Like a puzzle box filled with hundreds of pieces, life sometimes seems like a mixed-up, unrecognizable series of events.

Slowly, the pieces fall into place and along the way you get a glimpse of the “whole picture” only to be surprised when a few more pieces are added that transform the whole scene into something entirely new and  unexpected.

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I’m in one of those revolutionary times of “puzzle-piece placing.”

Maybe that’s why I’m up at 2:24 a.m. when I have an all-day meeting bright and early tomorrow.

Here I sit, reading a book Tim ordered for me entitled, “Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential,” while Tim sits across from me unraveling all of my hundreds of Nick emails I’ve written through the years……..

See, I’ve been in a conflicted mess for several years now – – –

Knowing that Nick’s story needs to be told,

feeling the call to share his story in some way that might help others who are grieving find Hope in their anguish,

struggling to relive the hurt yet knowing that in my pain I developed  an intimate, unshakable relationship with God,

AND AT THE VERY SAME TIME

longing to make a difference in the little world around me as a mom, wife, educator, church member, and friend.

So, tonight, new pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

For the very first time, Tim and I are able to read some of Nick’s story and laugh at the sweet memories.

And I’m finally able to read a book about improving public education and get excited about my career in a way that makes me want to do big things like contact the author of this book and say, “Teach me everything you know!”

I’ve wrestled even in the dog days of summer with what in the world God has been up to in our family’s life.

A constant gnawing, a restlessness, an eating at my soul.

Writer’s block like never before.

Spiritual warfare has taken a toll on me, but I’m so excited tonight because I feel a breakthrough coming!

It may be months away or even longer, but I can feel the Potter at work and I am thankful!

My prayer tonight is that you will also feel His Hand working in your life too.

He longs to mold us each into something beautiful.

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The process of becoming a beautiful piece of pottery involves lots of shaping, reshaping, spinning in circles, and eventually facing the fire of the kiln….

So hang on tight.

It will probably hurt from time to time along the way.

I don’t think His work will be complete in any of us until the day we stand before Him and hear the words, “Well done,” but I do believe that we can begin to see glimpses of the finished product the closer we walk with Him.

Like an incomplete puzzle or unfinished piece of pottery,

we wait for the touch of the Master’s hand.

And as we wait, we trust that He has a beautiful, finished product already planned.

“He who began a good work will be

faithful to complete it.”

Phil. 1:6

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Our neighbors are moving……

Neighbors for nearly 20 years.

We’ve shared everything from raising our kids to watching them leave home.

Mark and Sandra sang at Adrienne’s funeral, and Sandra sat with us in the minutes just after Nick passed away before the funeral home arrived.

We’ve shared pets……literally……..our first cat became theirs within a week and they had her for almost 15 years!

They are what you call “lifetime” friends.

What do you give these kind of friends?

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I talked with our other neighbors who are just as close and have shared just as much, and we decided to go together on a gift that would be special to Mark and Sandra for years to come.

I didn’t realize how excited we were to give this gift until the night of our street cookout.

The gift was wrapped and ready to be given, but we needed to eat first.

Waiting was so hard!

When we finally handed them the gift, I couldn’t stop clicking photos as they opened it!

We knew it was the perfect gift, and it was so much fun to watch their faces as they realized what was hidden under the wrapping!

Mark and Sandra love the painter P. Buckley Moss.

We found one of her paintings online entitled, “Our Neighborhood,” and we fell in love with it!

It had three houses just like our street.

It also had a street sign and banner that could be personalized, so we had the artist add “Landsdowne Avenue” to the street sign and

“Our street will never be the same. Love, The Benders and The Nischans”

to the banner.

 

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Watch Mark and Sandra’s faces as the pictures progress…….

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This night will forever be etched in my memory!

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The laughter, the talking into the dark about all the memories we’ve shared over the years.

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I’m so thankful for the Benders and the Deakins!

As I’ve reflected on this special evening with our neighbors and how good it felt to give such a special gift, I have not been able to stop thinking about how God must feel about the gift of His Son to all of us.

Talk about a perfect Gift!

I can almost see Him on the edge of His throne just waiting for the next person to receive His Gift!

It’s free!

It’s for everyone!

We loved the Deakins so much that we wanted to give them the perfect gift.

God loved the world so much that He gave us His one and only Son.

I hope you accept His Gift with all the love in which it was given.

He personalized His gift too……..

The Bible says our names have been “engraved on the palm of His Hand.”

Thankful today,

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Everywhere I turn, there are people needing prayer.

Sick friends, stressed and depressed friends,

struggling marriages,

big decisions,

troubled kids,……..

the list goes on and on and on.

I have actually said out loud, “God, how do you do it?”

How do you take care of all of us?

And not feel overwhelmed?

Sometimes, I feel guilty because I say, “Yes, I’ll pray,” and then I go on my merry way and a few days later I realize I never did more than say I would pray.

Does God hear my unspoken prayers when I just “say” I’ll pray but don’t?

I sure hope so.

I’ve resorted to using things around me to remind me to pray for certain people.

Butterflies remind me to pray for Laurie.

Ladybugs remind me to pray for Rachel.

Brown bunny rabbits remind me to pray for Beth.

A sea shell in my kitchen window reminds me to pray for Mantha’s family and Jennifer’s.

Clowns remind me to pray for all my friends in Sunbury (sorry girls, but it’s the truth).

I’ve found that tying things to people puts a visual in front of me often, so I’ll remember to whisper a prayer.

I just received a call from a friend needing prayer for her son.  I’m thinking now of something to associate with him.

If your prayer list is long and you want to pray continually, try using things around you to bring those people to mind.

God wants us to prayer.  I believe He brings those things we have chosen into our daily paths often if we let Him know we want to use them as prayer reminders.

Start making your list today.

Your prayer list may be overwhelming, but I promise that the joy you’ll receive from seeing God speak back to you as you ask Him to help you be a prayer warrior will be even more overwhelming!

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I had made my purchases –

two old mirrors for $2 a piece and an old black trunk that I thought would be a perfect place to store my sweaters.

My friend Janet and I were just about to leave the second-hand store Saturday when I heard the words,

“You don’t know what you have there, do you?”

I turned from the cash register towards the voice of the man who was surveying every corner of the black chest I had just bought.

“A trunk??” I replied, not really knowing what else to say at the moment.

He grinned and went on,

“You really don’t know what you have there, do you?”

Then he went on to tell me that I had just purchased the trunk of a 1937 Packard car.

“Don’t let it go for less than $200,” he continued.

I felt guilty standing there with the owner of the store, knowing I had only paid $35 for this expected treasure!

The sweet lady behind the counter just smiled and told me to enjoy the purchase as I apologized for buying something for much less than it was worth.

I looked online when I got home and saw this same trunk for $800!

Tim and Todd are both saying, “Sell it!”
But here’s the thing – no amount money will give me this story in my living room.

And I love stories!

I love how one minute I can be buying an old black trunk to store sweaters, and the next minute I’m the owner of a somewhat valuable piece of history.

 

Discovering how much God loves you is a lot like learning that you own an unexpected treasure.

 

One minute you’re aware of the Creator of the universe and the next minute you’re walking in the footsteps of the Messiah.

One minute you’re singing, “Jesus Loves Me,” and the next minute you’re singing, “Oh, how I love Jesus!”

One minute you’re coming to grips with the reality that eventually everyone has to leave this earth and the next minute you’re  grasping just how amazing that “leaving” is going to be!

 

If you’re a Christian, let me ask you the same thing the gentleman at the store asked me,

“Do you know what you have?”

If you do know what you have, then share it with everyone you meet!

If you don’t realize what you have, then let me tell you,

YOU HAVE A TREASURE!

Don’t sell it for any amount of money; don’t trade it for a momentary pleasure.

Treasure your treasure!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.

When a man found it, he hid it again,

and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  

When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Matt. 13:44-46

I’m so thankful today for the promise of Heaven.

That’s where I want to store up all my treasures!

Praying you are storing yours up there too!

I really didn’t plan to cut through the parking lot Saturday night.

I was on one of those phone-talking walks where my mind was listening to a conversation while my feet wandered aimlessly from this place to that.

“She won’t tell me anything,” the mom was saying.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she continued talking.

I just kept listening.

Because I didn’t really have answers.

I knew the situation was way out of my league of training.

This wasn’t a time when any kind of teaching strategy was going to fix things.

No, I felt my inadequacies multiplying with each step I took.

And then I looked down.

Suddenly, I saw the only answer that seemed fitting at a time like this.

love instagramLove.

This mom needed love.

Her daughter needed love.

And that was one thing I could give freely.

So, I kept on walking and listening and praying that somehow things would settle down on the other side of the phone.

And finally, they did.

And for that night, it was enough to share my love because He shares His so freely.

And in His sharing He provides a way for all of us to be more than qualified in tough situations.

I am thankful for unexpected treasures in worn out parking lots.

I’m especially thankful that they show up exactly when we need them.

Not a minute too soon or too late.

Love is like that too.

Tonight, I’m praying that each of you finds an unexpected gift of love as you strive to live for Him who loves you most.

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It Started in June……..

July 14th, 2012

 

(If you would like music playing while on my blog, go to my “IPod” on the right just below my photo and click the arrow to play music.)

Now I remember…….

as I click through June’s photos.

How summer began.

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Our old swing set seemed to be crying for kids even though I nearly cried at the thought of letting it go.

But sometimes you just know it’s time.

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So I called Nick’s best friend’s sister and said, “Would your girls like a swing set?”

And she said, ‘OH YES!’

So, Tim helped Roger and Matt load more than just a large piece of metal and plastic onto a trailer.

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They loaded up part of my heart.

This swing set helped raise my boys and Olivia.

So many memories.

So many laughs.

So many boys swinging back and forth in capes and masks, holding plastic swords….

So many girls swinging in princess costumes or swimsuits……

That’s what they loaded onto their trailer that day.

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And I clicked photos of the event just  like I was watching one of my kids compete in a state tournament, because this swing set is part of me, part of my motherhood, part of my heart……..

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But when I heard this sweet girl with a gigantic grin on her face say,

“We can’t forget these!”

I knew we were doing the right thing.

My boys loved this swing for a powerful season of my life, and now Brooke’s girls will love it for a powerful season of hers.

That’s how life is.

We embrace each season with all the gusto we can, but we do much better when we remember that there will be a new season to follow.

And it will require a new kind-of gusto.

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So, I stood and clicked…

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and clicked…

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and clicked..

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and clicked….

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and clicked….

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and clicked….

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until I could see it no more.

I told myself that the swing set wasn’t really gone.

It was just bringing laughter to a new back yard.

And then I cried.

Because tears are surely God’s way of allowing us to cope with the changing of the seasons.

I planned to share more of my summer in this post, but as I looked back at all of my pictures, I realized that so many things deserve their own story.

This is the first of many…….

Thank you for patiently waiting until I was ready to share.

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity

under heaven.

Eccl. 3:1

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This is what I found today when I walked in our bathroom!!

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Oh my!

This actually symbolizes our life better than the pictures below!

Just had to share.

Now to work on my three-week summary…

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This is what you’ll see many times as you walk into our bathroom.

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One roll of toilet paper precariously balanced on the almost-used-up roll beneath.

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I’m not sure if it is result of someone being nice and not wanting to leave the next person in a pinch, or if is a result of one person being lazy and not wanting to take the effort to switch out the obviously two-sheet-remaining roll for a new one.

Either way, it use to really bug me.

I’d see the new roll sitting on top, mutter something under my breath about “why I have to do everything around here,” and then somewhat proudly, as if God had listed this household chore specifically in Proverbs 31, change the roll myself.

Guess what?

I don’t really care anymore.

As a matter of fact, we’re almost through the roll on top now, and I’m kind-of wondering what we’ll do then!

If someone tries to balance a third roll on top of the second nearly-empty roll, I promise I’ll take a picture.

I say all of this simply to say that our life rolls along at about the same speed as our toilet paper.

We almost finish one thing just before diving into the next.

And sometimes life gets crazy.

But, deep inside, I think I love a little crazy.

It keeps me hopping, laughing, remembering that life still has meaning, even when my heart is aching.

So tonight, I’m hoping to pull together a poetic, photographic memory of our past three weeks………

after I get back from jail which is the next thing to “roll” into the schedule for the day.

Until then, I wanted to let you know that MARTHA’S SURGERY WENT PERFECTLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They were able to remove every bit of the tumor and some tissue around it, and they are so thankful for all of your prayers!

Please keep praying that she and her family will have peace and many opportunities to share the love of God at MD Anderson.

I know they will use every single chance. Smile

PS It felt so good to write something……..even if it was about toilet paper.

I promise I’ll write about deeper things soon…

or at least I’ll try.

I love you all so much!

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(If you would like music playing while on my blog, go to my “IPod” on the right just below my photo and click the arrow to play music.)

 

Thank you all for your sweet posts, texts, and emails lately.

I love you all so much.

I thought that maybe writing a blog post last week would “get me going again.”

But it didn’t…..yet.

It’s not that I have no thoughts, no stories, no memories to share.

It’s not that I don’t have time to stop what I’m doing and write.

It’s just that when I do sit down to write, there’s nothing.

A popular phrase I hear a lot lately is, “I got nothin.”

And that’s kind-of how I’ve been feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve reached such a desert in my writing.

I’m not sure what it means.

Sometimes it scares me, because writing is such a part of who I am that the thought of being wordless for any length of time makes me feel like I am going to try to live without oxygen.

I love to write.

What I love to write about, though, is how God’s Word is speaking to me, changing me, transforming me into a better person………..

And sometimes I feel like my “better” isn’t that much “better” than it was yesterday or the day before or even a year ago.

I feel so extra weak sometimes.

And so I’m trying to listen more than I speak.

I’m trying to read more than I write.

I’m trying to soak up Him so that He can be squeezed out of me, because sometimes the sponge gets dry.

So PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE know that even on the days when I do not have a blog post, YOU ARE IN MY HEART and definitely on my mind.

Today, Martha is having her surgery in Houston.  Four surgeons are at work as I type.  Please whisper a prayer for her.

Today, I have a KCU student recovering from unexpected surgery at my house.  Please whisper a prayer for him.

Today, I’m wondering how little Charlotte is doing and hoping that Sandy emails me soon with an update. Smile

Today, I’m thinking of Jen in Australia and Hamza in Saudi Arabia and all of my grieving friends and wondering how you are doing.

Today, I’m going to spend time with an old friend I haven’t seen in over a month.

And today, I’m going to listen.

Listen to friends.

Listen to nature.

Listen for God.

Maybe when I begin to hear Him again more clearly, I will have something to say that means something.

Until then, I’m trusting my wordlessness to Him.

I’m giving Him my nothing and asking Him to make something.

And I’m praying you will give Him all of your nothing too.

See what He can do!

I’m excited!

“He is enough!”

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(If you would like music playing while on my blog, go to my “IPod” on the right just below my photo and click the arrow to play music.)

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After a week in which Tim, Olivia, and I put over 2,500 miles on our Toyota Camry, I’m about as zapped as I can be!!

A family reunion in Arkansas followed by a trip to Dallas, Texas, to visit more of our wonderful family has left me feeling anything but “full of words.”

When I reach these places of wordlessness, I find myself questioning everything about my blog.

WHY IN THE WORLD DO I WRITE!?!?!?

I am a flawed, insecure, judgmental person who often fails to be the person I long to be.

I sometimes lose my cool when things get stressful.

I often question people’s motives when I don’t understand their behavior.

I try to point people towards God with my words but many times wonder if I fail with my actions.

And the list goes on and on and on……….

Being crammed in a car with your family and then sleeping in all sorts of different environments over a period of eight days and nights tests just about every inch of your sanity.

Knowing your electricity is out at your house for over three days while you are away and that different neighbors and friends are going in and out of your house to empty your frig, freezer, and deep freeze doesn’t help!  I’m thankful for great friends, but I’m a little humiliated that my not-so-clean appliances had to be purged without me in sight!

Pulling off a reception for your in-laws that you planned from 1,000 miles away doesn’t send the nervous system into a “calming” state either.  I’m thankful for my sister-in-law who helped pull things together and for all the friends who stopped by to wish Rich and Ora Lee a “Happy 50th Anniversary!”  I’m also thankful for my father-in-law who stood beside me as I had a little meltdown by their trash can in their driveway when it was all over!  Yes, I cried by a trash can in a driveway in Dallas, Texas!  OH MY!  I think it was fatigue mixed with grief.  So many friends who stopped by that evening with anniversary wishes were also prayer warriors for our family while Nick was sick.  I had never met them until this particular night.  Hugging them and telling them “thank you” for all of their prayers brought back so many memories of Nick’s fight with cancer.  Sometimes I realize I still have so far to go in my grief journey.  This particular evening by the trash can was a huge reminder.

Now I’m back in Grayson, and the whole trip is a blur.

The only good part about all the not-so-perfect moments in our vacation was that I had some funny stories for the girls in jail this evening.

Maybe that’s why I write.

Because when I type out the reality of who I am I feel better.

When I spill out the ugly, I hope that God fills me back up with some kind of beautiful.

When I pour out my heartache, I hope that God refreshes me with joy.

When I admit my flaws, I hope that God somehow erases them.

When I say, “I’m insecure,” I believe God responds with the words, “Your security should only be in me.”

So when I boil down the cartoon above that says, “Blogging requires passion and authority,” and compare it to who I am, this is what I learn……..

I am passionate about the love of God even when I don’t reflect it,

and

My authority comes from Him.

That’s why I share My Heart and His Words.

My heart will always belong to God even though my words will come and go.

His Words, on the other hand, will never pass away.

Listen to what Jesus says in Mark 13,

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge (gives authority to his servants), each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'”

So, once again, God has brought me back to the core of why I write.

I write because I love Him and I want you to love Him too!

I want you to be ready for the day when He returns!

I may not always live up to the goals I set for myself, but I will keep on trying until the day I die.

Whether you come to my blog because you are grieving or because you want to read a little about what God’s Word means to me,

always remember that you are reading the words of a flawed and grieving mom, wife, friend, and daughter who loves God with every inch of my soul.

Thank you for sharing life with me!

I’ll share pictures from our trip this weekend.