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.

 

 

A Funeral…A Birthday…A Calling

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I skipped writing a blog last week. It was a week meant for quiet, sadness, sprinkled with a bit of joy as well. A dear friend named Vanessa Raghubir passed away from brain cancer. If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know all about her. (You can find multiple stories about her by scrolling down)

My husband and I spoke at her funeral. Jay read scripture and shared personal reflection about Vanessa, and called me up to tell her testimony… Vanessa’s story. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, to be honest, the mere thought made me want to puke my guts out and lay on the podium sobbing. 

I told the story of Vanessa having three altars in her apartment one for the Hindu god, one for the Muslim god, and one with a cross. Vanessa choose Jesus Christ. I explained He was the one God who knew what it was like to feel abandoned as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to be beaten, as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to face death, as she did. 

He’s the God who knows about all of your heartache too. He knows what it’s like to lose a child. He knows what it’s like to be sad, hungry, rejected, humiliated, poor…the list goes on and on.

I told this story to a room filled with Hindu worshippers, and Muslim men and women wearing burkas -not exactly easy on the nervous system if you know what I mean. A friend in the back told us a few Muslim men moaned when I mentioned the one true God, but everyone was respectful and allowed her wishes. You see, one day Vanessa told me she could see herself telling her testimony from a stage to all her friends and family, but Vanessa lost her voice before she got the chance. I know it was no accident she’d told me her wishes.

 God will ask you to step out of the boat during a hurricane, all it takes for the waters to calm is your feet.

God showed up. I survived without puking my guts up, and her testimony was told.

A woman approached me after the funeral, she was co-worker of Vanessa’s at the bank. She told me how happy she was to hear her story.

“I tried to lead Vanessa to the Lord,” she said as her eyes teared. “I kept telling her she needed to choose Jesus Christ, but she brushed me off. She told me she’d think about it. I came here thinking she never made the choice. I’m so glad she found you.”

“I only planted a seed, just as you did,” I said. The truth is this. It was God Vanessa found. God wants us to find Him so badly. He will place people in your path to point the Way. 

“for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you…” I Chronicles 28:9b English Standard Version

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When I think of Vanessa’s life and my own, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  

I shared a somewhat embarrassing story at Vanessa’s funeral. A story I’ve kept close to my chest all this time.

About a month before my sister, Tricia passed, she had her son help her into the kitchen where Mom, Dad, her husband, and children were. She walked over to Momma, kissed her on the mouth and said, “Momma, I want to go home.” 

“You are home, sweetheart,” Momma said.

“No! Home Home!” 

“You’re ready to go to heaven?” Momma said.

Tricia turned and walked over to Daddy.

“Daddy, I want to go home!” She said.

Realizing by now what she was asking, Daddy nodded. “Okay, you go on now.”

She turned to her husband Thomas and said the same thing. She told everyone individually her intention. She wanted their permission to go.

Of course, we all assumed she would go just like that. So, I stayed awake that night, looking for some sign and praying God would allow her to pass by my room in Orlando. (She lived in Virginia) That night, Jay fell asleep on the sofa, and I kept the tv off for I wanted to be ultra- aware for I just knew I was going to see something in my room change the moment she took her last breath.

Around 2am there was a light in my room. I jumped up in bed. My eyes darted around searching every dark corner for her, but she wasn’t there.

Instead, it was my phone.

I had a private message on Facebook. The words were jumbled, but I’m going to take the liberty in writing them clearly below.

“You don’t know me, but my name is Vanessa. I know Jay from the bank. I’m in the hospital, I had a brain cancer tumor removed. I’ve been reading your sister’s story. Thank you for writing it.” 

That was my first contact with Vanessa. You see, God wasn’t going to send me my sister. He was going to send me someone He desired to make my eternal sister.  

I’ve spent this week, looking backwards and forwards, wowed by the steps God lit up in our lives and how our paths intertwined, connecting us for eternity.  I celebrated my 49th birthday, with Vanessa’s family instead of my own. It was the day she was cremated. Before we left to go to the cremation ceremony, I found a new laptop sitting on my bathroom counter. I’m so thankful God gave me a man who holds my hand through my dreams. 

Before Vanessa lost her voice, she asked me to write her story when I finished my sister’s memoir. One day, while sitting at the foot of Vanessa’s bed, I told her. “I know you want me to write your story, but my sister’s story is incomplete without you. You’re her ending.” Vanessa seemed happy to hear that.

Take some time to think about your steps. Has God been trying to get your attention? Lead you to Him? Has He called you onto a stormy sea?  Has He put you on a path you didn’t expect? Or is He giving you an assignment?

Next week, I will share what we can all learn from a dying girl from Guyana. I hope you’ll keep a watch out.

Until next time…

Today: August 20, 2018

 

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Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.

 

Today around noon,  I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.

Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”

Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.

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Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!”  Today, I crossed milestone.

Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her.  She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.

On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)

Today, Vanessa met her sister.

Today,  I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.

Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.

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Goodbye my sweet Vanessa. I love you.

Tonight, I know we’ll meet again.

The Kingdom of Goats and Guards

“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”  (Matthew 6:9-13, King James Version 1611)

 

IMG_0046We celebrated Christmas in Orlando, before returning to the farm for some downtime. One afternoon, Bella and I walked to the equipment barn to retrieve an ATV. Along the way, a family of goats escaped the fenced-in pasture. They walked along the road as if trying to slip away unnoticed.

“Oh no Momma, Look!” Bella said pointing to the other side of the fence, where another baby goat had his head wedged in the electric fencing.

While I tried to decide which one to save first, the herd in the pasture bleated as if telling on the escapees. Our three goat guards stood alerted, and one of them Franklin this huge dog (an Anatolian Shepherd) sprinted to the fence and barked at them. Immediately, they spun around and sprinted back to the hole where they escaped. Inside the pasture, they approached Franklin before rejoining the herd. I was amazed by how they responded to his voice. They know with Franklin they are safe

The goat’s pasture is their kingdom and Franklin establishes the order and protection therein, just as we abiders in Christ live within the kingdom of God here on earth. It is within the protective barriers we can discern God’s voice the most clearly. Once we participate in activities outside God’s will, God calls us back through conviction, which we can either turn around and re-enter God’s kingdom (His will) or we can ignore and go about living in our earthly kingdom. Outside God’s will there most certainly will be dangers, attacks by the enemy, and consequences we will face for our own behaviors.

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Just like the spiritual world, there are enemies on the farm. The goats enemy is the coyote. During the day, they are alone or in pairs, but under the cover of darkness, they communicate. Their yapping sounds innocent, like pups, but it’s their way of coming together for the hunt, to devour. There are nights I stand on the porch and feel surrounded by the yappers in the forest.

In the evening, the guardians settle in with the goats and disappear into the sea of them. They are a quiet and mysterious three. We often refer to Franklin as a phantom, for he will rise up on his tall legs out of the midst of the goats. Even during the day, it’s hard to spot the dogs, unless you are right up next to the pasture. They are quiet and disciplined only barking when they need to. They warn the enemy as they encroach upon the herd that they are trained to annihilate them. The guardians will put their lives on the line for their goats.

Christ sacrificed His life to give us access to His Father’s kingdom. Inside God’s will, there will also be challenges and attempted attacks by the enemy because although we are within God’s will, we are still living on earth which is enemy territory. Our power to fight the enemy’s attacks comes from our access and relationship to our three guardians- the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The longer we live in the Kingdom, we will emulate God’s character and bring the Father glory, by revealing who He is to those outside.

There are gaps in the fencing of the Kingdom as well – the gap of free will. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to poke my head through the hole and allow my mind to envy the green grass over yonder. There have also been times I’ve defiantly walked out of the safeguards and trotted down the lane of selfishness and disbelief towards what I thought was an adventure. Albeit, those trots have not been without consequences and only gave my enemy stockpiles of ammunition to use against me. Just as Franklin is greater in power, strength, and size than those coyotes, greater is He that is in Me, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:4)

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There have been times Franklin’s behavior has been questioned. There was a day Franklin made the farmers so angry they nearly got the shotgun out to put him down. He carried a dead baby goat away from the herd and planted it who knows where. They thought he killed the baby goat. Later, they realized Franklin was only doing his job. If a kid is born dead or dies soon after birth, he carries the goat far away from the herd, outside the pasture. You see, the dead goat could have a disease that will harm the others, and the dead goat scent attracts the enemy. It is his job to send death far from the living outside the green pastures.

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The Father will one day separate the living from the dead.  He will separate those who choose not to enter into His kingdom when they were called, from those who chose His Lordship for their lives. This saddens me, but I’m sure not as much as it saddens God. He’s the one who feels their rejection. It is our job as His kingdom dwellers to plant grasses that will feed and encourage others to enter the pasture of the living Christ.

“Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6, English Standard Version.

Has God called you into His kingdom? He wants to grant you an abundant life, filled with peace, joy, and purpose. He wants to bring you into His pasture of rest, power, and protection.

For those who’ve already accepted grace, but have wandered outside the fences won’t you consider abiding in God’s kingdom? Keeping your head inside the safeguards from the dangerous climate that exists outside? Stop allowing your lifestyle and your message to seek the approval of man and use your words and influence for Kingdom sake?

 

I cannot close without admitting I often wonder how God finds me capable of raising four children. This is not false humility, but the utter truth.  I often tease if any of them had fur I’d never let them leave for college. Once the herd was safe in the fence, the baby goat cried out the most pitiful sound. In a panic, I sprinted to the barn without looking back.

“Momma wait for me!” I heard Bella’s voice behind me.

“You’ll be fine. Baby goat’s in trouble!” By the time, I barged into the office shouting a goat was getting electrocuted into the ears of the farm manager, Jeff, who’s a calm and quiet cowboy, Hilario (one of the farmers) had already worked the goat out of the fence. Lucky for him, the electric fence was turned off. I smiled watching that little thing trot across the pasture towards his mother. Awe… just like Bella… Bella? Oh no, my Bella!

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Bella lumbered up the driveway looking like the little brother in the Christmas story who couldn’t put his arms down, and less than happy with a Mom who’d leave her for a goat.

 

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Do not leave your toddler in the dust for the sake of a goat.
  2. Remember Bella is only three.
  3. Love your children as if they had fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7: December 19th

Chapter 7:

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Christmas rushed in without flourish or elation. The traditional aromas of a basted turkey, pumpkin pie, and Granny’s potato salad vacated Momma’s kitchen, as multiple containers from well-meaning friends moved in. Perusing the contents one could surmise fried chicken and ham is Suffolk’s comfort food. Regardless, grief robs the appetite.

Like the scene from Charles Dicken’s The Christmas Carol, where an abandoned walking stick leans against the fireplace and a tiny chair is vacated, Tricia’s imprint survived her. The bird in the Black Forest clock she purchased for Mom, still coos every hour. Part of me wished the bird croaked out of respect for the departed, but I know time is a healer, for it to stop in the darkest hour would be torture for a grieving soul. God ushers us through the darkness by allowing the birds to coo, the sun to show up in the morning, and the moon to work the nightshift.

Tricia’s hand-painted ornaments dangle from the Christmas tree. They hold a sacred value now. Years ago, she gifted us with her first attempt, a messy painted Orca for my son Nick. It broke. I’d do anything to have it back now. Why do we hold the relics left behind tighter after the benefactor departs? Maybe we’re holding onto to a piece of their talent… a shred of their spirit…proof she once was.

Mom’s den is full of us. We remain a loud lot, still talking over one another. Albeit her voice is silent, as if one instrument is missing from the orchestra. I miss her laughter and that ever smack on the arm she gave you when she found something funny, which sometimes threw you off balance.

I never suspected last Christmas would have been her last. Looking back, I wish I’d known, for it wasn’t a joyful Christmas for her. Unfortunately, some announcements have to be made.

Tracey (Brandon’s wife) walked into the kitchen. “Tricia slipped out crying. She drove off,” she said. I dropped the pan I was washing back into the sudsy water and snatched a towel.

“I was afraid of that,” I said. “We have to find her.”

An hour later, Mom and I gathered her in our arms, and together we mourned over the opposite directions our lives were taking. Like a moving walkway, she was going one way and I another, while both of us wanted to put on the brakes.

The next day, we stood outside our parent’s house, waiting on Momma to go shopping in Smithfield. A wall of tension divided us, both riddled with our own guilt for the day before.

“Look, I’m sorry for yesterday,” she said. “It’s not that I’m not happy for you and Jay, it’s just…hard you know?”

“I would have felt the same way,” I said.

“It’s just this…while you’re growing life, I’m growing cancer cells. You’re getting ultrasounds while I’m getting PET scans.” She pointed towards my abdomen. “Your looking forward to the day you meet your baby, while I’m dreading the day I’m saying goodbye to mine. You’re looking ahead and making plans, while I’m remembering the past and trying hard to hold onto what I have left.” Her sad eyes pleaded with me to understand.

I’d chewed on the irony of our situation, but I’d never truly digested it until then.

“Anyway, I just need you to know how I feel,” she said.

I shivered. A cold breeze stirred up the dead leaves. One floated on the wind past us. I resisted the urge to catch it, allowing the wind to spirit it away. I pulled my sweater closed at the nape of my neck. Tricia was never bothered by the cold.

“It’s not fair is it?” My voice cracked.

She shrugged. “It’s life, but sometimes it’s hard to take.”

“I want you to know I’d never try to get pregnant. I had other plans for my…Well, I would never do that since you’re…” Suddenly, everything I wanted to say at that moment seemed cruel.

She smiled understanding my struggle. “You can make it up to me.” she said.

“How?”

“Just promise you’ll get really fat,” she said.

We laughed. I should have seen it coming, our traditional jab. The laughter filled me with hope. She’d still love me, though I reflected health and vitality, the very things slipping away, like water through her fingers.

She placed her hand on my baby bump. “You’re already showing.”

“My body just knows what to do by the fourth one,” I said.

Her smile faded as her eyes met mine. “When she comes, I will go.”

Like the quick, feathery touch of a hummingbird across your cheek, for a moment I thought I’d imagined the words; nonetheless, I stepped back as if she slugged me. “She? Wait. What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re going to have a girl, and when she comes it’ll be my time.”

I turned away, so she couldn’t see the pain her words caused me. “You don’t know everything Tricia Baines. Besides, Jay’s track record proves he only makes boy babies.”

She grabbed my arm. “Listen, I know.” She needed me to believe her. It felt disrespectful…shallow even… to argue with someone standing on the banks of eternity awaiting permission to cross.

She looked up at the sky and took a deep breath. The sun shined on her yellowish face and the wind flittered through her short twigs of chemo frizzed hair. “I’m not saying this baby will replace me,” she said. “Of course, no one will replace me.” She laughed. “God just knows you will have a tough time, so He’s giving you this baby to…you know…keep you busy.”

Acceptance filled her voice, like a soothing lullaby. She leaned on her faith for strength and dignity, while I carried the burden of survivor’s guilt, the weight of it left me hunched. I’m sorry for being healthy. Sorry for being pregnant. Sorry I get to see your daughter grow up and your boys get married.  Sorry…sorry…sorry… There was never enough.

That day, I packed her words away in my heart, and the moment I heard my daughter’s first cry they rushed back. Isabella was born without one push, as if she propelled herself into my world knowing her mission, to save Mommy from sinking into despair. I wondered how God could put such a tender heart in me and expect me to survive the stretch it endured on August 7th, a day of great joy fused with incredible dread of what was to come. Isabella came into my life, as my sister was leaving. For a brief moment in time, two precious feminine spirits met in the physical realm, as if the baton of girlhood was handed off, and the weary one passed on into the spiritual.

Twelve days before Tricia died, Thomas held Bella in front of her, and her eyes focused on Bella’s toes.“I see you eyeing those toes,” Thomas said. “Ya’ know you want to touch ‘em. Go ahead.”

Slowly the back of her cupped hand barely caressed the top of Bella’s foot. It was the last touch Bella felt from her Aunt Tricia and cost Tricia all her concentration and energy to give it. The last bit of love she could muster for an infant she would never know.

True to Tricia’s prediction, Isabella Fawn was born at 4:15 in the afternoon, and Tricia died close to that time, nineteen weeks later.

She didn’t live to see another Christmas.

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.

The Gene Pool

Since Tricia passed away, and my days are consumed with caring for Isabella, memories of our childhood, seem to find their way into my thoughts. A time when Brandon, Tricia, and I, thought we were invincible, and live at least until 100. As children, Tricia and I promised each other when our husbands died, we’d live out our days together. We weren’t planning on murdering them, it just never occurred they may outlive us.
I am convinced our family had more guardian angels than most. This is not a prideful statement, for we just required more to stay alive. Trouble came natural to us. In order to prove this, I must point to the providers of our genes.
Daddy liked to ride storms as a boy, just as he saw the storm clouds rolling in, he picked the tallest tree he could find and climbed to the top. He rode that thing until the storm passed. He said tropical storms provided the wildest ride.
“I climbed a cedar tree on Chestnut Street and landed on North.” He once told me, which should be the first line of his memoirs.
Momma slept with her Sally. She grabbed Sally when the neighbor’s chickens started eating her azalea bushes. Screaming, I wrapped my legs and arms around her thigh, begging her not to shoot those precious chickens. She stretched out her leg like a tripod, aimed, and shot. Those chickens were perfectly aligned and one bullet swiped the heads off both. This is no fabrication, it was a blood bath. Those chickens were bumping into each other with no heads, and blood was spurting everywhere.
“Well, that serves em right.” she said as she brushed past me.
I never looked cross at Momma again.
We loved to climb trees. Tricia climbed a tree once and got stuck at the top, and Brandon climbed up to get her unstuck. We each claimed a tree in our yard. Tricia’s was a small dogwood (the lame one because she didn’t’ want to get stuck again) Once, I climbed my tall tree. I told Brandon, “Go get Momma” for I was proud and wanted a reaction from that lady. The top of the tree swayed in the wind and I wrapped my legs and arms around it. Mom came out of the house and looked up.
“Tammy you are high! You be careful coming down now!” She said, before going back into the house.
I realized then, she was a woman of great faith.
One dog day of summer, my cousin Linda and I decided to bleach our hair and ride the Sows at the same time. We poured on the peroxide, and climbed over the hog fence.
Linda stood in the middle of those huge beasts, and clapped her hands and screamed.
“Suey… Suey… Suey!”
They ran straight towards me, and as the stampede approached I crouched and lunged for them. I didn’t gain many feet, but did gain a peculiar odor to go with my beautiful platinum highlights.
While we’re on hogs, Brandon showed hogs for the 4-H Club. When he stepped up to show his hog, a runaway ran out squealing and landed between his legs. (ouch) He rode that hog backwards holding onto to it’s rump around the ring.
The crowd went wild. Mom and Dad were so proud. They stood and clapped for him as if it deserved an encore. The judges gave him a little extra money in his envelop for the entertainment.
We loved animals. In the seventh grade, Coach Polk my Science teacher announced, “Tomorrow is small pet day, you can bring your small pets to class.”
Brandon, Tricia, and I looked for that snake for hours. Popped him in an old aquarium and gave him a name. Albert was a hit! I held him intertwined in my fingers, and each time I turned towards Coach Polk he jumped back. When he asked me how long he’d been my pet, I didn’t lie.
“About 18 hours, we found him around seven last night. He was in the wood pile under a log.”
“Weren’t your parents scared you’d find a poisonous one?”
I laughed for everyone knew what poisonous snakes looked like. Truth be told, it didn’t occur to us.
Speaking of pets, we had many. Momma brought home everything and made it a pet. She tried to catch a mouse in the churchyard one Sunday. She slipped off her sandals and ran through the grass chasing the thing, while the congregation cheered her on. She caught it. A minute later she screamed.
“The darn thing bit me!” she said. She decided that wouldn’t be a good pet.
Another time, she brought this unusual caterpillar into the house, and put it in a jar on her dresser. She wanted to look it up in the encyclopedia because she’d never seen this lime green variety. The caterpillar wanted to educate her himself. Let’s just say, her arm swelled terribly. She said that wasn’t a good pet either.
Trouble followed Tricia too. One day that trouble was a twister, it toppled a grain storage container (silo), before heading straight for Linda and Tricia, who decided it was a good idea to walk home in a storm. Tricia held onto her umbrella, and Linda held onto Tricia’s foot. Thank goodness Linda won that battle or Tricia could have landed in Oz.
I think we all enjoyed a good adrenaline rush, but Brandon became addicted in his twenties. He lived on a sail boat, flew planes, parachuted, scuba dived, etc, anything he could do to keep Momma on her knees, he did.
One Friday, he decided he was going to sail to Tangier Island and eat some crabs. He didn’t check the weather.
A North Eastern blew through.
There was still no word by Sunday morning, and Momma marched up during the altar call, and told the pastor what her son did .
That evening he came home. The waves were so high he had to tie himself to the boat, and vomited for two days. Needless to say, he didn’t eat any crabs.
On Brandon’s last parachute jump, he talked Thomas (Tricia’s husband) into going with him. A Navy Seal was on the plane and asked to go up another 1,000 feet. By the time they reached that height, it was getting dark. They jumped anyway. Brandon radioed down for the airport to turn on the landing lights, and the airport radioed back they wouldn’t work. Brandon and Thomas steered their parachutes as they were instructed from the ground to miss the electrical wires.
Later Thomas said, “Brandon’s crazy. He’s going to kill me.”
I say to Thomas there’s still time for that.
Another jump Brandon took without a parachute this time, was from the 58 Bypass bridge. This is the bridge in Suffolk to end all, if you know what I mean. The bottom of his feet turned black, he couldn’t walk for a week.
Under that bridge we had a rope swing. At night,we tied up the boats, climbed to the top, and swung from the bridge, as our bodies hit the surface of the Nandsemond, the water glowed with Phytoplankton.
We forgot about the glow of the Phytoplankton the same night we forgot our swim suits. Tricia, our friend Kim Standridge, and I decided to swim in our underwear. Thomas and our “brothers” (guys like brothers) stayed up on the boat, to give us our privacy. Thomas and Tricia were married soon after that.(wink)
My boyfriend at the time had a metal boat with a huge Johnson motor on the back, when you started it up, the bow rose up out of the water. We loaded that boat up with friends and water bombs, we’d slip into the swampy reeds and surprise attack the other boats.
Once my Dad came down to the wharf, I put him in that boat and told him to hold on.
“Okay girl, show me what you got.” he challenged.
I put that boat on it’s side left and right trying to dump Dad into the Nandsemond. I was disappointed he still had a good grip.
We grew up around boats. Dad always had one. One hot Sunday after church we went out towards the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A lightning storm came through, I had my hand hanging over the side of the boat and there was a huge flash and a hot pain seared through my arm. My scream scared Daddy gray. He scooped me up and put me in the bedroom below. It wasn’t a direct hit, but the lightning bounced off a crab pot next to us and grounded itself in my arm. That didn’t feel too good.
I was scared of lightning for years after that. That’s why I chose to move to the lightning capital of the world. I faced my fears.
My husband would tell you before children, I often faced those fears in the closet. You see, I no longer thought I was invincible. I miss those carefree years, simply because my sister was in them. Isabella will never know her Aunt Tricia except through the stories.
I know my niece, nephews, and children believe they are indestructible too. I can see it by their trouble. We parents call each other to brag about what they’ve done. It starts with, “You won’t believe what (niece or nephews) did.” Of course, I pretend I can’t believe it, but I can…I’m not a bit surprised, just look at their gene pool.