Saturday, January 2, 2016

Finding the Gifts of 2015

At the strike of midnight we each wished the other a Happy New Year...2016. It was a quiet evening and in many ways we have been silent this year on many occasions.Times I would normally reach out to either celebrate with someone, or grieve, if grief was called for, but in so many instances I couldn't. I just didn't have it in me - so I didn't. I remained silent. It would be so easy to say good riddance to the year of 2015, with all the disbelief, sadness, worry, grief, anger and many emotions I can't put a name to.

I've read many posts on facebook about the past year and the hopes for the year to come and it prompted me to think about what I would say. Looking back over the last several months and everything that has transpired revealed something I've had glimpses of this year, but didn't realize the magnitude until I made a list.The GIFTS among all the disbelief, sadness, worry, grief, anger and the other unnamed emotions.

We started the year with the realization that the brain cancer that had ravaged the health of our Amy would also take her from us, and quickly it seemed.She turned 39 on January 30th and went home to Jesus in the early morning hours of February 4th, 2015.It was grim and heartbreaking and one might wonder where was the gift? It was there in her home going and the release of her battle against the flesh and bone of this world where disease can rob one of every ounce of dignity.She was whole and healthy again and I am sure showing everyone in heaven how good and competitive she was in sports! I also believe she carried her gift of humor with her as well. Even as sick as she was in those  prior months, she could still make us laugh and her personality would shine through at the oddest times. Those times are the gifts for us.The "I love you's" and the "I'm so glad you are here" times before she lost her ability to speak. Maybe at the time, in all the sadness and grief, we didn't necessarily think they were gifts, but our mighty God was layering them up one at a time for our remembrance during this difficult year.




We left her family, including three young grandchildren, and her home feeling as though we were leaving them to fend for themselves, but also believing they needed to heal as a family, even though the days to come would no doubt be hard.We were numb I think, just moving on auto-pilot. But God sent his Holy Spirit to minister to us when Jesus was resurrected. When we listen He will guide our steps.

We were in no hurry to get home. We somehow needed to find our way back and begin to live our life again. On our journey back to Virginia we had the pleasure of stopping in Pryor, Oklahoma where we had lived for two years while Howard was still on active duty.We had breakfast with Jerry and Linda Russell, sweet friends that we connected with and still love. They gave us a tour of the town we had called home for awhile and thinking back on our timeline, that was another layer to the gifts.

Arriving in Arkansas we visited and cried with Amy's Mamaw Eva, Howard's mom. She had been with us those many months as we all cared for Amy and her family, but she couldn't make the trip back for the Memorial service. We spent days with family, resting and preparing for the remainder of our trip.Abundant gifts!

At the same time God was preparing to call Amy into his presence, He was also calling another young mother, Monique Dunlap, our niece and wife to our nephew Mark, who had also been battling cancer. She passed while we were in Arkansas, so on the way home we stopped in Nashville, TN for her Memorial service and to say another difficult goodbye.It was painful to watch another father and his children grieve the loss of a wife and mother. Our hearts cried out with unbelievable sadness as we watched her young son carry the urn with his mother's ashes to the resting place outside their church in the cold winter air as snow began to lightly fall. It was February 20th, my 67th birthday.
My birthday was a somber reminder of the gift of long life.I promised I would never complain again about growing old. Old age, another gift?
After making our way back across country to our home in Virginia, we try to heal and start to live our own lives again. But we are changed and we are sad and we are silent. Time moves on and it sweeps us along whether we go happily or grudgingly, we can't remain.We look to the future, the near future and all the events that are already planned for this year.Events of celebration of accomplishment and joy at the happiness of grandchildren's futures.
We watch our grandson Trey start a new business venture. He is a hard worker and starts this new phase of his life with an eye to his future. We are proud of his work ethic, a wonderful gift.












Granddaughter Ashley who loves to dance performs in her recital in early May with all the joy and excitement she has shown every year since she was three. Again we are proud and name another gift. We love to see her live her life.


Loading up our van (my mobile closet) we travel back to Arkansas the middle of May to watch three graduations. Grandson Hudson graduating from Kindergarten with all the fanfare due a six year old who will always be remembered for the morning he ran from his mom because he just couldn't bear another day of school. He was captured outside by one of the coaches who arrived on the scene and assured Hudson that he didn't like school either, but they both had to go to class. Hudson gives us the gift of laughter!



While there, we had the pleasure and good fortune to attend his brothers' Sports Banquet. Jackson and Reid had excelled and we were there to clap and cheer and witness their recognition for a great year of accomplishment. Gifts? Yes!


We were blessed as our granddaughter Bailey, a high school senior, played softball in the state championship game in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas. A really big deal! We celebrate with her as she graduates high school at Buffalo Island Central with honors and scholarship money that the very best of the best would envy. Listening to the laughter from three sisters, all grown up is bittersweet.  We are very proud of her and her hard work as she crosses the stage to receive her diploma. Another layer of gifts

Pride on another level as we watch granddaughter Taylor graduate Cum Laude from Arkansas State University with a nursing degree. We knew that her life was about to take on new meaning as her boyfriend of three years planned to propose to her on her birthday a few days later. The family gathered for a surprise birthday/engagement party to celebrate with them and see the ring she now wore as a symbol that she would be his wife one day soon. Ah, the gift.



We returned to Virginia, got a good nights sleep and left the next morning for Fayetteville, NC to watch more talented granddaughters as they performed in their dance recitals. Ruby's in the morning and Kailey, Sophia, Mackenzie and Eva's in the afternoon.They dance with grace and joy and are a pleasure to watch. Lunch with the family was a blessing since we had only seen the newest member of Team Hulen, Zealand one time and he was now six months old. Eleven more gifts!


Back at home we look forward with anticipation to the arrival of Amy's three youngest boys, Isaac, Jesse and Heath.We were blessed to have them for three weeks. Lazy summer days in our backyard pool, a beach day, a Kings Dominion day, movie and ice cream days with Uncle Buddy and Aunt Kerri, and sushi eating with Todd, Brittany, Trey and Ashley. I made tons, it seemed, of their favorite french toast breakfast, and most mornings Heath joined me on the porch swing as I savored my coffee.



While the boys visited we had another celebration. Grandson Trey had graduated high school this year too and we now were all together and could throw a party. His request was a pool party and we gather in the backyard to eat, visit, swim and tell him how proud we were for him. Another graduation and milestone and another gift!
It was time to take the Colorado grandsons to Arkansas for a visit with family there. A tour on the farm with Uncle Darin for a ride on big machinery and a somewhat stinky tour of the hog farm where they saw many baby pigs. Spending time equals more gifts.
I was so excited when Taylor became engaged back in May, but just as much when I found out we were going wedding dress shopping!!She said "yes to the dress" at Barefoot Bride in Memphis and I had the gift of seeing what a beautiful bride she will be.
Before we left and started home we were treated to an unexpected trip to St. Louis to see the Cardinals baseball team. Darin, our oldest son and his family are die-hard fans, especially Bailey! Again, a blessing we didn't expect...gifts.

Back to Virginia and sad I couldn't stay longer for the birth of my niece's first baby I realize I can't see and do everything, right? Ella Rose was born on July 25, 2015 to Richard and Susan Hawkins.They didn't necessarily plan her, but God did, and they were surprised when they found out she was on the way.Another gift for them and for our family. But, then...sometimes things go wrong, don't they? Two weeks after sweet little Ella arrived her momma was in ICU in Little Rock with a brain bleed. The day my sister called me and we cried together on the phone, I thought no, this can't be happening again! I tried my best to reassure my sister that all would be good, but I confess I hung up the phone and cried and yelled out to God, NO! Not again, please not another young mother, our family has already lost two this year, please spare her! After two long weeks in ICU, God sent her back home to her husband and precious baby girl. Praise God! Gifts? One of the best, a life spared!
Breathing easier we arrive at the month of August. Not my favorite, because I know that soon my summer will come to an end, the pool will close and I will miss family time spent around that small body of water in my backyard. But another gift is on the way. Beach time provided by Buddy and Kerri and their family at our favorite place, Ocean Lakes Family Campground in South Carolina. There we rest and recuperate and celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary on August 28th with a dinner out with family. I look around the table and wonder how we got here so quickly. As my sweet husband says, "one day at a time". More gifts, 34 of them!
We move on again, driving back to Arkansas via Mississippi to watch grandsons Jackson and Reid play football. Over the years we have been blessed to be healthy enough and have enough gas money to travel to different places to watch all these beautiful grandchildren excel in whatever their particular interests are.Twenty-five gifts! Thank you Jesus for your abundant blessings, every one.
We return home for a few weeks.Since we returned in February I have steadily worked on my second book, A Patch of Cotton. In between the trips I have consulted with Farmville Printing and Jon Marken, the editor. We are finally ready to order, just in time to go back to Arkansas for Thanksgiving and the book release at the Lake City Museum.The books arrive and I am overwhelmed at how beautiful they are and so happy this project is complete. We pack again, load up the van and go back to Arkansas. A TV interview with the local station in Jonesboro, Arkansas, basketball games (Jackson and Reid), another dress shopping trip and lunch with the bride and her attendants for their dresses, and a successful book release with many hugs, layered up more gifts. Our traditional Thanksgiving day with extended family was the icing on the cake for the fifth and final trip to our Arkansas home this year, a treasured gift!


December arrives and we become silent again. I see the decorated tree in the living room and I remember posting a photo of it a few years ago on facebook and Amy making the comment, "homesick." We half-heartedly finish decorating our home, but no parties are planned and for the first time ever, I am glad. I still don't have it, not yet. We pray. For Kent and the boys, knowing this Christmas is the first without Amy, as well as the same for Mark and Noah and Mia, without Monique. We face-time with Kent, Isaac, Jesse, Heath, Kristen, and her family and it is good and sad all at one time. We all smile and wish each other a Merry Christmas and try not to burst into tears.
So, this is what I would have posted on Facebook about the year past. Losing Amy, my husband and I could look upon this as one of the worst years of our lives,  But for anyone reading this that has experienced grief and sadness over the year 2015, I encourage you to look back and find the gifts. God provides them in abundance; the rainbow after the rain, the breeze on a warm day, the pleasure of a good meal, the love of family and friends and many other simple pleasures we take for granted on a daily basis. GIFTS are there we just have to look for them and not allow the losses to over-shadow the joys that life has to offer.  Happy New Year!