What does drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes have to do with my book cover? Please join me for this fun “Behind the Story” story to find out!
Welcome Back Blog Family! We’re up and running again with our second behind-the-scenes story of what unfolded during the writing of Transforming Tragedy. Please join me!
Coming up to our book release I’m sharing some beautiful “Behind the Story” stories. Did you know I didn’t WANT to write this book? This story is what got me to change my mind and jumpstarted this journey!
Everyone struggles in some way or another. This month, Journey with Jen as she learns to embrace these broken, fragile places and finds the value in them.
Tragedy isn’t a one day event. It marks life forever. I pray this post speaks to you as I share my thoughts on this 30 year anniversary after our accident.
I wrote this guest post for The Essential Life. In this post I share my story and what it was to live tarnished, the realities of grief and the darkness of depression. Thank you to The Essential Life for contacting me to contribute. I never know how these guest pieces will unfold, but I believe these words are for those in the midst of their toughest battles desiring to know there is a hope for tomorrow.
In our home, we have this approach to bad days: go to bed early. Our thought is, “the earlier we go to bed the sooner the day will be over, getting us to tomorrow, a brand-new day with brand-new beginnings.” Lynn Anderson was onto something when she sang, “I never promised you a rose garden.” Bad days are as much a part of life as the good ones. Thankfully, however, the good ones do overall outweigh the bad. But sometimes the bad are more than bad. They’re horrific. And those are the seasons a simple turning-in-for-the-night won’t fix. We wake up to the nightmare we long to escape.
..........Read The Rest of The Story at JaynePatton.com
Do you ever wonder what it takes to just be happy? Some days it can feel like such a struggle. My friend Jenn Baxter asked me to write a guest post for her site, and it's a topic I felt led to cover when sharing my story with her readers. I hope you follow the story to her site to read the article and look around to see how Jenn is touching lives through her journey and online home.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you and for being a part of our online family here! ❤ Heather
“Heather, what more could make you happy?”
It was a desperate question my mom asked as we sat on my bed looking in to a closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories. “Not stuff, Mom. Stuff can’t bring happiness.”
I was only sixteen, but I had already concluded that trips to the mall, a brand new car and hosting parties with friends couldn’t fill the emptiness inside. The void was far too vast for material, superficial things. Happiness was a state I was battling to attain.
The battle began nine years earlier, when my world tragically changed on a country dirt road.
..........Read The Rest of The Story at LiveAFastLife.com
*a special post from a special guest* So I want to start off by introducing myself and saying what an honor it is to share my story with everyone.
My name is Sean Westley, I am a husband to my beautiful wife Jasmine Westley.
My wife is an Aerospace Engineer and I am a Project Superintendent for a construction company. We have been married for almost 5 years and I am a father to 6 amazing children. We have 3 boys and 3 girls, so I guess you could say we are the modern age Brady Bunch. Those who know us, our friends and family, refer to our family as “Team W”. “Team W” because half of our family carries the last name of Westley and the other half last name Woody. Everyone having a last name starting with “W” is just one of God’s many winks for us. Go “Team W”!
Most importantly, I am a child of God! However, this isn’t what my life has always looked like. Matter of fact, it has looked vastly different from this beautiful picture I have painted.
I would like to start from the beginning. My life started out with a lot of hurt and pain. During my formative years there were several men brought into my life that, well let’s just say, were not very nice to me. Two of the men were sexually abusive and put much fear into me. Another was very physically and mentally abusive. When I was about 14 or 15 years old, my mom married the man she is married to today. Although he was an amazing dad, damage had already been done; all I knew to do, was distance myself from him and the rest of the family. At this point I started my own self destruction.
I quit school when I was 15 and started running around with the wrong crowd. I started smoking pot and drinking. I would sneak out at night and really just do whatever I wanted to do. In no time at all I found myself being arrested. I was completely out of control. I started doing meth and whatever I could to support that habit such as stealing from my mom and dad. It went so far that I started using stolen credit cards and that is when it all came to a head. I was arrested and ended up being charged and going to the penitentiary. The State charged me with 5 counts of credit card fraud and forgery for over $250,000 which carried a sentence of 20 to life on each count.
Let that sink in….. I’m 20 years old, facing spending the rest of my life in prison.
That’s when Grace stepped in. I received 5 consecutive 5 year sentences. All said and done, I served 5 years in an Oklahoma prison. What I overcame there in that place is yet another story. Let’s just say it was a very scary time in my life.
After getting out I started working and walking the straight path, but that didn’t last long. I started running around and fell into old habits. During this period of my life I met the mother of my kids. We were married for 13 years and we had 3 children in 3 years. That didn’t keep addiction at bay and I became addicted to several drugs. My main drug of choice was crack cocaine. I remember a time when I sold everything we owned to support my habit. Looking back it was a very low time in my life. The good news is that I made the decision to walk away from that life style. Although I wanted something else, my kid’s mom wasn’t ready to do that, so I made the decision to divorce her and fight for my kids.
And that is when Grace came to me again. Can you believe that? Me. After all I have done I was given Grace once again. The same judge that sentenced me to prison is the same judge that gave me full custody of my children. Now you are thinking, “Wow, he has overcome so much”, and yes, I would say you're right, but that is when my toughest battle to date would come.
After getting custody of my kids I fell back into the drug scene. I also fell into a depression. Let me tell you, those two things do not go together well, at all, not at all. And that’s when it happened, ROCK BOTTOM. Yep, bottom of the barrel into the pit right where Satan wanted me. There I was lost and broken with all this responsibility and nowhere to turn. But, you guessed it, that’s when Grace entered in once again. Grace found me when I was on top of a 6 foot ladder with a noose around my neck. That is the moment when I heard God's voice. Right then, God spoke to me and told me to get down. He said that He had a different plan for me.
In Isaiah 28: 23 NIV it says, "Listen and hear My voice; pay attention and hear what I say." You see, right in scripture, God the Father, tells us that He has given us the ability to hear His voice.
What I have come to understand is that we are too busy and too loud in our own heads to hear. I am a testimony that God speaks to the broken and on that day, I heard the audible voice of the Good Shepherd.
I hear people say that they have never heard the audible voice of God. My question is this: how do you know? If you don’t know what His voice sounds like, how do you know that you haven’t heard it?
Well, here is my opinion on that…..we might not hear a voice out loud, vocally, where it tickles our ear drums; however, I wonder if you have ever felt strongly that God, the Creator of the Universe, spoke directly to your inner most being. Isn’t that hearing Gods voice?
Well, on that day, when that happened for me, everything changed. That is the day that I gave my life to follow Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That day is what I call, the first day of my life. My real life, my true life, the one that God had purposed me for. That day is when I started living in God’s will. God delivered me from all my addictions and planted me firmly on the rock. On that day, I chose to be ALL in not just half in. I was all in! Every time the church doors were open my kids and I were there. Now you’re thinking “end of story,” right? Not so fast, although life got a lot better for my children and I, I had a lot of growing to do.
At this point I want to mention how extremely important our amazing church family was for my little family. By God’s leading, not out of convenience, we became family to an amazing church family at Coweta Assembly of God. In all my mess and all my failures this body of believers never once judged me, or looked down on me. They received us with open arms and have always loved on us from the very first second we walked in the doors. This was crucially important in my walk. They showed us the true definition of the love of Christ. After attending the church for about a year and going strong, my kids told me that they wanted me to be happy. “Happy?” I asked, I had never been so happy. “No dad, we want you to start dating again” they said. I told them that when it was time, God would send someone. This was when I started praying and asking God for direction, expressing that when He was ready, I was ready. We need to be very specific in our prayers and believe me I was.
I described to God what I would like to have in someone. Someone that would love my kids as her own. Someone that loved God with all her heart. Someone that would love me unconditionally and that didn’t need to depend on me to fulfill all her needs. Someone who could stand on her own two feet. Let me tell you, God loves us and he hears our prayers and it wasn’t but a short time later that I met Jasmine.
This brings me to the next time I heard God’s voice. After only dating Jasmine for a month, I was standing on my parent's porch and God spoke to me again. I heard, “Sean, you prayed and asked Me to send her to you and I sent her. What are you waiting for?”
"Are you kidding me, Lord? There is no way. I can’t do that………"
You know-- that argument we have with the Lord when He asks us to trust Him.
After losing the argument, I reached into my pocket grabbed my phone, YES MY PHONE, and I called Jasmine. When she answered the phone the call went a little like this, “Jasmine, this is going to sound really strange and I am so sorry for doing this to you on the phone, but Jasmine, I am supposed to ask you to marry me.”
Without any hesitation Jasmine said yes!
You see that doesn’t just happen BUT GOD, He had a better plan.
I have stood on the scripture Jerimiah 29:11 from the first day I got saved, because a dear friend of mine was obedient to God’s voice. He approached me and told me that God told him to give me this scripture, "'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.'"
Needless to say, one month later Jasmine and I got married. Now, it hasn’t been a cake walk. We had a lot to figure out such as bringing two families together and everything that comes with that. Wow, what a ride it has been let me tell you. Just when the story should say, "happily ever after," it happened... another test.
I fell into a state of depression again. Yep, that’s right, yet another test, and it almost broke us. But, remember we serve a big God. He says that whatever He brings together let no man separate. This test lasted on for two years and it completely consumed me. I thank the Lord for a wife that prays for her husband and that will stand on God’s Word. That’s exactly what she did.
I will never forget the day that I was set free from the grip of depression. My wife came to me and said, “This family and I are not doing this anymore with you. I refuse to allow you to bring us into the pit with you. It is time for you seek God and rise up and be the MAN that God has called you to be and lead our family as God has instructed you to do.”
That’s when it happened, I started seeking God and He spoke to me saying, "This season has come to an end to never return. You are an overcomer and you are My child and I love you." 2 Timothy 1:9 NIV says this, "He has saved us and called us to a Holy life not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time."
Wow! Did you hear that?! Before the beginning of time, our Father in Heaven purposed our lives! Your life!!! Wow! I’m happy to say, God is true to His word. I have never had a season like that since.
Matter a fact, we are in a great season, and life is good. God is doing so much in our family. I went to Haiti a few years back on a mission trip and this year we as a family went to El Salvador with our church including Heather Meadows and her family. Today, my wife and I are serving our church by leading a marriage class.
I truly believe that God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Each of the battles that we face is the exact test we need to make us stronger. It grows us so we can share it with someone to help them along in their struggles.
There is so much more to the story. I gave you the short version. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I hope it blesses you. If there are any of you that would like to contact me so I can pray with you, I welcome you contacting me. Or, if you are in a season that just seems never ending and need someone to talk to, my wife and I are always available.
Thank you for the pleasure of sharing with you.
May God bless you and keep you, Sean Westley-- a child of God! (click on Sean's name to contact him through Facebook)
A Little Thought from Heather: I met Sean sitting in my seat at church, listening, as he bravely stood at the pulpit sharing his testimony. We've attended church together with our families for over six years. I've observed Sean Westley. I've watched him worship, with abandonment, holding nothing back. To meet Sean is to know him. He is transparent, genuine and authentic and the gratitude he has for his life restored overflows in his everyday interactions. I'm honored to know this man and his beautiful family. We've all been through some mud and mire. Allowing the Lord to shine through it is a powerful testimony to our world. May you and yours be blessed and encouraged this Christmas season by Sean's story. A story illustrating The Gift we celebrate this time of year-- Jesus wrapped up His hope, His love, His grace to transform our lives when He came to this earth, born in a manger, loving us to the cross and giving us victory in His resurrection. Merry Christmas! Much love, Heather ❤️
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Let’s talk about comfort zones. Or risk zones. Or danger zones. I feel like there are signs regarding all three just sitting here composing this post. The thing is, I’m willing to stretch myself to share my experiences, feelings and thoughts to encourage others as the Lord directs me, (see that comma? It’s the contingency mark to this situation), I’m willing to stretch myself as long as it’s not too far outside the comfort zone and as long as I don’t merge over the line into any risk or danger. Let’s keep it relatively safe and dignified.
Well, I’m nearly one hundred words into this and there’s a photo attached, therefore, I’m already very much outside the comfort zone.
Over the last fourteen days my requests for the Lord to speak the next post into my heart have returned quite silent. I wanted to set this particular one on the back burner and share it another day. Okay. Possibly never. It wouldn’t be the first post I’ve written that I never published. But above my dignity is my desire for Him to use this blog to encourage and inspire others when they need it most. In order to receive the next one, I must be obedient to share this one. This post is my abandonment of self for His glory. This post is my David-moment, dancing with all my might.
2 Samuel 6:14-15, 20-22 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
For most of my life I dreamed of the day when medical advancements would remove my scars. In nearly three decades, that day hasn’t come.
In that time I’ve given much effort to covering my body and hiding my scars. No matter how many years and how much I’ve grown I’ve never got used to people staring. For the most part, when people see me they don’t notice my scars too terribly much because of my clothing. Actually, some don’t realize the extent of my injury. Until…..
Until I wear a swimsuit.
My backyard is a safe place surrounded by people who know me and love me, and while yes, they do obviously see my scars, they see me first. A public place is just the opposite. People don’t know me, therefore, they see the scars first. The looks could be categorized as curious or puzzled, but the expression I receive is negative and uncomfortable.
I’ve even experienced a couple individuals sharing those very thoughts with me. One random lady came up to me in the grocery store asking if she could pray with me for the Lord to take my scars away. Another was a man who went to our church attributing my scars to a lack of faith. I think Taylor Swift could have also been inspired by the super-spiritually-detached when she sang Shake It Off. In those situations there’s nothing else to do. Just go your separate ways picturing Olaf in your mind when he said, “he’s crazy.” (You should totally click here and watch the short clip.)
These instances explain why a baggage of inhibition accompanies me every time I put on a swimsuit, including recent events when our beach-loving family went to Hawaii for this year’s vacation. But as if it wasn’t enough to merely go in my swim shorts and tankini, the Lord challenged me with my very own David-moment….take pictures in a TWO PIECE!!!
And that’s only one part of the story (as you know, there’s always more than one part).
The other is that it is October. It’s been a couple months since this body has seen sun, especially my torso! So there I was, out on the beach for the first four days of our vacation, for the very first time in my entire life wearing a two-piece in public! While there was never any strolling along the beach, I was jumping hurdles of insecurities just sitting there in my lounge chair.
The third part of the two-piece swimsuit challenge was the day we actually took the photos. We got to the location and snapped a few photos in my dress. Nice, peaceful, no-people-around place. No. Not a soul. God honoring my obedience, right? Well, maybe Him challenging me more. It’s the only reason I can conclude as to why the moment that I was just pulling my dress off here came a wedding party! A WEDDING PARTY!!!! You’ve got to be kidding me! Talk about a test of commitment. I nearly bailed. And nearly vomited.
So why do it?
While I was incredibly inhibited I envisioned the image as a very powerful illustration of not only survival, but of overcoming. The Lord put it in my heart to share these scars for the power they portray. His power. There is a story in them. A story not about me but all about the evidence of His faithfulness.
This location the photographer chose with the black rocks and crashing waves made me feel brave. Brave enough to stand there and share my vulnerability, the imperfections I prefer to hide believing there are others who relate to doing the same thing. Believing that God truly can place some beauty in what’s damaged.
We have so many things about ourselves that we don’t like, but that we can change. It gives us ambition, hope and joy pursuing self-improvement. But what about the things we can’t change?
I’m not happy with my body, but I’m happy with me. Growing up damaged on the outside motivated my development of who I am on the inside. My goal was for people to see me, not my scars. When we’re standing in an elevator, or the grocery line, or even at the pool, people merely see our shell. And we know, the pretty shells are the ones we search for on the beach. No, I’m not happy to have scars. I don’t love my body. But I am happy and love who God has made, and is still making, me to be. It is possible to be happy, even in what we can’t change.
This was one of the most uncomfortable and yet most meaningful things I’ve ever done. It felt serene. It felt sacred. It felt liberating.
It’s my hope this speaks a message to your heart, like what it spoke to another girl on the beach. Brooklyn was quite aware of the unwanted attention during my time tanning. One afternoon she came to walk the short distance with me from the chair to the water. I noticed her effort in blocking my view walking into the ocean. I said, “Thanks Brook. You’re amazing.” She replied, “I think you’re amazing.” Is it because I am, and have been, amazing? No. She of all people knows that’s not true. I think it had more to do with the courage to be seen when I really wanted to hide. That's a message I'm honored to live out before my kids.
For fellow burn survivors, those with psoriasis, vitiligo, rosacea, surgery scars, breast reconstruction, varicose veins, stretch marks, and any other imperfection, take it from my daughter, you’re amazing! And you feel nothing less in your own David-moment glorifying the God who brings you through it! This photo is for you.
*thank you to Anthony Calleja for his talent and heart in capturing this message *thank you to Athleta for swim wear for all women, for everyday-life women *The song I sang during these moments- You Make Me Brave
As Your love, in wave after wave Crashes over me, crashes over me For You are for us You are not against us Champion of Heaven You made a way for all to enter in.... You make me brave You make me brave You call me out beyond the shore into the waves You make me brave You make me brave No fear can hinder now the love that made a way
Mark your calendar to join me for a Women’s Night at Coweta Assembly of God on Sunday November 6th at 6pm as we dig in to the words we need to receive, repeat and those we need to rebuke in order to walk in the label the Lord has given us. All are welcome to attend. And if you know a teenage girl, bring her along too!
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Have you ever heard someone laughing and, without even knowing what was being laughed about, you started laughing too? I have. The sound of laughter is downright funny. It’s a pleasant sound, an amusing emotion and is instantly contagious. There is one whose sound of laughter tickles me more than any I’ve ever heard--- it’s my mom’s laughter. My mom doesn’t let an opportunity for laughing pass her by. She will belt out a hearty laugh even if it’s not really that funny. Hearing her prompts an instinctive reaction in myself. I’m going to laugh whether I intend to or not. I’ll find myself questioning, “Why am I laughing? It wasn’t funny.”
It’s more than laughter. It’s inspiration.
It’s a trait I’ve hoped to express in my own life. A couple weeks ago I received a great compliment when we were at the soccer fields for a tournament with our oldest son Jaron. Getting our tails whipped on a muddy field, my cheers were laden with positive reinforcement. As with previous posts, I’m not a sports guru, but I don’t believe we “kick ‘em while they’re down.” That was when Brooklyn leaned over to me and said, “Mom, you know that character ‘Joy’ on the new Disney movie ‘Inside Out’?” I answered,“Yes,” because I’ve watched some trailers and we can’t wait to see it on its June 19th release date, which so happens to be Brandon and my 16th Anniversary; what a perfect way to celebrate. Brooklyn continues, “Well, while everyone has a ‘Joy’ in their head, I think your ‘Joy’ character is REALLY, REALLY BIG!"
It was one of the greatest compliments I could have received from one who has observed me, studied me, and sometimes imitated me since she entered this world; my daughter. And it was a compliment that complimented the one who I have observed, studied and even imitated since I entered this world; my Mom.
My Mom’s laughter is a battle cry, an anthem to her God and a signal to the enemy that she is victorious, she is an overcomer, and not only has she won, but she still has what many people lose in a battle, her joy. My Mom’s joy is a reflection of her relationship with God.
Philippians 4:4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Always? It couldn’t really mean “always,” right?
תמיד, tamid, prounounced taw-meed, the Hebrew word for always, meaning constantly, ever, continually.
Could it happen? Is it true? How can it be?
My mom’s anthem goes something like this:
Susan Cochrane arrived to the scene of a tragic motorcycle accident. Her nine year-old son’s lifeless body covered on that nearby country road. When shock would overwhelm the mind to function, she surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit Who gave her the strength to crawl into a helicopter with the burned and injured body of her daughter.
Susan Cochrane endured the unknowns of her seven year-old daughter’s injuries sustained from that accident; would she live; would she walk; would she have quality of life?
Susan Cochrane spent her life visiting doctors and therapists for her daughter’s rehabilitation, followed by visits for the care of her husband’s ailing body, as affected by diabetes and heart failure.
Susan Cochrane stood at yet another grave near her son’s, seventeen years later, burying her husband.
A widow at fifty-three, she experienced what it was, for the very first time in her life, to live alone. Even with the death of my brother, my Mom had had my Dad to crawl in bed and grieve together. Losing Dad provided solitude she was not accustomed to, nor desired.
Heartache. Grief. Emptiness. Desperation. Loneliness.
However, joy not sacrificed.
My Mom is one of the most optimistic, upbeat, enthusiastic, look-for-the-good, and hopeful people I know. And she’s my Mom! How incredibly awesome is that?! Not only do I know her, but I’m related to her, and I’m an heir to the greatest asset she could impart—her joy.
You may be reading this and thinking, “That is so special. I am so happy for you. God knew you needed that influence in your life for what life held for you, but I came from a bunch of negative nellies and I’m just inclined to think pessimistically.”
I’ve heard it said, “You can’t give what you don’t possess.” The Word tells us we all can live a life of joy! It’s a choice to tap into the abundant resources the Lord provides to us. Even better, it’s not contingent upon our circumstances. Being glad, having joy, living in peace are by-products of following the Lord and trusting in Him.
What a blessing I count it that I have had the privilege of seeing such joy lived before me, but if you haven’t, I pray my Mom’s Inspiring Joy, inspires you to live an inspiring life for all whom your life touches.
Romans 15:13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Proverbs 8:32 “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful.
Proverbs 16:20 Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.
2 Corinthians 6:10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
2 Corinthians 13:11 Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
Galatians 5:22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Zephaniah 3:17 For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Colossians 1:11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,
1 Peter 1:6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.
Philemon 1:7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.
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President Reagan declared fifteen major disasters in 1981. It was the same year the Hyatt Regency hotel’s walkway collapsed killing over one hundred people, leaving over two hundred injured. And it was in 1981 that the mysterious death of Natalie Wood occurred. It was a tragic year for many, my family being one.
“You were the only good part of 1981,” so I’ve been told. It was the year I was born. It was also the year my Grandma fell, breaking her hip, the year my Grandma Cochrane underwent a mastectomy and the year my uncle passed from leukemia, only a week after my birth.
What a time to come into a family; when loved ones are recovering, facing unknowns and grieving. There was too much sadness to celebrate.
Or was there?
One of the things I’ve learned from my family is that times of struggle are opportunities for increasing strength. The very time surrounding my birth was consistent with that truth; and the thirty-three-year-old woman who was burying her husband at that time has demonstrated inspiring strength to me, literally since the day I was born.
How much can one person take?
It’s a question I’ve asked many times when looking at the trials others walk through. Thirty-four years into this life has given me an unshakeable confidence. Confident in the truth: walk with Jesus; walk victoriously. He handles our unbearable circumstances, our trying seasons, our overwhelming moments.
That sounds like an easy statement from someone who appears to have a bed of roses life. However, I gained that insight, not from watching everything go “right” in life, but from watching one mountain climb after another.
There are things difficult to imagine; like losing a spouse, multiple miscarriages, unfaithfulness, burying a baby, breast cancer, brain tumor. Any one of them would be enough to do someone in. But all were had in one life. My Aunt Donna’s life.
I always knew my Aunt Donna was strong. After all, she gave me the “Tough Cookies Don’t Crumble” t-shirt when I was in the hospital. There was a strength I had to live up to. Asking, “Am I strong enough?” was merely rhetorical. Strong women are what I come from.
Those times in life when I’ve questioned my ability to withstand difficulty, I’ve revisited the image I took in at ten years old, reminding myself God is our strength when we have none. Perhaps the weakest one could ever feel, standing at a grave, a tiny casket lowered into the ground, picking up a piece of the earth and as it’s released to fall below, letting go of the little life, only fifteen months lived. She had no strength of her own that day, but God did. I stood by her and felt Him there.
It should have been enough loss for a lifetime. Unfortunately, in this imperfect world we live, this world we were never created for, there was much sadness to endure. Personal observations were avoided due to her move over six hundred miles away, nevertheless my awareness of her strength only grew.
Phone calls not only informed me of her breast cancer and then brain tumor, those phone calls also provided encouragement to hold on to our faith, unwavering in hope and assurance that He would provide. Yes, you read that correctly. She encouraged me! Even when we were prepared to hold her up, she remained solid and stood strong.
I look at my Aunt Donna today. I’m a bit taller. She’s a bit older. But I still see that woman I nearly idolized growing up.
It isn’t hard to see why I adored her so. It’s not surprising I bought her perfume after she moved just to have a scent of her near, or that I loved jewelry and fashion and fine dining because of her influence. It’s easy to understand my desire to grow up and become a woman like her...pretty, smart and classy.
A master’s degree in education; over thirty years teaching in some of the most high-performing school districts; numerous awards and recognitions. The proof is in the pudding. She’s not held in high opinion by her niece alone. No, she is a game changer, recognized by all who have the privilege of knowing her. And it is for those who don’t that I write this post, that you may be encouraged by her inspiring strength, as I have been since those days back in 1981.
Isaiah 40:29 ESV
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.
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