Hello New Year!

2019 was a whopper of a year…very tough to say the least. Lots of losses in so many ways. Many deaths and good-byes, broken relationships, mental/emotional battles…depression, anxiety like I’ve never experienced in my life. Health battles of both old and new, attacks from others, major fear, brokenness…completely at the end of myself, on my knees, no will to fight- brokenness. That is hard for me to admit. I’m often the person smiling and cracking jokes, it’s just easier that way. Smiling on the outside because I don’t want to face what’s on the inside.

That’s when God stepped in more real and ready to save me than ever before. I don’t mean salvation as in from my sins…he has already taken care of that, but I mean salvation from myself. From misery, hopelessness, a black cloud that wouldn’t budge, fear that was paralyzing, chaos, confusion, others treating me outright ugly. Exhaustion. Complete exhaustion because I was trying to do everything and make it all work, on my own strength. It was like being stuck in this horrible dream that I couldn’t wake up from. I felt so helpless
But God…

Yep…but God, in all of his glory, infinite wisdom and overwhelming, reckless Love, reached down and grabbed my hand. He pulled me out of the mirk and quick-sand, like that of a drowning victim and he set my feet on a rock. He reminded me not only WHO I am, but WHOSE I am. He showed me that I am worthy of love. Worthy of happiness. Worthy of kindness and good things. He blew the dust off of me, like an old item that has been up on a shelf. He woke me up from a state of numbness and sleeping because it was just more comfortable and easier to be in that state than to have to feel. He gave my heart a new song.  He breathed new life into me and filled me with the new light of hope and joy. Joy to give me a new strength. Hope and expectancy that I don’t have to stay stuck in despair. That hearts can heal from loss. He has and continues to use others to do this. He used every source possible because he is God and he has every resource at his fingertips to use and he just does things like that because he loves us so much. He wants us!

He set my feet on a new path. One that shows promise and good up ahead. One that makes me want to get out of bed and see what he has for me that day. One that makes me feel like I have purpose and value and worth again. He showed me how to DREAM once again. Like truly, child-like dreaming about the future!
Is it perfect? Nope. Do I still have days when I struggle? Yep. It takes time. I’m not fully there yet. Are we ever? I still have hard days. I just know that I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel; like I’m coming out of the fire. Refiner’s fire. It hurt while being in the fire. It is not a place that I would want to return to, yet looking back with hindsight, it is not a place that I would avoid if I had to do it all over again. Refiner’s fire makes us more like Jesus. It cuts off the dead branches and chisels away at the muck, destroys the infestations and polishes us up so that we can be like new again; whole, prepared and ready for the next step that God has for us.
So again, I ask my self…would I do it all over again? The answer is “yes.” A thousand times, “yes.”

But…um…for now God, for now, please lead me to green pastures where I can sit beside still waters. Let me be refreshed and renewed. Give me peace and rest so that I can be ready for whatever waits up ahead.
Hello 2020. I’m ready to see what God has in store for this year. For all of us, may it be a year of blessing and peace!

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!

Choose Life!

Choose Life!

I believe that there are no mistakes or coincidences with the people we cross paths with in life. I also believe that there is something we can learn from everyone. Everyone has a story to tell and gifts to share; a purpose to fulfill. Many people have been beaten down by life and lost sight of who they are, or perhaps they just haven’t ever figured out who they are and what they have to contribute to others. We have to choose whether or not we will learn and grow from those people and experiences along life’s journey.

I am only human. I fail every day. My choices and actions can unintentionally hurt others. When I fall short, I have to choose to pick myself back up again, brush myself off and keep going. Looking for people and opportunities in which I can serve and impart my gifts and wisdom into and share what I’ve gained through my personal life lessons.

None of us is done growing or learning until we have breathed our last breath. Even with the best of intentions, I make mistakes, hurt, and offend. Often my desire is to just be authentic, transparent or helpful and to do what is right, according to my personal convictions.

I cannot undo what has been done or change how others might perceive me. I can keep going and keep trying my best! Keep loving those who God puts in my path. Keep praying for and blessing those who no longer are in my life. Forgive myself. Forgive others. Move forward. Choose joy. Choose to love. Choose to bless; help and serve where opportunities arise. Choose to persevere. Choose to be all God is calling me to be. Choose LIFE. Life is a choice. I choose to LIVE!

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!

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