Posted in Writing

Riding Currents

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Momma and Daddy’s house in Virginia.

 

I watched the boat putter away and slip under the James River bridge, leaving me behind.

“Daddy!” I said. “You forgot something!” I waved bobbing up and down in his wake.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Put your feet up in front of you and ride the current. You’ll reach me in no time.”

 

Fishing was a large part of our family culture, starting all the way back to Momma and Daddy’s first date, when he took her fishing on his john boat; but my early teen years I found ways to buck the family culture as I balanced on the shifting soap box of finding myself. Finding myself meant sticking my chin up a notch while I explained why my barbie’s head was shaved and she wore GI Joe’s camouflage “She’s in the Army of course. Women can serve in the army if they want to.”

Daddy often chuckled and shook his head. “You know I tried to raise her right, but I don’t what’s happened.”

With regards to fishing, I woke up one morning and decided, fish have feelings too, so while my family threw out their lines and rolled their eyes at me…again, I dove off the bow of the boat and swam with my new friends.

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Daddy on his small boat fishing with my husband Jay.

 

The current was strong that day. I had to swim far off from the boat in order to not be pulled into it and Dad was having a hard time keeping the boat off the bridge. He decided it was better to move to the other side, only, he forgot me in the process.

I laid on my back and put my feet up to ride the current. In case I hit the bridge the barnacles would hurt my feet not my head. Sure enough, I was swept under the bridge’s shadow while the sound of vehicles hitting the bridge’s grid echoed above. Before long I was spit out the other side back into the sun. I flipped over on my belly to swim the rest of the way to the boat, but felt my arms stinging and wrapped up in slime. It didn’t take long to realize my body had landed on a five-foot jelly fish colony. Brandon swam over to me to see what was causing me to splash and scream.

“Roll off Tammy,” he said. “You have to roll off of it.”

I rolled over several times and freed myself of the stinging tangle. By the time I climbed up the ladder my body was covered in red patches. By sunset, I’d picked up a rod and cast out my bait.

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Currents can pull at your mind too. It’s our human nature for our thoughts to ride the river of fear, guilt, vanity etc, until we find ourselves in an uncomfortable stinging mess. My doctor told me breast cancer is much more than a physical disease, it can become a disease of the mind if we allow it to.

 

The worst part breast cancer has played on my mind has been guilt. My sister wasn’t pushed to the front of the line when she needed surgery. In fact, her surgeon scheduled hers outside the safe zone. My sister didn’t have a slow growing cancer like I had. She didn’t have the option to forgo chemo and radiation. Her cancer invaded her lymph nodes, whereas mine didn’t.

As my family celebrated each good report, and the fact that my surgery was bumped to the 11thof this month, I felt I was drowning from the current of survivor’s guilt. Until one afternoon, my best friend KK and I were talking on the phone and it all came pouring out. I sobbed how unfair it was that I got such a good cancer, while my sister didn’t. How I had access to wealthy friends who knew the best of the best when it came to doctors.

“It’s so unfair. Tricia didn’t have a chance. She didn’t have all these blessings. Who am I to have this?”

“You’re looking at this through your humanness,” KK said. “God doesn’t love you anymore than He did Tricia. God brought Tricia home to be with Him sooner. Tricia’s journey is just different from yours. You still have work to do. You must remember “to die is to gain.” (Philippians 1:21b) You must remember “to be absent from the body is to be with Christ.” (II Corinthians 5:8)  If Tricia could see your diagnosis, she may think you got the bad end of the stick.”

And there it was…she threw me a lifesaver…truth.

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My son Nick thought it’d be funny to fish in the water fountain at the Millenia Mall. He told the security guard he had to catch a fish for his Momma’s supper. The guard said, “Son, your Momma’s gonna go hungry tonight, reel it in.”

 

Today, I was working on my Gospel of Mark Bible study and the writer Lisa Harper pointed out Peter. When Jesus explained to the disciples what He was about to be arrested and killed, Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him for thinking such things. But Jesus flipped the table on him by stating, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

 

What current have you been riding lately? What human thoughts are stinging your mind? Fear? There’s a lifesaver for that:

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Guilt? Let me throw you some truth.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 NIV

 

Feeling unloved? Climb aboard.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ESV

 

Fight that current, don’t allow your human thoughts speak louder than your Holy Spirit.  Here are some other truths about our thoughts…

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7a KJV

“…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 ESV

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” II Corinthians 10:5 ESV

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After surgery, I look like a puffer fish. 

A little update: I’ve had my double mastectomy and upon my request the plastic surgeon put in small implants so I could get it all done at one time and not face another surgery. I am hurting and tired but doing well. Thank you for the outpouring of love and prayers you have showered on me. I’m so blessed. I thank my Heavenly Papa for all of you.

Until we chat again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cancer, Christian, Writing

Funny Thing About Breasts

 

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Tricia doing the white man overbite.

 

Today, I couldn’t help but remember my breasts beginnings. I don’t know if I fall into the minority here, but as a girl I didn’t want them poking their way into my life. Growing up, since we didn’t have air condition and lived in the country, Momma let Tricia (my little sister) and I work the garden wearing only our under pants. Our backs turned a dark mahogany and our hair a light blonde, and we loved to show our Granny the only place the sun didn’t brown. She’d laugh so hard she had to wipe her eyes. Then we’d run to Paw Paw and threaten him with our full moons, but he claimed his eyesight was already dim and our butts would make him go blind.

One evening, while picking vegetables Momma stood up to stretch and glanced in my direction. She placed her hands on my shoulders and peered at my chest.

“What’s wrong?” I said, brushing my midsection, thinking I had a beetle on me.

“Tammy, you’re budding,” she said as if she were surprised. I didn’t have a clue what budding meant. “Momma, come look Tammy’s budding.”

Granny examined at my chest. “You’re right they’re coming in.” I glanced down to see what they were looking at and didn’t see anything.

“It’s time you start wearing a shirt in the yard,” Momma said.

“But it’s hot!” I said, frantic my nude independence was being stolen from me.

“Priscilla, you should get her a training bra too,” Granny said.

Bra? This was going way too far. Why don’t you just put me in a wool straight jacket.

“We’ll start with a shirt,” Momma said. “I don’t want your brother’s friends riding by here on their bikes getting a peep show.”

“What about Tricia?” I pointed to her. “She needs to wear a shirt too.”

“She will when she starts to bud.”

“Am I budding? I want to bud.” Tricia said smiling. “When can I get a training bra?”

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Our brother Brandon, myself, Tricia, and our cousin Linda (kneeling)

 

The next year, Timmy moved down the street. I stopped wearing baseball caps and brushed the tangles out of my long hair. When I saw him in the yard, I slathered on the candy scented lip gloss and found some reason to talk to him. One afternoon, I wore my green, strapless, terry cloth jumper (Remember those from the eighties?). Timmy tossed the football to Brandon and meandered over.

“Are your sister’s coming over to play basketball?” I said tilting my head the way Daisy from Dukes of Hazards did. He smiled and reached out to touch the ribbon of my jumper, but somehow his finger became stuck in the bow and he snatched his hand back quick. Immediately, the top fell down and my new breasts met the late afternoon breeze. It was slow motion horror. His eyes planted and I screamed before sprinting to the woods.

Tricia found me in our fort sobbing. “What happened?” She said kneeling down in front of me.

I pointed in the direction of their football game. “He saw…” I choked on the words. “He saw my BOOBIES!”

“Who?” she said. “Brandon?”

“No! Timmy!” I said.

“I’ll get Momma. She’ll know what to do.” Tricia sprinted to the house before I could stop her.

I prayed right then God would change me into a forest animal and let me scamper into a hole somewhere. I’ll never flirt with the males, and I’d wear walnut shells on my chest if it doth pleaseth the Lord. I waited to see if He’d answer my prayer, but instead…

“Tammy!” Momma said. “Mrs. Johnson is here. I called her and told her the whole thing!” For some reason, Momma thought this would make things better.

I begged the Lord to reconsider and if He loved me at all to transform me right now!

“Tammy, you can come out the woods now,” Tricia said. “She’s hiding because she’s embarrassed.”

I prayed God would turn Tricia into a rat.

“Now young lady!” Momma said.

I walked out on shaky legs and approached the perv and his mother. My eyes were swollen shut. He looked equally embarrassed.

“Timmy, what do you think you’re doing pulling down this girls top?” Mrs. Johnson said.

I didn’t correct her. Let him squirm. Serves him right seeing my boobies and all.

“I barely touched the ribbon and it just fell. I don’t know what happened,” he said.
“My finger got caught or something.”

Momma glared at him. His mother glared at him. I glared at him– I felt powerful.

“I think an apology is in order,” Mrs. Johnson said.

“I’m sorry Tammy.”

I nodded.

“Let’s keep our hands off my daughter’s clothing,” Momma said.

He agreed before Mrs. Johnson yanked him away, with a warning of what was waiting for him at home.

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Tricia, me, and our cousin Linda. 

That night, I pulled Momma into my bedroom and told her I was ready to wear a bra now. I imagined a metal cone variety attached to my body by a chain and lock, that would take a stick of dynamite to open. Without a word, she closed the bedroom door.

“Let me see your breasts,” Momma said.

I’d reached the peak make that peaks of humiliation, but I knew my Momma was not going to spend a dime without proof I needed one. I stared at the ceiling and raised my t-shirt.

“Yep, you’ve bloomed. We’ll get you a bra tomorrow.” She turned for the door. “I wonder if they make them that small.”

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Tricia, Linda, and I.

Today brought back those same feelings I had as a young girl. Two nurses took nudie pictures of me, turning me this way and that. Meanwhile, my husband busied himself with checking his emails, which was a sign he felt bad for me. I was surprised he didn’t jokingly snap a couple for himself.

Later, my breasts were measured, squeezed on, and placed in two containers while I was slipped into a loud cave and dye was administered through an IV that burned my biopsy sites.

 

 I already feel like they don’t belong to me anymore.

 

And, I’m okay with that I suppose. I’m praying God saves my life. He doesn’t have to save these.

Today, the nurse asked me if I had a source of joy. I smiled and said I did. I have a God that heals, and God told me He was going to heal me before it was for certain I even had breast cancer. God led me through verses in His word and I journaled page after page of what He was telling me.  God is going to heal me.This is going to be cancer. I must pray and believe.As I’ve entered this journey, and each day the news went from bad to worse, I’ve felt Him impress on me, “Do you still believe I’m going to heal you?” And, after I cried a bit, I’d settle down and pray, “Yes, I still believe Lord. I am choosing to believe.”

 

 Believing is a choice.

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Me, cousin Lisa, and Tricia

 

But, like a wink from heaven, just as I wanted to grow up slow, and Tricia like a typical little sister wanted to steal my air and zoom past me towards the finish line. It seems our cancers are doing that too. The test results came back, and my cancer is not Triple Negative as the doctors suspected. It is hormone-fed and a slower growing cancer than the cancer that took Tricia’s life.  I inherited my Granny’s breast cancer instead. The doctors reassure me, I will survive this just as my Granny did– twice.

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Me, Momma, Brandon, and Tricia.

 

When I told my boys about the cancer, my eldest Nick hugged me and with a voice that gave way to emotion said, “Momma, you’re always telling other people’s stories. God’s giving you your own story to tell that’s all. This book you’re writing will be way more powerful if you’ve experienced cancer too. It just needed a happy ending, because God doesn’t want it to end on a downer. He’s going to heal you. I know it.”

Those are words I’m hanging my bra on…

And these…I hope you allow the scriptures below to speak truth to a situation you may be going through.

 

“Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you received it and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24 English Standard Version

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 ESV

“But even the hairs of your head are numbered.” Matthew 10:30 ESV

“’Peace! Be Still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”’ Mark 4: 39b-40 ESV

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:34 ESV.

Catch ya later…

(Oh and the name of the boy Timmy has been changed because his sister is my friend on Facebook. And to set the record straight it was purely an accident.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cancer, Writing

When It’s Cancer.

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God gives life and creates things to sustain it, while the enemy sets out to destroy it. Throughout creation you can see it. The weed grows in the same soil the seed is planted with one mission to strangle that newborn wheat as it bursts through the soil and finds the light. So, why do I find it ironic that the very breast used to feed and sustain an infant can one day become the haven for a cancerous tumor that sets out to kill its host…It’s happening to me.

 

I have breast cancer.

 

To be honest, my internal pendulum is swinging between—this is so surreal—-to of course why shouldn’t I have breast cancer. If you’re a follower of my blog you already know my backstory. My sister died from breast cancer in 2014 and my sister-in -Christ (my daughter Bella’s babysitter) passed away from brain cancer last August. I’m not facing my own diagnosis ignorant of its horrors. Yet, I recognize the timeliness of it as well.

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Soon after I found out I had the gene mutation PALB-2, I was sent for a mammogram. The results were inconclusive, and a spot seemed to be on the right side, but due to density I would have to have another mammogram along with an ultrasound.

A week later, during the ultrasound, the technician kept measuring tubular shaped spots on my left side. When she finally finished she stated the doctor needed to discuss the findings and she would be back in ten minutes. I knew something was wrong.

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I was tempted to make a run for it but half -naked running down Turkey Lake Road, I’d be arrested. Furthermore, I had no deodorant on, and I don’t like to sweat in the pits. Those minutes ticked by as I kept glancing back at the machine to see the time, but I’d left my readers in the locker.

Finally, the doctor came in, she laid me back down on the table and had me raise my left arm.

After circling the area with that lubricated thingy…“I see it,” she glanced up at the technician. “Great job finding that, it didn’t show up on the mammogram.”

“What didn’t show up?” I said, sitting up on the bed.

 

She stood in front of me. “We found a tumor on your left side. It is about this big.” She showed me with her fingers an inch. “In my professional opinion it is cancer.”

I stared.

“Do you have any questions?” she said.

“No.”

“Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
“Yes.” I said.

“I don’t think this is life threatening. Your lymph nodes are clean. Are you sure there aren’t any questions?”

“No… I mean yes.”

“We will need your doctor to write up a biopsy order, so we can take a biopsy of the tumor.”

“Okay.”

She rubbed my shoulder. “You’re going to be alright. You’re in good hands.”

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Days later, the report came back. She wasn’t completely honest, I had not one but two tumors on my left side and calcifications on my right. I underwent two biopsies a few minutes apart. I will not go into detail about the biopsies. You can just imagine a blonde in a slasher movie watching herself being cut and dug into, while about passing out on the table, but by the grace of God I survived.

Unfortunately, both tumors are cancer, and a double mastectomy looms in my near future…hoping very near future, because it is believed they are Triple Negative- the most aggressive type of breast cancer.

 

Oddly enough, I’m not scared, but if I sound upbeat about it all, don’t let me spout bull on ya’ll.  This absolutely sucks!!!—for lack of a better word. No, I’m not totally thrilled God is blessing me with this opportunity to be used for His glory. Personally, I’d rather go be a missionary to the naked tribal peeps in far off jungles of who- knows- where, over this…this terribleness.

Then again, this is where I am, for such a time as this..  I have no choice but to trust my Father knows what He’s doing. As my girlfriend Ruth said, “Papa’s got ya!”I know He’s got me. He’s got these tumors. He’s got His reason. He’s got His plan.

 

 

Where are you at today? Sitting with sweaty pits in a waiting room? Lying awake waiting for your prodigal to return home? Placing flowers by a graveside? Laid up in a hospital bed? Clinging to someone who’s already gone? Losing your sanity as you mother your brood? Worried about your finances?

Wherever you are…

Papa’s got you too.

 

Talk to you soon…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Christian, Writing

Flipping Pages: A glimpse at my week

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Page One: Saturday

This time, I drove Bella into the pasture, so she could see the calves up close. Up ahead, a small black mound nestled in the tall grasses. I stopped the ATV and climbed down. Bella remained behind, while I edged closer through the field of gentle beasts. The momma cow mooed at her babe, but there was no response.

A tiny hand found mine; she’d found her courage. “Momma, you know cows don’t sleep lying down,” Bella said. “Is she dead?”

Her Aunt Tricia.

Her babysitter Vanessa.

Her Ompa (grandfather)

Three deaths crammed in four small years. She’s a seasoned soul.

“I don’t know.” I said. “Come on baby. Get up.”

“Get up girl,” Bella said.

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Page 2:  Monday

After dark, the remnants of Oma’s life in Ocala were in one last car load. She’d sold most of her furniture and walked away from the rest. We unloaded the boxes and stacked them in the room designated to be her office.

“Wow,” Oma said as she walked into her new place in Orlando. “It’s so beautiful!”

New paint… cleaned carpet…furnished…decorated… started with a desire to make all things new for her.

A few minutes later, Bella pulled on my arm. “Oma needs you Momma. Come.”

I heard the unusual sound before entering her bedroom. Her face buried in her son’s chest. “Oh Tammy!” Her arm reached for me too. Her wailing and tears made my heart ache. I realized there’s only One who can make all things new.

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Page 3 Wednesday night:

“Ladies, our two members dealing with brain cancer are unable to join us tonight because they are not feeling well right now. We need to rally around them. One needs help with driving her children to where they need to be. The other needs help with food. I will send out an email tomorrow, letting you guys know the details.”

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Page 4: Thursday morning

“You tested positive for a gene mutation called PALB2,” my gynecologist said. “It creates the rarer type of breast cancer, but it is also the most dangerous—the most invasive. It’s behind the Triple Negative Breast cancer that killed your sister.”

I swallowed. All the years of scolding her for diet soda. It was a gene all along.

“Identifying the gene mutation only raises your chances of getting the cancer by 9 percent, but if you flip over here…” She flipped the page. “It clearly states if a close relative such as your sister had the cancer your chances jump to 58 percent. Then, if there are other members of your family who’s had breast cancer it continues to raise your chances even higher.”

Great-grandmother.

Grandmother.

More recent, great aunt.

The gene slithers down the family tree puddling in me.

“I want you to see a specialist,” the doctor went on. “She’ll monitor you more closely, but she may recommend a full mastectomy. Do you have any questions?’

“What would you do if you were me?” I said.

“I would see the specialist without delay, and I would do whatever it is she recommends.”

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Page 5: Thursday afternoon:

“Knowledge is power,” my dear friend Yvonne said on the phone. She should know, her husband battled his own cancer markers for several years. “But I’ll be honest, the flip side is there’s a heavy burden carrying that knowledge.”

I hung up.

Was it better to know or remain blissfully unaware?

I didn’t know.

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Page 6: Thursday evening:

 

A sweaty, small boy emerges from the gym. I’m waiting outside. He smiles and approaches cautiously.

“Hi Bryson, I’m Tammy. The password is ____. Always ask whoever picks you up for the password okay? If they don’t know it, you do not get in a car with them.”

In the car, I put his address in my phone. The directions appeared, but as I turned onto the road they disappeared. This phone needs to be updated. Tried again, this phone needs to be updated.

I’m kicking myself.

“I’ll use my phone,” he said. He becomes my copilot.

Confident for little years, he told me he liked math was a number’s guy–none of my boys liked math. Raised by a single mom who had brain cancer, her tumor now dormant. Wondered if that made children mature faster?

His sister met us in the driveway, handed me a pile of sticky notes. Their mother’s normal thank you. I tend to save them. She wrote, “God is smiling. Psalms 139.” A passage about God knowing us, seeing all, knitting our inward parts in our mother’s womb, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

She didn’t know yet about the gene.

But God did.

 

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Page 7: Thursday night

I shot Bella the look as I held out her pajamas again. She giggled and ignored. Again. Last straw.

“Get your pajamas on now!” I spat at her.

“Hey!” Jay said. “Just calm down. Bella mind your Momma.”

The burden of the knowledge hunched my shoulders. Twisted my insides making me mean.

Later, snuggling in a chair, I opened Bella’s Bible. Adam and Eve were hiding from God. He’d told them they could eat of all the trees in the garden– except that one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Something else had slithered down the tree, something with a voice, and Eve listened. Her bite cursed the world. Why? Why couldn’t you have been satisfied? Why did you have to eat the one God instructed you not to? Why did you want the burden of knowledge? There would be no cancers, no death, no brave boys without fathers.

But…

Then again…

I would have bit the apple too.

Flipping back to page One:

“Momma, go see if the baby calf is dead. We need to do something.” Bella said.

“Hold on. Let’s just watch and see.”

Suddenly, a floppy ear twitched.

A head popped up.

It looked at us.

On shaky legs it wobbled over to its mother dragging a long umbilical cord, before latching on and suckling.

“Awe, she’s so cute,” Bella smiled. “It’s okay Momma!”

Pure joy at the sight of this sticky new life.

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“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’” Revelations 21:5a English Standard Version.

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** Name of boy has been changed to insure privacy.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Building the Bridge

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (English Standard Version)

 

I haven’t written in a while. January is one of my favorite months of the year. For me, it’s normally a quiet month, a month to glance backwards and forwards—an examination of where you’ve been and where you’re going. A month to refuel the creative fires. Can you relate?

This year my January has been a nightmarish forest fire. I’ve had my water hose out attempting to put out the flames created by three teenage sons. Whew! I’m still smelling the smoke. In the midst of the disciplining, redirecting, and problem solving my husband went on a week-long hunting trip to Spain.

I about knocked him over when he walked jet-lagged through the door. “Don’t leave me with Them again.” I said. Although, I know he will next year because I married a man who needs his “man thing” on occasion. I’m looking forward to handing off the water hose when I leave him for a week in May, for a writing conference. Tit for tat.

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Bella excited for the tree to come down, so she has a place for her new dollhouse.

 

January hasn’t been all lost, I’ve been steadily working on my memoir, which includes a lot of glancing back at my rural childhood. This week, I’ve been remembering our house on Mockingbird Lane and the woods and creek behind it.

There was a clear trail that ran through them– a straighter path–but for some reason we preferred to trample through the briars and thicket, collecting our share of scratches and scars along the way.

Down the hill, where the forest became flat, there was a rushing creek. If we were to cross it, we’d risk stepping in dark waters, an encounter with a water moccasin, or a slip into the rushing waters. But the other side seemed to call to us. Over there, the tall trees flanked each side of a small clearing where the sun settled.

My brother Brandon decided he’d build a bridge. My sister, Tricia, and I carried 2×4’s and odd scraps through the cleared trail and laid the pieces one by one at Brandon’s feet. Within a week, a beautiful bridge was built complete with railings.

That bridge made our forest so much larger than it had been before. With the bridge in place, we had bountiful acres to explore and our adventures never ended.

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With my boys I’ve wondered why in life are we tempted to take the treacherous path that leads to wounds and scars instead of staying on the already cleared one that God has provided for us? He clears the way for us to carry our burdens and sins and lay them at the Master Craftsman’s feet. Here, Jesus Christ becomes the bridge over darkness, poisonous sins, and the slippery rush a of culture, to a more abundant life.

I can relate to my boys. I had and have rebellious tendencies. I had a friend in my twenties who called me a “rebel without a clue.” I had a strong desire to explore against the worn trail of convention. I may have acquired my share of scratches and scars during that time, but I also gained wisdom, a growth in faith, and stories to tell of a God who shined a light in the thicket to show me the way out.

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A wise friend told me, “Look at it this way, if we put our kids in a bubble protecting them from making mistakes, then we will kill what God is trying to teach them and their potential testimonies in the process.” (Thank you Yvonne Zavada) Unfortunately, some of us are built to learn the hard ways.

 

 

This verse God has placed in front of me multiple times in January. Maybe you’re having a January like mine, and you could use it too.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 ESV

Bracing myself for that one’s teenage years. sigh!

 

See you when the smoke clears…

 

Posted in Writing

Bella’s Gift

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Bella has been tearing up my closet everyday, dressing up as Mary. Blessing to see Christmas through the eyes of a little girl.

Bella had been tugging on both Jay and I, trying to get us to listen, but we were preoccupied with getting Ompa (Jay’s father) settled into his new room at the Hospice center. Jay, my husband leaned over and placed a napkin on Ompa’s chest so he wouldn’t dribble his chocolate pudding.  It was late, close to 10pm, and the measly Greek salad eaten at noon was long gone. We felt drained and tired, but happy Oma (Jay’s mother) could go home to a quiet home and sleep through the night without Ompa waking her up.

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Farm fresh eggs.

“How long do I need to stay here?” Ompa said.

“Just relax. We’ll see.” Jay replied. “Maybe if you improve we can get you set up with Hospice at home.”

“Oh okay,” he said.

I caught the worried expression cross Oma’s face.

Bella tugged on Jay’s arm again. “Daddy, I need to finish.”

“Bella, we don’t have time for you to finish. We have to go. It’s late,” Jay said.

“But, I have to.” Bella hung her head, her lip quivered.

Jay frustrated and spun towards me. “Take her. Let her finish her coloring.”
“Come on.” I put out my hand. “Ten minutes okay? We’re tired and hungry and have a drive ahead of us.”

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The gift of cousins when you don’t have sisters.

I led her down the hallway towards the children’s room, where she’d started coloring her picture. When we entered a frail man sat watching the television in a chair. Bella glanced shyly at him before making her way to the other side of the room and sitting at the table.

“Ten minutes,” I reminded her.

She nodded and got to work. Coloring as fast as her little fingers could.

I looked back at the man, all skin and bones, a grayish tint to his skin. By the looks of him, I knew he wouldn’t be here at Christmas. He was a picture of death.

I glanced back at Bella’s colorful picture.  She was trying harder to stay in the lines these days, instead of scribbling wildly across the page, her fingers held the crayon tighter, and she switched colors for different parts. The face was still blue, the hands red, but she was taking more pride in her work.

“Bells, why did you want to finish this?” I said. “You could color at home.”

She stopped coloring and glanced up at me. “It’s for Ompa Momma. It’s my gift to Ompa.”

Now, I understood why it was so important to her. It was a gift. It would be her last gift to him, albeit we didn’t know that at the time. The last of many things…our last hug…our last kiss…our last goodbye.

“I’m done.” She said beaming. “Can I go give it to him now?”

“He’s going to love it,” I said.

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The gift of wide open spaces, when you need to breathe and just be.

We wandered back down the quiet hallways towards his room. Opened doors revealed human suffering, spirits longing to be free of their crumbling shells. We reached Ompa’s room finding everyone had left except jay who stood by his father’s bed.

“Are you finished?” Jay said.

“It was for Ompa,” I said.

“Oh, why didn’t you tell me?” Jay said, picking her up.

“This is for you Ompa.” Bella thrust her artwork at him. “I made it for you.”

“Will you look at that.” Ompa smiled. “Bella, I think you’re going to be an artist, just like me, your Grandad, and your Mom.”

She beamed and kissed him before Jay set her back down.

“Thank you dear,” Ompa said. “I’m going to set it right here, so I can see it.” He placed it on his nightstand.

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The gift of a new baby and every smile. Meet our new cousin. Ompa was able to meet her a week before he passed.

 

That night, I didn’t realize how important Bella’s gift would be because I didn’t know Ompa would become incoherent a few days later and pass away seven days after that. The gift held more value because of its timing. I learned a powerful lesson from my four- year- old girl. Don’t be so preoccupied with my surroundings that I miss the gift. Don’t be so preoccupied with the ugly things, that we miss the simple blessings right in front of us.

 

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, we can become so preoccupied with all the beautiful wrappings of Christmas that we miss the true gift inside. We can also become disheartened by all the angry voices, turmoil, or our own personal circumstances that we’ll want to skip over the Christmas season and jump right into another work week…another year.

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My grapefruit tree finally gave us fruit!!!

Yet, the fact remains darkness can never absorb light. The tiniest of lights can pierce the greatest darkness, just like Bella’s artwork brought a smile to a dying man lying in a Hospice bed a few days before Thanksgiving.

There is a gift this Christmas that can bring light to any situation in your life, the gift of a Savior, who came to conquer death– to give life– to anyone who accepts Him. May you remember to look past the wrapping and bows, to keep your hearts off the dark things of this world and on the colorful picture of a God who loves you.

May your day be filled with the light of Jesus Christ and may you recognize the daily gifts that come outside of packages.

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The blessings of grandparents… This was colored by my son Colin.

 

Until next week…

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

When Consumerism and Perfectionism Rob Your Spiritualism.

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Bella exhausted after watching Momma decorate the farmhouse.

I unloaded my fresh 2×4’s and sanded wood slabs out of the back of my truck and laid them on the garage floor. Like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper  handing off an assignment to Chip, I sketched my design and pushed it into my son, Christian’s hands.

His brows raised. “Momma really? I mean this is not going to look like a barn in Bethlehem.”

“Of course, it will. I’ll dirty it up when you’re done with some paint. I want a manger scene that’s going to be bigger and better than anything you can buy in the stores. We’re going to show people the real meaning of Christmas.” I patted him on the back. “Get to it. I have dinner to cook.”

The next day, my husband Jay and Christian unloaded old pieces of rotten wood and branches they’d collected from the dumping spot in the woods, out of the back of Christian’s jeep. They cut the branches to size, buried them into the front yard and laid a rotten piece of wood on top and against the back. Inside, they sprinkled hay, made a manger box by leaning rotten scraps against one another, and tossed in some lights. The whole process took less than an hour.

Several neighbors walked by, “That’s the best manger scene I’ve seen.” One of them said.

Another, “I can’t wait to see it when the baby’s in there.”

(The baby will be added tomorrow night (Christmas Eve).)

Our manger scene was made from trash.

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Our precious Oma watching Ompa being laid to rest.

 

In the midst of the Christmas season, we buried our Ompa (Jay’s father). I watched as the men folded the linens in over his face and closed his casket. It reminded me of a day I wandered around his art studio, fingering the brushes, rubbing my hand along the wood easels, while he worked on a painting. His studio was my favorite room in their home. It was where the magic happened.

“Dad, when did you know you were an artist?” I said.

He chuckled. “When I asked God to make me one.” He dipped his brush in the cleaner and spun around in his chair. “I had a friend in New York, who was a great artist. He was so, so talented. He could paint anything. He died young. I stood by his casket at his funeral and prayed that God wouldn’t allow his talent to die with him. I pleaded God would give his talent to me.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Wait. You knew right then you would be a painter?”

“After his funeral, I went out and bought some paints and supplies. That’s faith daughter. The willingness to find out.”

A few days later, I asked God to teach me to paint. I bought the supplies and painted a portrait of a friend’s dog. It still hangs in his office today. We both started with a prayer and a step forward.

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Bella watching the sparkling snow fall on baby Jesus.

I was anxiety- ridden yesterday getting Bella and I dressed for her Christmas pageant. “The note says wear your Sunday best. This is your Sunday best Bella.”

“Humph! But it’s scratchy Momma,” she said. “And I’ve got blisters, I can’t wear those shoes.”

Three minutes late, –for the teacher’s reminder stated students had to be dropped off at 4:30 sharp! — I ran in skinny heels sinking into soft earth, dragging my Bella—wearing a red cotton dress and red cowgirl boots into her classroom. Whew!

 

But then sitting in a pew…within my messy swirling storm of consumerism and perfectionism that has taken over my spiritualism, I was reminded there’s Jesus. Bella the only angel with red cowboy boots, belted out her songs about her Lord being born in a stable, and I forgot about the mud sticking to my skinny heels, or the wasted fresh wood lying across my garage floor, or the sadness I felt watching the coffin door close over her Ompa.

 

I’ve thought about how hard we make our acts of faith, when really all God wants is our heart’s devotion. All He wants is men fist pumping over their rotten barn made from trash, a whispered prayer over a willing brush on a canvas, a little angel in cowgirl boots singing her heart out, and a stressed-out Momma melting into Him in a pew.

Remember His yolk is light… Put your feet up and spend time in His presence.

 

When we’re  finding our spiritualism being robbed by our consumerism and perfectionism this Christmas, we must take time to remember our Lord’s imperfect birth will be the only perfect thing about Christmas, and His perfect gift of salvation is free to all.

 

Here’s an example of my perfectionism. I think the manger made from trash is the most beautiful part. Those white trees have fallen down in every rain storm and I’ve had to tape one of them back together. Strangely enough, the lean-to manger has withstood the storms. I included one of the songs I’ve listened to this Christmas to help me remember to breathe…Winter Snow by Audrey Assad.