Bring Your Own Sunshine

Every Monday morning at work we have devotions. It is an hour that starts the week off right by helping all the staff to grow in our love and knowledge of God, to better serve our community.

During these times we are broken up into small groups. I enjoy these small groups and getting to know my coworkers that work in the many other initiatives that serve alongside ours.

Most Mondays I come away with a nugget of wisdom to use throughout my week and my life, but sometimes, a coworker will say something that strikes a chord deep in my soul.

Our study was on the book of James. We were discussing the darkness that can creep into our daily lives during the daily news. What are the messages we listen to? How do we discern what is right or wrong? How do we combat the darkness?

During these questions, my coworker Omar said something that really spoke to my heart. It was about bringing our sunshine with us into the darkness. While I can’t remember it verbatim, the premise of the conversation created a spinning spiral of thoughts.

I thought about that light that God puts within us, and that Omar reminds the students he works with that they have that light. We all need to be reminded that we have that light. The Spirit Christ put within us. When we rely on the heavenly Father, the light He creates in us grows and others can see it. That special Sonshine can be brighter than the noonday sun when we listen to Him and treat others with love.

Another thing that spoke to my soul was when Omar said to beware of the feelings and emotions of others. Without good boundaries and respect, others can rob you of that light within. You don’t want it to get so dark that it overcomes your Sonshine.

How often do we let others break through our boundaries, rob us of our dignity, and break our souls to steal the Sonshine within us? Why do we give people the power to overcome our Sonshine? How do we prevent it? The enemy tries to extinguish that light every chance he gets.

That’s easier said than done. I know too often in my life I didn’t know how to set boundaries, I didn’t want to upset anyone so I allowed myself to be a doormat. I gave other people the power that should have been mine. Our human nature often gets in the way. We forget that light lives within us. That we were all created in His image.

For me it took a huge shift in knowledge, it took someone being kind, someone willing to pour into me and show me my worth. It took years of two steps forward and three steps back and people who didn’t give up on me. It was people showing me the love of Christ rather than telling me about the love of Christ. That is how I learned “Greater is He who is in you than he that is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). He was with every person who poured goodness into me as they walked with me, and He was with me no matter how low I sank. I am thankful every day that God does what I may think is impossible.

Sometimes the simple act of a kind smile, especially to someone who feels unloved and unseen can start a chain reaction. Kindness can be contagious.

I never knew my birth father, but when I was very young my mom told me that when he smiled, he lit up a room. She told me I had his smile and that ability as well. After hearing that, I began to smile more. It made me feel connected to a father I never knew. After I began my walk with a Father who knew me, the smile and the joy grew. I made a conscious decision to find the positive in whatever situation I found myself in.

Believe me, if you know me or have read this blog for a while it’s apparent that there have been many times in my life when smiling seemed impossible. It is my hope that my life shows Joy really does come from the Lord. He has always given me that little ray of Sonshine, just when I needed it most.

So taking Omar’s advice, I am asking you to bring the Sonshine with you wherever you go because there will be times of deep darkness when you need to shine brightly and let others feel the warmth of the Sonshine on their faces.

It is Sonshine that lights up a room with your smile. Spread a little kindness and share it with others. Trust me it makes all the difference in the world.

Finding the Goodness of Grief

It seems impossible to say. It seems impossible to be at this point. It seems impossible that 16 months have passed since Andrew died. The statement, “all things are possible with God,” comes to my mind. Had it not been for my faith these past 16 months I can’t imagine where or how I would be right now.

Grief is a tumultuous turn of emotions, you feel everything and nothing all at once. Pain so deep you don’t think you can stand, fear so sharp it cuts to the bone, your heart and body hurts, your mind spins in the web of memories and sometimes clarity is a fleeting thing you can’t quite grasp. Grief is different for everyone, a wound that never truly heals and always leaves a scar. The healing time is different for everyone as well. You cannot gauge your healing against someone else’s. There is no, “this is how it’s done, and now you are good.” It is not something you can do and check off your list.

I had to wade through all of my feelings, like sloshing through Mississippi mud, which during a pandemic hasn’t been easy. The isolation and the pain were not friends, but they were inseparable. There were days when I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were times I just needed someone to stay with me and hug me and tell me everything would be all right, but no one was there. There were times when friends would stop by or call and encourage me, but not as often as I needed. More often than not, I was alone with my feelings and had to learn how to keep my head up when waves of grief crashed over me.

The valley seemed the deepest six months after his passing. Life had gone back to normal for everyone else, the world was still spinning and time was moving forward. But it was moving forward without him, without us. I had to come to grips that I was no longer part of a we and I couldn’t remember how to be just me.

My church was the hardest place for me. Not because I blamed God, but because that was something we did together. It was our place, our relationship was better there, he was better there. After he was gone, I couldn’t bear, still can’t bear, to be there without him. I still deeply love my church family, but I have never felt so crushed by the weight of being alone as the times I went back through those doors. I still watch online and don’t have that feeling.

I know things have a season and during my prayers, I feel God pulling me to find a space that is mine, where I can explore who I am becoming. Where I can be a Me, and not be under the shadow of the We. My church family still loves me and has supported me through all of this and for that I am thankful. There may be a time to go back, but that time is not yet.

I have to say, the thing that saved me was that my tribe let me tell stories and relive memories that made me laugh and smile at the good life and love I felt when Andy was alive. They let me know it was ok to cry and take a moment when I needed it.

The goodness in my grief was the joy God gave me through the telling of those stories, those treasured memories that not only made me laugh but also made others laugh as well. The laughter healed my soul in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I could feel God’s hand leading me through the hardest moments and my deepest valleys. I leaned deeply on God’s wisdom on how to put one foot in front of the other. He made a way when I saw no way.

My other saving grace during this time is the beautiful relationship with my stepdaughter. She pulled me into a family I never thought I would get to experience. We shared a love for a man we both dearly miss. And her sarcasm and mannerisms remind me of him so very much it touches my heart. She has given me the biggest blessing during this season of grief, I had the honor of being called grandma for the first time and about to be a grandma for the second time. Getting to be a part of their lives is a gift I am so very fortunate to have, it takes my breath away.

Lately, I feel that it is time to say goodbye for now to my beloved, to give him the proper honors he deserves for his service. I know I will see him when my time is done, but for now, God still has work for me here. On May 27th I will have a military service to honor his memory and inter his ashes.

We were married on the Friday before Memorial Day during our lunch hour, so I felt it was appropriate to say goodbye for now in the same fashion. He would find it more than a fitting tribute.

I know he would never want me to stay in a state of sadness, he loved it when we laughed together and he loved making me laugh. I can hear him in my head laughing now, telling me it is time to move forward and have some fun. Those of you who knew him, know the truth in this.

Thank you to my tribe, for loving me and taking care of me. You all matter more than words can say.

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