Through the Peephole

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When I was married to my first husband and the kids were very small, we lived in a sweet little house that I loved near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC. The front door was solid and I couldn’t see who was there when someone came over. So I asked him to install a peephole.

He was so proud of his handiwork. It was perfectly centered. No splinters around it. No scratches on the paint. There was only one problem . . . I couldn’t see out of it.

I’m 5’3″ and he was 6’3″. The peephole was an entire foot above my line of vision. He had made the peephole where he could see clearly who was on the porch if he was standing flatfooted. There was no reason to fuss about it. It would have looked stupid to have two peepholes in the door. So for the rest of the time we lived there, I pulled up a chair to stand on when the doorbell rang.

There was no malice in what he’d done. He wasn’t trying to inconvenience me. He was simply doing what most all of us do from time to time — he was looking at the world through his own eyes.

We all have our own peepholes. We have a tendency to be egocentric, and unless we make a concerted effort to think about how things look from another’s point of view, we’re destined to think all views are the same.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, in case you haven’t noticed. People are dying. Our entire economy is shut down. One phrase I keep reading (and quite honestly it’s getting old) is, “We’re all in this together!” 

Not exactly. Someone else said it much better, I think,

We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.

Some of us have had COVID-19 and have recovered. Some of us have died. Some have lost loved ones and couldn’t even have a proper funeral. Some have enjoyed the time home and are glad to have had the downtime. Some have felt desperately lost and inadequate trying to teach their children who are upset that school is canceled. Some are stuck with an abusive spouse or parents. Some have lost jobs, their small business or their retirement plan. Some have lost their senior year — no prom, sports, and no graduation. Some are on the front lines, caring for the sick and risking their lives, and some are safe in quarantine. It’s been a vacation for some and a nightmare for others.

Even though we’re not all having the same experience, we can still be good humans. We can do our best to see things from others’ perspectives. We can fight the urge to compare our INSIDES to their OUTSIDES.

It might be tempting to judge a young mom for bringing her children into the grocery story instead of keeping them safe at home, when the truth is she’s a single mom with no one to help her, and she can’t very well leave them in the car.

It might be tempting to judge someone who fights to keep the family business open because it’s safer to stay closed, when the truth is they’re trying to put food on the table and not go bankrupt.

It might be tempting to say you are young and healthy and would be fine if you caught the virus, when the truth is, you might unknowingly give it to someone who is immunocompromised or the healthcare worker caring for them.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t know when this mess will be over or what life will look like when COVID-19 is a dot in our rearview mirror. (If it’s never going to be, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!)

So here’s my suggestion. Instead of thinking about what we CAN’T do, let’s think about what we CAN do.

We can be kind to everyone, even if they’re not kind to us. We can stop and think for just a second how things might be for someone else that is different from what we’re experiencing.

We can keep scrolling when someone makes a post online that makes you think they might not be socially distancing like you think they should be, or if they are doing anything else you don’t like. No one EVER changed anyone’s mind about ANYTHING by starting an argument or shaming anyone on social media.

We can patronize local businesses. The big guys are going to survive. When this is over, Walmart, Target, McDonald’s and Taco Bell will still be there. How about getting takeout from the local eatery and help some folks keep their houses? Guaranteed it’s healthier than fast food anyway!

We can check in on an elderly neighbor. See if you can bring them groceries and leave it on their step. Talk to them through the door. I bet they’re lonely and would love a little human interaction!

We can send cards to those in nursing homes or homebound and brighten their day since they can’t have visitors or see their families.

We can call or text someone who lives alone, is a frontline worker — healthcare or first responder, or anyone especially struggling right now. Ask how they are, let them know you care.

We can choose NOT to politicize this pandemic. For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE don’t use it to promote and/or disparage the elected official you love or love to hate. It is OKAY for someone to disagree with you.

Jesus told us in Luke 6:35-36,

Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

We’re all scared. Even if we don’t show it. We’re uncertain about the future. Most of us are tired of being on lockdown. We’re lonely. Many of us are ready to get out of the house and get back to our lives — we just don’t know what that will look like. We can’t fix it and we can’t control it.

But we can do our best to try to see things from another’s perspective.

Grab a chair and look out someone else’s peephole. They’ll be glad you did. And so will you.

Hope in the Midst of Fear

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As I sit in isolation and social distancing in the middle of a global pandemic, I find myself looking for any smidgen of hope. You might be there, too.

This virus is already close to home to me. My pastor, Andy Lambert, whom I dearly love, and who lives less than a mile away from me, is hospitalized as we speak with COVID-19. It’s no longer in China, Italy, Los Angeles and New York City. It’s here.

To encourage you, I’d like to share where I’m looking for the hope we all so desperately need right now.

For hope on the virus, I look at the medical experts. I’m doing what what they’re telling us to do: ie.,WASH YOUR NASTY HANDS. STAY THE HECK HOME. Our most vulnerable are at stake. We haven’t seen my dear father-in-law in person in weeks as he is in a nursing home memory care unit. He doesn’t understand why we aren’t there, and although it breaks our hearts, we follow the rules to protect his life. It matters!

For hope on economic stability, I look at the financial experts. As an accountant, heck yeah I’m worried about what our retirement looks like now. I’m doing what they’re telling us to do. We need jobs when we come out of this. We need a strong economy again. It matters!

These are things that will make even the most glass-half-full people be afraid and start to think negative thoughts. This is where I find myself today. So I thought I’d share some of my personal fears. The details of your fears vary from mine, but I know you have them, too.

I’m worried to death about my daughter, Lindsey, an ICU nurse on the front lines of this life and death battle. This isn’t a picture of someone else — this is a picture of my firstborn. At the end of every shift, she has marks on her face from this mask, but whatever keeps her safe makes me feel better.

I’m worried to death about my daughter, Kaitlyn, who is also a nurse and is full term with my grandson. She is facing delivering a baby in a hospital that has COVID-19 patients in the building. They are still currently allowing my son-in-law to be with her when she goes into labor, but some hospitals are already making mothers deliver alone. I was there when my granddaughter, Kinley, was born. That isn’t even an option this go around.  She’s scared about bringing a baby into this craziness. She’s scared of laboring and delivering alone. She’s scared for her mama not to be with her. I share all those same fears with her.

I’m worried to death about my son, Daniel, who lives in the Los Angeles area. He had just started a promising new job that is now on hold with the rest of the world. Uncertainty around how he can make it swirls in my head, but right now I just want him to be protected as he isolates 2500 miles away from me. Gone are the days when I could keep all my babies under my roof and make sure they were all safe.

I’m thankful our other two, Joseph and Kelly, are hunkered down and doing well. Joe is a senior at Appalachian and finishing the rest of his semester online. Kelly is a first year 4th grade teacher, and although she is sad to be missing time with them, online teaching seems to be going well for her and thank God she’s still getting a paycheck.

Now you know where I go for medical advice during this pandemic. You know where I go for my economic concerns. If you read this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear where I go when I’m afraid . . . and this mama is afraid.

I go to the Word of God. When fear strikes my heart, I can’t always process clearly. Sometimes I can’t think of what to pray when I’m paralyzed with fear. During these times, I ask God to bring to mind all the verses I need to hear. And He’s faithful to give them to me. Here are a few I’ve been meditating on, and I hope they will encourage you, too.

Psalm 62:5-6,

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken

Psalm 46:1-2,

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea

I wish I could tell you what is going to happen. I wish I knew whether the doomsayers are right and a significant percentage of the population is going to die, or whether those who tend to have their heads in the sand are right when they say this won’t turn out to be a big deal. The truth is, people are dying and there isn’t an immediate end to that sad statistic. One of you reading this, and even the one writing it, might very well succumb to it . . . if we don’t die from this, something else will get us. Am I right?!

So won’t you join me in trusting the Lord right now? Isn’t that a whole site better than sitting there full of anxiety over something you have NO CONTROL over?! Although we need to follow the advice of medical and economic experts, the only One who can truly see us through this is God Almighty. 

Will you let Psalm 121 comfort you like it comforts me?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Be encouraged, dear friend. Let’s all do our parts, heed the warnings, and be kind and helpful to others. We can trust an unknown future to a known God.

We’re all in this together and gotta stick together during this crazy time. Even if it’s from a distance.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

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.

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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.