Being Thankful When You Don’t Feel Like It

Being Thankful When You Don’t Feel Like It

Several mornings a week during my morning commute, I meet a truck heading south hauling burial vaults. It’s a stark reminder how fragile life is. Even in the stressful times like I’m currently dealing with, when I’m wondering where God is, or I think I want to give up, when I see that truck, I’m reminded I got another day to try again. It may be a bad day, but I still got another one. The people for whom the burial vaults are for didn’t get that, for they completed their final twenty-four run.

My dad was twenty-eight years old when he died. When I reached twenty-eight, yeah, it was a long time ago, I realized I started living years he never got the chance to live. Daddy didn’t get to see his children grow up, never got the chance to finish his pursuit of his dream of being a Country singer. He never got to teach his children life skills, or pass along his musical knowledge, nor stand with Mama when the tough times came, many of which would’ve most likely been avoided had he lived. I made it passed twenty-eight, but he didn’t.

I can remember as a teenager listening to girls complain about how strict their dad was. I wanted to tell them, “At least, he’s alive and cares about you.”  Mama told me Daddy loved us, but of course, he didn’t get the chance to show it. I’ve always felt cheated because of it.

Daddy’s absence left a huge void in my life, and yes, it affected me deeply. Growing up, I was told I had a heavenly Father who’d watch out for me, one who takes care of widows and orphans. If I am to be completely honest, I’ve wondered where my heavenly Father was when the bad days came, kind of like I’ve pondered the same in the last eight years. Maybe I’m not supposed to feel that way, but I have.

My husband lived to see his daughters grow up, but he didn’t live to see all of his grandchildren. I prayed and prayed for many more years with him, but with what felt like the snap of the fingers, he was taken from me. Now, it’s my job to tell our grandchildren he never got the chance to meet all about him. At least, now, I can talk about Dan without the tears flowing. A few years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Despite all of this, all of what I missed without having my Daddy in my life, and not having Dan with me today, I must stay thankful for the time I did get with them. I must also be thankful for each day I do get, even when they’re so bad I think I can barely get through them.

When you don’t understand why so many bad days come, it is hard to stay focused and grateful. When you’ve lost a lot, and you’ve lost some special people, it is hard to believe you have God’s favor. Yes, it is sometimes hard to appreciate the new day when you wake up in the morning.

If your father was in your life when you were growing up, be thankful, and be especially thankful if he’s still with you. Some of us didn’t get that privilege. And be thankful in the morning when you start a new day. Some people didn’t get that privilege either.

Happy Father’s Day! May God bless you all!

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Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

When I began blogging, I wanted to use this avenue to encourage people who are struggling. Having some, well, maybe, a lot of experience in that area I thought I could be useful there. Here lately, I found myself needing encouragement too, a voice to remind me to keep trying, or to help me stay focused on my goals. My Mama used to be the captain of my cheerleading squad; the one who taught me to never give up and to hold onto to my faith. She’d tell me stories about people who kept going no matter what, and sometimes when I was glum she’d break out with that fabulous little song called “High Hopes.” You remember, the one about an ant and a rubber tree plant.

Mama went to heaven on a hot summer night in 1998, leaving behind her devastated daughter to hold on to her memory and her lessons. What she taught me stayed with me, her words reminding me God didn’t give me an off switch, and the fight to survive doesn’t end until your last breath. God gave me a strong will, and Mama didn’t let me forget it, making sure it was embedded in my mind. Her strategy worked until my husband died. All bets are off now.

When Dan died, I learned God sent angels in the form of other widows who could empathize with what I was going through. The first angel I found actually sat across from me at work—I called her just a few hours after I became a new widow; I can still remember parts of our conversation that horrible morning. Two more angels came into my life a few weeks after Dan’s death, and another angel, who doubled as my cousin and who knew all too well about the pain, was only a phone call away.

I now believe God sends us angels during other difficult times too, especially when your mama is no longer with you. Not all of us have or had a good mother. No, not all mothers are the same, but I got lucky there. When I was growing up, she was my mama, my protector, my teacher, the disciplinarian, but when I became a woman, a deep friendship developed.

When the bad times come now, I can no longer get a dose of her wisdom or encouragement. I could use some of those—the keep-at-its, the “you come from strong stock,” and “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Yeah, no doubt some days are darker than others.

However, I am grateful for those angels who helped me during my, so far, darkest period, and since losing Dan, these angels have increased in number. Not all of them are widows.

The last few weeks have been difficult, and I want to hear Mama’s voice. I can still remember the sound of it when she spoke, when she sang, her laugh. I want to tell her what’s going on like I used to do. Knowing that’s impossible, God placed a few more angels around me who are echoing her words, almost like channeling, being the voices of reason, of inspiration, telling me, “you’ve come this far, don’t give up now,” or “He will get us through all things.” On the stormy days, the ones when it seems like lightning is popping everywhere, filling my heart with fear, it’s hard to remember giving up is not an option; sometimes it’s hard to trust in the power of God.

A few of my angels have been busy making me remember what Mama taught me, even though they never knew her. There’s no way they’ll ever know how much their listening to me or texting just a few lines, reminding me to get back up and keep trying or to ignore the junk when dealing with difficult people has meant to me.

I miss my Mama, and though I can’t be with her, I do have strong women in my life; some are family, some are extended family, all of them I cherish. No one can ever replace Mama, but these angels have and are making my walk alone easier.

If people important to you are no longer with you, don’t overlook the angels who’ve come into your life, speaking words of wisdom, encouragement, and strength. Listen to them and stay focused. Most of all, never, ever give up!

To all the mothers and to those beautiful angels in my life, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Gumption

Gumption

A few days ago, I posted a few ‘tell it like it is’ comments on a friend’s post, a friend whom I’ve known since the earth cooled, by the way, regarding the super obesity show on TLC. Another poster took them as being critical. I usually ignore stuff like that, except when it comes to the elderly, and this person appeared to me to be just that, so I deleted the comments. Mama taught me to respect the elderly.

I’ve struggled with my weight for years. The only person better than me at yo-yo dieting is Oprah. When the stress levels escalate, and they’ve been sky high in the last eight years, the pounds on the scale go up too. Thankfully, beautiful and wonderful changes have come into my life, by the Grace of God, and because I’m beginning to take control once again. There are areas in my life that are exponentially messed up, some not my fault, but many of them are. My goal is to fix them—they are mine to fix, not anyone else’s. They are my responsibility, whether I did them, or someone else done something to me.

In my career, people have opened doors for me or encouraged me, or helped me learn new skills, as I’ve strived to improve my life. Being blessed like that I try to pass it along, helping someone who wants to learn a skill (in I.T., you’re always in a learning mode), or whatever. However, some people, as the old saying goes, will mistake your kindness for weakness and take advantage of the situation. I learned a long time ago not everyone in a bad situation deserves pity. They are in a bad place because of their actions, or because they want to be pitied. Which leads me to the following.

It’s difficult for me to feel sorry for people who refuse to help themselves. We all have problems, some of them are huge, but some folks instead of working on fixing those issues,  they whine. They’ll say, “I know I’ve got a problem, but it’s somebody else’s fault, or it’s because of this, or it’s because of that. I just can’t help myself.” Yes, they can too! That’s nothing but a crutch.

Anyone can get in a bad situation, but one doesn’t have to stay there. Making changes, taking the initiative, the word I like is gumption. I’ve seen people rise up out of horrific situations & make better lives for themselves. With hard work and perseverance, they made improvements. Sometimes it took months, like with battling obesity, and sometimes it took years, like dealing with financial problems. They did it. They made it happen.

However, some people thrive on pity, & they use it to manipulate others. I’ve got no time for that. God gave each of us a brain, He expects us to use it. Everybody needs prayer, but some people just need to take responsibility for their actions. God gave each of us a free will to make choices, & those choices have consequences. If a person eats 10,000 calories a day, then they shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves wider than a door. It’s nobody’s fault but their own.

Survival is not a given. You have to have gumption to make changes. Don’t be afraid to fight for yourself. You never know what may come of it.

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: 58665338  – Change Your Mindset Concept © Krasimira Nevenova — Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2017. All rights reserved.

Words Have Power, Use Them Wisely

Words Have Power, Use Them Wisely

Marlon Brando once said to an interviewer, “Human behavior has always fascinated me.” Me too, Mr. Brando, and the other thing that has captivated my interest is the words that come out of people’s mouths and with the advent of Social Media, the words they type. Words and behavior impact others, and sometimes it’s not in a good way. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The memory of the words or events lasts a long time, long after you forgive the person or the persons involved.

When I was a child, I broke my thermos in my lunch box. Being frugal, Mama bought me a replacement that didn’t match my Flipper themed box. I was fine with it until I was sitting at the lunch table enjoying my food when a group of girls walking by, maybe two or three years older than me, decided to stop and make fun of me with my replacement thermos. “What’s the matter?” the leader of the preppy clique said. “Your mama can’t afford to buy a new lunch box.” They said more, but I don’t recall the rest of their mean-spiritedness.

Except for one girl. She didn’t care for the other’s behavior. “That’s not nice,” she said, looking peeved. Not sure if her words shamed them or if they got bored, but they moved on, probably to ruin somebody’s else day.

This scene reflects the world we live in—although there are indeed plenty of jerks, there are still good people around.

Tucked away in my memory is the story of a tragic death of a young man. One of his friends, understandably upset, but in his arrogance said this, “Why did it have to be him? Why couldn’t it have been some trash?” while looking at someone I knew well. The person who said that was somebody I respected, but that ended the minute I heard about those words. Unlike that elitist chump, death is no respecter of persons. It grabs the rich, the middle-class, the working-class, the pretenders, and the poor. Hope he’s learned that lesson by now.

What makes his comment different from others who grieve? Many, including myself, have wondered why God took a loved one when there are so many evil people walking around untouched and carefree. The difference is this:  he said it to this person’s face.

One of scenes I just mentioned involves children, and the other involves adults with one of them acting like a child. I’m willing to bet none of the bullies in either case remembers these events. Nonetheless, feelings were hurt, which formed scars, by careless words flung out by condescending dimwits. Ms. Angelou was right.

The Bible says it best concerning the danger of the tongue in James 3:8; but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. That pretty much sums it up

People’s fingers can do some damage too. Social Media verbiage is more dangerous than the spoken word. Here’s my reasoning. We’ve all heard this, “What comes up, come out,” when it pertains to someone who speaks his or her mind. Some people have a faulty gate on the wall between what’s in their minds, and what comes out their mouths. Words slip out, and we’ve all done it. The words zoom out at lightning speeds, and they often require a typical, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that,” to do some mending.

The written word is different. One has to stop and think to make the letters of their words flow through their fingers to the keyboard or the keypad. There is no slip of tongue, no Freudian slip, and no what comes up, comes out. Writing or typing requires more thought than an in the heat of a moment verbal argument. Not only does one type the words, they also have to click Post or Send. There are plenty of opportunities to quit before the destructive words go out.

I learned early in my career in information technology the best thing to do when you’re angry and want to strike back at someone is to never, ever send an email when you’re angry. Some of the best advice I ever got came from an I.T consultant I worked with after I returned to the hosiery manufacturer I worked for as a machine operator. We were going through a difficult implementation, and he told me this:

“When someone’s made you mad, done you dirty, or whatever, and you want to tell them off, open an email and do not, I repeat, do not put any addresses in the To, CC, or BCC fields. Say everything you want to say to that person and then save it. If out of habit you click Send, you’re safe because you didn’t list any addresses. Doing this gets it out of your system, and it keeps you out of trouble. A few hours later or maybe a day or two, read it again. Most likely, the anger will be gone by then, and you can delete it.”

I’m glad I learned that early in my career; I’ve typed up quite a few of those venting emails. I’ve also typed a few angry posts, only to delete them before I clicked Post. Sometimes it’s best to just keep scrolling.

If the actions and words of others have hurt you, charge it to their minds and move on. Don’t let it define you, which is what I did for a long time. I’m doing a lot of quoting in this post, so here’s another. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I once allowed that to happen to me, but not anymore, and neither should you. God put each of us here for a reason. We each have a job to do. Let the negativity, the narcissism, the meanness flow away from you, and be the best you can be while you fulfil your purpose. And do not forget words have power, use them wisely.

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: 134563597  – the word Danger in Binary Code © v1_one — Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2017. All rights reserved.

Butterflies

Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I spent a nice afternoon shopping with Kim and Emmy. Three generations together celebrating Kim’s birthday. The day reminded me of shopping trips I took with my mother and grandmother when I was single, and with my mother and Kim later. It was also a wakeup call to remember we’re only granted a certain number of days in life. Now in my fifties, my own mortality is glaringly real—a reminder of how quickly we move from being the youngest in a family circle to the oldest, and the need to treasure each moment and make them count.

I remember the days when my mama and grandma and I went shopping together. We would often pick a store and fan out like Butterflies among flowering bushes in warm weather. We’d meet up and discuss what or who we saw, the things we bought. This was a long time before texting and cell phones. Sometimes we’d stop by Baskin-Robbins and indulge in Triple Delight Sundaes. The ride to and from the stores, we lived in a rural area, so we shopped in a nearby city, was the best because of being together and the conversations we had.

As strong-willed as I am, I sometimes grew weary of their advice, and I didn’t appreciate what they had been through, those difficult experiences that made them who they were. Since those days, I’ve learned I come from a long line of strong women who faced and lived through harsh times.

My grandma suffered through a very difficult experience as a young child, the kind that would cripple a lot of folks, male or female. Later, she and my granddaddy worked hard, lived off the land, and made it through the Great Depression. She had much wisdom to share.

And Mama, a widow who also lost a child before I was born, she raised three children alone. She faced tragedies and failures, but she never lost her faith or her smile. Mama was my best friend. She taught me to fight, to keep the faith, although I have struggled with that one since Dan died, but it is still intact.

I remember shopping with Mama and Kim, from Kim’s baby years until her mid-teens. Those were happy years. Mama and Kim were so close. Mama died when Kim was fifteen, and it saddens me when I think she didn’t live to see Kim graduate from high school or college. At her Nursing pinning ceremony when Kim walked across the stage, I fought back tears to keep from embarrassing myself, but I knew Mama was looking down at the scene, so proud.

Yes, we were like Butterflies. Only I realized as I grew older and understood more, the older Butterflies in our little family possessed backbones made from titanium. They shared their struggles with me, and it’s now my job to pass on their stories of survival for future generations.

Thinking back on these days is like I’m there with them, I blink, and they’re gone. Time zooms by, waiting for no one. We can’t relive moments, we can only remember them.

Time has turned the pages, and now I’m in the elder role. It’s me who walks a little slower, gives out quicker, but ready to dispense motherly advice, solicited or not, at any time. Someday it’ll be my turn to fly away and join my mother and grandmother. Before that day happens, and I pray it’s no time soon, I want to, like Jack Dawson said on Titanic, “make each day count,” only I’m going to reduce it down to a smaller scale; to making each second matter.

On the way home that afternoon I thought about those special times, and the memories we’re making now. Yes, I plan to make each second count. We should all do that because as the old saying goes, life can change on a dime. Enjoy every minute. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: 66875278 – Apricot flowers in spring, floral background © seqoya — Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2016. All rights reserved

A Psalm of Lament

A Psalm of Lament

Some people who read this may not agree with me, nor like what I write in this post. That’s okay. We each have a path to walk, a journey to complete, and our life experiences make up who we are and become. Some of us have trod, or should I say limped down roads filled with ditches and potholes, and we’ve wondered where God is, why did or is He allowing so much pain in our lives.

The pain is real and deep, the discouragement high, the disappointments astronomical. Our tears give away to anger, especially in grief and in particular complicated grief, and we wonder where God is, why He deserted us during these hard days.

If you’re a believer, you may hear it said, often from well-meaning people, and possibly those self-righteous who know or sense you’re suffering, but who want to make the pain go deeper, we should never get mad with God, nor question Him. It wasn’t until I took a class on Psalms while working on my masters in Biblical Studies that I learned people do get angry or question God, crying out to Him, as the psalmist wrote in Psalm 88:14, Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

My life has not been easy, but it hasn’t been dull either. It wasn’t until after Dan died, forcing me to face significant battles, most of the time alone, that I found myself wondering if God hated me. Research informed me I’m not alone in these feelings, which are usually felt by those who’ve endured or enduring extremely difficult circumstances. Hearing pastors and others comment on anger and questioning added to my frustration, deepening the hurt.

Most people think of Psalms as praises. Taking the course on the Book of Psalms introduced me to the psalms of lament. Psalm 88 hit home for me. As Craig Broyles wrote, “The psalm consistently attributes the cause of the affliction to Yahweh himself, as demonstrated by the many verses that begin with you and your (vv. 5 – 8, 14, 16 – 18) (Broyles, 1999).

Say what?

Have I been so depressed, felt so defeated I thought God was my enemy? Yes, I’m not proud to admit. Did I think God was always punishing me? Yes. Is He going to send me to hell for those feelings? No. I now believe God strengthens us during the bad times (and by now, I must be one tough old bird!), and we learn from each trial things or traits about ourselves useful to us later on down the road.

Life can be hard, with many bad turns. It can change quickly, and sometimes all it takes is a phone call with bad news to destroy your world. Since Dan died, I’ve lost a few friends, and a few relatives turned their backs on me, but they were replaced by new friends and reconnecting with other family members. Out of the bad times have come good times, less stressful and making life more pleasant than I ever thought possible when I was in the midst of my deepest woes.

It’s easy to forget the good things when you’re going through a rough patch, but even then, there is so much to be thankful for each day. One of my high school teachers had a poster on his door that displayed this simple thought, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Sums it up pretty well, I think.

If you’re struggling with difficulties, trying to keep your faith, stay strong and as the old song says, take one day at a time. If you’re a believer, read Psalm 88. You will see you are not alone. I think God put Psalm 88 in the Bible to let us know that fact. He is still there, still listening, still caring, and always working.

 

Featured Image Photo Credit:  102045603 – 祈るビジネスウーマン © aijiro — Fotolia

Reference:  Broyles, Craig C. (1999). Psalms, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books.

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2016. All rights reserved

 

A Little  Engine, Changes, and Determination

A Little Engine, Changes, and Determination

People repeat the same phrase, “Time to turn over a new leaf,” every New Year’s Day, and we make New Year’s resolutions most of us don’t keep past the first week. Yes, I’m guilty too. This year I’m focusing on a few goals, some of which I’m carrying over from 2015. One goal reminds me of the classic story my Mama used to read to us entitled The Little Engine that Could. When I was a child and I said something was too hard and I couldn’t do it, Mama reminded me of that tale. She said, “Remember what the little engine said when he was about to give up? I think I can, I think I can! You can do it. Now, try again.” The lessons she taught me from that simple little story have stayed with me.

Changes were abundant in 2015 for me. A new grandbaby lightened up my life! Emily is precious, and she looks so much like her mother. Kim looks like Dan, so I see a little of him in Emmy, my nickname for her. I melt when she smiles at me.

Another change is I am now a published writer. A testimony I wrote entitled On Being a Persistent Widow, a topic I have some experience with, in fact, a lot of experience, was published in Trials and Triumphs, Volume II. It is available here, http://www.amazon.com/Trials-Triumphs-II-FaithWriters/dp/1498416012/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1451406526&sr=8-2&keywords=Trials+and+Triumphs. I also shared third place in a Creative Writing contest sponsored by the Georgia Writer’s Museum for a story named Grammy Sue and Papa. I am a happy and thankful woman! Yes, thank you Lord!

These were wonderful and exciting changes. Another change was harder, much harder to deal with, and it brought a little sadness.

After a long time with the same employer, I began a new life with a company I worked for several years ago. I miss many of my former coworkers, aka my comrades. Now, I am blessed with new coworkers who are delight to work with too. It was time to move on, and I landed in a good place. I am extremely grateful.

Twenty-two years ago, I left the sock company I had worked for almost two decades to complete my degree, and thirteen years ago, I left it again after working in its information technology department because the company was going out of business. My friends who worked there are still my friends now, and I believe my friends at my last job will continue to be my buddies long into the future. That’s the beauty of social media. It allows you to reconnect with people whom you may not be able to before Facebook and other forms of social media. I guess Facebook is not all about wasting time.

Of course, I’ve got the usual weight loss goal, which by the way; Oprah has nothing on me with yo-yo dieting. My stress level goes up and so does my food intake. Stuffing my mouth with all kinds of comfort foods, inhaling them like a drunk binge drinking, killing myself with a fork one bite at a time, I stuffed myself with all kinds of sweet or greasy junk. After skyrocketing stress levels for a few years, my stress decreased in 2015, and the weight is coming off without too much effort. Must be something to that cortisol stuff…

I am going to continue to rebuild my life after almost self-destructing after Dan died. It will take time, will be hard to do, even painful, and it might bring a tear or two, but worth it, yes, indeed. Note to self, I am still breathing, so I keep trying.

Another goal is to write, write, and write some more, with finishing a book I’ve been working on here and there at the top of the list, and yes, get it published. I know I dream big and some will say I’m crazy (I’m used to that one), but I believe God doesn’t put anything in our hearts without a purpose. My high school English teacher once told our class, “Everybody has a book inside them.” I’ve got two books inside me busting to get out. I always knew I was little different.

Reinventing yourself is not easy. Failure and rejection are expected, and in writing rejection is a part of the process. It toughens the skin and makes you less likely to cry while making you try harder at improving your writing. That is true in everything though. The trick is simple: do not give up.

That is where the story of the little engine comes in to play. Writing a book is hard work, and getting it published is even harder. That is my dream, and if I don’t succeed in 2016, there’s 2017 for continuing the fight. Mama’s words echo in my mind, “Remember, I think I can, I think I can! You can do it!” I am going to give it one heckuva effort.

If you want something, work hard, and do not give up. The meme below lists famous people who did not give up, despite rejections and failure. Each of them put their pants on one leg at a time the same as you and me. We can succeed too. Happy New Year!

 

famous-failures

 

Featured Image Photo Credit:  Do not give up © ChristianChan – iStock by Getty Images

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2016. All rights reserved