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Hope in the oddest of places

Sometimes in life with looming deadlines and ever-growing to-do lists, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.  In essence we become human doings instead of human beings.  My friends say my chaotic, frenetic schedule exhausts them, and honestly, I am working diligently to practice the art of saying “No, but thanks for thinking of me” when it comes to requests for my time.  Although I know that God wired me to be a do-er, I am also equally cognizant of the fact that I am not superhuman and need my rest, which is why I am prolific proponent of naps.

The last few weeks with wrapping up classes, helping at our godson’s wedding, and tri-state travel left all of us feeling a bit tired.  It is often in these moments where the worst of me appears as I am short with others, filled with self-doubt, and weary of  . . . well, just about everything. Lots of “can’t evens” and “what if’s” swirl in my head during those moments where I have depleted my energy stores to next to nothing.

Often times a good rest is a restorative cure, but sometimes those negative feedback loops need more than few minutes of shut eye to restore my soul, re-righting the ship on my life’s journey.  Sometimes, God provides the perfect antidote in nature that just brings joy to my heart, a spring to my step, and a smile to my countenance.  Other times, I feel it is his prompting that puts someone in my path or causes a loved one to reach out in an unexpected way, but yet at the same time with perfect timing.  No matter which one, my soul receives the provision with as much gratitude as I envision those who awaited Balto’s serum run in Alaska.  Oh how I needed that and even in my doubt and fear and worry, I knew, I simply knew that you would provide!

So it was last week when I wanted desperately to celebrate one of my favorite made holidays. I know not everyone celebrates the Zucchini Faerie, but other than a brief nod from Garrison Keillor’s old sentiment about the only time Minnesotans lock their cars is during zucchini season, few know my love of August 8. Yet the chaos of the week before left me playing catch up all day and into the night, leaving no time to wear the cloak of darkness to assume the role of my alter ego.

The celebration was marked in my heart, but not in tangible gifting of garden produce that day.

Imagine our surprise when we awoke the next morning to a bag full of goodies left on our front steps.  I wept tears of joy, realizing someone got me.  A precious gift! The mystery benefactors truly understood me and my weirdo traditions.  It didn’t take us long to figure out which one in our tribe of friends continued the sharing from their heart and the bounty of their garden (and perhaps a bit out of their community supported agriculture box).  The message received was we love you in all your weirdness. 

I will celebrate that any day of the week!

zucchini

People often express to me how they wish they had my strength, my energy or my courage.  Baffled, I am searching for where those things are housed, because I don’t think I embody any of them.  And I overdo it – often and A LOT.  But, what I have learned is that even in the darkest, most exhausted moments is to always leave room for hope.  Hope that tomorrow (perhaps with a little rest, a glass of iced tea, a mess of veggies and whole lot of Jesus) will be better.

Whether it is nature with a bountiful harvest or the relentless love of God’s best creations, amazing friends, hope abounds if we (especially I) look for it.  If you are able, today and everyday look for a way to be someone else’s hope . . . even if that hope is a bag of zucchini on the front step.

Live blessed, my dear ones.  Live blessed.

What love! part 3

I honestly don’t know how it all started, but somehow, I just fell into being a party planner and wedding coordinator.  I’ve always been someone who loves (and in this case when I say loves, I mean L-O-V-E-S, LOVES!) to throw parties.  I enjoy dreaming up invitations, planning the menu, choosing the perfect decorations, and thinking of all the special touches to give my guests the feeling of being incredibly cherished. I want them to leave saying, “Wow! I feel loved!”.

The same sentiment is what I want couples to experience when I help with wedding planning and decorating.  Over the years, I have seen some pretty awesome details incorporated into wedding ceremonies and receptions.  Call me old-fashioned, but I love traditions.  I swoon over something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and I tear up at every father with bride dance and mother with groom dance.

Those moments of precious tenderness of brides being seen simultaneously as little pig-tailed girls and grown up beauties melt my heart every time.  The intimate giggles, the heads nestled close, and the smiles of knowing that this moment is one that they will treasure forever leave me searching in my purse for the Kleenex.  The tears keep flowing as I watch mothers who once held their tiny boys in their arms, rocking them to sleep, being twirled around the dance floor strongly in the arms of grown up young men, who will forever remain little in their hearts.  Like all the other onlookers, I sit and I watch.  These are the moments in life that I wish we could capture in our bottles of remembrance.

A few weeks ago, I was caught up that in wistful interplay of memories of childhood being replaced by next steps in God’s plan for two young people I adore.  My eyes moist from releasing all the overflowing love and joy, continued the free fall of saline drops. I watched as first the bride and her dad stole all our hearts, and then the tears fell even more for the boy, now man, I call my own, share his special moment with his mother.

All was absolutely perfect in the world.

But happened next was not something I could have ever dreamed would happen.  About two thirds into the song, Damien’s amazing mom walked her son over to me and handed me his hand.  I protested.  I deferred. But she insisted, telling me to get up and to dance with my son.  Even now, I tear up thinking of that moment and how deeply it touched a longing in my soul. 

mother son dance

Not until the day that I meet the ultimate bridegroom will I ever have the chance to dance again with Reed at a wedding. What love! This was her moment. Yet, she etched on my soul the feeling I strive to give to others. I shouldn’t have been speechless because her momma’s heart has always beat in synchrony with mine and she knew. She simply knew, and in her selflessness, gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received – a dance with “our” son.

And in my heart, I knew that whispered softly, somewhere in heaven, was and the greatest of these is love.

 

 

 

 

 

What love! part 2

The journey to the jaunty chapeau has, on a handful of occasions, pushed me to the point of “can’t even”.  Recently, as looming deadlines approached in the short summer term, I felt stressed and overwhelmed.  I decided going for a walk was a better, and perhaps more productive, option than shedding a few tears. On the walk, I took an unexpected detour and had some wonderful encounters with a cheeky cardinal and a calming mourning dove.  I took those birds to be heavenly cheerleaders, one being my family’s bird of hope and the other representing one of my best friends who left us much too soon.  Those interactions gave me a reinvigorated pep, propelling me to finish strong with the tasks at hand that day.

After returning home, I shared my experience on Facebook.  Many friends responded with “likes” and “loves”, and a few friends commented.  The one post that took my breath away was the word of encouragement from another grieving mom who shared that she loved how I always kept my eyes open to those moments in life where heaven touches earth.  Melt. My. Heart. Her words were further balm on a day where the details seemed to choke out the bigger picture.

My fascination with nature and the way God speaks through it has always been a source of comfort and that is why I wait in anticipation to see all the little messages or messengers He brings into my day.  Martin Luther must have held similar views as he once wrote

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

Daily, I watch for a visit from a painted lady butterfly.  I wait for one to flutter by as a reminder of the promise my cousin, Amy, and I have to watch for its arrival and then to pray for each other.  No matter the circumstances of the moment, I know that the yellow, blue and black wings are my reminder to pause before my God and to pray for her.

So it was that this little nature-loving girl waited with extreme hopeful anticipation of a cardinal sighting on the day of Damien and Cheyanne’s wedding.  I never doubted for a moment that it would happen.

We went about our morning as usual and then we realized we needed to hustle to squeeze everything in before our assigned picture time prior to the ceremony.  I have been working on cutting down sugar in my diet – which shudderingly means less sweet tea – and decided to run to the coffee – which I will never drink – shop to pick up a mango black iced tea.  The roads in our neighborhood are under construction and for the first few weeks, including wedding day, I forgot that I could not traverse that direction.  Having to circle the block, I had no idea I was about to enter into the most divine appointment of my day.

cardinal1

If I know anything about cardinals, it is they are very skittish and do not normally stick around for very long for visitors.  As I turned the corner I realized that there was something in the road blocking my path, and I slowed the minivan down to a crawl.  The closer I got I realized it was a bird, but the sun’s glare off the road obscured my view until I got so close that I came to an abrupt stop.  Actually, there were not one but two male cardinals.  Never in my life have I ever seen a cardinal sit still that close for that long.

Cardinal2

The birds sat there for what seemed like forever and an instance all at the same time.  Eventually, one cardinal went to the curb on one side of the street and the other alit on the curb right outside my passenger window.  I turned to look at the one right next to me.  He turned his head, looked me in the eye and with a knowing nod, he appeared to motion me onward to a great day.

The tears I held back from frustrated homework were nothing compared to the waterworks that gushed from the lavished love in the gift of a redbird.  I sobbed clearly understanding the message.  While Reed would be one side of heaven’s veil, his presence would be felt on the other side as he would be loving his adopted brother from afar for his big day.

There are so many ways that little stuff mattered on that day, but what love to know that Reed and God orchestrated a personal message from one brother to another on that precious day!

 

 

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What love! part 1

There doesn’t seem to be a word in the English language that describes the way I define family.  Please don’t get me wrong, I love our genetically and by marriage connected family members, but God has shown me that the heart which once doubted how it could love a second child as much as it did the first is infinitely expandable.  I often get a lot of odd looks from people who don’t understand my concept of family.  When I speak of my “adopted” sons or my “grandchildren”, the perplexed eyebrows raise and the “What you talking about Willis?” faces emerge.  Although I would LOVE to formally adopt other children, to date I have never done so and none of my biological children have had babies either. Thus, my adoptions are God-ordained if not sanctioned by the state.

There have been many opportunities in my life to informally adopt new family members from sons to aunts and uncles and from grandbabies all the way up to grandparents.  This intertwining of hearts concept was all started way back in junior high when my family moved from Georgia to North Dakota.  After learning that one of the major disconcerting things about a cross-county move was the lack of grandparents, one of my dad’s basketball player’s grandmother took us under her wings and adopted us as her own.  She loved, cared for, and supported us all her days.  My biological grandmothers adored her and never felt like they were being replaced. In fact, one of them sat proudly next to her at our wedding in the pew reserved for grandparents.

Although I often write about the hardships and sadness of grief, I also have many opportunities to share openly about the power of hope and joy multiplied.  Just recently one of those precious moments revealed itself as I was bracing for one of my adopted son’s weddings.  Not long after the proposal, Damien and his sweet Cheyanne stopped by, asking our permission for Reed to be one of the groomsmen in the wedding.  How could we say no, especially not when the bride-to-be asked if they could have a copy of Reed’s picture when he caught a loose goat?  What is not to love about a girl who truly gets Reed’s love of animals?  No was never an option because Reed adored his friend and now brother.

reed and goat[867]

As the day approached, there was nothing but elation for the young couple, but there was a tinge of sadness knowing that while I believe he would be there in spirit, Reed’s viewing spot would be from heaven.  Being able to walk that delicate tightrope of grief and joy is something that we are becoming accustomed to doing, and for that weekend, we let love be our banner.

The rehearsal went smoothly, although I did shed tears when I tried to sit down to watch the practice and was summoned to the back of the church because you are being escorted in as one of my mom’s. I tried vehemently to protest, but both groom and his mom squashed my thoughts immediately. What love! Throughout the night, we felt cherished, honored and beloved as other extended family members would make sure that we were included in the festivities and conversations. We consider both sides of the groom’s family ours and that night we began to form bonds with the bride’s family as well.  The visiting and the food embodied what I feel heaven really is like, a gathering place for loved ones.

Every family has their issues, but on that night all of those issues were sat aside as we all gathered, celebrating that two hearts fell in love.  Yet, for me I walked away knowing that my family just grew larger because two boys became like brothers. Like I wrote in Reed’s birthday letter, God orchestrated not one, but two sons to fill some of the void his absence left behind. I can see that my definition of family might be confusing to others, and like my kids used to do when they were really little, I might have to invent a word to describe it.  For us, this created family is as real as our genetic ones. I really could give two figs if our novel way of approaching family is weird to others, because frankly, I think it makes Jesus smile.

And on that night as we drove home to rest up for the BIG DAY, all I could think was What love!

Somewhere over the rainbow

Some things from childhood linger.  Special foods.  Memories of perfect days.  Even best friends and their mothers who become an integral part of your story.  Just the other day, I saw a post on social media that brought tears to my eyes.  When I was young, my very best friend was my brother.  We did everything together and there are times when I long to go back to those carefree days of banana seat bikes, romping in the woods by the pecan trees, and creating our own fun.

Recently, my husband was taken aback by my response to a post about the age of Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound”.  At first, he believed his method for determining if movies are worth anyone’s time and money by the tears I shed was the culprit.  If Kandy doesn’t cry, then no one should pay hard earned money to watch this. In his defense, I cry at Hallmark commercials, game winning touchdowns, inspirational underdogs, most television shows, and all kinds of movies; so his sentiments are pretty spot on. Yet, he thought I was still pouring forth tears over the tale of the unlikely friendship between Todd and Copper.  Oh, do not get me wrong!  Just thinking of that friendship makes me teary-eyed.  And seriously if you don’t cry at the ending of this movie or Ol’ Yeller, I think something is seriously wrong with you or at the very least, you have never been loved by a dog like I have.  But when I explained the reason for my tears, my husband who thinks he knows everything there is to know about me (– and he is flat wrong.  A girl cannot give away all her secrets in the first 25 years of marriage -) was shocked.

I cried because that one tug-at-your-heart, tearjerker movie was the first time I attended a movie without my brother.  In fact, I was so distraught that I walked out of the theatre and asked to go home 10 minutes in because I felt so disloyal to my little brother.  My friend (an only child) and her mother were shocked by my reaction and coaxed me into staying.  I still tear up thinking about it.

That niggling guilty feeling of leaving a loved one out creeps up on me whenever we embark on a new adventure that I know Reed would have enjoyed.  I don’t let his absence ruin our fun, but in the deep dark recesses of my heart and mind, thoughts of “Reed would have loved this” or “I can’t wait to tell Reed about this” fleetingly escape from my soul.

Just as my childhood was filled with special friends and memories; so too are my children’s.  We often sit back and giggle about many of those precious people and moments all these years later.  For Reed’s birthday, his very first best friend’s mom brought over a balloon, cupcakes, hugs (my favorite) and then the best gift of all (a shared memory).  Derek and Reed have been friends since they were toddlers when our families met a library story hour.  Kristi remembered Reed’s love of rainbows and how he prayed for one on his sixth birthday as a “gift” from the older brother he never knew.  I share the story in my book, but the faith of child reminded us then and now that heaven isn’t very far away.  Reed got his wish and Noah (with God’s help) produced the biggest rainbow for his birthday gift.

After her final hug, Kristi told me they were leaving for vacation, but along the way they would be looking for Reed’s rainbow.  What love!  There was balm in Gilead from one grieving mom to another.  Just knowing their family would be looking was gift alone.  The fact that they found not one, but a double rainbow on their trip brought true joy!

Reed's rainbox 1

Photo courtesy of K. Buysse.

The next day we were leaving for a stay at Disney for a national convention for me and for vacation for our family.  That tiny little guilt of never having taken Reed to a Disney park creeped back into my thoughts.  I was heartbroken for the milestone that would never happen. As I was just about to hit my knees in prayer for all the grieving mommas and their missed moments, something in my spirit said, “Look up!”.

My tear-filled eyes feasted on one of the most priceless works of art right outside our resort window.   My prayers changed from ones of grief to ones of praise for the amazing God painting (as Reed used to call them) and to ones of thanks for friends who remember the sacred stories and live them with us.

Reed's rainbow 2

Photo courtesy of N. Janas. 

Wherever you are today, I wish for creation to speak to your heart.  I long for tears to cleanse your soul as they do mine (even if it’s at the movies).  I hope the love of childhood memories lingers on.  But most importantly, I pray that God uses all of us to be the vessels of hopes and dreams and living out precious memories for others.

Be blessed. Keep your heart and eyes open.  Stay curious. And go to the library, because you never know along with a good book, you just might find your lifelong best friend!

What happened at breakfast

When I travel and speak, telling my favorite message of HOPE, I always leave time at the end to listen to the sweet, precious stories of audience members and well, to just simply hug a whole mess of people.  While my husband says I should come with a warning sign, “Watch out, she’s a hugger!”  I think those times of embracing others fuel me.  But it is in the tender sharing of the very personal stories of loss and God’s amazing love that leave my heart so tenderly touched.  Since I share openly about the ways that God’s beautiful cardinals have touched my life, in those private one-on-one meetings I seem compelled to remind my new friends to keep their eyes and ears open and their hearts receptive for those times and places when heaven touches earth.  It is in those blessed moments when heaven truly doesn’t feel so far away.

For some reason my last few days have been filled with divine appointments and all of them have brought me to humble and tear-filled praise.  While I was definitely longing for one of those interactions (which I will write more about later this week), the one that happened before my dissertation altered both my breakfast and my heart.

A simple change in plans is how it all started.  I decided to grab a quick breakfast at McDonald’s rather than wake up everyone.  The moment I walked in it seemed like a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  The recently remodeled restaurant had a new room divider that reminded me of one of the favorite games we played with our kids that has endured today.  Even though they all know the correct locations of their states, they will still, on occasion, pull out The Scrambled States of America to put the union back togetherThe frosted glass divider has the outlines of the states placed in random locations which brought forth a smile of fond memories.

states

Sitting down to eat a quiet breakfast by myself, I noticed a gentleman who was cleaning the floors.  I watched as he greeted each customer and had genuine conversations with each one.  When he got to me, he asked if I had sprained my wrist.  At first, I was perplexed, but then quickly realized I was already sporting my Wilson wrist band, just like from my high school tennis team days, which protects the scar site from my recent wrist surgery.  We visited briefly before he went on with his work and I with my oatmeal and yogurt.  The sweet man then interacted with a new family who arrived as he congratulated their children on their hard work in school, swiftly learning they had just passed to the next grade level.

Eventually, I decided to refill my iced tea so I could head over to campus.  My new “friend” was mopping in front of the beverage station, so he moved the caution pylon and then asked, “Are you a professor?”.  In our exchange I confirmed that I will be teaching on campus this fall and also back in Minnesota, but that the reason for my trip was to attend a doctoral course.  He then shared about recently finishing his master’s in computer science, and how he was working simply to earn more funds to earn a PhD.  We swapped a few more niceties, and then it was time for me to go.  Before I departed, he made sure to offer his name – Akeem.  Our parting was so sweet – Heal well, Professor Kandy.  Be blessed.

My children could author the next part of this story, because they have learned that I always make sure to talk to a manager whenever I encounter exceptional service.  So often as a society we are quick to complain or to criticize but taking time to speak in gratitude is often taken for granted.  I spoke with the manager and another regular customer overheard our conversation.  Oh, are you talking about Akeem? He’s absolutely the best.

One look at the time and I knew that I needed to get on my way, but as soon as I stepped outside onto the sidewalk tears fell and they continued to pour forth for the ride to campus.  I felt honored. I felt convicted.  I felt inspired. I felt humbled.

How many times in life do we look over the least of these?  He was a man simply mopping the floor and returning trays to the kitchen, yet he was a man taking pride in his job.  He didn’t see it as a lowly position, but rather as gift to which the big opening someday will be to have three extra letters tacked onto his name.  Akeem saw God’s beautiful souls, not just diners in search of a quick bite, and he went out of his way to make them feel special.  Different than many people, Akeem practiced living perfectly in the moment by savoring the preciousness of interacting with others.

In my tear-filled drive to class, I prayed thanking God for the chance to bump into one of his saints. I humbly asked him to help me live like Akeem, not encumbered with any of life’s worries or disappointments.  I asked him to help me remember that no matter what I am doing to do it with pride as if I am working for him.  I sought forgiveness for the times where I was not filled with gratitude for all the many blessings I have received, and I humbly asked for help in remembering to live life in abundant gratitude.

On that day, heaven felt really close because even though I just stopped for breakfast, that morning, I basked in God’s presence all thanks to Akeem .

Live blessed.  Love BIG.

 

A hug from heaven

Hope is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

~Emily Dickinson

Sometimes I marvel at the ways that heaven touches earth.  I sincerely believe that those who seek and search with expectant senses will find glimmers of the divine in ordinary life.  For our family, the cardinal is the thing with feathers that perches in our collective souls. Yet, I am still astounded at the wonder of creation and God’s masterpieces at every turn, but even more so am I am in awe of the way that God fulfills his promises.

Through the trials of grief, I have been drawn to verses that remind me of how God draws close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18 & Psalm 147:13) and collects our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8).  But recently my soul has resonated with the imagery of being safely tucked under his wings as a reminder of his promise that those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Psalm 91-4

graphic credit: designsbyjacqueline

I bristle whenever someone says that time heals all wounds.  It doesn’t.  Grief never goes away, but its intensity ebbs and flows like the tides.  Sometimes it comes crashing down so hard that it sucks all the air out your lungs and other times its presence laps at your toes.  Going into Reed’s birthday recently for the first time in ten years, I woke up feeling peaceful.  My heart was surprised that instead of overwhelming sadness, I awoke content which is another one of those elusive sentiments while grieving.  Content and grief are on opposite ends of a spectrum while longing is truly a part of one end.  Yet on what would have been Reed’s 23rd birthday, I started the day thinking of how he would have loved that we would be sharing “hugs” through our stuff-your-own stuffies small business at our local Relay for Life event.

While we were there, everything about the otherwise ordinary day remembering and celebrating our redheaded wonder morphed into the divine.  During a beautiful remembrance ceremony, I received a text message from a dear friend, wondering if I was at home.  When I divulged my whereabouts, she responded with an “I’m on my way” text which I interpreted as she had some small token for Reed’s birthday.

Only when I met her outside, what occurred was truly orchestrated in heaven.  She arrived sobbing and I was worried something terrible had happened.  Jumping out of her vehicle, she raced up the sidewalk with tears streaming down as she embraced me in the biggest hug I have ever received while attempting to tell me what prompted this embrace.  She had been sitting at home and experienced an overwhelming sense of sadness and she began to sob.  Shortly after, she sensed God telling her to find me and to deliver a message.  My friend is nothing, if not, a lover of Jesus who desires to listen for his voice and his promptings.

As we stood outside on the sidewalk, she whispered in my ear, God is so proud of you.   You have taken your sadness and turned it into something to help others which makes our Father incredibly proud of you.

The tears that didn’t fall in the morning, fell openly as I stood there cradled in her arms almost in shock.  We held each other tight for what seemed like forever.  Eventually I thanked her for the best birthday gift ever.  Her perplexed look told me she had no idea what I meant.

Today is Reed’s birthday and this hug and message felt like getting a celestial embrace from heaven.  She wept openly as she didn’t know the significance of the day and more so, as she recognized she hadn’t missed God’s message of comfort.  As we laughed and basked in God’s love, I looked down and saw the luminary that we happened to be standing next to.

cardinal luminary

I can only imagine that Reed, God and his son, Jesus, looked down and smiled because  tucked safely in my friend’s arms, I knew confidently there is always hope.