Posted in Writing

Rainy Seasons

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Welcome to our Orlando garden.

We’ve had a couple of weeks of very hot, dry days, and like a toddler looking for Santa in the night sky, I’ve looked for storm clouds anticipating our rainy season to start. Rainy season is a blessing in Florida during the summertime. It makes for a cozy afternoon when that shadow settles over my house. I tend to light candles and brew a cup of Joe while trying not to trip over my shivering Poodle-Bichon, Rudy. The rains leave behind a greener garden and cooler sidewalks.

Yesterday, Bella watched her brother Colin dart out to play in the rain with his best friend Deven. She glanced up at me with her look. I nodded. “Go on.”

A few seconds later, she ran into the house. Her upper lip quivering. “Colin told me I’m not allowed to play in the rain.”

I took her hand and led her back outside. I nudged her into the downpour. She took a few steps out before running back to the cover of the garage.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“It’s cold!”

“Go. You’ll get used to it.”

Colin, seeing I was encouraging her, ducked into the garage, grabbed her hand, and together they ran across the street to play. He helped her through the rain.

 

 

 

There are times the skies fall out on us, when life begins to feel cold and uncomfortable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this…a garden needs rain and light to grow. So don’t be scared of the rain, even if you feel your standing in a torrential downpour because you have two survival tools to help you.

The first is a God who sees. Seek God daily and whole heartedly. If you spend time reading the Bible and in prayer God will give you peace, no matter what your circumstances. The other survival tool is the people God has placed into your life to help you through it. Accept the love and help from others.

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This is our Orlando garden that wraps around our home.

In the last few months with breast cancer, I’ve felt an outpouring of love from friends, neighbors, and family. Many prayed for us, made us meals for over four weeks (!), a friend sat in the waiting room during my surgery for hours. There were flowers, gifts, cards, and girlfriends willing to rush over and give me a hug whenever I needed it. All of them…all of you… were the weed pickers in my garden. The outpouring of love overrode the fear and sadness that tends to creep up when dealing with cancer.

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This is our spring sister in our garden. We have a sister representing each of the seasons.

 

Experiencing the rainy season alongside Jesus will increase your faith in a good God. As I teach Bella, God is good all the time, in the rain and in the shine.God never wastes a good rainy season in a believer’s life. He allows the rain so He can later produce a harvest.

Paul writes in Hebrews 6:7 and 8,  “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (English Standard Version)

 

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. We called our friend Richard Case. Richard and his wife Linda have taught Abiding in Christ studies to couples at the farm to help them learn how to hear from God. Richard advised us to immediately go to God and pray for a verse to cling to during this season in our lives. Jay and I were sitting in my office. I spun around and glanced at a verse that I’d posted on my bulletin board a few weeks before. If I know anything about God it’s this, if He keeps putting a verse in your face, you better post it somewhere prominent because in the near future you’re going to need it, if you haven’t needed it already.

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You see, God always tills the land ahead of you. He’s churned up the soil ahead of your pain, sorrows, frustrations, even breast cancer. He had already spoken into my spirit for the months ahead, but we did what Richard Case instructed. After, both of us agreed Romans 8:28 was the verse to cling to. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for those who are called according to His purpose.” (ESV)

Throughout those difficult months, Jay began to notice this verse popping up everywhere. He’d say, “There’s our breast cancer verse again.” And each time I felt discouraged or beaten either I’d remember it, or Jay would remind me of it.

 

What’s your storm today? Do you feel you are being pounded by a hard rain? You have a choice to make, you can either grow a harvest that will grow your faith and one day nourish someone else, or you can grow your thorny weeds. Keep in mind…nobody likes a prickly person.

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This is Winter Sister

My advice? Don’t waste a good rain.

Till we meet again under sunnier circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Riding Currents

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Momma and Daddy’s house in Virginia.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Daddy on his small boat fishing with my husband Jay.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Guilt? Let me throw you some truth.

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

 

Feeling unloved? Climb aboard.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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After surgery, I look like a puffer fish.

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

Until we chat again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cancer, Christian, Writing

Funny Thing About Breasts

 

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Tricia doing the white man overbite.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She will when she starts to bud.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Who?” she said. “Brandon?”

“No! Timmy!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

I prayed God would turn Tricia into a rat.

“Now young lady!” Momma said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry Tammy.”

I nodded.

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

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

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Tricia, me, and our cousin Linda. 

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

“Let me see your breasts,” Momma said.

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

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

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Tricia, Linda, and I.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 Believing is a choice.

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Me, cousin Lisa, and Tricia

 

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

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Me, Momma, Brandon, and Tricia.

 

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

Those are words I’m hanging my bra on…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cancer, Writing

When It’s Cancer.

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

 

I have breast cancer.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I stared.

“Do you have any questions?” she said.

“No.”

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

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

“No… I mean yes.”

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

Wherever you are…

Papa’s got you too.

 

Talk to you soon…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Writing

Building the Bridge

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

See you when the smoke clears…

 

Posted in Writing

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.

 

 

Posted in Writing

Finding Your Place

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A road in Suffolk, Va.

I grew up on a street my mother named. When my parents purchased a three- bedroom, two- bath ranch in Suffolk Virginia, Momma loved everything but the name of the street. Ford Lane didn’t evoke enough whimsy or excitement for my mother, Priscilla. She wrote up a petition, loaded her small brood into the car and went door to door encouraging signatures from the residents. The houses were tucked past farming fields and wooded acres. Once the 10 residents (or so) signed her petition, the “Ford Lane” sign came down and “Mockingbird Lane” sign went up. We staked our claim. We found our place.

When autumn rolls in I long for my home on Mockingbird Lane in Suffolk, Virginia. I love the quote “home is where our story begins,” because the story I remember started there. By this time of year, I’m sure trees behind our home are turning bright red and orange. The forest floor will soon be covered in a red damp carpet. Momma would always start a fire in the fireplace by late afternoon, and from deep in the woods, where my siblings and I played after school, we could smell the aroma of burning oak in the air.

There were hills, ponds, creeks, and caves. We’d get into all sorts of trouble and find a way out. Momma didn’t mind us disappearing for hours at a time, as long as we took our dogs with us. By dark, Momma hollered from the back porch.

“Kids! Supper’s ready!”

Her voice echoed off the hills and down by the creek. We’d practically kill ourselves sprinting through the briars and branches in an attempt to get home fast, so she’d never know how deep in the woods we were.

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Colin trying out a rope swing in the Smokey Mountains of Tenn.

 

I waited for my three boys to become big enough before I took them exploring through the forest behind Momma’s house. They seemed timid following me through the overgrown trail, climbing down the hill, and crossing the creek. It was unknown territory to my Orlando native theme park babes. I glanced back at them. “Come on!” I said. “Don’t be scared. I know where we’re going. This was myplayground.” We reached the creek with the huge hills on each side. The water rushed down creek, making that gushing sound people buy fountains for. Their eyes lit up with boy wonder. “There’s a cave in the side of that hill.” I pointed. “I got stuck in it once. I don’t recommend it. And in the creek, you can catch crawdaddies. We caught some, kept them as pets for a while, but when we got bored with them we boiled them on the stove and ate them. You pinch the tail and suck the head.”

“What did they taste like?” Christian said.

“Mud.” I pointed further down the creek. “Your Uncle Brandon built a bridge there, so we could cross over without wading. We had a fort with a large black rat snake. Longest and fattest snake ever, but he was nice. He just lounged around on the branch above our heads.”
As you can imagine, they looked at their mother differently after that tour. My history lesson bridged the gap between boys and Momma.

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Our last Christmas at Mockingbird Lane.

One day, after that tour, I saw the three of them sneaking off into the woods. I ran out onto the porch.  “Take the dog! You can go, but you must take the dog with you,” I said knowing the dog will lead them home. I sounded just like my Momma years ago.

My parents sold our home on Mockingbird lane a year before my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Their new lakefront home is better suited to handling our large family when we visit, but the move felt like losing my place, and perhaps a foreshadow to a much bigger loss that was to come a few years later, when my sister lost her battle.

Yesterday, my son Colin told me how much he missed his Granddaddy and Nanna’s house on Mockingbird Lane. “Do you know how lucky you were to be able to play in the woods all the time Momma?” He said.

“Now I do, but when I was your age I couldn’t wait to leave Suffolk.”

“I wish I could live there,” Colin said. “The woods seem to go on for miles. How did you not get lost in them?”

I smiled. “We did on occasion but getting lost was how we learned our way.”

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Our conversation made me realize how much place develops a person into who they become, and how often we look out the windows of our place and long to be somewhere else. There was a farming field out my bedroom window on Mockingbird that rotated between, cattle, corn, cotton, and peanuts—yawn– but the most amazing sunsets settled over that field at night. Meanwhile, as a teenager I longed for houses and neighbors.

God knows the value of place. He puts us in places where He can build us. Where our character, knowledge, or influence can be strengthened. He placed the Israelites into the sandy wilderness for forty long years, to teach them obedience and discipline. While we all know they were yearning for the tall grasses of the promised land.

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The lake my parents now live on.

Where has God placed you? Are you stuck in an apartment with loud neighbors? Still single? Still longing to become a mother? Stuck in a dead-end job? Battling an illness? Caretaker of the ill?  If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, there’s a reason for it.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 English Standard Version.

Don’t fret if your place doesn’t have the name you want or it’s not as exciting as somebody else’s neighborhood, for God knows the place you need.  Find contentment and stake your claim right where you are, for if you allow it God can take your external and design your internal.

 

See you at your place next week…