School Shopping

Three girls overlooking the ocean

Anybody else out there remember taking a once a year shopping trip for clothes when you were in elementary and/or middle school?  One and done.  The tennis shoes you bought better last you the whole school year or you’d be lining them with cardboard.  Sorry if your jeans got too short, better just try and wear socks that matched as closely as possible and hope no one noticed.

Ah, the memories.

Momma used to take us school shopping right at the brink of each new school year.  This was back before the internet.  Yes, there was life before the internet.  Back then, you couldn’t get online and order everything you needed and have it show up on your doorstep in the speed of light.  Nope.  You actually had to get in your car, drive across town, pick out the clothes, try them on, then stand in line to purchase them.

Archaic, I know.

School usually started in sweltering August, right about the time of my birthday.  Side note:  I was always deeply disappointed in elementary school because school would start right AFTER my day of birth and I never got to wear the birthday crown with all of its benefits and accolades.

Not sure I’m really over it.

On one exciting morning Momma, my sisters and I would climb into the hot car, (most of the cars we owned over the years didn’t have air-conditioning, oh, and we never wore seatbelts), and head out to shop.  I heard some of you young mommas gasp at the idea of not wearing seatbelts.  I’ve seen ten year olds strapped down to a car seat that barely fit under them, seems like society goes from one extreme to the other.  Also, keep in mind this was way back before it was the law.  Cars were equipped with them, but they were buried under the seat somewhere only to emerge when you were searching for lost change.  I’m not encouraging not wearing seatbelts, but I think it’s worth noting that we did live to tell the stories about it.

Anyway, back on track, we each received one hundred dollars for our once a year shopping trip.   For our family that may as well have been one hundred thousand dollars.  It was a LOT and I felt like I must’ve entered into a wild dream as we sat shoulder to shoulder in the back seat, sweat dripping down our backs because, you know, no air.  As I sat with the windows rolled all the way down, and my hair slapping me in the face, I dreamed of all the fine things I was going to buy and how amazing I would look walking proudly down the halls of school in my one hundred dollar clothes.

That was the best day of the year to me.

Up until high school, Momma used to take us every year without fail to Monroeville, AL where the Lee Jean Factory lived.  Back then, it was a huge warehouse chalked full of everything from underwear to blue jeans.  Momma would walk us in the door and then set us free with clear parameters of where we could pick and choose our new clothes.  Funny thing is, I didn’t know we were shopping in the misfit section.  I had no idea.  Misfit being the jeans that were rejected and couldn’t be sent to the finer stores, like the ones in the mall.  They might be missing a button or a pocket was sewn shut, or the hem in one leg was longer than the other.

It was the section for imperfect items.

Thinking back on those trips to Monroeville, I can’t help but grin.  We may have worn lopsided jeans and three legged panties, but we didn’t have a care in the world.  As a kid I was clueless, but now I realize I fit perfectly in the imperfect section.  So many things about me are far from perfect.  But I’ve noticed the more I embrace all of my flaws, the happier I am.  I will never have Pantene commercial hair, or Oil of Olay skin, no, you’ll find me on the aisle where there’s shampoo to help volumize thin, mousy hair.  And, no amount of moisturizer is going to make these wrinkles go away.

But, I wonder, should we even call those things that make us an individual, flaws?  Maybe it’s our distinctions that make us uniquely beautiful.

This year, this shiny new year, I’m dedicated to being more thankful for all of it.

Even my stretch marks.

This life is a gift.

Beautiful, imperfect life.

You know, I may take a trip to the Lee Jean Factory sometime.  I think the proper name for it is Vanity Fair, but I like the name I gave it as a kid better.  It would certainly bring back a lot of memories.  And, who knows, maybe I’ll even venture out of the assigned parameters to see what else they sell?  And maybe I’ll buy a shiny new pair of jeans with the pockets sewn shut, just for old time’s sake and as a reminder…imperfect really is perfect.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!”

 Psalm 139:13-18

It’s a New Year!

Jeff and Me at Christmas

Sitting in the living room staring at the Christmas tree, probably should’ve taken it down days ago.  Nevertheless, here it stands reminding me of great memories while simultaneously making me feel like a sloth.   At least I’m a happy sloth.

I think I’m still a little Christmas cookie drunk.

This holiday has been dreamy, all of my children home together under one roof for more than a minute.  Other than the countless hours I’ve spent making food and doing dishes, it’s been almost perfect.  Those of you who love to cook cannot possibly understand why someone like me would find it less than enjoyable.

I know who you are.

You’re the ones who don’t need a recipe and don’t mind if the kitchen looks like a train wreck when you’re done.  You hum while you do the dishes and anticipate the next time you “get” to spend hours behind a kitchen counter preparing for any number of people.

I am NOT that person.

If I could afford a personal chef I would start the interviewing process immediately!!

Hey wait, could that be a new year’s resolution?

“I resolute (does that word work there?) to cook as little as possible this year.”

But that doesn’t help me right now, I have two boys that eat like it’s their last meal and testament.  Especially one who does not know what the word “full” means.  As an example, we went to Chick-fil-A (shout out to all the chicken nugget soul mates out there) for lunch and one son walks up and orders a market salad AND twelve piece grilled nuggets.

He’ll drink water, he tells me as consolation.

Forty dollars later and we’re eating at home from here on out.

Kids at Christmas

Other than the constant food consumption, I honestly couldn’t ask for more this holiday season.  I’ve given and received, shopped, laughed, cried, talked, played games, watched movies, stayed up late, cooked and washed dishes.

And cooked and washed dishes.

In the middle of all this jolly, I can hardly believe we’ve entered a new year, a new decade.  Can you?  At the risk of sounding like a Christmas card, time sure does fly.  Last year held a lot of changes for our family.  We sold our house in April, I quit my long time job in May and we moved into my dad’s house for a seven week stay as we searched for a place to live in South Carolina.  We moved late in June and I spent my first weekend as a South Carolina resident over the Fourth of July weekend.  I didn’t see a single firework since I hardly knew where the grocery store was, but I did light a sparkler and celebrate this new place and new season, oh, and of course, America.

August brought the last birthday I will spend in my forties and then we started the march into the holiday season.  You know autumn, here, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is nothing short of spectacular.  I had many spontaneous praise and worship sessions as I drove around soaking in all of the brilliant colors painted on tree leaves.

I think orange was my favorite, it looked like it was on fire.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to carry into this new year, new decade.   What I want to embrace and what I want to leave behind.  If I’m naming things:  I want to forgive more and hold onto hurt feelings less.  I desperately need to believe unwaveringly in what God is doing in my life and quit living in a sea of doubt.  I want more compassion for others and to laugh more at myself.  I long to grow deeper in my faith and to be more intentional about my influence.

I leave this year with a greater appreciation for fellowship and friends, I understand the value of lunch dates over french fries filled with chatter and laughter.  I am going to be much more careful what I believe about others since I know what it feels like to be misjudged.  I will be kinder to strangers because I know how it feels to be unknown in a new place.  I plan to be present more and less tipsy-binging on social media.

I have some goals and hopes for the coming twelve months and beyond, but mostly I want to set my heart and mind on doing good and growing in faith.  I have some work to do in figuring out who I am in this new state, with all adult children and no current job.  My life looks nothing like it did a decade ago.  I can’t look too far into the future, my personality gets a little freaked out about what “could” happen, but what I do know is the Lord carried me through the last ten years and He will sustain me through the next.

And He will do the same for you.

He promises, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2

Speaking of water, that reminds me, I have dishes in the sink.

Sooo…Happy New Year!!

I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.

Gingerbread house pic

Childlike Christmas

Sleigh Ride

I’ve always wanted to ride in a horse drawn sleigh.

I picture myself with a red and black plaid blanket draped across my lap while snowflakes tickle my nose and eyelashes.   In my mind’s eye, we ride past snowmen with carrots for noses and Christmas lights shining through frost filled dimly lit windows.  I, in my dream, am singing Christmas carols for every passerby and sipping on a thermos of hot chocolate.

I can just hear the jingle bells dangling from the sleigh as we slide up and down hills and down windy roads.

Doesn’t that sound dreamy??

I can feel my heart flutter at the thought of it.

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The days ahead promise lights and tinsel, glitter and bows, caroling and celebrating the birth of the Christ child.  There’ll be apple cider simmering on the stove and my breath will turn to tiny ice crystals in the crisp, cold air.  Churches will display manger scenes with miniature Mary and Josephs standing faithfully beside live donkeys who are only interested in the hay.

The joy of this holiday is as palpable as the jingle bells on my imaginary one horse open sleigh.

Oh how I love Christmas!

My husband and I took a stroll around our local mall recently and the gigantic Christmas tree is up in all its shining glory.  It’s a two story mall and the tree is in the very center reaching proudly to the glass ceiling above.  Giant red and green balls hang from its giant green limbs, the lights twinkle to their own rhythm and Santa is sitting close by, listening intently to the wishes of children one and all.

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The smells of cinnamon and spice are in the air.

I’m using great restraint by not pulling out our Christmas tree and putting the one thousand pieces together tonight.  Yes, we have an artificial tree.  I just can’t see the romance in a real one.  (I heard some of you gasp.) We had a “real” tree once as a kid and all I remember is the little needles falling off and getting stuck in my feet.   And, having to vacuum constantly because of the dreaded needles.  I love the idea of walking through light snow, picking out a tree, cutting it down and bringing it home.

But, my real life is not a Hallmark movie.

Reality tells me I’m way more suited for an artificial one.

Now to find a Christmas radio station and listen to tunes on loop from now until the big day.  I’ve done this for years and it usually drives those I love crazy because… how many times can you listen to “All I Want for Christmas is You” before losing hope in humanity??

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So many wonderful memories come to mind when I think of Christmases gone by.

One of my favorites was the year Mom decided to sew my younger sister and me each a doll that was as big as we were.  She worked tirelessly on those giant dolls and wouldn’t let us see her painful progress. She insisted we wait until Christmas morn.  I had a bad habit of sneaking out of bed on Christmas Eve night when everyone else was asleep and peaking under the tree, desperately hoping Santa had already been there.  This particular year Mom decided to sit the giant cloth dolls on the couch so they could greet us like new friends ready to play.

They sat quiet, with their yarn hair and giant eyes, staring blankly into the night.

I snuck into the living room, silent as a mouse, careful not to make a sound.  The moonlight shone through the window and cast the smallest light across the room and I caught a glimpse of a two silhouettes.  I nearly peed my pants.  They looked like large weirdly shaped people sitting, waiting for me to appear so they could…well, I don’t know exactly, but I laid in bed with my eyes wide open the rest of the night worried about it.

Scared me to death.

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You would think I would’ve learned my lesson, but, no.  The next Christmas I found where Mom hid my gifts and unwrapped each and every one.   I even took the time to re-wrap them.  Looking back on it I wonder why Mom didn’t blow my mascaraed.   I knew she could tell the gifts had been opened and carefully put back together, but, she didn’t say anything. Then she watched me pretend to be surprised with each gift KNOWING I had already opened them.   She told me years later it was my Christmas and if I wanted to spoil the surprise she wasn’t going to stop me.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I snuck into the Christmas gifts every year.

Ya’ll, I was such a mess.

Our tree always had multi colored lights and lots of tinsel.  I’m sure some would say it was tacky, but I thought it was perfect.  Homemade ornaments hung from its boughs along with the occasional candy cane, usually broken or half eaten.  Decorating the tree was one of life’s greatest pleasures as far as I was concerned.  Staring at it as it illuminated the night was nothing short of magical.

I remember I wore my pink homemade housecoat that slipped over my head and fuzzy slippers, dirty from wearing them outside.   I would sneak out of my room and down the hall to the living room where I’d curl up in a ball on the sofa and dream little girl dreams as the lights played charades with the darkness.  And, because I sat up late with the Christmas tree, I was always tired the next morning.  And then I’d pretend to be terribly ill in hopes I wouldn’t have to go to school.

I didn’t realize when you put a thermometer into a hot glass of water it looked like you had a temperature of one hundred and ten.

So off I went to catch the school bus, no fooling Momma.

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It was in my early years, between the Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven and my beloved Tinker Toys, I learned about the greatest gift of all.

I have to be honest, I didn’t totally understand salvation as a kid.  I was just glad this Jesus guy was born so I could receive presents.  As a pastor’s kid, I was often a part of the Nativity. I was Mary, an angel or occasionally a shepherd every year.  Now I realize all the gifts, the trees, church Christmas plays, all the stuff, led me straight to the manger time and again.

And somewhere along the way I fell in love with the baby in the manger.

The one who grew to be the Savior of the world.

The One who makes all things new.

The One who loves me unconditionally and gave me the GREATEST GIFT OF ALL.

Hope of life eternal.

And, maybe, just maybe, the hope of a one horse open sleigh ride.

Cue in “Jingle Bells” here.  (Hum it to yourself as you read the last line.)

And now, let the gift giving, tree lighting, cookie decorating, ornament hanging, popcorn stringing, candy cane licking, movie marathon-ing, wreath making, bell ringing, absolute BEST time of the year begin!!!

Merry CHRISTmas season!!

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PSA:  Parents, hide the presents real good because I can ASSURE you one (or more) of your kids is looking for them in the dead of night.

Dancing Into Glory

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I was weaving through the aisles of Target absent mindedly enjoying the yellows and browns of the fall décor.  I love this time of year.  As I rounded the corner I passed a grey-headed attractive lady and, as usual, my heart wilted a little because my Mom would never get the chance to grow old.  But, in a wonderful mood changing moment, she offered me the sweetest smile.  I hadn’t even smiled at her first, I was lost in my thoughts.  But, as the corners of her aged mouth turned upward, the wrinkles around her eyes became more pronounced and I couldn’t help but grin right back at her.

It was lovely.

I’ve been thinking about my Mom a lot throughout October.  She’s never far from my mind or my heart at any given time.  But, this month stands out because it marks five years since she went to heaven.

Five years.

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So much has happened in those years; I couldn’t begin to name everything.  Words fall short. What’s most audacious is that life actually went on.  I mean, I really didn’t think it would.  I thought everything would stop, especially living.  But, that’s not what happened, instead a great divide formed…the before and after.

We speak in terms of “before Mom died” or “after Mom passed.”

Life will forevermore have a chasm.

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In the years “after Mom passed,” I’ve learned so much about living though grief and hard times.   Lessons I never wanted to learn but now wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’ve learned…

  • you can have a shattered heart and still cheer for your high schooler who needs encouragement.
  • you can cook supper when your mind is numb from pain.
  • you can still see a good movie, even if you do cry through half of it.
  • you can hide in a bathroom stall if you can’t control your emotions.
  • you can laugh and cry at the same time.
  • you can get up out of bed day after day even though you don’t really want to.
  • you talk to yourself more than ever in an attempt to keep your sanity.

You keep on surviving.

Then you keep on living.

In that order.

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After year one, you’ll have a relapse and fall into deeper grief. 

Just when you think you might’ve turned a corner, you’ll sink deeper into the pain.  You wonder if joy exists anymore.  You also wonder how others can go on with life as though nothing has happened.

Year two comes and you finally begin to wrap your mind around the finality of loss.

You don’t find yourself picking up the phone to call them as often and you don’t wake up every day thinking it was all a bad dream.

By year three, your heart begins to thaw from the frozen state it was shocked into for survival.

And in the thawing comes a lot of remembering.  Remembering things you’d forgotten or suppressed so you could function.  With remembering comes more pain.

Year four is full of longing and sadness watching life continue knowing how much the one you loved and lost would want to be there. 

Weddings, new babies, graduations etc.   You set out their picture at each occasion as a reminder wishing there was a window from heaven.

Then there’s year five.

The milestone year.

Half a decade.

In year five I’ve begun to fully accept her absence.  I’ve decided as long as I have breath I will miss her and long to talk to her; that will never change. 

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I walked into church this week with an open slightly broken heart and sat down about half way up the aisle.  I seated myself on the end as I always do, and waited for the service to begin.

The music was uplifting and worshipful, then it was time for the message.

I pulled out my pink notebook to take notes.  Yes, it’s pink, I’m sure that’s God’s favorite color too.  As I began to write I noticed a theme…death to life.  He spoke from I Corinthians 15 and I quickly realized the Lord was talking to me.

How tender is our Father to know what I needed right in that moment.

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You see in I Corinthians 15 Paul answered the question about our resurrected bodies.  He explained to the Corinthians that we MUST die in order to really LIVE.

“These earthly bodies cannot handle all God has prepared for us to experience,” said the speaker.   He went on to tell us God has more art, more music, more beauty, more love, more life than our feeble human bodies can absorb.

MORE.

Death is our passage to the greatest part of our lives.  The eternal part.  The part where we’ll never shed another tear or lose another soul.  The part where blue skies are endless and the temperature is perfect.  Well, I made that last part up, BUT blue skies and perfect temps sound like heaven to me.   Can I get an amen?!

On this particular Sunday morning, listening to a theme I’d heard before, it resonated with my heart like brand new.

Maybe year five made me ready.

Maybe it took this many years of working diligently to find mental health in my grief.

To come to terms with the depth of my loss.

Whatever the case, for the first time I felt like dancing FOR my Mom.  Dancing because she made it, she’s WHOLE and experiencing REAL LIFE like never before.  Dancing because even in my sadness I can rejoice that SHE LIVES ON.  I can rejoice that she ran the race, finished the course and is literally living her BEST LIFE EVER.

I wept tears of joy.

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I’m so proud of her.  So proud of the person she was, so proud she lived her days practicing what she believed.

I’m so proud she MADE IT.

She has her NEW heavenly body.

Let me tell you a little secret about my Mom, she loved to dance.

Now, being the Preacher’s Wife, and because she was “old school,” she would never be seen dancing in public.  But, sometimes, every now and then, she would play a song from her teenage years and cut a rug in the living room.  I remember when we three girls were little we would squeal with delight when she did.  Sometimes we would jump up and join her and sometimes she and Daddy would dance and we would watch.

Sweet, innocent times.

So, with this in mind, I’ve declared this fifth year of missing Momma to be a year of dancing.  Dancing because of her beautiful life.  Dancing away my hurt.  Dancing through the sorrow. Dancing to remember.  Dancing in celebration. Dancing in my spirit.  Dancing around the living room.  And, maybe, occasionally, cutting a rug down the aisle in Target. Who cares about the security cameras, maybe it will make someone smile, or laugh, or both.

And, honestly, that would make Momma the happiest.

Because I have NO DOUBT she is dancing around heaven, living her BEST LIFE and glancing occasionally at the Pearly White Gates looking for us.

I’m so ready to see her again.

So ready to hug her tight and squeal with delight and dance our way into glory.

Apple Pickin’

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I went to the apple orchard recently.

It brought back so many memories.

We used to go when the kids were little; such sweet times.

We’d climb on a hay filled trailer pulled by an ancient tractor and hold on for dear life as it bounced and bumped us out to the fruit laden trees.

I still remember so clearly.

The kids would jump off when we finally pulled to a stop and run between the rows and rows of apple trees, squealing with delight.

And, oh, the juicy goodness of those fresh apples; store-bought ones can’t compare.

Those were the days.

On this day, the one more recent, we piled out of the car to crisp mountain air.  They don’t call it Sky Top Orchard for nothing.

The drive up was breath taking, if a bit unnerving.

When we walked into the open air barn it was like stepping back in time.  The rugged building was meant to fit in with the mountainside, fancy would never be used to describe it.  There were small lights hung in rows from the ceiling and tables were loaded with freshly picked apples and pumpkins.  Pickled apples and homemade jams lined the walls in mason jars and there was a flurry of activity.

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We decided we’d like to pick our own apples right from the tree, even though there wasn’t a child among us.  I’m not quite sure why. Maybe so we could relive former days or maybe because we knew our watches were counting steps.  Whatever the reason, the brilliant blue sky beckoned us to come and play.

We stood in line, paid for a basket and started down the trail. Our route was highlighted on a cryptic map given to us by the nice man who worked behind the counter full of apple samples.

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As I said, this orchard is on the side of a mountain so the views are spectacular, but that also means you’re either going down or up.  Down is not so bad, but up, well that’s not for the faint of heart.

The ground was wet and our tennis shoes soaked up all the moisture they could, causing my socks to sound like a duck calling to its friends across the pond.

But, I didn’t care.

I was enjoying the smells and sights and batting away the occasional bee.

It was like living a Hallmark movie for a few minutes.

And, you know how much I love Hallmark.

We were all aglow with delight.

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But, as real life would have it, we took a wrong turn somewhere in the orchard and wound up on the exact opposite side of where we wanted to be.  This is no small place, so it was a bit discouraging to realize we had to trek back down the path from which we’d just come.  Or maybe it was up the path or both, whichever, we were tired and it was hard.

I had my mind set on making some homemade apple pies and I wanted a certain type of apple, like the one I had sampled in the rustic open air barn.

No other type would do.

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And that reminds me, who knew there were so many types of apples??  Did you know there is one that tastes like a pear?? Asian Pear in case you’re wondering. It’s confusing to your taste buds when you bite into it.  Is it a pear or an apple?!  And if it’s an apple, why do we need pears?

These are the thoughts of a simple mind, namely mine.

As we walked along, our socks honking, I noticed a tree standing proudly in the middle of all the others that had exactly zero leaves on it.  I did a double take because it looked so very out of place amidst the green glory of this mountain.

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What happened to this tree, I wondered.

Interestingly, it had small apples all over it.

How was this tree, so dead looking from the outside, bearing fruit?

How??

As I walked closer I noticed something.

All the apples on the tree were small.

Like too small to be of any use.

They were stunted and undergrown.

Pitiful.

All around us was life brilliant with color.  There were juicy apples hanging on trees literally right next to this one.

And yet, here it stood, looking lifeless with unhealthy fruit trying unsuccessfully to blend in.

What happened to it?

It had the same water supply, the same minerals from the soil, and the same amount of sunlight as all the rest and yet, it was dying.

The Bible talks about trees in Luke chapter six.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.”  Vs. 43 NLT

Luke goes on a couple of verses later to compare our heart to trees; good things come from a good heart and evil things come from an evil heart.

I looked at the half dead tree and then the healthy tree next to it, it was a perfect example of these verses in Luke.

Each tree had the same opportunity but one was dying and the other living.

I wonder, if trees could think, if that tree realizes it is half dead.  I wonder if it wishes to be green and leafy like it used to be.  Or has it been dried up for so long it no longer has any hope of change?

Settling for barely living because it’s forgotten what it feels like to be fully alive?

But, trees can’t think.

And life is hard.

I long to be fully alive.  I want to chase hope until it captures my heart.  I want to grow strong and healthy through seasons and hardship until I am truly ALIVE.

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Ah, if only this were an easy task.

But, this tree stands as a tangible reminder that I can have ALL I need exactly where I need it and still be lifeless.

I can read God’s Word, attend church, be kind to others, put encouragement on Facebook, give to the poor, rescue lost puppies, witness to the lost, tutor kids who need it, lead Bible study, sing in the choir, listen to the lonely, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, I can do ALL THE THINGS but still stand there with brown limbs and useless fruit.

What makes the difference?

For me, it’s putting the WORK of God AFTER the WORD and WORSHIP of God.

I have to keep it in the proper order.

Now, I am no botanist, I have absolutely no advice on how to help this tree.

But, I’m no dummy and I can tell you something in its life needs to change.

Can you relate?

Is there something in your life that needs to change so you can feel alive again?

So you can produce fruit that is worthwhile?

So you can be vibrant with spiritual health?

Ask the Lord today to show you what needs to change, He is faithful, he will show you and he will walk with you into a better place flowing with hot apple cider and homemade apple cider donuts.

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Oh Lord, I didn’t mention the homemade donuts, did I?

When we finally made it back to the barn, our basket brimming with fresh apples, we treated ourselves to heaven on earth in the form of a donut.

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They were amazing.

Dredged in cinnamon and sugar with pieces of fresh hot apple inside.

My goodness, steaming, hot perfection.

They were a perfect finale to a perfect afternoon.

And now my life is now complete.

Even so, Lord Jesus come.

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