Wednesday, December 7, 2016

From Contracts to Books, Blog Posts and all things wordy...Bittersweet!

    There are no diplomas gracing the walls of my office proving to others that I've been educated in an ivey league school, or any college or university for that matter.  But, somehow God has allowed me to have two successful careers. First, in the field of insurance as a licensed agent where I worked for five different agencies over the span of sixteen years,1975-1991.
    My first position was with Lake City Insurance Agency. I wasn't qualified, but Junior Malone took a chance and gave me a job. I taught myself to type because we didn't grow up with technology like kids do today. I worked for Junior from 1975 until 1981 and during those years became a licensed agent. Junior Malone passed from this life way too young and hopefully I expressed my gratitude for the self esteem I gained from the confidence he placed in my ability to do the job.
    Those years gave me a license and experience that enabled me to quickly find a position at Twin City Agency in North Little Rock when we relocated there from my hometown. I worked there until I was offered a position with a better salary at Mark Williamson Agency in Little Rock. Then came an office manager position for Frank Schulte in his Nationwide Agency in Sherwood until we moved to Oklahoma in 1989.
    Pryor, Oklahoma is a small town with an honest to goodness Main street. It is a comfortable place to live and only a forty-five minute drive to Tulsa. God blessed me with a part-time job with an agency owned by a wonderful couple, Jerry and Linda Russell. We only lived there two years, but the friendship with them has remained. I have wonderful memories of that time spent in that windy little town.
    The Army sent us to Ft. Lee Virginia in 1991. After settling in, I began to search for a position with several local insurance agencies. Either there were no positions open or what they offered in salary paled in comparison to what I had previously been compensated. I changed course and started looking in the newspaper for employment.
    The Progress Index, a local paper, ran an ad for a property manager for Whittle and Roper Real Estate. I had no idea what a property manager was, but I needed a job, so I applied. I was hired with the agreement that I would become a licensed real estate agent, and my second career was launched. After a year of managing rental property and watching a crew set tenants meager belongings out on the street due to eviction, I knew this job wasn't for me. So I transitioned to sales.
    After coming into the office at 8:30 every morning for two weeks and sitting at my desk wondering what I was supposed to do, the receptionist asked me why I was there so early every day. I explained that I'd always worked an eight to five job and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I finally learned that since I was self-employed I could set my own hours, sort of. Until I began actually listing and selling property, then the hours revolved around the time of day the clients were available.
    I  remember my first sale as if it was yesterday. Completing the offer was terrifying! But I managed and the offer became a contract and the contract became a closed sale. The commission check was mailed to me and I remember it was $1,500 and some change. Now, I have a last closed sale that happened about three months ago. It is the final transaction I will ever do as a Realtor.
    Very few of my clients were unknown to me, and if I didn't know them at the beginning of our business relationship, I certainly knew them at the end. I do have some favorites, like the young couple in church who bought their first home from me. She and her sister had been raised by their single mom and had never lived in a house they owned. After she and her husband had signed all the documents  making them the owners of their modest home, she cried and so did I. I've never forgotten that.
    There are also clients that have trusted me with the sale of their home and the purchase of another one several times. If you are reading this, you know who you are. Many, many have relocated to other areas of the country and unless we became facebook friends we have lost touch, but I remember them.
    So many of my co-workers are dear to me and there is no way I can name them all. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention Lois Spencer. We sat side by side almost since the beginning. She was my go to person when I was unsure about what I was doing and she always accepted my calls. She covered for me while I was on vacation and I returned the favor for her when she needed to be away. She is my friend.
    And John Powell, my broker for 21 of the 23 years I've been in this business. He has the patience of a saint and though a wonderful broker replaced him in our office when he left, I still miss him. Thank you John for your help and advice when a situation became somewhat chaotic.
    When I spoke with my current broker and told her I was retiring, she asked if I was sure about doing that. I told her, when you get more joy out of selling a book than closing a real estate transaction, it's time. At the end of November, Long and Foster returned my license to the state of Virginia, and I have applied to Metro Referral. My license will be with that company for referrals only. I will not be listing or selling.
    The photo at the beginning of this post was taken as I was about to walk away after cleaning out my desk. I started to pick up the box and decided to take a picture. If one only looked at what was in the box, it would seem there wasn't much to show for twenty-three years. But the results of those years are my past clients residing in homes all throughout the Tri-cities and many states in America. Hopefully they think of me fondly as I do all of them.
    Books, blogs, new career.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Heavenly Hot Rolls

Heavenly Hot Rolls

    For the past twenty years I have been in Arkansas for Thanksgiving except for the year Ashley Hamm was born on December 1, 1999 and Isaac Kelley was born on November 27, 2003, which happened to be on a Thanksgiving day. We are in Virginia this year and celebrating with the Hamms and the Dunlaps (no relation) and I am happy to be here, but I will miss seeing everyone this year. I wrote the below story several years ago and thought it appropriate for this Thanksgiving. To all my Arkansas Family:  

    Every Thanksgiving Day our family gathered at my sister Sarah’s house for a time of reconnecting around a bountiful table laden with foods prepared with loving hands.  Since this tradition started, about twenty years ago, our two older brothers have passed on and their absence is still deeply felt. 

     During these years our children have all grown up and started families of their own.  Realizing how important family is they continue to make the trek to join us no matter the distance they must travel.  We may have as few as forty or as many as sixty in attendance depending on individual circumstances.  In the past few years we’ve begun taking a group photo.  When I look at this photo I think about Mother and Daddy and wonder how they would feel to see the results of their sweet union.  Mother died without seeing her children grown and Daddy only lived long enough to see his first few grandchildren come into this world.

     The first year we celebrated Thanksgiving together was such a success it evolved into a yearly reunion.  As with all families we never know who will be there.  From one year to the next a new baby can be added to the family causing much joy and a lot of oohing and aahing.  But from time to time we come together with sadness at the passing of someone that was with us last year but has passed from this world and gone on to Heaven.  This year will be the latter.  My sister’s husband John went to his eternal home on May 4th of this year and I know his absence will leave another gaping hole in our celebration. 

     Thanksgiving Day will come regardless of our circumstances and it is up to us to get through the day with as much grace as possible.  It will honor John’s memory because he loved this time together as much as any of us.

     Those of us that make the journey come from Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas.  Other family members, though they live in Arkansas, still have a three hour drive as they crisscross the state to partake in the feast of food, laughter and great conversation.  It is typical family fare as we exclaim to each other how much the children have grown since the year before while watching them reconnect with each other on the way to the barn to check out the animals. 

     My sister’s daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Chris, have been gracious enough to host this event for the last few years, indicating another generation is taking the lead.  They live at the end of a lane in a comfortable one level home with a spacious covered back porch overlooking a grassy knoll where games of football take place or good old fashioned chase.  Sometimes when geese land on the pond at the back of the yard it becomes a day that seems to have been ordered from a storybook.   Across the road is the barn which inhabits a large pig or maybe two and much to the kids delight, a few chickens and rabbits. It’s an idyllic setting and they lovingly open their home where their generosity gives us all a feeling of one big happy family.

     The menu is southern comfort food and always includes turkey, chicken and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and the list goes on and on.  But the one item on the menu that MUST be there is my sister’s yeast rolls.  Whether or not we will have them is not up for debate, it is a given and very much expected.  She is famous in the family and around her community for those yeast rolls.
     Last Thanksgiving I made a grave mistake.  I suggested that instead of making them from scratch we purchase Sister Shubert’s rolls from Sam’s Club.  It would save my sister a lot of work.  The phone conversation with my oldest son went something like this.

     “Mom, when will you be here?”  Darin asked.
     “The weekend before Thanksgiving,” I reply.
     “Talked to Sarah Sue a couple of days ago, she was wondering when you were coming.”
     “I need to call her, I’ve been thinking about how hard they all work to make dinner for so many people.  Even though some of us try to bring a dish they ultimately prepare most of the food.”  I tell him.
     “Aw Mom you know she loves doing this,” Darin said.
     “I know she does, but I don’t know how she makes so many hot rolls.  I think we should go to Sam’s Club and buy the frozen rolls,” I suggest sweetly.
     An awkward silence as I wondered if we’d been disconnected.  But then…
     “Mom, are you crazy?  What are you talking about?  Frozen rolls!  Have you lost your mind?”  He’s yelling at this point.
     “They really are good.  I buy them all the time,” I say, unconvincingly.
     “Mom, did you know you could be excommunicated from the family for saying stuff like this?”  He said with emphasis on each word and very, very seriously.

     I am not making this story up.  That is how important my sister’s hot rolls are on Thanksgiving Day.  He would toss out his own mother for such a suggestion! Now I know deep down he really wouldn’t do that…I hope.

     There are many places in this world where we can be excommunicated, cut off, tossed out, thrown out or simply shunned.  Sometimes this does happen in families and sometimes it is for reasons as frivolous as the type of rolls we have for dinner.  But I belong to a family that will never do that to me.  I belong to the family of God.

     God sent his one and only son to be nailed to the cross for my sins.  Your sins were covered too, and you and you and you.  All of us can have that wonderful gift of forgiveness if we receive it.  When we receive that forgiveness we become members in God’s great family of believers and we can never be excommunicated, cut off, tossed out, thrown out or shunned.  He promises in his word that we are forever his.  In John chapter 10 this passage confirms that you are being held firmly in the hand of the Savior.

     John 10:22-30 Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.  It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.  The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one. (NIV)

     How glorious!  He will give us eternal life, we will never perish and no one can take us from him.  We will live in a heavenly family that knows no bickering or disagreements. We will only know harmony and peace.  If you haven’t accepted the gift that Jesus offers to you, don’t wait another minute, take it, not only will it change your life, but hopefully your earthly family as well.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Amy lives on...

      What a great two weeks! A year has passed since the last time we saw these four awesome boys. We  planned to visit Colorado after Christmas in 2015 but weather and a flooded basement at their home made the trip impossible.We were sad, but understood. Between Christmas and summer we planned things to do while they visited us and we always talked about how much a year would change them. After all they are growing boys!

    I confess, there were times I couldn't wait to see them and other times I had a feeling of dread. I knew there would be reminders. Of the one who is missing from their lives...their mom. Of course, there are reminders everywhere in our home. Her pictures are still in the same places they've always been, the wind chime she gave me several years ago hangs in my screen porch like it has every year and we talk about her often. Many years ago when she was only a child she gave her dad the nickname Mr. Health and Safety Man due to his Concern for everyone's safety. We just referred to him with that title a few days ago. And as we remember we laugh and grieve all at the same time.

We wondered if they would seem happy and well adjusted. They went through months of watching their mom decline only to experience the trauma of her death. Those events can send adults into deep grief and mourning. They seemed happy and most of the time the smiles you see in the above picture were on their faces.

    They had changed, a lot! Isaac will be a teenager in November and his voice has already deepened. His shoulders are broad and he has lost the boy look. Jesse is in better control of his emotions which he has been known to wear solidly on his sleeve! Heath is still funny, but has also grown and was a dare devil on the rides at Kings Dominion. Canin will be twenty next month and is definitely an adult and I still wonder how that happened. And I thought how much they all four had changed since she saw them last.

    There is a little of Amy in all four of her boys. Her baby has her freckles sprinkled across his nose, and his lips...are so like Amy's lips. Heath says funny stuff and sometimes really smart things that you wonder how he knew that. So did Amy. All four are very intelligent and make good grades in school. Their mom was the same and I know they inherited some of that from her, but I also know she was diligent about their schoolwork. They all have her fair skin and we used tons of sunscreen. Her mannerisms came out in all of them at one time or another. It would be so sudden and I would think, wow, Amy did that. Everything they did made me think how much she would enjoy what we were doing. When I said goodnight and kissed them and yes I tucked them in, I grieved that she wasn't here to do that. Though I will never know why she had to go so young, it's still hard not to question. 

    So, we enjoyed every minute and soaked up all the ways they looked like her, sounded like her, and acted like her. It gave us a glimpse of the one we miss so much.

    We are thankful for Amy's precious sons who give us a part of her. She lives on in her children and we look forward to the day that we are all reunited in the place God has prepared.
But, we still miss her...  

    We are thankful for their dad, Kent Kelley!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Independence Day, July 4, 2016

What does independence mean to you?
Definitions: Freedom from outside control or support.
The time when a country or region gains political freedom from outside control.

What about freedom?
Definitions: The quality or state of being free.
The absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.
Liberation from slavery or restraint from the power of another.
The quality of being frank, open or outspoken with our speech.
A political right.

I love America! I love Independence day! I love the flag! I love to recite the Pledge of Allegiance!  I love our history, even the messy parts, that show we had some things wrong, but we eventually got them right! I love democracy! I love our military! I am still proud of our country, even if some in our government are not proud and make apologies for this country when most of us are aghast that they would dishonor those who have fought to keep us free by the very apologies they make.

Though I do love my country, there are many problems in this great land that are dividing us on so many, many issues.And if you aren't on the right side of tolerance you become afraid to speak out. Freedom says everyone has the right of being frank, open and outspoken. But over the past few years that has only applied to certain groups.

My heart is happy when I see the flag being flown throughout our city, on homes and businesses. We should be patriotic and we should believe we still live in the greatest country in the world and we should strive to be the nation that others look to, as the land of the free and the home of the brave
I've thought a lot today about which freedoms I enjoy most. Until a few years ago I never thought I would live long enough to see the day when our religious freedom might be in danger. Or that a pastor might heed the very words he says from the pulpit lest he be warned by the government that those words might not be politically correct. God's Word is always true and correct! I am so thankful that right now I can still worship freely and I do, every Sunday morning, without fear! I am thankful that I still have the freedom to have several Bibles in my home.I treasure that freedom!
God's Holy Word
Yesterday a team of forty-nine men, women and children returned from a week long mission trip to the country of Nicaragua without fear they might be prohibited from re-entering the USA. We have the freedom to leave our country at will and also to travel from state to state within out nation. What a blessing to know if we have loved ones who live in another part of this great land mass we are not prevented from seeing them. Not all countries have that privilege. And when we do have family reunions, we can pray, adorn our houses with flags and speak freely (and eat Catfish)!
Independence Day Reunion in Arkansas
Granddaughter, Emma Kate celebrating the 4th. What kind of country will we leave this generation?
Blessing the food! Family reunion in Kentucky

We have the freedom to protect our families from those who would do us harm. Our homes are supposed to be a safe haven and we have the right to bear arms to protect loved ones from those who steal, kill and destroy.
Husband, Howard Hulen,2001

Son, Delane Hulen, 2001
But we look to our military to protect us from foreign enemies and sometimes from domestic ones as well. God Bless these men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. So many have given their life and limb to keep America safe and free. We should always be grateful and give them the respect and honor they deserve.
This post could be several pages long if I listed all the freedoms I am thankful for. But I want to end with thanking the men in my family who served our country from the 1940's until my husband retired in 2001.

Howard's dad, Walter Hulen, 1950's
Daddy, Harmon Holiday Dunlap 1944 WWII

Uncle, J.T. Berg (left) 1950's
Brother, Charles Dunlap, 1960's
            Brother-in-law, John Crews, 1960's 

Brother, Bruce Dunlap, 1960's


Friday, May 6, 2016

Mother's Day #60

    On Sunday we will celebrate our mothers. I've read many posts and many blogs this week about this special day. It seems most of them are about mothers who have gone on to Heaven and how much we miss them and yearn for them. And we do! I was just old enough to have memories when my mother tragically died from breast cancer at the tender age of thirty-five! I was seven. So I know and understand your pain, especially if this is the first Mother's Day you will not celebrate, but most likely endure.
These are my thoughts about my mother on my 60th Mother's Day without a mother.
    She was beautiful, loving and kind. Her name is Eula Florene Berg Dunlap. She was born to Frank and Ruth Berg. Her father was German, born to parents who had only been in America a short time. She was raised on a small farm of a few acres that my Papa Berg either rented or share cropped. My mother grew up in a small, four room house surrounded on three sides by cotton fields and a dirt road in front that bordered the levee of the St. Francis River. A fenced pasture was home to the milk cow and the outhouse. The barn and chicken coop were not far from the back door and the outside pump. No running water, no indoor bathroom and no grass growing and perfectly manicured in the yard. Just a basic little house, warmed in the winter by the wood stove where her daddy sat in his rocker smoking his pipe that filled the room with the aroma of sweet tobacco. My mother was a daughter, a sister, a student, a basketball player,and a friend.
At the young age of seventeen she became a wife when she married my daddy, Harmon Holiday Dunlap. They eventually settled in Lake City with their two boys, Bruce and Charles. She was a stay-at-home mother, except when she worked alongside my daddy at Dunlap's Variety Store on Main Street. After my brothers were in school she would hold my hand as we walked the one block across the Court Square to the back door of our store. There she would help customers, straighten shelves and accompany my daddy (and sometimes me) to Memphis to buy from the wholesale companies. I remember sitting on the counter while she brushed my hair, going to the corner grocery to buy an ice cream bar and spending many hours in the back rooms of the store with my brothers and sometimes cousins as my parents worked late on Saturday nights.She couldn't get far from me, I was fiercely attached to her and that didn't bode well when I started to school. One of my fondest memories is the way she would warm a blanket by the stove in our living room, wrap it around me, and tuck me into bed. She never raised her voice, she was always soft spoken and I never wanted to be anywhere but with her.

Mother believed in Jesus and taught us about Him. Her favorite chapter was the 23rd Psalm. We were members at the First Baptist Church in Lake City, where my daddy served as a deacon and my mother served in the Beginners Sunday School class. There is a story among my cousins that on Sunday morning toward the end of the sermon my mother would pinch me to make me cry so she could leave and finish Sunday dinner and have it ready by the time everyone else arrived. I am not sure that is a true story, but it's a good one!
I remember being told that we were having another baby. I was so excited and I insisted on a sister! I did not want another brother, I already had two! Fortunately for them God granted my wish and on December 14, 1954 my mother gave birth to my sweet sister, Sarah Sue.
She went home to be with Jesus in October, 1955. I have missed her every day of my life. I try to focus on all that she gave me in that short span of time. The knowledge that I was loved, cared for, nurtured, wanted, poured into and the list could go on and on. How blessed I am that God gave her to me to be my mother. She gave me more in that small space of time than some daughters get over an entire lifetime.  I didn't know that when I was young and felt so cheated. But as I have mentored over the years I've discovered that some daughters don't receive from their mothers what I did. So, for that I am thankful. On
Sunday I will remember her with gratitude for the incredible woman she was. Will I still miss her and yearn for her? Absolutely, but as each year passes I get closer and closer to that reunion one day!

                in Heaven,

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Deep Roots

When we moved to our home twenty-four years ago a large, mature tree provided shade from the late afternoon summer sun to the driveway side of our property. Only once since we've lived here have we had it pruned.  Last fall we made the decision to have this tree removed. It pains me to say "cut down" because it was such a beautiful tree, at times. When we had to contend with the spring squiggly things that were pushed off onto the yard and in the shrubbery beds as the leaves came out, it wasn't so lovely. Or the many, many acorns that covered everything including the driveway where they were decimated into mush when we drove over them with the cars. And the tons and tons of leaves that had to be raked and discarded in the fall. But the main reason it had to go was the root system. Cracking the concrete driveway, pushing up one section of our sidewalk and damaging the curb at the street were only a few things that we could see.It was gut wrenching to see it come down. Our house and property seems naked, bare and lonely, but since we didn't want roots growing into our foundation, we had no choice. We had the stump ground twice, along with roots that were close to the surface. Needless to say we have a huge round circle that we are still working on. For some crazy reason writers get weird ideas, and most of the time it happens when I'm trying to fall asleep. Then my brain starts connecting the dots and I can't wait to put into words my thoughts that have kept me awake until two in the morning. The following is how I saw my connection to the tree.

People have roots too, and they all run deep. Some have lateral roots that run far and wide and some have stayed close to their beginning. If you've read any previous posts on this blog or have read either of my books you will know that my roots run deep in the state of Arkansas.That state is where my tap root is, deep in the soil of northeast Arkansas farming country and small town America. But like the tree in my front yard I have lateral roots that have spread far and wide. In the beginning my roots were close to the tap root where I was born in the house on Park St., behind the old courthouse in Lake City. Then lateral roots began to branch out to other houses in town where I lived until my first move to North Little Rock, which at the time felt as though I had moved to a foreign country. From there my tree grew more roots all the way to Pryor, Oklahoma which at the time was the longest distance from the tap root. Ah, but then on to Colonial Heights, Virginia, and for a brief five months my lateral roots stretched all the way to Colorado Springs, Colorado. My tap root serves the same purpose to me as the tap root did to the tree in my front yard. It anchors me. It's my beginning, it's where God gave me life and surrounded me with people who would pour into me. It's where He placed me in the Dunlap family with Harmon and Eula as my parents, and Bruce, Charles and Sarah Sue as my siblings. It's where He planted me, in that small town of Lake City where I went to school and church and was known. We knew everyone. It was small and safe and happy. Not only did we not lock our doors, we didn't even have a key. It was a safe place.

I've been gone for many years and most of the people who call that town home do not know me. And I don't know them. But there are still friends who live there and they know me. And my facebook is full of friends just like me. Their tap root runs deep in that place we all call our hometown, but lateral roots have taken them to many, many other places. These other places have formed us into the people we are today. But the childhood of our birthplace continually calls us back to meet up with schoolmates for a reunion or simply to drive up and down the streets and reminisce. Maybe it's like finding our original selves again. And for everyone who remains close to their birthplace, just think how deeply rooted you are.                                                                                                  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Destination: Heaven

James 4:14 Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

    The past two weeks have been rife with emotion as we've waited to hear of the passing from this life to the next of three people that we care about. All three had a ticket to the same destination and they have all arrived. There were no lay-overs, no delays and no cancellations. And the ticket came with a guarantee they wouldn't get bumped. I don't know exactly when they accepted their free ticket, but I do know it was free.  It's a ticket that we all have access to and it's free for each of us. Jesus paid for it at the Cross. But we must ask for it. That's it. Just ask.

    If Delta was offering free tickets to Hawaii, the lines would be long, and regardless of the time it took to get that ticket people would wait. In the cold, in the heat, without food and needing a bathroom really, really bad. They would wait. After all, it's free and the destination 
is Hawaii, a paradise! Why don't we look at salvation and the free gift that it is the same way? Why is that so hard for so many? It's the way to Paradise, THE Paradise. Our Heavenly home where there will be no more tears, sickness, sadness, disappointment, big egos and thankfully, no politicians or elections.

    We get weary here. Tired. Exhausted. Disillusioned. Sad. Heartbroken. Downtrodden. Cheated. Lied to. Lied endless list. But when you ask Jesus for that free ticket to Paradise, it comes with all kinds of perks that we have access to here on earth. He gives us access to the throne of God where we can cry out to Him about all the bad things we sometimes experience. When we belong to Jesus we understand why the world without Him gives us all the bad emotions listed above. But we can rejoice when we realize we don't belong here any longer.

    One of my favorite songs is "Where I Belong" by Building 429. A portion of the lyrics are: So when the walls come falling down on me and when I'm lost in the current of a raging sea I have this blessed assurance holding me. All I know is I'm not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.

    All three precious souls had lived long lives, at least what we consider on earth to be long. One was 94, one was 84 and the other 74. Now if you are reading this and you are under the age of 30 you are probably thinking wow, I hope I live that long. As the verse at the beginning says, life is a vapor for a little while and then vanishes away. 

    Within our circle there have been several babies born lately and there are several more baking at the present time. New life. A reason to celebrate and we always do. We ooh and aah over that precious baby with his or her life stretching out before them with endless possibilities. Parents dream of what their little one will accomplish and they always want what's best.

Max Lucado wrote this: When Death Becomes Birth. Heaven enjoys a maternity ward reaction to funerals. Angels watch body burials the same way grandparents monitor delivery room doors. "He'll be coming through any minute!" They can't wait to see the new arrival. While we are driving hearses and wearing black, the angels are hanging pink and blue streamers and rejoicing. Just as we on earth don't grieve when babies enter the world, the hosts of heaven don't weep when we leave it. Dread of death ends when you know that heaven is your true home.

    One was laid to rest last week, another will be tomorrow and another on Tuesday. Saying goodbye is always difficult, but it is less so when we know we will meet again on the other side. Another favorite of mine is a poem by Henry Van Dyke.
                             Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side. spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."
Gone Where? Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me-not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone," there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout. "Here she comes!"
                                 And that is Dying...

All three who passed into eternity in the last few days were greeted by their Savior, who took on sin so that we might have that free ticket. Angels and loved ones gone before were waiting anxiously with Him. What a reunion. When we can keep our sights on Heaven and all that waits for us there, it is a lighter, "see you later."


Monday, February 15, 2016

A Divine Appointment

 Are you a believer? In God? That you were fearfully and wonderfully made? Psalm 139 says that you were. It also says He knows when you sit and when you rise up and that He is acquainted with all your ways. Verse 16; Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.
    My Mother's favorite passage was the 23rd Psalm, and I do love that one too. I memorized it when I was a young child. But my favorite is Psalm 139 and speaks to my soul in a different way than all the other passages in God's Word. It tells me my Heavenly Father knows me in a way that I don't even know myself. 
    Some days I am more attuned to His presence than others. Like a radio station we lose when we are out of range, sometimes I move too far away and lose His voice and fail to hear and see what He has for me. But I was tuned in and heard His voice loud and clear at one of my recent book signings at Chick-fil-A on a Saturday morning.
    I am a self-published author of two books and a blog, A Book Unwritten. It is up to me to find a way to promote and sell my books. They are for sale on, but they are buried under all the other books by well known authors. But my friends, Jason and Kathryn Branch, have been gracious to allow me to come to their restaurant (their idea) for a few hours here and there and sell Her Final Gift and A Patch of Cotton. That is where I was and what I was doing on the day of my divine appointment.
    My granddaughter Ashley was with me that day. I love people and I love to talk. Sometimes it is difficult for me to keep my focus when I am signing a book and carrying on a conversation. Ashley is a great assistant. She takes their money or their debit or credit card and does the financial transaction while I do public relations. We make a great team. And later, this believing granddaughter explained to me that if my books were in bookstores I wouldn't have the opportunity to meet the people that buy my books directly from me.
    Sitting in the restaurant for several hours allows me to people watch. As they get in line to order their food they are always curious about what we are doing, but they feel awkward if we see them trying to read my sign. But then, there is always that avid reader who can see there are books on my table and they are not shy. They walk right up and want to know what the books are about. And they always ask, "you are the author?" and I reply yes, and then, "cool, or awesome, or wow I've always wanted to write a book." I've sold books to people from several states who have stopped for lunch or the evening meal as they traveled Interstate 95. My heart is always happy to know my books will be on bookshelves in Massachusetts or Maryland or in  other states up and down the eastern seaboard.
    A woman approached carrying a couple of bags of her to-go food. She was petite, alone, and at first, appeared to be in a hurry. She picked up Her Final Gift, turned it over to read what it was about and immediately put it down and with tears in her eyes said, "oh I can't read that right now." I told her I understood, that it is a difficult story to read. She moved to the other side and read the synopsis of A Patch of Cotton. That one made her cry too.
     I can't remember exactly how all of the conversation went, but I do remember she was broken with so much emotion she could barely talk. I ask her name and told her I would pray for her. She revealed a few more things to us about her situation and she was so distraught that I asked her, "would it embarrass you if we prayed for you right now?" She was so open to that and so needed to pour out her wounded heart that Ashley and I grabbed her hands and right there in a busy, fast food restaurant we went to the throne and laid out her needs to the Father. At least the ones she had shared.
    Being a single mother at one time causes me to have a connection with others who find themselves alone, whether it is a result of divorce or death that has given them that heavy role to walk. She wasn't in a hurry to leave but before she did I told her I would stay in touch. We are now Facebook friends and have exchanged phone numbers.
    You may be wondering why I felt this was a divine appointment. Her teenage son has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Inoperable. They are currently waiting for doctors to devise a treatment plan. This young man is a believer and told his mother if death is what God has for him, he is ready. 
    God puts people in our lives for a reason. Some for only moments and it is up to us sometimes to discern why. To dig a little into what is going on and to offer to pray. To join your heart to theirs and let our Father know that we see them through His eyes and that we hear their pleas to Him for healing, comfort, direction and peace that passes all understanding.
    Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities and don't miss your divine appointments! In the meantime would you pray for this young man and his mom?

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

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!