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A Dog Lover’s Tribute

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Daddy

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.

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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,

https://southernfriedencouragement.com/2015/05/29/but-if-not-is-he-still-good/

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.

Home Where You Belong

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We live on the back side of the family farm, and our three dogs have a lot of room to roam. It’s a pretty good life for a dog! They will occasionally go visit the neighborhood next to us, and we’re not terribly far from a busy road, so we try not to let them get out of sight for long. Not to mention the fact that we have coyotes in these here parts.

The other night, my husband, Todd let them out before bed, and our miniature schnauzer, Shotsie, didn’t come back. Usually I can call her and she’ll come running. She has gone traipsing about during the day before, chasing squirrels, eating deer poop and getting muddy in the pond, but never at night. As time went on, I grew more and more concerned.

We drove to the neighbors’ houses and all over the farm. No sign of her. Eventually I went to bed and dozed off an on for an hour or two. Before long, I was back out looking, praying hard that God would help me find her. I hope I didn’t disturb anyone’s sleep — any good country girl can whistle like Ellie May Clampett, and Lord knows I’m a country girl.

Finally, about 4:30 am, I saw her walking by the pasture. Relief flooded my soul! I called her, and for the first time in her life, she ran from me in fear. She knew she’d done wrong, she was ashamed and she feared punishment.

But I didn’t want to punish her! She’d been gone so many hours that all I felt was gratitude that she was safe!

I had no way to convince her of that, though — no way to communicate that she had nothing to fear, and she ran away again. When I finally got her to come to me, she crawled across the driveway with her tail between her legs, her whole body shaking. I bent down, scooped her up, and hugged her close, telling her how much I love her and I never want to be without her again! It didn’t matter one bit to me that she was wet and had hay sticking out everywhere. My little Shotsie was home!

You can’t tell me dogs don’t have emotions. She hid under the bed and under the quilt rack in shame for the whole next day.

18402348_10156073585324409_8124132505999107313_oWhat a stupid dog, right? Why in the world would she want to be out in a hay field all night, scared to death, cold and wet with nothing to eat, in danger of coyotes, when she could have been home in a warm bed, snuggled up to her mom who loves her? She probably thought chasing a field mouse sounded good many hours ago, but it hadn’t turned out the way she had thought it would. Before long she realized she’d messed up, but she couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Eventually she decided it was better to face possible punishment than to live in those conditions any longer.

She didn’t know I wasn’t angry. I just wanted my lost girl back home where she belonged. 

We can be as stupid as a dog sometimes, you know. Shotsie’s night out on the farm (that probably took a few years off my life) reminds me of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. The son thought surely there was something more exciting than living with his boring dad. Deciding that family life wasn’t for him, he demanded his inheritance, and off he went, living it up until he’d wasted every last dime. Scared and alone, cold, dirty, hungry, and tired of wallerin’ in the mud with pigs, he finally came to his senses, hoping that maybe, just maybe, his daddy would take him back. He no longer felt good enough to be his son. He was ashamed of what he’d done and just wanted to go home again.

Little did he know that his daddy had never stopped looking for him, never stopped loving him, never stopped hoping he’d come back safe and sound.

When the son finally crawled back home, his father was standing at the window — proof that he hadn’t given up hope that one day he’d see his precious son come down the driveway again. He didn’t shame his son, didn’t berate or belittle him. No punishment awaited him as he’d feared. The conditions the son had been living in, the consequences of his own choices, were punishment enough.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

He didn’t know his daddy wasn’t angry. The father just wanted his lost boy back home where he belonged. 

Maybe you’re the lost son, or the lost dog. Maybe you left your Father who loves you so many years ago you can’t even remember why now. Maybe there once was that spark in your soul, but somewhere along the way you lost it. Maybe you think you’ve strayed too far, and the shine, excitement and allure of whatever you were chasing has worn off. Maybe you think He’s mad at you, and He’s going to punish you. Maybe you look at your life and think you’ve made a mess of it, and you’re afraid your Father won’t take you back . . .

He will. Believe me, He will.

He’s standing there, right where He was when you went your own way, holding the curtain back, staring off in the distance, waiting for His beloved child to return.

He’s not angry. He just wants you to come home where you belong. 

The best robe, a ring, new shoes and the fatted calf await you. Come on out of the hay field with the field mice and coyotes. This is where you belong . . . you’ve been wallerin’ with the pigs long enough . . . There’s a party on hold that He won’t start without you.

The Power of Perspective

Everyone you meet is going through some sort of struggle. It may not seem like much to you, but to them, it’s overwhelming. Give them the gift of compassion this Christmas season. One day, you could be in that same boat.

We all need a little perspective. Today’s encouraging word . . .

Southern Fried Encouragement

Growing up, Mama kept my cousins Darrell and Melissa after school and all summer. She carried us along on all her shopping excursions and errands in our trusty 1968 Pontiac Catalina.

For some unknown and illogical reason, the worst, most embarrassing place in the world for her to take me shopping was K-Mart. I would beg, “No, Mama, please don’t go to K-Mart! Let’s go to Sears! Or Zayre’s! Anyplace but K-Mart!” I guess I didn’t want my schoolmates to think we were poor and couldn’t afford pricier places to shop.

My pleas fell on deaf ears.

It must have been Christmastime because, Lawd ‘a mercy, the place was packed. My worst fears were realized as I recognized a classmate from school. In full blown stealth mode, I slid into the middle of a circular clothes rack and hid, trying not to breathe. Relief flooded my soul as I peeked out…

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The Purpose of Pain

Merry Christmas, one and all! And may your pain bring forth a wealth of purpose during this holiday season!

Southern Fried Encouragement

I have always loved all the excitement, activity and tradition that leads up to Christmas. Mama and Daddy would take us walking through the woods on our family land in mid-December to pick out a tree. We always got a pretty cedar, and to this day, a cedar tree smells like Christmas to me.

My aunt Bet took me to see Santa every year at Sears at Friendly Center. I was never bothered by his obviously fake beard. Seemed legit.

santa

The TV shows, oh how I loved them — Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the Grinch. If you missed them, you had to wait until the next year to catch them again. It was happiest time of year for me.

Christmas Eve was the one night my parents didn’t have to make me go to bed. You remember it, right? Desperately trying to go to sleep because the sooner…

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Remember Egypt

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I love summertime. It’s my hands-down favorite time of year. I love the heat, the sun, a great tan (also known as increasing my freckle collection), and I especially love the ocean.

As much as I love this time of year, the summer of 2006 will go down as the worst few months of my life. So traumatic, in fact, that you’d think I’d want to forget all about it — just wipe it out of my memory altogether. But it’s burned into my mind. I’ll never forget it  . . .  and believe it or not, I really don’t want to . . .

That week at the beach wasn’t shaping up to be much of a vacation, but I desperately wanted to give the children some semblance of normalcy. Inside, anxiety and fear raged. I walked compulsively up and down the water’s edge for hours on end. I prayed with every step, begging God to show me somehow, someway, that He still loved me — that He saw what was happening, that He cared at all, to assure me He would stop the storm that was brewing.

Just give me a sign, Lord. Anything at all. Let me know it’s going to be okay.

No sign came. Nothing miraculous written in the sand. No perfect sand dollar or rare seashell. No sky writing. No still, small voice as the sun rose or set.

My marriage was in the last throes of the death rattle. We were about to lose our church, our home, our livelihood, and my daddy was sure to die any day. Somehow, someway, I had to find a way to hold it together for my kids.

As I power walked up and down in the sand, a weathered old man stopped me. I was in such a daze that I hadn’t seen him sitting there in his beach chair. Surely he saw the raw fear and desperation on my face.

“Lady, I ain’t never seen nobody walk at the beach as much as you do. You been marching back and forth all week. I’m wore slap out just watchin’ you!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I have a lot on my mind and it helps me to keep moving.”

“Well you might have a lot on your mind, but you ain’t got a lot on your bones, so I hope you sit down soon. Wearin’ out this sand ain’t gonna fix what ails ya. Why doncha just rest a spell?”

Rest!?!?  How could I rest when the world was falling apart? I smiled, thanked the crusty old Southerner, even agreed with him that I needed to take a break, but I couldn’t stop. I continued to walk, continued to ask God to speak to me . . . and continued to feel like He didn’t.

Looking back on it now, I think God was speaking after all. He wanted me to rest. Relax. He wanted me to trust Him, have faith, entrust my life and the lives of my children in His care, whether He fixed it the way I wanted Him to or not. Shoot fire, for all I know, that old man on the beach was an angel. The Bible says we encounter angels without knowing it sometimes, you know.

If you’ve read this blog, you know all I feared would happen did. In the next weeks, my children lost their intact family, their church, their home, and their beloved grandpa. I not only couldn’t protect them, I ended up with an all inclusive three day stay in the nervous hospital. A far cry from the way I wanted things to turn out!

Years have passed since that week at the beach. I feel it’s very important for me to remember that summer. I not only survived, I’m actually living again. I look back with great gratitude. If I wiped it out of my memory, I’m doomed to make those same mistakes again. I learned a lot — quite the hard way.

Over and over, the Lord told the Israelites to remember how He had rescued them out of Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. He wanted them to recall what they had lived in so they would always trust Him to take care of them. Deuteronomy 5:15 is one of many times the Lord told them,

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Remember, remember, remember. God wanted them to think about how hard things had been so they would know He saw their pain, their dire situation, and He hadn’t forgotten them. He wanted them to remember it so they’d trust Him the next time they were in a bad place.

On the 10h anniversary of that fateful week at the coast, I went back. That time, however, I only walked up and down the beach once a day — anxiety and fear free. Just a leisurely stroll, hand in hand with my husband of nearly three years. Oh I still prayed as I walked. My prayers were quite different these days.

I took this picture on our first night that week, and as the seagull flew off, I thanked God that I’m as free as this bird. Free from the fear and anxiety that used to hold me captive.

freebird

While my life is far from problem-free, I trust God more than I did then. Because I look back and see His faithful rescue, I know He will continue to keep us through whatever valleys the future holds, just like He did the summer of 2006. I now see His guiding hand, holding me and my children, even when I couldn’t see or feel it then. He never let us go.

Maybe you’re in the midst of your own storm. Storms of illness, wayward children, failing marriages, painful family situations, deficient finances, lonely nights and fearful days. I continue to tell my story of God’s grace and mercy to encourage others through their valleys. If God rescued me, He will rescue you. If you have a painful past, look back on it with a heart of gratitude that you survived. It’s my deepest, most earnest prayer for you that you will hang on, trust and believe that God isn’t finished. Tie a knot and hang on to the end of your rope . . .

You see, when we think the world is falling apart, it’s really falling into place. 

 

 

Seeing a Sermon

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Last week, I found this little treasure in my Bible. I don’t remember the sermon — obviously it was something about being salt, light, sheep, and branches, God’s voice and Psalm 81:10. I’m sure whoever the preacher was made all that fit together beautifully.

I don’t remember any words, though. I don’t even remember who was preaching. I just remember looking down at my little Daniel taking these notes. No one told him to do it. I didn’t hand him a pen and paper and say, “Here boy, now listen to the preacher and write down what he says.” No, he did it on his own. I doubt he even knew what “providence” meant. All he knew was his Mama was taking notes, so he wanted to do it too.

I kept this in my Bible to remind me there are little eyes watching. Children (and humans in general) have always been better at imitating what they see more than what they hear.

It was a vivid example to me that I carry a huge responsibility, a heavy burden. The next generation was watching me, and in my heart I prayed, “Lord help me to always give him something worth following.

I made a decision when my children were born not to be one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” parents. If I didn’t want them to do it, I tried not to do it either.

Although they’re all adults now, they don’t stop watching us just because they’re grown. The weight of responsibility is still on our shoulders to give our children an example of how to live, how to treat people, how to conduct themselves, how to be productive citizens, even though they’re living on their own.

The other day I heard my mother in law, Sue, say, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” Even though I didn’t tell her, I thought about how she probably doesn’t realize it, but she’s a living sermon to me every day.

Sue Hall is one amazing lady. I watch how she treats her husband, her grown children, her grandchildren, her extended family, friends and neighbors. I love how kind and generous she is. I love how she helps my father in law work in the yard and shows him such respect. He loves the ground she walks on, and she deserves it.

I love how she cooks for us, how she’s always thinking of us, how she buys us little gifts, sends people notes, makes meals for the sick, visits folks in the nursing home every single week, and how she’s never met a stranger. I love that her door is always open, and she’s always happy to see us come in. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for us if we needed it.

She loves to travel. Last summer when she and Mike went with us to Alaska to visit my daughter, Lindsey and son in law, Dan, we were running to keep up with her. No peak was too high, no hike too steep, no food too different for her to try.

sue

She isn’t afraid of the latest technology. If there’s a new iPhone, she’s getting it. Whatever the latest fashion, the latest trend, the latest gadget, Sue’s on it.

No getting old for Sue Hall. She’s 75 going on 30.

And I want to be just like her. She might think she’s done raising children. She’s not. She’s the sermon I’m seeing instead of hearing.

I want our children and grandchildren to love coming to our house. I want them to smell something good cooking when they walk in, and always have a jug of tea in the fridge. Just like Sue.

Sue lives like the Apostle Paul instructed us in 1 Corinthians 11:1,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

At first glance, his directive might seem a little haughty. It’s pretty bold to tell people to follow your example. Scary, actually. But Paul makes a clarification. He’s not just making stuff up that he wants us to do. He’s following Jesus, and he’s giving a living example of how to do that — a sermon you can see and not just hear.

With my dying breath, I want to set a good example.  Our children, even at ages 27, 25, 23, 21 and 19, are still watching, and now we have a precious granddaughter on the way. More than I can express to you, I want that sweet little thing to want to come to Mimi and Pop’s house. When she’s grown up, I hope she’ll say she wants to be the things she saw in me. May I never give her reason not to!

I kept kept Daniel’s sermon notes not only as a reminder that he was watching me, but also as a priceless keepsake of his innocence. I knew one day, all too soon, he would be out on his own, living his life, and I wanted to remember his childlike faith in a God who was the voice of peace and promise. When I see this, it comforts me to know the God of all providence is still watching over my little boy when I can’t anymore.

A prayer is on my heart. Won’t you pray it with me? There is power in agreement.

Precious Lord Jesus, enable us to live like You. To love like You. To be the voice of kindness, gentleness, goodness, love, joy and peace in a world full of anger, hatred, confusion and strife.

May this generation, and the ones to come, follow us as we follow You. May they love others because they saw us love people. May all those who cross our paths be glad they did.

Keep a watch over our children. Guide and protect them, and hold them close to Your heart, as You hold us.

Where we have messed up, where in our humanness and flawed actions we have failed, forgive us and cover our mistakes. Let those who follow us see the intent of our hearts instead of our faults.

May we be a sermon for the world to see You, and may they find hope that You are always at work for our good, for our success. If You are for us, who can be against us?

May all who come behind us find us faithful.

For Your glory, amen and may it be so.

A Faith that Works

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We had few neighbors growing up. Our grandparents lived across the field. On the other side was the McGee’s who farmed probably a hundred acres. One of the McGee’s lived through the pasture, and behind the pond. That’s what having neighbors means when you live in a farming community.

They had three little girls. The oldest was Sandra, who was in kindergarten when I was in the 5th grade. She caught the bus at my driveway every day.

One cold afternoon as Sandra and I got off the bus, I saw one of our dogs laying on the bank. I ran over to her and quickly realized that although there was hardly any traffic down our dirt road, she’d been hit by a car and didn’t make it. She had been a stray, and we hadn’t had her long, but I was (and remain to this day) a huge dog person, so I was heartbroken.

I knelt beside her and sobbed. Sweet little Sandra put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t cry, Dee. God can fix this. He can make her be okay if you ask Him! Just pray!” Even as a child, I knew I didn’t have the faith to pray that way. I believed He COULD do it, but I didn’t think He would, so I didn’t even ask.

Later, I felt the crushing weight of guilt. Why couldn’t I trust God the way Sandra did? Why hadn’t I prayed God would save my little stray dog? I felt like it was my fault she was dead as much as if I’d been the one driving the car that hit her.

Many years later, dear friends lost their baby. It remains one of the lowest points of my life, and I can’t imagine how much worse it was — and is — for them. As I held her tiny, lifeless body in my arms, I prayed with every fiber of my being that God would breathe life into her. I begged Him for all I was worth to raise her from the dead. I had never prayed so hard for anything in my life.

God didn’t answer that prayer.

After we buried her, I yet again carried a burden of guilt that I didn’t have the faith it took to save little Kaylee. It was truly a life and death situation, and I had failed the faith test.

Where once I felt I had a strong faith, now it seemed so many times in major crisis situations, my prayers were fruitless. I began to cringe inside when someone asked me to pray for them. I wanted to say, “No, please. Get someone else. I’m not the woman of faith you think I am. I’ll only let you down.”

During that low time, my friend Joey (whom I’ve quoted several times in this blog already, and there will surely be more) said while sharing his own experience,”I didn’t have a faith that worked. I had a faith that worked me.”

That’s exactly what I had — a faith that worked ME. My faith was working me to DEATH. And I was exhausted.

A faith that worked me carried the guilt of unanswered prayers. If I had more faith, if I could just have manufactured, strained, squeezed, pulled and pried a mustard seed more, then maybe Kaylee would have lived. Maybe my family would have been intact. Maybe my children wouldn’t have been hurt. Maybe my Daddy wouldn’t have died. What was wrong with me? Did I have some unknown and unconfessed sin? Didn’t I quote enough Scripture? Pray eloquently enough?

I look back on all of that and shake my head. Whew! It makes me tired to even remember it!! I lived in constant fear, worry, guilt and shame. That’s a weight no one can bear.

Today, I’m so much more relaxed. I don’t get so worked up. I don’t feel like it all rides on me. I still carry deep burdens, and I still have some serious prayer concerns for loved ones that remain unanswered, but I don’t feel like I have to manufacture faith that I don’t have anymore.

I still pray! But how different my prayers are today than they were when I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I now let the only One who can carry it do the work.

If you ask me to pray for you, I’m going to! I’ll ask God along with you to bring your prodigal son back home, to save your marriage, heal your loved one with cancer or your sick pet, help you find a better job, and if need be, raise the dead. I have the faith that God can do ALL of those things!

Will He? That I don’t know and can’t promise. And I’m okay with that. I’m still going to ask, but I’m not taking responsibility for the results. God knows what’s best.

I wish Kaylee hadn’t died, and if I had to do it over again, I’d still beg God to heal her. However, I no longer think God didn’t save her because of something I did wrong. I’m grateful I no longer feel God is that mean. I don’t know if we’ll know this side of Heaven why she died, but I’m grateful I know we’ll see her again.

Through the most painful of life experiences, I’ve now seen wonderful things come from the darkest times, and although I don’t always understand why things have to be the way they are, I trust God more now than I did then. I realize now that He may have something even better waiting down the road, and if someone doesn’t get the job we prayed for, I know that could mean a better one awaits them.

All that trying and striving couldn’t manufacture faith — it must come from God. Romans 12:3 says,

God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

That means the burden is on God to give us faith as He sees fit!

And how cool is this? When my faith is low, I can ask for more. In Mark 9, a man who asked for healing for his son knew where faith came from and Who to ask,

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

These days I spend a lot of my prayer time simply asking for the knowledge of God’s will, trusting that He knows better than I do, and the power to carry it out.

I finally found a faith that works.