Friday, December 19, 2014

GIFT FROM GOD

In October of 2011, my family, my daughter's family, and two other families decided to start a new tradition for fall break and camp at Beartree in southwest Virginia. We had camped a lot together--but this time would be a bit different.  Camping at Beartree is real camping with no hook-ups or cell phone service.  There are, however, bears and raccoons and other critters.  It is a beautiful state park--in the wilderness. 

The weather that weekend was perfect, and the fall foliage was at its peak.  Kids and adults settled in, playing games, building fires, riding bikes, and engaging with one another.  In other words, we got busy making the kind of memories that last a lifetime. Looking back, even three years later, I still consider that weekend to be one of the best of my life.

On Saturday, the majority of our group was shuttled to the top of the mountain to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail.  It was the first time for my youngest daughter and three of my grandchildren.  They loved the scenic, downhill ride through the state forest and back country so much that they returned the next day to do it again!  You might say that my family's love affair with the trail and the area started that weekend.  For me, it was to be the beginning of something much bigger than I could have imagined at the time.  A small seed had been planted that was destined to grow a journey.
my family, my daughter's family, and our friends
Just nine months later, my world would be shaken so violently that hope would have to be hunted down with an  intensity of new dimension for my very survival.  The sudden, accidental deaths of my eleven-year-old grandson, Nate, and his friend, Noah, on July 4, 2012, would cement the nagging need I had to discern the purpose of God for what remained of my life.  I could no longer live life hoping there was a purpose. 

Yes, the tables were turned for me and my family that day. Gone--at least for a season--were the carefree days of laughter and whimsy.  Profound grief was now our constant companion, and he was an uninvited and unwelcomed guest.  

But there were other children to consider and other memories yet to be made. There were other broken hearts to be mended.  There was hope yet to be found.

So I prayed.  And when I couldn't pray, others prayed for me and with me.  And my family held on for dear life as we navigated waters uncharted and unfamiliar.  The loss was so very great and the trauma of the accident so very haunting. 

This picture of my daughter's family holding hands was taken on the first camping trip.

And slowly, glimmers of hope did begin to emerge as we allowed ourselves the luxury of enjoying momentary feelings of peace and even pleasure amidst the pain.  Laughter crept in without us noticing from time to time to do her work on our souls. Hard decisions were made by each individual affected by Nate's and Noah's deaths.  They were personal, very personal.

Some would seek times of solitude.  Some would surround themselves with friends and family.  Some would cry a lot.  Some would hold it in.  Some would want to do new things.  Some would want to keep old traditions. 

When October came around again, the family and friends decided that we would return to Beartree.  We would ride the trail again.  For Nate.  For all of us. 

Nate is in the red sweatshirt.

The same four families set up camp, but things were not the same.  How could they be?  Nate was missing, and the cold, wet weather added no cheer.  Our intentions toward healing were thwarted by discouragement and doubt. Perhaps this was a tradition that should have been released.

There is, however, something  magical about the spirit of a child and its ability to distract from what should be or could be.  If allowed, it will embrace the wonder of the moment, releasing a contagious hope that is a force to be reckoned with, giving the weak in spirit a reason to at least try what once came effortlessly--mere living.

My grandson, Jett, Nate's younger brother

So, on a very different Saturday than the year before, we once again set out for the top of the mountain with what I think were  unrealistic expectations--expectations which were totally based on the assurances of the eternal optimist of the group who discounted the cloudy skies.

He somehow convinced us that the threatening rain would await our arrival at the bottom and greet us then and only then. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, in its excitement, the rain showed up several hours early and decided to accompany instead of greet.

If someone would have asked me what I was passionate about prior to that fateful day, I would have said, "I am passionate about making memories with my family." 
  My granddaughter, Kenzie, Nate's sister

So many of our memories were tied to summers on the lake-- the site of the accident--with friends.  And that October, just three months into the weary road of grief, I was  still very raw, mourning not only the loss of two dear boys, but the loss of our "place" on the water where we had spent years making great memories. 

I so wanted another place to do that.  I needed another place to do that.  Even if the others could return to the water--and I prayed that they would--I knew that for me, the pain was too great to keep that tradition alive. I did not have the benefit of youthful resilience.

So I began dreaming of a new place of escape from the pressures of our lives.  I wanted to have faith to believe that God could and would restore a portion of what was taken from my family that day. 

And as I came down the trail, on that cold, rainy day in October, I saw her, the Little Cabin on the Trail.  Of course, that was not her name then.  I do believe that my heart skipped a beat--and it was not from the 11-mile exhilarating ride in the rain that it took to get there.

CABIN FOR SALE BY OWNER wasn't just a sign about a piece of real estate for sale.  It was a sign from God.  My merciful God heard my cry for hope, and He sent it to me that day.  That little cabin was "it" and I knew it.  God rarely answers my prayers with something as grand as a piece of property; but at that moment in time, I was sinking fast, and He knew that I needed a lifeline.  I needed a reason to go on living in the present.  He knew that I needed to hear His voice telling me that it was okay to live life again.


One month later, we were the owners of the Little Cabin on the Trail, and the process of making her our place began.  The renovations became my husband's and my distraction from grief and pain.  God sent us a job to do to restore our hope. And that job was a huge one.  My husband and I had to compromise on the renovations.  He wanted to go big and add a second story.  I wanted to be able to use the cabin by the summer of the same year. In the end, we agreed that the inside would be totally gutted and reconfigured, but the outside would remain the same, keeping the cozy charm of its mere 600 square feet.  

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It has been two years since God showed up in a big way and gave us a cabin.  I still have a hard time believing it.  I knew then, and I know now--for sure and for certain--that the cabin came with strings attached.  I am not sure if I attached them or if God did.  Those strings enable us to never take His gift for granted.  They require us to remember the prayer of dedication I offered over that little slice of real estate in the Virginia mountains.  

My prayer was that God would give my family opportunities to serve others from that cabin.  We had been shown such kindness by God's people in the days and weeks following the accident that I knew we had to play it forward.  The opportunities have indeed come--so many, that I have lost count.  We consider it a privilege to be able to share with others the love of Christ--a love that we did not fully understand until it saw us through an unthinkable loss.  


Nate would have loved the Little Cabin on the Trail, and sometimes I feel guilty enjoying it without him.  Sometimes I consider what the cabin really cost us, and I am overcome with tremendous sadness--which brings me right back to the feet of Jesus.  Again and again I must accept the fact that good things do follow tragedy, but I don't ever have to deem the tragedy worth it.  What happened that day will always be horrible; it does not have to be justified.  So I accept the pain, and I also accept the good gift of the cabin.  I accept the loss, and I also choose to serve others in spite of it.

That truly is a model of the Gospel.  

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The tagline on the cabin sign reads where memories are made and hearts are healed. That is my prayer--every time we go.  

If you want to see some before and after pictures of the cabin, you can click here.  You can read about Appalachian Trail hiker, Chef John Wayne here.  You can read about some folks who rode the trail in the snow and stopped in for some lunch here.  You can like the Little Cabin on the Trail's Facebook page here.  All posts related to the cabin are found here.

This post is part of Tracie Miles’ Your Life Still Counts blog tour and I am excited to be a part of spreading this powerful message that God can use all things to His glory and turn our past into our purpose. I’m just one of many awesome bloggers participating in this tour, so if you want to join in on the blog tour, CLICK HERE  for all the info!

CABIN BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS


creeper trail cabin

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GIFTS FOR THE TEENAGE GIRL IN YOUR LIFE

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.


I have been buying for teenage girls for a while now, so I am pretty confident that these are some good choices.  Tessa, my current teenage daughter, agrees!

Solmate Socks ($20)
These are awesome!
So many fun mismatched color combinations!
I want some, too!



Tweezerman Mini Tweezers ($12)
Amazing!
These get the job done!



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

GINGERBREAD HOUSES VIA SKYPE

I wrote a post about my dear, faraway, Internet friend, Kolein, a long time ago--before the two of us had to face grief in ways we could never have seen coming or could have prepared for.  She and her family passed through my neck of the woods in 2011, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to exchange real, honest-to-goodness hugs with her.

The Christmas after the accident that claimed the life of my precious grandson, Nate, and his friend, Noah, was hard.  Of course, it was.  Before I suffered such loss, I had no idea just how difficult going through the motions of daily life could be.  Even now, as I face the third Christmas, I still have to give myself pep talks to get me through many days.

Kolein probably did not realize then that when she agreed to join me in making a gingerbread house via Skype, she was, in a sense, giving me a huge pep talk.  Her willingness to give up her day to walk alongside me gave me permission to lay my grief aside for many hours and just create.  

My memory of that day is not filled with a lot of details.  I have no idea how much flour went into the recipe or how long I baked the walls.  I do, however, remember laughing like a fool as we both worked to get our creations to stand up.  I remember how good it felt to have a friend share my first gingerbread-house-making experience.


CHRISTMAS SCAVENGER HUNT

I am all about making memories, but I am not always big on keeping traditions.  I know that does not make much sense.  I have analyzed that a bit while writing my book; and one explanation I have come up with is that being creative, I am not opposed to changing things up a bit.

Last year an idea popped into my head that I think was genius--and will probably become a tradition.  I was helping a friend out by keeping three of her kids while she worked. Active, pre-teen boys tend to make me nervous, so I came up with what I thought was an entertaining, fool-proof plan to fill the day with things they and I would enjoy.  The hit by far was the photo scavenger hunt at the mall.


Monday, November 24, 2014

BOOK PREVIEW: CHAPTER ONE (OUR MAGIC CABIN)

CHAPTER ONE:  STORIES
The business of life is the acquisition of memories.” 
—Mr. Carson, Downton Abbey

Our lives are but a story in this book called life.  Wow, that sounded so philosophical and cannedand who-cares-boring.  Let me try that again.  Your life experiences and my life experiences are so incredibly fascinating that they must be shared.  Thats right:  They must be shared.  At this point, whether you believe it or not does not change the fact that it is true.  This book is chocked full of unscientifically proven facts that you will just need to accept.  We can review my credentials later.

I have always been an intentional memory maker and a natural story teller.  Nothing is more satisfying to me than a captive audience.  It doesnt matter if it is an audience of one or one hundred.  I am actually happy to tell a good story to myself.  To be able to engage others through storytelling is powerful.  Words are powerful. The Bible tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue.  Think about that.  We have the potential to bring forth life through our words or death through our words.  We have the potential to bring forth life through our stories
   

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

GIFTS FOR THE UNDER-EIGHT CROWD

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
I love gift giving, but I hate gift choosing--especially for the adults and older children.  I have endless ideas for the eight and under crowd.  Oh, why can't they just stay little forever?


After 37 years of mothering and and 15 years of grand mothering, I have given just about every kind of gift possible. There remains, however, a few favorites for the kiddos that I would consider timeless and have purchased several times--and will probably purchase again when the next round of grandchildren arrive.  I guess you could call them my standbys.

LAUGH - MEMORY PROJECT DAY 17

laugh (verb)
make the spontaneous sounds and movements
of the face and body that are the instinctive
expressions of lively amusement

This word was a bit hard for me because I did not come from a very fun or funny family.  There were many reasons why that was so, but the main one is that my parents were not storytellers.  Gut laughter comes from living a fun life and then developing the stories that go along with that life.  That is the whole premise of the book that I am almost finished writing.  

There was no laughing around the dinner table when I was a child.  As a matter of fact, we mostly were required to eat quietly so my dad could hear the news or a sporting event being broadcasted on the television in the next room.  We children were to be seen and not heard.  

That is probably why we all loved it when the greatest storyteller of all time, our Uncle Tom, would get going.  He was animated and expressive, and we all fully expected his eyes to pop right out of his head.