Traveling Light


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When I was in the 2nd grade, my beloved teacher, Miss Havens, took us to see “Charlotte’s Web.” I don’t remember if I already knew Charlotte dies or I was shocked to my core right there in my seat. All I remember is I just about had to be carried out of the theater. I cried all the way back to school, the rest of the day in class, and all the way home on the bus. I was still crying when my daddy got home from work.

When I was in the 7th grade, my teacher showed “Brian’s Song” in 5th period gym class. I was unaware that Brian Piccolo was going to die, and I was utterly heartbroken. I sobbed all the way through 6th period, and all the way home on the bus. I was still crying when my daddy got home from work.

My daddy mandated that I was no longer allowed to see movies at school where spiders or football players die.

As long as I can remember, I have always felt deep sorrow when something bad happened. I carried other people’s pain as deeply as I carried my own. It was too heavy of a load for a child, or a young teen, and it’s too heavy of a load to carry as an adult.

My overly-sensitive heart lead to an overwhelming fear that I was going to lose my beloved pets or the people closest to me. I remember praying as I child that God would let me die before my dog, Snoop, or my Grandma Bunton. I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing either one of them.

Snoop ended up on the losing end of a dog fight when I was 8, and my sweet Grandma Bunton died in her sleep at 92 when I was 31. I’ve done a lot of living since then, so thanks for telling me “no” on that one, Lord.

We weren’t meant to carry that kind of fear and that kind of deep pain — not for long anyway.  If we live long enough, we are going to experience incredible grief and sorrow. People we love are going to get sick, and some of them are going to die. We’re going to have financial trouble, lose jobs, lose relationships, you name it. Bad things are going to happen.

I don’t know what you do when bad things happen, but I figured out pretty early on that I needed better coping skills. I had to find a way to carry on when I was stricken with grief and fear.

The very Grandma that I was afraid of losing taught me what to do when I was was burdened or brokenhearted. She taught me that I didn’t have to carry it alone, that I had a place to lay my burdens down. She taught me there was Someone who cared about my broken heart, who cared about the things I cared about even more than I did. And most importantly, she taught me that Person was strong enough to not only carry that burden for me, but He was powerful enough to fix.

She taught me about Jesus. 

Through her, I learned that I could give God my pain, grief and sorrow. I learned that God WANTED me to give it all to Him. He didn’t intend for me to carry the world on my shoulders. It’s exhausting, and sometimes completely immobilizing. And I’m not strong enough.

I’m a visual learner, so when I’m burdened, I picture myself picking up what I’m worried about — most of the time, I’m worrying about my children. So I close my eyes. I pick them up and hold them in my arms. (Yes, they’re all five bigger than me, but this is MY vision and in my vision, I’m strong enough to do that!). I hold them close to my heart.

Then I envision a big Cross. I walk to the Cross, carrying my adult child and I bend down and gently lay them on the ground at the foot of the Cross. Then I say, “Lord, You love ‘insert said child’s name here’ even more than I do. I can’t fix what’s wrong, but You can. Please take care of my baby and let me know if I can help in any way.”

And I walk away. 

Now, do I go back to the Cross and pick them back up again? Sure I do. Every. Single. Day. Multiple times a day! Sometimes I only leave them there a few minutes at a time. But for that precious little bit of time, I lay my burden down. I take a deep breath. I can think about something else, and even sleep.

I can travel light — even if it’s just a little while.

Whatever burden on my soul gets handled this same way:

  • Worried about finances or how to get it all done? Pick it up and lay it at the Cross.
  • Worried about my sick dog? Pick her up and lay her at the Cross.
  • Worried about my dear father-in-law who had a stroke? Pick him up and lay him at the Cross.
  • Worried about lost or strained relationships? Pick them up and lay them at the Cross.
  • Worried about mean people bullying me at work? I pick them up and lay them at the Cross. (God loves mean people, too, ya know!)

If you need help with your burdens, too . . . if you’re trying to carry them alone . . . it’s too heavy for you to bear. Let the only One who was meant to carry them do it for you. He’ll show you how to live freely and lightly.

Jesus showed His deep love and concern for us in Matthew 11:28-29 when He said,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Lay that burden down, dear friend. God wants to show you how to take a real rest. He wants to carry it for you.

It’s time for some traveling light.

Our Sweetheart


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If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a dog person. And if you know me personally, you know how much we adore our beloved miniature schnauzer, Shotsie.

This is her story.

I was separated from my 21 1/2 year marriage. My two daughters were off to college, two hours away. My 15 year old son, Daniel and I were figuring out life with just the two of us.

I was taking a DivorceCare class at a local church. Since I’m a rule follower, and because I desperately wanted healing in my life, I was determined to do everything they told me to do. They suggested we get an indoor pet. A warm body next to ours would ease the loneliness. We had two outdoor dogs, but I could definitely see how having one to sleep with would help.

I wanted one that didn’t shed. Daniel had loved a friend’s standard schnauzer and wanted one, too. I wanted a smaller dog because they live longer. So we settled on a miniature schnauzer.

We found some puppies for sale who were full-blooded but not papered, so they were less expensive. The lady said, “If you don’t want a dog that wants to sit beside you on the couch and sleep right up next to you at night, please don’t walk out the door with this puppy.” Daniel and I both said that’s exactly what we wanted! I had no money what with all the single-momming, so Daniel used every bit of his Christmas money to buy this precious little one. We brought her home on January 25, 2009.


He wanted to name her Shotsie after the miniature dachshund on “That 70’s Show.” I wanted to name her Gracie because she was the evidence of God’s grace to us. But since he paid for her, I gave in. Her name means “Sweetheart” in German (although Daniel decided to spell it phonetically).


We were all smitten. She surely was our sweetheart.


Just like they said it would, having her to sleep with at night helped ease so much of my loneliness. God used her to fill many of the empty places each one of us felt.

Even if I just went to the mailbox, it was Christmas morning to her when I’d come back! Truly I’d never felt so loved in my whole life. When I was utterly and completely overwhelmed, alone and afraid, scared to be by myself, believed I was unloved and unwanted, she fixed it all. When I would lay in the fetal position and cry from a broken heart, she would lick my tears. This one little dog, all by herself, made me feel like I was worthy of love and could face any trial in front of me.

When I moved to Lynchburg so I could work at Liberty University and get free tuition for the girls, my oldest moved back in with me. She had her own room, but she still wanted to sleep with Mama. So every night, my grown daughter would pile in with me and Shotsie in my little double bed. And every night, Lindsey would say, “Shotsie, I love you more than anyone in the world. Including Mom.” We would both laugh — but I knew it was kinda sorta true!

Years later when I remarried, Todd had his own little beagle mix who slept with him as well. It got a little crowded with two adults and two dogs in a queen sized bed, and we soon migrated to a king. Shotsie has slept cuddled up to my side for over 10 years now.

Todd says she would crawl in my skin if she could. I say he’s just jealous because he doesn’t love me like she does. He’s never once almost passed out when I came home from work from sheer joy! He says he does love me that much — she’s just more dramatic. He may be right.

A year and a half ago I noticed some discoloration on her nose. She was eventually diagnosed with skin cancer, and although she was given 6 months with no hope of treatment or cure, a veterinarian friend of Todd’s felt he could help. She has been cancer-free since surgery to remove it, and we were beyond relieved.

A few weeks ago, on August 17th, the 13th anniversary of my daddy’s death, I noticed her lymph nodes were enlarged. First thing Monday morning, I took her back to Dr. Crawford, and my worst fears were realized.

Our sweetheart has T-cell Lymphoma.

The prognosis is not good — 6-9 months. I’ve already cried a river, and no doubt there are oceans more to come. Here is our brave girl on her way to her first chemo treatment.


Part of me is scared that she feels her purpose in our lives is over. Many broken places in me are healed. Lindsey lives 5000 miles away and has a cat to love. Kaitlyn has a wonderful family, including a dog of her own. Daniel lives in California and says he’s never been happier. Although I’m thrilled for all of that, none of us are ready to lose her. Ten years is not enough.

Since I have such a heart for animals, it comforts me to know God cares about them, too. Luke 12:6 tell us,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

And if He hasn’t forgotten a sparrow, surely He hasn’t forgotten my Shotsie. 

Will you pray with me that her story isn’t over quite yet?

Maybe God will shine His grace and mercy on us and give me another 5 years with her, as I’m boldly asking Him to do. But if not, I’m going to spend every day doing for her what she did for me. I’m going to make sure she’s never alone. I’m going to be thrilled for every moment I get with her and cuddle her all I can. I will hold her tight and make sure the last thing she hears is how very much she is loved, how she was one of God’s biggest blessings in my life, and if I live to be 100, I will never stop missing her.

I believe dogs are God’s greatest example of unconditional love this world will ever see. If you have a fur baby that you love like we love our Shotsie, will you hold them just a little closer today? Cherish every moment you have with them.

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Find Your People


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When I was growing up, I remember how it would make my stomach hurt if I felt rejection of any sort. Maybe someone didn’t want to be my partner on a project, or sit beside me on the bus, maybe they were after my boyfriend, or maybe they just didn’t like me.

My Mama would always tell me, “Not everyone is your friend, Dee.” Somehow or another, I always thought they were though. I trusted everyone, even if they weren’t trustworthy. Daddy used to say I’d invite Charles Manson in for supper. I guess I would have.

I’ve grown a little more discerning in my old age, but I’m still learning that not everyone is my friend.

I’ve lost people I thought were my friends when I was at the lowest points of my life. People unfriended me on Facebook when I got divorced. They avoided talking to me in Walmart. Maybe they were angry at me, or maybe they just didn’t know what to say. It took a while, but then I realized those people aren’t the ones I’m meant to do life with. If they had been, they would have stayed.

One person I considered very close to me explained that my life was just too hard for her to handle. To be honest, although it hurt me deeply at the time, I completely understood it and appreciated her honesty. I mean, shoot fire, if I could have gotten away from the nightmare I was living, I would have done it, too! I’ve never once held it against her. She wasn’t able to be part of my inner circle anymore. If she had been, she would have stayed.

What later came as a complete surprise to me was that I lost friends when times were good! There are those who can’t handle other people’s joys, as strange as that sounds. Some folks are unable to be glad you have a successful career, a happy relationship, healthy children, a nice house or car  . . . fill in the blank with whatever you have that someone else doesn’t. If they were happy for me, they would have stayed.

If falling on hard times makes you lose what you thought were close friends, and if coming into a season of blessing makes you lose some too, then here is my conclusion:

Those aren’t your people.

It’s hard to accept, but you’d do best not to chase after those who aren’t your people. It will only end up causing you pain.

You might be thinking, “If they aren’t my people, then WHO ARE?!?!” And do you wonder if anyone considers you THEIR people?

I’ve wondered the same thing. After lots of prayer, grief, and soul searching, I’ve come up with an easy formula to figure that out. It’s based on one rarely noticed verse in the Bible. Romans 12:15 says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

This simple verse will show you who your people are!! It will also show YOU how to be the person others want to be close to as well. It’s been said many times, to have a friend, you must be a friend. 

This verse means those who care the most about you, will BE THERE, no matter what is going on. During the good times and the bad. It means that’s what you’re supposed to do for them as well.

Being there doesn’t mean you know know how to fix it — some things can’t be fixed. It means you don’t run away when hard times come. Real friends will let you cry when your heart is broken and full of sorrow. They will be happy when you get a promotion at work. You won’t have to worry if they’ll stay or not — they will.

Your people will stick by you when the bad times come — and bad times will come.

Your people will pitch a tent and sit down beside you when you’re alone.

Your people will let you vent when you just need to talk. Or leave you alone when you don’t.

But also:

Your people will be happy for you when you’re on the mountaintop.

Your people will rejoice when you come into good fortune, even if you get something they want but don’t have.

Your people want you to succeed — they want you to shine.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to do with the rest of the people you know. They are casual friends, even acquaintances. They belong on the fringes of your life. You say hello from time to time. Comment on their Facebook posts, like their pictures on Instagram. Maybe meet up with them for a fun night every now and then.

But they aren’t the ones you go to when you need a helping hand, or the ones you share great news with as soon as you hear it. They certainly shouldn’t be the ones you share your deepest secrets and your open heart with.

I’ve got some folks who walked beside me during the worst times of my life, and those same people are happy when I receive a blessing. They’re the ones I ask to pray for me when I’m in deep need. And I KNOW they do it. We might not see each other very often, but I know they’re still there if I need them. They know I’ll move heaven and earth to be there for them as well, day or night.

It isn’t that I have never disagreed with them. We’ve had fusses and fights, some of them even heated and seemed irreparable. But true friends will come back around because you love each other, even if you take a little break for a while. They are my people.

Accept this fact: The world is full of folks who won’t appreciate your personality, your gifts, your shortcomings or your blessings. You’re not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay.

Finding your people means YOU being THEIR people, too. It means you giving to them what they give to you. It’s not too late to be the friend you want to have. You’ll be blessed if you do.

We were never meant to do life alone. There are plenty enough human beings to go around, so find your people. Do you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep? If you do, then your people are out there, and they’re looking for you, too.

Hope and a Palm Tree


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Christmas of 2006 was shaping up to be the worst Christmas of my life. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be happy again, or even that things could improve. I can honestly say all I wanted for Christmas that year was for it to be OVER.

My daddy had died a few months earlier, and he had loved Christmas so much. It would never be the same without him, and I knew that. My life was such a mess that I was relieved in some ways that he wasn’t here to see it. My family was on it’s last leg, my children were hurting, my marriage was about over. The last thing on earth I wanted to do was Christmas shop. If I hadn’t been trying to find some way to bring normalcy to my children, I wouldn’t have done it at all.

I was praying with every step as I walked through the mall, begging God to help me. Help me find presents that would bring a smile to their faces. Help me find it cheap, and help me find it quick so I could be done with the pretense. I must admit that celebrating the Birth of Christ, the hope of the world, was about the last thing on my mind.

I don’t remember how or why I ended up in Waldenbooks on the second floor of the Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro, NC, and I don’t remember if I bought anything. All I know is I glanced at a calendar for the upcoming year on a display shelf. There was a palm tree over clear blue water on some tropical shore. As I blankly stared at it, quite unexpectedly, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit quietly say three words . . .

There is hope.

A strange feeling washed over me. It was so foreign that I didn’t recognize what it was at first. It had been so long . . . it was hope. God said it, then I felt it.

If you’ve ever been without hope, then felt it again, you know the stark contrast. There is no mistaking the presence of hope vs. the deep void of hopelessness. “Hopeless” is the saddest place on earth to be.

I’m gotta be honest and tell you that feeling of hope didn’t last long. Maybe only a few moments. But it felt so good that I was determined not to forget it. God had spoken to me. He had promised me. There is hope . . .

From that moment on, a palm tree signified hope to me. My life was somehow, someway going to get better. Sooner or later. My wallpaper on my computer and my cellphone became palm trees. When I felt the black hole of despair coming, I would find a way to stare at a palm tree and recall that moment of hope I had felt in that bookstore at Christmas.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but I believed God would keep His promise to me. Maybe not today, but one day I wasn’t going to live in anxiety and fear. One day I would feel joy and peace, safety and security — just like I felt when I looked at that palm tree.

A few months later, I even let a few of my best girlfriends (Lelia, Trinady, Cathy, you ladies know who you are!) talk me into getting my one and only tattoo. I don’t recommend it, by the way. I found out the hard way they don’t give epidurals in the tattoo parlor! Know what I got? You guessed it. A palm tree with “hope” written underneath it.

The next year I took a beach trip with my kids, my girlfriend, Marjie and her kids. She and I went shopping in some little beach mart, and I found this framed picture that said,

If my dreams could all come true, Paradise would be . . . in a little bungalow . . . by the sea . . .

I told Marjie, “I ain’t got a pot to pee in, but I’m gonna buy that picture. One day, I’m gonna have me a beach house, and this is gonna hang in it.”

That picture hung on my walls for 11 years, nowhere near the beach. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, but I hoped the day would come that I would have my own palm tree . . .

This month, I got one.


If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that God gave me a new life, and although I didn’t go looking for him, God gave me a wonderful husband who makes my life a joy every single day. No matter what awful things happen, he’s never the source of hardship.

That sweet man bought me a beach house. With a palm tree. And this is the first thing we hung in it, just like I told Marjie I would.


This evening as the sun was setting, I walked on the beach by myself so I could spend some time in worship and prayer, thanking God for His blessings, for always keeping His promises, and for giving me a glimmer of hope that dark December day. I’m thankful that periodically, when we don’t have it rented out, when we can sneak away for a weekend, this is my view right down the street from our new vacation home.


It’s just a little beach house. With a big mortgage. And one little palm tree. But all I need is a little. A little hope during Christmas of 2006 was enough to help me tie a knot and hang on to the end of my rope, and I pray God will give you a glimmer of hope to help you do the same.

Romans 15:13 is my prayer for you,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what God will do to show you there is still hope. I don’t know what your palm tree will be, but He will give you one. All you need is a little. And if He did it for me, He will do it for you. He’s faithful.

Bullies: They Walk Among Us


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Bullies have always been around. They go all the way back to Cain and Abel. Sooner or later, it will happen to you. The question isn’t how to get them to go away. The question is, how do you handle it when they come after you?

Like most of us, I had to deal with some people making fun of me in school. I started out at quite the disadvantage, making me an easy target. My parents decided to name me after two wonderful women: a great-aunt named Ella Delona and my grandmother (whom I adored) named Callie Vivian. They could have named me Ella or Callie, for crying out loud! Wouldn’t that have been nice? But nooooo, they thought it sounded like a good idea to name me Delona Vivian, thereby giving the kids at school a golden opportunity to call me Delona Balogna. If you were one of those who called me that, who could blame you?

I had always been called Dee unless I was about to get my tail beat, and then I was Delona Vivian. I thought my first grade teacher hated me for a month every time she called the roll! Needless to say, I was determined to name my kids something people could pronounce and something they couldn’t make fun of.

You would have thought my days of being bullied would be long over by now, right? Yet here I am, in my 50’s, still killing it.

In the past, I’ve been bullied in romantic relationships, by church members, by so-called friends, by coworkers and bosses, and now I’m being bullied by complete strangers. Bullies know no limits.

If you’re honest, you’ll admit you have been bullied at one time or another by someone, too. At some point in your life, you have felt powerless while someone shamed and criticized you — and you didn’t know what to do about it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all bullies are basically the same. I’ll let the professionals debate why they do it — maybe they have low self esteem. Maybe they were bullied themselves as children. Maybe they’re narcissists. Maybe their parents were bullies and they’re passing on the abuse to the next victims. Maybe they lack the ability to empathize. Maybe they’re jealous. You know the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” right? Or maybe they’re just downright evil. Either way, they need Jesus, like we all do.

The details of my situation probably aren’t much different than yours or anyone else’s. If you’re going through it too, I wish I had better news. I truly don’t have a fool-proof way to deal with these people. If I did, I wouldn’t need to be an accountant anymore. I’d have my own book deal.

Bullies like tell you it’s all your fault, you deserve to be punished. They never admit they’re wrong. They shame you, call you names, tell you you’re not good enough and they’re better than you. They broadcast your mistakes and refuse to give you well-deserved praise. Everyone is on their side and you’re alone. Some do it privately, some do it publicly, and sometimes it’s both.

Either way, it’s a painful existence to live in, to wake up every morning and wonder what they’re going to do to you today.

In my current situation, I tried everything else to get them to stop. I tried to be so good they’d have nothing bad to say about me. I tried to ignore them and maybe they’d go away. I tried to talk to people who might believe what they said about me and try to explain I wasn’t a bad person. Nothing worked.

Finally I had a belly full and I exposed what they had been doing to me. Afterwards, it felt good for a lot of people to defend me. It made me realize I wasn’t alone in the battle.

It’s not over by a long shot, I’m afraid, and I don’t know if it helped at all. All I know is, I couldn’t go another day being the victim. I felt better about myself to have taken a stand.

Here’s my amateur advice if you’re being bullied:

  1. Tell someone about it. Gather some support. Don’t weather this storm alone.
  2. Gain encouragement from others’ stories who have been there and survived.
  3. Don’t engage in a social media fight with them. There’s a difference between defending yourself and getting down in the trash pile with them. Find that happy medium between standing up and walking away.
  4. Don’t lower yourself to bully them back. Resist the urge to shame and name-call in retaliation. Take the the high road. You have to like the person you see in the mirror.
  5. Always tell the truth, no matter how much they lie about you.
  6. DRAW CLEAR BOUNDARIES. Give them as little opportunity to hurt you as you can. “NO” is a complete sentence!

Most of all, rest in the assurance that God sees what’s happening to you. HE will make it all right in the end. Romans 12 says,

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

It’s the right thing to stand up to bullies. It’s the right thing to defend others who are being bullied and let them know they’re not alone. To quote the great John Wesley,

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Try to stay strong, dear friend. You’re not alone. And I will try to stay strong along with you!

But can you do me just one favor? If they make a movie about this mess I’m dealing with, will you please make sure Jennifer Aniston plays me? And if, God forbid, they make a Dateline about it, will you cry and tell Dennis Murphy how much you loved me and what a great person I was?

Just kidding  . . . I hope.

Of Flies and Men


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Have you ever noticed how those who’ve never had children seem to know exactly how you should raise yours?

Or the way people who’ve never been married always have relationship advice ready and waiting?

Your best bet is to just learn to say, “Bless your heart” and let it go.

Try as we may to sympathize, and even empathize, with others’ plights in life, we simply can’t know until we’ve been there ourselves. And even then, our circumstances will never be exactly like someone else’s. We can only try to imagine what it might be like, and it takes a great deal of maturity to admit we really don’t know what we’d do in someone else’s shoes.

Looking back, I now see that I had no idea what it was like to make a marriage work, to parent newborns, toddlers and teenagers, or to put kids through college until I was smack dab in the middle of it and had no choice but to sink or swim. I never dreamed I’d get divorced, be a single mom, get remarried, and be faced with figuring out how to make a blended family thrive.

Experience is the only true teacher.

During the darkest times of my life, I sometimes felt so alone — like I had no one to walk by my side and help carry the load. There seemed to be so many who judged my situation and felt they had the right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do (sadly, I’m sure I did that to others before life hit me square between the eyes too). I grew weary of feeling like I had to defend myself, and finally came to the place that I let go of trying to get others’ approval of what they couldn’t possibly understand. At times it felt like it was me against the world and God was nowhere to be found.

Have you ever felt that way — like God was so far away? That if He’s really there, if He really cares, He’s still never been where you are and couldn’t possibly understand?

A former pastor of mine, Dr. Alfred Wright, told a story nearly 30 years ago that I never forgot. It helped me remember during those valleys that I wasn’t alone. It reminded me that I had a Savior who left the glory of Heaven to become just like me, to walk beside me, and show me how to make it.

Pastor Wright said one day he was in his office, staring out the window. It had double-paned glass, and the outside panel had a hole in it from a rock thrown by a lawnmower. At some point, a fly had come in that hole, but couldn’t figure out how to get back out. Since flies aren’t the most intelligent creatures, other flies followed the first one. Before long, a bunch of flies were in between those panes of glass, buzzing around and frantically bouncing back and forth in futile attempts to escape. Of course, there was only one way out, but they couldn’t see that. They just wore themselves out trying to do it on their own until finally they died and fell to the bottom in a pile with the other lost flies.


He sat there watching them and thought, “How can I help these flies, if I wanted to?” He could scream and yell at them, tap on the glass and shout, “Hey you flies!! Right here is the hole! Up here!! Look! Just stop banging yourselves against the glass and fly out!!”

That wouldn’t help, would it?

He had the big picture that they didn’t have. He could see what they couldn’t see, no matter how hard they tried. He was such a superior being to them that they couldn’t understand him, or even realize he was there to help them. They were scared, panicked and thought they were alone, never realizing someone bigger and smarter than they were could help them if they’d just listen to him.

There was only one way he could get their attention and help those flies out of their dire situation — just one way to save their lives and give them a chance at freedom.

He would have to turn himself into a fly.

He’d have to leave his position as Top of the Food Chain, lower himself to life as an insect, and become one of them. Then he could fly into that hole, come down to their level, speak to them in fly-language and say, “Come follow me. I know the way out.”  

Then it would be up to the individual flies to follow him, or stay there and die in their glass prison. He wouldn’t be able to force them into freedom — the choice would be theirs.

Isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

We needed Someone to save us because we couldn’t save ourselves. We couldn’t fly out of the hole on our own. I love how The Message describes God becoming Man and dwelling among us in John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

We didn’t need someone to give us advice. We needed Someone to come experience what we were going through, Someone to live where we live, and show us the path to freedom . . .

He chose to make Himself fully human, experiencing all we experience, so He could fly through the hole of our greatest despair and say, “I’m here. Don’t worry. I know the way out. Come follow Me and I’ll give you life!”

No matter what is happening to you right now, no matter how deep and dark the hole is, no matter what you’ve done, how ashamed or embarrassed you are, no matter if no one else understands, you’re not alone. There is a God who unconditionally loves you, the only One who really knows every detail of your circumstances, and the only One who has all the answers. He knows what you’ve been through, and He wants to help.

Relax, sit back, and stop banging your head against the glass. The choice is yours . . . don’t stay in your prison of despair . . . fly out after Him . . . He knows the only way out . . .

A Dog Lover’s Tribute



Dogs are God’s best example of unconditional love this side of Heaven, in my opinion. If you’re not a dog person, this might not be your favorite Southern Fried Encouragement blog. Come back another time, though. I’m sure I’ll have something else for you.

I lost the best dog in the world this week. I can’t stand to walk past the empty place where her bed used to be, or see her empty bowl. I keep thinking I’m going to hear the click, click, click of her walking across hardwood floors. I feel immobilized by grief right now, and as always, the thing that helps me most in my pain is to write. Please indulge me while I tell the story of our sweet Roxy.

It was a swelteringly hot day in the summer of 2005. My 12 year old son, Daniel, went out back to play with our golden retriever, Kodiak. He came running back into the house yelling, “MOM!! Come quick!! Kodiak had puppies!!!”

I knew just when it had happened. A couple of months earlier, I was doing the dishes and looked in the backyard to see a strange black lab. He and Kodiak were smoking a cigarette . . .

She’d only had three puppies, which explained why I hadn’t noticed her gaining weight. Sadly, one of them was born dead.

Immediately a furious thunderstorm came up. As soon as it was over, Daniel went back out to check on the puppies. Kodiak had dug a hole to have the puppies in, and rain had run in that hole. One of the puppies had drowned and poor Daniel tried in vain to give it CPR. His heart was broken that he couldn’t save that puppy.

No mom with a heart could tell him he couldn’t keep the one puppy who lived.

And that’s how we got our precious Roxy. Half golden retriever/half sneaky neighbor black lab.


Roxy was the quietest dog ever. I can count on one hand the number of times I heard her bark. Never once heard her growl. She buried whatever bones we got her for Christmas, no matter how big they were. She loved to chase birds and squirrels. If I’d known she was sick, I would’ve let her keep the one she got two weeks before she died.

She was always an outside dog. Any time I’d make her come in when it was cold, she acted like she hated it. She’d sit by the back door and want back out. When we moved back to NC from Virginia, we moved into a townhouse (not for long — city life ain’t for me). There was no room for Roxy to be outside, so she went to live with my cousin Brad and his family for a few years. She loved running free at their house, and they loved her like we did.

Roxy came back to live with me after I remarried and lived where there were acres and acres for her to run free. We already had two inside dogs, so I told my husband not to worry about a third one in the house — Roxy didn’t like being inside.

The first night she was here, there was Roxy — staring in the back door like, “Why do those dogs get to be in there and you’re making me stay outside?”  We stood there in silence until Todd finally said, “Well we can’t just leave her out there!” And with that, Roxy became an inside dog. It was such a joy to have her inside that I wish she had been all along.

Everyone who has ever met Roxy said she’s the sweetest, most gentle, well behaved dog they’ve ever met. When our granddaughter Kinley was born, Roxy let her crawl all over her. It makes me so sad that Kinley probably won’t remember her.


We all noticed Roxy was losing weight. A few weeks ago, she went to get up from her bed and she fell. It scared us, but I attributed all these things to age.– after all, she was 12, and that’s old for large breed dogs. We got home from vacation this weekend and I had to help her up the stairs. I thought maybe she was getting arthritis and made her an appointment with the vet on Monday.

The vet gave me the news every pet owner fears. Our sweet Roxy had cancer. There was nothing they could do for her. We needed to make plans to let her go.

I sobbed my way through the drive thru at McDonald’s and got her a plain cheeseburger. Todd grilled her a New York Strip for supper. On Tuesday, she walked outside, but couldn’t walk back in. After that we carried her in and out. That night again she had New York Strip.

By Wednesday, she couldn’t walk at all. I stayed home with her all day, loving on her all I could, yet knowing what we had to do. I carried her outside to let her enjoy the unseasonably warm fall day for as long as I could.


When it was time, we carried her in her bed so she wouldn’t have to die on a cold doctor’s table. Todd and I held her close and through sobs, I told her what a good girl she was, and how much we all loved her — right up until she took her last breath. The vet cried with us and said we should all hope to die that way — peacefully going to sleep with the people who love us most by our side.

We buried her in her bed, under the oak trees at the edge of the yard where she used to race out the door to chase the squirrels.

The grief comes in waves. It happened so fast that I’m still reeling. I struggle with guilt — why didn’t I know she was sick? Could I have saved her if I had? I know one day I’ll stop crying. But that day isn’t today. I will never forget our sweet Roxy girl, and even if you never met her, I hope you won’t either. If you have fur babies, hold them a little closer tonight. You don’t get to keep them nearly long enough, you know.

Lord, please let there really be a Rainbow Bridge. Let Roxy be running as fast as the wind through green pastures with her beautiful jet black fur blowing. Let her catch a squirrel and let her keep it this time. And please let her be waiting for me when I get there. 

Hawks and Rainbows


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We Southerners are strange birds. We have quite fascinating old wives’ tales, legends, traditions, and superstitions. Even though we know deep down inside they’re just folklore, there’s always some part of us that believes maybe, just maybe, this crazy tale might be true.

A few interesting ones include:

  • Sports rituals. Behavior during a ballgame has a direct effect on the performance of our favorite team. I have a cousin who wears the same exact clothes (down to his underwear) and sits in the same place for every single Carolina Tarheels basketball game.
  • Specific food on certain holidays. We must have collard greens and black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It brings good luck and plenty of money the rest of the year.
  • Parenting fears. Never let a cat near an infant. They will “steal the baby’s breath.” No word on how that can happen . . .

Truth be told, I’ve done all of these, and believe you me, no cat ever came near any of my babies!!

As a bird watcher, I’m especially fond of the legend of the red cardinal. Did you know that when one appears, it’s a loved one visiting you from Heaven? I have to admit when I see one come to the bird feeder, I think, “Grandma Bunton? Uncle Charles? Is that you?” It’s sorta fun actually.

My bird watching came from my parents. There was always a set of binoculars by the back picture window. Mama and Daddy would get so excited to spot a Black Throated Green Warbler or a bird of prey circling the sky. It was a fearsome thing to see a red-tailed hawk perched on a limb, then swoop down chasing his dinner.

Daddy was happiest when he was watching nature, doing some home improvement project, or working in his wood shop. I like to remember him this way, not the way he was after Agnogenic Myeloplastic Metaplasia took his health, his strength, and eventually his life.


I recall very little about my Daddy’s visitation, funeral, and graveside service. I don’t remember one word the pastor said at the funeral or what songs were sung. I do remember that the size 0 dress I wore had to be taken in because I weighed less than 100 lbs. Daddy’s death was just one factor in the horror that encompassed my life at the time.

His graveside service was a hot and muggy August afternoon, headlong into the dog days of summer. It too is a foggy memory, except for one thing — a hawk descended, seemingly in slow motion, right past us. I actually felt the wind from his wings.

Other members of my family saw the hawk and felt his wings stir the stale air as well. Hawks aren’t that common to see in our area, yet many of us began to spot one during significant times in our lives. We now share the latest hawk sighting and why we think one appeared when we get together.

Hawks have appeared on days I’ve been sad, or on holidays, or times when I’ve been especially missing my Daddy. One fall morning, I was feeling stressed about work as I was heading to the office. I stopped to watch a bunny cross the driveway, only to see a giant hawk descend and scoop him up RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!! I didn’t want to see a live taping of Marlin Perkin’s Wild Kingdom! Then I thought about how strong that hawk was, and how strong my daddy had been, and suddenly I felt like I could handle any work problems awaiting me.

My granddaughter and light of my life, Kinley, and I had gone running some errands on her first birthday. Just the two of us were in the car, and I was thinking about how sad I was that Daddy never knew her. He would have loved her so much, and she would have loved him. As we were coming in the driveway, I glanced in the rear view mirror to see a hawk with a wingspan as wide as the car sail in behind us, lift up and come back down right over the hood.  We followed him all the way to the house and he flew away. I wept and said, “Kinley Raine, maybe God has let Grandpa know you.”

Mother’s Day came a couple of weeks later, and I told everyone about it at the lunch table. My son Daniel stared at me blankly. “Mom. You think Grandpa is a hawk?” Ha ha, NO, Daniel. I really don’t.

Before anyone gets their panties in a wad thinking I’m trying to convince you my Daddy is coming to see me in the form of a bird, I’m not. I think a hawk’s nest must be somewhere on our farm. I believe my Daddy is in Heaven, and I believe I will see him again. But I don’t think my father is flying around scarfing up bunnies and showing up on birthdays and Christmas.

I do, however, believe that God uses nature to comfort us when we’re sad, discouraged or fearful. Sometimes we need a sign, a reminder of His love, his faithfulness, of His promise to never leave us.

Genesis 9:13 says,

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Sure enough, every time I see a rainbow, I think of God’s promises, and I hope you do as well. If He can use a rainbow as a sign for all generations, He can certainly use a hawk to remind me that my Daddy’s love for me here on earth yet remains.

Championships have been won and lost by my beloved Tarheels while my cousin Ronnie sits in the same place, I doubt I have increased my net equity because of collard greens, and scientists are on the fence about whether cats can steal baby’s breath. But I do believe, with all my heart, that God can and will use whatever means necessary to remind us of His unfailing love and faithfulness.

Today is the anniversary of my father’s passing, and I’m always melancholy, no matter how many years have passed. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see a hawk. As my sweet daughter Lindsey reminded me while ago as she’s remembering the loss of her precious grandpa as well, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

If your heart is heavy today, if you’re feeling sad or discouraged, may God send a sign to comfort you. May your own rainbow, hawk, or whatever speaks to you, remind you that you are so loved, so cared for, that the God of all creation would make sure you know it.

Scars of the Strong


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The greatest honor of my life was being in the delivery room with my daughter and son-in-law when their precious child was born. I was both excited and humbled to be a part of such a miracle!

I’d been there three times myself, so it shouldn’t be so hard to do, right? Surely childbirth couldn’t have changed that much in the 23 years since I’d done it last!!

Always the planner, I set out to prepare myself. I read up on current childbirth techniques and even watched some birthing videos — not for the weak-stomached! I was prepared to give foot massages and back rubs, get ice chips, encourage, pray, and of course take pictures. All that was left to do was wait for the call to hit the road to Lynchburg.

When the time came, things were going well while we waited for her contractions to get stronger. This was a marathon, not a sprint, and there was a long night ahead of us.

Ahhh but there was one thing I didn’t think about, one thing I hadn’t planned for, one thing I hadn’t prepared to face . . .

All those women giving birth in those videos weren’t MY DAUGHTER

I wasn’t just watching my grandchild being born — I was watching my daughter be in the most intense pain she’d ever experienced.

Let me be clear — Kaitlyn was handling it wonderfully. She went through labor with the most strength and grace any woman could. She was amazing! Nate was amazing! He was the most fantastic birth coach any woman could ever ask for!

I was the one faltering. I hadn’t bargained for how it would feel to see her in pain. All I could do was beg God not to let me fall apart in front of them. I was careful not to let Kaitlyn see me cry. I needed to be strong for her.

When it came time to push, Nate held her shoulders and breathed with her. I stood at her feet and told her how great she was doing. It wasn’t hard to say because it was true.

I talk to myself — and I’m not ashamed — and this is the conversation I had in my head:

Pretend like you’re not watching your child feel like her bones are coming apart!! Just distract yourself. Remember your own Lamaze class! Get a focal point!! You can’t take away her pain. You can’t go through this for her so GET A GRIP, WOMAN!!

I looked around for something I could focus on. I needed to pay attention to Kaitlyn, so I decided to look at her knee. That was safe, right? I stared at it and tried to gain my composure. Then I realized what I was looking at  . . . . .

Not just any knee. This was Kaitlyn’s knee. My baby girl’s knee. There were scars on that knee, and I knew where each one of them had come from  . . .  

It was a surreal moment. I checked out of that delivery room and went back in time. Kaitlyn was always very active and she loved to be outside, riding her bike or her scooter, playing with the neighborhood kids. She loved sports, especially softball and running track.

One of the scars was from a bike wreck when she was in elementary school. In my mind’s eye, I saw her limp in the back door, tears streaming down her face and blood running down her shin. She tried not to cry as I cleaned the dirt and gravel out of it, covered it up with Neosprorin and put the biggest bandage we had on it. After a kiss to make it all better, she went right back out to play. She was strong . . . just like she’s strong right now.

Another scar was from softball. I was standing at the fence as she rounded 2nd at her coach’s direction to slide into 3rd base. She trusted Ricky’s signals and she never slowed down. She was safe, but not without injury. Again there was blood running down her shin, but she kept her game face. She got right back up to bat. She was strong . . . . just like she’s strong right now.

My heart ached intensely. How could time have gone by so quickly? Wasn’t it yesterday that she got these scars? Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago that I stood at that fence at every ballgame she’d ever played, watching her get sweaty and dirty, doing what she loved? How could it be that my baby was having a baby?

Through wet lashes, I focused again on my surroundings and snapped back into the present. Although it was such an emotional moment, remembering Kaitlyn so vividly as a child, I was also so comforted, so peaceful, and so encouraged.

Those scars were God reminding me that she was strong . . . . just like she’s strong right now. She was strong enough to get back on her bike, strong enough to get back up to bat, and she was strong enough to do this too — for a much greater prize! Her own child!

I thanked God for showing me her scars and reminding me of who I was dealing with here — my Kaitlyn was a strong woman.

Not too much later, Kinley Raine Bodkin made her grand entrance into our world, changing it in an instant. And just like that, all the pain was forgotten — just as it has been with every woman who’s given birth since the beginning of time. Never had Kaitlyn and Nate known such love — but I did. I’d known it when I’d had my own children, so I knew the intensity of what they were feeling. Ain’t no power on earth as strong as this love.


This bundle of joy is the light of our lives!! Being with Kinley takes away all the worries of the world, and I look forward to every moment with her. If you’re not a grandparent, I highly recommend it!!!

God used Kaitlyn’s scars that day to remind me of the power of love, strength and healing. They were the evidence of grace and mercy to give me hope in the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 147:3 reminds us

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Since we all have scars, may the Lord show you in your weakest moment that He will bind up your wounds. May your scars be the evidence and reminder of your healing, of grace, mercy and hope in the faithfulness of God. And may He show it to you when you need it most. Whatever you’re facing, you’re gonna make it. You got the scars to prove it.




Gathering an Army


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A year ago, a friend asked me to speak at a Ladies’ Banquet at her church. I enjoy encouraging others with my story, so I readily agreed. She asked me to pick whatever weekend I wanted to in May. I went over my calendar, Let’s see . . . not my granddaughter’s first birthday weekend, not Memorial Day . . . I settled on May 20.

The week of the banquet, I sat down to write out my thoughts. This blog I wrote 2 years ago,

is always the main theme when I speak. I tell my story of sinking into the deepest pit, scared of losing everything, having my worst fears realized, and questioning God’s goodness, only to find out no matter what my circumstances, He is yet still good.

As I prepared, I thought of how I made it out of that pit over the past 10 years. I found a way to still make a home for my children, I was given the most amazing man in the world to walk by my side and his two children to love, my beautiful daughters married wonderful men, and the light of my world, my granddaughter Kinley was born. BUT, and it’s always scary to know a BUT is to follow — I knew in my spirit that God was preparing me. Sooner or later, a valley would come again, and when (not IF) it does, I needed to remember He is still good.

May 19, the night before the banquet, my husband Todd and I went to dinner with our dear friends, Van and Susie, like we do most Friday nights. After dinner, we stopped in at Van’s sister Diane’s house. Coming out of her neighborhood, in a split second, life as we know it stopped. We were t-boned over a blind hill, totaling both our vehicles and knocking us into a third.

If I live to be 100, I think I’ll remember every second of that night in slow motion — the sound of metal on metal, my head whip sideways and my body slam against the seatbelt. The gut wrenching fear that gripped both me and Todd as our car spun to a stop and we turned around to see Van and Susie slumped over in the back seat. The panic as I screamed at the 911 operator to send an ambulance. The anguish as I watched those ambulances rush away with sirens blaring and lights flashing. It’s the stuff PTSD is made of . . . .

However, in the middle of the road, surrounded by broken metal, first responders, neighbors who came to watch, and re-routed traffic, I cried out to the Lord, the only place I knew to go.

God please help Van and Susie!! Please let them be okay! Help us!! Why did this happen?!!? Why couldn’t we have stayed at Diane’s 5 more minutes? Why did that car have to come over the hill? Why didn’t You stop this, God?! You could have!!

Very quickly a hush came over my soul. I physically felt peace replace fear. The Lord spoke to my anxious spirit and quietly said,

I allowed this so I could bless Van and Susie.

I began to pray out loud — and everyone at the wreck scene probably thought I was nuts. (They weren’t the first, and they won’t be the last!)

Yes, Lord! Bless Van and Susie! Let them be healthier, happier, more prosperous, more joyful than they’ve ever been before!!

And as I prayed, I heard Him say,

I’m gathering an army.

Todd and I left the scene of the accident 3 hours later and headed to the hospital to find Van in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury. Susie’s neck was in bad shape. I felt fear start to rear it’s ugly head, and several times since then, but every time I’ve reminded myself that God said He was blessing them. I knew they’d recover, and I knew they’d recover faster and more miraculously than the doctors thought possible.

The next night was the Ladies’ Banquet. Surely they’d understand if I bowed out. Van was still in critical condition and was in a medically induced coma. Susie was in terrible pain with her neck injury and cracked ribs, both in ICU. Todd couldn’t raise his right arm. I was bruised down my entire left side and had slept maybe 45 minutes. How could I speak at this thing?!

But wait . . . hadn’t God known what would happen the night before I was to speak? Hadn’t I been the one to pick the date? I knew it . . . I knew God wanted me to encourage those ladies with my story, and I knew He wanted me to share how He had prepared me that very week that a valley was coming. He wanted those ladies to pray for Van and Susie and be part of the army He was gathering. Over 100 ladies prayed for them that night, asking that Van would come out of his critical state.

When I got back to the hospital afterwards, right about the time we had prayed together, Todd told me Van had given a thumb’s up and wiggled his toes on command! Those ladies were among the first foot soldiers to be recruited in the army. Since then, God’s continued to gather even more.

Van spent four weeks in the hospital, nearly 3 of those in intensive care. Susie had emergency neck surgery. They’re both home and recovering. Susie is cleared to go back to work August 1, and we’re still not sure how long Van will be out. But the army God gathered has been faithful to follow orders. They continue to visit them, send cards and flowers, provide meals and financial support while they are both out of work . . . and they have prayed.

Yesterday Susie texted me and said, “Sometimes the army is overwhelming.” She meant she can’t believe all they ways God is continuing to use people to bless them. I said, “The army is just following orders. God sure does love you.” She cries every time someone does something for them, and yep, she surely feels God’s love.

I’ve never been so thankful for Romans 8:28 in my life,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

The valley isn’t over, and it won’t be until Van and Susie are back to full health. Their doctors are amazed at how well they’re doing. Van’s doctor expected him to be in a wheelchair, and Susie’s thought she would be at least using a walker. They’ve shocked the medical community with their progress!

Van and Susie are not only our dinner buddies, they’re our travel buddies. Here we are in Mexico last fall, and we believe we’ll be back at it again soon!

For now, I’m still having trouble sleeping (that dang PTSD thing), Todd’s shoulder still hurts, we’re wading through mountains of insurance claims, sorting out medical bills, getting another vehicle and trying not to be scared to go anywhere. I’ve never been so aware of how people’s lives are changed in an instant when tragedy strikes.

But this valley was different than all the others I’ve been through. This time I don’t question where God was when the storm hit. He was in the middle of Friendly Avenue, calming my spirit in the midst of chaos. He was there in the dark nights where Todd cried and prayed over Van in his ICU room, and I cried and prayed over Susie in hers. He was there when we all gathered to pray and we didn’t know if Van could hear us until he squeezed Todd’s hand to let us know he did.

God was there. He was gathering an army. And in your deepest need, He will gather one for you too. There’s plenty of room for more to enlist.