ME AND MOTHER’S BOXES By Lori A Alicea

It was just a small question I needed answers to, although I hadn’t a clue how God would reply.

Was I searching for a “needle in a haystack?”
Did I even know what I was looking for?

I kept my question secret between God and me.

The diary of my longings under “lock and key” and for His eyes only, as He alone understood more than any the personal matters of the heart.

Using mother’s spare key, I entered her house that spring morning without my usual knocking or calling out her name. I didn’t come toting a cup of coffee to join her for breakfast as I usually did.

In the early hours, a light show burst thru the living room windows, warming me and bidding me “good morning”.

Yet while this sunshine tried its best to cheer me up, I couldn’t push past that seared memory of mother taken away days prior by ambulance, forcing a family to reconcile their mother wasn’t ever coming home; at least not to this address.

Clumsily under both arms I clutched boxes, both big and small, with a van parked in the driveway full to the roof of more boxes, scads of bubble wrap, shipping tape and sheets of wrapping paper by the hundreds.

Living one street over, my hands were empty, not carrying those homemade meals prepared and delivered to mother’s kitchen table I had been known to do these last few years.

No, this visit was a first for me, a hard reality. I showed up unannounced on mother’s vacant doorstep to pack, to take and empty from her shelves, drawers, closets and cupboards, and place into boxes the wrapped treasures and belongings of mother’s home now headed for storage.

As siblings we shared in the great responsibilities of mother’s care.

As a stay-at-home-wife I took on the task of closing up this haven we as children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, extended friends and family all called home.

Packing during this difficult time was a gift.

Packing was my quiet way of saying good-by, to reminisce and remember home for the last time in “my way”, comforted in the company of mother’s things, even if this farewell was a first farewell of many yet to come.

Overwhelmed before the first box was ever filled, I paused in silence and reached for mother’s Bible found in its usual place beside her chair. Opening the pages at random I read:

The Lord our God is near whenever we pray to him.
Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV
grandma in chair
Yes, the Lord is near, especially near to the brokenhearted.
He was as close as I allowed Him to be,
Ready to listen; ready to answer.

Surrounded by the memories of mom, that question surfaced again, a question impatiently waiting its turn to be asked.

We all have questions, don’t we?

Questions tied to our past; questions that need to step forward and be heard.

But you have to be bold, find your inner strength, muster the courage and blurt out the question.

“Lord, is there anything in this house you want me to have?”

It wasn’t a question of inheritance.
I wasn’t interested in things or earthly treasures.

What I was interested in though was God’s heart filling in a few blanks of my heart, Him finishing a few sentences from the script of my life I had no idea might be incomplete.

I had no clue how God would reply.

I was searching for a “needle in a haystack”; an answer that could possibly be found among mother’s things.

What I was looking for?
I honestly had no idea.

As the middle child of five girls with an older brother, there were no lingering questions of love and acceptance. Yes, together we were a big family and we had to find and sometimes fight for our individual voice and place.  We didn’t grow up with riches, but we were rich in ways money could never afford.  Any loose ends from the fray of my memory have been tied in a bow, leaving only good thoughts under the cloak of my childhood.

Maybe what I wanted though but didn’t realize growing up, was God needing to complete the sentence relationship of mother and me with not a “period”, but possibly a heart emoji, a kiss of the heart, or a gift of affection.
25th anniversary me mom and davidA gift I wanted to believe could be found hidden among mother’s boxes.

The week long packing began.

Room after room my silent farewells to mother and who she was in this home.

Mother was the heart of our holidays and her kitchen.

Mother was one of a table full of honored pillars seated at the royal place we named the “senior table.”

Family to mom was remembering there was always room for one more person.

Mother’s fervent prayers, throughout the day and midnight hour, kept our family together.

Mother’s things and treasures filled a total of sixty-five boxes. I held the accumulation of mother’s life in my hands piece by piece and released them each with a personal good-bye to the bottom of another box.

Now these boxes would find a new home in storage until mother was able to let them go herself; boxes hiding a piece of our mother’s heart in these closed and stored chapters of her life.

All of mother’s rooms; in all of mother’s belongings and I never found that “needle in the haystack”; what didn’t I see among mother’s boxes, what did I miss?

That “knowing” in me kept pressing and pulling those heartstrings of mine as a prompting to keep looking, keep asking the questions.

Two years later with mother’s blessing, her sixty-five boxes found their way out of storage and into my house to be emptied, contents individually pictured and itemized on a spreadsheet for these belongings to be chosen and disbursed to family.
boxes of moms stuffHere we go again; the hello’s and good-byes of mother’s things.

Once again I pray,

“Lord, is there anything in these boxes you want me to have?”

Two years hadn’t faded my memory of mother’s boxes.
Like old friends I knew them well, by name, by history.

“Lord, is there anything?”

 One by one, box after box, finding their way to the front of the line to be emptied.

Bittersweet as the last remaining chapter of mother’s life in box sixty-five is about to become a new book on somebody else’s shelf.

 “Lord, open my eyes to see.”
 “Is there anything here for me?”

 Held in my hands was the last remaining treasure among mother’s boxes.

An old jewelry box filled with mother’s mismatched pieces of costume necklaces, earrings, rings and broaches, jewelry I remember mother wearing vividly when I was growing up. A jewelry box displayed on her bedroom dresser, a familiar piece I cleaned for decades as mother’s housekeeper.  I knew it well.

The hidden finds inside this jewelry box rewind the 8mm collections of me as a child playing dress up with mother’s baubles and beads.

For the final time I prayed,

“Lord, is there anything here you want me to have?”
 “If so, open my eyes to see.”

 I sigh…I take a breath…There it was.

Like an old photograph buried in the dust of time prompting a double-take and closer view, I stopped in the moment to remember.

Held in my hands a gift from God, bewildered I hadn’t noticed it during my years as mother’s housekeeper, even more bewildered this gift was in plain sight during the packing.

A sweet sixteen present from her mother and father,
A birthday celebration for my mother,
A beautiful watch with the inscription and sentiment I had never read before,

“To Our Loving Daughter”.

Beholding this gift up close I knew without question,
God didn’t want to give me treasures,
God wanted to give me words,
God longed to breathe these words of affirmation upon my life,

“To Our Loving Daughter.”

Most endearing of all was the phrase,

 “To Our”.

Our, received as two people, my mother and father; my heavenly Father.

To be loved, to be known and referred as daughter.
To celebrate her life.
Lori little Birthday cakeAfter talking with mother about the watch I discovered and its significance in her life, she expressed a desire to share its sentiment and pass this gift onto me.

“Lord, I am forever grateful you knew what I needed even while I was unaware.”

“You completed this “mother-daughter” sentence with a heart emoji, a kiss of the heart, a gift of affection, an inscription and sentiment, a love letter simply written for which I cherish more than you know,”

“To Our Loving Daughter”.
25th anniversary me mom and david

A BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE HEART By Lori A Alicea

  We all have a story to tell.
Your story, my story, they need to be told.

Buried deep in yesterday is our history, our milestones, our wisdom gained and learned from our wins, our losses.  These truths of our lives must be unearthed, brought to the surface and passed on down into the hands of our children, our grandchildren and generations beyond.

What’s your story?
Might you be willing to open up the pages and tell your story?

blur book candle close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Oh that we would dip our quills into the inkwell of our heart and form onto paper those sentences and chapters that define our past, so our stories can give understanding, fill in the blanks and answer the questions our family in the present are asking, and questions of future family in generations to come.

We must find courage to remember, to fill our passports with stamps that take us places we swore we’d never return to. We must go back and reclaim what was left behind; because it’s your story, it’s a second chance to redeem your memories and realize there are gold nuggets to be mined, but you must be willing to dig and sift and pan out the beauty you never thought was there.             

A loyal traveling companion down the streets of our past, our present and has already walked into our future, God has been a lamppost along our way, lighting our path and writing our story through those peaks, those valleys and every high and low in the journey.

God has been faithful. He alone is a story worth retelling.  Might we be willing to unfold the map of yesterday, re-trace the steps of an almighty Father and give him glory in our story?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you… Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

“Your Story Matters”, a book poured out from the heart of Leslie Leyland Fields, words I have devoured, or possibly devoured me, from the very first page.

Leslie Leyland Fields tells her story that we would tell our story.

You don’t have to be a writer to tell your story, because your “words are your story”.

Your story matters.
My story matters.

Take my hand and follow me back into my beginning, the introduction and first few pages of my writing story.

I tell my story that you might be encouraged to tell yours.

rewrite edit text on a typewriter
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

 A BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE HEART
By Lori A Alicea

In my “thirties” living in a generation where women found great fulfilment in the workplace, many leaned though into the belief “you can have it all at the same time”; where one could “fry up the bacon inside the home while earning it from outside your white picket fence.”  I was one of those women.

As a computer programmer analyst consultant for fifteen years, there’s no denying that gleaned from plowing into projects and sowing opportunity after opportunity into my professional fields, I yielded bushels full of a bountiful increase.

But in my arduous climb up that Mt. Everest of success, I found it difficult to breathe from the demands of higher elevations. Closer to the summit its view didn’t render the majestic glamour I imagined.

Prior to one step up that mountain I should have considered the price; I should have counted the cost of my earthly pursuits.

I wish the wisdom of our Women’s Ministry Pastor would have whispered in my ear years earlier, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”

Worldly gains came at a great price, it cost me big:

Cost me time and memories at home.

Cost those treasured “firsts” with my young children; first steps, first words, first day of school, that first day of baseball, and sadly, the scrapbooks are empty from so many more.

Cost my strength in exchange for weariness.

Costs my family and I paid dearly for.

These missed moments are now fallen leaves caught up in the updrafts of those autumn winds, forever lost and unable to be reclaimed or retrieved.

Eventually a tug-of-war ensued, a duel from both sides of my heart challenging each other to the death, career vs. my love for home.

The voice of my career screamed, “Keep climbing.”
The voice of my love for family begged louder, “Come home.”

In search for answers, a Heavenly Father reminded me:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

…A time to plant and a time to uproot. Ecclesiastes 3:2

I could have it all, just not all at the same time.

Encouraged and blessed by my husband, I uprooted myself from the acres of career and plowed up and re-planted my life into a brand new field called home.

Home felt so right.
Home fit like my favorite slippers on a cold day.
Home was the warmth of an angora sweater in a cool breeze.
Home was an afternoon smell of cookies baking in the oven.
Home was sharing pancakes over breakfast with my children before school.
Home was kneading bread dough on my kitchen counter.
Home was those walls that kept my family safe at night.

I was home and living the dream.

It didn’t take long before a gentle pursuit of me occurred in the still and quiet mornings; “words of home” began silently whispering.

The pitter, patter feet of (the simple thoughts, the little phrases, the innocent images of children and love…), began sneaking up on me from around the corner hallway, at the breakfast table as I sipped on my morning coffee, while gazing at the outside beauty from my kitchen window, all pulling on my apron strings and vying for my attention to be written.

There was no denying the stirring. I couldn’t push them away if I tried; words, those beautiful words.

Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.  Psalms 45:1 NLT

Born from this sacred place of my heart called home,

A birth announcement,

A debut column from years ago, the birthplace and baby’s first steps of a writing career,

Written to draw attention to the roses, our garden of the simple, the seemingly insignificant, yet the wonderment to discover if you allow its beauty to entice your curiosity to stop and smell them.

A Column is born,
Little Things.”
Column pictures

WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE…By Lori A Alicea

The heart of one true friend for the other,
…he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:16 NIV

For every life there is a ledger.
A book of columns tallying the additions and subtractions,
Reconciling the sum total of our years here on earth,
And upon inspection of my life’s ledger,
I’d consider it an accounting of true riches
For those who call me friend, albeit even one.

 “If you have one true friend in the world,
You are very rich.”
Alistair Begg        

We were not born for isolation.

God himself said before blessing man with his wife:
It is not good for man to be alone…
Genesis 2:18 NIV

While telling them next to
“Be fruitful and multiply…”
Genesis 1:28

Birthed from the increase of families came
Community, the village,
Our deep and abiding friendships.

What a friend we have….
…to be loved by one as he loves himself.

As beauty rests in the eye of the beholder,
So are the many portraits of friendship;
Painted and seen from the beholders lens.

The portrait of loyalty as seen through the eyes of small children and their furry best friends, expressed through their inseparable time together, side by side throughout the day, never seeing one without the other, with the loyal friend keeping vigil and watch over his best friend at night.

Friendships paint a classroom of learning whose brushstrokes articulate the lending and sharing of talent, while hidden in the shadows of color are those dreams and secrets that friends both share together, creating a heart connection for life.

True friendships are those paintings of hill climbs thru hard times, journeys thru deep valleys of sadness and miles of desolate roads with no bright intersection in sight, yet depicting relationships still locking arms to get through it all together, never entertaining the thought of leaving the other behind.

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
Maya Angelou

There are those nightstand 5 x 7’s reserved for friendships remembering their worst and best day, those good Samaritan moments caught on camera rescuing a fallen friend in need.

If one falls down, his friend can help him up… Ecclesiastes 4:10
hands ethan and ayva park 2
Friendships are for life; a picture riding off into the sunset, showcasing a bond birthed as cousins, yet grew with them through the years into brothers and inseparable friends.

There are those friendships beautifully framed in love and influence, portraits that hang over the fireplace of those who have touched and impacted our hearts for the first time, yet leave a handprint on our life forever.
father grandfather ayva and daddy walkingThen are those generational wall groupings, our inheritance frozen under glass for our reminder, our journey back to our roots, our heritage and friendships that can’t be explained on canvas, only told through the stories of those faces caught in time.

Friendships are snapshots of sisters, or friends who become sisters and family, snapshots where the naked eye is unable to distinguish the difference because love goes deeper and hides itself in these pixel moments of time.

There are friends,
there is family,
and then there are friends
that become family.
Unknown

Friendship on canvas is..
A friend who
overlooks your broken fence
and admires the flowers in your garden.
Unknown
flowers ayva smelling flowers

Sweet friendships refresh the soul…they awaken our hearts with joy, for good friends are like the anointing oil that yields the fragrant incense of God’s presence. Proverbs 27:9 TPT

What a friend we have…
The heart of one true friend for the other,
…he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:16 NIV

 

THEIR LIGHT STILL SHINES By Lori A Alicea

A Sympathy Card

For those who lost…

A husband, a wife,
A brother, a sister,
A friend, a son, a daughter,
A mother, father, aunt or uncle, cousin,
A classmate, a co-worker, a neighbor,
A stranger you noticed every day,
Any one you shared life with,

But lost during this pandemic year of 2020.

These expressed words are my condolences
To your family that they might bring comfort
In your most difficult hour.

Love bridges the miles that separate us.
Love knows no stranger.
Love reaches out to those who hurt.

I’m reaching out a stranger,
While reaching out a friend.
To fill your grieving cup,
With hope, with promise.

To extend an arm of comfort,
To lift you up during a time
When the unimaginable weight of your loss
Is too much to bear alone.

My sympathy’s in your hour of great need…

Might you be blanketed…
Might you be surrounded…
With “the peace
That passeth all understanding.”

THEIR LIGHT STILL SHINES
By Lori A Alicea

Each light, a life, a name held close,
Burns bright their memory.
In silence we remember those,
Called home to be with Thee.

The brilliance of so many names,
A darkened night broke through.
Appears a starry sky but yet,
My eyes see only you.

lighted candle
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Behind, you left an empty seat,
Behind, you left your light.
Your memories remain with us,
They comfort in the night.

greyscale photography of lamp on floor
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Their names, lit dim mere months ago,
The roll calls just a few.
The flicker soon becomes a flame,
Your name was added too.

blur burn burning burnt
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Then one by one another name,
A life, a candle lit.

tealight candle lit up
Photo by Mohammad reza Fathian on Pexels.com

This scene it takes away one’s breath,
And overwhelms to sit.

man sitting beside building
Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

Each light released into Thy hands,
Good-by this side of night.
Our loss, eternity has gained,
Released towards heaven’s sight.

bright celebration crowd dark
Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

The window of my heart remains,
Your light my eyes can see.

pillar candle near clear glass window
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Your light still shines the midnight hour,
There’s peace, you rest with THEE.

lighted candle
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

And the peace of God,
which passeth all understanding,
shall keep you hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7 KJV

IN THE NOTICING By Lori A. Alicea

When you least expect it, God reveals himself
in the noticing.

In the obvious, in the subtle, when we’re not looking, and sadly,
When we fail to notice at all,
God is always faithful to
reveal Himself
in the noticing.

In these trying times the world is experiencing together, God is still a personal God and intimately aware of us individually in the smallest of our details, those too minute for even the strongest magnification; yet God sees it all and wants to reveal Himself
in the noticing.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Psalms 139:1-3 NIV

Which is why I shouldn’t have been taken off guard by the surprise of God, as I am fully aware that he knows me, perceives my thoughts and is familiar with all my ways, continuing to find me in the back roads, the hidden intersections of my life, and even down the aisles of the grocery store,

revealing Himself in the noticing.

Recently I found myself walking a bit slower than usual down the aisles of the grocery store, a gaper in a fog I suppose, stunned and close to tears at the barrenness of the shelves.

Shelves usually full of food unless a holiday is approaching.
A scarcity I’ve never seen in my lifetime.

Panic didn’t set in, yet I could see the unsettledness written on so many faces of the other shoppers.

As a mother I wanted to reach out and hug each passerby, especially the young parents with children in their cart, parents I imagined were fretting about “tomorrow”.

As a grandmother who has rocked ten grandchildren through their endless sleepless nights, I longed to comfort these moms and dads and remind them that everything is going to be alright.

Yet quite honestly, the barren shelves that afternoon were bothering me too.

In the noticing though,

God scattered “words of encouragement” throughout the store by someone thoughtful, words painted on rocks and left behind on shelves for shoppers to find, a word God knew
I needed in the noticing.

While rock hunting is not a new idea, as I have personally stumbled upon these decorated stones in the town park and rocks our grandchildren have found hidden by next door neighbors.

But this particular day God gave me a “now word”, a “word in due season” on a shelf at the grocery store, just waiting beside the few boxes of mac-n-cheese left behind for me to discover.

A word God gave me in the noticing was BELIEVE.
IMG_7231Lord, in the noticing

You know me….
You perceive my thoughts….
You are familiar with all my ways….
Psalms 139:1-3 NIV

Lord, in the noticing you saw a weak moment of doubt in me, and now you were encouraging me to remember what I BELIEVE.

In this new pandemic storm unlike no other, boats all over the world seem tossed against the rage of the ocean, taking in and overwhelmed by the “waters of the unexpected”, whose compasses seem to have lost direction, leaving some to feel abandoned, stranded and lost at sea.

But in my boat and in the noticing,
God, you are encouraging me to remember what
I BELIEVE.

When boats are calm, it’s easy to say what we BELIEVE when
sailing waters that are sound asleep.

But when the tides wake up with a fierce headache and vessels everywhere are tossed in the sea of its anger, we have to firmly know what we BELIEVE, as our lives depend on it.

What I BELIEVE is God controls the storm.

The disciples experienced this first hand as Jesus calmed the fierce storm that held their boat captive and stirred their fears of drowning.
Witnessing this miracle the disciples in their amazement replied,

“Who is this?
He commands even the winds and the waters,
and they obey him.”
Luke 8:25 NIV

What I BELIEVE during these unexpected times when so many have lost their jobs or successes, the world will come to realize when provisions miraculously continue, that God has been their provider all this time.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
Psalm 37:25 NIV

What I BELIEVE in this great time of sickness, God still heals. God longs for our faith to arise, to reach out for the “hem of Jesus’ garment” as the woman with the issue of blood did for her healing.

“Who touched me? Jesus asked….
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me;
I know that power has gone out from me.”
…..
Then he (Jesus) said to her,
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
Luke 8:45-48 NIV

What I BELIEVE in this great time of lack,
People have revealed themselves full of generosity.

What I BELIEVE during these times mandated to our homes is a gift,
As families preoccupied and disconnected from the distractions of work, school, sports and play, needed to find their way back home and reconnect with those that they love.

What I BELIEVE is prayer is powerful, that prayer is bringing neighborhoods to their balcony’s, prayer is filling hospital parking lots of cars filled with people, all humbling themselves and calling on God to have mercy on them, seeking his face to heal their lands.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV      

What I BELIEVE that however painful during this great time of grief and sad goodbyes, we still have great HOPE of eternal life with the Lord for those who know Him as Lord, for those who:

…declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 NIV

 In the noticing

God knows us….
He perceives our thoughts….
God is familiar with all our ways….
Psalms 139:1-3 NIV

If you feel abandoned,
If you are feeling alone,
If you are worried about tomorrow,

God is noticing.

You are not abandoned,
You are not alone,
God has tomorrow already prepared.

Find calm in the storm,
As the winds and waters obey Him.
(Luke 8:25 NIV)

Determine to BELIEVE.

Find calm
In a loving God
Who Notices.

SEPARATIONS OF LOVE By Lori A Alicea

Have you stopped and smelled the roses today?

Have you opened the gate to the “little things of your life”, to gaze around and take in the bounty of beauty before you?

Have you stood on that secret hillside moments after sunrise to soak in a vast view that fades into the horizon beyond what eyes can see, a scene bursting with roses of every color in the rainbow, whose perfumed fragrance will overwhelm with just one breath?

Your “rose garden of thankfulness” remains open for visitors all hours of the day and night.

A garden hidden in your heart, whose passage only requires a moment of reflection, a moment of silence to stop and smell your roses of blessing.
Roses 1The world was caught off guard weeks ago when she was unexpectedly “put on notice” to take shelter at home, temporarily closing the doors of life as she knew it.

No one saw this coming.

A “perfect storm” which vacated streets, shuttered businesses and took people everywhere “off the clock”, clearing their “to-do-lists” until further instruction.

Our busy lives turned into ghost towns.

Chaos of calendars is quieted.

The unknown of tomorrow is on everyone’s mind.

The world in their homes wakes up to a posture of stillness, a forgotten atmosphere of silence, yet a gift for those who wake up smelling their roses.

You don’t realize what you have until you can’t have it for now, confronting a new emotion from our

“Isolations of love.”

A month ago our house was a flurry of activity. A month ago our house was a revolving door of grandkids, friends, neighbors, and loved ones.  A month ago I could visit my mother at her nursing home facility anytime I wanted.
A month ago we found ourselves stopping and smelling our “roses of blessings” quite frequently, never giving a thought though how unreachable our garden would be a month and a day later.

Now, we grieve from the “social distance” we must keep from these ten grandchildren we are so crazy about, unable to explain to them why overnight visits to Papa and Gaga’s house have been postponed.  We grandparents want to break all rules that bar us from reaching into these windows and cyberspace for hugs and kisses that have left our arms and hearts terribly empty.

Harder yet, how does a grown child bring comfort and peace to their lonely mother separated and isolated from the other side of her screened view, whose arms they embraced and hands frequently held in conversation only a month ago.

During these Isolations of love the world is experiencing together, what an appropriate time for all of us to stop and smell the roses that never go out of season.
Roses 1Though as grandparents we long the noise of running feet of our grandchildren racing up and down the halls, we are immensely grateful as they enjoy this much needed family time with their parents through homeschooling, play and meals together.

Though as adult children we long to freely walk into the nursing home facility where our mother calls home, and while my mother and her resident friends are now socially distancing taking meals in their rooms and playing hallway bingo.
IMG_7174We haven’t forgotten how spoiled and well-loved our mother is at this facility. The staff here takes every opportunity to create special events during the holidays for their residents.

Don’t get me started on the great honor bestowed to these residents during Mother’s day one year.

Just ask the community and family members invited to come Trick-or-treating at their grandparent’s residence and hear their boasts about the detailed thoughtfulness of food, games and candy waiting for them during Halloween.

How included and special our mother and residents are made to feel during Valentine’s Day and Christmas, especially from the local police officers handing out gifts and wheelchair speeding tickets to our loved ones.

When you stop,
when you take a moment to smell the roses,
the blessings of God emerge,
come forth,
become magnified and overwhelm one’s heart
when you take inventory of what God has done
and means in your life.

All this uncertainty shall pass.

Normalcy will return with hopes that we have been changed to a simpler life, a more appreciative view of our blessings.

Papa and I can’t wait for the doors of cousin camp to reopen.

I can’t wait for the day when the doors of my mother’s nursing home are open again for visitors.

May we as a family view our time with her differently by not putting off visiting her tomorrow when we might only have today.

Might we as a family celebrate her even more, as she has been a wonderful blessing especially to those who call her great-grandma.

A true blessing to those who call her grandma.

And an eternal blessing to those who call her mom.

I treasure and am forever grateful in my heart for our 25th Wedding Anniversary that was shared with family and our mother, an evening scrapbooked of memories and highlights that would not have taken place a few months later.

Mother even was caught on camera doing the limbo.
25th anniversary - limbo momWhile mother doesn’t understand Facetime or the fancy trends of technology, mother is still a phone call away during these isolations of love.
Screen 2
Mother has missed us as much as we do her, and the wonderful people of her nursing home have allowed her to tell us so through their pictures posted on social media, a gift that we as a family and all the resident families are truly appreciative of.
Screen 6During our day when we find ourselves especially lonely and void during these
Isolations of love.

 Might we be drawn to the hillside of our blessings, to that secret place whose gate is open whenever we need a lifting of our countenance,

When we need to be reminded of our bountiful blessings,

As we stop and smell the beautiful roses that God has planted in the garden of our hearts.
Roses 1

WEDDINGS PUT ON PAUSE By Lori A. Alicea

I’ve been thinking about you these last few weeks in spite of the fact that we have never met.

I wish I could check in on you every so often and be a small light of encouragement through this window of uncertainty.

Businesses have temporarily closed their doors.
Families have been ordered to take refuge at home.
Tomorrow is a big question mark for the world.

Yes and a resounding Amen as our hearts grieve for those whose lives have been touched or worse yet, taken during this terrible storm.

Lately, face masks are the new fashion “have to” to protect one’s self from harm, yet no mask is invincible enough to shield us from loss or hope deferred.

Yet the silver lining from these dark ominous clouds reveal that compassion is rising to the surface, strangers and neighbors alike are reaching out and sharing with one another, and the glorious rainbow emerging from these world-wide storms remind us that love is winning.

Through it all, life continues with or without our permission.

Life’s footsteps march onward, it doesn’t pause or stand in place for anything.
Babies continue to be born.
We continue to eat and we continue to sleep.

The sun still wakes the world up in the east and tucks us back into bed from the west.

The earth revolves around the sun as it’s done from the beginning of time.

Seasons change guard with each other, and just a few days ago, the season of winter handed over its baton to spring.

While the news we’ve been intently listening to has been focused on health and finance, as it should be, but as a mother of three brides and as an event decorator, my heart has also been grieving for those brides whose
weddings have been put on pause.
1 Crystal's Dress Before 006
Weddings these brides have been dreaming about their whole life.

Weddings, whose details consume a bride’s thoughts for months leading up to her special day.

Yet airline tickets for wedding guests planning to attend these events have been refunded.

Wedding dates are now cancelled or future weddings in limbo as venues have temporarily closed their doors.

Services for florists, bakers, videographers, photographers, event coordinators, wedding singers, DJ’s and event decorators are no longer needed for the weddings they were booked for during this wedding season of spring.

Brides all over the world aren’t blushing.

Brides weep over their “dreams of a lifetime” put on pause.

While there is nothing I can do to change the situation, I can sit with these brides and hold their hand through my words to say,
“I’m thinking of you.”

Weddings put on pause
Don’t equate to a missed doctor’s appointment.

Women begin dreaming of their wedding day decades earlier as little girls playing dress up in their mother’s heels and makeup.

Weddings are a volume of thoughtful details that take months and years sometimes to prepare for; emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

I’d love to be invited to these bride’s houses and take an emotional tour of her wedding day as she planned, a tour to keep the momentum of her excitement going, a tour to remind these blushing brides that her dreams haven’t been cancelled, just a wedding put on pause.

I’d smile to hold your color coordinated wedding invitation that started it all,

Announcing to the world of two hearts about to be joined as one, an announcement inviting those selected guests to witness your day.
2 invitations

I’d quite possibly hear about your grandmother’s wedding day through her jewelry you’d be wearing, honoring her memory of “something borrowed.”

I have no doubt that mothers or mothers-stepping-in will accompany this tour, crying already as she envisions her daughter stepping into her wedding dress.

Becoming this vision of loveliness she imagined in her dreams as a little girl.
8 Cumbee-164The bride’s tresses are described as twisted and pinned off her soft neck into intricate flowers as beautiful as the bouquet she will be carrying.

No wedding is complete without a prince waiting at the altar, telling his bride it’s time to step into her Cinderella slippers and carriage awaiting outside to take her to the ball.

Brides deserve a grand entrance with all eyes on her, as she is escorted slowly to the altar where her prince is waiting, holding on to the arm of her father or father-of-choice, as these two are kissed and greeted with a garden of flowers and lit candles on both sides of this entrance, an isle befitting a queen.

I can perfectly see the sacred communion table where this bride and groom share and pray over their first meal together.

Shared are
With these rings and vows
“I thee wed.”

A bride and grooms first steps together as man and wife.
20 IMG_7099Our wedding tour leaves the church and continues to the reception hall where the bride ponders her invited guests she couldn’t wait to see, those who committed to long travels for her special day.

What wedding wouldn’t be complete without a cake, a confection to celebrate two people just married.

Brides are saddened to see the decorated tables empty in her mind of guests, bridal party and her betrothed.
25 England_Wedding-402With eyes closed, brides imagine that first dance embraced by the love of her life, swaying as the music quietly plays from her heart.
26 Cumbee-761Sadly, midnight comes for every bride and groom, closing the wedding book of little girl’s dreams and planning,

Yet marking a new beginning of marriage.
27 England_Wedding-382The tour closes with all brides shrugging her shoulders wearing that same look of
“what now?”

I would tell each bride that God knows all things.

God has her steps ordered and nothing has taken him by surprise, though the world has been surprised for certain.

I assure each bride to take heart that her
Wedding in pause isn’t forever.
1 Crystal's Dress Before 006That however or whenever her wedding plans will unfold,
Her wedding will be as it was always supposed to be,
Even better than she imagined,

In God’s perfect plan.

 

ALTAR OF REMEMBRANCE. By Lori A. Alicea

For most of us facing these unprecedented times that descended upon the world as a dark cloud when she wasn’t looking or prepared, we find ourselves leaving the onramp and navigating unsettling new territory down the interstate of I-Uncertainty for the very first time.

Just a month ago, high school seniors were anticipating senior prom, graduation and college. Summer brides were counting the days to the wedding they had dreamed about their entire life.  Family gatherings of all kinds were waiting their turn to happen; milestone birthday parties, anniversaries, retirements, etc.  Now these well planned events will remain as unfinished stories, as the calendars of our lives have been cleared and we find ourselves wondering, searching for answers, some panicking and worrying down the interstate of I-Uncertainty.

Decades ago when my country grandmother (MaMaw) was alive, every so often she’d take me down to the dark and musty cellar, her stretch of I-Uncertainty to unveil those hundreds of old and outdated preserved canned jars of every kind of food,  layered in years of dust and cobwebs remaining from the Great Depression. Her voice still echoing that deep rooted fear from those uncertain times when work, food and money was scarce, my grandmother reminded me while looking at her preserved food from a time in history I never experienced,
“At least we wouldn’t go hungry.”

My grandmother’s canned goods exceeded their shelf life months after the Great Depression became a memory, yet she kept them for reasons unbeknownst to me, yet maybe as her security blanket, a personal reminder of God’s faithfulness or quite possibly as her personal altar of remembrance that God didn’t allow his children to go hungry or beg bread.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
Psalm 37:25 NIV

 These uncertain times find the grocery shelves scarce and in many places empty of needed food. This scarcity is a new experience and has panicked many and somewhat frightened my daughter of three children, who like all parents wants to provide food for their babies.

While it’s a first for even a grandmother my age listening to the cries of the world in panic, a similar story of emotion my grandmother used to share regarding the Great Depression.

It’s during these uncertain times that God calls us to re-visit our altars of remembrance, those altar of stones we erect to remind us of those hard places God has called us out and rescued from, just as our good daddy promised that He would, to build our faith and lift our downcast hearts when driving again down those new and unfamiliar miles of I-Uncertainty in the future.

During these uncertain times we as parents are to take our children and grandchildren to our altars of remembrances, to remind them of the faithfulness of the God they serve; that these stories of our yesterday’s remain alive in their re-telling time and again throughout the generations, to build their faith in times of uncertainty.

The living, the living – they praise you, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about your faithfulness.
Isaiah 38:19
promise 3 (2) keep
To my children,
to my grandchildren,
to my grandchildren beyond,
and to whomever chooses to follow,
I take you to my

Altar of Remembrance,

A place I visit often whenever I need to have my faith built up, when my heart needs to catch its breath, an altar of stones where I worship my God who was faithful to me and my small children when my personal world came to a halt.

These altars of remembrances remind us to be encouraged that the God of our yesterday is the same God of today, and we can rest that He will be our God of forever.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

(A blog I wrote a year ago.)

workout 5
BE STRONG.  BE COURAGEOUS.  BE NOT AFRAID.
By Lori A. Alicea

Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified …..
for the Lord your God goes with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

For so many of us, this song plays from the radio of our heart while driving the interstate of I-Uncertainty, not able to see the miles of road and what waits ahead of us, with blind spots from every angle.

While tempted to change the station and take the first off-ramp of a detour, our God, our navigator, soothes our fears to keep on traveling and singing,

 BE STRONG.
BE COURAGEOUS,
BE NOT AFRAID.
workout 5
We’ve all traveled that road of I-Uncertainty at least once in our lives.  Chances are the longer we live, the scenery this “stretch of miles” might begin to look familiar.  You remember that billboard passing the first mile-marker to greet you in bold neon letters:

BE STRONG.
BE COURAGEOUS.
BE NOT AFRAID.
workout 6

You questioned the bold statement so quickly after crossing state lines onto I-Uncertainty.  But it doesn’t take long when you begin to question your surroundings, the unfamiliar you didn’t see on the map or remember last time you were passing through.  But another billboard stands in the distance from the winding roads of bareness you just passed to ease your fears of feeling alone,

 FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU.

I remember driving down the interstate of I-Uncertainty almost twenty-nine years ago.  I never thought the map of my life would have me driving down this “neck of the woods”, a single mom with two small children in the back seat of the car, yet here we were, passing that first mile-marker greeted by a bright billboard of neon letters,

BE STRONG.
BE COURAGEOUS.
BE NOT AFRAID.
work out 5

I’ve never driven this far away from home before, alone.
I’ve never been on my own before, alone.
What if the car breaks down while I’m alone?

Alone is that “winding stretch of bareness” I saw on the map, though didn’t think much of it until it was me behind the wheel.

Yet to ease that unsettled ache of being alone the many miles ahead was the second billboard with its bright message no one could miss,

FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU.

While packing up the car for our new life down I-Uncertainty, so much of what we loved would have to stay behind with the limited room in the trunk.

The most difficult to leave behind was that beautiful two acre lot of heaven we as a family treasured making memories celebrating all our events.  Such peace and tranquility of so many mornings sitting outside basking in the beauty of our land while drinking that first cup of coffee.  So many afternoons the imaginations that ran wild with the children’s feet up and down the acres they called home.
wheeler houseNow, their back yard is just a bench that two siblings share and a back yard seat where I drink my morning coffee alone on the weekends.candy jake 007Gone was our peace and tranquility as a looming cloud of suffocation hovered as neighbors crowded our personal space, deafened by the noise of city life with emergency vehicles blaring their sirens at all hours of the day and night.

Feeling terribly alone and abandoned yet that song from the radio of my heart continues to comfort in its quiet hum,

God will never leave you nor forsake you.

Those words rang loudly true once as our car broke down during a dark night when money was scarce because of a job loss and lunch and dinner for the next few days was a pan of leftovers from dinner the night before.  After those leftovers were eaten, our next meal was an agonizing question mark.  My worst fears of being alone came true with the horrible thought of my children going hungry alongside of the byway, with no sight of roadside assistance.

For a mother to look at her children’s face then be reminded of the barren cupboards and refrigerator was beyond painful.

BUT I HAD TO BE STRONG.
I HAD TO BE COURAGEOUS.
I COULDN’T BE AFRAID.

Another billboard caught my attention when that fretful night became morning,

…I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.  Psalm 37:25 NIV

GOD DIDN’T LEAVE US.
GOD DIDN’T FORSAKE US.

God showed up unannounced and just in time alongside of the road through my grandparents bringing grocery money worth a two weeks supply.
grandma and grandpa houle

I never gave my grandparents my new address; nor did anyone else.
I never revealed to anyone my empty refrigerator.
I never cried to anyone but God my fears.

Yet God got kept his promise to go with me down that lonely interstate of I-Uncertainty.  God kept his promise to never leave me broken down or forsake me as I traveled I-Uncertainty.  God kept his promise that my children would never beg bread the miles of I-Uncertainty.

God kept his promise through a grandfather who months later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Since that five year journey down the lonely road of I-Uncertainty, I found that in my weakness of being alone and being without, I could be secure and strong in the faithful shoulders of God.  I didn’t need to carry the weights of my burdens for he would do the heavy lifting for me.

I could be STRONG in Him.
I could be COURAGEOUS in Him.
I didn’t have to be AFRAID because of Him.
I wouldn’t travel the streets ALONE because of Him.

My UNCERTAIN days were safe in the hands of a CERTAIN God,
As he is the faithful same yesterday, today and forever.

If the map of my itinerary found me again journeying the interstate of I-Uncertainty, I’d be at peace in my traveling companion who erected a billboard for my confidence,

FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU.

WHAT WE CELEBRATE! WHAT WE APPRECIATE! By Lori A. Alicea

What you appreciate, appreciates…
Author and speaker John Maxwell

What you value, increases in value.

We all are blessed beyond true riches.

Riches are seen through the eye of the beholder.
Riches are what we celebrate!
Riches are what we appreciate!

I’ve always considered myself a very rich woman.

I enjoy health, love, family, grandchildren, a great church, and don’t forget crafts and tons of glitter.

In this moment while I write, a choir of birds have gathered in the winter trees practicing a cantata of songs for their summer concerts as I am privileged to listen in.

Three sweet boys and seven beautiful girls call me Gaga.

Homemade chocolate chip and decorated sugar cookies hide in the freezer for those little people in my life; saving a few of them for myself I admit.

Best of all, my handsome husband just called for no other reason than to say that he loved me.

Yes, I am a rich woman.

Regardless that the vehicles we drive are junks.
Regardless that our closets remain half empty.
Regardless if our bank account balances reflects a different opinion on Wall Street.

Riches are seen through the eye of the beholder.
Riches are what we celebrate!
Riches are what we appreciate!

 There’s always something good to see, something good to say.

It’s all about perspective.

Every now and then an old fashioned treasure hunt of a situation or someone might unearth an unexpected gold mind of riches.

Years ago I wrote about such a treasure hunt.

THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING GOOD TO SAY
By Lori A Alicea

 Ever known a person who just rubbed you the wrong way?  Knowing that same person, if you had to say something good about them, could you?

 Those were questions from a family broadcast, encouraging listeners to begin to believe the best in someone, even if it required a treasure hunt of their character to find it.

I was standing in my husband’s garage one morning when I remembered the broadcast about treasure hunting.  While my husband doesn’t even come close to falling into the category of “rubbing me the wrong way”, yet loving him greatly as I do, I decided to take the treasure hunt challenge and wondered if anything in this garage would bring him honor.

Flipping the light it’s obvious no fancy cars or fishing boats are parked in this garage.  Though thrilled he’d be for either one, neither would mean anything worthwhile.

While stepping through this “hard hat” area I felt consumed by so much “stuff”.  Seemingly lost in a man’s world, I started to doubt my quest, yet minutes before stopping my search was victorious, when one blue zipper bag was found.

At first glance, one might question the honor in a blue zipper bag.  One might cringe at its worn, greasy appearance.  But honor goes beyond the grease, as the real treasure hidden inside this blue bag was an assortment of old rusty, tools.

For Father’s Day one year I bought these tools so my husband could change the oil and rotate the tires.  That day these tools were shiny and organized.  Now they’re stuffed in a tattered bag, giving the impression they haven’t been cared for, but just the opposite is true.

Over the years I’ve watched my husband become a servant among servants, helping others with these tools.  Changing oil became fixing breaks and whatever he’s learned to do since then, mostly requiring a hot meal as payment.

Occasionally I watch my husband working under the hood, curious how parts on the garage floor ever get put back correctly.  Yet hours later when I hear the engine running, I stand amazed that though I have the college degree, he truly is the smarter of us both.

Looking at these tools, I recall harsh weather my husband has labored in.  I see the mismatch set, remembering frigid slush he searched through after his tools had accidentally dumped.  I see their rust, feeling soaked myself as he’s worked beneath cars in a downpour.  Then I see that great smile he wears regardless of it all.

Maybe a hot meal doesn’t justify the effort of “being a blessing”.  Maybe it does if you see blessings as released boomerangs; so faithful they return.

“Finding the best” in a situation or someone is always worth the hunt, as treasures are buried everywhere, even hiding in some blue zipper bag.

So many years have passed since this old column of mine was published.

Yet time hasn’t diminished my admiration for a hard-working man who keeps us out of car payments by keeping our old cars running.

My husband’s heart is still that of a servant, helping others whenever he can, still for the sticker price of a hot meal.

Living in this old country town during the summer you’d find my husband and I sitting outside on lawn chairs sipping coffee and waving at passerby’s, seen as the town’s billboard for two people in love.

Yes, I am a rich woman and nothing or nobody can ever tell me different.

Because
What you appreciate, appreciates…
Author and speaker John Maxwell

 And I appreciate all that God has given me.

I celebrate!  I appreciate!

2019 england cova with ice cream cone

I am a rich woman.

EYES TO SEE By Lori A Alicea

Ever wish there was a special pair of glasses that’d give you
Eyes to see
What God is doing behind the scenes of your life?

We’ve all had those days where we’ve longed to pull the curtain back exposing the hidden wonders God has waiting for us in the west wing of His appointed time.

There are those days our inner impatient child begs for even a small glimpse, a preview, a trailer or sneak peek into “what’s next” to calm the waters of our wondering; well, for at least a day; let’s be real.

But God is always up to something good; really good.

While there are no
Eyes to see
or earthly minds to conceive,
to articulate,
or even imagine
what God has prepared,
brace yourself to be overwhelmed.

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him.
1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

In the natural, I truly enjoy a good surprise.

I love imagining the thought behind those wrapped gifts chosen or made especially for me.

During both of my pregnancies, my baby’s genders were revealed at their birth. Nine months of ecstatic waiting was worth the mystery of the suspense.  Grant it, doctors didn’t order sonograms back in the stone-age like they do today.

Unlike my grandchildren or adult daughter who will pry out any information with a crowbar of begging related to their surprise, I muffle my ears to any revealing hints.

There are those days though during a long extended silence of God’s voice I find myself praying,

 Lord,

Give me eyes to see.

Lend me those special glasses that I might be able to trace your handprint, follow your intention and map out the direction of your heart concerning mine.

 Lord,

Illuminate the unknown.
Expose the hidden.
Unwrap the gift of “what’s next”.
Oh, that you’d allow my “wondering”
Eyes to see.
Ayva glasses 1
Jesus notices when we need
Eyes to see.

He cares when we doubt; when we tip-toe the line of unbelief.

Jesus noticed when His disciple Thomas also longed for eyes to see.

Doubting the resurrection, Thomas needed to see and touch the nail prints in His Savior’s hands first before he believed.

Jesus displayed his compassion to Thomas’ doubt with these words:

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”
John 20:27 NIV

But after allowing Thomas to touch the outstretched hands of his Lord,
Jesus in his amazing love encouraged Thomas and us to a higher place of trust with these words…

 …blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
John 20:29 NIV

God has given every one of his children
Eyes to see
When we look through the lenses of faith,
Believing for what we cannot see.

By putting on our special pair of glasses of faith,
There is confidence in what we hope for.
There is belief that God is faithful to His promises,
Faithful to His word.
Giving us perfect vision,
Giving us eyes of faith,
Giving us
Eyes to see.

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for,
And assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV