The Wedding Story

Most girls spend the months (or years) leading up to their wedding date furiously planning flowers, dresses, tuxedos, music, venues, themes, color schemes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, receptions, food, guests, invitations, and honeymoons. All I wanted was to be his wife. All those other details just seemed like white noise. Marrying him was truly my only focus. So much so, in fact, that the week leading up to the big day, my sister lovingly looked at me and said, “This really is just kind of a ‘by the seat of your pants’ kind of wedding, isn’t it?!” I’m sure my lack of planning made some a bit nervous, but I knew that with as smoothly as God has allowed each step we’d taken thus far to fall, this wedding wouldn’t be any different. Just one short year earlier, a 24-year hiatus from our college dating and any type of communication, had surprisingly coming to an halt. This relationship reignited quickly and urgently, and truthfully neither one of us quite knew what to do with it at the start.

He and I have both been pleasantly shocked and thankful at the direction this relationship quickly took. Within probably 2 weeks of us initially reconnecting, I said to him, “You’re totally going to marry me!” I just knew. Something in my spirit knew that neither of us would be satisfied with simply continuing a long distance dating relationship. Although I’m not sure he’d admit it, I’m certain that deep down this initially scared the pants off him. We went from, “Hi, Jeff, we’ve not spoken in 24 years. How are you doing?” to a very sudden, practically innate, discussion of where this relationship was going. It was just undeniable. I love our story. I love the grace God poured down upon us. It was truly a welcome, unexpected gift. Someday I’ll write our story in its completion, and include it in one place, but today isn’t that day.

When we knew that marriage was our next step, we started talking about how that would look. Would we just elope, and then tell everyone after the fact? We knew we wanted it quick, simple, inexpensive, and reflective of who we are. We quickly came to the realization that our two sweet mothers would most likely kill us if we tried to run off and do this alone. We knew our families were happy for us, and would want to be present for whatever type of ceremony we had. So, that much was decided. Parents definitely. Then, the children. If our children wanted to be present, and we hoped they would, we wanted them to be a part of the big day. I’m fortunate that I live in a small town, and I have a talented family. It was soon realized that my sister could be the photographer, while my brother in law could be the officiant. So now, we have my sis, her hubby, and of course her girls coming; so it was only fitting that we invite Jeff’s beautiful sisters as well. Our plan was never to make anyone feel excluded, while also realizing that an unintentional/intentional line would have to be drawn somewhere. Fifteen. Our attendance count was now fifteen.

Jeff had been looking for months for employment in TN, so he could move here and we could begin our lives together. The call came on Monday, January 8. He had been hired, and he would be starting work on January 22. We had much to do in a very short amount of time. Twelve days. It was agreed that we would get married in twelve days. We want to be married and living in our house together before he starts work. Now, I don’t know how many people have ever planned and pulled off a wedding in less than two weeks, but I must say, the whole thing pretty much went off without a hitch. As with all other things in the Jeff and Amanda story, I attribute that fact to one thing only. Fully Jesus. Jeff and I were listening to the will of God in our lives, and He was blessing us for it. Just as He had been doing all the months prior.

He and I discussed where would be a good place to get married. We talked about our house. Truth is, fitting fifteen people in the living room for a ceremony would have resembled a bunch of nicely dressed people packed in like commuters on a New York subway at rush hour, so we quickly scrapped that idea. We still wanted it to be a place that was meaningful to us. Then Jeff said, “What about your mom’s?” It was perfect. Of course, I love my mother’s home. Jeff had visited it when we dated back in college. It was a place I had spent much time during the past 27 years. Most importantly, it was last place I saw my father alive. I love that space. We asked Mom, and she was quick to agree. I told Carolynn that we wanted her to go to no extra trouble. I told her we would come to her house in the days before the wedding, and do all necessary cleaning/arranging. Before I was even off the phone with her from asking permission to get married in her house, that woman was painting baseboards in her living room. Truth.

I realized that with 15 people being present at our ceremony, and the time of day we would be holding the wedding (sometime between 3-4 p.m.), we would need to feed everyone. I wanted something light, because Jeff’s family had generously offered to take everyone to dinner at The General Morgan Inn in Greeneville after the wedding. So, I texted my sweet friend Mandy Royston from the middle of Walmart. Mandy and I had been friends for years. My daughter swam on her swim team. She consigned with me at Clothing Carousel. She used to have her own catering business. Her husband had been our preacher, and years ago, during a particularly difficult day I was having, Mandy told me that God had a special man out there for me. She told me I just needed to pray and be patient. I assured her that while I loved her tremendously, God most certainly did NOT have someone for me, because there weren’t any good men left. Mandy told me that day that she’d begin praying with me for God to move, and to bring “him” (whoever that was) to me. I appreciated her gesture, but I was certain I’d be an old woman with a hundred cats. I just wasn’t cut out for relationships. My track record wasn’t pretty. Now, at the time of this text from Walmart, Mandy knew that God had already brought Jeff into my life, and we’d already had our big cry of thankfulness over it when it first happened. So, today’s text was to ask her if she still catered. Mandy’s family had recently moved, and she had begun a new job. I wasn’t sure if she’d even have time. When I told her what it was for, she immediately called me, and said she’d be happy to do our food. I ordered some of her famous Mandy cupcakes- almond- and she agreed to do individual peanut butter pies for our guests. I was so grateful she agreed. At the end of our call, she told me that she was so happy that God had worked this out for my life, and she wanted the food from her to be her gift to me and Jeff. Any of you who know me will know that I immediately burst into tears in the middle of the deli section at Walmart. How was this even possible? God had completely provided our venue, our photographer, our officiant, and now our food. Just amazing.

In the next few days, we secured a marriage license, and began making lists of what still needed to be done. His family would arrive the Friday evening before the wedding. There was much to be done at the house to prepare. We’d invited Jeff’s sisters and children to stay at our house on Main Street, and my kids and I would make mom’s house our base camp for the weekend. We were off from school that Monday for MLK day, but I was scheduled to work the rest of the week. I did put in to be off that Friday to get final touches ready for our guest before they arrived. Then, just as perfectly scripted by God as ALL the rest of everything has been, our town has below freezing temperatures and snowfall which was enough to allow for school to be canceled for the entire week. Jeff and I were not only able to get ready for our company, we were able to integrate his furniture and things into the house, clean everything we could get our hands on, and organize everything down to the bathroom drawers. We were ready!

Everything was ticking along perfectly, and then- as life sometimes goes- a problem snuck up on us. The water pressure in the downstairs shower had recently become nonexistent. We’d have to have the issue fixed before his family came into town. Five people trying to get ready with only one functioning shower would be a bit tricky, so I started by calling the water department. The sweet gal on the other end of the line informed me that they’d noticed a jump in my water usage. I asked her how big a jump. She informed me that in a typical month my household uses somewhere around 3,000 gallons of water. She said that for this month ALONE, we were sitting in the range of about 66,000 gallons!!!! Holy WHAT?!?! These are those moments in life where you have mere seconds to make a choice about how you will react to something. I was certain the top of my head was going to blow off! We’d basically used enough water to fill several swimming pools full in less than a month’s time. All I could hear in my mind was the cha-ching of dollar signs floating over my head. Ugh. Then, I remembered, God has been so gracious and good to me through everything, this had to be the devil trying to rain on my parade. It was a 66,000 gallon rain, but nonetheless… I wasn’t going to give him the victory of stealing my joy. No way! So, I thanked the lady on the phone, she offered to send someone out to reread our meter, and we hung up. To make a long story short(ish), both the water department guy AND a plumber came out, and told us that it was going to be “bad.” There was no standing water inside the house, nor in the basement, nor anywhere outside that we could see. That most likely during the recent freezes, a pipe had burst underground, and the driveway AND yard would have to be dug up to find/fix the problem. I was expecting six of Jeff’s family members at my house in two days. We were getting married in three days. NO WAY could we have this level of destruction happening at this house. Still, we tried to stay positive. I went into the house. A short time later, Jeff walks into the house, and he’s beaming! He and the plumber had discovered a secret room underneath the front porch that I never even knew existed! It was in this hidden space that a two foot section of PVC pipe had sprung a leak, and was the root of our problem! Our major problem and yard-gutting situation turned into a $175 problem which was fixed in less than an hour. Total God moment. Without a doubt. Crisis averted.

When Friday finally arrived, Jeff and I were so excited to see his family! His sisters and children had traveled from Virginia, and his parents had driven up from Florida. We had dinner at our house, and my family and his all had the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. It was a special night. Everyone instantly got along, there was talking and laughter nonstop for several hours. Then, everyone said goodnight, and we all got ready for bed. Tomorrow was the big day!

My Saturday morning was busy and amazing. There was much to do in a short amount of time. Jeff and I were exchanging sweet texts during the morning. I had spent the night at my mom’s, and realized that the skirt I had decided to wear (still wasn’t sure about my top) was back at my house. Now, you need to know that this skirt is one I had purchased about 14 years ago. It had been worn once, and then hung in a closet. That morning I snuck back to my house, pulled the skirt out of the closet, and got quite a shock. This skirt appeared to have had a drink of some sort spilled down the front of it. Fourteen years ago. So, to reiterate, I’m just discovering that the skirt I’m wanting to wear to my wedding in about 5 hours has a 14-year-old stain on it. Not only that, it is- of course- dry clean only. I had asked Jessica to pick me up at the house, so I could go back to moms without a vehicle. When she pulled up, I hesitantly told her my dilemma with the skirt. We drove by the local dry cleaners, and I jumped out. I carried my skirt in with me, and showed the owner my problem. She apologetically told me that they don’t clean on Saturdays, and offered suggestions on how I might could pin my skirt, so the stain wouldn’t show. Jess and I drove back to moms house, where Jess immediately began googling how to wash dry clean only garments at home. My mind started to panic just a bit. In retrospect, perhaps waiting until 5 hours before I’m getting married to finalize my outfit wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but here we were. I heard Jess say something about cold water and Ivory soap. I start filling the tub with cold water, and grab a bar of soap. We submerge the skirt in the water, and the most amazing thing happened… the stain… it just disappeared! We didn’t even have to touch the soap to it. It was like the water melted it completely away. Jess and I just stared in amazement, and then cracked up. Again, total God. No way was that more-than-a-decade old stain just going to vanish, but it surely did! Gone! Like magic!

The rest of the morning was peaceful and precious. My daughter had asked if she could do my makeup. Considering she’s better at it at age 14 than I am at age 47, I easily agreed to it. My niece, Neely, agreed to do my hair; and my sister ran around all day with a camera documenting the preparations. Emma, my other niece, helped out with my kids and running any and all errands that needed to be run. All the while, an 80’s soundtrack quietly played in the background compliments of Neely who understands my love of all things from my high school era.

At three o’clock family starts arriving at my mom’s house. We had fantastic food, and all I could think about was wanting to go ahead and get married. We had planned to start our ceremony at four, but almost as soon as people started arriving, I knew I’d never make it until then. Jeff came in, looking as handsome as ever, and looked at me and said, “There’s my wife!” We hugged and quickly kissed. We greeted everyone, and shortly thereafter took our places in the living room. I don’t really know how to verbalize what took place in that room the afternoon of January 20. It was the same sort of other-worldly sweetness that was present the night my dad died in the next room over. You just knew God was in your midst. Jeff had suggested that we write our own vows. You may think that because I love to write so much, this would be an easy task for me. Not so. I experienced the same writer’s block now as I had when I tried to write what I would say at my dad’s service. A life moment this big required my BEST words. How could I possibly do it justice? I just prayed, and asked God for His help. I knew if I were left on my own, I’d fall over myself trying to speak. We had everyone to gather in the living room. We faced our family, and Jeff Millard (our acting officiant) stood right beside us. No one was having to look at anyone’s back. Jeff M. began by welcoming everyone and saying the beautiful message he had written about how God loved Jesus, how Jesus loved us, and how husbands and wives are called to love one another. It was perfect. During one part of his talk he mentions that he knows our story and after talking to us and others there is no doubt that God has ordained this. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My sweet brother in law (the same brother in law who shamelessly mocks the Elder women for crying so easily) began to get choked up. It was just precious. He continued to speak his wonderful words, and then Jeff and I said our vows. We cried and laughed and even kissed before we were supposed to, but it was just perfect. It was exactly what we wanted that day to be for us. Our family was there. That room was literally bursting at the seams with love. Tears flowed, and hearts were filled. I wouldn’t change one single second of that day. Not even the skirt incident. Everything was exactly how it was meant to be. After the ceremony ended, without any rehearsal beforehand, Jeff and I just started making our rounds hugging our family. My sweet Ava was in a pool of tears. It warmed my heart. I don’t think anyone in that room could deny that this union was anything but the complete will of God. My heart just burst with thankfulness. I never knew I would ever experience such blessings. I had a new husband. I added wonderful people, whom I genuinely love, to my family. Life is just beautiful.

I’ll tell you something else… and I didn’t really realize this until I started going through the amazing pictures that Jessica took of us that day. Her pictures are exquisite. However, I can be quite critical of myself at times. I’m not still 21, as I was when he and I first met. I don’t still have a stomach you could bounce quarters off of like I did when we first dated. This gal, this body, has experienced a lot of life in the time we’ve been apart. Jeff Crawford loves me just the same. He really, truly loves me. Just as I am. In a perfect world, I may have been several pounds lighter and perhaps all of this would have happened many years sooner, but the truth is- I’ve never felt more perfectly myself than I did that day, in that room, with that man. THIS is God’s will for my life. It has happened exactly when and how HE wanted it. I am humbled, and eternally grateful. I’m blessed to be Mrs. Jeffrey Alexander Crawford. He is my greatest love.

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Feels Like Home

Today, I have a sick child.  Ava isn’t feeling well, and we left church early, so my mom could take her to her house.  She put her in a bed, so I could run out in the car and get the things she needed.

When I returned to my mother’s, there is my child, snug as a bug in her grandmother’s bed.  She’s buried up to her eyeballs in a comfy blanket, and is lying still as can be on my mother’s heated mattress pad.  All in all, not a bad situation if you’re sick.  My mom is catering to her.  I am catering to her.  All is right with the world.  After all, isn’t all any of us really need in this world is to know that there’s someone out there who is going to take care of us?  This is a perfect segue for me to bring in the fact that our Heavenly Father, ultimately, is the One Who will always take care of us.  It is always He Who will meet our needs.  But for today, I’m talking about humans.  Those angels right here on Earth who are placed in our lives to cater to us when we have our own needs.

Once I knew that Ava was safe and secure in bed, had been given the fluids and meds that she needed, my entire body- mind and all- just wanted to shut down for a bit.  I made myself a place on a couch in my mother’s room (within eyeshot of Ava), found my own comfy blanket, and allowed myself to just turn everything off for a moment.  For this rare, fleeting instance I wasn’t going to be mom, or teacher, or friend, or sister, or any other hat that I wear.  I was simply going to be “Amanda”, and I was going to let myself get the rest I’ve needed.

It struck me, as I was attempting to tune my mind off of the everyday static, just how blessed I am to have a mother’s home to go to where I can let the stressors of the everyday world just wash off of me the moment I enter the threshold of her home.  Home.  That’s the key.  It is in this feeling (this sense) of “home” that I am most at peace.  An important aspect that I’ve learned over the years is that HOME doesn’t have anything to do with a location.  Home is not an address.  It doesn’t matter if my family is residing in Fort Smith, AR, or in Rogersville, TN, my home is truly where they are.

It is at this home that I would return from weekends at college- armloads of laundry to do, and parents who were eager to see us.  I could rest here like nothing I would ever experience at school.  Too many friends, dances, nights, and classes to really be able to let oneself completely relax.

It is at this home that I would bring newborn babies.  Tired, frazzled, and feeling exhaustion like I’ve never known, and I could hand over these little loves of my life to people who loved them (almost!) equally as much.  I could lie down, and close my eyes, and recharge my completely drained battery.

It is at this home that I would return during the darkest days of my divorce, and be able to just rest, cry, and know that someone in the other room had my best interest at heart.  Regardless of what was happening in my personal life, I never had to worry about being alone.  As long as my family is here, I’ll always have someone.  That’s a good thing to know.

It is at this home that I would spend the last few months/weeks/days/moments of my father’s life.  What should, on the surface, be a difficult space to enter into because of the insurmountable levels of loss experienced on that January day, is a complete place of peace for me.  Ironically, it is because of the insurmountable levels of loss experienced on that day, paired with the peace and love that burst into every corner of the home… filling the walls, and the air, and all spaces in between with the sweetest of memories any human could ever be fortunate enough to have.  Immeasurable love abides here.

It is at this home that even now, as I type this, my mother (without a word) sets down a cup of hot tea beside me and walks away.  I realize how blessed I am.  I am so thankful for this home which has been provided for me, my children, and all who enter into our world.

The Trouble with the Politically Correct Church

May I be honest with you? I’ve sat on this one for a few days because our nation is such a hotbed of violent political banter and demonstrations in this time leading up to the election, that I don’t want to appear as the online equivalent of lighter fluid. I do think, however, a comment made by an Arkansas friend sheds so much light on the issue that it deserves to be shared. 

Barbara Conrady is the mother of a school mate from our time in Arkansas. My sister, Jessica, and her son Elton were in the same grade. In an online discussion the other night, Mrs. Conrady said, “It is time for followers of Jesus to stand up and speak. The Church has been deceived by political correctness.” Wow. There was so much truth packed into those two sentences that I knew immediately I’d have to blog this. It was too good to keep to myself. Let me share with you what I appreciate about her insightful comment.

First, notice the capitalization of the word, “Church.” This was done intentionally, I’m most certain, as a reference to the “Church” as the body of Christ. It doesn’t mean a building with a steeple, filled with pews. The Church is the living, breathing body of Christian believers, who are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. 

Romans 12:2 ESV~ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

John 17:15-18 ESV~ “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Let me repeat this… we are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. Why then are we so afraid to do this? Why are we so scared of hurting feeling or ruffling feathers that we would rather sit in silent acceptance of the world as it is? 

I think her comment explains it perfectly.  Not only society, but also our churches (brick and mortar buildings) encourage us to be politically correct. We can’t possibly say THAT to THIS group of people, because it just wouldn’t be right. It might upset someone. I’m thinking back to all of the lessons we are taught in the Bible. Times when Jesus, or even the disciples, spoke to people about turning from their sins. I don’t remember one time that they failed to deliver a message of truth to a group of people out of fear that someone might get their feelings hurt. These men were willing to risk their very lives to speak the truth about God’s commandments. Today, are we to be more concerned about people’s FEELINGS or about their ETERNITY? 

I know there are certain “hot topics” that many churches steer clear of mentioning. Mind you, I didn’t say all churches, but many. Race, religion, money, sexuality (homosexuality, adultery), abortion, divorce, politics… I’m sure there are more. These are the issues that will literally split a church. I’ve seen it happen. 

In my lifetime, I’ve attended several amazing churches, and I can attest that the ones in which my spirit has been fed the most are the churches where the pastor is strong in his faith, and speaks words of truth from the Scripture. I admire a pastor who is brave in his beliefs, and doesn’t water down the message he’s called to bring to the Church body. If your pastor has rooted his belief system in the Word of God, and can back it up with such, how can we as the Body of Christ disagree? If the Bible is our guidebook, and our church structures itself on Biblical principles, how can we object? Seems logical, but free will (our opportunity to chose right or wrong, righteousness or sin) comes into play, and this is where the disconnect begins.

You may have met those Believers who tell you they agree with “parts” of the Bible. I’ve never really understood how that works. Do they think that God put these commands and instructions in there as a multiple choice, and we are somehow granted the power to chose “none of the above” as an acceptable answer? I don’t believe that’s how my God works. I think His Word is His Word. I think if He didn’t mean it, He wouldn’t have said it. Surely, as imperfect as we are on a daily basis, we don’t somehow think we know better than God Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. 

I had a friend last week who decided we could no longer be friends because he didn’t agree with the way I was voting in this election. Aside from being incredibly shocked, I did have one moment of thinking that just maybe I was doing something right. I’m standing firm in my beliefs- beliefs that I can back up with Scripture- and I’m doing what I know in my heart is the right thing. It’s not my place to condemn you for disagreeing with me, but if I’m being called to be set apart, and the rest of the world seems fine with glossing over what is nothing more than pure sin, then it’s okay for me to speak what I know is truth. Not just in a political arena, either. Sin is sin is sin. Period. We all know when we do it. It’s not our job to placate the world, and tell them that their sin is fine, because HEAVEN FORBID we upset someone! What we are told is not to judge. I can disagree with you without judging and condemning you. The manner in which the message is delivered is 99.9% of the task. 

I’ll give you an example. I have a friend I simply adore. We truly have a Spirit bond with one from the moment we met. We’ve prayed together, cried together, and had some really tough discussions. One of the reasons I love her so dearly is that she is a straight shooter with me. There’s no sugar-coating of anything. Life is very black and white. In one sinful period of my life I was about to enter into something that my friend saw as dangerous to me. She came to me, not in judgement, hatred, or anger; but in sincerity, discernment, and love. The human side of me didn’t like the message she brought in that moment, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My Spirit, on the other hand, knew it was exactly what I needed to hear. She’s loved me through mistakes, and she’s loved me through my successes. I think that is the example Christ wants us to follow as the Church body. 

If we see a brother or sister falter in sin, sin as defined by Biblical principles, we are called to love them. This does not mean we are called to encourage them in their sin. There is a difference. The Bible doesn’t call us to political correctness. That’s an instruction from the world. Did you catch that? The world. The sinful, ego-driven, self-absorbed, destructive world that we live in is giving us this instruction, not Jesus. 

I pray for our country, and my prayer is primarily this- that each member of the Church body would demonstrate the love and kindness to all humans that we are called to by our Heavenly Father. He created us all. There are no perfect people on this planet. We are all imperfect sinners, and can only find redemption through His unfailing grace and mercy. He’s been so generous to us. It’s a shame we don’t do that for one another.

Our churches need to have the courage to preach the truth. Our pastors should pray to God for the perfect words to speak to His Body. I know many of them do. We, as a collective whole, should be praying and lifting up our pastors and churches now more than ever. Christians have to embrace what we are called to do. It isn’t always an easy thing, but for the brief time we are in this planet, don’t you want to experience the fulfillment that can only be achieved when we are living FULLY in the will of God? I know I do. If it causes me to lose a few friends in the process, I’m so sorry they would chose that route. I can only speak for myself. That’s who I’m accountable for, after all. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here, and I’m loving everyone- every single person, regardless.

Our job is not to encourage the world to do whatever makes them happy. Many sinful things can make people “happy.” As Christians, we aren’t called to happiness, we are called to righteousness. 

We have to have the courage to make that stand. It’s time for His people to speak. Speak.

Catching My Breath

It’s been long since I’ve written.  My hiatus has been less about not having a desire to write, but more about trying to catch my breath from the past few years.  This is the period in time I’ve waited to get to for almost 600 days and I’ve learned something surprising- the landscape is very different here than I imagined it would be.  As I reflect on my world, my environment as it is today some remains the same, but much is changed.  For months, years now, I’ve waited for that light at the end of the tunnel everyone promised me would come.  It’s a very new and different picture I see lluminated by that light.

In my life I’ve learned that during times of great stress and pressure some people are able to take the trip with you while others chose to get off at the nearest stop and continue on their journey without you.  It has been a harsh realization.  Harsh because it has forced me to look at parts of myself I’m not so proud of.  People look for excuses- I know this because I’ve been one of those people.  Truth is we all do it to some extent, at some point.  Embarrassingly one of my most painful and personal example of this took place when one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was diagnosed when we were very young.  Dawn and I had been friends since we were about 6 years old.  There were other friends in and out of that circle, even quiet lapses of time, but she and I were always close.  When I learned of her diagnosis it seemed unthinkable to me.  Young adults don’t get breast cancer.  Surely that disease is reserved only for those in old age.  Not so.  She had it and it was a heartbreaking reality.  Apparently too heartbreaking for me to deal with… sadly.   She lived in Texas and I was in Tennessee.  We talked several times about making plans to see one another, but they never seemed to pan out.  Then, in what would be the final years of her life, I began to distance myself from her when Dawn started acting in ways I didn’t understand and I didn’t agree with.  Today I see what a haughty, self-righteous person I was being.  At the time I completely saw myself in the right- needing to instruct her in what I thought was correct.  It’s unfortunate that it took her death along with some of my own life experience to show me how I wasted- WASTED- this precious and valuable time I could have had with her.  What she needed was her friend and not a critic of her actions.  My friend was in a position that was completely impossible for me to relate to.  She was going to lose her life, lose her sons, and lose her husband.  She had already lost one breast.  Who in this WORLD did I think I was???  She needed me.  I wasn’t there for her.  I had convinced myself that the separation with her was inevitable and that I couldn’t be a part of her new life if it didn’t line up with mine.  What a waste of the short time that we’re given here on this planet.  It haunts me to this day.

None of us are placed here to live life for another person.  We are placed here to forge our own paths and to do what we can with the gifts and the talents God has given us.  I am the only person who will have to answer for my decisions just as you are the only person who will have to answer for yours.  It is ridiculous to waste time sitting in judgment of one another while we are here when we could be offering support and hopefully continuously learning while moving forward.  While we are alive we will have great successes and great failures.  We will experience times of unbridled jubilation and times of utter defeat.  I think that being able to admit our humanness and imperfection is what makes us relatable to one another and strengthens the relationships we have.  It has been healing to say out loud that I feel weak and tired.  It’s been equally as healing to have strong shoulders to lean upon when I felt my strength was gone.

So I’m catching my breath lately.  I’m letting myself catch up with all that’s been happening.  I’m building up my strength again and getting ready for the new path that lays ahead.  I’m counting my blessings for all that I have.  I’ve been forced to reflect upon certain situations I’m responsible for (and some that I’m not) and I must say it has been one of the most trying periods I’ve ever gone through.  I’ve felt sweet support from friends old and new and have been literally thrown face first under the wheels of a bus by others.  There may be times in life I disappoint people or perhaps they don’t agree with my actions, but I have never set out to bring harm or pain to another person.  I have never woken up and thought, “How can I hurt so-and-so today?”  Sadly, I know there are people in this world who can’t make the same claim.  Fortunately for me I don’t have to worry about any of that.  Again, it is something they will have to answer for- not me. 

One focus that I’ve kept through all the trials is how very blessed I am.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I’m so thankful for the gift of my children.  These two little ones are the very reason that I’m here.  This part of our life as a family hasn’t turned out exactly as I had expected, but I have to believe that everything happens for a higher-ordered reason.  Ava and Eli bring me happiness and joy every day and I miss them terribly on the days I don’t have them.  Absence from my children (when they are with their father) is, without a doubt, the most difficult part of this new phase of life.  We trust that God has a plan for us and we know He’s always going to take care of us. 

I’m thankful for a strong, caring person who very unexpectedly drifted into my life and offered support when the battle was at a fevered pitch.  Neither of us could have predicted that a coincidental meeting would have resulted in an immediate friendship that quietly and powerfully grew into something deeper.  He’s tolerated more than anyone should ever be expected to for the sake of simply being with me and my gratitude to him is endless.  I have complete faith and trust in him.  It’s so nice to be able to feel that way about someone.  I am proud of him and the man he is.  How blessed I am to have been given the opportunity to meet him, to be with him, to laugh with him, and to love him.  Thank you, Brent. 

I was taught as a child that when you grow up if you have just a few really good friends then you are considered very lucky.  I always thought that was crazy since my list of “friends” seemed endless.  The older I’ve gotten the more I understand this theory.  Amy Jo, Brandy, and Lori have been with me practically every step of the way and their support has been unwavering.  These girls accept me for who I am.  I will always return the favor.  Amy Jo Powell, thank you, thank you, thank you.  You have been here everyday.  In this time of wavering “constants” it’s so comforting to know we’re in this for the long haul.  You completely get my need to retreat within myself at times, but you always come calling when I’ve been quiet for too long.  My handful of tried and true buddies are precious to me and I value them so very much.  Melanie, I’m thankful God put you in my life and I’m so glad you’re still here.  I’m blessed with sweet friends in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado who are sweet enough to check on me. 

I want to assure everyone that I’m still here, I’m just fine, and I know that there are great things in store.  It’s amazing the strength I’ve come to realize through the last several years.  I’ve not been strong each step of the way, but God has perfectly positioned loved ones in those spaces to carry me when I was too weak to do it myself.  I look forward to 2013 and have confidence that this will be a wonderful year for me and my family.  May it be a wonderful year for each of you as well.

Love- a reblog from July 20, 2012

Love by Amanda Elder Silvers

 
“Love is a many splendored thing.” No other feeling or emotion can so thoroughly engulf one’s soul that we are able to be transported to another planet through the euphoria of it or slammed down into the darkest pits of despair because of the heartbreak of it. As a woman I love “love”. I appreciate the importance of it. I enjoy both the giving and receiving of it. I have seen firsthand the healing powers it possesses and I’ve seen the wreckage and the harsh aftermath of love gone bad or taken for granted.

If you were asked to define the word “love” what would you say? I could post a dictionary definition of the word, but I’d like for you to really take a second and think. I love ice cream. I love my children. Is it the same?…. hardly. Love can wear any number of faces and it can been seen through any number of actions. First love. Love lost. The power of love. The gift of love. True love. Eternal love. I’m not sure there really is a right answer. I believe that if we are blessed enough in our lives to have love then we base our definition upon our personal experience with it.

In high school if asked to define “love” my answer would have most definitely been directed toward some boy who made my palms sweaty and heart race. Books, music, and television all convince us that we are on a quest to find “perfect love”. <I’ve become a little hostile to the media because of this insinuation> In college my opinion was probably much the same. Into adulthood however, after my children were born, my answer would become much different. Enter unconditional love. What an amazing thing to experience. Before I even met these two little beings I loved them and would have given my life for them. As a pregnant woman you eat healthy, you live healthy, and you’re much more aware of your daily actions knowing now that everything you do won’t just affect you, but this precious little being you have inside. Once I had the pleasure of meeting them I knew in an instant that the love I felt for them would never fade. There is nothing either of those cute, loud, rambunctious little young’uns could ever do to diminish even 1% of the love I feel for them. If anything it increases daily.

I like to think this is just a very small-scale version of the love God has for us, His children. He was and is the supreme example of unconditional love. While we were yet sinners, He loved us and gave His Son to die on a cross that we could have the opportunity for an eternal life spent with Him in Heaven. THAT’S the most amazing love. His love is the truest love and the one we should most desire. The beauty is that we don’t even have to do anything to deserve it. He loves us even before we are born. His love never fails.

Psalm 136

Praise the Lord! He is good.
God’s love never fails.
2 Praise the God of all gods.
God’s love never fails.
3 Praise the Lord of lords.
God’s love never fails.
4 Only God works great miracles.[a]
God’s love never fails.
5 With wisdom he made the sky.
God’s love never fails.
6 The Lord stretched the earth
over the ocean.
God’s love never fails.
7 He made the bright lights
in the sky.
God’s love never fails.
8 He lets the sun rule each day.
God’s love never fails.
9 He lets the moon and the stars
rule each night.
God’s love never fails.
10 God struck down the first-born
in every Egyptian family.
God’s love never fails.
11 He rescued Israel from Egypt.
God’s love never fails.
12 God used his great strength
and his powerful arm.
God’s love never fails.
13 He split the Red Sea[b] apart.
God’s love never fails.
14 The Lord brought Israel safely
through the sea.
God’s love never fails.
15 He destroyed the Egyptian king
and his army there.
God’s love never fails.
16 The Lord led his people
through the desert.
God’s love never fails.
17 Our God defeated mighty kings.
God’s love never fails.
18 And he killed famous kings.
God’s love never fails.
19 One of them was Sihon,
king of the Amorites.
God’s love never fails.
20 Another was King Og of Bashan.
God’s love never fails.
21 God took away their land.
God’s love never fails.
22 He gave their land to Israel,
the people who serve him.
God’s love never fails.
23 God saw the trouble we were in.
God’s love never fails.
24 He rescued us from our enemies.
God’s love never fails.
25 He gives food to all who live.
God’s love never fails.
26 Praise God in heaven!
God’s love never fails.
 
(Source: Biblegateway.com)

Love ’em if you got ’em

Tomorrow will mark the 2nd Father’s Day my family will experience without my dad.  If you’ve lost a parent you understand the pain.  If you’ve not this message is really for you.

I was fortunate in my household to have grown up with a very expressive family- perhaps too expressive at times.  There was never a shortage of discussion in the Elder household- whether it was about church, life, boys, God, school, friends just whatever.  Jess and I grew up having open lines of communication with our parents from the time we could speak.  We were always encouraged to express ourselves (a life lesson I often wonder if my mother regrets having trained me in SO well!).  I never had to wonder how my parents felt about me.  “I love you” was a common phrase used in our house.  I’m not trying to paint an unrealistic picture of a fairytale existence, but the truth is we all  liked each other and even though we had our squabbles at times they were usually short-lived.

This Sunday, just as it is most other days, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to have the opportunity to see  my father just one more time.  I would give all the earthly possessions that I have for even just 15 minutes of sitting in his presence, holding his hand, hugging his sweet neck, hearing his voice say “Mandy” or “Manda” to me, and getting to be with him.  I miss my dad like I never knew I was capable of missing someone.  It’s an ache that comes from a deep place inside and never truly goes away.  I’m not even sure it fades.  I think I just chose to tune it out during the times when it is too hard to take.  It’s an enduring absence that never lessens.

Most of you know, but some may not, that during his sickness my father was at home.  It was his wish and my mother fulfilled it perfectly, beautifully, unselfishly, and without complaint.  The importance of that for our family was two-fold.  First, my dad’s final wish was being honored.  How could any of us not honor this man who had shown such honor for us as husband and father?  Second, we were able to see him all the time.  The night he died we stood at his bedside, and whereas in the movies a family will gather around and have the opportunity to say final words and things they’d never had a chance to say before, for our family it was simply a restating of the words and love we had for him every day.  Mom, Jess, and I all got to thank him.  We all told him how proud we were of him and what an amazing job he had been as provider, leader, and spiritual covering he had been for all of us.  I will forever be thankful for those moments.  Hard as they were to go through they were as perfect as we could have ever hoped for.

I guess what I’d like to express in this blog is this one simple thought- while you still have your family, your parents, your siblings…. love them.  Tell them that you love them.  When we are able to step out of ourselves for a moment and really, really take a hard look at the big picture it’s amazing how the problems and quarrels that we felt were “so big” will simply fall away like ashes from a burning paper.  People fuss.  We disagree.  We hurt one another whether intentionally or accidentally, and we all could benefit from growing up and learning to be more forgiving and more thoughtful.  If you have your loved ones this holiday, or this Sunday, or any day this month please don’t take it for granted.  Things can change in an instant.  I promise you.  Hug your dad tomorrow.  Kiss his face and tell him you love him.  In doing that simple and important action you’ll have the opportunity to do something that I’ll never again be able to do in this lifetime.  Don’t miss the opportunity.

The Easter Bunny

When Elijah was in preschool I was asked one year to be the Easter bunny for the “Friends At Play” children’s Easter celebration.  I laughed at the idea, but decided it would be fun and very quickly agreed.  Elijah was the cutest little four-year old in his Easter shorts and shirt and so excited about the egg hunt that was planned for that day.  I dropped him off at preschool and walked him inside, as normal, and then left to change into a huge, fuzzy, sweltering rabbit costume.

It was a perfect day outside.  The sun was shining and the temperature was a lovely mid-70’s as opposed to the temperature inside that costume which was every bit the equivalent of being in the 9th level of hell.  I waited off in a side room until I was given “the okay” by school staff and was taken around to each of the three classrooms to see the children.  I wasn’t supposed to speak- bunnies after all do not talk- so I hopped and bounced and hugged and waved my hands about in excited shows of expression.  Most of the kids were very excited about seeing the Easter bunny, but there were a few who seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fluffy white costume.  I let them fall back behind their teachers and didn’t push my luck with them.  I didn’t want to contribute to any undue childhood trauma which may result in a visit to a therapist in their adult years, but it seemed that as they watched and saw that the Easter bunny was harmless and just being silly and giving out hugs most of them came around.

Elijah’s was the second classroom that I came to.  He’s always tried to be a brave little thing, but as his mamma I know that there are still a few situations that make him nervous.  He watched me interact with a few of the other kids before he came to check out the Easter bunny for himself, but when he did he threw those little arms around my leg and squeezed out the biggest hug.  I realize that I’m a little biased considering I carried this child inside me for 9 months, but honestly I don’t know a little boy with a sweeter heart and more love for his mother than my ‘Lijah.  He makes me melt every time I see him and the words that come out of his mouth “I’ll miss you mamma” or “I love you mamma” have always made my heart full.  (I love Miss Ava just as much, but this blog is about Eli.  Ava will have her own story next.) 🙂

I bent down and hugged him right on his level and it took everything I had inside me not to blurt out, “Eli, it’s ME!  It’s your mom!” I knew I could never reveal this little secret.  As long as my children still believe in these magical creatures I’m going to let them.  I think it’s a fun part of childhood, one that I enjoyed as a kid, and I want them to get to have that experience.  They are smart children and I know it won’t last long.  Eventually the concept of Santa or the Easter bunny will melt away, but as long as they still have that little spark of “believe” in them I’m not going to extinguish it.  I wouldn’t dare.

The Easter bunny, children, teachers, and several parent helpers all moved outside to prepare for the egg hunt.  My job was to sit in a designated spot and each child would be brought to me and set on my lap to have pictures taken and included in an Easter card which each child was making for their parents.  I sat, sweating away, in the huge fuzzy costume as each child was brought to me and our picture was made.  It was interesting to me that this was the first time in my life I was in front of a camera for numerous pictures and I didn’t have to smile.  When the first child was placed with me our photographer Susan said, “Smile for me!” and I smiled a big smile and then realized no one can see my face underneath this 20-pound bunny head!  She was telling the kids to smile.  I think during one point in the middle of taking pics with the second class of 4-year-olds I actually started making faces under my bunny head.  Who was ever gonna know?!

When it was Eli’s turn to sit with me I wrapped my arms around him and he snuggled into me.  He smiled a sweet smile and we had our picture taken.  It was interesting to me that throughout the afternoon he would keep finding his way back to me.  He’d hug me or sit with me more than any other child in his group did.  One of the teachers even came up to me and quietly commented, “It’s almost like he knows it’s you in there.”  This thought brought the biggest smile to my face. 

As a parent you always want your children to know that you love them.  I’ve never experienced love so full of meaning as I did when I first became a parent.  There’s nothing to compare it to.  In an instant you would give your life for this tiny creature you’ve just met, but it’s like your souls have a connection that is beyond explanation.  I felt this other-worldly love with each of my children.  Even when they were still inside my stomach I would talk to them and read to them and sing to them.  What a tremendous gift motherhood is.  Without a doubt my proudest accomplishment.  I feel so blessed that God would allow me the privilege of watching over these two little ones during their time here on earth.  I know what great responsibility comes with being charged in that role.  I have thanked Him for allowing me to watch these two which from birth already belong to Him.

I would hope all through their lives both Eli and Ava will know beyond a doubt that the love I feel for them sometimes is so overwhelming I feel it could cause my heart to explode.  I’ve made mistakes as a parent.  I’ve learned through challenges that I’ve faced and that my little family has gone through, but the adoration and love I feel for these babies has always been a sweet constant in my life since their arrivals. 

That day in the Easter bunny costume I realized that no matter what happens in life- no matter time or distance, harmony or dissention, me as me or me in a bunny costume- I always hope my children will know the love I have for them.  I want them to feel it as something palpable.  I hope they do.

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