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Words of Encouragement Are Never Wasted Words

Today I attended the funeral of a sweet man. Every Sunday, without fail he would greet us at some point, whether it was as I entered church with my family, or scurried in late looking for a seat. He would walk up beside me, or one of my daughters, and give myself or them a side hug and then inconspicuously hand off a peppermint or pack of gum, then give us a wink as he moved on. He was faithful, he was enthusiastic and he was perceptive of who needed a little encouragement.

At the end of the service I was walking slowly up the aisle to leave and I spotted a precious lady in conversation who I love, respect and admire. She is a beautiful woman, full of energy and a zest for life. She is creative, and industrious and her home looks like a Southern Living Magazine. I saw her catch my eye as if she planned to say something, but finished her conversation. As I was about to pass her, she reached out and began to encourage me about something she read in my blog. I was caught off guard, forgetting that these things I write here are actually read by others…..not just me exercising my thoughts in life. She looked into my eyes and said “You are a writer, Dana. I love what you you said in your blog.”. My heart warmed. Just when I thought this silly writing dream was a waste of energy and time……that I really don’t have any talent…..or direction…..or validation for this thing I love to do. God tapped me on the shoulder and used someone I long to be like to whisper words of encouragement to this often melancholy heart. Writers are weird people who are constantly in a state of putting words and sentences together to create something that tells a story, or describes a moment or changes the heart of the reader. They long for validation, but struggle with creating something worthy to be read by others. The sad truth is the work of most writers will never see the light of day, much less make it to publication. But they keep on writing.

So today, I received a gift. Encouraging words from someone who read what I wrote and felt the emotion and meaning behind the words. Thank you sweet lady for blessing me. You are a jewel. God used you in my life today.

God is paying attention to us and He knows our hearts, our dreams, our hopes…..and He knows when we need to know that what we love to do isn’t a waste of time. He cares enough to encourage us through unexpected words from others. So don’t hesitate the next time you feel the need to inspire someone with supportive words…..God may be using you to tend a dream in someone’s life.

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This Mama’s Heart

Last night I sat in choir rehearsal, just as I have done for about a hundred years now. I sat in the back row of the altos, listening to people of God singing in four part harmony, happy that they all had conquered their Covid fear and chose to come out into public on a Wednesday night and sing. But beyond the joy of sitting among God’s people preparing for Sunday worship, I felt a warm joy swooshing around my heart because sitting next to me, making a joyful noise, were two of my daughters. Adult daughters. Married daughters with their own little families. Choosing to be there. Singing like angels. In another area of our church, two of my grands were in their own little classes learning scripture at their age level….preschool! As I sit here now, I feel tears stinging my eyes. Tears of joy. Because I know how hard I tried, how much I prayed, how many times I cried and even how endlessly I fretted over raising them in a way that they personally would experience the love and presence of Jesus and choose to live their lives in Him and for Him. I messed up…..a lot. I insisted they be at church every Sunday and Wednesday (unless you are Southern Baptist, you won’t understand this second day of worship!). How I made them try to see the importance of being a part of student ministry, service projects, student camp, student choir and Bible study. When they were little, I took advantage of every car ride to tell them the stories of Jonah, of David and the feeding of the five thousand. We often had family meetings that involved big decisions and prayer. As teenagers I constantly asked questions and listened as they told me of good days, relationship issues and even painful experiences. I would ask them what they think Jesus would have them do or say….or I would tell them what God had to say about things. Sometimes I would stop the car and pray…..and sometimes I even prayed with my eyes wide open while I drove. I am sure they can still hear me saying “Make wise choices” as they flew out the door. I encouraged them to journal their thoughts, their struggles and their questions to God. I shared scripture with them. We talked about hard subjects and hard decisions. Worship music was the genre of music that played in our car and our home. I am sure they thought we were the meanest parents ever because of the boundaries we set for them, and the things we said no to. I know I drove them crazy telling them to honor their commitments, to use their gifts for Him, to do the right thing even when it was hard. I prayed with them, for them and over them, and still do. I taught them the importance of church, gathering together as believers to worship and study God’s Word. I realize that trying so hard is never a guarantee that they will choose to live for Jesus. My three girls are strong, beautiful, loud, funny, loving, opinionated, young women. Yes, they are still young in their faith journey, they are beginning families of their own and I see them making their faith the center of their families. Not just their faith, but teaching their little ones (and little ones to come) that Jesus loves them and died for them and cares for them like no other. So sitting next to them in choir rehearsal last night as they chatted and sang made this Mama’s heart swell and melt all at the same time. I didn’t do everything right, I messed up so much, but somewhere along the way God’s grace and mercy covered my mistakes and they experienced His presence on their own and fell in love with the Savior. Now I am crying as I sit here, because that is all I ever wanted for them, for them to know Him, choose Him and live for Him.

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A Special Visit

My Mom came to visit me last night. I know you might be thinking “Awww, that’s sweet.” But you have to understand this, she died 18 years ago. She has only appeared in my dreams three times since she died.

It’s not like a scene from my childhood, or a specific memory of her. Not at all. I will be dreaming about something random and I will turn and she’s there, smiling, just as I remember her. No words. She always steps slowly forward and pulls me into a hug. I close my eyes and I feel the softness of her skin, the comfort of her arms around me, I breathe in deep, and even though I know I haven’t been able to smell anything for years, I breathe in her familiar perfume. My arms wrap tight around her waist as I bury my face in her neck and I am crying. That deep, painful kind of cry deep in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. I feel her kiss my hair as she rubs my back and smooths back my hair. I finally stop crying, but my chest aches and I know the tears will come again. She smiles at me and touches my face. No words. Just love. And then….I’m awake. My cheeks are wet from my tears. It had been so long since she came to visit me in my dreams. I needed one of her hugs. I needed to see her face, and there she was. So real. I hope she comes again soon. I miss her so much and want to sit next to her and be the daughter again and talk and laugh while she files my nails.

I am certain God sends these visits to me just when I need them most. He knows so well what we need and when we need it. I imagine (and this is just my imagination, because there is no theological or biblical support for this) that Jesus saw my heart, He knew what I needed before I did. He looked over at Mom and said, go on down there for just a moment, no words, just hug her and comfort her. Isn’t that just a sweet thought.

answers, corona, covid19, Encouragement, escape, friends, God, Life, Love, Mobile, People, promises, searching, seasons, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Day 13 of Encouragement During These Weird Times

Romans 8:37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Nor anything else in all creation”.  Those words really jumped out at me today.  I’ve read these verses so many times.  They are familiar to you as well, I am sure.  I have always found comfort in the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing could separate me from my relationship with God.  Nothing I could so personally.  Nothing in this world.  No disease. No virus.

We live in a world of uncertainty.  More than ever we are all feeling that truth.  We have modified our lives to avoid contracting a man made disease that has been released on us like some modern weapon.  We are functioning in a new normal.  It changes almost daily.    But “it” still cannot separate us from the love of God.

We are more than conquerors.  Because no matter what happens neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.  We do not have to fear anything today, nor anything to come.  We do not have to tremble at the powers that rule over us.  We can know the peace that He offers.

So today.  Today close your eyes and take a deep breath.   Breath in God’s love and release all the tension, doubts, fears, weariness, anxiousness and concerns.  Allow the love of God to wrap around you like a warm blanket.  Accept His love.  Be secure in His love.  He is walking through this with us.  Trust Him.

Love y’all.

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Day 4 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Sadly I realized at about 2:30am this morning that I did not post encouragement for today…..uhhh…..yesterday!  And, sadly, the verse I was going to post on was about love.  Not sadly that it was on love, but sadly it was on love and I forgot to post in the midst of all the love going on in our family!!!!

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All that love in two verse in John, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the midst of a suggested/requested quarantine, and I forget to post!  Let me state my case for forgetfulness.  I actually didn’t totally forget, but I let the day get away from me.  Yesterday was Molly Grace’s 21st birthday.  The baby of the family.  Our baby girl who loves birthdays and family and cake and is the best present opener EVER!

My two older girls braved the pandemic and hit two stores and a bakery in an effort to try and make it a normal day as possible.  Life is so full of uncertainties right now, we felt the need to do our best to gather and celebrate, before we are forbidden to gather and celebrate even as families.  We found Flour Girls open and willing to let me in to purchase a dozen cupcakes to deliver to her office.  We pulled up to the front door of her work, crossed our fingers they would let us in, even though we weren’t there for an appointment.  I waltzed right in and up to the counter where she sat smiling and surprised. I kept the required 6 foot distance (after putting the box of cupcakes on the counter) and sent all the air hugs possible to our baby girl.   I dropped off the older daughters and went home to begin the preparation for the birthday party.  I found party decor in a box that I had been saving and  decorated the dining room.  I baked a strawberry cake, with chopped up strawberries in it and topped it with cream cheese icing.  We prepared her favorite Shrimp Bisque and set the table.  The family all arrived at 6:00 (thankfully there is no curfew as of yet) and we celebrated her life.  Somehow, in the midst of everything going on, we needed to do something normal.  We have five more birthdays and a new baby coming in the next few months, and we aren’t sure how it will all play out.  We are being bombarded everyday with COVID19, or “the Corona” as we like to refer to it, whether the information is fact or not.  Shelves in stores are getting less stocked as time goes on.  Numbers in our coastal city, Mobile, or creeping up, as they are across the nation.  Weddings and baby showers and other events are being cancelled every day.  School has been cancelled.  Churches are becoming techno smart in order to stay connected with their people.  People are becoming unemployed all around us.  And this verse couldn’t be more accurate today, right now.

We need to love.  We do not need to fear.  We need to celebrate.  We need to remind ourselves and others that God is in control.  We need to be smart, but we need to still gather in small groups if we can.  We need to breathe in and breathe out.

So I am sorry for getting caught up in the preparations for her birthday celebration.  But the gathering of our family did us all good.  It felt normal.  And for a couple of hours of food, fun, laughter and celebration, we loved on each other.

Be as normal as possible.  It doesn’t have to be a “big” deal, but keep on hugging, laughing, and reaching out others, even if hugging isn’t possible.  Happy birthday, today, to all those who are sitting at home, working at a desk or out looking for toilet paper. (I still don’t understand or obsession with this one).

And.  Just for the record.  We only had 9 and 2 little people (ages 2 and 2 months) which could technically be considered as 10.  So we didn’t break the rules!

As a side note…..I am not encouraging excessive touching or spreading of germs. We should all respect the fact that there is a virus out there that is contagious and we should be careful.   So maybe air hugging is the best option for now.  And keep your groups at 10.  And no sneezing or coughing in anyone’s direction!

answers, cancer, Encouragement, escape, friends, God, Laughter, Life, Love, People, promises, searching, seasons, Uncategorized

A Year and a Half Ago

I woke up this morning still tired after a night of sleeping and waking and thinking.  My life has changed so much in the last year and a half, and continues to change and move into a new season.  A year and a half ago I lost my job.  But it didn’t seem to matter so much because we were in the trenches of cancer and I was thankful to walk every step with my big guy, holding his hand, praying, listening, hoping.  After the “all clear” words came from the doctor, we went home and just sat in our living room quietly.  The words we had hoped for and prayed for had come.  Now for finding normal.  That was in May and life has continued to move forward as if the year of cancer never happened.  A year and a half ago we were welcoming a new grandson into our lives.  A year and a half ago we were in the midst of planning baby girl number two’s wedding.  A year and a half ago we lost my sweet Daddy.

I began keeping our new grandson when my daughter returned to teaching during this past year.  It has been a joy watching him grow and getting to love on him on a daily basis.  But this past August, when school began again, my daughter decided to put her boy in daycare in preparation for a second baby on the way.  I am told finding and getting into a good, reliable, and desirable daycare is both competitive and difficult.  I had no idea.  So he went to daycare after a year of staying with Lolly.  He loves it and has adapted quite easily.  My man cub is growing up too fast!

So, now, for the last two months I have been trying to figure out what next.  Yes, there are wedding plans still going on for baby girl number three, but that will be over in another thirty-nine days.  But then what?  I guess last night it was on my mind and I would go to sleep, dream, wake up, think about it for awhile, then start over again by filing asleep.  I’ve talked about getting a job, but I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to get a job right now.  I’ve prayed about it, and I get the sense from the Lord that I am exactly where he wants me to be for now.  I’m just having trouble adjusting, even after a year and a half.  I’m trying to find some routine.  I’m trying to write a little each day, even if it is just to blog a short piece.  I’m trying to figure out what the next step the Lord has for me.  I’m trying to establish a regular morning time with Him.  I even got out my daughter’s Kurig and am trying to drink coffee like a real grown up….decaf, of course!  The crazy thing is I can’t remember the last time I had quiet time like this in the mornings.  I’ve been raising baby girls for the last twenty-eight years.  I remember dreaming of slower mornings, peace and quiet, a clean house, time to write and here I am.

For now I will enjoy the peaceful and quiet mornings.  I will enjoy having time to spend with the Lord.  I will enjoy the slower pace.  Maybe I will eventually be able to write about my big guy and I going on adventures.  But today I’ll sip some decaf coffee and enjoy this rainy morning…..and maybe check my to do lists for the wedding, prepare my devotional to deliver to the students on Sunday afternoon, do some laundry, clean the kitchen, make the bed……

For anyone reading this blog, don’t stress over the season you are in at this moment.  If you have a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, you are not alone.  He is with you.  He will walk with you and guide you.  He will listen to you as you tell Him about your concerns, your dreams, your life.  He truly cares.  Only He can wrap you in a peace that passes all understanding.

 

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Rocking Out With The Eagles…

Last night I rocked out to the Eagles.  Well.  Not the ACTUAL Eagles, but a really good band that sounded just like the Eagles.  I stepped outside my normal, humdrum, square life and went to a concert with my big guy.  He was so excited.  Our daughter and her husband dropped us off at the door.  Our friends, who met us there, gave us a hard time, saying “It used to be that our parents dropped us off at the door….now your kids are dropping you off at the door.”  He was right.   After finding our seats, which were perfect may I say, 3rd row in the balcony dead center.  I started people watching right away.  I quickly surmised that the average age in the room was again 50!  It’s really fun to watch a room full of 50 somethings rock out to a band that 35 years ago they were jumping up and down, screaming and singing at the top of their lungs.  These adults, now all sat in their seats, heads bobbing, and reminiscent smiles on their faces as they mouthed the words to Take It Easy and Desperado.  I felt pretty cool sitting next to my big guy, as he sang every song, word for word.  Truth is, 35 years ago we wouldn’t have been together at an Eagles concert.  He was too cool and I was about a million miles from cool.  After intermission, The Black Jacket Symphony returned to the stage to play the Eagles greatest hits.  I am happy to say I knew most of the songs….but not necessarily all the words.  Near the end of the concert, people were finally getting a little rowdy….maybe because they had had time to loosen up from drinking, and things were really getting cranked, when the band finally finished their last song.  I was again amused by the orderly and quick manner everyone exited the theatre at 10:30pm, possibly a late night for most!  Uber and Lyft vehicles were waiting outside, people laughed and swayed as they left, enjoying the moment of reliving their youth jamming at a rock concert.

Our daughter and her husband pulled up to the sidewalk and opened the doors for us to get in….”Did you crazy kids have fun?” they laughed.  “We did!” we quickly responded, just like two teenagers.

On the ride home we talked about the songs, the people and memories of certain songs.  Then I told my sweet man, “I’ve loved coming to the concerts with you.  I kind of felt like I was one of the cool people for a change.  But, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not coming to hear Led Zeppelin in January.”  He laughed and said, “I wasn’t even going to ask?”  He knows me.

 

 

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One Year Ago

One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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150 Chapters in 150 Days: Psalm 1

Where are your roots planted? What do they cling to for nourishment? according to Psalm 1 the man who plants his roots in the living water is blessed and will see fruit in his life, and no matter the season, his faith and joy will not diminish or waver, but will find abundance in what he does as unto to the Lord. The Lord provides and meets our needs, we do not need to worry, or seek what the world offers. Our delight, our contentment, our fulfillment is in the truths of His Word. God will guide us if we only will seek Him for guidance.

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It Matters. (Found this in some old files of things I had written a few years ago)

I stayed home from work today.  I felt somewhat achy, was it headache?  Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home.  The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face.  I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.

After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet.  I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house.  “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy.  “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say.  They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest!  “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.

I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking.  I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years.  It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned.  That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads.  Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition.  I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved.  He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me.  I have three amazing daughters.  The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school.  They are strong in their faith and they are living it out.  Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends.  I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School  for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago.  Frightening!

We have experienced hardships just like everyone else.  God has blessed us time and time again.  He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met.  We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy.  All this matters.

Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time.  Our daughters were getting older and more expensive.  My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company.  Financially it seemed the right thing to do.  Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances.  The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling.    Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.

This full time employment had never been part of the plan.  I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels.  The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats.  This kind of work mattered.

I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters.  I got to work cleaning up the house.  I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom.  I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day.  The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done.  The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.

At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school.  We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind.  Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.”  Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.

I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment.  It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college.  This is what matters.  It matters that I am there for her when she comes home.  It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend.  Being there for her is what matters.  Preparing my home is what matters.  Serving others is what matters.  Seeking God above all else is what matters.  This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media.  It is subtle.  It is constant.  But it ways in heavy on what really matters.  We become confused about what is important.  We strive to have it all and do it all.  We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids.  We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.

I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything.  It’s too exhausting.  I will never live up to my expectations.  The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy.  I am not a great cook!  There I said it.  I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly.  I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef.  I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories.  I will probably never be a published writer.  As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.

Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter.  Nurturing is what matters.  Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters.  Cheering each other on matters.  Calling a friend matters.  Writing a note matters.  Listening matters.  Spending time with our sweet Savior matters.  Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.

Our family is FAR from perfect.  We are loud.  We laugh inappropriately sometimes.  We may be a little judgmental at times.  No one is brilliant.  No one is incredibly talented.  Not one of us will be famous.  We are not rich.  But what matters is we love each other.  We talk about everything.  Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything!  We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips.  We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades.  We go to church together.   I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours!  We are freakishly close.”  If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that  we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight.  We hug and make-up.  Then yes we are freakishly close.

There is one thing that matters.  Love.