Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mountains and Majesty

My feet and bones are sore, every muscle I own is grumpy, but my heart is full of JOY!

I'm home from a jam-packed weekend with 30 other ladies, who traveled to the Smoky Mountains for a Women of Joy conference.  This year was extra special because my Momma came along.

Oh, the laughs we shared!

The conference was a first for mom - and many of the other ladies, so I stood in prayer for them.  I remember my first WOJ and how anxious I was, even if it was with women I knew and respected from church.  Never really being a "slumber party" type gal or having a roommate, those kinds of situations still tend to make me nervous. 

But as God does, he sends us hugs at just the needed moments.  We had a lot of those on our trip!  The first big one was upon our arrival.  Unplanned, we pulled into the driveway of our sprawling home away from home at 2:30 on the dot (Austin's jersey number and how he often says hello).  You could hear the bubbling creek from the car so, of course, that was our first stop before even going inside.  What we found were dozens of beautiful yellow butterflies, a symbol Austin has always used to send us hugs.  Needless to say, I entered the house a little teary-eyed!

We went down a day before the conference so it gave us time to relax, disconnect from the busy-ness of the world, and reflect on God's beauty.  I always am filled with a peace unlike any other when I'm in the mountains.  For me, it just feels closer to Him - and not because of the altitude!  In our free time over the weekend, we enjoyed lots of yummy food (too much!), a scenic drive through Cades Cove (mom's first) and a souvenir jaunt down the strip.  We did not do any outlet shopping and I was thrilled that my carmates didn't mind one bit.

The rest of our time was spent with 10,000 other women praising God and soaking up His word.  Have you ever sung Amazing Grace with 10,000 other women?  Truly, Amazing!  I get goosebumps still, just thinking about it.  So many moments in worship I was brought to tears in the sheer beauty of it, the privilege it was to be there, and the connection I felt to my Savior.

We were blessed to hear from admired writers and speakers, like Angela Thomas, and funny-til-you-pee comedian, Chondra Pierce.  Every speaker had a nugget of information and whisper from God for each women at the conference, I believe.  There were several salvations through the course of the weekend from the crowd.  Though every head was bowed, there was a sense of connection in hearing those words, "welcome to the family" and cause for rejoicing.

I scribbled notes in the dark when I could, as their words resonated within me.  The bad part was that I didn't record the speaker who said it.  So, if you're inspired just google Women of Joy and check out all the amazing women who are a part of it!  :)

As Satan does, he attempted often to spoil our weekend.  Months ago, he set to attacking Mom in efforts to keep her even from going.  He distracted and hissed, throwing up inconveniences and roadblocks wherever possible.

Our final night, both Mom and I were feeling a little weary.  The long walks to the conference, followed by a wobbly path on the strip, hustling to a concert (to catch the last two songs!), and lack of sleep saw us both in great physical pain.  So much so that going up two flights of steps for our prayer gathering felt daunting.  Though Mom would've done it, I could see in her eyes she really couldn't afford it.  My twenty-year younger body was screaming in protest so I could only imagine hers.  But I missed hearing the testimonies of our group.

As he so often does, Satan set to circling around me, trying to fill my heart with anger toward having so much pain.  Some of our physical issues are hereditary, though the majority of mine come from a motorcycle wreck ten years ago.  The devil loves to make me wonder why my God would put me through such daily pain and keep me from being able to move and do as I would like.

And I'm sure he would've wanted nothing more than to send us both to bed unhappy and second-guessing our attendance.  But I've learned that a sure-fire way to send him packing is by pulling out my Bible and standing in prayer.

So even though I couldn't join the group physically, I was there in spirit.  Voices above me became background music for my Bible reading.  And in their quiet moments, I would pray for whoever was sharing or might be in need.  In the end, our sweet friend who rode home with us shared some of the stories from the night.

Those testimonies were much needed fillers for the nearly 9 hour drive we would endure on our way back.  It should've taken half that time, but I guess when you have 10,000 people leaving one place, there's bound to be a traffic jam!

At several points along our ride, we were astounded at the hatefulness of others on the road.  Trucks tailgating and honking in areas we couldn't go faster if we wanted.  Fingers and curse words tossed our way.  But we didn't let it steal our joy.  Momma would throw on her bright red clown nose for a laugh.  At just the needed moment a fellow WOJer would let us weave.  And God kept sending us signs and hugs.

Now, I can't even recall most of them but, in one extra tense situation, He sent message after message, using billboards, bumper stickers and even an exit sign for "Trinity Lane" to remind us who was in control.

Dropping my passengers off to their loved ones, I returned home to mine.  Both of my guys had spent time straightening up the house and doing laundry and had a hot dinner ready for me, complete with warm from the oven brownies.  It allowed me to relax and soak up their company, sharing the highlights from the weekend.  My JOY was complete.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Guest Post: Top Three Ways to Remember the People You Miss Most

Joyful Readers... 

Please welcome Allison Gilbert, my first guest poster!  I'm drawn to her mission of keeping the memory of loved ones alive and know you will be too.

 I’ve never met anyone who’s completely stopped thinking about the person he or she loved; our memories flow in and out and wash over us at anticipated and unexpected times. And while many of us want to keep the memories of lost loved ones alive, the question that often confounds us is -- how?  The absence of a useful guide to answer this question is what prompted me to write my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, the first roadmap for discovering fun, creative, and inspiring ways to remember the family and friends we never want to forget.

 My motivation for writing the book extends beyond filling an unmistakable void in bereavement literature. I want anyone who has ever lost a dear friend or family member to embrace their memories and celebrate them. Why? Because doing so will likely make you happier.

 Honoring past relationships has proven to have such significant restorative power that noted grief expert J. William Worden developed an entire bereavement-recovery theory about it. He explains, “Death makes you feel out of control. Taking steps to remember leads to empowerment and feeling empowered is absolutely necessary for living a full, happy, and loving life.”

 I have found this to be true. In the years following the deaths of my loved ones, I came to recognize that the more I incorporated spurts of remembrance into my day to day life -- as opposed to sectioning them off to a particular time of year -- the more I was able to embrace every part of me: the people who have passed, and all that’s good and fulfilling in my present. And I was happier.

 Below are a few of my favorite opportunities for celebrating relationships that are still important to us. In Passed and Present, I call these ideas Forget Me Nots.

 Repurpose Favorite Garments: I love this concept because it turns clothing into objects you can appreciate every day.  A few years after my father died, I made a quilt out of his colorful assortment of neckties. Other possibilities include:

  • Using cherished garments to make handwoven rugs, table runners, Moroccan-style poufs, or throw pillows.
  • Deconstructing fleece jackets and sweatshirts to make cuddly teddy bears.
  • Stitching together corduroy and other thick materials to craft duffel bags, gym bags, and everyday totes with the help of Totes with Tales (

 Make a Game of It:  Given how much we can do with technology these days, it would be a shame to not harness its benefits for children. You can personalize a deck of cards with photographs of both living family members and those you’ve lost. By integrating all your loved ones, children are seamlessly taught to value every relationship in their lives. The same sense of recognition can come from customizing a board book for a toddler or designing your own memory game. And, if you work with the eco-friendly website to create these projects or others, the company will plant a tree in recognition of every purchase—giving customers the opportunity to dedicate that tree to whomever they wish. Love that!

Share Family Recipes: My grandmother made the most delicious coffee cake. I prize the handwritten recipe and worked with Beth Digman, owner of Prairie Hills Pottery, to make it a central part of my kitchen.  Watch this video to see more. Digman creates several types of custom pottery and will make a special piece just for you. Here are two additional ideas for preserving recipes:

  •  Frame a beloved handwritten heirloom as art for your kitchen.
  • Create a DropBox or Google Drive folder where your extended family can upload and share favorite recipes.  This online repository can also include meaningful photographs.

The essential takeaway from Passed and Present is that absence and presence can coexist, and that engaging with the past, and bringing memories into the present, is what gives us the greatest strength to move forward, and helps us find our joy again.  We just need a few ideas.  We all just need to know how.
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