Christmas Grief 

Hope Tools

While the Christmas season is a great time for many, it’s very hard for some.

More than a few, unfortunately.

It’s a time when people are saddened because of missing or estranged loved ones, financial pressures, or unkept promises.

It’s the season to keep up the appearance that all is well, until the well runs dry and the walls cave in.

It’s the season of Christmas Grief.

It’s imperative that you and I watch and listen to those around us who may be crying out for help; trying to let someone know how much they’re hurting.

Maybe they are quieter than normal, or perhaps easily angered. 

They may laugh more often and louder, in an attempt to cover the pain that’s eating them alive.

Pay attention, watch, listen, and don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you REALLY okay?”

This little version of Deck The Halls wasn’t written to get a…

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Has Your Heart Been Frozen?

I have, well, a lot of kids. Some think four is a lot, and we are up to six. They are all spaced out though. My oldest is 18, Mollyolly. To be next two are 13, A & E (twins). Then we jump all the way down to Mr. S, or Optimus Prime as he likes to be called, who is 5. Alligator just turned 2, and our little missy, almost 3 months. If life wasn’t fun enough, we added in the neighbor kids this month while their parents are out of town. That gives us a 16 year old and another 5 year old to up our total responsibility to 8. I love it!
With all these children in the house, and other neighbor kids and friends of the kids who come, by we love Disney movies. Of course the latest of these treasures to our collection, “Frozen”, I have to say that this is one of the best yet. The songs just get stuck in your head. You sing them all day long. You wake up singing them. You catch your husband, who hates musicals, humming the tunes. You get so angry at the checker in the Costco lane for breaking out in song with your five year old, because for the first time in forever, it seems, you weren’t singing one of the songs in your head, and had made it till 11:18 in the morning! I know, let it go.
Many of my church going, God fearing friends have some issues with it. It’s full of magic, and if I had known that I probably wouldn’t have bought it off of iTunes to begin with. In all this magic though, God has shown me something.
I have spent the last few years watching my oldest struggle with who she is. First feeling that she wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or thin enough. Not perfect. I watched boys at school call her fat, friends teach her how to cut (too many) calories. When that didn’t stop the pain, she decided to let it out by cutting. When the cutting wasn’t working anymore, she switched to alcohol and drugs trying not to feel.
Just try not to feel. Queen Elsa says this in one of her songs. If she could just try not to feel, things would be ok. All her fear stayed bottled up inside of her. What was this fear? That who God had made her, how she was born, was wrong. Her abilities God gave her would hurt others. Now, I’m not sure if you have spent much time with God or studying the bible, but here is a freebie, God doesn’t make mistakes. He’s perfect. He can’t mess up. He’s God. So if He made you, which He did, He made you perfect. Life happens and there are many bad things that effect us after we leave His hands and end up here on Earth, but in your mama, he knitted you together. So if he knitted you to be a big boned girl like me who has an auto-immune disease that attacks your thyroid and so therefore I will never be a size 6 again in your life, it’s ok. God also made me loud. Opinionated. Passionate. Bold. Which is not ok if I were to be a librarian, but I’m not. He didn’t make me to enjoy getting up everyday, going to a cubical, doing my work, and going home. He made me different. Maybe it’s my age or the hours I’ve spent with Him, but I’m alright with being different now. Mollyolly, wasn’t.
In the last year I’ve watched her hide more. Hide who she really is for fear of hurting her sisters, her family. I’ve seen her run from her calling in life, to try to break free of all the restrictions she feels it demands. Then, when I saw her finally stand up to take her position in this world, she ran. She let it go. She built another home. She ran from the Kingdom and went off to be by herself. She says, the pain never bothered her anyway. When we come knocking on her door, she sent her monster to try to scare us off. It wasn’t the fear that pushed us away, it was that she accidentally hurt us.
Pastor James Weaver taught me something when my husband and I landed in his congregation. He drilled it in my head. Hurt people hurt others. It’s not that they meant to, or even notice how much they hurt you. It happens though.
Mollyolly never meant to hurt us. She wasn’t trying to freeze anyones heart. She was just trying to be free.
You can’t escape the storm inside of you though. It has to be calmed. My prayer is that Mollyolly will find the way to calm the storm inside of her. The trick is for us to keep pursuing her in the process.
Each time my heart is hurt by something she says, or does, I must remember that she is not trying to fight me, but herself. She doesn’t want to hurt me, but it happens. I must keep forgiving. I must keep going after her. I can’t let my heart become frozen. I must keep forgiving.
If we could look at more people this way. If we would keep pursing them through their snow storm until it looks as though we might freeze to death, they will finally see that we love them. It’s an act of true love that is bigger than a kiss. When a sister would lay down her life and jump in front of the enemy who is trying to take over, that is love! That is love.
God pursued me the same way for many years. I was told that all the things that make me who I am now were wrong. I was told that my mouth was useless. I even let it hurt people. I was told that my body was ugly, but my husband disagrees. I was told that my opinions and ideas were stupid, you can’t convince me of that now, at least not for very long. Now I understand that these are the powers that God gave me to be who He wants me to be. He sent Christ to chase after me, forgive me, love me, and show me how to bring back summer.

I love my girl. She will someday learn how to stop this storm, and bring back her summer. Until then, I will keep pursuing her though this storm. We will keep trying to reach her. Why? Because we love her.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

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April Fool

7 Days. I gave God 7 days to prove to me that He loved me. Seven days to prove that not only He existed, but that He cared. Cared about me. What if He failed? What if He didn’t prove it to me? Well, let’s just say that would have been my last 7 days here on Earth. I wasn’t just a little depressed. I had been living with depression for most of my life.
As a child who ended up in foster care at age 15, I had already tried suicide the first semester of my senior year. Now I was 25 years old and my life seemed to be falling apart again. It seemed I was the issue. I felt as though there was something wrong with me, so no one could love me. I was certain that even my own daughters wouldn’t love me when they were older and could make their own decisions. I gave Him 7 days.
At that time I was working at TGIFriday’s. Remember back in the day of flare? I still have those suspenders with all my flare. I worked Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, while my girls’ dad watched them. Molly was 5 then, and the twins were approaching their 1st birthday.
It was March 11, 2001, day 7, and I was looking toward the final hours of my life. My goal was to make as much money as possible and win the contest for the most Long Island iced teas sold, so I could leave the prize for my girls with the little money I had. It was all I could give them, and I finally had the prime section in smoking to win. Remember smoking sections? It was a dream come true. Smoking section on a Sunday morning, away from all the Christians who obviously never heard a sermon on how to tip a waitress. Then the dream of all dreams, a party of 16. Instant gratuity. No matter what happened I was guaranteed 15% gratuity on the check. Now all I had to do was get them drinking to rack up that bill.
Bad news bear! They were church people. The first 2 came in and let me know that the pastor had preached just that morning on “Just say no to the first”. That was just my luck. Two by two those church people came in like animal for Noah’s ark, and all refused to drink. My chances at winning this contest were over.
I waited on them, messed up one guy’s order and laid down the check. Then the miracle happened. They tipped on top of the gratuity, and that first couple who came in and sat down, invited me to church. 30% gratuity and a church invite? They had my attention.
As I was driving home and remembering my day I thought about my ultimatum with God. I gave Him 7 days and he sent 16 church people who knew how to tip and had them invite me to church. As it happened I didn’t have to work the next Sunday because the girls’ dad would be out of town at a March Madness game. So what else was I to do, but go to church.
The Wednesday night bible study group nicked named me “Tammy the waitress” on their prayer list. Their prayers worked and they welcomed me in. It was a weird to go to church Sunday morning and see so many christians being kind and welcoming. The next week I was back to work, thinking that maybe we would go back on Mother’s Day.
It didn’t take that long though. Two weeks after I had been to church, God was already talking to me in my sleep. I was done with life as it was, but I did not want to end my life. I wanted to change it.
When I lived in New Orleans six years earlier I saw this man on Bourbon street who had a sign that read, “I’m a fool for Jesus. Who’s fool are you?” On March 31st I remembered that sign and thought of how foolish my life had been. The drugs, alcohol, sex, and craziness that had always surrounded my life, I was tired of it. I knew if I went to church my friends, well drinking buddies, would laugh or mock me. It seemed no matter what I did, someone would think I was foolish. So I did the most foolish thing a single mother could do. I quit my job and decided to go to church instead. On April Fools day, 2001, I stepped in the church doors, uninvited and ready to change my life.
Today I am proud to be a fool for Jesus. He has taken away the addictions and depression. He has given me back my smile and joy I had when I was very young.
So I wonder…how many bibles do you have? Do you own more bibles than you need? When I walked in those church doors, I wanted a bible. One with all the important verses highlighted for me. I didn’t know many of the stories inside of it, but I wanted to learn. Do you have one of these bibles? Or maybe a new bible that you don’t use. If you could donate these bibles for all the, “Tammy the waitresses” out there, I would appreciate it. Happy April Fools Day!! Who’s fool are you?

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I Choose

As my oldest’s 18th birthday fast approaches, I find myself laying in bed wide awake more and more reflecting on my parenting over her life. Did I hug her enough? Did I yell too much? Did I encourage her enough? Was I as forgiving with my words and actions as much I was with my heart? Does she know what unconditional love is? Does she go to bed knowing I love her, I am proud of her?
As all these questions roll through my mind I see the times when I failed. The times I yelled because of my bad day and not her behavior. The times I didn’t listen, because I was tired and needed to find $450 to fix the furnace, only to find out days later that I missed an afternoon program at school because of it.
When was I a good enough parent? Those rocky teenage years were less like rocks for her and more like cliffs and mountains. As she tried to find her way and her identity, the world seemed to pull out every resource to knock her down. It seemed every week, almost every day, I had to reach down and pick her up. The blood dripped down her scrapped knees like when she was 4, only this time it was life that had knocked her down and not her tripping over her own feet. Somedays felt like I was watching her ride away on her proverbial bicycle through traffic and all I was allowed to do was watch and pray.
That was the key though. I had to pray. Nothing held me together more than God’s words and knowing that I was obeying Him. I was doing the best I could. He told me to show her unconditional love. Once when she was in 5th grade she came to me and asked if I could ever forgive her for disobeying me. I cried. Not because she thought that I possessed the power to not forgive her, my baby, but because I remembered asking God the same thing. Why else did Jesus come? Why else would be have died? Why else did he put forth the effort to overcome death and Hades? He did it for me, for you, for her. So who was I to not forgive my child just as God had forgiven me. The problem was how do I make sure she remembers this. I had Jesus, the words in the Bible, the Holy Spirit reminding me, but she was still a child who needed something she could see to remind her. Not just the words in a book, but something else. So I asked her; Where is the sun? On the other side of the world. And will we ever see it again? In the morning. Then as long as the sun comes up in the morning, I will always forgive you. I am your mama.
This stuck. Although I had to remind her several times in her teenage years, it stuck. I would always choose to forgive her. I choose to forgive many people in my life and still struggle with others, but choosing to forgive my children was easy.
When I was 16, I was told I had a disorder that would prevent me from ever having children. Now I am pregnant with my 6th child, but have gone through 8 miscarriages. I have Hasimoto’s, an auto-immune thyroid condition. They can not fix it. It causes many issues in my life, but the hardest is loosing babies.
After finding out I was pregnant with my oldest, someone asked me if I was going to ‘have the baby’. It was a valid question in the culture I was in. I was a single woman, 19, homeless, drug free for only 2 months and an alcoholic. To me the question didn’t come as a shock until I realized it was said to me. The girl who was never supposed to have children and now God had given me a chance to be a better mother than my own. Someone had asked my mother the same question, her mother. My grandmother had suggested I not be born. Now someone was suggesting the same for my daughter. But I chose to have her.
I chose to be a mother. Not the kind of mother I had. Not the kind mother who never wanted children and whose daughter knew it. Not the kind of mother who bought alcohol and cigarettes instead of clothes for their daughter. Not the mother kind of mother who demanded respect, but never showed what it was like to be respected. Not the kind of mother who lied and manipulated men to get what she wanted. Not that kind of mother.
I chose to be a mother who taught love, forgiveness, integrity. This was hard because I had never known what this actually looked liked and therefore got it wrong many times. So as I wonder if it was too many times, God reminds me that I chose. Everyday I choose to be a good mother. I choose to look to the Bible for my image of a good mother and not the world around me. It’s not just enough to choose life, you must also choose to love. Love that is unconditional. Love that is not based on my daughter’s behavior. It is not based on her words that have told me she hates me more than once in a fit of anger. It is not based on whether she chooses to live with me or her dad. It is unconditional. This is love that always loves. Love that is patient and kind, that does not envy or boast, not arrogant or rude. Love that does not insist everything will be done my way or the highway. It isn’t me being irritable or resentful. Unconditional love does not rejoice at the times my child does something wrong, but rejoices when they tell the truth about what they did wrong. 1 Corinthians 13 say this and continues in describing this love; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…
That’s the love I choose to give my daughter. I choose to be a mother of as many children as God needs me to mother of. I choose.
I chose to not settle for a man that would not choose the same love. Love is not a feeling on your body. It is not your blood pressure rising and a tingly feeling inside. It is not getting warm all over when you see them enter the room. Love is never defined as an act between people that the world calls making love. The only thing you are making is a possibility to choose to be a parent.
I choose real love. I choose to really love my children and my husband. I choose to be the kind of wife who honors her husband and gives him the respect he deserves, not demands. I choose to take care of him and love him. I choose to forgive him when he fails, but he also chose to love me. He loved me when I failed everyday. He loved me when my mouth dishonored him not by what I said about him, but what I gossiped and said when I overreacted about others. He chose to be my husband. I choose to be a wife.
I choose real love. I choose to really love my children and my husband, and I will announce it, I choose to love my self. In the same unconditional love I give to my children and my husband I choose to love myself. Really love myself.
I haven’t always. It was a choice I had to make. Just as I could have ended the life of my oldest child before she was even born, I could have listened to what others told me, what I told myself and ended mine. I have the scars on the outside where I tried, but the scars on the inside from the world beating me up are far more. There may be a scar that runs down the inside of my wrist, but the one that runs through my heart because of the parent my father chose to be is far bigger. It cut me so deep I found no reason to live. Just when I would think that I was going to be okay and I would make a difference in the world. That same world came and ripped it back open. It wasn’t just what my mother taught me about manipulating men, or what my father taught me about being controlled, it was the continuous reinforcing of it all that the world showed me when I was being ridiculed, pushed aside, looked down on. It wasn’t so much the beatings or the rapes, but the words that hurt me. Sticks and stones would have been easier. The world does not forgive. It does not love! It shows you what not to do.
So I choose. I choose to not be like this world because God has called me to a better place. God has chosen me. My parents did not choose me. They chose to let me live, but not to love beyond what the world had taught then love was. Not unconditional love. God chose to go to this orphanage called the world and pick me out. He picked me up when I didn’t smile. I was an addict and could offer Him nothing. He chose me! He chose to be my parent and give me unconditional love that forgives more than I forgive myself. His forgiveness will come everyday even after the sun no longer rises. He loves me more than I could ever love myself or my own children. He chooses to love me.

So do I. I will fail sometimes, but I choose to be the best mother I can. I choose to forgive. I choose to not gossip though its so easy. I choose to be sober, everyday forever. I choose to Love. I choose to love my children. I choose to love my husband. I choose to love myself. I choose to love the world who does not love me back.
What do you choose?
Do you choose to be angry at everyone because your parents didn’t love? Do you choose to think all men are scum because you haven’t felt the love of one? Do you choose to hide in addictions? Do you choose to ignore God because you can’t see how He loves you? You are here! You are alive! Does it feel as though you have been abandoned by the world and dropped off in some orphanage just wishing someone would choose to love you? He does! God does love you. I know it’s hard to see when you learned more about sex before you left grade school because of some twisted adult. I know it’s hard when you were beat by your parents because you were the one standing there. I know it’s hard to see when everyone has abandoned you. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to tell you to stop kicking and screaming and let God pick you up. He is choosing to adopt you. He is choosing to love you unconditionally. Even when you are mad and tell him you hate Him, He is choosing to always love you. He is choosing to forgive you every day the sun rises and even when it stops rising He will keep forgiving. He is choosing to always love. I know it’s hard to see, but He keeps telling me to tell you. He chooses you!
So all I can ask, all I can say is that you must choose. You must choose what you will do. It is the greatest responsibility in the world, to choose. Choose to live. Choose to love. Choose to be adopted. You choose. And if your choice it to let God pick you up of the dirt floor of the orphanage called the world, life won’t be perfect. There will still be hard times and bullies. There will still be mothers who are not proud of who you have become. There will still be more bills than paycheck, but there will be Love. Love. Unconditional Love. Now choose.

Are we there yet?

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Last week we took the youngest four of our five children on a road trip to Decorah, IA. It is a four hour trip one way according to Google Maps, but of course with a 4 year old and a 1 year old, it took us five. We started the day with this impromptu trip a little later than we should have and without warning to our junior high girls. I was amazed how they had no idea how long this trip would take, but never asked the dreaded vacation question, “Are we there yet?”

So often I find myself asking God this same question. Are we there yet God? With even more fault I find myself declaring that I have arrived, only to hear Him say it is time to continue on down the road.

I keep looking for the signs that show I am on the right road still and getting closer to the destination. Sometimes they come in words spoken by a friend, or ministries that just seem to pop up and need started. Whatever their shape, they are a comfort.

Another confession, I love Pintrest. Seeing how someone took an old piece of furniture and turn it into a new functional piece just give me hope. It’s amazing what a coat of paint and a couple of baskets where drawers used to be can do. Often I look at these pictures and convince myself I too could do this. I am still watchfully seeking a junky garage sale dresser to be transformed into an island for my kitchen.

How often we want to do the same act in ourselves by throwing on a new coat of paint and switch around a part of our lives to say that God has transformed us. Unfortunately this is not how our mighty Father works. When He says we will be transformed, it is into a new creation, not an up-cycle.

He does say He will restore us though. Not a coat of paint, but stripped down, sanded, stained and lacquered. Very few Pintrest pins show before and after pictures of this process. Maybe because it is so much work. The time it takes to strip the varnish off without ruining the wood. Then sanding every detail while repairing years of imperfections. Finally applying an even stain and new lacquer. Hours of work to restore the piece to its original glory.

This is the process God chooses to take with us. Not a quick fix, but a daily work that will take years. And He loves every minute of it. This is the time He spends with me. Just me and Him, sanding out years of imperfections. Repairing that time life knocked my legs right out from under me. Building me stronger and smoother than when I was created.

In Joel 2:25 hides his promise to restore you. “I will restore the years the locust have eaten.” The analogy is of how swarms of locust can come in and eat an entire years worth of crop leaving nothing behind but devastation and famine. Sticks where a crop used to grow. Our Father says He will restore us though. Giving us back all we’ve lost. He has done this throughout the last 12 years of my life. From that day when I sat in front of a church crying out to Him while it rained, He has continued to restore my life. He has restored the years of childhood abuse, my drug and alcohol abuse, rape, depression, divorce, and many, many miscarriages. He has given me a new life. Somedays I still have someone bump into me and I think those legs will fall back out. Even if they do I know he will continue to restore me until the day it’s time to go home. Then I will no longer need to, ask are we there yet?