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Christmas Newsletter 2018

I am so sorry for the lapse in blog posts.  It has been an incredibly wonderful, but busy Fall Semester.  Just know that I have been chasing a lifelong dream of getting a doctorate which is a very reward, yet challenging and altogether time-consuming experience.

This year we have traveled far and wide, and decided to have a little fun with our annual Christmas newsletter.

Christmas Newsletter 2018

Christmas Newsletter 2018 (1)

No matter how far or near you roam this holiday season, may you always find the love and peace of Christmas.  May your wander be filled with the wonder of the greatest present not being wrapped by paper, but rather swaddling cloths lying in a manger.

Much love!


Oh. So, you know our group.

This semester I am juggling more than I have in quite a while.  When I accepted my new teaching positions, I knew that something would have to go. I am incredibly passionate about all the things in which I participate; thus, deciding which thing to let go was an agonizing decision for me.  After spending time in prayer, I knew that my season on the church board was coming to an end and most likely so too was much of my time ministering to others. I cannot fathom a life not lived in service, and the decision to step away from the primary place of ministry for me was heartbreaking.

At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that it doesn’t matter where I am. God will open opportunities for me to love and serve others.  When I announced I was stepping down, I had no idea how God would show me that lesson in the oddest of places.

Currently I am balancing the demands of teaching on two campuses, finishing my doctoral studies, and completing obligatory travel for my newest position all while still being a mom, wife, and author/speaker.  Just typing that sentence I am exhausted.  With all the teaching and learning demands, I have decided to also make a serious commitment to my health and fitness.  Among other changes, I chose to start up my triathlon training again.

Before anyone gets any wrong idea, I am not stellar athlete. I am not a runner.  My friends tease me about a line in my book where I proclaim I don’t run . . . even if it is a really good sale.  Turns out there is truth to the old adage it’s like riding a bike.  The biking portion is my only saving grace.  I can ride bike.  Maybe not fast, but at least I possess that talent.  Only the swimming portion remains, and while I can swim great distances, I have never perfected the ability to swim without a snorkel.  My snorkel and I pound out the laps, which is allowed in the rules of “Mom’s Triathlon”.

What does this all this have to do with learning a lesson about serving others?  I’m getting there.  I promise.



Last week, I was swimming merrily along kind of like a mermaid, if a mermaid needed some breathing assistance.  At one point, I noticed a blue floral swimsuit awfully close to my lane.  Knowing the water aerobics class was taking place, I didn’t think much of it.  But on the next three laps, I noticed legs and flash of blue diving out of my way on every pass.  Eventually, I realize someone is in the lane.  Since the policy at my Y is all swimmers must share one lane during the aerobics class, I didn’t think much of it until I realized the legs and floral suit were always in the same spot.

I must have scared the poor lady to death as I popped up out of the water and tried to communicate with a snorkel and mask that I only had 5 laps left to finish my half mile swim.  Looking like Scuba Steve was bad enough, the fact that English is her second language only complicated matters further.  On the next pass by, she was gone.  I finished out the half-mile swim feeling like I was dragging the albatross and wearing the cone of shame because in front of the entirely crowded pool I was the jerk who kicked someone out of the swimming lane.

After I finished up, I found her in the crowd and profusely apologized.  In her broken English and my contrite heart, I learned that my new friend was just learning to swim so that is why she didn’t stray far from the side of the pool.  She asked about my snorkel.  I happened to have an extra one in my swim bag; so, I let her try it out and our conversation carried into the locker room.  Really God?  I am brokenhearted over giving up devoted time to service, and you use the lap lane to teach me a lesson about blooming where I am planted . . . or floating.

A few days later I was holed up in a hotel between visits of high schools for the dual enrollment courses I am mentoring.  I was homesick and missing my family.  I had been on the road twelve out of the last fourteen days and ready to be finishing up.  The school I need to visit that day was about 25 miles away, but class started at 2:25 and check-out at the hotel was noon.  There really wasn’t much to do in between besides homework.

I drug my feet until the last second on checkout, popping my leftovers in microwave to take and eat in the breakfast area.  I was expecting to be eating alone, and was shocked when I walked into a packed room with cleaning staff, many of whom were individuals with intellectual disabilities.  As soon as I sat down, one was flipping the channels between FIFA and boxing, several where having a lively chat, and one decided to chat away with me.

One of the supervisors quickly apologized and said, “Oh please don’t let our group bother you.” I hastily explained that they were no bother and that I was a teacher traveling through.  Immediately the chief supervisor retorted with an understanding nod, “Oh. So, you know our group.” The lunch was delightful and after eating, I packed up to go, wishing everyone a great day.

Many in the group were waiting for the bus as I loaded into the van, and one sweet guy stopped me.

“Make sure you drive safe.  Have a great day,” he said, before returning to scrolling through his phone.

His kindness caught me off-guard.  I smiled and nodded, because I couldn’t get the words of gratitude out.  As soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat, the tears started to flow.  They weren’t salty drops of sadness, but heartfelt tears of gratitude recognizing the lesson God had wanted to teach me.

Through my tears, I poured out my heart.  Thank you, God, for the best lunch ever!  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to dine with some of your most amazing creations!  Thank you for showing me that sometimes service just means being present in the moment to love others.  Thank you for using a sweet guy at a hotel to minister to me, the least of these.  Thank you for his example of service and the power of a few kind words.

Wherever you are today, may you both be blessed and be a blessing.  You never know who or what God will put in your path, breakfast nook or lane.

Dear Middle School Teacher

Dear Middle School Teachers

It’s Back-to-School time, and I can about imagine you are running on caffeine, little sleep, exhaustion, and bundles of nerves of hopeful anticipation of all the amazing dreams you have for the students entrusted to your care.  I get it, because I used to be you.

Few of us choose middle school as our ultimate teaching assignment, but middle schoolers need teachers too. For some of us, we were sentenced to a term in middle school because there were no other openings available.  Even though I have moved on to a different level of education, at the end of the day I still consider myself a middle school specialist.  Even though middle school wasn’t my first choice, there is no other group of students who hold a more precious place in my heart.  I miss the days of working with learners who were young enough to still be genuinely excited about learning and not old enough to be completely jaded about just about everything in life.

Many people would shudder at even the thought of working with this group of students because I think the painful memories of their own experiences with early adolescence cloud their judgment.  But I am thankful for you – the amazing middle school teachers who show up each day ready to change the world by showing these early teens how incredibly awesome they really are!

You make more of a difference than you will ever know. In my areas of study, you brave educators in the middle school trenches are often listed as the reason many girls who chose STEM majors and careers found an interest in the areas that girls believe they aren’t supposed to be good at.  You open the doors to new dreams, to the possibilities of new ideas, and to eye-opening experiences of new adventures.

You teach so much more than the content assigned by your contracts.  You reconfigure neural networks, but you also shape and mold hearts and develop the traits of persistence, resilience, integrity, and compassion.  And sometimes, you teach children the appropriate ways to be rebels because yes, my dear ones, the world will always need those souls who are willing to stand up for injustice and be creative enough to think outside of the box to bring solutions to society’s big problems.

But I know what you do isn’t easy.  There are long hours that go beyond the school day, carrying over into weekends, evenings, holidays, and yes, despite the moronic myth of summers off, even there too. There is never a time that you aren’t thinking about how you can use some new encounter in your classroom.

Being an educator is much like being a parent in that it can be singularly the most exhausting experience while simultaneously being the most rewarding too.  For some of us that time spent in middle school ended up being the BEST. DARN. DECISION. of our careers.

I know those times of frustration will arise, but hang on, my friends, because you will see an act of kindness from a kiddo that you didn’t know was possible or you will see a child who has been struggling suddenly have the light bulb come on.  It is in those precious moments that you are etching your place in the that learner’s future.  Savor those moments and bottle them up as the antidote to any frustrations you experience because what you do day-in and day-out matters.

It matters A LOT.


A conversation recently reminded me how much what you do matters. Talking on the phone with my best friend, she asked how my youngest was feeling about school starting.  I relayed that she was excited but was also torn because it was her last year at the middle school.  Her time at Marshall Middle School has been the absolute best experience of all of her years of schooling and she was feeling the bittersweet tug of knowing that every moment of her time this year would be the last.

My bestie’s prophetic words stopped me in my tracks.  How incredibly awesome for her that she will be able to look back on her middle school years and remember them as a sacred time.

She was right.

Not many adults can say that and much of what my sweet girl has considered amazing comes as a direct result of your efforts.

No matter where you teach, my dear middle school teaching friends, I couldn’t be more thankful for all the hard work each of you does!

So, just in case you didn’t know it – YOU. ARE. AMAZING!

Wishing you and all your students the best year ever!

Go get your TEACH on!

Be intentional . . .

As an educator, Back-to-School is always a time of chaos and bundles of nerves and anticipation of all the hopes and dreams I have for each and every one of the scholars entrusted to my care.  Last week was no exception, but Tuesday morning felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  Fairly early in the day, a student alerted me to the national news sweeping the nation – the body of the sweet Iowa student missing for more than month had been found.  Later in the day as more details unfolded, my whole body went numb for the Tibbetts family because I know first-hand, beyond the shock of traumatic grief, the political firestorm that was about to fall into their laps.

One sweet friend somehow knew my anguish because this was her text message early that afternoon.

Thought of you after the Iowa news today.  I know this hits home for you.

How did she know that every fiber of my being wanted to pile into the old trusty minivan and drive to Iowa to simply hug Mollie’s family and to tell them that they will get through all of this – this crazy new world of grief and being stuck in the middle of people’s agendas? I knew they would have to communicate in the cacophony of noise that she was a beloved daughter, sister, and friend who meant the world to them.

I know because we live through it.

The bus crash ten years ago, caused by a woman in this country illegally, that took the life of our son, Reed, and three other precious friends, while injuring 14 others has lingering effects. As much as some people want me to say, lived, as in you lived through it, our children still face in the very real and in the present tense damage to their bodies and will do so for the rest of their lives.  Even though the intensity of grief lessens with time, its tentacles still sneak up in some cosmic wrestling match that never ends and chokes us every now and again.  You close on houses and business deals, but never on your children. We have chosen to not allow grief to be our identity, but even in that powerful choice, the aftermath of grief is long reaching. 

We chose to live lives honoring our son’s and brother’s memory. Yet, when your child dies and that death is directly linked to a hot button, highly politicized issue the octopod limbs of grief sneak in with stranglehold strength when news feeds and social media posts, arguing both sides of the political aisles, flood every corner of our world.

I get it. People are passionate about their point of view, but you want to know how much help your vehement spewing commentary of your beliefs helps the grieving family.

NONE. Not one bit. Not at all.  Zero percent.

In the intensive care unit where we were helping our other son fight to live, it took 3 days before we knew any details of the bus crash or information about the woman who killed and injured our children.  Her immigration status did not change one iota of the reality of the nightmare we were living, then or now, but learning that social media was sporting lovely posts calling us racists after her arrest only added salt to our very deep and personal wounds. I have chosen to forgive our offender, but I will be honest and say that I bristle (and sometimes with alarming shock) when I see people I love posting about illegal immigration as if it is a black and white issue.

It is not.

Yet in that spectrum of gray, the one thing it is definitely not is a rallying cry following the death of a beloved son or daughter.

Our children were so much more than the circumstances of their deaths, and using their deaths to push forward a political agenda diminishes the shining lights they were in the world.  Stop using their deaths as exclamation points in your commentaries.

It is wrong.  It is hurtful. Most importantly, it does nothing to help grieving families.

I understand being passionate.  I understand that a death of a child always leaves a family and the surrounding community mourning the loss of today, but also of the possibilities of all the tomorrows.  I also profoundly understand the compelling need to want to do something – anything – that will let the world know we acknowledge the pain of that loss.

I have never witnessed a changed heart due to a heated conversation on social media. All I have ever seen is the creation of brokenness within relationships and a general malaise with the spreading of mistrust.  Instead of using our pain and our shock to share our beliefs furthering division, let’s remember that the Reed Stevens and Mollie Tibbetts of the world were real people with real families who will miss them always.

If your soul is whispering or even YELLING – you have do or say something, I have a suggestion that might be much more powerful than non-productive argument.  All of the children I know in these highly publicized stories were once students.  If you are compelled to action, then why not considering honoring their lives by changing the lives of others.

Right now, millions of children have gone back to school and others will be heading back next week.  Why not consider adopting a classroom or teacher and finding out what you could do to help those children succeed?  Instead of spreading discord, be the person who shows up to love.  If you can’t give financially, then give of your time.  Volunteer to read to a child or classroom.  Use the skills you have to contribute to another student’s future. Show up at lunch and simply sit with children and listen to their precious conversations.  Listen to their stories.  Listen to their dreams. I imagine none of them will say I want to grow up and spread negativity in the world and I want my ideas to hurt others, especially those who are grieving.

SD700 IS 001-Priceless picture

Be present. Be intentional. Show these students there are diverse ways to love even through our differences.

That’s the world, my son, Reed, believed in and contributed to EVERY DAY of his brief 12 years of life.

And, isn’t that the world we should all strive to create? 






What doesn’t kill you . . .

First impressions aren’t always what they seem, but I am certain a recent email exchange left one new colleague shaking her head. Lady, what in the mayonnaise? You spelled your name wrong on an important document.  In my defense the document was sent to me very late and was a fillable PDF form in which the font was very tiny. A finger slip must have happened in my haste, causing me to go from Stevens to Stevems.

Rather than recognizing this a teachable moment (for myself) to slow down and proofread before I hastily zip off documents, it became more a trip down the nostalgic lane of no one (apparently including myself momentarily) spells my name correctly.  Even aunts and uncles spell my name wrong and they’ve known me my entire life.  Having a unique spelling has plagued me to a life of all kinds of interesting encounters.

I attended school when the attendance roster was handwritten into a gradebook by teachers who had dedicated themselves to legible penmanship, lest we wayward students not be able to unravel the mysteries of the learning universe due to their poor handwriting.  But trying to squeeze that intricate cursive writing into the tiny red and blue lines on slightly yellow-green paper of red or blue gradebooks left uppercase “K” often resembling uppercase “R”.  Similar to the Key and Peele substitute teacher scene with A-Aron, I never once had a fill-in teacher call for Kandy in the role call.  Is Randy here? If I wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t even notice where in the alphabetical lineup the sub was calling out names.  Randy? Randy Noles? Randy are you here? Um, do you mean Kandy? Yes, I am here.  

Every. Single. Time.

Most of my growing up years, I tried to correct people, but after the prom ticket mix-up, I decided to acquiesce and just accept that my name would never be spelled correctly. The nice young man that I was dating at the time went to buy the prom tickets and being from the South, the sellers used the beautiful coachmen envelope system (one white envelope inside another so as not to sully the precious cargo contained within).  They wrote in a beautiful attempt at calligraphy his name and then attempted to write mine.  Below is what my name looked like on that outer envelope along with a running commentary on what he said to them.

Candy Knowles  No, Kandy with “K”, but not on Noles.

Kandie Nowles No, Kandy with “Y”

Kandey Nowles No, Kandy with just a “K” and “Y”. Noles without a “W”

Kandy Nolls  No, Noles with an “e-s”

Kandy Nolles  [Insert exasperation] NO! Noles with an “l-e-s”. Like Florida State. N-O-L-E-S

Kandy Noles

I felt so bad for him when he showed me the envelope, because that is exactly how it looked with all the various iterations of my name written and crossed off until the correct spellings were intact. But for the life of me, I never did figure out how they got his last name “Heintzelman” correct on the very first try. Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me?

After throwing in the towel, I never really thought about the spelling of my name or potential names until I was briefly engaged to a young man who had a last name which started with “K”.  I was horrified when I realized that if I married him I would never be able to get anything professionally monogrammed since Kim is my middle name.  There numerous reasons for calling off our engagement, but offensive monogram could have been added to the list.

After my trip down unique spellings memory lane, I sent an apology email which ended with this brief explanation.

Well to be honest, I am so used to my name(s) being spelled wrong that I just gloss it over.  I’ve never been able to find an engraved pencil my whole life.

Her reply only made the whole misspelling disaster worth it.  She told me that she was sorry, but my response made her laugh only from the “I get what you are saying” because her husband has a unique name and he could never find a personalized pencil or bicycle license plate.

Bicycle license plate! Bahaha!  That’s good stuff!

Yep.  She gets me.  So somewhere between being called Randy or Kandace (which my name is not an abbreviation of) and never finding anything engraved with my name at the tourist shops, I have learned to navigate life with a never-going-to-be-spelled-correctly-name. Ever.

It’s okay.  Don’t think I harbor any ill will to my parents for this unique moniker doomed to mistaken spelling, because I perpetuated the same sin with one of my children who gets everything from Chloe to Cole for Cloie.  Only add to her misery the advent of today’s technology which leaves her text messages with an autocorrect of “Hey! It’s me Cloud!”.

no. 2

Like the Kelly Clarkson song says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – or at least equips you with a good sense of humor while wielding our plain ol’ No. 2 pencils.

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!


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.


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.


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!




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!