Memorial Day

I don’t how many of you have known a fallen soldier personally. I distinctly recall one who was our neighbor years ago when we lived on a military base in North Carolina.

I was around ten years old when we lived on Pope Air Force Base among people who would stay close to my family for many years. There is a bond like no other among the military families as they work and live alongside one another. The base was a wonderful place to live as a child. There were so many places within walking distance: a movie theater, a bowling alley, our school, and several parks. All the kids roamed the area safely and we were all close friends. During our stay here, our neighbors two houses down was a young family with a sweet young child and a beautiful Irish Setter. I remember having cookouts and interactions with this family many times. 

As a child who had grown up in the military life, I knew certain things. For instance, I knew what the general’s cars looked like. I knew that if a general came down your street with a chaplain behind him, something terrible had happened. 

One day, several of my friends were with me playing out in my front yard when we saw one of the general’s cars turn down my road. We all noticed and stopped still when we saw the second car with the flags indicating it was the chaplain. Someone had died. We all knew what it meant and several women who were outside all stopped and stared as well. The cars moved slowly down the street and there was a palpable relief that swept each front yard as they drove past. Even though their family was safe from the horrible news, though, no one took their eyes off the cars. 

As they approached my house, they began to slow down and I remember almost holding my breath and praying it wasn’t my dad that was now gone. The first car moved past me and the second crept behind it and I saw them both pull up to the curb two houses away. In the front yard was the wife, clipping some bushes. I will never forget her wailing as she dropped to her knees, knowing that the news she was about to hear would forever change her life. 

My mom came bolting out the door and she and another lady rushed down to the side of their friend and scooped up her child. Our job was to take care of the little boy for the next several hours and into the next day as the family of our fallen friend began to arrive to help his wife. 

It was a terrible day for us all and one that I will never forget. I knew I would never see that man again and the realization that he had died serving our country was embedded into my heart forever. And I was relieved my father had been spared.

Memorial Day is not just for a good cookout and a few flags placed in our yard. It’s for remembering those who gave it all to keep us safe and protect our freedom. My father just passed away. He was given a full military funeral and the coordinated movements of the soldiers as they unfolded and folded the flag was beautiful. As they handed the flag to my stepmother, the soldier said something like, “Ma’am, the President and our country thank you for his service to our country.” As they handed the flag to her, Taps was played in the background. It was incredibly moving and I couldn’t help but feel proud and happy that my father had been a part of the protection of our country. But he lived to come home when so many didn’t. If he were here today, he would say that the real heroes fell on the battlefield.

All gave some, but some gave all.

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One Deep Secret of Life

Today has already begun. 

I hope you are finding some ways to enjoy it already. Over this long weekend, I hope you will embrace the moments that you have and leave your worries behind—if only for a short time.

In the words of John Lennon:

“Life is what happens while you’re making plans.”

Below is a story written by Robert Hastings years ago. My mom had it read at her funeral almost 29 years ago. It resonates with me to this day.

The Station

Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent. We’re traveling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hills, of biting winter and blazing summer and cavorting spring and docile fall.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing, and flags waving. And once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be neatly fitted together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering … waiting, waiting, waiting, for the station.

However, sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

“When we reach the station, that will be it !” we cry. Translated it means, “When I’m 18, that will be it ! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes Benz, that will be it ! When I put the last kid through college, that will be it ! When I have paid off the mortgage, that will be it ! When I win a promotion, that will be it ! When I reach the age of retirement, that will be it ! I shall live happily ever after !”

Unfortunately, once we get it, then it disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

All Rights Reserved

Robert J. Hastings Estate

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Creating Greatness

 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

—1 Corinthians 2:9

When was the last time you paused to look at creation? I have to remind myself to look up at the sky sometimes. As an avid hiker, I find myself on top of a ridge quite often. My husband and I love to hike most anywhere. We have seen some fantastic things along the way and always leave refreshed and revived. I hope you will take a moment today and find something to enjoy around you. Maybe it’s a flowering tree nearby or the sky as the sun sets with a mixture of colors. Take a moment and thank Him for the beauty that He provides just for us to enjoy!

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Mother’s Day Mess

Several years ago I woke to four smiling faces and a tray with several globs of food on a plate and a large glass of orange juice, which I don’t drink very often. The “food” was some combination of pancakes and eggs whipped up by my four girls who wanted to make me breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day.

I remember having to choke down a few bites to pretend it was wonderful. I’m not sure what I ate that day, but it didn’t taste too bad after I doused it with a little syrup. The look on my girls’ faces as they watched me eat was priceless, and I still treasure it in my heart to this day. 

Later that morning, no one had thought to check the kitchen, and I walked into a huge mess of pans and dishes. My daughters had worked so hard at making the perfect breakfast that it seemed they used everything in the room. I sighed and pushed up my sleeves to begin cleaning up the mess. 

Even though I had a dishwasher, I chose to do them all by hand that morning. Something about picking up each dish and pan made me smile as I imagined their small hands working so hard to prepare something special for me. The mess was not something I wanted to encounter, but there was no ill intent. They were so proud of what they had done and so was I.

I was about half-way through when I realized that this is precisely where I would want to be on this day. My family means everything to me, but it was more than that. I stood over my sink, and I realized that this must be how God feels when I try so hard and still make a mess. He’s always there to clean it up. So much of what I do as a mom is a mess, even though my intentions are so good. Whether I fail or succeed, though, I have a Heavenly Father who is proud of me and loves me no matter what the same way that I’m proud of my kids and love them always and forever.

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Columbine is not Perfect

Click HERE to access book

Today is the 20th anniversary of a horrible event in our country: the Columbine school shooting. Although school shootings date back as far as the 1700s, the worst school massacre was actually the Bath School Massacre in 1927 where 44 people died–38 of which were elementary school children. Columbine brought the media frenzy that became almost expected in our generation in the wake of a disaster. The desire for constant input led to story after story analyzing every component of it all.

When researching Perfect: The Building of a Championship Culture, I realized that the young men in that book were from the same time period and had vastly different outcomes to their lives. Below is a small excerpt from the book discussing this very thing.

“Hundreds of miles away in Colorado during the fall of 1998, two other young men began their senior year in high school with quite a different perspective. Both had older brothers much like the players on the 1998 Darlington team; but both of these boys would site numerous bullying incidents, some real and some imagined, as a catalyst for their problems, turning their thoughts inward to a darker place instead of becoming inspired to be better. Instead of a culture of pride and tradition that bred devotion to both a sport and each other, theirs was a world of psychotic fantasy that produced scheming and obsession for destruction and hate. Their background has been analyzed through the years and experts now agree that these were not good kids damaged by excessive bullying, but they were two young boys with severe psychological problems that formed the root of their pain. As their friendship blossomed, so did their diabolical plan. Earlier in 1998, “REB” and “VoDKa” had experimented with pipe bombs and posted their videos on the internet and were also charged with burglary and theft, among other things as well, drawing the attention of the authorities and some concern over those close to them. By the end of summer, though, they began their full downward spiral into complete delirium. 

     So, while those two young men across the country internalized their pain and schemed and smoldered, the young men of the 1998 Tigers set in motion the events that would forever define their destiny as champions.”

I wish that those two young men from Colorado could have found the help that they needed. Today, my prayers are for the families of every tragic event.


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Get out of Your Boat

Mathew 14:24-31

“But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ and Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and began to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

Our family loves to boat on a local lake. We have had several boats through the years, including different styles according to our family needs at the time. As we have aged, our boat speeds have dropped and we are now in the habit of enjoying more time floating and watching the others tube and play on the water. Even in the more narrow lakes in Kentucky (all are dammed up rivers and thus not very wide) we are careful with storms and obey the forecast as well as the look of a pop-up thunderstorm, taking our boat to the dock for safety. 

Being on the lake on a busy day with choppy water is not fun, but when there is a storm, it is frightening. I cannot imagine how terrifying a boat would be in dangerous seas. As I read this story in Mathew, I can only imagine what an amazing event that was to witness. The sea was not calm. I’m not sure what “contrary” is, but I don’t ever want to be in the water when it’s like that. The disciples saw Jesus walking across the waves and then heard Him tell them to be calm. Even in the safety of the boat, they were afraid—not just of the water but of Jesus, not understanding who He was. At this point in the story, seeing Jesus walking across those waves must have been more than enough to write about later. 

But it didn’t end there. 

As Jesus drew near, Peter called out to Him and Jesus commanded Peter to come out onto the water. Now, I like to think that I have faith, but I’m not sure that I would have had enough to step out of the boat and believe that I would be not only safe but also able to walk on top. Peter did, though, even for just a moment. For those few moments that he stepped across the water, he did something that only Jesus could do through him. 

I wonder how many times God calls on us to leave the safety of our boat to step out on the water? If Peter had kept his belief, I wonder how the story would have changed? One thing I love is that even in his doubt, Jesus was still there, rescuing him and helping him back to safety. I think that is one of God’s best qualities—He is ALWAYS there. During the storm, during our triumphs, and even in our doubts. 

He loves us, protects us, saves us—unconditionally and without hesitation. All we have to do is call to Him. 

Peter did. Will you?

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Surviving the Lion’s Den

About thirty plus years ago, I was in my clinical rotations for physical therapy school, and during one of them, I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama. They had a large basement complete with a bedroom, living room, and full bathroom, which became my apartment for several weeks. It was an excellent arrangement to allow me to save money and enjoy some time with my family there as well.

Around the middle of my time there, my aunt and uncle had a trip for the weekend, meaning I would be alone in the house for a few days. I came home that Friday and made dinner in their kitchen, cleaned up the dishes, and then went to my basement room to workout and to take a shower. I was home alone about two plus hours when I settled into a chair to read some articles for the following week. After sitting for about half an hour, I heard a strange noise above me. It sounded like someone walking around upstairs. My mind ran through several scenarios—all of which sent chills up my spine. For several minutes I froze in place, listening for any more sounds, but the footsteps had stopped. A wave of realization lapped at my subconscious, and a smile spread across my face.

The cat! Of course, it’s the cat!

I was so relieved that I let out a sigh mixed with a laugh. The noise was met with a sudden scurrying sound both upstairs and beside me on the couch, where the cat jumped up from a deep sleep behind my head, where she had been sleeping. Now, fear gripped me from all sides as I realized that the cat had been down here the entire time and whoever was upstairs was still there and knew that I was here alone. 

There were no cell phones then, but fortunately, the home phone for this house had an extension in the basement. The phone was perched on a table across the room from where I sat and within direct view of the steps leading down to me. Whoever was up there would be able to see me in the front door reflection if I moved that direction. I was trapped where I was sitting unless I could get to that phone and call the police. Slowly, I crept out of my chair and moved toward the phone, hoping whoever was up there was just as scared as me—but I knew that this idea was unlikely. A criminal bold enough to break into this house was probably just as bold with their ideas of what they planned to do here. 

I prayed hard as I moved across the floor, grabbing the only thing nearby to use for a weapon: a book that was laying nearby. I didn’t look to see what it was, but I knew that this would at least give me something to throw if I tried to run past to the door. Getting to that phone was a priority, and I focused on this with my eyes glued to the staircase. As I reached the table with the phone, I was praying so hard that my lips moved. Slowly, I reached up with shaking hands and grabbed the phone, but as I did, an idea came to me. I don’t have any idea why I did this, but I shouted,

“I’m calling the police!” I yelled. “You’re going to jail!”

I don’t know why I did that, but it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. As I finished my statement, I heard a scramble and someone running. Within seconds, I heard the back door open and someone moving down the deck stairs, knocking over things as he fled. Within minutes, the police arrived and looked around. After the entire incident was reviewed and investigated, they found evidence that a neighbor, who had a record as a Peeping Tom, had thought my family was gone, broken into the house to go through some personal items, and I surprised him when I arrived home, essentially trapping him inside. He thought I had gone to sleep when I was quietly reading downstairs and was trying to sneak out to go home when I startled him and he ran. The police said that I was extremely lucky, but I knew I had been protected that night. When I stopped shaking and the police left me for the night, I was still gripping the book close to my chest. It was the Bible.

The man that broke into the house was arrested and thank goodness I’m here to tell the story. That fear, though, was something unlike I had ever experienced in my life. It is the only way that I can identify with Daniel as he was thrown into the lion’s den. Most of us know the story of Daniel denying the king’s law and continuing to worship God. As a punishment, the king threw Daniel into the lion’s den, where he should have been torn apart instantly, but instead, the lions’ mouths were sealed. But lions have more than their mouths, they have powerful bodies and long sharp claws, yet these lions did not attack in any way. I think that it’s interesting that God didn’t stop anything but the lions. He allowed Daniel to be arrested and convicted and then thrown into the den. Daniel was put in the worst possible situation and it was only then that God decided to intervene. I know that my situation was entirely different inside that house with a criminal upstairs, but I felt alone, vulnerable, and terrified. I don’t know what went through Daniel’s mind that day, but I do know that he had to go through that lion’s den to see God’s power. My mind was filled with horrible thoughts that night as I crouched in the basement clutching the phone, but thankfully, I’m here today to tell the story. I believe that my prayers were heard and answered and that the protection that I sought by grabbing a book was symbolic that the Bible is a part of that protection. It is where we go to read about God’s love and protection and His amazing miracles through stories like Daniel and the lion’s den. We will all experience things that bring fear and maybe even danger and sometimes it may feel like a group of hungry lions are upon us, but I can tell you that He is there in your fear and uncertainty just like He is there every day through all circumstances. Trust Him. He will deliver you.

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Pain Relief

Revelation 21:4

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Understanding why things happen is not always easy. I tried to touch on this in two novels, A Rose For Jonathan and Quiver. One of my characters in the first novel asks why things happen. Another character answers that they don’t always understand it either. I think as a Christian sometimes we feel like we have to have all the answers, but we don’t. I think being honest with someone who is hurting is much better. The Bible gives us a lot of insight into many things, but it doesn’t answer everything. I don’t think we can handle all the answers and it’s not important to me to always know why anymore. I stand on the faith that no matter what, He will see me through.

Not long ago, I knew three families that each lost a small baby within only two weeks. I knew each family was hurting more than I could understand, but it was tough on me too. Not long after that, we had some friends who lost their 18-year-old daughter. Those moments didn’t just put me on my knees–they yanked me there. I was raw and torn by how to talk to them and help them through such a terrible time. In many ways, several of the family members ministered more to me than I did to them. I marveled at how the Grace of God enveloped them in their pain to allow enough space for them to each work through their grief one day at a time, and even one moment at a time. We cannot understand His plan or His way. The Bible clearly says in Isaiah 55:8 that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. I like the New Living Translation of this verse the best. It says,

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

Wow. I can imagine quite a lot. After all, I’m a writer. To think that I cannot even imagine the mind of God is overpowering to me. It gives me peace and it gives me hope. Then to know that He will “wipe every tear”…every single tear. Not one, but it says EVERY tear. Then it says we will have “no more mourning,” and I can only say THANK YOU for that. A place with no tears, no mourning, no more pain…I’m in! I hope you are too.

I know each of us has experienced grief in different ways, and some of you have had more than your share. I hope you will take the words of these verses above as well as many others in the Bible and use them to comfort yourself and others around you who may be struggling. 

One final verse that I cling to daily…

Philippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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Spring is Coming!

     Spring is such an exciting time. I remember when our children were in school, one of them had a teacher that had us gather “signs of spring” like a broken bird egg or a flower for them to bring to school. Our searching would lead on long walks while we looked around at the buds on the trees and many of the early blooming flowers. This year, I was out on a trail hiking with my husband when we came across this group of daffodils that someone had planted years ago. Nearby were the remnants of an old home that was now reduced to only a few stones. I wondered how long the flowers had been there and about the people who had planted them. My thoughts meandered through several stories that I created in my head about the family that had once lived there.

     Daffodils always appear in late February around us—long before we have established consistent warm weather. I admire these flowers every year for their boldness. They are one of the first groups of blooms that dare push through the soil and expose themselves to the unpredictability that exists in springtime. Even in the presence of snow, they are one of the few species of flowers that can survive and grow. I love how daffodils return year after year and create some of the first returning colors to the brown and barren landscapes. They are symbolic of rebirth and spring. They are from the Narcissus genus and there are thousands of hybrids. Some people refer to them as buttercups, but that is a different flower altogether. Calling them Jonquils is wrong as well—only one type of Daffodil is a Jonquil. Daffodil is the common name that correctly identifies them no matter what exact kind they are. 

     Regardless of what we want to name them, they are a beautiful sign of hope and happiness and the signal that nature is awakening once again. I want to be more like them: bold and brave in the face of whatever may come. They remind me that whatever happens, we can keep going…push through…and still bloom where we are planted.

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The Stress of Christmas

 

 

     So many emotions flooded her young mind as she laid quietly in the dark. Her body was changing, and soon she would no longer be able to hide the secret that was swelling within her. Telling everyone and telling no one. Both seemed best and yet she was unsure. Her tears fell both from joy and fear, but she felt the strength to endure whatever would come her way. She was certain she would be safe even when the traditions of her culture might dictate otherwise.

     Days went by, and she traveled to visit her cousin to talk to her about her predicament. This visit confirmed what she had been told, so she returned home knowing that she needed to speak to the man that was to become her husband. Telling him her secret would be both scary and dangerous as he would then have the power to condemn her. She approached him carefully, and as she spoke, the words spilled out in waves that tumbled and churned before him. She was asking him to believe things that didn’t make any sense, and he was sure that she was telling him a lie. He left. Within a short time, though, he returned. An angel had now visited him too. Joseph was now ready to face the criticism alongside his bride-to-be, and he was determined to do the will of God.

     When it was time to travel to Bethlehem, Mary was very uncomfortable and tired. They moved slowly and carefully, hoping nothing would happen before they could get to the town. Finally, they arrived. They must have felt an incredible relief at the sight of buildings and people, especially with Mary so far along in her pregnancy and needing a place to rest. After being told no over and over again, a stable might have seemed a blessing. In these harsh and dirty conditions, our Savior was born into this world. No video cameras were catching the first moments, no nurses were there to wash him and wrap him up, no doctors arrived to inspect him or to assist in the birth, no relatives were in the waiting room. There were no pictures, no fanfare, nothing but a mother and a step-father who loved him. As they endured the labor and delivery after such a long journey, Mary and Joseph must have felt at peace for a moment as they stared at their newborn son. His tiny hands would grow and someday work with wood alongside his step-father. Later they would heal the sick and do many miracles that would show the power of God. Finally, those hands would be nailed to a cross and help support his weight as he slowly endured a painful and horrible death. I wonder if Mary looked in his face and considered how this small helpless child would become the Savior of the world.     

     In this season, we often rush around town to a variety of stores. Maybe we prefer to sit at home and let our fingers fly over keyboards to grab the gifts for family and friends we are sure will bring happiness and joy. We worry over the decorations and stress over Christmas productions and concern ourselves with a multitude of details that only matter to us. Maybe for you, the stress comes over getting the perfect picture for the Christmas card. For others, it might be the fuss over decorating the tree or the home. I think many might even feel stress over traveling to see relatives—plucking your small ones away from their presents for a long journey with uncertain rewards ahead like the family drama that is sure to come as everyone gathers. Whatever stress you may be feeling as you move through December, I hope you will take a moment to remember love…and sacrifice…and redemption. I hope you will consider that all of this is because a child was born. A Savior. The Messiah. The good news is that nothing else matters.

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