God Gives Us Opportunities

“God will supply us with the opportunity, but it is up to us to do something with it.”

“Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives in the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” Corrie Ten Boom

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

“Be strong and immovable, work enthusiastically, nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” I Corinthians 15:58

Over the last few days I have experienced first hand the people and the opportunities God gives us, His opportunities are there every day, and it is up to us to acknowledge and make the most of the people and the opportunities He places in our lives. I will be the first to tell you that I do not always acknowledge them or use them to the best of my ability, I take them for granted. Yet, over the last few days the people and opportunities He has given me have blown me away and given me chills. They cannot be swept away or ignored, they cannot be taken for granted, I had to acknowledge them and grow from them. Hence this blog!

From an experience in our local grocery store, to an experience in my front yard, to experiences with relatives, and to experiences with memories and artifacts, God has presented me with many opportunities to be grateful for His love and mercy, and to grow from their existence in my life.

The grocery store experience was simple, yet strong enough to remind me of the good in others. The first was a young mother searching for Sage just days before making dressing for Thanksgiving, which was the same thing I was looking for. She was with her son, and we had a conversation about going several different places trying to find it, to no avail. I told her to have a wonderful Thanksgiving and proceeded to the dairy section. After being there several minutes, I heard the sweet voice of her son, “Ma’am, ma’am! We found some and my mother wanted me to find you and bring you some.” In his hands were two bottles, which he tried to give both to me. I told him thank you very much and took one. He smiled and turned and walked away. God’s intervention in both of our lives.

The experience in my front yard was just as simple, yet just as thought provoking! I was in the front yard raking leaves, yet again! After raking for a couple of hours, an elderly man walking down the street, stops and says, “Ma’am, it looks like you are getting your exercise. I know exactly how you feel, because I feel like I have raked every day for the last couple of weeks.” After a couple of minutes of both us lamenting about raking leaves and they keep falling, he looks at me and in all seriousness, says, “Ma’am, if you need help I will walk down to my house, get my rake, and come back and help you.” (This was an elderly gentleman of probably around his late 70s, early 80s, and struggling just to walk himself! Yet, he is putting the needs of others before himself.) My heart just stopped, and I told him thank you but that I was almost finished. He looked at me, smiled again, and said, “Well, honey, if you need help you just let me know. I will help you!” Again, I smiled and told him thank you very much. The rest of the afternoon I worked in our yard with a big smile on my face, and a song in my heart. I thanked God for his thoughtfulness to place this sweet man in my life on that day.

Then come the moments that God placed family in my daily presence to remind me of His faithfulness and plan for my life.

Through this Covid situation, and parents making decisions about their children and school, I have supported our daughter and her decision to keep my grandson at home and do virtual school. Cooper has asthma, and if he were to get Covid, it could cause him many health concerns. So at least once a week, I have him with me and I help him with his virtual school for the day so she can work from home. He is in the 5th grade! If that is not God presenting me with an opportunity, I do not know what it is. My love and passion in my 27 years of teaching was 5th grade. I love the Social Studies, the Science, the ELA, and even the math. The fact that it is my grandson and I get to help him with school is like a dream come true. He works so hard for me, and it makes me so happy to see him work to overcome the issues of virtual school and his learning disabilities. He is one tough kid, smart and kind, he makes me proud. The caveat to working with him, though is the Social Studies. I love history, and any student I have ever taught will tell you how much I love history. Yet, God really brought it home to me over the last couple of weeks when Cooper has been studying Immigration, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, WWI, and now WWII. I have such a passion for how these units are presented so that students understand the impact these events had on the United States then, and still have an impact today. My past students will also tell you how patriotic I am, and as a result I want to instill that same patriotism in my children and grandchildren. My parents and grandparents instilled patriotism in my heart, and I feel it should be there for every American. I want to give my grandchildren experiences that show them what it means to be an American. To share these moments and my knowledge with my grandson is a dream come true. Several years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to renovate his childhood home and move into it, we were both shocked and surprised to find the treasures from the Great Depression and WWII hidden behind the walls of the house. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent reading letters from his daddy as he served in the Marines during WWII from 1941 to 1946. Oh my, the letters, the photos, and all the other artifacts I have found behind the walls of the home I am blessed to live in now. I did not have the privilege to meet my father-in-law, he died before I met Steve. Oh, but if I had had that opportunity, I would have sat for hours listening to his stories if he had been willing to share. However, all I can do is read the letters, touch the photos, reverently touch his uniform and hats, and cry tears looking at and touching the flags, the helmets, and all the many others treasures he hid behind the walls. I have so many questions for him, and I just want to hug him and thank him for his service. As a young man, about 19 years of age, he joined the Marines. He ended up serving in the Philippines, Hawaii, Nagasaki, and who knows all the other places. I have sat on the floor for hours and cried as I read each letter! I have mentally made a list of all the questions I want to ask when I finally meet him in Heaven and believe me, I am going to ask questions. The thing that really thrills my heart though is that I get to share those artifacts, those letters, those pictures, and so much more with students across Greenville County, but more importantly with my grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. How special, how God given is that opportunity. Cooper is studying WWII right now, and over the last week I have been able to share Mr. Murrell’s things with him, and my heart is full! Today Cooper was completing a project about Pearl Harbor, and I was able to go upstairs and pull-down items Mr. Murrell had from Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, and WWII. If that is not a God given opportunity, I do not know what would be. Even if Cooper does not understand the implications of these things now at the age of 10, one day when he is in his 20s, 30s, or older he will remember and he will think of the day his Grammy shared with him the artifacts from WWII that his great-grandfather fought for. My heart is full. Thank you, God, for these opportunities with my grandson.

Yet the opportunity that just touched my heart and gave me chills this week was the conversation I had with my daughter-in-law’s brother, who has Multiple Sclerosis. He has been in a wheelchair for most of his life, but MS has not impacted his brain and his thinking in any way. He is one incredible young man, and every time I am blessed to have a conversation with him, I walk away in complete awe. Last Saturday was only one example. God gave me the opportunity to have a very meaningful conversation with him that started out as a conversation about his experiences in school, and the way he was treated simply because he was in a wheelchair. The fact that people could not look past the wheelchair to see all the possibilities he has within him and all the things he can do just breaks my heart! The wheelchair just stumped them! My heart broke for him and what he experienced as a student growing up through a faulty system. I told him I was familiar with that system because I taught in Special Education for over 10 years, and I knew firsthand the mistakes made. The fact that he thanked me for being a teacher that cared and went the extra mile was truly humbling. Yet, it was when our conversation took a turn towards our mutual love for history that my heart starting racing and a chill took over my body. I started telling him of the artifacts I had found, and there was a kindred spirit instantly. I love my children, but none of them have the same love of history as I do. Yet, here was someone I had taken for granted because of his disability, and all of sudden I am looking at him in a completely different light, and I have found someone I can talk to about my love of history. I cannot wait to share with him, to have discussions with him, and hopefully to gain more insight into the treasures I have found.

My love of history comes from parents who grew up during The Great Depression, WWII, Civil Rights, and so much more. My love of American history comes from parents who grew up during periods of sacrifice yet remained faithful to their country and their beliefs in God. My love of American history comes from parents who had an appreciation for their upbringing, the history of their country, and the Christian beliefs they were taught. My love of history comes from my parents love of music and the arts, and how they exposed us to those things while we were growing up. Yet here sat before me a young man who did not have those same experiences growing up, yet he professed a love and an extreme interest in American history, and my heart leaped, and goosebumps went all over. So now we have a standing appointment where he comes to my house and I share with him all the things I consider as family treasures. No one else may consider them as family treasures, but God gave me the opportunity to discover them, God gave me the opportunity to appreciate them, and so God will give me the opportunity to share them with others and to share history of our country that every American should be proud of.

God gives us opportunities. He gives us people, places, and things to share His message. I fell short in so many opportunities, until now. I think I finally understand God’s plan and His opportunities. I needed to go through every single opportunity, every experience, each hardship and failure, and each person to understand how He continues to work in our lives and to be appreciative of the moments, the opportunities, the people, and the experiences He places in our lives. The artifacts from WWII are such a small part but they have such a huge impact on my life, my beliefs, and the impact WWII had on our nation. These photos are just a small part of that impact.

Reflections

A Retired Teacher’s Reflections:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I am forever amazed at God’s presence in my life and how He has guided me towards His plan for my life all along. My plan included going to Elon University, majoring in Religion, and then going to seminary to become a minister. In my mind, it was what I was supposed to do. So, I went to Elon, and graduated with a degree in Religion, despite God giving all kinds of guidance and direction that my focus, His plan was for something totally different. Let us just say I am very stubborn, and after 4 ½ years of college, and no job options, I finally started praying to God and LISTENING to His words. Through several experiences at church and college, the direction was always there and now as I look back, I realize all the times He tried to tell me He had other plans for me. After graduation from Elon, and Mike graduated from UNC, life took a completely different direction for both of us, and we moved to Chapel Hill. Mike went back to school, Nursing School, and I got a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield. As Mike was working on his second degree, God truly started speaking to my heart about what He wanted me to do, and teaching was the direction. My heart had always been sensitive towards children with special needs and after a lot of prayer, I finally realized that was where God was leading me. After Mike graduated from UNC School of Nursing (with honors), and after the birth of our son, we soon headed to Greenville, NC where Mike would become Chief Flight Nurse for Eastcare, and I would start school at East Carolina University. In 1987, I graduated with honors, and then my world turned upside down with Mike’s death. Once again, God’s plan for my life took another turn, because instead of immediately going to work I felt like my son needed me more, so I put teaching on hold. We moved to Greenville, SC to be close to family, and I decided to pursue my Master’s in Education at Furman University while Patrick was in school. Then life took another turn when I met Steve, we got married, and I was pregnant again. Once again, I decided my daughter needed me more than I needed to teach, so I stayed home with her and my three nephews until they were four/five and ready to start kindergarten.

Finally it was time for my teaching career to start, time for God’s plan to continue (because I know now that all of those turns and twists in the road were part of God’s plan!), even though it took me 19 years to finally follow God’s plan for me to become a teacher, I learned so much about myself through each change in life. I became stronger in my faith, I became more confident in my ability to teach, and because of all the twists and turns God gave me patience to work with students of such varying needs that I am sometimes overwhelmed just thinking about His gifts. Isn’t God amazing? “Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7 I truly did not understand all the events I went through in life at the time, but now as a retired teacher I understand God’s plan and every stumble in the road I had to go through to get to this point in life.

So my reflections started a few days ago when I started going through my boxes of teacher memorabilia, and the memories of single moments in time through my 27 year teaching career starting overwhelming me and causing me to give my utmost thanks to God for my life, for all I have been through, for all I have learned and experienced. There were no mistakes in His plan!

I am retired now, but the memories and experiences of being a teacher for 27 years will never fade. There is so much that I miss, there are so many mornings that I think to myself I should still be teaching, I should still be in the classroom. There are mornings that I wake up and have to take a second or two to remind myself that there are no students waiting on me to come to the classroom, and that breaks my heart just a little. There are days when I wonder if I did all I could as a teacher to make a difference, to create relationships with my students, to encourage my students to always do their best, and just to be there for them. I love being retired with my husband, but I truly miss teaching!

I miss the planning for my students, knowing their needs, and the curriculum and what I need to teach and how I need to teach the material.

I miss the smiles I would see every morning when students would walk through my door. Believe me some of those smiles made me feel like a movie star, like I was the best thing they had seen in a long time. Those smiles would make my heart sing all day long.

I miss the hugs! Oh, the hugs from students that are excited to be at school, that are excited to be in your classroom, those are the best hugs in the world. They made me feel so special. I miss the hugs.

I miss the laughter of students, especially 5th grade girls. That laughter is the best in all the world. It took so little on my part to cause that laughter to happen . . . a simple change in voice, a soapbox session, a mistake on my part, and my stories always caused laughter in the classroom. Maybe the stories were the best and caused the most laughter because they were real, and I was being real when I told the stories – stories of my children, my life, my mistakes, and the lessons I have learned through life. Whatever it was that caused their faces to light up and the laughter to erupt, it was well worth the life experience and the willingness to share the story so my students could see I was telling my story.

I miss the conversations. Oh, the conversations to take place in a 5th grade class with 30 students or with 16 girls! Fifth graders are on the edge of becoming teenagers and they are so eager to share their thoughts and give their opinions. I remember being in fifth grade. I had so many opinions and thoughts. I wanted someone to listen. I loved listening and being included in their conversations.

          One example: Conversation from today while my students were writing . . . One of my girls raised her hand and when I called on her, she responded, “Mrs. Murrell, I am worried about you.”

Me, “Why are you worried about me?”

Student, “Well, I am worried about you when you retire. You have to admit Mrs. Murrell it is your students who keep you on your toes, who tell you when you are dressed cool like today, or who keep you from going crazy, because we keep you busy. Who will do all that for you when you retire?”

Me, “I am sure my husband and my family will keep me busy. I will be fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Student, “But Mrs. Murrell, I am afraid you are going to get old and frumpy like my grandmother. I mean, she is 64.”

(Me thinking to myself, yes, that is really old.)

I just smiled and thanked her for her concern.

          Another example: It never ceases to amaze me the thoughts and words that come from 5th grade students. In a discussion today about being able to go back in time, one of my girls said she would like to go back in time to see and talk to some of the great people from our past. People like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and others. But then she said, “But Mrs. Murrell, I just want to ask them questions. I don’t want them to ask me questions about life today.” I asked her why. She responded, “Because I think they would be sad at the mess we have made in the world.”

Amen! From a 5th grader!

          There are so many conversations that I could copy and paste, and each one would demonstrate why I miss the conversations so much.

I miss the curiosity and the inquisitiveness of students in elementary school. Oh my, it knows no boundaries, and they have no fear of sharing and asking their questions. I miss their openness and their honesty so much!

          One example:  

Student, “So, Mrs. Murrell, I go home and read my Bible every night.”

Me, “Really?!”

Student, “And the Bible says, God don’t like no lying lips!” (Direct quote)

Me, “Really?”

Student, “That’s why I don’t lie to you, Mrs. Murrell, but if I do I go home and ask for forgiveness.”

Me, (trying hard not to choke and bust out laughing)

This is what we do! Teachers have quite a life! Would not trade it for anything else.

          Their honesty and willingness to share knows no limits or boundaries. They just want someone to listen. I miss being that person who is willing to listen.

I miss their excitement to learn something new. I miss their willingness to try something new. I especially miss the looks on their faces when you present them with a situation, they are unfamiliar with, like a pretend campfire when you are getting ready to start a unit in Social Studies on Westward Expansion. I just miss their enthusiasm.

I miss planning with other teachers to present the best, most excited activities for learning for all our students.

I miss the camaraderie between teachers, especially that teacher right next door or across the hall. Those relationships are so special. No one understands that relationship until you have been the teacher next door.

I even miss the professional development and the faculty meetings, not because they offered such great insight, but because we were all there together with the same thoughts and concerns. Just tell us how we can help our students succeed! That truly was the reason we were there. We did not want to hear all the things you thought we were doing wrong, we just wanted to hear some encouragement and some belief that we were doing our best to help our students succeed. We talk all the time about the self-esteem and self-concept of our students, but no one talks about the self-esteem or self-concept of our teachers. What a shame! I do not miss the blame, but I do miss the fact that the teachers came together and supported each other.

I miss the emails, voice mails, and text messages from parents asking me about their child. I miss them because they showed me the parents cared! I miss parents that held me to the boundaries or parameters of an IEP or 504 because I knew they cared.

I miss the letters from American Education Week because I would get the sweetest letters from past students.

I miss teaching lessons that were because my students needed them, not because they were in my lesson plans.

I miss teachers coming to me for advice or suggestions, as much as I miss going to other teachers for advice or suggestions.

But most of all, I miss the ‘aha moments’ for my students. Those are the absolute best. Those moments were why I wanted to go to school every day and teach my students. I longed for those moments in math and science especially when I was teaching all girls. Those moments when the light came on, and they understood the problem, oh my, my heart would just leap! Those were the best moments!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 Oh my heart! I trusted in the Lord and look at what He gave me. Students who placed their trust in me, parents who placed their trust in me! And look at the blessings! Students who remembered me! Parents who appreciated and remembered.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 I love God! I am so thankful for His plan for my life, and His guidance and wisdom in working towards those goals. Yet, I know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

His purpose was for me to be a teacher. I finally became the teacher He wanted me to become. I received so many more blessings than I could have ever imagined, but He knew the blessings I would receive. Today as I read letters from past students, I became very much aware of His plan once more. I needed to become a teacher to fulfill God’s plan. I needed to go through all the twists and turns in life to appreciate His plan. I just needed to follow His plan from the beginning. Isn’t He amazing! I owe my teaching career, the relationships formed with students and parents, my life to Him! He is amazing!

Being thankful for all things…

Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 4:15 “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thanksgiving is just about 2 weeks away and November is typically the month we associate with giving thanks for all we have. Many of us show our thanks through social media and some of us just simply say thanks through prayer to our Father in Heaven. I am blessed, and I am so thankful to God for all I have, for all He has given me. Family, health, a home, friends, laughter, food on my table, an education and a career, being able to retire and still live in comfort, years with my mother living with us, pets, and so many more gifts from God that bring me warmth, love, and happiness.

Yet, I am thankful for so much more too. I am thankful for the things that brought tears, sadness, stress, fears, doubt, and even anger. In Thessalonians 5:16 – 18, God tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We should not just give thanks for the good things in life, for the happy times, but for every situation, every circumstance in life. God teaches us so much through the trials and strife in life. Rejoice always!

I can remember disappointments, trials, and hard times as a young girl, and especially as a teenager. At the time growing up, I did not give thanks to God for those situations. I did not understand the importance of those difficult moments in life until I grew up and went through so much more. So today, even though I have said thank you to God so many times, I am writing out the gifts, the situations, and the circumstance that I will be forever thankful for.

Today, I am thankful for the store losing an order for my wedding dress in the summer of 1976. At the time, it was devastating to find out the perfect dress I had ordered had not been ordered just 2 weeks before my wedding. Every girl dreams of the perfect dress! Yet, without their mistake, I would not have had the privilege and honor of wearing my sister’s wedding dress. When I look back at pictures of her wedding and my wedding, it is with love knowing that on our special days we shared the ‘perfect dress’. Disappointments around a wedding can be devastating, but I choose to think God used the moment to bring my sister and I closer together.

Today, I am thankful for the years Mike and I worked so hard to earn our college degrees. We worked so hard, and often barely had enough time to say hi to each other, much less spend an evening with each other, even as newlyweds. We worked full time and went to school full time, to fulfill our dreams and follow God’s plan for our lives. Those five years were not easy, but by following God’s plan we both earned our degrees, and even furthered our educations past the four years, and we both began our careers. Those five years made us stronger and more determined to finish what we started and to follow where God leads us, yet even though we did not spend a lot of time with each other, those years actually brough us closer together and our love was stronger than ever.

Today, I am thankful for the miscarriage of a beautiful baby boy so early in 1980. The tears and the heartache that were a part of those days of losing him were devastating! I questioned God many times during those days. There were even moments that I was angry. I could not understand what God was teaching us through this loss. I do not know if I will ever understand the reasoning, but I do know that the birth of our healthy son in 1982 was filled with such love and amazement that we were completely overwhelmed with love and joy. Every single moment with him and us as a family was appreciated so much more after experiencing such a loss earlier. Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” I Peter 5:10 also tells us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

God wiped the tears from our eyes and gave us such joy with the birth of our son. The sadness, the suffering, and the tears were necessary for us to receive the strength God gave us for the future. God knows His plans for our lives. He knows what we are going to need to make it through life. God restored us, He made me strong, firm, and steadfast because He knew what was coming. I am so thankful for the tears, the sadness, and the suffering. I am so thankful God never left our sides but gave us what we needed to make it through one of the hardest situations we had faced to that point in our lives.

This is a more difficult moment, but it truly is one I am thankful for. I am thankful that God knew His plans for Mike way before we knew. I am so thankful for the 10 years I had with him, and the fact that I was given 10 years to observe Mike’s compassion for others and his love and passion for his career. I am thankful for the things I learned about myself while we were together. I am so thankful for the hardships and the stressful days of our early days together because they made me stronger and have more confidence in my ability to handle the most difficult moment of my life. Mike’s death in a helicopter crash! I am thankful that Mike’s last evening was filled with our son and his coworkers celebrating his birthday. That he knew he was loved, appreciated, and respected by those around him. I am so thankful that our son was able to sing Happy Birthday to his daddy that evening before they took their final flight to save an infant. I am thankful God surrounded us with family and friends that stepped in and stayed with us every step of the days that followed. I am so thankful that God knew Mike had made his impact on earth, and from that moment on God needed him in heaven more than I needed him on earth. Do not get me wrong though, there were moments after his death for weeks, months, and even years when I was angry and mad at God for taking him, but as I look back now I am so thankful for the time we had, the son we had together, the memories I will always hold in my heart, and the lessons learned during this time. Through Mike’s death, God showed me how strong I am, how courageous I was during that time, and He reminded me of His strength and mercy. He taught me to lean on Him more than I ever had before, He reminded me of His love for me and that He would never give me more than I could handle. For God’s love, mercy, strength, wisdom, and understanding I am so incredibly thankful.

Today, I am so thankful for doctors and x-ray technicians that caught a small place, a minuscule place, on my left breast that looked suspicious to them. I am so thankful for a doctor who laid his tablet to the side, and took my hand after my diagnosis, and said, “Please let me pray for you before we go any farther in discussing treatment.” I am so thankful for medical technology that gives doctors the opportunity to detect cancer at such an early stage in its formation. I am so thankful for surgeons and their God-given skill that allows them to locate such minuscule places and take them out before they grow and spread to become so much more life threatening. I am so thankful for my husband, children, and family that had patience and love for me as I went through the very painful recovery and five years of a medicine that made me feel sick most of the time. Today, I can honestly say I am thankful for a diagnosis of breast cancer, through that diagnosis God reminded me once more of His strength and wisdom, but He also reminded me of how strong I am and that He has given me courage to face so much more. He was not going to fail me through this either.

Today I am so thankful for my mother’s health issues that allowed her to come and live with us for the last six years of her life. She had several health issues that were too serious for her to live by herself, and a nursing home was out of the question. I am so thankful for those six years. My children and grandchildren were able to build stronger relationships with her because of her living with us. I am so thankful for the memories created during those years. I am so thankful that I can still hear her laughter and still feel her presence in our home. Today I am so thankful for the changes in our lives that were made to have mother living with us. I am thankful for the lessons learned, but most important I am thankful for the opportunity God gave me to take care of my mother and to show my children how one day the roles will be reversed for them too. Taking care of one’s parent is not the easiest journey to travel, but it is a journey with so many rewards and honors.

Today I am thankful for a teaching career of 27 years that taught me many more lessons than I probably taught my students. Teaching is not always easy, and quite often it is a thankless career path. However, it is filled with rewarding smiles and hugs, and memories to last a lifetime. Today I thankful for a God that knew His plan for me, and even though He had to truly push me towards that career because my plan was totally different, and I even spent my first 4 years pursuing a college degree that was not in God’s plan. I am thankful for my God who did not give up on me and gave me so many situations to see where He was leading me. I am thankful that He never stopped talking to me and leading me with His grace and wisdom. I am thankful for the blessings received from my students and their families over 27 years, and I am thankful for the relationships created and nurtured throughout the years. My God never gave up on me and His plan for me to be a teacher, and I am so thankful He did not give up.

Today I am just thankful! I am thankful for every lesson learned, every sacrifice made, every tear, every difficult situation, every challenge in life, every bump in the road, and every disappointment in life. Today I am thankful for a God who never gives us more than we can handle, and my God who knows me so well! I am reminded of a poem I have read many times:

I asked for Strength . . .

And God gave me difficulties to make me strong

I asked for Wisdom . . .

And God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for Prosperity . . .

And God gave me brains and brawn to work.

I asked for Courage . . .

And God gave me danger to overcome.

I asked for Love . . .

And God gave me opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted . . .

I received everything I needed.

And for that I am forever thankful for My God!

Being a Caregiver

“Treat your parents with loving care . . . for you will only know their value when you see their empty chair.”

I Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Ephesians 6:2 “Honor you father and mother,” this is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Sara Ellen Cox Westmoreland: my mother, my role model, the most loving grandmother, and great-grandmother, and now she walks in her heavenly home with Jesus. She is missed! This is not an easy post to write because the memories are already pouring through, but I feel God is calling me to write this as encouragement to others who may be living the role of caregiver to your parents. It is not an easy role, but it is a rewarding and worthy role.

My mother passed away in July of 2017. The six years prior to her death, she lived with me and my husband. My mother was very independent and very smart, moving in with her daughter was not something she thought she would ever have to do, but after a stroke we felt it was the best thing for her. A nursing home was not an option. In 2011, mother and her precious Chihuahua, Taki Bella, moved in with Steve and I, and forever after our lives were changed, yet enriched by her presence.

Routines change. Daily life changes. I Corinthians 16: 13-14 tells us to “Watch, stand fast in faith. Be brave, be strong, let all that you do be done in love.” While my mother never thought she would need to move in with one of her children, I never really thought about her moving in with us and being available to take care of her every day. Little did I know that her presence in my house for six years would give me so many wonderful memories to hold onto now that she is no longer with us.

I do not want to talk about the stress that is a part of being a caregiver. That is different for each family and each caregiver. Your role as a caregiver will not always be easy, but then it was not always easy for our parents to raise us. I am sure there were days when they were stressed and worried about your welfare, finances, health, and so much more. What I hoped to offer is encouragement to those who may find themselves in this role. I just want to remind you that each day you have with your parent is one more day filled with memories that you will hold onto for years to come. “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” Tia Walker

One of our first commandments is to “Honor your father and mother.” I cannot think of a more rewarding way to honor your parents than to take care of them the way they took care of you during our childhood and teenage years. Personally, I know I was not an easy child or teenager, and my mother had the patience of an angel on her earthly walk to deal with me every day. Yet, she did! She was always there! She was there through the good and the bad, and she listened and loved through all of it. How could I not do the same for her when she needed me.

Our new normal involved doctor’s visit, medicine management, insulin shots, and so much more. Laughter, music, teasing between her and Steve, a beautiful relationship that grew between her and my grandsons, someone else to love my fur babies, thoughtful conversations, and did I say laughter? I wish I had the time, and you had the patience to read through every quick-witted moment with my mother, but there were just too many. Here are just a few of those very precious moments that I would not trade for anything.

September 14, 2013 “On the flip side of my Saturday morning, my mother and Steve are carrying on their own conversation. Mother asks if there is anything she can help with today (bless her heart, she always wants to help), Steve says, “Sure, how about going outside and work on closing up the pool.” My mother in her quickness, says “sure can I push you in first?” She is so quick with those come backs.

October 2, 2013 “I just love my mother! While watching TV tonight, the contestant on X-factor says he has the sweetest wife in the world. Steve says, “No way, I have the sweetest wife in the world.” My mother with another one of her quick come backs says, “Well, you are just doubly lucky then, because you have the sweetest mother-in-law in the world too!” Surprise, surprise! Steve got absolutely quiet!”

September 5, 2015 “So, mother, Steve, and I go to K&W for supper tonight. When you get to the register, they will ring the bell if someone needs help getting their tray to the table, so they rang the bell for us since mother has a cane and so does Steve. The waitress comes and gets mother’s tray and I follow behind them. She puts mother’s food on the table, and turns around and looks at me and says, “I’ll go get your daddy’s food now for him.” Mother and I just about lost it. So, when Steve gets to the table we tell him what the waitress says, and then mother adds, “Okay Steve, how am I going to get a boyfriend if everybody thinks we are together and Lynne is our daughter?” I truly busted out laughing. I just love her quick wit and sense of humor. Katelyn Murrell, I wish you had been here. It was hilarious!”

But you see it was not just her laughter and quick wit that I will always cherish, it was the lessons she taught us and the relationships that grew from her presence in our house for those six years. Yes, there were tears and frustrating moments, but I do not remember those. I remember and feel blessed in the laughter, the quick wit, the lessons, the relationships, and the memories.

My two grandsons will be forever blessed for having her in their lives for those six years. They genuinely loved their Grandmami Sara, and they will always remember her. She went to their ball games, school plays, birthday parties, but even more she sat with them when they were at our house. She danced with them, played with them, and most important she loved them the way only a great-grandmother can love her youngest great-grandchildren. After her death, our youngest grandson was asked to draw an illustration and write a story about one of their fondest memories. Cooper drew a picture of him with Grandmami Sara, in her room, jumping on her bed, and watching Clemson play football. That moment can never be replaced. That moment would not have happened if mother had not been living with us. Some days I think she was more my caregiver than I was hers. She never stopped caring for and loving her family.

There is a familiar joke in our family among the girls about the word ‘fine’. You see we always knew if mother was not happy about what we were wearing she would simply respond, “That is fine.” There was just something in the way she said it, you knew she was not happy. When mother moved in with us, those three words were still spoken often. To this day, when I get dressed, I can still hear saying those words and I have been known to change on several occasions, and I never regret the change because she was always right. She was the epitome of the Southern Lady. She knew how to dress for every occasion, she knew how to set a table, and she was an incredible hostess and cook. I learned so much from just observing her, but when she moved in with us her presence was even more valued than before.

My mother loved words, reading, and history. She loved God. She loved our country. These things were evident in every facet of her life. She would come to my classroom and share stories with my students of The Great Depression, WWII, and so much more. She would join my summer book clubs with my students, read with them, and discuss the books. She grew up in the mill villages of Greenville, SC and she had so much history to offer anyone willing to listen. She was a phenomenal storyteller. My love for words, reading, and history came from her inspiration.

In closing, a few years ago my husband and I decided to renovate his childhood home and move to the neighborhood where he grew up, yet it just so happens it was in the area my mother grew up also. The move was beneficial for me because our first house was huge, and the yardwork was very demanding. Trying to take care of mother, Steve, the house, and the yard was draining. The move was beneficial for my mother because it took her back to days gone by, filled with love and memories. It was another one of those wonderful periods of time that I will always cherish. After we moved, I wrote a tribute to my mother that I would like to share now.

Tonight, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting about life through my mother’s eyes, heart, and memories. She amazes me every day with her ability to recover memories from days gone by.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every house and street they lived on while she was a child in a blended family.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the stores she went to as a child, the streets she walked with her step-father (my Papa), and the businesses they frequented as a child.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every mill they worked at during the 1930s and 1940s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers Pearl Harbor, the day the USA entered WWII, and the day the war was over.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she still remembers every song sung and played at the piano, every message learned through a Southern-Gospel song, sung, and played at the piano in our living room, growing up in Burlington, NC.

She remembers what she was doing with her sisters when they announced WWII was over. She remembers walking down Main Street, Greenville, SC and celebrating when it was announced the war was over.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers graduating from Parker High School the same year WWII was over.

She remembers what Greenville, Main Street, USA looked like in the 30s and 40s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers marrying the love of her life, starting a family, and moving to North Carolina.

She remembers the nervousness in being alone, yet meeting new people who would become lifelong friends – the Tilleys, the Hearnes, the Glenns, the Morrises, the Tylers, the Chandlers, the Allisons, and so many more.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the sadness, the happiness, and the fear of times that families go through to show their strength and their faith in God.

She still remembers lessons learned, respect earned, and lessons taught through her parents, from friends, and from family members while she was growing up and becoming an adult.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories she still remembers the heartache of a cherished son-in-law lost through tragic circumstances, another one lost through cancer, and a daughter-in-law lost through divorce. She still remembers the heartache and the love gained through all these experiences.

Yet, through it all. Through all she has lived, loved, and lost, she is the one who remains the strength, the grace, the poise, and the measure the rest of us should live by.

My God is an incredible God, but my mother is the best! At age 87, she still insists on going to every baseball game, play, musical performance of every grandchild, great-grandchild, step-grandchild, and so forth, not for herself, but so those around her and those that are a part of her life, do not have to grow up wondering and thinking about whether or not they matter to someone else.

We can learn and experience so much from the ones who learned and experienced from the best years of their lives! What examples our older generations set for the rest of us!

Caregivers know that your love and care of your parents is of the highest honor! Cherish the moments that make you smile, that make you laugh, and even the ones that make you cry. You will have all those memories to hold onto when they are gone. Nothing can wipe away your memories and the moments you shared with them.

Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.” He will be with you every moment, every smile and tear, and every frustration and success.

Family

“Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9

According to Merriam-Webster, a family is “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also, any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” What a cold, insufficient definition of a word that means so much, and that God created. There is nothing basic about a family formed with God’s grace and blessing, and that puts God first in their relationships with each other.

A Christian definition of family written by Auburn University says, “The family is the foundational institution of society ordained by God. It is constituted by marriage and is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.” Even this definition does not quite seem to adequately define the term, family.

Family: people brought together by the grace and blessings of God. Family: people who live together, grow together, make mistakes together, focus on God together, forgive each other, and who love unconditionally. Family: people who learn from each other. Family: people who support and encourage each other. I could go on and on!

Steve and I were blessed with parents that gave us homes with families much like I described above. Our parents set wonderful examples for us in our Christian faith, and we both witnessed the love and devotion our parents had for each other. We were both blessed with extended families who felt the same way, so our childhoods and teenage years were filled with love, laughter, acceptance, forgiveness, and prayer. Neither of us could ask for more than the parents and families God blessed us with.

When Steve and I met in 1988, we already had children. We also knew that not only did we have children, but our children also had other families that would be a part of lives, not in terms of being a part of our immediate family, but they would still be a part of Stacy and Patrick’s lives. Our coming together as a family would impact those families as much as it impacted our immediate families.

I remember the first night we introduced our parents to each other. It was a simple dinner at my house, and I was a nervous wreck. I loved Steve’s mother, and wanted so much for my parents to love her also. I stressed all day long with cooking, cleaning, and making sure everything was perfect. Yet, when it came down to it, I had nothing to worry about. Our coming together was God’s plan, he was bringing them together too. It was a perfect evening, and from that point the relationship between our parents flourished.

From the beginning our parents did an incredible job of making sure Patrick and Stacy felt welcomed and loved in their homes. Mrs. Murrell was an incredible grandmother for Patrick. How many children get the privilege of having three grandmothers who just want to love you and spoil you? What a blessing! And Stacy, from the beginning there was an instant connection with her and my parents. My daddy loved her from the first moment, he even came up with a nickname for her (like he did with his other grandchildren). “Troublemaker”, which was as far from the truth as it could be, but it stuck.

It was not long before we introduced our siblings to each other as well, and we chose my parents’ house to do those introductions. What better way to introduce brothers and sisters, grandchildren, and anyone else but with basketball, good food, a game of Scrabble, and even some singing around the piano. Again, God placed us all together.

There was one more family that I was concerned about telling them about Steve and that we had decided to get married. I knew they needed to be told because they were Patrick’s grandparents. They had lost their son a little over a year before, and I was not sure they were ready for this news.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

“Do not be afraid. Do not be silent. Keep on speaking.” Acts 18:9

“God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.” Joel 2:25

Pep talks to myself did not really work, but when I went to God in prayer and asked for guidance and wisdom, His words were exactly what I needed.

  • Christ will give me strength
  • I will not be afraid because Christ is with me, and He will give me the words to speak.
  • Christ can do all things, He can restore what is broken, and HE DID CHANGE IT INTO SOMETHING AMAZING! All I needed to do was have faith in Him.

As I got ready to make the phone call to the McGinnis’, I remembered another night I had to make 2 phone calls I will never forget. This call was different, but I was hypersensitive to making sure I had just the right words. From the moment Mrs. McGinnis answered the phone, the words came, and as usual she was the perfect Southern lady. She wanted to meet Steve, so did Mac. I understood their thoughts and reasons. He was going to be the father of their first grandchild. He was going to step into the position that Mike once filled. They needed to be reassured and comfortable with him too. So, we planned a weekend trip to Burlington, NC so they could meet. Stacy went with us because they would be a part of her life too. Once again God showed us how this was all part of His plan, that He was in control, and with faith everything would work out according to His will, and it would be amazing. There was an instant connection between all of them. After a weekend of getting to know each other, Steve and I headed home with our children, knowing we had their blessing as well. Their only concern was that we might want to change Patrick’s last name when we were married, and we assured them we had already discussed that, and we had decided Patrick would keep his daddy’s name. It was extremely important to everyone. Over the years, the relationship between Steve and Mrs. McGinnis grew to be something incredibly special. She would even write him letters, just to let him know she was thinking of him. We had become a family!

I have told people over the years that blending a family, with small children and other families, is never an easy journey to travel, yet I have learned that it is the most rewarding journey to travel. I would not trade the last 32 years for anything. We have had our share of tears, frustrations, laughter, accomplishments and setbacks, growth, and blessings untold. There have been days I have wanted to just get down on my knees and cry out for wisdom and strength to lead three children, children who are so different from each other, yet knowing we needed to lead them to know Christ, have faith in God, and to love one another. Again, this verse was my solace:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Christ does strengthen us! He gives us strength beyond measure. Yes, we are a ‘blended’ family! But we are so much more.

  • We are a family! We are father, mother, sisters, brother, with two daughter-in-laws, and three grandchildren.
  • We love each other, we recognize each other’s differences, we understand that we are each unique.
  • We support and encourage each other.
  • We are strong because we love each other, support, and encourage each other, and we know our strength comes from God.
  • Over the years, we have come together many times in crisis and walked away stronger as individuals and a family.
  • We are just a family – no stepsisters, stepbrothers, or stepchildren, no half-sisters, no step-grandparents, aunts, or uncles, just a family!

“Joyful, are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.” Psalm 119:1

“The Lord is Good, a strength and stronghold in the days of trouble; He knows those who take refuge and trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7

God knows! He knows each one of us. He created us, so how can He not know each one of us in the very core of who we are! He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows when days are going to be hard, and He knows when days will be smooth. God’s plan was for Steve and me to come together and make our two families ONE, God’s plan included the struggles we have faced and the laughter and tears we have shared with each other. Following God’s plan gave us blessings beyond measure.

Following God’s plan for my life gave me strength and wisdom to face every road I have traveled, and hopefully to travel those roads with strength and dignity.

“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25

I laugh, I love, and I cry but none of these are with fear of the future in my mind and heart; I laugh, I love, and I cry knowing God is my strength, and He knows my future! I will not be afraid!

I bow on my knees unto the Father . . .

that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith, that ye being rooted and grounded in love.

Job 37:5, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways: he does great things beyond our understanding.”

Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

Ephesians 3: 14 – 17, “For this cause I bow on my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.”

It is funny how the girl who always loved and believed in the ‘one true love’ myth, and that everyone should have the ‘happily-ever-after-love-story’ was actually beginning to believe that God’s plan included a second true love.

Steve and I had a strong connection from the very first phone call. So many things in common that just made the connection even stronger – our strong faith in God, our love for family, and our ability to laugh at life brought us together from the very first moment. With our very first date, we had a chance to see the laughter in the lighter moments in life. It was all quite funny, and just what was needed to help overcome any awkwardness that might have normally come with that first date.

Steve had been married before also. He had a daughter from his first marriage, and it was obvious from the beginning that she was the apple of his eye, just the way it should be with a father and his daughter.

From that first date, our romance was a whirlwind. We started dating in April, we were engaged in May, between June and August we sold two houses, and then began to build our new house. There were some moments in July though, that I began to doubt and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for moving on. I became incredibly quiet, and had a hard time communicating with Steve what I was feeling. I began to doubt God’s plan for Steve and me but was unsure how to tell Steve that and not lose him. I needed to talk with someone that knew Mike and would be able to tell me what I should do. I was so torn up with guilt and doubt that I did not think to stop and pray and talk to God. So, without saying anything to anyone, I got in my car and drove to Anderson, SC. A reality talk with my brother-in-law was just what I needed. He never minced words, he just laid it out there and gave you something to think about. In our conversation, he reminded me about a conversation that Mike and I had had a couple of years before his death. When Mike realized how dangerous his job was, he told me that if anything happened to him, I was to move on. I needed to find someone to love and someone for Patrick. Harry reminded me of how young I was, and that God did not intend for me to live the rest of my life without love. We talked about all the connections Steve and I had with each other, and we talked about how Steve made me feel when we were together. I remember Harry using the scripture that had resonated throughout my life, Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” His words were a great reminder of God’s plan for my life, a gentle reminder that in times of doubt and fear I need to go to God in prayer and supplication, and a lovely reminder that God had given me a second chance for true love and that I should run to it and hold onto it with Mike’s blessings. On the drive back home, all I could think of was another scripture that speaks of God and the marvelous things he does in our lives. Job 37:5, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways: he does great things beyond our understanding.” God’s voice was thundering in truly marvelous ways, and through this union of Steve and me, great things would be done beyond my understanding.

On August 27, 1988 we were married surrounded with the love and support of our family and friends. Even in the wedding there was a sense of this is right, this is what God planned. I was reminded once again how Isaiah 14:27, “Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life.” Not fears, not doubts, not guilt, not snags with selling and building houses, not even the speed at which everything was moving. It was meant to be. Our blended family with two children soon became ‘our’ family with three children. Our daughter was born in December of 1989, and from an early age it was obvious she was also part of God’s plan, and we became a family, not blended, just our family. Now 32 years later, we are still married, in love, and retired. We have three beautiful grown children, two loving daughters-in-law, and three wonderful grandchildren.

Throughout our 32 years together, I have often called Steve my ‘Knight in Shining Armor.’ Even though he is very humble and does not see himself that way, to me it is because he has always been there to rescue me, support me, encourage me, and to be my shoulder to cry on. About a year after we were married, I realized that I truly had not gone through all the grieving I needed to, as a result I began to feel a lot of anger and guilt. Steve was my rock! He understood every outburst, every tear, and every period of silence. He supported and loved me throughout a year of counseling. Later, when the hospital that my Mike worked at built a memorial in his honor, they invited our son to come and be a part of the program. Steve went with us, helped Patrick pick out a tree, and helped him plant the tree in his daddy’s honor. Even later, when my hometown built another memorial to honor all their fallen heroes, Steve was there with Patrick and me, holding us and helping us through the memories and the pain. When I was given a diagnosis of breast cancer about 17 years ago, Steve was there through all of it. He never left my side, and once again was my rock to lean on. When my mother had a stroke, and we had to make decisions about her care, Steve was the first one to say she is coming to live with us, and she lived with us for 6 years, until she passed away about 3 years ago. It was not just that he invited her to live with us, but he went the extra step and learned how to help with her care, her medicine, and even giving her shots. Steve and my mother had an incredibly special relationship, and for that I will be forever grateful. Her last six years were filled with family and love, both are things that meant so much to her. So, maybe it is just the romantic in me, the girl who has watched far too many romantic, happily-ever-after-movies, but Steve is my knight-in-shining-armor, my hero.

The love that Steve and I share has not always been easy, but it has always been worth every minute of blending our two families and creating memories to last a lifetime. I truly have been blessed with love in my life, and for that I will always be thankful. Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” The Lord has been my strength, my song, and my salvation throughout life, love, sadness, pain, and guilt. He is my God, and I will praise him, I will exalt him!

And God renewed my strength . . .

He let me soar on wings like eagles. Through God’s love I conquered my fears and doubts!

Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Isaiah 40:31, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”

Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Joshua 1:9, tells us “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” This verse resonated with me throughout the next several months. I felt like I was failing my son and my family. I did not feel like I was strong or courageous. I felt like I lived in a constant state of discouragement and sadness. On the outside, I looked strong and courageous, but inside I was crumbling, falling apart. Then I would hear God’s voice saying, “Lynne, be still, be quiet, and know that I am here. I am God. Let me take care of this.” And other times he would say, “Lynne, you are strong and courageous. Look at how far you have come. Look at your faith and how you have leaned on me when you were at your weakest. You know I am here. You know I will lift you through the darkest moments.” And He did just that. Then just when I thought I could not take another step towards a future without Mike, God said, “Lynne, I have plans for you and Patrick. I am not through with either one of you. You need to move on and make a home for you and Patrick” So God presented the challenge, and the search began. Where does a single mother find a house to raise her son, when she has never made such a purchase before? How does she begin to manage a house and a yard on her on while raising a five-year son? Scary? Yes!  Mike and I never owned a house of our own. We rented our entire time together. Overwhelming and intimidating? Yes! I did not even know where to begin or what to look for. However, God knew! He knew I could and would do it! He placed the people in my life that I would need to help us through the next part of the journey.

Oh my, the people and the places in placed in our paths. I will be forever grateful because each person played an incredible part in this journey we were embarking on. God let me ‘soar on wings like eagles’, ‘through His love I was beginning to conquer my fears and doubts.’

Kestral Court, Taylors, SC. We moved in October of 1987. Far enough away from my parents to say we were on our own, yet close enough that a simple call would have my daddy there in minutes to help in any situation. It was a quaint neighborhood, with young couples and their families. Patrick soon made friends with children his age, and I made friends with several couples. It did not take long for God to place the perfect friend in my life, she came at the perfect time. Mary Ann, from the beginning she was a blessing and a support. We laughed, cried, laughed more, watched movies (Dirty Dancing), played Scrabble, laughed at our children, shared stories with each other, spoke often of our faith, and just rejoiced in this friendship God gave us. The winter of 1988 presented the biggest snowfall I ever remember, and with it came such wonderful moments of friendship, fellowship, and growth. Her son, Kevin, was also just what Patrick needed. There was a little bit of an age difference between the two of them, but Patrick looked up to Kevin so much, and it was wonderful to see him laugh and play again. God moments! Oh, the people He places in our lives! Only He could know exactly who we need and when we need them. That big snowfall pretty much had us all at a standstill, yet it did not stop Patrick from showing up at Mary Ann’s door with shorts, t-shirt, and no shoes asking Kevin to come out and play. Mary Ann called just laughing at him and asked if I knew how he was dressed. I quickly responded, “I had no idea, but I was not surprised.” We both just laughed. This was just one moment in this friendship that was developing between the two of us, and that we would both realize would last a lifetime. I cannot imagine my life without Mary Ann, Joey, Holly, Kevin, and Anna during this time. God placed them in our lives for a reason, and I am forever grateful.

Life goes on! At least that was what I presented on the outside. I was still so unsure, scared, and angry because of Mike’s death and being placed in this situation. Patrick was in kindergarten and I enrolled in the master’s program at Furman University. I could not leave him to go to work and teach, but I could go back to school while he was at school.

I think one thing I learned most about God during this time and the years to come, is that He has an incredible sense of humor. I also believe that along with faith in God, love of family and friends; a sense of humor will get us through some of the toughest times in life. We must be able to pray and to laugh. Oh, and sing! Music is so important. Singing praises to God is instrumental in achieving happiness in life. But is was that sense of humor that would be put to the test over the months to come. I just did not know how much I would need it until God placed me right in the middle of the events waiting to happen.

February of 1988, I received a call from my cousin, Deene, telling me that she knew it was still too early but when I was ready to start dating I needed to let her know because she had the perfect man for me. God and Mike were both leading her to introduce us. I told her I just did not know if I was ready for that, but I would let her know when I was. She understood, no pressure. Just remember me when the time comes. The seed had been planted.

March of 1988, I started thinking more and more of Deene’s call and suggestion. Now, you must know I am one of those who believed everyone has one true love in the world. Just one! I believe in the happily-ever-after-love-story. I grew up listening to the romantic music of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. I can remember dancing in the living room to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me”, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and so many more. I watched movies like “An Affair to Remember.” Life was all about one-true-love and living-happily-ever-after. I was in awe of the relationship my parents had, and that was all I knew. One-true-love! However, her suggestion stayed on my mind, and I called her one night and told her she could give this man my number. He could call, and we would talk, but I was not making any promises. Then Steve Murrell called and life was never the same. Our first phone call lasted 2 ½ hours. We had so much in common, there was an instant connection. I later found out that although I was hesitant for legitimate reasons, Steve was hesitant to call me until Deene showed him a picture of me. Then he called! Sense of humor, Lynne, sense of humor.

April of 1988. We talked a couple more times, then he asked me out. My heart stopped! It was one thing to talk to him on the phone, but how do I go out on a date with him? Would that not be betraying Mike? How would Patrick feel? Yet, it was exciting and scary. I had not been on a date since 1975. How did one act on a date in 1988? Nervously, I told him yes! We could go on one date. I was actually very excited. The date was set.

However, Mary Ann was not so sure of this guy who called her friend out-of-the-blue and asked her out. She did not trust him. She wanted me to get a complete background check on him. We talked, laughed, and decided to wait on the background check. Let us just wait and see where we go from here.

Then the first date came. I do not think my neighbors trusted Steve either. All of a sudden at the time he was supposed to pick me up, my neighbors find themselves outside standing in their driveways, standing in their yards, and just watching as he drives down the street and into my driveway. Before he could get out of the car, my phone rings. “Lynne, he is in your driveway. He is getting out of the car. He is carrying red roses in his hand. Do you need me to come down?” Laughing, I responded, “I think I am okay, but thank you for caring.” As Steve came inside, and after we formally introduced ourselves to each other, I asked Patrick to come and meet him. I heard muffles from the bathroom, and Patrick refused to come out. I went to check on him and apparently, he had a sudden onset of an upset stomach and stomach pains; and was not coming out of the bathroom. Babysitter stepped in and handled the situation. Yes, a sense of humor is truly needed in many situations in life, first dates with concerned neighbors looking on and sons very scared about the future, are just a couple of situations where a sense of humor makes life go a little smoother.

I remember the first date like it was yesterday. I remember the sounds, the smells, and many parts of the conversation. I remember the feelings when he tenderly kissed me goodnight. Yet, I also remember being scared to death because of the emotions being with Steve was causing in my life. Oh, but the excitement! It was so overwhelming. This feeling was so new, yet not so new. I remember the feeling and emotion of my first date with Mike, and then the guilt hit me. How could I do this! That night after Steve left, I remember crying into my pillow. The guilt was suffocating. How did I think I could ever find another love like what Mike and I shared?  “Lynne, remember, everyone has only one true love.” Yet, a part of me knew how I was feeling after one evening with Steve. Then, I remembered God’s voice, “Lynne, I am not finished with your story yet.” Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I remember the doubts and the fears, but I also remember the excitement knowing that God wasn’t finished with me yet, He had plans for both of us, and at that moment I think I knew Steve was part of that plan. It was still so scary, and I still felt doubt and guilt for moving on, but God had given me hope and I knew at that moment He was giving me a future.

Life goes on . . .

God renews our strength when we need it most. He carries us. He calms our fears and doubts. He places people in our lives that will help us through, help us to laugh, give us a shoulder to cry on, and be a friend for life. Nothing can separate us from the love of God! How renewing to know He is always there! Life does go on until His plan is finished, and then it is an eternal life with Him. How wonderful! How comforting!

The next part of the journey . . .

“Help me, Lord, to overcome.”

Romans 5:3-5, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Psalm 31:1-3, “O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. Save me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me: rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe. You are my rock and my fortress. For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.”

1 Peter 5:10, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

Help me, Lord, to overcome.

Help me,

To remember with a smile,

Instead of memories with tears.

When I think back over the days, weeks, and even months that followed Mike’s death there are so many moments I cannot recall, that I cannot remember. The grief process is a mysterious thing. It is so different for each person, for each death! No one knows how they are going to react to the death of a loved one, and no one knows how long it will take a person to go through the process if they ever do in its entirety. I remember reading and studying about the stages of grief in one of my classes in college, and at the time I had never lost a loved one, so it was hard for me to relate. Yet, here I was at age 30 going through the steps of grief and having a much more difficult time that I ever thought I would experience. Nothing can prepare you for the pain of that grief, and I soon learned that my faith in God would be the strength that helped me through the process, through the days, weeks, months, and even years to come.

So, we moved on. Patrick and I moved to Greenville, SC to be close to family. We moved in with my parents, and a new normal started. The days were filled with concentrating on Patrick, keeping him busy with no time to think about how our lives had changed or why they had changed. Then in the evening, after Patrick was in bed, my nights were spent between silently crying, being angry, journal writing, or just totally exhausted from the emotions and stress. I started a journal shortly after Mike’s death, it was filled with the hurt, anger, and sadness I was feeling. Questions, so many questions! Guilt, lots of guilt because I was still here, and Mike was not. Guilt for being the one that caused Mr. and Mrs. McGinnis so much pain with a simple phone call. Guilt because I was moving on and trying to be happy.

On one difficult night, I wrote the following, “Dear God, I don’t think I am strong enough to make it through all of this on my own. I have asked God for help, but I do not think he has given me any answers yet. In my mind is a tumble of thoughts and questions that continually go round and round. Even in my sleep, when it comes, my thoughts and dreams are so troubled by thoughts of your last moments. Were you afraid, what were you thinking in those last moments? I see your face, and I see fear etched in every feature. When will these dreams end? Will I forever be troubled by anger and pain at your death? When will I know how all these events fit into God’s plan for Patrick and me? ‘Out of every loss, there comes a gain.’ I know the loss; I have felt it with every fiber of my being. Why then, can I not feel the gain as clearly and as strong? Where is the gain in losing someone that is so much a part of your life that you feel like only a part of a whole without him? ‘The Lord giveth and he taketh away.’ Why would the Lord give so much, and make him become so meshed into my life, and then take him away so suddenly? It seems like he could have at least given us a chance to say goodbye. Some advance warning of what was in our future, that all our lives were going to change so drastically. What was the purpose in an ending so abrupt and so incomplete? So unfinished! With the death of Jesus, and his resurrection, God said, ‘It is finished.’ His plan had been completed. In Mike’s death, my life with him was incomplete, it was unfinished. We had so many dreams and goals! Our life together started many years ago and grew strong through hard work, sacrifices, and struggling; it does not seem fair that it ended in such a short period of time and so abruptly. The tears always come late at night. I have not let many people see me cry. My grief, such as it is, seems so private. Yet, maybe it should be shared. It seems to be too much for one to bear alone. Yet, if I cry like I really want to cry, with my loved ones, they will hurt again, and I cannot stand for those around me to hurt anymore.”

Grief is a difficult process, even for those who know God and have Him in their hearts. I cannot imagine having gone through this experience and the long difficult grief process without God as my rock and my fortress. God does not promise us an easy road to travel, but he does promise to give us strength, to walk beside us, and even at times carry us through the most difficult moments. During those late-night moments of feeling so sad and so angry, I could always feel God there beside me. He never left my side, yet I know now he was waiting for me to take his hand and let him help me through. It took several years, and the strength and love of another God placed in my life to help me see how God worked in our lives through all those moments.

I cannot tell you how long the grief process lasted, or even if I ever actually worked all the way the through the process, but I do know this; “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” Romans 5:3-5 speaks of suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” Through my suffering, through my grief, I began to understand this verse so much more. I began to see that with God’s strength and wisdom, I could endure the pain that night brought, and through the endurance my character and my testimony for God grew and strengthened, and with this new testimony a hope was born that Patrick and I would get through this time in our lives. God’s plan was not finished yet!

“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future”

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him – my father’s God, and I will exalt him!”

I Chronicles 16:11, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

As I look back at those earlier days and years of my time together with Mike and Patrick, and I reflect on the struggles we faced, I realize that God was preparing me for what was to come.

Mike loved Eastcare, and his crew! They were an amazing team! They truly were dedicated to their mission, which was to care for and serve the community and beyond. Mike was well respected in his duties as Chief Flight Nurse, and as an individual. As Eastcare continued to grow, Mike’s interest in hospital administration grew also. He applied to Duke University, and he was accepted in their doctorate program for hospital administration. In the spring of 1987, we would move to Durham, NC and we would start another chapter in our lives together. I graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in Special Education, and hopefully, would begin teaching in Durham in the fall of 1987.

I remember the moment everything changed! I remember what I was doing, how the news came, and how our lives changed instantly. However, I do not remember the days that followed, even now 33 years later.

The following passage is from a journal I started writing about three years after that moment in time. “I remember the moment they came to tell me what happened. I was upstairs in our bedroom, reading a book, and watching a Carolina basketball game on TV. Then out of the darkness, late that night, there was a knock on the door. I think something told me at that moment that there was something wrong. I remember being afraid to go downstairs and open the door. I knew when I looked out the window and saw who it was, that something had happened. I also remember that Betty had to knock on the door several times, and finally yell out my name, before I moved from the window to go downstairs and open the door. When I finally opened the door, it only took one glance at her face to know that you were gone. After she spoke the words and I heard the word, crash, I remember thinking to myself, “How can that be? We were just all together, sitting at the table, celebrating your birthday, laughing, and talking? How could you be gone just hours later?”  I remember asking our neighbor to come and sit with Patrick, I remember getting in the car with Betty to ride to the hospital, and I remember walking into the trailer and the horrible silence that followed. Everyone stopped crying and talking as soon as they saw me enter. Everyone just stared and waited quietly for me to walk in and sit down, yet no one knew what to say to the young wife who just lost her husband. I remember how I wanted to shout at all of them and tell them this must be a nightmare; this could not have happened. I wanted to shout out that it was their fault, that if there had never been a helicopter program, Mike would still be with me. Then came the phone calls I had to make, one to Mike’s parents and one to my parents, to tell them there had been a crash, and they were searching for the wreckage. Then came the wait! It seemed to last forever, but in truth, it was only about an hour. There were no survivors! Mike, Pam, Perry, and the baby they were transporting were all gone. I remember the walk back to the office again, to make two more phone calls. Again, to Mike’s parents and my parents to tell them Mike was gone. My stomach still knots up every time I think about those phone calls. The silence on the other end of the phone was the worst thing I have ever heard. A part of me died when they told me there were no survivors, and then another part died when I heard the brokenness in my father’s voice and when I heard Mrs. McGinnis’ tears. That night was a night of shock, fear, and pain like I have never known. A loneliness, so deep and so dark, set into my heart that night that I do not think I will ever forget.”

I remember the pain of that evening, yet the days that followed are still a hazy blur. As I reflect now though I believe it was God’s way of protecting me from all the events that followed and the reminders that Mike was gone. The family and friends gathering, the memorial service, the planning for Mike’s funeral, and that moment when I walked in Mike’s parent’s house and heard the anger and accusations from his father. At the beginning of my blog, I talked about those moments in time when the way we react to things that happen in our lives is more of a testimony than the words we speak. Those around us may not know the Lord, and when we react negatively or do not react at all, then what testimony are we giving? That morning, 24 hours after Mike’s death, when I walked into their house was one of those moments for me and to this day I have a difficult time with the way I reacted (or the way I did not react), it was a moment I was given to be a witness to Mr. McGinnis, to use my actions as a testimony for him. He looked at me with such pain and anger, and with such a sad and accusatory voice asked, “Well Lynne, where is your God now?” I could not think of a thing to say. I did not respond. I just stood there shaking and then turned away. In my heart, I knew I was disappointing God, however, I could not think of the words to say, so I said nothing. When I think about it now, I know the words I should have said, and the scriptures I could have used. “Mac, believe me, God is right here with us. I know He is with me because without Him I would not have gotten out of bed this morning, got dressed, and come here to be with you. I know He is with us because He has given me strength to face this day and all the days that will follow. I know He is here because I see the strength in myself and my son in each moment of the day. I know He is here because His words tell me, Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” and in Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him – my father’s God, and I will exalt him!”

Oh, to be able to go back in time, and use that moment as a witness to everyone around me. Yet, we cannot go back in time, what we must remember is to make the best of each moment that follows, and to use each moment to be a witness to God. I pray that from that moment, I have used each moment to be a testimony to God and the strength He has given me to face each struggle in life. Shortly after Mike’s death, I received a card and a letter from a dear friend telling me she admired the courage and strength I was showing through all of this. She reminded me of Proverbs 31:25, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Her reminder was exactly the words I needed to hear. I can only pray that I have lived a life for others to see that I am clothed in God’s strength and dignity, and that I have tried to laugh without fear of the future. Our future was filled with uncertainly and fear, yet, God provided for our needs with a family that loved and supported us, friends (old and new), and a renewed faith in God! The future was unsure, but Patrick and I both began the journey to move forward and follow God’s direction.

Now 33 years later, a few months ago I was given another opportunity to speak up and share in Sunday School class about my encounter with Mr. McGinnis. Again, that morning I was disappointed in myself, because I could not find the strength to speak up and share my weakness in that moment. From that day on, God laid it on my heart to share my testimony, to include the failures and weaknesses, as well as the moments I stood clothed with strength and dignity.  The next opportunity to share publicly came a few weeks later in Sunday School, and I leaned on God’s strength and mercy and shared my weakness in that moment.

Now, God has laid it on my heart to write and share my testimony through this blog.

High School Sweethearts . . .

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

“There is no fear in love; for perfect love cast out fear.” John 4:18

Fast forward to those wonderful high school years, mine began in 1970.

Ah, the 70s! Disco, The Carpenters, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, America, James Taylor, bell-bottom pants and jeans, jumpsuits, mini-dresses and skirts, streaking, leisure suits, pet rocks, CB radios, the Hustle, and 8-track tapes. However, for me it was meeting the boy of my dreams and falling hopelessly in love.

Mike McGinnis was someone I had known of for several years, yet when you are in 10th grade and you see a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 11th grader looking at you and smiling; your heart just sort of stops and you sigh just the slightest bit. Then you start thinking about him all the time, and you are just hoping he will call you and ask you out. Then the day comes, the phone rings, and you hear his voice. “Hi Lynne, this is Mike. I am going to ride out to the mall tonight and buy the new America 8-track tape and wanted to know if you wanted to ride with me. We can grab something to eat.” Ok, Lynne, do not respond too fast, you do not want him to see how excited and eager you are to go out with him. “Sure, that sounds great, Mike.” That was the beginning of our high school romance that lasted 4 years.

We had been dating for a month or so when Mike became curious about my faith and church. His home environment was different from mine, and Mike immediately noticed and started asking questions. The conversations began about God and my faith. We would talk for hours about my faith, the Bible, and God. He even started talking to my father about his faith and wanted to know more. Soon he started coming to church with us, and then he began talking to our minister about becoming a Christian. God’s plan was right there working the whole time. I knew that if we ever got serious, my parents would question Mike not being a Christian. Yet, God worked through us and to Mike, and one Sunday morning he walked down the aisle of Eastlawn Baptist Church and made his public profession of faith. It was amazing. Soon Mike was baptized, and the change was immediate. I remember when we went to the store and bought him a bible to use for studying and his daily devotion. He was so excited. I remember the way he would reverently read it and underline with such precision each bible verse that he wanted to remember.

Our relationship took on a deeper meaning, and in 1975 Mike proposed on Christmas Eve in his parents’ living room. We were married on August 14, 1976. Not everyone was excited about us getting married because we were both still in college. There were doubts as to whether we would finish school. Those doubts though were soon wiped away. Mike and I were both determined to finish school and pay our own way. So, we both worked full time and went to school full time. It was not easy, but it was so worth the journey. God’s plan was for us to be together, and Mike and I were both set on following His plan.

College graduations meant starting to work in the real world. Another life change, and another part of God’s plan. God does not promise us that His plan will always be easy. I have found that when we have trials and challenges in front of us, we tend to strive harder and become more determined to be successful towards our goals and God’s directions. Life began to present more obstacles and challenges, however, Mike and I just looked at them as something to make life more exciting. After all, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” (Newt Gingrich). Mike and I had already spent about 3 years working and achieving, we could only go towards the future with the same mindset.