Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My friend, Kristen

"In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."  
                       -- Coco Chanel 
My friend Kristen used this quote as her senior quote in our yearbook.  I've been thinking about this quote in the past few weeks, and how well these words played out in Kristen's life.  
Kristen died at the beginning of this summer. 
Kristen was one of my oldest friends. Her family moved to town when we were in high school.  We became fast friends, both of us being involved in many of the same activities at school.  My family  lived in the country, so there were many times after school I needed a place to "hang out" until I could catch a ride home, or until an evening activity would begin.  Kristen's house became that place. Her parents, Alan and Marti, were so welcoming, and her two sisters, Amy and Carrie, were generous to share their space as well.  
Kristen and her family were genuine and passionate about living their lives for Christ, and sharing Him with everyone they encountered.  I have so many wonderful memories of time spent with them: going to aerobics classes with Marti and Kristen, early morning Bible study and devotionals, sharing fresh, homemade whole grain bread (what we affectionately referred to as "Marti bread") with delicious meals prepared with love, getting ready for prom and other dances --- all those things that go along with being teenagers.  
After we graduated from high school, Kristen and I continued our friendship, although our lives started to take different turns.  Kristen and Steve were married that first year after graduation and began working in different jobs and ministry positions, always finding ways to share their love and lives in Christ with others, in several states, including Hawaii. (I know -- Hawaii!)  Meanwhile, I college-hopped and graduated with my teaching degree, and continued my education to get my administrative certification.  Throughout all this time, Kristen and I kept in touch, originally through old-fashioned letters, then we grew into the then-new-fangled thing known as e-mail, and then of course through Facebook and texting.  We didn't get to see each other too often, generally when she and Steve would be in Nebraska for family gatherings with the McHargue family, we'd try to squeeze in a quick lunch or couple hours on the couch to visit and get caught up. But we found that although our time was limited to visit in real life, our friendship, planted and grown in the Lord, continued to grow and flourish. 
My friend was an amazingly strong woman, fighting health issues for many years. Health issues that often baffled her doctors and care team, and issues that had claimed the lives of other patients much earlier than how long Kristen was battling them.  We were shocked when her beloved husband Steve was called to his heavenly home unexpectedly a few years ago.  I marveled at the peace and grace with which Kristen and their kids handled that time.  When I talked to her following Steve's death, she explained how the peace of Christ had just surrounded her, blanketed her from the moment of his passing.  
When Corin and Marti each posted in May that Kristen was in the hospital, I think most of us thought it would be a few weeks, and she'd be out, as had been the case so many times.  But I soon started to realize and feel this time was different.  Marti posted on June 7 that Kristen had been reunited with Steve in Heaven.  As much sadness as filled my heart, there was an equal amount of joy and peace knowing that Kristen's earthly struggle was done, that she was now celebrating in the presence of the Lord, where she will be for eternity.  
There's peace in knowing that. 
But in the last six weeks or so, there have been so many things I've thought of about Kristen.  What I've learned from her, what I miss about her, what I remember about her.  Here's my partial list:
*Live wildly, boldly for God.  All out.  All the time.  
*Love others, where they are, pray for them, and share Christ with them. 
*Live creatively.  Kristen designed spectacular dance costumes, sewed wonderful gifts, found ways to bring color and flair (and bling) to her world in beautiful ways.  Even her handwriting was creative and beautiful. 
*Be generous.  Our birthdays were just four days apart, so when her family invited me out for birthday dinner one year, I wanted to share the "spotlight" with her - but she insisted on unselfishly, lavishly, generously celebrating ME.  How many teenagers do that?! 
*Be inviting.  Kristen and I became friends even with differences in our religious traditions and practices.  In a community that sometimes seemed to separate friendships based on where and how you worshiped God, we became friends anyway due in large part to Kristen and her family being open and inviting to share in their lives.  
I see Steve and Kristen in Corin and Izzy in every picture they post on Facebook or Instagram. In their smile, in their eyes, in the comments or story they tell of their adventures. In how they are continuing the work for Christ that was begun generations ago in both families.  I love these things about these two "kids" - that even though they may not recognize me if we were to meet in person, that they keep me connected with their family. A family I deeply love. 
I purchased a James Avery ring with a cross design a few days after Kristen's death.  She was the one who originally introduced me to his jewelry.  I wear this ring as a reminder to live boldly for God, and to keep the memory of my friend with me.  
Because, now, six weeks later, I still miss my friend.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Friendship: My wedding gift to Susan and Rick

It's not a surprise or newsflash to say that friends are important in life.
I've been blessed with amazing, faith-filled friendships throughout my lifetime already.  A few friendships going back 30 years or more include those with whom I went to grade school and graduated with in high school.  After almost thirty years, some of these people are still my friends because we have chosen to continue our simple friendships begun "back in the day".  Of course, Facebook and other technology helps us stay in touch.  Some of my friends have been people I started to connect with while in college.  Commiserating over common situations like roommates, classes, tests, (and in many cases) recitals allowed us to share more of ourselves with those we choose.  Church and other faith groups provide incredible opportunities for friendships.  Due to the nature of some jobs, coworkers can become friends when responsibilities are shared and time is spent together.
One of my friends is getting married today.  Susan is a friend I first met during my first year teaching.  If I remember back correctly, I was the only new teacher hired the year I started at my first job, so all the other teachers knew each other already since most of them had taught together for many years. As is the case in most schools (and other job situations, I've come to realize), birds of a feather flock together, so the elementary teachers worked very well together, specialized staff members connected, and of course, coaches just "clicked".  After one of the home football games that fall, several teachers got together after the game, and they invited me.  Susan was there, and although we had greeted each other at school and such, she always ate with "the coaches", so in my mind, I had her pegged as one of those athletic-y people who probably wouldn't chat much with a new music teacher.  Wow, was I wrong.
During the course of the past twenty-some years, Susan has become one of my most treasured friends.  As I've been thinking about her this morning, knowing she is preparing for such a happy, joyous day, so many memories have been coming to mind.  Good times and other times....oh my.  So many fun, funny, silly moments: road tripping to Farm Aid, creating a song-and-dance to "Mack the Knife" when we couldn't afford a gift for a friend, our inside story of "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes" (which still cracks US up anytime we tell it, even though others just kind of smile and nod), concerts, programs, shopping trips including our much-loved annual "weekend o'fun" with our friends Carol and Linda, house-sitting for Jim and Julie in St. Augustine, sharing recipes.....all those things of friends.
Our families have created connections as well:  me being blessed and fortunate to travel to Charleston on vacation and meeting her beautiful mother and her cherished Dad, spending time with her siblings and their families, travelling from Charleston to Florida in the backseat of the car between her kids, us staying with my aunt and uncle on a different trip to Florida (where we discovered the rare but dangerous bird "swooptisaurusgitanticus"), holidays, weddings, graduations, receptions, and funerals.
One of the most difficult things I've experienced was when Susan's previous husband Jim was going through cancer.  Susan and Jim were not married long when his diagnosis came.  Seeing their faith, their commitment, their love not just endure that painful journey, but grow and be deepened, touched me greatly.  I remember, with sadness and tears coming to my eyes even now, what a privilege it was to observe that, and to help her through those difficult days following his death.  Although a strong soul, my friend needed me, and I am grateful I was able to be there for her, and so humbled to honor her late husband in that way.
As things go, life moves on. Life has happened. Through different situations, I've moved a couple times since then, she's moved as well.  I've had different jobs.  She's been blessed with gorgeous sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, and is so taken by her adorable grandbabies.  I've gotten married, and have had (yet) another new job.
Life has gotten busy, but we've stayed connected.
So I was so happy for her....no, wait....happy's not right....I was thrilled, ecstatic, elated when I found out she and Rick had gotten engaged. I was happy when I knew she had found someone special, but since then, and with this big event?  Thrilled, ecstatic, elated are closer to what I felt.  And what I feel knowing today is their special day.
Susan is the kind of person who puts people at ease, she has blessed so many people with her smile, her warmth, her friendship. Scores of people call Susan their friend. Today there will be many people celebrating the love that Susan and Rick share. Knowing the road she has traveled to get to this day makes the celebration that much sweeter.  I am glad that I will get to hug her kids, her sisters, her friends as we all enjoy each other's company, and the goodness of God that surrounds us.
Susan and Rick: On this, your special day, I am sending up simple prayers of praise and thanksgiving to our Lord for his blessing over your life you begin as one today.  I know I join with many, many, many other friends and family members in rejoicing in God's abundance and goodness for you.  I know there is a great celebration of your loved ones in Heaven today, and our hearts here on earth join with theirs in wishing you all happiness, riches, and love as you celebrate today and begin to live together as husband and wife.  
All my love, congratulations, and best wishes --- 
Amy    

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Beauty of Grace (A book review)

I received a copy of this book from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my opinion.  Affiliate links are present.   

For the past few years, I've been following several bloggers and bloggers whose words tend to resonate within my heart.  A new book has just been released which features several of these writers.  Dawn Camp has created a collection of writing from some of my favorite contemporary women.  "The Beauty of Grace" is this recent release, and you can get to know Dawn here.
I love me some good girlfriend time.  Time to get together, kick off your shoes, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of tea, and get real.  This book is like girlfriend time in print.  If I could collect up some of the most loving, generous, real writing going on today, there's no way I could have done better than the amazing job Dawn did putting this book together.  These ladies?  They're the real deal.  Their stories are honest, encouraging, forward, real.  Although I have never met any of these women in real life, their writing helps me imagine that if I were to, in fact, meet them some day, an easy friendship would develop, based on the openness and vulnerability they share in their writing.
The topics these ladies write on? Topics with which I believe every woman is challenged. I mean, who hasn't (or doesn't) struggle with purpose, surrender, trust, encouragement at some time?
As a compilation book, each entry is relatively brief.  (Think "Chicken Soup for the Soul" here.) This feature makes it really easy to pick the book up during those few free minutes we may find here and there.  While I was reading each entry and would come to the end of it, I found myself thinking, "Oh, that was my favorite one."  Then, sure enough, I'd read another entry, and the same thought would come to mind.  And on, and on, and on.
This book is a great choice for any woman needing to be encouraged.  Or challenged.  Or assured.  Or needing girlfriend time.
Like I said, this is the best example of girlfriend time in print I've ever seen.  I have a feeling I will be ordering additional copies to have as gifts for my girlfriends when we can't be face to face.





Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's Not Who You Know (A book review)

I received a copy of this book from Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my opinion of the book.

Everyone has a different idea of success. For some, success means having a fat bank account.  For some, success means people recognize your name.  For some, success means earning a particular title or position at their place of work. Finally, for some, success means being surrounded by a happy, healthy family.
Pat Williams, with Jim Denney, explores all these ideas and more, in his book "It's Not Who You Know, It's Who You Are".  Subtitled "Life Lessons from Winners", this book contains five major subject areas: success, leadership, family and friends, impact and influence, and becoming a person of influence.
This is a great book that is made up of brief lessons to be learned from many people.  Drawing from the examples and wisdom of individuals such as Walt Disney, Paul Simon, Martin Luther King Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and Tony Dungy, this is absolutely a delightful and insightful read.
What I appreciated about this book is the fact that I could easily share it with students in my Leadership class at school. The lessons discussed are brief and concise, with most between one and three pages.  This fact will make adding it to my teaching library a logical choice.  Additionally, I appreciate how strong character and right choices are emphasized, regardless of what area of expertise is being discussed.  For instance, I may not always fully understand what's being discussed from an NFL coach's perspective when discussing football plays, but I can easily grasp the wisdom of life lessons that are taught and learned on the football field.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read this book. I don't know that I would have picked it up otherwise, but I am glad to now recommend it to others!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Give Me Grace


John 1:15-17 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, 
“This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, 
because he was before me.'”) 
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 
For the law was given through Moses; 



“Grace, then, is grace,
–that is to say, it is sovereign, 
it is free, it is sure, 
it is unconditional, 
and it is everlasting.” 
~ Alexander Whyte


Linking today with Give Me Grace with Lisha Epperson. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prescription for Life (Book review)

I received a copy of Prescription for Life from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my review of the book.  Affiliate links may also present in this review.

We need to do better for our health.
We need to do better with our exercise and lifestyle choices.
We need to do better with our eating choices.
We know all these things.
Maybe we've heard these things from our spouse, or children, or parents.
Maybe we've heard these things from our doctor.
Maybe we've even tried to make some changes.

Prescription for Life
 
The book Prescription for Life, by Dr. Richard Furman, was an informative read.
As a vascular surgeon, Dr. Furman approaches the topic for better living from a unique perspective.  Focusing on weight, eating/food choices, and maintaining an active exercise/lifestyle plan, the book contains many helpful tips and hints for starting on the path to making changes to lead to a healthier lifestyle.
This book is full of examples from Dr. Furman's years of medical practice.  There are stories of people who successfully changed their lives for the better.  There are stories of people who chose not to make changes in their lives.  There are stories of people who made healthier choices for some time, but then chose to go back to what their previous habits had been.
Woven within all these stories are medical facts and explanations that are difficult, if not impossible, with which to argue.  Dr. Furman shares his knowledge authoritatively, yet with an underlying sense of urgency and sincerity being conveyed.  Additional topics such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer are also addressed.
In a way, reading this book felt a little bit like "everything you wanted to know about living healthy but were afraid to ask" given all the information that is shared.  If you don't have access to your own personal vascular surgeon, Dr. Furman's book provides a great opportunity to find answers to so many things we know we need to do, but maybe haven't done.
Yet.


Everlasting Light (New Dayspring Products!)

I've started to notice one word coming up in my life quite a bit lately. 
Light. 
I've been picking up on this for a couple weeks now.  
First, in an email message.  Then in a daily Scripture email that arrives in my inbox each morning. Then at Mass. Then on the radio. 
Now, I have moments of incredible brilliance.  Really.  Believe me. I do. 
But once in a while, I need to be reminded of a particular point a few times. 
Or, sometimes, more than a few times.  
More like lots of times over the course of a couple weeks.  
I have moments of spiritual blindness.  Really.  Believe me.  I do. 
But I am so grateful for God's gentle goodness to help me see what He's trying to call me to. 
In this case? 
Light.  
We hear the word so many times throughout the Bible. 

  • Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.  Psalms 119:105 
  • You will succeed in all you do, and light will shine on your path. Job 22:28 
  • The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.  John 1:5 


I love that in some Scripture passages, when the word "light" is used, it is referring to God.  In some passages, Jesus is the Light.  In other passages, WE are called to be the light, and to bring the Light to others.

Light is where the "good stuff" is.  We are called into the light of life that Jesus claimed for us through his death and resurrection! 

It has been said that the light from a single candle can be seen from two miles away.  I've never set that experiment up to test it for sure, but I think the point it well taken that light will break through darkness.  Good will prevail.  We are called by Christ to let our light shine.  I love the verse inscribed on this ring from Philippians 2:15: "You will shine like stars..." 

 

This ring is part of the Everlasting Light collection from DaySpring.  Don't you love that name?  

I am fortunate that our home is situated outside of any town or city, which allows us to see the stars on any clear (or relatively clear) night.  I never cease to be amazed at the vastness of the sky, filled with stars.  The Bible says that God calls each star by name.  With all the billions of trillions of stars in the sky, God knows every.single.one.  
To borrow a phrase from my teenage years, that blows my mind.  Really.  
In the same way that God calls each star by name, each of us are called to let our light shine as well.  To bring Christ, the Light of the world, to this broken world of today in which we live.  

So even though it takes me a while to "get it" sometimes, I have loved God's reminders of light -- to be light, to live in the light, to let my light shine.  
I think I get it now, Lord.  Really.  Believe me.  I do. 


This post contains images and my opinion on the Everlasting Light Collection from DaySpring.  I received a gift from them in exchange for my review of these products.  Affiliate links are present.