About Me...

My photo
In a nut shell : I'm a wife, a full time working mom, a teacher, a Star Wars geek, comic book nerd, Disney enthusiast, hockey Mom, a decade long breast cancer survivor, and oh let's not forget such a happy, sassy, southern mess!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Life Lesson #118 ~ The Other Side of Life (Becoming Empty Nesters)

"The season has shifted and changed so I let go of what I am used to and walk bravely into the unknown because I know God is right beside me with each step." ~ A Modern Day Ruth

It's hard to believe Johnny and I are looking at the beginning of a brand new season in our lives. We've been married nearly 21 years now, have raised two amazing kids, beat cancer and built a life together. After all the years of changing diapers, wiping faces, putting Joshua and Micah on the bus, helping with homework and watching them go from training wheels to driving cars of their own we're looking at life through the other side of the looking glass. Our once little boys are now grown men. One has already graduated and the other is soon to say goodbye to high school. College is not a hope anymore but a reality and the military is no longer a dream but a real possibility. The talk of first apartments and road trips without us have become the norm and just like that our boys have grown into men. Our children, our two little boys are more than well on their own way to lives and adventures of their own. Johnny and I are no longer just beginning our family anymore. No, instead we're getting ready to downgrade our nest and send our boys off into the world with wings of their own. 

It's funny how things change. I mean when Johnny and I were first married we thought we had all the time in the world to grow old together, to have a family and watch our children grow up. Going from a family of three to a family of four was as natural as spring turning into summer. We dreamed, made plans and in just a little over two decades saw our life together bloom from a sapling into a tall, steady oak. What we didn't understand then, at least at first was how rapidly children grow and how fast time flies. The truth is the empty nest comes quickly, too quickly. Suddenly your children are leaving home, deciding what direction to take on their own and introducing you to the love of their lives. The honest to goodness truth is, "No one tells you that the hardest part of being a parent is when your children grow up." I have to admit the beauty of looking through this side of the looking glass is seeing what amazing people our children have truly become. In the years since childhood, we're no longer holding our child's hands anymore, instead we're letting them go on their own, trusting Proverbs 22:6 is true?  "Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it." 

Johnny and I are ready, I think anyway. I don't know if you're ever fully ready to let go but if you have prepared your children, encouraged them, provided them unconditional love and given them over to the Lord then they themselves will be ready when the day arrives even if you're not. I can't say we're looking forward to an empty nest, but I do believe we're curious as to what adventures are waiting for us on the other side of life. Seriously, we may actually spend a week at Disney World all by ourselves eating ice cream, speeding through Space Mountain and staying up late riding the Monorail. On the flip side you could say we're excited to see what life has in store for our boys, to see where it takes them. "To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave means you've done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own." 

Life on the other side, becoming empty nesters is actually a pretty good place to be. That is after you get over the shock of being old enough to actually have an empty nest anyway. Honestly I do miss when our boys were little, the way they reached up for us, holding our faces in their hands and calling us mommy and daddy. I'd give anything to go back, just for a day BUT life doesn't work that way. Life moves ever forward. We must let go and embrace the here and now we share with our children. And so the truth of Life Lesson #118 ~ The Other Side of Life is this: Life is an amazing adventure. The empty nest believe me it is coming. We can't hold back time but we're learning life on this side of the looking glass is still beautiful with just as many amazing moments all wrapped up in the bittersweet. Joseph Cambell says it wonderfully, "We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." So I say this to all of us crossing over into the Autumn of our lives, live in this moment, enjoy the possibilities, talk with your children, spend time listening to them and then celebrate with our children. Give them their freedom, their independence and the ability to travel on their journey. Hard as it may be it's time to let them fly, making sure they know you'll be there when they need you. I have come to this conclusion, the empty nest is not something to agonize over, though it is not easy. No the empty nest, and stepping over into the other side of life should be thought of as Winnie the Pooh does when he lets Christopher Robin go, leaving the Hundred Acre Woods, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." And that is the truth isn't it? 

After all, "Learning is their journey. Let them navigate. Push them to explore.Watch them discover. Encourage their questions. Allow them to struggle. Support their thinking.Then let them fly." ` Anonymous

~ Christina

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Life Lesson #117 ~ Unbiological Sisters

"My cirlce is small but the love is enormous and genuine, it gets no better." ~ Alex Elle

Life Lesson #117 ~ Un-biological Sisters. the glue that keeps our lives together. I often wonder how I would make it through life without the strong women in my life. I'm so blessed by this small group of tight- knit,close fierce women in my world who somehow keep  me together when everything seems to be falling apart. These friendships, these women are my closest confidants, true kindred spirits, and yes my un-biological sisters. I often think of Philippians 1:3-4 when I'm with my sisters, "Every time I think of you, I thank my God. And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy." 

So what are un- biological sisters and why do we need them? Well these are the women who know us better than we know ourselves. These women, mad at us or not we can call at 3 am in the morning and find the encouragement we need. These women are our champions. they don't hold a grudge, and they don't stay mad at us for long. These women, they are part of us, part of our soul's tapestry. These women listen to us, cry with us and tell us the truth even when it's not what we want to hear. Do these women replace our own siblings? No, not at all. These relationships are not a way around complicated family dynamics nor are they meant to be a substitute for our biological family. What they are, are real, genuine, authentic, unwavering and steadfast connections. Think of it this way: like we need air to breathe we also need these particular close friendships in order to grow. For me these are the women I rely upon. These are the women I trust with my life, with both my most painstaking and joyous moments. These women do not share the same DNA as me but we do share something bigger, we share the same heart. The bonds we share as un-biological sisters connect us to one another across a lifetime of memories.

What I love about these special women in my life is I can be myself with them. No matter where we are or what we're doing I can be me. Whether that is me being silly, acting like a fool or simply being Christina.  They get me, the crazy, goofy person I am, I can wear my heart on my sleeve and love fiercely without fear around  them. I'm not always easy but I'm not difficult either. I have my quiet side, my loud side and my spontaneous side. I can be the nerd, geek, book worm, Disney freak or the snaughler queen I am without any judgment around my sisters. No matter where life has taken us, the one thing that is always constant is my un-biological sisters. I respect these amazing women in my life. I'm extremely thankful for each and everyone of these ladies that complete my circle. 

As Nanea Hoffman says, "I am so grateful for the glorious weirdness that is my life and for those who travel this beautiful, twisty road with me." So yes I am a complicated creature. My life is absolutely a masterpiece of glorious weirdness, uniquely my own to be certain. I am most definitely a different cup of tea, a fiery red headed mess with a definite southern accent all my own. Yes, my circle may be small but I can assure you that it's intensely loyal. I may have been raised an only child but I'm not my mother's only daughter. Because of these women I call my sisters, my mother has many daughters who both love her and call her mom. What I have learned in life is not all family comes to us by birth. Instead many come to us through imperfect love and mutual weirdness. And these are exactly the blessings un-biological sisters bring into our lives... a sisterhood of unconditional and wholehearted love. 

Why do we need un-biological sisters? My thoughts are this: maybe it's because we all need a friend who understands what we're not saying. And maybe it's because, "The circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we're weak and sing with us when we're strong." ~ Sark

~ Christina

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Life Lessons #116 ~ The Art of Communication

"Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters." ~ Dau Voire

Looking at the picture above of my boys, you could assume a lack of communication at our table. You could look at this simple photo and think you're observation was accurate but the truth is you'd be terribly incorrect. Sure Joshua is on his phone and Micah presumably looks like he's hiding behind a menu. Both are true statements but neither are fully correct. What this picture doesn't show or express to the outsider not at the table is the candor actually going on between my son's. In reality, while both look preoccupied they are actually teasing one another all while deciding on what to order. They had the whole table in a fit of laughter to be honest. This is the thing about communication, you have to be actively involved, participating in the moment to contribute to the conversation or it's purely a premise and pure speculation you're fabricating to yourself as truth.

Communication by definition is an exchange of information, a greater understanding of a situation and a means of connection between people. So why is communicating with those we love so hard? We have no problem with posting our opinions, announcing our accomplishments and yes discussing our assumptions with others about anyone but ourselves BUT how often do we actually sit down and work out those differences? I can tell you from personal experience a lack of communication can kill a relationship whether it be romantic, social, family or professional. Best said by nofacewriters, "Communication is actually so important.To be able to tell the other what's on your mind without fighting or arguing." See we must be authentic in how we communicate with those we love. We must listen, not just hear. But we must also listen not simply to reply but to really understand what those around us are actually expressing to us. When we sit down and talk, openly conveying our emotions, feelings and point of view we make ourselves vulnerable, opening our hearts to hurt and misunderstanding. But if we are genuine and sincere about meeting in the middle, facing our uneasiness, and letting go of unnecessary criticism we find compassion and understanding. Our convictions don't have to corrupt our relationships as long as we have humility, forgiveness and kindness in our hearts. The real problems come when we make our opinions our convictions and turn our impressions, assumptions, lack of consideration and overindulgence of perceptions into excuses for our interpretations of each other's behavior. Our so called tolerance and or reason goes out the door with the bath water and harmony, empathy and unconditional love get tied up in our speculation. The reality is "Communication in a relationship is like oxygen to life...without it...it dies." (Tony Gaskins)

Now the other side of the communication coin is knowing when to let it go. Honest, real communication is knowing when peace far outweighs being right. It's knowing when to accept an apology, and knowing when to offer one yourself. This is the thing, being right doesn't make someone else wrong, it simply means there can be two perspectives. I can speak of this personally and just recently. The truth is our family doesn't always get along and yes our feelings get hurt, we assume we know what the other is thinking and in doing so we end up resentful and misunderstood. This is when we call a family table conversation, both to be heard and to listen. It's not worth cutting off your nose despite your face just to walk away king or queen of the hill. This is the deal: Life is not a one way road, it's a two way street. This is how relationships work, you both give and in the process both receive. The problem today is our relationships are made of conversations that are made up of texting and when we disagree our arguments become status updates. We've all seen the quote, "Texting is a brilliant way to mis-communicate how you feel and misinterpret what other people mean." And it is hands down the truth! Communication is ultimately understanding someone else' point of view not name calling, brutality in the name of honesty and callous point making or taking ruthless jabs at those we disagree with. Maybe it;s time to stop all the talking bad behind each other's back and actually turn the tables. Let's learn to sit across from each other and see things from another point of view for a change. Let's explain how we feel, learn to listen as much as we speak but also offer kind words and actually communicate with each other. At the end of the day is bitterness and hatred due to a lack of mis-communication and an absence of understanding worth the loss? 

"I've learned that two people can look at the same thing and see something totally different." Life Lesson #116 ~ The Art Communication...can be complicated. We all perceive differently, we express our feelings distinctively and assuming we know how the other feels about anything is absolutely self-serving and egotistical. We all have different points of view. Our lives have all been lived completely divergent of the other so how could we completely understand how another feels unless we are open to communicating."A simple talk can save millions of relationships in this world. But only if both sides will be open to make things right." And this is why communication is so important. We have to understand this difference, especially before getting angry or you'll spend your entire life at odds with those you say you love. If you truly want peace, and you believe in loving one another without judgment, then I implore you to do just that... put down your contempt, your assumptions and self made perceptions and simple love, unconditionally.

Bottom line, "we have to understand, a bad attitude can literally block love, blessings and destiny from finding you. Don't be the reason you don't succeed." 3 John 1: 14, in the Living version says, "for I hope to see you soon and then we will have much to talk about together." I love this verse because it says it clear as day, come together, in person and talk it out. Seriously negotiate and converse, don't make conclusions and gossip. So my two cents if they count for anything today is this: Stop with the texting, the posts, the comments and the status updates when you're angry. Instead start communicating person to person, family to family and friend to friend. 

After all, we need to be brave enough to start conversations that matter right? 

~ Christina

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Life Lesson #115 ~ Time in a Bottle

"Every empty bottle is filled with stories." ~ Anonymous

Time is one of our most valuable possessions. It's fleeting and no matter how you look at time it's fluid, always moving forward. Time never really gives back instead time just reminds us it's already past by us. Stepping back, looking at my life as a whole I'm aware time stops for no one. At 43 years old I can see how quickly time has indeed continued to march on in-spite of all my protests. The reality is ,"life is a collection of moments." This has never been so real to me as this very moment. The truth is none of us are invincible, not one. Time takes from us what it will and when our time is spent, comes to collect us ready or not, young or old. I faced this reality much too young. I looked time in the eyes the day cancer came knocking on my door with her sickle and a pocket watch in hand.  Now I'm again realizing how precious time is, how it speeds by without a second thought. Lately I've been evaluating my life and all it holds. I see how my children have grown, preparing for lives of their own.They are no longer babies, but men. I look at my own hands and I see how they have aged. After all it's been over 20 years since the love of my life slipped a wedding ring on my finger and I one on his. And then I look to my parents and I'm filled with love, warm memories and the reality they too are getting older. There's a great quote I often think of. It goes something like this, "Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forget they are also growing old." Now let me say this in light of that quote, my parents aren't old, not in the way one may think. I really don't know if my parents will ever be old in terms defined as out of date or bygone, maybe vintage but never old. No, my folks are not elderly in anyway speaking, they are just aging like a fine wine.

Life in our family has never been boring or run-of-the-mill that's for sure. Our life defined would probably read more like this: never a dull moment or hitting the ground running. To be honest it's been pretty remarkable. All the places we've been, the sites we've seen and the people we've met along the way have only made our time here together sweeter. And no there is nothing about our lives that has been remotely near ordinary. Today, time is moving so much quicker than ever before. For years we thought we had nothing but time but the truth is just as the song by JIM CROCE says,"There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do." But in understanding these simple lyrics, I wonder how can we not make more of our time together count? And so again I'm reminded of the song,'Time in a Bottle.' I can't stop thinking of how much I love and how much I'm loved by my family, by my parents as those famous words ring inside my head,"If I could save time in a bottle the first thing that I'd like to do is to save every day till eternity passes away just to spend them with you." 

I love how my parents still go to theme parks, take road trips and go to a midnight movie together with us. They refuse to be left behind, to have things "above their pay grade" anymore as my dad says and have chosen to stay current in tech, books, TV, music and movies. My dad, though close to retiring finally still works 12 hour shifts in his 70's and doesn't complain one bit. I love the life we have with my parents and the life we have as a family together. I can't stand the idea of not being able to see my parents weekly, to call my mom and hear her voice or laughing with my dad so hard we're both in tears. To be honest it brings strong emotions to my heart when I think of both of them. I just love them so much. I have been given so much love, adoration, security and freedom to be myself all these years I have no idea how I'll ever live without them. I have been blessed to have lived the life I have. I've been more than fortunate to have been raised in a family such as mine. I can't argue the privilege I've been afforded. While I've had a tough road, I've been happy. Going through my mom's hope chest as of late, pulling out her prom tiara and my old baby shoes or shifting through old pictures from their wedding day to my dad carrying me on his shoulders has been beautiful. Yet with those moments have also come the ones deciding when time stands still where this and that will go. Yes those minutes have almost been too much to bare honestly. I don't want to think about it, entertain any of it but as we've been preparing my parents for retirement , this is where we've found ourselves on occasion. Leo Christopher says this, "There's only one thing more precious than our time and that's who we spend it on." The truth is I won't ever look back and regret any of the time I've spent with my parents. Every minute I've been blessed with their presence is a gift. The legacy they leave to me is one of unconditional love, courage, joy, Jesus and happiness.  My parents brought me up to simply be me, no strings attached. I am far from perfect but I am their daughter and for that I am thankful.

Life Lesson #115 ~ Time in a Bottle is spoken from my heart...gently and yet passionately. The truth is we can't hold back time or hide it away for safe keeping inside a bottle. Time is fluid, free-flowing, open-ended and yes of the essence. Something many us know all too well I'd imagine. I guess what I'm trying to say is time is precious. Let go of what holds you back, set free what isn't yours and hold tightly to those you love. We never know when our time here is up so spend it wisely. As David Duchemin says, "Guard your time fiercely. Be generous with it, but be intentional with it." I plan to do just that: to be deliberate, conscious and purposeful in the ways I spend my time. As Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; ..."

~ Christina

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Life Lesson #114 ~ Humble and Kind

"Be humble in your confidence yet courageous in your character." ~ Melanie Koulouis

There's this song on the radio called 'Humble and Kind', Every time it comes on I can't help but think of my son Joshua. There's many parts of this song that remind of my oldest child, but there's one verse that brings tears to my eyes each and every time I hear Tim McGraw sing them..."Don't expect a free ride from no one. Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why: Bitterness keeps you from flyin'. Always stay humble and kind."

As a child not only did Joshua find himself the unfortunate whipping boy of my cancer, he also fought a learning disability, depression and ended up on the receiving end of other kid's insecurities. Joshua was picked on, made fun of and as a teenager he faced bullies of indescribable brutality that left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury, seizures and a constant thumping inside his head. Fear and bitterness could have guided him, taking root deep inside his character, making him angry and resentful. Now to be honest there were moments along the way when Johnny and I saw him overpowered by dismay, angst and agitation. Believe me I was as scared for him as he was for himself. As a mom, I was there with him as he fought the demons back. But in those times as Johnny and I worried ourselves, we  prayed both for and with Joshua. To be honest I can't believe we ever got through some of those times myself, but we did and he did. Together we learned to "Pray big. Worry less. Trust God. Love people. Laugh more. Stress less. Have fun. Live free." And now Joshua's 20, a man really, not a little boy any longer. He's tall, handsome and brave. He's a gentleman just like his Paw Paw taught him to be. He's a fisherman, still casting his line beside his dad every chance he gets day or night. He's a passionate musician following in his Nana's footsteps. He loves comic books, Star Wars, Disney and Medieval folklore just as passionately as I do. Joshua's a kind, gentle and very humble soul. He has always been this way, never taking credit even when it was his to claim. I've watched him give up his place to others, turn down invitations he'd longed for because he'd already committed to something much less fanciful and yes even allowing others to take credit for his ideas many times over. This is who Joshua is and while we are very much aware Joshua is not perfect, as his brother will most definitely tell you I can say Joshua is absolutely humble and kind.

Joshua has his own set of talents that continues to humble us. He's always been the kind of boy, and now absolutely the kind of man who believes you should "climb the mountain so you can see the world. Not so the world can see you." Even in his abilities, his natural talents Joshua has always been humble, meek, modest and un-presuming. It's part of the reason through the years some folks have overlooked him or even taken advantage of his giving nature. I will tell you this when he gets on those drums, pulls out the cajone or even the bongos the room is turned upside down. Still in those moments Joshua has no clue he's just brought an entire room to a complete astonished, awestruck silence. You see Joshua with all his humility has never fully understood he's more than a simple man, living a simple life. He sees himself as average, nothing more and nothing less but as his mother and as a witness to his kindness, humility and sacrifice, I know better. This is the truth I understand about my son, "A meaningful life is not being rich, being popular, being highly educated or being perfect...it is about being real, being humble, being strong and being able to share ourselves and touch the lives of others." (Power of Positivity)

As a man my baby now stands 6 feet tall. I know he's a man, grown and well on his way to a life of his own but I can't help but still see the little boy inside of him full of dreams and aspirations. I look at my son today and I see a lifetime of hope, strength, kindness and humility. I see him and I know one day he will not only be a good husband and father but I know without a doubt he's already a good man. As I look to Joshua and see the opportunities on his horizon I realize just how spot on James 4:6  is," But the grace that God gives is even stronger. As the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And God's grace is with Joshua. I do not say this as a proud mama but as a witness to Joshua's life. He's fought the hounds of hell, suffered through unfair hardships and still he's always stayed humble, kind and brave. He's kept his faith strong, his heart pure and his hope un-penetrable despite the worst. Our son has taught us, his parents this, "You will not always be the smartest person in the room, and you will not always be the strongest or the funniest or the most talented. But you can always be brave and you can always be kind, and these are the things you should be every minute of every day for the rest of your life. Because yes, those other things, they're great things but these things are better."

And so the reality is Joshua's definitely waited longer than most for many things we take for granted ourselves but in doing so he's gained a deeper perspective than most ever will. Yes many right of passage milestones have come later for him, but they have come nonetheless. I personally feel that in each and every accomplishment, late or not Joshua's learned to fully appreciate each individual goal even more. Yes it seriously pains me to know my son has been physically injured, teased, mocked and made fun of for his faith, his weight, lack of a driver's license, a job and taking his time in school all in the light of a TBI. But good things come to those who wait, and in Joshua's case those who overcome adversity with grace and humility succeed. So now after learning to take his time, not to rush or allowing the opinions of other's to effect his self-worth Joshua is finding his own success. At 20 years old he's allowing God not only to lead but to open the right doors, one at a time. In doing this Joshua's bravely walking his own path. Everything he's ever wanted is coming together. He has an amazing core group of friends who not only count on him but he counts on. He's driving solo with a vehicle of his own. He's working, playing ice hockey and has more than lost the weight, he's gained muscle too. He's going to school not only to get a degree but to pursue his calling. He's becoming a musician and an artist but most importantly Joshua's learned in his life to "Be strong but not rude; Be kind but not weak; Be bold but not bully; Be humble but not timid; Be proud but not arrogant."

Taking notes from Psalm 15: 9 when I step back taking a full inventory of Joshua's life I see a beautiful tapestry of hope and possibility, pain and yes even set backs all spun together in bright bold colors, inspiring and sparking optimism. But I also see his conviction, his faith, trust and a strong belief in His Father above all in spite of the suffering and misadventures along the way. I know with out a doubt Joshua is humble, even when he rightfully deserves  the spotlight and recognition. And because of this very same strong trait in his character he's been able to do what is right even when it wasn't always easy. As his mom, I see Joshua's great example of humility and kindness and I'm humbled. But as a witness to his life, well I look at his example and I'm inspired to be more like him.  And so my two cents here today for Life Lesson #114 ~ Humble and Kind come directly from Tim McGraw himself, "Don't take for granted the love this life gives you.When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around and help the next one in line. Always stay humble and kind." 

~ Christina

Monday, January 9, 2017

Life Lesson #113 ~ This is Our Story

"Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. "Be still." they say. "Watch and listen, you are the result of the love of thousands." ~ Anonymous

When it comes to family I am a part of a diverse group of people. We have branches entwined into our family from all over this world...India, to Korea to Eastern Europe, Native Americans and beyond. Our family tree has strong roots, grafting, weaving and joining together our many, diverse and different moving fluid parts. Our roots are deep, solid and flourishing. Like our many branches, our family provides a canopy of protection and refuge, a culture of both remarkable and exceptional heritage. Our branches have long been shaped, pruned and joined together through the lives, the love and the legacy of those who came before me. As a woman I've grown to see the truth and the authenticity in acknowledging, "In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." (Alex Haley)

Today I give you Life Lesson #113 ~ This is our story, the tale of who we are. A history merged from multiple branches grafted together giving birth to a vast strong, tall, sturdy and unbreakable tree. Psalm 1:3 says this, "They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up." This is the greatest example of family I can think of if you really think about it. It's been said to "remember and honor family who have come and gone before you, because they had a hand in shaping who you are." I know I am carved and shaped from the very same trunk, cultivated from strong roots planted long before I was a glimmer in my parents eyes. See I come from a long line of fighters and warriors. The blood running through my veins was born of struggle and oppression. Those from whom my own roots have grown faced challenges I can't imagine yet still had the courage to chase their dreams across an ocean. The voyage carrying their precious seedlings wasn't easy but today some 100 years later our family is firmly rooted. And now when I think of the woman I am today, I see can my granny's spitfire spirit, my grandmom's determination and stubbornness, my grandpop's humor, and my parents sense of adventure all grafted into my own story.

Who I am in the grand scheme of things? Well the truth is I'm just a small leaf on one branch of a much larger tree than any of my fore-bearers could have envisioned. What I can tell you is this: I am the great-granddaughter of Helena and Karl, John and Leolla, Nancy and Augusta, Nelly and Thomas and the granddaughter of Maria and Ray, Mary and Bob and the daughter of Bobby and Patty. From these individual branches my life was grafted, fused, yoked, joined together and made whole. I am the direct result of these very connections. The life I share today with my hubby Johnny, the love of my life and the lives of our children have not sprouted or budded by chance. No our branches, our story was planned, added and affixed by a divine hand long ago. And long after I am gone, my children and their children will continue adding leaves and branches to our family tree.

Turning through the pages of my history I can tell you it's a tale of two worlds colliding one afternoon on the Red Arrow bus line near the Franklin Institute in downtown Philadelphia. Now most of  you know I'm a southern girl no doubt. I'm a grace under fire, independent, fiddle dee dee kind of girl. That said it might surprise you to know while I wasn't raised in the North I have deep roots with long strong branches from Philly. Both sides of my family came in through Ellis Island, one branch settled in Philly and the other passed through Ohio before settling into the steel mills of Alabama and later on into Louisiana. I am just as much a part of Philly as I am my beloved South. Both families were blue collar and hardworking. Our family's blood was split, in war for this country and in the architecture of downtown Philadelphia. My great-grandfather built the old buildings and bridges of Philadelphia with his hands, ultimately falling to his death shortly after my grandmother gave birth to  my uncle, her first child. My grandpop, my mom's dad, was a strutter in the Mummers Parade, a rich and beloved holiday tradition in Philly. Today that same love of tradition has been passed down to my mom's cousin Bob who's a strummer in the Mummer's Parade on New Year's Day. My dad's grandmother was affectionately known as Big Mama. She was a kind woman who lost her husband early, going on to remarry and have my dad's Aunt Kay around the same time he was born. They grew up more as cousins in Mobile Alabama than as aunt and nephew. Big Mama endured hardship and yet still managed to find her true southern grace even through the grit. My mama's family they are my true North, with just as much of a rich and abundant history as my dad's. My grandpop's grandmother came from Scotland, an orphan. Her daughter, my grandpop's mother died of Tuberculosis when my grandpop was just a small boy. Looking back, seeing the hardships both branches of my family tree have suffered I'm aware how completely blessed I truly am. We've been grafted together, our roots not only deep but expansive and honestly knowing that is very liberating. The reality is as Quentin L. Cook says, "we need to be connected to both our roots and branches."

From these strong, rugged and spirituous people, I've been afforded the freedom and privileges I have today. If not for their dreams of a new world and the sacrifices made by their blood, sweat and tears I would have none of the advantages and liberties I've inherited. What inspires me the most looking back on my family tree is realizing how both sides have quite literally shaped me, enduring, surviving, sacrificing and giving of themselves. These same qualities have been passed down from one generation to the next. For me,"knowing who our family was, reveals part of who I am." Understanding service not only to country but community has been a part of our family's fabric from the start speaks to the character of those I am descended from. Both my great-grandmother's, set an example for the generations who came long after them by opening their homes and feeding those less fortunate during the great depression. Yes, some of my great-grandparents descendants have gone on to make their mark on the world of music and film, from my Great- Aunt Betty to my dad's cousins kids on the Dowling side. And while the rest of us may not be known by millions we are still making our mark, keeping our history and heritage alive. We are all part of the same tree, grafted and joined together. Our stories are all connected and our ancestors legacy is forever part of our history.

It is only by God's grace "I was born into a family of warriors, really strong people." (Shailene Woodley) So this is my story, a glimpse into the fabric of who I am. I am not strong, stubborn or even a fighter of my own right. I am all these things because of the women and the men who came before me. They laid the foundation and watered the roots of this very tree I am but one leaf on, of a branch they planted generations before I was born. I'm a survivor today because my ancestors showed me the way long before cancer stamped her mark upon me. And while we may not always walk in our great, great grandparents footsteps, our children and our children's children will continue their legacy as our tree grows generation after generation. So yes, this is our story, "Let us not only remember the past and it's required sacrifice, let us also remember that we are responsible to build a legacy for the generations which follow us." ~ Thomas S. Manson

~ Christina

Friday, January 6, 2017

Life Lesson #112 ~ Still the Same Girl

"I have not changed; I am still the same girl I was fifty years ago and the same young woman I was in the seventies. I still lust for life, I am still ferociously independent, I still crave justice, and I fall madly in love easily." ~  Isabel Allende

I am still the same girl I was all those years ago, opening gifts on Christmas morning, climbing up on my parents bed, dancing around in a pink tutu, receiving my college degree or walking down the aisle to marry the love of my life. Sure I may have changed outwardly. I've grown into my personality, into my skin and grown a few inches taller along the way but underneath I am absolutely the same girl I have always been..spunky, sassy and  free spirited.

Life has moved me, shaken me and shaped me, but it has never broken me. I may have struggled with body image but I made up for that in so many other ways from taking the stage and belting out a tune, ballet, dance, gymnastics, theater, piano, voice, choir, writing, modeling, pageants and the list goes on. The arts were and still are my life line. Being an only child surrounded by so much love, encouragement, extended family and adventure I was bound to be relentless in my pursuit of life. I still love getting lost in a book, singing and harmonizing with my mom, dancing an Irish jig, traveling, watching old Disney movies and being silly with those I love. Laughter has always been my best friend, and imagination my sister. From tea parties, to mud pies I was never afraid to be myself as goofy as I am. I was known simply as 'Motor Mouth'  by my dad because I talked non stop, something I can still be found guilty of today. Growing up and becoming an adult I may have developed countless scars, been bruised by love and disappointed by several lost dreams but my hope has never wavered. You see I was brought up to "be a girl with a mind, a woman with attitude and a lady with class." And so giving up was and never will be an option for me. Am I difficult, yes I am but then what southern woman isn't? I'm stubborn, obstinate and strong-willed, a real firecracker that's for sure. But that's exactly why I am a fighter and a survivor, independent, strong and yes even vulnerable. I am not just a girl, I am not just a woman, no  "I am a storm with skin." And I'm not ashamed of who I am, what I have become or where my personal storm is leading me.

I am still the same girl raised to love unconditionally, and speak my mind at the same time.I have lived a life that is uniquely and exclusively my own.  I may be copied but I still own the sole rights to my life, and I rest comfortably in that knowledge.  From the time I was a little girl I have been been a dreamer, a non conformist and nothing has really changed since then. I know I am deeply flawed, as far from perfect as Dorthy was from Kansas. I am by far no one to place on a pedestal nor am I a saint, none of us are to be honest, not one. We are all sinners, saved by grace I am but a sinner just the same. "I am me, no excuses, no regrets." I'm the girl who knows without a doubt she's a mess, flat out chaos for sure, with insecurities galore But I'm also the woman who figure's if I'm going to be a mess, I might as well be a sassy southern hot mess right?

Life Lesson #112 ~ I'm still the same girl I've been from the start. I may be weird, but if life has taught me anything it's that I don't care. My advice is this: Never be ashamed of your story and of those moments you failed. Forgive quickly and never let resentment become your ally. Personally on those bad days when I feel the world trying to change me, shake me or break me I simply remind myself that God is with me, I can not fail. Psalm 16:8 stays on constant repeat inside my heart, "I will not be shaken." And the truth is, even if I am I won't be broken. I may fall, I may lose sight of myself from time to time, but I will always be a daughter of the King, saved by His grace in a world buying for my crown. The truth is I may be getting older and my days may not be as many as they once were but if you ask me where that little girl has gone, I'll tell you the truth...she's never left. I am still the same little girl my daddy called motor mouth and my mama tried getting shoes on. I am still the same young woman who said I do one spring afternoon, and the same first time mom chasing two little boys around in diapers. Yes, I am still the same girl I once was, just with a little more maturity, a bit of extra wisdom, a few additional life lessons and a bunch of gray hair thinking one day she'll  be chasing grand-babies around.

"She’s still the same girl flying down the hill. She’s still the same girl memories vivid still."  ~ Twila Paris

~ Christina

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Life Lesson #111 ~ Star Light, Star Bright

"Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish, I wish tonight. We'll make a wish, and do as dreamers do, and all our wishes (all our wishes), will come true."  ~ Wishes

Like you, our new year began with ushering out the old one. We gathered with friends and family at our home celebrating the New Year. It's become a tradition of sorts, gathering together laughing, playing games, sharing stories and watching the fireworks. My best friends and I have known each other for over 20 years and our kids have grown up together. Our children, now grown have celebrated milestones together and graduated together. Looking back it's hard to believe for two decades our families have seen one another through 20 years of adventures. And again we have said goodbye to yet another year and hello to 2017 together.  So now after a 12 month long journey 2016 has come to a close. But with the new year's arrival 365 new opportunities are just beginning. 

How do you start the new year? Every year at the stroke of midnight I hug my kids and my folks, kiss my hubby passionately which of course embarrasses our boys and then I make a wish just before the clock strikes 12:01 AM. I also say a prayer for the new year. I ask God to make me stronger than the last, braver and kinder than I've ever been before, to be unstoppable when possible and always fierce and passionate with every new page I write. What does all that mean? Well, it doesn't always include smooth sailing that's for sure! It means life lessons, ups, downs and adventures big and small. Life is not a guarantee of happiness however it is a promise of possibilities. Jiminy Cricket sings nightly during Wishes, telling us, "Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through. When you wish upon a star, your dreams...come...true." And I do believe if you not only wish but work hard those dreams can become a reality. With the beginning of 2017 already a few days old, now is the moment to start cultivating, nurturing and developing our hopes and our dreams for this year. With a whole new chapter in front of us full of unwritten pages it's time to begin filling them in don't you think" Maybe to start working toward making those wishes of ours a reality? I like to think of it this way, "2017 will be a better chapter for you if you...Think positive, let go of the past mistakes, make new friends, and stay away from toxic people. Use your talents. Don't hold back, do good deeds, speak up for yourself and know your worth." This is a good little dose of truth we all should not only let sink in but sip on steadily.

I don't know about you but I have a fairly busy year planned so far and it's still just January. Work, yes there will be plenty of that along with paying the bills. Blue prints and refurbishing the house is up for discussion. Business opportunities are a plus in the new year. Family, friends and time well spent together is a definite. Micah's graduation is on the horizon. Vacation and play time is already blocked off on the calendar and pursuing our dreams together as a family is completely nonnegotiable. Proverbs 16:3 says, "Ask the Lord to bless your plans, and you will be successful in carrying them out." This is a promise and one I cling to. Anything we do, any plans we make or steps we take to get there we don't just do for ourselves but in honor of our Father. He is our guiding compass, He directs and navigates the bumpy roads ahead of us. Any accomplishments are a direct result of His design, forethought and groundwork. The authenticity of my life, my reality and my personal truth is I am nothing without the Lord. Anything I become or have sought to become comes from one source...Jesus Christ. All my aspirations, hopes, dreams and wishes are all rooted in His ability to oversee my success. 

Life Lesson #111 ~ Star Light, Star Bright... 2017 is just the beginning my friends. C.S. Lewis said it best, "There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind." And as wonderful, as painful, as joyful and as sad as 2016 was I'm ready for 2017. My resolution, well it's to live a little more in the moment. The past no longer has any hold on me. There's nothing to see there, to regret or even to fear. The last year, every bit of 2016 and the ones before it are only a place of reference, not my residence any longer. The past is behind us, the new year is not just a new chapter with new possibilities it's filled with 365 new days with new beginnings. Close the last chapter, don't reopen it, don't re-read it or flip through it for any reason. Just remember anyone can speak of your past, but if they aren't a part of your present, moving with you into the future they are only replaying and rewinding scenes of a junction long forgotten. If they keep speaking only of days gone by, retelling a story long over and gone, detoured and rewritten, forgotten and unrecognizable all you can do is turn the page and move on. Our lives, our dreams, our hopes and our wishes are never insignificant but they are movable, interchangeable. And yes they are the foundation of all our future possibilities, where our personal magic develops. As Jiminy Cricket again says during Wishes, "You see, its just like I told ya. Wishes can come true, if you believe in them with all your heart.And the best part is, you'll never run out of wishes. They're shining deep down inside of you.'Cause that my friends is where the magic lives."

So let 2017 begin, let it rise up, light up the sky and lead us ever forward,"but first, champagne." Now go grab your beans, cabbage, ham and cornbread. Happy New Year ya'll!

~ Christina