Neighborhood Games

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Do you ever wish you could be a child again, for just one day?  To experience the sweet freedom of being a kid and having none of the heavy adult responsibilities for just a short while would be glorious, wouldn’t it?

I was sitting in my living room last night, eating my dinner, and listening to the kids in our new neighborhood  play Spotlight.  Flashlight beams were shining up into the trees, on people’s houses, and everywhere a child could be secretly hiding.  “I caught you!” one kid shouted.  Then the whole hiding thing started all over again, with a new “it”.

The joyous sounds of their playtime took me back twenty years or so to when my own children were young enough to enjoy Spotlight.  On warm evenings, our son and daughter would dash outside after supper to join their friends, already breathlessly discussing their strategy for the game.  Then, off they would go to join several other kids who were already jumping up and down with excitement.  My husband and I would keep an eye on them all from our front porch, remembering the careless abandon of our own childhood.  The game only ended as the last child (other than our two) would be called home.

Before they were old enough to play Spotlight, my children loved catching Lightning Bugs.  Beginning in mid-June I would save a couple of large glass pickle jars with metal lids, rinsing them thoroughly.  Doug would poke some holes in the lids with an ice pick so that the little captives could breathe.  As soon as dark fell upon our neighborhood, we would grab the jars and head out into the yard to begin hunting.  I remember telling the kids to stand perfectly still and watch for the sparkling to begin.  I’m telling you, never have I seen children stand so still!  It wouldn’t last very long though, as the night air would soon fill with little flashes of light.  Our kids, and usually a few little friends, would scatter, dashing here and there with hands held out in front of their faces.  Almost always, a bug or two would get squished by chubby little hands clasping a little too eagerly!  The quest for Lightning Bugs would continue until little legs would tire out and sweet faces would be drenched with sweat.  The friends would go home, and we would take our tired little babies inside for baths and PJs.  The jars would go on the night tables where the kids could watch the blinking and glowing of the little bugs.  Soon, eyelids drooping, they would lose their fight to stay awake and drift off to sleep.

Our baby granddaughter was visiting us earlier this evening, and to calm her fussiness I carried her outside.  Swaying back and forth with her in my arms, we watched as the blinking gradually began.  Before long, there were many little flickers all around us.  It was magical.  When little Ophelia is old enough my husband and I will be sure to make her a special Lightning Bug jar, and teach her one of the simple pleasures of childhood.

 

 

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Back To the Midwest

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A lot has happened since writing back in January.  My husband and I decided last October to move closer to our family and began the long process of getting there.  We came to the conclusion that being all the way in southern Florida was just too hard.  We  spent many holidays and family events alone, which is very difficult for people who have close-knit relationships with their parents and children.  Florida is a beautiful place to live, it’s summer all year long, and being thirty minutes from the beach was a dream come true.  Many people our age leave the northern states and retire in Florida all the time.  Some of our friends in Florida left adult kids, grandchildren, parents, and longtime friends to live full-time in the tropics.  I thought I could do that, too, until my brother died, my father fell and injured his shoulder, my father in-law’s wife left him, and our daughter announced that she was expecting a baby soon.  The news that we would be grandparents was what prompted us to rethink the tropical semi-retirement thing.  We both knew that it would be agony to spend any amount of time away from our grandchild.

Living permanently in Florida wasn’t actually what we had planned anyway.  We thought that we would be moving somewhere in the southern states so that my husband could pursue his dream of working as a golf professional.  South Carolina or Georgia were on the top of my list of places to live, where I could pursue my dream of having a B&B.  But none of the positions that my husband applied for worked out, and he applied for many.  After several months of no job offers, we seemed to be settling into becoming comfortable where we were.  Not a bad life, really, but just not what we had hoped for.  Not what we had both thought was God’s plan for us.

Last October, after spending time in Italy with our son and his wife, we stayed a few days in Missouri to visit family.  Our daughter arranged to have a Gender Reveal Party while we were there.  Anticipation at becoming grandparents made us both realize that we couldn’t do this from all the way in Florida, so we made a decision to move back to Missouri.  My husband actually was the one to say it out loud first, and I was overjoyed to have him express what I had been thinking.  We decided that he would look for a position in Kansas City as soon as we returned to Florida.

This is where it gets good.  My husband had applied for many jobs all over the southeastern United States since his graduation in February 2015.  NOTHING came from any of those applications.   Once he made the commitment to living and working in Kansas City, possibilities opened up like crazy.  He sent correspondence to several golf pros and immediately received responses from three of them.  One of the golf pros “happened” to be in Florida and called to set up a face-to-face interview.  My husband received a job offer and then we were quickly making arrangements to move to Missouri.  It was very apparent that God was making things happen because this was the path He had chosen for us.

God knew  that we would be needed in Missouri.  He wanted us to be available to move there when the timing was perfect.  He knew a job would be opening at that particular golf course at that particular time.  He knew our daughter was going to have a baby at that same time.  If we had moved to any other place, we would have been outside His will for us.  We would have made a mess of things.

Three months later, we are settled into a life that feels completely natural.  My husband loves being able to work in a golf environment, and I love being a stay-at-home grandma.  I see my daughter and granddaughter almost every day.  I enjoy my home and my garden.  I don’t have a B&B with actual customers, but our family and friends come to visit and I spoil them silly.  We’ve been blessed to have extended family (our son in-law’s mom and brothers) who enjoy being together, and we spend most Sundays taking turns hosting family dinners.  What a contrast to last Christmas Day, my husband working and me spending the day alone!

Using a quote from Scripture that I’ve thought of many times during the past two years, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God knows what is around the corner in all of our lives.  We must trust Him to guide us, and patiently await the revealing of His will.  He loves us so, and wants His best for us!

 

 

 

 

Faith, Hope, and Changes

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Wow.  An entire year has passed since my last post.  I can’t get over how quickly it has gone by.  Here we are, waiting for 2016 to begin in just a few hours.

The last time I wrote, I thought I was on the road to making blog posts a daily thing, something that I would look forward to so much that I would rush to my computer to write each day.  Unfortunately,  tragedy struck our family when my brother shot and killed himself in February.  Between traveling back to the Midwest to be with my grieving parents and dealing with all of the issues of an unexpected death of someone close to me I just couldn’t figure out what to write.  Ten months later, I feel the need to write this and be done with it.  Please know that I am not attempting to show expertise in what I am about to describe.  I am writing this based on the feelings of my parents and my own feelings from the loss of a family member.

My brother had been burdened for many years by depression, anxiety, and severe lack of self-esteem.  My parents and I believe it began when he was in his mid-teens.  He also began smoking then, and as so many teenagers do, he began drinking with friends.  I’m embarrassed to admit that for awhile I was the “cool” big sister who bought the beer for them.  At the time, his drinking seemed to be just a rebellious act that he would eventually grow out of.   I’m sorry to say that, in reality, the stage was being set for a life-long struggle with drinking and using drugs to cover up the underlying issue of depression.

Fast forward to Christmas 2002.  My sister in-law revealed to the family that my brother was drinking heavily and needed help.  The rest of us were completely unaware of the problem.  We hardly ever saw him because he turned down our efforts to include him and his wife in family celebrations and gatherings (this became a sign of trouble in the future).  So it was a total shock to hear he was drinking so much that she needed to appeal to us for help.

My parents immediately tried to fix him.  At first, he refused to even concede that he was an alcoholic.  Then after about a year of daily heavy drinking, he finally allowed his doctor to admit him to a rehab facility.  Thirty days and thousands of dollars later he was dismissed, only to buy a bottle of whiskey the very day he left the facility.

Just two days before Christmas in 2004 he was arrested for violating a restraining order that was issued to protect his wife after he tried to strangle her.  My quiet and kind brother had descended into a very dark place.  He spent thirty days in the county jail, then another thirty days were spent in a local rehab.  Claims of a miraculous encounter with a preacher while in jail gave us hope that he was finally free from his addiction.  We rejoiced when he was released from rehab and he went home to reunite with his wife.  Our family relaxed, eventually moving the memories of my brother’s nightmare to the secret places of our minds.  The early morning and late night emergency phone calls no longer came, and we felt at peace with his recovery.

The promises my brother made to stay close with our family were soon broken.  Invitations to family gatherings were turned down.  Phone calls became occasional text messages.  Our parents left messages that weren’t responded to.  Their requests for his help around their house were answered with lame excuses.  The old feelings of uneasiness began to creep in.  None of us dared to admit that he might be slipping back into the nightmare we thought he’d been rescued from.

My husband Doug and I eventually moved out of the state.  Sadly, I didn’t even tell my brother that I was leaving.  I hoped that he would step up and be supportive to our parents, spend time with them in my absence.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, he distanced himself further away from family.  Again, just before Christmas 2014, (why always at Christmas?) I got the dreaded phone call from my parents.  They had heard from my sister in-law that he was drinking again.  This news broke my mother’s heart, and it made her cry.  A lot.

On a few occasions over the next two months, my brother made promises that he was seeking help from a new doctor, was on a new medication, and was going to try to find a good church.  He assured our dad that he was indeed saved and confident that he would spend eternity in Heaven.  We were all comforted by these promises.  We felt that we could breathe a bit.

Then, while having dinner on February 22, 2015, Doug received a phone call from my dad.  I knew immediately that something horrible had happened.  I was afraid it was my mother.  It wasn’t.  With tear-filled eyes Doug looked at me and said, “Your brother shot himself.”

In the months since, our family has tried to figure out why a man who had everything to live for – devoted wife, grandson, successful business, good friends – would throw it all away.  To end his life was such a waste.  To do so in such a violent way was incomprehensible.  Why couldn’t he beat the depression and anxiety that plagued him for all of his adult life?  Why didn’t God answer our prayers for him the way we hoped?  What more could we have done to help him?  My parents have anguished over the possibility that they weren’t good parents.  I have felt remorse for not trying harder to restore our relationship.  We all have been angry with him.  I even thought for awhile that he was a coward to end his life rather than try harder to overcome his depression.  I know now that cowardice isn’t a part of this story, nor of anyone else’s.

I have read articles about depression and have found that there are just no clear answers.  Depression is a mysterious disease.  Yes it is a disease, not any different than diabetes or heart disease except that there is quite often a social stigma attached to it.  However, it is usually a chemical imbalance, an actual physical symptom that needs to be addressed by a doctor.  And it must be treated with medication that is taken properly and monitored regularly.  A person battling depression can’t take medication and drink alcohol, or take it one day and not the next.   My brother had stopped taking his medication because “it made him feel bad”.  We also found out that he had been drinking while taking his medication.  He didn’t quit taking the medication under the supervision of his doctor, therefore, he wasn’t being monitored.   He chose instead to struggle every day with the alcohol and depression demons without help from anyone.

I truly believe that a spiritual need was also at the heart of my brother’s depression.  He had been away from the Lord for a long time.  While I know he believed in Jesus and had been saved as a teenager, he still had a deep hole in his life.  The void caused by an absence of that spiritual relationship had to be filled somehow.  My brother filled that void with material things, alcohol, and drugs.  All of these fixes produced temporary relief from the nagging of the depression.  That relief became shorter and shorter each time.  Eventually, my brother had to be constantly high in order to escape the bad feelings he had.  Ultimately, even that didn’t help.  The only way, distorted reasoning told him, was to end his life.

Losing a family member so suddenly and violently causes major upheavals in one’s life.  In addition to the emotional distress and grieving, my parents have had to come to terms with having to make changes.  I now am more concerned with my own health and well-being, now that I’m the only child left.  While Doug and I have been living temporarily in Florida, our parents have been slowly moving into the phase of their lives when they will need us close by.  The plan to move them down here to Florida hasn’t worked out the way we’d hoped.   It has become necessary to move back to Missouri.  So, to the Midwest we go.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  Hebrews 11:1, NKJV

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV

The Adventure begun last year isn’t yet over.  Part of the joy of moving back to Missouri comes from a sweet surprise we received a few months ago.  Our Father God, being the amazing, loving, almighty God that we know him to be, is blessing us with a grandbaby in March.  She will be born the same month that my brother was born.  She will bring joy and life to our family, part of God’s plan to give us “a future and a hope.”

With all the unknowns in our lives, our family does know one thing for sure:  my brother is in Paradise and we will see him again one day.  He is no longer tormented by depression, no longer needs alcohol to get through the day, and is celebrating eternal life with our Lord and Savior.  That gift of peace of mind comes only from our relationship with Him.  Praise be to God!

 

I’m Back, Finally

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captiva6 A long time has passed since my last post, ten months. I simply didn’t feel like writing. My husband had to go on   ahead of me to begin classes in Florida, and I had to remain behind to sell the house. The house didn’t sell until  almost June, and those of you who have sold a house before know that a lot has to happen between the “we want to  buy your house” moment and the closing day. And even though I was so very anxious to get the house sold, I had  several tearful episodes while saying good-bye to our families and friends. The drive out of our neighborhood  (home since 1988) on moving day was one of the saddest events of my life. Tears for home don’t come as often  now, as we  have been Floridians since July 2014 and are slowly leaving the Midwest life behind.

As with our last move from Joplin to a completely unfamiliar place (Newark, Notts, England 2000-2001), God has provided us with people with whom to have lasting and beautiful friendships. He led us to an amazing church where we have met some of the nicest folks we have ever known. A call for volunteers has given me a purpose and I’m blessed to serve with many other wonderful volunteers who have become our friends. How can anybody survive this world without church family?

It didn’t take long after arriving here to be reminded of one reason I love coastal life. Our first trip to the beach yielded a small collection of seashells to which I’ve been adding each time we head east. Now, though, we don’t just pick up every pretty shell we see. – we’re on a quest to find certain specimens which seem to purposely allude us. Doug would love to find a huge fighting conch just laying on the sand waiting for someone to pick it up. I want to find a completely perfect sand dollar with no missing edges. Shelling has become my latest hobby, one that I know will stay with me the rest of my life.

Another creative venture has developed from shelling which came about from the need for a unique Christmas gift this past Season. Several of my friends and relatives have some interesting ornaments that I crafted from some of my beach trip treasures. This is fast becoming a new branch of my repurposing craze. I probably have enough shells from collecting in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, England, and Florida to cover the frames of at least twenty-five mirrors!

I read recently about how the creatures who live inside the shells actually form them by secreting material from their bodies. As they grow and the need for larger houses continues, the shell increases until it consists of three protective layers. It is so amazing to me that each mollusk creates a shell unique to its species which is colorful, beautiful, and unlike anything else on earth. Only God could make something like that.

It was just yesterday at this time that Doug and I were sitting on one of Captiva, Florida’s beaches, waiting for the sunset (something we don’t see very well on the Atlantic side). We had our cameras ready, and as the sun began to slowly drop behind the horizon we photographed its descent. It was the perfect ending to a peaceful day. A day that God gave to us, because He loves us. Since moving down here we have had our ups and downs. We knew there would be. But we also knew that we wouldn’t be going through them alone. “When God said, ‘Let’s go to the other side’ he meant that He would be taking us there, and that He is in control (word of God from our pastor this morning). Yes, there are going to be storms. But God wants us to trust Him to get us to the other side, and to remember that He is in control of everything from here to there.DSC03976

Trust God’s promises, both in the storms and in the calm.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  Mark 4:39

Snow Day

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It’s nearly 1:00 in the afternoon, and I’m still in my pajamas. The folks in my part of the world awoke to a layer of ice and drifting snow this morning. Our church was included in the very long list of those who cancelled services this morning so that their congregants could remain in the warmth and safety of their homes rather than venture out in the frigid weather.

Have you noticed how very quiet it becomes whenever snow covers the ground? The traffic which usually flows non-stop down our street is almost non-existent. And the giant oaks which line our streets enclose our neighborhood, putting a halt to the noise-carrying winds that swirl around us.

Although the abnormal amount of snow this winter is beginning to wear us down, I’ve decided to consider today’s weather a gift from God. Somehow, He has to slow us down occasionally. And I believe He needs to do that even on a Sunday sometimes. How many of us actually spend Sunday as our day of rest? Endless church activities, grocery shopping, yard work, chores, shopping, and many other things keep us from honoring the day He set aside for us to recover spiritually and physically from the previous week’s endless busyness.

I wonder how many people still got out today in spite of the icy streets. How unfortunate for them to miss out on the opportunity to cuddle up on the couch with a favorite quilt and look out the window at the dusting of winter’s “sugar” over everything.

Psalm 46:10 is brought to my heart every time we have snow:
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Rejoice in your “snow days”, and recognize them for what they are, a gift from The One who loves you.

The Butterfly Effect

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The Butterfly Effect

Our messages at church for the past three weekends have come from the Book of Colossians. The first two weekend messages came from chapters one and two, and focused our attention upon realizing that Jesus is “Enough”.  We were reminded that we claim to trust completely in Christ, yet we still add other things. Sure, we know the Lord is all-powerful, all-knowing, and almighty.  “But if I have THIS, I’ll be even happier.”  Or, “If I achieve THIS, people will look up to me and I’ll feel better about myself”.  We’ve all said these things or something similar.

Yesterday, we heard Paul’s words to the church of Colossae in the third chapter, (NIV) “5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”  Ouch.  Anger just happens to be something that I’ve withheld from Him for awhile.  And it wasn’t something I particularly wanted to deal with, either.  I kind of wanted to hang onto it a little longer.  Especially since I have believed it to be justified anger.  So Paul tells us to shed that ugly stuff.  But he continues,  “10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

We are to take off (and never to put on again, BTW) our old behaviors and do away with them FOREVER.  Then we are to put on Jesus, EVERY DAY.  For me, it takes a conscious effort  to remember that.  Often times I’ve already been through several hours of my day before I realize that I didn’t make a point to “put on Christ” before I got out of bed.

During the service yesterday morning, we were given the opportunity to forever “put off the junk”.  Those who wanted to participate dropped a list of “take offs” and “put ons” at the altar.  It was a beautiful experience for even a lifelong Christian like me to make that commitment and leave church with renewed freedom.

We are deceived in so many ways by the evil one, who wants us to hold on to the ugliness of our former lives.  He wants to remind us of the awful things we’ve done in the past.  And he doesn’t want us to progress in our quest for intimacy with Jesus.  He wants us to stay inside the cocoon of our old selves where we can’t possibly experience the tremendous joy of trusting in Christ for everything.

Read the Book of Colossians as soon as you have a chance.  No, make a point of doing it TODAY.  Then pray for Jesus to burst you out of that dark cocoon and help you spread your new-found wings and explore the world in freedom with Him!

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Pre-Retirement Has Begun!

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Well, four months and five major remodeling projects later we’re done. Finished our jobs and finished our unexpected updates to the house. It is on the market and we’re spending our days reading, crafting, volunteering, resting, and praying for the house to sell soon.

We put the house up for sale just before Thanksgiving. Since the day we pounded the “Cottage Fore Sale” sign into the front yard our Missouri weather hasn’t cooperated much. It seems that this winter is to be an unusually cold and icy one.

After some praying and discussion, we’ve made the decision for Doug to go on to Florida and get started in golf school. The next session begins in March. I’ll stay behind and wait for the house to sell, then get myself down there with him. Hopefully it won’t be too long.

We’ve really enjoyed our time at home together, thanks to two living areas and two televisions! No, just kidding ya. Having special breakfasts out (usually at Mary Lee’s Cafe) and visiting flea markets or reading at Books-A-Million gives us some quality time together. Couples have to find that “thing” which brings them together, but they also have to have their own occupations as well. Doug loves to read. I love to bounce from project to project (I get bored very easily), currently I’m crocheting scarves for the homeless. Last week, I was into family history research. The week before that I don’t recall what I was doing.

Lately, we’ve been privileged to meet some really wonderful folks at our local homeless shelter. It’s been our honor to serve them breakfast on a few occasions. There is such a misconception in society that homeless people are less deserving of our respect, and don’t merit our best efforts to help them. Being with these folks has allowed us to see beyond their homelessness and gain insight to the persons themselves. They’re bright, funny, clever, sensitive, compassionate. They’re compliant with house rules for receiving – certain amounts of volunteer time for services received. They’re given ownership and are able to acquire a sense of pride that comes from working for something. They WANT to work for it.

I don’t know why it is taking so long to get to Florida, but do believe that the wait is giving us a chance to do some things for others and switch the focus from ourselves. He always has a reason. And He is enough.