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!

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!

 

 

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

A Christmas Struggle

A Christmas Struggle

The beloved movie, A Christmas Story, is a yearly staple of holiday entertainment for many people. Of course, there is A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Scrooge and his attitude adjustment. There is also another Christmas tale, not a movie or book, but a brutal reality. It is ‘A Christmas Struggle’ many of us wishes we did not experience.

This Christmas struggle is one of the hardest things in the grieving process I have had to deal with, and in my research, I have not read anything of substance on how to solve the problem. It takes time, sometimes a long time, I guess. Out of compassion, some people recognize it can be difficult for the grieving no matter how many years have passed, and they encourage those struggling to participate in all the holiday parties and festivities. For some of us, we’re appreciative of their kindness, but it does not work.

I loved Christmas. I know the reason for the season, the celebration of the birth of Jesus; nothing changed for me there. I lost the so-called ‘getting in the Christmas spirit’ part, something I excelled in, almost batting a thousand in that area.

Starting early with shopping for gifts, looking for new ornaments, which I loved collecting; the parties at work, sending Christmas cards, getting a tree, real or artificial, stringing the lights and loading the tree down with ornaments; decorating the yard trees, foundation shrubs, and along porch posts with twinkling or chasing lights. I loved every bit of it. I tried the icicle lights a couple of years, which didn’t work out too well, by the way.

Dan fussing about the money I spent, but not hiding he was happy I did all the shopping. Most of all I loved getting together with family and friends and giving them gifts I secretly hoped they loved. Dan didn’t share my enthusiasm for decorating, shopping, and spending money. He tolerated mine. He enjoyed being with family, with Kim, Cindy, Larry, Cindy’s husband, and especially Lucas, his first grandchild. I remember Christmas 2007 well—our last Christmas together. We had no idea. In fact, I was already planning the next Christmas.

Then came December 2008 and everything changed. Dan died on December 1. About two weeks afterwards, his younger brother went into the hospital and later died on Christmas Eve. The sadness of that time has never left me.

Each Christmas since then, has been a major effort with me trying to get through the season. I never thought I would say I do not care during the holidays. Some days I thought hibernation during late November and all through December would be preferable than dealing with the emptiness. I have made a few attempts at decorating over the years, but now I do not even bother. I seldom shop or do much of anything considered Christmasy.

Sadness creeps in when I think about Dan not seeing his new grandchildren, Evan and Emily. They will not know what a sweet and gentle man he was, and he cannot bounce them on his knee or swing them around making them laugh. Lucas is now a young man, and Dan cannot be there to watch him graduate from high school five months from now. In addition, Dan didn’t get a chance to meet Trevor, Kim’s husband. Dan cannot share the Christmas joy with Kim and Cindy and most of all…with me. I miss him.

Now, I know the ‘why’ for people who have trouble during the holidays. Nobody has to write it in big letters for me to read between the lines or see through the forced smiles people give to hide their sadness. I can understand it. I have also learned I am not alone. Others suffer in silence because people around them don’t understand how loss can affect them.

I am learning this Christmas struggle takes a long time to adjust to, as rebuilding a life without the person you lost is indeed a long and painful process. A widow once told me, “It’s never the same.” Not only do I see Dan in Cindy and Kim, I also see him in Lucas, Evan, and Emily in their smiles, the way they tilt their heads and so much more. I wish Dan were here to be a part of our lives and to share in the joy of Christmas. I wish. I wish. I wish.

Love comes with a cost because unless we outlive our loved ones, we will grieve their loss. None of us lives forever. Heartbreak is the price we pay for that love. Grieving does not stop after the funeral, after a month or a year, though the first, and I think the second years are the hardest. There is no getting over a loved one’s death—that is just a worn out myth. One learns to live with the loss, the emptiness, the sad moments when the memories flood back.

Some areas are harder than others to adjust to in dealing with loss, and for me it is the Christmas season. I am thankful for my patient family and friends who deal with my lack of enthusiasm during the holidays. I know God is going to get me through this season the same way He has before—one day at a time.

 

Festured Image Photo Credit: Broken Christmas tree bauble in snow © bellopropello – Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved

Missing Hero

Dr. Meg Meeker wrote an article entitled, “Your Daughter Needs a Hero,” in which she discusses how fathers can help their daughters. Girls need an authority figure, protector, a hero. For some of us, our hero unwillingly left us much too soon. I was four years old when I lost my twenty-eight year old father to a heart attack. The loss has affected me all my life. When other girls were going places with their dads or their dad chased a boy or two away, or greeted a date at the door before allowing his daughter out, my Dad’s body lay in a grave in a small cemetery by a country church. Although he’s been absent, my Daddy has been and still is a huge influence in my life.

My memories of my Daddy are few, but precious. I can remember him being on the stage of the auditorium of a local school, which is now a private school. We were sitting in the car with Mama, and I turned and looked toward the building as Mama was driving off. He was standing there on the stage, smiling, and singing. Years later, when Kim was little and appeared in Kindergarten plays on the same stage. I remember telling Dan my Daddy was on that same stage singing some thirty years before.

A snapshot in my memories is of him and Mama joking around. Another flash is of my cousin Carolyn and I drinking chocolate milk in the car while watching our Dads walking back from fishing at a local pond. If there’s a fishing gene, it’s in our DNA.

On a fall day while playing in the yard with my cousins at their house, we headed toward the front door. My Aunt Sarah stopped us at the door, and I caught a glimpse of my Daddy lying on the sofa. He appeared to be sick. Aunt Sarah came outside with her camera and took pictures of us, I believe, to keep us occupied and away from the house. She took us around back, and as I turned around, I saw my Uncle William and a neighbor helping him to the car. I never saw my Daddy alive again.

Those are the only memories I have, but I am grateful for them.

I don’t remember this scene, but Mama said it happened not long after Daddy died. She found me crying while sitting in a swing of the swing set Daddy put together for us not long before he died. She asked me, “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” She said I replied, “I don’t want my Daddy to be dead.”

A few years later, while looking at some photos of him, I asked Mama to name somebody my Daddy looked like. She told me he favored Marlon Brando, the Brando of the 50’s, so I searched through movie star magazines, no internet back in those days, of course, to find pictures of a young Brando. I compared them to the few photos I have of Daddy, and sure enough, my Daddy favored him.

Mama instilled his love of music in us. Daddy was one of those fortunate people who could teach themselves to play music, like the acoustic guitar, steel guitar, Mandolin, most anything with strings, and sing. His talent came from God. He and some of his close friends formed a band that played at different functions around the area. Years later, whenever I ran into any of them around town, they reminisced about Daddy, telling me what a likable, talented, and witty guy he was. Mama kept his memory alive, and these good gentlemen helped her with that task. They have no idea how much I appreciate their sharing their memories with me.

Daddy steel guitar and baby_2

I think if Daddy had lived and because I love him and loves me, we would’ve compromised on the music. He was a true, straight to the bone, Country and Western music enthusiast. No, he didn’t like the Beatles, and no, I don’t particularly care for most Country music. Mama said he used to tease my cousin Edna about the mophead boys from Liverpool during the early days of Beatlemania. Yet, I think he would’ve loved The Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By” from their album The Beatles, aka The White Album— a sweet little song with Jack Fallon’s fine fiddle playing and a sweet mixture of Country & Western and a bluesy melody. He would’ve picked it out on his guitar, no need for sheet music because he played everything by ear, we would’ve learned the words, and maybe even me playing the guitar a little. I can see us now, singing, laughing, having fun. If only…

I’ve wondered why God took my Daddy so young, and what our lives would’ve been like, with the exception of my older sister who died as an infant, our family intact and together. Though missing from most of my life, my Daddy has always been and will always be my hero. I love you, Daddy, and I’ll see ya again someday. Oh, the music we’ll sing and play when that day comes.

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved

A Whisper

You may think I’m crazy after you read this, but it’s ok. To coin the old familiar phrase, I’ve been called a lot worse.

The day Kim and Trevor married, clouds blanketed the sky, and the air was cool on that November Saturday. They wanted a beach wedding, so they decided to marry in the Florida beach town where he proposed to her a few months before. Trevor and Evan rode ahead to the beach, and Kim and I followed a few minutes later. On the way, the sun broke through, feathering the sky in silver and white strips of clouds, with patches of pale blue peeking through. The ocean calm, greenish, and switching to gray farther out and a long pier jutted out from the beach not far away. Picturesque scenery and a beautiful day!

Reed poles with ivory tulle were attached together to create the altar and both red and pink rose petals covered the powdery white sand. Near it, a large vase with two smaller vases stood waiting on top of a stool. Both of the smaller vases contained beach sand—one contained sand colored in Kim’s wedding color, purple, and the other vase contained sand in its natural color.

Someone on Etsy made a bouquet locket for Kim—heart-shaped silver charm encapsulating a photo of Dan she loved, with an ivory ribbon to secure it to her bouquet of ivory and purple flowers. She inherited Dan’s olive complexion, and her ivory gown complemented it perfectly. She was beautiful!

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She walked alone down the walkway and the short distance on the beach to the altar, so lovely and so happy. I watched her as she came nearer, experiencing the bittersweet moments of joy and sadness— joy for Kim and Trevor for their new life together, and sadness because Dan wasn’t there to walk her to the altar.

I sat watching Kim and Trevor exchange vows. Evan, sitting quietly in his red Radio Flyer wagon covered with burlap and trimmed in ivory tulle with a bow tied to the back, started smiling at me and becoming a little active. The Pastor’s wife saw his movements too, so she quietly got his attention to prevent him from tumbling out of his ride.

I turned to Kim and Trevor. Within in a few seconds, a seagull flew behind the altar. At that instant, I heard a soft whisper in my ear, “I’m here, babe.”

Tears filled my eyes and my heart overflowed with joy. An indescribable feeling engulfed me. I struggled to stop the water works. Of course, I forgot Kleenex—I didn’t think I would need a tissue. I watched Kim and Trevor pour the white sand and the purple sand into the large vase, symbolizing them joining their lives together. I believe Dan was watching them too.

You may think it was my imagination or whatever. I believe the whisper was a gift. God is so good at giving us gifts when we need them the most.

wagon bow

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved