We’ve Got Your Back A 40-Year Friendship

IMG_1656
Our first gathering following The Brown Wedding in 1978, Tullahoma, Tennessee.
IMG_1657
Kay Green marries Joe Brown on December 9, 1978

Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.
― Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

It all began in the mid-late 1970’s when 9 girls, Becky, Kay, Susan, Delores, Leslie, JoAnn, Debby, Kelly and Joan moved themselves and their belongings to Cookeville, Tennessee to attend Tennessee Tech University. Each girl was far from home and began a search for friends who could make the years spent at Tech more fun, rewarding and meaningful. All 9 girls chose to join Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and that was the beginning of what would become life-long friendships. They certainly did not realize at the time that their common beliefs and love for one another would continue to bring them together in celebration of their friendships for decades to come.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (Life Application Bible)

IMG_1590
Taylor’s baptismal shell, a note from Meg’s confirmation class, and a bar of soap with the verse: Philippians 4:13 etched on it. These items were found in the rubbish, surviving the house fire.
IMG_1586
Though this is a new storage box, all of the silver utensils that were wedding gifts back in 1982 came through the fire, along with pieces of fabric found folded together and made into a small (new) baby quilt.

On January 4, 2014, we 9 were together for our annual weekend sleepover when our friend, Kelly received a call from her husband telling her that their home in Abingdon, Virginia was burning to the ground. It was too late to make the 3 hour drive to Virginia, so we hunkered down with our dear friend and held onto each other. This scene, 9 of us in PJs, was symbolic of what our friendships had come to mean to each of us in the past 36 years. Much of our time spent together would be doing the usual things that girls do: share recipes, talk about everything under the sun, eat and then eat some more, showing family/travel pictures. But that night, it became more apparent to me than ever before how unique this group of girlfriends is. Everyone in this circle relies on their faith daily and we have come to depend on each other’s prayer support, too, as we have listed out specific requests year after year.  We’ve been through marriages, births, and deaths side-by-side, and we’ve always had each other’s back.

The next day, we drove Kelly to her hometown to join her husband and to survey the damage. From what we saw, we assumed all was lost, and mostly everything was lost. However, with the help of many friends, family members, and neighbors, a few things were recovered.

IMG_1610
Kelly and Paul’s home on Valley Street

Though their sweet dog, Belle perished in the house fire, all other LIFE was spared. There was much to be thankful for, even amidst such tragic circumstances. In the past year, Kelly and Paul have been a picture of grit and tenacity as they have moved forward and renovated an Abingdon, Virginia home that was built in the 1930’s. This past weekend, their home was the spot for our 37th reunion and as usual, we had a wondrous time together! The location of their new home has allowed them to enjoy this beautiful and historical community more than ever before. They are just a few steps from The Barter Theatre and a couple of blocks from The Virginia Creeper Trail, Whitetop Yoga, and the weekly Farmer’s Market!

IMG_1658
Dalton, Georgia gathering in 1985
IMG_1628
The Virginia Creeper Trail
IMG_1626
The Virginia Creeper Trail
IMG_1641
Abingdon, Virginia gathering in 2015
IMG_1606
after a yoga class at Whitetop Yoga in Abingdon, Virginia, January 2015

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou

These strong friendships have seen us through countless life experiences: job losses, deaths of parents, births/marriages of our children, and currently, the births of grandchildren. We often agree as we sing our ADPi prayer:

“Hear us sing in one accord,

Praises for thy gifts, O Lord, For thy gifts of daily bread,

For thy paths in which we’re led, From thy throne of Love on High,

List to Alpha Delta Pi, AMEN”,  

 the unity that the 9 of us share has made our lives so very rich!

IMG_1494
Kay and Joan in our matching pjs
IMG_1432
a quilt given to Kelly and Paul following their house fire

SPEAK LIFE Restore A Soul

IMG_1283

 It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”

– Thomas Fuller-

It happened on a Sunday evening every three months, our Mama would pile us in the car with yummy lime sherbet punch and homemade cakes to head to the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital on Clairmont Road to serve the veterans who were staying there. Mom’s lady friends would bake the cakes and take them to the church nursery on Sunday morning. All of us kids were in charge of moving the cakes from the nursery to our vehicles, safely. As far as I know, I never dropped a single one. I still remember how the sick and injured men felt accepted, loved and embraced by our little ministry four times a year.

IMG_1344
The poster for our podium to go with our theme for the evening: GROW

SPEAK LIFE is a song I keep hearing on my XM station and I just don’t feel like this is a coincidence. This past Saturday night, a group of girlfriends with giving hearts gathered for a Restoration Celebration to honor a group of women who are recovering from addiction and difficult circumstances. The ladies were treated to a delicious and hearty buffet of food prepared by these girlfriends. They were also given a gift bag filled with useful things such as lotion, chapstick, an artist notecard, and a handmade pair of beautiful earrings designed by Trapp Tischner. An artist, Holly Irwin, who has shown her work for the past three years at dk Gallery, in Marietta, Georgia, told her story of adversity to the ladies. Holly’s Artist Statement, which she read to us, was especially meaningful to all who were there:

Painting the figure is personal because understanding the figure means understanding myself. It’s a journey that goes on. There is a girl within. She is me. She is a friend. She might even be you or someone you know. She could be any age but she will always be young. She feels that life can be simple and uncomplicated. She’s perfect just the way she is. Her soul lives in my work. Her life breathes in my paintings. It seems that I am always searching for her, searching for ways to paint her feelings and emotions. I always come back to her. This is why I paint the figure.

IMG_1429
COUNTRY SUMMER~Holly Irwin

I like to use texture just like our lives are layered and textured. I apply modeling paste, gel mediums, oil paint and acrylics with brushes, knives and rags to achieve depth and complexity. The finished effect of my mixed media paintings is an aged quality, like a fresco.

My work has been described as soulful and evocative. To me, they’re simply compositions from the heart.

Like the men in the VA Hospital back in the 1970’s, these ladies we spoke love to felt accepted, loved and embraced.

It seems that so many people feel invisible these days and a small deed done in love could be the very thing that turns their day around.

How can you and I speak life to someone in your path today?

 Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo BuscalgiaIMG_0256

RETREAT Time Away With Yourself

IMG_1269
My sis, Laura Lea, and me

It is when we stop doing our best work that our enthusiasm wanes. We must motivate ourselves to do our very best, and by example, lead others to do their best as well.” Truett Cathy (1921-2014) founder of Chick-fil-A in 1946 and founder of the WinShape Foundation in 1984

Thanks to nearby Cedarcrest Church, Women’s Group, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat this past weekend at the beautiful WinShape Retreat Property on the mountainside of Berry College.  WinShape Retreat offers a wide and varied retreat menu, including one called “Prepare to Last”, which Leah and Walker attended with their future spouses.

My sister, Laura Lea was my roomie, so that made this time extra special! Yes, we giggled and told stories and stayed up late, just like the days of our youth.

Laura and I had the opportunity to lead the 50 participants in a time of collage art and we had so much fun creating unique and meaningful projects. We were happy to meet many new friends, including Carol, the co-founder of Cobb Street Ministries, a ministry, I hope to become more plugged into.

I do realize that not everyone can pack a bag and drive somewhere beautiful to “retreat”, so I wanted to share some ideas for how we can rest and renew right where we are.

R ecline and put your feet up, even if only for a few minutes

E at Well as often as possible

T ake a Bubble Bath

R eflect on God’s Goodness

E nthusiasm for Life~”glass half-full” approach

A udience of One~ God’s opinion is what matters

T hankful Heart~jot down what you are grateful for today

IMG_1275
Take joy in the simple things, like flowers.
IMG_1276
Bundle up and take a short walk to energize yourself.

*Not to be ministered unto but to minister to.” Martha McChesney Berry (1866-1942) founder of Berry College, Rome, Georgia

*Motto of Berry College

IMG_1246
some of our collage art created at the 2015 Cedarcrest Women’s Renew Retreat
IMG_1247
some of the collage art created at the 2015 Cedarctrest Women’s Renew Retreat

IMG_1280

From Broken To Beautiful

IMG_1193
Directives for 2015 and beyond…shared on “Uncommon: Media/News/Publishing” Facebook Page

It is New Year’s Day and I hope this day finds you with folks who are special to you, great television reception for some back-to-back football bowl contests, with delicious snacks and yummy homemade soup in front of a blazing fire. Following a mountain hike with dear friends, that is where I plan to spend most of my day today!

Make New Year’s goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.

                      –Melody Beattie

I’m sharing some thoughts and facts with you today regarding a difficult but important topic: sex trafficking in America. A friend recommended that I read Susan Norris’ short novel, Rescuing Hope, to prepare myself before diving into this discussion. While the book did break my heart, it’s also helping me to see that this is an issue that must be examined by all who have a beating heart. While I wish I could’ve chosen a bit of a lighter read over the recent holiday season, I’m glad I read this book and became more enlightened about the truth regarding sex trafficking in America as well as other parts of our world in 2014-2015.

IMG_0780

I am learning that not only do I want to “show up” for things in life, but I want to show up with an open heart and an open mind to receive all that might be wherever I am.

Be the CHANGE YOU want to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to celebrate our friends Malorie and Gavin’s upcoming baby boy due in January 2015. Just like you would imagine, we shared wonderful food and lots of oohs and ahhs as the tiny baby toys and clothes were viewed. While we were there, a short, but inspiring story was shared by Malorie’s aunt, Joanne, about the necklace she was wearing…And this story really got me thinking about a serious, often overlooked demon in many U. S. communities and beyond:  the sex trafficking of young girls. Years ago, after her parents returned from a mission trip to India, Joanne’s granddaughter, Maya, at the young age of nine years old, was moved to make a plan to raise funds to go toward putting a stop to sex trafficking in India where her parents had served. Since 2008, Maya, with the help of her family, has managed to raise over $5,000.00 to go toward stopping this horrendous violence. Broken pieces of glass found on the beaches of Lake Erie are lovingly transformed into pendants, earrings, jewelry, and art.

A work of art from the heart of Maya, From Broken to Beautiful.
A work of art from the heart of Maya, From Broken to Beautiful.

GLASS that was once discarded has now been recovered and made beautiful just as the rescued girls, some younger than Maya, have been emancipated and redeemed through love. In addition, Maya designs and sells notecards to aid these girls.

One hundred percent of the funds raised goes toward stopping this crime in its tracks. Maya’s website is Freedom-Glass and the theme of Maya’s creation is From Broken to Beautiful, and for a small amount of $10.00, you can support her amazing efforts. WE can learn a lot and teach our children so much from this small story about a young girl who resides in the state of OHIO. Well done, Maya!

While I realize that this subject is not a happy one, I also believe that we cannot continue to ignore the truth that it is a reality in many, many young ladies’ life journey, even in our beloved city of Atlanta, Georgia. Out of Darkness in Atlanta is the anti-trafficking ministry of Atlanta Dream Center. Their mission is to reach, rescue, and restore all victims of commercial sexual exploitation so that these girls are made safe and the glory of God may be known.

The FBI reports that the average age that a girl is first recruited into prostitution or sex trafficking is 11-14. Her life expectancy from that point becomes seven years due to the risk of overdose, STDs, suicide, and homicide.

In case you find this hard to believe, read here a story (in Canada) and another story (in Southern California) of recent arrests for human sex trafficking. In addition, here is more information from the FBI dated 6/23/14.

There will be an opportunity for all of us who live in the greater Atlanta area to learn more current and accurate facts about this issue that is thriving in our communities. The Atlanta Justice Conference: DO Something*DO Justice will be held on January 31, 2015. Many will gather at Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, Georgia from 8:30-2:30 p.m. to confront the exploitation of the vulnerable in our midst. Keynote Speaker, Vernon Keenan, Director of the GBI, will open many minds to the realities of this issue in Atlanta and the goal is to help community members find a place in the battle against human sex trafficking. For more information, contact Perimeter Church.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has NO limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” Psalms 147:3-6

As we organize our calendars for 2015 and begin this new year, let’s consider what charity we might want to give some service or attention to. Whether it is volunteering to change the problem of human trafficking, giving cash to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, reading to children at a nearby grade school, keeping/filling a GIVE AWAY box (stored in your garage and donating regularly to Must Ministries or Goodwill) or delivering Meals on Wheels, we can make a difference wherever we are. Although I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, I do like the list of directives at the top of this post. Check out # 2 here on this list regarding finding the best volunteer opportunity that fits your passions.

READY or NOT, 2015 has arrived.

IMG_0797

One Toy for One Girl or One Boy, Every Kid Deserves Some Joy

IMG_0765[pullquote] For it is giving that we receive.” Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), an Italian Catholic friar and preacher[/pullquote]If we all went out and purchased just ONE toy for a girl or for a boy, just think what a difference that would make for all of the charities that are stretching to meet the many needs of families struggling to bring Christmas 2014 to their home. When I picked out this wash and dry dish set, I imagined my little girl, now age 26, playing with it.  Perhaps you will want to do the same…pick out and donate one toy that your son or daughter, niece or nephew might have loved when they were small. If you still have children at home, let them pick out a special something for a child their age.

IMG_0734Each one reach one. Together, we CAN make a difference.  Many local churches are having toy drives, and ours is no exception.  Piedmont has little green Christmas trees with gift ideas for kids in need. These gifts will go to the MUST Ministries Toy Shop which is close to us. If you live in another part of Atlanta or even another state, you might want to check out The Marines Toys for Tots Foundation or Christmas Toy Drive which partners with Salvation Army to help get toys in the hands of parents who need a hand up this Christmas. [pullquote]To ease another’s heartache is to forget ones own.” Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. President[/pullquote]

“Volunteers and staff who work in the MUST toy shop during the month of December claim every family has a gripping story of need and a heart of gratitude toward the miraculous help received.” (taken from the MUST website).

MUST is hoping to have all toy donations in the shop by Saturday, December 20, 2014.

MUST expects to serve up to 4,000 children this Christmas. The need is great.

Food, clothing, toys and all other donations are accepted at the MUST Donation Center five days a week, Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am-5 pm. The Donation Center is located in the Chastain Place Office Park 55 Chastain Road NW Suite 110, Kennesaw, GA 30144.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
Anne Frank (1929-1945), a diarist, a writer , and one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Tough Circumstances Hold onto the Power

IMG_0694It’s December fifth which means that Christmas Day will be here in just twenty short days. Now that truth will get you running to the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, won’t it!?!

Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) a German theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary

I have spoken with three close girlfriends in the past 24 hours and we have talked through personal issues. What great comfort and therapy it is to have a girlfriend, a heart friend, that you know you can trust with your deepest concerns! How much lighter the burden is when shared! As we bantered back and forth, these friends and I, it was confirmed to me once again how hard this life is. In fact, the first line in the book, The Road Less Traveled: LIFE IS DIFFICULT.

Even though the circumstances I discussed with each of these friends was very different, the bottom line was the same…LIFE  can deal you some pretty tough cards. And believe me, I know. After 4 short months of being very ill in 2006, my Mama died of cancer and I still recall easily the physical ache in my heart following her passing.

Along with getting ready for Christmas, many I know are dealing with difficult and tragic circumstances…a recent death of a kind, generous friend named Jimmy, age 55, from my high school & college…two young adult sisters with their Dad, preparing for their Christmas celebration without Mom, Laura, our dear friend who was in our small Bible Study group and passed with breast cancer in May 2014…dear friends, a couple, dealing with the repercussions of a very serious illness earlier this year…my friend and author, Echo, who lost her musically gifted Dad just one day ago…and a college friend, Delores’ husband dealing with a scary medical situation which will require a huge lifestyle change. Many others that we know and love are dealing with other trying circumstances related to their health. The holiday season is also a time of remembering those who are no longer with us.  This may be the first Christmas you are spending without someone who has passed on. This will be my second Christmas with both of my parents gone. No matter how many Christmas seasons go by, we will always miss our peeps and we’ll continually recall sweet memories in our hearts of those who have gone on ahead of us, many at a young age and much sooner than we would have chosen.

Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you. Psalm 55:22a NLT

Thank goodness there is so much HOPE wrapped up in The Christmas Story!

Many times, how we play the cards life deals us determines how the future unfolds. However, more likely, we will have times that we just have to let go and accept things as they are.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

My Mama raised six children and as we grew into adults, I remember her saying that she was not “worried” about a particular situation, but that she was definitely “concerned.” She and Daddy would also use the words, “guarded optimism” often. I wrote a post about this called, Don’t Borrow Trouble From Tomorrow.

Maybe this was their way of caring, without carrying the burden that was in their hearts. This reminds me of the Serenity Prayer that I believe is vital as we walk through our days:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian (1892-1971)

One thing that I do know is that the power that is in God is a power I would not want to live without. Recently, our community had a rough rainstorm and we lost all electrical power in our home for more than three hours. As I meandered through our home in candlelight, I would flip a switch and receive no light because of the outage.

Once our power was restored, I began to think what life would be like without power…and worse, what if we had no Divine Creator to turn to, to pray to. Where would we be?

I ask for not a lighter burden, but for a broader shoulder. a Jewish Proverb

All three of my heart friends I mentioned here at the beginning of this post seek God in their journey and the Word promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him. Let’s seek Him, always, in good times, mundane times, and tragic times.

The Word promises that when we seek our Creator, we will find him, every time. Won’t you reach out to him today

There is much power in seeking and finding the Living God and we can be assured that there will never be a power outage with Him.

A SOJOURNER Life Is A journey

“You only live once-but if you work it right, once is enough.” Joe F. Lewis

You and I, we are sojourners on this earth. The Webster’s dictionary defines a sojourner as follows:

“…one who is having a brief, temporary stay; a brief residence”

WE are sojourners on this earth because this earth is not our home.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Last night, as I worked for several hours organizing my thoughts, my story, in anticipation of sharing with the recovering ladies at the Women’s Extension Center, it quickly became apparent to me how far God has brought me in my life.
HOW ENCOURAGING!!! My main prayer has become two words: “Thank You.”
As a 50 something woman, (or any age woman!) I believe it is positively cathartic, very freeing, to think through, and even possibly write down your story, your personal testimony.
As I have expressed before, I have kept a journal for more than 20 years.
This simple tool has so often aided me in working through issues that have burdened my heart in my day-to-day life.
If you are not sure how to get started, try setting a timer for 10-20 minutes and just WRITE, WRITE, WRITE until the timer chimes…or TYPE, TYPE, TYPE…whichever is most comfortable for you.
In sharing with these women, I came up with the following verses to guide me:

Matthew 6:26-27
Lamentations 3:22-23
Galatians 5:1

“If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?” Rabbi Hahman of Bratslay

Today, I encourage you to consider yourself as a sojourner as you contemplate your life journey. How far have you come?