Monday, November 20, 2017

Holidays 2017 Begin

It's Monday morning and I'm not at work! Instead, I slept in (for me that means 7:00), drank two cups of coffee by the fire, ran three miles in the cool crisp morning, walked the dog and showered. 

Now, I have Food Network on in the background while I am busy in the kitchen. But not the kind of busy that makes me frustrated. The kind that puts a smile on my face and a warmth down deep in my soul.

My house is filled with the scent of the holidays. I made cinnamon ornaments last night. For breakfast this morning I made eggnog French toast. All I have planned for the rest of the day is Hallmark Christmas movies. Anything else I do will be unplanned frivolity. 

Holiday Season 2017, welcome!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I saw the above quote on Facebook. This post is not about a mega church pastor and whether he is or is not doing something. It's not about whether our president or government is or is not doing something. It's about what I have been witnessing this week in the Texas Gulf Coast as regular people are most definitely doing something.

I live in a master planned community about 30 miles north of Houston, Texas. A couple of weeks ago, I heard that there was a tropical storm named Harvey stirring up and that my area of Texas was very likely going to receive a lot of rain. Then I heard that Harvey was a hurricane that was going to hit around a town called Rockport or Corpus Christi. I started praying for those folks as they were being told to evacuate.

Let me tell you, I have lived here for a long time. My house was very badly damaged during Hurricane Ike. I "hunkered down" that night and listened as tree branches flew through the air and I woke up the next day to see floods and trees inside people's houses. We didn't evacuate then because the mayor asked us to stay. This was because in 2005, we were part of the mass evacuation during Rita when more than 100 people lost their lives trying to flee.

I know what it's like to live through a hurricane. So, I prayed for Rockport and Corpus. I prayed they would safely make it out in time. And, you know what? They did. That's because Houston's mayor told us to stay put. By staying in our homes, we made room on the highways for those who needed to evacuate to go. And we kept the Rita evacuation ordeal from happening again.

You know what? No one, and I mean NO ONE could have predicted what Hurricane Harvey was going to do to the entire Texas Gulf Coast area. No one could have known the horror of what we were about to endure and are still enduring. Harvey became a category four hurricane and beat up the small town of Rockport. Then, Harvey decided not to leave. The next few days felt like years. In just four days, the city of Houston had more rain than it's annual average! And we have talked a lot about Houston on the news, but all the towns near Houston have suffered through this storm too.

My friends and family members were on their rooftops waiting to be rescued by boat. Countless friends and people around me have lost everything they own. Everything! Nothing could prevent this. Even if the almost 12 million people in Harvey's destructive path had evacuated, the homes and businesses would have still been destroyed. Lives were saved by the decision to stay put. As I type this, the floods continue. Beaumont is a lake! And their water supply was cut off.

Ok, here goes... Texas gets stereotyped a lot, y'all. I remember watching "Beverly Hills 90210" in the '90s and they were showing a scene in San Antonio in which everyone was walking around in cowboy boots and ten gallon hats and they were a bunch of racists who didn't like a white boy kissing a black girl. Seriously? That ain't Texas! And, side note, San Antonio is mostly Hispanic. You don't typically see white, racist cowboys walking around there. Or here either because all the real cowboys I know are wonderful gentlemen who love God and people. That's just the truth.

Anyway, Houston is extremely diverse. We have every race here. Every religion. Every language is spoken here (I mean, every language on Earth). We have republicans. We have democrats. We have loads of gay people. And we have loads of straight people. We have art and music and seriously great food. We have every culture the world has produced. It's a really cool city.

Anyway, this storm didn't just happen to Houston. It happened to Texas. And because we're part of the USA, it happened to America and I want to thank my friends and family from all over the world for reaching out to check on me this week.

Here's some of the stuff I have seen:
  • My friends who own boats haven't slept in days because they have been rescuing people.
  • Donations of food, blankets, medicine, diapers, etc. pouring in from all over the country!
  • Loads of money being donated.
  • People around my little town buying gift cards to grocery stores and Target for flood victims.
  • Friends doing demos all over town (I'm covered in sheetrock as I type this).
Here's the deal... I think people like JJ Watt and Mattress Mack are amazing! They have stepped up and raised money and helped people. Sandra Bullock and other famous and wealthy celebrities have made financial contributions. My own Dallas Cowboys are raising funds for flood victims and hosting a telethon in place of the game that was supposed to happen tonight (none of us feels like watching football right now). I love seeing the rich and famous step up. They have a voice that many can hear.

But, for me, the greatest heroes have been the ones on the ground who don't get an ounce of recognition. My friends Frank and Angie Rizzo and their son Luke have worked 'round the clock doing demos. In fact, I have loads of friends out doing that. And it's hard work! I have friends like Deanna and Matt Katri who show up with pizza and waters and snacks for all the workers. Today I saw tow trucks driving through neighborhoods handing out bottled water! I have friends working in shelters. I have friends doing laundry for flood victims. I have friends rescuing animals and feeding them. I have friends taking care of the elderly and cancer patients. People have come in from other states to help us. No one is worried about race, religion or politics when we are helping each other.

Thank you, Texas, for taking a beating and standing strong. I'm proud of this mighty state.

My son, Dylan and his friends were heading to hang out at a friend's house
when I called and said we needed help in one of the neighborhoods doing a demo.
Instead of going to have fun, these boys dropped everything to work.

A few of my friends and me doing demos.

Love these ladies! Working hard.

This neighborhood was completely under water. These folks in Conroe
have lost every single thing they own.

As we were tearing out walls and kitchen cabinets, I
spotted this note a child had written to his mom. That child's
bedroom was my first spot to work and I saw his Legos and
Star Wars posters on the ground demolished. I think his only
surviving possession was a small box of trophies. When I saw
this note, I shed a tear. This family has nothing left. Nothing
except each other. Now, thank God for that. At the end of it all,
what matters most is life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

End of Summer Brunch

This has been quite an interesting summer. Each of the four of us were mostly separated as we were spread out in various parts of the country. Morgan began the summer in San Diego and Dylan left for an internship in Fort Worth. Bill has been working in Fort Worth since April and is still there, likely til the end of the year. I was able to spend most of the summer with him at the Hilton downtown (side note: that is the last place where JFK slept before his assassination).

This morning, following my run, I came home and made my kids brunch. It's been ages since they have both been under the same roof and I have been able to do this. And I don't know when it will happen again. I felt both happy and sad as I made apple dumplings and egg casseroles (one with sausage and the other meatless because I have a vegetarian daughter).

Although I am excited for my kids and their being all grown up, I feel such an emptiness too. For the past two decades, everything I do is about their safety and well-being. Where we live, what we do, everything- it's with them in mind. In less than a year, my baby boy will be gone. My husband travels a lot. I know good things await us, but I'm already missing being the mom.

About brunch... it was seriously yummy and super easy to make. Here's what I did:

Apple Dumplings:
On the stove, heat one stick of butter, one cup of water, about 3/4 cup sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.
While it heats, core and cut an apple.
Open canned biscuits and roll each of them out.
Place an apple slice in each and seal them.
Pour the sauce from the stove on top.
Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Bake for 30-35 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees.

The Egg Casseroles:
Scramble eggs (I add only salt and pepper)
Cook sausage or bacon (whichever is on-hand)
Place eggs, sausage and cheese in baking dish.
Bake til all melted.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Beauty for Ashes

It was March 2014 when my life would forever change. Because of certain legal battles and for the need to protect some people I love, I cannot write about specifics. But here I am more than three years later and instead of seeing justice, instead of seeing God avenge us, the battles have continued. They have been fierce and have left me bleeding on the ground with barely a breath left in me.

Does this sound dramatic? That is only because I have lived through some things I could have never imagined anyone enduring. I have actually laughed about it a few times and said, "my life is a telenovela!" But it's not funny. It's devastating. But, if you continue reading, you will see why I haven't given up and why this blog post isn't a pity party, but a story of hope.

I always believed that God would give beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3), yet I am laying here in smoke and ashes, choking on my pain and exhaustion. I know loss. I know pain. I know destruction. I am intimately acquainted with grief and sorrow. Those outside of this who have witnessed my suffering don't know what to say or what to do. They love me and hate seeing me suffer, but they can't fix it. No one other than my husband knows the extent of this trouble. He has endured most of it right alongside me. I have been in awe as the past few months, he has picked himself up and strengthened his mind, body and spirit. I am in the process of doing this too, but I get knocked down every time I attempt to stand.

Today I have been thinking about the book in the Bible that really tests our hearts- Job. This guy was living a good and decent life and then everything was taken from him. He had no idea why! Sadly, his "friends" tried to figure it all out. They tried to speak for God and tell Job that surely he must have done something wrong to be in this state. The devastation was too intense and there was no way that God would bring such destruction to anyone unless that person deserved it. There was Job, suffering like no one around him could comprehend, and instead of holding him and crying with him, his so-called friends preached. You know what? There is a time to speak and there is a time to shut up.

There will be many lessons I take away from my own suffering. This will end some day and I will look back and thank the Lord God for loving me enough to allow all of this. When that day comes, I would like to remember what it feels like to be in this smoke and ash. I would like to look at others who are suffering and hold them. It may be that they need to hear: "this isn't happening because you did something wrong, but because God is preparing you for something big".

Today I needed that reminder, so I listened to a sermon from Dr. Charles Stanley about God's timing. He mentioned a boy named David. This young man was anointed to be the next king of Israel, but 14 years went by in which he was in danger, fleeing and hiding for fear of his life.  According to Dr. Stanley, "God had a plan. It was a perfect plan. He executed His plan, but not on someone else’s schedule. His timing was perfect. God has a plan for YOUR life and that doesn’t mean that what’s in that plan is yours today. It is yours when God gets you ready. And what was God doing to David in all those years? Getting him ready. Teaching him how to suffer. Teaching him how to forgive. Teaching him to be wise. Teaching him to be loving. Teaching him to be respectful of the king who tried to kill him. Twice he could have killed Saul, but he didn’t do it. That wasn’t God’s timing."

Does God have a plan for your life? Yes. Will it look like my journey? No. It will, however, very likely include some pain and suffering. Everyone likes looking at the end of the story- you know, the one where the cancer patient becomes an Ironman. But the glory of the story isn't the Ironman. It's the pain of the cancer and how God gets the patient through it. True glory comes from God helping us get through darkness. The LIGHT has come and we get to look toward that Light while we grab the sword and fight through the darkness.

I know I'm not perfect, but I also know that my current situation is not due to some anger or judgment from God. He has a plan for my life and He's bringing me to my "promised land" in His own timing and His own way. That way happens to be very painful. If you hear me cry or scream, don't judge me. Don't be like Job's friends. Just let me cry. Let me scream. It's part of my journey. It doesn't mean I don't love God or that I don't trust Him. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself both cried and screamed. He even screamed out "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Then He died and went to Hell before He rose from the grave.

I will rise from the smoke and ashes too. I will have beauty for ashes.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bye to 2016

Every year is filled with good times and bad. That's just a fact of life. For our family, the past two years have been incredibly difficult. We have faced challenges we could have never imagined. Yet, when I look back, I can honestly say that these painful years have a purpose. Not that I fully comprehend that purpose, but I choose to believe that every good and every bad thing that happens is shaping me into the thing God is making for Himself.

I will say, however, that I do not believe that some of the horrible things that we endured were things that God liked. If He is a Father, there is no way He was ok with some of what has happened to our family. That's why I'm trusting that at some point (and I hope that's soon), He will do something to help us and get rid of the stuff that's causing us so much pain.

Meanwhile, there are some moments from 2016 that I truly loved and appreciated. I will remember these moments as much as I will remember the bad ones. I will make a choice to remember both the bad and good. I may not type out the bad stuff here, but I will remember it all on purpose. I never want to forget the way I have felt this year. I want to use the fear and the pain to motivate me in my love and compassion for people who hurt.

Although I'm not writing the list of bad stuff here, I'm remembering it forever. But I'm thankful for the good stuff and will honor it all by saying "thank you Lord for giving us good things" and here are 16 of my favorite memories of 2016...

  1. The birth of my amazing nephew Cash Wilson Allen!
  2. My daughter starting at SHSU, my alma mater
  3. My son getting his driver's license and a super amazing sports car
  4. My husband leaving his career to start a new and exciting one
  5. My job at Fusion Academy (worth the low pay for the happiness it brings)
  6. Getting to hear a donkey scream "HEE HAW" (I seriously did not realize they outright say that, but they do!!!)
  7. The Dallas Cowboys
  8. Our family underwater photo shoot in January (that was actually my favorite day of 2016)
  9. Running the Houston Marathon for Team Christopher while wearing the names of more than 100 cancer patients and raising funds for the LLS. Go Team!
  10. Watching "Teresa" with Morgan. So happy my girl watches telenovelas with me!
  11. Going to Nashville with my mom
  12. Another trip to Walt Disney World
  13. Seeing my son swim Varsity and get his letter jacket
  14. Celebrating 20 years of marriage
  15. Viewing Christmas lights in Prestonwood with my hubby and kids
  16. Ending the year in Colorado in the snowy mountains.

Dear Lord, thank You for being with us in the good times and the bad. Thank You for loving us in sickness and in health and in poverty and wealth. You always remain true to Your promise - You never leave us or forsake us. Thank you. Although I felt abandoned and unloved and often like a piece of trash on the side of the road, You were with me all along. You gave me strength to continue breathing when I wanted to stop. You gave me grace to get up in the mornings and put one foot in front of the other to keep on moving forward. I believe in You and trust You as I pray for justice. I will hope for justice for my family til I take my final breath. If I never see it, I will trust in Your plan. As John said in the final book of the Bible, "come quickly". Now, 2017... bring it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Back To School 2016

My sweet girl in her new "home"

I think her daddy is about to cry

Well, our daughter was safely moved into her dorm on August 20. Although she isn't far from home, it was still hard to drive away leaving her all alone on that big campus. The first few days were rough for her which meant they were horrible for me, but now she's happy. She really loves her education courses and I'm so excited to hear more about what all she's learning.

The next hurdle for me was last Monday when my baby boy drove away to the high school. I know that traffic well and found myself on my knees praying for his safety. Will I ever stop worrying about that?

So his schedule is crazy, but when he comes home, I like to greet him with a snack and a smile and get him to tell me anything at all about his day. That's not easy since he doesn't like to talk as much as Morgan, but whatever he shares makes my heart happy.

My house smells like chocolate chip cookies and I look forward to his return home from swim practice later. There are many ups and down in this new season, but I'm so very grateful for my wonderful kids and pray that they will continue to thrive.

After school chocolate chip cookies!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Goodbye to Carlines

My baby boy turned 16 on July 11. For his birthday, we bought him a sports car, a black Camaro with black leather seats. This thing is absolutely beautiful (just like my son). A couple weeks later, he got his drivers license and as he took off on his first drive all by himself, I had a mini break down.

It hit me that I don't know exactly the date or time, but very recently I had experienced my last ever car line! I've been doing car lines for many years now- school, sports and various camps, etc. I have sat in my big SUV waiting on kids in car lines in the cold, in the heat, in the rain, in the morning, in the night. I have learned to bring a book or a lap top or an iPad. I have played games or watched Netflix or talked on the phone and waited and waited and waited. How did I miss that the last time was the last time?

Suddenly it feels like my role as a mom has vastly changed. There were days when I got really tired of being the "taxi". I even laughed when I saw bumper stickers on the back of mini vans that said, "swim taxi" and thought about getting one. But I am no longer the taxi driver for my kids. They are both licensed drivers who do not need me to get them where they're going. Who knew that might make me sad? Who knew that deep inside I actually cherished those times in the car at 5:00 a.m. as I took them to swim practice. Tired and barely functioning, it was time together even if we weren't talking. And speaking of talking, my son is so busy all the time that the only time we ever talked was the afternoons when I picked him up from swim practice to race home for dinner. The first thing he always asked as soon as he got in the car was, "what's for dinner?" Then if I was lucky, he would open up and tell me a little about his day.

Now that he's driving will he ever tell me about his day again? Boys are so different than girls. My daughter texts and calls and we go to movies together or lunch. Will my son be so grown up now that I never see him again? Goodness, I'm missing CARLINE!!!

OK, I'll be fine. School starts in a couple of weeks and I'll be nervous but happy to send him off to Junior year in his own car. Thankfully I believe in prayer or I'd go crazy with worry. I'll miss sitting in the hot car in car line at the high school, but as I enter the new season of my life as a mom, I'll be grateful. I have amazing kids who have grown into young adults. So, goodbye carlines and hello to my new season in life as the luckiest mom on the planet.