Welcome to the Hallelujah House!

The Meaning Behind Hallelujah House:

I knew the theme of our new blog would be preparation of the heart, health, home, and harvest, but originally the working title was A Prepped Up Life. I didn’t have peace about that title. I felt most would see it as a prepping blog not one that focused on the Father and how He wants us to live an abundant life by being prepared.

One afternoon in route to pick up my kids from school, I prayed about it. I asked God what He wanted the new blog to be titled. I felt like it should be another “H” word. As the traffic came to a stop on I-4, two women I barely knew came to mind. One named Lori, I’d met at a writer’s conference. After a pitch session with an agent, and his response to my book was “who cares?” Lori and I had ice cream together. I shared my story with her, my sister’s cancer, my friend’s cancer, and then my own diagnosis. I was only four weeks out of surgery and the pain from my double-mastectomy still lingered. Several times as I unfolded the story little by little Lori exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” Her exclamations of praise made me miss the joy I’d lost through experiencing cancer three times in a row. It also made me see the Hallelujahs in the sadness.

That night, Lori prayed for me in her room and thrust a note towards me the next morning. Scribbled on notebook paper, her note stated my story is a gift and will be read by many. God would provide the path for publication not to worry, just bring it forward. She wrote, “You are precious to Him. He sees you and has so much to come for your good and His glory.” I’ve kept that note on my bulletin board behind my desk as a reminder.

Another woman I met at a prayer dinner. Our dear friend Ed was diagnosed with bladder cancer recently, so we gathered for dinner and healing prayer. After praying over Ed, the group placed me in the center of the circle. This woman stepped up and pushed everyone out of the way, stating “I’m going to pray over this one.” She placed her hand on my abdomen and prayed God to remove any and all infirmities. She prayed God would return my joy and help me to dance and play the tambourine in my house like Miriam in the Bible. Her prayer was a song of praise. This woman also used the word “Hallelujah” many times in our conversation over dinner. I noticed it.

I wanted what both these women had. I wanted my House—my scared-up body from three major surgeries back to back—to shout Hallelujah again.

That afternoon in grid-lock traffic, after remembering those two Hallelujah women He’d strategically placed in my life to pray over me, I asked Him, “Hallelujah? You want the blog to be called Hallelujah?” Immediately, this song, “Raising Hallelujah” poured out of the radio, and the words “Hallelujah House” came to mind. “Hallelujah House?” Instantly, I knew that was what the blog was going to be called. I had a peace about it. No one would mistake this for prepping. My heart’s desire is for this blog to be an outpouring of love to women by helping to make their lives a bit easier.  This website will provide content that will help you contemplate the majesty of the great Creator, prepare a healthy cookie for your kiddos but also look at ways to prepare your home for a future financial crisis. These are just some of the topics that will be covered. We will also be providing more video content.

Also, I’d like to open this blog up to other writers. I want to build a community of abiding women who feel they have something to offer the readers on the subject of preparing. If you are one of those feel free to submit your ideas and writing samples to tadams22@me.com.

I hope you will subscribe to this new endeavor by email and join me as we raise a Hallelujah in the house.

“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” Revelations 19:1 English Standard Version.

In the production of this video, I’d like to express my appreciation to cousin Matt Hodge for all the aerial videos,  cousin Tony Sciacca for technical support, and my son Nick Adams for the ground videos and teaching his momma how to piece together a video…thank you son!

Raise a Hallelujah by Bethel Music. Written by Jake Stevens, Jonathan David Helser, Melissa Helser, and Molly Skaggs. Acoustic version sung by William Morrison.

Choosing Not To: Interview with Christian Farris on Addictions

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The first time I met Pastor Christian Farris, I admit he wasn’t my cup of latte…sort of speak. Where I come from, pastors are a whole different blend altogether. My husband, Jay and I met Christian through dear friends. Since then, our relationship has grown alongside the vegetables, cows, and goats on our friend’s farm in Georgia, where we often come together to rest in creation, lend a hand, share a meal, or attend one of the Bible retreats hosted there. Today, I admit Christian is like drinking coffee without sugar, the more I’m around him the more I savor his pastoral flavor.

            Christian Farris is a pastor at Next Level Church in Tampa, Florida. It is a church with multiple ministries, but is known for helping people with addictions and rescuing women from sex trafficking. In the Tampa Bay area, it’s often labeled the “recovery church.”

            The church hosts weekly meetings, sponsorships, and mentor programs for those addicted. I set out to interview Christian regarding the things that enslave us verses living in the freedom of the gospel.

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TCA: “When did you know you were called to be a pastor?”

CF: “I felt the call on my life as a boy. My father was a pastor of a Baptist church at the time, and I was raised in such a rigid, strict religion that I couldn’t see how I fit into that arena. I left home once I graduated from high school and turned away from God for a short time. I felt I didn’t fit into the mold of what a Christian was supposed to be. At nineteen, I went to Bible college and experienced a paradigm shift. Later, my father, brother, and I along with several others began to examine the first century church and how they operated within the scope of freedom and grace. In Mark 7, Jesus points out man’s tendency to cling to tradition in religion and their love for tradition and rules was stronger than their love for Christ. It wasn’t until we broke out of the rules and regulations of religion did I see my place in the arena God called me to.”

TCA: “How would you describe your congregation?”
CF: “The great thing about my congregation is it’s very diverse socially, economically, and racially. We have wealthy business owners who worship alongside those that ride a bike to church. I see our church as a great example of the first church, members of all sorts of brokenness coming together to worship the one true God.”

TCA: “You don’t look like the typical pastor or what most people would imagine a pastor to look like. Do you think this helps people with addictions trust you to help them?”

CF: “I don’t think trust is what I gain right off from my appearance, but I do think people are more intrigued when they find out I’m a pastor. At first they don’t believe it, and then it strikes their curiosity and they want to see what type of pastor I am.”

TCA: “I notice you have what looks like some sort of flag tattooed on your arm. What does it symbolize?”

CF: “The tattoo is of black stripes representing sin fading into the red stripes of Christ’s blood. It was inspired from Isaiah 53:5 ‘…by His stripes we are healed.’ It is by His stripes we have freedom. Hence, why it resembles a flag.”

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TCA: “Have you ever personally struggled with addictions?”

CF: “There’s not one person who hasn’t struggled with some sort of addiction. Addictions are not just chemically dependent there are also biological addictions. The biological addictions I’ve struggled with such as the approval of others or lust.”

TCA: “What is different about your addiction program when compared to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous?”

CF: “The first difference is our program is of course Biblically based. It introduces others to Christ. Another pitfall for AA or NA is people aren’t addicted to substances as they’re addicted to self-medicating what they can’t heal. Substances just happens to be the tool by which they choose to self-medicate. This is where AA and NA go wrong, they put all the focus on the whatand very little on thewhy.”

TCA: “You’ve stated in order to overcome any addiction one must change their mindset from I can’tto I chose not to. Can you explain that?”

CF: “There’s a difference between shall notand cannot. God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden “Thou shall not eat.” He didn’t tell them they cannot eat. He warned them of the consequences of eating the fruit and left it open to their free will. When you live in the conflict of can’t, you put yourself into a prison which is in complete violation of free will. What is the purpose of free will? I am free to do what I want to do, but not everything I am free to do is good. If you try to imprison me, my nature is I’m going to try to find a way to escape. You immediately place someone in bondage when you tell them they can’t do something. When you do that you are placing your belief system on them. You want to create an environment to help someone choose what’s best and give them the freedom to choose that best.”

            “In Colossians 22, Paul states you cannot add more religion or rules to your life and expect that to help the sin problem. Rules don’t work. Jesus used sheep as an illustration for us and that was no accident, I’ve worked with sheep. My father had a farm with sheep. If you run a barbed wire fence through a sheep’s pasture. The sheep will tear themselves up to get to the other side that has the same grass as the side they are on. Same with us, if we try to imprison ourselves within can’t, we will find a way out and justify sinning to ourselves.”

            “When I changed my perspective from I can’t to I choose not to it was life transforming for me and has been for others.

TCA:  How can this change of attitude and perspective magnify Christ in us?

CF: “I’m actually living out the call of God on my life as a human. Bondservant is a choice. I’m choosing to place myself under God’s authority, and I’m magnifying the very purpose of the gospel of Christ. The gospel was not to enslave me but to set me free. I’m living out the gospel which is freedom. We magnify Christ through walking in freedom.”

TCA: “Is there a verse you like to refer to on the topic of freedom?”

CF: “Yes, it’s Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (English Standard Version)

If you would like to see more of Christian’s teaching, you can find him on his church’s Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nextlevel.church.7/videos/?ref=page_internal

 

Note: Thank you for your patience with me in my infrequent posting this summer. I’ve been enjoying all my kids back in the nest for a bit and recovering from my double mastectomy. Throughout the remainder of the summer, I will be posting articles that I have written for publication a year or more ago. See you with some fresh articles starting this  fall.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Half -Naked and Picking Weeds Part 3

(Please note: If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of Half Naked and Picking Weeds, I suggest you scroll down and read those first as this is a continuation of it.)

 

I asked Vanessa what she wanted everyone to know. Before the words slipped from her lips, she closed her eyes to concentrate on forming them. “Every day counts,” she said. “I want them to know, every day counts.”

   Every day counts. Even the humdrum days?  Even the days when the kids are driving us cray-cray?  Even the days we can’t wait to slam our bedroom door and disappear under the cool sheets because the to-do list whipped our butts? Even that day when her head is wrapped in cold rags and she has to wear sunglasses because her eyes hurt from a cancerous tumor pushing against her skull? She would tell you…yes, even that day.

            I’m convinced there are days of our lives that count more than others. They weigh more in value on eternity’s scale.

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          The doctor didn’t lie when he said rotator cuff surgery was painful. I’d given birth to four children and after surgery the pain sent me moaning on the floor rocking back and forth. He’d stated my arm was so tore up it looked like an eighty- year old woman’s with an old tear and new. For six weeks, my arm was in a bulky sling and I couldn’t hold my baby, so I borrowed Vanessa’s arms.

            You can’t help but get personal with someone who’s loving your baby. Her affection for Bella built the foundation of our friendship… our sisterhood. One day she casually mentioned that she worshipped the Hindu gods, Allah, and the Christian God.

            I laughed. “What are you doing covering all your bases?” I said.

            “Oh my gosh!” She burst out laughing. “Yes, I want to be sure I get it right. Besides, I think they’re all the same anyway.”

            “You should look into the characteristics of each of them, that’s how you’ll know if they are the same,” I said. “I think you’ll find the Christian God is far more personal. He’s the only one out of the bunch that gave His life for mankind. He’s the only One who loves us whether we love him or not.”

            I walked her out that day and knew when I closed the door, God just opened one.

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            The next afternoon, “So, how do you worship all three gods?” I said.

       “I have three altars in my apartment. I’m drawn to the Christian God, so I go to church on Sunday, but I have a Hindu altar, an Allah altar, and an altar with a cross. I pray at each.”

            “What do you pray about?”

            “I just want some direction you know?  I want to know what I should be doing in my future,” she said. “I’d like to use my experience with cancer for something good now that I’m healed.”

          It amazes me when God opens a door. Sometimes, it’s just a crack, while other times it is thrown open so wide the light is blinding. Soon after, over the phone my father told me what he taught in Sunday school that week, the story of Paul’s travel to Athens.

            “When Paul arrived in Athens he noticed all the gods and altars scattered around the city,” Daddy said. “but there was one altar titled the “Unknown god,” and Paul stood before them and told them about that God, our God. You see, baby, they were trying to cover all their bases, as many people do today, but in doing that, they are lost.” (Acts 17: 16-34)

I was blinded by the light.

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The next day, Vanessa sat across from me at the kitchen table. Praying she’d understand, I slid my open Bible across the table. “Before you go, I want you to read something.” I pointed to the passage.

            After she finished, her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! That’s me!” she said.

            “You said, you were praying for guidance and for your next purpose in life. How can God lead you if you haven’t made Him Lord?”

            She nodded.

            “I don’t want you to do anything for me, but you need to think about that,” I said. “God will never lead you if He’s not in the lead.”

            She promised to think about it. I wasn’t there the day Vanessa chose to make Jesus Christ her Lord. God placed the seeds in my hands, I pushed them under the soil, and moved on to tend to the weeds of life, but God sent others to water it.

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            After I recovered, Vanessa remained Bella’s babysitter one day a week until Bella started preschool.  Jay, my husband, then hired Vanessa to work at the office for him and his brother Shaun. She was so happy to be back behind a desk. One Thursday morning, Jay stopped by her counter.

            “Why are you sitting there?” Jay said. “Come join our Abiding study in the conference room.”

            “Really?” She jumped up and followed him.

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Vanessa’s desk at the office.

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            She sat in a men’s Bible study every Thursday morning learning how to Abide in Christ. Between Jay and Shaun his brother, Vanessa had two very determined men pouring Jesus into her on a daily basis. She told them she’d made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

            It was then…the cancer returned.

            Last week, I wanted to hear from her own lips she’d made a decision. I swabbed her bald head with a cold cloth. Our relationship had come full circle I was now at her home.

            “The last time we discussed God, you told me you’d think about it. Did you?” I said.

            “Yes, I chose Christ.” she said.

            “Did you tell Him that? Ask Him to take your life?” I said.

            “Yes, I did.”

            “You’re undertaking the most important assignment of your life, but you know that don’t you?” I said squeezing her hand.

            Vanessa nodded. “I do.”

            “You are just as much a sister to me as Tricia was. Our relationship is eternal.”

            “Really?” she said.

            “Yes, in fact if Tricia wasn’t a Christian you’d be more of a sister to me.” I hugged her.

 IMG_2962       I’ve never seen a faith so strong in someone so new to it. How does she know He’s a loving God when as soon as she gave her life to Christ, her cancer returned? I’ve pondered this. I’ve asked God why didn’t He allow her some healthy years to use her faith for Him.

Then, I glance at Vanessa she’s filled with a peace that is not human. She knows God loves no matter what she’s going through. If anything in this life can give us comfort, it’s this…our circumstances are never indicative of God’s love.

            What a relief! Having a bad day? God loves you! Husband’s left you? God loves you. Your son has passed away? God loves you! Your addicted to drugs or alcohol? God loves you. You’re sick with cancer? God loves you. Praying to the Hindu gods or Allah? God loves you right where you are. Vanessa’s proof of that.

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            It’s time to harvest at the farm. There are rows of heavy vegetables curling the stems. I don’t know about you, but there’s something satisfying about snapping them off and filling a bucket. We load them in the back of the ATV and drive them up to the farmhouse. In the sink, we wash them one by one, preparing them for the job they were born to do. Nourish.

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            Just like those vegetables waiting to be plucked off the vines, Vanessa’s story will become someone else’s spiritual nourishment. In time, someone will be walking ankle deep in the dirt and weeds of this world and feeling empty. They’ll wonder is this all there is to life? They’ll witness the light and color of a young woman’s faith and want to consume the invitation of salvation for themselves. The circle of life is eternal.

When Vanessa’s time comes, I’m so sure Tricia will run up and greet her at the gates of heaven. “Vanessa! I’ve been waiting for ya. What took you so long?” She’ll give her a hug with a hard pounding on the back. “Welcome home, sister. Welcome home.” She’ll wrap her arm around her shoulders. “So you gotta tell me, is Tammy fat? I sure hope so.”

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If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.

https://www.gofundme.com/i3nnns

If the Chestnut Tree Could Talk Week 4:

 

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Over the last three weeks, we have been letting the Chestnut Tree speak to us. If you have missed any of the valuable lessons in my previous posts, you can scroll down to the older posts and find them there. Today, the Chestnut Tree wants us to understand how fruit is prepared.

 

  1. Chestnuts grow within a spiny green burr, which protects the nut while it grows. Once ready the burr pops open and the nut falls to the ground.

 

The Chestnut Tree wants us to know that sometimes God places us in a shell as well. This is where God prepares us for the work He’s already planned. When we are tucked in the shell of preparation, we are usually unaware of what is happening. We may even look at the tasks as beneath our capabilities, but it is in these humbling, menial tasks, God is laying out the groundwork for our futures. When we are ready God opens up the opportunity and we are released to follow His plan.

Motherhood took some surrendering on my behalf. The two things I missed the most were business conversations with colleagues and the creative fulfillment my career afforded me. Looking back, I’m so thankful I surrendered to the call of being a stay-at-home Momma, for God presented volunteer opportunities which helped me discover what He poured inside me when He made the me I truly was.  I’ve discovered my passions.  If I’d continued working, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for Bible study, art, interior design, history, or writing.

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Last weekend at the farm, my sister- in- law Prem and I were washing the dishes.

“If I had a business today,” I said. “I’d hire a mother of multiple children before anyone else to be my assistant.”

She nodded. “Multitasking skills.”

“Exactly. Did you know how many things you could get done in a day before you had your second child?”

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“And with four, the list grows.”

After experiencing one year with my three boys in school, I felt God telling me to bring them home and homeschool. I admit, I fought the idea at first. I didn’t want to homeschool! I’d just pointed my wings to Starbucks for girlfriend coffees, but one night, I invited two sisters over for dinner (Lisa Mann and Liz Hammond). We sat around my dining room table and Lisa told me she homeschooled her children.

“Why would you do that?” I said. Lisa explained all the benefits and suggested I read, So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling? by Lisa Whelchel.

The next day, I purchased the book and read it in two days. After that, I read another and another. I researched it online and searched homeschooling organizations in Orlando. Soon, I could barely contain my excitement. I was going to be a homeschooling Momma! Somebody give me a lab coat. In my imagination, we’d be in the forest collecting bird eggs and plants. We were going to experience some real- life learning. It was going to be an adventure.

The reality was long days in my upstairs classroom feeling suffocated, but within those walls God was preparing me to write, bringing us closer together, and sparking my curiosity in everything.  As I taught my children, I was being prepared for the freelance writing assignments I have today. I look back fondly on those two years now. My boys and I grew so close and that closeness has survived time.

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Today, I see positions God is putting me in, which I know are shells of preparation, and I’m a more willing participant because I know I’m going to fall into some fertile land when my shell pops open.

What about you? What in your life do you feel is menial or beneath your station? Could it be God preparing you for something bigger? Can you look back and recognize where your preparation occurred, for the work you do today?

We have one more week with our Chestnut Tree… See you there.

 

 

 

 

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk Week 3

 

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Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball.  A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.

This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:

 

III.  When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.

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My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.

“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”

That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.

“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.

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His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.

“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.

“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.

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I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.

He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”

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Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.

My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.

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Nick is reading Discerning God’s Will, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.

“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.

He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.

“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)

Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.

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What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change?  Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!

 

A Memoir from India

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I’m never one to read romance. There’s nothing wrong with romance, but if I’m going to take the time to read, it’s going to be something that will stay with me. I love the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” When Meg Ryan said, “You are what you read.” It was an aha moment for me, for I believe there’s some truth to that. So, if you get a book recommendation from me, it will be something I couldn’t put down, but will most likely fall into historical fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. They are my go to’s. This is a memoir.

I think too often we grow complacent here in the United States with our faith. I love to read soul stirring missionary stories, that remind us we serve a living God who performs miracles. This book is one of those stories. It is a book you will find hard to put down and reveals how God used this young woman’s childhood to prepare her to serve in the darkest places of India, and the miracles she witnessed by being obedient to the call. Check it out!

The Two G’s: Grief and Gratefulness

Dear Sisters,
My sister Tricia Baines passed December 19, and the cows on the farm began dying by New Years. When the Baines family heard, they packed up and headed south to the farm to help out. By the time we arrived, over 100 cows were put down, and Thomas ( my brother-in-law), Caleb, and Peyton (their children) had been vaccinating, tagging, and hand-feeding the calves left without a mother. How ironic!
Peyton was feeding the last sick Momma cow by hand. When I heard the news, I prayed all the way to the farm God would heal that cow for Peyton’s sake. Although, one morning Peyton stated matter of fact, the cow was suffering and needed to be put out of her misery. The men grabbed their rifles, and I watched Peyton and Colin jump in the gator to see it done. The answer to my prayer was “no.” Needless to say, it was a sad Christmas season.
By the third month anniversary of my Tricia’s passing, I thought I was surviving without her just fine, for my day was consumed with the unending demands of an infant again, and searching for my missing feline Finley. My husband was out of town for a few days, when the dam broke. The tears sprang up, and I couldn’t stop them any longer. I was dealing with three events back to back that left me broken-hearted and bleeding internally.
While living with me in Orlando, Tricia shared my pain over loosing two cats, and loosing Finley brought those loses to the forefront of my thoughts. She went with me to Tipsey’s (my three- legged Maine Coon) appointment. She sat in the waiting area, while I consulted with the vet over his swollen jaw.
“I’m sorry to report it’s cancer,” he said. The sharp irony of his words pierced through me, and my eyes widened before swelling with tears. He snatched the box of Kleenex and handed it to me.
“I hate cancer!” I said, flailing my arms towards the waiting room. “My sister whose sitting out there, she has cancer. She just received chemo yesterday! What is this the cancer…cancer… apocalypse?”
He looked a little stunned, and unprepared to deal with an emotional wrecking ball who felt her universe was caving in. “I’m so sorry.” He patted my back. “We can put him on chemotherapy, but I believe it will only prolong his suffering. My best advice is to take him home, love him, and spoil him, and when it’s time, you will know.”
When it’s time…I will know…I didn’t want to know.
Tricia’s eyes met mine as I carried Tipsey out. She nodded and put her arm around me. Without words, she knew the diagnoses.
The time came a few months later.
“Make the appointment Tammy,” she said. “He’s suffering.” I knew it was hard for her to watch a cat suffer with the same disease that invaded her.
Once again, she waited while I went in. I knelt beside Tipsey, and told him I loved him. I thanked him for being such a great companion to us. He was the best cat we’ve ever had special needs and all.
The nurse wiped her eyes.
The day I adopted him I intended to adopt a kitten, when this huge Maine Coon chirped at me from the cage. He wrapped that one paw around my neck and held tight and I knew he was mine. He was a lap cat, loved his Daddy’s lap best. At the sound of a can popping open, he hopped down the hall like a bunny and slid into the kitchen doorway. He was a love ball wrapped up in fur.
I looked into his eyes, and nodded at the vet. “I’m ready.”
He injected him with the potion that would close his eyes forever.
“Look at me Tipsey. I love you! You go to sleep now.” His eyes focused on me, and with one last chirp, they went blank.
Tricia came in after, and said her goodbyes.
“I prayed so hard for his healing.” I said on the way home.
She stared out the window. “Tammy sometimes the answer is no. We just have to accept it, even if we can’t understand, no matter how hard we try.”
I knew she was not merely talking about the cat.

Now it seemed once again the answer was no, and I didn’t understand why I was to undergo something painful on the back of the enormity of loosing my sister.
I wept for three days. Exhausted from keeping up the pretenses that I’m okay with it all. I threw on a sundress to attend a baby shower for my cousin, but when I saw my belly pooch, I wailed all over again, so I stayed home. I didn’t want to see anyone, for I felt my God didn’t hear me. I questioned if my pleas fell on deaf ears. I placed all my faith in Finley’s return.
The storm of grief can swallow you just when you’ve safely reached the shore. My missing cat made me miss my sister more. I wanted to cry out to her, for she had been there for two of my cats deaths, but now she was gone.
In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon wrote “There is a time for everything a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance… .” There is a time to grieve. If you are in a grieving season as I, there is a coping skill to bring you out of the swells of sorrow It is another “G” word…Gratitude.
Being thankful for my blessings in spite of my sadness keeps me afloat. I have many more things to be thankful for, than to be sorrowful for. My daughter’s giggle, my husband’s love, my boys obedience…(except when it comes to cleaning their room), the ability to pay the bills, the daffodils on my table. I have to accept the no’s just as I accept the showers of “yeses”. I don’t have to understand I just have to trust He knows what He is doing.
Last week, I wrote one last message on our community website regarding Finley’s disappearance. I knew it was a shot in the dark, but I had to try once more. I received a message back from a woman who lives across the highway in another neighborhood. She saw a tailless-orange cat walking into her neighborhood. The boys and I covered that community in posters with the promise of a reward if found.
Yesterday, a compassionate neighbor called.
“He shows up here every 3 to 4 days begging for food. He’s very vocal and seems friendly. I’ve never tried to catch him. I just set the food out, but we’ll try to catch him next time he shows up.”
I am praying it is Finley, and we will be able to get him back, but if it’s not I need to accept the fact that the answer is “no”, and move on. I will grieve the fact I may never see Finley again, but I can be grateful I will see my sister some day.
When my sister passed my former roommate’s mother hugged me and said. “I know right now you are sad, but think about how excited you will be when your time comes, for someone you love has gone before you, and she’ll be waiting for you there.” Now, that’s something to be grateful for. My sister will be looking for me.

Feeding the Artist

Sometimes inspiration hits me in the shower. I will see a face on the glass door as the water droplets fall. I draw the face in with my finger. I’ll be “painting” as the water turns cold, and my hair unwashed. Here, I thought of an idea for a painting. I titled it “Hope in Christ”. It was one of my sister’s favorites. Today, I look back at it and think I’ve improved so much since then. When I told Jay where I got my inspiration, he replied, “I wouldn’t go around telling anyone that honey.” Oops… the cat’s out of the bag!
When you switch from writing to painting to interior design, your brain gets pretty fried. Throw in a baby, two teenagers, a 10 year old, and a husband who travels, and you’ve got yourself one big mess…me.
Last week, I exclaimed to my hubby, “I must feed the artist! I need a big feed soon…a feeding frenzy!” Jay promised a trip to The Art Institute of Chicago soon, and I am salivating.
There is a daily process beyond the shower for me. Since my creative juices have been low, I thought I would list what works for me, in the hopes of hearing what works for any of you creative types out there.
1. Spend Time with Your Creator.
If I don’t work on this relationship and spend time with God I get dry in spirit. Dry in spirit makes grumpy girl. I get short with the boys, frustrated with baby, and ugly with husband. Then, guilt rolls in, and there is nothing worse for the creative mind. My quiet time breaks down the walls of self-doubt and insecurities, because I know God is backing me. I feel empowered. He gives me the nudges to write that scene I was struggling with, or later as I’m painting He helps me with the stroke of the brush. He is the Supreme Artist. Why not spend time with him?

2. Dump the Bad Stuff.
We all carry around negative or distracting thoughts in our brains. My brain doesn’t work creatively when I carry this stuff around. In the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she points out a practice of writing three pages before you begin any creative project. Three pages of sheer dumping. For example, “Why must I pick up the dirty socks and underwear of four men in this house!” or “Bella’s out of diapers.” That’s dumping. You never have to look at it again. To be honest, I don’t have time to write three pages, or do this all the time, but there are days I try.
3. Feed the Artist Through Sensory Stimulation.
Once a week, I feed the artist. Feeding the artist can be as simple as taking a walk, visiting a museum, catching a show, noticing the architecture downtown, or trying a new restaurant. It involves using the senses, seeing colors, shapes, hearing new music, listening to people speak, smelling good food, coffee, or candles. You absorb like a sponge. If I want to remember something I see, I take a picture of it, and post it on my bulletin board.
4. Alone Time
My family knows Momma needs alone time. I’m blessed to have a studio in my home. I have two desks. One an antique, accounting desk I found on Craig’s List for $25 (what a steal!), and another a trestle table from my days managing Pier-One. My studio is the only white-walled room in my house. One wall is a huge chalkboard, where a historical timeline is scribbled on. Above my desk is my inspiration boards, one for my writing and one for the farmhouse we are building. My easels and paints are here as well. This is a television-free zone, for t.v. is a time sucker and kills creativity. Even if you haven’t the space for a studio, a spare closet, corner in your kitchen, or even a comfy reading nook would do. Make it yours.
When that door is closed the boys know there better be a fire before they knock, for Momma’s having her alone time in her thinking factory.
I take myself out to lunch on occasion. Some are uncomfortable eating alone, but I enjoy it. I people watch, stare out the window, and just be. Today, I am at our local Barnes and Nobles with a coffee, and have to say lunch items are slim pickings for gluten-free people.
Another alone time is bike riding. Jay bought me a cellphone taser, for my alone rides to Disney, so I can shock that abductor, he knows will steal me away. I have imagined how this will play out…. “Wait Mr. Kidnapper Goofy, I need to make a quick call before you take me!” ZAP!
5. Work on Core Relationships
This means I regularly date my husband and children. Tonight, Jay and I are going out, albeit he doesn’t know this yet. Some Fridays I call him up and say “Hey baby, I had a minute to wash my hair… let’s go out and celebrate!”
We have family night every weekend. We go out as a family, or we rent a movie and get take-out.
Working on your core relationships is important. It keeps tabs on your children and your husband, if you worry about them, you will be unable to ponder much else.
6. Change of Environment.
There are times I have to get out of Orlando. It is a great place to live, but I have my days. When Orlando gets old, we head to the farm. In the summer, when most are heading to the beach, I long for the mountains. When I can, I try to tag along with Jay to the cities and absorb all it has to offer. Haven’t done this yet since Bella, but the promise of Chicago is looming in the near future.
7. Classical Music or Jazz Music
I can credit my Momma for this one, if it wasn’t 70’s playing through the stereo growing up, it was Classical. I can’t paint or write listening to music with words, and since I’m writing about the American Revolutionary War, classical music does well to get me there in my mind.
This has been a source of amusement for my siblings, each Christmas we have a sibling dinner, and exchange prank gifts. Due to Tricia’s passing, we didn’t exchange gifts last Christmas. The previous year, Tracey and Brandon gave me incense, and an Indian music CD to inspire me as I write about my Cherokee. You may wonder what my sister gave me? Those who watched the memorial service will get this…she gave me sticks…again!
8. Visit another era.
This one works for me because I’m writing historical fiction, but whatever you are creating, you can find inspiration by reading. Reading opens the imagination.
You can also visit another era by touring a historical city. This is easy for me because my family lives near Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.
“I think I was born in the wrong era.” One day, I told my husband. “I honestly see myself in the colonial period living in the big house on a plantation. My ancestors were plantation owners in Virginia, so it must be in my blood.”
He gave me the look, and said, “Where do you see me as your house boy making sure your fire is hot?”(We are a bi-racial couple, and he’s a naughty…naughty boy.)
Let’s be clear, slaves were not on my plantation.
So often I hear, I haven’t a creative bone in my body, but I argue everyone is creative. You are made by the Master Artist and in His image, so by default you are creative. I would love to hear anyone else’s process. If you’re brave enough to share, post in the comments.

The Man in the Stilettos

“We’ll call ourselves ‘Starfish Sisters’.” My friend Heather said over lunch. “You know after the Starfish story.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uytlJ8urv4I (Click the link for the starfish story.)
That was how it began, about thirty Momma’s and Grandmomma’s coming together to make a difference in the world, or at least, at a charity in Orlando, Florida. Heather sent us an assignment, we hired a babysitter, and went to work.
One of our first assignments was for a charity called Mending Hearts, owned by a powerhouse named Stephanie Richards. I was pumped and ready to go. The assignment? Clean a house and get it ready for a family. I could do that! I had three boys, I was over-qualified for this assignment.
When we arrived, sinister-looking men lurked in the shadows, one ducked behind a tree. I wanted to yell, “I see you!,” as if it were a game of hide and seek, instead my eyes darted warily at our spectators.
An older “sister” grabbed my arm, “Tammy, don’t be afraid of them. We have God with us.” I raised my chin a notch. I wanted to yell it. “Yo Yo You wantta mess with me. I got God with me! Come try and see what happens!”
Inside, we found Stephanie on her knees scrubbing the floor. She was dirty, her blonde hair hung down into her eyes, but she smiled, for the calvary arrived.
Let’s just say here, crack houses are disgusting. There was feces among other unmentionables on the floor, windows, and walls.
By that afternoon, the walls had a fresh coat of paint, and the house was almost ready for a single mother and her children, once the fumes from the bleach cleared out. We were packing up to leave when Stephanie received word another house of hers, was set on fire by it’s former occupants. She laughed and said, “This is what I deal with all the time.”
“Why would you chose to do this?” I asked. It seemed not only exhausting but deflating as well. She explained, lower-income families slipped through the cracks of our society. They feel defeated even though they work just as hard. By providing a fixed rent, furnishings, utilities, and childcare, Mending Hearts sealed those fissures and provided a solid foundation where children grew up with stability. Stephanie required her renters to work, which helped parents maintain their self-worth, and their children grew up understanding a work ethic.
I admired Stephanie. She was the old man throwing the starfish back into the sea, while I was the boy asking what’s the point?
Another assignment for the Starfish Sisters was to collect personal products, organize them in bins, and hand them out at the homeless shelter downtown. The big day came, and I was manning the toothpaste distribution, when a man with green eyes and eyeliner, stumbled in his stilettos past my table, for a fourth trip. I was indignant. He was breaking the rules!
“Excuse me sir! Excuse me! You have gone through my line three times already, and the rule is you are only allowed once.” I motioned to an employee, “He keeps coming through the line. This is his fourth time!” I was the toothpaste police, and would not allow anyone to have more than their share.
He didn’t deny it, and nodded as the employee took him aside as I felt good about the job I was doing.
When we were cleaning up a deaf couple ran up with their two children, one in a stroller and the other around four years old. They signed frantically that they were there to get personal products, and I grabbed a bag and ran through each station dumping all that was left in their bag. My heart went out to these people and their situation.
Later, I had lunch with them, and in my best sign language asked them if their son could hear. They nodded ‘yes’ he could. I looked across the table at this little boy who grunted and pounded the table for more cake, but his parents couldn’t hear him. I slid a piece towards him, and his smile stretched from ear to ear.
That night, as I lay in bed the little boy’s grunt still rang in my ears. What kind of future would that child have if he never heard language?
The next month, I couldn’t work with the Starfish Sisters, for Momma was coming to visit. Daddy was flying to Orlando while Mom was taking the train. (She’s petrified of flying.)
I arrived at the train station early to pick her up. I double checked to ensure my SUV was locked before walking into the open air station. Sitting on a bench, I took in my surroundings. Piles of trash and leaves were on the floor. The dank odors of trash hung in the air.
Alone, I was in a vulnerable position. The train station was not located in a nice part of town, anyone could walk up behind me and put a gun to my skull. I clutched my designer purse tight against my chest and kept an eye on both doors.
It was then, someone started snoring. I jumped off the bench, ready to run for it, but stopped…
I recognized those shoes.
His stilettos were cast aside on the floor beside him. It wasn’t just Louis and I in the train station that day.
I sat and studied him.
His mascara was smeared under his eyes. He was lanky and long, with fingernails painted bright red. His lips were still stained from the lipstick he wore the night before.
I listened to the rhythm of his breathing. A maternal love filled me for this bi-racial man, for I was raising bi-racial men of my own. I wondered what his mother was like, or if he even had one. I longed to wake him and ask “What happened to you? Tell me your story!” But I lacked the courage. I hadn’t the courage to tell this beautiful twenty-something boy ‘Somebody loves you’.
For thirty minutes, I watched him sleep. He was peculiar, and although I knew he was far from innocent, he appeared to be curled up on a bench too small for his frame. He tugged his filthy blanket up around him, and switched sides.
Ashamed,I glanced away. Was toothpaste really all that important? I questioned why was I willing to dump tons of supplies in a deaf couple’s bag, yet I embarrassed this boy for going through the line as many times as he could.
I repented and prayed God would intervene in his life, and someone with more courage than I would come along and tell him Jesus loved him.
The train rolled in interrupting my reverie, and I stood to greet my mother. Once we collected her baggage, and re-entered the waiting area, I looked around for him, but he and his stilettos were gone. My chance to help save a starfish disappeared.
Later, I realized if he awakened he would have seen the toothpaste police clutching her purse to her chest. Who am I to think he’s peculiar? I am just as peculiar as he for what I held tight…what I valued enough to protect.
Before my sister Tricia died she said, “We worry about so many things that don’t really matter in the end.” Wisdom comes to those who taste death. Name brands, getting into that smaller size (loosing those baby pounds ugh!), our titles at work, impressing others with our cars, houses, bodies, and selfies, take our focus away from God and others, and places it on ourselves. People are mourning, feeling inadequate, rejected, scared, unattractive,and unloved.
Life is too short. Those things we hold so tight don’t really matter, so let them go, for how else will you be able to get your hands dirty picking up something (or someone) that does?

Please note: Mending Hearts needs your help. Stephanie Richards has been fighting Orange County for her tax exempt status. If you can give anything at all please click the link below to read about her situation further. Thank you.
http://www.gofundme.com/n4s2kk

Three Passovers as told by David B. Carter Sr.

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...
Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people Ecce homo! (Behold the man!). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy,...
Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My father teaches a weekly Bible study in his furniture store. He opens the store at 9am for any who want to study God’s word. He also teaches a Sunday School class at Southside Baptist in Suffolk Virginia.  I wanted to share his lesson this morning. This was his lesson as quoted to me this afternoon…

Three Passovers

The story of the first passover is found in the book of Exodus. It occurred during a time in history when the Israelites were held as slaves in bondage to the Egyptians. The Israelites cried out to God for deliverance from Pharaohs cruelty. God sent Moses and 10 plagues to change the heart of Pharaoh who resisted releasing his slaves, until the last plague.

This was the first passover. God told the Israelites to pick out the very best lamb, inspect it to insure it was without spot or blemish, and devoid of defects. They were to kill the lamb, collect the blood and paint it around the door of their home. That night, the angel of death would pass through, if there was blood on the door, all occupants would be saved. Behind the doors without blood the first born child in each family would die.

500 Years Later:

The passover was celebrated every year after and at this time the passover was taking place at Solomon’s temple. Four days before passover the high priest would come down from the temple, and leave the city. He would enter the town of Bethlehem where the sheep fold was and he and his entourage of priests would pick out the most perfect lamb. He would put a rope about it’s neck and lead it into the city.

At this time the crowds would gather on both sides of the lane, as well as the hundreds of priests. As he entered the gates of the city with his lamb, the priests would yell with a loud voice,

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This was chanted by the priests and the crowd of thousands joined in. The crowd laid out the palm branches before the High priest and the lamb being led into the city gates.

The lamb was tied up, and inspected by all (including Pharisees, Saducees and the priests) for four days. After the four days the High Priest would stand upon the temple mount and yell down upon the crowds, “I find no fault with him at all!” This meant the lamb was worthy of the sacrifice, for any flaw would disqualify this lamb.

The day of passover, many lambs were sacrificed, as individuals brought their  lambs to the temple, and the meat was handed out and eaten. The perfect lamb was the last to be sacrificed. The High Priest collected the blood of this lamb and entered the Holy of Holies. He sprinkled it’s blood on the ark of the covenant called the Mercy Seat. This would be the atonement or payment for the sins of the nation of Israel for one year.  The High Priest would emerge from the temple and yell out, “It is finished!”

1,000 years later,

One thousand years after the Israelites are freed from Egypt, they are once again four days before passover, but this time it is different because Jesus is in town. He told his disciples, “Enter the village and find the donkey and her colt, untie them and bring them to me, and have my followers meet me at the gates of the city.”

They did as Jesus instructed, and the prophesy written by the priest Zechariah around 520 BC was fulfilled. In Zechariah 9:9 it states, “Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus rode the colt up the dirt lane.

The disciples and all the followers of Jesus began shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!”

As you can imagine the people were already lined up on the streets to welcome the perfect sheep, for by this time, the High Priest, had roped it’s neck and was leading it into the city, only this year Jesus beat him to the gates. The crowd began shouting along with the disciples and thousands shouted out “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” Palm branches and cloaks were laid out for Jesus  than for the lamb.

One of the priest bent over and looked down the lane, expecting to see the High Priest leading a lamb said, “That’s Jesus and he’s riding a donkey!”

The Pharisees are angered by this outcry of affection for Jesus, and told Jesus to silence his followers.

“Jesus answered. “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) (I love that part! For I would have loved to see the rocks break open in song, and the Pharisees piddling on their robes.)

The multitude closed in around Jesus, and the High Priest lagging behind with the sheep, finds the mass dispersing.

For four days Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees, Saducees, Herodians, and eventually after his arrest, Pontius Pilate. After Pilate questioned him he yelled down to the crowd awaiting the verdict, “I find no fault in Him at all!”

The High Priest about this time is rendering his verdict of the sheep from Herod’s temple mount, “I find no fault with him at all.”

I can assure you the lamb’s sacrifice was much more humane. Jesus was beaten, spit upon, rejected, and humiliated. He carried his cross, until He could carry it no more. He gave His life willingly, and said nothing in His defense. He went as a lamb to the slaughter.

There He hung between heaven and earth, where His life blood flowed out for the sins of mankind. At the same time, the High Priest emerged from the Holy of Holies after completing the sacrifice and yelled, “It is finished!”

I imagine at the same moment, Jesus cried out “It is finished!”  before releasing His spirit.

He was taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb, but thankfully, this is not where the story ends. Three days later, through the power of God, Jesus arose from the dead, showing us there is life beyond this one, for those who believe. Just as there was life for those obeying in faith, who sacrificed their perfect lamb and spread the blood around the door many years ago.

There is life for any who accepts Jesus as Lord.

He is risen…He is risen indeed.

Note: If you are interested in attending my father’s Bible study. It is at Brandon House Furniture Company on West Washington Street in Suffolk Va. on Wednesday mornings from 9am to 10am. Anyone is welcome.