encouragement · Encouraging, Scripture · inspiration · Scripture

“Death, where is your sting?”

This devotional was originally posted in my church’s blog, for which I am a contributing author.  I wanted to share it with my Nitty-Gritty friends, because there are so many of my friends and loved ones who are struggling with the loss of loved ones.  It’s one of the most difficult journeys that we take in life, and it is only by the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit, and the hope we have in Christ, that we can make it through to the other side…where we are able to experience true joy once again.  I hope that it helps you, and I hope that if you know someone who is grieving, you will share this with them, and that it will help them also.

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(1 Corinthians 15:51-56, NLT) 51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. 54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

From November 2013 through May 2014 was a very difficult time in my family.  We were faced with mortality and grief in various undesirable ways.  In November 2013, my grandmother passed away after suffering from a massive stroke that hit her three years prior to her death.  The following April, my grandfather (who had lived with Alzheimer’s Disease for 7 years) made his grand entrance into Heaven.  Then the very next month, my dad was diagnosed with advanced, rapidly progressing, Alzheimer’s Disease.  To say that we felt devastated doesn’t quite encompass the depth and magnitude of our anguish. 

I could write page upon page about the crippling effects of dementia (as well as other types of neurological diseases) on the victims and their families.  It is a certain, and often slow, death. 

And there it is, the thing we most fear will happen…death.  Our humanity causes us to accept death as final.  In our minds, it is the end.  When a loved one passes on, people tell you that it’s not goodbye…not the end…and you nod and feign your resolve and agreement, but in that moment the only thing that you can truly feel is the emptiness and pain left behind, and the only thing that you believe is that you’ll never see that person again.  We are humans, and to us…death stings. 

To us, death feels like a punishment, because we have to go without someone that we love…missing that person and holding fast to our memories, hoping to never forget anything.  In our grief, we are blinded by emotions and we forget the truth of God’s word about death.  We are hurting, so we don’t understand or remember that because of Christ we have a HOPE that goes beyond mortality. 

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.  (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14)

Though we can’t accept it in the hours of distress and pain, the truth remains that death is only temporary.  It isn’t the end for those who are in Christ.  Essentially, our mortal lives are but a progression toward our own individual appointed times.  So we have to get out of our heads when it comes to the dread and anguish associated with death.  Death has no sting or victory…not because we don’t have to experience it and deal with it, but because we have a promise that far outshines anything this life, this temporary existence that is riddled with heartache and difficulties, has to offer us.  This life is not purposed to benefit us.  It’s not about you or me.  Every moment spent breathing air is a gift…not because this life will be the pinnacle of your existence, because it just isn’t.  It’s but a vapor that lasts mere moments in the span of eternity.  It is a gift because we have been created and chosen to be a part of something bigger than ourselves…to live outside of our own needs and serve a purpose in God’s plan for humanity.  So when we have lived that out, when we have given our lives to Christ and done our best to serve God’s plan, we don’t have to fear what comes next.  We naturally miss our loved ones, but what purpose does it serve to give ourselves over to the emotions of grief, sadness, and distress? Having victory over death isn’t cheating death, because we don’t have that power.  The victory is in knowing that even when the wages of sin is death, we don’t have to pay that price because Christ did when He went to the cross.  His sacrifice gives us the victory that comes from not fearing our exit from this life. 

Watching someone that you love suffer through a disease is not easy.  I see my dad, who is reduced to the mindset of a young child…unable to care for himself…no longer able to think rationally and independently, and I hurt.  My humanity aches at the thought that soon we will no longer have him with us here at part of our lives.  Yet there is this other part of me, driven by the truth of God’s word…by His promises, that longs for the day when my dad is free from his humanity and transformed supernaturally into his heavenly body that will never die.  He’s earned that.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18)

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Prayer:  Heavenly Father, sometimes our fears are born out of the unknown.  We don’t know what to expect out of death, other than grief, so we are fearful of it.  Help us to remember that mortality is but a present trouble.  Help us to fix our eyes on the unseen…the glory of Heaven.  When we are Heavenly-minded, we are able to see beyond the here and now.  When we fix our eyes on You and Your ways, we are able to move beyond our emotions and accept our human experience for what it is…temporary.  Thank you for this gift…for choosing us to live for this time.  Amen.

inspiration · Poetry

“an ode to letting go”

Hi friends.  This week I’m sharing another original poem from my heart to your screen.  I hope you like it.  I hope you share it.

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“an ode to letting go”

 

Sometimes

Just no matter what

Life waltzes past

After ushering in deep sadness

The stuff that regrets and pain are made of

And it just dances right on past

To a different tune

 

And I stand here

Motionless

I can’t even breathe

 

Because sometimes

Just no matter what

Life skips on by

After stirring things up

The stuff that romance and loss are made of

And it just traipses on

Laughing at a joke I don’t quite get

 

And I lie here

Breathless

And I can’t even think

 

Because sometimes

Just no matter what

I can’t catch up

Always a step or a breath behind

I am chasing things I’ve lost

The stuff my heart can’t seem to release

And I keep grasping at air

Trying to revive what is already dead

 

And I stop here

Arrested

And I

                   can’t

                                     even

 

encouragement · Encouraging, Scripture · friendship · inspiration · Scripture

Growing in Friendship

Confession time…I’ve always been the type to hold a little back, to be cautious, to have boundaries and walls, especially when pertaining to friendships and really all relationships. Except for my husband, I can honestly say there are maybe only one or two people who know my leanings, inner thoughts and raw feelings. Keeping people a little at a distance has always seemed safer to me, protects me I guess. However, a while back some good friends of mine moved. I seriously love these guys. They probably don’t even realize the depth of my caring for them (due to my keeping a distance), but through this process of change I have found a place that needs to be opened up and shared a bit. It’s new, bigger place for friendships and really all relationships for that matter. It doesn’t come naturally though, but with some focus and intention, there will be plenty of people to bless and be called friends. I’ve decided to love the way God intended me to…with an open heart and open arms, no more walls or fear of rejection or of being hurt. How can any of us possibly fulfill what we’re called to do, if we’re closed off from the world around us?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

While my friends’ leaving hurt and I sorely miss them, somehow, this thing that I’ve always been afraid of has made me realize the love I have passed up and that I have refused to give love to others. There’s a silver lining though, I know now not to take people for granted and there’s no time like the present to embrace a fresh opportunity. Imagine a world where we all are being the friend that we want others to be to us.

Don’t get me wrong, you can’t be everyone’s best friend or even possibly handle all the different personalities out there. Also, you can’t let people use you or in any way bully you…never ever is there room in your life for that. I tell my kiddos all the time to remember The Golden Rule. One thing I know about getting older, especially when I see my own children getting older, is there’s no time to waste. With that said…take some time today and be a good friend. It’s ok to be honest, open and caring with those who are in your life.

Luke 6:31-Do to others as you would have them do to you.



 

encouragement · inspiration · Poetry

“Beautiful & Alive”

I wanted to share a poem with y’all this week.  I wrote it, and rather than explain it’s meaning, or what I felt when I was writing it, I’d like for you to just read it and think about how it applies to your life – as a woman – as a person who has loved, lost, and risen again.  We all have our inner lives, our hurts and triumphs, and our stories that we sometimes never tell.  It is all part of who we are and how our lives unfold.  So, I hope you find some encouragement from what I have written, and that you will share it with anyone you’d like.  We are all so much stronger than we know!  Love to all!

 

Tomorrow I’ll wake up and think to myself,

“I just couldn’t sleep again,”

And I’ll know why.

 

But these secrets I keep are kept.

Some things are better that way.

 

Because when I dig,

I find things I forgot I’d hidden;

Time capsules never meant to be reopened,

Sealed tight with my tears and hatred,

Buried deep under my triumphs and successes;

That thorny bush,

Roses blooming and fragrant,

Open,

Faces to the sun.

 

I’m winter hardy.

I survive.

Thorns protecting what I’ve made:

My resentment,

My sins,

My indignation,

And the grace that gives me beauty and fight.

 

I accelerate.

Cut me back,

I return.

Pluck my petals,

I regenerate.

 

So thank you!

Thanks, man!

You made me strong,

And my roots grow deep,

Curling around the pain you imposed,

Toward the sun, toward the sky, I rise,

Beautiful and alive.

– “Beautiful & Alive”

adventure · inspiration · travel

Wanderlust

For the past two weeks, I have been in Alabama with my parents and other family who live down there.  I was born and raised (for the most part) in the Birmingham area (Walker and Marion counties).  Much of my family, and many of my dearest friends still live there, so my son and I go every summer to spend some time.  Each year, we try to find places to go that we’ve never been before, just to explore and get out of town for a bit.  I inherited a healthy dose of wanderlust from my mother, so when we get together we tend to find an adventure or two.

This year, Mother and I decided to drive south about 2 hours toward Montgomery, to a little town that most Americans have heard of at one point or another:  Selma, Alabama.  Neither of us had ever been before, and both of us had always wanted to see the Edmund Pettus bridge, where African American protesters were brutally attacked by Alabama State Troopers in 1965.  (If you’d like to see enlarged versions of the pictures below, just click on the images.)

This is an important piece of American history, and something that every Alabamian should see at one point or another.  So we hopped in the car, my teenage son in tow, and set out on our little journey.

Another stop along the way that we decided to make was to a place called Old Cahawba.  It was the first Alabama state capitol – a bustling, booming river town on the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers that was also the site of a large Civil War prison that housed over 3,000 Union soldiers over the course of the war.  The town no longer exists, as it was long ago burned to the ground and abandoned, but there are some ruins left to see, a couple of standing structures, and a few cemeteries that are teeming with pecan and magnolia trees.  I’ve been all over the state of Alabama throughout my life, and I have never seen so much Spanish moss as I did in Dallas County!  It truly was a sight to behold.

It was a lovely day, and more than worth every gallon of gas and every moment behind the wheel.

Our second excursion was a little to the north in Franklin County, Alabama to a little town called Phil Campbell.  Our destination:  Dismals Canyon.  Now, Alabama is known for its caves and caverns, as well as its wilderness and vast national parks, but I had no idea that this canyon was there!  So, my mother, my son, my sister-in-law, my nephew and I packed a picnic lunch and set out to spend our day exploring the Dismals Canyon.  If you’ve never been to this place, I recommend you spend the time and money to go!   Not only did we spend the day hiking and taking in the many wonders of nature in this beautiful, hidden paradise, but we also opted to return at dusk for the night tour to see the Dismalites.  What are those????  Well…they are nothing short of a mystery and miracle of nature!  The Dismalites are a bio-luminescent larvae that are only found in Dismals Canyon, New Zealand, and Australia.  To say it is a unique experience is putting it lightly!  In the dark of night, these “glowworms” illuminate the walls and crannies of the caverns inside Dismals Canyon.  They are at peak season in the summer, and it will blow your mind when you see them.  I was unable to get a decent picture of them, as are most people without professional cameras and an undisturbed environment, but below is a picture of them that I am sharing from the Dismals website.  (Click here to visit their site.)

Dismalites_simulation_598px

Although I didn’t get any of my own pictures of the Dismalites, I did get a picture of the elusive Trap Door Spider, and a glowing centipede (their venom causes them to glow under a black light).

As to be expected, I took TONS of pictures that day, so I’ve made a short slideshow of some of my favorites to share.

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The beauty was, at times, breathtaking – and the air was dense with more history than my human mind could comprehend.  I came out of the canyon exhausted, exhilarated, and with a head full of questions and stories to tell.

So I share ALLLLLLLLL of that to say this:  get out of the house this summer and explore your state!  We live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  The US is massive, and full of every sort of landscape that you can imagine.  Be it the oceans, the cities, the mountains, the deserts, the lakes and rivers, the various battlegrounds and settlements of the past…the list is endless!  No matter where you live, I know you are within an arm’s reach of something that will blow your mind!  Awaken the wanderlust within and make some memories!

 

Camping · DIY · inspiration · Renovation · RV

Not-So-Happy Camper

It was to be a wonderful memory making machine. Yes, we bought a camper. We dove in head first, bit the bullet, jumped in with both feet..however you want to say it, we bought it. Now, let me clarify that it’s not a brand new shiney, turnkey, off the lot new camper. It’s an older hybrid style camper with a slide out and full bath. We wanted an affordable camper with no payments and one that our kids could have fun in and us not completely be on to them about messing it up. I mean camping should involve swimming, fishing, hiking, dirt, bonfires and good food right? My point is we were looking for a good used camper for our family to try out this camping thing.

Fast forward to a good deal with a seemingly trustworthy guy who had an answer for everything and here we are with an unexpected project. Turns out the floors were rotted under the peel-n-stick tile along with rotted support beams and a busted hose. There’s more, the seals are rotted, it needs some repairs to the seal trim edges on the outside, new tires and rims, the roof needs a major cleaning and conditioning, all cabinets need painting and new fabrics all through out…….not to mention a good cleaning from top to bottom.

 

I should explain that we have zero camper/rv experience and an equivalent amount of renovation experience to match. Soooo, step one was to take a deep breath and let it all sink in that this is just a camper and not our home. Second step, we had to commit to this project. Step three, cram our brains full of Pinterest ideas and methods.

 

After a lot of reading, skimming and online perusing…..we sort of have a plan. Since this was more of my idea than my husband’s, I was the first one to jump in and get my hands dirty. The very first thing I did was rip all the curtains, valances and blinds out of our camper. I can’t say that the camper stank, but it had this odd smell sort of like stale aftershave. I couldn’t deal with it, so down came the curtains. This camper is a hybrid camper so the pop-out beds have curtains for privacy as well, needless to say there was a lot of ugly smelly fabric in there. I finally, after 7 years of owning a sewing machine, learned how to use it. I used my chevron patterned fabric for the curtains and the paisley type print for the kitchen benches. I have been able to complete all the curtains, but still have one set of cushions left to cover.   Next, I started ripping up the tile looking peel-n-stick flooring. Easy-Peasy in my mind. Ha!! Well, not so easy, the floors were laid with extra adhesive. They’re so sticky that the glue left behind after ripping the floor up, will take the shoes right off your feet!! So, I halted the floor removal until I get it all painted. I can’t imagine the entire floor being one giant sticky mouse trap. The plan is nice pretty wood plank peel-n-stick for the floors once all the painting is finished.

Onto the massive undertaking of primering and painting all the cabinets, storage areas, breakfast benches, the bathroom door and any of the walls that are wood paneling. Shew!! What was I thinking? So, first thing to do remove all the cabinet doors, hardware and hinges. It took me about 2 1/2 hours just for that, but the bright side is, there’s plenty of storage. Then, onto the forever task of the primer coat. I initially thought it would need 2 coats of primer but, I’m seriously considering only 1 coast now. I used BullsEye 123 primer. It’s for all surfaces including paneling and plastic, plus it doesn’t require sanding. Score!! I’m painting with an angled trim brush and a mini foam roller for a smooth, even surface. Here are some pics of what I have done so far.

As you can see I have a long way to go, but where there’s a will there’s a way. My plan is to keep rollin’ and brushin’ until all cabinets and wood surfaces are white. My curtains are finished as well as one set of dinette cushions(one set to go). I will also be hanging the bed curtains once all the painting is done. Due to the lengthy nature of this project this will be a 2 part post. Fingers crossed, my next camper post will be a beautiful Pinterest worthy completed renovation!

encouragement · inspiration

Finding My Peace in Oriole, Indiana

I have been sick this week.  I’ve had a nasty cold that’s just been doing a number me, gradually working its way down from head to chest.  On top of that, there’s been a lot of mental stress and anguish going on in my life.  I work as an educator in the public school system in Louisville, KY, and I am also VP of the PTA board at our school.  We are gearing up for the close of this school year, and it is a whirlwind I must say.  This is a busy, busy time of year for us all – students and teachers alike.  We have state standardized testing coming up, and about one zillion end-of-the-year events and activities – all for which we must prepare.  And…that’s just my professional life.

Last week, our family cat unexpectedly passed away.  We were so devastated by it.  He was our baby, and we have truly mourned his loss.  Getting over the death of a pet is so hard!  And with it being so sudden, we have been left stunned and just downright sad to be without our boy.

But…the big stressor that I have had weighing on my heart is a very hard situation that my parents (and thus, all of us kids) are going through.  My dad has Alzheimer’s, and this past week my mother had to do one of the hardest things she has probably ever had to do to date – she had to move him into a nursing home.  It has altered our lives forever…mostly hers and his…but all of us feel it…that pain of letting go.  I tell people about it, and they are sympathetic – as much as they can be – but the heartache isn’t their reality…it’s ours.  But we all go on.  What else are we going to do?  Dad is happy – as he always is – so we go on.  Moving with the changes of life is much easier than fighting against the current.

So yeah, it’s been a difficult season as of late, and I’ve had trouble finding peace.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with some friends that I don’t get to spend time with very often, and we spent our time together way out in the country in a little place called Oriole, Indiana.  We talked for hours, laughed, watched my friend Lori’s bees going to work, rode the Mule (an ATV) all over back, country roads, and we ate.  Yes, Lord, we ate.

Sometimes, just getting away from all things related to your stress is what you have to do to get yourself to reset.  For me, an Alabama girl who has been living the city life for quite some time, getting away to the country, hearing the peepers sing in a cemetery far away from any highway or noise for miles, smelling the wet dirt of a freshly tilled country garden that’s been watered by a long spring rain, and seeing the peaceful swish of content cows’ tails in a silent field of green grass, that’s the ticket.  Watching the sun set over a still river, undisturbed by barges and speedboats, that’s the way to my heart.  Being with friends who just always seem to bring peace and joy with them – in the way that they treat one another – in the way that they love one another – through their laughter and gentle teasing – in every story and testimony – that’s what it takes to bring my pieces back together.  I am reminded that life is good.  I am reminded that simplicity brings peace.  And my heart is full.  Because in the country I am away…and I am able to hear God speaking again.  Because there is no ignoring God when you see this kind of beauty.  He’s all around.  He is in every smile, in every breeze, and He’s even in that smoky flavor of the chicken that’s so good it changes your life.  His is in the remembering of a time and life I left behind in body but never in spirit.  He created that sunset that pierced through the darkness shrouding my soul, and He gave those peepers their song…just a’singin’ in the night..singing me back to life.

So my advice to you, if you’re going through hard times, is get away.  Just find a way to remove yourself from everything for a bit.  Find a place to meet with God, really meet with Him, again.  Let Him minister to your soul and pour peace into every crack that life has created.  He will do it.  Find your Oriole.  Find your peace.

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