Sunday, April 23, 2017

When Your Plans Don't Turn Out

[My parents, as we were growing up] "When y'all get married and have kids of your own, don't expect us to drop everything, and babysit them all the time. We are going to travel...we are going to see the world." 


Good to have in many cases. Maybe even in most cases. 

But I think it's best to hold our plans loosely...very loosely. 

Because things in my life, have rarely gone according to plan. "My" plan, that is. 

After all, I planned on going to Italy...but ended up in Holland. 

My Dad was raised by parents who thought kids were to be seen and not heard. They thought kids should be clean, neat, and proper, and never act unruly. And their feelings of pride at being grandparents seemed to be based on our behavior and accomplishments. 

I'm not knocking was all they knew. And so it was what my Dad knew, and what he lived. And, as a result, he learned to be...better.

Even tho he was way more invested in our family than the example that was set for was still very different from the way Jim and I have raised our children (please bring me all the grandchildren...STAT). 

That may be part of it, tho...ya think? That we take and learn from the generations before...and then we decide what we want to keep for ourselves, and what we want to let go. 

However we were raised, my Dad and I, we both came to see our need for Jesus...and that's really everything, amiright? 

So, as each of my siblings and I came of age, and left home for parents saw the world opening up to them more and more. They had plans...big plans. They were gonna work a little longer, and then they were going to spend the rest of their days having fun and enjoying life. Oh, they would come see all of us, but we wouldn't be their main destination. They loved us, but they made sure we knew that they were about to have THEIR time. 

But, ya know, God's ways are not our ways...and one day, suddenly and unexpectedly, my Mom just...died. 

And all of those big plans she and my Dad had...they died, too. 

I'm just saying. It's good to work and plan for your (earthly) future...but if you don't embrace the days, each day, and the good things God provides along the way, and the people He gives you to share your life...if you are only living for the "some days..." like, when you graduate, or when you move, or when you get that job, or when you get married, or when you have a child, or when they finally start school, or when they leave home...if you aren't willing to trust God NO MATTER WHAT...what happens if your dreamy future doesn't pan out? How are you going to react? 

This is what I mean by holding our plans loosely. 

Because my Dad? Just when he thought he might have a second chance at that life, with the new love God had provided for him, he had a heart attack, and that seemed to be the beginning of his health issues. 

My Dad's plans for a healthy and active life? Well, he has Parkinson's. 

Like the rest of us, his days were laid out before the foundation of the world. He may outlive us all! But I think he knows that he's not going to get any better...and he accepts it, which is good. Then again, he's always been the most content, most faithful person I've ever known. 

Just last year, he told me, "It's unrealistic to think that I will live the rest of my days with good health..." And, "this is really the only adversity I've had in my life." And, "God has blessed me my whole life. I have no reason to think He will stop now." 

I am thankful for a God who brings us new mercies each morning. I find comfort in knowing that, while my Dad hoped for a different path, he really has embraced all of his days. Ministry takes many forms, and because we are all may look different, even in a marriage. But it has the same goal: care and connection and leading others to Christ. 

My Dad has ministered and served others his whole the places God put him, and with the family God gave him. He, in his quiet, behind-the-scenes way...and my Mom in her large, in charge, and out-in-front way. 

I have peace knowing that my Dad's eternal future is secure...because on a day long ago, he placed his life and his hope in Jesus Christ, and HE is the one who has walked with him through all of the ups and downs of life...and He carries him even now. 

"...Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity..." (Job 2:10) 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Love...Endures Through Every Circumstance

*I've been posting a lot of thoughts about my Dad on Facebook recently. I had some people message me to say that they want to read more "Joshua stories." That they "like those the best."  Well, as long as there's a "Fred," there will be stories, and I'm gonna get back to those soon...just not tuh-DAYYYY. 

As we were leaving my Dad's house, we took one last picture. It was Clara and my Dad...and Clara was holding Rhodes

Rhodes is my Dad's first great-grandchild. It makes my heart swell to see them together. There's about 81 years between them...that's a lot of life, amiright? In 81 years, you experience a lot of sadness, a lot of joy. A lot of moves, ministry, milestones, memories, ups, downs, in-betweens. 

A lot of change. 

After my Mom died, I would see *older* couples out at dinner, or at the grocery, or at a peewee football game cheering on their grandchildren...and I would wish that my parents had gotten to go through life together, you the end. Because I assumed, mistakenly, that the couples I was seeing had been together 40-50+ years. In reality, I had no way of knowing if that was true. 

If you saw my Dad and Clara out strolling, you wouldn't know that each of their spouses had died...and that they had found love again with each other. And that they had made the decision to marry, even tho they knew people might say they were too old; or that it was too complicated; or that there were too many obstacles. 

You know, the same things we tell ourselves when we make decisions concerning relationships, family, work, or finances. 

But these are the places where God shows up and shows out the most, because when we can't...He can; when we think we are too young or too old, God reminds us that men look on the outside, but He looks on the heart...and when we think things are too hard or too complicated, He goes before us to make the rough places smooth. 

And, you know, it might be hard...but the rewards can be great. 

My Dad said, "we aren't guaranteed tomorrow, and we want to enjoy the time we have left on this earth...together." 

And, "no matter how much time we have together, it will be worth it." 

I'm so glad they took that step of faith. Because he did, my Dad has been blessed immensely. And because he did, our family has been blessed immensely. 

My Dad not only got a partner for life, he got another family...with a host of people who love him and care for him. And we got a woman who embraced all of us, and our families. She supports us, encourages us, prays for us...and is the only grandmother on my side that our kids remember. 

At our last visit, I remarked to Clara how pretty everything was at their home. My Dad and Clara built their house, so they could have something new and fresh to start out their marriage. They furnished it with pieces from their pasts, as well as new things they collected during their time together. 

These next few years will likely bring great change for all of us. I hate to think that there may come a time when they might have to move from their home. Even tho I know it's "just a house," it's THEIR house...and it's beautiful. 

But Clara said, "well, when we built this house, we said we would be blessed if we got to live in it for 10 years...this April has been 10 years." 

Recently, I read a quote that pretty much sums up my Dad and Clara's marriage, and it applies to other marriages and relationships as well: "It is impossible to love deeply without great sacrifice." (Elisabeth Elliot) 

"Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:7

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Dad, Heaven, and BUCK WILD

On our way home the other day, the talk turned to comments about suffering and dying...which led to questions and more comments about my Dad. 

If you read my post last week about my Dad, you know what brought this up. 

Joshua: said, "When Pawpaw goes to Heaven, it will be a happy day for him." 
Me: "Yes, but it will be a sad day for the rest of us, because we'll miss him so much." 
Joshua: "Yes, sad for us. But for him? GOOD." 
Me: "Yes, he will be very happy." 
Joshua: "Pawpaw is going to go BUCK WILD when he gets to Heaven." 
Me: "Why do you say that?" 
Joshua: "Because he'll get to see his family, like your Mom, and all of his friends up there!" 
Me: "yes, he will." 
Joshua said, "I hope I get some of Pawpaw's qualities...he's the 'most godliest' man I know." 
I said, "he is. He is faithful, patient, humble, content, and he's an awesome prayer warrior." 
Joshua: "He is strong. He is my only grandparent who served our country in the military." 
Me: "Yes. He loves God and he loves our country. He was dedicated to his job, but he loved his family more. He loved my mom, and he loves Grandma Clara. He loves all of his grandchildren, and he loves Grandma Clara's kids." 
Joshua: "uh-huh, and not only that...HE HAS ALL OF HIS HAIR. It's not the same color it used to be, but he's still got it!" 

So, in Dad still has all of his hair...annnnd he is going to go BUCK WILD when he gets to Heaven!

"For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with Him the believers who have died." 1 Thessalonians 4:14

Thursday, April 20, 2017

He loves me...He loves me not...

"He loves me...he loves me not." 

Remember saying that as kids? 

Holding a flower, and pulling off one petal after another, until you got to the last one that provided the answer...he loves me!

(Or not) 

A simple children's game...but how many times do we use this same philosophy in our lives as adults? 

We let our doubts and insecurities raise questions about our worth...why doesn't he/she love me? What is wrong with me? We wonder what we could DO to make others love us. 

The Bible says: "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8) 

If we didn't have to "prove" ourselves to God...if we didn't have to make sure we presented ourselves in the best light...if we didn't have to have our stuff together, have a plan for our lives all laid order for God to love us so much that He would send His only Son to die for all of our sins...why do we require others to prove themselves, show us their good points, have their acts together, have a plan for their lives, etc, before we decide whether or not they are worthy of our love? 

And why do we spend even one minute feeling unwanted or unworthy? 

God gave us all of His love when we didn't deserve it...and there was no way we could ever earn it. 

We try so hard to not give our hearts away, but that's part of the reason we are love others the way Christ loved us. 

I had a young friend whose big heart for others often led her into relationships where she was not valued for who she was. Her unique personality and sensitive spirit were not always accepted or embraced by others. I read this quote one day, and it reminded me of her...and it applies to me, and so many of us who have been in similar situations: "You might be too much for some people...those are not your people." 

Honey, THOSE ARE NOT YOUR PEOPLE...but guess what? GOD is your people. 

All of you out there who know Him, trust Him, believe in Him...HE is your people. He sees us, He knows us...and He loves us, even when we feel no one else does. Stop running after everything else. 

Psalm 23:6 says, "Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life..." 

Isn't that beautiful? 

Jesus pursues you, and He chooses you! And He will choose you again a million times over. 

He provides others to walk this life with us, not to take us away from life and ministry, but to enhance enlarge encourage us...and to help share the burdens and the joys in this life. 

It's almost Easter...the time when we remember the great sacrifice Jesus made for each of us when we were so very unworthy...and we celebrate His victory over sin and death. He loves us...He loves us so...He loves us. 🌼 

Look no further.

"For Your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds." Psalm 57:10

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Joshua's Group Goes to Branson!

A couple of weeks ago, Joshua's Therapeutic Recreation group made a trip up to Branson, Missouri...AND THEY STAYED OVERNIGHT.

I know.

They were all so excited! 

This is a BIG DEAL when you travel with a group of FRIENDS who have varying special needs. Nothing like this had been attempted since the 2015 Trip to Graceland...affectionately referred to as, "The Trip To See All The Bathrooms."

They didn't stay overnight on that trip, and Joshua wasn't able to go on that trip...but we heard they had to stop to potty...a LOT. And that they all had a great time!

I was pretty nervous about this Branson trip. I mean, what could go wrong?

Am I right?

Their first stop was for lunch at the Wendy's in Harrison, Arkansas. Joshua said his lunch was the cheapest out of everyone's: $4.40. Jim was so proud when he found out.

Once they got to Branson, they checked into their hotel, freshened up, and headed out to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.

If you've never been to the Dixie Stampede, it's pretty fun...loud and interactive. They also expect you to eat your meal without the cowboys used to do? I don't even know.

What I DO know is that they don't give you any. And they serve you, like, a whole rotisserie chicken.


But we knew, because we've been there before...and momma didn't raise no fool. Joshua Garland said he "wasn't a Roman OR a Barbarian..." (don't know, didn't ask) so when he got his food, he whipped out some plastic silverware he'd snagged from their lunch at Wendy's, and had put in his pocket.

And then he snickered to himself at how smart he was.

Just sayin'...that WAS pretty smart.


They swam in the hotel pool that night, and then everyone got ready for bed. Joshua said that he took a hot bath before bed. 

Joshua loves him a bath. At home, we will hear him sloshing around upstairs in his tub...and then all the smells from all the soap and lotion and body spray will waft down to our living room.

At home, we call him "BATHsheba."


Anyway, back to my story: he took a hot bath, and when he was done...he didn't let the water out. OH NOOOO. He told one of the other guys in his room that he had "saved the bath water for him."



I mean, HOW GROSS!

There were some other things he shared about their trip, but I'd better take those secrets to my grave!

I am so thankful for his Therapeutic Recreation program, and for the STAFF who continually push the boundaries of what is possible, and work hard to make all of these amazing opportunities available to all of the participants. 

"Defend the weak and the fatherless; protect the rights of the afflicted and needy." Psalm 82:3

Monday, April 10, 2017

World Down Syndrome Day: 03.21.2017

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. It's celebrated every year on March 21...a reminder that there is a 3rd copy of the 21st chromosome. 3.21. 

Get it?

I spent many, many years trying to make sure Joshua didn't feel any different. Trying to make everything okay with him. Hoping he wouldn't really know he was different.  

I just wanted to build a really strong foundation for him, friends, teachers, coaches, ministers, etc...who would work with us to help Joshua be the very best he could be...and to help him see that we have all been created by a loving and mighty God, and that we are more alike than different.  

And that his life has worth. 

That plan worked kinda-sorta well for a while. But, eventually, he saw, and he knew, and that part broke my heart.

He has limitations, LIKE WE ALL DO...unless one of y'all invented a cure for cancer, discovered life on another planet, or created a new type of Cheetos that don't leave your fingers all orange after you eat them...when I wasn't looking. 

So we have spent the last decade, just celebrating our differences...and making THAT okay. 

Joshua is the oldest child in our family. He has brown hair and brown eyes. 

He is small, but mighty. He calls himself, "travel-sized." 

He works hard to stay physically fit. He is an awesome power lifter. He likes martial arts. He is a writer. He has a big imagination. He loves his family. He is loving, kind, sensitive, funny, sincere, helpful, and stubborn. 

He is a godly man, and a prayer warrior like no other. He has great insight. 

Like all of us, he has strengths and weaknesses. Joshua happens to have Down Syndrome. 

Of his FRIENDS who have Down Syndrome, not one of them are alike. 

Which is how it should be. 

More alike than different. 

(World Down Syndrome Day, 2017) 

"I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." Psalm 139:14

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Joshua Turned 31!

Joshua turned 31, during my unintended break from the blog. I wrote about it on I'm posting it here as well.

Like every night, he came to kiss me goodnight before he headed up to bed. 

I told him to stand there, so that I could look at him one more time...while he was still 30. He grinned, and said, "I'll see YOU in the morning." And, like every night, I said, " not if I see you FIRST!"

And, like every night, he walked upstairs shaking his head, like he can't believe I said something so silly. 

It's been a ride, y'all...this life. 



But oh so wonderful. 

In the beginning, there was just so much unknown...some fear, anxious thoughts, nervousness. 

But now that I know? I would choose this life again a thousand times over...a million times over. 

That God would take two young married kids, and entrust them with this precious, precious gift? We are so undeserving. 

A few years ago, I read a quote from Laura Story's ("Blessings" song) sister. They were discussing how they thought Laura's husband's brain cancer diagnosis was a "detour" in their road, when Laura's sister said these profound words: "You know, I think the detour is actually the road." 

I wish I had read those words 31 years ago, because that's exactly how I feel...about Joshua and Down Syndrome and several other things that have *seemed* to come as surprises to US. 

Sometimes we are not supposed to get back on the road...sometimes the detour IS the road. 

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7) "For You formed my innermost parts; You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb...My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being formed in secret, and intricately and skillfully formed [as if embroidered with many colors] in the depths of the earth." (Psalm 139: 13,15 Amplified Version) 

"What if trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights...are Your mercies in disguise." 

JOSHUA: wanted...planned...created...intended. WORTHY. 

Happy 31st Birthday, Joshua! 

"The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy." Psalm 126:3

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Bench Press, Small Arms, and Three Gold Medals

If you aren't familiar with the bench-press, I'm fin'a tell you what it a non-athletic, mommy way. 

It's where you lay on your back, on the bench, with your feet on the floor...and you lift (or press) the weight bar (barbell) straight up. 

In competition, a coach will lift the barbell off the "rack" and place it on your chest. Then you will be given the command to "lift." Once you've lifted completely, the coach will say, "rack," and the spotters will help put the barbell back on the rack. 

There are two levels for the rack. 

Joshua had successfully completed two lifts using the higher rack, but it was obvious that he was really having to stretch to reach it because of his small-ish stature. :) 

Before Joshua's 3rd lift, the coach started talking quietly to Joshua...and then the coach moved the barbell to the lower rack, which I had wanted him to do from the start. 

While all of this was going on, everyone was waiting patiently. The athletes were saying things like, "Go, Joshua!" And, "You've got this!" And, "easy lift, man." 

I had gotten up from my seat, and moved to the front, so that I could take pictures. There was a small group of parents standing up there, and I just slipped beside them for a minute. Some of them were talking with each other about Joshua. They were saying things like, "look at him...he's so SMALL!" And, "his arms and legs are so SHORT, bless his heart." 

And I was thinking, "this is Special Olympics, where the motto is, 'Let me win, but if I cannot win...let me be brave in the attempt.'" 

And I was also thinking, "he is one of the bravest men I know." 

And also, "did you not see his first two lifts?" 

But I stood there quietly as he successfully bench-pressed 145 lbs. And 30 minutes later, I watched him dead-lift 190 lbs. 

That's a combined lift of 335 lbs, from an athlete that weighed in this morning at a whopping 115.4 lbs. (even after eating breakfast at Chick-fil-a!) 

I wanted to say, "so, bless Y'ALL'S hearts." But I didn't.

But, really...not too shabby for those short arms and legs, huh?

Joshua won 3 gold medals today. "To God be the glory, great things HE has done." 

"The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy." Psalm 126:3

Friday, April 7, 2017

It Won't Be Like This For Long

You know how, when your kids are little, and you are just exhausted, and you wonder if any of it really matters? If any of it is getting through? 

And how, about that time, some well-meaning *older* mom comes along, and says something like, "it won't be like this for long," or, my personal favorite, "you'll miss all of this one day," and all you're thinking is how you want to punch them? 


Well, let me take a step back, and say this to all you moms of littles: "HANG IN THERE. It IS worth it. They DO get it. It DOES matter." 

We just got back from vacation with our 4 adult kids, two *bonus* kids, and our precious grand-baby. There were numerous times when I thought we were probably gonna get kicked out of the condo bc of the noise. 


But I listened to them talk..about life and school and work...silly stuff, serious stuff, what God is teaching them. 

And they laughed. 

OH MY GOODNESS, we all laughed so much. 

And we enjoyed each other so much! 

I did my best to soak it all in, because what I've learned, and what I know, is this..."it won't be like this for long," and "I'm gonna miss all of this one day."

"Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom." Psalm 90:12

Thursday, April 6, 2017

That Time I Sat On Jim's Shoulders (and no one died)

My husband and I aren't really spontaneous people. I am, more than he is. 

We aren't really that adventurous. He is, more than I am. 

When we go somewhere, we both have fun...but we both miss HOME. 

Some people, even our kids, might say we are pretty boring. Maybe we are...maybe not. 

Still, no one was more surprised than me at what went down on our last night at the beach. 

We went to the "picture-taking place," like we usually do, but another family was in the place we wanted to use for our group we walked around until they were done. A couple of times, Jim told me to look over at this other family. They were doing poses like you would see in pictures from the old Sears Portrait Studio (notthattheresanythingwrongwiththat)...or from prom pictures circa 1978. CHEESE-Y. 

While we were waiting, we took a few pictures...everyone wanted one with the baby. And we took pictures of all the kids. The kids said, "you and Dad get together for a picture." I said, "okay." 

But all of a sudden, Jim said, "Moose, QUICK...get on my shoulders." 


Is he new?

I was shocked, because this was not like Jim at ALL. 

While I was protesting, "I'm not mentally prepared for this..." Jim was saying, " your mother." 

And the next thing I knew, I was up on Jim's shoulders, looking down at the world...and experiencing what it must feel like to be tall. 

I got so tickled over the whole situation, that I.could.not.stop.laughing. 

Our family...we love each other. We try hard to be careful with the hearts God brings to our family. We have a lot of fun...but we are also imperfect and flawed...just like you. We have struggles, insecurities, and fears...just like you. We have situations that break my heart, circumstances that are challenging, and family members and family friends that I'm praying desperately for on a daily basis. 

God's grace is a lifeline for our family, and HE holds us together. Through thick and thin, we are family. This is us.

"The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." Psalm 126:3

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Dad and Parkinson's: Number Your Days

We went to visit my Dad yesterday. 

My Dad has Parkinson's. 

We were only there for a few hours, but the heaviness of it all left me feeling emotionally drained...altho it's nothing compared to what his wife feels on a regular and daily basis. 

Friday was my Dad and Clara's 16th wedding anniversary. It went unacknowledged by my Dad. He didn't know. And, even when he was told...he still didn't understand. 

This is something that he would normally never, ever do...forget an important date or event like that. He always wanted Clara to feel special and honored. 

Last year, or maybe it was two years ago, I wrote about the things Parkinson's had taken from my, his dignity, his health, his independence, his ability to feel like the leader in his home. I remember writing about the things Parkinson's HAD NOT taken...about how his faith was still so strong, and how he was confident of God's hand in his life. I wrote about the gentle way he had accepted his health issues, and how, after every visit, his words encouraged and strengthened me. 

I love the time I get to spend with him, but it's clear that Parkinson's is taking more and more of him each day. His quick wit? It's gone. Or it was yesterday. And his encouraging words? They have mostly been replaced by strings of sentences that don't make sense. Some of the time, he knows they don't, but he doesn't know how to fix it. 

He's still in there, my Dad...his strength, his faith...he just can't express it. 

He told a story from when I was a baby. I know it to be true, because I remember him telling it many times in my life. At one point in our day, I picked up Rhodes, and gently swung (is that a word?) him in front of me...back and my Dad used to do with all of my kids. His face lit up. He said, "hey! I used to do that!" 

We see glimpses of him...and then it's gone. 

Even in all of this, there is purpose...and he is valuable. 

This disease, and the medications you have to take to get through each day, it changes you. 

Before Parkinson's, I can't remember a day when my Dad was negative...when he ever said a cross anyone. He was always complimentary and sincere and helpful and content and steadfast and faithful and kind...and the most godly man I've ever known. 

He adored my mom. 

And, for the last 17 years, he has adored Clara. 

He and Clara have been married for 16 years. They fell in love after my Mom died. Both of them had experienced the great loss of a spouse, and, they knew they didn't want to waste a minute of the time they had left. They had probably ten great years (if you don't count that one year when my Dad slipped on water in the garage, and slid across the garage floor into Clara...knocking her down, and breaking her hip), and then a few pretty good years, and now they are having the years that make you dig deep into those wedding vows..."for better, for sickness, and in health." 

You guys...don't waste your days...number them. 

There is the potential for good in them, if you are intentional and look for it and make up your mind to act on it. There's the potential to share the Good News, share good experiences, to see good in others, and to use good and kind words. 

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. None of us are guaranteed to live a long, healthy life...slipping quietly into Heaven at a ripe, old age, still in command of all of our faculties. 

Hide God's word in your hearts. Pound it in there, and pack it down that, even when you are not in control of things, it is what comes out. 

"Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts." (Psalm 90:12)