Thursday, December 24, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends This Christmas: Part 3

T'was the day before Christmas, when all through the house...

I wish I could say not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse in my home. But... we still have gift-wrapping to do and grocery shopping and cooking and baking.

And yet, I had to take a break from my holiday preparations to write the final post in this blog series. As I've connected with friends and family members, it seems I'm not the only one grieving loved ones this season. And I'm certainly not the only one working through hurts and disappointments and major life transitions.

So if you, or someone you love, is balancing loss and grief while also celebrating the most precious Gift we've ever received - our Savior, Jesus Christ - this post is for you.

In my first two posts, I shared the two ways to help a grieving loved one during the holidays: expressing empathy and the Gift of Presence. Today I want to share another. It's pretty simple, but I've had confirmation over the last few days that this is the thought I'm supposed to share with you.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I experienced my first day of national tragedy. I wasn't born when Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy were assassinated. I had never watched a nation mourn together. Not until 9/11.

And mourn we did.

The mantra birthed out of 9/11 was "Never Forget". We had no power to bring back the thousands of lives lost on that day. We could do very little to console the thousands who lost a mother, father, child, spouse or friend that day. 

But we did what we could. We spoke words of love and blessing. We held prayer vigils.


So as I complete this blog series today, I want to share one more way to help those around us that find themselves grieving this Christmas.


One constant about grief is that there's very little that's constant about grief. The way I grieve might differ greatly from the way you grieve. I process my grief out loud. I write about it. I talk about it. I share what I'm feeling with my sisters, my husband Anthony, my children and close friends.

Others grieve more internally, processing within their minds and hearts. They don't need to talk about it. But it's just as real. Just as present in their lives as in mine.

Yet one commonality in the area of grief is this: We want to know that our loved ones haven't been forgotten. We love to hear others honor our loved ones and share funny or sweet stories about them. It blesses us to know that we're not the only ones missing our loved ones. It can be painful to watch how life moves on, when we know our lives have been forever altered.

We simply want and need to know that they are remembered.

So this holiday, let others know you remember their loved one.

Let them know you're praying for them... because you remember.

Send a text message, Facebook message or card... because you remember.

Tell them you're aware that this Christmas might be tough... because you remember.

It's a simple thing to do. But it means so much.

I remember just a few weeks ago, Anthony told me he was really missing my parents. It was a regular day, but for some reason he felt the loss a bit more. I have those days too, but it blessed me to know that he did too. It blessed me to know that I wasn't along in my grief. It blessed me to know that he simply remembered.

This Christmas, you and I can share love with others that might be hurting this very moment. I can think of several precious people in my life that are experiencing all manner of loss and pain. I bet you can too.

This Christmas, let's love like Jesus did. Isaiah 53 describes Him this way...

"He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried."

This Christmas let's be grief-bearers and sorrow-carriers. 

This Christmas let's simply REMEMBER.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends This Christmas: Part 2

When I reflect on my family's recent relocation back to Tennessee, I think of all that moving brings.

Change. Excitement. Intrigue. 

Moving can be a really cool "reset button"... Giving us the opportunity to begin again, experience a season of renewal, reinvent ourselves even.

I've experienced all these joys since we've moved back to Tennessee. Some days I'm overwhelmed with the blessing of moving to a city we love and reconnecting with precious friends we made during our first season in Franklin. An added bonus: we've been blessed to meet new friends and begin jobs with wonderful ministries - New Hope Academy for me and Nashville Rescue Mission for Anthony.

But moving has another side... Like almost any other major change it brings a whole other list of things.

Stress. Disorientation. Grief.

Along with the reset button of relocation comes the reminder of all the wonderful things and people we left behind in Arkansas - and in Northern Virginia and even in our birthplace, Maryland. Every now and then I find myself longing for yesterday and the life I've left behind.

When I wrote the first post in this blog series, I began writing out of a desire to help friends and family members grieving loved ones this holiday. I thought of those entering the holiday while suffering major illness. I especially wanted to reach out to those I know personally that may even be facing their final days here on earth. I also thought of my sisters and myself who lost our parents earlier this year, but I realize we're certainly not alone in our grief.

What I hadn't thought about were the other kinds of grief we face throughout life as well. Divorce. Loss of a job. Even relocating to a new town. The list could go on and on.

So it's with this backdrop that I share the second way to help grieving friends survive the holidays... The gift of PRESENCE.

Yes, you read that right - presence. Not presents - although it's certainly the season of giving. (And I'm too excited about the Starbucks gift card my coworker presented to me just yesterday, by the way. "Uh yes, I'll have a grande peppermint mocha please." Pardon me. I digress...)

The gift of presence is the gift that keeps on giving. I'll never forget the hundreds of friends that showed up for my parents' services and visited with us in my parents' home after they'd passed. There were folks from my old neighborhood, old classmates from all my schools - even elementary, and so many church members from my parents' church and my old church in Baltimore.

I'll always remember the many people that visited with my parents in the hospital. Each day, as I sat beside my Mom or my Dad, I never knew who might walk in for a short visit. Our next door neighbor that I hadn't seen in 20 years. My mother's sorority sisters. My parents' pastors. Some precious friends of mine that still live in Maryland. Some of the most profound conversations I had this year were in that hospital - with people who cared enough to simply show up and be there.

That season was like an ongoing reunion for me, and I felt so blessed that so many took time from their busy lives to simply share the gift of presence.

So... This holiday season, while we shop for our children's and grandchildren's wish lists, bake those delicious cookies, and decorate our homes and Christmas trees, let's take a look around us. Who's hurting this holiday? Who might need an extra hug right now? Who needs us to meet them for a quick meal or quick cup of coffee in the midst of all this hustle and bustle? Is a face or two coming to mind right now? A few have come to my mind for sure.

It doesn't take a lot of money to love people well. Simply showing up can be relatively inexpensive. This Christmas, give someone the gift that will keep on giving. The gift that will bless them for years to come. The gift that will bring sweet memories and a smile to someone's face maybe even years from now.

This Christmas, let's give the gift of presence.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends this Christmas: Part 1

This week I experienced another "first".

Of course having just relocated back to Tennessee, I've experienced lots of firsts. My first Thanksgiving back in Franklin. My first day of work at New Hope Academy.

But this week I experienced another kind of "first".

On Wednesday, December 9th, I had my first birthday without my parents.

Earlier this year I shared quite a bit about my parents' illnesses, and a few weeks later, their deaths. It's been a difficult year without them. Their absence has left a hole in my heart. A place that I don't think anything or anyone will fill. It's a space that I think even Jesus will allow to remain empty until I see Him face-to-face. Until I see my parents again too.

As Christmas quickly approaches, I've been thinking about what the holiday will be like without my parents. Almost every Christmas we've traveled 18 hours to spend the holiday with our families in Maryland.

This year will be so different without my parents. 

They will be sorely missed.

So as I work through the emotions of approaching my first Christmas without my parents, I am also thinking of others that are grieving during this time.

It only takes a scroll down my Facebook newsfeed to see what others are dealing with at this time:

  • An old schoolmate and coworker in her forties who recently lost her husband
  • A friend and co-laborer in foster care ministry whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a week after her adoption was finalized
  • A lady from my old church facing the unknowns of cancer that is no longer responding to treatment, and the uncertainties facing her husband and 8 kids

One thing's for sure this Christmas -- people are rejoicing and grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Savior. BUT lots of people are hurting too. This dichotomy points to the paradox of the cross. We are joyful for the Savior's death and resurrection that offers us new life in Christ.

But the cross began with Jesus' death. I can only imagine the pain and sorrow the cross brought Jesus, His mother Mary and his closest followers and friends.

So as we approach Christmas with all manner of difficulties facing us, I'd like to share a few ways we can support those hurting around us. I'll share the first today...

We Can Empathize with Grieving Friends

A huge way to bless others when they're grieving, especially during the holidays, is to simply say, "I'm so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you." We don't have to have all the answers or give a sermonette on why a person should have joy despite their loss. 

Here's why...

One emotion that often accompanies grief is GUILT. When a soldier loses fellow soldiers in combat, she usually experiences survivor's guilt. When a person's entire family dies in a car accident, and he somehow escapes the wreckage with a few bumps and bruises, s(he) also experiences survivors guilt. This kind of guilt brings with it the question, "Why was I the one spared?" This kind of guilt is often unfounded, but totally understandable.

When I lost my parents, I didn't expect to experience a similar kind of guilt. I had flown back and forth from Arkansas so I could be by my parents' sides in the hospital. I had conversation after conversation with their doctors. I followed their vitals reports, knew when their white blood counts went up and their red blood counts when down and discussed every "procedure" (the new name for surgery) that they were encouraged to have.

But with all the advances of medicine, it was my parents' time to go. My father seemed to know this. He'd said several times to me in the hospital, "Well, I'm thankful. God gave me 80 years." He'd bragged so often about reaching age 80. My sisters Lori and Sherri and I had no idea it would be his last year with us.

He passed away on January 20, just 3 days shy of his 81st birthday.

When my Daddy passed, I was back in Arkansas with my husband and four children. He and my Mom's health had stabilized, and I figured I'd return quickly if either took a turn for the worst. But my father passed with very little warning. I had no opportunity to return before he passed. I struggled with that for weeks. I felt guilty for having left. 

I also felt guilty for not doing enough for my parents. For not pushing the doctors to take stronger measures sooner and more often. For not insisting my father rest more during my mother's illness. I think I created things to feel guilty about.

I share this heartbreaking aspect of grief to simply share this thought... When a person grieves a loved one, they can often be plagued by guilt. This guilt might be unfounded. It might be completely incomprehensible. But it's very real.

Also, this guilt makes it a terrible time time to pour on more guilt. After all, a Christian that's grieving knows that God is still good. (S)he probably knows that Jesus is still the reason for the season. They also know that their family member would want them to continue to embrace life and experience joy during this season.

What grieving souls do need is a reminder that we are still loved by the family and friends that are still with us. We do need to know that others hurt for and with us. We definitely need to know that our loved ones lives were a blessing and that they are missed by others too.

What we need is empathy. Not pity. Not a sermon. And definitely not more guilt.

Empathy is love in action. Empathy is an emotional hug. Empathy says, "I care about you and love you right where you are."

This Christmas, the first gift we can wrap and present to those hurting around us is empathy.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tennessee Bound... When Life Comes Full Circle

It's so amazing when life comes full circle.

And full circle is where I find myself today. Packing up. Relocating. Moving to Franklin, Tennessee... Again.

Mid-October I wrote a post sharing about my family's move back to Franklin, a city we lived in for almost a decade.  Since then, so much has happened...

God has blessed me with a job as a Communications Director for New Hope Academy, a wonderful private Christian school in Franklin. New Hope is as much a ministry as a school. With over half its student population receiving financial assistance, New Hope serves the lower income community like no other school I know.

God has also blessed my husband Anthony with a new position, serving the Nashville Rescue Mission as Director of its recovery ministry. This too will be a deep, life-changing assignment. It's a transition from pastoral ministry, but we're excited to see how the Lord will use Ant's work to turn the hearts of people entangled in the web of substance abuse back to Him.

And... After much searching - and hours surfing Realtracs, Zillow and Trulia - we've also found a new home.

All this has brought us full circle.

Not only are we moving back to Franklin. We are moving back to the very community we started in - Fieldstone Farms.

Also, our oldest son Kalin began school at New Hope Academy. And as a matter of fact, I've got to tell an interesting story about that. Pull up a chair...

You know how there are certain events in history when everyone remembers exactly where they were at that time? If you ask someone where they were on 9/11, you'll often get an earful about where they were, what they were doing, what they were thinking, and most important - what they were feeling. 9/11 changed us all.

Well, when someone asks me where I was on 9/11, my answer is New Hope Academy - on the first day of school. School started late that year because construction on the new building ran behind schedule. Imagine that? A building project running behind schedule.

Sorry, I digress...

Anyway, we were at New Hope, enjoying the first devotional gathering of the year. We'd sung worship songs, read scriptures and had a blessed time so far. In the middle of the service, the Headmaster steps to the front of the library and says, "We need to pray right now. A plane just collided into one of the Twin Towers."

You could hear exclaims and moans around the room.

We immediately joined hands around the room and prayed for the lost lives we were sure we'd hear about later. It wasn't until I was home that I realized New York, and the US as a whole, had experienced a terrorist attack. Not until after the second plane hit.

It was a day and time I'll never forget.

Well, a week ago, the reality of life coming full circle became so real to me. I stood in the very same New Hope Academy library, enjoying morning devotions once again. And once again, I was amazed at how God writes the story of our lives. To think that this is the place I'll soon serve. Only He could orchestrate this stuff.

And yet... God's hand in all this doesn't make moving any easier. It doesn't make me any less sad to leave Conway, Arkansas, our home of 5 years. It doesn't make me any happier to leave the church we've called home, the relationships we've forged, the schools our children have attended and the nonprofit ministry I've served.

I'll miss Conway.

Change is hard. Relocating is challenging. Packing up and moving on creates a little hole inside. At least for a good while.

But this is a season that God is building my trust in Him.

It's a season that He's revealing His great faithfulness - morning by morning.

It's a season that He's proving my favorite Bible verse over and over...
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
Through the challenges and pain and losses I have known -- and YOU have known -- God is faithful. He has a plan. And it's a good one. It's a plan full of hope and an amazing future.

Let's choose to trust Him in this season.

And the next.

And the next.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Paris Terrorist Attack: How Then Shall We Live?

If you're like me, you've been watching the 24-hour news stories about yesterday's terrorist attack on Paris, France. 

If you're like me, you were mortified over the news.

If you're like me, you're asking lots of questions...

How can people have such hatred for perfect strangers?

Why do such horrible things happen to good people?

How do we make sense of the senseless?

I honestly don't have answers to these real life questions. And yet, today I purposefully opened my heart to God's voice while praying over this tragedy. 

This is what I heard God say in my spirit...

Carla, you've spent most of your Christian life pursuing comfort and safety. But I haven't called you, or any of my children, to a life of safety. 
Instead of a life of safety, I've called you to a life of meaning and purpose.

Hearing these words from the Lord made me think about The Barbarian Way, a book written by one of my favorite preachers, Erwin McManus. Erwin, who pastors Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, shares these words in The Barbarian Way. (Note: Hang in there until the last word of this quote. It's longer than a 140 character tweet. But it's good...)

Jesus understood that His purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness... Instead of finding confidence to live as we should regardless of circumstances... we choose the path of least resistance, least difficulty, least sacrifice. Instead of concluding it is best to be wherever God wants us to be, we have decided that wherever it is best for us to be is where God wants us. Actually, God's will for us is less about our comfort than it is about our contribution. God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance. God created you so that your life would count, not so you could count the days of your life.

Amen Brother.

We live in an era when stuff can pop off at any given moment. Threats are all around - threats to our safety, to our children's safety. We are surrounded by the reality that at any second - in a movie theater, in a high school classroom, even in the supposed security of bible study on a Wednesday night - our lives could be taken from us, seemingly prematurely.

But we are still called to walk in faith and love and hope.

We are still called to live and walk in purpose.

We are still called to fight for those with no strength, to speak for those with no voice.

We are not called to count our days, but to make sure our days count for Christ.

And when we leave this world, we can know that we have lived a life of courage and honor and meaning.

We can know that we lived for Him.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Columbia SC Classroom Assault: The "Aha" Backstory

I've stayed away from controversial topics here recently. Sometimes when you're working through your own personal drama, you just don't have the mental and emotional energy to focus on anyone else's drama. So I've kept it pretty light and fun for the most part.

But this week, I had to write about one particular news story. It just struck a nerve.

Most of you have heard about the teen girl assaulted by a police deputy in her Columbia, South Carolina classroom. Most of you have seen footage of the attack. All of us have come to our respective conclusions. I've heard several over the last week.

"The Columbia Sheriff was right to fire Deputy Ben Fields. This was police brutality at its worst."

"The girl deserved the treatment she got. With her horrible attitude and defiance, she needed a beat-down."

"The teacher is at fault here. Teachers should have better classroom management and control over their students."

"That girl's parents need to get her in check. If a child of mine carried on like that in class, she wouldn't need a deputy to drag her across the floor. I would have."

And on and on...

Yet here's the part of the story that really broke my heart.

That 16-year-old girl recently became a foster child.

The story from the New York Daily News...
"In an interview with the Daily News, Todd Rutherford, the respected Columbia, S.C. attorney representing the assault victim... revealed that his client, in addition to suffering injuries on her face, neck and arm, is living in foster care."
I don't know why the young girl is in foster care. Her mother and grandmother are both living, so she is not a legal orphan. And yet this teenage girl has already experienced a huge trauma -- the trauma of losing her family.

I read an article yesterday by Russell Moore, adoptive dad and President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, that really hit home for me as an adoptive mother. His major point: prospective foster and adoptive parents should enter the foster/adoptive process with eyes wide open, understanding the challenges of raising children that have experienced the losses associated with being displaced from their biological families. His words:
"Potential parents should be told, from the very beginning, that every child adopted or fostered will be, in a very real sense, a "special needs" child. In every case of adoption or foster care, there's a tragedy. Someone died, or someone was addicted, or someone was impoverished, or someone left."
I have seen this reality in my own home in the eyes of my son and daughter that joined my family through adoption. They have known great loss. They have endured real trauma. They have experience a tragedy. The parents that birthed them, for reasons unbeknown to them, were unable to parent them. Before they were adopted, they were displaced from all they had known.

This is the tragedy this teen girl has experienced. This is the trauma she has endured. 

Unfortunately, she has endured another major trauma. One that's been played over and over again on the news and in social media.

So what should be our response?

Instead of jumping to swift judgements in situations like this, let us be swift to bow our heads and pray for all involved. This experience was traumatic for everyone involved -- especially a 16-year-old foster girl.

I'm praying that this young lady will find healing from the traumas in her life. Will you pray with me?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blackish: Making a Case for Multi-Ethinic Churches

I'm not much of a television-viewer -- except evening news and "The Voice". I am front-and-center for Pharrell, Blake, Adam and Gwen, whenever possible. Make no mistake about it.

But there are a few shows I like to catch every now and then. ABC's "Blackish" is one of those shows.

Now some of you are nodding your heads right now, because you love this crazy, quirky show. Others are shaking your head adamantly and have lost all respect for me for wasting a full half-hour on this crazy, quirky show.

Wherever you are on the "Blackish" spectrum of love and hate, hear me out for at least the end of this blog. Because last Wednesday's episode spoke volumes about a weekly phenomenon rarely addressed in today's television world.

Last Wednesday "Blackish" went to church.

Yes, you heard (or read) that right. CHURCH.

I won't rehash the entire episode in a day and age when television can be watched on-demand multiple ways. Check it out for yourself when you can. But I did want to share a few thoughts that came to mind while I watched this episode titled "Churched".

I'll share them here, if you will allow...

1. "Black Church" and "White Church" are Different

Now I know I risk sounding stereotypical here, and I promise that's not my intent. After all, I grew up in a predominantly Black church in Baltimore where we sang traditional hymns accompanied by a classically-trained organist. We learned choir music the old-fashioned way, using sheet music to learn the lyrics and our parts. We seldom clapped in church, and our service was very quiet. Church began at 11 and ended by 12:15.

You can imagine I was completely overwhelmed the first time I practiced with a more traditional Black church choir, where the choir director sang out each part so we could learn the song's lyrics and melody.

So believe me, I know there are all types of Black churches and White churches.

However, there are some commonalities amongst most traditional Black and White churches. And "Blackish" had a field day showcasing an exaggerated parody around this.

The White church service was spirited, and had a worship leader that led the congregation in happy, uplifting music. The service was over in 45 minutes. The sermon was structured and easy to follow - a typical 3-point message. The following Sunday, main characters Dre and Bow struggled with sitting through a nearly-identical service to the previous week's.

The Black church, on the other hand, was a different experience altogether. A huge choir donning purple choir robes performed song after song after song... The service lasted for nearly five hours, the sermon multi-layered and unapologetically long. Church announcements -- delivered by Dre's mother Ruby -- went on for nearly an hour.

During the service, Dre and Bow's White friend marvels, "Wow, six songs!"

"Each one more uplifting than the last," Bow responds, attempting to maintain a smile.

I chuckled over the exaggerations, but found myself nodding a lot too. Traditionally our churches are just different. And different isn't bad. It's just different.

2. Multi-ethnic churches can offer a middle ground

My husband Anthony and I served in multi-ethnic churches for 15 years. We love the multi-ethic church, so I know I'm partial. Yet one thing I love about racially-diverse churches is the blending of the cultures - evident in preaching styles and worship music. It's cool to hear Israel Houghton, Donnie McClurkin and Chris Tomlin all in one worship set.  Service length is usually a happy medium too -- somewhere in the 1 1/2 hour range.

Though this melding of cultures can have its share of hits and misses, the best benefit is doing life with people who look a little different, live a little differently and sometimes cook a little differently. Multi-ethnic church can offer a taste of heaven, where "every nation and tribe and people and tongue"* will worship God together forever and ever.

3. Finding a good church can be challenging

I found myself saying amen to Dre and Bow's conclusion after attending the Black church and the White church. Thinking they'd give up on going to church altogether, they concluded that it would take some time to find the best-fitted church for their family. This is so true. While there's no perfect church for any one person or family, there is certainly a church that will best fit our personalities and spiritual needs.

Whether it's a Black church, a White church or a multi-ethnic church somewhere in-between, it often takes a while to find it.

But it's certainly worth the search.

* Revelation 7:9

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tennessee Bound... But When???

I guess you can say I've been in a bit of a funk.

It's been a rough couple of years.

Marital issues. Major challenges with one of my children. Losing my Dad earlier this year, then losing my Mom exactly three weeks later.

And so on and so on.

But God's grace is truly sufficient, and I am still here. I'm still standing. And I'm believing that He will make me better on the other side of all this.

I'm believing that I'll be testifying like Job one day...

"But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." *

But I ain't quite there y'all.

So... while laying here in this spiritual cocoon, I made a decision to keep my mouth shut until I could share something with at least a drop of hope and joy.

I've barely visited my social media sites. And I haven't written very much. I'm still doing my freelance writing, but that's relatively easy. When I'm creating an e-newsletter for a nonprofit or writing copy for someone else, it's not personal. I can keep my distance. No one has to know what's going on with me. No one cares what's going on in my heart.

I can highlight the lives and accomplishments of others. I can remain anonymous. I can talk a lot, yet be silent.

So much easier than what I'm doing right now. Being real. Authentic. Imperfect.

So during my moment of silence.. or days... or months, my husband Anthony told me he believed God was calling us to relocate back to Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin -- a sweet southern town where we lived for almost a decade before our time in Arkansas.

Franklin, Tennessee

I was excited about the thought. I love Franklin. It was home for many years, and the place I've always considered a second home. An added bonus -- we have great friends there.

And yet, I was also a little sad. I'd kinda hoped God might send us back to the East Coast. Back to the DMV -- DC/Maryland/Virginia -- the place that I consider my first home. After losing my parents, I'd hoped to move closer to my sisters and have my children grow up near extended family.

But... after I thought of all that moving to Franklin could be for my family, I got excited. Anthony and I began making plans, scouring Zillow for homes and searching job boards. More than anything, we prayed.

And God began to give some direction. Anthony began raising support for a nonprofit ministry that would be a great fit for him. I sent resumes in for communications jobs where I thought I'd be a great fit.

We also sold our house. We had nothing holding us back.

But apparently God had another plan. We'd originally set our move date in August.

Here it is the middle of October.

We have reevaluated, regrouped and reconsidered. We've prayed and questioned and fussed... And we're still here in Conway, Arkansas. In our little comfy two-bedroom exec apartment. 

We've answered countless questions. "Aren't you guys moving?"

We've seen the puzzled looks on others' faces. They are still here?

Trust me. We're as confused as everyone else.

And yet there are so many bright spots...

We haven't had to abruptly say goodbye to the sweet people we've known here. We live very close to our old neighborhood, so our children still have playdates with their friends. Our kids are in the same schools. The apartment is small, but has kept us closer together. My children are learning to share and sacrifice more. I have much less "house" to clean, which is awesome. Life feels carefree.

Less really is more.

Also, while still believing things are brewing in Tennessee for us, God continues to open doors here in Arkansas. Just this week, I was blessed with an opportunity to serve an amazing nonprofit here until we move. Anthony continues to teach at a local ministry and help facilitate diversity workshops for a friend's consulting firm.

I'd thought our work here was done, but God had another plan. Echoing in the cocoon of my life, I can hear His voice reminding me...

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." **

I hear You, Lord. I hear you.

*   Job 23:10
** Isaiah 55:8

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My Brown Gingers: God's Beautiful Artistry

There's been quite a buzz over a certain Huffington Post article this week.

I first heard about it when a friend shared the article link on my Facebook timeline. (Thanks Mr. Mitchell!)

Well, I thought today I'd give my take on this cool project and add to all the buzz.

So what's all the fuss about? 

I'm so glad you asked...

The buzz is over redheads. Specifically, redheads of African descent. Redheads like the two that live in my home...

My Brown Gingers - Kalin and Jada
So of course I found the article "Photographer Explores the Beautiful Diversity of Redheads of Color" quite fascinating. 

The HuffPost article features London-based photographer Michelle Marshall and her project that documents Black and mixed-race redheads. 

"I want to stir the perception that most of us have a 'ginger' as a white caucasian individual..." says Marshall. "As we struggle with issues of immigration, discrimination and racial prejudice, Mother Nature, meanwhile, follows its own course, embracing society's plurality and, in the process, shaking up our perceptions about origins, ethnicity and identity."

Amen. I love this. What a timely topic in the midst of ethnic division and unrest in the world. 

I'd assert only one modification to Marshall's statement. I attribute the beauty and uniqueness of Black redheads not to "Mother Nature", but to God. God - the Creator of all people - brunettes, blondes and redheads alike.

But I adore Marshall's project. I enjoyed gazing at the beauty of the redheads she photographed.

It made me want to tell the story of my own redheads. So here we go...

Since November 22, 1996 I've answered innumerable questions about my redhead Kalin. The moment Kalin made his entrance into the world, my obstetrician Dr. Hope Griffin said, "Oh my goodness. Red hair!"

And that's where the discussion began. (And has yet to end.)

From that moment on, nurses nicknamed Kalin "The Mailman's Baby". They showed me evidence that his skin would remain very light (pointing out the back of his ears and another area that would make this post PG-13 rated.) African American nurses informed me they were educating their Caucasian counterparts about the diversity of colors found in African American people. 

My sweet newborn boy had somehow become a teaching tool of race and diversity.

And that's how it began. That's how it's continued until today... and multiplied in December 8, 2007, when Little Sister Jada Anne made her grand entrance, showcasing the same genes as her brother.

Little Sis Jada

Yet unlike my postpartum days in the maternity ward of Greater Baltimore Medical Center, today I relish the opportunity to talk about my gingers. They are like walking billboards, advertising diversity and the amazing handiwork of God. 

When I became an adoptive mother in 2003, and again in 2005, I expected to hear questions about my Christian and Joelle, who joined our family through adoption. Yet I've never gotten one question about those two. Instead, to the very day, I continue to answer questions about Kalin and Jada. 

Where did the red hair come from?

Were you a redhead when you were a child?

Is that his (or her) natural hair color?

Most questions come from strangers. I don't see it as an intrusion. But sometimes I wish I had more answers. I wish I knew where the red hair came from. I wish I could point to the person in my -- and my husband Anthony's -- family tree that contributed this recessive gene.

But I can't.

Even though I've done some ancestry research and found a trace to my Mom's grandfather who was of English heritage, I still don't know for sure where this gorgeous, ridiculously-abundant red hair comes from. Maybe I never will. 

No matter. I'll continue to discuss my gingers and their red hair with anyone who wants to know. We embrace this red hair. We love it. 

We wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Momma's Heart: Launching My First-Born to College

Kalin, Anthony and Me in front of Kalin's MTSU dorm
It's the day after we dropped my first-born Kalin off at college. 

I'm a little sad. (My baby boy has grown up and started a new season away from the nest.)

I'm a little bewildered. (How is that my baby boy has grown up so quickly?)

I'm a little nervous. (He's on a huge campus. Will he make it to all of his classes on time? Will he study hard? Will he eat at least one real meal today?)

But mostly I am very grateful. 

I'm grateful that I know Kalin was ready to be launched to college. (Oh sure -- he barely cleans his room; stays up way too late watching movies, writing lyrics and dropping beats; and sleeps in as late as humanly possible in the morning...) 

Yet I think of my red-headed boy today and see a mature, responsible young man who's had a clear direction in life for many, many years now. I see a young man who studies well, reads ravenously and takes school seriously.

I see a young man who loves his family deeply and respects his Dad and me wholeheartedly.

I also see a young man who adores his heavenly Father. Who began his walk with Christ at a very young age. Who through some minor rough patches and setbacks, has persevered and trusted God.

I see a young man that God will use on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University to His glory, just as He has in every other season of Kalin's life. 

That is my hope. That is my prayer. 

Kalin in his dorm with the whole Hendricks Clan and Aunt Shanera
Last week I'd planned to spend as much time with Kalin as possible, knowing that the summer was coming to a quick end. As life would have it, we both were extremely busy, and I barely got any time with him. 

But God allowed me to get some precious time with him during our trip to Tennessee this weekend. 

Kalin with his siblings -- Christian, Jada and Joelle. (They already miss Big Bro!)
A pic w/MTSU Pres. McPhee & wife (Btw I'm wearing my Mom's earrings & Kalin's wearing my Dad's shirt!)
I'll share one highlight...

But first a backdrop. So... many people know that Kalin has written and produced music for years. He produced his first album at age 14. This love of music has afforded him an "old soul" in respect to music, and he loves a lot of the "old" music his Dad and I love. 

Anyway... Kalin and I were riding down Highway 40 East towards Middle Tennessee together, enjoying Celine Dion's greatest hits. (Don't judge me...) Together we crooned "Because You Loved Me", "If You Ask Me To", "My Heart Will Go On" and all my BFF Celine's great songs. 

Then a song began that I couldn't place until a few lines in. After humming along for a bit, I realized it was "Dance With My Father" - the testimony of a woman who's lost her Daddy whom she adored. By the chorus, I was sobbing like I haven't in a while now, thinking of my Daddy who passed away earlier this year and whom I adored.

When I asked Kalin to grab some tissues for me, I noticed tears streaming down his freckled face too. He said he hadn't cried for Pop Pop like that since his funeral in January. It was a precious time for us to talk about life and loss, which often go hand-in-hand. It was a treasured moment, one that cemented my bond with Kalin just bit more.

And speaking of life and loss... As God would have it, MTSU's Convocation was yesterday. Yesterday was also my mother's birthday. My Mom also passed away earlier this year, just three weeks after my Daddy passed.  

With all this recent history of loss, the lyrics in "Dance with My Father" really touched me at my core. Especially these lines:

Sometimes I'd listen outside her door
And I'd hear how my mother cried for him
I pray for her even more than me
I pray for her even more than me...

I remember those days in the hospital, sitting beside my mother. I'd begged her to fight to stay with us. I'd prayed that the Lord wouldn't take her so soon after my Daddy. But she missed him too much. She told me she needed him.

I also remember whispering to her in ICU that she'd been a good Mom. That she'd lived a great life with purpose. That she could go on and be with Daddy. 

And with her heavenly Daddy.

It's no coincidence that we would launch our first son on the very day that we'd remember my Mom's first birthday without her. She would be so proud. She had been an educator during her entire career. My Dad had also been an educator for many years before his career as a business owner.

Today I am so proud of my Kman.

And I know his Pop Pop and Grandmommy are too.

My Beloved Parents and Kalin's Grandmommy and Pop Pop

Thursday, May 14, 2015

CAFO2015: A Call to Care for God's Children

Two weeks ago, I attended CAFO2015, the Christian Alliance for Orphans' annual Summit. This was the third Summit I've attended, and as always, there are highlights I'd like to share.

I have to start with the biggest highlight of all... After two years of trying to convince my sister Lori to attend Summit, she finally made it! It was awesome to have her there with me and even more awesome to hear her share on a panel discussing raising foster and adoptive children of a different ethnicity. Lori -- a mom to biological, adoptive and foster children -- did a fabulous job, and I was a proud little sister. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Big Sis Lori and Me

Another highlight for me was the privilege of leading CAFO's African American Church Initiative. This initiative began with a racially-diverse, energetic group of folks at CAFO2013. It has grown to include over forty people with the same passion -- igniting the African American church with the message of James 1:27: caring for orphans and vulnerable children. It was great to witness a new crop of advocates attend our luncheon. I can't wait to see what God will do with this amazing group of believers.

As for other highlights, I'll give a brief summary of three...

1. Jedd Medefind's "Stages of Justice Engagement"

In the first general session CAFO President Jedd Medefind gave the most compelling talk I've ever heard from him. He listed the four Stages of Justice Engagement: Waking, Advocacy, Disillusionment, and Commitment Amidst Complexity. His explanation of the "Disillusionment" stage was illuminating and convicting. I've witnessed this stage in my own heart when I've struggled with fatigue or boredom or resentment in my calling to serve vulnerable children. Jedd encouraged us to remain humble before God, ourselves and others. He encouraged us to embrace "Gospel humility", realizing that we ourselves are not saviors. As sinners saved by grace, we are actually part of the world's problems. And he reminded us to serve enthusiastically, while remembering that "Instead of our enthusiasm driving our theology, our theology should drive our enthusiasm." 

2. Bishop Aaron Blake's Call for the Church to "Stand Up" for Foster Children

Bishop's live interview with Family Life Today during Friday's general session was a real treat. Bishop Aaron Blake shared the testimony of his ministry to young men from his community in Texas. Over the years this ministry grew from mentor in the local public schools to foster Dad of five teenage boys. He told the story of the day his foster sons literally burned his house down. Though the fire was accidental, the boys assumed they would be forced to leave Bishop and his wife Mary's home and be placed in other foster homes. Bishop's message to them was, "You boys are engrafted in. Nothing you can do can separate us." That message sunk in, so much so that one of those five sons, Diego, performed a rap for us that morning. The name of his song? "Engrafted."

3. Dr. Karyn Purvis' Call to Loving Discipline

I'm sure I've said this before... more than once. I LOVE Dr. Karyn Purvis. Dr. Purvis has done more to encourage me as adoptive mama than anyone else on this earth. I've blogged about Dr. Purvis a couple times before, but I just have to mention her again. Dr. Purvis' Connecting While Correcting workshop reiterated her oft-spoken theme, "Preciousness. This is always the message. Our children must be reminded that they are precious." As always, she was practical, sharing tools to discipline our children, especially our children from hard places. She empowered us with tools like "time-in", where we have the child complete a task or chore beside us, instead of time-out, where we send them away from us. My favorite part of her talks, though, are those nuggets, those passionately-spoken words that are stand-alone sermons. My fave nuggets from this talk... "As the parent, you're the coach, not the warden." And the reminder to discipline as God does. "When I'm disciplined by God, I know I'm loved."

As always, CAFO2015 was a huge blessing. Will you join us at CAFO2016 in Orlando, Florida?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Mother's Day... Without my Mom

My Mom with former Baltimore Mayor & State's Attorney Kurt Schmoke 

I haven't shared much here recently. While the whirlwind of my life has slowed some, most days I find myself pushing through, working through fatigue and grief.

I haven't even spoken about the upheaval in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. My hometown that I still love deeply. I've watched lots of footage. I've had several conversations. I have many, many thoughts. 

I just haven't felt led to write about it.

And yet life goes on...

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, and I'm finding myself experiencing a mixture of emotions. I'm happy to be a Mom. So blessed to have four beautiful, healthy children. Children that amaze me with their multiple gifts and talents. Children that make me laugh until my side hurts. Children that also drive me crazy - almost literally. 

Children that God saw fit to bless me with through the miracle of birth and the wonder of adoption. My children make me grateful for Mother's Day. 

I have lived Psalm 113:9... "He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD!"

Yet... I'm also feeling the sadness of having lost my Mom on January 10 of this year, exactly three weeks to the day after I'd lost my Dad. My Mom was an amazing woman. I shared a little about that here in my last post.

Losing my Mom has set me up for a series of "firsts". My first Easter without her. My first child's high school graduation without her. My first Mother's Day without her.

I debated sharing my heart on this, since I knew I'd risk being a "Debbie Downer" on such a beautiful holiday weekend. But then I read something in Essence Magazine yesterday that made me want to tell this story. To share the downside of holidays that those of us who have lost loved ones experience, especially in the first year of loss. 

When I read an article featuring singer/entertainer Kelly Rowland (formerly of girl-group Destiny's Child), I felt I needed to share. Kelly's mother passed away unexpectedly of cardiac arrest last December. Kelly had recently begun a family and had welcomed her first child, son Titan, the month before her mother's death.

Her words:
"When you lose a parent, you're always getting over it, because you spent so long with somebody and then they're no longer there. I woke up the other morning and I was on my way to the gym. I picked up my phone to call her and I was like, Oh my God, I can't talk to my mom."
In my last post I shared about feeling this same way. So many times I've seen something, heard something, felt something, and thought Wait 'til I tell Mom. 

I even thought about how she would feel about her beloved Baltimore, and the recent turmoil the city has experienced. We would have talked about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who attended Western High School with me many moons ago and also attended my parents' church, Douglas Memorial Community Church. We would have talked about the riots. We would have talked about a possible precedence being set by Baltimore City's State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby when she indicted all six officers implicated in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray. 

But I said I wasn't going to write about it, didn't I? Maybe I need my Mom's weigh-in before I write. Maybe it's not as interesting to write when I haven't gotten her perspective. 

I don't know, but one thing I do know... I miss my Mom like crazy.

This Mother's Day, please remember those of us mourning our moms in your prayers. And... remember what a blessing your Mom is in your life. Make sure you tell her. Love her well. She might not get it all right all the time. But neither do we.

And if you're a Mom, thank God for the life He's blessed you with. This exhilarating, exhausting life of mommyhood. Being a Mom is a gift from God. May we cherish it as so.

And... allow yourself to be pampered. After all, you're a Mama. You deserve it!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Missing my Mom ~ Remembering my Mom

My Mother, A Born Leader

I've experienced that moment already...

On Saturday, February 21, family and friends joined together to reflect on and celebrate my Mom's life. After a difficult illness and weeks of hospitalization, my Mom passed away on Tuesday, February 10. I was there the day she passed. I'd watched her grow more and more ill throughout her last weeks here. 

And yet, the reality of my mother's passing - and my Dad's - is taking a while to sink in.

I've even experienced that moment already...

That moment when something happens or something is said or I see something interesting, and I think, I can't wait to tell Mommy about this.

The first time was immediately after her Homegoing Celebration. 

We'd laughed.

We'd cried.

We'd reminisced.

And I believe we presented my mother with a service that she would have felt honored to witness. I think she would have been quite pleased.

I think she also would have been amazed at the snowstorm that we all had to fight through to get home after her funeral. I have no idea how many inches accumulated, but our trip to my family's Maryland home took three times as long as it should have. I posted this pic on Facebook with the following caption...

"My view from the funeral home limo on the way to my family's home in Maryland after my Mom's Celebration of Life Service today. This storm gives me pause as I think of my classy, gifted and dignified mother, Merlene Adair. She was a woman of leadership and purpose and everything she did was memorable - even this finale to her homegoing service."
So you'd think that immediately following her service, I'd be fully aware that she was no longer with us. 

Yet what was one of the first thoughts I had during our drive through the snowy streets of Baltimore? 

This storm is crazy. Wait 'til I tell Mom about it... 

Every now and then, for a split second, I have a thought like this. 

I did it one day this week while watching BET's The Book of Negroes. It was just the kind of movie my mother and I would have watched and discussed afterwards. She'd watch from her favorite comfy chair in her bedroom in Maryland. I'd watch from my favorite comfy chair in my family room in Arkansas. During our next phone conversation we would have talked about it at length. 

We had similar tastes -- in movies, in books. We loved to compare notes. And I loved to share my latest good reads with her, and pick them up for her when she'd stopped purchasing them for herself.

Grief is a tricky thing. Sometimes it tiptoes behind you, surprises the crap out of you and nearly knocks you off your feet. Other times it passes you by without the slightest glance over its shoulder. 

You never know when it's going to visit you. 

You never know how.

What I know for sure concerning grief, after having lost both my parents exactly three weeks apart from one another... Grief must be felt. It must be experienced. It must be lived through. 

There are no shortcuts. There are no cheat sheets. There aren't any Cliffs Notes for grief on Amazon.

To escape grief or try to wrap it up neatly and swiftly is futile. This I know for sure.

One of my favorite reads is Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies. In this book on personal faith, she shares a lot about grief -- the grief she experienced after losing her Dad and her best friend Pammy. Here, a poignant sample...
"All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief. The passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it... It is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed..." 
Beautiful words. And so true. We must grieve in order to heal and grow through grief.

And we must stay close to the Father. Even when our prayers are limited and shallow and few as mine are these days. He's still there, loving and caring and healing.

And He's still good. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Tribute to My Daddy and His Legacy

When I wrote my last post a week ago, I had no idea I was about to lose my father. He appeared to be getting better, had begun pulling out from his post operative delirium and had begun talking again. He'd even begun telling others that he wanted my mother moved to his hospital room "to talk business."

Well, my Daddy's business now is spending time with Jesus and all the loved ones that beat him to heaven...

I wanted to write this post to share just a bit about my Dad and what he meant to me.

A dear friend said it so well in a text to me today... "He was a smart, loving, funny, warm and generous man. Oh and good looking!" 

Anyone who knew him would have used the same words to describe him. Even the hospital staff adored him. They called him "Mr. Carl", and in a Baltimore accent, it sounded more like "Mr. Cawl."

We all loved him.

But God loved him more. So He decided to take him Home.

I'm so grateful for the 45 years I had with my Dad. I'm so grateful for all the memories. The times as a little girl when I'd literally lay across my Daddy and watch "The Jeffersons" or "Sanford and Son" with him. The times that he'd have me tweeze those stubborn hairs out of his neck. When he'd drop me off every morning to my middle school. When he taught me to drive. When I worked at his gas station during my summer break from college. When he walked me down the aisle at my wedding.

The memories are precious. They are many. Too many to write here. But they are so sweet. They are of a very kind man. One who supported me until the end. Even laying in his hospital bed he talked of helping us "get that boy in college" -- my son Kalin. He'd cried the last time he said it. I think he knew he wouldn't make it that long...

I'm also grateful for the recent memories. Spending hours and hours with him beside my mother when she was in ICU. Hearing him tell everyone -- and I mean everyone -- at the hospital that he was 80-years-old. Loving the reaction they'd have -- that he didn't look nearly 80. 

I'm grateful that I could be there beside him when he was rushed to the hospital. To see him in the recovery room after surgery. To hold his hand. Kiss his forehead. Tell him I love him. I'm grateful for that opportunity.

When he passed away last Tuesday, I had returned to Arkansas. I missed his last moments alive. For that I'm sad.

But I'm so happy that my sisters Lori and Sherri were there for him. And I'm so glad God gave me four weeks with him right before he went home.

I'm sure of many things right now. I'll miss my Daddy like crazy, and life won't be the same without him. My Daddy left a beautiful legacy of love for God, his wife, his family and his community. His life encourages me and everyone else who knew him to love well.

And I know that in spite of all of life's hurts and difficulties -- God is good.

All the time.

And all the time...

God is good.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What My Parents Taught Me from Their Hospital Beds - Part VII

As I approach the last entry in this series, I'm amazed at what God has done.

The first time I sat down to begin this series, I thought, how in the world am I going to come up with at least five meaningful, practical things to share about the time I spent with my parents in the hospital?

I wasn't short on memories, funny moments, frightening moments and random musings. But what had I learned that I could pass on to others? What could I share that could speak to the issues and circumstances that you are dealing with?

Those questions weren't answered until I began writing.

It was like God opened my eyes and heart to the things my parents wanted to tell me, but couldn't. If my mother hadn't had that respirator placed in her mouth. If my father hadn't struggled with the post-operative delirium that confounded his mind.

They would have shared so much.

But it was up to me to pay attention. Take notice. Watch their every move. Listen to what they said through the silence and through the jumbled speech.

I just finished Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I began reading while in Maryland with my parents. This book speaks to the writing process. How to write with authenticity, honesty, clarity and emotion. How to use one's pain and transfer it into words on the page.

The book also speaks to the living process. How to live with authenticity, honesty, clarity and emotion. How to use all this pain and transfer it into wholehearted living.

Here's a sampling from Bird by Bird that spoke to me. Anne's sharing what she learned during the last months of her best friend Pammy's life.
"I remind myself nearly every day of something that a doctor told me six months before my friend Pammy died... She said something that changed my life. 'Watch her carefully right now,' she said, 'because she's teaching you how to live.' I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I'm dying, because the truth is we're all terminal on this bus."
When we have the burden and privilege to sit beside a loved one's hospital bed, we need to watch carefully. Sick folks understand the brevity of life. They get how fleeting life really is. They understand what's most important in life.

And most importantly, when we watch those that are terribly ill, we are reminded that we too are "terminal on this bus." We're reminded that our lives will be brief too. We're reminded that we too are but dust. And to dust we shall return.

Today I'm grateful for so much. My parents are both improving. My Mom and I talked a long time last night, and she sounds much better. The doctors have said she is much better. My Dad is even returning to a normal mental state. He's telling the nurses his birthdate, his whole name, where he is. He just told my aunt today that he wants my Mom moved to his room. Carl Adair is coming back y'all...

I'm also grateful for this journey. This journey that has taught me so much.

And I'm grateful for the people who've walked with me along the way. My sisters Lori and Sherri. My family members. My friends-like-family. 

I'm grateful for nurses like Nurse Debbie who ran my mother's ICU room like a drill sergeant and had me throwing folks out. Who told me my mother was taking "baby steps" of improvement. Who also visited my mother once she left ICU and rejoiced over my mother's improvement, witnessing her sitting up in bed with a bright smile and bright eyes. Who told me, "Girl, she's taking a lot more than baby steps now. Look at her!"

The families that my sisters and I grew to love that also had loved ones in ICU. The families that I hoped with and prayed for. The families that I hugged every time I saw them. The ones whose family members have been discharged and sent home. The families who moved their loved ones to hospice or nursing homes. The families who had those infamous meetings with hospital social workers who pronounced their loved ones brain dead.

I'm grateful for each and every person who's walked this journey with me.  

This has been an amazing journey. 

And it's not over yet.

Thanks for walking this leg of it with me.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What My Parents Taught Me from Their Hospital Beds - Part VI

I'm nearing the end of this blog series, inspired by the time I spent with my courageous parents, who are currently battling serious medical conditions. I just decided that I would post today and tomorrow. So tomorrow will be my last.

The next two days I'll be brief.

After all, it's Saturday, and like you, I'm in the throes of family life. As a matter of fact, I'm in the middle of doing my daughter Joelle's hair. So while her moisturizing conditioner is getting absorbed and working its detangling magic, I wanted to share one more lesson my parents have taught me.

When I thought about the lesson today, I was reminded of a scene in the film Facing the Giants.* The scene takes place during football practice and the coach is pushing one of his biggest, most promising players to the limit, encouraging him to not give up.

I love this scene. The coach makes the player do a "death crawl" across the football field with another player mounted on his back. You can imagine the difficulty of crawling while carrying another guy on his back. While the big guy crawls, stopping and starting, struggling his poor heart out, the coach says over and over, "Don't quit! Your very best. Keep going. Don't quit on me. Keep driving. Don't quit! Don't give up!"

By the end of the scene, the player has amazed himself. He's death-crawled the entire length of the field.

He never gave up.

One of the biggest challenges in life is to keep going. To keep driving. To not quit.

I've been tempted to quit various times along the way. I bet you have too.

But as I watched my parents fight through their illnesses, being poked and prodded several times a day with needles and medical contraptions, I'm encouraged to push through the temptation to quit. My parents have been so strong through their trials, and they haven't given up yet.

There was a day while my Mom was in ICU that she had a scary setback. I entered her hospital room and her nurse informed me that my Mom had pulled out her respirator. No one could explain why. Perhaps she'd become disoriented or extremely anxious.

By the time my Dad joined me at the hospital, my mother had become increasingly distressed. She'd begun yelling in a raspy whisper, "Help me! I'm dying! Help me!"

The doctor had decided to test her lungs and keep her off the respirator for a while. But all my Mom could understand was no one would help her breathe.

This was extremely upsetting for my Dad and me to watch, but we knew she was in the best of hands. The medical staff never left her side, and she eventually had to be re-intubated.

When I relayed this scene to my husband Anthony, his words were very encouraging. "She doesn't sound like a dying woman to me," he said. "Sounds like your Mom really wants to live. Sounds like she's still fighting."

She was fighting.

And she still is.

My parents have always had this spirit about life. They've never given up during the challenges of life. They've never quit. They've always persevered. They still are.

And they've encouraged me to do the same through the challenges of my own life.

To not quit.

To always persevere.

To never, ever give up.

I hope you do the same.

* Here's a YouTube clip of the Facing the Giants scene I mentioned...