Happy Anniversary, Baby

Hello again, my life has been upended since my last post. My world shattered into a million sparkling pieces, each piece a memory, some are smooth and reflective and some are jagged and cut deep. I’ve been encouraged to write about the memories, to share the wisdom, the pain, the joy, and the humor that God has given me on this journey.

On November 11th, Veteran’s Day, my husband died. It was his favorite holiday, where he saluted and shared veteran stories, and spent time with the older guard to hear their stories. It was a reverent day for him and now it will always be for me.

It wasn’t COVID, we didn’t know it was coming. He went to work on November 10th, like it was any other day, and he had a massive stroke on a job site. He was life-flighted to UT hospital where they removed several clots, and they were hopeful he would recover somewhat, but he stroked again in the middle of the night.

How I wish I had that morning to do over again. I would have held him a little longer, kissed him a little deeper, but I sent him on his way with a quick “I love you. See you tonight, and keep me posted on your day.” I know he knew I loved him, but I needed more time.

Best Anniversary Gift EVER! Surprise Vow Renewal.

We had been together for 26 years. Married for 24 years, this year on May 30th, it would have been 25 years. The running joke between us was that he would never be able to top our 15th wedding anniversary. Listen up husbands, because Andrew set the bar really high, he knew how to bring out the big guns and make things special. He paid attention and he GOT me, he knew WHO I was and what MATTERED to me. I didn’t need lots of pomp and circumstance, or extravagant gifts, I needed laughter, honesty, loyalty, and love and he gave me all of those in abundance.

Our wedding was on May 30th close to Memorial Day, a military 4-day weekend. We both had to work that day but agreed to meet at the Montgomery County clerk’s office during our lunch hour. We paid $15 to get married and I still say it was the best $15 we ever spent! I remember we both cried because the county commissioner, Joe Creek, who married us, did the most beautiful ceremony. I wished we had videos or photos of it, but we were so poor at the time we didn’t even own a camera. Andy was in fatigues and I was in office attire, we had sliver bands, not gold. Andy loved to tell folks he took me to McDonald’s for our reception and he let me supersize. He went back to the flight line at Ft. Campbell and I went back to the office, where my boss got me a funeral arrangement of flowers and laughed that we really knew how to throw a wedding! The party of life began after we got home that evening.

Now fast forward 15 years, 2011. The few months before our wedding, he was making plans, he had every person in the church in on it and kept it close to the vest. I didn’t know a thing. On the morning of our anniversary, he told me to wear a dress I liked and meet him in the car. It was Memorial Day weekend and he usually did something to honor fallen veterans, so I didn’t think anything about it. He had invited some of our family, friends, and coworkers to church and to lunch afterward.

Still, it didn’t set off any warning bells that he was up to something. After the service, Andy went to the front and I thought, “ok, he’s going to read a poem or something about fallen soldiers and how freedom isn’t free.” He then asked me to the front of the church, got down on one knee, and asked me to marry him again! I was not prepared, I had bubble gum in my mouth and no place to put it. I chewed gum through the whole thing, like a cow chewing cud. I was so taken aback I didn’t even know what was coming next. He asked our pastor at the time Clarence if he would marry us again. Here I am in black, 25 lbs heavier than I should be and I am getting married, AGAIN. Did it matter that I was fluffy, dressed in black, and chewing gum? No! Not in the least bit.

The fact that he wanted to give me a wedding with family and friends around me, a community of people who loved us, spoke more to me than any diamond ever could. If I had waited on a perfect dress, perfect venue or a perfect body, I would have missed the greatest moment. A moment I now treasure even more because I won’t have another anniversary with him this side of heaven.

I couldn’t believe how the folks in the church came together for me. He told them we had never had a real reception or a fancy cake, so Jackie Ervin made me the most beautiful cake with purple butterflies on it, they decorated the fellowship hall in purple, everyone brought food, we ate and hugged and laughed and friends made a mess of my car, but it was a glorious day, a day I never expected, but God knew I would need it one day in the future to look back on and know that Andy loved me that much, that God loved me that much.

Some memories are beautiful, but they can still be painful in the midst of grief. I believe we have to feel all the feelings that come and deal with it as it happens. I found the video going through photos and it brought the day flooding back, making me laugh and cry all at the same time. In grief, you feel every emotion in moments’ time.

This is not the life I wanted, I am not happy about it, I am angry, frustrated and alone, but I have a sense of peace. Andy wouldn’t have wanted to be here if he was unable to be himself. His advanced directive stated as much. Even when he had a cold, he was not a good patient, so I know that’s true.

It is hard to see the next step right now. When you are in the valley you can’t see the beauty of what God is doing until you climb to the mountain top and see where you’ve been and how God has brought you through. God works everything for His good. Even from the terrible heartbreak, I feel now, I know God will use it somehow. If we tramp down the feelings, ignore them or run away from them, we don’t heal. I believe God uses our tears to cleanse our souls and heal our hearts, but we have to share our tears with Him.

I”m closing for now, thanks for reading. I will share more once I’ve stocked up on Kleenex.

Blessings and peace,

Charmin

Daddy’s Girl

Photo of Charmin, Homer and Wendy
Me, Daddy Homer and my best friend Wendy – Circa 1969

Children are great observers of all that goes on in their world. They absorb things like a sponge. Adults often think that children won’t be affected by what the grownups do, but that is far from the case.

While kids see and soak up all that is going on around them, they are not mature enough to properly interpret what they see and feel. This can lead to wounds that run deep, especially when there is no one to help them correctly process what they see and feel.

After my adoption at 4, we lived in Illinois until I was 7. For those first few years after the adoption, things were okay. I enjoyed being a kid, for the most part. The age difference between my new siblings and myself made me feel like an only child. I think I was a likable kid, I was best friends with the little boy who lived behind us and with another little girl, who like me had been adopted. I had cousins who visited often, were close to my age and we had lots of fun together and loved them all.

Not long after my adoption my birth mom moved in across the street with my older sister. That sounds strange, right? It was both good and confusing.

I suppose I should interject here and say that after my adoption, I knew what had happened, my adoption wasn’t ever a secret from me. I wasn’t allowed to call her mommy anymore, but I knew she was my birth mother and she always tried to live close to us. Which again, was both good and confusing.

My new Sissy got married and moved to Alaska, my new Brother went into the Army and was stationed in Germany.

The vibe in my house became tense around the time the older kids were close to moving out. As a kid, you don’t know exactly what is going on between the grownups in your house, but you hear things and pick up on the unpleasant feelings. You know things aren’t what they should be and you piece things together, your picture may not be quite right, but it is your reality. I knew trouble brewed and just three years after my adoption, the marriage of my new mom and dad fell apart.

This prompted my new mom to move to Kentucky where both sides of my family were from. My Daddy built my Mommy a house, but he didn’t come to live with us in it. He brought me presents for holidays and birthdays, but was never there for the cake. I remember crying, wondering why he didn’t want to spend time with me.

When we lived in Illinois we would sit together in his recliner and watch Hee Haw together. I felt safe, I felt special, I felt like a Daddy’s girl. He was there and I loved him deeply.

Then he wasn’t there. My Daddy’s girl phase was shortlived. I was seven, and I thought it was my fault that yet another person I loved cast me aside. From the time I was seven until Daddy died when I was ten, I saw him a handful of times, and it broke my little heart. Once again I was fatherless.

On the day Daddy Homer died, I knew I would never be a Daddy’s girl, never have a father who would watch me grow up, cheer me on, be proud of me on graduation day, or walk me down the aisle, I vividly remember because I lost two fathers that day.

I was in 5th grade. My birth mother came to the school to get me, in the middle of the day, and that never happened. I always rode the bus home. I remember being nervous when I got in the car, I was excited and anxious, I knew something was up, but couldn’t figure out what it was.

She told me she had something to tell me. I don’t think it was easy for her, she seemed to rush through it as she said Daddy Homer had a massive heart attack and died. I just remember feeling numb and what sounded like bees buzzing in my ears as I tried to make sense of it.

After several minutes of quiet, I had to ask a question that I felt led to hope. What about my birth father? I had wondered about him often; if he knew about me; if he cared about me; where was he? We had had conversations about my birth father before, I would ask questions and she would answer. Did I looked like him (I have his mouth); what does he look like (he was 6’3″ and thin, stawberry blond, ruddy complexion, smile that would light up a room); things like that. I always enjoyed those talks, it connected me to family somehow. I wanted to know where he was in all this? If I would ever know him?

Me with my birth parents, Floe Smiddy and James Monroe – Circa 1967
One of only three photos I have of my birth father.

I think we all long to know about our lineage. We want to know where we come from, what’s our family history? We long to be connected to something larger than ourselves. I think that is why there are so many verses in the Bible about who begat whom. And why Ancestory.com has such a huge following.

But back to my story, after the questions about my birth father poured out, my world crashed again when I asked if I would ever meet my birth father and she told me no, she was sorry, but that he had died too. Not only had he died, he had died a violent death from a gunshot in a bar fight.

He was dead. No reunion, no stories about how he had loved me from afar, he would never know me, never be proud of me, never love me. And BOOM, just like that, a little girl’s childhood dreams of having a Daddy, being Daddy’s little girl vanished.

My hurt was quiet and deep. Honestly, it hurts me to this day. Father’s Day became a day I ignored.

I longed for a traditional family, one that made sense. I had a hard time explaining my family tree to my friends. Heck, I still have a hard time explaining my family tree.

I struggled with resentment, abandonment issues and people-pleasing. That feeling of restlessness and not fitting in plagued me. I couldn’t make sense of the pain inside me. It would be an ongoing struggle throughout my life.

In high school my best friend and her family loved on me and took me to church with them. They introduced me to a Daddy who will never leave me.

In John 14:18 Jesus says; “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He sees me, lost without a father. 

2 Corinthians 6:18 And,“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” He knows I need Him, He knows I need the feeling of family.

I didn’t know at the time just how much I would need that unconditional love that God offers, but I am so glad I accepted it. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through life without being able to rely on God’s love for me. As I said in a previous blog, my story has many chapters and in all those chapters I needed something I could rely on.

Have a railed against God? Yes! Have I complained and cried and asked for things to be different? Yes! Have I blamed God? Yes! Have I been angry with God? Yes! I am human, I make mistakes, I screw things up, I get things wrong. We all do.

Being a child of God is NOT about BEING perfect, it is about acknowledging that YOU AREN”T PERFECT and turning your life over to the One who is, who can help you carry your burdens and insecurities, listen to your troubles and guide you through the deepest, scariest wilderness into the light.

My life has been a wilderness in a lot of ways. I have gone waaaay off the rails, but He has always guided me back. I will never be perfect this side of heaven and God knows that. He knows and He loves me anyway. God is love. And love is what He wants from you.

I recently read Father Gregory Boyle’s Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. The quote below resonated with my soul.

“Moral outrage is the opposite of God; it only divides and separates what God wants for us, which is to be united in kinship. Moral outrage doesn’t lead us to solutions – it keeps us from them. It keeps us from moving forward toward a fuller, more compassionate response to members of our community who belong to us, no matter what they’ve done.”

You see, if I am outraged that I missed out on being a Daddy’s girl, if I hold on to that hurt and anger, if I hold on to that outrage over anything someone else does, it separates me from God, not by His doing, by my own. It becomes me pulling away from God and not moving forward. God wants us to be near Him, He wants us to find solutions through Him and love others no matter what they’ve done.

Sometimes we become so caught up in religion and the “right way” to do things we forget, it is not about the building or the pastor or even the service, it is about the LOVE. How we walk with and care for each other. God is Love. God loves everyone. He calls us to love everyone. So I will leave you with this verse.

John 13:34 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Godspeed, how fast are you going?

I am blessed to work in a place that values God, people and community. We start each Monday with a time of group devotions. This helps me keep my focus on what matters thoughout my week.

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

Last Monday’s devotional brought me to my knees and made me take a hard look at how I serve others. When you work for a ministry or nonprofit it is all too easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed because the needs of our city are so great. Sometimes you wonder if what you do truly matters, are you making a difference? That is when we have to slow down and remember who we serve.

Our world moves too fast. Can you imagine how our community would change if we just took our time with people? This 30-minute video reminded me that Godspeed is not our speed, we tend to fly by in our own little world at 55 miles an hour when we really need slow down and walk at 3 miles per hour with those we serve. So take some time, slow down for a bit, watch and let me know what you think. https://vimeo.com/200206468

The Space Between

Have you ever had to wait for something? I don’t know about you, but for me waiting is hard.

We are not creatures of change, we like to stay in our comfortable space of knowing what’s next. Especially if you are a planner, you know the steps that will lead you from this to that, but what about when you have no control over those steps? Someone else has to make the decision to take those steps and you have to wait on them, on the process. The space between what we know and what comes next is uncomfortable, at times unbearably so. Uncertainty has a way of filling our hearts with things that are not warm and fuzzy. Things like worry, anxiety, and fear can paralyze us if we let those feelings run rampant. But there is hope.

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That’s where I feel the rubber hits the road. God does some of His best work right there, in that space between this and that. Of course, it is hard to see it while you are in between, when the emotions run away with every possible scenario and your mind is trying to make sense of the chaos your emotions are churning around like butter.

In this in-between space, faith is tested and God does incredible things. My husband will tell you I am terrible at waiting, patience is an area where God is constantly at work with me. When I look back and see how I have struggled in those spaces between this and that, the times when I didn’t rely on my faith, on God, I clearly see how I made things much worse than the times when I opened myself to the possibilities of God had in store for me.

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I know God is at work right now, I am in the space between, even as I type this message.  Sometimes when you hear something, it strikes a cord that wakes up your Spirit and compels you to act, to read, to pray, to listen, to write. Today my pastor said, “my hope is alive in the midst of the storm.” Immediately the verse below came to mind.

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Look at the Israelites, Moses brought them out of captivity, God told them where to go, they were in the process of going and spent 40 years between this and that because they weren’t obedient and open to what God had in store for them. I don’t want to be out of God’s will for me, I want to be obedient. My prayer right now is, “Thank you Lord for this gentle prompting in my Spirit to stay calm, lead me, show me Your path, I am here waiting in the between and I am at peace, help me to keep that peace no matter where the path goes.

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My mantra for the last month has been ” I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future.” God is doing a new thing, and while I don’t know what that may be, I know I am to be content no matter how long the between lasts.

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What is Community to You?

Dictionary.com defines Community as: 
  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2.  a locality inhabited by such a group.
  3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists(usually preceded by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
These were the top 3 definitions, as you can see, a community can look different depending on your vantage point. Consider your community, is it a neighborhood, sports team, church, school, work? The list could go on and on.
Recently my church moved into a new community. We have been there a few months and are not familiar with the neighborhood. This move has me pondering how to engage with those around us? I find myself going back to a book we read as a staff at work last year. This little book called The Art of Neighboring really had some practical insights and I highly recommend it.  Why study a book on neighbors? Shouldn’t we love our neighbor as ourselves?
The Art of Neighboring Book

Ask yourself, how often do you intentionally reach out to your actual neighbors? Do you care about what goes on in your neighbors’ lives? Most of us don’t even know our neighbors anymore. So maybe we need this book more than we realize. We come home, through the garage, close the door, retire to our dens or backyard without even seeing those around us. No kind words or even happy waves happen. We are in and we are out.

I believe so many times we alienate ourselves from our neighbors because they don’t look, act, or talk like we do. We are afraid to step out and introduce ourselves or afraid to make a social faux pas because we don’t know the person. But how can you get to know someone unless you step out on faith?
When we were stationed overseas, no matter the country we visited, I always tried to learn, at the very least, how to say “please” and “thank you.” Americans are notorious for expecting you to speak English no matter what, but the ones who at least try to speak the language are blessed with helpful people and forgiveness for butchering their language. My point is, most people are more forgiving if they know you are trying.
I am a strong believer in the power of diversity. As a child, I colored with every crayon in the box. Too often in this world, we tend to gravitate toward sameness,  what we know and where we are comfortable. There is a wealth of richness and beauty in relationships with people who are not the same as you.  You don’t have to agree with someone to care about them. Genuine, loving, long-term relationships with our neighbors requires us to be present, get to know someone by listening to their story. Stories bring us together and allow us to relate on a level we might miss if we don’t have time to listen.
Too often we feel we need to fix people’s problems or tell them what they should do. Most of the time, people just want to be heard, to feel like someone really cares and is there if they need to share.
Matthew 5:43-45
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; 
So my thought for the day is…What is “community” to you?  How do you live that out? How do you connect with those around you? What can you do differently to truly be a good neighbor?