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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!


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!

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.


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.


Unexpected Joy

Dear Reed –

              Well here we are. Last night a few of us were sitting in the hot tub, and unlike usual most lingered.  I was finally brave enough to utter what we were all thinking.  I don’t want to tomorrow to come.  I just want to blink and it be Saturday for Sister’s birthday. Everyone else just nodded, their hearts feeling exactly the same.

Yet, this year’s Saturday will be different for us as we will celebrate Sister but mourn the loss of the double birthday celebration as Uncle Sheldon will be there with you.  Maybe the two of you can start a new tradition of celebrating your birthdays together.  If you did, I think that would soothe Sister’s heart as she is really sad that she doesn’t have him to share a day.

Life has been a continued whirlwind around here, and we have so many things to look forward to and others that have brought us such joy.  Joy – that’s a pretty elusive word when you are grieving, but its very definition has at its core a lesson that I don’t think anyone can full comprehend until you have experienced its antonym – grief.

As we anticipate college graduations, further studies, big leadership roles, a big trip to the opening scene of one of your favorite movies and a couple weddings for our immediate family in the upcoming year, we also celebrate a few other things that we didn’t see clearly in the fog of our grief.  Some of joy’s lessons learned were to love large, to live unexpectedly while hoping expectantly, and to celebrate the little stuff.

Those lessons are how we are choosing to remember and celebrate you and your life today. You have a front row seat to God’s love, but here, here we have to muddle through and wait hopefully, expectantly to see how his love for us unfolds.  One of those moments was at Sawyer’s and Sydney’s engagement party.  The purpose was to introduce Sydney’s family to our created family, those who God brought together by friendship, if not by blood.  As I introduced Josh and his family and Damien and his, I said the words before I even realized it.  God is amazing.  I would give anything to have Reed back but he knows the deep recesses of my heart.  In losing one son, I gained two. 

              They could never truly be you, but they too love LARGE to fill that hole in our lives.  In just a couple weeks, Damien will marry his love and you my sweet boy will be one of the groomsmen in spirit.  You would love her too, as she picked that crazy goat picture to be the one that is carried down the aisle.  Words cannot even begin to tell you how honored we are that their little boy, like your second cousin before him, carries your name.  We are not biased at all, because we think they are perfect in every way.  And Josh’s girls know that every cardinal is a messenger of God even though they never met Uncle Reed.

We still miss those sneaky around the back hugs because they remind us of your zeal for giving and living unexpectedly, leaving a trail of sprinkled joy everywhere you went.  Today rather than be consumed by sadness, we are being intentional in following your lead.  Tonight, we will Squeeze the Stuffins by making stuffies that will bring endless hugs to those fighting cancer, and then out in Washington we sent our love and support to a fundraiser for homeless youth.  God may have given you an ocular condition that could have led to blindness, but he also gave you a heart to see the least of these and to champion them. We also chose to quietly recognize some unsung heroes today and gave them your favorite birthday cake.  Spreading joy unexpected, we are learning is an antidote to deep sadness.

fighting forMore birthdays

Celebrating the little stuff has always been our forte, and today will be no different even though we have a little help from your first best buddy’s family.  They choose to sprinkle unexpected joy today too, delivering a balloon ready to send to heaven along with cupcakes.

So even though we wanted to skip over this day because of the sadness it brings, we are choosing to smile through our tears and are choosing to live like you as our marching orders.  One of my favorite all time sermons is “It’s Friday”.  Today it’s Friday, and we are living with the reality of our hearts missing you.  Yet, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt because of Jesus’ Friday that Sunday’s coming and some day we will be with you again.

With every heartbeat, every cardinal song, every unexpected joy sprinkled in, every belly chuckle giggle, and every blessed sweet memory, we wait with hope, expectant.  No matter how far heaven is away our love transcends the distance. To us, that is God’s greatest superpower.

SD700 IS 050-1

Today we choose to live like you did because someday Sunday’s coming, and we will never stop loving you in all the days in between.

Loving you always,




Using the lasso of truth . . .

Over the course of the last year, I have really been doing some soul searching.  Not the existential meaning of life type, but rather pondering what truly brings me joy.  In my time of reflection and rumination (Doesn’t everyone swirl their thoughts over and over, again and again?), I have discovered that while grief and sadness creep into my life, I am often a saboteur of my own joy.

If you are looking for some deep tell-all confessional, you are probably looking in the wrong place.  My life for the most part is an open book.  This is not because I tend to be a social media over-sharer. Rather much of my writing comes from sharing things dear to my heart, but also because I feel God’s hand guiding me to share the gritty stuff beyond the veneer.  Many times I don’t want to share the under layers.  I am content to keep that hidden from the eyes of others, but when I do share my humanness inevitably someone reaches out to tell me they thought they were the only person dealing with whatever is impacting my life at the moment.

Just recently I had one of those experiences.  A dear friend reached out after reading my Facebook post for our 25th wedding anniversary in which I explained that we were choosing to say “I do” everyday despite the fact that we get on each other’s last nerves sometimes.  What she said completely blew me away.  “Thank you for being transparent, because from the outside looking in you are the perfect couple living the perfect life.”  My knee-jerk reaction was to laugh out loud because we are far from perfect.  But her remarks reminded me at how important it is to share that life isn’t always Pinterest pretty.

25 anniversary

Not perfect, but spent a perfect day celebrating together with family!

So here I sit ready to proclaim how I sabotage my own happiness.  In my pursuit for the jaunty chapeau, I have had to learn that no matter how much I or my children play into my fantasy. I am not really Wonder Woman.  By that I mean that I cannot do everything that I desire to do or complete all the requests for my time.

My head understands this, but my heart always seems to respond for assistance in all things that lead to Truth, Justice and the American Way.  

Some of my friends say that I actually exhaust them.  I am a wife, mom, doctoral student, adjunct professor at not one but two universities, author, speaker, advocate, volunteer, and small business owner.  I cannot do all of them with equal time and attention, but I find great strength in being truly multi-dimensional as well as deep seated gratefulness for receiving talents to pursue many different interests and passions.

Yet, every “yes” means a “no” to something else and therein lies the problem.  As I have striven to simplify most every angle of my life, I have learned that while it is easy for me to part with material clutter and electronic overload, for some reason I struggle to simply say “no, but thanks for thinking of me”. Wonder Woman never frets about how she is going to get it all done, but I do on a regular basis.  My inability to say to “no” often robs me of the joy of living simply.

I believe I don’t stand alone.  Even though we don’t don capes and tights, there are many moms, like me who are juggling many different tiaras and who are using their powers to give back to their families, their work places, and their communities.  While we can’t jump in our invisible planes to get away from it all, we can pause before we say “yes” to things that may take us away from the ones and the activities that we love and along the way, learn to discern what God’s plans are compared to our own.

Perhaps, just perhaps, recognizing this is a superpower after all. . .

Whatever is keeping you from living joyfully, I pray that you find away to use your lasso of truth to rope you back in.


My newest BIG idea

There is no comforting way to state it, but the rising costs of post-secondary studies is alarming, at best.  Multiply that fact by the real felt truth of three members of Team Stevens pursuing various degrees and those skyrocketing costs daily impact my family. Many sacrifices occur to put three members of the same family through college and graduate school at the same time.  Growing right before our eyes, and sometimes seemingly overnight, is the baby of this clan who is millimeters away from surpassing me in height. It won’t be too much longer and there will be a fourth member attending an institution of higher learning.  Thankfully, the older kiddos worked diligently in high school to earn amazing scholarships which have helped offset costs, and I have no doubt that their little sister will do the same. But still, I do fret about how much a college degree will cost for her.

I am nothing if not a BIG ideas girl, and I think I found the perfect solution.  I am going to start my very own scholarship program and I think I have discovered the foolproof funding structure.  I’m thinking my plan will have a success rate equal to the time I rewrote Meghan Trainor’s song “All About that Bass” to explain that shoes at the front door should touch the baseboard and not be recklessly thrown in the middle of the entryway after nearly dislocating my hip tripping over carelessly strewn shoes.  Seriously, it’s all about that baseboard! Lest you have trouble!

When I declared my desire to finally pursue my dream of earning a doctorate, I was also very clear on the changes that would have on our family.  Mom wouldn’t be able to drop everything to solve everyone else’s problems.  She also would have to miss out on some family things or be forced to take homework with her. Others would need to step in with meals, cleaning and laundry, but the biggest requests were to pare down the assorted clutter in our lives which honestly bogs me and my ability to think straight down.

I would love to tell you that my family did all those things with happy hearts and willing spirits, but if I did I would be lying.  To their defense, they have taken over most of the cooking, cleaning and laundry duties.  No one complains when I drag a backpack full of homework to basketball or volleyball tournaments, family gatherings, and beach vacations.  Honestly that last one I wanted to complain, but a goal is a goal and my professors have deadlines too. But it is the clutter that drives me nuts makes me *bleeping* CRAZY!

After a major momma meltdown, we finally took the plunge and got rid of 75% of what we owned, and while a great start, reducing the physical number of items didn’t remove the clutter mentality for my teammates.  Seriously, you give these people an inch they will take a Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout mile.  If one paper is placed on a previously clean surface, the result is something akin to this . . .

So what in the mayonnaise does a rant about clutter in my home have to do with my new scholarship program? Well, hopefully this explains it.


Most of the items in today’s invoice are repeat violations; so I will just give a quick pictorial tour of the charges.

invoice pic

Starting in the upper left hand corner and working clockwise.  Nice try with the napkin, but yet the other water marks on the table are from similar efforts to avoid using coasters like civilized people.  While I am all down with decorating like the hipsters, I don’t think McDonald’s smoothie cups and fruit snacks wrappers (look carefully) count as a minimalist’s dream ideal for home decor.  We aim to provide a general atmosphere of love and welcome at our home/headquarters, but last time I checked, reminding us of your most recent pedicure only serves to remind us how much more free time you have than the rest of us.  Finally, we all love Ruby and we don’t want her to meet the fate that one of my college roommate’s puppy (who similarly loved to chew) did when left alone with a live cord.

Now before anyone thinks this is too harsh a penalty, I thought $10 for my maid service for a day was a steal, because honestly there are days where I spend three hours picking up other people’s clutter before I get one minute of teaching or homework done.  So while I am instituting some Coach Carter smack down, I am still a momma with a heart and I gave her a bit of a break on what my time is actually worth.

So there you have it!  My new scholarship program in a nutshell.  Believe me, this was a slim day, and by the time I collect all these fees and future ones, I am pretty sure we can partially fund my remaining year of study and Sal, well, at this rate, she can write her ticket to her dream school!

They tell me a messy room is a sign of problem solving at work, but I am not buying it. So, here’s to great ideas that are going to be kid-tested but are definitely mom-approved.

In all seriousness, hug your kiddos today!