Sunday, January 29, 2012

I love you forever.

Three days ago, God called my grandfather home after a year and a half long battle with cancer.  He went peacefully, surrounded by family members and friends who loved him.  Without going into too much detail regarding the details of this last week, I will say that the cancer had spread so badly that ultimately the oncologist said that right now the best thing to do was to treat the pain and make him as comfortable as possible, and that no further treatment options were available.  We were able to bring him home from the hospital with hospice's help and he passed at home, just like he always said he wanted to. 

About two hours before he passed, I was leaving to take the kids home to put them to bed.  I bent down by his ear and I said, "Grandpa, it's Mandy.  I'm going to take the kids home now.  You just rest.  I know how blessed I was to have you as a grandpa and give you these sweet great grandbabies to take fishing with you.  I love you.  I love you forever."  I stroked his cheek with the back of my hand and kissed his forehead and left. 

A little after midnight, my mom called me and told me that he'd gone.  She told me that about five minutes before, his dog (Sandy, a golden retriever) who had been out in the yard approached his open window and began to whine to be let into the house.  My uncle got up to let her in and she came straight to my grandpa's side and began to lick his hand.  My mom and uncles told Grandpa, "Look, Dad, there's Sandy."  My mom said that Sandy licked his hand and licked up and down his arm and licked his hand some more.  Within a minute, he breathed out his last labored breath and did not take another.  Then there was nothing.  Just peace. 

My grandpa was a very special man to me.  Words cannot begin to express how sad I am that he is gone, but how relieved I am that he is no longer hurting, no longer in pain, no longer struggling.  I know that he is at rest, I know that he is at peace.  I also feel really fortunate to have received confirmation from my grandfather himself prior to his passing regarding his salvation.  I know that I will see him again one day.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm alive!

Whoa, it's been awhile.  I told myself that since this is a new year and all, I would try to do my very best to keep my blog updated on at least a weekly basis.  It's now the 15th and it just dawned on me that I hadn't so much as even attempted a post.  Yikes.  So much for dedication.

As of today, Adam and I have officially joined our church (linked if you're interested.)  We feel so very fortunate to have found a wonderful group of families to do life with.  The boys are getting involved in Awana (a little late, primarily because I didn't usually get off of work until 5pm, and having them to church by 6 was a nightmare until recently when we discovered a new gameplan and I am now off at 4pm) and Adam and I are very much getting into scripture and discussing what we read with each other at home.  We take heart in knowing that our children see us studying the Bible together, talking about what we read, and encouraging them to do the same, and most importantly, living what we read and demonstrating it for all to see.  Many times, Coop and Noah will bring their Beginnner's Bible to us and ask us to read them a few pages from it.  That really warms a mama's heart!

One of the most wonderful things about this church (in addition to the fantastic people who attend and teach there!) is how technologically advanced they are.  The website has online podcasts of the Sunday teachings (just in case you missed one or two, you won't get behind) along with discussion questions you are encouraged to review with your family/small group.  During worship, a projector displays lyrics to songs played during the music service.  I love, love, love the music.  Here's a link to my all time favorite worship songs.  Well, two of them.  It's a tie and I couldn't decide, really. 

This is my favorite song that we sing at church.  I am a HUGE Hillsong United fan!

And this is my other favorite.  Brooke Fraser is the soloist.

Oh!  And this one.  Gosh, I love these songs.

Things at work are pretty much the same; I have stumbled across another possible job opportunity and may be making a career change, if it's what's planned for me.  I am just anxious to be used more and to make a positive impact in my community.  I feel a strong pull toward working with children and teenagers; really hoping that I can be used in this capacity.  Adam and I have talked about it and prayed about it a lot and though it would certainly mean a pay cut, we feel it will be worth it.  Here's hoping!  :) 

My grandfather is in the hospital this week.  He had a metastic tumor removed from his right motor strip in his brain last November.  The surgery was a success but he has not regained much movement on his left side as a result of the tumor.  We would have never known the tumor was there, had it not been for his decreased mobility on the left side.  We initially thought it was a stroke or something.  He stayed in the hospital until Christmas Eve and was released and though he is largely unable to really care for himself, we honored his wishes to bring him home from the hospital.  Adam has been a godsend this last month; he would go down in the middle of the night to help Grandpa off and on the toilet and to help him clean up, in addition to spending most days with him and helping him with food/cleaning himself/dressing. 

Last Tuesday, Grandpa was experiencing some chest pain so Adam (with Cooper in tow) took him to the ER.  His enzymes were positive for having had a heart attack so he was sent via ambulance to Tallahassee because they have a nice cardiac unit there.  He definitely had a heart attack and this will slow him down even more on his road to recovery.  He is very emotional and is convinced that he is dying.  We try to tell him to stay positive but he cries and tells us how much he loves us and breaks our hearts all the while.  It is so hard to watch the one person you thought was invinceable become so frail and afraid.  He talks often of being hopeful that he will one day see my grandmother again.  Our main concern right now is for his comfort and peace -- we know that God's will is perfect, even though we may not always understand why these things happen to people.  I am eager to go see him tomorrow at the hospital.  It's a holiday, so no worries about missing work!  :) 

Also worth mentioning, I joined the Afghan Block of the Month Club at my local yarn shop.  Each month, I will receive two patterns and two skeins of yarn to create two 13 inch blocks to ultimately be sewn together at the end of the year to make a huge cuddly afghan!  So that's where I am, knitting wise.  About halfway through my first block of the month and ready to start the next one after that!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Move forward.

Most of you can remember what it was like when you first started driving.  You were probably really eager to get out there on your own and go places (like the Winn Dixie parking lot, and then to the Food Lion parking lot -- for hours at a time on a Friday night after the football game, if you were from Madison, haha.)  If you were anything like I was, you were also REALLY paranoid.  Not of yourself (you're the best driver you have ever known, right?) but moreso of those behind you.  When I first started driving, I knew it was important to check your rearview mirrors often.  But I looked into that rearview mirror and paid so much attention to the things behind me that I sometimes couldn't pay very much attention to what was right in front of me.  Kind of scary to think about it now, looking back, how I didn't just run into the things in front of me.  :/

I think sometimes we focus so much on our past, looking in our own internal rearview mirrors, that we prevent ourselves from moving forward and opening our eyes to things right in front of us.  Years ago, I made a promise to God.  I promised to love Him, serve Him, and praise Him no matter what.  As the teenage and young adult years came into view, I made a lot of mistakes.  I did a lot of things that I knew were not right in God's eyes.  I trudged on, carrying a truckload of guilt and sins around with me and never once considered laying them down.  Failed relationships where I compromised more than I ever imagined, I carried them.  Strained relationships with family members that I refused to forgive, I carried them.  Massive amounts of guilt.  I knew all it took was a half step in the other direction and I could lay those burdens down before God and be forgiven.  But I refused.  That doesn't make much sense, right?  Why would we have sins in our past that we refuse to lay down?   I know, I know.

I guess sometimes we feel like some sins are so huge that we can't ever be fully forgiven for them.  Maybe, just maybe, we feel like we have to carry them around, punishing ourselves in our own little torture chambers, constantly reminding us of the horrible things we have done in our past.  But that thinking isn't correct.  In fact, that's the thinking that keeps us chained to our pasts.  If we're stuck in the past, looking constantly in our rearview mirror, there is no hope whatsoever to keep moving forward.  Nothing makes Satan happier than to see us full of despair, hatred, self-loathing, fear and unhappiness.  But that's not what the Lord wants for us.  In fact, we can't even experience what God wants for us when we refuse to let go of what He has already forgiven.

Of course we should look back from time to time.  It's all part of moving forward.  And when we do look back, we need to look back with utmost thankfulness to God.  For me, these last few weeks have been about getting right and turning away from the old things that got in the way between me and God. It's amazing how all you have to do is take just one half step and God meets you right there. When you think you are so far from Him, and He's been right there all along, saying "Finally! I have been waiting for you."

Thank you, God, for bringing me this far.  Thank you for the love that You have shown us through the sacrifice You made to set us free.  Because of Your forgiveness, when I look back, I can do so with hope for the future.  Because of my past, I can serve as a witness to others to show them Your love, faithfulness and forgiveness.  I hope that for all the rest of my days, my eyes will no longer be set permanently upon the rearview mirror.

If you are struggling with letting go of your baggage, rest assured that God wants your junk.  All you have to do is hand it over.

(via Google Images)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cowl YOU doing?

Okay, truth is, I couldn't find anything quirky to say about my current love obsession with cowls.  So -- it was a shameless Joey from Friends impersonation.

Thursday night, I cast on a beauiful cowl using Malabrigo Rasta yarn.  Friday morning, it bound it off the needles and it looked like this:

*cue dramatic gasp from audience*

Yes, that's right.  I made this in a collective three hours.  Isn't it gorgeous?

Now, for my next attempt, I will be making another cowl called the Honey Cowl using this yarn:

A closeup of that extravagantly beautiful yarn, you ask?  Why sure!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Take your own advice.

Ever find yourself in a unique situation when you end up taking your own advice and have a really hard time with it?  That's how things have been for me lately.  I've embarked on an incredible journey -- one that will take me years and years of growth, one that will wage the strength of my friendships, work relationships and professionalism. 

You see, recently, I made a huge commitment to God.  I fully committed to loving the Lord and praising Him for His many blessings, even in times when I feel as though I have been looked over.  It's a commitment to say, "Lord, I love You.  Thank You for all that You have done in my life and all that You continue to do.  All I want to do is love You and make You smile -- through my life, through my love, through my family, through my career.  I will praise You no matter what." 

It's so easy to sing your praises in the sanctuary, so easy to stand at the top of the mountain and say, "I LOVE YOU GOD!" but it's quite another thing to be an example of Christ's love in the valleys, on the hard days.  The days when you feel everyone else has been given favor but you.  The days when you wonder if you'll ever find a job you could like yourself for.  The days when you feel like your kids are good for anyone else but you.  We have all stood at the top of the mountain, we have all fallen to our knees in the deepest, muddiest, slickest valleys. 

I have made the conscious decision to stop bad mouthing others.  Not like I did it all that much anyway, but when I did, it wasn't good.  (I laugh at myself because though this idea had hung in the rafters of my mind for awhile now, I heard something very similar to it at church today, which caused a resurgence of interest.)  From now on, when I talk about someone else, I am going to evaluate what I am saying by using this age old triple-filter adage:  Is what I am saying about this person necessary? Is it kind?  Is it true?  You may gasp at this idea, because you want to believe that the person writing this blog isn't the kind of girl who succumbs to negativity.  But I am.  I can all so easily find myself wrapped up in another person's negativity and find it affecting me adversely as well.  Instead of lifting someone else up out of their own pit, before I know what's happened, I've allowed them to hand me a shovel so I can make my own as well.  Has that ever happened to you?

Here's a thought:  would you take financial advice from a person who had squandered their whole life savings away on a pile of pocket lint?  (Maybe so you could do the opposite of what they did, you say.  I feel you.)  So yes, back to this whole idea of giving advice that you really aren't taking yourself.  I have found myself in an interesting position lately:  in recent months, I felt as though I really wanted to get my husband involved in going to church with me.  Adam doesn't do the "church thing" -- but he eventually decided he wanted to go (without my prodding, even!) and began going to church services with me.   

A few weeks back, I was going through some terrible things at work.  I was sitting in my office one day with the light off (conserving energy) and the door shut (for peace and quiet) when I overheard a group of coworkers talking about me right outside my door.  They didn't know I was in my office, so I pretty much heard all kinds of negative things I didn't really need to hear.  Long story short, I was sick over it.  I opened the door, they all saw me and saw that I was inside, but I never said anything to any of them and figured that just them knowing I was there and heard them was punishment enough.  I figured I would be able to move on because I really didn't care what those people thought of me, they didn't sign my paycheck and I wasn't married to them.

In the weeks to come after that incident, forgiveness was hard for me to even consider.  I have never really been a person to let things go.  It's my biggest flaw, my heaviest burden.  I can never just forgive and forget, and when I am able to forgive, it takes me YEARS of growth to get to that point, if I can at all.  I found myself sick to my stomach (I thought I had ulcers), fighting with my husband, getting annoyed with my children, etc.  I eventually got to the point that I was ready to find another job.  I didn't want to work there anymore and deal with the drama and negativity.  Little did I realize, I was a carrier for this disease, negativity, and it was a sickness I could NOT put down despite my feeble attempts.  My hurt and anger had such a hold on me that it changed the person that I am.  I found myseld bad mouthing (yes, me!) the people who had hurt me, criticizing every little thing about them and just overall being a negative Nancy.

One day, after church, Adam and I were driving home and I was on my usual rant about how I was dreading work on Monday and how I can't stand that they have me working across the hallway from the very person I most despise, etc.  I was on a roll.  And all of the sudden, Adam looked at me and said, "Honey, you have to let this go.  They talk about forgiveness in church.  It's important.  This is affecting you.  It's affecting me.  It's affecting our family.  Just forgive." 

WOW.  Here I was, telling Adam that going to church would be a good thing for him, and then hearing him tell me what it was really about -- well, let me tell you, humble pie has never been my favorite meal, but I was eating it by the spoonful.  I was so taken aback by evaluating my situation that I burst into tears and it finally occurred to me:  I needed to forgive these people so that I could move on with my life.  Forgive them and then give the rest to God.  So I did.  I prayed about it, I cried about it, and last week, when I went to work on Monday, I felt so much better.  Words can't describe.  This was a distraction that was keeping me from where I needed to be.  It felt so good just to lay it down and move past it.  Sometimes letting something go feels better than struggling to fix it, or make someone else feel as rotten as you did.  I was so glad that I had given it up to God.

On that note, I am reminded of one of my favorite old gospel songs and I'll leave you with it --  "If I hold my peace, let the Lord fight my battle, I know that the victory shall be mine."

Monday, June 27, 2011

I'm being remade; I am new.

The song by Jason Gray, "I am New" has been in my mind for days.  Love that song.

June 26, 2011 at 900 am, I wake up and stare at the alarm clock.  Deep inside of me, I feel the unshakeable urge to go to church.  Not just any church (I’ve been known to flitter from this one to that one over the years) but Fellowship Church. I had been there for different Awana events with the kids and really liked the overall vibe I got from the people there.  I chose to go to the 11 o’clock service because I knew it was the more contemporary one and since I listen to that music for the most part anyway, it greatly influenced my decision.  So I got up, told Adam I needed to go to church and offered him to go.  He declined (partially because he was still half asleep) and agreed to keep the kids for me.  So I went.  On the way to church, I had incredibly sickening feelings of doubt (Why do you want to go to church?  You yourself have said you’re not a church person.  Why the all of a sudden need to be there?) and feelings of inadequacy (Don’t be something you’re not.  Everyone’s going to look at you weird.  You don’t need to go to that church; everyone’s going to talk about you!) and feelings of anger (Why would you go to church?  What do you owe God?  Look what he’s put you through, look at all your pain and sadness!)  But I went anyway. I was immediately welcomed by the pastor of the church, who helped me find someone I knew and felt comfortable with to sit next to through the service.  The service started with three or four songs – all of which touched me so deeply that I could not help but sing along.

The sermon the pastor spoke of was about the growing into maturity of Joseph and how Joseph’s life experiences can apply to our lives, especialy in the sense that so many of us have been wrongfully treated.  I understood this concept immediately, because I have been reeling from recent negativities in my life, especially regarding my career.  You see, Joseph was in a position (by none of his own doing) that he was favored over his other brothers by his father.  This was no secret, and Joseph’s brothers plotted against him to kill him but inevitably sold him as a slave.  The story goes on to say that God was with Joseph even when he was at his lowest of lows – a journey from a favored son to a sold slave. That’s gotta be a pretty low feeling, right?  But Joseph stayed obedient to God.

I work at a prison.  For those who do not know, a prison can be a pretty spiritually dark place to be.  Whether you’re there as staff, there as a resident, etc.  It can be so easy to let the negativity envelop you.  Like Joseph, I too am in a position at work where I have found favor and have been given great opportunities.  Although it’s not because of who my mother is – it’s because I am a capable, skilled employee who is always looking for a challenge.  With three years under my belt as a correctional officer, I am on day shift loan to administrative shift and am in charge of disciplinary reports and recruiting of the Institution.  It’s a lot on my plate, but it’s definitely an accomplishment and a privilege.  Lots of negativity and discord has erupted here and there because of these situations I am in – lots of backbiting, bickering, dirty looks, rumors, etc.  It can really wear a person down.  But one thing that I know for certain, and it was something taught in the sermon on Sunday, is that hurt people do what?  They hurt people.  Hurt people hurt people.  So whatever someone was doing to try to break me down, to hurt me, was because there was some kind of underlying issue there that wasn’t being addressed and was hurting them.  So instead of feeling angry/hurt/ostracized, I felt the overwhelming need to pray for these people. Talk about a 180!

At the end of the sermon, the pastor urged us to turn to the person next to us and ask them what we could help them with this week, what we could pray for them for.  My friend turned to me and said, “Is there anything I can pray for you for this week?” and I told her yes, that I was struggling with continuing my career at the correctional facility because it was really affecting my home life in a negative way.  I come home from work hurt and angry, I find myself yelling at my kids, I am exasperated and depressed – for what?  She told me she completely understood and told me about her experience working for the corrections department.  She told me of the trials in her life associated with that type of work and she completely understood the negativity.  She eventually left that line of work to focus more on her family and felt as though that was God’s plan for her life.  I felt such a deep connection with her and really felt as though God was using her to bless me and let me know that I am not alone and that I have a support system.  Of all the days I could have went to church, I found it AMAZING that this day was the day I went, this sermon touched me so deeply, this person I was hooked up with completely understood me, and I just – words cannot describe.  Even now I have chills thinking about this chain of events.

When I left church that day, I prayed in the parking lot.  I prayed so hard that my eyes filled with tears.  I prayed for forgiveness, I prayed for calming, I prayed for my husband to know  the Lord, I prayed for my children, I thanked God for his wonderful blessings, I thanked Him for calling me to church that day.  I couldn’t believe what I was feeling.  I was on fire – for the first time in my life!  I called my mother on the phone and sobbed.  I told her that through all the anger I’d been feeling in my life, through all the negativity, all the pain, all the sin, all of everything, I couldn’t believe and could not fathom why, but God still loves me.  Despite my strongarming, despite my anger and contempt -- GOD STILL LOVES ME! 

Isn’t that amazing?  I mean I’ve always read it and sang it in songs but I have never really FELT the pure, cleansing love that I felt completely envelop me.  It all made sense to me at that very moment and I was absolutely convinced that I was right on the path that I should be on – the path I was always intended to be on – and though I hit some rough patches and things really felt bleak sometimes, God is here.  That was the “big truth” of the sermon, and the pastor asked us to write it down on our notes – “God is near when circumstances are not clear.”

I am so overwhelmed with joy and love that I wish I could dance in the streets.  I cannot read enough Scripture, I cannot sing enough songs, I cannot tell enough people about God’s love and the sense of renewal I feel at this very moment.  I am ready to rededicate my life to the Lord and grow as a Christian.  I know it won’t always easy (God never said it would be easy, He just said we wouldn’t go it alone!) but I’m ready!  I AM SO READY!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All about me.

I  serve an AWESOME God.  I am not perfect, but I am forgiven!

Hello there!  My name is Mandy and I'm a mother to two wonderful little boys who try my patience on a regular basis. Noah was born in March 2005 and Cooper was born in October 2007.  They're the most amazing little people I have ever encountered in my life. I feel so proud that I helped to create them! I'm working hard to raise them to be respectful, compassionate young men...and I think I'm doing a pretty great job!

Ahhh, the obligatory family portrait.

I was blessed with Adam, my husband that is gorgeous, kind and thoughtful. He changes my oil, deals with my little quirks and tells me that I am beautiful most every day. I get frustrated that he confuses our bathroom floor for a hamper, begs me to adopt bull dogs that pee in my house and that he often forgets to take his muddy boots off before trapsing through the just-mopped kitchen, but I wouldn't trade him for the world.

I was born and partially raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. I moved to northern Florida with my very close0knit family when I was 17 and never really looked back.  We very much love the rural life and I am so happy to be raising my children in this beautiful area.

My husband and I both work full time as correctional law enforcement officers.  "The job" makes up a pretty large part of our life, but in a good way.  It's something we both love and take great pride in.  It's one of the more thankless jobs -- you hardly ever hear any praise of correctional officers, except in the unfortunate case that one dies in the line of duty -- but we are proud to do our part to protect the public. 

This was after my graduation from Basic Recruit Training!

In our spare time, you can usually find us at our ponds fishing or playing in the yard with our kids.  Or, as of lately, I'm completely indulging myself in my newfound love for knitting!

I am notorious for knitting in my car while I make Adam drive, haha

 In addition to my full time job, I am an Independent Scentsy Wickless Candles Consultant!  To check out my Scentsy webpage, click here to find out more.

Thank you, really, for coming to my blog!  I hope that in its contents you'll find something useful, something entertaining, something inspiring.