” if I followed by her rules. πŸ™‚

Growing up, people often thought that my sister and I were twins. People would say how much we looked alike and how our voices sounded the same. Sometimes they even got us mixed up, which we found funny. We don’t think that we are that identical. We have a lot of similar interests and hobbies but are pretty different in other areas such as our personalities. She often tells me that I’m too nice and I need to learn how to stand up for myself better. When I was in college, I accidentally gained a stalker by saying “hi” in passing. He would follow me in his car while I was on my bike. Freaked me out! Turns out he was on parole. That is a story for a whole other time!

“Pair of Pears”
(2001) Photo credit to
Hayley (Hespe) Kaemingk
hH Photography & Design
www.hhphotodesign.com

Growing up, we were always creating. We lived in the country and made little lean-to forts outside in the woods by our house in Custer (our land was backed up by Forest Service land). We would get into my dad’s tools and scrap wood and build furniture for our Barbies. Then get into my mom’s sewing kit and scrap fabric and sew bedspreads and clothes for the Barbies. They were the best-dressed Barbies with the nicest interior designed home!

Touch tank. Northern California.
Pacific Coast driving trip.

My sister tells me that when I was a baby, she tried to sell me to an old lady at my grandma’s yard sale. The lady didn’t think that was such a good idea. I recall her punching the neighbor boy at the bus stop one time and making him cry because he wouldn’t stop teasing me. Even though my sister always hoped to find a new home for me…possibly she grew to like me after all.

Remember Marine Life? Rapid City, SD
Who’s that guy with the long whiskers?
Trip to Arizona. I remember wearing that poodle skirt later on too!

My husband’s family has received me as their own. They really love me and are good to me. They are always ready to help or support me in whatever way they can.

Family is really important to me!

Pin It on Pinterest